I continued to apply some homesteading skills. I learned to bake bread (my first loaf was a disaster) and over time it became routine. I continued to read about other homesteader’s experiences always searching for large families as an example but finding few. We continued to be able to pay our bills and practiced self-restraint from purchasing new items. Oh, it was hard. I would walk into Target and come out spending at least $50.00 when I only went in for underwear for a child, for example. I did, however, begin to frequent consignment or thrift shops on a regular basis and begin cooking and baking from scratch. My garden was a little bigger. We bought six chicks and within six months were enjoying fresh eggs.
Michael and I spent many hours online looking for the least expensive areas in New England to buy land. We didn’t want to be too far from family. We explored all options. Buy land and an rv and live in that while we saved to build a cabin. Buy an existing cabin with a small amount of land. We even almost bought a real fixer upper in west central Maine that the owner was willing to finance. My heart told me no after we had signed the hand written paper and left a $500 deposit so we turned around and traveled the three miles back to ask her if we could rip up the contract. Thank goodness she said yes.
Our choices back in 2003/2004 were narrowed to two areas – west/central Maine or the northeast kingdom of Vermont. Both of these areas were still affordable. However, with terrible credit and no job prospects at either location we knew it would take God’s intervention and an act of faith by a third party to make our dream a reality. We spent the next two July 4 weekends and Columbus day weekends at a very small campground in Sheffield, Vermont. The owners had a tiny cabin and they were very gracious to allow our family of seven to all stay for our vacation get-away. We used this time to get a better feel for the area. By the second year we were convinced that it felt like home. But with no savings, no credit and no jobs we questioned if it would happen soon or would our dream be put on hold.
I emailed realtors in the area requesting a rental home. We came to the conclusion that we would need to rent to get us in the area we wanted to settle. I think it took at least six months before we had an agent that would even consider us – five children and six chickens and no job! An email came through that there was a possible home and we headed up for a visit, staying at our familiar cabin. The house was right in a village, not the homesteading, rural lifestyle we had imagined. However, we would be near our someday homestead. We said yes, and within 30 days we were off. This was the end of September 2005. My supportive parents helped us move up although I am sure they were feeling bewildered and worried.
Within the first week Michael had a job with a contractor. God was good. We also really worked our online toy making business and it was busier than ever. The gift of this home in the village was the soil. It has a disconnected piece of land with it that had beautifully rich soil. We turned over 1/3 of an acre with mostly a hand shovel. We sent the children out to do so many rows per day. Michael worked tirelessly in the early mornings and evenings. That year we had an amazing garden. Attached to our village home was a large garage and I set up a little shop to sell the produce, baked goods and handcrafts. We were blessed to get to know many of the people in the neighborhood, especially the elderly. They enjoyed the children so. It was rewarding to have them knock on our door asking us if we had any cucumbers one day or lettuce the next. We were so encouraged and our handwork toy business continued to grow.
When the owner decided to sell the house we knew this wasn’t the homestead God had planned for us and it was much more than we could afford to buy. We searched and searched and searched and traveled down fourth class roads looking for land or something to rent. We finally found three acres for lease where we could put a mobile home. After much searching we finally found a decent used mobile home and we were able to set up on the land. One caveat, the electricity would cost $2,000 to hook up. We didn’t have that money and we knew that the mobile home was still another stepping stone to our homestead. We decided we would live off grid. There was a well on the property and a septic system.
Our lives changed dramatically while at the mobile home. We learned to live even more simply, with less and we learned how to truly work. I scrubbed our clothes by hand on a wash board, we hauled water from one end of the mobile home to the other. We used lanterns for lights, took tub baths to clean ourselves and truly learned about conservation. It is amazing how little water you really need. During our two year, three month stay at the mobile home we were blessed with the birth of our sixth baby. I learned to find the flashlight in the dark for middle of the night diaper changes and even used cloth diapers which were washed by hand.
We had concerns about our children upon transitioning to this lifestyle, but our children repeatedly told us they, "loved it here".
I will share more about our off-grid life off and on through future posts. Michael worked for a landscape company for the first two seasons at the mobile home, and the third season he left to concentrate on his own property services and our handwork toy and home goods business, as well as work on our homestead helping with the vegetable growing and the demands of homesteading.
This past spring my mother offered to help us with the financing if we were interested in finding our permanent place. We wanted to stay very close to where we were as we loved our gravel country road with our wonderful neighbors. We were blessed to find an amazing place just one mile away (and there are very few places for sale in the area, as it is rural) that we could afford. We found such a deal that only God could have provided (we bought it for $55,000 – a 1500 square foot home on just over three acres with a pond and run down barn/shed.) You see we still live on $25,000 or less per year. Yet we eat healthy (much that we grow) and mostly organic food and are happy. How in the world can this be called poverty? We call it our rustic cottage and we are so excited to be planning our forever place – from blueberry and raspberry bushes, herb gardens, more apple trees, where we are going to build our workshop/barn and so much more. Our challenge now is to take all we have learned on our journey, apply it, and continue to learn and grow on this path towards an authentic life.
(The view from the front door at our forever homestead.)
I will continue to share how we make living so well on so little possible and why we choose to do so.
Thank you for all of your kind words. I share all of this just as encouragement for you to listen to that voice inside as it is God speaking to you and while our path will probably not be your family’s calling, do realize that there are other paths to take.
Warm wishes, Tonya