This week we have the privilege of having a continuation of a story that was posted about a year and a half ago. Avie and Michael from Hippie Narnia gives us an update on how things have progressed on their homestead. If you didn't get a chance to read their first post Less Is More: Living Life Off Grid then we will put a link to it at the end of their post along with a link to their Facebook page Hippie Narnia if you would like to keep up to date with their progress.
It’s been almost 2 years since we checked in with you and so much has happened. We had just made a huge change in our lives and I had spoken about the steps we had taken to get us to where we were then. We spent several years working towards selling most of our things and evaluating what means the most to us and what we were really hoping to do with our life. With both of us having stressful careers and Mike able to retire, we decided it was best for us that I retire as well. Our goal was and is to live off of his retirement and not have to work for anyone else again.
We packed up what small number of things we had and moved to our property. We were living in what we like to call our “tent house.” It was actually a 10 ft. x 20 ft. carport that we had bought from Costco. We built a deck, secured the “tent” to it and then began to frame in the walls enough to put foam sheets of insulation. By no means was this going to be permanent. With all of our things in a storage unit in town, we filled our little house with items we had to have. Half of the space was the kitchen area. We had bought a futon couch and that doubled as our bed. We heated our small space with a propane heater that we had purchased, knowing we would use it in the house we built later on. It was a smart decision but one we weren’t really ready for as far as how much heat it put out. The heater is made to heat a space that is about 750 sq. ft. and we were living in 200 sq. ft. The easiest way to describe how warm we were staying is to simply tell you a quick story. Keep in mind that we live in Missouri and on some occasions, we get a lot of ice in the winter. On this particular night, we had a few inches of ice that had built up and the temperature was in the teens with wind chill in the single digits.
One of Mike’s sisters who live in Florida had called to check on us. She wanted to make sure that in that weather we were staying warm enough. Mike looked at me and grinned as he told her, “Avie is sitting her in a tank top and shorts. So, I guess we are staying warm.” It was true! That heater would get so warm that even in January and February we could dress like summer inside our little house.
We easily made it thought the winter and were even prepared to spend a second winter in it if we needed. During our first winter, we had made a very extensive list of projects we needed to do. We tried to prioritize them as best as we could.
At this point in life we were living with our little “tent house” with our Shitzu-Poodle, Callie. We were hauling 6-gallon water containers for our water (not drinking water), boiled water for me to do dishes and for us to clean up with. We also had an outhouse. We took advantage of my oldest son and family living close and whenever we would visit we would take showers and fill up our water containers. We knew that all of this was temporary and that we had plans to make things easier in the future.
I was cooking on a Coleman camping stove and used our bar-b-q grill as an oven. At this time, we had no refrigerator and were using a couple coolers to keep our food in. We had a very small solar panel system that was just enough to charge our cell phone and the laptop. And on days when there wasn’t enough battery power, we charged things in my car. Keep in mind that we had no electric so we were using oil lamps for lights and had “head lamps” that we wore.
We had become what we like to call “Professional Campers.” The way we were living wasn’t much different from someone going camping with a tent. The only difference was that this was our life – not just a weekend.
At this point I think I should stress that every day wasn’t “sunshine and rainbows” and perfection. We still had days that we would look at each other and ask “what on earth are we doing?” But then we reminded ourselves that we didn’t have to go to work for anyone and we were making our dream a reality. One of those times we questioned ourselves was the day we were sitting on our futon and it sounded as if it was raining. Much to our surprise the sun was out and not a cloud in the sky. Mike decided to move one of the foam sheets of insulation in the ceiling to see wheat was going on. Picture if you can – rain in your house! We had done such a good job of insulating to keep us warm that we were practically living in a cooler. What we heard was condensation dripping from inside of the house. Within a few minutes, we had pans and bowls catching water everywhere in the little house. After a few minutes of shock, we realized we need to get some air flow through there. Luckily our little house had zippers on each end. Once air was flowing and the last drop of water hit the bowl, we looked at each other and laughed. Now we know the meaning of condensation first hand. Lesson learned!
After our indoor rain shower, we have learned so many other things. Spring came and we learned that doing a straw bale garden doesn’t really work well for our climate. We also learned that when you move your chicken house, you should give the rooster and hens directions even when its new location is only 50 feet from the old. If not, you end up catching chickens that have roosted in trees around where the chicken house previously was. We've also learned to never pick the location for your solar panel in the fall or spring, because that’s not always the best location come summer.
Our first year was full of learning experiences. At the time of each event we may have been a little stressed, but looking back I think we did better than we ever expected to. We have come so far in our two years living our new life. As I write this I am sitting on the same futon that we had in the beginning, but it is now in the small house we built for ourselves. Our second year was full of so much progress that we sometimes can’t believe all that we have done. When our straw bale garden failed, we decided to build a raised garden. Score!!!!! We had so many veggies growing in the small garden that we couldn’t come close to eating it all. Anyone that visited were always taking vegetables and eggs back home with them.
We had planned on building Mike a shop first so that he had a place to easily work on things and build things for the upcoming house we were planning. Our plan was to buy two 20 ft. shipping containers and build between the two of them making it one large building. We would use the containers for storage and the space between them would be his shop. When planning out anything, there are so many options to think about. The one thing we knew was that we wanted to try and use material from our property as much as possible. We had decided to do a stone floor with the flat rocks that are in our two dry creeks. We would go to the bottom of the hill, dig up the rocks and carry them to the trailer that we pulled with our tractor. I will tell you now that out of all the things we have done on our property in the last three years, this act was by far the hardest work we’ve ever done. Once we had enough flat rocks, I laid them out the way I thought they looked the best. Then an entire day of mixing and pouring concrete between them began. To this day, I never want to see a bag of concrete again! Once we had the floor done, we built the rest of the building. After all the hard work and seeing how absolutely gorgeous the floor turned out, we decided to make this our home. It is by far not the conventional home and I think that’s why we love it so much. Once finished, our home is 14 ft. x 20 ft. with a small attached room on the back that is 8 ft. x 12 ft. We also added a loft that is 7 ft. x 14 ft. for us to sleep in. Even with the house built it would be another year before we had a refrigerator and a stove with an oven. Having the house built opened up so many options for us. We immediately started working on a water catchment system. On one side of the house we can easily fill a 275-gallon tank with an extra 50-gallon barrel for overflow. On the other side of the house we have 3- 50 gallon barrels to catch the rain. There is an additional water catchment system on the wood shed that allows us to capture 100 gallons of water there so that we can use it for the garden. Being able to capture all of this rain changed our life so much. No longer do we have to take containers to someone’s house or to the park to fill up. We have already been through an entire year and we never ran out of water. This is amazing when you think about all that we water on a daily basis. We have a garden, 3 dogs, 42 chicken, 12 rabbits (depending on time of year) and of course ourselves. We still don’t have a filter set up as of yet to be able to use the water for us to drink, but we do use it for showers, dishes and any time we are processing meat from the rabbits or chickens.
With the house being built, meant we needed to upgrade from our small solar panel that just charged our phones and laptop to a full system. We knew we could install the system ourselves but wasn’t sure exactly what we needed and how much. We sat down with a professional and told him all that we were going to be running. He was able to tell us how much watts we would need to ensure that we don’t run out. We bought the panels, batteries, inverter, cables, etc. and were ready to get home and hook everything up. Remember I said earlier that a lesson we learned was not to put your solar panels in a location that just looks right during the spring. I say that because the lessoned we learned was that by putting the panels up in an area that was great for the spring, ended up being a bad spot for summer and fall. Take your time and pay attention to where the sun hits the most throughout the year. Our system ran great most of the time but because of the location, in the summer it was shadowed by trees that now had limbs covered in leaves. Even as I tell you about this, our panel is still in the wrong location but we recently bought more wire so that we are able to move it soon. This will insure that we will be getting at least 4 more hours of direct sun on our panels.
Once we decided to make the space between the shipping containers our home, it made us think about what we were going to do for Mikes shop. We didn’t want to rush into any decisions so we were able to put all of his tools in one of the shipping containers that are attached to the house. It wasn’t very user friendly but at least he was able to have all his tools here and not in a storage unit in town. With that act, it gave us more time to think about what we really wanted and most of all needed. He needed space to be able to work on any vehicle we have as well as space for a wood working area. I needed space for an art studio as well as an office. It amazed us at the unlimited options there are out there and all the decisions that have to be made with each choice. In the end, we decided that the best thing for us is to buy a metal horse barn. We bought it through a company that delivered and built it all in one day. We had to have the area level for them but that was it. This was the first time that we were able to just sit back and watch someone else do the work on our property. These guys were amazing to watch and even more amazing that they had the barn built in 8 hours, something that would have taken us days! By no means was the barn finished on the inside. It was just a shell of a building that we could turn into anything we wanted. We had to think of different things we might need to work on and made the decision to add on to the back of the barn so the center is a full 29 feet deep incase Mike needed to pull his truck in and work on it. We also made the decision that one side (12 ft. x 21 ft.) would be turned into my art studio/office. By putting my area in the same building, we then only have to worry about electric and heat to one location.
It didn’t take us long to start building the addition to the barn once we decided how we wanted it. Within just a couple weeks it was built, insulated and we were moving Mikes things to his new shop. We still have a lot to do on the inside portion of the “barn” but it will take time to do it so we are just doing as much at a time as we can. We have to still make sure that everything else on the property is running smoothly.
At night, we usually sit and talk about all that we have done for the day and what we need to accomplish the next day. We talk about making the “tent house” into a permanent structure as well as rebuilding our camper that we started out with and making sure we have enough outhouses for when we have a lot of visitors at one time. Then it hits us!!!!! We are right back where we were before we moved here. Not physically, but emotionally. We were slowly creating a life “just in case” people come see us. I went into our “just in case” habit in detail in my first article, but we find ourselves doing it again. WOW!!!!! That habit didn’t take long to rear its ugly self again. After coming face to face with something we thought we had beaten, we decide to really focus on what WE need to accomplish for US to live our dream. If people were going to come see us, we would figure out sleeping arraignments but we were not going to focus on something for someone else before focusing on our needs.
With that said, we made an updated to-do list of things that we need to accomplish to make our life a little easier and more sustainable. We keep reminding ourselves that this is the life that we want and we are creating it for us. I know to most it sounds very selfish, but sometimes to make your dream come true you have to be a little selfish in life. There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first once in a while. To make sure we keep on track with what we want from our life, I made a sign that hangs above our front door so that we see it each day as we go outside.
The quote from Alice In Wonderland,
“This is my dream; I’ll decide where it goes from here.”
This also helps us keep grounded as we receive suggestions from everyone and their brother trying to offer up their ideas of what we should do. Let me say that we absolutely love getting suggestions from people with the right intent. But in the end, it comes down to what is best for us.
This New Year’s Eve we decided to look over our past lists of things we wanted to accomplish and go over all the posts and pictures that we had put on our Facebook page just to remember all we have done. We were a little amazed at what we have really accomplished this last year as well as all that we have done in the 2 ½ years we have lived here.
Even with all that has been done; we have so much more to do. We take each day at a time and remind ourselves that it doesn’t all have to be done at once. On days like today, we sit in our cozy little house reading and cuddling with our dogs as it snows and sleets outside and we talk about our plans for the spring. We take advantage of the down time and know that in a day or two we will be right back at working on things that need done or improved. Our life is a work in progress and simplicity is the key. When we made a conscious decision to do this and really started working towards it, it all began to fall into place. There are rough days and there are amazing days. But there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t look at each other and say,
“If this isn’t nice, what is?”
I hope everyone enjoyed this post as much as we did. Avie and Michael have a FaceBook page already up in which you can follow their journey. Join their FaceBook Page to keep up to date on how their homestead is progressing. You can follow their page Hippie Narnia at https://www.facebook.com/Hippie-Narnia-1746598505661666/
If you haven't had the chance to read the original post Less Is More: Living Life Off Grid you can see it by clicking on this link. https://www.levelsofminimalism.com/120-day-healthy-living-exchange/less-is-more-living-life-off-grid
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