A Cup Half Full and a Belief in Miracles

Gene and I had “The Talk” yesterday. Fall is a time of intensive labor on our homestead; what we call “The Fall Rush.” So much has to be done in a short amount of time, the stress builds and tempers flare. We are working hard to beat the first flakes of snow and the big freeze that is soon to arrive on our SW Michigan property.

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Our vegetable garden at its peak this past July.

While we do struggle with the massive amounts of work to keep up our homestead and gardens here, I shared with Gene how blessed and fortunate I believe we are.

We are in fact truly privileged. We have health insurance coverage, we have a warm, comfortable and safe home, we own two, paid off vehicles and while none of these belongings are new or fancy, I have made the choice to look at our life like a glass half full and feel the bounty not the scarcity.

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The meadow edge is the perfect habitat for butterfly’s, dragonflies and birds.

I remember vividly when 18 years ago we met at ages 45 and 50, both divorced and he was in massive debt. We had nothing between us except my small, 75-year-old Fairview city home. With only our mid-life energy, a dream and a drive to rebuild our lives together we set a goal to retire here and to build a more sustainable life together.

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One of our four rescued Cochin Bantams.

With the tools of a strict budget, books, the Internet and nothing but the hard work from our own four hands we now own a productive 5-acres, a nicely fixed up older home, food gardens, chickens and a debt-free retirement. Neither of us had high paying jobs, divorce support or an inheritance – just a solid plan, a belief in the abundance of the Universe and our trust that miracles can happen and one did.

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Today’s homestead gatherings’ apples, chives and a Rhode Island Red egg!

I am grateful for every sunrise, every tomato and apple and every day of good health. We are not just counting our years…we are making our years count.

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Our water collection and storage system irrigates our property.

Here a piece written by Permaculture expert, Ben Faulk…it says what I would like to articulate today but cannot.

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The chicken coop, run (in progress) and water trough from the vegetable garden.

“Perhaps it’s good when something you expect doesn’t happen because it enables you to appreciate all the other things you might have missed. And as long as we’re sufficiently fed, what’s life about anyway? Certainly, for me anyway, NOT simply more physical yields. This makes me think of Fukuoka’s dictum that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the cultivation of crops but the perfection of human beings.” I don’t like the word “perfect” but with each passing year I find myself agreeing with him more about a lot of things. In permaculture we say “Obtain a Yield.” Hmmm. Sounds a bit colonial for permaculture. And “A” yield? Singular? Color, shade, aroma, beauty, companionship, pollen, soil, nesting habitat, oxygen. All these things and many more have already been yields of these trees and they’re just getting started. At some point a tree’s yield in fruit or nut or wood becomes a bonus, not it’s core value. We need to eat, to be sure. But yields are subtle and myriad. “Get a Yield?” Sure. But perhaps we should say instead “Don’t forget to notice all the yields.”

Our Small House homestead yields are more than just tasty organic food and eggs, our yields also include a safe, warm home, a healthy organic environment of plentiful oxygen provided by majestic White Oak trees, their leaves and the blessings of flowers, sunshine, clean air and human happiness.

Small House homesteader, Donna

Winter is Back with a Vengeance!

The arctic blast is back on our homestead – brutally cold waters are blowing inland over the waters of unfrozen Lake Michigan. We are expecting wind chills of 5 to 15 below 0 all this week.

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I am eternally grateful this week for my cozy and warm home and our snow blower!

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Without a heated workshop, it looks like progress on the covered chicken run will be screeching to a halt. We did manage to get the runs two doors built and covered in chicken wire and hung this past week.

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I guess there will be time to get our freezer defrosted and cleaned and the bathroom closet reorganized after all!

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Stay warm and thanks for following!

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Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

Another Annual Cousin’s Breakfast

I don’t mean to be melodramatic but one thing hard about getting older is losing family members and friends. One thing hard about getting older is losing family members and friends. With each passing year there are fewer of us around than before.

Cousins annual breakfast 2014

In my immediate family we have just one 82-year-old Uncle left alive and then it’s down to us — the cousins. This loss of family is part of life and on we all know death is coming but still, it is sad. And we are mostly in our 50’s & 60’s so its inevitable at some point.

A few years ago my cousins and I stared getting together for a meal around the new year. Some years its is held as a NY eve dinner and this year it’s NY day breakfast.

Most of us have to drive at least an hour and we pick a site that is about midway for most of us and it is a pleasant way to begin the new year or see out the old one. This is an opportunity to share and catch up on the past year. And it’s fun to.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

A Time for Gratefulness on our Homestead

When I think of what was here and how far we have come since we move to the Small House property in 2000 I shake my head in wonderment and say a prayer of thanks at all we have accomplished in the past 14 years.

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I remember no driveways, no sidewalks, no fenced-in vegetable garden, no clothesline, no landscaping of any kind just grass and trees and lean, sandy and non-fertile oak savannah soil. The house trim was chipped and needed painting, this house had no eves troughs and an old roof.

There was no electricity to the pole barn and we added the blacksmith forge to the north end of the pole barn. And the inside of the house…oh my, it was definitely depressing. The inside of this Ranch home looked like the 1960’s with old crummy dark brown dog-hair-filled carpeting, harvest gold painted walls AND ceilings and old wallpaper everywhere. I didn’t have a digital camera then so I have few photographs of the homestead in those days.

Our home had previously been owned by a 70+-year-old couple in ill health and rooms were half done. Our laundry room had an ancient square water heater in it, harvest gold “place and press” tiles on the floor and wall-to-wall gray steel shelving filled with old cans of paint and household cleaners. This open is what I saw when I walked through our kitchen. UG!

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Then when the couple passed away, the property was left to their five children and sat empty for way to long. I always said we bought this place for the land knowing with time and energy I could make the house into about whatever I wanted and could afford.

Fourteen years later I am grateful to have a snug one-story house that I now love. It won’t make headlines with its 1970’s-1980’s decorating style and feel but its practical and pretty and I can live in it.

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Our snug little homestead home early on.

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As our garden beds mature.

Above all I am grateful to have the body and the health to make these many improvements and make our dream come true.

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Our back yard sidewalk and garden in the pre-flood years.

Then when I remember the high ground water year flooding it’s a miracle that we did not bail and sellout. Four consecutive springs of rain, rain and more rain and living in a marsh complete with mosquitoes and mud. Losing all of our garden soil we had worked hard to build up, losing many thousands of dollars of shrubs and trees and everything on the pole barn floor to the water and basically having to start all over yet again.

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The beauty and bounty of the garden as ecosystem for bugs and butterfly’s.

And the tole on my health…sigh. As a result of the longstanding water and mildew I had more than three years of upper repertory distress, necessitating my using inhalers and medicine for asthma and on major skin infection… one right after the other…It was a very rough few years.

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The bad years on our homestead. Flooded from 2008-2012.

What I am focusing on now it that its 2014 we have our new roof and it’s paid for in full. The driveway is newly resealed and the flowers gardens are on their way back. The vegetable gardens have newly built raise beds and the soil is fertile again thanks to the gifts of well-composted horse manure and bark chips shared with us by friends.

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The meadow garden in the fall when the ornamental grasses are in flower.

We’ve added the water totes that capture and contain water from the pole barn roof, we’ve redesigned and rebuilt the chicken coop and are now working on building the covered chicken run. More egg layers to arrive in the spring.

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The newly built chicken coop and dusting bed in the chicken run.

We have two freezers that are full of the bounty of our garden. Our home is now mold and mildew free and warm, the ditch system has been built to take the flow of water away from our property should the high water ever happen again. I certainly do not take the basics of life for granted here.

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Two views of our remodeled laundry room. My now gone Labrador, “Spirit” checks in with me. I miss her everyday!

We’ve had a few health blips that have challenged us but we are mostly in good health for our age. We still have a ways to go on the homestead to get it to where we want because a homestead, like a garden, is always a work in process. We need to plant more Heritage fruit trees but we have made some real headway on our property here. Rome was not built in a day and neither is an American homestead!

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Hubby and I at a special anniversary dinner a few years ago.

Happy Holidays everyone. Sieze the moment!

Small House homesteader, Donna

In Thanksgiving!

We had such a wonderful Thanksgiving even though it was not so traditional!

When your son is divorced and shares the care of his daughter half time with her mother, it helps to be very flexible. We celebrated our family Thanksgiving early this year and in a restaurant. But what really matters is being with family not the where or the how!

We meet at a nice restaurant about half way between our two homes and share a meal together. It’s a special time to reconnect with our loved ones.

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My granddaughter and I together.

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Grandpa Gene and Brenna.

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Our 2014 Thanksgiving family picture.

In grateful thanks for the love of family.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

 

Manifesting a New Homestead

Manifesting a New Homestead

Some of you may not have been reading this blog when I first began it in 20012. That blog was called The Small House Under a Big Sky http://smallhouseunderabigsky.wordpress.com/2012/03/.

In case you are new to our blog you may not be familiar with the story of how we manifested our homestead?

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A wet snow covered the trees and turned our homestead into a winter wonderland!

We were living in the city, just a mile and half from downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. We were living in a nice 75- year-old Cape Cod house, in a nice family neighborhood where I had raised my two sons and lived for 24 years. There was only one problem, I had always wanted to live in the country and I wanted to garden in the sunshine.

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Our vegetable garden and pole barn in the rear and garden bench in the foreground.

As I began to dream Gene and I both wrote out a list of what we were looking for in a home and property. We wanted a one-story home to grow old in and I wanted an open floor plan. I wanted lots of land to garden on and Gene wanted a big pole barn and a pond. I wanted chickens and he wanted large Labrador retrievers with green spaces to run them. And we had to be able to buy it with the profits from the sales of our city home.

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Our snow covered raspberry patch near the pool shack.

Disclaimer. Be careful of what you wish for as it will come true….

How We Got from the City to Our Homestead-Written In Thanksgiving…

When Gene and I made the decision to move to the county to grow our own food and have a more earth centered, hands in the earth lifestyle, we made a plan to get here. This was a long term plan that took a lot of hard work and some time to make it real. Homesteading does not happen overnight and neither do major lifestyle changes.

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Our homesteads pole barn through the apple tree.

Our plan was this;

  1. We would make our city home ready to put on the market while we looked for a country home. We would not spend more on the new home than we could get from our old one. We would only move if we sold our home and found another at the same time – no expensive bridge loans for us.
  2. Gene would keep his IT job in the city for our income and I would quit my job to prepare for the sale, pack up the house, make the move and begin again in our new home. I would paint and prepare the new home and get things up and running on our garden and so on.
  3. Gene would continue working until his retirement age, approx. 9 years away. We would scale back our lifestyle so that we could live on one income.
  4. I would continue writing feature articles from home for a few years and then I would start a small county business using my skills as an artist, marketing specialist and advertising pro.
  5. We wanted a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-story home with a first floor bedrooms and laundry that we could age in with out-buildings for storage and animals.
  6. We were hoping for a brick or fieldstone sided home because we love that low and for low maintenance. (After years of dealing with old two-story windows) we wanted newish windows that could be easily cleaned from the inside.
  7. We were looking for about 5-acres of land with lots of sun and space to put in a large garden so we could grow our own vegetables with the goal of keeping chickens at some later, manageable date.
  8. We wanted to be close to lakes, rivers, forests and open green space where we could hike, kayak, run a dog and generally enjoy the beautiful of a our beautiful state once retired.
  9. I was very serious about not being too near agricultural fields where fertilizers would effect our organic food garden.

In the end we manifested a one-story but older 1950’s Ranch-style home in the largest agricultural county in the state of Michigan that was part of a family estate. The five adult children who had inherited this home were willing to dicker with us which made the purchase possible for us. Our city home had to sell first of course and it sold to the first couple that walked through the door and made an offer. They paid our asking price, not even asking us to take less although BUT we had to be out of the house in just three weeks or pay a penalty.

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The Small House up close.

The country home sellers took $20,000 less than the original asking price to meet our goal of buying for the exact amount for selling city home sale. Success! That was certainly a challenge but we made it. Three weeks later we were in a new house in a new city!!

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Michigan Holly and juniper branches in an old copper boiler.

It happened so fast it made my head spin. Sometimes abundance is like that!

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May you have abundance this Thanksgiving as well!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

 

Signs of Health and Wealth on our Homestead

It warmed up to 46 degree here at the homestead today so we took advantage of that warming trend to get a few lingering outside chores completed. Although the day is still gray and damp it is warm enough to be outside working. Even the chickens wanted to be out and about today.

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Gene is adding the new gate he built from scratch to the south side of our vegetable garden.

Today Gene finished building the southern gate for our vegetable garden. We have been entering it from the north side but this second gate will give us a second option and be a bit more convenient. We will no longer have to walk through the chicken run in order to get into the garden, which will be an extra perk.

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The chicken in their run with stumps for playing on and straw bales to protect them from the westerly winds we have here.

I worked on shoveling and spreading our homemade composted since the snow on the compost pile has melted. This is an outside chore I always hope to get done in the fall so the compost has a chance to further break down and the nutrition and microorganisms can make their way into the roots of my perennials by spring.

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One of the “three amigos.”

We are still in the process of reorganizing the kitchen pantry but decided it was important enough to move to the outside chores to take advantage of the nicer weather.

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Sassy comes over to investigate the chickens.

The chickens wanted out of the coop first thing this morning so they spent the day free ranging in their run and in the vegetable garden too. They are doing a fine job of digging up the weedy side of the garden where I hope to put our hoop house next summer. We bought 5 large metal hoops from a garden club for just $20.00 so that will be the beginning of our hoop house to allow us to extend our growing season even further. I am researching plans for hoop houses this winter.

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Clover and babies in the vegetable garden.

I am grateful for this reprieve from winter, for the heath and strength to do the work we want to do and the time in which to do it. This makes me think if the old saying I’ve seen cross stitched onto throw pillows …”Health, wealth and the time to enjoy them both.”

In my opinion that’s the symbol of true wealth for a homesteader.

Small House Homestead, Donna