7 Reasons to Join the Urban Homesteading Revolution

7 Reasons to Join the Urban Homesteading Revolution

Check out my post about urban homesteading on the CustomMade blog this week, accompanied by some beautiful graphics. (I’ll have several more articles to share soon!)

Here’s a brief excerpt:

What is urban homesteading? In short, it looks different for every family. For mine, it means we live in a regular, ranch-style house in the city. In our backyard, we have a small flock of three chickens and a large vegetable garden that provides us with peas, greens, tomatoes, corn, squash, beans, and herbs. We compost. We cook nearly all of our meals from scratch, including bread, tortillas, and pizza crust, and we brew beer. We chop wood to heat our house, and we hang our laundry on a clothesline. We make most of our own household cleaners and personal care products out of simple ingredients, like baking soda and vinegar. Biking is our main form of transit. And we try to be intentional about the things we buy. For other families, urban homesteading includes keeping bees, raising rabbits, making clothes, or preserving food.

More than anything, urban homesteading is a mindset. It turns us from consumers who are disconnected from where our food and belongings come from into producers who use our hands to make some of what we need to live. Most of us have little desire to be as self-sufficient as the original homesteaders had to be and the back-to-the-landers strived to be. In my family’s case, we’re thrilled to take advantage of all of the wonderful elements of urban life, including farmer’s markets and grocery stores as well as chocolate, coffee, and cultural events.

Click to Enlarge Image

7 Reasons to Join the Urban Homesteading Revolution

7 Reasons to Join the Urban Homesteading Revolution
Infographic by CustomMade

It’s release day!

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It’s been a busy two months, and I can’t wait to fill you in on our May and June adventures and more importantly on the happenings in my garden. But I just popped in to let you know The Garden of Dead Dreams is officially available! After many years of working on this book, this day is a little surreal. Both the eBook and print edition are available at a growing list of retailers, including Amazon. I’ll keep an updated list on my website. And I’m selling autographed print copies there, if you’d like one.

I’m also hosting a Goodreads giveaway for three autographed print copies. Feel free to sign up and spread the word!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Garden of Dead Dreams by Abby Quillen

The Garden of Dead Dreams

by Abby Quillen

Giveaway ends June 30, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

I’ll be back to more regular posting soon! Thanks so much for your patience.

Announcing . . . The Garden of Dead Dreams

I’m thrilled to reveal the cover of my first novel, which will be released in June!

white 3d

I’m also unveiling my all new website design at http://abbyquillen.com. Come on over! You can learn more about the book there, and I’d love to hear what you think of the new design.

As if there isn’t enough to be excited about over here, we’re celebrating that my dad’s anthology is a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in the creative nonfiction category! I know he’d be thrilled for the recognition.

I’ll be busy, busy, busy for awhile with house guests coming to stay with us, my sister graduating from law school (!), our usual end-of-school-year pandemonium, and of course, I’ll be preparing for the big book release while squeezing in as much time as I can in the garden.


So you won’t see as much of me as usual, although I’ll stop in if I can. (Hopefully I’ll have time for a book review, because I have some fabulous books to tell you about.) Until then, I hope you’re enjoying spring!

Oh, and you can sign up for my brand new newsletter below for occasional updates about my upcoming books, articles, interviews, events, and giveaways. (Don’t worry, I won’t flood your inbox, and I’m as allergic to spam as you are.)

Hello sunshine!

We’re making the most of a stretch of sparkling spring days with tea parties, egg hunts, and fun-packed afternoons with friends. I’m sure the rain will send us inside soon. See you then….








Hopeful Weekend Links


Blood Moon Will Be a Sight to Behold During Total Lunar Eclipse – Ben Brumfield, CNN

Parking Lots Demolished as Driving Wanes – Romy Varghese, Business Week

bring your own cookies – Karen Maezen Miller, cheerio road

10 Things Creative People Know - Peggy Taylor and Charlie Murphie, YES! Magazine

20 Things Every Parent Should Hear – Beth Woolsey, Five Kids is a Lot of Kids

The Best Time of the Day for Creativity – Kevan Lee, Lifehacker

March Seeds Bring April Greens


It’s gardening time again! It feels like it was the shortest winter in history (although I perhaps would not have said that mid-January). I planted a few of our beds a couple of weeks ago. It’s our seventh gardening season in our backyard, and I actually sort of know what I’m doing now. It helps that I have two eager little helpers. Ezra and Ira love the garden! Their faces light up at the very mention of planting.

Once we’re in the garden, our activities usually go like this: Ezra and I till a bed. Ira finds a “wormy.” Ezra and I spread fertilizer on a bed. Ira plays with the wormy. Ezra and I plant some seeds. Ira finds another wormy. Ira is enthusiastic about invertebrates.

We’re excitedly watching starts grow and seeds sprout, and we’re already harvesting a bit of lettuce and kale that self-started, perennial herbs, and lots of dandelion greens. Have I mentioned it’s prime dandelion harvesting season?

Wild foods tend to be much more nutritious than the produce in our supermarkets or even farmer’s markets. Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side, explains that when we bred the bitterness out of our produce, we also lost nutrition. “The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became … the less advantageous they were for our health.”

Fortunately, despite many efforts to eradicate it, most of us have a wild edible green growing in abundance all around us, and it’s a nutritional powerhouse. A half pound of dandelion greens provides:

  • 649% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K,
  • 338% of your vitamin A,
  • 58% of your vitamin C,
  • 39% of your iron,
  • 20% of your Riboflavin,
  • 19% of your calcium,
  • 19% of your vitamin B-6, and
  • 9% of your dietary fiber

Don’t let all those nutrients go to waste! Check out this post for more information about this humble super food and links to recipes. This year I can’t wait to try Rachel Turiel’s dandelion pesto.

We’ll likely be seeing many more April showers, but you’ll hopefully find us sloshing around the garden playing with wormies or armed with a colander eying our neighbors’ weeds. Wishing you some similar spring time revelry.

Is it gardening season where you live? If so, what’s coming up in your garden? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hopeful Weekend Links


Get Ready! A tetrad of lunar eclipses, beginning in April - Earth Sky

Why do we make students sit still in class? – Carolina Blatt-Gross

How to Save Money on Food by Wasting Less – Lindsay Wilson, Shrink That Footprint

The Overprotected Kid – Hannah Rosin, The Atlantic

The Hard Alphabet – Sara Bir, Full Grown People

Ideas for Making Small Spaces More Efficient – Amazing Oasis

Free Range Learning: Book Review

natural learning, holistic education, homeschooling, unschooling

It’s the perfect time for me to read Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything, which author Laura Grace Weldon sent me for review consideration. My husband Aaron and I spent much of February visiting schools, because our five-year-old son Ezra will be eligible to attend kindergarten next year. Although we’re planning to enroll our boys in school, I’m glad I read Weldon’s book, which champions a way of homeschooling that verges considerably from what most public and private schools offer.

Weldon calls for highly individual, interest-led, experiential education that gives children lives full of “conversation, music, play, stories, struggles and overcoming struggles, chores, laughter and the excitement of examining in depth any of the rich wells of knowledge that humanity has to offer.” She’s critical of any system that “makes the child a passive recipient of education” whether its a public school or a homeschooling curriculum that prescribes conformity to standards. She doesn’t advocate any one prescribed style of homeschooling, but a flexible mix and match according to what best suits a family’s needs.

At 301 pages, published by Hohm Press, Free Range Learning looks like a textbook, but it’s not a dry read. Weldon’s writing is as clear and lively as on her popular blog, and she presents considerable eye-opening research about the value of homeschooling, like the following:

One study tested homeschooled as well as schooled children using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, a measure of social development. On this test, the homeschooled children scored higher in socialization, communication, daily living skills and maturity. Overall the mean score of the schooled children stood at the 23rd percentile. In contrast, the mean score for the homeschooled children stood at the 84th percentile.

Weldon also gives homeschooling parents and homeschooled students a voice in pages of anecdotes, like this one by Linda from Ohio:

I did not plan to stay home with Jeffrey. As a licensed occupational therapist, I’d been eager to get back to work in a hospital setting. But when we put him in school he did very poorly. They slapped three labels on him before he turned six. We put him in private school. That was worse. We could see school wasn’t an option for him. So Matt and I reassessed. Now I have a part-time practice at home. … I think our family is closer as a result of this style of education, and Jeffrey has no evidence of the problems the school pointed to. I’m glad our son didn’t adjust to school and we didn’t accept their labels.

When we chose not to send Ezra to preschool this year, I realized how counter-culture homeschooling is. “Which preschool does he go to?” we’re asked regularly when we’re out and about. When I reply that Ezra stays home, many well-meaning parents relay the importance of preschool for a child’s social skills and development. I’m quietly heartened that the research suggests that young kids who stay home with involved parents thrive. In the same vein, I imagine homeschooling parents breathe a sigh of relief when they read Weldon’s supportive research and case studies.

She devotes the second half of the book to providing reams of ideas for exploring different subjects with kids, including all of the usual school subjects as well as business and finance, volunteerism, and ethics. In nearly every chapter, she provides an abundance of resources, including lists of youth organizations, mentorship programs, learning communities, online courses, service travel agencies, etc.

Weldon’s ideas and resources are impressive, but her real gift is her compelling and joyful vision of what a quality home education can look like:

Among today’s homeschoolers are children who wonder aloud any time of day and whose questions are answered. Children who stay up late to stargaze, who eagerly practice the violin and study Latin, who slosh in the edges of a pond to see tadpoles, who design their own video games, who read books till noon in their pajamas. These children are empowered to be free range learners.

I was lucky to grow up with voracious lifelong learners, who were my greatest teachers. Books were stacked on every surface in our house. On weekends we visited ghost towns and museums, attended history lectures, and met all kinds of interesting writers and thinkers. My parents liked to joke that they homeschooled us, but we also went to school. I hope to follow in that tradition with my kids.

Truthfully, when my older sister went to school, I begged my parents to send me to preschool, and I loved school all the way through college. As an adult, though, I’m increasingly concerned about our approach to schooling. As Weldon points out, our standards-obsessed education system, with its focus on test scores and grades too often discourages creativity, curiosity, risk-taking, and initiative. As my first child embarks into kindergarten, I’m just as concerned as Weldon that “the very structure of school makes the child a passive recipient of education designed by others.”

My family is fortunate to live in a community with an abundance of school choice, and we’re planning to send Ezra to a public alternative school that favors interest-led, project-based learning and favors cooperation over competitiveness. I hope it’s a good fit for him and that he loves school as much as I did. If it’s not, we’ll re-evaluate and happily consider other options, including homeschooling. No matter what we end up doing, I’m thrilled to have Laura Grace Weldon’s beautifully written book at hand. It’s every parent’s job to create an enriching household that fosters a love of learning, and Weldon offers an invaluable resource for doing that.

Hopeful Weekend Links


New Parenting Study Released - Sarah Miller, The New Yorker

Science Compard Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food – James Hamblin, The Atlantic

The Wonders and Eternal Shelf Life of Honey - Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian

When Mothers Get Moving, Children are More Active Too – Linda Poon, NPR

The Simplest Thing that Makes the Happiest People in the World So Happy – Eric Barcer, Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Lessons in Organic Urbanism from India – Taz Loomans, Blooming Rock

Why You Might Need More Bitterness

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Your mouth probably puckers at the thought of eating something bitter. But according to many experts, including clinical herbalist Guido Masé and integrative physician Tiearona Low Dog, a small dose of bitter can prevent and cure a litany of complaints.

Why do we need bitter foods?

Masé explains that plants developed bitter compounds to stop mammals from eating them. Then mammals developed detoxification systems, i.e. our livers, to deal with the bitter compounds. So bitters are the reason we have a liver, and it doesn’t work right when we don’t eat them.

Masé and Low Dog say ingesting more bitters, particularly before we eat, can:

  • Improve digestion

When there’s no bitter flavor in our food, Masé says we run the risk of poor digestion. “We see fat and cholesterol synthesis problems in the liver. … We see food passing untouched through the digestive system.” He recommends that instead of trying to “restrict, restrict and remove, remove” for concerns like toxicity, chronic inflammation, liver dysfunction, and digestive complaints and sensitivity, we “reincorporate bitterness.” When we activate our taste buds with the bitter flavor before a meal, the pancreas secrets enzymes, the liver secretes bile, and the valves through the compartments of the gastrointestinal tract work better. “As a result, the drama of incomplete digestion is really tempered.”

  • Nix heart burn

The mouth is not the only thing that puckers when we eat bitters. According to Masé, the valve at the bottom of the esophagus also scrunches up, keeping acid in place.

  • Eliminate food allergies and excema in adults and children

“I’ve seen big changes in the skin when we focus on enhancing digestion and restoring the microflora in the gut,” writes Low Dog in her book Healthy at Home. She prescribes children’s bitters for kids with food allergies, to be taken a half an hour or so before dinner.  She also recommends bitters for adults with seasonal and environmental allergies.

  • Curb sugar cravings

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, we shouldn’t seek to eliminate the sweet taste from our diet, but to balance all five tastes. In the same vein, Masé is convinced that ingesting more bitters is the solution to sugar addiction. “Just make sure you get a little bit of bitter every day and you’ll find that your relationship with sugar is a whole lot easier.” He carries a tincture of bitters in his car and takes a little bit before he goes to the grocery store. That way, he insists, it’s easier for him to keep the chips and sweets out of his basket.

5 ways to ingest more bitters:

  • Greens

One of my favorite foods — dandelion — is a bitter, and this is prime time to harvest the leaves. You can learn more about how awesome dandelion is in my (all-time most popular post) Dandelions are Super Foods.

Chicory, arugula, radicchio, escarole, turnip greens, mustard greens, watercress, endive, and other bitter greens also make delicious pre-dinner salads.

  • Teas

Dandelion root, burdock, milk thistle, hops, gentian and other bitter herbs make excellent pre-meal teas.

  • Tinctures

Urban Moonshine, Herb Pharm, and other companies make bitter tinctures and tonics that you can take with a glass of water as a quick before meal ritual.

  • Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is a delicious way to add some bitterness to your diet, and it was featured in this week’s People’s Pharmacy because of its many other health benefits.

  • Cocktails

Bitters are a common bar ingredient. Look for bitters at your grocery store and learn how to mix up a Manhattan, Rob Roy or Old-fashioned.

Do you like bitter foods and beverages? Have they helped you solve any health issues? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.