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

Homestead 101 Cover

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!

A Very Prairie Christmas

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The bees were out yesterday.  I could hear their sweet buzzing all around me as they took advantage of the beautifully tepid day.  Just a hint of coolness swept the air to remind me that it was December but the sun shone bright and warm and I decided to take a walk across the prairie.  The barn owl swept in front of me, round and solid, his steel colored wings glinting slight across the air in front of me, gracefully sweeping across the prairie.  The mountains rested majestically across the horizon, their shadowy masses holding the sky.  A group of horses gathered in the distance grazing softly.

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The ancient willow holds masses of singing blackbirds and large owls.  A century or more of memories do my favorite trees hold.  Signs of cattle that grazed here long ago, and of antelopes not so long.  The Buffalo grasses with their curvy heads and the colorful prairie grasses defied the supposed snowy landscape that is so often envisioned with Christmas.  This is what a Colorado Christmas often looks like.  I find myself wishing for a bit of snow.  Sunday we are to get a little and the feeling of Christmas will shine all the brighter.

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I gather kindling with my companion. (The neighbor’s dog, Serina, who is ridiculously cute.)

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Inside the house, all is bright.  Simple decorations best show the spirit of Christmas in this hundred plus year old homestead.  This year we got our first real Christmas tree and it feels simple and beautiful.

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Real greenery, candles, pine cones, feathers…cats…all decorate the scene.  The birds play outside in their feeder entertaining the felines.  Our new rescues add quite a lot of Christmas cheer to this place!

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A vintage sled sets boldly on the dining room table with fresh greens and candles.  This helps create a feeling of fun and winter magic.

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Outdoors the woodland creatures welcome visitors.

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Everyone has one sadness or another at Christmas time.  Remembering and missing loved ones, financial woes, relationship troubles, irritation with our consumerism society.  But the spirit of Christmas is there all the same.  Beautiful and glowing, we remember that God ever loves us and takes care of us and that our prayers are always answered.  Sometimes the puzzle comes together later and we can see why things occurred but they are always answered.  We will celebrate Hanukkah with Doug’s parents and remember the miracles that God made and we will remember the child born, the reason for the season.  Not in a legalistic, all must believe everything I believe way, but in a spirit of humility and humbleness.  Prayers for those deceased, prayers for the living.  Acts of kindness without folks expecting it.  Simple things like paying for someone else’s coffee or sending an unexpected letter.

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This year we haven’t much money.  All the lists I love to make throughout the year of things I would like to get people I cannot.  It makes me sad because even though I talk about simple this and simple that, I want to spoil my children and give Doug all the things he won’t buy for himself.  I want my friends to have beautiful gifts and I want…well, this year is a handmade Christmas.  Quilts, aprons, scarves, canned foods, and baskets of goodies, gifts tailored for the recipient and wrapped with love, but not store bought and I wonder how folks will take to these but I shall give them with the spirit of Christmas, with love and with a giving heart.  I will remember that our blessings are many.  For I had material and food to can and I have people to make things for.  My heart overflows with joy.

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A handmade, simple Christmas on the prairie is a blessing for sure.  Time to put on my favorite Christmas album by Andy Williams (my son’s namesake) and do a little sewing!  May you have a simple season filled with love and fond memories of past and present.

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And may your heart be filled with the childlike wonder of Christmas…

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Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

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Our group of close friends has began giving each other more homemade gifts for holidays.  It is really fun to see what crafts, homemade items, and creativity we can come up with.  At Christmas we sat around my living room opening presents.  I opened the wrapping revealing a canning jar with a garnet colored liquid with something gelatinous floating within.  I excitedly yelped, as I knew precisely what it was.  A mother.

To start vinegar, as in many other cases, one must have a mother.  Rodney started his many months prior with an apple cider vinegar mother simply taken from a bottle of organic apple cider that says the mother is included.  Bragg’s makes one.  Seclude the gelatinous being floating about the jar (boy, this is getting more and more appetizing as we write, but stay with me now, good things are coming…) and place in a large glass container.  For me, I got part of the red wine mother that was floating in Rodney’s vinegar after several months of brewing.

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I placed the pint jar of old wine that became vinegar with the mother in a large glass container, added 1 cup of water, and the remaining wine in the bottle of red that had just started to turn.  I covered it with cheesecloth to keep fruit flies out (Lord, those guys like to drink) and any cat hair floating through the air.

I am the sole wine drinker here at the farm unless I have friends or students over so I always have that last cup of wine lurking at the bottom of the bottle by the fourth day.  It is not quite vinegar, not quite drinkable.  And that last bit of precious wine does not go down the drain any longer but into the vat of vinegar on the counter.  Oh, it is a lovely sight.  I am not wasting wine, and I am making a product to give to friends, use myself in my farm kitchen, and sell at the farmer’s markets.  In two months that first seven cups of wine, water, and mother have become the most delicious red wine vinegar.  Just keep adding wine to the mixture.

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White wine makes white wine vinegar, champagne makes champagne vinegar, beer makes malt vinegar, etc.  It is superior to the stuff in the store and a lot cheaper than the fine vinegars at the market.  I have made lovely salads for two days now with this vinegar that went something like this;

Tear up fresh butter lettuce, sprinkle on blue cheese, add slivered almonds, sliced strawberries.  In a bowl mix 4 Tablespoons of olive oil, 2 Tablespoons of vinegar, a dollop of grainy mustard, a large dollop of jam (I used raspberry jalapeno), and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla salt.  Mix well and drizzle over salad.  A perfect combination of sweet, sour, savory, salt, and spice.  Serve with Pinot Grigio. 

Herbal Tea Gifts

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As an herbalist, I have an entire room filled with jars of colorful herbs, bags of fragrant herbs drying, and back up stashes of sealed herbs in boxes to use throughout the year until it is time to harvest or reorder.  You can easily obtain herbs from World Market or a health food store if you do not grow your own.  You can also order online from Mountain Rose Herbs, San Francisco Herb Company, Starwest Botanicals, or a myriad of other herb suppliers, or from your friendly neighborhood herbalist, such as myself.

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The Tea Basket

Tea one– 1 part chamomile, 1 part skullcap, 1/2 part lavender, and a big pinch of ginger for sleepy tea.

Tea two– 1 part elderberry, 1 part Echinacea, 1 part peppermint, and a big pinch of cinnamon for cold/flu tea.

Tea three– 2 parts dried orange peel, 1 part cinnamon chips, 1/2 part black loose tea.  A delicious, fragrant tea blend for cold winter nights.

Tea four– simply package loose Earl Grey tea or other delicious teas like Oolong, or blend Hojicha (a green tea) with spearmint to make Moroccan Mint Tea.

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You can use a jar as simple as a four ounce canning jar or you can purchase fancier jars at Sunburst Bottle or Specialty Bottle Company.  Be creative with what you have though!

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Now add a tea ball, tea strainer, or ready made tea bags.  Maybe a beautiful tea cup from the back of your cupboard or the thrift store. (Or I guess you can buy a new one!)

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Arrange everything in a basket (old Easter basket, from the dollar store, or baskets on hand) with some tinsel and wrap it up with cellophane and a bow.

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A beautiful gift to behold and receive.  One that can be enjoyed for months to come!

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!

Support Your Local Homestead!

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For centuries women have tended the home and the family and on the side sold things made by their hands to help support their family.  It seems to be an innate instinct in us.  Many homesteaders are entrepreneurs.  In this economy it can be scary out there.  What can we do to make sure we can put food on the table?  What can we craft, make, sell excess of, teach?  There are many opportunities to start a homestead business.  I have always told my homeschooled children that I would rather them make a smaller amount of money and work their own hours taking pride in making things from their own hands then to be cooped up in a cubicle day in and day out unappreciated!

Over here, we are trying to reinvent our business. (Doug and I will be doing markets as well.) Trying to be resourceful to appeal to the public and the community so that we can put food on our table while helping those around us.  Nancy is looking for the same thing.  We absorbed everything Joel Salatin told us in an intimate gathering and farm to table dinner last summer.  We have read books.  I have actually exhausted every single farming book available to me in the library system. (Can someone please publish another one?  I need something to read!)  We feel the need pulsing through our blood streams to become farmers.  There are no books specific to us.  We are not in our early twenties.  We do not qualify for the term “Greenhorns”.  Pity, it is such a fun name!  Most of the farmers are older and are retiring.  There are only names signifying possible craziness when two middle aged women want to become farmers.  But boy do we look cute out in the garden!  What we do have is collective business experience, a youthful exuberance and tons of energy and ideas, and two daughters willing to tag along and help!  We have computer savvy husbands with two sets of extra strong hands.  We have support.  We have creativity and a great collection of cute farmgirl clothes and aprons.  Oh my goodness, I can’t wait to wear my bonnet at markets!  Somewhere it will fit in!

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Many great businesses have been started by resourceful women…and men.  The local businesses on your street need their community in order to survive.  What you can do is support these businesses.  The same people you see at the bank, at the grocery store, in your church.  These people need your help.  I wish I could tell people, even people that shop at my store, that every time they go purchase herbal medicines and salves at the big health food store, they put me that much closer to going out of business.  Every time one goes to Cost Cutters instead of the single mom cutting hair, she can’t pay one of her bills.  Big corporations pay their bills just fine.  We small businesses are often cheaper, you get more, you get more quality, and yet we are forgotten in the shadow of a big store.  Granted if no one in my neighborhood is crafting shovels and I need one, I go to Walmart.  I won’t lie.  But there are so many shops on our quiet Main street that could supply a wealth of what people are looking for.  Farmer’s markets help bring the people together.  I don’t know about all the tents of people selling stuff they bought.  Packaged pancake mixes and magical weight loss mixtures, but those that make and craft and grow.  Those are my heroes, the ones I want to help.

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Nancy and I are making rich soaps, all organic ingredients.  Made from her goat’s milk.  We have made them beautiful, simple, clean.  I am making my famous lotion, renaming it Farmgirl Face and Body Cream for the markets.  I have made soy wax candles in darling coffee cups.  I have made aprons, double stitched and darling, a staple for any farm girl.  I have planted rows and rows of greens.  Nancy has planted even more rows and rows…and rows of greens!  We have herbs growing.  My dining room is overflowing with over-wintered herbs for cooking.  Our spoiled rotten (but adorable) chickens are all laying and we will sell our combined rations of fresh eggs with their beautiful orange yolks.  Nancy and Faleena will be busy baking muffins, breads, pies, and other goodies.  Emily is hand roasting organic coffee beans and designing the packaging.  She is also selling cups of coffee at the market with fresh goat’s milk and sugar.  Emily and I spent an afternoon developing many medicinal tea blends and packaging them.  We have organic green and black teas to offer as well.  Medicinal honeys add a sweet touch to administering medicine and our collection of extracts that have been our staple for years will be there as well.  We have fresh preserves, jams, beets, zucchini and more that we have sat in hot kitchens canning.  Emily is making organic baby food.  Faleena is spreading the word about us in the media world.  Doug has made us a darling logo and is making our labels and banners.  Steve tilled up the soil for Nancy.  We are set!  We are ready!  Come out and say hello to us at markets!  (And you can certainly go “like” our page on Facebook.. https://www.facebook.com/5Farmgirls?ref=hl ) Farm to table dinners….classes….the ideas are endless.

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What homestead business could you start?  What is your skill and passion?  And what business could you support to keep your local economy, nay your neighbors, strong?

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!