Baby Steps

I often get dismayed and overwhelmed.  I have that bad habit of comparing myself to others and seeing myself as falling short of the mark.

When I was in my teens and early-20’s, dreaming and working towards becoming a major rock star, I compared my guitar prowess to that of guitar legend George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob fame and was dissatisfied.  I compared my vocal prowess to heavy metal powerhouse Doro Pesch and lamented my “weak” voice.  In more recent years, while singing Christmas carols in the church folk group, I was “reminded” that “The First Noel” was supposed to be a lullaby putting the baby Jesus peacefully to sleep in the manger while I was in danger of waking the dead with my “softer” voice.  And my ex-husband’s nephew gave me the greatest compliment ever one day arguing with his mother about my guitar playing ability by insisting, “But, Mom, you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!”  So this comparison to others is a little distorted but I’m my own worst enemy.  I may not be seeking fame and fortune on VH-1 anymore but I still compare myself to others and believe I don’t measure up.

For example, I look at my little one-acre homestead in rural Connecticut and compare it to the Dervaes’ 1/5 acre homestead in the city of Pasadena, California.  And I despair.  It seems I will never get to that point of almost total self-sufficiency.

I’m not talking about the self-sufficiency lamented against in the Bible.  I can do nothing without Christ Jesus and I purpose my little homestead to God, asking that He do good things with it and whatever I can accomplish there.  But I am speaking of self-sufficiency in worldly affairs, in providing for the majority of my needs by living off of the land and off-grid.  I am speaking about returning to a way of life that has all but been lost as modern technology and agribusiness have taken over and spoiled our food supply, our medicine and our health.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the Amish have it right in a lot of ways: anything that comes between myself and God, I don’t need.  And, no, I’m not planning on becoming Amish.  I simply agree with their simpler way of life.

So here I am writing this blog with the intent of reminding myself of some key factors here.  First of all, the Dervaes have been homesteading for over 20 years on that 1/5 of an acre.  I have only been at it for about 3 years and there have been a lot of learning curves in that 3 years, which I’m sure the Dervaes encountered as well.  Secondly, I am doing this alone.  There are no other humans living with me (though there are a total of 41 animals sharing my homestead!).  All of the chores associated with landscaping, gardening, animal husbandry, etc., are done by me or they’re not done at all.  There are four family members working “Path to Freedom” together and the Dervaes work at home.  I am forced to work away from home at a “day” job (which I hope to have by next Wednesday, praise God!) to keep up with the mortgage payments.

It is actually foolish of me to compare myself to folks who have been working at this for so long while I am still learning (though I’m sure everyday for the Dervaes is a learning experience, too…).  And, by so doing, I have inadvertently made of them idols.  I’m sure it’s not a role any of them would want and I ask their pardon for placing them in such a place.  It’s also not a role my God would want me to place them in.  And I am grateful to Him for showing me the areas in my life where I need to improve, especially as I enter the ministry.

Instead, it is time to take stock of what I have accomplished in such a short time.

One of the first steps in becoming self-sufficient is learning to pay down your debts and/or reduce your cost of living.  In a way, though I was a frugal individual beforehand, unemployment has been a blessing in teaching my how to live–and live well–on much less.  Having such a limited income, especially over the past year since unemployment insurance has been exhausted, has forced me to use some good, old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity.

How many people, living in a 7 room house that’s still entirely on-grid, can claim a monthly electric bill of only $56?  Granted, it has gotten that low because I have been slowly unplugging everything.  Yes, the refrigerator is still electric as is the range, toaster oven, bread machine, crock pot and food dehydrator.  I also have a solar food dryer.  And, as each appliance “burns” out, I have replaced it with something manual…even my blender has to be cranked!  And most modern households would probably go nuts without cable, digital, satellite (i.e. no TV reception) or even Internet (I am writing this at the library where Internet is free).  There is no microwave, no washer or dryer, no dishwasher…almost everything is done by hand or, in the case of some of the laundry, done in bulk at the laundromat once a month.  There are little “secrets”, too.  I do most of my baking–not just cookies or whatever but also casseroles–one day a week and freeze in single serving dishes my meals for the week.  I take them out of the freezer a day in advance so they can defrost in the fridge then heat them up in a sauce pan or for just 20 minutes at a lower temp in the oven instead of the 55 minutes it took to cook it from scratch earlier that week.  You see, if I plan and bake my meals all in one day, I can put more than one item in the oven at a time instead of heating it up for an hour each day for each meal.  And, if it’s a smaller item, the toaster oven uses much less electricity than the range oven.  I truly enjoy the challenge of constantly thinking up new ways to save money and cut corners.

Gardening on the cheap has actually been sort of fun.  I’ve been combining Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” method with Louise Riotte’s “Roses Love Garlic” and “Tomatoes Love Carrots”.  My raised beds are 4′ x 8′ instead of 4′ x 4′ and I’ve only planted one bed so far but most of what I’ve planted is doing well (and, by Mel Bartholomew’s instructions, a 4′ x 8′ is equal to 2 beds in the square foot method…).  The other beds are being primed as I call it.  With 11 rabbits, 15 chickens, 4 ducks, 2 guinea pigs and a cockatiel there is never a shortage of fertilizer or mulch (dog and cat manure doesn’t break down safely enough to use in the garden and may actually burn your crops).  Buying bags of peat moss, vermiculite and/or topsoil can be very expensive.  Instead, I’m also using the lasagna gardening method and layering waste in each of the other beds.  Each bed is currently a small composting center with lots of red wiggler worms turning that waste into black gold.  I’m using the same method on the front lawn.  The grass is slowly being covered over in exchange for several herb beds.   Eventually, some vermiculite and topsoil will be purchased.  But, by recycling manure, old bedding, hay/straw, kitchen scraps and grass clippings, I won’t need to purchase nearly as much of it.

What is important to remember here is that, when I’m tempted to compare myself to someone like the Dervaes’ family, it has taken them over 20 years to get to where they are with 4 pairs of hands helping to make shorter work of whatever the chore.  But, even with those 4 pairs of hands, it’s even more important to remember that homesteading is both a process and a state of mind.  I have the mind-set.  And it is an on-going process.

In three years, I’ve established a strawberry patch that gives me a bountiful harvest each year, with each year seeing a larger yield than the previous year.  Last year I made 7 pint jars of strawberry preserves; this year, I hope to make at least 10.  What few herbs I’ve planted have been spreading and I hope to be able to thin them next year and sell the slips to folks who might be interested in them.  Next year will also see a first harvest of rhubarb.  For someone who had never raised chickens before, I have 13 healthy hens giving me at least a dozen eggs each day.  I sell what I can’t use and save the money to purchase more chicken feed so it’s a nice little cycle.

Herbs are another area where I’m constantly learning and an integral part of my homestead.  With the hot, humid weather upon us, any weeding or yard work is done in the early morning with the rest of the day indoors.  It’s a perfect time to study and experiment with herbal remedies and home crafts.  This week it was an anti-flea spray that, unfortunately, didn’t work (the first time one of Juliette de Baircli Levy’s remedies failed me…sigh!) against the fleas but I did find a wonderful new herbal air freshener.  The combination of wormwood, southernwood and rosemary smells divine!

I get frustrated with these baby steps but I know, if I keep taking them, I’ll get to where I want to be.  And I’ll have learned more by taking my time and planning it right than by pushing full steam ahead.  Kind of like that little engine that could…

God bless you and keep you!