Creating a Life to Help You Really Live

There is a peacefulness here in the mornings. The sun shines hopeful light over the mountain sides and the breezes are light. The changes in season are obvious and there is a certain beauty to the washed out pallor of late autumn. During this season, I feel very thankful for everything in my life. Truly, honestly, thankful. For my husband, my children, grandchildren, friends, animals, nature, health, comfort, and this lovely piece of land where the hearth fires burn. We purposely build a life that feeds us, inspires us, and fuels us. A homesteading life.

A homesteading life looks different in different situations with correlating bonds. We have chosen that I be a housewife. I make a little off of book royalties, and herbs, and this and that, but my place is in creating a home. We used to think that homesteading required two people at home. But we learned the hard way that to homestead in the state we were born in, one of us had to get a full time job. Many farmers and homesteaders do. In many cases, both parties work outside the homestead.

Having and pursuing a trade is a wonderful way to work towards self sufficiency. (A note on self sufficiency: it truly takes a community to sustain, but we will use the phrase to denote taking care of ourselves and others to our full ability.) If you can do something well, and it is a needed skill, then you can often support, or help support, your family with it. It is important that we begin to encourage as many folks to go to trade schools as college. The next generation will be stronger for it.

How does one get started homesteading? There are a few gals at my husband’s work that want to come down to our farm and learn to make cheese. I will be happy to teach them. It won’t be long before they begin to bake bread. Or make their own candles. Pretty soon, they have goats and a small dairy. Homesteading grows. You see something you would like to do yourself; sewing, crocheting, gardening, baking, cheese making, soap making, candle making, wood working, raising farm animals, wine making, herbalism, and decide to learn how to do it. You incorporate that into your life. Look at your grocery list, what can you learn to make? Do you need to buy all of the packaged boxes of junk or can you learn to make granola bars, cookies, and bread? Can you make cream of celery soup? Can you make gravy? Spaghetti sauce? Can you grow the tomatoes for it? Oh, then you are really going. Pretty soon you have a full out farmstead.

My granddaughters, Ayla and Maryjane, wearing the dresses I made them.

The peace of mind and pride is profound in this lifestyle. Do it yourself. Even if it isn’t perfect, you did it! The peace of mind of knowing you can heat your house if the power goes out. Feed your family for awhile if there is a natural disaster. Take care of yourself if an economical collapse occurs. There is peace of mind in knowing what you eat and what you drink were grown by you, prepared by you, and there are no crazy chemicals in your cupboard. Your cleaning products are truly clean, your muscles toned from doing everything by hand, your heart light at watching the fruit of your labors expand. This lifestyle is filled with planning, hard work, and life and death, but it is truly living. Being in the midst of it all. Purposely creating a good life filled with sustenance. A good life that feeds you, inspires you, and fuels you. A homesteading life. Start today. What would you like to learn?

Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 (now available on Amazon!)

Homestead 101 Cover

I never guessed back in 2012 what this would become.  I set out to chronicle our adventures in homesteading.  To create a template and how-to that we wish we had.  We weren’t able to find information on how to farm high altitude, or how to bottle feed a goat, or how to do any of the hundreds of things we did by trial and error on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.

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Those years on the homestead were some of the best times of our lives.  Re-reading the manuscript was like reading about an old friend.  I laughed and recollected.  I finished the book with a smile.  As if I had read it for the first time.

Our Lady of the Goats

This book is priceless, I tell you, it has everything a new homesteader could possibly need to get started on their journey.  Organic gardening, high altitude farming, canning, dehydrating, root cellaring, freezing produce, back yard chickens, bottle feeding goats, taking care of ducks, candle making, soap making, herbal remedies, recipes, homemade gifts….goodness, the list goes on.  The textbook we needed, but in a humorous storytelling method.

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I am so excited to see this book in print!  It is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/152077494X?ref_=pe_870760_150889320

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Wishing you many blessings on your homesteading journey.  See you ’round the farm!

Learning Homesteading Skills (finding teachers)

Our grandparents knew how to do all these things.  Mine laughed when I wanted a farm and wondered why.  Growing up on farms and in the country, in hard times, with so much work, it baffled them that I would run off to the lifestyle that they left willingly.  The skills from that generation and beyond become more and more lost.  No one taught me how to milk a goat when I was a child (which would have been nice since I will be milking in a few short weeks!), no one taught me to garden, or to spin, or to can, or to take care of one day old chicks.  There was no reason to in the middle of Denver!  Over the past years I have tried to accumulate these skills.

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I started with books.  Lots of books.  We are avid readers over here anyway, so I may as well be learning while reading.  And indeed I have picked up many great tips and tried and true ways of doing things from these books.  Many specific skill books though go in one eye and out of my memory faster than a three day old goat can elude me. (Man, they are fast!)

Things like knitting, milking, spinning, I need to see it.  I need to have someone show me step by step then I have it.  Most of the time.

IMG_0526Spinning was not working out for me.  My yarn looked like dreadlocks or clumps of fur.  It did not resemble anything looking like yarn.  My machine would not work.  My friend told me to pour a glass of wine.  I did.  Then I poured three.  Still couldn’t spin.  The spinning wheel anyway.  The teacher I had just kept saying I needed practice.  I could tell there was no more she could teach me.  I called my wine recommending friend.  She came over a week later.

She first noted that my machine was put together backwards.  That the break was on the wrong side.  The tension was all wrong.  She showed me the technique of spinning, which I knew but had been trying without good result.  I sighed and tried the wheel.  And spun.  Yarn.  It looks like yarn!  All I needed was a new teacher.

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In your community you will find people that do what you wish you could do.  Make cheese, spin, can, garden, make herbal medicines, make wine, any number of fabulous homesteading skills.  And most of them are happy to teach you.  You may have to pay a small fee for the lesson.  Or barter.  That is okay because the money you save and the joy you feel while mastering these skills outweighs forty bucks.

I teach canning, crocheting, high altitude baking, gardening, soap making, candle making, soft cheese making, herbal classes, and herbal body product classes.

I need to find a class on how to make hard cheese.  I suppose if I read the cheese making book I bought I can figure it out since I already know how to make soft cheeses.

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I need to learn to milk.  I milked a goat when I worked at an animal shelter some twenty years ago.  I wonder if I will remember.

I want to learn how to knit.  Books and teachers thus far have not been able to help.  Surely there is a patient lady out there with the perfect knitting needles to get me on my way to making socks and sweaters.

We signed up for a bee keeping class.

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I cannot wait to experiment with dying fiber.  I have many plans this year and I hope to teach all of them.  Of course, I could keep all these skills to myself and make money off of the canned goods, the yarn, the farming, the herbal medicines. And I will, because there are folks who would rather I do it.  But for those that want to learn, we must teach what we know.  We must share our knowledge.

And our lessons for the day summed up:

If first you don’t succeed, get another teacher.

Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.

Candle Sweaters and Pin Cushions (homemade gifts)

Well, the craft room is done.  Christmas time is upon us.  This year with our friends and family, and with some of the kids’ gifts we have agreed to give and receive homemade gifts.  This an economical approach as everyone is trying to get by.  It keeps gifts incredibly local.  And it is really nice to get and give gifts from the heart.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on homemade gifts:

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I made these for someone I hope doesn’t read my blog!  Click here to see how to make candles.  It is easy and most folks like candles.  Especially us homesteader types.  I made some in dollar store mugs and some in canning jars.  Put the lid on after the candle sets and you have an instant gift.  I wanted to do something a little extra.

I love the look of a cable knit sweater.  The cable knit throws at Pottery Barn and the pillow shams speak to me of mountain cabins and cozy evenings in.  I am still working on knitting (straight) so I crocheted some little candle sweaters.  They whip up in no time and add a festive and wintery appeal.

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Chain enough that the strand fits around the largest area of the vessel.  Then in the following rows do a combination of double crochets or triple crochets.  Add in spaces, chains, three triples in one hole, create your own pattern!

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Next, a pin cushion for those on your list that enjoy sewing or would like to learn to sew.  Find an old cup and saucer in the cupboard or the thrift store.  Glue the cup to the saucer using a hot glue gun or other good glue.  Next, cut a Styrofoam ball (from the craft store, often used to make planets) in half.  Wrap a piece of beautiful vintage fabric around the ball and use pins, glue, or other means to attach it to the bottom.  Glue the Styrofoam ball into the cup.  Okay, you’re done!  Put a few pins in it so the recipient knows that it is a pin cushion.

For other ideas, visit last year’s post here on homemade, heartfelt gifts.

Happy crafting!

Candle Making…in scavenged vessels

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Candle making, a true farmgirl skill.  We go through a lot of candles here, to make the house smell nice and to read by, so sometimes it is nice to supplement with ones I have made.  I think various molds would be fun to try, tapers and tea candles and such, but without all of the fun trimmings and trappings of fancy candle making, I have resorted to using coffee cups.  Or canning jars.  Or whatever I find.  I got these fine looking vessels at the dollar store.  You can find wax and wicks at homesteading stores or online.  I purchases a giant bag of organic soy wax and the wicks that I thought would work. (I really had no idea, I simply guessed!)

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At the shop, I have a separate pan and measuring cup when dealing with wax.  Once or twice you can get all the wax out and scrub it up nice, but we simply make too many lotions, salves, and now candles to have to worry about it.  So, these instruments are specifically for wax.  They ain’t pretty, but they get the job done.  Pour wax to the top of the measuring cup and heat water to boiling.  As the wax melts, stir it with a chop stick and add more wax until the finished product is about 2 cups.  Do not add any water or oils, just straight wax.

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Ahh, my old nemesis, the wick.  It insists upon releasing its grip, and running amuck as soon as I pour the wax in.  It is truly a test of my patience.  I have found a few tricks.  Use a good glue, and glue the bottom of the wick to the bottom of the coffee cup.  Press down on the metal part with a chopstick.  The longer you leave it, the less likely it will dislodge and become a horizontal wick!

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(I love chopsticks, can you tell?  I am the one putting them in my purse at the Chinese restaurant.)  Twist the wick (carefully) around the chopstick to hold it in place.

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When the wax looks completely melted, give it a stir again.

A Note on Scents: Now is the time to add fragrance or essential oils to your product.  You will add them into the coffee up or the wax, your choice.  Funny story about the oils.  I wanted all natural scents wafting through my house.  So, I used about 60 drops of essential oil and….nothing.  Not strong enough.  I used an ounce of essential oil.  Emily casually walked in and said, “Your candle is on fire.”  I said, “Oh good!  I can smell the pine essential oil from here!”  She instructed me to go see the candle and sure enough, the whole thing was on fire with my hutch not far behind it!  Bonfire in the living room!  So, I just use enough essential oil to cover the metal ring at the bottom of the wick, but alas it doesn’t really emit much scent.  So, I broke down and bought fragrance oils.  I can tell people how bad they are all I want, but at the end of the day at Walmart when I am picking up smelly candles….Well, I may as well buy the fragrance oil and try to save a few bucks.  I poured an ounce of oil into the coffee cups, and they aren’t bad but they aren’t like Yankee Candle either, so I am not sure what the trick is.  Most people like softly scented or scent free candles anyway!  Fragrance oils are endocrine disruptors so if you have thyroid problems, you may want to opt for essential oils.

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Now, with one hand use a chopstick to hold down that pesky metal part at the bottom of the wick and with the other hand pour hot wax into the coffee cup.  That 2 cups of melted wax will make two 12 oz. coffee cups into candles.  Leave it now for several hours to set.  Remove the chopsticks and clip the wick down to 1/4 inch.  They are ready to burn brightly!

Candle Tips: Always burn candles until the wax is melted all the way to the edges or you will have a shallow hole and it will not burn evenly.  Keep wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch to prevent bonfires in the living room.  Use a snuffer, fun to say and will keep your wick from sidling to the edge of the candle.