The Season of Change

I’ll just say it right away – I’m still blogging! I am not throwing in the towel; to the contrary – I’m reinventing. Ever since we moved into a little house in an old town, writing under the guise of Apartment Farm just hasn’t quite fit. Therefore, I hope that you’ll join me at Little House in an Old Town, where you’ll find all of the same great content on gardening, cooking, crafting and other homesteading pursuits.

To ensure you don’t miss out, please be sure to follow the Little House in an Old Town Facebook page, and our Pinterest boards. Starting on January 1st, this web address will redirect to the new site, so be sure to update your favorites and feed readers!

The new year brings with it new goals, and the intention is to bring more regularly scheduled content online – three times per week! For those that are local to McHenry County, Illinois I’ll also be offering food preservation classes – be sure to check out the Classes page on the new site for information on how to schedule a session. I’m still exploring the possibilities of offering online classes for those that are not local as well – please be sure to let me know if this is something that interests you! Feel free to reach out via the Facebook page, comments on the site, or email at littlehouseoldtown [at]

Home Made Instant Cocoa Mix

love hot cocoa in the winter. But those little packets at the store are loaded with dairy and god knows what else, so they just don’t work at our house. Fortunately, it couldn’t be easier to make a batch of instant hot cocoa mix to have on hand (or even to give as a gift). And the best part? It’s made with just a few ingredients, all with pronounceable names. Okay, second best part? It’s way more affordable than buying the pre-portioned packages that only come a ten to a box. You’ll need the following –

  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (bonus points if it’s vanilla-infused)
  • pint mason jar with two piece lid

Step 1 – Measure the sugar into the jar. It’s going to look like you perilously don’t have enough room to add the cocoa, but you do – shake the jar a bit until the sugar settles.

Step 2 – Add the cocoa to the jar, and put the lid on. Shake, shake, shake until the sugar and cocoa are combined. And that’s it! You’ve got your own cocoa mix –


To serve, mix a heaping tablespoon with two warm cups of your milk of choice (soy, almond, dairy – they all work). A good tip for making sure there aren’t any lumps is to start by mixing in just a teaspoon or two of milk at first so the cocoa forms a paste, then whisk in the rest – simple!

This small little pint jar will make a whopping 64 cups of hot cocoa! Doing a bit of loose math on how much those small amounts of sugar and cocoa costs, I figure it’s around a nickel per cup. Add in the soy milk and you’re probably around fifty cents. When was the last time you got a nice hot drink for less than a dollar in under two minutes?


Instant Gift: Leftovers Labels

We have all done it – stuck something in the back of the fridge or freezer without a label and then… time goes by. What is this stuff? Is it still edible? How long has it been here? Is this cooked or raw? And after all of those doubts crowd in we throw out the food, because why risk food poisoning?

Or we label things poorly – a piece of scotch tape half-sticking on, written in fading ink. We still have no idea what the thing is. We still pitch it out. There must be an easier way! Oh wait, there is – with simple leftover labels you can write the name of the food and the date right on the containers!

And with a little thought, you can even turn these handy little labels into a practical, appreciated Christmas gift that I think most people would love and actually even use. First off, print of a sheet (or twelve) of the leftover labels –


Then make them gift-worthy! Here are a few suggestions –

  • Package them up with some cute magnets (either DIY some or buy them from a crafter) so the recipient can stick their labels right on the fridge.
  • Bake something tasty and use a label to identify what it is. Include a couple of sheets of blank labels for the giftee.
  • Put together a lunch kit – a reusable lunch bag, some reusable snack bags, and an insulated container/mug (all of which you can either make or buy) and of course – a couple sheets of labels.
  • For someone setting up house for the first time (college kids, first apartment, etc.) put together a kitchen basics gift basket – some wooden spoons, towels, mixing bowl or two, some food containers with lids, and a set of the labels.
  • Make an organizer kit – this is perfect for people that love to organize. Include a calendar, some chalkboard labels, chalk pen, an assortment of tags, colorful twine, and some leftover labels.

Don’t be afraid to give practical gifts to those on your list this year. Put some thought into what people need and they will certainly appreciate getting something they will actually use – just make the presentation fun and well-considered, and you can’t go wrong. Happy giving!

Instant Gift: DIY Seed Packets

Christmas is fast approaching, but there’s still time to put together a thoughtful, handmade gift for the gardener in your life. All good gardeners like to share seeds – it’s a thing. Why not have a convenient, yet pretty, way to package up seeds to pass along to friends, or in an organized seed swap? With supplies that you likely have on hand, you can spend an hour or less on the perfect garden accessory – seed packets. You won’t break the bank doing it, and hey, they might just think you picked up their perfect little gift from a fancy boutique shop too.

You’ll need the following supplies –

  • Computer printer with paper
  • X-acto knife or fine-point scissors
  • Fine-point black marker
  • Scrap cardstock, cardboard, or plastic (old notebook covers work great for this) measuring at least 4.25 inches by 5.5 inches – to make a reusable template
  • Pencil
  • Scrap paper – newsprint, seed catalogs, kid’s art, old maps – whatever you like. Each piece should measure at least 4.25 inches by 5.5 inches (a quarter of a piece of printer paper)
  • Glue stick or rubber cement (regular white glue is too wet for this)
  • Optional – Avery label sheet (to add a label to each packet)

Step 1 – Print out a seed packet template. If you’re using card stock for your template, you can print directly onto that, otherwise print onto regular paper (scrap paper with stuff one one side is fine). Use the X-acto knife or the scissors to cut out the the seed packet shape, leaving all of the edges intact, like a stencil. The cut-out shape is your fold guide for assembling the packets, so keep that handy, but set it aside for now.

Step 2 – Lay the stencil onto the template material, and use the marker to trace around the inside. Then use the X-acto knife or scissors (thick material is much easier to work with using the X-acto knife) to cut out the seed packet shape again – now you have a reusable template.

Step 3 – Lay the template onto the scrap paper, and trace it lightly with the pencil (don’t use the marker – you want light lines that won’t be visible after you cut). Using either the X-acto knife or the scissors, cut out the seed packet. Repeat this step for as many packets as you need – twelve is a nice number for a set.

Step 4 – Using the fold guide you cut out in step one, fold along the bottom and side tabs of each packet. Apply a light coat of glue to the smaller left-side tab and press it down onto the larger right-side tab, to form the back of the packet. Apply a light coat of glue onto the bottom tab and press it down onto the sealed back of the packet. And that’s it – you have a finished seed packet! Repeat this step with the remaining packets until the set is complete.

Optional Step 5 – If you’d like the packets to have a more finished look, and to provide a space to write the seed type and year, affix a sticker label to the front of each envelope.

To package for gift-giving, be creative. Put them into a berry basket, a decorated paper lunch bag, or make a “gift bag” by tucking them into a pair of gardening gloves with some plant labels – you’re only limited by your imagination. If you have seeds from your own garden to pass along, gift some of those too! So if you’re short on time and funds and you’re nowhere near done with gifts yet, don’t despair – pull out your craft supplies and whip up some custom seed packets for the gardener on your list.

15 Best Books for Homesteaders

If you’re looking to build out your reference library, or are wondering what to give for Christmas presents, look no further – I’ve compiled a list on Goodreads of the 15 Best Books for Homesteaders. I own most of these books myself, and they are invaluable references.


$5 DIY Gift Round Up

I didn’t really used to care too much about having an arsenal of $5 gifts, as we mercifully have small families and I’ve been fortunate to spend anywhere from $20-$50 per person on Christmas in the past. Most gifts end up somewhere in the middle – coupons, sale shopping throughout the year, free Shutterfly codes, knowing what to buy at the dollar store (and just as importantly, what to skip) all help me get a lot of bang for those bucks.

But this year, Little Man is in school, which means teacher gifts are in order – and spending $20 per person for school gifts (I can think of 4 people at school we should give gifts to) will quickly add up! It’s not that I don’t want to be generous – if anyone deserves a lovely, well thought out gift, it’s our teachers. But I think we can still achieve those aims on a frugal budget, so I set out to research gifts that could be put together for just $5 each – and were something a teacher would actually use and enjoy. This is what I found.

Redbox Movie & Popcorn/Candy – Crafting E


Starbucks Gift Card – Longing For Home


Custom Notepads – Just Another Day in Paradise (She shows you how to design and make the actual notepads at home using PicMonkey and your home printer, which is awesome – but if you collect free Shutterfly product codes, you can make one through them and pay just the price of shipping – usually around $6 for notepads – if the time is more valuable to you than the money.)


Drink Mug – Pretty Providence


Target Gift Card – Landeelu


Amazon Gift Card – Fabulously Frugal


Notice a theme here? Most of these are gift cards. People just have so much stuff. And I’ll admit it – I know my son’s teacher in the context of being his teacher – I don’t know what she likes or dislikes personally, what her favorite foods are (or for that matter, is she has food allergies), which cute little kitchen products or hats and mittens she already owns. For those that we know professionally, or are just beginning to know, gift cards are really the best option, because they still show your appreciation, but allow the recipient to choose something that they would truly enjoy or use.

For us this year, I think we’re going to do the Redbox gift set – you can buy a set of 5 codes for just $7.50, and with some popcorn and candy thrown in, it makes a nice gift for under $5 each. I would bet 99% of all people enjoy a good movie, and the Redbox codes never expire. I’m going to do a little twist on mine – I had some wonderful popcorn from the farmers market, so I’m going to package it up a cute jar or box (I have adorable red paper milk boxes I might use – haven’t decided yet), and include some paper bags for popping the corn – I’ll print the instructions right on the bag in a decorative font. And I’ll include a single serving of olive oil (I have packets on hand, but may spring for mini bottles) and some sugar in the raw packets in order to turn it into home made kettle corn. You can find mini olive oils at Cost Plus, or you can order them online from Minimus – they have an amazing selection of miniature food products, as well as health, beauty, cleaning products, games, etc. I’ve ordered from them before and loved them – great stuff for gift baskets, stocking stuffers and camping. And no I do not get any compensation of any kind for endorsing them (they probably don’t even know), I just like them that much.

Black Friday Weekend Seed Sale – Pinetree Garden Seeds

The only Black Friday shopping I do every year is online from the couch, with Pinetree Garden Seeds. Everything on the site is 15% off from today on 11/27, through Monday 11/30. Use code BLACKFRI15 at checkout (note if you want to use Paypal, click on the regular “Checkout” button, enter the code and then choose Paypal – don’t click on the Paypal link on the main order screen).

Every item is eligible for the discount, including seeds, plants (they will ship in the spring), books, gardening supplies, and even craft supplies – soap making supplies, cosmetics making supplies, and even some knitting gear.

I’ve pretty much already decided what will go in next year’s garden, so putting together the seed order was pretty easy. I did swap a couple of varieties, but kept mostly to plan.  I still have a ton of seeds from last year’s massive Black Friday seed order, so I just replenished a few that I was running low on, plus a couple of impulse buys (of course)  –

pinetree 1

And then I realized a few hours later that I’d forgotten to order potatoes, so… I went back and did a second order. Also remembered I needed some more plant labels, and I discovered some cosmetics items that have been hard to find at other places – small quantities of charcoal (going to try to make my own natural mascara), beet root (for tinted lip balm) and a single mascara tube (most places only sell big quantities) –

pinetree 2

So, the seeds for spring are ordered, and I got a great deal on a few other items too. Supporting a family owned business is my kind of Black Friday shopping!