About Rene

Having lived in such places as Bella Coola and Bonilla Island and now living on Kains Island, my writing tends to reflect my rather rural perspective. Wife, mother of four, homeschooler, relief lighthouse keeper, online teacher (writing individualized curriculum, supervising, and providing support for other homelearners) ... In my spare time I love to garden, to write, to draw, paint, and dabble in photography.

Longing for Spring? Enjoy Fresh Pea Sprouts Now

Pea Fence

Handy pea fence prevents plants from tangling so you can plant closer. It also makes picking peas easier. Just plant peas at the base of the fence. Each fence has 6 hinged panels.

Last year at this time we were looking out at 4+ feet of snow. This year…. well, it’s different. pea sprouts on stoolEl nino has seen to that. Today the sun, reflecting off a mere 1 1/2 feet of snow, is streaming in the southern windows. The perky little pepper seedlings are soaking up the warmth. Water drips from the eaves and near foundations, patches of bare earth send wobbly bits of steam upward. I am itching to plant something, itching to taste some “Spring,” but alas, the forecast says we will drop well below freezing and stay there over the next week. I know too, that this far north, even though the days are getting noticeably longer, true Spring won’t arrive until well into April or May. So, if I can’t plant, I will do the next best thing. Put on some sprouts.

You’ve probably heard of alfalfa sprouts. In fact, the mere mention may trigger memories of deli bars, peace signs, and raggy cut-off jeans. If that is your memory, I would like to introduce you to a different side of sprouting, the micro-green side. Continue reading

Living Big in a Small Space, Part 1: How We Arrived

Editor’s Note: Longtime blog readers will remember Rene, whose family spent many years as lighthouse keepers in northern Canada. She often regaled us with tales of ocean storms, moving from one lighthouse to another (complete with a pony on a zipline) and homesteading in a very remote location. We’re so happy to welcome Rene back to our blog, and to learn what she and her crew have been up to! They’ve moved inland and are homesteading, off the grid, in northern Canada. Read on…

No matter how well we may lay our plans, there are always aspects that reach beyond what we can control.  When we moved away from lighthouse keeping and came inland to homestead, we had several goals.  High on our list, we wanted to:

  • provide our four children with an opportunity to transition from remote, isolated living to interaction as part of a rural community;
  • give our children access to learning opportunities that they couldn’t access in isolation;
  • remain debt-free; and
  • build a home and acreage that would support our food and recreation needs and possibly provide some income as well.
    Rene and her family lived in their "home sweet shipping container" until their small cabin was ready for them to live in.

    Rene and her family lived in their “home sweet shipping container” until their small cabin was ready for them to live in.

Shortly after we arrived here we experienced severe cuts in our expected income.  That set us back considerably and necessitated some changes in plan.

Because we arrived in the late Fall, there was not time to set up a living space before expected snow fall, so we house sat until end of March when the owners expected to return and do renovations on their home.  Winter lingered, and as our April 1 move-date approached, we could see that it was not going to be camping weather on our undeveloped land.

"Home Sweet Shipping Container"

“Home Sweet Shipping Container”

We purchased 2 40-foot shipping containers, one to store our belongings in and another to live in.  We had hoped to settle them near our chosen building location but because of the late snow, we had to settle for having them parked just off the road on the edge of our property.  It wasn’t until mid-summer that the land dried out enough for them to be moved further.  Using the tractor to pull them over log rollers was a many-day process.




The cabin takes shape!

Shipping containers are a wonderful, quick, long-lasting, instant building. If uninsulated, they are, however, quite cold inside, especially when it dips down below freezing at night. When that happens, breath condenses and freezes on the inside and then when the sun comes up in the morning it melts and drips down on everything, including the faces of those who try to squeeze a few more moments of warmth out of the sheets.  Even the wood stove that we put in one end didn’t really help.  On cold nights it was just as warm to stand outside and feel the warmth coming through the shipping container wall as it was to stand inside by the stove.  Our dogs thought it was wonderful.

Once spring arrived and night time temperatures no longer dipped so low, the container made a fine temporary home from which we could slowly begin work on our land and cabin.

Because we could get a good solar system for far less than it would cost to put power in, we had solar in mind right from the start.  With our very cold winters and heavy snows, that meant we needed a temperate place to keep our battery bank.   An accessible cellar was the place.

The first step in cabin building was to dig that cellar. Since the cabin was to be small, 16′ X 24’, the cellar was also small, 8′ X 12′.  We dug it with a small tractor and very small backhoe attachment.  It was slow but economical.  Over the cellar went the floor and then the walls.

To take advantage of light from the winter sun, the south wall has four windows, each measuring 2’x4’.  They give our cabin a “little old school house” look.  The north wall has no windows, making one long stretch of wall space.  Once we had the walls up, we built trusses for the roof and friends made a day of helping us get them up.  Metal sheeting completed the outer layer.

Rene's Pioneer Princess Wood Cook Stove is at the center of her family's cabin lifestyle.

Rene’s Pioneer Princess Wood Cook Stove is at the center of her family’s cabin lifestyle.

We scavenged a door and covered the window holes with plastic just in time for the first snows. Insulation and plywood walls finished things off.  At centre stage is our lovely Pioneer Princess.  Even when the temperatures drop down to – 40 C, it is warm and toasty inside.  With a bit of manoeuvring and creative use of space, the six of us are able to live big in our small, debt-free space.

Snow Ice Cream, Northern Canada Style

Winter seemed to hold its breath… until the new year.  Then it let loose with a great sigh and unburdened itself onto our high plateau world.  For the last several weeks we have seen much less of the sun and a lot more of low-slung gray clouds scuttling in to deposit their wares.  The six to ten inches of snow that had held steady for the first months of winter have suddenly blossomed into three feet of deep, powdery, fluff.

When the winds calm and the clouds pause their travels, the forays begin.  We are off to replenish the household  wood supply, dig out the trail to the outhouse, shake the snow off our greenhouse/shop/barn, clear the driveway, get the mail, or simply go out to be out of our small cabin.

Last night we took a late evening stroll and ended up going all the way down the road, about a mile each way.  It was a darkish night with no moonlight but still quite possible to walk without artificial lights.  (Snow is lovely that way.) Continue reading

Like Geese, We Flew: Lighthouse Family Moves Inland

It was time, and like geese we flew.  After nearly 14 years of remote coastal living we were drawn once again to the North.  Late in the spring we finalized our decision and began to make arrangements knowing full well that it would be October before all the pieces could fall into place – far too late to make a homesteading start on our land in thclip_image004e North.  We began to pack anyway, a long tedious task  involving building of crates and very careful wrapping of everything we owned.

Since he had to go by small boat and go early enough to avoid heavy seas, “sea horse” Teff was the first to leave.  You can see his adventure here.

Next to go were all our household goods…. crates and crates of them went down the boardwalk, to the highline, down to the workboat, and onto the ship.
clip_image010One of our big concerns was a place to winter.  With temperatures dipping to -40F, we knew that tenting wasn’t an option.  Since our work is done via the web, we had to have internet connection as well.  Inquiry and word of mouth eventually turned up a rather remote log house that needed “sitting” until the end of March.  With 6 of us, assorted critters, and plants including our mobile orchard, it would be a tight fit but it would fill our needs nicely.
This place had a small barn for critters, a cold-room for our trees, a huge empty Great Room for our crates, but only one bedroom.  Fortunately, the sitting room was large enough to serve as a pseudo bedroom for the 4 kids.  Perfect.  clip_image014We would be able to get the long and difficult transit out of the way, have shelter for the coldest months, a place to work, and best of all, be ready for an early start in the spring.

Nearly three weeks after we arrived, our boxes and crates arrived.  The Great Room filled quickly.

Everything was in place just in time to settle down for a winter of bonding with our new guardian dog…

That puppy grew….…and grew…and grew…and grew…

Stay tuned to see how he fit into our new place and how, this spring, we began to tackle The Homestead project.

And what we learned about shipping containers…

The Old Dog Has Arthritis

Our old Border Collie was looking kind of “creaky” last fall, and later when the weather turned really nasty she stayed in her dog house for long periods of time. On the occasions when she did come out, she was really gimped up. At the worst, she was carrying her hind leg as though her hip pained her considerably.Contemplating her pain, I recalled an old timer once telling me that a teaspoon of pectin a day would both get rid of and keep arthritis away.

I checked the information out and putting it together with additional information gleaned during research, I came up with a recipe for “dog treats” that for the old dog have turned out to be the equivalent of an ancient “spring tonic”.

Within a week of putting our old collie on these treats we could see an improvement. After a couple weeks she was running around again – on all four legs. Continue reading

Planning Your Garden: How Much of What?

There is something about the new year, something about making it over that December “hump” that often shifts our thoughts toward the garden. Maybe it is the seed catalogs that begin to arrive in the mail, or the dwindling variety in the root cellar, or boredom with what the grocery store has to offer.

Nevertheless, early in the year, many minds will turn gardenward. Veteran gardeners will ponder what to plant and where they will plant it. They’ll mull over the peas and whether they should go near the potatoes or alongside the tomatoes, whether there should be sugar snap peas, or snow peas, or good old fashioned Lincolns. A few may think of shelling those same peas and wonder if they are tired of gardening while another bunch will anticipate having their very first try. Continue reading