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.
I forgot to mention one of my favorite cookbooks yesterday! “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” by Ree Drummond is filled with mouthwatering recipes that can feed a crowd or easily be halved. I highly recommend the Fig and Prosciutto Pizza. I love the step-by-step photographs and stories.
I enjoy being a modern pioneer woman. We hoped and prayed for this little homestead to somehow make itself known and available. This sunny, quaint homestead is peaceful surrounded by miles and miles of birdsong and prairie. My heart rests easy here. However, if you have been following me for awhile you know we had some tearful, freezing moments this last winter. It was cold. Much more so than I can fully express. I was upset that I believed the small wood cook stove in the kitchen would heat the whole house. I am most upset that my animals seemed to fare poorly from it. It seemed to age my older cat, Ichabod and Bumble the Greyhound. It broke my heart to see them so cold. Even “Little House on the Prairie” had a proper wood stove!
The new wood stove was fired up last night to test it and Ichabod found the warmest spot possible.
The final bill made me gasp and tear up, actually. I thought that I could pay the lease through with tuitions so I wouldn’t have to worry so much this summer. (No more worrying!) But it all went to pay for warmth. Which will be worth every penny. And I thankful I had the money for it. I love the funky style of the stove. I look forward to (though I am not rushing!) cooking on my new stove and being blissfully warm while the snow tumbles down.
I so enjoy this lifestyle. I love my long skirts and aprons. I love my clothes line. I think I will get out the clothes handwasher for summer. I love kneading bread and hearing the tops of the jars pop closed of preserved garden fare. I love the sight of a rotund lamb running and jumping, the sound of milk hitting the pail, the rooster crowing. I love growing and cooking fresh food and sitting on the porch with a glass of wine listening to the frogs in the pond. I love waking up at dawn and going to bed at dark, no alarms. No outside work. No schedules. Just the bustling of a busy homestead and the sound of a crackling fire.
I love to thumb through old postcards in antique stores. Not only do I enjoy the vintage art work, but also finding ones with handwriting scribbled across. A window into a past world, a seemingly simpler place.
Postcards were the equivalent of a text or email. “Mom says that you should come over for dinner on Thanksgiving. How is everything? I am doing good in school. Love, Carol.”
Letters on crinkled paper from time bundled by ribbon in a hope chest in the attic. The years of two lovers’ correspondence during the war. Letters from children. Letters from friends about what is happening on the farm.
I don’t care to talk on the phone much. Conversations tend to drag on after awhile. Awkward silences, trying not to interrupt each other.
I like texts but texts are like a hundred postcards a day. “Do you need a ride to school tomorrow?” “Yes, we make a sleep medicine.” “Who is coming to dinner?” They carry little emotion.
Emails are alright, but reserved for business more often than not. I sit in front of the computer to write, to check banking accounts, to check Facebook (another way to keep in touch…though superficially) once or twice a day.
When I was a child, I had pen pals. Remember pen pals? I wrote to a young girl in Italy. I wrote to a young man in Texas (and I mean young, I think we were eleven). I enjoyed years of correspondence with a girl in Uganda. I wrote to my best friend in Boise. Once I grew up, these letters dissipated until the mailbox was empty.
Doug and I started sponsoring children and eagerly awaited their quarterly letters on how they were doing. But, those were shallow as well. After all, six year olds in Africa only have so much to say.
So, I check the mail and see the few bills I don’t pay online. Look for magazines to inspire me. Throw out the ads. Does anyone else miss the anticipation of opening the mailbox? Hoping for a letter from a friend? To prepare a cup of tea and sit in one’s favorite chair before carefully opening the envelope to see what is happening in a different place? Handwriting speaking its own messages as well. To pen a response, lick the envelope, and happily adhere a stamp to it then send it on its way across the land to be read on another homestead.
I do. Would anyone like to correspond through stationary and pen? Send to Mrs. Katie Sanders, P.O. Box 2012, Elizabeth, Colorado 80107. I will respond. We are all much too busy in this day and age. To sit and pen a letter or to open and read one would send us to that place in time where housewives corresponded through letters.