Episode 162 | Cozy Christmas Episode: Handmade Gifts, Family Traditions, Savoring the Season | Nicole of Frontier Dreams

If you are craving that cozy, sacred feeling that comes along with the Christmas season, you will definitely want to join Nicole and me for this conversation about all things cozy Christmas.  On her Instagram, Nicole shares so beautifully about the creativity and joy of living a simple, homemade life.  In this conversation, we chat all about making the most out of these colder months and the winter holidays– what we do on long evenings at home, how we celebrate Christmas with our families, what we are excited about in the kitchen.  Nicole has a wealth of ideas for unique family traditions surrounding Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and more.   I know this episode will get your wheels turning about new ways to celebrate the season in your own home, just like it did for me.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Simple and affordable handmade Christmas ideas for children and adults
  • A few details you can add to easily elevate a handmade gift
  • How we approach gift giving within our own families
  • Incorporating handmade gifts into holiday traditions
  • Ideas for Christmas traditions that help your family slow down and savor the season
  • Nicole and her family’s plans for going off-grid next year
  • Learning new skills over the winter months by reading both fiction and nonfiction
  • Creative ways to embrace winter with your family even if you don’t enjoy the cold weather
  • Favorite seasonal foods and winter recipes

Thank you to our sponsors!

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Check out some of my current favorite products: frankincense tallow balm, activated charcoal face bar, seabuckthorn cleansing oil, makeup line

School of Traditional Skills is your shortcut to self-sufficiency, the simple way.  Glean homesteading wisdom from a variety of instructors without ever leaving your home.  Use my link bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills to take advantage of this amazing learning opportunity.  Make sure you check out my class on lacto-fermenting vegetables!

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About Nicole

Nicole is a homeschooling, homemaking Waldorf mama raising her own Pevensie tribe on her homestead amongst the Amish. She enjoys the homemade simple life: knitting, sewing, preserving, cooking from scratch, and finding new ways to use all the beeswax and honey from her bees – you name it! She loves creating any way she can, keeping her camera handy to document it all along the way. Join her on Instagram @frontierdreams where she shares crafts, tutorials, and her homesteading life to inspire and cultivate beauty wherever she can.

Resources Mentioned

DIY felt hanging Advent wreath by Nicole Spring

Tudor Monastery Farms TV Mini Series

Victorian Farm TV Mini Series

See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward

A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen by Kate Downham

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery

Frontier House TV Mini Series

Edwardian Farm TV Series

Our Favorite Advent and Christmas Books by Nicole Spring

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Connect

Nicole Spring of Frontier Dreams | Blog | Instagram

Lisa Bass of Farmhouse on Boone | Blog | YouTube | Instagram | TikTok | Facebook | Pinterest

Join us in the Simple Farmhouse Life Facebook community!

Transcript

Lisa Bass Welcome back to this Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today I’m having on Nicole from Frontier Dreams, and we’re going to do a cozy episode, which just basically means that we’re going to talk about Christmas, handmade gift ideas, food, books, winter in general, and how to enjoy it, some traditions. I found out that Nicole has so many Christmas traditions, so if you are in the market for adding a few traditions for your family—something that maybe you can start that they’ll always remember—she is definitely your person because she has more traditions and anybody I’ve ever talked to. So let’s dive into that episode and chat about winter and cozy. 

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 Well, thanks so much for joining me, Nicole. I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to chatting homemade gift ideas, cozy day ideas, book suggestions. This episode is in response to a question from a listener, or at least maybe a comment from a listener. But I’ll just go ahead and read that and then we’ll get started introducing you and talking about the topic at hand. So someone says, “Hi, Lisa. I had some thoughts on a podcast idea. With the holiday season quickly approaching, maybe something along the lines of staying sane during the hustle, bustle and homemade items for gift ideas. Maybe what you ask for. Also, as the colder temps approach, folks slow down and are inside more. I myself read more in the cooler months. Maybe book suggestions or your book preferences.” This person also says, “I’m looking for historical fiction based on a homestead, something to take me back to the good old days.” So I thought that sounded like a good cozy episode to have you on for. So first of all, can you introduce yourself? Tell us about you, your family, goals, or whatever else you prefer to share? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, absolutely. My name is Nicole. I am known basically as @FrontierDreams on Instagram and, I want to say many moons ago, a blog. I haven’t really updated it in a couple of years. Back when blogs were first starting out, I used to do a lot of blogging there. But I’m a homeschooling mama to four. I refer to my children a lot as the Pevensie children because if you know the Narnia series, the Pevensie children were from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and they had two boys, two girls, and that’s what I have. So that’s what we always— I always refer to them as that. We just love those books and C.S. Lewis. After a little bit over a decade of moving around the country about every four years, we are settled basically in Amish country. My husband was in the military, so that’s why we had to move so much. We’re on a little homestead. We’re literally surrounded by one Amish family. It’s the father on one side of us and then his sons all around us which is just awesome. We love them. And at our homestead, we just tend to our gardens, our chickens, our ducks, our geese, our honeybees. And we do hope to get a dairy cow sometime soon. And then sheep for wool cause I have a knitting obsession and just should have some sheep to go with that. 

Lisa Bass That, first of all, sounds like a really cozy thing to do this winter, talking about knitting and sheep. So now do you currently do a lot of knitting? I think you have a lot of patterns, too, don’t you? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, I do. I have of couple patterns. Nothing really big. On the homestead, I haven’t been able to knit that much during all the busy seasons. But then winter is the time where I finally can sit down and actually find the time to knit and do all the cozy things that I kind of miss during those crazy, crazy, busy months. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s what’s so great about winter, especially on the homestead. My husband was telling me that just the day. He was like, “This is the time of year where you’re supposed to do a lot more relaxing.” That’s why it gets dark really early. So we can’t really get a lot of the projects done that we want to do. With blogging, I like to do photography—well, I have to do photography—and even at the end of my usual work time, which ends at 4:00—which I just do like the afternoon time, so like 1:00 to 4:00 Monday through Thursday—but even by the end of that, I can’t photograph anymore. And so it’s just really forcing me to slow down. I just can’t get as much done as I usually can, which is a blessing, but also hard for some types of people. 

Nicole Spring Oh, yeah. 

Lisa Bass Okay. So we’ll get more into all of those cozy ideas, but let’s start with gift ideas and handmade, all of those kind of things. So do you make a lot of handmade gifts and what are some of your favorite ideas? 

Nicole Spring Yes, we absolutely do. Being a knitter, of course, I do a lot of knitted gifts for my children and even friends and family and things like that. I’ll knit sweaters and hats and mittens and things. I do a lot of dolls, you know, little loveys and things like that. And then my girls are both teenagers now, but when they were younger, I would knit sweaters and hats and things for their special dolls, which they absolutely loved. That was the biggest deal. And then I would also sew clothes for the dolls, too. They loved that. I mean, we really do all kinds of things. With my girls, they were very, very into their dolls, so we did a lot of quilting and things like that. And then dollhouse accessories, decor, things. They loved those. And lots of really simple things, honestly. We would cut down fallen branches into little blocks. And when my kids were younger, they really loved those because they’re just so simplistic, but they’re not perfectly even like blocks you get from the store, so they had to really balance them and mess around with them, which I feel like they would play with them longer that way. We also would do peg dolls. You know the little wooden…? They’re just like plain peg dolls that you can paint or make clothes for. And one year, actually, when my youngest son was about two, my older son found a tractor in the thrift store and thought that was the sweetest present to give him. And then we painted a little peg doll that fit into it to look just like my younger son, and that was the greatest gift ever. It was like him driving his own tractor. But that’s mostly for little kids. And then for teens or adults or anything like that, we like to do more like Chapstick, salves, sugar scrubs, lotions. We do a lot of beeswax candles because we have honeybees. And then also beeswax window ornaments, which basically just use an old cookie mold and put the beeswax in it, and then when you hang it in the window, it smells amazing and the light shines through. So those are lots of fun. But yeah, we definitely do more than that. Baked goods and things like that, too. 

Lisa Bass So with the window ornaments, do you pour it till it’s somewhat thick? Or how thick is it? 

Nicole Spring So I use— I’m trying to think of the actual name of the cookie molds. They’re the old style ones where it’s like a really, really detailed design in there and they’re made of either ceramic, possibly stone, I’m not sure. So they couldn’t really get very thick. They’d be maybe a half an inch at the most. And then that way the light will just shine right through them. 

Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah. Another thing I was thinking this year is, in the past, we’ve done a lot of poured candles. But have you ever tried using the wood wicks? That is something I was like, I think I want to do a bunch of wood wick candles this year. And then I also thought about coloring them with some natural things, but I couldn’t— well, I’m not 100% sure on how well it would work to use coffee. Or if you put coffee in, is that dangerous for whatever reason? But I want to up it a little bit because in the past I’ve just done a wick, poured some beeswax in, and I’m trying to think of how I could naturally color and then use wood wicks. Have you done much of that? 

Nicole Spring I haven’t. I actually do have some of the wood wicks and they’re sitting there waiting for me to test them out. But I haven’t tried it yet. I do know with the beeswax candles it can be trickier to get them to burn right versus say, like, the soy or paraffin or anything like that. So I haven’t tried. 

Lisa Bass Yes. I agree. What are your tricks for that? Do you have any tricks for getting them to not tunnel as much so that way— I find that with beeswax candles, a lot of times, they’ll do that. And so then I’ll just melt it back down and re-pour. But have you found something to help with that? 

Nicole Spring I honestly just try to use—I don’t know if it’s exactly the correct answer—but I try to use pretty much the thickest wick I can. And then sometimes, too, like in jars, I’ll do two wicks to really help prevent the tunneling so it goes all the way down. 

Lisa Bass Hmm. 

Nicole Spring Even with that, though, I do still sometimes get the tunneling. I do the same thing, just melt it back down and make another one. 

Lisa Bass Right? Yeah. That makes me wonder, though, with the wide wicks doing better or having a double wick, if the wood wick would work better. It almost seems like maybe it would. That would be something to experiment with.

Nicole Spring Yeah, it might. Definitely. Definitely. And then, yeah, with the natural dyes and everything, too, that’s something I’ve been looking into but haven’t tried yet with the beeswax. Because we do, we want to make our own Advent candles eventually. And we would do purple in pink, so we have to figure that out, but we haven’t gotten that far yet. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. And I would think beeswax would be a little bit more challenging to color than soy. Not saying it can’t be done, but I would think that the soy would change color a little bit faster cause it’s whiter, but yeah, that’s something I want to experiment with, too. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. 

Lisa Bass So I know it’s probably too late to be talking about this, but did you start working on a lot of your handmade gifts many, many months ago? Like if you’re knitting hats for people— well, you said sweaters maybe for your daughters, but that seems like something that you’ve probably been working on for a while. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, yeah, definitely. That was one thing that’s really true, honestly, of handmade gifts to begin with, really, is handmade really forces you to slow down, which is so good for winter and Christmas and the cozy season. But at the same time, you have to plan well in advance or else you won’t get the things done in time. I mean, I used to have many Christmas Eves where I would be up until 4:00 in the morning trying to finish something which is not fun to do. So I do try to start earlier now. And like with my children, too, it’s actually pretty awesome to see, just from them growing up with all mostly handmade gifts, my children now, my daughters that are teenagers, they’ve already started their gifts for one another. And I mean, they make these elaborate graphic novels of stories they’ve created themselves to give each other, and paintings, and my one daughter will crochet. 

Lisa Bass Wow. 

Nicole Spring She’s even sewn me a dress before to wear to church, and yeah, all kinds of things. So it’s just so amazing to see that kind of blossoming in them. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, something that was probably quite a sacrifice for you in the beginning because you had to spend so much time making gifts for them and for other people, they’re now picking up on that and they’re able to do some of these things. So it’s not all 100% you. They’re doing things for each other. That is really cool. My kids are doing the same thing, even though it’s not quite that elaborate. Somewhere in this room—this is where they hang out most of the time—there’s a stack like this high of pot holders they’ve been making for people. They’re like, “We’ve got to get ahead of this for Christmas.” 

Nicole Spring Oh, wow. That’s awesome.

Lisa Bass Yeah. One way that I would encourage the listeners, too—if they want to make something that’s more last minute, because if you’re going to knit a gift, you probably should have started on that a while ago—would be like you were mentioning, the salves and the lip balms and the candles. One way to make that a bit of a better packaged thing so that it looks like something more official, not something thrown together, is to create labels. Go on to Canva.com. And the way that I do that is I will literally measure the little thing that I have. Like if it’s a Chapstick container, I’ll just get out my tape measure and measure the size that I need and then create a custom design in Canva with those inches and then just write lip balm and then put the ingredients and then copy that over to another one that’s for, say, like a little salve jar that has the ingredients of that. Do you do some things like that? Or do you enjoy making handmade gift baskets with some of your homemade things? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, yeah. We love making all the labels and then adding decorations to them, too. So like the dried oranges or some cinnamon sticks on there just to make it a little more festive and a little, I guess, more professional looking even though it is homemade.

Lisa Bass Right. Yes. It makes it seem like a real gift and you spent a lot of time on it, even though it’s just those little details that aren’t that much harder to add once you’ve already done all the other work. 

Nicole Spring Right. Yeah, definitely. 

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Lisa Bass Okay. So let’s talk about gifts in general. This is a hot topic this time of year with moms. Like, how many gifts do we give? How much do we spend? I know a lot of people do the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” How do you handle gifts with your family? Do you limit it? Do you and your husband exchange gifts? Do your kids pick names? Or how does that work in your family? 

Nicole Spring Well, so for my husband and I, what we do for the kids is we actually give them each three gifts. The view on that is just— it’s our own personal thing, but because of the three wise men giving three gifts to baby Jesus, we were just like, well, that’s a good number there. That keeps it kind of simple and small. And then you always have other family giving gifts, too. So we didn’t want to overwhelm and clutter and have too much. So we kept it there. And one of the gifts actually we’ll give them on Christmas Eve, and I used to sew them PJs and that would be their Christmas Eve gift. Honestly, now it’s harder to find the time. So maybe my boys will get just pajama bottoms and then my girls, I’ll buy them nightgowns or something like that. But they’ll still get the PJs Christmas Eve which they enjoy that, too. It’s funny, you wouldn’t think they’d be excited, but they do. They like it.

Lisa Bass Well, if it’s a tradition, I can see how they would look forward to that every year because kids love tradition things like that. 

Nicole Spring Yes. Yeah. As simple as they are.

Lisa Bass Yeah. No matter, yeah, how simple. With the handmade jammies— let’s go back to that when they were younger. Did you use flannels? Did you use a pattern? Or how did you make those? If there’s a mom who wants to— maybe she has new sewing skills and wants to start that tradition in her own family. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, definitely flannel. Most of the places that we’ve lived over the years have been pretty cold, so we definitely did the flannel jammies. And then for my girls’ nightgowns, I would use a pattern. I can’t remember which one I used and I want to say it was Butterick, but just one of the ones that you would find in Hobby Lobby or something. And then my boys, it was actually simpler. I just took their favorite pajama bottoms and traced them to make a pattern on fabric, and that would always work really well for them. And that way they’re comfortable.

Lisa Bass That’s what I like to do because it’s a moving target. They grow so much. And yeah, it’s really a simple thing to sew. Once you know how to sew pants, they’re very simple. Now, what about the tops? Are you doing the button-down flannels? 

Nicole Spring No. You know what? The tops for me, honestly, I just couldn’t wrap my head around, and I felt like they were almost too much work, so I would just get a t-shirt type top or a thermal top and have them wear that with the bottoms.

Lisa Bass Yeah. That makes it less overwhelming. That’s a really cute idea. I like the idea. I know a lot of families do something like that Christmas Eve where they’ll give them a little box that’ll have maybe hot chocolate in it and some jammies. That’s not a tradition that we’ve implemented so far. But we did start a thing where— and actually, this is just second annual this year, so we’ve only done this one time, but we have my mom’s side Christmas here two days before Christmas and we wear Christmas jammies. So that’s like a a new thing we’ve started and the kids really look forward to that. 

Nicole Spring Oh, that sounds fun. So for my husband, honestly, we keep it really simple. We want to focus more on the kids for Christmas. So the kids and I will make my husband homemade peppermint bark every year. It’s just kind of become tradition. And then sometimes we’ll exchange small things, but it’s really, really, really simple. Or it might be something kind of boring, like, oh, here’s something you really need. Here, I’ll give this to you for Christmas. 

Lisa Bass Uh-huh, yeah. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. It’s just because it’s so magical for kids that we want to kind of keep it more so for them instead of trying to focus on, okay, how are we going to do this for each other, too? 

Lisa Bass Yeah, we’ve always been the same. We’ve never done any gifts. Like maybe if I happen to see something between now and then—or same for him—maybe I’ll get it and wrap it up. But I don’t think for many years we’ve done gifts. It’s just not something we really think about. It just seems like one more thing to stress us out. And also, I mean, this is—obviously, everybody can have their own opinion on this—but husbands and wives share money. So it’s not like I’m going to be like, “Yay! You got me this thing I’ve always wanted from my money, too,” you know? That’s just how I’ve always thought about it. I’m like, I could have bought that. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, yeah. It’s so true.

Lisa Bass I know some people have more of a gift-giving love language, so I guess it depends on that. If that’s your love language, you’re like, “What do you mean you don’t get a gift from your husband or you don’t get him one?” So I can understand how that’d be different for different people. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, absolutely.

Lisa Bass Okay, this is a loaded question, but how do you keep the meaning in Christmas with all of the hustle and bustle around us? Do you try to limit activities or… You already talked a little bit about not going crazy with the gifts, so that’s probably one way. But how have you figured out how to do that over the years with all your kids? 

Nicole Spring That is a very tricky question. Honestly, I think for us, it’s doing Advent. It kind of forces us to slow down. And we’re building up this anticipation for Christmas Day, but it’s so slow. So Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. And then the first Sunday, we’ll make our wreath. So we’ll go outside and gather greenery, enjoy a nice hike. If we’re lucky, it will have snowed and it’ll make it more magical. But we’ll go and get all the things to make our wreath, and then we’ll roll the beeswax candles, too, to put in it. And then we’ll also start getting out our nativity scene. We slowly get that out, too, and add to it each week. So the first week, we’ll just get the barn. And then the second week, we’ll get out trees or whatever greenery we’re going to have around it. And then the third week the animals come, and the fourth week we add all the people except for Jesus. He doesn’t show up until Christmas morning. So that way it’s just this very slow leading up to Christmas. And then we actually do the 12 days of Christmas, which Christmas day is the first day, and then it goes all the way until Epiphany. So that does get a little bit crazier in our house. By then, we’ll have all the decorations up. So we’re slowly building those up, too, over Advent. 

Lisa Bass Okay. 

Nicole Spring But then during those 12 days, that’s where we kind of have more of a party atmosphere, I guess you could say. And we’ll make a birthday cake for Jesus to kind of keep that in the center. And then my kids love actually on Epiphany, it’s tradition for us to make chili and cornbread. And somewhere in the cornbread it will be a dried bean. And whoever cuts into the cornbread and gets the dried bean gets to wear one of the king’s crowns for the day, which again, it’s a simple tradition, but they love it. They go crazy every year. “Oh, I get to be the king!” 

Lisa Bass Oh, how fun. So I’m not really familiar with the 12 days of Christmas. You mentioned the cake. What else happens throughout the 12 days? 

Nicole Spring The 12 days are— I can’t tell you exactly how far it goes back, but they are the original days of Christmas. And it used to be like Advent and Christmas were two separate seasons. Now I know everything kind of gets thrown together. But yeah, that was just the time where you really, really did basically everything that you kind of do now before Christmas, you would do it after. And then during Advent, I mean, we still do all kinds of fun things, too. We set up a hot cocoa station. The kids know they don’t get hot chocolate until the first Sunday of Advent, and then we’ll keep that up all through winter, too. But here’s, again, that anticipation of waiting for the hot cocoa, and then every week, we’ll add something different to make it even more exciting, which they love. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. 

Nicole Spring And just giving them simple things. One thing that we like to do as well is have little pots next to the nativity scene with soil. And then every time the kids do something super sweet or they give something up, they get to plant a wheat seed. And then by Christmas Day, there should be some grass growing and we trim it, and then we put it in the manger to give baby Jesus a soft bed to lay in. So basically the kinder they are, the more they do, the softer his bed. 

Lisa Bass Wow. You guys have a lot of traditions. You just keep having more and more and more. I’m like, wow. We basically have our jammies on Christmas Eve Eve. But I like how, with the way that you do it, it sounds like it’s very slowly leading up, but then it’s also not this quick let down of, okay, Christmas is over, pack it all up. I’ve had years past where, as soon as Christmas is over,  I mean, sometimes even that night, I’ll come home and start packing up the Christmas tree because I’m like, it’s over. But I like this twelve days of Christmas thing. It’s like, okay, we’re easy— you know, we’re coming in on this very easy and very slowly. And then we’re also going to ease ourselves out of this. It’s not like this abrupt thing like yesterday where I brought the bins up from the basement and we decorated for Christmas. And I definitely did it a little bit more simply. I kept like half the stuff downstairs. I’m like, I’m just not doing that this year. We’re going to just make this nice and simple. If it can’t get done in one day, it’s—and not even one day, like one afternoon—then it’s too much. But I definitely have felt the stress of making something very abrupt like that. Like we got to put the lights on the house and everything happen, but it sounds to me like you guys just kind of slowly add a little bit more decor, build up to the season. You have these very slow traditions, so none of it ever feels too crazy. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, it’s funny, we didn’t intentionally set out with that, but that really is how it ended up. And it does seem to really help keep the madness down, basically. It keeps everything a lot calmer. And then, yeah, after Epiphany, we’ll start taking everything down. And the kids, by that point, are actually like, “All right, yeah, we’re done. Let’s move on to something else.” So it does. It works really smoothly. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I love that. Tell us a little bit more about your Advent wreath that you make and how— do you guys just, as a family, light a candle each Sunday throughout Advent? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, basically. With my four children and there being four candles, they each get to pick— they each have a candle that they light. And we actually start out youngest to oldest, so that way the youngest— you know, they have less patience, basically. So they get to start out. And sometimes we’ll sing songs when we light it. We usually light it around dinner time on those Sundays, and then during the week we’ll also have them lit at the dinner table too, just because it’s beautiful and we enjoy it. But we also have the kids’ own little Advent wreath, but it hangs above their little kids’ table in their playroom. And with that one, I don’t want real candles burning. That makes me a little nervous. So we made wool felted candles that hang up and they look really pretty and the kids feel like I’ve got my own Advent wreath, but I don’t have to worry about fire or anything horrible happening. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that one’s really cute. And for anyone interested, there is a tutorial over on your blog that we’ll leave down in the show notes. I see that it’s from many years ago, so you’ve been doing this for quite a while. But yeah, that’s cool. I love that.

Lisa Bass Taking another quick break to tell you about the School of Traditional Skills. I’ve told you about this on this podcast before, but I have had a chance to dive into some of the classes and they are so well done and so informational. They’re packed with what you need to preserve food, build a garden, dairy, homesteading, fermenting. All of the topics that a lot of you—if you listen to this podcast—are probably interested in. The School of Traditional Skills is the perfect way to continue to learn those skills because they are constantly adding new classes, all very well done. They have pressure canning, reclaiming pasture, pasture raising meat chickens, gardening, curing pork, a nourishing bone broth class with Sally Fallon Morell. You can get all of this by visiting bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills. Sign up for the School of Traditional Skills and continue to get their classes. Learn new things that you can implement in your home that will help you to be more self-sustaining, save you money. So much good information over there. I am looking forward to continuing to watch all of their classes as they put them out. Again, that’s bit.ly/FarmhouseSkills. 

Lisa Bass Okay. Let’s transition over into books. Book lists. Winter is a great time to sit by the fire. I know I’m— I mean, usually when I’m sitting by the fire, I’m on my computer, but, it’s a good time to sit by, catch up on some reading. Right now, we’re not tending to the garden. We’re not doing a bunch of outside projects. I saw you had a post on your Instagram with all the books that you’ve been reading in preparation for off-grid living. Is that a goal of yours? So can you tell us about that and about some of your favorite books that you’re reading right now? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, absolutely. So it’s kind of a funny goal, I guess you could say, because we’re honestly starting out, I guess it would be from watching the PBS series Frontier House many years ago. We first saw it when my oldest daughter was born, so it was like even way after it was published. But just watching the families together without TV, without Internet, without all of those distractions and seeing how close they were together. And my kids, they’ve all watched it, too. We don’t watch very many screens or anything like that, but they have seen that, and they’re all super into that idea. They always have been. And my daughters actually brought it up, I don’t know, maybe like three months ago now, saying, “Hey, can we just get rid of Internet? Just get rid of it all together and see what it’s like, see how we handle it.” So we decided, all right, we’re going to go ahead and try this. We’re going to just get rid of the Internet and kind of go from there. And then we want to go further off-grid than just Internet. We actually, we’re looking into getting a wood cook stove right now and we’re getting a well pump for our well, like a hand pump. I’m not sure, honestly, how far we’re going to take it. It’s just going to— we’re going to do one thing at a time and see how it goes. But it’s funny talking to our Amish neighbors because they joke. They’re like, “You’re becoming more Amish than us,” because they’ll give us gifts of vegetables from their garden and they’ll ask, “Oh, did you freeze those?” And we’ll say, “Oh, no, no, we canned them.” And they’re shocked at this. And they’re like, “Oh, well, we have freezers at the neighbors’ a couple miles away or whatever to store our things.” And we’re just like, “No, you’re not supposed to do that.”

Lisa Bass Do they? Seems like a loophole if you ask me. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, yeah. It’s so funny because I think we all have these images in our head of how they live. And I know it’s totally not how it’s done. But sometimes I’m just like, wait. How are we doing things a little like slower or more old school than you are? That just seems backwards. But yeah, so we’re going to start in January. We’re going to just disconnect the Internet. It won’t be completely, though. I will still have to hop on like at the library because I actually am a Azure Standard coordinator. 

Lisa Bass Okay. Right. Yeah.

Nicole Spring So I have to coordinate the drop. 

Lisa Bass You have lots of emails, I’m sure.

Nicole Spring Right. Yep, yep. So, you know, once or twice a month, I’ll still have to do that. But yeah, we want to just see what it’s like without having Google to ask all our questions to. We need books for that. So that’s one thing that we did do. We’ve been stocking up on all kinds of books, references, really. So a lot of it is nonfiction, which can be a little boring. 

Lisa Bass Oh, I think it’s so much more fun. I love nonfiction. I struggle with reading fiction. All the books you had on that Instagram post looked really good to me. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Lisa Bass I want to read all of them now. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. And they are. They’re really good. And especially there’s the Tudor Monastery Farm and the Victorian Farm and they go over these people that actually will go through historians and archeologists and they’ll live the life for a while and they’ll go through and teach you kind of. 

Lisa Bass They had that show, too. Or YouTube show. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, yeah, that’s how we found out about them. And then we got the books and we’re just like, this is awesome. We want to do all of these things. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. 

Nicole Spring So yeah, we have those. And then one book though that has really kind of inspired us, too, is— I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book See You in a Hundred Years. 

Lisa Bass I don’t think so. 

Nicole Spring That one, it’s kind of older, too. I think it came out sometime around September 11th because he does mention it in the book. 

Lisa Bass Okay. 

Nicole Spring So quite a few years old now, but he and his wife and his son go and live off-grid. They pretend basically like it’s the 1800s and they live their life like that for a year as a challenge. And I’m just like, that’s actually really cool to read and see what struggles they had, how hard it was for them, what was easy, and it’s just my favorite part about it was the community they developed because of all the people around them loved the project, too. And they just developed this really family-like community. And that’s kind of what we’re hoping for, too. I love connecting on the Internet, I love all the friends I’ve made and everything, but at the same time, I’m like, I should also be spending more time trying to make more connections locally. So we’re hoping we can do that more, too, once we are disconnect. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, that would be very, very hard. But also I can see a lot of value in it. What do you anticipate will be the hardest? 

Nicole Spring I think for me, honestly, it’s going to be not having those instant answers. Even canning or something like that, and I’m just like, oh no, was I supposed to add— I don’t know, let’s say lemon juice or something to some canning recipe and I panic like, oh, is the safe now? And the idea of now having to oh, I got to search through my books to see find the answer or go ask my neighbors. 

Lisa Bass Right. Yeah. 

Nicole Spring Find out is this safe instead of just typing it up really quick. Okay. Can I still use this? Am I going to get botulism now? 

Lisa Bass Right. Yeah. 

Nicole Spring Things like that. I think that’s going to be the hardest. That and math with my kids. Math is not my strong point. They do do that on the computer. And so we’re going to have to do something else instead. And I’m just like, oh boy, that might be a struggle. 

Lisa Bass We have the Abeka math and we bought the— at first, we didn’t buy the teacher key that goes with it. And then I was like, okay, I think we should buy the teacher key that goes with it. That way— well, I didn’t buy it for all the kids, but just for my oldest. Not because I can’t do the math, because I’m actually pretty good at math, but I want her to be able to check her own answers. Yes, there are definitely times when I’m totally not sure and that it has all the answers. We’re like, “Okay, I think it’s this. Now let’s look at your book.” So definitely recommend getting those teacher keys if you’re going to do that. 

Nicole Spring Oh yeah. 

Lisa Bass I don’t know what would be the hardest part. Well for me, like all of it because I have a business online. But aside from the business, I think it would be the same thing as you, just being able to look up something without having to look in a book—which I just never have to do obviously—would be pretty challenging. So okay, I’m going to read off a few more of the books because they look really interesting. You had The Natural Soap Book, so I’m assuming you’re gonna start making soap. You have Medicinal Herbs. That’s very important when you  can’t consult Google. What’s this Stillroom Cookery. 

Nicole Spring That one I’ve only just started looking into and I actually picked it up from the Homesteading Family. On one of their podcasts, they mentioned it and I was like, oh, that sounds really, really good. But yeah, the author—from what I’m understanding; I’ve only read maybe the first two chapters in it—but she goes over kind of how to preserve food without a refrigerator or any of those things, which is something we’re really interested in, too. So that has been an interesting read so far, and I look forward to actually trying some of the recipes in it for the dairy and things like that.

Lisa Bass Yeah. And then A Year in an Off-Grid Kitchen. The Encyclopedia of Country Living sounds like it could be very, very useful. And I think you already mentioned Frontier House, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm. So those look like some good fireside reads. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. Definitely. 

Lisa Bass Brush up on some of your skills this winter. 

Nicole Spring Absolutely, yeah. 

Lisa Bass Okay. So do you have any fiction suggestions? I am not in any way, shape or form a reader of fiction. I wish I liked it better and I sometimes think I should force myself because my husband, he loves fiction, he loves to read. And I personally do not. So what are some recommendations you have? 

Nicole Spring Oh, my goodness. Well, it’s hard to find time to read, so that can be the tricky part. One that I just read was O Pioneers! That was one I really, really enjoyed because it goes through homesteading during a difficult time in the family’s lives and everything. And that was just good to read. I still enjoy reading the Little House books, honestly. I still enjoy going back to those and with the kids too. But even just for myself, because I feel like every time I read them, I pick up something new, some sort of little information that I didn’t pick up before. Like, oh, we could try that or we can make this. So I enjoy reading those books over and over again, really. Trying to think of other fiction. I feel like lately it’s been mostly nonfiction, just getting ready for everything. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, well, you are preparing for something, so that makes a lot of sense. I also saw on your blog you have—this is pretty applicable—your favorite Advent and Christmas books, a whole list of kids’ books, but there’s quite a huge list here. So if you are looking for some inspiration for that, you have quite a great collection that I think would be really fun. I used to do a thing where every year I— or I think I did this one year, so “every year”. I had really big intentions. I wrapped up a book for each day, and then I would let the kids unwrap it and then read it. That’s a cute little Advent tradition I think that some people do. Have you done something like that with these books or do you just get them out and put them under the tree? 

Nicole Spring We actually— the book collection was built over time. Every Saint Nicholas Day, which is December 6th, the kids will get a new Christmas book. So slowly over the years, we’ve built up this collection. And then now what we do is sometime during Advent, we’ll get out book baskets and I’ll slowly start putting the books in there. So it’s not all of them at once where it’s overwhelming, but quite a few here and there. And it’s funny because they can always spot them. I’ll put them out sometime during the day or even overnight, and they just their eyes instantly go to them. Like, “Oh, different Christmas books to read that we haven’t read since last year.” So they really enjoy that and they get excited over it. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, super cute collection. I like the idea of having a day each year where they get one. And then do you store them? You do store them away whenever it’s not Christmas time and then get them all out whenever it is. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. Yeah. They get stored away with all of the Christmas decorations and things like that. I just keep it all together. That just seems simpler to me so I don’t lose them because I do have a tendency to misplace things and can’t find them when I need them. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, same. 

Lisa Bass Taking a break from this great conversation to tell you about my free blogging masterclass. The way that Luke and I are able to stay home on our homestead, milking the cow every morning, raising our kids side by side, baking sourdough bread, the way that we are able to have all this time to do this is because of my blogging business. And of course, there’s more than one way to be able to homestead, but this is what has made it possible for us to do this together. I started the blog in 2016 and by 2018 it was our full-time job. So not very long after. Now I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I feel that I could have gotten there a lot faster if I’d known what I was doing. In my free one-hour masterclass, I will show you my four-step framework that I use to become a full-time blogger. I’ll also share the most common mistakes that new bloggers make that I learned the hard way so that you don’t have to. And I still see bloggers making these mistakes constantly. And how to make it work on just a few hours a day. I have office hours so that I can separate my life from blogging, and I also share that with you. Now, over the years, I’ve also added on a few more aspects to the business like this podcast. But blogging remains my favorite way to connect with my audience and earn an income because it requires me to be less personal. I can share things that really help people, like recipes. I can focus on my photography. The house doesn’t have to be quiet. After recording this podcast, I’m going to go inside and do some blog work, which means I’m going to put in my earbuds, listen to a podcast or something I enjoy, photograph a recipe that I’ve been working on. It’s the most laid back part of my business and sometimes I want to quit everything and just be a blogger. I recently got an email from somebody who was thinking about becoming a blog course student, and she said that she had been doing some research online and learned that blogging is dead, and so she would like to learn other things like how to be an Instagrammer or be a podcaster or YouTuber. All great businesses. I’m not knocking any of them because I do all of them. But I do want to let you in on a little secret: my blogging income still surpasses all of those, and it requires the least amount of my time. I know some of you are probably thinking, well, why do you just quit everything and make more blog posts? Honestly, I’m thinking about that a lot of times, to be completely honest, but I do love connecting with you in this way. If you want to check out my Free Blogging Success Masterclass, you can get that at bit.ly/FarmhouseBloggingSchool. I’m also working on the new 2023 planner, so that will be out soon. It’s a very robust planner with all kinds of checklists and goals and practical tips and places to actually make all that work within a planner. So that is a bonus that you’ll get to check out over there as well. Again, head over to bit.ly/FarmhouseBloggingSchool to learn about my favorite business in all of this online craziness by far, blogging. 

Lisa Bass Okay. So let’s transition into just winter in general. I have a few questions there that we can talk about and hopefully inspire people to enjoy the season. I find it somewhat difficult. So with that, how do you find beauty in winter? And then what do you do to enjoy it? What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy winter? 

Nicole Spring So I have to say right now— actually, it took me quite a few years, but now seeing how much rest I actually get to finally have after all the work on the homestead for the other three seasons, that just makes it much more enjoyable to me where I can just get up and be like, okay, we’ll, just do schooling today and I’m just going to sit on the couch with you and we’re going to read and snuggle and do things like that. So that’s definitely made it much more enjoyable. I used to be very much of, oh my goodness, winter is so slow and boring and I can’t do anything and I’m going to go crazy. But the mindset has definitely shifted over the past couple of years, which is good. One thing we love doing as a family that unfortunately we can’t do anymore because our dogs passed away, but we had a husky and then a husky mix dog and we would actually go dog sledding with them. And that was such a fun winter activity, like something to really look forward to. The kids would get pulled all over the place and the dogs would go crazy, but they loved it. And then we would just have some like hot apple cider or hot cocoa afterwards and enjoy the weather out there, as crazy as it sounds. That and just trying to do nature walks. For me, I joke that I get cabin fever in the summer because it gets too hot for me and I don’t want to go outside. 

Lisa Bass Oh, okay. Yeah. 

Nicole Spring But in the winter, I mean, it’s freezing cold. I get cold easy, but I do try to go out every day and I’m trying to get my kids to go out everyday. That’s actually been getting a little bit harder recently. I go out for a walk every morning. That’s kind of my way to start the day, clear my head. With them now, they’re not enjoying it as much, so I’m trying to remind them to— we just have to dress the part, basically. Get all of those wool undergarments on, get your hat on, get everything. And as long as you’re moving, it’s so much more enjoyable. And there’s just so much beauty out when the snow is fallen and everything is just so shiny and the snow reflects all that sunlight sparkles. And all the animals. We can look at all the animal tracks and try to figure out what they are. And then, of course, just seeing our neighbors. We love watching what our neighbors are up to. I mean, they watch us, too. It’s hysterical. We joke that we’re each other’s television or something. But watching them outside in the snow playing and everything, it’s just so nice to see. 

Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. 

Nicole Spring And I look forward to it once we get our wood stove, too. Like right now, our house is pretty cold. We just have these space heater things that don’t really warm us up. So once we get that wood stove, I very much look forward to just hanging out around there and reading, sewing, doing whatever. But staying warm.

Lisa Bass Yes. Yeah. The fire definitely makes winter significantly more bearable to me. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, definitely. 

Lisa Bass I like that your tip number one for enjoying winter is be busier in the summer. I mean essentially that was what it was which I think really does help. If summer is that busy, then of course you’re going to appreciate just being able to kind of relax and not feel guilty about it all winter long. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. And then if you need projects, too, in the winter, I mean, that is a time where I will experiment more with new things. This year we’re going to try making soap because I feel like I have more free time. So, okay, let’s pick up yet another new skill or hobby and just things like that or a new craft or something that I just haven’t had the time for in all the other months cause I’m too busy, so it’s a good time to pick those up. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, definitely. All right, so what are some foods you’re loving this time of year? Favorite seasonal foods. For me, winter is probably my favorite time to eat. Well, I probably say that about summer, too. But winter food is good. And so what are some of your favorites this time of year? 

Nicole Spring I definitely am I guess like your typical American where I want to eat more in the winter from being so cold, I guess. Lots of warm foods. So definitely soups with fresh baked breads, lots of baked goods, which probably not so good for me, but I can’t help it. Chilis. We enjoy all kinds of chili with cornbread and everything, and that’s something we’re still kind of actually adjusting over to. I was vegan for more than half my life, and the past year we switched over to eating raw dairy to meat and everything. And it’s funny because our bodies are just responding so much better to this than what we were doing before. But I personally am still adjusting to the texture and taste of meats and things like that. So we have like a vegetarian chili that I’m trying to slowly add meat to, just to help myself. My kids, they’re totally fine. They love it. 

Lisa Bass They’re good with it. 

Nicole Spring Yeah. But I guess just for me, because it was so long that it’s just taking me a while to adjust to. But I mean, yeah, like the beef stews and things like that, like when it’s cold out, that’s just what my body craves, I guess. And every Advent, too, we make these things called Lussekatters, which are these special— they’re like S-shaped buns and they are made with saffron. And it’s a tradition. You make them for Saint Lucia Day, which my daughter celebrated when she was in a Waldorf school. And it’s something that we do with our church as well. And they are just, to me, the most delicious buns ever. We really enjoy them.

Lisa Bass Do you have a recipe for that on the blog? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, I don’t have it on the blog, but I can share it with you. 

Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah. 

Nicole Spring But yeah, we actually— it’s a big deal. My kids will wake my husband and I up every December and they’ll come in with the— we’ll make the buns the day before just because it’s kind of a longer process. But they will wake us up with the buns and coffee and they’ll sing. And it’s just one of my favorite traditions. That’s for Advent, but we really enjoy it. And I think it’s the memories tied in with those buns, too, that make them taste so good. 

Lisa Bass Yeah, I love those traditions, and I don’t really— I didn’t really grow up with any traditions really like that. And so I’m trying to figure out still like how to incorporate all that, even though obviously I’ve been a mom now for 14 years, but slowly trying to figure out how to add traditional things like that. I think that they really are— like that bun will always taste like Christmas time to your kids because it’s the only time of year where they get it. And so I see the value in all of that. 

Nicole Spring Yeah, absolutely. Yep. And sometimes there will be days where we’ll go on hikes or something and they’ll get like a smell of some flour and they’re like, “Oh, that smells like saffron. Oh, Lussekatter.” 

Lisa Bass Yeah. That is so cool. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your Christmas ideas and traditions. I do feel that you were the perfect person for this episode because you clearly have a lot of traditions. Tell everyone where they can follow up with you. Where do you share the most? Are you going to still be sharing on Instagram whenever you go off-grid? Yeah. Tell us where we can find you. 

Nicole Spring All right. Well, I’m on @FrontierDreams on Instagram. I will be active there until January. After that, it will stay up, but my family and I are going to kind of— we’re going to take our time away. I don’t know if it’s permanent or if it’s going to be like so many months or what. So that’s why I’m going to leave everything up just in case, while we kind of figure out what we’re doing. And then I still have my blog, like I said, it hasn’t really been updated in a long time. But you can go back to older posts where I do have a lot of tutorials and recipes and things like that from when somehow I managed to have more time. I don’t know. 

Lisa Bass How did that happen? 

Nicole Spring Yeah, but that’s about it really.

Lisa Bass Cool. Great. Well, thank you so much for sharing and joining us. And I hope you and all the listeners have a cozy season. 

Nicole Spring Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun. 

Lisa Bass All right, well I hope that you enjoyed this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. If you aren’t yet following along with Nicole, make sure to go do that before they go off-grid. And follow along with their family while you can. And hopefully you got some ideas or some traditions that you can implement this Advent and Christmas season. As always, thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next episode of The Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.

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