The first Winter Workcation of 2022 is in the books! Philip and I spent the end of February and the first week of March at the farm. I call them workcations because even though they are technically a vacation, I work much harder on the homestead than I do back at work! I have a desk job, so the hard work is not relaxing to me, but I enjoy it still. It feels really good at the end of the day to have so much accomplished with the work we do. Hard work is just good for the soul!
We always have a list of projects that we need to complete, the biggest task this trip being the assembly of the sawmill. When Philip was sharing with his son Eric about our trip, Eric, Jess, and Weston decided to take a spontaneous trip to the homestead to help us put the sawmill together. I am so thankful, I know we could have done it without them, but I am glad we didn’t have to! You can read all about the sawmill assembly here and watch the video on YouTube.
Day 1 of the Winter Workcation
Usually the first day, I “try” to get Philip to leave the first day free for any unexpected projects. He is exhausted from traveling so we don’t need to tackle anything big the day we arrive. Plus, there is almost always something that needs immediate attention when we arrive. On this trip, Eric and Jess got to uncover the immediate job. Eric and Jess arrived about 12 hours before us. They had the pleasure of getting the RV reconnected to the water system and generator. Even though Philip had drained out the water lines to the off-grid water pressure system, there must have been just enough water in the line to rupture the pipe.
Thankfully we keep 5-gallon jugs of drinking water at the homestead, so they had plenty of water to drink. We would arrive by mid-morning. Philip and I made a stop at Home Depot on our way through Bowling Green for the needed supplies to fix the waterline. In just a few minutes after we arrived, Phillip and Eric had the water line repaired and we were back in business!
Checking in at the Waterfall
Philip was chomping at the bit to get the sawmill going and I naively thought this would be a project that he and Eric would do together. Once I got the camera set up for him, I took Jess and Weston to see the waterfall. The waterfall is powered by mountain runoff, so it has periods of dryness. We had gotten quite a bit of rain leading up to our arrival, so I expected it would be a great time to go see it. I didn’t realize it, but Jess and Weston had never seen the waterfall! They always visit us during hunting season. We try to stay out of the woods during hunting season to not run off the deer. Weston was quite excited about the waterfall. The waterfall is small but at his 4-year-old stature, it’s a big waterfall to him!
Installing the Kowalski Mountain Street Sign
Last year for Christmas, Eric and Jess gave us a really cool gift, a Kowalski Mountain Street sign. It’s a legit street sign! It has fluorescent lettering, and it glows when lights illuminate it. Our driveway is not the easiest to find, it’s one of those things that you see about the time you are passing it. We also don’t have an address, so it’s hard to give people our specific location to find us. We usually use our neighbor’s address, but they live past us. Usually, an address is assigned when you begin construction on a home. We are going to be working through emergency dispatch to get that expedited since it will be a while still before the house is started.
It was so exciting to get to work together as a family to install the street sign. Philip and I were even more excited when we came home one evening after dark and we saw that sign glowing on the hill when we got close! Check it out on YouTube.
The First Log
Eric and Jess only had the weekend with us, so they headed home on Sunday morning. Philip still spent quite a bit tinkering with the sawmill and going through the initial checks before he could cut his first lumber. Once complete, he was thrilled to start the sawmill up and cut those very first pieces of lumber! He cut 2 logs over the next few days. We will be using this lumber on the bathhouse for board and batten siding. I‘m working on a complete post and video all about cutting the first log. Plus, we give you a tour of the sawmill so you can see it up close and personal. Be watching in the coming days for the full post!
The Bathhouse Construction Continues
Since Kowalski Mountain is built-in workcations, we rarely get to finish a big project in its entirety, mostly we chip away a little each time we spend time on the homestead. The bathhouse is one of those projects that we started 2 years ago! I can’t believe it myself! The bathhouse will have a three-fold purpose. A bathroom for guests that will be boot friendly. Many times, I have waited much longer than I should have to take a bathroom break because I didn’t want to take off my boots! Once complete, I won’t have to anymore…. muddy boots welcome!
The bathhouse will also be a laundry room and extra storage. Since we sold the house, we did have some equipment that needs to be kept in dry storage. It’s been in the enclosed trailer this whole time. We were planning to take the trailer back with us, so we had to unload it. I encouraged Philip that we needed to finish the subfloor in the bathhouse so that we wouldn’t need to move the equipment more than one time. While we ran out of plywood to completely finish the floor, we finished the subfloor in the storage side of the bathhouse and were successfully able to unload the enclosed trailer.
Originally, we had planned to have a well drilled at Kowalski Mountain and power it with a windmill. Currently, we haul all the water that we need in a cistern tank. However, we have learned that the water in the area has a strong sulfur smell and taste. Philip and I both agree that we don’t want that! We are leaning more and more towards rain catch water throughout the homestead, including the house. The Amish in our area use rain catch for their water needs as well as shallow well systems and we still have the option of hauling water from town if we ever had to due to drought.
Gutter System Installed
The bathhouse is the first structure on the homestead to get set up with a gutter system for rain catch. Philip and I spent a few hours installing the simple rain catch system. The biggest challenge is the height! The bathhouse was built on a cut out of the mountain, so not only do we have the normal height of the roof, but we also must deal with the incline as well.
Currently, the water will drain into a container that was designed for garden use. We had to have the water route somewhere, as it is eroding the bank around the bathhouse. We will be adding a larger water holding tank that will supply water to the entire bathhouse. The bathhouse will have its own off-grid pressure system installed to provide adequate water pressure for showering and laundry. The complete video and post about the gutter system will be coming soon!
Solar Power Security
The final project on the bathhouse was to install the solar panels and security lights. We have a small setup that will provide lighting that is needed for added security. It also will allow Philip to work after dark, should he want to do that (which is more frequent than I wish it was). We spent the morning of our final day on the homestead doing this project.
Preparing for a New Floor
The barn is another project that we chip away at. We are almost done with it, slowly but surely, we are getting there. The barn itself had the floor done in October of 2020. At that time, we pulled everything out of the barn. Then we used the bobcat to bring in dirt and raise the level of the floor and added two layers of gravel for the base. You can read about it here.
The workshop however did not get the upgrade at that time. To finish the floor, we had to move everything out of the workshop, a task that we had not taken time to finish. However, since the workshop has never had the floor raised, it is a mud pit, being the lowest place in the barn. This trip, while Philip tinkered with the sawmill, I moved all of the tools out of the workshop with only one exception, a toolbox that was too heavy for me to move on my own.
The Workshop Floor Get a Lift
Once that was done, Philip and I would use a wheel barrel to haul in the dirt and rock needed to raise the floor about a foot. He got a wild hair to start this project at 6:30 pm after working all day. He told me to go rest for the evening, but I couldn’t do that and leave him working late.
Using the bobcat, he brought loads of dirt to the barn and we would fill the wheel barrel. We soon fell into a routine; I’d fill the wheel barrel and he would wheel the first load into the barn. The dirt left in the bobcat was enough for a second load. I would fill the wheel barrel and wheel the second load in while he went for another load. I learned after only one heavy wheel barrel that how much I would load into that first wheel barrel had nothing to do with the wheel barrel itself, but how much dirt was left in the bobcat. Since I was pushing in the second load, his would be a tad more full! It took us about 2 hours to haul in the dirt needed to raise the level of the floor, but together we got it done.
Philip Wraps Up the Workshop Floor
Philip is an early riser, I am not. At the homestead, we have a comfortable routine. He wakes up early and heads out, I sleep in to relax a little on my vacation! I wake up usually around 8 am and make breakfast to get the day officially started, by then he has worked up an appetite. While I heard him out there before 7 am hauling the rock into the workshop. I made no effort to get up early to help at the hour, he was on his own! By breakfast, the floor was done, and we were off to bigger tasks of the day.
The Waterfall Garden Steps
When designing the entry to the waterfall garden, I intentionally made a somewhat meandering path that I did not want heavy equipment on. Philip likes a direct trail, but I want this to be a bit more relaxed and a place to enjoy. While my path is wide, and likely could fit the bobcat down the trail, I really prefer to keep the heavy equipment out of the garden. The final incline into the waterfall garden is quite steep. It was especially fun to descend in high heel boots for the wedding photos! My plan is to install rock steps down into the garden to make it easily accessible for anyone. This trip I finally got a chance to work on it.
My plan was to install two steps. It’s quite a process, I must haul the rocks in that I want to use for the steps. Then I dig the spot out of the mountain using a pickax. Once it’s dugout, I level the foundation of the step to make sure that the rock will sit securely and not rock. There is nothing worse than stepping on a rock step and having it move.
As you can imagine the rocks are quite heavy. For now, I was able to find large enough rocks in the creek bed nearby. Eventually, I may have to use the 4-wheeler to haul them in. Philip has been picking on me constantly since he saw my video hauling the 100-pound rocks! I have no idea what they weigh, but they sure were heavy! The first two steps went so well, I decided to go ahead and set the third step. I choose a rock very close by and walked it to its final place in the staircase.
I started at the bottom of the hill to build the steps. So far, I am happy with how the staircase is coming. I think it will take at least a dozen steps to make it up the incline. When we return in April, I hope to get in a few more!
Wrapping Up: The 2022 Winter Workcation
Of course, there are some tasks we do every trip to the homestead. My final task on the homestead was to clean the RV. I usually give it a thorough cleaning every trip, but I haven’t been up for 4 or 5 trips that Philip took on his own. While he keeps it presentable, I like to give it a good spring cleaning to help prevent any rodent issues that normal living might attract into the RV. I took at least half a day, scrubbing, cleaning, making an inventory video, and needed supply list. We return in April for the first Spring Workcation of the year. We are already finalizing our project list!
The trip went really well. We had only one evening that the pipes in the RV froze and we were without water. By afternoon the temperatures had warmed up and we were back in business. Thankfully no pipe damage. It gives us a lot to think about as we move closer and closer to living on the homestead full time.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.