Off-Grid Living: 3 ‘Don’ts’ for Making the Homesteading Life Work

Are you thinking of making the leap into off-grid homesteading? Longing for a cozy cabin just outside the reach of rampant materialism and the current cultural ennui, but don’t really think you can cut it?


It can be a challenge, but you see – that’s one of the joys of going off-grid. Once you cut ties with conventional conveniences, you get to decide what your life is going to look like! Want to live on a mountain-top without cell service or solar chargers – you can totally rock it – just stock up on beans, rice, water (melted snow makes awesome dish and bath water!), and vodka for those long winters. More of a ‘lazy homesteader’ like me? Those little, backpack solar chargers can power your phone, tablet, even a little rechargeable record player without an issue! You can come in from tending your little flock of chickens and watch YouTube videos until your battery dies if you want!

Point being, there are so many options for living the off-grid life in style! We’re not living in the 70s anymore, you don’t have to be a hippie baking oatmeal, sunflower-seed bread and singing protest songs around the campfire to go back to the land! I mean, if you want to, more power to you – and I have a tasty recipe to pass on for sourdough oatmeal-seedy bread too! Not to mention tapes (yep, actual cassette tapes!) of protest songs from the early 20th century labor movement you can totally borrow! But then you’re need a tape player that runs on batteries…

  • Don’t be afraid to jump in, mess up, try again, and work out the off-grid life that fits your family! And don’t be afraid to start small and grow into something more intense! When we first moved onto the land, we got way too much Chinese take-out, and spent way too much time playing Parcheesi by lamp-light instead of building up our homestead. It was fun, it made the transition slow and easy and gentle. Sometimes planning too much and trying too hard to get everything ‘right’ makes it impossible to every get started. Planning is fun, but it’s not everything – jump in with all your ideals and enthusiasm and see where it takes you!DSCN7130
  • Don’t feel like you have to compare yourself and your homesteading to me or to the super-homesteaders who make their own toilet paper, distill their own liquor, and still find time to write all about it for Mother Earth News. You’re homestead is your home! It’s your little monastery and it’ll look like you, not like anyone else. That means if you want to have a vegan homestead with big gardens and no animals, don’t worry about all the naysayers who insist you’ll need a flock to fight ticks and manure your garden; and if you’re certain your homestead needs a sauna out by the stream, build that thing! Nothing inspires you to keep going on long, cold winter nights than the knowledge that this is – or will soon be – your actual dream home!DSCN8551
  • Don’t get stuck in a rut. Sometimes, we start out being lazy homesteaders and end up moving towards something more intense. It’s hard to do that when you’re just doing the same thing day after day though. Leave yourself open to change! Be willing to give up the un-essentials (even just for a little while) to “see how it goes without..” something; and be willing to add something knew as well! Life, whether on or off grid, is richer when we give it space to grow and develop. Recently we’ve decided to be more intentional about our meals, to plan them better, prepare them slower, and use more local ingredients than ever. It’s been a challenge – remember our love of take-out Chinese? – but it’s been so beneficial, and it ways I didn’t expect. Slowing down our meals has led to a more intentional day overall. I’m more focused and engaged with my children, they get to help with more of the food prep, they get to eat meat from animals they knew and loved more often, and we’re all more tuned into the cycle of life and death that fills the world around us. When we limit ourselves by setting boundaries around what we will and won’t do in our homesteading journey, we end up stagnating. Don’t stagnate – grow!IMG_20171116_144159_730.jpg

Tell me, if you’d love to go off-grid, or start homesteading..what holds you back? If you’re happy living the life you have, tell me what makes it beautiful to you! Blessings!

Winter Balm and Gingerbread

Today we woke up feeling all wintery and fresh. Frost coated the windows and the dome, the walk to the outhouse was bracing, and the goats, who had woken up with the sun, were calling out their dissatisfaction. I fed them, let out the birds, and ran back inside to make coffee and muffins.


But not just any muffins. It isn’t a blackberry-muffin kind of day at all..even coffee-cake muffins seemed lacking somehow. So we pulled out the ginger and molasses for something with a little bit of a kick.

I’m all out of cloves, but we have an abundance of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. I mixed them all together – heavy on the ginger and the vanilla. And searched around for an easily-to-alter recipe while the oven heated up and the first pot of coffee sat steeping in the press.

Our old, falling to pieces Fannie Farmer cookbook had a nice little coffee cake recipe:

1/4 cup butter, softened. (I melted mine on the stove because the butter was too chilly from the pantry, and the stove was too hot to just soften it.)

1 cup sugar. (I know, right! So much sugar! We cut it a bit, down to 1/2 cup and then added about a 1/4 cup molasses)

splash vanilla (I used about 2 tablespoons)

1 1/2 cups flour

2 Tb baking powder

1/2 cup milk (I used more like 1/3 cup of milky coffee because I upped the wet ingredients with molasses, and because I’m obsessed with coffee)

and then I added all my spices:

about 1 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg…I’m guessing, because I didn’t measure. Sorry!

plopped it into about 8 papered muffin tins and baked at about 300 for maybe 15-20 minutes. In a conventional oven, I’d go for 350 degrees for 10 and then check them. They puff up beautifully and taste exactly liked I’d hoped they would!

Seriously, I felt like the definition of hygge.


After munching and cleaning up and making another pot of coffee, we started in on Yarrow’s project for the day: Winter Balm.

Our house is so dry during the cold months. So Dry. Two woodstoves sucking all the moisture from the air everyday. We have cast iron, steaming dragon on the stove replenishing some of the moisture, but it’s still dry. And the kids get chapped lips so easily. Yesterday at dinner I promised Yarrow we would make her and Ilya each a little jar of winter-balm to sooth their lips and cheeks and dry, little hands. Something gentle, but with deep moisturizing power.  Yarrow was so excited to help!

We mixed raw honey with olive and coconut oil, shea butter, lanolin, and just a few drops of chamomile essential oil.

Essentially, the recipe was:

1 part honey

3 parts coconut oil

1 part olive oil

2 parts shea butter

1 part lanolin

3 drops chamomile EO

..and just a few small shavings of beeswax


We melted it slowly (without the EO) on the stove top, stirred it to mix well. Removed from heat, added the EO, poured it into little jars and left it to cool. 

Since our house has so many chilly places in the winter, I really don’t want to add any more beeswax, it should solidify pretty well as is. But a warmer house might need to add a bit of extra wax for firmness.

The kids are thrilled. It smells ‘like bedtime’ according to Yarrow, and feels so gently on their dry skin.. I need to make some for myself now too!


And that was our morning! Now I need to get back to work – thawing water for thirsty goats, setting Yarrow up with some math-work, splitting wood, and planning dinner.. It’s a cozy season. Early winter feels so new and magical. It’s nice to be out in it, and in out of it, to smell like woodsmoke and chamomile and to watch the long nights fall before evening has even begun!

Monday Reflections: Technology Intrusion

We came to the woods to live intentionally with nature – to be awake and alive under the trees, to bury bare-feet in mud and leaves, feel the earth seep in, and grow. We came to live simply, but the world sneaks in.

The world is so shiny and attractive, it distracts with promises of long-distance community and meaningful engagement. There can be value to our online interactions – some of my dearest. friendships were formed through blogging and emails, and my husband and I do value the relationships we’ve formed online, but the screens themselves can’t be allowed to intrude on our daily relationships – the people we see and touch each day.

These days, we parents have a tendency to turn to technology to fill in our children’s days: 6 and 7 year olds have tablets all their own, glowing kindles instead of books, video games, “learning tools”, who knows what else. It is an abundance of loneliness though, because what children want and need most: closeness and affection with a beloved person, they can’t get via technology. In fact, too much screen time seems to make actual relating even harder.

I do believe that regular screen time -whether educational or not – is detrimental for both children and adults. But while we are raising our babes ‘far from the maddening crowd’, even our life demands an online presence. This blog, our instagrams, my husband’s etsy shop, all demand screen time. And we love connecting with our far-flung friends! But being available in these ways is insidious, it eats away at time and changes how we focus on the world within reach.

I want my children to see me using technology in an intentional way, and see me casting it aside often in favor of real moments in time and real relationships in the world. Sometimes, I think we rest on our laurels as off-grid homesteaders and end up letting too much tech in despite the limits we’ve set on ourselves. We can do better, and this Advent, we’re going to do better! Here’s the plan:

All tech (phones, tablet, radio) can only be used between the hours of 7:30 and 9:30am; 1:30 and 4:30pm; and 8 and 9pm. At all other times we’ll be unreachable. And in those times, I hope to be as intentional as possible with tech, using it for the platforms we value and avoiding the fillers. Sundays will be tech free entirely for me, and I hope, for our whole family.


What do you think? Want to join me in my little, Advent-retreat?

Winter Resolutions

The new liturgical year begins in just a couple weeks! It’s one of the joys of being Catholic – so many new seasons to build resolutions into! I am making a list of intentions and goals for the new liturgical year. Advent is a time of preparation, getting our hearts and minds and bodies ready for the birth of Christ; so my intentions are focused on stepping out of consumerism and into love.


First, if you haven’t read Marie’s article on Conscious Fashion – read it, she says it all so well! And leaves us with the realization that thoughtfulness and intentionality can apply to more than fashion – and this is the approach I am working toward in my own consumption. “Purchasing is always a moral act” as Pope Benedict XVI has said, and hence this journey into minimalism. In this new season, amid the earth’s poverty of light and warmth, as we await the new-born sun, my family is learning to embrace the simple quiet of not-having. We are transitioning to a cash system in our own spending, weaning off the ease and carelessness of online buying as much as possible and looking within our community for the things we need. We are learning what we need, and what we just crave. It’s a slow journey, but the end goal is in sight: “the house of the poor is like an altar.”

Another slow transition for our family is away from conventional doctors and into naturopathic care. We don’t go to the doctor often, in fact, only my children see a doctor, and only for their well-visits. We are a healthy family, and my children’s doctors are sweet and good. But limited.  I would like to work with wise-women or men who see the body in a more holistic way and work with it and the earth to heal. It will require some driving and some financial planning, but I’m so excited about this shift toward a more balanced relationship with our healers.

Fasting is my 3rd and final winter resolution. Both for health and holiness. The world is so sad, so angry – and this is the best season to welcome the Stranger as Christ into our lives and homes. I am fasting for each of those faces of Christ, however much I might dislike or disagree with them. It is so important to open the door wide for the problematic stranger! This winter I’m working to step back from distractions and focus on living that welcome in my home, in my writing, and within my heart. Fasting from food is such a huge part of that – a way to make my daily life into a little prayer for those who can’t yet pray for themselves. To take on poverty and lack in order to make my a little altar of myself. least, that’s my hope! My intention for this season of Midwinter darkness. What are yours?

Goat-Butchering, Baking, and Updates..

DSCN2306The early winter is here. We have firewood stacked up the wall of the house, early darkness, and long nights. The yurt is one of the coziest places to spend a winter evening though, with wood fires burning and candles flickering, it’s a great time to write or read quietly, play games or just sip tea. The kids and I baked away the day yesterday: Biscotti, bread, ginger-orange scones, and focaccia. I made chili for dinner last night, and fish chowder will be simmering away on the stove this afternoon while I bake cornbread and apple tarts.

Autumn and winter are our best times for baking. It’s cold enough outside that pie-dough, puff-paste, and bagels on their final ‘rest’ before the boiling pot can chill easily, and it’s nice to get the house full of warm, fresh scents! We eat a lot of soups as well: lamb stew and creamy chicken and dumpling have kept our lingering, November cough soothed recently.

Maybe we’ll make cookies today too…

But this morning we butchered a goat. One of our new goats, Lilith, came to us with nuerological damage. She was slightly unbalanced and less graceful than her fellows when she arrived in late August, and as the year passed, her damage became more and more obvious. We started to wonder if she’d be safe on the ice and snow, and if she’d be warm enough to last through winter, as she never grew in a shaggy winter coat, and she seemed to be losing weight instead of gaining – despite molasses and grain supplementing her fall foraging.

We started preparing to butcher, and this morning, in the cold, crisp November sunlight, we slaughtered our sweet goat and butchered her for stew meat. I feel so blessed to be able to not waste food that can nourish my family and give a good animal a gentle end of life. It’s beautiful to eat meat that has been raised and slaughtered with dignity, and for my children to see the cycle of life and death traced out in a healthy way.


Our three remaining goats are healthy girls, I’m excited to send one off for a date with a buck later this month, excited for the prospect of kids in the summer, and so thankful that Seth is confident and capable enough to handle the goat butchering while answering all of Yarrow’s questions about bodies, bones, blood, and meat-processing.

With Thanksgiving just under a week away and Advent soon after, we’re working to build a new, winter-y ritual into our daily lives. Later mornings, slower days, more time writing and talking and sitting close to the stove. I’m excited to start preparing my children to celebrate Christ’s birthday again, excited to finish stocking my pantry and freezer against the winter, and so looking forward to sitting down this afternoon to tea and biscotti while chowder simmers on the stove and my babes play around me.

I’m also hoping some of you have good recipes for cooking an older goat! Send them along to me if you do, please!



Monday Reflections: Cultivating Wisdom

I chose to homeschool for so many reasons, and I’m passionate about it – though I do understand that homeschooling is not for everyone.  I adore seeing the confidence and grace a good school can bring to some of my children’s friends; watching them thrive has been such a joy to me. It’s encouraging to see schools that do so much to form minds gently and with respect for their unique potentials! But I chose to homeschool, and one of my primary reasons is Beauty.

Schooling ought to focus on beauty, truth, and goodness instead of “success in college and career” as the common core emphasizes in their mission statement.  It’s a common enough mission for schools – straightforward and unexceptional – but neither college nor career are foremost in my mind as I educate my children. If Yarrow and Ilya never attend college; if they reject the conventional career-path as their parents did – or if they chose to immerse themselves in that world in order to change it for the better – I will be thrilled; because my primary goal as my children’s educator is to help them develop an intimacy with beauty and truth. I want my children to be comfortable in the role of ‘necessary other’ – whether artist or nun, hermit or poet, philosopher, priest, or some combination all their own – saints in the world are always ‘other’ in some way, and the role is easier the longer it’s worn. I want my children to tend to the people around them with gentleness and love; to tend the earth and to mourn with it as it suffers at the hands of humanity.


And my schooling depends on mystery, on magic, and the wild beauty of the natural world to make the mysteries of goodness tangible things for my children to reach out and hold to. I am hoping that this will build within them an intimacy with wisdom and with the sacramental imagination that is so alive in children and in all of us who spend too much time in stories and under birches. ‘Living books’, abundant reading, art, music, painting, saints lives, liturgical seasons, long walks in cemeteries and along streams, the night-sky’s-stars, and the ever-changing moon form the back-bone of our curriculum; because my intention is to raise adults who can rest quite in beauty, who trust their instincts above ‘peer-reviewed’ articles, and who “love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.”

It thrills me to see their friends schooled away from the broad path that leads to bureaucracy and productive citizenship as well. To know that abundant educations, rich in beauty can be had alongside the home as well as within it. But, especially in state schools, it’s rare and generally limited to a few beleaguered teachers working at odds with the system at large; and I’m resting easy, far from those battles, in the little woodland cottage I’ve built. For which I’m abundantly grateful!

7 Quick Takes: Yurt-stead Studio

November is such a creative month! Despite all the winter-prep we’ve still to do (warm weather has lured us into leaving everything to the last month of autumn), we’re prioritizing artistic pursuits instead! The whole season is ideal for writing, painting, and redecorating, but November – all wrapped up in transient beauty and memento mori – is the pinnacle.

We’re cozy inside under grey skies today, watching the trees dance in the wind and listening as the occasional rain drowns out all other sounds – if you’ve never been in a yurt during a rainstorm, its fantastically loud! So here are 7 (shamelessly self-promoting) peeks into our autumn artist-life!



Recently commissioned St. Raymond of Penafort, doubled..and now off to his new homes! He is the patron of Canon Lawyers and delightfully strong-willed! We loved getting to know him this fall. 


Seth is painting St. Brigit of Sweden – a commissioned piece for Christmas. One of the things I love about his commissioned icons is getting the chance to meet new saints! We’ve had so many pass through our little house this year, and I like to think they all leave us with a little blessing! I know next to nothing about Brigit of Sweden, but as she comes to life under the brushes I feel that changing.

Our house is always full of paints and wooden panels, brushes and murky jars of paint-water..But especially this month, with Christmas coming soon, we have sketches and half-alive folk icons in every nook. It’s fun to feel the church triumphant gathering, a bundle of celebratory relatives spending the pre-holiday months in our little house and toasting the up-coming birthday of Christ!



Last weekend we hosted our first (annual?) Yurt-to-Table dinner party. Invitations, masks, roasted pork, savory galettes, and so many friends made it a lovely party! We had so much fun transforming the yurt into a space that could accommodate our little crowd, mixing up a local gin and home-brewed kombucha cocktail, and getting enough lighting for the early sunsets of late October.

I love hosting. I little parties of people who can gather comfortably together and celebrate anything and everything! Next year I hope to host the yurt to table dinner earlier in the season, and earlier in the day, to make it a longer, slower meal – with a few more activities for the kids maybe. But overall I was so happy with the whole event!




All Hallow’s Eve is one of our favorite holidays here! Yarrow and Ilya are already talking about next-year’s costumes! This year, we decided to dress up as a family: Yarrow was little red riding hood, Ilya was a tiny huntsmen, Seth was the big bad wolf, and I was grandma..


They had such a fun time trick-or-treating in the towns nearby! We have to drive a bit to get somewhere with enough of a neighborhood to do any trick-or-treating, but it’s aways worth it. The kids love being out with all the other kids, all dressed up and sort of wild together!



Along with blogging here, and homesteading, and homeschooling..and all our other little pursuits, I’m now a contributing writer at a new blog: Bonum Vitae! I am so excited about this project: to forge a..more thoughtful, more authentic, more virtuous..path in prevailing culture.

Our lovely new digest is just getting started, but keep an eye on it! We have a fantastic collection of writers, a passion for beauty, and a healthy variety of opinions within the unifying journey toward the good life.




November being the month of All Souls, we have been including the full prayer for the ‘faithful departed’ in our evening devotions.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

And may light perpetual shine upon them.

May the sold of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Praying for the dead this way every evening has reminded up to find little ways to reach out and welcome our own dead as well as those who have no one to pray for them. We have bread and water on our little family altar in hospitality toward those neglected souls, and as a reminder to keep them close to us this season. We have little skull candles around the house (all year, actually, but especially now) as a reminder to welcome them and pray for them on their way to heaven.



Nanowrimo 2017! I’m actually doing it this year, after 2 years of almost jumping in and not getting anything done at all. I’m behind in my writing, because..well..I’m writing a lot right now all over the place. But I’m plugging away at it!

I am cheating a bit though because it isn’t actually a novel that I’m writing (nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month). I’m writing what I hope will be a mediative reflection on the faces of Mary through the hours of the day. I’ve been planning it and working carelessly on it for months, but nanowrimo is my excuse to focus intensely on the project!


Instagram is addictive. I’m on it as @beautifulcrows and now my husband, @paperwinestudio has picked it up for his artwork! With the two of us instagramming, when the data actually connects and the tablet is charged, the internet will be flooded with photos of #yurtlife!



I do actually love the opportunity to share the beauty and joy we’re living with the world. It feels like a more welcoming space that facebook, most of the time. And I am constantly inspired by the lives of the people I follow there.

Check us out if you like adorable kids, beautiful artwork, and the off-grid, yurt-life!


(I’m linking up with This ain’t the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes! There are a whole lot of other bloggers with fun lists there, so check it out!)