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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Daddy's Shelf- a furniture revival

Something about life at the Heap has made me a lot more sentimental than I used to be. Not just about family heirlooms either. I love things that come from a simpler time, when life looked more like ours does and no one thought that was weird. So when my dad asked me if I wanted a shelf that he made for his grandmother it was a no brainer. Of course I do!

The shelf is made of metal, with lovely cast metal panels and glass shelves. It was also rusty and in need of some TLC. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It's a pretty simple redo, really- just a coat of paint and some glass cleaner had it fixed right up.

It's beautiful, if I do say so myself. I love the bright, fun color and the extra storage space is pretty fantastic too.

And speaking of sentiment- see that Bible? That was gifted to my parents when they married 39 years ago. I love having it.

All decorated for Christmas- isn't it pretty?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Truly Home

Something a bit unexpected has happened over the past few months. I have discovered that I'm no longer living in the future and have started really living in the Heap. I know, you thought I was already doing that, didn't you?


When we first moved to the Heap I was able to cope by keeping up a constant dialogue with myself about how things would be "soon". I did without things, danced around piles of boxes, and generally lived in denial about reality. I was relatively happy, but I wasn't content. Not really.

The change snuck up on me so I can't really pinpoint exactly when it happened. One day I got tired of moving the wall clock around and decided to put it up on the wall. Then, I decided to stop avoiding company and hosted an essential class. I cleaned out my bedroom and organized everything, getting rid of all the boxes. All of the sudden, I looked around the house and realized I didn't feel a sense of shame. I wasn't thinking about tomorrow or when things were perfect. I was not only happy, I was truly in the moment.


Ready to move in.

Yeah, I still have dreams about how we'll fix things up. It's not that I don't see the way things are or that I don't care about making improvements. It's just that I'm truly okay with how things are right now. We are safe. We have everything we need. Life right now is really good.

It's also a mess.

If I'm going to really live here I'm going to have to get my usual organization in place. Turns out I can live with ugly, dingy, and broken, but I cannot live with disorganized and cluttered. I started moving in when I cleaned out my bedroom and that was a great warm up, but now it was time to tackle one of the real problems.

The kitchen.

One of the biggest problems in the kitchen is the lack of cabinetry. We've had a couple of shelving units for awhile, but they are difficult to keep organized. There is no way to completely eliminate them, but I knew moving some things around could help.

I don't have a pantry either so a lot of my available cabinet space has been used up with food. I knew I could move some of it out simply by moving unopened, stockpile items to another location. I have a ton of spices and vinegars too and I seriously needed to find a way to make them easier to get to.

What is it about the top of the refrigerator? It's so easy to let that space become a dumping ground! That's exactly what had happened for me- if I had an item that didn't really have a home I'd just toss it on top of the fridge. It didn't take long for it to become a hot mess-a  hot mess that fell on top of anyone so foolish as to try to get something from up there.

My mom gifted me a new cabinet so I decided to use it for my spices and baking supplies. I alphabetized the spices so they'd be easy to find and grouped like things together- top shelf, spices; bottom shelf, flours and sugars. I can close the doors and it looks so much nicer than the second open shelf did. The remaining shelving unit houses dishes I couldn't find a spot for and appliances that I use very frequently.

The cabinet that used to have spices now has dishes. It's amazing how much stuff fit into that one small space!

I moved out any pantry items that weren't opened and put them in a new storage area that I created with the shelving unit I no longer needed in the kitchen. The remaining items got grouped in ways that make sense for our family. We have a beverage area, with our teas, cocoa, etc. and a box with all of our sprinkles and cake/candy decorations. The very far upper corner is difficult to reach so I put something I use pretty rarely up there.

In every kitchen there are those things that just do not lend themselves to being organized. I decided to quit trying to fight it and just put them in bins- one for small tupperware and one for various utensils. The bins make it easy for the kids to put them away and keep them looking mostly organized.

TaDa! I'm officially moved in to the kitchen. Every box that was labeled "kitchen" has been unpacked and everything has a home. It's not pretty, but it's very functional and organized and I'm.....yep....content.


Monday, October 27, 2014

House of Horrors

I think I mostly do a decent job of keeping it positive around here. I really do love our life and the Heapstead and really, who wants to hear me complain about a life I've chosen? But, if we're being completely honest, there are some things about the Heap that seriously give me the heebie jeebies. So, today, I get a little more real with you and share the top horrors I deal with every day.

The saggy ceiling:

There is a section of the ceiling- right over MY seat at the table- that sags dangerously. It totally creeps me out. I'm just sure that any day now it's going to collapse and that collapse will most certainly happen while I'm sitting at the table. When I let my imagination go, I'm also pretty sure that when it does cave it's going to spill goo and slime all over me, sort of like those Nickelodeon dare shows I used to watch as a kid...only this goo will have dead mice and other disgusting things in it. I will never recover from the trauma and need to be institutionalized.

The laughter of beasts:

photo from wdfw.wa.gov

As the sun goes down they start. Seriously, they sound like they are just beyond where the light from the porch light reaches and they are having a convention about how they will tear me to bits if I'm ever stupid enough to walk out of the light. And then I look over and realize that, shoot, I forgot to close the door to the nursery coop....which, of course, is out of the light. There's nothing quite so fun as trying to act cool,  kids watching, while your heart is pounding and you just know tonight is the night the coyotes are going to get you. Creepy, I tell you.

Ugly couch:

Ugly couch is a relatively new addition to the Heap and truthfully, I'm thrilled to have a full size couch again. We've only had a love seat since we moved out here and it was uncomfortable and way too small. But, the fact that I am so happy to have Ugly couch sort of freaks me out a bit. Once upon a time, I was known as a stylish gal, one who kept a lovely home. I think my evolution is a good thing and I know learning contentment and  to live simply are serious improvements to my character, but every now and then, I do look around and think, "What in the world has happened to me?!" And, sometimes, in my weakest moments, I mourn the loss of who I was- not the selfish, self-absorbed part, but the rest.

The grossest floor:

All the floors in the Heap are gross, but the bathroom takes the cake. I have to seriously go to my happy place when I look at this floor because if I let myself think about what's been on it, well, I'll never go in there again. We do keep rugs in there and I can sort of leap from rug to rug, but every now and then I accidentally miss the rug and then I entertain the idea of soaking my feet in bleach. I've read before that kids who grow up on farms are often healthier because they are exposed to so many things and it really strengthens their immune system. If this is true, my kids must have some rockin immune systems because who knows what they're exposed to when they walk on this floor....Eww.

Thankfully it's a good life with a few horrors sprinkled in instead of the other way around. It's amazing what sort of things we can learn to live with when we are surrounded by love and joy. Gross floors and laughing beasts aside, that's what the Heap is for us...our family. And it's good, really good.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Storing Up

This is where I should have photo after photo of a thriving garden....amazing harvests....canning equipment....

I don't.

Since being woefully unprepared has sort of been my theme when it comes to life at the Heap, I'm going to guess you aren't really surprised.

We came to the Heap in late summer/fall. We were so busy cleaning up and working on the many, many projects we had available .I was physically exhausted and mentally challenged in ways I've never been challenged before. I thought maybe this was the most challenging season.

Then came winter and my core body temperature dropped to about 40 degrees. I was freezing, unmotivated, isolated, and miserable. I was wrong about fall- winter is surely the most challenging season.

Along came spring and the pace of life picked up so suddenly and so frantically I was completely thrown off. In the midst of trying to finish up a school year and an AHG year, I also had to get a garden in, take care of new chicks, and try to help with all of the projects that had waited through the winter, but could wait no longer. Surely spring was the most challenging season.

But none of that prepared me for what was just around the corner. I'm a little embarrassed by how blissfully ignorant I was as I tended my "little" garden and watched over those baby chicks, thinking myself so very busy.


Oh. My. Holy. Homesteading. Ignorance.


In the blink of an eye stuff started coming in from the garden and the apple trees and the produce auction and friends' generosity....and every speck of it needed put up. Right now.

And so I found myself standing over a hot stove day after day canning. I chopped and bagged and froze. I dehydrated. I pickled. I stayed up unthinkable hours and I put it all away.

What I didn't do was take pictures.

So, all I have is some pictures of the resulting bounty, which I will admit, I'm mighty proud of.

I managed to put up way more this year than I would've expected. Not all of it came from my garden. Some came from friends sharing their harvests, some came from a visit to a produce auction where I picked up huge quantities for cheap. I managed to can:

Assorted jams and jellies
Assorted Pickles
Green Beans
Apples and Applesauce

In addition to the canned goods I also put a lot in my freezers. I originally had a plan for being somewhat organized, but at some point I just started tossing it where it would fit.

In the freezers I have:

Green peppers
and about 40 chickens along with the giblets.

I also have bags and bags and bags of tomatoes that I will eventually process into sauce and can. This will free up desperately needed freezer space. For the moment, though, I'm just catching my breath.

It was a good season. I learned how to butcher a chicken. I learned how to use a pressure canner. I spent hours in fellowship with a homesteading friend as we canned more food than we thought possible.

It was exhausting, but it was good.

I am no longer delusional though....on a homestead every season brings a new set of challenges. They also bring some pretty amazing moments and I'm grateful to be here.

Now to figure out how to get pictures as I'm working my tushy off.....


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Phase One

I was a bit late getting the garden in, but it's been planted and going strong for a couple of months now. As with everything out here, there are some high points and some, well, less than high points.


Three weeks ago I had cucumbers, tomatoes, popcorn, zucchini, onions, spaghetti squash, brussel sprouts, okra, and herbs growing.  We were just starting to get some good zucchini and a few cucumbers. There had been some minor squirmishes with bugs, but nothing a little peppermint spray hadn't taken care of. I was feeling good.


The corn seemed to be thriving.

I was delighted to find a sweet little baby spaghetti squash starting to grow.

The tomato plants had a ton of flowers and I spotted the first fruits taking shape.

And the apple trees had a ton of beautiful, healthy fruit on them.

It's easy to forget how fast things can change out here. In three short weeks we've had numerous rainy days and even more sunny days. My plants have either grown by leaps and bounds or they've met their untimely demise- all in the blink of an eye.

The cucumbers have taken off and I have already canned enough pickles to feed a small army. I'm only partly joking when I tell my family pickles are to become the standard veggie for every meal.
The tomatoes are as tall as me and have put on a ton of fruit, though nothing has ripened yet. I'm still holding out hope for jars and jars of spaghetti sauce and salsa.
Once one squash bug showed up my precious squash plants quickly started to decline. The zucchini is pretty much toast and the spaghetti squash is barely hanging on. It remains to be seen if the spaghetti squash can hang on long enough to allow the few good sized fruits to finish ripening. The amount of eggs and adult squash bugs in my garden boggles the mind. This is definitely one of the areas I must reevaluate for next year.
The corn is starting to flower. I'm hoping there are enough plants for successful pollination to occur. If we're very lucky we'll have popcorn to harvest in the fall.
Both the okra and the brussel sprouts have battled caterpillars and while still alive they are very stunted. I have managed to get rid of the critters with peppermint spray, but I'll just have to wait and see if the plants can catch up and put on some fruit.

The apples are still growing and starting to put on a lovely pink blush. I'm beyond excited that we're going to have some apples. It looks like we have one red variety and one green variety so I should be able to can applesauce and apple pie filling both.
This year's garden is just phase one. I have plans to expand into the other half of the fenced area next year and to put in a berry patch. This fall we will plant three more apple trees, too.  I still have a ton to learn about maximizing harvests and minimizing bugs and loss. Eventually, I will have two more 25x25 garden areas and lots more veggies. I'm grateful for the successes and the failures- they're helping me learn!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014


We have enjoyed the chickens so much that we were quite excited about bringing in chicks this spring. The Hubs was very serious about the actual chicks, doing all sorts of research on what kind to buy, which breeds were best, and where to buy them. I, on the other hand, was more concerned about ME- what do I have to do, what might go wrong, what's the proper procedure in raising chicks? In short, what might happen when I mess this up terribly?  The kids were just giddy and didn't really care about anything except when the chicks were coming.

April 24 was the big day. Armed with a list of requests, we went to the hatchery and picked up our babies. There were two batches- the layers and the meat chicks. It is very difficult to figure out which chicks are females and which are males so we bought more than we'd need. If we are lucky, we'll end up with 50% layers- only one rooster will stay and the rest will go into our freezer. If we are very lucky, we'll end up with mostly layers and have some laying hens to sell. The meat chicks, of course, are all destined for the freezer.

Once we got them home, they went into their brooders, which is nothing more than a "nursery" pen. Chicks can't keep themselves warm so they need heat lamps for that purpose along with food and water. The different kinds of chicks need different kinds of food so that is our biggest reason for keeping the two groups separate. The Hubs used silt fencing to create our brooders this year, but within a couple of hours we realized this arrangement is incredibly inconvenient.....by next year we'll have nice brooder boxes that are raised instead. Then I will be able to check on and deal with tiny chicks without having to get on the ground.

Despite all of my reading, I still wasn't prepared for how high maintenance chicks are for the first few weeks. Right when we got them home we needed to take each chick and show it where the food and water was. Bug got that job after I climbed into the brooder and struggled with trying to sit down without crushing a chick and then struggled with trying to get back up without crushing a chick. You probably don't need to be told this, but crushing a chick would be very bad. It was decided the danger was slightly lessened by having a little person get in the brooder instead of me. Good call.

After the initial orientation of the chicks, they have to be checked on quite frequently. Are they warm enough? Too warm? Are they eating? Are they pooping? Has that poop collected on their little furry bottoms and created "pasty butt"?  Who is going to clean off those poopy little bottoms? Oh wait, that last question was never asked- obviously, that was my job.

We lost several chicks in the first few days and even though that was an expected complication it still stressed us out. Were they going to die no matter what or did we do something wrong? We finally settled down a bit when we had a couple of days go by with no lost chicks. In the end, we ended up with 20 layers and 30 meat chicks to raise.

It didn't exactly help our anxiety to find chicks looking like this. Turns out this is what a sleeping chick looks like. They literally just collapse like they cannot move another step. When you touch them, though, they jump back up and run around chirping away. After about a week of constant worry we realized this was normal and all was okay. I'm pretty sure I developed an ulcer in the meantime.

The Hubs started working on the nursery coop right away and within 3 weeks we had two lovely nursery coops that will serve us well for a long time. We also had gigantic chicks who were changing colors and developing feathers. By this time, the chicks could flutter and fly around a bit. They had also started working on establishing their pecking order. The tiffs and disagreements were, and still are,  pretty entertaining to watch.

At 6 weeks old, the Hubs has finished the work on their runs and they are now really looking like chickens. They are fully feathered, running around, and eating bugs and grass. At this point the discussion has turned from how to keep them alive to how to properly kill them. This is not an easy topic for me, no matter how much I like fried chicken. I mean, I cleaned their poopy bottoms for crying out loud. Now, I'm going to chop them up and eat them? Well, okay, yes I am, but I'm going to have to go to my happy place before I can make this happen. The Hubs has no such qualms. He has been watching Youtube videos and recruiting help in preparation for butcher day. We'll actually have two butcher days. The first will happen in a few more weeks and will involve the meat chicks. The second will happen after the layers have grown and matured enough to identify the roosters and the hens. The extra roosters and any "older" layers who aren't laying well anymore will  be taken care of. The resulting meat will fill my freezer and should be enough for the entire year until we're ready to do the process again. We'll also have new layers who will start laying in the  fall, hopefully.

So, now we've raised chicks. I'm pretty proud to have another homesteading must under our belts. Now for turkeys, pigs, and sheep.......



Monday, June 2, 2014


The amount of work we've (okay, mostly the Hubs) gotten done this spring is absolutely amazing. Our little piece of the world is really starting to look good and, unbelievably, feel like home. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have dreamed that possible when we moved in last August.

A zip line, with a cool platform and rope ladder, has gone up and quickly become a favorite with the kids.

An empty section of the tin building has become a beautifully done nursery coop, complete with automatic feeders and waterers.

Unhealthy, uncared for, apple trees have been pruned and thinned and sprayed with neem oil. We're watching the baby apples with anticipation.

The planned garden spot has been fenced in, tilled up, and planted. God willing we'll have popcorn, cucumbers, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, zucchini, spinach, kale, okra, spaghetti squash, onions, and plenty of fresh herbs through the summer.

Needless to say it's been a very busy, very tiring past couple of months. But, I'm happy and so excited to see things coming together. And I should mention here that I really, really love my Hubs. He has been working so hard to make this place wonderful and I'm so grateful I'm on this journey with him.

So, what's next? Runs for the chicks, an infirmary coop, a berry patch, a retaining wall and concrete pad in front of the coop, an expansion on the chicken coop, a pig pen..........yep, I think we'll stay busy through the summer!