This Month On The Homestead: Starting Fires, Baking Pies, and Celebrating a Birthday
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
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|
|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.
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”
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
Want More Fotos?!
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.
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How was your November?
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