Just a little update…

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We do have heat now!   Propane was delivered because the wonderful fellow from Community Action tested all the connections and went around with his CO2 detector and found no leaks or any issues, so the gas folks filled us up and now we have lovely warmth through the old house.   What a difference that makes!   We had a big old wood burner last year, if you recall, but we did a season with it and voted it off the island.   None of us were too thrilled with it’s effort, performance and overall experience.  The girls absolutely hated it.  We had so many issues with it, from fans that wouldn’t run to keeping the dang thing loaded well with wood and having to set schedules through the night to keep it loaded.   It really didn’t heat the whole house, since our 115 year old farmhouse is big and rambling, stretched out funny.  And the last nail in the coffin was the amount of soot that it deposited all over our house.  On everything.  Walls, curtains, knick knacks, pictures, floors…  and US!   We were breathing in all that nasty stuff.   I think Big Red was really much more suited for an outdoor application and needed some help and we just couldn’t give it to him properly.   Our goal is to get a nice small supplemental wood stove in his place.  Something that we can use to warm the office and living room during the day and evening…  but that the furnace can keep the place tolerable through the night.

Sometimes, I worry that admitting a failure in something like wood heating 101, diminishes our homesteading experience.  Like living this way has to be all or nothing to be legitimate.   Well, I have come to the conclusion that no…  you can pick and choose what suits you.   This is not 1869 out west…  this is 2014.  And ultimately, you need to do the things that suit you and avoid the things that don’t suit you.   If you’re not into canning, but love freezing and stockpiling good dry goods, then go for it.  If you don’t take to the idea of a milk animal but would love some little fiber goats?  Do it.   I think in our society we do think a lot in absolutes.  One or the other, no comfortable middle ground.  You can wear yourself out fast and begin to hate this lifestyle in a hurry if you try to be all things homesteading.

That being said, there are things we want to try and see how they suit us.  Like beekeeping and building small buildings, a bigger garden, more permaculture, making the barns super comfortable for the animals and for us to care for them…  And they might not all take.  But, that’s okay, it’s trying and learning and adapting that takes us one step forward to more sustainable living.   It’s a great thing!

I do not like the idea of not having some sort of non-electrical way to heat.  Thankfully, we don’t loose power often, but it does happen.  One year, several years back, we had a miserable late winter ice storm and most of the area, including the big cities, lost power for almost a week!  With 20 degree chills, many people had to abandon their homes and move into nearby hotels and with family.   That is why I want a smaller, manageable wood store.   Something that we can also cook on and heat water with.  Combined with a pair of decent kerosene heaters and a little stash of fuel, I think we could rough it even through a week without power.  We have several oil lanterns and lots of blankets.  I’m sure it would mean bringing mattresses down near the stove and camping out, as well as hanging some blankets in doorways to keep the heat in a smaller area, but we would be able to make it through, stay on the homestead and care for our animals.  And we love the ambiance of a little wood stove and burning up all our fallen branches and little logs.   Maybe getting a load of wood for the winter and using that to help heat the house.  It’s a good compromise.

We are so excited, humbled and blessed that our local county’s Community Action group has accepted our application for some weatherization help for our old house.  We have tried to do as much as we could, but they have some amazing information and techniques to really help the old girl out.  Their inspector was out on Tuesday for many hours and he put the place through it’s paces, even doing air tests, lead tests, insulation and infrared studies!   It was so interesting to follow him around and he didn’t mind at all.  Most of our need is in the basement, and being an old Michigan basement, there are many cracks and holes and such that they will be sealing up and foaming in.  That should really help with our plumbing issues in the extreme cold.  They don’t replace windows or doors, but they will be able to tell us which ones are suspect and hopefully, we can started to replace them.  They were so helpful with the propane and getting the leak test passed, that was such a wonderful thing.

It’s hard for us to accept help like this, feels a little wrong.  Feels a little like we are not taking care of things on our own and that is somehow shameful.   I see folks post rather mean spirited things on social media about welfare and those that take help, are scam artists or lazy or somehow trying to bilk the system.  I don’t feel that way now.   Having had to ask for help for the first time in my whole life, I can assure you, we are not lazy, nor do we feel entitled.  We just needed a wee bit of help and finally reached a point that we were qualified.  I would like to look at it as a chance to get a foot up, and get back on track.

Surely, we took on a huge project with our homestead.  We took an abandoned, foreclosured property that was an eye sore and likely to be bulldozed down for a few more acres of corn or beans and we made it a home.   Not just for ourselves, but for our animals and wildlife.  It has value again and so many people, our neighbors, have told us how they love to see all we are doing.   We share this information online with thousands of people, to help them to realize that you can do it too…   you can take on something this big and do the best you can and make it a home!  But also, we share that is can be rough, especially after a very very mean winter before.   That really was the thing that set up our need for assistance.  The costs for making it through the worse winter in 150 years really sapped our resources.  It is my hope that this one time grant will help us to better utilize our resources, and get on track.   We can focus on repairing and upgrading the things they tell us will benefit us most, instead of being on a wild goose chase.   And it keeps several teams of amazing workmen busy and takes care of their families with good jobs that feel good, too.   Helping people is one of the best things in the world.   I know we love to do it and whenever we can, we help out.  I can’t wait to help out even more this coming year to help and repay the karma of this weatherization help.  If we can get through the winter more intact, we can use that to help in the spring when we have a project list as long as our arm.  One of my goals is to have a free veggie cart out front for people to stop and pick up fresh veggies from our garden…   and one of those cool little free libraries…   and I want to start having workshops to help teach people how to keep chickens and learn to weave and can and whatever else we can share.  Because that just feels so good.

It’s getting late and I better get busy.  Got some client work to tidy up and a bunch more paperwork from all the medical stuff.  (my goodness, insurances and hospitals sure do generate a lot of mail and paperwork and all!!!)  Hoping to get to a little weaving on Maggie’s new loom she made me.   I want to put it through it’s paces so she can see if there are any modifications to be made before she starts to make them for sale!   It’s so neat to see both my girls embrace work and projects with gusto and passion.   It’s a wonderful thing!  And I want to help them whenever I can!

 

 

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My Goat Gets a Coat!

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When you are the only short haired milk goat in a herd of long fibered fleece animals, you are the odd gal out.   Especially, when unseasonable COLD weather hits and you haven’t finished growing in your fuzzy winter coat!   When I milked Buttercup, my sweet little LaMancha milk goat, she stood there munching her feed and shivering so badly!   I knew she was cold.  She needed a little help from some old flannel sheets and a bit of sewing magic.

I measured her and got to designing.  I knew I wanted to make it like a horse sheet or blanket… simple, so she wouldn’t get tangled in it, and yet something that would help contain a bit of her body heat.  I was going back and forth with a few fittings and such and thought, the heck with this and just brought her in.   She’s very well behaved inside.  Heck, she lived inside as a baby for a week!

I love how she was watching me sew and watching the kitty as well.   She has a sort of love hate relationship with kitties.  Lilly had NO IDEA what the heck kind of dog that Miss Buttercup was!!!   It was pretty funny to watch.  DSC_0248

Well, in no time flat, I had a good fitting, nice warm flannel coat for my little diva.   And she loves it.  She walked around a bit and then was like, “Okay, lets go show off!”  and she headed for the back door.

I grabbed my camera from Jess and this funny little Santa Hat we found while organizing…   I wasn’t sure if Buttercup would mind it and to be honest, she didn’t at all!  In fact, she wore it far longer than anything else on the farm.

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She wanted to stop and check out the milking stand, just to make sure she hadn’t left any goodies from the mid day milking.   Nope.  All clean.   Darn.

So then she hopped down and we started back to the barn.  She had to stop and nibble a few stray leaves, you know.   Leaves are yummy to a goat.   I guess she’s going to be joining the Scottish Blackwatch clan!  I believe that is their tartan!  I just thought it looked nice and warm from my fabric stash.  DSC_0254 DSC_0255

Haha…  what a little photo ham.   She loves to pose for the camera.   Christmas card, anyone?

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But pretty quick, the cold was getting colder and she wanted back in the lovely warm sheep barn with the hay!   Bonnie and Rafeka were standing in the paddock and the moment they saw her all dressed up and looking weird, they started to follow her, wondering just what the heck at happened to their Queen.

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Once inside, all the ewes were curious and perhaps a bit jealous!   They crowded around to inspect and sniff.  Buttercup could care less, she was there for the hay and the warmth!  DSC_0264 DSC_0265

She’s such a little fashion diva.  She can pull off any look with class and ease.  I love this picture of her surrounded with her chubby little fiber friends.   They are all at least 4 inches thick in fleece, or more!   Very warm down in near their skin!   Just poor Buttercup with her short little do!  DSC_0268

Rana shows how NOT to wear the Santa hat.  I tried it on several others and they were not impressed.  And needless to say, I did not get any more cute shots.  Until I tried my buddy Angus!

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He didn’t mind at all, but he did mind posing.  He was busy eating hay and so I had to drag his face out of the manger for a quick photo!  Silly boy…

Well, I left the fleece group, content that Buttercup was doing fine in her new coat.  I purposely made the seam in the front of her coat, big and not locked in so if she were to get caught in anything, a bit of struggle would just rip open the coat.  It’s hard to explain, but if you look at the above pictures, you can see that the part under her chin, on her chest, is only about an inch or so of stitching to hold the two flaps together and it’s a real big long stitch, easy to rip in an emergency.   Whenever you coat an animal, or heck, put a collar on them, there is always a chance they will get hung up on something.   She is really good about it, has a collar on and such and never gets caught, but I sure don’t want to take a chance.

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I really wanted to sneak up on Ebony and Cheyenne and catch them snuggled and snoring in their big hay nest.   Of course, they heard me coming and met me at the door, being all excited that maybe they were getting an afternoon, unscheduled snack!   Sorry, ladies.  Just me and my camera.

It was so nice and warm in there, no wonder they rarely leave!   Naps, food and rooster pets!

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Copper has joined half sibling Raven  and has moved in with the hogs.   Pretty smart roosters if you ask me.  It’s very nice and the hogs are gentle and very sloppy.   You get two square meals a day, warmth, shelter and companionship!   Pretty crazy…

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I was so surprised that with all my talking and walking around, that Shadow pony, Mrs. Nosey Bottom, hadn’t come out to the paddock to investigate.   He is ALWAYS on alert and curious to anything going on.   Cody?   Yeah, he’s not that concerned, if it’s cold and he had hay in the barn, he’s not going to come out.   But finally, Shadow could not stand it and poked his head out of the barn through the little slit opening.  He saw that I had nothing but my camera and snorted and turned back into the warmth.   It’s sure cold when even the ponies are not out!!!

I love that they finally learned to not worry about the plastic hanging over their little doorway.   The first day or two, they were a little leary of it…   approaching it slowly and then dashing through like it might eat them if they lingered too long.   Now?  They could care less.  It just sure does help to keep that barn a lot warmer with just a slit open instead of the whole space between the two doors.  I suppose we could shut them up at night and open it up again, but they really don’t like that.  We only shutter them up like that if a really bad ice storm or super duper cold spell is near.   That barn is EASILY 30 to 35 degrees almost all the time.  They are perfectly happy with being able to come and go.  Some day, we’d like to hang white insulating panels on the inside, to lighten the space and also to just really make it nice and snug!  Someday!

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I love chicken feet in the snow.   They look like little dinosaur feet.  Like raptors all over the yard.   Most of our chickens are locked up, nearly all the hens and roosters.  But we have four roosters and one hen, our Ninja girl…  they refuse to be locked up.   Raven and Copper live with the hogs and Dammartin and Bucka Too live with the sheep.  Ninja usually stays with the boys in the sheep barn. They get feed from their hosts and Maggie brings them a little chicken feed in the morning just to make sure they keep their body weight up and stay warm.  Seems to work fine, they are pretty smart at staying alive.  The chickens in the coop like to come and go outside as well.   I think as long as they have a warm space to sleep at night and somewhere to get out of the wind and snow, chickens are really pretty well adapted to cold weather.  Especially a lot of the heritage breeds.  We rarely loose birds in the winter.  Even last winter with it’s extreme, record setting harshness, we only lost three birds.   And they were all elderly, our very first birds.

That’s all the news that is fit to print from around our little homestead in the winter!  Hope you all are staying warm!!!  We are sure trying!

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Just news around the place…

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Getting heat around here has been an ongoing problem now for 4 winters.   First winter, we thought our furnace was good, but it wasn’t and we ended up heating with mostly space heaters and kerosene and that was dreadfully expensive.   Second year, we got a new furnace installed, but it was not quite right and we ended up heating with space heaters and kerosene.   Third year we tried heating with the giant Big Red the wood stove and that was dreadful, hard and just unpleasant to try and keep our big rambling house warm.  Now, this year, we got propane and hoped to be able to try and swap out the furnace for a larger BTU one, but when they came out, we failed the leak test and so, no propane for you!  And when trying to trouble shoot the whole shebang, we found that the sump pump had finally failed (we knew it was going south) and there were 6 inches of water in our old crummy Michigan basement.

Well, like everything of late, one thing leads to another and then another…  first up, we had to get the sump going and drain out the water.   And that is where Jessy came in!   I swear this child is the reincarnation of a old plumber… she has the knack!  She went down in her waders, had that pump pulled and tested and deamed dead in no time.   So proud of her!  And then she began to check online and around town and she found the best deal at Harbor Freight!   $129, on sale for $69, with a 20% off coupon, brought that bad boy down to only $55.   And she went and installed it herself!!!  How wonderful!

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That crisis adverted, we then began to try and check for this illusive leak.   The fellow said it was a small one…  and it was not outside, but somewhere inside, he suspected.  We tried everything, no soapy bubbles on any connections and no gas.   Now we have the Community Action folks out and their inspector has been trying to figure it out.  Just one of those days!   Still working on it…  hopefully we can get something resolved soon, we are heating the big old place with space heaters, blankets in the doorways, and wearing many layers of clothing!  Pioneer days here at the homestead.  It has to be resolved at some point, somehow…  If not I think we’re just going to put a huge plastic bag over the house and start a big bonfire in the basement!!!   Okay, maybe not.

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While we patiently wait…  we decided to move around a cupboard of canned goods and clean out this slim wall cabinet in our little pet nook area.  What a great decision!   We don’t have a ton, but when we had them all in the cupboard in the kitchen, they fit, barely, but it was just impossible to see what we had and to know what we needed, that sort of thing.  It was dark and low and just not quite right.  This other cabinet, it’s a bit out of the area of the main kitchen, but still, not too far away.  But now it’s like going to the Windhaven grocery store!  So much nicer.   We were able to separate everything, and its going to be wonderful to see what we are low on and when sales pop up, we can fill that spot up!  Just so much nicer.   Kind of distracted us from our heating woes.

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Hardly a priority but just one of those day dreams…  we’ve been hoping to paint a couple rooms, just try and update a bit more in the old house.  Winter is the time that we have to do inside projects and since most of our outside things are complete for the season, it’s time to start daydreaming a bit and thinking about what we might be able to accomplish.  I really would like to paint my bedroom, little as it is, and tone down the easter egg free paint color of purple in there!   I’m thinking a sort of light lavender, perhaps those middle tones in the two swatches.   Of course, when I brought my first round draft picks home, we didn’t like any in the house with it’s light and all!  haha…   I thought the middle brownish gray would look good in the dining room where we currently have this huge monotone of wood color going on, but we didn’t like it, either.  And last looser was the green, which we thought might be a nice color in the living room, since it’s already a nice light green, but the paint swatch was just toooooooo green!  Oh well, back to the drawing board.   We’ll enjoy the process and eventually get a gallon or two!DSC_0240

 

Well, Maggie has been busy in her workshop…  she has made her second prototype inkle loom and I gotta say, it’s a good one!  Just lovely in design and so nice to work with.   I’ve done two bands on it and had a lovely time doing so.  It’s smaller than the first, as we found the first one was just a tad big.   It makes a wonderful 11 foot band if you want, but if you lay it on your lap and leg as you weave, your leg goes to sleep!  Hahaha…  This is between the big one and the little mini one we bought.   It’s medium sized and just perfect!   Makes a lovely 7 foot band!  It reminds me of the runner of a sleigh! Just a nice loom.   Once she perfects her design, I believe she will be offering them in our Etsy shop!  She’s already had one request for one!  Nice looms!

Overall, we are just transitioning into cold weather projects here on the homestead.  The animals are all comfy cozy and in their barns, doing their best to stay warm.   We’ve been giving them extra rations through this cold snap…  I can hardly believe that last night the wind chill was -9 and the temperatures in the single digit.   That is really unseasonably cold for us here in northern Ohio.  We normally only experience that sort of cold in late winter, around January and February.  I sure hope this is not a bad sign that we will be having another record setting miserable winter!   It might just make a person think about moving south!

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