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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

An Early Thanksgiving

This is typically the time of the year I would be writing about Halloween, my favorite holiday, or putting together something crafty for autumn. I tried that route, but I’ve never been very good at anything other than writing from my heart.

And in my heart, I am feeling like this is an early Thanksgiving instead of Halloween. You see, for the last three and a half weeks, my life has been spinning on its axis. In late September, my mother had a health emergency, leaving my sister, father, and me at her bedside for weeks. Although I know, in my practical mind, that we lose loved ones in life, suddenly I was staring that reality in the face.

We spent days in the hospital room with her, listening to beeps and blips and watching doctors and nurses shuffle in and out. On the surface, I was in the room with the machines and IVs but, inside my head, it was a much different landscape.

I looked back over the years of her being the one to hold my hand through the tough times, through sickness, through children being born. Now we sat at her bedside, holding her hands and pleading with her to get better, not even sure she could hear us or recognize our voices. We brushed her hair and washed her face, as she had done for us for so many years. Doing these small things were some of the most difficult moments of my life.

Two weeks into our vigil, the stress of the situation finally took a physical toll on my dad, leaving him in a separate hospital with heart problems. When you’ve been married for 45 years, helplessly watching your wife is bound to break your heart. It was at this point that my sister and I split duties, one with Mom at her hospital and one with Dad at his. I couldn’t help but ponder how much I’d taken for granted in my life, including my parents, who had raised me to appreciate everything that makes me a Homegrown type of woman.

My dad taught me from a very young age to find solace in nature, to recognize the peace that it can bring. He grew gardens and took me for long walks in the state park at the end of the street. We trekked through corn fields to explore old abandoned barns and stopped to appreciate clouds and animals. I learned early on to appreciate and seek out the beauty that so many people are too busy to recognize. I have always been grateful for that.

Michelle's dad and son

I trailed behind my mother all of the time in my young years, watching her create a home; that's the two of us, many years ago, in the photo below. She made every meal, starting with my dad’s breakfast early in the dark hours of the morning and ending with a family meal together around the dinner table. She baked and she cleaned, doing far more than I ever recognized as a child. She was also very active in society and in helping dozens of young, scared, pregnant girls who had nowhere to go. In addition to giving us what we needed, she also found these girls homes and food and security.

Together, my parents delivered full dinners to families in need and provided holidays for people who otherwise had nothing. To me, this was a normal life. It was years, not until I had my own children, before I realized they worked hard to instill social responsibility in us. They felt that raising empathetic and giving kids was their greatest legacy.

So you see, everything I cherish and have in common with you Homegrown readers, I owed to these two people lying in hospital beds. They were no longer the immortal super humans I’d always thought they were. They were, quite suddenly, very human and very vulnerable. This was my chance to learn a lesson and perhaps to share it with each of you.

Today, as I sit writing this, my dad is with my mom at her rehab center while she relearns some life skills before coming home. They’re both on the road to recovery, now that doctors have found and treated my mom’s mystery illness­: a cyst in her brain, leaning on her pituitary gland. I, too, find myself relearning some life skills.

I’ve forgotten how much I love the simple, small things—you know, the “normal” things. I’ve realized that instead of my parents being normal, they’re actually blessings and not everyone’s normal: clearing the garden in fall with the kids, making way for new growth and new seasons, the routine of getting ready for school and going out into life. Preparing for family holidays then spending them together, decorating the Christmas tree or collecting Easter eggs. Picking up the phone to call my parents to talk about the fall colors, lucky they’re only 20 minutes from me.

I’ve realized these things are the glue that has held my family together tightly. It continues to hold our kids together with their cousins and their grandparents, as well. In the grand scheme of life, these are not simple or small things. They’re what life is all about.

Above all, it’s important to make these things passed down by our parents rituals rather than routines. Next time I put up food after the harvest, I’ll remember when my dad bought dozens and dozens of ears of corn to freeze. He shucked and stripped ear after ear, resulting in the year when we had corn every which way. Or the time my mom allowed me to express my own fashion sense and bought me a purple faux fur coat that I loved, only to be called Grimace for a solid year afterwards. She had tried to steer me away from the ill-fated choice, but in the end, she let me learn my own lesson.

I’m still learning my own lessons, often the hard way, but I’m exceedingly grateful to have my parents, my family, and my friends to learn from. Happy early Thanksgiving.

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Michelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead where she works from home in between raising kids and chickens. 

Photos by Michelle Wire

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