A Day in the Life of an Off-Grid Author, Part 1
My morning alarm is when I hear (or see) Danielle’s headlight in the kitchen as she makes coffee. She’s always up before me. Long before the sun comes up. She’s a force of nature. I’m so blessed to have such a wife. As off-gridders we don’t just flip on the light switch. In the winter we use lanterns but we don’t want to heat up the cottage in the summer so she wears a headlight. Batteries are charged from my solar power down at the office. That’s something you have to think about in this life — another thing that makes life deliberate — you can’t just flip a switch and expect light to miraculously appear. Light is something you have to think about beforehand.
So I wake up and Danielle’s light is usually moving in the kitchen. I can see in there because we have three windows (just like external windows in your house) in our bedroom that open into the kitchen. This allows us to open the windows to allow a breeze to blow through the whole house in the summer. That’s our air-conditioning.
Danielle is making coffee (on the propane stove… we use a woodstove only when it is cold outside) and I roll over and check my phone to see if anything important to know has happened overnight. None of it is really important but it does help me to not turn over and go back to sleep. Some prayers in the dark as I watch Danielle’s light move around the kitchen. I pray for her, and for all of us, and for you sometimes too.
Today is Thursday so Danielle comes in with two burritos wrapped in foil and a cup of coffee. She is working away from the farm today. So is Jennifer. Danielle sometimes helps clean houses and Jennifer works at a horse ranch. I’m dressed now so I bag up my stuff for the office:
1. It’s still hot so I have to carry my big Ryobi battery-powered fan with me back and forth to the office.
2. Any and all other Ryobi batteries. We use the batteries for lights, some radio, cell phone charging, and fans. They all have to charge at the office during the day.
3. Burritos and coffee.
4. Kindle goes in the back pocket.
Sometimes Danielle gives me a thermos… it could be coffee or hot water if I am making Mesquite Coffee down at the office. In the cold times, I make coffee at the office on my woodburner.
I play with the dog then walk down to the office. It’s light out now but cloudy. It’s a walk of about a couple of football fields length down a dirt path to my office in the woods. Partway down, just past the gardens I see Danielle, Sarah, and Jennifer. Sarah just got a pony last night. It’s a great looking animal. Looks to be part Halflinger (Half? Does that make it a quarterlinger?) and part something else. Maybe a paint pony or something. Sarah is brushing the pony while Jennifer and Danielle watch. I give a few instructions, take some pics for Facebook, and I’m off to work.
At the office I have to decide what to do about power. If it is cloudy (like today) and the power has gone off at the office (most days) and I’m down at the office before 9 (almost every day) then I’ll usually start the generator to hook up to the solar batteries for a quick charge. The generator has been out for awhile. I got a “new” used one and it needs a couple of ignition coils. I don’t have the money now so I hook the car up by jumper cables to the solar batteries. I check the readout and then flip the switch which turns on the power to the office.
In the office I plug the Ryobi batteries into the charger. Plug the phone in. Plug my external cell phone battery in to charge. Plug the Kindle in. Turn on the window fan. Depending on if I’m making block ice or not, I plug in the mini-fridge (with freezer.) If I never run the fridge/freezer, the power usually will make it 24 hours based on what I use at the office. If I plug in the fridge/freezer, once the sun is up I’ll have power (without generator or the car) until about 7 or 8 pm. I’m making ice now so I plug in fridge/freezer and make sure the containers in the freezer are filled with water. I use re-purposed baby wipe plastic containers as forms. They make an ice block of maybe 2 lbs. each. We use the ice up at the cottage in our ice box (that
is our “refrigerator.”) If there are finished blocks in the freezer from yesterday, I bag them up and walk them up to the cottage. If not, I make sure everything is cool and working for making ice. I can make 2–3 blocks a day. Sometimes more. Ice is not necessary for us, just preferable. We can live without it if we need to. We have before.
Water. Water is a big thing around here. It is something we must be deliberate about. I have an 8 gallon portable water container that I fill from a 2,500 gallon water catchment tank that catches the rain off of my office. If I have water in the office, I fill the water filter pitcher (for drinking water/coffee.) Up at the house we use a Berky water filter and a PUR water pitcher, but down here I just have the pitcher. Once the water has filtered, I fill the ice block containers (if necessary) and I fill a glass pitcher with drinking water that goes in the fridge. I refill the filter pitcher.
Depending on my coffee situation, I’ll make coffee. Today I had a cup up at the cottage, but I’m really excited about Mesquite Coffee season starting, PLUS the fact that I just got some honey from our bees, so I decide to make coffee. In the winter I make coffee on the woodburner. In the hot times I either get a thermos of hot water from the cottage and use the french press, or I make coffee in my little Keurig one-cup-at-a-time machine. I can only make coffee with the Keurig when the generator or car is attached to the solar power. That’s what’s happening now, so I make coffee with the Keurig. I clean out the re-useable filter pod thingy, then fill it with mesquite coffee from this year’s crop. I pour in clean water from the filter and make a single cup. When that is made, I pour that into my little desk thermos and make another cup. This fills up my desk thermos. I add one tablespoon of our honey and it is perfect.
Pause to re-bait mousetraps. I have a mouse problem in my office. Mustard works really well. It’s spicy mustard and stinky and it almost always gets a mouse. Three traps set and then I walk out to check on the bees. They are doing well. I mentally catalog everything I need to do to get them ready for winter. I walk back to the office.
Today I’ll be writing so I need a few cigars. I don’t have any made so that is next on the agenda. I check email/facebook really quickly and sip coffee. I post a few things. A #Plainspoilering of an 80s movie, and a quick “Pome” about fall. This is how I exercise my strange sense of humor so I can get it out of my system before I write. I respond to a few comments, then it is cigar rolling time.
First, some music. I have a USB powered record player. You know, the kind that plays vinyl. I put a jazz/swing record on the turntable, plug the USB plug into the laptop, and Artie Shaw and His Orchestra starts playing. Artie Shaw was married 8 times. He married Lana Turner and Ava Gardner and dated Judy Garland and Lena Horne. History says he was an asshole, but the guy could play. I mean, imagine a clarinetist today who could marry Ava Gardner.
At the rolling table. I’m making five cigars. Four very nice ones to satisfy my inner artist, and one quickie “scraps” cigar to smoke right now.
The four artsy cigars are first. I roll them all the way to the binder stage, then they go into the press. Set an alarm for 20 minutes. I roll the quickie scrap cigar, light it, and sit down with my mesquite cofeee to start this blog post.
A good friend messages me to let me know an interview he did is now live. He mentions me and my book Hell and the Sea in the interview so I want to hear it. Just then, another good friend chimes in on messenger to set up a time for a podcast interview. Bam! Done. The alarm goes off and it is back to the rolling table to flip the cigars in the form. They are turned 45° and then the screws are tightened again. Another alarm for 20 minutes and I flip over the record. Glen Miller Band plays Perfecta. This is the 1941 side of the record. I started this morning on Side 2 which was 1940. Two bites of burrito and it’s back to the computer and some social media.
At the request of a reader, I set up a quickie blog at Tumblr for posting my #Plainspoilering and #BunkerPomes. It’ll take a while to get everything moved over there, but I’ll probably start posting them there and then just having them cross-post to Facebook. Who knows. I never know what is best.
The record ends. I usually listen to a record for three days to a week so I really get to know it. I’ve been listening to a ten record box set of The Story of the Great Bands 1936–1945 and I’m done with that for now. I put on a new album. Si Zentner and His Orchestra. The album is called “#1” and it is from 1961.
Sarah comes down with lunch. I haven’t even eaten my breakfast burritos other than a few bites. She tells me about her pony being very vocal. We talk for a few minutes and the alarm goes off. Time to finish the four cigars.
First I run out and shut off/unhook the car from the solar power. The sun is up high now and it’s hot already. I should have enough power going in from the sun to run everything, including the fridge/freezer, until an hour or so after the sun goes down. If I turn off the fridge at about 6 pm or so the power will last until the middle of the night some time. If I don’t run the fridge at all, the power will last around the clock. Usually.
At the rolling table, I finish three of the four artsy cigars. I had a math error. I only pre-humidified four wrappers. I forgot that counting the quickie cigar I was making five. So I was one wrapper short. No biggie. I humidify another one and put it in a ziploc for later. The three I make are gorgeous. I’d give them to Fidel they are that nice.
Just then I see Sarah walking down to the office leading her new pony. She hasn’t renamed him yet. His old name was “Patches” but my girls think it is acceptable to rename them once you get them. I go outside and pet “Patches” and talk to Sarah about her chores.
Back inside it is finally time to write. Whoops.I have 3 Facebook PMs and a bunch of emails. I’ll answer them quickly. Then I turn off Facebook. I close that tab. Now, time to write.
That’s it for part 1, I’m eating my sandwich and then I’m getting to work!