Posted in Non-Electric

The Hand-Cranked Life

The dawn filters through the windows white and glowing after the night of snow. I put my warm robe on and wander out to the wood stove to start the fire. It starts spreading heat quickly and the kitties gather and curl up on furniture around the stove while I start the coffee.

The grinder has a gentle whir that I rather like as I churn the handle around. It isn’t difficult and within minutes the smell of freshly ground coffee awakens my senses. The kettle on the stove starts to bubble and the grounds hiss and extract as the boiling water immerses into the French press.

My Great Pyrenees will not come inside, despite the very cold temperature. I have never had an outdoor dog before. I always thought it rather cruel. But there he is, happy as can be sitting in the snow barking at who knows what. I give him a bowl of water that is not frozen. I open the chicken door and give them food and water as well. The mountains are hidden behind a thick veil of clouds and threatening snow storms. The large western sky above makes it feel like a snow globe. The cats are fed and fresh water given and I settle in with my coffee amongst them before the fire and write.

I turn off the computer, unplug all cords, there are no LED lights shining non-stop here. They irk me for some reason and I can actually here the buzzing from electric devices. The grandfather clock gently ticks time and tells me the quarter hour. My home wouldn’t be quite the same without the master of time standing guard in the living room.

I tie my apron on and the day is spent in blissful schedule. Bringing in wood. Stoking the fire. Putting the kettle back on the wood stove for tea. I think I will put on a Dutch oven of beans and make sage white bean soup for supper. Maybe I will knead together a loaf of bread.

I tend to whatever household chores are on the day’s list and do all the cooking from scratch. Stopping to snuggle animals. Catching up on sewing projects. Dreaming of spring. Reading gardening manuals as if they were the most fascinating of novels. My education in farming and homesteading continues. Though is doesn’t make a lot of money, it saves a lot of money. And money saved is the same as money earned sometimes. Particularly for homestead wives.

Today I will write to my pen pal and perhaps call my grandpa. The piano is longing to be played. There is a steadiness to the winter days here. Soon I will have my clothes line up and in the spring I will get a set up to do my clothes washing by hand outdoors once again. I will use a hoe to weed, and my hands to harvest. Nary a machine in sight.

The warm water and suds caress my hands as I place the dishes in the dish rack. Stir the soup. Take a sip of homemade mead. Light the candles and oil lamps as the sun begins to fade, casting shadows across the house and another day winds down.

We sit together and chat, enjoy the fire with a hot drink and talk about our day. Blow out the oil lamps and the candles. And fall into bed sleepy and happy and content.

The furnace will come on if the indoor temperature drops too low. My daughters will snapchat me throughout the day. We can turn on the lights of the lamps. There is a coffee maker for entertaining in the garage. I could just go on using the washer and dryer year round and I certainly could turn the clock on above the stove. But why? When the gentle cadence of an old fashioned life brings with it such quiet and loveliness. When clothes and dishes are cleaner, coffee better, house warmer, air more crisp as one gathers wood. Laughing at animal antics, kneading the bread, the feel of a wooden spoon in hands that work joyfully. Reading by oil lamp, snuggling near the fire, a kitten on one’s lap, and a song in the heart. That is a day in a hand-cranked life.

Posted in inspiration

Creating a Peaceful Reality with an Old Fashioned Life

When I die, I’m going right back to 1830″

Tasha Tudor

I was not familiar with Tasha Tudor as an illustrator, but rather became fascinated with the works that highlighted her lifestyle. A fierce, talented, and enchanted woman who lived on her own on her homestead in Vermont wearing her long skirts, aprons, and living a life from the 1800’s. A life the author of one article referred to as a fantasy world. I smoothed my own apron down across my long skirt and took another sip of tea as I read.

Why do women want to dress like men when they’re fortunate enough to be women? Why lose femininity, which is one of our greatest charms? We get more accomplished by being charming than we would be flaunting around in pants and smoking. I’m very fond of men. I think they are wonderful creatures. I love them dearly. But I don’t want to look like one. When women gave up their long skirts, they made a grave error…

Tasha Tudor

I suppose I came by it naturally. My mother had a collection of lovely vintage aprons and wore them all the time (albeit over jeans) and played music from the 1940’s on the radio as she prepared everything from scratch, and read the Little House books to us in the evenings. My grandmother leaned over the quilt frame and sewed her dainty stitches. My great-grandmother fed me simple, three course meals before our game of rummy. I come from a line of women who appreciated or came from the fantasy world. The difference, I suppose, is that my grandparents could not wait to leave the farms they grew up on and were happy with a small kitchen garden and cable television, and I try to grow all of our food and medicine, make all of our food from scratch, and have even gone a step further in time as I read by oil lamp in the mornings in front of the wood stove. I have a lovely collection of aprons and I am much more comfortable in long skirts and petticoats. You might think the outfit in the photos of me are a costume, but rather, they are my day-to-day clothes. They are comfortable, feminine, and most efficient for the work I do.

I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren’t stupid because you’re a housewife. When you’re stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.

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Does being a modern homesteader seem like a fantasy? I stash my cell phone away so that I can get my housework done and check on it occasionally to see if one of my daughter snapchatted me. I walk around the house unplugging anything that saps energy, except for the refrigerator. True, Google Home does play me lovely bluegrass tunes as I crochet, my needle moving to the sound of the Appalachians. But only because I haven’t a record player. Oh, how I do long for a record player. I could get a full time job. Or start a new business. I could wear jeans and tennis shoes (oh but they are so uncomfortable). I could look “normal” as I walk to town. I could purchase packaged items, rely on trucks and fuel for vegetables, and sometimes I do. Though it may seem like a terrible bit of work, I intend to transform this homestead (our fifth, so I am getting rather good at this) into an oasis of sufficiency, sustenance, and beauty. This feels like how life is supposed to be.

It’s exciting to see things coming up again, plants that you’ve had twenty or thirty years. It’s like seeing an old friend.

Tasha Tudor

When I’m working in the barn or house I often think of all the errors I’ve made in my life. But then I quickly put that behind me and think of water lilies. They will always eradicate unpleasant thoughts. Or goslings are equally comforting in their own way.

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‘Tis actually a lovely feeling to haul in wood to stoke the fire to warm the house and to cook the soup for supper. Such peace to tend to seeds, to plant, to water, to speak to, to harvest, to feed us. Such purpose to knead dough, or put up three hundred jars of sauces and vegetables and fruit and root cellar bins of potatoes and onions, chilies, and garlic. To soak beans overnight. To sew a quilt for my daughter’s wedding. To crochet a blanket for a new life soon to be born. This life is precious and the real fantasy is the modern world of 5G this, pressure to succeed, anxiety, and social media dissonance. I find my peace among garden plants and great skies of stars.

I gather my skirts around me. How fun that my galoshes match this one. The 2000 square foot kitchen garden (not to be confused with the three sisters garden and perennial/medicinal gardens) is fenced in and swept clean. The clear mountains beyond hover over the valley and hold up the watery sky. The cedars fold over creating a place for rabbits to nestle and the goats next door wander together in friendship. It will rain today. The fire crackles. Steam rises from the kettle.

Tasha Tudor’s illustrations are a beautiful portrayal of an old fashioned life that can still lived today.
Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

The Homegrown, Healthy Life (So You Want to Be a Homesteader #16)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, somewhere during women’s liberation we got led astray.  The frozen dinner folks were ready to pounce.  “Yes, women, go get a job!  We’ll take care of dinner.”  Every convenience began to show up, pushing women into the work force in droves.  Children left raising themselves and food being neatly packaged in factories in other countries.  Oh, and we still get to do all the housework!

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I am thankful for the ability to vote and that my daughters can be lawyers if they so choose, but I will take my original jobs back, thank you very much.  My father-in-law wondered when I am getting a job.  Let me tell y’all about my job and earnings.

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When you gaze down fluorescent lighted grocery shelves with the sounds of bad music and customers in the background, do you ever wonder where the food came from?  Or ever wondered what would happen in an emergency and you couldn’t come shop these aluminum and box lined shelves?  Have you read the ingredients?  Lord, have mercy.  A good 50% of all those foods are poison.  Not to mention grown who knows where, handled by who knows who, sprayed with who knows what.  I am my own food preserver.  I can, I dry, I fill my own grocery store shelves with nutritious, delicious foods.

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I am the farmer.  I grow all of our produce for half of the year, increasing yields each season.  I grow our own chickens (a new venture, granted).  We gather our own eggs.  To fill in, I use other housewives’ farm goods; beef, pork, milk, and organic vegetables to preserve.  It takes a village of us.

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I am the cheese monger.  I make our own variety of cheese, along with yogurt and ice cream, and butter.

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I am the baker.  In my bakery I make coffee cakes, and fresh bread for sandwiches.

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I am my family’s own doctor.  I make my own medicines.  I am the veterinarian around here.

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I am the tailor.  I am the accountant.  I am a hell of a gourmet chef.  I am the winemaker.

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I make body products and cleaning products and support my husband in his job.

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I buy organic flour and coffee, sugar and nuts.  Things of that nature.  I save a ton of money by growing, bartering, supporting local farms, and doing it myself.  Just think of all the things I don’t buy!  I don’t really have time to get a job, you see.  I am busy working and giving my family a homegrown, healthy life.

 

 

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

Bread Baking (So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series- Day 9)

For the past ten years or so we have purchased very little that is electronic, instead opting for hand cranked or self powered items.  Oil lamps, a hand cranked coffee grinder, food processor, and cast iron that can be used on a wood stove if necessary fill my cupboards.  After reading Jim Lahey’s great book, My Bread, I have baked many a loaf of good bread.  I don’t remember when I gave away my bread maker (when we became raw foodies for a short time?  When we were trying to go off grid?) but when I plugged in the one from Grandma’s house that Grandpa sent me home with, a big smile crossed my face.  All I had to do was layer the ingredients into the pan, slide it into the oven, press 7, and go about my chores.  It mixed, raised, kneaded, and baked a heavenly loaf of bread for supper while I got laundry, gardening, and housework done.  What have I been missing all these years?

Now that we are 100% solar powered, I tend to plug a few more things in (but not much!).  The bread from the breadmaker is delicious.  If I want a good boule, I will whip some up myself in mixing bowls and over hours, and bake it in my Dutch oven.  It’s nice to have options.  And nothing beats coming home to a house smelling of fresh bread.

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By making your own bread for sandwiches, toast, croutons, pizza crust, and bread crumbs, you really cut down on the food bill and can control what you are eating.  Flour, salt, yeast, and sugar do not cost much.  I recently read what is in “dough conditioner”…well folks, let me just tell you that we won’t be eating take out pizza or processed bread any longer.

I bought my daughter a breadmaker for her bridal shower.  I think it is the best of both worlds between convenience and homemade.  A little homemade butter and you have heaven on a plate.

Here are a few recipes of mine from over the years on this blog if you want to try your hand at a homemade loaf.  But do consider a breadmaker.  I bet there is one at a second hand store by you!

Grain Mills and Rye Bread

Maple Molasses Whole Wheat Bread

Posted in So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series

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.

Posted in Farming

Victory Gardens (and beating Monsanto ourselves)

victory

I wonder if most people understand the dire consequences of a bill signed by our president last week.  A bill that protects Monsanto from all law suits, present and future, from any claims that their products causes serious health problems, even death.  Research shows it does and every other country in the world has banned them.  Why, I ask, would the president protect this company in particular?  Of course we know the answer, money, and the money from Monsanto haunts the halls of Congress and the White House.

That is sad that the American people, who are by and large against genetically modified crops, did not have a voice despite Marches against Monsanto across the country, and that our health, our children’s health, and definitely our grandchildren’s health is going to be sacrificed for a few bucks.  It feels overwhelming and devastating.

Is there anything we can do?  Is there any way to beat big business at its own game?  Not directly, but indirectly perhaps.  I think of all the convenience food my grown children eat daily, fast food, and supposedly healthy boxes of dinners.  The effect that will be having on them.  The effects on my granddaughter Maryjane’s new organs and system.  I cannot change the world, indeed I may not be able to change my children’s worlds, but I can work within my own boundaries and possibly inspire or help folks around me and maybe help my children start gardens when they get into their own houses, or at least let them come raid the root cellar and my gardens.  So what can we do?

fighting food

This is war.  Not war in the sense of World War II but war against the people all the same.  In the time of WWII, Victory Gardens were the answer.  Victory Gardens provided sustenance against insecurity and fear.  It provided healthy food, grown from seed, from back door to table.  Back yard chickens provided eggs and meat.  Grains stored so that fresh bread could be made.  Sugar and other items that were experiencing a shortage were creatively replaced.  The housewives of the 1930’s and 40’s fought for their families and protected them by ensuring food was in the back yard.  We can do the same.

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Steps to Winning the War Against Monsanto and Protecting Your Family

1. Grow a garden.  Be it in pots, 5 gallon buckets, the front yard, the back yard, the side yard, or at a community garden.

If you cannot grow a garden where you are at, or do not have the energy to have one, support someone that does.  Small farms are dotting the landscape and more and more new farmers are coming on the scene, particularly women.  They are all around you.  Check the farmer’s markets or ask around.

Not all farms are the same.  The big farms at the farmers market ship in produce this early in the season.  Is it organic?  Where did it come from?  Particularly corn.  That will protect you from the GMO’s but the pesticide free is very important as well.  Pesticide use is at an all time high and the residual is in the structure of the food.  You can’t wash it off.  Find a pesticide free farmer.  Local.  Small.  Eat in season.

Go in with a friend.  Do you have a friend that gardens?  Can they plant a row for you in exchange for something you create?  Or can you buy excess produce from a friend?

If all else fails, buy from the health food store and make sure it is organic!

chickens too

2. Get back yard chickens.  If you are allowed, get them.  You will not regret this most amazing, local protein source and classic entertainment.  Eggs have a million uses and if one chose, the meat could be harvested every few years.

If  you cannot have back yard chickens, find someone that is allowed to.  It is actually very easy to find someone to raise your livestock for you.  Farmsteaders are happy to share what they know and to help out city folks.

If all else fails, buy organic meat from the health food store.

3. Get a Milk Share or A Goat. Nothing tastes better than a cold glass of chocolate milk after watering the garden.  Raw milk is better for you than pasteurized.  It contains valuable enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed in pasteurization.

4. Avoid boxes at all costs.  Inside them lurks, not only every genetically modified ingredient known to man, but they are basically nutrient deplete, and unrecognizable to the body.

If you must use a box of something, make sure it is organic.

5. Make your own food.  This may seem impossible to a lot of people.  It does take time to make everything homemade, but not that much more time.  Make time.  A television show less and you could have a day’s worth of food pre-made if you needed to.  The time it takes to eat out could be spent in the kitchen.  Fast food on a farmstead is salad, boiled corn (organic of course!), fried fish, I mean seriously folks,  it really doesn’t take that long to cook dinner.  Pre-make breakfasts and plan lunches and bake bread on Sundays.

6. It doesn’t cost more to be organic.  Trust me on this one.  Yes, the individual prices of the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meats, and grains are a smidge higher than at Walmart.  However, you are saving money by not eating out, by not buying prepackaged meals, by not buying boxes, soft drinks, etc.  The grocery bill may even look a little lighter!

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Do it yourself.  Support someone local to do it for you.  Only eat organically.  Store food for winter.  Watch many of your diseases fall away.  And protect yourself in the future.  We can have the last laugh.

 

Posted in Crafts and Skills, Food/Wine (and preserving)

Goats in the Kitchen (and homemade chevre)

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Not in my kitchen, though that would be fun!  My cats would wonder what kind of odd dog I had brought home this time, and Bumble, the greyhound, would have thought he had a new playmate.

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I went to Nancy’s house for an impromptu lesson on cheese and butter making.  The snow was falling softly and thickly outdoors, creating a mood more like Christmas than Spring, but the effect was nonetheless calming and beautiful.  Her little farm lay softly beneath the quiet snow and inside the kitchen things were hopping.

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Faleena brought the infants in to play for a few minutes and as they skittered about the floor, and took to us snuggling them, all was right with the world.  Goats in the kitchen seemed a perfectly normal activity and fueled my desire to have a proper homestead, complete with goats.

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The kids are still nursing so there is less milk to be had then if Nancy chose to run her mini-dairy as a commercial operation.  Which suits us fine as we don’t do anything to maximum production, just enough is fine with us.  We still had several half gallon canning jars filled with fresh milk at our fingertips to turn into delicious chevre.

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These little packages sure make life easier.  If don’t happen to have a young calf or goat to slaughter and retrieve the stomach lining from (traditional rennet), you can use one of these packets that have the proper cultures already made up for you to make your cheese.  You can also use vegetable rennet.  All we had to do was sprinkle this packet onto a gallon of raw, fresh milk and wait for 12 hours.  Nancy set up a bit of a television test kitchen by preparing half the batch the night before and letting me prepare the second half.  The first half was ready for me to finish and take home.

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At the end of the 12 hours, the milk has coagulated into something resembling panna cotta which made me start craving caramel sauce.  I then strained the mixture through a thick cheesecloth lined colander saving the whey for soups or dressings.  I was instructed to gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and hang it over the bowl to drain for 4-12 hours depending on desired consistency.  Promptly at 4 hours I unwrapped it.  Forget desired consistency, it depends on one’s patience!

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I made a delicious dinner of chevre filled manicotti covered in rich sauce of tomato, spaghetti sauce, peppers, wine, and spices, all from the root cellar.  Topped it with parmesan and breadcrumbs and baked it for 25 minutes.  I still have more chevre in the fridge waiting for the addition of green chilies to be spread on crackers for lunch.  Self reliance never tasted so good!

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Feeling rather pioneer woman-like, we moved on to butter.  We set up an elaborate hand cranked cream separator (goat’s milk has to be separated manually) and went to work separating rich cream from sweet milk rendering it skim and still quite good.  We placed the cream in pint jars and each took one.  We shook, and shook, watched homesteading films, and shook…..then moved it to an old butter churner and cranked…and cranked.  Doug has delicious cream for his coffee but alas, we did not succeed at making butter.  Next time!