Angi Schneider lives on a small homestead along the Texas Gulf Coast with her husband and children. For over 25 years they have sought to reduce their dependence on commercial products and the grocery store by growing and preserving food, living a DIY lifestyle and cooking simple, tasty meals from scratch.
Angi shares preserving recipes and how-to’s on Creative Simple Living with SchneiderPeeps. She has also written two books on preserving food – The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables and Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond.
We never intended to be homesteaders….in fact, I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with that label for us. We’re just a family that grows and preserves food, raises chickens and bees, cooks from scratch, turns to natural remedies first, and tries to live a simple, DIY lifestyle. It’s just what we do.
Our journey started soon after we got married and my husband found a patch of wild dewberries on one of our hikes. We picked buckets full to eat and make into jam. Not that either of us knew how to make jam, but I knew someone who did know….my Granny.
I called Granny and asked her for her super-secret, super-yummy, canned dewberry jam recipe. I had my pencil and paper ready so I could write down every word she said.
Here’s what she said, “Go buy a box of Sure-Jel and follow the directions.”
Me: “Ummm…..that’s it??”
Granny: “Well, you can add a bunch of sugar to the berries and boil them down until they’re thick. But that takes longer.”
To be honest, when I hung up the phone, I was little disappointed. I had such fond memories of my Granny’s back room filled with preserved food and garden harvest, I just always assumed it was something secret and special because she’s the only one I knew who preserved food. I thought it must be hard.
But my Granny was a wise woman and she knew that if she babied me and talked me through every single step, I wouldn’t gain the confidence that I would by just buying a box of Sure-Jel and doing it on my own. She didn’t tell me to be careful or talk to me about botulism or make sure I knew to sterilize the jars first (this was in the early 90s when that was still the recommendation) – she trusted that I could read and follow directions. And so I did.
In the almost 30 years since then we’ve learned to forage other foods and garden. We’ve also learned how preserve food by water bath and pressure canning, fermenting, dehydrating and freezing. We’ve learned to build things for our home and property and do home repairs and how to do basic auto maintenance and repair. We’ve also learned how to sew and do woodworking. And we learned how to live below our means. All because of the confidence my Granny instilled in me in that one phone call.
We have six children – five are adults and we have a 12 year-old. Our kids have always worked along beside us, doing whatever we’re doing, learning as we learn. Let me tell you….my kids have skills, way more skills than I did at their ages.
I don’t know that any of our kids are going to choose this homesteading lifestyle for themselves and that’s perfectly fine! But I do know that the skills they’ve learned from this lifestyle help them in their adult life regardless of if they live in the middle of NYC (which one of our children does) or in historic downtown home on a nice size city lot (which another child does.)
As I look back over the years here are the skills that all of our children have picked up from our homesteading lifestyle that are benefiting them now. Very few of these skills were formally taught, most were taught through conversation as we worked together.
- If you can read and follow directions, you can learn anything – Thank you Granny!!! I would include following You Tube videos instructional videos in this too. I’ve seen my kids teach themselves how to play the guitar, do hand lettering, photo and video editing, auto repairs and even rebuild an engine by reading and watching and following directions.
- Live below your means – All my kids are savers. While many of their peers spend money on things that are fleeting, like fast food and the latest style clothes, I see my kids enjoy some of those things at times but not to the point of “blowing” their money. My kids are happy to try to buy used first. They also are content with what they have and think long and hard before they upgrade or buy something new. When they were growing up, we were very careful to tell them that “We have plenty of money for the things we need, however, we don’t have any XYZ money right now.” XYZ – would be anything that we didn’t think was a good use of our money at that time. We want our kids to know that in life just because you have money in the bank it doesn’t mean you can or should spend it on something you want.
3. When it’s time to work, work hard – All of my kids have an incredible work ethic. They know that whether they are getting paid or are doing a volunteer job, they are to do their best and work until the job is complete. One of the great things that has come from this attitude is that people have seen my kids work during a volunteer project and have later hired them to work for pay…and teach them new skills! My boys have learned to roof, build fence, lay tile, and do general home upgrades because a contractor friend saw the work they did on a volunteer job. My girls have been paid to help clean houses, house sit, and do sewing projects for ladies who have seen things they have sewn for a baby shower and saw them help clean up after the shower.
4. When it’s time to play or rest, do it fully – It’s important that we take time to relax and play. I’m a worker by nature and can work all day every day and be just fine. But not everyone is like that and doesn’t mean they are lazy. It’s good to play! Pretty much every Friday night for the last 20 years we have had homemade pizza and movie night. It helps separate the week from the weekend and is a really fun tradition where we all just chill and hang out. It’s a special time for my kids and many times when their adult friends are in town they ask to come visit on Friday night for pizza night. That truly just warms my heart! We also try to have a family game night once a week or so. My husband is most certainly the fun parent and helps keep us balanced between work and play.
5. Know how to cook from scratch – By the time my kids leave my home, they all know how to cook…some are more proficient than others but they can all cook a few things. More importantly, they can all read and follow a recipe. Kids don’t need to know how to make everything you do when they leave home, they just need to know how to follow a recipe and know how to do a few basic things like, sauté vegetables, make eggs, cook a chicken breast and a hamburger patty, boil pasta, and cook rice. If they are confident in these few things…they can cook anything!
6. Know how to do laundry and basic home cleaning – All my kids started doing their own laundry at about age 10 – start to finish. It’s a long story as to why, but it’s worked well for us. Yes, we’ve had a few ruined clothes, but very few. None of my boys sort their clothes – they just put them all in the washer and wash. Their whites are dingy and they don’t care, and since I don’t do their laundry I don’t really are either. I did start buying them gray socks though…so maybe I care just a little…lol. All my kids can wash dishes (we’ve never had a dishwasher), clean a bathroom, vacuum, sweep, and do what is necessary to keep a home clean. I’m not saying they do these things everyday…I’m just saying they know how to do these things because they’ve done them in our home.
7. It’s important to part of a community – I cannot tell you the number of meals we have taken to other families over the years, the times my boys have mowed someone’s yard because they couldn’t, the times my daughters have watched someone’s children or made a special dessert to take to an event. I can’t tell you because we don’t keep count. But I know that these small things build community and even though we are pretty self-sufficient, everyone needs to be part of a healthy, loving community. I want my kids to know that in addition to a responsibility for themselves and their family, they have a community responsibly too.
This past year we’ve been given a glimpse of the community impact our family has had. Last fall my husband was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. And as you can imagine it has made our world a little topsy-turvy. However, our local community and the community of friends that we’ve built over the years, has helped us in so many ways. We have been the recipients of countless meals, cards, prayers, and visits. Young men have come over to mow when our son who still lives at home was serving at a camp. Friends have helped get our 12 year old to and from dance and other activities to help keep some normalcy in her life. We have truly been blessed by our community.
One important thing I want to mention about building community is that the vast majority of our friends don’t live a homesteading lifestyle. So when I say it’s important to build community, I don’t mean just with other homesteaders, I mean with all kinds of people – people from church, other parents at your kid’s school or activities, your neighbors, co-workers, etc. – all of these people can be part of a healthy community for you. Don’t overlook building community as you build your homestead.
My parting message to you, Homesteading Mamas, is that none of this stuff happens in a day and none of it has to taught in a big, overwhelming way. Just do what do – grow food, raise animals, preserve food, learn about herbs, etc. and have your children work along side you. It’s hard when they’re little because their “help” really isn’t helpful . But don’t shoo them away, let them be with you and learn slowly….a little each day. Find something they can do such as chop bananas and avocados with a butter knife, stir a pitcher of iced tea, “arrange” the pins in your pin cushion by color, pull a weed or pick berries, gather eggs, or hold the screw drivers and hand them to you. There are lots of ways to include little ones in your daily work.
And the days will turn to months which will turn to years, and before you know it your children will have the skills they need for life – and probably way before their 18th birthday.