Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Today’s Canning July 27, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 6:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Spent $50 at the grocery buying some chicken, ground beef, 2 lbs of dried navy beans, and 4 bottles of tomato juice.  Once finished, I have 8 pints of chicken in broth, 11 pints of baked beans with ground beef added, and 12 pints of tomato soup.  With ingredients from the pantry, such as seasonings, we now have 31 meals for the total cost of $52.00.  Not bad for a morning’s work.


Back to School Shopping July 25, 2012

Filed under: homeschool,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 3:41 pm

Recently, I was at the store and overheard a couple of women complaining about the prices of school supplies. They were buying the items off of the list provided by their children’s schools. I have to admit, I felt badly for them. They had several children each. One of the women was very upset. She had 3 children and had already run up a total on her calculator of just over $100. She still had to buy the kids some clothing, shoes, etc. She mentioned that by the time she was done, she was going to have to charge about $350 per child onto her credit card. I was gobsmacked. This amount t did not take into account any special activities, such as sports, that the kids may get involved in. It is times like this that I really appreciate homeschooling.

I remember when my oldest children were in school. We bought supplies for them that were kept in their own pencil boxes or zippered binder bag. I could buy any brand we could afford. Today, many schools require that the parents buy a specific brand only. The school supplies are turned in to the teacher, to be put into a classroom supply cabinet. All the crayons, for example, are dumped into containers to be shared by all. One teacher explained it as the school doesn’t want a child to feel bad because their family couldn’t afford to buy the more expensive brands. So, it is required that ALL students have to bring the expensive name brand. By placing all of the crayons into containers to be shared, no child has to feel bad because they lost theirs. So, tell me, where is the child learning to take responsibility for their belongings? I remember a teacher keeping a “loaner” box of crayons or extra pencils on hand for such situations. You had to ask to borrow them. Now, the child is not given the opportunity to take responsibility.

While at the store, I saw some school supplies at a very cheap price. I ended up buying enough crayons and colored pencils to last the next school year. In all, I bought 4 packages each of crayons and colored pencils for $4.00 total. I have more than enough pencils from last year that are still in their package. I had purchased several boxes when I found them on clearance after the back to school sales were over. That is the best time to shop! One tip for those with kids enrolled in a public or other school would be to not only take a supply list for the grade your child is entering, but for the next one also. Then, as the year progresses, you can gradually pick up the basics to be stored until the next term. Many of the supply lists have little to no change from one year to the next. Instead of having a very large cost all at once, gradually purchase the supplies throughout the school year.

One of the advantages to homeschooling is that I am able to bypass much of the back to school madness. We can even save costs through making homemade supplies. A quick search online can result in recipes for homemade adhesives, chalk, and a wide variety of play doughs and clays. I searched for them using the terms, “homemade art supplies.” Not only are we saving money, but the kids are learning an important lesson. They are learning that you do not have to buy everything if you are willing to be resourceful. One of my favorite websites for recipes is KinderArt. There are numerous sites where recipes can be found. Try them out. When I find recipes that I really like, I jot them down in a blank journal for easy reference later.


Laundry Day July 22, 2012

Filed under: green living,homesteading,off grid,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:14 pm

One of the tasks that I get the most groans about from others is when they realize that I wash our laundry by hand. They see it as drudgery, but I love it. I get to spend the morning outdoors with the laundry tubs & hand crank wringer near the clothesline. The kids play in their little pool nearby. It is a fun time. I can see where others may not think so. One dear friend of mine readily admits that she is a slave to technology. She could do laundry my way if she had to, but she prefers to use the machines. She is such a doll. 🙂

There are some things that I do to make my laundry day go more smoothly. The first thing it to be consistent. Never let the laundry go past what you can comfortably do in a morning. Here at the homestead, the days heat up pretty quickly in the summer months. The heaviest work needs to be done prior to 11:00am. After that, the hot temperatures are absolutely draining if you are doing very physical work. I have washed laundry as late as 3pm in the afternoon some days, but I found that it took me longer and I became tired faster. Now, I wash first thing in the morning. The kids wake up by 7am, so after breakfast, we go outside while I do laundry. I generally will wash laundry 1-2 times per week. It takes me about a half-hour to an hour to wash everything and hang it up on the line. The only exception is when there is large bedding to be washed. Quilts are done at a laundromat for now. Once laundry is washed and hung up, we homeschool. The time outdoors is good for getting the “wiggles” out of the kids before setting down to their schooling.

I always wash the lightest soiled clothing first. Unlike machine washing where you have to separate laundry by whites, colors, and darks, in hand-washing, you separate by how soiled the laundry is. The main reason being that you won’t have to change out your wash water as often. Another tip to make it easier is to have a soak bucket for heavily soiled items. I have a recycled plastic coffee container that I use to soak cloth napkins after a meal such as spaghetti. The kids’ socks also are soaked prior to washing.

Recently, I was pleased to find Fels-Naptha laundry bar soap in the store. Previously, I had to mail order it. This soap is wonderful! With it, I am able to scrub out most things that typically would have stained the laundry. It is well worth the purchase. Even if you do laundry by machine, I would keep a bar of it handy to pretreat laundry as needed. Dampen the soiled area and rub a bit of the Fels-Naptha onto the area. If you have a scrub brush, use it to help loosen the soil. Then wash as usual. I have taken axle grease out of jeans doing this & washing by hand on a washboard.

There will be more tips posted in an upcoming blog.




The Off-grid Decision

Filed under: off grid — ourprairiehome @ 4:14 pm

As readers know, we live off-grid. This means that we are not hooked up to the public utilities. The reaction that we receive from others is very diverse. Some are interested in how we manage without using a power company. They admire what we are doing and are truly curious in how it works. The flip side of this reaction are the people who are absolutely scandalized. Amazingly, there are people who truly believe that it is illegal to not be using an electric company’s services.

There are no laws that require that you must have electricity from a power company. It has only been within the past 2 generations, since World War 2 era, that all homes having electricity was commonplace. In communities such as the Old Order Amish, they still do not use any form of electricity. I find it interesting that there is great interest in looking towards alternative energy resources, yet the families who already have adapted to alternative means are looked upon as bizarre or radical.

We lived completely without any form of electricity for 3 years. We did not have the finances to purchase the large solar/wind power systems that a company installs for you. The cost for the system & installation is horrendous! We waited until we found a way to do it on our own. A trip to a home improvement warehouse was the turning point. I saw a small solar panel, approximately the size of a cookie sheet. I ended up purchasing 2 of these, along with electrical wiring, a small power inverter, and a couple of 12-volt car batteries. It wasn’t a great system, but we have used it for well over a year now without any problems. It wasn’t intended to be a permanent solution, but a temporary one that would give us a learning curve for expanding the system.

We are planning to expand the system over the next 2 years. We will be putting up a windmill tower, similar to those used on farms. The wind generator will be homemade and placed on top of the tower. The solar panels will also be mounted onto the tower below the wind generator. At the base of the tower, we will have a small shed to house the batteries.

One of the critical areas that we believe strongly about is to not overload ourselves once we have the new wind/solar combination. I absolutely love being non-electric in most things. I have found over the past 4 years that the more I have to do by hand, the more simplified my life has become. There is a rhythm to my days. Prior to being off-grid, my days felt hectic. Having electricity on demand did not make life easier. It seemed that there was always something more that needed to be done. It was the convenience of electricity that did it for me. Having lots of kitchen gadgets to use in food preparation, meant more dishes to wash. Being distracted by TV or DVDs made my days drag on longer. They also interrupted my nights when it was convenient to stay up late to watch a movie. I found that the more conveniences that I had, the more I tried to do in a day. The end result was my always being tired and feeling like I was behind in getting things done.

In expanding our power system, we will not be adding much to our electricity usage. I love shopping at stores like Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. We have mail ordered much from them over the years. They specialize in items for the non-electric home. Many of their regular customers are Amish. It is always fun to see what they have. A couple of items that I am planning to purchase are a food processor and a blender, both of which are powered with a hand-crank. Of all the electrical appliances that I used to have, these are the ones I have missed the most. The kids and I are eating a vegetarian/vegan diet and these appliances will come in very useful.

There are 2 considerations in our expanding the system. Adding wind power will allow us to have the batteries charging 24 hours a day. A solar power system only charges the batteries when the sunlight is on the panels. Overcast days and the nighttime hours do not add to the batteries charge. The wind power system will address that problem. We will add deep cell batteries, which will give us more usage of the power the system brings in. All in all, we will be able to run my laptop computer while it is charging. This is a huge benefit since we homeschool. The kids can play educational games on the netbook. Who knows, we may even buy a portable DVD player. The main point however is that we will not be adding much more than we have right now. We have learned to live happily without all of the extras. We have more time for family. We think carefully about anything we add to our home.

As we remodel our home, we will be making a few changes in the kitchen and bathroom. One major change is adding a small propane water heater that heats water on demand. For me, that will be the biggest change of all. Our old water heater was electric. For 4 years now, I have heated our water on the stove. In winter, we always have a waterbath canner filled with water simmering on the back of the woodstove. In summer, I simply heat what I need using a tea kettle.

We are taking an idea the pioneers used to make our home far more functional. Like the pioneers of old, we are adding an outdoor kitchen as well as a shower house. We will still have the indoor bathroom and kitchen, but in summer months and during the remodeling, the outdoor ones will be a blessing. The outdoor shower will likely have a gravity-fed water system. The outdoor kitchen will be used mostly in summer. I will be able to bake bread and do my canning in that kitchen without the problems caused from the house getting too warm. We are looking at the larger propane grills and propane camp stoves. These will be more than enough for most cooking. We have even considered putting the kitchen stove I have now into the outdoor kitchen. That will provide me with an oven as well. The propane refrigerator that we have now will eventually be in the outdoor kitchen after we purchase a newer one for the house. The nice part of it is that the outdoor kitchen can be used as a summer kitchen as well as a place to cook for gatherings. I have had people ask me to teach them how to do canning and other cooking classes. The outdoor kitchen would be perfect for that as well.

There are so many considerations to take into account with off-grid living. I am going to be making that the primary topic of this blog. While, I may write about other things from time to time, the blog will give you a glimpse into how to live simply and off-grid. I want it to be the kind of blog I wish I had found prior to going off-grid. I was blessed to have known how to manage without electricity. Having Old Order Amish friends was a huge help in teaching me as a youth how to utilize the old ways. My father and his mother, my dear Gram, were also two of the greatest influences in my life. They talked to me often about the days of the Great Depression and how they managed to make it on very little. The same methods that they used back then are just as relevant today.

I hope that this blog will be a help to others. Whether you are considering going off-grid or are simply curious on how to manage during a long-term power outage after a storm. There will be something here for just about everyone.




Pantry Shortcut July 15, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 2:31 am

Today, I found a great deal on store bought spaghetti sauce. It was in a large jar size that was much larger than we use in a single meal. I went ahead and bought it anyways. After taking out enough for the evening meal, I started pouring the remaining amount in the jar into smaller canning jars. I filled 6 of the half-pint size and one pint jar. In all, the 127 kg (2 lbs 13 oz) size jar yielded 5 pints total of sauce! I had purchased 4 jars of the sauce, so ended up with a very well stocked supply of spaghetti sauce to use. To process the jars, I pressure canned them as I would if I had made the sauce homemade. I chose this method over water bath because these have small amounts of meat in them.

I am pretty excited. I have been planning to make a trip to the store when I am able to purchase more #10 cans of items that I can safely break down into usable portions for home canning. Tomato sauces, ketchup, and fruits are a great candidate for this! Pickles, bbq sauce, and many other items can be repackaged as long as you follow the same basic rules as if you were canning from scratch.

While I was at it, I went ahead and made up a batch of homemade tomato soup for canning up in pint jars. This is a favorite of my husband. He loves to take it out on the truck with him. Having the home canned meals sure helps with costs as well as being healthier than eating in truck stops all the time.

To save on costs, I plan to store the #10 cans of food as they are. It makes no sense to open them all and repackage them before they are needed. The costs for jars, lids, etc., just doesn’t make it worth the work. Instead, I will wait until I need one of the cans opened. At that time I will jar up the extra that is left over after preparing our meal.

Doing this, I am feeling better about our lack of garden this season. I am seeing that this method will really help to build a pantry quickly, yet at a lower cost. It isn’t a perfect solution. I would rather grow my own for canning. It does make a viable solution in years where a garden fails or for those who are unable to garden.


Canning Leftovers July 10, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:40 pm

Having a trucker in the family, I am always trying to think of ways to allow my husband to eat healthier and at less cost than what the truck stops provide. One of the best solutions that we have found was for me to home can meals for him. I began doing this about 5 years ago. We were given a large pressure canner that someone had purchased by mistake thinking it was a pressure cooker. Instead of returning it to the store, they used it a few times, then gave it to us. What a blessing!

I have found the easiest method for canning meals is to simply cook a large batch of any given meal that I plan to put up in jars. For example, tonight I made a cabbage dish containing rice, ground beef, and tomato sauce. Now, typically, it is not recommended to home can rice. This is due to the amount of water it requires as the rice cooks and soaks the liquids up. The way I get around this is to jar up the meals as leftovers. I fully cook the meal, then after dinner I put the left overs into the jars and add the lids & rings. I process them just as you normally would for anything containing meat. The meal came out just fine and the rice did not become too soft. We use the meals within 2 months on average. For some reason, I never seem to be able to keep them on the shelf longer than that. We use them too quickly. 🙂

A benefit to canning meals is that I can take advantage of meat sales. If I see a large package of stew meat on sale, I go ahead and buy extra carrots, celery, & potatoes while I am at it. I get out my largest roasting pan and make a roaster filled with beef stew. Once cooked, I have enough for a meal and a canner full of pint jars of meals for the pantry. In that one canning session, I have saved money in not having to buy smaller packages of meat for a single meal. For under $30 (includes meat & all veggies) I am able to make enough beef stew for 8 meals for a family of 4 or about 18 meals for my husband to take on the truck. The only thing needing to be added to the meal are the fresh baked biscuits that I bake as I am heating up a casserole dish of the stew.

A favorite in our home is when I make homemade soups. Here is a quick tip for these that I have learned. Cut up the vegetables for the soups into bite size pieces or no larger than 1″ square. When making a vegetable soup, you can chop all of your vegetables and mix them together in a large bowl. Fill your jars about 2/3 full of the vegetables. Add enough precooked meat to have the jar 3/4 full. Pour your seasoned broth into the jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Process the jars as you normally would with any recipe containing meat using a pressure canner. Once processed, the vegetables will be fully cooked and tender. Soups that contain pasta, rice, or dairy products can be processed without those ingredients. Just label the jar with the ingredients that you need to add when ready to use the soup. My theory is this, if you can raw pack the vegetables to home can them separately, then why not do the same when making a vegetable soup? So far, I have had good results when doing this. Most of the soups are used within 6 months.

The main focus here is to think about the meals that you make that may be able to be home canned. Look through canning recipe books to get ideas if you are needing them. You may be surprised at the wide array of meals that can be put up in jars. It is a way to turn meals into convenience foods for your pantry. You may consider making the filling for tamale pies and canning it up into pint or quart jars. When ready to use, pour the filling into a casserole dish or individual serving size baking dishes. Top with the cornbread mixture and bake.