The Art of Aging Gracefully on the Homestead-Mother Earth News

We are in the current issue of Mother Earth News!

My latest contribution to the current issue of Mother Earth News has hit the news stand. This magazine for those of you who might not know it; is a guide to living wisely while being self-sufficient on the homestead or farm.

The article is titled Aging Gracefully on the Homestead. This is a piece about the challenges of senior homesteading; a topic we know a little something about.

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Although I pitched an ongoing column geared to senior homesteading they opted for a one time “how-to” article. Perhaps they know more about the age of their readership than I do! My contribution was four photographs (out of the eight published) and a part of the text.

Double click on this PDF and I believe that the article will open up. aging-gracefully-1

Homesteading is hard work, and Gene and I are not getting any younger. I doubt anyone will argue with that. There are definitely multiple challenges to continuing to do the physical work required by homesteading as one gets older.

We moved to the Small House Big Sky Homestead fifteen years ago. We started out getting as much done as we could and added additional outdoor projects like the chicken complex and the water containment system each summer. And worked on the house during the winter months. This was a good thing we got a lot done in those early years since even then we weren’t spring chickens. (We were 50 and 55 years old.)

Eventually we got the major items on our to-do list knocked down. Every year we try to accomplish a project or two more outside during the nice weather and a few more small indoor project in the house during the indoor winter months.

Now that we are 65 and 72, our age and our health is beginning to be a real consideration. Fortunately, I started thinking about this several years ago. I asked myself what will I do and how will we manage when it becomes more difficult to do the work we need to do?

This past season I hired hourly help in the garden and yard. We found a local young girl of fourteen who is strong and looking to make some money for school clothes. It’s not a perfect system as Olivia is only available on Sunday afternoons because she runs cross county and runs her daily miles every school night, but we have managed to make it work. And this past winter when Gene had his hernia operation we hired a local small business in the short-term to plow our driveway and another local boy to run the snow blower to clear our paths.The total cash out of pocket during Gene’s recovery was less than $100.00.

Some homesteaders find an apprentice or a farm worker and offer room and board in exchange for work. Others turn a spare bedroom or cabin into an Air B&B for extra cash income on the homestead.

Obviously, there is more than one way to make this work but this is what is woring for us.

The moral of this story is to plan ahead about how you might make your elder years’ on the homestead work for you and how you can turn your homestead into a property that will sustain you when you are older.

I hope to convince the editors at MEN that a monthly column written by me with interviews of senior homesteaders who ARE making it work will be both inspirtional and informative.

To help support this idea please send your letters/e-mails to:Rebecca Martin martin@ogdenpubs.com>

As always, thank you for following and if you are aging homesteaders and want to share tips with me about how you have made senior homesteading work for you, please contact me. I am always looking for new ideas on how you in the hometead trenches are making it work!

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

Front Loader Pedestal Makeover

As many of you know front loaders washing machines and dryers require quite a bit of bending downing to load and unload them and that is why they sell these very expensive platform pedestals for them. When I bought my units over 10 years ago these matching pedestals cost $300.00 each. I have no idea what they cost now.

A friend of mine had mold in her old front loading washing machine and got rid of it. She bought a new top loader washer and dryer. I was lucky enough to inherit her old pedestal. I saw this as an opportunity to not have to bend quite so far down to remove my clothes from the dryer. And she saw this as an opportunity to save this piece from the landfill. Another win-win!

After maneuvering the pedestal into place and I realized that it stuck out quite a bit further that both machines did before. The power coated metal pedestal didn’t look as smooth as I would have like so I set my thinking cap on for a way to camouflage it.

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Part of the wood base cut and screwed into place waiting to be painted. We also built and slid a top piece on to cover the metal base as well. 

When a not-so-pretty but highly functional pedestal base came our way for FREE we decided to take advantage of the windfall. Once it was in the my laundry room I then had to figure out a way to camouflage the unattractive metal. One day I was looking at our fireplace and realized the mantle cover up-piece was the exact answer I was seeking. All we had to do was build a kind of cabinet cover piece of wood, paint it and slip it over the offending pedestal and ta da, we now have a DYI pedestal cover!

Gene purchased the pine wood while in town one Monday and a friend helped us to cut it to size on his portable table saw one day when he came to Sunday dinner. I served Frank grilled salmon and chicken along with a fancy tossed salad…can you hear that refrain “I work for food!”

washer-and-dryer-from-angle-and-rugI primed the raw wood using Zinsser sealer and primer and then painted the frame pieces in a Benjamin More white semi-gloss trim paint to make it blend in nicely with the white washer and dryer. I had contemplated staining it in the maple wood tones to match my laundry room cabinets but I also realized that color matching pine with a maple finish was a time-consuming project I did not want to get involved in at that time.

I admit that the tight fitting appliancedwere a real pistol to get into the snug space between the existing two cabinets but with the help of our two friends and lot of jiggling we managed it. When I had my cupboards layout designed the kitchen designer asked me if I planned on having a pedestal installed and I said then, I did not. I wanted them of course but the added expense was pretty hard to justify.

I could however justify the expense of my commercial-size top-loading washing machine because prior to buying it I had been driving the 10 miles into town (and back) at least once a month to wash our bed quilt. Iwas alsomaking that drive  more often to wash seasonal items like my husband’s heavy hunting coats and outside work clothes. That drive, my time, plus the extra $10-$15.00 cash spent at the laundromat eeach month basically paid for the move up from the standard size machine to the commercial at home size washer.

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Anna our RIR photo bombs the photograph of the washer and dryer before we added the pedestal.

I love my front loading machines and have been very, very happy with them. I know from reading on-line articles that there was a class action suit on these machines due to mold that developed in the rubber seal located just inside the door. But I have been very careful from the beginning to carefully wipe out all of the moisture in the rubber seal after every wash and then to leave the door open to dry out thoroughly overnight. With this small extra effort, I’ve never had an issue of mold in my machine.

That small extra effort paid off big.

Small House Big Sky Homestead, Donna

Decorating the Yard for Halloween

We took a few minutes this week to make our pole barn driveway a bit more welcoming for friends and family. We put out our painted scarecrow to give our yard a bid of seasonal piazza.

Scarecrow pumpkin stnes maybe

This guy always gives me a boost!

Pole rn bed with scaecrow entire

This is the flower bed at our driveway that greets our visitors.

I love to decorate for the season but this year I have been so busy that it has just not happened. A few colorful mum’s, a vintage rusty wheel barrel and our scarecrow will be it for this year.

Pumpkins and white aster like USE

 

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Fall House front blue sky

Our small house under a big sky…

Small House Homesteader, Donna

A Cup Half Full and a Belief in Miracles

Gene and I had “The Talk” yesterday. Fall is a time of intensive labor on our homestead; what we call “The Fall Rush.” So much has to be done in a short amount of time, the stress builds and tempers flare. We are working hard to beat the first flakes of snow and the big freeze that is soon to arrive on our SW Michigan property.

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Our vegetable garden at its peak this past July.

While we do struggle with the massive amounts of work to keep up our homestead and gardens here, I shared with Gene how blessed and fortunate I believe we are.

We are in fact truly privileged. We have health insurance coverage, we have a warm, comfortable and safe home, we own two, paid off vehicles and while none of these belongings are new or fancy, I have made the choice to look at our life like a glass half full and feel the bounty not the scarcity.

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The meadow edge is the perfect habitat for butterfly’s, dragonflies and birds.

I remember vividly when 18 years ago we met at ages 45 and 50, both divorced and he was in massive debt. We had nothing between us except my small, 75-year-old Fairview city home. With only our mid-life energy, a dream and a drive to rebuild our lives together we set a goal to retire here and to build a more sustainable life together.

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One of our four rescued Cochin Bantams.

With the tools of a strict budget, books, the Internet and nothing but the hard work from our own four hands we now own a productive 5-acres, a nicely fixed up older home, food gardens, chickens and a debt-free retirement. Neither of us had high paying jobs, divorce support or an inheritance – just a solid plan, a belief in the abundance of the Universe and our trust that miracles can happen and one did.

Apples egg chives todays harvest

Today’s homestead gatherings’ apples, chives and a Rhode Island Red egg!

I am grateful for every sunrise, every tomato and apple and every day of good health. We are not just counting our years…we are making our years count.

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Our water collection and storage system irrigates our property.

Here a piece written by Permaculture expert, Ben Faulk…it says what I would like to articulate today but cannot.

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The chicken coop, run (in progress) and water trough from the vegetable garden.

“Perhaps it’s good when something you expect doesn’t happen because it enables you to appreciate all the other things you might have missed. And as long as we’re sufficiently fed, what’s life about anyway? Certainly, for me anyway, NOT simply more physical yields. This makes me think of Fukuoka’s dictum that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the cultivation of crops but the perfection of human beings.” I don’t like the word “perfect” but with each passing year I find myself agreeing with him more about a lot of things. In permaculture we say “Obtain a Yield.” Hmmm. Sounds a bit colonial for permaculture. And “A” yield? Singular? Color, shade, aroma, beauty, companionship, pollen, soil, nesting habitat, oxygen. All these things and many more have already been yields of these trees and they’re just getting started. At some point a tree’s yield in fruit or nut or wood becomes a bonus, not it’s core value. We need to eat, to be sure. But yields are subtle and myriad. “Get a Yield?” Sure. But perhaps we should say instead “Don’t forget to notice all the yields.”

Our Small House homestead yields are more than just tasty organic food and eggs, our yields also include a safe, warm home, a healthy organic environment of plentiful oxygen provided by majestic White Oak trees, their leaves and the blessings of flowers, sunshine, clean air and human happiness.

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Joys and the Struggles of Homesteading

Gene and I have been homesteaders now for 15 years. I can say without a doubt from our in-depth, first-hand experience; homesteading brings both tremendous joys and struggles. This is a definitely a life-style choice that is not for the faint of heart.

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Our homesteads mailbox in summer.

There is often a thick vein of “romance” running through the many practical needs associated with homesteading. People think most often of the being their own boss; the freedom of no more 9 to 5 grind, sleeping in everyday and no commute or punching the clock to make it to work in the morning.

Barn front and long side NICE

Another summer view of our pole barn, gravel drive way and barn garden.

The prevalent view is that homesteading is about “simple living” but there is nothing remotely simple or romantic about homesteading. The hard truth is, homesteading, like farming, has never been easy.

Not a simple life; there is a seasonal rhythm and an order to this life that I love.

Fall House front blue sky

A November view of the homestead after the White Oak leaves have fallen.

We work harder here than we ever did in our city jobs. This is hard physical labor that causes our joints and our muscles to hurt as well as our feet. We rise earlier and work later. We earn no paid vacation, no insurance or traditional benefits and yet, for now, I cannot see us doing anything else.

Because we are aging, I know that in the near future we will turn the stewardship of this place over to another family. I pray that is a young couple who desire to homestead and who value the accomplishments we have made here during our tenure. It is my hope that their youth and skills can take our home and property to the next level. There is room to building a sturdy shed and fencing in the empty meadow which would be perfect for miniature goats. There is land for more fruit trees too and more home-grown food.

Long view of garden and barn

Side view of our fenced in vegetable garden and raspberry patch/chicken run.

We have experienced multiple challenges while living here. We had the serious challenge of flooding that killed our original fruit orchard, removed our soil from the vegetable gardens and took its toll on our belongings. But no matter what life or the weather throws at us life on the homestead goes on.

We have had several unplanned set-backs and jaw-dropping expenses like the failing septic and drain field just three months after we moved in. Or the stressful and unplanned $10,000 flood extension assessment that forced us to leave retirement and take minimum wage city jobs for the years it took us to earn the cash we needed.

Injuries too are always a fear because then I know then we could not manage the daily or seasonal work. At our advancing age surgery and illness are always in the back of our minds. We have to bring in the harvest in spite of being laid up and no matter what happens to us, there are animals to feed and we have to get the work done.

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Flood water surrounded the Small House.

 

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Flooding on the gravel road behind our property.

Unless you are wealthy and can pay hired help, homesteading is in reality a long 12-hour day with very few days off to play. Homesteading can be lonely, isolating and means never-ending work. Homesteading is also a labor of love that takes strength, stamina, perseverance and guts. We have learned there is a feeling of pride in our capacity for survival even through the hardest of times.

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Our chicken coop and run in dryer more recent days.

Then why did we choose this life?

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The beauty of our meadow edge.

On the flip side of the struggle, there is being the master of your own fate and the joys that brings. No office job can satisfy in the same way the growing of your own wholesome food or managing your land in positive ways. These are satisfactions that do not have to translate into money.

There is a great fulfillment in starting with basically nothing but the land and making something of that. We get to work outside, with our hands, to watch the birds, the trees and the sky as the seasons change. There is a daily beauty in a  life of non-monetary abundance that is hard to put into words.

Bench set up with milk NICE

We choose homesteading because we wanted to have more control over the food we eat. We wanted outdoors work, to create with our hands and to keep chickens and large dogs. Gene wanted to blacksmith and I wanted create works of art from the handmade paper that I fashioned from the plants I grew. I wanted to live a life of conservation, to be more sustainable and provide a first-hand example to my children and grandchildren that they might not otherwise see I this modern and material world.

omfrey close chicken run in rear

The bottom line is that in homesteading you learn new skills and you learn to rely on your wits and your own grit and no one but you are responsible for your success or your failure.

I hear from many people who tell me this is what they want to have. Knowing the hardships… is this still the life for you?

Small House homesteader, Donna

Monday on the Homestead

 

White flowers at coner of porch

These white aster like blooms really draw in the bees.

Monday as you recall is our super busy on-the-road day. And this Monday was no different; with yoga, lunch with yoga friends, groceries, errands, a doctors appointment followed by PT for my foot.

I’m sharing some recent homestead photographs today for your enjoyment.

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The back view of our home and home garden beds.

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Meadow light color

Two views of our August meadow.

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Gene working on the portable forge.

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The inside of the White Oak Forge with the vintage anvil, forge and tools.

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Ilsa is the only Rhodie we can tell apart from the others due to her dark feathers.

Rhodie head close up

One of the three unnamed Rhode Island Red triplets. I can’t tell them apart long enough to actually name them!

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Cochin buddies.

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Cochin/Phoenix mix.

Have a great Monday!

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

Picking and Processing Peaches

One of the best things about living in SW Michigan is the wonderful fruit grown here. We have orchards filled with fruit and in every direction you look. Blueberries, cherries, sweet and tart, luscious peaches, apples of every variety – yum!

Peaches low in orchard USE FIRST

Sweet tasting peaches are the real reward of today’s peach picking event.

Since our peach trees are not producing yet we go to a local orchard and pick peaches nearly every year. Today we drove to and picked a bushel of Red Havens. Red Haven peaches were developed by Liberty Hyde Bailey just 17 miles from where we live in nearby South Haven, MI. They are the perfect peach for our weather, soil and USDA Zone.

Two trees in the orchard

Autumn clouds and a brisk wind made the picking perfect!

In less than 20 minutes we picked a bushel and headed home to process the first half of them that were ripe s and ready. Because pantry space is limited for us, I always freeze our peaches. Hubby and I tag team; I peel and cut and he adds the coconut sugar, lemon juice and seals the bags using our Food Saver.

Peaches in trees USE

Red Haven peaches are perfect!

Freezing Peaches:

4 cups peaches

1 Tablespoons lemon juice

½ to ¾ cup sugar

Ziplock bag or Food Saver after squeezing out excess air

Zip and freeze

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Hubby picking in the orchard.

We are going to eat like kings this winter!

Small House homesteader, Donna