2020 on the Homestead, Grow Your Own Spices (My First Book!), and @Exploresimplestead

Hi all my reluxerendering readers! It’s been a while… I hope you are all finding solace in your gardens and homesteads this year. I know I am!

On the Home Front

I take care of my 80 year old dad. He’s still got global aphasia from his stroke 4 years ago. He can’t be trusted with a microwave or stovetop. But he makes his bed, sweeps his bedroom floor, and for the most part can change channels using his remote to find shows he likes to watch.

He also has perfect comedic timing. He’s constantly making me laugh — exactly when I need it most.

Like when I ask him how hold he is… he says he’s 30. Then he changes his mind and says he’s 100. After much negotiation, he settles on being in his 20’s. Finally, he tells me he can live another 100 years.

I don’t know if I’ll get to keep him that long… but I do know that when you are a caregiver to a parent during a global pandemic, it changes your perspective . For me, it makes staying home and avoiding social gatherings a top priority. I just can’t afford to be sick when my dad depends on me, and I certainly can’t risk bringing anything home to him at his age.

I know he’s going to go somehow, someday. But I hope it’s peaceful, perhaps in his sleep – not from respiratory failure and days of lonely confusion in the care of masked and exhausted (but incredibly appreciated) hospital caregivers. That fate has befallen too many of our elderly parents this year and I can imagine all to clearly how those painful losses impact families everywhere.

Missing Loved Ones

As such, for much of 2020, I’ve missed seeing my wine/beer club friends, my fellow master gardeners, and farmers market friends. I also miss so many of my family members who (for various reasons) don’t see COVID-19 as a serious concern the way that I do.

I am looking forward to vaccines being broadly available and getting back to a more active social life in 2021. Yet, besides missing my broader community, this year has been an affirmation of the importance of homesteading and of being able to hunker down comfortably. It’s made me more eager than ever to encourage others to start gardening, homesteading, and generally enjoying the simple pleasures of being home.

My Partner in Rural Living

I also have Matt. We have a lot in common and tend to agree on the most important things. But we also have very different interests.

So, we read different books, frequent different blogs, and spend our time on unrelated activities. That means despite living together on an isolated homestead in rural North Carolina, during a global pandemic, we still have things to talk about.

We also do things together here on the homestead. We have special date nights with cocktails. We always sit down together for dinner. So, this year, I created some new “destinations” around our homestead with different scenery options to keep our couple time interesting.

The Porch

I cozied up our porch using a table my brother Todd built from scrap wood, barstools my sister in law Lori re-upholstered, and a bunch of stuff I had already that was not being well-utilized in other locations.

Matt and I particularly love sitting at the “bar” since we haven’t been to one of those for a while!

This space isn’t just cute though. It’s also quite functional for all of our homestead activities. You can read more about creating homestead porches in my post on Morning Chores.

8 Ways to Pretty up Your Porch and Still Use It for Homestead Activities

The Gothic Garden

This year I did a lot of reading about medieval life and gardening.

  • Down the Common: A Year in the Life of a Medieval Woman by Ann Baer was a wonderful bit of time travel that helped me really appreciate the comforts of our modern homestead.
  • Monastic Gardens by Mick Hales introduced me to the notion of “a vow of stability” which is very much what we have done in picking this piece of land to rehabilitate ecologically.
  • Pleasures of the Cottage Garden by Rand B. Lee also touched on many of the Medieval aspects underlying a modern cottage garden.
  • Oddly, Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Rob Talbot and Robin Whitman – though it is based on historical novels and a TV series – is such a beautifully laid out informative garden book that it led me to add Ellis Peter’s fictional works to my reading list.

All of this also likely influenced the decorative fence I created at the entrance to our “espalier garden” shown in the video below.

The Bamboo Garden

I had so much fun making that gothic garden that I decided to start another new garden area too. In the Medieval mindset, I started looking around the homestead for materials to make fences and create beds. That’s when I realized I had plenty of bamboo for the project.

So, I spent some afternoons making the fence, designing the bed layout, and bringing it all together as a new “garden room”. You can read more about that process in my post on my other website Simplestead.com.

Decorative and Useful Garden Fencing

The Potager

I also made some changes to my potager garden. The first big change was turning it into a potager instead of just a vegetable garden. I reclaimed some of the vegetable areas for more herbs, spices, and flowers. (Mostly edible and medicinal plants, of course!)

I have also started adding decorative details like the wattle shown below and the lavender bed above. The wattle is charming but it also supports the nasturtiums, asparagus, and dahlias that grow around our bistro seating area.

This year I also did some studying up on ornamental farms and French vegetable gardens to gather more inspiration for how to make that transition from functional vegetable garden to glorious potager.

  • The French Country Garden: Where the Past Flourishes in the Present , The Art of the French Vegetable Garden, and Gardens in Provence by Louisa Jones have given me lots of great inspiration.
  • Patina Farm by the Giannetti’s also gave me some aspirational/long-term ideas – especially for my chicken coop area.
  • A Treatise on the Theory and History of Landscape Gardening by Andrew Jackson Downing, The Fruit and Fruit Trees of Monticello by Peter J. Hatch, and Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf offered incredible insight into the idea of ornamental gardening and putting my potager in context in our larger landscape and climate concerns.

Those photos above are just some teasers for now. I’ll be doing a big reveal come spring when all the new potager features I’m working on are finished. In the meantime, you can read more about ornamental farming in my post on Morning Chores.

Ferme Ornée: Creating the Beauty of an Ornamental Farm

My Indoor Landscape

I also had so many plant experiments going on across my desk and office floor that I finally took some time to create an indoor landscape. Now I can use my desk for something other than gardening again.

You can see the before/after reveal on Instagram.

Also, check out the moss scape I made for my office here.


As you probably guessed from the links above, I also started an Instagram account.

My amazing niece Legacie and her very charming, musically-talented boyfriend Daniel, and his adorably sweet son Ezra came for a visit this summer. I took that opportunity to try to cram in as much gardening, livestock care, cooking, and nature loving skills into their hearts as I could while they were here.

They told me that I could reach more people if I shared that stuff on Instagram. Daniel even said he wished he could follow me around with a camera and just start recording and sharing all the stuff I did and talked about.

So… it turns out, they may have influenced me just as much as I influenced them. Their Southern California apartment has become a plant jungle and I’ve put up 58 posts on my new @exploresimplestead Instagram account over the last few months.

I’m not making polished, influencer-type posts. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to do that. I’m just trying to record slice of life stuff from our Epicurean Homestead — for people like Legacie and Daniel — who have dreams of the homestead life but aren’t sure where to start.

For example, one week I just tried to record our normal cooking activities to show that delicious, beautiful home cooking isn’t a time sucking chore. Here are a few examples of those videos.

Tiny House/Climbing Wall/Library

Matt’s also been busy working on our tiny guest house, with a library, and a climbing wall. It’s fully insulated. The solar electricity system is functional. He installed a Wi-Fi bridge from our house so it also has internet.

The library is in and our collection of books have all been scanned, catalogued, and organized. The loft bed is up, a seating/storage bench is in, and the murphy table is underway. It’s habitable now. But it will be amazing when he finishes. You can read more about the project and home libraries in my posts on Morning Chores.

How to Create a Home Library and Inspire a Culture of Reading

How to Create A Multi-Purpose Outbuilding to Make Homesteading Easier

Grow Your Own Spices

Oh… I almost forgot. I also published my first book!

Well, technically it ships out on January 5th 2021. But it’s available now for pre-order in all the bookstores and on Amazon. You can also catch a sneak peak of the inside of the book and get all the nitty gritty details about its creation and the publishing process on Simplestead.com.

Here’s the link.

An Inside Look at Grow Your Own Spices and the Secrets of the Publishing Process

Okay – you’re right. I didn’t almost forget about my book. It’s been foremost on my mind all year. But I didn’t want you to get distracted by the15 minute video of me sharing all those secrets about publishing a book until you finished reading this post!

Now, though, I encourage you to click away at all the links above. Also, please share this info with anyone you think will enjoy it. Writing and publishing the book is only part of the process. Making sure people know about is an ongoing project that I’ll be working on for months and probably years to come!

Please stay safe, stay in touch, and enjoy some peace and quiet at home with your closest loved ones this holiday season.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Paulette Schneider says:

    I’m so proud of you and Matt what you have done to your property.I can’t wait to come see you all and my brother beautiful pics of your property and I love your porch so cozy so glad you are all staying safe and working so hard love always ♥️♥️😘😘


  2. Julie M. Tuttle says:

    Geat post, congrats on the book!


    1. Simplestead says:

      Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

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