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Friday, October 3, 2008

Questions From You

Here are a couple of questions from my wonderful readers, and my answers, enjoy!

Mayberry said...

I'd like to know the background story to how y'all wound up where y'all are. Where did y'all live before, how did y'all get from there to where y'all are now, and how much better is life now versus "the old life".....


Thanks for your question, I'm not sure how far you want me to go back, let's see, I do want to maintain privacy, but I can tell you some things... we used to live in the DFW area (Texas), we both pretty much lived there all of our lives. We have both been married previously (to other people obviously), I had one child, Bob had 2, they are now all grown. We met just before Y2K. When we met each other, we had no idea that the other wanted to live off grid and everything that goes with it. I certainly wanted to but didn't know that he did, he had his own business, plus his family was nearby and I didn't expect that he would want to do such a thing. I had been getting "itchy" about the way the world was going and was wanting to get out of Dodge before the SHTF. One of my "secret" pleasures is listening to Coast to Coast am, many of the people who are interviewed on that show talk a lot about the year 2012 and the changes that are supposed to happen then. Good or bad, things are changing, and like many changes, it can get pretty rough before it gets better. Either way, I wanted to be in a safer place, somewhere where we can survive for longer period than we could living in the city. Little did I know that Bob also wanted to get away, not necessarily for the same reasons (he isn't into C2C am).

Bob knew about the area where we now live since he was in his 20s, had a friend out there and spent many summers exploring the deserts and mountains of west Texas. He was a desert/mountain man in training.

I too had my training, from my early teens, I had been learning about solar cooking, canning, cooking from scratch (really from scratch, like our grandmothers did), organic gardening, surviving, all the things I would need to to survive where we are now.

About a year before we moved, Bob started making comments about wanting to move to west Texas, I didn't think he was serious, or maybe I just didn't take it seriously, at first... but once I realized how serious he really was, I agreed to check it out. We looked on line for quite some time to find property and had a couple of likely places lined up. We took a week off and left out for west Texas. I didn't know what to expect, I had been near this area, but not in this exact area, it was beautiful! Any apprehension I had vanished, well most of it did... it IS scary to just up and move from your life, your family, your friends, your work, everything I knew was about to be left behind. Well we got very lucky and found a place on the first try. The property was raw, undeveloped, perfect for us. We made an offer and a month later it was ours. It only took Bob 2 weeks to build phase one of the cabin (all by himself I might add!), it took a couple of months to get all of our stuff moved out there. We wrapped up all the loose ends on our lives in the DFW area and moved to where we live now.

As far as how things are better, yes, things are definitely better! It's not a life that everyone would enjoy living, but for us, it's perfect. Remember a few years ago, PBS aired several shows where people would be put into period times (Frontier House comes to mind), they had people live with the items. clothes and tools available during that time, they had to make it 1 year (I think it was a year, it may have been less) without using any modern day stuff. We would watch these shows and say to each other, we could do that! Since we aren't under the rules of not being able to use modern technology, we get the best of both worlds. Right now I'm sitting in my son's house with my DIL and new grandbaby, all I can think about is getting back to my cabin and my life, I am daily reminded about how much safer, quieter and better my way of living is compared to living in the city. Yes, we will have to burn wood to keep warm, I'll have to cook on a small stove using propane, yes my toilet is a 5 gallon bucket that has to be dumped out once a week, yes I have to get water from 300 gallon tank outside my house, that and everything else we do and don't do, it's all worth it for me and for us. I am counting the days until I can get back there. We don't have to worry about the electricity getting shut off for non-payment, nor the water, we don't have to lock our stuff up, we don't have to worry about who is driving up our street or lurking about... yes, life is good. :)

seth said...

i like hearing about the practical things, like about your solar set up, what you are doing for water storage. Personal topics are nice too, but that is at your discretion.
I always look forward to your posts.

Thanks for your question, our solar setup is very simple, right now we have four 55 watt Siemens solar panels, we got those on Craigslist for a pretty good price (got real lucky, and had the cash on hand to snatch them up!), these sit on the roof in a homemade stand that swivels to track the sun, we have to manually move it though, someday we will have a powered setup so we will not have to climb up on the roof 3 times a day, for now it's fine, at least until the winds start blowing, you will not find me up there adjusting the panels when the wind is blowing a gale! Unless it's an emergency, such as my batteries are going down and my laptop needs juice (grin). We had a set of Harbor Freight 45 watt panels up there, but we took those down to work on the roof and haven't put those back up. When my Dad came to visit, he brought out 3 more sets of the Harbor Freight 45 watt panel kits, as far as I know they are still sitting in their boxes at our neighbor's house, haven't had a chance to put them up. The panels on the roof are wired into a cutoff switch inside the house, that in turn goes into a Xantrex C35 charge controller, we got that new from eBay. Next it goes to the batteries, we have 4 Trojan deep cycle batteries, these sit on a chest of drawers in the house, I know that's not the safest place inside the house, but our house is anything but tight, eventually we will make a better place for these, for now, they happily sit bubbling and gurgling away, the house is ventilated enough to keep things safe for now. From there, it goes into one of two 1000 watt (2000 peak) inverters, I got these just before I quit working for Best Buy, along with the heavy wires to hook everything up in the car-fi department. From there, we have several heavy duty extension cords that have the plug in strips and most importantly, each one has a switch to turn it off as needed. We have them strung around the rooms so that we can plug in the things that need power. We don't really use much power, we have 5 total lights, 3 are in the main room, (we only use one at a time, each one is a different wattage and gives off different amounts of light), one light in the bedroom, two lights outside. We only use the lights we need at the time, two of the lights (one in the main room and one outside) are 12 volt so they are hooked up directly to the batteries, these came with the Harbor Freight kits.

We have a radio so we can listen to our one radio station and the occasional music CD, I power my laptop computer, and the 12 volt water pump for the sink. Bob has a drill that can be run off electricity for when his cordless drill battery goes dead and we don't have another one ready. We also have a small dorm sized cube refrigerator, but we so rarely use it, mainly because it sucks so much juice that I can't use my laptop if we have been running the fridge all day, hopefully that will change once we get all of the other solar panels hooked up, plus it's going into fall with winter soon to follow, we will not need a refrigerator during that time. So far, with the panels we have hooked up now, we have never completely charged the batteries, I am looking forward to seeing the Xantrex charge controller letting me know that the batteries are full. :)

Water storage is very important, and something we definately do not have enough of. For drinking purposes we have a 300 gallon plastic container, it's one of those white translucent plastic things, a cube shape with a metal cage around it. It is recycled, it used to have Hawiian Punch concentrate in it, we got it from a feed store where we used to live, we cleaned it out, but the first 5 or 6 batches of water we stored in it had the faintest scent of fruit, not a bad thing, most of the time I made Koolaid or tea with it so it didn't matter if the water started out fruity! ;)

We have three 1000 gallon metal water tanks, all of them were given to use, most people are going to the plastic water tanks and don't use the metal ones any more. These all have holes in them, some are in better shape than others, we plan on patching the holes, or even better relining the tanks, there is a company nearby that sells liners for the tanks, but I haven't contacted them yet to find out the prices, I hope they are reasonable. We also have a 55 gallon plastic drum, that sits next to the sink inside the house, we have it plumbed to the 12 volt pump and that goes to the faucet on the sink. We have to fill that about once every week and a half, depends on how frugal we are with the water.

Right now we get our water from our neighbor's well, we have several long hoses going from our neighbor's faucet in his backyard to our house, we fill the 300 gallon tank and the 55 gallon drum as needed, we don't leave the water on but turn it on as we are filling what needs to be filled, then we turn it off, can't take the chance on springing a leak and burning out the pump in the well, or draining it dry. We didn't plan on doing it that way originally, getting water from our neighbor, we do have a community well where we can get water free, we would have to go get the water ourselves, it's not too far from us, but we would have to have something to carry a large quantity of water in and be able to get it to the well and back to our place, or we could have it delivered by one of several people who live in our community, it's about $50.00 per 1000 gallons delivered. There are people who live near us that collect rain water and use it year round, it's quite possible to collect enough rain water during the rainy season to take care of us for the whole year, but you have to have enough storage and right now we just don't have it, but we are working on getting enough storage. All the concrete work Bob has done this summer has been done with water collected from the rain, every time it would rain he would place trash cans and 5 gallon buckets around the downspouts from the roof, within a very short amount of time, everything would be overflowing.

We are very grateful to our wonderful neighbor for allowing us access to his well. We do things for him too, which leads me to another way we get along out here, we do things for people who either don't have the skills or don't have the time, in return, we get things we need, building materials, a helping hand, things that we need to survive and make life easier for us, even something as simple as a ride into town, or get them to pick something up we need when they go into town. There is a lot of sharing, things from the gardens people plant (ours included), who hasn't planted too many zucchini? Anyhoo, we have a lot of wonderful friends who help us and we help them. It's not uncommon for one of our friends to stop by and take Bob away for the day to help them do a job when they need an extra set of hands, I don't mind, it gives me some necessary "me time", and Bob shows back up a few hours later, tired, dirty, with beer in hand (no he doesn't drink much) and happy as a clam. He usually gets "paid" with scrap materials from the various job sites, things that either were removed to be replaced, or just stuff that was left over from the job, it helps us, it helps them, everyone is happy.

I can't think of anything else, if there is something else you would like more clarification on, or just have anything else you would like to know, just ask, don't be afraid to ask more personal questions, I don't get offended very easily, and if it's something I don't want to answer, then I just won't answer it. :)

Thanks for the questions, keep 'em coming!


Thanks for visiting, I love comments (but not spam), you may leave anonymous comments (you do not need to sign up or sign in). I do moderate/approve each comment, if your comment doesn't show up within a day or so, try to leave it again, if you still have trouble, email me.


  1. Your adventure sounds wonderful! I've read almost every post in your blog in the last two weeks and that has rekindled my desire to either move to the country OR try mobile homesteading in an RV.

    Here are my questions:

    Since you're on such a glorious hillside, did you consider building an earth-sheltered house overlooking the valley?

    What was your reasoning in not building an earth-sheltered house similar to the ones at this Link?


    Rick Brentlinger

  2. Rick
    Thanks for your comment & question! In answer, yes, we have thought about building into the hillside, and it's still an option, the reason we didn't do it right away was time, it was faster to build the cabin like it is, for the future, it is something we would like to do, but it takes equipment, something we don't have readily available to us. It could be done by hand, it would take a lot of time, and we have big (huge) rocks to contend with. We will be digging a root cellar for cold storage, hopefully this winter.

    I'm glad you have had fun reading my blog, it's been a joy living it and writing about it.


  3. Hey Wretha, thanks for Q&A session.
    I did have a couple of other questions in regards to Texas. Do vehicles need to have a inspection sticker? What is the sales tax(vary from county to county?) State income tax? Am getting really anxious about all that is going on and looking to get out of here asap. I bought another 5 acres not far from my other property, but this one is paid for in full, so if and when i can bug out of here i can. Thanks, Seth

  4. Hi Wretha,

    Look into Ferro cement. Basically, dig a hole, put plumbing in place, ferro cement to seal out dirt etc, and it makes an underground water storage system. AKA cistern. Then you can pump it, filter, and do whatever you need to do with it. It can be filled from the rain or whatever you put in it. Pretty easy to make a 2,000 plus gallon underground storage system. It won't freeze if you have it below the freeze line too!

    Always love to get the day-to-day info on how you do things specifically. What you eat, how you deal with limited electricity etc.

    On the batteries, most off grid batteries die an early death due to chronic undercharging. It is a good idea to have a generator to help with the charging. Check out www.homepower.com for LOTS of wonderful info. There is lots of free info, but you can subscribe for the electronic .pdf version for pretty cheap. Really worth it too!

    Good Luck!

    Skip in Kansas City Missouri

    Cross your fingers, we have a bid in on 3 acres and a manufactured home in the country

  5. Wretha,

    Your setup is almost identical to mine. I use two 30 gallon tanks in the house one next to sink one in bathroom that can be heated.

    It really is easy you only need to watch power consumption. I use 11 watt florescent bulbs. Using the one over the table right now. I do need a couple of outside lights don't have them yet.

    Take care
    Big Bear

  6. Seth
    Thanks for your questions. Yes you do need an inspection sticker for your car in Texas, here is the site for the info: http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/vi/Misc/faq/insp_faq.htm
    If you have an older car (I can't remember if it's 10 years old or 20 years old) you don't have to have the smog test, just the safety inspection, it's cheaper and easier. Sales tax in the DFW area is 8.25%, that is the maximum you will be charged in any city, you might get lucky and find it less. http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/local/index.html
    There is no state tax in Texas. You will pay income tax (of course) and if you own property, you will have property and school tax.

    Paid in full, that IS nice isn't it! I am soooo glad our property is PID, just have to pay the taxes.

    I believe that in the state of Texas, you are required to own a minimum of 5 acres in order to have a well AND septic on your property. Just something to keep in mind.


  7. Skip
    Thanks for your comment, we know about ferro cement, it's GREAT! That's one of the ways we will collect water too, again, that is something that takes time... Bob did dig a hole (by hand) that was deeper than 6 feet and about 6 feet across, it took him a while to do that, including the 300 pound boulders that he had to dig out. That hole was to be the beginning of a water catchment system, unfortunately we had to use it for something else, so we will have to dig a new one sometime.

    What we eat, a lot of canned goods, my kitchen really isn't up to par yet. I really enjoy cooking, especially from scratch, I can't wait until I am able to really cook again. I don't really have the ability to bake in an oven, so I have gotten pretty good at making biscuits in my cast iron skillet. Let's see, for breakfast we like skillet biscuits and gravy, or scrambled eggs & bacon. Lunch is usually something quick like sandwiches. Dinner may be a canned ham cooked with brown sugar, or canned chicken with noodles and sauce, bean burritos made with homemade tortillas. I sometimes take a can of chicken, a can of soup, and some egg noodles and make a meal out of that. On weekends when our neighbor is home, I cook for all of us and I use my neighbor's kitchen, that's when I can really cook, spaghetti, stews and such.

    The limited electricity is always a challenge, we have gotten pretty good at estimating how much power we will have based on how sunny the day is and how much power we use. Since we don't really use that much, a few lights, a radio, the water pump, my laptop computer, it's not too difficult until we get a cloudy day, if it's cloudy for more than a few days, it's very difficult, we just don't use the computer and radio, the lights and pump don't use much power. Once we get the other solar panels up, we will be able to better charge the batteries. We have a couple of generators, but have never used them to charge the batteries. I've been on homepower.com, thanks for the reminder though, it never hurts to brush up on knowledge. :)

    Good luck on your bid, hope you get it!


  8. Big Bear

    I have a question for you, how do you heat your water? We are looking into getting a propane tankless water heater, of course in the winter, we always keep a big stock pot full of water sitting on the wood stove, as long as I remember to keep enough water in it, we nearly always have hot water.

  9. Mayberry
    No prob, I learn as much from you guys (& gals) as you do from me.:)

    Thanks for being part of my internet family!


  10. Wretha, I've been fascinated reading your blog. Your experiences are similar to my own,though not an exact match. My wife and I left the Marine Corps in 1986. We wanted to live as far from people, and be as self sufficient , as we could. So we moved to the Blue Ridge mountains, and I bought a ten acre piece of land surrounded by the Chatahoochee national forest. I am on a mountain top, surrounded by the woods. I have electric power to my log house and outbuildings, as the CCC used this land for a camp in the 1930's. In 1999, I put in a full electric power back up system. It consisted of solar panels which trickle charged a bank of deep cycle batteries. An inverter controlled the power flow and automatically kicked in a generator (5KW diesel) if need be. Now, ten years later, I only use the generator when the power fails for an extended period. The batteries were very difficult to take care of, they required a lot of work to keep in good shape. My kids are grown now, my son has come home from Canada for a rest but my daughter still lives and works in Vancouver. Like you, my wife and are very much concerned with self sufficiency. I'm going to keep on going back in your postings , as I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog during the short time I have been aware of it.


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