Winter Evenings and What Are You Reading?

These cold days are quiet and sweet.  I am trying this year not to immediately begin pining for spring and planting season.  I figured I won’t even look at seed catalogues (oops) or plan out my garden (weeelll…), but I am enjoying the relaxation.  You know, spring and summer is filled with baby animals, and digging, and planting, and harvesting, and watering every day, and preserving, and weeding, and more!  Winter is for settling in and restoring.  In the spring and summer we get more done because the sun is out.  Right now in the freezing dark of suppertime we stay in.  What do you like to do on winter evenings?

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I am the self proclaimed rummy queen.  It’s probably best because I am terrible sport!  I used to play rummy with glasses of iced tea with my great-grandma.  I remember double decks and a large table of family playing at my grandma’s house.  I remember my cousin, Helen, teaching me how to play when I was eight years old on our way up to a cabin with my grandparents.  Doug grew up playing gin among other games.  Do folks play cards anymore?  After dinner the past several nights the shuffling of cards can be heard from our dimly lit kitchen table.  Laughter, music, and memories.

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Winter is also the time to catch up on books!  We love to read and we end every evening with reading and a cup of steaming tea.  Right now I am reading, Meeting the Medicine Man by Charles Langley.  It is out of print and I highly suggest you try to secure a copy off of Amazon.  It is fabulous.  I last read it ten years ago before I started working with medicine people.  It is a glimpse into the world of the Navajo and medicine people.  Of good and evil and the people that help keep the community safe and bring things back into balance.  What are you reading?

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My television is covered by a painting.  We rarely utilize it but for our favorite show (The Voice) and football and the occasional movie night.  It is more pleasant with it not being the center of attention.  We are able to converse more easily, make more memories, and enjoy the ease of these lovely winter evenings.

 

How to Make a Rich Skin Salve for Super Dry Skin

I have told you before; it is dry here.  Not just dry, like you might need some lotion and lip balm, it’s eczema, skin itching, nose bleed dry here in Colorado.  I love to travel places with humidity.  But, my home is here.  In the winter, lotion doesn’t cut it, even though I make the most fabulous lotion, I need something stronger in the cold, dry months of furnace and wood stove and zero percent humidity.  Last year I showed you how to heat infuse herb oils in the crock pot to keep in the bathroom for after you shower.  This year I want to show you how to make a really great thick skin salve that can be used on cracked heels, finger tips, dry patches, or if you live in the desert, all over your body!

It’s quite simple, really.  In a wide mouth quart jar add 2 Tablespoons each of calendula flowers and comfrey leaves and 1 Tablespoon of lavender and/or roses. (Try online at mountainroseherbs.com or at your local health food store.  Next year grow them!)

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Now pour in 2 cups of olive or sunflower oil.

Put jar in saucepan and pour water in pan to half way up jar.  Bring to boil.  Make sure no water jumps in the quart jar.  Double boil the jar of oil for 45 minutes.  (You could place it in a sauce pan directly and heat on medium low for 20 minutes, stirring often,  but you really risk burning it.)  I like to use a chop stick to stir every five minutes or so.  Keep an eye on your water level!

When the oil is infused, strain the herbs out through a fine sieve and put oil in a clean, dry, wide mouth pint jar.  Add 1.5 ounces of beeswax, emulsifying, or candelilla wax to oil.  Heat in double boiler again until wax is melted.  Stir with a chop stick often.

When completely melted, you can add 30 drops of lavender essential oil, or leave it as is.  Stir with chop stick once more and let cool on a towel on the counter until set.  Do not cover until set.

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The salve lasts for years but you will use it up in a month if you live in Colorado!  Wishing you warm cups of tea and perfectly moisturized skin this holiday season, my Friends.

You can find many recipes for salves and herbal medicines in my book, The Homesteader’s Pharmacy. 

Or just make it easy on yourself and order from our family apothecary, WhiteWolfHerbs.com

 

How to Make a Nourishing, Infused Oil for Dry Skin

It is so dry around here that I do believe a stale cracker blowing across the desert in a windstorm has more moisture than my skin has right now.  Colorado is always dry-most of the state is high desert- but winter is the worst!  It is time to make a nourishing infused oil and calm that itching down.

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A small crock pot is perfect to keep in the bathroom plugged in.  After the concoction is infused in the crock pot, you merely have to turn it on warm as you get into the shower.  Or pour a bit into the bath.  Use on lips, hands, face; the whole body will just absorb it with fervor.

You can easily just use the oil as is.  In Ayurveda sesame oil is used.  Olive oil is a natural sunscreen and has a long shelf life.  But I am more of a sunflower girl, myself.  Rich in vitamin E and oleic acid, sunflower oil is nourishing and absorbs easily.  I am also an herbalist so I infuse some medicinal herbs into my oil.  It makes it all the better.

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In 32 ounces of sunflower oil poured into the crock pot, I added a small handful of roses, calendula, mullein leaves, and lemon verbena.  I let that infuse on low for a few hours.  The herbs are dried so they won’t mold and sunflower oil lasts easily two years.  Other herbs that might be nice are lavender, pine, or geranium.

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No need to strain.  I use my fingers to apply but you could use a small sponge.  This time of year the oil absorbs faster than you can apply it so be liberal and feel great.

Wintertide

It is about now that I start wanting my house guest to leave.

“Winter,” I say, “Old Chap, is there anywhere else you need to be soon?”

He shakes his head through gales of frost.

I put on another cup of coffee.  Put another log on the fire.

The cold crops go in the ground in six or seven short weeks.  We will have bustling to do to get the new garden fenced and the soil ready.  We will devour the warm days as they come.  Spring will surely rise from the frozen ground.  I appreciate the rest, the rest for the plants and trees, the water, the blah, blah, blah.

‘Tis about the mid of January that I am ever ready for blessed warmth and activity.  Yet Jack Frost rarely hauls out slow so I must welcome the guest awhile longer.

The snow lightly covers the landscape as the golden sun arises and sends glitter across the lawn.  My winter puppy is in love with the season and leads his walk outdoors by mouthing up big gulps of icy snow.  I found a small, fallen branch.  Abandoned after falling out of yonder tree.  The sap still slightly sticky.  I brought it home.  It is the flower of winter, the conifer bough, and it sits proudly in its vase upon the stove.  (The only place the kitties can’t get it.)  It hearkens the beauty of winter-all of its reds and greens and glittered snow and great open blue sky-and reminds me to walk upon its icy tread, to breathe fresh air and not yet make the spring to-do list, but to visit geese and winter ducks and welcome the winter time.

For a few more months anyway….

 

Homestead Gardens and Winter Rest

20180103_073048The first seed catalogue arrived in the mail the other day.  My four year old granddaughter, Maryjane, took a sharpie and circled everything we need to order.  Instead of toys, she circles plants in seed catalogues.  She is one of us.

It is impossible, I believe, for a homesteader to not think of the garden at all times of the year.  I am creating a new space, roughly 500 square feet of ground.  A square, fenced in, next to the chicken coop, three feet from the porch turned greenhouse we are planning, and ten feet from the compost.  I dream of the colorful rows of fresh produce, the front yard of fruit trees and medicinal herbs, the patches of volunteer vegetables and wild foods.  But, these gardens, of course, cost money.  Fencing, glass, extra compost, and seeds do not come cheap.  I know it will all come together wonderfully and before I know it, I will be sitting here next year pondering the next season’s garden!

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I do love January, even if it is not my favorite month in the least.  It makes me rest.  We homesteaders aren’t much for rest.  We are a lot less anxious with our hands dirty, faces in the sun, planning, harvesting, moving.  The ground is asleep.  My fingernails are clean.  And I can dream, and January brings that lovely reflective sense of peace and accomplishment.  We dine like kings on everything we stored in the root cellar, freezers, and pantry from this last season.  We remark how beautiful our house is and our yard is coming together and in just short of one year’s time, we have transformed it into a working homestead.  Our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude.

Hawks swirl and the large lake is out our south windows and the city bus rumbles by out the north panes proving you can homestead anywhere.  I write on my list that I need lamp fluid for the oil lamps and more tea candles.  Wood is chopped and piled by the stove.  The chickens are waiting to be let out.  The farm dog sleeps and I need another cup of coffee and a sharpie so I can start circling items in the seed catalogue and create dreams for spring.

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Winter Night Beans

 

JpegThe winter wind blows as the flurries of icy snow cover walkways and rooftops.  There is nothing quite like walking in the front door, clicking on the Christmas lights, and being met with the smell of dinner already cooked for you.  A crockpot and beans do just that.  Creating an enticing aroma and healthy, nourishing delight.  So simple too.

In a crockpot pour in 2 cups of pinto beans.

Add (or be imaginative and adjust flavors) 2 teaspoons of ground New Mexican chili and 1 teaspoon of ground green chili.  1 Tablespoon of dried, minced onion, a teaspoon of minced garlic.  1/4 teaspoon of pepper.  1 teaspoon of paprika.  A few shakes of liquid smoke.  Don’t add salt until the last ten minutes or so.

Cut up 3 strips of bacon and add.  Pour in 5 cups of broth.  Set to low and go out shopping (or working).  8 hours later…

When you arrive home add 1-2 teaspoons of smoked salt (or sea salt) and a couple of handfuls of greens.  Let cook for 5-10 more minutes.  Serve with bread or cornbread and honey butter.  (Melt a stick of butter with a good amount of honey.  Pour into container and set in fridge.  Let sit on counter for a little bit before spreading.)

Homestead food at its most delightful.  Happy Winter!

Top Five Books for Winter Reading

During the summer I often only have time to read magazines between farmer’s markets and gardening, and babysitting, and the shop (and soon to be a full blown urban farm), but in the winter I have more time.  The sun goes down earlier, I am called to warm sheets quicker, tea by my side, a book (not an e-book, mind you, I prefer the loveliness of paper) in my hand, and I am whisked away to new places amongst new people for a time.  A way to stop my swimming mind from wandering from subject to worry to plan.  These are my top five books for winter reading.

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1- The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

This book takes us to the plush apartment of an elderly, elegant woman, at once a hermit and extraordinary storyteller of her time as a courtesan.  Taking place at the cusp of World War Two, her granddaughter both listens to her grandmother’s stories and becomes a woman in a world where being half Jewish in love with a Jewish rare book seller could prove dangerous.  A lovely tale of love and luxury, of loss and simple pleasures, I enjoyed every word.

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2- If There’s Squash Bugs in Heaven, I Ain’t Staying by Stacia Spragg-Braude

I laughed throughout this book.  The author follows an older farmer around for a year and creates a memoir of the life of a Farm girl in Corrales, New Mexico, easily transporting us to her youth, introducing us to family members throughout time, then back to present at the stove stirring this or that to be preserved.  Incredible farming wisdom and homesteading tips are inevitably sought during this delightful story of a life lived simply and near the earth.

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3- The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Mind you, fiction is not my reading of choice.  I challenged myself this year to read more fiction.  This book delivered an enticing story that jumps from past to present as a young reporter tries to find out the truth behind a maid’s mysterious death by interviewing the elder models that still inhabit the once prestigious Barbizon hotel.  Secrets unfold and kept me thoroughly entertained as it took me to sexy jazz clubs in the 1950’s, Puerto Rican singers, smoke, spices, and models trying to make it set the scene for a beautiful tale of love and second chances.

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4- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

One I have already read but must recommend you read if you haven’t yet.  The beautiful ideas of self renewal, travel, food, love, spirit all entwined in one enticing book with gorgeous prose and colorful scenes thrills and inspires me.  Then watch the movie.  It is spectacular as well.

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5- The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

I’ll have this one finished in the next day or two.  It makes me stay up past my bedtime to read (which is really saying something as I am fast asleep by 10:01 every night!) just to capture a bit more of the Scottish hillside, hear the brogue, see the kilts, pet the lambs, and travel around with the protagonist who has left her ordinary librarian job to sell books in a large restored van at markets.  I am smitten, and oddly desiring a pint of something.

Bonus- As for magazines I am wondering if some of my fellow farmgirls may have overlooked one.  Oprah magazine is one that I will subscribe to every year.  I have plenty of farming and homemaking magazines but this makes me.  Filled with constant inspiration, encouragement, and great book ideas, I cannot stop pouring over the glossy pages of this beautiful ensemble of ideas and friendship.

What are you reading?  Book recommendations?  Happy reading!

Irony and Good Reading

How ironic is it that we have to save up money to become backwoods homesteaders living below the poverty line?

It almost makes me laugh.  Almost.

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Ah, to keep my mind off of eternal questions like that I read.

What are your favorite books?  Here is a list of some of my favorite reads.  I would love to hear yours.

  1. Made From Scratch; Discovering the Pleasures of a Homemade Life by Jenna Woginrich started me on this journey.
  2. Followed by Barnheart; The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One’s Own again by Jenna Woginrich
  3. And her latest- One Woman Farm; My Life Shared with Sheep, Pigs, Chickens, Goats, and a Fine Fiddle. 
  4. A Diary of Dixie by Mary Boykin Chestnut are her true memoirs written in the midst of the Civil War.  Fascinating!
  5. Medicine of the Cherokee by J.T. Garrett is filled with stories, history, and wisdom.
  6. The Good,Good Pig; The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery was heartwarming and fun.
  7. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls are a wealth of homesteader knowledge.
  8. Poetry by Robert Frost, Maya Angelo, and Mary Oliver…

There are so many more I have loved and enjoyed….share with all of us your favorites!  Winter is the time to catch up on reading and planning.

 

 

 

What is Yule?

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What is Yule?  Is it the same thing as Christmas?  You know, the Yule log was from Yule.  Turns out it is not a dessert but rather a celebratory log that creates a symbolic fire.  Many of the colors and traditions of Christmas are actually from Yule.  Even the 12 days of Yule!  Yule was around a long, long time before Jesus was even a twinkling in his mama’s eye.

It was decided to place Christmas at the same time as the pagan holiday Yule to overshadow it.  So, was Yule a time where witches went singing about town creating havoc and devil worshipping?  Goodness, no.  Yule is the celebration of the solstice.  From the 21st on towards summer the sun shines for a bit longer each day.  If you were a farmer (remember pagan holidays are also called agricultural holidays) you can bet your Yule tree that you would be celebrating!  Woohoo!  Bonfire and dancing in the moonlight!  Get me my seed catalogue!  Or on the darkest night of the year perhaps we have a feast with family and friends and sit by the fireplace.  We revel in the rest winter brings in its quiet reverence and dream of the season to come, ever being grateful for all we have and all we are.

 

 

Glittering Grace

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” Across the plains of glittering grace,

behold Winter’s beautiful face”

“…But all along the Rockies you can feel it in the air
From Telluride to Boulder down below
The closest thing to heaven on this planet anywhere
Is a quiet Christmas morning in the Colorado snow…” Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

“Country Roads Take Me Home…” John Denver

The deer pictures were taken from my front door.  The rest were taken driving to see our daughter.  Colorado is certainly a beautiful place to live and we are lucky to see all the seasons in all their glory.