You know, I’ve heard that all my life. Well meaning (I guess, I hope!) people seem all too happy to crush someone’s dreams with those words. I remember when my oldest son, Bill, was starting his log home, coming home after working a full day to straddle huge logs he’d hauled out of the woods, peeling the bark off them until well after dark. And oh so many people told him basically that he was nuts for even thinking of building a big log home by himself. “Why start it? It’s too much work. You’ll never get it done.”

under-construction.jpgWas it a lot of work. You darn betcha. It’s taken him over five years and it’s not “finished” yet. He still has to rock up the outside chimney and do a few finishing touches inside. But he and his wife, Kelly (who helped him with a lot of the work for the last four years, since they’ve been married) are living in a home that looks like something out of the pages of Log Home Living.

Would they do it again? Probably not. But do they regret doing it? No, not a bit. There’s a sense of pride in sticking to a hard job and seeing it through to the end. The nay-sayers don’t have a clue about that.

When we started our log home, I sure had my fill of these well-meaning dream killers. Yes, my husband had died. Yes, I’d been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. Yes, I was taking care of my elderly parents. Yes a log home would be a lot of work. And yes, it would cost a lot of money.

BUT I started it anyway. First there was a hole in the ground. A big hole. This was to be the basement and my pantry. Our start was that hole. I was started. And slowly we got it done. It’s been a long haul, but I get done what I can afford and wait to earn more money, then go on. Luckily our friend Tom Richardson, a carpenter from the nearest town of Cook, is willing to work with me, at my pace. No mortgage, no building loans. Just pay as I go and be satisfied with what we’ve built so far.

This is what I’ve learned; to be SATISFIED with what I’m doing. I know someone else could do it better, faster, neater or whatever. But I know I’m doing what I want to, as well as I can at the time. And it is enough.

Is it done? No. But we are happily living in our new log home. I’m canning, working in the garden, and planning for our next steps along the road to finished. And it’s a good trail!

I’ve posted readers’ questions with my answers below:

Fresh goat milk yogurt

I enjoy your blog. I really need some help with making fresh goat milk yogurt. I tried your recipe, but, it is still so very runny. How much gelatin could I use without affecting the taste. I added 2 Tbl. of strawberry jello and it didn’t seem to help any. I do have a yogurt maker.

Bobbie Branson
Henderson, Kentucky

My guess is that you are either not processing your yogurt long enough for it to become firm or that your temperature is too cool or too warm for proper incubation. Homemade yogurt is not as firm as store-bought yogurt but it shouldn’t be runny, either. To add Jello, be sure to dissolve the Jello in boiling water first, then let it cool to lukewarm, THEN mix it with your warm, albiet runny yogurt. If your yogut TASTES fine, you can add sugar or honey, fruit, and make a smoothie out of it or freeze it, then whip it and have a frozen smoothie; we love them! — Jackie

Safe spaghetti sauce?

I pulled out your great article from the January/February 2006 Backwoods Home Magazine for canning tomatoes. I used your suggestions for making chili and spaghetti sauce. Thanks for the help! My question is that when making the spaghetti sauce with ground beef I was having difficulty with my pressure staying at 10 pounds. No matter how much I adjusted it, it would either go down near 5 pounds and then up to 15 pounds. I was not sure what to do, so I processed it for 2 hours instead of 90 minutes since I could not seem to get it to be consistent. Do you know if the product would be safe to eat? I am going to try the chili on a different burner with lower BTUs and hopefully better control. Thanks for all of your help!

Michelle Igleheart
Hartville, Ohio

Sounds like you were canning on an electric stove; they’re notorius for being hard to can on. A different burner might do the trick; folks DO successfully can on them! I can’t tell you your food is safe to eat; fluctuations in the processing pressure, going way below the recommended 10 pounds several times is unsafe. At what point, processing it longer, it would be safe, I just can’t tell you. Sorry. I would have either refrigerated that batch and eaten it or more likely, reprocessed it right away on a different burner or on a propane stove. — Jackie

Canning pasta

I have a question regarding pasta. I have been trying to find instructions for canning pasta. We are going up to elk camp in a few weeks and I wanted to pressure can pasta so it is cooked and I
only need to add sauce for a meal. Water and refrigeration are nonexistent where we go so I was hoping to have cooked ready to eat past with no need for refrigeration. Any suggestions would be
greatly appreciated as would any instructions.

Douglas Dalton
Miles City, Montana

It depends on the type of pasta you want pre-cooked. I’ve often canned tomato sauce with meat with pasta in it for quick meals. This pasta has been macaroni or shells. Very dense packs of pasta are not recommended to can because dense foods are hard to heat all the way through during processing. My instant meals turned out real well, basically spaghetti sauce with meat, mushrooms and spices with enough dry pasta added to make a good meal but not completely pack the jar full when the processing is done. You process this at the same pressure and length of time required for the meat; 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts at 10 pounds pressure (unless you live at an altitude over 1,000 feet; in that case, consult your canning manual for directions for increasing your pressure, if necessary.) — Jackie

Growing blackberries

We picked a lot of blackberries in July and i put some of them through a food mill (wiithout boiling) to get the juice for jam. The remaining seeds were dried on a screen and saved. Have you ever planted blackberry seeds? I was thinking about keeping them in the freezer to similate winter and then plant them early next spring. What do you think?

Penny Hermsdorfer
Sandyville, West Virginia

This might work, but you’ll have to plant your seeds in a well-tilled, weed-free seed bed. Not in your garden, though, because blackberries will become very invasive. Expect to wait about 3 years for bushes large enough to begin bearing. Quicker and easier is to dig up shoots from the mature plant. These will grow readily and begin bearing much sooner and require less fussing with them. — Jackie

Where can I get lye?

A while back I was reeadig some old BHM magazines, specically articles on soap making. Now that I am retired and can attempt too do these things. I decided to try and make my own soap ( laundry & hand type). Guess what, you can not buy lye off the store shelves anymore, it seems our govt in its infinite wisdom (read idiocy) is afraid I could use it to make drugs. My questen is is there any prouduct that I can use in lieu of lye?

Terry Lucal
Wooster, Ohio

Gee, I wasn’t aware of that totally stupid move!!! We can always make our OWN lye by leaching water through a small barrel of hardwood ashes. Just pour the water through the ashes, having layer of rocks on the bottom to hold the ashes off the bottom, and drilling a hole for drainage near the bottom of the barrel. A smaller glass or crock container set below the drain hole catches the lye.

Obviously, you’ll want your leaching barrel in a safe location where birds, animals, and children can not reach it. It is very caustic and can cause burns. You can tell if your lye is strong enough by floating a raw egg whole, in it. If it floats just almost to the top, with about a half dollar section of egg out of the lye, it’s just about right. If the egg sinks, it needs another trip through the ashes or else be boiled down to concentrate it.

You might check soap making catalogs for lye; the friendly big government may not have thought of that. Yet. I checked on the web site,, and they list several mail order sources of lye, including Lehman’s soap making section of their catalog.  o for the time being, we’re back in business; I’m going to order several cans….just in case!!! — Jackie

Split peas

I’m wondering about split peas. My husband and I both love split pea soup, and I’m wondering what kind of peas those are and if they can be grown in the garden. I’ve never seen any seeds listed in a
catalog as “split peas.” Are they a particular variety?

Also, I was canning peaches when our propane ran out. There was about 10 minutes left on the timer the last time I know for sure there was a good flame, and when I went to take them out of the
water bath, the flame was out and the water was just simmering, not boiling. The jars all sealed, but I’m wondering if they are safe to eat. I hate to throw them out!

Carmen Griggs
Bovey, Minnesota

You  can make soup out of any kind of mature pea. Just let the peas mature naturally on the vine and pick them when the pea pod is yellow-brown and crisp. Shuck out the peas and dry a day or two on a clean sheet in a wind-free area, just to make sure there is no more moisture in them.  These are pea seeds and are what you use to make pea soup. Split peas are simply peas processed commercially to pop them in half; it is not something you’d do at home; the pea soup made from whole peas tastes just as good, but is made from unsplit peas.

As for your under-processed peaches…..Mmmm. If you only have a few jars, I’d put them in the fridge and eat them, to be safest. They probably will be alright if the jars were simmering when you took them out, but I sure couldn’t guarantee it. — Jackie

What temperature to kill bugs?

In the current issue (# 107) you answered a question from reader Stephanie Arnold regarding using your oven to gently heat jars of flour for long term storage and to kill insect eggs. What temperature would be required and for what length of time? Will the lids seal?

Vaughn Woolf
Milton, Kansas

You can place your jars in the oven at 150 degrees for 2 hours. The jars may or may not seal; it does not matter. The flour will keep. Heating may also kill some of the nutrients in the flour, so you might consider freezing the flour in airtight containers for four days. This will also kill insect eggs without damaging the nutrition. — Jackie

Bug repellant

Hi. This is from the book “Woodcraft and Camping” by “Nessmuk”. He reports that it is out of an 1880 edition of “Forest and Stream”. It may be what the reader was looking for.

3oz Pine Tar
2oz Castor oil
1oz Pennyroyaol oil
Simmer all together over low heat. Bottle for use. This should be
reapplied daily without being washed off between coats. Hope this helps.

David White

Thanks for the information.  But I think our reader was looking for an oral type of bug repellant that was systemic in nature. Maybe sulphur was the missing ingredient as another reader suggested; I later remembered the old “sulphur and molasses” tonic that was commonly given in the old days! Yuck is right!!! — Jackie


  1. This is in response to the soapmaking and lye question. You can still buy lye off the shelf in stores. It’s drain cleaner. The one I use is made by Roebic. Just check the labels. You want a drain cleaner that says 100% sodium hydroxide or 100% caustic soda. This is lye!

  2. Mrs. Clay, have you ever thought about self-publishing a book on homesteading? I think it would be a wonderful resource for those of us who try to live simply and economically. I know there are several homesteading books available, some better than others. It would be nice to see a fresh perspective on the subject.

    Thanks for your time!
    Lillie H.
    Beaumont, Tx

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