This Month On The Homestead: Stumps, Tractors, Cookies, and a Balance Beam
April is the month of anticipation. It’s not yet spring, there’s still snow, we can’t DO much, but it’s the month our faces turn to the nascent sun and realize our eight month Vermont winter will end. Someday.
April is a liminal space at odds with my desire to Know Things. To know if I should wash everyone’s snow pants and pack them away, to know when warmth will spread across our woods and we all start complaining of the oppressive 70-degree heat (listen, you can’t acclimate to an eight-month winter AND appreciate temperatures above 70).
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.
When we first saw our property–almost five years ago–I climbed onto this stump (as a very pregnant person) to survey. We agreed these were very fine woods where we could raise very fine babies and grow very fine foods. We followed no one’s advice and did the stupidest thing ever of buying this house a week after our first kid was born. We moved here without snow tires, without a chainsaw, without a shovel. People, we did not own a shovel.
But we’ve figured it out. Mostly. We were determined to leave the city and live in the rural wilds of Vermont and we’ve done it. We’re doing it. The stump is still here–I pass it on my hikes. And we are still here. Now more than ever, we’re nowhere but here. And I am a well of gratitude that sinks deeper by the day. If you want a life of nonstop failure and learning-from-your-mistakes (or not), try homesteading.
All the vegetables we grow are either started from seed inside the house, in small trays of dirt, or direct sown (planted right into the ground) once it’s warm, which typically happens in late May here in gardening zone 4.
The reason we have to start most of our seeds inside is that they won’t have enough time to come to fruity fruition if we plant them directly into the earth. In April, we finished our seed starting regimen with: cantaloupe, cucumber, sunflowers, basil, oregano, sage, beans, and pumpkins.
This crew joined the sugar snap peas, watermelons, ground cherries, orange peppers, and tomatoes we started back in March. All were nestled on the seed-starting shelves Mr. FW built with heat mats beneath their soiled bottoms and warm lights above their heads. Everything else we grow (leafy greens, carrots, radishes, cilantro, dill, strawberries, and more) will be direct sown in May.
I did not have an Easter plan. I did not prepare baskets ahead of time or test drive the kids’ outfits or hide eggs (or even hard boil eggs, let alone dye them… ). In Normal Times, we would’ve visited the Easter Bunny and learned about Easter in Sunday School. But in Pandemic Times, we are hanging by a candy-colored thread and had no chocolate bunnies in reserve. Let’s be honest, if we had, I would’ve eaten them anyway…
We went to our church via Zoom—as we’ve done every Sunday since lockdown—and long about 1pm, I decided to throw an Easter tea party. I baked a cake, decorated it with the only sprinkle colors we have (red and green), festooned the table, pulled out some dresses for the girls, and unearthed my sister-in-law’s old tea set.
Charmed, the girls drank copious amounts of (decaf) green tea, ate as much cake as we would allow, doused themselves in tea, delighted in my tacky egg lights (thank you, garage sale last summer), and declared Easter to be wonderful. To my fellow last minute parents out there, you are not alone, you are seen and you are rocking it. I’m all about low expectation (and cheap) holidays: an annual Easter tea party with a homemade Christmas-colored cake? That I can handle.
Garden Weeding and Clean-up
Once the snow melted, we got out in the vegetable garden to clean-up last year’s stalk remnants and remove weeds. We’re doing no-till mounded bed gardening, so we leave the vegetable vines and stalks in the soil over winter and then cut them off at ground level in the spring.
Once all the weeds and last year’s plants are removed, the soil is ready to be planted for this season. Of course, April is still much too cold for plants to actually–gasp–go in the ground, but it’s nice to know the ground is ready for them.
Instilling Gratitude For Your Sibling: BECAUSE THERE’S NO ONE ELSE TO PLAY WITH
Spending all day, every day together, my girls are realizing how cool it is to have a playmate that can’t be quarantined from you. They’re also realizing they outnumber me–evidenced by me brushing Kidwoods’ teeth the other night while holding Littlewoods head up so she’d stop drinking the bath water. There was also a craft-related incident wherein Littlewoods emerged with marker-drawn X’s on her face and Kidwoods with marker-drawn stripes on her pants. Unsure where to assign blame, I blamed the messenger and confiscated the marker.
My Love For Our Woodshed: Truly, It’s Boundless
I never tire of looking at this woodshed. I tire of my kids asking to eat (I JUST FED YOU). I tire of snow clinging to the ground, desperate for winter to persist (GET OVER YOURSELF, IT’S SPRING). I–along with every other parent on earth–am tired. We play outside, we play inside, we draw, we paint, we cook, we do yoga, we do laundry, we do it all and we are exhausted. It’s not possible for my husband and me to recreate the rich, vibrant world of teachers, friends, pastors, grandparents, neighbors, and playmates that our kids relied on before the pandemic.
It’s not possible for my husband and me to provide the education, stimulation, and joy that this fabric of people fostered for our children. Don’t be too hard on yourself, parents. In normal times, we depend on each other. In normal times, I can hand my screaming two-year-old to my friend while I go to the bathroom and our other friend cooks lunch. But these are not normal times. I am lost in the simple expectations of my children, exhausted by the dire consequences of isolation, and–if I’m honest–sore from doing toddler yoga yet again with the smaller toddler on top of me. But wow do I love this woodshed.
Apple Tree Pruning
Early spring is fruit-tree-pruning time and my husband continued his four-years-long effort to rehabilitate the apple and plum trees on our property. Fruit trees require pruning in order to effectively and efficiently bear fruit. Every year, he lops dead branches, crossed branches, and unwanted shoots.
A tree (much like a person) needs to focus its energy on its strongest, most prolific branches and not waste energy on dying or under-producing branches. We have ten apple trees in our yard, from which we make applesauce, apple butter, dried apples, and hard apple cider.
Baked Goods: Eating Them
Notes From Isolation Day 28 (which was sometime in mid-April): I ate leftover cake and cupcakes in my now-usual spot of crouched below the kitchen counter seated on a child chair. Hard to believe I baked both of those things–identical aside from format–in the same week. Hard to believe it’s been a month/hard to believe it’s only been a month. All previous understanding of time is void. We operate in a purgatory: days of the week mean nothing, dates are superfluous, cake and cupcakes can be made in the same week.
All waistbands are elastic and all muscles are sore from the floor-to-air “froggie jumps” we must do during Cosmic Kids Yoga (along with a robust ribbit). But I bake and ribbit and find equal opportunities to hide from/engage with my children. I convinced them to make a fort involving all couch cushions so I could vacuum every surface. In what’s either a new high or a new low, I vacuumed the back side of the couch while my children dusted my back side with a toy broom. For truly, we chart new territory by the hour.
They later built an al fresco balance beam and found a way to fight over it, all on their own. Kidwoods selected her outfit (sleeveless being the obvious choice for 30 degrees) and Littlewoods will only wear pajamas under her coat and boots. As I stand back, more and more, I see their ingenuity and resilience growing.
As I expect less, direct less, and ask for less, I see them doing more. Of course, they also fell off a log, ate all the chives from the garden, squashed several worms via excessive hugging (oh, you’ve never hugged a worm?) and named a found beetle “Chester.” But all in all, as long as everyone gets a bath and tick check every night, they’ll probably be fine. Right? Right?!?!
Homeschool Preschool: We Did It For One Day. Well, More Like a Half-day… by which I mean 35 minutes. Ok? It was 35 minutes.
Pandemic preschool. Not gonna lie, we did one (and only) day of “school work” and it resulted in the markers being confiscated. We’re working on having some people write their letters and other people say their letters and this seems best accomplished through food-related motivation (some might use the word ‘bribing’).
But I think the kids are alright. The parents? We’re also alright. We’ve simplified our routine (nice way of saying we can’t go anywhere), we’re spending more quality time together (there are no other options), we’re slowing it down and being more present (again, nowhere to go). There’s liberation in limitation. We’re the lucky ones: we’re healthy, we’re home, we’re together, and we have high shelves for markers.
I also orchestrated an idyllic-looking nature-craft-thing whereby the kids collected bits of nature from the woods and brought them inside to use 47 rolls of scotch tape to stick them onto pieces of birch bark. And how did that turn out? I see. With a screaming toddler fight over glue (never mind that there were two glue bottles) and errant bits of lichen on my floor. Did I mention the pinecones? How could I forget the pine sap stuck to hair, faces, and other places. But really, guys, I’m nailing this homeschool homestead thing. NBD.
Tractor Switch-Over and Driveway Grading
April is when we get cheeky and assume major snows are behind us. With this belief, we summer-ized the tractor. And by “we,” I mean Mr. Frugalwoods. He took off the snowblower attachment and put on the box blade (both attach to the rear of the tractor via the three-point hitch). He removed the tractor’s front chains since those are only needed on snow and ice and they dig up the ground too much if left on. That done, he graded the driveway with the box blade.
Our quarter-mile-long, hilly, dirt driveway is our third child. Temperamental, demanding of attention, and crucial to our lives (though in its favor, it doesn’t require as many snacks as our other two kids). During the spring thaw–officially know as Mud Season–the driveway heaves and contracts as ice and snow recede, resulting in massive holes, crevices, and bumps. Once the ground settles, Mr. FW uses the box blade to grade the driveway, obliterating the defects and restoring it back to a state of (mostly) flat.
Woods Exploration with a Four-Year-Old and Two-Year-Old
The girls and I started going on woods adventures in April. Thanks to the diminishing snow, we trekked off trail and made our way to the pond–through a marsh and over a stream. This is my long-held parenting dream: to instill a love of nature and a thirst for exploration and a resilience in the woods. And last month, it sort of happened. By accident. I hadn’t prepared for our initial journey and didn’t have snacks or water or a baby carrier (ended up carrying Littlewoods for the better part of an hour…. not ideal).
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat: if there’s anything a toddler hates, it’s your plan for the day. Since woods exploration wasn’t my plan that first time, Kidwoods was ON BOARD. She pressed us deeper into the forest, summiting stumps, clambering on rocks, leaping over streams. I scurried behind her as nimbly as is possible with a two-year-old limpet-ing to your person. I DESPERATELY need both a field guide and a science primer–it’s been years and I am not up to date on my lichen species or when snakes sleep (when they’re tired?????).
Littlewoods in the woods is the definition of being pleased with oneself. When you are two years old and you’ve climbed atop a mossy rock next to the creek and screamed, “SHOW DADA,” until Mama takes a photo so that you can prove the accomplishment to your favorite parent, you are pleased.
This micro nugget hovers in the first percentile for height and weight, but can carry a full watering can, climb over logs, wade through streams, balance on downed tree limbs, and catch frogs with her bare paws.
Don’t be fooled by her tiny stature; she’s fierce, passionate, and will eat any and all meat you serve. Thankfully, our neighbor raises cows and sells us beef. Thankfully our other neighbors sells us eggs from her chickens. Truly, I cannot convey how much protein this child consumes…
Signs of Spring (well, more like one solitary sign)
My obligatory annual notation of the first non-mud object to spring from the earth is a crocus. I take the same picture of the same crocuses (croci?) every year and I’m sure I said something obnoxiously uplifting about the change of seasons last year.
This year, I’m just glad to have something non-brown on the landscape. Also thankful no toddler stomped on them. Kidwoods picked 98% of them for a “boofidul bouquet” after I took the below picture, so hold this purple in your mind while we wait for the daffodils to bloom.
Baked Goods: Baking Them
We baked cookies. Felt like a major accomplishment. I was wearing pajamas, both kids sneezed in the batter, many cookies were burned. My standards are low, my expectations are lower and maybe, that’s for the best. My husband took pictures, the girls were entranced, and several eggs were dropped on the floor (no problem, I have nothing better to do than clean raw egg from grout).
While the cookies were in the oven and the girls terrorized the craft shelf, I remarked that it felt like Christmas Day. We were together at home with no expectation of going anywhere or accomplishing anything and what we did accomplish involved chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, this pandemic is not a good thing. It’s not a boon to anyone. But it might drive home what matters most. I’m not there yet–I’d still prefer to not wear pajamas and have daycare be A Thing. But I will try to learn what I can during this as-yet-to-be-determined-in-length time at home
Embrace the Cliche and Count Your Silver Linings
Here’s a reflection on Good Things happening because of isolation:
1) Time with my husband. I thought we already spent a lot of time together, but since isolation, we’ve instituted a 30-minute “date” almost every evening after putting the kids to bed. We sit down, look at each other, and talk. I know, I know, it’s like we’ve charted a whole new model for a relationship here: talking to each other on the regular.
2) Sourdough bread baking. I cannot emphasize this enough.
3) More exercise and movement. Pursuant to #2, I’m doing more hiking and yoga.
4) People are asking me how we do home haircuts and THEY ARE NOT BEING IRONIC. The Time Of Frugal has come and I am here for it.
5) Homemade carrot cake. Should another baked good have its own numeral?
6) In-depth, insightful virtual connections: church via Zoom, friends on FaceTime, family on Skype, the whole word texting; I’m building deeper friendships with more substantive bases.
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 April, we generated 628 kWh, which is quite decent for early spring. For context, in January 2020 our panels generated 120 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 have a pretty good track record.
The Uber Frugal Week Returns Next Week!
My pandemic-inspired, what-do-I-do-with-my-money Uber Frugal Week series continues with Day 7 next week! For more about the series, including an overview of what I’ll cover each day, check this out. I recommend reading the series in order; start with Day 1 here. If you’d like to get an email that lets you know when Day 7 of the series is available, sign-up for my email list in the box below.
How was April for you? What’s your new normal?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.