What is there to say about a month like January? It’s the doldrum of a season. Winter persists. Fall is a memory. Spring is an elusive promise that seems more like a maybe than a definite. Snow engulfs everything: trees, cars, garden fences, porches, small mammals, a box of tissues I accidentally dropped off the porch and forgot about. It’s all buried under stubborn, thick white.
I don’t mind winter and I don’t dislike snow. But there’s something enveloping about January that swallows all memories of other weather. I start to believe it’s always been like this. And always will be.
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 and enjoy the best and worst (ok, mostly the worst) moments of our first year on the homestead here. Wondering if it’s less expensive to live rurally? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.
The Internet and The Truck: Unlikely Co-Conspirators
In January, as sometimes happens, Mr. Frugalwoods went out of town on business for a few days. NO PROBLEM, I thought. Well, slight problem, because I’m not a giant fan of parenting our three-year-old and one-year-old by myself. But I knew I could do it. I am an educated, reasonably patient person (when I’ve been fed), and I’ve been parenting for three whole years (feels like three decades based on the number of wrinkles I’ve acquired, but who’s counting?!?).
On my husband’s first morning away, I woke up before the children, which always makes me feel like I have an edge. Like I’ve bested myself somehow. I felt rested. I felt empowered. I was going to rock these three days of parenting and household management on my ‘lone. I showered and dressed (something I enjoy doing alone and not with two children in the bathroom… hilarious as they are ripping toilet paper and dressing up in my clothes-formerly-known-as-clean). With these major accomplishments behind me, I was fortified for the onslaught of noise that accompanies children who are awake.
I greeted each child with a tender kiss, made breakfast, got Kidwoods ready for preschool, and hummed as I emptied the dishwasher. Regular mother-of-the-year over here. Our adopted grandma neighbor–knowing I was solo and because she is a canonized saint–offered to drive Kidwoods to preschool and Kidwoods was ready to go when she arrived. Off they went and off I went to snuggle Littlewoods down for her morning nap. My early morning tasks complete, I sipped my coffee self-congratulatorily (definitely a word) opened my computer to start work, and after some furious double clicking, realized the internet wasn’t working. I went to the phone to call the internet people and…. remembered that our landline runs through the internet (VOIP) and thus, the phone didn’t work either. We don’t get cell reception at our home and so we rely on the internet to enable all cell phone and landline phone-related things (namely texting, calling, and funny cat videos).
I unplugged all the stuff related to the internet (and several cords that I later learned are for our printer and not at all related to the internet) and then plugged it all back in. No success. No worries, I thought, as I woke poor Littlewoods and loaded her into the truck to go to the internet-ified library.
The baby and I trundled through the snow-covered roads and I gamely used the library internet to let Mr. FW know what was happening, call the internet people (as I refer to them), and check my email. Once done, I inserted the key in the ignition and… nothing happened. I tried again. And again. And again. I tried more times than reasonable because–in my mind–this was too ironic a coincidence. This kind of double gut punch doesn’t happen. I mean, there’s no way that:
- Mr. FW (and our second car, a 2010 Toyota Prius) are out of town
- Our phone and internet are down
- The truck (a 2010 Toyota Tundra) won’t start
On the same day. In the dead cold bum of winter. This is an unbelievable confluence of misfortune. And yet, as I sat there in the library parking lot, tipping my head back to rest on my coat collar, watching exhalations plume in front of my face, I realized it was entirely possible.
Littlewoods decided this was her moment to turn rabid–she was supposed to be taking her morning nap in a snug bed and was instead inserted in a cold carseat in a cold truck–and she decided to yell about it. And by cold, I mean that it was a maximum of -5 degrees outside. Capitulating to my new reality, I scooped Littewoods out of her carseat and retreated to the warmth of the library. I texted (using the library’s internet) our adopted grandma and asked her to come pick us up. Then I texted “this is not a joke” since I still wasn’t convinced myself.
Adopted grandma (again, canonized saint) hurried over to retrieve us, at which point it occurred to me that I couldn’t go home because, once I got there, I wouldn’t be able to leave or call anyone. So, we went to her house where I called our mechanic and–benefits of living in a small town–asked if he could go check on the truck in the library parking lot. He said he’d be happy to on his way back from his daughter’s doctor’s appointment (I love living in a small town). I spoke with our internet people again and they said someone would come by the house that afternoon. Sorted.
Moving on to other problems, I realized I had no way to pick Kidwoods up from school, carless as I was, and my neighbor had to go read to children at the elementary school. I called preschool and asked if Kidwoods could stay late (“of course!” they said). My neighbor shuttled me and Littlewoods back to my house and then set off to first read at the elementary school and then pick Kidwoods up from preschool (saint, saint, saint).
Back at home, with no way to leave or communicate with the outside world, I developed a habit of constantly checking to see if the internet person was driving down our driveway. One of the reasons we own a second car is to prevent this scenario. One of the reasons we have a landline is to prevent this scenario. One of the reasons we have snowshoes and a huge tow-behind-sled is to mitigate this unlikely scenario. I was unsettled knowing that I was unable to leave and unable to contact anyone. I felt marooned. With two little kids. In the wintertime.
Arrive the internet person did and investigate the internet he did. “Aha!” he exclaimed, “your router is dead and I have a new one you can use.” A boon of good fortune; an easy fix! He set it up for me (arms full of children as mine were), we tested it, and I cheerily sent him on his way, certain that my communications blackout was ameliorated.
To celebrate our survival of the day, I made macaroni and cheese for dinner (and by “made,” I mean I opened a box and boiled water… ) and the three of us feasted like foxes around a campfire, delighted with ourselves and our cheesy treat. I put the kids to bed, I watched Call the Midwife accompanied by a glass of red wine, I chatted with Mr. FW who agreed to touch base with the mechanic in the morning, and I went to bed.
Not So Fast, Mrs. FW
Lo but I did wake up the next day to no phone and no internet. Nope nope nope. Once again they were down and out. I repeated my rituals of unplugging and re-plugging and coaxing and prodding, to zero effect. Defeated, I turned my absence of vehicle and communication into an opportunity to do some basement reorganization. We now have a fully categorized, label-ized, systematized Christmas decoration and wrapping paper area (zone? section?) of the basement. I’m not sorry. Neither are the kids, who got to play with/eat ribbon while I organized. I’m a stress cleaner and a stress organizer, so leaning into this strength is always a good idea for me. Otherwise I stress eat.
Mr. FW returned home that night and figured out that the fiber termination panel that conveys our fiber optic internet into our home had come unplugged. This panel is woefully located on the exterior of our house and prodigious amounts of snow had fallen right off the roof and right on top of the panel, yanking the cord out. We spoke with the internet people and they agreed to relocate the panel to a side of the house that doesn’t experience deluges of roof snow run-off.
Indeed, somehow we managed to have not one, but TWO separate and unrelated internet failures within a twenty-four hour time period. Mr. FW and the internet people tried to puzzle out a correlation, but there isn’t one. The internet simply decided to fail me twice: first inside, then outside. Thanks, internet.
Updated 2/28/19: whoops! I totally forgot to conclude the truck story and explain what was wrong with it! Unfortunately, it’s not all that exciting: it had a dead battery, hastened by the stretch of below zero daytime temperatures we were experiencing.
Why The Communications Blackout?
We live in a sort of Bermuda Triangle of communications, as I fondly describe it. We do not have cell reception on our property, but we do have excellent fiber internet. The challenge is that when the internet is down, everything is down. Our landline phone runs over the internet (which is cheap and usually quite reliable). The reason we don’t have a separate phone line (through a phone company) is that the phone line and internet (along with the power) all run on the same poles to the house.
Hence, if one is down, usually all three are down. If we had an actual landline phone, in this instance, it might have prevented my communications blackout, but in most situations, we lose phone, internet and power all at the same time. Mr. FW and I are currently brainstorming other methods of communication, such as a satellite communicator, ham radio operation (surprising no one, Mr. FW is a licensed operator, but I’m not…. yet), and/or pigeons. Kidding on the pigeons. Or am I.
Preventing This From Happening Again
In my ideal world, this scenario of multiple system failures doesn’t repeat itself. However, should this happen again, the anxiety, panic and fear that used to surround this scenario have evaporated for me. I’m more resilient. I feel more capable.
Each time something strange or unsettling or difficult happens to me, I chip away at the insecurities and anxieties I carry around. Every bad or frustrating event forces me to pause, kneel down, and throw away a few more of my limiting beliefs.
So that’s all well and good and I’m glad I had a growing moment. But it would be nice not to grow again in this same way. To that end, Mr. Frugalwoods (resident tech guru) replaced our internet infrastructure with an eye towards longterm reliability. AKA with more expensive, durable, commercial-grade stuff, specifically this router and this Wireless Access Point (these are affiliate links). To aid in the fiber termination panel issue, we bought these security bits that’ll allow us to DIY a fix to this problem in the future as they’ll enable us to open up the box and plug the internet back in (affiliate link).
We also added a few internet-related items to our spring to-do list:
- Moving the fiber access panel to a different location in an effort to reduce snow-related internet injury.
- Setting up outdoor access points so that we can get internet in the yard, which will be VERY useful for trying to communicate with one another. Yelling does not always work. Ask me how I know this.
Other Things That Happened in January
I asked Mr. FW what else happened in January and he reported:
There was snow. Endless snow. He cleared, shoveled, scraped, piled, and blew snow weekly, daily, hourly. We remain quite pleased that we’ve in-sourced all of our snow-clearing, thanks to our tractor (with PTO snowblower attachment) now equipped with front and rear tire chains. Not to mention our snow shovel. That thing gets a workout. As does Mr. FW. Quite glad we don’t have to pay someone to plow our driveway (at circa $75 per plow) every time it snows.
2) Firewood Depletion
We heat our home via woodstove and are burning through our firewood stash like a boss. A total BOSS. This is a cold winter. I mean, duh, winters are cold, but this winter is aberrational in both temperature and snowfall. Good thing Mr. FW built a woodshed last summer and worked his behind off (plum fell right off) to get us ahead in firewood.
The amount of labor he invests in each and every solitary stick of firewood is tremendous. He selects a tree, fells the tree, skids the tree, bucks the log, splits the wood, stacks the firewood, hauls the firewood onto the porch rack, fills the woodbox, brings the wood inside, starts the stove. It’s gratifying to know that this work is appreciated and needed.
In other news, he’s planning to ramp up next year’s wood harvesting as soon as the snow melts. Possibly sooner. By the end of January, we were down to a mere 3/4 of a cord* on our porch wood rack. It’s looking like this may be the first winter that we have to do two wood rack refills (read more about our wood refill process here).
*not 3/4 of a cord in total wood inventory, just 3/4 on our porch rack. The rest of our wood is drying in our woodshed.
3) Truck Headlight Replacement
The truck did not do much to put itself at the top of our “favorite vehicles” list this month as it also managed to burn out its headlights (not while at the mechanic’s, naturally). Mr. FW gamely bought these replacement headlights and set about replacing them (affiliate link). “How hard can it be?” he asked as he marched outside with tools and lights in tow.
“Fairly hard,” he responded as he re-entered the warmth of our homestead 53 minutes later. More specifically, the first headlight was tough to replace. After some extensive fiddling, he discovered he had to completely remove the headlight, which meant he also had to take off a piece of the bumper. People on the internet report that you can replace the headlight without going through this procedure, but he could not. I should note that it was 6 degrees at the time. And snowing.
Hence, Mr. FW’s hand could not fit in there with a glove on. He surmises it’s possible you could fit your hand in there if your hand wasn’t so numb that you couldn’t feel your fingers, but this is not the situation he found himself in. Once he knew what he was doing, the second headlight took him 8 minutes. How do I know it took 8 minutes? Because Mr. FW is hilarious, precise, and likes to time himself. I love that man.
Now that I’ve FINALLY (it only took me a year… ) written up the background information on our solar panels, I’ll include a solar update every month in this series. This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.
In January we generated 70.4 kWh, which is not a lot. Not a lot at all. Reason? Snow covering the panels + cloudy days.
This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.
Want More Fotos?!
While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram (almost every day!) and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity. Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods. Some folks have asked about this and yes, I do try to post a picture to Instagram every day and–unlike with many other things in my life–I actually have a pretty good track record. If you’re craving more homestead pics, Instagram is your best bet.
If you want to make sure you don’t miss a post here, sign-up for my handy dandy email list in the box below. You’ll get a message from me if you do… On to February (or actually March because I’m so late in writing this… ), frugal comrades!