Posted in Homestead

The Amish, Pioneers, and the New Homesteader

Ruth and Joel’s house was cozy and warm. The sun shone through the large windows looking out on the cold mountains just yonder, the wood stove stood guard against the chill, in front of a wood cabin wall. Their children played with simple toys and brought me books to read them. Ruth had sewing waiting for her- a task she dislikes despite her very fancy sewing machine plugged into the outlet that is supplied by propane. She brought us out sweet rolls and a drink. We talked of her husband’s job, canning, her makeshift root cellar under the house, and about the animals. It was really no different- to my surprise- than if you visited my farm some January morn. Except that her husband rode his bike or hitched up the horses to go to work, whereas my husband starts the Fiat, which is much smaller than Joel’s buggy.

Ruth and Joel are Amish. We have a small community not far from here and a good number of Mennonites as well. Tourists snap photos of their buggies and horses and sweet caps and darling children.

I, myself, was rather fascinated by the Amish. The simplicity. The family focus. The back-to-earth lifestyle of gardening, chopping wood, living off grid, and staying away from the chaos and destruction of social media and television. Living on faith and hard work and enjoying the slow, simple life of a happily busy existence is something most people these days are searching for, which just adds to our fascination of people brave enough to live that way.

The Amish didn’t create anything new. The pioneers lived that way out of necessity. The indigenous cultures of each country lived that way at one time. Some still do. The back-to-land dreamers of the 1970’s saw the benefits. There are men and women who quietly live this way today.

People choose to live a homestead life for many reasons: food security, and health, to live closer to the earth (therefore feel closer to the Creator), and to walk softer on the planet. The focus is on simple life requirements such as: growing food, saving water, raising animals, being close to family, having faith, and providing basic necessities for oneself, like heat, medicine, clothes, and other handmade items.

It starts with the buying of a few cute oil lamps at the antique store. Next thing you know, you’re weaving scarves and sewing quilts and making baskets. Soap, body products, cleaning products can easily be made. Then you are cooking on a wood stove and have your crocheting nearby. Instead of fine art, you display five hundred stained glass-looking, sparkling jars of food. Researching rain barrels and organic methods to gardening and increasing the size of the tomato rows is next. Then you are making mead, inviting friends over for farm suppers in front of a bonfire, or getting the instruments out to strum some music for the ducks while watching the sun set neatly behind the mountains, splaying splashes of vibrant summer colors across the clouds that you pray rain will come from.

It is a good life, and every year we strive to become more and more self reliant while still immersing ourselves in our community. The reasons that people do not choose to homestead are things like: no time (didn’t you just post that you binge watched something like eighteen hours of some ridiculous show?), no skills (no time like the present to learn! There are lots of great books in the library or you can order mine here!), too hard (you can reverse ailments and get super healthy farming), and then there is the age old don’t-want-to-give-up-anything. Just remember, that big house, green lawn, fancy electric appliances, gas guzzling multiple cars, credit card bills, manicures, hair dye, and restaurants all have to be worked for. They cost hours of your life. I’m not saying those are bad things, but if we want a life of peace, then we must choose what we want to spend our life working for. If homesteading is on your list, this is a great time to get started.

Posted in Non-Electric

Off Grid Lighting (even if you are on the grid)

There is something about old fashioned living that appeals to many of us. Old fashioned living honors the natural rhythms of nature and the body. It is better for the senses, the spirit, and one’s outlook. I am not romanticizing the life of pioneers of old- the starvation, traveling away from their families, the freezing temperatures- but we can take the practical, slower, methodical (and sometimes fast paced), family oriented, earth friendly, sweet aspects and incorporate them into our modern homesteading practices. One of the easiest ways to incorporate homesteading into one’s life is old fashioned lighting.

This mouse is one of my favorite finds!

A girlfriend of mine and I go visit Amish friends in Westcliffe every so often. The last time Elizabeth and I were there, Ruth showed us around their new home, freshly built of rustic logs and windows with views.

“What are the outlets for?” Elizabeth pointed at the ceiling.

“Oh, we have to have the house wired in case we ever want to sell it,” was Ruth’s reply.

Hanging between two comfortable looking chairs facing west and looking out upon the grand Sangre de Cristos- so close you could practically climb them- was a battery operated light, much like one you might find in a mechanic’s garage. They charged it in the basement at night and it ran for many hours in the evening.

So, what’s the point? If one is going to have light at all, why not just flip on a switch? For the Amish, living a slow, simple life keeps them closer to God and each other. That is really what homesteading is about as well. It connects us to things greater than ourselves. Greater than video games, recorded television shows, and opens the way for meaningful conversation and family time. One area of lighted space keeps a family together in that space, reading, laughing, sewing, watching the children play. When Doug and I popped in to see Ruth’s husband, Joel, at his furniture shop last weekend, he mentioned the birth of twins. Happy moments shine brighter in an old fashioned life.

Oil lamps are my favorite because they are beautiful and practical and some of the old ones come with their own quiet stories. Oil lamps are easy to find in antique stores and even Walmart. There are beautiful ones online and even second hand stores. That is where my daughter, Emily, spotted this charming red one. Oil lamps come in all shapes and sizes. When you are looking at an old one, turn the knob and make sure it moves the wick up and down. You can get a new screw on collar for the lamp if needed online. Put in a fresh wick. Empty any remaining oil and clean the lamp. Pour in a clean oil like, Klean-Heat or Firefly. Let the wick gather up the oil for a few hours before lighting. Let the wick barely show over the top in order to keep the lamp from smoking or wasting oil. Clean the chimney and place on top.

I also use extra chimneys to cover candle tapers. I have some lovely candle holders. Candles perhaps give off the best light. Look for packages of candles at second hand stores. The best though, is to purchase a bulk pack of dripless candles. They last a long time and do not make such a mess.

If I supplement light, it is from twinkly lights. We always grab a few extra boxes of Christmas lights during the season. They use less energy and help supplement the space with soothing light.

By using off grid or near off grid lighting options, the dimmed light allows the body to calm down and you will sleep better. It is a natural way for your body to know that the day is fading. It just doesn’t get the memo with television and phone screens! It is less harsh on the eyes and flattering on faces. It is calming in a way I cannot explain in prose. We are so relaxed and comfortable in the evenings. Between the wood stove and our off grid lighting, our gas and electric bills are less than half of what they would be in a conventional environment. And even though oil for the lamps and candles have a footprint, it is less than blaring all the electric lights. Incorporating non-electric lighting into one’s house is easily done anywhere and is a great step into the world of homesteading.

Some more of my articles you may enjoy:

Visit Ruth’s House

A return to our Amish friends’ house

Oil lamps

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

The Trusty Sewing Needle

I have a pretty specific style.  Oh, sometimes it changes depending on my mood, from Santa Fe diva to vintage rodeo queen, but I typically wear a mid to long skirt, top, and apron.  I have six Mennonite aprons that are my absolute favorite.  I have worn them nearly every day for so many years, I cannot believe how nice they still are.

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When I first starting writing this blog, a fellow blogger and I decided to make each other aprons and send them to each other.  It was a fun experiment and the one she sent me was from a pattern her Amish neighbor gave her.  Her neighbor then made me five more a few years later.  I adore their pinafore style and roomy pockets.  I still have a shy six year old hiding under my apron when we meet people.  I use my apron to wipe my hands on, carry in fresh produce, bring in eggs, and any number of other household tasks.  I get more compliments when I venture out in my flowy skirt and apron- most of the comments coming from young people.  I am bringing the apron back!

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My skirts are so worn that any day now they may just disintegrate off my hips while I am working in the garden.  Broomstick skirts and the like run $30-$100.  I would love some nice A line skirts.  I made a lovely, yellow print, long skirt before.  The elastic was a little weird, and I had to wear a shirt covering the top of the skirt at all times, but who cares?  I made it and wore it until it tore on a fence.  I really ought to get out my old Viking sewing machine and stitch some things together.  I am no sewing expert- my patience and lack of perfection just make everything “good enough.”  But who cares?  The chickens sure don’t!

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I have many aprons.  Some were precious gifts from friends.  Others belonged to my dear friend’s grandmother (both have passed away) and are close to a hundred years old.  I sewed quite a few myself.  But those Mennonite aprons, they are my favorite.  My blogger friend recently sent me the pattern to that apron.  Intimidating for sure!  But I can do it!  Right?

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Learning to sew is a wonderful homestead skill.

  1. You save money on clothes.
  2. You get exactly what you want.
  3. You help save the earth from cheap China clothes overload.
  4. Mending brings new life to clothes.

Sewing also leads to quilting, making cloth napkins, dresses for the chickens…

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Anyways, get yourself a sewing machine and a sewing kit and start on your creative journey!  Homesteading is incredibly satisfying, especially when you can create so much beauty.  We had a little fun with camera yesterday at my daughter’s house.  Here are a few pictures and a few other blogs I wrote over the years about this subject!

Farmgirl Swap

Love Wrapped Up in Stitches

Posted in Field Trips

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!

Posted in Farmgirl Decorating

Braided Rugs and the Old House

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A ninety-one year old house sits quietly empty on its large lot.  No one to creak the old wood floors or light the flames in the firebox.  There isn’t laughter in the kitchen yet, wine glasses clinking, or sizzling from the stove.  The curtains are dark and block out the sunlight and the chill fills the empty space.  The old house wishes for children running through slamming the screen door.  Chickens knocking at the back door.  Flowers growing in the flower boxes.  Singing in the shower, and in the kitchen.  The old house has its own pleasant spirit that I cannot wait to get to know.

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Long time followers and friends know that I love to decorate, to create, to inspire, to set emotions with décor and life.  I pull a color from a braided rug that would make a lovely trim color.  I need to get in there and sit quietly.  Listen to the old house.

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There are no library books on decorating called “Eclectic, Amish, Country, New Mexican Style”!

I start with a rug.  I love braided rugs.  They can be made by saving long scraps of fabric, or long 2 inch strips of old sheets.  You simply braid the pieces together.  Sew on more strips at the end.  A few stitches along the strip to keep in place.  Then start winding the strip into a circle or oval and stitch pieces to stay in place.  I found a stellar deal on Wayfair for a few beautiful rugs that I couldn’t do better myself so they will be the primary pieces of our new home.  One day I will create my own with old sheets or cotton.  It is a brilliant way to reuse old fabric.

After the New Year I’ll  bring you in to decorate with me.  Home sweet Home.  The best Christmas present we can think of!

 

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving)

Traveling the World by Cookbook (my favorite cookbooks)

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Delicious food and inspiration, something I daily seek.  I like to travel around the world to see what folks are eating.  I like visit farms around the globe.  I like to sit in stranger’s kitchens and see if I can experience a bit of their life by eating what they eat.  Through cookbooks I can do this from my own farm kitchen and so cookbooks have always been a bit of an obsession for me.

Mind you, I never follow a recipe to its exact measure but the blueprints and guidelines for delightful food I wouldn’t have thought of is most welcome to a busy farm wife foodie who doesn’t like to prepare the same thing over and over.

“Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own” by Bob Flowerdew is a great book that I may have told you about before but I find it ever so enchanting as the photographs make the book come to life.  As if I am in England learning from a master.  He takes us through the gardening season, growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparing delicious foods.  It is filled with brilliant ideas and a way to make potato au gratin that will change your life forever.  Decadent.

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“Another Amish cookbook?” my love asks as I purchase another.  I have…ahem…a few.  I love them for their stories.  I love the local ones that are say the recipe was submitted by Mrs. Elmer So and So.  I love the vague amounts in some and the tried in true in books like this one.  “The Amish Cook’s Family Favorite Recipes” by Lovina Eicher is my go-to in the summer when I am rushing around.  Perfect coffee cake to make and pack for the farmer’s markets, interesting recipes like chokecherry tapioca, and casseroles that make the kids want to move home.

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“Love Soup” by Anna Thomas is a book I have read from cover to cover many times.  Her soups are vegetarian and filled with flavor and comfort, sustenance, ease.  I love this book for its endless ideas for soup along with recipes for bread and salads.  Her stories along with the recipes are fun and the book is split up seasonally, which appeals to me more than ever.

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I have checked out “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook” by Frances and Edward Mayes from the library enough that it really ought to be a part of my collection at some point.  If I could go anywhere right now and enjoy a meal it would surely be in Tuscany.  I want to experience the long outdoor wooden table with twenty friends and strangers, water glasses filled, wine glasses raised.  Courses of flavorful foods that I have yet to prepare.  Many things that I have never heard of cooking or tasting in my Colorado raised existence.  I can hear the laughter, the long meal, the joy.  I loved the Under the Tuscan Sun books by Frances Mayes so it is a pleasure stopping by their house via library book for a meal. (Note: if you saw the movie, it is not even remotely the same as the books.  Do pick up the books!)

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Another library find, “Fresh from the Farm” by Susie Middleton is a delightful part memoir part cookbook using seasonal produce.  What to do with mustard greens, delicious ways with arugula, and much more.  I am definitely enjoying borrowing this book!

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If I make a menu plan and grocery shop regularly for the things we need then I am less likely to want to go out for subpar food.  This book, “The Casual Vineyard Table” by the owner of one of my favorite wines and vineyards, Carolyn Wente, makes me want to hurry home and cook!  I picked it up at the Wente winery when Doug and I were there visiting our friends, Lisa and Steve, in Northern California.  It was one of our best trips and we so enjoyed ourselves and became even bigger wine snobs, I rather fear.  Where do I start?  Potato Crusted Sea Bass with Gingered Blue Lake Beans or Bay Scallops with Rhubarb Puree?  Or one could always head straight to the back of the book and prepare Chocolate Chili Pecan cake with double bourbon whipped cream.  Oh my.

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Then there are lean times, which we are in more often than not.  Not poverty stricken, starving times, thank the Lord we always have food, but no sea bass or single vineyard wine times.  This book is practical, intelligent, and savvy.  Using minimal ingredients, all staples, one can put together hundreds of healthy meals on the cheap. “More-With-Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre is a homesteader’s necessity!

Do share your favorite cookbook titles!

Posted in Homestead, Non-Electric

What Is A Homestead and Why Is It So Important To Be Self Reliant?

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“What is a homestead?” my friend asked.  The question threw me off guard, cause, geez, everyone knows what a homestead is.  It’s uh….you know…a place where…I decided to consult the dictionary.

homestead

[hohm-sted, -stid] /ˈhoʊm stɛd, -stɪd/   
noun
1.

a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale for debt.
2.

any dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home.
3.

a tract of land acquired under the Homestead Act.
4.

a house in an urban area acquired under a homesteading program.
verb (used with object)
5.

to acquire or settle on (land) as a homestead:

Pioneers homesteaded the valley.
verb (used without object)
6.

to acquire or settle on a homestead:

They homesteaded many years ago.
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And that, my friends, did not help me either because, frankly, I don’t own anything.  I do not get to keep this land no matter how much I work it (unless I come into a vast amount of money!) and the second definition pretty well means any house in the suburbs is a homestead!  So, what really is a homestead?  What is homesteading?
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The best way to answer this is to look at the general consensus.  I have many friends who are what we would consider homesteaders.  A homestead is a place where one tries to become more self sufficient.  I wonder why that it is not in the dictionary.  Still rather vague.  Can an apartment with a balcony of vegetables be considered a homestead?  Can a house in the city with a few chickens and a garden be considered a homestead?  Certainly a place in the country with a large garden, goats, chickens, sheep, and cows is considered a homestead, right?  I suppose everyone would answer this question differently.  So, here is homesteading to me.
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A homestead is a respite, a home with land to be able to succeed at becoming more self-sufficient.  This place can be rented or bought.  This place provides a basis for producing what one needs to live.  So, homesteading is the verb here where one works to become less reliant on modern society and more secure in their own home as opposed to spending more time working outside the home and relying on utility providers, grocery stores, et cetera for their needs.  It is possible that this could take a lifetime.  But it is worth the effort.
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I often hear the argument that it is impossible to be self-sufficient.  I suppose that depends on your definition.  Would you consider the Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” self-sufficient?  I bet you would.  They did go to the general store at times to pick up flour, and cornmeal, sugar, and a bit of candy plus some fabric.  The question would be, if the store was not available, would they be alright?  The answer would be yes.  They would be alright, at least for a time.  Would you consider the Amish self-reliant?  I bet you would say yes.  The home I visited of an Amish family last year was very simple.  They had food stored in a makeshift root cellar (like mine), shelves of beautifully colored jars of produce (like mine), enough wood to get through winter (like us), and propane to light their house, run their stove, refrigerator, and sewing machine.  That is what threw me off!  We use propane to help offset the heat and to run the refrigerator.  It is very expensive and is getting quite nerve-rackingly low.  Are we self reliant?  Not yet, in my book.
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Why is it important?  I mean, really, what is the big deal?  A lot of folks are not really ready to give up their luxuries.  Our bathroom was 35 degrees this morning.  This is not for the faint of heart.  My bottom is still cold.  But, it’s important to me to become self reliant for two reasons.
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One: working for other people is too uncertain.  We make our own business, our own crafts, our own classes, and yes we have to have faith that folks will buy or sign up, but we control our destiny and our mornings.  The more we have to be away from the house working for someone else, the less we can do here, so the less self reliant we are.  We must make our living off of our homestead.  Our living is a lot different than what it was ten years ago.  To us a living was over $55,000 with a mortgage, car payments, utilities, food prices, gas prices, and all the other things we “needed”.  Now our living is around $24,000 if we want to be comfortable with wood, homegrown food, fish, necessary items for our business, gas, rent, and animal feed.  That is the first thing folks that want to homestead must realize.  Be prepared to live on less.  There is much to be done at the house.  Canning, home business, chopping wood, year round growing of plants, animal care,  But there is nothing sweeter than not worrying about where your next meal will come from and never sitting in a cubicle again.
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The second reason it is so important to me to become self reliant is because I need to be able to take care of us and our children if necessary in an emergency.  This could be a wide spread power outage or blizzard, or I often have dreams that there will be a war here.  As much as that scares the heck out of me, I would rather have a house full of necessities and not be wondering how I would get to the grocery store or if we were going to freeze to death.  I do not know if folks realize the folly in relying on large companies for your necessities.  If it all came down to the wire, they don’t give a hoot about your family and it would be quite wise to have a way to access water, heat, food, clothing, and protection.
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Each year we do a homestead checklist and see what we need to do to become more self reliant.  Realize that I do not think that solar panels and their non-decomposing batteries, or wind power with its bird and bat killing capabilities are the answer.  Living with less reliance on oil and gas is our goal.
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  • We have a wood cooktop/propane oven.  A homesteader’s dream?  Yes.  But, I do not want to rely on propane and the small wood compartment does not do much to heat this house.  44 degrees in the living room is just a bit too freaking cold for me.  Our stove can be cooked on, heat a small portion of the house, could heat water if necessary, and is great, however, this year we will secure (somehow) a real wood cook stove that will sit in the living room that I can bake and cook on plus heat the rest of the house.

 

  • Since we stopped eating meat I was able to clear out an entire freezer.  The remaining refrigerator/freezer holds milk, fish, cheese, condiments, and vegetables.  Can one can fish?  Can I can all the vegetables/fruits next year?  How would we keep the milk cold?  Particularly when milking starts again.  I need an ice house.  The back bedroom would seriously serve as a fridge right now though!  We really need that other wood stove.

 

  • We have several wells on the property.  We have a tiny bit of water saved in canning jars, but is there a way to access the wells without electricity?  We are also incorporating a water harvest system this year.

 

  • I have a hand washing unit for laundry and a great clothes line plus a huge drying rack for inside if the electricity went out.  (We haven’t used in a dryer in seven years.) We could live without the television and internet if he had too.

 

  • I grew about a third of the items we preserved this year.  I would like to grow sixty percent this year and plant several fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.  I would also like to try my hand at growing mushrooms.  I will incorporate container gardening, cold frames, and our garden plot to grow everything we love to eat.  I would like to get a green house as well.  That would really boost our production.

 

  • I am kicking myself, y’all, for selling my spinning wheel!  I would like to get sheep and work on spinning again.  I would like to learn to knit this year and make us some fabulous sweaters and socks.  There is so much discarded fabric out there. I have tons myself.  I would like to increase my sewing skills so that I can make more of our clothes.

 

  • We would like to make the fences more secure this year so that we can let the animals graze on the ten acres.  That would cut down on how much hay they need.

 

  • I need to find a way to advertise and promote my classes so that we can pay for things like gas and car insurance, grains, animal feed, things like that.

 

  • We will start cutting our own wood and collecting wood this year instead of paying so much to have cords delivered.

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Well, I am sure there is more, but that is a good start and each year we get closer and closer to being self reliant.  Maybe that is the answer.  Maybe self-sufficient and self-reliant are two different things.  Either way, there is a great feeling of accomplishment and inner peace while performing simple tasks and caring for those you love on your own homestead.

Wishing you a prosperous and peaceful homestead this coming year!

Posted in Non-Electric

Horse and Carriage Needed (and the article about us)

This may be God’s way of telling us to stop driving all over the state.  To get back home and get our chores done and eat dinner at the dining room table.  Kindly stop gallivanting all over the place!  When the truck in the driveway with 300,000 miles is our most reliable vehicle (the old one and the new one we got off Craigslist with our income tax refund are in the shop), there is a definite possibility that we need to learn to stay put!

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This is where it would be nice to live in the city.  Did I just say that?  A nice homesteading friendly city.  Hop on a bike, walk, take a bus, only drive to farmer’s markets.  We would save so much money, only need one car, and be in better shape.

A friend of the kids used to say when driving out here to get them mimicking the highway sign, “End of the Earth 8 miles, Kiowa 7 more miles”.  There will be no bike riding or walking up the extremely hilly highway to town seven miles.  I would guess it would be mighty dangerous taking a horse and carriage up that route as well.

This is just fueling (this part scares Doug) my anti-electronics and anti-automotive feelings.  Get me a bike and a few extra oil lamps Papa, we’re goin’ Amish.

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These are the times that I need to remind myself why we do what we do.  We work from home so that we can get things done around the homestead while working, and be conveniently located to the swing under the tree for breaks.  We work together so we can spend more time together and enjoy visitors and friends to our house at any time.  We can walk to the library, bank, post office, and can get ice cream at the gas station if in dire need.  We can walk to the bar if  in even direr need.  We can lounge in our back yard with our chickens and goats reading a farming book at two in the afternoon and enjoy the warmest part of the day before taking the clothes off the line, and getting ready to make supper.  We are living the good life.  The good life for us means we cannot afford a reliable vehicle but why do I need to drive that much if I have all this?

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The Huffington Post did an article on us yesterday. I have it posted here.  We are thrilled that we may be able to inspire other folks to abandon their cubicle and head out bravely into this beautiful world and do what they want!  It just means I won’t be driving a new, luxurious truck anytime soon, but that’s okay.  My old one works just fine.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/09/katie-sanders-letting-go_n_5106816.html

Posted in Field Trips, Homestead, Non-Electric

A Visit To An Amish Home

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I have read a fair amount of Amish books, fiction and non-fiction, and have my own romanticized version of Amish life.  A life I think would be wonderful.  Off-grid, simple, community orientated, living for what matters, God and family.  I had never met anyone that was Amish though.  I had only actually seen an Amish woman twice in my life, once at the mall when I worked there and once at our friend’s farm for a festival.  I was excited to finally go see the inside of an Amish home, visit with an Amish mother, and see the work of an Amish father.  To live inside that world just for a moment.

My friend, Elizabeth, works at the library and requests books for me that she thinks I will like.  Over the past four years we have talked, dreamed, went hiking for herbs once, and chatted on the phone.  She is very similar to me in desires and dreams.  She kept referring to her “Amish Friends” in Westcliff, and I was anxious to tag along with her the next time she ventured down that way.

Yesterday morning I donned my homemade skirt and slip, dressed modestly, and put my hair back in a bun.  We began the arduous three hours to get there through canyons, and cities, and mountains, and just when I became quite weary of driving, we edged over a mountain top and saw in the valley a glittering expanse of land so majestic my breath caught.

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We drove into the little town and visited the Yoder Furniture Shop where the pieces of furniture make Walmart and Oak Express’s furniture areas look like a landfill.  Each piece is eloquently made, made to last, the craftsmanship is high and they take pride in their work.  As I drooled over a rolling cart with the mirror, a place for a towel, and a vintage bowl and pitcher, Elizabeth spoke with Joel and Perry about a bed she would like to have.  Joel is mid-thirties, his strawberry blonde hair cut into a bowl shape and a small beard shaped his face that held the most joyous brown eyes.  Mischievous and fun emanated from him.  His friend sat near him, uttering a word when necessary, early twenties I’d bet, tall and lanky, with blue eyes beneath his brown hair.  His brown beard telling of an early marriage, no mustache.  He reminded me of my son.

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We headed eight more miles out of town to visit with Joel’s wife.  Elizabeth swears that she is in her thirties, but Ruth looks ageless, a perpetual twenty-four.  She had a fresh complexion, big brown eyes, and a curvy frame beneath her long blue dress.  Dark hair was pushed back into her black wool handkerchief to protect from the chilling wind.  We approached her as she took the laundry from the huge wringer washer in the barn.  We shook hands in greeting, her smile sweet and secure.  Heavy dark galoshes suitable for farm work and a long black wool coat covered her modest traditional dress.

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We walked with her through the mud up to the back porch where stood her precious fourteen month old, Heidi, patiently waiting for her mother to return.  She wore a long grey gabardine coat and matching bonnet over her ankle length beige dress, brightened with adorable purple galoshes.  Her big brown eyes looking out, a tiny smile revealed two small teeth.

We looked out from the covered porch facing west over the miles of frozen white tundra glistening in the sunlight.  The fields ran right up into the jagged mountains standing so boldly, so close.  Icy diamonds and cool air created a peaceful expanse of valley.

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The farmhouse was a small cabin, fresh with new wood.  It shone with an understated elegance and rusticity against the snow drifted backdrop. We helped her hang her laundry on the ropes held snugly across the porch ceiling.  I played with Heidi and their very excited Australian Shepherd pup as Ruth and Elizabeth caught up.  Her tired son, just this side of three years old, woke up from his nap.  After a few minutes, he joined us outside.  Ruth set both small children atop a plastic storage box and they took to kicking it with gleeful smiles until they were reprimanded in German. ‘Twas not long before they were running around the porch holding personal garments snagged from the basket attempting to help their mother.  Ruth looked exhausted as we picked up the two children and the two baskets.  We took the empty laundry receptacles to the tack room and went to let the chickens out.

As I handed Ruth the basket through the door I caught sight of her shelves of preserved food for the winter.  The jars of summer bounty in their jeweled colors were not the first thing I noticed. (I regarded later when Doug asked if that is what I noticed.  For her jars of food look just like mine!)  Nay, I noticed the hand hewn shelves of strong 2x4s.  Shelves that didn’t dip in the center as mine do being cheap plastic garage shelves; mine are warped and bent and look eerily as if they will topple at any time.  I complimented her on her shelves.

We walked back towards the house and as we approached the steps Ruth stopped to grab some apples and to show us her root cellar.  3×3 panels of wood were removed from the side of the house where beneath the house and porch lay bags of apples and potatoes.  The mice had helped themselves to a few of the apples, and the potatoes along the ridge of the “cellar” were mushy, but the unique places that we homesteaders come up with for root cellars made me laugh to myself.  If I ever found a farm for rent with a real live root cellar, I would probably do some sort of odd happy dance and lease the place right then and there.  She gave us a few red potatoes to take home to enjoy.  Elizabeth had brought her a few sweet potatoes.

We went up the stairs to the front door.  It faced east and as we entered the quaint living room, we could look directly out the back door to the porch and the west mountains.  The wood stove sat warm next to the front door and peeking around the wood stove would allow a glance into the small adjoined inlet kitchen.  It did not look much different than mine, I noted.  She uses propane to fuel her stove and refrigerator and the counters were devoid of a coffee pot (as mine is) and a dishwasher (we haven’t had one in years).

An oval table sat just outside the kitchen close to the woodstove where one could look out the large south window whilst sitting in the simple chairs around it to feed the children their peeled, crisp apples as we adults enjoyed homemade jelly rolls.

Opposite the kitchen, across the small living room was a sunny sewing room looking out at those glorious mountains.  I nearly tripped over an extension cord.  Her impressive sewing machine was hooked up to solar power.  I told her about my old Viking from the 70’s.  If I had to make all of our clothes though, I would probably want a slick model like hers, solar power and all.  She dislikes sewing and waits for hand me downs.  A girl after my own heart.

She removed her wool handkerchief and replaced her white, traditional bonnet over her secured hair.  She changed the baby’s cloth diaper and showed us how her own dress was outfitted to easily nurse with secret buttons beneath the flaps.  Elizabeth was certain she could see a bopoli bump.  More children running about soon?

Two bedrooms rested to the right of the front door down a small hallway.  Ruth hoped to have a larger house built directly south, still on her father-in-law’s thousand acres.

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We all chatted easily as we took turns reading to the infants and catching up.  Ruth offering advice to Elizabeth, I taking in the homesteading ideal.  We got up to leave since she would need to start supper soon to have ready for Joel after he made his eight mile trek home by bicycle.  We waved to the horses, the calf, the chickens, the donkey, the puppy, the barn cat, and the darling children and their beautiful mother, and began the drive home.

I realized that we homesteaders are the same no matter our background, religion, or choice of clothes.  We all long for that low bills, high sense of achievement, fresh air, sunlight, and do-it-yourself lifestyle.  We are creative with what we have been given to make our homesteading attainable.

I, like so many folks, am guilty of romanticizing the Amish but I realize I am not so far off.  I felt at home there reading to a small child, visiting a fellow mother, finding a new friend that lives on a self-made farm that will continue to grow and change and burst with life…just like mine.

Posted in Farming, Homestead

This Year in Farmgirl School…

I am inspired by so many things and people.  From the Amish countryside to the Tuscany hills, there are people and principles there that appeal to me.  Perhaps the aspects that I so desire are the same.

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I am inspired by simplicity.  In having few material items.  More meaningful open spaces that are easy to care for and easy to feed a crowd in.  The openness and simple beauty of an Amish home.  The old worn villas in Tuscany where the doors and windows stay open, if possible, and streams of light and outdoors dance across the tiles of the homes filled with family and friends and wine.

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An emphasis on family, friends, and spirituality from Catholic to Amish, a love for community, a devotion to family, a loyalty to friends, and a love for God all speak to me.  To take the time to sit down and enjoy the company of those close, to pass a loaf of homemade bread, to pour another glass of wine or lemonade.  To be interested and care about what is happening and to share in the richness of these various ribbons of people gifted to our lives.

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Homemade food.  Tapestried gardens, local, fresh, healthy farmed, real food.  The taste of just pressed olive oil, or crisp kale from the garden, of earthy potatoes baked with cheese, or chicken just roasted with sprigs of rosemary and sage.  Locally made red wine or glasses of refreshing iced tea.  Things grown from our own hands or from a local farmer or artisan.  Knowing where our food comes from, proud of its origin in the back yard, or from nearby.

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Self sufficiency, or better, local sufficiency.  A can-do spirit.  I can get eggs from my back yard.  I can grow a bit of wheat.  I can put up vegetables.  I can harvest my fresh fruit.  I can grow mushrooms.  I can savor my own herbs.  I can….As my friend put it in a recent post when describing her grandparents’ farm, “The life of self sufficiency turned into a life of dependency.”  Profound words to me as most of us have been born into a life of dependency.  Being an incredibly independent free spirit makes me desperate to be able to provide more for myself and my family.

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Arts and beauty.  From paintings and pottery to home spun yarn and homemaking arts, I am inspired by them all.

Out here, folks do tend to move a bit slower, have less material items, and are comfortably Christian without the annoying evangelism.  They are friendly, and community minded.  I farm in town so that perhaps more people will be inspired to grow their own dinners and see that it can be done out here.  I do have dinner with friends and close family often.  I have many more arts to master.  This will be an even better year.

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This year in Farmgirl School we will be learning a host of new things.

We’ll become bee keepers.  We will not be afraid of a few ten thousand bees.

We will create a corn fence around the front yard.

We will grow an entire garden’s worth of produce in five gallon buckets.

We will create a portable orchard.

We will learn how to be market growers.

We’ll show you how to start a farm from a business perspective and succeed with farm diversity.

We’ll be playing midwife and welcoming in new kids next month.

We’ll master the art of creating hard cheeses along with other dairy products.

We’ll be shearing large unlovey animals.

We’ll master the art of spinning.

We’ll color roving with plants.

We’ll create lovely fibers and then learn how to make sweaters and socks and they will be straight and even!

We’ll be hoping for farm hatched chicks.

We’ll expand the Apothecary garden and teach you more about natural cures.

We’ll visit a local Amish community.

We’ll host a food swap.

We’ll entertain more.

We’ll have some laughs, some mishaps, some roaring successes, and we’ll learn.  Come learn with me.

Welcome to Farmgirl School.  This year is going to be fun!