Homestead update: not a lot of progress in the last two months

So, last I wrote about the house, we were still waiting on contractors to come finish the siding and roof. Our house sat with only 1½ walls for 4 months till the new contractors finally fit us into their schedule. They finally started and I jumped in to help on a particularly windy day. In the process of helping, I learned how to do it.

So when some unavoidable delays happened again, we decided to take matters into our own hands.

Brushing off the dirt from the panels

And there were were, a family of rock stars who put the preliminary insulation, and siding up on 1½ of our walls, all by ourselves.

But then…

Before the contractors could come back and start on the roof, there was some trim work that needed to be done. And we REALLY wanted that roof. So, we continued working sun up to sun down in a push to get ready for the contractors.

With the help of some good friends

This picture makes me so happy. I love that my girl is old enough to be a huge help, but also to really remember this awesome adventure we get to have as a family.

We got the trim all on and it was time for the roof.

But first…

Yep, that’s a fire pit. INSIDE our house. How many of you can say you’ve done that?

And then the day finally came that the roof started going on!

Oh Happy day!

Pajii got to help!

Finally! The roof was on, but there was still a bit of trim work to do before we no longer had the equipment. So once again, my brother and sis-in-law jumped in to help out.

And then it was done, done!

We still have to cut in the doors and windows, but at least it’s “dried in”.

So the exterior structure of our house was done. And so was I!

This is what happens when you hurt your knee but don’t really take the time to slow down and heal. It keeps getting worse until it’s so bad you can’t walk on it any more!

So, I was laid up for about a week, waiting for my knee to heal well enough that I could get back to work.

But in the meantime, we had one more job to do with that equipment.

Putting in our cistern tank.

But let me back up…

Last summer, we needed to rent a large excavator to widen our garage pad. We also dug the hole and trench for our cistern system (say that three times fast!). A cistern is a fancy way of saying a water tank. This one is specifically a holding tank that we will fill with our well water and use as the water for our house. Being off grid, this is the best system.

But in order to get the tank in the hole, we needed to prep the hole and run the line for the water.

Remember the part I said the hole and trench were dug last year?

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. And this picture is after Pajii had cleared all the big rocks out! But that entire trench had to be bedded in sand for the pipe to lay on. And how do you get dirt up a 175 foot long trench that is 3+ feet deep and only 2 feet wide?

With buckets. Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of buckets full of sand! In fact, that’s how I hurt my knee, all the way back at the beginning of June. Carrying those heavy buckets (each one weighs roughly 40lbs when full!)

And where were we getting the sand for most of the job?

From our own sand pit, of course. We bedded and covered nearly a hundred feet of pipe on a very steep hillside by “mining” sand from our property. A lot of extra work, but it was free, and we had the time (we were still waiting for the contractors at the point.)

So fast forward several weeks. The contractors came and went and we had abandoned the trench prep in lieu of working on the house (because, priorities), I had begun to heal from my knee injury, and we were looking forward to finishing the cistern and starting the next phase of the journey.

But that was not God’s plan. My Dad’s health took a drastic turn for the worse and it became apparent that he should no longer be living alone, and therefore, his house on the other end of town needed to be sold. So, very reminiscent of when we dropped everything and moved to Oregon in 2014 to care for Hub’s ailing mom, we dropped nearly everything to care for my ailing dad and get his house ready to sell.

That was at the end of June. It took two months, but I’m happy to say, PopPop is now settled in here with us (in his own trailer), his house is in escrow, and we only have one more load to bring home from his house.

But in the midst of all that, we needed to finish the cistern. And we needed to do it quick. We had already put in so much work to it, that to leave it at the mercy of the elements was just stupid. So, while we still had the equipment we used for the siding on the house, we put in the cistern. Then we had to bring in load after load of DG (saving us the time and effort of shoveling it from our own property). But, how do you get the DG from the trailer on the road, down 15+ feet to the hole that the cistern is in?

That’s right, some of our roofing and siding scraps. The sand just slid right in. Quite ingenious, if I do say so myself.

And so easy, a 5 year old could do it.

Then it was another while before we could get it finished. That entailed hooking up the supply pipes, etc to the tank.

Hubs is inside the tank, putting holes in it!

Starting to fill in the hole to cover the tank

And that brings us up pretty much to the present. Here’s an updated picture of the dianthus bush I planted.

The dianthus has not done too well in our hot summer, but the alyssum, petunias, zinnias, and marigolds that I planted around it have just about taken over!

And we’ve got another broody hen who has been sitting on golf balls for 5 days. I put 9 fertile eggs under her this evening. This will be hen #6 that we’ve tried to get to set till the eggs hatch. It has been misadventure after misadventure. But I’ve learned a lot and have great hopes that this clutch of eggs will be the one!

We did have two chicks hatch from our very first broody hen of the season.

I’m not sure why only two of the 7 eggs survived. Of those other 5 eggs, one chick was half hatched, three were fully formed as far as I could tell but had died before hatching, and one had gone rotten from the beginning of the brood. But I was totally excited to get two of our very own, completely home grown chicks! Too bad they both turned out to be boys. 🙄😒

And now, for the truly, truly up-to-date update:

We’ve started working on the Septic System: Phase 2! By the end of the week, we should have a complete septic system. Hallelujah!

Using a friend’s transit level to lay out the septic field.

The middle one of the three required leach lines marked out.

And today, we started cutting the trenches. But that’s another post for another time. Right now, I am t-i-r-e-d. And we still have at least another two hard days of work till we can call for inspection.

Nighty night. Don’t work too hard!

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Landscaping

(Edit: 8/28/18 I wrote this post over three months ago. Today, while looking at my writing app, I see the little word “draft”. I had never published it! Silly me! So without further ado…)

Imagine your house (either the one you currently live in or one you have lived in at some point). Now imagine if all the land surrounding that house was bare ground. Now throw in a bagillion rocks, and a few weeds here and there for good measure. Not a pretty thought, is it? Kinda depressing?

That’s how I feel about the land immediately surrounding our house. Yes, it’s understandable since it is a construction zone. But that doesn’t make me any happier when I look at it.

So, while I was delayed on working on the actual house, I decided to do something about the landscaping.

When the house pad was cut, it left behind a fairly steep hill of barren, rocky soil. But in my mind’s eye, I see beautiful terraces, filled with edible and decorative plants that provide beauty and habitat all year long.

When we had the backhoe last fall, I did the rough (and I do mean rough) cut of the terraces. This spring I have slowly been building the terrace walls.

The stairs were built out of railroad timbers we had on the property. The rocks are all native to within 50 feet of right there!

I completed this triangular section first because that is going to be Pajii’s area and I wanted him to feel like he could plant if he wanted to. Besides, it was the easier section to do!

A friend of ours came by one afternoon to help out with stacking rocks.

The circled rock in the picture below was just one of several 100lb boulders I needed to dig out and move.

All of the whiteish rocks below it are the rocks I piled under it when I levered it up, until I could roll it out of the hole.

In the picture below you can see the completed terraces on the right of the steps, and the not-yet-started hillside to the left. The huge boulders were dug out of the hillside where our well is now. They were placed in such a way as to become part of the landscaping. There are several more that you can’t even see just to the left, and many more that got used as a retaining wall over by where our garage will go.

So I got a bit of the terraces done on the left side of the stairs, and while at the hardware store, succumbed to an impulse buy of a dianthus bush. I just loved the color of the flowers and the fact that they are supposed to bloom from spring all the way till fall!

So, I had to find a place to plant them.

The very first plantings in the terraces. 😄

I also decided to pick up a few more landscaping plants that I know I want. And as the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago. But seeing as how I’m not (quite) even 40 years old yet, I figure the best time to plant is now.

Lilac

Red Haven peach tree

Double Delight tea rose 🌹

The first bloom on the rose bush

I also bought some annuals to plant in pots around our trailer to pretty things up a bit.

Our fruit trees that we planted last year are doing well. The cherry trees blossomed out in late April and I thought for sure they’d be killed by a frost.

Cherry blossoms with Mason bee 🐝 busy pollinating

And they almost were! We were surprised by a light frost at the very end of April. Not that it’s unusual to freeze that late, but all of the forecasts said we were going to stay above freezing that whole week. But everything seemed to be ok despite the freeze. The next night was supposed to get nearly as cold, so we decided to play it safe.

The apple trees wrapped against the cold look like weird lollipops.

Apple blossoms

Yesterday, I checked on the cherry trees, and lo and behold, they’re loaded!

And last but not least, we bought some native/locally adapted plants from the state nursery and will find places for them to go once the terraces are completed.

For now, we have been busy trying to finish up the septic system. But we’re almost done with that, then I again won’t have anything to do, so I will go back to the terraces.

Now, remember that house you thought about at the beginning of this post? Think of all the bushes and trees and flowers that actually do surround it. Are there any that you’ve ever thought, “If I had been in charge, I would not have planted that”?

Well, guess what. We are in charge of everything that gets planted here on our land. It’s actually rather exciting to be building our land from the ground up. While it is a lot (a lot) of hard work, it’s awesome to be able to make it how we want it and only have to deal with what nature handed us, not what other people thought was a good idea. And so far, with the exception of the dianthus, I’ve put quite a bit of thought into the plants I’ve chosen.

One day, it’s going to be beautiful!

House update: septic system, phase 1

We are STILL waiting on the contractor to come and finish siding and roofing the house. So in the meantime, we’ve been working on the septic system. I posted last time about how I was trying to find the strength and willpower to get started on that project. Well, I am happy to report that phase 1 is just about finished!

Phase 1 = hooking up the sewer system from the house to the septic tank.

Phase 2 = the sewer system from the septic tank to the leach field. We haven’t even started this phase yet. It requires renting an excavator, etc.

But we are feeling accomplished at the progress we have made. Especially since we’ve been doing all the backfill, etc by hand. No machines. It takes a while, but it doesn’t cost money.

Ok, well, technically we’ve had to buy DG (decomposed granite, which is a type of sand) to surround the septic tank, but other than that, it’s been free. In fact, we got some other fill dirt for just the price of gas to go get it.

We did get some help on the septic trench. My nephew and his wife came to town and we put them to work!

Actually, they wanted to help. And now whenever we get to use our toilet, we’ll be able to thank them for helping. 😁

We have a sand pit on the property that we were initially mining sand from to bed the septic pipe in.

And it was working just fine, but it was a very slow process as we could only get small amounts of sand at a time. But it allowed us to start the process. And as we all know, starting is half the battle.

My helper

Test fitting

Raising strong a woman

.

More sand, and another strong woman in the making

Not too long after the above pictures were taken, we decided we needed to move along a bit (or a lot) faster, so we decided to purchase sand to bed the pipe and surround the tank in.

Love, love, love Pajii’s dump trailer!

Gluing the pipe! It’s always an exciting time when you get to play- uh, I mean work, with glue!

I’d never worked with this particular type of sewer pipe before. It has a rubber gasket instead of using glue. It makes getting the pipes together a bit tricky. But ingenuity wins every time.

Once we got the pipe laid and inspected, and just before we started covering it, we took some measurements. This is very important if we ever have to dig that thing back up for any reason.

We passed the inspection with flying colors, and it was time for backfill!

But first…we had to clean out all the rocks and debris that had fallen in the pit over the winter. Oh, actually, we did that before the inspection. Forgot. Anyway, here we are cleaning up the pit.

Including this big rock. Waaay too big to get it out by hand.

Again, ingenuity to the rescue. We were able to use this system to get enough sand under it that we could roll it away from the tank and bury it.

Then it was sand, sand, sand.

And finally regular dirt on top.

And yes, that’s Princess Girl on crutches. She sprained her ankle. 😞

Filled in trench, which will eventually get another 1-2 feet of fill when we bring in dirt to raise the ground level up to slab level.

And an almost covered septic tank. We actually did even more after this picture was taken. It is now almost even with the top all the way around.

Right now as I write this post, I am down in town waiting for the trailer to be loaded with free fill dirt. I met a guy through Craiglist. He had good quality fill dirt he needed hauled away, and we have need of dirt we don’t have to pay for. Win-win.

We decided that we wanted to pay for only what we have to (because despite the saying, dirt ain’t cheap!), so we devised a system where we put the purchased DG sand in the first foot or so up against the tank, then outside of that, we put either our native soil, or this other fill dirt that is not as high a quality.

I’d say by the end of the week, the septic tank will be completely covered. Yay! That means we can finally bring in the needed dirt to raise the ground level all around the house up to what it’s supposed to be.

And that is just one step closer to done.

Yes you can!

My hubby snapped a photo of me and it got me thinking.

(Ok, ok, so it’s slightly staged, but only because the shadows were creating problems.)

People, women in particular, sometimes tell me how amazing it is that I am the primary one building our house. It is usually followed up with a wistful, “I could never do that.”

I wish people, women in particular, would stop doing that. No, not telling me I’m awesome. You can keep doing that. (Kidding! I’m kidding!)

But seriously, Ladies (and guys, too, it if applies), stop selling yourself short. You could do this, if you really wanted to! You can learn to do anything you want to. Yes, it may be completely out of your skill set. For now. You may not be physically able to do it. Right now. But you can learn, and you can get in shape.

Now, I totally understand that there are some people for whom building a house with their own hands truly would be impossible. I have paraplegic brothers. I had several mentally disabled foster siblings while growing up. I have friends with severe chronic illnesses. Etc, etc, etc. I get it. But guess what, those are not the people bemoaning that they are incapable of doing the things I do.

Far and away, the women who have uttered to me, “I could never do that” are in fact fully capable of doing everything that I do. They just don’t know it.

Why do we sell ourselves short? Why do we buy into the lie that there are certain things we can’t, or shouldn’t, do? Why does anyone believe that there are things in life that are just too hard, to far out of their reach, or off limits?

It’s sad really. To see people settle for less than their dreams, just because they don’t believe they can ever achieve them.

Sure, I was taught how to build a house when I was a teenager and that gave me a foundation to believe that I can build my own house. I had that advantage, and I’m thankful for it. But you know what I never in my life had any experience with? Gardening and canning. I was not around it growing up at all, and in my teen years and early adulthood I couldn’t keep any green thing alive. But I had a dream to produce and preserve my own food. So I learned how. I never once thought that I wouldn’t be able to do it. In my mind, it was just a matter of learning new skills.

So maybe you don’t really even want to know how to build a house. That’s totally fine. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But don’t buy into the lie that you wouldn’t be able to do it if you really wanted to. Don’t spend your life wistfully saying, “I wish I could….” fill in the blank.

I guess that’s probably what it really comes down to. Desire. Do you really, truly want it – whatever “it” is? Then go out and get it!

You can do it!

House update: nothing really to report

You know that saying, “Use it or lose it”?

Yeah, I think I lost it.

After a whole winter of sitting on my butt, one hour, just one hour of shoveling kicked that butt.

Last summer/fall I did great. I could work, work, work all day, and get up and do it again the next day. Sure, it was hard and I was tired, but I could do it. I was actually amazed at my stamina.

But a few months of sitting around just…waiting, and I am so out of shape!

In my defense, the dirt I was shoveling was wet clay. You ever tried shoveling wet clay?

Let’s just say there are extra challenges!

I’ll tell you what I was working on in just a sec, but first, a picture of the progress on our house. Our should I say LACK of progress?

Yep, looks exactly like it did the last time I posted about it. We are still waiting on contractors. But I won’t go into all that. Because I’m trying to keep a Christian attitude. 😒

So, what was I working on today? As tempting as it was to work on Pajii’s garden boxes some more, I decided to finally start finishing one of our half finished projects: our septic system.

We dug the septic line trench from the house to the septic tank last fall when we had the backhoe, but were not able to get the pipe laid before winter came.

So all winter long the trench has sat there, slowly filling in with dirt and rocks. I’ve been avoiding getting back in that trench this spring because, dirt work. I would much rather be building walls, etc inside the house. But, well, I can’t right now. So, since we have a couple days of good weather, I decided to stop being an avoider.

And since I really didn’t want to do it, I told myself I only had to work on it for one hour.

One hour and I only cleaned up 10 feet of trench. And my body obviously thinks I put it through torture.

Yeah, this is going to be a fun spring while I whoop myself back into shape!

On the bright side, here’s the cuteness I got to spend time with while I shoveled.

This girl loves to play in the dirt. And the messier the better.

So tomorrow, I challenge myself to spend two hours on that trench, ’cause there’s only another 30 feet to go!

Oy.

Easy 2-ingredient CHOCOLATE sauce (that’s healthier for you!

I’ve been craving mochas a LOT lately.

But the ingredients in the chocolate sauce used by the coffee shops leaves a lot to be desired.

Not to mention that my cravings clash spectacularly with my wallet (nearly $5 a pop!).

So, I decided to work some more on my homemade mocha recipe. While I’m am not completely satisfied yet with the overall product, I’m digging how easy it is to make this chocolate sauce that has only two ingredients.

Easy 2-Ingredient Chocolate Sauce:

  • 3/4cup Pure Maple Syrup
  • 3Tbl unsweetened cocoa powder

I like to make this in an 8oz canning jars since it’s so easy. Simply put both ingredients into the jar, put a lid on it, and shake vigorously until combined. No heating required. You might need to use a spoon or a fork to break up a couple chunks and stir them in. Bonus for making it in the jar is that you already have it in a container to store it and only a measuring cup and spoon to wash. Alternately, you can mix this up in a regular bowl and whisk to combine, but the cocoa powder takes some convincing to mix with the maple syrup. It will happen eventually, just keep stiring. If you’ve combined it in a bowl, transfer to an appropriate size container and put a lid on it.

Use as you would any chocolate sauce. Mochas. Ice cream sundaes. Chocolate milk. Mmmmm….

I do not know if this needs to be refrigerated or not. I mean, we don’t refrigerate our maple syrup or cocoa powder. But just to be safe, I keep mine in the fridge just as I used to when we bought chocolate sauce from the store. That way if I forget about it, which sometimes happen as I tend to go through phases, I know it will last in there for a very long time.

So there you have it. Chocolate sauce that is easy to make, and way better for you than the stuff you get in the store (or coffee shops 😄).

Healthier Hot Chocolate (Only 3 ingredients!)

There’s nothing like playing hard in the snow, then coming inside to a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

It snowed again last night, the most snow we’ve had all winter.

The girls and I took the opportunity to get in some good old fashioned snow play.

When we came in for some hot chocolate, I realized we were dangerously low on our home made hot chocolate mix. But it was no big deal, because with only three ingredients, this hot chocolate mix goes together in a jiffy.

You read that right: three ingredients. This version is so much healthier than any store-bought hot chocolate I’ve found. And depending on what sweetener you use, you can make it even healthier. I’ve seen many other hot chocolate recipes what use more ingredients, and you certainly can add in flavorings of your choice, but we prefer to keep it simple. You can also omit the dried milk and add the cocoa and sweetener to whatever milk you normally drink. I like to have the milk in the mix, however, mainly because we don’t have a microwave, so heating milk on the stove means dirtying a dish. And we avoid that at all costs. Especially in the winter when our water system in the trailer is a bit more labor intensive. But also, I like to make up a big batch of this and have it on hand to drink, no matter how much milk is in the fridge.

Ok, I’ve talked long enough. Here’s the recipe.

Homemade Healthier Hot Chocolate

One serving:

  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar/sweetener
  • of your choice
  • 1/4 cup (heaping) dry milk

Put all ingredients in a mug and mix them together, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till all ingredients are dissolved.

One quart of MIX:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar/sweetener of your choice
  • 2½ cups dry milk

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Then pour into a quart size container, label and place in the pantry/cupboard ,etc for later use. To use, place 3-4 large spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into a mug, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till dissolved.

Notes:

  • Add more or less mix and/or water to achieve desired taste.
  • Mixing all the ingredients together before adding the hot water helps the cocoa not form so many clumps.
  • Feel free to use whatever sweetener you prefer. You may need to play with the ratios a bit, though. We typically use raw cane sugar, but we’ve also used coconut sugar and pure maple syrup. If you prefer to use a liquid sweetener, you’ll need to put that in at the same time as the hot water.