We’re back!

First off, HAPPY CANADA DAY!!!

  
We just got back from 3 weeks vacation visiting with friends and seeing the sites in beatiful Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. What an amazing trip! Canada’s east coast is beautiful and the people are very friendly. It’s good to be back, but I think we both might just be a bit happier if we were still there. 

It took two days of driving, around 22 hours in total to reach our friends in Halifax. Becky always says that I drive a bit slow, which means I basically adhere to the speed limits. She also gets a good chuckle out of people when she tells them that when she takes to the wheel she makes up time when I fall asleep. She may have said “he drives like an old man!” which is pretty funny because when I make reference to her driving it’s usually something like this – “Maybe you should take up Formula 1 as a hobby!”. At any rate, as with most things in our life together, we balance each other out. We got there and back in one piece, even if I had to sleep with one eye on the speedometer.

I’ve had problems with my iPhone so I will have to get some pictures from Becky and post them later.

Besides relaxing on the trip I had one goal, to eat fish every day! It’s good to have goals, so that was mine. Becky managed to take a few pics of my meals but mostly I just dove in before she could get her camera out.

In past years when we have gone out east I’ve only returned with a bunch of nice memories. I’m not a big shopper. However, when I do decide to buy something it’s usually a bit expensive. For more than a couple of years I have been eyeing an endgrain cutting board at the Halifax farmers market. This year I finally bought one, well two actually. They are like a piece of art. We were visiting another set of friends on Cape Breton Island and we happened to pass the factory outlet store for the same cutting boards I saw in Halifax. Good deals!

I was very happy with my purchase. Becky must have caught me grining when we were back in the car. I know I don’t need two, I said. Her reply “Well congratulations, it only took you four years to decide!”

We celebrated our 27 year anniversary while on Cape Breton. Our friends have a beautiful oceanfront property with 180 degree view, bald eagles passing by, and amazing sunsets. Nice spot indeed!

When we got home last night we had to have a quick walk around the garden. It seems like everything just exploded while we were away. Some of the weeds were bigger than the veggies! So we got out there to do some weeding today. 

That’s it for now. Hope everyone is doing well.

Stan (and Becky)

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Keep Calm and Plant Veggies

This morning I was reading about “the perfect day”. The post was written by somebody that I’ve been following on YouTube for a while now.

I find it interesting in life we often seek out these perfect days, sometimes very consciously, and other times they come to us by happenstance. But when they actually happen, we definitely take notice. We are happier and tend to have a more positive outlook on things. We feel warm and fuzzy in those moments and generally don’t want those days to end. It makes me think back to when we were in school and didn’t want summer vacation to come to an end.

Becky and I frequently voice our feelings of gratitude of a great day, weekend or moment. Completely thankful of what we have in our life together.
 
Our garden is mostly planted, except for our tomato seedlings and a few others, as this week we are expecting a cold snap for 2 or 3 nights. Time to sit back, relax, and enjoy looking at an empty veggie bed knowing that within a matter of weeks it will be filled to overflowing with every manner of homegrown veggie. Or, in Becky’s case, time to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day with a good book.
Every year we grow the majority of our vegetables from seed. There are always a few items which we purchase as seedlings from a greenhouse operation about an hour outside of town. It’s a long way to go but the prices are very good with a great section of….well everything. Stay focused. Follow the plan. Bring the list. Oh, look at that over there! Focus. Stick to the list. Back at home with a trunk load of great stuff and nowhere to plant it all. This usually leads to more grass being dug up and removed in favor of more useful items.
Most of all Becky and I simply enjoy going for a leisurely country drive. We have always had great chats in the car. This trip was no different. However, as we turned of the road into the parking lot we quickly noticed something was terribly wrong. Their once sprawling greenhouse were now in a state of being disassembled. What!? They shut down operations. No signs indicating  a  move to another location. Just shut down. Very sad. We have a backup place to buy from which is only 10 minutes from home so we came back and purchased from them.
Two years ago we planted potatoes for the first time. I always wanted to but we don’t really have the space for it. After reading many things in internet-land about growing potatoes in a box, in order to use vertical space, I thought I would give it a try. ……didn’t work. Dreams of pounds and pounds of potatoes spilling out turned out to only be about double what we planted. Not a very good return on our veggie investment.
While in Prince Edward Island (Canada’s potato capital) last year we spoke with the owners of the B&B where we were staying. They had a large size patch of potatoes growing behind their house. What’s the trick we asked. Just throw them in the ground and basically ignore them was the response. So this year we thought we would give it another go. In they went. Now I’m doing my best to ignore them. Little sprouts coming out of the ground….sorry potatoes, I am ignoring you right now.
We are both still trying to find our gardening legs. Meaning, we haven’t gotten to the point this season where we come in at the end of the day and aren’t completely sore, or where we don’t wake up with sore muscles from the previous days hard work.
Speaking of hard work, has anyone ever successfully gotten rid of Goutweed?
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We have a large patch of it which we have tried to battle for about 6 years now. So far nothing has worked. It’s terribly invasive. Becky once heard the best response so far – the only way to deal with it is to move! Any thoughts or suggestions?
On a completely different topic, I am having difficulty getting my blog posts to automatically show up on my Facebook account. I set it all up a while back and everything worked smoothly. Each post transferred over without a hitch. Then for some reason my last three posts didn’t transfer over. Just wondering if anyone has encountered this.
On yet another different note, I have been trying to post this all day. WordPress had been acting crazy on every device I’ve tried to use. Pictures disappearing, revisions not showing up after I’ve saved a draft, spacing between paragraphs disappeared. Very frustrating! So I will try to update now. Please excuse any errors on this post.
Hope you are all doing well.
Stan (and Becky)

Cheese Making Weekend

It’s been a long time since my last post. I had several posts in various draft states but never quite finished any of them. Oh well….bad me. Many things have been going on so hopefully I will get those posts moved from drafts to actual posts. 

The first weekend of April was Easter of course, but it was also our cheese making weekend. I guess it’s the royal ‘we’ because Becky has been making it. I look on from the next room and try to stay out of her way. 

Cheese making time is when I wish we had a cow or a goat to milk. Unfortunately this is not possible in our urban homestead. I’ve tried to explain to Becky about my secret plan to have a dwarf nigerian goat in our back garden. From my point of view I believe it’s a solid plan. Her view is somewhat different, feeling that it’s highly flawed. For example, the part of my plan which counts on being able to convince my close to 90 year old neighbour that the goat is in fact a mid sized dog may be a problem. Feeling the need to hammer this point home, Becky says one word….chickens!

“Fine!” Is my only reply.

A couple of years ago we decided to test the waters a bit with our neighbour. His house has full view of our back garden where we have our veggie patch, so anything which goes against city by-laws would need to have him on board. We were growing potatoes in a large wooden box to save on space. He asked about it one day. “What the heck is that?” Becky responded by saying it’s part of our new chicken coop. Needless to say the old timer kind of freaked out a bit. No chickens.

I’m still sure the goat plan could work. Hmmm…..how to explain things when I have to milk the goat? All plans have obstacles. The plan needs more work.

Back to cheese making. First was Feta cheese. 

   

     
Chevre fail. Next up was Chevre. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with this one. The milk just never created curds and in the end we couldn’t salvage it. The supply company where Becky bought her cheesemaking items said it’s most likely over-pastuerized milk. Of course it’s not even a consideration that it might be the pre-made starter culture packet purchased from the supplier which might be at fault. It’s frustrating to see 4 liters of milk go down the drain.

Chivo Fresco with herbs. It was delicious! I looked for a picture but due to a technical glitch I can’t add it at the moment. Maybe later. Becky was amazed at how easily this one came together and it helped to boost her cheese making confidence. 

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Stan (and Becky)

Let there be soap! …Can I eat it?

Being able to live on the homestead without an outside income can be difficult. Many homesteaders often have home-based businesses to help with this, or a regular job. By far I think many of us would rather be able to generate that income from home allowing us to be more self-sufficient.

I mentioned in a previous post about our soap making efforts. Becky and I have been busy since late December making several batches of soap. I wanted to share some of our creations with you.

More than one person who recently purchased a few bars said “Smells amazing….I want to eat them! Can I eat them?” Well, that is about the best feedback you can hope for.

I’m definitely not a photographer….but here’s what we put together.

Citrus Bliss

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A wonderful blend of Lemon and Orange essential oils. Infused with very locally grown Lemon Verbena***. Lemon rejuvenates the mind and lifts the soul. Orange revitalizes and brings cheer and happiness to the mind. Colours: Annatto Seed powder and Turmeric powder.

Pure and Simple, unscented

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For those who want the most natural soap possible, with the least amount of ingredients and no fragrance.

Lavender and Rosemary

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Extra Lavender essential oil for the true Lavender Lovers out there, combined with a gentle infusion of very locally grown Rosemary***. Lavender contains wonderful relaxing qualities. Both Lavender and Rosemary are antiseptic and healing.

Lemon Verbena

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This has quickly become a big hit and our best seller. Infused with very locally grown Lemon Verbena***, with an added boost of Lemon essential oil to rejuvenate the mind and lift the soul.

Camomile & Sweetgrass

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A delightfully relaxing infusion of these two very locally grown herbs*** along with the addition of dried Camomile flowers. Camomile calms the skin and Sweetgrass is a sacred Native herb used for its healing properties. The combination is fantastic!

Purely Rosemary

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Made from a trio of Rosemary ingredients beginning with an infusion of very locally grown*** rosemary, with the addition of rosemary essential oil, and finally ground rosemary powder*** for colour. Rosemary is known for its strong antiseptic and antioxidant properties.

Mint & Lemon Balm

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These two work so well together. Smells absolutely amazing. Crafted with infusions of locally grown Mint and Lemon Balm***. Lemon and Mint Essential oils added for an extra boost!

Enjoy your day!

Stan (and Becky)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Snow, snow, and more snow! So we took advantage of our stay at home day and made: several meals to put in the freezer for weekday lunches; chopped fruit for the next few days; made a double batch of Becky’s Killer Kimchi; and some healthy homemade granola. Add in some other regular household chores and we are both done for the night!!!!

Ah, but what about dinner? I’ve got a great idea! I’ll whip up a quick batch of Chocolate Chip cookies.

We could call it an ‘appetizer’! But the way things are going….it could be dinner! It’s not like I didn’t plan for the future…..I froze the other two dozen cookies worth of dough for another day.

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Reading, Blogging, Being Positive, and Love….Oh My!

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Reading and Blogging
In the past few weeks I think I have spent more time reading (and enjoying) other blogs than I have spent thinking about what to write in my own. But hey, why stress about it. This is suppose to be fun, right? In some ways I think this mimics my own personality. Meaning that sometimes I just love to sit, listen and observe those around me. This can sometimes be misunderstood as a lack of interest. No, No, and No. That’s not it at all. When I have something to say, I say it. Many years ago someone once described it this way “Still waters run deep.”

Now, if Becky were here to give her 2 cents at this point she would probably say something like “Watch out, because once he decides it’s time to say something you might be there for a while.” Whaaat?

It’s amazing how after so many years together I can actually hear her response in my head without her being here to say it. And, she would probably respond by saying “Good, now it’s like I can be in two places at once which is a great way to multitask!”

Here are four blogs which I have been enjoying lately.

The Kitchens Garden
Fantastic pictures! Have a look at the recent guest posts from other farmers which have been very enjoyable and where I found Brat Like Me.

The Aran Artisan

One Man and His…

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Being Positive
It’s interesting how our internal dialogue can so easily turn negative at times. I have raised this topic with several people and it’s very interesting to note that a commonality is that, for many people, negativity is the default with their internal mind chatter. I’m not even referring to the potential for spoken negativity. Which, by the way, flows from the bad internal dialogue. Which brings me to my point, why is negativity the default for so many people? Why is it such a struggle to have a positive internal dialogue? Shouldn’t the default be to think good thoughts, and negativity should be a struggle?

Why does this even matter? Now I might lose some people here because this may sound “way out there”.
Your thoughts determine how you feel….and those feelings create what you experience. Negative thoughts bring negative feelings, resulting in negative experiences. Positive internal dialogue (thoughts) generate positive feelings and positive experiences! Wow…..that’s soooo deep.

If that was too heavy for a Friday…..I will bring it back down with some talk about Love. Sure, why not! It’s February, it’s freezing out and I can’t plant anything. I can’t figure out how to order every seed in the seed catalogue because we just don’t have the space for that kind of variety….so why not write about Love.

Love and Valentine’s Day
I once worked in a job which did considerable business on Valentine’s Day. I would see mostly men come into the shop absolutely desperate to buy something…anything. Becky and I never really bought into the idea of Valentine’s Day. A bit too commercial. I wanted to share a little secret with each of these guys when they came in. “Pssst. Hey buddy, want to know something? Do nice things for her at random times throughout the year and you won’t put so much pressure on yourself on this one day. The importance of this one day is diminished. It’s better for everyone.”

Many years ago Becky said to me “Why would I want this show of Love to be limited to a single day of the year? Spread it out. It’s about the small things you do throughout the year.”

Huh? What does this mean to my man-brain trained by advertisers to believe I must buy something on Valentine’s Day? Time to get quiet again and mull this over.

Emerging from the cave like a wise sage, I now understood.

Here are a few things which I do for Becky to surround her with Love. They are not extravagant things, but they don’t need to be. On a very cold day, while she is in the shower, I will warm up her towel in the dryer and then quietly put it within arms reach. Toasty warm! Another is to send her flowers on a completely random day…just because! Or, during the summer when our peonies are in bloom, I will cut one early in the morning and leave it on her nightstand while she is still asleep. Who wouldn’t like to wake up to the scent of a peony in the air.

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Becky says she’s a lucky woman. I’m a humble guy, so I won’t say anything about that. However, sometimes I joke with her and say “Don’t all guys do these things?”

Have a great weekend!
Stan (…and Becky)

Carving

A while back I became interested in carving, particularly carving wooden spoons. It seems like such a simple every day item and I can’t explain my fascination with it. I think it has something to do with almost getting into a meditative state while I do it.

This video was part of my inspiration. I am always amazed by anyone who can do exactly what brings them joy, and make a living from it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jY2t5bIzHDY

The first spoon I carved was very small, probably 3 inches long. It eventually turned into a Christmas ornament. Our tree is filled with similarly quirky things which aren’t necessarily intended to be Christmas ornaments but are very special to us.

This mini-sized spoon, and the first full-size spoon I created, we’re both made from a big old lilac tree in our back garden which had partially fallen down during a windstorm. The wood still maintains a wonderful scent. My second spoon was made from Birch.

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After discovering this fascination with wooden spoons, Becky’s mother happened to mention that she had a couple wooden spoons made by her uncle in Greece. Both are made from Olive wood. Those spoons are over 20 years old. The strokes of his carving knife are still visible.

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In recent years I have grown fascinated by things that have been made by the hands of other people. Their energy and love is put into each item. I think people who make things with their hands will understand what I mean. It’s probably what attracted me to Pinewood Forge where I bought my first carving knife. It’s a mom and pop business making high quality carving tools. Del Stubbs and his wife Mary operate the business from their home in Minnesota. His carving knives are in such demand that there is often a six to eight week waiting period. Definitely worth the wait.

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Saving Money By Having Diverse Interests

I have wildly diverse interests. Typically this first reveals itself to the casual observer by the range of reading material I have around at any given time. Becky has grown accustomed to seeing me with a stack of books (ok, usually more than one stack!) on everything from woodworking, to baking artisanal breads, to fermenting, to understanding opera, to learning Italian, to jewelry making, to house building techniques, to Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep and Chickens (you just never know when this information will come in handy!). There might even be a seed catalogue (or 10) in the pile too!

On occasion I need to resort to audiobooks to save time because it’s just not possible for me to read that fast. Years ago I tried to learn speed reading to help in this area, but I just got bogged down in reading the how-to book.

Having a wide range of interests directly relates to your skill sets, and in turn, to saving money. The skills I have gathered over the years reflects in a large cost savings. It’s the idea of self-sufficiency that many of us pursue. I love being self-sufficient. Sometimes I surprise myself when switching from one project to the next in a short period of time. One day I’m building our new deck, and the next day I’m baking bread. On another day I find myself walking around a craft store buying supplies to make earrings as a Christmas present for Becky, then repairing a broken appliance. I love the diversity of my interests. And when I say ‘interests’, think ‘skills’.

Reading and watching homesteading blogs and videos, one thing that really stands out for me is the vast array of skills homesteaders have. I think it’s amazing. It’s something we all have in common.

I took some time recently to reflect back on how much money Becky and I have saved over the years by doing things ourselves. It’s definitely hard to come up with an accurate number, but it was fun to think back over some of the projects we have done and just how much we didn’t spend because we did it ourselves.

I’ve built decks, renovated our basement (although it took much longer than some of us at the homestead would have wished), installed dishwashers, worked on plumbing projects, put in new breaker switches into our main electrical panel, etc. etc. All of these things cost money if you have to pay someone else to do it, and often the quality of work is not always the best.

Just recently the door latch on our dishwasher (affectionately known as the Relationship Saver) broke. And it broke in the shut position. Ok, I thought to myself, if I can get it open then I can take it apart and see whats going on. I tried and tried but just couldn’t get it open. The next day before having to resort to calling a repair company I gave it one last…..whack…..jackpot!!!!

Google, Youtube, a quick visit to the manufacturers website, and a short time later I returned from the appliance parts store. New door latch assembly in hand. Another job done.

Labor costs can be the most expensive item when you build or fix something. Having a repair person come out to fix our dishwasher would have probably cost $100 in our area just for him to show up. I would guess the labor on our deck would have been around $1500-$2000. The labor on renovating our basement… Probably $5000.

So, overall, having a wide range of interests and an equally wide range of skills can be absolutely crucial in the homestead in order to save valuable money, and be self-sufficient.

This is what makes living on the homestead easier, and cheaper. It’s saved us a lot of money over the years.

Sure there have been offers to loan me out for an afternoon to build, repair, or bake, but Becky has not accepted any of those offers yet. Maybe the price just needs to go up and she’ll take some of those offers more seriously.

Stan

Our First Craft Fair

Back in November Becky and I attended our first craft fair. It was in support of the United Way so table rental fees and a donated raffle item went to charity.

Becky and I have been making earrings for about 2 years now. This started when I decided to make 3 pairs as part of Becky’s Christmas gift two years ago. One of the pairs was made from a large crystal which a family friend bequeathed to us when he lost his battle with cancer. I was able to remove two pieces small enough to create a pair of earrings for her to remember him.

Here is the full crystal….

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And it got turned into this…

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Since that time we have made and sold many pairs of earrings. During the craft fair one lovely woman who bought a pair of earrings was actually sending them to a relative in Germany. How cool!

In addition to earrings, we have also been making handcrafted soap and an amazing natural lip balm which we have been using, and decided to sell them as well. Being our first craft sale we didn’t know how people would respond to our handmade items. As it turned out the soap and lip balm disappeared very quickly with additional orders coming in after the fair. The earrings did well too, but we wish we had made more soap!

Here is what our table looked like…

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It’s interesting how things unfold. A Christmas gift of handcrafted earrings turns into selling them. The soap making also started as a gift. Last Christmas I bought Becky all the needed items to start making soap. I planned the sequence of the individual items she opened to maximize her confusion. Seemingly random items which had nothing to do with one another were slowly unwrapped. One item, which didn’t quite fit under our “stocking stuffers only” gift exchange rules, was a wooden soap mold which I made for her. It was added to the pile of strange items laid out before her until finally she unwrapped the instructions and it all made sense.

We always have lots of laughs on Christmas morning, which is the way Christmas should always begin, filled with laughter, smiles, kisses and hugs. This most recent Christmas we decided not to exchange gifts at all, and we still had a great morning filled with those same things.

That’s the long version of how we ended up making those particular items. That’s the way life is sometimes. It turns and twists, and before you know it you are at a craft fair selling things that you enjoy making and using yourself. We sure make one hell of a team!

Happy Homesteading!

Stan (and Becky)

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