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Winter on a Vermont Homestead
After my first series, I realized how much I liked its sequential format. It allowed me to not rush through describing our daily homesteading life. We do so much on a monthly basis, it would be easy for me to get lost in the details, rushing through as fast as I can through what I want to say. This is a monthly/seasonal newsletter of what we have been doing, on our 50 acres of beautiful Vermont, without rushing through it, giving you a piece of our homestead at a normal pace. Writing about winter on a Vermont homestead in May might scream ‘procrastination’. I have been waiting patiently to write about our second winter on our homestead, for the snow to melt, waiting for the winter chapter to close. With snow on my car a couple of mornings ago, and a soup on the woodstove still bubbling, I don’t know if it will ever happen. Winter this year has been harder and seemed longer than usual. In January, we discovered we were pregnant. We were on the fence for years, not knowing where we would plant roots. Having finally found our community and our land, and our son thriving on the homestead so much so that we thought it would be a shame not to share this with another child, we were ready to bring another child into our life. After 6 years, I forgot how tiring growing another human being is. Our daily chores, from cutting wood to gathering water for the day, left me completely exhausted. Doing anything else other than the bare necessities was out of the question. And yet, I look back at our winter in my journal and daily pictures, and we still moved forward with our projects. IceAs mentioned in the first series, we don’t have a fridge, but we make do with an ice box. After 2 years, it’s still working well enough that we kept our focus on other priorities.We took advantage of some very cold nights to make some ice for the fridge. Big blocks like these keep through a few warm days. Eventually, we’ll want a way to make a lot more ice and a place to keep it underground, the hope it that it would keep through the summer. We will also add a root cellar sometime in the next 5 years to preserve our harvests. Maple SyrupMy husband did the bulk of the work this year. I was gone for the first part, and taking two naps a day for the second part. Let’s give credit where credit is due, husband has been amazing this winter by taking over my chores. We started tapping the trees in mid-february. Based on a UVM study, we tend to prefer tapping early even with the chance of cold snaps as winter and spring figure out who the new boss is. Essentially from what I gather, you can’t tap too early but you can tap too late. I also really like the taste of early flow and the season is spread out in more manageable chunks of labor. This sled is proving to be invaluable I was traveling but the neighbors are here to help Cleaning the tanks and buckets takes a long while, it’s amazing we did it last year without a well for water. More mistakes made this year, due to scheduling and weather constraints we let ~100 gallons of sap freeze in the tanks. Because my husband filled them too much, a thaw actually pushed a lot of concentrated sap out the top… lessons learned… The stuff dripping out the top of the tank tastes quite sweet, and it’s fertilizing the lawn. Fortunately we are also avoided a lot of mistakes we learned about last year. Boiling is much smoother a process now. Helping? Totally safe, no problem The smell… Finishing on the stove Not captured in these pictures, my husband carrying 8 gallons of boiling liquid back home at night, on snow and ice, with a thrown back. Having a shed and proper snow handling equipment will make an amazing difference in the years to come. This year’s production of honey and maple syrup. European TripIn February, my son and I visited family in Belgium and Hungary. I learned to butcher and preserve a whole pig, which was an amazing experience. It is, unfortunately, not a skill I will be applying on our homestead this year as planned, as the baby will be born in early October, when the butchering would need to occur. We will be adding pigs to our homestead in Spring 2018. House projectsWhile we were gone in Europe, my husband took advantage of an empty house to finish a wall and add flooring. Working on any projects in the house while living in it is hard. In our tiny space, we have no room to move any furniture or things around and still be able to function normally, unless you spend the majority of your time outside. With a few feet of snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, this is not an option in the winter. Finishing a wall and adding flooring was an epic step to take in our tiny house, and my husband surprised us months ahead of schedule when we returned. On a sunny day in April, we also added a patio door, a step necessary to finish the shingling on the wall outside. Our house is finally starting to look like a real house. One of our favorite time when building a house is discovering a view. This one is not only the biggest, it is also the one turned towards our land. It was something to discover it. We now get to admire nature, the result of our hard work, and our kid playing, all in one view. Getting ready for the additionPlans have been in the makings now for months: we will be adding to the house this spring, in early June. We have the final draft plans for the house, and it will be a similar structure to what we have now, doubling the size of our home. Having a clearer idea of what our living quarters will be has brought a lot of frustration with our current living arrangements. My husband often complains that we can’t grab anything without 10 things falling to the ground. We all seem to gather to the same spot at the same time, and need to dance around each other to not get stuck. Having the plans firmed up in our heads makes it difficult to be satisfied with our current situation. In a little bit over 3 months, we will have so much space… until the baby is born. Winter sports One of the many advantages of being a kid in a rural area, with no traffic: Learning to mendI haven’t bought new clothes in months. I make so much compromises to live in accordance with my principles that buying clothes is a difficult endeavor. We have access to so much information, and yet, finding information about the factories and work conditions in which a specific product is made is almost impossible. Instead of buying new, I buy my clothes and my son’s at thrift shops, or email my friends and ask for their excess, items they haven’t touched in years.My friend Sarie gave me some really cool wool sweaters (handmade in the U.S!?, how old is this sweater?) this winter. One of them had some moth damage, but it is such a cool simple sweater, I knew it deserved a second life.I picked up my needles, and after a few hours of going back and forth with some wool yarn, it was in perfect shape again. I gave it another life. You can read all my stories at dailyuv.com/VeryVermont. If you want to see more pictures of our adventures, you can follow me on Instagram. To not miss another story, you can sign up for email updates HERE (Disclaimer: I also write about news from my town in Vermont, not just living off-grid). If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to email me at eloquine@gmail.com.
12 days ago
Very Vermont
Living Without Space
When I tell people we live off-grid, the questions they ask usually start with 'how do you live without (...)'. The first one being 'How do you live without a fridge?', which I answered here. 'How we live without lights' can be found here. 'How we live without running water' is here. This is part of an ongoing series of Living Without. Winter has officially started on our homestead. On Saturday, we were finishing shingling a wall and doing chores in tee-shirts, and by the end of the following day, we had 6 inches of snow on the ground. This abrupt change of seasons created complete chaos in the house. The day was spent going through all of the house’s nooks and crannies where I might have stashed snowshoes, snow pants or coats, and filling them instead with summer items. Add to that boots, coats, and socks soaked after snowball fights drying next to the fire, and the house felt VERY small all of the sudden. It has been a day now, and we have found a new routine in the new season that arrived abruptly. Each item is finding its place little by little, and we are learning how to move with these new items around us. This happens every season, but the first time, I was taken aback. We all needed to readjust how we moved through our environment and ‘danced’ around each other, and a few plates and glasses were broken in the process. We have a running joke, every time we take one thing from a shelf, two things fall to the ground as a result. We're getting better at, at least, embracing the chaos and knowing that it is just a transition period. How it started We started sketching plans for our house about a year before moving in. The only structure we had built thus far was a chicken coop. A house was not our first choice. When we first started playing with the idea of building our own home, we were strongly considering a yurt. The fact that they seemed fairly cheap, could easily be assembled in a day and didn’t require a lot of people to build it were all attractive factors. It took us three years to find our land, and by the time we did, the yurt idea had faded away. We met many people who had built their own house with their own hands, people who sat down with us for hours and listened to our plans. Peter, our wonderful neighbor and friend, spent a considerable amount of time reviewing our plans and pointing us in the right direction. Ben, my husband, would sketch up (on SketchUp, a free 3D modeling software) his latest idea, and walk up to Peter's house to discuss the next steps. So why a small house? A core driving force of our adventure which we often forget to mention is that we have been working on reducing our carbon footprint to a minimum for years. As such, we have always been interested in alternative housing. Secondly, we still had a house with a mortgage from a previous life. We bought it weeks before the market crashed in 2007, and we lost a lot in the ordeal, not just in value but also in trust of the traditional homeownership dream. Hence a conventional mortgage was out of the question on principle, but also... we simply couldn't afford to buy a conventional house. So we saved and worked extra hours for a few years. We bought our land and we were left with enough money to build something for under $10,000. We didn't really have a choice in what we could build for that price tag, which made the decision easier. We would have a small house for a few years, what people here call a shoebox, and we would add rooms to it in the future. A yurt ended up being more expensive per square foot and less modular. A Small Space... Having lived in 450 square feet for a year and a half, we’ve learned a few lessons about the lifestyle. The whole house can be cleaned thoroughly in 3 hours and a good touch up takes only a few minutes. On the other hand, it can get messy just as fast, especially without a mud room. Vertical space is of the utmost importance; a few nails up a wall will go a long way, shelving up to the ceiling even further.
Multi-purposing work surfaces means needing more transition time between activities. Putting things back where they belong is enforced naturally because not doing so dominos into chaos throughout the house. Forced frugality: we are not able to accumulate crap. We have to be thoughtful about what we bring in: it needs to serve a purpose and it needs to have a place. There cannot be anything gathering dust for months and that’s a very good thing. In fact, this enforced state of not being able to keep things we don’t need is drastically altering the way we see objects. The bar to be considered a “worthy” object is significantly higher than it once was. This ties into other considerations about consumerism and ecology, but right now, our small house dictates that “thou shalt not hoard crap”. We appreciate this new commandment because it’s often easier to acquire and keep than to remove. Accepting gifts and acquiring stuff are easy instinctive decisions; refusing gifts and extirpating stuff from your basement to be disposed of both take effort. We sometimes feel vulnerable to outside elements: there is no place in the house right now that doesn’t have all four walls facing the elements. There is no core with multiple layers of walls where you don’t feel the pressure of the wind, rain, snow, storms. If we want to be alone, we go outside, which has forced us to spend more time in nature. ... with a kid Tiny houses have been very popular, with TV shows and books dedicated to the phenomenon. In 2010, the average U.S. house size was 2,392 sq. ft, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The tiny and small house movement, which promotes the idea of living in around 400 sq ft, goes against the mainstream idea of homeownership. The reasons are many and personal but often revolves around a lack of trust in the housing market, the economic downturn hindering hopes of homeownership, and a reaction to consumerism. There exist no comprehensive registry of tiny or small houses across the country. People living in tiny houses are often portrayed as young millennial couples, living on the road. Our situation is a bit unusual, in the sense that we went into this adventure with a child. People usually grow their house along with their kids, our path was to downgrade from a 2500 sq ft home to a 450 sq ft off-grid cabin. Every parent will understand our predicament. Pre-tiny house, we were surrounded by an amount of stuff that we deemed at one point essential: piles of toys, piles of clothes, baby-clothes-for-what-if-we-have-another-baby, more toys, special furniture, etc. We got rid of almost all our clothes, keeping things to a bare minimum. We got rid of all toys that were not played with routinely: toys our son wouldn’t notice were gone. We got rid of all special furniture (a changing table? You mean a piece of cloth on the ground). The playroom was reduced to a very small area, and we keep a basket of toys in our living room. One of the great benefits of this lifestyle is that our son is spending countless hours outside, with minimum supervision or structured play. Sometimes it’s to play, sometimes it’s to help us with chores. We value quality toys over quantity. We don’t have a TV, but he watches shows and movies on a laptop sometimes. Because we don’t have a tv room, he doesn’t often ask to watch it: out of sight, out of mind. It is hard to find a place to play on the ground that isn’t a path, which leads to being forced to always put a toy back after playing with it (same for us). We use local and school libraries extensively, not only for books but also for board games and puzzles. We have a recurring round of things to ‘bring back’ to the thrift shop. We never make the decision for him of what goes out of the house. If he is attached to an item, he gets to keep it. We never sneak a toy out of the house without his permission. What’s next? After living in the amount of space we have for over a year, it is obvious we need more space. We are starting to make plans again, and we are looking into doubling our living space, for a total of around 900 sq ft. There are many aspects of this lifestyle that we like, and many lessons that we have learned and will carry into our living arrangements. We are looking forward to having a place to sit down or play that is not a path, a separate bedroom for our kid (bunk beds work until a certain age, we are reaching the limit), and a bathroom (read 'living without running water' to see our 'moving' bathroom) . In growing the house, we believe we are staying true to our values. First, 100 % of the energy we use to heat the house comes from our land, adding another 450 sq ft will not have a significant impact on our carbon footprint. We will have more room to store food that we grow, for example, reducing our impact on the environment from our fuel dependency (from growing food to transporting food to the store), which has a greater impact on our carbon footprint than heating the entire house would be. Second, we are still building without taking a mortgage. Our home is a work-in-progress, changing and improving little by little. We build at a pace we can afford now, avoiding to borrow from our future. Lastly, we have transitioned into this life slowly, allowing the lifestyle to change our habits. It has forced us to be more deliberate in what we allow into our life. Adding a bit more space will not change this. You can read all my stories at dailyUV.com/VeryVermont. If you want to see more pictures of our adventures, you can follow me on Instagram. And you can sign up for email updates HERE (disclaimer: I also write about news from my town in Vermont, not just living off-grid). If you have questions or suggestions for another article, feel free to email me at eloquine@gmail.com  #featuredonthegram #pdv #pdn
6 months ago
Very Vermont
Living Without Running Water
When I tell people we live off-grid, the questions they ask usually start with 'how do you live without (...)'. The first one being 'How do you live without a fridge?', which I answered here. How we lived without lights can be found here.  Asking about what off-grid living is yields as many answers as there are people living it. In theory, the definition of off-grid living simply means that a house is not connected to the electrical grid. That’s it. It doesn’t mean people are automatically living without electricity, it just means that they are finding other ways to provide electricity (some choose not to have it entirely). When we started our journey, we decided to have certain amenities and made the conscious decision to forgo others (we had internet right away, but no fridge for example) because we wanted to do everything ourselves, and we had a limited budget. We knew we needed shelter, so we started with building the house. We also knew we desperately needed water, but knew that we could survive a few weeks on a small stream we have on our land, and friends’ water. The well and septic design took longer than anticipated. Instead of only a few weeks without running water, we had to last 8 months. We couldn't have done it without friends and neighbors, who allowed us access to their water supply, sometimes even opening their showers to us. Every now and then, I still use their generosity and take advantage of a friends' hot shower, that doesn't require any planning or hauling to be enjoyed.  I originally started writing about every detail of our water arrangements, and because water touches so many aspects of our lives, it turned into a novel instead of a short blog post. So on the topic of water, I decided to change the format a bit and add more pictures than usual. Drinking Water & Everyday Use
Washing Laundry The main lesson I have learned is how much water is important in our lives. When we had company this summer that stayed with us and explaining how we do things around the house, I realized how much I think about water throughout the day. To do any tasks in our house requires planning ahead, and it is true for water too. We have learned to combine tasks that are very messy, to save on hauling water for baths. We approach our days with more planning and routine because preparing the showers or even the water for the dishes requires planning ahead. It has changed the flow of our days, and it has changed the way we approach tasks. It is time-consuming but it is not hard work.  At this point, we have many ideas about moving water closer to the house and harvesting rainwater for the garden. But for the next few years, we have a system that works for our actual needs.  We use about 20 gallons a day for 3 people, including our flock of chickens. An average household of 3 uses 300 gallons of water a day I also write about other subjects and have been writing about the NewVistas project unfolding in my town. You can read all my stories at dailyUV.com/VeryVermont. And you can sign up for email updates HERE. #featuredonthegram
8 months ago
Very Vermont
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