Puzzled by Minimalism, Creative Solutions!

So, I had this image of sitting around getting snowed in for our first winter here. Afterall, even locals laughed at the idea of us living out here in winter. Our UPS delivery woman politely asked last November, “are you actually staying here all winter?”  With all the warnings of a “Yooper” winter, you can see why we thought our winter would be relaxed….no where to go, nothing to do. Afterall, our area gets an average of 250+ inches of snow annually. Yet, it’s now March and I don’t recall this whole sitting around thing happening.  What actually happened is that Tim picked up more hours on the job, I started and finished my certification as a Medical First Responder, and our kids kept busy with friends, activities, and lots of playtime in the snow. We’ve also done a lot of snowshoeing and exploring around our property, which looks so different in winter.

 

Maybe, in my wildest dreams, I was hoping winter would be an excuse to be lazy…but, it hasn’t exactly panned out. I won’t complain, because I do like keeping busy, within reason. Well, part of my lazy winter dream was to have a puzzle to work on at any whim. I like puzzles – they are relaxing, you can still have conversation while you do it, and you can come and go from it as you please. Plus, I think it’s good for the mind to be able to focus on details. Winter is the perfect time to do a puzzle when you might be stuck inside due to bad weather (although we’ve found that bad weather doesn’t stop us).

But, we have a slight problem with this puzzle idea. We are 4 people living in a yurt, and we don’t have a ton of “free space” to just set up a puzzle and have it sitting around all the time. We can’t build it on our kitchen table, because that’s where we eat. Getting a second table isn’t an option because we don’t have space, plus we try not to have anything here that isn’t really a necessity, attempting to live more minimally. So, time for some creative problem solving, gosh I love that (I’m not being sarcastic here). How can we build a puzzle without taking up current needed areas, and without getting something new or taking up more space?

Easy, time to retrofit our kitchen table into a puzzle table and kitchen table! This was my idea, and Tim made my concept come true. Our kitchen table is nothing special, so taking it apart was low risk.

First, the table top was removed.  I’ll be honest, parents with young children…if you haven’t looked UNDER your table lately, I recommend against it unless you think you really need to know.  I scrubbed off some things that, oh boy, I have no idea what they were.

Puzzle Table
Removed table top.

 

Topless Table
Table without top. Ready to put in secondary puzzle table top.

Then, Tim built a table within the table that would be the space for our puzzle. It’s 4 sided, so bonus that no puzzle pieces should fall off while being worked on!

Puzzle Table
Table top built under original table top.

Lastly, the table top was fitted with properly placed dowels so that when put back ontop, it would not slide off. And just like that, it was time to work on the puzzle! When done, just put the table top back on! Unless you knew, there is no telling there is a puzzle “in” the table”. The table is not huge, so for 1-2 adults, the top is easily removed and leaned up against the wall.

Puzzle Table
Time to put the first puzzle together!

I was giddy with joy to see my idea of a puzzle table come to fruition. <–Geek.

Looking forward to spending downtime at this table as a family.  This puzzle is too complex for our 3-year old, but our 8-year old is already having a good time with it!

Viva la puzzle table!

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

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Projects Reminiscent of Summertime

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.

2.) I made a big batch of strawberry jam from a strawberry stock-up this summer that I had froze for just this purpose.

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.

4.) Last summer one of our first homesteading project was to pick and dry loads of wild raspberry leaf and wild strawberry leaf. It was great forward thinking on my part, if I might say so. 🙂 We’ve been enjoying tea brewed with the dried leaves. The best combination seems to be raspberry leaf, strawberry leaf, a few dried flowers from St. John’s Wort, and some ground-up dried elderberries.

summertimetea
A taste of summer comes with tea brewed from our own wild harvested leaves.

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:

3 things I’ll do if Winter stays:

  1. Build a snowman.
  2. Watch the Chickadees.
  3. Watch the Deer.

3 things I’ll do if Spring comes early:

  1. Watch the Deer fawns.
  2. Watch the baby birds hatch.
  3. Pick flowers!

What’s your list include?

Peace, Love, and Nature,

-L

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Journey Toward Minimalism – Part 1

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.

IMG_5349
Finding my peace involves this warm, crackling fire.

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.

Phase 1:

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.

Phase 2:

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.

Phase 3:

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.

Stay tuned for a follow-up blog to this which will address our challenges with minimalism and a roster of things we’ve done to get creative with living in a small space.

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Wishing you Peace, Love and Nature,

-L