Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finally moving in.....

After many months and a particularly cold winter we finally moved into our little cabin. I was so proud to put in the first light bulb and arrange the furniture in just the right way. The kids were just as excited to have a little more space to play outside.

Now that the cabin was done we were ready to move on to the problem of electricity. We went to the electric company and was told that without a membership we couldn't get an estimate as to how much it would cost to plug in to the grid, so we contacted a friend of ours that worked for the electric company and he did the honors for us.

Being as our nearest neighbor is two miles down the road or a mile as the crown flies, and we would have to get permission from the other land owners to put up posts on their land, it became apparent that we were going to have our hands full. At last he quit adding things together and handed over the little pink slip. The estimate came to a rough $13,000-$18,000. What?????

Not us, we decided... this is where we decided that living off the grid was for us, I mean can you really blame us?
So to ebay we went, $10 and a week later we had the plans in our hands to build our own power system.

John working on our power system
Our power system consisted of a small gas powered motor, a car alternator, a pulley, and a pulley belt. The whole contraption was belted down to a large piece of metal which was then bolted down to a platform. Here is how it worked: the alternator and motor were mounted on opposite ends of the metal, a pulley system was mounted to each piece and then the belt was placed on each side. when the motor ran it turned the pulley which turned the belt, the alternator generated power which was transferred to a battery pack through 12/10 electric wire (grounded). The battery pack consisted of 6 marine batteries, and a 1200 watt inverter. We had run the wires in our cabin just like a normal house, with the exception of an outside plug in for the power source. Using a specially made extension cord we connected the inverter to the main cabin plug in. 

We used this power source with only minor issues for 6 years. At which time the batteries decided that they had been charged one to many times and joined the others in battery heaven.

What we learned about this system:
1) Regular car batteries will NOT work. They are not designed for constant recharging.
2) Inverters do not carry the full amount of power that they say they are going to. (Be prepared to go without a microwave, coffee maker, or other fast drain items).
3) Regular light bulbs really do burn more electricity than the new energy efficient light bulbs.
4) When they tell you to unplug all appliances, they really mean it, because even if they are not running, just being plugged in will drain a battery pack in less time than it takes to sleep a full 8 hours. (If the beeping of the inverter doesn't wake you up, you are probably dead!!!).
5) Shelter from the rain is a MUST, or you will be playing cards in the dark.

***Note, from looking at the pictures, I have gotten some of my dates wrong, but all the information is correct :) 

Friday, September 26, 2014


Don't you just hate those days when you have done absolutely nothing and still feel exhausted??? 

I do, today is one of those days, but the kids are about to get off the bus so I thought I would take a few minutes while I am waiting.

I left off telling about how we got our little 280 sq. foot (14x20) cabin in the dry. We were able to saw every piece of wood that was used to build it, we got the tin at a discount and our windows free when a relative remodeled their home. 

What came next was completely unexpected and unfortunate.

 My husband was putting a new tin roof on a home, he had just one piece left to put on and it started raining. He got up there to put that last piece on and slipped, herniating 3 discs in his back. I will forever blame myself for this injury because it was me who encouraged him to finish so we could get paid.

The next 4 months were rounds of doctors visits, steroid injections and unfortunately no paydays. All progress on the cabin came to a halt as we waited for him to heal. Our prayers were answered when after four months the doctor released him to go to work.

He worked 1 week and then  started to have excruciating pain in his leg. Upstairs to the ER he went, to find that he had developed a popliteal clot (behind the knee joint) while down on his back. This led to more doctors visits, Lovenox shots and Warfarin. It also put him out of work permanently. 

We went 2 more months without a payday, living hand to mouth and relying on my mother-in-law to buy diapers for our two babies. Times were tough back then, but we survived and I was given the opportunity to take over my husbands job at the hospital. It meant leaving our un-weaned daughter with my husband during the evening hours and working third shift (11pm-7am). I lasted 6 months before I fell asleep at the wheel, nearly killing myself on a winding, curvy road.

By this time John was feeling better, but still couldn't move around much, it fell on me to finish the inside of the cabin. So with the help of my mother-in-law (God Bless Her), we got the insulation and sheet rock to finish the cabin before winter. Now I had never done anything like this before, being a newby it was rather surprising to me how much work and effort it took to hang sheet rock. The walls weren't so bad, but when it came to the ceiling we had to do some finagling. 

If you'll remember we have a loft that only reaches half-way across our cabin. I found 2, 16 foot long 1x12's and stacking them on top of each other, I stretched them across from the loft to the cabin wall, making a plank to walk on so I could hang the sheet rock on the ceiling. We cut each piece of sheet rock in half (4x4) to make them more manageable for my weakling arms, and pushed our ratty old couch underneath the walk plank. John laid on the couch and used a 2x4 to help steady the piece of sheet rock as I put it up. I held the sheet rock with one hand and the drill with the other, using my head to hold the sheet rock tight against the rafters, I hung each piece. It was hard, back-breaking work, and as you can imagine, it looks horrible. The drywall is too thick in places overlapping and uneven in others, and the mud, oh the mud..... Let's just say I will NOT be posting any pictures of the inside of our cabin. :)

I have done many sheet rock jobs with my husband since then, but my mudding skills have not improved ;)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cabin progress.......

It has been a few days, but I haven't been idle. I have been searching for pictures to post. I found a few, not really the ones I wanted, but I hope they give you an idea of how the cabin was built.

So, we decided to build a small cabin to get us through the winter. We went to the back of our land and select cut a mixture of pine, oak and hickory trees to saw out the lumber. We took several days and concentrated on getting all the lumber we would need to build the cabin. John and I sat down and decided that 14 x 20 would be a good size cabin to start with. We got to work and had the lumber sawed in a week, we then went to work on the floor. Using 6 x 6 posts for the base and 2 x 6 oak floor joices the three of us (John, Gryffyn and me) had the sub-floor down in a week. We then enlisted our 2 older boys and our 2 nephews to help us put up the walls and the rafters.
Our Oldest son Josh, Above his head is the beginnings of the loft floor.
 It took another week to get the walls up, just because we had to wait on the boys to find time to assist us. I was super excited to finally see what the cabin was going to look like. We decided to put a half loft in the cabin to accommodate one of the children. The stairs would eventually be put in the corner behind Josh.
The front of the cabin, we chose to put a small porch and lap siding on it.
 The lap siding was a little difficult to figure out at first. We had to finagle the lumber on the saw mill to make sure we got an even angle on each pass of the blade, but we figured it out and soon became experts at cutting it. One thing to note is the Windows, I love having the big windows in the front of the house. All of the windows in the cabin were recycled from another house that was remodeled.
Our nephew Tyler, notice the different color tin. We got a great deal on "Rainbow Tin".
 Somewhere in this time frame we had taken the time to visit the local Mennonite community, where we found the "rainbow bin". The rainbow bin was where they put all the left over pieces of tin when they got a new batch in. They could not guarantee that the colors would match, but we were able to pick through and choose the ones we wanted. As you can see we didn't do too bad, but a few of the pieces are darker than the other. We got the tin for less than half the original price, and were stoked to get such a deal.
Left side view of the cabin, My husband is on the roof and our son Gryffyn is helping lift rafters.
 Due to lack of help and time constraints we had to work on certain parts of the house at different times, so it didn't go up in a traditional fashion.
John and Tyler, working hard :)
All of the wood that went into building the cabin came from our own land, including the lathing they are putting up here. My husband select cut the lumber so that the smaller trees would have time to grow, we even replanted some of the saplings that had popped up in odd places.
Gryffyn and Braydden hard at work.
Even the little ones found time to borrow daddy's tools every now and then. 
There is a l lot of junk in the yard, but this is a pretty good likeness of the finished product.
This last picture was taken many months after we finished the house. We actually got the house in the dry before Halloween, but it wasn't finished on the inside until much later, but that's another story.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Land.......

Before I continue.. I feel the need to backtrack a little and clarify something from my last post. We actually bought the land and started clearing it while I was pregnant with our daughter. After reading it, I realize that is sounded like we did all that after we had her. It will make more sense as I continue with the dialogue. Thanks :)


   Our new land was a mess. Having been clear-cut by overzealous loggers, we were left with tons of rotting stumps, unwanted logs and one very narrow, rutted road. My first visit to the spot where we decided we would build our house resulted in an hour of detangling briers from my hair and cockle burrs from my shoe laces and pant legs.
  Over the next several months we cleaned and stacked, burned and buried every branch and piece of debris we could. Eventually we were left with a fairly level, if rocky, piece of land big enough to build a house on. As we cleaned, I envisioned sitting on the wrap around porch of our little log house, listening to the frogs, crickets and turkeys as they called to one another. I was so excited to raise our kids in such a wonderful environment. 
    With the land cleared and my due date coming closer we turned to more practical thoughts: How were we going to get the money to build the house we wanted? Now remember, we were both working at the hospital at this time, working on the land on our days off. We discussed it and finally decided that with my husband being a jack of all trades, he would build the house himself on his days off (He worked 7 days on, 7 days off at this time), and I would continue to work until the house was finished.
We went to the drawing board and designed the house that I, I mean.. We .. wanted. and we got to work. We decided that we would use some of the bigger trees on our property to build the house out of, this meant that we would have to have a way to saw the logs into lumber... This resulted in our second major purchase: A home based band sawmill. The sawmill proved to be a very useful and profitable purchase, because as soon as people learned that we had the sawmill they started asking John to saw lumber for them as well. This was a good thing for the wallet, but a bad thing for my house..
    Our daughter was born in March, but by August we still hadn't gotten any further than the sub-floor on our house. The house became a side thought to John as he worked his week on and then sawed lumber for other people on his week off. He ended up having no time to saw for our own home.
Me being the not very patient person that I am.. gave him an ultimatum.. get my house done or I was going to buy a mobile home and move it in, because I was not going to live another winter in his mother's house. (Not very nice of me, I know.. but anyone that has ever had to live with multiple families in one home, will probably understand).
    John and I compromised, we decided to build a smaller cabin to live in, giving us more time to finish the big house. The cabin was meant to be lived in for one winter only and then used as my craft room. It took just a couple of weeks to saw the materials and a few more to construct the main frame. With the help of our sons and nephew we had our 14x20 cabin in the dry.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From the Beginning.....

Good Morning everyone. I have decided that I am going to go back and start at the beginning. I think it will help you all understand some of the reasoning behind our decision to live off the grid. I would love to answer any questions and read any comments so please feel free to join in  :)

When my husband, John, and I got married in 2002 we combined our families to create one. Newly married we joined our three sons together to be one big happy family.... yeah right! We soon learned that a 16 and an 18 year old had absolutely nothing in common with a 7 year old. So we sat down and had a heart to heart. John and I decided that if we were going to have more children we would make it so that one of us was at home at all times. In doing so we felt that our children would have an easier time adjusting to a larger family. Of course we thought that we would have more time to make that adjustment.... Boy was I wrong!! We welcomed a fourth son in the same year we married and a short 15 months after that our fifth child and only daughter.

During those first two years we struggled with the adjustment of five children, back injury, blood clots, depression and anxiety and of course the idea that in order to stay home with our kids, one of us was going to have to give up our job at the hospital. As it turns out we both gave up our jobs, not because we wanted to, but because we felt the need to steer away from the stress it was putting on our family.

My husband began to do construction again and I became a stay-at-home mom. During these two years we moved several times, in and out of my mother-in-laws house, in and out of rentals. I was sick of all the moving and the drama, so we decided it was time to make the change we had always talked about.

We made our first major purchase as a married couple: 18 acres of land. We put a down payment on the piece of land that John had wanted since boyhood. To me it was nothing but rolling hills of red brush, blackberry brambles and rattle snakes, but to John it was perfect.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hello Everyone !!

    My name is Oni Brewer and I am going to use this blog to chronicle my families life as off the grid homesteaders.  We are not fancy people and do not have lots of expensive equipment, but we have made a comfortable life living on the bare minimum. I tried to start the BlackBerry Holler Goat Farm Blog, but soon learned that it was a little different than I expected. I have decided to take a different approach with BlackBerry Holler Homestead and discuss all parts of our small homestead, not just the goats.
    Starting tomorrow I will start at the beginning and share parts of our lives that have never been shared before... don't worry.... nothing dirty :) ..... or at least not too dirty :) ! I will also be publishing a website at www.blackberryholler.com, discussing alternative energy and green living. Occasionally I will ask my husband to put in his two cents, as he is the one that does most of the physical work on the homestead.
   I look forward to sharing with you and hopefully learning together about how we can keep our plan clean and green.

Until tomorrow,