Sunday, January 1, 2012

first post

It feels a bit premature to go starting a whole new blog when I haven't even made any life changes yet, but I feel an internal shift has happened and I want to capture some of it. And if I do follow through with the external changes, it would be nice to have a place to write about that.

It's a simple enough path, one that's many before and after and alongside me will choose, nothing special really. I want to end my salaried employment and hang out with my kids and make photographs and cook and eat real food and generally slow everything down. I've been thinking about this for a long time - seriously, for two years; less seriously forever? But fears held me back. In late 2007, I caught up with a high school friend who, to me, seemed to be living the dream: living on a farm with three kids and horses and making time to follow her passion for writing. I had a moment of envy. Then a sharp thought: My husband was earning enough now that there was no reason I couldn't do that myself. And I was overwhelmed with fear. That was it, I thought. I would always be too afraid to leave the salaried workforce.

Around the same time, I got a promotion and a new manager at work, a real firecracker. It was the first time I'd worked for someone who was better at my job than I was, and I was learning like mad. I discovered I WAS ambitious: in the sense that I enjoyed my job and wanted to get better at it and earn the respect of others for being good at it (NOT in the sense of wanting to climb a corporate ladder). I wanted to continue working.

I also started volunteering at a drop-in centre, and was constantly aware of (and trying to hide) my affluence. Somehow my mind took all these things and spat out a conclusion: Clearly the smart thing to do was to buy a bigger house, one that required two incomes, since clearly I would always be too chickenshit to stop earning mine. This was before all the financial shit hit the 2008 fan, and I was still buying the idea that real estate was always a good investment. I thought that the only way to make up for my affluent life was at least to be smart about and make a good investment, instead of frittering my money away on STUFF. So in August 2008, we took possession of a bigger house in a bland suburban neighbourhood. The regrets set in pretty quickly, for a variety of reasons. The house wasn't as nice as we'd thought and walking downtown or even to our favourite park wasn't as doable as we'd thought either.

Within a year, I started thinking about quitting my job. My firecracker manager was one of those super women who was a crazy hard worker and also a really engaged mother (though her children were adults). I admired her so much I tried really hard to keep up, but soon I was a big anger ball. At work, at home, I didn't discriminate. Before I started my mat leave last May, I had managed for the previous six months to enforce better boundaries around my work/life balance, but it's really exhausting to swim against the current like that.

With the financial crises that have hit since 2008, I've also discovered that real estate is not a great investment. For one thing, if you want to cash it in, you have to move your home. For another, property values aren't constant. And for a third, you have to maintain it and keep up with the Joneses if you want to make money on 'your investment.'

Anyways, for the last two years I've been contemplating major life changes and trying to find clarity about what to do. Most of my adult life has relied on making decisions based on fear (also known as risk assessments), and I want to try making decisions based on its opposite: love. My latest thinking is that I may never be certain about what to do, and at some point I'm just going to have to take a chance and dive in. Nothing is permanent, and no single decision is really going to ruin our lives. We are more resilient than that.

But over the last few months, every time I think I've decided to just give it a shot so I don't spend my life wondering what might have been, I have a panic attack within 24 hours. The problem with not making decisions based on fear is that life gets kind of scary. At least for this anxiety-prone person. A few weeks ago, my husband's employer got bought by something or other. He believes his job may be in jeopardy. It almost made me decide to give up and just go back to work when my mat leave is over. But then I came upon Radical Homemakers in the library. And it's come at just the right time.

Maybe the idea of a full-time job as security is just an illusion. Maybe learning how to do things yourself instead of depending on money to buy or hire them offers more security than the money from a full-time job. Maybe being able to produce your own food offers more security. Maybe getting off the more more more faster faster faster train offers more security and better health.

Maybe everything we think we know, all the conventional 'wisdom' and common sense, has come from advertisers and corporate marketing over the last four generations of people. Maybe the notion of financial independence (i.e., borrowing from large financial institutions to buy a house instead of saving up or borrowing from family) really just serves financial institutions. Maybe the idea of real estate as a good investment has just been fed to us by financial institutions so they can make more money.

It's been a week or so since I started reading Radical Homemakers and once again, I feel fairly certain of the path I want to take. I'm not exactly sure how we'll make it work, but we have some time to figure that out. It's been a week and I'm still waiting for a panic attack. This is exciting stuff.

* * *

Since I started this post, I've put a whole chicken in the oven. This was the first time I've ever handled a whole chicken, and it made me feel squidgy. But also kind of grown-up, like the first time I used up a 5-kg bag of flour. I've always eaten chicken, but until last year, I've never actually cooked it. I always felt like it was a dangerous thing to have in my kitchen, and somehow safer from a restaurant. But maybe THAT idea is also the product of marketing and advertising. That manufactured food is safer and more reliable than home-grown, home-cooked food. It also makes those manufacturers a lot richer, now doesn't it?

I'm not usually one for New Year's resolutions, but this year, my desire and readiness for change happen to coincide with the start of the year. This year, I want to make, grow, repair and barter for more and buy/hire less. Developing the skills and community required to do this will put me in a better position for if/when I make the big official change.

I love that I am starting the New Year with something I've never done before. Fingers crossed none of us gets sick, so I can develop a bit more confidence with chicken. Tomorrow, my son has convinced me to take another strange food producing fear: yeasted breads. Tomorrow, we will attempt making cinnamon buns. I think.


  1. A very exciting plan for the new year.
    Not buying the bigger house was a decision I do not regret. I am not sure if we can really blame others for our wanting more. I think the onus is on us to decide we will live more simply.
    glad you have arrived.

  2. Wow, this is very exciting...change in the air! By the way, one year my NY resolution was to learn how to bake bread - and it's so much easier and more satisfying than I ever thought. If I can do it so can you. I'm interested to hear about your journey.

  3. Hey Kate,
    So much to say that I wish we could just sit down and chew the fat for a bit. B/c we can't just yet, I will say congratulations for listening to yourself on all these issues. I'm excited to see how all this will unfold for you. You've got such a great marriage of insight and common sense that I can't help but think you'll navigate it all marvellously.

    I'll also add that nothing in this world tastes better than home-made cinnamon buns. You can do this.

  4. Love your writing AND photography, nice to read you again!

  5. I just love the last sentence of this post. And I think this is the right thing for you - you've been thinking of it for too long, and too persistently, for it not to be. It's more a matter of when and how than whether.

  6. Big changes are scary; I don't think there's any way around it. But there comes the point when staying the course no longer works. I'm excited for you in these changes and look forward to the developments.

  7. Congrats on the new blog. I'm going to check out this book, sounds like I need it.