A Different Kind Of Christmas

A Different Kind Of Christmas

Holidays in a tiny house inspire creativity

Making Ripples

Chestnuts falling on an open field, Jack Frost nipping at our hose, cookies baking up a ladder, and solar panels covered in snow. Everybody knows a heater and electric lights help to make the season bright, but those with portable propane heaters will find it hard to sleep tonight. They know the solstice is on its way, loaded with loud generators on dark days.

Christmas off the grid can be as cozy as any holiday celebration on the grid, but a little experience, planning and humor are needed if you don’t want to live like a yeti.

The All American Sun Oven bakes a great lasagna, especially when using black cookware that absorbs sunlight instead of reflecting it.
(Courtesy Photo/Amanda Bancroft)

This is my husband Ryan’s and my third Christmas living in our off-grid cabin, which we chose as a way to reduce our impact on the environment. Our previous two holiday seasons were filled with minor crises like frozen water inlets and a balcony full of refrigerated foods, but this year we’re more experienced and benefited from advance planning.

No more frozen water inlets. Ryan built a special box to insulate the connecting point between the already insulated, heat-taped rainwater line from the cistern leading into the house. We ditched the Envi electric heaters that couldn’t run at night and stopped using the portable propane heater which kept us awake and watchful at night. These were replaced with a Rinnai wall-vented propane heater. We’re spoiled with year-round 24/7 climate control now.

This year, my wish was for snow. And Santa delivered it early! We had great fun tromping around in boots and building a snow bunny (a tradition). Snow covered the solar panels, so Ryan dusted them off using a broom. It was magical to live in essentially an 8x-by-24-foot box surrounded by windows, gazing out at falling flakes. We got about five inches accumulation here.

Window clings are good space-saving decorations that can be reused for decades and come in many varieties of designs. Columnist Amanda Bancroft is still working on finding space for a Christmas tree.
(Courtesy Photo/Amanda Bancroft)

Finally, it felt time to decorate for Christmas. Window clings are excellent options for small spaces, because they don’t take up horizontal space. Snowflakes decorate our front door window, stars cover the casement window, and we also put up a snowy village scene with one house that looks like a friend’s historic home in St. Louis! My long-awaited dream for a Christmas tree will have to wait some more, but we have a plan. Clear out the unused appliances and boxes from the storage loft and get a 4-foot tree next year as a reward. Maybe the family ornaments can finally come out of storage!

What holiday is complete without goodies and special meals? Our tradition is a Christmas Eve lasagna, which we bake in our All American Sun Oven outdoors if it’s sunny (no matter how cold, this thing works). It’s made with vegan ricotta (composed of soaked shelled almonds blended with Italian spices) and the usual lasagna ingredients in an unusual circular black oven pot that’s designed to work well with solar cookers. When electricity is abundant enough — and the days surrounding the winter solstice make that a real challenge — we bake cookies in a small toaster oven. Because it’s up on top of kitchen cupboards, we use a step stool to move the cookie trays in and out of the oven.

Ryan Bancroft sweeps snow from solar panels so that they can continue generating electricity.
(Courtesy Photo/Amanda Bancroft)

We may have struggled through our past two winters, but this year, we’re cozy and comfortable, and we can laugh at our past misadventures. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have about an hour left of sun to shower with hot water from the water heater. It’s electric boogie woogie woogie! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at www.RipplesBlog.org.

Amanda and Ryan Bancroft’s off-grid cabin uses propane heat (at right, below window) and a gasoline-powered generator (at left) when the solar panels fail to produce enough electricity to meet the need.
(Courtesy Photo/Amanda Bancroft)

Categories: Making Ripples