28 December 2011

A Light in the Dark

Next time the power goes out, we'll be able to light up the living room in style- all to the tune of $2.75 thanks to a great thrift store find!

I have the living room light on in the first picture so you can see the details a little better, but the second picture was taken with all of the lights off.

Not only is this wall sconce pretty, but it gives off plenty of light to let us move around the room with ease (even with the kids' Christmas stuff still scattered about... *ahem*). A few more candles around the room would give off quite a comfortable amount of light. I love how there is a large glass around the candle to guard the wall from the flame and to help refract the light. The next time the power grid goes down, we will have a lovely, stationary light source for our front room!

28 November 2011

Let Come What May

What has been laid on my heart today is the topic of preparedness. That word has seemed to take on a life of it’s own lately. More and more people seem to feel a burden to prepare for what may come in the future. Daily, we are faced with warnings that our country is on borrowed time. People turning their backs on God and His Word, unprecedented spending in spite of unprecedented debt, credit downgrades, civil unrest, questionable oil supply, declining morality, threats of war, riots, crime, and on and on. Not to mention the natural disasters that seem to break record after record. The people in our leadership positions, the ones “in charge” more often fight about ways to fix things without actually doing anything at all. I find myself uttering the words of Psalm 13… “How long, O Lord?”

No wonder people are feeling the need to batten down the hatches.

I don’t know when Christ will call His bride home. I know that I hope and pray it will happen soon. I am terrified to see how much farther we can fall. I am devestated when I imagine the type of world my children may have to live in and what kind of burden they may have to bear because of the decisions that are being made today. I feel a heavy responsibility to prepare them. Yes, keeping a supply of food on hand and getting GOODY bags ready are important things to do, but I feel a burden to go beyond that. I fear that if I don’t learn the skills of homesteading that are not necessarily needed in America today, my kids might end up in a world that has forgotten how to survive without depending on someone else, in a time where depending on someone else will not an option. Things like raising chickens, milking goats or preserving food might seem like a quaint hobby right now, but it could mean the difference between life and death for my kids or grandkids later on.

Fear. It can be overwhelming. It can break you if you let it.

I was in tears, pouring out my heart to my husband the other day, about the failures in the garden, the debt we are still struggling to pay off, and what seemed like one failure after another. Then he said something that was very simple, but very wise: You have to take the road if you want to get to your destination. Even if that road has potholes and steep, curvy twists- you have to keep going if you want to arrive. You can’t just quit and expect some miraculous escape. The things learned on that road may even be more valuable that what you think you want for an end result.

I have learned a lot lately through what seems like endless delays, even if it hurts my pride a little to admit that. For one thing, go ahead and start some tomato seedlings mid-spring just in case your first tomatoes don’t flower and you are desperate or fortunate enough to try for a fall crop! The main thing I have realized, however, is that I have been putting more faith in my skills, my resources, and my abilities than I have been putting in the power of God. Only He can see us through.

Also, I have found a peace about the entire concept of “preparing.” I have struggled about how much I should be doing, if it was enough, and if I just trust in God, why prepare at all? The peace I’ve found is this: Do what I can with what I have, where I’m at now. Then, let whatever may come, come. It is in God’s hands. Should the world fall down around us, at least I considered the ants and followed their example. I do not trust in my preparations. They are simply a tool to survive if needed. I do not feel “safe” because I stored up some food, I feel like I have done my God-given duty as a wife an mother to provide for my family, just like the woman in Proverbs 31 provided for her family. My version of providing might take a different form than her version, but the concept is the same. Should we lose all we have in a tornado tomorrow, I will not feel my efforts were in vain. We will simply pick up and start again. Should we lose everything we have and starting again isn’t possible due to the condition of the world, then blessed be the name of the Lord who gives and who takes away. We will have done all we could on our part to be ready, we will have been faithful with the things we were given, but what ultimately happens is up to Him. We will trust in Him alone and look forward to our eternal home. For we know in whom our faith is found, it is in Christ, our Cornerstone.

Playing Catch... Up

I know it’s been quite awhile… sometimes I get so tied up in the living that I fail to find motivation for documenting said living. Then I usually go overboard & post a lot… then I take another hiatus! Don’t worry, I can catch you up pretty quickly. I have a habit of starting to type up posts and then never hitting the “Publish” button. Here are a few of my thoughts over the last few months!

This summer was hot. And dry. And hotter still. So hot that of the few tomato plants that managed to flower, fewer still were able to set fruit. Save a few, precious cherry tomatoes, the remaining flowers either withered and fell, or the small tomatoes that struggled into existance split due to the lack of consistant moisture. Oh, and we are competing against all the other creatures trying to survive this weather- my garden being an oasis for them as the only fairly green thing that sees watering as often as possible. The good news is that chili peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos and basil apparently don’t mind the heat one bit. The biggest surprise has been the ground cherries. Though the fruits are smaller than I was expecting (so far, only enough to taste while weeding), the plants that I thought had died in a late frost came back with a vengence to nearly overtake the bed (and the basil!). The corn didn’t make it- I can’t even find it at the farmer markets this year, though the corn earworms made a nice meal of it while it lasted (I will have to try the mineral oil trick next time!). It sure did look pretty waving in the wind, though. Especially after it tasseled. Even after it turned golden brown, I was sorry to see the giants go as we made room for fall plantings.

I am so thankful that I could turn on the hose and water the garden, though our water bill was very reflective of the increased usage. I am thankful for the scattered thunderstorms that only spilled 1/16th of an inch of rain on the garden, but literally lowered the outside temperature 40 degrees to a nearly “freezing” seventy. We took advantage of the cloud cover to play at the local park and enjoy snowcones. While I very much wish we could support a majority of our diet with our garden (and hope & pray to someday!), I am thankful that we still have grocery stores (both organic and conventional) to supplement our meals when the ground is parched and the skies are barren. I am thankful for the extreme luxury of air conditioning. I would fear for my children’s lives in this heat otherwise.

The newborn goats that we had put a down payment on did not survive their first day in the brutal summer heat. I cried. A lot. But I know that God’s timing is perfect and we were faced with a few financial struggles at summer’s end that would have made it difficult to care for even the two little goats we planned on welcoming home. We are looking forward to spring and another try at some “real” farm animals, as there are more Mama goats already carrying babies! Baby chicks will also be arriving this spring, and I cannot wait to have our own source of organic, pastured eggs!

I am thankful that the weather finally turned cooler as fall arrived. Now, in late November, we have finally fallen out of “severe drought” status. We have had some gorgeous days to enjoy time outside, watch the lettuce flourish, and finally see some hard freezes. We have enjoyed breathtaking scenery as the leaves changed. Another gardening year has been put to rest- we ended up with a bumper crop of hot peppers and basil, with a small bucket of green cherry tomatoes that ripened slowly on the counter over the last few weeks. I used to wish that it stayed warm year round, but now that I have started gardening, I look forward to the quiet rest that winter brings! God has truly blessed us and has seen to our every need. I am reminded yet again how much hard work “homesteading” is, yet how rewarding it can be as well- especially the small victories! It is easy for me to get overwhelmed, but something in me won’t let me quit. Being able to survive & thrive in an increasingly unstable world requires vital “old fashioned” skills that I am afraid will be lost just when we (or our kids!) need them most. It is a very humbling endeavor, and one in which I am constantly reminded that my real strength comes from God alone and not my fledgling skills!

25 April 2011

Learning to Enjoy Doing Without- Or At Least Not Disliking It So Much!

Use it up- Wear it out- Make it do- Or do without!

Lately I've been feeling the weight and guilt that comes from spending too much money for unnecessary things. Too many unplanned "quick" trips to the store, too many little splurges here and there that add up WAY too quickly! And I despise the feelings (guilt, fear, failure) that accomany these money binges!

We have a "big picture" plan of getting out of debt that we are enthuisastic about, but it is easy for the smaller (and sometimes not so small!) day-to-day expenses to become the proverbial monkey wrench in our plans. We have a budget and are getting pretty consistent with it. We even have a small amount in our checking account that is set aside for emergencies. The problem is, even though I don't include that amount in our balance, I still know it is there! It is too easy to dip into that "just this once" and make up for it with next week's paycheck. The problem is, something always comes up that seems to require the money intended to eliminate the deficit.

So what should be done? Two things in particular come to mind-

Oddly enough, it is when I am not being diligent with the checkbook that the money seems to begin slipping through our fingers like sand. This is probably our biggest defense against our spontaneous spending- keeping track of the funds. When I worked as a bank teller during college, it was easy to jot down the charges that came through daily. Now that I have to make time to complete this task, I am not as disciplined as I once was! Growing up, I noticed how my mother would never leave a store's checkout stand without writing the new sum in her checkbook and carrying the balance forward. I am making a commitment to do the same thing (or at least writing it down as soon as I get in the car). Keeping a true current balance right in front of me will help me to stop spending the amount I think is there, over and over and over.

The other thing that I know is necessary is to stop rationalizing purchases.  Just because something is a good deal, or just because I've had a bad day, or just because it's payday, that shouldn't justify me spending money for things that we don't need. I firmly believe in treating ourselves occasionally, but somehow I am really good at finding excuses for "celebrating!" really, really often. These feelings are typically shortlived, however, and they are replaced by guilt for not using the money more wisely. It's just not worth it!! I need to be more like my mom and grandmother who take pride in finding ways to live and celebrate daily life without spending more money!

Use it up- Wear it out- Make it do- Or do without!   It's my new mantra.

How about you? Any suggestions for reining in the spending beast or keeping those feelings of entitlement at bay?

23 April 2011

Easter Saturday

Saturday- the waiting game. Christ's death occured the day before & it seemed all hope was lost. Waiting. Wanting a miracle, but too afraid to hope for one. Ever felt like that? Waiting for an answer. Waiting for a chance. Waiting for some closure. Waiting for healing. Don't give up!! Easter morning IS just around the corner!

"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31

12 April 2011

Life As We Know It

I think homesteading and an old-fashioned lifestyle are often viewed through rose colored glasses. I know I am guilty of romanticizing things for which my great-great grandmother would probably call me crazy.Hanging laundry on the line? Making meals from scratch? Growing food? Canning? Keeping chickens? I imagine she would be surprised to know how many people today think of mastering those things (among manyothers!) as an ideal to reach for. As if, once we acquire enough skills and have a big enough garden and on and on, we somehow acquire the status of a "real" homesteader- urban or otherwise. Instead, I imagine she would tell me that these things are just life. It's not about showing off our mad laundry soap making skills or feeling like a fraud when the sourdough starter dies. It's about living day to day, doing things that provide for our families in the best ways we know how. In my case, that definitely requires learning new skills, but even people in "the old days" had to learn these things too. They also had crop failures. They burned the sweet potatoes. They battled weeds and bugs and less than fabulous gardens. They faced too many bills with not enough money. They mothered sick children and also fought their own illnesses. They splurged on sweets. They lived and loved and worried and worked and hit their knees. They just lived life.

This was on my mind the other day while watering the peas struggling to survive the hot, dry spring we've had. I decided to try something. Rather than compare my life to others, trying to live up to their amazing accomplishments (while typically failing, by the way) and coveting the homesteading elements that have not yet materialized for us, I will aim to think of these things as my great-great grandmother would have. Doing the dishes everyday is just a part of life. So is sweeping and laundry, picking up the toys and cleaning the bathroom. Those sometimes mundane tasks are just as much a part of life as growing your own tomato plants can be (though, admittedly, a sun-ripened tomato often seems to be a sweeter reward than a clean floor!). Hanging laundry, cooking healthy meals, gardening, preserving food- I am learning to do these things as well as I can to provide for my family, not to validate my status as a homesteader or to gain praises from others for how "super self-sufficiently sustainable" I am. Pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). I need not feel like a "fake" if not everything I plant actually sprouts, or if I use the dryer on a busy day. Those things too, are just life. I will keep going, keep learning, and keep working. Rather than cultivating my own glory, I will strive to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)- just as my grandmothers did.

09 April 2011

Preparedness Challenge

This week for the preparedness challenge at Homestead Revival, I…

Evacuated! Seriously!

We have had hot, dry and windy weather the last couple of weeks, which is a perfect recipe for wildfire. The acre we live on is in a neighborhood on the far edge of the city, largely surrounded by great swaths of fields and groves of trees covered in bramble.

Smoke drifting aross the sky

With fire threatening about a mile and a half northwest of us, we made the decision to pack up and head out. Because the wind was driving the fire straight east, we were fairly certain our house would be okay, but since the fire department was recommending evacuation and you can never predict which way the wind will shift or where a new hot spot will flare up, we thought it would be better to be safe than sorry.

Thankfully, our house and property was fine. Not everyone was so fortunate, however. Several houses and outbuildings succumbed to the flames, as did acres of land that cows, horses, goats and many other animals depend on for pasture. There were no lost lives, however, which was such a blessing! Police and fire crews worked for hours and hours battling the blaze. I could not IMAGINE walking into that inferno, yet they did it willingly to protect the community. They are truly heroes.
These pictures were taken as we left our neighborhood - thankfully, firefighters were able to save this home

Here’s what I learned for my family: We are not NEARLY as prepared to leave in a hurry as we should be! I knew we should be grabbing things and getting out of there, but I was so scattered that we stayed much longer than we should have. I was missing one VERY important item….. a list!

Now, posted by the front door is the following list of what to grab, assuming there’s time. If there’s not time (for example, if your house has caught fire unexpectedly) the most important thing to do is get the family to safety!

Last Minute List:
Kids & People
Dog (with tags!)
Diaper Bag (don’t forget the security blankets or stuffed animals!)
Wallet & Purse
Phone & Charger (I keep mine in my purse, and a charger in the car would work too!)
GOODY “Get Out Of Dodge, Y’all!” Bags (including clothes, shoes, toiletries, and snacks)
Vital & Medical Records Binder
Pictures (I keep the albums in cloth grocery sacks in the living room cabinet)
External hard drive or flash drives
Family Bible
Old Family Recipes (1 binder & 1 notebook)
Computer CPU

Even though we eventually left the house without forgetting any of the items (except the CPU- like I said, we were pretty sure it would be okay and I had just recently stored all of our digital pictures on the external hard drive anyway), it took us WAY too long! I found much room for improvement- for example, I need to get my act together and finish scanning our pictures into the computer. Even though I already have the albums in bags ready to grab, there were way too many, they were too heavy and it would not be easy to grab them if we had to leave in two minutes or less. It would be heartbreaking to lose the originals, but if I get them scanned then at least the pictures would be preserved! My preference would be to save the scanned images on an external hard drive or on flash drives which would then be stored at our bank safety deposit box (I try to do this routinely with our digital pictures also). The same goes for vital records and recipes. You could also upload pictures to an online service- many of them offer free accounts. A digital and/or hard copy stored in an off-site location means that you don’t have to give that stuff a second thought while fleeing for your life!

As for the wallet, keys, purse, phones, diaper bags etc., we try to make it a habit to put these things in the same place every day (such as a coat rack or shelf by the door) so that we don’t waste time looking for them. I am still compiling our GOODY bags, and those will go in the front coat closet.

Not only is the threat for wildfire ongoing, but tornado season is also looming! More than once we have fled our home when severe weather was upon us. I fully recommend an practicing an evacuation drill with your family. Make a plan, try it out, and time it! You might be surprised how long it takes to grab everything you are planning on taking. If you do your drill when you are planning on leaving the house anyway, it won’t seem like such a hassle. Trust me, it is much better to work out the kinks now than when a life and death situation is threatening.

What do you think? What am I forgetting on my list?

08 April 2011

Not Of My Doing

As I watered my garden yesterday evening, I was thinking about the life that I desire and how disheartened I can be when I feel like things are not progressing as quickly as they should. My garden isn't marvelous- my peas are struggling to make it after a string of unseasonably hot, dry, windy days with highs in the mid-eighties. My potatoes are popping up, but the strawberry roots I planted never even humored me with a sprout. A neighborhood dog decided to dig in the only spot in the entire garden bed where I had anything planted (a garden fence is going up this weekend!!). Needless to say, there weren't any carrot sprouts either. Miraculously, the two raspberry canes I planted have shot up some sprouts during the last couple of weeks. I was afraid the soil was too compacted and hard. The onions and garlic I planted last fall seem to be doing okay- I even have a few volunteer onions in the yard from where I moved the beds last year. I need to do something about my seedlings- they are starting to get a bit cramped, but I worry that planting them now would leave them vulnerable to the weird weather we've been having. I've only been at this gardening thing for a couple of years- learning many lessons the very hard way- but sometimes (as in last night, for example), I am hard on myself for not doing better. My garden is not self-sustaining and at this rate, it will definitely NOT be our sole source of veggies for the year! But I still wish that it could be. I want my grandiose dreams to be a reality.

A passage from 1 Corinthians hit me like a ton of bricks last night as my husband read our devotional during a late supper of pizza (the funny thing is, I think the devil was trying to stop me from hearing it, because I was suddenly distracted at that same moment and just barely caught the words):

So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:7

I know Paul is speaking of spiritual matters in this passage, but the Bible often uses examples of what is true in nature to demonstrate how God works in our lives also. God gives the increase in my garden, not me. I must trust in HIM to provide, not in my novice gardening skills. God gives the increase in my life and relationships, not me. I must trust in HIM to help me love others (and for others to love me!) with a supernatural love, not in my own beauty or charm (ha!) to hold onto a person's affections. No matter what the situation, it is GOD who is the determining factor. We can do this and that and definitely should try to discern and follow His will for our lives, but ultimately, we must leave the matter in God's hands. Once we release our controlling grip on the issue, God can freely take our problems and wishes and dreams and work them and give them back to us in ways we never could have fathomed in our limited plans. Perhaps one day God will allow me to have a flourishing garden and homestead that is literally flowing with milk and honey, but in the meantime, I am learning to take it slowly and to be thankful for the potatoes and onions even when I'd rather have carrots and peas. And a few strawberries wouldn't hurt either.

02 April 2011

Preparedness Challenge

This week for the preparedness challenge over at Homestead Revival, I….

Made olive oil lamps! This was actually easier than I thought it would be- the instructions can be found here on the Mother Earth News website. These would be very nice in the event of a power outage if you did not have or want to use a battery powered flashlight.  One of the BEST things about these in my opinion, is that if they tip over, they immediately extinguish since olive oil has a high flash point (we actually knocked one over in the kitchen sink just to test this out- sure enough, the flame disappeared right away!). This was very important to me since I have a two little ones who love to grab at anything shiny. Of course, these should be put out of reach of anything flammable or anyone not old enough to play with fire, but I appreciate the safety feature just in case! My husband would tease that this particular aspect would be more likely to keep ME from burning the house down than the KIDS…. But moving on!! J

Yes, I know olive oil can be expensive, but I used the cheapest stuff I could find- a 1.5 liter bottle of store brand oil only cost me about ten bucks- and it goes a long way! The only other required materials are a glass canning jar (any sturdy glass container would probably work, but these refract the light really well! Plus, when these are not in use, you can simply put the lids on for storage), a piece of flexible wire and a strip of 100% cotton twine or cloth (I cut a few strips from a cheap dish cloth) that has been soaked in salt water for about thirty minutes and then air dried. Two tips that we learned while doing this- it is important to keep the wick no longer than a quarter of an inch long, and the oil needs to be level with where the wire is holding the wick. If you want the jar to appear fuller, try adding some water to the bottom of the jar before adding the oil and wick.  The first lantern took about 10 minutes to put together, but once we got the basic premise down, we started experimenting with other jars and were able to assemble each lamp in less than three minutes!

My two year old even enjoyed this project, as he sat safely in his high chair singing, “happy buh-day to tooooooo!!” every time we lit a match!

Notice how the brightest lamps are the plain pint jars- a quart jar might work even better!

Please head on over to Amy’s blog at Homestead Revival and check out some ideas for getting prepared for whatever may come!

01 April 2011

Functional Art

Shortly after we moved into our house a couple of years ago, my husband built an enclosure for our deep freeze which added a nice stretch of counter space to the kitchen (the freezer rolls out on caster wheels). However, the wall above the freezer has remained empty because I could not figure out what could adorn such a large space with grace (a framed bowl of fruit was NOT the look I was going for!) One day, after I was fed up with rummaging through too-deep cupboards for a sauce pan, it hit me (an idea, not the saucepan). I (sweetly) asked my man for some help in the kitchen, and after tossing around a few ideas, here is what we came up with:

The wood and screws cost less than $15, and it only took my husband about 30 minutes to assemble (I, however, took at LEAST that long arranging the pans "just so"!). How's that for a cheap piece of art?