Tuesday, January 19, 2016

They say homesteading is harder than it looks...

People tell me that homesteading is harder than it looks. Well before I had my own dreams of staking out a claim on the land, I surmised as much from the scatological metaphors of my college advisor, an Iowa farm girl-turned-historian. ("Every profession will have its own shit to shovel…")

In those days, I judged my success by how far I could get away from home. Now, having lived abroad, gotten lost in someone else's shoes, and tested my limits on four continents, the last frontier is surely the hearth. I have set my sights to homesteading, come what may.

I harbor no misconceptions that it will be easy. Animal husbandry is a wild, messy roller coaster that I'm not sure I'm up for. Growing our own food would require time, persistence, blood, sweat, and tears. I'm ready for a challenge – I've been planning for this for years. But the challenge I wasn't prepared for is the very first hurdle – the hurdle we have yet to cross – getting the darn land in the first place.

Having earned an MA as a Fulbright scholar to the UK, it seemed the doors should open up for me. And while I know I took an unusual route coming home to Eastern Washington rather than continuing to pursue a career in international development, I thought that once I found a job things would get easier.

My first job came in the form of a temporary session aide position at the Washington State Legislature. I could barely afford the clothes I needed to show up at work every day. I stayed with my sister and her husband in Olympia while my own husband, Daron, lived with my parents in Spokane to go to school. (Though his parents also lived in the area, they were well outside of any bus route, and we were both without a car at the time.)

When my session position ended, I was again without work and moving back in with my parents (and my husband). But not for long. Shortly after I left, a shakeup in the legislature resulted in an opening to become the legislative assistant in the office that I'd worked for during session. It was the first of several lucky breaks that helped me hobble along. But there was a catch – the senator would be leaving office, so the job only lasted through December. If destiny was in my corner, I would have a job again soon – one of the candidates would be the Senator’s old legislative assistant, whom I’d worked with during session and who wanted to take me on as his aide if elected. I had a lot to be hopeful for, but I didn't have any security at the time.

Daron and I rolled the dice, took our chances, and moved into a small apartment on Spokane's lower South Hill. Working a partner through school, every step forward is only a half-step forward. It was another year before we could afford a car--a necessity in my line of work, and a virtual requirement in general in light of the second-rate bus systems we tolerate in America.

Now, here we are, starting out 2016. We are a long way from generating the savings needed to buy some land and build a home, or to stake out a place with some acreage, but we have come a long way. It’s strange to look back and think that, six years ago, we were living paycheck to paycheck. Rent cost more than my two jobs were bringing in, and as we neared the end of the month I was calling through my contact list to see if anyone needed a babysitter.

Our wonderful scholarship-funded year in England was a break from the reality of trying to make it in the new economy. And the thought that keeps me up at night is this: we are the lucky ones. The ones that had family to fall back on when times were tough, instead of taking out backbreaking loans to make ends meet. The ones that had scholarships and other resources to pay for school instead of sliding further into the vicious cycle of debt. The ones that found work that valued our skillset—even if it didn’t pay what earlier generations would’ve expected (earlier generations of white people, at any rate).

Ultimately, our pursuit of the American Dream has been a study in privilege, opportunity, and inequality. Our story remains unwritten, as does the outcome of our shared story – the story of the transformation of our country as communities struggle to live up to the expectations of the past in a time of political, economic, and environmental change. I hope that we can end this story with our souls and our dreams intact.


  1. Wonderful post, thanks for writing this. It is hard. We spent many years living in an apartment wanting to have a place with some land. The first-time home buyer's credit to help stimulate the economy gave us a chance. Of course property values fell further, the house needs a ton of work and it's difficult to find the time or money to do the things we'd like. And I still realize how fortunate we are as I see hard-working people struggling to make ends meet working jobs that pay a low minimum wage, and those who are unemployed, experiencing homelessness and other challenges that I don't face.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ryan. It has been neat to see how you and Kate have managed to make things work amidst the challenges of our time, and how you are balancing so many competing demands. I really love your place, difficult as it may be to keep up. Hopefully over the next few years we'll be able to compare notes as we move forward. It's good to hear from you!