Ed Essex

Ed Essex

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 17:00

Winter Fun – Ice Fishing

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThree years ago we moved 250 miles away from home to the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. The only neighbors we see are lights shining at night on the next mountain over. We’ve kept busy learning how to live off grid, grow fresh food all year long (even in this harsh winter climate), raise chickens, maintain 3 miles of access road, and in short, learn how to survive in a whole new world. On top of that we are learning a new business we run from our home.

We average 8-10 hours per day seven days a week which leaves very little time for fun so you might imagine how excited we were when friends (Will and Gail) called and said they would like to come to our neck of the woods and bring their snowmobiles and go ice fishing! Ice fishing and snowmobiling were both something Laurie and I had never done before.

Five days before the “Big Day” I went to the Doctor for a routine checkup. That’s the only place I went. The next day I became violently ill. A few days later Laurie caught it as well. It turned out to be the Norovirus. That was by far the worst flu I ever had and worse yet, it was going to ruin our big day on the lake. Because we were still not feeling well, they had to go without us.

A month later our friends decided to try it again. Wouldn’t you know it? The night before the “Big Day” we had a storm and a lot of new snow. We were snowed in!

I got up at 5:00 and was out the door at first light to plow the road so we could get out of there and go have some fun. The plowing went well and we were down the mountain at 10:00 AM and headed for the lake. Finally!

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe met our friendly tourist guides at the lakes resort. There was some kind of Snowmobile Poker Run that day and the place was jammed with snowmobiles and riders. They must have wondered who I was. I’ll bet I was the only one there who had a snowmobile suit from Montgomery Wards from 1985. I had purchased it to ride my new 4 wheeler in the winter way back then. Here I was 28 years later wearing it again and actually climbing onto the back of a snowmobile!

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableMy friend Will took me out onto the lake to go scout for existing holes. We only had a hand auger to drill holes with. I got up to 40 miles per hour and that was fast enough for the first time. After finding a few holes we headed back to pick up the ladies and our gear.

We loaded fishing gear, a hand auger, and chairs for the four of us. Most of it was carried by hand by whoever was in the back riding double. Out on the ice we went and headed down the lake.

When we got to our spot, Will and I started auguring holes. The ice was 16” thick. It took about 8 minutes per hole except I used a couple of old holes and re-drilled them a little faster.

We baited our hooks and sat down to wait………………and wait………………and wait. Not much biting at first.  I finally caught the first fish after an hour or so. A 14” rainbow trout. I then caught a Kokanee trout (landlocked Sockeye salmon) but that was it.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe had a really nice visit with friends we hadn’t seen for a few months. The weather was beautiful and about 3:00 pm the fish attack began. We had three on at the same time! They were all Kokanee and ran about 12’ long. Beautiful thick bright fish. I was so busy baiting Laurie’s hook and taking care of her fish I finally pulled my line out of the water. It was fast and furious for over an hour. It never did end but we just had to get started for home because the horses and chickens needed to be fed and it’s best to go up our road in the daylight this time of year. We had caught 14 fish between the four of us.

We packed everything up and headed back to the resort. Once everything was put away we went inside the restaurant and treated ourselves to a rare meal out – Prime Rib Dip Sandwiches and an ice cold beer. The grill for the prime rib was located just outside the entrance door in the compacted snow. Inside the fireplace was going full bore with 3’ long logs. Our table looked out over the ice covered lake and the steep forested slopes beyond.

We finally headed back up the hill at dusk to our little homestead where we were greeted by the horses, chickens, dog and two cats. They were all very happy to see us.

After unloading our gear and taking care of the animals I built a fire in the masonry heater.  It wasn’t long before we had our own nice warm fire to enjoy and to help us reflect on what a wonderful time we had that day and how much we appreciated our friends for sharing their knowledge and time with us.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Sunday, 21 April 2013 17:00

The Right Time To Homestead

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIn one of my earlier blogs I mentioned that in the mid seventies I just about wore out the rental video called the Wilderness Family and its sequels. It was a story about a family of four that moved to a remote place in Colorado, built a log cabin and had a lot of wilderness adventures.

Right around the same time I checked into the Homestead Act at the library and found out it had just ended in 1976 with the exception of Alaska which was open until 1986. It took me another thirty four years to fulfill that dream. In 2010, Laurie and I moved to the mountains of Eastern Washington State and created our little modern homestead.

We don’t live completely off the land and we don’t have a log cabin. We do however live off grid, grow and harvest most of our own food, and live a fairly independent lifestyle. We are both in our late fifties.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI just met a couple online who live just a few miles from us and they started their adventure in their mid sixties. We met another couple who are doing the same thing near here in their early thirties with three small children. I’m sure we all have our different circumstances that dictate when and how we do things.

I am contacted on a regular basis by people who want to do what we have done. They all seem to have a timeline based on their own life experiences and circumstances. We met Maya through our Off Grid Works website who worked on a cruise ship for many years until she had enough money saved up to start her own homestead in South Africa all by herself! We’ve met people from Canada, the East coast, the Missouri Ozarks and everywhere in between. They come in all ages, genders and backgrounds. All have a common dream of someday wanting to homestead.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIt has been painful at times to listen to the stories of people who want to homestead but have been stopped by personal tragedies – divorce, injuries, death of a partner. Our next door property owners started their lifestyle change here but had to stop due to a tragic accident their son had and now they are tasked with taking care of him for the rest of his life.

Anyone who lives this lifestyle knows it isn’t for everyone but if you have a desire to homestead I would urge you to re-examine all of the reasons that are keeping you from making your move. I had reasons for thirty four years. Looking back I can’t honestly say that it had to be the way it was. Sometimes you just have to re-prioritize and a healthy, productive, and meaningful lifestyle should always be at the top of your list. So when is it time to homestead? The answer is easy – as soon as possible.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Thursday, 16 February 2012 16:00

Sustainability - a popular term

Sustainability has become a popular term in the past few years. A few people have been preaching it for many years but most of us are just starting to catch on in the past decade or so.

Websters Dictionary defines sustainable as:

a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableA lot of people think that if you live off grid you are being “sustainable”. I don‘t agree with that but there are certainly aspects of our off grid lifestyle that are sustainable. We grow as much of our own food as we can and that food produces its own seeds so we can do it over and over again. We heat our home with wood that comes from trees that we grow on our property. We will never use as much wood as we can grow so our heat source is entirely sustainable.

I like to think of recyclable materials as sustainable. Anything you re-use by way of recycling is helping to keep that resource from being depleted or permanently damaged.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe heat our home with a masonry heater that is 95 to 98% efficient. It burns so efficiently there is almost nothing left to emit into the atmosphere. We had the designer/mason attach a masonry kitchen stove to our heater. We use that to heat our house in the milder temperatures and to cook with. Every time we use it to cook or heat we are saving on propane use. Because our trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen it is possible that we are actually having a positive impact on the environment instead of a negative one. I’m not talking about global warming here, just common sense that producing toxic greenhouse gases can’t possibly be a good thing. The less we produce the better.

Walking and even riding a bicycle are forms of sustainability. You are helping to keep the fossil fuels from becoming depleted. Buying a used home is another example of sustainability. For that matter buying used anything would also apply.

Should we feel guilty if we aren’t 100% sustainable? I don’t think so. To be completely sustainable, one would have to live completely off the land using food, shelter, and tools that came from the land. That isn’t really a practical reality in todays modern world, however having said that, I can also say there isn’t any excuse for wasteful activities that are entirely preventable.

We all have different ideas about how far we as a society should go towards sustainability but I don’t think anyone can argue that sustainability is a good thing and anything you do in that regard is a step in the right direction and the sooner the better.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Sunday, 30 December 2012 16:00

My Year In Blogging 2012

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI started blogging a year ago for Mother Earth News magazine. What and adventure! I had no idea it was going to go like it did.

It seems I had a lot to write about. Not many people get to experience our off grid lifestyle and are curious about all of it, even from a novice like me. I wasn’t sure how they would react at first but there have been many letters of thanks for sharing our experiences both good and bad.

I’ve written about planning our homestead, choices for energy efficient homes, living remote, living at higher altitudes, living off grid, gardening the year ‘round and even what an average day is like.

Many people wanted to contact me. Some just to say hi and others for advice. I decided to open another website for the blogs where everyone could comment and discuss the items that have been written about. I called it Off Grid Works.

From that blog site I have met people from all over the world. One couple kindly invited us to vacation in the mountains of Costa Rica at their Zen Retreat in exchange for solar design advice. We’ve met a single woman in South Africa who is going to build off the grid in that country and has to contend with leopards, giraffes and baboons in her garden. I was so intrigued by her story I’ve asked her to guest blog from time to time and share her adventure with us. Her photographs are incredible and she is a much better writer than I am.

Some of the readers’ questions have forced me to do even more research to make sure I was giving good advice. We’ve learned from our readers as well. We’ve received many suggestions on everything from how to kill a rodent to how to make your tomatoes grow faster.

Last June we had a booth at the Mother Earth News Fair. Now that was fun! We met a lot of people there. Some wanted to buy our products but many just wanted to share experiences and we have had several visitors to our home since then that we met at the fair. People who are following in our footsteps in the near future and wanted to see the things we have been talking about.

Our MEN Editor Heidi has shared with us that people like to read from someone like us who are not experts but learning as we go. It’s a good thing because we aren’t experts of anything. We’ve both had good backgrounds to help prepare us for this big change of ours but there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to do.

Thank you all for joining us this past season and thanks for the advice and encouragement! Laurie and I wish you all the best this Holiday Season and a Happy New Year to everyone.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Sunday, 05 February 2012 16:00

What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableNovember 2011 – My wife Laurie and I have been in our off grid home for exactly one year now. We live in the Okanogan Highlands of Eastern Washington State at an elevation of 4200′. We are both in our late fifties. This past year has not been anything like the condo lifestyle we came from. Although our backgrounds have well prepared us for our late life adventure I could still fill a book with brand new experiences.

Most of our friends and relatives seem to think we have lost a marble or two but that’s okay, we moved so far away we won’t see them for a while anyway.

This past year we have experienced building a home and moving 250 miles away, living off grid with all new unfamiliar systems, record rainfalls, sub zero temperatures, a 4.6 magnitude earthquake, and a forest fire. Our property is almost three miles from the nearest paved road and no neighbors. Well, there is one neighbor, sort of, but he doesn’t talk to us. I don’t think he likes having neighbors. What in the world did we get ourselves into?

We love it here. We have a “view to die for.” We are surrounded by National Forests, lakes, pine, fir, tamarack trees, green grass and sagebrush. It is beautiful the year ’round.

So what about Off Grid? Simply put, off grid means that you are responsible for your own power, water, and sewage disposal. In our case we chose solar power with a backup generator, water from a drilled well, water cisterns, and an onsite septic system.

Each of these three off grid requirements has multiple methods to choose from. For power, you could choose to go without. Some people in this area live with only a small generator for electricity. The three main sources for off grid power are solar (AC or DC), wind power, and hydro power.

For water we chose a drilled well as our main water source with a 220V pump. That’s right. Our solar AC power is both 110v (regular household) and 220v for the pump. We also put three 1200 gallon underground water cisterns in, one at the barn and two at the house. We use the barn cistern to water the horses year round and the two cisterns at the house are for the garden in the summer time. That puts a lot less strain on our solar power to pump water. It only takes about 1 inch of rain to fill the cisterns off our metal roofs.

For sewage disposal we chose an onsite septic system which is the most common. We use it for both gray and brown water. Some people separate the two types of water. The brown water goes to the septic system and gray water may be used to water landscaping, trees, plants, and even gardens. Others get by with a gray system and an outhouse, chemical, or compost toilet. There are many options to choose from for all of these systems. Of course your local Health Department will have something to say about it and you may even have to educate them.

So how do you learn about all of these things and where do you start? I will talk about all of them and more in follow-up blogs in a step by step process that we went through but I can give you a hint right now on where to start………. Commitment. Making a commitment is the first step.

Laurie and I made a decision to change the way we live. There may be others who are “greener” or more “sustainable” than we are but ANY change you make that is better for your health and the planet is worth committing to.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid Works.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 17:00

Living At Higher Altitudes

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI spent the first 55 years of my life in the same town – Bellingham, WA. It is located at the northeast corner of Washington State on the I-5 corridor. Just 30 miles to the east you can see Mount Baker, elevation 10,781 feet, and to the west, the Puget Sound.

I grew up boating, fishing, and water skiing on the salt water. As a teenager we had a view of the San Juan Islands and had direct access to the beaches for gathering clams, oysters and crabs.

Now here we are in the Okanogan Highlands, 250 miles from the nearest saltwater and 4200’ above sea level. Instead of trees, blackberries, and brush we now enjoy trees, green grass, and sagebrush. What a change. It’s not better or worse, just different.

I know there are a lot of people that live even higher than we do but we are high enough to  experience the same differences from living in the lower elevations.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIn April we have to fight our way through snow to go to town, only to see the beginnings of green lawns and gardens in the lower valleys. It can be a little irritating by then, waiting our turn for warmer temperatures and things that are green. We can be in shirtsleeves in town and wearing coats and gloves to go back home. The biggest downside to all of that is the shorter growing season.

When the mountain bluebirds show, it is time to trade in our long underwear for something lighter. We have a Spring To Do List that starts near the beginning of summer. It is the busiest time of the year because you really want to get everything done before it gets too hot to do the heavy work. Starting the garden, gathering next winters wood, and dusting the cobwebs off all the outdoor equipment are a few of the things we do.

Appliances all need to be adjusted for the higher elevations. We’re still working on our oven after two years. Just can’t seem to get it right. Pressure canning takes longer for every thousand feet higher that you live. Gas engines lose 3% power for every thousand feet above sea level. It’s 4% for diesel. I imagine it is similar for all combustion engines.

Your ear pressure will adjust every time you go to town. It takes about two weeks for your body (lungs) to adjust from the lowlands if you are a first time visitor. A simple walk at lower elevations is not as easy higher up. You will feel the difference almost immediately.

You definitely consume more energy to heat your home. We burn about 5 cords of wood each winter. Back where I came from we would only burn 2-3 cords for the same house.

Being higher the temperatures are typically colder but that is not always the case. Inversions are common here. We can be enjoying a nice warm sunny day while down in the valleys it is foggy and cold. The stars are brighter here. Unless you live in Denver, CO, usually the higher you go the less population you will see. The views tend to be a little more panoramic from up high.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI can’t really say which is better. Living up high or down low. It’s just different and I can make a case for both. It’s best to accept what is, adjust to it the best you can, and enjoy the benefits of wherever you live. It’s beautiful here, the air is a little cleaner, and you can walk through the forest for miles without seeing another soul.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 17:00

Learning Curve - Homesteading

Bruce and Carol McElmurray live in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado at an elevation of 9,750′.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State at an elevation of 4200’.

Bruce and Ed, bloggers for the Happy Homesteader at Mother Earth News, have decided to collaborate on a blog about the learning curve one experiences when making a major change in lifestyle by living where they do.


What are some of the less obvious differences between living an urban lifestyle versus a rural homestead lifestyle? Things you didn’t expect or had to learn the hard way?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableBruce: One of the major differences is not having services at your disposal. You need to be more self reliant and be able to do things yourself. Having internet access is a bonus because you can research how to do things yourself.

Ed: Even though we did a lot of research before we moved I don’t think we realized the full depth of what we were going to have to do. Not only did we move from a condo to a homestead but we had to learn how to manage our solar power, raise chickens, grow a large garden, pressure can and many other things. We knew we would be doing those things but it turned out there was more to it than we thought.

Are you glad you made the change?

Bruce: I am very glad that I made the change.

Ed: We love what we are doing even though it is more demanding than our previous condo lifestyle.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableName one thing that turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

Bruce: The most pleasant surprise is the pure air, pure water, healthy living and quiet with no siren’s or city noises. Being able to live in harmony with the animals and realizing they are not as aggressive as I would have imagined. More curious than anything.

Ed: That our research paid off and we CAN do the things we are doing. We can grow a garden, produce our own power and be successful in this lifestyle, and we can get out to the highway in the winter with 3’ or more of snow. We expected to do these things and more but it is really satisfying to be successful after the fact.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to your readers who are contemplating a similar move?

Bruce: My advice is that if you are reliant on services that you might want to think long and hard about contemplating a move like this. Repairman doesn’t always show up when they have to drive 45 miles one way, and services can be limited. Again, you have to be self reliant and at our elevation you may have to wait a long time due to snow or other conditions for service. If you are unable to do things yourself this may not be the lifestyle for you.

Ed: Do your home work! There is so much information out there. Anything can be researched. You don’t have to go into anything blindly. We have people touring our home and property and utility systems all the time so they can see for themselves and hear from us how they work.  You will have to be willing to make changes to your lifestyle.

What are some of the things that you need to consider before moving to such a high altitude?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableBruce: One important thing to consider is that you are not prone to altitude sickness. If you are you need to make sure it is only temporary. It is not good to be sick all the time due to altitude.

Ed: Most people up here have propane appliances. They need to be adjusted for altitude and the supply pipe may have to be increased in size for those appliances. They simply aren’t as efficient at higher altitudes and that needs to be taken into consideration at the design stage.

Also – the more severe weather. Are you prepared to have longer winters, shovel mountains of snow, and drive in the ice and snow for months and spend more resources (time or money) to heat your home?

What are some of the factors you encountered that you did not expect?

Bruce: Two things we did not expect were all the rocks. We can hardly dig a hole in the ground without hitting rocks. Also, that it takes longer to do things like cutting firewood because of the thinner air. If you work like you would at a lower elevation you will be panting and gasping very fast so you really have to pace yourself. Also we knew the snowfall was heavy at our location but it has exceeded our average a few times and we have had up to 6 feet in one storm. It does not always come in equal storms.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableEd: The growing season was even shorter than we thought. The snow and cold stays longer than we expected. It takes a fair amount of fuel to run our tractor, snowplow, and chainsaws etc.

How difficult was it to adjust to living higher up?

Bruce: For us it was not difficult at all. You just slow down and take longer to do tasks. When Carol visits relatives in Florida she says her energy level is almost at superwoman levels having come from the high altitude.

Ed: It only takes about two weeks to adjust your lungs and body to this altitude. Other than that and our appliances it wasn’t a big deal. We are not that high up compared to others. 4200’ is enough to make a difference but not enough to be a problem.


Talk about some of the challenges of living remote?

Bruce: There are numerous challenges. Our nearest incorporated town is 42 miles one way. You need to plan your trips carefully or you will burn a lot of gas making numerous trips. You don’t have immediate access to entertainment, emergency services, and shopping. If these things are a top priority to you it might be time to adjust your attitude or reconsider living remote. Much of what we purchase is on line but we have to drive 8 miles to pick it up.

Ed: Remoteness may be the biggest challenge for some. Think long and hard about this one before you make your move. It can get lonely at times. It can seem as if nobody cares about you anymore. Some people in your circle of friends and family may feel betrayed by your move because you are no longer accessible to them. Be prepared to stay in touch via phone and internet. You will have less human contact than you did before.

More planning is required for everything. You don’t just get in your car and “run” to the store which can be a 100 mile round trip. Tasks need to be combined. If you forget one thing on your list you are done with that project until you go to town again so you need to be very organized.

Some people consider it risky to live so far away from basic services like hospitals, firemen, and law enforcement. How do you deal with those types of issues?

Bruce: Again being self reliant is essential. If we get injured it is a one hour drive to emergency services. Therefore we keep a comprehensive first aid kit on hand for us and our dogs. When we have been injured or need treatment we call ahead so they know we are coming and what to expect. If we have a major health issue we will either get there on time or not. You have to accept that possibility or you will worry yourself sick.

Ed: If you feel the need for instant access to the emergency services, don’t move away from them. I don’t really want to live my life that way so we take an entirely different approach. We minimize our risks. For instance, for $150.00 for three years for both of us we belong to an emergency helicopter/transport service. They will come to our home and pick us up and transport us to a major metropolitan hospital. We are self reliant for protection and have a very good guard dog. I built my house and barn out of non combustible materials so that fire would not be a very big risk.

The odds of our remoteness being the cause of death are so minute, they just aren’t a factor. Most traffic accidents happen within 5 miles of your home. In the city you are on the road every day. We only go out once a week so who is really more at risk? Just a thought on perspective.

Is there anything you regret about living so far out?

Bruce: There is nothing I regret. The advantages so far outweigh the disadvantages that are not even a factor to us.

Ed: I miss family gatherings like birthdays and seeing more of my friends. I miss not being there for my elderly mother when she needs something. Some days I miss the convenience of living next to everything – until I look out the window.

What about the positives of living so far out?

Bruce: Being by yourself much of the time, having a good relationship with your partner is essential. The quiet nights, the darkness, not having to lock your doors at night, having the company of canine companions, fresh air, pure water, healthy living all make this a great lifestyle. Communing with the wild animals and being able to enjoy the outdoors is a large part of life here. Having miles on end to hike, snowshoe, mountain bike and standing on top of the mountain are all positives. The warmth of a wood stove on a cold night. What’s not to like about living like we do?

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray go to www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.

Ed: Even though I have some regrets, the benefits far outweigh those. The air is cleaner.  You are less involved in family and friend squabbles. We almost always have peace and quiet. We have some distance from our neighbors which is usually a good thing. We have to be more self reliant. You automatically become more intertwined with nature and the weather. You become more independent. We can walk out our back door and into the National Forest where you can hike, hunt, fish, ride horses, and even pan for gold! We can have an outdoor fire most of the year long. I can target practice on my own property. Seeing local wildlife is fun. Mostly, it is the peace and quiet.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Monday, 18 February 2013 16:00

How To Survive A Long Winter

We live fairly high in the mountains. Just being three miles off the paved road with a 1000’ elevation gain will virtually assure that no one will come to visit you. We seem to have an average of 3’ of snow anywhere from October to March.

So what do we do in the late fall, winter, and early spring to pass the time?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableEd: I work on the website a lot, updating products, text, pictures, blogs, pricing, and shipping costs. There is always a lot of work to do.

I have to shovel snow by hand around the house and barn every time it snows. We have to keep a path to the chicken coops, solar panels, insulated cold frames, and hay stacks for the horses.

I plow the road. It is three miles long and takes anywhere from 3 hours to six hours depending on how much snow we get. This year it has been anywhere from once a week to three times in the same week. We’ve had wind storms that have caused the snow to drift and pile up to three feet high in the exposed places. I also hand shovel large areas under the trees for the chickens to scratch around in.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe shovel a lot of horse pooh in the winter. They have the run of about 15 acres but tend to stay on the plowed roads. I guess you might call them city type horses. I don’t want that stuff mixed in with the road gravel so we scoop it up in the Polaris and haul it to the garden where it gets spread every Spring when everything thaws and right before we rototill.

I do small indoor projects that we don’t have time to do in the summer. Small repairs, maintenance, and even some new ones.

I spend some time each day building two fires and hauling wood inside for them.

I plow about ½ mile of road that leads to the National forest from our house. We walk that and look at all of the different animal tracks. We snow shoe and this year we took turns skiing down our road and being pulled back up the hill by the Polaris. That was a lot of fun.

Last weekend we ventured down the hill to Lake Bonaparte and watched the snowmobile drag races.

In two weeks our friends are coming up from Oroville to that same lake and we will meet them there for ice fishing and a beer or two at the restaurant which sits right next to the lake and has a big old fashioned fireplace inside.

We are actually outdoors a lot. We’ve learned when to don long underwear and when to put on the insulated coveralls. When the snow gets compacted in the driveway or icy we even have to put our ice spikes on our boots so we don’t slip and fall.

It seems there is always something to do. It just changes with the seasons.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLaurie: I am always collecting things that look like they can be repurposed and made into something new. I have a room full of fabric, wool roving, yarn, buttons, ribbon, sewing machines, a large tapestry loom and that’s just a start. I always have projects that I have waiting to be started or finished, so I am never without something to do if I want. Quilting, rugs, felting, you name it. I’ll try it!

There are always the animals to be taken care of. Horses are fed and watered 3 times a day. I choose to not put out the large bales of round hay for the horses so they can eat free choice. My mustang would eat himself into oblivion if he had hay in front of him all day; he is the easiest keeper I have ever had. He gets fat just looking at hay. And then on the other hand we have our Quarter Horse who is always in need of a little more food, not such an easy keeper and is low man on the totem pole, so he can get pushed around. It’s a lot like trying to keep the peace in a house full of kids; you need to make sure they each get their share.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableBecause we are off-grid we don’t have the extra power for heaters for the water troughs for the horses and chickens. So when we get our really cold weather the water buckets have to be deiced and refilled at least 3 times a day. Horse pens are always in need of cleaning when I have a free minute, or want to get outside for a while.

And then, of course, there’s nothing better than a cup of tea and a really good book.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid Works.

Tuesday, 05 June 2012 17:00

Horse Adventures (humor)

Childhood – When I was a kid I loved to ride horses. Okay, there was this one time I was riding my friend Mikes horse when I was about nine years old and he took me under the apple tree to see if he could scrape me off his back. He couldn’t. I sure showed him! It took me weeks to heal my back, and I had to get a new shirt. Not that it was my only shirt. I had another one. Anyway, that’s what being a kid is all about right?

I guess I got better because I spent the summer at my cousins and rode their horse all summer. I never got scraped off once.

Twenty’s – Smart, no horses.

Thirty’s – Can’t say I’ve had a stellar horse career as an adult though. A friend of mine took me elk hunting on horseback. He had two horses. He chose the older one for me to ride. Said she was steadier. He said the young one got easily distracted and would walk right off the cliff if you weren’t watching out for him. Then he took us on the hairiest mountain trail ride I have ever been on. All I could think about was walking over the edge of the trail and plummeting down the mountainside.

To make matters worse, a friend of mine had just lost a mule over the side of a mountain. A fighter jet from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station decided to go on “low altitude maneuvers” in the North Cascade Mountains. The mule owner actually demanded to speak to the base Admiral and darned if he didn’t get a new mule, compliments of the US Navy.

Anyway, this article is about me. After we got back from that hunting ride my friend admitted that was the worst trail he had ever been on. I hunted on foot the rest of the trip. I was getting older.

Forty’s – I went to Mexico on vacation and decided my horse career needed a refresher. I signed up for a horseback ride on the beach. They separated us into three groups. Expert, intermediate, and beginner. I claimed to be intermediate and they gave me a horse named Rice. He had short bristly hair that looked a lot like rice.Well I handled him pretty well, like riding a bike right? I was the only one to stay on a bareback horse in the ocean. We swam about three feet and came back. I was King!

Right after that we saddled back up and it was time to let them run but only if you volunteered. Of course moi being so experienced compared to the others, I was game. We took off at a dead sprint. I have never felt so much pain in my legs in my life! No one told me not to ride a horse with sandpaper fur while wearing shorts! It took months for the hair to grow back on my legs. It was embarrassing. I’m sure everyone who saw me the rest of the vacation thought I waxed!

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableFifty’s – Married a professional horse trainer. Well that’s just great! I thought I had outgrown horses. All of a sudden we are the proud owners of a wild mustang and a Missouri Fox trotter I named Gaitor. He is a gaited horse. But this story is about me.

The first time I rode him it was going well and I decided to put him into his slower gait called a flat walk. We went about 30’ and something spooked him. He went left and I went right. It wouldn’t have been so bad but I landed on my face in a crushed rock parking lot. Missed the soft dirt field completely. Once again, it took weeks to heal and the broken tooth replacement cost was $3,500.00. Of course Laurie was horrified and very upset. There was a horseback riding class going on in the corral next to us and she thought I scared all of the little girls on their ponies. She thought it was extremely bad form for them to see that. There I sat with blood all over my hands, knees and face and I was in trouble for setting a bad example?

Fast forward to just last summer. We had finally finished the house and had time for our first horseback ride from our own property. A dream come true. We live next to National Forest and can access it right from our driveway. Out the gate we went. We made it for about one mile. Laurie and her mustang were in front and spooked a “thunder” of grouse. My poor horse thought it was the second coming or something. Again he went left and I went straight up and back down flat on my back. That one took about two months to heal but my teeth were intact! Poor Gaitor. He wasn’t a spooky horse per se but when he did spook he was just too quick and athletic for me to stay on him. It wasn’t his fault but he had to go. We made extra sure he went to a really good home. I was quite attached to him and it was hard to see him go because of my faulty riding.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWell, yes, we did get a new horse. His name is Yogi. He is as big as a mountain. An old style quarter horse. He is 13 years old. Very sweet. He calls to us whenever we are outside. He is supposed to be the answer to all of my horse troubles. Old and steady. The only thing is it takes a ladder to get up on him and once you are up there you can’t believe how high off the ground you are. The view is spectacular. Well that’s just great! Higher up = greater distance to fall…………..not a good formula.

I keep falling off horses and what is the professional trainers answer? Get a bigger horse, the size of a dump truck. What kind of trainer is she anyway? For that matter what kind of wife? I’m changing my will. I’ve seen stories like this in the evening news like when a couple goes on a dive trip or hunting together. We all know what she is thinking. What is that old cliché? The bigger they are the harder they fall? HMMMM?

On the one hand, I was glad to see the snow leave us. On the other hand, it’s time to go riding. You may or may not see my next blog.

Sixties ? – ……………..

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.


Monday, 04 March 2013 00:00

Free Range Winter Chickens (Humor)

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI don’t really know if our chickens are like all chickens or if they are evolving into something so fantastic that we will be featured in agricultural textbooks for all time. Our chickens are becoming winterized.

We got these chickens fully grown a couple of years ago. Not being experienced we weren’t really sure what to expect. Our chickens are free range chickens. That means no one owns the property they graze on and whatever they find they get to keep for free. Horse pooh, dog pooh, crickets, and many other disgusting things.

Our chickens also have feathers so I figured we were good as far as winter goes. One of our friends told us they would be able to survive clear down to zero degrees. I was a little concerned because when I was a kid we had a Bantam Rooster called Popeye and one morning we woke up and ‘Ol Popeye was frozen solid in time never to thaw out again in our presence. We were told he was old and that’s why he froze. My sister and I never bought that one. Our parents were old and they never froze.

We live in the mountains at 4200’ and it does get pretty cold here but we also live off grid. That means no forced air furnace and hot water heater for the chicken coop. These guys were just going to have to tough it out. That’s the way I was raised and it worked for me and my sister, well it worked for me. Our parents would always say things like “just tough it out” and “quit whining” and we seemed to get through the winters okay with good parenting skills like that.

I did put insulation in the chicken coop and cover all the holes. We even had a freeze proof faucet nearby so we could get fresh water every day. Laurie made me get some sawdust for the coop floor. I guess I had to “cave” on something.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableFall came and I thought we were as ready as we were going to be for winter and right then all of the stupid chickens lost their stupid feathers when the stupid temperature got down to freezing at night. Well, how smart was that? All my life I had been told how “Mother Nature always gets it right”. Well apparently Mother Nature never had to live off grid. I just knew we were going to have to buy new chickens in the spring – ever y year.

Well it got down to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit that winter for a couple of days. Our chickens really sucked it up. We were proud of them. The rooster had frostbite on his comb but he never really complained. I guess it’s easier to take care of now, kind of like being bald, and the hens seem to be attracted to him okay. Other than that they didn’t seem to be affected much.

The one thing I noticed that first year is that they never came out of the coop. I guess they didn’t have to. Laurie took them hot meals and warm water every day. Cooked rice, cooked oatmeal, and other things like that. I guess they would have to wait for summer for the disgusting things they like to eat.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe have a new generation of chickens who have grown up here and seem to be a little more used to the winters than the original gang. They still stupidly lose their feathers in the late fall but on a nice day they will venture out of the coop. I go out and shovel trails in the snow that lead to other areas I shovel and they do go out and scratch.

It’s hard getting used to snow. One hen shakes each foot after lifting her foot to take a step. She’s got it down though and does manage to go forward. It’s like a cadence – lift, shake, and step. Lift, shake, and step. We’ve also found that they can get bogged down in powder snow.  We’ve had to rescue more than one stranded in a snow drift. They act like a beached whale. Scientists are puzzled by the strange behavior.

Our original batch of chickens never left the coop. Our newer “evolved” chickens do. It wouldn’t surprise me to see their feet eventually develop webs like tiny snow shoes and their feathers turn white in the winter. I wonder if the government will give us a grant?

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

Page 5 of 9


  • Our Home Design Features Part 1

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs. Roof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during Read More
  • Our Home Design Features Part 2

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1 Insulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes. Plug Read More
  • I Built My House for Extreme Weather

    I went to work in the family commercial construction company in the early 1980's and by the end of the decade had worked my way into the office as a project manager. Commercial construction is entirely different than residential construction. For one thing, everything is engineered - structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers all take a part in the design of commercial buildings. It wasn't long before I discovered the term "100 year storm". Many structural designs and mechanical designs were based on the 100 year storm (I'm over simplifying for the purpose of this article). Things like concrete foundation design and Read More
  • 1