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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Highlighting the Talents of Others Series: Living the Simple Life in Western New York-- Don and Toni

    Meet Don and Toni from Western New York:                      
Picture taken at the recycling center
 as we hunted for treasures,
  it was raining that day and Don found an umbrella
Toni with 'Dini"

This Series begins with Don and Toni, my husbands bother and sister-in-law. These pictures sum them up. Don is a character. It's never a dull moment with him. He always keeps me laughing and enjoying the moment while teaching me about his "inventions" that I will be sharing during their series. Toni is holding her pet chicken Dini, nick named for Houdini because she always finds her way out of the chicken coop.
They "Live on the Land" here in Western New York which is where their story begins....

Toni's Mother and Father were factory workers. She wasn't raised learning how to live off the land. Her father was a World War II Vet. When Don and Toni got married Don was in a band, (He is quite the musician, it runs in the family. I'll be telling more of his story later) Well, she told me she wanted a different life for her kids so she started reading Mother Earth News. She mentioned how old hippies started going back to the old way of living. ( I love the word hippie. I think I would have been one back then with a few exceptions)

At age 28 Don bought her a cast iron wood burning stove. This is when she got into baking old recipes and slowly adapting them into healthier versions using olive oil, flax seed, and whole wheat. (She makes her own lard from leaf fat from a pig. It is lower in cholesterol than butter). She learned how to can from her mother-in-law and took right to it. She canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, peaches, pears along with many other vegetables she grew. She started raising chickens for their eggs which she continues to do.
She grinds her own flour too. This is me learning how hard it is. Toni uses this tool as her upper body workout. Boy were my arms tired! Where's the electric version! After we ground up the wheat for flour we made home made rolls for Thanksgiving dinner. Yum!!

Toni taught me how to make dough for the rolls. I have to say it was a really nice day learning all of this. I enjoyed doing the work but I don't know if I would like to do it on a regular basis. She barters with neighbors with her eggs and bread. They both do seasonal work for a local farmer and the benefits are usually left over veggies, which we got in on in our last visit. Lots of broccoli and butternut squash.

           YUMMY Thanksgiving Rolls....

 I couldn't talk about her homemade bread without talking about homemade pizza's in her Handmade

Outdoor Oven

This is just one of her BIG projects you will see in this post.Toni started out by using local clay to create the oven, then after a really long process she built this brick foundation so it would sit up high enough off the ground. The arbor was built out of an old satellite dish. (notice the top has plants growing on it) We all got to make our own pizzas. I enjoyed the process.                 

Toni had homemade pizza sauce, homemade pizza dough, and we cooked it in a handmade clay oven.
         The taste was excellent but the experience was even better.

Toni gives in to her creative side....
                                 Michelangelo look out!!!!

 The Main Bathroom  
       I asked Toni what got her into painting and she told me that her grandma always tried to get her to paint but it wasn't until after her kids were born that she decided to do something for herself so she took a painting class. It got her out of the house and gave her an outlet to connect to other women. She started working on projects with the other women painting together scenes on wood. It evolved into stenciling on the ceiling. The best thing to do during the New York winters!     

Main Bathroom Ceiling all hand painted using stencils
The Living Room

The Dining Room

Boy would my neck be sore after all that. That is quite a feat.
Great job Toni!

Now that you've seen the beauty inside the house let me show you the serene nature that surrounds the outside of their home.


      Toni grows my favorite flower..the Hydrangea. I always harvest them when we visit in the summer time. I dry them, then use them in my floral arrangements. One of these days I'll learn how to grow my own, but until then I'll just take Don and Toni's.....

               Cherry Trees....
They have quite the harvest here, they grow their own black walnuts, cherries, pears, and even mushrooms. I came across this mushroom in the yard. I couldn't believe the size of it.

   I couldn't forget about the chickens...
  This crazy thing came running after me when I walked by taking       pictures I thought it was the rooster  attacking me but then I read
  the sign.....it's just an attack chicken.

        I have many favorite things I like to do on our visit. One of them is to go to Barn Sales, yes you heard me correctly they don't just have yard sales here they have BARN sales....Boy do they know how to have a sale. I find my best junk, I mean antiques here. This was my favorite item on this trip

I asked Don and Toni how they save money while living on the land. They gave me several great ideas I thought I would pass on to

you. Since they grow a small garden they sometimes have to water it by hand. So they catch rain water in this drum to use for future watering. Another cost saving item is the use of solar power.

Don uses numerous solar panels to operate different items. The chicken coop lighting operates off a solar panel. He has larger panels to generate electricity for certain indoor appliances. Check out his lighting inventions.


Don uses these outdoor solar lights and places them in a votive to distribute the light as a nightlight in the house. He has these set up throughout the house. Notice below how he pieced together a candle holder with a globe then placed the solar light on top.    
Very Creative Don! 

Don uses these crates as a recharging center. The holes are the perfect size for them to fit in.

The Kelley Kettle. Don showed us this neat product. It's great for camping. It's stainless steel. You use it to boil water. It is all in one. You make a fire inside it and it heats up the water contained in the walls of the kettle, then within minutes we had hot water for tea. Don just uses the small twigs around the yard for fuel, no gas bill with this product!

They save money in many ways. They barter food with locals; Toni barters her bread for blood sugar testing supplies and chicken feed as well as water for their well when it gets dry. They save energy by using their wood burning stove. They reuse rain water caught in barrels to water the garden. They shop for clothes at yard sales and thrift shops. They "shop" at the recycling center where they take us to hunt for treasures. I found pieces of an old iron railing that I used as decor in my living room. They found a keurig coffee maker once. Toni gets magazines there. I even found several home decor magazines there before. People drop off various items and you are free to take what they leave behind. They unplug all of the regular appliances at night to save on electricity. They use the solar panels to operate the TV and stereo. They filter their own water using a Berky. 

Stay tuned for Part II of Don and Toni's story. In the next post I will share more about Don and his talents as a graphic artist and musician.            


  1. love your story, Melinda! you take simple things, make them extraordinary!

  2. Thanks for sharing the story of this amazing couple! I love their house and all their "living off the land" tips were very inpirational. I can't wait til spring to start some projects!


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