My Amazing Mentor



Now, I feel like every homesteader has dreams.  And I don’t mean those of us who actually have a homestead now, big or small. Those are a given.  There is always something else that needs doing, another thing you want to add or change.  But I mean the dreams we all had before we even got to the owning of the land or having our hands in the dirt.  My dreams started way back when I was about 10 years old.  I was a completely horse-obsessed kid who lived and breathed horses.  My parents will attest to that.  Besides our dog Brandy, horses were about the only thing I cared to devote my time to.  Now, we were not wealthy when I was a child (not that we are now, either!), and I was on my own to make the horse dreams a reality for myself.  I spent most of my waking hours when I wasn’t in school hanging around a local boarding farm.  This farm was run by an elderly man, and consequently most of the boarders chipped in and helped with all the chores as there were usually upwards of 40 horses at a time in residence there.  Thing is, I wasn’t a boarder then because I could not afford to lease or own my own horse.  So, I just hung around and worked my tail off, and learned invaluable skills…for years-before I was actually able to have a horse I could identify as “mine”.  By the grace of God and some people who perhaps saw my ambition, I was given the opportunity to ride a string of horses that other boarders owned.  The first one belonged to my sister’s best friend who had outgrown her large pony and since the pony was idle, she asked if I wanted to ride her and take care of her.  That was the beginning of the best years of my young life.  I was about 13 then.  Lucky, or Lucky Strikes Again was her show name. I took good care of her, rode her almost daily, showed her and learned an amazing amount in the time I was able to have Lucky in my life.  Her owner maybe never knew what a gift that was to me, and I still tear up when I think about it.


Little me, about 4 years old,  climbing up to save my much older sister from the killer goat at the petting zoo.  This picture makes me laugh right out loud EVERY time I see it.


Fast forward a couple of years and I was finally able to free lease a horse that would be considered mine until the owners wanted her back.  She was a lovely Morgan named Dixie, Ebony’s Dixie Bell.  I loved this horse to the moon and back, and it broke my heart to have to give her back once the owners were able to care for her again.  But, for two years I had her all to myself, riding, showing, caring for her and also paying all her bills.  During that time, I worked a job 7 nights a week as a janitor at a luncheonette restaurant.  From 9pm-1am, I cleaned the place to be ready for the next day.  Needless to say after school, then going to the barn to care for not just my horse but many others that needed to be fed and watered and let in from the fields every day.  Then riding, then home to shower and off to work…this was just about every day of my life for two years.  No one could ever accuse me of being a slacker or lazy as a kid, that’s for sure!  But I knew if I wanted to keep Dixie in my life, I needed to do what must be done.


When I initially got her, I was able to board her at my mother’s best friends’ homestead.  This just happened to be the mother and father of the person who owned the pony, Lucky.  They did not keep their horses at their homestead at that time.  Lois was her mother’s name, she was a really cool person.  She was a true homesteader, raising a huge garden and animals for food and canning jars upon jars of food every summer for her family, which included 5 members total.  I got my homesteading bug from her.  I do believe she recognized in me an interest in what she was doing, and she took me under her wing so to speak and showed me all the finer points of her homestead.  I picked snow peas, many bushels, under the hot summer sun, I cleaned the barns, I helped plant the gardens, they had very large gardens.  In my duties I also cared for the sheep and goats they had and the chickens along with my horse.  She taught me things that no one else had ever introduced me to in life and I took to it like a duck to water.  She showed me how to grab a goat by the horns so they wouldn’t knock you on your butt getting them into the milking stand, how to snatch that bucket just in time out from under the udder of a feisty goat who was not interested in being milked,  and how to put the grain scoop over the broody chickens head while you clean the eggs out from under her so she wouldn’t peck you to bloody. She showed me how to gut and clean a chicken for the freezer. I skinned the bark off of many, many logs turned fence posts that needed stripping so they could go in the ground, also learning the best way to stack firewood that her husband brought in from the surrounding woods.  And I learned how to can, so many jars of potatoes and carrots and beans and beets and pickles,  rows upon rows of them. She taught me how to pick an apple so you wouldn’t damage the branch for the following year’s blossoming.  And on the days she needed a break from their homestead, she took me to old abandoned homesteads and we dug for old bottles together.  During these hikes to old places, she taught me to bop a bear in the nose as hard as I could (their most sensitive place) if I met one while digging bottles or picking berries.  Lois was the mentor in my life who ignited that homesteader in me at such a young age.  She never had a cross thing to say to me, if I needed correcting in my methods, she just showed me the right way to do things, always a patient teacher and with a wonderful sense of humor to boot.


I have Lois to thank for the homesteading skills that were ignited then and blossom now.  I have so much to learn still when it comes to all aspects of homesteading, but I believe she would be proud of me. I also think she would be happy to know she played such an important role in this formerly young girl’s ability to find joy in the genuine and honest life of homesteading.  I now pass that knowledge along to others when I’m able.  You can’t short cut homesteading or it will bite you in the butt.  You have to care for beings besides yourself, before yourself, on many a day.  It is very long, hard days of very sweaty work, but the rewards are completely priceless.  No money can buy the sense of honor and satisfaction you get from a day you have spent getting utterly filthy on the homestead producing food that will feed the mouths and souls of your family.  It was a great way to grow up for this kid, and though I’m not able to instill that in my boys who have very little interest in anything to do with homesteading, I hope they will find the mentor in their lives that will be what Lois was to me.  Mentors are God’s blessings in our lives, a true gift to us. That’s a gift you can’t repay, and Lois never would have wanted me to anyway.  Because that’s the kind of woman she was.  Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, but she lived that honest life right to her very end.  I like to think that made her heart happy because I know she treasured her family and her home place most of all.

I ended up going back to the boarding farm after about a year of having my horse at Lois’ house.  Mostly because I was 14 and missed the friends I had at the barn.  They were very dear to me, and I had a lot of fun adventures with them before leaving when I got Dixie.  I continued to have many more with them after she took her stall at the stable.  Though I thanked Lois and her husband Rick for letting me keep my horse at their place, I didn’t fully appreciate what that time meant to me until I was much older and now I can look back on it with the proper awe and thankfulness that I was too immature to have had back then.

How about you?  How did you begin getting the bug for homesteading?  And if you had a fantastic mentor in your life, have you ever just thought about how amazing that was for the course of your life?  Even if you don’t homestead (I know I’m the only one in my extended family who does, but many of you read this little diatribe), how did that mentor change your life?  And have you been given the gift of the chance to pass along that knowledge to others?  It’s an amazing feeling knowing that when I taught my friend to can a few years ago, I was connecting to Lois at that moment from almost 30 years before.  So, thank you again, Lois, for the gift of knowledge, your time, attention and mostly love.  I promise,  I pay it forward.

Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.


Heat, Window Boxes and Soup!


Isn’t this the cutest window box you’ve ever seen?  I just loved it!  This was captured last year on Nantucket Island.  My husband and I celebrated our 15th anniversary there with a long weekend getaway.  We had never been there and I completely fell in love with the picturesque village. It was low on tourists being in October, and the atmosphere was welcoming and the people warm and friendly.  One afternoon my husband, who is a craft beer officienado, wanted to tour the brewery on Nantucket, Cisco Brewery.  He is a beer geek, makes his own and loves to see how others do this and taste different beers.  No mass quantities of Bud Light for this guy!  He savors and makes last each beer he gets. I am not quite as enamored with beer, don’t drink it, don’t like it (though he can attest I sure know enough about it to buy the stuff he would like, and I actually get giddy when I find one I know he hasn’t tried yet.  But this has more to do with surprising my husband with something I know he will enjoy then the actual beer itself).

While he was off touring the brewery for the afternoon, I went on a walking tour of the village.  A self guided window box tour, if you will.  I took over 50 pictures of different window boxes in the village. I want to add window boxes to our little Cape Cod style home, so I notice them more then the average person might. They do the most amazing job of decorating them, so many wonderful ideas and pride in their little village is obvious.  There are also many flower pots and barrels filled with flowers for the places that can’t have window boxes.  It was a wonderful time of year to be there, and made me excited for someday returning when the town is lit for Christmas.  From what the locals told us, they really do it up for Christmas time! Perhaps next year we would be able to squeeze that trip in as a family.  I would love to show the boys the island, too.

Okay, back to the homestead news.  Michael spent some hours under the house in the two feet deep (no, not kidding, that’s all it is) crawlspace trying to get the new ducts connected and get some heat in our little abode.  We had a couple of nights in the thirties this week and so it was pretty necessary for him to do it sooner then later.  Now, my hubby is a very good sport most of the time when it comes to the renovation stuff.  However, this dirt crawl space that was barely deep enough for him to be on his side inching into it, was more then he could handle with grace.  He also has some claustrophobia in tight spaces, who doesn’t, right?, and this coupled with the flexible duct work not cooperating as well as it could in spaces where it barely fit…well…let’s just say this. There was a cloud of swears hovering over the house for some time.  I felt so bad for him down there in the netherworld, trying to breathe through the respirator mask, crammed where he shouldn’t need to be.  Discouraging for him for sure.  Old houses have their charms- dirt crawlspaces, I assure you, aren’t one of them!  But, hero to us that he is, he got the heat on in the majority of the house.  The great room and our bedroom are still not getting heat, but he needs to remove a lot of rocks to be able to get under that space as it is also crawl space that is not accessible from the actual basement. There is a small hole going through the foundation of the main house to allow the duct work through, but for some reason, the heat isn’t getting that far.  He’s going to need to get to that sooner then later, but I was thankful for the main part of the house to get heat as it includes the boys’ bedrooms, so they have been toasty warm in the chilly mornings so far.


As fall arrives, I also get a hankering for soup.  I make a lot of soup in the fall and winter, it is warming, comforting and delicious.  I enjoy making it and really enjoy eating it, usually with an accompanying bread of some kind.  The above soup was a new recipe that I tried.  Having tried butternut squash soup, I wanted to give other squash soup a try as well.  This one was made with a base broth of mushrooms and Kombu seaweed, and then added the squash and some miso along with fresh grated ginger root to finish the flavors, pureed it and served with toasted spinach tortillas sprinkled with chili and garlic powders. It was the perfect brisk night meal and everyone loved it.  I wasn’t sure how well the miso would go over, but I knew the family would like the kombu and mushroom broth.  My husband is not a mushroom fan, but if I hide it in broth, he likes the flavor, just not the consistency of mushrooms.  I, myself, very much enjoy mushrooms of any kind.  I was a vegetarian for 5 years in my younger days, and I was able to successfully replace meat and the cravings for it with mushrooms.  They are substantial and chewy just like meat and that worked for me. I am sensitive to most soy protein replacements, they make me nauseous, so mushrooms were the key to successful vegetarian living for me.  This soup called for finishing it with sauted mushrooms, which I left out of my husband’s bowl, but they were wonderful with the soup itself.


The soup called for kombucha squash, which locally here is called “Sunshine Squash”.  Do you have sunshine squash in your area or is it called something else?  This one was grown by local farmers and I purchased at their farm stand. Isn’t it gorgeous inside?  I believe the sunshine squash is aptly named, the flesh of the squash is bright and the flavor clean.  It was great in the soup, but I have also grilled this and roasted in the oven as well as chunking for canning and serving mashed, like most people enjoy butternut squash.  It is a little sweeter then butternut and has a deeper flavor to me, quite delicious!  It pares well with chicken or beef as well as holding its own with whole grains or other vegetables.  If you’ve not tried it and can find some locally, I recommend you give it a try!


I have also been busy canning lots of good stuff.  I got apples free from a friend of mine who’s neighbor’s tree had more then she could use on it.  She offered to let me go pick with her and so I did. Nothing like free food for the larder!  We have quite a few apple trees in our area, so finding some isn’t all that hard, just getting permission to pick them is a great way to go about getting free stuff for the family.  I was able to save about $25.00 in apples by picking them on her tree, plus they are organic, which is hard to find in our area.  I don’t care if I have to cut out a bad spot or some insect damage here or there, to have the organic apples to put by is wonderful.  I also ran out of most of my canned beans, we eat a lot of beans here, so I did lots of kidney and pinto beans for chili and I still have black beans and more chick peas to do as well.  I was finally able to find organic potatoes, I have been looking for a long time this year!  Someone tipped me onto a small farm stand here in our community and the owner has lots of smaller organic potatoes.  So, I canned 10 pounds last week, and have 20 more pounds to get to.  I am officially completely out of space for storing our food, it’s now stacking on the countertop in the kitchen as I need to prioritize getting some shelving up on the kitchen for storing these.


DSC_0197Ah well, soon enough we’ll be in the house all winter, and more projects will get accomplished.  Right now, I’ve been enjoying having the wonderful weather outside with the beautiful autumn foliage as our backdrop.  What have you been up to on your homestead?  How are you preparing for the upcoming winter?  Hopefully it will be a short season for us, but the trees are telling us its gonna be a long, hard one.  They are providing food in earnest for the wildlife with very abundant pinecones and acorns right now.  Amazing how nature knows!!

Until next time, be well, be kind to one another and blessing to you all!