I'm Tonia and this is my family. There's Hubs, my wonderful partner; Bug, my darling daughter; and Boo, my charming son. We are the Collins clan. We are a homeschooling family who try our best to live out God's will for our lives every day. There are lots of stumbles along the way, but we love each other and this little life we're carving out for ourselves. Recently we found ourselves called to make some big changes in our lives so we're packing up the McMansion and moving out to a little farm in need of a lot of TLC. We have tons to learn and tons to do and we invite you to share the journey as we turn our not-so-new heap into a home.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Odd Jobs

We've been busy doing all kinds of odd jobs around the Heap.

Like painting the propane tank....

And power washing the grunge off of the Heap......

Cutting down trees and cleaning out fence rows.....

Stacking firewood that will be used for nights around the fire pit........
And putting up a swing for the kids.
It's all hard work, but it's really starting to look like someone lives here and cares about it. We occasionally get glimpses of the day we'll call it the Homestead instead of the Heap. Then we're jolted back to reality......but for a moment, it's beautiful.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I. am. dying.

Okay, okay, that may be a little dramatic, but I see little difference between saying I'm dying and explaining how my brain seems to be liquefying and spilling out of my nose and eyes- either way, it's bad news and I'm not having a good time.

Ragweed....my personal kryptonite....and 'tis the season for much ragweed.

I didn't even know what ragweed looked like so I went surfing for an image.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Evil, evil plant.

I'm pretty sure there isn't a corner of our land not covered with this stuff, or anybody else's land for that matter. And I thought moving to the country would be a good idea? Genius right here people. Genius.

I have heard that taking raw local honey every day can do miracles so I am now on a mission to find some. I have a good friend who would normally be able to supply me, but she is out currently, so I will have to hunt down some of this liquid gold and see if it helps. I'm currently taking FOUR different things so if it reduces that to say....one or two...I'm thinking that will be success.

And in other, more Heap-related news:

After about 4 baths each the FreeLoaders have recovered from their intestinal distress. They've also been gifted a new run that will make their lives a lot more comfortable. Up 'til now they've stayed in a small dog crate when we're gone- which some days is 8 or more hours. They did this when we lived in the McMansion as well, but I was home most days and they didn't have to stay in there all day very often. Now, when we leave we try to bundle errands, etc. and usually are gone for longer periods of time. They cannot currently stay in the run for very long because Sam is a digger and is out about 2 minutes after you turn your back. We will have to put some kind of floor under it- either pour concrete or make a wooden floor. The Hubs hasn't decided which is the best option yet, but soon... we must get this done soon.

We started using the window AC unit this week as summer has finally arrived and daytime temps are about 95 degrees. So far, so good, thankfully. I'm very nervous that it will not hold up to constant use and have been turning it off at night and then turning it back on mid-morning. At night we've been using the attic fan and opening windows, but now that kryptonite is circulating in the outside air I'm not sure of the wisdom of this tactic. Tonight I will try just turning it off and hoping the house stays cool enough with no fresh air coming in. I am grateful it's worked so far and even more grateful that summer will come to a close soon- by next year we will, hopefully, have a central AC unit.

The washer and dryer are now in working order. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. Life feels a little more normal now that I can do laundry. I never thought I would say that, but there it is. I'm happy to do laundry.

I'm clearly losing my mind....it must be the kryptonite.



Monday, August 26, 2013


Just in time for me to have the ability to wash them, 3 of the 4 freeloaders have developed diarrhea. Oh joy.

Who are the freeloaders you ask? Well, let me introduce you!

There's Sam, the Coton-Poodle mix. He lives his life for the next moment someone will pet him. He is also high maintenance- his hair is very soft and very prone to tangles, burrs, and getting way too long. Not exactly a country dog we have here folks.

There's Sadie, the miniature dachshund. She is old (15years) and has two speeds: molasses and sleeping. We are convinced she will live to be 30 because she is such an expert at conserving energy. The only thing that has changed for her over the years is her breath- it gets a little more horrendous every year- other than that she may as well be the puppy we brought home 15 years ago.

There's Jazzy, the diva in a cat suit. Her given name is Princess Jasmine Meow. Bug named her when she picked her out 5 years ago. You will not find a cat more bi-polar than this one. For real. She terrorizes everyone she meets, but is very sweet to Bug and I. She has never realized her claws have been removed and attacks anyone who walks within 3 feet of her without her express consent.

And last, but not least, there is Cosmo, the hamster. He is currently my favorite, mainly because he does not have diarrhea.

When you start looking at homesteading you quickly realize everyone must do their part. There is just too much to do and never enough time to do it. Those who do nothing more than make messes and eat are the freeloaders. Now we love our freeloaders and they are with us for the duration, but they are the LAST of the freeloaders. From here on out, all those who eat, must also work. We will have more cats, but they will live in the garage and outbuildings and catch rodents. We will have more dogs, but they will live outside, eat scraps, and provide a level of security. We will have chickens, pigs, goats....all will provide us food. We will not have rabbits- the kids and I are in agreement that we cannot stomach eating the bunnies, so no bunnies will come to live here.

It's all just another change in our lifestyle that we're all coming to grips with. Thankfully, it's a change that will happen gradually since it's likely some of the freeloaders are going to be here for many more years. Which means plenty more emergency baths are in my future. Oh joy.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Plumbing Revealed

Right after I told you about the defective water heater, we heard from a friend who happened to have an account at a wholesale plumbing place. 50 gallon propane water heaters were in stock....and about $150 LESS than what we were going to pay at Lowes. Eureka!! The Hubs met him and picked one up right away. He has spent the weekend finishing up most of the plumbing and I'm happy to report we now have hot water and an operating shower! A couple of missing connectors will finish up the washing machine and after he replaces a sink drain and installs a faucet in the basement he will officially be DONE with the plumbing....for now anyway.....there remains some sewer line to replace, but that isn't a pressing need, so for now we're calling it done and moving on to other projects.

Here's the thing you have to know about this whole renovating process- everything takes a lot longer than you realize it will. The Hubs started working on the plumbing as soon as we got the keys to the Heap and here we are, a month later, and it can officially be called done. It was a lot of hard work on his part, and I am incredibly grateful for his ability, but I can guarantee neither of us thought it would take this long or be this complicated.

 I'm starting to realize this will be the reality every step of the way.

I have determined that I will not cry at this realization. Sniffle, perhaps, but I will not cry.

It took a long time, a lot of work, and no small amount of change, but the plumbing is spectacular. The Hubs decided to go with PEX line- it is more expensive, but it is the most durable product on the market and, while I'm sure this did not figure into his decision, it looks really cool!

We started with old, galvanized pipe. It was badly corroded and just in desperate need of replacing. I, of course, did not think to take before pictures (still getting the hang of this whole documenting our life thing), but you can still see the poor condition of the pipe. Now imagine it running in all different directions, just above your head. It drips on you, and you cannot tell if the drip came from a water line or a sewer line, a hot line, or a cold line....you can see the problem. So, Hubs ripped it all out and started over.


Now the lines are color coded- red for hot, blue for cold. All but the main cold line and the main hot line originate at the manifold and can be individually turned off. So, if the sink is leaking, I can turn off water to the sink and still have an operating toilet and shower, rather than having to turn off the main water line. The line is also supposed to be much easier to replace in the event of a problem, although I'm personally hoping we never have to find out if that particular sales pitch is true. It's hard, even with pictures, to describe what a difference there is. It really does look fantastic, at least as far as plumbing can look fantastic- and it works, which is the best thing by far.

So, what's next? We'll be taking advantage of the weather while it's still nice and getting some outdoor projects done, namely, the chicken coop and a fire pit. And I will get a garden area mapped out so it will be ready for spring. There's no shortage of work around here!


Monday, August 19, 2013

Let There Be Light!

Every day you get to choose if you'll be content....or not. Some days that choice is easy, some days.... not so much.

We ordered our hot water tank nearly 3 weeks ago. It finally arrived on Saturday and the Hubs started working on installing it yesterday. He was knee deep in the process when he discovered that one of the threads was defective- it appears that when putting parts on some of the "glue" was dropped on the thread. When that glue dried it became like rock and now it is impossible to thread the pipe onto this defective part.

All this means that it will be another 3 weeks before I can hope to have easy hot water- no showers, no washing machine. I'm not going to lie- I'm really bummed. It's not that we can't survive a few more weeks- we have a way to warm up water for baths and doing dishes-it's just that this one thing creates a lot of extra work.

But I refuse to let this get me down. We really are very blessed and I know it. It might be inconvenient, but it's really not a big deal in the big scheme of things, and I know that in a few months this will all be a distant memory.

So instead I will think on the good things. Like today when the Hubs went to buy the new line for the propane he found it to be on clearance and he saved about 50%! Or how this evening a friend stopped by just to see if we needed some help. And how a dear friend took the kids for the week just to give us all a break.

Blessed. Content. Joyful. These are the things I will be, because despite what the world tries to tell you, generally, you DO have a choice.

And since we're all choosing to be happy....how about something fun? The electrician was out again today and he installed our outdoor lights. It's a tiny glimpse into the "look" I'm going for.....you want to see, right? Well, first here's the "inspiration":

I'm in love with the vintage look....not old enough to be antique, just vintage....think 1950's. I love how this light gives an older feel while still being modern and I love the color. And now here's what I ended up with:

{Swoon} I love it! This light is by the back door, but eventually there will be one by the front door too. I will probably paint it a bright, fun color at some point too, but for now I'm just excited to have it up. There isn't much style going on around here yet so any little bit is super exciting!

See....today was, indeed, a GOOD day!


Saturday, August 17, 2013


Over the past few days, we've settled in a bit to our new life. Those first few days I was in a bit of shock and probably some denial too. I kept telling myself there was no point in unpacking this or that because we'd be redoing that room "soon". It didn't take me long to realize that this whole thing is a long term project- and that I might as well embrace how things are now, rather than dreaming about how they will be. Not that we're not working for something better, but right now is okay too. Really, it is. It's not as clean or as pretty as I'm accustomed to, but it's still okay...we have shelter, a place to sleep, baths, food....really, so much more than a huge number of people on this planet.

Unpacking the kitchen was a huge step to getting settled in. When I was packing up the McMansion, I put a piece of green tape on the boxes that I considered essential, so I waded through all of the boxes out in the garage to find ones labeled "kitchen" that also had green tape. After opening the fourth one that had nothing essential in it, I started opening the boxes in the garage before bringing them in. Turns out, I have absolutely NO idea what need really means. I'm not sure why I thought I would NEED the immersion blender ASAP, but my delusions were quickly straightened out. When you have about 5 cabinets total to put both food and dishes in, well, you realize that immersion blender is a pretty cool toy- that's going to live in the garage for awhile. Even with my acceptance of brutal truth, I still found I didn't have enough room, so for now I have a card table set up in the kitchen to hold all of my baking needs. It isn't pretty, but it works.

After the kitchen it was on to the bathroom. I thought I had an astounding amount of storage space in the bathroom until I started unpacking and I managed to fill up every nook and cranny. My lands, we have an enormous amount of stuff! Learning to scale back is definitely a work in progress. First up is the death of the "stock up" syndrome. We have all really convinced ourselves that we are being smart and frugal when we buy those 6 bottles of 99 cent shampoo, but are we really? We end up having to have bigger homes to store our stockpiles (or we live cluttered and a little frantic in our smaller homes), we lean on our own abilities instead of trusting that God will provide the extra 50 cents for the shampoo if, heaven help us, it is NOT on sale when we need it again, and we allow ourselves to get prideful because we are so incredibly frugal. No one needs 3 different lotions or perfumes to pick from- it's time for me to fit into my available space. Something new comes in, something old needs to go out. Right now I have soap, Kleenex, and shampoo stockpiled. When those products leave my shelves I'll have a much better chance at getting the bathroom organized.

The stove now works, so we've got warm baths- it still takes a bit of work to make them happen, but it's a definite improvement. With the stove operating and dishes unpacked, we also have been able to have some hot meals and tonight we ate around the table together for the first time in weeks. It was beautiful.

Then Boo said, "None of this is homemade?" and the moment was shattered. I refrained from sticking a fork in his eye and instead just sweetly said, "Baby steps son....we're taking baby steps."


Monday, August 12, 2013

Day One

This is like camping, only without any of the fun. I have told the kids and Hubs, "It's going to be okay" probably a hundred times. It's still unclear as to whether I'm trying to convince them or myself.  You really have no idea how many things you take for granted, how many things you consider "basic" needs until you don't have them anymore.

Like privacy:

Right now we're all four in one bedroom. The kids' bedroom is the first room to be renovated so we can't put them in there. Because we are downsizing in a big way we needed to come up with a more space utilizing way to have beds and storage available. We have a great plan that I can't wait to see come to fruition, but for the time being we have no dressers and no bed frames. The Hubs and I don't even have a proper mattress, instead we're sleeping on a queen size inflatable mattress. Our clothes are in totes, suitcases, and boxes- wherever we could stuff them. Just getting dressed is an ordeal. If one person snores, we all have a hard time sleeping. If the Hubs and I talk before going to sleep, little ears are right there listening. And you can forget about anything else....ahem.

Like bathing:

The 50 gallon propane hot water tank we need is a special order. We have no idea when it will come in and we seem to be the only people who are actually concerned about this detail. No hot water tank means no hot water- anywhere. This isn't a huge deal when you're washing your hands, but it's a monumental deal when it's time to take a bath. In order to get some warmish water we filled up our big plastic tubs with water from the tap and then put them out in the sun for the day. For our first day we didn't realize how much water we needed and only put out one tub. We also hadn't really processed that our tub had no plug so there was no way to keep the water in the tub. I improvised and used a canning lid over the tub drain, which worked as well as you might expect, considering the tub does not have a mason jar drain. We managed to keep enough of the tepid water in the tub for Boo's bath, but the rest of us had no choice but to take cold baths. It was not fun. We were able to find the right size drain plug and put out more water to warm on day two so last night's baths were much more enjoyable- if not warm. Once the stove has a new plug we'll be able to warm water and have warm baths. Every day we make some steps back toward "normal".

Like mealtime:

We have electricity, but the plug on the stove and the appliance outlet do not match so we're unable to use the stove. Not that it matters too much anyway- I have NO idea where any of my kitchen things are. Right now we have paper plates, plastic forks, and plastic cups.  There is a remarkably small amount of food that doesn't need cut, chopped, prepped or cooked. We are limited to lunch meat, almond butter and jelly, and cheese sticks. For sides we have carrots and dip, grapes, bananas, and chips. Preparing a meal requires more juggling and balancing than you'll see at the circus. Town is 15-20 minutes and a gallon of gas away so eating out is not a permanent solution. The next full day I have at the Heap will involve moving things around and trying to find some kitchen stuff. Things will still be challenging, but everything looks easier with a good meal in you so this situation really has to be improved quickly.

Lest you think we're complaining or feeling downtrodden let me make it clear: we're learning some really valuable lessons here. I don't think we'll ever take things as for granted as we have in the past. Bug said yesterday, "We have running water at least, some people don't even have that, yet alone hot water."  She couldn't be more on target. I have reminded myself repeatedly that there are those who live this kind of life all the time and there is no renovating going on, no hope for improvements. We are so blessed to have the chance to change our lives, in whichever direction we want to go. These inconveniences are fading fast-everyday we make small improvements that will add up to huge improvements very quickly. It's all part of the adventure!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

So Long McMansion

It's our last night in the McMansion. I can hardly believe it. Despite all the dreaming and planning, now that it's all coming together it just seems surreal. We're really leaving. More than that, we're really going to live in the Heap. There's no turning back now.

Memories abound.

Here I found out I had cancer. This house held me when I couldn't get out of bed, entertained my kids when I had no energy to give them, and mocked me with the dirty bathrooms and piled up dishes that were evidence that all was not well. Here prayers for healing were answered and we found life really does go on.

Here I learned about grace, truly learned, and accepted it for the first time. Here I gratefully allowed others to help me, accepted I couldn't do it all, and embraced a life that wasn't about completing tasks.

Here I got my hands dirty for the first time and discovered the joy of growing your own food. Here I came to learn that I love plants of all kinds and that there is no greater accomplishment than taking care of your family by coaxing the land to give you food.

Here I taught my little man to read,

discovered my girl is an artist,

welcomed two beautiful nieces.

Here I've fallen in love with countless children and their families and provided a home away from home.

Here we've shared meals with friends and family. We've played games late into the night. Laughed. Cried. Yelled. Snuggled.

It was good. It was exactly what we needed while we needed it. I know without a doubt that everything I learned here will serve me on our new journey. I'm ready to say good-bye. I'm ready for the next adventure. But, I'm so very grateful for this "once upon a time".

So long McMansion....we hope you bless your new family the way you've blessed us.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Praise the Lord- we have water!

That beautiful stream of clear, clean H20 also means we have an operating toilet.....which I decided you didn't really need to see. Hubs had a taste of the water tonight (from the sink, not the toilet) and said it tastes okay. We were a little worried about rural water and if it might taste icky, but nope- it's good. I'm so relieved. We are 3 days away from moving day and the reality of that outhouse was getting a little too close for comfort. We still don't have hot water as we're waiting for the hot water tank to come in, but that's okay- I can totally live with that.
While we're on the topic of improvements, may I introduce you to my new friend?

It was a desperate move. We were in Lowe's for the millionth time in just a few days when we walked past the cleaning aisle and I thought I'd check to see if they had anything to help get the funky smell out of the Heap. Removing the carpet helped a lot, but there was still some pretty bad stink going on. They had the usual air freshener things and Febreze, of course, but I didn't want anything like that. All they do is perfume the air and leave you with the smell of flowers AND stink. No thanks. Then I saw this stuff- ZorbX. It doesn't have any strange ingredients and it really has no odor on its own. It was worth a shot. I sprayed down every floor in the house with it last night and hoped for the best. Today when we walked in both the Hubs and I were surprised to discover it was remarkably less smelly. Hooray! I sprayed it all down again tonight so I'm anxious to see how much better it is tomorrow. Obviously, I highly recommend this stuff....if it can make the Heap smell decent then your gym bag, dog bed, whatever is NO match for it. Really.

Clean water...clean air....we've got it made now!



Monday, August 5, 2013

What Did You Do All Day?

One of the brutal truths of home renovation is that sometimes you can work like crazy and leave for the day with things looking completely unchanged. Last week I didn't post anything, not because we weren't working- we were at the Heap every single night- but because I was going non-stop. We did plenty of work at the Heap, but I also was organizing  camp for American Heritage Girls. Every night was so late that I just fell into bed without a second's thought for the blog.

It would seem reasonable then that I would have some amazing pictures to show our progress, but I'm afraid that's not true. We've made some important headway, but nothing much in the way of picture worthy stuff.

For instance:

I pulled about a million nails out of trim pieces that were taken out of the kids room. It's not exciting work and it's certainly not an impressive picture, but it has to be done in order for the trim to go back up. On a bright note- only one wall had to be removed and we quickly discovered that the insulation in the house is quite adequate and does NOT need to be replaced. Hooray! This little bright spot will save us many hours of work and quite a lot of money too.

I also pulled half a million nails out of the wall Hubs had partially taken down and scraped off as much of the glue and remaining paneling that I could. I don't have a "before" picture because, quite frankly, it doesn't look any different after a couple of hours of work on it. No big, impressive payoff here either, but if the work hadn't been done then when we put up new paneling or drywall it would buckle and show bulges...not exactly the look I'm going for.

We've also had plumbers out....who basically wanted us to sell one of the children to pay for their time. There is some work that we will have to have a plumber do, but Hubs decided he was perfectly capable of doing a large portion of it so he's been working on that for a couple of days. It's taken numerous trips to Lowe's, but he's getting there. We might have a working toilet before the week is out!

Two different guys came out to assess the floor situation. They did not agree on how they would do the job, but they did both have the same very high opinion of their services......again we opted to do the work ourselves. We won't get to them for awhile, but doing them ourselves will save us literally THOUSANDS of dollars.....kind of a no-brainer there.

I wiped out all of the cabinets in the bathroom. Again, no "before" pictures because it really looks like I didn't do a thing, but the disgusting water I dumped out says otherwise. Things also smell a bit better so I'd say the work was well worth it.

The Hubs was also able to get one garage door up and functioning. It took him a long time as it turns out it's a much harder job than expected and he nearly lost a finger in the process, but now we have a larger opening for getting things in and out. It also looks so much nicer than the previous door that was there. Garage door openers are still a future dream, but they'll happen eventually.

The electrician came out today as well and we got some more good news. Most of the current electrical system is in good shape and completely safe to use- we do not need to replace it. This is fantastic news because, again, it saves us many hours of work and a lot of money. There is also a possibility that we can move the meter off of the front of the house, which would be wonderful. He'll be able to wire the garage and chicken coop for us too and he didn't ask for any children to be sold so we pretty much love him. (Thank you Phil!)

This week is crunch time. I'll be spending my mornings getting things in the McMansion packed up and my afternoons and evenings working alongside Hubs to get the Heap habitable. Thank goodness we have wonderful friends who are taking the kids for whole days- that really makes this frantic time a bit easier. I can't believe in less than a week we'll be officially living in the Heap....this should be fun.