Thought for the day

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”
~ William Morris

Things I love: antique kitchen "gadgets"

As we've started to make more and more food from scratch, we've found that our need for kitchen tools have changed as well.  Although I can and do make bread straight in the oven, I've found that the bread machine is great for set-it-and-forget-it days.  My food processor gets used all the time, for everything from making pie crusts to shredding blocks of cheese.  And my mini-chopper...  What would I do without you?  But for my truly back-to-basics food, I've fallen in love with hand-crank and antique "gadgets".

My first hand-crank appliance was my food mill.  It's not an antique (though the design is), but I love how simple it is.  I also love that there's hardly anything to break.  Most of the parts are cast aluminum or stainless steel, and it could function without any of the plastic bits if absolutely necessary, though it would be messy as heck! I think it says a lot that I love it as much now as I did when I got it 4 years ago.  Here's a picture of it in action, easily pureeing my applesauce:

My next gadget was an ice cream maker.  I had been thinking about getting an ice cream maker, but the one I really wanted (a White Mountain with a wooden bucket) was WAY out of my price range.  I could have gotten a Cuisinart or something for half the price, but they just seemed to lack personality.  But while browsing at the Shipshewana Flea Market that summer, I came across a vintage Alaska Freezer Co. ice cream maker.  It had a wooden bucket, hand crank, and the insides were wonderfully clean and functioned perfectly.  Price?  $25.  And the funny thing is, after doing a bit of research, I found that Alaska Freezer Co. bought out White Mountain back in 1963, but changed the name back to White Mountain in the '70s.  The design hasn't changed appreciably since the 1920s, so I basically got a $150 discount.  Isn't it so much more fun-looking than a white plastic appliance?

And then came the sausage stuffer...  I had been browsing on ebay, looking for a used one, when when I came across the Enterprise sausage stuffer and cider mill.  Cider?  And sausage?  From one appliance?  Both were things I'd been wanting to make, so I was sold!  A bit of research revealed that I'd again found an appliance that was still sold today, with an unchanged design.  So there went any hesitation I'd had that maybe the design wasn't very good.  It's not like you can find many reviews on antique appliances, you know?  So the search began.  I looked at rusty, crusty Enterprises, thinking that I could restore them.  I looked at fully-restored models, thinking that I didn't want the extra work.  And then, I found it.  It was clean and repainted on the outside, but the insides hadn't needed to be retinned.  The price was still a bit steep at just under $200 including shipping.  But it was gorgeous.  And so this beauty became part of my collection:

I haven't used it yet, but I will be making a batch of homemade brats soon to test it out.  And in the fall?  We're going to make cider!

My most recent addition was an Quaker City grain mill.  Again, it's a vintage grinder, but it's still in production (though now it's powdercoated). 

 This one, I don't plan on using regularly.  And it's not especially pretty.  But it's all metal and completely repairable by hand.  I wanted a grain mill to have for just-in-case, but all of the hand crank mills that were affordable were plastic and got terrible reviews.  This guy is bomb-proof.  The grind is somewhat coarse, and the wheat needs to be run through at least twice (unless you have arms of steel) to get flour.  But if the shit ever really does hit the fan?  I'll have bread.  This is one place where I was willing to build in a bit of redundancy.  The mill cost $75, and even if/when I get a good electric mill (like the Nutrimill), I'll still be out far less cash than if I'd shelled out for a Country Living grain mill, which is the gold standard in hand-crank mills. 

But I'm not done yet...  In the future, I'd like to add a hand-crank cherry pitter and an Arcade coffee grinder, which I think is probably the prettiest coffee grinder I've ever seen:

I guess, just like with houses, I like my appliances and gadgets to have some personality.  And while the frilly-ness of the Victorian era appeals to me not at all, there is something to be said for everyday items that were designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing.  I truly believe and try to live by the William Morris' adage that, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  I aim for my possessions to be both. 


The reality of homesteading, parenting, and working

At first I thought I could do it all.  Plenty of people work full-time and raise happy, well-adjusted kids, I told myself.  Hell, I was one of them!  My mom was a single parent, so she worked full-time out of necessity.  My grandmother helped with childcare when I was little, then I went to an after school care at our local Salvation Army after we moved to Indiana.  My mom still came home every night and made dinner, and we always spent time together in the mornings too.  I'm sure the arrangement was sometimes difficult for her, and I know now that she would have stayed at home with me (and any potential siblings) if my parents had remained married.  But I never felt like we didn't have enough time together or that I was in any way neglected, and we are still very close.

When I got pregnant with Ethan, I just sort of assumed I would send him to daycare and continue with my career.  I'd never really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and I felt like we'd be able to provide a better quality-of-life for ourselves and our family if we had two incomes.  We are fortunate enough to have family who watches Ethan when I am at work, and because Shayne works midnights, he can watch Ethan in the evenings.  The time the little guy has to be away from home is pretty minimal, so we were mostly satisfied.

But what became apparent in the two years we both worked full time was that our quality of life did suffer, just not in the ways we expected.  I still made time to garden, preserve food, and cook from scratch.  We even managed to refinish our floors and get some work done on the house.  But we suddenly became "time poor", and this is even more evident now that I'm pregnant and Ethan needs more supervision.  We don't spend much time together as a family.  Ethan is always with family, but not often with both mom and dad at the same time.  Housework has suffered.  It's a constant struggle just to keep up with putting away laundry and dishes, let alone keeping the house fairly clutter-free.  I refuse to not allow my kid to be a kid, so on many mornings, instead of doing housework or cooking, we are both outside playing in the dirt or exploring the bit of woods left behind the house.  This means that we eat out more often, but something has to give somewhere. It's not ideal, but I cook as much as possible on my days off, and when the leftovers run out we just make do. 

There are certainly days when I can't wait to go to work.  Toddlers can be frustrating, and Ethan is no exception.  But as I've analyzed the real reason for my frustration, it's less because of his behavior and more because I am trying to get something done that is necessary for us to get out of the house, and whatever he is doing is impeding my progress.  If I wasn't in a rush, if I could put off packing a lunch, if I wasn't trying to find diapers/wipes/extra clothes to put in a diaper bag, so many of our little conflicts could be avoided.  I can't and don't expect a toddler to understand time constraints, but unfortunately they are a very real thing in our life right now. 

Here's a sample day, assuming both Shayne and I are working:

6:30 - 7 am - Ethan  wakes up.  Sometimes he's already in bed with me, others he sleeps the whole night in his own.  If it's 7 or later, Shayne is home from work and gets Ethan breakfast.  I go back to sleep.

8:30 - I get up, shower, and try to keep a rambunctious toddler from drowning himself in the sink.  Shayne goes to sleep as soon as possible after I'm out of the tub.  I used to be able to shower without someone watching Ethan, but he discovered he could reach the handles on the new sink...

9 - 10:30 - Play time.  Sometimes I am able to use this time to clean up the kitchen a bit (Shayne rarely has time to do this on days that he's working, since he has to leave about 20 minutes after Ethan goes to sleep) or accomplish some other housework.  Ethan will help me vacuum or sweep the floor, and he also likes to empty the dryer.  If it's nice, I skip or shorten the housework and we go outside to play.  I usually spend the first 20 minutes just sitting on the porch, drinking my coffee.  Ethan plays with his trucks in the garden or scoots around on his tractor.

10:30 - 11:30 - I try to give myself at least an hour to get out the door.  If we were outside, Ethan needs his hands washed and often a change of clothes.  If I'm not dressed for work, this is when it happens.  Lunch gets packed (with Ethan standing on my feet and wanting to help or grab all the food off the counter), and I try to pack or grab something out of the freezer to take to work to eat.  Often, Ethan needs some time to decompress from our playtime, and we sit on the couch and snuggle while reading a book or three.  I usually have to make multiple trips upstairs because I've forgotten something, like my water bottle for work, or clean diapers, or maybe there wasn't a change of clothes in the diaper bag.  Ethan knows we are getting ready to go and will sometimes run out of the house on his own... 

11:30 - If everything has gone pretty smoothly, we're out the door and (hopefully) getting to Grandma and Papa's right about now.  Once there, we eat lunch together. 

12:15 - On my way to work.  If it was a not-so-smooth day, I stop on my way to grab some food, since I didn't pack myself anything.

12:30 - I get to work.

4:15-ish - Shayne gets up, showers, and goes to retrieve our offspring.

5 - Shayne and Ethan run any necessary errands (library, Meijer) and either pick up food or eat leftovers at home.  If there were no errands that day, they might mow the lawn or just hang out at home and play. 

7 - Bathtime. 

7:30 - Wind-down time.  Shayne and Ethan read books or other quiet play.

8 - This is official bedtime, but there are days it doesn't happen til 8:15 or later, depending on how crazy/busy the evening was.

8:45 - I get home.  If it was a good day, Ethan's already in bed and Shayne is getting ready for work.  If not, I take over kidlet care. 

9 - Shayne is out the door, and Ethan is sleeping.  There is a pile of dishes in the sink, a full (but clean) load in the dishwasher, and a mountain of laundry that needs to be put away.  I have a snack and chill out for a few minutes.

9:30 - I feed the various animals and usually accomplish a little bit of housework before going upstairs to get ready for bed.  In my current pregnant state, I'm pretty exhausted by now and don't really do a whole lot.

11 - Lights out for me (hopefully).

It doesn't look so awful when I write it all out, but both Shayne and I are tired all the time.  Because we get so little downtime (we're either at work or watching a kidlet), when we do have some time, we don't want to spend it cleaning.  We need to rest a bit.  Or, we don't rest and get something done, but at the expense of ourselves.  I know if you asked either one of us, on any given day, what we like least about our lives right now, we'd undoubtedly say something about how worn out we are.

It's much harder than I ever anticipated.  I still love my job, but my heart and soul are at home.  And I know that with two kids, the weariness we both feel will only increase.  I don't want to live like this indefinitely.  I want to see my husband and spend time together as a family.  I want to eat breakfast and dinner together at night.  I want to be able to spend time with my kids without a time limit.  I want to have time for the things that really matter, not have to squeeze them in when it's convenient.

And so we are slowly making changes.  Thankfully we bought a house we can afford on a single income, which I am convinced is the most intelligent decision we ever made.  Our bills are low, and we are working on lowering them further.  We're in the process of ditching our landline phone and using pre-paid cellular exclusively.  Strangely enough, by moving to Straight Talk from Verizon cell service and an AT&T home phone, we'll have unlimited phone time and still save $100 per month. We already have Netflix instead of cable, and we switched internet providers to save $20/month.  I'm looking into ways to decrease our trash bill, especially as we don't produce all that much unless we're remodeling something.

In spite of our time crunch, my cooking skills are slowly expanding.  I bought a grinder and can grind my own flour.  By buying wheat instead of flour, I save $10 for every 50 lbs used.  And baking our own bread, muffins, etc. saves even more.  We've also started buying other staples in bulk, like oatmeal, beans, and rice.  And preserving local, in-season produce helps too.  The homemade applesauce I canned a few weeks ago is half the cost of even the crummiest store brand.  And in addition to saving money, I find genuine joy and satisfaction through providing food to my family.

We buy secondhand clothes, appliances, bikes, toys, and many other things.  We don't have a car payment, and we are essentially a single-vehicle family.  Our Honda CR-V is 11 years old and pushing 200K miles.  Vacations are taken close to home and don't involve expensive resorts.  I'm learning to make many personal care products, like deodorant, lotion, and herbal ointments.  Exercise involves going outside, not driving to the gym.

And because of these lifestyle changes, none of which has made us feel deprived (though we certainly have moments where we'd love to go on a Caribbean cruise or desperately want a different car), we are going to have a trial-run living on a single income.  When the new baby arrives or I leave work due to the pregnancy, I will be taking a leave-of-absence from my job.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. While I've never felt more strongly that God was guiding me along a particular path, trusting that it will all work out is hard.  But I think that deserves its own post...