A summer afternoon at Prairie Woods – August, 2016

Jill and Snow Cloud basking in the sun:


Twilight supervising John’s fencing repairs:

farm life

Helena “cooped” up, with no place to go (Don’t ask!):

locked up and no place to go

Jack peeking out of the barn:

Goat and old barn

John with the ever-useful calf sled … and a beer …

coveralls on the farm

Three young ducks, with their first glimpse of the great outdoors:

ducks in a cage

Helena and Jaxon relaxin’

Relaxing with a dog


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Mother’s Day weekend project

(Yes it has been a long time since we’ve updated any of our projects or adventures at Prairie Woods. If I keep waiting until I have time “to catch up,” we’ll all wait forever. So I am going to write less and restart with more photos and stick to current projects for now.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015, we got a few posts into the ground …

Corner posts in the ground at Prairie Woods

By mid afternoon, we had a lot more – 40 to be exact – before stopping work early to shower and head into town for our local Sports Wall of Fame induction banquet.

working at Prairie Woodsa larger viewSunday being Mother’s Day, we didn’t start work quite as early. Helena also got fed up with the incessant wind and called it quits in the early afternoon. Nevertheless over 100 feet of fence is up and ready.John stayed with it though and put the gate in.

fence upview from the other directionWhat is all this in aid of, you ask? Well, ultimately some happy chickens will live here.

First, however, the goats will move in to take care of some of the overgrowth. That’s why the posts run in an L shape across the back of the garden – snow fencing will go there for now so the goats can work on the thistle patches for us as soon as the green shoots come up.

Hoping that within a week, you’ll be able to see some pictures of the goats exploring their temporary new territory!

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Installing a Tulikivi (a Finnish soapstone masonry fireplace)

We’ve had some excitement at Prairie Woods the last little while. We’re currently in the breaking-in process for our brand new Tulikivi masonry Finnish soapstone fireplace!

prairie woods tulikivi

The Tulikivi has to be slowly broken in. This first fire was only about 2 pounds of wood and only kindling. The kindling is lath Helena pulled from the walls two years ago – nails removed, of course!)

I remember reading about masonry fireplaces many years ago in Harrowsmith. For those who don’t know what they are, the combustion chamber burns fuel more efficiently than a regular fireplace or a wood burning stove. Then, before the hot flue gases go up the chimney and disappear, they are guided through a set of air chambers built between the combustion chamber and the surrounding stone. The exterior and interior stone absorbs the heat which is radiated into the room over a number of hours, long after the fire is out.

With years of deadfall in the large shelter belts at Prairie Woods, John wanted to get a wood burning stove for supplementary heat. But wood burning stoves are only warm when the fire is going. Never having been a fan of even forced air furnaces with their uneven temperatures, I loved the idea of steady radiant heat.

Slowly, over time, and with some research, I convinced John of the superiority of a masonry fireplace. Now, which kind to get? That decision didn’t take nearly as long. Tulikivi is one of the better known brands for a reason. Soapstone has exceptional heat retention properties. The Finnish connection was a bonus, being part of my family heritage.

The design of the stoves, from a practical point of view, seemed to be one of the more efficient models on the market. That conclusion was confirmed by the mason who installed our Tulikivi for us. He said the engineering behind the Tulikivi was light years ahead of competitors and he even called the Tulikivi the Rolls Royce or Bentley of masonry fireplaces!

We made our decision to get a Tulikivi in the late spring. Then we had to choose the model we wanted. We even added some custom touches to it, such as seating benches along one side and across the back. We ordered the fireplace in mid-July.

The quarry/factory in Finland cut the stone and even assembled it on site to ensure everything was in order. Then it was disassembled and the pieces of soapstone loaded into a container and shipped with others to Canada (B.C.). It arrived in late October.

excell chimney

The chimney for the Tulikivi has been brought up from the basement, through the main floor and the upstairs bathroom and is now through the roof. There are still two four-foot sections to add, as well as the chimney cap to keep out snow, rain and birds.

What we should have done was order the special model of chimney required when we ordered the fireplace. We waited until we thought the fireplace was close to arriving and then ordered the chimney. Then we waited, and waited some more. Finally the chimney arrived and John installed it. I helped bring it through the roof.

The chimney delay meant our Tulikivi sat in B.C. for a month before we were ready for it to be installed. Sascha Arnold of Arnold Masonry in Okotoks, Alta., is a qualified Tulikivi installer and December 1, 2013, he arrived with all the pieces he needed to assemble our fireplace.

After Sascha, his father Herbert and John had carried in all the pieces and set them up around the room, they had to warm up overnight before work could begin. The factory in Finland had numbered each piece and Sascha had an installation manual specific to our particular custom-built model.

pieces for soapstone fireplace

Tulikivi stones have been brought in to warm up to be ready for use the next day. A son-in-law saw this photo and said it looked like a big jigsaw puzzle. The stones shown represent perhaps 15% of the total stones laid out in our basement, December 1, 2013.

masonry fireplace

Construction of the Tulikivi begins December 2, 2013. This overhead view shows the air chambers between the interior combustion are and the exterior stone walls of the fireplace. Hot flue gases from the fire will circulate through the chambers, heating the stone which then stores the heat for hours, even after the fire is out.

Prairie Woods Tulikivi

After two and a half days (long 12-hour days) of construction, the Tulikivi stands complete. Now it must cure for four days before we start breaking it in slowly with small fires. As you can see, we will be finishing the basement around the Tulikivi!

We couldn’t be happier with the the service, workmanship and courtesy of our mason, Sascha at http://arnoldmasonryltd.ca/, (who is also the Alberta dealer for Tulikivi), and Daniel, the Canadian Tulikivi distributor at http://www.soapstoneheating.com/  Feel free to click on those links if you would like more information!

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Wordless Wednesday — After the Storm

Saskatchewan wind and snow

A day of steady south-east winds, gusting to 60 km an hr, not only created large driveway drifts but almost buried the tractor needed to clear them.


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Wordless Wednesday — the first livestock arrived this week!

nannies and kids

This week was a milestone as two nannies and their kids settled into life at Prairie Woods.

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Earth Day: Reusing lath, insulation and stucco

With Earth Day coming up on Sunday, there’s lots of focus right now on how we can help the environment. Even kids at school are taught the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.

I think we’ve done pretty well at Prairie Woods on the reusing part, starting way back with our first evening on the property when we burnt thistle plants and cooked steaks and marshmallows over the fire.

Since then, one of the wooden beams, which was replaced with a steel I-beam, has become a lovely and sturdy set of stairs. The other wooden beam, although not supporting anything, is still in place awaiting its future destiny.

Last summer John came up with the idea of using the wood shavings, which came out of the walls and attic, as mulch around trees and shrubs. They proved quite useful there, helping keep weeds down and moisture in.

The loose bits of blown-in fibreglass insulation found in some walls was carefully bagged and stored for future use in insulating outbuildings, especially the future chicken house.

Although a lot of the lath went to a burning pile, we also have quite a heap, nails carefully pulled, to use for kindling when we get our wood stove next winter. The wood for the wood stove will come from the huge amounts of deadfall we’ve been collecting in cleaning up walking and sitting areas in the shelter belt.

Boards from old closets and other places were claimed by Sharlee, who’s using them to build a fort in a far off corner of the property. She also has an old coffee can full of rescued nails.

Plaster was spread out on the ground in the shelter belt to decompose and go back to the soil.

For a while we didn’t think we had a use for the stucco we pulled off the outside walls. One pick-up truck load was unloaded last fall at a fill location off the property. Meanwhile, a second truck load sat in the yard over the winter.

After bouncing and splashing over the mud-puddle-filled holes in the driveway a few times this spring, I had another look at the pieces of stucco in that old farm truck. John approved the plan and we spent an afternoon carefully unloading the truck, checking for and taking out nails, and then piling big and small pieces of broken stucco into a few of the low spots in the driveway.

using old stucco as driveway fill

We found a new use for the old stucco from the house at Prairie Woods -- and a new way to ease the bumping and bouncing when we drive into the yard -- by filling the driveway holes with the broken stucco.

There are a few more puddle holes to fill and now we’re eying up the remaining stucco, wondering if there’s going to be enough!

driveway holes filled with pieces of house stucco

Bits and pieces of broken stucco, large and small, nicely fill the mud puddle depressions in the Prairie Woods driveway, and will crunch down into a nice level surface over time (we hope!).

Reduce, reuse, recycle – it’s not really all that difficult. Look at what you have and what you need and help old Mother Earth out a little!

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Wordless Wednesday – Prairie Woods From The Air

aerial view of Prairie Woods from the east

Last Wednesday Helena was lucky enough to be flown over Prairie Woods and caught this shot of it from the air. It would be nice if over time we can add summer, fall and snow-filled winter aerial photos as well.

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No condo retirement for us (too busy getting our hands dirty)

(Here’s a copy of an editorial I wrote for our local paper last fall — a good summary of our renovation project and current lifestyle, for both new and old blog readers.)

The glossy real estate ads pitch a very specific lifestyle, generally to a very specific demographic. The lifestyle? Condo living in or near the downtown core in the larger centres promises carefree living – maintenance-free and with easy access to shopping, hospitals and cultural and sporting events. The demographic? Aging baby boomers. Continue reading

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Wordless Wednesday — The Beauty of Hoar Frost

hoar frost on trees at Prairie Woods

After a foggy winter night, beauty is revealed in morning light.

Close up of the hoar frost on crab apples waiting for hungry birds

Hoar frost on crab apples -- nature's "frosting".

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New windows, and even some new wall

This blog may have been silent, but work has been continuing on the 100-plus-year-old house at Prarie Woods in rural Saskatchewan.

With old aluminium framed single pane windows in some of the house, it was obvious from day one that we would be replacing some windows. John also knew we would have to rebuild some sections of wall below and beside some windows as we could see water damage on the sills, frames and even surrounding boards.

Continue reading

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