Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I started blogging about our journey from corporate life (at that time being lived out in Australia) to a rural homestead in Texas about four years ago. We had acquired property near family and had developed the infrastructure - water well and electricity - while overseas and even started our home through the construction of a steel building in which our house was to be built.
Three years ago this month, I retired and came back to Texas to finish our house and make the property livable. Julie followed in about three months and continues her corporate role working from home and traveling to work.
During 2013 and 2014, we made very good progress finishing the house, building out gardens and outdoor living areas, completing a large screened porch and gaining some level of control over the previously unmanaged property. We had big plans for 2015 and by April, our Summer garden (we are blessed with two gardening seasons a year in South Texas) was in full bloom and we were excited to have the biggest and best garden we've ever had.
Further, we had built a guest house and moved an aging parent into that house. Also, another family member came to live with us while attending college so our entire family dynamic changed from "empty nesters" to care givers and helpers. We had even gotten to the point where we had bought a nice new travel trailer to make trips to the Gulf and elsewhere.
In April, 2015, we were struck by a really intense and damaging storm. Tornadic winds and massive hail stones destroyed three cars and our new travel trailer. Our two houses sustained significant damage as did every outbuilding and outdoor living area and structure. Worse, any animals, wild or domestic, living on our property were killed. In the early morning light, we could see that the 300+ trees (virtually all oak and hickory) on the property had been serious "pruned" and small limbs, leaves and debris were knee deep almost everywhere. We were in shock but quickly began the task of dealing with insurance companies, appraisers and getting some extra help to assist with the cleanup and repairs.
There was one amusing thing the morning after the storm. I remembered that I had left my old 1952 Ford 8N tractor and a trailer in a far corner of the property where I was doing some clearing of deadfall. I figured the 8N had met the same fate as the other exposed vehicles. To my amazement, the only damage I could find were scratches where the hail balls had exploded upon hitting the thick metal skin of the tractor. After inspection, the tractor started instantly and defiantly and I drove it through the leaves and branches back to the house so others could at least have something to smile about.
Forget the plans we had for projects during the year. Cleaning up, digging out and rebuilding took the remainder of the year. In fact, 9 months later, I still have uncompleted tasks (small ones, but nagging nonetheless). We did repair the houses, rebuilt fences and outdoor structures, replaced the totaled vehicles and bought a used, damaged travel trailer which we nicely repaired and have only recently used for the first time. Our garden, shattered by the storm, never did recover to any extent except for an incredible watermelon crop that happened almost by accident.
Compounding the difficult year of rebuilding, we discovered that the somewhat erratic behavior of an aging parent was being caused by dementia. Numerous doctor visits during the year ate into rebuilding time but family priorities come first. By the end of the year, she was happily and safely housed in a senior living facility and just recently, our resident college student finished her program, got a job and moved into her own apartment.
So we are back to square one, so to speak. We are "empty nesters" again. We've had a productive (but not spectacular) winter garden and with the signs of an early Spring, we're planning our Summer garden. We've accomplished a lot on the property during the past year, but it has not been with the same joy and enthusiasm as before the storm. We are struggling to get back on the horse. Are we suffering with a form of PTSD from the events of the year? How can we regain the joy and enthusiasm we felt for our homestead in 2013 and 2014?
I know a number of you have been through this (and worse). After all, no one died in this terrible storm. We've lost a dog, a couple of cats and hundreds of birds and other animals that have made our property home. Despite that, we can really count our blessings that our houses withstood a powerful storm and were only dented and dinged. We've even built shelters for exposed cars and our rebuilt travel trailer and these shelters also provide a safe place for any outdoor animals to seek safety.
We've developed a plan for what we want to do on the property this year. We're anxiously looking forward to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Belton, Texas, (an easy drive for us rather than the long drive to Topeka). We've always found the Fairs a wonderful place for inspiration and ideas so we're counting on that event as a good step for getting back on the horse.
I'd like to reach out to any readers who've been through similar events and experienced the same post event discouragement. What not only got you back to work, but also really got your juices flowing again? What ideas, techniques and activities would you recommend not only to us but also to others who might need a little encouragement or assistance to get going again?
Jim Christie is a retired IT sales and marketing executive and sales person, aspiring builder, homesteader, beekeeper, cheese maker and gardener. He moved to rural Texas with his family after ten years in Australia. Read all of Jim's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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