Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover


Pioneer Project progress update #1

It's been awhile since I reported my pioneer project progress. So let's do that today.

Three or so months into the project and pretty much I can say this: I haven't done much. I do notice a difference in my determination and some internal traits but as far as accomplishing things, there's not much tangible proof, save for making butter, a mending basket, and using my crockpot (which is like my version of a pioneer stove).

Let's break it down.


This is my husband's area. He busts his ass weekly, maintaining the garden. He's constantly thinking about how to improve it and maximize the results by weeding and rotating the plants and getting rid of the ones that aren't growing so the good ones have more space (we even have some volunteers from the previous owners but that just makes me think of The Hunger Games so I call those our Katniss plants). He even used grass clippings for mulch, which is both frugal and environmentally friendly. So pioneer win on that one. The plants we started indoors are kicking ass and now it's just a matter of watering and pruning and waiting for things to grow. Then I can start working on some pioneer food things like canning.

This our insane cat hanging out in the garden. Because why not.


One word–nothing. I have done nothing to improve my sewing. I even set a goal this month to sew a pillowcase and thankfully the month isn't over yet so I can get working on this. If I can get some pillowcases, napkins, and curtains done by summer's end, we'll call that a victory. And as far as crocheting, I am trying so, so hard on this one. I practice, watch YouTube tutorials, and it's just not getting better. I think I might just need to accept the fact that maybe I am not meant to do it. But not yet. I'm not giving up yet.

Homemaking stuff

In the early days if this project, I set a weekly schedule a la Ma Ingalls. I haven't been perfect with it but I'm definitely keeping to a stricter schedule than I had prior to the project, and I am getting more done. There have even been a couple of times I washed, dried, folded, and put away laundry all in the same day. Baby steps, friends. Baby steps. I have been getting better about having a weekly food prep and baking day, running errands on one day, and staying home more. That last part isn't a problem because home > public.

I still have a few home decorating projects I need to start/work on/finish but some of those involve going to a craft store and those places intimidate the shit out of me. I also don't have a tablecloth which is really more a reflection of my laziness than an inability to do things because how hard is it to order from Amazon? I want a tablecloth for various reasons but the pioneer reason is I love that Ma used hers to differentiate between an all purpose table and the dinner table. That's a fun, practical idea.


This past weekend we went to a strawberry festival. That's pioneer like, right? We're also trying to do a better job of heating/cooling the house with windows, fans, blankets, layers, curtains, and other non-electric sources. (Except the ceiling fans. Wow, do those make a big difference.) Composting is still in full effect yet I have still not bought supplies to make candles, soap, or beer.

If I had to grade our efforts thus far, I'd give us somewhere between needs improvement and satisfactory. I suppose it's better than we haven't done shit but as far as proving to myself that I could survive life as a pioneer, I'm not making good progress at all. On the bright side, at least I know how to fix it.

I should probably do that.


Tips for beginner container gardening

One of the reasons I started this project was to prove that you do not need 846 acres to live a more pioneer-like life. I wanted to show that you can live in a townhouse (which is what I lived in when the idea originated), apartment, house with almost no yard space, or any other dwelling and still develop the skills that helped keep the pioneers alive. Particularly gardening. Because, you know. Food. 

Not my plant. I wouldn't grow cauliflower. I found this picture on Flickr.

Not my plant. I wouldn’t grow cauliflower. I found this picture on Flickr.

Having lived in a townhouse with very strict thorough and comprehensive HOA rules for 9 years prior to moving into our house, I know how hard it is to want to be more self-sufficient in your food production yet not have the ability to do it. Fortunately, my husband and I found the best way to get around the rules and limited space. 

Container gardening. 

Container gardening is absolutely perfect for not only beginner gardeners but also those who can’t plant food or honestly, are too lazy to do it (which is me. Completely. All that digging and raking and shit? No thank you). It also gives you the satisfaction of growing some of your own food without having to deal with pain in the ass HOA board members or having to lose some precious backyard space, although you will have to deal with losing some patio or balcony space. Unless you use a window box and only plant things like herbs and spices. Which is fine, too. Fresh herbs and spices are awesome. 

But let’s say you decide to do some container gardening and use a window box for something pretty like flowers or as a trap for Twiddlebugs. First, I commend you on making a good choice. Second, if you’re going to have a container garden, there are some lessons I learned from years of doing it watching my husband that I think will make your garden successful:

container gardening

  1. Pick one to two plants. Three at the most. Any more than that and your containers will start to overtake your small space and then it becomes some sort of vegetable jungle instead of a garden. No one wants to battle a rogue tomato plant on their way to work. 
  2. Pick plants you will actually eat. Radishes may be easy to grow but if you’re not going to eat them because you’re not a Fraggle, it’s a waste of money and labor. The point of a garden is to have fresh fruit and vegetables and save money at the supermarket. That doesn’t happen if you’re planting stuff you won’t use. It’s food waste and money waste, and your pioneer friends would be upset.
  3. Evaluate your space. You’d have to do this with a regular garden, too, but for container gardening, you need to know precisely how much room you have, which spot is the best, and how much sun it does or doesn’t get. This will also impact what plants you grow. If the only spot you have is mostly shady, you can’t grow a plant that needs full sun. So after you evaluate your space and know what you can grow, make sure you’re paying attention to the necessary growing conditions of the plants you select.
  4. Pick plants that will produce a lot. If you are growing only a few plants, you want them to give you a whole lot of food. Plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries are known for being great producers. But have a plan for the extras to avoid food waste. Some suggestions: start canning, give some away or sell some to your neighbors in a quasi-farmer’s market setting. 
  5. Get creative. Even if you have a tiny, tiny balcony and don’t want to give up space, you can still garden. Besides using the aforementioned window boxes, did you know that there are tomato plants that grow upside down? You can also grow similar types of plants in one container, giving you variety without the real estate. How about some hanging plants? A little creative planning can give you a good garden and enable you to still have some room.

Don’t forget: even though you’re growing the plants in a container, you still need to water, prep the soil, prune, and do all of the other stuff you would if you had planted them in the ground. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as much work. But it is still work. Work that’s worth it, though. Because anytime you can eat your work, that’s a good thing.

Have you done container gardening? What tips and suggestions did I miss?

It’s not pretty, it’s our garden

Two months into this project, I’ve learned 3 key lessons:

1. Being a pioneer is hard work. Dirty, grueling, get your hands dirty hard work.
2. Being a pioneer takes a lot of patience. Like, a lot. More than I have some days.
3. Being a pioneer is pretty damn expensive, particularly when you’re just getting started and you need to buy materials. No wonder it took the Oregon Trail travelers a year to save the money to get started.

Case in point: our garden.

When I decided I wanted to embark on the adventure that is pioneer living, I knew I had to get my husband on board. Mainly because I needed his support on some of the skills I’m attempting to learn (we’ll talk more about this another day, but let’s just say yarn is an asshole) but also because I needed him to do the literal and figurative heavy lifting on putting together our garden. Because gardening was essential to pioneers. You know, so they could eat and not starve to death.

So of course I had to do it.

Fortunately, the husband enjoys gardening whereas I enjoy the concept of gardening. So we had a family discussion regarding what we were going to plant but I stepped back and let him do whatever it was he needed to do to get it started. Because, quite frankly, I’m better off staying away from plant life. I am the grim reaper of the plant world. I’m pretty sure plants begin to die if I even think about going near them.

And let me just say this–Friends, if you have a spouse who is overly enthusiastic about gardening and you truly don’t give a shit, you will have to endure many conversations about tilling, amending soil, early crops, late crops, composting, containers, bugs, fertilizer, and more topics that will bore you to literal tears. I have found the best way to handle the situation is to smile, nod, and say “whatever you need to do is fine with me”.

Giving the husband free reign over the garden made him almost as happy as if I told him I assembled Tiger Woods, Cal Ripken, and John Elway and they were all going to play golf at Augusta National. He took the authority and ran with it. At his insistence, all winter, we worked on our compost pile, planned where in our backyard we’d have the garden, and he even created a very detailed chart/blueprint with the different plots, plants, and layout.

This made me realize it was a good thing he was in charge of this particular project. Because if left up to me, we’d have approximately nothing accomplished.

After what felt like an eternity of olanning and talking, the weather finally cooperated this weekend and we were able to get the plots dug and some of the seeds planted. Apparently, there are some seeds that need to be started inside rather than outside and we worked on that, too.


While he was digging, my daughter and I wrote out plant markers on Popsicle sticks so we know what plants are where:


When he was done digging, this is what everything looked like (note: he still has 3-4 more plots to dig but apparently our backyard is crap and he needs a tiller. In a lucky turn of events, we finally don’t have to play for something and he’s borrowing one from a co-worker):


Then we planted the seeds and he and our daughter watered them. I avoided this part because I really, really hate mud and having it on me makes me cringe. (Also, real men use a pink Dora watering can. Back off ladies, he’s mine):


When it was all done, it looked like this. I know it doesn’t seem like much now but I’m hoping that in a few months, when I wrote a follow-up, you’ll see actual plants instead of just dirt. Excuse me. Soil.

Everything about planting the garden made me unhappy. The dirt. The money we had to spend to get it started. The endless waiting for the right time. The dirt. And while I know I’ll enjoy the result of this project, right now, it kind of sucks. But it did up the level of respect I had for the pioneers, particularly those who had absolutely nothing when they started.

So there’s that.

And just to prove I’m not the the only one who dislikes the process, here’s a picture of my cat, sitting under our barbecue, staying clear away from the actual labor part of gardening and watching approvingly. Because she’s knows how to get shit done.


April goals (and a book club giveaway!)


I’m starting something new. I’ve seen it on other blogs and even tried it once before on a previous site. For some reason, it’s never stuck, but you know what? It’s worth a shot again.

What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about sharing my monthly goals.

While I’m usually not one to put that kind of information out there, I think that it’s a good way to keep myself and my project on track. I have a tendency to self-sabotage when things are going well and I want to break that cycle. I’m hoping that by sharing my goals with you guys, it’ll keep me focused and also, because I did share my goals, I don’t want to seem like a huge slacker and I’ll actually be productive.

So here we go. For the month of April, I plan to:

  1. Make homemade butter. This was the first pin I put in my pioneer project Pinterest board. I don’t know that it’s necessarily cheaper than buying store made butter but it’s one of the hallmarks of pioneer living. It’s time.
  2. Crochet one dish cloth. After trying and practicing on a crochet hook and the knitting loom, I think crocheting is the way to go right now. It’ll be nice to put something homemade in my kitchen, too (you know, that’s not edible). I also have a goal to make it look nice, not like something my dog made.
  3. Work on my business. Many pioneers were entrepreneurial, and that’s actually something I had going for me before I started this project. I own and operate a blogger mentoring program and this month, I need to finish the site redesign and update the menu of services.
  4. Start our garden. This is more of my husband’s project than mine because he loves gardening. I do not. However, I need to be more involved and this means actually having an opinion on what we grow, how big the garden should be, and assisting in planting. It’s unpleasant but I’ll do it. Pioneers had to do shit they didn’t like all the time.
  5. Participate in the Watch Your Wallet Challenge. I adore the concept of this challenge, hosted by Steph at Life According to Steph and Marla at Luck Fupus, particularly as you get to make your own rules. My rules for the challenge are: no stupid tax (late fees, library fines, etc), only make frivolous purchases using gift cards, stick to my grocery budget, use coupons more often, refrain from buying more craft supplies, and keep up with our 52 week savings challenge.
Life According to Steph

There are a few more goals on my list but there’s no need to share them. But what I can share is this nifty button I made for anyone who’s joining the Little House bookclub (it starts tomorrow!) and, below the button, is a giveaway for a complete set of the Little House books! That’s right, one lucky reader will get a chance to win all 9 books! Thanks to Steph, Jenniemarie, and Athena for assisting with the giveaway. Good luck!

P.S. Please excuse the horrible formatting of what you’re about to see. WP is being an asshole or I’m doing something wrong and can’t get it to do what I want. But I think you get the point.

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Friday Five: Pioneer essentials

The theme of this blog is “helping you be more self-sufficient no matter where you live”. Because I do believe that, even in you’re living in a tiny studio apartment, there are tasks you can do, projects you can complete, and skills you can learn that can bring you up a rung or two on the self-sufficiency ladders. 

To do that, though, you’re going to need supplies. The supplies don’t have to cost a lot and you can even buy many of them at the dollar store. Which is nice and means you’re not going to be out a lot of cash if your project or attempt at self-sufficiency doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. And since I don’t want you to waste money or time (or be annoyed with me that I even recommended this in the first place), I’ve identified 5 supplies you need to get you started and that you can use no matter what you’re living situation:

  1. Needle and thread. I know I mention sewing a lot but it really is an essential pioneer skill. It’s how they had clothes, blankets, curtains, napkins, and basically everything that kept them clothed, clean, and warm. Plus, knowing how to mend those items saves money over time. I recommend getting one of those little travel sewing kits and just practice stitching on random scraps of fabric or taking some of those extra buttons you have around and work on sewing those onto the scraps of fabric.
  2. Clothespins. Air drying your clothes is a little more time consuming than a dryer but if the power goes out, at least you can still have clean clothes. If you live in a neighborhood like I do, you probably can’t hang a clothesline in your backyard. But you can do it in your bathroom or some other space that doesn’t get used that often (tip: if you’re hanging clothes over carpet, put a tarp down. No one needs funky wet carpet smell). Clothespins are necessary to make this work. Also, you can use them for fun kids crafts. clothepins
  3. Canning jars. Or some other mechanism for reusable food storage. This is particularly helpful if you buy foods like dry beans, pasta, sugar, and flour in bulk. Having storage containers allows you to buy large bags/boxes and split them with a friend or neighbor (which helps prevent food waste) and let’s face it, sometimes spending a few extra dollars on storage jars saves a lot of space. If you have limited living or storage space, this is a way to maximize what you have. 

    Food storage essentials.

  4. Curtains. Windows. Love to have them, hate to clean them. Almost as much as I hate to clean their terrible friend, blinds. The pioneers didn’t have blinds but they did have curtains. Curtains serve a number of functions–the provide privacy, they can insulate your house with hot and cold, they’re decorative, and they’re easy to clean. Take them down, give ’em a quick wash, and they’re good as new. Plus, they’re way easier to install. Hanging curtains will make your place look pretty and provide a certain functional pioneer element.
  5. Seeds. Pioneers mostly ate what they grew, hunted, caught, and baked. That means, if you’re going to try to be more self-sufficient, you’re going to need to grow some of your own food. You can do this even if you live in an apartment or somewhere that doesn’t allow you to plant (container gardening FTW!). To do that, you’re going to need seeds. Seeds are inexpensive and can be bought pretty much anywhere. My husband even took some close to rotting potatoes and planted those. 

    From a set of 12 heirloom seeds packages, found on Amazon.

    From a set of 12 heirloom seeds packages, found on Amazon.

If you don’t have access to a dollar store or big box store like Walmart or Target, everything on this list can be purchased through Amazon instead. I believe that if you’re going to live a more pioneer lifestyle, you should easily be able to find what you need. No walking 28 miles in the snow on this prairie!

What items would you add to this list? Any you’d take off?

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