When I turned 40 last year, I made a promise to myself to change my life, but I’m not generally the kind of person who takes risks or makes big changes. I’m generally a “play it very safe” kind of gal. Still, I knew I was unhappy with my life because I was working long hours and missing my family much too much. I had been dreaming of a different life for years—a life with a hobby farm, chickens, goats, knitting, writing, and working much less. I wanted a simpler life, but as so many others have found as well, sometimes, finding simplicity can feel pretty complicated.
I had been a writing professor in an academic setting in one form or another since I turned 22 and began teaching writing to first-year college writers. I am originally from Texas, but I have lived all over the country. I met my husband in Oregon, and we moved to Maine in 2009 to follow a professor job at Husson University.
Academia had been all I had known, and despite low pay and long hours in many positions, I had worked my way up to a mid-level administrative position, which still involved long hours but actually had middle-class pay to go with all that work. Plus, I was having success at work. The open educational resource I helped build was winning national awards, and I was getting a little attention in academia as someone who was making changes. That part felt good. The long hours did not.
Still, even though I was unhappy with my life, it was difficult to make a change. My husband had also been working long hours to get our dream hobby farm started, so the income thing was up to me. With our two boys to think about, making a change seemed so difficult, and unlike some who find a simple life after losing a job or experiencing a major life event, if I wanted this change, I was going to have to initiate it. It felt risky, maybe foolish. I had a career that was on the upswing. Did I want to give it up voluntarily?
Changing my life would mean really changing my life. As a family, we would have to learn to live much more frugally. My plan, my dream, was to work a few part-time teaching and consulting jobs and just enough to pay our bills and put a little back for savings. When I left my teaching job at Husson in 2013, we knew we wanted to stay in Maine. We loved it here. We loved our house. We just needed to fulfill more of our dreams.
Our plan was to follow Thoreau’s words of wisdom and work only as much as was needed for the things I really needed to have. His words, “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run” were of utmost importance to me as I considered my life changes.
I have never been afraid of good, hard work, but the stress of academia, the egos, and the politics were tough on me. I wanted my work to feel valuable to me; I wanted to work on our hobby farm helping my husband grow food and raise animals. But there was a part of me that kept telling myself it was just a dream, that people only managed to change their lives in such a way in the books and blogs I read.
And then my husband took the big step and ordered our chickens. I think he may have known that he was giving me my push I needed. He’s very wise, but I didn’t know how big this was going to be at the time he placed the order. Still, after three years of researching chickens, reading about chickens, being jealous of anyone and everyone with chickens, I was finally going to get my own girls. We wanted to start with 12 but were worried we might lose some, so we ordered 15 babies. It took a few weeks for the girls to arrive in the mail, and on a beautiful June morning in Maine, I received a call from the local post office that I could pick up our baby chicks at the back door before 7:00 AM. My husband was busy readying the chicks’ new home, so I made the drive to the post office.
I stood at the back door and knocked. When a woman came to the door, I told her I was there for a box of baby chicks. She asked my name and then disappeared behind the post office door. She reappeared a few minutes later with a box much smaller than I had anticipated, and that box was cheeping loudly. I loved those chicks before I could even see them. I loved how they sounded. As I carried the girls to the car, I spoke through the holes in the box. “Hi, babies, I am your mama, and everything is going to be alright.”
There are some major milestones in my life, and, as crazy as it sounds, getting our chicks was a milestone for me. In the days after we brought the girls home, I gave notice at my job and set out to change my life. Our “chicky girls,” as I often refer to them, reminded me of what was important in a way that is hard to explain, but they reminded me that the love in my life was more important than money and work and that I needed to make some changes to better enjoy all of the amazing love I have—love for my husband, my boys, my friends, our animals, and all of the beauty in the world.
This blog is meant to serve as a forum for me to tell of my experiences related to changing my life and my life after making the change—working less, loving more, raising animals, growing food, and living frugally, simply, and self-sufficiently. And, perhaps most importantly, taking time to enjoy the small but best things in life.