Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt IV

Luffa gourd growing on our north fence

Our faith in Jesus Christ and His Word is foundational to all we do.  It has resulted in our choice of this lifestyle, influenced by early impressions shaping our world view, our decision to live debt-free, and protecting family values. Another draw for us is appreciating and desiring to learn long-lost basic skills our ancestors grew up taking for granted.  These reasons are only meaningful to us because of personally knowing Jesus and living out the dreams and visions He gives us.

Simple Living and Sustainable Life Skills

How many young (and not-so-young) people today are experts in social media and computer games, but clueless about the origin of eggs in an omelet (the Easter bunny, the store, a rooster)? Most live in a fake world with imitation foods and flavors (carcinogens rather than nutrition), polyester clothes, and silk flowers; synthetic leather, wood, stone, brick, precious metals and gems; imaginary money, manufactured entertainment, fake hair and skin tones, lots of fairytales (the media), and revisionist history; a false sense of security (“life will always be like this”) and good health (drugs masking symptoms), and no idea where they are going or where they really came from (monkeys?). Totally sheltered from real life, they are clueless about many simple things that used to be common knowledge.  This fake “reality” can negatively affect our understanding of God and how we make decisions.

When the USSR came apart 23 years ago, Cuba, a trading partner, was suddenly cut off from fuel, medicine, and machine parts. Like most nations, Cuba had sacrificed local food production for commercial agriculture, depending on systems that have proven to be very vulnerable to such shifts in politics. Lowly gardeners and landscapers suddenly became sought after and highly valued. Those dependent on modern systems were in for desperate times. Most remembered too late that the basics are essential to survival.

Assorted greens picked from our edible landscaping beds for the evening dinner salad

Farmer Boy enjoys his flock of laying hens

One thing we have noticed about basic sustainable skills…children LOVE them. They get excited about animal husbandry, gardening, blacksmithing, basket weaving, herbal remedies, knitting, cooking from scratch (especially if they grew the ingredients), preserving food, building, sewing, and soap making. Especially when we do it with them!

How many younger children talk about the soap in their shower? Ours do. They think our soap is really cool because they had a part in making it. They love drinking kefir for breakfast made with raw milk from our own cow or goats. They take pride in wearing scarves or caps they made themselves, or healing an infection or soothing a wasp sting with medicinal plants in our yard.

A new batch of tallow soap just cut into bars

Evensong makes her first herbal liver cleanse tincture

Blossom loves knitting and crocheting beautiful caps, scarves, and other practical items

This can all be practiced living ON the grid as well as off. Nevertheless, being off the grid may better fit the mindset and discourages dependency. We are not against modern conveniences, but resist being dependent on them. And of course tinkering with our off-grid systems and home-crafted goods takes time, which we prefer spending at home with the family over being absent to pay for more costly systems or store-bought goods that don’t have to be tinkered with.

About 65% of what Evensong’s rabbits eat is grown here on the homestead

Living Close to the Land

Another driving influence in our lifestyle is living close to the land. Someone once said something like, “The farther a man lives from the land, the less rationally he thinks.” I’ve probably misquoted them, but the general meaning remains (if you know who said that, please share).   We think folks in Washington would benefit us all by taking that idea to heart.  🙂  Furthermore, is it safe to say that the closer a man lives to the land, the more rationally he thinks, or the easier he can understand the ways of God?

There is something therapeutic (and down to earth, ha, ha!) about working in the soil; planting, weeding, cultivating, and harvesting. It is real LIFE. It draws attention to God’s infinite wisdom, diverse creativity, and His solutions to life’s problems.  Working with God’s creation lifts the spirits, calms the nerves, clears the mind, and satisfies the soul. It’s no wonder counseling and rehab centers include gardening and working with animals in their programs. We prefer it as preventative treatment, encouraging a focus on Jesus.

Honey Bun prepares a hole to plant a young olive tree

Little Bird plants a bed of onions

Butterfly waters her young pea plants

I never thought I would enjoy plants and gardening. Once immersed in it you cannot help but enjoy it, especially edible landscape gardening (my opinion). To me it’s a practical way to worship and honor God in daily life.   Gardening grows REAL food, and brings an awareness of our Heavenly Father’s caring provision of nutrients, remedies, and materials growing all around us.  We have yet to learn of a plant He has created with absolutely no practical benefits.

It’s been said that food digests easier when you have a working “relationship” with it.  And growing your own food means less GMO’s, drugs and chemicals (except the unavoidable ones in our country’s air and water), no prematurely harvested fruits, and real in-season local foods. That means fully developed, high-density nutrition…better than any expensive supplement…the way God made it, with humans managing as He directed (Genesis 2:8, 9, 15).

For over 30 years I was dependent on whole food supplements for energy and strength…but no more! We use no regular supplements anymore…don’t need them! One less major expense. And we haven’t used our medical sharing plan (health insurance) since the last baby was born (over eight years ago). Thank the Lord!  Understanding and following God’s design brings many benefits, which glorifies Him.

The herb garden in front of our “house” includes moringa trees, whose edible leaves are a nutrient-packed superfood

I will not expound on the exercise gained working with the soil, digging, hoeing, weeding, scraping and pushing around loads of organic matter. Not to mention strong fingers from milking a cow (and calf muscles from kicking ornery goats eating each others’ feed…just kidding!) And many hands-on lessons in plant and animal biology, weather patterns, moon phases, sustainable cooking, and God’s design that naturally come with it.

Cycles of life are observed regularly, such as this swallowtail butterfly freshly emerged from its chrysalis…

…then pollinating our plants

A young tomato seedling ready to be potted

The desire to be close to the land and grow our own food is one reason we live off the grid, and in a tiny house. It may not be God’s plan for everyone, and again, you can grow your own food on the grid, but since borrowing is not an option for us, we chose this homesteading dream over more expensive options. We would not choose connection to the grid if it meant dying to that dream, without the Lord directing us to. Our children wouldn’t either. So, off the grid in a tiny house it is, at least for now!

The Lord has graciously fulfilled a longstanding dream after many years. We can identify with Chris Dalziel at Joybilee Farm…“We forget sometimes, in our daily grind of gardening, cleaning,…and gathering eggs, that we are ‘land owners.’  How empowering that is. To own land – any land – no matter how dirt poor – is to have hope, to own the means of production, to have a future beyond indenture.”

Dreams inspired and fulfilled by the Lord are designed to bring glory and honor to Jesus.  It is our prayer and intent that our homestead does just that, as it is otherwise meaningless.

More next time!

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt III

Butterfly and I harvest sweet potato greens

With the decay of the family unit, we have looked for ways to safeguard family relationships. That is partly what led us to work together as a family to build our off-grid homestead. The first parts of this theme speak of our worldview and the decision to live debt-free. Now we will look at how we have chosen some practical ways to build strong family ties by living off the grid in a tiny house.

Family Values

Building a homestead from scratch has its challenges. Building it without connection to grid power increases those challenges, especially after being accustomed to relying on it. This is a perfect setting for a team of workers collaborating to accomplish otherwise daunting tasks. It is adventuresome, exciting, healthy, invigorating, satisfying, educational, and unifying. When friction or bickering raise their ugly heads, collaborators must stop and work out a resolution if progress is expected. We cannot run from conflict long or everything grinds to a halt and everyone suffers till it is resolved.

Before the industrial revolution, it was normal for families to work together daily on their homesteads. The introduction of modern day machinery, appliances, and electricity encouraged many to move to a more convenient city life. Losses to the family structure were huge. Fathers left home every morning for a “real” job to support a more expensive lifestyle, and to provide their family with the “best” of life. One income could not support all the new “needs” so mothers left for work as well, and entrusted their children to the care of others much earlier in life than before.

Working on our homestead…putting down cardboard as a weed barrier in the garden area

Covering the cardboard with mulch (wood chips) from a local tree trimmer

And more mulch

Stay-at-home mothers are in the minority today, but fathers who work at home with their families are rare. Every person in the modern family has a separate social life outside the home that pulls and competes for affections and loyalties. Even church life fragments the family into various age and social groups. Any wonder why peer and social pressures win over family relationships and values?

Finger-knitting scarves together with loops we cut from panty-hose

A crazy bunch, showing off our new “panty-hose” infinity scarves: (L to R) Little Bird, Honey Bun, Blossom, me, Evensong, Farmer Boy, Butterfly

Years ago, it became a dream of ours to work together with our children rather than go different directions every day. Strong family relationships may be possible with “normal” jobs and school, but less likely. Instead of working out, I have been free to save and live with less rather than earning money. It is a privilege to live thriftily, share almost every growing moment with our children, and study things like natural health and diet and intensive growing methods, saving tremendously on medical and food bills.

Blossom and I planting garlics last fall – none lived 😦

It has been much tougher to bring Silver Oak home. The transition from self-employment away from home to a home-based enterprise has been very challenging. We have cut expenses dramatically by our lifestyle choices, enabling him to sell or give up many landscaping accounts we previously depended on. It has been financially difficult, yet every day spent at home developing a more productive homestead and other streams of income, is another day speaking more into the lives of our children. Our children will not be here forever, and we won’t regret time well-spent with them.

Silver Oak and Honey Bun preparing formerly-used tie-downs for the bio shelter

The kiddos helped Silver Oak dig holes for the concrete tie-downs

Lots of holes needed to be dug

Silver Oak and Evensong fill more holes for the posts to frame in the ends

When Silver Oak works at home, Farmer Boy is his right-hand man, learning many valuable skills alongside him. This preparation for manliness beats being stuck with his mom and sisters all the time. Whatever Silver Oak does, Farmer Boy gets excited about. In free time he builds structures, connects plumbing lines with leftover PVC, wires imaginary “electrical” projects, changes tires on his wagon, and plants his own garden patch. One day in town he pointed out the upper control arms and ball joints on the monster truck next to us. How did he ever know what they were? He had helped Silver Oak replace those parts on our pick-up. What confidence-building learning experiences loaded with good memories to carry him into manhood! Oh…if you’re worried, he’s above average in reading skills, and pretty good in math in case you’re thinkin’ he’s missin’ his book-larnin’. ?

Silver Oak apprenticed Farmer Boy in raising his own batch of laying hens

Building lots of fence together

Building our deck a few years ago

Farmer Boy works on a project of his own…steps to a small treehouse

Cutting down dead papaya trees after helping Silver Oak down large pines

While we each have various chore assignments, our favorite way to accomplish things on the homestead is working together. Together we have made a long driveway, built our deck, dug a well, erected a windmill, created raised row gardens, cleaned out barnyard and rabbit manures, spread literally tons of mulch and manures, planted many trees and edible shrubs, put the cover on the bio shelter, cleared lots of palmettos, pulled weeds, planted and processed sugarcane, installed solar panels, cut firewood, made pretty scarves from panty-hose, done laundry by hand, and much more. Our favorite time spent working together is in the morning before the sun gets baking hot, around 6 or 7am till breakfast time. We have made many good memories this way.

Silver Oak and Evensong build our generator hut the night after moving onto our homestead nearly three years ago

Digging our well…a major accomplishment!

Before our well was dug we had to haul in all our water so for six months we did laundry by hand

Blossom helps my dad install a solar panel on our roof

Evensong and I were part of the electrical wiring crew for the solar panels

It took all of us to pull the cover onto our bio shelter (greenhouse)

A tiny house also helps build family ties. When we go somewhere else for the night our children actually prefer to be together in the same room to sleep. They enjoy each other and keep each other straight. No one sneaks around without someone noticing. It is a great safeguard in this age of easily accessed morally damaging materials. We do have designated times and places for privacy and belongings, especially for the older ones, and they are expected to respect each other’s boundaries. In this small space we work around each other, help each other, and keep things picked up for space to do the next thing.

Sometimes things are a disastrous mess, we get in each others’ way, and we grouch at each other! But my favorite thing is hearing the children sing together in harmony going about their various household tasks…which could not happen as easily spread out in a big house.

Evensong, Blossom and Honey Bun play music together at my dad’s birthday celebration

“Chilling out” after some hard work: Honey Bun, Little Bird, and Farmer Boy

This lifestyle does not automatically solve all family problems. It’s a challenge learning to include a child or two in all our work, rather than “efficiently” doing it ourselves. However, being together a lot naturally fosters stronger family ties and identity, encouraging our children’s hearts to be turned to us as parents, and our hearts to be turned to our children (Mal. 4:6; Luke 1:17).

Living off the grid in a tiny house is not for everyone, but we enjoy it! Stick around for part four of this series.

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (as well as mine), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt II

Part of our summer homestead bounty: butternut squash and cucuzzi edible gourd

Early impressions shaping our worldview (see last post) opened the door for us to consider decisions affecting our lifestyle choices and dreams, leading us to eventually live off the grid. Here is one decision that did that.

Living Debt-free

One “radical” decision monumentally affecting our lives was not to live with debt. One Biblical perspective admonishes that debt is bondage God intended as a curse, not for His Beloved (Deut. 15:6; 28:12, 44; Prov. 22:7). Because credit and debt is the mainspring of our modern economy, Silver Oak’s uncle challenged that without a firm commitment (vow) to live only within the means God provides, we WILL eventually borrow. After weeks of prayer, we felt God’s confirmation to make that commitment, taking us on many sometimes scary but rewarding adventures! Our faith has greatly increased by repeatedly witnessing God’s provision for His leading, often at the last minute.

Three years ago, the 20 acres that became our homestead was the only available local property fitting our needs, desires, and dreams that our cash could buy. That made God’s leading clear. An option to borrow would probably have resulted in something less than God’s best.

We didn’t have the $15k needed to bring electric lines back to the home site, and an $8k simple solar power system made more long-term sense anyway. We had hoped to “some day” live independent of the grid, so with this little “push” the Lord helped it happen. The longer we live off the grid system, the more value we see in it.

Since it took nearly all available cash to purchase the property, none remained for a house…normally a bad idea, but the only option for realizing our dream. We scoured the internet for alternative housing ideas. Some made sense; others were quite costly. At that time Silver Oak’s cousin just “happened” to be selling his old Great Dane semi trailer converted first into an office, then into living quarters. He offered a very affordable price, but we still did not have enough. A tax refund came just in time to buy our tiny house, an old storage shed, and a few other things to set up our home. While waiting we lived for several weeks in my parents’ camper.

The home site as we prepared to move onto our property: the camper we lived in for six weeks, the big shed (now red) being towed in, and a pit (foreground) for our future tiny house (semi trailer)

A view on the other side of the camper, with the silver tool shed in place, fighting some palmettos to make way for the big (red) shed

It was a happy day when our tiny house was finally put into place so remodeling could begin to prepare it for a family of eight.

First, we had enough funds to buy two 6-volt deep-cycle batteries for lights and a few other basics. We soon added an 18cu ft energy star fridge purchased through Craigslist, and more batteries, gradually adding more until we had ten, and a 2 kw inverter.  Later the Lord graciously provided through a large adoption tax credit that enabled us to purchase solar panels and a new generator to replace our worn out one.

This fridge replaced our coolers and was later placed in our tiny house.

When we had only four batteries and a 750 watt inverter to run the fridge, lights and laptops

Over a year later we "graduated" to solar panels using 8-10 batteries to store power

As time went on, we added a large deck and roof, using many repurposed or free materials. We installed our windmill for pumping water from the well we dug, added rainwater storage tanks, lots of fences, fruit and olive trees, edible landscaping, and Buttercup, our Jersey cow. We purchased a window a/c unit and ceiling fans, and a greenhouse cover and a shade cloth for our large bio-shelter.

Our windmill that pumps water from the well to the tanks on our roof

The first year we rented a skid loader and root rake for two weekends to help clear our driveway winding back through the woods to our home site, and prepare a home site area and another place for a future cabin or small pasture. The following year as finances allowed we rented it again for a week to clear fencerows and enlarge pasture space. In between, we did lots of work by hand (and sweat), but it was satisfying.

Sweat and toil, now our quarter mile driveway back to the home site

Machinery gets it done quickly

Waiting for funds instead of instant gratification encourages gratefulness for each need met. It often saves money and energy in the end, allowing time to find better deals or solutions, or for God’s provision another way. It often eliminates or changes the need. With tight finances, we enjoy having no mortgage payment, and no risk of foreclosure in economic collapse or income loss. Free to serve the Lord whenever or wherever He calls, we are not slaves to a bank. We gladly give up “stuff” and conveniences for that. Jesus said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.” Luke 12:15b

Our kiddos wearing their Liberian outfits...two adopted from Kazakhstan, two from Liberia, and two biological

By NOT borrowing God provided for our four international adoptions. Adoption fees and expenses cost over three years of income for us, not including income and business losses being overseas many months. Funding came mostly from selling a small property that was worth little when we purchased it, but sold for much more a few years after rezoning battles and growth of the real estate bubble in 2005.

With an option to borrow, we would have purchased the adjoining property and house earlier, accepting debt “slavery” and probably unable to consider adoption for years. Alternatively, after rezoning made it buildable, we would have borrowed to build our dream home on that property. Instead, out of debt, but facing hopelessly large adoption costs, we put up a “For Sale” sign. Naïve, we were clueless that the property value had increased so drastically, until a realtor friend “happened” to see our sign. He got us a contract and large down payment just weeks before we needed to fly overseas for our first adoption. We would have missed that huge faith-builder with a loan.

Sometimes poor management or errors have forced a few months of credit card debt (card designated for online purchases only with cash to cover it immediately). Or we can’t pay immediately for services. Although not fun, we appreciate these reproofs and the built-in safeguards when carefully living within our means.

Living debt-free is not the only reason we homestead off the grid. I will share more soon!

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Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Part One

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (as well as mine), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.