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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What Is A Homestead and Why Is It So Important To Be Self Reliant?

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“What is a homestead?” my friend asked.  The question threw me off guard, cause, geez, everyone knows what a homestead is.  It’s uh….you know…a place where…I decided to consult the dictionary.

homestead

[hohm-sted, -stid] /ˈhoʊm stɛd, -stɪd/   
noun
1.

a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale for debt.
2.

any dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home.
3.

a tract of land acquired under the Homestead Act.
4.

a house in an urban area acquired under a homesteading program.
verb (used with object)
5.

to acquire or settle on (land) as a homestead:

Pioneers homesteaded the valley.
verb (used without object)
6.

to acquire or settle on a homestead:

They homesteaded many years ago.
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And that, my friends, did not help me either because, frankly, I don’t own anything.  I do not get to keep this land no matter how much I work it (unless I come into a vast amount of money!) and the second definition pretty well means any house in the suburbs is a homestead!  So, what really is a homestead?  What is homesteading?
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The best way to answer this is to look at the general consensus.  I have many friends who are what we would consider homesteaders.  A homestead is a place where one tries to become more self sufficient.  I wonder why that it is not in the dictionary.  Still rather vague.  Can an apartment with a balcony of vegetables be considered a homestead?  Can a house in the city with a few chickens and a garden be considered a homestead?  Certainly a place in the country with a large garden, goats, chickens, sheep, and cows is considered a homestead, right?  I suppose everyone would answer this question differently.  So, here is homesteading to me.
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A homestead is a respite, a home with land to be able to succeed at becoming more self-sufficient.  This place can be rented or bought.  This place provides a basis for producing what one needs to live.  So, homesteading is the verb here where one works to become less reliant on modern society and more secure in their own home as opposed to spending more time working outside the home and relying on utility providers, grocery stores, et cetera for their needs.  It is possible that this could take a lifetime.  But it is worth the effort.
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I often hear the argument that it is impossible to be self-sufficient.  I suppose that depends on your definition.  Would you consider the Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” self-sufficient?  I bet you would.  They did go to the general store at times to pick up flour, and cornmeal, sugar, and a bit of candy plus some fabric.  The question would be, if the store was not available, would they be alright?  The answer would be yes.  They would be alright, at least for a time.  Would you consider the Amish self-reliant?  I bet you would say yes.  The home I visited of an Amish family last year was very simple.  They had food stored in a makeshift root cellar (like mine), shelves of beautifully colored jars of produce (like mine), enough wood to get through winter (like us), and propane to light their house, run their stove, refrigerator, and sewing machine.  That is what threw me off!  We use propane to help offset the heat and to run the refrigerator.  It is very expensive and is getting quite nerve-rackingly low.  Are we self reliant?  Not yet, in my book.
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Why is it important?  I mean, really, what is the big deal?  A lot of folks are not really ready to give up their luxuries.  Our bathroom was 35 degrees this morning.  This is not for the faint of heart.  My bottom is still cold.  But, it’s important to me to become self reliant for two reasons.
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One: working for other people is too uncertain.  We make our own business, our own crafts, our own classes, and yes we have to have faith that folks will buy or sign up, but we control our destiny and our mornings.  The more we have to be away from the house working for someone else, the less we can do here, so the less self reliant we are.  We must make our living off of our homestead.  Our living is a lot different than what it was ten years ago.  To us a living was over $55,000 with a mortgage, car payments, utilities, food prices, gas prices, and all the other things we “needed”.  Now our living is around $24,000 if we want to be comfortable with wood, homegrown food, fish, necessary items for our business, gas, rent, and animal feed.  That is the first thing folks that want to homestead must realize.  Be prepared to live on less.  There is much to be done at the house.  Canning, home business, chopping wood, year round growing of plants, animal care,  But there is nothing sweeter than not worrying about where your next meal will come from and never sitting in a cubicle again.
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The second reason it is so important to me to become self reliant is because I need to be able to take care of us and our children if necessary in an emergency.  This could be a wide spread power outage or blizzard, or I often have dreams that there will be a war here.  As much as that scares the heck out of me, I would rather have a house full of necessities and not be wondering how I would get to the grocery store or if we were going to freeze to death.  I do not know if folks realize the folly in relying on large companies for your necessities.  If it all came down to the wire, they don’t give a hoot about your family and it would be quite wise to have a way to access water, heat, food, clothing, and protection.
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Each year we do a homestead checklist and see what we need to do to become more self reliant.  Realize that I do not think that solar panels and their non-decomposing batteries, or wind power with its bird and bat killing capabilities are the answer.  Living with less reliance on oil and gas is our goal.
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  • We have a wood cooktop/propane oven.  A homesteader’s dream?  Yes.  But, I do not want to rely on propane and the small wood compartment does not do much to heat this house.  44 degrees in the living room is just a bit too freaking cold for me.  Our stove can be cooked on, heat a small portion of the house, could heat water if necessary, and is great, however, this year we will secure (somehow) a real wood cook stove that will sit in the living room that I can bake and cook on plus heat the rest of the house.

 

  • Since we stopped eating meat I was able to clear out an entire freezer.  The remaining refrigerator/freezer holds milk, fish, cheese, condiments, and vegetables.  Can one can fish?  Can I can all the vegetables/fruits next year?  How would we keep the milk cold?  Particularly when milking starts again.  I need an ice house.  The back bedroom would seriously serve as a fridge right now though!  We really need that other wood stove.

 

  • We have several wells on the property.  We have a tiny bit of water saved in canning jars, but is there a way to access the wells without electricity?  We are also incorporating a water harvest system this year.

 

  • I have a hand washing unit for laundry and a great clothes line plus a huge drying rack for inside if the electricity went out.  (We haven’t used in a dryer in seven years.) We could live without the television and internet if he had too.

 

  • I grew about a third of the items we preserved this year.  I would like to grow sixty percent this year and plant several fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.  I would also like to try my hand at growing mushrooms.  I will incorporate container gardening, cold frames, and our garden plot to grow everything we love to eat.  I would like to get a green house as well.  That would really boost our production.

 

  • I am kicking myself, y’all, for selling my spinning wheel!  I would like to get sheep and work on spinning again.  I would like to learn to knit this year and make us some fabulous sweaters and socks.  There is so much discarded fabric out there. I have tons myself.  I would like to increase my sewing skills so that I can make more of our clothes.

 

  • We would like to make the fences more secure this year so that we can let the animals graze on the ten acres.  That would cut down on how much hay they need.

 

  • I need to find a way to advertise and promote my classes so that we can pay for things like gas and car insurance, grains, animal feed, things like that.

 

  • We will start cutting our own wood and collecting wood this year instead of paying so much to have cords delivered.

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Well, I am sure there is more, but that is a good start and each year we get closer and closer to being self reliant.  Maybe that is the answer.  Maybe self-sufficient and self-reliant are two different things.  Either way, there is a great feeling of accomplishment and inner peace while performing simple tasks and caring for those you love on your own homestead.

Wishing you a prosperous and peaceful homestead this coming year!