Posted in Crafts and Skills

The Homestead Ukulele

I wish I were a natural, but I am no prodigy. I began playing the piano at eight years old. I started to play the guitar in seventh grade. I have taken violin lessons. Taken music in college. Every time I sit down to the piano, I have to relearn everything. My brother can still play the same songs he learned when we were kids. I can’t pick out Mary Had a Little Lamb.

My son, Andy, on the other hand, is a musician. He can hear the music. I have to read music. He can just play it. When he was twelve years old, he had dreadlocks and pirate earrings, a Bob Marley t-shirt, and a banjo that he walked around the neighborhood with, playing loudly, stopping along the way to entertain. By then, he had taught himself seven instruments.

Doug and I love to sing and our children can too, so we spent a fair amount of time singing karaoke with them at bars. Our house was filled with music and singing. When the children moved out, it got rather quiet. I played the fiddle and Doug played the mandolin, but neither of us were particularly enthralled, or very good, so when we moved, we sold all of our instruments. Noticing my regret, Doug bought me a guitar for my birthday that year.

My fingers do not quite reach to set the pads of my fingertips directly on the string so my songs always sound slightly off. Lessons did me little good, because the much younger teachers gave me songs like, “Oh Susanna” and told me to practice it a million times. Easily bored, I would just stop playing with a shrug. I am no prodigy but I also have the attention span of a Border Collie.

We now have a piano and my guitar that I play here and there. Andy has been playing the ukulele a lot over the past year and a half or so. He is, of course, great at it. He assured me that this is the instrument for me! He bought me one and it arrived in the mail Friday.

He talked me through it over Snapchat video and gives me lessons and things to practice that work for me. It is a larger ukulele but small enough that my fingers reach the strings easily and the sound is so great! I am already picking up the chords and he is having me learn songs so that we can play together. I gained a new instrument and a great teacher.

Music fills our home again. Isn’t that a quintessential requirement for a homestead? Playing mountain music for the corn. Instruments are an important part of the simple life. What would you like to play?

Posted in Farming

Life Lessons From the Garden

In four weeks from today we will be moving towards the mountains to our new homestead.  Oh, it doesn’t look much like a homestead.  It looks like a suburban style house from the 90’s on an unused acre of land with a workshop that is about to become a chicken coop.  Our neighbors near, our mortgage double, but if I close my eyes and push away the anxiety of moving and inspections and packing, and “see” the new property for what it will be, I am filled with optimism and strength.  A friendly small town.  Baby goats.  A thriving garden where there once was nothing.  A view of the sunset.  I haven’t seen the sunset in years, blocked in by trees and neighbors.


Google Earth has not updated the view of our present house since we moved here so one can see the tired house, the empty planting rings, the barren yard, a car backed up in what is now my potato patch.  We have done miracles here in just two and a half years.  Everything in life can be transformed by a little love, research, and hard work.  Everything from a house and garden, a marriage, a friendship, to a new outlook and fresh perspective.  Yes, this house and garden represent so much in life and has taught me some valuable lessons.


1.  Have faith in the future.

Moving here fresh from heartbreak and a mere eighteen months after we lost everything, this house was a blessing.  It represented new life, faith, a fresh start.  A house of our own- not rented.  Always have faith.  Looking back, one can easily see all the “coincidences,” friendships made, sheer luck, and universal pulls to get us where we are.  Even now, my house sold in one day, we found a house the same day, all is going smoothly thus far, the money showed up, the young military family in need of a nice home to raise their infant child precisely around the time of closing saw our house first….everything going on in the world around us is so much bigger and more controlled than we think.

New, cheaper soil

Doubled the price soil.

2.  Buy the best that you can afford.

I skimped this year.  I usually buy a particular kind of soil to start my straw bale/permaculture/quick beds of my own design, but it wasn’t there this year.  It seemed Miracle Grow (hello, Dow.) had taken over the shelves at the nearby stores.  So, I opted for cheaper bags of soil.  Lots of them.  It’s just soil, right?  Those beds look terrible.  I wasted hundreds of dollars.  If the seeds did germinate, they quickly died.  In everything you do, just do it right the first time.  Maybe I have always been a cheapskate, but that keeps biting me in my farmgirl derriere.


3. Expect surprises.


Being on this earth is such a blessing.  My goodness, to wake up every day and see the great sky, the warm sun rising, the birds singing, the plants surrounding us, to see the people we love, and to learn and experience this day- such a gift.  I love how Mother Nature gives sweet gifts, like wild sunflowers, and potatoes I didn’t plant, and hollyhocks.  Elderberries that aren’t typical here in Colorado.  Fresh rains in July, and cool breezes on a hot day, surprise trees, and places for wildlife to live.  Surprise friendships that become incredibly valuable, great jobs, and moments to help others.


4.  Leave a legacy.

In all you do, try to leave things better than they were.  Whether that be cleaning up trash at the park, using less resources, offering a smile and compliment to a stranger or friend, or planting a tree, always try to serve.  I hope this pear tree grows wild and fast.  I hope the three month old baby moving in climbs its branches and loves it when he is older.  I hope the tree feeds many and brings joy to the beholder.  I may have paid for, planted, and tended to it, but it is not mine to benefit from.  It is a gift to the future.



5.  Don’t run from your true self and purpose.


In a blog post last year, when our shop was about to close, I questioned, “Am I nothing more than an herbalist?”  Well, of course I’m not just an herbalist.  I am a friend, a wife, and a mother, an animal lover, a nature admirer, and I have a few talents, but I am not just those things either.  I am me.  Individual.  Specially created, me.  What I was pondering when I uttered those words though, is if I could be something else, start a new career.  My table is filled with dozens and dozens of single and compound extracts beginning their brewing process.  I am at peace when I am gently clipping echinacea leaves and popping calendula heads into jars, and talking to the rose while I snip comfrey.  I am an herbalist.


6. Learn to let go.

I am preparing so many new medicines because I am going to have to say goodbye.  I could try to transplant everything I have planted but I have learned that if a plant is thriving where it is, it doesn’t necessarily want to grow somewhere else.  I will take a few things but most will continue to live here, and I do hope thrive.  I will not be able to harvest my sweet corn, or Aztec blue corn, or popcorn, or pumpkins, or all the tomatoes, or so many other things I have carefully tended this summer.  It is hard to leave behind so much that we create, so much that we build, to start over.  But we don’t really start over, we just start anew with more experience, more lessons, more faith.

Posted in Field Trips, Homestead

Homesteading Lessons (a museum field trip)

IMG_1562We took a drive down to Colorado Springs with Rodney and Pat to see a museum that before now had escaped our attention.  The Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum.  It is housed in an old courthouse (the building itself a beauty) and held rooms of homesteading lessons.

IMG_1560First, it is always good to have friends with you on your homesteading journey.


Pat and I took these still life, serious photographs after dressing up in Pioneer clothing.  I hate to admit that I have these outfits…and wear them.  They are quite practical!  You have a pocket in your apron to put things as you are cleaning the house, hanging the laundry, or if you are a modern gal, you can put your cell phone in there.  The bonnets keep the sun from blaring in your face.  The long skirts keep the weeds from hitting your legs, chickens from pecking, and keep you warm in the winter, and cool in the summer.  Very practical.


Make sure you can protect your family.  There are a lot of screwy folks out there.  I used to view myself as the ultimate peace keeper, the one that would not fight.  If someone should break in I would hope a cast iron pan would do.  I could never harm someone so I would just hope for protection.  Now, I look at Maryjane, my children, even my animals, and I would fight pretty hard now.


I cannot tell you how nice this vehicle looks to me.  One or two lovely horses leading it.  A chance to feel the wind in one’s hair and see the surrounding country side.  The vehicle also looks a lot easier to maintain than our old cars!


Make sure that you can fit everything you own in a trunk (or 82 in my case) so that you can move easily if necessary and so that you don’t get too caught up in material things.  Just the necessities folks.


When you make something, take pride in your work.  No ho hum work.  Make it last, make it beautiful.


Children do not need every toy that is shown on commercials.  They will grow bored, the toys will end up in a landfill, and you will be broke.  A nice simple doll is a little girl’s favorite toy.  I made one of these for Maryjane for Christmas.


Find tools for the job.  Where can I purchase (or how do I make) these implements?  The corn husker thing would save me some time getting the corn off the cobs.  This fabulous shovel is specifically for digging up potatoes without nicking them.


Keep your spinning wheel near your writing desk so that you can get a lot done during the day.


Welcome everyone into your home.  Colorado Springs was home to the Cotton Club.  It was the first night club in the country that allowed any race to enter and was owned by a black woman.  She had a big sign in the window that said “Everyone Welcome” much like our sign that says Welcome to Grammie and Papa’s.  Ours promises cookies and unlimited hugs.


This is how you avoid the gym.  Work in the fields, work hard, ride your bicycle.


Keep yourself healthy with herbal medicines.  This apothecary replica looks a lot like mine!  I was mesmerized.


Be inspired.  I love how the length of lace looks at the borders of this hand made quilt.  I will have to try that when I make my next quilt.


Play music and love life.  Relax in the evenings and get your fiddle out.


I don’t know if it’s because I have had so many homesteaders in my family history (nearly all my family dates back to at least the 1700’s) that I am so fascinated by all these things.  Could it pass down in one’s DNA?  Or is it the simple fact that I love homesteading itself.  I love simplicity, quiet, hard work, and relaxing in the evenings.  I love being a housewife, a preserver, a farmer.  I love this life of animals, and the mixture of grief and profound happiness.  The sense of accomplishment and helping the earth.

I need to be playing my fiddle more!