Category: Urban Homesteading

garden, kitchen, diy, sewing

Church of Perpetual Volunteers

wild mint

Field Mint

If my garden and wild fields are my church, then if I were to name it I think it would be:


This is because I don’t try to control my garden that much. For many people gardening is a constant battle against encroaching weeds and disorder. They employ all kinds of tactics to prevent plants from going wild or proliferating too much. If you listen to the language of most gardeners they’re constantly cautioning other gardeners against plants that “take over” or “spread” or “can’t be controlled”. Most of the plants I love the most are notorious re-seeders such as cosmos, parsley, calendula, borage, mint, comfrey, allysum, and yarrow. Any time I tell another gardener how much I love cosmos they feel the need to say something like “Oh, but if you’re not careful that will take over your whole yard!” to which I find myself saying “What could be more wonderful than a yard completely covered in cosmos? LET IT GO MAD!”

I will admit that there are a few plants famous for going rampant that that I don’t want going rampant in my yard. Mostly it’s because I don’t like them, because they do nothing for me personally or are pure evil (such as privet and arum italicum).

My style of gardening is to put up some structured beds and then encourage everything I love to seed freely. I love volunteers. When something pops up that I don’t recognize I always let it get big enough to ID before deciding if it stays or goes. Watching something mysterious pop up in my yard is a joy. I have a volunteer purple aster that started off as a tiny 1″ seedling and is now this:


From nothing, I got this beautiful aster that has stuck around for 3 years so far. It’s also growing in the crappiest soil that we’re working on amending. I didn’t buy this plant. Someone probably grew this years ago in this garden or a garden near-by and the seed waited until conditions were perfect and it popped up. Or a bird pooped on my yard and left this gem. If I’d been madly pulling up everything I didn’t plant myself that could potentially be a weed, I’d never have this plant in my life.

Another plant that pops up absolutely all over our garden is sweet alyssum, seen here (the little white ones) with another loved volunteer always welcome in my garden – nasturtiums.


What I love about volunteers is how I can let them pop up where they will and then pull the ones that popped up where I don’t want them. My garden is never barren because of these. Should I be laid up for a long time, unable to do anything with my plants, I’ll still have calendula, valerian, alyssum, asters, and California poppies gathering colorful light right outside my house.

I don’t want or need hygienic order in my life. I mean, I could use more cleaning and order inside my house, because I still suck at laundry. I would still rather write than mop my floors. I’d rather watch Miss Marple and daydream than dust the woodwork.

I just realized that my garden is the only place I like to be surprised. Haha!

I’ve planted a cultivated variety of purslane and it’s very happy in the bed we put it in. I just harvest a huge bowl of it. Most of it is trying to flower right now. I cut most of the flowers off yesterday because I didn’t want it to stop producing leaves, but I’m going to let it flower eventually and see if we get a ton of volunteers of it. It’s a pretty rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrto3 <—- that’s what Jasper the ex-feral kitten has to say about purslane.

I’m turning to my garden a lot more lately and thinking about it (and now talking about it) because it’s helping me combat this horrible dark global malaise of human invention. It’s helping my mind focus on good things and hope rather than the dark pit it so often and so easily gets mired in. I’m so tired of everything I write about being from the pit. I’m going to have to focus on the dark enough as it is to write Suicide for Beginners. Rampant purslane and calendula is definitely the antidote.

I know I hit a low point recently when I made a pun and wasn’t even sure it counted as a pun. My only anti-pun ally (and future award winning illustrator/science fiction author) Sonya Craig had to yell at me to shake me free of the encroaching darkness.

Gardening is Like Religion

Echinacea Purpurea

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God(s) or Deities that are imagined in the likeness of human beings. I don’t believe in higher powers with lists of rules and regulations that must be followed to avoid spiritual stagnation, or worse, damnation. The idea of a higher power with a thirst for blood, vengeance, and world domination seems like a shabby reflection of humankind rather than an elevated and evolved energy/being/power. Most depictions of Gods and Devils bear a striking resemblance to the emotional maturity of a human toddler.

Every time I talk about my garden, about gardening in general, about how I feel when I’m in the thick of my plants, I’m talking about my version of religious practice. In my garden there is no plant that is lord of all the plants, there is no law that is the law of all beings, and the idea of virtue is egalitarian. I give dandelions pride of place just as I give roses pride of place.

My garden is a small ecosystem, a universe constantly expanding and contracting with the seasons, with new information, new ideas, established roots, thick bark and thin. Within the small ecosystem of my garden there are micro ecosystems and all of them reflect the greater universe all around it.

When I finally got myself a diagnosis for my mental illness it was clear that I needed the support of medication to keep myself safe and healthy, but my psychologist asked me what I do in my life that is calming, that makes me feel good, centered, and happy. I told him that deadheading my roses always pushed my anxieties aside, that it brought a quietness to my brain that I rarely experience otherwise. I told him that one of my keenest pleasures was to cut roses to place around my house. He suggested I make my roses part of my daily self-care, part of my mental health-care routine.

This morning I watered my front and side gardens and then deadheaded my roses. I brought my cup of coffee out there with me. I was still in my pyjamas. When I’m out there with my plants I’m not an infirm obese middle aged woman, I’m just another spirit among kin. The plants speak to me in color, in shade, in density, in volume. They speak to me in shattered petals, old scabs, and new sap. When I’m in my garden I make sense, I belong, I am never shunned nor judged. I am not lord of my garden, I’m part of it.

My garden full of wild sproutlings, sudden inexplicable deaths, and regal insectary towers reminds me at all times simultaneously of my insignificance and my influence on the outcome of universal truth. I matter here, I just don’t matter more than anything else does. I am equal with the plum tree and dandelions alike. When I’m weeding I know what’s truly bothering me the most because nothing amplifies my worries more than total silence and the bitter tears of false dandelion smeared across my hands. I can’t make my brain stop playing the endless tapes that cause it so much distress, but when I let them play while I’m buried waist high in my wildflowers, their power over me is diminished as everything is leveled among the plants and the locusts chewing on them.

I’m struggling pretty hard right now to be okay with humans, with BEING human. I’m struggling pretty hard right now against my own brain that doesn’t exist peacefully in the world in which it must function. Even with medication I can’t shut out all the noise of all the pain others are going through, all the spirits being crushed  by systems that oppress love and celebrate hate.

My garden is my religion. My religion is the smell of hot blackberries hanging heavily sweet on the summer air. My religion is camouflaging myself among the Lacy Phacelia as though I grew from a winter seed up into a six foot tall flower that looks like a synchronized Busby Berkeley number performed exclusively by purple caterpillars.  My religion is trial and error, accidentally thick pasta, opera playing full blast over a bowl of rising bread dough, my accordion playing Amazing Grace into the golden hour. My scripture is knowing to deadhead roses to a 5 leaf set.

It isn’t my place to give benediction, it isn’t my place to request favors of a God I don’t believe in. What I CAN do is let my plants breathe with me and you and the stars above.

My garden is my religion. It’s a place of healing, belonging, and perspective.

Inertia, Garden Talk, and My Bicycle


Don’t dew drops look so refreshing? Like little siplets of water for fai-

Dudes. I’m so tired all the time these days. That whole spoon thing? WHAT THE FUCK ARE SPOONS, ANYWAY?!* I don’t feel depressed in an emotional way but this level of inertia is indicative of a depressive cycle. I think somewhere between forgetting to take my meds frequently since getting a day job and the fact that in my job I must talk to humans on the phone all day my energy level has hit a patch of zero gravity and is floating somewhere just out of my reach.

It’s also exhausting trying to spend more time not drinking alcohol. It takes way more effort than you can imagine if you’re not me.

What I tell other people with chronic depression is that even though you can’t lift your  body out of your chair or out of your bed and you know for fact that even if you could get up, doing so will render you into a pile of useless insensate fleshy matter, you have to try. If you don’t make the attempt you will absolutely sink deeper and deeper into the dark place of no return. That’s what I tell other people.

So that’s what I’ve been telling myself. I try not to be the kind of person who gives advice I don’t follow myself because those people suck. I know that one of the best ways to combat inertia is to push through it, to get your body moving. So last week I walked to work one day. It honestly felt fantastic. A couple of days later I walked to work again but got a ride home. As I expected, my feet hurt all weekend, but whatever. I also gave my bicycle a test ride. I haven’t ridden in in ages because the last three times I rode it my tires went flat. Flat bicycle tires are a real set-back to forward motion. I rode my bicycle to work the day before yesterday and dropped it off at the shop on my way home because the gears have been slipping and that’s kind of freaky and not awesome.

I’m not going to lie, the thought of walking to the shop down the street to pick up my bicycle sounds absolutely exhausting, it felt good to move this past week. I know that if I ride my bicycle a few days a week it will help me break through the inertia without making my feet scream. So I’ll walk down there and ride my bicycle back and I’ll feel good afterwards.

We’re also getting 3 yards of compost delivered today. I got all my bare root plants last weekend. I got a Morello sour cherry tree (to match my other one), a Strawberry Free white peach, a Pink Pearl apple, 3 pomegranates (Wonderful, Sweet, and Desertyni**), and 3 table grapes (Thompson, Flame, and Black Corinth). All of them need planting this weekend. It’s also time to do winter pruning on my roses and fruit trees. That takes energy.

Everything takes energy. Jesus. Except for drinking coffee. Making coffee takes energy but at least drinking it gives you back some of it. I love coffee.

I also love rain and so far we’ve had a pretty rainy winter. It’s such a relief after so little rain in the last few years. I’ve gotten so much sweet rain on my garden that my lettuce bed is doing fabulously well. Have a look for yourself:


I haven’t been able to get really good lettuce going in the whole time I’ve been back in California. What’s managed to grow has been bitter and gone to seed quickly from the heat and insufficient watering due to drought. But for the last two weeks Max has been eating ham sandwiches with lettuce on them that I grew in the garden. So fucking satisfying! This lettuce is sweet and tender. I’ve also got corn mache*** growing in there. Last year the corn mache I grew was still small when it went to seed so I never tasted it. I love it in my salad mix! You might also have noticed my shallots in there? I didn’t think they were going to come up at all because they took so long but at last! There they are.

I’ve got a bunch of wild flower seedlings coming up that I spread in late fall. I can’t wait for them to bloom! I do have a blooming calendula right now but it’s one that self seeded from my plants last year. Though I noticed that I’ve got calendula seedlings everywhere I put wild flower seeds too because it’s part of the mix. I love how a small garden can yield so much pleasure for so little effort. I mean, setting the whole thing up took some effort but the lettuce that’s giving so much pleasure now literally took 5 minutes to sprinkle the seeds and scratch them into the soil. Because of the rain I haven’t had to water at all. Now I have a bed full of baby lettuce to pick. The wildflower seedlings? Same thing. A couple of minutes to scatter them, a couple of minutes to scratch them into the soil.

I just saw a goldfinch on the hedge across from my window! The birds are very busy in the neighborhood this morning. It’s such a wonderful noise. I wish I was a bird.

It’s time for me to get dressed. Drink more coffee. Get out in the yard for a few minutes before I melt back into the haze of inertia that swallowed me whole.


*That’s the precise number of spoons I have.

**People who name plants piss me off sometimes. What a stupid name. As though adding a “y” in there makes it exotic or cool. I got it in spite of its stupid name because the lady at the nursery says it grows well here and has gotten rave reviews from everyone she knows who’s tried it. What can I say? I bought her sales pitch.

***On my seed packet it was called “corn mache” but Wikipedia indicates that it’s generally called corn salad OR mache (or any number of other names, the list is long) but not corn mache. Whatever, sticklers, it’s delicious!

Bath Bomb Graveyard

ghost salt cracking

My house is a graveyard of bath bomb suicides.

After at least 5 attempts at making bath bombs my determination turned to dark obsession. I determined that I would not let bath bomb technology defeat me. So I made two more batches that ended in cracking, bubbling, expanding, and half of them actually broke open like they’d shot themselves to death.

I will never understand why it’s so hard for me to make them now when I had no trouble making them a few years ago in a climate considerably more damp and so, in theory, a climate less conducive to projects that are moisture sensitive.


While standing over one of several bath bomb grave sites a ray of light fell through my stubborn madness and an alternative idea came to me. Something to divert my efforts away from eventual black hole level implosion of rage. It has, naturally, come packed with its own difficulties.

Enter the moisturizing bath tablet! But OH, it melts in hot weather and needs special packaging (like chocolates) to ship. Bath tablets use baking soda and salt (softening and healing as well as cleansing) and oil to moisturize at the same time. Let me tell you, these things are way nicer than bath bombs on the skin. I don’t take baths these days but I do foot soaks and these babies are amazing on my feet! I’ve got a bunch of testers lined up but have had to wait for thermal bubble mailers because it’s summer and in my dining room one batch of the tablets melted completely.

Is it worth the effort? Will people enjoy these enough to warrant the special packaging and effort?



And let me tell you, men might not be inclined to buy these but Philip enjoyed them thoroughly and I like his feet a lot better when he takes care of them.

Meanwhile, I’m developing a couple of medicinal teas and I think I’m going to make my first batch of soap this week. I’ve ordered my labels which should arrive sometime next week. That means I’ll be able to re-photograph all the products I’ve already developed which I can then put on my newNEW website.

I’ve also been doing a little preserving of garlic and onions and made a masala paste.

But this week I’m working hard on my sister’s quilt because her birthday is fast approaching and I’m determined to get it to her on time. I just started basting it last night so I’m hopeful I’ll have the whole thing finished by this weekend.

Oh, and I’ve been working out some plotting difficulties in book 2 of Cricket and Grey.

I must be off to work on product packaging and ordering some herbs – I hope you’re all having a productive un-shitty week!

The Lotion Trials: Day Whatever


I’m officially done making Batch #3.2 (Batch #3 with changes). And it felt drying to my hands but was better than Batch #5 which I HATED WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING AND GRAPE SEED OIL CAN GO TO HELL.

Which is why it’s too bad that I have an enormous bottle of it. I sent Philip off to get some and the only grape seed oil he found was a giant plastic bottle of imported Italian grape seed oil. I only needed 2 tbsp. I don’t trust this bottle of oil. I didn’t like the cut of its jib the minute I saw its giblets shaking – oh hell – I don’t trust it so much that I’m mixing up my metaphors.  My plan is to mix it with olive oil for salad dressing.

Anyway. I’m far from concocting the perfect natural recipe for lotion but I’m learning a lot in the process and having fun.


Notes on lotion making so far:

Preservatives are necessary. When you start making your own body products and natural medicines you begin to understand that “preservative” isn’t necessarily a dirty word.

Batch #2 developed mold less than 2 weeks after it was made. I’m leaving all my lotions at room temperature to see how long they last. See note above about importance of preservatives.

If you make a lotion using aloe vera gel but don’t add a humectant (such as glycerine) it will make your skin feel dry because it has a mildly astringent quality.

I dislike the smell of rose hip seed oil. So does my mom. But the lotion that worked the best for me (until it molded) had some in it.

Most (all I’ve read so far) lotion making instructions have you add the oil to the water in a thin stream. I had a better result adding the water to the oil.

I truly deeply forcefully hate the way shea/cocoa/coconut oils feel on my skin in their solid state. I also hate the way they smell. I love the smell of coconut milk but coconut oil is -NO.

Grape seed oil can fuck right off.

There’s a lot of science behind even the most natural of lotions and it’s very interesting and makes me want to get into the percentages but that would require a lot of brushing up on math skills and I feel pressure to get on with other product testing and refining as well as setting up the rest of my business. Since I’m not planning to be a lotion company it doesn’t warrant retaking a math class. So I’m trying to work within recipe proportions already developed by others and then changing the oils out and playing with different herbal infusions, etc.

The way Batch #2 turned lumpy was weird. Little tiny lumps but it hasn’t (so far) actually separated.

The foot cream (Batch #4) smells really good and the texture shockingly doesn’t repel me. It’s a variation on a recipe my friend Angela (Cottage Magpie) wanted me to make. I don’t know yet if she likes it or not, but it turned out very stiff but melts when you rub it into your feet. Very greasy finish, however. So for me it’s not great. Philip loves it. He’s taken the rest of the batch upstairs to his and Max’s lair.

I’m beginning to wonder if I possibly just don’t like any of the “butters” and might try making a lotion without any of those.

I don’t love the smell of benzoin. It’s kind of sweet, that’s what I don’t like. I love the smell of frankincense in lotion.

I guess I better get my butt back into the kitchen to clean up for the next batch. Wish me luck. Buckets and buckets of it!


The Lotion Trials: Day 1


Yesterday marked the beginning of the great lotion trials as I test recipes to develop a great all purpose lotion. I’m super picky about what lotion I will put on my skin. It isn’t about purity (though part of the reason I’m working to make my own is because I don’t want petroleum on my skin) it’s about texture. I have really dry sensitive skin. I like a thick rich lotion that isn’t greasy and absorbs quickly and doesn’t smell too strongly or weirdly. Right now I’m using Trader Joe’s Creamy lotion and it’s great. Except for the ingredient list. It’s cheap and that’s not something a handmade lotion will ever be.


Making new things, embarking on new adventures always puts me in a deeply procrastinative state. Making creams is an art. Not a complicated one, necessarily, but it requires emulsifying two ingredients that want nothing to do with each other: oil and water. So instead of making my first batch I took weird selfies as the Mad Apothecary.

This is how I have discovered that my front teeth are chipped. I don’t mind how it looks right now, but WHAT IF THEY KEEP CHIPPING UNTIL THEY’RE NOTHING BUT NUBS AND I HAVE TO GET DENTURES AND THEY NEVER LOOK REAL, DO THEY?


So this was my first batch. I’m calling it “Batch 1”. Very thick, somewhat tacky feel to it and a little bit greasy.


I took this selfie for my friend Debz who thought the other one was creepy. See? You can trust me to make you feel better. Come heeeeeere to fat mama with the drama! Haha. Can’t help myself, I’m still creepy.


Batch 2 was much thinner, less tacky or greasy, smelled good, but didn’t absorb fast enough for my comfort. Philip liked it. Max said it was “okay” but mostly he just means it was better than the first batch. He liked the smell. My mom liked batch 2 quite a bit. I liked it on my face (it’s technically a face cream anyway) – it made my face feel nicely hydrated.

Today I hope to make at least 2 more batches. There’s also a foster kitten coming too so probably won’t make more than that. I’ve got 5 more batches in the queue to make before I start refining. But even then I may need to make a lot more. This is product development stage and it’s a lot of fun.

Notes on the first day of the lotion trials:

I dislike the smell of plain natural oils. Companies work hard to manufacture scentless lotions. I think they probably have a chemical scent called “scentless”. Basically they use ingredients that are refined to the point where they lose their natural odor. So my lotions will have to have scent, all of them. The good news is that I don’t have to use much essential oil to cover the odor of the main oils and it doesn’t make my skin smell.

I hate – HATE – oils that are solid at room temperature and melt on contact with warm skin. That is a sensation that makes me so grossed out I can’t handle it. Like, literally, I may need to start wearing gloves when handling them. Cocoa butter and coconut oil both do this. It is disgusting. Just like cold butter that melts when you touch it. *SUPERDRAMATICRETCHINGNOISESFOREVERANDEVER*

Okay, I don’t hate the oils that are solid at room temp, I just hate touching them. I know more than one person (THERE’S MORE THAN ONE OF THEM) who loves putting these oils directly on their skin. *skeeeeeeeeeeeeevy*

My sister is super picky about lotion too and she apparently likes the same kind of feel in a lotion because she’s the one who suggested I try Trader Joe’s lotion when St. Ives suddenly started drenching all their formulas with perfume. So I was thinking about her pretty much the whole time I was making batch 1 and batch 2. I kept thinking “I’m going to come up with a great lotion for us, sister!” Though, to be honest, I’m concerned that the ingredients I’m willing to use (meaning: no overly processed, synthetic, or petroleum ones) will make this goal difficult to reach.

The shelf life on these lotions will necessarily be shorter than store bought. But I think that I may be able to offer some customization options and when people buy my lotions they will be getting super fresh batches. I’ll only be making them to order – at least at first. The only way anyone will be able to get a fresher lotion is if they make it themselves.

The label you see above is the round label, ready to print! It’s been decided that we will get labels printed with the logo (such as you see above) and then I’ll hand write product info on each because we can’t afford to have small runs of labels made for every individual product. I’m really pleased with the design now.

And no, there is no missing apostrophe in the label. Philip accidentally added one in the last round but it’s “Winters” because that’s the last name of my main character in Winter; cricket and Grey. I have named my real apothecary business after my fictional apothecary’s business.