For those who’ve just started looking at my other blog/creative project, I was mentioned on radio yesterday and most of the print article published today were my own words (despite it not being my byline) : (
Both links are here:
For those who’ve just started looking at my other blog/creative project, I was mentioned on radio yesterday and most of the print article published today were my own words (despite it not being my byline) : (
Both links are here:
Regular Readers may remember the story of the “Lucy” of Lucy’s Gulch, the admirable mid-wife who climbed a mountain path straight up into New Denmark every time a woman needed help with her birthing. Nonetheless, as explained previously, Lucy was considered the ‘2nd wife’ of her sister’s husband. Each of the two sisters had their own house within 20 ft of each other, and the husband/brother-in-law travelled back and forth between the two, having had children by both women. Pictures and story here:
I got that out in the first paragraph, right away, because I don’t want anyone thinking I am now being ‘kept’ by my own sister’s husband. Boyd did, however, invite me to tea in some of the many ‘shacks’ he’s built himself out of reclaimed materials, and as he is as adamantly eco-friendly as we are trying to be here (though Newfoundland is MUCH more ahead of the game in the recycling/reusing/ and making less of a carbon footprint than New Brunswick!) I thought it important to feature Boyd and his work/thoughts/ideas in this particular posting.
Mom/Joy and I spent the last week in St. John’s, Newfoundland. For those of you not familiar with our Maritime provinces, my sister has lived out there ‘on the Rock’, for about 25 years, while Richard’s BROTHER and mother live three hours away in Saint John (no ‘s’ on the end is the only difference when pronouncing). They’ve been there for about 20 years, and are one of the reasons we moved to THIS province. We went to St. John’s for a superlative concert put on by the Atlantic Boychoir, in which my nephew sings, and they were joined by the Grammy-and-Emmy-award-winning King’s Singers, from Cambridge, England. On top of which my eleven-year-old nephew Sydney also played a ‘cello solo during this concert in the 2500-capacity, 160-year-old cathedral. So it was well worth burning up the air-miles and two days of travel time (even though they are so close geographically, it takes LONGER to get there from here, than from Toronto!) to hear the boy bring the house down at the end of his astonishingly professional instrumental debut with his choir. The calls of “Brava! Brava!” weren’t ALL from his relatives scattered higgledy-piggledy throughout the massive cathedral!
This entire blog, however, is primarily supposed to be about trying to live self-sufficiently off the land, and about other rural goings-on in a community still clinging to the traditions of old. So I’m not about to expound further upon the particular virtues of that most-amazing event, but will simply get on with how I ‘shacked up with my brother-in-law’.
First of all, my brother-in-law Harold Boyd, is not what you’d expect from an accountant of many years, nor a staunch supporter of environmental issues. He IS possibly, what some might expect of a native Newfoundlander, with the exception that he and my sister were the first to own an electric car (Toyota Prius) on the island. Here he is about to drive it silently into the night:
Boyd has previously been mentioned in this blog when he and Richard spent some time this summer here at Blue Belldon, fending off bees as they moved the compost containers closer to the garden. Having a family farm on the other side of the island (8 hours drive) but being happily ensconced in suburbanville in St. John’s has not deterred dear brother-in-law from setting up his back-yard like a scene from BBC’s The Good Life (also previously mentioned – and worth watching for anyone dreaming of that ‘off-the-grid’ life, but having no land to speak of) :
First of all, Boyd and Jennifer have taken down the stereotypical suburban fencing that one finds surrounding most homes in ‘The Burbs’, and encourage all the neighbourhood children and pets to make a walking path, much like one would find in England and Europe. Behind their house is a ‘green space’, which then leads to various community buildings (school, hall, churches, etc). Boyd is adamant that Sydney walk to school most days even through deep snow, and tries by example to instigate others to do the same, thus taking a little journey through their farm-like back-yard and into the green space, which certainly cuts off at least 10 minutes of what it would be to walk via the roadways, not to mention opening up an entire ‘nature walk’ along the way.
For Boyd feeds the birds:
Above, Boyd putting out two different suet blocks in his yard, one being ‘high energy’ to attract the bigger birds. He climbs a ladder to put one of these up, to detract cats (esp. his own naughty-clawed Dewey) from climbing. And here he is filling all his bird-feeders with seed – he even puts perches out for the little beasts – ‘so they can queue up and wait their turn’!
Boyd has built all the sheds, greenhouses, and raised gardens thus far in their yard, and has plans to continue expanding the garden portion (as well as tending garden in the summer months out on the ‘west coast’ of the island near Cartyville, where his mother still resides).
Above, Boyd even has a burn pile, like we do here on the farm, although admittedly he can’t burn in the city limits. See also, the fence he’s removed so that the green space behind it is open to everyone from the front.
Next, we go into Boyd’s favourite ‘shack’. This is his self-made observatory (for the birds as well as the nature-enjoying neighbours). Of course, ALL Boyd’s shacks are made from recycled/reclaimed materials. The windows that make up most of this one were partly garnered from being found at the end of someone’s drive, and partly by patio doors for which his brother no longer had a use:
In this ‘observatory’, Boyd can enjoy the peace of his own mini-farm, watch the birds he is feeding and enjoy a cup of tea with the Kelly Kettle my sister bought for him, which he’s set up on an unused stainless steel garbage can. It doesn’t heat the room, but it DOES keep one busy and warms the hands whilst doing so. And of course, Boyd does have plans for a larger stove in this shack’s future.
Boyd also enjoyed putting out these large “Christmas lights” so that he could stand in the house and enjoy looking at them all season, knowing they are being run by the solar panel he has on top of his sheds. (When solar panels are no longer quite so expensive, he and Jennifer hope to run their Prius completely from the sun’s rays – we should ALL be looking to doing this, and thus neither electric vehicles NOR solar panels should be so ridiculously inflated in price… but don’t get me started on that right now!)
Boyd then pulls out his ‘survival kit’ (a pouch of dryer lint, shredded paper and an assortment of wood bits for small kindling). He also proudly shows me a Lee Valley Swedish Firesteel which is impervious to all weather conditions and offers long-lasting sparks to start any fire:
So, after crumpling in the bits of paper and lint into the bottom of the Kelly Kettle, and after having moved the ‘stovepipe’, he fills the kettle with water (which surrounds the inner heating section) and then keeps feeding the stove constantly, now with twigs from his burn pile in the back corner, a heap of which he is letting dry in a corner of the shed.
And after only about 7 minutes – voila! He pours us each a cup of lovely hot tea!
Next, we wait to see what neighbourhood children and wildlife will begin to discover the joys of Boyd’s Ebullient Acres. To help the process along a little, Boyd pulls out his bird-caller:
and we are ready with a full chart of Maritime birds posted on the shack’s wall.
It’s not very moments before one tree is full of juncos and a large flicker is tapping away at the suet block (oh, yes, and two children went by on mountain bikes through the two feet of snow, and one was pulling a sled – I was too flabbergasted to get a photo!)
Without the snow on the roof, Boyd even can enjoy looking out through the ceiling, as he’s added a long window above for bird or moon/star-gazing:
Although he didn’t set it up this winter, Boyd has experimented with hydroponic growing systems, which Richard hopes to do soon as well (right now we just have some lettuce growing in earth in the seed tables in the basement – set up for this was detailed here: https://bluebellmountainblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/blue-belldon-basement-grow-op/ and had the 2nd-largest reading of any of my blog postings, so there must be an interest for inside growing techniques during long winter months!)
For more on Boyd’s type of hydroponics using PVC, see this:
Boyd has this sitting in his shed, so it made me curious to investigate more:
While I enjoyed watching the birds with Boyd, using camera, binoculars and my distance specs, my vision was frequently impaired by the Coke-bottle eyeglasses my nephew caused me to wear several times – once when we were playing ‘spy’ and deciphering codes, and another time when I threatened to dress up as crazy “Eco-Aunt” and go to his aikido classes if he didn’t behave. Eco-Aunt doesn’t waste water on hair-washing or bathing, applies makeup only using natural products, and wears only natural hair ornaments (feathers and wooden clothespins, etc). Once he saw me like this, Sydney decided to behave extraordinarily well, but I am thinking of offering Eco-Aunt as a main character to all marches for environmental issues. What do you think – is she memorable?
This is just a quick mini-post to say I have another blog up and running as of today.
Ever wonder what we self-sufficient farmers do in the deep freeze of January?
Well, we produce films, write the outline scripts for them, and fund-raise for them. I’ve mentioned the extraordinary woman about whom this documentary is being made several times in my bluebellmountainblog. As well as her work with Hollywood/Melissa Gilbert (Laura/Half-pint on Little House, if you want a pioneering connection to make you happy!) and Richard Farnsworth of Anne of Green Gables fame (there’s another one!). But until you go have a look at my shiny new blog about this idol of mine, and inspiration to thousands, you won’t truly understand what she’s managed to pull off in her lifetime… so, good readers and friends of Bluebellmountainblog – PLEASE GO HAVE A QUICK LOOK NOW:
And then go to the Kickstarter link that’s there and contribute if you can – whatever you can! And if you’d be so kind, share that link with your own social media or email addresses.
Because women like this don’t just come through our lives every day. And her story needs to be told.
From the first time I laid eyes on the video Richard took of our soon-to-be log cabin-cum-farmhouse, in March of 2016, when he flew out to video-tape every inch for us, I knew that one of the VERY first things I’d be getting rid of was the 1970s kitchen, especially the ‘peninsula’ counter that stuck out into the room, and the ugly pantry closet.
When I was alone here for the June and July of 2016, I immediately sledge-hammered the peninsula out, and at least took the folding door right off the shelf area. (Those renovations to the kitchen can be seen here, with the before and afters that everyone seems to love: https://bluebellmountainblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/recent-reno-country-kitchen/ )
I then painted the inside of the shelves, put up some gingham on the ugly paneling on the back wall, put a low-energy light in there that stays on all the time (adds light to the beginning of the dark hallway and is a good night light at night as we fumble our way down to the bathroom – at least 3 times each!) . Finally, I stuck as many canisters in there on the newly brightened shelves as I could fit, and hid the cans and store-boughts behind them so it looked semi-attractive to the eye:
But we always planned to do something more permanent, and as the daily baking and cooking has progressed, the shelves got more and more disorganized, and as we have only the one phone (in the spirit of keeping life so-much-more-simple!), this little nook was becoming problematic to the point where I couldn’t stand it any longer! I needed a better place to hide/store the store-bought cans and packages, and I needed big bins to take ALL the bulk baking goods we buy. So, after not TOO much nagging (for once!) Richard got to work with his perfectionist measuring, designing, discussing, re-measuring, cutting and re-cutting. Sadly, we have yet to find a good source in this province for reclaiming lumber. I have a sad inkling that many N.B. farmers and home-owners just burn everything they don’t want. Thus, though we wanted an old mercantile look, Richard had to start out with fresh new pine boards. The good thing about this is that no kind of liners would be needed for inside the bins! Which is just as I like it because neither do I wish any form of plastic for the environment, nor would I want to be messing with tin…
So…. first Richard built me some little shelves in a space that was essentially wasted. These would hide all the cans and packages in and behind some baskets.
Next came the big bin for baking ingredients that are too small to go in canisters, that I don’t use that often, or things like cracker boxes (btw, in the interests of living simply and more self-sufficiently, I only allow SODA crackers in the house anymore – not the realms of assorted boxes of crackers, and NO cereals! Soda biscuits are still good for days when the bread I make has run out, OR for upset tummies, OR as I’m now doing – making quick pie crusts for things like our many frozen apple slices!)
Here’s the bin. Richard put it on 4 big casters so it just rolls in and out:
Next we have the kaffuffling with the actual bins. Though I’d given two examples to Richard, there is inevitably this time period in any of his projects where we have to go back and forth, back and forth over advantages/disadvantages of cuts/sizes. This one was originally cut square, but we finally agreed that while it would hold a bit more that way, it would never tip outwards in the desired (by me) fashion!
So I asked him to round off the sharp corners and we got this:
Then Richard went on to make me four lovely, smoothly sanded, rounded edged (this is the pedantic bit from the title!) fold-out bins.
It was also necessary for him to extend the shelves by some inches, so that the tops of the bins would be covered, and they’d have more room to ‘tip out’ toward me, free of the back of the doorframe:
Now, here’s the thing about Richard and his woodworking. He is so persistent and particular, that everything actually ends up way TOO perfect (and generally late for deadlines as well!) I don’t like perfect. And I hate anything to look like it came out of an Ikea flat-pack. We BOTH love our old pine hutch (rescued for only $250. at an auction) and as it’s right beside the pantry cupboards, it HAD to match! The hutch is pretty old and beaten up. That’s what gives it such lovely character:
So, how do you make new pine wood with rounded edges and perfectly pedantically sanded faces look like its 150 years old? Well, this isn’t the first time I’VE done this, but Richard had to be convinced. You use what he calls ‘Medieval Torture Tools’ and you have at it!
So, here’s Richard contemplating if he could ‘allow’ it to be done to his finely sanded drawer fronts and cupboard:
Yes, he decided. It made quite a neat effect. And when I explained how the stain would darken in the grooves and really age/distress it, he was sold! So we started hitting the faces (not yet attached to the drawers) with chains, tapping with the horse hoof rasp, plucking and prodding with other heavy objects. Smitty thought we were right nuts.
We experimented on cut-offs for several effects, like these:
Richard especially liked the effect of the rasp, but I didn’t want to use it too much, or it would have looked contrived (which of course it was!) Here’s what those 2 effects looked like:
Finally, it was important to chisel a bit off the rounded edges, to make them appear well-worn over the years, esp. at the tops of the drawers, where hands might have pulled them:
Here’s what the front faces looked like after we’d beaten on them (and by the way, ole Mr. Perfect Pedantic decided it was rather fun to do this!)
Next, we had to match the staining to our pine hutch as closely as possible. Oh, it’s just a pine stain, I hear you say? But no! There are 4 different types of stain called ‘Something Pine” now, AND an antique like the hutch changes colours through the decades, darker some places, lighter others and,most difficult to replicate – a sort of soft orange. I ended up experimenting and testing like mad and finally ended up using layers and a total of 6 different stains (all already in our basement – we do NOT buy things just for the sake of spending more money!) to get the right colour and effect that best matched being beside the old hutch. In addition, in some ‘strips’ (always with the grain) I’d put on up to 3 coats, and in others, only 1 coat which I’d even wipe off immediately so only a faint trace was left…
Fully stained, now, Richard began attaching the faces to the bins – See how the stain is darker in the grooves and scars? Love that!
Now it was time to experiment with some stencilling – but wait! Richard burned my stencil set last year after I’d used it on some Rustic Revivals’ project and he thought that since they had paint on them they were ‘finished’… grrrrrrr…. so though he’d replaced them for me, they were too large – I had to use partly-stenciled on the ends of the letters, and then mostly free-hand but to LOOK like they’d been stenciled. Also, I know from experience it’s better to put a base coat first, which I did in ivory, then painted over in the black.
Now, here’s the thing about old. It’s ALWAYS faded and distressed – so while these letters were originally in dark black, that would never have looked antique/mercantile-ish. So…
sanding with a fine grade was necessary to take off some of the newly-painted letters. Make sure the letters are dry first – you don’t want smearing!
Here’s a number I tried first, and another example of Richard’s favourite – bashing with the horse hoof rasp:
And THEN, some artistic touch-ups on letters that just didn’t quite stand out enough was necessary. There’s a fine line between taking off too much, or not enough. Now who’s being pedantic?
Richard got some antiqued bronze handles from Kent Lumber (but I don’t recommend them, as they are made in China, and the two he got for the bottom sliding drawer had stripped holes for the screws, so we’re still without on that section!) I also added a few random numbers to simulate the old crate/mercantile storage effect further…And thus, the brilliant results, if we do say so ourselves:
And here’s what everyone loves – some before and afters, the 1970s kitchen before we bought it, and now. We HATE all those ’70s louvered doors, but they have worked beautifully for making them look like old shutters (painted and distressed, of course) for some of Rustic Revivals’ displays at shows – because of COURSE we don’t throw anything out! And don’t forget those doors down at the end of the hallway have been replaced by our prize ‘barn door’ (you can see that here- https://bluebellmountainblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/that-time-has-tried/ )
And here’s just the pantry area before and after:
Yes, that IS one of Mom’s hand-woven rugs in front of the hutch (helps cover up the ripped up bit of floor where I had to sledge hammer out that peninsula cupboard/counter that jutted so alarmingly into our hall/kitchen area!) As you see, I still liked the low-energy light in the one cupboard so much, I decided to leave it with some jars and canisters. And see how our organic raw honey jars catch the light and make a mellow gold? Also a little pine mirror on the back of the wall adds some texture, makes the pantry area seem lighter and roomier as well:
Yes,sir, we love our new/old pantry area and telephone nook area now, and it’s such a pleasure to cook and bake with easy-to-scoop bulk dry goods, and easy-to-find organized cupboards and baskets and shelves….
Anyone want to come over for some oatmeal cookies? I’m just whipping some up!
Usually, writers look for something deeper, more provocative, behind a statement or allusion. In this case, I am taking the above quotation as MORE literal than it is even meant.
Everyone knows about the big ‘bomb cyclone’ (whatever that silly new term is meant to connote) that hit the Eastern Seaboard the last two days and carried us maniacally (like Chevy upturning Richard in the pony-sleigh when a snow plow rumbled past) into 2018.
However, we at Blue Belldon Farm felt we were prepared. We are NOT even close to being off-grid as yet, but we have come to learn some valuable lessons. Although we often lose electric power for a day or two after a distant summer thunderstorm, or a cluster of heavy autumn winds, for some reason, we rarely lose power in the depths of winter. And thank goodness for that, as of course it can be deadly for both man and beast! Thus, when we hear of an approaching storm, we fill up all the saved plastic milk and juice jugs with water, put water in the bathtub, get the fire burning hot, put the animals and vehicles in the garage/barn, make sure the candles and matches are on hand, and the oil lamps filled, and put Richard’s long johns out with his jeans and battery-operated socks.
But this year, the reason we truly felt prepared for a big blow-out storm, was that Richard and his brother from Saint John, Jean-Marc, spent a long weekend in early November purchasing and hooking up a massive generator to our most necessary electric appliances (ie: water pump, some of Mom’s upstairs heat, her toaster oven and hot plate, the electronic large garage doors – also needed to get the animals out front – and our back-up oil furnace that is meant to come on if our wood furnace goes cold.)
This meant a great deal of time was spent with both brothers in the basement installing an additional panel and rearranging some of the old farmhouse’s fuses, wiring, etc.
It also meant a great deal of time was spent with one in the basement and one elsewhere in the house or barn, shouting back and forth on the two-way (the Reich boys never speak quietly together ; whether they are in the same room, speaking on the phone, or in this case, on walkie-talkies, shouting is imperative to add the needed drama. I suspect this habit began in early childhood).
It was so kind of Jean-Marc to drive all the way up here WITH the massive generator in his wee car, and to spend all his time on this big project which theoretically, could save lives – or at least an awful lot of discomfort! Making some good wholesome meals for the two of them was the least I could do.
Cammie, on the other hand, felt that the least SHE could do was some ‘photo-bombing’, to use yet another new ‘bomb’ term.
With the exclusion of Mom and the cat, however, it seems that all the rest of the Blue Belldon residents were outside at this time!
Anyway, the generator is a complicated affair. I was given some lessons on how to ‘fire it up’ in case it was ever my responsibility. And of course, I no longer remember a single phrase… I believe I was promised some hand-written user-friendly instructions to follow but these have yet to materialise…
After Jean-Marc left that long weekend, Richard built a platform (old pallets) and a wooden box for the generator to rest near the side of the house. This was then hooked up to a small solar panel that will keep its battery charged so it is ready and willing when we need it! When the snow first started near the end of Nov., he then put a tarp over it.
The box Richard built is about 3 ft. 3″ square. This is the box today:
The little solar panel and the big outlet for the generator’s plug into the basement is above our basement window, which of course has completely disappeared after this latest storm. If we did lose power now, some more of this is in order:
That’s poor icicle-stached Richard in his brother’s old ‘stand-out-in-any-crowd’ snowmobile duds just a few minutes ago. It’s good to wear fluorescents in case you get lost in a large drift and need to be heli-vac’d out! Actually, he already had a lot of this shovelling to do this morning, because he felt the 7ft. high windowed ‘man’ door beside where the animals go in and out to the corral should be shovelled out for them to allow more light into the barn. With the drifting, it was almost completely covering the top of the door (window). This was kind of him – personally, I think because they can take themselves in and out to the corral when they please, they can get their ‘light’ that way, but now they can be inside and still have natural light (they do always have an energy efficient light bulb on back in there as well, so it’s never completely dark).
I took these during the storm – you’d never know there were big Appalachian mountains just the other side of those yard trees, would you? And you can’t even SEE the road out front. For 27 hours, not one single car went by on our road. Just the good old plow, about every 4 hours, all night and all day… bless those plow drivers!
And Mom/Joy took this one yesterday. While both her car and our truck were in the garage (front of barn), the wind was so powerful it blew (just under the one tiny .5cm crack between the big overhead door and the ground) all the standing-upright snow you see here, as Richard raises the big door. So that was INSIDE the closed-up barn!
Many people’s houses were also affronted by the blown-in snow. A friend of mine north-east of us had her entire closed-in porch full of snow:
But, there’s always gotta be irony – for all the extra N.B. Power employees that were put on call for this storm, we in the northern part of the province never lost power at all! Instead, poor Jean-Marc and those in Saint John and points south – they had ALL the snow and winds, then freezing rain and flooding – torrential flooding! Loss of power, loss of homes, businesses, etc… In the case of THIS storm, this was absolutely true:
By mid-week we should be experiencing warmer temps, so Richard hopes to get Chevy (perhaps having to ride him bareback with his harness on to get through the snow drifts?) out to the woods to drag in some more logs. And he and I have been hard at work the last 2 weeks finally redoing the kitchen pantry to be better organized, cleaner, more accessible and to blend in better with our old pine hutch that stands beside it. So next week’s blog has many popular ‘before and after’ shots (from right back when we first took over the house), plus tips and how-tos for you diy’ers and fans of Vintage Farmhouse renos. Here’s a tease: