This Month On The Homestead: Pancakes, Snow and Tractor Stuff

December 2020

In his natural habitat

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.

YES to pancakes

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… )

Exuberant outdoors (some of the time… )

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.

Tractor Activities

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.

Mr. FW in the middle of tractor maintenance

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:

  1. Saving a ton of money on labor
  2. Learning new skills
  3. 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

Tandem sled in action

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

We feel the cookies need ALL of this baking powder

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!

Christmas!

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.

Small Angel #1 and Small Angel #2 reporting for duty

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Make Santa’s cookies something you enjoy eating since you’re going to have to, you know, eat them.
  3. 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.

My little vacuum helper

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…

Solar Check

Are we having fun yet?

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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62 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Maybe don’t call it Montessori shit…sorry I’m sensitive to that as my kids from the age of about 16 months through 8th grade have attended a Montessori school and I hate to think of the methodology being disparaged. I think it is wonderful that you are following the child and giving them big work (all solid Montessori principles)…but please don’t call it shit. Thanks so much and it looks like it has been quite a busy winter for you all.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      My apologies, Rachel! I did not mean to disparage–I’m a HUGE fan of the Montessori approach!!! I used the expletive for humor, but I see now it’s not well placed. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      • Jean says:

        We all have an opinion about everything. It is like as**oles. We all have one. No one should reprimand the writer for it. You did not harm anyone in making a statement. I enjoy a little levity at this cruddy time in everyone’s life. Thankyou.

        • Julie says:

          I often find the double standards in the comments section somewhat amusing. Why can Rachel be reprimanded for her comment but Mrs. Frugalwoods cannot? Rachel wasn’t disrespectful or rude, nor did she “harm” Mrs. Frugalwoods by making her statement. I found Mrs. Frugalwood’s comment back to Rachel to be kind and polite, unlike some of those who immediately jumped to the defense of Mrs. Frugalwoods, as though she can’t adequately defend herself.

      • Jennie says:

        If it helps, we are a all-in, hardcore Montessori family, and I found it hilarious. 🙂

    • Leslie says:

      I’m not a fan of the s*** word, but heavens, have a sense of humor. (My children also were in Montessori when young.)

    • Kirsten says:

      I LOL’d at the s**t comment. Which was nice actually. Working from home and living by myself I don’t laugh as much as what’s good for me. Not for a second did I believe you actually think Montessori is actually s**t!

    • Julianne says:

      I’m with Kristen on this one. Literally laughed out loud at it. But maybe it’s because I’m a jaded northeasterner who throws around the S-word lovingly and casually to refer to a collection of “stuff”. For example, I LOVE skiing. before a ski trip, I always make sure to pack the car with my “ski shit”. Maybe it’s a regional colloquialism, but I think the word is pretty much evolved beyond an exclusively-disparaging descriptor.

    • Janine says:

      As a Montessori parent, I have to say – lighten up. This was clearly in jest and we could all do with a little humor right now.

    • Caroline Joanna Mary Bowman says:

      I think it was intended to be humorous and I’d warrant most of us would see that. I see Liz has explained and apologised entirely unnecessarily but honestly, ”disparaging the methodology” feels a tiny bit hyperbolic and brittle. Try not to be hyperbolic and brittle. Thank you so much.

    • Vicki says:

      The sh*t comment made me smile. I read it as meaning ‘stuff’ and not a veiled attack on Montessori pedagogy.

    • Julie says:

      Rachel,

      It is a shame that so many commenters are attempting to shame you for making your heartfelt comment. I wasn’t thrilled to see the word “shit” included in the blog either. If Mrs. Frugalwoods didn’t want feedback, she would not have a comment section.

  2. Ellen C. says:

    Where did you purchase the stair tread carpets and how do they stay put? I think this would help my small dog have more stair confidence.

    Love your updates!

  3. Amanda says:

    This is fantastic. I love your real, honest approach to and descriptions of life in a snow-covered landscape and with 2 small children. Thank you!

  4. Grace Arjona-Ramirez says:

    Thank you for sharing ~ what beautiful & fun days you’re having! I Love reading all of your posts ~ been reading them since your early days when rural life was but a dream, and a plan in action ~ your words are always so uplifting. Loving your case studies as well, those too are very inspiring. Thank you!!!

  5. Lyna says:

    Bernie has really been getting around lately!
    The girls’ antics made me smile (easy when no one under 15 lives here), bet Bernie did too?

  6. Wendy M. says:

    Your daughters are growing up so fast….such cuties!!!

  7. Cindy says:

    I love that last photo of you rolling out gingerbread dough… the things we do! Right now I’ve handed my 3 yo the iPad so I can read this blogpost and…comment too lol! It has been a rough year and if we can all remember what is truly important and be grateful for what it is we do have be it health/job/home/etc we will get through this. Our December was less expensive than previous years, and we were able to save some money into our bank account in January. Now we’re wrapping up the Frugalwoods UFM and teaching my husband that grocery fliers are not instatrash-I look through them to find deals of the week! We’ve been more intentional and I’ve really tried hard to grocery shop just once a week… which is a big deal since that’s my biggest get me out of the house past time. Now I take a walk with the dog around the block once kids are done with school. We’ve been blessed with snow since New Years and the kids have taken full advantage of playing in it! We have a lot less land than you but a tiny snow hill in the back has given the kids hours of enjoyment! So gapoy for the simple things in life Liz! Take care and God bless you and your family!

  8. Kathryn says:

    I’m Montessori-ing the shit out of my 2 year old too. 10 months in, exhausted, sad for the old days, missing family and friends and are thankful for your humor and honesty!

  9. Carol says:

    Real Work is Real Good and makes kids Real Responsible, Real Resourceful and Real Respectful (the 3R’s!). Your fam is Real Cute. I can’t imaging snowshoeing with a 2 year old!

  10. From The Desert says:

    …..really glad Bernie got to visit, somebody should knit him a hat, at least give him a pancake-HA!

  11. Lina says:

    “All are welcome in God’s Zoom house, for She loves us all.” 🙂 I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and love what you guys are doing; and, being a theologian myself, I’m so glad that you have a community of faith to share life with. So just wanted to say thanks and to wish you a peaceful and hopeful 2021 (whether it grows up and starts drinking or not!) – with greetings all the way from Scotland!

  12. Judy Bell says:

    The “s” word made me literally laugh out loud. Was happy to see that others will sometimes let a bad word slip in humor. Thank you! It was like therapy for me! Homeschooling and being locked down means we need humor!

  13. Rebecca says:

    Totally agree on the Real work and Real Responsibilities. I remember reading when my kids were small that the happiest adults were ones that had chores and responsibilities when growing up. It stuck with me through the years.

  14. Kelsey says:

    Liz, you are a breath of fresh air! Thank you for these incredibly entertaining posts! I love them all and read them aloud to my husband while he plays video games…”The biggest impediment to time outside with my kids is how bored I get.” This so much…I love being outside and have been trying to take more walks around the neighborhood and in the woods nearby and I just don’t have the patience for taking the kids (age almost-3 and 4.5). I end up carrying them so that we can move faster and then my back feels like it’s breaking…Thankfully, my husband is much more tolerant of their pace and is happy to take them out while letting me get some alone time on my own walks. From one quarantined mom of littles to another, hang in there! And cheers 🙂

  15. Mary says:

    Loved your whole post and the all the humour behind it. But I have an important question….

    Who’s Bernie?

    • Pamela says:

      Assuming you are serious here. Bernie Sanders is a senator from Vermont (this is in the United States). He has run for president. He was at the inauguration of Joe Biden, sitting by himself with his big Vermont made mittens. Someone thought we would make a good meme, so people started using software to put him into all sorts of funny pictures. On of those pics had him at the WWII Yalta conference with Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. Hope I didn’t overexplain, but I didn’t know if you are from the U.S. or not.

      • Mary says:

        Yes, it was a serious question so thanks for answering so nicely! I’m Canadian and have certainly heard of Bernie Sanders but was unaware of his current meme-ness (I just made this word up) while wearing fabulous Vermont mittens. Perhaps we should photoshop Bernie into a Canadian landscape. Anyone who thrives through a Vermont winter would be most welcome here.

      • Sandra, Italy says:

        Thanks Pamela, as an Italian, I was wondering as well – thought it was an uncle I’d never heard of! 😆

  16. Marie-Josée says:

    Loved the photos of you and the girls! They are growing. I love winter too – and it is long in Quebec, as you well know. My husband and I go for long walks during the week-end and we also enjoy the marvelous stillness of winter, rain, snow or shine.

  17. I really enjoyed reading your article, approach to the new life and of course the photos. Your photos make everything seem so real and I wanted to say you have a beautiful family! Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Cheers,

    Fiona

  18. J. Money says:

    Lol @Bernie…

    The girls are getting so big!!

  19. Steveark says:

    Good times! Our three little ones are more your age now. The oncologist, the environmental regulator and the university educator. But when they were the age of your sprouts we had so much fun. Laugh til your side feels like it might split over their antics! Its also fun to watch them grow into responsible adults you are oh so proud of. We don’t get much snow to hike in down here in Arkansas. But ten years after we started hiking to try to find each of the 120 waterfalls in our state, ten years to the day on my wife’s birthday, we hiked in eight inches of fresh snow to number 120. It was a magic day. This post brought back some great memories, thank you so much.

  20. Melissa says:

    Your honestly is delightfully refreshing once again. It’s astonishing how time moves both achingly slow and terrifyingly fast when raising children. I want to go back and do it over and also never, ever experience it again. 🙂 We can both exclaim “shit!” and also love something – all at once.

  21. Rachel says:

    You’ve written a lot about your church and your church community and it sounds so wonderful and refreshing and welcoming! What kind of church do you go to? I haven’t been in years, but the way you write about your community makes me interested in finding one that is similar (although I would be shocked if I could find one as progressive here in rural Georgia hahahaha!).

  22. Elaina says:

    LOLing to the s*** comment. I remember those days.

    Just wondering if you’re going to lay a pad of concrete at any point for the tractor (and other) work? Summer project, maybe?

  23. Caroline Joanna Mary Bowman says:

    I love this post! My youngest is 7 and it’s summer where I am, but keeping them busy Montessori-shit style is where it’s at. Quite often they surprise you with their capabilities and being productive is always a win, even when you’re very little, even when it’s only in a tiny way.

    Your little angels are just adorable. I have a picture of myself at a similar age, THRILLED to be doing the nativity concert, looking angelic and then later running around in my panties (our summer is December and it is boiling), still wearing my halo!

  24. SeaGal says:

    Yess! Snails pace outside and the Montessori shit! I feel you!
    3 year old and I collected two wheelbarrows of kindling in our woods for my husband’s birthday gift yesterday before it all got snowed on! 😂 frugal win, sure to make him laugh, and actually a fun thing to do with a 3 year old in the woods!

  25. Sarah says:

    One of the best parts about growing up in the church is playing with candles! I started lighting the candles in the apse at the start of services when I was about 8. It’s a pretty low-stakes way to mess around with fire.

  26. Sophia Kitts says:

    I learned that in the south, one must add a second syllable, as in, ‘well, shee-it, them kids are cute!’ As for the UCC, in Knoxville, they’re very close to the Unitarian Universalist Church that we attend. We adore the UCC minister, he lives down the street from us and our kids went to the same, Montessori-esque, middle school. Enjoyed this post as it brought back memories of my girls when they were that age.

  27. Charlie says:

    The tractor is a great piece of equipment on the homestead, no doubt. I use mine for clearing snow, moving dirt, gravel, rototilling, flail mowing as well as using the post hole digger. I use the bucket for snow removal as it can be used to push small amounts like a plow, but with deeper snow, it is a large shovel to pick up the snow and remove it off the driveway, no matter how wet and heavy. The worst part of changing attachments is always removing the PTO shaft off of the spline, then getting the next shaft lined up and getting the locking collar clicked in place. Here is a great invention that I found and I figure the cost is worth avoiding the time and hassle of the PTO shaft. https://tractorptolink.com/
    And no, I don’t get a kickback for sharing the link.

  28. MS.Randles says:

    Vulgarity is no substitute for wit – Dowager Countess

  29. sue, ireland says:

    I love your humour liz, you are a talented writer. I enjoy your writing very much. I have similar aged children and relate so much to your parenting stories.

  30. priskill says:

    I just laughed and laughed at this post — especially “YES WATER FREEZES – GET OVER IT!” So much joy in parenting and the experiencing but, ahhh, sometimes the ennui is almost physical. Really appreciate your honesty and humor. Makes me think of my 31 year old back in the day. Love this charming and hilarious glimpse into your life.

  31. Kate says:

    “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.”

    Ahh thank you for saying this! I’m always like “JUST BE IN THE MOMENT” while simultaneously so bored watching my child lay in the snow.

  32. This is so refreshing! Love reading your posts on the country side living, such a stark contrast from where I live in Dubai, UAE. Your kids are absolutely adorable. Bless them!

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