Thy Neighbor’s Homesteading Stuff

Is that a commandment?  Thou shalt not covet thy roommate’s homesteading stuff?

These things were his mother’s.  I wonder if she used them or if they were a collection or if someone in her family once used them.  I’ll have to ask David.  But they are a fabulous assortment of things that fuel me to get back on the land.

There are magnificent canners in the garage and handmade crafts scattered throughout the home.  I cannot wait to start using homesteading items again in my soon-to-be wishing-it-into reality homestead!

Modern Pioneer Woman (crackling fires and homesteading)

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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.

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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!

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The new wood stove was fired up last night to test it and Ichabod found the warmest spot possible.

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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.

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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.

Finding Hope in a Winter Wonderland

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The morning rang promise.  The air outside twenty degrees and the inside of the house had warmed to forty eight.  But the sun shone so brightly, so gloriously this morn and I found that the prairie’s cold edges had been softened by an overnight snowfall that left the spance of barrenness now dancing with tiny diamonds, facets of crystals, sunlight, and festivity.  I let out an exhale.

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Have you ever had those evenings when you blow out the oil lamp beside the bed, huddle under the covers, and pray to wake up in Hawaii?  When discouragement and nit picking sadness won’t leave you but rather leaves you weary and desperate?  Such a night it was.  The feeling of insurmountable and never ending happenings start to take on its own unreasonable aura.  For all the dreaming and praying and begging and planning and succeeding at finding our dream homestead, if you had told me that the house in an arctic blast would never get over fifty degrees, I would have said, “Oh, hell no.”  I don’t stand outside when it’s in the forties, I am going to stay inside in it too?  Yes sir.  I have let go of all the souls that passed on this year but the sadness remains.  I understand that it is tough times for folks but I went to bed wondering if I am being foolish with what I do.  Healers don’t exactly bring in the big bucks, and sometimes they don’t bring in the little bucks either!  We are here to help people who choose not to go to the doctor or hospital and there is absolutely nothing we cannot help with.  But we have received more inquiries on social media about our old house and whether it’s for rent than for remedies.  Our friends visit doctors who give them medicines that make them sick.  Should I go get a real job and give up?  Do people really need me?  Should we move back to the city to somewhere that has heat?  Should we….and then blissful rest overtook me until the dog heard something at one in the morning.

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But then I awoke to this scene.  The house feels warmer somehow.  An older gentleman that has been battling severe nerve damage for many years in his foot is coming by for more medicine because it’s working for him.  We are getting ready for a craft show tomorrow where we will see friends, perhaps help some folks with our remedies, and get excited for Christmas.  We will get by and I should be thankful that we have a home, food, and some heat.  This lifestyle may not be for everyone but it is certainly for me and Doug and I am thankful for those new beginnings, new mornings, and snow covered fields that remind us of all we have.  Homemade gifts are in the works, hot coffee in the thermos, and life on this homestead goes on and is certainly sweet…if not a bit chilly.

 

Winter Storm on a Homestead

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The season’s first storm blew upon the land.  Racing winds howled across the prairie.  The sounds both ominous and exhilarating.  The house shook, the wood stove crackled, cats snuggled close.  The midnight sky showed only coal black.

This morning the house read forty-five degrees.  Our breath showing in threads in the main room.  In the kitchen the little wood stove-that-could chugs along trying to keep up with the frosty chill.  A gentle snow is falling.

Horses escaped their pasture to the north and came galloping across our pasture.  A dozen majestic creatures stirring the snow and playing freely as they made their dawn run.

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The howling prairie now calm and peaceful, it is eleven degrees with the holiday snow flitting down.  The kitchen is warming, the coffee is hot, and the day ahead seems best spent beneath a warm comforter watching holiday movies!

But first chores need to be done.  Bundled up and braving the cold we need to check on chickens, break their icy water, give them food to warm themselves.  The goats are still away.

There is a great peace here.  A silent solace that calms the spirit.

Three cords of wood stacked high, a fire in the kitchen where we rub our hands together to keep warm…such is a homesteader’s life.

The Wood Cook Stove (now we’re cookin’!)

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We have a really great wood cook stove. I would love a large Pioneer stove complete with warmer, water heater, and oven but I guess we need homesteading baby steps. We needed to learn to use this wood cook stove to heat the house and to cook on.  Our stove is from the early seventies.  It is half propane and half wood.  So, if you didn’t want to heat up the house you could use the propane side.  Propane is expensive so we opt to use the wood side as much as possible!

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I had peppered folks with questions anxiously before we moved in. I bought a “Cooking on a Wood Stove” cookbook. I was a smidge paranoid about being able to pull this old homesteader’s art off. Turns out cooking on the wood stove is easy as cooking in the microwave. Really, if you have a sense of temperature and a feel for the food (if it’s burning it needs less heat, if it won’t boil, it needs more…) then it is easy. It is a matter of height when it comes to cooking on a wood stove burner. If the fire is smoking hot, then you may need to lift the pans to get the temperature you desire. For instance, a pan of trout to be seared gets put directly on the stove in the cast iron skillet. A small pan of sauce goes on a trivet on the stove. It really was much easier than I expected.

The hard part?  Getting the stove going in the first place!  After our entire life thus far with electric or gas stoves and furnaces, we were a bit rusty on starting the fire.  We smoked up the house, had frustrating moments, and didn’t know which way the flue was open.

Jim came over and held his hand back under the pipe from the stove, you could also use a mirror, and saw that when the lever was down, the flue was open (you can see a bit of daylight or feel air).  Inside the oven door is another lever that can be pulled out to let air in from the side of the stove.  I had always thought that the flue being open was to keep the house from flooding with smoke.  This is true with fireplaces but not with wood stoves.  The air helps ignite the flames.  So, when you are trying to get the fire going, the flue is open.  On our stove, once the fire is going some, I close the inside flue in the door.  Then as it really gets going and the larger wood is on and set, the flue handle on the pipe gets pushed up.  This is when the heat stops going up the chimney and begins to heat the house.  The cats gather around the stove and sleep wherever they can find pulses of heat.  It makes this homestead complete.

We are by no means experts yet, but here is an easy step by step of how to start a fire in a wood cook stove.

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Flue is open.

Newspaper is crumpled tightly and placed in bottom across the firebox.

Newspaper is crumpled tightly and placed in bottom across the firebox.

Place smaller twigs, leaves, pine needles across newspaper.

Place smaller twigs, leaves, pine needles across newspaper.

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Small branches are crisscrossed across the kindling.

Small branches are crisscrossed across the kindling.

Doug lights the newspaper that is furthest from the pipe as the air will swoosh it from front to back.

Doug lights the newspaper that is furthest from the pipe as the air will swoosh it from front to back.

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After the kindling catches, add small pieces of wood, then a larger log.  Blow into the fire to make it catch more.  Once the log has caught, close the flue.

After the kindling catches, add small pieces of wood, then a larger log. Blow into the fire to make it catch more. Once the log has caught, close the flue.

Now place cast iron of Dutch oven of beans on and smell it simmering all day on the fire.  A wood cook stove creates the essence of hospitality and coziness in a homestead.

Decorating a Farmstead Kitchen (and making a chalkboard wall)

The kitchen is the heart of the home, where the fires are burning, where memories are made, where the cook stove will stay warm and where  at the breakfast nook near the warm stove we will play board games on snowy winter days.  Where sustaining food is prepared and the baby plays at my feet while I make a pot of tea.  The kitchen is my favorite room.

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In this kitchen I have a bit of space.  Usually my friends crowd around and chat while we all put finishing touches on drinks and food and inevitably a few are pushed out due to lack of space.  In this kitchen I have seating for four and places to mill around.

This is how I turned an ordinary kitchen added on in the early seventies with peeling linoleum into a culinary oasis.  I take inspirations from Amish, Italian, Pioneer, and Country kitchens.  Combined seamlessly together into what my extended family would call a “Katie kitchen”.

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I do not like overhead lighting so twinkly lights are employed to add charm and light to the house.

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The horrid florescent lamp (those always give off a light similar to horror movies in my mind) was covered with a quaint chicken valance.  Another valance was placed above the window in the kitchen.  Doug installed the curtain hardware eight inches over the window so that plenty of light could come through.

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A sunny place to play cards or have a cup of coffee and read.

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An old cabinet piece that I have had a long time is the base for a bookshelf to make a larger cabinet.  My friend, Nancy’s, chicken tea pot, pitcher, and cookie jar stand among pioneer cookbooks and wine glasses.

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Every nook and cranny, every drawer, every cupboard if filled.  I cannot bring one more thing into this kitchen!  Everything in its place is the mantra here now.  My aprons displayed on a vintage hanger along with Maryjane’s apron invite folks to put one on and start cooking!

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The top of the fridge is always a void of inspiration for me.  This whimsical wind catcher and a pretty enamel bowl fill the space with a little fun.

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The unique part of this room is the chalkboard wall.  Simply tape off a section that you would like to use.  Paint on four coats of chalkboard paint, letting dry in between coats.  Let set for two days.  Peel off tape the first day so that it doesn’t become a permanent frame!

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I added my favorite picture to the board by hanging it on a nail in the middle of the chalkboard.  If this little girl was a blonde, it would be Maryjane.  Maryjane loves her chickens!  Notes or menus can be written on the board.

It is easy to add small touches to any kitchen without spending a lot of money.  Any kitchen can benefit from vintage furniture, whimsical touches that bring a smile, and flowers….and a chalkboard wall.

 

Our Homesteading Journey (what we have learned, what we still need to learn!)

We always called this our practice farm.  The place we would learn valuable homesteading skills while still living in town so that when our homestead came forth we would know a great deal before diving in head first into a cold winter with a wood stove.

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Things we have learned on our Practice Farm:

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1. We learned that chickens are not as scary to take care of as previously expected.  In fact they are easier than cats and dogs to care for.  They also add amazing amounts of entertainment to the yard and many a good meal of delicious eggs.

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2. We are able to farm anywhere.  Even in a sandy, weed covered plot in town with extremely expensive water.  A piece of land that sits at over 6500 feet above sea level and where not many folks are crazy enough to farm.  Those of us that do around here hold a remarkable bond.

3.  We can survive running our own business.  If we are passionate, glean bills like mad people, and keep a simple lifestyle, we can live on quite a little sum.

4. We can provide almost all of our own food with a little help from our friends.  We now can over five hundred items to eat over the winter.  We pay half the price of the health food store and support local farmers and ranchers by purchasing humanely raised meats.We can buy from local farms what we do not produce.  This year we produced a good portion of our food supplying all vegetables for summer and into fall and some to can for winter.  In the summer we also dine on fresh eggs and homemade cheese from our own goat’s milk.

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5. We learned that we have an addiction to goats.  They are like outdoor puppies, full of fun and lots of affection.  And they give delicious milk for heavenly cheese.

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6. We are no longer afraid of hoards of bees.  10,000 bees is actually quite quaint and awfully fun to watch work.

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7. Ducks are a hoot.  Perhaps not very practical though.

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8.  We are able to sustain tremendous loss.  Losses and deaths of friends, financial losses, losses of beloved animals.  Losses of bits of ourselves and somehow come out a bit stronger, if not weepier, and hold them close in our hearts.

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9.  Grandchildren are the best healing agent.  They simply make life brighter and more colorful (particularly when they write on the walls).  Graduations, weddings, and family make life very rich.

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10. We could never go back to the city.  We actually exhale as we enter the open prairie.

11.  The most important thing we have learned on this journey is that if you write out and put out to the world your desires, the universe conspires to put everything in place so that you may have it.  Be careful what you wish for but prepare to be blessed!

Things we will be learning on our new Homestead:

I cannot believe that everything we asked for came true.  A small, old house (1905) with the square footage we requested (850 square feet).  A wood cook stove, a well, a pantry, two bedrooms, a chicken coop, goat pens, places to walk with the goats, a view (of Pikes Peak was my exact request and I am quite close to it).  A large fenced garden, close to a small town but not terribly far from the city (in case of momentary lapses in judgment whereupon we find ourselves gorging on fondue and seeing a mediocre movie) and a great library district.  Doug wants to be near a place to shoot pool and a good breakfast joint (I guess I can’t say that in Colorado anymore; I mean restaurant).

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1. First and foremost we better figure out the wood cook stove.  It takes wood and coal.  Where does one get coal?  How much do we need?  What the heck is a damper?  Am I going to freeze to death?

2. Doug will be mastering the art of chopping wood (hello lumber jack!) and hauling mass amounts of water.

3.  Many skills I do not know I need that I will inevitably need and which you, my dear reader, shall be the first to learn along with me.  What a journey we are heading on!  So glad you are with us.  We will be moving our name and sign to our new homestead.

Welcome to The Cottage at Pumpkin Hollow Farm…

A Field Trip To 1860 (learning from an old homestead)

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We traveled back in time yesterday to 1860.  We visited the home of the Hildebrants from Germany at the Denver Botanical Gardens at Chatfield.  Completely as it was.  The added gardens are impressive and the acreage of farming provides a CSA program for the community as well as a ginormous pumpkin patch and corn maze for Autumn fun.

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As homesteaders, especially ones that are looking to delve further into the world of self sufficiency and off grid living, we look for valuable lessons, ideas, and inspirations from those that came before us.  They whisper through the walls of their old homes and the physical pieces left from a time of homesteading as necessity teach us many things in their silence.  Something in us understands them intuitively.

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We started at our dream house.  A clapboard house with a large porch and swing.  The interior was sparsely decorated with furniture and tools from the era.  The wood stove stood proudly waiting for a kettle of water to be placed on it.  Simple rugs, old quilts, hand tools, and kitchen accessories were displayed.  Many things that we have collected ourselves on our homestead.  I cannot wait until the next homestead when I get my wood cook stove!  How fun the second chapter of Farmgirl School will be!  The house was uncluttered, comfortable, and very welcoming.  We peeked through windows and pretended we lived there.

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A summer kitchen was erected behind the main house with another wood cook stove in it, a counter, and a table.  Heat up the smaller house and leave the big house cool in the summer.  Every year I think we will build a summer kitchen for canning.  Soon we will.  The root cellar was on the side of the house and entered below the home to hold staples for winter.

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The refrigerator is a shed looking building, larger than our present fridges but a small structure in itself.  We would locate ice from the rivers in the winter and place them in the ice house with sawdust to keep the shed nice and cool and keep our food chilled throughout the summer.

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The woodshed would be close to the trees, close to the house, and would house the winter’s worth of wood needed to stoke two fires in the home all season.  More wood stood under the eve of the back door to the house.

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We have two interns from New York right now that have travelled by RV to study herbs under me and work on our mini-farm.  If it were 1860 (though I think this rather quaint for right now as well) this is the house they would stay in.

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These raised beds are perfect for building over cement slabs or driveways and are tall enough to not cause too much backache.

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When we move to our next homestead it will be quite likely that we will encounter a good deal more predators than we do here in town, so we will have to build a large pen such as this one.

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This is the blacksmith shop.  A shed with all the important tools to provide horse shoes and for fixing iron implements around the farm.  The buildings were placed in close vicinity to each other along the creek and house in order to block the winds from the southwest.  Everything was close to the water as one could not exactly turn on the faucet and pay a water bill.  I do dream of the day when I can use a grey water system to water my plants, not wasting a single drop, and have fresh well water.

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After about having it with any type of automobile I am this close to getting a pair of work horses and a wagon!  My friends would probably nary blink an eye.

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This is the Granary where we would store all of our grains for the winter.  There are openings along the top of the walls to create airflow so that the precious grain would not mold.

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A barn is very important as animals are an important part of a homestead.  Goats waiting to be milked bask in the sunshine.

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On our quarter acre I have found that I am able to intensively farm and be able to feed Doug and I and a few occasional guests during the growing season.  I am not able to grow enough to provide food for the community or to put up for winter.  That has been an eye opener for me.  I would need at least an acre to provide enough year round vegetables.

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The Hildebrant homestead also has several orchard trees as well as an entire herb garden.  There were many medicinal herbs growing in the plot near the back door.  This would have likely been the kitchen garden that held herbs, lettuces, and things that mama would want to access easily without going out into the fields to pick.

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Looking over the bridge here I saw many medicinal plants as well as wild grapes and choke cherries.  If I could just have a quick word with the homesteaders that lived here a hundred and fifty years ago, the stories and lessons they could teach me.

Doug talking with a tiny bunny.

Doug talking with a tiny bunny.

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Having several ecosystems on a single farm is imperative for biodiversity, wild foods, and plants.  This woodland was so beautiful just steps from the fields of vegetables.  Animals and wildlife may add some troubles with farming but by and large add a great deal of charm and are important on a homestead.

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A homestead is a place to have family around to help with canning and splitting wood!

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and for adoring grandchildren.

This was the old school that was moved to the property.

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Such a beautiful life.  A life filled with hard work, bountiful harvests, and close family.  A place where one can feel proud of their accomplishments and enjoy the world of simplicity.  A homestead is the place to be.

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A homestead can make you very tired though!

 

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.

Homesteader’s Necessity

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I try to not to get the “gimmies”.  Gimme this and gimme that.  I try to be content with what I have.  But, folks, I am trying to be a homesteader here and I am missing a major component to success!  I have the gimmies.  I am not afraid to admit it.  I want a wood stove.  The owners placed a lovely metal roof over the existing chimney so I cannot figure a way to put one in at this house.  Besides, I am renting and that is a lot of dough to spend.  But, I will never be a proper homesteader without the wood stove.

Imagine, a cold and blustery eve, warm in our home with cups of hot chocolate and cozy, woolen sweaters.  A book being read by lamplight.  The power goes out (often enough) and you can bet your apron strings that lamp light is not going to keep the house warm for very long!  No stove, no heat.  This bothers me.  So does the electric and gas bill.

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To be able to supply my own heat and know that a Dutch oven can be placed on the top of the stove with beans simmering in rich broth, a kettle of water for coffee or tea, a fire blazing providing security…..ahh.  I am missing a wood stove.  A homesteader’s necessity!

(The first picture is from Mother Earth News.  My dream kitchen!)