Living Big in a Small Space, Part 1: How We Arrived

Editor’s Note: Longtime blog readers will remember Rene, whose family spent many years as lighthouse keepers in northern Canada. She often regaled us with tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAales of ocean storms, moving from one lighthouse to another (complete with a pony on a zipline) and homesteading in a very remote location. We’re so happy to welcome Rene back to our blog, and to learn what she and her crew have been up to! They’ve moved inland and are homesteading, off the grid, in northern Canada. Read on…

No matter how well we may lay our plans, there are always aspects that reach beyond what we can control.  When we moved away from lighthouse keeping and came inland to homestead, we had several goals.  High on our list, we wanted to:

  • provide our four children with an opportunity to transition from remote, isolated living to interaction as part of a rural community;
  • give our children access to learning opportunities that they couldn’t access in isolation;
  • remain debt-free; and
  • build a home and acreage that would support our food and recreation needs and possibly provide some income as well.

    Rene and her family lived in their "home sweet shipping container" until their small cabin was ready for them to live in.

    Rene and her family lived in their “home sweet shipping container” until their small cabin was ready for them to live in.

Shortly after we arrived here we experienced severe cuts in our expected income.  That set us back considerably and necessitated some changes in plan.

Because we arrived in the late Fall, there was not time to set up a living space before expected snow fall, so we house sat until end of March when the owners expected to return and do renovations on their home.  Winter lingered, and as our April 1 move-date approached, we could see that it was not going to be camping weather on our undeveloped land.

We purchased 2 40-foot shipping containers, one to store ou

"Home Sweet Shipping Container"

“Home Sweet Shipping Container”

r belongings in and another to live in.  We had hoped to settle them near our chosen building location but because of the late snow, we had to settle for having them parked just off the road on the edge of our property.  It wasn’t until mid-summer that the land dried out enough for them to be moved further.  Using the tractor to pull them over log rollers was a many-day process.


The cabin takes shape!

Shipping containers are a wonderful, quick, long-lasting, instant building. If uninsulated, they are, however, quite cold inside, especially when it dips down below freezing at night. When that happens, breath condenses and freezes on the inside and then when the sun comes up in the morning it melts and drips down on everything, including the faces of those who try to squeeze a few more moments of warmth out of the sheets.  Even the wood stove that we put in one end didn’t really help.  On cold nights it was just as warm to stand outside and feel the warmth coming through the shipping container wall as it was to stand inside by the stove.  Our dogs thought it was wonderful.

Once spring arrived and night time temperatures no longer dipped so low, the container made a fine temporary home from which we could slowly begin work on our land and cabin.

Because we could get a good solar system for far less than it would cost tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAo put power in, we had solar in mind right from the start.  With our very cold winters and heavy snows, that meant we needed a temperate place to keep our battery bank.   An accessible cellar was the place.

The first step in cabin building was to dig that cellar. Since the cabin was to be small, 16′ X 24’, the cellar was also small, 8′ X 12′.  We dug it with a small tractor and very small backhoe attachment.  It was slow but economical.  Over the cellar went the floor and then the walls.

To take advantage of light from the winter sun, the south wall has four windows, each measuring 2’x4’.  They give our cabin a “little old school house” look.  The north wall has no windows, making one long stretch of wall space.  Once we had the walls up, we built trusses for the roof and friends made a day of helping us get them up.  Metal sheeting completed the outer layer.

Rene's Pioneer Princess Wood Cook Stove is at the center of her family's cabin lifestyle.

Rene’s Pioneer Princess Wood Cook Stove is at the center of her family’s cabin lifestyle.

We scavenged a door and covered the window holes with plastic just in time for the first snows. Insulation and plywood walls finished things off.  At centre stage is our lovely Pioneer Princess.  Even when the temperatures drop down to – 40 C, it is warm and toasty inside.  With a bit of manoeuvring and creative use of space, the six of us are able to live big in our small, debt-free space.

Chilly Days Don’t Have to Be Boring Days

Living in Ohio means putting up with low temperatures in the winter, but you won’t even notice Jack Frost nipping at your nose if you are busy having fun. If you are getting cabin sledfever from being inside all winter, try some of these fun outdoor activities. One of my favorite things to do outside in the winter is go sledding. If you chose a place to sled with really tall hills or ramps, then this can be a very exciting and thrilling activity.. If you prefer a more relaxing and safe activity, you can still go sledding – just chose somewhere with smaller hills, like a yard in your neighborhood.

A winter picnic might sound like an oxymoron, but it can be fun if you’re bundled up with lots of blankets and thermoses of hot chocolate and soup.

Bird watching is also a great winter activity. Macardinal snow globeke your own birdfeeder out of pine cones, peanut butter, and bird seed. Birds of bright colors (think of the Cardinal) look beautiful against the white snow. Keep a list of the birds you see at your home and compare it year over year. My father and I have a list that dates back almost 10 years.

An intense snow ball fight with teams is a great way to get outside and enjoy the brisk winter weather. You can make snowmen or even a snow family. If the weather is too cold, have a snowball fight inside. You and your children can have hours of entertainment with pretend snowballs — all the fun of snow without the wet and cold. Made of a soft, textured material, they even feel crunchy like a snowball!

Igloos are fun to build and play in. If it staysAsherigloo cold, your snow fort will last for weeks.

Speaking of cold, once the temperature gets below 32 degrees, here’s a whole new twist on blowing bubbles. Go outside the next time it is bitter cold and watch the bubbles turn to ice as soon as you blow them. You can mix water and food color and put it in a bottle and spray paint the snow in your yard. Add the snow family, igloo and ice bubbles and your yard becomes your canvas.

So don’t stay inside all day – get out there and enjoy the winter!

Hearty Soup Recipes from our Facebook Friends

We asked – and you sent us some great soup recipes! Here are some of our favorite submissions from this National Soup Month of 2015. Bon appetit!

Cabbage Beef Soup
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  1. 1 28oz. can chopped or diced tomatoes with juice
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 1 16oz. can kidney beans, undrained
  4. 2 celery ribs, chopped
  5. ½ tsp. garlic salt
  6. ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  7. ¼ tsp. black pepper
  8. 4 beef bouillon cubes
  9. 1 lb. lean ground beef
  10. 1 med. onion, chopped
  11. ½ head cabbage, chopped
  1. Put first 7 ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Add bouillon cubes.
  3. Brown the ground beef with the onion, then drain.
  4. Add beef to other ingredients.
  5. Add chopped cabbage and bring back to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour.
  1. The garlic salt, garlic powder, and black pepper can be increased to your liking. Some folks may want to add Rotel tomatoes to give it some heat. Serve with Fritos Scoops.
Lehman's Country Life

Kielbasa & Cabbage Soup
Serves 8
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  1. 2 carrots
  2. (1) 13 3/4 oz can chicken broth
  3. 1 turnip
  4. (1) 8 oz can tomato sauce
  5. 1 large potato
  6. 2 sprigs parsley
  7. 1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
  8. 1 bay leaf
  9. 1/4 tsp pepper
  10. 1/4 tsp salt
  11. 2 tsp sugar
  12. 1 cup shredded cabbage
  13. 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  14. 1 medium onion, chopped
  15. 1/2 lb kielbasa, cut into 1/2" slices
  16. (1) 10oz pkg frozen baby lima beans
  1. Pare & chop carrots, turnip, and potato.
  2. In 3 qt saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.
  3. Add chopped vegies and onion. Saute' 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
  4. Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, parsley, bay leaf, salt & pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes.
  6. Uncover soup, remove and discard bay leaf.
  7. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in all remaining ingredients.
  8. Boil 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is crisp tender.
Lehman's Country Life
Green Bean Dumpling Soup
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  1. 2 quarts water or chicken stock (I just add some bouillon cubes to my water!)
  2. 4 cups peeled and diced white potatoes
  3. 1/4 cup butter
  4. 3-4 cans cut green beans
  5. 1 small yellow onion
  6. 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  7. 1 pkg, traditional bacon
  8. 1 quart heavy whipping cream
  9. salt and pepper to taste
  10. ...and of course, your favorite way to make dumplings! For me, it’s just eggs & flour for our dumplings.
  1. Fill a stock pot with 2 quarts water or chicken stock and dump your potatoes into the pot.
  2. Turn to medium / medium high heat. Add some salt to taste at this point (I put in like a tablespoon)
  3. Turn oven to 375 degrees. Lay out your bacon on aluminum foil pan and throw in oven.
  4. Cook until completed --about 15-20 minutes. I'd also recommend cooking the bacon beforehand!
  5. While pot is beginning to boil and bacon is cooking, put butter in a sauté pan and turn to medium heat.
  6. Chop and dice yellow onion.
  7. Once butter has melted, put your onions in the pan and begin to sauté, add salt at this time.
  8. Once they are translucent, remove from heat and mix in 1 tablespoon of cornstarch--it's okay if the buttery onions do not absorb all the cornstarch.
  9. Potatoes should be boiling by now. If they are not, turn the heat up more! Mix up your dumpling recipe and drop them into the boiling water of the potatoes.
  10. Once they have cooked, you can choose at this point to take out some of the water to make your soup a little thicker. I always do this and I ALWAYS take out exactly one cup of water!
  11. Open green beans and drain water. Add to pot.
  12. Add onions to pot.
  13. Bacon should be done by now. Crumble bacon and add to pot.
  14. Pour in entire container of heavy whipping cream. Stir everything together. Add A TON of fresh ground pepper. Really. Load it up. Add salt to taste, although it probably won't need much.
  1. Voila! You have made the famous (or only famous in Volga German towns in Kansas) green bean dumpling soup! You can also dice up ham and throw it in instead of bacon. Sometimes, I don’t even add the bacon.
Lehman's Country Life

4 Ways You Can Learn From Great Depression Wisdom

My 85-year-old grandmother was a young girl during the Great Depression, and her family, like many others, went through some extremely hard times. Her father, an aspiring white beanstruck farmer, lost everything, and several of her six siblings were literally “farmed out” until her parents got back on their feet and could afford to feed them again. Her only brother went to stay with a farm family at the tender age of eight, to work for his room and board. As the baby of the seven, my grandmother stayed at home. She remembers sitting on her father’s lap as he read the newspaper, perhaps scanning the help wanted ads.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” but I wondered if Grandma could give me some specific examples of what her family did to get through those hard times…joyfully and happily, even!

I’m blessed to live right next door to Grandma, so I recently asked her about ways I can apply some of that hard-earned wisdom to my own life, in 2015. Here’s what I learned. Continue reading

Super Bites and Slow-Cooker Dips for THE Big Game

OK, there is a pretty big football game coming up soon. And if you’ll have hungry game watchers in your house that day (or any day, really), the following recipes are guaranteed to impress – and let you enjoy the festivities, too!

Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Hot Wing Dip

Our delicious, minimally processed chicken makes quick work of hearty recipes!

Our delicious, minimally processed chicken makes quick work of hearty recipes!

  • 1-12 oz bottle Frank’s Original Hot Sauce
  • 2-8 oz. packages cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 16 oz. bottle ranch dressing
  • 1-28 oz. can Lehman’s chicken
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients together and place in crock pot or slow cooker. Cook on low for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. You can also bake it in a 9×13 baking dish at 350 degrees for 30 minutes if you don’t want to wait! Serve with tortilla chips, crackers and celery. This is a big favorite in Glenda Lehman Ervin’s household. Continue reading

Root Cellar Blues? Time to Make Sauerkraut!

 It has been cold here. It isn’t really out of the ordinary, -10 degrees in January is pretty cabbagetypical but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. My root cellar doesn’t like it either. It’s a fine dance we do, keeping the door open just enough to keep the temperature above freezing but not so high as to trick the carrots into thinking spring is here and it’s time to sprout.

It is so important to check the food down there. Today I find that I have cabbage and carrots that must be seen to and apples that must be used up. The apples are easy. We love apples and onions caramelized with some butter and maple syrup and poured over pork chops. The cabbage and carrots are going to be fermented. We are kraut crazy around here. I got one of those dandy little air lock tops and lids for my ½ gallon Mason jars and now I can make kraut without getting the brine all over. Bruce bought me a mandoline for Christmas so I’m going to break that in too. I do love my little gadgets!
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Roast Beef and Barley Build the Best Cold Weather Soup

After a frantic few weeks of holiday cooking, you’re probably ready to put together some meals that are nearly heat and eat. Beef Barley Soup can do that for you, putting roast beef leftovers to good use, and adding barley for more protein and staying power. We usually plan for a chuck or arm roast that will allow us to have a pound or so of meat left, and we usually freeze a fourth to a half batch of the beef and barley soup made from the leftover beef. Continue reading

Soup Lineup: Ultimate Food for a Crowd!

My husband and I have young children. Most of our friends have young children. And when we get together socially, there are … lots of young children. Most recently, when kids eatinga group of us met for lunch, there were 15 little mouths to feed in addition to the six adults. (Okay, 4-month-old Catie doesn’t really count; she doesn’t eat any chili – yet.)

The easiest, most relaxing way we’ve found to have a meal together is by creating a soup lineup. By this we mean a counter top lineup of slow cookers, each filled with a different soup, chili or stew. In between we stick some loaves of homemade bread, some butter, someone throws in a big salad or bowl of fruit, and voila – we’ve got a hot, hearty meal for everyone, with minimal dishes and not much cooking by any of us. This means a lot more time to sit and talk (for the big people) and run and play (for the little people). Continue reading

Dill Pickles, Potatoes Combine for Unforgettable Soup

Back in January 2011, we ran this recipe along with a couple of others to wind up National Soup Month that year. Now, due to popular demand, here it is again, but this time, we’re just starting the month!

Kathi, one of our Customer Service Representatives contributed this lip-smacking soup. And although it may sound a little odd, the combination of the potato and the tangy pickle really do balance each other well, underpinned by the rich chicken stock. Continue reading

Quick Cheater Chicken Broth

You want to make your own homemade soup, but you just feel like you don’t have the time to make your own chicken stock. Is that what’s troubling you, Bunky?

Fuss no more. This “cheater” chicken broth is simple, quick and is great for the busiest households. Next time you buy (or defrost) uncooked chicken for a meal, snag an extra 4 to 6 bone-in breast pieces, or 2 to 3 whole breast portions with the bones. Skin chicken if you want a lower-fat, clearer broth. I always skin my chicken and trim the fat off the meat when I make this broth. Continue reading