Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Category: Living Off-Grid

How To Ruin Your Teenager’s Life In Three Strategic Steps

To all my parenting peeps out there, sit down and hold on to your hats for a few minutes as we enter the turbulent world of teenagerism.

Truly, it has been my experience as having been a teenager once myself and now living through my second bout of it in my kids, that being a teenager is TOUGH. Much tougher, perhaps, than even being a parent of a teenager.

And it’s getting tougher. I mean just yesterday, when I was a teenager, we didn’t even have social media to screw with our heads. If we wanted to join up with other teens and make bad choices, we had to put a little scheme into it. Nowadays teenagers can just google their way into trouble. Often while sitting on the couch right next to you (if you can get them to come out of their room, that is).

This is why it is even more important than ever that we, as responsible parents, try really, really, hard to ruin our teenager’s lives. Because if you aren’t ruining your teenager’s life, somebody out in there in google world is (for realsies).

So, based on my aforementioned experience, I have created a quick How To guide to help you do your absolute best in your noble parenting quest to ruin your teenager’s life.

Strategy #1: Chores. Lots Of Chores. 

Now when I say chores, I don’t mean some cute little chart where they earn stickers for unloading the dishwasher and brushing their teeth. I mean real, gritty, down and dirty chores. That actually help you out and make life easier on the entire family. Sure, cleaning and bodily hygiene rituals are just fine (we could actually use a little more of those around here) but think about adding something intense to the mix- something that makes them sweat, makes them think, and/or creates a lasting result.

My children haven’t always had to do chores (this could be why we have such a hard time with cleaning and bodily hygiene rituals…). To be honest, it wasn’t until we started homesteading, living off-grid and taking care of animals that I realized chores weren’t cute anymore. In our life, everybody is needed to keep everything running smoothly (and even then, we are often still just puttering along).

For my sanity and because I would turn into a bitter old lady otherwise, everyone has to do their fair share of chores every day. Which translates to hours and hours a week. And the older they get, they more chores they get to do. Yay!!

So how is this beneficial to anyone else but me? (Said while sipping a pina coloda from my easy chair as the children fan me and feed me grapes). It creates this thing called character. It creates confidence. It gives a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Basically, your kids won’t be whiny namby-pamby’s if you work ’em young and work ‘em hard.

Now, I realize most of you are not living off-grid on seventy acres with endless amounts of work on your horizon. I am not suggesting you disassemble your house and have the kids nail it back together. But I am suggesting you create the kind of life where each member of your family contributes in a valuable and meaningful way. And if it makes them sweat, even better.

If you are homesteading, coming up with chores is easy. If you are not, you might have to get creative when it comes to doling them out in large quantities. Some ideas for meaningful chores for teenagers are: Design and take care of a small butterfly or vegetable garden, help with a building/repair project, learn how to fix a flat tire/change the oil, assist in family meal planning, or committing to a volunteer project or organization like Habitat for Humanity, etc.

Fun Fact: The younger you start them on chores, the easier it is to get them to actually do anything by the time they are a teenager. Plus by then, if you have done due diligence, they will surprise you with how capable and helpful they can be, even while perfecting their death glare.

Strategy #2. Make Them Spend Time With You

Now I know this sounds cruel, but hear me out. To truly ruin your teenagers life, you need to insert yourself strongly into it. That way, when they are thinking back on how you ruined their life, they will have lots of memories of you doing all kinds of stupid stunts to support their theory. Drag them to a movie, ask them about their latest book (tips on how to get your teenager to read in Strategy Three), do a chore together (my favorite).

Don’t be afraid to act silly, talk to people in public, or show some kind of affection towards your teenager while spending time together as these actions are sure to having a lasting embarrassing impact, a key to ruining their life. 

It really doesn’t matter what you do together, but it is important that you remain positive and unaffected by their attempts at withering your soul with a single glare. Forcing your teenager to spend time with you when what they really want to do is kill you can be brutal on the tender parenting heart. This is a good time reach into your spiritual toolbox and pull out the Second Agreement from Don Miguel Ruiz’s incredibly simple yet profound book, The Four Agreements, which is this: Don’t Take Anything Personally.

Of course, getting a teenager to agree to spend time with you can be pretty tough. The first step is getting them out of bed.  For tips on how to do this, refer back to Strategy One. The second thing you need to do is to completely bore the shit out of them so they talk to you out of sheer desperation. Which brings us to Strategy Three, the Mother of all Methods for ruining your teenager’s life.

Strategy #3: Take their phone away. (Insert horrified gasping emoji here)

Yes. I. Did.

I took my teenager’s phone away.

And guess what, everyone? She didn’t die! She didn’t go into convulsions, or start blubbering and drooling. (Actually, she quit doing that when I took her phone away).

In the interest of full disclosure (a caveat of this blog, really), I can now admit (a year later) that Maverick was right (of course, once again, yawn..) when he suggested we wait to give Phoenix a smart phone and social media. But did I listen? Oh no, I did not.

In hindsight, the best tip I have for moms and dads approaching the should-I-give-my-teenager-a-phone-and-social-media-decision is this: The minute that smart phone (or even tablet or ipod) goes into their hands and social media accounts are opened, the lines between parent and child autonomy start to blur, getting ever blurrier as the days, months and years go by.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, as developing personal autonomy in our children is a baseline goal for parents. But giving your child too much autonomy too early sets the stage for trouble, as I found out the hard way. So be very, very sure you are ready to go down this road.

Also, parental controls and/or spying apps are there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use them. They allow for a slow release of your child’s privacy and autonomy as they prove they can handle it.

Above all, always make sure you follow your mom instincts and DO NOT give in to the mom guilt, no matter the amount of justification they sling at you. Truly, my resolve to wait on the phone/social media was blasted apart when Phoenix began pointing out all the deficits she already had in life, such as living in a camper in the woods, being homeschooled with no close friends, and the whole pooping in a bucket thing.

She begged for a phone, citing all the ways it would magically change her social life for the better. Saying yes to the phone, Snap Chat and Instagram was really my way out of all the mom guilt I was feeling. Of course, when I realized what I had done by giving her the phone, my mom-guilt came flooding back. Oh, the irony.

When I made the counter-decision that my teen’s phone had to go, it was not easy. By this time, she had pretty much turned into Gollum from The Ring, stroking the phone adoringly while muttering precious, my precious over and over to herself.

Honestly, I was downright scared. For some irrational reason, I thought I might actually ruin her life if I took her phone away. I even googled how to take your teens phone away and also should I take my teens phone away. (Apparently, teens are not the only ones who no longer have to think for themselves).

And even though, in all of google land, I found not one professional advising me to take my teen’s phone away (in fact, all I found were articles telling me how I should never invade my teen’s privacy or break her trust by taking/searching her phone), I did it anyway.

Best. Decision. Ever.

After all, do kids really have a right to social privacy? Shouldn’t they at least have to work for it?

I mean, when I was a kid, we had to sneak out in the middle of the night to have any privacy with our friends. And there was a reason why we wanted privacy in the first place, which wasn’t exactly anything our parents would have approved of.

It seems the leading edge opinion on the topic is that going through your child’s phone is akin to sawing off the top of their head and peering into their private thoughts. A complete violation of their personal being. Yet maybe, just maybe, it is not in the best interest of our children and teens to have unchecked and unregulated access to each other (and everyone else lurking around the internet)

Of course, when I took Precious from Gollum, there was a period of total freak out. The death glares were in full swing, along with dramatics to make any momma’s heart race. Yet, with the gentle support of Maverick, I stayed strong, my friends, and just loved her through it.

Then slowly, every so slowly, my child came back to me. Now a year later, she told me just the other day how glad she was we took her phone and social media when we did because she was being a ‘total idiot’ and that she is still suffering some repercussions from her ‘wild days’.

I am not telling you what to do, just reminding you to listen to your instincts and find what works for your family. But please, as tempting as it is, don’t put your head in the sand. What you don’t know CAN hurt them.

Believe me, I know how tempting denial is, but remember, as parents it is our job to ruin our teenager’s life. This means doing the tough work sometimes. So even though they may scream and shriek and have phantom limb pains, stay strong, my parenting warrior.

And if you find your resolve weakening, just repeat this mantra over and over: A phone is not an appendage, a phone is not an appendage.  Also, try not to delay, as I am pretty sure taking your child’s phone away will soon be illegal. 

And there you have it friends, three strategic steps for ruining your teenager’s life.  They seem to be working really well for me, judging by the intensity of death glares I am earning lately. If you have a strategy to share with the rest of us, let me know in the comments! #parentingwarriors

Bewitching Witch Hazel: Ten Enchanting Uses

Hey there friends! Today we are going to talk about my favorite natural skin care product of all time, the remarkably versatile yet always humble, witch hazel. Witch hazel is the number one staple in my all natural skin care routine as an all-in-one cleanser, toner and moisturizer. It’s soothing, tightening, toning and cooling abilities make it perfect for skin irritations of all kinds. It is also thought to be the best natural treatment for acne.

Witch hazel is absolutely perfect for low-maintenance homesteader-types as well as anyone looking for an affordable natural skin care cleanser and toner and all-around natural beauty care product.

For anyone wanting to start making their own all natural skin care products, witch hazel should be one of the first items you stock up on as it makes the perfect base for custom toners, insect repellents, refreshing face sprays and more!

Famed for it’s astringent, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties due to its high tannin content, witch hazel has so many great medicinal and natural cosmetic uses, it really is a must-have item for any homestead or natural skin care routine.

Even the government has been bewitched as witch hazel is one of the few herbal remedies to win approval by the FDA (oooh).

Honestly, it wasn’t until I moved out here to no-man’s-land and realized washing my face without a faucet really sucked that I woke up to the magical powers of witch hazel. Since trying it, I have been completely under it’s spell and I think you will be too!

What Is Witch Hazel?

Witch hazel extract is made from the bark, leaves, and twigs of the witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis virgiania), a plant that has been used medicinally and cosmetically by Native Americans for centuries.

Witch hazel is also known as ‘winterbloom’ in honor of it’s yellow tassel-like flowers that bloom in the fall and winter and shoot off the tree in early December like a winter fireworks display (so witchy!).

Witch hazel is even purported to have real live supernatural abilities. It’s Y-shaped branches have been used for centuries as a dowsing rod or divining rod to help locate underground water sources. It is said the witch hazel rod will dip down when is held over a place water can be found, Unfortunately (or rather fortunately I suppose), I did not know about witch-hazel-as-divining-rod when we dug our well, or else I may have insisted we try it. Thankfully Maverick is pretty witchy himself and divined the perfect spot to dig our well without the aid of a dowsing tool.

Witch hazel is also easy to grow and easy to process into so many awesome concoctions! I am planting a few this fall and I will keep you guys posted 🙂

Ten Enchanting Uses For Witch Hazel:

​1. Brothers Grime Removal

I fell in love with witch hazel after it become the solution to one of my first off-grid delimmas: How to wash my face conveniently and regularly without running water.

See, our first year here on Serenity we had no indoor plumbing or even a well to pump water from. We had to carry all of our water in (often uphill by foot) and heat it on a stove or fire (or the sun!) to warm it up. Needless to say I turned into an old water-miser, carefully measuring out every single drop.

That’s when I began getting creative and reached for the witch hazel. I just poured some witch hazel onto a cotton pad, swiped it over my face and was instantly impressed and disgusted. Impressed because it worked so well, disgusted because it worked so well, judging by the very dirty cotton pad.

Even after we became water-rich with our own well and hot water set-up (woo hoo!), I still use witch hazel to clean my face. It’s just sooo much less of a hassle than soaping up and rinsing off and bumbling around looking for a clean, dry washrag, (something akin to a unicorn in my house) to dry my face off with.

Anyway, I usually use a couple of cotton pads for a good face cleansing, and I wipe all under my chin and neck too, but be careful around your eyes as witch hazel can sting a bit. That’s all there is to it. No sudsing, no rinsing. No blindly searching for a clean towel that doesn’t exist. Totally water-less face washing routine. An off-grid miracle.

​2. Pores No More (All Natural Toner)

Witch hazel isn’t just a gentle yet effective natural face cleanser, it is a natural toner as well. Thanks to all those tannins, it has wonderfully astringent properties. Witch hazel helps dissolve oil and dirt clogging pores while tightening and soothing skin.

It can be used by itself or, if you want to get a lil’ fancy and wet those homesteading toes, you can use it as a base in a custom toner. Just add a few drops of an essential oil or two that you and your skin love into a bottle of witch hazel and there you have it, a custom mixed toner. That’s all there is to it.

If are ready to up your homesteading game, check out this tutorial on how to make your very own witch hazel extract from raw material with a recipe for a lavender and frankinscence witch hazel and apple cider vinegar toner (yum!).

​3. Puff Be-Gone! (Under Eye Magic)

Witch hazel makes a great natural treatment for puffy eyes (something I quite prone to these days). It’s anti-inflammatory and astringent properties help reduce puffiness and swelling as well as redness and dark circles.

To use, just pour a little witch hazel onto two cotton balls and set the cotton ball under your eyes for a few minutes (or even longer if sleep is what caused that puffiness in the first place!), while relaxing and breathing deeply. Again, be careful not to get witch hazel directly in your eyes, as it does sting.

​4. Witchy Itch Stopper

My first summer on Serenity I was out collecting moss and ended up collecting a nasty poison ivy rash as well. For a couple of weeks, it took all my willpower not to scratch my flesh clean off my arms. During this trial of mind over matter, witch hazel was an essential tool in my all natural rash management toolbox.

For minor bites and itches, dabbing a little witch hazel on every now and then may be all you need. But if you have a poison ivy rash or poison oak rash, witch hazel may not be hard-hitting or long-acting enough to save your sanity all by itself.

For my poison ivy rash, I used a witch hazel/oatmeal paste combination, which helped significantly to keep me from completely losing it and going claws-in. Thanks to witch hazel’s fast-acting soothing effect, it stops the itch on contact and lasts just long enough to warm up the oatmeal paste and slap that on for a few minutes. Expect to repeat this cycle 535,099,815 times until the rash finally, god-blessedly, goes away.

For an easy homemade itch relief spray, try mixing witch hazel, aloe vera gel, and essential oils in a spray bottle, like this recipe.

Or try this recipe for an all natural handmade anti-itch cream, if you want to earn a few extra notches in your homesteading belt.

​5. Happily Every Aftershave

Witch hazel makes the perfect all natural aftershave, thanks to it’s antiseptic, anti-inflamatory, toning, and astringent qualities. It helps stop bleeding from nicks, soothes inflamed bumps and reduces redness.

​6. Zip Zap Zit

Did you know most commercial acne products contain witch hazel? Did you know they usually contain some pretty gruesome other ingredients as well? Why not just skip the poisons (and the price!) of commercial acne products and start making your own nontoxic all natural handmade acne remedy yourself?

Of course, the best way to treat acne is through diet, but there are ways to help manage breakouts when they do happen. Witch hazel makes a perfect all natural treatment for pimples and blackheads. It can be used as a spot treatment for pimples or, when used as a toner it pulls double duty as an acne treatment.

Try adding a few drops of tea tree essential into the witch hazel for even more pimple-fighting power.

​7. Baby Bum Brew

Due to all it’s aforementioned qualities, which hazel makes a great all natural treatment for diaper rash. It’s cooling properties help soothes baby’s bottom while anti-inflammatory tannins work to reduce pain, swelling, irritation and promote healing. Apply straight from the bottle with cotton pads for immediate rash relief.

For preventative measures, try making your own handmade natural baby wipes with just a few easy-to-find ingredients. It’s a great way to avoid all those scary and unnecessary toxic ingredients found in commercial baby wipes. Plus you will earn some homesteading mama bragging rights at your next play date.

​8. Vanishing Vericose Veins

​Highly respected as an all natural astringent and touted as the best natural topical remedy for varicose veins, witch hazel has a tightening and staunching effect on the blood, and reduces pain and swelling of varicose veins. To use, soak a towel or cotton sheet in a solution of warmed witch hazel and lay over the vein. Keep legs in horizontal position and relax and breath deeply. About a half hour should be enough time for witch hazel to work its magic.

​9. First Aid Fairy (Stops, Bleeding, Swelling and Bruising)

Witch hazel is a powerful vulnerary; that is, it seals off slow leaks in blood vessels, and stimulates the drainage of lymphatic fluid from a bruised area. This is the reason why witch hazel is so effective in reducing the swelling and bleeding from a cut or blunt force.

Witch hazel works best when applied soon after injury happens. It will work very quickly if applied right away, stemming both internal and external bleeding and reducing swelling from sprains etc.

​​​10. Bug Repellent Potion

I use witch hazel as the base liquid for my homemade bug spray. By itself, it won’t do jack to keep gnats and mosquitos at bay, but it makes an affordable and effective carrier in your all natural bug repellent recipe.

To make handmade bug spray, fill up a spray bottle with witch hazel and add as much of your favorite insect repelling essential oils as you ‘safely‘ can. (In the interest of transparency, I don’t personally pay attention to safe use standards for essential oils in my bug spray because I have found I have to make it quite strong for the natural bug spray to work very well and I figure no matter what it’s got be safer than DEET, right?)

Just be smart and test out your homemade bug spray on yourself before you go dousing down the whole family. It’s always a good idea to test sensitivity to any new product you make. Babies are more sensitive to essential oils and there are only a few that are recommended for use on wee ones.

My favorite essential oils to use in a homemade bug spray are lemon eucalyptus essential oil, clove essential oil (be careful of overusing this one!) and rose geranium essential oil.

Pro tip: The two secrets to making an effective homemade natural bug spray is to make it strong and reapply constantly.

So basically to sum it all up, witch hazel is a homesteading essential and if your are dealing with anything skin-related, you should probably use witch hazel. Get yourself a bottle today and maybe even stock up a nice supply. After all, you never know when you just might find yourself extreme homesteading in the woods. 

Stepping On Moss And Other Springy Things

Hello friends! I hope you all have been having a truly magical spring/summer.  I have thought often about you guys over the past month or so. Nearly everyday, in fact, I have thought: I should really check in with everyone and write a blog post soon. And then I thought: Okay, just as soon as I finish gardening, or making soap, or cleaning, or washing dishes, or some other very important obligation…. but the thing is, those obligations never go away. They are always there. There is ALWAYS something that needs done. So I decided, if we are going to make this thing work, I’m just going to have to do it. Just sit down, open my computer and say hi.

And here I am. Sure, the gardens need mulched, the children washed, the poop buckets dumped. But those things can wait (well, maybe not the poop buckets).

Right now, I am saying hi.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I do not have a grand plan for this post, so I am making it up on the fly. I thought I could just update everyone about how things are coming along on the homestead, ramble on a bit, and get reacquainted to this whole blogging thing again. But I promise my next post will be truly epic. Maybe.

Compared to winter, spring and summer on the homestead are ahhhmazing. Everyday we wake up to the birds singing, goats baaing, and not a single creepy neighbor in sight. I love to take advantage of the quiet (cool) morning hours, so I let the family sleep in and slip out to the garden for a bit. This I consider my meditation time.

The gardens are looking good, though maybe not great. I have just recently starting adding a lot more organic material to give the ‘maters and melons a boost, so I am hoping this will help speed things along.

I don’t have a garden fence yet, as Mav is too busy building fences for people that will actually pay him. So the chickens and I have a hate/hate relationship going on right now.

Basically, they like to torture me by eating my cabbage and scratching off all my mulch. Then I come in and spend my time fixing the damage, only to have them come right in after me to damage my fixing. It’s kind of like the groundhogs day of gardening. See why I don’t have the time to blog? Just blame Mav. Or the chickens. Really, anyone but me will do.

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I have also started a Zen garden this year, as I needed an outlet to satisfy my moss obsession. In the spring, I went into the woods and collected a whole bunch of moss. Then, I transplanted it to a shady spot that had a couple of boulders anchoring it to give it that authentic ‘Zen’ feel. Before I put the moss down, I weeded the area really well, made sure the ground was wet and roughed up a bit. I placed the moss on the ground and used little sticks to stake it into the dirt so it would have a chance to attach itself. For the first couple months, I watered it when it wasn’t raining. Once or twice a day, I stepped barefoot on the wet moss to encourage it to attach to the ground. Also, because it feels good on my tootsies (except watch out for the little stakes!). And, surprisingly, it seems to be working. The moss is attaching and spreading slowly, as moss does. A nice, rainy spring has definitely helped.

Of course, I can’t just go around playing with moss all day. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I have had to move on for now and put my energy into something that can actually sustain us (like vegetables). But in the fall, I plan to add more moss and make it the most magical Zen garden this side of the Cuyahoga.

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We added two sweet goats to our family recently. Which tripled the size of our herd. We have plans to hire a hunky stud in the fall to service the ladies so that we can have adorable babies in the spring. Oh yeah, and goat milk.

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My sister just came for a visit, bless her delicate soul. It rained the entire time. She’s the best though, I totally appreciate her succumbing to the experience. I expect to see her up here again sometime around never.

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Enjoying an outdoor dinner at the our new table. This was the only 45 minute window of time it wasn’t raining buckets the weekend my sister was here

And just to make you indoor-plumbing people jealous, here is a picture of the enchanted table my love built for me. Hello dinner parties.  

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We are doing the farmer’s market again this year. It’s a lot of work at times, but the kids love it. It also forces me to leave the woods and talk to people at least once a week – so in a way it’s therapy. Because it is such a small little market, I don’t have to worry about being a very good business woman either.  I just sell what I got if I got it, smile, and talk out of my ass for four hours. Good times.

The house and bath house are coming along really well. Not so much physically, as much as in our hearts. Matt is crazy busy at work right now, so the time he has to build me a house is a bit restricted at the moment. However, we are still absolutely planning to be in the house before ‘that season which we do not speak of’ comes again. Or people will die. Mav, are you reading this?

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The bath house. So close, yet so far.

Ok, well this blog post has taken enough of my time today. I really have things to do, like curse the chickens and whine about the mess. It’s been great friends, we really have to do this more often.

How have you guys been doing? I hope you are enjoying the ups and downs of life. No matter how busy you are, be sure to get your nature time in! It makes everything else so much more manageable, don’t you agree sis?

***This was Spring 2017***. Read the update here

Two Sisters, A Comparison

I once joked with my sister that the only thing harder than my life is hers.

The face she made when I said this was one of utter shock.

Apparently, she disagrees with me.

So much so, she actually bet me that if I wrote this blog post, nobody who reads it will agree I have the easier life. ​Nobody.

And so, the challenge is on.

Don’t get me wrong, as mentioned in previous posts, my sister is basically perfect.

She has four, right-in-a-ridiculous-row, cutest-things-you-ever-saw, age-six-and-under, mesmerizingly adorable children.

She married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of 18, has never been in any kind of trouble for anything ever, and mails out thank you cards as religiously as I lose library books.

She has been a maid of honor at more weddings than I have been ​invited  too.

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Yet… yet… I still wouldn’t ​prefer her life.

She definitely wouldn’t prefer mine.

My sister and I are opposites, from our physical appearance to our personalities. We have learned to compliment each other quite nicely over the years. Where I am passionate and impulsive  (irresponsible), she is organized and level-headed (boring).

We are also very competitive. Hence this post.

Now I get it, I am the crazy sister – not exactly a badge of honor, though I wear it proudly.

Still, there has got to be ​someone out there who would rather live in the woods and commune with the trees than be at the beck and call of tiny humans 24 hours a day.

As mentioned, my sister has four young children. She has pretty much been pregnant or nursing for the past seven years, non-stop. She is also a very attentive mother – which translates to very needy children. Stage five clingers, she calls them.

I may live in the middle of the woods with no indoor plumbing, but my youngest child is eight. When my kids get on my nerves, I simply send them away to do chores.

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My sister and I both added new puppies to the family last year. Mine is a little shit, but since he has the run of the woods, who cares?

My sister’s dog is a little shit too. Only they don’t live in the woods, so it matters. She often escapes from their fenced-in backyard and runs straight over to the neighbors. This neighbor is not a nice lady.

Neighbors scare me. The thought of wrangling my wayward dogs out of some crotchety old lady’s yard makes me quiver.

This is why I live in the middle of the woods.

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Also, I do a lot of cooking. As a vegetarian who wants to eat healthy, it’s sort of a must. Plus it’s a very homesteady thing to do.

My sister doesn’t really cook and her kitchen attests to it. She has like, one pan and a whole bunch of upcycled yogurt containers.

With one baby glued to her boob, another poking a finger in the dog’s butt, a third crying because someone looked at her wrong, and the eldest hiding in a closet making silly videos on a stolen phone, I get why my sister doesn’t have time to cook.

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Still, is that really an excuse for not having a decent can opener or a simple lid for steaming rice?

No, no it isn’t.

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But what I really want to know is how she manages to keep her children so clean and coordinated, looking like little baby models, every single day.

Sure, she has indoor plumbing, so that helps.

But still, when it is time to leave the house, she’s like Mary Poppins, all smiles and songs, managing the impossible: four snotless, stainless, adorably dressed children out the door on time with no yelling. Something’s not right people.

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My sister is an extrovert. She never stays home if she can help it. In one day, she can easily handle ballet class, lunch date, park, grocery store, library, another playdate and top it all off with a ladies’ night out.

I am an introvert. I never leave the homestead if I can help it. I get tired just ​thinking about running errands. Socially busy days drain my body of vital life force energy.

Another reason I live in the woods.

You know what else? I have spent the last 20 years coming up with awesome business ideas. A handful of them even made it out of the idea stage, like, to where I actually made business cards and everything. None of them ever amounted to much as I have a tendency to move on to something new as soon as I get bored (usually right after I order business cards).

My sister, though. She sits silently by watching me come up with one hair-brained idea after another. Just minding her own business, changing diapers and such. Then bam! She decides she wants to be a photographer. And after less than a year has a bonafide photography business with actual ​clients.

She doesn’t even have a business card! Something’s not right people, I’m telling you.

So sure, she is organized, efficient, calm, patient, beautiful, joyful, sweet, polite, reliable.

But she doesn’t live in the woods.

Now, who’s with me?

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Everything You Don’t Need To Know About Making A Fire (and a few things you do)

I tend to have very bad timing, people, and today’s post is no exception. Today we will be discussing the finer points of building fires, wood woes and the like. This is a subject I have been meaning to write about since the onset of cold weather four or five months ago. However, the inspiration for writing it never fully hit until now, just as we are moving into spring and no one cares about heating with fire (for the next five months, anyway). 

The good news is that my firewood post would have been just as useless five months ago as it will prove to be today, so you haven’t really missed out. The main focus of this How To Make A Fire tutorial is to throw in as much juvenile humor as I can manage (we are talking about ​wood ​after all) without being too annoying. It’s a delicate balance, my friends – wish me luck. Of course, I do plan to steal a couple of real tips from actual homesteading blogs so it won’t be a complete waste of your time, I promise 🙂

I would just like to say that I have never been officially trained on how to start a fire, and have had to go through some hard knocks to figure it all out. Honestly, what I have found to work the absolute best when starting a fire is to yell out in a whiny, helpless voice “Maaaavv, build me a fire”. Generally, this does not work in and of itself, but when I start threatening to withhold certain pleasures (breakfast, people, geez!), it gets the job done.

Actually, I really don’t mind building fires. In fact, when I get a nice fire going in minutes rather than hours, I feel a huge sense of pride, like I can accomplish anything I put my mind too.

When it comes to building a fire there are two methods that I am aware of (there are actually quite a few more, I just didn’t feel like googling all of them). These two methods are: The Tepee method and the Log Cabin method.

The Tepee Method vs The Log Cabin Method

A few months back, when I was gearing up to get this ​How To Make A Fire tutorial written, I took a series of really terrible pictures (a specialty of mine) while grabbing whatever tinder we had on hand (paper and a cardboard cup holder, in this case) as well as splitting a random mixture of kindling. I crossed my fingers that I had guessed correctly for the purposes of this tutorial as I knew I was unlikely to go through the hassle of staging it all again. Well, we all got lucky as it ended up being the perfect amount for my fire.

Ironically, the very next day, just as I was about to show off my pictures to the boys, they started talking about how much the tepee method sucked. At this point, I backed slowly away, no longer having the heart to show them my awesome work.

However, regardless of what those snotty woods’ boys think, the tepee method is a tried and true method and, besides, I have pictures.

Both the tepee method and the log cabin method start off the same: with tinder and kindling. Tinder is very flammable small material (can range from paper to twigs to dry leaves and pine needles). Kindling is thin pieces of wood. Tinder and kindling must be dry, no exceptions. Unless you have a blow torch. But in that case you don’t need this tutorial or anything other than fuel, logs, and the patience to flame-blast the wood until the cows come home (this is Maverick’s favorite method, by the way.)

Here is what I used to start my fire:

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Side Note: I grabbed that cardboard drink container on a whim but it actually worked out really well as a long-burning tinder. Plus I could stuff the other paper and cardboard into the cracks while allowing for a nice air flow. One of the tricks to getting a fire going is to make sure it can breath.

​Now light that bitch.

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​Okay, now you simply stack up some of the thinnest kindling around the burning tender in the shape of a, you guessed it, tepee. Then shut the door to the wood stove (making sure the flue(s) are open) as this gives it a nice flow of air. Listen for a little woosh, signifying the fire is really catching.

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At this point, you got a good thing going. Open the door and add on thicker and thicker kindling, being careful not to smother the flames. Then shut the door again and let the airflow work its magic.  When I know my baby can handle the big stuff, I throw on the logs and voila, a fire is made.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now, my ADD is kicking in and this tutorial stuff is starting to bore me, so if you want to know how to do the log cabin method (plus a bunch of other cool methods), please click here.

Actually if you want to learn anything of value, leave now and find a real homesteading blog, my friends.

Okay so now the fun stuff:

Mav and I were a little reckless (by reckless I mean totally unprepared) this past year of extreme homesteading and ended up with wet wood (also known as unseasoned wood) to deal with midwinter.  Let me tell you, nothing ruins the homesteading mood quite like wet wood. Coaxing wet wood into performing is a tedious, frustrating task. Wet wood is useless wood. You have to play with it forever to get any kind of reaction out of it. All it can do is smoke and smolder and cause a lot of frustration, for everyone involved.  No matter how hard it tries, it just cannot heat things up.  

So how do you prevent wet wood? You take some time to prepare yourself. Don’t just rush in. Make your game plan early on (like spring or summer), get your wood cut and stacked neatly and securely and then ​always use protection. This is key, gentleman. If you do not remember to cover your wood, you will end up with a very unhappy homesteading woman. She will literally lay in bed all day with layers of layers of clothes on while giving you the stink eye for ruining her life. Sexy? I think not.

Wet wood is no good but dry wood is amazing. Nothing makes a homesteading woman more excited than a huge stack of hard, dry wood. Dry wood can get her so hot and bothered, spontaneous stripping takes place. Sexy? I think so.

Now, I would like to apologize for wasting so much of your time today. Do you have any real tips to share with the rest of us? Please comment below. And remember sharing is caring people. If you like what you read today, don’t be afraid to spread the shame 🙂

How To Wash Your Dishes Without Running Water: Six Steps To Off-Grid Domestic Success

Ok friends here we have quite possibly one of the most important How To tutorials of your off-grid extreme homesteading life… dishes. Yes, that’s right. More important than solar power, more important than growing food, more important than a composting toilet (ok, now I am exaggerating) is doing your dishes.

After all, dishes make the world go ’round and it is nary a homesteading woman who can live without clean dishes. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to multiply right before your very eyes, popping out dirty creations like the gremlin spawn of a mogwai. And, like a gremlin, they sneer and snarl at you from their crusty perch on the counter, daring you to just try and wash them without running water.

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Fear not, my extreme homesteading friends (or weekend campers), as I have found a pretty decent way to wash your dishes without running water. All you need are the right tools and set up and those evil dishes will no longer have you sleeping with one eye open.

Step 1: Get a Gigantic Pot

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There is one key item to doing your dishes without running water quickly and efficiently and that is the Gigantic Pot. The Gigantic Pot is absolutely essential if you don’t want to spend an entire day heating up small batches of water. And believe me, you don’t. I started off with a Small Pot, and I was not happy. The Gigantic Pot brings me much joy.

Step 2: Get a Long, Crappy Table

Okay so you have your Gigantic Pot. Now you need a long, crappy table. I say crappy table because if you can do your dishes outside on a crappy table, you can slosh water all over the place – which tends to make you feel better about having to do your dishes outside on a crappy table. Get it? I have a nice, crappy eight foot long table that is the perfect length for our size family, or for my lazy housekeeping habits, whichever way you want to look at it. So technically you could use a smaller table and you can also use your actual sink and counter area, but that’s a little boring, don’t you think?

Step 3: Set Up Dish Area.

First, there are a few other things you will need:

  1. Two basins, one for washing and one for rinsing. These are what I currently use. I know they don’t match. Don’t judge me.
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2. A cup with a handle for scooping hot water out of the Gigantic Pot into the wash basin. I use this measuring cup which conveniently hooks right on the handle of my pot when not in use. A match made in heaven.

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3. A jug (or two, depending on your dish load) of clean, cool rinse water next to your rinse basin

4. A sponge or rag to wash dishes and some biodegrable dish soap

5. A drying rack and/or large towel

6. A large bucket to dump dirty dish water into (another option is to just dump directly onto the ground if you are outside and it won’t create a mess.)

7. Compost container to scrape your food scraps into.

Step 4: Heat Up Water

Now we are ready to get to work. I will forewarn you, I like my dish water hot and clean, so I refresh often. I use anywhere from 2-4 gallons of hot water, depending on the dish load. I usually heat up more water than I need, because is saves time and hey I can always take a shower after.

Pour water in your pot and heat it up. One of the many blessings in my extreme homesteading life is my (nearly) full-size propane stove. So heating things up is easy peasy (until we run out of propane right in the middle of making dinner. that is). I just put my Gigantic Pot on the stove, turn two burners on and it heats up quick.

If you don’t have stove yet, you might want to look into getting a portable burner used for camping, if you plan on cooking more than once a week. Of course, if you want to (or need to), you can always go to the maximum extreme and heat your water up over an actual fire (technically the maximum extreme would be rubbing two sticks together to start said fire, but I digress). As romantic as it sounds, however, it’s really a pain in the ass to do everyday. But I have done it and so can you.

However your go about it, the important thing is to get your water HOT. That way it stays nice and hot until the last dirty dish has been hunted down. If your water gets too cool, it is a hassle to reheat and you run the chance of loosing motivation and not finishing the dishes, which does not feel nearly as satisfying as finishing the dishes.

Now scoop your hot water into your wash basin and pour cool water in the rinse basin. If the water is too hot (which it should be if you have been following directions) mix it with a little of the cool water until you get the right temperature. As you work your way down the dirty mountain, the water should cool off to a reasonable temperature. Better hot than not, I say.

Step 5: Wash Your Dishes

Now you wash your dishes. I like to move from the left to right, but to each his own. As your wash basin water cools down and gets dirty, dump it into the waiting receptacle or onto the ground if you prefer and refill with fresh hot water. Same with your rinse water, if it gets too soapy. Finish all the dishes. All of them. It feels good, remember?

Step 6: Call In The Troops

This is about the time I start yelling for Maverick and the girls. Maverick, with his strong shapely arms and equally strong stomach, gets to dump the teeming bucket of dirty dish water. We like to dump it right into the garden beds. depending on the chunks. Yum.

Now its the minions’ turn to help. Remember how we were doing the dishes outside? Well they are the lucky ones that get to haul the clean dishes back inside, put them away all nice and neat and then hang the dish towel on the line to dry until we need it again for a new table-load of dirty dishes, usually about ten minutes later I’d say.

Well there really is no glamorous way to end a dish tutorial, so bye!

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Beautiful Farm Girl Seeks Vegetarian Cowboy: A Law Of Attraction Love Story

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Five years ago I met Maverick, my (mostly) vegetarian cowboy; the man who is making my dreams come true by building me an off-grid, sustainable community surrounded by nature with only his bare hands… and a bulldozer.

While many people say our successful union was a stroke of blind luck,  the very fact he isn’t a serial killer (so far…) defying all odds,  I like to believe our meeting each other was a result of one of my more successful incidents of deliberate manifestation. Either way, one thing is for sure,  our ‘how we met’ story is so utterly unromantic and scandalous that it makes the perfect story for today’s blog post.

Before Maverick, I had dated my share of questionable characters (shocking, I know). Some of these guys were pretty terrible, some were just the typical zombie-types, devoid of any meaningful, independent thoughts. To be fair,  it takes one to date one, so I could only describe myself as a zombie as well.  

Anyway, after having an epic awakening followed by the crumbling of my latest  zombie relationship,  I moved north with my girls to explore community farm life and learn to grow my own food. We moved into a tiny primitive cabin (or shack as Mav likes to call it) on a small farm in a quaint country town in mid-west, America.  

It was a bold move to be sure, some would even call it reckless. Yet it remains to be one of the best decisions of my life. 

I spent an idyllic spring and summer pulling weeds and tending seeds (both figuratively and literally), eventually deciding I felt emotionally healthy enough to meet someone great. I had dumped some baggage (though come to find out, not all of it!) and was confident in my newfound creative abilities to attract a great mate into my experience.

So now that I was ready to date, the question was, where would I meet someone? After all, I lived in a tiny cabin on a farm in a city where I did not know anyone. I was not working outside of the farm. My hosts were great and I was quickly becoming best friends with the head lady of the farm. But her husband was oooolllldddd. Like just-suffered-a-heart-attack old. And so were all his friends. (In the interest of full disclosure the odd social structure on the farm consisted of a lot of young, lively, fit farm girls and a handful of really old dudes. It’s no surprise my city friends were convinced I had joined a cult!)

Anyway, back to the love story…

I am not a very patient person. When I make a decision, it pretty much has to happen right now. So once I had decided to meet someone, I was not content to just wait for fate to bring him to me. Taking a proactive approach to dating clearly left me with only one option: Online dating. (Sidebar: This was in 2013, just as dating apps were really gaining in popularity. Good thing I am usually a few years behind the latest trends or Mav and I might have never met seeing as how he still carries a flip phone).

So I crafted a clever profile, with vegetarinism and cowboyism a clear prerequisite, and joined a popular dating site (or two). However,  the selections were very few and far between of people who shared any of my interests (who wants to go roam the woods barefoot? … anyone?)

 I met a few guys that could never be pinned down to an actual date or were, um, a bit different than their pictures. Yet not a single cowboy. Basically, the process was long and drawn out and not worth the money. I felt using the dating sites just served as a buffer to immediate communication and actual interaction. Looking back, I wonder if maybe it also served as some sort of safety feature… hmm…

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and create a Craigslist Personals Ad.

Now I know you are all gasping in absolute horror.

And I agree, Craigslist personals are teeming with filth and debauchery of all kind. But seriously guys, it is not like I advertised my address or any other personal information. I also did not include a picture or make any references to sexual fetishes. It’s all good, people. Calm down.  

What I did do is remain 100% convinced that I could find an amazing person anywhere I put my mind to, as long as I believed. 

So, yes. Maverick and I met on Craigslist. I put out an add, he ignored my very specific qualifications (vegetarian, yo!)  and responded. I decided to overlook my non-negotiable standards based on the fact that he owned a huge lot of land and seemed willing to let me do whatever I wanted with it. 

From the very beginning, our dates have consisted of wondering aimlessly around the woods. That is literally all we do, other than the whole homesteading thing. He has more patience with me than my own mother. He never yells or demeans me when I lose the car keys, or my driver’s license, or drain the batteries for the millionth time (okay, well, he does lose his patience over that one, but the first 100 times he didn’t even bat an eye). 

Seriously though, Maverick is 100 percent cowboy, 90 percent vegetarian (thanks to my many years of food shaming him), and the sweetest, kindest, safest, calmest, pure-of-heartist man I have ever met. He is so amazingly capable and smart and warrior-minded, I have full confidence we would survive a zombie apocalypse completely unscathed. He is my knight in dirty work boots. 

And there you have the most epic, unromantic love story of all time. Swoon. 

Remember, if you want miracles to happen you have to BELIEVE they can.

P.S. This post is in no way an endorsement for Craigslist Personals or any other form of online dating. It’s just a story, people. Date at your own risk! 

Namaste, my friends 

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