Homestead Fixer-Upper | Small Farmhouse Style Living Room

We set out on a journey to buy our first home in 2008, two years after we got married. We were ambitious little things, but we knew that the only home we could afford would be a “fixer upper”. The housing market had almost completely bottomed out, and almost every single house we put a contract on was snatched up right before we could get to it, or shortly thereafter. But in March of 2008, we bought our very first home. A quaint little rambler nestled in a wooded subdivision on a steep hillside. At the bottom of the hill, back in the woods, sets a little creek that runs through and hosts minnow catching children all summer long.

Back then I had no idea what I wanted our fixer upper to look like or be like. I was young, had never had to think about home decor, and wasn’t even a great housewife. Back then, the thought of a farmhouse style home didn’t really make much sense to me. But I also didn’t know that we would soon have chickens in the backyard and various other farm animals running around.

We’ve put a lot of sweat and muscle into our little home since 2008, and today I want to share with you one of our most recent projects that we’ve just about completed—our farmhouse style living room. Now, it’s  not quite a living room anymore, but it’s definitely a wonderful sitting room. It’s small and quaint, and finally, I’m in love with it!

Before I go any further, these pillows above. My goodness, how I love them. I love all things from The Rustic Mod home decor! They have the best items for farmhouse decor, too.

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Inexpensive Photography Backdrops & Tips for Homestead Bloggers

Over ten years ago, I began my blogging journey. In the beginning, it was just words. I allowed words to flow out of me and used stock photos if I needed them. Sometimes, I didn’t even use photos. The people who read blogs back then were people who simply enjoyed reading—with or without photos. They were people who enjoyed connecting with pleasant words and stories, like on the pages of a novel. But fast forwarding to today, now days, you have to be a photographer in order to have a successful blog—or at least take exceptionally good cell phone photos.

Seeing as I’m a professional photographer, this isn’t an issue for me. Though sometimes, it can be frustrating to have to break out the “real” camera. Even so, I still need inexpensive ways to make my photos look great.

As a homesteader, we try to be self-sufficient and recycle whatever we can. The same goes for our blogs and photos. No one wants to see a photo of your freshly made perfect pie on a dark dirty oven top caked in flour remnants and last nights dinner. I mean, I do, because that’s real life, but if you want to get any actual “hits” on the post, you better clean up and tighten up that lighting! As a homesteader, who the heck has time to do that? You just want to throw down a backdrop over top of it all or in front of a window, and let the world think your house is in order when it’s really dirty as all get out.

Yep, you know it. I said it. Amen.
As a photographer and homesteader, I’ve found some pretty cost effective and beautiful backdrops to use over the past few years, and I decided I’d share some of them with you!

Use What You Have

One of your greatest assets is that you’re a homesteader. This means you have all kinds of junk laying around. You probably have some old barn wood pieces, some clean flour cloth dish towels, or maybe some antique wooden crates.
That’s what I used in the two photos above. Just two old wooden crates, side by side, in the first photos. The first (main) photo will actually be the photo wrap for my upcoming cookbook. In the second photo, I used two different crates, and stacked one behind the other. You can find these super cool brew or kombucha bottles here.
Here are some of the things that I typically have laying around that I use the most.
  • wooden crates
  • barn wood or wood remnants
  • Flour Sack Dish Towels
  • Vintage Dish Towels
  • antique plates (ex: blue willow)
  • my tile floor in my kitchen
  • old baking sheet
  • your own wood flooring in your home
  • my deck and/or stairs (wood)
You can spice things up by adding herbs, branches, leaves, berries, and more—scattered about.

Purchasing Inexpensive Backdrops

If what you have laying around doesn’t work for you, then you can purchase inexpensive, and multi-use, backdrops from your local hardware or specialty store. One of my favorite things to use, as seen above, are scatter rugs. You can purchase different types and colors of scatter rugs very inexpensively at your local big chain hardware store such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. I purchased the above rug for less than $6 on sale. So, I bought two! They are thick and durable, and easy to clean.
Another option, along the same lines as the scatter rug, are table runners. Table runners are a dime a dozen during the holidays. You can get some pretty exceptional runners on clearance after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Actually, I bought the table runner in the photo above out of the $1 bin at Target this year. It allows you to add dimension, be it on a wooden kitchen table, or on a different kind of backdrop.
Here are some item’s I’ve purchased inexpensively to use as backdrops.
  • Burlap (from your local craft store or online)
  • Cheese cloth
  • Scatter Rugs
  • Slate pieces
  • Bricks

Lighting, Editing, and Camera Equipment

While backdrops are inexpensive and fabulous, they won’t make a bit of difference if you don’t have some knowledge of lighting. And if you’re looking for a true pro look, you may even need to invest in some camera equipment. If you already have a DSLR camera (or are thinking about investing in one), this section is for you.
When taking a photo, I always use natural light. I have never had to use artificial lighting in any of my photos. Ever. Not once.
I accomplish this by taking all of my photos next to a large window where lots of light comes through. If the light is too much, you can drape a white sheet over it, as I did in this photo above. This creates an illuminating effect, and produces beautiful shadows. There is a common misconception that your product or subject in the photo has to be fully illuminated, and that’s just not true. The best photos have depth, and shadows are necessary. In the photo above, the window is off to the side, which creates shadows for the eggs and other food. Drawing your focus in on the center of the photo.
You can also note the depth of field is very shallow. For people who aren’t photographers — “that blurry stuff there in the background.” Most people want to learn how to create a depth of field, meaning having the focus on one thing, while all other things begin to blur out. This is naturally created through the camera lens. You can manually create it while editing, but the effect is not the same, as it creates no depth, just focus.
Your next important step is editing. Many people enjoy editing through free photo editing apps and programs. But if you’re serious about your photos, I highly suggest investing into Photoshop Elements. It is not nearly as expensive as other photoshop programs, and it is a one time fee. You can even find an older version—I use version 10 often, simply because I’ve never upgraded.
I would also encourage you to shoot in RAW with your DSLR instead of jpg if you plan to edit your photos. It allows you to easily manipulate the lighting and doesn’t compress the photo as bad as a jpg. And I would also encourage you to learn out to shoot in manual mode, allowing you to focus where you want to focus, and more.
Here are some equipment recommendations.
Ultimately, making sure that your lighting is correct, and that your backdrop is pretty or interesting—creating depth with layers—are the two key components you need to a beautiful homestead blog photo. If you can nail those, you’re on a pretty good path to becoming a little more involved in your photo taking skills for your blog!
Enjoy the little things, and remember every now and then to show the real mess in the midst of the pretty. Because, while beautiful photos get lots of traffic on websites, being raw and real every now and then gets even more.

How To Properly Use and Season Cast Iron

I believe my mom cooked more with cast iron than my grandma ever did. At least, in my lifetime. Growing up, I didn’t really understand that cast iron needed tender, loving care. It’s like a living and breathing extension of your kitchen. One that I now thoroughly enjoy as an adult in my very own kitchen.
But keeping cast iron seasoned and non-stick can be challenging for some. It was challenging for me at first, and sometimes, when I’m lazy (oh yes, I can be!), it still kicks me in the teeth and says “ha ha, you’ll have to season me again!”
Most  of the time, however, when I bring my cast iron skillets and pans out, I am greeted with a deep, rich, black blanket of color that could put a smile on any homesteaders face. And here’s why…

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Canning Peaches With Raw Honey

Canning is hard work, people—let me tell you. I do a little canning each year, but nothing like what my great Aunt used to do. When I think of a garden and canning, I automatically remember Summertime at Great Aunt Vergie’s house. That woman, she could can. Between her and my Great Uncle Al (who was married to my Great Aunt Rose who deceased very early in life), they must have had a 2 acre garden on Aunt Vergie’s property. They shared the space and worked together. Uncle Al lived all the way up in the big city, and he would come down and garden on the weekends.
Between the two of them, their gardening and canning was simply a way of living. And a pretty darn good way of living. They didn’t have websites and you tube channels. They just….lived.
And over the past few years, I’ve learned to just “live” too. Learning what I can , growing in knowledge, and experimenting with new things.

Because of this, last year was an experimental canning season for me. I’ve been canning for a few years now, but last year was the first year I had used raw honey in place of sugar. I specifically tried canning peaches last year. And here’s what I discovered.

Tip number one….old jars aren’t always reliable.

These jars actually came from my Uncle Al, God bless his soul as he rests in peace. A couple of them had hairline fractures apparently, and burst open in the canner. Now, this isn’t something to be scared of. Since they aren’t pressure canned, no glass shards when zooming through the air!
So, moving along…
Do you have to add sugar to can peaches?
No, absolutely not. You can can peaches (and any other sweet fruit) in water and do just fine. However, without a preservative, they can turn brown and lose some of their sweetness. Some people simply add lemon juice to retain color, but the honey (in this particular fruit) did the job of both. I didn’t want to add refined sugar (though, I could have used raw sugar) so this past year I opted for a cup of raw honey.

Here’s how you do it.

1. Start with a pan of boiling water. You’ll want to get the skins off of the peaches without cooking them. You do this very easily by scalding the outside of the peaches in boiling water for 2 minutes, and then dunking them in ice cold water. This is the easiest way to peel peaches without the trouble of using a knife, and without being wasteful. This is easier when the peaches are very ripe
2. After the skins are removed, bring 8 cups of water and 1 cup of raw honey to a boil in a saucepan. 

3. As that is coming to a boil, cut up your peaches in slices or just in half, and remove pits. Make sure you also remove the hard red edges on the peaches, as these can sometimes cause issues with the preservation later down the road. Make sure you also remove any really soft brown spots in the flesh as well.

4. *This step is optional. If you’d like more of a spiced peach rather than regular peaches, you can add a cinnamon stick and nutmeg (etc) to the bottom of your jar.

5. Pack sliced peaches in jars tightly (preferably pit side down), up to the bottom (and even a little above) of the mouth.

6. Fill the jar up with the hot honey/water mixture, leaving a 1/2″ head space.
7. Place lid on and ring on with finger tip tightness. Process in hot water bath canner for 20-25 minutes. Once processed, remove them without touching tops of lids, and place them in a level area where they can cool.
Keep in mind that these peaches, once cooled, will have cooked and sank down into the jar a bit. That’s why we always pack as many into our jars as possible.
Once cooled, if any of the lids have not sealed, place those jars in the refrigerator and eat first.
These are delicious to use later in the year for cobblers and pies, or on oatmeal and ice cream!
Now, one year later, I am still just as impressed with the taste and the preservation of the color and sweetness. Also keep in mind that the sweetness can be adjusted by adding more or less honey during the canning process.

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