Building Canning Cottage: Lessons Learned

raw cottage

We finally have a small home to move into, well within our budget, avoiding all bank/mortgage funding, while steadily working our way out of debt. It’s been a very long, uphill struggle, but we’ve been persistent and as faithful as we can be, and are now feeling blessed and incredibly excited that our plans are finally coming to fruition.

Now that our 16×36 home is in place (we plan to double the space in future when we can buy another Amish built barn debt free) I have set about doing what I love doing best of all: looking for extreme bargains, setting about finding things to re-purpose, and thinking of the house and farm as a giant blank canvas, ready to dive right into. Though I’m not a trained decorator by any stretch, I do know what I like and dislike, and thought I’d share a bit about the adventures of finding economical ways to bring dreams to life when  you’re inclined to appreciate patina and a well worn timelessness more than something shiny and new off an assembly line, purchased from a store, with no history or story to tell. You also learn quickly to look for a bargain, too, when you’re on a mercilessly strict budget, as we are. Some things, of course, we were/are forced to buy ‘new’, but even then, we always search for the most economical purchase we can find, even if it means a ton of legwork or lots of consistent internet browsing. I’ll share all this stuff as we go along, but with that being said, here are a few things learned along the way:

1. You know the saying ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (Robert Burns- 1786) ? Well, it’s true. By all means, lay out your plans, but with the idea that nothing is etched in stone, you WILL come across unforeseen things no matter how careful you are in the planning stage. Knowing our budget and (even more importantly), our taste, leaned toward a smaller home, we used a computer program to carefully lay out our dimensions for the smaller square footage Canning Cottage would take up, took copious notes, and did lots of research. In the end, we stood in the middle of the Cottage with simple blocks of wood, laid out where we wanted everything to go, and began to build walls from there. It looked NOTHING like the blueprint we worked hours on, on our computer, and seems so much better suited to our personal comfort and style.

2. Along those lines, NEVER, and I mean NEVER, say “Never.” I mean it. It doesn’t matter how concrete you KNOW you want things, life has a funny way of changing it up when you least expect it. We went about busily clearing, laying in foundation, and drawing up plans for where the house was originally going to go. Suddenly, the chance to own our beloved Cottage 3-4 years earlier than the planned building on the foundation site reared its lovely head and off we went in an entirely different direction. Of course, we’re not mourning the loss of the original  foundation; it will eventually turn into an art studio and place for (we hope) an in ground pool. However, this is subject to change once we’ve fully finished Canning Cottage and turned our attention to the unused foundation…

3. Do what you can yourself; you’ll  probably be happier in the end when you can look back proudly on all your hard work and know YOU did it, not someone else. Unless you’re putting in a well. Don’t try this yourself. It’s expensive, and it rarely works unless you have water lying right under the surface of your ground, begging to be released in torrents. In which case, consider yourself incredibly fortunate. To my father’s credit, he DID witch water in a line roughly linked to where the professionals finally hit glorious, hard earned, REALLY expensive water, and ‘only’ 260 feet down… no WAY could we have reached that depth on our own. Happily, we have excellent water flow, 32+ gallons per minute, but only after a third attempt at drilling, one being ours, the other two the well company’s we’d hired to finish the job.

Here it is, in the raw. I can't WAIT to start decorating!

Here it is, in the raw. I can’t WAIT to start decorating!

4. ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT, do NOT discount places such as Craigslist, salvage yards, Habitat for Humanity resale stores, Goodwills, garage sales, etc. You will be AMAZED at what you can find if you are willing to be diligent in your searches. I’ll share some of these fantastic finds as we go along.

I'll talk more about this later, but as creepy and spidery as this light looks without the delicate little sconces I picked out for it, it has been the crux of my design plans inside. I saw it at Habitat for Humanity Restore for $20.00 one day, and new instantly it was my inspiration!

I’ll talk more about this later, but as creepy and spidery as this light looks without the delicate little fluted glass shades I picked out for it, it has been the crux of my design plans inside. I saw it at Habitat for Humanity Restore for $20.00 one day, and new instantly it was my inspiration!

5. Make a comprehensive list of everything you can possibly think of you’ll need to finish and fill your house. I made a list on my Kindle of all these things, separating what we ‘needed’ from what we ‘wanted’. There is nothing quite as satisfying as scoring something major for a pittance from one of the above mentioned places and being able to cross it off your list as you go along. Bear in mind, though, there are few guarantees when you get something for free or very cheap; so if you’re looking for a steal, always remember not to look a gift horse in the mouth; be philosophical about your finds, if possible. It’ll make it much less painful when something doesn’t work once you get it home!

6. Plan to work as hard as humanly possible when you can, and have the patience of Job when you can’t. There are just some days, and weeks, you will be forced to a stand still as you wait on this or that thing to occur so you can take the next step toward your ultimate goal. Conversely, don’t let grass grow under your feet either; seize an opportunity to get as much finished as you can in a timely manner so you can reach that goal faster! On the down times, try looking for things on your list and maybe even some good deals you forgot to add but might be helpful in the long run. It’s always fun to bargain shop!

7. Pride goes before the fall.’ Oh man, truer words have never been written. That Bible of ours sure has some key lessons broken down into pithy little verses. They really pack a punch! We try hard to be as giving, loving and neighborly as we can, without expecting too much in return. So when you have incredibly wonderful, giving family, friends, and neighbors (which are all actually interchangeable in our lives) that willingly give back, it is a true blessing beyond words. The thing is, you can’t take it for granted, and you can’t be afraid to ask for help. EVER. We knew (and so did all the above mentioned people) that if the tables were turned (and they have been, upon occasion) we would do everything in our power to help them out. So when we needed something, we just asked. We didn’t mind if they couldn’t accommodate for whatever reason, but they have, to the PERSON, really pulled through for us time and time again. A prideful person really loses out in the long run. Sure it’s great when you can say ‘we did this or that on our own’, but it’s equally satisfying to say ‘we did this all together, with the help of this person and that one’. Never take anyone for granted, and always try your best to lend a hand when it’s needed, because sooner or later, if you don’t let Pride get in the way, you’ll be the one needing help, and if you stay honest and true, there is nothing much you need feel ashamed about asking. If you ask the right people, they’ll understand, no matter what, even if it’s something they can’t help you out with, personally. The same goes with finding great deals- be honest and above board, but don’t be so prideful you’re unwilling to bargain, afraid it will show ‘weakness’. It doesn’t. It shows savvy, and I’ve gotten some pretty great deals because I wasn’t afraid to ask, even if I got a ‘no’ for an answer upon occasion!

One of our dearest friends, my ex hubby Dave Ancil, has been SO helpful to us as we go along. He knows a lot about a lot of things necessary for building a house! Just one of many who have been there for us every step of the way!

One of our dearest friends, my ex hubby Dave Ancil, has been SO helpful to us as we go along. He knows  about a lot of things necessary for building a house! Just one of many who have been there for us every step of the way, and we are so very grateful!

8. Most importantly, let people in frequently on the happenings! It makes you feel so much more positive when others are routing for you too. Our family is very united about our goals, but to have such positive feedback from so many others who know of our struggles (again, there is NO SHAME in struggling; it’s a worldwide phenomenon, everyone goes through trials and tribulations, and it really helps when you can commiserate with others! ) Of course, you don’t have to share everything under the sun with people; that gets old fast, but you also don’t have to be embarrassed you have had ups and downs either. People can relate to this, and even find it inspiring when they see you are actively trying your hardest to pull up out of the mire. I know I, personally, LOVE feel good stories (who doesn’t?), and I love when people share with me, it makes me feel more connected to them and the outside world. Life is hard, but it can be wonderful too. So speak up! A good person will be in your corner and often, your biggest cheerleader when you’re feeling low or discouraged! We’ve made many GREAT friends along the way by being open and friendly. Which leads me to my final learned lesson:

9. TO HAVE FRIENDS, SHOW YOURSELF FRIENDLY!!!! And don’t just ACT friendly, actually BE friendly, and loving, and as kind as you can be to others. Which is really REALLY hard sometimes, we ALL fail at it from time to time! Do unto others as you’d have done to you (another Biblical gem) is the absolute epitome of what it means to be a decent person. And it’s definitely helped us out along the way to reaching our goals. We’re still chipping away at it, but the journey is half the fun!

Here is our work in progress: My goal is a kind of English cottage meets cozy New England Colonial with a little whimsy thrown in, lol The walk is a work in progress, there will eventually be dark gray shutters by all windows, and of course, a lantern or two to light up the doorway. Landscaping the yard will have to wait til next spring when our garden has been moved. (It didn't make it into the picture, but barely!)

Here is our work in progress: My goal is a kind of English cottage meets cozy New England Colonial with a little whimsy thrown in, lol The walk is a work in progress, there will eventually be dark gray shutters by all windows, and of course, a lantern or two to light up the doorway. Landscaping the yard will have to wait til next spring when our garden has been moved. (It didn’t make it into the picture, but barely!)


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Changing Direction


First Dig

The VERY FIRST dig on our way to a foundation, thanks to Dave, our dear friend.

If a person can say one sure thing about life, it’s that your destiny can change in a heartbeat, often when you least expect it. As we find ourselves fully engrossed once again in turning our small 4 acre farm into our forever home, we reflect on the great changes that have come our way over the span of a year.


Here it is, the footprint for our house!


Originally, we’d planned to do just what we’re implementing now; that is, turning our lovely little patch of heaven into a home to raise our son and our future grandchildren. An opportunity presented itself midway through the planning, and we chose to follow that route for a bit, thinking of helping others the way we would appreciate in return. We soon realized what we wanted all along, and rerouted  back to the original plan, feeling blessed and happy we realized fully the grass is never, ever greener on the other side. Pine Village is our home, and we love it passionately, that much we know for certain. It’s what fits us best, and it has been SO wonderful to return to the familiar. We made great friends along the way in Reynolds, to be sure, and they’ll be in our lives for a lifetime. But returning to the place and people we know best has been utterly divine, and we find ourselves cherishing everyone, and everything, in our area more than ever before. What an amazing comfort to travel main roads and back roads alike and know that around most every bend is someplace familiar. Chances are, if you pass someone in the area, you’ll probably know them too, and you can nearly always expect a friendly wave and a smile as you pass. That’s the benefit of living in a place for many, many years, and that comfort is not lost on us.


Chris and Dave A. begin the work of pouring the footer- kudos to the valiant cement truck driver- he was WAY braver than any of us would have been, driving that huge beast into soft mud…

Now, as we have finished clearing land for the house, laying in a foundation, and are currently trying our hand at putting in our own well, we are really, truly, on our way to financial and, ultimately, self-sustainable independence; and it all has happened in a surprisingly smooth, productive way, though there will no doubt be bumps and setbacks, too, as we go along. God has an ultimate plan for all of us, and the secret to happiness is listening to Him when he whispers in our ear and encourages us to change direction. Sometimes we listen, sometimes it’s awfully hard to hear, and sometimes, we pay no attention at all, to our detriment. Happily, that direction, for us, has led right back home where we belong.


Mardi, our elderly matron Alpine doe, looks on as we are busy prepping fittings for driving the well. She was an onlooker the entire afternoon. I just LOVE my goats!


Newly and her beloved mini companion, Dally. They are pretty much unaffected by all the hustle and bustle going on out there, so long as they have food in front of them at all times…


Chris cooking pork chops from last year’s pigs over our fire ring. Note the caveman utensil he and Dave whipped up because someone forgot the tongs!


Morning of the well drilling, and once again, we enjoyed the bounty provided by last year’s pigs. The sausage is truly out of this world, a great way to start the day!


Dad, Chris and our son-in-law, Greg, begin the well drilling. It’s still a work in progress, and we are praying it turns out as planned, though sometimes, these things don’t no matter how carefully you think it through!

We’re SO EXCITED to have officially moved from the planning stage to implementing all the wonderful things we have going. It’s good to be writing about it all again too, the ups, the downs, and sometimes, even the sideways…


We found this nest inside a brick to be used for the house foundation, and thought it was a wonderful example of how a home starts with perseverance, hard work , determination and faith! We are leaving it undisturbed.

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Fried Mini Eggrolls- Homestyle


I had some wonton wrappers in the bottom of the fridge that were getting ready to expire, so I thought a bit about what I had in the house to make into a mean mini egg roll. While the ingredients for making yummy egg rolls are unlimited, here is what I chose:

Wonton or Egg Roll Wrappers

1 Large package mushrooms, any kind, chopped up into small pieces

1 cup Cashews, whole or broken into pieces

1/2 cup grated or thinly sliced Carrots

1 bunch chopped Kale (or 1 head green Cabbage, cut into small strips, as for slaw)

3 slices Bacon

3 tbs low salt Soy Sauce

3 tbs Teriyaki sauce, if desired

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Red Pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Olive Oil, for sauteeing

small bowl of Water, for sealing wonton wrappers

Parmesan Cheese for sprinkling (optional)

Sauce for Dipping (optional)

In a skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Set aside. Drain all but a little bit of the bacon grease. Add 2-3 tbs olive oil, 1 tsp or so salt and pepper. Heat til hot, then add mushrooms and cashews. (Believe me, if you haven’t eaten a ‘cooked’ cashew before, your mouth is in for a real treat. They are SO GOOD!!)   When mushrooms are fully cooked (I like them slightly crisp around their edges), remove all from pan into a decent sized bowl.

Add kale (or cabbage) and carrots, and sautee until they soften. Remove, and add to the mushroom and cashew mixture, crumble 3 bacon slices and add, then add your soy sauce and/or teriyaki sauce. Here is where I added some pepper flakes because I love spicy food, but it can easily be omitted. You may want more soy/teriyaki added as well, but remember, it’s pretty salty, so you probably won’t need to add anymore salt.

stuffed eggroll innards

In a pan or deep fryer, heat oil (I use olive oil, but I imagine any oil of your choosing will work).

In the meantime, lay out your egg roll or wonton wrappers, your small bowl of water (a cup or less) and your cabbage mixture. Place the mixture just below the center of the wonton wrapper, fold in a third, sealing with a bit of water, then fold each side toward the center, as you would an envelope. Seal again with a bit of water on your finger. Take the remaining part (top, as pictured) and fold over the two side folds, so you have what looks like an envelope or ‘purse’; seal with water. Carefully drop in oil and allow bottom to crisp up (usually 1-3 minutes) then, using tongs, flip over to the other side and brown nicely. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a plate with paper towel so they can drain, and repeat the process.


When I was finished, I sprinkled a little Parmesan cheese on the tops of the egg rolls and I also made this dipping sauce:

1/2 Cup Low-Salt Soy Sauce

1/4 Cup Worcestershire sauce

Louisiana Hot Sauce, to taste


You can also add about most anything under the sun to make yummy appetizers or  meal accompaniments:

Shredded  carrots

Cream Cheese

Crab meat


Any meat, finely chopped

Mashed potatoes


Bananas and chocolate sauce

Apples and cinnamon

Let your imagination run wild; there are a MILLION combos you can use for something unique your family will love!


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