Simple Living

The Joys of Less and More

Wow – I sure have neglected this space, haven’t I?  I can almost see the virtual cobwebs.

I want to tell you about where I’ve been and why it hasn’t been here.

We are renting a home here in Texas now, and the back yard is fully shaded, and there is really nowhere to garden.   My gardening commitments have been reduced to our 4×8 foot plot in the community garden a few blocks away.  There are no chickens here for us to care for.  Our compost has been moved to tumblers which are easily maintained.  We use the city trash and recycling.  I have no clothes line.  I have no bee hive.  We get food seasonally from a local CSA and we shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  Yes, I use the refrigerator, but no, still no microwave.  My canning supplies – all of them – have been packed away in a box in the garage, since I have no room for them in this house.  They’ve been there almost a year; no pickles, no jam.  The single freezer we brought with us from Colorado is in the garage, unplugged.  The dehydrator is in its dusty box.  A homesteader, I am no longer.

Since moving to Texas I’ve experienced an incredible amount of free time, what with buying jam instead of making it and drying all my clothes in a dryer.  You’d think that would leave a lot of time for blogging, but it really hasn’t.

Instead of blogging, instead of Facebook, I’ve been playing with my kids.  I’ve been homeschooling.  We’ve been exploring the hill country and visited the beach.  I’ve been (albeit slowly) meeting my neighbors… and, well, that’s pretty much it.

I really, really miss homesteady things.  I miss fresh eggs and the bees, and I miss my garden most of all. But less of all of that has left room for more joy within our family.  Less DIY projects every weekend, less taking pictures of every. single. step of every meal, planting or project has left more room to enjoy what we are doing when we are doing it.

A year (and even two years) ago, I felt very much obligated to the blog.  I felt obligated to come up with ideas, and to take better pictures and to write about every little thing my family did.  But seeing my husband and kids sigh as I had to stop projects at every single step for another picture, began to wear on me as much as it did them.

And then we moved, and the to-do list evaporated.

Because of being displaced, I suddenly didn’t have much to write about.  I took pictures of the black soldier fly larvae in our compost tumblers, who could amazingly consume our kitchen scraps overnight, and I took pictures of the bat house Rick made me for Mother’s Day.  I took photos last January of a friend’s bug-out bag contents to share in this space.  But I just didn’t have the words anymore.

After my social media fast in May, I never went back to Facebook.  I was happier, my kids were happier.  I was freer and more tuned in to my family.  But the fast had another effect, and that was I really didn’t know what to write anymore.

Creativity is like that sometimes.  Like inertia in a way… if you’re writing, you can write, but if you’re not… well then you’re not.

I thought the urge to write the post I started about the evils of BPA would kick in eventually, or that I’d get those bug-out bag pictures edited and put up.  But I haven’t.  I had hoped by just writing something the muse would visit me again and I’d be inspired to create something worth posting.   Alas, the posts I was able to turn out last year (and there weren’t many) felt very forced, unnatural and were, frankly, not very good.

I have very much loved writing in this space for the last seven years.  But I think, for now, I’m done.

I’m still trying to live with a minimal footprint, and plan on packing as much as I can into our garden plot.  We’re thinking of getting bees again.  But I’m not planning to blog about it.  I’ve found joy in less blogging and more living.

I hope you continue to enjoy my archives here and that they continue to help people.  I still read all the comments I get and I still respond to them.

Who knows what the future holds… I may write again here.  I am very, very grateful for all the relationships, both virtual and real, that have formed through my blogging journey.  Thank you, friends.

Now go live life!

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Categories: Simple Living | 16 Comments

Tips for Using Your Push Mower

I realize that in some parts of the country, there is still snow on the ground.  Down here in central Texas, though, I just finished mowing the lawn for the second time.  Whew!  I’m grateful that our backyard here is modest, since even this “mild” spring weather is hot to me.

Here are some tips in case you are new to using a push-reel mower and finding it difficult.

Push mower

1. Clean the yard first.  Our power mower could chop up sticks, but twigs will get caught in the reel of the push mower, bringing you to a stop and you’ll have to reverse the blades to get it out before you continue mowing.  Frequent starts and stops require a lot more energy than maintaining momentum.  A few minutes spent looking for sticks and rocks and small kids’ toys, anything that might get caught in the mower’s blades, and removing them from the grass before you get started is time well spent.

2.  Set your blades higher.  Longer grass uses less water, and higher blades will promote that, taking just a little off the top.  If you cut the grass shorter, it might need more passes of the mower, which can double (or more) the time you spend mowing.

3.  Mow more often.  While longer grass is good for water conservation, let it get too long and you’ll have trouble getting the push mower through it at all.  This is especially true of thick lawns or lawns with hills.  Our new lawn has a bit of a rise in one area and that grass is harder to mow.  If we were to “let it go” it would be very difficult to cut with the push mower.

4.  Use a trimmer for the edges.  I’ve had a  hard time getting the push mower to do a good job cutting the grass at the edges of the lawn where it meets with the fence or the patio.  Instead of struggling over those areas over and over, I just mow as close as I can and then clean up the edges with the trimmer.

5.  Mow in sections.  Our front yard here is about the same size as it was in Colorado, but the grass here is thick and harder to get the mower through.  It makes the job tough for me in the heat (I know!  Wimpy Colorado girl in Texas!).  Instead of sweating my way through the whole job at once, I break it into two or three more manageable chunks.  The mower is lightweight so it’s no big deal to walk it back to the backyard while I take a break, get a drink or water my garlic.  Then after I’m refreshed, I take on the next section of lawn.  I can still get the job done, both front and back yards, in under an hour including the breaks.

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thrifty Thursday: Holiday Gifts Throughout the Year

Over the last few years, Rick and I have gotten pretty good at managing our monthly budget.  The one place where we have a huge bump, however, is always at the end of the year.  The holidays.

Ugh.  Holiday shopping is a large hole in our budget.  Every year we say we’re going to save, going to put a little money away every month so we have a cushion for December to buy gifts (or supplies to make gifts) for our family and friends.  But we don’t.  And then we end up relying on Rick’s bonus money or selling items on Etsy (I did pretty good last year), or whatever to eek out just enough for Christmas.  And we always end up scrimping on the gifts we give each other.

This year, I’m trying something different.  Buying and making gifts as I go.  I know it’s not a new concept, but I have never been able to make it work.  I always forget what I bought or where I put it, or I give the person the gift I bought early because I just can’t wait.

This year, I have a plan.  It’s a list.  That I keep with me. 

Gift Log

First, I made a list with three columns:  Who, What, and Where.  Make this list somewhere when you won’t lose it.  Mine is in my planner on a Contacts page in the back.  Put it in your phone, whatever… just somewhere where you can find it and access it quickly.  Not on your home computer.  I’ve tried that, and I forgot to keep it up to date.

The Who column is for all of all the people you’d like to give gifts to.  Count them up.  For me, it is 19 people if I count individuals, or 14 if we do some couple/family gifts.  Looking at how many months before the holidays, and since I started this in January, I decided that if I buy or make two gifts per month, I’d have all of my gifts made or purchased no later than September.  And I can totally afford two gifts per month.  If I were starting now, I would still be able to make it by December, possibly November.

WHERE

Ok, so two gifts a month.  Now here’s where the list is super important.  I need to remember WHAT I bought (and for whom), and WHERE I put it, so that in December, I can find the gift and give it to the person I bought it for.  That’s why you must have the list with you.

And then write down what the gift is and where you put it.

For example, I found this funny little mini-pinball game for my grandpa (I can share this gift because my grandpa doesn’t read my blog).  So next to my Grandpa’s name, I wrote Pinball Game in the What column, and then Pink Shoe Box in the Closet in the Where column.  At the old house we kept that box under the bed.  Since I moved the box, I made sure to update my list.  So I can find it later.

Box in closet

Simple, right?  I’ve stuck with it, and I really think it’s going to work this year.  And, it will leave me and Rick some extra money come the end of the year for each other, the kids, and the people we draw names for at Thanksgiving.

Do you budget or plan for the holidays?  What do you do that works?

Categories: Thrift | 6 Comments

Thrifty Thursday: DIY Swiffer Cloths

We have hard flooring throughout our house here.  Tile in the kitchen and bath and wood floors everywhere else.  There is a great tool for keeping those floors clean, most of you know it; the Swiffer.  But those Swiffer cloths get expensive.

My solution: mirco-fiber towels.  I have a couple of micro-fiber towels that will fit perfectly onto the head of my Swiffer.

And when I need to spot clean something with a mop?  I just get the cloth wet, wring it out and poof! – a Swiffer wet mop.

Micro Fiber Cloth

Go forth and attack your dust bunnies!

Categories: DIY, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Thrifty Thursday: Patching Kids Jeans

I used to buy all of Henry’s jeans used and then I passed them on to E.  But there comes an age when you can no longer find any used jeans in your son’s size.  It starts around 4T and there is a virtual jean desert until… well, H wears a 6 slim and I still can’t find them.  Because boys this age are HARD on jeans.

I have not been able to pass jeans down either.  By the time one boy is done with them, there is only enough jean left for shorts, if I’m lucky.  Besides that, E is determined to keep growing and seems to be catching up to his older brother.  They are only one size apart now.  Some things fit both of them.

All of this is to tell you that patching jeans has become an important skill in this house.

Here is a quick tutorial of how I keep my boys’ knees covered through the winter.  This method give the jeans that popular “destroyed” look, except they are hole-free and will hold up for a few more months.

Here we have a pair on holey jeans…

Holey Jeans

I have yet to buy a patch, instead I have cut “patches” from the lower legs and backs of jeans that were too holey to be repaired.  I use pinking shears to cut a piece of denim large enough to cover the hole.  If you don’t have any jeans to cut from, you can buy jean patches at a fabric store.

Pin your patch to the inside of the jeans, with the pins on the outside so you can pull them out as you sew.

Pin patch to inside

My sewing machine has this crazy stitch.  All machines are different, but select the craziest stitch you have.

Select crazy stitch

Next I remove the accessories box that allows my machine to have a free arm…

Free the arm

And then I slide the leg of the jeans over the arm.  This is so that I can stitch the patch on without sewing through the whole leg, closing it on accident.

Slide leg over

Now start sewing.  You are going to stitch all over the hole and the patch.  Back-stitch is your friend, because with the jeans over the arm like this you can’t turn them at all.

Crazy stitch all over the hole

I found it helpful to stick my left hand in the top of the jeans and use my right hand to operate the back-stitch lever.  Now sew, sew, sew.  Cover the entire hole and all around it.

Back stich a lot

Almost done.  Sew like crazy.

view from inside

After the patch is covered with crazy stitches, slide the jeans off the machine arm, turn inside out and trim any excess patch away.

All done!  A little extra life with a rough and tough patch for your kids’ jeans!

All done

Depending on the thread you use, you can really make the patch stand out with contrasting thread, or disappear if you can get a good color match.  I have about four different blues.  I try to get close, but thankfully, my boys are at an age where they really don’t care either way.

Do you patch kids’ clothes?  What tips do you have?

Categories: DIY, Thrift | 6 Comments

Plugging In

During a long talk with Rick at the beginning of November, during which I was feeling quite overwhelmed with projects and homeschooling and life in general, I decided to go ahead and normalize our kitchen again.  We plugged the fridge back in.

We unplugged the fridge in May of 2011. It was supposed to be a month-long experiment.  We left it unplugged for a year and a half.  So, I guess in that way, it was a total success.  We had a great system down, and we pretty much forgot what life with a refrigerator was like.

I liked it, being weird and different and extreme.  But also, Rick and I were getting to the point where we craved a little normalcy and simplicity in our lives in general.  The fridge was a sort of symbol for me of this crazy, hippie extreme life that I wanted to have.  And, Rick, being super supportive, has come along for the ride, and for the most part, we have that life.

We grow our food or buy from local farms, we have chickens and bees.  I never buy cereal or use paper plates or paper towels.  I’ve made our own laundry soap and dishwasher detergent.  We’ve cloth diapered (3 kids), etc.  You get the point.

IMG_6868

But sometimes being weird can wear on you.  It was wearing on us both (not the fridge, but you know… everything).

One of my good friends talks about how tough it can be to live in two worlds.  You know the two… one in which all your friends only buy gluten-free, sustainably harvested, BPA-free, GMO-free, soy-free, local, handmade, hand loomed, home-grown, vegetarian fed, and free range.  And the other world: the on sale, easy clean-up, big box, double coupon, plastic, convenient, drive-thru, battery operated, disposable one.

I mean, take a kid’s birthday party.  Imagine hosting 25 people but using nothing disposable.  No paper plates or plastic forks or crêpe paper streamers.  Or if you do use plastic cups you feel guilty, even for the biodegradable ones.  The guilt.

So I decided to let go.  Not of everything.  Sometimes I use a paper towel or 100% recycled paper plate.  The fridge was something simple that could go back to normal, not be so weird.

You wouldn’t believe how novel it felt.  Having a freezer inside the house, having room for anything in the fridge.  We hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I let the turkey thaw in the fridge, and there was room for other things.  It was amazing!   (By the way, we also hosted T-day without a fridge, it’s totally doable).

This doesn’t mean I’m going all conventional, back to disposable everything.  But it does mean I’m giving myself more grace.  I don’t need to be perfect or extreme.  I just need to keep trying.

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

What to Expect from the Lazy Homesteader in 2013

I’ve thought pretty hard about the “resolutions” I want to share on the blog for this year.  I’ve had a hard time thinking of specific goals, and I’m not really into the “lose twenty pounds” type of resolutions.  I’ve decided that instead of goals I wanted to focus on some themes that are both personal to me and yet very applicable to the homesteading way of life.

This year, you can expect to see posts (hopefully weekly, realistically a couple of times a month) having to do with one or two of the following themes.

Rick hikng with C on his backCommunity – In 2012, I established a monthly potluck to help build community.  I made some new friends and built connections.  In 2013 I want to do this more.  I want more connection, more real relationships.  I have realized that no one can live this life alone.  We need each other and I want more of it.  I have a challenge in mind for this theme this year.  I’m excited about it, though it’s going to be a tough one.

Preparedness – Colorado had the worst wild-fire of all time in 2012.  There were hurricanes on the East coast.  For much of the country, there were record heat waves and drought.  Across the country there were poor harvest and food prices are on the rise.  I’m not a panicky or prepper or anything like that, but I have started thinking about the benefits of being prepared in a real emergency.

Thrift – Expect to see more DIY posts this year.  From homemade to making-do to doing without, I plan to share more thrifty ideas this year.

Food Connections – This is the thing that sent me down the homesteading path all those years ago; being connected to our food.  I have plans to share about sustainable food sources, processing your own meat (including wild game and hunting), and of course the garden.  This year I am going to explore as many aspects of food connection as I can.  I hope to close some of the gaps we’ve had in our own food sources as well.

Grace – This year I plan to go easier on myself.  You guys know I love a crazy goal.  But I also need a little more balance, and my kids certainly need a sane mommy.  So I plan to cut myself a little slack this year.  I’ve realized that this journey to being green and crunchy and self-sufficient is just that, a journey.  I don’t have to do it all at once.  It’s ok to take small steps and find what is feasible for our family.  I’m not throwing the baby out with the grey water or anything, but I am going to focus more on things like simplicity, peace, and well, the categories mentioned above.  :)

I’m really looking forward to 2013 and what it will bring.  And I’m excited to share our homestead with you as always.

Categories: Community, DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stitching Up Stocking Stuffers

Hey, did you guys know that I have an etsy shop?  I do!  I’ve been cooking up a couple of little handmade stocking stuffers for the holidays.  There is still time to get them before Christmas, if you’re interested.

Wool Mistletoe

Felted wool mistletoe (not poisonous!), a reversible coffee cozie…

Birds & Butterflies Coffe Cozie

And, some reusable cloth food bags (two in a set), perfect for bulk items at the store.  These hold about 2 quarts each.

Bulk Food Bags

Have you been making any gifts for Christmas?

Do you have a shop on etsy?  Please share your shop in the comments!

Categories: DIY, Simple Living | 9 Comments

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