Homestead Dreamin’ – a Decade Later.

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!

Our first “home” – in the early days of White Sky Woods.

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.

The “Cider House” in the background, in the same location as the original camper.

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. 🙂

Our yurt, early winter 2018.

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.

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

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Exciting Homestead Announcement!

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!

Our son Woodland with the chickens and ducks on a winter day.

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!

These Cookies are Wild!

I’m a believer that there is no better season for cookies then winter. Especially the winter we are having right now – all negative temps, all week long, add lots of snow. Since our homestead is immersed in a natural environment, it only makes sense that much of our homeschool learning that happens around here is seasonal and nature based. Last week I was facilitating a homeschool class that we hold weekly with friends and the topic was conifers. One part of the lesson I knew I wanted to do was to have the kids try Pine Needle Tea. This is an easy one…

PINE NEEDLE TEA:
Find pine needles, wash them, cut in half and steep in hot water. I like to let the brew sit over night with the needles, it seems like more flavor is released. The more needles you have the stronger it will be. Start light and adjust in future brews.

We’ve been making a big batch and then keeping it in jars in the fridge, reheating when ready to enjoy. According to various sources, Pine Needle Tea is loaded with Vitamin C and Vitamin A and antioxidents.

Since that is so healthy and easy I figured I’d do some research into what else could be prepared with pine needles. We have a bountiful amount right here on the homestead after all! I stumbled across this unique recipe: Spruce Tree Shortbread Cookies.

We also have plenty of spruce needles to harvest from here, but since I already collected pine and it was -1 degree F outside, Pine Needle Shortbread Cookies it was going to be!

Woodland mixing the butter, sugar and pine needle powder.

Honestely, I had my doubts this could taste good. I especially had my doubts when I took it out of the 24-hour refrigeration period and it was rock hard! But, after it had a chance to sit out at room temperature for a brief time, it could be rolled and cut. 5 kids worked to roll out the dough, cut the cookies, bake them and finally frost them. The outcome was delightful!

Handiwork from kids!

All the kids loved the cookies and enjoyed them with a side of Pine Needle Tea. Some thought the frosting was a bit too sweet (I agree). Adults approved of the cookies as well! If you have access to spruce or pine needles fresh off of unsprayed trees, try this recipe! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

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Wishing you winter warmth.

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

The Making of “Fred” – Being Confident, Independent

A big part of our move here to the homestead was about the opportunity to be more independent, especially in terms of our food and finances. Gaining this type of independence requires some serious drive, sometimes hard work, and an “I can do this!” confidence and grit.

Often it’s hard to reflect on the day-to-day things that happen because you’re just in the mode of moving right along. Today I had a chance to reflect on the idea of being confident and independent. And it wasn’t my own confidence and independence, it’s my kids.

I received a text message this morning with a link to this recently published story by NPR: To Raise Confident, Independent Kids, Some Parents are Trying to ‘Let Grow’.

I’m not going re-hash the article, I hope you just go ahead and read it. After I read the article it reminded me of some play the kids had just the other night. It was dark (cause that’s what it does here after 5:30 p.m. in winter) and the kids wanted to go out and play. My kids, 4 & 9, and a friend aged 9, got bundled up in their snow gear. Each of them were equipped with headlamps for seeing in the dark (their initiative to do so). They also made sure we had a walkie talkie and that ours and theirs were in communication. Off they went, playing in the cold, snow, and dark. While the kids played, it allowed me and my friend to enjoy tea and good conversation by the woodstove. Besides our conversation, the yurt was quiet, which is a real rare thing, ha!

Probably about an hour passed and we heard communication over the walkie talkie – “we’re having fun, but we’re coming in now!” In they came, smiles on their faces, excitedly talking. After dumping their snow gear near the woodstove to dry it, they loudly explained to us that they had “worked on something in the woods” and that we’d have to wait until daylight to see it. We received clues, including that rock pebbles were involved.

The next day we were all together again and going for a hike through the woods. The kids were really excited because they wanted us to see what they had done. A short ways from the yurt, but at a place where the yurt was completely out of sight, we got to where they had been the night before.

There stood a SNOWMAN! Built away from home, in the dark by the light of headlamps, and with absolutely no adult intervention. In my eyes, this snowman is the perfect symbol for raising confident and independent children. I’m sure I had the biggest smile on my face, but the smiles of excitement and pride on their faces was way more rewarding.

Kids Outdoors in Snow with Snowman
The kids with “Fred”.

Parents, perhaps it sounds scary to let your kids play in the dark and cold while you sit inside drinking tea. But I firmly believe that no classroom or lesson can substitute the experience the kids had out there. They were working together, knew to be prepared (well-dressed, in communication, having headlamps), had independence from parents and therefore came up with this entire play time and building of “Fred” completely on their own. They were fully focused in the moment, using creative-play, and creating memories that will be hard to beat. Were these kids building their confidence and independence? Absolutely! Did this experience help me better see my children as the capable and independent children they are? Yup. Will they be better adults because of it? Man, I sure hope so. In this moment, reflecting back on their excitement, independence and joy makes me one happy mama.

Wishing you peace, love, and nature in the NEW YEAR! (Confidence and Independence too!)

-L

In Response to a Hog Harvest

Yesterday marked a first for me, we had a complete hog harvest right here on the homestead. We’ve harvested hogs before, but they went to the local butcher. The local butcher became unexpectedly unavailable at our harvest time, so it was time to try for ourselves. I participated in the whole event, start to finish. I helped prepare the pigs for dispatch, move them, skin the carcass and gut the carcass. I did all the meat cuts on a half hog. It was exhausting but necessary process. I learned a lot!

With that experience complete, I’m feeling a deep sense of pride in myself for being capable of this (and being willing!). It makes me incredibly pleased to be so involved in a process that provides our family with hyper-local food that was raised with love. Yes, we greatly enjoy the meat, and yes, we know the name of the pig it comes from. More about this in my thoughts here:

In Response to a Hog Harvest

I raised this pig.
I watched her be born.
I watched her grow.
I watched her lazily wallow in the mud on hot days.
I watched her take cozy shelter in the hay on cold.
I fed this pig by giving her a pasture to graze.
I shared with her my garden goodies.
I was loyal, I cared for her.

She gave me laughs, and perhaps a few moments of frustration.
Don’t most relationships?

I gave her back scratches.
In return, she warmed my heart.

I knew from the start what she would be.
Because of this I cared for her even more.
I provided for her.
Now, she provides for me.

That is ethical.
That is responsible.
That is hyper-local food.
That defines her and that defines me.
That is something I take pride in.
That is my homestead life.

Wishing you peace, love and nature,

-L

1,200 pounds of food for FREE.

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.)

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Hauling pumpkins away from gracious strangers.

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.

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Our young helpers, Flora and Woodland.

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.

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Happy pigs!

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
  • Looking for “apprentice” type relationship.
  • Current employment is stable, so no set timeline

Please share!

Peace, Love, and Nature,

-L

Be Scrappy, Get Hay, Save the Pumpkins!

I’m learning that living a frugal life on the homestead has a lot to do with being scrappy.  Maybe that’s not a term you’re familiar with, but when I describe someone as scrappy that means they are resourceful and determined….you know, the kind of person who defines “where there is a will, there is a way”.  We’ve had our fair share of being scrappy around here.  I’m willing to do the hard work (vs. spending money) to receive a positive outcome.  One example of this is our horse manure source. She needs the horse barn cleaned out and the manure to go away, we’re willing to shovel it and haul it away.  It then gets spread across our garden to help the soil fertility.  Win-Win!

Another recent example of this is when we randomly inquired about hay bales that were being used for an event. A friend connected us with the event coordinator who was using the haybales whom we learned was more than happy to have us haul 75 hay bales away. Otherwise, she would have had to find something to do with them. With the help of friends who have a large trailer, we met, loaded, hauled and unloaded 75 bales of hay.  They took what they needed and we kept the rest. No cost, some labor, working together as a team – now that’s scrappy! The real benefit goes to our animals. Between feed, bedding and creating winter shelter, these bales are a real aid to our homesteading.  The event coordinator got rid of 75 unwanted hay bales effortlessly.  Another Win-Win!

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Free Hay?  Yes!

Another way we’ll be scrappy in this Halloween season is by putting a message out to people in the local area letting them know we’ll collect their pumpkins, hay bales, and/or corn they had out as decorations for autumn and Halloween.  Did you know that in the U.S. alone, over 1 BILLION pounds of pumpkins go to the landfill? Imagine how many people (or in our case – happy pigs) that could be feed, or how much nutrient rich compost that could make? So, local friends who have pumpkins (carved, getting wrinkly, or uncarved are all welcome), message me and we’ll come pick them up and put them to use!  Or, you can stop by and personally feed them to our pigs, it’s fun to watch!

Ideas for your uncarved pumpkins after Halloween can be found here.  If you can feed your pumpkins to the wildlife without creating nuisance animals for your neighborhood, that’s an idea too.  Have a friend with a compost pile? Share your pumpkin with them! If you have a friend with pigs, well of course give them the pumpkins.  🙂

Homesteading and non-homesteading followers alike – have any tips on how you are scrappy?  This could be tips for the homestead, meals, household, etc. Let us know! Drop us a comment here at the blog, or find our Facebook post with this blog and post your ideas there.  We love hearing from you!

Peace, Love & Nature,

-L

Tour the Homestead on YouTube!

Hello!  Long time since we’ve updated the blog.  But, all for good reason. When the blog goes dormant…it means we’ve been busy!

The harvest is coming in strong.

Homeschool is underway.

The animals are lazily enjoying the autumn weather.

The pantry is being stocked with homemade canned goods of every kind.

Amazing time is being spent with friends.

The woodpile is large enough to sustain us through the winter.

But as the harvest season wraps up, more cozy time inside will be available and I’ll get back to writing, which I love as much as all the summer work (and it will be a well needed break)!  If only there were more time in the day for all the things we love the most, right?

Chores are calling, so let me get to the point of this blog.  Tim and I, the kids, and the homestead….well, we’re on YouTube!  No, no….we didn’t start a YouTube channel.  But we were visited by new friends who have a popular homesteading channel on YouTube.  We didn’t know it, but they brought their camera and asked us if we didn’t mind filming a bit with them.  We said “yes!”. The final product was a real treat for us!  What a beautiful gift to capture the homestead in this format, which has not been done before. We celebrated a year here on the homestead in June, so watching this video which was filmed just a few months later is making me feel proud of all our hard work and accomplishments. I hope you enjoy watching the video as much as we did:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH: They LEFT THE CITY to Homestead & Live the YURT LIFE

Screenshot 2018-10-06 at 4.28.44 PM - Edited

Love, Peace & Nature,

-L

 

 

I Can Berrily Stand It

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.

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Let a 4 year old forage berries, and you get this!

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.

Wild blueberries in hand.
Yea, I ate all these wild blueberries.

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!

Juneberries on tree.
Picking with friends makes for great memories!

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!

The Totem Tree at the Yurt

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.

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Totem Tree overlooking our Yurt at White Sky Woods.

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?

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

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