All work and no play….

….makes for a dull blog?

For what it’s worth, I’ve written several updates since my last post.  Unfortunately they’re tucked away in the recesses of my brain waiting patiently for someone to shine a flashlight into the void, guiding their way out the darkness and onto your computer screen.

Until then, I humbly offer the following review of our summer.

My last post was full of anticipation for the upcoming growing season.  Now we’re enjoying the early fruits of our labor and impending harvest.

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For weeks now, the zucchini have been growing to mammoth proportions (which we’re processing into zucchini relish) and the zucchini we rescue from that fate end up on the grill with a little olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.   Mmmm.

We harvested all of our garlic a few weeks ago, pulling them from their beds and hanging them to cure.

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Each “leaf” of the garlic represents a layer of the paper surrounding the cloves.  While the garlic is ready to use after harvesting, it’s important to dry the heads in order to store them for an extended period.

We let them cure for a couple of weeks in the warm, unfinished second floor bathroom of our home.  Once sufficiently dry, we clipped the leaves and roots and have them ready to use for the next few months.

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The beauty of growing our own garlic (aside from, you know, eating it) is that we have all we need to plant and grow next years’ supply.  We’ll set aside the largest and best garlic heads and plant those cloves this fall for next summers’ harvest.  Fresh food is awesome.  FREE, fresh food is awesomer.

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We’ve had a beautiful summer.  Although dry, it’s been downright hot for weeks.  The tomatoes are thriving and just starting to show signs of their maturity.

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The peppers are plumping and the potatoes are nearing their harvest time.  We’ve had one crop of peas already picked, another almost ready and a third crop growing for a fall harvest.  Likewise with the carrots, beans and beets.  Squash and pumpkins are flourishing in our lasagna beds and our second planting of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards and kholrabi will be ready in a few weeks.

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Aside from the gardens, our flock of hens grew by six this summer.

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Violet, Pansy, Dahlia, Sunflower, Petunia and Lily have joined the Golden Girls – and at 18 weeks of age, they should start fulfilling their end of the bargain and begin to give us a daily egg each.

We had the pleasure of having my Mom visit for the majority of July.  As much as she was looking forward to a visit, I think we enjoyed it as much or more.

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Well, we certainly enjoyed exploring and discovering new restaurants and shops that Vanessa and I intended to (but never have) tried.  But more than that, we just enjoyed the company.

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Vanessa and I both are working full-time at new jobs.  I’ve been working for a disaster restoration contractor for the past several months.  Although I have to admit, after a long day (or week) of working on other people’s homes and properties, it’s hard to find the motivation to do the same for ourselves.  Vanessa is now at Cavendish Farms processing one of PEI’s most famous commodities: potatoes!  It’s actually working out very well for us.  I work a fairly typical work-week: Monday to Friday with occasional evening or weekend projects.  Vanessa works two day shifts, two night shifts and then has four days off.  Those four days have proven invaluable to us as she’s able to tend to things around the homestead (like curing garlic and raising chicks).

So.  There you have it.  Sort of.  Its hard to wrap up three (four?) months in 600-or-so words, but I think I managed to empty out a few things rattling around in my head.  I’ll do all I can to right-this-ship and resume my regular updates.  It’s looking like an exciting fall around our old island home.  Just do me a favor and let me know you’re still out there.  I get a lot of my motivation and inspiration after hearing from you.

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Thanks – and blessings from our home to yours!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Exodus 23:25 – “Worship the Lord and his blessing will be on your food and water.”

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The best place to greet spring is in the garden and like every year, as soon as winter’s grip is loosened, Vanessa and I grab a shovel and pitchfork and head outside.

Spring marks winter’s (long overdue) departure and the awakening of – well, everything.  The birds are back, the frogs are “peeping” from the creek down the hill from our home and plant life is bursting in anticipation of another growing season.  All of this makes spring my favorite time of year.

Back in March, we started our onion and leek seeds.  As soon as the ground is workable, these frost-hardy plants can be transplanted into the garden.  If we were able, we probably would have planted these out a couple of weeks ago – even the end of April isn’t too soon – although the weather wasn’t as agreeable.

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This year we planted about 100 plugs – and each plug has at least two or three seedlings.  We’ve learned the onions can be planted in small groups, given enough space between groupings, and the onion bulbs will form without any problem.  This saves a tremendous amount of time in planting – and eventually harvesting, as it takes the same time to plant a one-seedling plug as it does a three-seeding plug.

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We adjust the spacing between the plants to accommodate the groupings.  Individual onions would be planted about 3-4″ apart.  We keep our groupings spaced about 8″ to allow for the plants to bulb when they mature.

Our leeks are planted similarly – with two seedlings in a pot.  With the leeks, though, we dig a deep hole about 6-8″ deep and drop the whole newspaper pot in it.

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As the plant grows up and out of the hole, the soil will be gradually filled in, thereby keeling the lower part of the leek white: a process called blanching.

And it’s just amazing to watch the garlic grow – seemingly right before your eyes.

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So while Vanessa was planting the onions, garlic and leeks in one bed, I started preparing another bed for a different crop.

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Last year, we ran out of space for our broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards and cabbage.  This year, we’ve dedicated two beds for these cruciferous veggies.  This weekend we planted our cauliflower, broccoli, kholrabi, kale (two types), collards, turnips, rutabagas and cabbages.

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In the other bed, we’ll plant additional broccoli and cauliflower every couple of weeks for a continuous supply of fresh vegetables, along with brussels sprouts, cabbage and whatever else we’d like more of.

In addition to planting out some of the seedlings we started inside to get a jump-start on the season, we directly seeded our peas (snow peas, sugar snap peas and a shelling pea), carrots, beets, radishes, spinach and swiss chard.

All these plants can be started a few weeks ahead of the last expected frost date without any concern.  Other vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn and cucumbers are heat-loving and wont tolerate even a light frost, so we’ll wait until June before introducing these to the garden.

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Murdoch is just content to be a part of whatever we’re doing. IMG_5071

Even Jill and James come over to see what we’re up to.IMG_5102

Sprung!

Yes, it’s been a while.  A few of my loyal readers (there are a few) have been asking what’s going on.  Well, I’m here to tell you.

Winter.  That’s what’s been going on.  And I believe this winter has been going on for almost 42 months.

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But as predicted in my last post, the inevitable has happened.  Spring.

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I’ve never been happier to have muddy boots.  Snow Mountain is eroding and the gardens are almost bare. We’ve been trenching some waterways for the melting snow to run.  It’s been helping keep water away from the house and our walkways somewhat clean.  Until we grade the property and seed our lawn later this year, the mud will be an ever-present companion.

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Having said that, the ground is slowly firming up – at least where we need it to be.  And more importantly, the food gardens are clearing up, too.  Hopefully, if the weather stays nice, the ground will dry out sufficiently for us to plant a few things.

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As soon as the ground is workable, we can plant out the onions and leeks we started a few weeks ago.  They’re coming along nicely under our grow lights – as are the broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, kale and kohlrabi.  Soon we’ll be starting the squash and cucumber seeds as the risk of frost will have to be completely passed before they can be planted out.

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The chickens have been enjoying some new-found-freedom since they’ve been confined in their coop for the duration of the winter.  Our effort to catch the resident weasel has been fruitless.  For the chickens protection, we kept them inside the coop until the past couple of weeks.

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With the weather warming and other food opportunities present, we’re taking our chances that the weasel will leave them alone.  While there was snow on the ground, we could see his tracks throughout the barn.  I’m sure he’s been keeping the mouse population in check and with the arrival of the migratory birds, hopefully it will have it’s choice of sparrows, starlings and pigeons – all of which have taken residence in our barn loft.

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So that’s what’s happening around the homestead.  On another note, we’re in the midst of the second work-layoff this winter.  Earlier the year, the mussel harvesters couldn’t get onto the ice because of the copious amount of snow .  Now the issue is the deteriorating ice conditions.  Ice harvesting isn’t an option now so the fishermen are just waiting for the ice to clear enough to launch the boats.

That put a halt to some of our plans this spring.  We were to visit Ontario for a friend’s wedding but had to cancel with the unexpected income interruption.  But on the other hand, it has freed up some time to do a little work around the house.

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We lifted the underlayment in the bathroom and repaired the subfloor.  Soon, I’ll be roughing in the plumbing for the fixtures and hanging some drywall.  Of course, we’ll need to get back to work soon to afford the next few steps.

But for now, we’re enjoying the time off and the milder weather.  Soon, spring will turn to summer and this record-breaking winter will be a distant memory.

Gardening. It’s cheaper than therapy.

There’s an old proverb that says, “no matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”  This weekend sure felt like it had finally arrived.

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“I can smell it”

We took a short drive through Cavendish, enjoying the sun and fresh air, and spotted this guy on the edge of the ice at Wheatley River.

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We actually saw three of these bald eagles on our drive today but this was the only one we managed to photograph.

With spring only a couple of weeks away, our thoughts have been turning to the gardens and our seed starting schedule.

Depending on who you talk to, our last spring frost is typically expected sometime in the last week of may or first part of June. So with about twelve weeks before the last frost of the year, we need to start some of our seeds in anticipation of planting out when the soil is workable

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First up are our leeks and onions.  We’ll start the seeds this week, giving us about eight to ten weeks head start before planting them into the gardens.  Onions and leeks are fairly cold-tolerant, so we will transplant them two to three weeks before the last spring frost date – sometime in early May.

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Over the next few weeks, we’ll also be starting our broccoli, cauliflower, pepper and tomato seeds.

We experienced a steep learning curve last year when planning and planting our gardens.  Thankfully we’ve had far more successes than failures, but with everything in life, if we can learn from our mistakes, we won’t be subjected to repeat them again.  Careful records of our seeding and transplanting dates last year has taken out some of the guesswork, and we can tweak our schedule to improve our success this year.

I think spring really is my favorite time of year.  To me, it feels like the new year actually starts now – when the snow is melting, the soil warms and the trees and plants are waking up from the winter.

I know, I know – we’re not out of winter’s grip yet, but I keep reminding myself that there’s more winter behind us than ahead.

 

Making Peace with Winter

Call it the winter blah’s.

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Last year, writing about our new life on the east coast came entirely easy.  Everything was brand new and an adventure we wanted to share with our friends and family – and anyone else who cared to read about what we were doing.  But now that we have a full year under our belts, the challenge is to keep writing about what’s happening and how we’re progressing without sounding too redundant.

Take this winter for example.  We’ve had a pretty easy cold-season this year, up until last week that is.  Four storms within a week-and-a-half dumped almost 5 feet of snow on our old homestead.  Writing about the storms, the snowfall, shovelling out (and our good neighbor bailing us out with his snowblower) would sound too much like any of the storm posts I wrote last year.

I’m starting to rifle through the mail-order seed catalogues and could tell you about what we want to plant in our gardens this spring – just like I did in my post last January.  But does that make for an interesting post?  I’m not sure.

The one different variable we have this year is that both Vanessa and I are working full time.  I’ve already written about where we work and what we’re doing – and the job itself holds no interesting stories I can share.  We’re just doing our time there to pay the bills.

Sounds pretty winter blah-ish, doesn’t it?  The truth is, I’m no fan of winter.  I don’t really follow or play winter sports, I don’t care for the snow and cold and I’d rather be outside than in.  By the time February rolls around, I want it to all be over.  I’m sick of the snow and ice.  Bring on the mud!

But as I write this (in front of our wood stove with the outdoor thermometer reading minus 18 degrees), I remind myself that spring is just over a month away and we have so much to do in anticipation of the upcoming year.

So I’ll say this much:  at the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll simply post what’s happening and if there are still readers who want to know some of the (slightly) more mundane aspects of our adventure, then you’ll be happy to read-on in the upcoming days and weeks ahead.

Like I’ve said about the house renovations – it will be a long and arduous task to (essentially) demolish and rebuild our farmhouse, but it’s the memories that we will hold forever. Perhaps this blog will help remind us of every step we take.

Even if we’re up to our waist in snow.

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“and how the heck am I supposed to poop here” – Murdoch

 

We’ve only just begun

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“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”  [Thoreau]

It’s that time of year when we look back on what 2014 was and what we hope 2015 will hold.

For Vanessa and I, we’re grateful for what last year held for us.  The house renovations have been coming along nicely but slowed since we’ve been working full-time now.  We’re still eating our own vegetables we grew last summer: potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, corn, pickles, onions and squash.  The six chickens have started giving us about four eggs daily – even with winter’s cold embrace taking over.  And we have each other.  What else do we need?

We have our health, home, food and warmth – and with that, all of our needs are met.  Then there’s the other stuff we take for granted that’s really a luxury for most of the global population: we have cars, hobbies, music, internet access and more clothes than we actually wear.  I sometimes think it’s even too much.

One of the things I’ve loved most about our move has been our embrace of the concept of living with less.  At one point it was a conscious decision to do without some of the luxuries we’ve always enjoyed.  Dining-out together was a big one.  So was buying things we wanted but really didn’t need – just because we could.

Now we just want to live a simpler, minimal life.  Not militant minimalism, mind you – I don’t want to “make do” with two plates, two forks, two cups and two choices of clothes to wear.  But we can do with less.  In fact, it’s one of the more rewarding things we’ve done in our move.  We sold or gave away a lot of items we didn’t need or want to move to PEI – and we’ve not needed to replace them as of yet, either.

We’ve found that very little is needed to make a happy life.

So for 2015, if we’re talking resolutions (and I’m not really), then it would be to stay-the-course.  Keep our needs few.  After all, things will never make one happy – it just creates a desire for more things or bigger things.  We will unburden our lives by owning less stuff and doing more of the things we love.

For the past year we’ve been dreaming of our “big picture” together.  What we want our house to be.  How we’d like to farm.  The wood lot we want to purchase and how we’d use that for our needs.  But we realize a dream is just a dream without a plan.  This year, we’ll be expanding our gardens and offering limited weekly eggs and vegetable boxes for sale.  The woodlot we hope to purchase will be both an investment and a source of income.

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As for you, we hope you have a wonderful new year filled with happiness.  Dream big dreams, but don’t stop there, make a plan to see those dreams fulfilled.

 

Weasel Wrangling: 101

I don’t know if it was divine intervention or lucky timing on our part, but we narrowly escaped disaster with our chickens last week.  After coming home from church, we discovered a set of small tracks throughout the chicken run  – and even up the ladder leading into the coop!

It turns out, a weasel had paid the chickens a visit, but I think we happened upon the scene before any carnage could start.  Needless to say, the chickens have since been confined in the safety of their coop for the last week as we try to rid ourselves of the varmint.

I know a lot of chicken-raisers say you can live-trap and relocate weasels, but considering their voracity and the damage they’ll do to the flock, I’m not fooling around.  We found a couple of big rat-traps in the barn when we first moved here – still in their packaging.  That was our starting point.  Rather than setting the traps and hoping for the best, I made a couple of modifications to (hopefully) increase our odds.

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With some of the scrap wood left around from the renovations, I made two boxes – as wide and slightly longer than the rat-traps.  I drilled a large hole in one end of the box and several small holes on the other.

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I also made a small change to the rat-trap itself.  I cut the lid off a tin can and pop-riveted it to the trigger of the trap.  This makes the trigger almost as big as the business-end of the trap itself.

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The idea is to direct the weasel directly onto the trigger of the trap via the large hole.  The other end is baited with a raw chicken liver.  If (and when) the weasel investigates the bait, there’s nowhere for him to step but on the modified trigger of the trap.

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Pop-goes-the-weasel.

We set the two traps around the coop where it’s tracks are concentrated.  After a light snow, we can see that it also visits our barn with some frequency.   For the chicken’s sake, I hope we get it soon.

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Speaking of which – the girls surprised us with an early Christmas gift yesterday: our first egg!

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Not sure who was responsible, but considering the cool temperatures and being cooped up for the last week, we didn’t expect this at all.  Now we just wait for Egg No. 2 so Vanessa and I don’t have to split the first one.

Winter Preparations

We’ve just passed our one-year anniversary since making the move to our old island home.  About this time last year, we had our new well dug, the moving truck unloaded and were getting settled in for what was going to be the worst winter PEI had seen in almost fifty years.

Fast-forward a year or so and we’re making preparations for what’s going to be a milder-than-average winter for PEI – that’s if you choose to believe the Farmer’s Almanac’s winter outlook.  (I choose to believe).  With Vanessa and I both working near full-time hours now, the work around our house has slowed considerably.  Our projects are broken down into manageable, bite-sized jobs that we can tackle in the couple of daylight hours remaining after work or what we can fit into a Saturday between grocery shopping and other errands to run.

Last week it was to finish insulating and sheathing the lower exterior walls left open from raising the house for the new foundation and sill replacement from the summer.   We had the open portions enclosed with an air barrier in the interim, but with the temperatures dropping, we needed to infill with insulation and enclose it with sheathing.

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I was able to find full-dimension 1″ x 12″ rough-sawn pine boards for the same price as 3/4″ plywood.   So, in keeping with the original construction, and not needing to build out the thickness of the studs to match the old remaining sheathing, it was a simple decision.  And it made for a simple (read: quick) job.  In the spring, we’ll be building a wrap-around deck and porch, so for now this will get us through the winter.  Shingle and siding repairs to follow the porch-build.  We also managed to get our first load of firewood into the house.  Vanessa passed it through the window…

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…and I stacked it in the basement.

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We’ll go through about five of these piles this winter

No more trudging through the snow to the barn to collect our daily firewood needs.  Nosiree!  Now it’s just down to the bottom of the basement stairs to gather up what we need.  And with the season’s first snowfall in the forecast, it’s one more job off the list – and not a moment too soon.

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Thankfully, that’s not going to last.  With temperatures on the plus-side for the better part of next week, we’ll be able to do a few more things outside before winter really arrives.  Somewhere out there, there’s almost sixty pounds of carrots, onions and cabbage to harvest.  The cold temperatures are just sweetening their flavors as the plants produce natural sugars to act as their antifreeze.  For now, until the thaw, we just stoke the fire.  And I have to admit – there’s nothing nicer than wood-heat on a chilly day.

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Our New Normal

For the past year, Vanessa and I have spent our days working on the house and gardens.  We managed to purchase our home last November and since then we’ve worked side-by-side renovating and restoring our home and tending our vegetables.

Now for the last couple of weeks, we’ve settled into our new jobs on the island.  As I last wrote, I started a new job as a mussel grader in the town of Borden, about twenty minutes from the house.  However my career as a mussel grader only lasted about two hours.  After our first shift, my career path took a slight right-turn into the packing/icing/shipping area.

As mussel grading is probably the most mundane job imaginable, I had no objection to this slight detour.  I’m quite serious.  Trying to be clever, I was going to compare it to other boring jobs, but frankly I couldn’t come up with anything.  Basically, when grading mussels, you stand in front of a conveyor belt as hundreds of the little blue-shelled molluscs pass by – and your objective is to remove any dead or broken ones, and of course, anything that’s not actually a mussel.  That’s it.  All day.  Every day.

Thankfully, the company recognized one of my strengths right away – my strength.  We produce, on average, 20-30 thousand pounds of mussels per day.  Once bagged, the mussels are boxed, iced, packed and shipped daily.  That’s my role.

So what about Vanessa?  Since I was moved from the position I was hired for – mussel grader – I suggested Vanessa send her resume in to fill the position left from my departure.  She was hired over the phone within the week.  Her career as a mussel grader lasted a full day and was a little more eventful.

Although mundane, the mussels whizzing by your face from left to right, hour after hour can be problematic to those who suffer from motion sickness.  Like Vanessa.

After a day of running to the washroom, the supervisor promoted her to one of the bagging machines – a complicated computer-controlled beast from Europe.  I think it intimidates most of the workers there.  Vanessa took to it in no time – so that’s her new role.

So our new-normal isn’t all that different.  After a year of working side-by-side on the house and gardens, we find ourselves literally shoulder-to-shoulder at our “paying” job – she’s bagging, I’m boxing.  Our non-paying job continues to be the house renovations – which are still progressing, but thankfully, the income now affords us to resume the renovations.  The weekend weather looks like it will confine us to inside work so insulation and vapour barrier is on the agenda.  Last week we got the chicken coop insulated – so the girls are ready for winter now, too.

Now, if we can just teach ourselves to actually like mussels….

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Thankful hearts

We’re approaching a year since our move to PEI. In fact, one year ago this weekend we hosted our last Thanksgiving dinner with our family in Ontario. By mid-November we were heading east with a loaded down U-Haul truck and hopeful hearts. Since then, and now in the spirit of the Thanksgiving weekend, I have a new appreciation of the life we now have.

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I’m thankful for the beautiful island on which we now live. I’m thankful for the home we’re making and the fertile soil on which it’s built. I’m thankful for the freedoms we have in Canada – including the freedom to express my faith in the Lord without fear of reprisal. I’m thankful for the family and friends – both near and far – who have shown their unconditional love and support of the crazy adventure we chose. And I’m thankful for all those who have discovered and have been following this little blog highlighting some of our more memorable moments and milestones.

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This week I begin a new chapter in our life on the east coast as I start a new job. With winter approaching we find ourselves in need of employment and a steady income. Our little nest egg left from the sale of our Ontario home has almost been exhausted with the large expenses we’ve incurred this year: new house, new foundation, new roof, new well, new (used) car and countless trips to the building supply center for our ongoing renovations. My job now affords us to pay what little bills we have (insurance, electricity, internet) and leave an amount of disposable income for the ongoing renovations and savings we’d like.

I find the contentment in my heart and the size of my bank account to have no correlation – now more than ever. In spite of what our bank balance may be, I feel richer today than I’ve ever felt. I own my house, property and vehicles – all with zero debt. In fact, I recently told a friend that if I were to win a million dollars, I wouldn’t change a thing. I want to cut my own firewood. I want to grow my own potatoes. I want an old house to restore myself. I don’t miss any of the “luxuries” we had before our move. In fact, I’m happier living with less.

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I know this lifestyle isn’t for everyone – or maybe even the majority of people. But it is for us. And we’re truly, truly thankful for everything we have.

“A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.”

Blessings to you and yours this Thanksgiving.