First of all, we hope you’ve all had a wonderful Xmas and a good start to the new year and have managed to keep up your new years resolutions (and if not, screw those resolutions)!
It’s a winterful life!
2024 started with a cold spell up here. And by cold we don’t mean -5ºC, sipping beers at the après ski hut, getting a sun tan in your t-shirt, ordering Jägermeisters (you know, to keep you “warm”). Neither do we mean -20ºC, the kind of cold where you don’t really want to go outside if you can avoid it, but if you must you can dress up for it and you’ll be OK. No, we got hit with temperatures below -30 degrees Celsius for almost a week! That’s the kind of temperatures where stuff stops working. It hurts to breathe when doing something strenuous outdoors, school buses don’t go, water to your house can freeze up, electrical grids can go down etc.
Insert knowledge expanding fact: the Celsius temperature scale is named after Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701-1744).
Keeping our house warm wasn’t a problem. We’ve got an ancient wood stove (which works better than most modern ones) electrical heaters (which we really only use during these really cold days) and a heat pump, which pretty much every house has up here and does a great job of warming up your house using way less energy than electrical heaters (it just doesn’t manage to do that alone when temperatures drop below -20ºC, or if you have an old house like ours with windows which are pretty much there as wind blockers and nothing else). The temperature in our root cellar did drop below -2ºC, but it seems to not have affected our veg much, especially since we put a little heater fan in it which raised temperatures to above 0.
We’re also rather lucky in our forest house, as it was only really below -30 for a couple of days, whereas 30min further up in Storuman they had it below -30 for a solid week and about 2 hours drive up north from us, it apparently got below -50 (that’s not a typo), temperatures that were last seen in the 90s! (The expression “It’s f*cking Baltic” springs to mind). The temperature differences are quite incredible between us and Storuman. We’re about 150m higher up and the biggest difference we saw was when leaving our place at -9 and arriving at Amber’s preschool at -27. An 18 degrees difference! I guess we got that Mediterranean climate going on up here, except for all the snow and permafrost. By the way, the kids at the preschool don’t play outside when it’s below -20, which they otherwise do everyday. That means when it’s -19 they do play outside… think about that next time you complain it’s cold when it’s only -10…
All these freezing temperatures do make for some absolutely stunning views though!
Now let’s go back a few months to the beginning of September when we frantically built our chicken coop in the hope of getting chickens in it asap. Why the rush? Well, eggs were running out frequently at the supermarket, food prices keep going up exponentially, chickens are being culled left and right whether it’s because of salmonella, bird flu, unethical living circumstances and all that showed us once again why we’re doing what we’re doing: taking care of ourselves, so we don’t have to depend on others.
It took another month before we finally could pick up the chickens as hunting season hit, which means the north shuts down apparently. It’s something that’s part of life up here and something we also knew we wanted to get into… and so we did! Vince started his hunting theory lessons a couple of weeks ago which finish in March after which he can do his practical. But let’s not get side-tracked here, as hunting is something which will need a blog post of it’s own.
Finally at the end of September the lady who was selling us the chickens was available and Vince went for a 4 hour evening drive (there and back) to pick them up. It’s quite a trek for some chickens, but these aren’t just any kind of chickens. These are the almost mythical Bjurholms chickens named after the place where they were first discovered 10 years ago by a guy passing a remote farm, where he saw these chickens and thought to ask the owner (a 90 year old lady who has since stayed anonymous) what type of chickens they were. Apparently she had inherited them with the farm when she was young from her parents who had inherited it in turn from their parents who had purchased chickens a long long time ago. No new chickens had ever been added to the flock from the outside and thus these feathered creatures have since it’s discovery been recognized as it’s own breed because of this. This is now the most northern type of chicken breed you can get here and with that comes some nice stories of their hardiness. Of course, we had to see it to believe it, but where other chickens might get frostbite when it’s cold, these chickens were not showing any signs of being affected by the bitter cold whatsoever. Not even a shiver. They also don’t require as much food as other chickens and supposedly can defend themselves rather well against predators (although we’ve also seen the opposite happen in our Bjurholms facebook group) To top it all up, it has also been said that they will apparently eat snow if their water is frozen! That might be hard to believe, but get this: it took 3 months for the older bird to lay the first egg and what day did she do it on? Only the coldest day of the year at around -35 degrees (the egg was frozen solid and had to be thrown out). So these have all been signs that we made the right choice to go for a little more expensive breed (they came with a special genetic bank certificate!) made for this climate. The eggs are a bit smaller, about 50g each and the chickens are a bit lean, but they are hardy and don’t require much care. Our plan now is to build up the flock, for which we have acquired an egg incubator, from the current 5 to perhaps about 30 during the summertime and then decrease that number again for the winter, so we have meat in our freezer and don’t spend too much on chicken feed in the colder months. It’ll be an interesting summer regarding animals (did we mention already we’re planning on getting milk sheep?)
Baby, it’s cold outside
Fast forward a month and a half (mid November) to our midwife’s office, listening in on our new baby’s beating heart at our normal pre-natal check-up, when suddenly the midwife seems to get a bit worried about something and tells us she wants us to go to the hospital in Umeå which is a 3 hour drive away. Not a trip you take lightly in the middle of winter, but a trip we’d been preparing for, as we were made aware well in advance that the hospital we’d usually have the delivery at (1.5 hours drive) had been renovating it’s delivery ward and thus was closed for baby-business.
Now we don’t want to say we live in the dark ages here, but some resources are certainly lacking. It’s a sacrifice we’re certainly willing to make for more freedom, but takes getting used when you’ve just stepped out of a life where all types of services one needs (and many you don’t need) were all around you in abundance. For example, there is no ultrasound machine in Storuman and the one in Lycksele is on ‘holiday’ which meant we had to travel to Umeå several times already for the ‘important’ checks, so we knew where we were going and how to get there. This was also the reason for the midwife to send us there on this occasion as she heard an irregular heart-beat and had to be sure that everything was OK.
In classic Caroline & Vince fashion we had not taken any of our hospital bags with us to the appointment or stuff for Amber, so we raced back home, packed everything, raced back, picked up Amber from school, dropped her off at our friends’ place and off we went to Umeå. At this moment small contractions started to happen, although Caroline wasn’t sure if they were contractions or the curry from the night before, but nothing major and besides a pee in the snow, nothing else exciting happened on the way there. Phew!! Cause if it does you need to call an ambulance to come and meet you and have the baby in the ambulance on the way to the hospital or in the worst case, we had to do it ourselves in the car (no thank you!)
The hospital in Umeå is a decent sized one and so is their delivery ward. When we got there in the evening it was empty, so we got the biggest room, which was more like a presidential suite, size wise. We stayed overnight so they could monitor Caroline, especially since she’s an old bird now, but all was fine with baby. Next day not much was happening so the offer was made to induce the labour at which Caroline almost jumped out of her bed and shouted YES! This means you get given some pills which you need to take one of every 2 hours for max 24h, but Caroline only needed 2 of those and off we were! We’ll leave the gory birth details since it’s something we’d all rather forget, but after 5.5 hours on November 17 Jasmine was born!! Two weeks too early, but healthy and beautiful.
Quite some people have told us that their second child was the complete opposite of their first child, but we thought, nah, we’re not like those people. But lo and behold, unlike Amber, who was apparently THE dream baby to take care of (we now know in hindsight), little Jasmine is putting up a fight day and night. But so be it! She is growing insanely fast from day 1, so fast in fact that at the midwife’s office she wanted us to take a picture of the computer screen showing the graph of her growth progress. What a good girl. Just like she couldn’t wait to get put onto this planet, she can’t wait to get fed all the time and can’t wait to grow up!
So you’re all caught up for now with the big news stories. It was actually a blessing in disguise that snow came so early this winter (we’ve had about 1.5 metres of it since October btw), cause it gave us the time to plan our projects better for this summer and get our priorities right. Lots of time also means lots of projects. Being homesteaders is certainly never going to bore us!!
Until next time!
Love from the ever expanding family (and some local elk that we caught loitering on our driveway)!