The Joyful, Simple Life of a Frugal Housewife

I have a little book that was written by Mrs. Child in 1832.  The American Frugal Housewife is surely just as useful today in many senses.  The author almost lost me when she noted that coffee was not economical and could be avoided.  Oh, she’s a strict one, that Mrs. Child.  Her prose is clear and concise and the book is ever fun to read.  Going on two hundred years old, it is a bit of history rolled into a gentle reminder that not that much has changed.

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If you make a dollar, only spend eighty cents.  If you make fifty cents, only spend forty.  The original Dave Ramsey.  Why do all the girls these days need the new bonnets from France when clean, proper dresses and a ribbon will do?  Girls have no home education these days!  In this book she covers everything from cuts of meat (she would wonder about me and my vegetarianism), to how to make custard, and Indian pudding.  She discusses herbs for cooking and all their medicinal values as well.  A new onion will take the pain out of a wasp sting.  Every housekeeping gem that we housewives- even in the twenty-first century- could ever need are in this book.  She would tisk-tisk me for sure.  But in this time and age, I am not too bad.  But there is always room for improvement.  A simple, frugal life is a life of peace.

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The gents installing the meters for the solar panels on our homestead were surprised at how little electricity we use.  Now it can all be generated from the sun.  When you walk through our gate, past the Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign, you will find yourself in a large yard.  Under snow, it looks ordinary, but this spring you will find dozens, upon dozens, and dozens of medicinal and culinary herbs.  This year, enough produce growing to last us eight+ months.

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When you come in there is a wood stove and nice wood floors that are easy to clean.  Plants and aloes and seed starts fill my home.  We read by candlelight and oil lamps.  Twinkly lights are the electric lights.  Piles of books to read, board games, and a tuned piano supply entertainment. We rarely watch television.  In the warmer months we will sit on the porch or go for a walk, all free things.  And blessed time together.

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In the kitchen, home cooked meals are made.  I am finally getting used to not cooking for  all the children.  Just me and Pa and some left for the puppy.  Our root cellar is dwindling but there are still over a hundred jars of produce put up.  There are fresh eggs from the coop.  Cups of herb tea steaming on the counter.

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You will almost always find me in an apron.  They are so practical and keep my long skirts clean.  I make all of our own medicine, prepare our meals, create much of what we need.  I can sew a quilt, make our own soap, brew some meade, put up green beans, bake sourdough bread, make antibiotics, save seeds, use the library, ride my bike, and if I make fifty cents then I shall save ten!  More likely five cents, but we’ll get there.

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Such a good life indeed.

Natural Notes and Cozy Decorating

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I carefully arranged the candles and the oil lamps.  Fluffed the fur pillows.  I hung things on the wall, then took them back down.  I took the curtains down.  I added a tchotchke, took it out.  Peace and serenity is what I desired.  I turned the guest room into our bedroom and will turn our bedroom into guest room.  Just wanted a change of pace.  My beautiful rustic bed frame that didn’t fit in the other room greeted me.

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Perhaps it is the two retail shops worth of stuff crammed in my basement.  Or perhaps it is the beautiful books I have read about a Nordic lifestyle.   Maybe it is the time of year, the cool morning causing the furnace to kick on, the wood stove at the ready.  Maybe I am secretly signaling to myself that I need a break.  My other room looks like a tornado hit it.

I have too much stuff.

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Perhaps I will box some things up and add them to the already daunting pile downstairs.  Things I don’t necessarily want to rid myself of, but things that are contributing to the overwhelming feeling of chaos.  For the moment, I just take on one area at a time.

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I have a Nordic decorating mantra at the moment; Use Natural Elements

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Wood, candles, fur (I have opted for faux fur and will risk making polyester extinct), natural elements from the outdoors, simple, sweet, uncluttered, soft, cozy.

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Eight dollar plush blankets and a few throw pillows transform the couches from dog bed to lush reading spots.  Throw pillows are an inexpensive way to add theme.  The blankets can be rolled up when the farm dog comes in and takes his place on the sofa, or they can be washed and a lot wasn’t invested in them.

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I placed the couches back to back to create two distinct areas in the l-shaped living room.  One faces the television for movie nights and one faces the wood stove along with a few rocking chairs.  Kitties placed haphazardly about create a cozy feel.  (Oh my gosh, I have a lot of cats.)

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Back in my new serene bedroom with hardly anything in it, I used only twinkly lights, oil lamps, and candles to light the room.  A rocking chair creates a quiet nook.

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Old trunks stand in for side tables.

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An old heavy door leans against the wall.  I used one of those over-the-door set of hooks to hang sweaters.

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I don’t have any window coverings in my house so the interiors are flooded with natural light in the day and at night twinkly lights and candle light rule.  Such a blessing to have a home.

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The End of Summer

The end of summer.

‘Twas yesterday eve that I felt the shift.  The night temperatures would fall much too cold for summer crops.  I gathered my long shawl- orange and reds to match the changing leaves- across my hair and over my shoulders to keep the encroaching dusk chill away and gathered my baskets.

Out into the gardens with falling light I felt for vegetables and fruits in the dirt, on vines, hidden in lush leaves, swiftly clipping and twisting them into my hands.  Watermelons, butternut squash, yellow squash, poblanos, chilies, jalapenos, green peppers, and dozens upon dozens of green tomatoes came tumbling in.

Into the warm house where the fire was lit and the candles dazzled the rainy night.  For rain it poured and torrents of it came, while lightening bid farewell to the summer night games.  An autumn chill has descended here and the nights will stay cool as the sun tends to fall asleep early and the gardening days of fall are almost done.

The oil lamps lit, and candles brighten pages of good books.  And the darkness descends us into a warming rest.  I took a sip of tea and watched him put another log on the fire.

Life On An Urban Homestead

20180813_071437The air is cool this morning.  Autumn just whispers.  A  little early, it seems to me.  A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought.  The farms are half fallow for lack of water.  On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini.  Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today.  I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook.  We are eating well from our gardens.  The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.

The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed.  The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates.  We now have eggs again.

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Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming.  I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by.  The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art.  Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town.  I have abundant space to garden.  My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here.  I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards.  One does not need as much space as one might think.  I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.

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I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs.  I have local farmers for milk should I choose.

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Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves.  I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden.  Little by little the root cellar fills.  Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove.  My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.

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Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal.  One cannot possibly do everything themselves.  I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose.  They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.

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Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book.  I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog.  Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback.  Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.

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Redecorating the Farmhouse, part 3-vintage item revival

Our Lady of the Goats

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.

The Entertaining Farmgirl’s Yuletide Gathering

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The breeze blew mischievously as Doug continued lighting the luminarias that lined the walk, the oil lanterns, and the dozens and dozens of tea lights.  The house was ready for a party.  And so was I.

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Luminarias are prevalent in New Mexico where they light the way for travelers and carolers alike.  Simply fold down a few inches of a paper lunch bag.  Pour in three inches or so of sand and place a tea candle in the center.  

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An oil lamp makes a lovely welcome outdoors and adds whimsy to the lighting indoors.  Remember, no overhead lighting allowed!  Twinkly lights and tea candles work beautifully to create drama, softened features, and enchantment.  

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We haven’t thrown a Christmas party in four years.  It was wonderful being able to send out invites to a Yuletide Gathering with a few friends.  I chose to serve soups and had my guests bring either wine, bread, or dessert.  Soups are easy to prepare in advance.  They are always delicious and hard to mess up.  Alongside, I served a platter of garlic bread for the Sherry Tomato Soup,  corn chips and sour cream for the Three Chile Mole, and green olives for the Italian Lentil soup.  Friends came bearing garlic and cheese breads, sausages in raspberry chipotle sauce, and lots of divine desserts.

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Make sure you put out little cards stating what each thing is.  The key is to free up as much time to mingle with guests and join in the festivities and you want your guests to feel at home.

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Before guests arrived I put out a platter of my homemade manchego cheese and crackers with roasted orange-parmesan olives (almost all of these recipes are in my new cookbook, From Mama’s Kitchen With Love).  I don’t wait too long after guests arrive to serve supper but something to snack on quells early dinner pangs and gives folks something to do.

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Place all plates, silverware, and glassware out so that friends can help themselves.  Use china.  You can do dishes tomorrow.  

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The couches and the easy chairs are set up in a circle for ease of conversation and it was very easy to pull up other chairs so that everyone could take part in the games and laughter.  I invited an eclectic group of people.  A surgical tech, a Reiki master, the owner of a metaphysical shop, a veteran and her older three children who homestead and homeschool, my oldest, great friends-Rod Sr., Rodney, and my dear Pat.  Everyone had things in common and the conversation stayed lively.

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Start with an ice breaker.  We name all of our animals after movies and so we named off our eight cats and dog to create a fun ice breaker where they had to name the movie.  

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From walking up the illuminated path, to having wine and hors d’oeuvres, to the ice breaker, than dinner, a ten dollar gift exchange, then the game.  We played a fun game called “Catch Phrase” that required no boards or teams, just an electronic device that we passed around that gave us a word and we had to get the group to say it with clues.  It created a lot of great laughter and fun.

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The White Elephant game where people bring odd gifts and people trade and such just creates more items that folks don’t want and may end up in a landfill.  Everyone brought a nice ten dollar gift, such as small oil burners, and salt lamps, crystals, books, and candles, and everyone was delighted with what they received.  

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Pour leftover soup into pint jars and send them home with friends!

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New friends were made, great food was had, joy was spread, and I do believe that is the best party I have had.  Such a beautiful way to celebrate the season of light.

How a Farmgirl got Her Groove Back

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It seems a very long time ago that I stood outside on our prairie farm screaming.  I watched the last of the chickens be swooped up and driven away by other farmers who didn’t rent their farms.  The sheep were gone.  The goats were gone.  My dog had died.  I continued to give away or sell my precious antiques for next to nothing, all of my homesteading items, my life.  We moved into our friend’s guest bedroom.  And the landlords continued their scam on other people.  Ah well, that was a long time ago.  Two years.  A lot can happen in two years.

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We would have never studied under Native American elders that became great friends.  We would have never opened our Apothecary, White Wolf Medicine.  We would have never thought to move to Pueblo.  We OWN our own home now.  The American dream is still very much alive.

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Odd looking pumpkin!

 

I certainly didn’t plan on moving to the city.  I am a country girl through and through but the great Unknown knew darn well that if I wanted people coming to me for medicines and teas, they weren’t going to drive out to the middle of nowhere.  This central location in town sure keeps me busy.  People know where to find me.  I am so blessed.

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We could have easily fallen into a city lifestyle.  We sold our truck.  Bought a Fiat.  Doug has an IT job.  But the shed was so easy to make into a chicken coop.  The yard quickly became gardens.  The back is planned as an orchard.  Hundreds of jars of preserves are already lining the shelves of the root cellar.  The clothes line does just fine.  The dishwasher is wasting space.  The cuckoo clock tells the time.  The light from the oil lamp is soothing.  Suddenly I look up and I am a Farmgirl again.

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I guess Pumpkin Hollow Farm never really went away.

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.

 

 

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.

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 3-Old Fashioned Items

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There was good reason for many of the items that we now view as quaint or wonder what they were for in antique shops.  There are some items that will make your life much easier in your homestead.  Some new, some not so new.

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1. Oil Lamps– Oil lamps are functional and beautiful.  In our effort to dramatically decrease our electricity use, we enjoy reading by these light sources.  We have one large one on each end table and Doug bought me two that hang on the wall, one either side of our pillows.  We have one on each table in the house and a few smaller ones that can be moved about.  Lamp oil is fairly inexpensive and the lights give a soft glow to the homestead.

There was one evening when the electricity went out in the entire neighborhood at our last house.  Doug and I did not even know until we got up and realized how dark it was outside!  We just kept on reading.

The softer light also signals the body that it is time to settle down.  Bright lights, LED lights, and blinking lights all act as stimulants for the body.  It’s no wonder there are so many sleeping issues out there!

You can pick up oil lamps at Walmart, at thrift stores, or new at Lehmans.com

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2. Aprons– I may have about thirty-two of them but I am always on the hunt for more and love receiving them as gifts.  I also make them but it is more fun to wear one that a nice great-grandma would have worn at one time.  It honors those that came before us to wear something used with love.

The reason for aprons was simple.  The girls had a only a few dresses and rather than mess them up every day and have ever more laundry (some chores never change) they wore an apron over the dress.  This kept the dress clean and it was easier to wash an apron then a long dress.  I wear my aprons out.  I wear them cooking, cleaning, doing farm chores, gardening, at farmer’s markets, and sometimes just out.  I like to keep a tissue, a bit of cash, my phone, and a pocket knife in the pocket.  I don’t have to lug around the suitcase of a purse I have!

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3. Pocket Knife– Doug and I got each other lovely turquoise knives.  But a good old fashioned Swiss would do nicely as well.  I have walked around with a steak knife in my pocket before getting a pocket knife.  A pocket knife folds up, y’all.  Just get one.  You can easily cut fresh greens, snip the twine off a bale of hay, or any number of other things that come up.  Cut open an apple, get one with a wine cork on it…instant picnic!  But really, yesterday I went to feed the goats forgetting that it was a new bale and pulling and pushing around the hay bale doesn’t get it undone.  I forgot my knife in the house.  Back in my apron pocket it goes.

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4. Work Gloves– It took us awhile but it wasn’t long before we figured out that we needed some work gloves.  We had several lying around but we keep them by the door now.  From mending fences, to digging fresh soil, from picking up a sick chicken, to bringing in firewood, gloves are imperative.

Even Maryjane has her own pair thanks to her Grandma Dawn!

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5. Cast Iron Pans– I spent a good many years buying those cheap Teflon pans in lovely colors only to get Teflon in my eggs and needing new pans.  We have a nice collection of cast iron now (always on the lookout for a new piece) and they will be passed down to our children’s children’s children!  They stay in great shape, can be whipped into shape if they have been neglected too long, can go from fire to stovetop, and are great for cooking.

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6. Cuckoo Clocks and Wind Up Clocks– Same reason as the oil lamps, should the power go out you wouldn’t even know!  We keep our clocks wound and love the gentle ticking.  The bird that appears thrills our granddaughter and visiting children (and many adults).  We don’t have any clocks with that dreadful LED light up display.  The last one was discretely placed in the giveaway pile.  I like the feel of a vacation home.  That I live in a vacation home.  Plenty of things to read and do, not a lot of electric stimulation, just gentle lighting and sounds.

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There are many nice things to have on a homestead; seeds, tools, books, board games, matches, coffee, a man…but these six things will get you started!