Category Archives: Homestead Life

Bluebirds of Happiness

We have bluebirds!

About a year ago, the girls and I built bluebird houses following plans found online. (This is a really good website all about bluebirds and how to make houses for them with lots of different types of plans for houses.)

We modified the plans a bit to use materials we had on hand (mainly just swapping out black ABS pipe for the thinner PVC pipe called for on the plans), but basically we used the plans for the Gilbertson PVC house.

But we made them too late in the season and nothing ever nested in them. But this year they are fighting over them!

Yep, we have at least two “couples” who are arguing over who gets to build their nest in one of the houses. The cool thing is that one of the couples are Western Bluebirds and the other couple are Mountain Bluebirds.

Blue arrows are the Western and white arrows are the Mountain

Looks like the Westerns are winning as they are the ones I see perched on the roof all the time.

The bad thing is that this little coop that it is attached to is actually occupied this year with chicks. That means we go out there several times a day to check on and interact with the chicks. I hope it’s not too much human activity for the bluebirds.

Luckily, the door to access the chicks in on the opposite side from the bluebird house.

Here’s some pictures of us building the boxes last year.

Marked the inside rim of the pipe onto the board to make the bottom plug

Fits great

Nearly perfect. Notice the hole in the middle, along with not fitting 100% perfectly around the edges will allow for drainage if water somehow gets inside.

Drilling a hole to be able to screw in the bottom plug without cracking the plastic pipe.

Scraping the rough edges

Also cut holes near the top as vent holes.

Smoothing out the edges even more.

Checking for proper depth and hole size.

More smoothing

Placing the hanging block.

Attaching everything together. It is all upside down at the moment.

Painting it so it’s not so dark, thus not so hot in the sun.

Taa daa! Installed on our little brooder coop.

And the other one hung on the outhouse. Not sure if anyone is scoping that one out or not.

It was a fun little project, and we are excited that a bluebird family is moving in this year. We plan to have lots more birdhouses around the property as homes for our feathery friends!

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How we do this Off-Grid thing

So you all know we live “off-grid” on our homestead in our trailers and are building our house to be off-grid as well.

But what does that mean?

It does not mean that we are completely independent from modern conveniences. I mean, I do drive a vehicle (more than I want to, I admit). We heat our trailers with propane. And there are times our little temporary solar system just does not cut it and we need to run the generator to charge the batteries. Like when the sun hasn’t come out for days.

Or, like today, when we did have some sun, but I didn’t get laundry out on the line in time for it to dry and needed to use the generator to run the clothes dryer.

It’s times like this that I’m very glad for modern conveniences like generators and the gasoline needed to run them.

Big generator pulled up to the well shed to run the dryer

Our washer can run on our small solar system, but the dryer requires more power.

BTW this is how we vent the dryer. We don’t want to put a hole in the shed wall since this is temporary until we can move the washer and dryer into the house. We also route the washer drain out this window.

So, yeah, for us, living off-grid does not mean that we do not rely on the grid. We are not one of those families who live in the wilderness, eating only what we can hunt or gather or grow, heating our house only with wood we can gather, etc. Not by a long shot!

But it does mean that we produce about 90% of our daily (not construction) power needs through our solar system. (And once we are living in the house it will be even more since our solar system will be larger.) And we stock up on propane and gasoline when the storms are threatening. It means that in an emergency situation, we could live quite comfortably for quite a while. And in a long term situation, we could get by without the backup generators if we ran out of gas. Yeah, it might mean not watching TV, and having to do essential bits of laundry by hand and hanging it to dry in front of the fire in the house, but we’d get by till the sun came back out. Way better than most people who rely completely on the grid. For us, it’s about being as self sufficient as is feasible in our current lifestyle. I also like the idea that by using mostly solar power, we are reducing our carbon footprint.

Now, to just get this house built so that we can focus on producing our own food again and be even more sustainable. 😁

A little bit of winter fun

Every winter, we look forward to the right conditions to use our old fashioned runner sled.

Check out our YouTube channel to see a short video of Flower Girl and I going for a ride.

While you’re there, be sure to subscribe to our channel. We don’t post videos very often, so you don’t want to miss a single one. 😄

Homemade Canned Mushroom Soup

I shared about my accident in my last post. I am feeling a bit of improvement, but still in quite a bit of pain.

Tonight I was home alone for the first time since hurting myself and had to get my own dinner. As much as I love the idea of fresh homemade foods, the convenience of canned goods just can’t be beat. Besides, it’s the middle of winter, and if it’s a veggie and it ain’t canned, it’s a lot harder (and more expensive) to get.

So tonight, I popped open a can of organic vegetable soup, heated it on the stove, and had myself some dinner.

As I was eating, I was thinking about how in the future I want to always make sure to have pre-made homemade canned soup available, not just the ingredients for soup.

And that got me thinking about the time when we lived in Oregon when I made canned mushroom soup. I was looking for a healthier version of canned condensed cream of mushroom soup. What I learned is that you can’t really make it “cream of” anything in a home kitchen since dairy cannot be safely canned. But you can can a broth soup and add cream to it when you use it. So I set out to make a mushroom soup that I could turn into cream of mushroom when the need arose.

Note: this is not a good substitute for traditional condensed cream of mushroom soup. The flavor is not quite the same, and it takes quite a bit of work to get it to thicken up if you’re looking for the consistency of the creamy stuff straight out of the can. But I will say that the flavor of this chunky mushroom soup far surpasses any of that condensed stuff. And is a wonderful soup to just heat and eat on it’s own. Once I have a full size kitchen with more time on my hands for food preservation (you know, when we’re not building a house), I plan to make more of this and do more experiments to work on thickening it for those times I do want the creamy stuff.

Note # 2: this is a canning recipe, but it’s not a canning tutorial. Pressure canning is pretty easy to learn (I learned just by reading the instruction manual when we bought our canner), so if you don’t know how, do a bit of research so you understand your canner before attempting to can anything in it.

Homemade Canned Mushroom Soup

Makes: 12ish pints

Ingredients:

  • 3lbs mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 large onion – diced
  • 3Tbl minced garlic
  • 2tsp thyme
  • 16+ cups chicken* stock/bone broth (bonus points if you make your own!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*I suppose you could use whatever type of broth you want, actually, if you have a preference. 😁

Combine mushrooms, onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and 1 cup of the chicken stock in a pot. Bring to a boil and cook till mushrooms and onions are cooked well. Heat remaining chicken stock in a separate pot.

Spoon ½ cup mushroom mixture into hot, sterilized jars. Fill remaining space in each jar with hot chicken broth, leaving 1 inch headspace. Put on lids and process in a pressure canner for 45 minutes at 10lbs pressure (adjusting for altitude).

To make into cream of mushroom, open a jar of processed mushroom soup and pour ½ cup into a pot, add 2Tbl your favorite thickening flour and stir till the flour is fully incorporated. Place on heat and cook till thickened, stirring often (this is called a roux I believe). Add about ½ cup of cream to the roux and stir constantly as it heats up and thickens. Once the roux/cream mixture thickens, add the remainder of the soup to the pot and heat through. If you want it thicker, cook it longer.

Ok, now I really want to make some more of this to have on the shelf. Hmmmm…maybe once I hit that point in my recovery where I can do light activity but can’t get back to construction yet I’ll take a day and make some of this, full-size kitchen or not! Yummmm.

What recipes are your go-to for stocking the pantry with healthier alternatives to store bought essentials?

-Maridy

Goals for the New Year

We’re not so different than most people this time of year. We eagerly make our goals, we start out with determination, we work hard to accomplish them.

Besides the obvious goal of completeing the house (which barring any more major set backs looks totally doable by summer time), we have quite a few other goals for the homestead and in our personal lives.

One of our goals for the homestead is to get rid of this junk wood.

It’s right at the entrance to our property and looks uuuuugly! I want it gone!

One of the personal goals I have is to work on getting my legs back in shape. I want to start backpacking again and right now, my knees could not handle that. Especially with the injury I sustained this summer.

Remember that?

Laid up with a bum knee in June 2018

Yeah, not fun.

So, I have mapped out a one mile route from our trailer, around the house, up the upper driveway and around Castle Rock and back.

The girls and I will be walking this route every day for a while, then we’ll find a way to extend it and build up our miles as our muscles build up. We will also be taking longer hikes once a week, and this summer I want to go on a couple of backpacking trips.

And while this goal is not specifically about homesteading, I love, love, love that I can walk an entire mile on my own property (well, mostly – part of the driveway is technically on our right-of-way on the neighbor’s property). Also, staying in shape is going to help out with gardening and animal care, etc as we get back into that. Especially on this hilly property, and especially as we get older (I turned 40 last month, so I’m feeling my age a bit). It’s the only way to be even somewhat sustainable here. We gotta stay in shape!

Also, I share this with you all to help hold myself accountable. As all the success gurus tell us, writing a goal down and sharing it with others makes you more likely to follow through.

So, there we are. Building a house. Daily walks. De-junkifying the property. Oh, and I want to have a small garden this year. And chicks! I need some cute little baby chicks in my life once again. And through it all, teaching Flower Girl to read, taking some fun school outings, working my summer job, a big family vacation in July that’s been in the works for a few years now, and of course, deepening my relationship with the Lord.

I’m excited just thinking about it all!

What are some of your goals for 2019?

Happy Holidays!

Here’s our biggest and best gift this Christmas…

Our wood stove was installed earlier than expected!

This has been a game changer! Not only is the house nowhere near ready to install a furnace, but we plan to heat nearly exclusively with wood, so having this system installed and usable is amazing.

Since we were closing in on Christmas and were loving just hanging out by the stove, we moved some of our collected free furniture into a living room of sorts.

I was even able to spread out for wrapping Christmas gifts. So nice after the last couple of years of using my bed as a table to wrap.

We collected a bunch of junk wood that we had laying around and cut it down to length. I jokingly said that this pile would last us a day or two, and I wasn’t too far off.

With as cold as it was and as small as this wood was, and as little insulated as the house is with gaps still here and there, we went though that wood very quickly.

But it kept us warm enough that we decided to have our Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and day celebrations in the house.

Our first Christmas in our house!

We moved our tiny tree and stockings from the trailer and put them on the scaffold. 😊

And the girls spent Christmas Eve night and Christmas night on the pulled out hide-a-bed. The first people to sleep in our house!

We woke up Christmas morning to a slightly white Christmas. We normally get the majority of our snow in January and February.

So it was magical to have snow on Christmas.

And then we had a good friend give us some actual real firewood.

This stuff burns much slower. It is great to put a few logs on and not have to feed it again for several hours.

On New Year’s Day, we are hosting a movie marathon and we’ll all be down in the house. All because of a wood stove.

So nice!

I hope you all are having a great holiday season, no matter how you celebrate.

Happy Holidays.

House update: Interior Framing!

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. The start of interior framing means that our house is beginning to look like a house.

We haven’t gotten very far yet, but it’s started!

So, as a reminder, the frame and exterior shell of our house is basically a metal warehouse/shop type building.

On the inside

In order to support our second floor/loft, and to have something to attach sheetrock to on the inside, we have to build a 2×4 wall inside the metal frame. It gets attached to the metal frame with brackets and everything is nice and solid and tied together at that point.

Lay-out:

So, on October 24th, our contractor friend – who helped us get our foundation laid – came back to help us lay out our interior framing. (That means measuring where the walls are going to go and marking them on the floors.)

As I write that, I realize it’s been over a month and a half since we started framing, and we don’t have a lot to show for it. But there have been a lot of small things to try to figure out as we go along, birthdays and holidays and sick days and mental health days.

*Sigh*

I guess that’s how it goes when you are an owner-builder. If you’re not doing it, it doesn’t get done. Oh well, we have quite a bit of forward momentum now. Let hope we can keep it up.

Prepping:

Once we had the walls marked out on the floor and could get accurate measurements, we started cutting sill plates and top plates and studs.

First Wall!:

After we had done more prep work, we started actually forming the walls. We chose the front wall first so we could get in a door asap to close off the gaping hole in our building.

We framed the walls on the floor first.

Nearly there. Just a bit more work needed to frame in the window above the front door.

Time to raise it! Mr Contactor had a winch to use, so just the two of us were able to get this entire wall into place.

In fact, I made a little video of the process. (This is my first time trying to embed a video into a blog post, so bear with me if it doesn’t work.)

Ta-da!

The shape looks funny because the right hand side will have a second story on it…eventually.

Front door:
After we secured that wall to the metal frame, it was time to install the front door!

In the picture below, I marked where the eventual doors and windows will be cut and placed. It’s gonna be so nice…eventually!

Not nearly all the windows we’re gonna need, but it’s a start!

Then we put the front door into place to test-fit it.

Then moved it back out of the way and applied a thick seal of silicone under the threshold.

Then placed it again, shimmed it, tinkered with the fit for a while, screwed it into place, and now have a fully functioning front door!

Ta-da!

We eventually stuffed insulation around it to stop the drafts.

But it is a beautiful sight to behold.

More walls:

If I were making a video, the next section would be a montage of us putting up more walls. My brother and sis-in-law and her family came on a couple different evenings to help build then raise a couple more walls. (Though the first wall of this montage was was completely built and raised by Hubs, Princess Girl, and myself.)

Made a mistake in the placement of this anchor bolt and had to cut it off. We will replace it in the proper location later.

Even my brother’s dog, Tsunami, came to help. 😁

My studly hubby

Just cleaning up some sawdust so it’s not slippery under foot when we go to raise this wall.

We were not sure how heavy this wall would be to lift, so we wanted to add a bit of safety. We created a pulley type system where the wall was attached at the top by a rope, through an eye bolt in the ceiling, to our other (anchored) wall with a friction device used in climbing. This way, if things went terribly wrong, at least the wall wouldn’t come crashing down on our heads.

Our safety mechanism.

Princess Girl was in charge of taking up the slack and locking the rope as we raised the wall. She was “belaying” the wall just like we do with a climber at the ropes course!

With 5 of us lifting, we “accidentally” lifted the wall into place.

No, seriously, we didn’t really mean to do it. We we’re waiting on Bro and SIL to get there so we’d have a couple more hands and the five of us (Hubs, SIL’s mom and 2 brothers, and I) decided to “just see how heavy it was going to be.” And, fwoop, there it went.

Yes, that’s the actual sound it made.

“Fwoop.”

At least in my mind. 😁

I didn’t have the cameras ready or anything. So I took this “staged” shot of the 4 of then holding the wall in place after it was already standing.

Once we got the wall secured in a few places…

we called it a night and had dinner and just sat around chatting for the next 2 hours. 😁

Then we spent another evening or two putting in all the braces and fixing some areas we had messed up on (more on that later).

One thing we did do is buy a scaffold. It has already come in SO handy, and will continue to for quite some time to come.

And that’s where we are at right now.

Winter hit here in Northern Nevada and the temperatures dropped substantially. Though there is some insulation on the building, it is not a lot, and without a heat source, insulation doesn’t help a whole lot anyway. So the temps inside the house were getting down into the 30’s and not warming up. We had a snow storm come through and then we stayed cloudy for 10 whole days! That is almost unheard of here in the high desert. When the sun doesn’t come out, things don’t warm up. On top of that, Flower Girl got sick, and I could feel my body fighting a cold, so we decided that until something changes, we’re not going to stress over working in the house.

Besides, who wants to be building when there’s cookies to be made?

But, things are looking up. The sun has come back out (yay!) and, a huge piece of news, our wood stove is going to be installed next week! Yay! Yay! Yay! We will soon have a source of heat in the house, and will have no more excuses not to get rocking and rolling once more.

(Except…cookie baking, fudge making, present wrapping, feast eating…!)

We are so excited to get that stove in and have real heat in the house so we can keep on working (maybe after Christmas?). It’s going to be so. Very. Nice! What a great Christmas present!