Wednesday, February 13, 2013


You know that awkward feeling when you pick up the phone to call a friend who you've meant to call about a dozen times but every time you do something gets in the way or you get distracted or you don't really feel much like talking anyway and so months and months pass but  you know that it's too important to put the phone call off yet again, and you really don't know what to say and however you start it sounds sheepish and self-deprecating and you really wish you could just pick up the phone and pretend like months and months haven't gone by, but you know you can’t and you really need to explain your absence even though you feel like a self-indulgent and self-absorbed tool for doing so? Well, this blog post is a bit like that. It's also a bit like an awkward, over-sharing confessional that I may regret a day, month or year from now. 

Deep breath, Fiona, and away we go...

In the relative downtime of winter, I try to spend time catching up on my accumulated piles of books. (Some women have a shoe fetish; for me, it's books.) The latest I'm reading is "Sufficient" by Tom Petherick (Pavilion, 2007). His basic premise is that it's time for us to become more responsible for our rampant levels of overconsumption and to change to a more self-reliant way of living. In his words, "It is a book about feeling satisfied with what we have -- in short, 'sufficient.'"

His idea of sufficiency speaks to me on many levels. What drove us to the farm in the first place was a need to find a simpler way of living. It was about scaling back, making do with less, growing our own food and reconnecting with the things that matter -- family, good wholesome edibles, and the wondrous earth that supports us and all living things.

While we knew this kind of living wouldn't actually be easier, this life off-the-beaten-path was the only one that made sense to me. Having grown up in Toronto and spent seven years in suburbia, I knew that I needed to get away from the corporate ladder and from the 'keeping up with the Joneses' mentality that elevated compulsive shopping to a form of therapy, or worse, recreation. I was tired of the noise, the traffic, the stuff, the concrete and the disconnect between us (as in our society) and the natural world.

I wanted desperately to move to the farm, to raise kids, grow food and write about it (among other things). Simple, right? Yes, but not easy. The first six months on the farm was blissful, filled with long walks in the woods, trials in the garden and the deliciousness of fresh air and silent nights (except during cicada and spring peeper season - it's noisy then!). 

But then I let my bliss get the better of me and I started bringing critters home to the farm. In quick succession we went from a family a four plus a dog, to a family of four plus a dog, two cats, 12 chickens, six ducks, three goats, two donkeys and a geriatric horse. We went from simply living on the farm to a complex life juggling a tribe of creatures with differing needs, all while figuring out how to get us through the winter without running out of wood, running out of patience, or most crucially, running out of money.

Job-wise, I was able to make the move to the farm fairly smoothly in that as a freelance writer and editor I was able to take my work with me. But Lucas had to largely start from scratch in the summer of 2008 when the recession hit hard and he lost a long-term contract that he was relying on to get us established in our new home and community. To say it was tough is a gross and laughable understatement. Looking back, it was foolhardy and hugely irresponsible to rush into getting so many animals (and those of you who have been following the blog since the beginning most likely saw that), but I was impatient to be living the dream. Now. (I even knew fairly early on that it was foolish and foolhardy but I resisted "fixing" my mistakes because that would have been an admission of failure. Yes, seriously.)

But we continued to struggle along, dealing with frozen barn pipes, predator problems, depreciating savings and an overwhelming sense of "I have no idea what I'm doing." Eventually Lucas got a two-year contract (now ended) and I cobbled together enough contracts to make a living wage, including a job that gave me a steady paycheque but left me feeling depressed, short-tempered and miserable. But by this point, Lucas was spending 60 hours a week away from the farm and I was spending more time in front of the computer than out in the fields. Slowly the dream was crumbling, bit-by-bit -- or so it felt (keeping in mind I have a shocking affinity for the dramatic).

Tensions at home started to rise because I didn't feel like I had enough help and Lucas felt like he was drowning in responsibility while trying to follow his own dreams that didn't involve shovelling poop or digging in the dirt. The simple life was anything but simple and the bliss that permeated the first year was, by year three, intermittent at best. This isn't to say that it was all terrible -- I fell head over heels in love with beekeeping, discovered the aliveness and gorgeous taste of fresh homegrown veggies and fruits, and reaffirmed my love of working with animals, both feathered and furred. I rediscovered knitting, found peace and solace in long wandering walks in the woods, and unearthed a passion for kitchen and traditional remedies, as well as cooking real food with real ingredients. Jack and Ella had blossomed into happy country kids and we truly felt that we were raising them in the best possible place.

But the stress brought on by shortcomings in what I thought I should be doing and what I actually had the capacity for doing kept growing. Lucas wasn't interested in farming, and the kids, who I'd envisioned helping me in the barn and the garden, simply were busy doing other things. There was my dream, my lonely reality, and a huge chasm in between filled with unfinished projects and a never-ending to do list. I felt betrayed, let down, bitter and above all, deeply sad.

But then last summer I went away on a solo camping trip for a week. I brought with me only some essentials -- a tent and sleeping bag, a small one-burner stove with some simple foods, a few changes of clothes, my hiking boots, my camera, some reading books and my journal. I spent the week hiking, reading, writing and thinking. It was sufficient, it was enough, and I was happy. During this time I realized how much my decisions had placed unnecessary strain on my family and yet rather than assume responsibility for that, all of which were mine, I was blaming everyone else for my missed expectations and unhappiness.

The farm or my family hadn't let me down -- I'd given up on it and on me. It was a realization that was both liberating and crushing -- so many people would give anything to be where I am, and yet here I was moaning about how things weren’t working out as planned. I felt humiliated and humbled. It was during this time that I disappeared from the blog, turned inward and tried to rekindle my sense of direction, without expectation of what things should look like. Writing can be like turning a magnifying class on yourself, warts and all, and I needed some time to rebuild my confidence. What's more, I needed a break from comparing myself to everyone else.  

But I've been re-visioning the farm and my place in it. I've also quit a job that has left a hole in my bank account but some space for this new dream to grow (which I'll be writing about over the coming months).

While the farm is still blanketed in snow and my plans are still largely on paper, I admit to running the risk of ramping up the complexity of my days (it's about reaching for a dream without falling over the precipice's edge). The difference now is that I don't have expectations that Lucas (or the kids) will be walking this path beside me. While they're 100% supportive of my dreams (and they appreciate the benefits they receive), this farming gig is mine alone. (I don't say that with any sense of self-pity either; not anymore, at least. This is meant as a declaration, not a resolution.)

I've always struggled with my own perception of being enough, and I often label myself as falling short. I let these insecurities fuel the fear of failure that's inherent when stepping outside one's comfort zone to reach towards a dream. I've written about this before (at times that often correspond with these lengthy blog absences). But I'm so very tired of that sad story. While it's damn hard to work, run a farm, keep a homestead and raise children, it's harder on my heart to not. In the year that I turn 40, isn't it time for me to finally feel satisfied not only with what I have (which is easy), but what I am, warts and all?

As Petherick writes, "This then presents an opportunity to look how we can become more self-reliant, particularly on the home-production front. There is little point in lingering on how badly wrong things have gone -- the question is what can we do to effect change for ourselves and the community around us… We are at the beginning of an exciting time when our true worth will come to the fore."

This year I'm looking forward to moving back to my simpler living roots, reaching for the stars and for being gentler with myself when I inevitably fall short. Besides, life's too short to take everything so bloody seriously.


Mama Pea said...

So, so good to see a post from you, Fiona! Kinda sounds like you've climbed over a big hurdle. I'm very eager to hear more of this new road you're starting to travel. said...

Thanks for hanging in, Mama Pea, and for your note. :)

Chicken Mama said...

Well! First off, THANK YOU for returning! You *know* we've missed you. (Right?!!!!) And, on a more personal level, I'VE missed you and our FB chats. But, DON'T take that on as more guilt! Believe me, *I* understand the times when it seems that giving precious time and attention to friends feels like it will be exhausting rather than what it ends up being: releasing and exhilarating. So, on that note, I will patiently wait until you're ready.

As far as what you've written about, it could have been *my* life. Except described much more eloquently. As you know, I am trying to find a New Normal following the loss of my homestead dream. So, in many ways, your post left me with more questions than answers (though those are YOURS to share IF and WHEN you're ready): what changes are you going to make in the farm/homestead? Or, are you going to continue with the physical norm but focus more on your personal / mental / emotional reactions in regard to how you handle the Daily Stresses? (And maybe this will come out in further posts.)

Bottom line, I want to walk alongside you as you continue your journey, and I LOOK FORWARD to hearing about everything you choose to share.

I think brutally honest posts like this are a balm two-fold: for the writer in "getting it out" and for us who find ourselves with such similar thoughts and paths we're walking down . . . to realize that it's OKAY that it not be sunny and roses the whole way. AND that it's okay to acknowledge that.

Loving you so much. :) said...

Chicken Mama -- wow... you're so awesome. You're an amazing lady yourself, so to receive such kind words, well... I'm just bowled over. Thank you so very much for your love and support. I'm going to write you an email (and we'll have to schedule a FB chat SOON!) but in the meantime I'll keep up with this blog/life sharing thing (good and bad) because well, that's how I roll! Talk soon! xo

Erin said...

I'm so glad you're back! I think there are more people than you know that are probably appreciative of this post and are comforted knowing that there are others who struggle with the move to a life that is seen as "so simple" but in reality is not. I watched my parents go through a similar situation way back when I was a kid and they left a life of military & government contracting in the city and swapped it for a return to MN and small scale farming. While I had great memories as a kid, I see it with adult eyes now and know that all the hard work was a bit more than they could handle at the time. I hope your new journey and direction gives you a new hope for your dream and hope you share it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Fiona. So often we gloss over the reality as we blog about our little world. Love those chickens, aren't they pretty? But there's chicken poop and flies and stinky sheds and feed costs and predation losses. Love that garden, isn't it great? But there's bugs and unsupervised chickens and too much rain or not enough rain and too much sun or not enough sun. Love that homestead, but is it your families dream or just yours? Everybody has their own dream and we just have to make peace with the part we expect others to play in ours. Glad you've come to that place and look forward to catching up with what I've missed since your return to blogging.

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