Am I Really a Homesteader? (How I Got Here & Where I’m Going)
Warning: This post is a little long, and at first it might not seem homesteading related. But I want to start to really tell my story and my truth as I move deeper into the homesteading lifestyle and share more of myself here with my readers. This is the story of how I evolved into the person I am today: a homesteader, writer, country girl, punk rocker at heart and so much more.
I turned 31 yesterday. It was uneventful. I blogged and worked all day. I mommed. My husband worked on our new house. Our old house where we still live was quiet and I spent most of the day alone as my daughter slept and my phone lay dormant with a dead battery.
It certainly doesn’t compare to my 21st birthday, full of drinking and debauchery and meeting new friends in foreign lands (I lived in Europe when I turned 21). Instead, 31 is peaceful, and this birthday has been a time of reflection rather than a time of raucous celebration. And that’s just fine with me. Because that’s the life stage that I’m in right now:)
But as I reflected on my life until now and on all of the stages I’ve gone through, I thought hard about this homesteading journey that I’ve found myself on. Is it really a forever thing? Is it just a phase? A stage in my life? Will I still want to live this way at 41? 51? 81?
Ten years ago, homesteader wasn’t even a part of my vocabulary, let alone a title I gave myself. Back then I defined myself as a world traveller, a University student, a writer and a bit of an anarchist. Today I am much, MUCH more of a homebody than a traveller (homesteaders often are, but funds and family circumstances don’t exactly allow for a lot of jet setting these days either).
Two degrees and tens of thousands of dollars later, I’m finally no longer a University student. I am definitely still a writer. That I have always been. And deep down I’m still a rebel at heart, although I don’t know that I would use the term “anarchist” anymore.
Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon this homesteading lifestyle and fell in love. And the rest, as they say, is history. It is now a piece of me and a large part of how I define myself. Have I changed? Did I used to be someone that now I’m not? Am I someone now that I will no longer be ten years from now? Of course! But I prefer to use the term “evolve.”
Related: The Difficult Path to the Simple Life
On Rebranding Myself
A family member with a career in marketing said to me the other day “you should do something where you teach people how to rebrand themselves, because you’ve rebranded yourself many times over the years.”
She continued, “you used to be a skater girl, then a punk rocker,” and as she trailed off, I filled in the rest…
I was a punk rocker for a good few years. It was during the “anarchist” days throughout high school and my early twenties. I was really only ever a wannabe skater girl. I was too scared of hurting myself to ever actually ride my skateboard. Go figure… This country girl at heart has just never done well with concrete!
But I was most definitely a punk rocker. I was angsty in my teenage years, like many others of a similar age. I was also a writer for a local youth newspaper because I had always been a writer. I’d been writing since I could hold a pen -anything and everything. And this continued throughout my teen years. I used this gift to write music reviews of bands I loved, listened to and even got to meet. I used it to write social commentary on the ills of society. And I used it as therapy, because writing has always helped me to organize my thoughts and clear my mind.
I was also aware and engaged in politics and social issues and held a deep disdain for authority figures who abused their power; For unfair laws and practices that benefitted the rich and while taking power away from the poor and marginalized; For social conventions and accepted norms that brought harm to our planet and the people on it, and for so much more that I thought of as wrong with the world.
I dealt with it by rebelling and wearing my contempt on my sleeve in the form of studded leather arm bands and tattoos. I listened to punk music where others used their guitars and microphones to reinforce the message that society was doomed, governments were corrupt and there was basically no hope for the future, so let’s all get drunk. And I did. I drank too much and did whatever I could to get out of my mind and forget that the world was as shitty and unfair and unforgiving as it appeared to me in the sober daylight hours. And it worked. For a while.
But as I aged and matured, I began to grow out of this angsty teenage stage of life and look for meaning and identity in other places.
When I went on to University, I had the opportunity to do a study-abroad program in Vienna, Austria. I snapped it up and went off to Europe for a few months. I travelled across 16 countries while I was living there and had the time of my life. Travelling started to open up a whole new world to me.
I caught the travel bug bad, and when I got home I was already planning my next trip. But I was still a punk rocker at heart. And I was still a writer. I was enrolled in journalism school after all and was still writing social commentary about all of the things that pissed me off when I was fully entrenched in my “punk rocker” stage of life. I just didn’t wear studs anymore.
My Travelling Years
In my early and mid twenties, I became a world traveller. It’s sort of what I was known for at this time in my life. I had done my stint in Europe, and it wasn’t long after I’d returned home to Canada that I was invited to participate in a volunteer program in Africa for a few months. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.
Related: Living “Off the Land” in Africa: Finding Homestead Inspiration In An Unlikely Place
I ended up living in West Africa for a few months and it changed my life and perceptions in so many ways. Read more about my time in Africa here, and how it helped shape me into the person (and homesteader) I’ve become today.
I was exposed to a completely different way of life and the culture shock was like a defibrillator to the heart. My experience living in West Africa changed me in profound ways that I only now understand as I reflect back on my experience almost a decade ago. But when I returned home, I was still that punk rocker at heart. Africa had only reinforced to me that the world is divided among unfair lines, that the unequal distribution of global wealth is one of societies greatest downfalls and that ignorance can dehumanize even the most beautiful people because we fail to look past the surface and only know what we hear from others who are like us.
I was still a writer too, and now I had started documenting the world through the lens of a camera. So I guess you could say I was a photographer too. Not a great one, but it became part of my arsenal nonetheless.
And by now I was definitely a world traveller. I couldn’t wait for my next big trip.
The Corporate “City Girl” Days
I had always grown up in the city, I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, and that’s where I always came back to. So when I returned from Africa, that’s where I returned to.
I finished up the last few requirements of my journalism degree and by this time I was itching to get a job in the “real world.” I ended up getting hired on as a travel consultant with a major agency and got assigned to an office right in the heart of downtown Vancouver. I felt like a big kid now.
I had finally moved out of my mom’s place in the suburbs and was living in the south end of the city. I took the train downtown to work every morning, enjoyed drinks and appies at some of the hottest spots after work on many an evening, and took the train home at night.
I worked in travel sales and looked at brochures and flight routes day in and day out for a year and a half, and my heart still ached to see the world.
At home, inspired by the self-sufficiency and cooking skills I’d picked up and been privy to in Africa, I started to learn to make a few meals for myself and even grew a small herb garden and a few tomato plants (although I honestly don’t remember if they ever even bore fruit).
A piece of me wanted nothing more than to travel forever, and another piece of me yearned to create a life for myself and (one day) a family in a comfortable home where I’d spend my days in the kitchen creating things from scratch. I guess it was the first real thoughts I had had about anything “homestead” related, but those thoughts were in a stage of infancy back then and I had no idea what they would lead to.
At 24, I was still a world traveller. I still had places to knock off my bucket list, and that was my priority. But being a travel agent downtown was stressful. There was always pressure to sell more, mark up higher and work longer hours.
One time, I went to visit some good friends (my friend whom I had lived with and travelled around Europe with and her new husband) at their new home on a small, rural island off the west coast of B.C. I remember the feeling I had as soon as I got off the ferry and met my friend. I had an overwhelming sense of peace and calm come over me. And as we stood on her balcony later, overlooking gardens and forest and deer roaming the backyard, enjoying the silence of the forest with no traffic or city sounds to interfere, at that moment I knew that at some point in my life, I needed out of the city. I needed to be here, or in a place much like this.
But I returned to the city and to the traffic noises and to my stressful job and planned my next move, which, at this point in my life, was not to some small, rural island, but to the very large and exciting island of Australia. I would travel there to see my other good friend (whom I had lived with in Africa) and would spend a year there working, travelling and gathering more incredible experiences to fill my memory bank with.
How I Met My Mister
I had also recently met my now husband, Ryan, and we maintained a long distance relationship while I was there. After four months of flying solo, he joined me in Melbourne, and we’ve been together ever since.
We split the rest of the year there between living in Melbourne (sometimes in a tent in our friends’ backyard and other times in a rooming house with a bunch of strangers), travelling all over the country (from the East Coast to the West Coast and the Outback in between), and living in a trailer park in Byron Bay, where I worked as a maid and ran home daily screaming about cockroaches and big, disgusting spiders.
Ryan did the occasional repair job or got a travel sales gig in town every now and then (we had met working at the same travel agency). But between maid work and his occasional paid gig, money was always really tight. So this is where we really learned to live frugally as we needed to get creative about making our money stretch.
One of the main ways we did this was by cooking almost everything from scratch. We would make our weekly trip to the grocery store, load up on all of the basic, staple items that were on sale for a reasonable price and walk back a fair distance with a shopping cart we had “borrowed” from the store. Then we would cook up all sorts of meals from scratch with the basic meat, veggies, bread and dairy products we had purchased from the store. Sure we weren’t baking the bread from scratch, but I loved the empowering feeling I got from creating a tasty, nourishing and overall satisfying meal with our own two hands from a few basic ingredients.
Other than the occasional tin of soup or package of cheap ramen noodles, this really was when my love for cooking from scratch grew from the seed that had been planted during my time in Africa to a healthy seedling waiting to be nurtured into something bigger.
Home Is Where My Heart Was
When we finally returned home from Australia in 2012, we began settling into domestic life in our new condo back in the suburbs of Vancouver. For the first time in years, I couldn’t wait to put down some roots in one place and start nurturing my newest passions, which included cooking from scratch and setting up a comfortable home.
And that’s exactly what I did. And a couple years later we got married. And I went back to school to get my teaching degree because, even though I was still a writer, and a punk rocker at heart who had now earned a gig writing social commentary under a pseudonym for an edgy new local magazine, I was now in the market for a more stable life with a stable job that would give me enough time off to do the things that now called to my soul: Domestic activities like cooking and crafting and creating and keeping house.
So I became a University student once again. But quite honestly my heart wasn’t in it. Not fully anyway.
In my downtime, I started watching cooking shows that inspired me in the kitchen, and both Ryan and I started watching a lot of documentaries about the food industry and factory farms and how it’s all produced. And the punk rocker in my heart watched in contempt as a fire burned in my belly that urged me to do something about this injustice, this deceit, this awful practice of pumping out pesticide-ridden, hormone-injected, horribly raised and treated, overly-processed food (some of which can hardly even be considered food) in order to turn a profit and feed the world’s population for a cheap price tag (but a very hefty cost to our overall health and well-being).
And so I started down the path of wanting to know where my food came from and how it got to my dinner plate. And that eventually led me to my local farms and farmers markets. And to watching shows about farming and homesteading and self-sufficiency. And it got me really excited, because for the first time, I felt like I could make some real, tangible life choices that were in line with my beliefs and with who I was and always had been deep down.
Related: Why I Homestead
Homesteading aligned with the writer in me who knew deep down that I wanted to share what I was learning with the world. It aligned with the punk rocker in me that was disgruntled with the status quo and wanted to be a force for real, positive change in the world. It aligned with my quiet, rural soul that longed to find peace somewhere out in the country, closer to nature and far away from the traffic sounds and bright lights of the big city. It even aligned with the traveller in me who was never afraid to pack up and lay down roots in a new and unfamiliar place. And I figured I could be a teacher and a homesteader at the same time, so why not?
As we learned more about the homesteading lifestyle, we made plans to move to a more rural area of our province and even set a rough date to do so, but we still lived in our condo in the suburbs for at least a couple years after we even started talking about moving.
In the meantime, I learned as much as I could about this lifestyle I wanted to lead. I took out cookbooks and homesteading guides from the local library, tried new recipes and grew a few herbs (although growing anything on our north-facing, shaded balcony was tough).
I became really familiar with our local farmers and farmers markets and started learning more about cooking with organic, local foods, what grew well in our area (and in the area we planned on moving to), what wild edibles were available to us and how to forage for them, and even how to preserve seasonal foods in the most basic ways, like freezing and infusing them in oils and alcohol.
Eventually, the time came to move. And while the move itself was actually quite traumatic (which I plan to write about someday in a future post), when we finally settled into our new home on Vancouver Island, I knew we had made the right life choice.
For the past three years we have lived here, in the same place where we started out: in a 100-year-old farmhouse on a one-acre lot with a small garden we put in and an equally small greenhouse and a few fruit trees and a huge yard that we share with our neighbours who free range chickens and sell us their eggs.
During our time here, we have really dove in deep to the homesteading lifestyle and continue to dive deeper. While we don’t grow nearly all of our food at home, we do grow a variety of fruits and vegetables each year and have acquired all sorts of homestead-y skills over the past three years, like organic gardening, canning and preserving foods, baking bread from scratch, candle-making, DIY-ing many of our home and body products, building our own garden beds, greenhouse, composter, hoop houses and indoor growing stands, and much, much more.
This year, we purchased our first house as we now have our second child on the way and need to move out of this wonderful “starter homestead” that we’ve been renting. We’re actually downsizing to 1/4-acre lot, but one with much, much more established garden space than we have here with huge potential for food production.
No, we still won’t grow all of our food for the year on our little plot of land. And no, we still aren’t quite in a position to have livestock yet. But with every day, week, month and year that passes, we continue to move deeper into this homesteading lifestyle, and even on the most difficult days, I never doubt that this is the right path for me and my family.
The writer in me has found a niche as well, and has flourished with passion ever since I launched this homesteading blog a year ago, on my 30th birthday. The punk rocker in me feels like I’m sticking it to the system by increasing my self-sufficiency and making conscious life choices that align with my core values rather than willingly lining the pockets of the people and corporations that I loathe. The quiet, rural soul in me is finally finding peace out in the country, doing what she loves best: gardening, cooking, creating and living a slow, simple life. The University student in me is glad to have finally found my true calling in life, and to be able to put those writing and photography skills from journalism school to good use.
As for my teaching degree, while I did work as a teacher for a few years, I decided that’s not for me. But I do know I want to homeschool my own children, and I feel confident that I have the skills to do that. And the traveller in me? She’s fulfilled having seen much of the world already and is happy to be in one place for a while, putting all of her experiences, learning and skills to use in this new stage of life.
So as I sit here, now 31, reflecting on my past and on all the things I’ve done and people I’ve been, I wonder “am I really a homesteader?” And I know that the answer is yes. It’s a piece of me now just like all of the other pieces of me. And it always will be.
Sure, I may evolve over time. My passions and interests and talents and skills will grow and change and adapt, but I will always be all of the things that make me who I am, and I am proud to add homesteader to that list.
Because at the end of the day, I’ve never rebranded myself. I’ve built my character over the years. I’ve spent time really getting to know who I am and what my purpose is. I’ve travelled the world in search of myself. I’ve studied, rebelled, experienced and written for years trying to find the right path for me and my soul. Now I’ve found it, and while I don’t know exactly what that path will look like 10, 20 or 50 years from now, I know that I’m headed in the right direction, and that, in fact, I always have been.
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