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?
One year ago, we sold our house, packed up a big moving truck, and made the 4.5 hour drive north that we had so many times before…but this time it was a monumental trip. It represented the end of certain aspects of life as we knew it….including Lisa’s retirement from her career, no more traditional school for the kids, no more daily commute for Tim, no more mortgage payments, and no more neighbors (well, at least ones that live closer than 1 mile away). Each thing we left behind was purposeful and had a huge gain for us – the ability to live simply, to homestead for our goal of sustaining our family with food and local resources.
But, we really had no idea of the many other experiences and gains we would get from this life change. The ones that broadly stand out to me as I look back on year one:
The Keweenaw Community. I am so excited to have the time now to actually participate in like-minded events in the community. We’ve attended events, performances, and learning opportunities. I am unsure if I somehow was unaware of these types of events taking place in our old community, but here I feel that there is so much to do and participate in that I couldn’t possibly find time to do it all! Along the way we’ve met so many awesome people and now we’re meeting people who are asking us “are you the family that lives in a yurt in Jacobsville?” “Why yes, that’s us.”
Winter. We were warned. We were asked “are you actually living out here all winter?” Well, one of the worse winters in the past years (at least this is what the locals told us) took place….over 300 inches of snow during the season and WE SURVIVED! Not only did we survive but we loved it. Other than the situation where I attempted to drive my tiny car through a huge drifting snow bank less than a mile from home, got stuck and then had Tim come to my rescue with truck, in which he also got stuck….winter went very smoothly. (Major thanks to our neighbor with the plow truck and tow to save us both!)
Wandering. In the past year, we’ve had more flexibility for travel. We took 2 amazing trips – Wyoming for the Solar Eclipse and Florida/Alabama. We’ve also done more wandering around the Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw area. We’ve seen breathtaking views, and enjoyed learning about local history, geology, and the natural environment around us.
Joys and trials of raising our own food. Our first year garden, while small, helped provide about 1/4 of the food we need to sustain our family. This year, we hope to bring it to 1/2 – 3/4. This is now helped by our chickens, ducks, and pigs who provide eggs and meat. Having the animals has been enjoyable but we also had some hardships with the natural circle of life. Life and death, success and failure is all part of living a homesteading life – and for that reason I mark all these learning experiences as gains (not losses). Plus, how many people can say they’ve chased a pig in their pajamas? Well, true story, I can – haha!
Homeschooling. This year, my children and I became a team! We learn together, we fail together. We have life experiences together. We have honest conversations and are learning to understand each other better than we’ve ever had the opportunity to before since we were apart for so much of the day.
Friends. A fear I had with this change was being able to meet new people to develop friendships with. We’re kinda isolated out here and add in being an introvert, I was worried we would not meet new friends. Friends for Tim and me. Friends for the kids. Well, I can laugh in the face of that fear. Not only have we met new people, but we’ve developed new, amazing friendships. Friends who understand and embrace our homesteading lifestyle. Friends who have skills they can share with us and that we can share back other skills in return. Holding close friendships that remain from prior to our move and developing new friendships has been the most soulful gain of all in year one.
We have daily trials, we are human after all. But even with that, are we living our dream life? Yes! Our yurt is a cozy, small home that embraces us. Our homestead is a lively, entertaining place that provides for us. Our community provides us with people and opportunities we learn from and feel part of.
Homestead life year one recap = damn, life is beautiful.
When we purchased our “raw” land, there were no buildings, no home, nothing but trees and grasses. After the purchase we received a letter from the former owner who used the land for camping with family. She explained that when they owned the land there had been an old Finnish homestead (very typical in this area), including one remaining building, the home. It was in such poor condition that they tore it down for safety reasons. We now know exactly where that home was, the stone foundation remains (and we intend to leave it), along with some of the wood from the floor. We love to think about the history of this homestead and it became obvious to us that it is here because there is an established orchard, rock wall and posts with barbed wire, a patch of rhubarb, two old wells (now filled in for safety) and various other clues that I could go on and on about.
The snow is melted and the grasses have just started growing, as this is our first spring here, we are begining to notice stuff that is around that has been here long before us. One specific area near our yurt has several heaps of old rotting wood. In the summer, the wood piles are hiding from sight in tall grasses and heirloom roses (also a sign of an old homestead). But now that I can see the old piles of rotting wood, I feel the need for clean up. But, what to do with it? Well, we have the perfect solution: build a hugelkultur! A what?!
Midwest Permaculture defines that “Hugelkultur is an old German concept/word meaning “hill-culture”. Wood is buried under topsoil (either in a hole or right on the ground) and as it breaks down, it holds lots of moisture and provides sustained nutrients for plant growth.” If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of hugelkultur, read on what Permaculture Magazine has to say about it.
A quick snapshot of what we did:
1.) Uncover all the rotting wood, various spots within and next to the orchard.
2.) Move the wood to our two spots we determined would be good for hugelkultur. The wood ranged from 10 foot hand sawn 8×8 inch logs to decayed crumbled pieces. Moving it all by hand was a tiring but felt so productive.
3.) Once completed, we moved dirt (with a tractor thankfully) from a pile we had excavated from the yurt site prior to the yurt build and dumped it on top of the hugelkultur.
4.) We completed 2 hugelkulturs. 1 is approximately 5 feet high and 20 feet long. The other is smaller, at approximately 3 feet high and 10 feet long.
A dream of mine is to create a food forest amongst the current original homestead orchard. The hugelkultur are integrated into that space and will be home to plants that provide food.
5.) The last step was to plant some trees and bushes to get our food forest started. We planted 5 Hazelnut bushes, 3 Highbush Cranberry, bushes and 2 Patriot Blueberry bushes.
Another benefit to the hugelkultur is that as our nut and berry bushes grow, it will create a visual barrier from the road toward the yurt. We very rarely have any traffic, however, I still love to guarantee my privacy.
We strive to practice permaculture methods here at White Sky Woods Homestead, so building the hugelkultur, which a method promoted by permaculture guru Sepp Holzer, seemed a natural fit. If we didn’t have the materials, perhaps this wouldn’t have made a lot of sense, but the hugelkultur allowed us to clean up the homestead and unload a huge pile of dirt we’ve had sitting around. Plus, it got us moving on the food forest dream I have. Hopefully more on this in a future blog.
While we uncovered wood, we also uncovered other things…..glass bottles, tin cans, beer bottles, Michigan Licsence plate from 1954, intact door with porclein handle….and more! Check out this Facebook post and weigh in on our findings!
The next week is fully focused in the garden, my happy place!
Peace, Love and Nature,
Oh, be sure not to miss a thing that goes on at our homestead! Follow us here, or here!
It hasn’t been yet a year since our move and our homestead has been growing and has more growth on the way. Coming into this, we had very little (ok, none whatsoever) experience with livestock. First we just had our chickens. You can meet the flock here. Right off the bat we saw how each of them was different in personality. Flora (our 8 year old), quickly corrected me to say they do not have personalities, they have CHICKENalities. Clever girl. The rooster from that original flock fell ill and didn’t survive, it was our first homestead fatality. The hens however have been laying faithfully, survived the long winter, and took kindly to our replacement Rooster – Alabaster.
Last fall we also brought home 2 pigs. The pigs have given us many exciting, humorous and frustrating times. Just click here for Nat’s explaination of his recent escape. In months where there is no snow cover, our pigs are pastured, eating a natural diet and tilling up our soil for future crop planting. In winter, we cleaned up the pen daily and kept them happy with fresh bedding. Our first agenda with these pigs is to breed them and sell the piglets as feeder pigs. All signs show that our female, Frannie, is pregnant and due in mid-June. Time will tell what our long range plan for keeping pigs will be, but they have been very enjoyable to have around! They are living happy lives, I mean, c’mon….just see here:
Our newest edition was an ask from Flora. She even paid for 2 of her own! DUCKS! Yes, they have duckinalities… 😉 The kids are adoring on them. The goal is to keep the females from each breed and 1 male from each breed. Perhaps in the future we can allow them to raise some young to have more ducks for eggs and/or meat. Any extra males will make a meal that we will be so very thankful for. The ducklings are currently 1 week old. We have 2 Cayuga’s (black ducks) and 6 Swedish Blue (Yellow ducks). They live inside until it’s warm enough and they develop their feathers. Then they will go out and till up our garden for us. Major AWWWWW-factor here:
In May and June our livestock population should grow. First, chickens. We will be working on having one of our chickens “go broody” and sit on eggs from our flock. If we can grow our own flock, it’s a sustainable way of providing more food (eggs) for our family. If all goes smoothly, we should have chicks in late May. In mid-June if our calculation for Frannie’s due date is correct, we should have piglets! As someone who is new at all this, I’m hoping for a successful delivery for her, and a small litter. Time will tell!
The animals have really made the homestead complete. While there were some cold, winter snowy days that I dreaded animal chores, I am so happy they were out there giving me reason to get out, get fresh air, and get moving. The little extra effort is well worth the reward.
What should be next? Comment on what type of livestock we should consider for our homestead and why!
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.
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!
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.
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,
Oh, be sure not to miss a thing that goes on at our homestead! Follow us here, or here!
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.