The Good Life I Was Already Living

We’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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

  • Published on Sep 2, 2009
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