December is a dormant month. By December, we’ve completed our fall wrap-up tasks: all food from the garden is preserved, the apple cider is pressed, the tractor is switched over to the snow blower and chains, the snow tires are on the cars, the firewood is stacked on the porch, and snow obviates all homesteading labor save its removal from our driveway and walking paths.
In December we turn inward and embrace the hygge of our wood stove and electric blanket and mugs of coffee. December is when winter is not yet long in the tooth, snow is not yet cursed and unwelcome. December is when we accept that summer is past and spring a distant dream. December is when we’re content to be right where we are, positioned in the middle of the seasons, hunkered down and dreamy.
Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports.
I love the fact that in December, there’s nothing more pressing to do outside than hike. Over the long holiday vacation from school and work, Mr. Frugalwoods and I took turns hiking while the other watched the kids. Hiking alone is a true balm. It’s the rarest treat that’s easy to have, as long as I make time for it. As long as I schedule and prepare and commit. So over the break–which felt so short pre-kids and so eternal post-kids–I did just that.
Snow-covered, silent, windless, our woods are a respite. In my snowshoes, I tromped along, with no particular goal or plan. It being our land, I know the trail and don’t have to think about where I am or wonder how long it’ll take. I love this autopilot state and I love my ability to walk out my front door and plunge into the woods, up a well-worn trail, past well-known trees, deep into well-loved woods.
I require time alone. I require a chance to be silent. Hiking gives me both. For me, one of the hardest aspects of parenting two toddlers is the near-constant imperative to talk, respond, sing, listen, and be ON.
I need a chance to drift around and not answer questions about where snow comes from and what Santa Claus eats for breakfast and whether or not Ralph is one of the reindeer. I need to take a break from holding the weight of someone else’s comprehension of the world.
My thoughts while hiking aren’t remarkable or well-formed. Sometimes I think about taking a shower or doing laundry. Sometimes, I write in my mind. Other times, I just look at trees and think they look nice. It’s not that hiking is always a revelation-inducing experience. Sometimes it’s just relaxing. Sometimes it just fortifies me to return home and answer whether or not centipedes have “ping pongs” (translation: antennae).
In a fit of kismet, Mr. FW and I actually got to go hiking together one day in December. Our beloved neighbor/adopted grandma came over to watch the girls and we took off up the hill in our snowshoes.
Hiking used to be our thing. Hiking is what changed the course of our lives. Hiking is how we realized we didn’t want to work in offices or live in cities. Hiking is how we decided to move to rural Vermont and become the world’s worst homesteaders.
Hiking is how I learned to appreciate my body’s strength and let go of worrying about my appearance. Hiking is where we have our deepest, best, silliest conversations.
Right now we’re in a phase of life where we usually hike alone, but every now and then, we have the chance to charge through the woods together and it is pure magic.
Me In The House: The Other Side Of Homesteading
I usually write about our outdoor homesteading experiences, but a lot happens indoors too. There’s a lot of work that goes into creating a snug, tidy home. There’s a lot of work that’s unseen, unacknowledged, and un-celebrated by our society. This work is done day after day, century after century, usually by women, usually without payment or thanks. Women see what needs to be done and, knowing that no one else will, they do it. They scrub toilets with babies strapped to their backs. They launder clothes stained by tomato sauce, turquoise washable marker, oatmeal, and much (MUCH) worse. They’re told that being a stay-at-home-mother is the “best job in the world,” and wonder why–if it’s the best job–it’s unpaid?
I’m lucky because my husband shares the household burden. I’m lucky because I have a partner who respects, acknowledges and thanks me for my work. I am manager of Indoor Domestic Operations and Mr. FW coordinates all exterior work–the firewood chopping, the snow blowing, the vegetable growing and harvesting, the car clearing, the trail clearing, the generator installations. Plus he cooks dinner every night.
We have an egalitarian partnership and the labors of our life are shared, but sometimes? I get tired of it. As we all tire of our rote chores, of the Sisyphean task of keeping house with two young children, of endless, interminable wiping.
I spend a lot of time at my kitchen sink, looking out at my snow-soaked woods. My hands are always wet from loading the dishwasher, unloading it, rinsing off my children, bathing my children, scrubbing the high-chair tray, wiping down the counters, wiping down the table, wiping food off the floor, wiping noses and bums and hands. I am the copy paste of wiping. I like to clean, so there’s a soothing element, but there are also chapped hands and the feeling of a rag adhering to my palm–my permanent companion, ever needed, ever dirty, ever damp.
Kidwoods came down with (another) stomach bug in December, which meant my cleaning never ended. From child to couch to bathroom to floor, I watched myself wipe and obliterate because my work is to make it seem like nothing ever happened. It’s an unrelenting loop, but there’s victory and fulfillment in not just a clean house, but an organized mind and an ordered life and children who are clean (for the moment) and tucked into snug, warm beds.
In other news, the baby now pretends to throw up because that’s what big kids do apparently and there’s nothing she wants more than to be big. So, that’s cool.
I have to find meaning and contentment in the mothering and the domesticity. I have to accept that this work matters and that it will never be done. Just as my husband clears snow, only to watch more snow fall and obliterate his efforts, I accept that new cheerios will replace the old cheerios I picked out of the heating vent. There will always be snow to clear, there will always be cheerios to pick up. Finding peace in that mindless, repeated work is meditative. It is a salvation. It is a key to true and deep contentment. The work will not change. The only thing I can change is how I feel about the work, how I think about the work, how I talk about the work.
Other December Events
Our Roomba managed to knock the Christmas tree star on top of itself and then kept right on vacuuming with the star on its head. Just thought you’d want to know that.
Reflections on 2019
2019 was good to me. It was a stable year, a year where nothing seismic happened, which I’m grateful for. The last few years were almost too much. In 2015, our first daughter was born; In 2016, we moved from urban Cambridge, MA to our homestead in rural Vermont; In 2017, I wrote a book; In 2018, our second daughter was born, my book was published, and I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. So I’m OK with 2019 being a year of relative calm.
In 2019, I was happy. I went on kid-free vacations with my husband (TWICE! thanks to my fabulous in-laws!!!!), I got to work on what I love (Frugalwoods!), I convinced Kidwoods to watch Santa Paws with me (and she loved it), I bought a Roomba (my life is changed), I canned and preserved the most food from our garden EVER, I made boss lady applesauce (that’s just applesauce made by me from our apple trees… ), we made maple syrup from our maple trees, I weaned my last baby, I joined a book club, I joined a ladies-go-out-to-dinner-club, I lost weight, I gained weight, I bought non-maternity clothes, I learned how to build fires in our wood stove, I went sledding with my kids, I grew our Halloween jack-o-lantern from seed, I stacked firewood, I rode the carousel at the county fair, I gave away most of my clothing, I hiked alone a lot, I was grateful for my life. All in all, a stellar year.
After moving here, we decided to get solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update 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 December, we generated 148 kWh, which is on the low end, but not the lowest. For reference, last January our panels generated a paltry 70.4 kWh and last July we raked in 907 kWh.
Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.
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.
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