The Life of an Ordinary Woman (a fascinating book)

“To really learn about history, there is nothing quite as good as a memoir.”

-KS

This book. I am mesmerized as I turn the pages. I am transported to a time that few books have written about, particularly by women. What was it like during the mining booms? What was it like to live in the mountains in a time where corsets, trains, and horse drawn sleighs were the norm? One could read textbooks and proper dates and names, but to be transported there, a memoir is necessary.

I love memoirs about homesteading and farming (not to mention memoirs from the 1800’s or travel memoirs, or autobiographies- I just love to know about people) and I find that I learn so much more in tales of recollection than I do in DIY books. The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis is a fascinating and clear account of her life. She came to Colorado in a covered wagon. She was raised in a mining town. Her coming of age story speaks openly about her first love, her exasperation with her mother being with child all of the time, her accounts of helping to raise her siblings. The entertainment, decor, and lifestyles of this time are at the same time so different than our current lives, yet oddly similar.

This memoir spans from 1875 to 1918 but continues the dialogue in the introduction and in a second book. We read a lot of male accounts of history but this brave woman’s accounts showed me intimately just how damn hard it was back then. Anything we face in this day and age just cannot compare to the trials and every day dilemmas of that time. Her mother had a phrase when people were doing well, “They are having their white bread now.”

I had a dear friend when I was young who was born in 1892 so it reminds me that this story was not so long ago. I find myself wanting a long black dress trimmed in velvet with hoops beneath. I wonder if that will come back into style. The fun of this book is that it takes place in Colorado, not very far from where I reside. So the names from Pueblo to Westcliff, to Denver and Salida are at once familiar yet foreign, as it was all so very different. This book is a fascinating account of a women’s life as a bride and mother, life in mining camps in Colorado in the 1800’s, of life, love, loss, and hope, and most importantly, it is an accurate account of history. I do hope you will read it!

Finding the (Nearly) Perfect Property

The very first showing of our house resulted in an offer.  We are under contract.  I love this little old house.  I am proud of what I have done with the yard and the sheer beauty of the space makes me smile.  I turned a barren driveway and dirt lot into an Eden in less than three growing seasons.  So, now it’s perfect, time to move, right?!

This will be the 28th time I have moved.  Doug’s parents lived in the same house for thirty years.  He’s made me promise that we stay ten years to forever in the next house!  Is the next house the sprawling adobe on a hundred acres that we envisioned as our next and forever home?  Does it have water rights and mineral rights?  Does it have a wood stove and solar?  No, nope, and not yet.

We live in Colorado.  We were both born and raised here.  A zillion and a half folks who love pot, mountains, or who are in the military have moved here and prices rival San Francisco and New York City now.  That baffles us both.  My first house in Denver was $36,000.  Those days are gone.  Pueblo kind of got stuck in a time warp thanks to an old reputation of crime and gangs, but the city has cleaned up a lot and since there is so little housing in Colorado Springs, military families are moving here.  Everything has gone up 50% in the past few years here in Pueblo, everywhere else we are talking a hundred grand more for everything from the suburbs to trailers.

When you are choosing a homestead, you have to choose your priorities.  For us, Doug’s job is a really good one that he enjoys.  Our children are here.  Our granddaughters are here.  And we were raised here; we like it here.  We found a small town 30 minutes south of Colorado Springs.  It puts us closer to his work and our kids by 15 minutes.  It looks like it was a back to the land beacon back in the seventies.  Driving down dirt roads one passes a large sprawling house and orchard next to a run down trailer next to a marijuana greenhouse, next to a house built in the 90’s.  Very eclectic.

There are no wells and almost all of the water in Colorado is city water or not owned by the property owner.  In Penrose, everything is on city water (more affordable than the other towns we have lived in thus far at least) and some properties have coveted ditch rights to water fields.  The only one we saw like that was snatched up in days.

So, the question one must ask themselves is, “What do we want?”  (Besides a sprawling adobe on a hundred irrigated acres…for $200,000…near Doug’s work and next door to the kids…)

For us, we have long given up the idea of commercial farming.  We just want a few goats, chickens, ducks, a ginormous garden, and a great view.  We can subsist on that easily.  Three bedrooms and two baths.  A wood stove.

Our realtor took us out Sunday and we went to the three places that were for sale under $300,000.  The first one looked like the makings of a horror movie, with slanting floors, a falling down manufactured home, with lots of junk on two acres.  The second one had five acres but we weren’t sure what we would do with five acres without water.  One would need a rather long hose.  The views were cut off by nearby houses and the ceiling of the manufactured home was falling in.  That one was $225,000.  Lord, help us.  So, off to the third house (which we had driven by and disregarded).

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All pictures were taken off of the listing on the internet.

It was humble on the outside.  The inside was completely redone.  Gorgeous wood floors, high ceilings, new kitchen, fresh carpet in the three bedrooms, all new paint.  Two bathrooms with new vanities.  A large master bedroom with a perfect view of the nearby mountain range.  No wood stove.

The house sits crooked on just over an acre of cactus and cedar with views all around.  A fenced in back yard is in place to keep our dog home before we can secure the mismatched fencing around rest of the property.  A large shed with electricity would make a fine chicken coop.  Neighbors are quite close.  “Sometimes it is nice to have neighbors near,” my daughter commented later.

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As we drove home discouraged and sure we’d have an offer on our house, I turned to Doug and asked, “If that house (and it was the only real house for sale) had six foot fencing around it and a wood stove, would we buy it?”  He replied, “In a second.”

Since those are things we can do over time, we put in an offer and it was accepted!  We move August 15th. I know it’s early and there are a million things that could go wonky from now to then (I am systematically going through over six and a half years of blog posts deleting irrelevant posts like when we thought we found a new rental or when I wanted to become a chef) but I wanted to share the news that we have found our homestead.  It may not be the elaborate dream we had, but it is perfect for us, because it will be ours.  I am beyond grateful.  To think four years ago this week on the blog we were losing everything we owned and moving into our friend’s guest bedroom.  And now we will have our own farm.

Farmgirl School adventures continue!  Happy Homesteading wherever you are!

Homestead For Sale

Farmgirl School began in a little rented farmhouse in a small town.  We jumped to what we hoped would be our forever home, a rented homestead in Calhan, that proved disastrous.  Our rented homestead left us homeless, penniless, and losing nearly everything.  We jumped for six months from friend’s guest room to friend’s basement until we worked hard enough and saved enough to get into an apartment.  Our apartment was fun (top floor, big tub, fireplace with a light switch) but we longed for a garden and chickens once more.  Enter this beautiful homestead that we have enjoyed, our own place, for the past two and a half years.  And even though we live in a lovely neighborhood and have so much here, we find ourselves called back the country.  Back to a small town.  Farmgirl School will continue as I take you with me to look at properties and move to our (hopefully) forever farm.  I am so lucky to have so many amazing friends and readers to support us on this journey over the years and I am looking forward to making memories with you for many years to come!  But now, I want to share with you my beloved urban homestead, which is now for sale.

Click here, maybe you will fall in love too!

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The Good Life

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When you walk through the gates of my little urban homestead, there is a sense of serenity within its walls.  The trees grow abundantly and circles and rectangles and wild tufts of herbs and flowers and vegetables grow everywhere.  Climbing grapes and flourishing raspberries, rows of corn.  The chicks chirp madly for more food and the hens strut about their yard.  The farm dog stretches lazily on the couch.  The cats are curled up in the sun.  Homemade bread and fresh eggs for breakfast with hot coffee on the porch listening to crickets and birds sing.

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Yes, we lead a very sweet life.  This is the life of a homesteader.  I have given you 27 ways and gone into more detail over 24 days of what loveliness goes into being a homesteader.  I hope you know now that you can homestead anywhere, at any age.  You can start with baking from scratch and move on to full out farming later.  That you should most definitely get a cute apron.

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Always buy the best you can afford.  Cast iron is the best.  Do your chores kind of slow.  Keep your mind easy.  Get a pen pal.  Strive to live an old fashioned life.  There are great joys and blessings that come with being a homesteader.

Now, I happen to know of a darling homestead coming up for sale.  It is fully solar powered, with a wood stove, and a root cellar.  It has a chicken coop and outbuildings.  It has established gardens and a sense of home and place.  It is beautifully kept up, wood floors, large kitchen.  My homestead goes on the market today.  I am going back to the country.

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I will post the MLS as soon as I have it.  If anyone knows of anyone who wants a sweet little urban homestead in Colorado, I’ve got one!

I’m going to have goats again, y’all.

Old Stuff (why buying used is the way to a sustainable homestead)

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Shielding our eyes, we stared up to the tops of the building facades stating 1885 or some odd old number in stone.  Buildings stretch along the street that would have once held the needs of a western town.  The train station held its ground- now a senior center- near the downtown streets.  I could just picture the comings and goings of buggies and hoop skirts, the sound of the train whistle on the wind.  The shops in Florence, Colorado are now filled with art and antiques, bygone eras of items still in good preserve.

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Oh, I’m no better than anyone else.  If we need something it is very easy to hop on Amazon and in two clicks have it shipped to the door for not a lot of cash.  Walmart is a back up.  Yikes, all that plastic.  All those things just doomed to break in record time forcing us to buy again!

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The three quart cast iron sauce pan shined and its wooden handle was sound.  I had never seen this sized pan.  Two quarts is oft too small, and a soup pot is a bit much at times, but three quarts…my goodness, that’s just right.  So was the price.  Its tiny match, a pot just big enough to heat up some barbecue sauce, came along for the ride back to our homestead as well.

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The bottom of a butter churner, a wooden pestle, and a large grain scoop that will never fail also joined our foray.  We sipped coffee over breakfast and enjoyed the views the town offered.

 

If you are in need of something new, be it measuring cups (I love my old battered aluminum ones), coffee pot (percolator anyone?), a dress, a whisk, a piece of furniture, Corningware,  dishes, a stock pot, an oil lamp, a new coat, a dutch oven, or a funky 1960’s glider, you can probably find it out there.  Try antique stores, garage sales, Ebay, or second hand stores.  There is usually not a thing wrong with old items, they have simply been traded in for a new, plastic ones.

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The benefits of buying things antique is that they have been around this long, they will last and last for you as well.  They are generally cheaper or comparable in price to their new fangled counterparts.  And they add charm to your homestead.  It’s the best recycling of all and includes an entertaining half day of “the thrill of the hunt.”  We love visiting new towns and the treasures they keep hidden behind 1800’s storefronts.  I love the feel of a good whisk in my hand that a great-grandmother likely used before me, whisking eggs from the chicken coop.

Visiting Small Towns (a fun day away just down the road)

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We meandered through jewelry and antique stores.  We stopped for a cup of coffee.  We walked through art galleries and stared in awe at the buildings.  We walked hand-in-hand idly down the sidewalks.  We stopped and talked to a grandmother who has lived in Trinidad her whole life and listened as she recalled memories.

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They don’t build like this anymore.  The intricate details of each cornerstone and inset lettering.  The grandness of a small town.

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One can learn a lot from the art and sculptures set throughout a place.  This was a town of coal miners and of ranchers.

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Can you hear the sound of the horses pulling carriages down the Main street?  The eruptions in the saloon?  The sound of a bustling small town on a Saturday night?  Ghosts of people and activity over the past hundred and fifty years swarms by in my imagination and the sense of place captures me.

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I wonder what the street looked like when people lined up at the grand Opera house.  Or what the lights looked like as kids lined up at the movie theater on a Friday night.  The roller rink must have been great fun at the time that I used to roller skate in the 70’s and 80’s.

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There are new cafes to visit and bookstores and side streets, but alas, we started our journey down Main street too late in the day and everyone is closing up shop.

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Just like the small museums I wrote about yesterday, there are probably small towns all around you, other cities, other places a half hour, an hour, maybe an hour and a half away that hold history, and art, and a different life.  There are books to look at and coffee to sip, and elders to engage in conversation with.  There are new parks to soak up the sun in, and places to see.  Perhaps this Saturday you will head out to a new town to explore, enjoy, and get inspired.  These little day trips are good for the spirit- a change of scenery and the exploration of something new.

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A Walk Through History (visiting your local museums)

My daughter, Shyanne and her boyfriend were recalling one evening to each other memories of the family vacations of their youth.  His family takes daring, exotic vacations that sound thrilling.  They took Shyanne with them to go zip-lining in Costa Rica and they went deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys.  Shyanne described to him the streets around the Plaza and the views across New Mexico.  And the museums.  Our kids went to museums on family vacations.  Art, history, children’s, aquatic, zoos, outdoor sculpture parks.  We love them.  We seek them out.  But you don’t have to go on vacation to go to museums.

In your town or a town near you there will be hidden a gem of history, of art, of culture.  An inexpensive place to explore.  To be enriched.  To be inspired.

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I was asked to speak at the Trinidad History Museum this last weekend on indigenous plants and remedies for the opening of their exhibit, Borderlands of Southern Colorado; Remedios, Medicine and Health.  Trinidad is an hour south of us and we enjoyed seeing a new place and a new museum.

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We adore old houses.  The architecture, the story, the ghosts that live within, the décor; it all speaks to us.  We learn the history of a place, the hopes and dreams of its settlers, the story behind sepia faces in old photographs.

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We get decorating ideas.  We imagine what life would be like back then.  We walk from room to room imagining life a hundred years or two hundred years ago.  The Bloom mansion was built in 1882.  It is a spectacular home and living exhibit.

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We walked through the gardens to the adobe building that houses the gift shop and the current exhibits.  The beautiful dancers from Folklorico spun and tapped and smiled as they entertained the crowd.

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Inside, we walked past faces from the past- miners and cattlemen, Native Americans and Scots.  Artifacts, tools, Catholicism, remedies, furniture all set up in a way to help us understand and imagine life in a small western town just north of the border.  How people lived.  How people survived.  How people thrived.

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Kit Carson’s intricately embroidered coat is on display.  Documents and historical pieces that bring to life old stories and articles.  That make these images tangible and teach us about human nature and about ourselves.

The Baca house was a real treat.  It is closed for restoration but we were able to walk through and get a glimpse.  This adobe house was built in 1873 by Felipe and Dolores Baca.  They traded 22,000 pounds of wool to have it built.  That is a lot of wool!

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The affluence of the family can be felt in the details.  There is a widow’s walk, Victorian and Greek architectural additions and furniture.  Felipe died rather young and Dolores dressed in black the rest of her days there.  A love story behind the intricate details a home with cracking mud walls.

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Museums like the Trinidad History Museum on the Historic Santa Fe Trail often offer children’s programs, community events, and learning opportunities.  You can find my books and many other wonderful literary works and children’s books in the gift shop, as well as unique gifts and art.

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So, perhaps this weekend, you might seek out a nearby museum.  Walk through its gardens, its gates, its doorways.  Listen to the whispers of another time and let it change you, influence you, inspire you, educate you.

Trinidad History Museum

312 East Main Trinidad, Trinidad, CO, 81082

719-846-7217

https://www.historycolorado.org/trinidad-history-museum

Talks, Events, and Big News

We are in the midst of Spring here, warm and breezy, and filled with bright sun.  Everything is coming to life and there are lots of events I want to share with you!

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Talk on Remedios, Medicine, and Healing at the Trinidad History Museum will take place on Saturday, May 4th at noon.  I am honored to be speaking at the opening of the museum’s newest exhibit, Borderlands.  It is fascinating exhibit showcasing art and artifacts which tell the history of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.  I will be speaking on indigenous plants as medicine in their new medicine garden.  Free!  The museum is hosting fun, free activities the whole day to celebrate the exhibit opening.

Trinidad History Museum link

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Herb Walk around the Riverwalk for El Pueblo History Museum in Pueblo, Colorado.  I will be leading an herb walk around the Riverwalk as a part of the Modern Homesteading series put on by the El Pueblo History Museum on Monday, June 10th at 11:00.  Tickets are $10 and are available through the museum.

El Pueblo History Museum link

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Urban Farm-to-Table Dinner

My daughter, Emily, and I will be hosting a pop-up dinner party Saturday, June 15th at 6:00 on our mini-farm in Pueblo, Colorado.  Four courses, all fresh from the gardens, wine pairings, and tours of our homestead.  Visit Bob the rooster, see how our solar works, check out the root cellar, walk through the medicine gardens, and enjoy a beautiful evening with great food and fun.  Tickets are $45 and are available through me.  Katie@PumpkinHollowFarm.net

Pumpkin Hollow Farm link

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Master Certified Herbalism Course- Autumn Session

I will be teaching a 12 week Master Herbalist course at our farm every Saturday beginning August 24th at 10:00.  Autumn is the best time to take the herbalism course because all of the plants are still in bloom and identifying and herb walks are much more helpful.  Learn dozens and dozens of medicinal herbs, their uses, identification, many ways to turn them into medicine, practitioner training, animal medicine, and the traditional treatments of every common ailment known today.  This comprehensive class is only $650 (plus $30 for the text book if you do not have it)  Sign up today!  Class size is very limited.  Katie@PumpkinHollowFarm.net for a registration form.

Class info link

Certified Herbalist Correspondence Course available for $250 plus text book.

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We are busy around here and life is just spectacular.  I have very exciting news to share with you!  Our daughter, Emily, and her long time boyfriend, Reed, are engaged to be married this summer!  Our beautiful family just gets bigger and more bonded and what an amazing blessing it all is.

 

Making Your Own Chili Powder and Cornmeal (from seed to plant to pantry)

Drying staples is a way to preserve the harvest and has been done, presumably, since the beginning of time.  Come autumn, at just about the moment that I think I cannot possibly water one more plant or can one more thing, frost is at the doorstep.  I gather in baskets the remaining produce and carry it to the still-warm kitchen.  There will be peppers.  And there will be corn that I purposely left too long on the stalk.

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The corn came in a humble seed package at the farmer’s market.  Aztec blue corn.  I love crowing Indian corn and usually it is for popcorn, but this one is specifically for, essentially, growing blue corn meal.  I pulled the husks over their heads, removed most of the silk, and hung them up to dry on a hook in the kitchen.

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If you have been following me for any number of years y’all know that my heart belongs to New Mexico.  The terroir is so familiar to me that I can identify a New Mexican wine or chile in a blind taste test.  My friend brought me back two large ristras from Taos, New Mexico to adorn our front porch when we first moved in.

I learned that the winds out here are fierce in the spring and Mother Nature likes to trim trees and clear out debris (like lawn chairs and stuff).  She got a hold of my ristras and shook ’em like nobody’s business.  Now, I have had a notoriously difficult time of growing peppers over the years.  But there in my paths, window boxes, and in rogue spots of the garden amongst herbs and zucchini were thriving pepper plants that she had planted from seed.  “Show off,” I muttered under my breath.  I sit there tending to each seed with exact care, squinting to read the backs of seed packets, and still failing and there goes Mother Earth, flinging seeds into the barren soil seven weeks before the last frost and coming out with amazing results.  I could learn a thing or two from her.

But then happy day, I am growing New Mexican chilies!  It turns out that this very spot of land that I reside on is nearly exactly like the land in New Mexico.  The same altitude, the same soil, the same elements of the places there I love.  Not like the farmlands just east of me, nor like the dusty plains west of me.  Right here, I have a little New Mexico-in-Colorado oasis.

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I am getting better at growing peppers and last year I brought in quite a few.  Last year was not a good growing year though.  In the spring the temperatures rose to a hundred degrees and hovered there straight through till frost.  The inconsistent watering didn’t help, and I got some kind of rot on the bottom of the peppers.  But I still managed to save some.  They sat on my cutting board on the kitchen counter up until yesterday.  They had all turned a lovely, passionate red and were dry.  Once chilies are dried, they lose that volatile oil that burns the heck out of your skin when you touch them, but still take care not to get the chili powder in your face or under your nails.

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Chop off the very top stem and using a sharp paring knife pull out the seeds.  Keep these because we are planting them in a few months!

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Throw the chilies in a food processor, coffee grinder, or other grinding mechanism.  I used the grain pitcher with my Vitamix.  I like my chili powder nice and fine.

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Normally I keep the New Mexican chile separate from the others but some of them had rotted so I didn’t have a lot.  I blended the Pueblo chilies with poblanos and the red chilies from New Mexico.  The taste is spectacular.  Hints of tomato and earth, smoky, not too hot, and better because it was from my own garden.  I sprinkle it on potatoes and everything else under the sun.

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As for the corn, use your fingernail to easily dislodge each kernel, taking care not to pull too much chaff in with it.  I put the seeds in a strainer with bigger holes.  As you shake, blow gently on the kernels and the chaff will blow out.  Place corn in blender or food processor and grind to a fine powder.  That earthy, corn flavor is great.  I used it in my pizza crust last night blended with regular flour.  Save one ear for planting this year!

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Growing, harvesting, drying, grinding, cooking with, saving seeds, planting- all these beautiful, ancient practices connect us with our ancestors and help us feel connected to the earth and our food.  Soon we will be in the garden again!

Field Trip to an Animal Sanctuary (and saving chicks)

We loaded up the cat kennel in the Fiat (our urban farm vehicle) and headed hours north.  Through our old county, our old town, past our old farmhouse, and down the Kiowa-Bennett road.  The prairie is breathtaking even in winter.  Golden strands peek through layers of snow as the sun glistens across the vast expanse of country.  The western sky a watery blue stretching far and wide.  Singing to country music on the radio and a good feeling in our hearts, we drove towards Danzig’s Roost, a rooster and animal Sanctuary in Bennett, Colorado.

 

Sometimes the carefully protected public get glimpses inside factory farms.  What we consider family, humane, free range, and all the other marketing words that help sell meat is all a façade of chicken houses crammed with suffering birds and sometimes people are able to get a peek at those and the whole operation is exposed.  The huge chick rescue in northern Colorado this month made the news and raised thousands for resourceful sanctuaries.  But then so often apathy returns and people continue their habits.  Sad that animals are suffering, but unwilling to omit them from their plate.

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We were on our way to take home some of those rescued birds.  Chickens are snuggly, sweet, and have all different personalities.  One of the chicks we brought home is tiny, fluffy, and sings day and night like she is singing her songs of thanks to the heavens.  She doesn’t like to be put down.  As it happens, we went to get between four and six birds and ended up with seven, soft, white babies.  They are in the guest room.  They have every disease you can think of from parasites, E coli, to upper respiratory infections.  That is what is in meat.  I am treating them with my herbs.  So far they are thriving.  These lucky few were saved and will live their life here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm dust bathing, getting treats, and sitting in the sun or on our laps.

We are only allowed poultry in Pueblo but one day we will have land where we can take in more animals, save more lives, do what we can.  But every life counts.

Jewel Straightedge runs the sanctuary that we picked the chicks up from.  She has, what looks to be, hundreds of roosters that she has rescued.  Two calves with big, heartbreaking eyes are from the dairy down the road.  The little girl fights to live.  Darling sheep and goats and geese that clearly know the friend that rescued them all add to the raucous singing of the farm.  Turkeys strut about.  The wind picks up and turns cold and we hasten our tour.

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Jewel and her team rescued over six hundred chicks from the thousands and thousands that were being inhumanely killed and dying without food and water.  With the swift turn in weather, we help her chase hundreds of chicks trying to get them back into their warm enclosure.  It is every bit as hilarious as it sounds.  We are happy as we head back towards home.

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(Note: the chickens we rescued ended up dying anyway because they are meat chickens. We still had a bit to learn about that breed! This experience reinforced in us the desire to buy from friends who have small farms or raise our own.)