Seeking the Simple Life and Penpals

The sun is rising, splaying pink and metallic colors across the mountains and along sides of structures. I am so thankful to be in the country. I watch the horse across the street from my office window run and jump, darting through trees, and landing in a swirl of dust near his food bowl as his owner comes out with hay.

Maryjane (my six year old granddaughter) had her first riding lesson. She at first did not want to go because she found that her cowgirl boots were too small. She perked up the minute she saw the horses and she fell in love with the bubbly, blond instructor, Miss Britney. These were great horses; Maryjane clutched one large horse in a hug and he did not budge. Maryjane easily learned how to guide the horse, as her little sister, Ayla, blew kisses to all of the horses. These are country girls.

At Grandpa’s house Saturday, we celebrated his 92nd birthday. He had to take off work to do so. He is forever at his drawing board, on the phone, or meeting with clients. He sipped his coffee as he told us stories of working on a dairy farm, milking eighty head, or helping the vets bring down the draft horses for treatment. He once rode round-up moving horses from Sterling to Estes Park, 146 miles. His stories about being a cowboy, the rodeo circuit, World War Two, working on the sugar beet farm for his uncle during the Depression, and working at a dairy come with a final relief that he moved to the city.

We are lucky to be modern farmers and homesteaders. I am able to romanticize it a bit. It doesn’t hold the same urgency of survival as it did in Grandpa’s time.

Doug and I chat in the car on the way home about our ideas and goals. We have done this before so we know what to expect and how to do things better this time. We want to live simply. So simply (and prepared enough) that if the power were to go out or a storm were to rage, we would be snug in our home with plenty of light, warmth, water, and food.

Simple enough that our electric bill stays lower than if we purchased solar. The clothes being cleaned with a washer plunger in the summer and dry flapping in the wind on the clothes line. Food chosen from rows of dirt or rows of canned goods. Meat from our own chickens or from our friends’ cows and pigs. We seek out and associate with other homesteaders/ranchers/farmers. We travel long distances to each others’ homes for dinner. Keep up on social media. Cheer each other on. Support each other.

One of my favorite old activities is to write and receive letters in the post. A moment to sit with a cup of tea and an old friend in prose and see what is going on in their world. Then with pretty stationary and pen, share our private life, thoughts, and ideas. Now that we are settled into our home and winter is upon us, if you would like to be pen-pals, please write me! I would love to correspond.

Mrs. Katie Sanders, 790 9th Street, Penrose, CO, 81240.

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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A Simpler Idea Board

I love this concept from Country Living magazine.  Take a picture or photograph that strikes you, that you love, that inspires you, and build a room (or house) around it.  I have had this picture torn from the back of the same magazine on my fridge for most of last year.  It is so lovely in its simplicity, the apron, the chicks, the colors, the flowers, it feels like home.  The saying, “Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring” has certainly been inspirational.

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Taking elements from this photo, I will put together the living room.  I think light yellow paint, soft like the chicks we will get in spring, will be lovely.

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A new sofa cover

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Post cards that belonged to my friend, Kat’s, grandmother, Hilda. These gems are over 100 years old and the text whispers stories of times past. Like the one that reads about a friend’s new fangled wringer washer!

Next week I will begin painting and making the home feel like spring.

The Country Spirit

This is the photo that came across my screen the other day!  Her mother caught her in a moment of history in the making.

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Maryjane has been in love with horses since birth.  If you have been following long you remember my friend, Nancy, who I had many farmgirl adventures with before she passed away.  Her daughter, Faleena, is like a niece to me.  And since very early in Miss Maryjane’s life she has seen Faleena with a horse.  And Faleena on a horse.  Standing on horses!

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Maryjane, at the age of two, has aspirations of being rodeo queen already.  We may have moved to the city but we are a mere thirty minutes from our real home and the country doesn’t leave one’s spirit.  It is certainly embedded in my granddaughter (and in Faleena who had to moved to the city too) and we will work diligently to get that baby girl on a path to trick riding, sheep herding, or whatever else she wishes to do!

Farmgirl School Turns Three

Last week Farmgirl School celebrated its third birthday.  I have been writing this blog for over three years.  It is amazing to think how much has happened in that span of time.  Doug and I became farmers.  We learned how to milk goats, care for chickens, watched Maryjane ride the sheep, chased ducks, grew veggies like crazy, chopped wood, canned, preserved, and made a good go at homesteading.

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I have never been what you would call a private person.  Can a writer actually be?  So you also followed along as we raised three teenagers and became grandparents, our greatest honor to date.  We became homeless.  You cried with us and supported us.  You cheered as we opened a new shop and got our verve back.

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Today I register for school.  I will continue learning.  I do not know where that path will lead me.  I do not know what path we are on.  I am praying it is leading us to some land where we can build a little house.  Maryjane wants sheep for Christmas.  I sure hope Santa sends me a place to have them!

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This next year in Farmgirl School ought to be really interesting!  I look forward to seeing it unfold!

Here are some of the stats.  They make a writer’s heart very grateful.

90,714 people have viewed this blog from over 100 countries.  Y’all were most interested in “10 Things You Should Know Before Moving to the Country” and “How Much Does it Cost to Have a Farm Animal.”  Closely followed by “How to Make Choke Cherry Wine” and “A Visit to an Amish Home.”  We all seem to be on the same page.  Thanks for sticking around!

Winds of Change

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The warm wind blew around me foretelling a light rain to come.  The mosquitos lessened and took cover as I pulled bindweed and thistle.  I don’t know why I would be weeding a garden that I cannot harvest from but I looked down the other day and noticed my nails were clean.  The lines in my hands were free of earth.  I had to get back into the garden.  I pulled weeds and counted what was growing.  Rows and rows of crops are waving proudly in the prairie soil.  Plants growing heartily in the prairie without much amendment and among weeds and voles.  My goodness, I think I can say I have a green thumb now.  How easy it will be in the city.  I begin to cry.  The cows are lowing loudly to capture the attention of the males across the road and the owls sweep grandly from tree to tree and the wind carries on it the sweet smell of first cut hay drying in the sun.  The country holds a place in my heart that cannot be tethered.  But it is not meant to be for us now.

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There are great opportunities in the city as well.  Wonderful folks to meet and wilder animals coming through from the mountains.  Its own beautiful scenery and friends to be found.  And seeds.  I can always plant seeds.  A message from a friend and I now understand.  It is sometimes hard to step off and go with the wind in a new direction but there is always a reason and the Creator knows where we are going in this sliver of time.  We just have to hold on to the tailwind and be on our way.

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We Sold a Goat and Now We’re Out Drinking (a field trip)

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The light filters through the vibrant greens of trees in the park across the street through the large windows.  I sit in Jives Coffee Lounge in Old Colorado City admiring its black ceiling, wooden floors, amazing coffee (dark chocolate mocha with cinnamon, ginger, and paprika…died and went to coffee heaven), guitars in the corner, comfy lush chairs, sprites painted across the walls.  Youth reverberates through this neighborhood infusing it with spirit, hope, unlimited potential and dreams.  The rain lets up.  An older artist in painted smock walks down the sidewalk.  I suddenly long for canvas.  The library beckons from the corner and shops line the main corridor.  Festive twinkly lights outline yards and the urban homesteading scene is alive and thriving in this little pocket of Colorado Springs.  Goats are allowed, as are chickens, and clotheslines, and bicycles with baskets.  Bees, backyards, and life fill the West Side.  If I were to move to the city, this is where I’ll go.  But alas, they probably haven’t allowed sheep yet.

We finish our coffees, close our books, and get back in the truck to go get chicken feed.  A stop here and a stop there and we still don’t want to go home.  We head out to Bar Louie for a happy hour drink and a snack.

For a moment we are city people, sitting on bar stools, holding hands, watching the rain on the outdoor patios, imagining sun and summer.  Never have we been so late to plant.  I swirl the red wine in my glass as he tells me about a rule change in the NFL.  The waiter comes over and inquires whether we’ve come out for dinner.

“No,” I say, “We are farmers and this is supposed to be our busiest month.  But we can’t plant in all this rain so we sold a goat and now we’re out drinking.”

Silent pause.

“That sounds like a good story line.” he says.

(Elsa was picked up by five extremely thrilled homeschooled children and their mom to start her life in New Mexico yesterday.  Elsa never really liked it here once we moved.  She was used to being literally in the back yard and she just wasn’t getting all of the attention she had grown accustomed to.  She jumped in their mini-van and was off!)

Here’s to the sun coming out today!

Our Farmstead (a new chapter)

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The house smells faintly of wood smoke.  It is beautiful here.  Serene.  Earlier when taking my greyhound for a walk through the acres of tall grass, he startled a large owl.  It fled from a massive willow and swept overhead across the pasture, it’s long grey wings soaring.  The skyline is seemingly painted.  Such a sense of surreality to it all.  The sun rising over the prairie, those luminous mountain peaks, the glorious rose fire of sunset, the glittering city lights in the distance.   The night sky is dark and mysteriously layered.  There is space here for finding peace.  Space for finding self.

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Such an odd thing to move without one’s children.  Granted they are adults and don’t live at home anymore and I am a mere forty-two minutes away if one were counting (further from my son and daughter-in-law in Denver) but still quite accessible and a new era begins.  It has never been just Doug and I.

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As I walk up the long ramp of the deck to enter the house I feel as though I am walking up a dock, a sense of vacation permeates this place.  Entering through the door and into the warm kitchen, quaintly decorated, I feel as if I have rented a cabin for the weekend.  I may have to return home Monday.  But in fact, this is home.  What a wondrous thing.

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I don’t feel like this is a farm.  In fact, the idea of having a farm exhausts me.  This past year I attempted to grow enough vegetables for market, to start a CSA for milk and vegetables.  To sell dozens of eggs.  I could only grow enough food for us.  I only had enough milk for our use and for making cheese.  The chickens went on strike.  Interns are no longer in my future.  I like my space too much.  I will continue to teach classes.  I will have friends over for tea.  I will grow enough for us, have another milker to sell fresh goat’s milk next year, and now that the chickens are penned up in an eight food high large coop and yard, I should be able to locate their eggs!  No, I do not want a farm.  This is a farmstead.  A homestead with farm animals and a large garden.  It is a place to sustain ourselves and to teach others how to do the same.  A place to find inspiration and joy.  New memories to come.  Our farmstead, our homestead, our new place is here.  I can hardly believe I am not dreaming.

Our New Homestead

I have been stalking Craigslist.  It is exhausting.  The rents in our county have nearly doubled.  Mention eight cats (let alone a dog, chickens, ducks, and goats…and self employment and bad credit) and it’s amazing how quickly someone else gets the house!  Doug and I talked about what we wanted.  Do we want to give up our farm animals and move closer to town?  No.  Do we want to pick up extra work so we can afford something more?  No.  So we started looking at towns 30-45 minutes away from where we are now.  Really just a shot down a dirt road from here but they are not familiar to us so they felt very far.  Even there, dilapidated trailers or houses in town that didn’t allow animals was all we could find.

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I walked by the desk and quickly typed in the computer-memorized web address for Craigslist to take a quick look to see if there was anything new.  A brief post had been listed an hour prior.  It didn’t give very much information, nor did it mention animals, but I did not dilly dally by emailing, I called straight away.  We hopped in the car and went to see it fifteen minutes later.

Even though I had not given the landlords a clear answer yet, they had turned down potential seekers after we came to see the place.  The couple used to run cattle and there are pens and chicken coops on the property.  They like honey bees.  There is a large garden already fenced.  There is a clothes line.  There is a well.  Hold onto your hats folks, there is a wood cook stove attached to a propane one in the kitchen!  There is everything we could desire.

It is  few miles due south of the sleepy town of Calhan.  Not very far, about forty minutes from where we are now.  I can still pick up the baby to watch her.  I can afford the extra gas money because the rent is cheaper than the townhome I rented some sixteen years ago.  Blessingly low rent.  This could be a place that could stand out in the minds of our children and grandchildren as “Grammie and Papa’s house”.  A fun retreat in the country.  A place we can stay for a long time.  I am so relieved (as Doug is) to set ourselves into a place and stay.

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The owners of the property have their house on the land as well.  His grandfather bought the old house we will be renting many years ago and the house itself whispers stories of its past and of joyous events.  It sits on ten acres where on a clear day one can see from New Mexico to Denver.  The mountains majestically framing the view.  Mature trees surround the homestead.  It is a peaceful place.

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We are putting a bit of work into the house before we move in as the last tenants did not love it like I already do.  Yesterday our interns, Ethan and Stephanie, went and helped us remove the carpet.  Beneath it we found two layers of linoleum and beneath that lay in secret the original wood floor.  I  nearly cried.  I will be painting the main rooms a creamy antique white with a slight gold undertone.  This house longs for bright colors and exposed windows.  There are seventeen feet of windows in the living room alone!  I will share before and after photos as we go, but come along with me as I give you the initial tour!

The house was built in 1905.

The house was built in 1905.

This is the living room looking out the front door.  The houses faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

This is the living room looking out the front door. The house faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The "dining room" is a part of the living room.  The sixties era linoleum didn't want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

The “dining room” is connected to the living room. The sixties era linoleum didn’t want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

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Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

There is a second bedroom but it is so dark with the wood paneling and the small window I could not get a good shot of it.  It will be brightened up and turned into a guest bedroom and will hold all of our apothecary items.

Now come into the warmest part of the house…

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The wood cookstove

The wood cookstove

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

Now come see the yard…

Water from the well (no more water bill)

Water from the well (no more water bill)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

A dusk view of the garden.  It is about 600 sq ft.

A dusk view of the garden. It is about 600 sq ft.

One view of the ten acres

One view of the ten acres

The sign we saw on our way back home.  A positive sign indeed.

The sign we saw on our way back home. A positive sign indeed.

The Making of a Country Girl

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Twice a day I sit on the milking stanchion next to our milking goat, Isabella Noni, with my head resting on her side.  I am not a particularly helpful milker.  I milk from one side for awhile then Doug finishes milking her.  My hands aren’t big enough to get around her utters when they are full and I am slow, but I like helping and leaning my head on her.  I don’t hear her heartbeat, just her stomach gurgling.  I feel her course fur and strong form.  Being next to a sentient being as sweet as our goat carries with it a peace that I cannot describe.  A peace we did not know while living in suburbia on a sixteenth of an acre with city rules.  An audible exhale, if you will.

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I wish I could have captured the moment the other day when I looked out in the goat yard and saw Shyanne and her boyfriend, Dillon, laughing while being toppled by baby goats.  It was the most endearing sight.  Two kids that want to move to the mountains this summer and away from the country I still find in the goat yard, or feeding the babies a bottle, or taking care of chickens.  This country life gets into every fiber of our being.  There is no going back to the city without farming permeating every cell.

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My friend, Lauren, who purchased my Dwarf goat, Katrina, is a powerhouse young homesteader.  She, and her neighborhood of homesteading friends are changing the world out there in Old Colorado City.  The vote is tomorrow on whether to allow goats and chickens.  I lounged in her back yard for awhile on her porch watching the men putting up a yurt.  The view of the mountains so close it felt like one could hike to it.  Her little old house and modest yard brimming with life.  Three goats, chickens, dogs, children, friends and laughter made it a place of enchantment and inspiration.  Country girls take the country with them wherever they go!

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When Emily and I went to Nancy’s house for the first time years ago, Emily was just coming out of a rough stage and it was new that she would even go places with me.  As we got out of the car and were greeted by Faleena and Nancy’s bright smiles and contagious country enthusiasm, I saw Emily brighten and open up.  Faleena handed her a newborn goat and I saw her exterior melt.  Farm animals, fresh air, and homesteading friends can do that, they can change you, make your heart bigger, make you happier and more in tune with life.

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Maryjane ran around the back  yard at my birthday party Saturday through leftover snow in her white tights without shoes on.  She had thrown her sweater off somewhere too.  Her mouth showed remnants of dirt sampling, and a wide smile crossed her face.  A baby goat head butted her and ran her over which did not make her happy in the least as she screamed her protest.  But a few minutes later she was distracted with a chicken that ran by and Isabella Noni, who she loves.  I hold her as she rides the large goat.  Isabella is bigger than our greyhound, with the patience of a nanny dog.  She is helping make a country girl.  Maryjane will hold the love of farm animals, dirt and the vegetables in it, and chicken eggs in her heart and in every fiber of her being.  Anywhere she goes she will have the spirit of a farmer within her.

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Farmgirls are compassionate, in tune with their surroundings, strong, vibrant folks. We’ve had rough gos and have been knocked down.  We have stood back up, planted another row, wrestled a sheep, and come out stronger and in time to make supper.  We like a good glass of wine on the porch and can tell the weather before the news.  We can get it all done, and have time to sit and talk to the neighbors.  Farmgirls are loyal friends, don’t take crap, and are confident, sexy and funny.  Being a farmgirl is not for the faint of heart.  Farmgirls help keep the farming communities alive.

Proud.

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