Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yarn Along

Joining in again with Ginny...

Still so much left to do on the blanket for Sarah's birthday.

But, what I really want to share today is this fantastic book - The Dirty Life, On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball. The author was a thirty something, single woman, and writer living in New York City who goes to a farm to write a story, she meets her future husband and most of the book is about their adventures of buying a run down farm in upstate New York. What I appreciate most is that they do it without lots of cash, and without the mind set of bigger is better. Their goal is to provide a CSA that provides many of their members' food needs - meat, syrup, vegetables, eggs, etc.

I want to copy a long quote from near the beginning of the book where the author is describing her future husband.

"He didn't like the word work.  That's a pejorative.  He preferred to call it farming, as in I farmed for fourteen hours today.  He did not own a television or a radio nad figured he was probably one of the last people in the country to know about September 11.   Still doesn't listen to the news.  It's depressing, and there's nothing you can do about most of it anyway.  You have to think locally, act locally, and his definition of local didn't extend much beyond the fifteen acres of land he was farming.  The right thing was to try to understand how you were affecting the world around you.  At first he'd been against plastic, but he was becoming suspicious of any metal that he coudn't mine and smelt himself.  In fact, when it was time to build himself a house, he'd like to build it with no nails, no metal at all, so that it could compost itself down to nothing after he was dead.  He had never owned a car.  He biked or hitchhiked where he needed to go.  He had recently turned against the word should, and doing so had made him a happier person.  He found the market economy and its anonymous exchange boring.  He'd like to imagine a farm where no money traded hands, only goodwill and favors.  He had a theory that you had to start by giving stuff away - preferably big stuff, worth, he figured, about a thousand dollars.  At first, he said, people are discomfited by such a big gift.  They try to make it up to you, by giving you something big in return.  And then you give them something else, and pretty soon nobody is keeping score.  There is simply a flow of things from the place of excess to the place of need.  It's personal, and it's satisfying, and everything feels good about it.  This guy is completely nuts, I thought.  But what if he's right?"

Even though our family's goal isn't to make our living from farming alone, I found the information and experiences could be applied to many of our goals of  working towards a more self sustaining food system on our small homestead.  It is also filled with humor and is fun to read.

I look forward to seeing your projects and learning of what good  books you are reading.

Warm wishes, Tonya

Monday, March 28, 2011


We were mostly home this weekend.  There is always so much to be done.  The firewood gathering continued as the temperatures remained cold. 

I cleaned out the back barn to get ready for two doe kids (baby goats!).  This is the before picture.

This rough structure was here when we bought our little homestead.  It is a small barn/shack.  But I much prefer to call it a barn.

We had a wonderful offer over the weekend.  Our homesteading neighbors (whom I have mentioned here before) offered their barn to us - for us to take it down and then we will reconstruct it at our place.  This is such a blessing.  They no longer keep sheep and it is just several years old and a nice size, 14 x 14 feet.
So instead of having to work from scratch (which carpentry is just not Mike's strength - of course he has many talents, but this is simply not one of them), we will have a clearly defined system to build our barn!

While working in the barn, I looked behind to check on Isaac and his fire pit and look what I saw!  He told me that the trees were growing marshmallows. 

Yesterday afternoon Abby and Sarah made some butter from local organic cream to go with our biscuits at supper.

How was your weekend?
Warm wishes,

Friday, March 25, 2011


This is what it still looks like outside our front door.

The sap is running very slowly.  The temperature today is just 33 degrees F.

With all the snow still on the ground, it is hard to come up with many outside chores.  But today we are working on some firewood.  It is nice because you can walk right on top of the snow.  With sleds, we are all pulling the wood over to the pile.  The older boys are doing a bit of splitting - a perfect temperature for this.

Isaac decided he would like to start a fire to burn the brush.

The children don't seem to mind.

To add a bit of green inside, I glued some moss that we collected last fall to a vine wreath.

Yesterday my friend reminded me that in less than one month's time, we will be planting our onions and other cold crops.  That sounded good - real good.

Warm wishes,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yarn Along

Joining in again this Wednesday with Ginny and so many others to share my love of knitting and crocheting and books.

The weather is still wintry here - several more inches fell yesterday and there is not a warm up in the forcast.  This has left some time to for handwork ~

I am nearly finished with a pair of booties that I knit with recycled cotton yarn.  I just need to knit a strap and add our birch buttons.
Also off the needles came the Crossover Jacket which needs to be sewed up and I need to add one of our hemlock buttons to add the finishing touch.
Both of these projects came from the book, Vintage Knits for Modern Babies.

I am making progress on Sarah's crocheted blanket.  She informed me yesterday that there are 19 days until her birthday.  She doesn't know it is for her.  But that was a great reminder to get going on it.

I look forward to reading about your projects and current book selections.

Warm wishes,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Lambs

Not our own, but it was a lot of fun to be able to care for our neighbor's farm over the weekend while he was away.  One of the ewes had two day old lambs. 

Sarah is gifted with animals.  She can walk right in with the mom and babies, talk to the mom and hold the lambs without the mom getting upset.

She had two girls.  Can you see the other one in the background nursing?

It was nice to enjoy this springtime ritual of birth as we had even more snow fall last night and are practicing patience as we wait for the white to slowly turn to green.

Warm wishes,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Full Again

At this moment ~

All of the children are home again and the laundry is piling up, the sink is full of dishes,
the table is full of work, the oven is full of bread and cookies, the house is full of noise (voices and instruments playing), and I am full of gratitude ~ thanks for each of them and for their safe return.

Warm wishes,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Maple Sugaring Frugally

We have very small maple trees here on our little homestead.  But, last summer Mike began to clear out around them so that they will get more sunlight and grow around instead of just straight up searching for the light.
We have just 9 tapped right now, but hope to add more as the trees continue to grow.

We made a small amount of maple syrup each season without investing any money.  Here is how -

We were given the buckets and covers from a neighbor that was converting over to the plastic tubing suctions system (which I wonder about all of that plastic....).  We did buy the taps themselves which were inexpensive.

After collecting the sap into a bucket, it is strained into a large pan with a piece of muslin or loose weave fabric with a large rubber band around it to hold it in place.  Make sure the fabric is loose in the middle a bit so the sap doesn't splatter all over.  I pour the sap from the collection bucket into this pan in our bath tub to prevent messes.

Next, the strained sap from the large pan is poured into our stainless steel roasting pan.  We received this pan for a wedding gift almost 19 years ago.  It came with a top and bottom.  One half has become our turkey roaster and the other half has become our maple sugaring pan.  Since it is still very cool here in northern Vermont, we burn the sap off on the woodstove.  As it burns off, you don't really need to pay attention until it begins to darken, and slightly thicken.   When this happens increase the heat just a bit until it comes to a boil (you could do this on your regular stove or outside on a fire as well)  and stir.  As you are stirring lift your spoon (stainless steel) in and out of the sap to see if a layer is beginning to stay on the spoon even when you hold it up.  Try a little too (be careful not to burn your mouth).  This part of knowing when it is ready does take a little trial and error.  You may get a batch that almost turns to sugar or you may get a batch that is a bit too runny.

This is what we do for the final filtration process.  I put a canner funnel (not sure if that is the correct name) inside a canning jar with a piece of cleaned wool felt inside the it.  Pour your syrup through.

This is our first syrup.  We had it this morning with pancakes and it was our best yet.  Just the right consistency.

It really is rewarding to go through the process ourselves and to use the resources available here on our little homestead.

I would love to hear about your experiences and suggestions regarding maple sugaring and welcome any questions.

Warm wishes, Tonya

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Handcrafted Door

These are pictures of our old bathroom door.  The one that was here when we bought our rustic cottage.
It is right in the kitchen and a bit of a focal point when you walk in the house.

And after!
Our friend and homesteading neighbor made us a new door. 

Warm wishes,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What the Littles Have Been Up To....

Upon their initiation, we studied flies a little.  They had decided to capture two and one was missing a wing.
(Spring is coming with the return of the flies.)

Of course they wanted to know what they ate... I told them to think about what flies like to land on...

We read from The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock.  Her style of writing makes learning so interesting and fun.

The next day, they cut and pasted using seed catalogs.

 And today, we have been blessed with a glorious day...

Here are Sarah and Abraham on top of the chicken coop.  The snow is still piled high on one side so they can just step off.  I did have to run out for one emergency foot extraction.  The snow is softening quickly and Abraham went down so far he couldn't get his leg back out.

Warm wishes,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yarn Along

Happy to be joining in this week with Ginny of Small Things for the Yarn Along.

I am on my second skein of yarn for Sarah's blanket.  It will fit her twin bed when done.  I am doing this very simpy by single crocheting and using up just about a full skein of yarn to finish at the end of a row.  The yarns I will be using are  several different shades of Peace Fleece which is a Mohair/Wool blend.

I have also cast on for another of my favorite vest's to work on when I need a change from crocheting.

I also wanted to share a book I finished the other day - Rainwater by Sandra Brown.  This is not an author I would normally read - I think most of her books are more thriller/drama types, but after several people at the library commented what an amazing book it was, I read the back and was hooked after just a couple of pages.  This book has stayed with me and was probably one of the best I have ever read.  A quick read but quite powerful.

I look forward to reading what you are working on and reading.

Warm wishes,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


- from The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad by Thornton W. Burgess

Monday, March 14, 2011

What to Do When I Am Alone at Home for 30 Hours?

 Saturday morning Mike left with all six children to bring them down to my father's in Massachusetts.  Abby and Isaac are going to Florida with my dad and Thomas and Nolan are going to New York City with my mom and then to stay with good friends for a few days.  I stayed home to keep the woodstove going and care for the animals, and.... maybe have a little quiet time for over 24 hours for the first time in 12 years.
What did I do?

cut fabric squares

worked on orders for our business

picked out colors from what I had to begin crocheting Sarah a blanket large enough for her twin bed for her birthday gift

Enjoyed a dinner of organic bulgur, leftover local pasture raised steak, and organic carrots in a beautiful wooden bowl made by this family.

Made the Buttermilk Chocolate Cake recipe from my new book - Forgotten Skills of Cooking -  to share with Mike and the littles when they returned home.

I am grateful that the four oldest have this week to experience some new adventures and share time with family and friends.  I am also thanful to have this week to spend some special time with our two youngest.

Throughout the weekend as I listened to public radio my thoughts and prayers were with those in Japan that are facing such horrors and losses that we cannot even comprehend. Life is truly fragile and such a gift at the same time.

Warm wishes,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thankful for Some Green

Not outside... we are still thigh-high in the white stuff.

but some green that came in the mail.

Our seed order which gives us much to look forward to and this wonderful book which I can sit inside by the woodstove to read because it really still is winter outside.

Warm wishes,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This and That

Looking out back from a kitchen window inside, I noticed how the chicken coop was nearly invisible due to the deep snow.  There is a shoveled path in front of it to get to them that you can't see.

As I was noticing the chicken coop, a child flew down and then another, landing softly in the snow. 
They were jumping down from the porch roof.

After the two loaves of freshly baked bread were gone by 1:00 in the afternoon yesterday, I have come to accept that three loaves each day is necessary for our growing family.

I crocheted this little elephant using Peace Fleece Wool/Mohair yarn from a pattern I found here.
It will be for Abraham's Easter basket.

Warm wishes,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


"We can best discover the principle of the simple life by a contrast with the spirit of commercialism.  The commercial spirit is selfish.  Its motto is "Expand to get."... Over and against it, at its antipodes, is the spirit of the simple life.  It can be lived at any level of poverty or wealth; and at any age of ignorance or culture.  It is sessentially the spirit of living for life's sake, or consecration to personal and social goodness.  This spirit does not keep us out of commerical business, nor does it command us to confine our business to narrow limits and to small returns.  But if we are to belong to the goodly fellowship of those who live the simple life, our business must be made an avenue of ministering to human life."
Rufus M. Jones, 1927

I really like this quote for a number of reasons.  One, is that there are many avenues to a simple life and they can look quite different.  However, caring for one another is what is truly important, not how withdrawn you are from society, or how many jars of produce you put up this suummer, but simply caring and ultimately, loving one another.

Any thoughts?

Warm wishes,

Monday, March 7, 2011

More Snow

Sorry that this may be a bit of a boring post, but I just want to document our largest snow fall of the winter season.

We woke up to nearly two feet.

Looking out our front door this morning.

Mike trudging through the snow  to get a shovel.

Mike and the boys are still outside shoveling, they have been for three hours now.  I went out to help for a bit, but am happy to be back inside baking bread and sipping tea.

Warm wishes,


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Beauty that Surrounds Us

Even though the snow begins to pile up outside my window once again,
I am grateful for the beauty of the fresh layer of snow and am continually in
awe of this beautiful land - truly part of God's perfect creation.

"It would go a great way to caution and direct people in their use
of the world if we were better studied and knowledgeable
about the creation of it. 
For how could we find the confidence to abuse it,
while we should see the Great Creator stare us in the face,
in all and every part thereof?"

William Penn, 1692

Friday, March 4, 2011

Answering Your Questions :: Building a Full Time Handwork Business

I knit my first gnome back in 2001 and started selling them on Ebay shortly after to contribute a small bit to our family's income.  At this point in our life, Mike had lost his job a year or so prior and he was still on the path of working himself back up to a similar position that he had previously had. (which never did happen)

The gnomes sold well and I started knitting some other toys of wool in the waldorf tradition of simple form with natural materials.

Over time, I worked up to a small store front and added some other items that I resold.  This means I purchased wholesale and then sold retail.  Still though, for several years this income was small but helpful.
I learned about the internet and selling and kept my eyes open, watching other store fronts that made and/or sold toys and how to market without paying for advertising.  I started to see the potential, but knew that I could never make enough to support our family - you can only knit so many gnomes in a day.

In 2005, I am not sure how I learned, probably through a natural parenting forum online, that a new site was opening where artisans and hand crafters could have their own shop within the site - called Etsy.  I signed up right away as knittingmomma.  At the time I didn't realize that my username was going to have to be my store name.  But we still have this shop today.  The fees are affordable.   Twenty cents for each listing and etsy takes 3% of each sale.  They also process credit cards for you. 

In 2006, my husband, Mike, came up with the idea to use branch slices to make a matching/memory game.  At the time we lived in a duplex that had a bit of forest in the back.  He had a chop saw to cut the slices.  I stamped them with rubber stamps and crochetd a bag to put them in.  I also asked him if he would make branch fences to go with the animals I was knitting.  At this time he still worked full time for a property maintenance company near Boston and spent at least an hour commuting each way and worked long hours, so building the business was a slow process.  This was still a very part-time business.  We did start selling wholesale to A Toy Garden at this point.  This means offering our goods at a 40 - 50% reduced price but in larger quantities.

In the fall of 2007 we moved to Vermont, secure that we would at least have some money coming in from our toy sales while Mike looked for a job. 

Upon arriving in Vermont, we brainstormed and came up with many more products that we could make from branches - including walking blocks (clompers), building block sets, lacing sets, hooks, and more.  Making these kind of products as opposed to the time intensive process of knitting and crocheting, made the possibility of actually earning a living from the work of our hands seem real.  Our etsy shop grew and we also had more sales from our online store. 

We also sold our handcrafts at a farmers market where we also sold our produce and baked goods.  Generally, we sold just a small amount as we live in a very low population area.   Our nearest city has just 6,000 people (25 minutes away) and our own little town just 600 or so.

We knew that selling online was going to be our best option, although we do still sell local from time to time at an occasional fair.

Through continued stocking of our etsy shop and then adding another shop, the Vermont Branch Company, over a year ago to capatilize on the Vermont name brand, our sales continued to grow.  We also started making wedding decorations which resulted in higher volume sales.  For example, someone might order 150 birch branch place card holders.  Last year, before expenses, we had $20,000 in sales and Mike had about $10,000 in property maintenance accounts. 

This year we are on track to have $38,000 - $40,000 in sales before taking out for expenses and shipping costs.  (We now have 6 wholesale accounts.)  Mike will take on less property maintenance jobs as a result and we will spend more time on the business and homestead. 

A key for us is to have very few expenses.  We are still using an eight year old desk top computer with dial up.  For tools, Mike has a chop saw, small table saw, and sander.  The rest of the tools are hand tools.  We still don't have a workshop.  Mike works in the basement on the dirt floor with a desk lamp hanging from the ceiling.  He has to go outside first to get downstairs.  We have piles of products here and there in various stages of completion.  Our stainless steel kitchen island also serves as a sanding, drilling and hand work station.

A workshop and studio is in our plans but it may still be several years away.   This year a small barn is a must in order to get our dairy goats and move our chickens into a better coop.  We make do and think through every expense and whether or not it will really make a difference and result in more income or not and if we can afford it.  Our new purchase this year for the business will be a drill press.  We are very excited about that, but again, it will be an inexpensive one, probably about $150.00.

We also have bought very little advertising and only yesterday did I purchase my first advertising spot on a blog I enjoy, Farmama. 

I don't think our business  fits any business model.  Instead we do things very simply, one piece at a time, one day at a time, work consistently, and keep the faith.

If you have any questions, check back here in the comments, as I will do my best to answer them.

Warm wishes,