Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

The Good Life I Was Already Living

A photo of the Chicken WhispererWe’ve recently become a one-income family, an unexpected event that fortunately has not left us struggling, but it has given us some pause. The only real casualty here is that we can’t spend money thoughtlessly anymore, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s surprised me how much I’ve come to think of it as a good thing, because this change in our circumstances has forced me to be the one thing that I’ve felt unable to be for most of my adult life – where I am.

My husband and I have spent most of our 15 years together living in and for the future: we figured we’d be happy when we got out of debt, when we got a bigger apartment, when we were able to buy a house, when we could move into a bigger house and onto a bigger piece of property … the list is endless, and the energy required to sustain this kind of thinking is exhausting. So, it came as something of a relief to realize that we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Ironically, the change has enabled and encouraged us to throw our energy in directions we wanted to head in anyway. A little over a year ago we started a long-term food storage program, and I began gardening. Our first spring’s effort was small, but satisfying. Fall was small and even more satisfying, and this spring we stepped up production.

harvest basket

Our interests weren’t originally about saving money. They were more motivated by an interest in emergency preparedness, concern about the quality of the food we were eating, and an evolving interest in self-sufficiency. But when sudden job loss caught us temporarily broke between paychecks, we found that we had unwittingly prepared ourselves for it. Instead of being in a panic, I found myself thinking, gosh, we’re actually okay. We don’t really need anything. And this was a sudden seismic shift. In our previous, two-income life, I was in a grocery store almost every day. If we ran out of something, well, we were out of it, which implied it ought to be here, which meant I couldn’t relax until I went and got it. I mean, we were out of it! It was a problem!

But being forced to slow down, to think and to plan, to do extra work where previously we solved problems with money, has given me some much-needed perspective.

Recently, hoping for some inspiration in the self-sufficiency department I read Little House on the Prairie, and it really made me think. While traveling west, and finally settling for awhile in Kansas, the Ingalls family ate nothing but cornbread and molasses and whatever they could kill – and I mean for months, a lot of months – and they didn’t complain. They were just happy not to be hungry. I can hear your protest mounting: “But that’s just fiction!”

Well, yes and no. After all, it is autobiographical. And at the very least I think we can all agree that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mom wasn’t running to Safeway every fifteen minutes.

Charles Ingalls hunted all winter, collecting the animal pelts to take into town to trade for a plow and some seeds in the spring, and the whole family looked forward to having vegetables in their diet again.

As a treat.

Imagine.

And in my house it was a catastrophe if we ran out of cereal bars or Goldfish.

We had made the move towards producing food at home and using local sources for meat and eggs (which are actually cheaper) before our recent change in fortunes. But we were still spinning around in the same mental grooves, and struggling with the same bad habits, and that’s the part that, six weeks into our new way of life, is finally starting to change.

Delayed gratification is inherent in the idea of eating locally, which essentially means eating seasonally. While I was waiting for my cantaloupe to mature this summer, at one point I let anticipation get the best of me, and I bought one in the supermarket. But when I cut that thing open it was awful. It didn’t have color or flavor, or even juice, and I ended up throwing the whole thing away. My three-year-old daughter, who had requested the cantaloupe, took one bite and spit it back out. I decided then and there that no matter how much I wanted one, I wasn’t going to buy another cantaloupe this year. I was going to wait until I could walk out to my own garden and pick one right up off the ground – until I could have one that was soft and orange and dripping with sweetness – and then I was going to gorge myself on them.

canteloupe home grown

And I did, because for a few weeks there I had more every day than I could eat. They were a short crop for me this year, I suspect both because I started them right from seed in the ground instead of setting out transplants, and I didn’t take good enough care of them (weeds, drought, etc.). You can bet that’s not going to happen again! When the two on my counter are gone I probably won’t have another cantaloupe for 10 or 11 months. But I’m OK with that, because I suspect that’s as it should be.

“Where I am” is in a still largely rural suburb in Southern Maryland, on .72 acres which we are steadily tilling up with the goal of producing as much of our own food here as possible.

fenced garden

I have a freezer full of locally grown chickens, and I’ve ordered my first half-hog for delivery this fall. I recently started recycling (I know, shame on me, to be starting so late). My adventures in gardening this spring, trying new things, making mistakes, and celebrating my triumphs has given me the courage to start tackling some of the other things that I’d like to do as we continue to shape our dream life.

So, come along with me as I figure out what the heck to do with that un-composting pile of kitchen scraps in my back yard; how to catch and use rainwater; how and where to find raw milk; how to recognize good food growing wild; how to root cellar vegetables; how to decrease our energy bills; how to use a pressure canner; how to make cheese, and crackers, and my own cereal bars. Come along as we install a woodstove for heat; build a greenhouse; and gradually, we hope, go off grid with wind and solar power … the list of things we want to do around here is endless.

Our next stop in life – we hope – will be a “real” farm, but for the time being this place is pretty doggone good, and so is life in general. “Where I am” is oddly reminiscent of my own good old days; you know, when an extra twenty bucks was a windfall, and I think that’s pretty cool.

It makes me feel young again.

oz girl
1/18/2010 2:12:48 PM

What a wonderful blog post. I've enjoyed reading about your journey to self-sustainability, and as I see you posted this last September, I hope you have many more posts to come!


s.m.r. saia
10/19/2009 10:28:26 AM

I don't know if any of you commenters will even see this response, it's been so long. I was having technical issues getting comments posted, and now that's resolved, so here goes. First I want to thank you all for the supportive comments. I'm happy to be here as part of this community, and I look forward to learning and sharing much. It looks like Grit doesn't have my bio up yet, so Chad, in response to your question, yes, this is my blog, but I also keep two others. For garden-specific stuff you can find me at http://tastefulgarden4sha.blogspot.com/. For a running commentary on anything under the sun, but especially our sustainability adventures, you can follow along at http://homesteadonearth.blogspot.com/. Thanks for reading!


vickie
9/7/2009 4:21:27 PM

Wow I love the size of your garden and I applaud all the things you are trying to do. It'll be great fun following you along. vickie


willy_2
9/6/2009 1:13:28 AM

Fyi, I realize they're in sunny southern California, but take a look at what these folks have been able to grow on just one-tenth acre. http://www.pathtofreedom.com/urban-homestead


glendaleaz
9/5/2009 10:18:25 AM

Funny how that works. One day you wake up and its as if it is somehow all different. You no longer feel the need to amass and assemble 'stuff' as a symbol of your successes. The keeping up with the Jones' let alone getting ahead of them is not the priority any longer. I recently got the wild idea that in a heart beat I would trade my 60" big screen and 7.1 surround sound for a tractor if the opportunity came up. It hasn't but all of a sudden, less 'stuff' equals 'more'. More peace of mind, more sustainable, more practical, the list goes on and on. As Americans we cannot sustain the consumer habits that we have developed since the 1950's. Eventually it is too unrealistic and complicated for everyone to be seeking the same lifestyle in the same exclusive gated communities and golf clubs with the same luxury amenities that we consume and pack into the trunk of our european luxury sedans. I am blown away when I hear stories like yours because you too have found something. Something that was there All Along. Simple BALANCE. You have begun to balance your needs with reality. I have also begun to do that. I used to hold onto things thinking it would be better to sell them on craigs or at a yard sale that never seemed to happen there-by filling every spare space to the hilt with 'stuff'. I finally just dumped it all. Donated most and tossed the rest in the local landfill. It just felt so much better to be rid of it all. Less is really more. More of the good stuff. I have seen my rooms filled with so much stuff that there was no visible baseboards... anywhere. Too much stuff! It is leaving. Not all of it. but any bit of it I do not need. It is free-ing me. I am shocked when I see what this economy has done to people who are really finding it harder and more stressfull every day to continue to keep up. I say let it go. Get back to basics but they look at you like you have lost your mind because they


chad mccullough
9/3/2009 7:11:12 AM

Sorry. I guess this would be your blog, huh? Duh! :)


chad mccullough
9/3/2009 6:46:57 AM

I forgot to ask. Do you have a blog? I would love to read more about your sustainability adventure. Thanks!


chad mccullough
9/3/2009 6:41:04 AM

Wonderful article. My wife and I are in a situation somewhat like yours. About 3 years ago, I resigned from my job to start my own IT Consulting business. It was going great the first year. Then, it just died. To this day, I have no idea what happened. Clients just stopped calling me for help. I'm sure the poor economy had a lot to do with it. Well, anyway, enough about that. Last year, I tilled up some ground in our backyard and started a small garden. It didn't take long for me to realize that I loved vegetable gardening. And as a vegetarian, how great it is to be able to eat veggies from our own garden. My wife and our 3 year old daughter love it, too. Well, this year, the garden grew a little and I've decided to start a small Micro Eco-Farm. We have a small house in Indianapolis with enough room in our backyard for our personal garden. I'm very lucky to have grown up in northern Indiana on a small 33 acre farm. My father is giving us some of the land and next year, I plan to start our first season of the Micro Farm. I plan to sell vegetables at local farmer's markets and, my dream, is to sell to small, local restaurants. On a daily basis I read stories just like yours and they inspire me more and more to do what I've fallen in love with Thank you for such a wonderful and inspiring article.


nebraska dave
9/2/2009 2:42:41 PM

S.M.R., it’s a good thing to be satisfied right where one is. Dreams inspire where we all want to go in life, sometimes it’s just good to rest a bit where we are at the moment and enjoy the good life around us. Believe me as I traveled the road of life, I have had dreams and aspirations that now that I’m on the down hill side of life am glad didn't come to pass. Then there are yearnings that guide us all down the right path of life. I can truthfully say that I have taken many detours in my life but the deep down yearning has always been to live simply, grow things, prepare for the unexpected, and never do anything that would keep me awake at night with worry. I can't say that I always followed those guide lines, but my course has always been corrected at some point and brought back on course. S.M.R. you have chosen a path in life that will be filled with challenges, adventure, excitement, and fulfillment. From this one blog entry, I can see that life does not control your emotions but instead you look at life with amazing anticipation. Life can throw good times and bad times at us, but the most important things in life are the relationships we build and the lives we positively touch. Welcome to the Grit blog world and I thoroughly enjoyed your first blog here and hope to hear from you again soon.