Category Archives: Family

Comfort Zone

When you go from living the typical life in America, and you step outside of that comfort zone into something that’s smaller, sustainable…an alternative way of living, it can really change you as a person on the inside, mentally, physically…
Julia, Jules Van Wellness Journey (health professional in Denver who has decided to live in her Nissan minivan – Link below)

A cabin, a meadow, a creek, a sky…

I agree with Julia, although I’m a pretty poor example of an alternative lifestyle when you come right down to it. A combination of innate indolence and the lure of things like indoor plumbing have really changed the way we live here in the middle of nowhere.

People are still impressed that we live a mile off the nearest plowed road and have no wires connecting us to civilization, but the wires are merely invisible now. They are such things as wifi, fuel deliveries, groceries, even manure for the garden. We do not exist in a self-sufficient vacuum. Nor does Julia, whose van requires gasoline and repair, and whose groceries come from roughly the same places as mine.

Steven and I live here because we are in need of different things from the place we live than many people are, and this place supplies them. Julia is in a van because it offers solutions for her commuting and traveling needs.

We all grow up encapsulated in the world we are born into. That includes our physical environment, our social circle, our economic status, and our educational expectations. Our entire youth is spent there, and we are molded into believing we will retain or improve this economic and social status throughout our lives. Rarely are we encouraged to stop and examine our expectations.

Obviously headed for alternatives, age 5, with younger sister Martha.

This is where I had a couple of natural advantages:

1) Relative poverty limited the choices my white middle-class parents might have made.
2) My parents’ backgrounds included more than standard city neighborhoods.

In these two factors reside the roots of inventiveness and creativity that have informed our journey. (Steven comes from a different background in the suburbs of Detroit, but he converted.)

Our family grew up shopping at the Goodwill and knowing its value and drawbacks. We made things instead of buying them. My best friend Cheryl’s mom “hired” me to clean their house while I was in high school so I could have a Booster Club uniform. Dad (a musician) traded piano lessons for my first contact lenses.

It didn’t hurt, overall, because Mom entered into it with energy. She loved going to the thrift stores, and we learned to turn down her choices for us with tact. She had a freezer full of bargains from the Bread Store and bunnies she and dad butchered and said were chicken. The library was a passion of hers. She read for the Readers Theater group that gave performances of Charlotte’s Web in the one-room schools up in the mountains. She was a Scout leader. She sewed for us, which was well outside her comfort zone, with fair success.

So, more pluses than minuses there.

Both parents spent a lot of time in the outdoors growing up. Mom’s Dad was a geologist for Western Electric. Each year the plant shut down for a three week break and the Babbitts went West. Grandpa Kip was a passionate photographer as well, and the family visited and photographed Yosemite, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, and many more beauty spots, camping out of their Model Whatevers or Pontiacs or staying at Mom and Pop Motels along the two-lane highways. It was certainly outside of the “normal” experience of a family in the 30s and 40s in Riverside, Illinois.

Circa 1945 – Giant Sequoia Tunnel

My father’s family mostly lived in Texas. His father was a writer, inventor, and rancher. Dad grew up on a variety of pieces of land, from the Oregon woods to Texas herself. When he lived in towns, he (and often his brother) would bum a ride to the edge of the hills and then walk on with their backpacks and bedrolls for however long the trip took. Pappy built a home for them at least once, and they lived in a tent at one point while under construction. A little outside “normal”, although not as much so for the time and place.

When it came my own turn to transplant and find new ground, as Kathy Folkerts says in Gardener’s Hands, I wanted the West and water, which is not impossible if you have money. I didn’t. Through a series of events, I met Steven. He introduced me to the greenness that is Michigan, bringing me in from the west on a highway where the broad-leaf trees (maples, probably) touched overhead in a delightful tree tunnel. His brother told us about the U.P., and the rest is history.

Steven and I wanted a place to homestead, a verb we probably understood very little at the time, and are still exploring at the rookie level. That meant the land should have water, a woodlot, and friable soil, preferably with native edibles somewhere in the picture. We also wanted solitude and a place we could experiment with our various ridiculous ideas. There should be room for an intentional community. Employment within driving distance. All pretty mainstream for an alternative, as we looked at and nearly bought a few old farmsteads on “main” roads, complete with structures and apple trees.

Home. The icicle crop is usually                        good.

We ended up here. I need lots of quiet in order to function, and grew up with the world as my pleasure ground. Steven took to the idea of living in a wild setting like a duck to water. It seemed a reasonable enough decision. We bought over 100 acres, with a 16’ x 20’ cabin, a meadow full of blueberries and jackpine, a two-track drive through Federal Forest, inside pitcher pump, and no power. One hundred acres of sand. The realtor who sold it to us reminded us that in Israel they farm the desert – just add water. There’s a creek on the far 40. And did I mention handfuls of ripe, luscious blueberries? That was enough.

So, creativity. It’s a good bet that when you put yourself into a situation with which you are unfamiliar, you’ll get the opportunity to exercise your creativity at some point. We’ve tried creative fencing, refrigeration, building, gardening, and more. Some things work. Some don’t. We continue with the first and dump the second. Each decision to pursue an alternative leads to more awareness of alternatives and more choices.

We’ve tried to continue the two proud traditions of my family, above. The vow of poverty is misleading, though, since we really have enough, and that’s not poor in my book. It was truer when the kids still lived here, so we did parent correctly!

We moved here to allow the outdoors to be our neighbor, and that’s worked well. We often see other residents of this land, or hear them. Because of the choices we made, we’ve had opportunities to see Northern Lights, hear coyotes and wolves, swim in pristine waters, and ski home by starlight.

My sunflowers seem to invite the Damn                                        Chipmunks.

On the physical side, the choice to live this life included more work than in most suburban settings. Originally we pumped water, split and carried wood, skied home, cared for animals. There is still a lot of physical work in my life, and I feel it keeps me younger and more agile than I perhaps deserve. I use this body, and it seems to like that. I expect to continue the relationship. (Lucky genes don’t hurt, of course!)

Looking at our choices has made me a person who is more open to others’ potential. Knowing that I managed to pass as a normal human (okay, more or less normal) in a normal employment setting leads me to understand that others, too, may have a larger or different life than that proclaimed by their Suburban.

I’ve learned that I have alternatives. I’ve learned that  if I don’t have eggs or pepper I will survive until the next trip to town. I’ve learned that I learn well, having faced a myriad of free lessons here, and so I’m less afraid to face new tasks. I’ve learned to rely on my own strengths and on those of my partner. I’ve learned that I will have other chances to triumph and fail and invent. And still I learn!

I would have learned many of these things in any life I lived. We do that, we humans. And any lifestyle that fits a person and enhances open learning and creativity is obviously a good one for the individual who has built it.

And however we get there, understanding that our path is not the only one gives us the freedom to change and reinvent as necessary. Finding an alternative is like opening a door that may lead outside our comfort zone. But standing outside our comfort zone gives us a perspective from which to see the world anew, or a new world with different possibilities.

As Julia (link below) has found, alternative worlds exist and are ripe for our plucking. She is seeing a new world for herself, as Steven and I did when we moved here so many years ago.

I invite you, too, to examine your alternatives. Take a step. Leave the Comfort Zone. Plunge into a new world.

Julia’s Link:
Caveat: Julia has not read this post – if there are errors, they are all mine and I apologize in advance.


Miracles and a big blue sky
Clouds to pillow when you cry
Ups and downs – I wonder why?
Take it easy!

Take it easy, take it hard,
Life will slip below your guard
Dealin’ you one more wild card –
Take it easy!

Take it easy when you lose and when you win
Knowing there will always be another game.
Take it easy when you have to start again –
Be a wind, be a wave, be a song with a new refrain!

I wish you friends and peace and song
A place you love where you belong
A joyful heart to keep you strong
Take it easy!

The Identical Cousins and the UncleGym,                            courtesy of Kayla.


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