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I live minimally, doing the kinds of things that matter most to me.

I saw my first issue of COUNTRYSIDE in 1972 after answering a classified ad in Organic Gardening magazine and I was immediately hooked. I wrote a letter which COUNTRYSIDE printed and then decided to ask if they'd want me to write a cooking column. The answer was yes and for the next 15 years or so I was a regular. I learned about homestead-style food handling, gardening, and chicken and rabbit care along with fellow COUNTRYSIDERS and wrote while I learned.

In 1988 my book, The Craft of the Country Cook, was published and since then my contributions to COUNTRYSIDE have been irregular. I couldn't rehash previous columns and I didn't seem to find another voice. Then three years ago I started a newsletter and workshops in my area, which seems to take most of my creative energy. My heart, however, is with COUNTRYSIDE just as it always was.

In my private life through the 1970s and 1980s, my children grew up and left home, I was divorced, and for close to 10 years now I've been living alone. With just myself to consider, I decided that instead of keeping a regular job (I had been an elementary art teacher) and earning money for non-essentials like running water and electricity, I would live minimally doing the kinds of things that mattered most to me.

I moved into a small barn on an acre of land I owned, and with a small nest egg I set about making the place livable. Over the course of a year, with the help of friends, I put tarpaper and board and batten siding on the barn and fixed up make-shift storm windows to keep out wind and snow. The loosely fitted board floor was covered with tarpaper and plywood, and a sink was installed with a hand pitcher pump attached to bring in water from an existing shallow well. Next I added a small bathroom with a toilet that flushes with buckets of water and a shower consisting of an old laundry tub with a drain and a watering can hung from the ceiling. With a wood burning heater to keep my barn-turned-cabin warm and an old wood burning cookstove in an outdoor lean-to, I had my basic creature comforts.

During that first year I also started a garden and built a small chicken house with a big fenced run. I can't let the chickens loose because of close neighbors and a well-traveled road. With time my garden has gotten huge, but my chicken flock still averages 10 hens and a rooster.

I got a telephone mostly for contact with my family and eventually I put in electricity since I was close to the power lines and already had a telephone pole. Electricity for lights, refrigerator a hot plate turned out to be cheaper kerosene for just the lights.

Other improvements include a sleeping loft up high where it's warmest, new roofing and more windows. I've just finished a big new window made from two heavy old patio doors. It gives a nice view of the stream behind my cabin and will, I hope, add solar heat and make a good place for starting seeds in spring. I have never properly insulated my cabin because I haven't wanted to cover the old barn beams, etc. The ceiling is beautiful with room-length slices from a huge old oak nailed to the rafters instead of regular boards. I should encase the outside of the building with insulation but haven't had the money, especially since it's a job I can't do by myself. Instead I've invested in long underwear and a feather bed. I'm quite comfortable and healthier than other people who don't have such good air circulation. (Or that's my explanation.)

About money: in spite of low taxes and minimal expenses I'm always broke. I sell produce from my garden (mostly salads), earn a little bit from book sales, and have occasionally had to borrow from family or friends, but even the austerity has been an interesting learning experience. It's amazing what you don't have to worry about when you can't run to the store and buy stuff. Recycling and care of natural resources are an automatic part of survival. There's very little trash to dispose of, and a good diet is hard to avoid if you can't afford junk food.

However, the most rewarding part of my lifestyle has been the chance to set an example and encourage at least a few people to sort through modem conveniences for those that matter and those that don't so they can begin living closer to the Earth. Young mothers in particular often want more than a prepackaged existence for their children and don't know where to start. They may never even have seen a rolling pin or a vegetable garden, much less have made a pie crust from scratch or planted a seed, and they're eager to learn along with their kids.

To me it's scary that so many people are growing up without the foggiest notion of how to take care of themselves without shopping malls, electricity and plumbing. I wish everyone could learn that life is possible and even enjoyable without such amenities.

For my own children, I think the most important thing they gained growing up homestead-style is an understanding of what self-sufficiency involves and confidence that they can make-do if they ever want to or have to.

As for the future, I feel a change coming on in my own life (not to mention life in general). Suburbia, which has been creeping ever closer for years, is now at my doorsteps. I am increasingly bothered by road traffic, airplane noises and less pure air and water. I hope in the next few years to move somewhere more rural, probably near my oldest son since he is getting tired of city life. If and when I do move I'll write COUNTRYSIDE and let everyone know how it's going.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Lessons Learned, Changes Accepted, in the Last 10 Years of Homesteading
Author:Katz, Pat
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:994
Previous Article:If a project isn't completed, maybe it wasn't all that important!
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