Tips and Tricks

Since we are discussing water things, I’ll get to the nitty gritty that everyone wants to know about.  You’re camp building.  No, there isn’t a flush potty.  That is taken care of in not so different way – outside and away from camp.  Some build a trad outhouse, some compost it, some use a bucket.  We opted for the latter because of the littles and remember, it was only for a couple of months…  and composting it just doesn’t seem right to me.  Tip: Buy large boxes of rubber gloves and a good shovel.

Clothes – I think this one needs its own category.  Mostly because I thought “hey, no problem!  5 gallon buckets, gamma lid, plunger hand washer – I got this washing clothes thing!”  Until you put 2 pairs of adult jeans in said bucket, use 5 gallons of water for the wash, repeat x2 rinses.  And then try to wring them out so they dry sometime this century.  Instead, I have opted to go to the Laundromat every week or so to wash and line dry.  Keep in mind when choosing clothes – Tip: you will likely not ever wear those clothes again in public.  Building is dirty work.  The children will play in the dirt.  And at some point, you won’t care that they are.  Then the clothes will sit there until you make it to town or wash them by hand – the stains will set.  And you won’t care because you realize that the children are just going to play in the dirt again.  And if it rains, they will have even more fun in the mud, even when you tell them not to.  Or maybe it’s only mine that somehow manage to “fall” into the muddiest pit they can find. 

So now that everything is clean again, my next Tip: Tote EVERYTHING.  Not kidding.  Everything.  That was a tip passed to me from another mama who had camp built.  This is probably the biggest tip.  A tote for plates/cups/plastic ware.  A tote for cooking supplies.  Multiple totes for food.  Clothes totes, dirty clothes totes, shoe totes, totes for sheets, blankets and pillows, medical tote.  Totes for tools, totes for toys.  It keeps things organized and saves a lot of issues caused by dirt, dew, humidity and critters.  Tip: Have a tote of “going to town” clothes – you know, clean, unstained, no holes.  In short, clothes that do not scream “homeless”.  The clothes only come out when you are leaving, the children get straight in their seat, and they go back in the tote as soon as you arrive home.  Now, if you leave these totes outside, they may or may not last 6 months.  The only ones that were subjected to the environment were the medium sized clear totes with the colored lids.  The lids were the weak point.  The tote itself is still holding up rather well.

Cooking – This has been an interesting thing to figure out.  We started with a camp stove.  Until about February, Mr. took the cooking task (or at least starting the fire task).  We started with a camp stove, much like a gas stove. Only ours liked to ‘pop’ and scare the fire outta me (pun not intended).  Then Mr. gutted the propane grill, turning into a charcoal grill.  Quickly we realized how much charcoal we had to use to heat a small area for cooking.  Then he moved to an open fire.  And I wasn’t even going to attempt that one again after a bad mac and cheese making incident.  So I built a rocket stove with some cinder blocks and bricks.  I can cook on that thing all day, without issue.  It uses little sticks instead of logs and can boil water in a few minutes.  I hear there is a way to turn it into an oven but I haven’t attempted that part yet. 

That was also around the time we brought out a toaster oven and an electric skillet.  We run the generator for those.  Cause here’s the deal.  It will rain.  And when it rains, it’s hard to stand out there, juggling an umbrella to keep you and the food somewhat dry and keep the fire going.  And Lord help you if your headlamp decides to go mad at that moment.  I guess you could put a tent over it.  If you don’t mind a possible tent fire and all.   Tip: Have fire extinguishers – big and multiple if you can.  You’re living there, stuff happens, better to have ‘em just in case.

Food storage As I mentioned earlier, we kept our non-perishables in many labeled totes and buckets.  Tip: Check donut shops – Shipleys sells their used square 4 gallon buckets with sealed lids for $1.  Plan on a lot of easy, one pot meals without a lot of flair and prep.  Canned and boxed, powdered milk for the mixes.  Rice and beans.  This has been one of the hardest things to get over mentally.  I found out, I am truly a lazy “organic, from scratch cooking” kinda lady.  I’m lost without my KitchenAide, breadmaker and running water to wash the 80 dishes I use daily in prepping our traditional menu.  Not to mention that whole “daily purchase of necessary perishables”.  Hope you really like hamburgers, hot dogs and fajitas.  We do still purchase cold stuff.  Let’s be honest here, cheese and butter are necessary with children around.  So we have a “fridge” – a nice, large, 5 day ice chest.  We also have a “drink fridge” for cold waters, the stainless bottles, single bottles of juice and milk and cokes.  The “fridges” take about 4 bags of ice together, the 5 gallon drink jug takes another 2.  During the dog days of summer, we were replenishing that every day.  A portable icemaker would make it cheaper, if you can power it of course.

Electricity was mostly easy to get over.  Charging phones/tablets/iPods/DSes/laptop in the truck.  Which brings me to the next Tip: Start your car a few times a day, every few hours if you have children opening the doors every 2 seconds.  If its gas, let it run for about 15 minutes.  Diesel for 30 minutes.  I will not admit to how many times we have killed the batteries.  Yes, plural. We drive a diesel.  Which means we have managed to kill *2* batteries multiple times.  Apparently, when you have 3 inverters charging 8 things, the battery drains very quick.

Lighting – It’s dark.  Brighter than you think it would be when you are so far from the city.  But during the week that the moon is turning new it’s dark.  Like can’t see 3 feet in front of you dark. Tip: Coleman headlamp for each person, plus a few extra.  For general lighting solar landscape spotlights work great.  They are cheap, require no batteries and light things enough to generally see.  We also used a Coleman Tent Fan and Light.  The light part is great; the fan part is worthless unless you are closer than 2 feet to it. 

Tip – Check for ticks, nightly.  They come out way before you think they do and stay out longer than you think they ought to.  Mama guilt abounds after seeing a tick crawling on your child that had been attached long enough to unlatch on its own.  Keep in mind – they crawl.  Just because you haven’t been in the woods today doesn’t mean you are safe.  We have found them in the sleeping tent and in the house.

Rain Days – You will have them, and they suck.  Bad.  Not just because of the lack of progress that occurs but because the children go crazy.  Seriously.  I’m pretty sure there is a water sensitive switch on them that activates turning them into extra whiney, extra “let me pick on anybody within 10 feet of me”.  I have no sure fire fix for this one but a couple of $1 teas, McD playland and a charged device for mama brings a couple of hours of peace.  Tip:  Next time you are there, about halfway through their playtime, ask for a Kiddie Cone – they are free, you earn cool parent status and you just extended your peace for another 20 or 30 minutes.  Netflix in the car turned Movie Theater is another sanity saver.

Tip: Stick with it!  It will get hard.  You will learn things about yourself and your family members – some good, some not so pleasant.  Things will go wrong.  Things will not go as planned.  You will get discouraged.  But your victories are huge, your perseverance is shown in the aftermath.  

Have any neat tips to share?  Anything you are wondering about?


Tips and Tricks — 2 Comments

  1. totally enjoyed the read. reminded me of all the dirt on the kids when they were little. laundry has always been a difficult thing to stay ahead of off grid, got a washer and piped in the water, and run it on the generator. that is my best off grid tip. being in the desert dry time is minimal and laundry now feels like a normal chore. which is good because the chore list increases with each new project.

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