Hey Busy Bee, Classics has some good suggestions here, but you really want to get a bit more educated if you have the time.
I have built up several small systems like this for friends barns. The AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries are fine, but you'll spend more on them per unit storage. If you really want bang for your buck, get a pair of golf cart batteries, specifically the Trojan T-105 model. They are easy to find, open the yellow pages or similar publication and look for a place that sells and services golf carts. they go through these batteries like sliced bread in their work. Generally they also have already made 50 amp connection lines with soldered connections so the hydrogen gas that vents from the battery won't corrode the wiring.
T-105 batteries are 6 volts, so you need 2 wired in series. This will give you a 220 amp hour battery bank. Besides extra storage, they allow you to connect up to 75 watts of solar panels without the use of a charge controller because the solar arrays maximum current is below the 2% thresshold of the batteries capacity, so it is considered a "trickle" charge. Read about this in Richards book below. Then get a Square D model QO breaker box, maybe a 2 or 6 circuit, whichever you like, they are certified for DC up to 60 volts. Put in a couple 20 amp QO breakers and connect them to DC outlets with #12 copper wire. The best outlets are the single outlet air conditioner types, they look like regular US household outlets but the prongs are horizontal instead of vertical. These outlets are also suitable for DC up to 20 amps. What I like to do is run outdoor extension cord wire from the panel to the battery box and put a cord end on that fits into the DC outlets, so you can just plug the panel in. You can skip the charge controller if your panel is below 4.4 amps max current, but you'll need to have a diode in the box on the back of the panel. A diode is just an electrical check valve, allowing the panel to charge the battery, but not allowing the battery to back feed into the panel at night. Most modern panels come with diodes already installed, these are fine for this. And make sure the polarity is correct, + from the panel to + on the battery box wiring and outlets. A good inverter to use is a Vector, or similar brand 750 watt model. You can find them for about $75 at auto parts stores, truck stops and RV places. They can run hand drills, TV's and stereos, computers and small lights. And get some LED Christmas light strings, they use 2 watts per 50 lights and last forever. One word of warning, do not plug in Nicad battery chargers that do not use a wall pack transformer. A Dewalt battery charging base is an example of this, the inverter will burn up the circuit card inside in less than a minute, I've done it.
We built a system like this for our home years ago, and Home Power Magazine liked it so much they ran an article on our home. I highly suggest subscribing to this magazine, the link is below. And if you can, check out the calendar section in the mag, then try to make it to one of the energy fairs listed, we did 12 years ago and today our home is completely powered by the wind and sun. If you subscribe to HP, you can use their search engine to look for our homes specs and wiring diagrams, look for "small system first." A system like this, with 2 batteries, maybe a 50 watt panel and disconnects and stuff might cost you $400 USD, but could run your entertainment stack, laptop and a couple lights for several nights with a power outage, ours does, and we have just one 53 watt panel. And if it's 12 volt, you can recharge it with some jumper cables from your car if you're in a jam one night. I also have a bank of cigarette lighter outlets on our battery box for car cell phone chargers, ipod chargers, USB adapters and so on. And I also highly suggest LED strip lights in key places in your home. Our entire kitchen and cabinet lighting in the den work on them, and they are powered directly from our 12 volt breaker box. Those lights are free to operate, and work even if the power company doesn't. Good luck Bee, Rudydoo
Busybee, Roderick has a very good point, if you are only doing this for power outages then the portable generator makes more sense. In particular since, as you say, you have no expertise or understanding, operating a generator is pretty similar to a lawnmower, but building up a solar charging system has plenty of places to make mistakes. I would only suggest going solar if you intend to use it for some of your regular loads too, like low voltage LED lights and small electronics. You'll have to decide what you really want your equipment to do for you and how much time you want to invest doing it. Rudydoo
Home Power Magazine, homepower.com
Solar Energy International, solarenergy.org
Midwest Renewable Energy Association MREA.ORG
The Complete Battery Book, by Richard Perez, library