Indian Summer, Attic Remodel Progress, and Homemade Shiplap

Surprise!  We have found ourselves in the middle of a good old-fashioned Indian summer.  After a couple of weeks of snow and cold weather, warmer temperatures have settled in for a bit.  Our snow has all melted away, except for a few patches desperately clinging to the shade of our old barn.  One couldn’t ask for a better time to cut firewood!  Cool, but not too cold.  No snow or foliage to get in the way.  But, most importantly, no mosquitoes!

If you have been following us for any length of time, you are probably well aware that, as part of our whole house remodel, we have been converting our unusable attic into a proper living space.

About four months ago, it looked like this:

After reinforcing the roof, installing a new subfloor, refinishing the floor, insulating, and adding dormers, it now looks like this (sorry for the bad picture, sometimes the phone camera is just so convenient):

Our goal is to complete this bedroom for two of our boys before Christmas.

I have put my new router table and old table saw to good use converting $18 USD sheets of BCX plywood into shiplap.  Each sheet of plywood equates to 64 linear feet of 6″ shiplap.  That comes in at around $0.31 USD per linear foot.  When shopping around, I found shiplap available for $0.62 USD per linear foot.  DIY lends to some big savings here!  So, as the project progresses, I expect to save upwards of $500 alone in shiplap.  That savings easily pays for the $160 USD router table I needed to purchase to get this project done.

As a bonus, I get a new tool out of the deal that I will use to fabricate our new kitchen cabinets next summer!

After cutting the plywood into strips (8 strips per 4’x8′ sheet of plywood), I run them through the router to create the groove on each side of the board for overlap.

To ensure even spacing during installation, I used a set of popsicle sticks.

Since we installed a metal roof on our house, spray foamed the interior, and desire to have an extremely energy efficient home, we also opted to install fiberglass insulation in addition to the sprayfoam.  We followed up with, to all those who have visited our homestead, our infamous foil barrier.  These simple additions should make the house much more comfortable year round and should also dampen the roof noise during a thunderstorm.

About halfway through producing the board for this bedroom, my 14 year old shop vacuum that I had attached to the router table decided to give up the ghost 🙁  Literal clouds of smoke billowed out of the vacuum!

Tack another $100 for a new shop vacuum and $50 for a dust cyclone and I still come out ahead!  Hopefully, the dust cyclone will improve the life of this next vacuum!

Until next time, greetings from our humble little homestead!


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Prepping for a New Septic

Unfortunately, our county implemented a sewer inspection and replacement law before we purchased our house.  Yay, more government overreach and encroachment onto private property!  Also, a lot of job security for any licensed septic installer.  I smell corruption..  Anyway, the short of it is, is that all septics installed before a certain date (and some after) are to be replaced at the counties discretion.  That includes our perfectly functioning septic (of which they did not even bother to come out and inspect).  You may recall, part of the reason we moved out here was to avoid the new sewer and water upgrades (again, probably unnecessary upgrades) we would have been forced to flip the bill for in town.

We pick and choose our fights and I could see that this one was again, a losing battle (if only there was a way for other like minded individuals to connect and stand up together, the block-chain is coming!!).  We called up several area contractors for bids.  They came in, in the range of $8,000 to $13,000.   We chose a bid and got on the waiting list with that contractor (20+ others were apparently already on the list before us).  Once we found out the new septic was inevitable, we began squirreling away the funds to cover this new septic without debt.

After starting this process almost a year and a half ago now, ground finally breaks this coming Monday.  That takes me onto preparing the site for equipment.  The sewer is tucked back behind our house and next to our woods, making it difficult for the contractor’s heavy equipment to gain access.  To clear a path, I had to trim up some of our beloved white oak trees.  Out came the ladder and chainsaw.

As I was cutting, I kept thinking to myself, what am I going to do with all these branches.  I don’t want to just toss them in the woods.  Only a few of them were thick enough for firewood, the rest would be fine for a bonfire.  But, they were so full of lush green leaves..  That’s right, we have goats!

After that quick ah-ha moment, I tossed the branches into the goat pasture and they took to them like flies on a cow or.. chickens on our favorite flowers.

After about an hour, their work was nearly complete!



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Winter is Back and it was a Shocker

The joys of Spring, right when you think you are in the clear, winter strikes again.  We had another small taste of winter begin last night and continue through today.  Temperatures for the rest of the week look a little on the chill side, with another slight chance of snow next week.

The last few weeks have been very nice, deceivingly nice in fact, almost-want-to-plant-the-garden nice.  Thankfully, experience has told me to wait.  Looking out the window, I am glad I did 🙂  Minnesota is like that, just when you think summer has arrived, it “surprises” you with snow.    I remember seeing snowflakes in early June once, hopefully not this year.

There is aways a beauty that shines through nature, even the late season snows.  It is strange that something so beautiful can also be so inconvenient, or even deadly.  We awoke to a little destruction of our own this morning.  It is lightly snowing out right now, but it started out as freezing rain last night.  A light breeze combined with some ice managed to take out a few more trees and branches, like this one here.  I am pretty sure I already have enough to cut!

Thankfully, it landed next to the wood bin!  If only it would have fallen in 16-18 inch pieces…

So the adventure continues (hang with me here)…

This morning, on my way to work, I had to fill up the car with diesel.   The card readers at the station were down and the fuel buttons iced over.  No problem, after a bit of scraping and pounding we (myself, an attendant, and the guy next to me ready to top off his truck) managed to loosen one of the pump fill buttons to get at least one pump operational.  Pounding wouldn’t fix the card readers though, no biggie, I happened to have a little cash with me.  No card necessary.  Car full and fuel paid for, I headed off to work.  Pulling out on to the highway on-ramp, I was greeted with an overturned pickup in front of me (news headline here).  Mind processing what I was seeing, I quickly pulled over to the shoulder, jumped out, and followed the few others in front of me who were doing the same.

We ran to the truck to assess the scene, no emergency responders on-scene yet.  We walked around the truck trying to figure out what to do and digest what we were seeing.  One man in the driver seat.  No passengers.  The roof had been smashed in to the point the man had no room to move and his head was nearly impossible to find, it was still there, right?  Yes, we could hear him say something!  One of the guys asked how he was feeling and reassured him he would be fine.  We could hear him say that he thought he was fine.  Another grabbed out his phone and called 911.  Myself and some others tried to figure out what to do, initially thinking about flipping the truck upright (by now we had enough guys to do so), but thought better of it.  I pulled at the door but it was obvious that would lead nowhere. Two of us noticed a picture of a woman by the door that must have fallen out of the truck.  Maybe a daughter?

Screech, another vehicle hit the same patch of ice and veered off into the median of the highway (maybe this one??).  Now it was becoming obvious that the scene wasn’t safe as we all just literally witnessed this second car lose control on the highway in the same spot.  Thankfully, it went the other way, but would there be another??  About this moment, the first officer on the scene pulled his car up to the vehicle that was now in the median.  Realizing the truck that we were standing by was the greater concern, he ran over to assess the situation with us.

We could now hear the man asking to please get the seat belt off of him.  The officer grabbed out a knife, reached up and managed to cut him loose from the belt.  About four of us and the officer started pulling at the door to free the man from the confined space.  After quite a bit of prying and pulling, the door finally came free.   The door no longer holding the man in, his legs and rear fell out to the side, head still in the truck.  With the aid of the officer, the man had enough energy to craw out of the overturned truck and lay down on his back, surely a relief after being confined and upside down.  Besides a little bit of blood on his face, he seemed coherent and okay.  By this time, several firetrucks and another police car were arriving on the scene.  Myself and the rest of the guys knew at this point that if we remained, we would just be in the way, or a target for another out of control vehicle.  So, without a word, we all walked off to our cars to head our separate ways, knowing there were others now at the scene with more experience than us.   I left the scene thinking the gentleman would live to see another day, a miracle, considering the shape of that poor little rolled over red truck.

I decided to drive back and work from home today.  That was enough adventure for an engineer in one day, I didn’t need to push it.  Through the day I checked the news to see if the accident made headlines.  Unfortunately, it did, he didn’t make it.  How could that be?  I was shocked, he seemed fine when I left.  But, then again, his head took quite a beating.  Lord, be with his family, comfort them with Your unfailing love.  Use this situation for Your glory, no matter how dark it seems right now.

Many of you work with death daily, this however was the closest I have been to someone else dying.  It is a reminder of how quickly things can change when you least expect it.  What are you doing with your time on earth?  Everything may seem fine now, but the next moment is never guaranteed.


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Time Out in the Woods

Spring.  Mosquito free, comfortable temperatures, low humidity, the perfect trifecta of great outdoor family time.

First up, painting bee hives!  Last weekend, between Easter family gatherings with both sides, we finished assembling and painting our bee hives.  We are officially ready for the bees to arrive in two weeks!  Starting to get excited!!

I managed to sneak in one more small project over Easter weekend, cutting and installing crown molding in our bedroom.  In addition to the crown molding, we also officially put in the order for our bedroom, living room, and kitchen windows (and maybe some red steel for the barn walls)!  Bring on the natural light!  They all come with a three week lead time, so only a bit more patience required.

This week, we also started tackling some landscaping in the evenings.  Goodbye rock-beds, hello deep layered mulch.  Lets face it, kids and rocks don’t mix.  Lawnmowers+windows and rocks don’t mix.  Mulch retains soil moisture and decays over time, further enriching the soil.  Mulch will require layering additional mulch over the old layer each year, but in my opinion, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Additionally, once we get the initial layer of mulch built up, we can maintain it in the future with free wood chips, pine needles, and grass clippings.

We planted several perennials purchased from area growers.  We are also growing some of our own from seed to transplant once it warms up a bit.  We have chosen several heirloom flowering varieties of perennials that our bees should love, along with useful varieties that are edible or medicinal like comfrey, rhubarb, and spearmint.  Our goal is to not only have a yard that is easy to look at, but to also serve a dual purpose as a food garden.

The past few weeks have been extremely busy at work, slowing progress a little at home.  I have been in the middle of several larger projects at work, bringing me to a total of 79 hours on the clock this past week.  Generally, I hate working this many hours as I feel it takes too much time away from my family, but we are doing our best to manage right now.

One of my engineering professors once said and bears repeating, “make sure you work to live, not live to work”.  He passed away a few years ago from cancer.  He no doubt made an impact on me and in turn, my family.  I am still trying to figure out exactly how to manage time at work and time spent at home.  They both are constantly at odds with each other and balancing the two can seem ever so elusive.  I’ll be the first to admit, I still haven’t figured this one out yet, but I am trying..  I do know that when I am on my deathbed, those moments spent at work will feel like time poorly spent and those moments with my family, precious and too few and far between.  This balancing act is never easy and I am sure many of you can relate.

With this in mind, we try to do many projects around our farm with the whole family involved.  This weekend (between work) was no exception.

Time for a family wood cutting day.  The whole family was involved and smore’s were the treat for a job well done.  The kids worked amazingly hard.  Stephen found the wheelbarrow and the younger kids filled the wagon, many times over, without complaint.  Shelly ran loads back and forth with the lawn tractor and trailer while I ran the chainsaw.

Three takeaways became evident during and after cutting wood.  Cutting wood for a day and several evenings in a row really wears a person out. The second, we have a lot of dead and fallen trees in our woods (we are only harvesting dead trees).  Hopefully after clearing out some of the dead, it will give the smaller saplings a better chance at thriving.  Third, I have no doubt one of the previous owners treated the woods as their own personal landfill.  Bag by bag, we are getting the trash picked up.  What a mess!

Several cords of wood put away with much more cut and waiting to be carried out, and even more left to cut…  We’ll get there!  There is no doubt our house will be warm for the next few winters!  Think of your winter heat bill, now multiply that by 2 or 3.  That is what we plan on saving over the next few years by cutting and stacking this wood.  This is not only a cheap and natural source of heat, but also insurance against the occasional winter power outage.

I’ll leave you with a shot of our ducks, doing what they do best.  We received an inch or two of rain this past week and they have been living it up.  It didn’t take them long to find the big puddle on our driveway!


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Spring has arrived! So have more projects :P

Last week, we were on a mission to complete our bedroom (sans windows).  How did that go?  Well, the weather sabotaged our plans, but I won’t complain!

April arrived and Spring weather has set in!   This weekend was amazing with highs in the low to mid 50’s.  The natural cabin fever cure has arrived and over the weekend and we tried to enjoy every bit of it we could.  Back to the bedroom, we did manage to stay indoors long enough to get the door frame built and installed.  We also hung the door after sanding it down outside.  Shelly put that last clear coat on the bedroom tin ceiling.  We took advantage of the dark evenings to move our furniture over to our new room.  While we have trim and a closet door to deal with, we are happy to be moved in!!

One doorway, almost complete…  Still missing the door jambs 🙁  The door also needs some poly.

As you can see, or rather cannot see, the crown has not been installed by our in-house carpenter yet..  What you can see is the space we gained, about 1.5 ft after moving a wall.

Then we were off to the great outdoors.

We have been taking advantage of the early Spring, insect free evenings and weekends to get a head start on some outdoor projects.  If you yourself have a homestead or farm, it goes without saying that Spring may just be the busiest times of the year (or is it fall?,  hmm, the verdict may still be out).

I started by attempting to drive in the posts for the new goat pasture.  Let’s just say that didn’t go very well.  Each post made it about 1-2 inches in before hitting the frost line.  Okay, I’ll wait a week and try later.

We expanded out our garden by about 820 sq ft this year, this will bring our garden to over 3,000 sq ft.  Oh, what fun it is breaking new ground (without a tractor) for a garden.  Okay, it was kind of fun in a strange and punishing sort of way.  Thankfully, our garden gets lots of sun, so the frost was not an issue here.  The goats enjoyed it even more than I did as I threw all of the weeds and grass over the fence to them as I cleared the ground before breaking.   We will need to adjust some fencing to include the new ground to keep the chickens and deer out of the garden, but at least it is ready for plants once Summer get a bit closer.

The plants seem to be doing really well in our little indoor grow room.  We put in the last of the seed (besides the direct-sow varieties) in our planters this weekend, which is already coming up!  The peppers, herbs, and flower we put in a couple weeks back are doing great.

Some other side projects included a new duck/chicken coop door, more firewood cutting, mulching around the fruit trees, and lots of trash pickup (I am pretty sure the last property owners just tossed out the trash to the wind).

I’ll leave you with a shot of our “baby” ducks and chickens.  They are already getting so big; thankfully, little chicks will be hatching this weekend and we will get to experience some more farm babies!





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House Progress Update

It has been a few weeks since I have posted any updates on our house progress.  Things are still moving forward, but you still cannot tell from the outside.

Before we started on the house, last weekend we cut and stacked wood.   Our property came with an old corn crib, perfect for seasoning firewood.  Keeps it dry while at the same time letting the breeze through.  We are sitting at about a years worth of cut wood.  With all the fallen trees in the woods, we have a long way to go.

This weekend we started nailing down flooring in our bedroom, only a few more boards to go.  As a reminder, this was the hayloft wood floor that came out of a neighbors barn that was getting demolished.  Here is a picture from last summer (and a video of us restoring the floor last fall).

Hard to believe it is the same wood!  We still have to sand it in place and put on another coat or two of poly, but it is fun to finally see some nearly finished product!!  Our goal is to move back into our bedroom in two weeks.  That might be wishful thinking, but not if we can help it.

I was able to install the header and frame in our dining room wall to accommodate a french-style patio door set.  This will eventually look out into a four-season porch we will be adding next summer.  We plan to install the doors in April or May, along with a few new windows.  Oh what a joy it will be to have natural lighting in our living and dining rooms!!

We also managed to finish sealing up the bathroom and install our antique medicine cabinet.

This wall hides some open space inside to allow me to run ductwork to the future living space in the attic.  I was able to prepare that and then get this wall sealed up too!

The bathroom is now officially cleaner than it was when we moved in.  Between the ceiling light (which the old bathroom lacked) and foiled walls (which will be ‘rocked soon enough) it is also much brighter.  For reference….

Besides work on the main floor, we also got our temporary grow room in place.  We started our peppers, several flowers, and some herbs.  More will go in the dirt in the next few weeks as spring approaches.  For now, we are running 2 of our 4 LED grow lights on a timer.

Nearly everything planted is starting to come up!

Not everything always goes to plan, however, at least this weekend there were no stitches involved (although I did get to remove three of the five).  And here are parts for several of the projects I planned to work on but never got around to completing yet…  By the way, I do have a few of these Lutron Occupany sensors installed in a few other rooms.  They are amazing and highly recommended!

Ending on a light note, Shelly accidentally captured this moment with Mr Rooster and one of the hens over the weekend and I couldn’t resist sharing.  You cannot tell me you didn’t wonder…




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5 Late Winter Homesteading Activities

You would think that things would slow down for us in the winter.  So far that has not been the case.  It may still be cold and white outside, but that does not mean there are a shortage of homesteading activities.  Here are five late winter activities we have been up to lately:

1) Incubating Chicks

As noted here, we just incubated our first batch of chicks.  So cute, but oh so stinky! Last weekend, we were able to get our brooder box in the barn prepared.  In the chicks went.  They are happy for the additional space and we are happy for the basement to return to its normal, un-stinky state.  I do kind of miss the chirping though.  Sometimes we think we hear a chirp from time to time, then quickly remember they are now in the barn.  We will start another run in the incubator in a couple of weeks, then more cuteness will commence.  These chicks should be laying by late summer.  The males will go to the freezer.

The chicks are not the only ones with more room to roam.  The chickens have been out and about the yard again, up to their old free-ranging antics.    They were terribly, err, chicken, and despised the snow covered ground.  Although we gave them the option to free-range all winter, then never took it, always staying inside the “safety” of barn.  Little to no evil snow in there!  Now that we have some clear spots in the yard after a few days of mild weather, they have been living it up.  Most of the lawn north of the barn is still covered in icy snow.  It is entertaining to watch the chickens tread carefully across the icy snow, trying hard not to fall as they leave the barn.  Once they clear the ice, they are off! Here is Mrs White, doing some early spring yard cleaning for us.

2) Maple Syrup

As you may know, we have been collecting maple syrup with this beautiful early spring-like weather.  Stephen helped me tap two more trees the other evening, just as it started snowing.  I even let him run the drill and mallet (what boy would turn down the chance at running a drill?).  Was fun to get out with him and spend some time in nature.   As it turns out, he has taken an interest in collecting sap, faithfully making his sap collection rounds every day (without being asked)!

There were many reasons we moved out of town; this was definitely one of them!

We started boiling down some of the sap into syrup on our temporary outdoor cinder block stove.  The stove is a work in progress (that was all of the blocks I could fit into my VW Jetta) but it is serving its purpose well.  With the latest cold spell, the sap has pretty much stopped flowing.  However, it looks like we may see highs above freezing this weekend which should help get it flowing again!

A quick tip here if you are boiling down sap yourself.  Use the buffet style steam pans (these are the ones we are using).  The more surface area, the better.  The stock pot pictured above was just put on the fire to thaw out the frozen sap.  Once thawed, we then transfer to the pans for evaporation.

3) Firewood Collection

Ah yes, firewood collection, one of the few upper body workouts I get (along with putting in fence posts and stacking bales :).  We spent a few hours outside over the weekend cutting firewood.  This is one of the best times of the year to cut.  Why?  No mosquitoes or ticks!!  The cooler weather also delays the inevitable sweating that seems to come hand in hand with a good wood cutting.  We have no shortage of dead or downed trees in our woods from several summer storms that came through over the last couple of years.

Self-sufficiency, energy independence, exercise, fresh air, and cleaning up the woods, cutting firewood covers a lot of ground and is a must for any homesteader in Minnesota.

Not to get too political, but to assure those who may see burning wood as harmful to the environment, I would like to state a few points. We practice responsible and sustainable forestry practices on our homestead.  We cut trees that are already down, damaged, or pose a potential hazard to life or property.  We return the ash to the woods.  We burn in a modern high-efficiency indoor stove.  Burning indoors allows the capture of more exhaust heat through the chimney that would otherwise be lost when burning in an outdoor boiler.  We plant more trees than we harvest.  We produce significantly less “pollution” than any DNR controlled or naturally occurring forest fire while at the same time reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.  Additionally, we are renovating our house in such a way that we will need to burn a minimal amount of wood to keep it warm.  This will also allow me to spend less time cutting and splitting wood every year. Win-win.

Wood is an amazingly and powerful renewable fuel, occurs naturally, and is easily manageable with minimal equipment expenses.

4) Continuing the House Remodel

When it is just too cold or too dark to want to work outside, there are always plenty of projects to tackle indoors.  We were able to get most of our dining room tin ceiling up this weekend!  Along with several other small projects, things are still moving along inside the house.

5) Preparing the Planters

Sunday night we managed to dig out and prepare our planters for seeds.  That pretty much involved grabbing the planters off a shelf in the garage and filling them with potting soil.  After buying 200 strawberry plants last year, we held onto the plant markers.  I printed out a bunch of labels and re-purposed those markers to match the plants we will be growing this year.  In addition to preparing the planters, we also installed two of our grow lights, with two more to go.  Our current plan is to plant some of the seed that requires a longer growing season this weekend.  The rest will go in the dirt mid-march.


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