In February of 2009, my husband and I bought our first home located on a few acres in Johnson, Vermont. We live here with our dog, Ollie, two cats: Elvis and Atticus, six Nigerian Dwarf goats: May, Chutney, Poppy, Juniper, Willow, and Jokers Wild, and about fifteen laying hens. And to top it all off we welcomed our daughter, Isabel, into the world on January 11th, 2011.

We're slowly updating our 1850's farmhouse while steadily working towards a healthy, meaningful, self-sufficient life together.

This blog details our endeavors along with our successes and failures- all in good fun. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon!


May and I enjoying some sunshine


Say Goodbye to Aught Nine!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Thursday, December 31, 2009 3 comments

As the year comes to a close I thought it might be nice to take a break from updating you on our home renovation projects to look back over the past twelve months.  Its been a whirlwind of a year and I still can't believe that its almost 2010.

2009 was welcomed in while we were living with my Mom up in Montgomery, Vermont.  We were in the process of trying to buy our house and the loan process was taking alot more time, effort, and money than we were anticipating.  By the end of February we closed and immediately set in to renovations.  Over the course of a few months I had my first business trip to Texas/Mexico, we got all the wiring in our house updated, and we bought our first major appliance: a refrigerator that would be more trouble than it was worth (which we later had replaced).

By June we had our first shipment of chicks that, by Thanksgiving, would turn into our layer hens.  June was another big month in that I married the man I had secretly been in love with for many years.  Kyle and I had been engaged for a year and our wedding was the perfect day shared with friends and family in the mountains of Vermont.

During our honeymoon-at-home we adopted our two cats, Elvis and Atticus (who, we decided last night, should have been named Laurel and Hardy), from the local humane society.  We'd gone to visit a goat farm in Plainfield where we would later pick up our two does, May and Chutney, and thus began working towards our own little home dairy.

In the fall we slaughtered our broiler chickens- something we found to be hard, but generally a positive experience because we cared for these animals ourselves and saw to their well-being.  Our stand against the commercial meat industry began.

Over the past year we've learned about sheetrocking, plumbing, and wiring.  We've got some serious experience in refinishing wood flooring and ripping down wallpaper.  I can patch just about anything with some spackle and a can of spray-foam but duct tape is still a good thing to have on hand, just in case.

In 2010, I hope to learn how to make cheese, work harder in my garden as another step in becoming self-sufficient and participate more in the butchering of our next installment of broilers.  I want to get out and enjoy more of the stuff Kyle and I used to do instead of spending all of our free time renovating the house:  kayaking, mountain biking, road biking, hiking, and playing frolf.  I'll start beekeeping with the hive my husband gave me for my birthday and hopefully we'll be able to generate some income between the sales of honey, eggs, raw milk, and free-range chickens and turkeys.

A decade ago I was in high school.  Today I run a home and a small farm.  I'm a wife.  Although this past year has been one of the most stressful years of my life so far, I can honestly say that I've never been happier.  Balance is important.  Without the darkness we would never appreciate the sun.

Life isn't perfect, and its never easy. I'm such a stress-case its amazing I can manage at all. My husband grounds me and still loves me even when I'm being a little crazy. I've learned alot over this past year- mostly that sometimes the best thing to do when faced with a problem is just tear into it so you can see what you're really dealing with, then carefully patch it all back together so it will hang in there for the long haul.

I hope you all have a happy and safe new years eve celebration tonight.  We'll be celebrating at home with a bonfire, some snack food and perhaps a margerita or two.  So goodbye 2009- its been a trip.

The Best Trip to Lowes EVER!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, December 29, 2009 6 comments

Sunday began with a little well-deserved sleeping in.  I got up around 7-7:30 and plopped myself down next to Kyle on the couch.  Today we were making a run to Lowes with our various gift cards that we had been given for Christmas, birthdays, and a couple that I received for being awesome from my health insurance company.  So we started our list.  We needed to get almost a dozen sheets of drywall to finish the guest room and the closet, some drywall mud, tape, a light for the closet, and I wanted to look for a mirror or medicine cabinet for our bathroom upstairs.

The weather wasn't looking all that promising, with showers in the forecast it was going to be quite a gamble to try to haul drywall from Lowes back to our house (a good 40 minute drive) without getting it soaked.  We loaded up a tarp and some ropes, just in case, and headed out.  First stop was Jana's in Jeffersonville where they make the best donuts in the world, for some breakfast.  I can honestly say we only picked up some breakfast sandwiches, no donuts this time...it was a serious test of will as they were the first thing I could smell when we stepped inside.  But, with breakfast in hand, and a full gas tank in the truck, we departed.

Of course, along the way the rain started up.

We got to Lowes and grabbed a couple of their big carts.  I was so excited to see the lack of cars in their parking lot, I almost always have an anxiety attack at Lowes with the quantity of people that are always there.  But we arrived and we probably only saw half a dozen customers the whole time.  We stopped by the drywall aisle to get that out of the way first.  Yes, it was raining, but if we didn't get the drywall we wouldn't be able to get much work done. 

Loading up drywall is my second least favorite home-improvement activity (first belongs to running drain pipes...serious pain in the butt that one).  While there, we picked up bucket # 1,002 of sheetrock mud (that calculation is a little overexaggerated, by the way), some seam tape, and another box of sheetrock screws.  We stopped over in the lighting department to grab an inexpensive wall sconce (I believe it was $17 or something like that) and then headed over to the vanity area to look for a mirror for our bathroom.  We found a nice big medicine cabinet, a little more than we were expecting to spend at $108 but what the heck.  So we headed back to where we left our cart of sheetrock to check out.

Along the way we just couldn't help but think we were forgetting something.  Trips to Lowes always take no less than an hour, and we hadn't even gotten frustrated yet...so something wasn't quite right here.  We stopped to look at router bits for Kyle's new toy that his lovely wife gave him for Christmas, and tried to find some new cartridges for our ventilators (no luck), but nope, couldn't find anything else we needed.  So we headed over to see what the damage was.  Ten sheets of drywall, mud, tape, screws, a wall sconce, medicine cabinet, oh and a couple switch plates came up to $220.  I did my happy dance a bit as I handed over our gift cards- which brought our grand total up to (drumroll please) ZERO!!  WOO HOO!

Thats right folks.  We walked out of there with our goodies with $18 left on one of our gift cards.  I couldn't help but smile as we started loading the sheetrock into the truck.  Of course, after getting the first pair into the bed, I stopped smiling...but hey, thats ok, at least I didn't spend any money on it.  We tied it all down, swaddled in layers of tarp and plastic provided by Lowes, and headed home.  Of course, by the time we got halfway there we were having some serious plastic malfunctions and had to pull over to resecure, as best we could, the protective barrier between our new wall and the persistent precipitation.  To no avail, another ten minutes down the road the plastic pulled up into all the wrong places, leaving the top sheet of our drywall exposed.  Whatever, another ten minutes to get home, there was just nothing to be done with it- it wasn't really raining all that hard afterall- more of just a heavy sprinkle.

We got home, and unloaded the drywall (yippy) into our workshop and headed into the house for some leftover chicken soup.  I was exhausted and it wasn't even noon yet.  We still had a long day of drywalling ahead of us.  But I'll get into that tomorrow.

Happy Holidays!!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, December 28, 2009 1 comments

My apologies for taking a whole week to update the blog.  With all the last-minute shopping things sort of fell by the wayside.  But I'm back!  And BOY do I have some stuff to update you on!  Ok, so in reality nothing really got done on the house until this weekend, but heck, it WAS a national holiday and you have to admit that even the die-hardiest of home renovators need a break here and there for egg nog, cookies, and such.

Saturday probably would have been saved as a 'recovery' day from all the Christmas festivities that we had participated the past two days, but no, something had to be done.  After a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs, we started off in our guest bedroom putting up more of the drywall.  There were still just a few sections around one of the windows that needed to be covered before we could get started on the wall that creates the closet.  About halfway through those few pieces, my Father-in-law, Guy, arrived to help Kyle with the washer and dryer.

As you may have read in previous posts, we decided it was time we got the dryer out of the kitchen, and the washer out of the dining room.  Now that all the hoses and wiring were in place we were ready for the next step.  I had finished all that I could do on my own in the guest room so I headed downstairs to start lunch and do some dishes.  Kyle and Guy headed into the basement to hook up the water for the washer.  Next thing I knew they were hauling the washer upstairs and then the dryer.  It took less that half an hour and I went upstairs to see the progress.  Miraculously enough we had JUST enough room for the washer and dryer in the nook next to the shower.  Pretty amazing, since this was not in our original plan.

After helping Kyle move the washer and dryer into the bathroom, and fixing a wicked tricky wiring problem with our front porch light, Guy was headed out- no doubt to enjoy a little downtime at home with his wife after the onslaught of company from the day before.

Kyle and I had lunch, some homemade chicken and rice soup from one of our lovingly-home-grown broilers that I had roasted for dinner a few days before.  I'm always excited that I can get at least half a gallon of chicken stock out of those birds on top of enough soup to last us four meals (at the very least).  But anyways, after eating lunch we headed to the local hardware store for a couple things that we needed for the final steps in hooking up the washer and dryer (a gasket or two, a new outlet for the dryer...I can't remember what else).

We got home and went right to the upstairs bathroom.  After Kyle installed the new outlet for the dryer (the one we got before didn't actually work with the plug) and I attached the hoses for the washer.  We secured the dryer vent and slid the dryer in place next to the washer (ok, so it took quite a bit of lifting, pushing, grunting, and probably would have helped if we had some Vaseline on hand...but they're in place).  After a week of not being able to do laundry, we threw some clothes into the washer and started the old girl up.  I did my happy dance as I listened to the sweet sweet sound of the wash being done.  And let me tell you, it is freaking awesome to no longer need to trudge up and down the stairs to do laundry- and its even more awesome to have a proper vent for the dryer again.  Woo hoo!

Before the end of the day my darling husband decided that the current door for the closet in the guest room was in a stupid place and we should move it afterall.  I was too tired to care, so he took his reciprocating saw and cut a new opening for the door.  With that we called it a day and retired to our living room for some cold beverages and a few episodes of The Office.  We had a big day ahead for Sunday, starting off with the best trip to Lowes EVER.  But I'll get into that tomorrow.

Renovations, mass cleaning, and the little goat that could

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, December 21, 2009 2 comments

Sunday started off at our usual time- typically I like to try to sleep in a little on the weekends just because I can- but not this time.  Kyle and I hit the sack around 8-8:30 the night before after an exhausting day of working on what will be our new laundry room so it was pretty easy getting up around 5:30-6 am.  I wasn't disappointed, though.  Feeling well-rested is all I ask for, and there is nothing like a busy day of physical labor to help with that.

We decided to start work on the bathroom/laundry room right off.  Kyle started wiring the 220 plug for the dryer and the plug for the washer and I installed the new drywall under the windows where we had ripped into the wall the day before to make a little more room for the appliances.  I made a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs (eight of our lovely home-grown ones thankyouverymuch).  Before we knew it the time was 11:00 and we decided it would probably be best to wait to hook up the water pipes on a day where we had more time to deal with disaster- just in case.  So, with a few hours to kill before heading to Plainfield for May's 'date' with a handsome buck we decided it was time to tackle some house cleaning.

I mentioned before that when I arrived home from work on Friday our house was in shambles.  Well, this wasn't entirely due to the work that Guy (my father-in-law) and Kyle did that day.  To be perfectly honest we had about 10 contractor bags of crap that needed to leave the hallway from when we demo'd the guest bedroom.  Also, there was about two or three weeks worth of demolition dust/dirt that had accumulated all over the floor upstairs.  Finally, because of our kitchen plumbing problems (and a little bit of sheer laziness) we hadn't done dishes in a couple days so the kitchen was already a little disasterous.  Kyle and his Dad really only contributed to the mess in the dining room, living room, and kitchen.

But, enough of the inventory of messy-ness.  I just wanted to convey to you exactly what kind of 'mess' we were dealing with when I tell you that it took a good two hours to get the house cleaned up again.  (And we didn't even touch the kitchen.)

Right around 2 pm my Mom arrived to accompany us to Plainfield where we were going to have May bred.  My Mom absolutely loves going to the breeder's farm- although this is probably the first time she's left there without buying a new goat.  So, we piled up into her Jeep (three people and two goats would be a little crammed in my little Scion) and headed out.  Although it was a scheduled breeding for May we decided to bring Chutney along because you never want to leave a goat by itself- they are too social to really go solo. 

The whole way down May stood in the back, calmly looking out the windows.  Chutney on the otherhand was completely bizarre!  As soon as we got her in the Jeep she was shaking and bleating.  I was a little worried about her, she usually handles car rides better than our dogs do, so this was unusual for her.  After a few minutes the shaking stopped, but she continued to cry.  For over an hour our little girl made the funniest noises I have ever heard- she literally 'buzzed'.

We arrived at the breeders and we brought the girls out of the car- I decided to bring Chutney out just so she wouldn't stress out being by herself in the Jeep.  May was walked on a leash over to where the buck, Rosasharns Ukko (who's dam is Rosasharns Uni- wellknown for her milk production in the NDG world), was waiting impatiently with his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth like he was trying to attract her with his sense of humor.  Almost immediately it was clear that May wanted nothing to do with him.  Her tail was glued down to her rear-end and she wouldn't even think about getting friendly with the handsome buck who was wooing her.

As I stood by holding on to Chutney it was becoming increasingly obvious that she was acting a heck of a lot more receptive than May.  I practically had to hold the little thing back as we waited for May to change her mind.  The breeder confirmed our suspicions- Chutney was certainly in heat.  She was eight months old and Sharon, our breeder, let us know that she had grown enough to be bred- so we decided to let nature take its course.  The buck was more than happy to switch does- and it was over in a few scant seconds.  After servicing our little doe twice, Ukko was walked back to his pen with the other boys and we brought our girls back to the Jeep.

We paid Sharon for Ukko's services, admired Chutney's Mom (who is still milking by the way) and some new babies that were being dropped off from another customer to be sold, and then we were off.

Today Chutney was still smelling of the buck she visited yesterday- although I have to admit that it isn't nearly as offensive as many people claim it to be (perhaps the cold weather is helping to tone it down)- and May is still not looking like she is in heat.  Hopefully we can catch her in heat soon as I'd really like to have her bred no later than mid-January, even that is really pushing my preferred kidding date.

So.  It was an exciting day.  Now we're keeping an eye on Chutney to be sure she doesn't go back in to heat, just in case the breeding didn't take.  But hopefully all went well and we'll be seeing our first official Senesac babies here on the farm.  I guess I'd better start getting my kidding and milking supplies in order!  Yippy!!

On a completely seperate note: we are up to 165 eggs collected this month.  We've sold three dozen, given away about four or five dozen, and will be selling another two dozen later this week.

The start of our new 'laundry room'

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Sunday, December 20, 2009 1 comments

Friday afternoon I arrived home from work to find the house was a disaster area.  My darling husband had taken the day off to work on the house and his Dad came over to help.  It was wonderful that they were able to replace the old, copper pipes going to our kitchen that were always in danger of freezing because they ran underneath the house in a section where we only have an uninsulated crawl space (if that).  So, while my house was a mess, I DID had running water again in my kitchen- so, needless to say I didn't raise a fuss.  Along with the new plumbing for the kitchen, Kyle had started our newest project- making preparations to move our washer and dryer upstairs into our main bathroom. 

When we moved in almost a year ago, the washer and dryer both resided within our dining room.  This didn't really look all that great but we were fine with it for the time being.  Once we had all the new wiring installed to replace the old knob and tube wiring there was a slight oversight and the 220 outlet for the dryer was never finished.  So, being the creative problem-solvers that we are, we moved the dryer into the kitchen, installed a new plug, and then we were able to plug the dryer into the outlet for the oven.  While this enabled us to dry our clothes, we could not, however, dry clothes while cooking dinner...or doing anything with the stove/oven in general.

Also, we had to vent the dryer out onto our porch which, during the winter when we put the windows back in, creates alot of trapped moisture/ice...not the best thing.

So, on Saturday we got to work.  Kyle had already drilled all the holes into the floors so we could run pipes and electrical wire so we started with the drain for the washer.  I don't really want to get into it because it was one of the most frustrating projects I've ever helped with- so lets just say that when dealing with PVC drains, be sure everything is going to line up perfectly BEFORE you try to glue it all together.  Also, wear a ventilator- that PVC primer and glue have some serious fumes.  And don't spill any of the glue.  Oh and don't leave he cap off the jar of primer (fumes, remember?).  Ok, enough said.  After a couple hours the drain was in place and appeared to be sealed well- no leaks- HOORAY!    *I need a beer*

While Kyle dealt with wiring stuff I insulated the closet that we worked on last weekend as well as behind our new pipes in the kitchen.  Then we ripped into one of our finished walls in the bathroom to make more room for the washer and dryer.  It was nice to see, for once, there was an adequate amount of insulation already between the studs, so we didn't have to re-insulate.  But we put up a sheet of plastic as a vapor barrier and to keep the old insulation from falling out while we worked around it.

By the end of the day we had the drain, the wire, and the PEX tubing up in the bathroom.  I feel like we did alot more than that, but at this point I can't remember what happened yesterday and what happened today...besides a few memorable moments.  Today was just as busy, hence my sleepy-head at 8:00 this evening.  But it was a great day, we had one of our girls bred today so we'll have some little goat kids the end of April.  It wasn't the goat we planned on having bred- but, just like anyone, they do have minds of their own and they certainly had opinions on what their plan was for the evening.  But I'll get into that tomorrow.  Until then, I'm going to lounge on the couch in my pajamas and dream about little baby goats.


Lovingly Posted by Melissa Friday, December 18, 2009 2 comments

Ok so let me just say right off that I really do love winter.  One of the things I love the most about Vermont is its changing seasons- its variety.  In the summer we can hike, bike, kayak, play frolf, and garden.  In the fall we have the foliage, more hiking, cidermaking, and more biking.  In the winter, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing (if you've got the coordination for it, which I most certainly do not), skiing/snowboarding, sledding, hot chocolate, and making snowmen!  And, of course, in the spring we've got mud season...thats all I have to say about that.  But honestly, over the past few days it has been just too cold.  We've been having sub-zero temperatures even during the day (with windchills around -20).

Luckily we bought our heated water bucket for the barn a few weeks ago so we didn't have to worry about the girls' water freezing all the time.  But our barn is just a little too big for two little goats and a dozen chickens to really keep warm.  Last night I plugged in a couple heat lamps to try to cut through the frigid air in the barn, which seemed to help a little.  Granted, the barn is incredibly comfortable compared to the air outside it- but the girls were still shivering, so I made some warm oatmeal with carrots and applecider and brought it out to the barn. 

May happily crunched away at the warm carrot slices (I couldn't get Chutney to even try it) and the chickens took over the oatmeal...it was too funny to see them all eating out of the same little bowl.  I wish I had brough my camera out.  I also had to give May a shot of Lutalyse to induce her heat in preparation for her "date" on Sunday.  Hopefully she'll be ready to go and we'll have some new additions to our farm around the end of April.  But it was convenient to have her occupied with her warm carrots while I had to stick a needle in her butt.

On another note, we officially had our first pipes freeze yesterday!  Yippy!  (That last exclamation laid heavily with sarcasm.)  Yep, thats right folks, who would have thought that our beautiful old house would lack sufficient insulation in some places?  Surely not I!  (Sarcasm again.)  Luckily the only pipes that froze were those going to the kitchen, the water in the rest of the house is still working, so I am exceedingly thankful for that.  So now we've got all our drawers and cabinets open/removed to expose the pipes behind them in hopes that they will thaw slowly enough that they won't burst.  Hopefully by the time I get home today we'll have running water back in the kitchen- Kyle's on it.

That lucky duck has the day off today.  The original plan was that he was going to run wiring and plumbing up to our upstairs bathroom so we could move our washer and dryer up there.  But he might be taking a good portion of the day to run new PTEX tubing to the kitchen to bypass our frozen, copper piping.  He is fairly sure the problem is that the current pipes run under the house where there isn't any insulation.  So his solution is to run this new tubing so it will go through our walls and floors where it will be a little warmer.  We'll see how it goes.  Personally, I'd rather have the washer and dryer upstairs than running water in my kitchen right now...a girl gets a little sick of not being able to use the dryer and the oven at the same time (more on that later).

I love a busy day (Part 2)

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, December 14, 2009 1 comments

Our busy day turned into a busy weekend.  Saturday afternoon, after a lovely visit from my Mom, Kyle and I got ambitious and decided to tackle the last major project in our guest room (which, then, overflowed into our Sunday).

When we moved into our house there were only three tiny closets to be spoken of, none of which resided in a bedroom.  This wouldn't normally bother me but as the rooms were all relatively small there wasn't much space for additional furniture such as dressers.  Over the course of a couple months we had created our master bedroom from two small bedrooms and Kyle even made a very functional closet out of one of our knee-walls.  So, one closet down.  It was time to hit the guest bedroom.

We had finished the insulation and sheetrock in this room a couple weeks ago but came to a stopping point where we realized it was sink or swim time for the wall that created a funky hallway next to our stairs that led to an even funkier little closet.  We hated that little hallway- the railing is just a little too low to really feel safe, some of the floorboards are split and are unsupported, and the closet itself just wasn't in a convenient spot (not to mention that it didn't have a light in it after we had the electrical wiring updated- can we say 'creepy dark hallway leading to a creepy dark closet?'  I know I can).  *The picture here is from right after we bought the place, so you have to try to imagine the flooring ripped up, and the railing slightly more substantial.*

So, as soon as Mom pulled out of the drive on Saturday, we grabbed the ventilator masks, and headed upstairs.  Pulling down my beautifully-painted plaster wall took no time at all, the lath came right off with a little help from the crowbar, and as it was an interior wall there was no old insulation to deal with!  Yippy skippy!  We threw the lath out the window- we'll burn it later- and swept up all the plaster.  I tried to snap a few photos but with all the dust floating in the air they didn't come out all that great, but you get the idea.

Now, we had to take down the lath on the other side of the wall- but how to do it without leaving a huge mess to clean up on the stairs?  Kyle was brilliant enough to grab a tarp and lay it over our too-low railing and across the floor.  Then, using a reciprocating saw, he cut out a square from the wall.  With just a little shimmy and a shove we pulled the wall down where we could remove the plaster and lath without sending stuff flying out into the hallway.  We're pretty smart cookies, huh?  Well, you try dusting every surface of your house twice a day just to have it covered again the next morning, trust me, you learn fast.  A little prevention goes a long way when it comes to home renovations (and it goes twice for demolition).

Sunday morning we got to sleep in a little bit.  After staying up late having dinner and drinks with some friends and family at The Tavern in Jeffersonville's Smuggler's Notch Inn the dogs were all too happy to sleep in as well.  So around 7am we rolled out of bed to don our Carhartts and get back to work.

We needed to finish removing the old insulation from the closet and install a light.  After removing the rest of the plaster and lath from the walls we found a few spaces that were letting daylight in!  Yikers- of course we had to run out to buy more cans of that spray-foam to seal all that up.  We bought seven cans this time, we're not fooling around anymore.  When we returned from the hardware store I got to work sealing all the little gaps and cracks while Kyle ran electrical wire around the closet.  After an hour or so we had successfully stopped all the major air leaks in the closet, installed an outlet, a switch, and (drumroll please) a light!  Woo hoo!  Ok ok, so we didn't happen to have a wall sconce for the light so we've just put up a temporary light for now, but it will make working in there alot easier.  Working in the closet with headlamps is a little fun when you first start out but it definitely gets a little old.

We're planning on getting some lumber on Wednesday to build our new wall so we can put up the drywall.  We're hoping to have this room completely finished by the end of the month so we can move in there while we finish up our master bedroom.  Still on the list of things to do for the guest bedroom:

  1. Build wall

  2. Finish insulating closet

  3. Finish putting up sheetrock

  4. Mud/tape sheetrock

  5. Build shelves in closet and install rod for hanging clothes

  6. Prime and paint

  7. Install light fixtures (one for the closet, and the new one I got for the bedroom)

  8. Fill gaps between floorboards with wood caulk

  9. Install baseboard trim and trim around windows

  10. Put up curtains and blinds

Whew, ok so when I make it all into a list it seems like alot but we'll get it done by the end of the month, I'm sure.  One step at a time, and then we'll be that much closer to having our upstairs finished.

I love a busy day

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Saturday, December 12, 2009 1 comments

I wasn't too awfully optimistic this morning about what we might be able to get accomplished.  My honey was sounding a little less than ambitious and mentioned fixing the window (we had missed the spacers on the second window that we installed in the guest bedroom so it was a solid two inches deeper into the sill compared to he first one) but he didn't think he'd really want to do much else.  Kyle is definitely not a lazy guy, but with his final for his class coming up this Tuesday night he's been studying during his free time to be sure all goes well.

After enjoying some morning tea (or coffee in Kyle's case) and crocheting my new basket for collecting eggs (more on that later) we started work on the window.  It wasn't terribly warm out today- nineteen degrees without the windchill- but in the front of the house we were blessed with some bold sunshine which helped keep things warmer.  Kyle cut the wood for the spacers and then we unscrewed and removed the window.  After ten minutes or so we had all the wood spacers in and were ready to re-install the window.  Putting in a window has never been so easy, and it really feels good knowing that after a bit of experience we are confident and fairly adept at getting it done.

Right as I was filling around the window with canned spray foam my Mom showed up to take Kyle and I out to lunch.  We loaded into the Jeep and headed into the neighboring town of Morrsville to The Bee's Knees- an awesome restaurant that serves food made from local, organic dairy, meat and produce- where we got some food and some great local beer (Switchback is our favorite microbrew here in Vermont).  The Bee's Knees is one of my favorite restaurants around here- anyone who supports the local community is A-OK in my book.  Not to mention that they have live music, great food, WiFi, and a huge picture window you can sit in front of on a chilly day here in Northern Vermont.  You can go there and order a beer, tea, or coffee and just sit and enjoy the local atmosphere- absolutely wonderful.  It just happens to be my Mom's favorite place to eat here as well- so it works out.

When we got back home we headed out to the barn.  I wanted to shut the barn door as the wind was really blowing and since the girls weren't taking advantage of the sun I might as well shut the door to the barn to keep them a little warmer.  We caught eleven eggs today, so gladly handed off a dozen each to my dear Mom and our neighbor's daughter, Jennifer.  We have consistently been getting around 10-12 eggs a day so we were more than happy to unload some on some willing folks. 

We'll be heading into Jeffersonville shortly to hit The Tavern for some drinks and darts with some friends so you can be sure we'll be handing off another couple cartons of eggs before the night is through.  So, as its time to head out, I guess I'll wait until tomorrow to write about our demolition that we undertook this afternoon.

Waiting isn't my favorite

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Friday, December 11, 2009 2 comments

So Kyle was thrilled with his brewing kit that his lovely wife (yours truly) gave to him for his birthday a couple days ago.  Unfortunately we couldn't get started right away because all of that great cider that we made was all hibernating in the freezer.  So, first thing Wednesday morning, after Kyle opened his presents, we took out six gallons of frozen cider to start thawing in the sink.

I filled the sink a couple inches up the sides of the jars with cool water and we decided to go out to breakfast.  While I was getting ready, little did I know, someone got a little impatient and decided to put some HOT water into the sink as well- to help speed things along.  Upon our return from Jeffersonville we walked into the kitchen to see something rather distressing; one of the jars was cracked and leaking precious cider into the sink!  Crap- so we removed it from the sink and put it into a bowl so it could leak cider into something where we could save it.  We looked again- another was broken!  So we moved that one to a bowl as well.  Then we saw another!  Oh shoot, this is so not-good!

Word to the wise: jars act just like pipes, if they freeze do not try to thaw them too quickly or they can and will burst.  In Kyle's defense, he hadn't had any coffee yet that morning so I'm not sure the cobwebs had really been cleared out yet.

All in all I think four or five of the twelve jars broke- along with one of the two gallon jars that is still in the freezer (we're not entirely sure what happened with this one- it might have cracked during the freezing stage as it looks like it might have been a little overfilled- oops!).  But we moved all the cider into the sterilized fermenting bucket to finish thawing.  Yesterday afternoon, Kyle added some stuff that will kill off the wild yeast that could be lurking in the cider.  While we could try to use this to make our hard cider we just don't know if it will turn out delicious or completely unpalatable- its kind of a crap-shoot and I am not a gambler.  So we decided not to risk it for six gallons of cider.

So tonight we'll get started- thank goodness.  We'll check the potential alcohol content with the hydrometer and decide if we want to add sugar to up that reading.  Then we'll add some yeast and close the fermenter back up and away we go!  We've got yeast to make an apple wine so we can use up those wine bottles we've been saving all summer and fall- we'll need about 30 bottles to take care of the six gallons of cider.  It is going to take a while before we are ready to move it into the carboy for finishing...probably a really long time because our thermostat is almost always set for 50-55 degrees, unless we're having a chilly night and then we'll up it to 65 until we go to bed.  And when it comes to fermenting, heat is a good thing.

So thats the plan!  On another note: we collected a dozen eggs from the girls yesterday!  That makes 42 eggs currently in our fridge.  I think I'll make a couple quiche's tomorrow- one for lunch, and another to freeze for later.

Snow has arrived!!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, December 8, 2009 2 comments

I'm so excited!  We got our first measurable snowfall at our house a couple days ago.  Just a few inches, but its great!  The goats don't seem to care about it either way, although I did find Chutney curled up on a bunch of straw in the barn when I got home from work yesterday.  The chickens had obviously ventured out as I could see plenty of little chicken tracks scattered around the barn.  I wonder how they'll like it when we get a few feet instead of just a few inches.  We'll be snowblowing around the doors to the barn so they can come and go without having to swim through the snow, so it shouldn't be too bad for them.

Kyle's away at his class tonight so that means I get to keep myself busy with house stuff.  His 'away' nights have become my official 'clean the house' night.  Laundry, dusting, sweeping- you name it!- anything that has been building up during the week that I just can't stand to look at anymore.  There's nothing I like less than spending ANY of my weekend cleaning the house- ugh.

For once we didn't have a mountain of laundry to do so I found myself with a little spare time.  I'm making a double-batch of vegetable stock in preparation of all the soups I'm going to be making over the next week or two.  I don't know why I got into the habit of buying pre-made vegetable stock but I decided to finally snap out of it, especially when all it takes is a few onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic (well, in our case alot of garlic).  I'm sure that not only will it be cheaper and healthier, but tastier as well.  It just makes me look forward to growing simple things like carrots, celery, and onions in our garden next year.  Look at me, winter has only just begun and I'm looking forward to spring already!  Maybe I'll start some herbs up in the windows...

Here is the recipe for the stock:
2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
2 stalks celery, trimmed and quartered
2 carrots, trimmed and quartered
1 cup mushrooms, including stems (I prefer baby portabella mushrooms)
6 parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
6 peppercorns
at least 2 cloves garlic, peeled (I add a whole bulb when I double this recipe)
3 quarts water
(Note: I didn't have any mushrooms or parsley, but it came out tasty regardless.  Potato water in place of water from the tap is a great addition if you've got it, also if you've got any tomatos or turnips those are great additions as well- stock is my excuse to clean out the fridge when we've got some stuff a little past their prime.)

Combine all ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil.  Once it starts boiling reduce the heat to low/medium-low and let it simmer, covered, for two hours.  Strain all the solids out and let cool in jars or your preferred storage container.  I usually freeze ours, just for added peace of mind, but since I'll be using these soon I'm just keeping it in our refridgerator.

If you saute the vegetables a bit before putting in the water it really helps sweeten the stock- I like doing it this way most of the time- but if I'm in a rush I just throw it all in the pot and let it do its thing.

On another note, Kyle's birthday is tomorrow.  I'm so excited to give him his present, I tried to give it to him early this past weekend!  Hah!  But he resisted...amazingly.  I can't wait; I bought him a complete brewing kit so we can start making our own beer, wine, and best of all: HARD CIDER!!  We'll be able to start converting most of that great, home-made, frozen apple cider into some awesome, bottled, hard cider- I can almost taste it now.  I mentioned to Kyle as he was heading out the door that maybe we should just stay up until midnight tonight so I can give him his present as soon as his birthday begins!  I guess we'll see.  Regardless I should take out five gallons of cider to let it thaw out so we can get started right away.  Oh, and I supposed I'd better do some wrapping...hopefully I can find the tape.

Slow and Steady

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, December 7, 2009 4 comments

We decided, now that the Thanksgiving craziness is over, we would get back to work on our guest bedroom.  When we left it we had put in two new windows, installed new (non-rotten) studs in the walls, and foam board insulation.  Kyle had spent some time during his vacation to put up a few lengths of the fiberglass insulation but there were still spots that needed to be finished up.

So, Saturday we finished putting up the kraft-faced fiberglass insulation, filling small spots that we missed initially with the canned spray-foam first before covering it forever (fingers crossed).  Before moving forward Kyle ran a length of electrical wire through the wall to the hall closet from the exposed outlet so we could install a light in there.  Hopefully soon we will be converting this akward hall closet into a closet for the bedroom (which currently has nothing for storage space, minus the one dresser that we happily transplanted in there from the living room).

At this point we went ahead and put up a sheet of 4 mil plastic as a vapor barrier along the entire length of the wall.  Once it was solidly in place we cut out the holes for the windows and called it a day.  That night we really noticed a HUGE difference in the comfort of that room.  It was fairly toasty considering that the vent is still currently shut, so we were pretty thrilled with the transformation.

On Sunday we put up a few sheets of drywall and then spent alot of time cleaning up the guest bedroom.  We had initially kept up with the mess, trying to keep the dust down to a minimum but as time progressed we started slacking in that area so to work in there meant stepping over or around various building materials and tools (not to mention the need of a ventilator).  So, with broom, shop-vac, and contractor bag in hand we did a quick assault on the mess and it really makes the room feel closer to being finished.

Before I bother taping and mudding the drywall seams and screws we'll probably cut into the wall going into the hall closet.  More than likely this project is going to require some major demolition as well, resulting in the installation of yet more drywall.  But I see an end in sight.  I'm hoping that with just one more weekend (ok, maybe two) we'll be able to start priming and painting the walls again. 

We'll install a new, white-trimmed, ceiling light to replace the ugly, brown one and then I hope to use some wood caulk to fill the gaps between the floor boards.  I've done some reading and it sounds like caulk will expand and contract with our boards unlike wood filler.  The previous owners had actually filled some of the gaps with plaster but due to expansion of the boards all of it has cracked and we've removed the majority of it as it looks worse than the gaps themselves.  It is just frustrating how much dirt, hair, kitty litter, whatever gets down in these gaps and it looks terrible.  Not to mention that if something is spilled on the floor it just seeps in between the boards.

So I'm sure we'll be making a run to the hardware store later this week to grab some supplies for the final push to get this room finished.

On another note, we got eighteen eggs this weekend!  So almost all of our girls have started laying!

Our First Full Carton!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Thursday, December 3, 2009 1 comments

Wow, well yesterday Kyle found six eggs in the barn!!  I was so excited yet a little jealous that I wasn't able to hit the mother-load myself!  That got our numbers up to a dozen exactly.  I wasn't expecting much today, as we've been averaging just a few a day.  I hit the grocery store as soon as I got out of work to pick up some stuff for next week's dinners.  I was walking through the dairy section and it felt so strange as I walked past the eggs- we almost always have to buy eggs whenever we go to the grocery store.  But no more.  We should have eggs coming out of our ears pretty soon.

I arrived home, hastily unloaded my car, let out the kids and threw on my muck boots.  It was amazingly mild outside for a rainy December day in Northern Vermont.  In fact, I walked to the barn with just a light long-sleeved shirt on, my jacket taking up residence on a chair in the dining room.  Much to my excitement, I was able to find another six eggs.  Only one was in a nesting box, one more was in the manger, and the other four were sandwiched between layers of straw on top of our nice stack of hay that we had tried to cover to keep them from laying there. 

So, with eighteen farm-fresh eggs in one carton, and eight store-bought eggs in another, we decided it was time to have 'breakfast for dinner'.  I started up some hollondaise sauce and a pot of water to make eggs benedict while I set the eight store-bought eggs in another pot to boil to make hard-boiled eggs for lunch tomorrow.  Dinner was delicious but not quite as filling as our eggs aren't exactly "jumbo" sized.  Kyle had to make himself two more eggs after we finished eating.  But, I guess this is the end of store-bought eggs for us!  Hooray for home-grown food!

Chicken crazy

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, December 2, 2009 3 comments

I was chatting with a co-worker the other day about her chickens and it got me reminiscing about when our girls were chicks.  They arrived on June 3rd and I was amazed that 16 little chicks could fit in such a small box.  We were too late to order from a local store so we purchased them from Cackle Hatchery and had them shipped to us overnight as soon as they hatched.  We didn't lose a single chick, instead we ended up giving three to one of Kyle's sisters because we really didn't want a dozen laying hens.  We knew we'd never be able to eat all those eggs when they were in full swing.

But, as fate would have it, no one else we knew wanted any of our girls.  So we resigned ourselves to having about a dozen eggs a week during the summer.  By the time our wedding came around these girls were too big for the massive box that we were keeping them in.  They had a decent amount of space, but they just couldn't be bothered to stay in it when it was so easy to just hop out.  Many times I went into our guest room to find a few chickens either roosting on the edge of the box or out of the box completely.  So we took a weekend to construct a "chicken tractor" for them where they could be moved outside permanently (it is pictured here before we put in their housing).

This set up worked for a few weeks.  We would move the tractor about twice a week, just long enough for them to eat down the tall grass but not long enough for them to destroy it all together.  Its amazing how green some of those spots of grass were a week or two after we moved the chickens off of it.  In one spot there was a perfect rectangle of longer, darker grass where we kept the chickens for a full week.  But before we knew it there just wasn't enough room for them.  We would have loved to let the girls run free around our yard but our dogs would, most certainly, find them too irresistable.  We didn't want to risk it.  So we fenced in about an acre of land behind our old barn.  The land here was never used, it was always overgrown and covered in snails and other delicious bugs.  We ended up having to brush-hog it all down so the chickens could move around but they had plenty of grass and ant hills to enjoy as a result.

We only lost one chicken this summer.  Kyle called me as I was on my way home and said he couldn't find any of the chickens except for one partially eaten one- a beautiful cream colored Easter-Egger.  We were frustrated and heart-broken to think that after all our work we'd lost them all to some predator during the middle of the day.  After half an hour of searching we found them, scattered, hiding beneath anything they could find.  It took some convincing to get them back to the barn and once there they hardly left it.  We walked the fence line and didn't find anything that indicated a breach.  Ever since then, the girls have been wary of anything overhead but they venture out into the open spaces now.

It seemed like every time I thought 'they must be done growing now' I would look at some pictures that were taken a week before and see a drastic difference.  Our girls had gone from fairly docile birds to massive, demanding chickens.  We love them, though.  Even Kyle, who never imagined himself as a person who would own chickens (or ANY farm animals for that matter) started really enjoying them.  They are good entertainment and the noises they make when they are eating or foraging just brings such a smile to our faces.  It is such a pleasing sound.

Our girls have just started laying eggs- so far only two (maybe three) chickens out of the twelve.  This time of year really isn't the typical high-production time for chickens, what with the lack of daylight, so we'll be lucky if we get many at all until spring.  But we look at our girls and think of how great it would be to get more.  Yeah.  More.  When we first started out we thought we would just want six or so.  But now we look at our twelve and imagine what it would be like to have double that.   Of course, in a couple years our current gals will start slowing down their egg production and we'll end up culling them all at some point so we'll need replacements standing in the wings.

I know it sounds crass.  But this is the way it is for homesteaders.  These chickens are not pets.  They are part of our lives, though.  We nurture them and they will, in turn, nurture us.  I'm not saying it will be easy.  In fact, it could very well be one of the most difficult things we'll ever do, but this is life.  In the spring we'll be ordering another round of chicks, some turkeys, and maybe some geese to add to our growing farm.  We'll never need all of the number of eggs we'll collect, but friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers are more than willing to buy them or trade for them.  So it seems this could be a good start for income from the farm.  So it begins.

Productivity is on the rise.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 30, 2009 3 comments

For the past five days we've been consistently getting about one egg a day.  So we felt confident in saying that only one of our gals had started laying eggs.  Today Kyle called me at work, he stopped by the house during his lunch break to check on everyone (the dogs, cats, goats, and chickens).  He told me that he saw one chicken sitting over a freshly-laid egg in the usual spot where we find the eggs; on top of the platform that we made for the goats to play on- not the best place to lay a fragile egg.  Also, there was one chicken in one of the eight nest boxes- this was encouraging as we had yet to see any of the girls even think about checking them out.

When I got home from work I jogged to the house- pulling my hat down over my ears in response to the wind and snow that finally graced us.  I let the kids out (Ollie and Shyla), threw on my warmer, Carhartt barn jacket and my muck boots, and headed out to the barn to collect a couple eggs!  Yippy!  My excitement grew with every step- I would have run had I not worried about colliding with Ollie who is always adamant about trotting right in front of me.

As soon as I stepped inside the barn I could immediately tell a difference in the temperature since we covered the windier sides in plastic wrap.  In the past, even with the doors closed, we would have a breeze coming through the barn on the really windy days.  This past weekend we finally patched all the larger holes and the plastic wrap will take care of the multitude of smaller gaps and cracks.  The barn is nowhere near air-tight, which is just fine because you need some ventilation to keep it from getting really offensive in there.  But at least we can keep the girls a little more comfortable now.

So, I entered the barn to the sound of chickens clucking away and goats calling to me.  It was a little too early for dinner, not that they really knew that, so I went about my task.  First thing first, was to grab the exposed egg off the platform.  I looked, looked some more...but no egg.  What the heck?  I scanned the floor around the structure just in case, the goats demanding my attention, still nothing.  I moved over to the nest boxes and did a quick scan through those, looking for an egg.  No chicken sits in a nest box just for the heck of it....but no egg.

I trudged back to the house and called Kyle up at work to ask if he had decided to grab them before he left this afternoon- nope, they had to still be in the barn somewhere.  So I grabbed a flashlight (not that it is dark in the barn now that we have lights out there, but every little bit helps) and once again headed out into the damp and windy weather.

Ok, I got my game face on, this time I was on an honest-to-God egg hunt.  After giving the girls their dinner to keep them occupied while I went about my task, I checked around the platform again.  This time I dug through the dirtied hay a little more than I really wanted to sans-gloves, but this is the life of a homesteader; you get really dirty, and its never just dirt.  Nothing.  Back to the nest boxes.  I looked extra-carefully in each little cubby and 'hello!' there was a little brown egg, hiding in a nice little nest of hay.  Ok, cool, so we've found one of the two eggs we knew were laid today.  As I turned to do a general survey of the barn I saw a suspiciously flattened area of hay in the manger; it was definitely chicken-sized.

This past weekend we took a few small steps to try to prohibit the chickens from going into the manger.  We just bought some really nice second-cut hay (read: extra tasty and nutritious) that the goats were going crazy over and we didn't want to waste any by letting the chickens hang out on it.  But apparently our efforts were in vain- to a small degree.  Today, after the hay had been eaten down enough, some little chicky decided she wanted in, so in she went.  Luckily for all those involved, when a chicken goes to lay an egg it prevents her from defecating.  Its kind of like the esophagus/tracea set up we have in our necks; when one process is working, the other one is stopped- same for chickens and their egg-laying.  So, not only is our hay in fine condition, but we had another egg!

So, we had officially collected two eggs today, but nowhere could we find the one that Kyle had discovered earlier.  My only thought is that perhaps a goat crushed it and then the chickens found it and ate it- leaving no trace.  But now we can be sure that three out of our twelve hens are laying, three out of the four Dominiques.  I am really looking forward to the eggs from our Easter-Eggers, with their naturally-colored eggs, that will be a novelty.  I can't wait to see what we'll collect tomorrow!!  Nothing like hunting eggs and finding a few treasures to really brighten up your day.

A little Thanksgiving Day gift

Lovingly Posted by Melissa 1 comments

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  We had a small gathering at our place with my mom, my brother and his wife.  It was potluck style so I only really had to worry about cooking the turkey and the hors d'oeuvres which was really nice.  We had a little fire on our stove the day before (never leave a plastic cutting board on a burner) so we got all our bad-luck out of the way ahead of time.

After some snacking and socializing we headed out to visit our girls (the chickens and the goats)- a day just isn't complete without a visit out to the barnyard.  We snapped some photos, gave the chickens some kitchen scraps and headed to the barn to show off the new platform that Kyle made for the goats to play on inside.  Well, there sitting on the top of the platform, in a huge nest of hay we left there for the goats to eat, was an egg!

Our first egg!  We were ecstatic!  We paraded it back to the house to place it in one of the many egg cartons that had been gifted to us from various friends and family members.  Granted, it is so small that it swims in one of the spaces, but it is ours- a healthy, grass-fed egg!  This is just the beginning!  We've got three eggs so far, our little Dominique will lay two eggs every three days or so.  Hopefully soon the other ladies will follow suit and start laying eggs as well.

Happy holidays!!!

Not everything is as easy as you hope it will be.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 23, 2009 4 comments

Well, we were bound to run into a little trouble with our house at some point.

We decided to tackle the last two windows this weekend.  We started out on Saturday with our go-getter attitude and the feeling that we'd have this all banged out in a few short hours.  It didn't take long for that idea to go out the window (pardon the pun).  As soon as the old window was removed we saw that the footer for the window was significantly more rotten than the ones we had seen on the previous two.  No big deal, we had replaced these before.  But looking a little closer we found a good deal more rot than we had anticipated.  The studs, the footer, everything was crumbling.  We dug and dug to try to find the end to the rotten wood and once we got there we realized we were getting into much more than a three-hour window project.

The studs would have to go.  One was a regular 2x4 but the other (pictured above) was a 4x4 - all rough-cut wood so those dimensions are solid.  We had no way to get those suckers out as they spanned all the way up to the roof line.  So we made a trip to the local hardware store.  We were going to need some wood to replace the rotten framing and a new toy; Kyle seemed really disappointed that we had to buy a reciprocating saw so we could get the studs out (read: this sentence seriously weighed with sarcasm).  All in all we only spent $150 on a decent Sawzall and the lumber so we were pretty pleased with that.  We got home and set straight to work.

I really didn't miss doing demolition; we had done plenty of it during the first few months that we lived here.  It could be worse, I mean, we did invest in a couple good ventilator masks (old houses can literally kill you with the dust in their walls).  We periodically stopped to pick up plaster, lath, and insulation so the room wasn't as much of a mess as it could have been.  We've learned that cleaning up smaller messes a bunch of times is much better than doing a huge clean-up at the end of the project, so we get to take our ventilators off from time to time when there isn't nasty, old blown-in insulation all over the room.

It didn't take too long to get the new studs and footer installed, it was more of a pain in the butt to get the raw opening just right.  Because we had already purchased our new windows we had to be sure that they would fit when we were finished.  But between the two of us, a few diagrams, and a whole lot of math we managed to get it right and the window went it with no problem.  After it was secured to the house I went crazy with the spray-foam insulation.  Word to the wise: with this project be sure to use the kind that is meant for windows and doors or else you'll run into some problems later.  Also, only fill the space about one third or else it will expand way past the point where you need insulation, and that is just waste and a whole lot of extra clean up later.  You can always go back after its all dried and add extra if you really need it.  Whatever is too small to fill with this spray foam insulation can be covered with some silicone caulk (which is needed around the outside of the window anyways).

So we got the window in, just in time to get to our 2nd Thanksgiving celebration over at my Mother-in-law's house.  This is what it looked like right as we were leaving.  You can see that Atticus was pretty happy to be allowed back in the room...thats his favorite window.

We woke up on Sunday and decided that we were going to just do things right this time.  When we renovated this room earlier this year, we just put sheetrock up over the plaster walls.  We were in too much of a rush to worry much about the lack of insulation in those walls.  It was time.  We ripped open the walls to get measurements between the studs to be sure we got the right size of insulation.  Then, we headed off to Lowe's (all the local hardware stores are closed on Sundays).

We came back with both spray-foam, foam-board, fiberglass insulation, sheet rock, and a lot of lumber.  The plan is to add a 2x4 onto each stud so we can put more insulation in the walls.  We filled all the gaps in the wood paneling (the stuff underneath the two layers of siding) with the spray-foam insulation, then started covering that with the foam-board insulation.  Once we get the additional framing set we'll cover the foam-board with the fiberglass insulation and then cover that with drywall.

We only got a few sheets of the foam-board installed before we decided to quit for the night.  But Kyle has the whole week off and I am only working Monday and Tuesday so hopefully we'll make some good headway before Thanksgiving.  This picture was taken before we removed the old insulation from above the window to the right- we also removed all the plaster/lath and insulation to the right of that window. 

Before we call this room done we are going to add more insulation to the other exterior wall, install the second new window, build some shelves underneath the knee-wall, and make a new door into the wierd hall closet- as this room has literally no storage.  Our plan, then, is to move into this room while we finish our master bedroom.

So, we started off with a practically finished room...with crap windows and spotty insulation.  We'll finish with a properly insulated room, that isn't being watered by the gable-vent (yeah, we discovered that up in the attic on Sunday- probably the cause of the rotten wood and the stains on the ceiling).  It really kind of sucked to destroy the room, but I'm looking forward to having it really finished this time.

A warm-day project

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 16, 2009 3 comments

We've been having an interesting warm spell the past week or so, temperatures have been hovering around the 50s.  So on Sunday we decided to tackle our window project.

As you may well know, our house was built in the 1850's.  So our house has old blown-in insulation (read: NO insulation) and single-pane windows (most of which are cracked/broken).  We were lucky in that all of the windows in the downstairs of our house had been updated a few years before we bought it so that left us with only the windows in the upstairs bathroom and bedrooms to deal with.

Due to the unconventional size of our windows we had four special ordered to replace the larger of the seven windows we would be dealing with.  We picked them up a few months ago, but as we've never replaced windows before we've been kind of putting off the project for fear of leaving a huge hole in one of the bedrooms should we fail.  We'd discussed hiring someone to install them for us, but in the spirit of saving money, we just decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

So Sunday morning we got to work.  We decided we'd just try one to see how it went.  Taking the old window out was rediculously easy- a few screws here and there and wall-a!- we had big hole in the wall in our bedroom!  So, with Kyle outside on the old wooden ladder (better to use that one then the aluminum ladder that was mysteriously run over by the excavator when we tore down half of our old barn) I passed the new window through so we could see how it fit.

We had done careful measurements when we ordered the new windows so we breathed a sigh of relief when the window fit generally well.  The only trouble was that we had a window sill about two inches thick that extended past the point where the flange needed to sit.  So we pulled out the sledge hammer and the circular saw and it was out in no time (yeah, I'm serious- we don't do things halfway here)- Kyle then installed a new sill.  It took a few more tries- Kyle on the ladder, me inside trying not to drop the window to the ground- before it really fit.  When we were sure everything was level we shimmed around the window and secured it into place.

All we needed to do was insulate between the window and the framing for the raw opening (we sounded like a couple kids as we discussed who got to use the expanding foam insluation) and seal around the outside with silicone.  It took little time and we were so pleased that we decided to go ahead and replace the second window in our bedroom.  This one definitely went alot quicker and by 3:30 we had two new energy efficient, double-hung, thermal pane, Pella windows in our bedroom.  The only thing that is left to do is put trim up around the inside of the window to cover the shims and insulation, and put trim up around the outside of the window to cover the flange.

We always knew that we got breezes through our old windows, we just kept wedging things around them to try to get a better seal.  These new window are not only breeze-resistant, they are also SO much quieter!  When we went to bed last night I didn't hear a single car go by.  I kept laying there in the dark waiting for the usual sound of passing cars (we would hear cars passing on the road across the river as well) but there wasn't a sound.  Now I can't wait for the next night we have high winds.

Let there be light!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 9, 2009 2 comments

We had a wonderful bit of luck this past weekend.  Saturday was overcast and cool but at least it didn't rain, and Sunday was absolutely amazing; sunny and warm.  We took our good fortune as permission to get going on the major project we needed to get done before winter- running electricity to the barn.

We'd been trucking out there after dusk to feed the critters in the dark- half the time to find the chickens already roosting for the night, not willing to descend for their dinner.  We try to catch them before they head off to "bed" but with the time change it is getting increasingly difficult to manage.  On top of this we are always worrying about frozen water buckets.  So Saturday we started right in to digging a ditch to run the wire.

It didn't take as long as we had thought to dig the 100' ditch, even at 18" deep.  We worked side by side, silently going about our work.  Only occasionally did we stop to take a break and comment excitedly on how quickly it was going.  We headed to the local hardware store to get our supplies: outdoor 12-2 wire, conduit, junction boxes, wire nuts and connectors, a new breaker for the breaker box, and of course switches and outlets.  Kyle got right to work running some indoor 12-2 wire from the breaker box to the corner of the workshop where we would connect it to the outdoor wire for the long stretch to the barn.  I got to work trying to push the wire through the non-metallic conduit- this was the hardest part of the entire job I'm pretty sure.

After probably half an hour of trying to force 100' of wire through 100' of conduit and only making it probably five feet I gave up and we went to the hardware store again for a spool of fish tape.  It only took about five or ten minutes using the fish tape to pull the wire through the conduit, well worth the $40 if you ask me.  At this point the sun was beginning to set so we fed the girls and shut them in the barn for the night before heading inside to take care of Shyla and the boys.  Dinner was Morrocan-spice hake wrapped in wheat tortillas with some jasmine basmati rice and plain yogurt.  I'm sometimes amazed that my husband used to cringe at the thought of fish for dinner as this dish is one of his favorites.

Sunday we woke up early, had our Sunday breakfast of eggs benedict with home fries, and got right back to work.  Kyle began wiring the barn while I started filling in the ditch, covering our wire.  I can say that I would rather dig two more ditches than have to bury one.  It didn't take long before I had to stop to take a break.  The sun was shining beautifully and the temperatures were solidly in the 50s so I was glad to strip down to a sleeveless shirt as I fought the piles of soil.

It took me a few hours to fully fill in the ditch but when I was finished Kyle was still working away in the barn.  I went in to help and to patch a few places in the walls where wind would come through.  Of course this whole time May and Chutney just couldn't stand to stay in their paddock- Chutney continually jumped over the divider in the barn to escape.  We gave up trying to restrict them and so let them out to play and graze in the yard in front of the barn.

By about 2:30 Kyle had finished wiring a light and five outlets throughout the barn.  This was the exciting moment we had been waiting for.  Kyle went in to switch the breaker on and I waited as he walked back.  Apparently something wasn't quite right, the breaker kept tripping.  So Kyle began checking his work while I headed inside to clean up the house and get some food in the oven for some company that would be coming over later on that evening.

A short half an hour later Kyle walked into the house, grinned at me and said that everything was set.  One small oversight with the light switch was the culprit and a quick fix.  We officially had lights and power in the barn.  I was ecstatic.  I'm still ecstatic.  Now, if needed, we can set up a couple heat lamps during the really cold/windy nights to keep the gals warm, and we will certainly be installing a heated water bucket shortly so no more frozen water.  Just knowing that we have the ability to keep our girls in comfort throughout the winter makes me a happy homesteader.

We worked hard all weekend, side by side, never complaining about the difficulty but smiling to eachother as we enjoyed some good Vermont beer in the warm sunshine during a well-deserved break.  Ours is truly a happy union.

Apples apples everywhere but not a drop to drink...oh wait...

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 2, 2009 3 comments

What a gorgeous weekend!!!  We had a nice little heatwave on Saturday and I spent the whole day clad in a tee-shirt and burying our new in-ground dog fence with Kyle.  We learned in the past that it was not wise to leave it above ground for very long so we were extra excited when we got it finished and loop indicator didn't scream at us saying that all our work was for nothing.

As soon as we finished the rain began and the wind started picking up- perfect timing.  We retreated to the comfort of the house and I started dinner while Kyle hopped down the road to pick us up a bottle of wine.  I took a chunk of the dough I had made almost a week ago and began stretching it out to make a pizza.  I have seriously fallen in love with the no-knead dough that I found in Mother Earth News months ago.  All week we've enjoyed fresh-baked bread with dinner and lunch the following day.

I wasn't sure how the pizza crust would turn out, I mean, how can one dough be so versatile?  But I spread it out on a cookie sheet (my favorite; Williams Sonoma Goldtouch nonstick brand...NOTHING sticks to this sucker) and covered it with a bit of sauce, some mushrooms, peppers, sun-dried tomatos, and some great chevre (we like to switch it up from the same old mozzarella) that is made locally.  Hopefully next summer we'll be making our own chevre when May starts milking.

After just a few minutes in the 500 degree oven we slid the pizza off the cookie sheet and onto the wooden cutting board.  The crust was perfect; thin and crispy.  We ate the entire pizza that night and I still could have had more- I love chevre pizza.

Sunday was our official apple cider day!  We had two huge boxes of apples that had been sitting on our porch from weeks ago and it had taken on a lovely caramel-apple smell but it was time for them to go.  We had borrowed a home-made cider press from Kyle's employer and it made quick work of the apples.  I, personally, love the look of old-style cider presses but let me tell you they take forever to make much cider.  This loud, metal monstrosity took away alot of the romance...but produced fast and delicious results.

We fed the apples into the ginder, powered by some kind of small engine, and pulp shot out the bottom into my canning pot.  (Kyle walked away covered from the waste down with apple pulp.)  We, piled the ground up apples between layers of cheesecloth and plastic trays; three layers of apples and three layers of trays at a time.  Kyle pumped the hydraulic jack which squeezed the juice out of the layers of pulp as I held the hose over my stock pot which was covered in another few layers of cheesecloth.  Each batch provided about 3 gallons of cider, sometimes as many as five.  Pouring the cider from the stock pot into the jars proved to be a little difficult and we inevitably spilled what probably amounts to a couple gallons of cider in all.  But, between all the spilling and the taste-tests we ended up with about 25 gallons of fresh, unpasturized cider. 

So, for $50 we filled up our pickup with perfectly good apples and made six gallons of frozen apple slices, at least nine gallons of apple sauce, and 25 gallons of cider.  I'm not sure how much the cost of frozen apples are but when you consider that local applesauce is $3.75 a pint and a gallon of local apple cider around here costs $12.95 we've saved ourselves almost $550 by making it ourselves.  Now if THAT doesn't sound like a good investment I don't know what does!!  Of course this doesn't consider the cost of the jars...which would probably total about $100, but those are re-usable and we still saved alot of money.

What Came First: The Apple or the Seed?

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, October 27, 2009 2 comments

Fall is the very best time to buy trees.  Not only is the weather alot easier on the newly-planted, but most nurseries have amazing deals to try to clear out as much as possible to make room for next year's inventory.  So Sunday we took a drive to Elmore Roots Nursery who was advertising $20 trees and $10 shrubs.  These guys have been around for 30 years and trust me, if it can grow in Elmore its got to be hearty.

We packed the fifteen trees and three grape vines into the back of the pickup, covered them with a tarp, and headed to Stowe for an early birthday party for my friend, Ali.  Kyle and I planned a vacation day for Monday so we carved pumpkins, ate and laughed the night away with good friends.

We woke up on Monday to a clear sky.  After bringing the dogs and Elvis to their appointment with the vet we grabbed some breakfast sandwiches at DJ's and headed home.  By now the sun was high up in the sky and we set to work.

First we had to decide where exactly we wanted to plant our trees.  They would take up a considerable amount of space, needing about 25' between them, but we didn't want to take up potential grazing or garden space.  It was a debate between a nice little hillside behind the house where there are currently three birch trees and a beach tree in residence that faces west, or the flat section near the road that faces south.  It was a long debate but in the end we decided not to choose either spots. 

Instead we looked to the front yard where there is plenty of grass but unsuitable for grazing or gardening.  Not only would this be a beautiful spot for an orchard, it would also provide some great privacy from the neighbor across the road and people driving by.  And I love the idea of sitting on our front porch someday, enjoying the beauty of apple and pear trees in bloom.  While we debated on the layout of the apple orchard we planted the lone cherry tree (self-pollinating according to the orchard) in the front-right yard which gets some great southern sun exposure.

We set out the eleven apple and three pear trees and began placing them along our yard, twenty-five feet apart.  Kyle dug the holes and filled them with a bit of mineral mix, then I'd give them a big drink of water laced with some seaweed juice (highly recommended by the orchard) after we planted each tree.  It took some time, my hands were solidly brown from the soil which is always a good thing, and when we were finished we stepped back to enjoy our new landscape.

I painted all the trees with some special tree paint to protect them from sun and wind damage and we even clipped on some garlic-oil deer repellent to each tree.  I liked the end result- each tree was more visible with the white paint- at least Kyle will see them and not hit them with the lawn tractor.  Someday these trees will become a beatiful orchard and we'll cover their branches with white lights for Christmas and in the summer we'll have birds nesting in their branches.  But those days are far away, when our future-children are grown.  I like that; good things take time.


Our first "kid"


We have four Dominiques, four Black Australorps, and four Easter-Eggers