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Homesteading: Hard and Rewarding

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"I love to garden." "I would like to build my own house." "I want to be my own boss." "I want to be self-reliant."  "I want some peace and quiet." "I love animals." "I think chickens are neat." "I would love to have milk from my own cow or goat." "I want to live far away from the city." " I'd love to have a home heated by a wood stove." "I want to get healthy and have more fresh air and exercise."

If you've made any of these statements or given any of these as reasons, you would be very much like me. These are all reasons for why I wanted to have my own place.

Now that I am two years into it I say,  "Be careful what you ask for!"

Before you take the plunge perhaps it might be wise to talk to some honest homesteaders who will tell you what it really takes to have your own place. Make sure they are honest with you!

The number one thing I was shocked over was how much work goes into your own place. If you owned your own home in the city with an average-size lot you would know a little bit about maintenance. Now take that and multiply it exponentially. Unless you're just out of your teens I would counsel you to not even think about taking on an acreage unless you had the means to purchase or rent mechanical assistance!

We came here with a push mower, a pile of hand tools, a truck, and a horse trailer. Now we have a self-propelled walk-behind mower and a riding mower,  a tractor and a back hoe, a flat bed trailer, a log splitter, three chainsaws and all manner of smaller mechanical devices. I'll probably think of some more while I'm writing this. We are both 66 years old and it's hard on a body without mechanical assistance!

If you think you will get more exercise it won't be the kind you expected. On a homestead you will be required to do heavy lifting (hay bales, feed sacks and digging). You won't be getting much aerobic exercise unless you're running away from the bull and then it will only last until you get to the fence! Out in the country every time you need something or go somewhere you get in the truck. I actually got more exercise when I lived in the city. It just wasn't the peaceful and quiet kind.

Here are a few things we've had to deal with over the last few weeks:

Repairing the barn roof. We had a big wind storm that knocked some tin off the hay barn. We probably should tear the barn down and sell it for recycled barn wood and build a smaller, more efficient but less picturesque barn.

fix roof

Painting the house inside and out.  We finally broke down and bought an airless sprayer for under the eaves. It was simply taking too long and was too hard on our poor bones to do it manually.

Learning how to tile the bathroom floor and then doing it. Fifty square feet of floor took us three weeks to accomplish. We might have been able to do it faster but other projects came up and got in the way.

Repairing a stretch of rotted fencing posts.  A hot wire kept it going long enough so we could finally get to it and kept the horses from breaking it down.

The truck started acting up. Thank God for the dash board plug in computer diagnostic tool and for Marty's skill with fixing mechanical things!

Getting my onion seedlings in the mail. That created a rush to prepare the garden beds, including a last-minute decision to buy 1 1/2 yards of garden soil. I was tired beyond belief of trying to amend the clay/sand soil so anything would grow bigger than a golf ball. This required a road trip to get said soil and take a half day to unload and spread it.

Since it's been cold at night, down in the low 50s, we are still processing wood for the wood stove. Thankfully we were ahead of the game with lots of stockpiled firewood. We just didn't foresee how much we'd use. That meant a trip out to the orchard to get a half cord to make sure we make it through.

Then there's the daily stuff. Laundry, food preparation, and feeding the animals. This brings me to the subject of house cleaning.  I once heard an old friend say "It's a ranch house. Don't worry about it." She was letting someone off the hook for walking into the house with their dirty barn shoes on. House cleaning will be the last thing on your to do-list. You will find that the minute you finish cleaning, someone will track more dirt in. The house stays clean for about 15 minutes. Tops. I say: Only clean when you absolutely can't stand it anymore.

There are other things that can be a big shock. It's one thing to have your own place in the city with your water delivered to you with a turn of the faucet. Your heating and cooling, too. All courtesy of the public utilities company. You might have an old boiler in your basement or a rusty old air conditioner/furnace unit out back or on top, but if you rely on wood heat you'll be sourcing or processing a lot of wood. This is where a skilled ability to handle a chainsaw and log splitter will come in handy. Otherwise you're dependent on buying it all. And if you don't have a registered permit to burn you might not be allowed to burn except on certain days. Just sayin'.

Do I have any regrets? Maybe a couple. Overall it has been worth it. If you ask me would I do it again, knowing what I've learned? Absolutely, yes. And I would certainly do it much better if I had a do-over. Here's the main take-away: it's work! And time! Homesteading is not for the lazy. If you're industrious I say go for it! 

There’s No Need for Language!

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Marty and I were making the bed the other day. Some people say that people who make their bed right when they get up are more likely to be successful. I don’t know about that but in the middle of making it here comes, completely out of nowhere, a word from my childhood on the Iowa farm. I said “Oh, the sheets are all whopperjawed. Let me fix ‘em right.”

That got me obsessing about all the weird words from my childhood. It all began with my German gramma who would exclaim “immer etwas!” (always something!) every once in a while when things were getting out of control. Here are a few words that I could remember.

Hornswoggle — bamboozle, as in “I think we was hornswoggled by the Fuller Brush man.”

Cattywampus or catty-corner, or kitty-corner — opposite each other on a diagonal. Research has revealed that this is the mispronunciation of the French word “quatre” (caught-tra) to indicate the four dots on a dice that suggests two diagonal lines.  As in, “Jack’s grocery is catty corner to the bank.”

Bumfuzzle — confuse; perplex; fluster, as in "Billy Joe can bumfuzzle anyone."

Clod-hoppers — large, heavy shoes worn by farmers

Dern tootin’ — an expression of agreement, as in, Sam and Opie are at the café counter. To the cook Sam says “Louella, you make the finest biscuits this side of the Mississippi.” Opie agrees, “Dern tootin’!”

Fixin’ to — getting ready to, as in, “I’m fixin’ to go to the Fairway meat counter. Y’all need anything?”

Granny-slappin’ good — very good, usually delicious, as in “Her apple pie is granny-slappin’ good!”

Gussied up — cleaned up and dressed very nicely, as in “Yore all gussied up. Where ya goin’?”

Hankerin’ — a craving for, as in “I have a hankerin’ for chicken fried steak.”

Hit with the ugly stick, drive a fly off a gut wagon, fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down — what you say if someone is unattractive to you.

Druthers — preference, as in “What’s yer druthers?”

Knee-high to a grasshopper — very small, as in, “The last time I saw you, you was knee-high to a grasshopper!”

Lick — no amount at all, as in “Billy Joe didn’t have a lick of sense.”

Mash — to press, as in “Mash that green button and turn on the TV.”

On-ry — difficult to deal with, as in “My horse gets on-ry sometimes.”

Piddlin’ — a small amount, as in “He jist has a piddlin’ amount of intelligence.”

Reckon — suppose, guess, as in, “I reckon we’ll see you at church.”

Language — to swear, as in “there ain’t no need for language.”

Skedaddle — to leave in a hurry, as in “Let’s skedaddle.”

Stove-up — broken/destroyed, as in, “I’m all stove up from workin’ in the field.”

Tore up — broken/destroyed, as in, “That orange flower smell ‘bout tore me up.”

Usedta could — used to be able to, as in, “I can’t touch my toes any more, but I usedta could.”

 “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” — an expression of surprise or disbelief

Pie hole — mouth, as in “Shut yer pie hole!”

Whopperjawed — out of place/crooked, “The sheets is all whopperjawed. Lemme fix ‘em”

What are your unique country sayings?

fence
Photo by Getty Images/jandrielombard

Gramma E's Stereopticon

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stereo
The stereopticon and how the postcard is inserted

postcard
An example of a postcard

looking
How to look through the viewfinder

Long before we had television and all the electronic-based instruments we now have, people had to entertain themselves somehow. Can you imagine that? Some learned musical instruments. Some learned to sing. Some sang and played well. Some didn't but they sang and played anyway. Many people played games outdoors. Croquet and badminton comes to mind. Baseball and football as well. Lots of people played cards, dominoes and checkers.

I think we could all learn something from these simpler times. By engaging in sports and home-based, self-propelled entertainment we learn sportsmanship, generosity and the satisfaction of accomplishment. Our brains and bodies are healthier. Our fingers more adept. One example of what I call "self-propelled" entertainment is the "stereopticon." My Gramma E. had one and we kids played with it constantly.

We kids thought that the stereopticon was very cool and somewhat magical. It had a handle and a viewfinder and then about a hundred different little postcard sized images that were double. Each side was the same and when we inserted the postcard in the holder and held the view finder up to our eyes, lo and behold, we saw the image in 3 dimension. How cool was that? This held our attention for hours. Some of the images had a description on the back that went into great detail with information about the image so you learned something in the process. Some had a titles in four different languages.  Some were obviously old family photos. For example, one image proclaims "Brother John's First Christmas."  Some asserted "Around the World: Without Leaving Your Home — Just Like Being There!"

When we were done looking at each image we were told to go outside and play. We'd go over to the next door neighbor and pick and eat blackberries from her patch, swing on the porch swing or play hopscotch on the sidewalk. No one ever announced that they were bored. We didn't know what that term meant. It just didn't occur to us. I really miss those days and now that I am old I try to make an effort to still live that way.  I think that life was a lot more healthy than the one we've gotten used to.

Easy Natural Bracelet Holder

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Happy New Year everyone! Let's hope this an even better year for fun, learning and adventure!

Let's get to it!

Recently, I got fed up with trying to cram all my bracelets into my jewelry box. It just wasn't working! As a crazy old lady, I feel that it's my time to shamelessly strut my stuff and accessories are one way to do it! I'm biggest on earrings, bracelets and necklaces. I have a lovely little earring holder that I bought a few years ago. I hang my necklaces on the wall with pushpins and there's my jewelry box for everything else.

Just so you know, I go to secondhand stores for my bling. I have no budget for retail except on deep discount. No, I find my best pieces in the secondhand store and it's worth it. Fun!

I looked around in the stores for something to hold my bracelets but, alas, nothing appealed to me, and besides, the price was too high. Then the other day I was in the wood pile getting some kindling and I had a brilliant idea for how to make my bracelet holder!

Tools needed:

A power drill. Every girl needs a power drill, right? And the knowledge for how to use it.

A nice piece of smooth, dry kindling. About 6 to 8 inches long and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Eucalyptus works for me, but any interesting wood will do. Remove the bark.

One wood screw. One that is long enough to go all the way through the base and into your piece of kindling about a half inch.

One square of pine lumber. I used 1-by-4. The base needs to be big enough so the stack won't fall over when loaded with bracelets. I get my lumber from a local building site. I ask permission to dig around in their debris pile for untreated lumber. They have to haul it to the dump anyway so they're happy to let me do it. Oh, and while you're there, pick up a few small pieces to chop up for kindling if you have a wood stove! NO treated wood. The fumes are toxic!

Optional:

Hand sander or sand paper. If your pine base is rough you will need something to sand it with. Medium sandpaper works.

Clear polyurethane. A little polyurethane gives it sheen and brings out the wood grain.

finished

This is what we're going for. There's no need for glue. It's lightweight and we're not loading it with heavy objects. Notice that I placed the thickest part of the forked wood a little off center. This was to make the "load-bearing" part of the wood centered over the middle of the base, which makes it more stable.

countersink

This is the wood screw in place and countersunk so it doesn't interfere when the base is set on the dresser. The base sits completely flat this way. When I drilled the pilot hole for the screw to go in (so as not to risk splitting the base or the top part) I drilled all the way through the base and into the top part. This might be a two person job unless you have a vise to hold everything in. A pilot hole is a small drill hole. Sometimes when you don't make a pilot hole the wood will split.

sanded

I sanded the edges of the base and also ran the sander over the wood top as well just to smooth it so I wouldn't be getting any splinters in my widdle fingers!

I brushed on one coat of polyurethane and let it dry thoroughly. I didn't want it real shiny. I like natural things. The polyurethane did enhance the wood grain which is a nice look. Here's how it looks loaded with bracelets. 

with bracelets

I'm so happy. I hope you will be, too!

A French Country Christmas

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My husband's family has French on his dad's side just like I do. They have two recipes that were traditionally made at Christmas that I love, too. They are definitely not haute cuisine. They are substantial, hearty and made for hard work on the farm in winter. Neither one is difficult to make. Both are delicious. One is called "tourtiere" and it is a meat pie that the Quebecois of Canada love. The other is called "torton" and compares to a simple knish. The kids especially love the tortons. My husband says that when his grandmother made them he would stand next to her as she made them and gobble them as they came off the griddle. The torton recipe is from the Gap area of France.

Tourtiere

Makes 1 pie, about 10 servings

You can put just about anything you want in a tourtiere. Some pies are simply meat and onions. I add potatoes to mine because my husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I also make them in large muffin pans because I add vegetables that I like. The French say "jusqu'à ce que les vaches viennent à la maison," which means roughly that you can add whatever you like until "the cows come home"!

Make the crust first:

• 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 10 tablespoons cold butter
• 5 to 8 tablespoons ice water, enough to make a cohesive dough

1. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. My husband gave me a stand mixer for Christmas last year and, boy, oh, howdy, have I put it to good use. Add the butter and mix it in thoroughly. There shouldn't be any large pieces of butter remaining. Drizzle in the water until you've added enough so it holds together nicely without being sticky. Divide the dough into as many pieces as you will eventually need. Two pieces if you're making a pie. Four if you're using four large muffins tins. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Note: You can make the dough ahead and refrigerate it overnight. If you do, let it warm to room temperature before rolling it out.

Filling:

• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups water or chicken broth
• 1 large potato (= 2 cups diced potato). I use Yukon Gold. I like that they hold their shape more than russet potatoes do.
• 2 pounds ground pork, or 1 pound ground pork and 1 pound ground beef
• about 1 1/2 cups diced onion
• 2 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
• 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 3/4 teaspoon ground sage
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
• Other spices that can be used: cinnamon, savory, and rosemary

2. Put the salt, liquid, and potato in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the potatoes. Save the liquid! (I always forget!) Mash half the potatoes, leaving the other half in chunks.

3. In a large skillet, brown the meat.

4. Add the onion, garlic, spices, salt, and reserved liquid to the meat, stirring to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Stirring occasionally, simmer until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are tender.

meat cooking

5. Add the mashed potatoes to the meat mixture, stirring until combined. Gently stir in the diced potatoes. Set the mixture aside to cool.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

7. You can use something about 9 inches in diameter: a cast iron skillet or a pie plate. Roll the dough into a round that fits. Place the round in the pan and then spoon in the filling. Mound it up and pat it flat.

8. Roll the other piece of dough into a circle, and lay it over the filling. Crimp the edge. Stab it with a fork for openings to let steam escape.

assembled

9. Bake the pie for about 45 minutes, until it's golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and set it aside to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Tortons That Kids Love!

torton recipe

Here's a photo of the handwritten recipe from Great Grandmother Aubin. As I found with my Gramma E's fudge recipe there are no details. So when I made these I used my best judgment. You can, too.

Crust:

• 4 cups flour
• salt to taste
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 3 whole eggs
• about 1/4 cup of milk

1. Mix flour, salt, butter and oil together. Mixed until it has the texture of bread crumbs. Add 3 whole eggs. Mix thoroughly again. Now add milk to make a non-sticky dough. Drizzle it in slowly so as not to add too much.

2. The recipe says to knead on a  floured board until small air bubbles appear. (What??) I have no idea what this means. In my humble opinion, this is a mistake because it passed through too many hands over the years. To make "small air bubbles appear" one would have to knead it until it fermented and that would take days! If any of you have any bright ideas of what this might mean, I would love to hear it! Until I get an explanation, I suggest: just knead it for about 5 minutes and that will be fine.

Filling:

Mix together:

• 3/4 of a square of cream cheese. I use Neufchatel.
• 1 large russet potato, boiled until fork tender
• 1 small leek or onion, chopped and low-heat sautéed until soft
• salt and pepper to taste

3. Mash filling ingredients together until thoroughly mixed.

4. When you're ready to assemble, roll the dough out very thin. Using a large can or cookie cutter punch large circles. Put teaspoons of potato mix on one side of the circle, wet the edge and fold over. Crimp the edge. Let rest for a few minutes covered with a cloth.

Fry in 1 inch of hot fat until crisp and brown. It won't take long. I use lard or Crisco, but any fat can be used. If you want to use butter use a combo of a little butter and some oil that can take higher heat. That would be Bon Apetit!

tortons

 

 

 

Gramma E's Christmas Fudge

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gramma and jill
My wonderful Gramma E. holding my cousin.

When I was a kid, every Christmas we got a giant box of goodies in the mail from my Gramma E. There was so much stuff in there we kids went nuts! Once she made Raggedy Anne and Andy dolls. Another time she made sock monkeys. Then, down in the bottom, was the homemade candy. Did I tell you my Gramma E was the best cook on the planet?  I particularly loved her chocolate fudge with walnuts. Sometimes she made them with black walnuts they got from the farm. How she got the shells off and the meat out is the subject for another story! Back then people actually liked black walnuts and so did I. She sometimes made them with English walnuts. I would take a out a small piece and savor it for a long time. My sister would gobble the whole thing in one bite but I would sit there and lick the darn thing to make it last as long as I could. I was a weird child.

fudge

Grandma E's Fudge Recipe

Makes one 9-by-13 size pan of fudge. You decide how big the pieces will be.

Ingredients:

• 4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
• 1 can evaporated milk
• 1 stick butter
• 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
• 1 ounce unsweetened baker's chocolate
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped or not chopped

Instructions:

Combine sugar and milk. Bring it to a very slow boil and boil for 10 minutes.

 1 boil

Watch the pan! For some reason this boils over very fast! If you turn your back before you get the heat right you will have a gigantic mess. If it starts to boil over, it is allowed to stir it once or twice to make the  mixture "settle down" and to check that it is not  burning on the bottom. Do not stir vigorously. The milk and  sugar will crystallize. Keep watching and pretty soon you will have the temp right and you can relax a bit.

 2 boilover

After 10 minutes remove from the heat and add the vanilla, the unsweetened baker's chocolate, and the chocolate morsels.  

 3 morsels

Stir until completely melted.

 4 mix

Once it is all melted add in the nuts and butter.

 5 nuts

(Note: I am crazy about nuts. You could say I am nuts about nuts, so I add 3 times as many nuts as my Gramma's recipe says. In this batch I added a cup of chopped pecans and a handful of whole, lightly salted pistachios. I also love dark chocolate, so instead of semi-sweet morsels I used dark chocolate morsels.)

Stir until the mixture is no longer glossy. It will be a little stiff. I'm not sure what not "glossy" means and Gramma is not here to ask so I just stir for a while until it gets a bit stiff.

6 pan

Spoon into a buttered 9-by-13 pan and spread it out to the edges. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares of any size you want!

The Right Dog

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samby thecreek
Sam relaxes in the sun by the creek.

I volunteer at a local animal shelter. We have dogs and cats, pigs and chickens, horses and sheep. I think we even had an emu once! Every day people come in to look for their next pet, which is a wonderful thing. Unless you have a specific need for a special kind of working dog or show dog, there really is no need to get a purebred dog. There are very nice dogs literally crying out for good homes at every shelter across the nation in every county.

So you've decided to go to the shelter and adopt a dog. How do you know which dog to adopt? The quick answer is "it depends."

It depends on your lifestyle, your home environment, and your personality. For example, if you live in an apartment you have to know that not all apartments will let dogs in. If you are a person who moves a lot, you must take into consideration that while your current place might allow a dog, it's not 100 percent that your next apartment will allow a dog. My daughter wanted a dog so badly for years but I told her that she shouldn't because #1 they are an expense and she didn't have much money, and #2 she moved around a lot.

At the shelter yesterday we had a really nice young dog surrendered to the shelter because the family had to leave their home to move to another town and an apartment because the dad got another job there. Having to surrender the dog broke everybody's heart. It might be better to just say no until you have a solid situation and know that you can always accommodate your pet.

So if you have your financial picture and your living situation settled it's time to think about what dog you want.

If you live in an apartment you need a toy, small or medium size dog. It's just not nice to keep a big dog cooped up in an apartment. You might just love the idea of a Malamute or a Mastiff, but those dogs would be miserable without room to run. You might think you can deal with it but then it turns out you can't. I know of a person who declared he would run with his new Dalmatian but when the dog stopped at every tree to lift his leg the idea of running for exercise became unattractive. So now he had a nervous dog cooped up in a house and it was a disaster.

At the shelter we get reports for lost huskies all the time. It's their nature to run. Do your research on what a dog was bred for. In the case of huskies, we know they were bred for running the Iditarod so what makes anyone think they would like to be cooped up. If you're already a dedicated runner maybe you can do it. Don't get all romantic. After all, you are responsible for the well-being of another creature and you need to take that responsibility seriously. Go into it with your eyes wide open.

If you live where you have a large yard then you can consider a large dog. Ask yourself this question: why do I want this dog? There are so many breeds of dog with so many temperaments it should be easy to find a dog that fits you to a "T", but that old adage "know thyself" has never been truer.

When you go to the shelter the staff will help match you up with a dog that fits you. Brace yourself for seeing dogs begging for love because dogs just have that instinct. However, they don't know how to pick people so you need to pick for them. That American Staffordshire terrier bounding against the kennel door will look so sweet that you will want to take it home. You just have to say " I love you but I'm not the right person for you. Someone will come along who  is the right person and you'll find them soon I promise!" (Unless you know you can handle the idiosyncrasies of having a pit bull then go for it! They can be wonderful dogs.)

It's hard on you and hard on the dog to have to take them back after they've ripped up your furniture and peed on all the plants. You chose with your heart and not your mind and that's bad for you both. The shelter will possibly have a yard so you and the dog can interact freely. When we got our Teddy I should have paid attention to the fact that while he was not aggressive, he also showed clearly that he was not that into people by running all around the yard and ignoring us until we coaxed him with a treat.

That independence is good for some people but not most. We still have Teddy six years later and he is what he is. We've accepted him warts and all and he mostly likes us!

Generally speaking: Hounds like to run. Terriers like to dig. Toys like to bark. Mastiffs eat and poop and pee a lot. Border collies need a job to do. Again, read up on your dog breed. Even if you are going to the shelter where invariably you will not find a purebred and they're all Heinz 57s, knowing the mix of your dog will help you a lot. Teddy, for example, is a chow mix. I found out the hard way that an insurance company would not insure us because we had a chow mix. They lumped the chow in with pit bulls. That was a big surprise so I'm letting you know now.

Also your options for outdoor activity will narrow with a dog. Not all national parks and preserves allow dogs. You might be confined to a neighborhood walk or the dog park

Lastly, always get your dog fixed! At the shelter we have so many people come in and say my dog is lost. We ask if it's fixed and they say no. Many people don't realize that their unneutered dog will have the urge to go look for girlfriends. If you have them fixed you're giving them a longer and better life. It breaks my heart to see a lost Chihuahua standing confused in the middle of the street with big trucks whizzing around it because he wasn't neutered and he's looking for love in all the wrong places.

If you do your homework and choose wisely, dog ownership is a great adventure. We love our two dogs and they love us. Life would be less if we didn't have them.