Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Summer Heat June 30, 2012

Filed under: off grid — ourprairiehome @ 5:29 pm

One of the questions that I get the most often this time of year concerns how we avoid heat-related illness. There is so much that you can do. Unfortunately, it would seem that in our modern technology driven society, people have forgotten how to stay healthy in the heat without the use of fans or air conditioners.

The first summer without a fan or air conditioner was the toughest. We were so accustomed to using them that going without was a real struggle. We didn’t have A/C in the vehicles either. We simply had to tough it out and use common sense to ease the way. On the hottest of days, my in-laws would pick up the kids and take them to their house, which has the A/C and fans to cool themselves. Being the kids were very young, I appreciated that. It didn’t happen every day, but on those days when the temps topped 105*F or more. I stayed home. I knew that I had to adapt to the heat if we were going to make this work.

Adapting to the heat is the one factor that people often forget. Being acclimated to the heat doesn’t mean that you feel cool. It simply means that your body has grown used to the heat and is not as susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Acclimating to the heat is more than simply letting your body adjust to it. It also requires that you adjust your daily life as well.

The first thing that I learned was to drink lots of water. Anyone who knows me well, understands just how rough that one is for me. I don’t like the taste of even the bottled water. If I drink the amount of water that we are supposed to each day, I get stomach aches and feel nausea. I never have liked drinking water because of how sick I feel afterwords. Luckily, our kids do not share my problems with drinking water. Both will drink more than the daily recommended amounts. By staying hydrated, they are less likely to have heat related problems.

Second thing that I found to help was to adjust our daily tasks. We rise early and begin homeschooling immediately after breakfast. The day is still very comfortable at that time. By noon, the schooling is done. We have lunch and then the kids play outdoors. We have a small pool set up along with other water toys in the shaded area. The kids go out there and spend most of the afternoon in the water. They are shaded enough to not have to deal with the hot sun. They drink plenty of water throughout the afternoon. No one does any chores in the hottest hours of the day. This is critical for us. By slowing down the physical work, we avoid becoming overheated. As the kids play in the water, I sit in the shade and read or do some other quiet activity such as crocheting or hand sewing. It is a perfect time for me to hand-stitch some quilt blocks together.

Taking about an hour in the mid-afternoon as a rest period is another method of coping with the heat. The kids can either take a nap, look at books, or do some other quiet activity in their bedroom. The key factor being that they are sitting or laying down quietly to give their bodies a rest. Some days, the kids are very good at doing this. Other days, it is a struggle. I notice that the hottest days are the ones that give us the most problem. For that reason, I have the water toys and pool in a shaded area.

If the heat index is going to be fairly high, I will take the kids in the car and head to the library, the lake, or some other location where they can stay cooler. This gives us a day out as well. Before leaving the house, we make sure the dog and our 2 kittens have more than enough water for the day. If we happen to have some ice cubes, I will add a handful of those to the kittens’ water dish since they are indoor cats.

At home, we have a couple of tricks that we use to stay cooler. The first is to have those scarves that are soaked in water before wearing. We have 2 scarves for each child. This allows them to have a second one soaking while they are wearing the first. When the scarf they are wearing is no longer cooling them, we switch the scarves out for the second one that was soaking in water. By having an extra scarf in water, they don’t have to wait before putting a cooler scarf on. Another gadget that we have are the small battery-operated hand held fans. These are the small ones that have foam blades. These fans are wonderful! While they won’t cool the house, they are effective in keeping us more comfortable in the afternoon.

Each night, the kids get a lukewarm bath to help cool them down so that they will have a good night’s rest. We are blessed to have our old home. These old houses were built to take advantage of cross breezes. In the bedrooms, I place a sheet of foil covered cardboard from a large box into the top half of the bedroom windows. The foil is only needed on one side of the cardboard. Place the foil onto the cardboard with the shiny side facing outward. By placing this into the window (foil side facing the window) the heat from the sun is reflected away from the bedrooms. Another option is to go to a dollar store and get the foil-looking reflector that is used in a car’s windshield to keep the car cooler when parked.

Meal preparation is another source of heat that can affect you in the summer. I stop baking loaves of bread and will either make tortillas or some type of flat bread to use in place of home-baked loaves. If I do need a loaf of bread, I go to the bakery outlet store and buy it there. I cook mostly in the early morning or late evening hours. In summer, we eat a lot of cold salads and meals instead of hot ones. This prevents the house from being heated too much from using the stove or oven. We are planning to put together an outdoor kitchen. This will be a blessing in the summer months. I can bake and do the cooking without the temperature of the oven/stove affecting the heat of the area around me. I am doing my home canning in the late evening or early morning for the same reasons. Once we have an outdoor kitchen, I will be able to process the jars there.

One final tip that I want to share concerns cell phones. It is not unusual in the triple-digit heat to have a warning pop up saying that your cell phone battery cannot charge due to the temperature of the battery being too high. I found a way to help prevent that from happening. Take a potholder and lightly dampen it. Place the potholder into your freezer to freeze. When I charge up my battery on the cell phone, I place the frozen potholder inside a dishtowel that is folded in half. Place the cell phone on top of the towel so that the back of the cell phone is facing downward. I do this whenever the cell phone is getting heated up too much. It doesn’t hurt the phone but will prevent the battery from becoming too hot. These same frozen potholders make great moldable ice packs for injuries also.

There is much that you can do to get through the heat of summer. Hopefully, some of these ideas will be of benefit to others.


Canning of the Day June 25, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,homesteading,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 12:13 am

My dear husband was home this weekend. I sure love his new trucking assignment of working on one of the company’s accounts. He does the warehouse deliveries for a retail store chain and is home each weekend. It has been a long time since we saw him so often. Normally, he has to be out 3-6 weeks at a time.

I did up a bit of canning on Saturday. I cooked up 2 pounds of dried navy beans and when nearly done, I drained them and placed the beans into 9 pint jars. I then browned a pound of ground chuck with a bit of minced onion. Once cooked, I drained the meat and divided it between the jars of beans. In a small kettle, I placed some water, brown sugar, molasses and a bit of dried mustard. I heated it until the sugar was melted. I poured the mixture over the meat & beans to fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch of headspace below the rim. The rims were wiped off to make sure they were still clean, then the lid & ring were placed on the jars. I pressure canned the pint jars for 65 minutes. Yeah, I know that since everything was cooked I may have over-processed them, but they still turn out great.

For dinner, I made a couple of appetizers and a main dish. I had a bag of small green bell peppers that were discounted at the store. These were cut into bite-size chunks and placed in a baking pan with the outside of the pepper facing downward. I sprinkled feta cheese over the peppers, drizzled on a bit of olive oil, and sprinkled with basil. These are baked at 350*F for about 20 minutes. YUM!

The second appetizer was a cold salad made from Quinoa. The recipe is super easy. I cooked up 1.5 cups of quinoa in 3 cups of water. If you have never used quinoa, it is cooked exactly like you would prepare rice. Quinoa is a grain that is a complete protein and has a slightly nutty flavor. When mixed with other flavors, it takes on the other flavors very well. Once cooked, I placed the quinoa into a bowl. I added a can of pineapple with it’s juice, a finely diced bell pepper, a small bit of minced onion, and mixed it together very well. Refrigerate until chilled. This makes an awesome cold salad! My kids also like to use it as a dip for their flour tortilla chips.

The main dish was a pan of stuffed bell peppers. I browned the ground chuck with some minced onion. Added some cooked rice and mixed together well. The mixture is used to fill up the bell peppers. After filling, the peppers were placed in a baking dish and a tomato sauce mixed with bell peppers and onion was poured over the peppers. These are baked until the peppers are beginning to get softened.

After stuffing the bell peppers, I had filling left over. I mixed the remaining sauce into the meat & rice mixture. There was enough to nearly fill 3 pint canning jars. I added more water to each jar to allow for the rice’s tendency to absorb liquids. The filling was processed in the pressure canner for about 65 minutes. When done, the jars were very full looking. Adding the extra water was a good idea. The water made a slightly thinner sauce, but the rice did absorb some of it.

All in all, my husband has 12 more jars of meals to take onto the truck with him. He loves it! Seeing how easily the stuffed pepper’s filling is to jar up, I am planning to do more to add to the pantry. It sure makes for an easy and fast meal preparation later on. I have been slowly adding to my stash of canning jars. I use primarily the pint size for my husband’s meals for when he is on the truck. The quart size work best for meals prepared at home.

A small rural grocery store 18 miles from home has really good meat in their butcher shop. I plan to go there and buy bulk amounts as often as possible so that I can jar up more meals. I have already run out of the jars of meatballs that I had canned during the winter. That is one of the planned canning projects. Some meatballs are canned in spaghetti sauce and the rest are done without sauce. In our pantry, I am setting up shelving to allow me to have a shelf or two just for my husband’s meals. Then, he can “shop” in the pantry for the meals he wants for the truck each week.


Renovations to Begin June 18, 2012

Filed under: homesteading — ourprairiehome @ 11:57 pm

Over the weekend, we went to a store and picked out color samples for the house. It is such an exciting time. We have so much work ahead of us, but we are going to be starting with the easiest rooms first. This will allow us to see progress quickly that will encourage us in the days ahead when we start the rooms that need more work.

One of the joys of our old farmhouse is that it was built in the turn of the century. We have been dreaming of fixing the house up to be as close to what a home of that period would have looked like as possible. Of course, there will be some modern aspects to it, but only the most essential ones will be here. When looking at the paint samples, we decided on some pretty bold colors for the main living areas. The front room which we currently use for homeschooling, will be turned into a comfortable study that will also be used as a parlor for entertaining. Our focus for this year is to get the home completely switched over to propane for heating. The wood stove in the kitchen will remain, but the propane will provide most of our heating needs.

We found that Lehman’s sells the old styled gas lighting. These lights provide more than ample light. We would like to mount these lights in the kitchen, bathroom, front room, and homeschool room. The only rooms that will not have this form of lighting are the bedrooms and pantry. Those rooms will have other lighting options. In planning out the running of the propane gas lines, we are taking into consideration the addition of more lighting later on. One note about use propane lighting that I learned is to have a separate tank for the lighting if possible. One example is that if the heaters switch on while the lights are in use, the lights can become more dim. For this reason, we are planning to use separate tanks just for the lighting. In our case, the tall cylinder-type of tanks will work just fine for our needs.

We were disappointed to see that the bathroom fixtures that we wanted are no longer being sold. We realize now that when we find fixtures that we really want to use, we will need to start buying them and then store them in our storage room. Happily, we found some faucets that resemble the old fashioned hand pumps. The coloring of the fixtures are a rich, deep bronze color that will fit in perfectly with our designs. If possible, we want to find an old cabinet or dresser that can be converted into a sink vanity. A bowl-type sink will be placed into a hole cut into the dresser top to resemble the old pitcher & basin look.

While at the store, we looked at the office sized refrigerators. Upon looking at them, I realized that the taller style ones are perfect size for our needs. The next step is finding a propane refrigerator that size. I keep very little in the refrigerator. We use the almond milk that does not require refrigeration unless the quart container has been opened. Realistically, the only items in our refrigerator on a daily basis is cheese, eggs, a quart of milk, water & other drinks. I cook enough for the meals without having leftovers to store. Home canning our foods also eliminates the need for a lot of refrigeration. We will keep the large propane refrigerator for using during holidays or other times when the extra refrigeration may be needed.

There are so many plans ahead. I am excited to see how things progress.


Oil Lamp Lighting June 6, 2012

Filed under: green living,homesteading,off grid,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:48 pm

Growing up, it was typical to have oil lamps in the home. These lamps served our family well during storms. Now, my family relies on oil lamps as our main source of lighting until we are able to find a better alternative. Being around oil lamps for my entire life, there are tips that you learn about how to get the most from them.

Our lamps have the wide flat wick. I trim the wick every few days or whenever I notice the burnt edge getting too blackened. By trimming off the burnt edge of the wick, you are able to achieve a brighter light. One common mistake in trimming the wick is to cut it into too sharp of a point. This will greatly affect the amount of lighting that the lamp will give. I trim the wick straight across, then snip a tiny bit off the 2 corners to give a slight rounding off of the corners. The lamps give off much more light due to the size of the wick being used.

There are 2 primary fuels available for oil lamps. You can purchase the quart sized bottles of lamp oil, which costs about $6 per bottle at a local store in town. The lamp oil burns without smoking. One tip about the smoking lamps. If your lamp is smoking, the wick is turned up too high. Stores like Lehman’s sell little shields that rest on a slight angle on the top of the oil lamp’s chimney. This will also prevent soot problems.

Kerosene is the fuel that we used growing up. Actually the oil lamps were referred to kerosene lamps by most people that I knew. Some fuel stations have kerosene pumps right along side of the gas & diesel fuel pumps. At a fuel station I go to, the kerosene costs $5.29 per gallon. That is a huge savings! The kerosene is not smokeless like lamp oil, but it has its advantages.

We have used both lamp oil and kerosene in our lamps. There are 2 major differences in the way these fuels burn. Lamp oil has a slightly longer burn time than kerosene. On the downside of this, the lamp oil does not burn as brightly as kerosene. After using both types of fuel, we chose to use kerosene. It is good to have a few bottles of the lamp oil on hand in case we need it. For our daily use though, the kerosene is our first choice.

One note about lamp safety with kids. If children grow up around oil lamps, being taught to be careful around them from an early age, most families that I know have never had a problem with kids getting a burn or injured. Wanting to be extra cautious however, we purchased 2 of the Coleman lanterns that run on D-cell batteries. These lanterns look like the familiar camp lanterns, but have an LED light. They take 4 D-cell batteries, which last for up to 180 hours of constant use. We found these for about $20 each. We bought them to be used as a lamp in the kids’ bedroom and in the bathroom. It was a perfect solution for dealing with middle of the night trips to the bathroom for the kids.

When cleaning the chimney of the oil lamps, I have found that Dawn Ultra dish soap works best to remove any soot. I place the chimney into a dishpan of warm soapy water. A scrubbing sponge easily wipes off the soot. They are rinsed and allowed to dry on the dish drying rack. If needed, an old baby bottle brush can be used to wash the inside of the chimney also.

Currently, with the days being longer, 3 gallons of kerosene is a month’s supply. This makes our lighting expense only $15.87 per month for kerosene. That same 3 gallons quantity of lamp oil would cost us $72 per month. (Calculating 12 quarts x $6 per quart) In the winter months, our kerosene usage only goes up to 5 gallons, or $26.45 per month. In lamp oil, that same amount would cost $120 for 20 quarts of lamp oil at $6 per quart.