Transition

We’re going to quit farming.

(At least for a while.)

I’ve been thinking for a long time how to write this post, because for those of you that aren’t in the sustainable agriculture world, it might be confusing, what we’re doing.

So, I am going to explain a typical small(er) sustainable or organic farm so you can better understand our next move.

From our experience, most farmers out this way are young. Definitely under 40. Many of them went to college, studying permaculture, or sustainable agriculture, or sustainable development. Passionate and with a desire to provide good food, they may work on farms for a few years, and then decide to start their own. The trouble is, with college debt and no money, they have to get a farm credit loan to buy this land.

From there, they immediately need help, because most farms are large, trying to make more income. So they get loans on tractors. They have to hire 3 or 4 apprentices to help them accomplish all the transplanting, weeding, and harvesting. The trouble is, due to the fact that farms bigger than an acre or two require lots of work but don’t truly generate proportional extra income for the farmers themselves, they can’t necessarily afford to pay their interns a living wage. The farmers don’t even make a living wage, if you were to divide out their labor into an hourly pay.

So most farmers provide food, education, and some sort of housing to compensate for the low pay offered (think two to four dollars an hour). The housing is normally not great. I’ve shared my beef with that.

Daniel and I made this move out to work on a farm, because we were tired of the city. He wanted to get more experience farming full-time. We spent several years saving up a down payment so we could get our own land.

We went over the summer to get pre-approved for a loan. And we were denied, because Daniel’s paycheck is laughably small. It didn’t matter about our down payment – they just looked at his paystub. And graciously said “Sorry, no.”

The trouble is, you can’t save up and buy a farm while working on a farm. There is no way. There are very few farmers that pay a living wage to their employees, because they simply can’t.

Because Daniel and I are so committed to being debt free, we were left with two options. 1) Continue to farm while I work, thus majorly pushing back our farm-buying date, but still giving Daniel experience. Or 2) both work typical jobs, pushing up our farm buying date, but losing the skill of daily agricultural work.

After a lot of discussion, a lot of prayer, a lot of tough decision making, we picked option two.

We need mental rest. Living communally on a farm with strangers is really tough, as I’ve shared before. We know that living 45 minutes to an hour away from a decent restaurant and music is not our style.

The choice was really 1) do we have a complicated, difficult living situation, far away from a cultured population where we have no way of making friends or 2) do we live back in a town where yes, we won’t be farming anymore but will provide a way for us to have our own farm sooner? After the initial shock, the answer was clear.

So we’re moving. In a week.

To the great city of Asheville. Where we can eat Indian food. And see every great band ever, because apparently this city of 80,000 people is music mecca. Where everyone and their mom is committed to eating well, eating ethically, and where on weekends there are always events like “Make your own vinegars!” and “Building a cob pizza oven in your backyard.” I like vinegar. I like pizza even more.

And like, we’re going to live in a regular apartment. With a bathroom in it.

In a way, it feels like we took two steps back and now one forward, but it is a step forward. We’re ready to live not the way we want for a few years, so that while we’re young and wild we can buy a farm and work it and enjoy it debt-free. I’m willing to wait.

And the idea of a hot bath every now and then is pretty tempting, too.

Gift

It was later evening, and we were walking back to our car after a quick grocery store run. We saw her approach another car, speak to the driver quietly, hesitantly, and then retreat backwards with a self-conscious, quick-to-cover-embarrassment grin.

She started walking toward us, saying “Excuse me!”

We instantly bristled and became guarded. You see, spending our last several years in an urban core, the automatic assumption when a stranger approaches you, is that they want money.

And we weren’t wrong.

She was younger rather than older, white, with freckles and brown hair. She wasn’t dressed well or poorly, kind of in the middle. She quickly began speaking, asking us for help. She gestured to a truck parked nearby, saying she needed to get her kids home to her grandmother’s house, just up the road. She asked if we knew the town she lived in – which we didn’t.

We were cold and callous, because in my head, I pictured another story, a story she wasn’t telling. Maybe alcohol, or drugs, or for something she wasn’t mentioning. She continued to ramble on, not in an incoherent way, but in a frantic, not-sure-what-she-was-going-to-do way. She continued to say over and over, “I’ve got these kids, I’ve got to get these kids home.” And we looked over, and sure enough, there were three or four kids in the truck, some looking at us, some not.

We really weren’t sure what she wanted. We didn’t know if she wanted food, or gasoline, or money. And the whole time she was speaking, I thought about how hard we work for so little. Even as she walked up, I had decided against her, had decided not to trust her.

After a minute or so, I interrupted her and said “Sorry, we make like two dollars an hour working on a farm.” That’s been my story, lately, when approached for money. It’s difficult for me sometimes, when people ask, because I see how hard Daniel works for so little. Yes, we have no bills, no living expenses, but still. He works so hard for such a small amount of monetary gain.

So we dismissed her.

We got in the car and started to drive off, yet I felt a deep, immediate conviction in my spirit. There was something about this woman, the more I thought about it, that had no deception in it. I couldn’t sense it when she was with us, because my training the last few years has been to put up a guard, quickly dismiss, and leave.

We quickly spoke it over, stopped our truck, and called her back. Daniel asked “Do you need gas money?” She sank a little where she was standing, clasped her hands, and said “Yes, yes.” He handed her a ten. Her eyes welled up, and she started telling us that she was getting paid on Monday, and she would give us her phone number and pay us back. We said “Don’t worry about it.”

Her demeanor was such relief, and she kept saying “Bless you both, thank you, God bless you.”

We watched her get in her car and drive off.

“God bless you.”

I thought about this situation for many days afterward. I have been trained by the media and from my own experience, not to trust strangers who ask for money. And yes, there were professional panhandlers in KCMO that had a sob story that was BS, who immediately used money given to them for nefarious purposes.

The thing is, after years of this, I wasn’t able to see true need when it stopped by me. I was so guarded, so distrustful, that I almost left this woman and her children in a bad situation. I became increasingly uncomfortable with my knee-jerk reaction to her needs.

Who are we to judge true need? Who are we to make that call?

Yes, there is deception. But can brushing people like that off bring anything but more deception? The Bible (and many other religious texts) commands us to be giving, because the Lord has blessed. And he has.

How many times have I denied blessing others, due to feeling uncomfortable or because I assume the worst of people?

I thought about several action steps I’d like to take, because of this situation.

  1. Keep some sort of gift card to a grocery store on me, maybe five or ten bucks. That way, if someone says they’re hungry, I can give them that. If they weren’t hungry and just wanted cash for something else, they’ll decline.
  2. If someone asks for money for a cup of coffee, if I’m with Daniel and feel safe, I’ll walk with them and get it. Engage with them. Ask their name. Tell them about ourselves.
  3. Whatever the person says they need, I want to do what I can do provide them with that item. In the future, we could have followed her to a gas station and filled her tank up. If they say they need a bus ticket, walk with them to the bus stop and buy it for them. (Again, keeping basic safety rules in place if you’re a single lady).
  4. Assume the best. Believe what they say. Show empathy, share. Bless people because you, too, have been blessed.

I think what was so shocking to me, was my immediate reaction to her. Distrust. Barriers. Assumption.

I want to trust, be open. I want to listen and believe.

” What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2). “

Tiny Home Survival Mode

People often ask how we like living in an RV.

My initial, guttural reaction is BLUEAHHH BLAHHHHHHH BAD!

But then I say to myself “Self, these people don’t know what you live in. Don’t ruin the idea of tiny-home-living for them for the rest of their lives! They may have unrealized dreams of living small. Be kind. Be ever so kind.”

See, the thing is, living in this RV is tough. But it actually has absolutely nothing to do with the size (188 square feet). It has mostly to do with the design, storage, space-utilization, and decorative choices. Our little RV has character – or as my sister would phrase it, “a dump.”

See, I have this theory about people that designed RVs and campers in the late eighties. I think they were sitting in a room that had lead paint walls and asbestos in the floors. I think they were probably drinking large amounts of whiskey even though they took Tylenol that morning. And I think these things combined made them say – “Hey, fellas. You know what I think is gonna reallllly make these campers look good? MAUVE.”

Sigh.

Mauve.

No but really. You can see from pictures, this thing is designed poorly. There is carpet in it. I have a lot of personal problems with carpet, which should be relayed on other venues than this. There is literally one square foot of counter space. Let that one sink in for a while. Blending? Chopping? Anything more complicated than rice? Forget it. If you thought you wanted to try a low-carb diet, I heavily advise you not to ever move into a camper.

Granted, this RV is being borrowed. If this was ours, we would have done some major renovations, and I would have taken my mauve-anger out in a more acceptable manner, like ripping out cabinets.

Most tiny homes these days though, are absolutely gorgeous. And most people that buy RVs or campers have the time to renovate and update, rather than immediate 1000-mile-away-move-in and cry, because it’s not your tiny home so you can’t paint everything white and install hardwoods.

Design challenges aside, I thought I would compile a little list of ways Daniel and I have learned to navigate living in a small space. Because it does take time to get used to living in a smaller environment, rather than a traditional home. These lessons will definitely come in handy when we do this again one day.

Ways to not get a divorce when living small 

  1. No dirty dishes. Ever.
  2. In a normal home, it’s not a big deal to drop your shoes off by the door, keys on the table, purse tossed on the floor. When you live in 180 square feet? It’s a big deal. I’ve found to restore my own sanity, I have to tidy pretty constantly. Otherwise, Insane-Victoria comes out, which means I might throw something across the camper and screech “THERE IS STUFF EVERYWHEEEEEEEEEERE”. Poor Daniel has to cower in fear.
  3. As much as Daniel and I love to dance, when the dancing happens because two bodies are trying to squeeze through a tiny hallway, punches get thrown. We let each other exit the space before the other person tries to get in.
  4. Leave when you feel cramped. Since the RV is ugly, and I need my life to be pretty (since my soul is black sometimes), it really helps to just take a walk or go somewhere when I’m feeling unexplainably foul-hearted.
  5. You know how they say don’t fight when you’re hungry? I would say, don’t fight when you’re in a mauve RV. I think the color saps the positive energy out of the room.
  6. You have to have less stuff, because there is less place to put…stuff. It seems obvious, but when we first moved, I thought I had gotten rid of just about everything extraneous. But now, it comes down to questions like “do I need five winter blankets? or will three do?”. (Funny how this principle can’t apply to my shoe collection…)

So those things help us, now that we’ve learned them seven months down the road. Hope they come in handy for anyone who’s considering a change like this!

Navigating Intentional Community As An Introvert

My sister recently shared an author with me named Susan Cain, who wrote the book Quiet and and is an advocate for introverts in a seemingly “communication crazy” world.

I watched her TEDtalk recently, and it really spoke to me in a time I now call “Victoria’s Great Episodic Introversion Explosion.”

But let me not get ahead of myself. You see, Daniel and I live in what is, for all intents and purposes, an intentional community. You will find as many explanations for this term as there are people who participate in them. For me, it is a group of people living in or on a shared space, pursuing the same goal.

It could also be alternatively titled “People All Up in My Grill.”

We’ve lived communally for over a year as a married couple, and I’ve lived communally for six years prior to that. But most recently, in the last year, the two situations we’ve lived in have been truly communal.

The first, was with our dear friends and their baby. We shared a house, we ate together, we helped her while she was in labor with her baby, no big deal. Very dear friends of ours who understood our little idiosyncrasies.

This situation, we’re living on shared land with our bosses, our boss’s dad, our boss’s dad’s wife, our boss’s brother, us, a boy intern, and a girl intern.

Yes, you read that correctly.

This means that at any given moment, Someone is around Doing Something.

It also means Someone is around Doing Something and Requiring Conversation.

See, it’s not like when we lived with our friends. They know me. They’ve got my number. They know there is a point that I reach where I JUST CANNOT ANYMORE. And I go upstairs and I hide, and like twenty minutes later I come down for dinner shiny and new as a whistle. But this situation is different, because these people don’t know me as well, aside from girl intern who is a blessed saint, and Daniel, who is also a blessed saint.

So the Someone around Doing Something and Requiring Conversation gets pretty terrible for an extreme introvert. I haven’t totally figured out how to deal with it. My past methodology is as follows.

Coping Mechanisms

Option A: Grunt N Nod. This is for the extreme talkers that live here that don’t require much response. I used to respond verbally, but now I just nod my head a lot or say “Mmm.” This is okay, but still is a lot of external stimuli.

Option B: Do not leave Camper. This would work, except for the entire camper is Mauve. And like, I have to eat dinner and do laundry in the shared house.

Option C: Deal-With-It. Cover up the introversion creeping, and just engage! YES! SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT SO MANY PEOPLE TO LOOK AT! This results in irritability and rage.

Remember up there, I talked about my Great Episodic Introversion Explosion? Yes well, because I was trying a combination of all the methods above, and uh, it all hit the fan.

See, my mom was in town. And she and my husband and I were watching a movie, so the opening menu was on the screen. Loud. And we couldn’t find the remote to turn it down. And Daniel wouldn’t move his legs. And I just had enough. So help me, I raced to my bed, slammed the screen shut, covered my head with my pillow and jammed my fingers in my ears and started HUMMING to myself so I could block it all out.

Did I mention I turned 25 recently? And like, they let me teach children?

Needless to say, I had an epiphany that I was not providing myself with enough alone time. So, my new action plan:

  1. Long walks in the woods when others are around that I don’t want to talk to. Bring a chair. Read.
  2. Avoiding shared space if possible (when I’m feeling really introverty). This means waiting a day to do laundry sometimes and Getting Over Myself about it.
  3. Gracefully excuse myself from conversations if possible without hurting others’ feelings.
  4. Headphones, even if they’re not playing music. Works wonders.

And, if all else fails, the Grunt N’ Nod is a good standby.

Quarter-Century

Tomorrow, I turn 25. One quarter of a century.

I realize, looking at the number two and five, in succession right there, that this age is, for all intents and purposes, peanuts. This isn’t much. I haven’t been an adult for more than seven years, while some of my readers have been adults for twenty, thirty, forty years. Impressive!

Those of you who have been adults longer than a decade, I salute you. Try not to laugh as I give myself some wisdom, here. You sit back, in your lovingly decorated offices (adults have offices, right?) and cackle at my optimism and war-worn assessment of the past and future.

But oh well. I will be like you, one day, in my office. But I’m here, in my mauve-ridden RV.

So onward.

However, there is something to be said, for these years, these years 18 to 25.

Most people exit crazy stage, enter crazy stage, de-crazy, and mildly crazy in these seven years.

And yet at the end of it, they STILL let you rent a car!

I have compiled myself a list that will help me this year. It has different sections with different purposes in mind. Maybe they’ll help you. Maybe you could write your own! I’d love to read your own in the comments.

Without further ado, my quarter century list of reminders and hopes that I have learned or aspire towards. I made it a list of 25 things, because duh.

Reminders:

  1. You have a tendency to think your thoughts and words are more important than everyone else’s. Guess what—they aren’t. Really listen. Don’t pretend to listen while you’re formulating your own thoughts. That’s dumb.
  2. You are a yo-yo dieter. Yes. Your body is freakish, and has the ability to bounce around forty pounds of weight depending on the way you’re eating. You have been your heaviest and lightest in the past three years two times each. That is bad. That is unhealthy. Eat the way you know you need to eat.
  3. Floss. For reals.
  4. You don’t have to read books that people say are great just because you want to be cultured. It’s good to read books that are classic and famous, but don’t feel bad reading your five teenage chick-lit books in between every one classic.
  5. You have turned into an introvert. You are outgoing and talkative, but also a hardcore introvert. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by people, go sit in your hammock or go by the creek. All will thank you.
  6. Brush back up on your Spanish.
  7. You often feel fussy about minute things, and it ends up in an angry blowup. Let Jesus work on your heart in this – it comes from a variety of roots, but you know what they are and know what to do when this happens.
  8. It’s hard for you to love difficult people. You feel threatened or annoyed, so you judge and gossip to others around you. This behavior is really poisonous, as it involves others. Keep your judgy-nonsense to yourself.
  9. You have very little self-control with your smartphone. Employ the help of others to remind you when you should be present.
  10. Your family is really close. Be thankful for this. Appreciate them. Thank them. Love them.
  11. Write thank you cards, letters, hellos. Getting letters in the mail makes people feel special. You’re good at remembering to do this, so do it!
  12. When you meet people, ask them what their favorite thing to do is first. Don’t ask them about their job – career does not define.
  13. When people ask you to pray for them, or when you tell people you will pray for them, do it. There is immense power in prayer, but there’s a good deal of harm in empty promises.
  14. You are married to a wonderful man. You are married to a wonderful man. Treasure him.
  15. You used to shave your legs. Then you stopped for a while. Now you started again. But this sometimes-shaving-sometimes-not thing? It’s not working for you. Pick one.
  16. Be genial when you are checking out at a store. Ask them how their day is, or how long they’ve been working. Being a cashier is really annoying, and they feel invisible all day. Make them feel loved, if you can.
  17. You require external pressure to create art. Schedule yourself to have an art show, since that’s the only thing that lights a fire under you to create.
  18. Be sparing with your exclamation points when writing emails or texts to acquaintances. !!!!! does not mean they will love you.
  19. Stop using humor at the expense of others to impress new acquaintances. It’s a really weird habit, and I don’t know where the heck it came from, but you will have very few friends if this continues for another ten years.
  20. Wait thirty minutes before playing on your phone or computer in the morning. Instead, make coffee, journal, pray, read. Better for the brain.
  21. Sometime in the last few years, you’ve started accidentally tailing every single person in front of you when you drive. I know you don’t mean to, but uh, quit.
  22. Think about people’s motives before you judge them. Often, when people are frustrating, it comes from more deep-seated issues, just like your own problems. Empathy is key for you to love people.
  23. Travel out of the country every year if you can. It gives you something to look forward to and it feeds your wandering spirit. Do this with people you love.
  24. Teach people how to garden instead of questioning their food choices.
  25. Keep your nails painted. It makes you feel like a gosh-darn lady.

Relent

Part of my goal with this whole blogging scenario is to be as real as I can be; not attempting to mud-sling on my own life and make everyone feel sorry for me, but also not attempting to make life look perfect and wonderful, because it’s not. No one’s is.

So, because of the above, a confession must be made.

We no longer hand-wash our laundry.

(Pause).

(Sigh).

(Gasp).

I know. Our cool-homestead-couple points went down a lot, didn’t they?

But let me share with you the vibe recently. I’ve written about how we do laundry before. And we made a few adjustments to make it not so annoying, but it was the basic same setup I wrote about back in the spring.

Daniel and I work on a farm. Now, I know you all think farmers just sit around and play on the computer all day, but quite the opposite is true. On any given day, there is quite a large amount of detritus that can end up on your clothes.

Tomato Resin. Pig mud (which could include…. you know. poop.) Dirty sheep hairs. Sand. Mud from the field from hours of weeding on your shins and knees.

Sometimes, we come home and I can picture a mother from the 1940s going “Y’all might has well have just gone and rolled with the pigs!”

At first, I really tried hard to keep it up. But we would take our clothes off the line and they would be a bit crispy. Often, the farm clothes would look as if they hadn’t even been washed. And let me tell you, that gets incredibly frustrating when you spent like thirty minutes of active work on them, including pouring boiling water on your foot and ticks crawling on your leg during the process.

But I kept going. Because people know that we hand-wash our laundry! And I can’t let them down! (Even though nobody cares. NOBODY.)

So I tried some other tactics. I tried old-school stomping on the clothes in our metal laundry tub, rinsing them, then washing like we were previously. But that was using a LOT of water, more than traditional laundry machines. So that wasn’t going to work, because we hand-washed to save water.

I was just going to have to get over it. So I kept on fighting the good fight.

But when your clothes crack when you put them on because of the amount of weird sand and grit in them, that maybe has even become more in them because of the nature of handwashing, I knew it was time to stop.

You see, I’ve seen the other interns out here. They were using the main house for laundry. In a washing machine.

At first, I was smug. Oh look at us! We don’t neeeeeeed a tradtional laundry machine. We’re so cool!

But then, in June, my tune changed a little bit. Sometimes I’d be up there, looking at them, moving their freshly laundered clothes out of the washer and into the dryer. Those clothes smelled so good. So clean.

Then, they’d take them out of the dryer, snowy-white and smelling like an angel had laid in them. And I’d stifle a sob and run out of the house, overcome with emotion.

So, we bit the bullet, and are now regular clothes washers.

And guess what. Right now, with so much change and turmoil, it’s really nice to only do laundry once a week and have it come back all fresh n’ stuff.

In the past, I probably would have kept going, because I wanted to impress people with my off-grid lifestyle. But that’s dumb and stupid because I was going crazy.

Living simply can sometimes mean doing what’s simple for you.

So yeah, when we move on from this place and we don’t have a washer and dryer anymore, it will mean going back to hand-washing (and we’ll get cool homesteading points again), because lugging clothing to a laundromat probably isn’t simple.

But it won’t be a big deal, because we won’t have pigs.

Yet.

Job

When we moved out to the farm, we had a lot of discussions about things we knew were going to be difficult.

For example, no air conditioning. Like, we’ve had no air conditioning before – in the upstairs part of a home built in 1930. It’s brutal. You come home after being in your icy air conditioned car (play that hit radio station! Taylor Swift! Kanye! I can listen to anything in this 72 degree ice box!) and go to your space and get hit with this depressing wall of heat that makes you second guess living in North America.

But we thought for sure that being in a giant metal box with no air conditioning would be worse. But turns out, when you live in a small valley in the foothills of the mountains, it’s really not terrible when you don’t have air conditioning. So things turned out okay on that end. I digress.

Truthfully though, there was a long list of things we knew would be tricky. Being away from family, getting our water from a small tank instead of a never ending reservoir, no best friends here, no more pour-over coffee (seriously. They don’t do it here.)

One thing that completely blindsided me, however, was not teaching.

We were so wrapped up in our move, in the transition of Daniel’s job to something he loved, that we overlooked the fact that my career and identity were going to change drastically.

The first week, when I wasn’t weeping over lack of good tacos, were pretty good. I’m one of those freaks of nature who started working full-time at 21; so I’d never given myself a chance to really have a duty-free life. I was travelling, going hiking, reading all the books, organizing, downsizing, etc. If it ended in –ing, then I was doing it.

But by like day four, I was kind of a mess. I missed my students. I missed my coworkers. I missed purpose.

This lack of employment hit me most when I would meet new people. It went like this:

Person: Well, and what do you do?

Victoria: …… uh

Person: Like for your job? Your career?

Victoria: I…. was… a teacher… once.

Barf.

It didn’t even really get better once I started being a substitute teacher. Convo as follows:

Person: What do you do for a living?

Victoria: I’m a substitute teacher (hangs head in shame).

Person: That’s cool.

Victoria: BUT I WAS A SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER!!!! JUST A MONTH AGO! I WAS IMPOOOOOORTANNNNNTTTTTT!!!!

The realization hit me pretty hard.

I found a lot of how I defined myself in my job.

The funny thing was, that I was pretty certain I did not do that. The church I attended for the majority of my time in KC really challenged people to look at who they were and what they liked to categorize themselves as when talking to people. The idea there, was that we’re so busy being “Musician! Yoga teacher! Barista! Manager!” that we forget that our primary identity should be in Christ.

So I felt, that I had a pretty good hold on that. I didn’t feel like I had to drop my career title in every conversation. I tried to not be one of those teachers that tells school stories that leave non-teachers gaping open-mouthed like guppies (or for teachers, like middle-schoolers at a school assembly).

But all of a sudden, when we moved here and I had no job anymore, I felt like I needed people to know what I was, once.

I felt totally unmoored by our move, and the fact that I was a teacher also being gone left me in a really strange place. I needed people to know that I was once someone who helped change lives! Yes, I was working as a social servant!

Why do we seek so much acclaim in our careers? Is it right and good that when I left my job I felt like I lost myself? As with everything, there’s probably a balance here. It’s excellent to have pride in your job. It’s awesome. But I think I needed to pay attention to how I went reeling when I didn’t have that job anymore.

It’s do feel like as the months have gone on, I have able to let go of that need more and more. As a human, I felt so inclined to be defined (rhyme time) by something. I needed a starting point for people to understand me, for people to grasp at who I am.

And it’s okay for that not to be work. It can be so many other things. We are more than the sum of our parts.

Like, I am more than some crazy white girl who is organic farming with no air conditioning trying to get people to buy her heirloom carrots (NO SYNTHETIC FERTILIZERS WERE USED!).

I’m me! And I just happen to be a vegetable pawnbroker ex-teacher. But you don’t need to know that to know me 🙂