January 2021

Mr. FW knocking down an icicle for Kidwoods

We are in the season of snow every day. Maybe a lot, maybe a trace. There’s no forecast to tell us what’ll happen: we look outside, we bring in more fire wood. It dips into single digits every night and still, we go outside every day. We hike, we sled, we cry (mostly the kids; sometimes me), and we love the cascade of monochrome. There is no beauty more distilled than fresh glitter snow, ready to be devoured.

Despite the frigid air, the niblets and I go up and down, up and down the hills of our yard. On sleds, on bellies, like puppies they roll and crash and giggle. I do my ab exercises (necessary on account of these children), a few rounds of sledding, then flop down in the snow, soaking up icy sunshine.

Until someone belly flops on top of me with a burst of laughter. Nothing, apparently, is funnier than jumping onto a mama while she’s trying to rest in the snow in the sun. Hey, I aim to please.

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.

An Ode To Mr. Frugalwoods

Mr. FW: in the flesh

Since I write Frugalwoods, most of it is a self-centered monologue focused on my favorite topic: ME.

So today, I’ll devote some time to telling you about the person I’m married to, the person who makes our breakfast every morning, cooks our dinners, stacks our wood (not to mention fells our trees), clears our snow, removes all splinters from all children, our cozy snuggler and book reader, the man who dances to the Nutcracker Ballet (badly, but with joy), wields a chainsaw, sews hems, knows how to prepare dried beans, fixes the tractor and deep cleans our dishwasher.

This is my husband, an incredible Renaissance person I’m lucky to have. After 13 years of marriage, it actually does keep getting better.

Of course, the craft beer he pours me each evening may assist in this assessment.

I hope that you too find this kind of egalitarian, shared, equitable division of labor in your relationship. I know I’d be lost without it.

And, yes, that was him knocking down an icicle for Kidwoods with a pink umbrella because that’s just the Dada he is.

The Unexpected Pain of Intergenerational Friendships

Pizza making!

Life is short. Intergenerational friendships teach me this. Here in Vermont, in a town of 700 people, my friends range in age from 13 to 101. The wisdom, the depth, the humor I gain from this range is unprecedented. But so is the pain of loss. What I’ve learned this year is that, when you have friends of all ages, you will experience the range.

So here I am, making pizza with my girls because life is too short to not make pizza with your kids. Life is too short to not have friends of all ages.

I miss the friends who’ve passed away this year, even more so because I couldn’t give them a hug or visit them in the hospital. I hate knowing they won’t be there at that first post-pandemic potluck. I hate that they won’t swoop my kids up and say, “you’re getting so big! I remember when you were born!” But I love that they were in my life, that I was in a small part of theirs.

Mid-Winter Doldrums

What could go wrong?

It’s always about this time–this mid-winter moment when snow is no longer novel–that my kids are over the classics. We’ve been sledding, snowshoeing, snowman-building, snow angel-ing, and snowballing for months. And so last month I said, “why don’t you jump off the top of the play house?”

Only other TRULY GREAT parents will understand this desire for our children to experience nature, to become one with each season, to challenge themselves, to become caked in snow. I also suggested snow shoveling the back porch and they were ON IT. The promise of a revival of summer bikes and scooters goaded them into scraping snow and letting it go.

Life is about balance, but Vermont winters are not. Plus, you can’t enjoy the woodstove if you haven’t felt the cold. Or so we tell ourselves.

The Seed Order Is IN!!!

We ordered our vegetable seeds in January! Hard to FATHOM planting anything in snow so thick you could ladle it. But there sit my raised beds and my no-till giant garden, sleeping beneath icy layers.

Soon, so soon, I will have trays of soil in my kitchen with baby seeds tended and watered. And then I’ll be coaxing them to germinate and grow. They’ll be transplanted outside and will look weak and tiny until they roar into power and overtake my garden. Until then, we’ll ladle snow.

You will not be surprised by what I say next: we use a spreadsheet to track our seed orders, deliveries, and planting game plan. You will be further unsurprised that I’m sharing this spreadsheet with you because I am so proud of my husband for putting this together and maintaining it every single year.

If you too are growing more than just a few veggies and herbs, I highly recommend the Mr. Frugalwoods Obsessive Seed Tracking and Ordering System, demonstrated below:

Type Variety Purchased? Received Date to Start Started Starter Size # To Plant Seed Company Planting Location Notes
Arugula Sylvetta Wild Saved from last year Yes Direct High Mowing Kitchen – Herb
Arugula Bellezia Ordered Yes High Mowing Kitchen
Basil Lettuce Leaf Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Small 30 Sample Seeds Kitchen – Herb
Beans, Bush Mardi Gras Blend Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Small 25 High Mowing Lower garden Varieties: Royal Burgundy, Gold Rush Yellow, ?
Butternut squash Nutterbutter Ordered Yes High Mowing TBD: next to Cherries?
Carrot Napoli F1 Ordered NO Direct High Mowing Lower garden Seed asap, cover with board?
Cilantro Leisure Saved from last year Yes Direct High Mowing Kitchen – Herb
Cucumber Bush Pickle Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Small 5 Sample Seeds Lower garden Cattle Panel Trellis?
Dill Greensleeves Saved from last year Yes Direct High Mowing Kitchen – Herb
Ground Cherry Smaller Saved from last year Yes 8 weeks Small 20 Sample Seeds Lower garden
Kale Westlander Ordered Yes High Mowing TBD: Lower or Kitchen?
Lettuce Hampton Ordered Yes 4 weeks Small 20 High Mowing Kitchen – Lettuce Oak Leaf, individual leaf harvest or cut above growing tip for cut and grow again
Onion, Red Southport Red Globe Ordered Yes Solstice Seeds TBD: Lower or Kitchen?
Peas, Snap Sugar Ann Saved from last year Yes 8 weeks Small 50 High Mowing Lower garden Plant in 2 rows, 8 ” apart, with trellis in the middle
Pepper, Sweet Red Bell Peace Ordered Yes Galusha Hill Lower garden
Peppers, Sweet Picnic Trio Ordered Yes 8 weeks Big 10 High Mowing Lower garden
Peppers, Sweet Bangles Blend Ordered Yes High Mowing Lower garden
Pumpkin Jack Be Little Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Big 4 Sample Seeds Next to Cherries
Pumpkins Cider Jack Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Big 4 High Mowing Next to Cherries
Sage Fanni Common Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Small 5 High Mowing Kitchen – Herb
Salad Mix Gemstone Greens Blend Ordered NO Direct High Mowing Kitchen – Lettuce Succession seed every 3 weeks, row cover preferred
Salad Mix Hotshot Ordered Yes High Mowing Kitchen
Salad Mix Sorrel Ordered Yes High Mowing Kitchen
Spinach Butterflay Ordered Yes Direct High Mowing Kitchen – Lettuce
Sunflower Mix Saved from last year Yes 4 weeks Big ? Sample Seeds Lower garden
Tomato, Cherry Orange Sungold Select Ordered Yes Wild Boar Farms Lower garden
Tomato, Cherry Red Fence Row Ordered Yes Galusha Hill Lower garden Bushy plant, make sure to train several stems
Tomato, Cherry Yellow Napa Chardonnay Ordered Yes Wild Boar Farms Lower garden Super Sweet
Tomato, Paste Amish Paste Ordered Yes Solstice Seeds Lower garden
Tomato, Paste Kron-Prince Ordered Yes Solstice Seeds Lower garden
Tomato, Paste / Slicer, Red Wisconsin 55 Ordered Yes Galusha Hill Lower garden
Tomato, Saladette Pink / Brown Pink Boar Ordered Yes 8 weeks Big 18 High Mowing Lower garden
Tomato, Saladette Red Mountain Magic F1 Ordered Yes High Mowing Lower garden
Tomato, Slicer Orange Lillians Heirloom Yellow Ordered Yes Galusha Hill Lower garden Mid-sized orange
Raised beds in wait

We haven’t started any seeds yet, but you better believe next month’s installment will (or at least, should) include some updates to that slick little “Started” column.

Wondering what seed starting is? Here’s more than you ever wanted to know. Oh and in this post too! I really have a flair for exhausting topics no one else cares about.

Also, I feel the need to point out my all-time favorite seed name: “Leisure Cilantro.”

As opposed to all those hardworking Cilantros who grind themselves into the dirt with futile effort, Leisure Cilantro prides herself on her morning yoga practice, nightly piña colada, and deep relationships with the neighboring carrot crop.

Leisure Cilantro doesn’t work, she manifests growth.

Snow Bonfires: Turns Out, They Work!

We’ve discovered that the best thing about socially distanced, outdoor socializing is setting bonfires in the snow. Not bonfires OF snow, but in the firepit Mr. FW built for us this summer. Add that to his above list of accolades: the man dragged giant stones out of our woods to create a firepit for our family. And we are getting our stones worth!

Snow bonfire!

While huddling around a not-very-warm fire in single digit temps may not be your idea of a good time, it’s ours. And our friends agree (or at least, they keep showing up).

Also, we have no other option since we’re being COVID cautious, careful, and considerate. Plus, we found another use for our flame weeder and excess sugar wood (affiliate link).

I’m pretty sure we’ve landed on the perfect hosting situation since it involves no work on my part:

  1. We invite people over
  2. We provide hot dogs and buns
  3. They bring marshmallows, beer, possibly other things, possibly not
  4. We all grab tree branches and roast our food
  5. We hang out until: a) someone suspects frostbite; b) the tantrums of one of our many children becomes unbearable

What could be better?

The Presidential Inauguration: As Narrated by a Member of the Toddler Ennui

Lady Gaga begins to sing the national anthem and Kidwoods asks, “Is she a better singer than you, Mama?”
Me, “Yes, she’s a professional singer.”
Kidwoods, “Huh.”
—then halfway through the song—
Kidwoods, “Oh yeah, she’s a MUCH better singer than you, Mama!”

Making pizza!

If you ever need some humility in your life, dial a toddler.

In all seriousness, what a gracious, polite, formal, uniting, and appropriate ceremony. I was proud to have my girls watching and proud to point out Vice President Kamala Harris and first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who, according to Kidwoods, “teaches college.” Heck yes she does.

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.

In January, we generated 95 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 first month of 2021 for you?

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  1. Okay, I’ve just gotta say that I’m LOVING the seed spreadsheet! We too have gone a bit crazy in our seed buying this year, as we just moved to a place with double the land we had before (although our half acre is peanuts compared to your homestead…I can only imagine how much work it would be to maintain all that!).

    Really though, I appreciated the spreadsheet because we’re new to growing a lot of vegetables from seed, so it was good to see how someone else was planning to do theirs. Granted, you’re in a growing zone 4 or something like that while we’re in a 6A, but you’ve now made me alter some of my plans slightly because I was on the fence on some things to direct seed or to start from seed (like cucumbers), and so now I think I’ve made up my mind 🙂

    We went for the Slo Bolt Cilantro variety this year, but I’ll agree—yours wins 🙂

  2. I would never buy, or eat, cilantro, lazy or otherwise. But I am mighty impressed by the numbers of things you will be growing!

  3. Thanks for sharing, we’re going to start a garden this summer as well and have already decided an excel spreadsheet will be necessary, now we’ve got some more ideas to work with. Love reading your posts!

  4. When someone who lives in Vermont says “possibly other things, possibly not,” that brings me joy.

    Love the spreadsheet!

  5. Cute story about what your Daughter said about your singing …..only out of the mouth of babes…..they say just what they are thinking and don’t you love it…..our kids are our most precious assets no matter how old they are…..
    Can you please use this email address instead of the one you have on file as it will be deleted very soon….and I do not want to miss your emails…..Thanks

    1. Hi! you can sign-up with this email address in the box at the bottom of the post. That’ll ensure you keep receiving my emails 🙂

  6. That seed spreadsheet is awesome! I think my fiancee and I are going to implement this for our starts this year. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. I need a garden spread sheet! I don’t know why I didn’t think of this. Also, now that littlewoods is 3 I’m not sure you really have any toddlers anymore. Preschooler ennui just doesn’t sound as good.

  8. I am trying winter sowing this year as I got a community garden plot and I don’t have enough room under my grow light and in front of windows to start all my flower and vegetable seeds. I hope it is successful.

  9. We just received the seeds we ordered yesterday and husband just finished linseed oiling our little seed starter frame (made from old pallet wood of course). When a garden neighbor dropped off some marigold seeds she included bonus cilantro, which is almost as fun a name as Leisure Cilantro. but I don’t like cilantro. Something you may enjoy, Liz, is that some previous participant in our community garden started hops, which my husband tended this year and we used in my very favorite batch of beer he has ever brewed (coincidence?).

  10. We’ve used our fire pit this winter also. Has a nice ledge for either propping up one’s feet and/or safe adult beverage placement. Considering a hot chocolate maker for our nearby gazebo. Kicking myself for NOT picking up more sticks before the foot plus snow pack hit – great way to reuse bird seed bags AND deal with the never ending supply of sticks/branches that fall. If I still had children living at home, that would be a family event – picking up sticks. Of course with some type of “carrot” for doing so. However I am a bit jealous of your hot dog consumption – I readily admit Oscar Meyer is my preferred dog.
    Will be a while before either of us our planting in our gardens but planning/seed starting is half the fun (weeding, not so much). I would suggest trying San Marzano paste tomatoes – far superior to Roma and other paste tomatoes I’ve grown.

  11. My fire pit brings me joy in the morning. Oh, the peace and contemplation… It’s just me, my coffee, the birds, a tiny fire and maybe the ice fishing folk on the lake. Neighbours might think I’m a little nuts, but I don’t care.
    Hooray for fires in spite of snow!

  12. Hebrew National hot dogs are the best ! “No artificial flavors or colors, no fillers, no by-products, and no gluten—no kidding.” Discovered these in Colorado.

  13. Did you guys ever think of cross country skiing? Our family got skis this year and are loving them. The 3 year old and 6 year old each go slowly on their own skis, or we can put them each on a sled and pull them with a rope tied to a belt as we ski. We can go around open areas or even on certain woods paths and made us wish the snow would never end.

  14. Ah, kids. You can always count on them to destroy your self esteem. 🙂 My youngest grabbed my belly the other day and asked whether there were any babies in there. I must start doing some ab exercises one of these days!

  15. I have to tell you that Calypso Cilantro changed my life (okay, not really) and it should be called Leisure. I planted it once last year, and it kept growing, did not bolt to seed, and I still had fresh cilantro when the snow started falling. Calypso for the win!
    Love your writing and the spreadsheet.

  16. That description personifying leisure cilantro should be added to the back of all the seed packets immediately! If I read that on the back of a seed packet I feel like I’d have no other choice but to buy it and grow it. lol Perhaps a side gig in marketing for Mrs. Frugalwoods?

  17. I have enjoying your blogs since before you moved to Vermont and always look forward to them every month. You are witty and funny -especially where it comes to your 2 little girls. But I just have to say I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything political from you and just having you mention Kamala Harris and Jill Biden was a huge clue. And not one I’m fond of. Sorry but just had to get that off my chest.

    1. I think it is a great reminder that we can come from all walks, perspectives and faiths and share an interest in family, frugality and improving the world through our individual and collective action. None of us live in a vacuum and many of the financial gurus (especially the gentlemen- I’m looking at you Rhymes-with-Save-Lambsie) are vocal about how their personal convictions and politics align.

      Interestingly (to me at least), I read the inauguration bit less as a political stance and more of all of the different ways women can play a role in our society- as entertainers, executive civil servants and educators.

    2. It’s cool you enjoy this blog for Liz’s wit and writing, and think most of us readers do too. I wonder why does that need to change if she happens to enjoy the inauguration?

      This thinly veiled criticism needs to stop. We don’t live in a vacuum where only opinions and world views that mirror our own deserve to be voiced or even alluded to.

      1. I’ve also been reading this blog for years, and I think it speaks volumes about her generally neutral stance that it took until now for you to have any sort of clue about their politics. And really, if someone is sharing an historical moment for women with their daughters and THAT offends, then perhaps the issue lies outside of this blog. It is incredibly sad that just the mere mention of important women in our country is somehow upsetting, and I find it far more political to make a comment criticizing what she wrote.

        1. No criticism intended, just a comment. Calm down, we all should be able to express ourselves and it was certainly no offense to Mrs Frugalwoods I’m sure!

    3. I think there have been plenty of clues along the way about the Frugalwoods’ politics and social values. Personally, I am happy that Liz has expressed them here, but, as Steph says, perhaps the popularity of the blog shows that we are not as divided as we seem by politics.

    4. I have to agree with you. Two things you do not discuss with “friends” religion and politics. I loved President Trump. Hate Biden, have made it a point to change channels when the puppet speaks. These are my views, everyone has their own and is better left out of blogs unless you are running a blog about politics. I have just discussed politics and I shouldn’t. Sorry, I would prefer not to see it on the blog either. Just as I would not enjoy seeing negative comments about God or comments supporting full term baby abortion. Horrible!!!

  18. …..yes, all good stuff! We enjoyed the Inauguration too – especially the Bernie Part. Too bad about all the fences.
    On the other foot, your words about unexpected pain ring so true. I’m spending much more time at funerals than ever at weddings – maybe funerals just seem longer.
    Another joy of the niblets – pizza now, weddings coming up soon- HA!

    This from Judah Halevi about 1100AD, and “Godless” on Netflix more recently:

    Tis a fearful thing
    to love what death can touch
    A fearful thing to love,
    to hope, to dream, to be

    To be, and, oh to lose
    A thing for fools this
    And a holy thing.
    A holy thing…..to love.
    For your life has lived in me.
    Your laugh once lifted me.
    Your word was gift to me.

    To remember this brings painful joy.
    ‘Tis a human thing, love.
    A holy thing.
    To love what death has touched.

    So true, and reassuring.
    That was, like, 900 years ago – we’re still all in this together, yes?

  19. My 4 year old, darling son once innocently asked me why I was cold in the pool water since blubber keeps seals and walruses warm in icy waters. I was 8 months pregnant with his brother. My boys (ages 17 &22) are still much more reliable and truthful than my sweet husband when I ask how I look in something or if they can see my gray hair. No girls here, but honesty for sure. Family–they know me well and love me still.

    1. YES! Mom of a 17-year-old boy and could not agree more! My son is very polite, but when I ask him for his opinion I know the filter is about to come off! He just joined his high school’s bowling team, and today will be the first time I watch him compete in a tournament. Last night I dared to ask him what I should wear and asked if jeans and a puffer vest with boots would be ok…..he kinda made a face and said I could actually tone it down a little bit and that what I was wearing at the time (loungewear I had changed into after work for an exciting night of Friday night TV) would be fine, too. Then he reminded me that the last time we went to the doctor I wore “dress clothes.” (I have no memory of this, but I guess in his mind I was overly dressed). Anyway, I have traded out boots for Nike tennis shoes today but am keeping the jeans and vest. Hopefully I’m not “overly dressed.”

  20. I just love your blog. I’m no gardener, but my mother was, and so many of your posts remind me of her. Your children remind me of my own little girls, now grown. Thanks for the memories!

  21. I’ve never understood why most people hate cilantro when it is one of my favorite foods. Just so fresh tasting I add it to anything I can. My husband agrees. This year we’ve gotten a 20×20 plot at the local community growing garden and I’m raring to go- flowers, herbs, veggies, fruit; just have to make sure it is not too tall as shading other plots not allowed.
    Must also say Mr. Frugalwoods looking very hunky in his outdoor attire!

    1. Some people have a genetic aversion to cilantro – it tastes differently to them than it does to the rest of us…

      1. Yes this is so weird. I am utterly unpicky about food. I cannot think of a single food I would not at least try. But the very first time I taste cilantro I had to grip the table to stop from gagging it up. I couldn’t understand it, but it was just an instinctive reaction. People say cilantro haters think the herb tastes like soap. I don’t taste soap exactly…kind of reminds me of (sorry) bile. When I walk the farmers market and the breeze from people passing brings a whiff of cilantro on a table, my stomach flips over. It has to be genetic because I have tried it over and over and because no other food turns me off.

  22. “Oh yeah, she’s a MUCH better singer than you, Mama!”

    LMAO I laughed way too hard when I read that. One of my nephews was like that when he was a toddler… always brought me back down to earth.

    I like the bonfire idea, BTW!

    1. Chuckled about snarky teenagers. But rest assured, like caterpillars they eventually morph into beautiful adults. If you are lucky they bless you with grandchildren, and then you get to enjoy the karma of seeing it dished back. 😄

      I enjoy your blog (and your book.) It reminds me of our life forty years ago with two small boys. Our MN “homestead” was less than 1/4 acre, but included a garden and one apple tree. We supplemented that with farmer’s markets. Great fun.

      Kudos for following your heart and getting off the consumer treadmill. We did the same — lived beneath our means and eventually started a business for our independence. Best wishes!

  23. I love your excitement about seeds, starting them and plans for your garden. We have done gatherings with family and friends around the fire outside, but not when the temps are in single digits. I prefer my winter time fires in the fireplace in the living room. I think it is great that you are getting your daughters involved with cooking. My husband always did pizza nights when his children were growing up, each would make their own pizza, and when his daughter had friends over, she asked to do make your own pizzas. Pizza nights are still popular with us, hubby makes them personal size flatbreads, he bakes them for a few minutes, flips them so they are lightly baked, them each person puts their choice of toppings on their flatbread, and they go back into the oven on the pizza stone to finish baking. Everyone is happy, as there only the toppings that they like, no complaints or wasted picked off toppings. I like mine with the cheese, peppers, onions, mushrooms, dried herbs, olives as well as some pepperoni. The kids usually just want cheese alone, but my older son likes ham and pineapple on his, so he gets his alone.
    We love live on the homestead.

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