The Right Way and the Hard Way are the Same

We are ALMOST finished with the garden. At last count, we planted 28 pepper plants, six onions, and the rosemary. All that is left now are the potatoes.

The black raspberries are coming in thicker than ever. I fed some frozen ones to the girls as a treat since it was so hot and they loved them. Since it’s their last days here, I figure I’ll make it special.

We are still hoping for a way around this nightmare. Since we had seen and heard of so many other people keeping chickens in town, we thought things had changed. We were wrong. We should have checked. I take full responsibility for that.

Tonight, we are scheduled to meet with the Commissioner of Sustainability from the City of Elgin. She has offered to help us in any way she can. Hopefully, she can give us advice on how to approach this. I considered registering them as emotional support animals since they have helped so much with the anxiety issues I have, but decided against it. We are going to follow the rules and then try to change them. Right is right.

We have talked to more people in the neighborhood who have said they will sign a petition, if needed. I have lived here for 38 years and would like to stay. Hopefully, that holds some weight, too. We aren’t looking to shake things up and head out. Our roots run deep here. We think allowing backyard chickens would be an asset to the community. Keep praying for us.



Keep Pushin’ On

Yesterday, we planted half of the garden: around 150 green beans, six bunches of leaf lettuce, six bunches of head lettuce, and spearmint (in its own pot). We still need to plant the tomatoes, rosemary, jalapenos, habaneros, sweet peppers, and potatoes. I’m glad the homestead hubby pushed me to do it since I have lost the drive right now.

As we turned over the dirt in the garden beds, I kept stopping to take worms to the girls. They snatch them right out of my hands and scurry to a corner of the run to try and eat their prize in peace. They are just so funny to watch.

We really wish we could find out who reported us. We think the problem is ignorance about chickens. Perhaps they encountered chickens that weren’t clean or were near a place with many chickens that were very noisy (the more birds you have, the louder it is). I run a tight ship around here. Dirty chickens have been known to get baths and the brooder was cleaned every other day when they were inside. The coop is still cleaned almost daily now even though they are only in it to sleep. I don’t leave uneaten treats in the run, either.

We really believe that if the person who reported us came to see our girls and how clean and quiet they are, they would change their minds about chickens. As it stands, we will not get that opportunity. We only have a few more days to find a place for the girls. I try not to think about how hard it is going to be looking out the kitchen window every day and seeing an empty run (we are keeping the coop. My husband worked too hard to get rid of it).

13260007_1365595896800192_5364394236810748208_nIgnorance can be cured and that is why we are going to work to change the rules around here. With more and more people wanting to eat local and have more control over their food supply, we think we have a fighting chance. We don’t want a free-for-all kind of situation. There will need to be limits and regulations such as enclosed runs. That’s just common sense. I realize free-range is the buzzword of the year, but it’s not realistic in a suburban area nor is it safe.

Please keep those prayers coming. This is going to take a lot of time and energy and there are days I just don’t feel like I have it in me. Thankfully, I have the most incredible husband working beside me (and taking sneaky videos of me with my girls!) toward the same goal. He says it’s because he loves how this lifestyle makes me smile. That may be true, but considering he can build and fix nearly anything and likes to hunt, I think it’s a little more than that. I think he’s a little bit homesteader, too.

The Life I am Meant to Live

Over the last few weeks, the life I am meant to live has become more apparent to me. As some of you who have been following me for a while know, I went back to full-time work in November. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with the bills and no nearby teaching jobs were opening up, so I decided I had to bite the bullet and help my family. I thought to myself, “Alright! Now, we’ll have some money! We’ll be able to do things with our friends like go eat at that fancy restaurant they like and take vacations!” As of today, we have never made it to that restaurant or even talked about a vacation. Instead, our dinners out are at the Elgin Moose Lodge with some of the most amazing friends we have ever met. The food is awesome and the fellowship is even better. We might take that trip, though. On a bus. To Milwaukee. To watch the Cubs play the Brewers with our fellow Moose members.

When I went back to work, I thought our money problems would get better. We’d have so much extra cash to buy a new car and save for another since both of our cars are older than dirt. Then, we saw the monthly premiums for our health insurance; almost one whole check a month would be going to pay for that. I became a little disheartened. Okay, so I cried a little. I cannot lie.

It seems like every time I think we are going to get a little bit ahead, a big expense comes up. Car repairs. A tree falls on the house. A tooth starts to ache. A knee starts to hurt. Then, it occurred to me: I’m not meant to be monetarily wealthy. I sat and chewed on that for a minute, and you know what? I am okay with that and I will tell you why.

For most of my life, I have felt like I was being called to live differently. I loved reading and hearing stories about “the way things used to be”. My favorite book series as a child was the Little House books. It was also one of my favorite shows. Now, don’t get me wrong; I like my indoor plumbing and electricity and won’t be getting rid of it. Ever. What I do love is being connected to the land and being responsible for caring for my family. I love that my husband is able to fix things and build things with his own two hands. I love planting a garden, watching it grow, and then using that harvest to feed my loved ones.

I realize that a lot of people I love and respect disagree with how I live, and that’s okay. I’m not asking anyone to jump on this bandwagon because it is not for everyone. We all have our own path to walk (or row to hoe). Sometimes, I get a little sad when folks don’t (or won’t) understand. I get a little down when I feel looked down upon. Then, I remember: God has a plan for each of us, and our callings are not all the same. He has gifted us all with different spiritual gifts. Some of us are meant to be stewards of the land, some are meant to be teachers, some are meant to be healers, and so on. I know this is the life I am meant to live.

As I sit here typing, our baby White Leghorns are peeping away in the next room. We brought them home last night. The best way to describe the feeling of that car ride to pick them up and the ride home was sheer, unashamed joy. I had to let my husband drive or I would have been a maniac (I already was on the way home. I’d been dying since I got the call at 10am that the babies had arrived!) We were laughing at the headline I was picturing in my head “Woman dies in fiery crash on way to pick up chicks”. Since I made it home unscathed, I figured I wouldn’t tempt fate again and let him be the chauffer. He had me laughing so hard (“We should name them Parmesan, Fried, Nugget, and then if they die, that’s what they become for dinner.”) So inappropriate but so hysterical at the same time. I was so happy to be going to pick them up that I didn’t have a care in the world.

The drive home was the same. I held that box in my lap and listened to their little peeps for 30 minutes and was absolutely giddy. The dream I had held for so long had finally come true! We had our chicks! I didn’t even want to go to sleep last night because I was so fascinated with them. Yeah, I know. You all are thinking, “Silly First-timer.” It’s okay. You can judge me. My prayers have been answered, and I am content.

Now, back to the beginning. I’m not meant to be monetarily wealthy. I have so much more wealth than money could ever provide. I have the love of my husband, our family, and our small circle of friends. I have the love of my Savior. I have the love of my church family. I have a home with a little bit of land that I can grow food and keep a small flock of chickens on. I think you see a theme here: love, love, love. Oh yeah, and just enough money to make it all happen and keep this boat afloat. I could not ask for more. I know this is the life I am meant to live.

Big Changes are Coming

Big changes are coming to this wannabe homestead, and I’m not sure how I feel about them. One minute I feel excited; the next I feel like a failure. My husband insists the latter is absolutely false, but I’m still in the wallowing phase, so I’m not sure I agree.

I have an interview tomorrow with a staffing agency. After about five months of less-than-part-time work, I have to go back into the workforce. The tutoring job I was working for two years ended in May when the owners decided not to commit to the franchises requirements and had to close the center. Between that and the occasional jobs I was working with my husband, we were getting by. Now, with the loss of that $500/month and fewer and fewer hours with the other job, we find ourselves dipping into the savings account more to pay the bills much more often.

I have started substitute teaching again now that school is back in session, but it is not enjoyable for me. I’m just too old school and the new things being done are just too chaotic for my old brain to handle. I’m a big fan of desks and raising your hand and asking permission and showing respect. That is falling away in favor of teaching to tests. I know a lot of folks will disagree with me when I say that there was nothing wrong with the way I learned in school: sitting in a desk, paying attention (or facing the consequences), and not requiring constant entertainment to keep me engaged (some things were just boring but had to be learned). I thought I could get with the program but I just don’t know that I can. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I guess, which is sad because I truly believe education is vital to success in life.

So, with that said, I am going back into Corporate America for the sake of my family. It breaks my heart. To be perfectly honest, I’m terrified. I have worked in that environment for decades and it was the most soul-sucking experience of my life. I hated every second of it (except when I was running a machine in a film-processing plant). I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make this wannabe homestead work. I’m afraid I will be so drained and dried up at the end of every day. I’m afraid I won’t want to spend my weekends catching up on what didn’t get done all week long. I’m afraid that I will get sucked back into the land of processed food and boxed meals because I just won’t have time.

On the other hand, I am excited. It will be nice not to struggle so much. I look forward to being able to make better choices such as grass-fed beef and a share in a CSA. I look forward to taking my husband on a honeymoon. I look forward to taking trips with friends. I look forward to not having to worry as much if something happens to one of our cars. I look forward to having real health insurance and not the abysmal Obamacare policy we have now that costs a fortune for nothing.

I want this homestead to be successful even if I have to work full-time away from here. I want to continue to work on building that dream pantry lined with jars of food I canned myself. I want to work in the garden every spring and summer. I want to add chickens to our little homestead. I want my husband to have more time to pursue his work as a Realtor, something he has always wanted to do but had to put on the back burner to keep things afloat here. I know there are other folks out there who work outside the homestead and still keep up. I want to hear from you. How do you make it all happen? What are your tips and tricks?

How Dolly Parton Helped Me See How Far I Have Come

Let’s just get to the point: I hate conflict. HATE conflict. I avoid it like people avoid the plague. It makes me uncomfortable and is sometimes downright terrifying for me. I have spent most of my 39 years (did I really just say my age?) hiding from it. I hate it so much that I have been known to hide my beliefs and feelings in order to stop it. This all came to a head last night when I avoided a situation that could have led to conflict.

I mentioned the situation to a very close friend and her response was “WHAT???!” My husband did not want to deal with the situation either, but it fell more on me than him and I had to own up. My fear of conflict is something I am not proud of at all. In fact, I made a decision last night that it was the most important thing for me to work on right now.

I spent the rest of the evening beating myself up mentally. I called my mom this morning and had a long talk with her about it. I spent this morning until just a little bit ago while I was doing dishes and listening to Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again”. That used to be my theme song when it came to my son’s father. He would cheat and leave and I would always take him back. Every. Damned. Time.

Then, I got pregnant and something finally snapped. Somehow, some way, I got the courage to finally say enough. I remember the conversation clearly. He said to me, “It’s not that I don’t love you and not that I don’t want to be with you, but a baby isn’t what I need right now.” I replied, “Do you think a baby at 19 is what I need right now? It’s time for me to grow up and take responsibility for my half of the action. You do what you need to do. If you need to leave the state, fine. Just know that if you leave this time, there is no coming back. You can still be a part of this baby’s life but you will either be here or you won’t. You won’t be here one weekend and not the next.” He chose to not be here at all. That’s okay. It was the best decision he ever made. For all of us. He had nothing to offer our child at that point in time. As far as I have heard, he still doesn’t.

Several years later, I was working a job that was sucking the life out of me and taking a toll on my son. As we left my parents’ house so I could drop him at daycare and head to work, he said to MY mom, “Bye, Mommy.” Somehow, some way, I got the courage and walked out of my job that day. My job as a mother was more important and there were other jobs out there.

It will be six years in October since my Grammy passed away. Watching her battle Alzheimer’s Disease was just too much for me to bear. I avoided a lot of situations because she had become mean and violent and I couldn’t deal with seeing her that way. On October 25, 2009, somehow, some way I got the strength to stay beside her as she left this world for the next.

My now husband and I have faced many struggles in our 17+ years together. Because of my past experience in relationships, I cowered and kowtowed. I was afraid of rejection and losing what I thought was the family I so desperately wanted. One day, somehow, some way, I got the courage to stand up and say things couldn’t keep going the direction they were. We separated for a bit, worked on ourselves, got married and keep making that conscious decision to love each other and make our marriage work.

This coming January will be two years since Grampy had a stroke. My dad brought him down here from the boonies of northern Wisconsin to recover. Since I was not working, I went to their house during the day to be with him. We went to doctor appointments together and somehow, some way I found the strength to stand up for him and make sure he got the care he needed and deserved.

All of these things came flooding into my head as I listened to that Dolly Parton song. As I was busy telling myself how weak I am and how ashamed I should be, that song reminded me of just how strong I have become. I still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but I have already come so far.

I am not sharing this story with you looking for sympathy. I am sharing this story because I know I am not the only one who struggles with this. I know I’m not the only one who hears that voice that says “You’re weak. You should be ashamed of yourself. Look at all these other brave women who are so much stronger than you!” If one person feels better knowing that they are not alone, then sharing this part of me will be worth it.

I saw a meme on Facebook this morning that said, “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.” Yes, I most certainly am. Sometimes, it just takes a little Dolly Parton to remind me.


The Great Gravy Debacle or How to Make a GIANT Mess in the Kitchen

Sometimes on the homestead, we do things we know we shouldn’t and we pay the price. For example, I had thrown some chicken in the Crock Pot with some broth and was going to use the broth for gravy since I was making mashed potatoes to go with it (and green beans from the garden and homemade Italian bread).
I reserved 1/2 a cup of broth to use with 1/4 cup flour for thickening. I put the broth in the fridge to cool it a bit, so when I added the flour and shook it up, it didn’t explode all over. Well, I heard my husband pull in the driveway and I started rushing because traffic had been extra heavy resulting in a 2 hour commute and he was starving. Big mistake.
The broth was still too warm resulting in the feared explosion that hit me in the eye (good thing I wear glasses), my face, ears, hair, shirt, pots and pans hanging on the soffit, utensils in the mini-Lazy Susan, windows, walls, etc.
Homestead hubby walks in from the garage into the laundry room to hear me say, “You probably don’t want to come in here right now.” No one was hurt except maybe the wooden loon on the windowsill.
The evening continued on that way as I did the dishes. I kept splashing and spilling water all over the place. My shirt was soaked. The floor was soaked. I was flustered and decided to give up for a while and go outside and play in the garden again.
The hubby came out a short time later. I think he likes to laugh at me while I talk to the plants. Especially, when I see a teeny tiny pepper growing. It’s like talking to a baby. You have to use that high-pitched voice, “Oh my goodness, honey! Look at this baby! Isn’t it adorable? It’s so tiny!” He just nods and smiles. I’m sure he has the funny farm on speed dial “just in case”.
In spite of the gravy debacle, dinner was delicious. My husband was full and happy and fell asleep in his favorite chair watching yet another car restoration show. Life is messy but good on this wannabe homestead.

Fighting the Funk

It has been quite some time since I’ve written anything. Truthfully, I have been in a pretty big funk and everything in general has been a tremendous effort. For the past couple of weeks, it has been pretty bad resulting in me sleeping much more than I should, which is what I do to avoid the depression.

I have hesitated to write about this out of fear of judgment from other homesteaders. I play out the conversations they will have about me, “A REAL homesteader would not do that!” or “REAL homesteaders would never let that happen. They’d still get things done.” or “How can she even consider herself a homesteader? She doesn’t even have herself together. How does she expect to manage?” Then, I thought that maybe, just maybe, there were other homesteaders out there who have been where I am now and gotten through it. Maybe they will have advice or encouragement.

I look at my garden and cannot believe how much it still gives us  despite being so neglected. I go out there every day and pull weeds for a bit, but some days I just don’t have the energy to water like I should and it’s looking pretty dry. The pickling cucumbers suffered for it and that is no one’s fault but mine. The green beans are still popping out all over and the peppers are finally coming in. We are going to have so many cayenne peppers and I’m just thrilled.

The fact that my garden is so forgiving amazes me. Despite my neglect, it still provides food, which brings me so much joy. Every new blossom, every new pepper, tomato, bean, or onion lights up my soul and pushes the black clouds just a little farther away.

In my heart, I know I’m not the only one who has battled or continues to battle this. I’m learning how to fight harder. I’ve made some changes that are helping tremendously. I am learning to count my blessings a lot more and am amazed at how blessed I truly am. I have an amazing family that is so supportive and helpful and I have the most incredible friends who I love so very much.

The clouds are slowly but surely lifting. My joy is returning. My energy is replenishing. Life is blessed on this wannabe homestead!

Monday, You Poor Thing

As usual, social media is abuzz with anti-Monday memes. I used to be part of that Monday-Haters Club. It was just what one “did”. I mean, everyone hates Monday, so why shouldn’t I? After a series of losses, my beloved Grammy, my job, my husband’s job, I realized why I had to leave that club: it kept me in a rut.

Ask me what I would do for another day with my Grammy. I would live a lifetime of Mondays just to see her again. A lifetime of Mondays to be able to call her up and hear her answer the phone, “Andrist,” which was short for Andrist Masonry, the business she ran with Grampy. A lifetime of Mondays to kiss her cheek and tell her how much I love her.

While so many people hate Monday because it means a return to work, I am thankful for my off-the-homestead job which is far from steady. Some weeks I have no Monday. Just seven days of no work. No work = no paycheck. Now that school is starting, I will have work in my second year as a substitute teacher.

I know it has become socially acceptable to despise Monday, but we can change that. We can become grateful. Grateful for another day on earth. Grateful for another opportunity to say “I love you.” Grateful for another chance. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

So, Monday-Haters Club, again I decline membership. I’ve already renewed my membership in the Grateful for Every Day Club. You are more than welcome to join. It’s free.


Patience and Faith

It’s been a rough summer here on the wannabe homestead. We started with so much rain I thought we would float away. The ground was so saturated that a tree completely uprooted and fell on the house. We are still dealing with the insurance company to get it repaired.

The garden has been less than productive with the exception of the green beans. There have been so many blossoms on the cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes but they were falling off because they were rotten due to too much rain.

Then, yesterday I did my usual check and there it was! Do you see it? We have a cucumber! When I went to show my husband after he got home from work, we found another!

As I continued my rounds, here is what I found:

I was clapping my hands like a child! There are finally cayenne and Anaheim chili peppers! We have several more tomatoes! I was, and still am, giddy!

My friends laugh at me when I get like this. It’s hard for them to understand the sheer ecstasy I feel watching the garden grow from seed to food. That’s okay. This life is not for everyone.

As I get ready to head out to the garden for my morning rounds, I remember the importance of patience and faith.

A week ago, I was considering tearing it all out and turning it under. I was ready to accept the failure, but something in my heart told me to be patient and have faith. I was rewarded and am so thankful.

So, the next time you feel like giving up and accepting failure, be patient and have faith. You just might be surprised.

The Amish are on to Something

I just finished reading Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Woods Fisher. I have now read all of her non-fiction books on the Amish. I started off with Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World and I was hooked. I followed up with Amish Proverbs and finished with the above. Fascinated doesn’t even begin to describe what I feel.

I came away from this with a new-found respect and admiration for the Amish people. They are not the backward, technology-hating sect I once believed they were. They do not shun technology but are skeptical of it and rightfully so. The elders of a group will get together and evaluate the potential future impact of new technology and decide to ban it or allow it. They banned the automobile because they believed it would make it too easy to get far away from the community, which is the center of Amish life. The horse and buggy limits that distance. They banned the telephone within the home because they believed it would discourage face-to-face visits, another important aspect of Amish life. Looking at our society now, they were right on both decisions. The automobile has allowed people to spread out all over the country, separating families and friends by sometimes thousands of miles. The telephone has allowed us to “visit” without actually sitting across the table from one another. The internet has allowed us to sit behind keyboards and say things to each other without having to see the hurt our words may cause.

The Amish also stress the importance of community. They are always there to help at a moment’s notice. Whether it is for a birth, a death, a barn raising, or any other need, the Amish rally around their own (and sometimes even the “English” people nearby). This is because their community relationships are built on strong foundations of love,faith, and respect.

There is no room for competition among the Amish. There is no jealousy or backstabbing. If there are those feelings, they work to remove them. One example of this is a story related in Amish Peace where a community member wants to start a business and the elders inform him that instead of what he wanted to do, he should open a buggy-repair business because there was only one, which indicated a need for another. Because this man valued the needs of his community above his own, he complied. He knew nothing about buggy repair, so he went to the man who owned the only business. That man taught him everything he knew. Willingly and without hesitation. Would that happen in the “English” (non-Amish) world? I have to think not.

Another story in Amish Values for Your Family talks of a Trivial Pursuit game of men against women. There was no heckling. There was only compliments on correct answers to tough questions and encouragement. How often does that happen at your friendly game night? I can’t recall it ever happening here. Our game nights usually ended in hurt feelings and ugly words.

The Amish are also fully self-supporting. They take no government assistance, have no medical insurance, and no life insurance. They take care of their own and somehow manage to do just fine. They still visit doctors and hospitals when necessary, but pay for it out of pocket. Sometimes, communities will conduct fundraisers to help someone with medical bills. Through it all, they live simply and happily.

The Amish do not go to school past eighth grade yet they manage to run highly successful cottage industries. Their children are usually educated in one-room schoolhouses within their communities.

They also place a high value on unconditional forgiveness. Their ability to forgive is incredible. They will be the first to tell you that they are far from perfect at it, but it is something they work very hard on. How many of us could or would willingly and unconditionally forgive someone who caused us great harm? One a person publicly asks for forgiveness, usually at church, it is immediately given and the issue is never spoken of again. The person is restored to the place they were at prior to the sin or infraction.

The Amish are one of the fastest, if not the the fastest, growing communities in the United States. After Rumspringa, a term used to describe the period when sixteen to twenty-one year-olds are allowed to experience life outside of the Amish world, eighty-five to ninety percent of young people become baptized into the Amish church. That’s right. Only ten to fifteen percent do not join the church. No other religious group can claim such high numbers.

Their rates of depression are almost non-existent. Their divorce rate is essentially zero. What is about them? Is it their rock-solid faith? Is it their focus on living simply? Is it both? I would love to spend a day (or much longer) with them and try to figure it out. Whatever it is, they are clearly on to something.