This Month On The Homestead: Pancakes, Snow and Tractor Stuff
Christmas at home and online, daily hikes, snowshoeing, baking cookies, fires burning in the wood stove and wrestling children into snowsuits. These are a few of our December things.
And Bernie’s visit to the Glamour Shed.
Pandemic “Homeschool” Continues
My ‘give them real jobs’ approach to “homeschooling” continues with countertop wiping, laundry folding, egg scrambling, dishwasher loading, vacuuming, sweeping and… scribbling on any important paperwork they happen to find. All day long Littlewoods touts, “I’m a BIG helper!” and I have to say, she is (kinda)! They both are!
Now that we’re running an ill-begotten, un-asked-for homeschool (thank you, COVID), we are ON IT with the chores and the real jobs and the Montessori shit. In other news, probably don’t let your five-year-old vacuum your staircase when you have Christmas stockings + holly berries on the railing… consider this a PSA.
That Would Be a YES to Pancakes
One frosty December morning, Kidwoods and I were the first ones awake. As soon as I opened her bedroom door, she pulled me down to whisper in my ear, “can we make pancakes????” Of the hundreds of times she’s asked this, I decided that was the day. Never mind my plans for an early morning hike, this was a time when I could give her an unequivocal YES.
Thankfully my husband woke up halfway through our pancake operation and took over. Listen, I have many skills; cooking is not one of them.
Later in the day, syrup-laden, we hiked to the mailbox and I had the brilliant idea to sled back down to the house. Seemed like a good idea.
Upon reflection, the steepness of the driveway coupled with the small-ness of the children was not the best combination. Tearful, with snow-caked faces, I herded them inside for a hot bath and promises to not sled down the driveway again. Until that evening when Kidwoods begged me to take her sledding down the driveway again.
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.
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather (although some days I beg to differ… )
Last month we managed our first entire family snowshoe outing that did not (immediately) result in tears. Don’t worry, tears came later.
Littlewoods decided to cart her snowshoes behind her in the sled, which Kidwoods later used to sled down the hill behind the pond, resulting in wiping Littlewoods out. NO PROBLEM. Nearly two hours outside in sub-freezing temps = success in my pandemic book.
The HARDEST thing about going out in winter with littles is getting ready.
Listen, once you have the mittens and boots and suits on, you are GOLDEN. Just push them out the door, have a thermos of coffee in your coat pocket, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Or don’t, if you’re 2 and trying to master snowshoes for the first time. In that case, by all means, step on your feet, collapse in tears, and demand to be carried back home UPHILL.
The tractor started to REALLY earn its keep last month. Although we use it year-round, winter is when we rely on it to plow us out. Mr. FW switched the tractor from the winch attachment–which he used all fall to winch trees in from the forest for firewood–over to the snowblower.
Both are connected via the tractor’s rear three-point PTO hitch and are a PITA to get on and off, made more challenging by the fact that we have no level surface–and no poured concrete–anywhere on our property.
He has to maneuver and coax these thousand-pound things on and off the tractor to transition its seasonal work. He also attached the plow to the front of the tractor, making it a two-sided monster feared by snow everywhere. When snow is too heavy and wet to snowblow, he uses the plow.
When the air temperature is colder and the snow is deep and fluffy, he uses the snowblower because that way our driveway stays the same width. Plowing makes the driveway narrower and narrower as the season goes on. Hence, our two-sided snow monster!
For all you tractor enthusiasts (I know both of you read this), we have a Kubota L-4400.
Mr. FW also put the front chains on (another feat of him wrestling extremely heavy metal) and completed the tractor’s 400-hour servicing and maintenance himself.
The advantages of him doing all this work himself include:
- Saving a ton of money on labor
- Learning new skills
- Lots of hydraulic oil everywhere
Who doesn’t love a patina of hydraulic oil? It’s the stuff of my dreams, for sure.
Other Outdoor Pursuits
Sledding!!!! Littlewoods was thrilled with her inaugural “solo sled,” which was actually me holding onto her sled as we tandem-sledded down the hill. Kidwoods thought this looked so fun she glommed on and down we went, three across, our sleds connected by arms, our hearts by so much more. Only several times did one of us wipe out face-first into snowy bliss.
Another wintertime favorite this year is repeatedly rolling down a snow-covered hill. They seem to think this is fun. If we’re not throwing ourselves down hills, we spend hours investigating frozen sticks in a creek, followed by licking these frozen sticks, followed by wailing that our faces are cold.
The biggest impediment to time outside with my kids is how bored I get. I am trying so hard to clear my mind and be ok with watching them scale the same tree 87 times in a row.
They thrive in nature, as do I, but they thrive at such a slow pace. I want to cultivate that pace and appreciate these teensy, wonderful, excruciating moments and not scream “YES, WATER FREEZES. GET OVER IT.”
Holiday Dispatch from The Toddler Ennui: by Kidwoods, age 5 and Littlewoods, age 2
Hello and welcome to Toddler Ennui, holiday edition. We are pleased with the gingerbread cookies we made today, though disappointed mama did not let us dump the can of baking powder into the batter. You can see the resistance we mounted to her refusal.
Also, the flour all over your kitchen is not something we are concerned about and feel you should not be either. Furthermore, there will be no apologies for the fistful of dough the smaller one crammed into her mouth and swallowed before either parent could extract it. We ate it and would do it again.
We did not, as one might assume, roll out the dough cooperatively but rather, became locked in a protracted contest of upper body strength. The loser received a rolling pin to the chin that also sent the cookie cutters flying underneath the radiator.
For this–and other unlisted grievances–we do not repent. Merry holidays!
We had our church Christmas pageant via Zoom this year with Small Angel #1 and Small Angel #2 reporting for duty. Yes, Small Angel #1 whacked Small Angel #2 when she forgot her line and yes, both were bribed with raisins. Primary resemblance to the in-person pageant? Ended in tears for the smallest of angels.
I am filled with gratitude for our church community. We’ve been worshiping on Zoom since March and we’ve been rocking it. We’re connected, we sing, we have coffee hour, we have joys & concerns, we have children’s time, we have bible study—we do it all online. We are staying safe, staying distant, and praising the Lord in our most progressive of ways. All are welcome in God’s Zoom house, for She loves us all.
Our little at-home Christmas was merry and bright and I learned three things this year:
- Do not leave a wrapped gift tag-less on your wrapping table, lest you return two hours later and have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what it is.
- Make Santa’s cookies something you enjoy eating since you’re going to have to, you know, eat them.
- DO NOT use real taper candles for your church’s online Christmas Eve service OR for your Advent wreath when you have people under the age of 15 in your home.
The Sublime of Winter Hiking
Hiking every season in our woods amazes me, but the stillness of winter might be my favorite. I’m so focused on not getting frostbite that I forget to worry about anything else. It’s so difficult to climb through snow that I forget to think about how long the hike will take. And it’s so beautiful, this frozen-in-place world, that I don’t want to be anywhere else. Except for next to my woodstove.
Mr. FW and I continue our commitment to hiking every single day and last month, we got to break out the snowshoes for the first time this season. Snowshoeing is a more challenging workout, it takes longer, and it’s exhilarating. It lets us hike during snowstorms and after snowstorms and when we’re waiting for the next snowstorm, which is never a long wait.
Goodbye and Good Riddance, 2020!
We ran into 2021 like a two-year-old who ripped off her hat and rolled down a snowy hill, crash landed in a burdock plant, got burdock burrs all over her head, and wailed until mama picked out each individual burr spike, all of which could’ve been avoided by wearing a mask. I mean HAT! Peace it on out 2020, you’re done.
Despite the fact that we’re in our tenth month of isolation and zero childcare, we’re completely fine. Great, actually. This year was horrific for so many people: lost lives, lost jobs, lost opportunities and my heart grieves for them. I know that I am lucky.
My family is fortunate, our jobs were already remote, and my children are not as annoying as they were back in March. Let’s venture into 2021 with hope and try not to focus on the fact that 2021 is when 2020 grows up and starts drinking…
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 December, we generated 81 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?!
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.
How was the final month of 2020 for you?
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