Wednesday, June 3, 2015

5 Ways to Prepare For Homesteading (while waiting for your dream property!)

We didn't just fall into this country living thing. In fact, until we moved here a couple of years ago, my husband had lived all his life in the greater Montreal area, and I'd only had minimal exposure to homesteading, mostly through volunteering at friends' farms and through riding horses as a kid.

What we did do was plan like crazy and learn one new skill at a time while we were still living in the city, so that we had some of the prep work nailed (get it?) before we added in goats, chickens, and a big garden (still a work in progress). Here are 5 things we did, that you can do too while you're waiting for your dream property in the boonies to come up for sale.

1. Grow stuff.
It sounds obvious, and it kind of is, but if you're moving from one gardening zone to another it's a good idea to test those conditions ahead of time if you can. To that end, we planted crops earlier than we were supposed to at our last house, to see how they would perform in a colder gardening zone. You could do the same with heat lamps if you're moving from, say, Vermont to Georgia.

Before you get all huffy about this suggestion and tell me that you live in a small apartment, I'd like to point out that almost every home has some kind of windows, and that with grow lamps you can even use a shelf or two on a bookshelf for test runs if you're living in a concrete bunker somewhere -in which case, you're probably already way more skilled than me and should consider sending me your best tips!

2. Start learning to preserve food now.
When the grocery store has their fall sales of 50-lb bags of carrots for $3, it's the perfect opportunity to learn how to can them in mason jars for the winter. The blueberries and strawberries that you U-Picked in the summer can be frozen on cookie sheets and divided into bags for later. The zucchini that your friends arrived on your doorstep with, staggering under the weight, can be shredded, frozen and added to just about anything later on to thicken it up and increase its fiber content. You get the picture. Testing this and sometimes failing now while you're still close to a grocery store is a very, very good idea.

Also, stock up on egg recipes. These were the first of many, many eggs from our hens.

3. Get handy.
I'm not suggesting that you get your woodworking certification (although that would be pretty cool), but if your response to a broken bulb or a leaky faucet is to call the landlord, it's time to get real. You will likely find yourself in a situation where you'll need to actually build or fix something on a Sunday evening in a snowstorm, and it will be a lot less stressful if you can use a saw, hammer a nail, use a screwdriver, and have a basic bit of electrical and plumbing knowledge so you at least know about where the problem might lie. Like when your well's pump, located 150 feet under the ground, dies in the middle of January (guess how we know about this one!)

4. Read and learn.
We're grateful for many terrific books that have helped us in everything from finding the right property, to deciding where to locate what on our property once we got here for maximum benefits, to what animals suited us best.  The Storey's Guide To series are amazing, as is The Encyclopedia of Country Living and many others. If you can find the old Sunset Books handyman books at a used book store, snag them - we borrow my dad's set from the 1970s regularly.

"He's got goats in his garden" - no longer just a euphemism around here.

Besides keeping you excited and motivated about homesteading and all the fantastic stuff that goes with it, you'll be absorbing valuable information that you can apply almost immediately when you start homesteading. Get out as many from the library as you can, read them all, then purchase the ones that really speak to you.  You'll want to refer to them time and time again later on.

5. Build your future community now.
There are many Facebook groups and Yahoo groups dedicated to homesteading and rural living. Join ones for your planned living area and begin "meeting" others who share your interests before you move. A community is what will save you when something goes wrong, or when you have questions that you just can't find the answers to on Google - hey, it does happen sometimes! You'll also have people that you can get together with in real life when the winters feel really long.

What tips do you have for people who are getting ready to homestead? Share in the comments!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Why hands-on learning is so important

This post has been a long time coming, because I couldn't seem to articulate, even to myself, why I feel that hands-on learning is as important as -if not more so than- book learning.

Here's the thing: everyone has a different learning style, right? And some learn by talking a topic through, some learn by listening, some learn by leaping around doing somersaults over the dogs while shouting out discoveries (ahem - we may have more than one of the last category in this house). But until you've gotten right in there and tried it for yourself, it lacks true form.

Let me share an example from this morning that solidified in my mind what makes hands-on learning so crucial in my opinion. D,7, wandered into the room and spotted an article in a homesteading book that my husband had left open on the table. He began reading it out loud to me and hit the phrase "use a mortar and pestle".

Now, I could have just explained that it was a device used in times gone by to grind spices and other small plant parts. I could even have told him that it was kind of like a bowl and a heavy rounded-on-the-end stick. It would give him a basic idea. I did do both those things.

But what I also did was to get out a mortar and pestle from my stash of couldn't-resist auction purchases (Finally! Justification for my hobby!) and show him. He recognized it instantly as looking like what Gaius the physician used in his beloved Merlin TV series. But until I gave him a stick of cinnamon to grind in it, and he spent 15 minutes trying to produce powdered spice, he had no understanding of why people invented grinders and blenders and other devices to perform the same task. No appreciation of how hard people must have worked for even the most basic of tasks.

I'm by no means saying that every conversation with your kids should turn into a hands-on teachable moment - as a group I think we homeschoolers are definitely guilty of this! - but that hands-on components should be part of your overall plans.

After all, what's going to stick with him more? The time his mother talked on, yet again, when all he wanted was some information? Or the time he tried grinding his own cinnamon, smelling the spice's bark as he twisted his wrist and pushed it down in the mortar and pestle, watching it break into successively smaller pieces, and then used it in a loaf of zucchini bread we were baking?

Do you use hands-on learning? Do you feel it's important? Share your thinking in the comments so we can learn from each other!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: The Fresh 20 meal planner (with free recipe for the best soup ever!)

I've been meaning to post this for a while! For Christmas this past year, we bought ourselves a family gift - a membership to the online meal planning service The Fresh 20. If you've never heard of them, I'd be very surprised. That being said, you might have wondered what makes it any better than the myriad of other menu planning programs that you can buy online. I'm here to clarify!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that a tiny percentage helps pay the costs of running this site without you paying any extra. Photo editing is done with PicMonkey: Fearless Photo Embetterment

The Fresh 20 gets its name because each week there is a list of 20 fresh kinds of produce that you then use in various combinations to make a tasty dish each day for 5 days. Unlike many of the menu planning services, this one uses from-scratch ingredients 95% of the time....of course you need cheeses, oils , veggie broth, pasta and the like in your pantry, but they list them for you.

The options available for menu subscriptions are Classic, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Kosher, Dairy Free, For One, and Lunch. Lots of choices there! We went with the Vegetarian because we wanted to learn more ways to prepare what we grow. It even has cost estimates for your list.

Each Friday, you can download your menu plan. You'll find:

 -a list of the meals you'll be making with prep information for anything that needs some attention ahead of time.
- your printable grocery list divided into sections for produce, dairy, and other things such as the pasta, kosher salt, and oils that you may be running low on. It gives you exact quantities for each item so there's no guesswork.
-the recipes for 5 delicious suppers
-the nutritional information for each meal.

The preparation could not be quicker or more simple. Including prep time, most recipes take less than half an hour and we often do it side by side, giving us some family cooking time together. In more than 5 months of meals, we have not had a meal that we all disliked yet, although occasionally an individual family member might not enjoy one quite as much as the rest of us. They still eat it willingly!

You can get a free sample menu by going to The Fresh 20's website and scrolling to the bottom to request one. But to give you an idea, I obtained permission from the company to share a soup from a recent menu plan that was absolutely delicious, so much so that we made it again for lunch the next day!

Zucchini White Bean Soup (reposted with permission by The Fresh 20. Copyright The Fresh 20)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 carrots, chopped (1 cup)
3 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth [we made our own]
4 cups finely chopped swiss chard
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz)[we used garden produce from the freezer]
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed [we used our own]
3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan

1/2 whole wheat baguette


1.  In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions, carrots, zucchini, garlic, and red pepper flakes, Cook 5-6 minutes until onions are soft.

2. Add vegetable broth, chard, tomatoes, beans, basil, salt and pepper; mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and divide into four bowls, serve immediately topped with parmesan cheese. Toast baguette slices for dipping.

There are different subscription options available. A month is $10; a 3-month subscription is $24, and an annual subscription like we got was a great deal at $65. They also offer gift certificates, if you're looking for a thoughtful and unique gift for someone.

Overall, our family would give The Fresh 20 a massive 10 out of 10 (and we have one seriously picky eater in the bunch). The food is delicious, the layout is clear and easy to use, and we have discovered so many taste combinations that we would never have thought of trying! I recommend that you at least try out a free week before dismissing this meal planning service. It has been one of the best investments we've made food-wise.

Have you ever tried this meal planner? How did you and your family like it?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hula-hoop weaving

You may remember the finger-knitting video that D, 7 made for you about a month ago. Well, finger knitting has been done so much in our house that we've been looking for ways to use the end product in other crafts! I got out a hula hoop the other day and let the kids loose weaving a mini-rug from a particularly colorful strand of finger-knitter acrylic wool.

Start by wrapping strands of string or twine across the hoop from one side to another. You'll want to tie two of them together because if you don't get an odd number of weaving strands it won't work. See the two at the bottom? (I forgot to get a photo of this before we started weaving.)

Roll up your finger-knitting into a ball to make it easier to thread between the hoops.

Start in the middle of the strands and begin weaving over-under-over-under and so on, all around the hoop.

When you run out of yarn, tie it off on the closest strand and weave the ends under. Now cut the twine at the outside rim of the hoop and weave it through the back side of your mat.

Flip it over and see how pretty it is! Wasn't that a cinch?

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