In my last post of December 2015, I spent some time reflecting on some struggles that I have been having since Papa got sick last summer, and began looking at the ways I had let myself get off balance. I had gotten off balance with myself, off balance with our life and off balance with our plan for moving forward. Papa’s experience has led to many changes in our lives. I had set unrealistic expectations for myself. The first item on my list of foolish expectations says a lot:
1. Do whatever needed to be done that Papa could no longer do on his own.
I have never been one to ask for help, but I have stopped to realize that our pioneer ancestors did not do things entirely on their own. They traveled west in wagon trains for safety and to pool resources. After arriving at their destinations, they settled in communities. There, within the communities a neighbor that was in need that was helped by the other neighbors. Whether trading labor, bartering for supplies, creating threshing crews, attending barn raisings, or participating in quilting bees, the Pioneers worked together to make sure everyone was as successful as possible. Fields were plowed and planted, hay and grain was harvested, even firewood was cut by groups of people, not individuals.
It seems to me that surrounding ourselves with like-minded people is a good step toward building a community of Modern Pioneers. Self-sufficiency in today’s world can be different that for our ancestors. For us, we want to avoid purchasing processed foods in the big box stores as much as possible for both economic and health reasons. We heat both our home and our water with wood, saving our propane for our dryer for the few times we need to dry clothing and cannot hang them on the clothes line. I grind wheat to make whole wheat flour, that I use to make bread and rolls, and even pancakes. We raise pigs, rabbits, calves, chickens, and are looking into raising goats for meat and eggs. With all that being said, if something goes awry for us, it means a trip to the store, work wasted, and sometimes money spent to correct the situation. For our ancestors a lost crop or animal illness or death could mean the difference in surviving the upcoming winter.
I have electricity and have modern conveniences to help with the tasks needed to live our modern pioneering lifestyle. This is necessary for us, as I also work a full time job that requires me to be gone from home for a minimum of 48 hours a week. Without our modern equipment, there would not be time to actually do the things we want and need to do. There is a part of me that would love to life off grid and be totally independent of the electric companies, big box stores, etc. But that would be mean no off the farm job, and working it 24/7 like our ancestors did. We have bank loans, and other modern obligations that simply do not allow us to forget about society and disappear into the wilderness to live on our own, not to mention the fact that we are soft and spoiled and not as young as we used to be! I don’t know many people that could suddenly go off grid, step back in time and forgo all that modern society offers. I do, however, know many people that want to grow their own food, process fruits and vegetables for winter storage, process their own meat, heat with wood, make their own soap, cook from scratch, etc. With our Facebook group, SW Missouri Homesteaders Buy, Barter, Sell or Trade, we have begun to develop a group of local people that have the same goals of living a self-supporting lifestyle that we do. This group has shared ideas, traded items, traded labor, taught each other knowledge and skills and been an unfailing support system.
We have been supplied with blueberries when we could not go pick for ourselves. We have had our cow milked numerous times, before we decided to sell her after Papa got sick. We have helped friends render lard. We have worked together to butcher chickens. We taught friends to butcher rabbits, to can green beans, shared recipes… the list goes on and on. I have resources just a call away. The problem I had with the expectation that I should be able to do it myself is mine. I have a very hard time making that call for help. I need to remember that is ok to ask for assistance, accept offers of help and offer up help in return.
One of the differences I have noticed in today’s society is that people are not as in tune to what to what is going on around them. We all get so wrapped up in our own places, our own ideas, our own struggles, that we forget to look around us at others to see if there is anything that we could do to help them. Right or wrong, that is a fact of life for all of us in our current society. We can work to make that better, one step at a time, one instance at a time. Noticing that someone is struggling and offering up help is the root of community. When that does not happen, there is no shame in asking for help. There is also no shame is changing the way we are doing things, that might be less labor intensive that would either allow Papa to do it, or allow me to do it in his place. It is time for me to look around and see what we can do differently, what we can do to trade labor with friends and what we can barter or hire done.
I now realize that while there are a lot of things that I can do on my own, and that Papa can still do, there is no reason to struggle, take a chance on injury, and have impossible expectations. We have a very supportive family and a group of supportive friends that will need our help as well. So, for those of you who feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall, trying to get things started and keep them going, I have the following advice to make your journey easier and more pleasant.
First, examine your expectations. Are your expectations realistic? Are you working with a plan that has a firm foundation and that you are building on in steps? Are you gradually adding the parts you need to create the lifestyle you want to live? Or, are you expecting to jump in with both feet and do it all from the beginning with no problems, no struggles, no help and no failures? (Don’t ask me about my initial plan…how do you think I understand the differences? 😉 ) Build a plan that adds a little at a time. Perhaps a garden is the first step, with learning to freeze and can your surplus is the first step. This can be done in many ways. You could even choose to can your own food by taking advantage of Farmer’s Markets or bulk sales at the store, without any acreage or any dirt under your fingernails. Pick what is important to you, and build from that. Don’t try to do it all at one time. If your expectations are unrealistic and impossible, you could quickly become overwhelmed and have set yourself up for failure.
Second, periodically re-examine your expectations and your plan. Are there adjustments that need to be made? Is everything on track? Is there anything that you need to back up and re-evaluate? Don’t be afraid to make changes. Some of life’s most important lessons come out of failures. The least you should do is see what things can be improved upon and take steps for that improvement. Make sure you are continuing to work on the things that are important to you and your family. Your needs will be different than everyone else’s needs, so your plan should be unique, specialized to your family. You can learn many things from others, but that does not mean that everything you learn needs to become a priority in your plan or that the priorities of others need to become your own.
Third, utilize your resources. Take advantage of family and friends that are willing to help by teaching, working, helping or sharing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it is needed. Think about the pleasure you feel when someone asks you to teach them or help them with something. This feeling of pride and worthiness needs to be experienced by everyone, and when you acknowledge your need for help, you are allowing someone else to experience those feelings, as well as getting the help you need to accomplish the tasks at hand.
Finally, take notice of the family and friends that share your goals and plans. Be mindful of the things they are going through. Offer up a hand, show up to help with whatever is being done that day, pay attention and make sure that you are providing as much to the relationship as you are receiving from it. Nothing will end a relationship sooner, than one party feeling taken advantage of; one person constantly helping, advising, giving to another, but the other never reciprocating. Enjoy gifting as well as receiving.
I am working to make some changes in my attitude toward our life. I will be working on improving what we have and making sure that if we decide to expand to include raising a new animal, learning a process, or perfecting a new technique, we are ready for it. I will remember that we can’t do it all, and we don’t need to do it all. We need to focus on what is important to us. We have friends that are willing to help, and will need help in return. Most importantly I will work toward being realistic in what I expect and accept the fact that it is ok to not do it all.
Last year was a good lesson in many ways and I look forward to continuing our journey toward a simple, healthy life being a Modern Missouri Pioneer.