How to be a Happy Homesteader…How to be a Happy Person
Over the past few weeks we have been creating yet another homestead. We’ve been striving toward this concept of self-sufficiency for over a decade and still have not found it. What does it mean to “create a homestead?” Once upon a time, I started homesteading (the verb) on our little homestead (the noun) out of fear of the impending unknown. I wanted to be happy and not afraid of the future and all the problems that may happen. I wanted to eliminate all the insecurities and solve all my problems…or what I thought were problems. Back then I thought that if I had a fully, self-sustaining homestead, I’d be happy.
Why do you grow?
“Daddy, why do you grow plants?” My son, sitting in the back seat and safely buckled in his Britax car seat asked this question one morning on the way to his day care. I adjusted the rearview mirror to see him better. He had his head down and was playing with his little “Toby” train (Thomas and Friends) and asked the question almost as an afterthought. I wanted to answer his question right away. After all, I spent hours and hours out toiling away in the dirt and garden beds. I should be able to answer this question to a 4-year-old’s satisfaction. Truth: I didn’t know how to answer that question. So, I faked it. “So we can eat fresh vegetables and say healthy.”
But that wasn’t the full truth of it all. After dropping him off and watching him wave “bye” at me through his daycare class window, I headed off into the rat-race and onto the crowded I-84 toward work. That question stuck in my mind like a bad song. It played over-and-over and I ignored the truth my gut was telling me. Back then, I worked my homestead out of fear. What if I couldn’t feed my wife and child one day? What would I do? How would I protect them? Fear. That’s why I homesteaded. Fear of one day waking up in a world where folks would have to physically fight for their food. Fear that the “end” would come in January and harvest wouldn’t come till July (if anyone was lucky enough to have seeds). Fear was my “problem” and my motivating factor. It was…
There comes a time in life when you realize that you see “people” as a group with whom you do not belong. You know what I mean. You look out at society through your “see-all” spectacles positioned just so at the edge of your nose to allow your snoot to lift up as if you do not belong to the group that you refer to as “people.” Hey, not you! But people I know *wink*.
But it’s true, we are all “people” and for each time you complain about “people” there are people complaining back at “people” with whom you are associated. “People!”
What do we know? Nothing. We know nothing more than what we either have experienced first-hand or what someone has told us. We strive to be the prettiest, smartest, best-est, most admired-est of them all. Deep down, we don’t want to be associated with this destructive group we refer to as “people” but we work so hard to gain acceptance these same people. So many toil and labor for the biggest house, loudest motorcycle, hottest hot tub, the biggest big screen through which more “people” on commercials can tell us what more we need to get so we’ll all be accepted by “people” and finally find happiness.” Truth be known: everyone is doing the same thing you are and really don’t give a rat’s patootie about what big, new, shiny thing you got. We are all on the same rat race in search of happiness but will never truly find it.
We homesteaders are no different…I am no different. Instead of all that bling that other “people” are interested in and chase after everyday, we homesteaders want the fertile-ist soil, the tastiest tomatoes and the mulch-iest garden beds. We fixate over weed and bug control by using toxin-free substances and proudly show off the browning and dying weed to our neighbor as if we just discovered plutonium or something. What? Not you? Don’t believe me? Take a gander on Pintrest. Note the many garden, homesteading and chicken pins out there. We’re just as guilty of showing off our bling as “people” are in showing off fingernail designs, new shoes for spring or methods to keep their shiny motorbike…well…shiny. By the way, how did the male of our species demonstrate their masculinity before the internal combustion engine was developed? I digress…
Washed Out Garden
Many years ago when we moved back to Louisiana, I wanted a garden that looked awesome and impressive and caused people to say, “WOW!!” My grandfather drove down from Monroe to Chopin for a look-see. We walked back toward the garden. There was a bit of a slope on that property and he didn’t walk all the way down to the garden but he got the gist of the garden beds from afar.
“Kevin,” Pops said in a drawn-out tone.
“Yes sir?” I answered knowing that he was about to fault me on my garden plan. His tone said everything.
He paused likely to think about his words before letting them loose on me, “The money you spent on that garden would have gone a long way at the farmer’s market for the next 30 years.”
“Yes sir.” He was right. So right.
In 2002, we moved from Idaho (the first time to move out of our state) back to Louisiana and the great South. I purchased 20 acres of sandy, creek bottom ground. Even with 20 acres, there was only a small space to grow on. The area was slopped and was in need of some serious amending. I wanted to level the ground and, instead of digging in, I “dug” out. By using lots of boards treated with Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) (because I didn’t know any better), I began to build elevated beds and terraced them down the slope. They looked great! Five or six beds set in half-octagonal shapes. I was happy. Until the huge truck brought us some topsoil and, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow load, I filled those beds with dirt that would soon pack like beach sand nearest to the water line. Nonetheless, I filled them up and leveled them out. I was happy.
Have you ever heard of “raining cats and dogs?” If you’re from the South you have. Folks here in Idaho say, “It’s raining hard out there.” They don’t know. That “hard rain” is more like a sprinkle compared to the cloud in the sky dropping all at once like it does in Louisiana. That spring, when the “cats and dogs” fell out of the sky, that water ran down that slope and into those garden beds and my “topsoil” made its way UNDER the timber-framed beds, under the timbers and on down to the creek below. I spent more time digging a trench in front of the beds just inside the timbered-framed beds and more money spent buying stainless flashing to “hold” in the soil.
The next time a heavy rain came, the flashing worked great! It mixed with the topsoil and made half-octagon bowls of topsoil soup that spilled over and around…and OVER the beds on down to the creek below.
We moved…I was happy.
What will make us Happy?
Happiness is not found at any destination (other than Heaven). You may be happy at your wedding, graduation, paying of that bill or finally having that nice bowel movement after being 5 days out (I’m a nurse too). You may have been happy…for a time. Then comes “being married,” going to a job after graduation, figuring out what to do with the money you spent on the old, paid-off bill and…yet…you’ll end up having to poo poo again…maybe tomorrow…maybe you need to add some probiotics to your diet. You find the happy moment in reaching your goals but you don’t find happiness there…you find more problems. But that’s okay. Solving problems is what makes us happy…as long as they are good problems.
Did you get that concept? How’s this: We wanted chickens. That’s a problem we wanted to solve. Easy, right? We got chickens. Happy now? For a moment, yes. Then comes the problems. They are living in our garage. The chicken coop needs to be built. We need to keep them fed. Laboring toward our goals will eventually lead us to a happy moment, but the laboring itself gives our lives satisfaction and meaning…not to mention the eggs and mulch we’ll get from our birds.
We think we will feel happy “if only” this or that would happen to us. If only I had 10 acres, if only I had a chicken coop, if only I had weed-free garden beds, if only I could make money doing something I love doing each day. We get stuck in this “if only” mental mind loop and we feel sad because we don’t have our “if onlys.” Finding happiness in our “if onlys” is a Gordian Knot. It will never happen. Finding happiness in the pursuit of our “if onlys” brings happiness.
Still confused? Let’s try this non-homesteading concept: You want to lose 30 pounds. That’s a problem. You join a gym and start getting up at 4 in the morning to hit the elliptical. 10 pounds into your goal, someone asks, “are you losing weight?” That’s a happy moment. When you reach your goal of 30 pounds, you find another happy moment. Now that you lost your weight, are you happy? Did you find lasting bliss and serenity in your new 30-pounds-lighter body? Yes? No?? Maybe. You now have more problems: Keeping that 30-pounds-off, not feeling like a fatty when you gain 6 back during the holidays, always giving up what you’d rather be eating, and those around you finding this skinny version of you as now common-place and no longer giving you those motivational-kibbles to keep you working toward your goal… you’ve reached your goal…and are “happy.”
Now, I’m not saying that losing 30 pounds and working to keep it off is a bad thing and will not bring you happiness. Staying fat and always wishing for the “if only I was skinny” has a thousand more negative effects on your happiness. The concept I am trying to establish is this simple, yet extremely hard to grasp: we find happiness in our efforts and labors at solving our problems.
Never Before In History
We live in a day-and-age of opportunity. You’ve heard this before, right? Sure you have. But have you ever thought about it. We have more opportunity and more stuff than any society has had in history with the exception of ancient royalty. And still, we are not complacently happy as a society…as a world. We are a stressed, depressed, anxious, fat, sick, over-worked, longing-for-Friday people that feel like we’ve missed out on the good life. But the “good life” is farce. It’s an idea that will never be a reality for any long period of time. Yet, we see other people every day living the good life. And we are reminded of it every day…multiple times a day. Look at your Facebook feed. Other than the occasional Eeyore-Facebooker, most everyone is having a grand-old-time graduating, buying their dream home, getting a new puppy, having a baby, building a chicken coop, gathering rocks… you get the idea. Are they all really that happy all the time? You know the answer to that question. Still, we see 1000 happy people doing 1000 happy things that we are not doing and we feel depressed because we want what they have and we start on the “if only…” mind loop. Back in my Grandma Kelly’s day, there was no Facebook. If she felt bad she probably said, “Gee, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. Oh well. That’s life. I think I’ll go milk the cow.” In our generation, when we feel bad about ourselves, we get this constant “reminder” of what an ecstatic life everyone else is living, that we feel worse than a “cow turd.”
What does all of this have to do with Homesteading?
Homesteading is like any pursuit in life. It’s a mission with a 1000 particular goals based on the perceptions of 1000 different homesteaders. Homesteading is your mission in life, or better yet, one of many missions you have in your life. It’s your “happiness.” And, in case you haven’t discovered this yet, happiness and contentment is your prime mission in life…it’s a God-programmed human emotional trait that we all have. Growing, building and securing makes you happy. Note the “ing” behind each of these words. The act of homesteading makes you happy.
Life is a process with a constant set of problems. How you respond to your problems will either make you happy or sad. I’m no expert on this. All I have are 47 years of experience with life and still I find all of this problem stuff hard to comprehend and accept. But, I keep reminding myself that problems are inevitable and plan to respond to the problem like I would the next rock I need to finish my garden bed: Find it, place it, move to the next garden bed. And, regrettably, I will get aggravated at something and feel the world is crashing down around me. We all will. But isn’t that just another rock to be placed? Won’t we get over it and move on to the next problem? Because that’s life; it’s a series of endless problems to be solved and solving problems…good problems…is what makes us happy.
And, by the way. Gardening is good way to be happy…chemically. “Mice exposed to the same bacteria made more of the brain’s “happy” chemical serotonin, the Bristol University authors told the journal Neuroscience.” Thought I’d throw that out.