Farmgirl Advice for a Happier Life

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1- Just because you are very good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.  You can always reinvent what your life looks like.

2- Life is meant to be experienced.  There is no one purpose. You will have plenty of time to ponder the meaning of the universe, right now be human and experience life.

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3- Change is never easy.  Allow yourself to mourn.  But keep that glimmer of hope because the best is yet to come and closed doors lead to wide open opportunities.

4- Quiet your chattering mind.  Tune into the activity around you.  As I sit here on the porch on this lovely late summer day I watch a mouse quietly approach the bird seed and begin to nibble as dozens of finches take flight, their silhouettes artful in the filtered light.  I listen to the crickets’ songs of summer and feel the cooling breeze on my skin before the dog days of summer heat that is to set in later.  There is a much bigger world than what is going on in our minds.

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5- Listen to your passions and follow their road.  Do not try and figure out where they go, just follow their lead.

6- See people’s spirits.  See them as children.  Banish ignorance.  Don’t give into fear.

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7- Release the past.  Past relationships, events, hurts, happenings, eras.  Leave them behind with a blessing and move forward.  Cut the ribbons that keep you bound.  Fly.

8- Be enchanted.  Life is brief and blissful.  It is what we make it.  It is what we create.  A large black bird lands on a trellis next to me.  He is fascinating in his mottled browns and blacks and tussled feathers.  I wonder if he was born this very year.  The glorious blue jays screech their joyful song across treetops.

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9- Have faith.  Know that you were not just dropped on this earth without lifelines.  Fear is the lack of faith.

10- Treat yourself with care, my dears, and follow your heart.

Paint and Friends (transforming a hundred year old shop)

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Some of the greatest transformations come from friends, a box of donuts, and a couple of gallons of paint.  One such transformation took place Saturday at our new store set to open in less than two weeks.  While the great state fair parade marched down the main street, we gathered with friends and began painting.

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When I first stepped into the space I saw through the looming clutter, the holes in the walls, the bedding in the back.  I saw past the white drywall  and the forty year old linoleum that destroyed the wood floors that are over a century old.  I could see it.

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My daughter, Emily, and I are on a great adventure opening a homesteading supply shop two miles from my house in Pueblo, Colorado.  We are taking our beloved farm name, Pumpkin Hollow Farm, as its moniker.  My first thought was to paint the walls a light orange but that was quickly vetoed.  We brainstormed old fashioned colors, ones that might have been seen in an old hotel.  Grey/blue fit the bill and a broody, crisp grey became the trim.

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We began to paint the trim around the huge picture windows grey and found that it was quickly diffusing the light.  The whole front end of the shop became cream colored.  We brightened cobwebs and grease stains and a hundred years of paint.

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The doors needed a little showcasing.  We agreed on a lovely adobe orange.

20180826_163029Emily went to work creating a pumpkin patch along the front of the building.  You can see it from blocks away and it adds whimsy and character to our store front.

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Oh, there is much to do still, but we were able to hug friends, step back and look at the change, the honoring of an old store, and envision a lively shop with memories to be made.

Southwestern Chow-chow and Red Chile Corn Broth (2 ways to preserve corn)

20180821_153940 It is corn season!  I have put up two large bags of sweet corn from a farm ten minutes from here.  My neighbor came over on her lunch break for some coffee and I put her to work.  She had never shucked corn before but as we sipped our coffee she laughed as we removed corn worms and pieces of corn silk fell on her nicely pressed clothes.  Many hands make light work.  The more folks learn that those activities of old that take more time actually create a sense of peace of mind and calm that cannot be duplicated on social media, the more our generations will begin picking up a sewing needle, canning, and calling friends over to make soap.

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I put up ten pints of basic corn, ten pints of cinnamon sugar corn, and seven half-pints of Southwestern chow-chow.  “What is that?” you ask.  I have no idea, I made it up.  You see, I was going to make Amish chow-chow, apparently also a southern favorite, and went to following a recipe (not my strong point).  I had green peppers.  Then it called for red peppers, except my peppers haven’t turned red yet, but I did have a poblano and an Anaheim green chili in the garden.  So those went in instead.  I don’t love a lot of onion so I cut that amount down sharply.  No garlic?  Now, now, we must have garlic.  Three cloves.  By the time I was done I had a corn relish indeed, and it smelled heavenly, but it was made from a southwestern garden and it shows!

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Southwestern Relish (Chow-chow)

4 cups of corn

2 large green peppers, diced

2 poblano or green chili peppers, diced

1/8-1/4 cup of red onion, diced

3 stalks of celery, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3/4 cup of sugar

1 Tbsp sea salt

1 Tbsp smoked salt (optional)

1 Tbsp mustard powder

1 ts celery salt

1/2 ts of turmeric

2 cups of apple cider vinegar

Put everything but the corn in a good sized pan and boil for 5 minutes.  Add the corn and boil another 5 minutes.  Pour into 1/2 pints or pint jars leaving 3/4 inch headspace.  Clean rims, replace warm lids.  Water bath boil (in any old pot with water covering jars) for 15 minutes plus 1 minute per 1000 ft above sea level (I live at 4500 ft so I just round up to an extra 5 minutes.)  Makes 8 pints.

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Now we have a pile of corn cobs sky high on the counter.  The chickens love them but there is more to do to them before the chickies get ’em.  I already made several pints of plain, good, clear corn broth for soups and cooking throughout the winter but I want something in the root cellar with a little spunk.  So, I made several quarts of red chile corn broth.  And it is simple enough.

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Red Chile Corn Broth- Just pile up a large stew pot with corn cobs, onion, celery, a head of garlic, an onion, and a good helping of dried chili (red or green).  Add a bit of salt and pepper (you’ll add more seasoning as you cook with it so you don’t need much).  Fill it with water and simmer it for 2 hours.  Then ladle it into clean, warm quart jars leaving 1 inch headspace.  Clean the rim and replace the lid.  Pressure can for 25 minutes.  (10 pounds of pressure for most folks, all the weights for us high altituders.)

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Mama mia!  This is when I need an army of friends to help me clean up this kitchen!

 

Giving Outdated Throw Pillows a Second Life

It occurs to me that sewing might be one of those lost arts.  My cousin and my youngest daughter have expressed a desire to learn.  My older daughter zips away on her machine making pillows for her house that is being built.  It is probably a little unusual for her age.  I can certainly sew, but I am limited in what I know how to do.  I don’t often use patterns and wish I knew more so that I could make elaborate clothing and such.  Anymore though, you can purchase a machine from a craft store and they will throw in sewing lessons.  If you do sew, it is time to take your machine out and freshen up the house for autumn.

Throw pillows always add a dash of personality and color to a space but they begin to look tattered or out of date fairly quickly sometimes.  Today we are taking old throw pillows (or new pillow fills) and giving them a new look.

These are very simple and can be done by hand if one does not have a machine.

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I used a new pillow because these are going into my new shop, but I will be doing this with my old pillows for my house as well.

Measure the pillow, then measure your fabric, adding 1 inch on all sides.

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Iron!  I am the type of dreaded housewife that does not iron.  Lord, if it needs to be ironed, it doesn’t get bought or it ends up in a pile of ironing for close to five years.  But, as my grandma taught me, you must iron in sewing.  Period.  Now, iron your fabric so it looks all pretty.

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Fold fabric in half inside out.  The folded edge is one edge you don’t have to sew!  Pin the sides, leave bottom open.  Sew each side, giving it about a half inch seam.  Take out pins and run your hand along side to make sure you got them all!  (Camouflaged little suckers.)

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Now flip right side out and use a chop stick or the like to gently push out corners.

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Place pillow inside and fold in bottom seam and pin tautly together.  Hand sew or machine sew.

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Easy as that!  Now, I took that pillow before we started and used a large needle and yarn to pierce all the way through the pillow and back out, tying securely to create a crease in the middle.  So when the pillow is done, you can see that little indentation.  I carefully wove a piece of yard through the fabric and top layer of the pillow and brought back through and tied a ribbon.

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But then I found a pretty button so fastened that on!  You could also hem the open bottom instead of sewing it closed and sew on adjacent ribbons to tie closed.  That way you can change your pillow covers and wash them.

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Throw pillows can generally be washed in the washer and floofed and dried in the dryer.  If a fabric is particularly fine, place it inside a bigger pillow case and wash and dry it that way.

The Unusual Rooster (or crowing hen)

I heard crowing at dawn.  I stretched and smiled, hearing that beautiful familiar sound.  My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed.  I searched with sleepy eyes through the window trying to catch sight of who was actually a rooster.  Then…nothing.  No crowing for days.  None of the hens looked like a rooster and I have had six out of seven of them for a year and a half.

Twice now I have pulled my car into the driveway and heard crowing coming from my own backyard.  I throw open the gate and stand there as the hens chirp and ask to be let out of their yard.  Suspicious.  No rooster.

Last week I ran in to see who was crowing and one of the Jersey Giants was pulled up tall just like a rooster.  Ah ha!  But she lays eggs.  Addie came over and we looked at all the chickens.  No spurs, no crazy feathers, no prettier than other chickens chicken.  And they all lay eggs.

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I decided to look into this phenomenon. Addie has a few hen crowers.  The internet is filled with tales of crowing hens.  It seem that without a rooster to rule the roost a hen will become the queen.  She will crow to scare predators or to announce her dissatisfaction, or to let me it’s time to wake up and give them feed.  So this really is the best of both worlds, I get my beloved, familiar farm sound (just not every ten minutes throughout the day) without any of the testosterone jerkiness and she lays eggs.  How lovely.

How to Heal Wounds; the Wise Farmgirl’s Pharmacy

Booboo is our oldest cat in the house right now.  He is in his second generation of kids.  He waits excitedly by the door if Maryjane arrives.  When Booboo was a kitten, our son Andrew trained him to run to his room if he played Bob Marley.  Booboo walked around sporting a tiny Jamaican hat with fake dreadlocks.  This kitty is beloved.  Apparently not so much to our young cat.

Chuck wants to be king, apparently.  Who can really understand cats?  I wonder why they are my favorite animals sometimes with all their ferocity and claws.  Or teeth, in this case.

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The night before last, we turned out the light and Booboo jumped on the bed and curled up between us as always.  We noticed a horrible smell and he was suckling madly in the dark.  We turned on the lights and noticed that he had two very defined bite marks on his hip.  Deep, about a quarter inch, and oozing with puss and infection.

These are the times I am grateful to be an herbalist.  Not much throws me.  I grabbed the wound healer, and using a dropper, applied it into the wounds.

Yesterday morning the puss was gone but the smell was there and I could see the muscle tissue in his leg.  (Chuck is grounded, by the way, and may very well become the shop cat at our new store!)  I went out to the garden and harvested calendula, yarrow, echinacea, and comfrey.  Calendula, echinacea, and yarrow are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and are natural blood cleansers and antibiotics.  Comfrey could honest to god heal the world.  It binds tissues and bones and heals quickly.  I placed these into a wide mouth pint jar with 3/4 teaspoon of sea salt and poured boiling water over the tea.  That sat and brewed for about an hour.  I left a little room to add cooler water to make it temperate.  Once it was cool, it was ready.

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Booboo was certainly a good sport and let me squeeze the fomentation into the wounds using a flat cotton pad.  I added the wound healer again.  The wound healer was used that morning as well.  A repeat application of tea and wound healer was given again last night.  This morning it looks clean and on the mend.  He will get the same treatment today and I have no doubt that by tomorrow morning he will be nearly healed.

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It is always wise to have herbs on hand to make fomentations (a tea you put on topically) or infusions (a tea you take internally for medicinal purposes), but a good wound healer can save the day.  We have used it when Doug cut his finger down to the bone with a hatchet.  We have used it for burns from the wood cook stove.  We have used it for every cut or wound.  It replaces stitches, kills infection, and helps the body heal itself quickly.  It also helps with pain.

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First start with a base.  This is an extract.  In a pint jar, fill 20% with herbs like the ones listed above and top with vodka.  Leave in the window for two weeks.  Pour some of the finished extract into a half-pint jar, about 1/4 full.  Fill the jar with filtered water.  This is your diluted base for wound healer.  (Believe me, you need to cut it.)  In a 4 ounce jelly jar, combine 1 part finished, diluted base and 1 part aloe vera gel.  (Please make sure it is actually aloe vera gel!  You’d be surprised what they put in cheap aloe vera.  You should opt for the bottle that is nearly 100% aloe vera gel with a small percentage of preservative.  Otherwise it will rot too quickly.)  I like to add about 10 drops of tea tree oil and 10 drops of lavender.

There you go!  You are ready to take on cat bites, sunburn, cuts, boils, and battle wounds from the garden or kitchen.  This is a great addition to your homestead pharmacy!

For more recipes and to build your own homestead pharmacy, click HERE to check out my book, “The Homesteader’s Pharmacy” on Amazon.

 

Life On An Urban Homestead

20180813_071437The air is cool this morning.  Autumn just whispers.  A  little early, it seems to me.  A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought.  The farms are half fallow for lack of water.  On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini.  Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today.  I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook.  We are eating well from our gardens.  The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.

The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed.  The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates.  We now have eggs again.

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Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming.  I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by.  The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art.  Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town.  I have abundant space to garden.  My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here.  I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards.  One does not need as much space as one might think.  I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.

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I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs.  I have local farmers for milk should I choose.

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Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves.  I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden.  Little by little the root cellar fills.  Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove.  My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.

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Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal.  One cannot possibly do everything themselves.  I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose.  They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.

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Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book.  I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog.  Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback.  Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.

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Westcliffe and the Amish Home

I can hardly believe that it’s going on five years since Elizabeth and I have been to Westcliffe.  We drove up there yesterday, an hour due west of Pueblo.  Westcliffe is a scenic, gorgeous town that lies at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  Equal parts wealthy vacation homes and hand hewn homes of the Amish.  A carriage with a large yield sign is led by a jaunty black horse to the side of us.  A lovely woman in white kapp holds the reins.

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The day could not be prettier as we traversed back roads searching for land for Elizabeth.  We drove past large golden eagles sitting upon hills and phone lines.  The deep valleys were of emeralds and lush haying fields that sparkled in the dappled sunlight through intermittent sprinkles of rain.  That great western sky reaching over us.

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Elizabeth’s friend has a furniture store in Westcliffe and we stopped in to say hello.  We hadn’t seen him since our last visit and he was very surprised to see Elizabeth.  His blond hair was in a smart bowl cut and his beard was reddish blond.  He looked youthful and well.  We learned that since our last visit his family had grown from two darling children to four and they had built a larger house.  They lived in their barn for two years while it was being built.  He gave us his wife’s cell phone number (flip phone, no data) and Elizabeth called.  We were immediately invited over.

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The house looked like a vacation mountain home on Air B&B.  The average visitor may not have even noticed that it was an Amish home.  Our lovely host greeted us with joy and quizzed Elizabeth.  Her brown hair was pushed back beneath a handkerchief.  The dining room table was filled with laundry in different stages of being folded.  The baby, a lovely blond two-year old with just a touch of baby fat left, fought with her three year old brother over a toy tractor.  Her bare feet stomped as her little homemade blue dress shook.  Mama reprimanded them in Pennsylvania Deutsche.

The boys had their signature bowl cuts, their mischievous brown eyes dancing in delight.  The five year old daughter I remember well, as she shares my sister’s name.  Her angelic face would nod to questions from me as she sweetly smiled.  A white handkerchief was fastened to her locks that were pulled back in a miniature bun.  Mama’s face was fresh and healthy as she smiled and recalled what we had missed over the years.  She pointed out her neighbor’s house that was for sale.  Elizabeth and I looked at each other.  She would love to be out here amongst these simple, kind people.

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Gas lit lanterns were along the walls as well as battery operated lights that were recharged during the day from a single outlet in the basement.  The house was wired in case they ever wanted to sell it but they used mainly propane.  The refrigerator and stove made the kitchen look not unlike any other.  Toys were strewn across the floor.  African violets lined shelves near the window that looked out upon the giant barn.  Free range chickens jumped on and off of the compost pile.  Hail had wiped out their gardens.

She showed us the requirements of her new house with pride; the walk-in pantry lined with food, her beautiful root cellar lined with preserves, and her blender garage.

“What is a blender garage?” we both asked.  She opened a cupboard door.

“It’s a place you can hide things in that you don’t want company to see!”  Inside was a blender plugged into an electrical outlet and what looked like a bit of liqueur.  We all laughed.

You see, simplicity is not about extremism.  Her children ran outside in bare feet and played and fought.  There was no television, internet, smart phones.  No zombie children, no inattentive parents, no LED lights, no distractions from life.  So what if the blender is plugged in.  Their footprint there is very small, their hearts and love for family and community very big.

 

Click here to read about our first visit!

In Hilda’s Farmhouse

20180802_152433As I carefully unwrapped each fragile teacup, each plate, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Each dish is over a hundred years old, hand painted from Denmark, and so beautiful.  How did the young newlywed, the new farm wife, feel as she carefully unwrapped such fine things on her wedding?  A hundred years separates and joins us in a flash of a tea cup.

My beautiful friend, Kat (whom I called mom) had a great love of history, and homesteading, and family.  She knew that I might be the only one to appreciate such things as old linens, and wind up clocks, and this and that, and so for each holiday I was gifted with heirlooms.  Hilda was her grandmother, a farm wife in Iowa and in my home I have her things.  I have never met her but we are connected through time as farm wives.  As women.  As housewives.  We are connected by our love of Kat and by the material things she used that carry memories and love.

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Gunhilda was her given name, but she always went by Hilda.  Her family was Danish and her husband was from Denmark.  A darling looking man named Jorgen, or George once he came to the states.  They were married in 1918 when Hilda was twenty-three years old.

I have read her old postcards often.  I am fascinated by her friends’ scripts and brief notations.  How sweet to receive such correspondence on a snowy day.

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I put on one of the aprons that Hilda made.  They are starting to fray but they are sturdy and lovely in their simple way.  A good sized pocket to gather eggs.

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I will make tea for the ladies that might come by for a visit.  Just as she would have done in that farmhouse past the rows of corn a hundred years ago and just as women will do a hundred years from now.  We are all connected by that nurturing spirit, love of family and community, and of simple things like hand painted dishes so fine.