The new year is here! Anyone else feel surreal writing or saying 2020? Like it’s something out of a sci-fi novel from our youth? I do!
I’ve learned that New Year’s means different things to people. The most common meaning seems to do with “starting fresh” which results in things like quitting bad habits or changing things in one’s lifestyle. Another common meaning is about reflection. And another being setting goals for the new year. Or all of these things combined. What I tend to see are 2 core themes in these actions: Wanting MORE. Wanting BETTER.
I’ll be doing some reflection and goal setting too – for me personally and for the homestead. But, I’m going to avoid MORE and BETTER in these goals. Instead, I’m going to focus my perspective on gratitude and the feeling of abundance in what I/we do have. 2019, as with the previous homestead years, was a lot of work – and highly gratifying. Could there be more? Sure! But not without me pushing my well-being to the edge (or over, eek). Could there be better? Maybe. Perhaps an outsider may look at me or our homestead and find ways to be better, but honestly, I’m pretty happy with how things are. They seem to be working well for us.
By mid-2019 I knew one of my goals for 2020 was going to be “no new major projects – focus on what is.” Another goal is that I’d like to continue focusing on observing the natural world around me (which is something that happens as I’m doing just about anything). Last year we started building a database of observations at iNaturalist – the White Sky Woods Project. Together Tim and I had 309 observations of 224 species!
Neither of these goals is “more” or “better”, I’m down with that.
So, what was good for you in 2019? Can you find gratitude in whatis and allow happiness in, even if the new year doesn’t have “more” or “better”?
With over two feet of snow on the ground and negative temperatures arriving, even though winter solstice hasn’t arrived on the calendar yet, it’s safe to say winter is here.
Winter is a beautiful time of year on the homestead.
Having always been a northern girl, I really do love the changes of the seasons. I can’t imagine living in a climate where seasonal changes are mild or unnoticable. Every new season hold excitement for me. Although you’d think that after 40 years I’d totally have this seasonal change thing nailed, right? Nope. Complete nope. Especially when it comes to winter. And I think it’s becoming harder.
We do have a lot of fun in the snow. We play.
We snowshoe or go out for a daily walk. We explore.
We stay active shoveling, hauling wood, managing the animals and keeping their living spaces in working order, safe and warm. We continue to train the calves, putting them on light duty work. They recently helped haul back the holiday tree we cut down from our property – what a wonderful team they are.
But a few things have happened since Autumn changed to Winter.
My normal day of being outside in the sun for sometimes 10 hours a day, enjoying the beach, working the garden, harvesting the foods, preserving them and oogling of the beauty of providing the bulk of ones food – this has stopped.
Around the same time all that stopped, in mid-October we said goodbye to our dear family member, Quigley. At 14 1/2 years old, life was getting too hard for him. Saying goodbye was hard, adjusting to life without his sweet soul being by my side was torture. For weeks I dreaded entering the yurt without his happy greeting. Anything that was out of place or laying on the floor, registered in my brain as him. I cried daily…for quite a while. Those of you who know me, I don’t cry, it was pretty foreign to me. The grief feels different now, but it still hurts.
By late October, it was almost always cloudy. My time outside was rarely met with the sun. I was spending a lot of time inside now, focused on my contract employment duties and full on in our day-to-day homeschool life.
One day during these seasonal and life impacting changes, I realized something. I was really sad. Not unhappy, I can see all the amazing things going on in my life around me, it’s just that I was somber and sorry feeling. A huge grey cloud was looming over, pulling from my energy and adding challenges (how I feel and perceive things, not physical ones) to my life that didn’t need to be there, that were just getting in the way.
I realized what shock my physical body had just gone through with the seasons changing. Going from active almost all waking hours and in the sun, to more restful indoor activites (although my mind at first told me this was lazy…ok, it still does). I realized what shock my emotional being had just gone through, tending to the kids and their education as my primary daily activity (I’m not gonna lie, being with the kids non-stop as Mama and teacher is hard for me) and also losing my best bud. The time when I was seeking the pleasure of having the comfort of his unconditional understanding and furry body to pet, he wasn’t there.
I know people generally don’t talk about feeling sad….but why not?! We don’t need to be alone in this. As someone who says more things aloud than I probably should, I will talk about it. People get sad. They get sad because of seasonal changes (seasonal affective disorder). They get sad because of a major life changes. Or, maybe minor ones. Maybe they just get sad and there doesn’t even need to be a reason.
When I realized how I was feeling, I said it. I told Tim and the kids, I told friends. Some didn’t respond…that’s okay, it can we be weird, not everyone can understand. Others showed care by saying or texting messages of love. One sent a small gift and made sure to pull me out of the house for quality friend time. Another invited me to her couch, handed me a box of Kleenex, asked how I was doing and listened without judgement. This, plus adding more outdoor physical activity daily (I NEED nature), short break times for just me, and loads of Vitamin D supplements cleared away that stupid grey cloud. Time probably helped too, since part of the stupid grey cloud is grief.
I don’t have the answers to getting rid of the cloud, but I know acceptance and talking to someone is a good start. I still have partly cloudy days. And that’s okay, mostly the sun is shining.
To my friends and readers – I’m sending you love and I’m wishing you sunny days ahead. ♥
Before the rumors start, NO, our family is not growing. No, we aren’t expecting any cute baby animals (well, yet). I only used that catchy title to trick you. Ha! But now I’ve got you, and I do have something important to share. It’s a big new project that will lead to this: we’re expecting VISITORS!
An unbelievable opportunity arrived, we were given an offer to purchase 160 acres, contingent to and north of our current homestead. The property has some awesome natural features along with a small home that is there from the original family that owned ours and the surrounding land. We had always dreamed of adding this property to our own, but had no idea it would come so soon.
Well, we are excited to say that we are now the official owners of this new property! It will become a beautiful extension of our own homestead, giving us new opportunities for fields, gardens, and places to graze the animals. It also will be a big part of White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC as we will be renovating the home on the property an converting it to vacation rental/AirBNB. Guests will have the option of getting fresh eggs, goods and produce during their stay, grown right from our homestead. A stay will also offer the option of “experiences”. The experiences will be homestead and nature-focused. They will allow guests to grow their understanding and connection to nature (think: guided hikes, identifying wildflowers) and/or the homesteading way of life (think: lessons on yogurt making, bread making, caring for animals, etc.). Families will also be able to choose experiences that are aimed specifically for children.
It may not look like more than an unfinished structure behind a heap of snow, but with some finishing touches and improvements, it will be a place for people to get away from it all (we’re truly off the beaten path) and enjoy the peace, while adding a touch of homestead life experience to their stay…if they like.
As the snow thaws, the work will begin. As with our homestead journey and yurt build, I’ll be documenting it on social media (Facebook & Instagram), follow along! We intend to be open for guests starting in late spring, 2020.
Have you vacationed at a homestead, farm, ranch, or specialized vacation rental or AirBNB? What did you love about it? What could have been better? Please let me know!
Have you had an idea you thought was crazy therefore you shut it down and it barely crossed your mind again? Or how about a crazy idea you just couldn’t shut down, no matter how impractical it seemed? Well, that’s the kind of idea that brought us to living in a yurt and fulfilling our dreams at White Sky Woods Homestead. People often ask how we decided on and ended up doing this homesteading thing. A book could be written about the journey that slowly started over a decade ago, but I’ll spare you. 🙂 Instead, here’s a brief origin story.
In 2008, Tim and I had ideas of having property that eventually would be a small homestead where we could live a more self-reliant life, a more environmentally sustainable life. A life where we weren’t caught up in a rat race of making bigger incomes and buying newer and better material items. We didn’t know if this was our picture of retirement (I was 29 years old at the time), or undertaking a major life change that would get us to that place sooner.
As we talked lots of ideas arose, everything from off-grid cabin in the woods to building a yurt and everything far and in between, which is A TON of options.
If anything was going to happen, we’d have to start by searching for land. We knew we wanted a piece of land over 40 acres but we had somewhat of a limited budget. We wanted a sizeable land so we could wander, explore, and also so we had some extra privacy (I am a total introvert… don’t hate). A short time into the land search, we found our beautiful 80 acres on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan. The first thing anyone asks when they know we moved here is “how to you decide on the Keweenaw?” Hmmmm…….it was chance I guess? Ha! I’d love to say this was a seriously thought and planned our purchase where we weighed all our options, but it wasn’t. We came to the property, snowshoed in during January and put an offer in the next business day. We had not looked at any other properties prior to that, and we had never been to the Keweenaw Peninsula. Everything felt right then and to this day, it still does!
A few weeks after our purchase we found out we were expecting our first child. Woah! Anxiety set in wondering how we would afford daycare and our homesteading pursuits, whatever it was going to look like. That summer before our daughter was born we purchased a small, old camper and parked it on our property, visiting as often as possible to experience the land. It was a 4.5 hour drive, so while it wasn’t practical to be there every weekend, we did travel quite a bit. Every time we visited, we dreamed up ideas.
The next spring, we quickly realized our crummy camper wasn’t going to be a wonderful place to sleep with an infant. It was time for an upgrade. Over the course of a few visits, Tim built our small one room shelter, referred to as the “Cider House” because of its location surrounded by many old apple orchard trees. He built, and while our daughter Flora napped or played on a blanket, I would help with lumber cuts. It was built on a tight budget with materials purchased from Craigslist and Restore.
For years we came, dreamed, went, and dreamed some more. Over the years we progressed in our careers, we had our son Woodland, we learned more about self-reliance and experimented with things like beekeeping, meat rabbits, making yogurt, homestead type skills like spinning wool, canning and scratch food. We worked and worked and in turn saved and saved money. In 2013 we felt it was time to start making dreams come true, or at least establishing a more concrete way to make this happen. We worked with a yurt company and designed our yurt with plans to start building in the summer of 2014. It took working extended weekends over 2 summers, and our yurt was almost live-in ready. The spring of 2017 we passed final building inspection. We also made the decision that instead of waiting until the kids were older or for us to retire, that NOW was the time. More details on this in the blog I posted at that time.
Did we know exactly what life on a homestead would look like for us? No. Do we now? Nope, the idea of that just makes me laugh. It’d be like planning a newborn’s entire life – impossible! Yes, you can have ideas of what your values are how you may fulfill them, but ultimately it seems best planned in periods of time, sometimes down to the day or minute. 🙂
It was a really big idea on a pretty small budget. Now, here we are. There are times (especially when looking at our finances along the way) that I wanted to give up. Instead of giving up, we just slowed down or slightly shifted direction, providing more time and assuring more security for us was definitely best for our family (nothing on a whim).
Big change is not for everyone. I’ve always been a very planned, realistic, and driven by logic type of person – and while quitting a successful career to live in a yurt on a homestead doesn’t match this description…there was a fire burning inside me that I knew I had to address. Thankfully Tim had this fire too and we could dream this together! 11 years have passed since our ideas starting turning into real decisions and 1.5 years have passed since we moved and made the 180 degree shift in life. The rat race seems years behind us. The reality of our dreams is now and there is so much more still ahead of us.
Do you have any really big ideas for your future? Add a comment to this blog and write your big idea(s) here – or just write them down somewhere! If you don’t put it out there, it may never happen.
A year and a half has come and gone since our move to the homestead in June, 2017. Did I have any idea the major amount of work and progress we would have achieved in the first year and a half? Nope! Although sometimes it’s hard to see it through my own perspective because I usually see things as what needs to be done, rather than spending time thinking about what has been done. It’s the comments by visitors that helps me see the amount of hard work we’ve put into our homestead in such little time. We’ve often heard things like “how long have you been here, a decade or so?” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve achieved in such little time.”
In winter, it brings me an even clearer perspective of the past. While we’ve lived here for a year and a half, almost all the major outdoor work is done May through October since those are the months when weather generally cooperates for projects to take place and the ground is not frozen. No wonder we are so busy all summer!
The start of 2019 brings even more growth. Our exciting homestead announcement is that we officially launched our business – White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC! In 2019, we’ll be expanding our ethically and pasture-raised meat to hogs and rabbits. Being an LLC will allow us to invest in better systems on our homestead that will benefit people and animals. It will allow us to further educate ourselves and therefore offer more services around the products we offer.
Our intention for our homestead continues to be a focus on self-reliance and sustainability. However, we’ve found it to be very pleasing to bring ethically raised, high-quality meat product to other people who are interested in finding this locally. We are so thankful for our 2018 buyers, and are stoked for what will come of 2019!
Maybe you’ve purchased a pasture-raised hog, maybe you’re a new friend or you know us from our pre-homesteading life. Perhaps being like-minded, you’ve stumbled across us on social media or the web. All of the support by words of encouragement, a simple like on our social posts, or the purchase of a pasture-raised hog is meaningful to where we are headed with our new business. THANK YOU ALL!
Last week we were granted an amazing opportunity. The story goes like this. I posted a few messages on Facebook Marketplace and in my newsfeed asking for people who were interested in donating their old Halloween pumpkins to us to contact me and we’d do pick-up. (We ended up with an entire trunkload of pumpkins! The pumpkins are feeding the pigs.)
Anyhow, a Facebook friend saw the pumpkin message and shared the details with her friend. Her friend happens to know a family that grows a large field of vegetables. Anything that doesn’t sell at their farmstand then seems to be picked by community members and donated to local food banks, so awesome. They still had a lot left in the field and snow was coming. No one else was coming to pick. We were connected with them and they allowed us to come out and pick the leftover carrots, rutabagas and beets for pig feed.
It was 20 degrees and snowing but in less than 2 hours we filled the truck with what we estimated to be 1,200 pounds of root vegetables for our animals. The pigs are happy with all the root vegetables. The rabbits are enjoying the carrots. The chickens, ducks, and goats are eating some of the beet greens. All around happy bunch of animals here…and all because of the thoughtfulness of one person that set a chain reaction. In thinking about my gratefulness, this entire experience warms my heart and it also inspires me to consider future growth of our own to emulate the generosity of the family who owns this farm and is so gracious.
So, I’m looking now for some luck in paying it forward. Keweenaw and U.P. area readers, we recently learned of a person who is looking to relocate back to this area. Do you or someone you know have an opportunity for this multi-talented individual? Here are some details. If you are interested in more information, please send me a message.
Trained as an electrical engineer and worked in that field for 10+ years
Past 2 years working on farms full-time and plans to continue that indefinitely
Experience with tractors and equipment, livestock care, poultry slaughtering, making hay, and raising/harvesting/selling vegetables – organic, field, high tunnel, hydroponics
Current living in New England, but lived in the Keweenaw in the 2000’s
The last few weeks we’ve been eating berries. Lots of them! This year, the berries are sooooo good that I can berrily stand it! (<—see what I did there? Ha!)
One of our major joys this July has been foraging for berries. Since we have a full summer of experience here at the homestead now, we know more where to look and what to look for when foraging. We’ve been visiting our property for over 8 summers, but this one by far has given us the best looking, most tasty, and massive quantities of berries. Now, if I could only find more time to pick! I’ve been putting the kids to work to help out. Flora, 8, is fairly useful. Woodland, 4, well…..he’s really good at eating the berries, as you can see by the proof here.
This season’s ripe berries include juneberries (also known as serviceberry or other names depending on regionality), blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. We have all of these on our homestead growing wildly (I am a lucky lucky girl!). The Keweenaw thimbleberries are coming into season too, but I have to travel off our homestead to pick those, and I haven’t gone out for this season’s haul yet. Soon.
What to do with all these berries? Well, our favorite is fresh eating. The kind of fresh where it never makes it to the house because you just eat your way through the bushes. This reminds me of one of our favorite books, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (see the book read here). The kids and I are definitely kindred spirits with little Sal and baby bear.
Another way to use the berries if you don’t eat them all is to make jam. As a busy family of 4, I’ll admit, we eat PBJ sandwiches at least one meal a week….if not more *wink*. I have no shame in this, especially when I’ve made enough jam from the strawberries and coming up from the juneberries and blueberries to last us at least a year. There is nothing sweeter than jam made with berries from our own homestead and made with love, by me.
Yet another way is preserves….as close to berry eating as you can get in winter. Delightful on yogurt, french toast, pancakes, or a dutch baby. Lastly, creating a syrup is also a dandy of a way to get that fresh berry flavor.
Our favorite find this year has been the juneberries. When fully ripe, these beauties are plump and taste like a combination between a blueberry and a concord grape. YUM – gimmie more! The trees they grow on are scrawny but tall so a ladder is a necessity in picking these. I’ll go pretty well any distance and out of my comfort zone for berries. They are in the rankings of my favorite food and an unsteady ladder is the risk I will take to eat them!
My favorite thing about picking berries is not necessarily the taste, full belly, or canned goods – it’s the memories made. Memories of this time of year, memories of the summer weather (and bugs that come with it!), the key life moments taking place, and having great conversation with friends while picking. Summer in the Keweenaw. These are the days!
A totem is a symbol that represents a story. Every one of us has a story, we may also have ideas in our minds that involves changing/elevating/improving our current story. It could be something large (making a big change in life to make a personal dream come true) or something that seems less significant (finding more organized ways to live minimally). No matter how insignificant or overwhelming an idea seems, making it come true – essentially, creating a new story – can mean achieving something you’ve always hoped for or perhaps bring a new outlook on life. Embracing personal growth is something I’ve spent a good time in my adult life doing (disclaimer: not always successfully!). I always seem to have ideas in my mind that will help me better myself, or work towards a new goal. I don’t always succeed, but keeping my focus on the idea or ideas allows me to more likely achieve what I’m aiming for. I’ve learned that having visual reminders is an essential to my success, and this is why I developed the idea of having a totem tree here at White Sky Woods. I have never seen a totem tree before, so maybe I have a fresh concept here (but probably not – haha!).
A few weeks ago, I introduced the idea of a totem tree to my family. The concept is to have a totem tree that visually reminds us of goals, changes we hope for, etc. The visual reminder is a scrap of fabric tied to the branches of our chosen tree. Our neighbor is a quilter and she generously donated fabric scraps for our purpose. Each scrap of fabric hung on the totem tree is a symbol for a big idea, dream, thought, wish, or goal that we have. The totems are colorful reminders to us, symbols of who we are and what we desire from life. It is a place for positivity only, and it lacks ideas of materialism.
The kids and I went looking for the perfect totem tree and we found a beautiful blooming apple tree that will be seen daily and also by guests that visit. We decided to extend our totem tree to any visitors that would like to join us. The fabric scraps were put in a ziplock bag with a description of what a totem tree is along with these instructions:
Join us if you like! Write your big idea, dream, or goal on the unprinted side of the fabric scrap you choose. Or, if you’d prefer to keep your idea to yourself, keep your fabric blank. Find the totem tree and tie your totem to a branch. Now, you’ve put your big ideas out to the universe by sharing it on our totem tree!
After a few visits from friends, we have some beautiful fabric scraps hanging from our tree, swaying in the wind as a reminder of the activity it takes for us to reach our goals. I love this idea and I hope you do to. If you visit, please, participate in our totem tree! If you like, comment below….what big idea, dream, or goal would you write down to tie to the totem tree?
The sun is shining, but darn….it’s COLD! 1 degree Farenheit, but feels like -11 with the windchill. Thank goodness for the routine of heading outside in the morning and evening to care for our animals, otherwise I’m not sure I would have any reason to leave the house on days this cold. For the first few minutes of pig and chicken chores, I actually like the cold air. It’s a definite wake-me-up! But, when my fingers and toes start to tingle, then the enjoyment fades. So far, our 2 pigs and 7 chickens seem to be hanging in there. Our hens are still laying eggs! Now that’s a superpower.
Over the past 2 months we’ve had our share of snow (about 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground here, but other local areas have experienced MUCH more). We’ve also had our share of fluctuating temperatures, ranging from 39 degrees to -20 degrees Farenheit. During our first winter here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we’re quickly learning some important ways to stay warm.
1.) Wear the right clothes for the weather!
I’m doing my best to embrace the Norwegian Quote: “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’ve quickly learned that what counts is wearing layers. At any given time, including inside, I have 3 layers on my top and 2 on my bottom. It seems obvious maybe, but this really makes a difference – albeit a pain in the butt for getting dressed, getting undressed, and doing laundry! Warm socks and a decent underlayer are necessities. For outdoor chores I’ve also decided that looking scary in my balaclava is a must for warmth. It freaks out the kids, but my face stays oh so warm!
2.) Being “lazy” is okay!
I used to think that watching movies or lingering around the house for too long was being lazy. But, this slow down is exactly what winter here is all about. It also has allowed us to have more time to start new habits doing things that always were pushed aside before because we didn’t have time.
Our homeschool Nature Journal for instance. The kids are having a fun time with it, but I think I am equally or more engaged with it! Sometimes we are inspired from trips outside, but on very cold days we observe from our windows – taking time to enjoy the chickadees, or the deer and turkey that have now become very comfortable with yurt life as well.
3.) Nothing warms you up more than good friends.
On New Years Day we hosted our first annual “Dessert at the Yurt”. I prepared several sweet treats that were themed by our homestead (made with goods from our own garden) or inspired by the Keweenaw area. For instance, “Not Your Garden Variety Zucchini Bread”, a Chocolate Zucchini Bread and “Snow on Top Basalt”, Oreo Trifle. The food was good, but the company was even better. Since our move in June, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many good people here on the Keweenaw and growing friendships with them.
Worried about space in our yurt, we managed to comfortably fit 17 adults and 8 kids! During and reflecting afterwards, our hearts were so warm. We have so much gratitude and love for our new community and friends. We have not experienced such an amazing community before. So many brilliant minds and beautiful souls surrounded us at this gathering. How is it possible to not feel warmed (hypothetically, of course) when surrounded by that?
One friend described the yurt as “wrapping it’s warm arms around you.” Yes!