MESSY MONDAYS.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post called “The Case for the Imperfect Homestead” in which I talked about how it is to look through the photos of certain books, or magazines, or websites and not feel inadequate as a farmer––to feel like your farm is hideous by comparison. Well, as one of our astute readers pointed out in the comments of that post: these farms I label as perfect are themselves imperfect––they, like us, just do not share the photos proving it. Touché––it’s not like we share the mess either, the dirt, the unfinished projects, or the five-gallon buckets that pepper our yard like lawn ornaments. To know our farm through our blog, is to see a very curated version of our lives. In turn, we may create the same feeling of inadequacy in our readers that those other farms do in us. Which is the opposite of our goals with this blog.

So with respect to that, we’ve decided to occasionally start sharing photos we wouldn’t normally share––photos that will show the world we are perfectly human––photos “without makeup” so to speak. We want people to come here and be inspired. And if nothing else, we want people to come here and see that sometimes it’s okay to be an utterly mediocre homesteader. So here’s to Messy Mondays, where we’ll give you the picture we would normally show, and then the unedited version.

So here’s a picture of the cabin:

cabin.And here’s the reality:

cabin.

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TWO YEARS IN.

Good grief, has it really been that long? If you would have told me two years ago that we’d still be without electricity or running water going into 2015, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. And yet, here were are. But you know what? It’s not really that bad. In fact, at this point, it seems pretty, well, normal.

Water. We’re going to solve the water situation by the end of the year, by God. Hopefully by summer. Although it’s not the worst chore, hauling all of our water every week is definitely a burden in the busy season. Electricity, though. Hm. I guess we could use it, but for almost half the year we spend the majority of our time outside and literally don’t need it. We’re so tired by the time the sun goes down that we just go right to bed anyway, and wake up when the sun returns. With enough electricity coming from our cars and new solar charger (thanks, Toni-Ann!) to charge our devices, I barely think about getting electricity in the house. In fact, our mentors went ten years without electricity in their cabin––we’ve got nothing to complain about there.

If I’ve learned anything in these last couple years of living like this, though, it’s that you can live with a lot less than you think you can, and live a good life. You can still keep your blog. You can still stay clean. You can still be happy. Very. What changes is how you look at the world. You hear that the average american uses 100 gallons of water a day, and you think “on what?!” You hear someone use the term “Without electricity or running water” as an euphemism for impoverishment and, though it can definitely represent that, you know it’s no barometer for wealth. We live without these things and we hardly feel poor. Honestly, it’s empowering. It’s freedom. You learn to live off the land. You learn to waste less and wear sweaters in the house to conserve firewood. I delight in the fact that living with little has forced me to live my life around nature––sunlight, seasons and weather––instead of, I guess, around myself. And that feels great.

So yes, two years in and we still have no electricity or running water. But more importantly, two years in and we’re still perfectly happy. Sure we bathe in a creek. We read by candlelight. We drink water from the earth. We poop in a bucket. But you know, if it never changed I don’t know if we’d notice. If the world around us suddenly disappeared, Hannah and I wouldn’t have any immediate idea. We might wonder where our NPR went, but other than that, we’d just get up and go to work, happy as always.

- Jesse.

nighttime.

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HOW FARMING PREPARED ME FOR PARENTHOOD SO FAR.

bottle piglet.Five or ten years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to catch my own baby. Or cut the umbilical chord. Or comfortably watch my wife labor for three days. Maybe, but I used to be squeamish. Who isn’t when it comes to birth? Our culture pounds it into us that birth is messy and gross (when in fact it is messy and incredible), so what boy who goes through the school system I went through––through the movies and television shows––wouldn’t be intimidated?

But since moving to Bugtussle, I’ve helped with births, in cows and sheep and cats. I’ve dealt with blood. I’ve grown confidence in the way we were built––that Hannah was built to have a baby, and I was built with hands to catch it.

And then came the first weeks of life.

Farming is about as full time of a job as they come. It’s early in the morning until late at night and sometimes, when a chicken’s attacked, when a rogue storm comes through and threatens to destroy your young transplants, or when your neighbor offers you a few bottle pigs, it’s the middle of the night, too.

The farmer can guide the farm one way or another, but ultimately the farmer’s job is to react to the farm’s moods. Because every day is dictated by the farm, not the farmer. It’s a job of patience, and hard work and delayed pleasure.

And this is all part of why I feel this transition into parenthood has been relatively smooth so far. Of course, our baby isn’t crawling yet. Or talking. It looks around a little which, so far as I can tell, is pretty harmless. But the actual activity of taking care of this new, wonderful creature has seemed––well, in a word––normal.

We’re used to taking care of things, making sure they are fed and well-sheltered. We’re used to long days and a lack of sleep. Our strength helps us to rock him for hours. And we’re definitely used to longterm projects that take weeks and sometimes years to develop––to become self-sustaining. Of course, we’re in for things no farm, no life, can prepare us for––disciplining, schooling, dating––but I still feel we’ll be able to draw on our education as farmers to make the best decisions as parents. Because what is a farmer really, if not a parent to one giant, constantly moving baby, full of energy and bursting with potential?

- Jesse.

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A CASE FOR THE IMPERFECT HOMESTEAD.

chicken.

Comparison is the thief of joy. This is a phrase Hannah once told me that I’ve always loved. Nothing makes me feel like more of a failure than scanning permaculture books like “The Resilient Farm and Homestead,” or “Gaia’s Garden” and thinking, “Man, our farm looks nothing like these.” I know they’re well-established homesteads which have had lots of helpers over the years, but still. Hannah and I are doing our best to have a beautiful farm but farming always seems to get in the way.

We long for a beautiful farmstead, but beauty is just not always all that practical. A beautiful farm takes a lot of work, and we’ve got a lot of that going on already. We work full time and that work sustains us, but little more.

The thing I have to keep in mind, however, is that our farm––in conjunction with our neighbor’s farm––is paying the bills. And that is a beautiful thing in and of itself, but also where the majority of our time goes. So unfortunately our aesthetics often get pushed aside. But if that means our homestead is perfectly functional, so be it. So be proud of it. Even if you don’t get a hundred cans of tomatoes put up. Even when you fail to make your kimchi. Even when the turkeys eat your winter garden, but you still have plenty to eat and are surviving––or could easily survive––entirely off of the farm, that’s something to be proud of. That’s something you should consider successful, even if it looks insane.

In fact I almost prefer it this way––the slow way. Sure, we could take out an equity loan and pump up our farm, build the cellar and barns we need, maybe even get some solar electricity to them. But the way we are going about it now–-slowly––allows the farm to adapt. It makes every new accomplishment that much more ours. We earned it. We built it. We did it ourselves. And when it is finally beautiful––which, by God it will be one day––and perennial plants abound, and the farm takes care of itself, and we have everything we need, we’ll probably still be dissatisfied. We’ll look at the current books and think, “Man, our farm looks nothing like these.” So, really, what’s the rush?

- Jesse.

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NO NEED TO WORRY.

firewood.

Several years back, when I still lived in New York City, I got deathly sick. I was often sick in New York, but that winter I’m pretty sure I caught pneumonia (or something frighteningly similar). And it just so happened to occur during one of the many religious holidays where our landlords would take off work, thus getting ahold of someone––should something go wrong––became utterly impossible. Respectfully.

Then something went wrong. The heat went out in our building while the temperatures dropped into the low twenties for days on end. And I remember feeling incredibly hopeless. I didn’t have health insurance so I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, and no one in the building could get ahold of the landlords or the super. I have never felt so miserable or so close to death. I spent that weekend huddled around a cheap space heater, under a stack of blankets, coughing and probably crying a little.

It was frightening to me how out of my control this situation was. The heat of the building was entirely in someone else’s hands––as was the water and electricity––and if you happened to have pneumonia during a cold holiday when the heat went out, tough luck. With that being said, I cannot tell you how comfortable I feel right now. It’s verging on single digit temperatures outside, and I couldn’t be more confident.

We have nothing but control over the heat in our house. We are safe, the firewood’s not going to run out, and fire itself is not going to suddenly go on vacation. I recall this weekend in New York as a turning point for me––a moment in which I decided enough was enough. I no longer wanted to live at the whim of other people, of old heaters in old buildings, of old city grids in old cities. I wanted a cabin in the woods with a wood stove. I wanted control.

And six years later, that’s what I have. I have safety and comfort and consistency and peace of mind. I have a wife and baby who can sleep well knowing they too are safe, that the heat is not going to go out on us. Moreover, as a bonus, because of this life we live I rarely get anywhere near that sick anymore. My health is something else I’m much more in control of these days. So if you ever wondering how we’re doing during these brutally cold days of winter? Don’t worry, we couldn’t be better.

- Jesse.

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