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!
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.).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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:
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.
Today’s is Groundhog Day! The kids and I watched the famous “Punxsutawney Phil” make his prediction. He predicted 6 more weeks of winter! Man, the crowd there in Pennsylvania was disappointed. From our research though, historically he’s only been 20% accurate, so don’t place any bets on his prediction – ha!
Readers to our blog live in various places, so I’m sure there are many differing ideas about what winter has been like and if it would be nice if it continued. I realize this is only our first winter here on the Keweenaw Peninsula (47th parallel north), but we’ve been loving it. It’s nice to live in a place where winter isn’t just cold with a little bit of snow here and there, but a place where it’s mild (okay, cold sometimes too), but has enough snow to truly enjoy the beauty of a white and sparkly snowy winter. The best of our winter has been snowshoeing around our own property, and finding various routes to Lake Superior on snowshoe. Winter has been very busy for us otherwise and we haven’t spent nearly the time we have wanted to snowshoeing.
Our recent homestead projects included a few things that have me thinking about summertime.
1.) We’re still enjoying squash after squash that were harvested from the garden this past Autumn. They are so sweet and delightful and I’ve been preparing them in many different ways. The squash we grew this summer were spaghetti squash and buttercup squash. We are planning on more variety in the upcoming summer. One of my favorite recipes to make is 3 Sisters Soup.
The jam tastes like the summer sun! Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit in saying that, but it’s GOOD!
3.) I pickled carrots. There was a good deal on carrots at the grocery store and I was in the mood for something a little different so I made a few jars of refrigerator carrots. I did an experiment using my simple refrigerator pickle recipe; I tried apple cider vinegar for one batch and regular white vinegar for another. The family favorite was the white vinegar.
5.) Another recent project we’ve been working on is our family Nature Journal. It’s part of our homeschooling and we try for at least one entry a week. Today Flora made an entry inspired by Groundhog Day. It went as follows:
Good morning from our yurt on the beautiful and snowy Keweenaw Peninsula. I’m having a peaceful moment right now – sitting at the kitchen table, writing this blog next to the woodstove with it’s crackling fire. All of my family is sleeping, except our dog who follows me everywhere, what a loyal boy he is. This moment of peace is a real oddity in our home, so I must breathe in every moment of it.
This morning I woke up to a few text messages on my phone that arrived after I fell asleep. Tim and I took a 3 mile off-road snowshoe blazing our own trail, so it was early bedtime for me! The messages were from a friend and she was asking: “When did you begin your minimalist journey?” and “Or, have your always been a minimalist?”
From new friends on the Keweenaw that have visited us at our yurt, this idea of minimalism have been a common comment. Several have stated how we are living as minimalists, and even saying that seeing our home has encouraged them to realize that they have too much stuff and has motivated them to start going through their own homes and downsizing.
This pleases my heart, but it also strikes me, because although we do have a lot less stuff in our home than the average person, I still feel like we have a lot of stuff! Although I realize, compared to the average home, we do not. Here are some of the ways we got to where we are at now.
Were we always minimalists? NO! I truly laugh out loud at this, thinking of the absurd amount of useless stuff we had. Our journey toward minimalism started when we conjured up this dream to live here at White Sky Woods in a unconventional home – a yurt. We realized we needed to stop spending money so that we could save the money to make these dreams come true. Our goal was to come debt free. We also were on a mission to learn more self-sustaining skills, like making food from scratch, including items like yogurt. These actions saved quite a bit of money and were suitable to a more frugal lifestyle. Saving every we dollar possibly could, eliminating bills, but still giving ourselves some leeway for life enjoyment – like traveling (I can’t live without this). This encompassed around 7 years. The behavioral changes didn’t take place overnight, but slowly over that time. Small choices over time made a big impact. Two rules of thumb that we used:
Don’t buy it unless you NEED it. No new stuff unless it was absolutely necessary.
If you do NEED it, try Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, thrift stores or consignment shops first. This is not only often a more frugal choice, but it’s better for the environment too because it creates less demand for new product which uses a lot of resources to be made, shipped, etc.
As our dreams to move here became more of a reality, the pending home sale and move really got us in gear. At this point, we started to dowsize. We looked at everything and asked, is this a WANT or a NEED? Pretty much all that was a WANT was donated or sold. The stuff that we felt was a NEED remained until it was time to pack.
I want to say, this is not always an easy step. I am not very attached to things, but we have two children, and helping them downsize was a step-by-step process of getting them involved and helping them understand the value of WHY we are doing this. Our youngest was 2 at the time and fairly clueless to the changes, but our oldest was 7 and some things were a little harder for her.
Another tricky thing is downsizing personal possesions that you acquire through life, like papers your wrote in school, yearbooks, awards, etc. Tim and I both downsized into 1 bin. During this process we created a lot of waste – but I don’t think that anyone really would have been interested in buying my 1996 Hartford Union High School Yearbook. Ha! Some of it had to be tossed because it didn’t have a place in our future. For the record I did keep the Yearbook from my gradutating year, which my children enjoy looking at!
Some items we had were left from family members who have passed or items that were novelties/memories from vacations taken. These were also hard to make decisions about. Some of it was repurposed, Grandma’s teecup collection for instance. Some will become bird feeders, and other will be put into use in our daily life. The remainder that we did not feel compelled to keep were donated and some other person will fall in love with their beauty.
Once again upon our move, we asked the same question as we packed everything – is this a want or a need? We also focused the question even more:
Does this item serve me in my lifestyle?
An easy example of this is that I had a career before we moved, and now homesteading and homeschooling is my career. These take very different wardrobes. All of my business professional clothes, shoes, and accessories were donated.
We also asked another question regarding the bigger items:
Do we have room for this?
We sold quite a bit of furniture pieces because we would not have room. I do not do well with visual clutter, so my goal with our new home was to have only what we needed and to be certain that the stuff we had was useful. An example of this is that we have 2 large trunks. We also had 2 end tables in our living room. The end tables hold very little stuff, the trunks hold a lot. So, we got rid of the end tables and kept the trunks. The trunks now serve as a furniture piece and a storage piece! Winning.
At this rate, I don’t feel like a true minimalist, but I realize that compared to the average family of 4, we are. This coming summer we will be taking another look at everything in the house and garage and once again going through the process. If we haven’t used it in a year of living here, there is a good chance we don’t need it. I’m wildly looking forward to this honestly!
If the idea of minimalism interests you, here are some of the resources we’ve used in support of our journey.
https://www.theminimalists.com/ – Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary.
The sun is shining, but darn….it’s COLD! 1 degree Farenheit, but feels like -11 with the windchill. Thank goodness for the routine of heading outside in the morning and evening to care for our animals, otherwise I’m not sure I would have any reason to leave the house on days this cold. For the first few minutes of pig and chicken chores, I actually like the cold air. It’s a definite wake-me-up! But, when my fingers and toes start to tingle, then the enjoyment fades. So far, our 2 pigs and 7 chickens seem to be hanging in there. Our hens are still laying eggs! Now that’s a superpower.
Over the past 2 months we’ve had our share of snow (about 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground here, but other local areas have experienced MUCH more). We’ve also had our share of fluctuating temperatures, ranging from 39 degrees to -20 degrees Farenheit. During our first winter here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we’re quickly learning some important ways to stay warm.
1.) Wear the right clothes for the weather!
I’m doing my best to embrace the Norwegian Quote: “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’ve quickly learned that what counts is wearing layers. At any given time, including inside, I have 3 layers on my top and 2 on my bottom. It seems obvious maybe, but this really makes a difference – albeit a pain in the butt for getting dressed, getting undressed, and doing laundry! Warm socks and a decent underlayer are necessities. For outdoor chores I’ve also decided that looking scary in my balaclava is a must for warmth. It freaks out the kids, but my face stays oh so warm!
2.) Being “lazy” is okay!
I used to think that watching movies or lingering around the house for too long was being lazy. But, this slow down is exactly what winter here is all about. It also has allowed us to have more time to start new habits doing things that always were pushed aside before because we didn’t have time.
Our homeschool Nature Journal for instance. The kids are having a fun time with it, but I think I am equally or more engaged with it! Sometimes we are inspired from trips outside, but on very cold days we observe from our windows – taking time to enjoy the chickadees, or the deer and turkey that have now become very comfortable with yurt life as well.
3.) Nothing warms you up more than good friends.
On New Years Day we hosted our first annual “Dessert at the Yurt”. I prepared several sweet treats that were themed by our homestead (made with goods from our own garden) or inspired by the Keweenaw area. For instance, “Not Your Garden Variety Zucchini Bread”, a Chocolate Zucchini Bread and “Snow on Top Basalt”, Oreo Trifle. The food was good, but the company was even better. Since our move in June, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many good people here on the Keweenaw and growing friendships with them.
Worried about space in our yurt, we managed to comfortably fit 17 adults and 8 kids! During and reflecting afterwards, our hearts were so warm. We have so much gratitude and love for our new community and friends. We have not experienced such an amazing community before. So many brilliant minds and beautiful souls surrounded us at this gathering. How is it possible to not feel warmed (hypothetically, of course) when surrounded by that?
One friend described the yurt as “wrapping it’s warm arms around you.” Yes!