This Month On The Homestead: Starting Fires, Baking Pies, and Celebrating a Birthday

November 2019

November 2019 on our homestead

November ushered in our first snowfall and the seasons replaced, exchanged and subsumed each other. I’m never quite ready for this transition, even though I know it’s coming, even though I love the snow. It’s hard for me to let go of my preferential feelings for fall.

By November 8th, we were in full winter regalia and nestled beneath the white blankets that’ll cloak the earth until spring.

There’s a relief that accompanies the first snowfall. We’re off the hook in the garden, there’s no more wood to spilt, nothing to harvest, nothing to pick or tend or weed, no grass to mow or fields to brush hog, no trails to clear, no culverts to repair. Permission to not do is granted by icy folds of white.

Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports.

Food Preservation Tracker: Where Spreadsheets Meet Homesteading

Our driveway in November

Since snowfall limits our outside chores, Kidwoods and I headed down to the basement to catalogue and shelve all the food we’d preserved this summer and fall. In years past, we shoved everything onto the shelves as we preserved it, which resulted in a jumble of pickles and apple butters and maple syrups all colliding in unknown quantities.

This year, I staged everything on the basement floor and then counted, documented, labeled and shelved in an orderly, regimented fashion. I made labels (out of masking tape–don’t be impressed) to indicate what’s in front and what’s behind on each shelf.

Mr. FW made two short shelves–on one of our basement shelving units–just the right height for canned foods. And on these two mini shelves, all our Mason jars sit. There’s nothing I love better than custom organization.

On a frugal note, I will note there’s no need to buy fancy storage or organization containers–I used the cardboard boxes the Mason jars came in and put masking tape on the sides. Totally functional with no extra expense. Another frugal note: I save cardboard boxes to reuse as storage/organization vessels so that I don’t have to buy plastic totes. Although I do buy plastic totes and bins from garage sales at steep discounts.

Being a ye olde homestead nerd, I created a spreadsheet to catalogue our preservation efforts this fall. Behold:

Food Total Quantity Quarts Quantity Pints Quantity Half Pints Year Canned Season Source
Apple Butter 10 quarts 1 15 6 2018 & 2019 Fall Apples
Maple Syrup 9 quarts 9 0 0 2019 Spring Maple sap
Pickles 34 quarts 34 0 0 2018 Summer Cucumbers
Apple Sauce 44 quarts 33 19 6 2019 Fall Apples
Tomato Sauce 50 quarts 50 0 0 2019 Fall Tomatoes

Since we still have preserved foods leftover from last summer, I included those on the list to make it comprehensive. My goal is to figure out our annual consumption of the foods we grow and preserve. It takes a ton of time and effort to plant seeds, tend plants, harvest vegetables, and can them, so I want to get us as close to preserving our annual consumption as possible.

My canned food shelves in the basement

Although I just realized I forgot to include all the stuff I preserved and put in our freezer. So, uh, better luck next year? Here’s what’s in our freezer:

  • Dried apples (of unknown quantity)
  • Dried tomatoes (in an unknown amount)
  • Blackberries (of an unknown total)
  • Okra (not very many)

Then there’s the stuff we already ate:

  • Blueberries (quite a few)
  • Plums (more than last year although quantities are unknown since most were eaten by Kidwoods… )

Finally, there’s the solitary jar of black currant cordial in the pantry as well as the hard apple cider fermenting in my office. That’s all! I think. Until I find something else I’ve stashed elsewhere and forgotten about… Here’s the full rundown of everything we grew (or tried to grow) this season.

And now, please enjoy a vignette I’ve titled: “Thoughts From My Children As I Try To Take A Photo Of An Idyllic Childhood Experience In The Snow”

The Toddler Ennui in full force. Note the lack of eye contact.

No, we do not care to smile. No, we also will not look at you. Yes, we are enjoying this snow, but no, we will not let you see our enjoyment. We are The Toddler Ennui and we reject everything you offer.

You are the establishment, you are the Mama, we are the revolution. You suggest snow angels and we scoff. We will make snow angels, but on our own terms. It will be Our Idea and we will not give you the satisfaction.

We just say no to you, then turn around and do precisely what you suggest. You brought a real carrot out here for a snowman nose and we will bite it.

We will bite that carrot and refuse to snowman it, despite begging you to bring the carrot outside in the first place. You don’t know us. Our cognitive dissonance is strong. We are The Toddler Ennui.

Moving On, Let’s Turn Our Attention To The Topic Of Pies

Being the month of Thanksgiving, I engineered several opportunities to bake pies. Since I have ample free time, no responsibilities, and nothing going on in my life, I decided to make pie crusts from scratch for the first time ever.

My first two from-scratch pie crusts only took me 9 hours, 15 how-to videos, three recipes, and 87 texts of support from my best baker friend. It is also possible they weren’t exactly 100% cooked all the way through. I’d signed up to bring the pumpkin pies to the Preschool Thanksgiving Feast and so, of course, that was the ideal time to try out something I’d never done before.

Never mind that I had to wake up early in order to make the crusts. Never mind that I panicked and stuck them back in the oven right before we left for the Preschool Thanksgiving Feast and then had to ride in the passenger seat clutching a hot pie in each hand. Nailed it.

MY PIES!

I’ve always been afraid to make my own pie crusts and, as it turns out, that was for good reason. On the bright side, my years of fear meant it was a lot easier than I anticipated and I’m now on the hunt for excuses to bake pies (other than me wanting to eat pies, which is not a viable longterm life plan).

So if you need an amateur, potentially undercooked pie, you know who to ask. Although please don’t ask me because I now need to do the 649 things I didn’t do while making these two pies.

Fear not for my next pie-baking opportunity presented itself post haste: I volunteered to make the pies for Thanksgiving at my in-laws’ house and, I must say, they came out better than the Preschool pies. I made two pumpkin and two Shoo Fly pies and each successive crust took me less time, looked better, and tasted better. I’m fortified by my new skill and actually, possibly, perhaps looking forward to implementing it again for our Christmas pies. I do believe I like learning new things, in spite of myself. For reference, I used this King Arthur pie crust recipe following these detailed instructions and then this King Arthur pumpkin pie recipe.

Happy Birthday to Kidwoods!

Happy birthday, Kidwoods!

Our biggest little person turned four years old in November. I’d say “it’s hard to believe” or “where did the time go” or “it seems like she was born just yesterday,” but none of that’s true.

I know exactly where the time went. It went to extreme relief following a harrowing emergency c-section and NICU stay, it went to breastfeeding at 11pm and 1am and 3am and 5am for months, to snuggling a baby in a carrier while hiking, to watching first steps across our wide wooden floors, to hysterical giggles while Dada dropped blocks off the top of his head, to first words and first conversations and first jokes, and endless, boundless love.

All the exhaustion, all the stress, all the sleeplessness is worth it. Worth it over and over. We are so lucky to have this incredible person in our lives. We are so lucky to be her parents. We are so lucky the cake I baked turned out okay.

I know what you’re going to ask next:

How Do You Do Kids’ Birthday Parties Frugally?

Oh good, I’m so glad you asked. I have a whole post on the topic, but since Kidwoods is now FOUR and thus has notions of her own regarding what a birthday party entails, here’s how we handled it the frugal way:

1) No big party.

Since we were visiting my in-laws over Thanksgiving, we had her birthday while at their house. The guests in attendance were: me, Mr. FW, Littlewoods, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my sister-in-law. A perfect number of people for a small person’s celebration. Kidwoods did not request a big party with her friends and we didn’t bring it up. I find that kids reflect what you discuss–if Mr. FW and I’d made a big deal about inviting all her friends, then yeah, she probably would’ve requested that.

And yes, we’ve been to plenty of her friends’ parties and Kidwoods has borne witness to these fun events with tons of kids and gift bags and piñatas and fancy cakes and mountains of presents. And that’s wonderful! I love that not everyone celebrates in the same way. I think it’s important to establish one’s own family traditions while respecting and appreciating how other people choose to mark milestones. I’m not anti-party or anti-gifts or anti-piñatas, I’m just very intentional about how and when I choose to introduce traditions into my own family.

Do what works for YOU and model what you want YOUR kids to do. I fully intend to host invite-all-the-kids birthday parties in the future, but age four didn’t seem like the time to introduce it for our child. That age will be different for every kid and I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here. Rather, I’m encouraging all of us to break away from the “shoulds” of parenting (and holidays for that matter) and to instead adhere to our own personal beliefs and values.

You, the parent, are in charge of creating these traditions, instilling values, and facilitating what’s meaningful to your family and your children. You, the parent, get to decide when and how and to what extent gifts are given and parties are hosted. This applies to birthdays, holidays, graduations… basically everything. Kids are not born with innate expectations around birthdays and holidays–those expectations are established and reinforced by their families.

Kidwoods assisting with cake baking and decorating

2) I made the cake myself.

I asked Kidwoods what type of cake she wanted and her response was illuminatingly specific: a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and multi-colored sprinkles. No need to buy an expensive character cake or specialty cupcakes–she just wanted a tasty cake with sprinkles. Easy. I used this King Arthur cake recipe and Kidwoods helped. She was desperate to get her hands on that cake–to mix the batter, to frost the top and most especially, to dump sprinkles alllllll over it (and the floor). I think she had more fun making the cake than she did eating it.

3) No party favors, decorations, or hats.

Kidwoods didn’t request any of these things and we saw no need to buy them. I’m not a fan of buying plastic or paper stuff that’ll become landfill fodder. I do like reusable decorations and we have a set of party hats at our house that we’ve used for everyone’s birthday for the last six years or so. But alas, I didn’t pack the hats in the suitcase and Kidwoods did not notice.

4) Used gifts and not too many.

I’m not a mountain-of-gifts type of person. I don’t think it sets the right precedent or sends the right message to young children. Overconsumption, overspending, and lavish arrays are becoming the norm for baby and toddler birthday parties, but it’s just not my thing. No shade if it’s your thing, but make sure you’re doing it because YOU (the parent) want to do that.

Kidwoods’ gifts from Mr. FW and me were things I’d gotten used from garage sales (or that’d been hand-me-downs). I spent roughly $2 on all of her gifts, which included: two coloring books (her current obsession), a book (her ongoing obsession), and a fairy costume with wings and a crown (another current obsession). My in-laws got her two books from her favorite series, Fern Hollow, and after putting on her fairy costume (w/wings), she nestled into the couch and asked her grandparents to read them to her. Perfectly perfect.

If you’re interested in reading more about my used gift strategy, you can do so here.

I Became A Firestarter

I BUILT THIS FIRE

I built my first fire in our wood stove. Not my first fire of the season, not my first fire of the month, not my first fire of the year, my first fire ever. I’m embarrassed that we’ve lived here for four years and this is the first time I’ve built a fire from scratch. I wish I’d been the one to do it our first night here, but I was nursing a two-month-old Kidwoods in a camping chair while watching my husband build a fire.

I wish I’d done it our second year, but I was writing a book while watching my husband build a fire. And I wish I’d done it our third year, but I was nursing our second baby while holding our toddler, while watching my husband build a fire. This month, I decided it was my time.

I’m embarrassed it took me this long, but I’m also proud that I did it. It’s a lot harder than it looks to start a fire from scratch. I failed several times, resulting in smoke in the house and the need to take smoldering logs out of the stove and start over (that’s not messy at all, let me tell you). But I kept trying.

I stacked a few big logs at the back of the stove and I built a scaffold of kindling at the front. I angled the kindling up toward the logs and lit the ends. I adjusted the combuster bypass and blew on the embers.

I monitored the stove’s temperature and adjusted the air intake. A wood stove’s heat is not automatic. It’s not a matter of flipping a switch or lighting a match. It’s a complicated process that starts years before with the trees growing in our forest. I do not take our warmth for granted and I’m hesitant to say I’m cold because I know the labor that goes into keeping us warm. My husband chops down trees, skids the logs, bucks them, splits the logs into firewood, stacks the wood in the woodshed he built, carries the logs onto our porch, fills the wood rack he built, loads our woodbox, wheels it inside, and spends at least an hour tending and starting a fire in the stove. I’m grateful for this warmth. I’m proud I finally learned how to do it myself.

Solar Check

Snow on snow on berries

After moving here, we decided to get solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update in this series. This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.

In November, we generated 277 kWh, which is middle-of-the-road decent. For reference, last January our panels generated a paltry 70.4 kWh and last July we raked in 907 kWh.

Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.

This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.

Join The January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge!!!

It’s time, my friends. It’s time to sign-up for my free January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge (UFM)!!! You’ve read the Frugalwoods Case Studies, you’ve seen the UFM testimonials, you look at my monthly expense reports and think “I can spend less than the Frugalwoods!,” and now, it’s time. The UFM doesn’t just help you save money. The UFM helps transform your relationship with money: how you earn it, how you spend it, how you manage it. The UFM is money management bootcamp and next month, we’re doing the Challenge together! Did I mention it’s FREE? It’s free. More details here and you can sign-up in the box below:

Uber Frugal Month Challenge Signup

We all need encouragement and inspiration on our financial journey! Sign-up to receive an email a day from me for 31 days starting January 1, 2020. Every email has a tip, a mantra, an action item, and recommended reading, all designed to help you transform your finances.

Powered by ConvertKit

Want More Fotos?!

While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram (almost every day!) and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity.

Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods. Some folks have asked about this and yes, I do try to post a picture to Instagram every day and–unlike with many other things in my life–I actually have a pretty good track record.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss a post here, sign-up for my handy dandy email list in the box below. You’ll get a message from me if you do…

How was your November?

Never Miss A Story

Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.

We're not fans of spam, canned or not. None of that here. Powered by ConvertKit

You may also like...

64 Responses

  1. Caroline Bowman says:

    I am very envious of your pie crusts! I do bake, but am a bit hit and miss with pastry…

    Also, congrats on Kidwoods birthday. It sounds like a great time was had by all. One question, you’ve mentioned before that you don’t do parties as such (as in, child parties with friends of the child), but you do attend them. When we host gatherings of whatever kind and never get a return invitation, it means we no longer invite those people, not because we don’t like them or aren’t friends, but because there’s a reciprocal thing that gets out of balance. There are various exceptions of course, and it’s not a question of bean-counting, but as time goes on, it gets noticeable.

    Saying that, with 3 kids who have birthdays within a 10 week period (several years apart), we have started making them take it in turns for the ”proper party” because from a budget and sanity perspective, it does all get to be too much!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a good question. We host a lot of playdates at our house and have friends over for lunch or dinner quite a bit. I like hosting, but just don’t think Kidwoods is quite ready for the full-on birthday blast with tons of presents, etc. So, in that way, we do reciprocate invitations, just not with a birthday party (if that makes sense). Also, my friends know this about me and so aren’t left wondering if they weren’t invited to the party–they know there’s no party 🙂

      • Caroline Bowman says:

        That does make sense, and anyone who makes me dinner or any meal, come to think of it, is always welcome at my house, like, always, as an honoured guest!

        Your girls are so cute, one just like you and the other just (in appearance at the moment – I realise they change) like her dad.

    • Victoria says:

      I guess it depends on your or your child’s relationship with that person. If you like them and like spending time with them then it seems reasonable to keep inviting them. If presents or potluck types things are expected at your events and the person complies with this, but just doesn’t offer to host, then it doesn’t feel that there is an imbalance. I also think, especially for children’s parties, that you shouldn’t ‘punish’ (not quite what I mean but you get the idea) the child for the parent’s choices. Maybe they live in an extremely poor or abusive household (I didn’t get thrown a lot of parties for these reasons), or the parent is a bit weird (no offence to Frugalwoods!) or similar.

  2. Bill M says:

    Congratulations on your first fire!

  3. Mary in VA says:

    Your Toddler Ennui vignette was hilarious! It reminded me of The Borg in Star Trek.

  4. Jim Wang says:

    Ennui is such a great word!

    We tend to have small affairs for birthdays with our kids. We invite a few of their friends over, have a BBQ, and don’t do gifts. Our two oldest have August birthdays so the guest lists tend to be small with end-of-summer vacations but they don’t care. You’re 100% right in that they expect what you talk about. If you talk about a massive party, they want that. If you talk about a few friends, a cake, and fun – that’s what they want too.

  5. Emily says:

    Thanks For those parents who have started the big birthday party tradition, take it from me: you may be able to stop it or pull it back. For our son’s 3rd bday, we did a large kid party (still modest by our community’s standards, but all of his preschool class was invited) and it felt draining and incongruent with our values. The next year? Just family and cake and he loved it. We’ll do some friends parties in the future for him (or maybe choosing 2 or 3 friends for a special outing) but not every year and not in an obligatory way.

  6. Lori O in NC says:

    Question for you: do you also gift pickles? I ask because, even as a pickle lover, 34 quarts of pickles seems like a never-ending supply.

  7. Maureen says:

    I’ve never eaten apple butter and I’m wondering how you use it? I would imagine on toast but what else? Just curious.

    Happy Holidays from a native Texan. I love seeing your photos but am not geared fue cold weather! 🎄

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It’s basically like a not-super-sweet jam and is delicious! We mostly eat it on bread, but it’s also lovely on oatmeal.

      • Mary says:

        A cousin of ours who was more like an aunt/great aunt used to make grape butter. I haven’t had it since I was a child and I am now approaching retirement, but I can still remember the taste. I have a recipe for it and will make it one of these days.

  8. Sandy says:

    I enjoy your posts immensely! Our daughters are in their 40s so I relive their young years through your writing, I love it. Being raised in the 1970s our girls lived a simple life without all the extras that parents today assume their kids need. Yes we had wood heat, huge gardens, homemade celebrations with homemade decorations and colouring books and new crayons as gifts. You make me smile with warm fuzzies.

    I struggled with pie crust and tart shells until I discovered Tenderflake lard. I use the recipe on the box, fast and easy and have never had a fail again. I don’t know if this is a Canadian product only but I highly recommend it, light and fluffy.

    We will be enjoying a green Christmas in the southern Interior of British Columbia. Merry Christmas to your sweet family.

  9. Shannon says:

    I also have made that delicious cake! King Arthur Flour has amazing recipes. I also recommend their chocolate cupcakes, which I put cream cheese frosting on. Yummmmm

  10. Madison says:

    Happy Birthday KIdwoods. Wow how times flies. I loved the pictures of the kids. I will not let a photograph of me be taken. Not photogenic. I loved the pies. You made me hungry.. Would you leave your door unlocked?!! I want a few things of the shelves in your basement. Great article. Happy Holidays.

  11. Vicki F. says:

    So many wonderful preserves! If you’re not aware, it’s often advised to remove the rings once the jars have cooled and sealed, especially if you’re putting into long-term storage. The water bath canning process means water get trapped in the rings, and over time, the water sits there and rusts the rings – especially for canned pickles, which are in a salt brine! By removing them, you prevent the rust and can reuse the rings for years to come! Just pop the ring back on when you open the jar, or before you gift. 🙂

  12. Hannah says:

    Homesteading in Vermont sounds like a dream! Having grown up in a large family on a farm and being homeschooled, we were very frugal. It served me well. I grew up knowing how to work hard and appreciate the simple things in life. Not expecting or even wanting the grand and glorious. Actually, simple is grand and glorious, imo.
    Now I am a stay at home mom of 6 kids, living in a small town with a big garden out back. We have no choice but to be frugal. But it is hard sometimes. I don’t homeschool. My kids go to public school and they’re constantly comparing themselves and what they don’t have to their peers and what their peers do have. Especially my oldest who is 12. It’s a tough age anyways, but I believe that saying no to all their requests and what they think they “need” or “should have” is important. It will serve them well in the future. And my kids go gaga over garage sales and thrift stores. Lol

  13. Jan says:

    Toddler Ennui is real! And fires are wonderful…sigh. I miss having a woodstove, envious of yours. I found the key to building a good fire is to start small, stay small, and have lots of dry kindling on hand. I always had to restrain myself from adding the bigger pieces until it was good and going.
    Happy holidays!

  14. Suzette says:

    Congratulations on your first fire. I cook on top the wood stove a lot – bring water to a boil for pasta, simmer soup, etc.. I use apple butter on latkes and fritters – so delicious; I actually make mine in the crockpot. Have a wonderful Christmas, Frugalwoods!

  15. Hilary says:

    Would you be willing to post your pickle recipe? We try every year and they always end up tasting delicious, but are lackluster in the crunch department. I’d love to finally have some homemade pickles that are crunchy as well as tasty.
    Thanks!

  16. My method for starting a fire from scratch in my woodstove is a no fail method: one log horizontally in the back of the stove and one in the front, leaving a gap in the middle that gets filled with crumpled newspaper and kindling. A small log is then placed diagonally over the now-filled gap, and the whole thing lit. I also save toilet paper and paper towel rolls to use along with the newspaper….and if I’m out of kindling, I stuff a couple of pieces of fatwood into the rolls. Open the damper, and leave the door open a crack until it really gets going – works like a charm every time.

    My solar in comparison:
    November 2019 – 173.58 kwh
    July 2019 – 1102.17 kwh
    January 2019 – 86,207 wh

    I have 27 panels, which I had installed last November….and at this point I’m delighted to say that the electric company owes ME money!!

    Happy Holidays!

  17. Miriam Kearney says:

    Re the birthday party issue: Years ago when I was raising my kids I read a Betty Crocker book on Children’s parties. Even then, most of what the book contained did not resonate with – but her suggestion that a birthday party list should only have on it the same number of people as the child has years plus one. I used this guideline as my kids were growing (was a tad difficult when my twins turn 10 but we decided they could either have 2 parties at least 2 weeks apart or share the number of invites (they chose to share). Using the age=number of invitees isn’t just to keep the party small – it makes sense in terms of child development. Smaller children don’t do well in a large crowd but a four year can usually handle 5 people if they are chosen with care.

  18. Casey says:

    I love your monthly Homestead posts! November sounds like it was a good month, and my Type A heart is singing at that picture of your canned goods shelf (and spreadsheet)!
    Our birthday party policy is that our kids get to invite friends to their even-numbered birthdays (odd-numbered birthdays are family-only), and they get to invite as many friends as they are years old. Starting at age 4. So at age 4, a kid gets their first party-with-friends and they get to invite four friends. Age 5 is family-only, and at age 6 they get to invite 6 friends. We’ve actually only done this once as I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old. We had intended to just get together in the park down the street, but it snowed (late April) and so we moved it to our house. We wouldn’t have had room to host a big party in our house if he invited everyone in his preschool class! So far our community seems to be partial to casual parties and small gifts (for instance, a card with a cool sticker or a book), so this seems sustainable. We attended a six year old kid’s party at our neighborhood park a few weeks ago, and they supplied dollar store kites for each kid and a grocery store cake. The kids got tons of exercise and it was super low-key. I know the family lives in a very expensive house, so I am thankful that they didn’t have a keeping-up-with-the-Jones Pinterest Party.

  19. Annie R says:

    Congrats on food preservation! I live an urban life but there’s something so satisfying about watching jars and jars and jars of tomato sauce, pressure canned chicken broth, pressure canned chickpeas, jams, and other things stack up on my shelves. (Farmers market, not my own garden.) Sadly I don’t have the storage you have, so they are in the front closet and in boxes in the attached garage. But still. It’s fun in the winter to go “shopping” in the garage when I want to make spaghetti.

  20. Helen says:

    I avoided pastry making for many years. The breakthrough was using a food processor to mix the flour and butter. Just process until it looks mixed, then add your water/milk/egg slowly, until it binds. Job done. Now make edible pastry not tough bricks.
    I still find that sometimes the pastry is perfect, rolls out, doesn’t stick, other times sticks to everything.
    also I don’t really bother with resting it in the fridge, it always seems to hard to roll out afterwards.

  21. Glenna says:

    Toddler Ennui is so true. I have three toddler grandchildren. My husband and I are so happy when they stop by and also so happy when they go home! We love them dearly but oh my!!

  22. Jessica says:

    Thank you for starting the solar panel discussion (at least as far as I’m concerned!) I have the panels on my house now and an inspection scheduled for Friday. Soon after that I’ll be benefiting from our sun’s energy myself! Can’t wait 🙂

    Happy holidays!

  23. RG says:

    When you find a good pastry crust recipe it’s a game changer! I use one from the book United Tastes of America, the recipe is for a crust with crushed pecans in it, but it works great nutfree too. I found that my laziness about purchasing a pie crust was greater than the trouble of making a crust.
    Re parties we had a big one for our girl’s first birthday mostly because we wanted to celebrate that we’d all survived a year. We asked for no gifts but people brought some thoughtful ones anyway. We put on a big spread for folks of simple family friendly food. The plan had been for an afternoon in the park but instead we were all crammed in our flat because of bad weather. I have a very fond memory of the day. It’s as you wrote, it’s about intentionality and doing things as aligned with your values. I love entertaining and it’s an excuse to get together with friends. My kid is also very sociable. So friends, food, some music, good to go. Lots of folks here do goodie bags but that doesn’t sit well with me for the reasons you mention.

  24. Angela Meyer says:

    Happy Birthday Kidwoods! And I loved your thoughts on birthday parties. My daughter turns 3 after Christmas. Shes aware her birthday is after Christmas and that she will be 3. Her request? Cake and have everyone come over! (Everyine means my parents, my husband’s parents and my sister & her husband). We’re so happy that all she wants is to eat cake and spend time with family 🙂 This year I bought a cake pan shaped like Olaf and plan to surprise her with my homemade version of Olaf.

  25. Allison says:

    I agree that small parties are a good way to go for little kids! I also have a four year old. For his birthday, we had a small party with mostly family, plus some friends of ours who have a son who is 3. It was a nice way for him to have a friend at the party without going the invite-the-whole-class route.

  26. Dorothy Young says:

    “Permission to not do is granted by icy folds of white.”

    What a lovely sentence. Nicely done!

  27. Anne says:

    With your food preservation, you may want to consider rotating years to streamline your time. So every other year you do tomatoes, opposite years pickles or major apples, etc. That may be more efficient to batch than preserving many different things each year. As a plus, it would also help with crop rotation in your gardens.

    You may want to consider making a small “kitchen garden” nearer to the house that would have a little lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, etc that you could harvest as needed throughout the summer. Once you have recovered from your prolific chard harvest last year, you may find having 1-2 plants of arugula, chard, romaine etc near your kitchen is nice to have just for salads and stirfry.

  28. Caroline says:

    Congrats on your first fire!

  29. pauline says:

    I amazed how many quarts of food you canned! Also it’s great you are learning to make pies. I know your husband makes most of the everyday meals, but you can use the same crust to make pot pies if you would like to try making something yourself – they are not hard at all. I thoroughly enjoy reading about the kids adventures, your homesteading efforts, and, or course, how to live frugally. Merry Christmas!

  30. Karen says:

    Hi There, Toddler ennui quickly becomes Teenage angst, you are just gonna love it! Classic and gorgeous photos, thank you for sharing your lovely family and your writing talent with us.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    My fondest memories as a kid were the birthday parties and other celebrations with my siblings and cousins. My mom would make a cake, cook some burgers or pizza and we would play in the yard.it was the best! I think my own children missed out on this beautiful, simple way of celebrating. I tried to keep it simple but it was hard to keep up with moms who actually hired really ponies etc. Your girls are so lucky to have such amazing parents. Trust me, you are doing it right!!!

  32. Pawpaw says:

    My wood stove is in my basement resulting in a very tall chimney. This is our primary heat source. Starting a fire is a difficult task that can take a very long time. Keeping our modest sized Vermont Castings wood stove going 24/7 requires attention every four hours. Should there be a six hour lapse, you are basically starting a new fire. My son taught me to use a hair dryer to ignite the wood quickly. So now, we keep the hair dryer close by the wood stove. The hair dryer saves me a lot of time and frustration.

  33. KN says:

    Thanks for resharing your c section story. I delivered my baby boy through unplanned c section Tuesday morning and it’s been a bit overwhelming. But, I think I might be slowly on the mend and so far baby is healthy. I also love preserving food and I’m wondering when you’ll finally cave and get a pressure canner? We love ours. I just used it a few wks ago to can bone broth I’ll need for postpartum recovery.

    • Susan says:

      Congratulations and quick healing!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Congratulations!!! I’m sorry to hear that it was unplanned–it definitely is an overwhelming feeling. I’m so happy you’re both well and healthy! Congrats and my warmest wishes for this brand new chapter in your life.

      • KN says:

        Thanks! Even though it was a shocking delivery, and I spent a good chunk of the pregnancy afraid I would hate parenting after all and that I made a poor choice, I absolutely adore this time with my new son! I am seeing steps in my recovery process already and it hasn’t even been a week so I’m optimistic.

  34. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    This was a lovely Christmas time post! The boxes you save to store canned goods, is a time honored tradition. My grandmother, who canned mountains of every kind of food, always reused her canning jar boxes! I save mine also. Since California has done away with free grocery bags, I also take boxes in my car to stack food from the store. Easier to carry into the house, and it keeps stuff from rolling around in the car. I am an only child, so my birthday parties were always small and intimate affairs. Now, that is the type of setting I prefer. I’m so glad that the Kardashians weren’t around when I was young!

  35. haha I love how you caption the idyllic photos with how it actually went down. Great seeing posts about winter because at 41 degrees in Australia right now its good to think about how I can prepare for the cold to come. I just posted my final frugal spending post of the year, looking forward to your new year goals.

  36. Alcie says:

    Finally something to contribute! You are so competent and I learn so much here that I don’t usually have much to add. But I may have an answer for your fire woes. I wonder if something is wrong with your wood stove or chimney liner. Given the temps you have currently, the process you describe for starting a fire and the concept of Mr. FW spending an hour tending the fire strikes me as very odd. We also heat with wood using a modern engineered wood stove, and starting a fire is an easy and casual thing (5 min) we do between making tea and breakfast things. Presumably you have checked the chimney to be sure nothing is obstructed or partially occluded. However, it’s more likely that the issue is with the stove. I would suggest that at some point when you can let the fire go out and the stove cool down, you should clear out all the ashes and do some inspection with a flashlight to be sure all the air holes and channels are clear. A mirror can be helpful here as well. If your stove has had green wood burned in it at some point in its life, these can plug up and make the stove hard to light and use. When we first got our stove (used, of course), it had been used with green and wet wood (we saw the previous owner’s woodpile with no cover). It didn’t work well at first, until my husband got in there with a shop vac and a wire and cleared out all the air holes. Now it works like a champ and fire starting takes a few min and occasionally throughout the day we add in more wood. Clearing, cutting, splitting, and stacking wood take lots of time and effort. But the burning part should be easy.

  37. Cheryl says:

    We are still working out the food preservation plan. We froze blueberries and green beans. Canned tomato sauce, made pickles and salsa. As our orchard develops and we get more fruit, we are looking at freeze drying. The upfront costs are not cheap, but we can do more fruits, vegetables and even do eggs as one batch can handle six dozen eggs. The freeze dried berries can be eaten like candy as well as a few thrown into a muffin mix or added to oatmeal rather than having to use a whole bag from the freezer. Being we sell honey, there is also the idea of selling freeze dried fruits as part of the small business. Everything in our garden is organic, so I think there will be interested customers. And the nice thing about freeze dried foods is that they are an emergency food supply, they require no electricity like the foods in the freezer that can go bad in a power outage. As long as you have a water source and can make a fire, you can eat.

  38. Liz says:

    I’m now 55 and my parents were anti birthday party-they called them “bring me a present parties” But they threw a big bash complete with a piñata that we made ourselves each summer. Super fun and we didn’t feel we missed out on anything. Bravo for figuring out what works best for your family!

  39. Cindy in South says:

    I remember I had a birthday party at my house when I was five years old. My mom never hosted another one…..lol. For my own kids, I had a spend the night part for my daughter when she was in the 7th grade (her birthday is in June). We invited all the girls in her class, I made a cake from a mix, had hot dogs and chips, and they all swam in our above ground swimming pool. I don’t recall any presents, but there may have been some. A lot of her friends were poor, and really, she just wanted the company. My three sons would occasionally have a friend over to spend the night for their birthday, I would again make a cake from a mix, and have hot dogs and chips. I would usually give them the option of having a party or did they want an x box or play station (when they were teens). It was also the game system. They used those systems, almost every day, so I didn’t feel bad about spending the money on that. I don’t recall any of the friends of the boys bringing a present. Again, It just wasn’t expected, because a lot of their friends were poor, and their families were struggling. This was about 18 years ago, in the early 2000’s. We have never been party people. We don’t celebrate with big weddings, Christmas, graduations, etc.

  40. Katie Camel says:

    I wish my brother and sister-in-law had instilled equally simple birthday traditions as you have. It’d make them much more enjoyable and affordable! It’s tough when the kids around you have blow-out parties, I guess. I’m childfree, but I still don’t understand the need so many have for such huge birthday parties, particularly for babies! Oh well.

    Love the pictures and congratulations on the pies! They look delicious, though pie baking is NOT a skill I need to acquire (I just downed more cake, cookies, cannoli, and brownies than I care to admit at our holiday party luncheon).

  41. P says:

    I am curious about the wooden heating. We heat the ground floor of our house in Europe with a fairly modern wooden stove/oven and I must say it is extremely easy. Light a fire (using a fire starter for wooden stoves made from wood and wax). Close and turn on the air flow, and as soon as the flames have died down, shut the air flow and let the embers first heat up the oven and then the oven heats the rooms. I had no further experience with lighting fires and it is really as simple as explained in the manufacturer´s tutorial. Ok, maybe I sometimes need two fire starters. Now I am curious to understand why your wooden stove, which I understand to be very efficient and modern as well, is so complicated. As you seem to heat the whole house, maybe the system is more complex? I would greatly appreciate an update on your heating the house with wood.

  42. steveark says:

    Awesomely cute passive aggressive kid photo. Ironically they are incredibly cute while trying not to be cute! Your making your first fire reminded me of my wife’s and my recent fire adventure. After a lifetime of day hikes we did our first overnight backpacking hike and when we set up camp in the middle of nowhere we built a fire. It had rained for days and all the wood was soaked but my industrious wife broke open some big pine limbs and found some semi dry wood and got a fire going that had promise, and then the sky opened up a Biblical flood and we had to crawl into the tent where we stayed for the next thirteen hours, with no fire! Anyway, Merry Christmas and thanks for all the wonderful posts this year!

  43. JD says:

    I loved the post. I’m in Florida, so the snow is making me wistful.
    Pie crusts — they get easier, they do. Now that you are starting to get the knack, double the recipe, roll out all the crusts, put them between waxed paper and freeze them. Next time you need a pie, your crust is ready. Pull one out, let it thaw, and proceed.
    Parties — I kept my kids’ parties simple, too. I would invite a small group of their friends and would make or buy the cake, depending on my time crunch. We have a local park with a playground and parties are allowed there, so that site was used a few times. I also set up a little “scavenger hunt” for one party, did a water slide (with sheet plastic and garden hoses) once, had movies and sleepovers several times, and once had a hayride with hot dogs and cupcakes afterward. I let the kids know that at a certain age, the “real” parties stopped, and after that it would be a select couple of friends for a sleepover or something very simple like just our family. I didn’t ever go in for those over-the-top goodie bags to hand to each guest.
    Growing up, my parents gave us a party with friends at ages 6, 12 and 18. They had multiple kids and little funds, so that was what we got. All other celebrations were cake and family. Since my birthday was very close to my grandmother’s, I sometimes shared a birthday gathering and cake with her. You know what? I didn’t mind!

  44. Margie says:

    The term “half pint” made me giggle. Where I grew up it was a nickname for particularly small kids. In cooking, I don’t think I’d ever seen a half of a pint called anything but a cup.

  45. B says:

    I love hearing about your canning. *Canning dreams* for me. I also loved your take on birthday parties. We haven’t done a ‘big’ birthday party for our boys (aged 4 and 2). We just have a wonderful family day out and have cake with the grandparents. The boys have had a wonderful time each time and haven’t asked for friends to be there. The day that they ask me for friends to be there is the day that we will have one! I love keeping it simple, it also means we get a whole lot of relaxed, one-on-one time with the birthday child, which is really important.

  46. Victoria says:

    I learned to make fires around 11/12 as my mum and I lived in the middle of nowhere with no heating and no insulation. She got home much later than I did so I had to make fires or stay cold!
    I still make them now occasionally although we don’t have open fires in our house. I remember a couple of years ago lighting a bbq with basic paper and scavenged bits of kindling and the men were so upset that I’d managed it that they insisting on dumping a ton of charcoal and fire lighters on it to prove they could do it in a manly way!
    Lighting a fire is a great life skill, like being able to change a tyre or use a drill and hammer, so highly recommend building these skills into a child’s education 🙂

  47. Matthew says:

    Toddler ennui reminds me of an MFA work by Sargent:

    https://collections.mfa.org/objects/31782

  48. Beth says:

    It’s birthday time! Another step forward in the cycle of life. You might try a little reverse Psychiatry next photo session. And before you take a picture, instruct the children you want to take a different kind of picture today… They are NOT supposed to look at the camera at all, and definately not smile. You just might get to capture their charming grins. 🙂

  49. HayHay says:

    We’ve found that there’s quite a big deal around birthdays when they are 5 & 6, seems big parties are the norm. However from age 7 onwards it’s more of a few friends round for a play date or meeting up at a local childrens entertainment attraction, such as trampoling or soft play. We’ve just done a trampoliing session at our local centre for our son’s 8th birthday – 10 kids on a 2 for 1 night with free pizza! Cost us £50 all in & we said it was a play date party so no goody bags or birthday cake etc. Everyone enjoyed it and the kids were exhausted after….I’ve been to dedictated birthday parties at the same venue that were a lot more expensive & less fun (making the children stop trampoliing to go eat sandwiches & cake in a separate room is not what they want to do…).

  50. Renee says:

    Congrats on your first fire!

  51. Andrea says:

    Great comments on the kid’s birthday party – I completely agree. My sons had their first party when they each turned 5, and while we invited all the kids in their pre-school classes it was still a party at home, with simple games, food, and lots of time to just run around and play. We went a little smaller for 6 and 7 and by 8 and 9 they were ready for sleepovers. They’re in high school now and their friends still talk about the sleepovers. Simple on my part – pizza, cake, popcorn and a movie – but seven or eight little boys lined up in sleeping bags on my living room floor was guaranteed to be a good time. Good memories.

  52. Isa says:

    Good for you on not giving in to big birthday bash for the kids. My kids are 10 and 7 and I’m slowly getting out of those… My own damn fault! I hate entertaining kids (other than mine) with a passion, so their birthdays were always somewhere where they take charge of the event, and this comes with a price tag…. Then we add the party favor because this is what you do here, to not look “cheap”. I’ve been doing this for 7 years or so, times 2, I adds up (and it’s stressful!!). Starting over, I *think* I would keep the birthdays a family thing. But then again, you want your kids to have friends, and this is one easy way to encourage it…. My 10 yo is FINALLY having a birthday at home next week because I feel like she can manage it (a.k.a not having to organize and animate games). Let’s see how it goes, 8 girls for a sleepover….!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *