This Month On The Homestead: Birthday Baking, Icicle Hiking, and Getting Stuck on My Own Driveway
In a winter populated by snow storms, in a climate where cold is more familiar that warmth, and a region mythologized by horse-drawn sleighs breaking through snow, February went above and beyond.
Several overachieving storms bent tree branches to the earth with the weight of snow piled on ice piled on snow. Crunching through this ice/snow laminate on snow shoes breaks the silence that follows a storm as all critters, save we humans, hibernate and regroup. My resident weather nerd (Mr. Frugalwoods) reports that the day after a storm is often blue due to high pressure systems moving through.
I report that the photo at right–taken the morning after one such storm–is not edited. The colors aren’t enhanced or saturated or put through a filter. The photo is, however, cropped to remove a toddler tunneling through the snow and a smaller toddler screaming at my feet because she wanted to be ‘side. The problem being that ‘side, to her, means both inside and outside. We went back and forth–in and out–quite a few times before determining which ‘side she so desperately wanted. Also, hello Glamour Shed, happy February to you.
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.
Please Deliver all the TV and all the Sugar Right Here and Thank You
Hello, hi. I’m Liz. I’m an Ideal Mom and my kids definitely do not watch TV or eat sugar. That’s obviously not permanent marker all over the baby in the photo at right and my toddler is clearly not about to push her sister off the chair.
Also please note our coordinating outfits, minimalist (train set?!) decor, pastels and a banana (half of which is on the floor). You guys, we were on our fourth snow day here, people were sick, other people forgot how to handle themselves, and still other people were covered in markers (which say “washable,” but I would like to know with what? Lye?!).
We held it together last month–amid snow and sick days–thanks to TV, playing outside, and sugar (mostly for me) and as always, keeping it real. I did zero sugar and zero TV for my first kid. Then we had a second and I was like, Yes Please Deliver All the TV and All the Sugar Right Here and Thank You.
There is no one right way. There is no perfect gold star for raising children. I wish I could’ve recognized this with my first daughter and enjoyed the time more. But we’re making up for it now, as she loves to recline on me (and watch Daniel Tiger) while I check my email (if I’ve emailed you recently, it’s thanks to this configuration).
And they’re both excellent bakers (WITH SUGAR) because moderation is good and finding balance is appropriate and baking sneakerdoodles (pronunciation according to four-year-old) is a life skill.
My girls want to do real work. They want to be “big helpers.” They desire meaning and so, I try to create jobs for them. Never mind that it takes me ten times longer thanks to their help. They give me insight into our innate desire for purpose and they remind me of our undergirding of love. They sense, at ages two and four, when the task is fabricated and they rise to the occasion when the task is genuine.
Sweeping floors, cleaning toilets, taking out the compost, clearing the table, baking bread–they’ll do all these things when they know they’re real. I mean, they also lick flour off the countertop and someone used the toilet brush to scrub the bathroom floor the other day. But, they’ve got the right idea.
The desire for authenticity runs deep and starts early. May we all be acclimated to this compass of genuine contribution to our own families, communities, and world.
Happy Valen-stine’s Day
Valentine’s Day morning resulted in four outfit changes for Kidwoods. Not because she wants to look perfect. Not because she’s concerned about her appearance, but because it was pajama day at school and she does NOT like to wear pajamas outside the house.
The night before I’d explained (in a child-centered, organic, free-range way) that some kids would wear pajamas to school but that she could choose what she wanted to wear and she chose her standard school outfit of a dress and leggings. Handled, I thought. But in the morning, we went through four outfit changes varying in resemblance to pajamas before we landed on the same pair of leggings and the shirt she’d worn to bed. Along with a polka dot cardigan and large pink bow.
While you might be thinking our morning was now under control, you will’ve forgotten that this was Valentine’s Day and that small paper valentines were to be delivered to peers. Two weeks prior, Kidwoods began her Valentine-making odyssey. Googly eyes, glue sticks, and construction paper were used to good effect. The night before the festivities, I bothered to actually read the note from school. Evidently, we were supposed to supply Valentine’s for both preschool classrooms. This brought our total to 26, up from the 11 we’d prepared. And so, while the kids slept, I sat and snipped heart shapes from construction paper her little sister’d scribbled on, thinking myself wise beyond my thirty-five years. But no.
Before school, Kidwoods ransacked her backpack and declared, “no one wants to see baby scribbles on their Valen-stine.” I mean, how can you argue with that? But we were late, we were so late and so deep into wardrobe changes and I hadn’t eaten any breakfast and the baby was running around with no clothes on and so I just said NO, we have to leave. It was not an ideal parenting moment. It was not me being the kindest, most empathetic mother.
It was me stuffing scribbled hearts into her bag and shoving us into the car. It was me carrying the baby as a baby-plank into the preschool and setting her down, only to realize she had no socks (or shoes). Then I watched Kidwoods jet off to hand out her Valen-stines with unadulterated glee and I watched Littlewoods set herself up at the craft table, hoping no one would notice the baby intruder in the preschool classroom.
And then, I felt guilty for my anger. Guilty for my frustration over the understandable outfit consternation and the age-appropriate complaints about scribbled-on hearts. To see my girls so happy and fulfilled in that classroom of smiling children and teachers and a bunny rabbit, I realized they’ll probably be fine even when I yell. I realized they’ll have good days and bad, that I’ll have proud moments and moments of regret. I realized that no one does the right thing all the time and that sometimes, we just have to try again tomorrow.
Happy Birthday, Littlewoods!
Our youngest, our last baby (thank god), our littlest ‘wood turned TWO in February. On one hand, I can’t believe she’s two. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve aged ten years since having kids, so ya know, two sounds pretty young. People say the times goes by so fast but sometimes, it seems like it’s not fast enough.
We marked the occasion in what has become our traditional fashion: an at-home party with pancakes! We landed on pancakes as our birthday meal a few years ago because they’re the all-in-one option: both a treat and a meal! The lazy parent’s birthday solution.
We started making a cake (and having a little party) for Kidwoods at age three and I think we’ll follow the same format for Littlewoods.
This year, we didn’t invite anyone and our party consisted of the pancakes and a few gifts I’d bought at garage sales last summer. And it was perfect. It was just the right amount of stimulation and excitement. She was a tad terrified by the lighted sticks of fire in her food and the fact that her family belted out a song that included her name.
She was then overwhelmed by the pile of presents (read: all three) to unwrap, had a meltdown when her sister “borrowed” one of her new toys, and then was ready for a nap. Time elapsed: 45 minutes. I feel like rushing into a big party with tons of friends, foods, and gifts just isn’t her speed at age two. We have yet to host a true “party” for either of our kids and they’re both ok with that. They’re loved, they’re cared for, they get to open a few gifts and then take a nap. It all works out and it costs us basically nothing (I probably spent a total of $5 on her second-hand gifts, candles and pancake ingredients; we re-use the same party hats every year). There’s no need to accelerate traditions or box yourself into a corner of needing to upstage your child’s parties every year. This whole laid back, simplicity parenting approach really is easier, cheaper, and less stressful.
The Season of Icicle Dangers
We’ve reached the point in the season when we start to wonder: “Is it safe to walk down our porch ‘neath water daggers?” A legitimate question when you find yourself in month 45 of a Vermont winter and it’s unclear where these stalactites came from and when/if they’ll recede.
Kidwoods snaps one off daily to munch/utilize as a sibling-attack-mechanism and still I wonder, “are they out to destroy us? Or are they mere tendrils of frozen liquid destined to disintegrate the first day we crest 32 degrees?”
The verdict is still out. I still choose the long way around and will not duck my head under these crystalline stilettos.
Hiking: My Year-Round Balm
On winter hikes I find myself following my own footprints, accompanied by tiny coyote tracks wending their way up a trail cleared by humans, dominated by creatures. One of the things I love most about hiking on our land is the lack of navigational brain power needed. I know where I’m going. I know what each tree at each turn looks like. I know where the stumps and rocks are buried beneath strata of snow. I like being able to hike unencumbered, without a map or compass, without an eye out for trail blazes. I can sink into the meditative repetition and relax (as I huff and puff up the hills).
I always contemplate bailing at the beginning of a hike. I get partway up the first hill and consider turning around and giving up. I think about how easy it would be to pretend I’d never put on my snow shoes, never zipped up my coat, never pulled on my hat, never left the house. I recently realized that I always stop at the same spot and have this same thought. And this spot is only five minutes into the hike. It’s at this early stage, at this nascent moment of a walk turning into a hike that I consider giving up.
It never crosses my mind to bail when I’m halfway up the hill–I’m invested at that point. And I never regret hiking once a hike is over–I’m always grateful I did it. It’s only at the beginning, before I’m sure I can do it, that I doubt myself. Once I’m past that initial incline, the habit and the ritual take over. I’m no longer putting effort into questioning what I’m doing–I’m simply doing it. When I let this positive inertia take over, I relax. I don’t have to make decisions or wonder if I should be doing something else with my time. My mind climbs up into the trees I walk underneath and it stretches. I don’t think about specific things, unless a chunk of snow falls out of a tree and onto my back (as happened the other day). I just think about being a person in the woods, walking around, happy to be free to walk around in the woods.
Maybe the reason I like being in the forest so much is that it’s timeless. Under these trees, it could be any date, any year, any century. There’s nothing to indicate modernity (other than myself). Most of the trees pre-date me and most of them will live longer than me. The forest is patient, still, quiet.
Occasionally, a plane flies overhead, breaking the reverie. Every time that happens, I’m shocked. I’m shocked that a plane exists, that a plane is even a thing because I’m deep in an arboreal time warp. Nature has a way of allowing us to forget and to refresh. It also has a way of reminding us what our priorities are, what they should be. Protecting our planet, for one.
On Starting New Things
Before I went snowshoeing for the first time, I watched no less than five instructional videos on “how to snowshoe.”
What I learned from those videos: 1) People make instructional videos about everything. Truly, everything. 2) Snowshoeing is nothing more than walking through snow with large feet. 3) You can, in fact, fall over while snowshoeing, but it’s equally true that you can fall over while walking.
All that to say, if you want to go snowshoeing for the first time, do it. If you want to go to a yoga class for the first time, do it. If you want to bake a pie for the first time, do it. If you want to build a woodshed for the first time, build it. How hard can it be? In some instances, very hard. In other instances, not as hard as we’ve built it up in our minds. Breaking the seal is the hardest part for me. Committing to doing something new is the worst for me. Once I actually start doing it? Not so bad. What do you want to start doing that you’re afraid of?
Being Inside With Babies
What we have is a two-year-old flinging paint onto walls and ceiling via flailing hands; in the process she is mixing blue and red, which results in purple and thus teaches her the power of her own determination as well as some chemistry (I think).
Additionally, we have a four-year-old who has discovered her inner ability to paint her own hands and apply them to a sheet of paper, resulting in a study–and experience–of process and performance art. We see here that the two toddlers are engrossed in absorbing the Duchampian lesson of “it’s art because I say it’s art” and also the homestead grit of “these are the only four paint colors we have and our parents refuse to buy more.”
Disclaimer: I am not a parenting or modern art professional and am not liable for paint adhered to toddlers or artists disgraced.
On Getting One’s Car Stuck In One’s Own Driveway
I got our Prius stuck in melting snow/ice slush on my own driveway, which is kind of embarrassing. I want to say–in my defense–that in the four years we’ve lived in the woods of rural Vermont, this was THE FIRST time we had to call our neighbor (the tow truck driver). Its been a point of pride for me–oh non-native Vermonter–that I’ve always been able to extricate myself from whatever snow bank I’ve driven/slid into. There was the time I had to back the Prius down our entire quarter-mile long dirt driveway in order to not get it stuck on the final icy hill, there was another time I had to dig out a snowbank from underneath the truck (I’d misjudged the clearance), the time the truck slid gently off the road and into a shallow ditch, and the many times I’ve raked snow out from underneath the wheels and put down wood stove ashes for traction.
Of course getting the Prius stuck happened while I was en route to pick Kidwoods up from school, followed by a doctor’s appointment for Littlewoods. So I called school, told them the story and they said not to worry. Then I called the pediatrician, explained the situation, and they said not to worry, that we could come late for the appointment. Such is the small town way. Everyone gets stuck in the snow at some point–it’s no crisis. The first time we got a car stuck on our driveway and it slid backwards into a snow bank, we panicked. It was the day we closed on our property and, with new baby and nervous dog in the car, I nearly lost it thinking we’d made a terrible mistake moving to the rural wilds.
Now, I know that it was no mistake to move here. It was the rightest thing we’ve ever done. I also know that every now and then? You’re going to slid off the road, but your neighbors will be there to help you. After we extracted the Prius, I realized I hadn’t felt an ounce of panic. I wasn’t stressed or concerned. A little embarrassed, but certainly not upset. Testament to how relaxed the Vermont life is, testament to my decrease in anxiety, and testament to the fact that we are in the right place. Also, everyone in town seems to know about it and has asked me if I’ve gotten stuck anywhere else lately. While everyone will help you, they’ll also rib you about it.
After moving here, we decided to have 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 February, we generated 293 kWh, which is actually not too bad for the wintertime. For reference, in January 2019 our panels generated a paltry 70.4 kWh and in July 2019 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?!
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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How was your February?
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