Friday, July 8, 2016

Embracing the Imperfections of Everywhere

I'm usually pretty good at looking at the bright side of things. Not perfect, but pretty good. Sometimes I look at where we are and I think, “hey, this place is pretty swell, I could see us living here forever!” And I make plans about privacy fences with vertical agriculture and selling our van for an expensive cargo bike and not ever driving again, and having the ultimate green urban homestead. I allow my mind to disappear into sunny, happy daydreams about picket fences covered in rambling roses and houseplants at all the windows. We entertain the idea of taking off the crappy aluminum siding and replacing the exterior with stucco and totally renovating the kitchen and bathroom to be a-freaking-dorable. We sit on our “boho patio” (it kind of rhymes, see?) with it's strung up globe lights and hanging lanterns and area rug under the table; we sip Sofia wine because we think the bottle is so pretty and we say, “isn't this place great?” and a lot of the time we mean it.

But then the police will down on the corner arresting a very loud woman who is taking off all her clothes in the street. Or one of the neighbors will come out and scream profanities at their kids. Or then I'll look back at my Instagram feed, scrolling back to before we lived here again, and I'll think, “What have we done?”

Here are a few pictures of the backyard of the last place we lived:


And here are some pictures of the place we lived prior to that:


And finally, here's where we live now:


I don't have as many pictures of this place because I try not to take very many pictures. Chain link fences and trash aren't especially photogenic. When I compare these pictures, it makes me very sad. I know we're better off than a lot of people. I know we should be grateful for what we have (and we are.) I know the kids don't even care that much. I know that my life is filled with blessings and that I truly have nothing to complain about, but still... we had something really beautiful (though ultimately unsustainable), and now we don't. It's easy for me to lose sight of any smidge of gratefulness and just wallow in self-pity, and in times like that, I have to re-think where we are, what we've gained by coming back here, and remind myself of all the unpleasant aspects of those idyllically beautiful homesteads that are thankfully in our past.

We're always talking about moving. We're always talking about “the perfect place” and what that would include. And it's interesting that when we first came back here, we were so relieved because it was warm. It was February and we had spent two winters being frozen in houses without insulation. Two years of putting wool hats on the kids while they slept, dressing them sometimes in four layers of clothes just to spend a day inside the house. We were grateful just for warmth and space and an oven. We could bake cookies! We could sleep in separate bedrooms! We could have an actual COUCH! We were feeling pretty kingly when we were first living here. But now that we've been here awhile and are remembering the imperfections of the house and the neighborhood, we don't feel so royal. And while I don't exactly miss all six of us living in 540 square feet (I really don't think I'll ever miss that, to be honest... it was fine at the time, honestly I was hardly ever bothered by it, but looking back—no thank you) I do miss the lifestyle of the old homesteads. I miss quiet mornings outside with my coffee, sitting on the patio talking to the goats (don't judge.) I miss all the baby birds we had at our homesteads—swallows everywhere, baby chicks, baby turkeys. I miss watching the dogs roll around together and run through the long grass. (I don't miss picking ticks off of them afterward though—nor do I miss finding their engorged ticks crawling across the floors, or stepping on them uuugggghhhhhh!) I miss the solitude. One day recently we saw a man tripping on drugs across the street and my kids stared, but didn't say anything. I don't like it that that scene is commonplace for them. Police walking the area looking for people is not exciting or newsworthy.  But I don't miss the solitude turning into isolation when nobody wanted to make the drive out for a visit or when the driveway was so icy we were homebound for long stretches of time.

Looking back at where we used to live (both homesteads,) it can seem like we lost something perfect. But that's memory for you. Our “perfect” was perfectly full of imperfections. When we lived at our first homestead, there was one night when a blizzard came through. It was our first winter there, shortly before we put in our wood stove. We had a kerosene heater and electric space heaters, and we were all freezing. That night we put the kids to bed and the wind was so intense that Martin and I sat up all night, alternately pacing through the house checking on things and sitting near the heater just staring at each other, with scared expressions. The electricity kept flickering off and on and at one point stayed off for about a full minute. It felt like the walls were going to blow down. Our house sat on a little knoll in the middle of a meadow surrounded by farm fields—we had nothing protecting us. And we worried so much about disaster during that blizzard because we were near nothing. Our road would get plowed eventually, but it was not a priority, and we were two miles from the highway and the closest little town. It was kind of scary.

We didn't live through any blizzards at our second homestead (the cabin,) but there were plenty of wind storms during our time there. Just as before, our dwelling was not tightly sealed and it felt like it would blow over with just a little more oomph from the weather gods. The cabin was just on a concrete slab—no basement, not even a crawl space—and it was one room. So, you know the advice they give for tornadoes: go to a small interior room without windows? No such thing in the cabin. In the event of an actual tornado warning, we would all run across the yard to the big house and go to the creepy cellar over there, but there were a number of nights in the cabin that I sat up for hours waiting for storms and wind to pass before I could relax enough to go to sleep, feeling sure that the roof wasn't going to be blown off and that my children were going to be sucked away into the twister.

So, in our ideal home, we will have a livable basement—a place that is naturally cool in summer, warm in winter, in which we can have at least one big bed so that when there is severe weather being predicted for the overnight hours, we can put the girls to bed down there and not risk having to wake them up and drag them down to a creepy cellar when the tornado sirens go off.

Also, insulation. Insulation is a must.

Winters at both homesteads were unbearably cold. We would drive to town for dinner at a restaurant just so we could get warm! At the first place, the bathroom pipes would freeze as soon as the temperature dipped into the twenties. (Um, in case you aren't from Indiana, that isn't really very cold for wintertime.) We would go days and days without having a working bathroom. We would bring in buckets of water to manually flush the toilet, and if there were any water left standing in the bathtub, it would freeze to a sheet of ice. That was kind of a smelly time.

At the second place, when we lived in the cabin, there was no inside shower; just a toilet and sink. The shower we had built onto the exterior. So this meant that, not only would the pipes freeze easily, but we would sometimes be running through snow to and from the shower. Or if it was raining, we'd be jumping over mud puddles. (Of course, on sunny summer days, it was a truly magical experience to shower out there and open the shower door afterward to flowers all around you. Sigh. BUT I'M NOT THINKING ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW.)

Next home must: normal, functioning bathroom.

I really miss our animals. But I don't miss worrying about them. I didn't worry about them quite as much as I worry about my kids, but it was close. Were we keeping up with hoof trimming? Would we ever find someone to help us shear the sheep? Are the animals staying warm enough? Are they staying cool enough? Would the rabbits ever have a live litter? Would every rooster we ever got be satan incarnate? In all of our 2.5 years, we lost only two chickens to unexpected sickness—one of the two Golden Comets died and the other showed matching symptoms so we culled it. Other than that, our flocks were always extremely healthy and productive. But I worried so much about them. I worried that we'd go out to feed them and they'd all be dead in the coop. For awhile, when we had a naughty dog, we were losing chickens constantly, and that was a huge stress. What to do with the dog? How to break this habit? How much money do we spend replacing hens before we say forget it, let's buy eggs at the store? And I was constantly inspecting poop. I was a poop pro and was very intimate with many varieties of farm, domestic and wildlife. Carcass identification was another interesting hobby during that time.

If we ever live in the country again, I would probably not do anything differently about the animals. I loved them all, I loved having them all. Actually, I maybe would just have more of them. So, in our ideal home, we'd have acres upon acres of lush pasture for all of my beloveds to frolic about in a constant state of barnyard ecstasy.

One downside to both places we lived was the lack of hunting opportunity for Martin. Squirrels, deer, wild rabbits... we saw none of those. Here in town, we're overrun with wildlife. In fact, just two nights ago, Brynja made friends with an angry possum in our backyard! (The friendship didn't last.) We've got squirrels galore! Chipmunks a'plenty! A rabbit warren in every yard! We did not see such wildlife at our homesteads; we were not especially near to any woods. (Though we did see more wildlife at the cabin than in our meadow, which seriously, only had birds and mice.)

At our ideal home, we will have enough wooded land for Martin to hunt and for us to forage wood and food for ourselves. Hmm.... since we're wandering into fantasyland here, let's just say 100 acres. Excellent.

Now we're onto the really important part: JUJU.

During my brother and sister-in-law's visit a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law and I talked a lot about “juju” in different houses we've lived or been in. It's such an interesting topic and she and I had experienced a lot of the same things in places we'd been together, and she shared with me about times she's “cleared” dwellings of theirs. I am pleased to say that this house now, our current downtown home, has the strongest feeling of peacefulness ever. I only can recognize this now after being in so many other places (including home searches for all that time, pre-first homestead.... There was one place that gave off such bad vibes I couldn't get out of that place fast enough!) Now that I can recognize it and after having talked about it and given my feelings some credibility, I really appreciate that part of this house and may not settle for less in any homes that we may consider in our future.

Next home requirement: Good juju.

Okay, so we're through the big stuff. Now the little details of an ideal home. I prefer older homes. I like built-ins and original woodwork and wood floors. I would take tile over linoleum, never carpet. I definitely need lots of natural sunlight. Outside of our million acres of pasture and million acres of woodland, we require a spring-fed creek and at least enough yard for a substantial garden and a nice sturdy playset with FOUR swings so the girls don't fight over them all day. Alright, I'm ready for my Zillow search!

Oh, bummer. Zillow says my perfectly perfect home doesn't exist. Sad face.

We did have good things at our homesteads. And we have good things here. And now as we carry on with our very good life here, we also have two years of really fun and unique memories that we share as a family! Not everyone gets the chance to live in a tiny cabin beside a lake for a year. Not everyone gets to live in a meadow where on the 4th of July you stand outside your house and watch a panorama of all the fireworks displays in the surrounding towns at the same time. We were so fortunate to have those experiences with our kids, even if they weren't our daily life forever. It's pretty lame of me to have my little pity parties just because that particular style of fun is over. And if we make it back to the country someday, okay, that will be great. But if we stay in town until we retire to some posh retirement community that we pay for entirely from the money we would have spent on gas after we transition to bicycle-only transportation—that's great too!

In the end, we make our own happiness and where we are now is a really great place for a lot of reasons, even if we don't have chickens or a huge swingset or a super huge clothesline surrounded by buttercups and queen anne's lace. We live in a snug house that's full of character and love and happy times, and that does sound pretty ideal, doesn't it? 

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