Good Neighbors Blog
From quirky extras that didn’t make it into the magazine to behind the scenes looks into the making of Country – we’ve curated photos and stories we think you’ll enjoy. Won’t you be our neighbor?
By Mary Dolan
Associate Digital Editor
Kit Stansley is a farmer, DIYer, builder, power tool-wielder and blogger who paints a vivid and humorous portrait of her life in rural Michigan on her blog diydiva.net. We were delighted to ask her a few questions about her busy life nurturing chickens and renovating barns
Can you tell us how/why you first got into DIY?
Well, there are pictures of me at the ripe old age of three trying to use my dad’s screwdrivers (without help because I was sure I could do it myself, thanks.) So some of the DIY philosophy is very deeply ingrained, but I really got in to home improvement and buying really big power tools when I bought my first house. I was 22 and didn’t have a lot of extra money for all of the improvements I wanted to make, and I learned quickly that it was much cheaper (and also more fun) to DIY.
It feels like a lot of what you do is WAY beyond the realm of what most people refer to as DIY – do you think there’s a lack of real, hands-on, building-something-from-scratch DIY out there (and by “out there” we mean Pinterest, the blogosphere, etc.)?
I’m the type of person who learns a new skill and then immediately thinks of all the different ways I can apply that to bigger and better projects. I also Hate (capital H) asking for help, so I think I naturally take on projects that other people have a lot easier time bringing in help for. Somewhere along the line I realized that it feels amazing to complete one of those big projects that you think (or people have told you) you won’t be able to do. That’s addicting, and it’s one of the reasons I continually push the boundaries of what I think I can do.
As for the projects everyone else is doing … I think easier projects are more prevalent in social media, for sure. Those types of projects are more appealing to a wider audience, and they aren’t intimidating. But I find that a lot of those smaller projects give you the skills and confidence for the bigger ones. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but I remember a time when I mostly did smaller, less intimidating projects too.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to build or renovate or otherwise take on a bigger-scale DIY project?
Do it! Okay, actually, I think having the right mindset is key. Those “renovation” shows on TV give you the impression that some of these big projects are going to be done in a weekend, no problem. The truth is that it isn’t always easy and things tend to get worse before they get better, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
Also, have the right tools. It makes all the difference in the world!
What are your 5 must-have-on-hand-at-all-times tools?
My drill is at the top of the list for sure, and then in no particular order: compound miter saw, cordless finish nailer, hammer, jigsaw. I could get quite a bit done with just those five.
Who taught you what you know about DIY and construction, or did you learn on your own by trial and error?
Lots of trial and error and Google. I didn’t have any in-person mentors in my life, although my dad did hand me down a lot of his old power tools which were still very good, and I learned quickly that good tools make all the difference. I also had some background knowledge from shop class in Junior High (boy do those skills stick with you) and I found that a class here or there, or even volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity house, can teach you a lot of skills that are transferable to other projects.
And, onto farm life…
Did you grow up on a farm? If not, what inspired you to begin creating your own farm life?
I grew up in both worlds – my dad lived on some property in the country (not a farm, but there weren’t any neighbors either) and my mom lived more in the “city.” I was convinced I was a city person, but the second house I built was on 3 acres, and that’s when I realized how awesome country life was. No space restrictions, you could grow your own food and have awesome animals. I still really thought of myself as a person who renovated houses first, and a “farm girl” second, but then I bought an old farm house with a few barns and really haven’t looked back. I’ve done way more renovations on my barns than I have on my actual house in the last year.
You’re on six acres in Michigan; is that correct? How much land do you think is necessary for someone wanting to live on a farm?
I am! Six acres is a good piece of property, but I’ve seen a lot of of awesome things done with a lot less. My last house was on a 3-acre plot, and that certainly would have been plenty for a hobby farm.
What” fruits” of your farm do you enjoy? Fresh eggs? Veggies?
My chickens definitely keep me in fresh eggs, and I have a pretty big vegetable garden this year. I’m planning to plant some fruit trees in fall, and next year I’m hoping to add bees (and possibly sheep.)
It sounds like keeping farm animals is a lot of work. You’ve discussed on your blog updating a barn for the donkeys, finding surrogate hens to lay eggs, etc. Is it worth it? What’s the most rewarding part?
It is a lot of work, but it’s all work that I enjoy. I love having a reason to design and build chicken coops and update the barn, and some days even just the hard work of mucking out a barn stall feels good. I spend a lot of time at a computer during the day, so a little hard labor with visible results is pretty awesome. Also, I get hugs from my donkeys … it’s hard to beat that!
How do you kick back and relax? (Or maybe the question should be “DO YOU kick back and relax?” since it seems like you’re always doing something!)
I’m not great at relaxing (more than a day sitting around on a beach is pretty much torture for me), but I definitely make an effort to take time to just enjoy and be grateful for my property. I have an old golf cart that I drive up on to a hill with a glass of wine and watch the sunset. It’s one of the best parts of my day.
Photography by Kit Stansley
“My father, who is known as ‘Papa’ by his six grandchildren, is walking alongside his gentle mare Sophia while my two-year-old son Angelo and his four-year-old cousin Dalin enjoy the scenery from a different viewpoint.,” said Michelle Ferraro. “All the grandchildren adore their ‘Papa’ whether it be picking juicy berries from his berry patch to helping him brush the horse…he always takes the time to teach his grandbabies!
Our Country Friday Funny Photography snapshot for September 5, 2014: Meow, Meow, Nyah by Kimberly Gross of Woodbine, Kansas.
Do you have a clever caption for this fun photo? We’d love to hear it!