Took part in The Mountaineer’s annual Mountainfest yesterday, and snowshoe-bushwhacked up the shoulder of Round Mountain, where we got this view of the Dix Mountain range of the High Peaks.
I was recently interviewed by the Buffalo News for an article on the challenges that two escaped killers face in the woods of the Adirondacks. The article gives great insight into their mental states, and helps explain why they have been able to be elusive for so long. You can read the full article here:
Welp, I finally got one of those fancy phones with a camera and the ability to connect to the internet. So if you’re interested in seeing lots of pictures of chickens and hiking trails, follow me on Instagram at @JALEVINE6
Oh, and if you follow me, I will follow you back!
The chickens are happily pecking away in their new coop and run, and I do feel better having them in a fully insulated coop, now that the night temperatures are getting into the single digits. They’re all huddled on the perch, snuggling to stay warm. At least now I can flip a switch and they have heat. Last winter it was warming a piece of granite on top of the woodstove and then running it out there to try and keep them warm. I like that they won’t be in my living room this year. At all.
But the weather has limited the outdoor activities. I don’t mind warm rain or cold snow, but cold rain is annoying. I don’t want to go hiking and there’s no snow for skiing, and with such a little piece of property, even mine and Pico’s walks have to be on the road. It’s not too bad, but he is still getting used to the leash again, and I miss being able to just let him run around unattended.
One benefit of this type of weather though is that I don’t feel too bad doing indoor projects. A couple months ago I made a new cutting board for us and read that it could be sealed with beeswax. I had a huge block of wax around, and so I spent the evening melting wax, rubbing it on the board, and then heating the whole thing in the oven over and over to make a nice sealant for the cutting board.
I used the board the next day, and most of the wax came off when I washed it. Seemed like a good idea, but in reality, it just didn’t pan out. I got some mineral oil and treated the board, and it’s now nice and waterproof. But I still have a huge block of beeswax just hanging around.
So I had to figure out what I was going to do with the wax. I didn’t want to make candles, as I used to make them all the time out at the cabin. I would make them all the time by melting down the little stubs of the candles I burned for light. So as I was sitting on the couch one day, my stepson asked if we had any lip balm. His lips were chapped and he wanted some relief.
I ordered empty lip balm tubes and picked up some peppermint essential oil and coconut oil in town, and waited patiently for the tubes to arrive. And as soon as they did, I thought I’d have my answer of what to do with all that beeswax. Making the lip balm should have been really simple. Melt the oils and wax together, pour it into the tubes, and let them cool.
I would have done the whole melting process on my woodstove, but hey, now I have a microwave! We gathered all the materials, and he was pretty excited. After making him wash his hands a couple of times (who knows what a nine-year-old is doing when out of sight) we got into it. After thirty seconds in the microwave, the beeswax was barely melted, but that was apparently enough for the microwave. It was dead. It was also bad timing, since I had promised this kid his very own lip balm.
We moved to the range top and managed to melt enough to make a few tubes of the lip balm. It’s got a menthol-coconut taste that all three of us love, and it actually works really well. Plus, since it’s in tubes, he doesn’t have to stick his nasty fingers into the stuff to put it on.
I love having the convenience of modern appliances, and the fact that whole process didn’t require a headlamp was a really nice touch. But I was reminded of the fraility of those electronics. Sure, it would have been slower to do this on the woodstove, but at least the woodstove wouldn’t have died in the middle of it.
When you already have a garden, one of the best ways to benefit from it long-term is to save and store the seeds that your garden produces. Instead of buying seeds every year to plant, why not just save a few from each plant and use them again next year?
Of course, some plant seeds stay and store better than others. Also, letting certain plants get to the point where they are producing seeds can mean that they are not all that useful for consumption. But you can always plant an extra one or two and allow them to go to seed. Most plants produce more than enough seeds for you to have a viable garden the following year.
Aquatic plants and large-seeded plants (such as oak, avocado, etc) are very hard to store. Larger seeds tend to need a fair amount of moisture to remain viable, and the amount of moisture required will lead to fungal growth and rot in a short period of time. If you have oaks around, harvest the acorns and make nut butter right away. Let the squirrels bury the seeds for you, and you’ll have some new trees in a few years.
These seeds, unfortunately, really need to be planted right away in order for them to germinate. However, there are a wide variety of seeds that you can save all winter long, and maybe even for more than just a single winter.
Small seeded plants, like most garden vegetables, are relatively easy to save. These seeds are what’s called desiccant-tolerant. This means that they are able to survive and remain viable even when dried out.
Peas, carrots, beans, and herb seeds are all very hardy seeds that can handle being dried and stored for long periods of time before they lose their viability. However, you do have to be careful how you handle, dry, and store the seeds. You can’t just grab the seeds off of the plant, throw them in a baggie and then plant them next spring. Well, you could, but there are ways to improve the chance that those seeds produce healthy plants for your garden.
Seeds, like any other organic matter, are subject to rot if not handled properly. The reason an individual plant produces so many more seeds than is necessary is due to evolution. This adaption takes into account that a large portion of any seeds produced will either be eaten, rot, or not survive until adulthood.
By properly drying and storing those same seeds, however, you can greatly increase the amount of usable seeds you have. One individual plant will produce more seeds than you could possible use before the seeds are no longer any good.
The first and most important step in preserving seeds is drying them. In nature, most seeds spend the winter months frozen in the ground, where the ice crystals actually make the ground very dry. The seeds should be spread out in a shady, cool, dry place. Also, don’t make a pile of seeds, spread them out thinly on paper towels or something similar.
Properly dried seeds will show basically no flexibility. Beans and peas will be rock hard, and larger seeds will not bend. Obviously, larger seeds need more time to dry than smaller seeds.
If you live in an area with high humidity, then you will probably want to use a desiccant. Those little packages of silica gel that you get for free with a new pair of shoes are there for a reason: They make it so that your new shoes are not all moldy. They do the same thing for seeds, though you probably want to buy some silica gel instead of using the packages from your shoes.
Once the seeds are dry, place them in an air-tight container like a glass jar or baggie. Store them slightly below freezing, and they should be good for a very long time. Just try to think what a seed goes through before it germinates, and you can have an idea of what needs to be done to save them.
Saving and storing seeds is a long-running activity for those of us who garden and want to be self-sufficient. By properly drying and storing seeds from your garden, you can almost guarantee that you will never have to buy seeds again.
The sound of the furnace startles me a little every time it fires up. It sounds like a car pulling in the driveway or something like that, and I am still not quite used to the sound and commotion. Not that it’s not welcome. We’ve got about six inches of snow on the ground, not terrible, but it did seem kind of sudden.
Last week it was warm and nice out, and even though we know it’s inevitable, the snow just sort of seemed to come out of nowhere. After moving an old set of tires into the garage and digging out and picking up a few other things that were out in the yard, I feel like our outside stuff is all set. Except for the huge new chicken coop that is sitting in the middle of the driveway. Audrey’s not all that happy about the current location of our new coop, and with the temperatures dropping, it would be nice to move the girls into the new coop.
While moving twice and having to rent a house have not lent themselves to accomplishing much in the way of homesteading activity, we have managed to move more in that direction. We started by expanding our flock of chickens by adding three new hens and I built them a new coop. The old coop served surprisingly well for the amount I spent on it (which was the cost of a box of screws). Midget and Whitey unfortunately got frostbite on their combs but they’re none the worse for wear.
But now, we’ve got a small house for them to live in this winter, but it’s in the wrong place and we want to move it before we move the girls in. That may not happen to be honest. This coop is big and will be very, very hard to move. Not the smartest thing to do when renting a house, but the girls will be warmer and more secure than they ever have been.
We want to add to the flock in the spring, so I built the coop big enough for twelve chickens to live comfortably. There’s six nesting boxes, twenty-four square feet of floor space, a five foot high ceiling, a four foot perch and two foot swing made from an old ax handle. Fully insulated and painted and trimmed, this coop is actually nicer than my cabin, and will hold the heat better. And instead of heating big rocks on the woodstove to run out to the coop, I can now just plug in a heat lamp. It’s not a bad trade, given the circumstances.
But until spring, we’re sort of spinning our wheels. Other than taking care of the chickens, I have plans to make some lip balm and another batch of soap, and start ordering seeds for the garden we’ll plant next year. I would be making lip balm today, but a couple of the ingredients that I ordered are stuck in Buffalo. I have a feeling I won’t see them any time soon.
When I started out, I had no idea that making soap would be so easy, or so fun. Plus, it’s been almost six months and I still have about fifteen bars of my home-made, goat’s milk oatmeal soap to use or give away. There’s still a shopping bag half-full in my cabinet, and whenever someone comes over, I pawn a few bars off on them.
Making soap is a lot of fun, but it can also be dangerous. The reason soap is soap is that it has lye in it. Lye is a poisonous chemical that can burn your eyes, irritate skin, and even kill if it’s ingested. If you have pets or young children, I would recommend that you make your soap outside. Also, don’t use your favorite spoon or kitchen scale for the lye, as the tools used to handle the lye should not be used for food.
The total cost for ingredients was less than $40.00 and for that I got fifty-one bars of soap. Not too bad, as this is far more soap than I could use in a year! Everyone I’ve given it to enjoys that nutty oatmeal aroma and scrubbiness of the whole oats. With the goats milk and ground oats it creates a medium lather but doesn’t leave my skin dry. Its’ nice color, texture and aroma make it a pleasure to use for showers or for hand soap at the kitchen sink.
I first started out by picking up supplies and ingredients. I bought a little coffee grinder, some cheap trays to use as forms, buckets, gloves, a thermometer and a kitchen scale. I also bought lye, goat’s milk, lard, olive oil, and coconut oil. I had oats and vinegar at the house already. I put the goat’s milk in the freezer to let it get a little slushy, but that will be explained later.
The first step is to warm all the oils together so that they mix and pour easily. The lard and coconut oil melted quickly and I left them on the stove on low with the olive oil mixed in so that the whole mixture would stay liquefied. I then threw a cup of whole oats into the mix and also a cup of finely ground oats as well.
Step number two is to mix the goat’s milk and lye. When lye is mixed with liquids of any sort, there is a chemical reaction that occurs that makes the mixture very hot. If the lye is added too quickly, it can react so fast that there may be a small explosion of lye and milk. It is definitely best to err on the side of caution when mixing these ingredients. This is the reason that the goat’s milk should be slushy. It will tamper down the veracity of the chemical reaction, while also helping to get the mixture back down to a working temperature more quickly.
Pour the slushy goat’s milk into a pail. Slowly add the lye to the goat’s milk, stirring as you go. Only add small amounts of lye at a time. This is best done outside. However, if it’s a really windy day, you should probably seek the shelter of a garage or shed. When all of the lye is added to the milk, it will be turning into a bright yellow puddle in the pail. This is the heat from the reaction caramelizing the sugars in the milk. Don’t worry, this will not be the color of the final product.
Then let the mixture cool down to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I made my batch in March in Upstate New York, so the cooling process did not take very long. I did everything inside except measuring and mixing the lye. The pail of goat’s milk and lye cooled down in about a little under an hour, but if it had been summer or in a heated basement or garage, it would have taken much longer.
Next, take another pail and add the liquefied oil and oats mixture, then start slowly adding the milk and lye mix. Then sit back, relax, and start stirring. Now what you’ll be waiting for is the “tracing” to occur. This is when the mixture has hardened to the point where when you drag you spoon through it, the line left behind by the spoon lingers for a few seconds. It is still a pourable liquid, but on its way to becoming almost pudding-like in consistency. This could take some time, but my batch started to trace within forty-five minutes. At this point, the liquid soap was far less yellow than it had been and was starting to look more oatmeal-like in its appearance.
When the trace started to occur, I really reached down into the depths of the pail with my large spoon just to make sure I had a good mixture. Then I took out the cheap pans and recycled yogurt containers and started to spoon the soap into them. I had two six-by-six baking pans that I added the soap to along with some small plastic containers. The soap could be poured directly into the larger pans, but needed to be spooned into the smaller containers to avoid spillage.
I let the whole magellah sit overnight to harden a little bit and the next afternoon I popped the mostly dried soap onto an old pizza box and started to cut it all into bars. With the yogurt and plastic containers I was able to just pop out the preformed bars, and even get a nice little design from the yogurt containers, kind of a Union Jack pattern. The baking pans needed to be cut into bars though, and I found that a wet knife made the cutting a lot easier. It also made the edges smoother and caused far fewer chips to break off. Although, I kind of like the home-made rustic appearance of the bars of soap with rough edges.
The last step is the hardest of all. Sitting there and letting your new batch of soap cure for a month or more. I left mine for five weeks just to make sure it was good and done. The chemical reaction we started by adding the lye to the milk doesn’t finish right away, and because of this it is important to let the soap cure properly. Keep it in well ventilated area at room temperature. I kept mine in a pizza box lined with wax paper to protect the soap and to keep my cats form licking or eating it. This method also conveniently kept the finished product pet hair free.
All in all, I have had a great time making soap, and several of my friends and family are now set up with a few months supply of soap. In hindsight, I cut some of the bars a little small, but for less than a dollar per bar, I have no qualms about burning through the little bars. Plus it’s nice to know for quite some time, I won’t have soap on my shopping list.
Rainy and in the forties. This is the worst type of weather I face all year. I know, the snow is just gone, and I had to have my chickens live in a tent in my kitchen for a few nights, but hiking in and saving the chickens from the bitter cold were easy decisions. This weather presents a much tougher decision: whether to burn the precious little dry wood I have left.
Even with a few weeks off from the cabin this winter, my wood supply is quite low now. The wood I found over the winter isn’t quite dry enough to burn, and it’s a tough call to use up wood when it’s still above freezing. If the temperature doesn’t dip too low, I’ll bundle up with a sleeping bag and run the little propane heater for a little while in the morning before it warms up outside. But this cold damp calls for a fire.
I’ve got the glass doors wide open, and the fire is crackling away behind the grate that keeps the sparks in. I didn’t realize how much of a difference the new stove really made until just the other day. I had a fire going with the grate in place, and when I came back in I noticed a smell I hadn’t smelled in some time. The cabin smelled like wood smoke, and it was actually pleasant. That smell had been ruined for me by the old woodstove, which used to belch smoke inside with such regularity that I was sometimes called the Walking Woodstove.
I like being able to hear the pop and crackle and have an unobstructed view of the flames. Sure, it’s not all that efficient to use the grate, but honestly, I don’t want it too hot in here. The trouble with the temps in the forties is that it’s too cold not to have a fire, but too warm if I do have a fire. And there’s the rub.
It’s just another one of life’s seasonal transitions out here. I have to make calculated decisions on heating and the wood supply. But I also have to be comfortable. It can be a grueling choice to make. There have been, however, several choices I’ve made recently that were considerably easier.
The first was to order more chickens. Amy and I split an order, and I picked them up from the post office yesterday. The little chicks were peeping like crazy in the seat next to me on the way from the post office. With the weather being so damp and cold, the chicks will be staying at Amy’s for a couple of weeks. Plus, I don’t want Midget to get too rough with the new girls. They have to be big enough to put him in his place, even if judging by the behavior of Whitey, Brownie, and Blondie he is quite the charmer.
I’m excited to expand the group with a few new girls. A silver laced wyandotte and three Auraucanas are going to be joining the flock in a couple of weeks, just when the weather gets nice. In addition to these four new girls, I took a fertilized egg from each of my current girls to Amy’s. She has a hen that’s very broody right now, and I thought it would be fun to see if she’ll hatch some of Midget’s offspring. This hen was just sitting in an empty nesting box when I got there. She’s so intent on sitting on eggs that she wouldn’t get up when I pushed her. I had to lift her butt and put the eggs down underneath her. She made a quiet noise and settled back in, so we’ll see how it goes.
And finally, as much as doubling my chicken flock may impact my life, this final decision will no doubt have a bigger impact. I’m sorry to say, but I will in all likelihood not be living in this cabin at the end of the year. I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and for some strange, unknown, and possibly unknowable reason, she said yes. And fortunately or unfortunately, my little cabin is no place for us to start our lives together.
I give her a lot of credit for putting up with my living situation for so long. For almost two years she has never once complained about the toilet paper being in the oven, or having to hike in, or being covered in dog fur when she leaves. I guess I owe it to her for us to find a place that has indoor plumbing, electricity, TV, internet, a refrigerator, and an oven. I can go either way on the electricity or TV, but my bride-to-be deserves nothing but the best. And in my opinion, indoor plumbing is the best. Jeez, I’ve been out here too long.
Experience the excitement of living off the grid, while enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds of Mother Nature right outside your door!
I’m looking for a roommate who isn’t afraid of roughing it and having some adventure! You will get back to nature by having to venture outside to use the bathroom, regardless of the temperature. Oh, and forgetting the warm toilet seat hanging over the stove when you go to the outhouse in the middle of winter should be the definition of adventure in the dictionary! You will make faces and sounds you never knew were possible, but don’t worry, there won’t be anyone to see or hear you except the birds! (I won’t be able to hear you because the outhouse is quite a walk from the cabin. Privacy at its best right there!)
You’ll also become a lean, mean, healthy machine! The quarter-mile walk from where you can park up to the cabin will ensure that you’re getting plenty of cardio! It’s like a double bonus when you forget something small in the car and have to go back for it too! You can walk almost a whole mile before you get to the cabin if you manage to just leave one important thing in your car! Not only that, but you’ll be expected to carry a forty pound jug of water up the long, snowy hill to the cabin at least a couple of times per week, so your arms will be big around as tree trunks!
And speaking of tree trunks, you can really commune with nature by helping to cut down trees for our firewood! Hippies rejoice! You will literally be hugging trees every single day of the year! You’ll help carrying the logs down to the cabin, get to gently caress them as you set them up for me to split with a huge metal maul, and then get to stack them in the most efficient and fast way possible. You can then round out the beautiful circle of life when you bring the firewood in to burn in the woodstove! Give your woodland buddies a little smooch before confining them to a slow, smoky, and brutal death!
And that’s only the beginning of the benefits! Buy some books and get a library card because you will be the braniac your mom always knew you could be! With no TV, movies, or internet, your brain will get to be as sharp as the chain on the chainsaw. You can read about taking care of chickens or which type of lettuce will grow best in the garden or try to identify which type of snake just slithered in through the unscreened and open front door and other exciting things! Gone will be the days of lying around on the couch rotting your brain on the boob tube. You’ll be so starved for amusement that you won’t even be able to blink when there is a TV on near you due to the complete lack of visual stimulus that a completely unbroken white landscape provides.
As mentioned above, you’ll have complete and total privacy in the outhouse. But living in the middle of the woods at the very end of a dead end road with a quarter mile of trees and hills separating you from the closest motor vehicle also provides a ton of solitude! It’s so liberating being able to walk around naked inside the cabin with no fear of anyone just walking by and seeing your birthday suit! Of course, since we’ll be roommates, we may have to figure out a birthday suit schedule. The hours allotted to nakedness will depend on your facial hair and gender.
I’ll expect you to also do half of the household chores. These won’t occupy more than fifteen or twenty hours a week, and really aren’t so bad. You’ll have to help with the dishes, and as we have to carry water in to wash dishes, you will be tasked with making sure that you have enough water to actually wash the dishes. Allowing my dog to simply lick the plates clean can only be done at my discretion. Oh, and there is no indoor plumbing at all, so when washing the dishes, you will have to keep an eye on the bucket under the sink that catches all the water and waste from brushing our teeth and dishes and cooking. When the bucket is full, just take it out and dump it on the compost pile, not so bad, right?! But since you’re at the compost pile, go ahead and spend five or ten minutes stirring it.
There’s also carrying in firewood every single morning and night, and even sometimes in the middle of the night. It’s a rare treat to see how clear the skies and how bright the stars are on a crystal clear, moonless winter night! You’ll forget all about the bone crushing temperatures that would kill you in less than a half hour if you were to fall on the ice and knock yourself out! Plus, you’ll get to know the cute girl at the hardware store because you’ll be there every week getting batteries for your headlamp. In fact, you can probably get to know her well enough to ask her out! Of course, convincing a member of the opposite sex to travel two miles down a dirt road to walk a quarter mile into the woods with you might be a tough sell. But hey, weirder things have happened!
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not all glory and sunshine and fun little jaunts to the outhouse. There are a few downsides, too. The cabin only has single-pane windows and no insulation. But, this just means that you’ll get to snuggle up tight in your favorite sleeping bag with a rating of twenty below zero! There is also no way for any sort of professional or volunteer help to get here. That means that the cops, volunteer fire department, or ambulance will be around to help if you cut your leg with chainsaw or fall off the roof cleaning the chimney or break your ankle walking to the woodshed. But you will become far more self-sufficient and your tolerance for pain will get to be much better! Now that I think about it, it is all glory and sunshine! Give me a call to schedule a meeting, I pinky swear I’m not a serial killer.
Rent is very cheap for females lacking facial hair and males with lots of facial hair. The rent goes up depending on the combination of those two factors.
I’d like to tell you that it’s been a long couple of weeks out at the cabin. That, however, would not be the truth. The truth is, it’s been a couple of very lazy weeks lounging around in the comfort of an actual house. The weather has been terrible and I was having to hike into the cabin and my firewood is running low and I was sick of dragging a forty pound jug of water a quarter mile uphill twice a week. So I’ve been staying at my girlfriends with Pico and Herbie. And the Levine men have officially taken over the couch.
I’m still formally living at the cabin, but it has been a nice break. After three winters, I needed some time away from the work and cold and frustration of a house with no indoor plumbing. The chickens are still out there, and are doing well. As the days get longer, the nights haven’t been as cold, and they are doing fine. I go out to the cabin pretty much every day, so even though I was still having to do the hike in, at least I wasn’t having to haul my laundry and bags of dog food and cat litter up that hill.
But speaking of hills, a friend invited me to climb a couple of High Peaks this past weekend. I needed to get out of the house and just said yes when he texted me. I didn’t realize that it was going to be a twenty four mile ski/snowshoe/hike. But we headed out at about six am on Saturday to climb Cliff and Redfield mountains. Twelve hours and forty-five minutes later, we struggled out of the woods and back to my car.
I drove to my girlfriend’s and stumbled in the door. I literally could not move a muscle without moaning in pain, but I made it through the night without dying. The next morning, as I painfully and stiffly made my way across the living room, she convinced me that best way to beat the soreness was to go for a walk or hike. Now, keep in mind, she was not volunteering to go with me, just basically telling me to get out. I think my moaning may have been worse than I thought.
I decided to head out to the cabin to feed the chickens and make sure they still had water, and very gingerly hopped in my car. It’s about a twenty minute ride to the cabin, and every second of the way I was annoyed about the upcoming hike up the driveway. I could barely walk on the flat, warm floor of the house, how was I possibly going to make it up the driveway.
As I got nearer to the cabin, I noticed that my neighbors were at their camp down the road. I figured I’d take care of the girls and then head over to say high. But as I neared the end of the road by my driveway, I was taken by the most magical sight I could behold at that moment: My driveway was plowed.
I cracked a huge grin and smiled the whole way up the driveway. I knew that my neighbor had come down and plowed with his tractor, and I was so happy I actually whooped with joy. The thought of having a clear driveway again after two months was too much to handle. I hugged the chickens and rubbed Pico’s belly until he got sick of it and ran down the driveway.
I took care of everything at the cabin and went down the road to say thanks to the neighbors. I gave him a hug and promised to drop off a few gallons of diesel fuel in payment. This one kind act changed my whole outlook on the last month or so of the winter. It seemed as if so many problems had been solved by this one incredibly kind gesture. My mood was lifted and my spirit sunny. The neighbor s told me they were happy to help, but that they wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.
All of those warm feelings stayed with me until I got back and checked the weather forecast. Twenty inches of snow predicted. It’s amazing how fast the wind got sucked out of my sails. Not that it’s all bad. I know that the snow is here for a limited time, but it was so nice driving into the cabin a couple of times. I can’t thank my neighbors enough for plowing, even if the openness only last for a few days.