Winter on the homestead is a time of natural slowing down. The days are shorter; the list of projects is smaller. After my conversation with Melody, I’m not sure I know of anyone who embraces all of the beauty that winter brings better than she does. As a homesteader, homeschooler, homemaker, and hunter in Minnesota, Melody doesn’t let temperatures below zero keep her from enjoying the outdoors with her five children. No matter what climate you live in, Melody shares tons of ideas for embracing the winter season both indoors and out.
In this episode, we cover:
- How homeschooling allows the freedom to teach our children specific life skills
- What food Melody is hunting and cooking in winter
- Why you should want to know where your food comes from
- Secrets to enjoying frigid temperatures
- How Melody instills basic outdoor survival skills in her young children
- Preparing for winter on a homestead
- Outdoor and indoor hobbies in the winter
- What it looks like to experiment with sourdough
Melody lives in the Minnesota Big Woods. She is a mother of five, a wife, a baker, archer, homesteader, and more. Her goal is to help people learn the old ways of working, making, and doing.
Melody’s sourdough packet and booklet (send her a DM on Instagram for more information about purchasing)
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SFL Ep 116 Melody
Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today, I am chatting with Melody from— on Instagram— @Renaissance.Woman.MN for Minnesota. She and I are going to chat about winter— enjoying winter, what we’re cooking in winter. Melody is a really interesting person, I have found out. She hunts, she carves, she teaches her kids chess, and all kinds of really cool things. Make sure to stay all the way to the end of this episode, because at the end of this episode, she really lays out some beautiful wisdom and why winter is such an enjoyable time and should not be taken for granted. It is an episode just full of all the things that make winter really beautiful, that are easy to overlook whenever it’s just so cold going outside. And she’s from Minnesota, so if anybody can enjoy the winter whenever there is snow constantly on the ground, negative temperatures often, then it is Melody. And I, after talking to her, realize that I picked the perfect guest for this episode because she just has a lot of wisdom to share, and the episode just kept getting better and better, in my opinion.
Lisa Bass My name is Lisa, mother of seven and creator of the blog and YouTube channel, Farmhouse on Boone. Join me as I share with you my love for creating a handmade home, from-scratch cooking, and a little mom and entrepreneur life along the way.
Lisa Bass I wanted to have the kind of episode that is talking about getting people through winter, embracing winter. Winter is such a challenging time. I feel like it’s difficult to actually enjoy it. You seem like you might actually naturally enjoy it. Maybe I’m wrong—
Melody Haege I love winter.
Lisa Bass But some of the sports that you enjoy, I’m like, “I think she actually likes winter, so she’s going to be a good one for this.”
Speaker 3 Yeah, well it’s not just the weather. I mean, I live in Minnesota because I love it. You know, I would not survive in a place like Florida. Like, I love the weather here. But it’s also just that, in the winter, there’s so much less demand on my time, and I can slow things down, and we can just kind of— it’s like a restart. You know, it’s like a fresh start to going into the next growing season and preserving season. And, you know, everything’s more busy. It’s when we work on the homestead, it’s when we do all this and that. And are still trying to get weekends to go to our cabin and go fishing and things like that. You know, there’s so many demands in the summer and spring and the fall. So winter is such a great respite from all of that.
Lisa Bass It is. Especially like you said, when you’re homesteading, the summer months and the spring months are packed. Now you like to do things like hunting, which if you live down in Florida, I don’t really know. I don’t know. Do they hunt down in Florida? How do you hang the deer out? Do they just have a cooler or what?
Speaker 3 There is a lot of good hunting in Florida. They have good whitetail, hog hunting, you know, alligators, all that. I mean, I’m never going to hunt an alligator in Minnesota. But yeah, they just have to to cool it. I have some friends who hunt whitetail down there and they have to cool it really fast because, you know, spoilage.
Lisa Bass Now you’re a homeschool mom too, correct?
Melody Haege Yeah, so I have four in school right now. And then my three-year-old is the youngest. And today, it was so funny, my eight-year-old son was doing his reading out loud, and she was sitting next to me and she, over my shoulder, read one of the words that he was struggling with and corrected him and I’m like, “uhh?”
Lisa Bass The three-year-old? Wow, okay.
Yeah, homeschooling, man.
We’re a little bit behind that, but I looked at your page, and four of yours are girls and one’s a boy. I don’t know— with my kids, the girls were so much easier on things like reading. And then I have five boys, and I don’t know about the younger boys, but I promise you, my four-year-old is nowhere near reading. Not even close.
Melody Haege That’s like the biggest gift of homeschooling is that nobody has to be on a schedule, you know? Like, my son, he did not seem ready for reading, and so I just didn’t do it with him. And I learned this when my oldest was young because, you know, I started with her when she was four because I just thought that’s what everybody did, right? And then it was like we were beating our head against a wall for three years, not making much progress and stressing her out and stressing me out. And one mom at that point, one of my mentors told me, was like, “Just stop. She’ll know how to read by the time she’s married, I mean, she’s not going to walk down the aisle knowing how to read,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I mean, what’s my hurry?” So I didn’t start teaching him until last year when he was almost seven. He didn’t even know the ABCs then. And then within two months, he was reading.
Lisa Bass I feel like we could do a whole homeschool podcast episode because this is something that people seriously need to hear because of that. I’ve learned that too, now with seven kids. But I did the same thing as you with my oldest. We tried reading seriously at age three. Like, that’s when we started. And looking back now I’m like, “What were we even thinking?” They all end up reading. By the time they’re married, like you said, they’re all going to be just fine so there’s no sense in stressing out.
Melody Haege Well, I mean hopefully before that, but— yeah, you know, but it’s just such a great thing to release yourself from being on other people’s standards and just kind of upkeeping whatever your child’s need is. You know, because like, homeschooling shouldn’t look like public school where everybody has to fit in the same box. Like it gets to be tailored to kids for a reaon.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I didn’t homeschool to public school at home.
Melody Haege Yeah, yeah, totally.
Lisa Bass Well, and that leads into some of the skills that I noticed on your page that you like to do, especially several of them really do lend themselves well to winter. But those kind of things are what I find that my kids are learning as homeschool kids, things that you don’t learn in school. So, you know, kitchen skills, I’m sure you get your kids in the kitchen a lot. I saw that you have kind of a small kitchen waiting on renovation, but you can still get them all in there and it doesn’t take a lot.
Melody Haege Well, we just do it one one at a time. And so today, for example, my nine-year-old daughter made breakfast. She made oatmeal with poached eggs. And then for lunch, well for like brunch, my older daughter made two loaves of banana bread from scratch with— the only thing I helped her with was reaching the ingredients she couldn’t reach. Because, I’m 5’10” and I have a small kitchen, so everything is really high, so nobody can reach anything. But other than that, she did everything from scratch. And those skills, like, I don’t know, those skills are so important.
Lisa Bass I like it too for creativity. I, a lot of times, will just let my kids run loose in the kitchen and just start adding things. The other day, my daughter did a soup, which soup is always on right now. That is how we get through winter is with pots of soup. So she was putting in— I think she did ground sausage, she added in some tomato paste, chopped up several different kinds of veggies, homemade bone broth, threw in some barley— no, no. She didn’t throw in barley. She threw in some einkorn noodles. But I love that creativity that you get to explore with your kids. I like having, like you said, not a very packed schedule so there’s a lot of time for things like that. Just to get your hands dirty and try something.
Melody Haege To give them some life skills and teach them stuff that has immediate application. Because a lot of things in school and homeschool in general are, “you’re going to need this, like in the future.”
Lisa Bass Yeah, this is “we need dinner tonight.”
Melody Haege Yeah, yeah, you know, and there’s a lot more satisfaction towards doing something that gives you that immediate feedback of, you know, “Oh, everybody loved what I made,” versus “Hey, did you know that I can divide fractions now?”
Lisa Bass Right, because someday I’m going to have to try that whenever I’m doing something, I don’t know. My kids are always asking me like “What am I going to need this for?” I’m like, “Trust me, sometimes you will.”
Melody Haege Oh gosh, we had one of those moments where my kids actually needed to apply their math. And it worked, and they did it right.
Lisa Bass One of those full-circle moments.
Melody Haege And they’re like, “Mom, is this what you meant?” I’m like, “Yes, this is what I meant.”
Lisa Bass So let’s talk about the kitchen and winter and cooking and some of our favorite things to make. I know a lot of people just want inspiration and that cozy feeling. I feel like my favorite time of year in the kitchen is winter. It’s probably one of the only things I like about winter, which is why I invited you on. Yeah, what are you making? I think we could even probably touch on venison because I have a freezer full of elk and deer, because I have a family of hunters. I don’t personally hunt.
Melody Haege Probably our main staple is sourdough. And I do that— you know, I do four loaves every time I make it, and I make it three times a week or so. So I’m making a lot of sourdough every week, and that’s kind of one of our— you know, it goes with everything. And as far as venison goes, I think we’ve had— this week has been entirely game meat. Actually, I think the last two weeks have been entirely game meat that we’ve gotten either this year. Or last night, my son— so he’s been really into learning how to hunt. He’s eight. And so I’ve been doing a lot of mentor hunting with him, and he got two squirrels this last week, so we processed out the squirrels and slow cooked them.
Lisa Bass Oh my son would love you. He always wants to shoot squirrels and I’m like, “I don’t know how to process squirrels. Can we not?”
Melody Haege You know, they’re hard because there’s not a whole lot of meat on them. And so when you have a large family like ours, then it takes more than one to feed everybody. And honestly, I feel like squirrels are only worth their time, in my opinion— there are a lot of people who disagree with me— for young hunters, because there’s just not enough meat and I hate cleaning squirrels. There’s not much I can do with the hide because they’re not very big. So I am going to tan the hide that he got on his last squirrel because he got it completely on his own. But anyway, we slow cooked the squirrels all day and made a squirrel alfredo with them. Because if you’re not— if you’re kind of new to eating different kinds of meat, then it’s always best to kind of disguise it in something that you already eat. So, for example, my husband wasn’t a big fan of eating organ meat. And so when I cook like deer heart and stuff, I’ll usually chop it up super fine and sauté that and add it into chili or something. You know, where it’s in something we’re already used to, you know, and you don’t notice the difference in texture. I have no problem with eating heart. My kids are all used to it by now. But I’ve noticed this because in casual conversation, you know, we’ll talk about different things like what we’re eating. And then I notice, like everybody else is quiet and I’m like, “What?” And they’re like, “You eat deer heart?” And I’m like, “It’s just meat.”
Lisa Bass Well, I’ve had beef heart and I can I can vouch for that it actually is a really good cut of meat. I don’t know why we don’t eat it. It’s really funny, too, because we instantly get grossed out. But we eat like the cow’s butt and call it a delicacy, and the heart is just gross. It’s really weird.
Melody Haege I mean taking it even a step farther, like, we eat meat that we have no idea where it came from. We have no idea how it was raised.
Lisa Bass Exactly. I go on this all the time because I have a dairy cow and people are like, “You drink it raw?” You go to the store and just buy it randomly off the shelves. I mean, you know, not that that’s bad, but I’m just saying if it’s gross for me to go out and get it from a source that I recognize and then drink it, then yours is also gross.
Melody Haege You hear arguments from people all the time be like, Well, I’m not a person of faith. And it’s like, Well, if you’re eating food from a grocery store, you are a person of blind faith because you believe that everything here is meant to benefit you and not just to make money for large corporations.
Lisa Bass That’s a whole– yeah, we could have a lot of episodes, Melody.
Melody Haege Well, the other day I was reading about what is the mystery meat that makes up McDonald’s chicken nuggets? Right? And then I was thinking, how many people wouldn’t blink an eye about taking a bite out of that? And yet if I were to serve them up a piece of sauteed squirrel, they’d be like, “I’m not eating that.” Like, the squirrel lived a very clean life. It was as organic as you can get,
Lisa Bass And it was treated well. It was not made— you know, it wasn’t cramped. It wasn’t given anything it didn’t want it. It literally foraged for its food.
Melody Haege Yeah, you know, and it was happy right up until the end, and then it had a quick death. And I just had this conversation on Sunday when I was talking about how— so we were planning on turning squirrel into pot pie, because that’s another one of our ways that you can you can utilize a lot of different kinds of meat. And my friend Erin is like the queen of pot pies, and now she’s got me really hooked on it.
Lisa Bass I’m so hooked in the winter on pot pies. So hooked. We have them like every other meal.
Melody Haege Yeah, pot pies are the best. But anyway, we were going to do that, and then as I was talking to my friends at church, they’re all like, “Why? Why would you do that?” So anyway, it does kind of bother me that people, they don’t understand the necessity of using everything. And so if I’m going to shoot a deer, so long as I didn’t shoot it in the heart, which that happens. And we’re going to utilize the heart because it is a great— you know, it’s just another muscle. You just have to know how to process it the right way. But that doesn’t have much to do with hearty winter foods. Well, I mean, hearty, I guess technically.
Lisa Bass Well, it kind of does, actually, because I love stews and all of those hearty foods. And you were talking about bread. I make bread— I find myself making it less in the summer because it’s so hot. My oven, it’s a vintage oven and it really heats up the kitchen. And so I don’t mind having it going all winter long. But in the summer, I like to do like skillet breads, like a flatbread or a tortilla a little bit more often and then also bone broths and hearty stews. I feel like that heart would be really good for that. So I mean, I’m not against talking about organ meats at all.
Melody Haege Well, because of the Homestead Mamas group, I got connected with a lot of other moms that are part of the regular contributors to Homestead Mamas, and we’ve been kind of doing an organ challenge. So this week, I think two of them have had pig heart for dinner, and we just kind of, you know— basically, our goal is normalize the way we should be eating, not the way that we’re used to eating, you know? Right. Yeah. Because. We have to understand that the mindset that we have around food, by and large, not every single person. But in the general population, the mindset we have towards food is complete consumerism. It’s how can we get the most for the cheapest price and how can we feed the masses? And that doesn’t really lend itself to good nutrition or good practices because it wasn’t meant to be that way. Food now just isn’t what it used to be. And I think that starting in the kitchen, and starting with food, starting with bread, and hunting your meat or raising your meat is the best way to start changing the mindset and the lifestyle of a generation that basically lives with a disposable mindset. Pretty much everything is disposable. Even get a brand new iPhone— it’s going to be obsolete in two years and you have to get a new one because everything is made to be consumed and discarded. And I don’t want to perpetuate that. So I truly think it starts in the kitchen.
Lisa Bass There’s so much meaning to learning skills that will literally sustain your life. We could definitely just go buy this food from the grocery store. There is no point in me going out and milking my cow every day or raising a garden or going hunting. You can definitely just go buy meat at the store. But learning those skills— they could be practical someday, honestly, they really could. But also just putting your hand to something that sustains life is something that we were meant to do. We find a certain joy and fulfillment in it that people might not necessarily realize is going to happen whenever you embark on things like that. Because monetarily even, my husband and I were trying to figure up what we pay per gallon for our raw milk and we’re going, “Well, we just could go ahead and buy it.” But I just love that aspect of going out and getting it and then also teaching the kids the same skills. You were talking about using the whole animal. I recently was sharing on my YouTube channel how I buy bags of chicken feet to put in my broth because it makes the most gelatinous broth. And actually people were pretty receptive to the whole idea, surprisingly.
Melody Haege I can’t imagine what my husband would do if he walked in and saw me making chicken foot broth.
Lisa Bass Yeah, you take off the lid and sure enough, it’s a pot of chicken feet.
Melody Haege Whenever he sees me making broth, he’s like, “I just picture you over a cauldron, like this is your witch’s broom.”
Lisa Bass A potion.
Melody Haege He appreciates it. It just is a changing of that mindset that you were raised with. You know, chicken’s feet? It is kind of gross if you think about it. But I mean, like I said, it’s just meat.
Lisa Bass Yeah, it’s all gross if you really think about it.
Melody Haege Yeah, just like Jell-O. People eat red Jell-O all the time. Like, where does gelatin come from?
Lisa Bass Do you guys know where that comes from?
Melody Haege Or if you eat cheese and rennet. Most people don’t think about all of that. It’s just because they’re so far removed from the process.
Lisa Bass We don’t have to face the process. Since we don’t have face the process, you get the luxury of being far removed from it. I find it really interesting when some of the homestead moms that I know on Instagram share the butchering process and harvest day, the feedback they get. And I’m thinking, “Do these people ever eat meat?” Because I mean, hopefully you’re not just okay with buying meat from the store, but not okay with facing it. And that’s again, totally off topic. But I find that really interesting that we can be okay with meat as long as we’re buying it, but not okay if we have to see it happen. We should be okay with it all or not at all.
Melody Haege I totally agree, and that’s one of the reasons that I hunt and that my kids are a part of every part of that process, from preparing to going out in the field to helping process the animal and everything. I don’t hunt because I hate animals. I actually love animals.
Probably opposite of that.
Yeah, and I want to be a responsible steward of what it is that I’ve been given. I’ve been given children. I’ve been given this life, and I want to use it well. I think one of the ways of doing that is giving myself good nutrition but also utilizing the resources that are around me to the best extent that I can. And I think hunting is really needed because— I don’t know if you want me to go down this road or not—
Lisa Bass I don’t care. This is great.
Melody Haege Because we have come into land that has been occupied by animals for forever, we are encroaching on a territory that messes up the homeostasis of the environment. What can survive here is— a lot of predators can survive because they can eat all these small prey animals, but the deer— if their population isn’t managed— they’re going to get hit by more cars. They’re going to starve in the winter. They’re going to have disease run rampant, you know? And so because we’ve encroached on this environment— which is fine— it’s our right as the higher order beings to do. But because we’ve done it, we need to manage it well. Allowing an unchecked population of animals that’s going to be to their detriment is not responsible. And so, from a conservation standpoint, I really believe hunting is beneficial. But also as a human, we’ve kind of been taught easier is better. You know, everything is touted as it’ll make things easier. This new gadget will make it easier. But what we’ve learned collectively as homeschoolers, as homesteaders or whatever is that easier isn’t always better. Actually easier doesn’t make us better people usually. Easier just gets the job done faster but with zero refining in the process. All that to say, I could easily go buy a roast at the store. I would much rather go spend weeks in the woods learning what I can from nature, having my children see my dedication and my hard work, and just having that stillness and that time to myself. It’s a wonderful time. I love spending that quiet time out in nature and then bringing that meat back and having the gift of getting to see the joy on my children’s faces when I come back successful. Things like that.
Lisa Bass Yeah, and then getting to learn how to use every part of the animal. Are you using the bones from deer to make bone broth?
Melody Haege I have not been. And the reason that I don’t is because I’m wary of using bone broth from animals that are foraging. It can totally be done, and I know plenty of people who do it. I don’t know enough about that yet, and I know I’ve spoken to some of the farmers around here that they do use certain herbicides and GMOs in their fields. And so I know these deer are eating that corn and that soy. And so while it is as natural and free range as deer are going to get, because I’m not quite sure about it, I don’t at this point.
Okay, yeah. That makes sense.
So we raise golden retriever hunting dogs, and all the bones go to our dogs. Nothing goes to waste with that. And right now, I have a deer hide that’s waiting to be tanned. I was just waiting until it gets warm enough that I can soak it and then we’ll use the pressure washer to flush the hide out. But it’s been a long stretch of negative double digits for us. And today is our first day we’ve been above zero in a while, so I do not use the pressure washer at negative twenty.
Lisa Bass I’m obviously a wimp for not enjoying winter because I don’t think we’ve ever got below zero this whole year. And when we do, it’s a really big deal.
Melody Haege Yeah, yeah. I have a lot of good friends in Missouri and they’re always like—.
Lisa Bass Yeah, it’s totally not bad here at all.
Yeah, they’re always cracking up when I sit and talk to them on Marco Polo, and I’ve got a fur hat on and fur boots, and I’m just covered head to toe, but it is so cold. And that’s one of the biggest things that I teach in survival class about winter is you are going to hate winter and probably not survive winter if you go out and you’re not prepared for it. Being out in the cold, especially being out in the woods in the cold is a really amazing experience because there’s not a lot of underbrush. Animals can’t hide in the same way.
Lisa Bass My husband always says winter’s his favorite season because he loves hiking, and the only time he can really do it is the winter.
Melody Haege It’s beautiful, but if you’re not wearing the right gear, you’re going to be miserable. But the right gear makes all the difference. Being able to be warm and understanding things like— one of the things I teach in my survival class is: you never sit on the snow. If it’s sticks, if it’s leaves, whatever it is, you always put a barrier between you and the snow because that’s the way you’re going to lose heat the fastest. Understanding little things like that really helps make the whole process so much more enjoyable.
Lisa Bass We can skip to this, but I actually want to come back to sourdough at some point. What are some of your favorite outdoor activities? You mentioned survival classes. Is that something that you do locally or do you offer that online too at all?
Melody Haege No. I did it a lot last year. This year, I haven’t gotten to do very much with it because we had a really crazy fall. And I kept on planning on doing it, but it just never worked out. So I’ll probably start doing those again. I just do it for homeschool kids in the area.
Okay. Oh, I wish we had that. That’d be so cool.
If anybody asks, then I’m like, “Sure.” I’ll happily share it with anybody, but I don’t really feel comfortable putting things out there for people online and then being like, “Now go survive.” There’s stuff you’ve got to learn that you learn by being there. Everything from building a shelter— we can all watch a survival show online and be like, “Oh, I could do that.” But inevitably you make mistakes when you go in the woods, and those mistakes are some of the best teachers. But having somebody who can coach you through them is really helpful. So I do a class with homeschoolers, and one of the things we focus on is how how science in nature intertwine with different survival skills. And one of the things that I’m really big on is not using gadgets because I think that every advent of a new gadget, whether it’s the GPS or matches or a lighter— any of those things, they nullify the skills that our ancestors relied on. And so if you are used to driving, listening to a voice that tells you every turn you have to make and warns you before the turn even comes that it’s coming, your brain is completely shut off to navigation. You don’t need to know what direction is east, what direction is north. And so one of the things that I really harp on with students is always being acclimated to your environment. Always figure out where is north? It’s an easy one to know. But just having this awareness, like as you’re driving, what direction are you driving? Don’t wait for the voice to tell you. Figure these things out because you never know when the map isn’t going to be there or when the GPS isn’t going to be there. And understanding that inside of nature is pretty much everything that we need to understand navigation and survival and all that stuff, we just have to know how to unlock it. And if you’re always using gadgets, you’re never going to need to unlock it. So that’s a big deal to me.
Lisa Bass So do you take the kids out in the woods often?
Melody Haege My kids, yes, all the time. One of our favorite things to do in the winter is to go find a new spot on our land. We live in Minnesota in the bluff country, and we’re not far from the Mississippi River. So verything is big bluffs and hills and deep timber. We have oaks and a lot of paper birch and cedar trees and evergreen trees. It’s really great topography for always having to deal with a new situation whether we’re on the flats or whether we’re up on a hillside or whatever. We like to go out, and I have my kids pick a spot. Find a spot where we’re going to be able to build a fire and cook our lunch. We just did this last Thursday in the snow, and it was really cold, but we did it anyway. We have a few spots where we already have shelters built on our land, so we can go there and the little ones can hang out in the shelter. We’ll bring a blanket for them. And then the big ones have to work on gathering all the materials they need for a fire, and then we always have to spark a fire with a ferro rod, so then it’s lit by sparks. It’s not a match. It’s not a lighter. It’s the old way of doing it. I haven’t started them on friction fires yet where you’d use a bow with a drill? I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about.
Lisa Bass No.
Melody Haege Okay. The next level of fire-making would be friction fires. A ferro rod is still a challenge, but it’s a lot easier than a than a friction fire. So they have to be responsible for gathering all of everything we need for starting this fire. One of the things that I’ve noticed in the older ones, as we’ve continued to do this is, as we’re walking, I can see them stuffing their pockets with the different things that they see that we’ll need. Because if we walk by a cedar tree, well they can scrape off some of the cedar bark because it makes a great catch for sparks. The last time we did this— it’s the first time that this happened— is they emptied out their pockets. They had talked beforehand to each other about gathering what they needed on the way, and then they were able to sit down. One of them went over and took over gathering all of the tinder together and making a nest and working on all of that. One of them got kindling and one of them got firewood, and I just sat back and watched. They’re eight, nine and 11, and they did everything. I just hung out with the little kids. I love cooking over a fire, but sometimes we just do freeze-dried packaged meals. So I had some of these that they really, really wanted to try where you just add water and there’s a heating element in it and it steams in the bag, and then you can open it up and just eat it like that. They love those. We did those the other day, and it’s a really cool experience for me to see them take all of that because I know they’re doing stuff most adults don’t know how to do.
Lisa Bass Oh, yeah. No, your kids would out-survive me for sure. I love the idea of spending all of winter outside. This is something I’ve seriously only just come to a revelation about in the last three years where I’m like, “You know what, guys? We are going to be outside like it’s warm every single day.” Here, compared to where you live, it is warm. But we’ve been just spending hours outside every day when I feel like we used to think winter is when you’re in just day after day for months. And I’m not willing to accept that anymore because we need outside time and there’s really no excuse for it. Like you said, if you’re prepared and you have the right gear for it, even you up in Minnesota can be outside most of the winter. Do you have a cutoff?
Melody Haege Well, I don’t let my little kids outside— okay, so my middle two, Jonah and Isla, they’re eight and nine. They have a snare line set up for rabbits, and they have to check the snares every day because we’re not going to let a rabbit go to the coyotes. Whether it’s negative 12 outside or plus five degrees, they have to go check their snares. We have animals, so we have to be out feeding the animals. But I pretty much cut them off at negative five degrees. If it’s colder than that, you walk outside and like if your eyes are watering, it freezes on your face. I do have quite a few rules about where they can go. They have to be wearing a blaze orange hat or blaze pink hat so that I can always see because it can be really dangerous to be in the cold. If it’s anything like you fall and you hurt yourself and you’re out there too long and it’s negative 15 degrees, you’re going to get in a world of trouble real fast. So we do have a cutoff, but we have a pole shed, and in there we have an archery range, they can roller blade, they can scooter. So even if it’s too cold to be outside, we have a heated shed and they can get their energy out that way. So that’s nice.
Lisa Bass Yeah, setting the place up for that, we’ve been doing that too. Our temperatures are so much different than yours. It’s kind of unbelievable. I would say our average January day is 30, and so we can be outside all the time.
Melody Haege See, we are in a heat wave at 30 today.
Lisa Bass Yeah. We’re actually in a heat wave too, so my husband took all the other kids on a hike today because it’s probably 40 and sunny today. You might as well be wearing a hoodie; it’s really nice. But we have our barn set up to where we’re doing a gym upstairs in the loft of the barn with a ping-pong table and a climbing wall and rings and all of that because they need places to run. If it’s too cold, which it very rarely is, that’s somewhere they can go. It’s not heated, though. So pretty much it has to still be nice out for them to go in there. But gathering from you, I think it’s nice here pretty much all winter.
Melody Haege Comparatively. But yeah, basically, our cutoff is if it’s dangerously cold. Thirty degrees like it is— so nice. Plus, we have the benefit— I don’t know, I don’t think you guys have snow down there, do you?
Lisa Bass We do, but we don’t get like you. We haven’t had any snow this whole season yet. We will get some. We’ll get a couple of big snows and then that’ll be it.
Melody Haege I think it makes a big, big difference having snow in the winter. Going outside when it’s just cold, but there is no snow is just kind of annoying. We have a nice base layer of snow, and then another big world of opportunities opens up— building snow forts, and we do a lot of skiing and snowboarding. We live only like two or three miles away from a big ski area because, like I said, we live in the bluff country. We don’t have a season pass there yet. We haven’t ever done that, but we’re thinking, as our kids get older, more chances to be outside in the winter. Maybe we’re going to do that. And, going to preparing for winter— I know we have talked about talking about that. So if you want to go into that, that’s a little bit to do with the shed. We’re able to have a heated pole shed because we heat exclusively with wood. And so we have a wood boiler. When we moved to this property, there was no outbuilding, so we just built this shed. We ran water lines over there from the boiler, and we’re able to heat the shed and the house and all of our hot water with one wood boiler. So our big preparation for winter is just chopping wood, cutting wood, and that is something all of the kids are helping with. Well, not the not the littlest kids; the oldest three help with it. We have to cut the wood, stack the wood. My father-in-law is an arborist, so that helps a lot because when he cuts down hardwood trees, he’ll just come and drop them on our property, and then we can just cut them up from there. We’re not out searching for wood ever. We have oak hardwood forests, so it’s all right outside our door anyway. But I’d say as far as preparing for winter, that’s one of the biggest ones. And then also preparing water for the winter. I think one of the most annoying things about living in Minnesota and having animals is that from October until like April, water is frozen. And it’s so annoying. And it’s also annoying because if the heaters get unplugged for a half hour, things get frozen. For us, we have to check for eggs every hour or two because if they’re out there any length of time, they freeze.
Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Yeah.
We’re really selective about the chickens that we buy to make sure that they have a rose comb or a really small comb because we’ve had a lot of chickens that have had their combs self-amputate from getting frostbite.
Lisa Bass We’ve had that even here, so I can imagine that it would definitely happen where you live.
Melody Haege So I guess, when you live in an area that gets really cold, there has to be a lot of intentionality behind everything: preparing for winter, choosing what animals, choosing what breeds, all of that.
Lisa Bass Do you do any preparations for enjoying winter like maybe certain craft supplies on hand? I saw that you like to carve.
Melody Haege Yeah, so my husband does a lot of work on the lathe, and I like to do a lot of wood carving. I do lathe work as well, but mostly I like to make things like rolling pins and candlesticks. I’m not super artsy about it. He’s making bowls and pepper mills and really cool stuff. In the woodshed, we have it set up as we have a wood shop, we have our archery range. A a big part of preparing for winter— when we are cutting wood, we always leave out pieces that are potential wood lathe pieces or good for carving. Because it has to dry a certain amount and stuff like that. Pretty much everything that we make is from the wood pile. Right now, we’re in this glorious lull of winter because there’s this really big push for us. We really like to do handmade gifts for Christmas. I feel like our year basically goes— the middle of September is the start of archery/deer season. From the middle of September until the middle of November, every free time I get, I’m out hunting. Any time I’m not hunting, I’m preserving. Any time I’m not doing that, I’m trying to homeschool the children. We go fairly light on homeschool in the fall because we know winter is coming, and on those negative 10 degree days, we push out as much school as we can. When the weather’s nice, I want them to be able to be outside. I don’t I don’t want them to be stuck at the table doing work when I know what’s coming with winter.
Lisa Bass Yes, yes, exactly.
Melody Haege We kind of save the bulk of our big work for these really cold months. But once mid-November hits, the height of deer season is really slowed down, and then it’s make. Make everything, make the presents.
Lisa Bass Making for Christmas.
Yeah, and it does get a little hectic and get to a point where it’s like, I just get sick of it. And then after Christmas, we’re in that glorious time right now where we have free time.
Lisa Bass Yeah, nothing’s really expected of. Yeah, the weather’s not necessarily going to let you just do anything with the homestead, really.
Melody Haege Yeah. In the summer, we do not have a prayer of being caught up on laundry. But right now, we’re caught up on laundry. When we have a lull in our day, like what we’re doing right now. Well, normally we’d be doing a game with the kids. We do a lot of games. My kids can probably beat most adults at strategy games because I love to play strategy games, and so that’s one of the things that we do together.
Lisa Bass In the winter?
Melody Haege Yeah, and that’s how I was raised. I was homeschooled out on a homestead out in Wisconsin.
Lisa Bass Yeah, you seem like a homeschooler now that you mention it.
Melody Haege I get that a lot.
Lisa Bass It’s a compliment.
Melody Haege From some people. When it’s from my husband, it’s, “You sound like such a homeschooler.”
Lisa Bass Right, right. Yeah, I get it.
Melody Haege When we get to the time we’re in now, our big thing in the afternoons— my kids really want to learn how to play chess well. So we do chess lessons in the afternoon and we really buckle down on music lessons and everything like that. This is like one of my favorite times of year and it just makes me happy. Also, I think a lot of people go into winter expecting their schedules to be similar to summer, but naturally, our bodies aren’t aren’t made for that. There’s so much dark in the winter. When natural daylight decreases, the serotonin levels in our body decrease and melatonin levels go up. Even the cold can signal our bodies to release more melatonin, and so that’s one of the reasons you can get more sleepy. But also sleep is one of the best medicines. So when it’s cold and flu season and everything like that, the ability to sleep more because it’s dark more is a gift. We should be utilizing that. My husband and I usually are in bed by 8:30, 9:00 at the latest. I’m usually up by 6:20, he’s up at 5:45. I think a lot of people disregard the natural health benefit of just getting enough sleep. I look at this time of year as like, this is my time to catch up on that. I’m not doing a bonfire in the evenings; I’m not doing all these things. It’s not light until 9:00 at night and I’m wanting to stay up because I want to go to bed when it’s dark. Take our cues from nature. It’s a shorter light time; it’s a longer dark time. Sleep more.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I mean, it does just kind of happen naturally, because it’s a little boring. You’re just inside and it’s dark. You can play board games, but then it’s only 7:00.
Melody Haege Yeah. Do you guys ever experience where it’s like you finish dinner and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, it’s not bedtime yet?”
Lisa Bass Yes, all the time.
Melody Haege It’s 6:30. These kids need to go to bed. So we’ve just kind of decided that we need to let our circadian rhythm dictate how we sleep and not necessarily the clock dictate how we sleep. Because being bound to a clock is really kind of arbitrary unless it’s like for a work schedule, right? If your kid is tired at 6:30, let them go to sleep at 6:30. In my experience, I’ve let my kids fall asleep early like that and they still sleep to the same time. They don’t understand the hormone balances and stuff and why they’re wanting to sleep more. But it eventually works out. I think it’s really, really beneficial. Another thing that I like to do this time of year is— I only eat when it’s light because I feel like it’s another part of nature just kind of giving me cues. That’s how it would have been done probably in the more old days, like when you were having to fetch the water and having to make different things like that and not wanting to do everything in the dark. I’ve just found I feel like it helps me stay healthier to just kind of take the cues from nature.
Lisa Bass And that’s really such a beautiful part about winter, too, especially with the evenings. And I have to remember that because in the summer I’m thinking, “Why are the kids still wide awake when it’s 9:00, and I’m almost longing for winter?” But then during winter, I’m like, “Remember when it was light ’til 9:00?” Do you feel like it takes a little bit of intentionality to enjoy it? Getting bundled up to go outside, making foods that are cozy, maybe lighting a candle or investing in lighting like lamps and things that make the home just a little bit cozier because otherwise it can get a little bit depressing. But getting outside each day is such an obvious choice for everybody.
Melody Haege But you did mention something in there that I have to comment on, and that is that getting children bundled up and ready to go outside is literally the bane of my existence.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah, it’s horrible.
Melody Haege Because inevitably, as you’re tucking the last hand inside a glove, somebody has to go potty and somebody needs this or that. That part is not enjoyable, but if you have little kids, brighter days are coming when your kids are old enough that they will know how to bundle themselves up and go outside.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. That’s true. It takes just enough effort to where sometimes you think it’s really not worth it. But then once you’re outside, it definitely is to get the sunshine. You don’t have to be stuck in your house for three months straight. It is worth it. It’s also the bane of my existence because, oh man, stuff’s just everywhere. None of us are very organized people.
Melody Haege We have we have rules about winter gear because you need so much of it. We have a front door where everybody comes in and out, and then the back door walk-out basement. Everybody’s allowed one pair of boots, one hat, and one jacket upstairs. Everything else has to be downstairs. It drives my kids nuts sometimes. They want to be able to just get everything and go outside.
Lisa Bass Throw it on.
Melody Haege Yeah, yeah. I can’t live with clutter. That’s another thing. We have 1100 square feet and seven people, so keeping things tidy is really important. And gosh, my kids today, like I said, we’re in a really good little lull of winter, and my kids are feeling it because when I told them it was time for our ten minute clean up, which is just, we do it three or four times a day, they immediately just went and got everything and tidied up. My six-year-old, her job is always wash trim, wash door handles, wash the walls where people touch. And she got done today and she’s like, “Is there anything more I can wash?” She’s just like this little Energizer bunny. I think also another survival mechanism in winter is giving kids a sense of purpose daily. They have responsibility and it’s a really great time to hone in on homemaking skills and things that they’re too busy for in the summer. I don’t want to stay inside and wash the trim in the summer. I want to be outside. We focus on a lot more of those skills. Or things like teaching them to knit or crochet or carve or any of those things. I don’t have the patience for it in summer, because I have too many other places to be and things to do with that are largely homestead related. I don’t want people to miss the opportunity to use the stillness and the downtimes and this opportunistic quiet of winter and fill it up with things like— and I’m not going to say these things are bad— but not just fill it up with busyness, because I’ve seen a lot of people fill their winters with they have to be here for this sport and that sport and this event and that event, and you just kind of miss some of the beauty of it when you spend this season that allows you to reset just being busy. One of the things somebody told me a few years ago was to beware the barrenness of a busy life, and it has played in my mind so many times. When one of my friends passed away two years ago, I looked up what were the top five regrets of the dying person. And one of them was, I wish I would have worked less and enjoyed more. As a homesteader, you can only work less sometimes. And this is one of those times for me.
Lisa Bass Take it.
Melody Haege Yea, so take the opportunity to reset.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Well, that was all said beautifully. I knew you were the right person for the winter episode. I could just tell from your whole page. This girl actually is enjoying winter. I can tell. Oh, I feel like we could talk about this forever. I wanted to ask you about your sourdough, what recipes you use. We can close there because I feel like, like I said, we could just chat forever about winter and the beauty and stillness of it. But what are some of your favorite sourdough recipes? It’s a beautiful time to experiment with all that.
Melody Haege Well, I have zero recipes that I follow. I’m very much a let’s try to do it. I’m going to try this, try that. Because I just wrote a sourdough booklet with instructions and a recipe in it, I was forced to measure this fall, and it was so tedious having to measure every time I made sourdough so that I could replicate every time and have to test my recipes. So I have one recipe that I’ve produced that is just your basic— I call it just your everyday sourdough because I can make it into a boule, I can make it into a batard, it doesn’t really matter. That is the only one that I’ve solidified. I hate following recipes because I’m pretty sure I could do it better if I just tried on my own. I’ve learned a lot of things through trial and error. I love doing braided enriched doughs like challah or I love doing coated bread, like the poppy seed coated. I just made another one of those today. With that, oftentimes I’ll just do my regular sandwich loaf. Although it’s really, really good if you add in sharp cheddar with the poppy seed. The flavor just goes so well together.
Lisa Bass On top of it, kind of like a bagel almost?
Melody Haege No, no, no. Like into the dough.
In the dough. Okay, gotcha.
Yeah. I love doing that. One of my favorite ways to kind of dress up sourdough is to make my normal leaven. And then as I’m mixing in the flour, I’ll add cocoa powder. It does mess up the hydration a little bit, so you do have to mess a little bit with flour. Because I’m always using different flour with different hydration levels, I’m kind of experimenting with different water all the time, like how much water I’m putting in to get the right consistency. But that’s just kind of something I think as you do it more, you get to know this is the right feel, this is the right stretch. So I’ll add cocoa. Then when I get to pretty much my final stretch and folds, I’ll add cranberries also. Then it’s sourdough noir, so it turns out just this rich, dark, chocolatey looking, but it’s not sweet. It doesn’t taste like chocolate. It’s got just this really earthy, almost like a hint of molasses type. I don’t know how to really describe it, but it is one of my favorite ways of doing sourdough, especially this time of year. I feel like food this time of year needs to be so savory.
Yes, yes, I completely agree.
Yeah. Then I’ll take a batch of sourdough noir and a batch of regular and I will twist them together and make it so it’s just like a swirl of regular dough with the sourdough noir and then add the cranberries into that. It’s really, really good and it’s really simple. So with those kind of things, you take your basic recipe and you just think what stage of your sourdough process you would need to mix it in in order to get it to incorporate. Obviously, if you’re adding cocoa powder and you try to mix it on your last stretch and fold, it’s not going to get fully incorporated. That’s one of my favorite things about sourdough is just finding a way to make it work because this is the oldest way of making bread in history. Obviously, people have been doing trial and error with it forever. And so there’s no like “this is the only right way and all other ways are wrong.” It’s like, you figure out what works for you making bread. I love that about sourdough.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah, this is such a good time to experiment with sourdough. I can tell because I have lots of sourdough recipes on my blog, and this is when they get all of the hits is like January, February. People are really thinking about sourdough. Where can people find your booklet? Do you have that linked in your Instagram?
Melody Haege No. I actually made it because I was going to a makers’ market and I brought packets of dehydrated sourdough and I wanted to have like a way to coach people through making it. I’ve had people reach out to me through Instagram and just ask if they can get it, and I will ship it out to people from there. If they just DM me, I will tell you, “This is how much I charge for it,” and ship it to you. And I do one shipment a week, and I’ve been shipping, three to 10 of them a week since the end of November, because people are just, like you said, people are really wanting to get into sourdough right now. I have my basic like, this is what I do. But if ever anybody is like, “I want to take a class or something,” I always direct them to my friend Erin. She’s @cedarchestfarm on Instagram. She’s just the sourdough queen when it comes to teaching and classes and stuff. If you get a starter from me, great, whatever. But if you really want to know how it’s done with somebody who does recipes and measures and things like that, you might want to go to Erin.
Lisa Bass Okay, and you sell your dehydrated starter as well?
Melody Haege Yeah. I actually got my starter from an ad in Mother Earth Magazine like eight years ago. It was from this guy named Carl Griffith; his goal was to keep the legacy of his family’s sourdough alive. He was like 80-something years old at the time, but he would send you this little packet of dehydrated sourdough starter, and he included the history of it and how it dated back to 1847, I think it was that his family had brought it on the Oregon Trail. I include all of that history of what he sent to me crediting his name. He passed away in 2008, and I think it’s really cool to just kind of perpetuate that so people can know his story and his part in keeping this strain of sourdough going.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that was his whole goal.
Melody Haege Yeah, this sourdough starter was used in Basque sheep camps baked in a hole in the ground. This sourdough starter was brought on the Oregon Trail. The names of the people who brought it and used it way back then are in the booklet because that’s what he told me. I had to go do quite a bit of digging to find all of the information, because at the time, I didn’t think, “Oh, I’m going to save this for everybody to use.” I read all the information. I thought it was super cool, and then I just lost it somewhere, but I was able to find it again online. I love the connectedness. Not only is it making bread the same way that our ancestors made bread, but it’s using the same starter, the same bacterial cultures that’s become more and more vibrant over the years, over the last almost two hundred years.
Lisa Bass Right? Yeah, that is cool. That’s awesome. Do you have that, I guess, all linked in your bio over on Instagram that if people want to check it out? Because I know people will. People love sourdough.
Melody Haege Yeah, well, if you want to see my step-by-step instructions and just kind of my sourdough troubleshooting, my website RenaissanceWomanMN.com is linked in my bio on Instagram. Otherwise, you can check out my story highlights. I think on the highlights is where I give information about the sourdough packets or in my feed, the packet is in there or just send me a DM. That’s how I’ve been sending them out lately. People find me through there and then I just get a DM and I send them out.
Lisa Bass Awesome. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for joining me. I feel like you were the perfect guest for this, so thank you so much for taking time out of your day.
Melody Haege Well, thanks for having me.
Lisa Bass All right, well, I hope that you enjoyed this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Make sure to head over to RenaissanceWomanMN.com or @Renaissance.Woman.MN over on Instagram. Check out her sourdough resources. Maybe grab yourself a starter if you haven’t yet made one for yourself and a lot of her cool ideas. I just loved the idea where she was talking about adding a little bit of cocoa and then braiding it together with the lighter dough to make this contrast. Such a cool idea. She is full of so many interesting ideas that, honestly, I’ve never really thought about before. If you like this episode, make sure to leave a review. I don’t often ask, but that is really what helps this podcast to grow, so over on whichever platform you’re on or in Apple, leave a five star review. As always, thank you so much for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.