Digging out a Basement of an Existing House (Spoiler: NOT FUN!)

Imagine yourself in cramped and dimly lit quarters.  You are hunched over, unable to stand up without hitting your head on the ceiling above.  Sweat is dripping down your face and sore back as you swing a pick ax in your wet hands.  You wipe your face with your hands to divert another drop (stream?) of salty sweat before it makes burning contact with your eyes.   Dust is everywhere.  Dust in your nostrils.  Dust sticking to your sweaty body.  Occasionally and more frequently than you care for, your pick ax suddenly stops as it makes impact with a solid rock. Eventually, once there is enough loose clay, dirt, and sand in front of you, you trade in the pick for a spade shovel.  Each scoop of the soil gets tossed into the ever growing pile a few feet away that marks the next phase of work.

Before you can begin swinging the pick ax again, you need to clear out that pile.  Putting the ax down and grabbing the spade shovel you start filling a line up of assorted 5-gallon buckets.  Those buckets at one time contained tractor hydraulic oil or bulk restaurant pickles.  Most of them have long since lost their plastic handles which would generally make handling them a little easier on the hands.  Instead, only the metal wire handle is left.  It takes you no time at all to fill up those buckets, barely putting a dent into the pile of loose soil you have amassed. Now, its time to drop the shovel, grab a full bucket in each hand.  “Bend at the knees, lift with ease,” except the bending doesn’t stop until you get to the steps, for fear your head will again make contact with that cursed ceiling.  You make your way over to the flight of stairs.  Stairs?  If you want to call them that, poorly maintained steps, some missing due to dry-rot and replaced with cinderblocks.    Calf muscles and knees strain as you cautiously take each creaking step upwards, always thinking about how terrible it would feel if the step below you gave out, and hoping that remains only a thought, never to become reality.

Once up, you head outside to the somewhat refreshing and cool winter air.  Refreshing for a while anyways, until that sweat starts to cool and leaves you with a chill.  You now gather some more strength to unload the two buckets into a wheelbarrow.  After another two trips down and up, the wheelbarrow is full.  Six bucket to one wheelbarrow.  You are now tasked with the chore of maneuvering the wheelbarrow across the ice and snow, about 100 yards away where you can unload the warm soil onto the frozen, snow covered ground.  Whoa, keep that ‘barrow upright or there’ll be more work, or a wheelbarrow in the abdomen or wheelbarrow leg in the shin bone.

You think you are done?  Not quite.  Only about another 100 or so rounds left to go, maybe, but I lost count 20 buckets ago.  Back to the pick ax.

This is what my first winter at our house looked like…

This is where we started from..

This was what my life consisted of nearly every weekend and many evenings through that winter.  Crazy? Probably!  Would I do it all over again?  Absolutely NOT!  Am I happy it is done?  Most certainly!  This is the cost of failing to look over a house from bottom to top before purchasing it, and being too stubborn to drop an idea, no matter how crazy it may be.  Dare I say, this was my stupid tax?  Well then, I should be paid in full.

From a bunch of men from our Church stopping by to surprise us one Saturday….

to putting a bounty on each bucket of 25 (eventually growing to 50) cents in hopes to entice the older children to help carry up a few loads, we eventually we got the basement dug out, foundation reinforced and concrete poured, and most of the walls down there framed up.  We turned a dingy dirt floor crawl space with a 4-5 feet clearance, depending on where you stood, into a proper usable basement with a concrete floor and seven foot clearance.  With that in mind, you can see why me and my wife are collectively breathing a huge sigh of relief going into this winter.

I will have my time with the shovel again in the future when we transform that pile of basement soil we have outside from a pile of weeds into an all-year fully self-sufficient greenhouse based on the earthship design.   But, for now, I am enjoying every project that does not involve a 5-gallon bucket, pick ax, and shovel!

So, with where we came from fresh in your mind, I’d like to transport you to where we are now.  Still a long ways off from complete, but also a long ways off from where we started!  As promised last week, here are some before and present pictures of the house and barn.  Before/afters, my favorite!!!

House, before.  Red…  Tasteful!?   Was it meant to match the barn???  Notice the white coming through the red?  Yeah, that is not your imagination..

House, present.  Only trim, fascia, and a porch left to go.

Barn, before.  Anyone have a bulldozer? Giant bonfire maybe?

Barn, present.  A work in progress, but now moving forward into usefulness from decay.


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When Life Throws You A Lemon, Make Lemonade and Plant an Apple Tree

Sometimes just typing or writing something out is the best therapy.  This is one of those posts that I both dread and long to type up, all at the same time. Emotion, excitement, disappointment all thrown into one inevitable cup, that when swallowed, goes down both bitter and sweet. Bitter crushed dreams and hard choices, mixed with a little bit of unexpected events, all somehow leading to sweet displays of love, kindness, and glimpses of all the promise and potential that the future holds.

Last weekend, after being pregnant for over two months, we lost our baby. A miscarriage.

If you were expecting funny/cute pictures of our goats or yak, sorry, this part of our story is a bit more personal. We have made good progress on the house recently, but that will have to wait until the next post too.

To lay out a bit of background information, Shelly and I currently have four children.  At this point, some may judge us and think we are crazy, but we truly couldn’t care less. We love each one dearly. Each one is irreplaceable.

We both come from families of five children. Each of us has adopted siblings. We love large families.

(my fam)

(her fam)

With adoption a common thread in our families and very commonplace among many in our local Church, we have, even way back into our days of dating, had it on our hearts to adopt. As a matter of fact, as Christians, we are commanded to care for orphans and widows. How, in good conscience, can we sit back and surround ourselves with all the pleasures this world has to offer, while there are children in difficult situations or without any family or home to call their own.  Adoption comes with many sacrifices, unique struggles, and other issues, but they can be overcome.

About fourteen weeks ago, we had planned to call the county office and begin the process of fostering with the intention of adopting. Only, to our surprise, at about the same time, we found out we were expecting our fifth. Surprise! Okay, well that settled that, we would put off adoption and take the new road that had been set before us. Next spring, we would have five children. Breathe… This was not what we had planned!! Not yet. We were supposed to adopt our next child! I won’t lie, there were a few tears shed and many mixed emotions, but, over the span of the next several days, reality set it, and eventually, so did the excitement!

As the pregnancy continued, Shelly met with a midwife, as we had been seriously considering a homebirth. A day after the visit with the midwife, Shelly began to feel a bit off (this had absolutely nothing to do with the midwife). Bleeding and cramping followed. She immediately assumed something was not right and went to the local clinic for a checkup. They ordered bloodwork and an ultrasound. After the ultrasound was completed, the hospital broke the dreaded news to Shelly, our little unborn baby had passed away. Confusion swelled around our household for the next few days. Our excitement was squelched and our newly formed plans and dreams, again altered by an unplanned event that was out of our control. Again, why was this happening? This was not part of our plans!

Pain and bleeding continued for my wife over the course of the next few days, during which she passed the unborn baby (thankfully, naturally and without medical intervention). After having a couple of days for everything to sink in, my mother stopped in and surprised us with an apple tree to plant in memory of the baby. The next day, we put the baby in a small box and our children drew pictures on that box, each a glimpse into their own little thoughts and dreams of this dear little one.

As the father, speaking from personal experience and second hand testimony, that although difficult, a miscarriage is typically not as much of a challenge on the man as it is for the woman. But, seeing my children coloring on that box was different. It was emotional. It was heartbreaking. We placed the box at the bottom of the hole I dug and we each covered the box with some dirt. We then planted that young apple tree there, directly over our baby. It will be a living memorial outside our kitchen window. A refuge for birds, shelter from the summer sun, spring food for our honeybees, and a source of fruit for our family and the many deer that call our property home.

Now, that a little time has numbed the pain and healing is having its way, we have time to reflect on the past few months. Although none of what has happened was part of our plans, it does seem our Creator has his own perfect plans, plans more intricate and beautiful than our own. Many of the reasons are not for us to know.  However, some reasons were made perfectly clear as the days went on.  For sure, without these events, we would have missed seeing His perfect love in action through the many dear friends and family that brought us meals and shared tears with my wife in the midst of this trial.  True community.

Whether you are a Christian as I am, or not, we most probably can agree that humans are social creatures. We can live alright alone, but when we live together in small tribes or communities, we can thrive. We are stronger together, especially when we allow the strengths of others to compliment our own inadequacies. Here, our own little community is varied and diverse, and apart from Christ, we would probably have very little in common. But that common bond is stronger than all others and transcends personal preference. I am extremely grateful for those who have chosen to share their lives with us. I pray our relationships evolve over the future to handle the obstacles that we are bound to face, and that this little community will stand the test of time and the inevitable and unavoidable struggles.  Together, we can make a positive difference and be a true reflection of His love.

Through this process, our position on adoption has not changed. Okay, maybe that is not quite true. Personally, I think the desire to continue with the adoption process has only grown stronger. In fact, we made the call to the county this week and will be receiving our first batch of paperwork in the mail. Our road may be winding, but this journey is not over.  In fact, I sense it is just getting started.



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Re-roofing our Barn

It has officially been one year since I finished re-roofing our century old barn.  Before I started the project, I had a hard time finding information on re-roofing a large barn roof.  So, with that in mind, I decided I would lay out the process I went through.  This is by no means a full authoritative post on re-roofing a barn roof, but rather a journal of sorts, covering the process I took to re-roof our barn.


So, onto the why?  Here are just a few reasons I decided to re-roof the barn myself:

  1. Hiring someone else to re-roof our barn was cost prohibitive.  Doing it myself could save me $15-20,000.
  2. Finding someone willing to re-roof our barn was a challenge in and of itself.  Most contractors did not want to touch it let alone even come out and look at it.
  3. Re-roofing was a skill set I lacked.  This project could resolve that.
  4. If I didn’t get a roof on the barn soon, it would share the same fate that most turn-of-the-century barns are succumbing to, that inevitable and inescapable collapse due to neglect.
  5. In Minnesota, a proper shelter for animals to escape the harsh winter weather is a must.

Before taking on this project, I had never taken part in re-roofing anything.  Growing up, I had watched my father roof and re-roof buildings, but being just a child, my attention normally shifted to projects of my own, like building that fort in the woods.

Not only had I not re-roofed a building before, but I was uncomfortable with heights if being at height also included standing on an unsure surface.


Alright, the decision to re-roof the barn was made.  Time to move onto the planning/research phase.  Lets start with some dimensions.  With dimensions, a material list can be formed.  With a material list in hand, the material can be ordered and the project can move to the implementation phase.

For dimensions, I utilized the free 2D CAD software Draftsight.  I have since discovered SketchUp, which would now be my preferred software of choice for building layout and design.

I drew up the roof in Draftsight, laid out flat, so I could determine the amount of steel roofing I needed to order.  Each rectangle illustrates a single sheet of steel roofing.  The white portions of the drawing represent the existing metal roofing installed on all of the additions on the barn.  The red portion represents the portion of the roof that was in need of replacement.

As you can see, I needed 62 sheets of steel metal roofing.  It came out to:

(15) 8′ Sheets

(32) 10′ Sheets

(15) 12′ Sheets

I used off-the-shelf lengths (2′ even increments) as they were easier to obtain.  As the barn was no longer square, each piece would need to be trimmed anyway, so there was no need ordering custom lengths.

In addition to the steel roofing, I would need screws and trim.

So, some basics on metal roofing.  The peak or top most point of the roof requires “ridge cap”.  This sheds water to either side of the roof at the top most point of the roof.  I ordered 50′ of this.  They came in 10′ sections.

The “hip” part of the roof, the part of the roof where the slope changes, required flashing.  You can buy preformed roof flashing or flashing rolled up in bulk rolls (cheaper).  I opted for the preformed flashing, as I didn’t know about the rolls of flashing at that time.

Along the front and rear of the barn, along the edge of the roof, I purchased “rake trim”.  This trim provides a clean transition along the edge of the roof line.  It also serves as another protective measure to keep water from gaining access to the buildings wooden frame underneath the steel roofing.

Finally, I installed metal fascia over the wooden trim along the edges of the roof.

The wildcard in materials list for me was the lumber requirements.  Before installing a metal roof, you need to run “purlins” every 2′, horizontally.  Typically, one will use a 2×4 for this “purlin”.  This is the board that the metal roofing gets fastened to.

In my case, as you will see later on, the roof had been exposed to the elements for several years and had begun to sag significantly.  My plan was to use lumber of various sizes as spacers, to give the finished roof a mostly square appearance.



With materials on-site, a tarp on the ground, and a pitchfork in hand, I was able to fairly easily remove the shingles from the roof, a section at a time.  The roof had the original wooden shake shingles installed, with two layers of asphalt shingles installed over them.  Obviously, some places just plain had no shingles left at all!

As I would clear a section, I would then affix my purlins onto the cleared off roof at 2′ intervals.  These purlins acted as a ladder of sorts to allow me to increase my reach and access to further portions of the roof.  I worked my way horizontally across the roof. Working horizontally allowed me to have access to the portion of the roof directly above the portion I just cleared.  This became important as I reached very, lets say, “un-square” portions of the roof.


As I cleared portions of the roof in the ever more sagging regions of the roof, it became necessary to run a string line from one side of the roof to the other.  This allowed me to shim up the purlins so the roof would come out looking square.

The further towards the middle of the roof I got, the worse it got.  As you can see here, I literally had to build a short knee wall on the roof to compensate for the sag in the roof.   Additional reinforcement and support on the interior will be completed at a later date.


Once the purlins were in place, I started to measure, trim, and install the metal roofing, sheet by sheet.

After the metal was on the roof, I used scaffolding to traverse the perimeter of the barn to install fascia and rack trim.

In my opinion, the overall roof turned out well.  No where near perfect, but it has breathed new life into a barn that would have otherwise continued to rot and decay.

Some pointers worth noting that I either discovered during the project or received from others along the way.

  1. Do not skip the purlins.  Do not install metal directly over asphalt shingles.  Asphalt shingles and metal roofing contract and expand at different rates during temperature fluctuations.  This will cause the shingles to rub against the metal like sandpaper, eventually leading to a rusted out roof.
  2. Invest in a safety harness.  I have wife and children and couldn’t imagine having left them husband/fatherless because of my own ignorance and preference of avoiding the use of an in-expensive safety harness.  $100 for the harness + a little inconvenience of dealing with the rope every time I wanted to move was a small price to pay to avoid a life changing fall.
  3. Buy twice the amount of screw you expect to use.
  4. Take a minute or two while you are up there to just enjoy the view of your homestead/farmstead.  Besides our silo, the barn roof is the highest point on our property.  It won’t be that often that I will get to take in a view like that.
  5. After a few weekends and many evenings on the barn roof, my fear of heights is nearly non-existent now.
  6. Use shoes with a good amount of traction.  Don’t expect those shoes to look great when the project is complete.  I wore holes on the outside of both shoes from their constant contact with the roof and constantly relying on them to hold me in place while in many tight spots up there.

Hopefully that gives you a fairly full glimpse into re-roofing that old barn.  Are you thinking of taking on a barn roof?  I am still by no means a roofing expert, but I would love to try to point you in the right direction if you have any questions!



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Attic Flooring

I love before/in-progress/after pictures!  There is just something about seeing where a project started and where it has gone that really makes one appreciate the effort and thought that went into the project.  It is always fun to see something that is so disgusting and trashed turn into a surprising gem, that was always there, just hidden and out of sight.

Well, I think our attic floor may finally be reaching that “non-trashed” point, but I will be honest, I had many, many doubts along the way.

Here is a “before” shot of the floor.  If you look close, you may be able to see the loose boards and extreme spacing between each board.  There were many spots that were just completely missing boards altogether (not in the picture of course).

The plan was to remove the old floor boards for refinishing outdoors (in fresh air), lay down subflooring, then re-install the flooring on top of the new subflooring.  This would eliminate the holes, loose boards, gaps, and would just plain solidify everything.

After pulling up the first few boards, I was about ready to cry.  Maybe I could leave them on and just throw the subflooring over it?  We could then find flooring to install on craigslist or something…

I couldn’t give up that easy, but Lord knows I wanted to!  Well, a few boards into it, I started to discover the trick to pulling the boards off in a somewhat efficient manner.  This was tricky, considering the boards were fairly brittle, as they are nearing 100 years of age.  In addition, they have been in an unfinished attic, enduring temperature extremes of over 100 degrees F in the summer to well below 0 degrees F in the winter.  I will admit, some of the boards still split on occasion, but between my hammer,three pry-bars, and a 2×4, I was able to prevent it for the most part.

The moment I laid down the last bit of subflooring was a joyous occasion.  Finally, our attic had a solid floor!  No longer did we have to walk with caution over each hole or loose board.

Myself and the kids then went to the project of laying floor underlayment in preparation for the wood flooring.

Once the subflooring and underlayment was in place, my attention turned to the flooring that I had moved to the garage. Again, we were left unable to park our vehicles in the garage.  The goal was to completely strip them down, cut them, and get them installed up stairs before the cooler fall temperatures set in. Thankfully, our summer temperatures were below average and our fall temps have made up for our cooler summer.  This evening was beautiful, somewhere in the mid 60’s!

Last weekend and most every evening this week, I have spent my time pulling out old staples and nails, scraping paint, and sanding the flooring.

I wasn’t alone.  Between my kids, our kitten, and the ducks, I had plenty of company.


Unfortunately, some of the boards did split while pulling them up or were just in bad shape to start with, so I had to square up and trim off the edges in some cases.  Those scraps will make good starter firewood this winter.

I think prior house tenants did all their painting up in the attic, as the boards required quite a bit of scraping to clean them up.  Thankfully, the boards were unfinished from the start, so I did not have to worry about stripping off any additional finishes.

And, here is the, not quite finished product, two coats of polyurethane left.  What the picture doesn’t show is the other room up there, that still needs wood filler and its first coat of poly.  Oh, well, I’ll get to it soon enough!

If it wasn’t for my mother’s eye, I probably would not have gone through the effort of saving this flooring.  But her annoying insistence that it would come out looking good planted that seed.  Thankfully, I listened to her.  Don’t you hate it when mom is right!


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Two Years of Homesteading…

What a difference a year brings!  Last year, we lost most of our tomato crop to an early Fall frost.  This year, we have piles of them, despite the blighted fate of most tomatoes grown in this area. Last year, our attic was nearly unusable and wholly incapable of being winterized, let alone accessed.  As of last week, the attic is now spray-foamed and accessible!  The list could truly go on…

(Attic, before)

(Attic, in progress)

(Attic, in progress)

This month marks our two year anniversary on this homestead.  For us, the transition from our last house to this current house was extremely tough and an absolute test of our patience.  We are extremely grateful for every year-over-year improvement we get to witness and enact, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.  Many might look around at the current condition of our homestead and think we still have a ways to go.  We do, but we look at it and truly think about how far we have come.  With only two rooms left to demo in our house, the time of putting everything back together is drawing very, very near!

Out in the farmyard, with almost two years of raising a variety of farm animals, we have reached the point where managing these animals no longer feels foreign and scary.  The chores have just become part of our routine.

When we first started raising chickens, we would do a head count once or twice a day.  Now, I probably couldn’t tell you how many chickens we have if you asked.

Last year, I wondered if I would ever finish re-roofing our barn.  This summer, I wondered if I would ever finish re-roofing and adding dormers to our house.  They might have taken longer than planned to complete and they may have cost more than anticipated, but they got done.

Our grapevines produced a few handfuls of grapes this year.  We get the first taste of our own homegrown beef next month, as we send our first cow, Daisy, off to slaughter.  We learned that raising pigs is not for us. We learned that a goat in rut is stinky, yet hilarious to watch.

We have learned that our children thrive on a small farm and in a rural setting.

(Oldest boy, assembling a laying box for our birds out of scrap lumber)

Sometimes, a small house isn’t really that small after all.  We have learned that there is nothing more rewarding and humbling than opening up our farm and house to strangers and friends, no matter what condition our farmstead is currently in.  This is what God has called us to do.  As a reward, many of those strangers have since become dear friends and much appreciated neighbors.

(our little egg collector dragging along his favorite kitten while fetching eggs)

Over the last two years, the concept of doing life together with others has been trickling into the core of what we want to do here.  We are not meant to be independent and to go it alone, that is clear.  What a lonely, unproductive, and pitiful life that would be (we’ve been there).  In a nation and world so divided, we can choose to be different at a local level.  We can ignore that which we cannot change and work at what we can change.  My challenge to you as a reader, to myself, and to my family, is, over the next two years, how can we utilize that which has been entrusted to us to meet new people, form new bonds of friendship, to bless a stranger, and to bring true Hope to the hopeless.

It is said, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.  Similarly, the best time to make a positive change in our local community is now.  Quit waiting on someone else to make a difference.  Quit voting for someone else to act and represent.

Don’t think we assume to have it all figured out.  We’ll be the first to admit we don’t, far from it!  We have stumbled too many times along this journey of ours and will do so many more times.  In fact, we have news of another curve ball coming our way, of which I am sure will inevitably lead to more stumbling and failure.

The only difference, this time, we aren’t going it alone.  God has supplied many people around us to help carry us when we are weak and to encourage us when we are feeling low.

Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy or fast.  No relationship worth keeping, is not hard fought for.  Our last two years have been a testament to that!  Our Foundation is strong and He will see us through!  Here’s to the next two years of homesteading!  Here is to the next two years of not sitting idly by, not playing into the politics, not mindlessly consuming media, but getting our hands and feet dirty and living life!

-Jeremy and Shelly

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We are still alive, I think..

Where did summer go?  The leaves are falling and the lows will be flirting with the 30’s tonight.  Yikes!

Harvest and canning season is well underway.  Today we started another year of homeschooling.  This last weekend we tackled some projects, including attic subflooring, sprayfoaming prep, and the beginning of our home motion sensor installation.  Here is a teaser of the next blog post… (Salvaging the attic flooring for restoration before winter sets in and installing sub-flooring)

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The Harvest is On, and so is the Roof!

With the days getting shorter and lows are already in the 40’s.   I’m left thinking, where did summer go?  I know I am not alone.  This summer has been busy, both at home and at work.

Here’s a quick recap of the goings on here at our little farm.

A few weeks ago, our kitchen counters looked like this:

Now substitute the zucchinis above with canning jars, tomatoes, and apples.  That gives you a pretty good idea of what it looks like now!  Harvest season is here!

Last weekend we processed some of our ducks and one of our troublesome roosters.  We now have less drakes than hens and the hens no doubt would tell us thank you if they could talk.  We are currently at 9 hens and 2 drakes, versus 9 hens and 11 drakes…

This weekend involved a little less gore and a lot more cores.  Apples!

We have one mature tree that produced very well this year (and lots of little ones that will start producing in a couple of years).  With our family of six, we were able to completely pick it clean.   All of the scraps and bad apples were sent straightaway to the goats and chickens.   We turned the harvested apples into apple sauce using our food mill and the rest went through the peeler to be frozen for pies, crisps, and apfelpfannkuchen.  The weather this August has been amazing, so we did most of our apple processing outside on our stainless table.  Besides the occasional bee, this was a nice way to keep the stickiness outside of the house.

You can’t make apfelpfannkuchen without eggs.  Our last batch of chicks for the summer have begun to hatch this weekend.  It was a small late summer test batch.

Do you smell something?  We do.  That would be Bilbo our buck.  Last year he was a bit too young to share with us the joys of owning a male goat in the late summer.  This year he isn’t holding back.  Stinky?  Check.  Acting strange?  Check.  “Happy to see us”?  ..ahem..  Check.  The rut has begun.

Speaking of Bilbo.  Last week, our little buck was not feeling too well.  He must have ate something that didn’t sit well with his gut and he came down with bloat.  Bloat can be deadly in goats, so we immediately began treating him after we noticed his large stomach and loss of energy.  First came the oil syringe, some red cell, and then we followed up with a shot of Vitamin B.  After treating with oil and red cell for two days, he came though and is back to his normal self, sans the aforementioned effects of a buck entering rut.

We can’t forget about the house roofing project we have underway.  I cleared some branches that were hanging over our house so I could work on the roof with a little bit of headroom.  Stephen treated the goats to the freshly cut foliage.

With harvest season upon us, we did still manage to wrap up the house roof.  Fascia and soffit still in progress…



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We Have Kittens!

Looking for a kitten?  We may have the lap kitten or mouser you are looking for!  A few weeks ago, our momma cat had a cute batch of five blue-eyed kittens that will be ready to find new homes in a couple of weeks (end of August).

They are most definitely the friendliest batch we have had to date.  Our children give them plenty of attention!

Here is a what we currently have available:


#1 (Free) Black w/ white belly and paws.

#2 ($30) White w/ grey accents on face/ears/tail/paws.  Female.  Blue Eyes.  Ragdoll/Siamese/Farm mix.

#3 (Free) Ginger w/ white accents.  Blue Eyes.

#4 (Free) Ginger w/ white accents.  Blue Eyes. – RESERVED

#5 (Free) Grey w/ white accents. – RESERVED


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Central Vacuum Installation

Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on some “behind the scenes” projects, those easily taken for granted types of things.  Projects like plumbing and wiring that no-one every really sees, but important nonetheless.

That takes me to the floors (which are still not finished).  Keeping them clean can be a never ending battle around here!  Consider the fact that we have four children, a sandbox, gravel driveway, garden, and a small farm, there is always some kind of mess getting tracked into our home.

So, that robotic vacuum that automatically keeps your floor clean looked pretty tempting.  Set the schedule and forget it.  If all it did was keep my floors clean, than that would be great.  But, apparently they can also be used for more lucrative purposes, like mapping your house and selling your furniture layout and house floor-plan to anyone willing to pay for that information.  That is probably just skimming the surface of what they collect and why.  Another more pressing problem, our house now has three levels.  That means we would need to purchase three bots, ouch.

Forget the vacuum cleaners from Wal-Mart or similar big-box stores or online retailers.   I think we have gone through at least 4-5 of those vacuums since we got married.  Enough is enough!

This time, we opted for a central vacuum system (the same brand my parents installed in their house when I was a child).

What is a central vacuum?  It is a vacuum cleaner that is installed in a utility room like other semi-permanent appliances (furnace, water heater,…).  Piping is then plumbed throughout the house, concealed in walls/floors/ceilings that tie back to the vacuum unit.  There are several ports installed throughout the house on the walls (like an electrical outlet) that you can plug your flexible vacuum hose and desired attachment into.

Why install a central vacuum and not just stuck with the standard vacuum cleaner?  Here are three quick reasons we decided to go with a central vacuum.

  • First, all dust is exhausted outside of the house.  The main vacuum unit’s exhaust port is plumbed to the exterior of the house, like a dryer vent.  This makes vacuuming your house a less dusty affair and healthier for us too.
  • Second, noise is mostly limited to the room that the central vacuum is installed in, in our case, the basement utility room.  Thats right, no waking the sleeping kids when you vacuum the floor!
  • Third, convenience.  Because the vacuum chamber and motor are contained in the main unit, located in the utility room, the hose and attachments are light and easy to handle.

So, lets move onto the installation.  There are three main parts to the central vacuum, the main vacuum unit, the piping, and the hose and attachments.

As stated earlier, I installed the main vacuum unit in our utility room on a wall.  The vacuum unit requires 120VAC power and reasonable access to the outside world so that you can run an exhaust pipe.

I ran vacuum tubing, which is basically PVC piping, to each predetermined location we had chosen for vacuum ports.  These ports needed to be located next to an electrical outlet so that the carpet attachment (which includes an electric brush) can be powered.  A small 2-wire cable needed to be pulled to each vacuum port.  This cable is used to connect to a built in switch in each port to automatically turn the vacuum on when you plug in the hose into any of the vacuum ports.

Once I have some additional framing complete in the attic, I will finish running tubing up there and add two additional ports.  I also have plans to trench in piping to our garage so that we can use the central vacuum to clean out our cars, that however is low on my priority list right now!

Goodbye old vacuums!  We truly won’t miss you!




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Comfrey, Plantain, and Stinging Nettle

So, over that last few months, I have discovered three plants that have amazing medicinal and health benefits.  Two of the plant types were naturally growing on our property without the need for us to plant them.  The other we grew from seed and is thriving in our garden.

As I am an engineer and not a doctor, I won’t go into too much detail here, but will share several links that do.  I encourage you to dig into these plants a bit, I think you will be surprised!  As these are free, pick at your own convenience plants, don’t expect much official research on them by any major medical and pharma group.  As they are freely and commonly available, there is little money to be made on them.  No money, no incentive for research.

Comfrey – This plant is known to stimulate cell growth and repair, among other things, when used topically.  We grew this from seed as we are located in USDA Zone 3B.  Our zone gets a bit cold for it to grow natively (I think it will do well as a perennial in zones 4-8).  I will attempt to cover it with straw and see if we can get it to over-winter.  Worst case, I have more seed in the freezer and will grow it as an annual.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfrey

Uses: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/comfrey-leaves-zmaz74zhol

Plantain – This is a plant that I remember seeing every summer since I was a child.  It was easy to spot on most gravel driveways or along a sidewalk.  Never did I know it was a plant that actually had usefulness!  I always thought of it as a weed.  Turns out, it is actually quite useful!  It is edible and can be added to your salad!  It is also know to provide natural bug/bee sting relief.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantago_major

Uses: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/foraging-plantain-for-wild-food-zbcz1507

UPDATE 2017.08.21:  I received my first bee sting while checking bee hives the other weekend.  First thing I did after getting my suit off was to rub the sting with a plantain leaf.  Any sign of the bee sting was gone after about 15-20 minutes!

Stinging Nettle – I will admit, this one caught me by surprise!  Stinging nettle?!  Good for you?  Actually, yes!  Besides being used in oil infusions and salves, it can also be brewed as a tea or added to a smoothie.  Don’t have stinging nettle plants, you can actually buy stinging nettle seeds on Amazon!  Who would have thought??

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica

Uses: https://draxe.com/stinging-nettle/

Last week, Shelly made up a comfrey and plantain oil infusion.  I use it on my knees as I am an avid cyclist and want to encourage cell growth and prevent knee injuries.  I have heard amazing stories about how it has helped people out.  It can’t hurt.  Now that we have bees wax, we were also able to make up the salve version.

Stinging nettle?? God’s creation never ceases to amaze!


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