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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Taking Stock

 The first snow is on the ground and we're finally able to stop for a moment and look back over the past few months and all that we've accomplished. I have to admit, before I sat down to write this, I was feeling like we hadn't done all that much. This working season has been about a lot of smaller jobs rather than one big project, but all those little jobs do add up to some significant movement forward.

 We raised three turkeys to butchering age and got them put in the freezer. It was exciting to eat our very first turkey for Christmas dinner and I have to say, it was also delicious. I was a bit concerned because pastured animals tend to be smaller and tougher than their factory farm counterparts, but it really is just a matter of learning how to cook them.

For the first time, we allowed broody hens to sit on eggs and raise the resulting chicks. We ended up with nearly all roosters, which was a bummer, but we learned a lot and were able to see that we truly CAN keep the flock self sustaining if need be. Plus, it turns out it is super cool to watch a momma hen care for her babies.

 Two geese made it to the freezer. It remains to be seen if we even like goose, but they were fun to raise and by far the cheapest animal we've raised so far. They are very good grazers and got quite big and fat just on pasture, which makes them ideal for homesteading.

 Inside, the Hubs installed all new windows, a new front door, and built out our bedroom closet. It has been easy for me to get down about all that still needs to be done in the house, but if I'm fair, these improvements are huge for us. We can't hear the wind whistling through the house anymore and they really look nice. We've got a long way to go, yes, but we've come a long way too.

One of the big jobs that we've been needing to do finally got done this year. We had no idea where the septic tank was or what kind of condition it was in so we had someone come out and find it for us. Then the Hubs dug it up and had someone else come out to look it over and pump it out. We were thrilled to get the news that all is in good working order. Before it got buried again the Hubs put a riser on the lid- now it will be easy to find when it's time to clean it out again. It's one of those jobs that has no aesthetic value whatsoever, but it's a pretty important part of our life out here and it's a relief to know we don't need to worry about it anymore.

My garden was definitely a challenge this year, but despite that I was able to harvest a big crop of garlic, tomatoes, carrots, and green beans that I then put away for the winter. I also went to the produce auctions a couple of times this year with my friend, Holly, and we spent days canning. In the end, I put up about 300 jars of food this year, plus a bunch of things that I froze rather than canned. We've still got quite a way to go to be even remotely self reliant, but every year we make progress.

The Hubs has been working on creating a barn out of the existing loafing shed and putting animal pens and a corral up. He's getting close to having it ready for our next adventure- hogs! We hope to bring them home very soon.

In the midst of all the work going on here, I went back to working outside the home. After nearly 6 years away from nursing I'm back at it. I love my new job and the small hospital I'm working at, but it goes without saying that this has added a whole new layer of challenges to our life. The income is very welcome and allows us to start getting serious about some of the improvements that need to happen at the Heap, but the time I have available to help work on those improvements has been drastically cut. It's a balancing act that we're still trying to figure out.

It's been a productive and busy year. We're all ready for a little down time, I think, but we're already dreaming of spring and all the things we're going to work on next year!


Thursday, August 6, 2015


It seemed like a normal day. We didn't do anything special, didn't even leave the house, but as the sun began to set I found myself reviewing each moment, etching it into my memory. It was a rare, perfect day- the kind of day that we envisioned when we bought the Heap. Someday, when I'm old and gray this is the day I will remember.

The kids did their schoolwork while I did some much needed cleaning. There was no fussing or fighting and they even worked together on their science and history assignments. I love it when they cooperate on work, there is seriously nothing sweeter. When they needed help, I was able to pause my work and help. School was done shortly after lunch and they happily headed outside to play.

In the afternoon, after some quiet time spent reading I allowed them some screen time while I grabbed a little catnap. I'm still recuperating from camp and that little power nap was so amazing.

The alarm buzzing told me my hour was up and it was time to light the grill for dinner. The kids came out to help me harvest a huge amount of fresh goodness from the garden including green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn while the grill warmed up.

While the steaks, chicken, and corn grilled the Hubs played catch with the kids. The chickens clucked and foraged at my feet, hoping I'd drop something. It was a beautiful, warm, breezy night filled with the smell of dinner cooking and the sounds of kids playing- absolute perfection.

Dinner was delicious and beautiful, filled with fresh veggies I'd picked an hour earlier. We're still a long way from that being a normal occurrence, but when I'm able to serve a meal made from only things I grew it literally makes me giddy.

The kids cleaned up the dinner dishes while the Hubs and I went outside and strolled around, discussing plans for fencing and the garden. When they joined us, the three of them went back to playing catch and I snuck away for a shower, but while I was showering I realized I really, really did not want to forget this day so I hurried back outside with a wet head, in my nightgown, to grab one more picture.

What could perhaps be called normal or mundane has absolutely filled up my heart today. Thank you, Lord, for perfect days.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ups and Downs

This spring has been full of ups and downs. Though I still love the Heap, there are definitely things that are difficult. I've found myself stretched to the limit in so many ways. I'm tired and overwhelmed, but still grateful and content. Life here has just really gotten "real" and we're all adjusting as the infatuation fades and commitment kicks in.

Early spring brought lots of babies- goslings, turkeys, chicks, and kittens. We all love the babies.They are so sweet and really just steal your heart. Unfortunately, the reality is that babies don't always survive on the farm. This is hard on all of us, but especially on the kids, and what is hard on the kids is hard on Momma too.

In the end, we lost 1 turkey, 5 chicks, 1 gosling, and 3 kittens. The heartbreak is eased by the enjoyment we get from the remaining brood- 5 turkeys, 33 chickens (meat birds), 2 geese, and 1 precious kitten named Milo.

The Hubs spent a lot of time building tractors for the meat birds. Tractors are mobile cages that allow the birds to graze and still remain safe. They are awesome and he did such a great job. The cool, wet spring we had really messed with our timing, though, and we just butchered the first batch of meat birds, when we really should have been doing that a month ago.  Our plan had been to do two batches, but I really, really don't want to be butchering in November so we're only going to get one batch in this year. 

Phase two of the garden has been fenced in. There is also a four foot wide area along the back side of the garden. This is where my perennial plants are going. I now have about 800 square feet of garden space, which is amazing. It is also a ton of work.

The more gardening space I have the more I'm learning about my mistakes and what I need to do differently. I definitely plant things too far apart, leaving way too much opening for weeds- which I am constantly battling. I recently stumbled across a gardening method that makes a lot of sense to me and I plan to do things using the "deep mulch" method from now on. Unfortunately, trying to catch up when things are already in place is really hard. Despite that, I have tons of things growing and thriving. I've harvested lettuce, herbs, peas, snow peas, and carrots so far with the promise of lots more. I'll take my mistakes and learn from them next year.

Five blueberry bushes have gone in this year too so we're beginning to build a permanent crop, which I'm excited about. The future orchard has been mowed and is ready for fruit trees to start going in as soon as our budget allows for buying them.

We had a broody chicken that sat on eggs earlier this spring. After nearly a month of sitting, only one had hatched, and it died before it got out of the egg.  That chicken sat in the layers coop and the other chickens bothered her a lot, sometimes even stealing her eggs and putting their own under her so we think that is why it didn't work. Now we have a new chicken sitting and we put her in the infirmary where she won't be bothered. We're all praying it goes better this time.

One thing remains the same- it's still beautiful and peaceful out here. We are confident that despite the challenges this is the right thing for our family. I really do love our life even when I'm tired and overwhelmed.

We still have a lot to do this working season. New windows will be going in soon. The Hubs has lots of fencing to put up so we can get ready for pigs next year. I still have canning and preserving season ahead. We're excited to see things continue to come together out here and I still plan to share as they do, just maybe not as often as I did at first. Thanks for being a part of this adventure!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bartering for Beauty {And the Giveway Winner!!}

Congratulations Lisa Thomas! You won the hand knit scarf!

What do you do if you need something done that you really can't do yourself, but you have no cash for it? Barter, of course!  Although most of the younger generation hasn't really made use of bartering to get needs met, our grandparents and great-grandparents did it often. I was pretty excited to find a group awhile back who is trying to bring bartering back so I joined.right away. I've been able to barter some pretty cool things:

I traded some glass water bottles we weren't using for a cast iron griddle just like my daddy used to make pancakes on. I've wanted one for a long while, but couldn't justify spending money for it.

I had a freezer full of grass fed beef that was way more than I needed, so I traded some for pantry items I needed. I filled up my pantry with several months of essentials- flour, rice, peanut butter, chocolate chips, etc.

But today, I'm going to share my hands-down favorite barter so far.

When Whitney at Handcrafted posted that she wanted to barter photography for grass fed beef, I was giddy. It had been a long, long time since I'd had professional pictures of the kids done and even longer since we'd had family pictures done, but such things are just not in our budget. 

I've always loved pictures where old, rustic things look beautiful and meaningful and I hoped that the Heap would provide that kind of background.

I'm not going to lie. There was a bit of nerves about having someone we didn't know come out to the Heap- there always is. As much as I'd like to say I'm just completely comfortable where I am, there are still times when I feel embarrassed about how things are and wish like crazy for how they will be....someday. Would she see the beauty we do? Would she see our purpose and our passion?

All those worries melted away when we met Whitney. She was so sweet and friendly and she saw potential when she looked at the Heap- everything I prayed for. She spent time just walking the property and looking for the perfect places and when she started shooting she made us feel comfortable and like our lifestyle was amazing and lovely.

Her pictures are so gorgeous and I couldn't be happier. They show the Heap for what it is- home. Home, where my family is being knit together like never before and life is becoming more than I knew it could be. I am so grateful to have these amazing works of art.

Thank you Whitney!!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Handmade Christmas {And a Giveaway!}

Because of seriously tight finances, Christmas this year was a handmade affair. At first I was pretty bummed about the whole thing....and a little embarrassed. But, as the gifts came together, I started to really appreciate the situation. I don't know how to explain it, really, but it just felt right......like somehow, we were suddenly really getting the point of Christmas in a way we never had before.  We've always said the holidays were about family and the time spent together and I think we've always believed that, but this year was just different. I liked it. A lot.

There were aprons for my nieces and a jar cookie mix so they could bake with their Mommy.

There was homemade rub mix and BBQ sauce for my brothers and Dad- plenty there for a family cookout!

I made these fun jar cups and wraps as a test run for future craft sales. I loved them enough that several people got one for Christmas.

The darling jewelry holder was a perfect gift for Jenna's BFF.

I even made myself a little gift and I thought it was so cute I made one for my mom, too!

Knit dishcloths are a huge hit for my mom and my mother-in-law so they were gifted all around.

The thing about handmade is, there is no way to make someone a gift without really thinking about them. You can still give them something they don't like or won't use, of course, but you can't give them something that lacks thought and love when it's homemade. That's just the nature of making something for someone....you give a piece of yourself, too. And that, I think, is what it's really supposed to be about....the whole reason gift giving ever became a part of the celebrating. It was minimal, but meaningful. Like so many aspects of our new life, it's something I intend to keep- even when I don't have to.

And speaking of gifts- I have one for you!

One of the goals I have for 2015 is to get the blog reaching more people and to do that I need your help. Follow the blog for an entry in the drawing, comment here for another, and share on Facebook for another- a total of three chances! Make sure you let me know each thing you've done so I can give you credit. I will draw a winner on Wednesday January 21.

The prize? Something handmade, of course!

I knit this scarf using a rayon/metallic blend in a falling waters pattern. It has a lovely gold thread winding through it and it's soft and light- perfect for spring or fall.

Simple, purposeful, meaningful.....our goal for life at the Heap, may you find it in your life too!