Stacy Artis

On Clover Hill in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Re-Learning the Homesteading way to make life better in the Suburbs today

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       I come from a long line of homesteaders, though I didn't realize it until recent years.  It was just the way my family was.
       My grandparents, known as Pappy and Nana to nearly everyone, built their home on three wooded acres using lumber salvaged from homes and other buildings my carpenter grandfather dismantled.  They completed one room at a time as they had money and materials.  They took on no debt and when they were finished they had a lovely 4-bedroom Cape Cod.  Also on the property were a large woodworking shop and sawmill.  They raised a large garden every year and canned most of what they grew.  Wild raspberries, strawberries and elderberries were abundant and were gathered regularly to make pies and preserves.  At various times they had pigs, chickens, rabbits, poodles and of all things...Black Molly tropical fish!
       Pappy did a lot of demolition and remodeling work on the side and people always gave him things they no longer wanted.  His philosophy was to "always accept what people give you, because one of these times they will give you something you want."  Our family came to own many wonderful antiques that way.
       Nana sewed, crocheted, quilted, braided rag rugs and worked outside the home when she needed to.  Being children of the Depression, neither wasted anything.  Every bit of paper, string or wire and every box, bag or jar (along with a host of other things) was saved, because you never knew when you might be able to use it.
       My own parents always worked outside the home, but no matter where we lived there was always a large garden that was the center of our lives during the summer months.  We planted, weeded, harvested and processed what we grew as a family.  Mom would use me and my friends to get things done.  For example, if we wanted to go swimming she'd tell us she'd take us if we snapped all the green beans or some such chore.  Everything we grew was canned, frozen or shared with neighbors and friends.  There was always more than we could use.
       Dad was big on cutting the cost of utility bills.  Lights were shut off every time we left a room...even if we were coming right back.  The thermostat was set to 65 during the day and "freezing" at night.  Things were recycled or reused.  Even the water collected in the dehumidifiers could be used to water plants or wash hair and pets.
       Mom and Dad were also great savers of everything that came their way.  Because you just never know.
       I wish I could say that having grown up in such a thrifty, simple atmosphere that the lifestyle is second nature to me.  No such luck.  Tim and I were very much children of the 70's and 80's and bought into the whole lifestyle of excess and waste.  It's only been in the last couple of years that we've both realized what wonderful backgrounds we came from (Tim was one of 7 children and thrifty was the name of the game) and have begun to try to get back to those roots.
       We are struggling to relearn a simpler way of life and reduce our expenses while increasing our income.  Tim is a superintendent for a large commercial construction company and he does some high angle and explosive work on the side.  I drive a school bus for our district, so I can be home when the kids are.
       We live in the suburbs and may never live in the country.  Our lot is 80' x 120' and we consider ourselves fortunate not to be zoned.  Our property backs up against my mom's, which gives us more space as we treat it as one large yard.  On the down side, there is a strip of land about 12' wide that runs between us that we can't do anything with beyond mowing it.  It is a designated alley.  The township doesn't maintain it, but they control it and it can't be closed because someone uses it a couple of times a year.....usually when it's at its muddiest, leaving deep ruts behind.
       We have a garden with onions, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, green peppers, sweet red and yellow peppers, banana peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, strawberries and LOTS of tomatoes.  I've helped Mom do lots of canning in the past, but not really being interested I didn't pay that much attention and so, I haven't learned how to do it myself.  This year I plan to be much more involved and will be making notes on how it's done. 
Two dogs (a Poodle and a Cairn Terrier), two rabbits, two hamsters, a fish named Sushi and most recently 6 Rhode Island Reds comprise our animal population.

The chickens were a surprise for me at Easter.  I'm a big fan of brown eggs and they are charging $3-$4 per dozen for them in the grocery store and that's if they even have them at all.  Tim built an odd little slanting coop with a run onto the back of our shed. 

      My favorite feature is the dutch door.  There is a smaller door in the top half that opens for ventilation and viewing and opening the top half first is great for making sure where the chooks are.  Things are going so well that we plan to order some more chicks soon.  Right now we are thinking of Cornish Rocks for meat and I would like to try a few Buff Orpingtons.  They are so pretty and a good dual purpose bird from all that I've read.
       I'm learning to cook from scratch again.  It's something I used to do, but have gotten out of the habit of.  I am also trying to cut our grocery costs by studying sales, using coupons, shopping warehouse type stores and cooking more creatively.
       We're being more thoughtful in our choices, but we still have a long way to go.  And no, I don't save everything.  Our home is much too small for that.  Besides, chances are pretty good that Mom will have whatever it is that I'm looking for and she is right nextdoor.