Mother Daughter Book Reviews is pleased to welcome author Leigh Shearin as a guest contributor with us today. Ms. Shearin is here to share her inspirational story of how she made a life-changing decision.
Climbing Out Of The Main Stream
by Leigh Shearin
I’m not sure when it happened.
Perhaps it was the monogrammed, barbie pink hatchback sports cars so many area teens were driving, or the expensive designer, but still utilitarian household items I found myself collecting. Or perhaps it was the fake snow people tracked into the packed parking lot of the Outlet Shopping Mall on a 70 degree December day.
The tipping point was sly, stealthily gathering moments it flung into a pile so heavy I could ignore it no longer.
My life was unsustainable.
We had a roomy, attractive home in a large, modern subdivision just outside Raleigh, NC. Our house was Party Central. My husband and I gave countless parties, dinners, and picnics. I spent a large part of our household budget on high-end ingredients and wine, and with 4 mouths to feed, the procuring, planning, and creating of meals was a full-time job- only one part of my Homemaking career. It was imperative that we kept up with the Jones’s, so they could keep up with us. And for quite a long time, that was enough.
Then one day, the Meaningless Train we were riding on at breakneck speed came to a shuddering, alarming stop. It was my 40th birthday, and it was 105 degrees outside.
If I lived along the equator, a beastly hot day like that in September might not have phased me. But I wasn’t in Mexico, Malta, Brazil or Greece. I was a simple Carolina housewife jogging on a treadmill in a house artificially cooled to 65 degrees.
And that’s when the final straw fell into place.
Nearly everything about my life was phony. I bought clothes for a life I didn’t have (think Wellies and quilted hunting jackets). I dressed my house like a set decorator trying to achieve just the right “look”. I even shopped for and purchased the right breed of dog- one which would further enforce the fake life I was building for myself. All this flashed before my proverbial eyes, and I sat down on the treadmill and cried.
Then I got up, dusted myself off, and made a new life.
I wanted to be a Farmer.
(Once the laughter dies down, I’ll continue…)
As I searched my soul, that day on the treadmill, I realized I didn’t just want to work as a Farmer. I wanted a Real Life. I wanted my days to cycle around something other than shopping, decorating, planning parties, chasing kids, and hiding from the weather. I wanted to produce my own food, generate my own energy, and live sustainably in every way possible. I had the vision in my mind, and it all started with land.
After I finished my treadmill cry, I hustled to my computer and googled “Land for sale in NY State”. My husband and I had visited the Empire State many times. I liked the Upstate NY countryside, and people there seemed friendly. As my search opened on the screen in front of me, I clicked the first link listed.
We bought the property 3 days later.
That chunk of vacant land is what we now call Winter’Rest Farm.
Changing lifestyles, jobs, and homes in the pursuit of happiness isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s far from easy. In fact, it’s so difficult some might think a total lifestyle makeover is only for the single, rich and childless. We were none of those things, so we had to write our own playbook. We spent 5 years planning. We bought a tiny Victorian cottage in need of renovation, 5 miles from the farm. We raided various investment accounts, built a long driveway, renovated the old pond on the farm, which was choked with cattails, and had a pole barn constructed.
The children were all part of this plan as well. The youngest two would be moving to a new, K-12 school with tiny class sizes, an engaged community, and lots of activities for everyone. But still a change I wasn’t entirely looking forward to. Moving the kids was the toughest part of the whole project.
Downsizing from a large, modern subdivision home to a small, quirky historic cottage laid out like a rabbit warren is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Barely able to squeeze our belongings into the house, which we call Appleside Cottage, we’ve spent the ensuing 3 years shimmying around tables, beds, and trunks, collecting bumps and bruises while I navigated a house with countless doors and windows but almost no wall or storage space. Furniture-related accidents weren’t the only unexpected malice the Universe put us through. As a Southerner adjusting to winter’s wicked sense of humor, I fell down both front and back porch steps, unaware that snow left in the L of steps create what can only be described as a ramp. The first time I skidded down the domestic ski slope, I was brought down with an entire tub full of BBQ drumsticks destined for the nearby grill. (I hadn’t yet learned that snow-belters put their outdoor equipment away when it’s below zero).
Don’t get me wrong. Appleside Cottage is a lovely place, but it was only meant to be a temporary base from which to build our farmhouse. Our goal is to build a log cabin soon, but for now, we’re camping in this old Victorian, bringing her back to life as she shelters us in ours. The farm is by no means fallow. We’ve been through 2 seasons of raising our own pigs. This year, we not only invested in 5 pigs, but 36 meat chickens as well. I make most of our household bread and baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves, and pickles. My husband Jeff does 95% of the home renovations, and repairs, and is the one with the vision for the Farm.
We don’t throw parties any more. We don’t have time. And that’s not to malign people who do love to throw parties, shop at expensive boutiques, or drive flashy cars. But for me, that chapter was at it’s end. I needed something else.
We still have a long way to go. There is still no well at the farm, or electricity to operate it. We haul water manually to our animals. The log cabin we dream of is still a couple of years away. We may not be living on the ground itself, but we’re farmers just the same. The house is just a detail.
I think perhaps that’s what I’d say to others who want to toss it all and follow their dreams. Don’t sweat the details. That doesn’t mean ignore the details, it just means don’t let the little setbacks or problems discourage you. They’ll happen. Learn to make friends with them. Choosing to climb out of whatever Main Stream you’re in is more terrifying than it might seem. It’s very easy to keep to the status quo, comfortable in discontent. It doesn’t speak to the gift of life to just shrug and wish for what you want. Sometimes, you have to fight for it.
Recently, I read a quote that seemed to sum up our lifestyle makeover: “Nothing is worse than fear, except regret”. Maybe. I go out of my way to avoid fear. But regret is slippery, and can be wrapped in a glossy coat of compliance, conformity and submission. Under that socially acceptable psycho-babble is the waste of potential, which to me is infinitely more tragic than mere regret.
The first step in following your own dream is to recognize it. The rest is just a detail.
Don’t ever let that stand in your way.
If you’d like to read more about our adventures in detail, feel free to visit my past blogs: