Category Archives: laid-back living

Christmas Eve

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I began the morning with chicken stock and Handel’s Messiah; I love the build up to the Hallelujah chorus so much that by the time the song is mid-way through I am usually covered in goose bumps and on the verge of tears. Handel was followed by other sophisticated artists like the cast from Glee and 98 degrees. We have a good (terrible?) mix of music at our house. We listened to everything from Bing to Etta today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I still haven’t listened to Carol of the Bells because I want to save something musical for tomorrow, and am as excited about it as I am about the strangely shaped gifts hanging from my ceiling.

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The twenty-third was spent in the kitchen, mostly. I cooked like a madwoman, desperate to put away as many meals for the twelve days of Christmas as possible. I took a nice break and wandered through the woods with the family to pick out our Christmas tree. It knocked a few things over on the way into the yurt, but it looked great once it was up. Thin and Charlie Brown-ish if you are used to a groomed tree, but just right for the yurt. It is nearly eleven feet tall and almost reaches into the dome. After the little one was in bed, I gathered all the goodies that were stored away for stockings and organized them into twelve little piles. I tried to plan the gifts, giving cookie cutters for the day we will be making gingerbread houses, but mostly it is just a mishmash of animal crackers and raisins for Alma, and a copious amount of chocolate for Mike.

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We baked cookies and played Scrabble today before heading to church for Nine Lessons and Carols (which was lovely). We had plans of watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but I know I would fall asleep five minutes into it, and don’t want to miss it. Mike is making maple fudge and orange roll right now, and I’m contemplating making a couple batches of cookies after I stuff the stockings… but I might just lay here and listen to the Christmas music instead.

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Tomorrow is the first day of Christmas, which means it is time to bring on the chocolate. Happy Christmas Eve 🙂

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Advent

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IMG_1153The observation of advent is a new tradition for me. Advent meant a chocolate calendar for most of my life, so it is only recent that we observe it in the more traditional way. Now, it is a time of waiting and anticipation for Christmas. We try not to listen to Christmas music or put up the tree until Christmas eve (although I always cave on the music by the 21st). We listen to beautiful music all December long, but wait for Joy to the World and the Hallelujah chorus. Each Sunday we light an advent candle, read a few things from the Bible, and sing carols around the supper table.

IMG_8645We add something decorative to the house each week. The first week we make an advent wreath and hang our calendar(a homemade string of numbers on which to count down to Christmas). Week two brings greenery into the yurt as we hang branches and cranberries. We put up white lights on week three, and on week four we bust out the stockings. We will put up our tree and string it with lights tomorrow, but will wait to decorate until Christmas eve (during which time we will be listening to Handel’s Messiah).

During the month, I try my best to make meals and pop them into the freezer so that we can pull them out during the twelve days of Christmas. I would love to not cook for twelve whole days and still have homemade food on the table at each meal. If I make a bunch of stuff tomorrow, we just might be able to make it through the holidays without washing a roasting pan. Except for the turkey pan. Which is the worst kind of pan.

IMG_8515We haven’t baked too many things yet, but are gearing up for the big cookie extravaganza. Alma likes to bake, especially if it involves cookie cutters, so it will be a family affair. Mike and I each have specific cookies that we need to eat at Christmas: he needs shortbread full of butter, and I need chocolate crinkles devoid of gluten and dairy. Guess whose cookies are better.

IMG_1091I’m also hoping to make a few treats that my sister-in-law and I can eat over the holidays. She and I both suffer from pretty intense food intolerances, so we don’t eat what everyone else eats. Thankfully, we are very similar in our food issues, so at least we each have a friend at the gluten-dairy-corn-free table. It sounds worse than it is. We both end up with a ton of special treats because our family feels bad for us and is very kind. I will post our favourite allergy-free recipes after the holidays (we need to do a lot of tasting first).

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Growing Food

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Since we have been blessed with lots of good soil we are able to grow nearly everything we want to eat. Each year we try to grow a little more, in hopes that someday we will be able to grow an entire year’s worth of food (grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, maple syrup, honey, meat, eggs…maybe even milk and cheese). This year we grew lots of vegetables for ourselves and some for our local farmers’ market. It was a slow spring because of all the snow, but in the end the plants did pretty well. Next year we are hoping to grow more legumes and a few grains; I’d like to be able to grow our own oats (we eat a lot of porridge) and buckwheat (to eat instead of rice and to turn into flour). Here is a photo recap of this year’s garden:

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This was what April looked like, so the garden went in later than we had hoped

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We started our seeds in our “sun room”

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The seedlings moved to the “green house” (the front of our woodshed) once the weather improved

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We played in the dirt a lot in preparation for planting

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Planting the garden was a family activitiy

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Green!

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Early-season harvesting

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Lunch from the garden

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Mid-summer

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Good food surrounded by weeds 🙂

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All from the garden (except the rice)

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A cozy nook to play in while I processed vegetables

Still Renovating

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We have our stove up and running again! With the addition of a second radiator, we are really enjoying the coziness of the yurt. Mike finished sewing the walls this weekend, so our yurt is back to normal (almost). My brother-in-law plumbed our shower while he was visiting (he’s a plumber and graciously worked on our bathroom despite being totally confused as to why we would want to live in a yurt). I’ll write about the changes soon. For now, here is our to-do list.

Pimp my Yurt 2014 (wish list):

  • sew a new outer layer of canvas 
  • add a few more windows

    windows from yurta.ca – I’ll have pictures of ours soon

  • refurbish the Rayburn (wood stove) with new fire bricks

    a blue version of our stove

  • add a second radiator
  • build a closet –> two rails (one for us, one low one for Alma) and a few shelves (for sweaters, towels, etc.)

    a branch for a rail – we will use an old yurt pole

    low rail and shelves for the wee one

  • build another counter for the kitchen
  • build ‘pantry shelves’ in the kitchen
  • fancy up the bathroom and make it more toddler friendly (lower sink/step-stool, etc.)

    toddler bathroom

  • make a preschool area (easel, chalkboard, activities, etc.) —> aside from the extra windows, this is what I’m most excited forschool area

Off-Grid: Spring

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At the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals that I hoped we would accomplish throughout 2014. One of those goals was to live off-grid for one week each season (read about winter here).

We enjoyed being off-grid quite a bit (we did it for 6 weeks), but decided that we do like some aspects to electricity (of course): namely, the fridge. Until we find a better option, we will continue to plug in the fridge; we will also use the vacuum-cleaner. It isn’t difficult to live without it, but it certainly makes cleaning a much quicker process. We brought in a small radio but have yet to bring in any electrical lighting. We have two solar-powered lamps for reading and knitting, and a few oil lamps for ambient lighting.

Evenings: Our evenings were spent working on projects for the most part (Mike improved little things in the yurt that made a big difference to our day-to-day tasks; I worked on a sweater for Alma, along with a quilt for her bed).

Days: Aside from the lack of music, not much was different from regular days.

What We Liked: Again, the quiet was nice. I enjoyed not listening to the news every hour and was happy to keep my head in the sand for a few weeks.

What We Missed: The fridge and the freezer. Once the weather warmed up, it became a real challenge to keep food from spoiling.

Mushy Banana

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Journal from June 21, 2013 [7 month-old baby]

Alma had a decent nap yesterday morning until about ten, so when she woke up we went to visit Nanny and Grandpa. The fields are dry enough that I can walk barefoot across them now. Alma and I sat in the grass while Mike and his mom worked in the garden. I gave Alma her first taste of banana. She seemed to like it, but had more interest in squishing it than in eating it. After sucking on it, dropping it in the grass, smooshing it, and dropping it again, she was finished and I was forced to do something with the banana pieces in the grass. I didn’t want to leave them for fear I would later regret it, so I ate them. And it didn’t gross me out at all; I think something in my psyche must have shifted in the past few months because pre-eaten bananas are definitely not on my list of appetizing things to eat.

Happy with her spoon

Happy with her spoon

We set up an old swing on the porch for Alma; she enjoyed chewing on the chains until we distracted her with a wooden spoon. She played with dill weed, mustard greens, and carrots while we gardened, then had a bit of a nap in her little tent before we went home for a real nap later in the day. In the evening, we had a steak dinner with the grandparents. It was a good day.

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Off-Grid: Winter

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At the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals that I hoped we would accomplish throughout 2014. One of those goals was to live off-grid for one week each season.

It is quite easy to be off-grid in the winter, we found out. The warmth of the stove along with the soft glow of oil lamps made for calm, quiet evenings spent with tea and good books. We didn’t miss the fridge as it was cold enough on our porch to keep our food fresh (and cold enough outside to keep things frozen).

Evenings: After Alma fell asleep in the evenings, we read books, worked on projects (knitting, sewing, house), or just hung out. Evenings were much quieter than usual without the temptation to watch a movie. We went to bed a couple hours earlier than usual.

Days: Not much changed. We sang a lot while working and playing since there was no background music with which to hum along.

What We Liked: I loved knowing that my options for entertainment were limited; it was easier to focus on books or projects when there were only a few choices.

What We Missed: I missed the vacuum-cleaner the most. Sweeping the carpet just doesn’t give you the same satisfaction as vacuuming. I also missed listening to Tonic (jazz) in the evenings.

Thoughts from a Pregnant Woman in a Tiny Cabin

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Journal from September 27, 2012 [33 weeks pregnant; living in a small cabin with electricity]

Growing up in Canada resulted in my having a fairly privileged upbringing. I was the only child of divorced parents (one of whom lived in Europe for a chunk of my childhood) and therefore I was pretty spoiled. I spent my summers travelling around Europe; I watched a lot of television and was fairly “plugged in” to technology. Perhaps this is why many people question my sincerity when I say things like “I’m excited to live off-grid in a yurt,”.

True, I have morphed from a MuchMusic-watching teenager to a strong CBC Radio supporter, and my tastes have changed from store-bought cannelloni to homemade curries. I no longer have a television, internet, or running water. My bathroom is an uncovered outhouse (perfect during the dry summer, slightly less convenient during a rainy autumn). I shower at the gym, at friends’ houses, or at my in-laws’ once or twice a week rather than in my own bathroom each morning. I write emails offline and save them for when I am in a wifi area.

Why the change? Why did I go from a climate-controlled home in the city to a 120 sq. ft. cabin next door to my in-laws? The expected and assumed answer is that I followed my husband, which is, of course, true. However, I love our lifestyle and I prefer the woods to  a flushing toilet. I love the ease of being able to pee whenever I need to (which is terribly often now that I am nearly 8 months pregnant). I like that when I wake up in the night I have a view of the stars that one rarely gets to see. I like that our cabin gets cold at night and warm during the day. I like that, because our space is limited, we have only our favourite things displayed. I like that we have an old radio that fills our cozy home with jazz each night, and I love that I am learning to live without a tap.

Living humbly allows us to work less and travel more. Although my husband never stops working (whether he is building a Land Rover, making pottery, or harvesting vegetables), he enjoys his work and does not feel it is a job. Luckily, when I am teaching, I also enjoy my work. At the moment I am not teaching; rather, I am preparing for the baby (which means sleeping a lot more during the day than ever before). So despite making a fraction of what our friends make in a year, we feel extremely rich and don’t feel deprived in any way. We have spent the past few months working and travelling together, which is more than I could ever ask for.

We are building the yurt ourselves and in such a way that it is costing approximately one year’s worth of rent. So far, all of the wood is our own (cut down from my in-laws’ woods) and we have only had to buy a few supplies (canvas, wool felt, nylon cord). The yurt has cost about $5000 so far, so I am estimating that when all is said and done it will cost between six and seven thousand (this includes flooring, plumbing, etc.).

Update: The yurt ended up costing around $7000 total. 

A Cow in the Yurt

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Journal from March 5, 2014

As Alma and I attempted to clean the house and prepare for a Mardi Gras pancake supper, Mike went out to feed the cows and put them in the barn for the night. He noticed our two bulls standing together in a strange place and investigated. Surrounded by snow lay a newborn calf who blended in so well with the surroundings that Mike would have missed her were it not for her spectators. He picked up the tiny cow and brought her into the barn to warm up.

After about an hour of trying to warm her in the barn, he carried her into the yurt and lay her down near the stove. Mike, his mom (a retired vet), and I spent the night cuddling the calf and trying to feed her via bottle (rubber nipple attached to an old soy sauce bottle).

Even the dog was worried about the little calf

Even the dog was worried about the little calf

Thankfully, our friend Kris was able to give us fresh milk from his farm for the newest member of ours, as the calf’s mother seems unable to nurse (she’s had problems with mastitis in the past). The calf began to warm up from the heat of the stove (and possibly from the many hands patting her), but her body temperature was (and still is) way below normal.

Sound asleep

Sound asleep

We called a vet who came and intubated her so that we could get some colostrum into her system. He fears that she has an intestinal obstruction that will prevent her from passing anything. We are praying for a miracle. I have high hopes for the sweet little cow resting peacefully on my kitchen floor. She is making cute noises in her sleep.

Feeding Maria

Feeding Maria

We have decided to name her Queen Maria. Queen – because her mother’s unfortunate name is Princess; Maria – because I am currently reading The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp and am in love with it.

Alma wasn't too sure about Maria at first

Alma wasn’t too sure about Maria at first

Update: Unfortunately, the calf ended up passing away in her sleep that night. We assume the vet was correct in thinking that she had an abdominal obstruction of some sort. On a brighter note, two healthy calves were born this past month (one of them today!).

January

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January was a strange month weather-wise. It was really cold for a few days in the yurt, so we bundled up and looked fashionable:

So many layers of wool...

So many layers of wool.

Then, it suddenly got warm and every surface became a skating rink:

Safely navigating our way across the driveway in a box.

Safely navigating our way across the driveway in a box.

The husband shaved his beard and we got fancy for an evening:

The Bearded Wonder is now a teenage version of himself.

The Bearded Wonder is now a teenage version of himself.

I did a decent amount of knitting and finally finished Alma’s doll:

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She finally has a face!

She finally has a face!

Alma really loved her for about three minutes.

Mike went away for a weekend so Alma and I took over the farm duties for a couple days. On our first morning we noticed a broken heat lamp, a broken post in the barn (the cows always get feisty when Mike is away), and the best part: a dead rooster. All was fine in the end and we enjoyed hanging out with the animals. We must have been feeling motivated because we finished the chores, ate breakfast, and even washed the dishes by 9am. After a nap, we de-cluttered and got rid of some stuff. Because, this:

I won't post pictures showing the rest of the yurt that day.

I won’t post pictures showing the rest of the yurt that day… imagine this x 40.

With Mike away, I told Alma she had to pull her weight; so, she started doing household chores at the tender age of one:

Vacuuming.

Vacuuming with a yurt-pole.

Alma played:

She only likes the highest quality of toys.

She only likes the highest quality of toys.

We took a few naps:

Alma passed out on my lap; I'm wearing my neck-extending scarf and the sweater I never take off.

I might have worn that sweater every day of the month.

So, that was January!