Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Tag: rv-living

How To Ruin Your Teenager’s Life In Three Strategic Steps

To all my parenting peeps out there, sit down and hold on to your hats for a few minutes as we enter the turbulent world of teenagerism.

Truly, it has been my experience as having been a teenager once myself and now living through my second bout of it in my kids, that being a teenager is TOUGH. Much tougher, perhaps, than even being a parent of a teenager.

And it’s getting tougher. I mean just yesterday, when I was a teenager, we didn’t even have social media to screw with our heads. If we wanted to join up with other teens and make bad choices, we had to put a little scheme into it. Nowadays teenagers can just google their way into trouble. Often while sitting on the couch right next to you (if you can get them to come out of their room, that is).

This is why it is even more important than ever that we, as responsible parents, try really, really, hard to ruin our teenager’s lives. Because if you aren’t ruining your teenager’s life, somebody out in there in google world is (for realsies).

So, based on my aforementioned experience, I have created a quick How To guide to help you do your absolute best in your noble parenting quest to ruin your teenager’s life.

Strategy #1: Chores. Lots Of Chores. 

Now when I say chores, I don’t mean some cute little chart where they earn stickers for unloading the dishwasher and brushing their teeth. I mean real, gritty, down and dirty chores. That actually help you out and make life easier on the entire family. Sure, cleaning and bodily hygiene rituals are just fine (we could actually use a little more of those around here) but think about adding something intense to the mix- something that makes them sweat, makes them think, and/or creates a lasting result.

My children haven’t always had to do chores (this could be why we have such a hard time with cleaning and bodily hygiene rituals…). To be honest, it wasn’t until we started homesteading, living off-grid and taking care of animals that I realized chores weren’t cute anymore. In our life, everybody is needed to keep everything running smoothly (and even then, we are often still just puttering along).

For my sanity and because I would turn into a bitter old lady otherwise, everyone has to do their fair share of chores every day. Which translates to hours and hours a week. And the older they get, they more chores they get to do. Yay!!

So how is this beneficial to anyone else but me? (Said while sipping a pina coloda from my easy chair as the children fan me and feed me grapes). It creates this thing called character. It creates confidence. It gives a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Basically, your kids won’t be whiny namby-pamby’s if you work ’em young and work ‘em hard.

Now, I realize most of you are not living off-grid on seventy acres with endless amounts of work on your horizon. I am not suggesting you disassemble your house and have the kids nail it back together. But I am suggesting you create the kind of life where each member of your family contributes in a valuable and meaningful way. And if it makes them sweat, even better.

If you are homesteading, coming up with chores is easy. If you are not, you might have to get creative when it comes to doling them out in large quantities. Some ideas for meaningful chores for teenagers are: Design and take care of a small butterfly or vegetable garden, help with a building/repair project, learn how to fix a flat tire/change the oil, assist in family meal planning, or committing to a volunteer project or organization like Habitat for Humanity, etc.

Fun Fact: The younger you start them on chores, the easier it is to get them to actually do anything by the time they are a teenager. Plus by then, if you have done due diligence, they will surprise you with how capable and helpful they can be, even while perfecting their death glare.

Strategy #2. Make Them Spend Time With You

Now I know this sounds cruel, but hear me out. To truly ruin your teenagers life, you need to insert yourself strongly into it. That way, when they are thinking back on how you ruined their life, they will have lots of memories of you doing all kinds of stupid stunts to support their theory. Drag them to a movie, ask them about their latest book (tips on how to get your teenager to read in Strategy Three), do a chore together (my favorite).

Don’t be afraid to act silly, talk to people in public, or show some kind of affection towards your teenager while spending time together as these actions are sure to having a lasting embarrassing impact, a key to ruining their life. 

It really doesn’t matter what you do together, but it is important that you remain positive and unaffected by their attempts at withering your soul with a single glare. Forcing your teenager to spend time with you when what they really want to do is kill you can be brutal on the tender parenting heart. This is a good time reach into your spiritual toolbox and pull out the Second Agreement from Don Miguel Ruiz’s incredibly simple yet profound book, The Four Agreements, which is this: Don’t Take Anything Personally.

Of course, getting a teenager to agree to spend time with you can be pretty tough. The first step is getting them out of bed.  For tips on how to do this, refer back to Strategy One. The second thing you need to do is to completely bore the shit out of them so they talk to you out of sheer desperation. Which brings us to Strategy Three, the Mother of all Methods for ruining your teenager’s life.

Strategy #3: Take their phone away. (Insert horrified gasping emoji here)

Yes. I. Did.

I took my teenager’s phone away.

And guess what, everyone? She didn’t die! She didn’t go into convulsions, or start blubbering and drooling. (Actually, she quit doing that when I took her phone away).

In the interest of full disclosure (a caveat of this blog, really), I can now admit (a year later) that Maverick was right (of course, once again, yawn..) when he suggested we wait to give Phoenix a smart phone and social media. But did I listen? Oh no, I did not.

In hindsight, the best tip I have for moms and dads approaching the should-I-give-my-teenager-a-phone-and-social-media-decision is this: The minute that smart phone (or even tablet or ipod) goes into their hands and social media accounts are opened, the lines between parent and child autonomy start to blur, getting ever blurrier as the days, months and years go by.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, as developing personal autonomy in our children is a baseline goal for parents. But giving your child too much autonomy too early sets the stage for trouble, as I found out the hard way. So be very, very sure you are ready to go down this road.

Also, parental controls and/or spying apps are there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use them. They allow for a slow release of your child’s privacy and autonomy as they prove they can handle it.

Above all, always make sure you follow your mom instincts and DO NOT give in to the mom guilt, no matter the amount of justification they sling at you. Truly, my resolve to wait on the phone/social media was blasted apart when Phoenix began pointing out all the deficits she already had in life, such as living in a camper in the woods, being homeschooled with no close friends, and the whole pooping in a bucket thing.

She begged for a phone, citing all the ways it would magically change her social life for the better. Saying yes to the phone, Snap Chat and Instagram was really my way out of all the mom guilt I was feeling. Of course, when I realized what I had done by giving her the phone, my mom-guilt came flooding back. Oh, the irony.

When I made the counter-decision that my teen’s phone had to go, it was not easy. By this time, she had pretty much turned into Gollum from The Ring, stroking the phone adoringly while muttering precious, my precious over and over to herself.

Honestly, I was downright scared. For some irrational reason, I thought I might actually ruin her life if I took her phone away. I even googled how to take your teens phone away and also should I take my teens phone away. (Apparently, teens are not the only ones who no longer have to think for themselves).

And even though, in all of google land, I found not one professional advising me to take my teen’s phone away (in fact, all I found were articles telling me how I should never invade my teen’s privacy or break her trust by taking/searching her phone), I did it anyway.

Best. Decision. Ever.

After all, do kids really have a right to social privacy? Shouldn’t they at least have to work for it?

I mean, when I was a kid, we had to sneak out in the middle of the night to have any privacy with our friends. And there was a reason why we wanted privacy in the first place, which wasn’t exactly anything our parents would have approved of.

It seems the leading edge opinion on the topic is that going through your child’s phone is akin to sawing off the top of their head and peering into their private thoughts. A complete violation of their personal being. Yet maybe, just maybe, it is not in the best interest of our children and teens to have unchecked and unregulated access to each other (and everyone else lurking around the internet)

Of course, when I took Precious from Gollum, there was a period of total freak out. The death glares were in full swing, along with dramatics to make any momma’s heart race. Yet, with the gentle support of Maverick, I stayed strong, my friends, and just loved her through it.

Then slowly, every so slowly, my child came back to me. Now a year later, she told me just the other day how glad she was we took her phone and social media when we did because she was being a ‘total idiot’ and that she is still suffering some repercussions from her ‘wild days’.

I am not telling you what to do, just reminding you to listen to your instincts and find what works for your family. But please, as tempting as it is, don’t put your head in the sand. What you don’t know CAN hurt them.

Believe me, I know how tempting denial is, but remember, as parents it is our job to ruin our teenager’s life. This means doing the tough work sometimes. So even though they may scream and shriek and have phantom limb pains, stay strong, my parenting warrior.

And if you find your resolve weakening, just repeat this mantra over and over: A phone is not an appendage, a phone is not an appendage.  Also, try not to delay, as I am pretty sure taking your child’s phone away will soon be illegal. 

And there you have it friends, three strategic steps for ruining your teenager’s life.  They seem to be working really well for me, judging by the intensity of death glares I am earning lately. If you have a strategy to share with the rest of us, let me know in the comments! #parentingwarriors

Top Ten Important Items For Your Extreme Homestead

Ok friends, before we dive into today’s Top Ten list, we should note that every homestead (off-grid or otherwise) is a unique operation and whether or not you fit the criteria of homesteader is honestly just a matter of opinion.

Seriously, I question my own homesteading creds at times! I may live off-grid in a camper in the woods, but I’ve yet to can my own tomato 🍅

The way I see it, if you’re involved in any activity which helps you shake free from the clutches of The Man (i.e. helps you become sovereign and self-reliant) than absolutely you are homestead-worthy!

After all, homesteading is as much a way of thinking as it is a way of living.

This being said, most homesteaders make sure they at least have a decent roof over their heads, an accessible driveway and some form of indoor plumbing before they take the homesteading plunge…

However, there’s a group of us out there who scoff at such folly…

We fall into a category known as off grid (off-grid, off the grid). But this category can be illusory as well, as there are off-gridders who are living in the height of luxury with decked-out cabins, solar-everything and composting toilets that cost thousands of dollars! (I’ve not actually met these people in real life, but I’ve seen them on YouTube)

So, for clarity’s sake, I coined the term ‘extreme homesteading’ to ensure I’d never be confused with the average namby-pamby homesteader… (kidding, kidding- I don’t think people with indoor plumbing are namby-pambys- I actually aspire to be just like them one day).

What Is Extreme Homesteading?

It’s one part camping, one part pioneer grit, and a whole lotta crazy.

You’re definitely 100 percent off grid. You might have a smattering of structures you’re building yourself in various states of completion. You should probably have access to things like a bulldozer and a bobcat. Maybe you have a saw mill to process your own trees. Definitely you have multiple generators, solar panels, chainsaws, and tools. Lots of tools. A ridiculous amount of tools.

While you do have something to live in (unless you are in the tropics, then some palm trees will suffice), it’s not quite a house. It could be a camper (nothing too fancy) a tent (get as fancy as you’d like) or even a van (a cozy kid’s bedroom, I say). Basically, anything temporary and hodgepodged together to get you by whilst you build The House Of Your Dreams.

There are some variables though. What one person needs to be comfortable can look a lot different than another (some of us are just nuttier by nature, I guess).

For example, our landmates purchased a solar refrigerator/freezer before they even considered coming to Serenity fulltime. We, on the other hand, are still working out of a cooler (or ice box, as I like to call it – much more pioneer-esque, don’t you think?)  

Okay, so now we’re clear about the definition of extreme homesteading, lets get to this super important, absolutely essential list already.

Ten Important Items Every Extreme Homesteader Needs:

 ​1. Gigantic Pot.

 I talked about this in a previous post; however, the Gigantic Pot is really essential if you don’t have an on-demand water heating system set up yet. With the gigantic pot and a heating source (stove top or fire), you can keep a nice supply of hot/warm water to be used throughout the day for washing dishes and bodies. Believe me, you’ll feel a lot more in control of your life when you at least have the option of keeping things and people clean.

 2. Witch Hazel.

As a natural beauty care buff, I am IN LOVE with witch hazel. The main thing I use it for every day is to clean my face. Its super-refreshing, doubles as a toner, doesn’t dry my face out and, man, is it good at getting rid of the sweaty grime that builds up several times a day in peak gardening season.

As an all natural waterless face cleanser, witch hazel makes extreme homesteading (where attaining water, especially warm water, can be a bit of a procedure) a much more convenient affair.

Instead of wasting a whole lotta water to wash my face, I just pull out the witch hazel, some cotton pads and – viola! – I no longer resemble a dirty street urchin (my garden hands are a whole other story, however)

Witch hazel actually has a ton of great uses on the homestead. It can be used on minor cuts and burns, as it has antiseptic and pain-relieving properties. It helps reduce puffy eyes and hemorrhoids, and can be used to soothe diaper rash. And it’s cheap! For a full low-down on the witchiness of witch hazel, check out this post.

3. Hammock.

I pity the hammock-less homesteader. What is the point of living in the great outdoors if you can’t relax and enjoy Mother Nature anytime, anywhere? I have a hammock that is quick and easy to tie up and take down. After spending the morning in the garden, my pup and I go hiking around Serenity and when I find a good spot to rest, (usually by the creek), I tie it up and have a little shut eye. That is, until Maverick or the kids air horn me back to reality. Which brings me to the next item on our list…

Baby Jasper waiting under the hammock while mom tales a lil snooze

4. Air Horn or Megaphone.

This is really only necessary if you have a decent size property to roam but even if you don’t, the megaphone or Air Horn can be a lot of fun- especially for those of us who aren’t afraid to embarrass our children in public. Serenity is a little over 70 acres, so the air horn comes in handy when it’s time to call the kids in for dinner or chores. It also works nicely to to wake mom up from her hammock hiatus

5. Sun Hat

I love my sun hats! Not only do I feel very homesteady when I am wearing one, it also allows me to garden without crying and squinting like a little old lady at her cat’s funeral (was that in poor taste? sometimes I can’t quite tell). The sun hat is also great at fanning away bugs and gnats, covering your face for an afternoon nap (judge much?) and allowing you to forgo your sunglasses so your eyes can absorb the sun’s healing rays and synthesize vitamin D.

6. Mud boots

Nothing makes me feel better than a good pair of mud boots after a rainstorm. It’s like the rain wants to break me down, but it cannot when I have my mud boots at the ready. They actually make walking around in thick sludge sort of fun. Like I can do anything. Bring it.

7. Outdoor Shower/Bath

Like I said, every homestead is different. We technically have a shower in our camper but who wants to be closed into that tiny space when there are other options? So when the weather’s nice and the sun’s shining, there’s nothing I like more than taking a shower outside.

Rigging up a shower station can be as primitive as a bucket of warm water, a bar of soap, a wash cloth and some trees for privacy. You’ll be amazed by how clean a sponge bath can get you! You may need to enlist help of another for washing long hair, though.

During the heat of the summer, in true pioneer spirit, we also often bath in our swimming hole…

Stepping it up a notch is the outdoor fire bath, an amazing contraption I’ve had the pleasure of using many times at my bff’s farm. Talk about pure heaven, bathing under the open sky, water heated to perfection from a fire under the tub. The whole process of building a fire, filling up the tub and waiting for the water to heat up can take hours, which means you’ll really appreciate the experience.

The fire bath is actually really cool and deserves it’s very own post, so we’ll come back to it in the near future. Until I write it though, here’s a tutorial on how to build one.

Taking a shower/bath in the great outdoors, more specifically allowing yourself to be totally stark naked with the sun shining on every part of you, is an extremely invigorating experience. I really think everyone should try it at least once. You never know, it may become your new thing.

 8. Clothes Line With Pulley.

Laundry is the never ending story, weather you homestead or not. On an off-grid operation, things and people get dirty quick. Knowing this, it still took us a whole year of hanging wet clothes and towels willy nilly anywhere we could, tying sagging ropes to trees and tossing the overflow over tree branches (which was about as aesthetically pleasing as it was functional).

Finally, Maverick realized there was a lot on the line, so to speak, and put up a totally rad pulley system with a super long rope that goes high into the trees, never sags, and can handle a full laundry haul. It’s even fun to use. Sometimes its the little things, my friends.

7. Hand Washing Station.

This should probably be at the top of the list. A decent hand washing station is so incredibly convenient and necessary for an off-grid homestead that’s not set up with indoor plumbing yet. It’s also a great to take with you on camping trips, etc. I hate to admit it, but it took me a couple of weeks before I actually set one up, (hey I was just getting used to things!) using instead a cumbersome jug of water.

This clumsy arrangement up did nothing to encourage the family to wash those dirty paws. Finally, realizing we were on the brink of an Ebola outbreak (kidding, kidding), I bought a super cool antique beverage cooler with a spout for ease of washing, filled it with warm water, set out a bar of homemade soap and a clean hand towel and declared we adopt some standards again.

8. Composting Toilet/Outhouse.

Obviously in order to stay anywhere comfortably for more than a few hours, you need somewhere reasonable to relieve yourself. Enter the composting toilet and outhouse. Both of these options require you to live on a little bit of land so as not to freak out your neighbors or create any contamination issues.

The composting toilet can be as simple as a bucket with a toilet seat on top and some wood shavings for coverage, but for more permanent situations, you can easily build a sturdy and comfortable composting toilet with a few supplies and tools.

The outhouse is also rather simple. Basically a nice deep hole in the ground, at least 100 feet away and downhill from any water sources (well, river, spring, etc).

We use a composting toilet as well as an outhouse. When the outhouse fills up, we simply dig another hole and slide it over. (Maverick’s mechanical auger makes this a much easier job than digging by hand, but we do that also).

Composting is seriously not nearly as gross as it sounds (as long as the kids stay up on their bucket duty and we don’t run out of shavings!). It’s an impressively circular system and one I think deserves a lot more consideration.

 10. Sexy handy man who can build/fix anything your heart desires (in due time).

 Homesteader or not, we all need one of these in our lives!

If you’re a homesteader (to any degree), what essential items can’t you live without? Comment below and let me know!

As always, sharing is caring people! Thanks for reading and happy homesteading!

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