Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winter Arrives!

Winter has arrived here at Grace Note.  The snow fell on Thanksgiving Eve, collecting about 10 inches here.  The trees were very laden with snow, branches bowing under the weight of it along with the ice that also formed.  Though we're used to winter after a lifetime of it, it's beauty is undeniable and stunning.  There are many hardships that come along with winter as well.  We lost our power for almost 4 days just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  We had decided not to have turkey this year as we were staying home just our little family unit, other family having other commitments or stuck at home in the storm.  We also felt that it was appropriate to have one of our homegrown chickens for a meal when we traditionally give thanks.
Having raised and harvested those chickens, seeing them through their lives and deaths, we felt enormously grateful for them and the nourishment they provided for our bodies.  We tried to do a totally local meal, and outside of the fact that we didn't do local stuffing, we had the chicken, our own sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple cider from the farm stand at the end of our road, butter made from the cream of the milk we get each week from our milk csa share.  As we have an electric stove, we were not sure how successful the meal would be cooked on the wood stove.  We decided to kick it old colonial school style and cooked everything but the chicken on the top of the wood stove.
The sweet potatoes were wrapped in foil with butter, salt and pepper added.  The gravy was heated there and the stuffing made along with the pumpkin with butter and cinnamon and nutmeg.  Music Man did a beer can preparation for the chicken and cooked it on the gas grill, a little salt and pepper and olive oil on the skin.  The meal did come out better then I had expected, but the whole time I was preparing it, I was thinking this is how it was done after the advent of wood stoves.  Before that, the whole meal would have just been prepared over the open fire.  I imaged the generations of women that came before me here in this place, preparing the same meal I was.  The generation of women when it went from cooking over the open fire in our enormous fireplace to the addition of the wood stove and how they must have felt it was the height of convenience after cooking over the flames directly.
We also got a very comforting heat from this stove.  With the help of a friend, Music Man replaced the too small inadequate stove that was here with a second hand stove Music Man bartered for years ago.  It is a beautiful stove that was crafted in coal regions of England and will burn either wood or coal.  We have moved this stove around for the last 7 years from home to home, waiting for the right place to install it.  We have found that place.  It looks great here, feels more period to the house and also heats like a champ in this under-insulated old home.  I stayed, for two of the three nights we didn't have power, feeding it with logs every couple of hours and we stayed very comfortable.  For heat and cooking ability, we couldn't ask for more for a power outage. 
We also lost our ability to have running water.  We do have a small generator that could power some of the least draining appliances, like the TV, the refrigerator, the freezer in the garage that houses all our chicken and the pork we also bought from a local farmer.  But we have discovered that this house is wired very badly.  The water heater is hooked to all the upstairs lighting and outlets, the stove is hooked to too many things and the well pump is also wired with half of the other circuits in the downstairs.  Not only kind of dangerous, it causes us to not be able to run the important things like the stove and well pump because the generator isn't strong enough to power those along with everything else they are wired with.  So, we didn't have running water, but with the snow melt coming off the roof, we were able to collect enough in buckets to flush the toilets and water the dog and chickens.  I had enough drinking water to last us for a while, so we were fine there and other then having to heat water to wash dishes and not showering for too many days, we were fine with our lot.  The picture above shows the old well that is on the property, the original water source for the farm, and we probably could still draw water from it if we needed to, but the water would not be drinking water as I'm sure it's not bacteria free.

All in all, we are embracing winter's arrival and the beginning of the "rest" period.  Time for knitting, time for reading, time for garden planning, time for sledding and snowshoeing and many of the other activities that winter allows.  We do get tired of the shoveling and snowblowing and cold, but we do try to embrace the wonders and beauty of the season as well. 
Wishing you a warm and comforting arrival of winter at your farm,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In Due Time

Feeling a bit...something...lately.  Since purchasing this old homestead, we've experienced our share of ups and downs.  This is certainly not something that Music Man and I are unaccustomed to.  In fact, well, we've had a lot of both.  For whatever reason, we've had a lot of turbulence during our 16 years together.  I suppose to some extent, that's to be expected.  Hell, life is nothing if it isn't ever changing.
But, by the same token...well, when we got this house, I really felt it was meant to be.  We waited and worked for a very long time for our little homestead.  One we could call our own, and change and plant and grow our own food.  A place for our kids to stay for a long time, to feel they truly belonged.  A place to raise our chickens, and get the dog we've wanted since we met.  But, to get a dog when you don't own the house you live in is a big risk.  If you're forced to move, and you can't find another place that allows dogs, you have to give it up.  I would no more do that then give one of my kids away, if we give one a home, with us it will stay.  So, we waited until we had the right place. 
Waiting for the boys bus to come
A long series of events brought us to the place where we were able to scrape together the down payment for this home.  Just barely, and it took most of what we had just to do that.  The events were years in coming, one failed attempt to buy a place after another brought us to the crossroads.  Were we just not supposed to be here in this town?  Did we chose the wrong place?  Are we supposed to be in a location more affordable, New England is so expensive to live in?  Should we leave most of our family and the place our boys love to start over somewhere else, again?  We really were unsure of what to do.  Then the tragedy fell that changed so many lives.  My very healthy mother-in-law passed very unexpectedly and way too soon.  We were deep in the grief of losing her, and discovered she left us enough money to put the down payment on this home that had until then, been way out of our price range.  We debated with what to do, should we spend the money for a house?  Should we save it for retirement?  What's the best choice to make for our family?

The boys are ALMOST in from the bus!!

In the end, we thought about what we truly needed at that time in our lives.  A place to make our home.  Not just a house, but a home.  We had agreed from our meeting that Music Man and I both loved antique houses. Having been built in 1755, this place sure fit the bill.  We wanted a place for big vegetable gardens, a barn big enough not just for our farming endeavors, but for Music Man's lifelong dream of a space to gather people and share music.  We wanted room for our boys to roam, preferably with woods where they could explore and a small field to play baseball in.  And we wanted space for the dog they had been begging for since almost birth.  We also thought long and hard about whether this would be something that my mother-in-law would want done with her money.  And that was one of the biggest factors for us in making the decision to purchase.  We felt she would have loved this place, would have loved us in the place, and seeing her grandsons playing and thriving and belonging here.  Yes, it seemed like it was meant to be.

We've been here almost  year now, we're just a couple of days shy.  After two concussions and a broken shoulder caused medical bills from our lousy insurance to mount, we've used a lot of the money we had pegged for renovations.  The honeymoon has worn off a bit, we've discovered that, being an older house, it needs things we could never have imagined. Some of them more urgent then we would have assumed.  Repairs that, in the end, are costing more then we are able to bear when they are needed.  It's a stressful time for us. I'm job hunting again after three years away, Music Man's company issued a mandatory pay cut for it's employees.  Yes, stress is the name of the game now.  The barn needs siding, like yesterday...and beam repairs. We've discovered that its roof will need replacing sooner then we originally thought. These are not small ticket items.  We have almost no insulation in the house, which in small would not be so bad, but in whole is a bit overwhelming.  And the furnace that is 25 years old is sporting duct work that will eventually need to be replaced.  The kitchen is there, but really needs to be expanded to meet the needs of a modern family that homesteads and makes 90% of it's food from scratch.  The to-do list around here is larger then we can ever accomplish with just the two of us working at it with our limited expertise.

But...we've also come a long way.  The first year living in a house, especially an older one, we didn't want to rush into changes.  I've made some mistakes along the way, like you'll remember digging up the asparagus bed not knowing it WAS an asparagus bed.  We ended up with a nice crop despite my eagerness to make it something else.  We got a great crop of sweet potatoes, but the white and red potatoes fell victim to a vole infestation.  We went through a lot of wood last winter using a stove that was here and inadequate for the size of this house, so we've replaced it with a wonderful stove Music Man bartered for years ago and have been moving around ever since. It heats more evenly and being cast iron holds its heat much longer.  We raised our first meat chickens here, and made the mistakes of the first time, lessons we learned and won't repeat.  We made a garden out of a yard and grew enough food to keep our family in veggies for the summer months with enough to put by a bit for the winter.  Next year's garden will be larger, and more planned out.  We've hosted holidays, birthday parties and friends for dinners.

We're building the life we wanted, by hook or by crook.  We want to preserve this place for the next generation.  It's a solid piece of history that is beginning to show some wear and need for attention.  How many people can say they had the privilege of living in a museum of sorts?  These walls were here when pounds paid for the deed, we weren't even an official country and people fought Native Americans to keep the house standing.  Flu, smallpox and tuberculosis may have killed family members in it's walls.  It's been here for a very long time, and we're hoping to have the chance to help it survive and become better.

We've really tried to embrace our new place, and we're hoping that in the end, we'll figure out the way to keep it ours.  At least until the boys are done with high school and on to their own lives, and we're settling down for a bit of retirement.  Preferably in a little seaside town called Freeport.  Until then, we're debating things like a campaign to save the barn.  It's not just a barn for us, after all, but one for the country as it's living history right here and now.  Lots of things in the thought-track, just needing to decide what to act on to get everything moving in the right direction.

A moment that's real for you,