Sunday, December 23, 2012

Settled in for Winter

Seems like we just got the garden beds completed, and now the days are already getting longer again!  Though we're looking forward to the slower pace of winter, I'm not sure how slow it will actually be.  There are plenty of projects to work on and plan for, and we've already put in our order with FEDCO seeds!  Spring will be here before we know it.

Looking down at the garden from the front yard

To recap the past 4 months since I last had time to post...we built a woodshed and filled it with wood, and carved 8 terraced garden beds out of our hillside.  The garden beds were a big job, but one we attacked with relish.  A big part of our reason for homesteading is to grow our own food, so this was an exciting first step.  After digging up the clay-ey plots by hand with shovel and hoe, we then added sand, organic cow manure (our very generous neighbors down the road gave us SEVEN truckbed loads of the stuff!), and a dozen different soil ammendments.  The resulting mixture is dark and light.  And our first crop is already planted - about 70 heads of garlic given to us by friends.  Looking out at the patch of garlic under its blanket of straw gives me the same feeling I had when I was pregnant with Rose...a mixture of pure joy and quiet wonder, plus a little apprehension about whether everything will come out all right (and whether I'll be up to the task).  Hopefully gardening will go as well as mothering has so far.

Our little house has been performing quite well in the cooler weather.  By late September/early October we were back to having a semblance of refridgeration - as the nights got down into the low 40s and upper 30s, the root cellar cooled right down and we could stop buying ice blocks for the cooler.  It also became cool enough to fire up the woodstove on a regular basis, and we're now using it to cook all our meals (except John's boiled eggs before work in the morning, which are much faster on the propane stove).  I've been baking in the oven several times a week, and slowly learning the art of getting the fire to exactly (or almost) the right temperature...and then keeping it there.  Truly mastering the art will probably be easier once Rose is a little older and not so much of a constant distraction.  Luckily I tend to let the fire get too cold rather than too hot, so things just take longer rather than burning.

I've been experimenting with my own whole wheat natural-yeast (sourdough) starter, with the goal of eventually baking all our bread and not buying any from the store.  Although I've made some satisfactory loaves, I'm still searching for the perfect recipe.  Luckily John doesn't mind a dense "hearty" loaf with his eggs in the morning.  Another fermentation experiment I'm dabbling in is kombucha.  We received a "mother" from a friend and our first batch is currently brewing. 

View of the house from the garden
People often ask how things are going with our switch to off-grid living.  We think it's going pretty well...if anything, things are getting easier as time goes by and we become better adapted.  I will admit, I was beginning to feel a little isolated this summer when days would go by at a time when I had little human contact other than little Rose.  Finally we realized that you can obtain a battery-powered radio for about $12...a life-changing discovery!!  Being able to listen to NPR whenever I want has really helped.  So now we just have to figure out how to make non-electric laundry faster and/or more enjoyable, and how to have longer computer time than our current set of tiny solar panels will allow.  A bicycle-powered washing machine is one project we'd like to attempt this winter.  And the computer access is something that will take some time and money to fix...and right now there are a lot of other priorities vying for both of those.  Besides, only being able to be on the computer for about 10 minutes a day does have its advantages...Rose probably gets a lot more books read to her as a result, and more things get done around the house.  But it doesn't make keeping up with a blog very easy!

Other plans for the winter are:  shelving the pantry and root cellar, building an "ice house" in one end of the root cellar, finishing up trim work downstairs, and maybe getting the rest of the shingles and trim on the outside of the house.  Not to mention planning out the layout of fruit trees and grape vines around the outer rim of the garden, and planning/building a chicken coop.  Like I said, the "slow season" isn't really going to be very slow.

Hope everyone is happy and well and enjoying time with friends and family during the holidays.  Best wishes to you and yours in the New Year!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Settling in

We're finally moved inUpstairs is still a mess of boxes, but we'll get to that when we feel like it.  The downstairs living area is quite settled, so we added some pictures to the left.  We've cooked some delicious meals on the wood stove, and John even baked a loaf of bread in it!  We've seeded the lawn with clover and rye, and now we're working to get the cedar shakes on the exterior.  Can't wait to be able to post pictures of that once it's done - very tired of the black tar paper look.

Admittedly, the act of "flipping the switch" from a normal American lifestyle to off-grid living was a bit daunting.  We didn't know what it would be like or whether we would really be up to the challenge.  Nearly 3 months into it, we're still figuring it out but overall the transition has been fairly smooth.  Some things have been easier than expected.  Our wood stove is easy to start up, heats up quickly, and is a joy to cook on (and even baking is pretty easy).  John's gravity-fed water system works perfectly, with good water pressure at all of the sinks and even in the shower.  Pumping up the head tank in the attic only takes about 20 minutes a day if we keep up with it (or about 50 minutes if we let it run out).  It's a meditative chore that neither of us minds doing (and a good upper body workout!).

Some things are exactly as we expected them to be...  Emptying the humanure buckets is one, and doing laundry by hand is another.  We have a great set-up for the laundry, but it still takes time and you have to do it on a sunny day so the clothes can dry.  I tell myself that I could be spending an hour driving to the gym to do a 20 minute workout and drive back - or I could spend it working on the laundry.  Probably about the same number of calories burned either way.  ;-)  And emptying the humanure buckets...well, there are many philosophical reasons why this is a great thing to do and I try to remind myself of these...but really the best thing about it is that it only takes 5 minutes.  

And some things are not working out quite as well as we had hoped.  The root cellar is now up to 60 degrees, so it's not exactly working like a refrigerator (though that may have been an unrealistic expectation to begin with).  We have been buying blocks of ice and keeping a cooler for things like butter and yogurt.  And we just have to eat things within a day or stocking up on a week's worth of groceries.  The other thing that hasn't worked too well is our small solar panel system.  It barely keeps up with keeping the phones charged and allowing us quick email checks on the laptop.  We have to go somewhere with power in order to do any real research online, or to do something like write this blog entry.

All in all though, we're very happy in our little house and we're learning how to live this new life a little better each day.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to add another update before another 3 months has gone by...stay tuned!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Last pictures before move-in!

We wanted to take some last pictures of the house in its pristine state, before we clutter it up.  (Although seeing it this way has inspired me to get rid of a lot of stuff and try to keep it as simple and spare as possible.)

The downstairs is now completely finished (except for the odd trim pieces here and there).  The upstairs is lacking walls...but the floor is finished so we can move furniture in and sleep up there while we save up to finish the walls.

The next big project will be putting the shakes on the outside...luckily those are already bought and paid for.

At the end of the day on May 1st we will be officially moved in!  Stop by and see us when you have a chance.  The glow of the room by propane lights is a sight to behold.  ;-)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moving date set!

Finally we have an answer to the question everyone's been asking...the movers are showing up to the apartment on April 30th, and delivering our stuff to the new house the next day on May 1st!  4 weeks to go, and the downstairs is nearly finished.  We'll finish the upstairs after we move in.  We were hoping to get it done beforehand, but we can't stand paying rent any longer!

New pictures have been posted...see the April 2012 page at left.  It's really looking nice now that we've started getting some paint on the walls!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Things are heatin' up!

It's feeling an early spring is coming here, and J is working like a mad man to get this house done!  Things are progressing quickly now...see the new photos on "The Interior - March Cont'd" page.  I need to start figuring out paint colors, and quick!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New Photos Posted

Click on the page labeled "The Interior - February/March 2012" to see the latest!

We're starting to zero in on a move-in's looking like the week of April 30th will be moving week!  We can't wait.  Even with the place covered in sawdust and so much left to be done, we love being out there.  Already feels like home.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Slow but Steady...

Progress continues...the walls are all insulated now (looks like the inside of a spaceship upstairs with all of the foil-backed foam!).  The wood stove's doing a great job of keeping the place no time at all the stove gets it warm enough to work in a T-shirt, and the house is holding most of the heat overnight.  Luckily there's plenty of scrap wood to keep the fire going during the day.

The kitchen cabinet bases are done and the granite countertop has been installed.  It's beautiful, but no pictures yet until the cabinets have their doors on.  (Sorry...J is very particular about the exact point at which certain projects can be unveiled...and the kitchen cabinets aren't there quite yet.) Stay tuned.

Current and upcoming projects includes installing the gravity-fed water system, finishing the kitchen walls, finishing the kitchen cabinets, building the composting toilets, building bathroom cabinets, sealing the concrete floor, painting....etc etc etc.  Our tentative move-in month is April. 

There are some new pictures of the interior, and you may notice that I've re-named the photo pages listed here on the left.  The only page with new photos is the "Interior - January 2012" page.  I hope to add more soon!