Our Farmstead Goes Solar

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Our farm began in an old house on two-thirds of an acre backing to the fairgrounds in a small, country town that will remain beloved to us for all time.  There on our rented mini-farm we watched goats, chickens, alpacas, and ducks play in the back yard, grew so many pumpkins in the front yard that people speeding down the street slammed on their brakes to take a better look, and we farmed the rest of the driveway.  We fell in love with oil lamps in that house.  The sweet glow of old fashioned light as we read in the evenings.  The gentle tick-tocking from the cuckoo clock on the wall letting us know the time as the stars came out and the moon rose.

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The landlords were losing the house but we found an amazing farm on ten acres where we would live in a late eighteen-hundred’s homestead on the property near the owner’s own house.  We had a wood cook stove to heat the house and cook on.  For a few months in the warm autumn of that year the world looked enchanted indeed.  We plotted a large garden, and gathered three cords of wood.  The chickens and goats were far from the house and we missed seeing them.  That winter we mastered the art of starting a fire while the house was thirty-seven degrees.  We quickly realized that the small firebox was not going to help and put in a large wood stove with our own money.  Of course, many of you know the ending of that dreadful tale.  We were forced to leave after putting every penny into that farm.

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So from friend’s house to friend’s house we went until we had enough saved to get into a beautiful, decidedly on-grid apartment.  That year was fun using a switch to turn on the fireplace, turning the heat up, basking in a large tub.  But the cement gets to a Farmgirl and it was time to see what was next.  Agricultural land was out of the question with the loan we qualified for.

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We found our homestead on the south side of a big-small town.  It’s big, but everywhere you go you see folks you know and I have never met friendlier people than here in Pueblo.  One third of an acre, an adobe shed with seven foot fencing made a fine chicken yard, wood floors for easy cleanup on what we knew would be our urban farm, and a wood stove held prominent position in the main room.  A root cellar holds hundreds of jars and the climate here allows for prolific gardening.  And dreaming.

The large grandfather clock keeps time, ticking regally and alerting us to each quarter hour and moon cycle.  The wood stove heats the house well, save for the back bedrooms.  We are constantly looking for ways to increase our sustainability.  How can we use less?  How can we spend less?  How can we show the beautiful earth that we are grateful?  And in return for our simplicity we find a peaceful existence of health and quiet joy.

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In the city, it is nearly impossible to be off the grid.  One can easily find one’s home condemned if attempted.  Composting toilets are against code.  City water is a given.  But there are still things we can do.  For us, the next step was solar power.  On that first farm, it would have been impossibly expensive (particularly for a rented home), but here on our very own home and in this time, it is absolutely practical and affordable. In fact, it cost us nothing.

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The solar company comes out and surveys your property, sees about light hitting the roof, and local zoning.  With a credit score of 650+ you get a loan for the amount of the solar panels, which was about $10,000.  $3000 is rebated back to you on your taxes.  We put nothing down.  The loan amount is the very same that we pay for electric every month so there is no change for us.  My neighbor’s electric bill is three times higher than ours, so she would save much, much more.  We pay a slight $8 charge to our utility company to “manage” our electricity.  Once the panels are paid off, we only pay the $8.  Our home value goes up as well.  The solar panels are flat against the roof and hardly noticeable at all.

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I have written many times how all of us really need to use less.  Wind energy is so destructive.  Obviously the power we have been creating with fracking and coal is detrimental.  Solar panels never decompose.  We can’t keep going on about the government and big oil.  We cannot stand around with our “Save the Earth” signs and not do something ourselves.  Solar was a great way for us to use considerably less resources, save thousands of trees, the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road, and using Father Sun for our power “needs.”  (I guess refrigeration and internet are fun.)  And it is completely accessible.

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If you are in Colorado, call Peak View Solar.  Everyone was so friendly and easy to work with.  Elisa Harrelson, 719-387-7232.  They have a referral program so mention us when you call!  It will help me get my greenhouse going!

Other things you can do to help save resources:

Eliminate animal products from your diet.

Grow a huge garden, community garden, or support local farmers.

Buy organic.

Drive less- get a bicycle!

Don’t buy crap. You know you don’t need that.  Put it back and save the money for seeds!

A wood stove is carbon neutral.

Preserve your own food.

Go for a walk.  The more you are in nature, the more inclined you will be to not hurt her.

Be grateful for life.  Indeed we are lucky to be alive this day.  Happy farming!

Redecorating the Farmhouse, part 3-vintage item revival

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It has been three years since we lost everything and left our farm.  Sure feels like a lifetime ago!  We had our family and a few things and started over.  I used to love the thrill of the hunt, the search for the usable off grid item.  I had no desire to purchase items for mere decoration, they needed to be usable.  I had every homesteading item you can think of before we left, and truth be told- material items or not- it has taken awhile to fully heal from loss.

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So, for the first time, I was able to walk through our nearby antique stores without lamenting that “I used to have that!”  I simply kept my eye open for a bargain that I could use.  A relic to make my life simpler.  Not simpler in the modern theory of flipping a switch or hitting a button, but in the beautiful space in time that hand grinding coffee beans takes, or being mesmerized by the percolator.  Or curling up beneath an oil lamp with a delicious book.  Or knowing if the power went off, we’d be none the wiser as our clocks ticked, our lights shone, and our wood stove puffed out smoke into the cool air.  The tea kettle on, a dog at my feet, a cat on my lap.  Goodness, I know no better life than one like this.  The homestead revival.

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Here are a few pieces to keep an eye out for that can go to work in your home.  They are pleasingly decorative in their own right, creating a lovely old fashioned coziness to the home, but are also useful and trusty.

Oil lamps are amazing, beautiful, useful, and fairly easy to come by.  You can, of course, buy all these things from a great homesteading catalog, like Lehman’s, but that takes some of the fun out of it!  Make sure the knob on the side works.  You can get wicks at Walmart.  They create the most lovely glow and help the body realize that bedtime is soon, as opposed to LED lights which awaken the body more.

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The coffee grinder is imperative on a homestead!  This way you can purchase five pounds of whole beans at a time at a more affordable price (organic, fair trade please!).

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There a few options for coffee.  I have long loved my French press.  It makes delicious coffee and you can keep it hot by placing it on a tea warmer with tea candle.  This percolator was in perfect condition at the antique store and the price couldn’t be beat.  There is something soothing about the gentle perking of coffee coming through the lid.  It could also go on a wood stove if the gas weren’t available.

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In this picture we have a great tea kettle that goes from stove to wood stove.  A beautiful oil lamp.  A pile of library books and musical instruments.  There are many ways to keep oneself busy without screens!

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I have three amazing clocks that I got from my friends, the Jensens’.  I have the lovely, old grandfather clock that shows up in many of my photos.  I have a fun cuckoo clock in the kitchen.  And I have this melodic, wind up clock.

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Simple baskets and reusable bags (perhaps that you make out of old clothing) are great to take to the market, or to bring in the harvest for supper, or carry books back to the library.  Try with all your heart not to buy or bring home another new thing that is plastic.

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Use less energy by unplugging cell phone chargers, anything that lights up, and shutting down your computer at night.  Turn off the television and go for a walk.

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Being outdoors hits the reset button for our lives.  A nice walk at dusk, or a hike on the weekends, helps bring life back into focus.  Finding things to do that have a lower footprint inadvertently gives you things to do that are great for mental and physical health.  We may have more health care options in this day and age but I bet our fore bearers were actually healthier and happier because they had purpose, family, and kept busy.  They had the magical satisfaction of work well done, of having purpose, and the space of mind to relax during methodical tasks.

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There are many ways that we can lessen our load and the one we have put on the planet.  Spend time with family, eat homegrown or local food, laugh, read, be.  And maybe read by oil lamp.

A Simple Life

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We were at our favorite Celtic festival this weekend.  For two days we step back in time.  We feel a swell of pride and odd recognition as we hear the familiar bag pipes sound.  Outfits of different eras swish in the morning air through the woods.  We find our clan (Mackay) and bid everyone well.  It is an annual time of catching up with old friends and seeing glimpses of a simpler time as we toast with our mead and listen to the fiddlers and harpists play.

As I drive home, flying down the highway, I see the abandoned homesteads and outbuildings that line the railroad tracks.

All our modern conveniences do not add up to happiness.  We still work the same hours but with less meaningful work and constant stress.  I think our bodies were made to be more physical, our tasks plenty.  Our evenings filled with music and books by the fire instead of stressful television shows.  Home cooked meals and clothes on the line and chickens waiting for scratch and friends coming to call on Sunday afternoon.  There was joy in simplicity and we were not so inundated with brain washing media and mass panic.

I could see the ghosts of the farm women in their aprons taking a pail of milk into the farm kitchen.  The men throwing hay to the sheep.  A trusty farm dog by his side.

At the festival our friends did demonstrations of sheep herding with their incredible Border Collies.  A tradition as old as the Highlands.

We do not have to fall into the day to day modern but can choose to live more simply.  We can choose to unplug the television, hang up a clothes line, put a pot of beans on, cancel cable.  We can choose to dress simpler, eat simpler, enjoy simpler activities like having friends over to laugh by the fire or take a walk in the evening.  We can shut off the news and don our aprons and embrace our inner wisdom and enjoy a simple life.

For many of the greatest joys are from holding a warm egg just laid in your hands, or clipping herbs for tea, or seeing how many tomatoes are ready to harvest.  Some of our greatest joys are in an embrace, a smile, a plate of locally grown food, and a day consumed with inner peace.

Dealing with a Broken Refrigerator Farmgirl Style

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Fifty-five degrees.  Well, that’s not good.  The refrigerator should probably be colder than that.

We do not presently have the money for a new one.  I slurp my lukewarm milk from my bowl of cereal.  I panic.

I go outside, sit down, face to the sun, feet on the ground and quiet down.  Then I laughed.  Do I not speak for entire weekends about this type of thing?  Am I not nicknamed the Farmgirl?  At the last show we were at, more people recognized me as the Farmgirl then White Wolf.  Have I not read every homesteading and pioneering history book I can get my hands on?  Are my ancestors laughing right now?  If anyone can handle this, it ought to me. Don’t I pride myself on knowing how live simply and without much electricity?  I have been in the city for a year…I’m rusty.

Okay, first things first.  Calm down and get another cup of coffee!  We are alright!

Two.  Defrost the meats in the freezer (before the refrigerator dies completely) and can them.  I found some good blog sites on canning hamburger.

I can preserve most things in the fridge and freezer.  Cheese doesn’t mind 55 degrees, that is the temperature I aged mine at when we had our little dairy.  The milk…not so much.

Invest in a cooler!  I wish there were ice trucks still.  I wish I had added Ice House to my house hunting criteria!  Get ice from the store.  Switch to non-dairy milks that do not go off so quickly.

Now from there, perhaps it is an easy fix and it might be worth it to call a repair man?  In the meantime, stop panicking and bring out my inner pioneer!  We can do this.  But, let’s do it before food poisoning tries to take over, shall we?

 

Farmgirl Time; the beauty of old clocks

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I love old clocks.  I love that there are no obnoxious light up, LED, plugged in clocks messing with my natural rhythms and using up electricity.  Old clocks have a steady pulse to them, a heartbeat, an ongoing dance of time so long as you remember to wind them.

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I have always loved clocks.  I always wanted a cuckoo clock.  We stayed with a couple in Kansas one weekend whose home was filled with old clocks.  I loved the top of the hour when they all sang and then returned to gentle ticking, methodical and calming.

clockKat’s father repaired and collected clocks.  Rod’s home is filled with them.  I am the grateful owner of three of them.  Kat gave me a cuckoo clock for my birthday many years ago and I still adore it.

The grandfather clock came from their son, Rodney’s home, I only needed to get it repaired, which I with great joy.  It has a lunar face set to the new and full moon cycles, effectively telling me when to make my medicines and when they are complete.

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This old wind up alarm clock is quirky, loud, and fun.  It pleases me.  We never have the alarm on!

Even though farm time goes more with the seasons and natural progressions of the day, if I do want to know what time it is, all I have to do is listen and the clocks will tell me.  All in good time.

 

The Beautiful Oil Lamps

My birthday present from Doug was a piece of our history together, a piece of our future together, a seemingly insignificant part of anyone’s life, but so beautiful I nearly cried.  Oil lamps.  We really miss our old ones!

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It is now romantic and just the amount of bright to read into the night.  Or until 10:00 anyway.  I am still on farm time.

 

 

Thy Neighbor’s Homesteading Stuff

Is that a commandment?  Thou shalt not covet thy roommate’s homesteading stuff?

These things were his mother’s.  I wonder if she used them or if they were a collection or if someone in her family once used them.  I’ll have to ask David.  But they are a fabulous assortment of things that fuel me to get back on the land.

There are magnificent canners in the garage and handmade crafts scattered throughout the home.  I cannot wait to start using homesteading items again in my soon-to-be wishing-it-into reality homestead!

Extreme Homesteading (high altitude, freedom, and yoga with frogs)

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Homesteading has become so much more than a lifestyle for us, it has become a part of our very being.  There are apartments with lush carpet and furnaces awaiting, city streets to catch buses on, and jobs that offer weekly paychecks.  Parts of that we miss but not enough to hightail back to it.  When faced with absolute obstacles (such as out of ideas to bring in cash) we just try to pick up a few odd jobs or cut another expense.  We are almost out of expenses to cut.  Which leads us to dreaming about setting up sheds in a mini-village and living there rent free!  We dream of living in warmer places where that would be possible.  High altitude homesteading is not for the meek.  Everything from baking bread, canning, to growing vegetables takes longer and one must know the tricks to succeed at these things.  (A reason I hope my homesteading school will take off!)  So goodness, gracious, why have we actually chosen to live this way?

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What better way to live than to live fully?  We do that every day when we greet the sunrise, when we start the wood stove if needed, when we brew the coffee in the French press and transfer it to a thermos.  When I can sit down and write until the kids shuffle off to work and breakfast is to be made.  Our granddaughter to be dressed.  Doug goes and milks the goat and feeds the animals.  Sometimes Maryjane and I help with chores.  She gathers eggs, helps feed, and pets the sheep.  We check on the ducks and feed the cats.  We strain the milk, pour some of the fresh cream into coffee, and put it in the fridge to cool.

Maryjane had her two large horse toys set up and was milking them last night.  She had me hold one of them so it wouldn’t kick.  Then she pretended to make cheese.  A homesteader at heart, this little girl is picking up so many skills and she is only two!

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I do yoga while looking out across the meadows while an owl looks on from the old willow.  Meditation comes easy with the frogs chirping from the pond.  I place laundry on the line, read books, prepare lunch, straighten the house.  Today we prepare for our first farmer’s market tomorrow.  My book signing is Saturday.  Classes on Sunday.  I play the guitar under the cottonwood.  Maryjane plays in the dirt.

The girls come home from work and we have dinner or sometimes it is just me and Doug.  We play cards, talk, read, write, pray, enjoy the sweetness of home.  We worry, we plan, we pray, we hope.  We make tea.

This year we will try to cut our grocery bill even more by growing, bartering, raising, preserving, and preparing all our own food and drinks.  Our own herbs for cooking and medicine.  We will gather all our own firewood.  I will improve my sewing skills.  We will make our own gifts.  Doug will continue to learn how to build and repair.  We will continue to release what we don’t need, learn to produce what we do.  Maintain our freedom, bask in the pride of a job well done, and live more self-reliantly than ever before.

So why do we work towards extreme homesteading?  Because after the oil lamps are blown out at night and we snuggle into bed, and see the stars through our window, we know there is no other life we want to lead.

Homesteader’s Espresso (off grid ready and fuel for chores)

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We are trying to purchase any desired or needed items to be off-grid ready, non-electric, and well made.  Doug works at a coffee shop in the winter, we enjoy really good coffee, and I do like an occasional espresso in the afternoons.  I researched non-electric espresso makers.  They were pricey and the concept was the same as our non-electric French Press.  Just pour boiling water over coffee grounds!  The containers were smaller and made a more compact, stronger cup, but essentially it was the same.  I poured roughly one cup of water over 4 Tablespoons of good coffee grounds and let it sit for four minutes or so.  Perfect espresso!

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My friend, Nancy (dang, I miss that woman!), taught me to use lemon peel.  She learned it in Italy.  She rubbed the lemon peel on the lip of the cup before taking a sip of the dark, rich drink.  It didn’t sound like it would be a good pairing but it was. A burst of sweet and tart and rich and earthy in one small, timeless sip.  This is best enjoyed on a patio, or under a tree, or with friends.  A little pick-me-up before the second round of farm chores.

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I have been enjoying it on rainy afternoons since the rain just won’t let up, but the past two days it has been sunny during the day and rainy at night, a perfect combination!  Look at how beautiful everything is turning in its electric green and soils filled with life.

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Perhaps summer is coming after all!

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A Pioneer’s Life For Me

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I was dreading going into the goat pen.  Elsa has mastitis and we have been diligently treating it but that along with her spoiled little girl self makes it incredibly difficult to milk her.  It takes all of my strength to hold her as Doug milks her out.  All of our muscles are shaking by the end and she has kicked the milk bucket a few times.  Our clothes are covered in milk and goat hair and I am often near tears.  Last night as I looked up before going in the pen a beautiful sight transpired.  The same one that made us feel we made the right choice moving out here.  The brightest rainbow arched across the sky, seemingly right above us, from horizon to horizon it promised peace.  Its colors sparkled in the rain that fell in straight glistening showers downward watering the gardens.  The sun shone through it and all was bright.  Today we will tie her back legs.

I love the peacefulness of home.  Now that Emily has moved back in, we drive considerably less.  We feel better in our bustling schedule around this homestead.  I love the heaviness of the cast iron skillet as I prepare eggs fresh from the coop and slice warm bread that I baked.  Dandelions, or other produce later, are mixed into the eggs throughout the season along with homemade cheese.  I hope fresh fruit will join these.  We look across our table and see how much of it we produced.  We are aptly satisfied and proud yet strive to produce nearly everything we consume.  Of course we shall rely on the humble farmer that provides the grains for our table.  The coffee from far away.  The teas exotic.  But our year long sustenance grows each season on this homestead as we produce more and more.

The milk hits the bucket in a sing-song tune as Isabelle stands sweetly on the stand.  She occasionally turns to kiss Doug’s ear.  She loves him and seems to want to impress him.  This year she is giving over a gallon a day of fresh milk.  I pour the warm milk into his coffee once inside.  The creamy morning treat warms the farmer.  These simple pleasures transcend the ordinary ones we knew growing up.  Last night after Doug had fallen asleep I sat in the rocking chair my father gave my mother upon learning that she was with child over forty-one years ago.  I sat in front of the wood stove and let it warm me as I relaxed into my book, the oil lamp highlighting the page, a cup of hot tea by my side.  The house and land is quiet.  My muscles are tired but my mind is joyous.  There is cheese pressing, bread dough rising, and at least the dishes are done.  I am reading an Amish book.

I have sat in an Amish home and read accounts.  They are not unlike mine.  Keeping the world out is something I strive for.  The news stays in its dramatic studios of fear.  Anger, stress, and sadness dissipate quicker here.  We are not immune to financial wonderings and relationship woes but here in this setting they work themselves out and the spirit is restored quickly.  We pray openly here and are thankful for our blessings.  We call on the Lord for signs, for help, and for comfort and receive them as we listen softly in the night by oil lamp and quiet.

The aprons hang on the wall and tell stories, I decide which one I wish to don this day.  I have long skirts, and long slips, and layers to make them stand out because they are comfortable, and feminine, and fine.  The apron pocket holds what I need as I bustle from clothes line to barn yard to kitchen.  Three meals a day grace the table and the children always know they can come home to a hot meal, peace and quiet, and an escape from the world beyond.

The counties out here argue over fracking, over wind mills, over water.  Not here! they say.  Yet folks will not give up their luxuries and want these means of fancies and want destruction to get them so long as they cannot see them.  We work on our own solution, to use less.  To find alternative ways.  And the classical music plays softly in the kitchen and the electric kettle often gets turned on but bird song could fill the musical need and a kettle whistling from wood stove could suffice.  And the world could howl outside our door but our respite remains here in our pioneer ways.  I put on my sun bonnet and head outdoors to plant.