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One year ago we moved from our suburbany townhome into an 1800’s Victorian smack dab in the middle of town. As many of you know, we had originally wanted to purchase a house, but the stars wouldn’t align. So we made the financially right decision to delay home-buying and took action to at least get closer to the life we want. Andrew wanted to be closer to bars, restaurants, and shops. I wanted to be in walking or biking distance of my office. We broke our lease and moved into town.
Just because we didn’t buy a house doesn’t mean we gave up on homesteading. It’s just a different approach, one that I’ve been exploring and have found both exciting and frustrating. I got a lot of positive feedback on the last ‘Homesteading in Small Spaces’ post I did that talked about creative gardening solutions. Today I am continuing that series and discussing the value of the ‘homestead mindset’ – something that takes no space whatsoever.
For Christmas last year, Andrew gave me a Rosemary Gladstar classic- Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. I read it cover to cover and then some! After studying it carefully, and learning more about herbalism from other sources, I finally decided I was ready to dive in. I made two big orders of organic herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals. Both packages came in the mail this week, and I was jumping for joy telling Andrew how excited I was to start making *potions*.
I picked out a number of recipes from the book, and ordered the herbs I needed accordingly. I have an anxiety disorder as well as chronic headaches, so I focused on nerve tonics and immune system tonics. I also ordered plenty of herbs for homemade beauty products, including herbal shampoos and hair rinses, face washes, and salves.
I whipped up my first few batches of goodies! First, I made a ACV hair rinse with calendula, chamomile, and comfrey to encourage blonde highlights. Look how pretty the herbs look in the mason! They smelled amazing.
I also made Rosemary’s Miracle Grains, which are a facial cleanser made with ground almonds, white clay, and a variety of herbs. I used to use the ‘Herbalism’ face wash from Lush, which I loved, and I am hoping the Miracle Grains will be a fine replacement. So far so good! I mixed up a toner called ‘The Queen of Hungary’s Water’ which consists of a plethora of herbs left to sit for a few weeks in ACV, then mixed with witch hazel extract.
I was unfortunately and uncharacteristically sick this week, and made a couple teas from the book. Yesterday I was floored. I took one advil and drank a vitamin-C tonic made of rose hips, hibiscus, lemongrass, and cinnamon all day long and feel much better today.
First off, let me say, I got to have Romanesco broccoli for the first time in my life at my parents house last month. This veggie was MADE FOR ME – a math loving vegetarian. I’d been looking for it for years and never was able to find it for a reasonable price. My mom and I found it at Whole Foods in the local produce section!! It lived up to it’s reptuation – nutty, wonderful crunchy texture, and beautiful. C’mon, IT’S A LIME GREEN FRACTAL!
I was talking to a coworker today about diet and they said, ‘you can’t expect someone to eat pounds of vegetables every day!!’ Um, I eat pounds of vegetables, fruits, and legumes everyday. I don’t know how to explain this to people without sounding pompous or pretentious. Eating your veggies shouldn’t be pretentious!
But the sad truth is that most Americans don’t eat their veggies. Veggies are pathetic little sides or non-existent on their plates. Many times, the veggies are highly processed or drenched in butter, fat, oil, cheese, etc. Often, these people come to me asking for diet advice, usually knowing that I’ve lost weight and kept it off. Back then, veggies were side dishes for me too. And like any change that lasts, it took years for me to re-learn how to eat.
I don’t want people to be intimidated by a whole foods diet and feel like it’s out of reach for them. So often, folks think of diet as ‘all or nothing.’ Which is scary, because under this notion small slip ups are punished and folks get discouraged and quit. I eat whole foods 80% of the time and vegan 50% of the time. But you know what, after dinner tonight I ate two – two! – peanut butter chocolate chip cookies choc full of white flour and butter. Hey, at least I bought organic flour and butter!
Old Christine would have beat myself up over this, but you know what? Life is meant to be enjoyed. I find great enjoyment in eating whole foods most of the time, because it gives me energy, vitality, and hope. It makes me feel more alive and confident in myself and my choices. But on the other side of the spectrum, a life without gelato and beer is not a life worth living in my books. Having these things as occasional treats makes them all the more enjoyable for me.
Eat your veggies and you might feel the benefits. Start small by adding something dark and green to your plate. Cook it simply with a bit of olive oil and some pepper. Eat it slowly. That’s how I started. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I honestly started noticing how much better the veggies made me feel than the cheese and carbs. I felt lighter and stronger. So I naturally started putting more and more veggies on my plate and removing most of the dairy and some of the carbs.
A few weeks back, I cut, washed, and hung big bundles of mint and nettle to dry. I like to hang them all over the house for fragrance. Seeing them all over evokes that nice witchy feeling and feels cozy in our small space – like herbs are stuffed into every corner.
After a few weeks of drying, the herbs turn brittle and are ready to be put up. I make a space on my messy desk to separate leaves and buds from tough stems, then to crumble all the medicinal plant parts into labeled mason jars that go onto my makeshift apothecary.
My apothecary is a shelf in the middle of our beautiful oak bookshelf, and it somehow feels right that the herbs are nestled between VHS tapes of the Matrix and The Blues Brothers, but also The Critique of Pure Reason and Harry Potter. It’s me. It’s us.
My fantasy football lineup serves as my altar for harnessing my herbs. Alongside sit everything from my heavily highlighted and dog eared copy of The Encyclopedia of Country Living to coloring books to black metal stickers to old issues of Audobon and National Geographic that I use for making collages. All the while I’m singing along to the supreme pop of Ruby the Rabbitfoot. There is nothing solemn about it but it fees sacred in my own special way.
I’ve spent a lot of energy in my life comparing myself to others, especially via the internet. Other people have always seemed to have it more together than me, and their lives have seemed more beautiful and happy in general. I am trying to stop thinking this way by celebrating the unique things that make me – me. My home doesn’t look like it’s out of a Tumblr blog and my garden doesn’t look like a magazine cover. My spaces aren’t perfect or Instagram-worthy. But they are mine. They feel like mine, and they reflect the unique person that I am. After all, there’s only one football witch.
To me, the heart of homesteading is regaining control over my life – control over what I consume, control over my impact on this planet, and control over how I spend my time. I’m 27 and I’m transitioning from a Standard American Lifestyle to a self-reliant lifestyle. I’ve been stuck in the middle for two years now, only an infant in this journey to retire early, live off the land, and teach others how to live simply, sustainably, and in sync with the environment. Days are long, full, and stressful, attempting to balance the lifestyle I want with the demands of my paid employment, relationship, and personal health. I’m still learning and having growing pains, and I hope to one day be able to stabilize the balance. Because the problem is, once you take up this lifestyle, there’s no going back. At least for me there’s not.
There’s a natural progression to this lifestyle, a progression that has no end goal or pinnacle. I want to talk about bread because I LOVE bread. I used to buy a loaf of store-bought bread every week and I didn’t dare read the ingredient label because ignorance is bliss. One Christmas, my mom gave me a bread machine. I started cranking out loaves of white bread on a regular basis. I loved my bread machine for a couple years – it was easy, no fuss, and I got to see the ingredients for myself. But the loaves always came out kinda misshapen and bland. I decided to venture into homemade bread, kneaded by hand and baked in the oven. I used the cheapest flour I could find, which usually came in $5/ 50 pound bags from Costco. As much as I wanted homemade bread for taste, I also wanted to save a buck.
This past week, we trouped to northern Michigan for the annual Eriksen family reunion! Although it was A LOT (14 hours each way) of driving, we handled it like champs and made the trip up and back in four days.
In between the driving we found all sorts of fun to get into. On the way up, we stopped at Mammoth Cave National Park and took a cave tour + a wonderful hike along the Green River. We stayed at the campground and enjoyed our favorite camp dinner of roasted veggies and Field Roast sausages. The next day, we visited two breweries – Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, MI on the way up, and then met my family at Perrin Brewing in Grand Rapids, MI. Saturday brought family hikes on greenways along rivers and another brewery – Rockford Brewing Company in Rockford, MI. After lunch + beers, Andrew and I laid in the grass at the riverfront park, him napping while I laid my head on his chest and watched the crowds. Saturday night of the reunion is always good food, good drinks (homemade wine and WHISKEY from my uncle!) and lots and lots of euchre. Southerners – love ’em, but they do not know how to play cards. Sunday we began the sojourn home, stopping at the Indiana Sand Dunes National Seashore where we saw the skyline of Chicago from across Lake Michigan. Afterwards, we picked up one of my best friends from college across the border and headed to Three Floyds Brewing Company for hoppy beer and lots of laughs. Then we drove the grueling 11 hours home.
Four breweries, two hikes, one cave, and lots of time with the people I love. I call that a win. Times like these make me miss my people so badly. I’ve never been able to connect with folks and make close friends in Athens (besides Andrew of course). Most of my family is hundreds of miles away, with my closest friends either hundreds or thousands of miles away. I’m trying to cherish the time we have together, but it often makes me sad, even depressed. I feel heavy this week. But I keep thinking of the past weekend and giggling at the good memories. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.
I think I finally have dancer, or natarajasana down.
My yoga practice is not something I talk about. Not on the internet, not with friends or family, not even with Andrew. In fact, I go into my room and shut the door to practice alone. I practice in my office with the door closed on my lunch breaks. It all kinda feels like a big secret. I guess I don’t want people to think I’m some pretentious yoga nut. But my practice couldn’t be more integral to my life. It is the one thing I make sure I find time for every single day. The garden might not get watered, I might miss a little sleep, but I never forgo my yoga practice. I bring my mat on vacation and at least find the time for a forward fold and some moments of meditation.
We did it!
We ran the Cradle to the Grace 30K Trail Race and every part of my body aches including my head. Who cares, we did it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could, and I’m quite proud of the race and all that I’ve accomplished in the last four months.
That’s the thing. Compared to the four months of training, the race felt anticlimactic. I didn’t stick to my original training plan, but I did run faithfully 3-4 times per week despite all the life shit that hit me during these sixteen weeks: moving, building a garden from the ground up in three weeks, traveling twice for work, and driving back to Ohio for my grandma’s passing. Despite the sadness, anxiety, and depression, I laced up my shoes and hit the trails or pavement anyways. And every single time I felt better for it. I can honestly say the hardest part of every single run was walking out the door, and race day was no different.
Bad news first. I hurt my knee shortly after my halfway post on the trail run training. Boo. I had to scale back a bit, but I’m feeling better and running 6-10 miles with no pain. The minor injury was a great learning experience for me about my training plan. I’m a lifelong math-nerd, and I like neatness. Consistency in numbers. Structure. Naturally, when I wrote my training plan, it was very tidy and had me training most days, adding a mile or two per week in a nifty little pattern. I admit – there where days I pushed myself too hard because I wanted to meet my numbers and not “screw up” my training plan. I was SO worried about falling off the wagon and losing the endurance I was working so hard to build. Bad idea. Since I was hurt, I’ve been taking it easier and have noticed my endurance levels are exactly the same. My marker is 6 miles – I can still run 6 miles and not feel winded. My legs get tired way before my lungs, which is even further evidence that cross training to build strength is vitally important.
Good news next. Some of you may know that I have lost a considerable amount of weight over the last three years. I was formally overweight, and due to a chronic health condition completely shifted my mental and physically fitness routines. I think it’s safe to say that three years in, this is no longer a phase – I’ve made a lasting impact on my life. My health is so important to me now, it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
Last April, I had my first hydrostatic body fat test done. It was a pretty neat experience – you go underwater and you fat-to-lean body mass ratio is tested. This is a much better metric for determining healthy weight than BMI, which is based solely on weight and height. A bodybuilder could have a BMI indicating obese because she has so much muscle, which weighs more than fat. Anyways, I’m not a huge fan of measuring your body against numbers, because I believe the best indicator of health is how you feel in your body on a day to day basis. But since we don’t even own a scale, this once a year testing is a cool way for me to check my progress. The testing is offered for free through my job.