Whoa Nellie!!! It’s Cold Outside!!!!!!

Burrrrrr!!!!

Teeth chattering!!!!

Frost bite warning!!!!!

It’s been dangerously cold here this past week.  We also got snow.  Not a lot.  Only 3-4 inches, but enough that I needed to shovel the driveway, especially the end of the driveway where the snow plow pushed all the snow off the road.

When I shovel, I have time to think about things.  It’s something that terrifies my husband – me thinking, not me shoveling.  This time, I was thinking about the bitter cold and whether or not I’m prepared to deal with it on our farm one day.  Do I have the attire necessary for working in these types of conditions?

No!  I’ll need to make some purchases.  Like this . . . . .

 

And this . . . .

 

These look like a good addition to the wardrobe . . . .

A warm cap that adds some color . . . .

Warm socks are a must . . . .


And work gloves.  Nice warm work gloves . . . .

But it’s not just preparing my attire for winter on the farm, but being prepared to take care of the animals in winter.  I know what I need to keep myself safe and warm from the elements, but am I as prepared to keep my animals safe and warm from the elements?

Each season requires something a little different for the animals, but for me, winter feels as if it may be a bit more challenging.

Trekking thru the snow toward the barn as the wind tosses snow and ice crystals into my face.  That reminds me . . . I need to add a scarf or face mask to my winter farm attire.


Maybe a hat like this for those extra cold and windy days . . . .

It’s not as easy as throwing layers of clothing on the animals.
They need to always have fresh water to drink. Water freezes quickly in these conditions.
There are differences in food needs in the winter. They don’t have fresh green grass, weeds, bugs, etc. to graze/peck on this time of the year and since I want my animals to be feed good quality, chemical free, non-GMO foods, I need to be prepared for that.
They need adequate shelter from the conditions and good bedding to keep them warm.
What else do they need different in the winter than other times of the year?

There is so much to learn!

Both hubby and I have read books, magazines, blogs, forums, etc.  We are learning from those with experience, but it doesn’t erase the fact that so much of the knowledge we gain will be a result of our own experiences on our little farm.

So I prepare as best I can now and then wait for the experience that teaches us so much, at times more than what we learn from books.

We are new to the whole farming gig. There is a learning curve and while we certainly need the book knowledge and/or knowledge of those with experience, we will still have to learn things for ourselves.

Until then,  it’s time to break out the reading material I have put away. Time to arm myself with some of the knowledge necessary to farming in the winter as well as other times of the year.

If you have a favorite homesteading/farming book, please leave me a comment.  If you have knowledge you wish to share, please do.  I need all the power I can get for my future adventures on the farm.

After the Rain

As the girls and I arrived home from riding lessons a couple of days ago, we discovered two large boxes sitting on our front porch.  I knew what was in the boxes and while excited, I was also very disappointed.  It was the day after the storms moved thru and I had so wanted these boxes to arrive before the storms.

We got out of the car and I pulled them into the garage. When hubby arrived home that evening, we opened the boxes and pulled out our new . . . . . . . . . .

RAIN BARRELS!!!!

I had ordered them over six weeks earlier, so they should have arrived a few weeks ago.  Apparently, the sale price offered was so good that the manufacturer was having trouble keeping up with orders.  Several weeks later, the day after we received 1.5 – 2 inches of rain, our barrels arrived.

Hubby purchased the necessary gutter supplies and we have the first rain barrel set up.

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Now all we need is some rain to fill it up and a soaker hose to water the garden this summer.

Despite my complaints about its arrival, I’m thrilled to have one two more items in our possession that will provide us another level of self-sufficiency.  I have a feeling these will get some good use over the years.

A Visit to the Farmy (Long Post, Lots – o – Pictures)

When hubby and I first decided to switch direction and move to a more self-sufficient lifestyle in the country, I began searching for other like-minded folks. My search lead me to a blog, written by a woman who lives here in Central Illinois. Immediately, I knew I would enjoy following Cecilia’s blog posts over at The Kitchens Garden.  (If you’ve never visited The Kitchens Garden, I encourage you to hop over and follow along.)

I shared our desire to move to the country where we can raise our own food and Cecilia graciously invited us to take advantage of the space she has at her farmy, to begin raising some of our food.  The invitation was so very appreciated and the excitement of organic, humanely raised meat one day gracing our table was exciting.  We were being given the opportunity to experience just a small piece of the life we hope to one day live and we jumped at the opportunity.

After reading her blog for many, many months and then trading a few emails, we took a drive to meet Cecilia.

Having seen so many pictures of Cecilia’s home on The Kitchens Garden, I was sure I would recognize the house.  Then, as we turned off the main road, I saw it.  The farmy I had seen so many times in picture, was before my very eyes.  I spotted the Barn Across the Way and felt my excitement grow.

As we pulled onto the lane, I was again assured we were at the farmy.  Daisy, Queenie, the Bobbies and Marcel were grazing in the pasture.  Mama and her crew were enjoying a sunny graze further back in the pasture.  The Big Dog and Ton Ton greeted us as we pulled up in front of the house.  Boo was by the barn barking excitedly upon our arrival.

Cecilia came to the car to welcome us and she was just as I had expected and more.  A lovely woman who made us feel so very welcome at the farmy.

We were introduced to John, affectionately known as “Our John” on her blog and then we were off to meet our pig, Number Three.

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We were told that he’s growing fast and is certainly bigger than his pen companion.  He was more than happy to come see us and the girls were happy to give him some love and attention.  We had brought some food scraps from home for him.  It was just a little, but made me happy to know that we contributed just a little bit to his care.

 

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As I expected, Naomi asked what his name was and when she discovered he had no name she promptly called him Sasha.  Our attempts at teaching our girls to not name their food has been a complete failure.  One day Sasha will grace our dinner plates and my hope is that Naomi will be happy to know that she provided Sasha with some love and attention, which is certain to make the meal even more tasty 🙂

We then moved into the barn to see the Red Pig and just a few steps further were Sheila and Poppy.

Poppy very kindly gave me a muddy smile.

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And Sheila waited until we all moved outside before saying “cheese.”

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Lili loves animals and seems to have a way with them.  Boo absolutely enjoyed some Lili love.

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Later Ton Ton got lots of attention and exercise as the girls threw toys and sticks for him to fetch.

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Of course the girls fell head-over-hills for Tima.  Being such a cute and personable little pig, how could one not love Tima.

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We saw the baby chicks and ducks.

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And the girls were able to experience their first time holding a baby chick.

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We had a delicious lunch of homemade pizza and later Lili and I were able to churn butter!

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I really can’t express how thrilled I was about churning butter and Lili, full of concentration, did the majority of the churning.

Cecilia was a wonderful teacher as she walked me thru the final steps.

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As I listened and watched intently, I neglected to continue taking pictures of the process, but I’m sure I can remember to strain off the buttermilk (use for pancakes the next day), pour ice-cold water over the butter and using a wooden spatula, carefully push and separate the butter working the remaining buttermilk out of the butter.  Continue rinsing with ice-cold water until there is no more creamy white water left.  If desired, add a little Kosher salt, mold, wrap and refrigerate.

Now I want a dairy cow, a butter churn, and molds.

The girls collected eggs from the chickens, we met some newer farmy neighbors who stopped by and then met the Matriarch.

Four hours later we said our good-byes.  We left with fresh eggs, butter that we churned, new friendships, and wonderful memories.  A day that we very much-needed and I thank you Cecilia for your hospitality, the experiences, the wonderful food and the memories.  We look forward to our next visit, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.   And as Naomi said so eloquently, “Cecilia, your farm is amazing!!”

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A Homestead Kind of Day

Winter Storm Nika moved through last night and early this morning leaving us about 6 – 7 inches of snow. This required another snow shoveling work-out and after my work-out I decided it was a good day to enhance some of my homesteading skills.

Since I was down to just enough laundry soap for maybe two more loads of laundry, making laundry soap was my first order of business. I’m now set for the next few months with 6 jars ready to go to work.

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My next challenge was making some body butter.  Now I say this is a challenge because my past attempts haven’t turned out the way I had hoped, but I just can’t give up so I tried again.

First I measured out 1/2 c each of Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter and Coconut Oil.  I put them in the top of a double broiler and melted them down to a liquid form.  I put it aside to let it cool and once the pan was cool, I put it in the fridge for about 15 minutes to cool off a bit more.

After it began to thicken along the edges, I stirred in 1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil, 1 t Vitamin E oil, and several drops of lavender and orange bitter essential oils.  (Sorry, but I didn’t count the number of drops.  I went strictly by scent and quit when it smelled good.)

I mixed in the oils and put the pan back into the fridge until everything began to thicken (about 20 – 30 minutes).

Now it was time to mix.

The moment of truth . . . . . . . .

And success!!!!!

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Creamy!
Buttery!
And it smells scrumptious!!!

It seems the problem with my previous attempts was not allowing the oils to cool off and thicken.  Which didn’t give me the consistency I desired.  I’m so glad I didn’t give up.  Of course now I’m anxious to try some new blends, so stay tuned for Debbie’s delightful body butter combos.

And I must point out that I love my canning jars.  They have an amazing multitude of uses.

My last homestead adventure for the day is something I’ve been doing for many, many, many years.  It was something the girls have been asking to do for several weeks, so we got out everything we needed and created these.

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The girls got snowflake cookie cutters in their Kiwi Crates at Christmas and have been wanting to use them and use them we did.

Overall, nice day on the ranch . . . I mean farm . . .  I mean a nice day at home.

Trading the Past for the Future

We have been making a lot of changes to help us reach our homesteading goal. But sometimes, old habits die-hard.

We’ve lived the American Dream most of our lives. Work hard, make money, buy lots of things, take nice vacations . . . .  Like I said, it’s the American Dream.  But somewhere along the way our dream changed and it changed dramatically.  We want to work hard, but we want to work hard to sustain ourselves.  We will need to make money for the necessities, but we want to live a life in which we have redefined what those necessities are.  We don’t need the nicest or biggest televisions.  We don’t need the nicest cars.  We don’t need to take fancy vacations (although I must admit I enjoy a nice vacation from time to time).  We need food, clothing, shelter and the means to get those things.  Those are the real necessities.

It’s not always easy to make big life changes, but trading our past life for our future life is a really good trade.  We just need constantly remind ourselves . . . . .

Mr. Fix-It

Part of the homesteading lifestyle, is the desire to do things ourselves.

Instead of buying all our food at the grocery store, we want to grow our own produce, raise our own meat, and provide ourselves with dairy products.

Instead of heating our home with gas or electric, we want to use wood that comes from our own property.

Instead of going out and replacing something that breaks, we should try to first fix it ourselves.

The list goes on, but the outcome is the same. We gain a higher level of self-sufficiency, we save money, we learn lessons and we have a level of satisfaction that we can’t get from outside resources.

Historically, when something breaks in our house we either call the repairman or we replace it.  So when the washing machine broke last week and flooded the house – you can read about it here – both hubby and I began shopping for a new washer.  Of course if I’m going to purchase a washer, then I should purchase the matching dryer.  After all, this set is somewhere between 12-15 years old, the dryer is bound to give up in the not too distant future and has served its purpose.  It doesn’t matter that the dryer still works, we can sell the set on Craigslist and put that money toward the new set.  Someone else will buy it, fix the washer and all will be good.

Then it happened.  Sticker shock!!!!!  Seriously people, why do washers and dryers cost so much money?  I’m quite sure they have doubled in price since I purchased my set and how many loads of laundry could I do at the Laundromat before I would have paid for a new set?  I began doing the math and it wasn’t pretty.

In the meantime, hubby switched his focus from shopping for a new washer and dryer to figuring out what the problem was with our washer, narrowed it down to the most likely problem and ordered the part.  Yesterday the part arrived and when he got home from work he rolled up his sleeves and went to work.  Within about 20 minutes everything was done and we tested it out.  No leaking.  I did a load of laundry.  No flood, not even a tiny leak.  It was the first time he has done any washing machine repair and my Mr. Fix-It man did a great job!!

By simply changing our mindset, we saved around $200 in repair costs and saved around $1500 by not running out to purchase new appliances.  Not only did we save a lot of money, but this experience has taught us a valuable lesson.  It has given us more confidence in our abilities or in this case, hubby’s abilities 🙂

” There Is A Lesson In Almost Everything That You Do, And Getting The Lesson Is How You Move Forward. It Is How Much You Enrich Your Spirt ” Oprah  ~ Mistake Quote

 

 

The 2014 Garden

Last year we got our vegetable garden up and running again.  For a number of reasons, it had been dormant for several years and with each passing year I missed it more and more.  Okay, I didn’t miss the weeding so much, but I certainly missed the ability to walk out my back door to retrieve ingredients for a summer night dinner.  I missed pulling a jar from the basement shelf and knowing the contents of that jar came from my garden.  The feeling is so very satisfying.

We have had sub-zero temperatures with about 10 inches of snow on the ground and it’s snowing again this morning.  I believe that is my clue to begin my 2014 garden plan. What will I grow this year?  How will I lay out the garden?  Should we expand the garden or not?  What did I learn from last year’s garden?

Honestly, I’ve had some really good success with my garden, but I can’t say that success has come from vast knowledge.  Truth be told, the majority of my success has been a result of some good old Illinois soil.  But we don’t plan to stay in Illinois and I can’t take this soil with me (although I would if I could).  So, I have been spending more time educating myself and trying to learn from past mistakes.

So what exactly did I learn from last year’s garden?

I won’t be planting grape tomatoes this year.  We just didn’t eat them and I had problems with blossom end rot.  I added calcium to the soil in the form of egg shells and powdered milk, but I don’t believe I put enough calcium at that end of the garden.  We also had some heavy rains and then it got hot and dry.  Not sure I gave those tomatoes enough water during the drought.  So some good lessons learned for the 2014 tomatoes.

The other aha moment about tomatoes came to me recently when I realized just how many jars of my tomato sauce I have been using this winter.  In place of the grape tomatoes, I think I’ll add a couple more Big Mama tomato plants.  It was the first time I have grown them and I was very impressed – big, meaty and wonderful for making my own tomato sauce.

Growing other meaty tomato varieties is also on the garden list for 2014. Ultimately, you don’t know what you are going to like best until you’ve tried them all and I’m still in search of the perfect salsa recipe and would like to try making my own ketchup this fall.  Good sauce tomatoes are a must.

Zucchini!!!  OMG!!!! We had enough zucchini to stock the Wal-Mart produce shelves for months.  Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit.  It’s likely we could have only stocked the shelves for a few weeks, but for our family of 4, it was a lot of zucchini.  Bags and bags and bags of shredded zucchini still fill my freezer.  Despite fighting the squash bugs, I had an awesome crop which allowed me to make several jars of  bread-n-butter zucchini pickles before stocking the freezer.  Zucchini takes up a lot of garden space and quite honestly, I want that space for some other crops this year.  Unless I suddenly start using up all the pickles and shredded zucchini, I think we’ll skip it this year.

The pickling cucumbers I tried to grow just didn’t turn out.  I put them in too late in the year and they didn’t get the water they needed.  It was my first time growing cucumbers and I learned that I need more garden space before I try them again.  They vine out all over the place and hubby will be building a cucumber trellis next time I try planting them.

The onions I grew were great, but I didn’t plant nearly enough.  This year I will be putting in about 4 x’s the onion sets I did last year.

Spinach and kale are two crops that I plan to grow this year.  The are cool weather plants so I’ll be putting them in early spring and maybe again in the fall.  They are great additions to soups and salads, so freezing a good crop of spinach and kale will be a nice addition to our freezer supply of food.

Peas are another addition to the garden list this year.  Easy to grow and easy to can or freeze for use during the fall and winter next year.  Another early spring plant for my garden and one that will need some fencing as they need something to hold onto as they grow.

I really wish I would have put in a crop of green beans last year.  I love having a nice supply of canned green beans on the shelves.   Heat them up as a side dish or throw them in soups or stews.

We had peppers, peppers and more peppers from our garden last year.  I have jars and jars and jars of pickled jalapeno and Serranos stored.  I will likely put in a Serrano and jalapeno plant as I work at finding the perfect salsa recipe for canning, but I’m e.  What I wish I would have had this year is more red and green peppers in the freezer.  I kick myself every time I purchase another pepper at the grocery store this winter.  So more sweet peppers will grace the garden this year.

I’m still in the planning stages and haven’t decided what else to put in the garden this year.  My dilemma isn’t deciding what to grow, but how much.  With a move in our unforeseen future, I’m trying to find the right balance of growing and preserving what we need, but not so much that we can’t move it all.

There is certainly a lot to be learned from gardening and I don’t anticipate that I’ll ever figure it all out.  But as long as I have a garden, I’ll have good food for me and my family and the neighbors 🙂

Heating the Homestead Cabin

When we decided to remodel our living room several years ago, we put in a gas fireplace.  Just flip the switch and we have a fire and a heat source.  While our primary source of heat comes from our gas furnace, this particular fireplace also came with a battery back-up.  We’ve lost power in the winter a few times and our furnace doesn’t work without power.  So a back-up source of heat was a wonderful selling point.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out quite as well as we had imagined it would.  For a matter-of-fact, I can only remember one time we were able to get the fireplace working during a power outage.  Not a good thing.

Our frustration with our gas fireplace has led hubby and I to some discussions on how we want to heat our future home.   We both enjoy watching the fire in our fireplace, but we do miss the sounds and smells that come with burning wood.  So as we consider features we would like to have in our next home, a wood-burning heat source is high on that list.  Power or no power, as long as we are diligent in making sure we have wood, we will always have heat.

Now the decision becomes fireplace or wood stove.  We discussed.  We researched.  Ultimately, we decided a wood stove is the best way to go.  No big masonry work required and less heat loss thru a chimney.   Twice a year cleaning of the wood stove pipe is recommended, but I’m sure that is something we can handle on our own.  The harder work will be cutting and hauling our own wood.  We learned a little about that last spring when the big Hackberry tree in our front yard got hit by lightning and fell.  Yet the thought of having wooded property that allows us to provide our own wood source and a  roaring fire in our wood stove providing heat to our home feels right.

And there are so many wood stove choices.  Like this one . . . . .

the Hearthstone 8012 woodstove.  It will heat up to 2500 square feet, will burn up to 10 hours with a heat time of up to 14 hours.  No need to get up in the middle of the night to put more logs on the fire.

Of course there is also the option of a wood cook stove.

But I haven’t researched them enough to know if I’m sold on that idea or not.

Making plans and considering all the little details of our homestead is part of the work that goes in to turning our dream into our reality.  Sometimes the decisions are easy and sometimes the decisions are hard work.  But it takes work and perseverance to turn dreams into our reality.  

Grandpa and Grandma’s Life

When I was a little girl, my sister and I would go to my grandparent’s home for overnight visits.  They lived in a tiny rural community that consisted of a church and about 25 houses (give or take a few). Growing up, I heard stories of how it was once a thriving community with its one-room schoolhouse and grocery store.  The train ran thru this little village, stopping to pick up passengers for a trip to the city about 30 miles to the north and west.

I suppose it was like many small rural towns during that time.  Families sustaining themselves with food from their gardens, chickens, maybe a cow or pig.  Kids were expected to do their fair share of work on the family homestead with no television or electronic devices to occupy their time.

As time went on, things began to change.  Folks began to purchase automobiles and as a result, the train had fewer and fewer passengers.  Cars allowed families the freedom to venture out when they wanted or needed to and as surrounding communities began to grow, this tiny town began to die.  The schoolhouse closed it doors as children were picked up by the bus transporting them to a school in the neighboring town.  Larger grocery stores opened up causing the little town market to go out of business.   The little town  became a shell of what it once was.

I spent some time recently, thinking about the lifestyle my grandparents must have lived.  Honestly, I don’t know or remember a lot about their life, even though I spent many hours in their little tow-bedroom home.  There was a chicken coop with its weathered wood and I remember the chickens in their fenced enclosure scratching and pecking at the ground.  I can remember my grandmother filling her apron pockets with feed, opening the gate to the chicken yard and the chickens running up to her knowing they were about to get something good to eat.

On the east side of the house was a root cellar that I entered only a handful of times.  I was quite scared of spiders and mice and knew they were residing behind the root cellar doors, so it took every ounce of courage I could muster to climb down that stairs behind my grandmother.  It also seems strange that I can so clearly remember the root cellar and the food stored down there, but I don’t remember a garden, although there must have been one.

My grandparents little farm had a small water pump at the sink and a larger pump just across the driveway.  There was no indoor plumbing, so trips to the bathroom were a trip across the yard to the outhouse.  The bathtub in their house was filled with buckets of warm water that had been heated on the cook stove.  A bar of Ivory soap in the tub was more like a toy as we watched it float or pushed it under water to watch it pop back up to the surface.

My grandfather spent hours in his old garage tinkering.  He loved working on old cars or just about any engine he could get his hands on.  I can remember many old baby food jars in his garage.  He filled them with different sized nuts, bolts, and washers.  An old grinding wheel attached to the workbench was used to sharpen tools and mower blades and I loved watching all the sparks fly.

Grandma used an old wringer washing machine to clean their clothes.  I’m quite sure that was a luxury item that took the place of an old wash board.  We were not allowed to get near it, but watching her run the dripping wet clothes thru that wringer provided me  entertainment and I longed to give it a try.

Grandma was one of the best cooks and bakers ever.  She had an old flour bin with a built-in sifter used often for making homemade pie crusts, rolls, and breads.

As time went on, they began to leave the homestead lifestyle behind and traded it in for a life of more convenience.  Indoor plumbing was put in and the old cook stove was replaced with a gas stove.  The chickens were soon gone and I can only assume they were butchered but never replaced with new baby chicks.  Food was purchased from the grocery store and the root cellar was soon empty.  The life of self-sufficiency turned into a life of dependency.  Probably a welcome change from all the years of hard work to feed their large family or possibly a way to fit into a changing society.

Over the years, I really didn’t think about how different my grandparent’s lives were from the life I grew up living.   Yet the life they lived impacted me in much bigger ways then I even realized.   Happy memories of my time spent at their home.  The feeling of freedom I didn’t feel anywhere else.  Thinking back to those times fills me with a passion and desire for much of the same.  No, I don’t want the outhouse or water pumps, although I wouldn’t mind the wringer washer and big flour bin.  But I long to give up so much of the life of dependency I’ve built for myself for a life of more self-sufficiency.

I’m not sure why all these memories have flooded my mind.  I suppose it could be that the holidays have caused me to pause and think about Christmases past, so many of them included visits to my grandparent’s home.  Their silver aluminum Christmas tree with the changing coloring wheel in the living room.  The cuckoo clock sounding off each hour.  Peaceful, happy memories from my childhood.

While I may not desire to live the exact life they lived, their life has given me a foundation to build on.   A life that causes one to fall into bed each night, exhausted from the day, feeling satisfied and content.  Not a simpler life, but a connected life.   A happy life.  A homesteaders life.

 

Homesteading Practice

Based on the gifts I received this year, it seems Santa felt I needed some things for the homestead and surprised me with some unexpected gifts.

One gift I really needed was a yoga DVD. Getting in better physical shape is a must for the homestead. Not that having a homestead won’t help get me in better physical shape, but doing that now should make the transition much easier.

I also received a cast iron Dutch oven and small square skillet. I’m absolutely convinced that no homestead is complete without cast iron and am sure it’s written as a law in the homesteading manual somewhere 🙂 Of course lifting my cast iron skillets and Dutch oven several times a day would also go a long way in helping me get in better physical shape.

The two surprise gifts I received were a yogurt makers and a mozzarella cheese making kit.

I tried making yogurt before and while it tasted fine, it was pretty runny. Hopefully this will put me on the road to making some good yogurt.

Apparently, Santa was listening to me talk about all my plans for making my own cheese one day. I haven’t done a lot of research, simply because I’m not living in the country with my own goats or a cow for milk. Now that I have the kit, I have to at least try making some cheese.

What I really need to research now, is where I can get fresh raw pasture fed cow milk for yogurt and cheese making.

Santa also brought me some books on homesteading, raising goats and chickens. I also received some magazines on hobby farming and sustainable living. Educating myself is one of the best things I can do to prepare for our homesteading lifestyle, so I’m appreciative of these books and magazines.

The future holds some wonderful possibilities for us and continuing to prepare is vital to our success.  Thank you Santa for sharing my homesteading vision and bringing me such wonderful gifts!