How to Make A Homemade Backbone


I’m having a hard winter. I know I’m not the only one. This is the first truly bitterly cold and snowy winter since I moved to Sassafras Farm. I was spoiled by two mild winters, as if, perhaps, the universe was taking it easy on me while I settled in to my independent single life here.

Accustomed to power outages being my primary winter challenge, I’m always prepared well here for power outages. I have a button-start generator, and I keep several cans of gas on hand. I keep my generator charged regularly–and I finally figured out how to use the choke for cold days when it won’t operate automatically like it’s supposed to. (I had to get help starting the generator a few times until I understood the choke operation.) I have a small wood stove in my fireplace, and did consider upgrading it, but decided against the expense. I use my wood stove as a backup source of heat, for temporary purposes if for some reason the generator won’t start, or until I get more gas for the generator, or if the furnace isn’t working. These have mostly been non-issues for the past couple of years. I have the furnace set up to run on generator power in case of a power outage.

My furnace has broken down twice this winter, on the coldest days of the year, and it has really thrown in my face that I’ve become too dependent on my furnace–and the free gas. Because the gas is free, it is my primary source of heat. The furnace broke down this week, again. I had a master electrician out here the same day. I had the motor replaced about a month ago. This time, there was a broken bracket supporting the motor and the fan. He rigged the bracket so that I could run the furnace until he could find a new bracket. Yesterday, he brought out a new bracket, but the fan turned out to be so old that it broke when he tried to take the housing apart to replace the bracket.

Now I need a new fan. By this time, it was too late, stores were closed. He ordered a new fan for me first thing this morning, but it won’t be in until tomorrow at the earliest, and possibly not until Monday. Meanwhile, it was 46 degrees in my house this morning. Because I don’t have a lot of wood on hand, I conserved wood last night, not burning any. I knew we could make it through the night on the heat that was still in the house. This morning, I got a fire going first thing.

And contemplated my dependence on the free gas and the furnace. And wondered why this winter seemed harder than even the worst winters at Stringtown Rising. I wasn’t alone there. I wasn’t the single head of the household. There was someone to share the struggles with. And no, I don’t miss him. What I realized I miss is dependence. I was raised in a very traditional home, with traditional women’s roles written into my genes. One of the greatest struggles of my life is to take hold of independence and own it. This winter has been like a disaster boot camp with non-stop problems. The furnace is just the latest in the series. I tend to get depressed and scared when I’m facing problems alone. But I know that with each one I face alone, I grow stronger. I don’t have to look at this winter as one long line of disasters. I can choose to see it as a tutorial.

How to Make A Homemade Backbone:

6 cups challenge, frozen
4 1/2 cups broken pipes
3 cups ice
3 cups snow
3 cups buckets
2 1/2 cups furnace, broken
1 cup depression
1 cup fear

Mix in a large bowl to combine. Transfer to a lightly greased casserole dish. Bake at 450-degrees, after you can stop using your oven to heat the house. Serve with a dollop of humor on top.

Good luck. It’s delicious!

The furnace will get fixed. I’ll lay in more wood to lower my dependence on the furnace. I might go pick up another little electric heater because the one I have has to be kept in the cellar to protect the pipes when the temperatures are as cold as they are now.

And by the time this winter is done with me, I figure I’ll have that dependence thing whipped, too. Because you know what? I can make just about anything from scratch.

Including my backbone.


  1. mermonster says:

    Awesome! You go! It is a nice feeling knowing you can do things for yourself. And I need to take this to heart and work on my own backbone!

  2. wkyangel says:

    Bless your heart! Hang in there hun, Spring is just around the corner! We’re all in this together, and we are encouraged by your triumphs!

  3. doodlebugroad says:

    Perhaps consider a kerosene heater – for times when the electric goes out. Years back, I used one to heat my house when electric was out and I could heat a pan of soup on top.

  4. GA_in_GA says:

    SOooo close to Spring. Hang in there!

    It has been a long and hard winter for you at your beautiful Sassafras Farm, but I keep thinking how much worse it would have been at Stringtown Rising. Without ‘him’ for dependence, or worse – with him there.

    Home ownership means there is always something to keep you building your backbone – and figuring out how to pay for it!

    Hope you have lots of sweaters and an extra thick down comforter until the new fan is installed in the furnace.

  5. lindasue says:

    You are an amazing woman. Don’t give up or give in.

  6. Leck Kill Farm says:

    You might want to ask the furnace repair man about options for replacing your furnace, they have an expected life of 25 years or so. We are in the same constant repair cycle and are planning on replacing ours next year.

    My parents basically heated our house with a kerosene heater. We had electric baseboard (the type with the dial on the unit) that we were forbidden to turn on. The kerosene heater was easy to light and fill,I did it as a young teen.

    Get a cord or two of wood ready for next winter. In my area, farmers often let people go into their woods to cut dead trees for fire wood in exchange for part of the take.

  7. ladybird_1959 says:

    I don’t want to dampen your spirits, but according to what I’ve been hearing the past couple of days, hang on to your boot straps. Sounds like we might be in for a BIG snow by Monday.

  8. brookdale says:

    Hang in there, Suzanne, you’re doing fine, spring WILL come, it always does!
    A suggestion for supplemental heat:
    We’ve used one of these Mr Buddy heaters for a few years now in our camper to warm it up in the mornings and colder days. Ours uses a little 1 lb propane container, or you can hook it up to a bigger tank with an adaptor hose. You just have to have a window open a crack for ventilation. It will shut itself off if there’s no ventilation. It’s very easy to turn on and shut off.
    And, in your “spare time”, (haha) you can get out the sewing machine and make yourself a warm fleece quilt!

  9. SarahGrace says:

    I understand, Suzanne! This is the first winter since I moved here that I HAVE had someone to help me. I tease him that my 1st winter here still beats, in a harder way, all of this years mishaps and cold. 😆
    If you pick up another electric heater look at the infra-red heaters. More than one person I know uses them and their electric bill went down when comparing with other electric heaters. One person even switched to using it over the propane they purchase each year. I know your gas is free but it’s nice to know that there’s an electric heater that’s not going to cost a mortgage payment to use. 🙂

  10. Joell says:

    Independance + strength = Woman.

  11. ncastlen says:

    As with all your previous travails we know you will pull through this one! Since you have free gas, it might be worthwhile to look into a supplemental heater that uses natural gas. At a previous home we looked into some options, but never got around to buying one. We now have a gas fireplace that doesn’t need electricity to run the ignition switch and it’s enough for our needs.

  12. margiesbooboo says:

    You’re gonna be just fine! It all works out. In the end you’ll be better prepared like usual. I’ve got faith in you. This home isn’t the new house you left at string town or the slanted little house. Its somewhere between in mechanical issues and WAY better in its heart. Plus you have a barn!

  13. boulderneigh says:

    Great post! I am married, but to a man who had a heart attack at 48. Between that huge risk factor and a mother who raised me to with the knowledge that you have to be ready to take care of yourself no matter WHAT your “dream life” may be, I think I have a pretty good backbone.

  14. Journey11 says:

    Love it…well put!

    Why can’t a furnace break down on a 35 degree day anyhow? What’s up with that!? This has been one heck of a winter. I looked at the 10-day forecast this morning and nearly could have cried.

    I’m a SAHM, but I make sure I know how to keep things running around here. DH and I share in all of those responsibilities. I can split and haul wood if needed. He knows how to change diapers and run a load of laundry too. 😉

  15. Glenda says:

    You are taking the right approach. Learn now and prepare for next winter. You should have a good supply of wood, maybe 2 cords on hand.
    I would consider a better or maybe a second wood stove that will give heat from all sides including the stove pipe.

    This has been a winter to make us all think about supplementary heat. Propane here got up to $6 a gallon. It is finally going back down but still higher than what we are used to. We have a wood stove and have used it this winter. It is a wood circulator and works great.

    Make plans now because you know spring and summer will be very busy on Sassafras Farm.

  16. steakandeggs says:

    Not only do you have backbone, you have heart. Along with that great Sense of Humor there is nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it. Sure hope they can get your furnace fix tomorrow. Just hang in there things are going to get better.

  17. Dghawk says:

    Suzanne, you have definitely had your fair share of troubles this winter, and unfortunately, it’s not quite over yet. Even here in VA, it’s not over. I was thinking the other day that I can’t remember when it was so cold that I couldn’t plant my lettuce and onions on March 1st. To wet, maybe, but not too cold! As for your “backbone”, I think your’s is just fine. Like they say, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Besides, the Lord will only put on your shoulders only what you can handle. You are a lot stronger than you think you are. Hang in there, my friend. :hug:

  18. hawkswench says:

    Have you thought of a wood burning add on to your furnace or one of the outdoor furnace’s?

  19. holstein woman says:

    BLESS your heart!

  20. maryellen51 says:

    Suzanne, why not get one or two of those little natural gas, plaque heaters. They mount on the wall, or some have legs that stand on the floor. You just have to run a gas line to it, and it doesn’t require electric. Would be good for power outages or broken furnaces, or just a little extra heat on a cold morning or evening.

  21. dl30f0dls says:

    The fact that you can find the humor in this very chilly situation shows how resilient you
    are! Thanks for making me smile. Maybe a bigger wood stove would be a good investment
    at some point? We have a Jotul Black Bear wood stove, and it keeps things very toasty, even
    during all of the lovely below zero weather we have had this winter in Maine. Hang in there!

  22. zteagirl71 says:

    While I was going through hell on earth as my beloved mom was dying from breast cancer, I was sure I was slowly dying too. Every night was pure torture as the reality of her suffering in the room across the hall weighed heavily on me. I felt alone and completely helpless. I thought I was going to go crazy with sorrow. Then one day I was reading in the book of Proverbs when this verse jumped up at me: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” :shocked: Shocked, I asked indignantly , “Lord, are you saying that I’m a WEENY?!!!” Yep, that is pretty much what he was saying to me. Despite the rebuke; on a following night that began in misery (I was crying myself to sleep yet again)it amazingly ended in bliss. Jesus had mercy on me after I silently cried out to him in desperation. It was then that I felt the most wonderful sensation. Like someone was fluffing the world’s warmest and softest blanket made of pure love over me. And when it finally rested on my weary body, I peacefully drifted off to sleep. The next morning I felt stronger, like I could go on. I knew I wasn’t alone in this time of deep physical and emotional distress. My point is that we can only do so much for ourselves. The idea of being truly and completely independent is but an illusion, because we can’t really do anything without the help of someone, or something. The reality is that all earth’s creatures are interdependent upon each other and especially their maker. It takes a lot of strength to ask for and receive help in times of need, and that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. :hug:

  23. Cousin Sheryl says:

    Cuz, I am amazed and awed again by your awesome talent to put words on paper and weave a profound statement with humor and insight. Wonderful post!

  24. RWHITCOMB says:

    Hi Suzanne, have been a fan of yours for some time. I live in a 165 year old farm house in Ohio, so I know about trying to keep warm in the winter! Last year a co-worker recommended this heater
    and we absolutely love it. It uses natural gas or propane, is ventless, fairly easy to hook up and is lightweight and could be put in just about any room. It looks nice too. And it puts out a lot of heat. We keep it on the lowest setting (it has a thermostat) and we could probably heat our whole house with it, if necessary (or if we had free gas!). It’s very efficient, but we do keep a carbon monoxide detector nearby, just to be safe. Check it out when you get a chance! I highly recommend it.
    Love your spirit, your writing style & sense of humor. I also live on a “hobby” farm and too have chickens in the road (much to the dismay of my neighbors). I’m 5th generation on a family farm,have a garden in the backyard, critters everywhere & wouldn’t trade it for the world. My sanctuary.
    Good luck with your heating issues & have faith! There are crocuses under that snow!

  25. TracyT says:

    Most honest thing you’ve written to date. Well done.

    If you can learn to be comfortable taking on only what you –yourself– can manage, without resorting to the (endless) kindness abuse of your neighbors, or worse, thinking it’s cute to be helpless– you will truly control your own destiny. And if you take on only the animals you can adequately provide for –with solid fencing, money for care, and the ability, experience and knowledge to care for them properly– and not just what you think it would scratch whatever ‘but I want them’ impulse you may have at the moment, you’ll end up a true gentlewoman farmer.

    Very cool to watch your growth. Keep going!

  26. nanaK says:

    Hi Suzanne –
    You deserve a LOT of credit for getting through this winter… it has been a doozy across much of the USA. (The Good part = Spring will be coming soon … The Bad part – weather “people” in the know say this is just the beginning of a cycle of more severe weather (be it rain storms or snow ) “Bummer”!

    When I was a bit younger & in my former life with my late husband, we lived in a small home within 11 acres of wooded property in western N.Y.(in the 1990’s) Most seasons were wonderful, but winter was definitely the hardest. In our case, our WOOD was free & we paid for our gas….so heating our modest-2/story house was dependent on our Wood Stove *and alternate emergency was our furnace … (set up to come on if the temp indoors went below 55 degrees) It didn’t happen often but often enough that I still haven'[t forgotten the inconvenience & frustration. (we were about 40-50 miles from Buffalo & had LOTS of snow during our winters. Had to use a plow truck to remove just from our driveway/garage to the main road to get out & about.
    After my husband passed on – I sold our home. It was more than I could handle alone. (I was in my 60’s) If I’d been younger, I might have stayed –
    but one can’t look back …. Now, 15 years later, my life has turned a corner. I couldn’t be happier & live in California, so hang in there. Trust that God has a plan. (hugs)

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