Moving to Wood

This week, our family took a very significant step towards greater self-sufficiency:  we went off the grid.  Life in our house is no longer dependent on electricity.  Now, that’s not as heroic as it may first sound, because we have five buildings on our property, three of which still have and use electricity–the school house, our farm food prep building and our farm market building–but our house is free.

What this includes is cooking, bathing, washing clothes, heating and cooling, lighting, etc., in the house.  Our cooking is being done by my wife and daughters on a wood cookstove (under a covered area out back) we bought and renovated last year (cost only $200), and over open fire with dutch ovens.  My 12 and 9 yo daughters have been doing the cooking, so no, it’s not difficult.  The boys supply the wood, the girls go out in the morning to gather sticks, and we don’t talk about it much besides that.  Some different recipes have been necessary, but there’s no real big deal.

Laundry has moved from the electric washer and dryer to the wash tubs (beside the wood cookstove) and clothesline.  Yesterday was wash day, and my wife and daughters did all the laundry, clean and dry.  Of course, they’re not washing business suits and ties…they’re washing farm clothes and one Sunday outfit for each family member.  The way you wash changes the way you dress, and the way you wear your clothes, so don’t think of trying to wash your family’s weekly laundry by hand, if you’re living in an urban or suburban neighborhood.

Heating and cooling are not a big deal right now.  It’s 85 degrees in the house, but the furniture doesn’t care.  All the people are outside working on the farm!  In the evening, the temperature in the house drops and, with all the windows open, cools down nicely.  This time of year it’s about 65 degrees at wake up time, so it would make no sense to have the air conditioner on…unless you’re in the house during the day…when you shouldn’t be.  In the winter, we’ll simply move the wood cook stove inside and it will heat the entire house easily, with a fire constantly burning inside.  No big deal in North Carolina.

The biggest shock for visitors will be getting used to life without hot water.  No, no hour long hot water massage therapy showers can be enjoyed here… Actually, two things put me over the hump with the whole hot-water-on-demand thing a few years ago.  Really, the wimpiness that leads people to fuss is silly.  Come on folks..get washed and get back to work.

Of course, our neighbors and relatives think we’re nuts, but that’s only because we don’t debate these things.  The world around them is like them and that is their definition of “normal”.  The question of whether the world around them is justified in calling itself “normal” and anything else “weird” will never be asked by them.  So, we just smile and wink at each other knowing that these questions are not really questions, and that it’s them and not us who have questions to answer.

There are two reasons why these “crazy” changes interest me.  First, the force us to learn about the natural world.  Sunrise and sunset, weather, the elements, etc., are important in our daily lives, and we all–from Dad down to the toddlers–need to know how the natural world works to manage our daily tasks.   Second, they help us to live more temperately, which I think most modern people have forgotten about.  Temperance is one of the four classical virtues, and I’m not sure how people can possibly think that they are living temperately in our push-button world of sweat-free food.  we have re-defined the word “work” to mean “doing something that is rewarded with money”, and that leads us to interpret St. Paul’s moral rule–“he that does not work shall not eat”–as “he that does not earn money shall not eat”, but that’s not what God has taught us.  God said, in the beginning, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread.”  It is good for us, spiritually, to sweat to eat…our society has no idea how precious clean drinkable water, fresh fruits and vegetables, butchered meat, clean milk and dairy products are.  They just gobble them up after throwing a few bucks down on the register and lose out on all of the beauty and wisdom of the world God created.  We look around and see a race of obese monsters roaming the stores…I know that WE are not the weird ones.

Of course, I’m not saying that anyone who lives well in the modern world is bad, but I think that if more people had the courage to try to live a very different life, they would find it very satisfying–as we have.  We’re not poor people trying to glorify our inability to buy things others have.  We can beat the world at the money-getting game if we want to.  We are pursuing a life that makes us happy…and it is makes us happy to know that we are free to do better things with our lives.


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6 Responses to Moving to Wood

  1. Fiona says:

    Congratulations on all your “projects”. And your entire life.
    Could you please share some of your recipes for both summer and winter cooking/family meals?
    Also when you mention that no one should be inside in summer,does that include the girls and mum,during your American summer break? Is schooling on hold? Are they then in the garden?
    Fiona In Australia.

  2. Devin Rose says:

    This is great to hear. I’ve wondered how we could do the same thing–winters are no problem but summers here (in south-central Texas) are very hot. It’s been 105 most days and only drops to the high 70s at night.

  3. jhaselbarth says:

    “There are two reasons why these “crazy” changes interest me. First, the force us to learn about the natural world. Sunrise and sunset, weather, the elements, etc., are important in our daily lives, and we all–from Dad down to the toddlers–need to know how the natural world works to manage our daily tasks.”

    I was thinking about this last night and how true it must be that these natural occurrences help to form our actions. For instance, how much do families struggle to get the kids QUIET and CALM in the evenings for bed – because they have all the lights on, TV blasting, dishwasher running, etc. The sunset teaches you in some sense to start to quiet down and be calm. I have noticed this lately as I milk our Jersey cow. The sun is going down. The chickens are roosting and quieting down. The cow is calm for the last bit of milking as she gets ready to go out for the evening pasture…children would benefit a lot from learning the lesson of the simple day/night rhythm of the world. When it gets dark…its time for quiet study and sleep…

    • wmclaa says:

      Amen, Jared. I used to criticize electric lighting and central air for one reason: why does the whole area need to be lit or heater or cooled? Why does the wall on the opposite side of the room need to be lit up while I read a book at a table on the other side of the room? A candle lights up my page and leaves all of the distractions around me in the dark. Why does the air in the room need to be 75 degrees in January…so I can wear a t-shirt in mid-winter? A few extra layers of clothes and a small fire makes ME warm, not the walls and furniture. Modern methods are so incredibly wasteful and unnecessary and you’re right–the problem with these wired kids bouncing off the walls is definitely owed to the carnival of lights and sounds that fill their daily lives. The carnival needs to be turned off and nature, which is peaceful and ordered by God, needs to mold our own hearts and minds and bring us into harmony with the sun and moon and animals–rather than the TV program schedule. Ugh…to be free of this miserable culture one day.

  4. Fiona says:

    Our cooking is being done by my wife and daughters on a wood cookstove (under a covered area out back) we bought and renovated last year (cost only $200), and over open fire with dutch ovens.

    Could you please share a photo of your cook area and “appliances”, that is prep area/Dutch ovens?

    • wmclaa says:

      Sure…as soon as possible. It’s nothing you can imagine, though. Think tripod with fire under it and dutch ovens on the ground covered with hot coals…nothing fancy. Our cookstove is an old Majestic stove with the water heater on the left side. I haven’t seen any pictures of one like ours on the internet, so I’m thinking it’s older than most of the ones pictures, since they’re much fancier.

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