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.

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 🙂

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.