Sunday, February 25, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes!

When we went to bed last night we were under the distinct impression that we would wake up to some "snow showers". When we woke up this morning, we found we had accumlated between 7 - 8 inches of snow showers! It was quite a surprise. And it continues to fall as I am writing this. The weather people are telling us to expect sleet this afternoon. I hope they are as wrong about that as they were the snow showers. Snow is so much easier to deal with than ice is.....

The snow is absolutely gorgeous and I snapped a few pictures when we headed out for fire wood and to clean off the bee hive entrances. It apparently sleeted first, as the hive entrances were encased in ice under all the snow. We dug them out - and the girls are snuggled down so tightly they didn't even venture down to see what all the noise was about. I hope they stay warm.

Well, we would normally head back to town today, but it's looking like we'll be stuck here at the homestead over night. We should be able to dig out by tomorrow and get on the road. Hey, there are certainly worse places to be than here!

Bee Free,

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Andirons from H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

You may recall that last week I mentioned that Bernie and Tex were working on making us some andirons that circulate heat for our fireplace. Well, they did - and those andirons produce more heat than I would have thought possible. These are certainly not the prettiest andirons you will ever see, but I'm here to tell you they work! I put some pictures of them up on the website, and included some pictures of the modifications we had to make. If you are using a fireplace and looking for a way to get more heat out of it, I highly recommend making these. I estimate they spent about 4 hours making them and they are a heat generating machine!

I also started a Homestead Pictures - II project on the BackToBasicLiving website. I really had to do that as Homestead Pictures - I was getting rather lengthy!

And finally, we checked in on the bees and they seem to be holding up really well in all this cold weather. We saw a few of the girls out and about. They were cleaning house and dragging out the poor little dead bees that didn't fair very well in all this cold weather. I put a picture on the website of the girls around one of the hives. Scroll to the bottom and click the picture dated 2/24/07 to enlarge it and you can see the girls around the entrance, and the dead bees just outside of it.

It's only Saturday, but I wanted to get the pictures up for you to see. I can't wait to sell our home in town and get out to our homestead full time. I plan to keep you busy looking at pictures of all our projects and reading my words of wisdom and wit on homesteading.

Bee Free,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ice is Really Hard - and I've got the scrapes and bruises to prove it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we had snow last week that covered the ground about 3 inches before it turned to sleet and covered that with about 3 inches of ice. Well, while we were at the homestead this weekend, it flurried off and on and left about 1/4 inch of snow on top of the ice. That actually seemed to help with traction and I found walking outside a little easier. Until this morning.....

As we were packing up to leave the homestead and get back to town to do our chores, I decided to take some leftover dinner rolls out to the edge of the woods for the birds to nibble on in this ice covered tundra that used to be a nice feasting area for them. As I stepped outside, I tested my first few steps and discovered it really did not feel that slippery. The little bit of snow that topped the ice really seemed to have helped. I went prancing out towards the woodline and suddenly my feet started sliding. My legs twirled in place, similar to those cartoons characters that hit a slick spot, and all of a sudden BAM - my legs came flying above my head and my rear end made an abrupt contact with the ice. I threw my arms out to catch myself and as I slid across the ground I could not help but wonder if those birds would appreciate my efforts, or if they were laughing their feathers off. When I finally came to a stand still both elbows were bleeding and my rear end hurt. I hurled the bread as far as I could and slowly made my way back into the house.

Once we got back to town, Bernie took off to Tex's house - they're going to make some andirons for our fireplace that will blow the heat back into the room. I'll be sure to post pictures of the final product on the website. I stayed home to clean house with achey elbows. We're going to talk to some real estate agents and pick what we hope is a good one to sell our home in town for us. We really need to get this thing sold - keeping up two homes is really wearing on us.

I took a picture of the beehives while it was snowing. I really hate leaving the girls there by themselves, but they seem to be doing pretty darn well on their own! I also updated the website album with a picture of snow coming down on the homestead.

Oh - if you haven't signed up to be notified when the blog is updated, you can do that on the right side of this page.

Bee Free,

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I know you don't want to miss a word of this blog

I just added an Email subscription service ( FeedBurner) to the blog. I know you'd hang on my every word, and now you get instant notification when I update this blog! Sign up for it - and let me know how it works. Look to the right and you'll see "Sign up to be notified when this blog is updated". Enter your email address and then click "Subscribe Me!" and follow the instructions.

Pretty easy. Sign up now and you'll never have to worry about missing my words of wisdom and wit.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Taste of Real Winter at the Homestead

We were supposed to be at my step-daughter's wedding in Mississippi this weekend. But Old Man Winter had other plans and dumped about 3 inches of snow, covered in 3 inches of ice on Shenandoah Valley. We had planned to drive down, and that little bit of a winter blast came at exactly the wrong time for us. We're pretty unhappy about it.

Since we can't be in Mississippi this weekend, we decided we needed to come out to the homestead and make sure the ice didn't bring a tree limb down on the house or cause some other disaster that needed tending to. We worked Friday and then took off for our homestead immediately after arriving at our home in town and throwing a few things in the truck.

Bernie has a Ford F-350 Diesel Duely. We call it the Big Growlie. I honestly didn't give much thought to it as we headed towards the homestead until Bernie said "I sure hope we can make it up our driveway." Gulp. I had not thought about the last 1/4 mile that would bring us to our little home there. The driveway is curvy - and it's got a couple of steep hills. And we had a fair amount of ice. Oh boy. This could get hairy. And it did.

Bernie made it to our driveway just fine. The first thing he encountered was a steep hill down. He put it in 4 wheel drive and took it very slowly. We did pretty well - no real slipping or sliding. He made the sharp turn to the left with little trouble and then started up the incline. We only made it a few yards before the wheels started spinning and we stopped moving. I had managed to NOT say a word (very unusual for me) and to just about tear the arm rest off by holding on so tightly. Bernie backed down the hill a little and then gunned it forward. We were sliding a fair amount, but he kept it under control. It took quite a few minutes to make it up the steep hill, but he did it! I almost passed out from holding my breath, and my hand went numb from clutching the arm rest so tightly, but we made it safe and sound. Whew!

We unpacked the truck - which was not as easy as it sounds as we were skating on ice the entire time. The ice was so thick we didn't even leave feet print!

We weren't expecting to be here this weekend, so we had very little groceries. We decided we needed to go to town and buy a few staples. I ran around and took some pictures of our Winter Wonderland, while Bernie went down to check out the road. He came up to get me and let me know he would feel better about it if we spread some gravel on the steep hill that goes up at the end of the driveway. So we grabbed the Trail Blazer, loaded it with gravel a couple of times, and spread it on the hill he was concerned with. He also decided that he would leave the truck at the beginning of the driveway when we returned. So when we finished with the gravel, he drove the truck down, and I followed him in the Trail Blazer. He made it up the hill just fine!

We got the necessities we needed at the grocery store, which mainly consisted of beer and the ingredients for lasagna, and we headed back to the homestead. As planned, we left the truck at the front of the driveway, loaded the Trail Blazer with the groceries, and headed up to the house.

I've got the lasagna on now and it's snowing again to beat the band. But it's a long weekend for us here, because of the President's Day holiday. So we'll have all day tomorrow to shovel snow and do fun things like that.

By the way, we checked on the bees. I was actually pretty scared when we first saw the hives. They were covered in ice, and the bottom openings were sealed with it. But we removed all the ice and put our ears to the hives and could hear them angrily buzzing inside. These poor little girls are obviously NOT cold weather creatures. I told them it makes no sense to me - they are RUSSIAN bees for heaven's sake. That seemed to make them buzz even more angrily. I quickly removed the ice and left.

Bee Free,

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Prison Wine Really Doesn't Travel Well Afterall....

After the relatively mild start to winter, we had record breaking cold temps in this area of Virginia last week. With highs only in the 20's and lows in the single digits, Bernie and I were particularly stressed thinking about our little house on the homestead. The well water tank sits under the house and is really only protected by the skirting. We did the best we could at winterizing - heat tape around the pipes and insulation all around the tank- but after hearing and reading about so many people with pipes that burst in the cold and frigid weather, we were really concerned what we would find when we went to our homestead this last weekend.

We left work at our usual time on Friday evening, and headed back to our home in town to pack up as quickly as possible so we could arrive at our homestead while there was still a little daylight left. That would make it easier to access any damage. So we were running through the house grabbing things and slinging them in the truck as fast as we could when I remembered my Prison Wine. You may recall I started a special batch of Grape Prison Wine and modified the recipe to make it less sweet. It's been percolating for several weeks, and I had decided that this was the weekend I would bottle it. Well......

I had sat my precious Prison Wine on the table in the dining room that we use as a "staging area" for things that are to go with us to our homestead. I was in the kitchen grabbing some last minute groceries when I saw Bernie pick up the wine and head out to the truck. A few seconds later I heard him scream an expletive at the top of his lungs. I intuitively knew this had something to do with my Prison Wine. And I knew it was not good. Not good at all. And sure enough a few moments later Bernie came walking in with a glass jar that used to hold my precious wine - and all that was left in the bottom of it was about 20 fermented grapes. It had a huge hole busted out of the middle of it. For those of you that are in any sort of a relatively long term relationship, you will understand when I tell you that I figured out pretty quickly that something bad had just happened, and because it happened with something that was mine it would now be my fault. I was torn between crying, apologizing profusely, or running out the front door as quickly as I could. Instead I said "I'll clean it up". Bernie grunted as I took the ruined remains of my wine jar from his hands.

I grabbed a roll of paper towels and headed outside. I figured he had dropped the jar on the driveway. That would give me ammunition for the argument I planned to present that would clearly redeem me and place the blame squarely on him. I was certain that this wasn't my fault and he should have been more careful. I was feeling pretty good about it as I headed out the door and looked at the driveway. What???? No wine on the driveway???? Well, what the ........ and then I looked at the floor of the backseat of our super king cab truck. There was sticky wine and big blobs of fermented grapes all over the floor. I was dumbfounded. I must have looked as bewildered as I felt because Bernie quickly said "That glass jar must have been stressed from all the travel. I sat it on the floor where I normally do and it barely clinked against that metal thingy and the next thing I knew, wine was pouring out everywhere." I can not tell you what a pain it was to clean all that mess out of that truck. I swear that gallon jar held more like 10 gallons. It was running everywhere. We finally got it all cleaned up and took off down the road. I'm glad we didn't get stopped by the police - the fumes were quite impressive. On the ride out to the homestead, Bernie said to me (in his most authoritative voice) "You know, the likelihood of anything breakable and containing liquid being in this truck again is slim to none. Unless it's in a concrete container, it is strictly forbidden. No more Prison Wine in this truck. Ever. That's it. The foot is coming down." Blah, blah, blah. I mean really! Whatever.

As sad as I was for losing my precious wine, I was still very anxious about getting out to the homestead and learning if we suffered damage from all this ridiculously cold weather. When we finally arrived, I immediately turned on the cold water. It worked! Yay! Bernie took a flashlight and checked under the house and found no evidence of burst pipes. What a relief!

We went down to check out the bees on Saturday morning and they were angrily buzzing about how darn cold it was. Bernie even saw 3 of them come out and buzz around a bit before quickly heading back inside to let the others know it was not worth venturing out.

We spent early Saturday morning getting groceries and when it warmed up a bit we spent the afternoon cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. We have a lot of really nice oak ready to burn now.

So there you have it. Prison Wine doesn't travel as well as I thought it did and our little homestead and Russian Bees kick serious cold weather butt. It gets better than this - but until we can move out there full time we'll have to be happy with these little experiences. Oh - and I'll be sure to let you know when I start my next batch of Prison Wine - and how it endures the trip in the truck out to the homestead...... in a glass jar.

Bee Free,

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cold and quiet on the Homestead

It was really looking like we'd get away with a mild winter all around, but someone apparently notified Old Man Winter and he showed up with a vengeance. It's really cold and windy in the Shenandoah Valley now and the homestead is bracing for a week that won't even see a high of 30 - if you believe the weather man - and right now, I do indeed believe him!

We got out to our little piece of tranquility Friday night amid flurries and freezing temperatures. Bernie got a nice fire going in the fire place and I threw together a pizza for supper. Saturday was blustery and I quickly talked myself out of squirrel hunting. After all, we have plenty of food out there, so it wasn't like we needed the meat for supper - right? I ended up helping Bernie split wood and stacking it by the fireplace. We spent the afternoon trying to stay warm by the fire and I got some work done on my computer.

Today is Super Bowl, and we had hoped to spend it on the homestead and take a day off work tomorrow. Unfortunately, I have a meeting at work I can't miss and Bernie has some things on his plate that he needs to be there for, so we ended up leaving the homestead around 11AM so we could get back to town and do our chores here before the Big Game starts.

I honestly have no interest in football, but Bernie loves it. It has become a tradition in our family that each year I throw a little Super Bowl party for Bernie - and he's the only one that attends. Being around a bunch of people who won't stop talking during the game really annoys him, so he prefers to watch it at home and have me serve him food while he screams at the TV and rants like a lunatic. He plans his menu months in advance and even decides the precise moment he wants to be served. This year it's Wing Dings and celery sticks during pre-game. Then Tacos after first quarter, and enchiladas at halftime. Beer isn't on the schedule because it will be flowing the entire afternoon.

I don't mind giving Bernie this special treatment on this day every year. The man puts up with my dumb butt all year long, so I figure it's the least I can do. Plus, as we already established, I'm a pretty good wife.

I've gotten a couple of really nice emails this week from people who appreciate the website and this blog. It really makes me happy to know that people are encouraged to begin an adventure into homesteading by looking at what we are doing and saying "If THEY can do it, so can I!" Because it really is true. We're getting there one step at a time. I wish it would go faster, but as you know Bernie and I made an agreement that we would sell our home in town to pay off all debt before moving to our homestead full time. In the meantime, we continue to work in the city 75 miles away, pay off as much debt as we can each pay day, and spend weekends on the homestead.

Bernie checked on the bees this weekend. They were snuggled down pretty tightly. He put his ear to each hive and heard them buzzing and complaining of the cold weather. I guess none of us is happy about it right now.

Bee free,