Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mrs. D's Not Off Grid Adventure

Our big off-grid adventure turned out to be mostly plugged in. Winter weather stalked us through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas so we never did get the bugs worked out of our inverter/battery set-up because of the need to run the heater every night and most days. We got most of our leaks sealed up in the tiny trailer, but came to realize that no matter what we did with the inside, we still needed a few more feet of living space. We did not get our mobile winter garden planted for the same reason: freezing outdoor temps and no room to put the pots inside.

Fortunately opportunity smiled upon us and we were able to pass the tiny trailer on to someone who hopes to restore it for camping with his family and we acquired a new Minnie Winnie with almost all the bells and whistles. The battery is actually properly wired to charge while the truck is driving. The bathroom is spacious, with a nice shower and all the plumbing works. And we have a slide-out - score! It feels like a mansion.

We tested out Minnie's off-grid capabilities in a couple of RV-friendly store parking lots, with very satisfactory results. After considering the pros and cons of continuing off-grid, with dump and refill rates of $10-$20 every few days, we opted to give our Passport America membership a real workout. Except for a few nights outside Dallas, Tx where we stayed in a very nice campground for $34.50 a night, we averaged about $15 a night in various rv parks in Texas and New Mexico.

Our biggest difficulty with living and working on the road has been reliable internet connectivity. The Verizon phone hotspot has been great in most areas, but we have spent a good amount of time in areas where AT&T is the prevalent carrier, and spend much of our Colorado time in a Verizon black hole. So I have had to cave in and  get an AT&T hotspot, which is working quite well. Both the Verizon and AT&T plans are prepaid/no contract plans, so I can tweak and adjust data packages to suit our coverage needs.

That should bring us up-to-date with what has been going on with the mobile homestead for the last month. The next few weeks' posts should be a bit more interesting. Praying for warmer weather!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Homesteading Texas State Parks

We started down the road on our big off-grid adventure and boy, is it a learning experience. Have you ever heard the saying, "a bad day fishing is better than a good day working"? Well, even though everything is not going according to our plans, we are still having a great time! 

We hooked a battery up to an inverter in the tiny trailer homestead, for power on the road, but we are still working the bugs out of the system. That is to say, it was working as planned, until a repair necessitated my plugging the multi-tool into the inverter to cut a steel bar, thus draining the battery with no way to recharge. I had contemplated using the truck to recharge said battery, but am still looking into the feasibility of that. Something about alternators giving out and batteries blowing up, anyway, beyond my current diy comprehension.

We did make it to Balmorhea State Park in Texas, after an unplugged night at a rest area, where we parked at a lovely site with water and electric, for only $14 a night. I plugged in the trickle charger and charged up the battery. I had it on the wrong setting, though, so the following night, we had about 1 hour of battery power before it died. After consulting the instructions for the charger, I put it on the correct setting and when we reached our water and electric site in Goose Island State Park, Texas, I charged it up all the way. Still have not tested to see how long it will last, as we have been running the heater every night with the cooler than normal temps in Texas. We have also been spending a lot of time on this slow travel adventure, visiting friends in the area and I have not wanted to leave the tiny vintage trailer unattended while on battery power just yet.

The Texas State Park system is wonderful. For $70 a year (less for seniors and disabled) you can get a pass which will grant you free entry to all the parks and a few discount nights on camping. Most of the campgrounds have a number of sites with water and electric and the settings we have been in have been spectacular. Of course, right now the campgrounds are not crowded, except on the weekends. The 2 campgrounds we have been in have also had free showers and very clean bathrooms...cleaner than an RV park we stayed in. We had very bad wifi reception at the campsites but not too far away we could park and get good wifi with the hotspot. The ups and downs of including the internet in your simple living plan.

Susie is turning out to be quite the camper. She enjoys the tie-out, loves hiking with us on the leash and is very well behaved. Mr. Cuddles kept slipping out of his harness. I discussed this with one of our neighbors at Goose Island and she described a harness style her mother had gotten for her cat, which was nearly impossible for the cat to slip out of. We found one at the next PetCo we stopped at and it has been a sanity saver. Sadly for Mr. Cuddles, he will no longer get to enjoy his leisurely jaunts through the brambles, while laughing at us humans getting cut up, trying to catch him.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Avocado Harvest

When I bought my first home, it had an avocado tree in the back yard. As young adults, newly married, my husband and I were excited that we had this source of "free" food. We ate avocados for breakfast, avocados for lunch, avocados for dinner. Avocado sandwiches. Avocado salad. Avocado smoothies. A neighbor lady taught me how to make guacamole. We gave away avocados. After one season, I was sick of avocados. Then we moved to the mountains. Soon I forgot my aversion to the green fruit and longed for the tree in the back yard.

At today's prices, avocados are a fantastic commodity. My oldest son has three avocado trees in his yard. I think he should get a stall at the farmer's market. We spent a sunny, Southern California Sunday harvesting avocados from one of his trees. We gave avocados to the neighbors. We brought avocados to church. And we still have several bushels of avocados in the garage. The boys practiced their pitching skills with grandpa. The dogs ate some and got gas. I think they are all going to ripen at once (the avocados, not the dogs).

This time I am ready. Sharp knife and spoon in hand. Avocados make great road food. I do not like the texture of avocados after they have been frozen and I suspect they do not can well, so it will mean a lot of creativity once they are ready to eat. Avocado will replace my breakfast banana. It will go into smoothies. We will add them to our daily salad. Stuff them with chopped meats and other veggies. Mash them into guacamole and eat it with chips and carrots. Put them in sandwiches and along side everything. Use them for facial masks and moisturizer. They are packed with vitamins and good oils. We will give more away and when we can't eat any more, we will trim the trees way down so that they don't produce in such over abundance for a few more years.

Avocados anyone?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Socializing on the Road

"Socialization" always seems to be the last ditch argument about why all children should attend stix and brix schools. Smart homeschoolers know that's exactly why they shouldn't. As homeschool families, we choose who our children socialize with. As a full-time RVing family, this can get pretty interesting. We spend much of our time taking care of parents and visiting children and grandchildren in 2 different states. We also make regular visits to the Homestead, so we have communities of friends, family and activities in each of these areas. Because we stay for a month or so at a time, we jump right into our regular church activities and whatever groups and sports are going on at the time. It might be hockey, tae kwon do, watercolor painting or music lessons. Also because we may not be back for a while, we try harder to get together with old friends when we are in town.

In between our "regular" stops, what happens? It really depends on a variety of factors. We normally don't stay in RV parks, so we don't have the advantage of meeting other families in the park and using the facilities. We might be working a craft show or festival for a few days, and get acquainted with other vendors and their families. We strike up conversations on the train, at the store, with other remote campers. One luncheon companion on the train gave Yak tips on game building software. Another paid a little too much attention to him, which resulted in a “creeped out” feeling that made him want to stay a little bit away from that person.

I think the key in socializing our children, whether on the road, in the homeschool or in regular school, is the same as our own socialization in our lives. Being open to it. At the same time that we’re being cautious of the dangers in meeting new people, we are also open to making new friends. Most of us have a sense of when something is not right and of who we want to spend more time with. Sometimes we need to follow our instincts in walking away. Other times we just take it as it comes and make a new, lasting friendship. We need to use our better judgement to supervise our childrens’ relationships and guide them in choosing their friends. We may not always be popular because of that, but hopefully we will not have regrets that we did not supervise them more closely, either.

You might also enjoy:

10 Reasons I Homeschool Year Round

Monday, December 8, 2014

Keeping Up With Record Keeping

Sometimes record keeping can be the hardest part of homeschooling. Just when you think you have a system down, you find yourself pulled in 20 different directions and the work piles up to unmanageable levels. This is when having a system is handy. It could be as simple as piling everything in a box for the year, or as detailed as daily entries in a teacher's record book. You can grade individual papers only, or cross post the grades in a yearly record.

Checking your state's homeschooling law is critical on this issue. Some states require detailed records and samples of work, some require nothing. Some states have mandatory testing, others don't. Even if your state does not require any record keeping, it is still a good idea to have some kind of system in place, just in case of overzealous school officials, nosy neighbors, or persons with "the best interests of the children" "at heart".

Some online curriculum programs even keep records for you. I am sure there are computer programs that can do this as well. If you are clever enough you could probably design your own computerized record keeping system. I am still doing mine by hand, with pencil and paper. I know several parents who use specially designed worksheets they have printed out.

Here is my simple system to give you ideas:
                        1 - grade each paper turned in;

                        2 - in a weekly calendar book, post each grade, as                                  well as non-graded work completed;       
                        3 - place all completed work for the year in an 18                                  gallon plastic box, place the weekly calendar                                      book in the box at the end of the year.

                        4 - Place any projects, books not being resold,                                          pictures, copies of videos and miscellaneous                                      items in box. Tape and label box and store                                          away.

We rely heavily on pictures and videos to document projects and work, so it is critical that I copy all school related media to a usb or sd card or make a hard copy of pictures to store in the box. This takes a little extra time, but I feel it is worth it for the permanent record. It is okay to revise your system from time to time, as your needs change and your abilities evolve. Our system has changed over the years but the important thing is that we do maintain a permanent record of work accomplished.

Start with whatever you think will work for you and tweak your system as you go along. You will be glad to have records if you should ever find yourself in a situation where your child's learning or your qualifications as a teacher are ever questioned. It will also prove helpful when it comes time to make up high school transcripts.

If you enjoyed this post, there is lots more information on homeschooling in my new book:
The Working Parent's Guide To Homeschooling

Monday, November 24, 2014

A System to Deal With Waste


Decreasing waste is wonderful in theory, but if you don’t have a system in place to deal with waste, it becomes very complicated. So what is waste? Waste is stuff you can’t reuse, isn’t good enough to donate somewhere for someone else to use and is likely to end up in the landfill. When I made my most recent stop at the Homestead, I was enthused about recycling, composting and minimizing what would go to the landfill. To my dismay, my systems were no longer in place.

My compost heap was fully composted and ready to relocate to the garden. I also wanted to set up a new system of 2 compost bins, one to fill and one to age. So began the deconstruction of the compost heap. The old log sides were removed, but before we could haul the composted soil to the garden, the waist high weeds had to be raked down and moved to a spot where they could be added to the new compost bin. We did not have enough time to complete this project while we were there, so it will be completed on our next visit. Sadly, our compostables went into the trash.

My burn barrel was buried and broken by an overenthusiastic tractor which seemed to think it was no longer of any use. Trash was carted to a shared dumpster, to be taken to the landfill. I do have another burn barrel, but I need the lid cut off, so I can use it. It is an old, empty industrial 55 gallon steel drum.

In our area we have no full service (all metals, glass and plastics) recycling center, so other than aluminum cans, these items go to the landfill. I did repurpose quite a few plastic items, and cleaned out my cabinets to find a couple bags of containers I could take to the local thrift store.

Junk mail, strangely, is not a problem at the Homestead. As we heat with wood, we need something to start the fire with. The envelopes and paper from the junk mail work just as well as newspapers. I also stuff toilet paper rolls and small cardboard boxes with dryer lint (yes, I do sometimes use the dryer instead of the clothesline) for this purpose. Most of the glossy papers get thrown in the trash, though, because they don’t burn as well.

It doesn’t sound like much to clean out the compost bin and rebuild it, and to cut the top off a steel drum, but for us it is a bit of a project. The compost has sat for so long it has become an ideal garden spot. Since I prefer this spot for the compost bin, we have to dig the compost out and relocate it. With shovels. Safety concerns demand that we have the proper tool and coordination to cut the top off the steel drum. This will entail enlisting help. Hopefully next time we stop home, we’ll get our systems back in place and keep the Homestead “green”.

Until then, we’ll work on improving our waste generation and disposal in the tiny trailer.

Also see:

Decreasing Waste