This Beautiful Life

A recent post by Ben Hewitt rung true to my heart, right now, right where we are. Bryan and I bought our country place place thirteen years ago, when we had 5 ornery children underfoot, and we added another one after a few years, little Mack being, as it were, the final exclamation point to our sentence of smart-alek children.

Moving to the country seemed like a great idea at the time: we wanted to continue to teach our children at home (which is harder in town, honestly: we had police officers showing up at our house, checking up on our children when I had allowed them to bike to the library during “school hours”) and not to have to blanch under the scrutiny of the neighbors (we could see them watching our kids out their windows) and we wanted to build up a place in the country where we could raise our children with plenty of things to do, plenty of skills to learn, plenty of work to learn.

Check. Check, check, and check. We did it. Fait accompli. With the kids’ help and our own strong backs (and the backs of some of our family members, too, from time to time) we planted hundreds of trees, laid out two very large vegetable gardens and a decent-sized orchard, planted trees and flower beds as if the world would end if we didn’t (there were very few trees and almost no flowers on this place when we moved out here) and raised our children at the same time. We set up three hives of bees. We planted berry bushes and grapevines and asparagus. We bought a log-splitter and installed two wood stoves, so we could heat our house with wood, primarily. We raised chickens for eggs and meat, and learned how to butcher them and how not to waste a bit of those chickens when we ate them.

These are my Dad's sugar snap peas, but they're so pretty I wanted to share this picture of them.

These are my Dad’s sugar snap peas, but they’re so pretty I wanted to share this picture of them.

And the kids grew up, one by one. And as the kids each moved away, we found that we had much more time to just pull up our respective hammocks, Bryan and me, and take a well-earned rest, in the shade of the trees that we planted, eating the fruit from the trees and gardens that we so wisely planned to be big enough to feed an army. “It is time,” said Bryan with a yawn, “to, at last, enjoy the fruits of our labours.” And I breathed a restful sigh of relief, picking up my icy glass of tea with a well-manicured hand, and concurred.

Not really. Not at all. This is fiction, Gentle Readers, this last paragraph, down to the manicured hand. A cruel fantasy.

Here’s how it really happened, and is now, in fact, happening:

And the kids grew up, one by one, and as they each packed their things and gave us hurried good-bye hugs, and as we helped them to develop the skills which would make it possible for them to move away from us, Bryan and I looked at each other in mute bewilderment.

“What now?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” he mumbled.

We wanted this–this Beautiful Life-filled with children and animals and friends and family and growing things and music and books and new adventures. Sweat and tears. Laughter and learning. We taught them (and ourselves) how to tend it all–how to prune apple trees versus peach trees, how to pull weeds so you get the roots up, how to pile mulch around the plants so you don’t have to weed again any time soon. How to plant heirloom tomatoes and onions and potatoes and peas. How to harvest rhubarb and spring lettuces and kohlrabi and elderberries. How to use the wild plants that grow all around us–dandelion, dock weed, nettles, lambsquarters, How to bake bread and make rhubarb pie and how to fry chicken so it stays crispy and how to can tomatoes and make pickles and preserve herbs. So much more. We built a hoophouse so we could extend our growing season in a wonderful way.

After a recent storm, relieved that we didn't get the hail that was forecasted, we rushed outside to take in the amazing colours of the sunset streaming through the trees.

After a recent storm, relieved that we didn’t get the hail that was forecasted, we rushed outside to take in the amazing colors of the sunset streaming through the trees.

And now. And now. . . . ? With each child leaving, we are left with a smaller workforce, but the work doesn’t go away. Strangely. And with Timothy taking his job in the city, we are left more short-handed then ever. Amalia is a cheerful worker and Malachi is learning, but I wonder if this is the tipping point, for us. The point where we go from “perilously behind” in our gardening and mowing and tending, to “we just can’t keep up.”

I’m in danger of oversharing here, I realize that, and I’m trying not to go over that line. It’s a confusing journey for us, one that I’m confident many other parents have trod, have figured out, and have emerged triumphant on the other, Empty Nesting, side. But to be honest: it’s not one that we pictured happening so quickly. When I planted 30 fruit trees, I only envisioned lots and lots (and lots) of fruit and the sweetest blossoms in the spring. Children running and laughing through the well-tended orchard. Bushels of apples. Cherry pies. Canned applesauce. Peach cobbler. I didn’t envision pruning them all by myself, one day, with hands that are starting to show arthritis (it’s true).

Woodpile, orchard, hoophouse, bees.

Woodpile, orchard, hoophouse, beehives.

When we laid out our fun walking paths criss-crossing and encircling our place, we always envisioned one of our kids on the riding mower, keeping them mowed. And enjoying them on our bikes, or on foot, together. Not spending every spare moment, ourselves, keeping them mowed.

And yet we’re not ready for assisted living yet. I admire people who get old and still stay active and busy and that’s what I see for us: but how to keep up with our place, I can’t quite see that yet. I know that God has a plan for us, and I’m looking for that. A plan to let some things go, without feeling like a failure. Or a quitter.

What do you want, Amy? I’ll tell you. I want to live out here, to tend my gardens and orchard and bees and so forth, but I also want time to enjoy my children and my grandchildren and my good husband and my family and friends, without the breathless “work harder, work faster, get caught up” that has been driving me for some time now. Is it possible? I don’t know.

That’s all I want. That’s not so much to ask, is it? Or . . . is it?

Like Ben Hewitt wrote, there are days–in January, when the snow is piled high and the chickens are waiting for me to trudge through it to break through the ice on their water bucket and pick up cracked eggs, and we can’t keep the house comfortably warm no matter how much wood we chuck into the living room wood stove–when I would sell this place, lock, stock and barrel (as they say) for any price. Or at the height of summer, when the fierce wind from the south makes it miserable outside and you can practically see the garden perishing, plant by plant. But you wouldn’t want to buy it then.

You’d want it now. When everything is green and lush and just ripe for the plucking. When the pond is full from recent rains, and the new bushes that we just planted are covered with new growth. The garden is already bursting with wonderful things to eat, and the hoophouse is full and thriving. So much promise. The heirloom tomato plants are covered with dainty yellow blossoms. Promise of pleasure and delight.

rainbowcoop

But today–I wouldn’t sell it for any price. Not yet. Probably not next month, either, because I’m pretty excited about the blue tomatoes that I planted. And that new purple broccoli. And I’d like to see how those spring chicks turn out. And with my hoophouse half-full of flowers for cutting and half-full of tomatoes and peppers and lettuces and kale, I’d like to see how all that turns out. And the cherry trees are positively loaded.

But you might want to check with me again. In late July, say, or early January.

Maybe.

Looking out across our backyard to the west, toward the setting sun.

Looking out across our backyard to the west, toward the setting sun.

 

Hey, I’m going to join up with the linky party over at The Prairie Homestead. Come on over!

 

29 thoughts on “This Beautiful Life

  1. rita

    Do you need to adopt some more kids? Perhaps run some ‘summer on the farm’ programs for city kids? Would people work for room and board? Could be that your kids will come back home once they’ve found mates and they find they miss their country life.

      1. rita

        It’s not a whole lot different here, not on acreage. We dearly wanted to live out of town back before kids, bought 100 acres, but it was too far from cities and though they were talking about telecommuting, it wasn’t a reality. It’s only now 35 years later that telecommuting might be attempted, but the delicate economy and constant pressure to cut costs (which often results in downsizing) makes the absent face a fair target for the pink e-slip. So, we bought just outside of town in the ‘burbs, so kids could have friends on the street, and commuting wasn’t bad. In the middle of raising kids, a farm just slightly further out was taunting us. We bought and sold conditionally but our buyers couldn’t find sell, so the whole thing fell through. Now, our kids are gone: 2 are in town and 1 is 3 hours away. We’re still wondering what to do. It’s our destiny. There are no longterm or general answers, only enjoying today.

  2. Donna

    I. Can. So. Relate. Except I am female, almost 66 years old and doing it all by myself on 26 acres in the hill country of Texas. I have a wonderful family of 3 married children, 6 incredible grandchildren and 2 adorable great grandchildren who I would love to spend more time with (they all live 3 hours away). But I created this monster and the 1/2 acre garden requires constant tending, (especially the 200 heirloom tomato plants that I so optimistically set out in mid April) the chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks & guineas all have to be fed, the yard has to be mowed and weedeated (is that even a word? Lol) and the fruit trees and berry vines all have to be hand watered. We are still in a serious drought here so watering is an almost daily chore. Then there is the harvesting, canning & freezing in between the bread making and creating homemade salves out of my herbs and the wild plants that grow here. There are seriously days where I just want to walk away and leave this paradise. But I don’t because my biggest fear in retirement….boredom…sits on my shoulder taunting me. Sit down and rest and you will get BORED, then you will be tempted to get a real job again, and be a slave to regular hours and a paycheck. And why in the world would I trade 15 hour days and negative cash flow for that!! Plus I would lose my gorgeous tan and fabulous muscles from hauling those 50# sacks of feed.

    I think second guessing ourselves is human nature but I am like you, this month you couldn’t buy my little farm for all the money in the world. But ask me again in September!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Donna,
      We are kindred spirits, my friend. I thank you for sharing your experience, which (no kidding) made me tired to read. Phew! A beautiful life, indeed, that you have built for yourself! I don’t think you’ll be bored any time soon, and keeping those muscles toned just makes it easier to frolic around with the grandkids, right? 😉

  3. Angela Dawn

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Amy. My husband and I are seeing our parents go through this same thing–large properties to tend, children all grown and moving out to start there own families.

    The ironic thing is that we want to start this same process all over with our children! The dream of a little land, eatable and beautiful things growing, children playing, contented animals… I think it’s a yearning to tend the earth, make beauty, and provide well for our families (on many levels) that keeps calling us.

    I don’t have any advice or words of wisdom, but maybe the encouragement that you have given your children something wonderful and irreplaceable in their growing up years?

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Angela,
      Thank you so much for your encouragement, and may I add one thing: despite my rambling wonderings, I don’t really think we would have changed a thing. Well . . . maybe I wouldn’t have planted QUITE so much . .. well, naw. I probably would have. 😉

  4. Chef William Chaney

    Ah Amy, and so life has this way of moving on and it’s kind of sink or swim as we age, but the pond never looked so big. All seven of ours are gone, they have returned from time to time to have us bail them out and then they leave again. There are no boys living at home to clear the snow from 40 feet of driveway, or to mow the lawn, help with the planting of vegetables and flowers in the Spring and summer. There are grandchildren to visit, which involves planning and travel. There are repairs to the house in Wisconsin. And so we have our home in Mexico, where living is 30 percent less expensive and the temperature is always somewhere between 65 and 90 degrees, and there is no snow to shovel or lawn to mow. We are at what looks to be the last big step we must take. That is when do we sell the home in Wisconsin, that we spent 22 years building and move to Mexico for good, or when do we sell the properties in Mexico, live full time in Wisconsin and hire people to help with what needs to be done to enjoy the house that is now without children. The answer appears to be to move to Mexico because we both love it there…..but we are putting off selling the house in Wisconsin for one more season…just to make sure…

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I know it’s a hard decision, Chef, but it seems that you are living the both of both worlds right now . . !

  5. Gene

    Oh Amy – I am sitting here – a 70 year old man – with my eyes streaming tears. Not only is this a beautifully and lovingly written blog posting, it so mirrors my own experience. As James, says above: Been there, done that. You’ve seen my place, you’ve seen the thousand trees that I have planted on what was once poorly maintained prairie, you’ve seen the double dug raised beds and the greenhouses. God only knows how many hours are represented in all that. What you didn’t see – or didn’t focus on – was the 14 acres I now rent out to a neighbor for prairie hay and alfalfa. Gone are the two acres of daylilies, peonies and iris. Covered with weeds is the half acre I used to grow squash and pumpkins on. The two large greenhouses are empty 9 months of the year. Etc., etc., etc. Why? As you are now experiencing – I simply could not keep up with it. My kids, grandkids and great grandkids all live somewhere else. There is only so much produce my wife and I can eat and preserve and (mostly) give away. We both have age-related physical issues; not crippling, thank goodness, but enough to slow us down and sap our energy. But it has been incredibly difficult to slow down, cut back, smell the roses, take it easier. Every day this time of year – never mind that I’ve been out there mowing-pruning-harvesting-weeding-watering since 5:45 am – I quit some time in late afternoon feeling guilty about tasks left undone. My wife retired after 40 some years of teaching and now devotes about 40 hours of time each week to her church. She can’t slow down either! How and why did we get this affliction? I have wondered many times how you manage to home school your kids, manage an acreage and critters AND write so much.

    I hope you and your husband do a better job of disengaging than we have. If you start working on it now, you might have it figured out by the time you kiss Mac goodbye on his way out the door to college.

    Hey – please remind Amalia that she was going to send me some of the photos she took. Did she take the ones in your posting? they are totally gorgeous!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Gene,
      Geez, I didn’t mean to make anybody cry. 🙁 Your place is absolutely beautiful, and the day I was there, everywhere I looked, I just saw lovely growing things and I saw beauty and I saw big things attempted and accomplished! I didn’t see the places that you refer to, but even if I had, I still would have been enchanted. I don’t know (frankly) if Bryan and I will be able to “disengage” any better than you have. It doesn’t seem to be our nature, either, to want to slow down. And I WILL remind my daughter to send photos to you–oh my, she got some good ones!

  6. Sophie Bowns

    Gosh- your house and land look beautiful Amy. You have made some great sacrifices along the way i.e taking the time to home school your children. I can’t even imagine having 1 child, let alone 5! 😛

  7. Laurel Regan

    Beautifully written – I can feel the bittersweetness and mixed emotions as if they were my own. No easy answers, indeed. I wish you all the best, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  8. Sojourner

    Beautifully narrated. What a dilemma! Keeping a farm is quite the task. Yay to you and your husband for creating the life of your dreams and raising your children according to your values. It must be very bittersweet to watch them leave the nest one by one.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh, you have no idea! But then, maybe you do! But though it’s bittersweet, we know that it’s for the best. And we’re grateful.

  9. Mari

    Amy, Amy, Amy. You have the most gorgeous place and I know that you do not live in the gentlest part of the country, and you have carved out a wonderful oasis there. It is all just fantastic.
    I live in the hill country of Texas and we are now hot! Yes, and as I tend to my chickens and garden, I drip with a moisture that some like to call “misting” but not me – I sweat!
    So now I am developing the biggest garden of vegetables that I have ever had, and just planted lots of fruit trees so I can have a bountiful harvest. Why? My two daughters are grown with families of their own. My grandchildren live half a continent away. Virtually, there is mostly me and my husband. Why ever would I do this at this “senior citizen” time of my life?
    Let me tell you why. I watched my mother-in-law decide that she had worked hard enough in her lifetime so she sat down in front of the TV with a crossword puzzle book in her hand. There she sat till the day she died. She wasn’t that old – she was just through with living and through with life. I decided then and there that one thing that I was going to do was work hard and live as much off the land as I can possibly do. I refuse to stop living till my life is over. God will decide when I will go, but till then, I will not waste a day being non-productive.
    For the last 5 years, I have gone through 5 surgeries on my feet. I have experienced what it is like to lie in bed for 2 months at a time with complete bed rest, then on to PT and wheelchairs and walkers and such, till finally I was able to hobble out to my poor little chickie babies and watch my husband climb the steps into the hen house to gather eggs, feed them and do all the things I desperately wanted to do. I wanted my chickens back.
    I looked at the garden that was filled with weeds and no produce. I sighed because I wondered if I would ever get the opportunity to walk well enough to tend to it again.
    Prayers were answered and now I am back in the groove. I have a healthy garden and happy chickie baby ladies that I love and adore. We are in the process of building me a canning kitchen so I can do my canning out of the house and under cover from weather – sun, wind and rain.
    And do you know what? I am happy, happy that I get up at 5 am to tend the chickens and go from there directly into the garden to tend it. I think of the alternatives and I thank God daily. And do you know what else? I have some friends who ask if they can come learn to can and will be happy to help me can! So I have traded my children’s help for friend’s help. I will share produce with them since I have more than I need. You see, God has provided me with gardening help when I need it. He may do the same for you. I know that I enjoy the fact that I am becoming more self-sufficient, I am eating healthier food, and I am staying mobile. For that, I am willing to work long days.
    Actually, no one should feel sorry for me because I am realizing my passion. I love to work. I love to express my artistic bent in the garden with beautiful examples of God’s handiwork. I rest when I need to, but to me, the best time of the day is when I am walking through the garden and communing with God and taking a bazillion pictures of every tiny flower and leaf and fruit and vegetable. I always am at peace at that time.
    All my children are gone, but life has taken on a new hue. The colors are brighter – are they? I don’t think so, really, but I have more time to concentrate my mind on the colors without the distractions.
    So, Amy, do what you can, don’t stress about tomorrow – God will take care of that – and enjoy every single day. Tomorrow and what it holds are not ours to worry about. It will be as great for you as it is for me. Our focuses just change a bit with the empty nest, but I love it every bit as much as I did with the children at home.
    God gives us seasons of the year. He also gives us seasons of our lives. Enjoy the season that you are in and look forward with happy anticipation to the seasons ahead of you. Exciting times are coming.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thank you, Mari. You are my kind of woman, and you can’t imagine how you’ve encouraged me with this comment. You’re right, of course. I love this: “I refuse to stop living till my life is over.” An abundant, o’er-busy life like the one that God has given me is so much better than the crossword puzzle in front of the TV, even if I’m not able to keep up as well as I used to. Thanks again for your encouragement and your gentle kick to the backside. I really needed it. 😉

  10. Lily Leung

    Hi Amy: I’m reading your post in between rising dough. Doing double batch bread and cinnamon buns today. You have a beautiful place. I would love to live off the land the way you and your family are doing.
    But I get where you are at.

  11. Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA @ cerebrations.biz

    A most bittersweet point in the journey. Thrilled to see those we nourished thriving- albeit not by our sides. But, then, I didn’t stay by anyone’s side either…
    it is amazing, thrilling, and breathtaking to watch my children and stepchildren making their places (taking?) in this world.
    And, I have finally given up the six-story, six bedroom home- to squish down to three stories, three bedrooms (and, of course, a backyard, still- albeit 1/50th the old one’s size)…
    Good luck- the journey is worth it.

  12. cookinmom

    Oh Amy, yes, hate to say it but we are going through the same thing. Our place is not as big as yours but we have a large 4 bedroom home on 5 acres. Our first has graduated from college (civil eng) and is at home for a year to earn for a house. The second has just graduated from college (mecanical eng) last month and has moved to Wichita, Kansas to take a job with Cessna aircraft (so hard, as he’s sooo far away). Our third just graduated from high school, going to college here and we are feeling it! I’m already thinking about how hard it would be to maintain this home just by mowing it. I’m ready to downsize and am preparing myself because I don’t want to be a slave to it. I would much rather find a smaller place and have a small garden and still enjoy it while I’m young. I don’t want to wait until I’m to old to decide, so am planning as hard as it may be. Reality starts to kick in when you have to take out the trash because your sons gone!! :0)
    I’m coming to a place to where I would rather make the move now rather than when I’m old. You’re still young and have plenty of time to decide. Who knows what tomorrow may bring…children coming back to the nest?? You never know! 🙂

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’m trying to remind myself, Rose, to just enjoy every day as it comes, and not to fret about the future! Thanks for your comment!

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