Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve in our new home has been relatively peaceful. Since we are not traveling this Christmas, and are having a simple Christmas dinner here with the two kids, I asked them what kind of Christmas dessert they might want to have.  The only enthusiastic response came from my fourteen-year-old daughter: “Red Velvet Cake!”

I had never made one before, but I did have the recipe passed down from a step-grandparent. “Ok” I told her, “but you have to help.” She readily agreed, as she is one of those rare people who would rather cook food than eat it. I decided to turn the whole thing into a baking afternoon, and had her help me choose a few recipes off pinterest. I should note that normally, we limit all kinds of sugar and processed foods, so this was definitely a special occasion, but hey, it’s Christmas, right? Besides, I thought it would also give us some mother/daughter time that didn’t involve school work.

The first recipe we made was for a Chocolate Chip Danish. I would have taken a picture, but my family inhaled it before I had a  chance. If you are really interested, you can find there recipe where I did: here.

Next we did Carmelitas. I was going to insert a link to the recipe, but when I went back in to get it, this is what I found. It might just be a glitch, so I’m going to leave it in for you. Yes, they are a ooey gooey mess, but they are really good.
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Then we tackled the cake. It is pretty time consuming, but all things considered, I think it turned out ok. Of course, the real test will be tomorrow’s dinner. Like I said, the recipe I had was printed on an old recipe card. This one is almost identical to the one I have.
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Last we did a loaf of gingerbread. I found the recipe here. Simple, straight forward recipe. Katherine started mixing it, but the smell of the molasses was a little much for her, so I finished. I got this pretty serving platter, as a gift from my step-grandmother. She is a talented artist, and hand painted the plate. Pretty cake on a pretty platter. No one has tasted the gingerbread yet, I think everyone OD’d on the danish. I am thinking it will make a nice addition to Christmas morning breakfast along with some bacon and eggs.

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My daughter and I had a nice afternoon together, and she even helped with the dishes without complaint. She is my youngest, and I know that I have to cherish these times that will be over all too quickly.

Ed and I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas, and the Lord’s blessings for the coming year.

Connie

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Reference Books (Old School Google)

If you intend to use all modern methods, including fertilizers and pest control items that you need to wear a space suit to put down, and GMO crops and stock that are scarier than a Stephen King book, then what I am about to talk about really is not for you.

What we all seem to be looking for, and what this blog is about is doing it the old way: farming and living in a way that has kept us healthy and sane for hundreds of years. This would indicate that we would need information about how to live and farm like our ancestors did.

Of course, the internet can provide you with much of what you need to know for free. We do not ignore that resource, but there is a real possibility that we may end up not just wanting to do it “old school”, but having to do things that way because the “new school” has let class out. It is not that farfetched that the day might come when the internet and all the modern methods go away. In such a case, you would need your information in book form.

There are many sources for this information, and we have begun to accumulate a fairly credible library. This includes everything from military Field Manuals about survival, through herbal medicines, to how to build a chicken coop. Perhaps it is the bias of a born and raised Smokey Mountain hillbilly, but my acquisition for the library was a set of the Fox Fire books.

The Fox Fire series started as a school project in a northwestern Georgia High School, designed to preserve some of the stories, recollections and skills of the Appalachian ancestors of the young people involved. Since then it has grown into a cottage industry.

As I stated, we have already acquired a number of other books on self-sufficient living, but were I limited to only a baker’s dozen, it would be FM 21-76: The Army Survival Manual and the Fox Fire Books.

The survival manual speaks for itself. As for the Foxfire series, would you need to know how to build a cabin, build a buckboard type wagon, weave baskets from various materials, make a quilt, make barrels and make a water-powered sawmill? Would you like to know how to make a banjo out of a cigar box or a gourd? Do you enjoy a good ghost story? That is a sample of the things found in the Fox Fire books. Basic plain living, for simple people is the theme of the books; how it was done and how it can be done again. You can find a full set of the Fox Fire books here.

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I got my set of the books as a birthday present from Connie but they arrived piecemeal. The Fox Fire volumes are available both new and used individually through Amazon.com or you can buy them as a set new from the internet address above. A new set runs 216.00 plus shipping. Used copies are considerably cheaper, and the kinds of folks that these books are written about would be proud of you for saving the money.

You buy books that tell you how to live off the grid so you can do what you want to now, and maybe what you have to in the worst case scenario. Fox Fire is a great asset with that, but it is also a wonderful source of wisdom, wit and creativity when you just might need all of those things most.

Ed

Christmas Trees!

We woke up this morning to the first significant snowfall of the year.

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Probably as early as October, Ed started pointing out various roadside evergreen trees as “Christmas Trees”. Our previous home was tiny and we had no room for a large tree. We didn’t have much room for a small one either, but we worked it out. Last year, I was rather proud of the “tree” I made from a tomato cage and artificial greenery. You can see it here.

Now, we have plenty of room for a large tree, but have neither the desire nor the finances to purchase a large artificial tree. When Ed started pointing out the trees along the road, I told him that I had never had a real tree. My stepfather was a firefighter, and had seen too many go up in smoke. He absolutely refused to have a real tree. Early on, that meant one of those silver things with the rotating color wheel, but eventually, we did have some nice artificial trees. When I was grown, I just kept up with that tradition, eventually having a seven-foot, pre-lit beauty. It was heavy, hard to move, and harder to set up. Additionally, the lights never worked properly. When we moved to the smaller place four years ago, it was one of the first things to go in the moving sale.

My revelation seemed to put Ed on a mission. He was determined to find me a real tree. We walked around our property and looked at a few prospects, but most of them were WAY too big. One of our neighbors had already told Ed that we were free to take any dead fall we found on his property for firewood, so we went over there to see if there might be a small evergreen tree we could use. We found one that, from the road, looked to be about four feet high. We came back home and Ed called our neighbor to make sure it was okay to cut it. He gave his blessing, and back we went.

Getting to the tree took a little bit of hiking. It was bigger than we originally thought, but Ed was able to cut it easily. Carrying it out to the road was a little more of a challenge, but he did it. Ed put the tree in the back of the truck and we went back home.

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Once we got there, he built a stand from a coffee can and some scrap wood.

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Then he went to carry in the tree. Once we got it inside, I realized it was a LOT taller than four feet. Probably closer to seven or eight. Ed had to cut a little off, but he get it up. He helped me put on the lights, and left the rest of the decorating to me. 009010

Then my daughter and I strung popcorn. That was a first for her. I’m not sure she was that impressed, but it gave as a chance to sit and watch a movie together while we worked, and that was nice for both of us.

I think this tree is a cedar. It has little tiny needles that become as sharp as metal needles when they dry out. There were enough dry needles on the tree that I had to put on my leather work gloves in order to hang the ornaments without getting stuck.

All that being said, I think it turned out nicely
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Connie

The Nickel Tour

When friends show up at your new place, you want to give them the “nickel tour” so let me walk you around our little five acres. First, understand that I am not just looking to tell you things, I am looking for advice as well. As you read this, look at the pictures, and if you have any advice you believe might help me, feel free to speak up. If you are anywhere in the Braymer, Missouri area and want to get in contact, we would welcome it.

012I described our house in my first post as our new house. It is new to us but, is actually fifty-one years old. We have three bedrooms, Two and a half baths, a fair sized kitchen, living and dining room area combined, and a den. There is also a half basement that includes a garage. All told, a decent living area.

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This is still the front of the house, but walking towards the road. Those two creatures following me are rumored to be dogs. The cat at my feet in the next picture is called Marshmellow, and he thinks he is a dog. Don’t believe me?

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If you want to know anymore about dogs, cats and their perils try here.
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This is the two car detached garage. It has a work bench and some great space which we need to use better. Hey, I am working on it.
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One of the previous owners was something of an electrician. Everything: barn, garage, basement and this poor old chicken coop is wired for lights. How amazed do you imagine I was when I stuck my head inside this thing and saw a light switch? Almost as amazed as I was when I found it worked.

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These pictures, of course, are of the barn. It is really a very well constructed barn with two stalls to the left, three feed rooms and another milking stall to the right, a full loft and an added lean-to area for farm equipment. As can be seen across the place our previous owners left me a lot to clean up. You would be amazed when I tell you that over half of what was in the barn is now gone.

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These last pictures are of the land itself. In the first one you can see a small tree line, this is where the old well is located. It appears that the old well house burned and the pump has been removed. I am thinking, if the well turns out to still have water, a manual pump and stock tank. As you can see, the place needs a lot of clearing along the fence lines, some additional fencing, a lot of basic clean up and work I have not even considered yet.

But there it is. I think it has a lot of potential.

God Bless

Ed

I Don’t Want It All

But I do want to learn it all.

Ed already told you how we got here, and what our basic livestock/gardening plans are, so I thought I give you my perspective. One thing Ed neglected to mention is that our new place is over an hour’s drive from our old one, and we came here without knowing a soul. We came with two of my three children, two half crazy dogs, and four completely crazy cats.

Although we had agreed not to do anything major until next spring, we had hoped to be a little farther into settling in to our new place than we are. We had some unexpected health issues that have slowed us down some. If you’re interested, you can read about my accident here. Things are better now, but still moving too slowly for my impatient self.

Ed and I both believe that people need to learn how to do things the old ways because one day, they just might not have a choice. For me, I think it goes a little deeper than that. I’ve always loved history, and as an extension of that, I want to know how to do things the way my great grandparents did them.

Grandma did teach me how to make bread, but wouldn’t attempt teaching me to sew or crochet, because I am left-handed, and watching me work “backwards” made her crazy. No one else in my family knew how, so I’ve muddled around off and on over the years, trying to teach myself. I’ve had more failures than successes, but I keep trying. I am, however, the family “go-to” person for homemade bread, and my oldest son can make it as well as I can. All three of my kids are bread kneading experts.

If I could, I would learn how to do everything. I would learn about caring for goats, chickens and horses. I would learn how to card and spin fibers, knit, crochet, and weave. I would learn to quilt and make our clothes, I would learn to make butter and cheese as well as all our own bath and laundry soap. I would learn to grow and preserve all our own food. I would grow and grind my own grain, and press my own oil. I would learn about wild edibles and medicinals, and take care of my families health through the real food we eat and natural medicine. I truly believe that when God created this world, He gave us everything we need. We just need to learn how to use it.

OK, well that is the short list of what I want to learn. Give me a few minutes, I’m sure I’ll think of more. Oh, yeah, I want to learn to play piano and guitar well. I can play some now; just not well.

I’ve been actually working on this list for a long time. So how am I doing? Well, as I said before, I’ve worked some on needle work and sewing. YouTube has been great for learning things left-handed. I have made laundry soap, deodorant, and lip balm. I have made lye from wood ash. I never got to the soap making part of that, but that’s another blog post. I have grown and canned some tomatoes. I’ve made apple and pear butter, and raspberry jam. I’ve grown herbs and learned to dry them (by accident). I’ve used said dried herbs for medicinal purposes. We are going to talk about Yarrow in a future blog post. Its great stuff! Last year, I attended a wild edibles workshop.

As much as we can, we try to limit our use of processed food in general and refined white sugar in particular. I’ve done a little research into essential oils and their uses. We have a few here that we use. Number two son swears by peppermint essential oil for headaches.

Almost everything I mentioned in the last two paragraphs happened before we moved here. I am so excited to have more room to learn things, grow things, build things and make things.

We are so glad to have you along with us on this journey as we create our homestead. We welcome any input, information or advice you have for us too. That way, we can learn from each other.

Connie

Welcome to Your 5 Acre Farm: Now What?

On the 1st of August 2014, my wife Connie and I spent the morning signing reams of papers for taking possession of our five acre farm in the wilds of northwestern Missouri. On the farm is a two stall barn with a lean-to addition for farm equipment, a two car detached garage and our new three bedroom home with a half basement garage. We now have a thirty year mortgage. Please understand that when we pay it off, I will be ninety-three and my blushing bride will be eighty. Either we are the most optimistic people in the world or we are betting heavily on a zombie apocalypse.

So, what is five acres? Historically, an acre is the amount of land you can plow with a brace of oxen. Oh by the way; a brace of oxen is two. So we bought ourselves the amount of land it would take five days to plow with two oxen. That would suppose I had two oxen, the appropriate plows and tack to harness them to the plow, any experience at all plowing with cattle and any motivation to plow the whole place to begin with. I have none of the above.

Let’s use a comparison maybe we can understand. An acre is 90% of a football field. So we now own four and one half football fields though it would be hard to play a decent game on them because of various buildings and cross fences.

So there you go. Both Connie and I love animals, outdoors, independence and doing things ourselves. Oh, we also love each other. So now that we have our five acres, what are we going to do with it? That has been the subject of much conversation and a little action since August. Having moved in so late in the year we both decided no live stock or gardening until spring. That will give us time to plan and prepare.

Most of the farmers in our area grow grains, corn and/or soy beans. I could fill the whole place with any combination of these crops, grow a bumper crop of them, sell it high and still not make enough for us to catch a bus to town if a bus ran out this far.

Every family in the area has their kitchen garden. In the first week we were here, we were almost buried in an avalanche of good will and tomatoes. There are some chickens, cows and goats in the area. A little further down the road you can find all sorts of live stock from sheep to pigs to lamas.

Goats: Connie wants to raise goats for fun and profit. The poet Carl Sandburg’s wife was a breeder of prize winning goats. Remember that if you are ever on Jeopardy. My Connie wants to raise goats and I told her that was alright but don’t expect me to rope them. It is not that being called a Goat Roper upsets me, but have you ever tried to rope a goat? They got some serious quick going on. So sometime towards spring I am going to have to cross fence around the barn and we will need to get a goat or two.

Bees: I want bees because bees make honey, and I have a raging sweet tooth. Also, bees are just cool. I remember as a little boy helping my grandfather with the bees; watching him gather honey, sneaking around behind the hives to put my ear up against them and listening to the hum of the bees cooling the honey in summer. Bees are really great little critters. However, I am not certain Connie is particularly thrilled. Got a feeling I will be robbing hives by myself.

Chickens: We both think you just have to have chickens. Chickens mean eggs and meat and I am fond of anything that can provide two kinds of food, ergo the goats. Any sustenance farm is going to have to have some kind of fowl, chickens or guineas are the best candidates. I expect we will try both within the first couple years.

A garden of course: A family of four can easily provide itself with the necessary vegetables, tubers, greens and such, ‘maters, tatters and beans, on a half acre. I have one picked out. We will also be planting berries and fruit trees.

Those are our goals for our first year; along with that maybe, just maybe, a couple of pigs. After that we will look at some grains, maybe a cow or two, pigmy cows are interesting. As time goes by, I am certain we will fail at some things and find successes we never even thought about. Raising mushrooms is intriguing and growing worms goes right along with composting.

Then there are matters of self reliance like production of our own energy, getting that old well back in action and seeing what comes from that and learning to recycle, reuse, repair and simply restrain ourselves.

The central theme of this blog is living simply, sustained by the earth each other and ultimately our God. What we intend to share with you is not how we GOT there. We intend to let you watch while we GET there. Allowing our readers to learn from our mistakes and profit from our successes as they happen, is our goal. The fact that I am old enough to remember when dirt was young should add to the entertainment value. Connie? Why she’s still an eighteen year old girl and as beautiful as she ever was. Why do you ask?

Ed