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. 

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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.

 

Homestead Christmas December 23, 2015

We haven’t always celebrated Christmas.  In fact, it has only been in recent years that we even got a small tree.  A local shop owner saw our daughter admiring the little artificial tree. She and I  talked about how pretty it was, not knowing that the owner overheard us. As we left, he came out carrying a box.  He said that we had forgotten something.  To our delight, he placed the tree in our trunk.

The main reason for not celebrating was due to the holiday being so commercial. It was all about the gifts, not the religious story.  People routinely go into debt trying to buy the perfect gift.  It just didn’t feel right.

After having the kids, we made the decision to celebrate.  The compromise for us was that we limit the gifts.  We also teach the kids to make their gifts.  This one simple thing helps teach children to give of their time and talents to others.

The little ones are ages 9 and 7 years old this season.  With a little guidance, Little Miss chose a project to make for Daddy.  She wanted to make him something that he can take onto the truck with him.  It was a simple project to complete but very useful.  Little Man needed more help with his gift to Daddy.  Mostly due to his lack of fine motor development.  He had fun with it though.

Giving homemade gifts whenever possible has become a family tradition.  We also limit the number of gifts.  In doing this, the kids are much more appreciative of what they receive.

The Christmas tree has a few secondhand ornaments.  Gradually, we are adding handmade ornaments to it each year.  A new thing added to the tree this year also was battery powered little lights.  We found those at Hobby Lobby.

Having a simple Christmas has been a blessing. We can focus on the meaning of the holiday without all the stress and hoopla that other families face.  We can use it as a time to serve others and give of ourselves in remebrance of Christ giving of Himself for us.  It is also an opportunity to teach the kids that it isn’t all about than, but learn to enjoy the giving to others.

I love how we celebrate Christmas. It is so much more peaceful and enjoyable for our family.  I pray that others can enjoy the holiday as that celebrate with their families.

 

Simplicity Goals – Livingroom April 12, 2015

Filed under: old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:59 am
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It has been a little while since I last posted in this topic.  Life happens and gets in the way of best intentions sometimes.  I have finally set up a planner for my blog posts to help me be more efficient in this area.  I have been very surprised at the response about my kitchen post.  It would seem that our family is not the only ones thinking of scaling back to the basics.

livingroom

 

When you look at the picture above, what do you notice?  There is little excess.  In fact, there is no excess that is visible in the photo.  Can you imagine how easy it would be to keep this space clean?  Think of how peaceful your time would be when spent in this room.

Tonight, I wanted to continue the Simplicity Goals series with the livingroom.  I remember when visiting Katie and Levi Schwartzentruber, as you entered their home, the first room you entered was the livingroom.  Hardwood floors were the norm throughout their home.  Katie often mentioned to me that the wooden floors were more practical and easier to maintain with a family.  There livingroom, unlike most homes today, did not have a lot of seating for guests.  There were two rockers, both near a woodstove.  These were where Levi and Katie would sit.  The children typically sat on a bench or on the floor.    In the corner of the room, Katie had her treadle sewing machine and oft times, there was a quilt set up on the frame to be hand quilted.  When chores were done, or during a quilting bee, chairs and benches from the kitchen were brought in and placed around the quilt frame while the ladies worked on the quilt.

I remember how welcoming the space was.  When the number of guests was more than the livingroom, chairs were brought in.  Often, there were wooden chairs on the porch that could be brought in.  Chairs from around the dining table as well.  Just as with the quilting bees, chairs were brought in as needed.  On a daily basis though, the room was kept with the minimal furniture.  This reflected the Amish beliefs about not being given to excess.  Yet, we can learn so much from it today.

How often do we allow ourselves to be caught up in the wants and expectations that our society dictates?  We have become convinced that we must have all the comforts we can afford.  There are often times a feeling of needing to have just the right decor in our home.  How many of you know of someone who routinely changes their room decor to match the seasons?  I am not saying that this is a bad thing.  It just isn’t for me.  I look at not only the cost of the decor items, but the amount of storage required when these items are swapped out each season.  Then, you have the maintaining of the items, or their replacement when worn or damaged.

Katie had a very simple way of decorating.  She did it with quilts.  A lightweight quilt draped over the chair not only added color to the room, but provided a back cushion as well.  On chilly evenings, it was readily available to wrap around the shoulders for warmth.  Her windows had simple black fabric for curtains.  The fabric was heavy enough to keep the chill at bay.  In summer months, she might put up white fabric curtains that were a lighter weight to allow the breeze to come through the opened windows.  On her floor, a simple braided rag rug was the only covering.  One placed near the door, others at the rocking chairs.  Again, this is what brought color to the room.

I look at the picture, as well as my memories of Katie’s home, and I find inspiration.  With the lack of “stuff” cluttering the room, Katie did not have to spend endless amounts of time cleaning.  She had too many other things to do!  I can tell you from experience that having a house cluttered with excess, on top of doing chores without the benefits of modern conveniences & appliances, is overwhelming.  You spend so much time staying on top of the household chores that the garden or other tasks can suffer from neglect.  Katie not only maintained her home, she used the treadle sewing machine to make all of her family’s clothing, she gardened and home canned the harvest, she baked breads and pies almost daily to feed a family that included 7 children, and she did all the typical things that a Momma does.  Laundry was done in a gas powered, wringer washing machine, then hung up on the clothesline to dry.  Because the clothing is made mostly from a cotton fabric, of poly/cotton blend, it needed ironing as well.  She had a busy enough day ahead of her, even with the help of her oldest daughters, that excessive clutter would have been a hindrance.

How often do we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed?  How often do we wish we could have less time cleaning and more time to pursue other activities?  How easily could we gain that extra time if we simply removed some of the clutter and excess from our homes?

To me, that picture above is close to the ideal livingroom.  Only the essential items are present.  Everything has a place and everything is in its place.  It is peaceful and serene.  I could easily be able to relax in that room.  What about you?