Shed Updates.

One of the fun things about buying a house is that when you’re handed the keys, you are handed a blank slate. Whether that simply means you slap on a coat of paint, redecorate, or gut things, it’s your prerogative.

20140203_093555Our homestead came with four outbuildings – a barn (that needs some work), a stellar chicken coop (that we’ve revamped and filled with chickens), and two dilapidated sheds. We’ve cleaned out and filled up one of the sheds (it was a disgusting job – the former owner had used it as his duck massacring station…and had left it mid-massacre). We believe the other shed was formerly a smoke house – it’s got a chimney and rafters (currently from which snake skins hang). It’s 11 feet by 11 feet, has two windows which have been sided over, the floor is spotty in some places, and we believe it has electricity run to it (need to test that). So, what to do with this shed is a project that’s been on my mind – I’d like to un-dilapidate it and give it a new life. We’ve been tossing around ideas, but haven’t settled on anything.

These ideas include:

1. Secondary tool and gardening shed, womp, womp. This just isn’t what I want to do: have two sheds. We need something more interesting, unusual, with pizzazz.

2. Potting shed. I like this idea, but don’t really know if I need an entire shed devoted to potting – right now I already have a little outdoor potting area set up and it suits me just fine. Turning the shed into a potting shed mostly conjures up images of dank, musty, dirt. Hmph.

3. Green house retrofit. This would probably be the most work because it would require taking a significant part of the shed apart – including the roof – to replace with glass…although I guess we could do a partial roof removal. I think we’ll wait and build one from scratch, later.

4. Cozy guest house. I know, this seems impractical, especially since we have several in-house guest options. But isn’t this romantic? We could call it the The Shedroom!

5. Animal housing. On the other hand, this seems quite practical…however the shed is very close to the house and driveway, and I’d rather just keep filling the barn. W has been interested in raising rabbits, and this could be an excellent start to a large hutch/husbandry outfit. BUT I had pet rabbits growing up and just can’t imagine us venturing into rabbits for meat.

6. Restore it to it’s former glory: a smokehouse! Another one of W’s craaazy ideas. Do we need a whole structure devoted to smoking meat? Haha, I bet some of you will say “YES!” I guess if W starts hunting it would make sense…perhaps the electricity would come in handy because we could keep a chest freezer out there too.

7. Studio/craft space. Turn it into a retreat where we can craft (all those reupholstering jobs I have on my to-do list). This is rustic, re-purposed and glamorous all at once (and a tad more grande than our actual shed could probably accommodate, oh Pinterest!). I could bring my craft closet out there. I could set up my sewing machine. Buuut, then I wouldn’t be in the house, so what would my little guy do while I crafted? And if he was napping, would I really want to leave the house to go to my craft shed? Yea, no.

So, what do you think? What have you done to re-purpose an old shed or structure on your property? Any other ideas?

Thanks in advance for your input!

I’m linking up with The Prairie Homestead blog for another Homestead Barn Hop.

For Later.

The snow is beginning to fall ever so gently (I do wonder how much we’ll get!), I’ve got a cup of tea just made, WV is asleep after an excellent play date with my good friend N and her three lovlies (and the dogs are, incidentally, having doggie dreams of their own), and so I thought I’d write a few things down. I don’t know about you, but it seems there is always a long list of things to do that just don’t get done around here. So much “upkeep,” so many creative projects, so much cleaning, so much writing. I welcome any advice on how other SAHMs/WAHMs structure the day to maximize efficiency and minimize exhaustion. One thing that has consistently helped us is meal planning…I’ve popped the sausages out of the freezer for tomorrow’s dinner…but I need to go further. While WV is napping, here is a small list of things planned…

CRAFTS.
I bought 49 yards (W pointed out that’s nearly half a football field’s worth) of fabric a few weeks ago and plan to get some serious sewing done. I have a couch and a chaise to recover and want to make roman shades for our bedroom. Will post a roman shade tutorial once I’m done because have you seen what’s out there? It’s not much (or good…Martha Stewart fail). I’ll surely procrastinate by making pillows and covering ottomans. Must find some ottomans.

I’d like to make my own nursing tanks (thanks, Pinterest!). This time, I’ll be more prepared to breast feed – nursing tanks are expensive, but tank tops are cheeeeap (I’m thinking Forever 21’s $2 tanks!).

Also, it’s probably time to make some more baby wipes. I hit up garage sales in the fall for receiving blankets that I will re-purpose as such.

WRITING.
W and I both have papers we want to complete from our recent degrees – we’ve thought about instituting an evening of writing once per week. Can’t decide if it should be staggered (ie one of us plays sitter) or if we should attempt to actually enforce a bed time and then write together. I like the latter idea.

We’d also like to more consistently post on this blog, and even revamp a bit. We’ve got 25+ posts in the queue that need a few hours before being set free. One on home loans. One on soups. One on inspiration. One on frugality. Several on our kitchen renovation and discovery of a secret room in our house. Even a few that we’d like to do a follow-up with (the cloth diaper post, for example); we’ve got a lot more to share in the “babies don’t cost that much” category.

WV’s birth story. Several friends of mine are currently pregnant and have asked about WV’s birth. It didn’t go as planned, I will say. And my doula and one of my midwives have suggested I get this done so that I can focus on the birth of E in the spring, afresh and with no baggage from my first labor and delivery. I want to do it. I just find it so hard. But I will.

I’ve connected with a blogger via my {this moment} posts who interviews writers each Wednesday. I’m working on her interview questions and will be featured on her Writer Wednesday sometime this spring!

COOKING.
Do I really need to say more? I have three biscotti recipes I’ve tinkered with that I want to share. A smattering of soups. And W is interested in branching out in the bread making department – his standard sandwich bread is like my quiche: memorized. Time to expand.

AROUND THE HOMESTEAD.
Oh, how the proverbial “to do” list on a homestead is a bottomless pit. Our number one priority is fencing. Lot’s of fencing. Some Morman friends I’ve made will be helping us when the ground isn’t frozen.

Make contact. We have several neighbors we need to drop in on to get to know better and to pick their brains.

Then there are lesser needs like: “what to do with the old smoke-house” (it’s a big shed…anyone? anyone?) and to prep the barn for goats and a milk cow I’ve already named Tallulah.

We also have to finish the kitchen.

Inspired by Wendell Berry, and many others, I must exclaim: homesteading requires you to be, at any given moment and all at once, an artist, an animal psychologist, a chef, an electrician, a gambler, a good neighbor, a plumber, a scientist, an even more sleep-deprived parent, a solver, a weather watcher, and a lover (and finder) of small victories.

Ok, nap over.
What’s on your to-do list? Good luck!

I’m linking up with The Prairie Homestead blog for another Homestead Barn Hop.

Fill-The-Barn-Fever

W and I are serious about using our new home and land to homestead, as it aligns with so many of our personal values. In and of itself, a complete (and long!) post, so I will leave the “why” for later and get straight to the point: we got pigs. Yep, sweet, little, strong-willed piggies. Frankly (haha), on my part, I’m sure being pregnant opens up a depth in my heart where things which before were cute now are achingly so, so I don’t pretend to be absolutely level headed about them (for example, I’d entertain knitting them a sweater, as per the influence of my friend N). I’ve got W for the level-headed part, and he was the one who found the Craigslist ad.

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We’ve been planning on adding a milk cow and perhaps a steer to raise for meat to our burgeoning livestock, and almost did, this past weekend. But I messed up the time we were supposed to meet the farmer and later, some breed advice from W’s brother’s girlfriend, who is in vet school, made us happy we did. She pointed out that the two breeds we were to pick from – Jersey and Holstein – were notorious for unpredictability in males or used for meat by Taco Bell. Clearly, neither of which we wanted. We’re still looking, and plan on talking to our nearest neighbor, who has about 20 head of mixed colored cows and steers. We learned quickly from a chicken acquaintance that we definitely don’t want the trouble of raising a bull (our initial idea, we’re learning here) just to mate with a cow and then use for meat – there are far easier AI options; we’ll ask our neighbor.

Saturday night, W showed me an ad he found while browsing CL and the pig idea was born (did I ever doubt we’d get a pig eventually?). We spent precious hours in the wee part of the morning doing extensive research on the breeds and found they – Guinea Hogs and Kunekune – are literally the gentlest pigs you can find. The Kunekune is a New Zealand breed, which is exciting to me because, as some of you know, all of my graduate field work was in New Zealand and I have a great affection for the country. Both Heritage Breeds are exceptional for raising as family pigs because of their temperament and because they are not porkers, so to speak – they are smaller than the average hog.

We drove out to the farm in Providence Forge; 4 acres of happy pigs with a trailer in the middle. The older couple who lived there were so nice and pleasant and very knowledgeable – giving us lots of tips and tricks on where to get free bedding shavings, bread, and milk for their feed. All their pigs were named, and the woman kept saying things like, “Violet, stop shoving,” and “Stella where are you?- S-T-E-E-E-E-L-A?!?” Her ad had said that they only had 15- and 8- week old males, no females, but it turned out they did have females, and we on-the-spot retooled our plans: get a breeding pair (the litters were unrelated), and keep them to breed. We’ll keep a pig or two from their litters for meat and sell the rest.

20140120_082836Three days in and we’re in love. For now they are situated in our large chicken yard/coop (they are very social breeds and enjoy inter-species company). The little boy is twice as big (15-week litter) than the little girl and much more headstrong. He lives for corn treats and will not stop “snurffling” me until I give them to him (he figured out right quick there’s always corn in my pocket). The little girl eagerly follows him around, wagging her little piggy tail, and paying attention to the finer details – where he uses his snout, she uses her brain.

On their first full day here WV and I went to play with them early in the morning. We ended up panting over our misadventures. According to what I had read, they are natural and adept foragers, preferring grass in most cases to other food (perfect, we have a lot of grass and intend to fence off an acre to be used by them and the goats that are a-comin’). “Oh, I’ll let them out and they can follow us around on our usual red wagon rides while eating grass.” Wrong. The internet lied. And piglets are not kittens (oops!). They preferred freedom to grass and lit out across the field towards the woods with downright surprising speed! Dang, little piggies can run! I saw our investment melting away should they reach the forest, so I hauled my pregnant you-know-what after them, managing to reach them at our property line, and herd them back up the slope. Thank goodness I had corn in my pocket. We need a fence.

20140120_152028So, welcome to our new little piggies, Abe R’Ham and Beth L’Ham. We’re so glad you can help fill our barn with endless hours of amusement and generations of sweet little piggies, just like yourselves.

We’re linking up with The Prairie Homestead blog for her Homestead Barn Hop today! Head on over there for great recipes and self-sufficiency tips.

If you give your landlord a (positive) lead-based paint test…

If you give your landlord a (positive) lead-based paint test…you know, the home-test kind that you get from Lowes, that they said we probably didn’t need anyway because we should be “fine” since we’re so far removed from the 70’s when it was banned, but then 2 out of 3 tests come back positive, they probably will get a real testing company to come and audit your house (like you’d wondered if they’d ever done in the first place and asked about). And they’re gonna find lead paint. Of course. Which means, naturally, you’ll get kicked out, because now you’re a liability to them.

Ok, I can’t keep this trope from the children’s book alive, but suffice it to say, we’re being kicked out of our home of 8 years.

This has caused me/we to be: 1) In a ridiculously stressed out frenzy, searching high and low for an adequate (short-term) or excellent (long-term) place, 2) A terrible friend – b/c if you thought I was in a baby-induced sleep deprivation walking coma, you should see me now (I found the computer mouse in the tub the other day, my cell phone in the fridge, and let’s just say I haven’t cleaned up dog puke I noticed three days ago), 3) Very sad. Our sanity is suffering, right along with our garden (weed-choked; haven’t even had the heart to post our glorious garden info, since now it’s all moot), our pets (no special walks), and our plans for WV’s first birthday. 4) An insomniac. When WV goes down, we should sleep riiiight? Nope, the wheels just keep spinning around our plight and we’re tired. Very tired. 5) Very familiar with lead paint test kits, detection, remediation, exposure… I just have to hope there will be a silver lining to this unfortunate situation – we’ll find a place, a better place, and karma will bite our landlords in the butt big time.

There are many behind-the-scenes details, as with any story. For instance, they gave us the news via email. We’ve all been tested for lead poisoning, with levels of lead found in our blood that indicate exposure but do not alarm our Dr. enough to start any kind of treatment. We’re eating lots of calcium-rich foods, which is the best way to self-chelate. And although I would like to say more (alot of it involving expletives), I think I’ll wait ’till this situation is behind us, for prudence’s sake. So, alas, our time on this road named after a communist island, and in this house we’ve made a home is short. We’re going to take this mini-homestead, drop it somewhere else and make a ripple effect. MexicanNights 003

All the Chickie Ladies

This post is about chickens. Our chickens. The Chickie Ladies, as we call them. Imagine, instead of “Single Ladies,” Beyonce singing, “All the Chickie Ladies, all the Chickie Ladies…” and then where she says, “Oh, oh, ohhh, oh-oh, oh, ohoh, oh, o-oh-oh oh,” insert, “Bouck, bouck, bouuuuck, bouck-bouck, bouck, bouckbouck, bouck b-bouck-bouck buk.” You’re welcome. P1050419

Now then.

We’re one legit step closer to homesteading. This spring, we made the leap from store/farmer’s market-bought eggs to having our own dang chickens!!!! There is nothing finer, nothing I tell you, than holding a warm, fresh egg from a chicken you know. This former NYC girl is beside herself.

Our very chill new neighbors (who rent from the same landlords) asked us if we’d like to go in on a chicken coop and chickens, and of course we jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t think our landlords would say yes, having been struck down a few years ago in the same department when I asked if I could convert the battered shed in our yard into a chicken coop. They said no then, their intention to fix the shed P1050550…but, that, ah, never happened. We got clearance to use our (unused) large outdoor dog cage to house chickens instead. Over a few evenings we pieced together a coop using old scrap wood, pieces of torn apart pallets, and some chicken wire.

Concurrently, W and I browsed craigslist like (chicken)hawks and chicken swaps for some hens. Lots of people sell chickens on Craigslist, but we were being picky. We found our first Chickie Lady, to the right, at a swap in Toano – for $13. Colleen is a broody black and white hen (she’s a Dominique). She loves to say in a low chortle, “Buuuuuuuuck, buck, buguuuuuuck” and keeps everyone else in line.

K, our neighbor, found a woman at VIMS who was getting rid of pullets her granddaughter was not taking good care of, so we went out to her farm and picked up 4. P1060178The woman had reserved 3 for us but indicated that another, who was deformed, was going to perish. Instead, we convinced her we could take it and give it a dignified life…now “Leggy” as we call her (this is why), is a spunky member of our flock, has the sweetest personality and comes limping over enthusiastically to wiggle under our feet and get pets. She appears to be a Dominique as well. The other three pullets were all white with a few black feathers, but have since developed brown on the outlines of their breast feathers. I have no idea what type of chicken they are – thoughts? They stick together like nobody’s business, these three stooges, are super curious, to the point of taking on Ima (one of our labs) through the cage mesh, and come running like little friendly Compys from Jurassic Park to greet me when I walk out the front door with veggie scraps, “Heeeeey, Ladies!”

We rounded out the bunch with three hens from a swap in P1060145Gloucester – literally, the last three hens left for sale in Gloucester who weren’t either 1) stuck inhumanely in a cage with 100 other chickens, pecking each other to bits or 2) paired with a rooster. We don’t need no stinkin’ rooster. We saw them all in a cage together and asked the lady standing with them about them. She said her son was really the chicken person on the farm, and he’d be right back and could tell us more. I’m imagining an early-20’s fellow, her son, who helps around the farm. Up strides an 8-year-old who proceeds to expound matter-of-factly and in great detail about them – which one likes to try flying, how to catch them as the sun goes down, and what size of egg to expect. He was adorable. We kept his names, Bootsy (all white), Summer (brown and white) and Maple (brown). Maple is a skittish girl (although that 8-year-old deftly caught her without so much as a squawk or a P1060056lost feather), and is the only Chickie Ladie that I can’t catch. Her elusive ways are funny to watch. Bootsy and Summer are kinda dumb.

We get between 2-4 eggs a day, which will ramp up when the pullets mature. We split the eggs, feed costs, and upkeep of the cage with our neighbors. All 8 Chickie Ladies head into the coop in the evening and one of us manages to remember to we lock ’em up by dark and then let them out in the morning. It’s a rad set up and WV is totally fascinated with their antics. We have a little game where I make them jump for berries – it makes him laugh! I’m want him to understand from a very young age how to care for animals, how special it is to know where our food comes from. He certainly loves to eat their eggs!

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