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I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I sure was thankful for family this past week, as one of our boys and I came down with the flu. Yuck! It wasn’t fun, and I honestly don’t know how I would have taken care of my children without the help of my parents. They don’t read this blog because they don’t have the internet, but they know how much they mean to me because I tell them all the time. I love you, Mom and Dad!

Anyway, onto the blog. A few weeks ago I updated my ad on the Intentional Communities website (ic.org) and was very surprised to find that there are quite a few locals interested in the same things as we are. I have received responses from all across the country, and hopefully have made some new friends to swap ideas with in the future. Three of the people who have contacted me live within a half hour, and we have already met one for Sunday lunch. We are very excited to find all of these like minds, and I really want to encourage anyone who may read this and think “Wow, that’s pretty cool” to contact me.

Like I have said before, my family is prepared to dig in for the long haul and do this ourselves if we don’t end up finding anyone, but it really doesn’t look like that will happen now. Now, our leafy little plans are starting to flower, and will soon be bearing the fruits of our labors and dreams. But what are those dreams, specifically? I’ll admit, I have drawn quite a few plans for multiple families living on the same plot of land. As a matter of fact, I just finished another little sketch in MS Paint the other day while I was laying on the couch feeling miserable and dozing in and out of consciousness. Before I post them, however, I want to assure everyone that I in no way intend to take charge and force my ideas on our neighbors. I just like to draw. I like to think. I get very excited when an idea enters my head, and the only way for me to calm down is for me to lay it out on paper or some other media. This is the result of my “house fever” as my husband calls it. (House fever has filled multiple reams of graph paper already, and is showing no signs of slowing down.)

Ok, so here’s the latest work of art:

You’ll notice the grey road running across the top, which is the Northern side of the property. This is approximately 15 acres shared by three family units, with room for multiple guests at any given time. So, from the top. A small U-turn gives easy road access to a shared farm shop where residents of this small community can sell anything from fresh produce to hand-sewn quilts to homemade breads. This would be a great way to make extra income with idle time all year long. The driveway comes down through a good mix of hardwoods, with plenty of sugar maples tossed in for future generations to use. Heading West, you will notice the first homesite on your right. There is plenty of room for a large yard, kitchen garden, herb/flower beds, greenhouses, small barn, etc. Directly across from the homesite is a large pond stocked with a good supply of meat in the form of fish. The little brown line is a small dock for fishing or loading up in a canoe. The two small orange rectangles are portable duck houses. A sturdy fence surrounds the pond and the orchard, effectively making this area a good rotational paddock for livestock, or conversely – an animal-free area where you don’t have to constantly watch where you step. The orchard would be home to apples, quince, pears, peaches, pawpaws, and whatever other edibles the residents plant. Cherry trees, however, would be best suited near the houses, as they require a closer eye than the others. If you head further West down the little drive, you come to the second homesite on the right. Directly across from this house you will find 8 smaller garden plots and 4 large ones. Each household will use 4 of the smaller (but really quite large) plots, while the four larger ones will be rotated for corn, potatoes/root crops, beans, and grains for the whole community and the livestock. East of the four larger plots, you will find the large, fenced-in barnyard with three adjoining paddocks for rotational grazing purposes. The barn and outbuildings are all located on the North side of the barnyard, to be closer to the residents.

Now let’s head back the other way down the small community drive. Instead of going West at the fork, we’ll check out the East side. Four little guest houses are lined up on the left, ready for use by family members, friends, and visitors to the community. Directly across the road from the guest houses is a parking lot for guest vehicles and the entrance to the community house. The community house is a place to gather for meals, celebrations, food processing, and indoor recreation. It would be equipped with a large kitchen, two bathrooms (male and female), and a large gathering room. In between the parking lot and the eastern-most 4 small garden plots is a large, fenced-in playground for the children of the community and visiting children. Behind the community house is a large, fenced-in yard with a well-built fire pit and plenty of lawn furniture and shade trees. This would be a decent place for picnics, as well as a good starting place for a walking tour of the community. Gates would connect the community house yard with the orchard and barnyard. The last, and largest, garden plot could either be put to use as another rotational grazing area for livestock or as a market garden for income for the community through the farm stand at the entrance.

So, now you have had a small glimpse inside the head of the atheist homesteader. I really think it would be possible to build a small community and successfully become nearly self-sufficient. When there are more hands, more minds, and more hearts… life just seems easier. In these days of families being separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, we all need to come together to make our own local families to lean on and help out. It’s really no fun being alone, having to do everything and pay for everything all by yourself. Sharing what we have is the only way some of us will ever be able to make the dream a reality. With the economy as bad as it is, it would be wonderful to know that there’s a group of people surrounding you that has your back. Don’t you think?

This is simply a pictorial that illustrates my desire for variety. Enjoy!

I’ve heard many sayings about how to be a good neighbor, such as “Good fences make good neighbors.” Maybe that is true in the city where most people can’t name three people who live within a block, but when you live out in the country, there is much more to being a good neighbor. I’ve had a lot of neighbors with all of the moving that we have done, and have had a lot of time to try different ways to be friendly. I’ve learned many of the little nuances of being a good neighbor, and would like to share some of them here.

People like to talk about themselves. When I introduce myself to a neighbor, I always keep my introduction short and sweet. Then I ask them about the area, their house, their family, their garden, the neighborhood… whatever subject presents itself. I have found that most people really get into telling me about one thing or another, and within a few minutes we are comfortable in each other’s presence. Compliments and subtle jokes almost never go amiss when getting to know someone. Of course, for all of this to work, you must remember what has been said so that you can continue on it the next time you meet. And most of all – remember names! I am horrible with names, so I try to use their name at least 3 times before I leave. I like it when people remember my name, but I am not put out too much if someone is sincerely forgetful like I am and is really making an effort to know me.

Something I have found that differs in the country versus the city is that strangers aren’t treated the same. In the city, we are surrounded by strangers. We don’t have time to make eye contact and smile at every person we pass. We don’t have strong enough wrists to wave at every face we see. For the most part, we ignore strangers, and can even avoid friends and acquaintances if we so choose. But in the country is a completely different experience. Everyone is greeted in some way, whether its a nod, a handshake, a wave, a friendly smile, or a verbal greeting. It doesn’t matter if you have never met the person in your life; they still get your attention long enough for you to acknowledge each other’s presence.

Whenever we move in somewhere, I put together a little package for each of our neighbors. I make a card with all of our names clearly printed on it, then I try to deliver it in person if I see that our neighbors are home. The package varies. Sometimes it’s home-canned jams or salsa, and other times its a knitted dishcloth or homemade cookies. We all love presents, and something homemade speaks volumes.

Before I ask anything of a new neighbor, I make sure I do something helpful for them first. Then, when I ask something of them, I don’t feel like a taker. Neighbors in the country tend to cooperate a bit more than neighbors in the city. For instance, they share tools and resources a lot more often. If you have a shed that you need help building, then your neighbors should be the first ones you ask. If you see that your neighbor is raking leaves, your first response should be to ask them if they would like a helping hand. If you borrow something from a neighbor, make sure you return it in good time and condition.

When I was younger, we had a regular meeting with our neighbors every Sunday for brunch. I really miss that occasion, and would like to do something similar when we find ourselves in our permanent home. Friends are wonderful to have, and if they are your neighbors then you are lucky indeed.

Of course, as experience has taught me, it is not always possible to befriend your neighbors. I have always tried to be as friendly as possible, but some people just aren’t good neighbor material. We had one older guy who was really knowledgable about gardening and plants, but he was a bit off his rocker. He was good for about fifteen minutes of conversation, but then it always ended up with him talking about the end of the world and how God was going to bring war on the heathens and sodomites that populate the planet. There was also the fact that he stole water and electricity from us, never took care of his yard or house (half his house was in ruins, with the roof caved in and garbage spread all over the floors), and once accused us of shooting at his house when in actuality we were killing squirrels that were stealing freshly planted corn from our back yard (not even the same direction as his house was).

That was just one example of a less-than-wonderful neighbor. There are other things that have grated on me, that I have tried to learn from. Some of these qualities are excessive noisemaking, not returning loaned items, gossip, excessive negativity about anything from politics to minor annoyances like fast cars on a dirt road, asking for help but never giving it in return, religious preaching even after being told it is unwelcome, not keeping dogs leashed or fenced-in, creating nasty smells by burning tires or not keeping livestock clean, tresspassing, acts of vandalism, and outright meanness.

It seems like there’s always one sour grape in the bunch, but on the whole getting to know and working with neighbors has been a positive experience that I would like to continue. Of course, being able to choose our neighbors through an intentional community would be exciting, but even if we follow our dreams on our own we will still try to make friends with whatever people we end up living next to. I don’t say this often because of the religious undertones the word has, but neighbors are indeed a blessing. To overlook them is a great loss.

A debt-free Christmas. When you read that short statement, you will have one of four reactions:

  1. That makes no sense. Debt-free and Christmas don’t belong in the same sentance.
  2. Does it count if I pay the credit card off within a few months?
  3. I emptied our savings, but at least I didn’t “go into debt.”
  4. No problem!

I answered #4. It hasn’t always been that way, but for the past few years we have managed to not spend beaucoup bucks during the holiday season. How on earth do we manage that? Well, it’s simple if you have some free time and a creative streak.

Back in college I took pottery classes, so a lot of my gifts to friends and family consisted of mugs, bowls, vases, and teapots. I stuffed these trinkets with cheap candy or homemade cookies and wrapped them with scrap bits of cloth and ribbon.

I’ve made elaborate origami boxes which I have then filled with cheap candy. I have canned jams, salsas, and preserves to give away. Every year I make a quilt or two to give to a family member. I make microwavable warmers for children and adults alike. I’ve sewn up cloth versions of checkers and tic-tac-toe. I always make a ton of cookies, and give most of them away. Popular ones include chocolate-mint cookies (my husband and his workmates call these Cocain cookies because they are so addictive!), chocolate covered peanut butter balls (aka buckeye balls), eggnog cookies, frosted sugar cookies, pecan sandies, candy cane cookies, no bake chocolate haystacks, and thumbprint cookies.

I have also bought cheap picture frames and put some nice family pictures in them for our parents. Some other ideas for cheap Christmas presents include homemade ornaments, homemade baking mixes (chocolate cake in a jar), framed poetry or inspirational sayings, knitted or crocheted items like dish cloths or scarves, homemade coupons for things like free babysitting or garden weeding, recycled candles (old candles melted down to make new ones), burned music cd’s, homemade recipe book or cards, homemade calendars with pictures of the family, a small book collection from summer garage sales, and anything else that you can put together yourself for very little cash.

Of course, if you have a lot of money, then it probably wouldn’t hurt you to buy gifts for everyone. But even if I was rich, I think I would still go with homemade. I think store-bought presents tend to be low-quality gadgets and thingamabobs that don’t really impart the true meaning of the season. For me, at least, the true meaning of the season is to be close to loved ones and give pieces of your heart away. While a new cappuccino machine might be nice, it doesn’t really say “Here’s something I spent a lot of time and effort on because I love you.”

I think Christmas has become way too commercialized in the past few decades, and that was what originally prompted me to be frugal during the holidays. But frugality lends itself well to creativity and making-due, so that’s why I now try to make all of the gifts we give away by hand. It’s just too bad that not everyone sees homemade as a good thing. Case in point: have you ever tried donating home-canned food to a shelter or soup kitchen? Oh well, maybe someday it will once again become popular to raise and preserve your own food.

In my last post I alluded to jobs that can be done on the homestead to earn some extra cash. There are many things one can do, from growing some market crops to running a tailoring shop. The ones I am interested in wouldn’t have any effect on my homesteading efforts. In other words, I wouldn’t want to give up arable land to raise market crops if I was short on garden space. Also, I wouldn’t want to have to invest thousands of dollars for equipment and certifications for a job that wouldn’t pay if the economy tanked.

The first home job on my list is a woodworker. Any homesteader worth their salt has some of the more basic woodworking tools, so the investment in equipment would be useful for more than just the business. Some of the opportunities for a woodworker would include custom tables, chairs, trunks, shelves, flooring, desks, benches, cabinetry, doors, shutters, dollhouses, picture frames, wagons, garden carts, bowls, spoons, high chairs, cribs, bed frames, dressers, fencing, and so many other wooden creations. I have used most of the basic woodworking tools, and would be able to produce crude but usable items, but I would love to hone those skills and be able to make money with my talents.

The second job on my list is a potter. This is something that I thoroughly enjoy, and have a lot of experience in. If we end up on a piece of land that is on or near a good natural clay deposit, this would be an easy way to make a quick dollar. Some of the things that I would make include teacups, coffee mugs, steins, bowls, plates, platters, vases, crocks, pie dishes, soup tureens, cookie jars, sugar pots, salt cellars, tiles, sculptures, salt and pepper shakers, toothbrush holders, mortar and pestles, and so many other useful items. Even if I don’t do this as a way to make money, I will probably end up with a wheel, kiln, and roomfull of stoneware/porcelain clay. This is something I really enjoy, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a very productive way to kill some time.

Daycare for youngsters would be a viable option in the winter, when homesteading efforts aren’t taking up too much time. During the summer and fall this may not be the best option, as gardening, chopping wood, preserving, and other chores would take up all of my attention. In those busy times, it might be profitable to take on some older children who could help take care of animals, weed the gardens, collect the crops, and do other small chores like stacking kindling or painting. I’ve seen many small farms running successful “farm schools” as after-school or weekend programs. Children have a lot of fun learning all of these skills, and they are a great help once they have been shown what to do. While the parents of the children are paying you to watch their children, you can “pay” the children for their help with farm fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, and homemade things they may have helped with like bread. I see this as a very special opportunity for anyone who runs a homestead, because I believe it is of vital importance to teach future generations about where food comes from and how to be a responsible, productive person.

Other ideas, that can be done either as a full-time home career or just a part-time moneymaker, include:

  • Sewing quilts, aprons, baby blankets, and other easy projects.
  • Tailoring clothes.
  • Selling seeds and plants from your own garden/greenhouse.
  • Crafting things like birdhouses, mailboxes, lawn decorations, etc.
  • Forging tools and other metal items.
  • Growing and selling Christmas trees.
  • Grafting fruit trees for sale.
  • Running how-to seminars from home. (How to bake bread, how to make a meal plan, how to care for chickens, how to process game animals, how to use wheat and other grains, how to make salsa, etc.)
  • Making cheeses, yogurt, etc. This option may or may not require large financial output in order to have the correct certifications depending on where you live and what you sell.
  • Selling extra garden produce from a road-side stand or at a farmer’s market.
  • Boarding animals if you have extra space.
  • Training animals. (Again, you may need to be certified depending on your area.)
  • Breeding animals for sale.
  • Brewing beer, making wine, or distilling spirits. (I’m not experienced with this, and assume you will need to be certified.)
  • Providing a You-Pick-‘Em patch for locals.
  • Starting a petting zoo.
  • Selling baked goods like bread, doughnuts, cookies, etc.

I’m sure there are many other ways to make money from home, but these are all I can come up with at the moment. I plan on doing many of these things on a small scale. I’m not a big fan of putting all of my eggs in one basket. Been there, done that. It just isn’t smart. A homesteader should be someone who is adaptable, creative, friendly, and productive. With all of these qualities, it shouldn’t be too hard to find something useful to do that will provide a bit of extra income at the end of the month. And if all else fails, a part-time position off of the homestead will do for the time being.

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