Posted in Homestead

Tour of a Mountainside Homestead

My husband and I love to tour other people’s homesteads. We love to see what others are doing, be inspired, and swap ideas. We headed out to deliver medicine to a homesteading couple an hour southwest of us. The road rose to over 8000 feet. We came out of the trees and the road looked out across the most beautiful vista, the valley stretching across to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, those high, sun flecked, looming peaks.

Perched on the mountainside was their hand-built abode. A pole barn with an 800 square foot addition added for their house. Inside the house looked like a charming bed and breakfast with just what one needs, an open kitchen and living room, wood stove in the corner, and a view of the whole valley. A vermiculture tower of veggies was set up in their office. In the attached pole barn was their RV which acted as guest quarters. A wood cookstove, another wood stove, a seating area, dining room table and glitzy chandelier hung from the ceiling. A well stocked room was their pantry, and an upstairs loft was set up with comfy cushions.

The wind whipped across the drive and the pastures telling of an approaching storm. We passed several cords of stacked wood as they walked us through their large fenced garden. They used very tall frames and chicken wire that were used as drying racks at a marijuana greenhouse that had them for sale for cheap as fence panels. They dug down and put in chicken wire. The well secured space was being sectioned off for dual purpose chickens they were about to go into town to pick up. A few heads of lovely cabbage were left in the garden. They simply turned the soil and amended well with mulch and manure from local ranchers.

A cistern sat on a hill capturing rainwater (what little we get) and was positioned to move downhill to water the garden. They have a well that they are careful not to overuse. The lack of water here in Colorado is really the downfall of homesteading here, but clever homesteaders make it work.

Pushing my hair out of my face that the wind was whipping around, I entered the dome greenhouse and found myself in a quiet sanctuary. Water from the little pond trickled sweetly, the propane heater kept the space warm, and cucumbers and tomatoes scampered around the ceiling of the greenhouse. Herbs grew in pots and vegetables grew as if it were summer.

I mentioned how much I have always liked the domes but the price was so high. Mary explained that it was worth it. They were too old, she said, to do anything half way, to waste money on things that would not work. They bought a shed when they first moved onto the property while they were building their house. It blew away.

Mary and Glen hunt and process their own meat and have stored away non-perishables. They grow much of their food and have gradually built and moved to this carefully placed homestead. They are adding chickens and more solar panels to the property. They live a comfortable and cozy life off grid. Homesteads are all different and each one offers valuable wisdom and inspiration. I am thankful that this sweet couple shared their space with us and showed us around. Homesteaders are a generous and friendly group. I am glad to be counted among them.

Posted in Homestead

Being Prepared (homesteading and becoming aware)

As we walk around our little town each evening, down red dirt roads and surrounded by mountain ranges, we are amused by the eclectic makeup of this place. We pass run down trailers, the yards filled with decades of accumulation. We pass new houses (definitely city transplants)- large “country” homes with landscaped yards and a few horses. We pass lots of old houses with large signs that state, “Enter at your own risk! No trespassing! Shots will be fired!” By looking at the old places one can certainly guess that government conspiracy theories and old Veterans might live here, and that would be true. I’m not ready to put up a sign, but I will tell you the older I get, the more I stand with them.

This Covid thing just increased my skepticism in the sanctity of government. The CDC keeps getting caught in lies and misinformation. During the lockdown, a bill requiring children to have any vaccination the state sees fit was pushed through quietly. Information changes daily, the government wields its agendas while more people than I have ever seen in my lifetime lose their jobs, and continue to do so. It makes you kind of wonder about things.

If my husband lost his job today, would we be prepared? (a resounding NO fills the air) Most of us wouldn’t. If the grocery store shelves were once again empty, would we be prepared? Homesteading isn’t a fad or a crazy hermit mentality. It is not an extreme lifestyle or a paranoid action. It is just smart. Plain and simple.

You don’t have to list your house and move to the middle of nowhere. You don’t have to go off grid. You don’t have to buy overalls (though they are super cute) and stock up on shotguns. But, let’s be honest, we have to do something! We have handed way too much power over to companies, entities, and government.

Maybe today list 5 things you could do to be prepared in the case of job loss, empty grocery store shelves, or natural disaster. Do you want to try to save an extra hundred dollars a month? Do you want to learn to pressure can? Want to get a clothes line? Want to get a wood stove? Want to list your house and move to a cheaper state? We can go as simple or extreme as we want, but let’s do something to be prepared for emergencies and life changes.

My blog can help. If you type in anything you want to learn into the SEARCH section on the side of the page (if you are on a computer, at the bottom if you are on a phone), you will likely find informative posts and DIY. The internet and old books are filled with valuable information for those of us raised post World War II! That was the pivotal era when folks opted to buy frozen dinners and pharmaceuticals and move to the suburbs. We don’t have to get paranoid (how come the advertisements on facebook are for the very thing my friend and I were talking about the yesterday?), but we can get smart. Maybe a ’38 Special and canning jars aren’t such a bad idea.

I want to make it clear that we aren’t doing these things out of fear. Being prepared, and being fearful are different. Homesteading is really a beautiful way to live. We used to be much more sufficient and we are working towards that again. Seeing jars of beautiful vegetables and fruits lining wooden shelves, the smell of clothes fresh off the line, wood smoke and a Dutch oven of stew simmering on top of a wood stove, money in a coffee can, and friends over to play instruments while watching the sunset with a glass of homemade wine. Rows of vegetables growing, medicinal plants in the gardens, chickens laying eggs, children running through pastures with goats. Peace. That is what homesteading is really about.

Posted in Non-Electric

Garden Sickle (the homesteader’s weed wacker)

My husband would get really frustrated pulling and replenishing all that bright orange plastic cord in the weed wacker every so many feet. “Where is all that plastic going?” I wondered aloud. There was shredded plastic all over the farm, basically. Not to mention the gasoline or the really long cord and electricity it required and that they were too unwieldy for me to use.

Enter the garden sickle. It is such an easy off grid device. I got mine from Territorial Seeds for twenty dollars. It is basically a mini-scythe.

Before

I don’t hoe the paths between the garden rows because Mother Earth likes some covering, and it’s just as easy to grow what she wants there. But I do give it a sleek haircut weekly.

After

You can stand or kneel. You can use the sickle in any direction. Hold it sideways and without too much pressure you just wack smoothly, like you’re giving the weeds a haircut.

The goats and ducks get excited when they see the sickle because they love the weeds that I chop up. It’s free food for the farm animals. The chickens prefer bindweed, but I just pull that up by hand.

Now, you don’t need all that fancy equipment on the farm. This simple tool will last you many years and does the job in a fraction of the time since you don’t have to stop and adjust it every ten minutes. After every few uses, clean and dry the sickle and sharpen. It has a serrated edge so be careful. Hold the sickle at a sharp 45 degree angle and smoothly drag the sharpener along the teeth a few times. You don’t want to grind down the teeth.

Sometimes I wonder if all our modern inventions didn’t just make our life harder! Try out a garden sickle and see how lovely off grid tools can be!

Posted in Non-Electric

Off Grid Lighting (even if you are on the grid)

There is something about old fashioned living that appeals to many of us. Old fashioned living honors the natural rhythms of nature and the body. It is better for the senses, the spirit, and one’s outlook. I am not romanticizing the life of pioneers of old- the starvation, traveling away from their families, the freezing temperatures- but we can take the practical, slower, methodical (and sometimes fast paced), family oriented, earth friendly, sweet aspects and incorporate them into our modern homesteading practices. One of the easiest ways to incorporate homesteading into one’s life is old fashioned lighting.

This mouse is one of my favorite finds!

A girlfriend of mine and I go visit Amish friends in Westcliffe every so often. The last time Elizabeth and I were there, Ruth showed us around their new home, freshly built of rustic logs and windows with views.

“What are the outlets for?” Elizabeth pointed at the ceiling.

“Oh, we have to have the house wired in case we ever want to sell it,” was Ruth’s reply.

Hanging between two comfortable looking chairs facing west and looking out upon the grand Sangre de Cristos- so close you could practically climb them- was a battery operated light, much like one you might find in a mechanic’s garage. They charged it in the basement at night and it ran for many hours in the evening.

So, what’s the point? If one is going to have light at all, why not just flip on a switch? For the Amish, living a slow, simple life keeps them closer to God and each other. That is really what homesteading is about as well. It connects us to things greater than ourselves. Greater than video games, recorded television shows, and opens the way for meaningful conversation and family time. One area of lighted space keeps a family together in that space, reading, laughing, sewing, watching the children play. When Doug and I popped in to see Ruth’s husband, Joel, at his furniture shop last weekend, he mentioned the birth of twins. Happy moments shine brighter in an old fashioned life.

Oil lamps are my favorite because they are beautiful and practical and some of the old ones come with their own quiet stories. Oil lamps are easy to find in antique stores and even Walmart. There are beautiful ones online and even second hand stores. That is where my daughter, Emily, spotted this charming red one. Oil lamps come in all shapes and sizes. When you are looking at an old one, turn the knob and make sure it moves the wick up and down. You can get a new screw on collar for the lamp if needed online. Put in a fresh wick. Empty any remaining oil and clean the lamp. Pour in a clean oil like, Klean-Heat or Firefly. Let the wick gather up the oil for a few hours before lighting. Let the wick barely show over the top in order to keep the lamp from smoking or wasting oil. Clean the chimney and place on top.

I also use extra chimneys to cover candle tapers. I have some lovely candle holders. Candles perhaps give off the best light. Look for packages of candles at second hand stores. The best though, is to purchase a bulk pack of dripless candles. They last a long time and do not make such a mess.

If I supplement light, it is from twinkly lights. We always grab a few extra boxes of Christmas lights during the season. They use less energy and help supplement the space with soothing light.

By using off grid or near off grid lighting options, the dimmed light allows the body to calm down and you will sleep better. It is a natural way for your body to know that the day is fading. It just doesn’t get the memo with television and phone screens! It is less harsh on the eyes and flattering on faces. It is calming in a way I cannot explain in prose. We are so relaxed and comfortable in the evenings. Between the wood stove and our off grid lighting, our gas and electric bills are less than half of what they would be in a conventional environment. And even though oil for the lamps and candles have a footprint, it is less than blaring all the electric lights. Incorporating non-electric lighting into one’s house is easily done anywhere and is a great step into the world of homesteading.

Some more of my articles you may enjoy:

Visit Ruth’s House

A return to our Amish friends’ house

Oil lamps

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.

Tasha Tudor

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.

Tasha Tudor

‘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 Homestead

Baby Steps; How to Begin Homesteading

It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.

J.R.R. Tolkien

We moved into an apartment four years ago between homesteads. It was a beautiful, top floor, one bedroom with views of the mountains and a fireplace with a light switch. Lush carpet, a large bathtub, and walking trails everywhere. We had just come off the worst year of our life and we seriously considered giving up homesteading and farming and just living like this. Not a bad life. We’d peruse the stalls of the farmer’s market (our first year not being a vendor in a long time), then after bringing our bounty home, we would dip into the swimming pool. But something was missing. We could both feel it. I rented three large garden plots at the community garden. I canned peaches from the farmer’s markets. I looked out across the sea of cement and knew what we were missing. Doug knew it too. Once you begin to homestead, it entwines itself into the fibers of your being, it cushions your heart, drives your decisions, and makes you feel at home. There are no U-turns. Once a homesteader, always a homesteader.

As we drove through the parking lot of the beautiful apartments, we could not help but notice the overflowing dumpsters and sea of trash. The lack of recycling. No place to compost. No food gardens. Non-stop electric use.

There are many reasons people choose to homestead. One of them is a desire to walk softer on the land. To leave less footprint. To attempt, however feebly, to lesson our damage to the earth. Another reason folks turn to homesteading is to feel something real. Homesteading life is real life. It is doing things with your own hands, creating, growing, watching Mother Nature work, feeling truly alive. Another big reason is that people want to work less. Homesteading can be expensive. It depends on how much you need, what you want to do, and how cheaply you can come across instruments for your farm. But the more you do yourself, the less you rely on others. If your grocery store is in your root cellar, you don’t need to give so much money to all the middle men from farmer to store. If you grow your own food, you really save money. If you sew your own clothes, or shop second hand, you save money. If you buy bulk, hand make meals, use wood to heat your house, or find entertainment at home (nothing like a glass of homemade wine and a lawn chair to watch chicken antics), you can save money. A penny saved is a penny earned. The less you spend, the less hours you put into an office job. The less hours at an office job, the more time in real life. On the homestead. There is great joy in homesteading. Maybe that is why more and more young people are seeking this lifestyle. I read a blog recently where a young housewife was wondering how to begin homesteading. So much to learn, so much to do. Baby steps, y’all. One thing at a time!

When something breaks, begin replacing it with a non-electric counterpart. Or sell the electric version and purchase the hand cranked model.

Here are some non-electric alternatives that are great on a homestead:

  • Hand cranked coffee grinder
  • French press or percolator
  • Kettle
  • Tea strainer
  • Hand cranked food processor
  • Cast iron Dutch oven
  • Cast iron pans
  • Wooden spoons
  • Good mixing bowls
  • Canning jars
  • Clothes line
  • Hand washer and clothes plunger
  • Wood stove
  • Grandfather or cuckoo clock
  • Oil lamps
  • Candles
  • Water bath and Pressure canners
  • Grain grinder

Pretty soon the power will go out and you won’t even know it!

Electric items that really help get the root cellar filled and dinner on the table:

  • Vitamix
  • Excalibur dehydrator
  • Pressure cooker
  • Crockpot

Basic homesteading skills to learn:

  • Gardening
  • Canning
  • Preserving the harvest
  • Sewing
  • Fiber arts
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Herbalism
  • Animal care (a new term I learned is, veganic homesteading. We aren’t using animals for food on our homestead, but we do have a menagerie of pets!)
  • A skill that can bring in some income.
My friend shared this funny photo with me from the internet. Hilarious!

Good homesteading habits:

  • Do you need that? Only purchase what you need.
  • Try to purchase things second hand first.
  • Borrow reading materials and movies from the library.
  • A deck of cards and a couple of board games are a lot of fun!
  • When making your grocery list, look at the items and see what you can learn to make. Ketchup? Granola bars? Cereal? Crackers? Bread?
  • The only gardening tools one really needs is a good hoe, rake, pitch fork, shovel, and hand trowel.

Just start:

  • Start a farm in pots in the south window, or the balcony, or a community garden, or in the front yard.
  • Start a compost pile under the sink with worms, or with pallets in the garden.
  • Check out library books (or read my blog!) and learn how to start a garden, harvest, prepare, cook, can, dehydrate, freeze produce. How to sew, crochet, play musical instruments, make candles, soap, herbal medicines, and cleaning products.
  • Let go of vanity. You look fine. You don’t need makeup, fancy clothes, or high heels. Old clothes, a good apron, and galoshes will do.

My go-to books (and my own books!):

Growing 101 Herbs that Heal by Tammi Hartung

The Homesteader’s Pharmacy and The Herbalist Will See You Now by (yours truly) Katie Lynn Sanders (http://authorkatiesanders.com)

Little House Living by Merissa A. Alink

Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 again by moi, Katie Lynn Sanders

Preserving the Fruits of the Earth by Stanley and Elizabeth Schuler

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own by Bob Flowerdew

Plus myriads of great cookbooks and homesteading memoirs. The best thing to do is to start somewhere, anywhere, and the more you do yourself, or without electricity, or simply, the more it becomes second nature.

I’d rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.

George Washington
Posted in Non-Electric

Tips for Heating with a Wood Stove

It was thirty-five degrees in the little homestead. It was a particularly cold winter and the wood cookstove in the 1890’s kitchen was our only source of heat. Hands freezing, seeing through my breath, I fumbled with the kindling and the wood pieces trying to get a fire going. I always did, but often not without tears and frustration. In our current homestead, we have central heating. We rarely use it though. We put in a nice wood stove. It is compact and unassuming but keeps our home toasty, and even the rooms that are closed stay well above thirty-five degrees! I can now get a fire up and roaring in a few minutes flat. I wanted to share a few tips with you.

Kindling– My granddaughter’s daddy, Bret’s great-grandpa was busy cutting down trees and chopping wood until the park that he lives in said he needed to get rid of all the wood. My cousins and their truck swung by and picked me up and we were off to Denver to get a truckload of wood. Most of it was piled into boxes and was perfect for kindling. Any small twigs, tiny branches, and pine cones make excellent kindling along with newspaper. I admit I do not read the paper but I always pick up the free ones for the wood stove.

  1. I like to put a small, flat piece of wood down over the grates and place four to six crumbled up newspaper pieces just tucked under and around the wood. Crumple the paper well, if it’s loose, it will burn too quickly.

2. I take a long piece of newspaper and wrap up a good fistful of twigs and small branches and place that on top of the flat piece of wood and paper.

Wood– There are two kinds of wood, soft wood and hard wood. Hard wood burns longer and more even. Soft wood burns quickly and is good for starting fires. Cedar would be an example of soft wood and Osage Orange is the hardest wood. Somewhere in between is all you need. We only have cedars on our property so I ordered two full cords (not face cords) of cottonwood. I typically put a piece of wood in an hour.

3. Place one small piece of wood alongside tilted over the bundle of kindling so that there is something to catch and prolong the fire. The kindling will burn fast. Each thing has air between. One needs oxygen to get a fire going. Light the paper in places from back to front.

4. Keep the door closed but not latched. This helps bring in air to get the fire going. About the time you add another log once everything is really going is when you can latch the door. If the flames begin to go out, open the door again. Poke things around a bit if wood is piled to thick to get the fire going. You can always throw in another sheet of newspaper crumbled and stuffed with a poker between the logs. Sometimes that is all you need.

Managing Heat- Close doors to rooms that are not in use. If it gets too hot but you don’t want to let the fire go out, open the bedroom doors. This helps regulate the heat in the house.

Cooking on the Wood stove- Use the top of the wood stove as a burner. If you want higher heat, place pan directly on stove. If you need to lessen the heat, place the pan on a trivet. Cook just as you would on a stove top. Certainly place a tea pot on the stove so you have hot water for tea and coffee at the ready! A pot of beans is always nice as well. I ruined a perfectly good pressure cooker pot by using it to heat water. It was aluminum, apparently, and bent up something awful. Cast iron was made for cooking over fire. Enamelware over cast iron works great as well.

Humidity- Just like central heating (or more so), wood heat dries everything out. Great if you live in a humid climate, but here in Colorado where it is high desert- haven’t seen moisture in weeks- skin gonna fall off- dry, a pot of water atop the stove is necessary. You can even add a few shakes of essential oils into the water for a pleasing aroma.

Ash- Heating and cooking with wood is carbon neutral so long as you order cords of already dead wood or cut up downed trees and branches. It goes full circle. The ash can be added around the base of trees. It will raise the PH of the soil, but may be too alkaline in gardens if used alone so a little goes a long way. You can sprinkle it in fallow fields or in small doses along where you will be starting a garden. The easiest thing to do though is to place it in the compost bin.

A wood stove is an investment, but one that pays itself off in about three years. Less if you don’t have to buy wood. You can often find free wood if you can haul it. Wood heat heats through and through. It is lovely and ambient. It keeps your utility bills low and you will always be able to keep warm and make food and coffee should the power go out. A wood stove is a homestead necessity!

Posted in Food/Wine (and preserving), Non-Electric

Cooking on a Wood Stove and Mushroom Risotto Soup

Cooking on a wood stove is easier than one would think. Consider it a cook top. Add more wood to make it hotter, let it die down some to lower the heat. Use a trivet to adjust heat by raising up pot. Always use cast iron; other pots cannot handle the heat!

When I was a very young woman, my great-aunt Donna allowed me to take my children to her circa 1800’s log cabin in the woods. I loved cooking on her wood cook stove. Seventeen years later, in an 1800’s homestead on the prairie, Doug and I had a wood cook stove. We learned that it does not heat a home, but I did enjoy cooking on it. Seems food tastes better. Stirring chopped onions from the root cellar, or flipping eggs from the coop; it is all very satisfying.

When I am feeling old fashioned (or ornery), I will walk around our homestead and turn off the computer and unplug chargers and anything that has a damned light, and cook on the wood stove. (Of course the Christmas lights are all on…) Yesterday I made a fine mushroom risotto soup that was piping hot by the time my husband walked through the door. It was delicious! Served with garlic toast and a glass of wine, this homestead meal felt very fine indeed.

Mushroom Risotto Soup

  • Pour a good swirl of olive oil into cast iron Dutch oven. Place on stove.
  • Chop an onion and place in pan.
  • Give a stir with a wood spoon, then go chop 5 cloves of garlic. Add to the pan.
  • Chop up about 3 cups of shiitake mushrooms. Add to pan with 1/2 teaspoon of smoked salt (or sea salt) and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and stir well. Let that saute for a bit until onions are soft and everything is fragrant.
  • Add 1 teaspoon each oregano, thyme, paprika, and parsley and 1/2 teaspoon of red chili (or other hot chili). Saute a bit more.
  • Push vegetables to the side and add 1/4 cup of Arborio rice in a thin layer and let saute for a few minutes to toast rice.
  • Mix everything together and add five shakes of liquid smoke.
  • Give a good pour of Marsala wine to cover. It will fizzle real nice- stir, and let absorb.
  • Add 2 cups of vegetable broth. Once it begins to boil, it will be ready in about 20 minutes. You can take it off the stove until you are ready for it. Adjust seasonings.
  • Before serving, put in a tablespoon of butter and a splash of cream (I use Miyoko’s vegan butter and unsweetened organic soy milk). Place back on stove and heat through.
Socorro and Taos are ready for dinner!

When my daughter and I were out wood stove shopping, we couldn’t resist running our fingers over a new, red, shiny model of a snazzy wood cookstove. Some day!

Posted in Homestead

Seeking the Simple Life and Penpals

The sun is rising, splaying pink and metallic colors across the mountains and along sides of structures. I am so thankful to be in the country. I watch the horse across the street from my office window run and jump, darting through trees, and landing in a swirl of dust near his food bowl as his owner comes out with hay.

Maryjane (my six year old granddaughter) had her first riding lesson. She at first did not want to go because she found that her cowgirl boots were too small. She perked up the minute she saw the horses and she fell in love with the bubbly, blond instructor, Miss Britney. These were great horses; Maryjane clutched one large horse in a hug and he did not budge. Maryjane easily learned how to guide the horse, as her little sister, Ayla, blew kisses to all of the horses. These are country girls.

At Grandpa’s house Saturday, we celebrated his 92nd birthday. He had to take off work to do so. He is forever at his drawing board, on the phone, or meeting with clients. He sipped his coffee as he told us stories of working on a dairy farm, milking eighty head, or helping the vets bring down the draft horses for treatment. He once rode round-up moving horses from Sterling to Estes Park, 146 miles. His stories about being a cowboy, the rodeo circuit, World War Two, working on the sugar beet farm for his uncle during the Depression, and working at a dairy come with a final relief that he moved to the city.

We are lucky to be modern farmers and homesteaders. I am able to romanticize it a bit. It doesn’t hold the same urgency of survival as it did in Grandpa’s time.

Doug and I chat in the car on the way home about our ideas and goals. We have done this before so we know what to expect and how to do things better this time. We want to live simply. So simply (and prepared enough) that if the power were to go out or a storm were to rage, we would be snug in our home with plenty of light, warmth, water, and food.

Simple enough that our electric bill stays lower than if we purchased solar. The clothes being cleaned with a washer plunger in the summer and dry flapping in the wind on the clothes line. Food chosen from rows of dirt or rows of canned goods. Meat from our own chickens or from our friends’ cows and pigs. We seek out and associate with other homesteaders/ranchers/farmers. We travel long distances to each others’ homes for dinner. Keep up on social media. Cheer each other on. Support each other.

One of my favorite old activities is to write and receive letters in the post. A moment to sit with a cup of tea and an old friend in prose and see what is going on in their world. Then with pretty stationary and pen, share our private life, thoughts, and ideas. Now that we are settled into our home and winter is upon us, if you would like to be pen-pals, please write me! I would love to correspond.

Mrs. Katie Sanders, 790 9th Street, Penrose, CO, 81240.