Living "off the grid" with children? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 20 Old 06-06-2011, 10:39 PM - Thread Starter
 
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DH and I are finally taking the plunge!! It's something we've been daydreaming about for years, but when I got preggo with DS it seemed like we had to wait.  He's 3 now, and we're expecting #2 in September... but we're in a position now where it would be really convenient for us to do this so... we're jumping in!  We've decided having young children shouldn't stop us.  It really should encourage us!!  I think this will be awesome for them, and for us as a family. 

 

We have an acre of land that my MIL bestowed upon us earlier this year, so we're going to put it to use.  We'll be basically tent-living for a bit while we get a nice area cleared to build a structure of sorts.  We're not 100% decided yet on what we are going to build, but it's going to be simple and functional.  We will not have electricity or plumbing.  We'll be building a composting toilet and creating some sort of water collection system for dishes, etc.  For drinking water, we will have to bring it in from elsewhere until we figure out a well or something (anyone know anything about digging wells? lol).

 

Basically I'm just wondering if anyone else out there has done anything like this with children?  With newborns?  Cloth diapers?  Digging wells? :P 

Washing minor amounts of laundry doesn't concern me - we will use a wash board and line dry.  But diapers.... I've handwashed cloth diapers out of necessity with DS and I really dislike it!!!  So we'll likely hit up the laundry mat (or, more likely, my in-laws in town) to wash those.

Just looking for any advice on how to make this an easy transition, things to definitely consider when you have kids in the mix, and if anyone has any preference on building cheap, sustainable, functional, etc.  The canvas tents are nice but we obviously want something more permanent (and those are pricey!).  I've looked at the Yurts and they're also pretty cool, but seems like it would take some expertise to build.  There are a TON of trees on our land, so we have our pick of wood to cut/use.  So basically we're looking at building more of a cabin type structure.  And we live in Florida.... so we need to devise a plan to stay cool during the summer with no A/C!!!  eek! 


I'm open to any and all suggestions! :)

 

Also, we're planning a homebirth and.... well now we won't exactly be in a conventional home anymore :P  Any tips on that????  I'm thinking the MW may be in shock if she shows up and finds us in a tent ahahah!!

 

ETA:  we will also get slowly but surely started growing produce and also get some animals.  Chickens to start since they're already familiar to us :)  But I'd also like a goat for milk. 

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#2 of 20 Old 06-27-2011, 03:55 PM
 
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I am going off grid with my family as well!  I don't have a little one anymore, my son is 9.  We are steps away from moving onto our land.  We have two and a half acres and are building an Eco-dome.  You were looking for answers about wells, we are going to have the hole dug up for us and use a hand pump to run the water up to a storage tank, which will gravity feed the house.  Or you can look into a windmill to run the pump for you as well.  This is a lot less expensive then the system the driller will suggest you use.  

 

 

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#3 of 20 Old 06-28-2011, 05:17 PM
 
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I'm not "off grid" but I am country living with kids.  I want to suggest elimination communication since it makes it where you don't have to do diapers quite so often!  

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#4 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 11:17 AM
 
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Digging a well can be VERY expensive. Is there anywhere you can haul water from? I know in our area, lots of people go to water towers where they purchase water and haul it home in big containers.

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#5 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 02:36 PM
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I'd be concerned about the amount of space you have.  One acre is just slightly larger than a football field.  You want to clear enough trees to build a cabin and plant food for a family of four.  What are you thinking about growing?  What kind of trees are on the lot?  What's the layout like?  Can you arrange sufficient space between the well and the composting toilet and your animal pens?  How are your carpentry skills?  Ecologically speaking, what is this lot like?  What kind of plants and animals live on it?  Is it wet or dry?  

 

Also, please remember that the Florida heat can be deadly to the very old and the very young.  You need to take your plans for keeping cool very seriously.   

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#6 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 02:52 PM
 
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Yeah, I'm going to second Stik.  Because you're starting from scratch I'm thinking you and your DH need to do some serious planning before you move there.  Check into zoning rules, price a well and a composting toilet, start researching how to build an actual home.  Starting a homestead from the ground up is no joke.  People "back in the day" had some mad homesteading skills in place before they took off to the prairie.  If I was in your shoes, I'd want the home, water and toilet sitch taken care of before I moved my toddler and pregnant self.  And ditto on the size of an acre.  We've got just under 2 acres and we feel a little cramped.  I'm not entirely convinced you can cram the home, well, garden and animals in that amount of space.

 

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#7 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 03:24 PM
 
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This sounds like a lot of fun, and a lot of work.  My husband really wanted to do this, but I felt a lot better about starting slowly and transitioning over time.  So we bought a house on a big chunk of land and are learning a little more each year.  We're now up to milk goats, chickens, sheep, and the garden.  We built a straw-bale chicken coop last year, and it's almost finished.

 

It's possible that you have a whole lot more energy and resources than we do, but it might be worth considering some ways to transition less suddenly.  We find it a bit overwhelming to try to do everything at once, and if you're depending on those things getting done to be happy, it might be pretty stressful.

 

Specific things that I thought of about your post:

 

Gravity-fed water systems are great!  They're relatively problem-free, and if you have a power-free system to get the water in the upper tank, they make a lot of sense.  A windmill connected to the well is a good idea.  It is, of course, more complicated than just "stick a tank up high and voila, you've got water pressure!"  You need to have a good tank that excludes light, or you get algae growth, which can be dangerous.  It needs to have a good system for getting water into it, that doesn't allow anything else to get in (like small critters) and also disengages when it's full (probably you've already thought of this).  If you're in Florida, it might need to have some system to keep it from being hot all the time, but I'm not sure about that, because I live in the frozen north.  If you plan on having no plumbing at all, I'm not sure what you'll do with the grey water.  You can have a simple system, like a bucket under the sink, but you still need somewhere to empty that.  And it's a pain, honestly.  And whatever your water tank is on has to be STRONG.  Really, it has to be way stronger than I ever thought.  But I like the idea of gravity-fed water.

 

Digging wells is very dependent on your water table.  Some places in North America, the water table is about 1 foot below the surface, some places it's 400 feet, some places it's dry deeper than drillers can drill.  If I had to guess, I would think that the water table is high in most of Florida.  But you don't want to guess, because this is a big deal.  You should be able to get state records somehow that indicate approximate depths of the water table in the area you're planning on.  If it's not too deep, you CAN dig a well by hand, but it's not entirely safe unless you really know what you're doing.  Wells used to collapse while they were being dug sometimes, and you can't live through being crushed by even 15 feet (a very shallow well) of earth.  So don't just jump right in and do this, research it thoroughly first.  If the water is more than about 40 feet, I think (again, don't trust me, actually look into this hard), hand-digging is both unwise and unbelievably time-consuming.  Then you will need to get it drilled.  We got a drilled well last year, and it was $11000 for a 110-foot well.  Just for the hole and the casing.  It ain't cheap.  This should be a priority for you to get figured out, in my mind.

 

As far as housing, I'm in such a different climate that I can't really even make any suggestions.  I did live primarily in a tent, in Florida, for a couple of weeks once.  There was a hand-pump for water.  It was fine, actually, except that it rained so much that line-drying was really a joke, and keeping the inside of the tent dry was not too easy.  But I think it does add another layer of difficulty to what is already a lot at once, living in a tent.

 

I guess my take-home message is that this will be fun, and a lot of work (more than you can imagine right now, if my experience is any indicator), and to do as much learning and studying and preparing as you POSSIBLY can now, before you're actually out there saying, "Oh, geez, we don't have any water right now and I need to wash diapers" or what-have-you.

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#8 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 05:16 PM
 
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Ok so I don't know anything about Florida, it's climate, or having a well dug (besides knowing that it's darn expensive!), BUT I had to comment anyway  just because I am also due in Sept & we are moving out to the sticks in a matter of weeks as well. :)

 

What our plan is, is to rent a home on a big chunk of land in north idaho. Then have a baby & learn what Real Winter living is all about (lol), then start scouting out the perfect piece of raw land for us to start building up our forever homestead on. Including the darn expensive well. :p

 

I'd look into buying a yurt if I were you. They seem like they have a lot of potential, and are pretty. I looked into them too, but this is my 6th child & I just didn't think we'd fit in one of the lowest cost ones for very long. But then, there are sooOOO many options for temporary housing, and your climate to take into consideration. What a big research project! yay! :)   (By the time I took into account the hugeness of yurt we would want, plus all the amenities we'd personally want added, it neared the price of just buying a new manufactured home!)

 

I'm not sure about laws & such, but I would make a guess that finding a midwife that would attend your birth in a home without running water might not be feasible. But, you'd just have to call around about that. More research, yay!

 

Sounds like an awesome plan. And like you have mountains worth of research to do. :D

 

Do share your story as things move along!


North Idaho rural living  mama to: 23 yo DD, 16 yo DS, 8 yo DS, 6 yo DS, 4 yr old DS, 2 yo DD, and 1 yo DS. And someone new coming this Christmas!
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#9 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 06:00 PM
 
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How do you plan to do all you want on an acre?  That doesn't seem possible...  And Florida, in summer, with a newborn, wildlife, the heat and a only a tent sounds like a very very bad idea.  Very bad.

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#10 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 06:28 PM
 
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Just remember, it takes a long time to build a structure. I would make plants to live in a tent, then a more solid temporary structure, and then a permanant structure. My suggestion to you is a mixture of strawbale and cob. It stays cool and it's great for your climate. I would make sure my back wall was in a south facing hillside. The two books I reccomend you reading are:

Shelter http://www.shelterpub.com/_shelter/shelter_book.html
A cobbuilder's Handbook: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?hl=en&pq=a+cob+builders+handboo&xhr=t&cp=24&qe=QSBjb2IgYnVpbGRlcnMgaGFuZGJvbyBr&qesig=-jVmaqJ9rhhEQYIlswmQJA&pkc=AFgZ2tnTOsYecSMvbt2wFeyrRo7RtNxiMb1fPMSSa4ZeIoGagTE3aU3quiMrXj9jPgKYQFYJoinHVNQSzKBfRKtMy0I_Zw9BNA&client=firefox-a&hs=lGm&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1540&bih=710&q=A+cob+builders+handbook&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=2991682452909025433&sa=X&ei=gdALTtGrNIGUtwejs9hb&sqi=2&ved=0CCsQ8wIwAg

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Adaline love.gif (3/20/10), and Charlie brokenheart.gif (1/26/12- 4/10/12) and our identical  rainbow1284.gif  twins Callie and Wendy (01/04/13)

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#11 of 20 Old 06-29-2011, 10:24 PM
 
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Are you really planning to birth in a tent?  I saw you mention in another post that you want to use a birth pool.  Who is going to haul all that water?  Maybe you should have the baby at your in laws house.  Good luck! 
 

 

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#12 of 20 Old 06-30-2011, 12:02 PM
 
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Also, be careful of snakes. I'm in Florida right now and there's snakes galore. I see them all the time and I'm in a developed area. I'd be really careful about letting a baby or toddler wander around without supervision - and I'm pretty sure that you'll have a lot to do other than just keeping an eye on them.

I second the elimination communication idea.

I don't think the heat will do you in, as long as you're aware of it and make sure to take precautions for your smallest ones.

But the snakes, lord, the snakes... That's what I'd be most concerned about, personally. And the bugs and crocs. I'm OK with furry predators and such, I'm not a scaredy cat or anything, but I am worried about the wildlife here. But, I'm not native to this area and I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to the creatures!

As far as living on an acre... People have done it on that. It depends on your setup. I don't think you can be completely self-sufficient on one acre but you can be darn close - but it takes a long time to get there. If people can do the urban homesteading stuff like the Dervaes family on a quarter acre (or half, or whatever they had) then you can do it on an acre. BUT it took them something like a decade of constant work with four adults in the family plus other people to get to that point. If I remember right, anyway. It wasn't overnight.

However, I am still supportive of your idea. It sounds like something I would love to do - in fact we're thinking about doing something similar, just not in Florida. I hope you keep us updated, whatever you choose to do. And while I'm all about the self sufficiency it might just make it easier for you to have some transitioning plans in place - temporary structures etc.

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#13 of 20 Old 07-01-2011, 08:28 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erin057 View Post

 

Also, we're planning a homebirth and.... well now we won't exactly be in a conventional home anymore :P  Any tips on that????  I'm thinking the MW may be in shock if she shows up and finds us in a tent ahahah!!

 

 

I'm pretty sure in Florida your home has to meet basic requirements such as running water and electricity.  Midwives are required to check out your home and it has to meet "departmental standards." 

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#14 of 20 Old 07-10-2011, 07:03 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zjande View Post

 

I'm not sure about laws & such, but I would make a guess that finding a midwife that would attend your birth in a home without running water might not be feasible. But, you'd just have to call around about that. More research, yay!

 

 



It's done up here all the time, but we have a large population of us cabin dwellers with no running water.  Call around and find out. 

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#15 of 20 Old 07-22-2011, 01:09 AM
 
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we dug our own well. We rented an excavator, dug deep, then used the excavator to lower the cement rings down. then we (my sister and i) did the women work of collecting many many rocks and putting those around the outside, so the water can filter in. I remember it was late at night and thank goodness they got an extra cement ring to be safe because one broke in the process. then we used the excavator to knock the soil back in around it. worked like a charm. 

 

My DH comes from a village where everyone gets together and builds wells for one another, so the idea didn't put him off at all and he just had this natural confidence that we'd be able to figure it out and now 4 years later our water has never been an issue (well, except for when the solar pump goes out and stops pumping :-) ). So i def say it can be done independently, but you might need to hire an excavator for a day and have to find where to buy the cement rings for it. Still, it was MUCH cheaper this way, we saved thousands of dollars. 

 

we also moved onto the raw land when my eldest was just over two and youger was just turning one. we lived in a tent for weeks and the kids thought it was wonderful. I think my son thought we took him on another one of our crazy camping trips so he definitely didn't seem to mind.

 

actually, where we are we were able to find a free mobile home on Craigslist and this is actually what we are still in. It may not be as exotic as a straw bale home or clay plaster, but it was 100% recycled and free! again, all we had to do was hire a mover and have a flat site selected for it. they plopped it down on cement pillars and it hasn't been a problem until just this past month i keep hearing baby animal noises inside the bedroom wall (rats? too big to be mice). so i'll have to be shimmying underneath sometime soon to have a look at that....

 

 

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#16 of 20 Old 07-25-2011, 11:32 PM
 
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We just built a cob home this year with our family (5 kids), baby was born this winter about 3 months before the house was done.. We lived in a 5th wheel while building. I was really glad to have that space, as "small" as it was it had everything we needed.. We had a humanure composting toilet and greywater system we put in it too.. We live on the westcoast of Canada, mild here so now big weather issues for us.. We built a greenhouse over our 5th wheel which is awesome now that we sold it and are moved into the house we have a huge greenhouse to grow food in! My few warnings.. be careful who you share your plans and dreams with, there are way too many naysayers out there! And be careful with wells.. do it properly, bad water is not good at all.. 


Mama to SDD (12), DD (8), DD (6), DD, (4), DS (3) and new little babe arriving Dec. We are in the process of building our cob home and homestead
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#17 of 20 Old 08-07-2011, 08:13 AM
 
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I sure hope this works out for you!  We're just over the state line in GA, so I thought I'd put my $0.02 in.

 

The heat is definitely something to consider.  As well as how far suitable shelter is for hurricanes and thunderstorms which may bring tornadoes.  Kids are very adaptable and they'll really enjoy a back to basics lifestyle but the reality of the heat, pests and wildlife are something that will keep you busy.  Not sure about where you're at, but we can't let our son wander in non-mown areas due to ticks and red bugs, not to mention rattlesnakes and water moccasins.

 

Depending on where you're at you need to check out the soil fertility.  In some places it can be downright nonexistent.  With just 1 acre there won't be enough space for animals, gardens and space to grow feed for the animals if your fertility isn't excellent and you'll have to bring in a lot of resources to make it work.  One thing that is on your side is the growing season!  You're more fortunate than most in that you can grow year round!  Of course growing in the heat down here is unlike what you read in books...most books are tailored towards northern growers.

 

If we were to make a house where we're at we'd go with the straw bale construction.  But in our county we couldn't do anything like that due to codes.

 

Do you have any homesteading skills?  How're your resources, can you afford to do much in the way of bringing in materials, soil, continuing to buy all your groceries while you learn about growing in the heat?

 

I'd love to hear what else you've figured out since you originally posted.  We're all just hoping to get your off to a good start and thinking about all aspects...it's easy to overlook things and get yourself into trouble and with kids you need to be doubly sure you're prepared.


loving a small homestead with DH and DS (12/2005) keeping it natural, frugal and back to basics :
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#18 of 20 Old 08-18-2011, 06:06 PM
 
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Before children we spent 2 years living in a 14' yurt we made for around $800. With a 3yo and a 6mo we bought a 30' yurt, a solar electric system and had a well dug. 2.5 years later we bought a house (moved the solar but are out a chunk of cash from the yurt). It is HARD work being completely self reliant. When I think of what we did in the first yurt to get by, I have no idea how we did it and stayed together, let alone happy. The last thing I would want to do is rain on your parade, but please put a lot of thought into your plans first. A yurt or even a wall tent is going to be unbearable in FL in the summer-we're in Maine and when the temps were over 85 we were over 90 in the yurt. Another thing to think about is rain. The sound of a shower on the roof of a yurt/tent is like a drum. Fun if you're backpacking-not if you're trying to have a conversation and it's been pouring for over a day. I swore up and down that my lifestyle wouldn't change with children (haven't we all?) but it ended up with me needing to ask myself what would be more important-living my life as my ideal, or changing my ideal so I wouldn't have to work so hard just to maintain, and I could be more present with my family. There truly is no rush to do it all at once-it helps so much to have a solid plan and then take it one breath and step at a time. Be well and enjoy your endeavors!
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#19 of 20 Old 08-21-2011, 07:15 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for more and more info :)  We've put our plans on hold... and altered them drastically :P  We had the opportunity to escape Florida altogether, and couldn't pass it up!!  Goodbye humidity :)

So now we're in Virginia.... living in a subdivision. HA!  Totally opposite direction, eh?  We're staying here with my sister and BIL because they have the extra room.  We'll be here until after DD is born and we get settled in.  I'll be finishing school up here and there is an absolutely beautiful area just a couple of hours west of here in the foothills.  I think that's our ultimate goal.  So we're going to take our time getting every detail situated.

We've 86'd the idea of tents, yurts, etc. completely.  We've been looking at cabin plans and deciding what will be livable but sustainable for us.  As it is, we're looking at building about a 700 or 800sq. ft cabin with a loft.  As much as I would adore being totally off the grid, reality is that finishing school will require computer work (and hopefully internet please!) and definitely when I start teaching I will HAVE to have access to a computer and internet on a regular basis.  So we're thinking solar or wind power, but have not weighed the pros/cons of either completely just yet.  We will definitely need more than 1 acre as we grow, so we're checking out prices in our ideal spot to see what we'll need to come up with to get started.  We're also busy comprimising- because while DH is super outdoors survival animal husbandry greenthumb live in the woods and poo in a hole.... I'm looking for more of a happy medium! lol  I definitely want to grow, raise, and be self-sufficient, and I'm totally excited about a composting toilet!!  But I don't want to be toally cut off and I would prefer to make thorough plans to have the well water run into the house so we can wash dishes, shower, etc. w/o too much hassle.  As excited as I was about our original plan, I've now had time to think about all of these things and reallllly how extreme the plan was.

 

Anyhow we're back to the planning stages.  And good thing, because we've learned a lot more in the process.  One day in the future we'll be living off the land... we're just biding our time until then :)  Priorities and opportunities have changed our plans but.... surely for the better :)  The new plan is much less extreme!

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#20 of 20 Old 08-28-2011, 06:54 PM
 
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It was a romantic idea just going for it, great to dream about but you would have had it rough. I hope things move forward quickly enough in VA. That's where I'm currently considering moving to build our homestead also, high enough in the foothills for mild summers, close enough to a city for DH's commute to work.

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