I promised myself that I would add one of these stories here every time I told one. I tell them at one point or another throughout the summer. There will be no chronology - not yet anyway - nor will there be much of a schedule. You never know; I might add a story every day and I might not. This is my life. Every day is an adventure.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Going off the Grid

I read a post on Facebook yesterday where a friend of mine vented about extra charges being added to her utilities bill specifically earmarked to help the government pay for some of it's excesses, and without any prior notice or opportunity to vote. This little detail was probably tucked in with some other excess that succeeded in clawing it's way through the voting system and was strategically never mentioned. Personally, I'd be tempted to take an ax to that nice little ticking time-bomb attached to the side of my house. Of course, you can't do that if you don't own the house. You could get sued.

However, it got me thinking. Just how hard is it to go off the grid? I really don't know. Prior to moving out here, the 'grid' was a given, one of those things taken for granted and never thought of until the electricity went out in some storm. All you can do is hunker down, shed a tear for the contents of the freezer, and wait for the company to fix the problem.

That's the way I thought until this happened a short time after I married my husband. We lived in a trailer park in an aging trailer and there was a mean snow-storm going on outside. When we lost power, my husband dug out a small generator and an extension cord, and wallah, we endured the outage while watching TV. We also had a lamp plugged in so, in the whole trailer park, we were the only one lit up. I was so proud of my smart husband. Who knew such a thing could be so easy?

I know now that hooking your house up to a private generator can be dangerous too, especially for the nice man who comes around to check your usage or for someone else down the line who might be working on the reason for the outage itself, but the generator wasn't hooked into the house power so they were all safe. I also now know that there are special breakers you can install that will allow you to use your own generator to run your whole house. Though that idea was very tempting, I never really thought much about 'going off the grid' even like that. When we moved out here, we moved far beyond city electricity and water, and having a little generator and using the outhouse or a pitcher-pump for water was just another part of the adventure.

Consider for a moment how all these power companies got their start. Someone figured out how to generate electricity (I don't know how, so don't ask), and they discovered that it was really easy to generate more than enough for a single house. In fact it's pretty darn easy to generate enough for several houses, you just need a big enough generator and there are many available to buy. And if you decide to go this route, and your neighbors decide to complain about the noise, all you have to do is offer to share.

Let's say, with your house as the center, you have 8 immediate neighbors - 3 across the street in front of you, 3 across the alley behind you and one on either side of you. You buy a 12KW or bigger diesel generator and put it in your garage. If each of those neighbors buys you five gallons of diesel or pays you the equivalent, you are likely to come out ahead in the first week. Don't take my math as a for-sure because I don't know the numbers when it comes to running a 12KW, but I'm not far off. That 'extra' could and should go into generator maintenance and oil, and anything else that might be necessary, I'm not a mechanic and I know even less about maintaining a generator, diesel or otherwise.

So, go to the gas station and look at the price of five gallons of diesel. Consider that it might last you a week, and then look at your electric bill (divided by 4, since it's for a month), which is cheaper? Without doing the math myself, I think buying diesel once a week is tons cheaper. I think having a noisy generator in your garage is a small price to pay, and I think that noisy generator would pay for itself in no time. Noise can always be muffled by soundproofing, and you get used to it to the point that you don't notice it until it's off for the night or for an oil change.

So tell me, how hard is it really, to go off the grid? Will the company sue you for not using their service? Will they try to bring some other pressure to bear? Likely, but can they really force you to hook up to city electricity? Now water you may just have to take - the plumbing is already there and it's not as if you all want to haul gallons and gallons of water every day just so you can wash your clothes or dishes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Value of Things

This morning, a friend of mine, Desmond Campbell, from Facebook, made a comment about why some people are always broke and will always be broke. His reasons were:
1)Not willing to learn something new
2)Will do it next year when the time is right
4)Oh everyone is doing that
5)Spends beyond means on credit and blows their cash
6)The need to satisfy with objects to make themselves feel better at that moment
7)Does not! Research a market before doing!

All valid reasons, but that's not the subject of my blog. It was merely the spark that ignited this post. Value of things is what I want to talk about today. Ever since we moved out here, we have lived on an income that our most generous country considers to be below the poverty level. That leaves me wondering what they base their numbers on. There are people in town making more than we do and they need food stamps, state aid and housing assistance to make ends meet. What do they spend their wages on? It totally baffles me, the value people put on the things they think they need.

My life style is very different than those living in any town you can name, even small country towns, but in many ways it's still the same. We watch TV - we have HUNDREDS of movies. We eat, buy clothes, drive to work every day - well every day during the summer. We own our property and pay property taxes. The difference comes around when we are spending my hard earned wages. The cash we make during the summer has to supply us for the whole year.

What do you buy during the course of a year? We go through about a barrel of gasoline a month. A barrel of diesel will probably last us about two months, but we don't run the diesel generator during the winter. Food, I usually order through work and that eats up three quarters of my income.

For the rest - Do you need to have electrical power after you go to bed? Really? How much would you save on your electric bill if you could throw a breaker and turn your house off at night or when you were away on vacation, or even when no one was at home during the day, say when everyone was at school or at work. How many watt hours does that leave? five? seven? eight even? I suppose you need a couple in the morning, so ten watt hours? twelve? You say, "what about the refrigerator? What about the Freezer?" Believe me, they do just fine if the door isn't fanning.

Now clothes might be the biggest difference. You need clothes appropriate for your work and kids grow up. Living out here, I'm not running any fashion contest so sweat pants and a t-shirt are the attire of the day any day, and my kids are grown and can buy their own clothes now. I buy a few new things each time I go to town but nothing much more than new underclothes or long underwear. This year I plan to look for a dress. I'm looking for denim (I know, you don't need to tell me) and I want it long. I like long dresses - I always have. You know, now that I think about it, maybe I'll buy the material and a pattern. I have my sewing machine out here now. But I need to get to my point. Do you need to buy new clothes every time you pass a clothing store? Do you need to buy new clothes more than once a year? Do you need to buy NEW clothes every time?

What else do you buy? In an effort to save money, I go out of my way to make sure I don't have many monthly bills. I know you have an electric bill, but that would equal part of my gas expense. Many of you pay rent - well, sorry about that. So buy a house. Buy a trailer. Heck, buy an RV. Whatever, make your monthly payments purchase something permanent for you and your family, don't make it purchase something for someone else. I know - easier said than done.

What else do you pay for each month? We all have a phone, right? Me too - don't count the fact that my phone hasn't worked for the last two months - something I'm going to discuss with the phone company as soon as I can call them.

The worst and most useless expense in my opinion is cable TV. What's wrong with regular TV? Really? Do you really need a thousand channels? Buy a DVD. Sports, you say? I'm not a fan. Sorry, so I don't know what to tell you there. Cartoons? Have you watched any lately? Are they funny? Really? I haven't seen a funny cartoon in YEARS. And now paying a monthly internet bill is all the rage. grrrr

Enough of my rant about how you spend your dollars. How you do so is totally your business. This is just my way of trying to make you think about the value of these material things.

The biggest thing that makes me carefully consider what I buy, other than my limited income, is physically getting it here - even going shopping in the first place is something I need to consider. For you to go shopping, all you need to do is hop in your car and drive to the nearest mall. Ah the temptation of it all. For me to go shopping, I need to book a bush plane - $400+ out of my shopping budget right there just going to town. Then there's the taxi I need to take to the mall. Heaven forbid I need to make more than one stop, but of course I always do. If you spent $400+ to go to town and another $400+ to go back home, tell me you wouldn't go to every store you had to. So, since all that shopping takes a while, there's the overnight stay at a motel. Oh and also, if you're going to spend that much money, you should try to fill the plane for the return trip. What are you going to fill that plane with? The absolute necessities. ABSOLUTE necessities. No frills. The only luxury we generally allow ourselves is a stack of movies, maybe some ice cream, small things that don't take up much room. No cases of sodas. No fancy clothes. No bags of chips or sugary cereals. And the biggest no no - nothing that plugs in.

So tell me - what do you value? What is it about the things in your life that you can't possibly do without? Please, let me look into your corner of the world.