August 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

8/26/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

It seems the harvest has taken a slight pause. The awesome crop of strawberries, zucchini, onions, trilogy beans, beets, carrots, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, and broccoli has slowed and now while pulling weeds I patiently watch for tomatoes to ripen, look for continued health in our dried bean crop and wonder how many winter squash are hiding under their magnificently large leaves. After a slow start the Oneida white corn crop is maturing nicely. I’m thankful that the cultivated blueberries are coming in big and plentiful, but I still believe the small wild ones taste better. The chokecherries are almost ripe, so juicing and jelly making will take place soon. These past months we’ve sold a small amount of our crop to local friends, the rest we ate fresh or I put up in jars or vacuum sealed and put them in the freezer.  I feel satisfied with the amount of food I’ve put up for our family so far and while I’m enjoying this garden lull, I know much more work is on its way!

Along with the garden growing, the animal population is too!  We enjoy watching the new bunnies that were born in the past month. Our rabbits are colony raised, so they burrow for nesting and in time, baby bunnies start emerging from the den. All 3 litters are out and about now and they are so fun to watch! We’ve counted 20 of them. They love eating weeds and scraps from the garden. They are raised primarily on fresh food in summer and given supplement feed as well.  At around 3-4 months old they will be harvest size and become healthy meals for our customers and for us.

Bunnies enjoying a snack of cabbage leaves from the garden.

As predicted, at the end of August our goat does had their babies. Our doe Alder had a boy and our doe Juneberry had a girl. Both kidded in the afternoon, within 24 hours of each other. We had the pleasure of quietly watching each birth, which was amazing. Our son (5) and daughter (9) were amazed! We happened to have friends over during each time and they got the opportunity to watch too. The kids and does seem to be off to an excellent start. Now, the milking begins and then on to yogurt and cheesemaking!

Alder’s boy kid.

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Time to Hustle

Friends, it’s been so, so busy. Please don’t read this sentiment as a complaint, I’m not complaining, I’m one of those people who enjoys staying busy! But, I do need to be honest. Keeping up with the hustle involved with tending the garden, collecting the harvest, preparing and then perserving it in a timely manner can be exhausting. I like to compare these assiduous 3’ish months of harvest and food preservation to the time a non-homesteading person would take to earn money for food, plan for shopping, travel to and from the grocery store, walk around the grocery store shopping, and finally a portion of time spent preparing the food…but all done in mid-day hours of about 3 months time. It’s worth the effort. A bonus of being responsible for our own food is that we get the relief of knowing where our food comes from and saving thousands of dollars a year.

Add to the above: 2 kids having the “best summer ever”, Tim working his regular job, me fullfilling contract work, me planning a year of homeschool, a social life that I’m so grateful for, renovating the cabin for rental, caring for the animals (oh my, we have over 30 babies animals in rabbit and duck form here, with goat kids on the way), getting ready for winter heat needs by splitting wood, hauling and storing hay, and caring for ourselves – it’s so important to just stop it all and……breathe. I know we all feel this way, this overwhelm, no matter what phase of life we’re in or what commitments we have. It’s so very important we make space for downtime. We do this by enjoying a hike in the woods, spending time at the beach, laying in the hammock, or unwinding with friends over a bonfire.

Alright, I’ve spent enough time on words for now. Plus, it’s almost time to do chores. Here are some images that give a snapshot of projects in the last two weeks:

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Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,
-L

July 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too.

7/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

What happened to all those blooms I mentioned in last month’s post? Fruit! The strawberries, cherries, juneberries, and blueberries are in varying phases of ripening. There are a lot of fruit on all of the plants and the ones that have ripened – the taste is spectacular! Jam and jelly making will begin soon and I’m hoping the heat will break so it’s not so hot working in the kitchen. Later fruits like chokecherry and apples have a while still. I can be patient, there is plenty to do in the meantime.

We had our first zucchini harvest in late July. The harvest began late this year because we had some troubles hardening off our squash plants. We grew them inside, spent good time hardening them off, planted them in the garden and then found all the plants dead about a week later (not a frost kill off, we suspect sun scald). Because of this, all the winter and summer squash were direct sown to the garden as seeds but I’m hopeful we’ll still have an excellent crop at the end of it all. Many other veggies are coming in: shelling peas, beets, spinach, and trilogy beans. We’ve been picking cabbage and found that a great way to enjoy them is to slice in thick (2 inch) pieces, season with garlic, salt, and pepper, wrap in foil and put them on the grill on low setting for approximately 35 minutes. 

Now that the heat seems to be breaking (someone please tell the chickens, they’ve been “on strike” and haven’t been laying), working in the garden and around the homestead will be more bearable. Many projects went on hold during the last 3 weeks of hot and humid weather and I’m now feeling the pressure of preserving the harvest. We continue to sell “extras” to local neighbors and friends.

Our duck, Rose, and her brood of 14 ducklings.

New faces around the homestead include a brood of 14 ducklings that hatched off one of our ducks nest. Also, it’s confirmed that our two doe goats are expecting! The physical changes in them are apparent and sometime in late August kids should be born. This will be our first birthing experience with goats. We’re looking forward to seeing what it will be like here with goat kids around and also to enjoy the milk the girls provide. Next on the docket is learning basic cheese making skills!

June 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too.

6/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

Up here on the Keweenaw, we’ve finally bloomed! Everything seemed to come alive during the middle 3 weeks of June (with exception of our favorite first blooms, Serviceberry, which is always the first bloom and happened in May). If the amount of flowers on our wild and cultivated fruit trees and berries are any sign of the fruit crop this year, it should be a good one! While walking around our land we hear the constant serenade of our native pollinators. Last year’s strawberry harvest was strong, and with last year’s preservation efforts is still feeding our family. With that, this year we’ll be selling strawberries to friends and families in our small local community. This year’s crop is growing nicely and should be ripe for the picking throughout July (depending on the variety). 

With the temperatures moving out of the 50’s and 60’s and into some steady 70’s in late June, it seems our garden has finally come alive! This means the weeds are growing nicely too, oy!  My attempts at doing a small amount of weeding daily seems to make no impact. We have found a positive in all these weeds though. A “weed” known as purslane is a delightful treat to eat while working in the garden. Another plentiful “weed”, lamb’s quarters, is a tasty and nutritious wild green. This one we pick and either dry to use as a flavorful herb sprinkle or to add to soups made in winter, or we cook fresh leaves in the skillet like spinach.

Homegrown meal, fresh eggs, asparagus, and nettle.

Screening compost is another project that is now done. How nice it is to have a free means of building nutrition in our soil! We have 3 large compost bins, 1 that was resting and 2 that were actively being added to. The resting bin has now been scooped, screened, and applied to the garden and has become the active bin. The other two bins are now resting, 1 will be ready next summer and the other will be in 2 years. We hope to continue that cycle. Our bins are built up of any food scraps that come from us (that the animals don’t eat), weeds pulled from the garden, coffee grounds from a local restaurant, and hay and manure that gets mucked out from the animals. 

Working on the compost, screening for use in the garden.

Exciting progress for our new business (est. January 2019), we now have a logo!  You can see it (and other homestead happenings) on our Facebook page or shared through Instagram.

Compost, Backaches, and Sprouts

Well, if the title of this blog didn’t give it away, it’s planting season! The last weeks have been busy, spending the majority of each day laboring in the garden to prepare the soil and then planting it. I’ve often heard people say gardening is a relaxing thing, but I suspect they didn’t garden at the level of hoping to provide almost all their own food, for a family of four, for a year. The last days have been enjoyable being out in the fresh air and sun, but not exactly relaxing as I raced to get everything planted before June 1st, my own personal timeline.

Northern gardening is a bit more challenging because we don’t get as high of temps for as long. Our current long range forecast shows daytime temps of mid-60’s through June 15th. Planting the garden too early is not an option because of the risk of frost (with the exception of cold hardy seeds and starts). Planting the garden too late is not an option because of the risk of cutting the season way too short. Also, since we’re relying on all of our own seed starts, some are smaller than what you would expect to buy from a garden store so they need ample time to grow.

This year one of our achievements is the budget we planted on. After buying some growing soil for our seed starts and a few seed packets we needed or wanted to try, our total cost put into the garden this year is about $30. Considering we planted over 3,000 square feet, that’s pretty reasonable, right?

Another achievement is that we expanded the fenced garden. Our original plot from our first full year (2018 growing season) was approximately 2,000 square feet. This year we took over the attached poultry/rabbit yard, adding another 800 fenced square feet. The chickens and ducks went on complete free-range and the rabbits moved to a better location that will be more suitable for winter care. Because the soil in that area needs to be managed for better growing, we are only planting a portion of it.

Gardening isn’t all about little green plants though. A major project I’ve also started (and not yet finished) is mucking out the goat shed from the winter. While starting this project I realized I didn’t have any compost bins to put it in. One bin was done and ready to go to the garden, so that whole bin has been screened and then spread in the garden with our new plantings, making way to refill it with poo and hay to then rot down into soil.

I still have over half of the goat shed to clean out, but with several weeks of working in the garden for long days, my back has seen better days. I was already nursing a sensitive spot that seems to continuously get aggravated from hiking (and snowshoeing in winter). That spot was weak and a new spot is now aggravated and worse than the original spot.

I finished planting the garden on Friday, 5/31 and had an appointment that afternoon with a magician (i.e. chiropractor). The next two days I’m on physical rest to help continue the healing process. The break will be both physical and mental. Knowing the garden is in for the season brings me such peace. In just several weeks of work, hopefully this will provide us with the majority of the food we need to sustain us for the year.

My Yellow-rumper Warbler friend.

While I was working with the compost, I noticed the activity of some little birds. A small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers had taken notice to the recently stirred compost and were visiting often. One was so comfortable with my presence I probably could have just picked him up. What a beautiful treat to share my work time with these little birds who were fun to watch and listen to.

Hope you get a chance to get your hands in the dirt to either plant food for yourself or to beautify your space.

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

It’s Spring Cluttering Time!

The snow has melted, the weather is warming, the crocus flowers have come and gone, buds are showing themselves on trees, mud is everywhere. Spring has arrived and here on the homestead that means it’s a productive time – Spring cluttering time is here! Yeah, you read that correct. Not Spring cleaning (although it seems we are always cleaning here), in spring it’s truly cluttering time in the yurt and around the homestead. Let me explain.

Tim’s spring project is getting as many plant starts going so come end of May we plant the garden full of our own plant starts. We currently have over 180 garden plants growing in our yurt. While the plants are contained and organized, there is definitely an amount of space they consume that is normally unoccupied. The project starts annually at the end of March. Tim built a simple set-up: A hand-built rack, shop lights running on a timer, and heating pad for a portion of growing time. All the plants seem to be off to a great start. By mid-May they’ll start to go outside for a portion of the day to harden off and get ready for planting. This is always the part I’m most nervous about, the risk of losing them after all the time and effort!

sprouting plants in soil
Thermometer in soil, used to monitor a constant temperature that is ideal for germination and growth.

What we have growing: paste tomatoes (my go-to sauce tomato), cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, 3 types of sweet peppers and 1 type of hot pepper, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, multiple types of squash, cucumber, zucchini, various melons and pumpkins. Next we’ll hand sow the peas and some root vegetables into the garden. By late May and early June all the planting will take place in the garden, including everything not started inside (beans, corn, carrots, etc.).

Eggplant and tomatoes, happily growing under lights.

I love all the plant starts, the self-reliance of it, they make our garden frugal and sustainable (vs. buying all the plants from the store), the temporary clutter….totally worth it.

In another spot we have a delicate situation taking up space. It’s our first time at incubation (thanks to our neighbors who have loaned us their incubator)! 8 duck eggs and 10 chicken eggs are incubating. So far it looks promising. Candling after one week shows the development we should expect. Fingers crossed we can expand our flock in this frugal and self-reliant way.

eggs in incubator
Our own duck and chicken eggs in the incubator.

Outside, other clutter appears. The outdoor hose is running again so outdoor things that have needed washing are now cleaned and lined up by the hose, drying the in the sun. Wood that’ll need cutting and splitting for next winter is starting to pile up, waiting to be split and organized nicely in the wood shelter.

The clutter around here represents how busy the spring season can be for us. It’s a beautiful, productive, and self-reliant clutter. In just a short time it’ll all find it’s way to another place on the homestead where it will eventually disappear because it’s providing for us. With that, I have to say, I’m thankful for this clutter!

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

Help for Hard Labor has Arrived!

Eventually I’ll succumb to the idea of needing a tractor here on the homestead. On a rare occassion we’ve had a project that a tractor is necessary for, thankfully we have neighbors who have come to help with their own tractor.

Things I dislike about a tractor:

  • Space needed for storage.
  • Cost to buy.
  • Cost to maintain, insure.
  • Gas to run.
  • Loud sounds it makes. Ugh, I despise loud sounds.

Things I like about a tractor:

  • Does heavy labor I cannot.
  • With the right implements, it’s verstile for doing many projects.

I actually enjoy hard labor, but there are some things I know I could do more efficently if I had some help. For instance, I can move big pieces of firewood, but, I could move MANY big pieces of firewood at once and at longer distances with some support. Well, that support will be here on the homestead soon, it’s not a human and it’s not a tractor.

Meet Wiit (left) and Nels(right)! Cute, aren’t they?

What do they have to do with labor? Well, they don’t know it yet, but they are the helpers! We’ll be training these young bull calves to be oxen! If you are unfamiliar, an ox is defined as a bovine trained as a draft animal. I am so excited, yet nervous. I have no bovine experience and of course, have never trained an ox…or any draft animal for that matter. Lots of research led us to this decision and lots of reading and watching has done the best job it can in preparing us for this new adventure. When asked, one person assured us “It’s easier than I thought it would be – just spend consistent time with them and it’s not hard.” I hope I will be able to say the same!

Our goal is to have them help us move large timber, haul firewood, work in the field and any other odds and ends they can help us with. Plus, I look forward to having them as work companions and having their manure for our fields and gardens. As a seasoned oxen teamster (this is the term for a person working oxen) pointed out, if some how it doesn’t work out, you still have “well-trained beef”, meaning they can serve a purpose as meat animals if not oxen. This logic appealed to my practicalities, but I do hope that’s not how it turns out.

Our homestead has a working farm history, and from what we’ve been told, there were cattle raised here for a significant period of time. From the looks of the old machinery left behind, there were draft animals being used as well. I’m excited to bring back some of the history and continue to work our homestead in a way it may have been worked historically, with draft animals. Each calf’s name is derived from the name of an owner who lived and worked this exact land.

Wiit and Nels will be arriving in about a week, so let the draft training begin!

White Chicken Chili Incident

The other day I popped open a quart jar of white chicken chili and poured the chili into a pot on the stove to warm it slowly for dinner. I made this white chicken chili from scratch, absolutely every ingredient in it except for the chili powder was grown here on the homestead. Not only was it grown here on the homestead which was a labor of at least 4 months, it was then prepared, cooked, and pressure canned to preserve it, another several hours of work. The white chicken chili is amazing, and I’m sure part of why I think it tastes so good is because I know the effort of every bit of it.

It was time for chores, so I checked the pot on the stove, turning it down to the lowest setting. I got ready, headed outside and went to feed and care for the animals. Without a doubt, I got sidetracked spending more time with the animals than originally planned. Spending time with them is good for the soul, so who can be blamed for doing such a thing?

When I got back into the yurt, I was quickly reminded that I had white chicken chili on the stove and the signs were clear, we would NOT be having this for dinner. A thick smoke was starting to billow out of the pot lid, there was a loud hissing noise, and the smell of burned food was enough to make me open all the windows even though it was only around 30 degrees F outside. I quickly pulled the pot off the stove and after it stopped boiling (it was so hot it took several minutes for it to stop!) I stirred it, examining and hoping that perhaps some could be salvaged. Nope, absolutely none would be salvaged.

Canned white chicken chili – preburn.

I was disappointed at myself for this neglect…I wasted the food. It was our homegrown food. Not only did I ruin a wonderfully tasty meal, but all the hard work that went into that quart of white chicken chili was all for naught. My initial reaction may seem extreme, but imagine spending hours upon hours creating a beautiful piece of art only to have it torn apart, never to be that piece of art again.

While we did not get to eat the white chicken chili for dinner, on our homestead almost nothing goes truly goes to waste. Certain foods get fed to the animals (like shriveled grapes, chickens love these!), or if they are not edible, it gets put into the compost pile, which eventually ends up back in the garden to grow more food.

April is National Poetry Month, so while prepping some homeschool materials, I recently ran across this ancient (sometime between the 7th and 10th century) Chinese poem which reminded me of the white chicken chili incident. The English translation is below:

Toiling Farmers

Farmers weeding at noon,
Sweat down the field soon.
Who knows food on a tray
Thanks to their toiling day?


-Li Shen

I read that this poem is still used in Chinese culture today to teach children about not wasting food.

Even if we are consuming food that we didn’t grow, it’s important to think about the efforts that went into it. My mind is blown at how cheap food can be. Think about a loaf of bread at the store. You can buy a nice quality loaf for $3. Somehow $3 covers the advertising, the stocking, the packaging, the shipping, the labor to make the bread, the energy to bake it, the process of turning wheat into flour, the tractors and fuel to harvest the field, the wheat to plant, the labor to plant it and more steps that I skipped! Yet, it’s only $3.

There are a lot of opinions about the food system, but I think we can all agree, getting healthy food to people takes time and a lot of effort. And perhaps we can also agree that the majority of the public does not understand or appreciate this truth. Next meal, think about where your food came from and be grateful to have it. A lot of time and effort went into it so that you can enjoy.

The white chicken chili incident also taught me another lesson. In the future, will I leave the stove on while I’m doing chores? Absolutely not!

Peace, Love & Nature,

-L

We’re Expecting! (Not What you Think)

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!

Welcome Script
We’ll be opening a Vacation Rental / AirBNB!

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.

With some TLC, this unfinished home will be converted into a cozy, quiet getaway.

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!

A 5 Foot Fence is Not a 5 Foot Fence in Winter

Our poultry/rabbit yard is a fenced off area meant to keep predators out and give our chickens, ducks, and rabbits a fair amount of space to roam. The fence is 5 feet tall. The size of the area becomes less and less accessible to the animals as more snow comes. We always shovel around the chicken coop (chickshaw), duck shelter, and feeding and watering areas. However, we let the snow take over the rest, it would be impossible to keep up with a shovel and the blower doesn’t fit in there (although that would be terrifying to the animals anyhow). The ducks and rabbits still wander in the deeper snow, but the chickens are “chicken” and pretty much stay in or very near the chickshaw.

Last week, before the blizzard that brought 18 inches of new snow and drifts taller than 5 feet, I noticed something odd as I looked out toward the poultry yard. I saw two of our rabbits VERY near the fenceline. When I say near the fence line, I’m not referring to them just being near the perimeter, but also at the TOP of the perimeter. Remember, the fence is 5 feet tall. All the snow that has been falling throughout the season (estimated over 200 inches), has been piling up. Plus, all the snow we’ve been shoveling out of the “living” area has been piling up on top of that. The other day we saw a Blizzard Warning issued for our community. Since the rabbits were already almost able to leap out over the 5 foot fence, we knew we had to get to work.

We spent several hours clearing out as much as we could, including taking the snow piles we’ve been shoveling onto down away from the top of the fence and widening all the snow paths in the poultry/rabbit yard. We cleared out the whole pig pen, shoveled off the roof to the shed and cleared out as much of the goat area as we could.

The trick is, we’re doing all this by hand, and therefore the snow around the edge of these areas is starting to pile up. We knocked down those piles as much as possible knowing we would need to add more. There is only so far we can throw and only so many places we can move the snow. We do not have a machine that can scoop up and lift out the snow.

Then the blizzard came. 18 inches of snow was really nothing, that we can handle. Then the 50-60 mph winds started and lasted nearly 24 hours. We cleared twice during this time, but overnight was when the really crazy wind happened. We lost power at home, but thanks to a stockpile of food and a woodstove, there wasn’t much to worry about inside. As we slept, we had no idea what was happening outside.

In the morning, the sun came out and the power was on. We went out to clear out so we could get the animals fed and watered. 3 hours later it was as good as it was going to get. Once the temps go up again, they are currently lingering between 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll go out and continue to clear. The series of pictures below depict some of the results of the blizzard.

After the blizzard we found both the chickens AND the ducks in the Chickshaw – a first!
This shows part of the path in the Poultry/Rabbit yard. Note 5 foot tall fence in background – about 4 feet under the naturally fallen (non-piled up) snow. The snow the kids are walking on is approximately 2 feet above ground level.
The chicken feeder was completely buried with about 1-2 feet of snow drift over it. About 1 foot of it is still under the snow.
Note how fence just disappears into the snow on the right side of this image. This is a fence we’ve been attempting to keep clear throughout the winter. It’s a 3 foot tall fence. Don’t tell the goats, but they can jump right out.
There is a 450 pound pig in there….somewhere. I actually shouted out loud when I saw her looking out at me, alive!
Additional problems present themselves, like a door that doesn’t close. I cleared absolutely every spot around and within this door, and it still doesn’t close!
The entire driveway was covered in 3-5 feet of snow that had drifted over (even though it had been snowblowed 2 times the day before). This shovel is leaning against a drift to show how tall the drifting was. Tim worked relentlessly to plow through this with the snowblower, it took a long time.

There is no doubt that homesteading keeps us on our toes. It challenges our problem solving skills always, which I actually do enjoy! Prior to the blizzard, we had reimagined our livestock housing areas since we’ve really struggled with watering all winter, especially on days under 0 degrees F when the water we provide freezes almost immediately. We hadn’t thought about fencing height for the rabbits with our new plans, but now we have!

The stop sign down the road from our homestead.

After the challenges we were presented with this winter, new animal housing plans and locations have been designed on paper, now we wait until the snow melts to make the changes.

Like every summer here, it’s going to be a busy one! But we have awesome plans and big changes coming. There is never a dull moment here – good thing, what would I blog about otherwise? 🙂

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

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