Homemade Christmas Presents (planning now!)

I know no one likes to speak of Christmas before Halloween, y’all, but for us that like to make homemade presents, there is a bit of panic in the air. How close are we to Christmas? Nine and a half weeks! That may seem like a long time and there is still plenty of time to pick out costumes and plan Thanksgiving dinner, but I am wondering how I got so far behind! (Oh yea, I moved.)

The sewing machine has taken up residence on the dining room table and will probably stay there on up to Yule. There are lists of yarn and fabric still to get. Things to create. People to make presents for! And as you all know, nine weeks goes pretty darn fast.

My grandmother made many homemade gifts. She made this doll for Shyanne that year.

It is easy to go pick up something from Walmart, wrap it up, and say, “Here ya go!” But said item may inevitably break, homestead budget rarely allows for elaborate and multiple gifts, and a homemade gift speaks volumes. Wrapped in a homemade gift is poetry and love songs and a recipient can feel the affection from the giver (too romanticized?). A homemade gift is usually useful and deliberate.

So, what can you make?

Do you sew? You can make any number of things, from quilts to aprons. Maybe cloth napkins or place mats.

Do you crochet? You can make shawls, scarves, blankets, candle or cup cozies.

Do you paint? You could paint a wooden box for keepsakes or a painting of a favorite pet.

Do you weld? My daughter’s boyfriend welded together car parts to make me the most charming snowman I have ever seen.

Do you wood work? Crates and boxes and furniture are all amazing gifts.

Do you cook/bake/preserve? Jars of preserves, homemade wine, and bread are wonderful to receive.

Christmas shopping is kind of fun, so maybe get someone cast iron. Cloth napkins with good wooden spoons. Candles or an oil lamp. Antiques that are still useful. Or if all else fails, no one will balk at a gift card to Lehman’s!

I will be thinking of what I am going to dress up as for my friends’ Halloween party but I will also be busy creating gifts. What great gifts do you like to create?

Homemade Gifts, Cards, and Letter Writing (Homesteading #23)

Homesteading is about living on less so that you can work less, do what you love more, and attain financial security.  Homesteading is about doing more yourself because the pride that comes from the work of your own hands is unprecedented and you can control your own environment.  What you put on your skin, in your body, how you treat the soil, it all matters.

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Homesteading brings with it a peace of mind that we have mostly lost in our fast paced, make money, do everything lifestyles.  Our ancestors worked hard but they also did methodical, slow work where one can get their mind right.  Slowly stirring curds to make cheese, hanging clothes on the line in the fresh air, planting seeds that will feed the family through winter in jars on root cellar shelves.  Doug chops wood when he is upset with me.  There was one winter that we had a lot of wood!

Another beautiful aspect of homesteading is homemade gifts and cards.  Really, the mass marketed, big box store, kids in China made crap has got to stop.  No one wants a skirt that will fray in a month, or appliances they will never use, or heaven forbid, tchotchkes.  We have to dust enough!

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A bar of goat’s milk soap, a jar of preserves, chokecherry gin, pickles, or chutney.  Hand written recipes, a wheel of cheese, a plant for the garden, or saved seeds with a story.  Or something really special like a quilt, or something woven.  A hand poured candle, or a keep sake box.  Jacob, my daughter’s boyfriend, welded together parts to make a snowman for me for Christmas.  I love it.

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Hand painted cards are a lovely surprise, or have a child draw out the card.  Write personal notes.  Don’t depend on the card company’s catchy phrases.

Make a phone call.  Write a letter.  Send a card just because.

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I am anxious this fall to get out the sewing machine and the crochet hook and start creating skirts, shawls, and quilts.  To set up my paints and be ready to paint a canvas or use watercolors to create cards to send to my pen pals.

These things come from the heart.  And heart is the very soul of homesteading,

Would you like to be my pen pal?  There is nothing like opening the mailbox to find a letter, neatly addressed and stamped.  I love to put it in my apron pocket and then sit with a cup of tea and savor both.

Mrs. Katie Sanders, 1901 Brown Ave, Pueblo, CO 81004

Here are a few more ideas:

Simple Gifts and Spiral Notebooks

Painted Letters

Fiber Arts, Animals, and Projects

These desert mornings are cool.  I put a cardigan on before I poured my coffee.  I put the chicks outside yesterday but I may need to run the heat lamp out there for mornings.  It’s going to get warm though.  It was ninety degrees yesterday and it will be again today (wasn’t I just wearing a winter hat Sunday?), so it may seem a terrible time to talk about fiber arts!  Fiber arts are apart of our series here and a welcome skill on the homestead.  Think cozy sweaters, gloves, blankets, and unique gifts all created by you.

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I have found that folks that begin crocheting first have a hard time knitting (where is that darned hook?).  I learned how to crochet from my grandmother, among many things (Lord, I miss her!), when I was thirteen.  I entered my first blanket into the school’s art show and won first place.  I was sure thrilled!  I went on to make many a baby blanket (about my patience level) for friends, all of my own children and my darling granddaughters.  Then moved on to cozies for candles and mugs and fingerless gloves.  Lots of fun ideas.  I have a loom downstairs I am just giddy to learn to how to use.  It may as well be a car in a million pieces; I haven’t the first idea how to put it together, let alone use it.  That is a goal for this winter.

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Gandalf at dusk.  That’s not snow, folks.

What about fiber animals?  I can’t have them here in the city (actually….I saw a weird video about folks spinning their dog’s fur), but I have had them before and will have them again.  Alpacas weren’t my loves.  They are cute and marionette-like, and kick.  Some of my friends adore their alpacas, it just may not have been our thing.  I need goofy, friendly, cuddly animals on my farm.  So we got sheep.  Oh goodness, I loved those sheep.  Olaf and Sven were just as bright as a pine cone but they adored me and followed me around the farm, in the house, and rather enjoyed rides in the truck.  They also liked to watch television.  (Spoiled much?)

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I have had a spinning wheel twice, and due to moving and patience issues in me (I do hope those are remedied now that I am an empty nester), I don’t have one, but that too will become one of my goals….maybe.  I once dropped off a whole bag of alpaca fleece a guy sold me to a fiber mill and I got back many skeins of lovely spun yarn.  I wonder if I could do it again myself.

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Homesteading is a lot of doing and a little bit dreaming.  We are always striving to do more, learn more, achieve more, enjoy more.  In the meantime, there are a few projects I am inspired to work on.  Better find some chunky wool…

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Here are some old past posts and projects for y’all!

Candle Sweaters and Pin Cushions (homemade gifts)

The Yarn Weasel

Alpaca Scarves and Crooked Washcloths

Vintage Handkerchiefs (a crochet project)

How to Crochet Fingerless Gloves (easy pattern!)

The Yarn Weasel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

Spinning My Wheels- Take 2 (from fluff to fiber)

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Jill’s friend was selling a spinning wheel.  I told myself I should not be spending so much money.  She had a carder available too.  Both of them were the same price I paid for my spinning wheel two years ago and each had only been used twice.  I figured that if we are crazy enough to jump off this cliff and give this homesteading full time thing a go, then we should just jump full out and see what happens.  If I fail it won’t be because I was five hundred bucks short.

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Do you recall my story?  Two years ago I bought a spinning wheel and two alpacas with the hopes of getting sheep.  Doug termed the name PackyWoo and we were going into the yarn business.  I had trouble getting the hang of spinning and was so frazzled at the time that I didn’t have the patience to learn.  The alpacas were not friendly and kicked, at about visiting kid height.  We were not able to sell them and lost all of that money.  We sold the spinning wheel for less than we paid.  It was a heartbreaking bust.  I didn’t know I was getting sheep.

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My sheep are the two craziest, cutest, little line backers around.  They love to romp and play and hug and nuzzle and get scritched (yes, that is how we say it).  They make me want some more sheep.  They make me want to create the dream I had dreamt before.  Raise the animal, sheer the animal, card the wool, spin the wool, grow the plants used for dye, color the yarn, and use it to knit or crochet hats, and blankets, and shawls, and sell some gorgeous yarn too.  I understand that only having two sheep will get me roughly a pair of socks.  But, I do this stuff for the love of it, not for the profit.  If they could help bring in a little income, they are welcome to.  If they just want to be freaking adorable and brighten my day, so be it.

In the meantime, I have a spinning wheel, a carder, two month old lambs, and a dream.  What could be better?

Inspiring Art of Nature and Holiday

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-18 degrees outside with wind chill.  Since we cannot fly to the tropics we are keeping busy on this wintery day!  Jack Frost’s creativity and beautiful artwork in the windows inspired some of my own.

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While we are inside trying to stay warm it seemed a very good time to put on some music, turn on the propane heater to help the stove along, and work on Christmas presents and art.

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Last month I had an idea.  I am both fascinated and sad looking at old, dilapidated homesteads, long ago abandoned by the road side.  The idea was to take photos of these homesteads then transpose a scene of what it may have looked like in its hay day via paint and a bit of imagination.  So one day I had my camera and asked Doug to stop at one of them.  I am not much of a law breaker (outside of selling raw milk by share) and I was nervous about trespassing.  I kept asking Doug, “Is someone here?”  There were no windows or doors on the property so of course the answer was no, save for the coyote pup that dodged under the foundation and a few pheasants that disappeared from our camera lens.  I wish I had relaxed and taken better photos but what I came up with sparked my imagination.

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This is the old barn on the place.  I placed a piece of glass over it and drew this scene…

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The photo is underneath to show what it looks like now and the paint shows what it might have looked like then.

Doug put on the Perry Como Christmas album, the heat is starting to penetrate our chilled skin, outside the world is a magical wonderland, inside is a holiday workshop.

What do you like to do on cold days inside?

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!

Homesteading School

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“I am not able to can, I live in the city.”  The young lady stood in front of me shifting from one foot to the other in front of my booth.  She looked at our array of canned sweet apples, pickles, beets, zucchini, apricot syrup, just a bit of this and that from our root cellars.  They don’t look like the ones at the other booths at the farmers market.  Ours sport handwritten labels on clean glass canning jars without anything resembling a store shelf.  It makes people wonder while holding the glass orbs in their hands.  “You made this?”  No factory, no helpers, just a housewife in the kitchen putting up food for the winter.  An image that appeals to young and old that come by the booth.  “My grandmother used to can.”  “You are able to can zucchini?”  “This is spaghetti sauce?”

“I can teach you,” I say and their eyes light up.

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They say the economy is getting better but I am not sure how that can be.  I know an awful lot of people trying to hold onto jobs, keep their shops, keep their houses, keep their way of life but we are all being forced to make some decisions and go back in time a bit to a more simpler and, yes, easier time.  I may not know if we have to move or if we can afford to stay here, or what will happen, but I am preparing for slim pickin’s.  We will have food, that I can tell you.  This week I am canning carrots; brown sugar carrots for a delicious side dish and plain for stews.

Doug made me some beautiful brochures that I can distribute at farmers markets and to curious folks.  I am speaking at a few events this summer where I can share these brochures as well.  Besides telling about our apothecary, I am advertising about my homesteading school.  I will set up classes to teach people how to can, how to knit, crochet, spin, take care of chickens, garden in small spaces, make their own bread, make their own medicines, and inspire folks to become more self sufficient.  If we are more self sufficient, we are in a better place to help others and they can help those around them too.  We end up becoming a stronger community if we know these skills.  It takes the worry out of everyday life as well if you know you can make a sweater, pull out fish from the freezer, retrieve eggs from the chicken coop, or pick a lovely salad out of the pots on the front porch.  You worry just a smidge less.

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I keep thinking, ‘If I could just get somewhere that has a well, or that I can stay in for many years, that already has an orchard, that already has a root cellar, that I can afford easily….’  Acquaintances of ours have lost houses, animals, everything.  The fire wiped out over four hundred houses not far from us.  They had everything they wanted in a homestead, and in a second, it was gone.  Perhaps I should stop searching for the perfect because perfect is not guaranteed to last.  Perhaps my faith needs to get a bit stronger.  God has always provided.  And I can do my part by providing just as much for my family as possible.  And help others learn to do the same for theirs.  I have carrots to chop.  Have a blessed day!

Love Wrapped Up in Stitches

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I’ve been a busy bee these past months.  Our first grandchild is coming in four short weeks or less and I cannot tell you the buzz of excitement around here! (I am using a lot of bee terms…I am also excited for my bees to arrive in April!)  We have a baby shower this weekend that will fill the capacity of the coffee shop I am using and there were still many more people I would have liked to invite!  It is a great thing when friends and family gather around a soon to be mom and support her.  Community is an amazing thing!

This journey has brought us closer, has created a new place in our lives to fill with joy, and has made me very thankful for each moment.  There are moments when we are forced to realize our good fortune and no longer take for granted that everyone has a healthy pregnancy, or that everyone gives birth, or that everyone’s child grows up.  A friend of Emily’s, who was going to come to the shower as they have been going through their pregnancies together, and supporting each other, lost her baby at seven months pregnant.  A perfect baby girl was born yesterday at two pounds, with defined fingers, curly black hair, and a cord around her neck.  A cruel thing to have to deliver a dead baby and such a young mom left in the wake of grief.  I was moved to tears for this sweet young woman.  There is a bond all around the world amongst women, those we do not even know, one that can never be fully understood or explained, a connection in motherhood, one that sympathizes with each emotion involved.  And all I can do is pray for her, powerless to take away her sadness.

Our hearts beat a little faster as we ask Emily, “Did the baby move today?”  Place our hands on her warm tummy in hopes of feeling a little kick, a little hello, desperate for her to be born healthy and strong and outlive us all!

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I have prepared a welcoming pack of gifts, one that I do hope she will drag around for years to come.  I made a quilt for Maryjane to warm her in the evenings, to cuddle into and know that she is adored and watched over, to hide under during thunderstorms, to dream under.  I did not opt to put in the yarn ties, I simply quilted it and left it rather plain (in my mind).  But, it seemed perfect.  As I learned from my mother and grandmother, I embroidered the recipient’s name on the back and who made it.

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I had these fun labels made to put on all the things I shall make her.  Made for you by Grammie.  This baby comes from young families and there are nine,….calculate how spoiled this baby is going to be….nine grandmas!  I had to think of a name that set me a part but wasn’t too far from the original.  So, Grammie it is.

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A fuzzy afghan to swaddle her in, hold her close to my heart, watch her wrap up her teddy bear (Papa Doug is in charge of all things fluffy and stuffed around here…the bonified expert on stuffed animals!) that Papa gave her.  Watch it be cast aside, then found again, and act as a reminder of how much we think of her.

Crafting homemade gifts for others is so much more emotionally charged then something off of a Walmart shelf, don’t you think?  It doesn’t take much to pick up a simple skill, make a throw pillow, a quilt, an afghan, a shawl, a scarf…your love for the person wrapped up in the stitches!