Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Solar Panels, Outhouses & Canned Meat

September marked the 14th anniversary of our family's move to "Little Shouse on the Prairie".  A lifetime has been lived in these last 14 years. 

When we moved here, I was 31 years old.  Sir Knight and I had three children - Maid Elizabeth, 11, Master Hand Grenade, 4, and Miss Serenity, 1.  Never would I have guessed that by the time I was 45 we would still be living in a shop in the middle of a prairie.  I couldn't have known that our family would swell to 7 and that our children's fondest memories would be of oil lamps, generators, solar panels, outhouses, canned meat and afternoon tea in front of the wood cookstove.

When Sir Knight and I embarked on this great adventure, we had visions of a huge garden, a barn full of stock and a cozy house keeping the prairie winds at bay.  That vision never materialized.  Instead, life happened.  When we weren't looking, Maid Elizabeth grew up.  Master Hand Grenade became a man and Miss Serenity became my right hand and an accomplished young woman. Princess Dragon Snack was a gift that added mirth and joy to our family and Master Calvin brought with him blessings untold.  Our adventure is beautiful - but it is not at all like the vision that I thought was our future.

When we moved into Little Shouse on the Prairie, we became pioneers.  We did everything the hard way.  We had no running water, no electricity and no bathroom facilities.  The first night we spent in the shop was sobering.  We had made our move on a wish and a prayer and now the reality of our lives came into sharp focus.  It was 17 degrees and we had no heat (we hadn't run our stove pipe through the roof yet), no way to cook, a cow to milk and a baby to care for - along with a four year old that had a hard time walking and an eleven year old that wanted to help but wasn't prepared for pioneer life.  I cried - a lot.

After three weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I had a heart to heart talk with God.  He reminded me that His mercies were new every morning and that I came from good pioneer stock.  As long as I kept my eyes on Him, He would give me all of the strength that I needed.  I straightened my back, squared my shoulders and went to work. 

First things first. We came up with a system for household water.  Filling a 7 gallon barrel with water from the neighbor  (I made sure to use the one that Sir Knight had fitted with a spigot), we hefted it on to the industrial racking in my kitchen.  Instantly, with the flip of the spigot, I had running water in my kitchen.  The next order of business was creating a somewhat functional bathroom.  Although we had plumbing in place for a toilet, we had no running water or a septic system.  Our short-term facilities consisted of a camp toilet that used plastic bags for waste, strategically placed behind a few barrels in our shed.  The camp toilet was rickety and the shed did little to lessen the forceful blasts of wind sweeping across the prairie.  I didn't like using the bathroom, so potty training was definitely out of the question!  Surveying our options, I decided on the closest thing to indoor plumbing I could come up with - a real toilet.  Throwing away the camp toilet base and securing the seat (plastic bags and all) to our "real" toilet (currently sitting on our bathroom floor) we had makeshift indoor facilities.  I positioned the toilet behind a screen room divider and suddenly we had at least a modicum of privacy, and non-breezy privacy at that!

Due to the early cold weather, my dad cleared his schedule and came up to help Sir Knight install stove pipe so that we could hook up our wood cookstove to heat our shouse (and our water and our food!).  As winter closed in we drew close, knowing one another as only quiet conversation and complete silence will allow.  While the wind howled outside (shaking our very roof), we sipped hot cocoa and read aloud by oil lamp.  Our kitchen became the center of our home. Heated by the cookstove, it embodied everything a home should be - warm, embracing, welcoming.  In that small room our pioneer family braved our first non-electric winter.  We knew nothing but the gentle hiss of Coleman lanterns, the joyful singing of the tea kettle and the simple pleasures of hearth and home.

In our 14 years on this windy prairie our lives have changed drastically.  We now have electric lights (from our solar panels and battery bank), running water and a washing machine.  We have indoor plumbing, a refrigerator and a propane cookstove.  Although we don't live in a "regular" house, we have all the comforts of home.

Our pioneer life has become less rustic and more modern with each passing year.  Although I still cook on our wood cookstove, use the outhouse regularly and home can most of our food, our children long for the simple life of pioneer living.  Not too long ago, Princess Dragon Snack came up to me and said, "Mom, do you think we can turn all the lights off, light the oil lamps and pretend to be off-grid?".  I grinned and said, "Let me get the hot cocoa".

Our lives have not turned out the way I had expected.  Our adventures have taken us on the road less traveled.  We have made mistakes, we have had bad attitudes and we have almost called it quits.  But we have persevered and learned more than any smooth road could have possibly taught us.   We have learned that real life happens when you're not looking.  That your darkest days are your best memories.  And that "someday" is right now.

The days that we are living now are my children's best memories.  They won't remember what they got for Christmas or how many times they were told to do the dishes, but they will remember oil lamps, generators, solar panels, outhouses, canned meat and afternoon tea in front of the wood cookstove. 

If you are like our family and your reality is different than your dream, don't let your reality slip through your fingers while trying to grasp your dream.  Make your reality beautiful.  These are our "good ol' days".


  1. Beautiful! Thanks as always for sharing your amazing journey. Your home looks so cozy even through the lens of my computer screen!

  2. Thank you for posting this, is has blessed me. I've been a having an 'on going dialog with God' about moving. We are going to move into the boonies 2 miles down a glorified logging road. Often time I pray & talk to God, but seems like he isn't in the mood to answer directly. Lately, he's been using other folks to tell me to knock it off already and just get there already. Thank you for taking the time to write this and thank you God for giving me just one more reminder!

  3. Thank you so much!! Just what I need to read tonight... Blessing.

  4. Your posts are always such a gifted insight. Thankful for what we have at this moment in time.

  5. Your struggles have been worth it. The world may look at your lifestyle and think you are depriving your children, but they have a life that makes them rich beyond anything the world can give them. God bless you guys.

  6. I know of a family just like that. Salt of the earth. As genuine as they come--forged by experience, steeped in the things of God, fiercely independent with a heart for Liberty. I count them friends.

  7. Enola,

    This was a beautiful post of your lives in the shouse. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  8. Replies
    1. Agreed! While winter is slowing moving in and our new 'Homestead' still has no roof on it, we have the blessing of a tiny shelter. We call it our 'cabin'. 'Cozy' best describes it. When we are hunkered down our cabin we are warm, dry, well fed, and savor the blessing of peace. Even after our Homestead is built, our fondest memories may be of nights in our tiny cabin.
      Montana Guy

  9. The warm memories of childhood days that your post brings back aren't entirely mine to share-- they belong also to the family of a friend, and I guess I should keep them off the Internet.

    Just know that they are there, that you have reminded me of them, that I will pass that memory on to my children, that you have inspired me once again. I drop by your blog, at least for a moment, almost every day. You do more to help me over depression, anxiety, and self-hatred than antidepressants and therapy combined.

    Thank you, Enola. You bear good fruit.

  10. Thank you for the reminder of joy in hard work and the worthwhileness of a life not focused on conveniences and comfort.

  11. How beautiful, Enola. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Enola, I do admire your family's fortitude and what you all have accomplished. What a wonderful life story! Your children are surely blessed for the choices you and Sir Knight have made, and the values you have instilled in them.


  13. Your post is timely as we head into our first off-grid winter in north Idaho. No, we don't have our stove pipe installed yet either, lol. I hope our children will have memories as happy as do yours in 14 years!