Finding my Purpose

Exploring my Values to Find Myself

Last week I told you that I put in my resignation and my last day will be mid-May. I am excited, terrified and quite honestly, a little in shock! Looking back this has been in the works for awhile, I have not been happy where I am in life for some time. Not to say that my life is bad because it is not, by a long shot, I have a good husband, a healthy and funny daughter and good family and friends with a warm roof over my head. But, I have this deep feeling like something is missing, I’m going through the motions but not enjoying life like I feel I should. We were given this gift of life and I felt like I was wasting it.

I have spent about a year grasping at straws trying to figure out what is wrong with me. “Am I depressed, bored, do I have ADHD and that’s why I can’t focus at work like I want too…” The list goes on and on of trying to find a REASON, a reason of why I feel this way. IF I find the reason I can also find the cure.

Theres a lot of buzz surrounding “purpose.” What is purpose, why do I need a life long purpose, isn’t that something that ebbs and flows within the seasons of life? I have been visiting with a therapist for awhile just to help me get a grasp on what it is that I am feeling and she had me do a values worksheet. When she first suggested it I figured I would do it to appease her but didn’t think much would come out of it. It is a worksheet with a list of all facets of your life listed out, i.e. family, friends, education, social, job, etc. Your job is to define each one as you think of it, i.e. for family I put that I want to be a loving mom and wife and a reliable person that my family knows they can always count on for help. Once defined you then rate each 1-10. I assume most of us would put family up at the top so that was a no-brainer but what did surprise me was what came next on my list and, what came last.

Rating this list was surprisingly helpful because it gave me a chance to compare each, individual facet of my life one-on-one rather than as large sections. Do I want this area to be in my top three or is it this? My top three included all of the family relationships but the one that surprised me was Education. To me education comes in the form of exploring. Whether that be the State Park that’s close by or roaming the streets of another country you’re always learning and experiencing something new. I am a firm believer that experience is everything. It is what makes us each unique individuals because we all come from different backgrounds and different experiences.

The fact that education kept winning out compared the rest of the values surprised me but gave me some valuable insight into myself. I knew that experiences were very important to me but didn’t realize they were quite that high until I did this worksheet!

I am still up in the air about what the heck I am going to do in the future. In the short term Scarlett and I are going to take the summer and explore and enjoy ourselves. I recently went to a cute furnishings store and saw this darling sign that really spoke to me:

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

David Viscott

It looks like I am back to that buzzword of “purpose” again! I have no idea what my life’s purpose is but I am realizing that I have to put the work in to find it. It’s not a quick fix of just thinking something is wrong with me it will take time, a lot of soul searching along with some journaling and hopefully that will bring me to my purpose and everything will fall into place there!

Road Tripping With a Toddler

Getting Away Even During a Pandemic

In the latter part of December I was growing antsy, Christmas stress was getting to me and I was fed up. I wanted to get away, but in the midst of a global pandemic what options are there? Well, I decided I was missing the mountains. I first saw mountains when I was 23 and moved to Colorado for school and am hooked on them. I just wanted a beautiful view in a little cabin nestled in the mountains and to snuggle and just be. I pretty easily talked Coby into this and voila, I was in total planning mode for a trip from Iowa to Montana!

I was still leery about heading out with a toddler during the current health crisis so we several practices in place to try and stay safe.

The Plan

First off, we drove. I know some people despise driving, especially long distances, the drive time of our trip was estimated to be 18.5 hours. We don’t mind driving, my husband is an over-the-road truck driver so he is right at home on the road and he knows all the short-cuts to get somewhere the easiest, plus he knows where to find the pretty scenery!

Scarlett does not appreciate our need to take a picture at the beginning and end of every road trip!

I love a good road trip so I’m in too, of course it takes a little more planning now having a toddler aboard then it did when we were younger but getting there is half the fun!

Making the Most of a Road Trip

We planned numerous stops along the way, one, so we could make fun memories and two, to wear Scarlett out! We stopped at the Badlands on the way out for a morning. We would have loved to stop at some more museums and indoor sites along the way but due to COVID we decided to keep our adventures outside. On the way home we stopped at Little Bighorn Battlefield. Coby and I love history and trying to put the events that happened into place and imagine what it was like for those who experienced it.

We did take Scarlett to a playground along the way to burn some energy. It really seemed to depend on the state which ones were open and which were closed. I am not sure if they were closed due to COVID or due to the fact that there was a bunch of snow piled on them! If the playground was closed we would just go for a walk which Scarlett really enjoys. We strolled downtown Bozeman, Montana and did some window shopping (and maybe a quick stop in a few of the shops!) Just strolling the main streets of adorable cities like that is such a fun thing to do. It gives you an idea of the people in the area and what they enjoy doing, a little glimpse into their culture!

We get really excited for Scarlett when she enters a new state and have made it a tradition where we take a picture of her at that moment. After four states I realized I needed to find a way to denote which state it was so I signed “M” for Montana!

Entertaining a Toddler in a Carseat for Hours

Usually Scarlett takes an afternoon nap but she wasn’t too into it during the trip like I thought/hoped she would which made things a little more interesting. One thing that I think would have helped with this is a car window shade. We’ve never really had need for one until now. She would start to doze but seems to get hot in her carseat when the sun would shine on her and would wake her up. We started hanging a coat in the window but a shade would have been far easier and covered the window more efficiently.

Scarlett also got new toys for the trip! She had gotten a kids paint with water set for Christmas from Grandma and a mess free coloring kit as well which we promptly reserved for the trip! We also bought her some quiet books and she really enjoyed the one with the doll. We reserved these special new toys for the trip only. We showed them to her when we got them and made it a big deal to keep them until our trip so they would be a novelty to her. We also took her baby from home that she could play with in the car too as she really enjoys her baby.

Scarlett enjoying her new toys!

Even with all the planning Scarlett still got some ants in her pants, after all she is only three and we were clocking about 7 hours in the car each day. We were not above playing Baby Shark or the Gummi Bear song and singing along! At one point I even played peek-a-boo from my front seat with her that she enjoyed thoroughly!

Eating on the Road

We had a lot of “car picnics” as we started referring to them. We would grab food when we stopped for gas and pile into the car to eat. Coby would jump in the backseat to help Scarlett. I also bought a bunch of snacks to keep handy in the car. I wanted snacks to be readily available to keep meltdowns at bay (mine and Scarlett’s!) and also have some healthier options too that could stay in the car when the weather dipped below freezing at night. I got some real fruit juice gummy bears and pita chips. They were all delicious but I think I should have gotten some more options as well for varieties sake, we were all getting a little tired of the same thing by the time we got home!

Enjoying our “Car Picnic!”

Motel Stays

We decided to stay in motels along the way so we wouldn’t have to take a three year old that licks and touches everything through doors and hallways in a hotel, plus it’s usually the cheaper route to go! We found some great privately owned motels that had the sweetest owners who were so friendly and helpful in pointing us to the best restaurants in town! We enjoyed one so much we came back to it on the return trip and he remembered our names!

Once we found our lodging for the night we would order food to-go and one of us would go grab it and bring it back to the motel. We had many-a family dinners sitting on the edge of the bed over the small desk in the motel rooms! Another plus about this set up that is not COVID related is Scarlett is three, when she’s done eating, she is ready to get up and play which of course isn’t feasible in a restaurant but it worked perfect in this situation. Coby and I could still chat and eat and she could be off doing her important baby things!

Not a normal pic you take while vacationing, eating breakfast in the hotel room but we also wanted to document the unique situation of traveling during a pandemic and how we had to adapt and overcome!

Our House

This was our first time booking a Vrbo or AirBnb, we had stayed at them with friends but never coordinated one ourselves. Again, I wanted to be secluded in a peaceful spot surrounded by mountains. We found the most adorable cabin around West Yellowstone, Montana. The manager of the property was super helpful when I asked questions about the area to ensure we were close to the sites we wanted to visit. Another plus to getting an entire house, you have your own kitchen and laundry available. I only had to pack half the stuff because we were able to do laundry, and I knew that we could wash away any germs accumulated through the first part of the trip.

The Fun

For our first adventure we learned to mush puppies!!! This has been on my bucket list since I knew this was a thing from watching movies like Balto and White Fang growing up (yep, I’m a total 90’s kid!) The company that I found has you arrive at their base camp where it was just the pros and us and of course, a lot of puppies! They gave us a great overview of how everything works and some guidance and then we were on our own sled following the pro around in his sled! It was a blast!

Our second adventure was the one I was slightly concerned about with COVID. In the winter at Yellowstone National Park you have to be on a guided bus tour or snowmowbiles. Coby definitely wanted to jump on the snowmobiles but we figured a three year old on a snowmobile might prove problematic! The tour bus company we booked through had everyone wear masks and put up pexiglass partitions between the seats and we were able to get out often and check out the sites. Scarlett got a little antsy toward the end of the day but she’s three and doesn’t like to be cooped up for too long, she eventually fell asleep on the bus while Coby was holding her!

Scarlett started out wearing a mask, you can only keep a mask on a three year old for so long.

Final Thoughts

Overall we had a blast! I would have liked to stop at more indoor places along the route to see the sites and to help get Scarlett’s energy out a little better but we did fine! Scarlett was definitely ready to be out of the car for awhile when we got home. Scarlett had to get in her carseat the day after we got home to go to daycare and she was a little upset. I told her that it was a short trip to go see her daycare provider and friends, it wasn’t a long one this time and that appeased her!

We had a great time and really enjoyed our time together. Snuggling in the cabin by the wood stove was my favorite part of the whole trip and I was not ready to leave.

I once read a quote stating that we only have 18 summers with our children (granted this isn’t summer but the sentiment resonated with me either way.) Eighteen vacations before they leave and I felt like we were going to miss out on a vacation due to COVID which had me super bummed out but we were able to have our vacation and make memories with our family and keep everyone safe!

Home Again, it was a great trip!

My Top 5 Products to Encourage Toddler Independence

Tools to create an environment that fuels independence for a lifetime.

*I shop based on reviews all the time, as a parent, we want to get the best bang for our buck and I like to see what has worked for other people and ensure the product is going to perform like I want it to. I therefore resolve to only showcase products that I truly use and enjoy and may receive a commission as an Amazon Associate from qualifying purchases.

Our darling Scarlett is 2.5 years old and absolutely amazes me. I am the youngest in my family and haven’t really been around children much so I don’t know what they can and can’t do at certain ages but Scarlett can do so much more then I originally gave her credit for.

Sure, she has her moments of “Mom, bottle” and expects me to get her sippy cup that is two feet away from her but we all have those moments! For the most part Scarlett wants and expects to be independent. For the longest time her motto was, “I do it!” and she would certainly tell us to back off and not help her.

I loved that she was little Ms. Independent and wanted to encourage her and help her be as independent as she could be. Not only does she enjoy doing things on her own but the sense of accomplishment it gives her is so wonderful to see and will only help her confidence grow.

I am not one for formal or structured play at home, that is just too overwhelming for me as a parent to administer so I really gravitate towards Montessori. I know there is a lot more to Montessori but the essential vibe I get from it is being very practical and letting your child learn hands on and fabricating an environment to be able to do that.

Here are my top 5 essentials that I have found help Scarlett to be independent and in turn, learn so much!

Automatic Soap Dispenser– We were using a pump hand soap dispenser and it was too difficult for Scarlett to try and use the pump. It was hard for her to reach it on the sink AND press down on the pump at the same time. I found this awesome and affordable automatic soap dispenser. It is rechargeable using a USB cord and you can use any hand soap (without beads) in it and it turns it to foam! I have had this for about a month and had to charge it once and re-fill it with soap but definitely not a big deal to do. Scarlett now loooves washing her hands, to the point that we have to watch her or she’ll just stand there and play! But, it helps her get plenty of soap without wasting it because the ratio is 1/3 soap to 2/3 water and her hands are the cleanest they have ever been and with a pandemic going on I am all for clean hands!

Step Stool– This one may be a classic and obvious but it amazes me how much Scarlett enjoys her little stool. We have one similar to this. My sister-in-law gifted Scarlett a stool very similar to this in size and material. The only real difference is this one is solid. Scarlett’s is more open on the bottom which is where she likes to wrap her arms around it and cart it from place to place. It isn’t up very high but makes a world of difference for her to wash her hands, brush her teeth AND it’s light enough she can pick it up take it into her play kitchen and use it there too, or our refrigerator, or the counter… you get the idea.

3M Hooks– I made a “Mud Corner” (read about that here: Corralling the Coats- Creating a “Mud Corner”) this past winter to hang up our coats and of course I made it taller for adult coats. Well, that doesn’t work so well for a 30 some inch baby. I LOVE 3M hooks and use them everywhere! These are perfect to place where they are convenient for little hands to hang up their coats when we get into the house and for her to grab and go on her own in the morning.

Booster Seat– I had the realization about a month ago that it is probably time to get Scarlett out of her high chair. I was so excited to see her have her own spot at the table, it seems like such an integral part of being part of a family to have your specified seat that you call dibs on at the dinner table. I was so excited to get her a big girl seat at the table that I ordered this awesome booster seat and then it hit me, she won’t be a baby anymore in her high chair. Coby had the same reaction and we both sulked together in the realization that our cute little munchkin isn’t such a baby anymore. Luckily, her excitement for this seat makes up for the sadness! This seat was highly recommended on Amazon and I can see why. I literally had it strapped to the chair and ready to go within minutes, I think it took longer to get it out of the box! It wipes down like a dream and the seatbelt straps that are recommended for younger kids can easily be tucked away for bigger toddlers who don’t necessarily need that extra safety feature. Scarlett loves this seat and can easily get in and out on her own. The only, drawback is there is an opening in the middle of the seat that food drops into. Just wiping down the chair doesn’t remove this so I either take the vacuum to it or remove the outer part of the cover and wipe it all down every once in awhile. It isn’t a big deal but something to note.

Potty Chair– Scarlett decided that quarantine was a great time to potty train. It truly was the perfect time because we were always home BUT, when you’re working from home and potty training, it can get interesting! I have never been a fan of the little potty chairs that sit on the floor that have to be cleaned out after each use, I have to do that with the cats litter box, I don’t want to do it for my child too. I found this awesome stepstool/potty chair combo on Amazon. I love that it uses your plumbed-in toilet so there’s no extra clean up involved for the parent, just flush! We usually leave it on the toilet and only move it when we need to use the restroom and replace it for her so it is always ready and she can run in and use the bathroom independently whenever she needs to and I don’t have to follow her in to clean it!

Not a Product But Also Very Important to Independence

Space and TIME to Run and Explore- As I have said before, I am not one for scheduled or planned activities for kids. While those things have a time and a place I am all about letting Scarlett run wild, explore in the pasture by picking up a walnut and saying it looks like an owl or getting her tiny finger pricked by a thorn or falling on her cute tush because that steadfast apple that didn’t want to be plucked from the tree finally came loose. Along with this I must add that I do watch her closely, according to my husband it’s a little too close but she is a quick little thing and can disappear in an instant. I try and merely observe and not interfere unless safety demands it.

We are all trying to do what is best for our little ones while making our lives a little easier too! I hope this helps give you some ideas on how to make that happen!

Moving Our Shed

Envisioning a New Life for a Repurposed Shed

I mentioned awhile ago the list of to-do’s I wanted to complete before winter hit. One of them the pro’s told me wasn’t the best idea and we would have to go a different direction that would have to wait until spring and the other I just sadly haven’t got to yet. BUT, this past weekend I did get one of my big items on my list DONE!

The shed where it stood in the background and it’s new home up front!

We finally got my garden shed moved to it’s rightful place! This summer we poured a cemetn foundation in my garden (read about that process here https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/07/10/533/.) We finally were able to coordinate a time with my Dad to have him come out and instruct us on how to properly move the shed.

Getting Prepped

Our first step in moving the shed was cutting all of the bolts that were securing it to the current cement foundation. Coby used a Sawzall for this.

We had to switch to the corded Sawzall as the battery operated just didn’t seem to have enough umph to cut through the bolts.

The most involved part of this process was getting the shed prepped to move to ensure that it would structurally stay together while moving it. The shed is about 10′ x 10′ so we bought six 2×4’s in 10′ lengths and two 12′ 2×4’s to help brace the shed.

Setting Up the Braces
  1. We placed two on the side walls, about 2′ up from the floor. These were also used to give us something to jack the building with too.
  2. One across the center of the building, perpendicular to the ones on the side.
  3. Two along the side with the door, one along the bottom and another at an angle across the door. There was one along the bottom of the back wall as well.
  4. The two longer boards we attached at an angle high up on the back wall angling down to the floor of the wall with the door.

We then started using two jacks to raise up one side of the building. Coby and my Dad were using the jacks to raise the building just enough for me to slip a 6×6 block underneath of the building to hold it up. The building has some rotten spots that gave way during this phase. When this happened it made the whole building shift a little and I had to reposition the blocks to make sure the buidling was steady. Once this step was complete we positioned skids that my Dad had made, they were made of 4×6 lumber with holes drilled into them and chain loops drawn through so we had a place to attached a tow rope. With the skids positioned I took a 2×6 board and screwed it into each skid on the front and back to help act as another brace while moving. We got everything attached and hooked up to the tractor, the moment of truth was here!

Moment of Truth- Moving the Building

Coby eased the tractor forward and a loud wood splitting sound pierced the air, my inital thought was,

“Well, there goes the building!”

Luckily it turned out just to be one of the 2×6 brace posts snapped. When it snapped it pulled some of the skid with it so I had to reposition it, nice and tight against the building and re-attached it.

I thought this was going to be a super slow step but it sped right along! I apologize for the sound quality, it was a very windy day!

The moment of truth was here again! Coby eased the tractor forward again and I was amazed at how fast he could move that thing and it did great! He got it lined up with the new cement foundation, got the front tractor tires onto the foundation and couldn’t get quite enough umph in the tractor to get the rear tires over the foundation as there is about a 1′ rise from the ground to the top of the cement. He then decided to unhook the skid, drive the tractor by itself over the foundation and turn it around. We were then able to hook up the tow rope and chain onto the bucket and have the tractor in reverse to tow it. Once the building was right next to the foundation Coby lifted the bucket the chain was attached to very gently and we nestled the 6×6 blocks under the skids to help elevate the skids into place to get it onto the foundation since it is elevated so much higher then the ground because we live on a hill. We had to do this again with some 4×4 blocks on top of the 6×6 blocks as well to ensure the skids would be able to clear the foundation. After we were set up Coby put the tractor into reverse and pulled it onto the foundation!

Securing the Building to the Foundation

At this point we realized the Tapcon concrete screws we had were definitely too small. I got the largest size available at the local hardware store but my Dad was not comfortable with using those to anchor the shed to the foundation. Since it was rather windy this day we decided to leave the shed as was, anchored on the skids and wait until we could get larger Tapcon’s.

My Dad got 5″ Tapcons during the week, there is a 2″ footing with 2×4’s around the bottom of the building so this gave us 3″ that would go into the cement foundation to secure the building.

The next weekend Dad and I set out to get the building anchored to the foundation. We started by using the loader on the tractor to gently push the building more square on the foundation. It was a little askew when Coby pulled it on the foundation so we let the tractor do most of the work for us to get it centered. We then took out the skids and slowly lowered the shed onto the foundation.

We had to add plates on the South wall of the shed as they had rotted away. We had a 2×6 laying around and cut them it length. We had to do some fabricating to make it fit the building correctly as the adjoining wall jut out slightly. The rest of the building had two plates so we added two to this wall as well.

As we were trying to get the footings around the building secured with Tapcon screws we realized the East and West sides of the building toward the door slanted up. We started to dismantle the braces we installed on the inside of the building to move it hoping that would shift enough to gently let the building rest flush to the floor. We worked at trying to get this thing flush for a long time but it wasn’t cooperating. Dad thought that possibly the old foundation angled one direction and then our new one maybe angled the opposite direction so the building was not sitting right. I was rather appalled he would suggest such a thing as setting up the framework for that foundation I swear was almost the death of me. I thought we had leveled the framework to within an inch of my life but who knows!

You can really see the gap underneath where the shed won’t rest on the foundation. Dad wonders if maybe they only used one plate on the right side where they used two on every other side of the building. We will test this theory and I will let you know!

We used a steel tamping/digging bar to get the building to sit exactly where I wanted it, scooting it an inch this way and that until it was perfect. We used the level to ensure that the door was square and would securely close. We then used a 3/16″ Masonry bit to pre-drill holes for the Tapcon screws. This took some time and patience because of course, drilling out cement isn’t a fast job! I then used my impact driver to secure the screws. I sadly have a hard time getting enough pressure on a drill to fasten things without stripping them but for some reason the impact driver works so much better for me. It’s an embarrassing flaw for the daughter of a man who’s done construction all his life but it’s the truth!

Final Thoughts – It’s Done!

We have the building fastened down and it looks amazing in it’s new home! It really anchors my garden and is the perfect axis to center everything from. Not to mention it will be handy to have all the gardening tools right there when I need them! Now I just have to wait until spring to really get everything in full swing!!

Be a Good Neighbor

A week ago today much of my County was hit by record winds. I live in the Northern part of my County and we were extremely lucky. The Southern part of my County was devasted. Houses were left without roofs and I have heard more times then I can count of grain bins that aren’t there anymore. But, as one of my Veteran’s said, it doesn’t matter because there won’t be much of a crop because the wind flattened the corn.

I was at work in town when it hit, seemingly out of nowhere, the last I had seen there was only a 40% chance of a scattered thunderstorm. The lack of visibility outside amazed me. I always assumed in town wind didn’t get that bad because there was enough structures to block it but I was wrong, we couldn’t see 10 feet out the window at times. One of our Deputy’s at our building had his wife call sobbing in the phone that it wouldn’t stop. He lives in an area of the County that was hit hardest. It wasn’t just the 110 mph wind gusts that caused so much damage but also the fact that it lasted so long. I just had a Veteran report today that it lasted 45 minutes where he lives. Usually a storm comes and goes like it did in the town I was in.

Then the phones cut out. A popular Midwest cell phone service, which the majority of us had, stopped working. The probation officer in our building has a different cell service and let us all call to check on loved ones, Scarlett was with my Dad and he lives further North then I do and just said they had some wind and rain but that was it. I almost got the vibe he thought I was goofy for even calling they had had it so easy.

The first thing I saw coming home after the storm. I felt like Scarlett from Gone With the Wind, “The house, is it still there?”

When the power didn’t come on for another hour, even with the town having a back-up generator I figured there must be some serious damage and decided to check on my own situation at home. As I was driving through town I passed one of my Veteran’s houses with a large branch on the roof. He is an elderly gentlemen who lives alone and doesn’t have any family. I had to check and make sure he was alright. Luckily he was fine and the branch just looked horrible, he didn’t think it had actually done much damage. He was actually in his enclosed porch and watched it come down! But, as I was there he had a friend stop and check on him too and another was on the way to assess the damage. The way that a community can come together after a devastating event is beautiful.

Checking On the Home Place

My first thought as I was topping the hill to our house was to ensure the house was still there. We had a large branch come down but it missed the house completely! It was blocking my part of the driveway but that’s pretty minor. My next thought was check on the horses as they were in the corner pasture that would have taken the brunt of the wind. I jumped out of the car and started yelling, “Boys, boys!” There they came, running around the corner of the windbreak ready for some feed!

This is the worse damage we received, plus a few trees in the pastures. If that’s the worse that happens, I’ll take it.

Since we have a circle drive I wasn’t too worried about jumping to clean up the tree because we have a circle drive, I’ll just use Coby’s drive. Plus, I needed to get gas for the chainsaw and since we were the only town with power for quite a distance we had LINES to get to the gas pumps and the gas stations in town were worried of running out within hours, there were people that needed it a lot more then me to clean up a lot worse damage and to run their generators to keep their families comfortable and their food cold and safe. I could easily wait.

Good Community, Great Neighbors

Tuesday evening Scarlett and I pulled into Coby’s drive and circled around to our normal parking spot by the house. In front of me was one of the sweetest sights. An anonymous neighbor had come and cleared our driveway, they even cut up the branch for us to use as firewood. The kindness brought a tear to my eye and made all of the ugly in the world melt away and goodness shine through.

Our passable driveway! Scarlett and I did find out which neighbor graciously cleared our drive and gifted him with delicious cookies my Dad’s girlfriend had baked and a card from Scarlett and I!

There are a lot of horrible things going on in the world right now but there is also a lot of good. Let’s all be a good neighbor, check on those around you and lend each other a hand.

Thinking Ahead to Winter

Last night Scarlett and I were out meandering in the pasture and a very large flock of birds went overhead. Since then I’ve seen a couple flocks fly by and couldn’t help but think, “Is it that time of year already?” I still think it’s pretty early for birds to be flocking together and heading South but it got me thinking about winter coming and then the panic set in.

It sounds very “Little House on the Prairiesque” but the impending winter makes you really take stalk of what you need to accomplish before the snow flies. I have never had this thought process until last fall when we were coming into our first full winter at this property. I had things that I really wanted to accomplish before winter that would make life so much easier, i.e. pouring the sidewalk patch, read about that project here: https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/03/24/pouring-a-sidewalk-patch/ or putting in a gate in our barn to make it easier to access the pasture (https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/05/29/building-a-wood-gate/.) Luckily, I got all of the important things accomplished last year. Now, it’s time to look ahead to this year’s list.

Narrowing It Down

My husband read a book awhile ago titled, Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight. He summed it up how she sets priorities by making a list of everything you need to do. Now narrow it down. Narrow it down again. And then, narrow it down again. It sounds very common sense, but, once I started using this approach it truly helped me examine what REALLY needed to be done. Not what seemed important, but what do I have to do right now that sets me up for success. All of the fluff things you wanted to get done kind of sink to the bottom and you realize what truly needs to happen.

Now Narrow it down. Narrow it down again. And then, narrow it down again.

I have started using this approach with the acreage. We will have lived on this property for two years come December. There is a list as long as my arm of things I want to get done, that’s just life, specifically life on the homestead. BUT, I am starting to take note of what will make life easier this winter and what will give us a head start in the spring.

This helped me narrow down things to do for the barn, and my garden and probably most important, the wood furnace in the house.

Getting the Barn Winter Ready

We have a hook up for a hydrant in the barn but have not put a hydrant on there basically because I don’t know if anything else needs to be done to it to ensure it is ready for freezing cold temps. As of now I have to run two hoses from the hydrant in the middle of the yard to the pasture and then coil it up and put it in the basement so it doesn’t freeze. Granted, in the grand scheme of things this isn’t the worse thing in the world but when it is below zero out, it sucks! I would love to have a hydrant in the barn and get a lightweight coil hose that only has to reach about 25′ to the water tank. My Dad thinks that we need to do a lot of additional steps to get this hookup ready for the hydrant and I quite honestly just want to have our local plumber come out and give it the green light but also don’t want to have an expensive plumber come all the way out for a simple DIY so really I just need to pull the trigger and get my butt in gear!

The current set-up we have to water the horses is such a pain. We need two hoses to reach the the tank, it’s so far away you can’t even see it!

The next thing on the list for the barn is repair the roof. We have a hole on the North side that definitely needs some attention. I was out there awhile ago during a rain storm and the water was pouring in to the horses shelter area, not OK for so many obvious reasons. I do not do heights so roofs are clearly not my thing and Coby simply doesn’t have time so we are going to hire it out and definitely need to be getting on that because winter will be here before you know it

If you look towards the top of the picture you can see bits of light coming in, clearly not a good thing in a roof!

Moving the Garden Shed

The next thing is move my garden shed to the new foundation we poured, read about that project here: https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/07/10/533/. While this isn’t going to make or break our winter it would make things go a lot smoother next spring. My main reason in wanting to get this in place is so I can start my ground cover walkways so they can take root this fall and early spring before we get out in the garden.

I can’t wait to get this big project completed and have the garden shed moved so I can’t really start building my garden next year!

I thought long and hard about what material to use as a walkway for in between my raised beds. I have always loved going barefoot in the garden and didn’t feel that was a great option using tradition walkway materials of mulch or rock. I also didn’t want the added maintenance of mowing and trimming the walkways if I planted grass. I was very adamant about being comfortable walking barefoot in the garden, there is something so uplifting about connecting with the earth that you are working and I didn’t want to lose that. I kept thinking about it and realized that there had to be some other option and I stumbled upon walkable ground covers. These are huge!! There are people actually replacing lawns with this to make less maintenance! After much research I settled upon Irish Moss as the ground cover I would use for my garden walkways. It can withstand heavy foot traffic and grows rather quickly and has a decent spread so I don’t need millions of plants to get my walkways covered. I referenced the website https://www.stepables.com/, they were great in detailing the pros and cons of each variety of stepable plant. They also sell the plants of course. Since I am going to be covering a wide area of space I ended up buying seeds from a different company and am starting them at home myself.

If you look with a microscopic lens you can see the tiny Irish Moss seed sprout in there!

Wood Furnace

We have a wood stove in the living room. I grew up with a wood stove as our only form of heat because my Dad is very “thrifty” as he likes to call it. I love wood heat, electric heat can’t even begin to touch wood heat in my opinion. Our house is roughly 50′ long with doorways breaking up that distance. That is a lot for a wood stove to try and heat. It would be nice and toasty in the living room but it would be freezing on the other side of the house, something I am not a fan of! The previous owners had a wood furnace installed in the basement and I want so badly to get that thing up and running that way we have that glorious wood heat spreading evenly throughout the house! The previous owner mentioned that the chimney needed to be re-lined so that’s why we didn’t try it last year when we moved in during the middle of winter. Since it hasn’t been used in awhile we want it to get professionally inspected and brought up to snuff because of course burning wood can be dangerous if not done correctly.

Our wood furnace set-up and chimney in the background.

I hope you don’t have a panic moment like I did realizing that winter is around the corner and you have a bunch of stuff you want to get crossed off your to-do list before that happens! I hope this just gave you some food for thought, good luck on checking off that list!

Working with Animals

This morning we moved the steer and horses to another pasture as the grass is getting sparse in the one they were in. Our steer has never had a halter on him and of course, never been broke to lead. We had to move him maybe 20 yards outside of the pastures and fences to get to the new grazing spot. Coby wanted to set up a make shift fence with paneling. Probably the smarter way to go but that seemed like waaay too much work for me. I opted to throw a lead rope around his neck instead, not sure what that really does but it made me feel better. So, being armed with the lead rope in hand and a tub full of feed in the other I opened the gate. He did pretty good, until he felt the lead rope tightening around his neck. Then he started romping around and playing like silly moo cows do. I let go of the lead rope because I am clearly not going to stop him and let him run. Luckily, he is a very lazy steer and didn’t go too far BUT, he did go in the opposite direction of where we needed him to go, of course! He let me walk up to him, grab the lead rope and feed tub and slowly I started backing toward the pasture. I could tell a couple of times he was getting nervous so we stopped and let him grab some bites to calm down and continue on.

Scarlett and “Baby Cow” getting to know each other. She was clearly more excited about that then he was!

It took mere minutes to get him moved but it left my adrenaline a little ramped up! It sounds silly but we are dealing with a 750 pound steer. In all honesty we should still be chasing him around the property 6 hours later but we aren’t. To get an animal, especially one of that size and power to trust you and follow you to a new and unknown place is very a humbling experience.

One thing I have learned when it comes to dealing with animals, especially large animals is that you have to be patient, no matter how hard and excruciating. I sometimes have a hard time going on other peoples schedule, my husband likes to remind me that if it’s not done on my time it’s not right.

Getting ready to walk the boys around the perimeter of their new pasture!

I bought my horse Chocolate when I was in the fifth grade, he was my baby before I had a baby. We have learned so much from each other over the 21 years we have been together. But most importantly, he has taught me to slow down, that not everything can be done by my schedule. There are times you just have to stop everything else, everything that you had planned to do that day may not happen because you are asking this animal that is literally a thousand pounds heavier then you to do something and they aren’t so sure of it yet.

I think over the years Chocolate and I have developed a mutual trust that makes it so much easier to ask him to do something. That, and we are both older, matured and just don’t have the energy to be sassy with each other any more! The other night we went for a ride and I decided it would be fun to see if Chocolate would step up onto the cement patio that has a couple stairs on it. He did it without blinking an eye and then just hopped down like it was no big deal. I was so proud of him and how far we have come as a team.

Scarlett’s first ride on Chocolate at 6 months old. He is such an amazing boy!

It is a great privilege to have this bond and mutual trust between large animals and a human. I have trusted Chocolate not only with my life but also my daughter’s, that’s a lot of trust! It is a gift that we have been given to communicate with animals and it is amazing! I am definitely not perfect and get a little rammy sometimes when it comes to dealing with the animals but I hope to teach Scarlett the same love and affection I have for animals so she can have great bonds with them too.

Top 5 Reasons Raising Country Kids is the Best

Growing up in the country was a big influence on who I am today. I truly believe that experience is everything and makes you who you are. I grew up on a small acreage that was fairly self sufficient and many of the things I do today I can trace the reason being that I grew up in the country. My sister has a new beau and invited his parents to my Dad’s 4th of July celebration. Since it’s a small town I already knew her boyfriend’s mom pretty well. She commented numerous times after seeing my Dad’s place how wonderful it must have been growing up there and she made the connection of why my sister and I are the way we are simply because growing up there!

  1. Play- I am not about scheduled play dates and structured activities for Scarlett. Those things can be good too but that is so much work and stress for ME as the parent and I am not about that! I believe in letting Scarlett whip a stick around and play with that. Watching her with it you can see she has a purpose for what she is doing, she has some story playing out in her mind and it is so fun to see and to imagine along with her! There is so much research backing free play. I recently read an amazing book titled, Simple Happy Parenting by Denaye Barahona. She has a Ph. D. in Child Development with a specialty in Family Wellness so she comes at this from an educated stand point. She made an excellent point that our education system is shifting from just memorizing facts and figures because let’s face it, the kids of today can look up anything in a matter of seconds. Instead, education is shifting to focus on the 4C’s, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity. This concept blew me away but made so much sense with the way our world is now. What better way to encourage these concepts then free play!

2. Caring for Others- When you have critters you have to care for them. It doesn’t matter how frigid the wind is, how blazing hot the sun is or if you had a horrible day. Your animals need to be fed and watered and YOU have to do it. Being a country kid you learn responsibility early because you have a life outside your own that depends on you and you have to care for your animals.

3. Life and Death- Even though we lovingly care for our animals life will come to an end. Death is a part of life. Scarlett had a kitten named Sandy that we hand fed because her mom suddenly passed away from an unknown cause. When I found Sandy my first instinct was to hide her before Scarlett could see her. Scarlett was about one and a half at the time. But instead I thought she needed to know what happened to her kitty cat and decided to use it as a teaching moment. Scarlett came over and enthusiastically called, “Kitty Cat!” like she always did to Sandy. When Sandy didn’t move I could see the confusion on Scarlett’s face and it was heart breaking to me. I explained to her that Sandy had passed and she is now in heaven with God. I know she doesn’t understand now but I believe in explaining things as they are because some day it will click in her mind. Another great aspect of living in the country is you get to see life coming into the world. Whether it be a kitten or Baby Buck Bucks or a new calf. There is something magical about babies, no matter what species they are! I know as a kid my parents NEVER sat down and had the ‘Birds and the Bees’ talk with me because I already knew, simply by being around the animals. I remember on more then one occasion watching the sheep or cats do their thing and announcing to everyone that we were going to have lambs or kittens! You simply learn the facts of life by watching nature.

Scarlett loving on Sandy.

4. Where Food Comes From- In such a modern world it is so easy to become disconnected from our food supply. You get the munchies, go to the store, grab what you’re in the mood for all packaged up nicely and there you go. But obviously there’s so much more to it. We have a garden for veggies and hopefully soon a small orchard for some fruit. One of my favorite evening activities is spending time in the garden with Scarlett to water the plants and pull weeds. It is such a peaceful and reflective time for me. She helps pull weeds too and harvests produce with me. She got her first fresh strawberries this spring and couldn’t get enough of them. It was such a wonderful moment seeing her excited and enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures. Along with produce we also have our own steer that we will be butchering this winter. About a month ago my Dad called me at 6am on a Sunday morning wondering if I could come over because they decided they were going to butcher chickens that day. I took over our old hen who hadn’t laid in a long time so we could butcher her as well. We went up to where they were butchering and there was already a pile of dead chickens laying there. It understandably upset Scarlett. I picked her up and explained that chickens lay yummy eggs for us but we also eat their meat as well. I didn’t want to really get into it but simply explain the facts to her. She spent the rest of the day running around chasing kittens so it didn’t seem to bother her after that. I think it was the initial shock that really threw her off. I had debated how to present this to her gently but due to circumstances out of my control the pile of dead chickens made the jump for me and I just explained things best I could and she seemed OK with that. We made chicken noodle soup that night, when I told her what it was she took a big bite of chicken, said “chicken”, and kept munching so either she didn’t make the connection or it didn’t bother her too much!

5. Hard Work- Living in the country is hard work. Anything you truly want in life is hard work and living in the country helps instill that work ethic in you. Hard work can suck, let’s be honest, BUT the gratification that comes from a completed task is worth it. Scarlett has been a doer since she was able to control her limbs. She is always with us no matter what we are doing. We firmly believe that she does what we do. Last summer she was one and a half and we were cleaning up a large tree that had to come down in the yard. She was right there with us picking up little baby branches and placing them in the tractor. Coby and I were so proud of her working right along with us. She amazes us with things that she is able to do and we certainly cheer her on for it. As kids we were expected to help our parents with things and I remember doing things that my parents didn’t think I would be able to, i.e. lifting a log into the wagon and them being amazed! I thrived on that high! I hope we can instill that in Scarlett as well to push herself and amaze even herself with what she can do.

Hard Working Baby Cleaning up Sticks

I loved growing up in the country and clearly enjoy country life still. Clearly kids growing up in town and the cities learn these lessons as well but I feel learning them in the country helps instill these lessons early in life. I may be romanticizing it, but I think back to my childhood with such fondness and my love for nature and clearly can trace that back to living a simple, wonderful life in the country and hope Scarlett will too.

Garden Shed Foundation

I took all of last week off work. All of the Veteran’s I serve have been asking me where I went and if I had a great time. Well, it was not a sit by the pool and sip on drinks kind of vacation. I had a to-do list about as long as my arm! I got the vast majority of it done, at least the back breaking part of it anyway.

My main goal during this “Workcation” was pour the cement foundation for my garden shed. We have an adorable 10′ x 10′ building on our property that the previous owners used as their milk house when they had a dairy cow, so precious! Since we moved in I have been using it to store random yard/garden supplies. For this new purpose it sits in a rather random spot of the property. We are very much about keeping old buildings that have so much charm and giving them a new purpose that suits our needs.

Getting Started

I honestly didn’t think this was going to be much of a project. I poured cement to fill in a patch of our sidewalk (Read that article here: https://pearlsponiesandpacifiers.com/2020/03/24/pouring-a-sidewalk-patch/ ) and that went really well so I thought this was going be just as simple. My Dad came out Wednesday to help me with the forms. We are on a bit of a hill but I didn’t realize how much our property slopes until I was out there with a level!

I bought out the lumberyard of 2″ x 6″ boards to use for the forms. We placed one along the fence which is what I was using as a guide to where the building would go. I dug it out to make the 2″ x 6″ even with the ground on the high side, remember, our property slopes quite a bit. From there we started pounding in stakes along the board and screwed the 2″ x 6″ to those, pounding in the stakes until the level read even. We basically repeated this process on all sides until the whole thing was even. There was quite a bit of back and forth until ALL sides were level. Please note that while completing this step ensure that you do NOT use the forms to help brace yourself as you stand up. I learned that one the hard way and we may have had to do some more leveling.

Digging to fit the first form.

The Really Hard Part

I don’t know if it was the fact that the temperature was pushing 90 degrees or if I just wasn’t mentally prepped for this step to take all day long but after the first step I thought we were pretty much home free, WRONG! Because our property has such a slope I had to go back to the lumberyard and get additional 2″ x 6″ to place under the first ones to totally fill in the forms. No big deal, I got those put in and then started placing waler brackets. For ours we just used a 1″ x 2″ cut in 2’ish sections and screwed them into the stakes at an angle with another stake behind them to ensure they didn’t move. These help brace the forms against the weight of the wet cement.

The walers on the tall side of the forms where they were needed most.

Again, that part wasn’t so bad either, the next step was prepping the ground inside of the form. Granted, I think the reason this step was extra difficult is because our property slopes so much but dang was it difficult! I used the flat-edged shovel to skim off the dirt until it was a level 4″. My Dad also suggested that we do a rat footing. Bascially, it’s adding extra cement down along the inner side of the foundation. I dug down about a shovels width in from the form and down an extra 4″. This helps so rain water doesn’t run under the building. I used the soil that I removed for the rat footing and to even the low sides of the inside of the form. We even had to bring in some outside dirt to make it even. After the soil was put in place I used the metal tamper to pack down the dirt so it was ready for cement. My Dad also wanted me to brace the forms with dirt so they would have more support against the wet cement but I’ll be honest, by this point of the day I was done and calling it good!

Pouring Cement

I scheduled the cement truck for Friday morning, it was quite exciting having a whole truck come. I had never had a big enough job to warrant a whole truck! The truck couldn’t quite reach the forms so we had to use the bucket on the tractor to haul the cement from the truck to the forms. Coby would pour the cement into the form and I then used a concrete come-along tool to rake the cement into the corners and tamp it down to get out any air bubbles.

Once we got the form filled in it was time to screed. We used a 2″ x 4″ for this. With a person on either side of the form they would drag the board pushing the bulk of the cement out of the way. Then they would take it back to the starting point and quickly see-saw it back and forth to level the cement. If cracks were needing to be filled in I would scoop a shovel full of cement in the area and they would do the process over again until it was nice and smooth.

Once this rough leveling was done my Dad showed me how to use the magnesium float and really smooth out the floor. Coby used the edging trowel to put a smooth edge on the cement so there aren’t any ridges. My Dad then used the broom to put a slight texture to the floor. He loves to add swirls to the cement instead of a straight line, I let him have free range and go for it! We then had to add the ever popular hand prints and Dad insisted we put the date in it as well, if only I could write in a straight line!

Final Thoughts

This step of the project was definitely more then I bargained for BUT it is done and done well. It really gave shape to my garden and I can’t wait to move the building and keep adding raised beds to make it my dream garden!

View of the foundation from the low side of the hill that needed a LOT of cement to even out with the high side of the hill.

Veggie Garden Design and Construction

I love a prolific, organized garden, who doesn’t?! I want a garden that is pleasing to the palatte as well as to the eye. Now that we have our own place my goal this summer was to start my dream garden. I have always wanted raised beds as they are beautiful and offer numerous planting benefits, i.e. longer growing season and complete control over the soil used.

This post is just covering the first phase of my garden plan. My total garden is going to be 61’1″ x 43’7″ and it just wasn’t feasible in both time and money to do that all at once.

Plan Before You Plant

The first step was measuring the space where I wanted the garden to go, and re-measuring it just to make sure. After that I broke out my architects scale and started designing. For me designing and drawing is relaxing, it’s my way of dreaming on paper. I have recently been obsessed with the YouTube channel called, “Garden Answer.” Laura is an extremely knowledgeable gardener who has given me a lot of inspiration and the confidence to try something new in my garden. I grew up with a vegetable garden being a plot of tilled up soil with rows and rows of veggies in it. There is nothing wrong with that but I wanted mine to have an almost architectural beauty to it as well. Laura made me realize I can have both, practical and eye catching. I have always heard of the idea of “rooms” in a garden but again, didn’t think that was for a vegetable garden but Laura made me realize, “Why not?”

My extravagant garden plan in my new “Plans” notebook with all of my current project ideas!

I really examined what we were wanting out of our garden. We would love to start canning and be able to have enough home-grown food that we can “grocery” shop from our own pantry. Therefore, we have to have a lot of garden space and we got it!

The design for my garden is very symmetrical, I am using the garden shed as the main focal point to break up the two main areas in the garden. After that I decided 4′ x 8′ beds are what I want for the bulk of my beds but didn’t want them just lined up in rows. I decided that along the center axis, aligned with the garden shed, I would do smaller, 3′ x 3′ beds for smaller crops and to help break up the area and really draw you into the garden from the main entry.

Breaking Ground

After the hours I spent designing and tweaking the plan it was time to break ground! My Dad has a 2 bottom plow that he tries to use any opportunity he gets. I had him come over and he and Coby plowed under the entire area where I was going to put the garden. We then tilled and tilled and tilled the area to break up the large clumps.

Building the Beds

It was time to make those beautiful raised beds. My research suggested using either Redwood or Cedar for beds due to their durability when exposed to the weather. In my area Redwood hasn’t been available for years so I went with Cedar. There were cheaper options of course but that included treated lumber which is something I wan’t comfortable with seeings how I am growing food in these. One lumberyard I called suggested that some people go with the treated lumber and then line it before putting the soil down to create a barrier.

I got my lumber and soil and started making six of the 3′ x 3′ beds. I mitered the corners because again, I wanted it to be pretty, and that’s what Laura did too! My Dad warned me that they would pull apart easier that way but I didn’t care. After I made these beds Laura did a follow up video on her channel stating that she would not do mitered edges again because of the aforementioned problem so, lesson learned, I won’t do it to the rest. Once I had all of the pieces cut to size I took them to the barn to screw together. Our barn is the only cemented floor we have and I wanted to make sure that they were flush. I screwed all of the beds together and then sanded the edges as they did get a little rough and splintery while cutting.

Putting Everything in the Garden

The next step was measuring the placement of everything in the garden. I measured the outsides and the center. I used fiberglass electric fence poles to mark these points. I then ran a string line in between the poles to measure from. Once I was sure it was centered I started placing the beds down where they should go based on my plans. I used a large rake to even out the soil where I was placing them to ensure that it was flat.

Scarlett helped me plant the finished beds. We may have a few extra Jack be Little pumpkins because of her assistance but I’m not mad. It’s so fun having her help and learn!

There is still a long way to go until my dream garden is complete but the first phase is done and let’s be honest, getting started is always the hardest part!