Tales from the Cabin
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Living the Simple Life

A family travels across the country to become self-sufficient on a northern Idaho homestead
By Tammy Trayer
Published: December 14, 2012
In the February 2013 issue of Cabin Life, Tammy Trayer offered readers a glimpse into her family's simple lifestyle in "Dreams Do Come True." She explained how they moved from Pennsylvania to northern Idaho, then lived in a canvas tent in the wilderness until their house was built. Here, she shares more about how they have managed the homestead and continue to find greater reward by living with less.
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This canvas wall tent was the Trayer family's wilderness home for more than 8 months while their house was being built. All photos courtesy www.givenagift.com.
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This photo of Tammy, Austin and Glen was taken when they still lived in Pennsylvania. It was just the beginning of their wild adventure.
After six days on the road, a flat tire, eight blown injectors on the GMC, and the purchase of a new Ford F-250, we arrived at our destination of home. It was a five-acre parcel of untouched land in northern Idaho that we had purchased site unseen from Pennsylvania. Our dream had come true!
    We slept a night in the gooseneck trailer until we had the 8x14-foot canvas-wall tent constructed. There were two adults, a teenager, two dogs and a hamster, as well as our cots, a clothing tote for each person, and a table in our small living space.
    For the first whole month, there was nothing but pouring rain, but we didn’t bat an eyelash. We were so excited, and a little rain wasn’t going to deter us. For 8½ months, we lived in the wall tent and built our home. It was an experience and an adventure like no other, and not one of us would have traded the experience for anything!
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After 9 months of living in the tent, the Trayers moved into their new home, and not a moment too soon as winter was setting in.
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Cooking cornbread biscuits and breakfast on the woodstove.
The night before we moved into the house, we were forced out of the tent due to extremely high winds. That was one of three nights we spent cooped up in the pickup.
    We moved into our home December 11, 2010. That night, it was nothing more than 30 feet by 36 feet of open space with a plywood floor, no windows and a woodstove in one corner. There was a foot of snow on the ground, and we were grateful to be out of the elements with a secure roof over our heads. The solar power was hooked up and our well was providing water.
    The first addition to our living quarters was a window to add some light and allow us to get some of the heat out. I was making all of our meals on the woodstove and keeping it at a constant heat, so it was typically 80–85 degrees inside the house.
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Glen fabricated this rotating stand to hold half of the solar panels that power the homestead.
My husband Glen continued our interior progress by adding the bathroom, kitchen, several more windows and studding out the bedrooms. We still have Tyvec walls to this day – our cosmetic work will come later. Our Christmas present the first year was adding power and running water in our living quarters.
    Our son Austin was so excited on Christmas Eve to get the comforts of his bed. His bed was placed in the midst of mounds of Rubbermaid totes. He simply voiced that although he loved tent living, he was very thankful for his bed and that it was the BEST Christmas present ever.
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The first night out of the tent and in the new house was toasty thanks to the woodstove.
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Glen cleans and seasons a large kettle by the smokehouse.
The winter of 2010–2011 was spent chopping firewood as needed. We spent 8½ weeks in our cozy, snowy wilderness setting while unable to drive out due to our road conditions. It was the best 8½ weeks ever, and Glen was able to get in some trapping. It was truly a winter wonderland with untouched white puffy snow everywhere. During that winter we received one snowfall of 36 inches, which did not stop us from exploring by any means. We quickly put on the snowshoes and off we went. We did a lot of exploring that winter.
    We spent 2011 getting everything in order in our home's interior and relaxing a bit. We also groomed our exterior, built our large woodshed, a smokehouse and a temporary smithy, and canned whatever vegetables we could get our hands on. Our loft was built in September to prepare for our families to visit and add extra space to our living quarters. Our open bedrooms turned quickly into unique cabin rooms and made our home even cozier.
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Glen teaches Austin how to building the smokehouse using traditional tools from their ancestors.
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The firewood crew helped to get the wood house fully stocked for winter.
Our family is always busy doing something. Glen is always busy in the smithy, fabricating something new for our house. I will never have to worry about having to call a Mr. Fix-It, because whatever we need he can do it.
    We are all always tinkering, and if there is a traditional skill that we do not yet know, then we learn it. We greatly enjoy our traditional setting and our traditional lifestyle.
    Every ounce of extra time we have we try to use to get out in the wilderness and explore. We live in a vast playground. When we can take a whole day, we hike 20-plus miles in lands that have not seen people in years. As we tell people, “We are allergic to trails, so as soon as our feet connect with a trail we quickly step off and into the unseen wilderness.”  There is so much to see and do.
  
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Austin feeds the Trayers' 30 laying hens at the homestead's henhouse.
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The Trayer rabbit hutch. The family plans to add one doe (female) and one buck (male) in 2013.
In the midst of all the building, I was canning everything that I could get my hands on, including 75 pounds of carrots (yield: 74 quarts), three batches of our chili sauce/salsa, three batches of Trayer Wilderness Hot Mustard, and two batches of our friend Joel’s Famous Hot Sauce (darn near killed the family with that one). I also continued to do my web designs, freelance writing and keeping everyone well fed.
    In 2012, Glen fabricated a sawmill. We built our son a treehouse on stilts, using this project to help us get the bugs worked out of the sawmill. Then we built the chicken coop, which now houses 30 laying hens, Ray the Rooster and Gus the Ginny Rooster. Then came the rabbit hutch, where we currently have four does and will be getting another doe and a buck before winter sets in. Then we built a small log cabin in a mere 4½ weeks to accommodate guests.
    The whole year was spent running from one project to the next. It was a crazy year, but we enjoy being productive and seeing the rewards of our hard work daily. We ran out of time for one thing on our to-do list this year, and that was the greenhouse, so that will be first in line next spring.
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As part of the family business of homemade goods, Tammy makes and sells goat's milk soap and candles. Here, they are shown on display at a store called Harebrained & Happy in Potlatch, Idaho.
We make everything from scratch back here in our wilderness environment. Austin is on a gluten-free and casein-free diet, and we are trying to eliminate all the additives, preservatives and chemicals in our foods and products. I make our own laundry, dish and bar soap, and I make our own deodorant as well. In the kitchen, I make everything from our own seasonings and condiments to all our breads, baked goods and wholesome meals. It is something I very much enjoy. In addition, I enjoy refurbishing old furniture.
    In addition to all our family projects we also run our business, Rocking GT Designs, out of our home. Glen manufactures traditional-style mortise-and-tenon furniture. He also hand forges all his hardware, along with a hand-forged metal line and horseshoe art. I assist with the web designs and marketing and also provide handcrafted goat-milk soaps, 100% soy candles, gift baskets and other various handcrafted gift items. Austin makes leather moccasins and various other leather items.
    We are constantly exploring, building, repurposing, growing, raising, etc. In 2013, we will be obtaining two horses to start filling our corral, building our greenhouse, and who knows what else!

To read Tammy Trayer's blog and learn more about the Trayer family's off-grid lifestyle, go to www.givenagift.com.
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