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.


Make your own mending basket

One of the most essential pioneer skills is sewing. Without sewing, the pioneers would be naked, cold, have no curtains to separate rooms or block the sunlight, and a big part of their socialization would disappear (quilting bees, for instance, provided pioneers with a practical social outlet. And, not only that, they pooled their resources in terms of manpower and materials to get things done). 

All of that would suck. 

Which is why I picked sewing as one of the skills I would focus on for this project. Thanks to home ec in middle school, I already knew how to sew a button and a seam (which has come in handy on many, many occasions) and I recently remembered that I know how to sew throw pillows as well. That’s it, though. I cannot sew anything else. I’m working on it, though, and I’ll share many of my disasters attempts as I work through them. 

However, for today, we’re going to focus on mending. Mending is essential to the pioneer value of frugality as well as the making due with what you have. Sometimes, we’re so quick to throw something away because of a small hole or a missing button that we forget how easy it is to fix with the right materials. If you don’t know how to sew, YouTube is ridiculously helpful for learning how to do things like sew a button. And I don’t know about you, but when I find a pair of jeans that finally fits right, I don’t want to have to look for another pair simply because the button fell off or the hem starts to fall out. I’d rather take a few minutes and fix what I have because this also means I don’t have to shop (which I utterly detest). 

If you’ve read the Little House or any other pioneer life books (fiction or nonfiction), you’ll read (a lot) about mending baskets. They’re the most convenient way to keep all of your mending supplies in one place so when you do need to fix something, you just have to find one box instead of 42 separate items. If you don’t want to create a mending basket, you can buy one of those sewing kits that has a few types of thread, needles, and a small tape measure. That’ll work, too. For today’s post, though, we’re going to take a peak at what I keep in my basket because I wanted a little more than the premade kit. 

This is what my mending basket (well, box, really) looks like:

photo (14)

In case you can’t tell what everything is, I have a bunch of different colored thread, some marking pencils for hems, pins to hold stuff in place, and a whole bunch of needles. Then I put all of that stuff–which I purchased at Michael’s for probably less than $15–in a plastic box I found at the dollar store. 

I also have this stuff, too, as well as an entire box of buttons and snaps I’ve collected over the years (you know how when you buy a button down shirt and it comes with extra buttons? I hoard those in an old perfume tin):

photo (15)

Having these supplies on hand has saved my ass (and my wallet) on more than one occasion. I’ve been able to fix so many items from blankets to doll clothes to jackets. And, having these basic skills, means I have the foundation to work on bigger projects. 

If you’re interested in starting your own mending basket, here’s a quick shopping list:

shopping list

Quick cheat: I put hem tape on the list. If you don’t trust your sewing skills, there’s iron-on hem tape you can use instead. You’ll still have to measure and pin, but no sewing involved. Just a bit of ironing. 

So that’s it. That’s all you need to do to create your own mending basket. And if you shop at Michael’s to buy your stuff, they usually have coupons so you can save even more money. 

Good luck!

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?

Linking up (for my very first time!) with Northeast BloggersFriday Five

Bucket list: Pioneer style

Bucket lists have never been my thing. I don’t like to think about death and dying and creating a bucket list makes me confront that. I don’t want to dwell on all the shit I’d like to do before I die and also, if I don’t accomplish them, how will that make me feel? Probably pretty crappy and if I’m on my deathbed, is that really something I need hanging over me? No. So I opt to leave bucket lists alone. 
someecards.com - There's a hole in my bucket list.

However, when it comes to this project, it has a shelf life. While the skills acquired and lessons learned will stick with me, and I don’t intend on leetting them go once I’m done with the project, the project itself will end. Die, if you will. And there are some items I’d like to accomplish before that happens. A pioneer project bucket list.  

This is what it looks like:

  1. Sew a complete set of cloth napkins along with a matching tablecloth. I love the idea of having a tablecloth on my dining table for so many reasons, the least of which is that my table has tile and grout that are a pain the ass to clean. It’ll also make the room like so much nicer and cleaner. Plus, the cloth napkins are less wasteful.

    Found this on Amazon. If sewing one doesn't work, this is my backup plan.

    Found this on Amazon. If sewing one doesn’t work, this is my backup plan.

  2.  Open an Etsy store. Pioneer women tended to the home but at times, they also had to help contribute financially to the family. I’m no different. I have a few ways in mind to do this and one of them is to open an Etsy store. I have the idea, the name, and the list of products to sell. Now I just have to get to work.
  3. Fill my freezer and shelves in my garage with food I canned. Not going to lie. Canning intimidates the hell out of me. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m terrified that I’m going to ruin the food. This is even more daunting because I plan on canning what we grow (following in true pioneer fashion) and if I mess up, it’s gone. I can’t just instantly regrow more. Scary stuff.

    For more than just crafts.

    For more than just crafts.

  4. Quilt a lap blanket. I have no problem taking a shortcut and making no sew blankets (in fact, I think I prefer this. Quicker, and I can actually do it). But the pioneers used quilts. Which means I need to try to sew one. I am almost as awful with a sewing machine as I am with knitting needles which is why I’m opting for a lap quilt instead of a bed-sized one. I figure it’ll be decidedly less stressful (and more doable) if I’m focused on a smaller quilt.

Items you will not see on my list: shoot a gun. Ride a horse. Milk a cow. Raise chickens. Use an outhouse.

It’s not that I’m opposed to the concept of those things. (Well, that’s a lie. I’m opposed to outhouses and their modern brethern, the port-a-potty. Because ew. And majorly unsanitary.) It’s that I have aversions to all of them and this is honestly why I realize I’d most likely be a terrible pioneer. Then again, if I were a real pioneer, I’d have no choice but to do all of them and I’d probably get over myself. I also wouldn’t know any different. So, really, I’m thankful that I’m not living 150 years ago.

As for my bucket list, I wanted to make it projects that are achievable yet complicated enough that I’ll feel like I did something truly pioneer-esque. Because those guys did not have it easy. I want to pay homage to them as best I can without making myself uncomfortable.

Do you have a bucket list? What items are on it?