If this year has taught us anything, it is that we need to get back to basics! In my mind, this doesn’t just include stocking up on toilet paper and canned goods, but old fashioned ways of communicating and focusing on a stronger familial community. Social media doesn’t cut it for keeping people close. We don’t need 552 friends. Technology is changing our lives. It makes me sad that so many things may go by the wayside. That my granddaughters may not know the fun of a date to a movie theater, the smells of popcorn filling the air when they walk in. The joy of walking down an old main street shopping in small mom-and-pop stores. The sweetness of receiving a Christmas card! It is not too late for us to save many things that make life nicer.
A Christmas card is such a lovely gesture. One reserved for those we are thinking of, those we want to send a hello and a blessing to. Well, you know me, I joke that I came straight from 1882. I am an old fashioned gal and I do love to receive letters and Christmas cards and get and make phone calls. Sometimes I get too busy, and I am going to do differently and be more proactive at telephoning and writing those I care about.
When I was little, we would receive a lot of Christmas cards, my grandparents did too, and they had a clever way of recycling them. The cards were packed up with all the Christmas bobbles and memories and then brought out the next year. I do the same. Tear off the front of the card and use it as a tag on a beautifully wrapped present. The added bonus is re-reading the cards from last year! The cards get a second life and bring joy twice.
Cards received here get fewer and fewer but I love to read them, re-read them, then affix them to gifts for loved ones. I still send out lots of cards and I will continue to do so. Christmas is special in that it allows us to make people feel important. Gifts and cards, phone calls and hugs all let folks know they have been seen and they are loved.
Happy Holidays to you all!
Should you like to drop me a card or a New Year’s missive, I would love to write you back!
Ruth and Joel’s house was cozy and warm. The sun shone through the large windows looking out on the cold mountains just yonder, the wood stove stood guard against the chill, in front of a wood cabin wall. Their children played with simple toys and brought me books to read them. Ruth had sewing waiting for her- a task she dislikes despite her very fancy sewing machine plugged into the outlet that is supplied by propane. She brought us out sweet rolls and a drink. We talked of her husband’s job, canning, her makeshift root cellar under the house, and about the animals. It was really no different- to my surprise- than if you visited my farm some January morn. Except that her husband rode his bike or hitched up the horses to go to work, whereas my husband starts the Fiat, which is much smaller than Joel’s buggy.
Ruth and Joel are Amish. We have a small community not far from here and a good number of Mennonites as well. Tourists snap photos of their buggies and horses and sweet caps and darling children.
I, myself, was rather fascinated by the Amish. The simplicity. The family focus. The back-to-earth lifestyle of gardening, chopping wood, living off grid, and staying away from the chaos and destruction of social media and television. Living on faith and hard work and enjoying the slow, simple life of a happily busy existence is something most people these days are searching for, which just adds to our fascination of people brave enough to live that way.
The Amish didn’t create anything new. The pioneers lived that way out of necessity. The indigenous cultures of each country lived that way at one time. Some still do. The back-to-land dreamers of the 1970’s saw the benefits. There are men and women who quietly live this way today.
People choose to live a homestead life for many reasons: food security, and health, to live closer to the earth (therefore feel closer to the Creator), and to walk softer on the planet. The focus is on simple life requirements such as: growing food, saving water, raising animals, being close to family, having faith, and providing basic necessities for oneself, like heat, medicine, clothes, and other handmade items.
It starts with the buying of a few cute oil lamps at the antique store. Next thing you know, you’re weaving scarves and sewing quilts and making baskets. Soap, body products, cleaning products can easily be made. Then you are cooking on a wood stove and have your crocheting nearby. Instead of fine art, you display five hundred stained glass-looking, sparkling jars of food. Researching rain barrels and organic methods to gardening and increasing the size of the tomato rows is next. Then you are making mead, inviting friends over for farm suppers in front of a bonfire, or getting the instruments out to strum some music for the ducks while watching the sun set neatly behind the mountains, splaying splashes of vibrant summer colors across the clouds that you pray rain will come from.
It is a good life, and every year we strive to become more and more self reliant while still immersing ourselves in our community. The reasons that people do not choose to homestead are things like: no time (didn’t you just post that you binge watched something like eighteen hours of some ridiculous show?), no skills (no time like the present to learn! There are lots of great books in the library or you can order mine here!), too hard (you can reverse ailments and get super healthy farming), and then there is the age old don’t-want-to-give-up-anything. Just remember, that big house, green lawn, fancy electric appliances, gas guzzling multiple cars, credit card bills, manicures, hair dye, and restaurants all have to be worked for. They cost hours of your life. I’m not saying those are bad things, but if we want a life of peace, then we must choose what we want to spend our life working for. If homesteading is on your list, this is a great time to get started.
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…
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
I am always trying to improve our life, our health, save money, and lessen our footprint. When I look at my shopping list, I look for the things I can prepare myself. I see what I can grow myself. We think of what we can do for ourselves. We try to do better. We recycle. It is important to us. Despite the growing reports that our crap may just all end up in foreign countries, or worse, not get recycled at all, I just cannot not recycle. Despite the fact that we pay double what our non-recycling neighbors pay for trash and we only get a pick up once a month. So, I look at my trash bin and my recycling bin and see where my trash is coming from. Because it is not enough to put up solar or wind power, get an electric car (still uses fossil fuels, folks), or recycle; we need to use less, waste less, live simpler.
I am surprised at just how much waste finds its way onto my homestead. Bulk items in plastic bags, produce in plastic bags, animal food bags, my new oil lamp wrapped in plastic and cardboard. Cardboard boxes from prepared foods, deliveries of items, and so much more fills my waste bins. I can deal with that by buying less, preparing more, and coming up with another way to get bulk items and produce home. But there is one other thing that surprised me that filled the trash bin. Tissues!
When did the era of using a handkerchief leave us? My generation in particular seems to have completely forgotten how things were before us. So many things have been replaced with wasteful, mass marketed, and destructive alternatives. We don’t think much of a box of tissues, but perhaps we should! A handkerchief was used to wipe one’s face or hands, dry tears, or blow the nose. Washable and convenient (and for women, often very beautiful), handkerchiefs were as fashionable and reasonable as bonnets and long skirts. (I am wearing my bonnet this year, y’all, I don’t care what the neighbors think!) So, perhaps it is time to add handkerchiefs to my sewing list for winter. I think cotton would be lovely and soft. Perhaps they could be made out of an old shirt. I will use the same technique I did for the homemade cloth napkins, which couldn’t be simpler. I think it might be wise to use darker fabric. Maybe I will even embroider my initials on them. (What is my name these days? Mama? Grammie?)
Handkerchiefs are an easy way to lessen our footprint and add a little old fashioned charm to our lives.
Opening the mailbox and pulling out a pretty envelope brings a childlike feeling of wonder to the season. I do love Christmas cards. In the era of social media, when we all know most of what is going on in each other’s life already, a card seems moot. Less and less folks send Christmas cards each year. It seems to be a dying art, much like letter writing, or visits in person. I enjoy seeing actual handwriting. Hand written notes that perhaps didn’t make it on social media. Not phony, bragging Christmas letters; just a nice old fashioned note from people we care about. A card is a hug sent through the mail.
Cards decorate walls for the holiday and next year the fronts can be torn off and used as gift tags on gifts.
The point is not necessarily to get a card in return, but to send, by means of a simple, lovely card, a silent memento that speaks of your care for the person. And that is something we need much more of in the world.
In the writing world, it is how we make more friends. If you would like to send me a card, I would be thrilled to send you one in return. And who knows, it may end up being a lifetime of letter writing and friendship.
“Whatever you lose, whatever you feel was taken from you, know that it will return. It will be given back.”
I want you to remember that friends, because we may be speaking of wood stoves today, but this goes for everything in life.
Some four and a half years ago (a lifetime ago, folks), we were using our last bit of money to install a wood stove in a house on the prairie that we rented. It had been a very cold winter (36 degrees in the bathroom cold) and we were ready to be warm. We got lucky and a friend of ours in town offered to pick up an old stove that was on Craigslist for $250 and install it for $300 plus the pipes and such. Total cost was $1200. That was about the time that the landlords kicked us out (the whole story is in my memoir, The Making of a Medicine Woman) and since we had used every penny to set up the homestead, we had to give everything away and move into our friend’s guest room. It was the most devastating time of our lives. After living with friends, then in an apartment, we bought a little house in the city and it became our urban farm. It had the most beautiful wood stove. Everything returns.
Five weeks ago we moved on to land with a beautiful house, and some money in the bank from selling our last urban homestead. No wood stove though. We do have a furnace that is original to the house. It doesn’t get below zero this far down south, but it does get pretty darn cold in the winter and spring. I sure like having a backup plan if the furnace breaks down or if the power goes out. I also enjoy the ambient heat of a wood stove so much more than forced air. I actually feel warm with the heat from a stove. I enjoy putting a Dutch oven on the top or a kettle of water. My pioneer spirit loves wood stoves. So, even though we are a little gun shy about spending, I would love a wood stove.
Emily and the girls came over and we headed to Canon City to a darling shop called “The Woodshed Stove Shop.” I must tell you that I never imagined that my child would ooh and ahh over the newest models of wood cookstoves, but there we were, running our hands over a perfect Amish oven, two farmgirls at heart.
I was immediately drawn to a smaller cast iron stove with a beautiful forest squirrel cast into the side. Maryjane preferred the camp style stove. We also looked at a steel stove.
When looking for a wood stove, here are things to remember:
There are three basic types of stoves.
Steel gets the hottest the fastest, therefore burns the wood faster, but heats quickly. It is the lowest priced of the stoves. The one we looked at had a larger top to cook on.
Soap Stone holds the heat in and lets it go slower and longer. It is the highest priced of the models.
Cast Iron is in between. It holds heat well and gets hot moderately fast. The model I looked at would require a smaller Dutch oven a small kettle.
Look at how many square feet they heat. Some heat 800 sq ft, some much more. My house is 1176 sq ft, but the heat will not get into the back bedrooms. One can utilize fans and such to distribute the heat, but the heat will not reach bedrooms well. The Quakers and the Amish still use this fact to bring the family together in the evenings. Just think, no kids lurking in their rooms with IPADS. Everyone is together working on projects and connecting!
The cast iron stove I want heats 1000 sq ft. The steel one heats 1400. Your living areas will be real toasty, so the cast iron one would probably be sufficient for us. We could face it so it looks down the hallway, so it may send heat down some to the far side of the house.
Look at how much space you have. Remember that the stove has to come out from the walls a certain amount depending on how big the stove is. A stove may seem small but once you set it away from the wall and place it on a fireproof floor pad, you will lose space. I have a small main area that makes up the open kitchen, dining room, and living room, so we should err on the smaller side so I can still use my dining room and have plenty of seating in the living room!
See how big the firebox is. The one I am looking at only takes 12 inch logs. That is tiny when you are chopping wood so I had to run that by my husband first! The average length is 16 inches. The stove that I want is more efficient than most stoves so it will burn longer and use less wood.
The stove is not the expensive part! The stove pipes are. The stoves we are looking at are right around $1400 and we were quoted for pipes and installation an additional $2700. Expect to spend $4500 and upwards depending on the price of the stove. (There are some real nice ones out there!)
You will pull a permit from your local county. You can install it yourself if you have the know-how. I don’t and I would rather make sure a wood stove is properly installed!
Wood is carbon neutral. When a tree is decomposing, it releases carbon dioxide. The same as if it is being burned in a wood stove. And trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen over their lifetime. We need to be responsible about where we get our wood though. I am driving into town to pick up a load of wood from downed trees in a neighborhood. It won’t cost anything but the gas to get there. Look on Craigslist and keep an eye out for free wood. You can also order a cord of wood. Research cords vs face cords to make sure you get a good deal.
It is nice to know that if the power goes out, I can just set a Dutch oven on the stove or a frying pan, a kettle of water, and light some candles or oil lamps and I will be all set for the evening. A wood stove is a homesteading necessity and a lovely one at that!
The 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.
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.
I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs. I have local farmers for milk should I choose.
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.
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.
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.
In a world of jeans and yoga pants I suppose I stand out a bit. I think folks are both mesmerized and baffled by my attire. I was at the library last month and a mom came up to me, big eyes, all excited, and asked, “Is there going to be story time?” Heck if I know. I looked down at my layered skirts, apron, old fashioned boots, and remembered my Santa hat and realized she thought I was in costume!
Maryjane wears her apron around with me and it is not uncommon for us to be asked if were just in a parade or festival. Do we bake? Why on earth would we be parading around as such? Well, let me explain. Let’s go through the elements of the Farmgirl attire.
#1 Long skirt- This is important because I am too tall to find jeans that fit right. I never stop moving so jeans aren’t exactly comfortable. A long skirt is comfortable and practical. Ever since Maryjane was about twelve months old she hides under my skirts. Her hands wrapped around my leg, she giggles thinking no one can see her, her little feet sticking out. As she gets taller and older I know this is limited now and I relish feeling her cold hands on my leg, that giggling, her security from the world hidden next to my leg. It is a very maternal feeling and I know all too well she will grow out of it soon. (I buy my skirts at the Elizabeth Celtic Festival. It is a rather simple pattern that uses elastic or string to cinch the waist.)
#2 Slips- In a world of too tight skirts and panty lines, I do still love the look of a beautiful cotton slip. Mine has a long swath of eyelet around the bottom. It is feminine and beautiful. I also wear a full skirt under my regular skirt as well. Why? Well, I am cool in the summer with the layers, and warm in the winter with the layers. It makes my dress swish. It is lovely and modest and sexy all at the same time. And at my age, I don’t care what the style is. I like the old fashioned look.
#3 Apron- If you do not wear an apron each day how do you find your phone and keys? Mine would be lost in my purse, possibly forever. I also can carry a tissue, my to-do list, and a few flowers I harvested. The original reason for an apron was to cover a woman’s dress, for she probably only had two, one for every day and one for church. The apron is easier to wash and keeps clothes cleaner, meaning if you haven’t traipsed through mud, you can hang your skirt back up. (Mine were made by an Amish woman and her daughters, a neighbor of a blog reader. Some of mine I made, or were gifts, or hand me downs, and some really quite old that belonged to Kat’s grandmother.)
#4 Old fashioned boots- Stickers, weeds, rain, snow, cold or hot weather, farming, shoveling, and a cute addition to any farmgirl attire. (I got mine at Big R.)
We farmgirls have lots to do, from taking care of the homestead, cooking for folks, farming, and for me, being the local folk healer, so wearing beautiful, comfortable clothes is just one perk of being a farmgirl.
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!
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.
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.