My Book Review

During winter, there are fewer demands on my time as opposed to when the weather is warmer. One of the things I really enjoy is reading about homesteading type projects. I cannot even begin to count the number of articles, magazines, books, and blogs I have consumed over the years relating to this topic. As the practice of returning to some of the simpler ways of life becomes a more popular topic, it seems the field is crowded with many players.  It is sometimes difficult to filter through some of the content so I thought I would share some of the magazines and books that I have found to be good quality sources of information

Magazines

Mother Earth News

FullSizeRender 6The first magazine I began reading related to the topic of simple living/homesteading/self-sufficiency would be Mother Earth News. This magazine has been around for many years and has evolved since its beginning in the 1970’s. They offer a CD containing a digital collection of articles dating back to the first issues which is when I believe the magazine was at its best. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a good periodical, I just find the information contained in the earlier versions more to my liking. The current publication tends to lean toward environmentalism and political correctness a little more than I might care for, but if you can get past that, there are some articles that might provide inspiration for projects. Mother Earth News does tend to lack a little in the depth and detail for some of its projects, but sometimes, I find a quick easy read article on a subject enough to get me interested in researching it further. Despite the  lack of detail in the current articles, the archives are so vast you should be able to do an online search of past articles to find what you want.

GritFullSizeRender 5

Grit is a sister publication to Mother Earth News. The articles in Grit seem to be geared toward the hobby farmer a little more, with less emphasis on environmentalism and politics. The topics are similar to Mother Earth News, in detail, but again it is a good publication to inspire you in pursuing new projects.

Countryside and Small Stock Journal

Countryside has been one of my favorite magazines for several years. Recently the FullSizeRenderpublication changed hands and subsequently has changed format to some extent. Countryside was a magazine full of wonderfully concise articles of simple projects and old-timey wisdom. I would compare reading Countryside to sitting down with your granddad on the front porch and listening to him tell how they did things when he was younger. The pages of the old Countryside were devoid of glossy print and pictures, and it was as simple as the lifestyle it was promoting. The new Countryside seems to be evolving, and to me it seems as though it has not settled down and developed any particular identity as of yet. I am hopeful that it will remain as good as it had been in the past.

Backwoods Home

I would rank this magazine as my personal favorite. The history of theFullSizeRender 3 magazine and its origin are as interesting as the articles it contains. The tone of this magazine tends to lean more toward preparedness, but I find that there is still much content relating to simple living contained within its pages. Dave Duffy, the founder of Backwoods Home, decided to seek out a more simple life, leaving behind a career in the aerospace industry. He began documenting some of his experiences, and was able to begin a second career publishing a magazine. Articles include diverse topics such as politics, gardening, canning, firearms, and DIY. There is rarely a time that I cannot find something within the pages that do not interest me. As with Mother Earth News, I do not always agree with all of the content but these deference in opinions are easily looked past. Backwoods Home also offers digital as well as print anthologies dating back to the beginning of publication. These make for a very useful reference library for most every topic relating to homesteading. They also offer an online article index that will allow you to locate the information you need.

Books

Encyclopedia of Country LivingIMG_1017

This is a classic book in the living off the land genre written by Carla Emery. I would classify this more of a resource manual. Something that you get out when you need to research a topic. I have found that it does not, for me, lend itself well to being a book that is read cover to cover, although I don’t think it was intended as such.

The “Have-More” Plan

This is another classic that has been around for many years, from Ed and Carolyn IMG_1036Robinson.  The current version is a quick read, and from what I have heard, this version has been truncated from the original. There are various topics covered, from buying your home to raising pigs. Some of the information is a little dated but I have read and re-read this several times. This is a very inspirational read for someone looking to live a back to the land/simple life that is integrated with the 9-5 work week.

Storey’s Basic Country Skills.

John and Martha Storey have put together a very comprehensive resource for all thingsFullSizeRender 4 homesteading. This book contains a wealth of information that I refer to many times. There are several DIY projects with just the right amount of detail as to not be too tedious to read, and yet still providing enough information to be able to complete the project on your own. Where the Robinsons “The Have-More” plane is a quick read, John and Martha Storey have put together a comprehensive collection of very well written articles.

Reader’s Digest Back to Basics

FullSizeRender1This is an older book that was given to me when I first purchased my home. I credit this book with fueling my desire to live a simpler lifestyle. This book contains a wide variety of articles that will spark the imagination. Although the detail in some of the articles is a little lacking, I still find it to be quite adequate. I find myself picking this book up and reading just for inspiration. It makes me want to take on new projects and explore new interests. An online search shows that there are currently used versions of this book available as well as a newer book with the same name. I am not sure whether this new book contains the same content as the one that I have

The Self Reliant Homestead

I do not own a copy of this particular book but it is one that I have checked out many times from the library.  I first became aware of Charles Sanders, the author of this book, through his articles that he wrote for Backwoods Home Magazine.  The book contains various topics that seem to me, to be written in a magazine article format.  In reading through his book I became aware that the author was a Conservation Officer in Indiana, and then later I read an article in our local newspaper that was announcing his retirement.  For a long time I never knew that he lived so close.  This is a very good book that, some day, I will add to my library.

I am sure that there are many other good resources out there; these just represent some of my favorites. I hope that by compiling this list you will be able to find something that you enjoy and that you can find useful. If you have any favorites not listed here please leave them in the comments for others to see.

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Top Bar Hive part 2

Spring is quickly approaching and I have yet to finish the bee hive that I started prior to the holidays but it is coming along nicely. If you recall I decided to build a top bar hive due to the simplicity of the design and hopefully less time spent managing it. In review the top bar design is supposed to mimic a more natural environment in which bees would choose to build a hive in nature. The one drawback to this design is that there is less honey production but since I am more interested in pollination I was not worried with a little less honey.  I found my plans for free at http://www.biobees.com/ but a recent search shows that they are now charging for these.

The first step was to edge glue some old 1 by 6 board for the sides and ends.  This took a few days to complete since I only have a limited number of clamps.  To strengthen the joints I also utilized a biscuit joiner.  This cuts a notch in the edge of a board and a small oval “biscuit” is glued up and placed in the notch.  This should add some strength to the joint.  This is probably not really necessary but I did it anyway.While the ends and sides were setting up I cut a bunch of top bars.  These are what the bees will build their comb on.  Prior to installation I will run these through the table saw to make a small channel down the middle and it will be filled with melted bees wax.  The purpose for this is to act as a guide for the bees when they begin building their comb.

Another part of the hive is the follower boards. These are two identical pieces that act IMG_0991to contain the bees into a particular area of the hive so that they concentrate their efforts of building comb in a particular area.  At least that is how I understand it.  I glued then nailed these to a top bar.  The follower boards will also be utilized to establish the angle of the sides.

IMG_0755I drove a small nail in the top bar of the follower board and then I sat the side in place. I placed the other side piece in place and commenced to square this assembly up the best that I could.  This part of the process was time consuming.  Once it was all in place I marked where the sides should be attached to the end pieces by marking an outline of where they meet.  I them disassemble to this setup and proceeded to pre drill, glue, and screw the ends to the sides.  Once both ends were in place I needed to attach the legs.  I had run out of the 1 by 6 scrap that I had been using.  That was ok though I wanted something that would be more rot resistant.  I don’t want to use any pressure treated material in this project for the safety of the bees so I looked around and found an oak pallet.  I disassembled the pallet and used some of the wood for my legs.  I made these a little long incase I need to adjust the height or if they were to rot I can shorten them without any worries.

For the moment that is as far as I have made it. I still need to construct a bottom and fabricate some type of roof.  It is also getting time that I will need to place an order for my bees.  I am thinking about placing a viewing window in the side so that I can monitor the progress of the bees with minimal disruption.  So far this has been a fairly easy project.  I could have done a more precise job with the construction of this hive but I wanted to keep this more utilitarian and keep the budget low.  Some of the wood was a little warped or split but I did not let that stop me from utilizing it.  There are cosmetic imperfections but so far I have paid nothing for the project.  It was made from scrap lumber that was left over from other projects.

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Garden Seeds Already?

IMG_0983Here we are in the middle of winter. Snow is on the ground and the wind is blowing outside. It is too cold to get outside and do anything. It is days like this that I long to be working in the garden. I enjoy tilling up the soil and laying out my rows in preparation to receive seeds or transplants. Even though I have been gardening for several years now, that first spring day that I put plants in the ground still gets me excited. But that day is still some time off.
One way that I like to spend cold winter day, passing time until I can get outside and work the ground, is reading through all of the seed catalogs that seem to start showing up shortly after Christmas. This for me is a signal that I am getting closer to that first day in the garden and helps with some of the cabin fever that is starting to sit in. Of course I could go to the computer and pull up the seed company’s web site but there is something special about holding a seed catalog and flipping back and forth through it, dog earing pages that have a certain variety that interests me, all while dreaming of the delicious food that will spring forth from my garden this summer.
IMG_0984I also find some of these catalogs to be good sources of gardening information. Some of them will have detailed descriptions of the product along with planting instructions. Some of them will also offer suggestions on how much seed to purchase based on the number of people in your family or it will indicate how long of a row a package of seeds will plant. In my early years of gardening I found this type of information very helpful when it was time to plan my seed purchases.
This time of year is also a good time to go out to the local farm store, or where ever you buy seeds, and start picking up some packets of seeds. At this time of year you will have a very good selection of seeds so that you are not left planting something just because it was all that was left. There are also fewer other people looking at seeds this time of year, giving you more freedom to examine the various varieties and compare them to one another. One final reason to start seed shopping now is that it is getting close to time for cool weather crops to be started indoors. Here in Indiana, there are some seeds that we will start in February. Even our heat loving plants, like tomatoes and peppers, will be started indoors by April.
Even though you may not typically think of January as being a good time to start gardening this is the perfect time of year to start planning what you are going to plant in your garden, come springtime. Take this time to plan and educate yourself so that your gardening experience will be better this year. Enjoy spending time inside this winter dreaming about the warm weather that will soon arrive while reading through those seed catalogs.

 

Snow Ice Cream

 

IMG_0968So after playing outside in the snow all day and you are done warming up inside, the only thing left to do is make snow ice cream. This is a simple recipe that consists of just 4 ingredients.  What you need is 1 gallon of clean fresh snow, 1 cup of sugar, 1 table spoon of vanilla extract and 1 cup of sugar.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and enjoy!

Resolution Solution

It’s hard to believe that we’re already saying hello to 2016! As I get older, and especially since our son came along, the years just literally fly by! I am definitely that person who thinks 1996 was ,like, 10 years ago, and I’m stunned at the reality that I’ve been a married woman for almost 10 years and a mama for almost 5! Didn’t I just graduate from college yesterday?

It is common at the end of another year of life, to contemplate your successes, your failures, the happy times, the trying times, and how you and your family have grown and changed. Whether you had a good 2015 or you were ready to say “good riddance” when the clock struck 12, you probably had high hopes, big plans, and lofty goals when you woke up on January 1.

And then it happened. Reality hit you in the face like a ton of bricks. Your child woke up projectile vomiting, or your husband lost his job, or the basement flooded, or  a million and one other things that seem to suck the joy right out of life and steal your enthusiasm and vigor for the new year. As a result, we’re only a week into the new year, and you’ve already thrown those resolutions out the window.

Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve made and broken more resolutions than I can count. I’ve felt defeated and broken, and I’ve been so angry with myself. But what if I told you there is hope beyond those ill fated resolutions and empty promises to yourself and others? That there’s a way for you to literally be a new creation, to have peace, and that there’s relief from the constant hamster wheel of struggle.

The bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Simply by accepting Jesus as your Savior, and seeking a relationship with Him above all others, you will forever change your life and your outlook will change to an eternal focus, instead of looking for temporary satisfaction that worldly things and achievements provide.

If you genuinely seek Him, have daily communion with him in His word and in prayer, realize that he is doing a sanctifying work in you through trials and other life experiences to make you more like Him, and understand that only by His grace are you  capable of doing great things for his glory, you will begin desiring to please God instead of man. The culmination of this is living a life according to biblical principles and with an eternal focus. You will find that when you begin living a life with the goal of glorifying God and letting Him direct your paths, He will give you His abundant grace, the assurance and peace that passes all understanding in challenging circumstances, and the ability to grow and change your life for the better.

For example, some common resolutions are: lose weight or get healthy, get out of debt, kick a bad habit, spend more time with family, and get organized. I am so thankful that the bible has a lot of guidance about each of those things, and so much more!

1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 says “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” This verse can apply to many different areas of our lives, but my first thought is always we can glorify God by having discernment and self control with the food that we put into our bodies, avoiding various forms of abuse to our bodies (drunkenness, smoking, risky behaviors, etc), and taking the time to properly care for and nourish our bodies so that we can have the strength to work to provide and care for our families and to serve others.

Maybe you want to stop fighting with your spouse over money (or lack thereof), or begin taking the steps to see your debt realistically and start paying it off. You might resolve to formulate a budget and let your money work for you, or even save for a major purchase or life event. The bible actually has over 2,000 verses that pertain to money, and I know that there is one that applies to every single circumstance. Proverbs 22:7 says “the borrower is slave to the lender. ” I don’t know about you, but having unresolved debt and worries and strife about money can make me feel like I am enslaved to it. You don’t have to feel like that when it comes to financial matters. God wants you to love and trust him more than having material wealth and financial security.

He also clearly lays out his intention for the use of money and resources in His word. Proverbs 21:5 states, “the plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.”Romans 13:8 says “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
 And again in Luke 16:10, 11 it says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” So it’s pretty clear that the Lord wants us to be diligent in working hard to pay back any debts and provide for the needs of our family, invest wisely and building our savings, be good stewards with our resources, be honest when dealing with money, and give generously.

These are just a few biblical truths to go along with our common struggles and resolutions. I believe that if you strive to live a life according to biblical principles, and with the desire to please and honor the Lord; there is no need to make empty promises to yourself and lofty resolutions. If you find your ultimate joy in the promise of living for eternity with God, instead of losing 15 lbs for that class reunion, seeking another get rich quick scheme or having “your best life now”, you will find your behaviors and attitude drastically changing for the better. Imagine how much more free, content, and joyful you will feel on December 31, 2016.

I’m looking forward to what the Lord’s direction is for our family in 2016, and I can’t wait to see how He works in lives as well!

Winter Eggs

Having a small backyard flock of chickens for fresh eggs is nice but it seems like it is an all or nothing proposition. In the spring and summer our hens are in full production mode and we have eggs to spare.  As fall rolls around production slows down and eventually comes to a complete stop.  If you find yourself in this situation don’t  despair, this is a normal process and there is a simple solution to restart the laying process.  Hours of daylight are the determining factor when it comes to stimulating egg production so the solution is to simply add a small light to the coop and in a week or two the hens will start laying again.  I typically will wait until night time temperatures are cold enough that there is a risk of freezing.  This allows our hens a period of rest from their egg production before starting up again.  This also allows us to use up some of the excess eggs we have left over from summer.  So if your chickens are” laying down on the job”, just add a small light to the coop and they will get back to work producing eggs.

What’s a Hunter’s Wife to Do?

It’s that time of year again. Your husband has donned his camo, spent countless hours scouting, following trails and looking for “scrapes” and “rubs” on trees.  He’s painstakingly searched for just the right tree to hang his stand, doused himself in every sort of synthetic deer excrement on the market, and loaded his shotgun with the best shells money can buy. All to accomplish what he’s waited all year to do. Yes, you guessed it, to bring home his prized buck or doe and fill the freezer with delicious, nutritious, and healthy venison!

Can I get a witness if this sounds like life in your house from mid to late  November? Do you silently dread when all the packages come home from the processor because you have no clue how to cook it or remove the “gamey” flavor, but yet you want your husband to know you appreciate his efforts to provide for your family? Do you scramble when October rolls around because you just realized you still have countless packages of random cuts of venison in the freezer that you failed to cook, and you want it gone before the next deer comes in?

Well, I’m here to tell you, there is hope for the hunter’s wife, even when you’re not totally sold on venison! I’m going to let you in on some secrets of how I went from totally despising the taste of vension, to now putting it in almost every recipe that requires beef, and very rarely eating or purchasing beef from the store. And if you learn to love venison, the health and financial benefits are numerous!

The first stop on your journey to loving venison is to accept that it’s not going to taste like ground beef. Yes, there are some people out there who SWEAR they can’t tell the difference, but unless you have been eating mostly venison your entire life, you will need to acquire a taste for it. The best way that I have found to do this, is to start by adding maybe half a pound of venison to half a pound of ground beef and gradually work up to all ground venison. You can also try it in recipes that are heavily seasoned so it will “mask” the flavor a little. Tacos, chili, spaghetti, etc would be good places to start. Rural King even has seasoning packets specifically for venison dishes that are called … We’ve tried a few, and I feel like they definitely improved the flavor.

The next tip is to add pork or beef fat to your ground venison during processing. It does cost more to do this, but it is well worth it, in my opinion! By adding pork fat, you can also make a delicious breakfast sausage. I will include that recipe at the end of the post. Unfortunately, it does make it significantly less healthy than plain ground venison, which has very little fat.

And the final step on your journey to loving venison is to learn how to properly cook it! Because of the low fat content, venison tends to dry out quickly when you cook it, and can become “tough.” You will also find that certain seasonings really compliment this type of meat. Invest in a good venison cookbook, and start trying some different recipes. You may waste a few packages of it through trial and error, but it is still significantly cheaper to pay to have a deer processed, as opposed to purchasing the same amount of ground turkey or beef at the store. And most importantly, I can guarantee when your husband sees you happily create meals from venison that he worked hard to put in your freezer, it will give him a sense of accomplishment and pride, and make him feel respected and appreciated for taking time out of his busy schedule to do something beneficial for the family.

I’ll close with one  of my favorite venison recipes that helped me to see the light, so to speak, on how wonderful venison is! Enjoy and happy cooking!

Venison Breakfast Sausage

Ingredients:

3 packages of thawed ground venison with pork fat added (will equal around 4 1/2 lbs)

1/4 c. sugar based curing mixture (We use Morton’s Tender Quick, which is sold in some grocery stores, but we bought it on Amazon)

1 tbsp. ground pepper

1 tbsp. crushed red pepper

3 tbsp. sage

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

Directions:

In a large bowl, place all the ground venison. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix all the other ingredients together. Start gradually adding spice mix to the bowl of ground venison, and mix it thoroughly with your hands or a mixer. Continue slowly adding the spice mixture to the ground venison until it is well mixed.  Divide into 1 lb. portions to freeze, and enjoy!