Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Spring is Near March 9, 2016

Filed under: homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 11:09 pm
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It’s been getting warm here.  Daytime temps reaching the mid-70’s and looking gorgeous outside.  The kids have been playing with Pookie’s water table the past two days.  Inside the house It gets just cool enough in the morning and evening to still need the wood stove to be lit.

I checked on the apple tree.  We have to watch it closely for signs of budding.  Last year, we forgot to use the organic spray on it and the moths completely destroyed the  apple crop.  This year, I will be using the spray once a month to keep the moths and other pests from damaging the apples.  As I looked the tree over, I found the very first signs of new leaf buds. 

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I will start treating the tree this week.  The next time the treatment will be critical will be the little flower buds starting to appear and also when they open.

The red wasps are starting to become active.  Next payday, I will be buying some wasp sticks by Rescue to hang up.  These are extremely effective sticky traps.  It gives us a no-pesticide method of getting rid of the red wasps without risk to honey bees. 

Sitting here in the quiet, listening to the frogs in the creek run-off, the breeze blowing through the trees, and the laughter of the kids as they play is one of my favorite times of day.

I am truly blessed in my life here.  Yes, it is harder work for me, but the peace it brings is worth every moment. 

 

Doing Laundry Off the Grid March 6, 2016

Filed under: green living,homesteading,off grid,Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 11:50 pm
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Lately, I have noticed a lot of interest in how to save money when doing laundry. When I mention washing by hand, the instant reaction is “That’s too much work!” Well, I guess it can be if you are not prepared for it. Here are some of the reasons why I think people are reluctant to give it a try.

First, they only wash laundry when it is piled up. If you wait until you have to scale Mt. Wash-more to do your laundry, it can seem overwhelming. I know this from experience. I let it go for just over a week when I had pneumonia one year and was amazed at how daunting a task it had become.

Second, people are spoiled with their machines. I readily admit that in winter, I wash laundry at a laundromat. It is faster to dry that way. I have handwashed laundry in winter months and found that the clothes didn’t dry enough outside on the line. I had to hang the slightly damp clothing in the house near a wood stove to finish drying. In summer though, the laundry actually gets done faster and easier than hauling it 10 miles from home to the laundromat. Once I have a LP gas dryer though, the laundry can be done at home in winter again.

Third, people don’t prepare for the task ahead of time. There is nothing that causes your back to hurt faster than trying to wash laundry by hand in the bathtub. Again, I speak from experience. When I first began doing laundry by hand 7 years ago, I used the bathtub as my wash basin. It served the purpose, but my back sure felt the strain. My knees felt it also as I knelt by the tub to do all that washing!

So, why do I still do laundry by hand? That is easy. I have found a way to do it that works well and is very convenient. It saves me money each month. It also is fun. Whether or not you aspire to doing your laundry by hand or not, it is a great skill to have. You never know when your laundry machines will stop working. What if you have to replace your washing machine and don’t have the funds to do it? What about power outages? You never know when storms will take out the power lines. It happens often from winter storms, tornadoes, or other natural disasters. What about going camping as a family? You may find a time where you need to wash laundry while camping. Having a clothesline and a bit of soap with you can give you the ability to do it. What about something like a SHTF situation? Whether it be a job loss or other economic issue, there is always a chance that something could happen that forces you to tighten your financial belt up a bit. When those times come about, don’t let yourself be caught unprepared. Have a plan to fall back on. Even something as simple as knowing how to do your family’s laundry without the benefit of laundry machines can be a blessing.

In setting up a laundry, you don’t have to get fancy. Honestly? In a SHTF situation, having a 5 gallon bucket, laundry soap, and a clothesline rope is all that you need. Toss in a package or two of clothespins and you are ahead of the game. You quite easily can wash clothing in a 5 gallon bucket, wring the laundry out, refill the bucket with rinse water, then after rinsing, wring the water out of the clothing, and hang out on the rope clothesline. It literally can be that simple in a pinch. If you are thinking about doing laundry by hand on a more regular basis, such as during summer months, to take advantage of the warmth and sun, here are some tips to get you started.

First, have the right equipment. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It just has to be functional for you. I recommend having 2 wash tubs. I started out with a couple of round metal tubs that I bought at Lowes Home Improvement center in their paint department. These worked for a while, but the solder in the bottom seam fell out over time. They also are very easy to develop rust, if not dried out thoroughly. I next tried the deep plastic tubs with rope handles. These worked great. Only problem was that they were very heavy to empty the water out of. I finally found some smaller wash tubs that are easier to empty. They are the type that you often see used for keeping drinks on ice at a picnic or BBQ. These are smaller and work well for me. You can also find metal wash tubs of various sizes at Tractor Supply, Atwoods, or other farm supply stores. The second item that you need is a clothesline or drying rack to hang the laundry on. For years, I have used the clothesline rope. It works very well, but does need to be replaced every few years due to stretching and it wearing out. Many people like to use the vinyl coated wire, but be aware that after a few years, the sun will dry out the vinyl and it will begin flaking off. You can also use the actual clothesline wire, which is made to not rust. It really depends on what your preferences are. In the beginning, the rope would probably be all you need. Some people have a hand-crank wringer, but it really is not a necessity. I have one that I bought at Lehman’s Non-Electric store 6 years ago. It is now showing rust in some areas. It works, but I have to use steel wool on it as regular maintenance to keep it from rusting. Otherwise I may have to paint it. The wringer helps, but honestly, I can wring things out just as well by hand. It is also faster for me to do by hand than to use the wringer.

The next thing you need to do is have the right soap. That may seem like a no-brainer, but I do need to address this one. Many of your laundry soaps produce a lot of suds. This gives the illusion that your clothes are getting cleaner than a low suds variety. If you decide to use a soap with lots of suds, be prepared to do more rinsing than usual. My favorite soap for hand washing laundry is Fels-Naptha. It comes in a bar. Many women use this soap to make their own laundry soap with. When melted down in water and adding to washing soda and borax, the Fels-Naptha makes a very good quality laundry soap that cleans well without causing excessive amounts of suds. If you don’t want to make your own soap or use the Fels-Naptha, look for a store brand that is low suds. Trust me, you will be happy to not have to do the extra rinsing required from having too many soap bubbles in your laundry. In handwashing laundry, I often hear women mention that their spouse or kids get their clothes really dirty. If that is the case, simply wet the article of clothing, rub some Fels-Naptha soap on the heavily soiled spot and let it soak in a tub or bucket of water overnight. The next day, the clothes will be easier to wash.

On laundry day, I set up my wash tubs on a bench or table outdoors near the clothesline. I add a scoop of the laundry soap to the wash water. In the rinse, I add a homemade fabric softener made with water, white vinegar, and borax. This works great!

Start with your least soiled clothing first. The reason for this is to allow you to not have to change out your wash water so often. I start with things like washcloths, towels, and other lightly soiled items. I gradually work up to the most heavily soiled items as the washing continues, changing the water as necessary to get the laundry clean.

I have a scrub board that I like to use for socks and heavily soiled items especially. This is not essential, but nice to have. You can order them new from places like Ace Hardware’s catalog. Another idea, which I saw in a video by another off-grid homesteader, is to use a rubber bath mat with the suction cups facing upward. Rubbing your clothing across the suction cups provides enough scrubbing power to get the dirt out of the clothing as well. I haven’t used this method yet myself, but the video was very convincing.

When hanging out the laundry on a line, have it in the full sun. This will allow the laundry to dry even faster. One thing you will notice is that the higher the cotton content, the more stiff the clothing may become. There are 2 reasons for this. First, the fabric dries fully. In a dryer, there is humidity that allows for a small amount of moisture to remain in the fabric. This is what helps to make the laundry feel soft. Another reason why the cotton fabric gets stiff is a lack of breeze. Hanging the laundry out on a windy or breezy day causes the fabric to flap in the breeze. This action, just like the tossing of fabric in a dryer, helps to keep the cotton fabric softer. Ideally, I try to do laundry on a day when we have a breeze that is strong enough to move the fabric about as it dries.

I typically will start doing laundry in the mid-morning during summer months. By lunchtime, the laundry is often not only washed, but dry as well. I love that time spent doing the washing. I set up out in the yard, with the kids playing nearby. We all enjoy the sun and fresh air as I do the washing. After I empty the wash tubs, they are dried and set aside until next time. It takes less than a half hour to wash and hang out the laundry. When doing it by hand, I wash 2-3 days worth at a time. This makes the job far less daunting. On the days in between washing clothing, I may do bedding or towels. This is simply a preference of mine. We homeschool year round and I don’t want to have to spend an entire morning washing a week’s worth of laundry and bedding. When the kids were little and slept in a bit longer, I often started laundry shortly after dawn. By the time the kids were waking up, all the laundry was already washed and on the line to dry.

One note on why I do laundry so often when washing by hand. It is not uncommon to have a rain storm in the spring and sometimes during summer. One year, we had rain nearly every day for a solid month! Because of this, I try to have the laundry done often to prevent it from piling up. On average, if done at a laundromat, a week’s worth of laundry costs about $20-$25 to wash and dry. This means I would be spending between $80 and $100 a month to do laundry! I can think of so many other ways to spend that money than to use a laundromat.

The main point though, is to be prepared. Whether you choose to try hand washing the laundry or not, be knowledgeable in how to do it. Don’t let yourself get caught unprepared should an emergency happen. The best time to gain knowledge or a new skill is BEFORE you need it.

 

Taming the Picky Eating February 27, 2016

Having kids, you often deal with a period of time when you have a picky eater.  Most common problem is a child who refuses to eat vegetables.  We have dealt with that with our own kids.  Having one who is autistic, we deal with it on a fairly regular basis.  We found an answer though that may work for other families as well.

This morning, I took the kids outside and we began planting vegetable seeds into the seed starting trays.  I had a variety of vegetable seeds and let the kids pick out the ones they wanted for a special garden box that will be set up in their fenced play area.  They chose grape tomatoes, sugar pod peas, and green beans.  I helped them to plant the seeds and we have them out in the sun.  Once large enough, we will be transplanting them into a square foot garden bed in their yard.  These veggies will be ones that I will let them pick and snack on.

What have me the idea originally was memories of my own childhood.  My parents always had a large garden each year.  When playing outside, I often would pick a handful of green beans, peas, or a tomato to snack on.  I loved eating straight from the garden.

As a parent, I have learned that if I let the kids help grow a few of their favorites, they were far more likely to eat the veggies at mealtimes.  It also encourages healthy snacking.  When it is warm enough, I want to plant a small strawberry patch as well.  Both kids love strawberries, so they should be a good choice. 

It is definitely worth a try to plant a few veggies and see if the kids are more likely to eat them.  Even if you only plant a small garden bed along your house or in pots on your patio, it can help.  Kids take prize in harvesting a few veggies from their own garden plants to add to the family meal.  It can make a big difference.

 

Putting Our Focus Into Action February 25, 2016

Filed under: family,homesteading,simplicity,Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:04 pm
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Recently, I have been reading various blogs about the off grid journey that other homesteading families have been taking. It is a real education to see just how varied the lifestyles are. Some adopt a few of the off grid ideologies, while others go all out. It would seem that there are as many variants as there are homesteading families. Each has their own way of thinking and living out their dreams of self-reliance and off grid life.

Some families are still living the urban life, but are slowly taking on a more simple attitude. They are paying off their debt, without accumulating more, and are becoming more frugal in their spending. Some families are rural and just taking life a bit slower, planting a garden to feed their family over the summer months, and possibly raising a few chickens for eggs. You have bloggers who are definitely in the prepper category. Even within that category, you can have varied levels of self-reliance. Lastly, you have those who fit anywhere in between these examples. Hobby farmers, small family farms, tiny house owners who are trying to live a full life on less, and many more.

In nearly every case, the bloggers are in a state of transition. They are still evolving in their journey. Some make the transition quicker than others. There are those who seem to meet their journey’s goal within a very short time. Likewise, you have those who are moving towards their goals at a much slower pace. It is inspiring to read about their journeys. I always learn a new perspective from reading their blog posts. I also learn what they have found to work, and what doesn’t.

This brought to me a challenge. I have often spoke of scaling back and purging the unessential things from our home and lives. Recently, I began following a video blog, Starry Hilders Off Grid Homestead, on YouTube. She has a Facebook page as well. While watching her videos, I began to feel a convicting in my heart. It was a challenge coming from within to take our simplicity a little further than we currently are. It was also the kick in the arse that I have needed to feel reinvigorated about our journey.

While we have been dealing with job changes, our son’s therapy routines, and homeschooling, I have slowed down in a few areas that I used to enjoy. The first is doing laundry by hand. I used to enjoy it, even in winter. On warm days, I would wash the laundry outdoors, enjoying the sunshine as I watched the kids at play. I loved the peaceful nature of that task. I actually looked forward to it. I washed laundry every day or two, then hung it out on the clothesline to dry. In winter, I would heat up the water on the wood stove, wash laundry indoors and hang it up on folding clothes racks near the wood stove to dry.

We had family members staying with us over a long period and I got out of the habit of hand washing. We had gone from a household of 4 to a household of 8 people at one point. Being the lone person hand washing laundry, it just became too much. So, I started going to the laundromat in the nearest town, 10 miles away. This became a habit. Now, several years later, I still use the laundromat. I look at myself today and wonder why I am doing that? I spend nearly $70 a month doing laundry. That is ridiculous!!! I could be doing it for free here at home, utilizing the hand washing and clothesline, instead of feeding handfuls of quarters into the machines.

As I watched one particular video, I remembered something that really had me kicking myself in the arse. Washing laundry by hand is not only faster, but often is more effective in cleaning the laundry than using machines. When washing daily, the laundry takes less than a half hour to wash and hang out on the line. It can actually take me longer to set up the laundry tubs to do the washing and then rinse them out afterwords, than it takes for me to wash the clothing and hang it up to dry. On a hot summer day, the laundry can be fully dried within an hour. With that in mind, where is the laundromat making life easier? That $70 a month spent at the laundromat is $840 a year that we could have spent elsewhere.

A second area that I have had to rethink is our garden. Each year, we have either had to deal with drought or our garden being flooded out by heavy spring rains. One year, the plants did great but early summer heat damaged the garden. Many people lost their gardens in the same way we did. This has been a constant frustration point for me. I love having a garden and home canning the harvest for our pantry. I take delight in going out in the garden to pick the vegetables and salad fixings for our meals each day. Having the garden fail to produce has disheartened me many times. In the homesteading blogs, I am seeing more and more posts about raised bed gardening, also known as the Back to Eden or the Square Foot Garden methods. In some blogs, I read about those who simply lay out cardboard on the ground, then heap their straw/manure/compost layers on top to form a mound into which they plant their garden plants and seeds. Other blogs use the actual raised beds that are built using wood, bricks, cinder blocks, or large stones. Years ago, in the early 1980’s, I used the raised bed method to grow a garden in an upper desert region. This method was very effective in helping me to have a productive garden. I actually produced more harvest than my pantry had room for! I gave away about half of the harvest one year. Looking back, I really wish that I would have set up the raised beds here on our homestead much sooner. It may have made all the difference in whether or not we had a harvest on the years when the gardens were being flooded.

A third area that I am feeling needs changed is the criteria of what we will hold on to and what we get rid of. Even with all the purging that I have done in the past, we still have more than we actually need. The problem is that we always find new things that we want to keep. In summer, it is not difficult to go to yard sales and find something that ends up being an impulsive purchase. That alone can increase the stuff in the home that is not really necessary. This also applies for sales at the store. The purchase always seems reasonable until you get it home. Once home, you find yourself wondering why you bought the item. For this reason, I rarely go to a yard sale. When I do go to them, I have a specific item that I am looking for. I stick to my agenda and try not to allow myself to be swayed into the impulsive buying.

As readers already know, I have been working on clearing out a room of the house that has been used for storage for nearly the past two years. Much of what was stored is being purged from our home. We have thrown out bag after bag filled with items that we had held on to, but was not needed. Of all the belongings in that room, nearly everything has been purged from the room with the exception of the furniture, a few books, and a tote of photos. This has lit the fire under me to do the same with the rest of the rooms. Once the rooms are fully purged of the unnecessary things, we will have to have a system in place to avoid bring in too much again. One method is to limit items by the “one item in/one item out” rule. This works well, if you stick to it.

I am planning out my new raised bed garden space. It will be in higher ground and the beds made from cinder block. It will also be in an area that will be easier to water in summer as well as being closer to the house. I am thinking of incorporating trellis in the garden beds to save on space.

Lastly, I have a major goal for this season to get the house fully organized by summer. I have always loved the idea of “a space for everything & everything in its place.” Once I am finished, this will be the way I will have the home set up. I have learned in life that if the right system is set up, your daily life is much easier. You still have your daily chores, but the intensity is greatly reduced. The storage issue has always been a big one in our home. Typical of the time period in which it was built, our home has no built in storage. No cabinets anywhere in the home. The only closet is one that was added within the past 20 years. All storage is either shelving added on the walls or bookcases/shelving units that we have brought in. This is yet another area of organizing that I will be addressing as we do our remodel. When each room is done, some form of storage will be added to the room. Most likely to be added will be shelving or bookcases.

 

Resetting Our Focus February 23, 2016

Filed under: homesteading,organization,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:44 pm
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Over the weekend, hubby was home for his time off from the truck. What a LONG 8 weeks it was that he had been gone! Luckily, this isn’t always the length of time apart. We sure have enjoyed the family time though. As always, it goes by far too quickly for us.

I awoke early today. Long before sunrise and much earlier than my usual. It is surprising when I consider how tired that I was after yesterday. Sunday was our “Family Day” when we just had fun together. We had celebrated a joint birthday party for the kids at a children’s museum. They had a lot of fun there. Being a trucking family, we are having to be creative in our celebrations. Little Miss’ birthday will arrive before Daddy’s home again, and Pookie’s birthday will arrive just after he heads back out on the truck. Looking at the calendar, we realized that Daddy’s next home time will be Easter weekend. That would not have worked out for a birthday party. To wait until the next scheduled hometime would put the kids celebrating late April/early May. So, we had the party on Sunday instead. On their actual birthdays, we will have cake and presents. This was simply a special gathering to have fun with friends and family.

On Monday, we had a work day. I had cleared out the back room as much as I could without help. There were boxes that Hubby had to sort out and lifting that I cannot do. So, he helped me with that portion. What a task! Thankfully, it got done. We are only keeping an extremely small fraction of what was there. About 90% of it is either being donated or was put into the burn pit.

It has been frustrating to see the amount of damage the field mice had done over the past 2 years that the room was used for storage. Blankets, quilts, sleeping bags, clothing, were damaged. We will definitely be investing in more storage totes in the future. Many of the bedding items were old, so I don’t feel as bad as if they were new. It is still an expense that we will have to make though in replacing it all.

Now, the last of the room can be finished by me. Mostly clearing out a large antique desk and sorting through the bookcases. The closet will be another project for Hubby later since it contains only his things. Being so close to done is very rejuvenating to me. When first faced with clearing out a packed storage room, the task can seem overwhelming. You literally can feel drained just thinking about it. Now that it is nearly completed, I am eager to finish the job. During Hubby’s time out on the truck, I will be getting the room ready to move the kids’ bed into it next time he is home. Then, we will move into the kids’ old room.

I am really looking forward to getting the front room rearranged back into a nice area for homeschooling and relaxing. It has been too long since we have had that. I also am going to love having more useable space in the house. For many, the idea of purging over half of your belongings can seem crazy. Let’s face it, we live in a society where having more seems to be the goal. People want to have the best of everything and more of it.

This brings me to the topic I wanted to touch upon, Setting Our Focus. When we choose to simplify our lives, we have to reset our way of thinking. First, we have to consider just how we got to the place we are in. What choices did we make that led us to the lifestyle that is needing changed? We have to find those answers within ourselves before we can move forward in the simplifying. To skip this step is to set ourselves up to fail. We will be making the same choices and mistakes that caused up to be living in a way that brings about stress and financial worry.

Most often, the greatest obstacle that people have is in their purchases. Our society has the idea that you need the newest and best of everything. That is the complete opposite of those who seek a more simplified lifestyle. Yes, we want the best, but only in the fact that we are wanting something that will last. One example would be a wheat grinder. There may be cheaper ones for sale, but buying one that will last for many years of hard use is preferable in that it won’t need repairs or replacing very quickly. Cookware is another purchase where better quality is the preferred. Again, this helps to prevent having to replace items after only a couple years of use.

The purchases that we try to especially avoid are the impulsive ones. How often does a child ask for a toy at the store, only to forget about their new toy within a week of buying it? Clearance sales can be a nightmare. The impulse to buy something because of the lower price can entice you to spend money on something that you wouldn’t purchase if it were regular price.

The money spent on the frivolous and impulsive purchases can best be used to either pay down a debt, build up your food pantry or other needed supplies, or to simply put away in a savings account. Here is a personal example. Recently, Hubby and I were out running errands and bought coffee. We went to Starbucks as a treat. I spent $11 for two venti (20 ounce) size cups of coffee. At a grocery store, that same $11 could have bought a 25 lb bag of flour with $3 in change left over. This is why I refer to Starbucks as a treat. It isn’t something that we do on a regular basis. We also are aware that the cost takes away from something else.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot have fun and take the kids on outings if you are simplifying your spending. On the contrary! We are able to do more. A good example is the children’s museum. To get a family of 4 into the museum costs $32 for one day. Now, if that same family were to buy a yearly family pass, it would cost about $80. Just 3 trips to the museum would more than pay for that fee. When buying the annual family pass, there is an option to pay and extra $40 to get an annual pass that will get you unlimited admissions into 5 museums in our area. One of the museums is a large science museum that is quite pricey to attend if paid by the day/visit. Add the annual pass for the museums package to the $65 cost for an annual family pass to the zoo, and you have spent less than $200. This means that your family can go to all these places, unlimited number of times, for a year at that one price. The kids love going to these locations and it is worth it for us. I realize that not everyone would enjoy it, but this gives you an idea.

 

New Gardening Project February 17, 2016

With Joseph gone doing his trucking job and me raising two kids here in the homestead alone most of the time, I am having to rethink how to have a family garden.  It has to be something that I can manage completely on my own.  I found a blog post about a No–Dig Garden that is very easy.  Once the garden beds are created, your work is nearly done.  The weeding is minimal, especially if you use mulch around the plants.  All organic materials means that each season you only have to add some more fertlizer or ammend the soil before planting again.  This is easily done.  Once your garden is finished for the season, add more compost or manure, cover with a layer of mulch, and let the garden beds rest until spring. 

I am going to use cinder blocks to form the garden beds.  These will not have mortar but simply stacked 2 rows tall.  The cavities of the blocks will contain rocks in the lower level and planting mix in the top level.  The cavities can be planted with flowers or herbs.  Another option would be to add a length of pipe in the corners and center blocks that are slightly taller than the cinder blocks.  These will be useful for forming a hoop cover.  To make the cover, take a length of off and bend it into a curve.  Place one end into a pipe, forming the curve over your garden bed.  You can also use these pipes for placing a trellis along the side for climbing plants or make a taller canopy to provide shade when necessary.

The boxes are very easy to construct.  Place 2 layers of cardboard under the garden bed to prevent growth of vegetation from under the bed.  Stack your cinder blocks to form the sides.  Next, place alternating layers of straw, manure, and planting mix into the beds.  You want it several inches above the bed.  After about 2 weeks, the materials will have settled down to the top of the bed. 

If you want the material to hold moisture better, use peat moss as one of the top layers.  I generally will mix a 50/50 mixture of potting mix and peat moss, which works great here in the southwest where temps reach over 100°F in summer.

You can plant right away after filling the garden beds or wait until the soil mixture settles down into the garden bed.  Once planted, add mulch to further cut down on moisture loss and weeding.

I can”t wait to get my new garden area set up.  The beauty of this method is that I can move the garden to another location easily.  Just dismantle the beds, set up in the new area, then refill the beds reusing the soil materials.  All the straw used breaks down and gives you compost.  You are, in essence, building and planting your garden in a contained compost bin.

During the winter, I will be able to add the wood ash from our wood stove to the garden beds to add more nutrients to the soil.  In spring, I just have to turn the soil and I am ready to plant, especially if I have added the additional manure to the garden beds at the end of growing  season the previous year.

I can’t wait to get started.  This is going to make gardening so much easier for me to manage this year.  I plan to start with 2 large or 4-6 small beds first.  I can expand later if needed.

 

Long Awaited Remodel February 11, 2016

Filed under: family,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 5:44 pm
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I have finally come to the conclusion that the hardest part of remodeling is clearing out a room that has been used for storage. Our home has 2 rooms in the back section of the house, which is not heated in winter. Both of those rooms have become storage areas over the years.

With the kids getting older, the need for more space is becoming one which we are having to focus upon. For years, my husband and I have been wanting to remodel the house. We love our 1890’s home, but it needs a bit of cosmetic improvements. It also needs a few upgrades, such as adding a heating system to the back section.

We have nearly finished one of the rooms. Originally, it was to become a new bedroom for my husband and I. Now, it is becoming a bedroom for my adult son who is moving here from another state. Having it’s own outdoor entrance, it will be convenient for him. He will be able to use that room until he is able to get himself set up in his own place. The second of the 2 back rooms is one of the largest rooms of the house, It is going to become the kids’ bedroom. It is large enough that we are planning to divide the room into 2 smaller ones. Each will be about the size of a small bedroom in a mobile home, which is adequate for a single child per room.

I have been clearing out the back rooms a little at a time over the winter. I have been brutal in the sorting of the items in those rooms. Easily 75% of what was there is being either trashed or donated. My attitude is that unless it is a tool or other item that is necessary, anything in storage for over 6 months is not going to be kept. I am literally only saving items such as photos, some furniture, and family heirlooms. Everything else will be gone. By May, both rooms will be nearly completed. The only thing unfinished will be adding the propane heaters and the dividing wall in the kids’ room. Both rooms will be ready for use, if not already being used.

Hubby and I are going to temporarily be using the kids’ old bedroom once they are in their new space. I am looking forward to it. Over the next few years, we will be in a state of “room shuffling” while we work on the house. The kids’ current bedroom used to be a part of the old kitchen space. Originally, the house had a very large farm kitchen. A previous owner put a dividing wall up to make that extra bedroom. As soon as we no longer need that space as a bedroom anymore, the wall will be removed. The large farm kitchen will be its full size once more.

The remodeling is something we have been dreaming about for many years. We have always been in a situation of either not having the money or not having the time. Now, we are finally in a position to get the work done. We will be doing most of it ourselves. That is one reason that I am so grateful that the “bones” of the house are in good shape. Yes, we may encounter surprises along the way. One would expect that when dealing with a house of this age, but I am looking forward to the challenge.

 

Spring…….Finally March 23, 2015

Filed under: family,homesteading,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 5:33 am
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I was beginning to wonder if Mother Nature was ever going to get over her PMS and allow spring to arrive.  It seems that she finally got the idea and has allowed our weather to turn into it’s typical rainy self.  Each spring, I am eager to start planting the garden but have to wait.  You see, we live in a wonderful little area that has a week of nasty weather every year sometime in the week before or after Easter.  Never fails.  Plant the garden before Easter and you end up with a garden that either freezes or gets flooded out.  So, I have learned to be more patient over the years.  I wait until after Easter has passed by before I start planting anything.

We woke up early Sunday morning, about 4:30am, so that we could fumigate the attic.  We live in a state that has a lot of problems with red wasps.  So, it is not uncommon to see people load up on the cans of wasp spray or the fumigating foggers to use in attic spaces and other areas that the wasps might try to set up their nests.  We got the kids up and had a quick breakfast before loading them up into the car.  Hubby set off the foggers in our attic and we headed to town.  We ended up taking our laundry to the laundromat and ran a few errands afterward.  The foggers don’t seep down into the rest of the house, so we don’t have to cover anything ahead of time.

By the time we get home, the foggers have done their job.  This ritual is one that we repeat every 3-4 weeks throughout the warm months to control the wasps.  Another item that we began using last year that works great is to set out around the known wasp areas outdoors the TrapStik by a company called Rescue.

Trapstik

Trapstik for Wasps

This is probably the one thing that has been the most effective.  It is a sticky green trap that you hang up.  The wasps are drawn to it and within a couple of days, we have a full trap.  If you set these out early enough, you have a good chance of trapping the queen.  A wasp queen will leave the nest area early in the season.  If you can get her, the wasp colony will collapse.   What I loved about this trap is that it is pesticide free and we also never caught a honey bee on it.  The trap works to catch all types of wasps and carpenter bees.  We hang them in areas near their nests or anywhere they you notice a lot of wasp activity.  These really are effective in reducing the wasp population.  Some stores, such as Lowes, carries these but we also buy them online.

I am looking forward to getting out outdoor laundry and kitchen set up again.  Now that Mother Nature got over her winter mood, we will soon be getting those areas ready for summer.  During the warm months, we spend a lot of our time outdoors.  The kids have their pool and play area to enjoy.  Lots of shade trees are a bonus as well.  One thing that I typically stop doing in summer is baking.  I don’t like to heat up the house by using the oven unless it is necessary.  If I do choose to bake something, it is in the late evening or very early in the morning when the cook night breezes are present.  We are looking at designs for building an outdoor bread oven but haven’t chosen one yet.  In the long term plans for the homestead, we want to have a permanent area designated and set up as our outdoor kitchen.  So far, the plan is to build the oven and an outdoor grill from brick or stone.  Having it set up in a sheltered area will make it easy to use during rainy days.  I still love the idea of having a screened kitchen.  Basically, it is a room that is built with half-height walls.  The top half of the wall areas are completely screened in so that you can use the room during wet weather as well as keeping flies and such out.  I can easily see this as being one of the most used spaces during the warm months.  The kids can homeschool at a table while enjoying the cooling breeze.  Having the kitchen in there will allow me to be able to prepare meals and do my canning without heating up the kitchen in the house.   An outdoor kitchen with the screened area will make a nice place to have BBQs and entertain as well.

 

Homestead Projects November 2, 2014

Filed under: family,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:35 am
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Some of what I am about to write may seem a bit opposite of what I have written previously, but actually isn’t.  Our homestead goals haven’t changed.  The primary focus of our goals has been to become as self-reliant as possible.  To live a simple life that is as uncluttered by worldly demands as possible.  In doing so, we have found that our family bond has been strengthened. More importantly, our faith in the Lord has grown as well.

Recently, we have been taking stock of where we are at in reaching our goals.  It has been a very enlightening time for us.  One issue that came up is that of being able to hunt during turkey and deer seasons.  We also have considered raising our own meat.  In raising our own meat, we would grass-feed the animals only.  We would raise the animals from spring through autumn, then have them butchered before winter sets in.  This would save the costs of feed during the winter season when grazing is not available.  Some of the livestock we have considered are a lamb, dairy/meat goats, chickens, turkeys, and possibly a pig.  This will all take a bit of time to put together since we need to update the fencing and animal enclosures.  The main idea is that we would not over-winter the animals.  Any that we purchase in early spring would be butchered before winter sets in.

With that goal in mind, we have to consider buying a chest freezer.  There is no way I can home can and store that amount of meat in our pantry.  We simply do not have the space for it.  Also, there are meats that are not good for home canning.  One example is pork.  If we were to butcher a pig, the pork chops, bacon, and ham roasts would need to be frozen.  Yes, some people have home canned pork, but there are cuts of meat that cannot be home canned.  Two examples are the ham roasts and pork chops.  With the rising cost of meat, raising our own seems to be the way to go.  Having the amount of land that we do, there is no reason why we can’t raise our own meat.

The question has been how to do this.  Having a small solar power system, there is no way that we can use an electric freezer.  Propane freezers are costly and difficult to find in our area.  So, we are making an alteration to our homestead.  In the coming months, we are building a shed that will be approximately 12’x12′ in size.  The shed will be insulated and have a small propane heater for winter months.  The shed will also have electricity from a power company.  We are going to have a utility pole set up with a meter and an outdoor circuit box placed on the land between our house and the dirt road.  The shed will be built near that pole so that we can have the electricity run from the pole to the shed.  We will be using the shed as a multi-purpose building.  It will contain a chest freezer, washer, dryer, and a home office area.  Having the laundry in that room will make life much easier on me.  I have found that having an autistic son makes doing laundry by hand just too time consuming.  I need to be able to focus on homeschooling and home therapy activities.  We have been using a laundromat for the laundry lately and will have to through the winter when it is far to cold outdoors to hang the laundry out on the line.  There is no place to hang up the clothes in the house, so the laundromat is the only option.  We currently average spending about $80 per month at the laundromat.  Buying secondhand machines and doing the laundry at home will cost far less than that.  This shed will be a great asset to the homestead.

For the house, we still plan to add a wind turbine and more solar panels to provide for the household energy needs.  We have been 6 years now without being on the power grid.  In that time, we have learned much.  We have found ways to work around the lack of electrical conveniences.  In having a shed on grid, we are not taking a step backward in our goals, but a leap forward.

Last night, another goal was met.  We installed a new woodstove in our home to provide heat.  Last year, we used a propane heater and it was not efficient at all.  In fact, we used about $48 per week  in propane just for the heater alone.  That was $192 per month in propane for heat!  Way too much!  Then, in the middle of winter, the cost shot up from $1.99 per pound of LP to a cost of $5.00 per pound.  It seemed that there was a bit of a shortage due to farmers using propane heaters to save crops stored in silos.  With that shortage came the higher heating costs.  The stove we purchased puts out a lot of radiant heat and needs no blower to circulate it.  This is a very welcome addition to our homestead.  We have plenty of trees that need to be thinned from our woods and are already seasoned.  We have already started to buy some firewood, but are also harvesting some of our own.

Another outdoor building we are designing is a shed a bit smaller than the multi-purpose shed mentioned above.  The one will be insulated and have a propane heater as well.  The purpose for this particular shed is to be a shower house.  It will contain everything that a typical bathroom has.  Easiest to think of it as a detached bathroom.  It will be located near the house.  We will still have the bathroom in the house, but this will be another option for us to use.  Just as with the multi-purpose shed, this one will be within the fenced area of the yard.  We will be able to use that bathroom whenever we are outdoors working or the kids are playing.  The detached bathroom will also come in really handy when we go about remodeling the bathroom in the house.

We are really excited about the changes we are making.  The focus is still on simplicity and self-reliance, but with small alterations in how we go about that.  As we begin making the changes, I will try to post pictures.  We will be doing as much of the work ourselves as possible.  Living as rural as we do, that is always an option that we have.  We can do much of the work ourselves and only have professionals come in to advise or to do the final details, such as hooking up the electrical wiring to the circuit box.  Between my husband and I, we have experience in doing most of the other work involved.

Saturday, we started the process of downing an old tree that was not thriving.  The tree also happens to be in the path of where the electric line will have to be run from the utility pole at the road and where the new pole on our property will be placed.  Just stepping on one of the branches that was large enough to hold my husband’s weight, caused the dead branch to snap and break off. Our daughter loved to climb that tree but it was no longer safe.  The wood of that tree, though freshly cut, is already dry enough to be used in the woodstove.  We have three more trees in the north side of the house that also will be cut down over the coming months.

The cutting down of these trees will solve a few problems, such as risks of branches breaking in ice storms due to the branches being weak from insect damage.  It will also clear that entire yard so that we can plant new trees and a butterfly garden.  This is the first portion of the property that a person sees when they drive up our driveway and we want it to be pretty.

Last project we will be beginning once the weather has remained cold enough for snakes to be underground is to completely clear the garden area.  It was unused this past summer and needs much work to prepare for spring.  One goal that I have is to buy cinder blocks to frame some raised beds.  Over the winter, I can put the blocks in place and start filling them about halfway with soil and mulch.  In early spring, the boxes can have more soil mix added to finish filling the beds.  Garlic, onions, and other root crops can be planted in them right away as soon as the ground is thawed.  By Easter, the green beans, sugar peas, and leafy greens can be planted as well.  This will give the garden a great head start.  About Thanksgiving, I will be buying a couple of sweet potatoes to use for growing slips.  These will also be planted in a raised bed if I have one put together for them.  I will write how to grow slips for the garden when we start ours.

It is a lot that we have going on over the next few months.  I feel so grateful to have my husband home every night and on weekends.  When he was on the truck and gone for up to 7 weeks at a time, it was hard to get the homestead in the position we wanted it to be going.  I simply couldn’t do the work on my own when I have two young children and no extra hands to help.  Now that he is home so much, Joe is able to help get a lot of the harder work dealt with and we are making faster progress as we go along.

 

Ready for the Cold Season? September 6, 2014

Filed under: home remedy,homesteading — ourprairiehome @ 10:46 pm
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With summer break over, it is time to start thinking about the upcoming cold season. Not just the temperatures, but the illnesses as well. Have you started preparing? If your family is like ours, there are certain remedies that you like to have on hand during the cold weather. Simple items like soothing cough drops, teas, and even basic over the counter cold remedies.

In looking ahead, I have been taking stock of what we have in our supply shelves. In the pantry room, I have one set of shelving that is strictly for non-food items. I am reorganizing it this next week, so this is the perfect time to check the inventory. Are there any cold remedies still left from last year? If they are opened, I toss them out. If they are unopened, I check the expiration date. It is so easy to overlook this. The reason that I toss the opened bottles is due to the fact that some medications can begin to lose their potency after they have been opened. Just to be safe, I never keep an opened bottle from one cold season to use the following year. I write an inventory list of what we have so that I know what is still needed.

This year, I am doing things a little differently from previous years. We have been wanting to go the more natural route for quite some time. Over the years, I have used home remedies if the store bought over the counter types had run out. We had good results with the home remedies. With that fact in mind, we will be going the natural route more fully this season. There are certain herbal teas which we find more effective than over the counter products. One of the things that I like about home remedies is that they have been around for generation. Unfortunately, our society has become so accustomed to the pharmaceutical options that the old ways seem odd to many. Yet, these remedies are often better for you. Let me give you a simple example. It is very common to try and use a cough suppressant when you get a cold. That cough, in most cases, is actually benefiting you. It clears mucus and such from your throat and lungs. The problem is that coughing irritates the throat, which is why people grab up the cough suppressants. Instead of grabbing up the cough suppressant, why not simply treat the throat irritation? Another classic example is the sheer lack of options for cough only. Most over the counter cough meds contain ingredients to treat symptoms that you may not have, such as fever or congestion. We don’t like taking meds that have the extra ingredients. We want only what is actually needed. By using home remedies, we can take only what is needed.

Now, before I go further, let me state the obvious. We DO go to a doctor when the situation warrants it. Having home remedies is simply a way to treat the things that do not require a doctor, such as a common cold. We watch for fevers or other indicators that may suggest a necessity for a doctor, especially with the kids. We have been looking for a local homeopath or doctor who believes in the use of herbal remedies before writing a prescription whenever possible. Thankfully, we may ave found one within a half hour drive from the homestead.

As like most families, there are specific things that we keep on hand. The following list is very basic, but effective for us.

1. an herbal rub (similar to the menthol vapor rubs)
2. lemon juice & honey for a throat soothing remedy (hubby & kids favorite)
3. peppermint tea for stomach ailments
4. chamomile tea (to aid in sleeping)
5. homemade cold remedy (recipe for the Amish Cough Remedy at The Milkman’s Wife blog)
6. cayenne pepper (a pinch added to a favorite herb tea is a natural pain reliever)

There are other simple things that I am adding as the season progresses. One of the main things is that I will make sure to have on hand the ingredients to make any remedies that we may need. Essential oils, herbs for the teas, and tinctures.

In planning out the remedies, I am taking note of the most used herbs and essential oils so that I can plan to add them to my herb garden in the spring. Making my own essential oils has been on my list of tings to do for quite some time now. I keep researching and have been collecting old recipes to add to my notebook.

As you find and try home remedies, keep track in a journal how they work out for you. Buy a blank book or journal just for recording the recipes that your family finds to be the most beneficial. You never know when you will be needing that recipe again. My home remedies journal is becoming one of my most treasured books. I wish that I had my great-grandmother’s recipes. She was a very knowledgeable woman in that area. My father talked to me often about having to go out and find various plants for her. Some plants required that he dig up the roots, while others required the leaves or flowers. I still remember as a kid digging up what he called a blood root plant from the woods, cutting open the bulb on the root to wipe the cut end onto a scrape. It worked really well to prevent infection. There were so many remedies that he knew his grandma made, but unfortunately he didn’t know how she made all of them. This is why my book is so important to me. The remedies that we find effective are recipes that I can hand down to my children. If you are new to home remedies, play it safe and try ones that are well known to someone you know. Another option is to use the herbal remedies found at health food stores or online stores. Best option, if you have no experience with herbal remedies is to go through a homeopath or other doctor who prefers taking a natural treatment method over sending you to a pharmacy for prescription meds.

Whatever you choice, now is the time to start preparing your supplies for the upcoming season. You don’t want to have to make a special trip to the store when you are sick. Nor do you want to go to several stores to get a single medication because other stores ran out. For some reason, THAT is a popular scenario with children’s medications. Been there, done that way too many times over the years especially with children’s cold medicine.