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.

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?

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!

Alpaca Lessons

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They sure are cute.  That is about all I could tell you about alpacas before yesterday morning!  All Doug and I knew is we wanted one, or two, or fifty-five, but we’ll stick with two.  They look like marionettes who have lost their strings.  They hum.  Mmmm.  They are very sweet and timid.  We have been to every alpaca festival in a twenty mile radius for the past two years.

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Alpacas

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A lot of people confuse alpacas for llamas.  I cannot tell you how many people have warned us about our upcoming alpacas!  Llamas are bred to be guard animals.  They are the junkyard dog of the barnyard world.  I have met very sweet llamas, but most are aloof and on the job 24/7.

Doug carrying a baby back after dental work.

Doug carrying a baby back after dental work.

Alpacas are skittish prey animals that provide the most luxurious fiber.  Imagine fiber as warm as wool but as soft as fleece.  My spinning wheel is waiting to make plush yarn that I will knit into soft, warm sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, and socks.  As soon as I master spinning….and knitting…and taking care of alpacas.  They get sheared in the spring.

They can be snuggly though, I just had to learn how to handle them.  My first inclination was to pat their soft heads.  Which they immediately balked against being quite head shy.  We were told to reach out to their necks (this is easiest when they are on a harness) and put our face near theirs (which seemed aggressive, but apparently not) and blow softly into their face.  Softly, mind you, no talking, or excessive blowing.  They return the gesture with a soft kiss.  Delightful.  Thank God they don’t have the bad breath that llamas do.

We practiced cornering the two we are taking home Sunday and getting a harness on them.  Then we learned how to lead them around, then how to take the harness off again, all while keeping the seemingly upper hand.  Gentle does it with alpacas, and they responded well to us.

Introducing Ferdinand!

Introducing Ferdinand!

We clipped nails.  I couldn’t have imagined what the bottoms of their feet looked like.  I assumed a hoof or something.  But there is actually a large pad, much like a dog’s main pad on the bottom of their feet, with two nails that also look like a large dog’s.  We have to clip them with pruners and put a bit of muscle into it (which automatically made that Doug’s job) keeping them even with the pad.  They have a quick like cat’s and dog’s nails so we have to take care not to get overambitious.

Introducing Natali!

Introducing Natali!

We watched Natali, our three year old alpaca that we are getting, get gelded.  Sorry bud.  They were worried that as he gets a little older he will try to overpower the one year old, Ferdinand.  Which would be awkward and inappropriate having an alpaca attempting to ride the other around the back yard.  Snip.  Snip.

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This last week we were busy finishing their shelter.  We have to be pretty creative around here.  Remember, we live in town and cannot just erect full sheds and structures without permits and such.  We also don’t have a lot of money to spend on it.  So we viewed the space between the garage and the chicken coop with new light.  2x4s had been placed there when we moved in to stabilize the chicken coop.  It provided a place to put old metal sheeting on top to make a roof.  We then placed corn stalks from the garden on top to provide cushioning from sound (like hail or hard rain, spookable animals, remember) and then covered everything with a tarp that was securely fastened to the first board.  Another was added that hung down the back. We stacked straw bales along the tarp to create a wall.  A nice, snug, weather proof, wall that the chickens are enjoying nibbling.  We now have a shelter.  We have bowls.  We are so ready for the boys to come home Sunday!

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!

Catching Time…unplugging

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I want to feel satisfied as I fall into bed exhausted.  Complete in what I do.  Comforted in the thought that homesteading improves my lifestyle and mood, that I stay healthy, contribute to the health of animals, grow glorious food for my loved ones, prepare for accidents or Mother Nature or the Zombie Apocalypse, according to my dear friend, Erik, but also live a good life.  I want to lessen my footprint on this fine earth and live fully.  Busyness sneaks up.  Its eager eye on making me feel tired and blue instead of satiated.  It robs me of time to make gourmet dinners and practice all the skills I am learning.  Here I have learned all these much desired skills this winter with scarcely a moment to practice or put into place.

This winter I have learned to make soap, spin (somewhat…I am getting there), knit (crooked albeit), and play the fiddle.  I have designed two new businesses.  I have learned how to keep chickens in the past year and will learn how to keep bees this year.  I will intern with my friend in her greenhouse.  I have my shop in town.  I will be a friend, mom, wife, lover, grandma, and farmer/homesteader extraordinaire…..tomorrow.  Because busyness makes it tomorrow far too quickly.

So, I look around in vain trying to find the cause of my minutes flitting away.  I still wanted to take a cheese class!  I still want to go to college.  I still want to do farmer’s markets with Emily, Maryjane, Nancy, and Faleena.  What is taking so much time?  Granted I do hand wash laundry, try to do things slow, but something else is stealing in the shadows.

Then a revelation!  Lo and behold the thief comes to light.  Do I seriously need to check my email twenty-five times a day?  Check my blog to see if it is still there?  See what’s happening on Facebook?  Would it wait until the next morning?  Could I properly homestead, complete tasks that I desire to do, and have time for a chapter of my book and a glass of wine under the huge Elm tree if I didn’t continually stalk the internet?  What kind of off-gridder wannabe am I?  I thought I had outsmarted technology and all its glitz by not watching television (save for The Voice and So You Can Think You Can Dance…I don’t think it’s too late for me!), but then the internet, in all its Siren glory, tricked me out of a few good moments on the land.

I will turn its face to the wall, turn it off if I must, but I will only view this box into the world once a day…..maybe twice.  And find magic hours to read how to keep goats, play with the baby chicks, plant potatoes, treat animals, teach herbs to children in the inner city, learn to knit straight and spin fabulous yarn and breathe outdoors on this quaint little mini-farm.  And play with Maryjane.  Time found.

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Alpaca Scarves and Crooked Washcloths

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I have been crocheting since I was twelve years of age thanks to my grandmother who patiently taught me.  Every time I wanted to start a new blanket over the next ten years I had to go to Grandma to get me started.  It takes awhile for things to click with me.  Since then I have been able to put together pretty decent baby blankets, lap blankets, scarves, and more recently hats and baby hoodies!  But I want to make close knit fabulous socks with my future fiber animals.  I want to make luxuriously warm sweaters without big holes in them like a granny square.  That would be a little chilly.

There is a group of ladies that meet at Grumpy’s Coffee Shop here every Monday at 4:00.  I try to get there after my fiddle lessons.  If nothing else, I sit for an hour, catch up on gossip, and leave fully inspired to make elaborate sweaters and try different patterns.  I decided to learn from these wise ladies how to knit.  I think I helped them view a special kind of learner.  I hope they have ten years.  “Where is the hook?”  “They are knitting needles, there is no hook.”  “No hook?  How on earth do I pull the yarn through?”  “Like this…”  Swish, swish, click, click, and the yarn magically came through the hole.  “I need a hook.”  I went back to crocheting the baby blanket I am working on for my soon to be here grand-daughter.

Yet, the fiber bug continues to bite me.  I suppose that if I want my homestead to revolve around alpacas and sheep for fiber, I ought to be rather savvy in the arts of fiber!  Crocheting may not cut it in the world of thick warm socks and sweaters.  So, I sign up to take a real knitting class that costs money at the yarn shop in the next big town over.  A stern English lady who told back to back jokes about Germans sat with four of us on a cold, wintry night before Christmas.  She must have forgotten that Americans are by and large mutts and we don’t know that we are supposed to be angry at one European nation or another because most likely, one of our grandmothers came from there!  In the warmth of her shop I started clicking the needles together as if I had been doing it for years.  She brushed me off to everyone saying, “Oh, she has already had lessons.”  I should have known it wouldn’t last!

I decided to stop using my expensive alpaca yarn to practice and since it was overwhelmingly told to me to forget about starting out making a sweater or socks (4 needles?  You’ve got to be kidding me.), that I should make a scarf or something.  In the land of a million hand made scarves (our house) I decided to use some old chenille yarn to make a wash rag.  I sat for two hours on the sofa concentrating until my eyes hurt.  Look at that beauty.  All I can say is….wow.  There never was an uglier wash rag.  It is very soft and I use it to wash a mud masque off of my face once a week.  So, it does the trick.  But I dare say, I’d be scared to see the sweater I make in the future!

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Back to crocheting, the first picture is of a head wrap/scarf that I made a few years back while sitting in the scorching sun of a farmer’s market.  I get migraines if my ears get cold and alpaca fiber is the only thing that keeps my ears warm.  So, I made this lovely shawl/scarf/head cover to keep me toasty.  The colors are drool worthy and it was such a simple stitch.  Simply chain until you have the length you want.  Then double chain back and forth until you get the size you want.  I switched colors after each skein.  Luckily I got a discount from my friends Marianne and Wade at T 3 Weavers because we were doing a market with them at the time.  http://www.t3weavers.com/yarnshop.html

Luckily, my friend Sandy showed me some patterns yesterday at knitting club to make crocheted socks (no holes) and I saw a sweater book at the library for crochet.  I do not know all the fancy stitches, but perhaps the girls at the coffee shop can help me out!  Happy Creating!