The Best And Worst Moments Of Our First Year On The Homestead
We celebrated our first full year of life on our homestead in May! We left urban Cambridge, MA to chart a wholly different life out here on 66 acres in rural Vermont and the change this represents for us is nothing short of transformational, radical, and miraculous. Neither Mr. Frugalwoods nor I grew up–or ever lived–in a rural setting before moving here and so this year was one of constant learning and exploration (not to mention mistakes), a combination that suits us perfectly.
Why We’re Out Here
Mr. FW and I both crave adventure and diversity to our days and the opportunity to explore our land and uncover all the things we don’t know about homesteading invigorates us. One of the reasons we wanted to move out here is that after living in cities for ten years–NYC, Washington, DC, and Cambridge, MA twice–we felt tapped out. We were done with city life.
We both grew up in the suburbs and for us kids of cul-de-sacs and minivans, the city was an exotic locale where we could reinvent ourselves. We could shed our quotidian upbringings and become sophisticated urbanites. Taking the subway for the first time, learning to walk everywhere, and availing ourselves of the endless free culture was exhilarating. Over the course of ten years, we transmuted from midwestern kids into east coast professionals. We loved city life and we lived it to the fullest. Now we’re performing that reinvention yet again.
We reached a point at which the stuff we didn’t like about cities–the crowds, the dirt, the lack of nature, the cramped living quarters, the expenses, the hectic and pressured pace–overtook the pros. There was a tipping point for us at which we were no longer willing to put up with the cons, which heralded in our Frugalwoods plan. The short version of this plan: we decided city life wasn’t fulfilling us, so we saved over 70% of our income in order to decamp to the woods and reach financial independence. In the process, we turned our Cambridge, MA home into a rental property.
If you’re interested in more background on our decision, I’ve shared our thinking on why we made this move in the following posts:
- How We Decided Our Homestead Was The One
- That Time We Bought A Homestead
- Frugal Homestead Series Part 3: Why Vermont?
- The Frugal Homestead Series Part 1: Why The Woods?
The 7 Best Moments From Year One
I’ve documented each month of our first year in my This Month On The Homestead series and so today, I’ve put together a rundown of our best and worst moments. Let’s start with the bright side!
1) Bearing witness to the progression of the seasons.
Vermont does seasons like Elvis does rock-n-roll, which is to say: textbook. It’s an all caps situation for each of the four–there’s really no half-way around here. In winter, it is ALL SNOW, all the time. Spring is a shoulder season of tentative blossoms that find their footing and take over the landscape. Summer encapsulates a North American rainforest and the speed of plant growth is unfathomably fast (especially weeds… ). Fall heralds every conceivable leaf hue with crunching, crackling, crisp apples, and cider.
I’ve never lived anywhere with such stereotypically idyllic seasons. And I love it. One of the reasons we chose Vermont was the weather and this dramatic swing from season to season. In the wintertime, when snow blankets the earth rendering it a solid, unbroken plane, it’s impossible to remember that we’re snowshoeing over ridges of shrubbery and garden beds. Likewise, the riot of green and sunshine that drenches our land in the summertime obliterates our memories of snow’s stark precision.
In fact, Vermont is so obsessed with seasons that we have two more seasons than anyone else: stick season and mud season. Stick season is an autumnal occurrence that graces us post-leaves and pre-snow. The name derives from the bare, angular trees that glare at you at every turn. Mud season is the springtime equivalent of stick season: all the snow has melted but nothing is green yet. The name derives from the fact that everything is atrociously muddy.
My photographs from these two shoulder seasons are almost indistinguishable from one another and it’s a bizarre time of year where seasonality feels suspended–it’s neither hot nor cold and the trees offer no indication of which direction they’re headed in: have they just finished or are they just about to begin?
2) Eating food from our garden.
This never gets old. Not only is it frugal, it’s also miraculous. Stuff grows straight out of the dirt and then… we eat it! Could I sound more like a city person? Closing the loop on our food sources is a mega, lifelong goal of ours and we think/hope we’re making progress in this arena.
Gardening represents our steepest learning curve since it’s a lot (MASSIVELY) less straightforward than we imagined and it’s something we really (REALLY) want to excel at. Soil, rain, heat, cold, animals, weeds (f-ing weeds), the way the wind blows, whether or not Babywoods accidentally tramples plants… all of this plays into our ability to grow our own food and, let me tell you, we’ve not been terribly successful thus far. Our growing season is short–we’re in zone 4a–and although we started a bunch of veggies from seeds indoors this year, they’re not doing terrifically out there so far. More on our gardening adventures here, here, and here.
Whoops, just realized this is supposed to be the “bests” section, so let me share our wins: asparagus, arugula, rhubarb, apples, chives, blackberries, black raspberries, and approximately five tomatoes. Fingers crossed this summer’s bounty will exceed!
Our ultimate vision is to grow so many vegetables that we eat off them all year round via preserving, freezing, and canning. At this rate, I estimate we might be there in another four to forty years or so.
3) Preserving (some) food.
Since we did grow more than we could consume last summer in the categories of rhubarb, blackberries, black raspberries, and apples, I am profoundly proud to say that we managed to preserve some of these foodstuffs. Don’t be too impressed though, we followed the easiest/laziest methods of preservation:
- I made rhubarb compote, which we froze in serving sizes and which I thaw to put atop homemade pound cakes for potlucks and parties. Frugal tip: no need to buy strawberries to add in, the rhubarb + sugar is plenty sweet and flavorful!
- We froze blackberries and black raspberries and have been enjoying those all year on salads, oatmeal, and yogurt, or solo as Babywoods prefers them.
- We dehydrated a slew of apples and froze those as well. These thaw out perfectly and make a wonderful baby (+ momma) snack. The dehydrator we purchased for this express purpose was well worth the cost! And, three frugal cheers for the apple peeler/corer I found by the side of the road in Somerville, MA three years ago (I KNEW we were going to need that thing one day!).
4) Our community and friends.
I’ll be honest, before we moved here, I was pretty worried about finding friends. We’re in a town of 400 people, in the middle of deep woods, with our closest neighbor a quarter mile away. Quite the change from our previous iteration of life where our next door neighbor’s house was a mere ten inches from ours.
But my fears of isolation turned out to be wholly unfounded. Our community is tight-knit yet welcoming to us newcomers, there’s a slew of young parents with kids close to Babywoods’ age, and we find ourselves blessed with more social opportunities than we can handle.
There are town potlucks, church potlucks, birthday party potlucks, winter potlucks, summer potlucks, not to mention town fairs, gatherings every Saturday, baby play groups, and more. As you might’ve guessed, everything out here is a potluck, which suits us frugal weirdos just fine. Our town doesn’t have a movie theater or a mall or even a restaurant (although we do have a town pizza oven!), but that doesn’t preclude folks from hanging out. The mantra I’ve touted for years–that friendships aren’t destroyed, but rather are enhanced, by frugality–is what our neighbors have practiced for decades.
We’ve learned the art of barter and trade, the art of helping your neighbor, and the art of accepting their help in return. We feel more connected and more deeply engaged with the inter-generational community we’re part of here than we did in any city we ever lived in. Although surrounded by people in an urban environment, we lacked this notion of community, this knowledge that in the absence of commercial solutions, you can–and should–depend on your neighbors.
5) The pace of our lives.
Perhaps the most profound impact of this past year is the change that rural life brought to our little family. Without commutes, without the stress of the city, and without the pressure to keep up/impress others/own a bunch of stuff, we’ve been able to decompress.
Our days follow a laid back pace–we get a lot done, but it’s in our own time and in our own space. We never set an alarm clock (Babywoods takes care of that for us). We go to bed early because we do best with lots of sleep. We don’t watch much TV because we do best with quiet. We don’t have a lot of stuff because we don’t do well with clutter. Some days we don’t leave our property because we’re homebodies.
We’re crafting a life that works for us–not one that’s popular or represented in the media or touted as ideal–and many folks might consider it simple or perhaps even boring. But it works for us and it makes us happy. Finding contentment on a daily basis was a central focus of making this move. Prior to leaving the city, every day felt like a strain for me–I was always striving for something, grasping for accomplishment, trying to impress people–and I wasn’t ever content or settled in what I did.
Now, finding peace in the present moment is my daily ritual. It’s an imperfect, evolving process that changes with each season–and each stage of Babywoods’ development–but it’s one that I look forward to living for decades to come. The ability to do work that’s meaningful to me from home, while hanging out with my husband and daughter, is the epitomization of my dreams.
6) Hiking in all weather.
I marvel at our ability to hike on our land every single time I step foot outside. We are beyond fortunate to live on 66 acres of mostly forested landscape, with streams, a pond, apple trees, plum trees, gardens, and alcoves of ferns. Mr. Frugalwoods built–and is in the process of building more–hiking trails that bisect our property.
With no barrier to entry, I hike every single day, except when we’re sick or it’s pouring rain–although we did hike in the rain the other day and it wasn’t too bad. We hike all winter long, pulling Babywoods behind us in a sled, bundled up in blankets, over the whipped cream folds created by snowfall after snowfall.
We hike all summer, pushing Babywoods in our $5 thrift store jogging stroller, navigating streams, logs, and branches with ease. Every single time I hike in the woods, I’m transformed. I forget this magic from day to day and sometimes I dread the hassle of getting everyone dressed and ready to leave the nest of our home. I have to wrangle baby feet into shoes and a baby head into a hat, but within minutes on the trail, I can’t believe I considered not coming.
Nature is a balm for me, a way of easing my mind, of lowering my blood pressure, of re-focusing my priorities. The bonus is that it’s an instant baby mood-enhancer. If Babywoods is having a rough day, there’s no better amelioration than a walk in the woods.
7) The coziness of our home.
I love our house. It’s imperfect in its rendering, but it’s perfectly suited for us. We snuggle by the woodstove all winter and we loll on the porch when it warms. This home is ideal for our family and it brings me joy. I experience a sense of relief when I drive down our driveway returning from a trip away, no matter how short. I’m always glad to be home.
We have yet to do a single thing to the interior of this home–we haven’t even patched holes or painted–but it’s ours nonetheless. There’s no need to renovate or redecorate or pour thousands of dollars into cosmetics in order to love where you live.
One day perhaps we’ll do away with the ’90s-era sponge painting above our fireplace and replace the green plastic kitchen countertops, and patch the inordinate number of gouges and holes in every wall, and install overhead lighting in the family room (and take down the Christmas lights that currently brighten that room), but for now, it’s our domain and we are content.
The 4 Worst Moments From Year One
No one’s life is perfect–least of all mine–so I want to share a few of our worst moments from this past year. Not to complain, not to whine, and not to wish for anything different, but to acknowledge that we’re able to find happiness despite these imperfections.
1) Realizing how much stuff we need to buy.
Before moving here, we knew we were going to need a bunch of stuff in order to equip our homestead, but the list just keeps growing. Fortunately, we anticipated a year of slightly higher spending and so it hasn’t thrown off our projections or savings rate.
There’s a profound difference in equipment needs when one transitions from from urban to rural life. We didn’t own so much as a rake back in Cambridge since our house was surrounded by 100% concrete. Lucky for us devoted purchasers of used stuff, there are a bevy of garage sales, flea markets, Craigslist, and thrift stores out here, which’ve eased purchase prices.
We initially borrowed some of these items from neighbors, but the problem is that when we need to use a chainsaw? Everybody else needs to use their chainsaw too! For specialized equipment that we’re likely to use only once, we try to borrow from friends. But for items we use over and over and over again, week after week after week… we need to own our own.
In the long run, these purchases will yield greater frugality as they enable us to DIY all of the work on our land. For example, since we own our own tractor, which has a snowblower attachment, Mr. FW clears our quarter mile long driveway himself. If we had to hire someone to do this every single time it snowed (and sometimes twice per storm), we’d be out $65 every plow. Mr. FW estimates he cleared our driveway at least 25 times this winter, which’d be a whopping $1,625 for just one measly winter!!!
And in the summertime, that same tractor gets put to work tilling garden beds, grading the driveway, hauling logs, brush hogging trails and fields, and more. The additional bonus–beyond saving money–is that we’ve learned how to do all of this stuff ourselves (through trial, error, consultations with neighbors, and lots of tractor YouTube videos of which there are a plethora… ). If we hired someone, we’d never learn these skills ourselves. Despite these longterm advantages, in the short term it’s a pretty extensive range of expenses!
Here’s but a small sampling of the things we’ve had to purchase:
- A tractor (this was included in the purchase of our house, but still… ), which allows us to clear snow from our quarter-mile long driveway, till garden beds, brush hog trails, grade the driveway, and more.
- A large lawnmower.
- A chainsaw and chainsaw safety gear, which allow Mr. FW to fell and buck trees for firewood to heat our home, clear fallen trees off our driveway, and build hiking trails.
- An axe and a maul for splitting logs into firewood.
- This dehydrator to dry our apple crop.
- Canning supplies to preserve food.
- A plethora of garden tools: rakes, hoes, trowels, a post-hole digger, a wheel barrow, etc.
Sidenote: for dedicated readers of our monthly expense reports, these items usually show up in the category of “household and farm supplies,” unless I list them individually.
2) Getting stung by a wasp (and bugs in general).
Last summer in a valiant (but ultimately failed) attempt to clean several active wasp’s nests out of our potting shed, Mr. FW was stung in the neck. Not cool. Bugs are part of life out here in the woods and we’re becoming increasingly acclimated to their presence in our lives.
We conduct thorough tick checks on every member of the family each evening in the summer, we use screens on our windows, and our trusty fly swat is always at the ready. However, bugs have a more enhanced presence in our lives that I’d, ahem, prefer.
3) Not being prepared for ripe apples.
We learned last August that we’re the proud owners of an early ripening apple tree–a Red Duchess! Hence, all of a sudden we had about 9,000 ripe apples long before we expected them.
We hastily bought this dehydrator to try and process as many of them as possible, but we need a system capable of handling a larger quantity of apples. Our plan is to purchase a cider press (see item #1… ) in order to make hard cider this fall. Yum! And yes, I tried diligently to borrow a cider press last fall, but everyone was busy pressing their own apples!
4) Learning how to say no and manage our time.
Since a central goal in moving out here was to embrace a slower, less stressful mode of living, we’ve had to learn how to pace ourselves. There’s a temptation to work outside late into the evening and cram our days with an endless, ceaseless tide of homestead chores and activities, but we can’t. Not if we want to maintain equilibrium and incorporate rest into our days. Consequently, we’ve had to become comfortable with a lot of undone things.
Back in the city, it was pretty easy to knock off an entire to-do list in a weekend. Out here? On 66 acres? Our to do lists will range for years. And that’s OK. Coming to a place of acceptance with the undone is an ongoing process for us Type A go-getters. We want to do it all right away, but we can’t. Rather than tie ourselves into knots of stress, we’re trying to have grace in admitting we’re unable to accomplish everything.
Parallel to this is our desire to be involved in our community. Mr. FW serves on the boards of two different nonprofit organizations and is a volunteer steward with the Land Trust. I volunteer for our church and a community organization, primarily from home doing editing, writing, and poster making.
There’s so much more that we both want to do with our friends and neighbors, but we have to acknowledge the limits on our time: we’re stay-at-home parents to a toddler, we work on our land, and we work what I call “computer jobs” from home. We choose to balance our lives in this way and we love the diversity of our days–typing at a screen one hour, harvesting rhubarb the next, playing with Babywoods in the garden another–but it mandates that we manage our time carefully and ruthlessly prioritize what we do.
Our Hopes For Next Year
People often ask me what our goal is now that we’ve achieved our ultimate aspiration of a financially independent life on a homestead. But the truth is that we’re still achieving that dream and will be for a long time.
We’re still building our homestead up to where we envision it can be with extensive food production in the form of gardens and perhaps animals, wood working and welding going on in our barn, lots of food preservation happening in the kitchen, Babywoods building forts in the forest, and a labyrinth of blazed hiking trails.
Homesteading is the epitomization of a work in progress and we’re deeply thankful this is the life we’ve signed up for. There’s an almost overwhelming number of things for us to learn, which I try to view as enriching rather than frustrating (my success in this effort varies greatly, let me tell you).
Our selection of Vermont as our permanent home is validated and reinforced on a daily basis through the people, the weather, the ethos, the vibe, the lack of crowds, the absence of rampant consumerism, and the progressive values. We love living here, plain and simple, and we can’t wait for the next 60+ years.
P.S. There are just three days left to sign-up for my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which we’re taking as a group during the month of July 2017! Join over 16,400 fellow frugal acolytes who’ve taken the Challenge and saved thousands–if not hundreds of thousands–of dollars. For more information on my free 31-day money revamp, check out this post.
P.P.S. Want more homestead pics? Follow me on Instagram where I share a photo of our lives every single day.
How was this past year for you? What goals are you working towards?
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