Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Everything I want to remember from moving to now blog post

(posted by Kate)

Like Jamie, I couldn't be happier about our home and the area we moved to.  For me, the move here is a little different.  I'm just a half an hour from my parents now and in the general area where I grew up.  It is just enough outside that area though that things are new and exciting and it has been wonderful experiencing it all with Jamie.

I'm writing a general update from the past 6 months so I can look back on them a few years down the road.

We closed on the house on the 22nd and then cleaned with my mom and dad for the day. The next day we moved everything from storage with help from mom and dad, Uncle Rod and Aunt Judy, John, and Michael and kids. Then the unpacking began!

9/2: We had to put our sweet Nordi down.  We were glad he got to spend some time in our new home though. He was an amazing cat. I wish we had more than 3 1/2 years with him, but I'm so glad that his old man years with us.

9/3: We went to Bangor Humane society and picked out Bou!  She came home on the 9th. It took 9 days for Bou and The Cheat to co-habitate in the same room. They are now great friends and spend a lot of time chasing one another through the house.  She has cute little mews and gained 2 pounds in 2 weeks after we got her. Now she's our little meatball... 3 pounds later.

9/4: My family came out for a house warming gathering.  My brother had flown in from Los Angeles as a surprise!  It was a sunny afternoon of eating, playing horseshoes, and shooting hoops.

9/18: I started some apple cider vinegar with apples from our trees.


The front porch was in desperate need of painting.  It was a dark mustard yellow color.  We decided to sand it up and paint it red.  The paint was in such rough shape and the sanding took a lot longer than we thought.  With some help from my mom and dad, we got it finished just as it was getting too cold to paint.

(still have the floor to go in this photo)

With some hard thinking we figured out how to get the heat mat under the stove!


Jamie got the bird feeders up! The cats love watching them.

11/24: Our First Thanksgiving in our new home!  We had a great day with mom and dad.


We decorated for the first time.  And cut down our tree from the tree farm right down the road. Jamie's mom and brother came for Christmas.  His mom didn't know his brother was flying in amking it quite the fun surprise!!

12/25: Our power went out on Christmas morning around 10:00 AM.  Fortunately, the wood cookstove was already up and running.  We slid the turkey from the oven into the wood oven.  We were cooking it in homemade turkey broth, so I think that helped keep it moist.  We rotated it every half hour and quickly learned we needed to keep it well covered with tinfoil.  It was hands down, the best turkey I've ever cooked.  The meat was so moist and had an amazing flavor.
Thanks to our propane stove were were able to continue to cook other Christmas dishes stovetop and use the cookstove top also. My parents had fortuitously given us 2 cast iron pans for Christmas, so we put them right to use! It was a fun challenge to do everything with the limited amount of water left in the pipes and what was leftover in the teakettle.

After dinner, Jamie rinsed out the dishes in the snow.  It will be a Christmas we'll never forget!


1/14: I started some sauerkraut thanks to the leftover cabbage from Airline Brewing Company!


1/13: Our first blizzard with more than 2 feet of snow.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Downeast Woods

A big draw to moving to our area was the trail running opportunities. Kate and I are both ultrarunners, and being able to access amazing mountains and forests from our doorstep, most of the time without seeing a soul, was a great selling point.

Acadia National Park is just 45 minutes away, but since we've moved, I've only gone down there to run once. That park is amazing, obviously, but the beauty of the woods and mountains around our home gives it a run for its money. We aren't right on the coast like ANP is, but we also don't have hordes of tourists. Just moose, deer and bears. Still, it's nice knowing that ANP is there.

Below are a smattering of pictures from trail adventures that are within running distance from our home:

Road running; backwoods style.

A tiny brook trout. Trail running is great for fly fishing recon. 

I'll confess that this is not a running picture. I took it near the post office three miles down the road, but I couldn't resist including it. 

Bluff lookout. 

Chick Hill in the distance 

More views from the top. 

Early signs of autumn in late summer. 

Scrub forest.

Autumn on a backwoods pond. It has brook trout and can is just four miles from our house. 

Public canoe. 

More early autumn. 

Leaves about at their peak. 

The mountains of Acadia National Park in the distance. 

Old Man Winter knocking on the door in late Autumn. 

One has to bushwhack to reach this peak. 
Yep. We love it here. We worked hard to make it happen and don't take it for granted. Happy trails!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Value of the Wood Cookstove

I woke up this morning facing my alarm clock, noticing that it wasn't on. Out here in our neck of the boonies, on average, the power tends to go out about every two weeks. Sometimes for 30 minutes. Other times for several hours. It's just part of living in a very rural area that is also known for whacky weather.

Walking downstairs with the light from my phone, I shined it on an old flip clock and noticed the power had gone out around six hours earlier at 11:22pm. I got to splitting up wood for kindling (wood warms you twice!) and fired up our Modern Clarion. Within minutes, the fire was going and our house was on its way to warming back up. About an hour later, I decided to make the most of the heat and baked a batch of biscuits. Kate then used the stove top to cook bacon and eggs. Multi-tasking at its finest.

Pre-dawn fire-up during a power outage.

Mmmm, buttermilk biscuits.

Bou watches on from her favorite chair as Kate cooks eggs.

Mmmm, bacon. 

Let me rewind a bit... In 2011, Kate and I took a week long trip to Prince Edward Island. We visited the house where Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Anne of Green Gables" author, was born. The house has been converted into a museum, and seeing its somewhat small size and lack of other cars in the parking lot, I was hesitant to go in, fearing an overenthusiastic curator who would be overly joyous to see someone and talk our ears off. But Kate grew up with Montgomery's books and insisted, and I was very glad I relented. It was a cool little museum; the whole place was very interesting from a historical perspective, but one thing had caught my eye more than anything else: A beautiful antique wood cookstove.

The stove form the Montgomery museum that caught my eye. 

Kate grew up nearby from where we now live and has been around wood stoves for most of her life, but I, being from Florida, have not. I had never seen an antique wood cookstove before and laying eyes on that one in Canada sparked a major fascination that stuck like an axe. So, imagine my glee when we bought a farmhouse that came with one. I don't think I'm very materialistic in general, but pardon my exception here; I love that thing.

Me working the stove. 

Front view of our Modern Clarion, here seen simmering chicken stock.

We've really come to appreciate the Modern Clarion. It's our first season with it, and we're still learning how to maximize its efficiency, but we have gotten a good grasp on it so far; meaning, nothing horribly burnt to destruction yet.

I'm not going to get into details on operation much, as we are hardly experts, but here are a few very general notes and things we've picked up on:
  • The firebox is on the left. The oven is the bigger box on the right. 
  • There are four dampers to adjust airflow and heat circulation. Mastering them all and their relations to one another is key.
  • Those circular plates on the stovetop are not burners. They are access panels that are round so you can place a pot inside to heat it quicker. The two on the left are above the firebox and allow us to add wood. The other four are above the oven box. 
  • When using the stovetop, the left side is hotter, the right side is not as hot. Adjust heat by moving the pan. 
  • This ain't no fancy convection oven. The oven box has hot/cool spots and food needs to be rotated for evenness. It's not a big deal, though. 
  • Oven heat can be inconsistent. Adjust accordingly by adding wood or adjusting the dampers. Again, it's not a big deal. You absolutely have to monitor things though and be willing to adjust cooking time depending on the oven's temperature. 
  • The thermometer on the outside door is not accurate. From what I've read, pretty much all of them are not. We bought an inside-the-oven thermometer for better accuracy and have learned as a general rule that the outside gauge is 50 degrees warmer than the average internal temperature. 
Does food tastes better when cooked on a wood cookstove? Absolutely, especially in the oven. Hot air from the fire circulates around the oven box and there's a quality to the way that it cooks that's beyond psychosomatic and is hard to describe.

Buttercup squash seeds roasting in the oven. 

But there is definitely a learning curve. A batch of brownies came out slightly burnt on one side due to me not rotating them in time. And we should have gotten the fire hotter for our pizzas this afternoon (last week though, they came out absolutely perfect). But thankfully, no tragedies yet and way more successes than slight mishaps. One just has to monitor things closely, and it's well worth it.

Cooking aside, there are other benefits. As I mentioned, it keeps our house warm. The firebox on our Modern Clarion is actually pretty big, so when the whole oven is warmed up it puts out a very good amount of heat that eventually works its way to other rooms and upstairs. Also it acts as a great humidifier when we put a pan of water on the stove top.

We'll probably eventually get a generator, but are not in any big hurry. With heat and cooking ability, there are no problems there during a power outage in a winter. The only real inconvenience is not having power to operate our well pump and hot water heater, and I'm sure the tolerance will be pretty short-lived. But for now, we're grateful to be able to keep warm and cook without any electricity. We'll take it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Compost Bins - Why Buy When You Can Build?

Acquiring a compost bin as soon as possible was high on the agenda when we bought our farmhouse. But to buy or build? The argument for buying one is that there is minimal assembly and you have fun options like ones that tumble, different sizes, fancy vents, etc. However, I couldn’t justify the price. The cheaper ones were around $50 and others went for more than $400! Yikes!
Say whaaaaaaaaaaaa?

Composting isn’t rocket science and I'd rather spend my money on other things, especially when a little research showed me that compost bins are really easy to make and just as effective. I can attest to that. What also helps is the previous owners of our home left us plenty of materials that could easily be repurposed and I ended up building two. Here’s how I did it:

Household Composter

The first one I made is used for household waste. It’s constructed from an old blue, plastic 55-gallon or so barrel that was laying around the barn. It seemed like a perfect choice and after nearly three months of use, the bin is already producing some very rich, earthy-smelling compost.

To make it, all I did was drill several slightly-smaller-than-dime-sized holes along the sides and the lid for ventilation. I didn’t bother drilling holes underneath as there was already a 6” crack along the bottom-middle seam. The lid isn’t an exact fit, so I weigh it down with a rock. This has held up very well with wind and critters so far. No complaints.

My favorite feature is the large bottom panel, roughly 18”X12” big, to allow for easy access where the best compost may lie. I’m pretty proud of that. After sawing out the opening, I screwed in hinges and two sliding bolt locks to keep it closed. For insurance, there’s also a thin bungee cord, which was my sole, original method of keeping it closed, but it quickly became obvious that more was needed. The two bolt locks, one horizontal and one vertical, are more than adequate and have thwarted critter raids nicely. I could see that a small mammal (likely a skunk, fox, or raccoon) had been scratching around and trying to get in a few times, but my design passed the test with flying colors. No compost for you!

So, whenever we have cooking scraps, coffee grounds, need to dump the sink’s drain, etc., it goes into an old, large plastic coffee can that we keep on our kitchen counter. With the lid on, odors are never a problem and it’s very convenient being able to keep it so handy. When it’s full, we simply dump it into the compost bin. I’ll then rinse out the coffee container from an outside spigot and wipe it down before bringing it back inside. Once a week, I’ll stir the compost with a pitchfork that I keep next to the bin and it’s obvious that system is working nicely. It’s pretty fun to see scraps deteriorate more and more each week. All that I have to do is open the bottom panel and take out what is needed, something I’ve already done when I planted the garlic a few weeks ago.

Lawn/Garden Composter

Last month, I finally got around to building a second compost bin out of some old pallets that were laying around. We primarily use this one for lawn debris consisting of mostly leaves, cut grass and fallen apples. We also dump our fireplace and cookstove ashes, as well as our spent cat litter (100% pine and sans turds) into this bin as well.

I roughly followed this tutorial, taking into account the asymmetry of different sized pallets that we had on hand and I opted to skip the garden netting part as I didn’t feel it was necessary. I also didn’t use a pallet for a floor, favoring earthworm access over additional aeration, so we’ll see how that goes. Pretty basic and simple, the way it should be.

However, I did opt to create a very convenient hinged door on the front which is kept in place with a hook and eye latch. When open, the bin’s ledge accommodates the height of our wheelbarrow’s nose so we can just hang it over, lift, and dump. I didn’t design and measure it for that purpose, but I’ll take the happy coincidence.

The pallet composter is set on the edge of our property along the woods line, near the garden beds.  However, the kitchen waste composter sits on the backside of our attached shed, which is far enough away to avoid possible odors but close enough to be easily accessible.

Waste Reduction and Free Compost

As a result of composting along with adamant recycling, we produce one small plastic food shopping bag of trash per week on average. Good for the environment obviously, but the benefits of composting will no doubt also yield some healthy soil for our gardens this spring. Bring on the food!