Homesteading ain’t easy.

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Please don’t be mad that I’ve been slow to blog lately. I’m just trying to keep up!

(I do guarantee posts on Email Monday and Skincare Saturday, so check those out if my prolonged absences cause withdrawal* symptoms.)

*that is how you spell withdrawal. It’s not “withdrawl.” “Withdrawl” is how people talk in the South.

So here’s the deal: we went from a family of three living in a modest suburban neighborhood in New Jersey to a family of forty-one (2 people, 2 dogs, 2 goats and thirty-five birds) living on a 15 acre homestead in a 100-year-old house smack-dab in the middle of the US of A.

The intention: to become doomsday preppers grow some our own food, learn to take care of ourselves, and to go on a profound journey of self-discovery fit for blog fodder.

{…….crickets chirping…….}

{…more crickets chirping…}

So maybe this hasn’t been exactly as I’d expected. Looking back, I giggle at myself for what I thought this was going to be like. I chortle at the sense it made to me before we’d actually carried out any of our plans for a self-sustaining, self-sufficient, self-reliant homestead with milking goats and laying hens and vast high-yielding organic gardens and such.

My future self pats my past self on the head and says “that’s cute, Liz. You do that. And I’ll drive an hour and a half to Whole Foods to pick up those veggies you didn’t grow.”

It’s kind of therapeutic to be honest about the fact that my best-laid plans have been trampled under the well-trimmed hooves of reality.

Here’s some honesty: I’ve had moments of regret. I’ve cried. I’ve debated using ALL THE CHEMICALS instead of opting for more natural means of pest and weed control. I’ve accidentally stabbed myself with a double-sided grapefruit knife and screamed at my husband about it because OBVIOUSLY THAT WAS HIS FAULT! (Sounds unrelated, but it’s not.)

I definitely romanticized this whole deal. There are romantic moments, sure – the quiet sunsets and the sounds of frogs and crickets and cows (yes, I love cow sounds). But most moments involve sweat, dirt, non-beneficial insects, tick checks, stray dogs, contractors who “don’t come out that far,” and flooding basements.

(And most of those moments are dealt with not by me, but by my better half who is pulling far more than his own weight. Because I’m cowering in a corner with a fanny pack full of tick tape.)

But guess what? I am actually NOT complaining. I’m just being honest, and it feels really good to own those feelings and not judge myself for moments of fear or regret. I think they’re part of this process.

And all things considered, I do actually really, really love it here. I love the experience and the lessons I’ve already learned and the perspective I’ve gained and the way it’s shaken me up. This has given me what I never knew I needed.

I’m happy that I’m finally learning not to take things too seriously. Ever. Because the homestead has its own plans. Often involving torrential rainstorms, downed trees or broken barn doors. Not that these are party-fun-nature’s-Whoopee-Cushions, but surprisingly, you CAN have fun dealing with this stuff with the right attitude. And the right outfit.

JUST KIDDING. Kind of. #tickprotection

Someone once told me that before you get all put-out by some hassle or difficulty, just decide that whatever you’re dealing with is neither of those things. Rather, file things in your head under “adventure.” I think this was a parent-kid strategy meant to keep parents from teaching their kids to perceive stressors in a negative way – as in, your tire goes flat on I-70 halfway across Kansas and rather than acting all huffy, ya just say “well, this is an adventure!” Words lead, attitude follows.

Before this, I was a content adult. I probably would have stayed a content adult and not sought many new, different or uncomfortable experiences. I never would have carved out these new pathways in my brain. This has been a process of learning and – dare I say – growing up?

And I thought I’d done all my growing up already. Psh.

So here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Lesson 1: Patience.

Admittedly, in the planning stages, I thought the whole homestead would be up ‘n running in some capacity right away. Turns out, goats don’t just give milk and baby chicks don’t just lay eggs. Ticks and stray puppies don’t graciously vacate the premises once you’re ready to take over.  (In fact, both of them tend to end up in your house.)

Gardens don’t just grow, even when you order lots of germination stations off Amazon and a jillion heirloom seeds from RareSeeds and Happy Cat Organics.

HEirloomSeeds

I may have *slightly* over-bought.

Fields of weeds, however, do just grow, and unless you’re going to use the grim-reaper thingy you found in the barn next to the rusty manual push-mower to cut ‘em down, you’ve got to find somebody to come brush-hog the place. (More on that in lesson #2.)

So: we have 2 goats we can’t milk yet, 17 guinea keets that won’t be ready to eat ticks until this year’s tick season is over, and 18 chicks that won’t lay eggs for months. We have a massive span of dirt, thanks to a kind neighbor with a roto-tiller, where I was supposed to have planted my garden long ago.

And it’s all good in this homesteading hood. It’ll all get done in due time.

(I know, I should’ve done raised beds. But he was already here with the John Deere, so I had him do it.)

Lesson 2: COMMUNITY matters.

We are slightly isolated in our new home, but we are utterly dependent on our neighbors and our community. Sure, Google can get you answers to almost anything – but it actually can’t identify the exact weeds I have in my exact field in my exact region and whether those exact weeds are going to poison my goats.

Google can’t tell me who in this town can brush-hog 15 acres (because we don’t have a tractor, and didn’t realize we kinda needed one).

You know who CAN help us with all this? The folks down at the farm store, who know people who know people who will come spend their weekend helping you and telling you exactly what you need. Then they’ll invite you to the upcoming 4H event at their farm. Then they’ll invite you to watch them blow up a boat on the 4th of July. #awesome.

Yes, sometimes I can’t ask Google. I have to ask a real person. Often a real person I don’t know. Gulp.

In New Jersey, I was surrounded by people but often felt alone. I’d choose to not know rather than ask. Here, I’m surrounded by nobody and I feel like a whole community has my back. I’m no longer afraid to ask.

Lesson 3: Embrace the livestock-ification.

Here’s what part of our property looks like. It’s not trash. It’s a goat playground. And it’s only going to get bigger.

 

 

Lesson 4: If I really want to make this work, I’ve got to own that intention.

This means making some deliberate, realistic adjustments to my life. Did you know I have a “real job” that doesn’t involve blogging, podcasting, book writing, magazine-column-ing, or Skintervention-Guide-ing? Those things, I do because I want to. I’m incredibly grateful for the platform I have, and I do my best to express that.

But for a long time, I’ve tried to convince myself that I could answer every comment, email and request personally without falling behind on other things that are even more important – like my family and my home.

That means I’ve basically taken on several full-time jobs. I love them all, but realizing you haven’t spent much time cultivating the “home front” in years can be a little disheartening. I hate admitting it, but my family and home has gotten the “short end of the stick” for a good 3 years now.

While nobody’s asking me to be everything to everybody, I still get mired in thinking that’s what I’m supposed to do. From a health perspective, it hasn’t been good.

If I’m being honest with myself, old patterns aren’t sustainable for me now that we have this bouncing baby homestead. And there have been a few scary moments lately (separate from all this) that have taught me that our lives, our family, and this opportunity we’ve jumped in to are incredibly precious.

I can’t be healthy, happy, present with my family (much less start or expand a family, furry or otherwise), AND remain truly engaged with this homesteading “thing” unless I make some changes in my own life.

In short, homesteading is not meant to be a when-it’s-convenient-type hobby. It requires work, and it won’t work if it’s put on the back-burner when the interwebz come calling. I knew that, but now I really know that.

Maybe I need to get super-organized and things will feel more manageable. Maybe I need to be more definitive about how much digital work I’ll do in a day. Maybe I need to give up a few tasks so that I can accomplish others. I definitely need to be a little softer with myself. But it’s definitely time to make my own family and my own health a greater priority. While still making time to sleep, eat and cuddle (of course).

Okay, enough with the seriousness. If you made it this far, you get double high-fives. Thanks for being here, and for sticking with me! As always, I love to hear your advice in the comments. While I can’t always reply, please know that I read and value your input!

Comments

  1. Laura N says

    Liz,
    You sound exactly like me–it’s a little odd hearing your words because I can relate 100%. I always tell my husband (fellow AF man) that we would be great friends if we were stationed somewhere close. :) I hope that your adventures continue to teach you and test you in ways where you’ll grow. You guys will be able to look back on this and have fantastic stories someday. :)

    I recently quit a high pressure job because it was impacting my health, well-being and my marriage. Some things just are not worth it. I am extremely hard on myself and expected to do it all and well. It wasn’t happening. Well, on the outside it was, but internally I was stressing my body out to the point that I was completely drained.

    Our lives are way too short and we certainly cannot take any of it with us! Hugs to you,

    Laura

    I also never thought I’d “meet” someone as paranoid as ticks as I am–haha! ;)

  2. Melissa says

    Wow! I applaud you for being so honest. I have had some pipe dreams myself about buying a home out in the country where I could have my own garden and animals. But so far I cannot get myself to get a raised bed of any kind or maintain my yard. I have less than 1 acre. I am trying not to kill the tomato plant my co-worker gave me that she grew in her garden. She works really hard at her garden and has a ton of produce from it- in suburbia. I know you can get it together and manage it all. Just don’t stop, keep a schedule, write lists of what you need to do and get a big yearly wall calendar where you can map it all out. I know things are digital now but I like old school stuff I can see and visualize my plans.

  3. Sue Lee says

    Liz, I so enjoy your writing–especially this one! One step at a time and you’ll get where you want to be–don’t get discouraged. Your place sounds great and I’m also taking that from people who’ve been there recently!

    Sue

  4. Hope H says

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I REALLY needed to hear this today. While I’m not starting a homestead (it’s a dream and will remain a dream and I’m ok with that) I am embarking on a similar life-changing journey and have already gotten a few cracks in my rose-colored glasses…. Sooooo…. this was timely and much needed.

    Thanks and keep on keepin’ on… you’ll find your balance.

  5. says

    LIZ! I had a super duper girl-crush on you but now I think I love ya. I love your courage, your honesty, your intention & your commitment. You are literally living the dream. It may not be all sunshine & roses but who said it was supposed to be?! I love that you aren’t afraid to show the real side of starting your home stead & I can’t wait to follow your journey.
    Now, as to that field, what you need is sheer man power. What say next spring I load the kids in our pop up camper & help you get that garden ready?! HAHA. What’s 4 more city slicker kids running in circles around your goats? ;)
    Keep on keepin on.

  6. says

    Love the honesty… we are hoping to embark on our own little urban farming adventure soon and I laugh, knowing it will be nothing like my perceived notion of what I hope it to be. And I literally laughed out loud over the protective outfit! Having Lyme myself, I’m a bit paranoid too and feel like placing my children inside a big plastic bubble when I send them outside to play. I can just imagine the neighbors comments, “Look there are those Webber kids! They’re always covered in chicken poop and walk around in biohazard suits with tick keys on their belt loops.” Great post!

  7. says

    You’re awesome, Liz! So many people have huge dreams like this, and the fact that you’re acting on it and putting in the work to make it a reality is rare and impressive. Even though you might not be quite where you want to be yet, you’ve already made huge progress, and clearly you’ve learned a ton. I wish you luck in figuring out how to balance everything! I’m sure that’s the hardest part; too bad we need to sleep and stuff. Anyways, thank you for taking the time to update us on how everything is going, and I have no doubt you’ll get the hang of it soon :)

  8. says

    Yep I’m now K. Moo to you… because my last name is Muir and you live on a farm. Dude I can’t believe you have goats! And chickens! You are my hero Liz. Love everything about people that own their shit and you did this so well here. Miss you! I just had to artistically enhance my choice of words in this comment… you are in the south now :)

  9. Ren says

  10. Michelle says

    Liz, you are living my dream! Enjoy it and don’t worry about us in the cyber world, we can wait till you have time!

  11. says

    You go girl! You go Glen Coco! (I almost died when you used that in a podcast a while back). This was such a lovely post and I love how honest you were. I could almost imagine myself in your shoes and feeling so overwhelmed. You have so much to be proud of on this homestead of yours and I wish you all the best! Thanks for taking the time to share this with us!

  12. Milcia Lopez says

    Thanks for sharing your life experience with us Liz!
    I enjoy reading your posts because your writing is close at heart and I can relate to your experiences, your frustration, dreams, hopes, whishes, and REALITY! it all sound familiar to me.
    I had a dream of living were I grew up (Spain) so here I am, all alone in Spain going on 7 years now, my family is all in Texas so I really im all alone.
    I live in Madrid, far away from work, it takes me 4 hours a day to get to and from work using public transport, which is a lot of hours, thats 80 hours a month I could use to work on my vegetable garden, on taking better care of my chickens and my dog or the house and maybe getting that donkey and a couple of sheep I’ve been wanting, or just on doing things for me.
    I, on the other hand dont have the help and comforting support of a husband, and lets not talk about monetary situation, beeing all alone makes things hard, specially not having someone to talk to, someone to understand and stick with you. (I am the crazy chicken lady at the office and the weirdo with out t TV ;-) )
    I dont have time for me, and I do things half way better than I know I could, and I get very frustrated with the limitations I have and also not beeing able to just sit back and enjoy what I do have, which is what I have been wanting for a long time, but I would not change all of my chaos for an easier life, I like the country life, I know its hard specially beeing alone but I wont trade it.
    I too need to make choices, like moving closer, finding a husband with land, donkeys, sheep, cickens and vegetable garden :-) right…… .
    You are a begginer just like me, so this is a learning curve, in time you will have things down, know what to do, how to react, who to talk to, etc.. and all of this will just be something to look back at and see how far you have come.
    I always say that the simple life is the hardest life to achieve, because we are going against the “grain” (as in wood not food, I am Paleo too) :-) so like you said in your post “well, this is an adventure!” Words lead, attitude follows.” its an experience, enjoy the ride, you will have lots of stories to tell, and things to laugh at some day.
    And like you, when I was sorounded by people I felt alone, now I am alone (well my chickens and dog put up with me) and I feel at peace, I like beeing with me and my little creatures, now if I could just have all that in Tuscany!!! :-)
    So, make some choices and hang in there, it can only get better, you are extrimily lucky to have all that you have, even the problems that you have, because that means you have the things you have been wanting. There are so many of us that would love to have all of your problems right now, but you are luckier than us, so enjoy the ride and keep making us feel envious of your chaotic wonderful life.

    Cheers!
    ñ

  13. says

    YES. YES, YES, and YES: “In New Jersey, I was surrounded by people but often felt alone. I’d choose to not know rather than ask. Here, I’m surrounded by nobody and I feel like a whole community has my back. I’m no longer afraid to ask.”

    I worked on a very small organic farm in central Pennsylvania a few years ago and you have captured the country community bond PERFECTLY here. (And I grew up in NYC and now live just outside DC, so I’ve experienced both ends of that spectrum.)

    Another great thing about the country community? A little more trust in people. Many farmstands had cash boxes sitting out in the open — they worked on the honor system. You took the produce, dairy, or whatever, and left your money. (Counting out your own change if necessary.) Also: bartering! The woman I worked for dropped off the occasional packages of farm-raised meat to an Amish carpenter down the road, who let her take huge bags of wood chips & sawdust (his scraps, and essentially a waste product) for the hen & chicken houses.

    So much was done in trade/barter/borrowing with little to no strings attached, because everyone knew that things would even out in time. An extra bag of feed here, a couple pounds of tomatoes there, borrowing someone’s tractor…funny how “self reliance” still requires relying on others. :) (But in a different way than we’re used to thinking about it, of course. Especially in the city.)

  14. says

    Ummmm…..that rototiller looks surprisingly familiar, but the patch in our back yard is quite a bit bigger. But, only about 25% filled with all those good things to grow.

    Expectations and reality can be a big clash. Good for you for recognizing it. Let us know how it turns out. In the meantime, we’ll can a few veggies for you…!

  15. says

    Liz, if it makes you feel any better a few years ago I got a community garden plot in my neighborhood and thought, “sweet, I’m gonna grow all my own veggies! Easy, peasy!” It was 100 square feet of confusion and turmoil that I never got a handle on. LOL so you are doing just fine out there in the country. I highly recommend planting in rows and not scattering seed — which you probably already determined. I scattered seed in my lil tiny plot and then could NOT tell what was supposed to be there vs weeds. It was a nightmare. Then the local homeless population using my garden as their toilet did not help the situation. Not. At. All. I plan to try again when we buy a house and I did learn a lot. I learned it is actually very hard work to grow food and it takes time, patience, and diligence. Hang in there and it will get “easier”. Also, I have been implementing your skin care advice/protocols with so amazing results. Thank you for all your hard work and willingness to share you knowledge and allow us to glimpse your life.

  16. Kristin S says

    I loved reading this because I can relate so much! My husband and I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere too, but luckily we are surrounded by his extended family. However, the small community we live in is also filled with so many wonderful people who are so willing to reach out and help whenever! It renews my faith in humanity after a long day of working with college kids…

    I think one lesson it took me a long time to learn was that EVERYTHING takes longer than you think it will. Whether that is getting ready in the morning for work, renovating/building a house (like we did, which for the record is still not *technically* finished after five years of working on it….), or making that new recipe that says it only takes 30 minutes! Things take time, and in today’s instant gratification world with Google at our fingertips and always being connected, we forget that real things, good things, take time, effort, patience and sometimes tears to accomplish. Be patient with yourself, keep trying and learning because that’s the only way you’ll grow and become an even more awesome version of yourself :)

  17. says

    The goats look so cute but I know they are hard work! You’re doing great and I bet you will have a ton of stories to put in a book someday. It’s just a question of having the time to write it, isn’t it!

  18. Mandie says

    Liz,

    I grew up in one of those small farm towns. We lived in-town. While I was around people (less than 1000), it’s still very much country living. I’ve since lived in some larger towns, but never felt like I really knew anyone. In my home town, people still know who I am, or that I’m “Chuck’s daughter”. And I’ve been out of town for about 18 years now. There’s something to say about country and small town living.

    I admire your honesty regarding the homestead status. If you’re a Christian woman, pray about it. God will show you where you should focus and where you need to let the ball drop a little. If praying’s not your thing, then take some good quiet time and think about it. Write down what’s important to you, in order of importance. Starting from the top, make time for the most important things. When you run out of time, you stop moving down the list. Maybe some of those lower items become weekly instead of daily or monthly instead of weekly. Life’s all about changes and how well you roll with the punches. Enjoy your homestead and your new way of life. Do what feels right to you and what’s most important. Maybe ask someone to help you in some areas, if possible. (I know you talked about this recently on a podcast).

    Good luck with everything. I love hearing about your homestead – I’m living vicariously through you, since I live on a .25 acre plot in a cookie-cutter house subdivision. I can’t wait to get out into the country. For now, I’ll read your stories and imagine that I’m in your shoes. :D

  19. says

    My dog got sprayed by a skunk last night and seriously that is the WORST SMELL EVER. Love reading about your adventures and I sure hope this never happens to your pups!

  20. says

    Liz, I’m grateful that you’re sharing your journey to self-reliance! It doesn’t happen overnight, even if you have .10 of an acre :) I know that you’re life is um…really crazy right now. But since I am certified in designing homesteads, I will give you my strongest recommendation to take a permaculture design course (PDC), as soon as you can get to it. It’s not all hippies, I swear. It will forever impact your decision-making process on the homestead. Wishing you well on your journey!

  21. Jody says

    I LOVE what you are doing! It is a dream I doubt I will ever get to live. Thank you for writing about it so that I can at least read about it.

  22. Holly says

    Hey Liz! I have been enjoying catching up on old podcasts and blog posts! I love listening to you and Dianne! Thank you so much for all you do. I hope you’re enjoying the homestead so far. My husband and I are so looking forward to a homestead out in the country some day. For now we have settled for an urban farm with two labs, a Great Pyrenees (who is absolutely amazing if you’re still thinking of getting one), and 4 alpacas! I’d love to have chickens, but the alpacas ate all the grass, so I haven’t figured that one out yet:). I have a small garden that I’ve been tending, but have been getting attacked by squash bugs! My mom gave me an awesome recipe for deterring them that is all natural and uses the bigs themselves, puréed! Ha!! I’m still in the “gather 1/4c dead bugs” stage:).
    Anyway, your goats are very cute. My parents are wanting to get two milk goats. Are you liking them so far? I don’t know what part of KS you live in and I’m sure you have great resources, but I have loved talking with the breeder they get their milk from. She’s just outside of Paola (south of KC) and is so knowledgable! My mom and I have been practicing our milking skills at her farm:). I’d be happy to give you her contact info if you’re interested!
    Hope all is well!!

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