It is hard to believe we have been here an entire year. I remember when we made the decision to “head for the hills” back at the very end of 2014 it seemed like each step took forever. Getting home repairs done, selling/donating half of our possessions, selling the house, finding the farm, packing, moving, hanging out at my mom’s house in Atlanta while waiting and waiting and waiting to close on the new house…all of these things were part of the process that now seem like distant memories. It’s been a crazy first year here on our little farm in Appalachia. These are the top 10 things I have learned:
10. Kids are adaptable.
Our two kids are now almost-6 and almost-4. They have adapted to farm life amazingly well. HS still misses his friends in Auburn and talks about a few of them occasionally. He still talks about going back to Auburn to marry a certain girl from his preschool class. Both kids occasionally ask about their friend who lived next door to us at the time. But they both accepted the changes to their lives enthusiastically. Our daily routine, the places we went, the home we lived in, people we saw… those few constants in their lives all changed at once. I know that was hard for me even though I knew and understood the reasons behind it all. I am so proud of how well these kids not only accepted the changes but also kept their enthusiasm about it all.
9. Living as a family of 4 in 816 square feet isn’t that bad.
Really. It seemed nuts at first to go from a 2600 sqft house to a 816 sqft house. But really when we started paring things down, we found that there was a lot that wasn’t too hard to let go of. We are actually still decluttering and letting go of possessions that have no physical or metaphorical place here. Visually this house is a lot more FULL than we’d like, even when all the toys are picked up and all the dishes are washed. (Have I mentioned we do not have a dishwasher?) TS and I have a shared love of interior decorating that is very modern and minimalist which is NOT currently a reality for this house. But this house is plenty big enough for us and what we need and we do not have any plans to add onto the house at this time.
8. Predators like chicken too.
Chicken is yummy. I don’t think I know anyone who eats meat that does not like chicken. Predators know how yummy chicken is and I do have reason to be concerned about this. We have lost chickens/guineas to weasels and owls. Our neighbor lost a large number of chickens to a fox. Something unknown left evidence of a chicken kill in our field recently. When I go down to the barn each morning, I spend a few seconds worrying there will have been a massacre during the night and have a happy moment of relief when the barn yard is carcass-free. This is also related to #7.
7. Sometimes Livestock = Deadstock
When you have animals, you have death. This is an unfortunate reality. While we do butcher almost all our own meat, we have also lost quite a few chickens and rabbits to other causes. In addition to the previously mentioned predators, we have also had rats kill baby bunnies. We lost several chickens to intestinal parasites and one to mites. We lost more than a few rabbits to enteritis, intestinal parasites, and toxic plants. This is another one of those things that the kids have had to adapt to. SJ has no problem with the butchering and actually gets excited about eating our own. HS doesn’t like it, but will still eat it. They both get upset when an animal dies unexpectedly but know that is the way of things.
6. Politics SUCK. No, I’m not talking about the train-wreck that is our current presidential election. I’m talking about small town politics. In many small towns (such as ours) it really makes a difference who you know and how long you’ve been around. That’s not to say the people aren’t nice and welcoming – most of them ARE. But even so there have been several times the local politics have come into play for us. Participating in the local farmers’ market has been one of those times. We learned quickly that if we wanted to be a part of the system, we had to play by some rules that didn’t necessarily make sense to us. We have also learned that in a place where everyone knows everyone, it is hard to be new and in conflict with someone who is already established in town. At the moment I can’t be very detailed on this right now, but I’ll try to get the point across in the following hypothetical story. Let’s just say we decide to build new barn because the old one is falling apart. The person who built our barn is offended that we think the barn isn’t good enough and upset that we blame them. We try to get a contractor to build the new barn and get a permit from the city to build it, but no one wants to build the barn or give us the permit because they are a friend-of-a-friend or cousins with the original barn builder. Instead of saying that they don’t want to be involved in our project, they just don’t return calls or make things difficult to schedule for months and months. This is something similar to what we are actually dealing with, it’s just not about a barn.
5. Complacency Happens.
I don’t like to think about it or admit it, but I have gotten used to seeing the beautiful mountains around me and a sky full of stars at night. When we first got here I was in awe of all the beauty of this part of the country. Now there are times I have to actually remind myself to go outside after dark and just look at the stars. I sometimes forget how miserable I was stuck indoors when I was working full time. I used to spend a few brief moments outside on those gorgeous Spring days in Alabama when the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot (they do exist!). Now I get to be outside almost all the time, doing what I love, with the people I love. I don’t want to forget to be thankful for that.
4. Proximity Matters in Relationships.
Moving to a new place far away from friends and family is difficult. As much as we love and miss everyone, it is difficult to maintain relationships when we are so far away. We have missed weddings and other big events during the past year. I want our friends and family to know we love and care about you all even if we can’t be physically there. We want to maintain these relationships in whatever capacity is possible, even if sometimes that just means sharing a text message conversation or facebook photos. In addition to being far away from everyone we used to hang out with frequently, we have animals and gardens here that need daily maintenance. We would love to travel and see our distant friends and family more but it is not possible at the moment. We are working on a farm-sitting trade that will hopefully help with that. If anyone wants to come visit us, we are happy to have you! We are also making friends here who we would like to spend more time with.
3. There is just NOT ENOUGH TIME in a day.
TS and I both work part-time from home. One would think that not working full-time would give us plenty of free time to spend on our farm projects, but the reality is there is ALWAYS something to do when you have a farm and there is ALWAYS something to do when you have kids. We have both. We are BUSY. Yesterday while TS was cutting up beans to can and I was peeling what felt like a bottomless bowl of carrots from the garden, he asked me “How did people back in the day DO this?” and I truthfully do not know. It takes quite a bit of time to do all the canning and freezing to preserve the bounty from the garden, even on a small scale. I have been feeling stretched very thin this Summer. I know I am feeling overwhelmed when my “near-constant-stream-of-ideas-for-new-projects” has not made an appearance in my brain for months. I actually do not know that that has ever happened before. Soon tomato season will be over and HS will be in Kindergarten, and things will maybe slow down here a little. I hope.
2. I will always miss Auburn.
I almost can’t talk about Auburn without getting a little misty-eyed. I spent half of my life there. I met my husband there and we lived there for our first 10 years of marriage. We bought homes, made friends, had children there. The sound of the stadium on a game day, the toilet paper still blowing in a Fall breeze through the Oaks the morning after a win, a “chipmunk hunt” in the Arboretum with HS and SJ, lunches at Niffers, hanging out with “Margaret” and “Rita” after work with my Surgical Clinic girls, cookouts and climbing parties at our Opelika house with the old group… I miss them all so much. I could easily list 50 more things but I’d rather quit now and move onto my #1 thing I have learned in our first year here.
1.. There is Nothing Else I’d Rather Be Doing!
Seriously. I get to spend almost all my time with my husband and kids, outside, in the country, with animals, and eating good food. Sure, it is a lot of work. There are things we have had to sacrifice and things we “do without” on a regular basis. But we are doing what we want to be doing. We have more enthusiasm for life. I feel strongly that our time is being well spent, that we are doing something that truly matters for TS and I, that will have a positive impact on our kids, and that we can feel good about on a spiritual level. People may think we are crazy. And that’s okay. Farming/homesteading makes us happy and gives us a true sense of purpose. Whatever that thing is for my friends, I support you. Let’s all seize the day!