A Homesteader’s Guide to Preparing For Winter (not just for homesteaders!)

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When I was growing up Autumn was a time for a new pair of shoes and back to school.  For getting excited about holidays and playing in the leaves.  Each season was really no different than another.  Once we became homesteaders there are marked differences in the seasons that we have to respect.  For instance in the spring we plan, start, plant, and get ready for farmer’s markets to begin.  In the summer we farm, do farmer’s markets all week, and start canning and planning what needs to be done for winter.  Imagine that!  Planning what needs to be done for winter in the midst of July.  Now it is fall, and we will be insanely busy this month.  You could wait like we did last year to get all of our hay for winter, only buying what we needed but there was a shortage come February and we had trouble locating good hay.  We could wait to get all the wood we need but there is nothing guaranteeing dry, available wood come January and that is how we will be heating our home.  Should we be snowed in it is quite lovely to walk to the long pantry waiting for me in the new house and grab everything I need for dinner without ever worrying about a shortage or having to run to the store.  There are lessons in here for the average city citizen or the non-homesteader as well.  No one can be sure what the winter will bring and if the Almanac is correct and the weather serves prediction, our winter this year may be a doozy.

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1.  Heat- If the power goes out for an extended time, how will you keep warm?  We will need to make sure we have plenty of wood and coal at the ready.  We’ll have plenty of blankets and wool sweaters at the ready.

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2.  If you can’t get to the store, how will you feed your animals?  Make sure you store a bit extra than you normally would for just in case scenarios.  I will need to get a few months of hay at least and an extra bag of dog and cat food.

3.  If the city water gets turned off due to a water main break or other reason (or if the electricity goes out and the well stops working), how will you get water?  I will be filling several canning jars and jugs with water.  It won’t be enough for an extended time but it could certainly help get us through for a bit.

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4.  If a blizzard kept trucks from delivering food to the grocery store or if you were home bound, how would you eat?  So far we have 378 items canned.  I have another 100 to put up.  This is enough to get Doug and I through the winter, have some to give as gifts, and give to the kids should they need it.  I also have a freezer full of meat that we have already obtained and I am ordering another ten chickens from a local sustainable farmer.  Here is a problem though….if the power goes out I will need to find a right cold area to keep the meat in!  I should be canning meat but as of yet, that sounds like a pain and not very appetizing but I know I need to learn to do it!  It won’t go bad if it is canned.  I also have a fridge full of cheese wheels that I have made.  So, we have cheese and if the fridge goes out the cold back room will probably keep it just fine.  We have dehydrated food and have more to do.  I have canned jars and jars of juice and am doing the rest today.  We will stock up on staples like flour and sugar and other grains like cornmeal, of course beans and legumes, and salt and spices.  There should be little we need to go to the store for.

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5. What if you or your animals are ill or injured and can’t get to a doctor or vet?  Make sure you have plenty of herbal remedies on hand so that you can treat yourself or your animals in an emergency.  We have remedies for colds and flu, for pain, for infection, even for broken bones at the ready.  (You can see these remedies at http://gardenfairyapothecary.com)

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I encourage you to think ahead just a bit just in case so that you won’t be panic stricken should the electricity go out or if you cannot get out the front door due to snow!  It will give you great peace of mind and a homesteader spirit!

Our New Homestead

I have been stalking Craigslist.  It is exhausting.  The rents in our county have nearly doubled.  Mention eight cats (let alone a dog, chickens, ducks, and goats…and self employment and bad credit) and it’s amazing how quickly someone else gets the house!  Doug and I talked about what we wanted.  Do we want to give up our farm animals and move closer to town?  No.  Do we want to pick up extra work so we can afford something more?  No.  So we started looking at towns 30-45 minutes away from where we are now.  Really just a shot down a dirt road from here but they are not familiar to us so they felt very far.  Even there, dilapidated trailers or houses in town that didn’t allow animals was all we could find.

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I walked by the desk and quickly typed in the computer-memorized web address for Craigslist to take a quick look to see if there was anything new.  A brief post had been listed an hour prior.  It didn’t give very much information, nor did it mention animals, but I did not dilly dally by emailing, I called straight away.  We hopped in the car and went to see it fifteen minutes later.

Even though I had not given the landlords a clear answer yet, they had turned down potential seekers after we came to see the place.  The couple used to run cattle and there are pens and chicken coops on the property.  They like honey bees.  There is a large garden already fenced.  There is a clothes line.  There is a well.  Hold onto your hats folks, there is a wood cook stove attached to a propane one in the kitchen!  There is everything we could desire.

It is  few miles due south of the sleepy town of Calhan.  Not very far, about forty minutes from where we are now.  I can still pick up the baby to watch her.  I can afford the extra gas money because the rent is cheaper than the townhome I rented some sixteen years ago.  Blessingly low rent.  This could be a place that could stand out in the minds of our children and grandchildren as “Grammie and Papa’s house”.  A fun retreat in the country.  A place we can stay for a long time.  I am so relieved (as Doug is) to set ourselves into a place and stay.

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The owners of the property have their house on the land as well.  His grandfather bought the old house we will be renting many years ago and the house itself whispers stories of its past and of joyous events.  It sits on ten acres where on a clear day one can see from New Mexico to Denver.  The mountains majestically framing the view.  Mature trees surround the homestead.  It is a peaceful place.

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We are putting a bit of work into the house before we move in as the last tenants did not love it like I already do.  Yesterday our interns, Ethan and Stephanie, went and helped us remove the carpet.  Beneath it we found two layers of linoleum and beneath that lay in secret the original wood floor.  I  nearly cried.  I will be painting the main rooms a creamy antique white with a slight gold undertone.  This house longs for bright colors and exposed windows.  There are seventeen feet of windows in the living room alone!  I will share before and after photos as we go, but come along with me as I give you the initial tour!

The house was built in 1905.

The house was built in 1905.

This is the living room looking out the front door.  The houses faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

This is the living room looking out the front door. The house faces east to embrace the sunrise each morning.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The rest of the living room. The house itself is tiny, 850 sq ft, but it is well laid out.

The "dining room" is a part of the living room.  The sixties era linoleum didn't want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

The “dining room” is connected to the living room. The sixties era linoleum didn’t want to come up so it will lend its own charm!

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Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

Our bedroom faces east with lovely windows and two closets!

There is a second bedroom but it is so dark with the wood paneling and the small window I could not get a good shot of it.  It will be brightened up and turned into a guest bedroom and will hold all of our apothecary items.

Now come into the warmest part of the house…

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The wood cookstove

The wood cookstove

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

The small laundry/utility room and back door.

Now come see the yard…

Water from the well (no more water bill)

Water from the well (no more water bill)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

The clothesline (I am taking out the dryer)

A dusk view of the garden.  It is about 600 sq ft.

A dusk view of the garden. It is about 600 sq ft.

One view of the ten acres

One view of the ten acres

The sign we saw on our way back home.  A positive sign indeed.

The sign we saw on our way back home. A positive sign indeed.

To Go Back in Time…

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I wonder what Laura Ingalls Wilder must have felt like at the end of her life.  To have seen the wild west as truly that.  To have only used candles, wood stoves, and root cellars.  Then to watch as electricity took the nation by storm, coffee makers and dishwashers plugged in, refrigerators and stoves.  I am sure it was amazing and something to marvel.  A woman’s life made easier.  But, I wonder if there was any mourning for the way things were done.

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Fast forward and we see that feminism brought with it the ability and expectation to not only work full time but also get to take care of the entire household at the same time!  Chemical cleaners, packaged poison food, and quick medicines with side effects, day cares where someone else can raise your child, and all the electronics you can handle are our everyday life now.  All to make a woman’s life easier.

Many folks want to go back a little.  Get a little land, live a lot simpler.  One overwhelming comment that I always here is, “But I want running water and electricity!”

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My Aunt Donna has a cabin up in the mountains built circa 1800’s.  I used to take my son there when he was small.  It sits nestled in a canyon with a sloping, giant of a mountain as the back yard.  Tree houses and forts dot the landscape from family members past that played in those woods.  A small meadow with a pond and a stream is in front of the house.  The sun rises over the meadow and brightens the landscape.

At the time I stayed there, electricity was not present.  There was water, gravitationally pulled I imagine, a well I don’t remember, for there was a shower outdoors in the back.  Water ran from the sink.  The outhouse was a small walk away through the fresh pines and the smell of clean air.  Birdsong escorting you there.  The peacefulness that the cabin bestowed was something that I wish for in my everyday.

At twenty one or so years old, I never even considered the fact that it had no electricity.  Oddly, I took to the woodstove instantly.  I started a fire and cooked meals on it without problems.  The smell of sweet wood.  Fresh fish.  I kept the cabin warm in the evening.  I also started a small bonfire by the pond and cooked potatoes and corn over the fire.  My son and my wolf by my side.

I know that running a full household that way day in and day out may grow old, particularly if one were to have several children.  It’s just me and Doug now.  The children skip in and out, mostly out.  And our house is getting quieter and easier to run.  I can cook on a wood cook stove.  I can heat the house with wood.  It certainly would be less shocking than the electric bill I got in the mail the other day.  I could use the water from the sinks to water the garden.  I could use a root cellar.  I could….

There is a small farmhouse with my name on it out there.  And a cook stove waiting to be lit.

Snow Days and Chocolate

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The children are most definitely confused.  When the word went out that school was cancelled for today, it was yesterday and the scene looked like my first picture.  Not a lick of snow, even in the middle of the night when I had to let the Greyhound out.  Everywhere in the city people’s phones have been alerting them of an upcoming blizzard and schools are shut down.  Possible highway closures loom.  Yet, as we speak, at 8:00 in the morning, it looks like my second picture!  But, this is Colorado.

Many people think that Denver is a part of the mountains, but it is actually not.  The other misconception, fueled by Coors commercials and scenes of Colorado during Bronco games is that we are covered in snow all winter through.  A veritable dream land of snow, twinkling under clear blue skies.  Everyone skiing to work!  Actually, we are in a bit of a drought most years.  Our majestic peaks, some hour and a half from where I live, are tipped with snow and the highest mountains are covered.  We have a few flurries during the winter and at least one wallop.  Which we did not have last year sadly.  The wallop is two or three feet of heavenly snow that allows us to sit in our pajamas and drink hot chocolate all day from the comfort of home.  No one really worries because tomorrow the streets will be clear and by the next day you’ll never know it snowed.  This makes for amazing Colorado weather, unless you are a gardener.  Water would be most welcome!  (It is illegal in Colorado to have rain barrels.  Weird.)

So, even though there isn’t much right now, we could get seven inches (which means a foot out here!) and lots of wind so we can’t find our way.  We must decide whether to go open the shop.  If the schools are closed, the shops will most likely be closed too and we risk not being able to get back if they close the highway.  I am going to plead the case to Doug that we must have a day of pajamas, hot chocolate, and wicked rounds of Rummy and other fun games.

Note to self though; next homestead must, I tell you, must have a well (with water rights) and a wood stove.  In the meantime, the coffee is ready, the heater on, the Christmas tree lights are shining, and I have a super secret recipe to share with you.  Enjoy it my friends, and wherever you are, take a snow day!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thingies That Are So Addictive

1 package of graham crackers, crushed to smithereens with a rolling pin

1 stick of butter, melted

1 cup of peanut butter

1 cup of powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients well and press into a cookie sheet.

Melt ½ a package of chocolate chips and pour over graham cracker mix spreading with a spatula or spoon.

Place in refrigerator to set.