Saturday, January 1, 2011

How we got here.

Looking up old friends I've lost touch with on Facebook makes me wonder what on earth they'd think of my life now, and leads me to vividly imagine what the me of 15 or 20 years ago would think about my current lifestyle (hint: the dominant emotional tone would be horror).

Here I am, home with two kids, trying to grow as much of my own food as possible in my back yard, with chickens under my deck (and three chicks under a heat lamp in Steve's office), a worm composter in the basement (which seems to be producing more fruit flies than useful compost at the moment) and essentially camping in the upper two levels of the house this winter because I'm tickled to see how infrequently we can run the furnace.

In my previous life, I was a very conventional person, really. I shopped at malls, I got my hair colored and cut professionally, I worked 40 hours a week and went on far-away vacations to de-stress. I have no idea what happened to me, but I thank god that it happened to Steve too, or at least that he's very good at pretending that he's on board with all this.

We were lucky to have started out as DINKs for a couple of years before deciding to have kids, and lucky that one of us had a pretty good head on her shoulders about most things financial. We stumbled upon a Simplicity Circle forming in a nearby city about the time that I got pregnant with Willow, and met monthly with a small group of fascinating people to work our way through Cecile Andrew's book on voluntary simplicity and intentional living.

With the excellent foundation that work provided, we resisted the urges to upscale our house, cars and various stuffs, and managed to string together almost a decade of living on a 60-percent time job that Steve negotiated at the LA Times, with me staying home to do the attachment parenting-homeschooling thing. When I could no longer ignore the insistent --irresistable, really -- urge to get the heck out of Dodge, we cavalierly put our SoCal tract home on the market and headed to Colorado, where Steve found two jobs, blew off the full-time managerial position and took the half-time one with the 70-minute commute but good hourly wage. We used most of our ill-gotten equity (we sold our house just as the real-estate bubble was bursting) to pay our mortgage way down and give us a nice nest egg to tide us over until Steve found something in town and closer to full-time, with benefits.

Then, the recession hit.

For the first time, the voluntary poverty of homeschooling our kids began to feel a bit involuntary. Not only were there no more full-time job opportunities, but the freelance work began drying up. Then, Lehman Brothers imploded and I started seeing headline after headline about historic financial and economic crises and bailouts and I decided that I ought to figure out what the hell was going on on a macro-economic level. A couple of months of alarming but pretty persuasive reading later, I became convinced that the bizarre passion for vegetable gardening that had consumed me from almost the first month that we arrived, was in fact the tiny part of my brain that already knows The Score, urging me to get my act in gear and start learning mad self-sufficiency skillz, and fast.

Over the past three years, I've begun learning how to build healthy soil, start vegetables from seed, grow a dozen or so different food crops (it ain't easy for many of them, I was shocked to discover), keep laying hens and preserve food in various ways, not to mention learning how to cook this food I was growing in ways that tasted good to me. I got over my squeamishness about thrift store shopping, garage sales and Steve's occasional dumpster diving. Okay, maybe I'm not totally over that last shred of bourgeois attitude; I often walk ahead and pretend I don't know him when he starts ambling towards a neighbor's tantalizing, overflowing trashcan. But I can say I genuinely thrill to a good score off Craiglist's free section and my new favorite shopping event is our Unitarian Church's annual rummage sale. The wonderful thing about these last three years is I haven't done any of this out of fear or a sense of poverty. I'm really grateful that this all feels like an exciting, expansive and satisfying learning adventure.

So, the nest egg is gone, and we're nibbling away at retirement moneys now, but I'm not really that worried about it. I figure massive inflation and/or huge tax increases to pay for our untenable national debt are going to reduce the real value of our 401Ks to nil before we could retire anyway. We'll continue to stay home with the kids as long as the money holds out, periodically remind them of how much happier they are to be homeschooled kids, and plan to live in their basement in our old age.

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