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


Kitchen Progress!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, August 17, 2011 2 comments

For those of you blissfully unaware that we haven't been living in our house for the past two months you may be surprised to hear that we are BACK.  That's right!  Home sweet home...

Things have been steadily progressing in our kitchen.  Oh yes.  The KITCHEN.  Remember this beauty?

Loverly isn't she?  What could possibly make us want to change anything about this?  Well...lets just say it was a bit chilly in the winter and I'll leave it at that.

Kyle began demolition over his vacation about two months ago and, with the help of his step-brother, the room was rapidly stripped down to bare studs.  We were a little bummed that we weren't able to salvage the cabinets to use as storage in the workshop but they came down in pieces with one swift stroke of the hammer.  So into the pile of scrap wood they went.

Only a small amount of insulation was discovered behind the old drywall.  This was no surprise.  And after lots of hemming and hawing we decided to rip up the floor too and discovered that not only was there NO insulation, but no vapor barrier from the ground.  We were lucky that there was no rot, and the ground below was perfectly dry despite the rainy weather we had been having.  We breathed a sigh of relief (because when it comes to demo in a house as old as ours you almost always run into something unexpectedly unpleasant) and continued along our merry way.  I say 'we' in the very loose sense- Kyle did the grunt work.  I took care of the baby.  I say we're even, therefor I say 'we'.

The past few years we have lived in our house we have endured freezing cold floors in the kitchen every winter.  Not that it was that much of a big deal.  The kitchen was my least favorite room of the house, with its mint green cabinets and stickers of fruit (?).  So while I didn't spend much more time in there than I needed to for aesthetic reasons, I'd have to go in with my muck boots on just to avoid frost bite on my toes.  Therefor, only did we need to insulate the walls from drafts, but the floors as well.  Kyle laid down a vapor barrier and then filled the crawl space with insulation.  Here it is in progress:

In a single week the boys were able to get the subfloor back down over the joists as well as additional supports to keep the floor from flexing as it used to.  We were left with a skeleton of a room.  A blank slate.  Just the way I like it.  I drew up half a dozen floor plans for our future kitchen, some Kyle liked, some he hated, and vice versa.  We decided what we'd really like is an island to increase the work space, maybe one with the oven built in so you could cook and socialize with people at the same time.  But the reality that ovens take up a lot of space quickly beat down that plan.  Its amazing how something can feel so open and airy on paper but as soon as you draw out the layout on the floor its a totally different monster.  So I went back to the drawing board.

Over the next few weeks Kyle managed to not only install a new, bigger window over where the sink would be, he was able to run all the new wiring, install recessed lights, and after about a week of waiting we had a guy come in to do blown-in insulation.  It wasn't really in our budget (trust me that stuff isn't cheap) but we decided that since the room gets a lot of wind and is surrounded by uninsulated areas (the work shop next to it and above it) we couldn't afford to be cheap about it.

Over the past month there has been amazing progress made.  Enough so that we could move back into our house today, so that must mean something.  Unfortunately we're still washing dishes in our bathroom sink which isn't ideal, but hey, one thing at a time right?  Stick around folks, I'll have some great pictures to share next time!

Hooray Veggies!!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, July 20, 2011 0 comments

After two unsuccessful years with my garden at the bottom of the hill I am FINALLY seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  Last year, for my birthday, my Mom built me a handful of raised beds next to the house on our south-facing lawn that previously went unused.  It is a lovely little spot of land in front of our picture window and overlooking the river and a farm across the road.  After a second year of disappointment in our garden, Kyle and I had decided to move it to its current home to make it easier to water.  At its previous location we would have to string along five or six hoses around the house and down the hill (the previous owner of our house, an elderly woman, would carry watering cans back and forth...amazing).

My dearest Mom is a very handy woman and she quickly built the raised beds along with a small, hinged platform to hide the access for our septic tank.  This spring, Kyle filled the beds starting with some empty grain bags to try to keep weeds at bay, followed by some goat and chicken manure and straw from the barn, and finally soil.  I began planting with just one bed for lettuce and broccoli and a bed for spinach.  The lettuce and broccoli were looking pretty sad the day I put them in the ground.  Even the kid across the street, a sweet boy who spends a lot of time over at our farm, commented that he thought they were going to die.

Luckily they pulled through and even flourished!  I've been up to my ears in romaine and have resorted to feeding it to the goats.  Note to self: no two people need thirty heads of romaine.  Although, I never pull them out of the ground, I just keep cutting them any time I want some salad so they keep growing back.

Unfortunately my spinach didn't do as well.  I think the problem was that I was using seed left over from last year and the packet might have gotten a bit wet before sitting through the winter in our workshop.  So I bought some new seed and replanted, so far that is the least successful plant in the garden which really is frustrating because I love spinach and we eat a lot of it.  I'm still working on it.

Finally a few months ago I got the rest of the garden in.  Acorn squash, summer squash, peas, beans, carrots, mustard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and celery all went into the ground and have been flourishing ever since.  I had a small problem with some cucumber beetles (not sure why my chickens weren't more on top of that) which ate a few of my acorn squash plants.  But luckily I had planted too many in the raised bed anyway so they really did me a favor, as much as I hate to admit it.

I think one of the main reasons the garden is doing so well this year is that I can look out the windows and see  whats going on.  I can walk around the gardens after or before work and see that things need to be weeded- so I take ten minutes and weed.  Water is easily available; it doesn't even take one hose to reach every bed.  I just can't get over the positive results.  Of course, I still have some maintenance to do: the peas and tomatoes desperately need better supports before much longer, but I think this year really will be the year of successful gardening which just snowballs from here.

Here are some pictures!

This is a photo of our raised beds back in the end of April before any planting began.  The photo was actually to show how high the river was during the big flood we had on the 27th, but the raised beds had a cameo appearance.

Here it is today!

Here are some close ups of my broccoli and lettuce:

My tomato plants are looking great and in desperate need of additional supports.

Next door to the tomatoes are the celery, cucumbers and peas

Followed by the beans and summer squash

And finally we've got the mustard greens with the carrots, and the acorn squash.

Hope you folks are having a great gardening year as well!  Stay tuned for some great shots of the kitchen progress and more baby goats!!

Kidding season has begun!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, June 15, 2011 1 comments

So anyone who knows about raising goats is probably laughing right now because it is a LITTLE bit late in the season for kidding.  But hey, you do what you can, right?  We bred our goats late because I wanted some adjustment time after bringing our daughter into the world before I wanted to think about milking goats.  So here we are.

Jokers Wild certainly threw some good kids our way and we couldn't be more pleased thus far.  A week ago we had a major heat wave and I was holed up in the house with Isabel working away.  Kyle got home around 4:30 and announces that we have baby goats!  I knew a few of our does were close, their tail ligaments were getting softer by the day, but I was surprised to hear that one of them kidded without me noticing.  We hopped outside, which was a shock to my system because it was almost twenty degrees hotter that the house, and found Juniper in the shade of a few trees with two tiny babies by her side.  They were already dry and wobbling around.  They are two little bucklings, both tri-colored and I think we're going to be keeping one for breeding.  My husband has already named them Rootbeer and Moxie.

Not two days later my darling May graced us with the arrival of a doeling as well!  I saw her udder was getting bigger and her ligaments were almost gone but she fooled me last year so I wasn't holding my breath on her.  Well, apparently good things DO come to those who wait.  Not only did May produce a beautiful and friendly little girl but she also has a GREAT big udder and fairly large teats.  Pretty impressive for a first freshener I think.  I made my first attempt at milking her just this morning and while I wouldn't say it was easy it certainly went much smoother than any of my attempts last year at milking Chutney.  So I'm excited and hopeful.

Poppy was the third so far to kid this year.  Two days after May's doeling was born, Poppy produced a doeling of her own.  She looks just like Joker and is just a tiny little thing.  Poppy is our smallest goat so I'm not sure how successfully I will be able to milk her, but I'm hoping to do a bit with her and Juniper this year so they'll have an easier time of it next year.  If we could just get enough milk to avoid buying any for Kyle's coffee or my goat cheese addiction then it will be worth the effort.

Still left to kid are Chutney and Willow.  Chutney is looking just as big as last year and her ligaments are hard as rock so I'm thinking she'll give us at least three kids again this year.  Time will tell.  So as it stands we're up to four kids.  The little bucklings were disbudded last night and the doelings will be done before the end of the week.  I'm still waiting for their little nubs to come up.

Things are moving along in other areas of the farm as well.  Our pigs and chicks are growing fast over the pasture, the garden is doing well, the bees (I am very sorry to report) didn't make it through the winter so we're going to wait and try again next year.  I will be trying to blog more often now that we have so very much going on.  I would hate to get too far behind when there is stuff to report on!  Thanks for sticking around, folks!

Another month has passed

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, March 30, 2011 1 comments

Again, another month has flown by in what seems like just one long, deep breath.  I am guilty of wishing away the remains of winter and dreaming daily of the promise of green.  We are lucky in that we have enough exposure that the sun has melted away a good portion of the snow around our house and we've been seeing the beginnings of my *shhhhhh* spring flowers.

Although living in northern Vermont means you have to have quite a bit of patience and a BIG sense of humor.  Sure, the calendar says its spring but we're due to get another Nor'easter this weekend.  Whoever coined the phrase about March with it's lions and lambs surely didn't live in Vermont.  Not that this is much of a surprise, last year there was quite a storm up here on Mothers Day.  You just never know.

Things here on the homestead have been idling since the addition of our daughter.  But plans are always in the backs of our minds and soon enough we'll be jumping into action again.  We are beginning to recognize that although we have the best intentions, sometimes we jump a little too hard with our ideas.  So this year we plan on focusing on the motto: small but successful.  This translates into smaller gardens that we can rely on to AT LEAST provide us with the staples to make Isabel's baby food when she begins solids later this summer/fall.  We're still planning on raising chickens and pigs to feed our family but this year we're planning on three pigs instead of four and a few smaller batches of meat birds instead of one big lot of them that would all need to be processed at about the same time.

We're toying with the idea of stepping back from the dairy goats for now as well.  We'll see how milking goes this spring/summer, but at the present they are relatively expensive pets.

We have some plans for better broiler production.  Last year, we kept them with our laying hens and about half of them jumped the fence into the pigs' pasture, becoming supplemental protein.  This was a major disappointment so this year we're planning on making some inexpensive chicken tractors similar to Joel Salatin's (approximately 10'x12'x2') so we can keep them on the lower pasture where they will get plenty of grass yet still be safe from predators (both domestic and feral).

Speaking of which, we had a major loss last month.  Some unfamiliar dogs paid us a visit and much to our dismay they killed off half of our laying hens.  Then, thanks to the pile of dead chickens that we probably should have just processed and turned into dog food, we attracted a fox and some weasels.  We lost another two or three chickens and are now down to just over a dozen.  To top it all off we have at least one weasel living IN our barn.  We see it every time we go out to feed the goats and the chickens.  Needless to say, we have pulled out the .22 and are going to borrow a livetrap from my brother and sister-in-law.

So, that is where we're at.  I'm going to be pulling out the leftover seeds from last year so we can take stock and see what needs to be purchased for this year.  I'm hoping to get some of our seeds started this weekend. But, in an up coming post I am hoping to detail our plans for food production in a little bit more detail.  Thanks for sticking with me folks!

The Senesac Family Has Grown!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, February 21, 2011 4 comments

Do you know what happened the day after my last post?


Ok, well then I'll tell you.  I had a baby.  Yep.  Our little girl who wasn't due for another couple weeks decided to show her face early!  I had spent the entire day out and about with my Mom.  We did some fabric shopping, went out to lunch, and then I had a variety of doctors appointments over in Burlington.  By the time I got home my ankles had swollen a bit and I was so tired I decided to take a nice hot bath before going to bed.  Kyle and I hit the sack at 9 o'clock and not ten minutes later my water broke.  So, we rushed to the nearest hospital (our local place where we had originally planned on a natural birth with the midwives there) just in case I had a prolapsed umbilical cord since my little peanut was breech.  But, thank goodness, all was well with the baby when we arrived.  Because I was having contractions and things were progressing so fast they decided to keep me there for the c-section rather than sending us via ambulance to the hospital in Burlington.

Two hours after we had arrived at Copley hospital we had a baby.  She was born on 1/11/2011 at 11:27pm.  We spent four days in the hospital recovering before heading home on Saturday.  The past month has gone by in a flash and in just another couple weeks I'll be going back to working part-time which will be an adjustment.  But parenthood is wonderful.  Our baby girl is healthy, happy, and is growing like a weed.

So, without further ado, please meet the latest member of the family: Isabel.

Our Hearth- Part 2 and Part 3

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, January 10, 2011 0 comments

Can I say 'wow' for just a minute here.  I thought I had published this post months ago but to my horror, when I went to write a post about the recent updates to our hearth, I rediscovered it.  So, please forgive the delay- I will promptly remedy that plus add the most recent updates as well.  Prepare yourself for one bear of a post.

One Sunday morning back in the middle of September, we were heading to the Tunbridge Fair and wanted to be sure and get our hearth pad finished so it would have plenty of time to set before placing the 450 lb wood stove on it come Friday evening.  We mixed the first batch of thinset, approximately the viscosity of clay (with heavy stones you want to be sure not to mix it too thin or it will all just get smooshed out before you can set and level it), and let it sit for 5-10 minutes as instructed by the directions on the bag.  While it was sitting we went out to the barn to feed the girls.

We returned to the thinset, Kyle gave it a final, quick stir and we went inside to get down to business.  As I am the resident tiling expert (having tiled our bathroom floor with the help of my Mom apparently makes me the expert *sarcasm*) I was delegated to applying the thinset to the cement board.  I put it on thick, as I mentioned before, these stones are heavy and we wanted to be sure to have enough thinset below the stones to have "wiggle room" to be sure it was perfectly level.  Once I had it spread out a bit to be sure it would reach all the corners, Kyle laid down the stone.  This is where the painstaking process of leveling the stone came into play.  Kyle literally stood on the stone and jumped up and down until the thinset oozed out the sides and corners and would jump on certain areas depending on which side needed to be lowered to level it out.

*I'm sure most seasoned masons wouldn't recommend this course of action, but as we had no rubber mallets on hand (not sure if that would have even worked really) and no other/better ideas, that is the way we went.*

Once the first stone was set in place and the excess thinset wisked away from the edges (it was a constant battle to keep the floor and the faces of the stones "cleanish" during this process) we moved on to setting the next stone.  Because these stones were a little irregular we had to be sure that they were not only level, but at the same height as well.  It took some finessing, but we ended up with a great finished product.  We were sure to clean out between the stones where we'll be putting grout and we washed the tops of the stones one last time before calling it quits for the day.

After we let the thinset cure for a few days we went back to work.  We filled in the spaces between the stone with dark gray grout and took out the door behind the hearth.  We needed to get some cement board up to support the tile we would eventually put up.

Getting the stove and chimney installed took a little longer than we had anticipated.  It seemed like every time we had a date scheduled with the guy doing the install, it would inevitably rain that day, causing further delay.  But, after a couple days of clear weather we had a fully installed wood stove ready to go.

We left it like this for a couple months before actually tackling the project again.  After all, we did have the dining room renovation to tackle as well, and as that was more of an eyesore it had higher priority.  But, the end of November found us back at the hearth.

My father and step-mom came up for Thanksgiving and it seems like every time they stay with us my hubby and dad tackle some sort of project together.  This time they got to work on a mantel.  Yep, thats right, we don't have a fireplace but we DO have a mantel.  It might sound like an odd combination, but trust me, it was exactly what was needed on that wall to keep it interesting behind the wood stove.  Kyle had a bunch of wood in the workshop that he had salvaged from around our house so the project took nothing but time and a little bit of stain and urethane we already had!

Despite how it looks in this picture, the mantel really IS level...I didn't realize my picture-taking mistake until just now- oops!

We lived with it just like this for a few weeks, maybe even a full month before we got around to dealing with the tile.  My mom and step-dad came down a couple weeks ago to help out.  We had a few days of warm weather where we felt alright about taking the stove out of commission and using our furnace in order to allow the thinset and grout to set well without drying out too quickly.  Kyle was off to his sister's house for yet another Christmas celebration (we average around 5 or 6) and as I am officially done riding around in the car unless absolutely necessary I skipped out and supervised the tiling instead.

A few hours and some head-scratching later (there were some small irregularities to the cement board due to the spacers behind it that wreaked some havoc for a tile or two- after whittling away at it a bit we were able to continue on) all the tile was up and looking gorgeous.  Kyle took care of the grout a couple days later.  The only thing left to do is to put up some wood trim around the bluestone hearth pad, and around the inside of the mantel where it meets the tile.  We also need to tackle the wall above the mantel at some point, but I think we have agreed that we'd like to paint it some sort of accent color instead of doing more tile to keep it looking really special.  I'm leaning towards a rust color that would bring out some of the brownish reds in some of the slate that we put up.  But we shall see.

So, without further ado, I present to you our "finished" product:

Pretty sweet, don't you think?  And in case you didn't notice, we're not the only ones enjoying our wood stove.  Yep, the cats LOVE to lay in the rocking chair we have in front of it.  This is Atticus taking a nap- I think the stove was a little hot so he had to cover his face...hence the "no pictures please" pose.