Welcome to our 1864 farmhouse…life is good!

Thursday, December 27

Christmas cheer...

Holiday homecomings and gifts from the heart have certainly taken the chill out
of the winter winds.

Nearly 8 inches of snow fell in our part of the Midwest yesterday, which made staying at home the best option! With heads bowed against the sleet and icy air, we hurried to complete our outdoor errands, then brushed the snow from our boots and coats, ready to settle back inside.

However; it seems the kids don't feel the wintry chill at all. They had no trouble bundling up, going sledding, and tossing snowballs! Eventually they came back in, rosy-cheeked and smiling, ready for some hot chocolate.

And so, while winter is here, and we are lucky enough to have the magic of a country Christmas, here are a few glimpses of the farm under the spell of a winter snowfall.

Home is truly the heart of the holidays...

Monday, December 24

merry Christmas!

"As the Christmas season envelopes us with all its glory,
may we, as did the Wise Men, see a bright, particular star to guide us
to our Christmas opportunity in service of our fellowmen.

May we all make the journey to Bethlehem in spirit,
taking with us a tender, caring heart as our gift to the Savior."

~Thomas S. Monson, 1994

Saturday, December 22

an early Christmas present...

I know everyone is so busy...I'll keep this short. I received an early Christmas present and just had to share. 

A while ago my mom passed along a catalog from Americana Floorcloths (find them by clicking hereand told me to choose one for my birthday...yay!  

Oh my...the catalog is filled with lovely floorcloths in a variety of designs and colors. There were so many patterns I fell in love with, but an especially pretty red floorcloth kept catching my eye. It was my dream farm...sheep, dairy cattle, pretty red saltbox on a hill...ahhh. 

And so I placed an order...Jennifer Frantz, the artist, was terrific as we emailed back & forth with my questions and her answers. 


Now, her artwork is in our kitchen, just in time for Christmas...it looks so pretty. I love the idea that it's made by hand, just for me. And with winter's first snowfall, a crackling fire while we bake cookies, and kids who just couldn't be more excited, I'm a pretty happy gal!

Friday, December 14

a little candelight...

This vintage-style Santa has greeted us each time we come through our
kitchen door for several years.

And last week, I decided he needed a little candlelight to warm him up on these cold winter evenings. Sure enough, I spotted just what I needed wanted in the window of a little primitive shop on the town square...a green vintage jar with a little tealight tucked inside sweetly sitting on a bent piece of silverware.

However; practicality got the best of me...I knew I could make it myself, and even better, I knew I had everything I needed already at home!

I bent a silver spoon (you can try stainless steel, but I don't possess the brute strength to bend it...old silver is so much easier!) A bend at the bottom of the handle creates a flat spot for the tealight to rest, and a curve along the top secures it to the lip of the jar.

A bit of coarse salt was added to the jar, along with "greenery" & a rusty tin star...I was done in no time at all!

Sweet & simple...that's just how I like it!

Monday, December 10

Advent jar...

Shops around the town square are readying for Christmas. Windows are now filled a rich blend of both traditional and vintage trees. Some trees boast cheery red bows, snowbirds, and sparkly lights while others are hot pink, flocked white, or vintage silver...each bringing back sweet memories in their own way.

Temperatures the last few days were in the 60's and rainy...not exactly the type of weather that brings Christmas cheer. However, one night the rain stopped, the temperatures fell and I woke up to find the truck doors had frozen closed. Luckily, with a little effort, I was able to open the passenger's side door and climb over to the driver's side. Soon the truck was warm and ready to take kids to school. And so it goes...December is a month of surprises indeed...not the least of which, is what weather we'll wake up to.

Like so many we have familiar traditions...a movie basket filled with old favorites, an Advent calendar with pockets hiding a daily chocolate treat, and a stack of well-loved books filled with Christmas stories and poems. Each night we settle in before bedtime to read from a lovely hand-made Advent calendar shared by a dear friend.

This year I wanted to add a little something new to our holiday traditions. Often with the hustle & bustle of the season...school parties, get-togethers with friends, concerts, & church gatherings, simple family time can get lost in the shuffle. So keeping the idea simple, I jotted down 24 ideas of things to do together. They range from playing a board game to building a gingerbread barn, making "real" hot chocolate and popping corn the old-fashioned way.  
Tucked inside a vintage green jar, one slip is pulled out each day to see what the surprise is in store for us.

Time flies...and I'm hoping to create some fond remembrances for our family. As the saying goes, "We're never too young or too old to store up memories."

Please share some of the traditions you enjoyed growing up, or what you've done to celebrate Christmas as a family. I'm sure you'll inspire new ideas for us!

Thursday, November 29

seed packets to share...

Very good friends of ours are moving away...it's a sad time when folks that we've come to know well, and enjoy their company so much, have to leave. We understand though... sometimes there's just a pull, a tug, a feeling of inspiration that it's time to settle somewhere else, a new place to call home.

Before they left, I wanted to share something with them that would bring back memories of their years spent here, so I decided to send along seeds for a Friendship Garden.

There are lots of seed packet templates online, so it makes this a quick & easy project. Simply find a design you like (or create your own), then fold on the dotted lines, glue flaps in place, and fill with flower seeds from your garden. It's that simple and in no time at all, you will have oodles of packets for sharing!

I'd encourage you to create some seed packets from the flowers in your own garden. Tuck them into Christmas cards or a "thinking of you" letter...they're sure to bring smiles to a special friend who's far away.

While it's a simple gift, I hope when Ellen scatters these seeds in the garden of her new home, she'll think of us and have warm memories of her time spent in Midwest.  Oh how we'll miss this family!

Wednesday, November 14

building a hive ventilation box...

The more I learn about beekeeping, the more I love our chickens! 

Just kidding...while I do love the girls and their farm-fresh eggs, they're really pretty low maintenance. This time of year I'm keeping an eye on the temperature in the coop, plugging in the heated waterer on frosty nights, surrounding the coop with straw bales, and adding lots of shavings & straw inside the coop to keep the girls snug for the winter to come.

The bees, on the other hand, have given me much more reason to read...read...read. They too were pretty low maintenance in the summer, but now my goal has shifted from hoping not to get stung, to doing all I can to keep them alive through the winter. 

The bee inspector says they have plenty of honey stores, and that's a good thing...it's the food storage they'll use to survive this coming winter. My mouse guard is in place (evidently hives are considered a cozy winter spot for the field mice!) and now that the temperatures have dropped to the 20's at night, I have straw bales surrounding the hive to screen it from the chilly winds. This weekend I'll wrap the hive in tar paper, replace the bales, then cross my fingers and wait for spring.

There's a break in the weather today, and so I'm putting a ventilation box in place. Our neighbor has one she used successfully last year, and so we patterned ours to be very similar.

The box is used to give any moisture that builds up a way to escape. Filled with fiberglass insulation, it also works to prevent condensation from developing on the underside of the outer cover. If this cold condensation is allowed to form, it drips down on the bee cluster chilling them to the point that they may not survive.

To make the box, start with a spare super that fits your hive. A 1-1/2 inch spade drill bit is used to add holes to the sides of the super...2 on each side.

Each hole is then covered and secured from the inside with #8 hardware cloth. A length of fiberglass screen is stapled across the bottom opening of the box and insulation is added as the final step.

Our neighbor's box has several narrow slats across the bottom; however, she fills her box with sawdust, so the slats work to keep the sawdust in place.  We opted to use fiberglass insulation in our box, and so didn't add the slats.

To install the box, I'll remove the outer and inner covers. The ventilation box will sit directly on the frames of the top hive body. I'll then replace the outer cover (no inner cover needed) then add two bricks to keep the cover in place during the winter winds. Periodically during the winter, if a warm days occurs, I'll quickly peek inside the box to see that it's doing it's job.

And so my learning continues! 

Here's hoping all is well in the hive, and that they've settled down for a long winter's nap...

Thursday, November 1

practical preparedness...firewood

Photo Credit...

I obviously don't exercise enough.

After stacking wood with my family this weekend...
My back and shoulders ache.
I'm feeling old.
It's time for the heating pad.

However, on the bright side, we have a terrific amount of firewood ready at a moment's notice should it be needed! 

The barn is filled with the sweet scent of freshly-cut wood as the aromas of cherry, hedge, and ash mingle to greet us each time we step inside. And while it's a delight to take in, on the more practical side, it has a very important role to play in our preparedness.

Should we have a power outage, this wood will not only keep us warm, but will help to feed us as well. Living in a farmhouse that's 148 years old has blessed us with 3 fireplaces...one each in the kitchen, dining room, and what was most likely once a parlor. 

Those fireplaces most certainly kept the original homeowners warm from many a winter storm. However, somewhere along the years, a previous owner decided it was a good idea remove the chimney of the fireplace in the dining room, and toss it down the flue passageway. Sadly we couldn't rebuild the structure to make it safely usable, however, we did have the firebox reworked and then refinished an old mantel to keep the home's original look.

Now, how to store that firewood to make sure it's ready when we need it...

Choose where you store the wood carefully. Find a spot that's dry and allows for air to circulate around the woodpile. A barn or an open-ended wood shed are both ideal. Wet wood will rot, crumble, and give off very little heat. It's essential to keep the wood dry.

Remember to stack the wood off the ground. Wood pallets work well, or you can easily put together a log rack you'll find available at your home improvement store. (I say "easily" because I didn't put it together...hats off to my hubby on this one!) Look closely at the wording on each log rack box...it will tell you how much wood the rack support. Most come ready to hold 1/2, 3/4 or 1 cord of wood. It's important not to overload the rack.

If you choose to place the log rack outdoors on the ground, instead of on a cement pad, stake the rack to keep it steady. If that pile begins to lean, eventually the entire log rack will come with it.

If the woodpile it outside and no barn/shed is available, be sure to cover it with a tarp to keep it dry, and secure the tarp from the winter winds. If you happen to get a sunny winter day, you may want to even uncover the wood to let out any moisture that's trapped inside.

While wood is generally sold by the cord (4'x4'x8') how do you know how much wood you'll need? Well, that depends on many factors. How many hours a day do you need a fire? Are you cooking in a large fireplace or on a small wood stove? Is it your only source of heat/cooking, or are you also using coal, wood pellets, canned heat, or kerosene?  Here is an excellent site that gives not only information on heating options, but also essential safety tips to keep in mind.

I've read that Montana pioneers needed 12 cords of wood to make it through a winter. However; that was a 24-hour a day fire for warmth and cooking, with winter lasting often from October through April. And while most of us wouldn't need anywhere near that amount, it would be wise to do the math and find out how much wood would sustain your family through a hard winter.

How long will your wood last? Well, the experts say indefinitely if you keep it dry and the air can freely circulate around the woodpile. I have to agree. Last year we finished burning several logs tucked into a corner of our barn that were at least 10 years old!

Yes, a crackling fire on a Sunday afternoon is a favorite around this old house. Good for curling up beside with a good book, some knitting, or even a little nap. But knowing that we're prepared for the winds to blow and the snow to fly, also gives peace of mind.

Monday, October 22

thanks, Capper's Farmer!

A heartfelt "Thanks!" to the publishers of Capper's Farmer for including me in their first-ever Winter 2012 holiday bookazine!


Filled to the brim with handmade gift ideas, yummy recipes, and inspiration for old-fashioned holidays, I'm tickled the publishers of GRIT magazine invited me to join them in this issue.

If you flip through the bookazine to page 12, you'll find the story of how we roast a turkey in our 1860-tin kitchen (reflector oven). It's oh-so easy, and has a delicious, truly roasted flavor. And...roasting it this way frees up the oven for all those Thanksgiving rolls and pies!

You can find out more about the bookazine by clicking here, or if you subscribe to GRIT Country digitally, you'll see it there as well.

A happy, happy Monday...thanks again GRIT & Capper's!

Wednesday, October 17

prepping the hive for winter...

Just like everything else on the farm, it's time to prepare for winter. So we're putting the garden to bed, stacking straw bales around the coop, and creating cozy corners for barn cats. It's also time for the beehive to be readied for winter, and this is a new experience for us.

Our bees arrived in July, and so far they've worked hard drawing out foundation and prepping themselves for the season to come. The bee inspector was out last Saturday, and he says we have plenty of honey stores for them to overwinter and that everything in the hive looks just right...yay, that's good news!

So what are we doing to prepare them for winter? Well, here's what we've done so far. Now by no means are we experts, this is, after all, our first beehive. But with endless reading and talking with other beekeepers, we've completed the following...

Keep inspecting the hive to make sure the queen is there or that eggs are easily seen. (our queen is marked, and was easy for us to spot...all is well!)

Continuously check honey supplies for winter (this food storage will keep them alive through the cold months). We have an 8-frame, medium hive, so our hive body consists of 3 boxes. An inspection told us that all frames are filled, but also lifting the hive from behind is a clue to how much food storage the bees have. Having lifted several 50-pound chicken feed sacks, the weight was familiar to me, and the hive was difficult to budge. Again, a good sign that it weighs the 60 to 100 pounds that it should.

Feed the colony a 2:1 sugar-syrup mixture. Following the Beekeeping for Dummies instructions, we boiled 2-1/2 quarts of water, turned off the heat and added 10 pounds of white sugar to the mixture. Stirring until dissolved, I then added 2 tablespoons of Honey B Healthy to the mixture. Last month,
I also added Fumagilin-B to protect them against Nosema. (1 teaspoon in 1/2 c. cold water stir to dissolve, then added to the sugar mixture...this is only added to the first 2 gallons of syrup mixture.)

Monitor the syrup mixture...we'll keep feeding them until they stop taking the syrup or until the daytime temperatures drop into a consistent high only in the 40's.

 I've glued craft sticks/Popsicle sticks to the 4 corners of the inner cover's flat side. This will give the bees ventilation during the winter...it's important to keep the condensation from dripping back on them as ice-cold water.

A metal mouseguard was put in place to allow the bees easy in & out access, but to keep mice
(who are looking for a cozy winter home) outside...where they belong! 


So that's our routine for fall. As November approaches, we plan to wrap the hive in black tar paper to help it absorb heat (leaving the entrance open). We'll also stack straw bales or provide another sort of windbreak from the harsh winds, and finally place bricks on the hive cover to keep it in place during those strong winds.

We plan to make a ventilation box to place on top of the hive...an empty super with a screened bottom and several screened ventilation holes drilled in the sides. The box is then filled with sawdust or insulation. More reading up on this is needed, as is the suggestion that we keep the feeder on during the winter. I was told the heat from the hive will keep the syrup mixture from freezing, but my worry is that in opening the hive to refill the feeder, I'll chill the bees.

And so it means there is more reading to do, and much to learn. We've found that there are many opinions from various beekeepers, and many options when it comes to what's "right" in his hobby!  And with that said, I do welcome any beekeeper comments...it's always good to learn what's worked and not worked for you. Your input is appreciated!


Wednesday, October 10

fall magic...

The days are crisp now and the colors glorious. Bittersweet tangles over old wooden fences, the scent of woodsmoke is in the air each evening, and fields are covered with burgundy, gold, and russet leaves. This magical time of year has always been my favorite season, and I continue to be astonished by it's beauty.

The temperatures are below normal this fall, making us wonder if winter will be harsh. So amid the fun of hanging bunches of Indian corn, setting out arrangements of mums, and carving pumpkins, we're stacking firewood, bundling up the chicken coop, and reading up on how to keep the beehive warm & snug during its first winter on the farm.

October is a time of harvest...the fields of corn and soybeans that once surround our home have been removed, and our own garden has been put to bed for winter. Except; however, for two prolific pepper plants which continue to shower us with their bounty...I just couldn't pull them up yet! It's a time for tucking away baskets of potatoes in the root cellar and stocking up on needfuls for the winter days ahead. We feel an old-fashioned stirring that it's best to be ready for cold and snowy weather.

Apples are plentiful at the local farmers' markets, and in country kitchens everywhere, October means apple butter, jams & jellies are being put up for winter. Two of our favorites from the farmers' market are Dutch Apple Jam and Apple-Cinnamon Jelly...they are so good spread on warm rolls, buttery biscuits, or just-baked bread.

Yes, these clear October days are worth enjoying to the fullest. It's a fine time to walk a country road, bike thorough fallen leaves, or simply putter outside. These days are made for warming the heart when winter's chill arrives.

As I've heard, "Life is a series of memories..." so let's fill October with the best memories possible.

~fetch a plump pumpkin and give it a cheery grin
~take a walk, a  hayride, a Sunday drive and enjoy the brilliant trees
~rake all the leaves in your yard...then jump in them!
~visit a local orchard or farmstand...bring home a basket of juicy apples
~sit by the fire and read
~travel the back roads
~put extra quilts on the bed
~make s'mores around a campfire & tell stories
~laugh, make memories, enjoy every minute...

Wednesday, October 3

rainy day barns...

It's a rainy day in the Midwest, and that means "check beehive" has been moved to another day's to-do list.

However, the rain didn't keep me from capturing photos of old wooden barns along the nearby country roads. "Real" barns...not manufactured and delivered, not shiny & new, but barns with history, barns with heart. 

If only they could talk.

This barn, situated on a state route, was most recently a tanning salon...imagine!
What I love is the glass addition to the left...it could be a wonderful greenhouse.

The cupola atop the barn has windows that would have let light in and allowed hot air to escape.
It is certainly an elegant reminder of our heritage.
The weather vane, along with several lightning rods, caught my eyes as well.

This barn, with it's rounded roof, sits alongside a very old brick farmhouse on a winding country road.

Behind the barn, silos & grain bins can be seen. To the barn's left, yet out of sight, is another very large barn.
This must have been quite a busy homestead when it was a full-time farm.
Why did I spent part of a rainy morning photographing barns?

Well, it seems these barns, so full of history & American heritage, are becoming things of the past. Before I saw another one torn down, or drove by the burning remains of what once was, I wanted to capture all of them that I could.

As I've said in the past, while the thought is sad, I fear that these vanishing landmarks will soon exist only through photography.

Tuesday, September 18

the Country Living Fair!

While the skies darkened a bit, luckily the clouds kept on rolling by...they were only teasing, and so a visit to the Country Living Fair came off without a hitch!

So many tents filled to overflowing with handmade items, vintage finds, hard-to-find antiques, and everything from handcrafted birdhouses to snazzy stitched aprons.

Here are just a few snapshots of the day...


a terrific vintage truck...

clever inspiration...

 more old autos (must...have...one!)

harvest-time scarecrows...

 retro toys were everywhere..

and all too soon, it was time for a fond farewell...

 I hope you have the opportunity to visit one day...you'll absolutely love it!

Monday, September 10

practical preparedness 2...

photo source: www.todaysphoto.org

Our last post for practical preparedness was on how to safely purify water in case of an emergency…remember that boiling is best; however using bleach or commercial water filters will also make water safe to drink. Look here to find all the how-to's.

You should have an emergency water supply of at least 7 gallons per person...that's one gallon, per day as recommended for a one-week home emergency kit. That's a lot of water!

If you plan to purchase water, keep in mind that commercially bottled water in PETE (or PET) plastic containers need to be rotated and used  by the “best if used by” date guideline. Avoid plastic containers that are not PETE plastic.

It's also a good idea to keep in mind that a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. Meaning a 5 gallon container will be 40 pounds for you to carry! You may want to use several smaller containers to make sure they're easy to lift by the members your family.

If you want to package your own water use these guidelines:

Fill only food-grade containers, containers made of PETE plastic.

Be sure to sanitize and rinse thoroughly any container you plan to use. Make a simple solution of 1 teaspoon liquid bleach mixed with 1 quart of water to thoroughly clean, then rinse containers. Remember to use bleaches without scents.

Plastic milk jugs are not a good choice for water storage…not only do they not seal tightly, they will become brittle over time.

Never used containers that previously held non-food products.

City water (water that’s chlorinated from a water supply) needs no more treatment and is ready to store in sanitized, food-grade containers.

Non-chlorinated water, needs to be treated with bleach. Add 8 drops of liquid bleach to every gallon of water. Use only bleaches with no scent or additives.

Keep water storage from light, heat, and freezing temperatures.

Rotate the water often, and if needed, the taste can be improved by pouring the water  back and forth between two containers before using.

How long does water last?

Well, according to the International Bottled Water Assn., or IBWA, properly stored water is potable "indefinitely." The IBWA (here) has a lot of information.

However; it's important to know that how long water will last is determined by how it was stored and its source...was it bottled commercially or did you bottle it yourself?

Commercially bottled water will have an expiration date stamped on it...expect the shelf life to be about a year. If you're bottling the water yourself, be sure to rotate it, then replace bottles every six months.

Expired water can certainly be used for hand-washing laundry, dishes, or watering plants...recycle & reuse!

Please feel free to share any information or experiences that you have...it's great to learn from one another!

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