Building On A Budget – The Alaskan Way

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Building On A Budget, The Alaskan Way

As anyone who has read my previous post about our finances knows, we are on a serious budget out here. But just because we don’t have money doesn’t mean work on the homestead stops! With winter fast approaching we knew we couldn’t let our water reservoir freeze. Last year we hauled all our water in 5 gallon buckets from a nearby creek, but this year we have running water in the cabin and we pull from our reservoir for that. So how to keep it from freezing? We thought about burying it, but it’d need to be 8 feet down and that is a lot of digging by hand.

We decided we would build our reservoir its own cabin.

There are 3 natural materials we have an abundance of out here: trees, moss, and clay. We started by felling trees, limbed and cut them to length, then moved them to our building site. We ended up using about 60 logs for the entire process. We cut some of our work by joining the water shed to our existing cabin.

Kyle notched the logs and stacked them just as he did when we built our cabin addition, with the exception that we left space for a door rather than cutting one out later. It may have made things a bit trickier, but we needed to be able to work from both sides of the logs. We used timberloks to attach the logs together and make sure the walls are sturdy.

We also timberloked the water shed to our cabin for stability.

After the walls were up, Kyle continued falling trees for the roof. The baby and I picked moss and packed it in all the gaps in the walls. B was a big help picking out pieces to hand to me. Then she went up on the roof with Kyle and helped him add a layer of moss there. After letting the moss dry, I added a layer of clay to fill any other gaps.

Due to the strict budget, we couldn’t afford to purchase much for the shed.

Instead of buying new roofing we bartered with our neighbors for some extra tin roofing they had. Kyle milled them stairs for their cabin in exchange. He also put together the most adorable door from lumber we have milled as well. Our sawmill has more than paid for itself in milled lumber! We also found a free wood stove and installed that into the water shed.

The end result is an “old school” cabin as our water shed.

We’ve already had our first snow here, and have spent several days in the low teens. I’m happy to report that our water shed has not dipped below 35°. We usually only light one fire before bed, but on especially chilly days we’ll light another in the morning. Every time we go outside we check the temperature in the water shed. If it’s below 40° we light a fire. We only have about 200 gallons in our 1100 gallon reservoir, so once we fill it the water shed should be even warmer.

I’m so glad we didn’t need to go back to our bucket system and gravity filters this winter!

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Winter Prep On An Alaskan Homestead

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Winter Prep On An Alaskan Homestead

Winter is nearly here in our little slice of Alaska. Trees are barren and we’ve already had our first frost. Seeing as winter is our longest and harshest season, we use the rest of the year to prepare for it. So what does preparing for winter on an Alaskan homestead entail?

Firstly, we heat with wood.

This means a lot of cutting trees, hauling, splitting and stacking for drying. Last year we stacked wood under a tarp. This year we built a wood shed to store it in. We’ve also upgraded from an axe to a hydrolic log splitter. It makes this chore go much faster! We also collect birch bark because it makes fantastic fire starter.

Our second biggest concern for this winter was keeping our water system from freezing.

We put the system in this summer so this winter will be the big test for it. We built a little mini “cabin”, complete with its own wood stove, around our water reservoir. This should keep the reservoir and pipes around it from freezing. On super cold days we’ll keep a fire going in there.

 

Speaking of fires, we also replaced to wood stove in our cabin for a bigger one.

Our old stove was a bit undersized, so replacing it means we won’t need to get up at night to build fires any more. Our cabin should be a more steady temperarure this winter. We’re also finishing the flooring in the loft, so more of the heat stays on the lower floor.

We also have more animals to consider this year.

Last year we kept our two dogs inside most of the time for winter, but this year we have FOUR dogs! So building dog houses for everyone and stuffing them with straw is a must. We also have a smaller chicken coop for the chickens. The old coop is big and airy. Great for summer, but not so great for winter. A smaller coop will help keep the birds warm with body heat, especially since we don’t suppliments heat in the winter. We’ll also be building a pig shed and filling that with straw for our pigs.

Another part of winter prep is putting up food.

I canned a bunch of salmon this year that Kyle caught fishing with our friends. Our first goal for next year is to purchase our own permit and fish all next summer. Unfortunately our garden was a bust except for potatoes, so those need to dug and dried for storage. Next year we will use what we’ve learned and have a much better garden.

This will be our second winter on our Alaskan homestead, and we’re ready for it!

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Wood Stove Cooking – Recipes, Tips & Tricks

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Wood Stove Cooking - Recipes, Tips

An impromptu guide for a conventional way of cooking in an unconventional way of life, Wood Stove Cooking covers everything needed to cook on a wood stove. From building the perfect fire to baking the perfect loaf of bread, this book will help the reader step back in time to create delicious meals right on their wood stove.

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Going From 6 Figures To No Figures

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Going From 6 Figures To No Figures SledDogSlow.com

For how influential money is in our lives, people don’t like to talk about it. At least, they don’t like to talk about it unless they are talking about how to make more of it. Which is probably why so many people don’t understand the switch that Kyle and I made. We gave up good jobs, with a 6 figures income to homestead. Why? Because the old axiom held true for us that money can’t buy happiness.

When we moved to Alaska to homestead, we left a lot of our expensive modern lives behind. We traded a 6 figure income and life in a big house for always being worn out and feeling accomplished at the end of the day.

Of course we get lots of questions about our choice to leave our cushy lives to homestead. How could we just turn our backs on the American dream? The thing is, the house with a white picket fence, a dog, and 2.5 kids just wasn’t for us. When we lived that life, all we felt was worn out with it. I was often working 16 hours a day, up to 80 hours a week. Kyle was in a constant state of anxiety about work. Push the wrong button and poof! You just cost a company millions. We didn’t have time for each other, much less time for living.

Are there things we miss?

Of course there are. I really miss Mexican take out for one! But seriously, there are pro’s and con’s to the way we lived 2 years ago and the way we are living now. I miss having friends over, being able to run to the store for that last ingredient, and having people around to ask for help when I don’t know how to do something. On the flip side, the trade offs are so worth it. We have almost no bills, our schedule is to do what we want, when we want, and we get to enjoy each other and our daughter.

But what about money?

Honestly, we’re broke. I don’t mean living paycheck to paycheck broke. I mean borrowing money from family to hold us over broke. We have property in another state that we are in the process of selling, and that should let us pay back our families and purchase some things we need, as well as set some aside for savings. But, being broke out here is a whole different ball game than being broke living in town. We don’t have electricity bills (thanks to our solar system) or water bills. We have enough food storage to last us months, so if we don’t want to go to town we don’t. Realistically, we wouldn’t have needed to borrow money at all except that the beach is hard on vehicles, so we had both 4 wheeler’s need work at the same time. We can fix them ourselves but the parts are expensive.

Do we stress about money?

We stress about the same as we did in town. In town we had vehicle payments, high car insurance rates, electricity bills for a big house, and no irrigation on the lawn, just city water. Not to mention we ate out more than we ate in. Money doesn’t last long when you don’t spend it wisely. We are a lot more conscientious of our spending choices out here because we have to be. We buy a lot of stuff second hand, and we always try to find the best deals.

What income do we have right now?

Right now, this blog is 99% of our income. We make a little off of advertisements, and a little off of affiliate links. I am an affiliate for Infolinks, the ad company I use. Amazon is another company I am an affiliate of, which means I make a small commission off of purchases people make when they reach Amazon through my site. I am also a BlueHost affiliate, because they are my website host and they have a one click WordPress installation and 24/7 WordPress support. This makes it a snap to run my blog, and I can’t recommend them enough. I will suggest to anyone starting a website that they make sure to sign up for domain privacy though, no matter what hosting service used.

We also make a little money when supporters of Sled Dog Slow buy our t-shirts found here. And now that our sawmill is up and running, we are offering wood cutting to our neighboring cabin owners. I’m also in the process of putting together a cook book for all my wood stove recipes. Diversifying our income is a must out here.

Why don’t we just get normal jobs in town?

We have, and it doesn’t work out. Due to the access issues for us, having a job in town means having an apartment in town. Kyle had a temporary job for a few months to see how it would work out, and we ended up with $200 take home each month after town bills. It just wasn’t worth the vehicle wear and tear, or him missing out on our daughter and all the new things she was learning. We decided to live this life in part because we didn’t want money to control our lives, so having a 9-5 isn’t an option out here.

How much money do we need, really?

Setting up a homestead from raw land is expensive. We’ve probably spend $50,000 getting to this point. We had to buy vehicles and 4 wheeler’s, animals and feed, building materials and our sawmill. Raw land may be cheap, but turning it into a homestead is not. Now that we are a little more set up though, we’ve estimated that $12,000 a year is all we will need to live comfortably on. That’s not much in the scheme of things.

How are we going to get that $12,000 if we can’t work in town?

I plan on continuing this blog for as long as we live out here, so we’ll make some money from it. We also have pigs that we plan on breeding to sell the piglets next year. And once our property sells, we’ll take that money and buy a set net fishing permit and commercial fish next summer. Then there is also the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend, which should provide us with roughly $3,000 a year for our family of three. We’ll get paid a quarter of our needs just for living in Alaska.

Do we ever regret trading our 6 figure incomes for no figures while we learn how to live our new lives?

Never. While things are tight now, we have learned a lot about being fiscally responsible out here, more so than we ever were in town. We’ll know how to stretch our money better next year, and be able to stress a little less about it.

You couldn’t pay me enough to give up living out here. This is home.

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25 Reasons Why Living In The Alaskan Bush Is Awesome (And 5 Reasons Why It’s Not)

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The Alaskan bush is unlike anywhere else on earth, and it is an amazing place to live. Life out here is no walk in the park, but there are plenty of reasons why I never want to leave!

25 Reasons Why Living In The Alaskan Bush Is Awesome (And 5 Reasons Why Its Not) SledDogSlow.com

1. Fresh air

Anyone who’s traveled to the country from a big city knows all about fresh air. You can just breathe easier without all the dust, dirt, and car exhaust kicked up from city life. This also helps with reason #2 why living in the Alaskan bush is awesome…

2. The smell

There’s nothing quite like the smell of moss and trees and growing things. No smog out here!

3. No noisy neighbors

There worst thing about neighbors living in the city for me was noise. Cars pulling up and leaving all hours of the day and night, couples fighting, people mowing their lawns ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. There’s none of that in the bush. When our closest neighbors are out, we don’t know unless they call us, even when they are running a chainsaw or driving an excavator!

4. No solicitors

There’s no one coming door to door selling magazines or window tints. Knowing there aren’t any strangers that will come knocking makes it much easier to just be. Unfortunately this also means no girl scout cookies without making a trip to town.

5. Clothing is optional

Yup. I said it. Honestly, I hate clothes. Unless I’m leaving home or having visitors I’m pretty much always naked. I might put on clothes if I expect to get scuffed up doing chores, but if I can avoid getting dressed I do!

6. Almost no bills

Once you get set up (which can be expensive) the monthly bills for bush living are almost nil. Insurance and a phone bill are our only monthly expenses. We buy gas for the generator in the winter, fill up our rigs, buy groceries and the occasional incidentals. Living out here is much cheaper than our lives in the city were.

7. Freedom

There are no HOA’s or building permits in the bush. I can put a garden in my front yard if I want, or paint my cabin lime green. I can do fun, funky things when building that wouldn’t be acceptable inside city limits (check out this cool Alaskan bush house: Goose Creek Tower). There is a lot more freedom to do what you want with your land when living this far out.

8. No bathroom to clean

No scrubbing the toilet bowl when the bathroom is an outhouse! When the bathroom is ‘messy’ you just dig a new hole and move it.

9. No light pollution

If you really want to see the stars, the Alaskan bush is the place to be. The skies are so clear here it’s even possible to see that the night sky isn’t really all black.

10. Northern Lights viewing

The Alaskan bush is also an amazing place to see the northern lights. Clear, dark skies in the middle of nature just add an extra bit of aw to seeing the Aurora Borealis.

11. Adventure

From seeing bears in the driveway, to moose chasing us on 4 wheelers, there is never a dull moment in the bush!

12. Fresh food

Alaskan summers might be short, but the long summer days are good for foraging and gardening. Those long summer days also make for…

13. Giant Vegetables

Having 20 hours (or more) of sunlight a day makes for huge vegetables. Just check out these cabbage at the Alaskan State Fair:

14. Endless summer days

There are lots of places in the bush where the sun doesn’t set at all. There’s a reason why Alaska is called the land of the midnight sun! This leaves lots of time for adventuring and exploring Alaska. This also means lots of daylight to get things done in preparation for winter.

15. Winter sports

Opposite of endless summer days are the short winter days. Luckily these days are filled with snow and snow sports. Snow machining (yes, it’s snow machining here, not snow mobiling) is a huge deal here, both for fun and just to get around. There are lots of places in the Alaskan bush that can only be explored by snow machine in winter due to being marshy bog in summer. There’s also snowkiting (think wind surfing with a snow board), ice climbing, and of course sled dog racing.

16. Blueberries

At least in our little part of the bush, there are blueberries everywhere. And blueberries just make me happy!

17. Fishing and hunting

There is tons of opportunity for hunting and fishing in the Alaskan bush. Depending on where in the bush you are, there is also subsistence hunting and fishing for those who live so far away from cities and towns. This means the regulations are a little different, from extended hunting seasons to greater bag limits depending on what animals are being harvested.

18. Wildlife viewing

There’s nothing quite like being up close with nature. From watching spawning salmon to flying eagles, living in the bush gives ample opportunity for viewing wildlife.

19. No traffic

I always hated sitting in a grid lock, and I flat refused to drive in some cities when we lived in Washington (Seattle for starters). Living in the bush means no traffic because there are no roads. Not everyone owns a 4 wheeler, snow machine or air plane. It cuts out a lot of looky loo traffic when people don’t have the rigs needed to get out here.

20. Getting paid to live here

Did you know you get paid to live in Alaska? There are a lot of rules around it, like having lived in Alaska an entire year, but if you qualify for the Permanent Fund Dividend you could get anywhere from $300-2,000 depending on the year. Getting paid to live where you love? Count me in!

21. Cool summers

I always refer to myself as a desert baby. I’m used to flat, sandy land and hot, dry summers. Our summer this year has barely had a day over 70°. Considering it’s supposed to reach 109° this week where I grew up, I gotta say I’m very happy to be living in the bush.

22. Affordable Land

Land is pretty cheap when it’s hard to get to. As long as you don’t mind a loooooong ‘driveway’, the Alaskan bush is a great place to live. I often call the beach our driveway, and it takes us an hour to get from our cabin to a road, and that’s if we can get to the road at all!

23. Few bugs

Because of Alaska’s long, cold winters, there aren’t many bugs. We have the occasional wasp nest, and a spider or two but nothing like back in Washington. We used to have vegetable fields just covered in spider webs there! It’s nice to be able to walk through the trees and not get a face full of web.

24. Natural silence

With no neighbors, no traffic, and no solicitors the silence is glorious. We’ve got natural forest sounds from birds and squirrels, and when the tide is high we can hear the ocean from our little bit of forest. It’s a little disconcerting to hear ocean in the woods at first, but now it’s one of my favorite sounds here. Not being surrounded by city sounds is an awesome plus to living in the Alaskan bush.

25. You get to tell people you live in the Alaskan bush

People equate living in the bush with being crazy and lucky and crazy lucky. You have to really want to make things work to live out here. As you can see from this list, all the work is so worth it!

Now obviously living in the Alaskan bush isn’t all fun and games, there are a few downsides as well.

1. Mosquitoes

While there aren’t many other bugs out here, mosquitoes are plentiful. And there are a dozen different types as well. Some hurt when they bite, some aren’t noticeable, and some don’t even leave you itching. But they are all in your face, mouth and eyes when you get into certain areas, and Deet is about the only thing that keeps them off you! We also use a SkeeterVac on our homestead, which greatly cuts down on the overall population. Oh, and the mosquitoes can be BIG too!

2. There’s no such thing as a quick trip to the store

If you don’t have everything you need to make pumpkin pie, then you won’t be making it. Living in the bush means living hours from the closest store, and that means no running to grab a gallon of milk. Making a trip to the store takes all day, so it needs to be planned accordingly.

3. Isolation

Even though I like not having full time neighbors, it can be a pain when you need help. Sometimes you just end up spending hours doing something by yourself rather than making your closest neighbor drive 45 minutes to be a second set of hands. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is the life I wanted and I have to take the bad with the good!

4. Being stuck

At least in our piece of Alaskan bush heaven, there is a lot of being stuck. Summer means no going anywhere during high tide, during the freeze the beach is covered in ice burgs and the inland trail is still too mushy to drive on. We get snowed in sometimes during winter, and during spring break up we end up with a flooded trail and a beach that’s too icy and soft to drive on (this is why we loose vehicles folks).

5. Adventure and catastrophe happen every single day

If you ever think you might want to take a weekend off and lounge about, then living in the bush is not for you. From broken vehicles (once, or twice, or three times), to coming home and finding bears or moose in the yard, owls in the chicken coop, and sharks in the salmon nets.

There isn’t much time to relax out here, but living in the bush is awesome!

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