A Wannabe Homesteader, by Brenda K.

Some of my long-time friends can’t believe me now.  I was definitely a “city girl,” but now I’m a “wannabe homesteader.”  We’re living in the country now and I’m having fun learning to do a lot of “new” things.  Some of these things are just ordinary, every-day chores for people who grew up on farms, but for me, it’s a whole new way of life.  I’ve really enjoyed making butter and yogurt from the fresh milk we buy from the local Amish.  The first day I bought a gallon of milk from them, I told them I’d never had fresh milk before and the look on the young man’s face was priceless!  He couldn’t believe it.  Making laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent is saving us money, too – and it’s fun for me.  Something else that’s saving us a ton of money is heating with firewood.  Cutting firewood is something my husband and I do together several times a week and we really feel like a team, working our land together.  Working out in the timber, I feel so blessed that God gave us all those resources to help us.

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in the Ozarks and fell in love with the area.  A friend had found a very nice, reasonable mobile home near a big lake to use as a cabin.  We told him if he heard of another good deal to let us know and it wasn’t too long and we had our own “lake cabin.”   We lived in a major city in the Midwest and had high pressure jobs, so it was really good to get away as often as we could.  We enjoyed our lake cabin for a few years, but we both knew eventually we’d want to have an acreage with lots of trees and some kind of water like a pond or creek.  I was always watching the real estate ads and found an interesting acreage listed.  We called the realtor to get directions to view the property.  She was very nice and offered to meet us there, but we said no, we just wanted to take a look.  The directions were from the south end of town and we started from the north end, so the mileage was off and we had trouble finding it.  We stopped at a farmhouse to ask directions and after visiting awhile, discovered the man’s grandfather and my husband’s grandfather were brothers!  We really hadn’t thought of it, but my father-in-law was born in the area and moved away while in his teens and then his father moved the rest of the family later.  We didn’t even think about possibly having relatives in the area.

My husband started having health problems in 2008 and was in the hospital five times in three months.  In 2009 I had surgery for melanoma and had a second surgery in 2010 which turned out to be benign. (Praise God!).  We decided it was time to make the move, so as soon as we could get our house sold, we were heading down!  Our house was an old farmhouse I bought before we were married.  My dad helped me do a lot of repair when I bought it (because it was a dump!)  He was a contractor for over 50 years, so his help was greatly appreciated.  Later on we did more improvements, like aluminum siding, building an additional shed, an additional driveway, etc., but I wished we’d kept on doing little improvements and updating through the years.  When we were getting it ready to go on the market, we had so much work to do, it was overwhelming.  Our retired friend Jim, who had worked in construction for many years, offered to help us and I don’t know what we would’ve done without him!  The house was finally listed August 1, 2010 and we made a deal with prospective buyers on August 30th.  The deal fell through, but with much negotiation, had another deal with the same people towards the end of September and we closed on November 2.  Our last day at work was October 28.  We signed the paperwork at the title company ahead of time, so we were already enjoying a little time in Missouri, to celebrate.

It was several months before we actually felt like we actually lived at the acreage, instead of vacationing.  Part of that was due to several little trips we took within that first year.  I’ve told several people that feeling like you’re always on vacation, is not a bad problem to have!  My husband says retirement is a good job, if you can get it.  The only way our life could be any better, is if we had more money.

In the late winter and early spring, I started some seeds for the first time and boy, did I have fun!  My plan was for container gardening since the soil is very rocky and has a high clay content.  Unfortunately, there was a terrible hail storm while my plants were sitting out on the deck hardening off and they were hit hard – literally!  A neighbor down the road received $19,000 in hail damage and the people across the road from him had $25,000 damage.  We are ¾ mile from them and we had our roof checked out and the roofer said he only saw three dings!  Later our neighbor said he thought he saw damage on our roof, just while standing on our driveway, so we had another roofer check it out.  He said he saw a couple places where it’d be good to pound down a couple nails and caulk, but that was all.

I had a big container garden to try out a lot of different plants to see what I’d prefer.  According to many long-time gardeners, I picked the wrong summer to try gardening for the first time!  People that had gardened for 50 years were not very successful that year, so it’s no wonder my gardening efforts were pretty much a flop.  With the extensive heat wave and the “varmints,” I didn’t have much to show for my efforts.  I learned a lot. One of the lessons was to do a better job of fertilizing!

I was looking forward to canning bushels of produce from my garden, but that was not to be.  Even without a successful garden, a friend was church taught me how to can and I’ve canned peaches, apples, apple butter, loose meat hamburger, meatloaf, chicken, chicken soup, ham, bacon, navy beans and beans with bacon.  I’ve also had fun “vacuum canning” dry goods like pasta, rice, beans, sugar, salt, etc.

I had hoped to invest in solar power, but we just didn’t have the money for it.  We have a Hardy brand outdoor wood burning stove to heat the house and the water.  We love it!  Since we have a double wide mobile home, we weren’t able to “plan” any of the construction details, like insulation, windows, etc., so we try our best to be frugal and conserve energy.  I’m extremely frugal anyway, so it’s kind of a challenge to see how little electricity we can use during the month.  I keep track of the actual usage – not counting the connectivity fee or tax.  The lowest we’ve used is $29 for the month.  We’ve had a couple $29 months and a $30 month.  It was harder when we had the heat wave last summer.  I think the highest was $77, so after the fee and tax it was almost $95.  That month some friends had a bill of over $300, but they have a two story stick-built home.

In past years, there have been some serious winter storms with some areas being without power for more than two weeks.  After experiencing a terrible storm several years back and being without power for a few days, we wanted to do the planning and prep work to be able to sustain power for our home during an emergency power outage.  We have two generators – a small one and a new larger one.  We had a licensed electrician come and figure the best way to avoid trouble.  Now if there’s an outage, we’ll throw a power transfer switch and plug in the generators and we should be okay.  The smaller generator will service the water pump and larger one will be for the house.  We still have to go through and identify the primary circuits we want to power during an outage.  It feels good to prepare as well as we can to avoid trouble.  We have built up a reserve of gasoline and have treated it with stabilizer to keep it good.

I believe that everyone needs to prepare as much as possible for other types of emergencies as well.  Last year we installed a storm shelter and I’ve been putting supplies in the shelter.  It’s pretty small, so I’m being selective about what to put in there.  The devastation of the Joplin tornado gives cause for reflection and inspiration to stock our shelter well.

An economic emergency is something else I think people should consider.  The state of our government is a big cause for worry for many people – including me.  It wouldn’t take much to disrupt our normal distribution system, which could mean that the grocery stores would be empty within a few days or maybe even a few hours.  I believe it is very, very important to keep that in mind.  Too many people only have enough food and other supplies for a few days or weeks.  A friend of mine told me her son and daughter-in-law in New York shop for their groceries daily.  Their apartment is so small that they don’t stock any groceries.  Apparently, that’s common in New York – yet another reason why I prefer to live in the Midwest.  In case of any kind of disaster, there would be a whole lot of hungry people in that big city!  Imagine the unethical people thinking they’d just take what they need from others.  I think everyone should be building up their supply reserve – even if it’s just a little at a time.  When you’re grocery shopping, try to prioritize so that you can buy a little extra of the basics that will store long term.  Space is an issue for many people, but what I’ve found is, the more you look around and the more you organize, the more space you can find.  It also inspires me to get rid of excess “stuff” and ours goes to a thrift store that benefits the Humane Society–one of my passions!  The more you prepare, the more peace and security you will have – regardless of what’s going on in the news.

Thinking of the evil people who were too lazy to prepare and thought they’d just take what they want reminded me of something I heard a few weeks ago.  We’ve been attending some readiness meetings put on by a discount grocery business that specializes in helping people prepare for emergencies.  A man in attendance said he has a bumper sticker on his truck that says “Don’t tread on me.”  A young guy at a gas station asked him where he got it and he told him.  The man was suggesting that he start preparing for difficult times.  That young guy said he didn’t have to prepare – that he and his ex-military buddies would just take whatever they wanted from others.  He said they could go into anyone’s place and just take what they want.  That was right here in our little (ostensible "safe") town!  One year in the 1990s our town was voted the safest city (per capita) in the nation.  Something else that some of my long-time friends probably would be shocked at, is one of the ways we chose to prepare.  Both my husband and I decided it was wisdom to get our concealed carry permits.  The world is changing – and not for the good!  I truly believe we have to be prepared for all kinds of trouble.

I don’t know your religious beliefs, but I believe that my husband and I were being led to prepare.  Our preparing isn’t like some people, with bomb shelters or the like.  That could be due to financial lack, but I like to think it’s more the path of our leading.  I felt that we were being led to “prepare for difficult times.”  I believe that God has been leading many more of His people to also "prepare for difficult times."  Part of His plan may be to have certain people strategically placed so that they can help others.  I’ve known for several years that part of my calling is to help others – this may be one of the ways.  The friend at church who taught me to pressure can foods at home also feels that she may be called upon to share her reserves with her church family.  That’s why she and I both have been packaging some of our long-term storage into smaller containers – in case we need to share a quart or two of beans and rice or whatever with our friends and neighbors.  If everyone will prepare with the thought of sharing with friends, relatives and other people in need, then those difficult times may be a little easier! 

I want to encourage people – everyone – to prepare.  A little at a time, can by can, jar by jar – week by week, and month by month. Before long you could stand back and admire your “investment” in peace and security.  If an ignorant “city girl” like me can learn how to make butter and yogurt, to can all kinds of food, to make her laundry and dish soap, to help cut firewood almost daily – and to actually enjoy it, then anyone can learn the skills necessary to start on the road to self-sufficiency!