Could Be Worse

It’s fifteen below this morning on our little patch of prairie. I’ve taken to making a morning weather report on my Facebook page which is followed up by, “it could be worse.”

And, it could be. The winds are unusually calm right now, which means there’s no measurable wind chill. On the prairie, lack of wind always seems a little bit eerie, and one tends to stop in one’s tracks to listen and inspect the treetops and grasses for movement and wonder what’s coming.

“It’s quiet! Too quiet.”

Our winter visitors, a cloud of slate-colored juncos, is unphased by the bitter cold–they are busily crowding the feeders before the later-rising bluejays and woodpeckers muscle in on the food supply. Juncos go even farther north in the summer, and it’s pleasing to imagine that this, for them, is a warm winter hideaway.

My pullets are not as pleased with the white stuff, and have decided that the farthest they need to roam is the snow-free ramp that leads out to their run. A couple of weeks ago they were up at the crack of dawn making runs at the fences, clambering up over the top of the coop and into the woods, and exploring the wide world outside their generously-proportioned pen. Now, I wait ’til mid-morning to open the little door, and from the back deck can see them peeking out, looking suspiciously at the white-encrusted world, and going back in.

Done are the days of merrily scratching through the compost pile–they’ve been getting little treats inside the coop lately–a pie plate of leftover brown rice, the shell of a spaghetti squash–things that don’t make too much of a mess in their winter quarters.

The coop is unheated, though I do have a warmer to keep their drinking fountain from freezing. So far, they seem fine with the arrangement–their insulated house faces south and is well-protected from winds. Last spring, I mortared every crack of daylight in the stone foundation to protect from drafts and predators, so it’s actually kind of nice to hang out in there with my girls on a bright, bitterly cold day–it’s not warm, but it’s not brutal, either, which is the Minnesota winter measure of what can be borne with a reasonable amount of cheer and what is just plain miserable and OK to complain about with noncommittal phrases like, “cold enough for ya?”

Well, you know, it could be worse.

This Old Home

Winter is always a busy time for food and farm-related events. Everything that can be scheduled into the months when farmers are not full time in the fields clogs the calendar, and a gal finds herself remembering “slow” months in summer that don’t actually exist except in the fuzzy nostalgia of her mind.

Maybe the fair weather months just seem more relaxed because getting there and back from everything that needs doing and everyone that needs visiting is less of a crap shoot. There’s less watching the weather forecasts for potential hazards, possible cancellations, late arrivals, and early departures–but then there’s a different weather-watching for periods of sun and rain–each stirring its own sense of satisfaction or frustration depending on what work needs doing.

Winter’s work pace has ramped up even more for me and John lately as we get our respective houses up to snuff for putting on the market, as well as planning our projects on the farmstead we’ll be closing on at the end of the month.

We’d been scouting the Milan-to-Montevideo stretch and endured a couple of disappointments since we started looking at places right before Thanksgiving. In a twist neither of us expected (and I expected it least of all), we’re settling right here in Big Stone County, on 14 acres owned by my friends Joanne and Simon, who’ve moved on to a better employment situation in New Ulm.


I still love my big old house in Clinton, but in the last month I’ve found myself getting more and more excited about the prospect of turning it over to a new owner–especially as we’ve made, in just a few weeks, more improvements on the space than I was capable of muddling through in the year and four months that I’ve held the keys.

Most of the credit goes to John, who’s been working long hours during the weeks that I’ve been running around the area, region, and state, answering to all the demands of the aforementioned clogged calendar. Shortly after I took ownership back in late 2011, I decided to live mainly on the main floor, so I could work on restoring the three wallpaper-encrusted, beat-up bedrooms upstairs.

Months went by with only a little progress stolen out of a busy schedule–a little stripping here, a little priming there. A new, more efficient furnace installed last winter, and, last summer, the living room floor stripped of carpet and gummy old black backer, then sanded and finished to reveal the luminous quarter-sawn oak underneath. The deteriorating front deck removed.



In the last couple of weeks, things have started to come together upstairs. The front bedroom’s puppy and kitten wallpaper border removed–walls primed and painted, and the floor and trim–already having been painted more than once, have new, fresh coats.



The back bedroom–the worst of the trio with its cracked plaster and layers of painted-over wallpaper, is an entirely new space. John broke out the old newspaper-backed plaster patches and made smooth and solid repairs. I worked with him last weekend to steam and scrape off the last of the old wallpaper, and now the walls are freshly painted, and the trim is ready for painting, too.

It’s exciting to see this grand old house, in its 104th year, start to regain some of its former glory. Built on strong bones and with gorgeous materials, a lot of its needs are cosmetic ones, and we’ve made great strides in fulfilling those needs.

There’s something about a house like this that is more than a place to hang one’s individual hat. This home, built only 26 years after the birth of Clinton itself, holds a great deal of its history–some of it in the lovely old three-volume abstract of title, some hand-painted by our local sign maker on a board that’s in the shop, and some of it residing in the living memory of people who’ve lived in it as adults or played in it as kids.

As newcomers, John and I don’t have much of a claim here in Clinton–no deep roots or family ties, but it’s cool to play even a small part as caretakers and restorers of one of its great old homes.


I hope the next owners will give as much love and have as much respect for this grand old house and this wonderful little community as I do.


Home For Sale–the Insider Pics!

As you may know, I’ve switched over to Big Stone Bounty for blogging purposes.  But I still have a house in Vermillion, and I’m still hoping to sell it.  The list price is $77,500, and you can contact Barb Iacino at Dakota Realty for a tour.

Last weekend, my friend and neighbor (have I mentioned there are AWESOME neighbors?) grabbed his camera and took some outside and inside images of my historic district Forest Avenue home that is within short walking distance of downtown and campus.

Here are some of those images:

It’s a cozy cottage with stone facing chimney and window box.  The yard isn’t huge, but it is very functional, and you can even grow some gardens (as I did)–there’s good light.  There are a couple of heirloom apple trees out front, and nice perennial and herb plantings.  There’s a paved off-street parking pad.  Because it’s not a wide lot, mowing and snow removal and pretty lightweight.  Paint job is new in summer 2009.

The living room is huge and has a working fireplaceHardwood floors continue in the hall and master bedroom as well.  Lots of light!  We used part of the living room as a home office space.  I like the curved detail of the doorways going to front entryway and hall (not shown).  The programmable thermostat for the new 95% efficient furnace is also located in the living room.

The master bedroom is also huge and light.  The nook toward the front is good for a little dressing area or a desk.  Good-sized closet as well.  Hardwood floors add a nice glow to the space.

The bathroom makes a nice use of the space.  It’s not completely finished, but it is perfectly usable as-is, and new fixtures and a new tub surround have just been installed.  The bath is porcelain enamel-over-steel–not flimsy fiberglass.  The molding for the bathroom is in the house, but needs to be painted and attached.  The floor is tile with an inset mosaic of an orca (killer whale).  The storage closet has doors if you’d want to put them on–I liked them off.

This is the second (back bedroom).  It is completely paneled in knotty pine–even down to the inside ceiling of the closet!  It has a nice view of the backyard as well.  It makes a great kid’s room or more private office or project space.

View from the second bedroom down the hall to the master bedroom.  There is a pantry closet on the left (shown) with lots of wood shelving–there’s a second storage closet to the right (not shown) which has a shelf and hanging rod for coats, etc.  That closet also has cut-out in back for access to tub plumbing if needed.  You can also see the attic access (near the master bedroom) in this image.  There’s a couple feet of insulation up there.

The kitchen has fairly new Fiber Floor (two years old), and the stove is brand new late this summer.  It is apartment-sized, but I have never found that a barrier to canning massive quantities of food.  The fridge is large and was purchased about five or six years ago when I bought the house–it looks brand new and is pretty darn energy efficient, too.  I have the paperwork and manuals for every appliance in the house.

The kitchen has decent cupboard space, and again, the upper doors (and their hardware) are in the house–I just preferred them without doors.  Access to the side door and basement staircase is from the kitchen.  This is an eat-in space–there is plenty of room for a small-to-medium-sized table.

The basement is huge and is partially finished.  It also stays dry during rains–unusual in this area of Vermillion.  It has a laundry room and second toilet (shown) as well as a “bunker room” that is cinder-blocked in (not shown).  There was a stall shower down there, so there is plumbing to do a mop sink (which is on-site).  Did I mention that I had a 95% efficient furnace installed last fall?  The 68-gallon very well-insulated water heater means you won’t likely run out of hot water, and it won’t cost you a lot, either.

The backyard is very large–it goes all the way down the hill to Dakota Street.  There is some terracing and landscaping back there as well, and some nice trees.  I get to keep my wheelbarrow–sorry! As you can see from the first image, the house does have central air, though it’s not often necessary to use, as the house is nice and tight and stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Overall, this is a great low-maintenance home that is an inexpensive and very nice and “green” place to live with the efficient appliances and close proximity to campus and downtown.  It’s a quiet neighborhood with wonderful neighbors.

Have You Heard? My House is For Sale.

Perhaps this is not the perfect place to be broadcasting this fact, but I have to hope that with the dual readership of this blog and Big Stone Bounty, a post in both places might be a good way to move the process along.

Good ol’ 117 Forest

The house is listed with Dakota Realty, but the listing on their website (scroll down almost to the bottom) doesn’t come near to doing justice to my lovely little cottage.

So, this is justice.

It is a 2BR, 1 1/2 bath home on the best street in the best (historic) neighborhood in Vermillion.  It’s quiet; it’s so close to campus I never bothered buying a parking pass, and it’s also within very short walking distance of downtown.  Great neighborhood for kids if you have one–walking or biking distance as well to Jolley Elementary.

What’s special about this house?  It’s not just one of those crummy little rental places.  It’s a solidly built (in 1951) home with hardwood floors, a working (wood) fireplace, and a huge living room and master bedroom.  The living room’s so big, H and I used just a part of it for our office.

The smaller second bedroom is completely knotty pine paneled–even down to the ceiling inside the closet.  The lot runs all the way down the hill to Dakota Street, which means it’s fun for exploring, and it has a bit of terracing built into it as well.

The basement is partially finished and has a second toilet room/laundry.  It’s also one of the driest basements I know of in Vermillion–it could be finished or left as is for projects/workshop.

What else?  I just put in a brand new uber-efficient furnace and some new ductwork last November, which cut the heat bills almost in half.  It’s a solid little house, so it doesn’t cost much for utilities anyhow–and it has about 2 feet of insulation in the attic.

I also put in a super-efficient 68-gallon water heater, so running out of hot water is never a problem.  Washer/dryer and a chest freezer are included.

It’s got central air, though I’ve never had that much need of it except in very hot, humid summers–like I said, the house is solid, and it stays warm or cool very efficiently.  Programmable thermostat, of course.

The rest of the appliances are fairly new–the kitchen stove I replaced just a couple of weeks before I moved.  The tub surround and fixtures were replaced just about a week before I left.  Did I mention the bathroom has a tile floor with an inset mosaic of an orca?

To me, this house always seemed like a place to “trick out” with solid improvements and good quality appliances–I put new fiber floor in the kitchen within the past couple of years as well.

The nice thing about a small house is that you can make high-quality updates without a huge investment in materials.  It’s inexpensive to own and inexpensive to maintain.

North side garden

Did I mention gardens?  If you’re into that, the place has some nice ones–a couple of heirloom apple trees in the front yard, beautiful spring blooms, and a nice raised wrap-around herb/vegetable garden on the south/west sides as well.  It’s a snap to mow–takes about 10-15 minutes and you’re done.

Herb garden

I would not be selling this house except for the fact that if I’m going to own a property, it would make a lot more sense for me to own a farm–and preferably one that is a bit closer to where I’ve relocated for work.

So, I’m offering it for sale. Because it’s kinda hard for me to buy a farm when I’m paying a mortgage and rent at the same time.

It would make a great home for a young couple or small family, a single parent, professional, and/or faculty person.  Or maybe an older person retiring from the farm and wanting to live in a nice neighborhood in a property without too much to deal with in terms of upkeep.

So, check it out, and contact a realtor if you want to take a look inside.

And feel free to pass this along to anyone considering relocating to the banana belt. 😉

The Big Switch!

I’ve posted my first food blog over at Big Stone Bounty, and I invite you to join me there.

I’ve set up the subscription widget, too, so you can be notified of new posts on the new blog.

I’ll likely keep Flying Tomato Farms up and running with more personal commentary and farm/production concerns, so don’t cancel your subscription just yet!