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Month: June 2011

Laying Foundations

Laying Foundations

What is the foundation of your life?  I think about things like that when I’m hoovering or matching socks.  I mean, what’s it all about really when you get right down to it?

Well for us right now our foundation is this,

Wood, concrete and metal pins.  The foundations of our house have begun.  This week the wet tile and basement walls will go in, by next week the framing of the house will start.  Every time I visit this place it feels stranger and stranger to leave,  this feels so much like home now.  Every weekend we are up at the land, finding a reason to stay, a job to do, something to ‘check on’.  The honest truth is that all we want is to be there, the listen to the grass hiss in the breeze, to feel the sun fall on our faces and bask in the bird song.

While we are laying the foundation of our house this week, the foundation of our life is the earth it is built on.  The soil that will allow us to grow food, the pastures that will sustain animals who will in turn sustain us.  The sunshine that will give us all life and will generate electricity through solar panels.  While this house is so very, very important to us and so personal, it is the life we will live outside, on the land that is our real future.

Jedi’s always win

Jedi’s always win

Triumph. Not just the name of my rather awesome motorbike, but also the natural state for a Jedi Knight. Behold the foundations of our new home.

From here, I will plan and execute my inevitable domination of the world, or at least the Ontario niche alcohol and heritage farm products markets. The clock is ticking!

Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep

Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep

So how are you doing?  Good weekend?  Busy?  Good weather?  What’s that?  Do I have any ridiculously cute pictures of chicks?

Why, funny you should ask…

And because everyone looks good in black and white…

These photos aren’t wonderful as I didn’t want to freak out the little fluffs with a flash and it is over cast today so a bit dark for inside pics.  But how good does a picture need to be in order to convey the fabulous fluffiness that is our little chicks?  I have to restrict my visits to their room because the next thing I know I’m engrossed in ‘Chick TV’ and 20 minutes has gone by without me realising!

So behold the cutest, fluffiest and most entertaining chicks in the world.  And if they don’t cheer up your Monday, I really don’t know what will.

Hatching Plans

Hatching Plans

I hinted earlier in the week about my grand plans for future egg production on our farm.  19 days ago my friend kindly gave me 15 fertilised eggs and loaned me her incubator in lieu of a chicken mummy and away we went!

Since then I have been turning the eggs 3-5 times daily (that’s what the pencil X and O are for on each egg) and candling them at 7, 10 and 14 days to remove any non fertile eggs.  Candling is the process of holding a light up to the egg, I used a small but strong torch with my hand cupped above it in a tube.  This allows you to see inside the egg for signs of fertilisation, a dark spot is the embryo and little web lines indicate the beginnings of life.  It is so exciting to know that little chick is growing inside that egg!  At the 10 day point there was only one egg that was clear and unfertilised and at 14 there was another that hadn’t produced a chick.  I removed them as they can release gases that can poison the other eggs.

Amazingly when I was looking at the eggs at 14 days I saw one that had little feet pressed up against the inside of the shell!   Last night, when I was turning eggs I heard a distinct cheep  so tonight Huwyl helped me turn the eggs and again we heard a couple of little peeps from inside the eggs.  He stood as still and quiet as is humanly possible (it’s a sliding scale, we take what we can get) while we waited for more cheeping.  We were rewarded with a few more little cheeps, a taste of what is to come.

We have all of our kit in place and tomorrow I’m going to work with the boys on getting the brooder set up.  Like good homeschoolers we are using this as a learning experience and reading up on chickens and chicks.  I’m sure Huwyl will be world expert in chickens and their care by the end of the month!

In accordance with the saying I’m not counting my chicks until they are hatched so we’ll just have to see what Saturday brings.  The anticipated rate of hatching is 50-75% so we could get between 6-10 chicks and we’ll have to wait a while to see how many of these are female for my egg laying master plan.  Hedging my bets, like any good farmer-to-be, I’ve ordered 4 ready to lay hens from our local feed and seed who will be ready for their new home in July.  Although we don’t have a house to live in we are laying (no pun intended) the foundations of our future farm, of our future life.

Stand by for excessive pictures of yellow cuteness in the next week!

Summer Rhythm

Summer Rhythm

I’ve been thinking about it since last week but finally today I made a decision about our summer rhythm.  This may not seem like a big deal but without it, a plan that we can work towards, things tend to go badly around here.

We didn’t have a great start to our day today and that was the crunch moment, how are our days going to go so that we all know what to expect and we can avoid some of the arguments that seem to be springing up around every day stuff?  I hate the feeling of scratchiness that comes when we are all floating a bit aimlessly, none of us know what to expect so we all argue and complain at each other.  I’ve been mulling this over for the last week or so but today the time for action had come, no more dillydallying missy.  I explained our new ‘schedule’ to Huwyl and honestly his face went from angry sad boy to beaming boy.  He even said “Do you see how my face is shining now?” and I did.

So for anyone who would like to know what we are (mostly) going to be up to around these parts, here it is:

Yoga (I’ve been using the Yoga kids book and really enjoying it)

Morning song and shared stories

Snack

Free play

Morning activity (today that was baking bread)

Free play

Table work – this covers any written or structured project that we are working on as part of homeschool.  I’ve decided to simply continue on with our school throughout the summer as the general idea is that it really isn’t too onerous and it gives us a sense of flexibility about how much work we do during the year.  It also helps us to have a clear structure to our days, which we seem to need.  Our school week is basically 3 days long as we meet with our homeschool group on a Friday and we are currently doing a story telling workshop on a Monday morning.

Free play

Lunch

Quiet time (in separate rooms so that Mummy gets quiet time too)

Art or craft project

Outside time – most days this will be swimming unless the weather is too cool as we are members of a local club this year

Dinner prep (playing on the deck or some tv time for the boys)

Dinner

Free play/Clean up (guess who’ll be doing what)

Daddy home at about 6.30

As I write this we are half way through our day and having quiet time.  It is a sweltering day and having the chance for a little down time is utter bliss and much needed.  I’ve started to realise that I’ve been feeling pretty fried (mentally and physically with the increasing heat) and need to build in some breaks in our day.  I know that having a strategy for the day won’t resolve all the day to day issues of having kids around 24/7, we get grumpy with each other, they fight, I lose my patience etc etc

But I do think this gives us a chance of having a good and productive day every day.  I’m already starting to plan out what cooking projects we can do in the mornings (tomorrow rhubarb compote and maybe muffins) and looking at The Artful Parent and others for art and crafts ideas (I’ll be popping the links on Pinterest if anyone is looking for similar things to do).

Honestly I do wish that we could just drift happily through our day in a magical haze but that isn’t our reality.  When we have a plan, when I can look at our day and say ‘this is what we achieved’ I feel altogether more positive and am inclined to forget the yucky bits.  When I think “today we made bread together, we completed a lesson in All About Spelling, we practiced handwriting and we did some water colour painting” I feel good.  Maybe I’m an overachiever but I’m at peace with that, especially when I see how much better the boys do when they know what to expect.

Our rhythm will have to change again once the build is in full swing and we begin to take our first steps along the road of hobby farming but I’m sure we can work it out.  Plus spending time on our land takes care of Physical Education, Nature Study, Science and Outside Time – that’s a lot of ticks!

As I write this, decompressing slowly from a busy and slightly tense morning, I am beginning to remember what is great about our day.  I am remembering how lucky I am, how much I like my two crazy, challenging, beautiful boys and that I’m looking forward to our full afternoon.

But not yet.  Not quite yet.

Jedi Mind Tricks

Jedi Mind Tricks

Back in 2001 we still lived in the UK in a rather uninspiring “executive” home in Newcastle. Not very much happened until one day, the postman delivered a Census Form. It was the first time I remember it happening, or at least the first time I got to fill one out as a real live adult. The man of the house, so to speak.

Now perhaps I should have taken it a little bit more seriously because in 200 years time when my distant descendant looks me up on whatever Ancestry.com becomes, they’ll see that I put down my official religion as Jedi Knight.

I am, if I admit it, a little bit of a geek. Not a huge one. For example, I don’t have the secret Jedi name of Lenai-tan, or a special robe for the weekends. I did download the Light Saber App for my iPhone, but in my defense, so did a few other people and it was entertaining for about 2 minutes.

But the real reason I claimed to be a Jedi Knight on the 2001 UK Census was because lots of other people were doing it in an attempt to have the British Government officially recognise Jedi as a religion, that sounded like a bit of a laugh and secretly, I knew I had real Jedi powers. They were just locked away really deep inside.

Of course, there will be people who mock and ask me to levitate a small green goblin. That’s not real Jedi power. It’s made up for Hollywood stuff. The real Jedi power is all in the mind.

For example, my favourite part of Star Wars is when Obiwan says to the imperial guards “These aren’t the droids your looking for” and gets the guard to repeat it and let them pass. That is way, way cooler than levitating goblins or X-wing fighter spacecraft. For years I practiced that trick.

On my parents:
“This isn’t the gift you’re looking for”

On my missus:
“I’m not the stench you’re looking for”

On my mates:
“You will buy Stephen another round”

On my boss:
“Give Stephen the raise he’s looking for”

Unfortunately, many of these efforts passed unrewarded and fruitless. My vast powers somehow couldn’t penetrate the murky depths of the minds around me. I see now it’s because those needs just weren’t important enough. Then today I had a breakthrough. In my last post I explained some of the problems we’d been having getting the right levels and grades for the foundations of our new house.

Today I met with Dave The Man and the grading engineer Jamie (nice chap, needs to eat more pie). Things were not going particularly well. Jamie wasn’t happy about the depth of the house, especially around the walkout basement and Dave The Man’s suggestion of bulldozing half a field to terraform the land into compliance wasn’t meeting with much enthusiasm by anyone.

Seeing the prospect of our build costs and schedule spiraling out of control in the first week, I did what any real Jedi Knight would do: mind tricks.

“These aren’t the grades you’re looking for.” (said in a Jedi undertone to Jamie)

“Huh?” said Jamie but already I could see I had him.

“The door shall be moved, master engineer.” (this time said in a firm Jedi tone)

“Move the door? Hey, move the walkout basement door! That should solve all your problems!” exclaimed Jamie

“What a fine idea, let’s move the door!” agreed Dave The Man.

My exultation had to be kept under wraps you understand. It doesn’t become a Jedi Knight to be seen capering about in flip flops on a building site. But I was dancing inside because in one stroke, my Jedi powers had turned the conversation from an inevitable “computer says no” conclusion, to “Hurray, we’re all happy and slightly embarrassed not to have thought of this sooner” situation.

So, we have the green light to proceed at the foundation depth and grade we want; we have minimised the amount of fill we need, kept the gravity fed septic field and walkout basement, eliminated the need for crushed gravel under the footings and got a better position for the walkout door too. There might need to be some extra paperwork with the city, but in summary, that’s what I call a result.

The moral of this story? Never give up on unleashing your Jedi powers on unsuspecting and uncooperative people when you think you can get away with it. Oh, and don’t mess with my original plans, even if you are a qualified designer. I have Jedi powers.

Start the day on an egg

Start the day on an egg

Things have felt really hectic around here recently, my brain is struggling to keep up.  I know we are in for a summer of unpredictability so I’m trying to get into good habits where breakfast is concerned.  I notice how much more I’m able to achieve if I’m not ready to gnaw of my arm by 10.30, so I’ve been focusing on making sure I eat well in the mornings.

One of my recent faves is scrambled eggs with spinach and mozzarella, basically copied from the green eggs no ham recipe from cookus interuptus.  I really can’t get on board with kale so wilted spinach replaces that and I’ve been using pre grated mozzarella for a teeny extra protein boost.  Today I used the sourdough bread I made on Sunday for the toast but any good whole wheat bread or bagel would work well.  The whole wheat part is important, though, for that long lasting full feeling that will get you through to lunch time.

I had a very busy morning today and I was glad to not be feeling peckish in the middle of my chores.  It also felt nice to share a hearty breakfast with my beloved, knowing that he was starting the day well.  And there is nothing like eating a handful of spinach with breakfast to make you feel virtuous for the rest of the day.

I’m also enjoying including more and more eggs in our diet, they are such a wonderful and health giving food and one I hope we will have in abundant supply in the near future.  But more on that tomorrow….

How are you starting off your busy summer’s days?

Our House

Our House

It has begun!

What was a rutted track is now a graveled lane way; the place that was previously used to dump old cars, batteries and oil cans is now the excavation site for our new house.  All around us the site is transforming, in just a few short hours it went from a dream to a reality.

Of course the boys are thoroughly enjoying the large piles of mud and big machines lying around the place…

Yes even the biggest boy can’t resist the lure of a large pile of mud.  What I’m more interested in is the view from my kitchen…

This is what I’ll be looking at each day as I bake, chop, pickle, can, boil, roast, proof and generally hang around in my kitchen.  Our house is facing SW to allow for maximum sun exposure in the winter and the ground floor will be glazed from floor to ceiling (that’s 10ft high) allowing us to feel that the outside is part of the inside.  Even when our work or the weather takes us inside the house we only have to glance up to see the beauty of our land just beyond our windows.  I really can’t wait to be looking at it everyday.

We do have one issue to resolve this week before the site is pinned and the forms go in ready for the concrete.  We need to convince our grading engineers to move the septic down the hill to accommodate the lower foundation height it has been necessary to dig.  Stephen talks about it in a bit more detail here if you are interested in more info.  For now I’m trying to go with it and accept that we will have to work with whatever solution is decided upon, we just have to cross our fingers for the cheapest version to be the winner.

But it is hard to be too gloomy when we have such nice near neighbours…

They are a quiet bunch but such good company.

Last night Stephen and I drove out to our land, we stood together in the darkness watching fire flies flickering all around us.  We smelled that heavenly smell of warmed earth and green hanging like perfume in the air, a sweet smell that tells us the summer has come and that we are at home.  Eventually our romantic reverie was vanquished by the mosquito overlords but to know that soon, very soon, this will be our home is really helping us persevere through the trials of now and the ones we know are coming.  To finally realise our dream of living under an open sky, surrounded by green.

Clean Fill Wanted

Clean Fill Wanted

The signs are very common in the country, often seen tied to old fences and gates or nailed to stakes. The basic idea is that the owner of the property needs some soil and is willing to let people dump it on his land for free. I always thought it was a bit of a waste of time. After all, when did you ever see a dump truck cruising the countryside looking for a place to offload 20 tonnes of soil?

– Oh, ho, Billy! Slow down, this fella wants clean fill.
– Clean fill you say, Bob?
– Yeah, don’t we have 20 tonnes in the back of our truck?
– Well bugger me Bob, but you’re right.
– Okey dokey Billy, let’s dump it here then find a Timmy H for a cheeky coffee and donut. After such a stroke of luck, I’m buying!

Perhaps that happens hundreds of times every day, but certainly I have never observed it. The cheap landowners should just pony up and buy what they need was my general thinking. Just how expensive could a few truckloads of dirt be?

Now perhaps those of you who have built a house in the country are chuckling to yourselves at my naivety. I had little idea when I started this project that a truckload of clean fill runs around $200. Oh, and that we’d need something stupid like 200 – 500 loads. At least. Anyone still counting on their fingers, that’s between $40,000 to $100,000. All because we wanted a walk-out basement and a gravity-fed septic field. It’s complicated by the fact we’re building on glacial tilth which is apparently great for load bearing capacity, but essentially non-porous. We can’t sink the house lower without sinking the septic field and doing that would create an underground swimming pool filled with sewage (yuk), not to mention risk flooding the basement (risking future cider / mead production). All in all, an unsatisfactory day 2.

We had a warning from our GC, Dave The Man, while getting the grading plan for this build but the engineers got really shirty when we challenged them on the height of the house above grade so in the interest of getting on with it and submitting the plans, neither I, Emma or Dave The Man pushed the concern. Oh dear. That, in retrospect, was a mistake because it’s coming back to bite us. And not a playful nibble on the earlobe from an amorous lover, more like a teething toddler taking a unhealthy interest in your toes kind of bite.

Either we take out a second mortgage to buy the fill, find a handy mountain that needs relocating, run into Bob and Billy at Tims, or….not sure. It’s a problem that isn’t likely to have an easy solution. Dave The Man managed to get the grading engineers to concede an extra 0.5m of depth without altering plans and we can trim 6″ off the height of the basement which should help reduce the amount of fill we need. The idea of a pond has been growing on Emma and I for a while, but we might need to upgrade that to a small boating lake unless we can find another source of free clean fill. Alternatively, we can try to blag it and claim that we were going for the Motte-and-Bailey approach to contemporary house design all along. Perhaps we’ll start a new architectural wave for ridiculously tall residential buildings.

But, failing that, I think I’ll start with a sign for “Clean Fill Wanted.”