Living in accord with the land: how we’re doing

Back in January of 2020, I wrote a post about some of our goals related to living an environmentally conscious, slow–but also attainable–life (read the post here).

Since then, I’ve watched the world get slammed by a global pandemic, we lost our childcare, we at times had upwards of 8 people living in our small two bedroom, one bathroom (and a shed) house, and we had our second child.

In the midst of all that chaos I completely forgot about that post, and all of my good intentions. But rereading it today, I can attest that it still rings very much true–and in ways the pandemic only confirmed the things that felt so important when I wrote on that day: that in order to survive in the long run, we need to reconnect with the natural world. That our family and loved ones are the most important things in our lives. And that life can be made richer by sometimes eschewing convenience to do things more slowly.

Even with all of the insanity in the past two years, I was surprised by how well we succeeded in many of our goals even just while we were on autopilot/in survival mode. I feel like that’s a testament to how once you build in sustainable habits, they tend to stick around!

Since I wrote that post, we’ve eaten almost entirely organic, local veggies (both from our garden and from a local farm where I trade social media management for a CSA) and almost exclusively eaten game meat (Jordan will order meat when he eats out, but I’m vegetarian except for the occasional venison); I’ve upped my knitting game significantly and whipped up most of our Christmas presents last year from yarn; and we both work from home, and so have eliminated transportation to and from our offices.

But we’ve also had many a setback and struggle too–letting veggies go to waste, opting for convenience in the form of disposable diapers and Amazon, and cranking up the AC during the steamy days of summer.

Here are some more details about those things:

Energy conservation

Our success in this arena has come and gone depending on how busy we are, but over the summer we were hang drying all of our clothes (if you can do this, I highly recommend–there is nothing better than sheets that smell like sunshine). We also make an effort to keep temps low in the winter and higher in the summer, and to open windows whenever possible (although this past summer I was super pregnant and so kept the AC on high blast).

Used kids clothes

This was another area that we kind of lucked into–a friend in the area happens to have twins with a vast wardrobe, and we inherit their clothes when they grow out of them. That means that so far, we’ve only bought one or two pieces of clothing for our own kiddos to fill in the gaps. A lot of the stuff is pretty gender neutral too, so we’ll be able to outfit our own brood down through the ages, and then pass them on to other kids!

A super-cute used outfit–from his sweater to his pants and boots!

CSA trade

This was an unexpected, and happy, addition to our lives. Awhile back, I went out into the field with a biologist who also runs a farm in town with her husband. We hit it off chatting in the truck on the way down, and then didn’t see each other for a couple of years. So I was delighted when she reached out in December of 2020 and asked if I’d be interested in trading marketing skills for a weekly share of veggies. I said yes, and since then I’ve been doing photography and managing social media.

It’s been really fun to bring bags of veggies home and then document all the things we make with them! I’ve had to learn a lot about food photography (I’m still a complete novice, and it’s HARD). We’ve also gotten to spend some time on the farm, photographing the veggies and meeting the chickens who lay the eggs we eat. It’s also forced us to eat a bunch more veggies, and means that we no longer need to purchase veggies or eggs at the grocery store. The quality of food that we’re eating is just so much better–the greens are glossy, the fruit succulent and sweet, the eggs have deep golden yolks. And best yet, all of it is in season, creating a rhythm to our year: asparagus in the early spring, strawberries in the late spring, blueberries mid-summer, figs in early fall

Not everyone has these kinds of skills to trade, but if this is something you want to implement in your own lives, you could always purchase a CSA from a local farm! Or talk to the farmers about what you could offer in return for veggies–you never know, you might have just the knowledge they’re looking for.

Photographing our CSA bounty with the help of a cute little toddler

Garden

This was our third year having a garden in our backyard, and we expanded it in 2020 to have two full beds. We actually did pretty well in our harvest, and ate lots of tomatoes, summer and winter squash, kale, basil, ginger and assorted other veggies from it.

However, I’ve noticed a trend where we do a really great job of eating from the garden for the first half of the summer, and then slowly get lazy, until weeds have overtaken it and a number of veggies rot on the vine, just as the garden is hitting peak production. This year was especially bad, because I was super pregnant for the second half of the summer and had my hands full with work and a toddler whose daycare doesn’t run through the whole year. We also have a bad habit of over planting our gardens, so it turns into a veritable jungle and becomes difficult to manage

Goals for the future include better garden management throughout the entire growing season, and actually using all of our veggies–including putting things up for the winter when we get sick of eating veggies fresh.

Another really fun harvest from our backyard came from the pear tree! We did a bunch of research on how to properly pick and ripen the pears last year, and came away with more pears than we could eat on our own. We gave a bunch away, and did our best to use them up in pear jams and pies. My favorite pear-inspired recipe was a caramel pear pie–I highly recommend trying it out, cause it’s delicious.

Flowering tomato plants in the garden

Eating local meat

This heading is all Jordan’s doing–each year he harvests white-tailed deer and wild pig from public and private land in our area. I’ve written pretty extensively about why this is a more ethical and sustainable choice, feel free to read the post here.

Last year he harvested two deer (I think), and this year he’s killed one. We don’t go through it very quickly because neither Linden or I loves meat (although Jordan is a fantastic chef, and so if anyone can tempt me to eat it, it’s him), and so usually a couple deer last us the whole year. We try not to purchase other meat items unless we have guests (in which case we’ll sometimes pick up cold cuts or rotisserie chicken for easy lunches).

I’m also super proud of how Jordan goes through the entire process: he not only kills the animal himself, but he also has learned how to butcher it so that he can make use of every single part. We make rich broths from the bones, pate from the liver, and he even cooks the heart and serves it sliced thin. Less tender cuts of meat get ground up for sausage or sliced into chunks for stews. As far as making good use of the deer’s sacrifice, Jordan really nails it.

Making things by hand

This is another arena of our lives that flourished during the last few years. While I’ve been knitting since high school, I took it to another level a few years ago, and started to really work on expanding my skills and knowledge. The last two years, I’ve knit sweaters, hats socks, cowls and, my most recent venture, a tiny stuffed bear (which will hopefully be a stocking stuffer for Linden or Hollis next year). Last winter, I made it a goal to do all knit presents, and I mostly succeeded (excepting Jordan, Jenna and our adopted grandma, who I had to get last minute, non-knitted gifts). The lesson learned? Start earlier!

I really enjoyed gifting handmade things, and generally the recipients seemed to really love them. But it was also a ton of pressure, and I felt really overwhelmed toward the end, so in ways this is a growth area as well. This year, I’m starting knit presents now, so that come next winter, I’m able to focus on my own fun knits.

Jordan has also been recently getting interested in making things by hand, and has picked up whittling. My goal is that next year, our kids get one knit present and one whittled item from each of us, but first we have to see if Jordan’s new hobby sticks.

Time spent outdoors

This is an area that pretty much evaporated once I got pregnant, but leading up to my pregnancy I was spending at least an hour a day outdoors, running or walking through the woods with the dogs. We also spent many long afternoons outside with Linden (even after I got pregnant), canoeing, playing in the little patch of woods behind our house, going for hikes, and watching him splash in our pool. We went camping once with Jenna and heard a great horned owl hoot through the trees, and since have gone on several “owling” expeditions, inspired by the book Owl Moon, where we drive out to a remote location and walk around, calling for the barred owls that frequent our area. We’ve had several cool encounters right in our own backyard, where a barred owl flew in and called in response to Jordan’s who-cooks-for-you.

We want to extend this time in the future, and are super excited to go camping with our little ones in the future–Jordan has even researched four seasons tents that come with a mini wood stove in the middle, for extended expeditions. I’m envisioning paddling out to remote areas with our kiddos and setting up for long weekends spent swimming and hiking.

Time with family

We got a lot of this during the pandemic. For the first few months, we had my parents, sister, and my sister’s former boyfriend all living with us (including their two dogs) in our little two bedroom (one shed), one bathroom house. It was a crowded existence, but also full of dance parties, laughter, and late nights playing board games. I wouldn’t trade the time for the world: Linden really got to know my parents, and seeing him interact with my mom was an incredibly precious thing to me (if you haven’t read my post on my mom, you can find it here). He helped her go up and down stairs, snuggled up with her on the couch, and fed her little bites to eat.

Then, a few months after everyone dispersed to their separate COVID-bubbles, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law moved into the shed to live with us. Linden was totally delighted to have them in the shed, and trooped out there many a morning in his little yellow boots to knock on the door. We also cooked some delicious meals, and inspired each other in our various pursuits toward learning more about the natural world (my sister-in-law got super into birds, and reminded Jordan and I of our former birding days, and she taught us about some of the constellations and meteor showers that sailed above our house at night).

It was really special to get to know many of our family members long-term in that way–both on my side of the family and Jordan’s, but my ultimate take away is that I’d love to have a situation where we all live in the same town, or even live on the same property but don’t share a bathroom and kitchen. One bathroom between four to six adults and one toddler is just too much (and I have several humorous stories that occurred because of it, but I’ll save those for another day).

Family time with a chunky Linden-baby

Supporting big business

This really comes down to convenience. As the uncertainty over how COVID spread grew, we stopped frequenting local stores in lieu of ordering most of our necessities via Amazon. Since then, even with COVID shots and boosters, we’ve had trouble kicking the habit. It’s hard to beat the convenience of clicking “purchase” and then having the item arrive on your doorstep within a day or two.

We’ve also noticed that many stores no longer have enough inventory to be guaranteed to find the item we need locally–for example, at one point we tried to purchase a life jacket for Linden, and drove to five or six local pool stores without being able to find one. We finally had to order one via Amazon.

But even when we could’ve found things locally or used, we sometimes went the Amazon route, especially as I got further into my pregnancy with Hollis. With an unvaccinated toddler who we were hesitant to bring into stores, it was a lot easier to simply order the things we needed online.

Amazon also makes it easy to purchase items on a whim, and so we’ve ended up with several things that I’m not sure we’ll ever really use (including two different pregnancy pillows that I bought in a moment of desperation in the hopes that they’d help my dislocated ribs during the third trimester. Neither really helped, and if Amazon hadn’t made it so easy to have them delivered right to my door, it’d be two fewer items sitting in our closet and eventually destined for the donation bin).

In the future, I’d like to do better in this arena. Jordan and I have talked about canceling our Amazon Prime subscription (we get it for free currently because he’s a student), and using that as a way to be more purposeful about how and when we make purchases, and to be better about buying used first.

Disposable diapers

For the first two years of Linden’s life, we solely used cloth diapers. But as he got older and more able to express himself, it became very clear that he hated them, and vastly preferred the disposable diapers we occasionally purchased for trips.

Once we started with the disposable diapers, it became hard to stop (similar to Amazon–convenience is hard to say no to when you’ve got two small children!), and we’ve continued to use them with Hollis.

This is something that I’d really like to get back to. I’m hoping that once things have stabilized a little bit between our jobs and the kiddos, we’ll be able to go back to using mostly cloth diapers.

This little baby’s butt has known nothing but disposable diapers

SUmmary

I’m sure there are areas that I missed–it’s hard to tally up your life like this, and assign points of both success and failure. Life is so big and complex and messy, and there is no big counter up in the sky to tell you if you’re doing a good job or bad job, or what your ultimate impact is (unlike in the Good Place).

But regardless, I’m proud of us for surviving the last two years, let alone having the bandwidth to add on extras. Taking care of a toddler, having a full time job, growing and birthing an entire human, caring for an infant, finishing a PhD, and caring for extended family is no picnic, and then when you layer all that on top of a pandemic and various other national struggles, I’m just so happy that we made it through in one piece.

I’d love to hear how your pandemic went. Where did you succeed? Where did you fail? Mostly, how are you doing?

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