Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Starting the Garden April 30, 2013

Filed under: cooking,gardening,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 5:15 am
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Filling up the recycled containers with potting mix in the morning. Frost danger has now passed us by. I have very few above ground plants to put in this year. We are barely out of the drought stage, so I am planting a drought tolerant garden instead. Of the above ground plants, I am only planting a few summer squash, but will be planting plenty of winter squash. The rest of the plants will be root crops.

Little Miss has some pumpkin seeds starting. They should be popping up in about a week. Once they are a good size, they will be transplanted along the edge of the yard. I am considering how we will plant them. If I can find a few old tires, I will use those as planters. I used tires to grow watermelons when I lived in an upper desert region and they did great. The sidewalls of the tires helped to hold the water near the plant.

As I previously mentioned, there is a really good produce farm not far from our homestead. I will be buying from them any crops that I don’t grow at home. I will be talking to them in the near future about buying things like green beans by the bushel for home canning. Hopefully, I will get a good price for the bulk purchases.

Our family has become hooked on a new snack. I bought some vegetable chips at Whole Foods in Tulsa on my last trip there. The chips are thinly sliced veggies and whole green beans that are dried or baked. A small amount of sea salt is added to them, but it is a very small amount. I looked online and found various recipes on how to make them yourself through dehydrating, baking, or frying. As soon as I see the fresh produce hitting the produce farm’s shop, I will be trying the recipes out to find our favorite. They are a wonderful healthy alternative to eating regular potato chips!

I have started my summer meal preparations. In warm months, we eat very few cooked meals during the day. Instead, we have lighter, raw or chilled meals. A variety of salads make up a large portion of our diet. I add cooked quinoa to nearly every salad that we eat. This helps to make sure we get enough protein each day. Cooked meals that we do eat are ones that can be prepared very quickly. A favorite is making a stir-fry with teriyaki sauce served over cooked quinoa in place of rice. Ever since we started eating quinoa, we have given up rice almost completely. Compared to rice, there is far more nutrients in quinoa.

By making the meals fast to prepare, I don’t have to worry about heating up the kitchen too much through cooking. We have a large griddle, like the type that you see for outdoor kitchens. On that griddle, I am able to make a large amount of flat bread at once time. During summer, that bread is the only type that I make. If you allow the dough to rise before you start forming the rounds for dry frying, the bread becomes thicker & lighter during the cooking process. I roll out the dough slightly thicker than you normally might do. The flat bread then will puff a bit like a pita bread when you dry fry it. Once cooked, you can then cut a slit into the bread to use as a pita.

The lighter meals also provide us with a great opportunity to take full advantage of the fresh produce in season. We are so blessed to have kids who love to eat this way.

Once I see how this year’s plantings do, I will decide what to plan for next season. As long as my husband is still away so much with his trucking job, I am limited on how much garden we plant. Throughout the season. We will be gradually adding more raised beds to plant our garden in. That will also determine the amount we plant.

By and by, the garden area will be completely moved to it’s new location and we will be able to grow more. Just having to use patience for now.

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Simple Patchwork Afghan April 29, 2013

Filed under: ramblings,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:21 am
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I found a wonderful link that I wanted to share with you. It is for a patchwork style afghan for the Warm Up America project. Warm up America is a volunteer project where you crochet or knit 7×9 inch blocks. Once made, you use 49 blocks to make an afghan. They are sewn together in a grid pattern of 7 across by 7 down. There is a very nicely done PDF file that gives the exact directions for both crochet and knitting. I am working to make these block over the warm months. It is much easier than working with a large afghan in the hot weather. In autumn, I will start joining the blocks to make quilts.

Enjoy!

 

Busy Writing & Homestead News April 28, 2013

Filed under: family,green living,homesteading,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 5:20 am
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Lately, I have been working on my book about our journey from using the public utilities to our off-grid lifestyle. For this reason, my writing here and on my autism & homeschooling blog have been less frequent. I am hoping to get back on track with the blogs this week.

The e-book is finally getting closer to finished. After a few rough starts, I am finding the words coming much easier. On Friday night, I added another 3,000 words to it before my netbook battery got low. This book has been a challenge. When I first started workign on it, I had my own vision for where I wanted to go with it. As people learned that I was writing, I received many requests of what people wanted me to include. Over time, trying to please everyone turned teh book project into a heavy weight around my neck. I felt no joy in it anymore and set it aside. I met through Twitter another author, Paula Hardin. She gave me wonderful advice. Stop trying to please everyone else and write the book that I want. I have to say that piece of advice was very timely. I had my book saved on a flash drive, but instead of going back to it, I started over from scratch.

My goal for the book is to have at least 20,000 words before I call if finished. I am writing a bit of the backstory on how we came to be living off-grid. Included are some of our successes as well as our mistakes. I am hoping that by sharing both the good and the bad, I can help others avoid making the same mistakes as we did. The reasons for why we made many of our decisions are in the book as well. I am addressing the most often asked questions that we receive in how to get started.

There are many books out there that go through the step by step process. What makes my writing unique is that it is written almost as a journal. Readers will hopefully get an insight into not only the mechanics of how we did things, but the personal struggles along the way. When I am ready to sell the e-book, I will be doing it through Amazon and will post on the blog when it is available.

In homesteading news, we have finally stopped having freezing temperatures. I usually don’t start planting the garden until May, unlike many of the neighbors who start earlier. I tried planting early one year and lost the entire planting due to a freeze. Our last frost happens about late April each year, so I play it safe. This year, I am planting mostly root crops and only a few varieties of squash and leafy greens. A farm near us sells fresh produce from their produce stand. It is more economical to buy from them, than to grow it ourselves. I am also looking at the fact that with 2 young children, one of which is special needs, I have to limit the amount of garden work that I do. So, I am focusing on items that I will be canning or are ones that we use almost daily. High maintenance varieties that require a lot more attention will be purchased from the farm. Once my husband is no longer truck driving for a company that has him gone for a week or more at a time, I will have help tending the garden. Until then, I have to keep it within the reasonable levels that I can manage on my own.

My husband was able to meet the 2nd of 3 goals for getting a local trucking job last weekend. The first was to get a small truck for transportation to and from a local job. We did that earlier this month when we bought a used truck from a neighbor. Last weekend, he started the process for getting his background check for a HAZMAT endorsement. In our area, most trucking jobs require that the drivers have this endorsement. The last step will be to take the written test once he receives the letter saying he has passed the background check. Getting him back home has been a goal of ours for a long time. We tried it once before and it didn’t work out. He had found a job outside of trucking and the pay was minimum wage. We lived on that single income for 3 years before we made the choice for him to go back to trucking, which pays better. Now, we are taking it a bit slower with getting him back home again. We are taking steps to get him a local trucking job that will pay at least what he gets now. By having a HAZMAT endorsement, we can accomplish that goal.

In other news, we seem to have hit a time of breakdowns with equipment. LOL It never fails. One thing gets fixed and another decides to take a turn. Latest was the lawn tractor. We replaced the battery, started it up and began mowing only to have the cable that engages the blades snap. So, after all the rain we have had, we have no way to mow until we fix the lawn tractor hopefully tomorrow. You have to take it with a sense of humor. I keep thinking of an old fashioined rotary blade mower my grandparents had. It had no motor. Instead it was a wheel of blades that spun as you pushed the mower. I have to wonder if they were not much smarter to have that type of mower. I remember using it a few times. The only maintenance was sharpening the blades. It sure was heavy to push though!

A new project that I am going to try this week is making a mosquito catcher to hang out in the woods away from the house. I saw instructions to make this really easy one from a 2-liter bottle. You start by cutting the top portion off of the bottle just about an inch below where the bottle is at it’s widest. This makes a funnel that will later be inserted into the bottom portion. Heat 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of brown sugar until the brown sugar has dissolved. Let cool, pour into the bottom part of the 2-liter bottle then add about a scant 1/4 teaspoon of dry active yeast to the sugar water. Place the top portion of the bottle upside-down into the bottom portion to form a funnel. Tape around the seam to hold in place. Wrap the bottle in black paper or paint black. From what I read, the mosquitos are attracted to the carbon dioxide the yeast/sugar mixture makes. They also are supposed to be drawn to the color black. The mosquitos go into the bottle but cannot get out. You have to change out the mixture every couple of weeks to keep baiting them. I know this is common sense but make sure that you bait them a distance from your home or any area where your family hangs out. I am hoping that this works since we have an irrigation ditch not far from our home.

 

God’s Will April 22, 2013

Filed under: faith,family — ourprairiehome @ 4:54 am
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Today, we had the blessing of being able to go to church services at our home church in OKC. My beloved husband was home long enough from his trucking job to go with us. It was so timely that we went today. Our pastor spoke about God’s Will in our lives. One thought kept coming to my mind as I listened to the sermon. If I knew ahead of time what God’s will was for me, would I have accepted it? Or would I have fought against it?

In every person’s life, there are moments and experiences that we go through and wonder “why?” I have certainly had many of these in my 50 years of life. At the time when I was going through the experiences, I had many times questioned the purpose of it. I learned through time however that God has His own timing. While He may not bring about the hardships of our lives, He can certainly turn that experience into something good. We learn from those experiences. We grow in faith. We become more humble. How often have you gone through a rough patch only to be able to later comfort someone else going through a similar situation? The compassion and empathy you feel was gained through your own experiences.

Today, I try to look at life from the perspective of “how can I use this situation to praise God?” Our son’s autism is one example. I could very easily give in to the negative emotions of dispair and anger that our son has classic autism. But what good would that do? Would that attitude suddenly take away the autism from our son? Would it make our family life easier? Of course, the answer to those questions is “No.”

Instead, I look for God’s grace and blessing in our son. With each new step in progress, I see God’s work. When my son, who has no speech, suddenly uses sign language for the first time spontaniously, I see God’s blessing. When I see my son, pointing outon a chart his answers to questions that I ask about his school lessons, I see God’s blessings. When my son comes up to me for a hug, I feel the love of God around us.

Does this perspective take away our son’s autism? No, but it does take away the sting of his disability. It keeps hope alive that he will continue to progress.

In thinking about God’s will for our lives, here is my thoughts. I believe that a part of His will for us is to see Him in our lives. For us to know that we never travel through live alone. His spirit is always with us, guiding us and comforting us. For me, the key to recognising the Lord’s hand in my life was to stop looking at my life experiences and situations from the perspective of the world, but to seek the evidences of the Lord’s presence in our lives.

If we can stop looking at the hard times and experiences through the perspective of “why are we having to go through this?” to a perspective of “How can this experience bring glory and praise to the Lord?”, a change happens within. The focus shifts from ourselves and all the hurt and upset we are feeling. We start to focus on the Lord and His glory. As we praise Him for the little things, we share our testimony of Him to others.

It isn’t always easy to maintain this attitude. I do have days when I just want to cry when I think on what our son cannot do. Yet, I feel as though I am cheating my son each time that I allow myself to feel that way. By focusing on his limits, I am not seeing clearly his strengths and abilities that the Lord has blessed him with. In my sorrows, I rob him of the joy I should be feeling for all he is accomplishing. The Lord has blessed us greatly with our son. Though there was much said about what his limits would be when he was first diagnosed, the Lord has shown grace on him and our son is making progress ahead of when he was expected to. Seeing all that he is able to do, how can I allow myself to grieve what he cannot do?

God’s will for our son is just as precious as it is for anyone. No matter what level of progress he ultimately makes, God is in control and has a mission for our son’s life. He has a plan for our family. While we may not have chosen to have an autistic son, the Lord saw fit to allow that to come to pass. I don’t believe that God caused our son’s autism, but I do know in my heart that He can use our son as a testimony of His grace.

 

Simplifying Your Life….Really? April 19, 2013

Filed under: homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:07 am
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I have been reading blogs lately and a question has come to mind. In many of the simple living themed blogs (sadly, mine included) I see a pattern. We start out with the goal in mind of simplifying our lives. Please know that I am not talking about a life of ease from work, just getting rid of the excess and junk in our lives that bog us down. It is an attitude of focusing on what is truly important in our lives and less on what society would have us believe to be vital.

Over time, for some the time frame is longer than others, the message of the blogs change. I read about women who are trying so many different ways to simplify that they are in effect causing more unnecessary work and stress for themselves. Let me give you some examples. These are NOT ones copied from any other blog but are hypothetical in nature to state a point.

Blogger #1 is trying to cut back on grocery expenses by making all her family’s meals from scratch. At first, she is learning to make homemade pasta, bread, and other pantry staples in an effort to buy less packaged foods and cut back on her grocery costs each month. After a while, you notice that she is spending quite a bit of money buying ingredients that are costing enough that you realize that she is likely spending even more on the groceries than when she started out.

Blogger #2 is sewing for her family to save money. While a great idea to know how to make your family’s clothing should the need arise, she is spending so much on fabric & sewing supplies that you wonder where the true savings come into play.

Blogger #3 is a trend blogger. She reads new ideas on other blogs and gets so excited about trying the ideas for herself that she inadvertently spends more money and makes more work for herself. Case in point, a blogger that gets so caught up in making a wide variety of homemade cleaning supplies instead of making 2-3 that will work on everything.

In the above examples, here is what concerns me. Blogger #1 started out with the right idea of trying to be more frugal in her grocery spending. Unfortunately, like so many others, she decides to try and recreate packaged foods in her home in a way that is not financially a wise choice. For example, I can buy a large frozen veggie lazagne for about $12 that is more than large enough for a family meal. To make that same lazagne would cost me far more by the time I bought the fresh produce, sauce, cheeses, etc. The only way I could make it cheaper is if I used fresh produce from my own garden. If I were devoted to never buying packaged/convenience foods, then making the recipe when my garden is not in season would cost more than buying packaged. On the same note, unless I am great about recycling containers, stocking my pantry with homemade mixes would be costly. Far better to learn to make a single recipe of those items. This is especially true if the mix is not one that you use on a regular basis.

Blogger #2 is wanting to sew for her family. If the purpose is to learn how to make the clothing, that is great. But does the cost of supplies, along with the increased workload, make it worth your while? Wouldn’t it be more frugal to shop at yard sales or consignment shops instead? Personally, I think any homesteading mom should have a good basic knowledge of how clothing is constructed so that she can make repairs to extend the life of the family’s wardrobes. But are we truly making the right choice if we are spending more for the sake of being able to say that we made it all ourselves?

Blogger #3 is a tough one. There are so many ideas adn recipes out there that when taken individually would be a savings of money for the family. Adding too many of them together can defeat your purposes. For example, a common attitude is that for every type of cleaning, you need a special type of cleaner. This hype was started by the cleaning product companies to sell more product lines. If you take a critical look at your home, you will find that you need very few cleaners. To really save money, you simply find the 2-3 recipes that will work on as many surfaces as possible. The trends are not just with cleaning products but with many areas of our lives as we become more self-reliant. Just because John & Jane Doe are storing 400 lbs of wheat doesn’t mean that you need to consider the same thing. If another person is saying how critical it is to raise your own meat, you don’t have to rush out there and buy livestock. There are other ways to accomplish the same ends without taking on work and expense you may not be able to afford.

There is a little of me in each of these bloggers. I have had my moments of insanity when I thought I had to do it all in order to be self-reliant. Over time, I found that I was just being silly in my spending of our resources. Not just in the resource of money, but my time and work. In the past, I have made up a large supply of mixes that took over 6 months to use. Now, if I make up a mix, I make only what will be used within a month. This saves not only the expense but storage space. I may keep the ingredients for the mixes well stocked, but I don’t make the mixes themselves unless I have a need for them.

I have learned to buy clothing at thrift stores or yard sales. Often, I have been able to find like new clothing for less than $2.00. In one instance, I bought myself a skirt, with the original store tags still on it, for only $1.00 at a yard sale. There are some clothing items that I refuse to buy secondhand, such as underclothing, but nearly anything else can be found for pennies on the dollar and in very good or like new condition.

In following trends or jumping on ideas that others present, I never saved us money in the long run. Cleaning supplies is a hot topic among DIY blogs. I find that in our home I only need to make 3 cleaners: an all-purpose cleaner, laundry soap, and fabric softener. The all-purpose cleaner will clean nearly everything. If I want to wash windows, then I simply mix white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. The laundry soap serves well as a dish soap. You can add a bit of orange oil to it if you wanted, but it isn’t essential.

The point is, when you take a look at how you are working to simplify your life and save money, are you really reaching that goal or are you making things harder on yourself both in work and finacially?

 

Recycled Containers in the Pantry April 18, 2013

I wanted to share a simple and frugal idea. I saw a great idea on TV while spending a few days with a dear friend a couple of months ago. They showed a family who used 2-liter soda bottles for storing rice. That got me thinking.

With many grains or items like powdered milk, you have to watch out for pantry pests such as weevils. Those little buggers will eat their way through paper packaging to get to the dry goods. Many times I have opened a brand new package of saltine crackers and found that weevils had gotten to them. Same thing has happened with various grains, including rice, flour, and powdered milk. If you store these in bulk amounts, such as a large 4-gallon bucket, you can lose the entire bucket of food if weevils happen to have been in the smaller package purchased at the store. What happens is that the weevil can get into the food at the store or warehouse. When you empty it into a larger bulk container at home, yoou have just contaminated the entire supply. This is where creative storage comes in handy.

I don’t use much soda, but we do use a lot of juice. The juice bottles that we get are flat enough that when laying on their side, you can easily stack them. I am using these for rice, oatmeal, granulated sugar, and any other item small enough to easily pour from the bottle. Things like brown sugar are stored in wide mouth containers such as peanut butter jars. I love the fact that if something gets in one container, it won’t cross-contaminate into the entire supply. Case in point, I had a peanut butter container of grits. Weevils got into it and I was able to toss out that one container instead of all the supply. I purposely will buy the amount of an item needed to fill new containers. Unless it is something like sea salt, I typically won’t add new supply to the previously purchased supply. I am able to better rotate my stock this way as well as lessen the chance of contamination should I get a bad batch from the store. With the amount of juice that we drink, I easily have the ready supply of juice bottles ready to be used.

One new idea that I am going to start doing is to buy a pint container of dried herbs at a time. I have certain dried herbs that I use very often. By buying a pint container worth of the herbs at a time, I can fill a peanut butter jar with the herbs. I purchase my herbs in bulk from a health food store for far less than what a grocery store charges. Once I am able to get the herb garden fully established, I will dry my own herbs instead of buying them. Until then, this is my most economical way of getting the culinary herbs that I need.

What inventive ways do you have for storing your pantry supplies?

 

Emergency Ready?

Filed under: family,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 12:29 am
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Here in our region, the spring tornado season has arrived. It is an annual occurance that we take into stride. I am always surprised by the number of people however who never consider preparing for emergencies until it is upon them and too late. Whether it is a winter storm, tornado, or other situation, the best time to prepare is before the emergency happens.

How often have you had the power go out during a storm only to find that you don’t have extra flashlight batteries? Do you have a sufficient water supply? What about a basic first aid kit?

Many years ago, I was a member of a church that promoted emergency preparedness to it’s members. We were encouraged to stock our pantries, garden, learn first aid, have a well-stocked 1st aid kit, and other items that would be helpful during a natural disaster or other event. I grew up with that attitude even before my years in that church. It was a way of life. In my lifetime, I have seen those food stores in the pantry sustain our family during finacially hard times. Living so far from a good hospital, the first aid training and supplies are a blessing. It isn’t wasted expense or knowledge.

When I lived in Montana years ago, I saw first hand the value of having a grab-n-go bag. I often carried a small duffle bag in the back of my Geo Tracker that contained a change of clothes, granola bars, dried fruit, first aid kit, flashlight & batteries, emergency blanket, and bottled water. I have to admit that since moving to here, I have been a bit lacking in carrying a car emergency bag. I have emergency supplies at home, but what good are they if we are away from home when the emergency happens? I had grown complacent in the fact that I am a home-body at heart. I love being home more than going out. Now that the kids are getting older, I have been taking them out a lot more. Trips to the zoo and other outings take us a minimum of 45 miles from home. Trips to the zoo are about 85 miles from home. What if something takes place while we are that far from home or somewhere in between?

So, I am now putting together a basic bug-out style bag. Here are some of the items that I am including.

a change of clothing for each person
emergency blankets for each of us
dried fruits, veggie chips, and granola bars
bottled water
first aid kit
flash lights & batteries
glow sticks for the kids
a new package of disposible training pants for our son

An extra item that I am planning to order are dog tag ID necklaces for each of us with emergency contact info in case of an accident. My darling husband gave me this idea. He wears a dog tag style ID in case he gets into an accident while on the truck. It has my contact information so that emergency personnel can reach me if he were unable to do so. Our son already has one that identifies him as being autistic & non-verbal with my contact information on it in case he should wander off. It is a common thing with autistic kids to do, so we take that precaution even though I always keep close watch on him. Having an ID for our daughter and myself would be a good idea also. I am considering having 2 tags for the kids, one with my information and the other with their Daddy’s phone number. This way, the information for both parents is available. The ID dog tags unfortunately do not have room for both my husband’s and my information to be on 1 dog tag. The cost for the tags are really low if I order online. The peace of mind will be great if our kids are with a relative or at a church youth activity that has them away from us.

What do you carry in your emergency kit in your family vehicle?