Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | February 25, 2011

Off the Grid ~ Part One

The term, “off the grid”, is a descriptor for a home that is not connected to any public utilities, but when you begin to contemplate the subject, there is much more involved than just building an unconventional home.

Politics, philosophy, religion, environmental persuasion, and the luck of the draw, are just a few of the things that could influence a person’s interest in living an off-the-grid lifestyle.

Last Saturday, my daughter, Becca, shared a book from her library: “Off the Grid” by Nick Rosen. It was a quick read, on a theme near and dear to my heart. It has me mulling over many things, and is the inspiration for this series of blogs on all aspects of the subject, beginning with my personal experience with off-grid living and thinking…

Back in the early 1970’s, I was very much interested in the “living off the land” movement.

The Foxfire series worked its way into my home library, and I spent hours reading about how people can live simply and happily, without modern conveniences. I wanted to give it a try, but was unsuccessful in convincing my children’s father to uproot and go homesteading in Canada.

Time passed. Full-time employment and parenthood consumed most of my days and nights, and although we lived simply – no TV in the house until my first child was around 5 years old – and all three children sharing the same bedroom for a number of years – our home was quite average in its energy consumption and connectedness to the grid. There was not time in my day for vegetable gardening or preserving food for the winter, but I carried the seed of self-sufficiency close to my heart.

In the late 1980’s, after 18 years of marriage, I found myself single, and in need of a lifestyle that my meager income could support. The legal process of going through a divorce had a huge impact on my personal philosophy…I vowed to never again put myself in a position in which anyone other than myself could make determinations on how the property I had worked diligently to procure and support, would be handled.

So, I began a quest for a small plot of land outside of the city that I could call my own, and that no one could ever take away from me ~ barring an eminent domain situation. One evening, as I drove around while one of my daughters was taking a horseback riding lesson, I turned a corner and saw this ramshackle house with a “for sale” sign in front, and instantly knew that it was my next home.

Blessingway, Spring 1988

I named my new home Blessingway, after the Navajo ceremonies related to healing, creation, harmony and peace…all of which I intended to bring into this place on the earth.

It was crazy to buy it. The house, on one acre of prairie, was a wreck, and had I been wiser or wealthier, I would have opted for building something new and self-sustaining, but I needed a dwelling I could move into “now”, as I could not afford the current rent on an apartment in town.

It was my dream to fix up the house – making it as “off the grid” as possible within my small budget, and to grow as much of my food as I could, in a huge vegetable garden. Luckily, there was a man who shared my dream, and we both worked for 18 years, (seems to be a recurring number in my life), to make some semblance of that dream come true.

Blessingway, Summer 1995

There were many instances of  “facing reality” through the years,  but we managed to set ourselves up to be able to live fairly self-sufficiently, and to survive potential disasters – like the infamous Y2k – should they arise.

Although we connected the house to Rural Water, we did have a well, and installed a small solar power station to bring water from the well to be used for gardening and emergencies.

We handled the heating situation much the same way. When we first moved into the house, a wood stove was our only source for heat. The home’s wood frame structure was not insulated, and the first two winters we almost froze, so we decided to insulate and install a heat pump. The wood stove was still used as the main heat source, but it was nice to have the on-grid heat during the night.

With the water and warmth issues under control, we moved on to providing food…for a number of years, we raised chickens for eggs and meat. For the first 4-5 years, I planted huge gardens in the spring, only to watch them falter in the clay soil and hot, windy Kansas summers.

By July, weeds had overgrown my vegetables, and since I had a full-time job and long commute, I didn’t really have the energy to get out and weed and water when I got home from work. We relished the vegetables that survived long enough to harvest, but there were few to store for the winter in our root cellar.

A Blessingway Garden

It quickly became apparent that, for us, it was impossible to live completely off the land and work full-time jobs away from home, and we would have to make some concessions. As quitting our jobs was not an option, we decided to look for alternative sources for some of the things we  needed.

One of our concessions was to purchase firewood. We had the option of driving several hours to a family farm to fell trees and split and stack wood for the winter, or we could make a phone call and have our wood delivered, and support the woodcutter in the process. For me, it was a no-brainer!

If a person is interested in stockpiling food to hold them over during an emergency, food preservation is an important topic. I had tried my hand at making jams and pickles, but decided that purchasing MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) from the army surplus store would get the job done quicker than canning and preserving.

Before long we had a 3-month supply of army rations stored in the cellar, along with lanterns, blankets, clothing, and other supplies we might need in an emergency situation.

At that point, we were set up with water, heat and emergency food. It was then time to begin learning some basic survival skills.

Yes, survival…and though it may seem at first to be off-topic, isn’t that what “off-the-grid” is really about?

I chose to live that way, but what about the homeless? Are they not facing the same situations, with no means to purchase what they can’t produce?

In upcoming posts, I will share the rest of my story, and then go beyond, to look at how others are creating their own versions of life off-the-grid.

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Responses

  1. What a wonderful post! I forgot what Blessingway looked like in the beginning – amazing renovation and I will always think of that place as your home since you really did create it from a shell. Good memoires.

    • Thanks for the nice comment…it was a good home.

  2. I’m so glad that you liked “Off the Grid,” and that it’s a source of inspiration for writing and reflecting.

    • It’s been a great exercise so far…harder than just posting a travelog, but more rewarding!

  3. I still say you should write a book about your adventures. All you would have to do is organize your blog posts. We go by your old house once in awhile and think about you. So glad you’re enjoying life!

    • It’s so nice to have such great “fans” of my writing! Glad you enjoy the read. Shoot me an e-mail soon and let me hear your news.


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