If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here.
October will always have special meaning for our family because it’s the anniversary of us seeing our homestead for the very first time. Last year, Mr. Frugalwoods and I trekked up here from Cambridge, while nine (yes, NINE) months pregnant with Babywoods because we’d seen this amazing property online and HAD to come see it in person.
We fell in love with the land and the rest is all shared right here. It was an emotional experience for us as last fall represented the fruition of two of our longest held, and most deeply desired, wishes: a child and a homestead. It’s surreal to me that this was just one short year ago. In many ways, this year feels far, far longer.
The Swift Progression Of Fall
October brought a swift change in seasons. The trees underwent their most magnificent transformation from green to reds, oranges, and yellows. I’m an unabashed fall devotee and was enchanted with the gradations of color in our woods. Pretty sure I maxed out my camera with all of my leaf-stalker photos. If you hate fall leaves, my Instagram is not for you.
The advent of fall also reinforced for me why we moved here. Experiencing the seasons in such an overwhelmingly fresh way–and not in miniature–makes me realize how much I appreciate this connection to nature. The luxury of walking out our front door and up a wooded path where I can monitor the color changes is incredible to a former urbanite like me. It’s also shocking how quickly the trees move through the machinations of fall. After just a few weeks, the leaves completed their cycle and dropped.
Except for the beech leaves! They’re still hanging on strong. And a few other tardy examples. But for the most part, October bore witness to the full leaf metamorphosis and we’re now staring down stark trees readying themselves for winter. Each new season erases the memories of what came before. It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, our yard was awash in flowers. Now, everything is dormant and bracing for the depths of winter.
October also brought us an unexpected, and rather early, snowfall. It was only a few inches and it melted quickly, but it certainly served as a harbinger of what’s to come. We just didn’t think it would come so quickly… two days later, 6 inches of heavy, wet snow fell, which had the benefit of being gorgeous.
Snow isn’t completely unexpected in October, but this magnitude it a tad abnormal (according to our local sources and the internet). Our property is positioned at the top of a hill–it’s a gradual incline, so you might not even realize it, but we’re at a good 1,800 feet of elevation up here.
Our little town, and most of our neighbors, are down at around 1,200 feet. This doesn’t sound like a substantial difference–and we didn’t think much of it–until this snowfall. Turns out, we were the recipients of a great deal more snow than most of our neighbors. Just the luck of our location. Secretly (or I guess not so secretly now), Mr. Frugalwoods and I love this! We’re what you might call snow/winter fanatics, which you might recall from our revelry at the serial blizzards in Boston a few years ago.
Early Snow = Unprepared Frugalwoods
Despite our warm feelings towards the snow, it caught us unprepared. Which led us to another learning experience: there is no model that accurately predicts the weather here in our microclimate. Not a single one. Mr. FW–a meteorology geek and former storm chaser on the prairies of Kansas–installed a weather station here on our property, but it’s not predictive, it only reports current conditions.
He reads the weather satellites and does his level best to cobble together weather predictions for us, but it’s not a perfect science. I like to think of it as another way that rural life is teaching us that we’re not in control. In the city, we could manage nature and bend it to our will a lot more easily, what with all of our concrete and snow melt and professional meteorologists. But out here? We are nature’s guests. And there’s something liberating and peaceful in that knowledge.
Plus, in classic city-person fashion, we hadn’t put snow tires on either of our cars prior to this freak snowstorm and so, we couldn’t drive out of our quarter-mile long (not to mention hilly!) driveway. Nope. Since snow tires reduce gas mileage and wear out more quickly in warmer temperatures, we wanted to wait as long as possible to put them on for the season. We clearly waited too long.
Babywoods and I were supposed to go over to a friend’s house for a playdate that morning and we’d also planned on going to the town potluck supper that night (I’d even baked pies!), but it wasn’t going to happen. Mr. FW, inveterate DIY problem-solver, got out there in the snow and tried to change the tires on our Subaru himself.
Now would be a good time to share that we don’t have a garage, or a poured concrete pad, or a covered parking spot. Hence, he was getting snowed on heavily and the car is parked on uneven dirt road. Despite his best grunt work, the lug nuts on one of the tires wouldn’t come off. He didn’t have a breaker bar or a pipe to lever the lug nut and although he tried using the sledgehammer, nothing doing.
He then drove the tractor up and down the driveway a few times in an attempt to carve out channels with the tractor tires, which… did not work. Next, he attached the snowblower to the tractor and attempted to snowblow the driveway thinking we could drive out with regular tires on a cleared driveway. This too, was thwarted. The snow was of the incredibly heavy, wet variety and it clogged the blower post haste. Of course this was after the hourlong process of attaching and adjusting the snowblower in the freezing snow/sleet situation.
Following snowblower failure, he surrendered and we decided to call it a snow day. The next day, Mr. FW took the car to the mechanic down the road and was vindicated by the fact that the impact gun at the mechanic’s couldn’t loosen two of the lug nuts without letting them soak in penetrating oil first. Although it pained us to pay $25 to have the tires switched over, the Subaru is now fully outfitted for winter travails.
We’ll Be Ready Next Time (maybe… )
In order to avoid outsourcing this twice yearly (fall and spring) tire switcharoo on both cars, we bought several tools to enable us to perform this feat ourselves: a breaker bar (a super long wrench to give you leverage on the lug nuts) and a torque wrench (which allows you to tighten lug nuts to their exact tightness specification).
Although this micro storm only kept us homebound for a single day, it made me grateful that we keep a stockpile of bulk foods in our pantry and freezer. It also made me grateful that we heat with wood and thus wouldn’t freeze in a power outage–we could even cook on top of our woodstove. The main issue with a power outage is that our well pump wouldn’t work, but I reckon we could melt snow. Also, I’m now going to store some drinking water in the basement.
This precocious snow made us realize we’d probably better winterize the house too. We cleared all the patio furniture off the porch and spirited it away to the barn. And, Mr. FW changed out our window and door screens for glass storm covers, which we found helpfully stowed in the barn. No longer are we enjoying cool breezes through our open doors and windows. Instead, we are cozied up next to…
I can’t tell you how excited we are to have the woodstove cranking. Ok, actually I can: we’re SUPER excited!!! Heating with wood was a central homesteading goal for us and I’m delighted we’re making it happen. For those of you following Mr. FW’s summertime wood harvesting adventures (which will continue on into the winter), we’re now reaping those rewards. Well, not quite because we’re currently burning our wood leftover from last winter–of which there’s a fair amount–when we were at the homestead only on weekends.
This month’s wood-related lesson (I know you just love how I keep doing these!) is about… woodstoves! Our woodstove, which came with the house (woot!), was locally made at a factory just 40 minutes from our house. And, wouldn’t you know it, the factory hosted an open house (with free food) this month. You can guess who went… yep, it was us. Babywoods got to eat her first BBQ and we got to tour their factory. It’s amazing to see such beautiful pieces of craftsmanship made right here in the USA! We’re delighted to own this stove and delighted to support a hyper-local business.
We are fortunate that our stove is a modern, super efficient catalytic soapstone woodstove. For woodstove aficionados (of which I’ve learned there are plenty), we have the Woodstock company’s Fireview model. As a catalytic stove, it burns not only the wood we put inside, but–get this–also the smoke! When the stove is burning at its most efficient, no smoke goes out the chimney and there’s no odor of smoke outside (or inside) the house. Amaze.
This is ideal because it means: 1) a lower environmental impact; 2) we use less wood. Since it’s a closed stove (meaning there’s no open flame like a fireplace), there are very low emissions into our home, which is key for promoting clean air and healthy lungs. Although open fireplaces are gorgeous, they’re both inefficient at heating and their emissions are pretty bad for you.
Per our woodstove company, “For the last 20 years, our wood stoves have met the clean air standard the EPA has proposed for 5 years from now (2020)!” Warmth, efficiency and environmental friendliness–yet another instance of frugality serving a multitude of masters.
Since we’re heating with wood we harvested from our own property, this is essentially a free source of heat. Of course it’s not free in terms of labor. As my previous “wood lessons” demonstrated, Mr. FW has to first fell a tree in our forest, then buck it, skid it, split it, stack it, and last of all, carry it into the house and load it into the stove. But it is, for him, a labor he loves. Plus, using trees as fuel is an efficient way of managing our forest–dying, over-crowded, and hazardous trees need to be brought down anyway. Burning them as fuel is a beautiful way to complete their life cycle. Speaking of completed life cycles, this month also brought about the end of our….
Garden! (sort of… )
We gleefully harvested our bounty of tomatoes (there were like 8), our bevy of basil (ok there was actually a fair amount of that), our outrageously successful squash (uh, all 2 of them), our phenomenal pepper (yep, one singular pepper), and absolutely zero brussels sprouts (tragic victims of cabbage worms). It’s a darn good thing we’re not dependent on this garden to feed us all winter…
The high note of this first year garden was the basil, which was plentiful enough to make pesto. Mr. FW whipped some up in our trusty food processor (we use that thing for everything) and froze it in ice cube trays.
As you might recall, the fact that we got this garden in at all was a great accomplishment for us. Moving here in mid-May gave us scant time to plant and, we had to first clear out the waist-high jungle of weeds that had taken up residence in and around our raised beds. I’m pleased that we gave it a shot and we’ll now retreat for the winter to devise plans for next year’s gardening escapades.
October was also apple harvestin’ time and we gamely picked apples high (using our sweet fruit pickers) and low (using our much less interesting arms). There were only a few instances of accidentally beaning each other with errant apples during the harvest.
I think picking apples with Mr. FW (while Babywoods took an afternoon nap) is one of the highlights of this month–and possibly year–for me. It was the perfect articulation of why I like this life–working together on our land, in a gorgeous setting, with fantastic fall weather.
Our trees didn’t produce much this year since last year was an aberrantly awesome apple year. Several of our trees didn’t even set fruit! Although we did prune the trees ourselves in the spring (thank you, YouTube pruning tutorials) we want to get serious next year about managing these trees more productively.
Our town held its annual Fall Festival in October, a delightful gathering at the town center epitomizing Rockwellian Americana. There was a cider press pressing local apples, homemade soup in a caldron on an open fire, a petting zoo containing one goat, local goods for sale, a mini flea market, an apple pie contest, kids’ games, a quilt raffle, and general revelry.
Babywoods and the other babies of the town primarily enjoyed crawling around in the grass eating leaves while various adults took turns corralling them. The dogs of the town enjoyed sniffing the babies of the town and everyone had a wonderful time. Our gratitude for how awesome our little town and its occupants are once again spilled over this month.
Mr. FW and I like to say “first year!” to each other a lot, which is our short hand for acknowledging that we need to be forgiving of our many (and still accruing) novice mistakes. From waiting too long to put on our snow tires, to failing to swap out our screens, to not digging up our herbs to re-pot before the first killing frost (apologies, sage, rosemary, and thyme… no parsley), every week gives us new opportunities to learn and to be humbled.
We may have known how to live in the city like the bosses we were, but we have no clue what we’re doing out here. We read, we research, we talk to our neighbors (the best resources of all), and we try things out. As I said last month, there is no teacher like doing (and then messing up and re-doing).
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Onward to November, frugal comrades!