October AND November 2020
Oh yes, you get a double dose of homesteading because I neglected/forgot to write this up last month. But who even noticed?! It’s a pandemic! We had an election! This Month On The Homestead‘s timeliness does not rate. Fall in Vermont blows in with intention. No balmy leaf-crunchers here, fall is a rapid descent to winter. In a year that’s felt like a decade, November alone spanned several years.
Wood Stacking: COMPLETE
In November, Mr. Frugalwoods hit his goal of putting up three years’ worth of firewood in our woodshed. He spent late summer and fall in the woods, felling trees, skidding logs back to the yard, bucking logs into rounds, splitting rounds into firewood, and finally, stacking firewood in the woodshed.
We heat our home with this wood all winter long (in our super efficient wood stove) and while in one sense it is “free,” in another sense, it is perhaps the most labor intensive, time consuming, and beautiful way to keep yourself warm and your forest healthy (old trees must be taken out to allow new trees to thrive).
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. Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.
In addition to the nine cords of wood in our woodshed (each bay holds three cords), Mr. FW and Kidwoods put 1.5 full cords on our back porch, completing one of our most laborious cold weather preparations. The wood on the porch is what we’ll burn first. We usually reload the porch once a season as our typical burn rate is three cords per winter. We burned our first fire of the season in early November and haven’t stopped. For truly, winter is here.
Also, who knew that age 4.5 is when you get into stacking wood? Kidwoods hefted, handed and hauled, wearing tulle and glitter. Littlewoods made a valiant attempt but dropped a log near her foot, got sawdust in her eyes, and decided to retreat. Age 2.5, as it turns out, is not for stacking wood. No problem as age 2.5 is for hiking with mama. She and I walked around and around the woods, leaving the logs to the experts.
I cannot imagine anyone is thinking this, but if you read the preceding paragraphs and are DYING to know more, here are some tutorials I’ve written on all things wood:
- This Month On The Homestead: Burning Brush and The Life and Times of Firewood
- This Month On The Homestead: Bears, Turkeys, Deer, A Tractor, and Wood
- This Month On The Homestead: Splittin’ Wood, Orderin’ Fuel, Eatin’ Greens
- This Month On The Homestead: Local Food and Wood Transport Systems
- This Month On The Homestead: Moose and BTUs
Dispatches from The Toddler Ennui: by Kidwoods, age 4 and Littlewoods, age 2
Part I: Outside
We, The Toddler Ennui, are engaged in pursuit of a (likely poisonous) caterpillar. Yes, one of us is carrying our snow pants and yes, mama is carrying the other pair. Despite the frigidity of this air, we refuse insulated pants and also gloves.
Further, we have no apologies for the fit we threw about our frozen fingers after we picked chunks of ice out of the water table and ATE THEM. Also, not sorry about the fact that we insisted our underwear was on backwards and sat on your lap–bare bummed–in the middle of the driveway to rectify the situation and also straighten our socks, which are too big, but which we insist on wearing.
Listen, we have our reasons and you will never know them. We’re about to be hungry for lunch and one of us is going to lobby for the mile-long march to check the mailbox while the other wails in a pile of leaves.
Part II: Inside Edition
Hello and yes, Toddler Ennui here again. Mostly we are not remorseful for one of us closing the other’s arm in a door this afternoon and also are not too bothered by the quinoa all over your kitchen floor. We cite the making of our own lunches–we know how to spread some avocado on some bread–also dressing ourselves plus the fact that we helped you clean the bathroom. We know we were not at all in your way as you bent over the toilet with a scrub brush and we scurried beneath your legs to dust the floor.
We do not understand why you have sciatica pain as we are so willing to assist you with the laundry and do not understand why you dove to rescue a diaper from going into the washing machine–it was dirty, no? Is that not the purpose of a washer? Despite your shortcomings, we appreciate that you allowed us to brush your hair this evening and wind it into a knot with a pipe cleaner. Sorry (not sorry) about the puff balls we shoved down your shirt.
Part III: Littlewoods
Yes, hello, I have found this tidbit of greenery for the upcoming festive season. I will now cram it into mama’s coat pocket and demand to gaze upon it every 90 seconds for the remainder of our “hike,” after which I will refuse to employ it in our “nature craft.” I will instead smear glue on self, sister and table, but will not deign to adhere said twig to my paper.
When you try to throw away my glue-soaked page, I will shriek and throw self onto ground. No one, save every parent on earth, could imagine such a bereft state resulting from this one, innocent, sprig of fir.
Parenting By Standing Back
In grad school I learned the concept of “management by walking around,” and I’ve translated that into “parenting by standing back.” I really could’ve used a master’s degree in parenting as opposed to management, but hey, you apply the lessons you have to the team you were given.
During a hike last month, Littlewoods face planted while careening down the driveway and cried for her sister to comfort her. Not me. Standing back is the hardest and best thing I do. I watched these little sisters hold each other, stand up together, clasp hands and lead me home.
All this time in the woods with my children allows/forces me to see the granular detail of the natural world. Crouched on a rock, watching them pet moss and stumble in mud and jab themselves with sticks, I am a silent mama sentinel. I let them explore and engage with nature while I try not to die of the boredom that only an adult can feel. The boredom of non-productivity. The boredom of being in one place with no discernible goals. Because this is the state my children relish. The freedom to move at their (glacial) pace, pick up every (identical) rock, and spend 15 minutes figuring out how to get over a log while I resist the urge to scream: WALK AROUND IT.
Increasingly I watch my girls scamper ahead of me, going through the world together. They gently hold hands and then body check each other while bolting through a field. I want them to be close, to be friends, to rely on each other, to–at the very least–not body check one another. But there’s not much I can do other than stand back, insist on respect and decency, and let them choose their own clothes.
Since they spend all day every day together, since they have no other playmates (for the moment), since there’s a pandemic, what they have is each other and I have to say–physical damages aside–I think they’re alright.
Parenting By Giving Them Real Jobs
Hard to say who this is more annoying for, but I keep hearing the advice, “give children real jobs.” And so, I’m all in. Since we’re reluctant (recalcitrant?) homeschoolers this year due to the pandemic, my kids are getting an education in farm and house chores. Last month, the girls helped me prune the strawberry plants for winter, bed them in leaves, and clean up all the toys + hoses from the yard in preparation for snow. They helped me pull all the dead plants from the raised beds and carted them to the compost in their little pink wagons.
Kidwoods puts away her own laundry (in the correct drawers and everything!) and folds all the kitchen towels. Littlewoods sorts her laundry into piles (sort of) and folds her pants by wrapping them into knots.
Is this the right thing to do in parenting? WHO KNOWS???!!! But they’re here, I’m here, no one seems to be going anywhere anytime soon and so, we are all doing real jobs. Parenting is a REAL JOB. Being a kid: also a job. Working outside of the home: A REAL JOB! We’re all doing the best we can, and for some of us, that means bringing a mini wheelbarrow of five leaves over to the garden–dropping three of them–and putting those other two leaves on the strawberry plants WITH INTENTION.
I’ve also realized–during these eight months of ZERO childcare other than Mr. FW and me–that any decision I can surrender, any moment of the day I’m not responsible for is a relief. Yes, by all means, walk into a random part of the woods, no problem.
Please eat whatever food you can reach in the pantry. Absolutely dress yourselves and select your own shoes. I recently re-organized their rooms so they can reach all of their clothes–I took everything off hangers, out of high drawers and put it down at their level. The only unintended consequence (other than HORRIFIC clashing) is that Littlewoods now wakes up early every morning yelling, “I want pick my clothes!!!!!!” until we get her out of her crib so she can select her outfit…
Pandemic Sanity: Hike Every Day
Starting in October (or September? dates are meaningless) Mr. FW and I challenged each other to hike through our woods every day. So far, he’s winning as I stayed inside on several rainy November days while he strode forth.
My daily solo hike is my salvation and rejuvenation. My journey of solitude each morning prepares me for the onslaught of snack demands and lunch demands and “play doctor with me” demands. I didn’t know I was an introvert until I had kids. I didn’t know I liked hiking alone until my house was full up with people. I had no idea I preferred my own company until it became scarce.
But I know it now and I recently told Kidwoods that she would always have her own mind as a comfort. Pretty sure that was NOT the answer she was looking for in response to, “I’m bored,” but it’s what she got and I am NOT sorry. The silence of the woods is my balm–no one needs anything from me other than my own two legs. I look at trees, I step over rocks, my mind comes to rest on movement, on nothingness.
I also hike with my girlfriends every weekend. We began at the start of the pandemic and continue because we need connection, time away from our (lovely) children, and exercise. We are outside, socially distant, walking past waterfalls, committed to supporting each other. Another best friend comes over with her baby each week and we sit outside–six feet apart–drinking wine and talking. Yet another dear friend brings her dog over to hang outside with me and my girls and she, in her deep wisdom, helps keep me sane. Connection is crucial. Community is imperative. We are doing our best to stay safe, keep others safe, and maintain the threads that keep us tethered. What are you doing to keep yourself connected, safe and nurtured during these uncertain times? What fills you up these barren days? What do you miss or need or love?
Halloween Pandemic Style!
We carved one of our own pumpkins into a jack-o’-lantern! Grew this thing from a seed started in our kitchen, transplanted it to the patch, weeded, watered and–crucially–kept Littlewoods from stomping on it. Yes, I will take a moment to brag on my pumpkin growing prowess, surrounded as I was last month by gourds-I’d-grown.
Few things thrive in the tundra of Vermont; pumpkins appear an exception. The hygge of Halloween enveloped me this year. I had orange candles and orange lights and real live orange pumpkins in every corner of our house. The girls and I worked our way through all known Halloween crafts and I borrowed a doughnut pan from a friend in order to execute a baked pumpkin doughnut recipe.
I’ve pared down what I accomplish in a day. I’ve reduced my expectations. It’s a pandemic, it was election season, it’s going to snow (always true here), I was happy to be snug at home with my carved gourd.
Thanks to my BFFs, we staged a pandemic-safe, outdoor, socially-distant halloween fest for our kiddos complete with trick-or-treating, a costume “contest,” hot dogs over the bonfire, and more than one tantrum. I have to say, we might make this an annual tradition–pandemic or no!
The kids had so much fun jumping in leaf piles, the grownups had so much fun drinking warm cider with whisky, everyone brought their own plates and utensils, and it was all done and dusted by 5pm.
Please note my children dressed as a cowgirl and a “I ripped off my dragon costume before you could take a picture and I am NOT SORRY.”
Thanksgiving Pandemic Style!
We had a wonderfully tiny celebration with just us four. The girls ran around all morning performing their “Thanksgiving song,” which sounded like Jingle Bells with the word “turkey” thrown in. A lot. Mr. FW made stuffing, cranberry sauce, a ham.
I baked pumpkin and shoo fly pies in round cake pans for the first time and I have to say, I’m a convert. My homemade crusts didn’t burn! Yes, the pies looked like misshapen cakes, but they did not bubble over as they did last year in my teensy pie pans.
We Zoomed my family, my in-laws, some more family. We hiked. We watched The Grinch. I answered a 4-year-old’s questions about where ham comes from, whose pig it was, whether or not we knew the pig…. . Then as night fell, my husband and I toasted port–a rare drink for us–but such a portend of 2020: jammy, dark, unknown. It was a Thanksgiving like no other. We have so much to be grateful for. How did you celebrate?
The Annual Pumpkin Redistribution
I invented a new tradition after Thanksgiving: The Annual Pumpkin Redistribution. Since I outdid myself with pumpkin growing this summer (that makes ONE thing… ), I found myself on the brink of Christmas with 89 gourds in my house. And so, we loaded up our hand-me-down wagon (thank you, G!) and set off to distribute pumpkins in the woods.
The girls chucked pumpkins into the forest at 50-foot intervals to discourage large critter gatherings, but encourage small pod and family unit assemblies.
If you need an activity for your kids this week, let them throw old produce into your yard. This occupied enough of the afternoon that it was apple cider-and-whisky-time when we got back home.
Yes, I could’ve cooked these pumpkins or created 15-step Christmas ornaments out of them. But I wanted to throw them into the woods and hear them crack against tree trunks. So that’s what I did.
Pandemic Parenting Sanity: Outside Every Day
There’ve been a lot of days this fall when I don’t want to take the kids outside. When it’s rainy, unnecessarily grey, and I just want to hide behind the kitchen counter eating gingersnaps. And some days, I do just that. Other days, I remind myself that everything is better when you’ve had some time in nature.
Children are FAR less annoying when they’ve thrown some leaves around and even adults find fewer things to be mad about. So we tromp through the damp woods, wet leaves are flung, people slip off mossy, rain-soaked logs, and we return home elevated, with freshness in our lungs and clods of mud in our hair (mostly that’s Littlewoods).
When one child falls out of a tree, the other is there to pat her, and my dear friend was close enough to snap this picture. I spend so much of my life cradling one, the other, or both in my lap and I never knew what it looked like until now.
Don’t worry, the one being cradled swatted the other one away as soon as she realized whose tiny hand was comforting her.
First Snow: Not Fake News
Do you remember what it felt like to go sledding for the first time? Me neither. But Kidwoods gives a pretty good impression of what I imagine most of us felt as we flew down an icy slope atop a sheet of plastic.
Littlewoods, relegated to sharing a sled with me, is less enthused about sledding, but I am holding onto Kidwoods’ impish grin of glee.
Going Nowhere Brightly
As we enter this dark winter, we will do our best to be our own light. Quite literally since we replaced all of our kitchen lightbulbs with super-bright, super-efficient LEDs. And bought ten strands of white LED Christmas lights. I cannot recommend this enough. We may be going nowhere, but we will be going there brightly.
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.
In October, we generated 456 kWh and November clocked in at 269 kWh which is typical for this time of year. 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?!
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.