Saturday, November 28, 2009

Transition, pt 2

We broke ground in mid-August. It was an exciting weekend for us, watching the excavator, who also happened to be the listing agent we bought the property from. It wasn't unusual, in fact quite normal, for many to hold several part time jobs at once. In an area where winter virtually shut down the economy, one worked hard all summer. With the area cleared of trees, and the stumps moved out of sight, the excavator dug the basement. Having previously contracted with a mason to lay the block and build the chimneys, we had nothing to do but wait. During that time, we finalized arrangements with a local builder to rough the place in, according to our hand-drawn sketches, and weather seal it before the next winter. Our visits began to stabilize at every two weeks, as it seemed enough time to see progress. Having worked many years for a builder, I knew and fully understood that homeowners that hung around a lot, were the surest way of delaying a project. Our timing was perfect. Next time we came up, we saw the basement done, then the decking, then walls and a roof. Wow. By late fall the unique wavy edge siding I selected, was on and ready for stain. The siding was cedar and didn't require additional color, but he 5 year sealant we chose added a depth to the natural grain. It was beautiful. We spent a long weekend protecting our new house from the elements. WE finally were working toward our goal, our first hands-on project. The following visit, we brought the old pot-bellied stove I had saved from my mothers cottage, and hooked it to the chimney where my new wood cook stove would eventually go. With the pot belly and the fireplace going, it was barely warm enough to stay. The interior of the house was all 2x4's, no walls, open to the roof, zero insulation. We stapled up heavy duty plastic to the ceiling and I gingerly climbed into the rafters to gently lay down some insulation to hold in what precious little heat we generated. After hanging plastic on the walls to section off the front area from the rest of the house, the fireplace and stove kept the place at 50 degrees. Warmer than it had been, it was an improvement, and it got us thru that Fall.
In December, the company where Peter worked for 17 years and held a middle management job, announced it was undergoing major changes in upper management. Although his job was not in jeopardy, Pete was not happy with the changes being made and therefore was not getting along with the new managers. It became evident that we would have to up our time table. A lot.
In February, 1995, we started packing, moving non-essentials into a storage locker in the nearest big city, a locker we added to weekly. In late March, we held a huge moving sale to get rid of all the household items we had doubles of or would no longer need. Stuff that came from merging two households. Pete's house was on the market, and we had a firm offer.
In April, he gave notice at work, and I sent letters to my clients, referring them over to another therapist, who had purchased my practice. It was all in motion, no going back. I had sold my lucrative practice, my car, my timeshare, my life.
At the end of April, Pete closed on his house. We had moved the last of everything except absolute essentials to the storage locker a few days earlier. Those few essentials were in the back of the truck now, along with my two cats, who had been sedated for the long drive. From having been to the property early last spring, we anticipated a smooth entry, but it was going to be a very long drive and arranged to stay the night at the motel in town.
The next morning, we excitedly loaded the cats back into the travel cages and headed to our new home. It was a good lesson on how each Spring and each melt-down was different and varied year to year. We had been wearing short sleeves the day before, and now we were faced with so much snow on the road, we couldn't get in... and we had no where to go. It was time to adjust. Part of those last items we packed, were a toboggan and snow shoes. So we loaded the cats in their cages, plus a cooler with food, donned our snow shoes and walked in the 1.2 miles to the house, dragging the toboggan behind us. Exhausting.
In a moment of lucid foresight, we had left two old snow mobiles parked at the house the previous Fall. While I got a fire going to warm up the room, Peter started one of the machines and began shuttling our supplies to the house from the truck. It was a few more days before the snow melted enough to drive in. We were home... four years before planned.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The closing on the property was the following month, mid-November, delayed only by paperwork and logistics. Peter and I went north only once that winter, an eight hour drive, staying at one of the local motels, an experience in and of itself. Arriving at that motel in the evening, we found a note on the door to the office, that told us what room was ours and that the key was on the desk inside. At the time, I thought it an odd way to do business, but found out later that it was much the norm in the town of only 200 people.
The next morning we drove down to the road leading into the property.. only to find three feet of snow landscaping the entrance. So much for our grand ideas of the 4WD truck ride! We wouldn't be seeing the property for several months.
In early April, 1994, we drove up again and straight into our land. The weather was wonderful, the air was clean and the trees were starting to bud.. and most importantly, the road was free of snow. Little rivulets crossed the soggy dirt road here and there, but nothing that even remotely challenged the truck. We put up the tent and proceeded to set up a semi-permanent campsite where we had parked the first time we were there. Pete cut down a nearby dead tree, and taking two of the larger 6" diameter branches that forked, set them upright in holes we dug five feet apart. By placing yet a third log across those forks, we now had the beginnings of our cooking fire pit. From the cross-beam, we suspended a grate over the fire pit, using chains we had brought. This could be raised or lowered as needed. It wasn't difficult to find large rocks to encircle the area, and we built our first fire. The weekend was spent exploring the property and our future. As dusk settled in that night, we sat by the fire, snuggling and talked until the stars came out.
What we decided on that night, was a "five year plan" to retirement. Grand idea... and grand ideas all too often go awry. When we got back home, we set up a story board, both being organized and anal about details, listing everything that needed to done, in what order and how much it was going to cost. We agreed we needed to keep working, and that five years was a good goal. We would take time to explore the property to find 'just the right' building site. After all, it was to be our home .. forever. We would then have the basic house roughed in by local help and we would spend the next few years working at finishing the interior ourselves as we could afford it. The idea was to have the place 100% finished before moving in.. Yeah, right......

recipe - Layered Salad

This salad looks exceptionally nice if you can prepare it in a clear glass bowl. The different layers really stand out. By using the colored Swiss Chard I won a recipe contest sponsored by a seed catalogue. Actually, they had three categorys, but opened honorable mention just for this recipe! Oh, and I also took first in one of the other category's. To me, just being able to make a healthy salad with things I've grown myself is a winning situation.

In a bowl, layer in order:
4 cups cut/torn lettuce, spinach, chard or other greens
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup cooked fresh (or frozen) green peas
6 green onions, chopped, including greens
1 cup raw, Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, sliced thin
or 1 small can sliced water chestnuts
6 slices bacon, cooked, diced

Sprinkle all with 1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and a few grindings of fresh ground pepper.

Mix 1 cup salad dressing (or mayonnaise) with 1 cup sour cream, then mix in 1/4 cup additional Parmesan cheese. Spread this dressing evenly over salad. Dust with additional cheese, and chill at least one hour. Add chopped chives for garnish is desired. Do not toss, just scoop out.

Options: If using the brightly colored Swiss chard, use the stems too, by removing stems from chard and blanch or lightly steam; cool in ice water, drain and chop.
Asiago cheese can be used instead of Parmesan, but it's a stronger flavor.

For a vegetarian salad, omit bacon or serve on the side.

a note from the North

I'm going to try posting something new every other day. As the mood strikes me, it may be everyday, but I don't want to promise that.
One of the regular things I will post here, is a recipe of the week. Back when I lived in the woods, (which all these on going stories will be about), I wrote and self published several cookbooks. A series called Cooking in the Woods. I'm in process of combining those five books into one, editing "Pete" out (why will be evident as the story unfolds), and condensing as many of the recipes overlap. In time that recipe/cook book will be available for sale thru this blog. In the meantime, I will offer some of my favorites.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Living in the Woods, pt 2

Of course we had to give up a few things to live in the woods, such as electricity, phones, cable, etc. I'm kidding! Well, almost. There were solar panels that charged a bank of batteries for limited power and cellular reception was iffy, but there was a flush toilet and running water. Hey, it was better that a tent, right? I knew concessions would have to be made. After all, we were ten miles from the nearest power lines and over a mile off the nearest county maintained dirt road. Many of our friends and family thought we were... well, nuts. We had to be crazy to give up civilization for a life of hard work and deep snow, a life of black flies and black nights, a life of peace and quiet and tranquility, a life of independence and self sustenance. I think you can guess what I thought!!

Living in the Woods

I moved to the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan several years ago. Having been born and raised in Detroit and then living in a 'rural' community, I wasn't sure I was prepared for the isolated life I choose. I could never go back now. My mate, Peter, and I were both from Detroit, bothe the kids of cops. We didn't know each other back then, but it was one of the things that drew us together. We each understood the stress of that childhood - and the desire to get away from it. Each of us had moved to the quieter rural area where we met. But that quieter rural wasn't so rural anymore, and it wasn't quiet either.
So we moved to the UP. Yes, I know, it was extreme, but not for me - it was perfect. The neighbors were no longer thirty feet away, they were a mile or two or ten miles away. Perfect.
As "Baby Boomers", we had it all... three cars, six TV's, three VCR's, car phones (pre -cellular), two computers, a boat, two houses and vacations to the Caribbean twice a year. But something was lacking. A freedom that doesn't come being tied to a job or a business. So we decided to become... Homesteaders.
Now, I did not seek out free land and stake a claim. Personally, I think that's a myth. So many think that's what homesteading is all about. It isn't. It's about being independent. It's about being free.
I sold my house and purchased 160 acres of hard wood forest, Pete adding another 80 acres a few years later, for a total of 240 acres. Together we self-financed and built our dream home in the middle. Well, it was close to the middle. Sorta. Wantin to cut down as few trees as necessary, we utilized existing old logging trails to select a building site. We first saw the the property in October, 1993, when all the Maple trees were a vibrant golden yellow, and the ground cover was still green and lush. From where we parked, it was a five minute walk down one of the many logging trails, one that had been used by horse-drawn sleds. The music of running water drew me to the small creek. A steep slope created a tiny waterfall, spalshing over fallen logs and ancient boulders. I fell in love with the property on sight, and signed the papers on the trunk of the Realtor's car. Even though I was the one paying cash for the property, I put both names on the deed (there's a lesson here). We were partners and we were both paying out to build the house. Little did I know that exactly ten years later, to the date, I would be signing papers again, with the same Realtor, on the trunk of his car, to sell the property I had come to love so dearly.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm Deborah, in the UP of Michigan. I consider myself a Self Reliant Woman. I grow my own food, I can/freeze/dry the excess for winter use. I heat and cook with a wood cookstove. I own my own land and pay my own bills.
Welcome to my blog.