I love to grow vegetables. And there is something satisfying about harvesting what this lovely earth provides and storing it for your family, knowing they are well taken care of and will thank you for all your hard work. Amazing. Once I had a fabulous garden that produced very well and I had to give away a lot that year because I didn’t know how to can food. When I finally put two and two together, it was a life-changing moment. I stood up from the computer and walked into the middle of the living room where my husband and son were watching TV. I shouted, “squirrel nuts!” They looked at me sideways and then fell out on the floor laughing. Failing to see the humor in what I just┬ásaid, I slowly walked back to the computer to begin my mission. It was so clear.

Prior to that evening my husband and I had a long talk about the future. Somehow, the fact that I love to grow food had to become a way of life for us city-dwellers. We lived in a very small home with a very small yard. We had an appliance-filled kitchen, but nothing worked properly and it had no storage. We lived from paycheck to paycheck and saving money was impossible with 3 growing boys to care for. But the one thing I remember about that conversation was that none of it mattered. We were both so determined to find a better way of life, a healthier and productive way that made us feel good about ourselves, that we could care less about how little we really had. We were both on the same page! Crazy. And now, I want to incorporate all the new things I am learning about growing and preserving food. But wait, I got ahead of myself again, let’s back up a bit more. Before this amazing life-changing day, I was already determined to learn everything about gardening. I bought books and searched online, made notes and tried whatever I could within budget. With the full support of the hubby helping with things like, building a garden shed and compost bin, I could not go wrong.

The previous year was a good one and I had a decent harvest and so I was hooked. The second year of growing vegetables was underway. I divided our yard into ‘zones’ – 2 gardening zones, a dog zone and 3 play zones. One of the gardening areas was devoted to flowers and composting. I added it after the shed was built. The main gardening zone turned out fabulous and I felt like Martha Stewart. Here’s the layout:

I am quite proud of it. We crammed a lot into a small space and it turned out well. Check out more pictures of the garden here.

While all was fine and dandy, for some reason, I had to take it further. But how? Well, that’s what squirrel nuts is all about. Oprah calls it an ‘aha’ moment. I was fascinated by a squirrel one day, running around the yard. I looked at the computer and then outside and then back. I thought, “What is a squirrel doing in an area of town like this? How does it survive?” But it really is so simple isn’t it? The mother squirrels of the world must be so happy because their kids are well fed even when the earth can’t produce food anymore. They work hard at gathering and storing everything they’ll ever need. Pretty darn smart if you ask me. And so it began. The mission. I am mother squirrel and I must store enough food for my family to get us through the winter until I can plant another vegetable garden in the spring. The reasons for doing so are endless: free food, healthy food, yummy food, we know what goes into it food, and so on. So I started reading. While it started with collecting gardening books, it developed into much, much more. At this point in time I have 16 gardening books, over 40 cookbooks (10 of which are devoted to food preservation), 15 over-sized photo albums for holding my gazillion recipes clipped from magazines, a stack of do-it-yourself books for everything from cleaning to medicinal remedies, too many stacks of magazines for every other subject you can think of and finally, a gazillion computer files filled with cut-n-paste tips from all over the internet. Yes, I want to know everything and it all started the moment I became mother squirrel.

Soon after, the best and worst happened. The ‘best’ meaning our home value tripled in a short amount of time so we sold it, moved into a management position in an apartment building (where we could actually start saving our money), invested in two rental houses and eventually bought a beautiful piece of land. My husband landed several large contracts which guaranteed work for at least 3 years (and up to 5), which was kind of rare for an independent general contractor. We paid off our bills and only bought cars off Craig’s list. We didn’t owe anything to any bank. We believed ourselves to be a little bit smarter than we used to be. The ‘worst’ meaning that this all happened during the infamous housing market bubble and at the same time we were afforded a large profit, everyone we knew was being devastated by it. We went from being on top of the world to being the last family anyone wanted to associate with. I was so distracted by it all that I failed to stay on track with the one thing that made me happy – gardening. I convinced myself that everything was okay. “We did good for ourselves and I’m proud of it. We can even take it up a notch!” Tsk, tsk, what a shame. That way of thinking led us completely off track.

After buying the two rental homes, we realized that one of them was a money pit and quickly sold it. We didn’t get much but it allowed us to focus on fixing up the first rental house to get a renter in. It was easy money at the time and it allowed us to begin building a home on our property. (Read more about that home.) But after it all, my husband and I sat down one night and looked at each other. Did we start heading farther and farther away from the original goals we set? Did we go so far out into the deep end that there really is no security in anything we’ve done after all? Did we lose sight of us?! Yeah. The home was beautiful but it didn’t make us happy. I had everything I needed but somehow it just wasn’t right. The lifestyle I mean. We soon realized that we were back to where we started – it’s all just a bit bigger now. A drastic change was needed.

So picture this: A pink with white polka dots bandanna tied over hair slicked back into a pony tail. No makeup, in fact, getting all dolled-up won’t happen for months and months into the future. The hubby’s spotted and torn work shirt over a pair of old stretch jeans. Tennis shoes. This was a warrior in motion and the target was within reach – finishing that so-called dream home to sell it and move on. Yes, you heard it right. A drastic change indeed. I painted, I hammered things, I lifted close to my own body weight and came back for more. And when it was done, I cleaned the house single-handedly and from top-to-bottom to get it ready to sell. I imagine it was more like watching a cartoon of let’s say, Super Mother Squirrel, there to save her children from the big bad wolf. Super Mother Squirrel changes herself in a very drastic way by growing in size, using super powers and wearing a red cape to save them. That’s how I felt. We were in danger and I had to ask: Are we living to work or working to live? Do we have a hold on things or do things have a hold on us? I knew the answer. We had to start living in a completely different way in order to save… us.

The next post in this series explains what that ‘different way’ is and how we planned on doing it. Please continue the journey…

The Homestead Plan