Today’s is Groundhog Day! The kids and I watched the famous “Punxsutawney Phil” make his prediction. He predicted 6 more weeks of winter! Man, the crowd there in Pennsylvania was disappointed. From our research though, historically he’s only been 20% accurate, so don’t place any bets on his prediction – ha!
Readers to our blog live in various places, so I’m sure there are many differing ideas about what winter has been like and if it would be nice if it continued. I realize this is only our first winter here on the Keweenaw Peninsula (47th parallel north), but we’ve been loving it. It’s nice to live in a place where winter isn’t just cold with a little bit of snow here and there, but a place where it’s mild (okay, cold sometimes too), but has enough snow to truly enjoy the beauty of a white and sparkly snowy winter. The best of our winter has been snowshoeing around our own property, and finding various routes to Lake Superior on snowshoe. Winter has been very busy for us otherwise and we haven’t spent nearly the time we have wanted to snowshoeing.
Our recent homestead projects included a few things that have me thinking about summertime.
1.) We’re still enjoying squash after squash that were harvested from the garden this past Autumn. They are so sweet and delightful and I’ve been preparing them in many different ways. The squash we grew this summer were spaghetti squash and buttercup squash. We are planning on more variety in the upcoming summer. One of my favorite recipes to make is 3 Sisters Soup.
The jam tastes like the summer sun! Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit in saying that, but it’s GOOD!
3.) I pickled carrots. There was a good deal on carrots at the grocery store and I was in the mood for something a little different so I made a few jars of refrigerator carrots. I did an experiment using my simple refrigerator pickle recipe; I tried apple cider vinegar for one batch and regular white vinegar for another. The family favorite was the white vinegar.
5.) Another recent project we’ve been working on is our family Nature Journal. It’s part of our homeschooling and we try for at least one entry a week. Today Flora made an entry inspired by Groundhog Day. It went as follows:
Good morning from our yurt on the beautiful and snowy Keweenaw Peninsula. I’m having a peaceful moment right now – sitting at the kitchen table, writing this blog next to the woodstove with it’s crackling fire. All of my family is sleeping, except our dog who follows me everywhere, what a loyal boy he is. This moment of peace is a real oddity in our home, so I must breathe in every moment of it.
This morning I woke up to a few text messages on my phone that arrived after I fell asleep. Tim and I took a 3 mile off-road snowshoe blazing our own trail, so it was early bedtime for me! The messages were from a friend and she was asking: “When did you begin your minimalist journey?” and “Or, have your always been a minimalist?”
From new friends on the Keweenaw that have visited us at our yurt, this idea of minimalism have been a common comment. Several have stated how we are living as minimalists, and even saying that seeing our home has encouraged them to realize that they have too much stuff and has motivated them to start going through their own homes and downsizing.
This pleases my heart, but it also strikes me, because although we do have a lot less stuff in our home than the average person, I still feel like we have a lot of stuff! Although I realize, compared to the average home, we do not. Here are some of the ways we got to where we are at now.
Were we always minimalists? NO! I truly laugh out loud at this, thinking of the absurd amount of useless stuff we had. Our journey toward minimalism started when we conjured up this dream to live here at White Sky Woods in a unconventional home – a yurt. We realized we needed to stop spending money so that we could save the money to make these dreams come true. Our goal was to come debt free. We also were on a mission to learn more self-sustaining skills, like making food from scratch, including items like yogurt. These actions saved quite a bit of money and were suitable to a more frugal lifestyle. Saving every we dollar possibly could, eliminating bills, but still giving ourselves some leeway for life enjoyment – like traveling (I can’t live without this). This encompassed around 7 years. The behavioral changes didn’t take place overnight, but slowly over that time. Small choices over time made a big impact. Two rules of thumb that we used:
Don’t buy it unless you NEED it. No new stuff unless it was absolutely necessary.
If you do NEED it, try Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, thrift stores or consignment shops first. This is not only often a more frugal choice, but it’s better for the environment too because it creates less demand for new product which uses a lot of resources to be made, shipped, etc.
As our dreams to move here became more of a reality, the pending home sale and move really got us in gear. At this point, we started to dowsize. We looked at everything and asked, is this a WANT or a NEED? Pretty much all that was a WANT was donated or sold. The stuff that we felt was a NEED remained until it was time to pack.
I want to say, this is not always an easy step. I am not very attached to things, but we have two children, and helping them downsize was a step-by-step process of getting them involved and helping them understand the value of WHY we are doing this. Our youngest was 2 at the time and fairly clueless to the changes, but our oldest was 7 and some things were a little harder for her.
Another tricky thing is downsizing personal possesions that you acquire through life, like papers your wrote in school, yearbooks, awards, etc. Tim and I both downsized into 1 bin. During this process we created a lot of waste – but I don’t think that anyone really would have been interested in buying my 1996 Hartford Union High School Yearbook. Ha! Some of it had to be tossed because it didn’t have a place in our future. For the record I did keep the Yearbook from my gradutating year, which my children enjoy looking at!
Some items we had were left from family members who have passed or items that were novelties/memories from vacations taken. These were also hard to make decisions about. Some of it was repurposed, Grandma’s teecup collection for instance. Some will become bird feeders, and other will be put into use in our daily life. The remainder that we did not feel compelled to keep were donated and some other person will fall in love with their beauty.
Once again upon our move, we asked the same question as we packed everything – is this a want or a need? We also focused the question even more:
Does this item serve me in my lifestyle?
An easy example of this is that I had a career before we moved, and now homesteading and homeschooling is my career. These take very different wardrobes. All of my business professional clothes, shoes, and accessories were donated.
We also asked another question regarding the bigger items:
Do we have room for this?
We sold quite a bit of furniture pieces because we would not have room. I do not do well with visual clutter, so my goal with our new home was to have only what we needed and to be certain that the stuff we had was useful. An example of this is that we have 2 large trunks. We also had 2 end tables in our living room. The end tables hold very little stuff, the trunks hold a lot. So, we got rid of the end tables and kept the trunks. The trunks now serve as a furniture piece and a storage piece! Winning.
At this rate, I don’t feel like a true minimalist, but I realize that compared to the average family of 4, we are. This coming summer we will be taking another look at everything in the house and garage and once again going through the process. If we haven’t used it in a year of living here, there is a good chance we don’t need it. I’m wildly looking forward to this honestly!
If the idea of minimalism interests you, here are some of the resources we’ve used in support of our journey.
https://www.theminimalists.com/ – Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary.
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!
There’s a double meaning in the blog title, Don’t be a Stranger. First, and probably most obvious to you, the reader, is that we’ve been a stranger to you! If you subscribe to the blog, you haven’t heard from us lately (well, in over 3 months to be exact). But the same isn’t true about our social media, so follow us there if you haven’t already – Facebook, Instagram. Yes, just over 3 months have gone by since my fingers hit the keyboard to bring homestead blog updates to you. Why? Well, the homestead. There have been so many new updates including:
Continuing education to become a Certified First Responder.
….and on, and on, and on.
I have plenty to blog about! Maybe a bit more time will be available now that the weather is changing and there is less to manage outside.
So, onto the second meaning in the blog title, Don’t be a Stranger. In June, 2017, we moved from our home of 12 years to our new “neighborhood”, 250 miles away. Although we’ve owned our homestead property for 8 years, the only time we spent here was pretty much at work and we met very few people. Referring to our new homestead location as a “neighborhood” is perhaps a bit of a stretch of what most people imagine a neighborhood to be. Our closest full-time neighbor is 1 mile down the road. And we are at a dead end off of a dead end road, so we do not exactly have any thru traffic going by. It’s what many people would describe as isolating, but we see as quiet, peaceful, and perfect.
Since June, we’ve met many full-time and seasonal neighbors. Not only have we met these neighbors, but developed work shares (more on this in future post), bartered goods and services, been given help, knowledge and goods expecting nothing in return, and most feel good….grew new friendships – the, “it’s Friday, c’mon over for dinner and a movie” kind of friendships.
Maybe this sounds like your community, but it doesn’t precisely describe where we came from. Our last community was very friendly, but the interconnectedness (is that a real word?) never seemed to exist. My theory? Here on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when your closest neighbor is 1 mile away and there are only a handful of neighbors beyond them, we truly will be better off knowing each other because there may be times we need each other. The closest grocery store, gas station, car repair, or health clinic is 25 minutes away…on a clear weather day. We feel like we’re part of a “we’ve got your back” sort of community.
While we love our homestead being at the dead end of a dead end road, we also still need human interaction (yes, as an introvert I am admitting that even I need human interaction). And while many of us out here are here for the peace, quiet, and tranquility, we still need each other’s company as well. How lucky we have been to fall into the company of wonderful people who provide great conversation and natural companionship.
When we purchased our land, and then later made the transition to full-time living on our homestead, we didn’t really put much thought into what “community” would look like here. Fortunately for us, it was just what we needed.
CopperDog 150 has been annual tradition for our family. We always have a great time and this year was full of new memories. Because our yurt is shut down for winter (no running water, no heat, and questionable access), we stayed in Calumet at a great little Airbnb apartment that was perfectly situated directly above the CopperDog start and finish line. What’s great about that was we watched portions of the race from inside since the temperatures were very cold on Friday night during the start. The apartment made it a lot more enjoyable, especially for Woodland, who is 2 years old.
On Saturday we spent a portion of our day visiting White Sky Woods. The yurt was nestled sweetly in the snow. We hiked around looking for animal tracks in the snow. Officially, there are many deer and squirrel track, but we didn’t see any wolf, coyote or other critter trackers. Tim also left some tracks…our place is so full of love.
Sunday, the finish of the CooperDog 150 was taking place. The kids were eager to see the dogs again, and especially Flora who signed up to volunteer with Tim as an “Official Bag Checker”. A friend of ours invited us to help out, and we are so glad she did. This volunteer role allowed Flora to get a behind-the-scenes look at the finish line. What the mushers do with their dogs, how the dogs get fed, what a vet-check looks like, etc. It was a busy few hours. Flora and Tim did a great job and Flora has already said she wants to do it again next year!
While they did the bag check, Woodland and I had a great time cheering on the race finishers, including this racer, an 11-year old girl. So cool!
We love what this event is for the community and awareness it brings to this lesser know sport. We’re looking forward to being able to get more involved in CopperDog 150 2018 since we’ll be moved and not have to be concerned with long travel or finding a place to stay. What great new memories it is sure to bring!