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?

Shyanne’s Halloween House

For a long time, my daughter, Shyanne, had a life-sized faux skeleton posed in the passenger side of her jeep. It was hilarious watching people walk by her car and suddenly take a second look and a jump back! Victor proudly held onto the front seat until Shyanne got another car. Victor seems to have found a new place, this time on the front porch, sunning in the autumn rays and scaring playfully in the evening haze.

Our family has always gone all out for holidays. On October first, the children would arrive home from school to find the house joyfully decorated (I am not much into real fear and gore, more Disney Halloween) and I would be standing at the stove with an outrageous witch hat on carefully stirring my pot of witch’s brew. (Apple cider with pumpkin pie spice.) The dollar store, spider webs and cardboard cutouts graced the house and a large witch on a broom, that we named “Grandma,” hung from the ceiling fan above the dining room table.

“Grandma!” the children would all greet her.

The children had a great bin of old clothes, past year’s costumes, and lots of dress-up in order to create the perfect Halloween costume. We made veggie burgers with American cheese that had eyes, nose, and mouth cut out of the slice to make a face. They melted onto the patty in fierce/darling images of scarecrows, vampires, and ghosts.

Yesterday, I went to my daughter, Emily’s house to help her with her girls so she could clean out a closet and so that we could put up spaghetti sauce. Their house is cheerfully decorated for the spooky season. A mask was on their scarecrow, and each time that ten month old Ayla Mae saw it, she began to laugh. That cheerful-baby-laugh continued every time she saw something scary. She will be like her Auntie.

Shyanne needs a job with Martha Stewart, I have always said. She is brilliant with crafts and baking and bringing to life fun and creativity. I am bringing you scenes of her yard today to inspire and enchant you; and maybe scare you just a bit!

Shyanne hand crafted this spooky arbor. Enter if you dare!
Victor’s new girlfriend.

Make Your Own Body Products

On “So You Want to Be a Homesteader” Day 22, let’s look at another way to DIY and save money!  Get super clean, chemical free, fragrant, lovely, moisturizing beauty and body products by making your own for your homestead.

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That was the first thing that actually got us hooked on this lifestyle.   In my early thirties I started to get acne.  As an ex-model, I am afraid that my looks became quite a bit of my identity.  Beauty products and makeup filled our bathroom vanity.  The caked on foundation just made my newfound pimples worse, which required more makeup!  Add on chemical laden lotions, face wash, soap, and sunscreen and our family was a walking cancer hazard.  Things were about to be turned upside down.

I read a book about natural beauty and was so inspired by the lovely herbal things I could make, I threw out a trash bag of body products, one of medicines, and one of cleaning products, and not long after became a Certified Herbalist.  I haven’t worn foundation since and my skin looks great (save for a decade-plus older).

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When we went fishing last weekend, I forgot to bring the coconut oil (SPF 16) so the lady next to me at the beach let me slather some sunscreen on my very light skinned girl.  She burnt.  She never burns with coconut oil.  It is a proven scientific fact that sunscreen causes skin cancer, but the industry is just too big to stop.  Retinal A, which is found in many anti-aging products, is the number one cause of skin cancer.  It is time we take our health, our life, and our beauty back into our own hands.  And it couldn’t be easier.  I have attached links to many of my blog posts on how to make body products.  Enjoy concocting your own! (Or my daughter’s website is http://WhiteWolfHerbs.com if you would rather have her make it!)

How To Make Homemade Soap

How to Make Your Own Witchhazel

How to Make a Nourishing, Infused Oil for Dry Skin

How to Make Your Own Sunscreen (stop poisoning the kids!)

How to Make Your Own Lotion (from my shop to your farm kitchen)

Of Sea Salt, the Art of Bathing, and Writer’s Block

Sugar Scrubs and Breaks from Normalcy

So You Want to Be a Homesteader (27 ways, a new series)

I read a blog post that talked about homesteading.  In it the author states that people in the city can say they are gardeners, can say they are homemakers, but cannot say that they are homesteaders.  I beg to differ.  I have homesteaded in the country, a small town, and in the city.  Our plan is to get back on land, but that does not change our lifestyle.  In fact, I believe we are actually more sustainable in the city.  We are just missing a well and a couple of goats.

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The word homesteading isn’t really a relevant word anymore because the government is not giving us parcels of land to try to live on for five years before we get to keep it.  So, we need to go by the new definition of homesteading and leave it open to everyone.  You can homestead anywhere.  Homesteading starts and ends with high self sufficiency, appreciation for the natural world, sustainability, community, health, and pride in hard work that we do ourselves.

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Homesteading can be done on any level, but as you grow your own food, chop your own wood, eat from your own root cellar, create your own medicines, it does get addictive.  This is a great lifestyle and one that anyone can incorporate into their lives.  The more aspects of it that you pick up, the more money you save, the healthier physiologically and psychologically you become, and things that are really important come to the forefront of life.  Family, food, security, counting blessings, and the good life.

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I have come up with a list of 27 ways to start homesteading.  27 aspects of homesteading that keep a heart humming, the fam fed, and the home fires burning.  Join me over the next month as I cover each one to inspire, teach, and swap ideas with you.  We will talk about searching for land, preserving, growing, animals, home arts, and more!

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27 Ways to Homestead

  1. Organic gardening
  2. Canning
  3. Fermenting
  4. Dehydrating food
  5. Smoking food
  6. Freezing food
  7. Raising chickens
  8. Fishing/Hunting
  9. Supporting local farmers
  10. Bread baking
  11. Cooking three meals a day
  12. Preparing simple, unprocessed food
  13. Sewing/Mending
  14. Crocheting
  15. Purchasing second hand
  16. Cheese making
  17. Generating your own electricity
  18. Generating your own heat
  19. Making your own medicine
  20. Making your own cleaning products
  21. Making your own body products
  22. Making homemade gifts and cards
  23. Free entertainment
  24. Learning to make everything from scratch
  25. Budgeting
  26. Using original homesteading items that last
  27. Learning from other homesteaders

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Go get yourself a cute apron and let’s get to work!  We are embarking on the good life.

How to Make Dandelion Wine (and any other you can think of!)

“Honey, you want to harvest these dandelions before I mow?” my husband called out.  Why, I didn’t even know the dandelions were here yet, and there they were in lovely carpets of gold; their lion manes of spring feeding the bees and dotting the yard with color.  I love dandelions.

Using my thumbnail, I simply pop off the tops of the flowers.  Like a little bee myself, I flit from flower to flower.  I filled a quart jar and a half and still left some in the garden beds for the honey gatherers.  The next thing you want to do is to pour the golden flowers into a paper bag and leave it on the porch on its side.  This allows the stragglers to escape.  No one wants ant wine.

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Wine is, in its essence, fermented sweet tea or juice with yeast that feeds off the sugars turning it into a delightful and medicinal drink.

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Bring flowers, one peeled orange, and 16 cups (1 gallon) of water to boil.  Turn off heat and cover with lid and let sit for 15 minutes.

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Strain into a gallon container used for wine making.  Leave a few inches headspace. You will have some tea left over.  Add 4 cups of sugar (I prefer organic, unbleached, raw sugar) and 2 cups of brown sugar (molasses is what makes it brown).  Stir to dissolve.

Dandelions taste particularly good with orange and caramel notes.  I like to add orange extract and butterscotch extracts when making dandelion jelly.  In this case, we are using fresh orange and brown sugar to create those notes.

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Let cool to 90 degrees then add 1/4 teaspoon of white wine yeast.  Stir.  Replace lid and carboy.  Pour a smidge of vodka into carboy to specified lines.  Let sit in a cool corner and bubble away.  It will bubble (the yeast is eating the sugar) for 10 days to 3 weeks depending on what kind of wine you are making.

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When the bubbling stops then it is time to siphon the wine (all but the bottom 1/2 inch of sediment) into super clean bottles.  Place in root cellar for 6 months to a year or more.

You can use any fruit or herb to make wine.  If there is enough juice and sugars in the fruit (like in grapes) then you just add yeast to the juice.  Most things will be made into a strong tea like the above recipe as well as my chokecherry wine and rosehip/lavender mead.  Have fun and experiment.  Use 4-8 cups of sugar.  Use 1/4 or 1/5 of a teaspoon of wine yeast, red or white.

My chokecherry wine was pretty dang strong after a year, but after two years, lord it was smooth, and I highly wished that I hadn’t given away all of the bottles!

Farm Heroes and the New Chicken Yard, Greenhouse, and Shed.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep (and Maryjane in that little baby bump)

We started our farm when the girls were young teenagers.  They spent hours in the chicken coop with the new chicks, cooing to and naming them.  Tempers would flare and they would take their own time out among the soft chirping and fresh straw.  My youngest daughter and I (along with dad and Reed) have plans to go in on a farm together in the next few years.  We dream of two houses, one land, a barn, a large community plot of garden, animals, greenhouses, a view.  A Farm Air B&B, hot farm fresh breakfasts, coffee on the porch.  A small restaurant on site to serve high end dinners with a set menu with room for four couples a night.

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Emily and Ayla

But right now, everyone is busy.  The kids have their own lives.  So, it was incredible to see them all show up at the front door in the un-forecasted snow to help us create a functional farm back yard.  We certainly could not have done it by ourselves and our gratitude is overwhelming!

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We live on one third of an acre.  We have fourteen chickens and a very large dog.  Our eighteen month old Great Pyrenees doesn’t require a lot of room for running (he spends most of his days sleeping under the elm trees in the dirt or on the pink futon in the living room (which is covered in dirt).  I have a lot of room for the chickens but wanted to increase their yard to reach the piles of branches so they could play and have more space to roam.

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I also desired a greenhouse which I received last week as an early birthday present from my friend Tina.  This would require a fenced in separate yard to increase my garden space, and keep the puppy out.  This space will end up having a pond and waterfall with a tea ceremony setting.

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Doug purchased a shed to house all of our yard items and tools and try to make sense of our back porch which has become overwhelmed with debris, broken chairs, tables, tools, and market items.

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These things came in a million, zillion pieces.  A roll of field fencing to top it all off.  And two not-so-handy parents.  Enter the children riding in like heroes to our farm story.

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My beautiful granddaughter, Maryjane’s dad came.  Bret is amazing and he will always be one of my kids.  He helped Doug build the shed.

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Reed

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Emily’s long time boyfriend Reed (Ayla’s daddy) and I started on the greenhouse.  It got incredibly complicated and when Jacob (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) showed up, he took my place.  They got it built and it is perfect!

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Doug and Shyanne and Bret then started on the fencing and quickly got two areas partitioned off.

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My granddog Lupo enjoying the new shed.

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The chickens enjoying their new yard.

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And my new greenhouse and garden.

Six cold hours later we took the kids out for sushi to celebrate Reed’s birthday and to thank them for helping us make the next phase of our farm dreams come true.  This little urban farm sure has lots of space and opportunity.  But it always feels more like home when the kids are here.

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Tunnel of Arbors (and how I made ours)

I would love to say that I am super handy or a DIY kind of farmgirl.  But, I am not.  I can think of all sorts of clever alternatives though that don’t require more than a screwdriver!

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I am in love with this arbor idea.  I have been for years.  I find it so enchanting!

So, I priced them out at the hardware store.  Yikes.  “You can just build one so easy,” my friends tell me, “You just need PVC pipe and…” They lost me.  I can go on Amazon though, y’all.  I ordered five arbors for $24.99 each.  I have had ones like this before and they last forever.

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Feeling mighty fine wielding my trusty screwdriver, pulling screws from my apron pockets, I got three of them up and made my husband do the others.

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One went by the gate because nothing is as wonderful as approaching a home and entering a gate and walking under an arbor with climbing roses atop it.  Secret garden indeed.

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Before (this is our third season)

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The new garden beds just waiting for climbing peas, yard long beans, and loads of pumpkins!

To read how to make my signature garden beds in about fifteen minutes and fifteen dollars, click here.  They are a combination of permaculture and straw bale gardening with a touch of broke farmgirl from buying too many seeds.

Spring is here and I would love to hear about your garden plans!

Giving Outdated Throw Pillows a Second Life

It occurs to me that sewing might be one of those lost arts.  My cousin and my youngest daughter have expressed a desire to learn.  My older daughter zips away on her machine making pillows for her house that is being built.  It is probably a little unusual for her age.  I can certainly sew, but I am limited in what I know how to do.  I don’t often use patterns and wish I knew more so that I could make elaborate clothing and such.  Anymore though, you can purchase a machine from a craft store and they will throw in sewing lessons.  If you do sew, it is time to take your machine out and freshen up the house for autumn.

Throw pillows always add a dash of personality and color to a space but they begin to look tattered or out of date fairly quickly sometimes.  Today we are taking old throw pillows (or new pillow fills) and giving them a new look.

These are very simple and can be done by hand if one does not have a machine.

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I used a new pillow because these are going into my new shop, but I will be doing this with my old pillows for my house as well.

Measure the pillow, then measure your fabric, adding 1 inch on all sides.

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Iron!  I am the type of dreaded housewife that does not iron.  Lord, if it needs to be ironed, it doesn’t get bought or it ends up in a pile of ironing for close to five years.  But, as my grandma taught me, you must iron in sewing.  Period.  Now, iron your fabric so it looks all pretty.

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Fold fabric in half inside out.  The folded edge is one edge you don’t have to sew!  Pin the sides, leave bottom open.  Sew each side, giving it about a half inch seam.  Take out pins and run your hand along side to make sure you got them all!  (Camouflaged little suckers.)

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Now flip right side out and use a chop stick or the like to gently push out corners.

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Place pillow inside and fold in bottom seam and pin tautly together.  Hand sew or machine sew.

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Easy as that!  Now, I took that pillow before we started and used a large needle and yarn to pierce all the way through the pillow and back out, tying securely to create a crease in the middle.  So when the pillow is done, you can see that little indentation.  I carefully wove a piece of yard through the fabric and top layer of the pillow and brought back through and tied a ribbon.

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But then I found a pretty button so fastened that on!  You could also hem the open bottom instead of sewing it closed and sew on adjacent ribbons to tie closed.  That way you can change your pillow covers and wash them.

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Throw pillows can generally be washed in the washer and floofed and dried in the dryer.  If a fabric is particularly fine, place it inside a bigger pillow case and wash and dry it that way.

Growing and Blending Seasonings

rosemaryI shall grow basil in plots

I shall grow oregano lots

The chives shall come up fine

along rows of heady thyme

I shall grow rosemary too

And red chile for New Mexican stew

I shall grow sumac if I can find

and lavender to breathe and unwind

Could I grow caraway too?

for rye bread to eat with a good brew?

The onions and garlic are growing now

I can make them dried somehow

I use all these herbs in dishes galore.

I will grow so many herbs you can’t see the earth floor.

Along with herbs for medicine and herbs for aroma and more

I will grow herbs to blend instead of spending money at the store!

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I admit it, I spend hundreds of dollars on culinary seasonings.  I have a large basket and two full cupboards of seasonings that we use all of the time.  Many are the very same herbs that I grow for medicine and to use fresh.  I spend hundreds on infused oils.  You know how it is at the end of summer, you are already pushing time to get all of the harvest in, preserved, garden beds cleaned, and trying to catch some of the glorious last warmth.  Blending herbs for the kitchen just seemed like one more thing I didn’t have time for when a nice store already did it for me.  Because I am an herbalist I also get bulk herbs that are going to be a lot cheaper than the specialty stores.  If I just use bulk herbs for what I cannot grow, and grow and blend the rest, I will save SO much money!  I can infuse my own oils.  Dry, dehydrate, and blend my own seasonings.  It will be worth the time!  Another DIY for this homesteader.  We are going to be busy this summer on Farmgirl School!

For the Love of Farmgirl School (your one stop resource for everything homesteading DIY)

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Even when I wasn’t actively writing this blog for the short time that we weren’t homesteading (I was pouting), I kept pulling up Farmgirl School on my computer.  I used it to find recipes.  How do I make eggnog again?  I need a good recipe for dinner.  How do I make…

IMG_0741I love my blog.  I always have.  I am so happy to be actively writing again here.  Want to make something new for dinner?  How about Margarita Chicken?  Want to crochet some fingerless gloves for someone for Christmas?  Do you want to make soap?  How about cheese?  Interested in getting farm animals?  Maybe you just want to can some broth.  Maybe you want to read some funny, heartwarming stories about a real family and their life.  You are in the right place.  This is your blog too.

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If you love this blog as much as I do, perhaps you will consider sharing it on social media.  Or email it to a friend.  Or share a post on your own blog.  We sure have done a lot and been through a lot in those five years!  And now settled into our forever home, a small homestead in the city with chickens, a root cellar, and the love and experience to enjoy every second of it, I would like to invite you to come around more often, too.  Let’s celebrate all the great things about homesteading and the joys of a simple life.