September 2020

I grew these!!!

Our pumpkin crop is in! We (by which I mean I) harvested, rinsed, dried, and carried all the pumpkins from the patch to the house in mid-September. Started from seed in our kitchen last March, our pumpkins thrived and were–somehow–not eaten by a varmint.

I now have pumpkins on every windowsill, each table, in all rooms (bathrooms included) and I am NOT SORRY. I love me a good pumpkin and the fact that I can grow my own is a personal victory. Endless supply of natural fall decor just might be my primary reason for homesteading.

Full crop pictured at right —>

Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. 

Littlewoods eyes our pumpkin crop

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

Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.

The First Day Of School, Pandemic-Style

I never imagined homeschooling my kids, but I also never imagined a pandemic. Thankfully, my good friend is a teacher and created an amazing homeschool pod with her two kids and my two recalcitrant (though secretly excited) children.

We meet twice a week for about three hours at a time, entirely outdoors, and follow a curriculum based on nature and the seasons, with some Waldorf-y stuff thrown in (that’s my technical term).

There are just four kids and two mamas, but it’s wonderful, small, and sweet. Thus far, we’ve been able to watch the weather and choose the warmest/least rainy two days each week for school. We’ll have to see how this evolves as harsh winter sets in.

Feral homeschoolers unite

It’s not how I envisioned this school year, but it’s completely perfect for the global crisis we find ourselves living through.

We’ve had zero childcare since March, which means I’m working far less as Mr. FW and I juggle our schedules every day to trade off watching the girls. I’d planned for this to be my year to ramp my writing up to full-time since Kidwoods was signed up for her final year of preschool and Littlewoods was set to start an all-day daycare program in September.

But the pandemic threw those ideas out the window and so here we are, home more than ever before, me writing less than ever before, but finding peace in the relationship my girls have developed. Turns out, having only your sister to play with for seven months teaches you to enjoy each other, share without being prompted, and also the exact moment at which to pull each other’s hair so that a parent doesn’t see you do it.

I hope your start to the school year–whatever it looked like–went ok too. We’re in weird territory, folks, but we’re still here. And Littlewoods has decided to start wearing actual clothes, so we’re learning new things already.

Forest Explorations

These two. I turn back to take a picture and the both spontaneously, immediately do this.

Since we’re not going anywhere else, we go into our woods. Daily we’re in the forest exploring, outside for hours, tired and mud-splattered by evening. With blackberry thorn scratches on our arms, dirt under our fingernails, and vine-ripened tomatoes in our mouths, we share a commitment to our land. Also, some afternoons we won’t let them inside while Mr. FW cooks and I clean because truly, someone has to do some indoor work sometimes.

Kidwoods has taken to packing her own backpack for our treks and, in early September, stuffed it full of basil, carrots and strawberries, all picked and packed by herself. Anytime Littlewoods announced hunger, Kidwoods would pull another basil leaf out and hand it to her. She’d dutifully chomp each leaf, hoping for a strawberry next.

I trail behind them these days, making sure no one is eaten by a bear/falls into a hole they can’t climb out of. And if one of them stubs a toe, they scream until I come cradle them like “a little baby.”

I relish this back and forth–their independence and their desperate need of me. I was once given a carrot from the self-directed backpack snack situation, so things are looking up for me.

Bidding Summer Farewell

September swept in the first frost and so, we dutiful subpar farmers made blanket forts atop our plants in the hopes of thwarting that initial bite of winter. Last year, I emptied the linen closet into the garden. We positioned comforters over tomato trellises, wrapped sheets around pepper plants, and accidentally trapped a child underneath the cucumber blanket (don’t worry, she was under there eating the cucumbers).

Hiking behind my family, Mr. FW pushing a wheelbarrow of sticks for the bonfire

This year? Our motivation waned and only the most delicate–the basil, salad greens, lettuce, herbs, and strawberries–were privy to such warmth. Kidwoods served as our plant-cover-tester, which involved wrapping herself in each blanket before unspooling it onto the vegetables… For truly, summer is in retreat.

Hiking behind my family, Mr. FW pushing a wheelbarrow-of-sticks for the bonfire, carrying someone’s tutu, I am at peace. Because the leaves are turning and the air is crisp… Or because I have a pumpkin beer in my hand (other hand than the tutu).

I’m ready for the garden to die, ready to turn inward; it may be mid-September, but it’s been ten years since March and I’m ready to bust out my ghost candles and mini scarecrows (with orange lights you better believe it).

The Final Harvest

After the first (and second) light frosts, we harvested everything viable from the vegetable gardens.

Double the height of a pumpkin–but no more–Littlewoods raced through the rows with me, plucking unripe tomatoes and peppers, preparing for the upcoming hard frost.

Then I had piles of unripe vegetables strewn about my house, very much in need of stacking and organizing. No worries, toddler patrol to the rescue: they sorted the ripe from the unripe, taking bites of any they were unsure of, and transported a load of tiny pumpkins in a doll stroller. My team is ON IT.

House Wood

Kidwoods stacks in style

The family that stacks together stays warm together. And a ball gown is (obviously) the correct outfit for homestead chores. As the four of us stacked firewood for winter, from trees Mr. FW felled and split from our land, I realized that this is it. This is what I want in life: working side by side, out in nature, wearing tulle and pearls.

It’s the time of year when we grow reverent for the woodshed we built to sustain our wintry months. Mr. FW is deep in wood harvesting mode, as the temperatures drop into the 40s at night and we round the corner of summer, barreling to fall, which in Vermont is a slip-n-slide to winter.

But this is the season we live for. The garden is a thing of the past, the leaves are considering their options, the pumpkins have moved inside, and I’m willing to bet there’s candy corn for sale somewhere…

After harvesting all the sugar wood we’ll need for making maple syrup this spring, Mr. FW turned his attention to filling out our supply of house wood–meaning the wood we burn in our woodstove to heat our home.

After building the woodshed two years ago, he began his goal of getting three years ahead on wood. Last month he started putting up wood for the winter of 2022-2023. There’s nothing quite so comforting–or Vermont-y–as having several years of wood harvested, split, and stacked, just waiting to keep your future self warm.

Daughter’s Day(???)

Yeah, this is definitely made-up, but we’ll kinda smile for you ’cause you look really desperate, mama

I feel like this was a completely made-up thing to distract us from the Pandemic and other impending dooms; nevertheless, I was here for it. I have daughters, they are great, I love them, and they are super mad about this photo (at right) I forced them to pose for. Those are smiles of resentment, in case you’re wondering.

Watermelons? Not So Much

We cannot grow watermelons in Vermont. Repeat after me: I will not try to grow watermelons again and break children’s hearts (yet again).

To much fanfare and anticipation, I cracked open our four diminutive melons, only to find unripe, super unripe, rotten, and pale pink. The kids wolfed down the pale pink (didn’t taste great, but it’s 2020 so you take what you can get).

Then–like the unwilling homeschooler I am–I sliced those worthless watermelons into stamps for the kids to paint and stamp stuff with. As I write this, I’m realizing the paint, brushes, and watermelon carcasses are still outside, probably being eaten by one of the 98 chipmunks living under our back porch. Cool.

Puppets and Pizza

Thanks to a nearby farm kitchen, we got takeout for the first time in six months and thanks to this same farm, we took our kids to an outdoor puppet show during which Kidwoods laughed so loudly that other people laughed at how loud she was laughing… that’s my child.

The leaves framing our church

It started to rain halfway through this puppet extravaganza, but it being Vermont, no one so much as set down their BYO beer.

So happy to be outside together, our kids lounging in our laps, spaced way more than six feet apart, everyone dutifully masked, in a field overlooking the mountains, knowing almost everyone else there and shout out to Frugalwoods reader Hillary who came to say hello with her lovely family, we all exhaled relief that there are still connections and moments to be had together. At least until it snows.

Hello Leaves!

Leaves look so good as they age…. me? Not so much. These are the leaves that frame my church, which I attend by Zoom these days.

As we chart new, weird ways to live online, the leaves progress heedless.

Really I just tried to think of something to write here so I could include this photo of fall leaves.

Leaves, leaves, LEAVES!!!!!!

In The Garden With the Toddler Ennui: by Kidwoods, age 4 and Littlewoods, age 2

Toddler Ennui burglary in progress

We, the toddler ennui, wish to inform you that your garden is in the process of a burglary. My backpack is loaded with cucumbers [I wondered why she brought that thing outside… ], we are aware the pepper with which we gesticulate is unripe, but all thieved produce counts as a success–edibility is not a metric.

Perhaps you will not notice that one of us is slinking out with the entire bowl of harvested tomatoes.

Our plan (this time) is a methodical advance up the hill to the house, as you will surely not follow our trail of dropped vegetables. Also, we are as covert as a marching band with a substantial brass section. We see zero obstacles.

Just stay where you are, mama, and keep harvesting beans (we’ll be back for those later). In the immortal words of our founder, Kidwoods, “nothing bad will happen!!!!!”

Solar Check

After moving here, we had 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.

Woodshed feat. sneak peek of solar panels

In September, we generated 750 kWh, which is quite good. For context, in January 2020 our panels generated 120 kWh and in July 2020 we raked in 816 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 have a pretty good track record.

How was September for you?

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  1. You seem to live an idyllic (sp?) life in VT. I know it’s not, but… do make it look like it. Happy autumn from Eastern Shore MD

  2. Those pumpkins – you had your own Frugalwoods Pumpkin Festival! I am so glad you guys are on your acreage in Vermont. I know how thankful I am for a large patio and a Midwest size lawn. Humans are resilient though so I know we’d survive if needing to hunker down in a city. Be well!

  3. I’m a new reader, and love having a peek into your lives. I just wanted to say you should feel free to post photos of ALL the leaves. I live in So. Calif. where fall is a romantic notion that we don’t really experience, so your photos are much appreciated.

  4. Could we have an update about your rental property in Cambridge? I hope that’s going smoothly and would like to hear your short and long term plans as well as any lessons learned.

      1. Good question! We still own it and still rent it out. It didn’t disappear from the expense reports–once the property transitioned to a rental in 2016, I removed that mortgage. I haven’t written an update because there’s not a whole lot to share, which I guess is a good thing! We continue to enjoy having a property manager and continue to see it as a good investment to rent it out versus sell it.

  5. I see a lot of pumpkin roasting in your near future! You can puree the cooked pumpkin and freeze for soups, pies, pumpkin bread/muffins, etc. I think you have a real green thumb!

    1. Just a side note to those who are not familiar with cooking pumpkins. Only pie pumpkins are suitable for eating. The large ones are not, but the birds, chipmunks and squirrels love them.

      1. Well…jack-o-lantern pumpkins aren’t inedible, but they are a bit stringy and fibrous. In my experience, unless you’re prepared to do the work of puree-ing them, they suit soups more than pies.

  6. Off topic: I’d like to make the recommendation not to say things like “Pictured at right —->” as I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of your readers are on mobile and there is no “right” as it’s a single column view.

    Beautiful views in the fall in rural Vermont!

  7. You are having light frosts on your garden… we had 76 degrees for a low last night and a hurricane is sneaking up on us. I’m packing my bags for Vermont right now. Of course, I’d be packing them to come back to Florida as soon as winter hits. Which in Vermont, might be next week, right? I love the pictures, by the way. The leaves are gorgeous and the still-green stuff is so wonderfully green!

    Have you considered hoop houses and frost cloth? Or are those pointless in the Vermont fall?

    You have pumpkins! Pumpkin puree for pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin butter, and somewhere I read a way to make up a pumpkin mix to flavor coffee, using pumpkin puree as the base. Pumpkin can be substituted for applesauce in baked recipes. Then there is crystallized (candied) pumpkin, which I can assure you is delicious and would be a nice Christmas treat.

    I often think another dog would be of benefit on your farm, especially one like a Maremma, which (at least the ones I know) are quite friendly with kids but are big and tough enough to make a predator animal think twice. Something like that would help keep animals out of your garden but would be fun for your kids, too. Growing up in farm country, I remember it was just understood that farmers kept a dog, usually medium to large, to help keep the livestock safe, assist the farmer, guard the house, etc. Every single farm dog I knew was also the family pet and it was common to see a happy dog seated beside his farmer in the pickup as they went to town. It’s your choice and no dog will ever replace Frugalhound, of course, but I vote for another dog for the farm,

  8. Beautiful fotos. There is nothing like pumpkin pie that is home made. Stores just don’t put enough spice and they use way too much sugar in the filling. We love pumpkin englishmuffins as well. We live in south Florida and are still roasting during the day. Cannot wait until we drop into the 60’s here and there in the winter. Today our temperature is a feel like 104, not actually 104. For us, you learn to do things early and late and hibernate in the middle of the day. Enjoy your last warmer weather😁

  9. Vermont in the fall is as good as it gets. Social media reminded me that hubs and I were in Vermont 3 years ago in Sept, enjoying the reds and golds and oranges of the transitioning trees. I love fall. I love spring. These transitory seasons are the best ever. September in Colorado was good. We don’t have a homestead, but we do have a healthy mix of deciduous and evergreens that play nicely off each other this time of year. Fall always seems to bring the winds that whisper, “Just slow down every so often. Grab a book and sit on the sofa in front of that fire instead of checking another item off the to-do list. It’s ok. It’s good, actually.” 🙂 We paid for firewood for the first.time.ever and hubby almost died on the spot. We now have plans for how to not do that again, but we needed seasoned wood for the short cold snap that came through and dropped two evenings to 2 degrees. September saw an increase in restaurant charges as we went a few too many times for dinner out, though in reality it was for margaritas out. I realized I need to add some outside-the-house time to my agenda on the daily. I always work remote, so this is a conintuous struggle to find the outlets that calm my brain from a very busy period at work, filled with tons of ambiguity, change, and challenge. The battle between sinking into fall and slowing down is combatted by work and my uptick in athletics to get my body back to some kind of shape that is not round. 😀 September was stressful, but it was also ok as sometimes I need that stress to kick me back into gear so I ensure I’m doing what I need to do for myself.

  10. I love reading your monthly updates and seeing all the pictures! It looks gorgeous and your girls see so lucky to be growing up in nature!

    Just curious- do you ever follow up with the folks featured in Reader Case Studies?

  11. Thanks for being honest about the impact of the lack of childcare since March. It’s an interesting world we are living in – trying to mind young children while also working from home isn’t super practical. I’m hopeful that employers will recognize these challenges and make changes to support us better. Is your husband’s company doing anything differently to enable him to help more during the day?

  12. Love reading your journey of connecting to place through the land and the community and building resilience into the way you live with your family, far from a life of consumption, you guys really are radical homemakers!

  13. Love this! Our first baby is due in April and reading about your adventures with the girls makes me excited for own!

    Our new (rural!) property came with a small pumpkin patch, but we only got 3! 2 bigger ones and a tiny one just like our family lol.

  14. I was pulled to your post at the sight of those pumpkins!!!
    As a thrifty person and also as a bit of an obsessive food user (not a morsel is wasted in my house) I have a pet peeve at all those pumpkins I see on the door steps in my suburban neighborhood that will be thrown away at season’s end. Most, perhaps all, will be never eaten. Many of my close neighbors know that I use them and so donate to me. I make soup and other recipes out of them. My neighbors think I give them to my chickens….!
    Pumpkins are edible of course, and wonderful to eat. I first learned this in New Zealand/Australia many years ago, where pumpkins are served regularly and are considered a normal veg all year..Once I learned this I was hooked and even hauled an entire pumpkin over the Cradle mountain trail across Tasmania so I could make soup at the hostel – not my smartest move as it was very heavy, but I digress…. Anyway, every year I make those pumpkins into all kinds of other recipes and into the freezer they go! I am not aware those big the decorative pumpkins are any less edible than”pie” pumpkins. They taste the same. I hope to make a few converts form the readers on this blog!

    1. Wow, I am from Australia and I never knew people didn’t eat the pumpkins? They are delicious, especially oven baked served with a roast. But also in soup, scones (pumpkin biscuits), the list goes on…one of my favourites!

  15. Sounds like you’re near Bread & Puppet?? I miss Vermont! (Spent 5 years there for college) Thank you for sharing with us!

  16. Next spring you might want to try Porcelain Doll, a pink pumpkin. It grows here in Northern Alaska, so should do well in Vermont.

  17. Beautiful pictures, especially of the fall leaves! Our leaves don’t look as pretty as yours, but the changing leaves hit VT sooner than here. I would’ve liked a peep into the bag of basil, strawberry, and carrot snacks, though!

    It’s funny – this past weekend, my boyfriend was talking about his brother’s one and only attempt at making maple syrup and what a colossal failure it was. And I understood what a complete and utter failure it was and why because I read your blog post about it! I had to explain how I knew so much about the process. 😉

    Glad you’re all doing well in spite of all the challenges this year.

  18. I love that Kidwoods packs her own knapsack for hikes — and includes snacks! She has clearly absorbed the lessons to bring our own food with you when going on the road — and will be ready and well positioned to avoid the temptations of fast food snacks once the world is open again!

  19. Love reading your stories, I always laugh at the girls antics, reminds me of growing up with 2 sisters!! Make sure you roast your pumpkin seeds, I have a great, old recipe if you are interested. A while back, you wrote about the mattress you have, can you share the brand name with me?? Thanks much, Happy Autumn Frugalwoods family!!

    1. The mattress brand name is Lucid (gel-infused memory foam). I bought the same mattress on Amazon that Liz recommended, except she bought the king size and I bought the full size. My mattress is two years old and I LOVE it! I recently purchased another Lucid full size mattress for guest bedroom.

  20. Have you taken a nail (or similar object) and “scratched” the kids names on the pumpkin? As it grows, the “scarred” name grows with it. Fine line of scratching deep enough but not too deep.

  21. I love your fall pics (& stories) maybe there’s a new seasonal family pic that could update your “about us” photo? Continue to enjoy the season, stay well and thank you for the wonderful updates!

  22. I love this sentence: “As we chart new, weird ways to live online, the leaves progress heedless.” Pure poetry, and a wonderful reminder that life goes on. Thank you.

  23. I always admire you and the way you mother. I hope my kids aged 2 and 5 are having just as much fun and are as happy as your two. Well done, Momma.

  24. September was BUSY! Baby started crawling and outgrew everything literally overnight, our van needed a new timing belt, we started homeschooling my stepson … I also read an NPR-recommended book “Radio Free Vermont” and found myself greatly intrigued by the concept of Town Meeting Day. Ay chance you can put that in your queue of things to write about? The idea of the people in a town making decisions for the town together as opposed to as through their elected officials fascinates me! I’d love to hear the first-person perspective.

  25. I wanted to ask—will you be sharing what gifts you two are giving the girls out of your gift stash this year? I know Kidwoods’ birthday is coming up, as well as Christmas. I love hearing what you pull out for the girls! We are already planning something similar for our sweet girl who turns 1 right before Christmas and I can’t wait to give her the giant version of the beanie baby she’s been playing with for 6 months or so now (both thrifted on the same day)! Also—I teach preschool so I’ve got kids your girls’ age on the brain always—I think Kidwoods would ADORE the music of Perry Gripp. It’s perfect for her age group and fun to listen to for parents too. Favorites around our house are “I Love my Kitty Cat,” “Narwhal Eating a Bagel,” and “Neon Pegasus.” I hope you all enjoy, and happy fall to you!

  26. Watermelons that will work: Glenn Downs was a teenage in northern Idaho who wanted a watermelon that grew that far north – so he created it! Blacktail Mountain is available from Pinetree Seeds near you in New England ( for just over 2 dollars per packet of seed. The best part about these watermelons is they can be harvested not fully ripe before a hard frost, taken inside, and they will ripen before Thanksgiving. They are a GREAT option for northern states. Also try Minnesota Midget as a cantelope – small, perfect to feed two people per cantalope, and great for the north. If you try these I would love to hear if they work for you – good here in high altitude Colorado.

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