Unplugging, Part 2

After my full year of living in the northwoods at Nicolet Bible Institute, I set off to finish my bachelor’s degree at William Woods University.  Going from the northwoods of Wisconsin to what felt to me like the deep south, but was really only Missouri, was a shock to my system.  I love my Alma mater, but I do not love Missouri.  It is beautiful, with rolling green hills and abundance of picturesque farmland.  But it is hot, and the humidity thick. William Woods has very high standards of care for its horses, and one of the rules was that we could not put our horses away if they were the least bit sweaty…  Until of course, it was so hot that they were just sweating while standing in the shade of the barn.  Snowfall is minimal in the winter there, and every time we had a storm of freezing rain, I found myself longing for deep snow, my cross-country skis, and the solitude of the forest.

My goal, upon graduation, was to find a horsemanship instructor position at a camp, dude ranch, or school in a cold climate.  I interviewed at a ranch in Minnesota, a breeding and lesson barn in Maine, a camp in Ohio (southern Ohio, definitely not far enough north for my tastes), and a camp in Southern California.  I was offered all of those jobs, except that the one in Ohio wanted me to come weeks before school was done.  I didn’t want to miss my college graduation, and the camp just didn’t quite feel right to me anyway.  I didn’t feel the job in Maine was a good fit with the personalities of the owners.  The employee quarters at the Minnesota dude ranch smelled so strongly of cigarette smoke that I could never live there for health reasons, and they only had horses for half the year..  The California job came along last, and I knew it was the right one for me, despite being in not the “right” location. I would be the director of the horsemanship program–camps all summer, trail rides all fall.  It was a Christian camp, which is where my heart truly was.  And while it was in California, it was on a mountain, so the heat would not be so intense, and I was told it did snow some in the winter.  Most importantly, I could not ignore the feeling that God was calling me there, regardless of my plans to move somewhere cold.

As graduation came closer, I was packing up my room and my roommate said to me, “I have this feeling you are going to get married next year.”  I laughed at her.  I had been determinedly single for about three years at that point, with no prospects on the horizon.

“No way.  I’m not going to date any boys from California.  I don’t want to get stuck there.”  My plan was to work at that camp for approximately two years, then start watching the Christian camp job postings online for my dream job in my dream location.  THEN I would get married and live happily ever in the middle of nowhere in a place with mild summers and long, cold, winters.

She shrugged. “I still think you are going to get married next year.”

She made this prediction a few weeks after I had briefly met my husband-to-be for the first time on a tour of the camp where we barely acknowledged each other, a few months before I would overhear him tell a friend “I am so tired of California.  I want to get out of there and try living in some REAL woods,” and almost exactly one year before our wedding day.

Until next time,

Erin, AKA Wrangler Mama

PS Thanks for taking this journey down memory lane with me.  I promise to go back and add some photos as I find our old albums and get all my technology set up again.


Unplugging, Part 1

It’s only fitting that I am writing this part of the story from my childhood home in suburban Chicago.  I have not been back for five years, and it’s more urbanized than ever, of course.  I remember the last of the cornfields in the area disappering when I was a small child, and waching the cows in the field out the window of our pediatrician’s office (those are also long gone).  I used to ask my mom if we could move to “the country” where we could have horses.  When we visited family in Arizona, I spent hours petting and talking to their horses.  While our little suburban haven had many advantages, I never felt like it was where I belonged.  Yet as I visit with dear old friends here, they still look at my quizzically and ask “Why the UP?”  I don’t think I explain things well in person at all, and I don’t think I’m able to provide very good answers other than we were looking for a lot of affordable land.  I’m tempted to just start answering that question with “Clearly, my husband and I are mentally unbalanced.”

So how did we end up there?  Going back to my yearning for rural life, as a young teen I learned to ride horses at YMCA summer camp.  When I became too old for that, through a series of providential circumstances, I ended up volutneering at the barn at Silver Birch Ranch, a Christian camp in Wisconsin.  There, I fell in love, first with the northwoods, and secondly–more importantly–with Jesus.  Camp became a spiritual home of sorts, and as I learned about Jesus, I became more enamoured with a simpler lifestyle in the woods.  Halfway through my college education, I decided to transfer universities and take a year off in between to attend camp’s one-year Bible program, Nicolet Bible Institute.  I am still deeply grateful for the grounding Bible education I recieved there, learning lessons far more important than anything I learned at “regular” college. My first northwoods winter was a new adventure, complete with cross country skiing, snowshoeing, seeing northern lights for the first time, leading trail rides bareback through snow-covered forest, and taking a couple trips up to visit a friend’s family in the UP.  I remember riding along the highway in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, gazing up at the snow banked high on the side of the road, creating a tunnel of snow.  My friend informed me that sometimes they had to push the tops of the embankments over off into the woods so the snow wouldn’t fall back into the street.  I had never seen so much snow in my life, and I loved it.  I do remember thinking, “I could just stay here forever”  though it would be many years before that thought would come to fruition.

Until next time…


Unplugging, a Preface

I am sitting next to my wood stove, in a wooden Adirondack chair, listening to my children play in an attached greenhouse.  Our cabin is quite large (just over 2000 sq ft) yet very rustic.  This stove is the only source of heat right now, and I must admit it’s not quite enough when the temperatures dip.  Right now, though, as the sun warms the forest outside, it is perfect.

Our cabin sits back from the road, hidden, on 80 acres of creek-riddled forest.  The largest creek comes in somewhere at the top of our property–I haven’t determined its source yet, but I think it burbles up from the ground and is fed with melting snow–and tumbles down in a wild, graceful, gently-sloping series of waterfalls and streams.  In places, it flows underneath boulders and trickles out from beneath trees.  It has carved little caves out of rock, caves that now contain the last bits of ice and snow, and in one place, a horizontal crevice full of icicles.  I explored this with my 6-year-old Lion Cub the other day, and I know that the next time we explore, it will be familiar yet slightly changed.

The tumbling creek flattens out to a marshy field on one side of a raise backwoods road that used to be a railroad track.  In one spot, it has eroded the road, and the property’s previous owners have filled in the missing road with a pile of logs in the form of a rudimentary bridge.  The water flows underneath these logs and keeps going on the other side of the road into some more swampy land which we have yet to explore.  Rumor has it that the lower 40 acres are swamp now but will dry up in the summer.  The wetlands area continues beyond our land until it hits the Sturgeon River.  I dream of when we are ready to have horses here so I can explore my favorite way–on horseback–and ride all the way down to the river.

Speaking of horses, from our large kitchen windows off to the right of where I sit, I can see where they will be pastured.  If I were to stand up, I could see our large fenced-in garden area and our small but sturdy barn.  The fences all need work, but the barn is in good, strong condition, albeit somewhat unfinished.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and only a fraction of that is behind us.  I look forward to sharing our homesteading journey with you.  But to do that, I think I may  first have to answer the question everyone asks in one form or another: how did you end up in the UP?  (For those of you not from the Midwest, the UP is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)  So consider this post the preface to the series where I somehow explain the answer to that question.  Until next time…

How do we justify that?

I have an Etsy shop.


Yes, my handmade items are not cheap.

Other than oooohs and ahhs and “Wow, you MADE that?”  The most common thing I hear from people who would like to purchase, but either can’t or won’t, is, “I can’t justify the expense.”

I debated writing this post because I’ve heard that come out of my friends’ mouths, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.  I know they don’t mean it to be a personal attack, and I don’t take it that way.

But I think the sentiment of the way we justify our purchases is entirely backwards.

You can pay me (or someone like me) over $90 for a one-of-a-kind ladies dress, or you can wait until something is on clearance at Target for $10.  We are taught that buying on clearance at a big store is a wonderful, holy, frugal thing to do.  I do completely understand that for many people, that is their only choice, and it sure is more justifiable on our wallets.

But what about the person who made that dress at Target?  Do you know in what kind of conditions they live and work?  I’ve heard people say, “They may not get paid much, but at least they have a job.”  Did you know that some items of clothing at Wal-Mart are marked up 2000% (yes, four zeros) over the cost of production?  These big box stores could easily double the wages of their slaves–er, employees–but they don’t.

Why should we care?  Do you recall from history class (or American Girl books about Samantha) the turn-of-the-century working conditions and child labor issues in our American textile and clothing factories?  Yes?  No?  Injuries were common.  Fires happened and kids couldn’t get out in time.  Air quality was terrible and workers often had breathing problems what with all the fluff flying around in the air.  We outlawed child labor and made laws to improve working conditions.  Well guess what–we came so far to the point where working in clothing factories was a good way to make a middle-class living, and then all those jobs got pushed overseas.  Bam.  American jobs gone, and guess what?  THE SAME ISSUES FROM THE EARLY 1900s THAT SOUND SO HORRIFYING TO US AND EMBARRASSING THAT THEY WERE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE IN OUR COUNTRY ARE NOW HAPPENING ELSEWHERE.

My question is this: How do we justify supporting that industry?

I could write a book about this subject, but someone else already did.


(I am not being paid to plug her book and the author has no idea I’m blogging about her.  Anything in my entry that should be cited probably came from that book.)

Let me propose a simple idea.  Instead of buying $5 and $10 items right and left, buy just a handful of high quality, handmade items.  Not necessarily from me.  Just a suggestion.  And read Overdressed, but be prepared to have your Kohl’s shopping bonanzas spoiled for you in a similar fashion to what happened when you found out what was REALLY in McDonald’s food.  Sorry.  (Not really.)

Stop stealing my joy!

I’ve been a decluttering fiend lately.  If I were a good blogger, I’d have before and after pictures to show you.  But that would only slow down my progress and I am more concerned with the state of my home than perfecting my blog posts.  I give a lot of credit to the decluttering ebook from this blogger: http://www.aslobcomesclean.com, but I must say I don’t know who to credit with the biggest key to my success.  The reason the back of my Suburban is packed full of trash bags for the thrift store is this one little phrase: “You are stealing my joy!” I honestly don’t know if I came up with that phrase on my own or not. I have a feeling I probably read it on a blog and now I don’t know who to thank for it. Here are some examples of how I purged joy-stealing clutter from my home:

1. As I clean out my sewing studio, I find a bag of polar fleece fabric. I think, “Ugh, I really need to make something from this. I didn’t even buy this stuff–my mom gave it to me. I hate polar fleece. So maybe I should get rid of it. But that is wasteful. Lots of people like polar fleece–people who don’t have shedding pets in the house or kids that play in the leaves outside. So maybe I should use it to make gifts or items to sell. But it gums up my sewing machine and I don’t like the plasticky feeling from touching it. But it would be wasteful to toss it, so I should save it until I need to make a gift.” The last several times I cleaned out my sewing area, that is where I would have stuffed the bag of fleece back in the cabinet. But this time? I said, “You are stealing my joy! Sewing is supposed to be enjoyable. I have plenty of other fabric I could make gifts from.” I realized it would give me more joy to chuck the whole bag into my donation box and imagine someone who DOES like fleece finding it at the thrift store. I chucked it into the donation pile and realized the fabric would be a blessing to someone else, rather than a joy-stealing burden on me. (PS: Mom, please don’t buy me any more polar fleece.)

2. Here’s another scene from the sewing studio. I came across a book entitled “Sewing Clothes for Children.” Indeed, it is a detailed book that gives instructions for everything from drafting patterns to creating elaborate smocked dresses for girls. The problem? I acquired it from the pubic library about five years ago when I tried to check it out and they informed me it was supposed to have been sold at the last used library book sale. “Would you like to buy it for a quarter?” the librarian asked. Of course I did. And I have never used it. If I haven’t used it in five years, when WOULD I use it? Believe it or not, the reason I almost put the book back on my shelf was because I thought it might be a handy resource in the time of zombie apocalypse when I will have to sew all of my family’s clothing and I can’t look things up on the internet anymore. Seriously. Yesterday, I finally told the book, “You are stealing my joy!” and into the donation box it went. (Besides, I have enough patterns to meet my sewing needs in time of global crisis.)

3. If you need one of something and use it a lot, that means you should have a ton of them, right? WRONG??? Twelve sippy cups are NOT better than 3 or 4. I found a bag of older sippy cups on top of the fridge from my last decluttering attempts. I wanted to see if I missed the extras. I didn’t. So I finally had the guts to tell them, “You leaky beasts! Be gone and stop stealing my joy!”

When I can stop listening to that little naggy voice that constantly tells me the things I “should” make use of and start to focus on what I actually can and do make use of, the guilt of throwing things away or giving them away disappears. Let my trash be another’s treasure… and let my trash be trash! And let it stop stealing my joy!

What kind of clutter stresses you out the most? Do you have any decluttering tips or success stories?

Wrangler Mama’s Top 5 Snarky Sewing Tips

1. How to sew knits if you don’t have a serger: Buy a serger. Then sew all the knits you want.
2. If you’ve been told the maximum stretch of knit fabric always goes from selvedge to selvedge, it is NOT TRUE. It IS true maybe 95% of the time, but always double check. And then double check again.
3. Yes, you do need to prewash that fabric, you lazy butt. Unless you like being surprised that your pajama pants are now floods.
4. Be careful where you put your scissors. On the edge of a table that is vibrating from machine usage? Bad idea. (Not that I know this from personal experience, but Fiskars will not replace your dressmaker shears if they are damaged in a fall like this. Or so I’ve heard.) Putting them down onto a pile of partially made garments whilst closing them at the same time because you are trying to set them down far from the edge of the table? Also a bad idea. Just hypothetically speaking, of course…
5. If your machine keeps malfunctioning and you can’t figure out why there are broken stitches, skipped stitches, broken needles, snagged fabric, or other such issues, RETHREAD THE MACHINE. ESPECIALLY if you think you already have the tensions, stitch settings, etc set right. This applies to standard sewing machines AND sergers. “But I hate threading my serger!” you say. TOO BAD. Do it anyway. 50% of the time, this fixes the problem. If you are really unskilled at threading your machine, the percentage will be higher. If you find that this does not fix the problem, consult your owner’s manual and make sure you are threading it properly. I found out I was doing something wrong after having my serger for TWO YEARS. Sometimes it mattered, and sometimes it didn’t. But now it’s always done right and I am able to use more functions of the machine successfully.

Thanks a lot, DJ Lance

My 2-year-old Kangaroo is quite possibly the sweetest, happiest child I’ve ever met–with two exceptions:
1) She refuses to say “thank you.”
2) She refuses to say “I love you.”
There was one occasion a few weeks ago where I did get her to say “love you” to me at bed time, twice in a row. But that’s it.
Until we were in the shower just a couple days ago. She started whining, and I said, “Here, play with Gabba,” and I handed her some Yo Gabba Gabba bath toys. She grabbed a stump with eyes and said, very clearly, “Gabba! I love you!”
To a stump. With eyes.
The end.

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