Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Tag: off the grid

Two Sisters, A Comparison

I once joked with my sister that the only thing harder than my life is hers.

The face she made when I said this was one of utter shock.

Apparently, she disagrees with me.

So much so, she actually bet me that if I wrote this blog post, nobody who reads it will agree I have the easier life. ​Nobody.

And so, the challenge is on.

Don’t get me wrong, as mentioned in previous posts, my sister is basically perfect.

She has four, right-in-a-ridiculous-row, cutest-things-you-ever-saw, age-six-and-under, mesmerizingly adorable children.

She married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of 18, has never been in any kind of trouble for anything ever, and mails out thank you cards as religiously as I lose library books.

She has been a maid of honor at more weddings than I have been ​invited  too.

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Yet… yet… I still wouldn’t ​prefer her life.

She definitely wouldn’t prefer mine.

My sister and I are opposites, from our physical appearance to our personalities. We have learned to compliment each other quite nicely over the years. Where I am passionate and impulsive  (irresponsible), she is organized and level-headed (boring).

We are also very competitive. Hence this post.

Now I get it, I am the crazy sister – not exactly a badge of honor, though I wear it proudly.

Still, there has got to be ​someone out there who would rather live in the woods and commune with the trees than be at the beck and call of tiny humans 24 hours a day.

As mentioned, my sister has four young children. She has pretty much been pregnant or nursing for the past seven years, non-stop. She is also a very attentive mother – which translates to very needy children. Stage five clingers, she calls them.

I may live in the middle of the woods with no indoor plumbing, but my youngest child is eight. When my kids get on my nerves, I simply send them away to do chores.

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My sister and I both added new puppies to the family last year. Mine is a little shit, but since he has the run of the woods, who cares?

My sister’s dog is a little shit too. Only they don’t live in the woods, so it matters. She often escapes from their fenced-in backyard and runs straight over to the neighbors. This neighbor is not a nice lady.

Neighbors scare me. The thought of wrangling my wayward dogs out of some crotchety old lady’s yard makes me quiver.

This is why I live in the middle of the woods.

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Also, I do a lot of cooking. As a vegetarian who wants to eat healthy, it’s sort of a must. Plus it’s a very homesteady thing to do.

My sister doesn’t really cook and her kitchen attests to it. She has like, one pan and a whole bunch of upcycled yogurt containers.

With one baby glued to her boob, another poking a finger in the dog’s butt, a third crying because someone looked at her wrong, and the eldest hiding in a closet making silly videos on a stolen phone, I get why my sister doesn’t have time to cook.

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Still, is that really an excuse for not having a decent can opener or a simple lid for steaming rice?

No, no it isn’t.

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But what I really want to know is how she manages to keep her children so clean and coordinated, looking like little baby models, every single day.

Sure, she has indoor plumbing, so that helps.

But still, when it is time to leave the house, she’s like Mary Poppins, all smiles and songs, managing the impossible: four snotless, stainless, adorably dressed children out the door on time with no yelling. Something’s not right people.

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My sister is an extrovert. She never stays home if she can help it. In one day, she can easily handle ballet class, lunch date, park, grocery store, library, another playdate and top it all off with a ladies’ night out.

I am an introvert. I never leave the homestead if I can help it. I get tired just ​thinking about running errands. Socially busy days drain my body of vital life force energy.

Another reason I live in the woods.

You know what else? I have spent the last 20 years coming up with awesome business ideas. A handful of them even made it out of the idea stage, like, to where I actually made business cards and everything. None of them ever amounted to much as I have a tendency to move on to something new as soon as I get bored (usually right after I order business cards).

My sister, though. She sits silently by watching me come up with one hair-brained idea after another. Just minding her own business, changing diapers and such. Then bam! She decides she wants to be a photographer. And after less than a year has a bonafide photography business with actual ​clients.

She doesn’t even have a business card! Something’s not right people, I’m telling you.

So sure, she is organized, efficient, calm, patient, beautiful, joyful, sweet, polite, reliable.

But she doesn’t live in the woods.

Now, who’s with me?

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Everything You Don’t Need To Know About Making A Fire (and a few things you do)

I tend to have very bad timing, people, and today’s post is no exception. Today we will be discussing the finer points of building fires, wood woes and the like. This is a subject I have been meaning to write about since the onset of cold weather four or five months ago. However, the inspiration for writing it never fully hit until now, just as we are moving into spring and no one cares about heating with fire (for the next five months, anyway). 

The good news is that my firewood post would have been just as useless five months ago as it will prove to be today, so you haven’t really missed out. The main focus of this How To Make A Fire tutorial is to throw in as much juvenile humor as I can manage (we are talking about ​wood ​after all) without being too annoying. It’s a delicate balance, my friends – wish me luck. Of course, I do plan to steal a couple of real tips from actual homesteading blogs so it won’t be a complete waste of your time, I promise 🙂

I would just like to say that I have never been officially trained on how to start a fire, and have had to go through some hard knocks to figure it all out. Honestly, what I have found to work the absolute best when starting a fire is to yell out in a whiny, helpless voice “Maaaavv, build me a fire”. Generally, this does not work in and of itself, but when I start threatening to withhold certain pleasures (breakfast, people, geez!), it gets the job done.

Actually, I really don’t mind building fires. In fact, when I get a nice fire going in minutes rather than hours, I feel a huge sense of pride, like I can accomplish anything I put my mind too.

When it comes to building a fire there are two methods that I am aware of (there are actually quite a few more, I just didn’t feel like googling all of them). These two methods are: The Tepee method and the Log Cabin method.

The Tepee Method vs The Log Cabin Method

A few months back, when I was gearing up to get this ​How To Make A Fire tutorial written, I took a series of really terrible pictures (a specialty of mine) while grabbing whatever tinder we had on hand (paper and a cardboard cup holder, in this case) as well as splitting a random mixture of kindling. I crossed my fingers that I had guessed correctly for the purposes of this tutorial as I knew I was unlikely to go through the hassle of staging it all again. Well, we all got lucky as it ended up being the perfect amount for my fire.

Ironically, the very next day, just as I was about to show off my pictures to the boys, they started talking about how much the tepee method sucked. At this point, I backed slowly away, no longer having the heart to show them my awesome work.

However, regardless of what those snotty woods’ boys think, the tepee method is a tried and true method and, besides, I have pictures.

Both the tepee method and the log cabin method start off the same: with tinder and kindling. Tinder is very flammable small material (can range from paper to twigs to dry leaves and pine needles). Kindling is thin pieces of wood. Tinder and kindling must be dry, no exceptions. Unless you have a blow torch. But in that case you don’t need this tutorial or anything other than fuel, logs, and the patience to flame-blast the wood until the cows come home (this is Maverick’s favorite method, by the way.)

Here is what I used to start my fire:

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Side Note: I grabbed that cardboard drink container on a whim but it actually worked out really well as a long-burning tinder. Plus I could stuff the other paper and cardboard into the cracks while allowing for a nice air flow. One of the tricks to getting a fire going is to make sure it can breath.

​Now light that bitch.

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​Okay, now you simply stack up some of the thinnest kindling around the burning tender in the shape of a, you guessed it, tepee. Then shut the door to the wood stove (making sure the flue(s) are open) as this gives it a nice flow of air. Listen for a little woosh, signifying the fire is really catching.

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At this point, you got a good thing going. Open the door and add on thicker and thicker kindling, being careful not to smother the flames. Then shut the door again and let the airflow work its magic.  When I know my baby can handle the big stuff, I throw on the logs and voila, a fire is made.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now, my ADD is kicking in and this tutorial stuff is starting to bore me, so if you want to know how to do the log cabin method (plus a bunch of other cool methods), please click here.

Actually if you want to learn anything of value, leave now and find a real homesteading blog, my friends.

Okay so now the fun stuff:

Mav and I were a little reckless (by reckless I mean totally unprepared) this past year of extreme homesteading and ended up with wet wood (also known as unseasoned wood) to deal with midwinter.  Let me tell you, nothing ruins the homesteading mood quite like wet wood. Coaxing wet wood into performing is a tedious, frustrating task. Wet wood is useless wood. You have to play with it forever to get any kind of reaction out of it. All it can do is smoke and smolder and cause a lot of frustration, for everyone involved.  No matter how hard it tries, it just cannot heat things up.  

So how do you prevent wet wood? You take some time to prepare yourself. Don’t just rush in. Make your game plan early on (like spring or summer), get your wood cut and stacked neatly and securely and then ​always use protection. This is key, gentleman. If you do not remember to cover your wood, you will end up with a very unhappy homesteading woman. She will literally lay in bed all day with layers of layers of clothes on while giving you the stink eye for ruining her life. Sexy? I think not.

Wet wood is no good but dry wood is amazing. Nothing makes a homesteading woman more excited than a huge stack of hard, dry wood. Dry wood can get her so hot and bothered, spontaneous stripping takes place. Sexy? I think so.

Now, I would like to apologize for wasting so much of your time today. Do you have any real tips to share with the rest of us? Please comment below. And remember sharing is caring people. If you like what you read today, don’t be afraid to spread the shame 🙂

How To Wash Your Dishes Without Running Water: Six Steps To Off-Grid Domestic Success

Ok friends here we have quite possibly one of the most important How To tutorials of your off-grid extreme homesteading life… dishes. Yes, that’s right. More important than solar power, more important than growing food, more important than a composting toilet (ok, now I am exaggerating) is doing your dishes.

After all, dishes make the world go ’round and it is nary a homesteading woman who can live without clean dishes. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to multiply right before your very eyes, popping out dirty creations like the gremlin spawn of a mogwai. And, like a gremlin, they sneer and snarl at you from their crusty perch on the counter, daring you to just try and wash them without running water.

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Fear not, my extreme homesteading friends (or weekend campers), as I have found a pretty decent way to wash your dishes without running water. All you need are the right tools and set up and those evil dishes will no longer have you sleeping with one eye open.

Step 1: Get a Gigantic Pot

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There is one key item to doing your dishes without running water quickly and efficiently and that is the Gigantic Pot. The Gigantic Pot is absolutely essential if you don’t want to spend an entire day heating up small batches of water. And believe me, you don’t. I started off with a Small Pot, and I was not happy. The Gigantic Pot brings me much joy.

Step 2: Get a Long, Crappy Table

Okay so you have your Gigantic Pot. Now you need a long, crappy table. I say crappy table because if you can do your dishes outside on a crappy table, you can slosh water all over the place – which tends to make you feel better about having to do your dishes outside on a crappy table. Get it? I have a nice, crappy eight foot long table that is the perfect length for our size family, or for my lazy housekeeping habits, whichever way you want to look at it. So technically you could use a smaller table and you can also use your actual sink and counter area, but that’s a little boring, don’t you think?

Step 3: Set Up Dish Area.

First, there are a few other things you will need:

  1. Two basins, one for washing and one for rinsing. These are what I currently use. I know they don’t match. Don’t judge me.
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2. A cup with a handle for scooping hot water out of the Gigantic Pot into the wash basin. I use this measuring cup which conveniently hooks right on the handle of my pot when not in use. A match made in heaven.

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3. A jug (or two, depending on your dish load) of clean, cool rinse water next to your rinse basin

4. A sponge or rag to wash dishes and some biodegrable dish soap

5. A drying rack and/or large towel

6. A large bucket to dump dirty dish water into (another option is to just dump directly onto the ground if you are outside and it won’t create a mess.)

7. Compost container to scrape your food scraps into.

Step 4: Heat Up Water

Now we are ready to get to work. I will forewarn you, I like my dish water hot and clean, so I refresh often. I use anywhere from 2-4 gallons of hot water, depending on the dish load. I usually heat up more water than I need, because is saves time and hey I can always take a shower after.

Pour water in your pot and heat it up. One of the many blessings in my extreme homesteading life is my (nearly) full-size propane stove. So heating things up is easy peasy (until we run out of propane right in the middle of making dinner. that is). I just put my Gigantic Pot on the stove, turn two burners on and it heats up quick.

If you don’t have stove yet, you might want to look into getting a portable burner used for camping, if you plan on cooking more than once a week. Of course, if you want to (or need to), you can always go to the maximum extreme and heat your water up over an actual fire (technically the maximum extreme would be rubbing two sticks together to start said fire, but I digress). As romantic as it sounds, however, it’s really a pain in the ass to do everyday. But I have done it and so can you.

However your go about it, the important thing is to get your water HOT. That way it stays nice and hot until the last dirty dish has been hunted down. If your water gets too cool, it is a hassle to reheat and you run the chance of loosing motivation and not finishing the dishes, which does not feel nearly as satisfying as finishing the dishes.

Now scoop your hot water into your wash basin and pour cool water in the rinse basin. If the water is too hot (which it should be if you have been following directions) mix it with a little of the cool water until you get the right temperature. As you work your way down the dirty mountain, the water should cool off to a reasonable temperature. Better hot than not, I say.

Step 5: Wash Your Dishes

Now you wash your dishes. I like to move from the left to right, but to each his own. As your wash basin water cools down and gets dirty, dump it into the waiting receptacle or onto the ground if you prefer and refill with fresh hot water. Same with your rinse water, if it gets too soapy. Finish all the dishes. All of them. It feels good, remember?

Step 6: Call In The Troops

This is about the time I start yelling for Maverick and the girls. Maverick, with his strong shapely arms and equally strong stomach, gets to dump the teeming bucket of dirty dish water. We like to dump it right into the garden beds. depending on the chunks. Yum.

Now its the minions’ turn to help. Remember how we were doing the dishes outside? Well they are the lucky ones that get to haul the clean dishes back inside, put them away all nice and neat and then hang the dish towel on the line to dry until we need it again for a new table-load of dirty dishes, usually about ten minutes later I’d say.

Well there really is no glamorous way to end a dish tutorial, so bye!

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What Type Of Homeschooler Are You?

Sometimes I feel like an imposter when I tell people I homeschool.

After all, when I think of homeschooling, I picture a super-organized, perpetually perky mom and her brood of perfectly polite, constantly clean, studious children. I imagine this homeschool mom having a detailed schedule that she sticks to like clock work, planning out her handpicked curriculum a year in advance while her offspring practice rote memorization and dote on each other all day. Hmmm… come to think about it, that sounds an awful lot like my sister!

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Okay, so now that we established my sister is my fantasy homeschool mom alter ego, lets talk about what kind of homeschool mom I am.

I am the type of homeschool mom that starts a cleaning project in the morning and by evening realizes the only ‘school’ we did that day was home ec.

I am the type of homeschool mom who makes a mountain of lists, outlines, and diagrams only to misplace them right before we need them.

I am the type of homeschool mom whose children wear pajamas all day and brush their hair only when we are going somewhere important (grocery store is low on the priority list).

I am the type of homeschool mom that starts a lesson, realizes its boring and pointless, and sends the kids to play Legos while I regroup over a bottle of wine.


One of the rare occasions I managed to get the girls all cute and somewhat matchy-matchy. This was the first day of a twelve week homeschool art class (note the bow in Leyla’s brushed hair and the fact they both have their lunchboxes packed and in-hand). Sadly, it all goes downhill from here my friends.

​It use to be that I pushed against who I was as a homeschool mom.

I would spend hours creating beautiful schedules and chore charts, ordering curriculum and reorganizing our collection of books. Hours I would spend on these things, waiting for them to magically transform me into the homeschool mom of my dreams. We are now in our fourth year of homeschooling and I have yet to be organized or perky.

In fact, the only thing which has really changed over the years is that I no longer strive so hard to be what I am not. I have given up trying to fit us into a fixed schedule, as we are just too spontaneous for that kind of planning. Instead, I keep a nice loose tally on what we have going on. When something is working, it is easy to keep at it. When something isn’t working, we drop it and move on.

Once I gave myself permission to relax, we became way more consistent and found a routine we actually look forward too. Since we no longer have to follow a list of Things We Must Get Done, we can get lost for hours reading together. We can choose to put the books down when the weather is gorgeous and friends want to come over, knowing we will pick right back up where we left off tomorrow, or the next day.

So how do I measure our homeschool progress if I not by what we have tangibly accomplished?

I pay attention to who my kids are. I look for signs we are on the right track. I am happy to report my kids are curious, creative, and thoughtful. They love to explore and have adventures. They are able to converse with people of all ages. They are not too self-conscious. They are smart and capable. They are strong and responsible. They care about ethical issues. Most of all, they are happy.

This is not to say I don’t still pine over moms who actually stick with their curriculums and carefully chart their children’s progress. Mom’s who always have a clean, matching pair of shoes (and socks!) for each of her smiling, hair-brushed children.

The fact is, a part of me will always want to be that mom.

But, I am not.

And I have realized when I quit trying to be someone else, I can actually be a pretty good me.

And now some more pictures of my adorable nieces and nephew.

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So what type of homeschool mom are you? 

How To Be Happy and The Magic Of Perspective

My family and I live a hard and dirty life with very little luxuries. We live a life that, described from a certain perspective, might have most of you feeling a bit sorry for us.

The fact is, we don’t have much money and we rarely buy new things. Our vehicles are so old and obnoxious, we make a scene everywhere we go. Due to not even having what some would consider the basic necessities of life, it can be a daunting task just keeping up with the day to day household operations.

On top of all this, we have hours of physically taxing farm chores that have to be done too, every single day. Being out in the middle of the woods, living in very tiny, very temporary housing, even a simple rainstorm can create so much mud and mess it’s enough to drive any woman crazy.

​Yet I stay… Why?

Because it’s all a matter of perspective. Everything I just described are some of the facts of my life,  but the perspective is all wrong. I’d like to share with you a different perspective

 My family and I live a fun and free life with ample amounts of time together, working and playing side by side. We live a life that, although unconventional and challenging, is one we have chosen just for those very reasons.

We try not to be weighed down by unnecessary possessions, yet we surround ourselves with the things most important to us, such as books to spark our curiosity, animals to teach us kindness, and the natural world to help us connect to the divine. We have chosen to live frugally so we can pursue our dreams of living sustainably, building a community, and teaching our children spiritual and ethical truths they are not likely to learn from a public institution.

From our perspective, cuddling up in the middle of the woods to watch a movie in the great outdoors powered by off-grid technologies is a luxury. Squashed into the front seat of our ’72 Chevy, bouncing down our mile-long dirt driveway, we learn to laugh at ourselves and not take everything so seriously. We have time to literally stop and smell the roses, though it is more likely we are pointing out a hawk in the sky or snapping a picture of an strange-looking mushroom.

And when, as inevitably happens from time to time, I begin to feel some mom-guilt that my children might be missing out due to their lack of electronics and shiny new shoes, I remind myself that helping split firewood for winter warmth, chipping in on building projects and foraging dinner in the woods, creates strong and capable children who will eventually turn into strong and capable adults, where as shiny new shoes are simply muddied up before they can be outgrown… around here anyway.

Our specific things and circumstances, we don’t take those with us once we leave these physical bodies. We take our beliefs. We take our perspectives.

If we see ourselves as victims, then our lives will reflect that idea. The same is true if we see ourselves as blessed. It is my belief that whatever perspective we die with is the one we return with in the cycle of many incarnations.

If the eternal part of ourselves is that which is unseen, and all that manifests stems from our beliefs, getting a handle on your perspective will create the eternal happiness we all desire.

After all, the only thing we can ever truly control is our perspective; not our circumstances.  Maintaining a balanced and positive perspective takes practice and perseverance but is worth the riches received: joy, peace, and true security.

For myself, when I feel circumstances out of my control creeping up on my happiness, I breathe deeply. I grab my dog and we go for a walk in the woods, where I connect with the eternal truth of the divine, and bring myself back into the perspective of my choosing.

Baby Jasper waits under the hammock while mom takes a moment to reset her perspective. (Hammock naps = Happiness)

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