A Family Pumpkin Party

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Holidays have always been important in our family.  It has been the catalyst for a million good memories, for rounding up the kids as they got older to bring us all together, to allow creativity, and to enjoy good food.

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We brought over all of the pumpkins from our garden (leaving a few for the resident buck) when we moved so our house is positively overflowing with a bountiful crop.  First dibs went to the kids that could venture out to our new house.  Andy and Megan had to work but Shyanne and Dillon, Emily, Bret, and Bret’s sister Becky drove over the river and through the woods to Grammie and Papa’s new homestead to take part in a pumpkin party reminiscent of their childhood.  We were babysitting Maryjane so she was already there to help me greet her parents, aunts, and Shyanne’s boyfriend.

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We served a simple meal of Jack O’Lantern hamburgers and veggie burgers (click for recipe), chips, pickles, and salad.  Cookies and homemade eggnog for dessert.  I was able to enjoy our festivities since everything came together so quickly.

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Becky, Maryjane, and her dad, Bret

Becky, Maryjane, and her dad, Bret

Shyanne and Dillon

Shyanne and Dillon

Maryjane with her parents, Bret and Emily.  Papa is in the back watching the Bronco game!

Maryjane with her parents, Bret and Emily. Papa is in the back watching the Bronco game!

Maryjane then stole Papa's hat and mugged for the camera.  Papa is the real paparazzi!

Maryjane then stole Papa’s hat and mugged for the camera. Papa is the real paparazzi!

Zuzu watches over in her Halloween decoration guise.

Zuzu watches over in her Halloween decoration guise.

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My hostess gift, the children writing on my chalkboard wall.

Parties don’t have to be difficult to pull off.  A few special touches and folks you love help create lifelong holiday memories.

Winter Beans (a homestead staple)

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Beans are the epitome of security.  They are inexpensive, easy to grow, easy to cook, satiate hunger, and are full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, protein, and vitamins and minerals.  A pantry filled with beans means a winter without hunger.  A pot simmering on the wood cook stove symbolizes love for the recipient.

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I am in love with all of the old heirloom varieties.  I am addicted to their stories.  Like Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg variety.  The beans were brought to the west by Lina’s grandmother by covered wagon.  They are the larger beans with the red speckles.  They are delicious and colorful.  Yellow Indian Woman is the yellow variety that I grew and was quite prolific this year.  It is a variety that is hundreds of years old and was used as trade by the Native Americans.

I grew black beans and cannellini beans.  There are pinto beans and Anasazi beans to grow.  Or Lima beans or red beans for Cajun food.  The only thing difficult about growing beans is what variety to choose!

In my new garden here on our homestead I will be planting a long row (34x 2 feet) of beans and garlic.  The garlic will be planted the next few weeks and as they pop their cheery heads up over the soil I will be able to plant a bean in between each one next Spring.  Some need to be trellised but many do not.  Look for the bush variety or simply put creative poles up around them.  They also do well climbing up corn.  You can even plant uncooked organic beans from the health food store.

Shelling beans can be eaten just like green beans when their pods are soft and small.  In fact, they look like green beans and you are sure to question what you planted.  Leave them on the vine until they are brown and crisp but not too long that their pods reopen and plant themselves!  Around late August to the end of September you will be harvesting winter beans.

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They must be quite dry so I keep them in baskets until I am certain they are void of moisture.  Then the fun begins.  It becomes much like the puzzle that sat out at home waiting for the next participant to place the next piece.  I leave the whole pile on the table and as we walk by we shell another bean.  It is quite addictive and rather fun.  It feels like I could be a housewife in any era shelling beans to make sure that we have enough to store.

The key is growing enough to at least put on a pot of soup!  I tuck the beans in anywhere there is a spare six inches all the way through mid-July.

I love to peruse the Seed Savers Catalogue for new varieties.  Being a history lover as well as a lover of great food makes heirloom beans a part of this homestead.

Autumn Prairie Musings

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I am in love with this place.  It speaks to me…

of heartbreaks healed and promises kept.

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The lingering wood smoke scents the air as the rustic landscape captivates me.  It pulls me in and dances with me across further snow capped peaks and nestles me near in elder Elms.  I am pleased here, at peace, quiet, exhaled.

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Words and new poems run through my mind- cadences and song, psalms and prayers.  I think I have been burnt out for a long time.  Work too hard.  Expect too much of others and myself and often forget to live.  The rabbit that shoots out of the brush and away in a zigzag when I startle him cares not if I answer every call or busy work myself to exhaustion.  The wild world of nature will still be there if our chaos of whirlwind, human made, self righteous living were to end.  It would go on, more peacefully perhaps.  I breathe again and look out across the prairie and realize my soul is connected to this natural world and I come back to myself.

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The prairie is so alive.  Rabbits scamper under brush as owls speak in trees under foliage of vibrant hues.  Hawks circle, the sky is huge here.  Dauntingly beautiful, I cannot even find myself to paint.  I could never match the beauty.  Inspiration fuels me, revitalizes my senses.

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Fall is evident in scenes I failed to notice in our past existence.  Piles of firewood in country front yards.  The thicker white coats on our goats.  Chickens getting new feathers, laying less eggs.  The winds are different, the clouds look different.  The colors increased- vibrant, charged, glowing.

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I watch for birds flying south so I have my timeline of preparedness.  Firewood.  Sweaters.  Pantry full.  Animal feed stocked.  Chimney swept.  Gutters cleaned.  Garden prepped.  Garlic planted.

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My list never ends but may I learn to live in a simpler breath.  Slower.  Methodical.  Meaningful.  Breathe, the air is sweet upon us and Autumn is in the air.

How to Make Chokecherry Wine

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A year from now we’ll have a tasting.  The tiny sip I had of the dregs was delicious.  Not vinegary at all and I am excited to see how it transforms itself in the next year while resting in the back of the closet.  I have wanted to make wine for some time.  It’s been on my Homesteading To-Do List of skills I must learn.  And in homesteading fashion I used what I had…some nice Pinot Noir grapes?  Nope, chokecherries.

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An old recipe in my friend Sandy’s book read as so:

Grind fruit.

Add 1 1/2 parts boiling water to 1 part fruit.  Let stand overnight.

Strain juice and add 3 pounds of sugar to 1 gallon of juice and 1/5 of a package of yeast.

Put in wine thingy (not its exact words) and there you go.

I was stuck on the first part.  Grind the chokecherries (which are mostly pits) with what?  I changed the recipe right off.

I prepared the chokecherries as I do for jam.  Boil in 1 1/2 parts of water until pits are showing and the color is a glorious pink/purple.  Then let set so that the sediment falls to the bottom.  The first batch I set overnight and it is a more vibrant color.  The other is lighter in flavor and color that set only a few hours.

I strained it and true to original recipe added slightly less than a pound of sugar to slightly less than a gallon of juice so that it would fit in the gallon jug I purchased for this event.  I poured it in.

The back of the yeast label said to only use about a 1/5 of a teaspoon for this whole mix so I minded and followed the yeast’s instructions rather than the original recipe.  I added that to the juice and sugar mix and placed the cool looking top on (the gallon jug and top contraption cost me seven dollars).  One pours a smidge of sanitizer into the curvy contraption.  I opted for rum.  I like to know what is possibly dripping into my wine.

I did two batches.  The first one was with the juice mix that sat overnight.  Richer in color and flavor I used brown sugar instead of white and red wine yeast.  The second one I boiled with a slice of ginger and used white sugar, adding a bit more sugar than the other batch, and used Champagne yeast.

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They then sat for six weeks.  The red wine batch bubbled incessantly and really gave a good show while the lighter one bubbled modestly.

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I am indebted to all the folks that work in homebrew stores.  They are your best sources for getting around the world of homebrew without making you feel like a complete idiot.  I could not fathom what I would brew the wine in or how on earth to bottle it or how to keep the air out or….they set me straight and sold me $70 worth of equipment to bottle with.  A dozen old fashioned looking bottles, a siphon, a pump, and a siphon valve.

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Place the siphon valve in the bottle.  This is attached to a tube that leads from the bottle to the gallon jug of fermenting wine.  Attach the end of the tube to the pump and hand pump the wine into the bottle.  I didn’t hold each piece firmly to the bottoms of the bottles so I got more air in than I would like but perhaps it will be more like Champagne…or something.  Once the bottle is full, pull out the siphon valve from the bottle and it leaves the exact space needed in the neck.  Close up the bottle (or insert cork) and let sit for a year.

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There are many books and recipes on how to make wine.  You can make wine out of anything from apples to dandelions.  For an investment of $80 I have seven and half bottles of wine.  I can reuse the bottles, the jugs, and the equipment so next time the cost is limited to the two bucks for yeast.

Now I do need to get a vineyard growing here….

Making a Vintage Door Headboard (and decorating a bedroom)

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The last room in our homestead makeover is the bedroom.  It is away from the warmth of the wood cook stove.  It has three moderately sized old windows that look out into the trees and across the prairie.  It is where we sit and read in the evenings before we go to bed.  This room needed plenty of blankets and places to sit.

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In our desire to have plenty of places for folks to sleep should they decide not to make the trek back home, we got ourselves a new bed.  However, when we got to IKEA and looked at prices we realized we did not have enough for the mattress and the frame and headboard combo.  And I did so desperately want a new mattress.  So, we did something drastic.  We went down from a queen sized bed to a double bed.  We have never shared a double bed before, particularly with seven cats, but why not?  We fit, the warmth is most welcome in the middle of the night, and I have three beds in this little house now.  (I just need an air mattress of some sort and I can house all of my kids!)

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Now anything I wanted to bring to this house had to have a use.  Downsizing from 2500 square feet (including garage and basement) to 850 square feet (along with a small space to store luggage and canning jars in the greenhouse) meant that I could not pack everything.  The blue door was a gift from Doug for Christmas.  I love it.  The door to the guest room was hanging off of one hinge and we replaced it with a screen door.  I had two old doors that wanted to be displayed.  By making them into a headboard, they look as if we could walk through to a magical place, if only in dream.

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I painted them both red.  Since one door was white and one was blue, they came out different shades.  I could have painted the blue one white but I kind of like the contrast in the doors.

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The doors were different sizes so I attached a valance with a pattern I love to the top to cover the edges.  A string of metal stars and a sign that reads, “Always kiss me goodnight” sets the scene for sweet dreams.

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They are not attached to the wall.  They are heavy enough to stand on their own and behind the bed they are secure.

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Finishing touches include a simple old dresser, toile curtains, layered comforters and quilts, twinkly lights, oil lamps, and of course, cats.

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One could also make a charming headboard from a section of picket fence complete with a wreath and twinkly lights.  Or line up old chairs behind the bed to show off their antique backs and use as a bookshelf.  Or simply hang a quilt behind the bed as an eye catching headboard.  There are no decorating rules.  Only what you dream up.

 

 

Beef Bourguignon (homestead style)

Even though we are homesteaders (and make a bit over twenty grand a year) we love really good food.  It’s not just for the rich.  We eat fresh vegetables from the garden, home canned vegetables in the winter, humanely raised and organically and grass fed animals raised by friends or nearby farmers.  We love good, strong coffee (fair trade), and delicious teas.  We love good olive oil and spices.  When you don’t spend money on processed food, you have enough left over to buy (or grow) great food.

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I was anxious to make the Julia Child classic Beef Bourguignon.  After years and years of making the recipe with veggie meat, I was ready to make the real deal with sirloin I had purchased from my friends, Margaret and Krista.  Krista actually goes and visits with her cows every day.  They are well loved and well fed animals.  I looked over the recipe from Julia Child and one from Ina Garten.  I did not have all the ingredients.  The nearest store is thirty minutes away and budget is tight right now (we need to get wood!) so I streamlined the recipe to what I had and it turned out mouthwateringly good.  You don’t have to follow recipes exactly.  You can add or subtract what you like and don’t like.  Add more of something.  Be creative.  I didn’t have any bacon, but I bet that would be great in the stew.  I didn’t want to put in all that onion.  I had dried mushrooms.  It all worked out.  And I had a happy, well fed homesteading hubby.  A glass of rich, red wine goes beautifully with this dish.  Also add a loaf of homemade bread.

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Homesteader’s Beef Bourguignon

2 Tb of olive oil

1 lb. of sirloin cut into inch cubes.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.  Sear on all sides then transfer to a crock pot or a Dutch oven to set on the wood cook stove.

In same pan, scrape off bits of meat and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil

Over medium heat sauté a diced onion and a sliced carrot along with 2 cloves of diced garlic for about ten minutes until fragrant and onion is translucent and just browning.  Add to meat.

To meat mixture add 2 cups of marinara sauce, 2 cups of red wine (good wine, no cooking wine), and 1 1/2 cups of broth.  Throw in a bay leaf and 2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried), plus 1 cup of sliced mushrooms.

Cook in crock pot on low or on wood cook stove for 6 hours.

Combine 3 heaping tablespoons of flour to doubled the water and whisk.  Stir into stew and cook (on high if using crock pot, no heat change on wood stove) for 30 minutes until a little thicker.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bon Appetite!

 

1905 Homestead Before and After

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When we originally walked into this little house, I was trying not to get my hopes up because I knew it was a little further out than we (well, not we, he) wanted.  I saw the long pantry and the wood cook stove and squeaked in an attempt to shutter my squeal of joy.  The living room was dark.  Black curtains were hung or stapled on.  Old brown carpet with forty years of pet stains and wood paneled bedrooms finished the gloomy interior.  But I could see its potential.  Simple changes could make all the difference.

The house was built in 1905.

The house was built in 1905.

I wanted to give homage to the families that lived here, not let one bad tenant destroy the charm of this place.  Grandmothers that looked after the little ones, mothers who nursed their babies by the fire, those who may have peacefully died, those who homesteaded here and started a new life.  Such as we are.

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There are simple secrets to decorating that I have learned over the years.  Showroom front areas are uncomfortable and have no soul.  Incorporate your life, your hobbies, your family into each room.  Breathe life into rooms with things you have picked up from travels or your grandma’s house.  Mix-matched chairs and natural elements take out the sterility of an indoor place.  Colors that make your eyes light up when you see them should be used, even in the form of pink couches.

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We tore out the carpet first and took down the gawd awful curtains down.

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Because this place feels like a vacation cabin to me, I wanted to fill it with items that further reminded me of a relaxing retreat.  My Aunt Donna’s off grid cabin in the woods and cabins that we have stayed at over the years inspired me.  I stacked board games on simple shelving along with books.  Outdoor chairs, that are quite comfortable, came inside (this front area was once a porch), and all of my plants that I overwinter in the house add life to this front area.  The armoire hides the television.  I always decorate with cats!

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We did put our gorgeous antique couches out at the curb that our old kitty (rest in peace) destroyed.  We went to IKEA and picked up this beauty.  It was important to me that if we lived out in the middle of somewhat nowhere that we had places for folks to sleep over.  Gone are the days of the pull out couch with the metal bar that pushes into your guest’s back, this couch pulls out from underneath creating a comfy queen sized bed.  The chaise opens up to reveal a stash of blankets for chilly evenings.

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Cubbies hold spirits while some of my favorite performers look on ready for a party.

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This was the original living room if the previous one was the porch but I opted to use it as a dining room.  It too had carpet and linoleum pulled up and a fresh coat of paint.

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My writing corner is also in this room.  The old secretary was at a garage sale near my grandparents’ house for a mere sixty dollars!  My favorite painting sets the scene of contemplation and writing.  The saints look on.  The various ceramics were made by my children throughout their childhood.  Sweet mementos.  Stationary, cards, envelopes, writings, magazine cutouts, pads of paper, pens, everything one needs to write and create.

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I opted to make this room (in truth, it is all one L shape) into an activity area.  I did not want to tuck Maryjane’s toys away.  When she comes to visit Grammie and Papa, I want to watch her play and have her be near us.  The material is a bit of a mess but it is out.  Should I hide all the sewing and art stuff in the closet,  it will stay there hidden.  If it is out I find inspiration and might think of a great use for a piece of material.  The table in the center is a great square table that was made by the Amish.  It serves as a sewing table, additional dinner party seating, or as a card table.  We have friends coming over in a few weeks for an evening of Rummy!

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I printed photographs on our printer.  They aren’t the best quality but they look nice and I can easily choose other photos to switch them out with.

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If it’s out, you’ll use it.

Before

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A long shelved pantry off the kitchen to store canned goods.

root cellar

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The (very) off white (very dirty) walls and windows in the laundry room just needed a scrubbing, a lively mustard yellow and lace curtains to look like a proper homestead mudroom.  The bathroom was given a bright blue paint job and whimsical bird paintings and accessories to rid it of its heebie jeebie factor.

This bathroom was dark brown and took two full hours to clean!

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This room was too dark to take a before picture of.  The white washed walls became a backdrop for the many things I was going to need to put in here.  This room houses our Apothecary…all medicines, bags, jars, boxes, computer and printer, and it is our guest room.

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We replaced the broken door with a screen door to let heat into the room and keep cats out.  It also adds a bit of old charm to the house.

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We are beginning to get settled in our house and starting to feel a regular routine coming back.  Every time we walk outside we are in awe.  No matter which way we look we have an amazing view.  We feel blessed to be the inhabitants of a hundred and nine year old house.  To be the next homesteaders here.