Monday, July 3, 2017

Thank You to My Readers and Supporters

I'd like to take a moment to say thank you to my readers. I have a circle of folks who are providing emotional support for me while I'm balancing adulting with daydreaming. While I am living on the edge of a large city and taking care of responsibilities and making a glacially slow transition to a homestead in the country is a happy thing - but isn't always easy.  Today I am feeling thankful for each of you who are supporting me in this endeavor. 


Real Life vs. Dreaming


I have a toe in each world - the world of daily life and the world of future dreams. 

Real life includes apartment living, employment, and paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting. I don't care for my neighbors, my neighborhood, or the daily commute on the beltway. However, I keep at it. I am well aware that it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I am thankful that in reality, it's not so bad. 


making the most of apartment living

Dreaming includes my land on a ridge in West Virginia and the dreams of retiring there someday. Living there sooner than later, I hope. I go camping there as often as possible, try to keep up with caring for the land and my Shack, and plan for the future. I have home plans chosen, trees planted, and big ideas. 


I dream of living here... this view every day


Blogging About It


I blog because I love to write. I love to read. I love peeking in on others who share their lives through their writing and videos. I want to share certain bits of my life. 

I have been blessed to have been mentored by some really kind ladies who have graciously shared their knowledge about SEO, affiliates, Google, and assorted things related to the world of writing on the internet. If I'm being too obtuse, let me say it more clearly - I am very thankful for the ladies who have all taken me under their wings and shared what they know with me.

I also blog for many other reasons:

I mentioned that I love to read and write. Blogging is an extension of that happiness I feel when I've written something coherent or moving.

I am practicing blogging. I have a long way to go in learning how to be a successful blogger. And I believe that practice makes close to perfect. I am practicing as often as time and energy allow.

I am practicing blogging so that I am better at it when I have even more important things to say. I hope to someday be able to share how I went from barely scraping by to retiring debt-free and living as self-sufficiently as possible. 

I blog because I try to spend as many days as possible in 'zero-spend' mode. Or as close to it as possible. Zero-spend days are the days that I am not spending any money. Now, clearly, having the internet isn't free. So technically there is a daily cost to having a roof over my head, connection to the internet, and electricity. But... sitting home using the internet is far less expensive than traveling, shopping, eating out, or a myriad of other things I could be spending money on.

I blog because it helps me to keep track. I can look back and see the memories, the timeline, the details of things I did or wanted to remember.

I blog because I can share my little bits of experience or opinions with the people who want my opinion. Sometimes I have useful information I'd like to share.

I blog because sometimes I make a few bucks. I can spend those few bucks on the things I need or want. If I figured my "hourly pay" through blogging over the years, I'd be quite depressed. And frankly, I'm not sure I'm mathematically talented enough to find that fraction of a penny. However, there have been spurts of internet income that have helped me make purchases I would not have otherwise enjoyed. 


Thank You to Each of You


After having had several days vacation and some quiet time to reflect, I have had time to really think about how grateful I am to those of you who support me during this time. Some of you know me personally and provide support by listening to my daydreams and don't think me silly. Or if you do, you don't let it show! Others of you know me via the internet and provide your support through teaching, tweets, and shares. A number of you make purchases through my affiliate links and provide financial support. And finally, a great number of you are complete strangers who share links to what I have written just for the sake of sharing. 

As I am counting my blessings and cursing the continued barriers to living my dreams, each of you are very important during this journey. Each of are greatly appreciated.


Thank you.



*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Thursday, June 29, 2017

My Plant Journal: Figs

Olympian Fig plants on Amazon
Last week, at The Shack, I planted several trees and shrubs. One of those plants was a Fig. I am not familiar with Figs (other than the famous dancing Fig in the cookie commercials) and I am not an organized gardener. Due to those two things, I am recording the beginning of my Fig adventure here.


Why Figs?


I decided to plant a Fig for the simple reason that a friend loves the fruit and swears that I'll enjoy having the fresh figs. Recently, every time I follow recommendations about fruit (i.e. PawPaws) I have been thrilled with what has been recommended. Also, I want to plant a large variety of fruit on my land.  During this camping trip to The Shack, I was already planning on planting PawPaws, a Persimmon, and a Japanese Maple. I had plenty of room to plant other plants, so I grabbed up a little Fig plant at a local big box, home and garden store.

After all, there is no harm in giving Figs a try. My planting technique up there is a little bit like throwing one of each and seeing what sticks.


Olympian Fig Information


I had no idea there were so many varieties of Fig. Fortunately, what I blindly chose was an Olympian Fig. Now that I've studied a bit more about Fig varieties, I am pleased that I have the Olympian variety. If that goes well, I'd like to add a few other varieties just for fun. But for now, the Olympian Fig seems to be a good variety for my place in West Virginia for these reasons:

  • grows in a small, dwarf, habit
  • grows 4-8 feet
  • hardy to zone 6
  • self-pollinator (I don't need a second plant for pollination)
  • like PawPaws, Fig plants are reportedly deer resistant


My Olympian Fig


Since the Fig variety I chose is a dwarf variety, I planted it in what is to be my "flower bed".  Flower bed is stretching it - a very kind and gentle way to describe this area of my yard.

My land is steep and rocky land on a ridge in West Virginia. So far my "gardening" requires the use of a pickaxe. I apologize that the quality of lighting in this photo isn't the best. I had taken this photo while I was working at my plantings and headed back home to my apartment before taking a better photo.



I planted the Fig in this area - between the lilac bush and the rose bush. And I placed the little garden flag very close to the Fig. While some plants are listed as "deer resistant", we all know that deer really seem to find any leaf a delicious appetizer. I am hoping the fluttering of the flag will help keep the deer away.

What will I do with the figs - if I am successful at growing them? I will find ways to prepare them and I will share them with people who love them. As I do my research, I am finding that there are many people who enjoy eating them.



*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Char-Griller Duo 5050

In today's terminology, I've "done a thing" and "this happened". And I couldn't be more excited. I finally decided on a barbecue grill and I made the purchase. In one more week I'll be on vacation at The Shack and will be cooking on my new grill.  I purchased the Char-Griller Duo 5050 dual fuel and I couldn't be more thrilled.


Cooking Off-Grid at The Shack


I've purchased land with a small hunting cabin that will someday be my retirement homestead. In the meantime, I go camping up there at every opportunity.  The previous owners left behind an amazing woodstove inside and a old, dilapidated propane barbecue grill outside.  I've been grateful for both.

In the colder months (yes, I camp up there in the winter) I use the woodstove for my meals. Learning to cook on/in a woodstove has been trial and error but between using hobo packs and finding a perfectly sized enameled cast iron dutch oven, I've been able to prepare some really delicious meals.

In the warmer months, I cook outside on the grill. The grill was so old and rusty that I had to replace the grill immediately, but that was a cheap and easy fix. However, the connections and knobs for the propane no longer function. I still used it as a charcoal grill/smoker and using apple tree branches for cooking gave my meals the most wonderful taste!

Imagine, apple wood smoked Delmonico steaks with a glass of wine. Mouth-watering!


Early spring camping - Delmonico steak, hobo packet potatoes, and a glass of wine


But the limping along with the little rusted out grill has lost it's appeal and I wanted a "real" grill. And the rusted out grill is so tiny. If and when I have camping guests, that size of that grill is not adequate.

But which model should I get?

After my adventures with the woodstove, the propane BBQ grill, and the grill as a charcoal/wood smoker, I knew what my criteria were.

I needed:

  • a side burner (for the times I just want soup, stew, etc)
  • a gas grill
  • and a smoker
  • an easy-to-read gauge (because I want to try baking while camping)


The Char-Griller Duo 5050


I've been window-shopping grills for nearly two years.  I will soon be camping for week. I needed to make a decision. Fortunately, when I finally decided to take the plunge, the grill I had decided on was on sale! Perfect timing.

I chose the Char-Griller Duo 5050 for several reasons.  It has the side burner I need. That side burner will be perfect for my little Moka pot of coffee. I will be able to barbecue using the propane side if I choose or I can use the charcoal side and add my lovely apple wood for smoking. There is a Char-Griller smoker attachment, but after using my old dilapidated grill for smoking, I'm pretty good at it without that added accessory and expense. 

Char Griller Duo 5050 


The Char-Griller Duo is not as heavy duty as some other brands. But at this point, the cost point is a priority for me. Also, I'm not sure I could move the heavy-duty grills around the deck by myself.

In the future, after I rebuild The Shack and have a real outdoor kitchen (off-grid summer kitchen) I will likely either purchase a higher end grill/smoker or I will have a custom stone BBQ/oven built. But in the meantime, I think this Char-Griller dual fuel grill is the perfect solution.

Of course I will write updates on whether or not I've made a good decision and the delicious test meals I'll be cooking.



*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Roasted Beets!

I have just discovered roasted beets and they are amazing! There is a good chance that you are familiar with roasted beets but I was not. With my recent passion for roasted beets, I've done some research. Beets are reported to be a healthy food treasure. And a vegetable that I'll be able to grow and store.


Why Roasted Beets are Exciting


I lived portions of my childhood years on farms. We had gardens and my mom did a huge amount of canning. I am appreciative of those experiences and having learned the skill of storing food all those years ago. 

Unfortunately, my mom was not a good cook. Nor was she adventurous in the kitchen. She cooked many of the meats in a skillet with water. The only herbs or seasonings in our kitchen were salt and pepper. And I don't recall much use of the pepper. There were many things cooked in that kitchen that I swore I'd never eat again.

Beets were one of them.  We canned them. And we boiled them to heat them. They were slimy, mushy, and pungent. Somehow pungent but without flavor. Oh how I gagged trying to get those down while worrying about the starving and appreciative children in other countries. 

I swore I'd never eat beets again. Ever. No matter what.


Bringing Out the Best in Beets


The lesson: never say never. Roasted beets are amazing! I had them recently, by accident, in a salad served in the cafeteria at work (see the intro photo above).  At first, I thought the little dark red chunks were cranberries. Or something similar. But there was such a smoky, earthy, and only slightly sweet taste that I didn't think they could be cranberries or craisins.

They were roasted beets. And they were delicious.  I immediately wanted more.

Since then, I've had more.  I've roasted beets several different ways and have eaten them as a side. 

So far, I've roasted them wrapped in tinfoil and in a variety of dishes and pans. But so far the best method has been to roast them in my small enameled cast iron dutch oven.  

They are fairly easy to prepare. I prepare beets as follows:

  • cut the tops off, leave about 3/4 inch of the top
  • cut most of the root off, leaving a small bit
  • wash under running water with a vegetable brush
  • place them in my pan and drizzle a bit of olive oil
  • salt and pepper (using more than you usually would sprinkle)
  • stir to coat the beets evenly
  • cover and bake at 375 degrees 
  • bake until a skewer slides through easily (my biggest beets took about an hour - smallest took 30 minutes)
After they are baked, I let them cool until I can handle them. Then I use a paring knife to cut off the remaining stem and root. Be careful, they remain warmer under the skins. As I do cut off the tops and bottoms, much of the "skin" peels/slides off.  I then peel off any remaining skin.
summer couscous sala


Ways to Serve Roasted Beets


In a salad

As a side (they were great with pork chops)

As an addition to my summer couscous salad (I think I'll replace the tomatoes with roasted beets)

Health Benefits & Risks


I am not a medical expert or nutritionist. Research seems to show that beets have many health benefits. They are reportedly high in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium - all things I am in need of.  

There are also some slight risks to over-eating of beets for people at risk of gout and kidney stones. This is due to the beets being high in Oxalates (whatever those are). 

Finally, if you eat many beets, do not be alarmed if your bathroom visits begin to show a slight "beet" color. That can happen and is reportedly harmless. If it concerns you, please consult your doctor. I just wanted to include a blurb here so you aren't startled (as I was) if it happens to you.


Beets are for Me!


I will still never again can beets and serve them after boiling. Yuck. But you can be sure that I will find a way to grow these in next year's garden (whether it's my balcony garden or a garden at The Shack). And I will be finding more ways to serve these little vegetable treasures with my meals. 

roasted beets and pork chops

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Treasures: Farm Fresh Eggs at Willow Valley Farm

Oh what a wonderful find! Farm fresh eggs are only a short drive away at a local farm in Baltimore County. If you live in the Baltimore area and are craving eggs straight from the farm you need to know about Willow Valley Farm in Glen Arm, Maryland.

Farm Fresh Brown Eggs


Why bother with driving to a farm when you can buy your eggs at the corner store? TASTE! That's why. Organic eggs that are more healthy for you come straight from farms. 

I've been so disappointed with the eggs from the store lately. They really have less taste. The last dozen I bought promised to remain fresher for a longer time. I swear there was no flavor. And then I was worried that whatever process that makes them have a longer shelf life is probably something I don't want to eat. 

I know that brown farm eggs have a rich taste and are healthier eggs in general. So I did an internet search hoping for eggs somewhere nearby.

Willow Valley Farm in Glen Arm, Maryland


It turns out that this farm is a bit of a drive from my apartment. But I had errands to do this morning and I'd not be too far from Glen Arm. So off I went.

Willow Valley Farm is very easy to locate. Just a few miles "north" of 695 on Harford Road. Actually, I think it is northeast of 695 and northeast of Carney, but the roads here never really run north/south and east/west so it is hard to describe.  Regardless, the farm was very easy to find. And Harford Road, off of Joppa Road, is a gorgeous drive. 

The farm is well-marked with a sign at the road. Turn in to the drive and head toward the barns. There you will find a small chicken coop/shed. That is where the self-serve eggs are located.

I made the mistake of actually going in to the shed.  Don't do that. I stood there for a minute, looking at the chicken boxes thinking "oh wow, this is the ultimate self-serve!"

Silly me. On the front of the shed is a smaller door with a black handle. The door is clearly marked with the egg prices. Behind that door is a small refrigerator. Inside are the eggs in cartons. You pay (honor system) in the container located in the refrigerator (so remember to bring a few dollars).  If you brought an empty carton to donate, you just leave it on top of the fridge. It was easy-peasy and I shouldn't have had any problems with figuring it out. I guess I hadn't had enough coffee yet.

And there I was, the very happy owner of 18 LARGE brown eggs.



Willow Valley Farm Owners


Mr. Jamie happened to be nearby when I entered the wrong door and exited. It was clear I was trying to figure out what I was doing. He greeted me, showed me the ropes, and talked for a minute about their lovely farm. In addition to eggs, they also have a variety of meats available; beef, pork, and of course, whole chicken.  

It was easy to see that their farm is well maintained. As far as farms go, it was very clean. The stock nearby (chickens, hogs, and cows) were all clean, healthy, and clearly well cared for. They were in large pens and they were clean. (Sorry, livestock cleanliness was my father's first rule of farming. And it is the first thing I look for when I am around livestock. Habit.)

I will return for more eggs. And likely make arrangements for some of the cuts of meats.  

Related Sites:


Click the photograph below for the Willow Valley Farm website. On that site you will find hours, directions, products, and a bit of information about the farm and family. Or find them on their Willow Valley Farm facebook page. On their facebook page they seem to update with egg availability (i.e. no eggs due to weather).


photo by Willow Valley Farm, Glen Arm, MD




Saturday, March 18, 2017

Treasures: Soothing Goat's Milk Soap

Rustic bars of goat's milk soap, made by hand locally, is a special treat I look forward to. It is a treasure that I purchase for myself each year. Typically, I buy a bar or two when I go to the local National Apple Harvest Festival and I use it when I'm in the mood to pamper myself. I have a favorite brand and a scent that I always look for at the festival. But more recently, I have discovered Etsy and am thrilled to have more options to purchase soothing bars of goat's milk soap with just a click of a button - any time I am in the mood to pamper myself. 


Stonefield Goat's Milk Soaps


Stonefield Soaps is the brand I always look for at the annual National Apple Harvest Festival. I impulsively bought a bar of Stonefield soap years ago and loved the feel of the lather and my soft skin afterwards.  

During my research to write this, I decided to look for Stonefield Soaps on Etsy. I did not locate them there, but I did find the Stonefield Soaps website. I am able to order these soaps online after all!  What a pleasant surprise.

Each chunky, little bar of soap comes wrapped in a thick paper, tied with a ribbon, and complete with a label to denote the fragrance. My favorite is the Lavender. 


Stonefield Soaps

Chickens In The Road Goat's Milk Soaps


There is a homesteading blog that I have followed for years.  Over those years I have read Suzanne McMinn's adventures after moving to a "slanted little house" and small farm in West Virginia. They eventually moved on to Sassafras Farm. At this farm she continues writing her blog but also gives workshops on things related to country/farm living. The workshops include soap-making. Someday I will attend one of the workshops and learn how to make my own soap - in preparation for retirement on my own homestead. In the meantime, I am super excited that Suzanne is offering her own goat's milk soap in her Etsy store.  

I want a sampler pack because I know I will enjoy all of Suzanne's soap recipes, but I am MOST excited about the Beer Me Babe recipe. I can only imagine how soft my skin would feel after the beer, shea butter, and coconut oil. And the orange and patchouli essential oils are a scent combination I enjoy (please refer to the listing for the complete list of ingredients). The Chickens In The Road bars of soap are large, unique, and rustic bars of soothing soap.


Chickens In The Road Goat's Milk Soap - Beer Me Babe


 Related Links:


The National Apple Harvest Festival is held in Pennsylvania each year. If you love apples, crafts, handmade items, bluegrass music, antique tractors and a car show (when it doesn't rain so much that the cars can't safely drive onto the field) and so much more, you would enjoy this festival.

Chickens In The Road is Suzanne's blog. There you will find all of the information about her farm, her book, recipes, the workshops, and her Etsy store. There are also forums for her followers to chat about their farms, gardens, and lives.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Camping Coffee Dilemma Solved

I am not a coffee snob nor am I considered by some as a "real" coffee drinker since I only drink iced coffee.  But I like my morning coffee. Oh who am I kidding? I MUST have my morning coffee.  I have developed a way to ensure I have iced coffee at home daily. However, making sure I have a morning coffee while camping at The Shack has been a problem.  Fortunately, I am reminded that a Moka coffee pot is the solution to most of my camping coffee problems!


My Process for Making Iced Coffee at Home Does Not Work Well for Camping


Some time ago, I had been buying coffee (and usually donuts) at a local coffee shop every day.  Determined to save money (around $1,800 a year!) and to get my iced coffee made how I like it (closer to black than the splash-of-coffee-over-creamer I often received at the coffee shop) I learned how to make my own iced coffee. The very summarized version is:

  • using a typical 12 cup drip coffee maker, I brew my coffee
  • I let it cool down sufficiently to avoid melting a plastic/lidded pitcher (I learned my lesson - pouring hot coffee into a glass pitcher is not a good idea)
  • I place it in the fridge over night
  • in the morning, I pour the cold coffee over ice and add my tiny splash of creamer

This method keeps the coffee from becoming diluted when poured over the ice. Then I use my AWESOME Bubba Tumbler to keep it cold and carry it safely with me to work or prevent nasty spills if I'm just hanging out at home.


Making Iced Coffee at The Shack


When camping at The Shack in cold weather, having cold coffee should be easy, right? I make the coffee as usual and take the coffee jug with me when I drive up there. Easy, right? Nope.  I tend to forget the coffee jug in the fridge. And once, I remembered the jug but I spilled a good portion of it in the Jeep because the lid wasn't tight enough. Maddening.


stove top percolating coffee pot
In cold weather, I can brew it in an old fashioned percolating pot. Easy, right?  Well, no.  My wood stove doesn't seem to get hot enough to cause it to percolate. 

I could use my BBQ grill. It doesn't have a side burner, so I have to sit the pot on the grill.  The fire of the grill gets plenty hot enough, but how clumsy sitting a little coffee pot over one of those large grill burners. Seems like a too much flame and propane for one tiny pot.  Not to mention that I can't seem to add the right amounts of coffee to water in my little percolating pot.  

However, I have had some successes with the grill and the stove top percolating pot method. Then, if it is cold enough, I leave the pot outside to cool. Not quite iced coffee, but close enough. 

Single Burner Camp Stove
I did finally figure out how to use a small propane single burner camping stove with the stove top percolator coffee pot. Propane camping stoves are awesome and work well for a variety of things. And they work well in all seasons. But that didn't solve the ratio of water to coffee problem I have. And the fact that the pot is so tall makes me a bit nervous on top of the propane bottle/stove set-up.


Moka Coffee Pot - The camping coffee solution


Just yesterday I found a Moka Coffee Pot review. Voila! My solution for making good coffee while at The Shack. I had already known about the Moka coffee pots but I had forgotten. Years ago I went camping with a friend who brought one on our camping trips. The measuring of the coffee and the water was almost fool-proof. The water heated quickly and the coffee "brewed" quickly.  

The only drawback is that it doesn't hold enough water for multiple large mugs of coffee. But that's okay.  I'm typically camping at The Shack with just the dogs and I. And thus far, they haven't asked for a cup of coffee. 

The Moka expresso coffee pot my friend used


Thank you Brenda at Culinary Favorites from A - Z for the Moka coffee pot review and reminder of the perfect coffee solution for making coffee while camping at The Shack. 



*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.