Advice wanted: Mortgage renewal

Consumer mortgage application

Anyone have any tips for renewing a mortgage?

Most of the time, I feel like Matt and I have always lived here at the farm. However, we’re actually just coming up on five years–a fact that has been brought home to us ’cause our mortgage is almost at the end of its term, and it’s time to renew.

We’ve never gone through a mortgage renewal before (you may recall we were able to pay our first house off in 4 and a half years), so we’re a little uncertain about the process.

You also might remember that getting the mortgage the first time around was complicated because a farm is outside of the norm when it comes to financing.

I’m looking for any and all tips you have for getting the best deal during a mortgage renewal.

Interest rate is our most important consideration. We are working hard to pay off the farm quickly, so we want to pay as little interest as possible.

We’ve met with the credit union that currently holds our mortgage and with a bank. I have one more meeting lined up next week with a different bank. All of the rates we’ve been offered so far are lower than we’re currently paying, which is great, but I don’t feel like I’ve found the best deal yet.

Any advice to help us through our mortgage renewal?

 

 

Lessons learned after 4 months of chicken farming

Sarah in Illinois has had her chickens for about 4 months. Today she’s sharing what she’s learned so far with raising laying chickens.

I was very nervous when I decided to take this on. You may remember from my earlier posts that I had done a lot of research and read several books and asked lots of questions to fellow “chicken people.”

One piece of advice from my cousin was that I was overthinking it. From what I have experienced so far, she was exactly right.

I really can’t imagine raising chickens being any easier.

Now I need to make sure to point out that I have been lucky and have had no medical issues with any of my chickens, no injuries and no pests like flies or lice. All of those problems could still happen and I will rethink that raising chickens is “easy.”

Everyone who raises chickens has different circumstances so all I could do was try my best and make notes on what to change. So here is what I have learned in my first 4 months.

Coop

The coop seems to be working very well. It had plenty of ventilation this summer and I closed off all but a very little area for ventilation this winter. The temperatures are just starting to drop here, so I am hoping they will stay warm enough.

I have had no issues with any critters trying to get in the coop. We have had several raccoons, foxes and opossum on our property this year, but we have been lucky to find them before they got to the coop.

The only thing that I plan to change in the coop is maybe making them a new door, but that is purely for my own satisfaction, not a necessity.

Pen/Enclosure

I have gone back and forth on what type, if any, enclosure is best for the chickens.

I foolishly thought that they may stay in the fenced area that I already had set up for when Treu was here. That clearly did not work. They have been fully free-range so far. I really liked them being able to have a varied diet, hunt down bugs and just over all be healthier and happier.

But then Blitz came along. Blitz is not happy with them being free-range. I can’t tell you how many times I have run across the yard to grab a chicken out of his mouth.

Lately he has been grabbing them by the tail and dragging them as far away as he can. We are working on discipline, but I think we are fighting a losing battle.

Steve and I are pretty sure we are not far from him grabbing one just right and killing it. So we are going to continue to work with him coexisting with the chickens, but we have also bought a large roll of chicken wire to enclose the chickens and protect them from puppy bites.

Heat/Light

The chickens had been laying eggs very well up to about 2 weeks ago. We still had warm temperatures and enough daylight that I was getting 3-4 eggs a day consistently.

However, as expected, their production has decreased a lot now that we’re getting closer to winter. I am getting 2 eggs one day and nothing the next.

Some people add heat lamps to their coops for them to continue to lay all winter. I will not be adding a heat lamp. I am too nervous and have heard too many horror stories of coops and barns burning down from heat lamp accidents. But I have thought about adding a lightbulb on a timer to simulate longer hours of daylight. It would produce a minimal amount of heat but mostly just give them the feeling of longer days.

Food

Since the chickens have been free range, I have not been worried at all about their food. I always have pellets handy for them, but they eat very little chicken feed when they are free to roam the yard and fields.

I did make them a feeder out of PVC pipe. I found several samples on Pinterest, but the idea is very basic.

I used a piece of 3-inch diameter PVC pipe, a “y” and two caps. I cut about 3 inches of the straight piece of pipe, this was used to connect the bottom cap to the “y.” In the picture below you can see how I stacked a cap, 3-inch section of PVC pipe, “y,” the remaining PVC pipe and a cap on top to keep out dust, dirt and chicken poop.

I fill the feeder approximately every 10 days. I expect to fill it more often as winter sets in and the chickens have less grass and bugs to eat.

Water

Right now their water may freeze over slightly overnight, but it has not been cold enough to freeze to where they can’t get water. I obviously will have to decide what kind of heated water container I am going to use and probably pretty soon.

More chickens

Yes, I plan to add chickens to my flock in the spring. I have known from the beginning that I may add to my flock.

Steve doesn’t like brown eggs. I know that is shocking. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had where people can’t believe that and swear that brown eggs are richer, taste better and are healthier. But hey, we all have likes and dislikes and his is that he doesn’t like brown eggs. So I just see that as an opportunity to add more chickens!

When we built the coop we planned for it to be big enough to house 10-12 chickens. Now that I know what raising chickens is like, I can comfortably add more and not feel overwhelmed. My plan is to add 2-3 white egg layers (possibly Leghorns) that are 3 to 4 months old.

I am not ready to attempt to keep baby chicks alive, so that is why I want them to be a couple of months old.

Clearly this was the more photogenic of the chickens. She was always in front of the camera!

Another reason to add chickens is that 4 chickens produce enough eggs that I can occasionally take some to my parents or Steve’s mom, but I don’t have enough where I think “what am I going to do with all of these eggs?” So I feel I can add a couple and easily have eggs to provide to our parents and my brother and his girlfriend.

So how do I feel after my first 4 months of being a chicken farmer?

I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience so far. If you are thinking about raising chickens for fresh eggs, do it.

Do your research, ask questions, then go for it! If you have questions for me, ask away. I will answer to the best of my knowledge with my short experience.

Yay, Sarah! I’m glad that your chickens are working out so well for you–despite the challenges with Blitz. I am so looking forward to the day when we have our own farm fresh eggs. I have to say that I’m on team brown… or blue (I love the idea of Ameraucanas) when it comes to eggs. However, I don’t really notice a difference in taste based on shell colour. I notice a difference in taste between farm fresh and store bought. I love the flavourful deep orange yolks!

The last straw in the vegetable garden

My approach with our vegetable garden is to view it as a big experiment. I do a bit of research here and there, but mostly I dive in and cross my fingers.

We added two new crops this year that I view as experiments: asparagus and grapes.

Asparagus isn’t really a huge experiment. I know how it grows. We like to eat it. However, most people grow asparagus from crowns. I started ours from seed. This means it will be probably four years before we harvest any asparagus.

Nurturing our asparagus along is an experiment.

My very basic research on asparagus told me to wait until the ferns turn brown, then cut them down and top them with compost and straw. This weekend, I judged that the ferns were brown enough.

Asparagus ferns in fall

You can see that our asparagus are very spindly. I’m not sure if this is because they’re brand new, or because I planted them in the raised bed, which is filled with what we discovered is very poor triple mix.

Tiny asparagus spears

Either way, they need some coddling. While this bed could probably benefit from some compost, I’ll leave that for the spring. For now, I just covered the asparagus stumps with a healthy layer of straw.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

I also applied the straw to our other experiment, the grapes. I fully admit that I have no idea what I’m doing with the grapes. Despite the reading I’ve done, I’m not at all clear on how to prune them, trellis them or just in general care for them. So I’m making it up as I go along based on what I think I’ve read.

Our grapes are new and they’re a little exposed on the outside of the garden on the edge of the field. So I figured some mulch might help to insulate their roots.

Grapes mulched with straw

As often happens with me, once I get started, I got a bit carried away.

After mulching the asparagus and grapes, I thought, “Why don’t I just roll the whole bale into the garden and see how far it goes?”

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to move the bale on my own, as Matt and I have always done it together up to this point.

It turns out I can. Not easily, but I can.

Mulching the garden with straw

Between hacking at it with the pitchfork and unrolling it, I covered about half the garden.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

Those big round bales are full of a lot of straw. And this one was quite old, so the layers were very matted together. It always felt like a major victory when a large flake or one full coil peeled off.

So that brings me to my third experiment: seeing if a thick straw mulch helps to control weeds. My fingers are crossed–my default approach to gardening.

Gratuitous Baxter picture: Dude’s ears very rarely stand up. But an afternoon outside and a garden full of sniffy straw are exciting–or at least halfway exciting. He looks so ridiculous that I couldn’t resist sharing a photo.

Baxter with one ear up

Anyone have any tips on growing asparagus or grapes? Do you use straw in your garden? Or a different type of mulch? Anything else I should do this winter to protect my little plants?

Vintage bar cart end table

Vintage bar cart used as an end table in the living room

I made a change in the living room the other weekend.

I switched out a small end table for my grandmother’s vintage bar cart. I’ve envisioned using this cart as an end table for as long as I’ve had it, and I love how it looks in the living room.

The top tray is the perfect height for a lamp, and the shelves give us more space for the phone, answering machine (we’re still old-school here in the country), some storage and display, and even some room left over for a drink and a snack.

Plus the brass, glass and wood is pretty.

Vintage bar cart used as an end table in the living room

Bar carts have become so popular. I think the reason is in part because they are such versatile furniture.

In my grandmother’s house, this cart lived in a corner of the dining room and held her silver tea set. As much as my grandmother enjoyed an adult beverage now and then, this cart was known as a tea cart.

When it came to our (first) house, it served the same purpose, sitting in our dining room and holding my silver tea set.

It did that for awhile here at the farm too. But I knew it could do more.

Vintage wood and brass tea cart

When we added the third part of our new-to-us china cabinet to the dining room, the tea cart got a chance to try something new and moved in to the living room.

It will be here for at least awhile. But I’m also envisioning it in a bedroom as a night table. So much potential…

Do you have a bar cart at your house? How do you use it? Are you a fan of bar carts? Have you ever heard of a tea cart?

How I organize recipes

Open shelving in the kitchen for cookbooks

One of my favourite features of the island we added to the kitchen is the open shelving on the end that holds our cookbooks.

The books add a splash of colour to the wood and white of the kitchen. The shelves keep them organized and easily accessible. Plus I love cookbooks. I will sit and read them like a magazine or novel. (And, yes, you’re not imagining. The upper shelf is sagging a bit under the weight of all of our cookbooks).

However, not all of my recipes reside in cookbooks. I have a bunch of printouts from recipes I’ve found online (I haven’t progressed to a tablet yet), clippings from the newspaper or magazines, even a few hand-written recipes from family and friends.

To keep these recipes organized, I returned to the lessons learned in school–binders, dividers and page protectors.

A couple of weeks ago, I added a bunch of new recipes to my collection, so I thought I’d share my organization method with you.

How to organize recipes

First are the binders. I have three major categories which each get their own binder: Appetizers and Sides, Entrees, Desserts and Sweets. Entrees outgrew its single binder and is now split into two books. I use different colours for each grouping.

How to organize recipes

Within each binder, I’ve divided the recipes into subcategories.

In appetizers, the sections are appetizers, soups, salads, sides, snacks, breads and drinks. For entrees, I divided them into pork, pasta, sandwiches, beef, fish, vegetarian, poultry, other meats (venison, lamb), breakfast. Desserts starts with the most important, chocolate, and then goes to cookies, “buns” and bars (including muffins), cakes, pies, fruit, custards and Christmas.

How to organize recipes

The recipes themselves are stored in plastic page protectors. I’m not the tidiest cook, so the plastic sleeves protect the paper from spills and splashes.

However, it’s easy to slide the recipe out of the plastic and add notes about what worked, what didn’t or what adjustments I made.

How to organize recipes

Beyond the binders, I also use magazine holders to organize the smaller pamphlets and cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. I got two wooden holders from Ikea and stained them to match the countertop and cabinets.

Wood magazine holder

I love having my recipes organized.

In fact, I was so inspired that I flipped through the dessert binder and whipped up one of my favourite fall recipes, spiced apple muffins, using the apples my friend gave me from her own tree.

Apple spice muffins

With my recipes all organized, I feel ready to move on from fall baking on to Christmas baking.

Are you doing any baking, either fall or Christmas? How do you organize your recipes?

Foggy morning on the farm

Foggy morning on the farm

Last Friday we set record warm temperatures for November. But before the thermometer rose, the fog descended, making for a very murky morning walk.

Foggy morning on the farm

My favourite tree still stood.

Foggy morning on the farm

But it felt like the world ended at the edge of the farm.

Foggy morning on the farm

By the end of the walk, the sun had risen and the fog was burning off and the farm returned.

Foggy morning on the farm

I love seeing how the farm changes over a day, over an hour and over a season. Starting and ending my days here never gets old.

When life gives you persimmons, make persimmonies

After using a pile of persimmons in her last post to try to predict what kind of winter we’re going to have, Sarah in Illinois is back today to answer the question of what she did with all of that fruit.

Persimmons are a big commodity in Illinois in the fall. A quick search on Facebook shows the going rate for persimmon pulp is $4/pint.

As I talked about in my previous post, I have used persimmons to try to predict the upcoming winter, but I had not used them to make any type of dessert. So this year I decided I should try one.

When you taste a ripe persimmon, it is really sweet and the texture is similar to an overripe peach. But there is a catch. If you taste a persimmon that is not ripe, you will know it.

An unripe persimmon will dry your mouth out in a second. I really have not tasted anything like an unripe persimmon.

So when I picked persimmons I tried to pick mostly from ones that had fallen to the ground. If they have fallen, they are most likely to be ripe.

When I brought them home and removed the skin and the seeds, I put what was left in my Grandmother’s sieve/masher.

It has a wooden pestle that allowed me to push the pulp through the little holes. This step took a lot longer than I was expecting, but when I was done I had 2 cups of pulp.

Now I had to decide what to make.

When you say “persimmon” the first thing that comes to mind is “persimmon pudding.” A quick search on the internet will bring up more recipes than you can imagine. But that is not what I was looking for. Persimmon pudding is similar to a bread pudding, and I don’t care for bread pudding.

So my next search was persimmon cookies. Most cookie recipes call for walnuts and raisins. And I don’t care for either of those in my cookies. So what else could I make? Persimmon bread? Persimmon roll? Persimmon bars? Persimmon smoothie? Persimmon margarita?

I decided on Persimmonies which the author describes as a “cross between a bar cookie and a snacking cake.” It even has the suggestion of adding chocolate chips.

How can you go wrong with adding chocolate?

I followed the recipe exactly. I was surprised that the batter was pretty thick.

I won’t describe each step here, you can click on the website and get it straight from the author, but it was a pretty straight-forward cake like recipe.

I didn’t have chocolate chips on hand so I just used the author’s original recipe.

The results

In my opinion, it tasted like cinnamon bread, which was really, really good. I just didn’t taste much persimmon. Maybe I should have added some more pulp. And next time I will definitely add the chocolate chips, because again… chocolate.

I took the persimmonies to work and brought home an empty pan, so you could say they were a success.

Anyone made anything with persimmons? What recipe would you try? Are persimmons popular in your area?

I’ve not seen persimmons in our area, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one–let alone made anything with them. I’m curious now, Sarah, to give them a try. And I agree… chocolate is never a bad idea.

I have to add, a very happy Thanksgiving to Sarah and all of my other American readers.

Meeting expectations and finding grace

This year has been hard.

I felt like I wasn’t meeting anyone’s expectations. Not my husband’s. Not my boss’s. Not my family’s. Not my staff’s. Not even the dog’s. Poor Baxter didn’t get a hike with his friends all summer.

Worst of all was feeling like I wasn’t meeting my own expectations.

I don’t think I’ve felt anything quite like that discouragement, pressure and futility.

At the end of October, I started working four days a week. This was part of my attempt to find my balance again.

I thought it would be a bit like when you know you have Friday off or when Monday’s a holiday. Yay! Short week!

Not so much.

It was still tough.

Squeezing five days of work into four has meant some long days. And at home it took awhile to find where I needed and wanted to spend my time. The second four-day work week, I felt like I had jet lag. I was trying to do everything and adjust to a new schedule. My body and brain couldn’t keep up.

I’ve learned that finding my balance is a process. And this weekend, I think I’m starting to feel that balance returning.

I had a great day at work on Thursday. I still didn’t leave the office until 2 hours after everyone else, but I felt good about where I spent my time and what I accomplished. Friday, I spent the day with my parents, and I felt like I made a difference for them. I even managed to make it home in time to squeeze in a hike with Baxter before the sun set.

Over this weekend, I’ve cooked and baked. I knit a pair of slippers. My whole house is vacuumed. Laundry is done. The rotten lumber from last week’s clean-up has been burned. The living room, dining room and kitchen are tidy. I even fit in some redecorating when I swapped out some end tables in the living room.

And, I spent time with Matt, and we actually talked and shared and helped each other. That connection with my husband is the most important thing to me. We have a phenomenal partnership, and he is there for me no matter what. One of the turning points for me over the last few months was when he said to me, “You’re sad all the time now.”

Matt knew I was struggling, but hearing that my struggles were so obvious and that I was bringing those feelings home to my husband, to my family, to my home was terrible. I never want to put those low feelings onto anyone.

Feeling like we’re in a better place is the biggest sign to me that I’m getting my balance back.

Of course, there’s always more to do. My office is only halfway tidy. I still have months of paperwork to file, and my bathroom needs to be cleaned.

But I’m trying to give myself grace. Matt, my family, my team at work, my boss have all given me grace. I have to do the same.