Dealing With Isolation And Alaskan Winters

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One thing about living off grid and off road is the isolation factor. I never thought of this as a problem before, in fact I considered it a benefit in our move! When we lived in town, our door was never answered if Kyle wasn’t home. Part of our moving this far was to get away from the noise and distraction of city life. It is completely different out here though. With so little human noise, we are always glad to have guests. There are also only two reasons for people to knock on our door; either they own a cabin in the area and know (or want to know) us, or they have an emergency. In either case I am happy to answer the door here.

It probably helps that there is no pretending you aren’t home in 300 square feet with smoke pouring out of the chimney!

 

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That time neighbors gifted us salmon so we could have a real meal at home.

I think Kyle and I are a lot more excited to see people with so much time between visits. There have been times where a month has passed without seeing anyone. I personally run more introvert than extrovert, so I definitely need space to recharge after hanging out. It also makes a difference that we live in a cabin community here. Everyone is always looking out for each other, so there is a need to know who the neighbors are. People help each other when stuck on the trail, or by dropping off groceries, or hauling loads back here. Everyone has been in a pinch a time or two, so it helps knowing there are people around that can be depended upon. Helping people out is a good way to meet the neighborhood too.

Most cabin owners in this area are seasonal, so we haven’t had much company this winter. We do have a few friends we see in town, and a few others who stop by every time they are out this way. What we are really missing though is our families. We just recently found the show Alaska: The Last Frontier and are really enjoying it. They have several generations of family homesteading, and it’s obvious how much they lean on each other. The also live on the peninsula and live by the tides. Its fun watching people so similar to us, but it does drive home how alone we are. It would be really nice to have full time neighbors, or family or friends that lived out here.

Our closest full time neighbors are 11 miles away, off road. That makes it a little hard to run over and borrow some sugar!

 

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That time neighbors gifted us a beach fire when they moved on by 4 wheeler and we had to wait out the tide to take our truck.

The long, dark days of Alaskan winters only add to the feeling of isolation. On our shortest days we only got 5 hours of light. This means a lot of time spent inside, which is probably why everyone is asking us if we have cabin fever. Luckily we have the internet, and winter gave us time to catch up on all our shows that we missed while working on our homestead this summer. Along with video games, we also have been doing a lot of research to prepare for summer. Especially research regarding raising pigs and dealing with bears. Hungry bears around the homestead is not something I’m excited for. We also have our daughter to hang out with. Watching her learn new things is endlessly entertaining!

Spending that much time in the dark has been quite the change for us. Not only did we have more light in Washington winters, but the summer days are so long it makes the winter seem worse. Now I under stand why things like Happy Lamps exist. It’s also hard to make any progress on our homestead when there is so little day light. Outdoor chores are slow to be done this time of year. Sometimes the constant darkness does wear a little bit, so we take “family days” as often as we need.

There was no rush once we had shelter, firewood, food  and water needs met. Although sometimes it’s a chore in itself convincing Kyle he doesn’t need to push himself so hard. Come spring there will be plenty of time for rushing around to finish projects. It feels like winter is spent waiting for spring and outdoor chores again! Indoor projects are something I want to prepare more for next winter. This year we didn’t really have time to harvest any materials for crafting over winter. We spent all our time in a mad dash to finish our home before snow fell.

 

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That time when a neighbor towed us out of quicksand and saved our truck from the tide (the second time!).

The good news is the snow is melting and the birds are back and singing. Pretty soon all our summer friends and neighbors will be back. And with the return of long days there will be lots of homestead projects happening!

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Cooking On A Wood Stove

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Before we moved to Alaska, I had cooked on a wood stove once, for practice. And it wasn’t even good practice either! Our wood stove in Washington was more decorative than for heating or cooking. Coming to Alaska was a huge change, as nearly everything we cook out here is done on the wood stove. We do have a propane stove that gets used occasionally, but I’m not particularly keen on cooking outside in negative temperatures. I’m also a relatively lazy cook. I used to be the queen of ‘lets go out!’ rather than cooking dinner. Because of that I love any fast and easy recipes and love one pot meals. I cook quite a few things in just a 10″ cast iron skillet. I thought I’d throw together some tips and tricks for cooking on a wood stove, as well as a few recipes we use often.

Tips For Cooking On A Wood Stove

  1. Use small pieces of wood when building a fire for cooking. It’s easier to control the temperature that way. Small pieces will light faster, raising the temperature.
  2. Adjust the dampener to quickly change the temperature. Close it down to cool the stove, and open up fully for quick heat.
  3. Keep the fire evenly spread through the stove. That way there won’t be hot and cold spots in the skillet.
  4. Speaking of skillets, use cast iron! Cast iron transfers heat really well, so the food will cook evenly.
  5. Start cooking before hunger sets in. Cooking meals on a wood stove is not a 5 minute task. Waiting until hungry usually means being hungry for another half hour to hour. There is always the possibility of eating while cooking, but that doesn’t work for every meal.

“Quick” Easy Wood Stove Meals

I like fast food, and I’m not really a fan of cooking. Baking on the other hand I love, so I try to throw some baking into most meals. Some of our favorite meals on the homestead include cottage pie, biscuits and gravy, chicken enchiladas and hamburger chili. I’ve included estimated cooking times, but every fire is different. What may take 20 minutes one day could take an hour the next!

Cottage Pie – 30 minutes

This meal includes hamburger, vegetables, brown gravy, garlic, mashed potatoes, shredded cheese, and Italian seasoning. Measurements depend on how many people are being fed (and their appetites!). If I want left overs for two, I use 2 lbs of hamburger, cooked and drained. I then add cooked/canned vegetables. Usually I use corn, carrots, onion, diced potatoes and peas. To this I add one packet of brown gravy (someday I’ll use homemade gravy), garlic and Italian seasoning to taste. After mixing this all together and simmering for a bit, I’ll top the skillet with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese. This is Kyle’s favorite meal out here!

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Biscuits and Gravy – 1 hour

This meal time can be cut if the biscuits are baked ahead of time. I usually make them the morning of, and cook them in our Coleman Camp Oven for soft biscuits, or a cast iron pan for crunchy biscuits. My biscuit recipe calls for 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 stick butter, 3/4 cup milk and a dash of salt. It makes 6 small buscuits and is perfect for 2 people. I mix everything together, then add milk. After baking the biscuits I smother them in country sausage gravy. Add bacon and eggs on the side and breakfast is served!

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Chicken Enchiladas – 20 minutes, make ahead meal

Because Kyle and I don’t have refrigeration most of the year I use canned chicken to make enchiladas. One large can of chicken usually makes 2-3 enchiladas, depending on how full they are stuffed. Added to the chicken is diced onion, cheese and enchilada sauce. I usually make a 10 minute enchilada sauce of chili powder, tomato paste, salt, cumin, onion powder, garlic, oregano, chicken stock and flour. I don’t have any measurements for it, just taste as I go. Store bought enchilada sauce works great too! I place the enchiladas in a heat safe dish and cover them with more enchilada sauce. They can be eaten as soon as they are heated, or left near the wood stove to slowly soak in the flavor. I usually make them right after breakfast so lunch is just serve and eat.

Hamburger Chili – 30 minutes

Another easy favorite of ours is hamburger chili. This is a “one pot” meal. I usually use 2 lbs of hamburger, cooked and drained. Then I throw in diced tomato, corn and black beans. Added to that is garlic, onion, oregano, salt, chili powder and this fiery 5 pepper seasoning. I often bake cornbread for this meal as well.

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Tada! 5 tips, 4 recipes, 3 days of cooking, 2 burns and one perfect meal later and you will be an expert at cooking on a wood stove!

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Living The Off Grid Life As New Parents

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As many of you know, Kyle and I found out I was pregnant before we gave up everything to move to Alaska. Starting a homestead from scratch while pregnant was not easy (post here). We didn’t want to try starting from scratch with a toddler though. Luckily for us, our daughter Bellamy is what I would call an easy baby. She slept through the night nearly from day one, doesn’t have many fussy spells and is easy to comfort. That’s not to say life with a newborn baby on the homestead hasn’t been challenging, especially as new parents.

When you homestead with a baby, everything changes. Good luck getting two person projects done in a timely manner! Especially if the project involves anything loud. By the time you don’t feel the need to nap every time they do, baby will be sleeping less. Babies like attention and distraction, so having both Kyle and I out of the house often leads to yelling to figure out where we are and “why aren’t you playing with me right now!?” from Bellamy. And of course I hate leaving her to cry while working on projects, even if they are necessary.

Speaking of getting things done, sometimes baby needs so much time nothing else happens. Sometimes you need time just for yourself so the dishes pile up and the floor doesn’t get swept. Personally, I was hit pretty hard with postpartum anxiety and was almost completely non-functional for a little while. Let me tell you, spending all day stressing everything is not fun, and there is no way to progress on a homestead like that. Thankfully Kyle is understanding and has been amazing at picking up slack, and giving me slack when I need it. Figuring out what I needed from him took a lot of honest communication and airing of frustrations. Luckily we have always had an amazing relationship when it comes to being open about our wants and needs. Having that foundation has made it a lot easier to ask for space, even living in a tiny house!

(read more about living together in small spaces here)

Learning to be new parents while learning to homestead has thrown some real curve balls, especially since it’s winter. I might be okay outside for an hour at 10 in just a jacket but the baby is not! And since we live off road our access isn’t always reliable, like when we were snowed in for a month. It takes us an hour to get from our homestead to the road in good conditions. And in bad conditions it can take over 2 hours. Bellamy doesn’t go to town unless we can bring the truck back because it’s just to cold! That means one of us (cough cough, me) is nearly always stuck at home. We do live close to an oil connex with a helipad in the event of an emergency though, so that is a little bit reassuring.

That said, there are all kinds of things to worry about with a newborn living where emergency services are delayed. A fever after vaccinations, a bump from rolling off the couch, throwing up an entire jar of banana baby food after having it for the first time….. The list goes on and on. Bellamy is our first child, so we get the extra apprehension that comes from not having experience. Then throw in no running water and dogs dragging home bones from dead things. Sometimes I wish we were doing this back in town where things at least feel safer.

Town would also have one other vital thing that living out here doesn’t: a support system. Living off road means it’s hard to come by a baby sitter on short notice. Or a homestead sitter for that matter! If we get stuck in town (it has been known to happen, like here when I wrecked the 4 wheeler) there’s no one to ask to check on our animals. And if we get stuck on the trail (like we did this time, and this time, and this time), there’s no waiting to flag down help or calling AAA. Luckily we have quite a few numbers for cabin owners here, so if we get stuck on the trail we can call for help. And people out here have been nice enough to come help us when we needed it.

On the plus side:

Homesteading with a newborn has given us some opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have. While we are both looking for work, having both of us here in the meantime has been important for our developing relationship as parents. Having a baby has changed our dynamic, and spending time together has given us more time to understand those changes. We are also both enjoying Bellamy experiencing firsts. First times with new foods, toys, and exploring things. There is so much wonder in watching a child discover the world, even if a lot of that discovery involves shoving things in her mouth!

We are so excited to watch Bellamy grow, and we hope she loves living out here as she gets older!

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Homestead Uses For 5 Gallon Buckets

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We use a lot of 5 gallon buckets here around the homestead, and we are always coming up with ideas we need more buckets for! Buckets of any size and shape are always good on the homestead, but here are a few inventive ways we’ve used our 5 gallon buckets:

1. Salting and storing salmon (post found here)
We don’t have a fridge out here so we tried salting salmon to preserve it. We cleaned them, salted them and hung them to dry before salting them again and storing them in 5 gallon buckets. You have to re-hydrate and soak out the salt before using the salmon, but it works!

 

20 gallons is heavy!

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2. Hauling water
We get our water from the creek as we have no well on our property, so we often use 5 gallon buckets to haul it the half mile back to our homestead. And speaking of water…

 

Filling our water filter always makes me happy! http://www.sleddogslow.com/diy-off-grid-water-filter/

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3. Water Filter
I built us several water filters out of 5 and 7 gallon buckets. They are gravity fed so they don’t require electricity. I have a written a DIY how-to here if you are interested in building your own!

4. Storing Animal Feed
We store our dog food in the house in 5 gallon buckets, otherwise our dog Link will eat himself sick getting into the dog food bag.

5. Canned Food Storage
When we canned all of our salmon (post here) we didn’t yet have anywhere to store the jars, so we stacked all 44 pints in two 5 gallon buckets outside. We didn’t have the addition yet, so we didn’t have space for them inside.

6. Rock Hunting
Yup! We take a 5 gallon bucket out when we go searching for spirit stones (post here). Not that we’ve ever found enough to fill the bucket, but we can hope right?!

7. Slop Bucket
We don’t have plumbing in the cabin (yet!), so any dish water, rinse water or liquids that need tossed go into a slop bucket. Then when it gets full we take it outside and dump it in the outhouse. That way we aren’t letting in cold in the winter and mosquitoes in the summer every time we need to dump something out.

8. Laundry Basket
We also us a 5 gallon bucket as a laundry basket. Homesteading is dirty sweaty work, and having a laundry basket with a lid is a must in a 300 sq ft cabin. We also have a separate bucket for cloth diapers that need washing.

9. 4 Wheeler Storage/Hauling
Our property access is mostly by 4 wheeler and 5 gallon buckets make perfect totes for strapping to the wheeler and hauling things in. We tried using other totes, but the plastic was to thin and strapping them down broke them.

10. Foraging
We have enough blueberry bushes on property that it’s worth taking 5 gallon buckets out to forage. There are crow berries, cranberries, fiddle heads, mushrooms, spruce tips and birch sap to be collected here that we’ve found as well.

I also have a few projects planned for the coming year that will use 5 gallon buckets, like building a chicken watering system and hauling ocean water to make some salt. What do you use 5 gallon buckets for?

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Emergency Preparedness

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Emergency preparedness is huge when you live as far from town, and the road, as we do. After bringing the truck in with a load of building materials we were then snowed in for a month! Unfortunately when we bring the truck back our 4 wheeler stays at our parking spot, so we’ve been without a vehicle this whole time. We knew it was a possibility we’d be stuck this winter, so we prepared for it before the snow came. A few ways we prepared to be snowed in were:

1. Food
We bought everything in bulk when we last went shopping, stocking up on staple items as well as animal feed. We also have enough dehydrated emergency food kits to last us 3 months if we need it.

2. Water
We haul water to the homestead from a creek roughly a half mile away. We can bring 20 gallons at a time, either on the 4 wheeler or by pulling it on a sled. Then we put it through our homemade gravity water filter (instructions to make your own here), so we always have water. If anything happened to our water filter we also have life straws as a back up.

3. Shelter/Warmth
We heat with our wood stove, and we had lots of wood stacked up before we got snowed in. It was a good thing since we can’t haul wood easily without the 4 wheeler! We also have a heater big enough to heat our cabin if we ever needed to use it, and a lot of dead standing trees within walking distance of the cabin.

4. Energy
We have 30 gallons of gas that we keep out here. That will last us 2 months if we use the generator every day, and use the 4 wheeler and chainsaw. We also use our generator to charge our battery bank while we use it, then we use that during the day. Our solar panels are getting more sun every day now, but they still don’t give us a full charge yet. We also have a back up generator, just in case something happens to this one, along with extra oil to maintain it (because maintenance matters, see why here).

5. Knowledge
We’ve done a lot of research on surviving, and thriving, out here. Both for everyday things we should know like understanding weather conditions, and emergency things, like finding water depth from plants. We also have lots of books with good survival knowledge in them (see my post on the books we have here). Between our books and cell phone booster, we should be able to look up anything we might need to know.

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It’s important to be prepared for anything that may come our way our here. We’ve been caught unprepared out here before (post here), and I never want to do that again! How do you prepare for emergencies?

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