Playing Off-Grid, Part II



In part I of Playing Off-Grid, I described my fantasy cottage cabin on the hill.  I think I will call it “Hill and Dale Cottage.”  Once you name it, it is yours!

Developing the skill of self-sufficient living is physically demanding and emotionally satisfying.  As a woman, I like to know there are alternative methods to life when the comforts of modern society let you down.  I also find great spiritual and mental satisfaction in learning to live off the land.  It is extremely exciting for me to know that God masterminded a wealth of medicinal and nutritional value into His creation, but we have forgotten the benefits of many plants and trees because of the convenience of commercial products.  We now call sourcing wildings foraging, which is going into fields and forest to gather natural herbs and food sources.  Although foraging may not be for everyone, learning that much of what we depend on can be grown ourselves or foraged is very freeing.   Talk about living off the grid!  It doesn’t get much better than that.

As a Bible teacher, herbalist, crafter and mentor, my fantasy cottage would be the ideal environment to teach the self-sustaining life style.  What I love myself I also love to teach.  What a joy to share that Goldenrod, a very common wild flower in Illinois, is also an excellent dye plant and the leaves make a delicious tea.  It is called Solidago in the East.  I also create lovely dried wreaths with Goldenrod in the autumn.

Sharon in the Farm Grove Garden

Pallet Picket Fence

Pallet Strawberry Bed

Rain Barrel


Stand of Deacon Street Ditch Lilies

To wet your appetite, do you recognize the Ditch Lilies above from your own local roadside?  Did you know the flowers are edible?  Don’t try eating Asian Lilies, however.  They are poisonous–that is why education is a must in the world of wildings.  I cannot tell you what a kick it is for me to take students on strolls through the meadow, pointing out edible clover, wild nuts, berries, edible inner pine bark, succulent wild purslane, dandelion, chicory, wild lettuce, and lamb’s quarter.

Wild lettuce can also be reduced to a thick syrup that is an excellent pain killer and willow bark tea will cure a headache.  Plantain is excellent to take away the sting of bug bites.  Elderberry syrup is excellent for the treatment of colds and flu, even for young children–just do not confuse elderberries with poke berries.  Education is key.

In Hill and Dale Cottage, I could also immerse students in using herbs for cooking and medicine.  What fun to actually teach them how to flavor a simple egg and potato skillet with fresh rosemary after gathering the eggs from the hen house; and then cooking it over a rocket stove on the patio.  We would gather fresh tomatoes from the garden,  slice them along with fresh mozzarella, drizzle the dish with olive oil and garnish it with fragrant sweet basil picked right from the bush in the front garden.  This farm meal could be enjoyed on the screened porch with sun tea flavored with fresh mint.  A meal like this is even more delicious when it is grown, gathered and cooked ourselves.

We could pick other herbs–both garden herbs and wildings–to place in the nesting boxes of the chickens to promote egg production and inhibit parasites.  Fresh herbs in the chicken run is also a treat.  A split cucumber  suspended on a string over the chicken run is both food and fun for chickens.  They enjoy picking out the seeds from the bobbing veggie, which keeps them happily occupied.  I could show how to crack corn in a food grinder for the chickens to lure them into the coop for the night–corn that was grown right behind the cottage.

The hard reality is that an off-grid cabin with no electricity, no running water, no sewage system, and no accessible road except for all-terrain vehicles would be a hard sell for zoning boards.  I understand that if such dwellings were allowed, shacks would sprout up all over the landscape.  I may revise my fantasy to demonstrating many of the techniques for off-grid living in our own country home.  But knowing my own character, I would be more likely to use an off-grid system with efficiency–if I had to.

We recently returned from the fantasy land of Disney World.  The Keys to the Kingdom tour emphasized that the Disney Company strives to create an environment where once you are in the parks, the normal world goes away.  They have developed a system of tunnels in order to hide first aid facilities, plumbing and wiring, and supply systems.  Employees are called cast members because once “on stage,” they never leave character.  They “become” the characters they play in this make believe land.  For the visitor, it is enchanting.  To be able to escape back in time to rural life before modern conveniences would be the ultimate teaching tool.

Well–you see my vision for a class that would completely immerse the participant in the self-sufficient lifestyle.  It would be life changing.  Everyone should have the experience of using a composting toilet at least once in their lives.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Playing Off Grid – Part I

Cottage Cabin

On the long drive home from a Florida spring vacation, I began to visualize what it would be like to have a place to escape that was closer to home–a place where I could escape not just for the weather or the beach or the mountains–but for a change of lifestyle that would challenge me spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally.  I currently am blessed to live in  a place that closely fits this criteria.  What I had in mind was a cabin cottage where I could foster my interest in self-sufficiency and practice off-the-grid living perhaps for a weekend at a time.  I can read all about living without electricity, but until I practice it, it is not a skill.

Also, I do not want to live “tiny” but smaller.  Why invest in an alternative location if you cannot live in it comfortably?  In actuality, a self-sufficient lifestyle requires space to do all that doing-it-yourself requires.  In our present home of 3 floors, I have my own office and workshop as does my husband.  I also have a large kitchen with not one but 3 sinks and a full basement.  We have 3 bedrooms and 3 full baths.  Even with only the two of us, we use every bit of our home all the time because I craft, can, cook, write, garden, forage, teach and entertain.  My husband runs our business and does the maintenance for our property and much of the repairs and building himself, which requires equipment and storage.

Although the cottage would be much smaller than an average home of today, I think a great room with kitchen in one corner, seating in another, and sleeping space separated by a divider in another would be sufficient in a pinch.  The other corner would contain a bathroom, the only separate room on the first floor. Also in this corner would be the stairs to access a half-loft and a basement.  A cathedral ceiling greatly enhances the open concept over a seating area and the loft provides extra sleeping and storage space.

Perhaps location should have been mentioned first because, as they say, it is all about location.  I envision the cottage cabin on a hillock of land close to a clean running brook or lake.  An alternative water source is essential to location.  The cabin would be built into the hill with a basement in order to provide a storm shelter and a root cellar.  Because it would be a walk-out, it would be easily accessible for storage.  I cannot imagine living in the Midwest without a storm cellar or living off-grid without a root cellar.

I also envision a wide, screened-in front porch that would extend the living area of the cottage in fine weather.  Because of the walk-out basement, the porch would also be raised providing wonderful views.  The porch would also be an ideal place to store perishables in a container out of the way of wildlife in winter and to stack fire wood for the stove.

The wood-burning cook stove and rocket stove heater would be sufficient for heating and in-door cooking in the winter.  In summer I would use a sun oven and Dutch oven over an open fire pit and/or brick rocket stove.  The more alternatives the better.  There are several designs for brick or concrete block rocket stoves on-line.  These stoves are inexpensive, use very little fuel, give off very little smoke, and cook very efficiently.  Fire pits are a simple DIY.  Everything would depend on wood for fuel as firewood is a sustainable and renewable resource in our area.  Propane and gas eventually run out.

Keeping food fresh is always a concern.  In winter, using a cabinet on the porch could work in cold weather.  I would like to see if going back to the ice box is an option for summer.  An ice box was basically a wooden cabinet with insulated metal lining.  The top contained space for a block of ice in a tray and the melted water was channeled into a drip tray underneath the box.  The center had shelves to hold perishables.  Where do you find ice when the grid goes down?  Our grandparents cut it from the local pond in winter and stored it.  Another reason for the basement is to store blocks of ice during the summer under layers of saw dust.  Another method for refrigeration is the Zeer Pot which operates using evaporation to cool.  It requires two large terra cotta pots, one which fits inside the other.  The inside pot is where perishables are placed.  Plug drainage holes and place sand around the inside pot, between the inside pot and outside pot.  Wet the sand.  Place items needing to be kept cool inside the inner pot and place a cover over the pot.  As the water in the sand evaporates through the clay pots, it cools.  Think of how cool we feel after coming out of a swimming pool, even on a hot day.  We cool from the evaporation of the water on our skin.  You can see why a sturdy screened-in porch is handy for off-grid living.  I would have the Zeer Pot and winter ice box on the porch where they are handy and protected.

Of course there would be a sufficient kitchen and herb garden in the front and large patches for corn and wheat in the back.  Also in the rear would be a small barn-like shed.  Half would be used for storage of garden tools and an ATV vehicle.  I know.  If worse comes to worse, an ATV will run out of gas.  I would also have my bicycle in the shed.  But in such a scenario, the idea is not to HAVE to go anywhere.  This is called sheltering in place.

The other half of the shed would be the chicken house with a chicken run attached.  I would also consider a couple of pygmy goats for milk and to keep the pasture mowed, but that is optional to my fantasy.  At least 3 laying hens, however, are a must.  A rooster is necessary to keep the flock going if you plan on harvesting your hens for meat.

In addition to the garden, I envision a small orchard of miniature fruit trees and berry thickets.  My self-sufficient life would include a hot water canner to can preserves, fruit, pickles and tomatoes on the cook stove.  Without a freezer, I would rely on vegetables that could be stored over winter in the root cellar like potatoes, onions, garlic, dried beans, and squash.


The bath room is always an issue in off-grid living.  I have researched composting toilets and believe a simple set-up with bucket and seat lid that can be acquired at a camping store or farm store would suffice for my weekend get-away.  What is needed for this toilet set-up is sufficient sphagnum moss or saw dust to add to the bucket after each use.  I would keep a small galvanized bucket with a scoop next to the loo.  When the bucket is filled, seal it and set it outside along the side of a double compost bin for a few weeks.  Even TP will begin to break down quickly.

The question is–won’t it smell?  According to those who use this system, it does not–not when fresh or composted.  If there is a smell, use more sphagnum.  Have several buckets on hand to switch out as they fill.  Add the contents to your compost bin after a few weeks and add a layer of hay or grass or leaves on top.  Of course you would also be adding egg shells and kitchen scraps to the compost as well as the chicken house litter.  Torn paper can also be composted or burned to keep litter to a minimum.  After about a year, begin using the other side of the compost bin and incorporate the composted debris from the first bin around your trees and in the garden as new soil.


You know that simple bath room I mentioned?  Besides the composting toilet, it would include a water reservoir above a simple galvanized tub sink.  All gray water from bathing and washing would be carried out to a rock and sand trough run that would be easily accessible from the front porch.  Although if biodegradable soap is used, some believe gray water can be used directly on the garden but others disagree and say disposing of it in a simple filter run is best.  On the hillock, the run would eventually carry this gray water through the filter, then through soil and into the pond.  By the time it reaches the pond, it is clean.

In summer, the pond itself is handy for bathing.  But a galvanized tub in the bathroom can be used for winter bathing.  I am wondering about a simple sand filter run for the tub as well but do not have the expertise to know if this is a doable plumbing task or not–to run a pipe from a drain in the tub outside into a sand run.  Again, this is not sewage but gray water.  The tub could also be used to do laundry in winter.  Attaching a wringer to the side of the tub would make wringing out wet laundry much easier.  My cottage cabin would have an iconic outside clothesline.

The same set up would be used for disposing of water in the kitchen.  Although having a drain would be ideal, I think most dish washing water would be carried out to the outside run.  Yes–I see the tasks mounting up.  No one ever said off-grid life was easy.

Of course, laundry could more easily be done outside in warm months.  In the past, our grandparents had to heat water over a coal or wood stove or open fire, which required a lot of heavy lifting.  We no longer wash clothes in very hot water; mostly in cold.  But an easy way to heat water to a warmer temperature is to fill a galvanized tub with water and cover it with a black plastic sheet.  The sun will quickly warm the water.  The same galvanized  tub of warmed water could be used  for bathing.  Ideas to simplify off-the-grid laundry are available on-line.  It requires more galvanized tubs, a scrub board, hard work, and a clothes line.  Done and done.


About that alternative water source–it still has to be filtered and purified.  There is not enough time or space to go into water purification here except to say you can create your own filter system or just buy a Birkey Walter Filter.  With a good commercial filter, that pond water can be purified for drinking and cooking and hygiene.  For laundry and bathing, I would build a simple sand, rock, activated charcoal bucket filter that could be filled right from the pond, and with a faucet to fill tubs on the dock.

We live on a small pond at present and I often carry buckets of water from the pond to the garden when my rain barrel is empty.  [Gathering rain water is another method of obtaining water but it must also be purified for drinking.]  At present we do not have a functioning outside pump on our property and do not want to invest in a new system.  It is hard work bending over to pull those buckets out of the pond, even from our small dock.  I am thinking of having my hubby build a simple arm on a swivel that I can use to fill my buckets.  It is like the Colonial well sweeps they used to draw water from the wells.  The lever and fulcrum method would cut the weight in half for me.

These are my thoughts concerning a self-sufficient fantasy cottage–on a hill [or in a hill], by a pond, on a piece of property large enough for a good-sized garden, small orchard, and small pasture.  Developing the skill of living without electricity would be energizing emotionally and physically–but the mental and spiritual part comes in part II.  Tune in next time.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



The gun control issue will dominate politics for some time to come.  What can be done NOW to protect our children?  Our daughter Kelly works for the Safe-Latch company in Wisconsin and sent this press release out.   If  you have input in your local school district, please consider this product carefully:

In the wake of the recent school shooting in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we all have questions.  Are my children safe at school?  Are their teachers equipped with the tools to safely protect students? Does my child’s school have a locked door policy?   Safe-Latch is a product that helps schools enforce their locked door policies, making classrooms safer, for under $30 a classroom. “As a mission based business, our focus is to help educational facilities focus on learning while securing their schools from potential threats,” said part-owner, Nick Hoffman.  “We learned a lot from Sandy Hook and the number one suggestion that came out of that tragedy was to lock your interior classroom doors.  Locking your doors is the first step.  Safe-Latch was created to help implement that policy.”

Fact: There has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door. (Final Report of The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, 2015.

Doors that are locked dramatically increase the safety of our students and staff, but restrict the movement of students flowing in and out of the classroom.  Safe-Latch slides between the door and door frame, allowing interior classroom doors to be locked, at all times.  In an emergency, Safe-Latch can quickly be pulled from the door, locking it, without the use of a key.  Safe-Latch can be implemented immediately and does not require a change in door hardware.  Safe-Latch is a school-wide solution for teachers, administrators, substitutes and students, and requires no training to use. “When we talk with teachers and administrators, we tell them to lock their doors, practice their safety plan, and implement Safe-Latch.  Classroom safety is this simple.”

“In a world where active shooters in schools are becoming more prevalent, here at Safe-Latch, we work hard every day to get the word out about how important it is to lock classroom doors. An active shooter is looking for the easiest victims, they do not spend their time kicking down locked doors.” Said Nick Hoffman.

Safe-Latch, proudly made in Wisconsin, has been investing in the future of our schools since 2014 and is owned by a father and two sons. Our mission is to bridge the gap between safety and security to allow educators to focus on teaching.



Website:  ​

Direct link to the video on the website:

Posted in Cottage lifestyle | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

“Evil men shall wax worse and worse…”

I am listening to reports of the Florida school shooting.  As Matthew 24:4-8 warns, all of these things are signs of the times.  We can expect the continuing and increasing deterioration of human civilization.  Only the return of Jesus Christ will halt our own self-destruction.

“2 Timothy 3:13 KJV – “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”

Now is the time to study the Word of God in order to be armed with truth in troubling times.  This is not an attempt to use a tragedy to sell books.  This is a warning that the worst is yet to come and believers need to be prepared, armed with truth and not fear.

When the Lamb Stands is a user-friendly workbook that takes the reader through the book of the Revelation and outlines the end times.  It is available on Amazon in soft cover or digital download.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

February Thaw

Have you heard of the February thaw?  Here in Central Illinois, we are experiencing unseasonal highs of 44 to 53 degrees on Valentine’s Day and the day after.


When the temps go up in February, I know of two Midwest rituals that take advantage:  tapping the sugar maple trees and pruning the grapevines.  For some reason, the flow of sap makes pruning of the grape vines a February task.  It makes more sense to me that the maples would be ready to tap for maple syrup when the sap is flowing.  Enjoy the break in temps.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weird Things to Do in the Spring

Wild Asparagus

I am not rummaging through seed catalogues this spring.  I already have my cultivated garden plots assigned to the basic staples of kale, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, green beans, tomatoes, cantaloupe and herbs.  I source my seeds locally so I am locked into that protocol.

In these months before spring, I am turning my research attention to the wild garden outside my back door.  I already know about wild asparagus, berries and mushrooms like the tasty morel.  What intrigues me is the less well-known wild lettuce varieties that can be gathered not just for food but for very effective medicine.

Wild lettuce, in the picture above, grows abundantly in the naturalized areas around our pond and in the chapel garden.  I want to gather it for spring salads but also to make a tincture to use as a natural pain killer.  I have not tried this natural herb myself and want to subject it to my own personal field research.  It is said to be such an effective medicinal plant for pain that it is also known as opium lettuce.  We shall see…  If there is a natural alternative to addictive pain meds, I am all for finding it–especially when it grows around my burn pile.

Another common weed that is actually a medicinal herb and food source is purslane [above].  This herb grows among the green beans and other cultivated rows in my garden and must be dug out to keep it from taking over.  It will be handy to know how to use it rather than throw it on the composting heap.  It supposedly is very high in vitamins and can be sautéed in butter or eaten fresh in salads.  This fleshy plant is slightly tart when eaten fresh.

I will also be gathering pine pollen this spring as it is another healthy supplement that can be eaten in smoothies or on cereal.  But what particularly interests me is that one source said it was effective in fighting radiation sickness.  As radiation levels have already increased in our eco-system from nuclear accidents like Fukushima, Japan, taking a natural supplement to counter that radiation is a good idea.

I love the idea of food shopping in the wild.  No credit cards needed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


My daughter made this sweet banner for February with all the appropriate symbols of the month.  It adds a touch of color to the plain days of winter.  Felt squares are decorated with cut outs of Washington, Lincoln, hearts, snow flakes and valentine envelopes.  She glued the outlines to the felt squares and stitched them to a blue grosgrain ribbon.  This year it decorates the mantle in the sunroom.


Posted in Cottage lifestyle, Cottage Projects | Tagged | Leave a comment