HOME & HEART: Off-Grid,On The Grid

Beginner

Through Facebook, I reconnected with an old friend from our junior high school Science Club. He recently posted that he would like to just “go off the grid.” I happily commented back that I had been living off-grid for 31 years and it was not as hard as one might assume. Another of his friends responded that he would just like to drop off the grid also, and become invisible to data miners, advertisers, databases, and social media. Then, I realized, they were talking about the information superhighway grid—which, ironically, my husband Bob-O and I are fully connected to.

Multigrid

Our homestead is very rural—so rural that we have created a PDF map that we send to people who are coming to visit us so they can more easily find their way. Several years ago, dear friends from Manhattan’s Upper East Side were visiting for a couple of days here in our wild paradise. They live a few blocks from Central Park in an apartment building with a doorman, and our country life was the closest my friend wanted to get to camping.

On the third day of their visit, they asked me what was the longest stretch of time I had been home without going to town. My answer was a little over a month. They were shocked—they thought I was going to say four or five days, not weeks. Bob-O and I only go to town for a reason—and never for just one thing. We keep a running list in the kitchen and before we leave for town, one of us takes the list and the other takes a picture of it with our phone. Then the list can be texted and referred to easily.

So being connected to this other grid—with access to social media, online shopping, and search engines—has changed our lives. When we joined Facebook, our social circle expanded immediately. I connected with friends who I last saw throwing their caps, shouting and running for the exits in the warm evening air at our 1972 high school graduation in Napa, California, where I grew up. Before Facebook, I would think about those people occasionally and wonder what paths their lives had taken. Now I know.

I also see many of the activities of my grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, brothers, sisters, and friends. I belong to cooking groups, farming groups, gardening groups, beer geek groups, and political groups. I may not leave my home, but I visit with people I care about every day. I am an armchair traveler on all my friends’ trips. It is truly wonderful.

There have been emergencies—wildfires, storms, flooding, and such—that this grid has helped us deal with. Two weeks ago, our local grapevine used social media to rally help for evacuating people and livestock in the path of a fast-moving wildfire. Offers of trailers, pasture, secure storage, and places to stay for displaced people and animals were posted in real time. Houses were lost, but no people or animals. This was because information was immediate—there was no waiting for “film at eleven.” Five days ago, another wildfire took off, jumping a river and spreading fast. Offers of help and real-time updates, sometimes with photos, kept us all connected.

Gridding

Before we retired, I was the office worker for our business—the voice at the end of the 800 number. So, weekdays I was here. Bob-O was out on installation jobs that took him all over our region of northernmost California and southern Oregon. When the weekend came, he was eager to work on our own home projects he had to put aside during the week. Because he was out in town all the time, he would pick up whatever we needed before coming home.

We try to shop locally when possible, but we do shop online and have for years. Package delivery services know where we are and will deliver to the house. If the purchase is big enough to be hauled as freight, we have to drive the 2 miles down to the pavement and meet the truck there. Then we can transfer the goods into our truck and head home. I’m afraid that if an item has been banged up in transit, it is always a mess to try to send it back at that point. That is why the side of my last washing machine had a dent in it.

My favorite way of shopping online is when you can buy something and have it delivered to the store. All the big hardware stores do this. It can really widen your choices when looking for just the right appliance or building material.

One recent example was when we needed a new dual-flush toilet to replace our old model. The old 1-pint flush model had no tank, so it sat very close to the wall. When we refurbished the bathroom, we used kitchen cabinets, 25 inches deep, which now made the distance between a new toilet with a tank and the sink very tight.

Researching, finding a retailer, purchasing, and coordinating delivery all happened because of this Other Grid. I searched every online site and blog devoted to equipping tiny houses, since I wanted to know what people used when they were short on space. Finally, I found an affordable toilet that would fit in this small space. We had to order the toilet online, and had it shipped to the store for pickup. It arrived two days early and Bob-O was able to inspect it before it was loaded into our truck. This, to me, is the superior method of product delivery.

In light of this “new grid” paradigm, I’m not sure how to classify my lifestyle. When friends at parties introduce me as “Kathleen, who lives off-grid,” will the person they’re talking to think I’m a hermit who lives in a tarpaper shack, with no running water? Maybe I should start using just letters, OG-OTG. It is ironic that some people want to have my life, but without the electronic media—while I, having lived this rural lifestyle, have embraced it.

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