Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cooking on Top of the Woodstove

One thing I do a lot of when the woodstove is running, is to cook our meals as  much as possible on top. 

We don't have a cookstove ( the wishing for phase).  However, it is amazing how much can be done if you have a flat top woodstove.

Over time you will learn if you need to put a pan up on a grate or not, depending on how hot your stove is running at the time.   We use both a cookie rack as well as a metal clothes hanger that has been coiled up in a circle.

I cooked all of our Saturday night meal as shown in the picture above.  We had a pan for pasta, one to heat up sauce, a cast iron pan for the beans, and a cast iron pan with a cover for the meatballs.

We are looking to replace our woodstove as it is quite old, not efficient,  and not sufficient to heat our home well.  

Does anyone have a combination woodstove/cookstove?  If so, I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts.

Warm wishes on this beautiful day we have been given,

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Market Garden and Selling Your Homebaked Goods

Another question I have been asked recently is how to begin with selling produce and home baked goods, even on a small scale.

We are not experienced farmers and still have so very much to learn.  Please know I  welcome suggestions and ideas.

I am just going to share our experiences.

We moved up to Vermont in the fall of 2005, into a rental home right in a village.  The blessing was that there was about 1/2 acre of amazing soil.  It had been old farm land.  All we had to do was till and plant.  At this time we didn't own a tiller and with no money to invest in one, we dug by hand - yes, shovels.  The older boys would be asked to turn over one row each day and dear husband, Mike, did most of it.  I helped as often as I could.  When we had a about 1/4 left, we were given a tiller and that made the finishing much faster.  We didn't have to add any compost to the soil.  And everything just grew and grew and grew.

There was an unattached garage and I set up a little farmstand to sell our produce, baked goods and handmade goods.  I put a sign at the end of our driveway to attract customers.  We had a few sales this way, but not too many.  But, what a wonderful way to meet the neighbors, many of them elderly people.   It was a joy to have them knock on our door, looking for cucumbers for pickling or to share some raspberries with us that they had just picked from their back yard.

We signed up for a farmers market as well and made the weekly drive on Fridays.  Our sales were decent, about $100 - $150 or so with all of the produce selling well.  We could have used more for sure.  It was a nice time for our family to meet farmers and artists, especially being new to the area.

After the rental house sold and we moved to our mobile home on leased land we immediately began the process of tilling and preparing the soil for planting.  This time, however, the soil was poor, real poor.  We were blessed to have a neighbor that had 5 year old composted cow manure dumped on his property when a nearby farm was sold.  He offered this to us for no cost.  This helped and our crops improved the second year, but not enough to consider selling beyond our own little farmstand we put out right in front of our property.  Even living on a rural gravel road, it was amazing how many people stopped to buy.   We just left an  honor system mason jar out for people to leave money.

The little homestead we bought just one mile further down the gravel road did not have gardens in place and we have had to, once again, begin the process of improving the clay soil by adding lots of compost.

We did not have enough excess produce to sell any last year, but will be planting twice as much this year.  Perhaps the farmstand will return this summer.  I also, in the past, would bake cookies and other goodies for both the farmstand and the market and they always sold very well along with our eggs.

It was interesting to find that the most common vegetables were the best sellers - tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and squash.

Warm wishes,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Answering Your Questions - Breakfast

We buy one to two boxes of Cheerios each week.  This is something we bought our oldest when he was very young and it is still one of the older children's favorites.   I wish we had brought them up on oatmeal, but fortunately, the younger ones do like it and join Mike and I for a bowl of organic oatmeal.  I have organic raisins and molasses in mine.  Mike has brown sugar in his.  So cold or hot cereal is served two or three mornings each week.

The other mornings, except Sundays, I make pancake batter, usually the night before.  Here is what I do ~

I don't measure anything.  I simply take one of our stainless steel pans and fill it with milk, probably about 3 cups.  Then add 5 of our chickens' eggs.  Next I pour in white and wheat flours along with a small amount of cornmeal.  I add about 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 T. of oil, and 3 T. of sweetener.
I then use a whisk and mix it all together.  Put the cover on the pan and then in the refrigerator it goes until the morning. 

We rarely have maple syrup as it is not in our budget.  When company comes or a birthday we do buy some.  Other than that we look forward to our own syrup.  However, the maples here on our homestead were very crowded by others trees and did not get adequate light to grow a solid base, and instead grew tall and skinny.  We have thinned out around them and hope that our sap production will increase each year.  Last year we got about 2 quarts.

When we don't have syrup, we use jelly, yogurt, flax, butter, cinnamon, or a sprinkling of sugar.

On Sundays Mike cooks scrambled eggs and bacon.

I look forward to learning about your breakfasts.

Warm wishes,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yarn Along

Joining in with Ginny again this week.  I have been knitting for our shop in preparation of spring and Easter.
I made this pattern for the little bunny and it can be found in the spring 2010 issue of Rhythm of the Home, which is a free.

If you are interested in reading more about living a more simple life and what industry has done to our food systems and to the small farmer, as well as keeping things simple at home, Wendell Berry is wonderful.  Last I read, he still types on a manual typewriter.

I look forward to seeing what others are knitting and reading this week.

Warm wishes,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Simple Day

As winter settled back upon us in the form of very cold weather, our day was filled with typical winter activities -

making soup for lunch

handwork, Abby needlefelted this on a piece of wool felt

Nolan (our fifteen year old) has started a two hour per week apprenticeship with our neighbor who makes primarily string instruments.  Nolan has both a love of music and fine craftsmanship and really enjoyed his first session which he spent mostly sanding. 

Thomas had a friend over to "jam" (play music.)

This is where Nolan went.  Our homesteading neighbors (and close friends)  built their home themselves ten years ago, including the workshop where he makes instruments.  They are off grid.  We are blessed to have  mentors just one mile away.  Pati sometimes contributes to the Plain and Joyful Living newsletter.

Spring, however, is not far from our thoughts.

the seed order was finalized to be mailed today

the sap buckets and taps were washed to be hung this week

Warm wishes, Tonya

Monday, February 21, 2011

Warm Friday Walk and Thanks

Thank you for contributing and encouraging.  I received many questions and plan to answer them over a series of posts.  After spending much of Thursday evening and Friday praying and thinking as I went about my daily work, I received an email from a woman that lives in very rural Canada.    She and her husband have 11 children and live very simply, off grid, 20 minutes from the nearest neighbor.  They hunt and grow most of their own food and the rest is made from scratch.  She shared how their life is full of joy and how each child has been a blessing.

After her encouraging words I went for a walk last Friday afternoon to enjoy the unseasonable warmth (which is long gone now as the very cold weather has returned) with a feeling of renewal and optimism.

Looking down our driveway, Nolan helping to clear some of the slush.

I walk over a bridge just down our road and took a picture of the stream below.

The mud is a welcome sight!  I enjoyed feeling my feet seep down with each step.

I have always loved how beautiful the bare tree branches look against the sky as the sun is just beginning to set.

Wishing you a joyful week,

Friday, February 18, 2011

The "M" Word Again

I decided to delete yesterday's post, perhaps in haste, due to some thoughtless comments from an "anonymous" person.  I nearly deleted the whole blog wondering what the worth would be if I couldn't be real.

Instead, I decided to spend a day praying about it and listening for an answer.

Many of you probably didn't read the post, so I will summarize most of what I can remember with some new details added.

Nearly eight years ago, as our family started heading toward the direction of simplifying our lives and opting out of the consumer society to some degree, I would spend lots of time searching through Countryside Magazine, online, and at bookstores and libraries looking for writings from families that had chosen similar paths. I found and read article after article of "how-tos" (how to grow all your own food on 1 acre, raising chickens, living off grid, etc, etc.) but could find very little specifics about finances. I really wanted to know if a large family could live simply, work toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle and support themselves through meaningful self-employment, preferably a combination of farming and handwork.

I also wanted to know if people that made a move to a homestead way of life had a savings before they did so, or a family inheritance or disability, or......

When I started this blog, I felt God leading me to not only keep it as a journal and a place to organize our family photos, but also to share the ins and outs and ups and downs of our life. Not to make a statement that our way of life is the "right" way. Not to say that this is the way to do it. Not to make anyone feel any less if they have more stuff, or make more money. Simply to share one alternative, our life, and our experiences along the way.

Therefore, I decided it was time to share about our finances. Our handwork business grew 100% last year and we had earnings (after deducting business expenses) of about $19,000. I added the $6,000 we get from the tax "welfare" or tax refund. Truly it is not a refund because we didn't pay $6,000 into the system. Therefore, I don't like the term refund in our case - which made our income about $25,000.

This is the most we have made in our five years upon moving to Vermont and we are grateful that it has helped to make it possible to support our home, and six, soon to be seven children. When we moved here from Massachusetts we had nothing, no savings except enough to get us through a couple of weeks.

Our expenses now include - $600.00/month  for our small homestead on 3.5 acres that we paid $55,000 for one and a half years ago, $100/month for electricity, $75/month for phone (this includes our unlimited dial-up for business), $1,000/year for property taxes, $400/year for car insurance, $600/year for home owner's insurance.

The rest is variable - food, gasoline, car repairs, home repairs, vet bills, etc... I would love to share more of this in future posts.

We also give because giving makes us ever more grateful for what God has provided us.

The only government assistance we accept is health insurance. For a family our size we would still get state covered insurance even if we made up to $75,000. Mike and I will be paying a monthly premium, probably about $75.00 for our coverage soon. We qualify for all kinds of other assistance, but do not need it. We also believe that the more you take from the government, the more likely you are to lose your freedoms because you have to follow the standards the government sets. We take this insurance for our children's benefit. Vermont, for better or worse, (and I don't want to get into a debate about health insurance here) looks like it will be the first state in the nation to have a single payer system. This means that everyone will be under state care when this happens. Currently 2/3 of all children in Vermont have state funded health insurance including many farm families that work very hard.

So I wrote more about the health care issue than the original post because I received some comments from a person who wished to remain anonymous.  The comment was that he or she could not understand how we could be living a family centered life when he or she has to go to work every day to support us. Not kind and not productive.

A brief response is that we did not say one day - "Let's be poor and get free health insurance." Mike lost his  good paying job eight years ago and after trying to get another job in his field for nearly three years he went from earning $75,000 per year to $18,000 because he could only secure employment in the landscape field. This was a blessing from God, however. Our life would never have been so full and so enriched. We just know that this was the first step, the first shove along our journey, to get out off the world's track and follow our hearts.

I will deleting all anonymous comments from now on.  Please let me know who you are if you would like to contribute.

I truly look forward to discussion about this and sharing.

Warm wishes,

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hearts and More Hearts

A stuffed heart for our door made from an old skirt and salvaged lace trim.

Sarah's stitched hearts.

I made my love a pillow for our bed of a felted sweater.

My love woodburned this for me on a heart shaped piece of birch.

A special treat of heart pancakes for  breakfast.

There is something about Valentines Day that I enjoy.  It is so much fun to be crafty with hearts and so nice to give everyone a little extra treat on this day.

Warm wishes,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lots of This...

I have been spending lots of time here lately, on the couch.  I am working on weaning Abraham so I let him fall asleep in my arms instead of nursing.  It gives me a perfect opportunity to rest.

Warm wishes,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slowing Down

Thomas baking cookies - can you believe I cannot stand sweets and even baking doesn't appeal to me except I do make our daily bread still.  Thomas loves snickerdoodles and knowing I wasn't feeling too up to it, went ahead and made them, asking me what to do each step of the way.

The past five weeks have been very hard for me.  The sickness and simply the exhaustion has been more than I have ever experienced.  Perhaps it is my age, at 41 years I am getting on the older side of having children.  Maybe it is something else completely.  But, I have not been "there" for my family.  I am usually a high energy person that is on-the-go all day.

I have had no choice but to slow down and accept help from my husband and children. I have had no choice but to expect less of myself and to not try and get so much done each day.

As a result, I have had to really consider what has to get done and who needs me most.

Which has got me thinking - maybe slowing down should be reflected more in my life even when I am not so sick or tired.

Warm wishes, Tonya

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Yarn Along and Knitting for Baby

Joining in with Ginny again today to share a little something on my needles ~

From Vintage Knits for Modern Babies, I am knitting this Crossover Jacket for
Baby #7, who will be welcomed into our family somewhere around the first or second  week of September.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Working with White

with all the snow and the warmth of the sun, it has been wonderful for the children to play outside
visiting with a chicken

I have been inside playing with birch bark ~

Warm wishes,

Friday, February 4, 2011

Outside and In

Blanketed with a layer of deep snow with the sunshine shining brightly, there is so much beauty around us.

And inside ~

Abraham brought down How Things Work from his brother's book shelf. 

Enjoying a warm bath.

Crafting with odds and ends.

I am excited to be going to town this afternoon.  It has been awhile and I am looking forward to visiting the consignment shops and stocking up on some staples. 

Warm wishes, Tonya

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yarn Along

Joining in with Ginny at Small Things again this Wednesday ~

~finished a snuggle gnome in pink with a needlefelted heart~

~ working on another in yarn from Peace Fleece ~

~ while the snow is falling outside, I am making my final seed lists, which I really need to get in the mail~

Warm wishes,

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tax Time

Spending more time at the secretary than I like, figuring out our income from our businesses.  We have two etsy shops, Vermont Branch Company and Natural Earth Farm,  and Mike does a bit of property maintenance. 

I prefer not to use a calculator and instead, add all of the figures by hand.  I do hope to be better, however, about doing this at the end of each month instead of waiting until the end of the year.

I hired Abby to help sort the receipts which was a wonderful help.

Not my favorite part of having our own businesses, but certainly necessary.

Warm wishes, Tonya