Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Little Background and an Update on That Job

When I started this blog, there were perhaps seven people who read it; the numbers have grown over time, and now over 300 people a day are visiting. Since there are so many of you who were not here in the beginning, perhaps a re-introduction of who I am is in order, along with an update or two.

I was born and raised in northern Virginia, one of thirteen children. My mother was an English war bride and my father was raised in New Orleans. In 1971 my first husband and I took a little dirt road out of Radford, Virginia and ended up in West Virginia. I knew right away I’d found home. It took us three years to move with our four young sons. Almost thirty-five years later, I am still living on the same land we bought and built on when we moved here. My first husband returned to Virginia in 1984, and I stayed here and married a West Virginian.

When we moved here we wanted to be self-sufficient on our land. Our 80 acres of ridge land has few spots level enough even to grow a garden, but we tried to farm. I remarried and my fifth son was born in 1986. Until 1989 my house had no electricity and we learned to do a lot of things the old way, taught by neighbors, friends and books.

For a few short years in the early 1980's, we actually did earn our living on this land, and I can tell you it was hard, hard work. We grew tobacco, made molasses, put up hay, raised cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys. We sold tomatoes and had a small greenhouse that produced enough extra plants to pay for anything I planted myself. We heated with wood (and still do), had bees and milk cows. It was a rich life in many ways, money not being one of them. I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money.

As our sons grew up and moved off to lives of their own, we cut back on farming. I went to college, got my Masters degree and started working away from the farm. Eventually we were down to a few chickens, three dogs and a garden. Gone were the greenhouse, the herb gardens, the livestock. I continued to can and keep chickens and we usually had venison in the freezer, but we bought most of our food at the store. Life was easier, but at the same time more complicated. Storytelling and my full-time job kept me on the go most of the time, with little energy left over for gardens. We had more money, but less satisfaction.

The past few years I’ve been finding my way back. I’ve started canning more, raising more garden, and this year we had turkeys, bees and hogs again. The cellar is filled with jars of jelly, jam, pickles, beans and other good things from our gardens, and the potato bin and freezer are full. We have a gas well now that will provide free gas for our home as soon as we run a half-mile of pipe and replace our appliances. Yet one more step to self-sufficiency.

I am remembering the many things I learned when I was on the farm full-time and finding ways to incorporate those skills into my days as I continue to work full-time. Life is more satisfying, and I am once again finding the peace that comes from knowing we can provide for ourselves.

In September I resigned my full-time job because of changes that made it unacceptable to me to continue in the place I have worked for 17 years. It was not a happy time. However, long conversations with management and the downturn of the economy both made me reconsider. It's not a good time to start a new venture, and leaving would hurt a place I have loved and grown with. So I am staying at least for the near future, and the dream of being a full-time storyteller and writer will have to wait a while longer. It increases the challenge of balancing rural life and all the things I love to do at home with the 100-mile daily commute and increasing responsibilities at my job.

I know there are many other people doing the same things we’re doing—rediscovering old skills and the pleasure that comes with doing things for ourselves, whether we are working off the farm or are full-time homesteaders. On this blog I share some of what I’ve learned, as well as family memories, places I’ve been and pieces of the Appalachian culture that I love.

I hope you enjoy the journey with me. I've made several friends in blogland already, and I hope to add many more in the days and years ahead.


Carol said...

I share your frustration and disappointment at not being able to get "back to the land" at this time.
We have had to change similar plans after my Lupus prevented all the gardening and other outdoor work required after 10 years of our hard work building a nice farm. Now we are looking at selling about 80% of the land and building a MUCH smaller place that will allow us to grow and raise only what we need - not as income. Don't despair and don't give up on your dreams.

Granny Sue said...

I can understand how you feel, Carol; it's hard to change course or give up a dream. And yet, I'm lucky--I do have a good job, I live where I want, and I'm relatively healthy. So I'm not down about it, and there is a certain feel-good about knowing they really want me to stay. As for the other, it's on hold only. I'll keep doing as I have been, juggling it all and trying to maintain balance.

Tiger Lady said...

Wow! 300 people a day, that is impressive. I know I send as many people your way as I can because I think you have an important message to share. And because you are 'rediscovering old skills', I think your knowledge can help out those of us who are trying to learn those skills for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Your site is one I read everyday . . . unless the stories get too scarey! (I'm such a wimp)

Would love to be self-sufficient and live off the land. Will you tell more about the "gas well" when you have time? I'm in the Midwest and doubt that a gas well is an option for me?

Tracey said...

You have such a full and interesting life! I don't know when you have time to sleep though, you are one BUSY Lady!
I enjoy reading your blog very much! So glad you share things with us!!

bayouwoman said...

Sue, Heather Here and I are kindred spirits, though we have never done what you did in the beginning making a living off your land and with no electricity. My hat is off to you with a new-found admiration atop my head. It does not surprise me that birds of a feather are finding our way back, now that the kids are getting older, to those dreams we once had as young couples/parents of a simpler, more fulfilling life composed of less stuff and more hard work. I was telling a friend just this evening how I have lost so much of what I once had--fresh eggs daily, fresh honey in the spring, and a few cucumbers and tomatoes in early summer. We shall keep each other company on this "new-old" journey.
Bayou Woman

Patty said...

Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us. Since I am fairly new to reading your blog it kind of catches me up a bit. I am really enjoying reading your post and look forward to getting to know more about you and what you have to share.

HeatherHere said...

Hi Sue,
Bayou Woman sent me over here. I will have to live the rural self-sufficient life vicariously through you. I know I am going to enjoy it.
I'm off to subscribe.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your life story. I admire you and ejoy your website. I wish I were closer to WV after you and "Chickens in the Road" came into my life. Hope to visit next WV next summer.

Granny Sue said...

Hi Heather! I follow your adventure through BW. You two are quite a pair. Welcome!

Anonymous, I'm glad you enjoy my blog. It is a pleasure to write it, so it's good to know it's a pleasure for others to read it. I hope you do get to visit WV--it's an amazing place.

The Tile Lady said...

It was wonderful reading about your history and learning more about you. I am so impressed with everything you have accomplished and find it fascinating, the information that you are sharing here on the blog. I wish you well in the coming months and years, and hope that you will be able to at last retire when you feel that you can. I really enjoy your blog! All my best--

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