Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Pantry Building for the Holidays November 24, 2011

I had an idea just prior to making the holiday dinner preparations.  Instead of just making what we would need for the meal, why not start early and cook double or triple the amount?  It isn’t as silly as it may seem.

I make fresh whole cranberry sauce each year.  I buy the cranberries at a good price so that I can buy extra.  This year, I made the sauce and then canned it up in jars for the pantry.  I have enough for the holiday meals with a bit extra for later.

Sweet potatoes were on sale a month ago.  I purchased 9 pounds of them.  They were peeled, diced, then processed in canning jars.  I ended up with a dozen jars.

An extra turkey was roasted, then deboned.  I removed any skin and placed the meat into canning jars with broth mixed with a bit of water.  Once processed, this gave me jars of cooked turkey to use in recipes this winter.

I home can many of the foods in pint or half-pint jars so that my husband can take them in his truck.  This makes healthier meals than eating truck stop food every day.  It is also much easier on the monthly budget.  Knowing he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, I had an early holiday meal last time he was home.  When he went back on the road, he had all of the fixings for the holiday meal in canning jars to take with him.  In his lunch box cooker, which plugs into a 12 volt outlet in the truck, he is able to fully cook any of the meals.  I sent along some stuffing mix to add to the turkey & broth so that he will have turkey & dressing.  Half pint jars of turkey gravy, some sweet potatoes, and home canned pumpkin round out his meal.  Needless to say, he thinks he is spoiled.  I love spoiling him.  It is my small way to be able to still provide meals for him, even when away from home.

Now that I have seen for myself just how stress-free the canning made my holiday meal preparations, I will be doing this again.  I may take advantage of the season and buy more of the cranberries and other holiday foods while they are on sale.  It is a great way to stock the pantry.


Winter of Sewing Ahead November 17, 2011

Filed under: simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:19 pm

Today we had some very chilly winds all day. I am so happy that the kids are fully outfitted for winter. The only item left is a pair of boots for ds3. In efforts to get them ready, I have quickly realized that I am not prepared myself. Typical of a Mum. We make sure that everyone else is taken care of before seeing to our own needs.

I have a clothing pattern I have been wanting to sew for quite some time. It is the “Frillies” pattern from Buckaroo Bobbins. It contains underpinning basics of bloomers in 2 styles, petticoat, and 2 styles of camisole. I love the simplistic styling of the patterns. The pattern is based on actual historical clothing from the “old west” time period. In looking at the patterns, I find that when made with pretty fabrics instead of plain linen or muslin, the petticoat and camisole would make a pretty skirt & top set. The bloomers & camisole made in a linen or lightweight flannel would be very comfortable as sleepwear. For winter, I am going to make some flannel or linen bloomers to wear under my denim skirt. They should help greatly in keeping my legs warm. Flannel bloomers would also feel great under a nightgown for extra warmth. The petticoat pattern has a wide ruffle at the bottom. I am going to omit the ruffle and extend the petticoat length to compensate for the lack of a ruffle. I prefer my skirts to be ankle length, so I am going for that. The camisole comes in sleeveless and cap sleeve options. Both are pretty and very feminine in style. I want to make some sleeveless in flannel for wearing under my long sleeved shirts for added warmth. For summer, I will make some from a linen or calico fabric in the cap sleeve style.

Lots of sewing ahead. With luck, I will get at least one set of camisole & bloomers made by the month’s end. I also have Buckaroo Bobbins’ girls dress pattern called “Nicole’s Dress” to make for my dd5. It is a basic dress with pinafore similar in style to that worn by young Laura Ingalls in the TV show “Little House on the Prairie.” Dd5 loves that outfit, so I am going to make her one. One thing I love about the pattern from Buckaroo Bobbins is that the girls’ dress patterns come with all sizes 4-12 in one pattern pack for a very low cost. The adult patterns come in small to 2x in one packet.

Next up, making pants for ds3. His pant pattern will come from a different company since Buckaroo Bobbins doesn’t carry a boys’ pant pattern yet. His will be a simple style of broadfall pant. I already have the materials to make his suspenders. Both the broadfall pant pattern and the materials for suspenders come from Amish supply resources.


Sorting & Planning Ahead

Filed under: simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:19 pm

There are the sounds of the chilly wind outside my windows today. Guess that means the the autumn is finally deciding to stick around for a bit. Went out yesterday and got a few supplies. I am so happy to have our pantry set to handle keeping us well fed without needing to go buy food every week. At this point, most of what I buy are non-food items or I am stocking up food supplies when I see a great sale on something we use a lot of. The kitchen cookstove is such a blessing. Hearing the firewood crackling and feeling it’s warmth is always a favorite part of the cool weather for me. There is something comforting and homey about the wood stove.

The project of the day is getting clothing sorted out. Both of the young ones have had a growth spurt recently. So, I am now having to sort through their things to see what will be needing replaced. What can no longer be worn will either be re-purposed into something else or will be donated. Much of what needs replaced is their fleece sweatshirts and pants. They can be made into quilts or some other useful thing. The kids are pretty hard on their fleece clothing, so it rarely is donated.

We are planning to build a new home on the property. It will be a bit smaller in size and set up to be much more efficient to heat & keep cool. The old homestead we are currently living started out as only about 2-3 rooms in about 1890. By 1910, the house more than doubled in square footage with rooms being added on. The layout of the new home will be more squared off with a more open floor plan. We are still deciding on a floor plan. If all goes well, we hope to get started on building next spring. We will remain off-grid, using solar & possibly wind for any electricity we may have need of. We currently have a very small system we bought at a home improvement center which is sufficient for keeping the cell phone charged up. We will have a larger panel at the new home to give us the power needed to also use my netbook while it is also charging.

The location of the new home will be in what is now a back pasture area of the homestead. Unlike where our current home is located, the new one will not have a lot of tall trees shading the solar panel part of the day. There are a few trees but they will not be close enough to the house to shade the solar panel. I am going to research and see if there is a solar powered fan available that we can place in the home to work like an attic fan. Attic fans circulate the air through the home and draw the warm air out. I am thinking that I may be able to find something through a greenhouse supply that can be used in the home.


Herbal Garden Planning November 12, 2011

Filed under: homesteading,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 10:04 pm
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Tis the season.  I am thinking ahead to spring and the planting of an herb garden.  I already have enough garden seed for a couple of years’ worth of planting, so now my thoughts are turning towards the herbs.

I am planning to grow both culinary and medicinal herbs for the family.  This had led me on a search.  I am looking into expanding the homestead library to add some good natural remedy reference books as well as books on the growing, harvesting and storing of herbs.

I have always loved the blessings of herbal teas.  I have had too many times in my life when the herbal approach was very effective to discount it as an option.  In a self-reliant homestead, it is also a good next step.

Of course you have to use common sense and become well educated in the use of herbs.  You have to keep in mind that most medications that we have today can be linked back to natural herbs and plants from which major ingredients were derived.  If you have a serious condition, you never use only herbal approach without guidance.  For this reason, I am going cautiously.  I am being careful in my choice of reference books and am looking into taking classes in the use of herbs.



Entitlement Mentality Gripes November 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 4:34 pm

I have been thinking about a conversation I had today with a friend in town. She runs a community action center which helps to provide assistance to low income families. I happened to talk with her at a time when she was alone in the office. The visit has bothered me ever since I left.

It happens that they have been giving much assistance to the low income families in the area. Sadly, with the lack of jobs and the economy as it is, this is not surprising. What does surprise me is the sheer amount of people who complain about the amount of assistance that they receive. It doesn’t matter if it is a food box or a bill for the power company being paid by the center. There are people who gripe about the center not doing enough.

Why is it that people who are hard up and need food pantry assistance complain that they are only getting about a week’s worth of food instead of a month’s supply? Where is their gratitude for what they DO receive? Why do they complain that the food they receive is not the heat-n-serve variety, but is food they actually have to cook? Do they not realize that in order to help so many needy families, the charities have to set limits?

This sense of entitlement is going too far. People feel entitled to whatever free help they can get. It doesn’t matter whether they have true need or not. There are families who spend their welfare money on gambling (casino or lottery tickets), cigarettes, liquor, and other things that it should never be used for. Food stamp recipients often complain that they do not get enough to buy their families’ groceries. Yet, if they would stop buying the packaged foods that require little preparation or the expensive brands, they would have more than enough. I know this for a fact because we at one time were receiving food stamps. I was having health issues and my husband was out of work for 9 weeks. For that time, we did get help. Because we actually cook from scratch, the amount we were given in food stamps was far more than we needed each month. We ended up stocking up our pantry with the extra each month. We stopped the food stamps even when we were still within the income limits to receive them. We found that by cooking from scratch, gardening & home canning our harvest, and being careful in our spending we can make it without the food stamps. Is it always easy? No, but we are eating well and always have food in the pantry.

When I think back to the stories of the Great Depression that my Grandmother told, the was no food stamps. If you were lucky, there were soup kitchens. Most families back then made it by planting a victory garden and putting up the harvest. If you didn’t grow it or couldn’t afford it, you didn’t eat it. There were no food stamps or WIC vouchers to get the free food into your pantry. You had to work at growing your own food. Why are people to lazy to do this today? I can understand those living in the city or in rental properties, but what about those who have their own property? I just don’t get it.


Autumn Canning & Crafting November 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:30 pm

I had a wonderful, albeit short, weekend with my husband. He was home from the road for 2 days. We make the most of his time home. I will admit though that I miss him terribly when he is gone. I stay busy and get through the time we are apart, but it isn’t always easy.

Autumn is in full force now. Leaves are getting colorful on the trees and the temperatures are becoming cooler. We already have had a freeze one night. I have been canning more meals for the pantry. A store in the city north of us had their bi-annual truckload meat sale. I traveled up there to get as much as we were able. Not having a freezer, this meant needing to home can the entire amount. I bought a lot of beef cut up into chunks for stew meat and a large amount of ground beef. I roasted the stew meat in a deep roasting pan until nearly done. I then packed the jars and divided up the beef broth between all of the jars. I added a small amount of water to finish filling them. This made a nice broth to be used with the meat later on. For the ground beef, I made into meatballs and baked them. I packed them into jars without any liquid. A few of the smaller jars of meatballs were canned with spaghetti sauce. I made shepherd pie one night for our dinner. We had enough left after the meal to can the extra in pint sized jars. These will make a nice quick lunch later on.

Canning left overs is a big part of our winter pantry stocking. Most of the meals in the cold months are soups or stews of some sort. I always make extra, sometimes a large stock pot full. We always end up with enough left to jar up for the pantry. I do this with any soup or stew that does not contain rice or dairy. I can up some in pints for my husband to take on the truck with him and some in quarts for use at home. Either way, it makes for some good quick meals.

In my crafting I have been working on holiday gifts. It is fun to make all the gifts instead of buying. Hard part is making the gifts without anyone guessing what you are making and who it is for. With so many of us, it is difficult to have the privacy needed to keep it completely secret. So, I just work on the projects and say nothing. Some are quicker than others to make. I don’t think I have a favorite though. I enjoy making all types of things. If I did have a favorite, it would be the practical gifts more than the fanciful ones. I love giving gifts that will get a lot of use. Maybe that is why I like to make blankets and clothing more than anything else. I know that they will get a lot of use.

I found a pattern for Christmas stockings a few years ago and am working on making them. That is my “secret project” this year. I am trying to make one for each family member that will be here for the holiday. The pattern can be put together like a pieced quilt or using a single fabric. I am making some from fleece and others are quilted. Each will have fabric patterns or a quilt block design that makes the stocking personal to the individual receiving it. Whether it is a sports team or other interests, I am hoping to choose themes for each person’s stocking that they will enjoy. I am loving the process of finding that theme for each person.

One craft that I am greatly wanting to learn is to knit. This craft has eluded me for years now. I try it, but to no avail. I am determined to figure it out. I like the various projects that knitting will allow me to make. One project being hand knitted socks. I am wanting to increase my crafting horizons. I have had someone recommend that I learn using larger needles. I may give that a go and see what comes of it.


Baking & Canning Day November 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:44 pm

It is a cool day today. The kitchen wood stove has been lit all day. I only had to keep a low fire going. I have been using the propane stove to bake bread and for the pressure canner. With that oven turned on, it helps to warm up the kitchen enough that the wood stove doesn’t have to maintain a hot fire.

I went to a market yesterday and bought a bulk amount of beef on sale. I have been cooking & canning the meat all day. After dinner, I will be canning up the last batch of quart jars. The market had a truckload sale with their meat cutters on hand to custom cut the meat any way you wanted it at no extra cost. The meat prices were about 1/3 less than the usual price. I ended up getting a huge slab cut into stew meat. The other bulk purchase was of burger meat. I cooked up all of the stew meat in a roasting pan so that I could save all the juices. I then placed the cooked meat in canning jars, along with the juices, and processed them in the pressure canner. It is nice to see all those jars of stew meat ready to stock in the pantry shelves for winter’s stews. The burger meat is made up into meatballs and baked. Then, I fill jars with the meatballs and process. A few of the pint jars were processed with some spaghetti sauce added for my husband. He takes home canned foods on the truck with him for his meals. It is must cheaper and healthier than buying meals at the truck stops. I had a bit of burger meat left over, so I made a 7-jar batch of half-pint jars filled with sloppy joe meat. This is another batch that will go on the truck.

Canning like this takes a bit of work, but is worth the effort. I have cut down on the costs of our grocery bill each month by doing the canning. We don’t have a freezer, so canning is the only method we use. Whenever I make my soups or stews, I double or triple the size of the batch so that I have plenty for canning also. I am able to stock the pantry with quick to make meals for times when we are busier than usual.

With the scent of freshly baked bread and the canning, our kitchen smells wonderful. Dinner will be simple fare tonight. Spaghetti with meatballs with fresh garlic bread. Maybe some applesauce cake for dessert since the oven is already heated.


Off Grid Attitude November 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 12:34 am

Some days, as I go through my tasks, I think about the changes that I have undertaken in my recent years. Going from having electricity to now approaching our 4th year off grid has been a time of adjustment. Though the lifestyle is much more physical, I am finding that I am in better physical shape than I have been for a long time.

In most ways, our life hasn’t changed much. The only difference is the lack of electrical appliances & conveniences. Now, instead of having an electric stove and refrigerator, they run on propane. What hasn’t changed is our preference for oil lamps and cooking on the antique wood stove. We have a battery operated radio to listen to the news and weather reports. We also have prepay cell phones that we use instead of a regular phone. The phone batteries are recharged using a small solar panel system that we bought for that purpose. The next solar panel will be larger so that we can also use the netbook while it is plugged into the solar power system.

Going off grid was more of an attitude change than a physical one. Yes, tasks like doing laundry have changed a bit. No longer do I use the washing machine and dryer. Instead, I wash by hand and dry the laundry on a clothesline. In winter months, I take it in town to the laundromat once a week. I am still looking for an alternative for that. In most ways however, the changes have been mild. I have always had a garden and home canned the harvest. I enjoy sewing and making our clothing. I prefer to do handcrafts or read than watch TV in the evening.

Lately, I have been thinking about getting a Kindle. My husband spoke to me about getting one before. I hadn’t thought much on the idea. I couldn’t see how I could enjoy reading from a screen instead of the actual book. With the amount of reading I do, the Kindle is becoming more and more of an attraction. We are wanting to build a smaller home. Having such a collection of books, when space is an issue, seems like more of a problem than benefit. Of course, we will have a collection of books but this is one way to cut down on the storage needs. One thing I like is that the Kindle won’t be a big energy drain on the solar power system.

It seems a contradiction, the way we blend the old fashioned simplicity with a bit of technology. For our family however, it works.


My 1st Post November 2, 2011

Filed under: homeschool,homesteading,off grid,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:00 am

Where to begin?  It is always daunting to introduce yourself.  I am married to a wonderful husband and the mother of 5 children.  The eldest 3 are adults, then late in life I was blessed with 2 more.  My husband and I have a small farm property of 20 acres.  We live off grid and have a small solar power system set up currently just to charge up the cell phone.  My husband is a truck driver.  I am a SAHM and am homeschooling our 2 youngest children.

We are striving to live more simply and less dependent upon the “conveniences” which society deems to be so important.  In the nearly 4 years since we went off grid, we have never wished we had stayed on grid.  We have found a peace in this journey.

I refer to myself as a woman who is modern by necessity, but old fashioned by choice.  I am modern in that I do use a computer and have incorporated very sparingly used technology in our lives.  My heart though has always been one that treasures the old fashioned ways.  The older I get, the more the lifestyle of my Grandmothers before me makes sense.  There was great wisdom in how they lived their lives.  As I travel this journey to Simplicity, I am blessed to be learning their ways.  It brings joy to our family’s lives.