posts tagged with 'homesteading'

holiday beer

an empty

this one didn't last long undrunk

Leah's new project for the holiday season was soap; mine was beer. She had the harder task, though, since she did all the reading and collecting of ingredients by herself. Me, I just tagged along with our friend Luke to the homebrew store to pick up a kit and brewed it up in borrowed buckets. Still, I take some pleasure in the achievement.

The beer came out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. Good enough that I didn't mind handing some out as a present to various relatives. Of course, to give anything away I have to design packaging for it—I'm as much about packaging as I am about content, you should know. For this, a Christmastime brown ale, I couldn't do anything but go with the words of the song, and then find a picture to match.

Luckily I have a few friends who share my enjoyment of old-timey carols, so I wasn't forced to keep the joke entirely to myself.

There will probably be more beer-making in our future, especially once we get used to drinking what's left of this batch and then run out of it. Despite the suggestion of both Luke and my brother, though, I think it'll be a little while before we start growing our own hops.



As intentional homesteaders (translation: crazy people) Dan and I each have a short-list of skills we'd like to learn. Mine includes such things as basket weaving, bee keeping, and scavenging for edible mushrooms. But high on the list this past year was making soap. What kind of a homestead are you if you can't make your own soap?

soap raw on the table

i made this.

The first step to soap making, if you're me, is to take several months to psyche yourself up. There's a list of things to gather: safety goggles, rubber gloves, spatula, whisk, stainless pot and a wooden box. Then there's locating the oils (coconut is sold at Whole Foods, palm oil nowhere I can find except online) and the dreaded sodium hydroxide. All this is to get you to ask yourself over and over again, "Do you really want to make soap? Really? Are you sure? Don't you know you can BUY soap instead?"

Soap making and children do not mix, unfortunately. Almost as much as soap an children refuse to mix, ha ha ha! No, but really, soap making is an activity to do only while the children sleep soundly AND there is back-up parental coverage, for two reasons. One, the children can't be around the lye, and two, the soap solution needs constant stirring for 15-30 minutes, and seriously I can't leave to check on the baby for one second or I've wasted $20 worth of ingredients.

So there were several nights of very cautious chemistry, and a month later I ended up with two big batches of soap.

all the soap in its box

all wrapped up and ready to go

I felt very fancy indeed wrapping the bars in tissue paper and sealing them with the beautiful labels Dan made. Unfortunately the big wow of "You made soap!" was lost on my friends who have all known for months that I've been working up to this soap thing. I guess I'm bad at keeping secrets. Only my Dad was pleasantly surprised, and asked more scientific questions than I was able to answer (Der, you stir it up an it becomes soap. Der.)

soap labels

when are you opening up a dry goods store? asks my father

We've been using the soap in our bathroom since last week and it's VERY soapy. It's like if you washed your hands with soap and then put moisturizer on them immediately after. Not to say that's bad, but it's rather surprising. I don't want to call it a "soap scum" but I will say that the oils stay clinging to your hand in a way that's lovely if you want to feel moisturized and irritating if you want to feel sterilized. Oh well, it's homemade. Next year... baskets.


bad farming weather, good farming climate

They say that snow is the poor man's fertilizer, and this past weekend we saw the truth of that—but unfortunately it was from the wrong side of the argument. It was a low-snow winter here in Eastern Massachusetts, so our snow's been gone from the garden for a couple weeks. Over the last three days we got socked with a rainy nor'easter, which, instead of dropping a couple (or eight or ten) feet of insulating snow that would slowly melt into the soil, spent 60 hours lashing us with rain. Floods, soil loss due to runoff, soil nutrients washed away... oh woe! Not to mention, of course, our flooded basement.

Still, it's sunny now and warming up quickly, and the daffodil shoots are already three inches tall. And talk of gardening is popping up all over the internet—and not just gardening, but the sort of real lifestyle changes that go under the heading "urban homesteading". Or, of course, suburban homesteading. Folks are writing about starting seeds, preserving food, living locally and sustainably... even dropping out of the rat race to raise chickens!

Alright, so that last link from the New York Times Magazine isn't so good. Not only are the folks at the Times are a little slow in acknowledging the "Radical Homemaker" movement, they're pretty classist and dismissive in their presentation ("highly educated women"? Times needs to make sure we don't think these folks are plain old hicks). But hey, there are real people who want to have chickens—not to mention gardens and pantries full of homemade preserves—and I think that's pretty cool!

[Edit to add one more garden-starting blog post.]


suburban homesteading

There's all kinds of talk about urban homesteading, which is apparently all the rage in LA, but what about those of us stuck in the suburbs? The cold, northern suburbs at that? Well, there is, but it, um, doesn't seem to have much content—perhaps it's actually an art piece about the sterility of the suburban existence.

Well, our suburbs aren't sterile! Tom and Nelly visited from the country, and we were able to send them away with a home-grown lettuce and a home-baked loaf of bread. It's still early days, of course, but we're doing respectably. We have to stay hard at work, though, if for no other reason than to stay ahead of the neighbors! Almost everyone in the neighborhood has been hard at work in the vegetable garden this year (well, for varying definitions of hard), and our neighbor next-door was even talking about getting chickens or even a goat. No fair! That was our idea! If we ever do get any of those critters we'll be sure to brag about it on the internet, to let those urban-dwellers know that they don't have all of the action.

I also hear that people occasionally grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural areas. Nobody seems to care about that on the internet, though.