Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pumpkins, Power Tools and Peppercorns…

66 degrees - 11:52 am - blue sky with 40 mph wind gusts...

I just LOVE Halloween!  I also like to try different things (sometimes).  So in addition to the carved pumpkins that the kids love to do, I toss in some of my own “carved” pumpkins, which the last few years have involved an electric drill!

This is a super-quick way to get a fun and whimsical design that’s just as effective as the kid’s traditional toothy grinned pumpkins.

After you have scooped out all the seeds and flesh from the inside of the pumpkin you have two options: 1- create a design using a sharpie or stickers or 2- just wing it!  Whichever way you choose to go, use the drill to bore holes through the pumpkin.  Different sizes of drill bits will vary the size of the holes for a more decorative effect.  To light the pumpkin, place a small pillar candle, votives, or battery operated candle inside the pumpkin and replace the top.  And voilá, an updated look to your Halloween pumpkins!

For this coming Halloween (in addition to my drilled pumpkins) I want to try and make these…

They look like fake pumpkins with black rhinestones glued on… I wonder if I could use a real pumpkin and maybe peppercorns?  Hmmm… the ideas are swirling around now…

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reflections On A Woodland Walk…

65 degrees - 3:43 pm - clear blue sky with 23 mph wind gusts...

“There is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.” ~ Washington Irving

I love living in the woods.  It’s a place that I find grounding.  In a world that is often rushed and hurried, Nature moves at her own pace.  But she waits for no one, and her gifts are both spectacular and fleeting.

When I was a child, I’d spend hours outside exploring and lose myself in make believe and pretend play.  As a grownup, while I may be in the woods, I’m not always present or paying attention to what’s around me – I’m lost in thought about life, the universe and everything in between.

But children truly exist in the moment and their minds are free to see the wonders of Nature through such playful eyes.  As the kids and I are out and about on our nature walks they like to show me all their magical discoveries that normally go by unnoticed or are so often overlooked in our busy everyday lives.

rain drops on a spiderweb? --- or a fairies house covered in crystals?

tree canopy? --- or tall giants who like to dance in the wind?

a field of grass? --- or a place for hidden forts???

Every grownup can use a bit more magic in their life, don’t you think?

P.S. - The similarities between raising children and appreciating Nature’s treasures isn’t lost on me:  it’s about savoring the time you have, being present and not letting life’s moments pass you by.  Because just like Nature's gifts, I'll miss them when they're gone.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Laying Conduit Project...

51 degrees - 10:53 am - overcast and lightly raining...

Nothing is ever simple or easy here on the mountain.  What I though would take maybe a weekend or two, to get the entire conduit laid out from the house up to the well, propane tanks and generator house area, has instead been going on since April.  Of course the obvious challenge has been the weather.  This summer has been a ‘blink and you miss it’ kind of summer; the worst summer up here on the mountain that anyone can remember. 

The next challenge has been trying to get the groundwork, clearing and leveling, completed so the final stretch of the conduit trench can be dug.  This is also the area that we were looking at putting our garden.  But after this summer we are going back to the drawing board on the garden ideas and plans.  But I wont get into that right now, that will have to be another post.

It is currently raining outside so no work will be getting done on this project today.  All we need is a few more nice days and we can check this project off our to-do-list!

Here are a few pictures of the progress since April…

April 9, 2011 - majority of the snow is gone, we can start clearing the area

April 14 - time to do a little pruning

conduit lines end at the edge of the yard, waiting for the final strech
up to the well, propane tanks and generator house

Sep 24 - moving all the extra dirt over to the edge of the property line
to make a 20 foot high privacy berm

Sep 25 (this morning) - ground work is almost done!

Four Cheese Macaroni with Bacon...

51 degrees - 9:34 am - overcast and cloudy...

Last night my sister and I made homemade mac & cheese for our group family dinner.  But instead of the standard mac & cheese we made Four Cheese Macaroni with Bacon.  This is a great twist on the classic comfort food and will have everyone fighting over the serving spoon.

So as requested here is the recipe…

~ Four Cheese Macaroni with Bacon ~

1 box (1 lb) Cavatappi
10 slices Bacon, cooked, drained, diced
1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
3 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
2 cup Milk
½ tsp Onion Flakes
¼ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Pepper
½ lb Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
8 slices Kraft Deli Deluxe American cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 3-quart broiler-safe baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil.

Cook cavatappi 8 minutes in boiling water, then drain.  Meanwhile, in medium-size saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crips, 6 minutes.  Transfer to paper towel covered plate.  Carefully pour off drippings, returning 2 tablespoons to pan.  Add butter.

Whisk in flour until smooth.  In a thin stream, whisk in milk.  Stir in onion flakes, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes.  In large bowl, toss together cheddar, Colby-Jack and mozzarella.

Remove milk mixture from heat; whisk in American cheese and 1-1/4 cups of the cheddar mixture.  Toss bacon pieces with remaining shredded cheese.

In pasta pot, combine cooked pasta and cheese sauce.  Pour half into prepared dish.  Sprinkle with a generous cup of the bacon-cheese mixture.  Repeat layering.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Increase oven temperature to broil and broil 3 minutes,  until top is lightly browned.  Cool slightly before serving.

--- Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Just Another Crazy Day...

59 degrees - 8:58 am - partially cloudy...

Yesterday was just another crazy day on the mountain. 

Tony is still working on the ‘Laying Conduit’ project.  Last week he was having equipment issues (see post:  ‘Laying Conduit (or trying to)…’).  Then last weekend it rained the whole time, turning all the dirt into mud so he was unable to work outside.  This week has been gorgeous with warm sunny weather and has dried everything out.  So Tuesday night after work, Tony planned to do some more dirt work.  As we are continually finding out, plans like to go astray.  The large excavator had dead batteries again.  When he got into the smaller excavator to jump the larger excavator, a track fell off and ended all plans for Tuesday night.

Trying to take advantage of the warm weather, Tony took yesterday off from work to work on the equipment and get everything up and running.  The morning went fine and he was able to get the track back onto the small excavator.  Next he was going to get the large excavator going when our neighbors stopped in.  They sold their D8 Bulldozer and a truck and trailer was already on its way to pick it up.  All they had to do was get it to the end of the driveway, which is just over a mile.

While our neighbor Pam and I went off for our morning walk, Tony and Jack jumped into the large excavator to follow the bulldozer down the driveway.  The excavator was there just in case something went wrong, which thankfully nothing did.  Our neighbors were extremely relieved that the morning had gone so smoothly and now they just had to wait for the truck and trailer.

Now that the morning excitement was over, it was time for me to run down and pick up our daughter from school.  On the way down the mountain I ran across the truck and trailer.  Well of course, I just had to chuckle.  The morning had gone so smoothly, of course there had to be a speed bump in there somewhere.  And this was a pretty big speed bump!

The lowboy trailer had slid off the road while the driver was trying to go thru a very tight corner.  After talking to the drive for a moment, back up the mountain I went (no cell service in that particular area) to tell the guys.  Being a mom, I wasn’t very concerned about the truck and trailer; I was more worried about picking Caitlyn up from school.  It seems that just about every week some vehicle or trailer or something is unable to make that corner, and they get pulled back out just fine, but I have never been late picking my kids up (which we ended up only being about 15 minutes late for).

After telling the guys what had happened, our neighbor drove down to check it out.  Instead of the truck and trailer driving up to pick up the bulldozer, the bulldozer had to drive down, which was about 3.5 miles and took about 1 ½ hours, to pull the truck and trailer out.  Total time from start to finish was just under four hours and boy was everyone one happy when that bulldozer was loaded onto that truck and trailer and it was driving away!

Just another crazy day on the mountain.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Egg Update...

52 degrees - 8:52 am - partially cloudy...

Just wanted to give a quick update on our chicken eggs.  The chickens are producing anywhere between 3 to 5 eggs a day and they are quickly gaining in size.  I love the brown/chocolate color and had to throw in a white egg for color/size comparison.

{Update:  Sep. 20 - 7:35pm}
Do you notice that nice large tan egg in the top left of the bowl?  Well I just cracked it open when I was making some Blonde Brownies and it had a double yolk inside!  Not sure which chicken it came from but boy am I excited!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Evening Post...

51 degrees - 3:34 pm - raining...

A small glimpse into our lives as we live off-grid… sort of like eves dropping.  It may be a quote or a conversation; funny, sweet or sad; but it will always be true.  We will see if it resonates with you…

Hubby:  (walks into the house) “The elk have started to bugle.  Just heard one.”
Me:  “I love listening to the elk bugle!”  (we both walk outside)
Me:  “I’m going back inside.”
Hubby:  (comes back into the house a few minutes later)  “You just missed the elk bugling again.  That means fall is definitely not very far away.”  (opens a window) “Listen.”
Me:  “I give up, I’m going to bed.”
Hubby:  (chuckles)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Laying Conduit (or trying to)…

57 degrees - 11:52 am - partially cloudy...

Last weekend the kids and I went to the beach again while Tony stayed home to get some projects done.  He borrowed our neighbor’s excavator, which is larger than the one he normally uses, to clear a path for the PVC conduit and water line, which need to be buried.

our neighbors excavator

Three hours into the project a hose breaks.  Needing to let the engine cool off before he tries to work on it, he went over to work on the chicken coop, which is almost completed.  He was cutting out the egg doors when the router gave out and died on him.  Needless to say, he wasn’t having a very good weekend.

the path has started to be cleared from the conduit to the propane tank area

Earlier this week, Tony was able to get a replacement hose for the excavator.  Our neighbor came down and helped him remove the old hose and put in the new hose.  When everything was put back together, he realized that it had a dead battery.  Yesterday while Tony was at work, our neighbor was able to charge the battery.  And now we have come to today – the excavator is fixed and ready to be used… or so we thought. 

While I am sitting in the nice warm, cozy house typing this blog post and making chocolate chip cookies, Tony and Jack are outside driving the smaller excavator over to the larger excavator for a jump.  Yes, that’s right, the battery is dead again!

So I will just skip ahead and tell you what project Tony has been trying to work on… finish burying the PVC conduit and water lines.

He has already buried the PVC conduit and water lines that run from the house and through the backyard.  Now he needs to clear a path and dig a four-foot trench from the edge of the backyard over to where the well and propane tanks will be located.  This is around 250 feet away from the house.  The well and propane tanks will be accessible but not visible from the house, which is exactly what we want.  Now only if the equipment would cooperate.

carved out area to hide the two 500 gallon propane tanks

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Welcoming Fall...

55 degrees - 4:24 pm - cloudy with on and off showers...

I don’t have a favorite season; I really enjoy them all, but for different reasons.  Spring is a time of new life; Summer is full of warm days playing outside; Fall brings brilliant colors; and Winter is a white magical wonderland.  I think what I enjoy the most is the changing of seasons.  I enjoy each one, yet cannot wait for the next one to begin.

the Vine Maple trees have beautiful red, orange and yellow colors

As much as I love the lazy summer months (even though this summer seemed to be busy and very short), I have to admit that I am happy fall is here.  Yes, I enjoy all the Northwest rain, listening to it hit the metal roof while I am inside all warm and comfortable.  I live for the occasional thunderstorm and truly am a homebody at heart.  I could curl up on the couch and watch movies with my hubby and kids all day with the flames blazing in the fireplace.  The crispness in the air, the brilliant colors of the changing leaves, the fall scent outside, the spicy scent in the kitchen from all the fall favorites being baked, and so much more.  Yep, I love it all!  I tend to stay home a lot more this time of year, baking, organizing, and working on inside projects that I have been putting off.

With the cooler mornings and crisp afternoons now upon us, it is time to welcome Fall with open arms and there is no better way to do that then with one of my fall favorites – Caramel Apples!

 ~Easy Caramel Apples ~

4 Gala Apples, chilled
4 Popsicle sticks
1 ¼ lb. Caramel Candies
1 Tbsp Heavy Cream

Lightly coat a piece of parchment paper with cooking spray.  This will prevent the apples from sticking while they set.  Rinse and dry the apples.  Plunge the popsicle sticks through the tops of each apple.  They should reach halfway into the core and not go through.

Unwrap the caramel candies and melt them in a pot or bowl that is large enough to dip the apples without spilling over.  Slowly stir in the heavy cream until well combined.  Continue to mix and melt until the caramel is a smooth dipping consistency.  (Side note:  the heavy whipping cream isn’t required, but adds a wonderful depth of richness.  Also, be really careful when working with melted caramel.  It gets really hot and can burn you if not careful.)

Carefully dip the apples in the mixture and allow the excess to drain.  Roll the apples in any choice of toppings, or leave plain.  Carefully place the dipped apples on the parchment paper to set.

To package:  Allow the dipped apples to chill for at least 15 minutes before packaging.  Lightly coat the inside of a jumbo muffin paper liner with cooking spray.  Place the apple in the center of the paper liner.  Then place the entire piece in a large cello bag and tie with a raffia bow.

--- Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Firewood Is Finally Done...

55 degrees - 9:08 am - cold and cloudy...

We are finally done with firewood!  We have cut, split and stacked all the firewood that we will need for this fall and winter.  10 cords of firewood may sound and look like a lot, but we are really hoping that it will be enough and if we have some leftover that is even better!

Last winter we had quesstimated that we would only need about 5 cords of firewood to get us through the winter.  Well, we quesstimated wrong.  By mid December, over half of the firewood was already gone.  Instead of chipping away at our long to-do-list we were trying to hurry up and restock our firewood supply in bitter cold, wet and sometimes really nasty weather. 

Live and learn.  Hopefully we have already learned that lesson, because I really do not want to repeat it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BLT Bites...

59 degrees - 8:30 pm - foggy...

My parents have an abundance of Cherry Tomatoes growing in their garden and this morning I went over and helped myself to some.

One of my favorite things to make with Cherry Tomatoes is BLT Bites.  These are always a big hit, pretty easy to make and are oh so delicious, with lots of flavor packed into a little bite.  People are always asking for the recipe so I thought I would share it with you.

~ BLT Bites ~

19-20 Cherry Tomatoes
1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped Green Onions
3 Tbsp grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Tbsp snipped Fresh Parsley

Cut a thin slice off of each tomato top, then scoop out and discard the pulp.  Invert tomatoes over a paper towel to drain.  In a small bowl, combine the bacon, mayonnaise, onions, cheese and parsley and mix well.  Spoon the mixture into the tomatoes. Chill and serve.

--- Enjoy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pumpkin Spiders…

62 degrees - 10:13 am - clear blue sky...

Yes it’s that time of year.  Halloween and Christmas are my two favorite holidays and the only two holidays that I truly decorate for.  So with Halloween only a month and a half away (yes, I am a planner), it is time to start coming up with some super cute decorating ideas, and this is one of them…

Pumpkin Spider Votives – a fun kid-friendly craft project that I thought was pretty cute and clever.

Just take a few mini pumpkins, cut holes big enough for a votive candle, cut up some black pipe cleaners to size and attach with a hot glue gun, and voilá, you have super cute Halloween pumpkin spiders.

These are so fun and the kids love them!

photo/idea credit: Good Housekeeping

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Egg-cellent News...

69 degrees - 10:26 pm - warm, clear night...

This past week our chickens start laying eggs.  They have laid a total of 11 eggs so far and range between the size of a ping pong ball to a golf ball.  The kids are so egg-cited and I have to admit that I am too! 

Our first collection of farm fresh chicken eggs!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's A Heat Wave...

83 degrees - 5:44 pm - sunny and hot...

Over this past weekend we had hot, gorgeous weather and it is supposed to continue on through the week with weather in the high 80s and low 90s.  I can see us spending a lot of time down at the creek trying to stay cool this week, just like we did today.

The kids like to play with these water squirters that we found at
the dollar store, they are a lot of fun and everyone ends up soaked.

Walking around the small kiddie swimming hole.

Me and Mini Me

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Weekend - Beach Bound...

65 degrees - 9:57 pm - clear, stary night...

This Labor Day Weekend we were beach bound.  I love road trips and one of my favorite quick getaways (meaning 4 hours or less) is to our family beach property on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State.

If you are not familiar with Washington State, you may be thinking that Washington is not generally known for its beaches.  Sure, it has fabulous forests, and beautiful hiking trails, with a lot of monumental mountains thrown in for good measure.  Oh, and we must not forget the many islands, lakes, rivers and streams that offer plenty of recreational fun, but beaches?  Yes, beaches.  Not too many people outside of Oregon and Washington know about Long Beach.  The quaint, sleepy, coastal town located in Southwest Washington, which is not too far away from Astoria, Oregon.

The Long Beach Peninsula is where we spent the last four days enjoying…

...driving on the beach...

...playing in the ocean surf...

...playing in the sand...

...enjoying delicious ice cream from Scoopers...

...outdoor movie night
'Tangled' for the kids and 'The Kings Speach' for the adults... 

...bon fires and smores...

...and lap after hair-rasing lap on the go cart track!

The long Labor Day Weekend combined with the idea of enjoying the last few days of summer to the fullest and a bonus of perfect beach weather made for a great weekend, which was spent with family and friends – 7 kids, 13 adults that spanned 4 generations.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saturday Evening Post...

71 degrees - 11:30 am - sunny and getting hot...

A small glimpse into our lives as we live off-grid… sort of like eves dropping.  It may be a thought, quote or a conversation; funny, sweet or sad; but it will always be true.  We will see if it resonates with you…

6 year old Daughter:  “Hey Mom!  Look there’s three deer in the backyard!”
Me:  “Yes, there are.  It looks like there are two young bucks and one doe.” (walk back into the kitchen to finish making breakfast)
6 year old Daughter:  “Hey Jack, there’s some deer in the backyard.”
2 year old Son:  “Where?  Where?  Oh I see them.”
6 year old Daughter:  “Hey Mom!  Come here, hurry!  Look they are trying to give each other piggy back rides! Hahaha!”
2 year old Son:  “Hahaha, that’s funny.  Silly deers.”
Me:  “What?  Oh, um, yah…  Oh look, now the deer are off to go play tag.  Okay everyone back to the table, breakfast is ready.”


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