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May 2017

A Newbie Homesteader’s Take on Why She Homesteads

In 2017 I have more choices than ever on how I’d like my life to look. I’ve been gifted a whole new set of colors with which I can paint my life’s story. Colors that weren’t available to my grandparents and great-grandparents. The irony lies in my striving to create an environment that looks more like their way of life than that of my own generation’s. That’s one of the goals of this homestead life. My ancestors worked hard and valued what they had available to them. This is what I long to create in living simply.

That doesn’t mean their lives were easy, yet, to me, it means their lives were real. They experienced important lessons living close to the land, utilizing what they could, and leaning on each other when needed. Looking at all the options I have in this life I know they would wonder why I choose to live off-grid without the comforts most people have today. I don’t know exactly why others have continued to follow this homesteading path, but I’m sure some can resonate with the desire to live a simple, sustainable, life that is filled with gratitude.

I hope my ancestors wouldn’t find offense in the idea of “simple living.” Simple living isn’t living free and easy. To me, it means getting back to the basics. It’s about relying more on my own abilities to acquire the things I need-either by using what I have or seeking local sources that can fulfill this need. Sometimes that means back-breaking labor or learning to live without. It’s about not wishing to acquire more stuff than I am in need of owning. Simple living leaves space for the important things—relationships and experiences.

Sustainable living and simplicity go hand-in-hand. I want to create a homestead that is sustainable because it helps the Earth. Asking me to engage in her healing, I’ve been given this passion to keep Mother Earth healthy, just as I wish to maintain my own health. Sustainable living challenges me to think outside the box, and encourages me to live simply. Instead of relying on people far away from me to grow my food and bring it to me, I can do it myself—saving energy and resources in the process. This sustainability practice does wonders for my body and soul and inspires me to engage with Mother Earth in new ways.

Since beginning my homesteading journey, my gratitude for this life and all it has to offer has greatly expanded as my understanding of myself and the natural world have intertwined more tightly than before. I find reasons to be grateful for the rain and the sun—both gifting me with needed resources. Homesteading engages my mind in thinking about the spiritual reasons we exist, and how to live a good life. It has increased my compassion for all creatures and demanded my respect for nature and all wild things. Simply put, homesteading is humbling.

I’m new at this way of living. I’ve only been off-grid for a year, and my chickens aren’t even two months old yet. I have a lot to learn. Sometimes it feels overwhelming when I see how little I’ve dabbled in this lifestyle so far. Then I remind myself it’s not about how far I’ve come or where I am going. It’s about where I am right now. It’s about finding hope and connection with all of those who are experienced and eager to share their knowledge—willingly passing on this lifestyle with all of its challenges and treasures.

I beg you, if you have any inkling to farm or garden or live a sustainable life, but you aren’t sure you can do it—don’t believe your doubts. Homesteading is a beautiful life that you can be a part of, if only you focus on what you can do now. Do one small thing and build on it from there.

A Simple Method for Collecting and Utilizing Rainwater

As I listen to the rain fall on the tin roof, I begin thinking about the just what this rain will provide. Rainwater is our only source for household needs. Water to bathe in. Water for dishes, flushing the toilet, and washing my hands. Water for houseplants and water for garden veggies. (Very soon—water for laundry!) I can feel my connection to Mother Nature’s cycles as I watch the rain pour down. Contemplating these gifts enhances my gratitude for this life-giving resource.

Watering plants with a watering can  And might I add—a finite resource, at that! One that needs careful conservation among a growing population. When I was in school I became deeply interested in environmental justice. I read, on a global scale, how climate change would devastatingly effect the countries contributing to it the least before really being noticeable to those directly contributing to it. This breaks my heart—one, because we, in developed countries are still engaging in the “is climate change real?” debate, and two, because I cannot stand the idea of my privilege creating such an unjust world. (Perhaps this is why I was studying social work to begin with.) Collecting and utilizing rainwater—even to supplement the use of water—is a great way to become mindful of one’s water use as well as help conserve water in a world of growing need and limited resources.

To lend some perspective on just how imbalanced water usage is, it has been estimated that the average American (take note—that this is one human being) consumes close to 180 gallons of water every day. Whereas, the average African family (group of people) uses only 5 gallons of water a day. This raises many questions in my mind about the convenience of modern technology. Nevertheless, the real issue is to find a solution to the overconsumption of water.

Mindfulness lends a helping hand here. When I began collecting and using rainwater for everything except drinking and cooking, I realized just how thoughtlessly I was using water before. I was clueless as to how much water I had been using—and wasting. I’m often amazed at how blind I am to the gifts around me. I don’t know exactly how much water I’m using now on a daily basis, but I am confident that it is much less.

There are many ways to get started using a rain water supply within your home. Here is how I manage to live off-grid without a well or city water. The rain that falls on my roof is transported into trash barrels along the side of the house via gutters and PVC pipes. After a good rain (or when they are looking like they need it) I put 1-2 tablespoons of bleach into each full trashcan. I don’t like using bleach (at all) but this step helps to ensure bacteria in the water are eliminated prior to filtering. This step also helps keep the mosquito population to a minimum that close to the house throughout the summer months.

Several times a day, I carry the water inside by the bucketful and empty it into a Berkey water filter. The water filters into a container that holds it until it’s needed. A pump sends water to the bathroom for washing hands and flushing the toilet. When I need hot water for a shower or dishes, I put it on the stove for a while toart, branch, clear heat up. A pump carries the hot water (placed in separate container) into the bathroom for a shower. The shower head is turned on when I am rinsing myself and needing to get wet, and turned off while lathering up. Any gray water that I collect in the process of any of these tasks then gets used for watering houseplants or taken out to water trees. I have a separate water collection system atop the chicken coop for garden watering.

It may sound like a lot of extra work, but once you begin seeing how much water you save this way it becomes less of a chore. And just because this is the way I’ve chosen to conserve water doesn’t mean your way will look exactly the same. The most important part is that you take the steps to make the most of the water you’ve been given. Maybe you could start collecting rain water just for garden use. Or just for doing the dishes. There are so many benefits to adding just one or two of these practices—both for you, in terms of your water bill, and for the environment. Even the smallest step is still movement in the right direction. And once you start, you may realize you really like the feeling of this practice of Earth stewardship—it can be very addicting, for all the right reasons!

 

Learning Imperfection on the Homestead

Homesteading is messy. It’s been late nights and early mornings. Its heavy lifting and deep digging. It can be inconsistent and unpredictable. Routines are difficult to keep. For someone with perfectionist tendencies (everything having a place; life running on strict schedules, doing the same things every day, etc.) homesteading may not come off as an ideal life for you. Yet, with a little conscious effort, this lifestyle will teach you how to focus on the important aspects of life, and maybe even to enjoy the imperfections.

Striving for perfection in daily routines, our appearance, or in what we do elicits a feeling of control. When we feel in control there is hardly any room to experience fear. This is the reason I once sought out perfection. Living by strict meal plans, arduous workout routines, and a predictable daily schedule kept my fears at bay. There wasn’t any time to be focused on them. And my routine was tried and true-no risks!

Yet, I was miserable. No matter how much planning you do, life will always have spontaneous moments. But I could not celebrate them. I despised them. I couldn’t enjoy myself when my routine was disrupted (ie. Holidays, vacations, celebrations, etc.). It took tremendous effort to adjust to any curves that life threw my way. Not to mention, that I became addicted to seeking perfection. Yesterday’s version of the perfect me was no longer good enough today. Perfection sat just outside my reach day after day. I was unhappy, and I made my loved ones concerned and unhappy, too.

Since beginning this off-grid, homesteading life I’ve realized how much time has been wasted on these modern day perfectionist goals. I cannot maintain routines as easily because my days are shaped largely by the gifts and demands of Mother Nature. I now practice a cyclical, seasonal living-dependent on the sun for power, rain to be able to do dishes and laundry, and to water the food growing in the garden. My plans change frequently based on the weather or what must be done with the daylight available to prepare for upcoming seasons.

Of course, frustrations and disappointments still exist. They will for any lifestyle one chooses. A stretch of cloudy, rainy days makes it difficult to find joy when I’m stuck inside. The rain barrels are overflowing, but the lights are dim. A month of sweltering heat can make me and the plants wither. These things happen, as they would in different ways off the homestead. There is no way of hiding from these difficulties here-they must be faced.

But in doing so, I’ve learned to be grateful for even the smallest of gifts. There is a joyfulness in experiencing the light and the dark. There is a great feeling of awareness for myself and the resources I’m using when I’m living conservatively. It can be greatly uncomfortable at times, but I’ve found discomfort to be one of the best teachers. A sunny day means so much more than it did for me before I lived this close to the land. There is a perfection in experiencing the light and dark, comfort and discomfort that I could never find when my days were centered on myself and my routines. It is a perfection of giving and receiving what is being offered in the moment, because you know and accept that nothing is constant and soon circumstance will again change.

Old habits are easy to fall back into. I still have days where those perfectionist tendencies are hard to suppress. When that happens I have a few tricks that help me get back on track. Help yourself-whether you are a homesteader or a city dweller or somewhere in between!

Ask yourself, “What can I be thankful for in this moment?” Is it that you have healthy food available to you? Is it that you are not feeling any pain today? Is it that you aren’t alone today? Or is it that you are getting some time to take care of yourself today? Be creative with you answers, and write them down. Focus on them rather than on the thing that is bringing you down, and making you feel like you are not enough. Put them in any easily accessible, clearly visible place. I keep mine in a mason jar on a table right next to the front door. I keep them throughout the year in that jar, and it makes me happy to see it overflowing at the end of the year.

Take time to do a meditation. It may only be five minutes, but it is surely worth it. Break out of the running around feeling like you will never complete your to-do list. You won’t with that attitude, so why not try to change it. There are many great resources out there, but one of my very favorites is the Honest Guys. Visit their YouTube page for some great guided meditations focused on a variety of topics.

Drink some tea. Often the process of making tea can be as soothing as enjoying a glass or mug full. Take a break from what you are doing, and sip something that will nourish you from the inside out. I buy many delightful herbal and green teas from my favorite herb website mountainroseherbs.com. Maybe drink some tea while writing down something you can be grateful for in that moment.

Sit in the sun, or take a walk. These are the things that nourish our spirits. But we rarely put them on our to-do lists. If you look back, do you want to see your life as a rush of things that need to be done, or a slow and steady hike to a favorite spot?
White Pink Petaled Flowers and Green GrassesOur lives are made up of the small day-to-day things that we do. I’ve found that I enjoy most looking back on the times where I stepped outside of myself to find some peace of mind. In those moments, I’m sure to beat the perfectionism that lives inside of me. And the more I practice this, the easier it becomes to live each day with more gratitude.

Be sure to add these small gifts into your days, and I’m sure you will notice how the disappointments aren’t so big and terrible as they used to be. And feel free to share ways in which you practice shifting from perfectionist thinking to finding reasons to be thankful for what is around you now.

Sharing Stories

Stories are often written to help us make sense of the world. Today, I’m telling a story of how things used to be for me. It helps me to think about and write about the struggles I have dealt with in the past. Even though I don’t have the same struggles, those days gone by are full of important lessons. I believe sharing our stories within supportive circles is a healing practice.

Brown Beige and Black Butterfly on Pink Petaled FlowerToday I am sharing a story about my past struggles with body image. I’ve had such a wonderful opportunity to guest post on a site dear to me called Body Love Tribe. And that is where you can read my story.

In 2015, I met Brandy through her blog called A Mindful Mantra (which has now transformed to Body Love Tribe). I worked with Brandy at healing my relationships with my body, with food, with other important people in my life, and myself. I learned vital tools to help me with all of these different aspects. I am so grateful to have such a fun, compassionate, and playful person to add to my support network. I’m always thankful for the time she spent with me, and had such a wonderful time writing this guest post.

Be sure to check out her blog and community and join the conversations!

Being Present: No More Waiting

One month ago, I was expressing excitement for our new baby chicks to arrive. “I just can’t wait!” Today, I’m longing to see them grown and outside in their run, instead of in their brooder in the utility room. I’m envisioning all of those beautiful birds doing their “chicken thing” out there next to the garden. (Plus, not having to spend all morning cleaning out their brooder will be a welcome change.) I’m sure once they are out there you’ll find me saying, “I just can’t wait for them to start laying!” Or, “I’m so ready to have an abundance eggs I have to give them away.”

With all of this excitement inside one would think life is perfect. Carefree—once I made it to that next step. In reality, that’s never the case. (Did I mention the chicks don’t clean up their own messes? Neither will they collect their own eggs.) There will always be something to keep up with. To take care of. Lately, I’ve noticed how this habit of perpetual “waiting” for what comes next drains me of an appreciation for where I am today.

Learning patience is a vital skill in today’s busy, overpopulated world. It’s a virtue when it comes to dealing with trials and other individuals. Yet, it’s also one of the most important tools we humans have for quieting an overactive ego. There is nothing more upsetting to the ego than being told to wait his/her turn.

Embracing patience brings us to the current moment. Focusing on the present will bring us greater happiness than getting stuck thinking about how much better the future will be. Daisy (my pup) and I were out walking in the driveway a few days back. Spring is in full bloom now (something I’ve been waiting all winter for), but I noticed myself nit-picking what I’d like to do to dress-up the front yard. Instead of appreciating the new growth on the trees, or the beautiful wildflowers popping up amidst the overgrown grass, I was imagining how it would look to plant some rose bushes by the driveway. I pictured the grass mowed and the weeds cleaned up.

I was missing so much. I passed the wildflowers without a second glance. Why was my mind automatically drawn to improving an area, rather than seeing it as it was? Where else am I doing this in my life? I tend to think we’ve been trained to switch to this mode of thinking about the future and what always needs improving. We believe we will relax and life will get better then. It is this belief that leads us to say, “Let’s make these changes happen now.”

When I find myself thinking or speaking in a way that implies my excitement for the future or wanting to improve something in my life, with the hopes of reaching perfection, I stop and remind myself that ‘now’ is where I should be focused. Instead of passing those wildflowers, I’ll hover over them—taking in all their radiance. Looking deeper. Instead of wishing for the day the chicks are grown and outside, I’ll admire them in this moment—noting subtle differences in their appearance and demeanor. I will appreciate their being, knowing full-well that they will soon make the transition to outside chickens. With that, will come a new set of responsibilities and challenges.

Brown Moth on White Petal Flower during Daytime   There is beauty to be found in every passing moment. None will bring complete freedom from worry, responsibilities, or fear. And there should always be some element of joy within for the future. But it shouldn’t outweigh the joy of the present moment. Learn to gaze upon it with curiosity and acceptance and you will more fully appreciate those future moments when they do arrive.