Samhain and the Owls

The owls returned this morning.  Two owls bantering back and forth outside our bedroom window in the early morning hours.  If you know me quite well, or if you have read my memoir (The Making of a Medicine Woman; the Memoirs of Bird Woman), then you know that that is quite fateful for us.  My spirit animals only arrive when there is a profound shift in our life occurring or about to occur.  Our moves, my shop closing, and many other events were heralded by my guardian messenger.  I smiled and pulled the covers up closer as my half feral kitten licked my hair as a sign of love.  I felt in that moment profoundly grateful.

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It is Samhain.

Pronounced sow-wen, Samhain is the last agricultural holiday of the year.  Tomorrow is New Year in the old ways.  Samhain is the third harvest festival and one that is near and dear to many souls across many continents over many thousands of years.  From those celebrating Day of the Dead to those Scottish farmers lighting candles in their cottages, this time of year is bittersweet and filled with love and great memories.

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The sky grows dark earlier now and the harvest is in.  The air grows colder and the fireplace is lit.  The veil is quite thin and the things you think are coincidental are not.  Our ancestors, our beloveds, our friends and family that crossed over this year make their way visiting.  Cupboard doors creak and electronics have a mind of their own.  But it is not a scary time.  It is a time of comfort and remembrance, and most of all, gratitude.

For those lives that have touched us over the years and the people and animals that walk our journey with us for a time, we are grateful.  So tonight, put out a few chairs around the fire for the weary souls and light a candle in the west window so they can find their way.  Know that in your life, you are not alone.  There are spirits and messengers and an entire universe opening and closing doors, sending hope, arranging meetings, and helping you maneuver this lovely path called life.  So put out some old photographs, light a few candles, pour a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and know that all is well.

Happy Samhain

Making Rosehip Meade- part 1

Meade, which is honey wine, is one of the oldest beverages noted in history.  It’s beginnings simply a way to preserve the harvest.  A way to make medicine.  When the water wasn’t safe to drink, alcohol was a safe drink.  Beer and wine are simply fermentations, preserving techniques.

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The number one task for a homesteader is to get everything done timely.  One can’t wait too long or we miss the opportunity.  Rosehips should be harvested just before frost.  However a few days after frost is when I gathered my basket and began to harvest the delicious fruits.  Rose hips are the bulb left after the rose is gone.  It is ready when it turns red.  The fruit is one of the highest sources of vitamin c.  Their medicinal quality is that they are an effective anti-inflammatory and really nice for joints and arthritis in the winter months.

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As it would happen, I missed my chance by a bit but did manage to harvest a cup and half of rosehips.  As I passed the fragrant lavender hiding beneath a pile of leaves, I couldn’t help but snip a bit of that too.  The intention was to make rosehip wine.

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As I decocted the rosehips, I tried to figure out the ratio to make a smaller batch of wine with my humble two cups of herbs when I thought of honey.  That would be delicious with it.  Then I realized I could make Meade and the herbs will just make it better.

Rosehip Meade

In a saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of rosehips and 1/2 cup of lavender stems and leaves.  (You can use any herb or berry) with 4 cups of water.

Boil for 10 minutes.  Smash with a potato masher a few times during the process and at the end.  Put lid on and let sit for 8 hours.

Meanwhile, dissolve 4 cups of honey in 11 cups of very warm water.

You can get a jug and lid with a carboy (the nifty aerator thing) at a beer and wine making supply shop or online.

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Strain herbs through a sieve lined with cheesecloth.  Pour juice and honey mixture into a gallon wine making jar.  Leave a little space from the top (see picture) to allow air flow and bubbling.  Add 1/5 of a package of white wine yeast and stir well.

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Replace lid and add carboy.  Pour enough vodka or rum into the carboy to the lines as a disinfectant.  (Leave it in there.  The air bubbles through it.  Most recipes call for a chemical but I’d rather use alcohol.)  Set on counter out of the sun for 4-6 weeks until bubbling stops.

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I have noticed that red wine yeast really puts on a show, and the white wine yeast is a bit more subtle.  As long as everything goes well, we will meet back here to bottle it!  We will be enjoying it by our Midsummer party!

Growing and Preparing Horseradish

Horseradish is delicious.  I just ran out of the jar from last year but luckily it is time to harvest again!  Another round of snow is set to arrive Wednesday so I am busy in the gardens putting beds to sleep and harvesting the rest of the root crops.  Horseradish is one of them.

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If you could get a plant start from someone or from a nursery in the spring, horseradish will reward you with delicious roots for years to come as it spreads quite nicely.  I only take about half or two thirds so that there is plenty to grow back.  You may need a shovel to loosen a bit.

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Horseradish is medicinal (as most plants are), and is excellent for sinuses and upper respiratory infections.  You can tincture them in alcohol with Echinacea and garlic for a powerful antibiotic.  Or you can take the culinary approach to medicine.  A most delicious one, I must say.

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Scrub the roots clean in fresh water.  Cut into two inch pieces and place in a food processor.  I like to add a small beet to mine for vibrant color but we had no spring crops and very, very few fall crops this year, so no beets.  Grind on high for a bit until it gets nice and chunky.  Add in a touch of vinegar for consistency and preserving.  I used 2 Tablespoons for four roots.  Continue processing until it looks nice and blended.

One might want to take the bowl outside before opening the lid.  I never remember to do this.  The fumes are mighty and a bit stingy.  Beware.  Scrape down sides, see if it needs any more pulsing.  Pour into a small canning jar and keep in refrigerator.  The vinegar will mellow the heat over time.

Add to mashed potatoes or cocktail sauce or whatever you like.  What do you like to have horseradish with?

A Frightfully Fun Halloween Party for Any Age

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My daughter, Shyanne, is the queen of Halloween.  She drives an old, lifted Jeep Cherokee with a life sized skeleton named Victor in the front seat all year.  When Shyanne invited me to her Halloween day with my other daughter and granddaughter, I didn’t hesitate (never turn down opportunities to be with loved ones).  I hopped in the car with my witch hat and headed to the eastern plains.

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Now there is nothing quite like the sound of a five year old’s bent-over, belly laugh.  And that is what I was met with.  “You look like a unicorn!” Maryjane wailed, a twinkle in her eye.  “I am a witch!” I declared.  “Looks like a unicorn to me.”

There were crafts laid out, and snacks galore, spooky music met me when I entered through the door.  I got straight to work, for this Grammie has a role.  I make the best Halloween hamburgers (veggie burgers) this side of the veil.  I sneaked the bits of cheese from cutting out eyes and mouths to my scary granddog.

Witch’s brew was put on, just like when the children were small.  Ah, it does not seem like it was that long ago at all.  A jug of apple juice or cider, a handful of brown sugar, a good sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and let that begin to simmer then serve.

Shyanne put on a spread of easy treats, crackers and chips and cookies.  We decorated warm sugar cookies with edible watercolors and sprinkles.

We made puppets out of tongue depressors glued to construction paper cutouts that we glued googly eyes to.  Shyanne had carefully pre-cut Frankenstein heads, pumpkins, bats, and ghosts out.  We painted and glued and sprinkled our way into the Halloween spirit.  I did notice that is hard to get into the spirit when no children are present.  This was a welcome party for me.

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“The neighbors are going to wonder what is going on,” Emily said, as Maryjane and I danced to Disney songs and howled loudly like werewolves.

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Emily posing with her pumpkins. She is very ready for the new baby to come! (a few more weeks!)

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Maryjane’s broom. It’s a compact like my Fiat.

Pumpkins were carved, and we danced, and sang.  Halloween parties can be impromptu and easy.  For any age, for us older children regress rather quickly in the sight of sugar cookies and glue sticks.  I hope you find a few ideas to incorporate into your own spooky Halloween day!

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The Tale of a Novel (Cherokee Home)

An artist’s craft does not come from their own mind, but rather from somewhere indescribable.  Authors often talk about when inspiration hits, the dishes pile up, things get set aside, and they just write before it leaves them.  Writers certainly incorporate their own experiences and their own knowledge.  Writers will double check dates, facts, history, making sure that everything works together.  But the writer will be surprised and delighted as they actually jot the story down on paper or wildly type to keep up.

Ever since I received a spiral notebook for Christmas in 1984, I have been writing.  Inspiration and the Beyond have been good to me this year.  Three books in one year.  (I am smidge exhausted!), including my very first novel which came out this last week.

Many times ideas will not wait for the writer.  If you don’t take advantage of the gift of inspiration, it will flit on to the next writer and it won’t be long before you see “your” idea in a bookstore near you.  I was lucky this one waited for me.

Two and a half years ago I sat in my apartment researching my genealogy looking for the names and tribes that my mentor had mentioned to me while we were working together.  Medicine people are usually quite clairvoyant and he had told me names and places of my Native American ancestors.  I found the name of the grandmother on the side that I knew was Cherokee (before I found the line on the other side as well) and pieced together her history.  Her son had killed himself while gathering corn for supper one evening around 1930.  His widow’s brother came from California to retrieve her and her three children, the youngest of which was my grandpa George.  I did not know he was born in Oklahoma.  In Chickasaw territory.  During the time when Natives were being killed for their land by the oil companies.  During the time that Cherokees were flocking to California, by force or by promises of riches, at that very time.

As family silence would have it, or I suppose most of the time families just don’t know, I will never really know what happened but a story so beautiful and thrilling filled my mind utilizing all the ceremonies and language and happenings of that era and swirling them into a fictional tale.  My love of Little House on the Prairie and of history came painting forth.  Several chapters too long and an unknown ending caused me to put it away.

Shyanne, my lovely daughter, was the only one that I let proofread it, and she inquired suddenly a few months ago about the book and where it was.  I decided to open it up and see if the inspiration was still there.  And to my great joy it was.  Having forgotten most of it by this time, I was enthralled as I read it.  Most of the latter chapters were scrapped, a new ending unfolded, and a smaller sized novel was created.  I love this book.  I am so thrilled to be the one to write it and bring it forth to the world to read.  It is based on true events because of the history of the time, most of the herbalist events were actually my own true stories, and the ceremonies and many memories of how things were are transposed from my friends’ tales to this book.  All caught together in a synonymous web of truth meeting mostly fiction.  It could be classified as either teen or adult fiction.  I think the prose would suit anyone and will certainly educate and entertain.

I am so pleased to present to you my first novel, Cherokee Home.

Click Here to see it on Amazon!

Natural Notes and Cozy Decorating

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I carefully arranged the candles and the oil lamps.  Fluffed the fur pillows.  I hung things on the wall, then took them back down.  I took the curtains down.  I added a tchotchke, took it out.  Peace and serenity is what I desired.  I turned the guest room into our bedroom and will turn our bedroom into guest room.  Just wanted a change of pace.  My beautiful rustic bed frame that didn’t fit in the other room greeted me.

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Perhaps it is the two retail shops worth of stuff crammed in my basement.  Or perhaps it is the beautiful books I have read about a Nordic lifestyle.   Maybe it is the time of year, the cool morning causing the furnace to kick on, the wood stove at the ready.  Maybe I am secretly signaling to myself that I need a break.  My other room looks like a tornado hit it.

I have too much stuff.

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Perhaps I will box some things up and add them to the already daunting pile downstairs.  Things I don’t necessarily want to rid myself of, but things that are contributing to the overwhelming feeling of chaos.  For the moment, I just take on one area at a time.

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I have a Nordic decorating mantra at the moment; Use Natural Elements

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Wood, candles, fur (I have opted for faux fur and will risk making polyester extinct), natural elements from the outdoors, simple, sweet, uncluttered, soft, cozy.

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Eight dollar plush blankets and a few throw pillows transform the couches from dog bed to lush reading spots.  Throw pillows are an inexpensive way to add theme.  The blankets can be rolled up when the farm dog comes in and takes his place on the sofa, or they can be washed and a lot wasn’t invested in them.

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I placed the couches back to back to create two distinct areas in the l-shaped living room.  One faces the television for movie nights and one faces the wood stove along with a few rocking chairs.  Kitties placed haphazardly about create a cozy feel.  (Oh my gosh, I have a lot of cats.)

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Back in my new serene bedroom with hardly anything in it, I used only twinkly lights, oil lamps, and candles to light the room.  A rocking chair creates a quiet nook.

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Old trunks stand in for side tables.

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An old heavy door leans against the wall.  I used one of those over-the-door set of hooks to hang sweaters.

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I don’t have any window coverings in my house so the interiors are flooded with natural light in the day and at night twinkly lights and candle light rule.  Such a blessing to have a home.

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Two Easy, Delicious Dinners for Autumn

Green tomatoes are piled up in a basket, each turning red one by one.  There are spices in the cupboard.  We have piles of retrieved peppers before frost.

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Autumn Curry

Curries are so versatile and very easy.  For this one, I chopped up a head of cauliflower and rinsed a can of chickpeas.  I spread them out on a cookie sheet and drizzled generously with olive oil, and sprinkled on salt and pepper.  That went into a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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If I had been thinking straight, I would have added one of the three dozen peppers waiting to be eaten.

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Now for the sauce.  In a good blender combine 5 red tomatoes, 1 Tb of your favorite curry powder, 2 Tb of cashews, 1 Tb tomato powder, 1 ts salt, 1 ts agave.  Blend well then taste and perfect.  Pour into a saucepan and warm slowly while vegetables are roasting.  Add 1 Tb butter or coconut oil and let that melt in.

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Get a big pot of rice made because you can use it all week!

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Alright, you are done!  Top rice with veggies and sauce and enjoy with a cold pumpkin beer!

Fried Eggs Over Greens and Potatoes with Hot Sauce

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I got out of the car after a long day of visiting relatives in Denver.  On my way to the porch I gathered the collard greens and picked some chives still in the garden.

I had read that morning in a magazine to smash parboiled potatoes and roast them, then top them with eggs and hot sauce.  It sounded so good to me.  But I always like to add a bit more.

Doug had boiled the potatoes before I got home just past parboiled.  This was a triumph because they came out of the oven creamy and crisp.  He transferred them to a cookie sheet smashed them with a saucer.  They had been in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes when I got home.  He then added a dollop of butter and salt and pepper to each one and I went straight to work on the greens.

Wash and chiffonade a good handful of greens.  Heat a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add greens.  I sprinkled on Cajun seasoning and garlic powder, along with salt and pepper and cooked them just past wilted.  Transfer to a plate.

Sprinkle bread crumbs on potatoes and keep baking.

No need to wipe out the skillet.  Add a touch more olive oil and cook four fresh eggs to over medium.

Split greens and potatoes on two plates and top with eggs and chives.  Serve with hot sauce.  Oh my, people, I cannot tell you how incredible this flavor combination is.  We grew all of the vegetables and our chickens laid the eggs.  A true farm meal.  And delicious.  And fast.  Also good with pumpkin beer.

 

A “Falling in Love” Baby Shower

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Autumn is such a lovely time to host events.  It becomes its own decorating theme!  I think in this day and age all of us are ready to host simpler parties, to have easier get-togethers, to really celebrate without enormous expense.

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I was inspired by our city park.  Every weekend, if it is warm, one will find entire families in the park.  Portable tents popped up, folding tables and chairs, a BBQ smoking, and children running about while the elders talk.

We chose the old, indoor pavilion at the park in the woods in Elizabeth to have the baby shower.  It was a half way point for most people.  It snowed so only half the people came, but the ones that did had a great time and it was warm and cozy within the red walls of the building.  My friend, Vanessa, and I strewed leaf garlands and mini pumpkins on the tables.  A simple sign, “We are falling in love with Ayla Mae” graced the gift table.

Being somewhat introverted, Emily and I dread those silly games thrown at baby showers.  Reed is excited to be a dad and he wanted to be at the shower as well, so co-ed it was.  We did a contest where each person wrote down their guesses of what day the baby will arrive, hair color, weight, height, and day or night arrival.  The winner will get a gift card in the mail.  A simple journal was laid out for family and friends to write a note to Ayla so she could read in the years to come how excited we all were that she was joining our family.

We had the party at 2:00 so there was no pressure to put on a big spread.  I would have, but I had the furthest to drive and it would have been hectic, so mid-afternoon leaves room for easy snacks like chips and salsa, pita chips and hummus, and ranch dip and carrots.  A big pot of coffee and a crock pot of hot cider warmed the guests that ventured out into the snowy afternoon.

The highlight was my daughter’s cupcakes. (http://facebook.com/wickedlydeliciousdesserts)  Shyanne made the most delicious cupcakes filled with caramel apples or ganache and hand made, perfectly sweet frostings with hand made and and hand painted decorations.  Amazing.

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The twinkly lights in the wood building, the smells of hot coffee and cider, the colorful leaves, the laughter, the sweet gifts, the glowing parents, it all was so lovely and simple.  I took the opportunity, having all of the kids there at the same time, to have my dear friend, Alvin, get some family pictures.  It is always a perfect day when families can be together.  And a fall themed party is an easy way to do it!

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The Yarn Weasel

We walked by the mounds of junk looking for treasure.  Cups of coffee in our hands, my husband and I looked among the stacks of items in the tents.  Broken tools, old dishes, and VHS tapes crowded overpriced lanterns and cast iron.  Then I saw it.  I have never seen one before but I knew it instantly.  I looked sheepishly at the price then let my jaw fall slack.  I picked it up in case anyone else recognized it.  Of course,  it was twenty dollars because no one knew what it was!  A Yarn Weasel.  From the 1700’s.

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One could take their freshly spun yarn and spin it directly onto the yarn weasel from the spinning wheel then pull it off the side, twist, and make a perfectly lovely skein of yarn.  Or spin it onto the weasel and knit from it.

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I tied the end of the skein of yarn to one dowel and spun the contraption to unravel the yarn.  It was easier and much faster than carefully winding a skein into a ball for crocheting.  Once it was on the wheel, I began crocheting a blanket for my granddaughter who is expected to be born next month.  Without stopping to untangle or rewind balls of yarn that have toppled off of my lap, I whipped through the skein quickly and was onto the next.

The wood is very dry so now that I am done with the afghan for Miss Ayla Mae, I will oil the wooden relic with walnut oil to seal the wood so that it won’t crack and will give it a beautiful color.

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Yarn weasels can be found for well over a hundred dollars on Ebay, but look for a good deal online or at flea markets.  A lot of folks don’t know what to do with them, or wouldn’t use them anyway and you may be able to get one for a song.  This yarn weasel does look ever lovely next to the wood stove in our little, old fashioned home on our little, old fashioned homestead.

The Humble Housewife

My mother was a housewife.  It was easier and more affordable for her to stay home with all of us kids.  We started caring for foster babies when I was young so there were no less than five of us at any given time.  The home was her domain and everything was tidy and clean and healthy supper was on the table nearly every night.  In the evenings she and my dad would often escape together to go get a Coke and take a drive with the portable cassette player singing tunes sans children.  I always assumed she would get a job when we all moved out.  But she didn’t.  It took awhile for me to realize, she has a job.  And even though my dad is retired, she still has the job. She is a full-time homemaker.

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Women are brilliant nurturers, mothers, and just asking one’s husband to get something that is clearly right in front of him in the cupboard but he can’t find it is proof that the home is our domain.  Men are our warriors, our providers, our heavy lifters.  There are exceptions, of course, but homesteading on a prairie practically off-grid taught me that our roles are not to “put us in our place” or “keep us in the kitchen,” they were (are) practical ways for survival.  Yes, we can all switch roles, but it took Doug a quarter of the time to chop wood, move hay, or fix something.  And if he goes to clean something, put something away, or heaven forbid, sew something, odds are I am going to have to do it again so we just stuck to our roles!  Men innately take pride in providing for the family.  Women in the past always took care of the children, took care of the home, took pride in their work, and would often make a little extra money for the household by selling hand crafted items.

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We have noticed over the years of raising children, and even as empty nesters, that when I have a job we spend more money.  At that point, I don’t have time to clean the house so we hire a house cleaner.  I don’t have the energy to cook so we go out.  I need a break so we go do something.  We spend a lot of money and eat terribly.

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I always stayed home or had my own business that I could take my kids to when they were growing up, but what about now?  I think about the judgment I passed on my mother in my late teens for staying home and making dad “do all the work.”  Is that how society will view me?  Now that my businesses have closed we have been talking about me being a homemaker.  We are modern homesteaders in the city.  We preserve as much food as possible.  We have chickens.  I crochet and quilt and sew.  We use a wood stove in the evenings.  I write books and this blog and I do get some small royalties.  I teach a few classes in my home and I am an herbalist.  Can I give myself permission to be a homemaker too?

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We purposely chose a city where our mortgage payment can easily be covered by one person.  We don’t have fancy cell phone plans or cable.  We have designed a life where I can be a housewife, which is where I am happiest.  I love nurturing, folding warm clothes, having a hot meal ready when my husband gets home from work, having the errands done so we can relax together on the weekends, hand making Christmas presents, caring for my animals, and being there when my grown children and grandbabies need me.  It is the hardest job I can think of but it suits my busy, independent nature just fine.  Yes, I think I will thrive here.

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If we give ourselves the option to be anything and to do anything, let us also give ourselves the right to be homemakers.  May we all give more respect and honor to the housewives, the homemakers, the stay-at-home Mamas, and the stay-at-home Grammies in our society for they keep the heart of the family and home beating strong.