One man’s garbage is another man’s gold.  The self-sustaining household learns that many things we normally throw away can be used to enrich our homestead–whether it is an apartment in the city or a home in the country.

  • A friend gifted us with grapes last season she did not have the time to put up.  I was happy to spend an afternoon making homemade grape juice in a hot water canner.  Develop a gleaning/foraging friendship with others in order to share excess produce.  Trade extra tomatoes and cucumbers for apples and pears.  Offer to take care of a friend’s garden and water their outdoor pots while they are on vacation.  You may well be told to pick what you like!
  • Keep large cans and popcorn tins sold at Christmas to make inexpensive Rocket Stoves.  See “how to” on-line. A large popcorn tin, a small veggie can, and a #10 can are all you need.
  • Keep coffee grounds to add to garden soil.  Save egg shells to crush around tomato plants to prevent blossom rot and add necessary calcium.  Feed egg shells to your chickens to keep their egg shells firm.  Place cut-up banana skins around rose bushes for potassium.
  • Ask the bakery departments of Costco, Sam’s, Kroger and Walmart if they have icing or fruit pails they wish to give away.  These food grade pails are excellent for storing bulk rice, beans, etc., or for planting.  Be sure to drill holes in the bottom before using them as planters.
  • Use a 33 gallon plastic garbage can as a rain barrel.  You may wish to tie it down when it is empty to keep it in place in our Midwest storms.
  • Keep bricks, concrete pieces, etc. from construction work.  4-5 concrete blocks make an excellent outdoor rocket stove as do bricks  Concrete pieces can be used to form a fire pit in the back yard for emergency outdoor cooking.
  • Galvanized tubs from farm auctions are invaluable to use for laundry if the power goes out.  I have two that are set aside for this purpose with a mop wringer I found that can wring out wet clothing.  Large plastic storage tubs are also great.  Another galvanized tub has developed some minor holes; I am using that tub as a fire pit surrounded by rocks and gleaned concrete pieces.  I also grow herbs in galvanized tubs and buckets that have drainage holes.
  • Turn newspaper and junk mail into paper fire blocks.  Shred junk mail into a tall bucket until full.  Fill with water and leave for a couple of days; stir and break up paper to make a soft mass.  Dump paper into another bucket with holes and press out water.  Set block of paper mache in a sunny area to dry.  Burn these like a log.
  • Keep old chicken rotisserie cookers and toaster ovens to turn into tea light ovens.  They will bake when the power goes out using only tea lights.  See samples of the HERC oven on-line or look for tea light oven.
  • Turn tuna cans, corrugated cardboard and melted wax into Buddy Burners that can be used for heat or for cooking.  See instructions on-line.
  • Keep your food-grade containers for water storage.  Adults require a gallon of water a day to drink and another for hygiene.  We use distilled water in our coffee maker because of high lime content in our tap water.  After draining the jugs, we fill them with tap water in order to have plenty of stored water in case of emergencies.  Rotate your water supply and keep in a cool place off the floor.
  • Feed food scraps to your livestock/chickens/ducks or add it to a compost pile for your garden.
  • Save seeds from your heirloom produce to re-plant next season.  When you plant heirloom varieties, you will never want for viable seeds.  Hybrid varieties may not reproduce the same quality of plant; they are crossed to produce specific attributes.  Trade seeds with friends in order to increase your seed library.
  • Save desiccant packets from medicine bottles and merchandise.  [I would not recommend saving them from shoe boxes because the shoes may have been tried on by others and are not food grade.]  Add a desiccant packet to stored dried food containers to help prevent moisture and spoilage.
  • Save some of those plastic bags we receive from Walmart, etc.  They can be used in an emergency to wrap up garbage or supplies in an emergency situation.  Several plastic bags tied onto shoes also are make-shift boots in a pinch.
  • Cut old towels, sheets, and cotton clothing into rags and tie into handy bunches.  Keep them to use for hygiene as they can be cleaned when all the TP is gone.  A prepped household can never store enough TP for long-term events.
  • Adapt a plastic bucket as an emergency toilet by cutting a length of pool noodle and slitting it down the middle to fit around the rim.  Keep heavy-duty plastic bags and a supply of kitty liter or sphagnum moss near your hygiene bucket to service it.
  • Fill large boxes or garbage cans with the twigs that continually fall in spring and summer instead of putting them in the garbage.   Use these to fuel your rocket stove.  Typical debris is free fuel in an emergency and you do not need logs to fuel a rocket stove.
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When Did Modern Conveniences Become the Master?

Hoosier Cabinet

Our grandmothers thought the Hoosier Cabinet was the height of modern convenience. Everything was in one place for the efficient home-maker–the flour sifter, the sugar jar, a convenient porcelain work counter, and all the herbs and spices needed to bake and cook.  It may have been convenient, but everything was still done by hand.  In my kitchen, it takes an expansive counter top just to hold all the modern appliances that do the work for me–the mixer, coffee maker, food processor, microwave oven, stove and fridge.

If the electricity that runs all my appliances was suddenly  taken away, I like to think I could still function as grandma did–cooking from scratch and by-hand.  I can bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy, and a mighty nice loaf of bread or chocolate cake without modern appliances.  But I have yet to try my hand at baking them in a wood-burning stove.  But this spring, I am trying an experiment.  I have decided to develop the skill of cooking and baking using alternative methods.  Only when I actually learn to bake without electricity will it become a skill.  Because we do not have a wood-burning stove and no way to vent one in our home, I am going to experiment using my sun oven, a small rocket stove, and a larger brick rocket stove.  Only as I actually use and compare these methods can I develop the skill of being able to cook like grandmother–without electricity.

So look out, Dutch Oven–your time has come.

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Playing Off-Grid, Part II



In part I of Playing Off-Grid, I described my fantasy cottage cabin on the hill.  I think I will call it “Hill and Dale Cottage.”  Once you name it, it is yours!

Developing the skill of self-sufficient living is physically demanding and emotionally satisfying.  As a woman, I like to know there are alternative methods to life when the comforts of modern society let you down.  I also find great spiritual and mental satisfaction in learning to live off the land.  It is extremely exciting for me to know that God masterminded a wealth of medicinal and nutritional value into His creation, but we have forgotten the benefits of many plants and trees because of the convenience of commercial products.  We now call sourcing wildings foraging, which is going into fields and forest to gather natural herbs and food sources.  Although foraging may not be for everyone, learning that much of what we depend on can be grown ourselves or foraged is very freeing.   Talk about living off the grid!  It doesn’t get much better than that.

As a Bible teacher, herbalist, crafter and mentor, my fantasy cottage would be the ideal environment to teach the self-sustaining life style.  What I love myself I also love to teach.  What a joy to share that Goldenrod, a very common wild flower in Illinois, is also an excellent dye plant and the leaves make a delicious tea.  It is called Solidago in the East.  I also create lovely dried wreaths with Goldenrod in the autumn.

Sharon in the Farm Grove Garden

Pallet Picket Fence

Pallet Strawberry Bed

Rain Barrel


Stand of Deacon Street Ditch Lilies

To wet your appetite, do you recognize the Ditch Lilies above from your own local roadside?  Did you know the flowers are edible?  Don’t try eating Asian Lilies, however.  They are poisonous–that is why education is a must in the world of wildings.  I cannot tell you what a kick it is for me to take students on strolls through the meadow, pointing out edible clover, wild nuts, berries, edible inner pine bark, succulent wild purslane, dandelion, chicory, wild lettuce, and lamb’s quarter.

Wild lettuce can also be reduced to a thick syrup that is an excellent pain killer and willow bark tea will cure a headache.  Plantain is excellent to take away the sting of bug bites.  Elderberry syrup is excellent for the treatment of colds and flu, even for young children–just do not confuse elderberries with poke berries.  Education is key.

In Hill and Dale Cottage, I could also immerse students in using herbs for cooking and medicine.  What fun to actually teach them how to flavor a simple egg and potato skillet with fresh rosemary after gathering the eggs from the hen house; and then cooking it over a rocket stove on the patio.  We would gather fresh tomatoes from the garden,  slice them along with fresh mozzarella, drizzle the dish with olive oil and garnish it with fragrant sweet basil picked right from the bush in the front garden.  This farm meal could be enjoyed on the screened porch with sun tea flavored with fresh mint.  A meal like this is even more delicious when it is grown, gathered and cooked ourselves.

We could pick other herbs–both garden herbs and wildings–to place in the nesting boxes of the chickens to promote egg production and inhibit parasites.  Fresh herbs in the chicken run is also a treat.  A split cucumber  suspended on a string over the chicken run is both food and fun for chickens.  They enjoy picking out the seeds from the bobbing veggie, which keeps them happily occupied.  I could show how to crack corn in a food grinder for the chickens to lure them into the coop for the night–corn that was grown right behind the cottage.

The hard reality is that an off-grid cabin with no electricity, no running water, no sewage system, and no accessible road except for all-terrain vehicles would be a hard sell for zoning boards.  I understand that if such dwellings were allowed, shacks would sprout up all over the landscape.  I may revise my fantasy to demonstrating many of the techniques for off-grid living in our own country home.  But knowing my own character, I would be more likely to use an off-grid system with efficiency–if I had to.

We recently returned from the fantasy land of Disney World.  The Keys to the Kingdom tour emphasized that the Disney Company strives to create an environment where once you are in the parks, the normal world goes away.  They have developed a system of tunnels in order to hide first aid facilities, plumbing and wiring, and supply systems.  Employees are called cast members because once “on stage,” they never leave character.  They “become” the characters they play in this make believe land.  For the visitor, it is enchanting.  To be able to escape back in time to rural life before modern conveniences would be the ultimate teaching tool.

Well–you see my vision for a class that would completely immerse the participant in the self-sufficient lifestyle.  It would be life changing.  Everyone should have the experience of using a composting toilet at least once in their lives.






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Playing Off Grid – Part I

Cottage Cabin

On the long drive home from a Florida spring vacation, I began to visualize what it would be like to have a place to escape that was closer to home–a place where I could escape not just for the weather or the beach or the mountains–but for a change of lifestyle that would challenge me spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally.  I currently am blessed to live in  a place that closely fits this criteria.  What I had in mind was a cabin cottage where I could foster my interest in self-sufficiency and practice off-the-grid living perhaps for a weekend at a time.  I can read all about living without electricity, but until I practice it, it is not a skill.

Also, I do not want to live “tiny” but smaller.  Why invest in an alternative location if you cannot live in it comfortably?  In actuality, a self-sufficient lifestyle requires space to do all that doing-it-yourself requires.  In our present home of 3 floors, I have my own office and workshop as does my husband.  I also have a large kitchen with not one but 3 sinks and a full basement.  We have 3 bedrooms and 3 full baths.  Even with only the two of us, we use every bit of our home all the time because I craft, can, cook, write, garden, forage, teach and entertain.  My husband runs our business and does the maintenance for our property and much of the repairs and building himself, which requires equipment and storage.

Although the cottage would be much smaller than an average home of today, I think a great room with kitchen in one corner, seating in another, and sleeping space separated by a divider in another would be sufficient in a pinch.  The other corner would contain a bathroom, the only separate room on the first floor. Also in this corner would be the stairs to access a half-loft and a basement.  A cathedral ceiling greatly enhances the open concept over a seating area and the loft provides extra sleeping and storage space.

Perhaps location should have been mentioned first because, as they say, it is all about location.  I envision the cottage cabin on a hillock of land close to a clean running brook or lake.  An alternative water source is essential to location.  The cabin would be built into the hill with a basement in order to provide a storm shelter and a root cellar.  Because it would be a walk-out, it would be easily accessible for storage.  I cannot imagine living in the Midwest without a storm cellar or living off-grid without a root cellar.

I also envision a wide, screened-in front porch that would extend the living area of the cottage in fine weather.  Because of the walk-out basement, the porch would also be raised providing wonderful views.  The porch would also be an ideal place to store perishables in a container out of the way of wildlife in winter and to stack fire wood for the stove.

The wood-burning cook stove and rocket stove heater would be sufficient for heating and in-door cooking in the winter.  In summer I would use a sun oven and Dutch oven over an open fire pit and/or brick rocket stove.  The more alternatives the better.  There are several designs for brick or concrete block rocket stoves on-line.  These stoves are inexpensive, use very little fuel, give off very little smoke, and cook very efficiently.  Fire pits are a simple DIY.  Everything would depend on wood for fuel as firewood is a sustainable and renewable resource in our area.  Propane and gas eventually run out.

Keeping food fresh is always a concern.  In winter, using a cabinet on the porch could work in cold weather.  I would like to see if going back to the ice box is an option for summer.  An ice box was basically a wooden cabinet with insulated metal lining.  The top contained space for a block of ice in a tray and the melted water was channeled into a drip tray underneath the box.  The center had shelves to hold perishables.  Where do you find ice when the grid goes down?  Our grandparents cut it from the local pond in winter and stored it.  Another reason for the basement is to store blocks of ice during the summer under layers of saw dust.  Another method for refrigeration is the Zeer Pot which operates using evaporation to cool.  It requires two large terra cotta pots, one which fits inside the other.  The inside pot is where perishables are placed.  Plug drainage holes and place sand around the inside pot, between the inside pot and outside pot.  Wet the sand.  Place items needing to be kept cool inside the inner pot and place a cover over the pot.  As the water in the sand evaporates through the clay pots, it cools.  Think of how cool we feel after coming out of a swimming pool, even on a hot day.  We cool from the evaporation of the water on our skin.  You can see why a sturdy screened-in porch is handy for off-grid living.  I would have the Zeer Pot and winter ice box on the porch where they are handy and protected.

Of course there would be a sufficient kitchen and herb garden in the front and large patches for corn and wheat in the back.  Also in the rear would be a small barn-like shed.  Half would be used for storage of garden tools and an ATV vehicle.  I know.  If worse comes to worse, an ATV will run out of gas.  I would also have my bicycle in the shed.  But in such a scenario, the idea is not to HAVE to go anywhere.  This is called sheltering in place.

The other half of the shed would be the chicken house with a chicken run attached.  I would also consider a couple of pygmy goats for milk and to keep the pasture mowed, but that is optional to my fantasy.  At least 3 laying hens, however, are a must.  A rooster is necessary to keep the flock going if you plan on harvesting your hens for meat.

In addition to the garden, I envision a small orchard of miniature fruit trees and berry thickets.  My self-sufficient life would include a hot water canner to can preserves, fruit, pickles and tomatoes on the cook stove.  Without a freezer, I would rely on vegetables that could be stored over winter in the root cellar like potatoes, onions, garlic, dried beans, and squash.


The bath room is always an issue in off-grid living.  I have researched composting toilets and believe a simple set-up with bucket and seat lid that can be acquired at a camping store or farm store would suffice for my weekend get-away.  What is needed for this toilet set-up is sufficient sphagnum moss or saw dust to add to the bucket after each use.  I would keep a small galvanized bucket with a scoop next to the loo.  When the bucket is filled, seal it and set it outside along the side of a double compost bin for a few weeks.  Even TP will begin to break down quickly.

The question is–won’t it smell?  According to those who use this system, it does not–not when fresh or composted.  If there is a smell, use more sphagnum.  Have several buckets on hand to switch out as they fill.  Add the contents to your compost bin after a few weeks and add a layer of hay or grass or leaves on top.  Of course you would also be adding egg shells and kitchen scraps to the compost as well as the chicken house litter.  Torn paper can also be composted or burned to keep litter to a minimum.  After about a year, begin using the other side of the compost bin and incorporate the composted debris from the first bin around your trees and in the garden as new soil.


You know that simple bath room I mentioned?  Besides the composting toilet, it would include a water reservoir above a simple galvanized tub sink.  All gray water from bathing and washing would be carried out to a rock and sand trough run that would be easily accessible from the front porch.  Although if biodegradable soap is used, some believe gray water can be used directly on the garden but others disagree and say disposing of it in a simple filter run is best.  On the hillock, the run would eventually carry this gray water through the filter, then through soil and into the pond.  By the time it reaches the pond, it is clean.

In summer, the pond itself is handy for bathing.  But a galvanized tub in the bathroom can be used for winter bathing.  I am wondering about a simple sand filter run for the tub as well but do not have the expertise to know if this is a doable plumbing task or not–to run a pipe from a drain in the tub outside into a sand run.  Again, this is not sewage but gray water.  The tub could also be used to do laundry in winter.  Attaching a wringer to the side of the tub would make wringing out wet laundry much easier.  My cottage cabin would have an iconic outside clothesline.

The same set up would be used for disposing of water in the kitchen.  Although having a drain would be ideal, I think most dish washing water would be carried out to the outside run.  Yes–I see the tasks mounting up.  No one ever said off-grid life was easy.

Of course, laundry could more easily be done outside in warm months.  In the past, our grandparents had to heat water over a coal or wood stove or open fire, which required a lot of heavy lifting.  We no longer wash clothes in very hot water; mostly in cold.  But an easy way to heat water to a warmer temperature is to fill a galvanized tub with water and cover it with a black plastic sheet.  The sun will quickly warm the water.  The same galvanized  tub of warmed water could be used  for bathing.  Ideas to simplify off-the-grid laundry are available on-line.  It requires more galvanized tubs, a scrub board, hard work, and a clothes line.  Done and done.


About that alternative water source–it still has to be filtered and purified.  There is not enough time or space to go into water purification here except to say you can create your own filter system or just buy a Birkey Walter Filter.  With a good commercial filter, that pond water can be purified for drinking and cooking and hygiene.  For laundry and bathing, I would build a simple sand, rock, activated charcoal bucket filter that could be filled right from the pond, and with a faucet to fill tubs on the dock.

We live on a small pond at present and I often carry buckets of water from the pond to the garden when my rain barrel is empty.  [Gathering rain water is another method of obtaining water but it must also be purified for drinking.]  At present we do not have a functioning outside pump on our property and do not want to invest in a new system.  It is hard work bending over to pull those buckets out of the pond, even from our small dock.  I am thinking of having my hubby build a simple arm on a swivel that I can use to fill my buckets.  It is like the Colonial well sweeps they used to draw water from the wells.  The lever and fulcrum method would cut the weight in half for me.

These are my thoughts concerning a self-sufficient fantasy cottage–on a hill [or in a hill], by a pond, on a piece of property large enough for a good-sized garden, small orchard, and small pasture.  Developing the skill of living without electricity would be energizing emotionally and physically–but the mental and spiritual part comes in part II.  Tune in next time.


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The gun control issue will dominate politics for some time to come.  What can be done NOW to protect our children?  Our daughter Kelly works for the Safe-Latch company in Wisconsin and sent this press release out.   If  you have input in your local school district, please consider this product carefully:

In the wake of the recent school shooting in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we all have questions.  Are my children safe at school?  Are their teachers equipped with the tools to safely protect students? Does my child’s school have a locked door policy?   Safe-Latch is a product that helps schools enforce their locked door policies, making classrooms safer, for under $30 a classroom. “As a mission based business, our focus is to help educational facilities focus on learning while securing their schools from potential threats,” said part-owner, Nick Hoffman.  “We learned a lot from Sandy Hook and the number one suggestion that came out of that tragedy was to lock your interior classroom doors.  Locking your doors is the first step.  Safe-Latch was created to help implement that policy.”

Fact: There has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door. (Final Report of The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, 2015.

Doors that are locked dramatically increase the safety of our students and staff, but restrict the movement of students flowing in and out of the classroom.  Safe-Latch slides between the door and door frame, allowing interior classroom doors to be locked, at all times.  In an emergency, Safe-Latch can quickly be pulled from the door, locking it, without the use of a key.  Safe-Latch can be implemented immediately and does not require a change in door hardware.  Safe-Latch is a school-wide solution for teachers, administrators, substitutes and students, and requires no training to use. “When we talk with teachers and administrators, we tell them to lock their doors, practice their safety plan, and implement Safe-Latch.  Classroom safety is this simple.”

“In a world where active shooters in schools are becoming more prevalent, here at Safe-Latch, we work hard every day to get the word out about how important it is to lock classroom doors. An active shooter is looking for the easiest victims, they do not spend their time kicking down locked doors.” Said Nick Hoffman.

Safe-Latch, proudly made in Wisconsin, has been investing in the future of our schools since 2014 and is owned by a father and two sons. Our mission is to bridge the gap between safety and security to allow educators to focus on teaching.



Website:  ​

Direct link to the video on the website:

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“Evil men shall wax worse and worse…”

I am listening to reports of the Florida school shooting.  As Matthew 24:4-8 warns, all of these things are signs of the times.  We can expect the continuing and increasing deterioration of human civilization.  Only the return of Jesus Christ will halt our own self-destruction.

“2 Timothy 3:13 KJV – “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”

Now is the time to study the Word of God in order to be armed with truth in troubling times.  This is not an attempt to use a tragedy to sell books.  This is a warning that the worst is yet to come and believers need to be prepared, armed with truth and not fear.

When the Lamb Stands is a user-friendly workbook that takes the reader through the book of the Revelation and outlines the end times.  It is available on Amazon in soft cover or digital download.

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February Thaw

Have you heard of the February thaw?  Here in Central Illinois, we are experiencing unseasonal highs of 44 to 53 degrees on Valentine’s Day and the day after.


When the temps go up in February, I know of two Midwest rituals that take advantage:  tapping the sugar maple trees and pruning the grapevines.  For some reason, the flow of sap makes pruning of the grape vines a February task.  It makes more sense to me that the maples would be ready to tap for maple syrup when the sap is flowing.  Enjoy the break in temps.

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