Why would anyone ever choose to live this way?
Yes, someone has actually asked this question. Yes, it was meant to be insulting, and yes, it stung. Yes, I let my inner bitch off her leash when I replied, ‘Look, buddy. Just because you can’t hack it, doesn’t mean we can’t.’ I bit back before I could stop myself, and I’m not proud of it, but I’m human and that was my knee jerk reaction.
Fortunately, most people who have asked us ‘why’ are genuinely curious about why we decided to sell our home in town and move out here. What events lead us to ultimately start an entirely new kind of life? If you’re one of those people, this post is for you.The short version is this: Dave has always been drawn to the rural life, and being the obedient wife that I am, I packed up my aprons and my vacuum and skipped on out to the country.
Pssh! You all know that’s not how it went down. The reality is that Dave nagged me about it for years, and–in the spirit of honesty–some days it made me want to smack him upside the head with a leather slipper.
Over time, I started to change my tune. Instead of feeling like I was being told what my inevitable fate would be, I started to really hear what my husband was asking for and it opened my heart to new possibilities. To be fair, after being together for that long, chances are he’d finally figured out how to play me like a fiddle, and, if my theory is correct, the joke’s on him because now he can’t keep up with all of my farmy antics and he will never rid of me of my birds! Never! (On a completely unrelated note: Do you think nursing homes would allow support chickens?)
“Alberta’s 2015 recession absolutely played a huge part in our decision to sell our house in town in the first place.”
Alberta’s 2015 recession absolutely played a huge part in our decision to sell our house in town in the first place, though we didn’t know where we would end up. When the recession hit, the patch damn near ground to a halt–and that meant Dave, our family’s sole breadwinner, wasn’t working. Our family essentially had to survive off of what little savings we had, and our savings would only stretch so far and last so long. The looming mortgage and bill payments caused us to lose sleep, to argue, and to face the fact that we needed to make changes–and fast.
It became apparent that things wouldn’t get better any time soon. On the contrary, things would get harder. Not knowing if we would be able to make our next mortgage payment was terrifying, so we decided to list our house in order to downsize payments and salvage our credit. Still, we knew that it could take months to sell, and there was a very real possibility that we could lose the house, or our truck, or both.
Cable television was the first casualty in the process of downsizing. First we ditched our HBO and movie channel subscription, then we reduced our other channel bundles, then we cancelled cable all together.
Next, we started to sell things. Our old motor home sold quickly. People jumped all over furniture, books, toys, movies, and decor. I sold as many of my handmade hair accessories and supplies as I could in a short period of time. (At only a few dollars per piece, it wasn’t much, but every cent counted.)
Meanwhile, we worked our asses off to pack up all of our things, stage the house to perfection, and make every showing request happen. We repainted the walls in half of the house. We extended our flower bed in front our house and added a fresh new border, and we fixed the things that needed to be fixed. We were getting two to three showings per week, but not one single offer.
The day Dave had to sell his motorcycle–something he had been dreaming of and had spent a good chunk of his life working towards–was a brutal one. Dave was completely crushed and the rest of us were heartbroken for him. If I had anything of any real value to sell in its place, I would have. Anything. (Kidney, anyone?)
At this point, I have to backtrack a bit to explain the second thing that lead us down this path. When we cancelled cable we decided to ‘spring’ for a Netflix subscription because, let’s be honest, cold turkey ain’t easy. Another thing that’s not easy is for Dave and I to agree on a movie, so in between house stuff we’d begun to watch a crap-ton of documentaries about self sufficiency and the food industry–and because we were already in fight-or-flight mode, it all sounded really, really good.
Eventually we ran out of Netflix documentaries, so we started to watch Youtube videos about homesteading and getting back to basics. How to raise chickens. How to preserve. How to grow a lot of food in a little space. How to do this, how to do that. You get the idea.
The weight of it all was like chains around our shoulders pulling us down. Everything seemed louder–the buzzing of the traffic, the trill of a car being locked, the laughter of neighbours running in to each other on their walks. The parent shaming going on in local Facebook groups was fucking deafening. We were smack dab in the middle of town…living on a postage stamp sized lot…surrounded by people–and yet, I felt deeply disconnected.
It went on that way for months. We worked on our house and researched homesteading while the money in our savings account quickly dwindled, and with it went whatever hope we had left. It felt like our entire world was about to crumble down around us. It was then that our realtor slapped a beautiful ‘SOLD’ sticker over the ‘for sale’ sign on our front lawn.
‘Relieved’ doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt at that point. I can tell you that through that entire stressful process we decided we never wanted to feel that out of control again. And, so it began.
The last walk through our home was hard. Double checking windows, flicking off lights, –it was all emotional. Around every corner was another memory, another milestone. We welcomed Kenzii back in to our lives there. Braden had essentially spent his entire childhood up to that point in that house. We welcomed both of our dogs, hosted dozens of holiday dinners with friends and family, and shared countless hugs and laughs in that house. But, when we closed and locked the door for the last time, we decidedly made our peace and embraced our new adventure with open arms!
The first leg of our homesteading journey (and the third thing that led us to our off grid life), was a move to a cute little one acre rental just outside of a tiny village in southern Alberta. It felt like the perfect way to get a taste of country life because we were outside of town but not ‘too’ outside of town, if that makes sense? To clarify, we were under an hour to groceries, gas, and other amenities, but yet we weren’t so secluded that we felt completely alone. The house next to ours was so close that I could have hit it with a rock. (I didn’t, by the way!)
In the beginning, living on that quaint little property was nothing short of dreamy. We all felt the stress dissipate, which I can only chalk up to feeling incredibly freeing. We felt like we could breathe again, and, let’s face it, country air is so much sweeter! This wasn’t just a home, this was our ‘homestead’–a word that was new to our vocabulary at the time.
And, so it began. We worked tirelessly to unpack and clean up the property. We sanitized and set up a brooder within the coop that already stood on the property, and at the end of July, sixteen chicks meant for eggs and eleven freezer-bound-poults arrived via Canada Post. (Let me be perfectly clear: Prior to this, I was never someone who gushed over fluffy chicks or dreamed of having a menagerie of feathered friends. Birds–specifically the talons, flappy wings, and clacky beaks that inevitably come with them–instilled a terror in me that can’t quite be put in to words. I still do my best to avoid geese and swans.) Unpacking those sweet little peepers ignited my maternal instincts, however, and fear was replaced with the need to keep those babies alive.
I can’t even tell you how many hours we spent in that coop, observing and loving on our new babies. We ignored the teeny piles of poop and sat on the brooder floor with the chicks, allowing them to climb all over us. We gushed with pride when they learned to perch and sprouted adorable little tail buds, and we showed our young flock off to anyone who would humor us.
Part of the learning process was discovering turkeys really are as dumb as a box of nails. We rescued the poults from the corners of their brooder and from inside their food dish repeatedly! At one point, Kaytie and I saved the life of a poult who decided it would be a great idea to try to eat pine shavings and started to choke. In that moment I was thankful for the internet and tweezers.
Amidst the hullabaloo of learning to care for poultry, we had to learn to plan ahead. The grocery store was a 45 minute drive away, so I had to learn to meal plan. I had to learn to make shopping lists. The gas station was a fair drive away, so I had to learn to watch my fuel gauge. At the same time I was ticking things off a list of things I wanted to learn: Making pie from scratch, using power tools, gardening, and making bread, to name a few.
“I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to be a homesteader at that point.”
I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was meant to be a homesteader at that point, but things didn’t come as easily on the social front. I hadn’t been in the market for new friendships in a long time, so it came as no shock when people weren’t lining up to be friends with me. I figured it would take time to adjust, however, after a few months, it started to bother me. I noticed that my smiles and waves were not returned. The only people who ever asked me to hang out were, like me, not from there–and those people would come and go to their cabin a night or a weekend at a time, with no rhyme or reason as to when that would be. Because of that, there were never any short term plans to look forward to. With Dave working away, the kids and I spent most of our summer together, just the four of us.
In September, I landed my first part time job since becoming a mother–an Educational Assistant at the ‘barely-a-school‘ that my kids would attend. I still hadn’t made any real connections with anyone at that point, but it never crossed my mind that the kids would have the same problem I was having making new friends once school started.
It was probably Braden who transitioned in to the new school the fastest, but I saw Alex in the halls with a couple boys from his class, too. Kaytie was a different story.
“Even being in the same halls during the day and under the same roof at night, I had no idea that my daughter was being ruthlessly bullied.”
Even being in the same halls during the day and under the same roof at night, I had no idea that my daughter–the Rory to my Lorelei–was being ruthlessly bullied by her new peers. I literally walked the same halls as Kaytie a couple days per week and I never saw it. When I say ‘bullied’, I mean kids called her names, belittled her, shoved her out of the classroom and locked the door, shoved her in to lockers and locked the door, etc. If the teachers knew anything about it, they didn’t tell us, and like some of the other victims of bullying…Kaytie didn’t say anything either. What we thought was her age, hormones, and moving to a new place…was actually the beginning of a silent depression.
She broke down one night and cried her little heart out on the bathroom floor while I listened to her plead with me to please move our family anywhere else. She said she wasn’t happy and that she didn’t have friends. She told me she missed her old friends and her old life. I listened with an understanding ear, and because I was still in the dark about the bullying, I offered her advice on how to make new friends (like the oblivious asshole I unknowingly was.)
Life continued on as normal with work, school, chores, and homesteading projects. We tried to make friendly small talk with people from the village while we waited in line at the grocery store together but all we got in return were halfhearted replies. By December of 2016, many people didn’t even offer a ‘hello’ in response, or even wave back in passing. It occurs to me now that bullying is not limited to children. Adults are capable of bullying and being bullied, too.
I don’t how it came up or who brought it up in the first place, but we started to openly voice how miserable we all were in our current situation. We loved our little homestead and the dreams it once represented, but everything outside of that property had increasingly become more and more of a fucking nightmare. By the time we started looking for another property to move to, it felt like the fences around our property were closing in on us.
In the middle of January, Dave sent me a Kijiji listing for an off grid property that he’d stumbled upon. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I clicked on the photos of the century-old fixer upper in the ad! French doors, dormer windows, peaked ceiling, original hardwood, big bright windows? Yes, please! All of those things were on the wish list in my heart. It had the wood stove and animal pens Dave longed for, too, but best of all it was back in Central Alberta and we’d talked for hours about how much fun it would be to renovate an old home.
I replied to the ad with a list of questions just as I’d do with any other listing I was interested in on Kijiji and before we knew it, we’d lined up a viewing of the house for a weekend when Dave would be home towards the end of January. The owner of the home–we’ll call her Mrs. B–graciously invited us to bring our dogs and spend the entire weekend at the house as a test run and even made us crepes from scratch for supper one night. I can’t tell you how sweet it was to sit by a toasty fire and listen to stories of the old house while we munched on crepes topped with hand whipped whipping cream and handmade strawberry syrup. To this day, we still enjoy this same nostalgic meal on snowy winter nights and it takes us right back to that weekend when it all began.
When the weekend was over, Mrs. B told us to think everything over. The feeling of dread quickly returned as we pulled out of the driveway and headed back south. For the next week the possibility of the move dominated all of our conversations. The kids had made up their mind that they wanted to live there before the weekend was even half over, but there were a lot of factors for Dave and I to discuss.
Could we really handle living off grid? Was four acres too much? Too little? What about not having a coop for our flock? Could we afford it? Did we really want to renovate an entire house and landscape an entire property?
The biggest question was whether or not we could handle living off grid. In the end, we decided the only way we would ever really know for sure would be to jump in and try it, so in early February a new whirlwind began. We told the kids we were moving (which resulted in a waterfall of happy tears from Kaytie), signed papers for the house, and started packing up all the things we’d only just finished unpacking fully. By the last week of March we’d finished moving. Knowing we would never have to go back there was an indescribable feeling.
This isn’t meant to be a sob story. It sucked while we were smack dab in the middle of it all, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. The path on the journey to where we are now might seem like it was mostly uphill and full of bumps. Sometimes the view was truly bleak, and sometimes we had to sit in the middle of the path and cry, but we got back up and kept going. The truth is, I don’t regret any of it. Every single step along the way was a step in the right direction, a step that led us home.