Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sour Dough Starter Failure

Well, don't leave your starter on your woodstove mantle over night! I forgot to check on it before I went to sleep and it all bubbled over...... what a stinky mess we found in the morning.

Actually, the smell was so bad that when my husband was putting more wood on the fire in the middle of the night, he feared that our dog had thrown up.

Ok, so sour dough starter part 2 -
I made it again from the beginning and now it is upstairs in the room above the woodstove where it stays a nice comfortable temperature.
So the lesson learned is do not leave your starter unattended in a very warm place.

I will keep you updated and look forward to hearing from others who are working on their own starter.

Blessings, Tonya

Friday, January 29, 2010

Make Your Own Sour Dough Starter

"But how do you make the sour dough?" Mrs. Boast asked.

"You start it," said Ma, "by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours."

"Then when you use it, always leave a little," said Laura. "And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water," Laura put in the warm water, "and cover it," she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, "and just set it in a warm place, "she set it in its place on the shelf by the stove. "And it's always ready to use, whenever you want it."
from By the Shores of Silver Lake

The last time I used sour dough starter a friend had given me some. Well, I let that go during our move and want to make sour dough bread again from time to time.
A sour dough starter is a leaven that develops from microscopic wild yeast and bacteria present in the air.
I found this recipe in The Little House Cookbook and wanted to share my experience with making the starter.
To begin you need:
1 1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup bloodwarm water
Quart sized glass mason jar or similar

Cheescloth or muslin with rubberband for cover

Mix the flour and water in the jar and stir with the end of a wooden spoon. I covered the jar with a cut out piece of unbleached muslin and secured with a rubber band. Then the jar was placed on our mantle by the woodstove.

The batter must be warmed, but not hot - between 80 - 95 degrees F. Let the jar stand until the batter bubbles and rises. This may take anywhere from overnight to a week, depending on how warm it gets. Bubbles in the dough and expanded volume, or rising, are the chief signs that the starter is "alive" and working. The aroma should be pleasantly sour, the texture tacky. If after several days the batter has developed only a bad smell, throw it out and start again.

After your starter is "alive", store in the refrigerator if it will not be used for a couple of days. Your starter must also be fed. Every day add 1 T. flour and nearly 1 T. warm water and stir. Leave out for a few hours. Return to refrigerator.

When using the sour dough starter, always leave about 1/2 cup - 1 cup in the jar. You will then need to add another 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup warm water to build the starter back up.

I will share how my starter is doing tomorrow and what I do next with it as well as a recipe or two as I bake with it.

Warm wishes,


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Little of This and a Little of That

Our days are always so full....

knitting and needle felting valentine gnomes

sewing more hearts for winter newsletters

making winter swags for doors

reading lovely notes from far away friends

(this beautiful watercolor painted notecard comes from

collecting these adorable spruce cones on our daily walks

What are you filling your winter days doing?

Warm wishes,


(There is a very nice tutorial on making your own wooden knitting needles here.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Simple Birthday

With six children and keeping in mind the impact of what we do on the environment and our financial means, we keep birthdays simple.

When the children are old enough, the get decide what I will serve them for each meal on their special day and what activities they would like to do, usually right here at home.

Sunday was Abraham's second birthday. It was made more special by having my mother and step-father here from Connecticut and his godparents which are our neighbors.

~ Abraham eating his breakfast with his birthday crown on.~

~We enjoyed cake and ice cream.~

~his gift of beeswax crayons in a handmade wool felt holder~

Abraham is truly a joy. He is happy, outgoing, loves to "talk" with people, and give big hugs. We are truly blessed.

Here is the birthday cake recipe I usually bake.
Vanilla Yogurt Cake
2 1/4 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

5 T. oil or melted butter
1 cup sugar (organic sugar cane or raw sugar)
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 cup vanilla yogurt

I combine the wet ingredients and whisk together and then add the dry ingredients. Mix well. Pour into a pan and bake at 350 degrees. The time will vary depending on the kind of pan used. I like using my pan with the tube in the middle and that needs to bake for about 50 minutes.

Enjoy and warm wishes, Tonya

Friday, January 22, 2010

Skating, Skating....

We have a little pond in front of our homestead that is not only wonderful for ducks we plan to get in the spring, but ice skating in the winter. It has been sufficiently cold the past few days after a bit of a warm up for the skating to begin again. Such simple fun for all of our family and friends. A late afternoon doesn't usually pass, when the pond is safe, that a game of hockey isn't played.

None of our children take any formal lessons or play on hockey teams, but they love to skate.

As I was sitting at my secretary looking out our window at the pond, I was filled with gratitude to watch all six of our children and my husband out on the pond. Even the little one was was playing on the edges.

Have a wonderful weekend. We have a birthday celebration to prepare for. Abraham turns two on Sunday and my mom and step-father will be arriving from southern New England to help celebrate.

Warm wishes, Tonya

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beeswax Candle and Heart Holder Tutorial

For the Salt Dough -

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
1/2 cup water
Knead together for about five minutes.

Roll out to the approximate thickness of your cookie cutter, about 1 - 1/2 inches thick and cut out hearts.

We chose to use a small heart to cut 3/4 of the way down into the heart to form the candle "holder".

We also baked and painted these little hearts.

After your candle holders are done, bake at 325 degrees for about 40 minutes. The little hearts will be done sooner and will start to turn light brown.

When cooled - paint! We used acrylic paints.

Now on to the candles ~
Hand Dipped Beeswax Tapers

You will need:
Number 2 Wick (about 9 inches per candle)
6 ounces of beeswax
tin can (about six of small can of beans/soup)

Melt the beeswax in a small tin can in a pan filled with about 2 inches of water that has been heated to near boiling. I added 3 of the of one ounce bars of beeswax until they melted and then added the other three bars. We heat our water on the woodstove, but a regular stove top is just fine.

After the wax melts, move your pan to a safe area for your child or children to work. Leave the can in the hot water. Tie the wick to the middle of a pencil, letting the majority of the wick hang down. Dip the wick into the can of wax and make sure it touches the bottom. Just move in and out in one fluid motion. Hold the wick over the pot for a moment to catch drips..
...and then have your child walk around a certain area to cool. I set up some chairs to walk around. After the first two dips you might want to help your child by straightening the wick just a bit.
Continue until candle is thick enough to fit into your handmade heart holder.


Warm wishes,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Single Candle

"There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle."
~Robert Alden

I just love this quote. God has given each of us a voice and we can each be filled with his Light and make a difference like the light of one small candle.
A peaceful Sunday to all.
Warm wishes, Tonya

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winter Days and Haiti

Life sometimes seems so ordinary here on our little homestead. But it is truly the ordinary moments that give us rhythm, routine, and add a peaceful feeling to our days.

Today I am just sharing and preserving some of our daily winter activities.

~making stained glass windows with kite paper~

~window stars inspired by this tutorial~

~fort making with quilts heaped upon quilts~

~hockey on our little pond~

~little ones being pulled in sleds~

~making hand dipped beeswax birthday candles for our oldest son's sixteenth birthday (done by his sister)~

I have been really sad about the earthquake in Haiti and have not even bothered to see any images from there as I feel sad enough just listening to the horror in words on NPR. After a discussion with our children at supper, we have decided to give some money, even the children want to give some from their savings. Does anyone know of a good agency to give it to?

Warm wishes, Tonya

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Issue Done - Plain and Joyful Living

The winter issue has been hand written, copied, and hand strung with wool yarn. This issue has two guest writers - one is by our homesteading neighbor and the other by a reader. Other topics include: planning a kitchen garden, homesteading by the season, a recipe to use up your stored winter squash, and more.

A little hand stitched heart will be mailed along with each newsletter that my daughters and I sewed.

One of the goals of the newsletter is to keep the art of handwriting alive. As more and more people and children type (even in the grammar schools!) instead of taking pen to paper handwriting may become a lost art. Our other mission is to spread the word that there are alternatives to the consumer-driven lifestyle of our country and increasingly the world. Finally, the newsletter reflects on the joys of homemaking.

To subscribe via a check or money order please email me at for my mailing address. Please, if there is a financial hardship let me know in an email or letter and we can offer assistance. Or you can order by clicking on the buy now buttons on the right side bar.
Warm wishes, Tonya

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Our Journey - Part Two

(If you have not read Part One, it is the post before this one.)
With our family feeling more and frustration with the hustle and bustle of suburban living, our efforts to look for our own homestead increased. Michael was commuting an hour each way to his job and it wasn’t uncommon for his commute home to be well over an hour with traffic. In addition, we were very uncomfortable with him applying pesticides. There simple was no feeling of right livelihood.

I continued to apply some homesteading skills. I learned to bake bread (my first loaf was a disaster) and over time it became routine. I continued to read about other homesteader’s experiences always searching for large families as an example but finding few. We continued to be able to pay our bills and practiced self-restraint from purchasing new items. Oh, it was hard. I would walk into Target and come out spending at least $50.00 when I only went in for underwear for a child, for example. I did, however, begin to frequent consignment or thrift shops on a regular basis and begin cooking and baking from scratch. My garden was a little bigger. We bought six chicks and within six months were enjoying fresh eggs.

Michael and I spent many hours online looking for the least expensive areas in New England to buy land. We didn’t want to be too far from family. We explored all options. Buy land and an rv and live in that while we saved to build a cabin. Buy an existing cabin with a small amount of land. We even almost bought a real fixer upper in west central Maine that the owner was willing to finance. My heart told me no after we had signed the hand written paper and left a $500 deposit so we turned around and traveled the three miles back to ask her if we could rip up the contract. Thank goodness she said yes.

Our choices back in 2003/2004 were narrowed to two areas – west/central Maine or the northeast kingdom of Vermont. Both of these areas were still affordable. However, with terrible credit and no job prospects at either location we knew it would take God’s intervention and an act of faith by a third party to make our dream a reality. We spent the next two July 4 weekends and Columbus day weekends at a very small campground in Sheffield, Vermont. The owners had a tiny cabin and they were very gracious to allow our family of seven to all stay for our vacation get-away. We used this time to get a better feel for the area. By the second year we were convinced that it felt like home. But with no savings, no credit and no jobs we questioned if it would happen soon or would our dream be put on hold.

I emailed realtors in the area requesting a rental home. We came to the conclusion that we would need to rent to get us in the area we wanted to settle. I think it took at least six months before we had an agent that would even consider us – five children and six chickens and no job! An email came through that there was a possible home and we headed up for a visit, staying at our familiar cabin. The house was right in a village, not the homesteading, rural lifestyle we had imagined. However, we would be near our someday homestead. We said yes, and within 30 days we were off. This was the end of September 2005. My supportive parents helped us move up although I am sure they were feeling bewildered and worried.

Within the first week Michael had a job with a contractor. God was good. We also really worked our online toy making business and it was busier than ever. The gift of this home in the village was the soil. It has a disconnected piece of land with it that had beautifully rich soil. We turned over 1/3 of an acre with mostly a hand shovel. We sent the children out to do so many rows per day. Michael worked tirelessly in the early mornings and evenings. That year we had an amazing garden. Attached to our village home was a large garage and I set up a little shop to sell the produce, baked goods and handcrafts. We were blessed to get to know many of the people in the neighborhood, especially the elderly. They enjoyed the children so. It was rewarding to have them knock on our door asking us if we had any cucumbers one day or lettuce the next. We were so encouraged and our handwork toy business continued to grow.

When the owner decided to sell the house we knew this wasn’t the homestead God had planned for us and it was much more than we could afford to buy. We searched and searched and searched and traveled down fourth class roads looking for land or something to rent. We finally found three acres for lease where we could put a mobile home. After much searching we finally found a decent used mobile home and we were able to set up on the land. One caveat, the electricity would cost $2,000 to hook up. We didn’t have that money and we knew that the mobile home was still another stepping stone to our homestead. We decided we would live off grid. There was a well on the property and a septic system.
(The view from our mobile home front door. This beauty set me straight when I even thought about complaining.)

Our lives changed dramatically while at the mobile home. We learned to live even more simply, with less and we learned how to truly work. I scrubbed our clothes by hand on a wash board, we hauled water from one end of the mobile home to the other. We used lanterns for lights, took tub baths to clean ourselves and truly learned about conservation. It is amazing how little water you really need. During our two year, three month stay at the mobile home we were blessed with the birth of our sixth baby. I learned to find the flashlight in the dark for middle of the night diaper changes and even used cloth diapers which were washed by hand.

We had concerns about our children upon transitioning to this lifestyle, but our children repeatedly told us they, "loved it here".

I will share more about our off-grid life off and on through future posts. Michael worked for a landscape company for the first two seasons at the mobile home, and the third season he left to concentrate on his own property services and our handwork toy and home goods business, as well as work on our homestead helping with the vegetable growing and the demands of homesteading.

This past spring my mother offered to help us with the financing if we were interested in finding our permanent place. We wanted to stay very close to where we were as we loved our gravel country road with our wonderful neighbors. We were blessed to find an amazing place just one mile away (and there are very few places for sale in the area, as it is rural) that we could afford. We found such a deal that only God could have provided (we bought it for $55,000 – a 1500 square foot home on just over three acres with a pond and run down barn/shed.) You see we still live on $25,000 or less per year. Yet we eat healthy (much that we grow) and mostly organic food and are happy. How in the world can this be called poverty? We call it our rustic cottage and we are so excited to be planning our forever place – from blueberry and raspberry bushes, herb gardens, more apple trees, where we are going to build our workshop/barn and so much more. Our challenge now is to take all we have learned on our journey, apply it, and continue to learn and grow on this path towards an authentic life.

(The view from the front door at our forever homestead.)

I will continue to share how we make living so well on so little possible and why we choose to do so.

Thank you for all of your kind words. I share all of this just as encouragement for you to listen to that voice inside as it is God speaking to you and while our path will probably not be your family’s calling, do realize that there are other paths to take.

Warm wishes, Tonya

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our Journey - Part 1

... towards a more intentional ife

How did our family get to where we are today? We are a family of eight – Mom, Dad and six children that range from almost 2 years to almost 16 years of age.
It is a long story and it has been a long journey, one that we continue to travel. Because, isn’t that what life is ~ a journey, there really is no taa daa!, no, well, here we are! Or we did it, now we can just stop…. No, life is a journey and a truly joyful one at that.

The post that I read today at Earth Mama made me realize that I need to be more open here – to share more about where our family used to be and where we are today.
My husband and I met at college and were married 5 years later. Within two years we had our first son and then another 23 months later. Within this time we bought our first home, a fixer upper in a modest neighborhood in a small town in western Massachusetts and a new car (a brand new ford escort – remember those?).

Oh, we were so worldly back then. Talking about refinancing our home to fix it up (which we did and rolled our already way to numerous credit cards into it as well). I bought conventional food at the large grocery stores, new clothes, play pens, jumpers, and all the works for the new babies. My husband was a superintendent at the golf course in town. That is what he had gone to college to do. He made a decent salary – not sure I remember exactly but maybe $35,000 and this was back in 1994/5. I was just oh, so sure that we needed a little more income so stayed on with the company I had previously worked for in a part time capacity and even left my precious babies with a not so comfortable feeling for me, home daycare provider. This only lasted two weeks as I came to my senses.

But during this time, we started racking up the credit cards that we had paid off with our home equity once again because we surely need this and that and of course this – stuff!!
And Chinese food at least once a week with a fast food visit thrown in there as well (usually eating at the food court in the mall). (Wow, I can hardly believe I am writing this as I don’t think I have even walked into a mall for two years or more.)
We decided we truly needed a better, bigger home just another two years later and the housing market was up – so why not??

And that is just what we did. In the meantime we also bought a new mini-van – with a near $500/month payment. Sure, we could afford the payments, right? My husband had received a pay raise each year and would surely continue to do so.
Something inside me though has always felt that the mainstream way of living was the only way and that there must be another way. I had the stirrings even in college. I wasn’t hanging out with the crunchy crowds, but I did like to hang out in the natural food store and read some of the publications I would pick up there.

And I did have my first three babies with a midwife (and the next three as well). I had always felt that there was no need for a doctor, that having a baby was a natural part of living not a medical condition. I had been reading Mothering magazine nearly since our first child was born and slowly, oh so slowly I began to listen to that little voice inside me that the way of the world was not the way for me.

However, now that we had our third son in the summer of 1998, our new to us larger home with a larger payment and a brand new mini van and all of our credit card payments not to mention our student loan payments, my husband starting seeking new golf course superintendent jobs at more prestigious golf courses. Why? He just thought that was what you do – keep moving up in the professional world – more recognition, more money and we would soon learn many more headaches and time away from family.

He did land that job which brought us to eastern Massachusetts, where I grew up and this brought us closer to my family. His salary was now $75,000 in the fall of 1998 and we were in a rental home in a suburb. While we had woods behind us and the town is small, the people were so different and from the beginning I knew I didn’t fit in. I was changing (or more correctly, letting my true self come through).

Well, as we spent more money on more things and lost sight of what was important, God knew what he was doing – my husband was let go just one year after being hired. It was time for us to get real. On that following Monday we learned that I was pregnant. Mike had a bit of money from the golf course and then unemployment so we could survive for a time.

I immediately wanted to follow our dreams (I realize now as I am writing this that these dreams must have been part of me for many years, maybe since I was a child.) My idea was for us to up and move to our most favorite place in the world at that time. Why not? We had nothing to lose. Woodstock, Vermont here we come. We went up to visit, found a house to rent and found that there were jobs. (of course making a small salary compared to his old job, but there were plenty of jobs in this vibrant tourist area) I called and scheduled the moving truck and then my husband said he couldn’t do it.

We ended up moving back to western Massachusetts where he took the position of a golf course mechanic at the original golf course he started at as the assistant out of college. I think he was making maybe $15.00 an hour. We found a not very nice apartment and lived this way for a short time until we found a house to rent in a rural setting that we could not afford. However, while we lived in this rental with a beautiful setting in the woods I read Countryside Magazine, staring knitting gnomes and selling them online, and planted my first wee garden. Also, I learned about not vaccinating, eating organic, and that not everyone lived the way we had been. There were people living authentic lives doing what they chose to do and were free of excessive bills . I read and I read and I learned and I learned.

Our bills, however, piled up again! We headed back to eastern Massachusetts and lived in an apartment while my husband commuted to just south of Boston to work for a large lawn care and tree company. He made $19.00 there. Money was still tight but we worked on paying off our debts now. I realized that this was the first step to being able to live a purposeful life. At this time I was pregnant with our fifth baby, 2003. I was ready to cut costs dramatically. At this time, I started shopping consignment shops. I realized that not only was this good for the pocketbook, but it was really good for our earth. I knew more than ever that I wanted away from this suburban lifestyle where I definitely did not fit in.

My homesteading dream was evolving into more of a possibility. I would leave magazines out for my husband to read and read out loud to him if I had to. I knew that he had to believe like I did, that one could live simply without a large income, grow our own food, work with our hands, and all with reverence for the earth. I also knew that my dream would never come true unless my husband grew his faith in God. Through faith comes gratitude and the ability to be content. With faith I was able to let go of worldly ideals. With faith I knew that God would provide. We had come to believe that God would provide if we left our family size up to Him. It is amazing that with each pregnancy, as I look back, was in such perfect timing. (another post about this at another time).

That is it for today. I must do the day’s baking and homeschooling.
Warm wishes,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Handmade Goodness

We live very lightly. Purchasing new items is not a daily event for us, nor even a weekly occurrence, with the exception of some food and gasoline for the car.
For Christmas we do exchange gifts and buy or make each child two new items.

I even give them something I may have found at a yard sale or consignment shop that I know one child might particularly like. For example, I found a tea set and cowgirl hat at a rummage sale for Sarah.

When I am looking for something and have not found it gently used, I will look to local artisans and then for handmade items made by artisans from afar. I just wanted to share some of the handmade items I found this year or were given to me.

Here is a handmade child's broom from Broomchick at etsy. This was for Abraham and Sarah.

A wooden rainbow stacking set from Imagination Kids for Abraham. It is pictured with some felt gnomes I made.

My husband bought me a new pottery mug from a local potter as well as a small pitcher - good for syrup or cream. I truly love using my new mug which is almost always not far from me as I drink tea, coffee, or water throughout the day. I told him that which each sip I think of him.

Knowing where an object comes from and that it was made by the hands of another, usually out of a love for what they do, is gratifying.

Warm wishes, Tonya

(~please visit the Natural Kids Team Blog to enter a give-away for 8 fat quarters of organic fabric from Cloud9 Fabrics~)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Thankful for ...

God's love through all of these ~

*Bread rising on the hearth

*Snow blanketing the landscape

*My husband's hard work and dedication to our business

*Drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows from gifted snowpeople cups and plates

Wishing you all a joyful Sunday,

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year

I am so grateful for all the joy and wonder of the past year and am excited at the possibilities of the new year.

While I appreciate that each moment is a gift and all we truly have is the present, I do like the feelings that the new year brings.

Our family is committed to treading lightly on this earth, giving thanks to God for our blessings, and making a difference, even if it is only by a series of small changes.

So for the first month of One Small Change, we will be no longer making our coffee on the electric stove in the morning, but instead will be more patient in the and let the coffee brew on the top of our woodstove. Just six months ago, our family lived in a mobile home, off grid, for a period of 2 years and 3 months. We must not forget the lessons we learned and how little we truly need.

This seems like such a small thing to do, however, even this step will make a difference.
From "A HandmadeLife, In Search of Simplicity" by Wm. S. Coperthwaite ~
"Each time we learn to live more simply, we aid the world in two ways:
1) We use less of the world's resources for our own life;
2) We help set an example for others who are now striving to copy the affluent life of their neighbors.
The greater the striving for affluence, the more wretched will be the poor, and the greater will be the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Violence will be inevitable... Not only do we need to simplify in order to be able to share more of the things the world needs, but we need to distribute power, authority, and freedom as well. The more decentralized we become, the more opportunity will there be for individual decision-making."
Wishing all of you a beautiful, joyful and peaceful new year.