Rain.

We have had record rainfalls here recently leading to flooding of our creek, river, barns and basement!  We are definitely knee deep in mud season and although it’s not my favorite season, I’m happy to not be freezing.

The rain has caused a few problems for us, mainly in the barn where our sows and gilts live and in the walkway of our horse barn.  A few days ago my mare put a foot down and to her surprise and mine she went down 8-10 inches!  The sows have their own indoor swimming pool at the moment, which is not ideal and I’m thankful we can turn them out into the back paddock.  At least we always have a long to-do list in case we ever think we might be bored.

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The rain and warmer days also mean that the woods and fields are greening up.  I brought these fern fronds home with me after gathering sap last weekend.  I hope all those new plants survive March, I’m sure we will have a snowstorm or two yet.

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On the bright side the sunrises have still been amazing even with rain and storm clouds rolling through every morning.  Grace snapped this picture one morning last week from our kitchen.  One of our favorite things to do is watch the sun come up every morning, after living the first 13 years of our married life deep in the woods we both enjoy all of the open sky we have on this farm.

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Although the rain and mud have caused us a few headaches, we are thankful for the mild temperatures and the moisture.  We’ve had seasons of drought, and know to be grateful when the rain falls.

I try to keep this verse in my mind when the to do list starts to feel overwhelming.  Approaching life with gratefulness can change your entire outlook!

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Little Things.

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We are almost through February and the changes I implemented in January now feel like our daily habits.

One of the things that I have noticed in slowing down and simplifying our life again, is that the smallest things can bring the greatest joy.

Our hens have started laying in abundance again, and finding nests full of rich brown eggs still brings a smile to my face as if I were a child.

Hearing a bird sing this morning before it was light out, and knowing that it was a promise of spring, even if we are still in February and March can always bring a snowstorm or two.

Opening windows in the house and letting the warm air breeze through, freshening both our home and our spirits.

Standing in worship, singing, and hearing my youngest sing and not miss a word.

A pile of muddy boots scattered across the side porch, and a trail of muddy clothes through the back hall and into the laundry room, because the children were outside making memories and having adventures.

A picture texted from my dad of new seedlings emerging for our spring gardens.

Shopping for fabric with my oldest daughter.

All of the family heads bowed, in prayer together, giving thanks.

When we take time to be grateful, for even the smallest of things the entire outlook of our lives changes.

 

 

Bread Making.

IMG_20180208_122412_175.jpgMaking bread is a part of every week for me, and has been for many years now, during that time I’ve made some good bread, and I’ve made some terrible bread, some loaves hard as rock, some with giant holes in the middle, tasteless, and overly salty.  It’s disappointing to have something you’ve spent a couple of hours on go to waste, so I thought I would pass along a few tips I’ve learned the hard way.

One of the most important aspects to making bread, or pizza, or cookies, really anything that involves flour is producing the flour itself.  I grind all of our flour right before I plan to use it.  And lately I’ve been using Palouse Brand hard red wheat berries.  These berries are non-GMO, and they can trace the bag of berries back to an exact field because they do everything from the growing, harvesting to the cleaning and shipping.  You can learn more about them here.

I remember when a friend first introduced me to grinding my own flour by lending me her old electric grain mill.  We were hooked immediately on this idea – it was essential to our hope of being as self-sufficient and self-sustaining as possible.

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We initially purchased a GrainMaker grain mill from Montana, opting for the non-electric version with the option of adding a motor.  (You can find them at grainmaker.com) For a few years I hand ground all of our flour, which was a bit of an upper body workout.  Then one Christmas my husband surprised me with the motor and I’m not ashamed to say that I was relieved to no longer have to hand grind all of our flour.  If you are interested in a grain mill, I highly recommend the GrainMaker because of its adaptability to both non-electric and electric situations, as well as it’s ability to grind both grains and nuts, including coffee beans!  We have made flours, nut butters, and grind our coffee with our mill.

I also use a Bosch mixer at the recommendation of a friend who is a professional baker.  The Bosch equipped with a metal dough hook has the power to knead enough dough to make four large loaves of bread for our family at a time.  I previously had a kitchen aid, but soon burnt up the motor in it making dough.

You will need to experiment with bread recipes to find something that works for you and your family.  My personal recipe is fairly simple.

I start with 4 cups of warm water, 1/4 cup of yeast, and 1/4 cup of maple syrup.  I let this stand for at least five minutes, or until there is a nice foam top.

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While the yeast is busy doing it’s thing. I add up to 8 cups of flour to my mixer bowl, 2 Tbsp salt, and 1/4 cup oil.  I prefer a saltier bread, so if you are trying this recipe for yourself you may want to adjust the salt amount to your personal tastes.  Also, the grain you use for your flour will impact the taste of your bread.  I recently ordered my wheat berries from a small farm that mills it’s own grain.  The grain is organic and non-gmo, and each bag comes with a tracking number that can be used to identify the field it came from.  This wheat has a great nutty flavor and rich color.  Ok, back to the recipe.  I then add my yeast/water/maple syrup mix to the dry ingredients in my mixer, and turn it on.  I let that mix for a while and then beginning adding flour slowly until I think the dough is the right consistency.  As a general rule of thumb I watch for the dough to pull clean from the sides of the bowl.  I then let the dough “knead” for about five minutes.  Now, I’ve been using the proof function on my new gas range.  I add a small bowl of water to the bottom rack, and then after turning my bread dough into a bowl with a light coating of oil, I add the bowl to the oven and set the proof setting on with a timer of 30 minutes.

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When the thirty minutes is up I take the dough out, punch it down and shape it into four loaves by rolling it out with my rolling pin and then tightly rolling it up into a loaf shape.  I then return these pans to the oven, set my proof for another thirty minutes, and wait.  After the second rising, I take the loaves from the oven, preheat it to 350 and then add my loaves back for 30 minutes.

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I’m certainly not a bread making expert, but this recipe has worked for our family to make sandwich loaf bread, and I hope it will work for yours too.

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This year we are going to plant our own grains for harvesting and use.  I’m very excited, and a little scared.  I know that the harvesting, threshing, hulling, etc of grain will take time and labor on our part.  Because we are just doing a small amount most of the work will need to be done by hand instead of by machine.  I picked up a great book at Lehman’s hardware though to help us Home Grown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer.  And we have been looking on craigslist at seed cleaners and old farming equipment to help us on this new venture.  I’m sure that I’ll have more to write about that later.

 

Piglets!

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A tired A. and a very bright eyed piglet.

Our sow delivered right on time, and we were able to help her through what was a very difficult delivery.

I learned a few very important lessons this time.  The first being that I need to slow down and read exactly what I write in my calendar.  For instance, “Pigs due this week,” is significantly different than “Pig due today” .  I would have saved myself several nights of getting up three or more times a night to bundle up and walk to the barn to check on her.  And I would not have moved her into the farrowing room so soon. . . .

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A. was trying to get a picture of the piglets nursing and managed to capture this piglet being delivered.

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The second lesson we learned was to have more patience during the delivery.  We could tell that this sow was having a hard time when she started.  And after watching her struggle to push for what we felt was a significant amount of time, I went in to see if there were any problems.  Sure enough, the first piglet felt very large and seemed to be having a hard time making it through her pelvis.  There was no way to help pull the piglet at that point and we had to wait.  And waiting can be very, very hard when you know that what they are going through is very difficult.

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This one is a bit of a tank!

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I will admit that helping our livestock through labor is usually difficult for me more so than my husband.  Having had four children naturally without any pain medication and being one of those people who at the time needed to know all the biology of the process, I am acutely aware of what the mamas are going through.  My husband on the other hand is a paramedic/firefighter and handles it much better.  His experiences have given him a much different perspective.DSC_0120

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Pig Pile!

The first piglet finally made it through the pelvis, only to somehow be pushed through the skin of her rectum, we had to push the baby back in and guide it out the right way.  The piglet did tear her skin, and there was quite a bit of additional blood but after a few more babies were born that additional bleeding subsided.  Three days later she seems to be doing ok, but this will be her last litter.  There is too great a risk of complications for her and the resulting scar tissue from this event will most likely make it hard for her to be bred again.

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The kids were there to help with most of the delivery, especially A. who was there for piglets 3-8, helping dry them off and guide them to a teat.  Also A. was the principle photographer of many of these pictures.

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For some reason this little one wanted to be nestled right up next to his mama’s jaw.  They are three days old today and seem to be doing well.  Last night we notched their ears and gave them iron shots.  The kids are excited to take their first born, bred, and raised hogs to the fair this year!

Mending.

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Have you mended anything?  My oldest son used to wear the knees out of his jeans all the time so I patched them, but then as more children came it seemed that the jeans with holes in the knees all ended up in a tote together waiting to either be mended or recycled into another project.  They are in my basement right now with more jeans that waited so long to be mended that everyone has outgrown them.

I’ve seen lots of talk in the past couple of years about visible mending.  I loved the look and the idea of it, but have never put it into practice.  I’m not sure why, I’d like to say time, but in truth I think I was just afraid.  Afraid I would do it wrong, and afraid that my kids and husband would reject mended items.

This year is different though, this year I’m doing those things that I’ve always said I would do – the things that ring true to the values I say I hold dear.  I’m putting into practice those skills and things I’ve let slip to the side.  One of those things is mending clothes and things and I’m happy to say that in the past two days I’ve mended 3 pairs of jeans to both my 13 year old son and husband’s approval and excitement!  In fact my husband was incredibly supportive of this plan to fix things instead of replacing them.  I shouldn’t be surprised by that though because he applies that to almost everything in his life – machinery, tools, automobiles, farms. . .if you can spend less on something that just needs a little elbow grease and care then it is a good deal to him.

The mending isn’t perfect and maybe I didn’t do it right, but in the end if the stitches prolong the use of the item then it is a success.  On two pairs of jeans I used my Bernina sewing machine and on the other pair I mended by hand.   Today, I plan on mending two pairs of leggings for my oldest daughter and then it is on to socks.  I love wool socks in the winter because I hate being cold, especially in my feet and hands.  Living on a farm means that I’m outside in all kinds of weather which means this winter I’ve been awfully cold.  However wool sweaters, base layer and socks are highly effective at keeping me warm.  But with lots of farm wear these items tend to get holes, especially the socks!

All of this mending is part of my pledge to be more conscious of how the smallest of our everyday actions are impacting our environment, and our personal well being.  After reading articles on the slow fashion movement and making myself more aware of how damaging our appetite for fast and cheap clothing is on the environment and people who are producing said clothing, I’m trying to be very conscious of the clothing choices I’m making for myself and my children.  I’m interested to see how the changes I’m hoping to make for our family pan out over the year especially in relation to my teenage and pre-teen children.

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Simplify

 

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It snowed several inches overnight and the schools are closed for the day.  I’m happy to have another day with the kids, snowed in and cozy on our farm.  I miss homeschooling most days, and a five day weekend with them has been nice.

I’ve taken to lighting candles in the morning and evening, I miss our fireplaces in our old house.   We have seven chimneys in our new home but they are all original masonry and it is not safe to burn wood in the fireplaces.  We are hoping to have gas inserts put in in the parlor fireplaces, and I would like to either restore in family room fireplace or install a gas burning stove in there.  I saw a perfect one at Lehman’s a few weeks ago.  Even with new windows, this big old house is slightly drafty and I am looking forward to the day that we have the additional warmth of working fireplaces and stoves.

When the wind blows out of the west our house sounds like a harmonica, or a train whistle.  The first time it happened it took us a little while to identify the source of the strange noises.  I was relieved when we were able to say it was of this world, and not something paranormal.

The kids and I used the five day weekend to reevaluate the things we were holding onto.  We started in our closets and then worked through bedrooms, and I also did our mudroom and closet.  I feel so much better with less things.  I’ve now sorted my closet three times, and I feel that I will continue to reevaluate what remains there for a while.  I’ve been reading about slow fashion, and the harmful effects of the fashion industry on the environment, and the poor working conditions of factory workers who are producing so much of our disposable wardrobes.  So for the next year I’m making a pledge to myself to not purchase any new clothing.  I’ll shop second hand and make my own clothes for the year.  And I am going to try and do the same for the kids.

What was not kept in my closet or the kids closets went into piles including: donate, recycle, and re-wear, and a just in case pile.  Items that we decided we were not going to ever wear, because either it didn’t fit right or wasn’t really our style, but had lots of good life left in it went into the donate pile.  Those items that still had value, but maybe not as clothing went into the recycling pile to be remade into craft projects, dish rags, etc.  And finally the re-wear pile included any clothes that could be passed down to a younger sibling.  The just in case pile was for extra sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, blankets, towels.  Things that might be useful some day. . . just in case, you know, society as we know it collapses.

The next step in the closet/wardrobe simplification is that for the kids I’m grouping 5 outfits for school days, 2 church outfits, and then 5 shirts, and 2 bottoms of farm clothes.  Too often I feel like I end up washing clean clothes that they’ve put into their dirty laundry hampers because they just don’t want to take the time to put them away.  I’m sure I’m also not the only parent who become frustrated because their kids prefer to wear the same outfit the majority of the time while many very nice options hang in their closet unworn.  It’s maddening and I’m hopeful that maybe this will help.

The basement is next on my purging/organizing/simplifying list.  After that I’ll need to work on our office, but not until after taxes are done.

The best part of this first step in simplifying our lives is that Grace already commented about how wonderful it felt when we had purged her room and she spent some time organizing her art supplies and everything had a place and was in its place.

 

Apple Cider Vinegar

While looking through our recent Countryside & Small Stock Journal I came across an article about vinegars which included instructions on how to make your own apple cider vinegar.  I decided to give it a try yesterday, and in three to 6 weeks we should know how I did!

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I found the recipe for apple cider vinegar in our Countryside Magazine!

 

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Great article on vinegars including the instructions on how to make your own apple cider vinegar.

The instructions were simple, in two sterilized half gallon jars add your chunks of apple or peels, and cores until the jars are three quarters of the way full.  You then add a sugar water mixture, which is approximately 1 tbsp. of sugar to 1 cup of water.  Making sure that the sugar is fully dissolved before adding.  Fill the jars until the apples are covered.  The article suggested using a plastic zip lock bag filled with water to weight the apples down so that they remain submerged.  I did that and then covered the jars with cheesecloth to keep out bugs.  I then placed the jars in the hoosier cabinet in our pantry.  I am supposed to check the jars every few days to make sure that no mold is developing, if it does you have to throw out the mixture and start over.

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Jars filled with apples, sugar water solution and covered with cheese cloth. Now we wait.

We really enjoy getting the Countryside and Small Stock Journal.  In this issue the kids really enjoyed the articles on owls!

 

Phones, Social Media, and Me.

I want to spend more time in the new year actually sewing those quilts, making those clothes, and living a more simple life, than I do creating a virtual inspiration board of them.

This morning I read an article about how two of Apple’s largest investors are pressuring the company to address issues of phone/technology  and social media addiction in kids.  This is the second article on this issue that has caught my eye in the past week.

As parents we have chosen to not allow our children to have phones.  A decision which has been lamented loudly by our oldest two children who are now in middle school.  They are certain that they are the last two children left on the planet without smart phones and Facebook.  You should see the eye rolling when I point out that our Amish friends don’t have those things either, so technically they are not the last children on earth to not have them.

We briefly dabbled in letting them have some hand me down iPhones that behaved like iPods with connectivity only when wifi was available.  It didn’t take long to see the error of that choice.  Being a parent in this tech age is not an easy thing.  It feels almost impossible to protect your children when the internet is available to them.  And the societal pressure to allow your children this access can feel overwhelming at times.

For instance, we have noticed that because all of our children’s friends have their own phones and prefer to text one another instead of calling to talk, and because our children do not have texting (unless they use my phone) they often do not hear from them.  And, if I call into the school to give my kids a message it sometimes feels like the secretaries have forgotten that parents used to do that all the time.

The problems and situations I fear for my children with smart phones and social media are because I have either seen them in myself or experienced them myself.  I grew up before cell phones were something anyone but the very wealthy had, when texting was passing notes in class, and no one had 24 hour access to everyone else’s business.  Where children and adults were comfortable making a phone call and having a conversation.  Now, I find myself opting to text someone rather than taking the time to make a phone call to them!

I’ve broken up with Facebook many times, including just this week.  I got an account about 5 or 6 months ago because I found that all of the news and event updates for many of our kids organizations were only being communicated via Facebook.  After missing out on a few things I broke down and signed up for it again.  All was good for a while but then, like all addictive behaviors, checking Facebook began creeping into more and more of my day.  I know that many people can handle having social media, I, myself cannot.  I find that I end up feeling badly about my life and looking for ways to paint a prettier picture of it.  I do have an Instagram account, and I love the amazing photos that people take and post there.  Well and I guess I technically have a Facebook account for 13 more days until they delete it, but that is not the point here.  The point is that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever it is can suck me in and then I’ve spent so much time scrolling through other people’s lives that I have carpel tunnel and no idea what anyone in my actual real life house has been doing for the past two hours.  I’m not a good parent or person when I’m answering, “uh-huh” or “just a minute” instead of being present for the little people around me who are quickly growing up into not so little people.

I’m not saying that smart phones and social media are inherently bad.  I mean, it is pretty awesome to be able to access information the way that we can when we have a question or problem.  But for myself and for my family I can see that they can be very damaging.  So, in the new year I’ve come up with some boundaries.

The first is that my blogging/pinterest searching/Instagram gazing time happens early in the morning before anyone is up.  I like to get up early, before anyone else in the house is awake and have some time to myself.  I use that time to drink coffee in the quiet, spend some time with my Bible, and I’ve committed myself to an hour of writing every day.  After that, when the kids and my husband are awake, those things are set aside.  I’m really striving to be more  present.  To be fully engaged in the now, even if that now happens to be four kids with cabin fever making each other crazy (ier).

To accomplish this I’ve made a point of keeping my computer in the office, and I’ve made a phone basket where my smart phone gets placed when I’m in the house.  So if you are trying to get ahold of me and there is no text response – the phone is probably in the basket and I’ve forgotten where I put it.

I love to look at Instagram and Pinterest and create visual inspiration boards.  I enjoy being inspired by other people’s blogs, and learning from them.  However, I want to spend more time in the new year actually sewing those quilts, making those clothes, and living a more simple life, than I do creating a virtual inspiration board of them.  So I am making a commitment to myself to spend time making and doing and living the life I want and not just planning it.

 

Reading 78

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It’s no surprise that I love old things: houses, barns, furniture, sewing machines, and especially kitchen tools! So you can imagine how excited I was to find this Reading 78 apple peeler on Craigslist last week.

I’ve been looking for an apple peeler to replace our apple peeler, corer, slicer for years.  The apple multi tool we had just seemed to do too many things and none of them well.  Often I would end up with the core being pushed through and then the peeler and slicer function would no longer work.  It’s so frustrating to have a tool that is made to save you some steps actually force you to go backwards.

In my search for a better peeler I found that Lehman’s hardware had started reproducing the Reading 78 peeler in Kidron, Ohio.  You can find Lehman’s peeler here they run around $200.  However, they also sell all of the replacement parts so if you happen upon an older 78 at an antique store or on Craigslist, you can always order sharp blades or a new handle!

I went ahead and replaced the auxiliary blade on mine and ordered a replacement for the actual peeling blade. That cost around $10, so now I have a fully functioning peeler for $45.

The kids and I couldn’t wait for the new blades to arrive and we were surprised and happy to find that it worked really well, even on a soft apple!  This Craigslist find happened just in time for us to put up some more applesauce and apple pie filling from the apples we have stored in the basement.  Which is another great activity for days like the past week where temperatures are below zero without the wind chill figured in.

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January

It’s cold here, really cold, and it’s only going to get colder.   People are freaking out.

Our third child is thrilled, she said to me the other night while we brought horses in from the field that the cold makes her feel more western,  “you know like we live in Alaska, mom.”  Yes, this one is definitely a girl after my own heart.

I’m not sure if I’m a hopeless romantic or merely experience mental breaks with reality, but I think she and I might be on to something. When things are difficult, or the chore is more than you care to do imagining yourself as someone else or somewhere else might just help you get through it.  I distinctly remember enjoying chores more as a child when I imagined myself as Laura Ingalls.  Maybe tonight when I am breaking ice out of water buckets and cleaning frozen manure out of stalls I can imagine that I am somewhere else too . . . somewhere sunny and warm.

The cold has also meant that my husband and I have spent some quality time together visiting while we thawed out hoses in the pig barn with a heat gun.  Not only did we actually get to visit with each other, but if we started to get a little chilly standing there we just turned the heat gun on ourselves for a little bit. . . ok, I did that, I was the one holding the heat gun.

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Date night on the farm was quality husband and wife time thawing out pipes in the pig barn.

The kids have braved the cold to ice skate on the frozen manure lagoon, a leftover cement relic from the farm’s previous dairy days.  Don’t worry they are not skating on frozen liquid manure, we cleaned that out a year ago – this is just collected rainwater and it has redeemed itself as the perfect ice rink!

 

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Kitchen.

Our kitchen is the center of our home, where we begin and end our days, where we gather to share meals, chores, stories, play games, visit and where I often find myself writing.

When we took on our farmhouse project the old kitchen had 6 doorways and 2 windows, which probably worked great in 1878 when a kitchen was more utilitarian and pantries, root cellars, spring houses and dining rooms were used.  Because of the size and lack of free wall space we knew that we would have to make some major changes to the kitchen.  When we started planning our renovation our number one goal was to preserve the historic look while making it fit our modern family.  To do that we kept all of the period details that we could, found old sinks, appliances and had furniture custom made to look aged.

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We uncovered the doorway when we pulled the old kitchen cabinets down off the wall, at one time it had had a swinging door and the arched doorway behind it was a later remodel.  I think originally this doorway allowed them to serve in the dining room without using the door that opened directly into the kitchen.  The Victorians were clearly not into the open floor plan concept.  When we pulled up the carpet (yes, carpet in the kitchen, on a dairy farm – yuck), and then the linoleum that was under the carpet, and then the second layer of linoleum, and then finally we were left trying for hours to scrape what looked like roofing tar off the original hardwood floors.  While we were trying to scrape this tar substance off of the floors we found that they had been patched, and had holes everywhere from previous gas and water lines. The patches were all pieces of metal cut from old tin cans and nailed down.   The coolest discovery was the copper lined hole near the window where a pipe could have run directly from the well outside to an inside sink.  Someday I’d love to put an old dry sink back in there with a hand pump hooked up again, you know just in case the modern world as we know it collapses and we need it.

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I’ve been doing a lot of canning lately.   We took a year and a little more off of growing and raising our own food while we were in over our heads with other projects.  At our old farm we used to run an all-natural CSA , grew in high tunnels, raised bees, chickens, beeves, made maple syrup, made soap and sewed a lot. Our family goal there and here is to be as self sustaining as possible.  And let me tell you what, we have a long way to go (cue New Year’s Resolution #1).

Even though we have been slightly off track from our usual make it/ do it/ raise it ourselves mantra, we had put up quite a bit the year before we decided to move and are just now feeling the need to really start restocking.  In the picture above I’m canning ranch beans for a quick and easy meal on nights that seem rushed for dinner. I’m habitually late to get dinner started so having some home-made convenience foods on hand is a huge help!  In addition to the ranch beans I did seasoned hamburger, and I love to can dried beans so that they are ready to go into a soup or stew.

Below is a brief and slightly out of focus video of our canning room.  We still have a decent variety of items to pull from but next year we will need to make growing and putting up food a priority again.

So you want to do a renovation?

In 2016 our family purchased a 187 acre farm that had been in my husband’s family since 1950.  We are currently renovating the house, barns and the land.  Pictures speak louder than words in this case so here are a few from around the time that we took possession:

 

When we started the house had been empty for 8 years, except for the resident raccoons and ground hogs – who were none too happy to hear of their eviction.

We started the first part of April and moved in at the end of August.  As you can see from the pictures the house is in almost original condition, save for some unfortunate paint schemes and kitchen renovation.

Major renovations completed by us to the house included:

  • digging out the basement and crawl spaces and pouring cement floors and half walls
  • plumbing (including new pressure tank, hot water heater, and softener)
  • wiring
  • windows
  • roof
  • 2 new furnaces & air conditioners, all new duct work
  • patching plaster
  • painting
  • stripping and refinishing woodwork and floors
  • adding on a kitchen where the back porch had been
  • jacking up and reinforcing front porch
  • replacing side porch
  • putting the original pantry back in and creating a mudroom and laundry
  • removing a downstairs bathroom and replacing the floor joists that had been rotted out by a leak
  • adding a half bath downstairs and a full bath upstairs

We entered into this with naivety and optimism – looking back at these pictures I wonder what in the world we were thinking.  Kudos to the producers of Fixer Upper and This Old House who make major projects look so easy!  Wait, did I say kudos?  I meant curses!  In all seriousness we are glad we took on this project and happy to say that we have survived it so far.