Archive for August, 2008

What do you do with old t-shirts?  If you’re anything like me, you might repair them once or twice, then you cut them up for rags.  Well how about turning those old, ratty t-shirts into pet beds.  Here’s how:

You’ll Need:

  • 1 T-Shirt
  • Stuffing / Filling of some sort (batting, fleece scraps, etc.)
  • Needle & Thread
  • Scissors


Cut the sleeves off your T-shirt at the seams.  Then cut your T-shirt across the shoulders, directly underneath the neckline.  If need be, patch any holes in your t-shirt, use the sleeve fabric if so desired.  I generally keep the sleeves for rags and use fabric scraps from my stash.  Once you have your shirt adequately patched.  Its time to start sewing.

Turn your shirt inside out and sew the bottom hem together, then sew the arm holes together.  You should have a t-shirt pillow case at this point.  Turn the shirt right side out.  It’s time to begin stuffing.  Stuff with your desired materials and to your desired thickness.  I wouldn’t overstuff your bed.  Most pets like to nest a bit and in order to do that there needs to be room for the stuffing to shift in your bed.

Once you have your bed stuffed, you’re ready to seal it up and give it to best friend.  Fold over the remaining edge, so that the raw edges are on the inside.  Pin and then stitch your bed closed.  Place in a spot for your pet and let them enjoy.

You can see that my t-shirt has a few bleach spots and even a grease stain.  The pet beds stay in our bedroom and so aren’t seen by guests, etc., so I don’t mind the stains, but if you did you could cover them with more patches.

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Introduction to Survival

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

I have been giving this week’s topic suggestion great thought. I kept thinking that I really don’t do anything that is “alternative” besides the whole homesteading gig. The other ladies here seem to have specialized “alternatives”, while I am running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. Dressing out your own birds! No, no, that would be a topic for livestock. But what, in my arsenal of eclectic knowledge, can I share with you that would be a tad more personal, more specialized. . . Survival.

Because of my sketchy past, I have learned to adapt and survive in many different climates, landscapes and situations, without resorting to female desperation (feel free to read that as whorin’). So I came to the same conclusion as you are now forming, I will write a series, every 3rd week, on Survival. This will not be an at home preparedness class. We already have a wonderful post on that subject. This will be about what you should do if things do not get better after your home supplies run out, what you should do if you are lost, kidnapped and released, and city survival. Call it the Mad Max way to homesteading.

Let us discuss attitude in today’s lesson. I learned very quickly that how you look at your situation will determine the quality of your survival. We are very intelligent beings, and when you are lost, or the world has ended as we know it, keeping your chin up will help immensely. Fear and panic will be your first emotion, weather you are alone in the mountains, or isolated with family on an open plains. And it will be overwhelming. This is normal, and fear can be a good assets, as long as you control it. If you are alone, talk out loud to yourself, or sing a calming tune. You want to be calm and be able to think clearly, so not to go running blindly through the world. Step back, take a deep breath, and look at your surroundings. Acknowledge that you indeed have a problem, then think about what your immediate needs are, then plan action before taking it. You will need to form a mindset of the here and now, not something that might be too far in the future to accomplish. Your immediate needs will be different in each situation, but remember survival, not being found, is your priority. Finding your way home, will come as long as you take steps to achieve it.

One of the ways to keep your mind in the now, is to explore your surrounding, curiosity is a great survival skill, as long as you don’t taste everything you come across. I really don’t think Mr. Grizzly bear would like you to lick him. Curiosity and exploration will help you find some comfort in your new surroundings, just like it did on your first day of school. This will also keep you doing something, keeping your mind clear and your mouth from complaining. There is little use in complaining in these situation, you need to do something to make you complaint more tolerable.

You can practice your attitude in your comfortable world, before anything untold might happen to you. Go without something you think you need for a week. Live with some discomfort by turning off your heater for a day. If you are faced with a problem, write down your reaction to it and see if your are a complainer or a problem solver. Don’t beat yourself up over your reaction, instead sit down and write out the problem and ways to solve it, and how you would rather react to it. If you act out the reaction you’d rather have, it will soon become second nature to you. The same goes for getting sick. If you can make it through the illness without complaint, you are on your way to the mindset of a survivalist.

Attitude will be the most important ability that you will have. And working on it now, will not only help you if you ever disappear, but will help you in your daily life. What is life but a series of survival tests.

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Howling Hill asks: I want to substitute honey for sugar in our jams but don’t know if the swap of a dry ingredient for a wet ingredient matters. And, is the amount comparable. For example, if a recipe calls for 3/4 cup of sugar is it ok to use 3/4 cup of honey instead?  Also, what about applesauce and maple sugar. Are they acceptable substitutes for sugar when jamming (not to be confused with jammin’).  Actually, we’d like to do this substitution for baking also. There I assume it must matter about the wet ingredient v. dry ingredient.  Please, some advice!

Phelan’s Answer: When it comes to using honey instead of sugar in your liquid recipes, you can use equal amounts without reducing anything. However, baking becomes a tad more tricky. In baking you can replace up to half the sugar. If the recipe calls for 2 cup of sugar, you would use 1 cup of honey. Then reduce all the other liquid ingredients by 1/4 cup, for each 1 cup of honey used. Honey is also heavier than sugar so it will need a little lift, add 1/2 tablespoon baking soda to every 1 cup of honey. You will also need to reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees, as honey will burn faster than sugar.

So to break it down:

2 cup sugar= 1 cup honey + 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda
– 1/4 cup of liquid ingredients – temp 25 degrees.

Kathie’s Answer: Substituting honey for sugar in jam can effect the gel quality.  I highly recommend checking out Pomona’s Pectin, if that’s a route you want to go.  Most health food stores carry it, and while slightly more expensive than regular pectin, its much easier to use and lasts longer in my experience.  The insert inside the box gives instructions for jams/jellies with no or low sugar and honey recipes.  I also can’t say enough good about the book, Putting it Up with Honey: a Natural Foods Canning and Preserving Cookbook by Susan Geiskopf.  Its a great recipe with lots of various recipes using honey for all your home canning needs.

Kristine’s Answer: i second the recommendation putting it up with honey…i really like that book for honey inspired recipes. also, when using it, remember that honey is a lot sweeter than sugar so less is needed to get the amount of sweetening desired. sometimes, you can get by using 2/3 – 3/4 up of honey in place of sugar.  also, honey cooks differently than sugar so you might need to reduce the temperature about 25 degrees and/or watch the time.  one other thing to keep in mind is that honey is acidic. you might want to add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to the mix which will reduce the acidity of the honey and make your baked goods fluffier.

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the family medicine chest will be an ongoing series on the fourth thursday of each month.

taking control of your family’s health is an essential part of homesteading and voluntary simplicity. it makes sense that you’d want to treat your family as naturally as possible given the other lifestyle choices that have been made. but, purchasing herbal formulas can be expensive and part of this lifestyle requires cutting costs wherever possible.

surprisingly to a lot of people, herbal remedies are easy and affordable to make. as a bonus, you can insure the quality of the medicines you make. you can control what is put into them and know where they come from. tinctures are a great way to start a home herbal medicine chest.

an excellent starter book on tincture making is “making plant medicine” by richo cech. this book will give you formulas for making tinctures as well as what the herb is used for and how it’s used. he goes deeper into tincture making and focuses on the chemical constituents of each individual herb to make a stronger formula. however, for today, i am going to walk you through the steps to make a basic but highly effective tincture.

a great herb to start with is echinacea. if you grow it in your yard, it is about the right time of the year to dig it up. (please note that the herb i am using in the photos is not echinacea, it is skullcap). you can go basic and just use the roots of any variety or you can go elaborate and use this formula:

equal parts of:

augustifolia root
purpurea root
purpurea flower
purpurea seed

first, you will need a jar (a quart canning jar works well), vodka or grain alcohol (everclear) and the herb you will be tincturing. you can use fresh or dried (richo’s book goes into more detail about when it’s better to use one over the other). you’ll also need a knife and a cutting board.

once you’ve assembled your supplies, chop the herb up as finely as possible if it is a fresh herb. for dried herbs, blend in a coffee grinder (it’s best to purchase one to use only with herbs).

fill the jar ¼ full with dried herbs, ½ full with fresh herbs and top the jar off with the alcohol. put the lid on and give it a good shake.

label the jar with the name of the herb, the date started and the alcohol used. place in a cool location away from direct sunlight. shake the jar twice a day for the next month.

congratulations! you’ve just made a year’s supply of medicine for your family.

general dosage for echinacea and most other herbs*(for an acute situation, i would up the dosage of echinacea to hourly for the first day then decrease it to 2-4 hours the next day and the general dose after that for a few days after symptoms are gone):

infants 10 weeks to three years: 2-5 drops in milk, juice or water 4-6 times per day for general immunity boost.

children 4-10: 5 – 15 drops in milk, juice or water 4-6 times per day for general immunity boost.

12 and up: 30 – 60 drops (1-2 standard droppersful) 4-6 times per day for general immunity boost.

*some herbs such as poke are known as ‘low dosage herbs’ and used sparingly. i would not recommend beginners using them until they have a deeper understanding of hose those herbs work.

the usual disclaimer: i am not a licensed physician and cannot give medical advice. if you are sick, please consult your physician. this information is for informational purposes only.

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Permaculture for newbies

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by the Slow turn farmer

You were expecting Robbyn, I know.  She couldn’t be here today so it’s me, Laurie, guest posting from the other Back Forty (square feet, that is).

My “Back Forty” is on a small urban lot in a historic district between a medium-sized university and the downtown of a small Southern city.  I’ve been converting this lot into a permaculture garden since we moved here in December 2001.  During this time, we’ve had four years of major drought and we are now in the second year straight of an extreme drought.  Needless to say, it has been a challenge.  After the first two years of drought, I installed a rain barrel on each corner of the house.  It occurred to me during the current drought that you do need RAIN in order for a rain barrel to work.  But I digress. I don’t want to chase away the dark clouds outside my window by discussing it further. 

Here’s a little information about me and my patch of dirt.

I always thought that vegetable gardening was an affair with turned earth.  Growing up on an eastern North Carolina tobacco farm, we always had part of a field behind our house plowed for the use of growing vegetables, in addition to a patch of blueberries and sweet Silver Queen corn at the main part of the farm.  My father or brother plowed it with a tractor into neat sandy rows. When I moved to Greensboro and finally owned a yard of my own but no tractor, I tried to French double-dig a garden, following the gardening advice of John Jeavons and Mel Bartholomew.  My back pain and chronic tendinitis generally flared up at the beginning of every year, and every summer was a disappointment as I became less physically able to do the work.  Then I discovered a wondrous thing – a similar backyard space a few blocks away that grew twenty different kinds of fruit and many vegetables.  And, for the most part, it was very low maintenance.  The garden was developed over years by a permaculturist, who later became my mentor.

The term “permaculture” was coined by Australian Bill Mollison; a combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture.”  In permaculture, farmers and gardeners attempt to mimic natural patterns to establish a sustainable, healthy environment that supports human, animal, and plant needs.  The nurturing of the soil and the microbes and other little critters critical to its health plays a huge role.  Permaculture is no-till agriculture, and it is much too complex to sum up in a single post.  So I’ll hit briefly on a few simple principles.

First of all, soil is built in nature by layering.  You need a lot of organic matter and minerals.  In permaculture, we build raised beds by layering wet newspaper or cardboard over an area to smother the plants there.  Earthworms love newspaper and cardboard and are attracted to it.  They, in turn, till your soil for you to a depth of twelve inches!  Keep your worms healthy and well-fed and they will fertilize and dig for you in return.  I then put a mulch of straw or compost over the paper and plant into holes punched into the paper, if needed.  Every winter I add more compost to the beds. Many gardeners plant a nitrogen producing cover crop and plant over it.

Secondly, diversity is important in nature.  There are several levels of plant heights, and most plants naturally evolve to benefit from relationships with others.  Think of the classic example of the three sisters: corn, pole beans, and squash.  The corn supports the beans, the squash provides mulch, and the beans provide nitrogen.  There are many known and still-to-be discovered beneficial and detrimental relationships between plants and insects.  Observation in the actual environment over seasons and even years is the key, and the adventure.  Nature does not understand monoculture.  Unwanted bugs and disease love it though.

The last thing that I’ll mention is the relationship of your garden and you and your home.  Permaculture design includes human habitat, and focuses not only on food, but on human comfort and efficiency.  Traditionally, permaculture divides the outside space surrounding your home into design “zones.” Another nickname I have for the “Back Forty” is “Zone One,” which is the permaculture designation for a kitchen garden closest to your door.  The furthest zone, if you are so lucky to have this much land, would be the edge of the natural habitat.

My Back Forty was developed a few square feet at a time, and expanded as my observations and whims dictated.  I do most of my maintenance work over the late fall, winter, and early spring.  I’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and I will still be learning this space as long as I interact with it.  I’m learning step by step, inch by inch. 

My suggestion to my readers who long to begin a garden is to start small and expand to the size most suited to your lifestyle and ability.  Use containers and straw bales if you have to!  Don’t hurry. Don’t do more than you can do.  Spend as much time as you can observing the light patterns and wildlife in different seasons.  Remember that gardening is a connection between you and the land and everything in it.  That is why it is so satisfying when it works, and when it doesn’t work, you will be less frustrated if you feel that interconnection with the earth. We all really are in this together. 

Interesting links and books:

Wikipedia’s article

Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

A Pattern Language (about design pattern for living structures and communities)


the gazebo

About the author: When not pushing papers in her day job, Laurie O’Neill grows tomatoes, okra, butterbeans, and many other vegetables and fruits in her urban backyard. She is a perennial student and fiber/book artist. An advocate of voluntary simplicity and Slow Food, she lives with four cats, eight fish, and one husband in the center of Greensboro, North Carolina and blogs at slowlysheturned.net.

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(Cauldron Ridge Farm II, February 2008)

This is weird. I usually write these on Sunday nights, polish them up on Monday evening and publish before I leave for work on Tuesday morning. I wrote the bulk of this post last night (Sunday) while canning. This morning, I logged into my email account and saw a bit about how the 2009 Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a winter that may be close to catastrophic proportions this year in some temperate areas and even chillier than usual in normally mild areas. They claim to be 85% accurate and we should expect record snow, ice and cold.

Ok, now on to what I wrote up before I heard this forecast:

One of the biggest changes in outlook from days of yore and modern times, in my opinion, is how we deal with winter here in north central and eastern U.S. From literature I’ve read, winter past was dealt with through summer and fall preparation and thought of as the time of year for hunkering down, a rest between the planting & foraging times of the year. The focus was on family because family was going to be the main faces you saw until spring returned.

Now-a-days, we hardly think of the seasonal changes except by the decorations Target has for sale. We know when we see pumpkins, black cats and skeletons, fall must be here. Then before it has ended we start to see evergreens, snowmen, and silver bells and realize winter is just around the corner. We don’t think about the amount of snow fall we may receive or how cold the temperatures will fall before the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun again. Big snow merely means annoyance: Schools cancelled, roads slow to be plowed, or the cold that nips at our unclothed body parts as we race between building and vehicle.

These are, of course, my opinions, nothing more, but in my quest for a simple, more natural life, I think a lot about seasons and how to live through them if I was without some of today’s conveniences. I have managed to learn how to plant and harvest during spring and summer; I preserve food stores during autumn, but winter skills still elude me in this adventure of life I am living. I am a child of modern times and I have never had to live a hard winter, one where what I prepare for actually keeps us alive and well.

My father grew up in southwestern Virginia. His folks lived up in the hills and, though the winters are much more mild than my own Great Lakes region of the country, they knew how to prepare for months of home time. They also kept a system of natural signs to help predict how hard the winter would present itself. Most kept a root cellar (I wish I had a picture of the one my uncle Pleas built his wife, it‘s great!) and in summer the gardens were put up carefully. If the locust bloomed heavy during the summer, they simply stored extra sauerkraut, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, apples, onions, potatoes, collard greens, peaches, eggs, and corn. They bought bulk sacks of pinto beans, corn meal, flour and dried milk (for constant pots of beans and ham hocks with cornbread and biscuits and gravy every morning). I guess you just never knew how long you were going to be stranded up in the hills. Growing up, my dad had a bit of the winter prep mentality and they canned a small amount, but for the most part winter, as I said, was a nothing more than an annoyance.

(As an aside, I’d love to participate in a PBS reality show on Appalachian Mountain living [any period before WWII]. Living poor up in the hills would be such an excellent dose of reality for most of us).

I think because we have moved so far from our self-reliant roots, we have lost touch on how to read Nature’s signs. Folklore abounds on how to tell if an upcoming winter will be hard or mild. Because my father chose not to carry on his relatives’ lifestyle, folklore was, for the most part, absent in my childhood. Most of us are a couple of generations away from the line between yore and modern times. Some us never knew our grandparents and our parents ran as fast as they could from self-sufficient lifestyles. Fortunately, we do have a few tools (Internet & books) at our disposal that actually expands our resources for learning some of the old ways, particularly when dealing with the seasons. This new knowledge not only reaches across generational lines, but cultural ones as well.

So, with that long introduction, I wanted to mention what got me thinking about all of this. Around here, the fruit trees are laden with fruit. Everywhere I look, I see ripening apples and pears, and Michigan orchards mentioned it’s been one of the best years for plums, apricots and cherries. The nut trees already look chock full of nuts and I am just waiting for them to drop so I can compete with the squirrels. Now trees heavy with seeds/fruit generally could mean one of several things, including the tree received plenty of moisture and nutrients the year before or it is trying to propagate itself in times of impending hardship. I started thinking that maybe I should be preparing for a harder winter this year based solely on what I have been observing with the trees. If I’m wrong, it won’t hurt to have a pantry full of food to eat, warm blankets to snuggle under, and extra wood to burn for maple sugaring.

So, who wants to guess what winter will be like in your region? Do you use any folklore?

Here is a list of winter weather folklore I scrounged up:

1. Kentucky wisdom claims if there are plentiful berries in summer, the winter will be cold and severe.

2. North Carolinian folklore is that an unusually large quantity of sweet gum berries, wild grapes, etc. will bring a hard winter.

3. If hornets build their nest low in a tree, hard winter is eminent.

4. Look for wooly worm which is the larva of Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella), the original weather predictor. The wider the orange band, the more mild the winter will be. If it mostly black, prepare for a winter with lots of cold, snow and ice. This would make a great statistics project for home schooling.

5. Year of snow, fruit will grow.

6. Onion skin very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skin thick and tough, winter will be cold & rough.

7. If a tree blooms in fall, expect a harsh following winter.

8. If snow falls on unfrozen ground, the winter will be mild.

If folklore wisdom for weather predicting is just too hit or miss for you, I do have one more suggestion and this one is a tried and true weather predictor. Oh, you better get a pen and paper for this one.

First, find yourself a good rock (any type). Place rock in a clear, prominent location in your yard.

Then, just look for these things:

If it’s dry ——Weather’s Clear
If it’s wet —–It’s Raining
If its white —It’s Snowing
If it’s gone —Tornado




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Each week we have a format of ideas we can follow here at Women Not Dabbling. It isn’t required—we can “fly off the hook” if we want to—but the topics are there in case we have a writers block. I guess you could consider it like a medicine for blocked writers: “Girls pass me the bottle of writers un-block please. I’ll take two”.

But even with the format set out this week, about sustainable/frugal living/alternative “stuff”, I had a bit of a problem coming up with something to write about.

I know that seems odd. I mean here it is that I homestead and I am having trouble with those three topics. Yep, weird. However when I think of these topics I see all of them together most of the time in my mind’s eye. Not separate. I mean, most frugal living IS sustainable and most alternatives ARE frugal etc.

Yet, when I first thought of the idea to write about my solar cooker, which I bought new, I realized that sustainable CAN be….well….not very cheap. Initially anyway. No matter if you choose to use a solar cooker, rain water harvester , a hand scythe or even better: wind or solar power—they can all be expensive to purchase. Very expensive sometimes. If we can disregard start up costs– in the long run each one of these things will give us all three of those ideas that I initially spoke off. Frugality because they allow us to not have to buy products from others anymore (think energy here), they are all sustainable either by what they supply or what they don’t use, and they are definitely alternative “stuff” that fits most any tried and true homesteaders needs. Occasionally, we can produce these items cheaper by doing it ourself or even buy them used (yes, you can by both windmills and solar panels used) but many times…..we are forced to purchase them full price because of their scarcity or the demand for them.

Keeping with the solar cooker as my example, I know that I could have looked around and waited for a used one. If I could have found one I mean. I also know that if I had really wanted to go cheap I could have build a cardboard box version—of which many successful examples exist. However, I didn’t do that. I saved and spent what I consider to be a pretty hefty sum of money for a plastic box with a glass cover and mirrors on it. Why? Well, for a couple of reasons. The biggest one—I just flat out didn’t want to mess around with a cardboard box that would require a certain amount of “cautious” care for use and storage. We live in a house with no basement and no attic storage—so everything has to live with us all the time. It has to be climbed over, pushed around, have things stacked on it etc. So, I just didn’t see a cardboard box holding up to that for long and felt that eventually I would be back making one again (and again).

Secondly—time. I have lots to do with gardens, animals, remodeling and many other things. And one more project just seemed like to much more effort—especially if I might have to do it more than once. Sometimes, too…… I am just really really lazy. ( Really! )

So, in the end I saved my money, did lots of searching and then bought a factory built model. The version I finally chose is called the Sun Oven and the extensive research I did while trying to decide which one to purchase was a personal form of procrastination on my part. Part of the research, besides procrastination, had to do with not knowing one person (in real life) who had ever used one. So….all I had were books and of course online testimonies that could have been real or just sales pitches to try and part me with my money. I have to admit, going back to the procrastination part again: it is hard to spend that much money when you already have a stove and oven that work well. But I looked at it as something I could do to reduce a small part of gas consumption and my personal environmental impact. I know it’s not a lot of gas—but hey, if lots of us did it then it could add up couldn’t it?

The model I chose can heat up to 385 if I remember correctly though I personally haven’t gotten it above 250. It’s also the one that is given by charities to country’s that are having trouble with deforestation. Cooking needs are the greatest reason for deforestation, and the eventual desertification, of parts of the world. That, I admit, was the biggest push to choosing my model.

Returning to my comment on my inability to get my oven to heat up as high as it should. That’s completely my fault—not the ovens. My husband tweaks the oven more when he’s here and can usually get it to stay steadily between 325 and 350. I on the other hand am lucky if I remember to adjust it twice during the day. Many times it will be completely out of the sun when I remember it again. So, considering that, I don’t thinks it’s to shabby really for a plastic box with mirrors keeping that kind of temps.

After all is said and done I will admit that for the money it is a well built solar cooker and I definitely am glad I purchased it. Even though I knew nothing about cooking in one I have successfully cooked beans (very good done this way—better than stove top), soup/stews, potatoes and bread. Yep, even bread. I always wondered if they were pulling legs about the bread part –but it does work. Mine came out a bit ummm……off. But to be fair that could be because I also tried a new sourdough bread recipe that I had never used before and I think it was more the recipe than the oven. So I won’t blame the solar cooker for that and I just haven’t gotten around to trying any other kind of bread/muffin mix again to make sure that was actually the issue.

As far as ease of use goes, it is amazingly easy. Just point it somewhere near the sun and it heats up. As I mentioned, I don’t get it as hot as my husband who loves to tweak things. I pretty much put it outside and go and shift it a time or two during the day. But even though it does end up incorrectly pointed at the sun and sometimes fully in the shade —the temp will still be above 150. Definitely within simmer range. Which reminds me—I have even burned myself on it already. Do watch that steam from your simmering pots!

Now this is not a “I need a meal in 30 minutes cooker” for sure. Consider it more like a slow cooker that will transform your meat and veggies into a meal while you are doing something else. It is also not a “cook a turkey and two other dishes at the same time” oven either. But…it will do a good size soup pot for it’s size.

I also imagine, though I haven’t tried, that if it was turned it directly south and angled for the time of year, that it would do it’s job fine while someone was at work and could not focus it periodically throughout the day. That’s just a guess—but I think probably a pretty good one. I base that on my own lack of moving my unit and some older solar books I have recently read where they built solar ovens into the side wall of the house. A sealed door inside the house allowed easy access to the oven part. No need to go outside—and no “tweaking” involved since it was permanently pointed true south.

Anyway…my solar cooker may not be the solution to this whole energy problem. But just like everyone adjusting their thermostat is a good idea, so is everyone occasionally using a solar cooker. And after the initial expense I can say that with time it will be frugal, it is sustainable and it is definitely alternative. And one last good thing about it: I got to give the neighborhood children a lesson on how good solar is and an alternative idea about how to use it. Who knows—maybe it may spark something in one of them!

Update Monday afternoon: While looking for a solar wall oven link (http://solarcooking.org/bkerr/DoItYouself.htm )

I found this fabulous site for those of you willing to do the necessary work to build an oven similar to mine: http://www.williamgbecker.com/MakeSolarOven.html

These are great directions if you have the time and a few skills it looks like. Don’t forget for those of you unable to bend or do metal work—-local metal shops can sometimes fashion this stuff for pennies on the dollar compared to what you might spend to buy the pre built model if you take the time and inclination to find one of them.

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I use the bounty of summer to fill my gift closet.  I find it a simpler and more frugal way to meet all of my gift giving needs.  I use hikes, farmer’s markets, and yard sales as giant department stores full of gift giving ideas for all my loved ones.

When going for a walk or hike, I keep an eye out for berries that can be canned, mushrooms that can be dried, interesting stones and other bits that can be used in crafts, etc.  These items, like pine cones, make great additions to gift baskets and wrapping for a little extra touch. 

The farmer’s market and garden offer me a multitude of items for gift giving.  I make sure to try new canning recipes that would make interesting gifts, just yesterday I made some brandied apricot preserves which will be great additions to Christmas gift baskets.  All those interesting recipes from the canning books, come in handy for gift giving ideas.  Putting a basket full of home canned items together makes a welcome gift for most folks, in my experience.

Yard saling isn’t just entertainment.  It’s a great way to find collectibles, vintage books, baskets and more.  The trick is exercising enough self-control to make thrifty finds about gift-giving or actual needs, not excuses to clutter up our homes.  It’s not about giving 10 cent used socks, it is about finding items that will bring pleasure to those we love.

Remember, to use these last remaining months of summer to fill those gift giving needs.  In the end, it’ll make your holidays less stressful and more frugal.

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Peach Salsa

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

This salsa is a great complement to the flavor of your grilled pork. Sweet Salsas keep pork from tasting dry.

2 ripe but not mushy peaches, pitted and chopped coarse
1 small red bell pepper, core, seeded and diced
1 small red onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 medium garlic clove. minced
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 jalapeno stemmed, seeded and minced

Combine all ingredients. Salt to taste. Cover and place in the fridge for 1 hour to 4 days. This allows everyone to mingle a bit.

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Em’s Question: what were the biggest disappointments you’ve had so far about homesteading? I mean, it just can’t be so rosy all the time? I’m most afraid of the disappointments that I could have with myself, finding out that I don’t have the skills or the guts or the strength to do things. How about you?

Kristine’s Answer: One of the biggest disappointments so far is not being able To accomplish everything I want to. We want to do solar and wind power, remodel the indoor kitchen, add on an outdoor kitchen with a solar shower, repair the barn, put in lots more fencing, grape arbors and add a lot more fruiting plants (berries, trees, et.) there’s never enough time or money to get it done.  Also, my gardening skills are less than golden. I can grow herbs well enough but my veggie garden is less than adequate. If we were relying on it to feed us, we’d starve to death. Each year gets a bit better but I have a long way to go.  Another disappointment to me is my lack of physical stature, which doesn’t allow me to do serious manual labor. Basically, I am naturally very thin and weak so I truly have to leave man’s work to my man who’s time is very limited due to having to work outside the home to pay the bills. if something ever happened to him, I’d have to seriously reconsider my dreams and aspirations. I also suck at carpentry. 

Kathie’s Answer: I’m not a homesteader in the truest sense of the word, however; I don’t think any life is without disappointment now and then.  I think the best we can do is put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving even when we want to just stay in bed and eat ice cream.  I’m constantly finding out that I don’t have the skills I thought I did.  I grew up in a gardening family, I thought I was a great gardener, until I moved to Montana and the climate changed everything.  I’m learning that I’m always learning and that’s ok.  As for guts, I say just go for it, I do often with little forethought and that’s where I get into trouble – my impulsiveness is a blessing and a curse.  I want to do so much, but I’m learning that I just can’t do it all and that’s disappointing.  I need to learn patience.  On a practical level, I do wish I had more building type skills – carpentry, building root cellar, installing more water lines, that kinda thing, but thankfully I have a great library, a good virtual community, and a few construction friends, eventually I get it right, I’ve given up on getting right the first time.

Phelan’s Answer: I really hope I don’t come across as all rosy. I seem to be having a difficult year. Two of my dogs killed a whole mess of livestock, chickens are stolen by both humans and foxes, it’s been too cool here in late summer to grow heat loving veggies, the bottom blew out of a quart of sweet pickled peppers in my canner, oh I could go on. I find myself facing many struggles, physically unable to do some things, mental unable for others. I fear I will fail at every new project. It’s always there, nagging at me. But then I do something and it comes out wonderfully, so all of those mistakes that just happened, end up worth it. There is more woe in my life than celbrations. But when the celabrative moments occur, we party hard. When it comes to homesteading, “The Little Engine that Could”, has a great mantra.

Robbyn’s Answer: We certainly have challenges, but I think the disappointment for me is when I think we’re at the cusp of closing on land we’ve worked hard to negotiate to acquire, and then through no fault of our own, even at the 11th 1/2 hour, it falls through.  It’s hard when it’s taken months of back-and-forth and patience and traveling and research and communicating with the seller/trader, blah blah blah.  Jack seems to handle it better than I do.  We’re still in the prelim stages of what we picture as our homesteading set-up…the “getting there” for the bigger picture.  The other things along the way can be challenges, but arent really in the disappointment category…lack of finances for things we want to chip away at or begin, lack of time to devote fulltime to this because we’re stil in the important phase of retiring the debt, setbacks that come financially or situationally because life just happens and cars break down or something has to be paid for that wasn’t in the plan.  And sometimes the two of us either don’t know which way to go with something and feel like we’re sometimes the only ones in our region trying to do this (in person…most of the folks we “know” who’re doing this are online, not local, and are so valuable!)  Mostly having the time to do this and knowing we could manage our time better, that’s the challenge.  But as far as our limitations, we just accept them.  I’m overweight and so is he and we’re both going to have a real conditioning curve when more and more of our days are in the actual physical Doing stages.  We want to grow all our own food, but know there’ll be things that just won’t happen, and bad seasons where we’ll be lucky to salvage something.  But to answer your question, those aren’t the disappointments as of yet…for me, it is the W-A-I-T-I-N-G….     🙂

Gina’s Answer: There have definitely been lots of times I wanted to give up. Last year, my own dogs killed my favorite ewe (and it was on my watch). We also lost all of our goats to a neighbors dog (mine were boarded at the time and so had an alibi) just a few weeks later. It was heartbreaking losing all of them so quickly.  To make it even worse, the neighbors down the road a bit also lost two goats to dogs and guess who they blamed? Another set of neighbors had witnessed my ewe killing and immediately told the other neighbors it was my dogs. They called the sheriff on us. My dogs stayed in the house at night and this is when their goat killing had occurred so it wasn’t mine. The sheriff believe me that it wasn’t my dogs, but he said they were getting complaints about our two lambs who were slipping under the bad fences. Because DH works away for a good part of the week, I was left to deal with this alone.  Needless to say, it was very stressful. My husband I fought because I was depressed. I was depressed because I felt like the neighbors were watching our every move. At work, I worried about the lambs being lose and that the sheriff would come back. This was the catalyst that took us house hunting. We are much happier where we are now.  Last night the sheriff (in the new county we live in) stopped by. My heart leaped into my throat and I thought of those crazy pigs. Even with a professionally installed fence, I can’t keep all the livestock in. I went outside to get the dogs away from his car and he yelled, “Just come up to the car, don’t worry about them.” I walked over and leaned into his car. He asked me if I knew some guy and I recognized the name from being the previous owner of the property. Apparently, the guy is being sued. I explained that we bought the house from (ironically) a sheriff sale and he said, “Oh, ok, we get 1000’s of these. I’ll just mark it down…”  He then looked up and said, “I have a question for you too.” I waited.  ‘Do you guys do everything big here?”  “What?” I said.  “Big dogs, big cows, big bull..,” He smiled (and it took several seconds for me to realize he was being playful). Then we chatted like real neighbors!  So, to answer your question, absolutely it is not always rosy. Sometimes it is downright bleak around here. However, I am trying to squint, especially when I am feeling overwhelmed or depressed, and seek out what color I can find in any given situation. It’s not always easy.

Monica’s Answer: Of course we have disappointments. Anyone would be lying to say they didn’t.  How about the year I wanted to grow lavender for cutting and selling and after putting in 225 plants in the ground we had the wettest winter on record in a very long time—so 95% of them died?  Or when we started raising sheep—we knew about parasites since we had raised goats before and had to worm them. However this was a different farm with lower quality grass than previously—which nutritionally made them more susceptible. As I said: we knew to worm—but did you know you could lose 1/3 of your flock within 3
weeks of purchasing them? Well…I do now. I felt HORRIBLE about that. Just terrible. I could also list other things….but for each bad thing I can also think of an equally good thing or two (or more).  However, one thing I would like to say is that life is about learning.  I know I harp on this “subject” and I will tell you—I have my very un–optimistic days just like everyone else. But, when I am having a really bad time of something I try and say to my self “what is God trying to teach me” or “what AM I suppose to learn here?” because I truly do believe that everything in our life is meant for us to learn from. Everything. Even the most horrible and disappointing things. I also feel that sometimes you ARE meant to quit or change or alter what
you are doing—and that is why we have disappointments- –to help us figure that out. I mean, you wouldn’t adjust, change or stop something if it went along o.k now would you? Human nature says that
if something is at least tolerable we won’t change it. Why? Fear of change and failure of course. We all do it!
When I do stop doing something because it doesn’t seem to work for me/us—I still believe that there is another opportunity (another door opening you might say) that comes along. Maybe not right that minute—but it comes. And I know this because I have at times been able to look back and say “if I hadn’t gone through that I wouldn’t be able to do this”.  All knowledge is important knowledge— even if it doesn’t work out the way we hope it will. We may also miss developing a skill we need for something that could or will work out for us in the future.  As to the “guts” and the “strength” part of your question—you’ ll be surprised who you find inside your self when you really start to look!  Or taking the meaning of strength another way—yes, you can do it—building muscle is sweaty and hard work—but everyone can do it.
So how did I handle the two disappointments I mentioned? In the case of lavender I went on to grow other things—which was good because I learned more about plants than I knew at the time (I was sure I was an
expert though!!) and I feel more confident that I could grow them successfully now even with an exceptionally rainy winter.  The sheep—well I went on to “study” and learn as much as I could about internal parasites and how to deal with them, wrote an article for my breed’s newsletter and have taught many people about how to more successfully deal with sheep parasites including a number of veterinarians. It was very hard work—but the potential death of my animals drove me. I tell you this last bit not to pat myself on the back, but to show you that you can make lemonade from lemons.  Good Luck!

Have a question for our panel?  Please email that question to mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com and we’ll answer it on a Friday soon.

Interested in contributing to Women in Not Dabbling In Normal?  We will have spots for guest writers now and then.  If you’re interested in contributing an article, please email mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com and let us know, be sure to include your blog address as well.

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