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A winter weekend in the life of: Grandma’s House DIY

Jan 27 2017 -
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Joe is always up before I am and when he gets up his first priority is to get the fire going. We heat entirely with wood in our wood stove that sits in the kitchen so, during the winter months, keeping the fire going is a full time job. I have a “kind of” smart clock by my bed that includes a little sensor I stuck outside so the minute I wake up I get to see what the temperature is outside and inside. Right now its 62 inside and -12 outside. I double check my phone and it is actually -17 outside, oh fun *sarcasm*. Today Joe’s plan is to spend it in the wood shed, chopping, stacking and bringing more wood in to fill our closet under the stairs. I will help him later but first I have to fill the horse’s water tank and I am not looking forward to it. Last weekend we had trouble keeping it from freezing because it was REALLY cold out (closer to -30) after two days of hell we finally figured out the right combination of two tank haters, one on either side of the tank. (I’ve already ordered another tank heater just to have on backup.)

UPDATE: December 15th, 2017. Joe and I are now divorced. I will not be deleting blog posts like this one as it is still a diary to some extent of my past and that still matters to me. I wish I had been more honest about how things were going to you guys here on the blog… I thought things would get better. There was always something: once this happens then he won’t be so angry… But, eventually, he ran out of excuses and I had to face my reality that I was wrong about Joe in every way possible. Grandma’s house is completely mine so now it can actually become what I dreamed it would be on all those late nights alone when I was renovating it. Happiness does not always come the way we expect it to, sometimes it even takes a broken heart to get us there, and I still believe in happy endings!

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

Keeping the livestock tank from freezing and full of water has never been a fun nor easy task in any home I’ve EVER lived in. In the past we had to run over 100 feet of water hose from an outdoor spigot and then haul it all in the house to thaw out. Also, in the past, we always kept two water tanks full because it was just about a guarantee we would “lose” one of them to the cold. (A 100 gallon block of ice until spring.) Mom and I kept our horses here for a couple of years in the barn when grandma and grandpa were still alive (when I was 12) and used the same spigot out there that my grandparents’ used to water the cows and it always worked great. So… I don’t know what happened between now and then but it no longer “works great” anymore. Our spigot is attached to a VERY old galvanized pipe that goes straight down an empty well shaft eighteen feet to a sand floor and then elbows off toward the house until it comes in our basement where it hooks up to our water there. Somewhere down that empty well shaft it has been freezing shut. Sighs…

(We’ve had the serious talk of filling the well as it is QUITE dangerous, on the belief that filling the whole thing with sand would then keep the pipe from freezing. However, what if it doesn’t work? What if it freezes anyway and then I wouldn’t be able to access the pipe to thaw it because it would then be totally buried in sand… So we haven’t done anything to fix this situation.)

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

So, I haul the hose to the barn (after thoroughly covering myself with a ridiculous amount of winter gear) hook up the hose, cross my fingers, call on the universe for help and turn the spigot on… aaaaand…. nothing. Nada. No water. So, I haul myself back to the house and put my two biggest pots on the stove, full of water, on high. Yes, I am going to haul pots of boiling water to the barn and dump it down the galvanized pipe until it thaws out and we get water. This takes an hour, several full pots, and, to say the least, I am not exactly a cheery camper. When I have water it is like a miracle and I cheer and dance and then go and check to see if the hose is filling the tank aaaanddd nothing… in the time it took to thaw out the pipe the hose is now frozen. Mother ld$&aSFmp;*^JG*H^%##!!!! So now I’m hauling the hose back to the house.
Joe yells from the wood shed, “The hose frozen too?”
“No, baby, this is my new fun workout plan I just haul the hose back and foreth from the house to the barn for an eternity!!!”

So, I get the hose inside and head back to the barn. I need to keep the water running in the barn so the pipe doesn’t freeze again. I find a big old plastic bin and put the spigot on a drizzle. I head back inside, do the dishes and clean up the house. After an hour I haul the hose back to the barn, hook it up and run it to the water tank, the horses looking at me like I’m some kind of nut job maybe because of all the four letter words I’m grunting under my breath or maybe because they aren’t even sure it is me and will never understand why humans put on so many layers of gear as the cold doesn’t seem to bother them much.

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

Another half hour and their water tank is full and I haul the hose back to the house and throw it in the basement. At this point Joe drives his truck to the door and its full of wood so I help him haul it all in and fill the “wood shed” under our stairs. Joe requests my breakfast muffins so I make a bunch for him. (Just a combo of cut up ham, a dozen eggs, onions and cheese put in my favorite silicon muffin/baking cups and popped in the oven for half an hour.) He’s going ice fishing soon and my best friend/cousin’s husband stops by and they head out by 2 o’clock. I had mentioned to Joe that I had finally figured out how I wanted to build our new bed frame and told him I was planning on hauling the wood from the barn this afternoon and getting a bunch of it cut and ready for assembly. He tells me that he’ll help me tomorrow and that we can use his truck, very sweet of him but he knows better, once I get an idea in my head I have to do it NOW.

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

So, with the house to myself I get the measurements I need and head for the barn. When we built the deck we had several deck boards leftover which I stashed in the barn and those, combined with leftover 2x6s as supports leftover from the wall I took down in the basement, will be perfect…. as long as I have enough. Out in the barn I find six of them and I would have preferred nine of them but with a little arithmetic (not my strong suit) I truly believe I can make it work. The deck boards are 12 feet long and are basically 1x6s though they are rounded on the edges but they will work. Standing out in the barn with all six of them in a pile at my feet by the door I make the decision that there is NO WAY I’m going to be taking two trips. (I’m one of those people that will get all the groceries to the house in one trip if it kills me – I’m an idiot.) I actually managed to drag them all to the house in one big bundle and then (as carefully as I can) scoot them all down the stairs to the basement. So now I’ve had my workout for the day!

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

I need to get that first coat of paint on the poop colored door to the basement we hung a couple weeks ago. It takes me over an hour but with first coat done I head to the basement and start doing that arithmetic I mentioned that I’m not very good at. The bed is 76×80 inches and if I can figure out where I can cut the deck boards short in a couple of places I can make it work and I actually manage to do just that. With it all cut I get to work screwing it all together, this whole process takes me a couple of hours and its getting dark outside. So, I gear up (again) and head to the barn and feed the horses then come back to the house to do second coat on the door which I get finished about the time Joe returns and its time to get ourselves cleaned up because this weekend also happens to be new years eve and we have a party to head to with my mom.

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

The next day Joe and I get up late, I put a venison roast in the crock pot and we have breakfast (the last of the egg muffins) and Joe is now going to take me ice fishing. I guess I finally dropped enough hints that he needed to ask his wife to go with him at some point. Joe is a real gentleman when it comes to fishing, he doesn’t want to take me anywhere unless he knows the fishing will be good. The thing is I grew up fishing and, fishing to me, is really just not catching much of anything most of the time. Joe’s not into that – if he goes out he expects to catch fish no matter what. So, I start by putting my long underwear on then three pairs of socks and a pair of jeans. From there I have five layers on the top and pull on my winter coveralls and then a scarf, then my big winter coat and my winter boots and then an ear band and a stocking cap on my head not to mention some serious winter gloves. And, of course, now that I’ve got everything on, I need to pee.

Going ice fishing when its twenty degrees below zero in northern MN, feeding corn to the squirrels and finding ways to stay warm in a frozen tundra.

We get out on the lake and I put my hood up and cover most of my face. My husband is a serious ice fisherman, there isn’t a lake he goes to that he doesn’t know the lake map by heart, he knows exactly where the likely hood is that there will be fish. He drills several holes, drops his vexlar into them and it tells him whether there are any fish down there. He keeps drilling, keeps checking and does eventually find fish. We drag the fish house to it, he adds a second hole and we pull the fish house over us and have a seat, get our rods ready and turn on the propane heater. We catch enough for dinner though we would have normally let them all go we simply could not do that this time. We’re fishing in very deep water and no matter how carefully and slowly we reel them up the change of pressure on the way kills them and we don’t waste life so, no matter how small, they come home with us. It turns out to be about the perfect amount for supper tomorrow night.

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

At some point my dad decided that I make the best turkey gravy in the country and convinced me to make a turkey dinner on Monday so I’ve had a turkey in the refrigerator since Wednesday. So, once we get home from fishing, I have some work to do. I stopped cooking a whole turkey earlier this year when I discovered it is just as good when you d-bone the whole thing and then there is a whole heck of a lot less waste to deal with. So, I open up the turkey and drop it in the sink as, of course, it is still quite frozen. (Meanwhile Joe is cleaning fish on our kitchen table.) I take the wings off and drop them in my big pasta pot (love this thing for making stock as it literally has a built in strainer that just pulls out) then I cut off the breasts and put them in a roaster pan and then I cut off the thighs (with the legs still attached) and also put them in the roaster pan with the breasts. The rest of the carcass, all of the organs and the neck all go in the big pot which I add celery, onions, carrots and water to and then cover it, put it on the stove with a whole pile of salt and pepper and plan to forget about it for a few hours. Meanwhile I drizzle some olive oil over the turkey in the roaster pan, add enough water to cover the bottom, heavily season all of it and then put the lid on it and put it in the refrigerator.

Then I address the venison stew meat in the crock pot and make supper. By this time Joe is finished cleaning fish, he puts them in water in a bowl in the refrigerator and burns the leftover fish nastiness in our wood stove. We eat supper and settle in for the night. Before bed I strain the pot of turkey stock by pulling out the strainer pot. I go through what is left of the carcass and everything and remove all of the meat that I can and put that back in with the stock which I then pop in the refrigerator.

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

My alarm goes off at 7am because we’re eating at noon so I stumble down stairs and put the turkey in the oven at 250 degrees and go back to bed for two hours. I get back up at 9 and I make my grandma’s stuffing, mashed potatoes and my (apparently famous) cream turkey gravy using the turkey stock. I put the rest of the turkey stock in jars and freeze it. I am proud to say it actually turned into the best turkey I’ve ever made, when I took it out of the pan and sliced it I then drizzled it with the ajus from the bottom of the pan… it was divine.

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

Finally at 2pm Joe and I are home alone again so I clean up the kitchen and get to work on a pile of veggies (a gift) by breaking them down and freezing them. I also tackle what is left of the turkey, shredding it and also freezing it. And I also tackle the kitchen and the dishes. With all of that done its past 3 and Joe is cleaning out the wood stove, adding in a couple new fire bricks (as two had cracked) and I (finally!) get to go back to the basement and work on my bed frame. I get it stained tonight and am super excited about having just a couple more things to do before I can install it upstairs in our master. And then we make our fresh fish for dinner!

We go to bed with me feeling (as usual) like I need a vacation from my 3-day-weekend vacation! Tomorrow morning it is back to our day jobs!

A winter life a Grandma's house DIY in northern MN, ice fishing, heating with a wood stove in our kitchen, chopping wood and filling the horse's water tank

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  1. January 27, 2017 at 2:55 am

    Tiring with the water to say the least! We used a heated dog waterer for our hens, makes life much easier. I have “spatch cocked” a turkey before, just break the back bone area and flatten. Roasts much faster and works on chickens too…

    • January 30, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      Hey Nancy, I wondered how folks with chickens managed it all winter too – good idea on the heater dog waterer! I have tried spatch cocking a chicken before and it really turned out great, thanks for commenting!

  2. February 13, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    What an adventure! You’re living the good life. 🙂


    • February 13, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks Oliver! Looking forward to spring though!!

      • February 14, 2017 at 9:46 am

        Oh yeah, tell me about it, haha! The sun makes me really happy !:-)
        Fortunately, we don’t have to wait much longer! Two more weeks, come think of it! (Sounds optimistic)

        • February 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

          Hey Oliver, I so hope you’re right about winter ending soon! It’s always so hard to get optimistic this far north lol we’ve had snow storms at the end of March before! But, we are finally getting there!

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