Liquid Gold

Have you seen those ridiculous Velveeta Shells & Cheese commercials with the men dressed up like prospectors trying to scare people away from the boxes? They glare at the shoppers to “get your own liquid gold!” I despise them. Velveeta is NOT cheese. And, it is NOT liquid gold.

  
This, on the other hand, is. This is what I did today: rendered lard. The house smells awesome!

The byproduct of this little exercise is gold in its solid form: cracklings, or as I like to call them, simply crack. They will get mixed in with our green beans tonight. Heaven on a plate, I tell you!

  
If you are curious, here is the technique I follow from The Prairie Homestead.

Do you do this at home? What is the method you prefer? Where do you get your fat from if you don’t have your own pigs? I’d love to hear from you!

Off-Topic: Let’s Talk About Mental Illness

I want to take a moment to talk about a topic that is taboo for many people and something I’ve never seen addressed on a homesteading blog, not that it hasn’t been: mental illness. Now, I can’t speak to illnesses like schizophrenia or specific psychoses, but I can talk about illnesses like depression and anxiety disorder. These are two illnesses that have been an issue in my life for decades.

Depression and anxiety can both be debilitating and can rob you of the joy that is always present in your life. It can ruin relationships of all kinds: friendships; love, familial, and work relationships; and, perhaps most importantly, your relationship with yourself.

depression

With depression, things that once brought you pleasure cease to do so. Sometimes, feelings of happiness and contentment are replaced with emptiness, hopelessness, and extreme sadness. Other times, irritability, anger, and rage take their place. With anxiety, someone who was once outgoing may become withdrawn and fearful. They may no longer do things for fear of the worst case scenario.

I have been one of those people many, many times for many, many years. I have been to the depths and back again repeatedly. I battle anxiety on a daily basis. I avoid calling people on the phone because I worry I will say something stupid and they will get upset with me and I will lose a friend. At one point, things were so severe that I would find excuses not to have Auntie Day because I was afraid to leave the house. I avoided contact with people because I thought people would think I was stupid, for whatever reason, and not want to be around me. I avoided having friends or family over for dinner because they might not like what I made and would never want to come over again.

Possibly the worst part is knowing, deep down, that none of those things are true but feeling unable to act anyway. I know I am not stupid. I know that I am a good person and a good friend. I know that sometimes things come out wrong and friends will ask for clarification rather than getting angry and cutting you off. I know that I am a safe driver and the odds of something other than a fender bender are pretty low. I know that I am a likable person, at least people seem to convey that by calling, texting, and stopping by. I know that I’m a pretty darn good cook/baker and not everything is going to look as good as the picture nor is it going to taste as good as it sounds.

What has helped me are people like my friend north of the border. When I’m quiet, she will send me a message that goes something like this: “This is the welfare police! This is your daily welfare check. You have been awfully quiet.” I cannot thank her enough for being who she is. Also, my husband has been a saint. He knows my heart and how to bring me back to reality. “Let’s go check the garden.” or “Let’s go clear out some space for the chicken coop.” or “Let’s take a ride and look at some barns.” or “You are the best person I know. You have such a huge heart. I love you.”

It also helps that my mom is a therapist. There have been many 6am phone calls (like yesterday) where I bring my problems to her table and she does her best to help me sort them out. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to separate the mom role from the therapist role, but she does a great job at it. She never lets me wallow. She doesn’t allow me to play the victim even for once second because I am NOT a victim.

Finally, I have a small circle of friends who manage to send a text or call just at the right time.

I think it is important to avoid saying “my depression”, “my anxiety”, or “I’m depressed/anxious/etc.” Instead, remember that these are feelings. They cannot do anything unless acted upon. When I feel these feelings, I go out to the garden. I look at inspirational videos. I read books that boost my mood. I get in the car and have Auntie Day anyway. I think about things that bring me happiness like fresh-baked bread, what I want to grow next year, how awesome it will be when we have our own chickens, etc. I try to avoid things like excessive sleep, watching unpleasant things on television or online, or reading unhappy news stories.

If you know someone who is dealing with depression or anxiety, take a minute to check on them. That person you think doesn’t take time with their appearance may actually be feeling depressed. That person you think doesn’t keep up their yard or care for their animals like they should may be fighting just to get out of bed in the morning. Stop by or give them a call. Don’t be afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. You just might help them more than you thought possible. If you aren’t already, get educated on mental health issues so that you have an idea what to look for. Most of all, don’t judge. You have no idea what they are going through. Even if you have felt this way before, your feelings are not their feelings.

help me

Just some food for thought. Here is a good post on how to help: http://www.buzzfeed.com/timetochangecampaign/10-things-we-can-all-do-to-challenge-mental-health-1gemw

Making Time

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately. The hubby was working a 6pm-6am shift for the last three days, so I felt a little like a fish out of water. He worked nights for at least 10 of the 17 years of our relationship, and they were very hard on us. It’s funny how old routines come back so quickly in cases like this. There was some good that came from it, though.

I stopped by my folks’ house around 7:00 Saturday evening to borrow book from my mom. I left around 10:30. Whoops! That was a much longer visit than I had anticipated, but it was wonderful. We talked about family and politics and managed to laugh the entire time. We still met for coffee on Sunday like usual, and still had so much to talk about.

Those who know me well know that I am extremely close to my parents. I could spend every day with them and not get sick of it. I am very family oriented and have passed that trait along to my son. Like most kids, I (and he) strayed a little bit but never too far. The morals and values they instilled in me growing up are still deeply rooted and have begun to flourish again after being dormant for some time. I haven’t felt this good in years.

On Monday night after having Auntie Day, I went to have dinner at the home of my husband’s middle daughter, our son-in-law, and our grandkids. My son and his girlfriend were already there when I arrived. My husband’s oldest daughter came a short time later. It was absolutely awesome. We all sat around their dining room table with a huge spread of food, said grace, talked and laughed, and just enjoyed each other’s company. We told stories of when my son was little and Tina was the only person who could get him to eat his dinner. I would have to leave the house and tell him I was going to get ice cream and he couldn’t have any until he ate. I always got the call that he had cleared his plate. I think it was all a scam to get Dairy Queen.

After dinner, I watched our son-in-law build a treasure chest out of scrap wood for our oldest grandson and his friend. Our son-in-law is truly a gift. He is so good to Tina and Nick (her son from her first marriage), and he is an amazing father to their three children together as well.

My hubby’s oldest is pregnant with her first child and it has been so beautiful watching this whole process. Tami is going to be an incredible mommy and I can’t wait to hold grandbaby #5 and kiss her sweet angel cheeks.

We ended the night at 9:15. My heart and my belly were full. I look forward to more nights like that in the future. Our grandkids are a never-ending source of laughter and silliness, as children are wont to be. The conversation is always good.

When my husband was working nights, there wasn’t much of a social life. He was either working or too tired to go anywhere, so we got in the habit of staying home. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it has made us pretty reclusive. We need to spend more time with the people who are most important to us: family and friends. That was my mission for this year: cultivate relationships. We haven’t been very diligent in that. haven’t been very diligent in that. That has to change.

Communication is Key

As we sat and waited for the train to head downtown to work Friday afternoon, it occurred to me that I had never asked the homestead hubby if he actually WANTED to be a homestead husband. I simply assumed. Or, maybe I was afraid if I asked he would say no and then I would have to make the decision on how I was going to proceed.

The conversation was sparked by his comment, “Ugh. I don’t wanna do this.” We disconnect and reconnect computers when companies move. They hire the company we work for to save their employees the headache. We appreciate it. It’s what pays our bills. The drawback is many of these jobs don’t start until late in afternoon or evening and sometimes go into the wee hours of the morning. On this job, we worked 2pm until 12am and had to wait for the 12:40 train that got delayed because of a medical emergency and didn’t get us home until 2:15am. He had to be up again to start a 3 day stint working 6pm-6am as post-move support, so I totally understood where he was coming from. Nevertheless, it made me pause.

I looked at him and said, “Those comments scare me. It is starting to make me think I’m going to be doing this alone. I mean, that’s okay. This is my dream and doesn’t have to be yours. I really should have communicated better first. I know there are plenty of women who do this by themselves, but I just figured we’d be in it together. I will understand if you don’t want to, but I REALLY want to do this. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to do this.”

He looked at me and said, “I know you do. And, you’re not going to do it alone.” I’m tearing up as I write this. I sometimes wonder how we got here. It wasn’t always this way. My husband is your typical stubborn German. If he doesn’t want to, he isn’t going to, and NO ONE can make him. That comes in handy sometimes, but not always (especially in the battle where I want six hens and he says we can start with three. Did I mention he is stubborn?)

Well, at least that’s how it used to be. Somewhere over the last five years, his heart has gotten softer. For starters, we finally got married. We got engaged on our thirteenth dating anniversary, and our wedding happened four days shy of our 14th anniversary. Secondly, he has promised to build me a chicken coop. Seven years ago when I told him I wanted chickens, he wanted no part of it. “I’m not building no chicken coop!” A few days later (probably a bit longer), I came home and saw him looking at coop plans online. When my heart is especially heavy, he will take me for a drive out to more rural areas to look at the fields and barns hoping it will cheer me up. He bought me a mini-greenhouse, put it together, brought it in the house, and set it in his beloved theater room in front of the window that gets the most sun.

I apologized for not asking him first and just assuming he was on-board. That was selfish of me. Just because I want something with every fiber of my being doesn’t mean he wants it, too. It’s days like these that I see how much I still have to learn in life and in homesteading. There is a lot of work required to maintain a successful homestead and it is something I want to be successful at. No endeavor will work out without constant open communication. That is something I need to keep in mind. Especially now that I think we might want rabbits for spinning their fur into yarn. And a couple of fruit trees…

All in due time.

Big Things are Happening Here!

Big news on the homestead this morning! We have our first blossoming cucumber plant! I noticed some unopened flowers on several plants yesterday but was till surprised when I found this (excuse the lack of focus):

IMG_8454

I am absolutely giddy. I also saw tons of open flowers on the mystery pepper plants, too. It’s mid-July, so I’m a bit concerned that there won’t be enough time left in our growing season for them to completely grow and ripen, but what will be will be.

Another big happening is I received an email this morning from Shane over at The Floyd Family Homestead. I participated in my very first blog hop this past Monday and he was writing to notify me that I will be the Featured Author on next Monday’s blog hop! I am still in shock. I cannot thank Shane enough for featuring homesteading authors like this. For someone like me who is really just getting started even though I’ve been at it in some form or other for over five years now, this is an honor. I feel like the little puppy who has been given the opportunity to hang with the big dogs. It is a humbling experience.

I am learning so much since making the commitment to move forward with my homesteading goals. I’ve been following folks like Appalachia’s Homestead, Our Leap of Faith Homestead, and The Fewell Homestead, and Joybilee Farm, just to name a few. I’m finding more awesome resources all of the time. The folks here are always inspirational and willing to give advice and tips. Given the fact that I have yet to find others like me in the northwest suburbs of Illinois, their help is much appreciated.

This is all just further proof that I am exactly where I was always meant to be, and I could not be happier with the progress we are making.

Family and the Homestead

Today was Auntie Day, so there wasn’t much going on at the homestead. Auntie Day is my once a week visit to my sister, nephew (almost 4), and niece (recently turned 2).  It always lifts my spirits.

My nephew is fascinated with all things outer space, so when I saw this shirt at Farm & Fleet, I had to have it. It says “Shoot for the Stars”. He is my love. 

When he was littler, I would ask him “Are you my love.” He would look at me and say, “Wuv!” I asked him today, “Are you still my love?” With arms around my neck he replied, “Yes, Auntie!” My heart is still full.

  
My niece, affectionately called Sweet P, is my down and dirty girl. She loves all things outdoors and messy (sometimes a little too much.) She will be my homestead helper, I’m sure. Well, her momma says only as long as I clean her up before bringing her home. I say half the fun is explaining all the stains at the end of the day! 

P’s shirt says “Dirt Makes Me Cuter”. I’m not sure how she could get any cuter, but it fits.  

 I know this post might not exactly be homesteading related, but I think it is. Family is an important part of any homestead and my family really is the center of my universe. After all, if you don’t have family, you don’t have anything. 

I can’t wait for the days my nephew, niece, and grandkids can come and help feed the chickens (if they want), collect eggs, and harvest food from the garden. Those are memories I hope they will cherish forever.

And the Signs Keep Pointing This Way

Do you ever have those moments where you wonder if you’re on the right path and doing what you are meant to do in your life? I have those moments A LOT. The strange thing is, every time I have had them in the last month, something pops up that assures me I am. Something will pop up in my newsfeed on Facebook or elsewhere and it will be like a virtual 2×4 smack to the head: “WHAT MORE PROOF DO YOU NEED, JENNIFER?!?!”

I have a few friends who have been telling me for quite a while that I was meant to do this. They could see my passion and drive. They refused to accept my excuses for not moving forward. I am grateful for them.

Recently, I found a page on Facebook called Appalachia’s Homestead. This lady is incredible. They also have a YouTube channel filled with informational videos. I wish I lived closer so I could learn directly from her. She is such an inspiration to me. Today, she shared a video that would have brought me to my knees if I wasn’t already sitting on my chair in the den. I watched it with tears in my eyes.

She nails what I and so many others deal with on a regular basis and what, for years, stopped me from following my dream. I’m still taking it all in and will probably watch the video again. I know I missed some pearls of wisdom through my tears.

It’s things like this that I was referring to above. Those virtual smacks upside the head telling me I’m headed down the road I was meant to. I still have moments where I feel like I am being stripped bare, but I know it is in preparation for where I am meant to be. As I embrace the new direction of my life, things seem like they are just falling into place.

If you are even considering homesteading, you need to watch this video. I cannot stress it enough.

Now, in the words of Charlie Daniels, “Let’s all make the day count.”

Making Room

I don’t usually write on Sunday, but I couldn’t resist. Yesterday was quite the busy day on the homestead. Around 10am, the homestead hubby proclaimed, “Let’s go outside.” We had already been out to the garden once, I with my trusty cup for collecting berries and he with his faithful tennis racket for swatting mosquitoes. I was feeling lazy but acquiesced.

I am glad we did because there ended up being many “firsts” for me:

Chainsaw

first time using a chainsaw and pruning saw

Log splitter

and first time using a log splitter.

The chainsaw was battery-powered, but I was good with that. It’s better to learn safely and come away with all limbs and digits than to dive in unprepared. I cut down a couple of trees (more like twigs, but it was better than nothing) and leveled a small stump, which is much more difficult than I thought. I pruned some dead branches and helped split and re-stack an old log pile so it will hopefully dry out for burning.

It’s bittersweet, though. I always loved our backyard. It reminded me of home.

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At the same time, I’m so excited to see my dreams progressing.

Chicken clearing

Next year, that spot will be filled with a coop, hand-built by my awesome husband, and several beautiful chickens. I’m sure the grandkids don’t mind sharing their space!

A Slow Day on the Homestead

The homestead hubby and I worked our off-homestead job last night and didn’t make it home until about 12:15am. Hubby had to be up for another off-site job at 5am, and despite waking up twice in that short span, I was up and making our coffee at that same time like I do every day.

I think this kind of schedule is getting us ready for a more immersed homestead life. No rest for the weary, right? Not when there are chores to be done!

Needless to say, we have been dragging. He’s currently asleep in his favorite chair and I’ve been out to the garden for the second time. 

Things seem to finally be coming along. I’ve been getting garden envy reading about everyone’s wonderful harvests, but it seems like we might actually get a little something aside from green beans in spite of the rain and cool weather. 

We finally seem to have some hot peppers and green peppers growing! 

   
We also have tomatoes! 

   
   
Sadly, only one of the six plants have flowered, so I will likely have to hit up a farmer’s market to get enough tomatoes to can this year. While it’s frustrating that I won’t have enough of a harvest here, I have no qualms about supporting local farms.

It’s only the beginning of July, so all hope is not lost. It comes with the territory. We will learn from this and take the necessary measures to make next year more of a success. 

No matter what happens, we are blessed on this wannabe homestead!

Some Recommended Reading

I have been doing a lot of reading lately. My genre of choice is non-fiction (it’s been a while since I read any fiction I truly enjoyed). In this post, I will share a few of the books I think are excellent additions to the homesteading/simple living bookshelf:

You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Stroebel ~ Written by the author of the Rowdy Kittens, blog his book is a great read if you are into the tiny house movement (and if you’re not) or just looking to simplify your life. The topics range from paring down your wardrobe to reducing/eliminating debt to cultivating happiness through relationships. The back pages contain a recommended reading list of books and blogs.

Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Suzanne Woods Fisher ~ I cannot say enough about this book. It was absolutely captivating to learn the ways of the Amish and how we can incorporate them into our “English” (anyone not Amish) lives. If you are even the slightest bit curious about the Amish, you need to read this book. I learned that so much of what I thought I knew was wrong. I truly believe the Amish are onto something and we could all benefit from their wisdom.

Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes ~ I purchased this book three years ago and it is one I still hang on to. While she does have more privileges than most of us (living on land her family owns), Shannon interviews many people who have made the trip back to the land. There are many interesting facts, especially in the first half of the book.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery ~ I am still going through this book despite having it on my shelf for five years. It is not a sit-down-and-read-cover-to-cover kind of book. This is one I go to with a specific topic in mind and thumb the index. Definitely a good one to have on hand.

The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon ~ Gene is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He discusses the rise of cottage-farming amidst the decline of family farms. A great read.

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich ~ I saw this book and had to have it. Jenna is a young homesteader who has left the rat-race to pursue her dream. This, her first book, reveals the beginning of her journey, bumps and all. She glosses over nothing, which is essential for those looking to live this life. We have to be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Jenna includes recipes and how-tos for anything from bread to spinning yarn from Angora rabbits. I must confess, this book is one of the most well-worn on my shelf.

The Wild & Weedy Apothecary: An A to Z Book of Herbal Concoctions, Recipes & Remedies, Practical Know-How & Food for the Soul by Doreen Shababy ~ I purchased this book with very little knowledge of herbalism and came away more than satisfied. Not only that, but I gained a very dear friend in Doreen. She is an incredible woman who walks the walk in every sense of the phrase. If you are at all interested in herbal medicine, this is a must-have for your shelf!

*Note: I’m sure there are some necessities I have forgotten, but I will continue to update as I remember or read new books I think would be helpful. I would love to hear what is on your homesteading/self-sufficiency/simple living bookshelf!