Saturday, February 11, 2012

Family Vacations: Off-The-Grid And Beyond Civilization

Family vacations. I’ve heard of such things. I’ve heard that some families go to places such as Disneyland, vacation houses on the beach or on skiing trips to the mountains. We don’t. 
Our itinerary is typically the same. It is simple, yet complex. After over-loading the highly utilitarian we-don’t-care-what-the-kids-do-to-it vehicle, we head off on the family road trip. While the kiddos watch movies on their very own Apple TV that Michael custom designed for such road trips (yes, he’s THAT nerdy!), we drive through beautiful scenic regions. We pass gorgeous lakes, rivers, snow-capped mountains and drive through lush forests. Then slowly, the scenery begins to change. It becomes more rugged and barren. When the lush green forests have been replaced with stubby scrub brush and dry tumbleweeds blowing in the harsh winds, we know that we are close to our “vacation” destination - Grandma & Grandpa’s house. 
My parents have always had a taste for the rugged life. They are now living their dream far from civilization and “off the grid”. It’s not the first time. I spent parts of my childhood living without luxuries such as electricity or running water. Unlike most of my generation, I know what it’s like to haul water, light lanterns and take a shovel out to the woods in lieu of a toilet (yes, I’m serious!). My parents built several houses with their own hands. Morally opposed to incurring much debt, they built as they could afford it. Electricity and plumbing were “luxuries” that were way down on the priority list. And typically by the time we acquired them, it was time to move on. 
Moving was also very much a part of my childhood. I’ve moved more times than years I’ve been alive. By the time I was my daughter’s age (seven), I had lived in three states and one Canadian provence and had probably lived in at least 10 houses. My dream was to settle down someday and always have indoor plumbing. 
So now I have that life. It is wonderfully boring. I live in the suburbs with all the modern conveniences. My daughter is in second grade and has already gone to the same school for three years - something I never did!
Yet a few times a year we take a trip back in time and venture into that crazy off-the-grid existence. Many Portland folk think my parents’ way of life is wonderfully back-to-the-earth organic and granola. I challenge them to take a little “vacation” and enjoy low-carbon-footprint living to the fullest! They too can enjoy hanging laundry on the line and taking a trickle of a shower. 
This past Christmas was our most recent trip. With 12 people sharing one bathroom (the other 2 bathrooms are shut down during the winter so that the pipes won’t freeze), I hope and pray with all my might that I will not get the stomach flu. I pack an entire pharmacy's worth of first aide since the nearest emergency room is in another state. (Worst yet, the nearest Starbucks is at least 30-some miles away!)
It may not be Disneyland or a five-star resort in the mountains, but it’s time with family. It’s all we can afford and that’s okay. Time with family in the boonies? Priceless. My children have room to run and play and explore. They find exciting things like owl pellets, snake skins and rodent skulls. At night they hear the coyotes howl and see the sky lit up with stars. Evenings are spent in the comfort of a cozy wood stove heated cabin watching classic comedies (with the help of a generator) and eating stove-popped popcorn by the  light of kerosene lamps. 
I’m sure one day my children will find their suburban life incredibly boring. They will pine for adventure. My answer to them? “Go spend a month with Grandma & Grandpa!” It will be a win-win.  
The cabin we usually stay in. It's the lowest square footage that can be built without being taxed!

My grandparents' cabin. They are 85 years old and built this themselves!
My parents' house that they built with their own hands.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Amy! Those little houses look so cute. You've sure had an interesting life! Not me. I grew up in one house in the suburbs that my parents still live in. Can you say 'boring?' Maybe that's why it's hard for me to stay in one place very long! Take care:)