Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina
I’m Gina. I have always thrived in the midst of challenge. Here is my nutshell story:
All my life I have skirted the conventional. I don’t think this was exactly intentional, just that I felt different, liked different, and, thus, surrounded myself with different. My parents used to call the friends I drug home my “stray puppies”-these were kids from various backgrounds who also weren’t controlled by the mainstream culture like many of our peers seemed to be. Kids with colorful personalities that just didn’t quite fit in the way American T.V. instructed. My own personality list included these titles: Bookworm, shy, tomboy, lover of nature & animals, introvert, old-fashion, modern (yep, a contradiction), weird, vegetarian, alternative, book smart, and loner. At least, this is the list I would have made for myself as a teenager when “not fitting in” seemed to be a negative thing. In the sixth grade, along with a gorgeous boy who decided to embrace his Native American ancestry, I was voted “most weird” by a jury of my peers. (Believe me, this was not exactly a happy moment in my life and even two and a half decades later makes me sad).
As I grew, I slowly began to embrace my eccentric persona. I began to care less that I was a square peg in a round world. I met others like me and realized I wasn’t so alone. I also began to notice that the “normal” kids were secretly attracted to the “weird” kids like me (maybe because they felt “weird“ too). I realized it no longer mattered how I dressed, what I listened to or how many hours I spent reading or hiking alone in the countryside. I’m not saying it was easy being different: I felt like I was trapped in this realm between wanting to be a back-to-land girl or an Indy rocker. I mean try telling your mohawked, punk boyfriend in the middle of Cornfieldville that you really would love to be a farmer and see how weird you feel!
In my early to mid-twenties, I decided I wanted to escape the connections and venues of my Indiana birth-city. I picked an area in complete opposition of the deciduous forests and seasonal changes of the Midwestern state I was raised in. I picked Tucson, AZ because I kept in my memory an article about Tucson in an old 1975 Arizona Highway magazine I had seen as a child and I wanted to see the giant cacti for myself. I took a short trip and fell in love. I moved there three months later alone. Well, not alone, I had my beloved pitbull/Dalmatian Isaak with me (he died a few years ago at the age of 16). I lived out there for awhile, but ended up back in Indiana with a broken heart and even bigger questions about who I am. I decided to return to school and gathered enough knowledge to be labeled with career options. IF I knew then…I would not have wasted my time & money in school.
In my early 30‘s, still in Indiana, I met my farm boy husband. I threw everyone who knew me for a loop (including myself) when I became pregnant and eventually married him. I threw even more loops into how people had known me when I gave up vegetarianism (after more than 13 years) and began to raise our own meat. I bawled over the first pig we slaughtered.
I can’t really say what makes me not normal because everything I do is so normal for me. I do have the insight to realize when my ideas or the path I am following are not exactly the status quo path of sorts. I do have the ability to censor my weirdness in crowds of near-strangers (like professional contacts). I also love and unconscientiously seek out other people who are not exactly the common bean in our cultural soup.
In many ways, I have simply returned to the path my ancestors followed in years past. Many of them defied the cultural norms and live a full and satisfying life. My late father hailed from Appalachia and as a child I loved visiting my “hillbilly” relatives. I loved the way the mountains smelled after a rain. I even loved having to go to the outhouse. I felt like I fit in there (although, strictly speaking, I wouldn’t have fit in later with my pierced nose, Midwest upbringing, vintage clothing, vegetarianism, left-wing politics and unconventional ideology, but that is another story). I remember my cousins who were my age, asking me what I wanted to do and I responded happily, “Let’s go hang out in the chicken coop!”
(I also enjoyed picking blackberries and eating blackberry cobbler made on a wood-burning stove up at the homeplace. In fact, I cannot smell or taste fresh blackberries to this day without getting nostalgic for the mountains.)
My mother, on the other hand, was Indiana smalltown-raised . Her family was poor and her handsome father drank & ran around on his family (she has a half-sister only a few months apart from her). However, despite being in very close proximity to her neighbors, many of them immigrants from the near-by tomato fields, they raised rabbits and chickens and preserved most of their foods bought from local farmers. She actually has fond memories of her dysfunctional childhood and many of them include the rabbits & chickens. Maybe this was my influence. As a child I begged my parents for farm animals and remember an episode where my mom almost bought me a pygmy goat. She changed her mind because she didn’t want to have to take up the issue with my father as to why we had a baby goat in our urban backyard.
My parents, once together, somewhat shunned the self-sufficient lifestyle (they did preserve some food, but pretty much abandoned the practice in the ‘80’s). They settled in the second largest city in Indiana and we lived city blocks from every convenience known to city dwellers. As a teen, I worked at the grocery store down the road. My mom would drive three blocks and buy all her food there. Of course, that grocery store (family-owned) went out of business when all the big ‘marts came to town. The mall was only a few miles from our home.
I did learn much though from my father: Gardener, photographer, DIY-type, and all around brilliant man. His influence was strong and vibrant and I think he was a bit of a “dabbler in not normal” kind of person. He would have loved to have settled in the country if it weren’t for my mom who wanted city convenience. I wish he had lived long enough to see me following my dreams (he died one year before we finally escaped the city). He would have loved our little homestead.
I am still working on many of the projects I have dedicated my life to. A few years back, we fled the city and moved to a small town and a small acreage plot. We have since traded up on the acreage as well as added a second son to the mix. I work fulltime, which makes homesteading and living the life I truly want to live a bit of a challenge. I have regressed a bit in the past year-and-a-half as I have been working FT, had the baby, and found it to be a challenge to balance what I want and what I have to do right now. My plate is always full. In the working world, I am an entomologist which is actually kind of weird in its own right.
I learn through trial and error, books, my fellow modern/neo-homesteaders, and those that have been on the path for a lifetime. I am always learning. Some things have become a normal part of my lifestyle: Canning Seasons, raising livestock (not perfect here), the three R’s (reducing, reusing, recycling). There are still many more hills to climb and I may never be able to climb them all in this lifetime. Sewing my own clothes is one of these hills, so most of my wardrobe comes from the thrifts (as does a good % of my possessions). On any given day, you may find me in professional gear (yuck!), vintage and modern mix-match, prairie skirts or overalls. I may or may not be wearing mucking boots. I haven’t given up on the sewing thing yet, though! The one thing I can guarantee, however, is that on any given day, my clothes will probably be wrinkly because I line dry nearly everything!
I think the common thread in all my life projects is that I am very autodidactic and will study something until it no longer interests me. Homesteading/self-sufficiency, with its myriad of roots, cannot be researched out my life. It is probably the only permanent part of who I am. I am also an extremist, always gravitating to both ends of a spectrum in my own personal interests (think Amish, Hippy and Beatnik all rolled into one, it‘s quite the conundrum).
I am way more outspoken (I tend to put people off with my bluntness) more than I ought to be and sometimes this includes a bit of self-doubt or disappointment spoken out-loud. I cannot separate it from my victories. It’s all part of the balance and should be expected from me. Blame it on my Libran nature!
Last Christmas, my sister-in-law, the mall queen, jokingly told everyone listening that Hubby and I were living like a bunch of hillbillies. I believe it was meant to be one of those disguised-as-a-joke insults, but I beamed with pride. She had said it in reference to the ham at the party which was a 22 lb piece of the very pig I raised with kindness and cried over. Hubby’s relatives had been hovering over that hunk of meat, devouring it, and I had never felt so proud not to be conventionally normal. It ended up being a compliment like no other!
On Tuesdays, you will hear way too much about flora & fauna, pest management, bees, chickens, heritage livestock breeds, kids (goat & human), gardens, work issues, family, books, food preservation, Grand Plans, self-sufficiency the modern way, and the challenge of balancing a frustratingly unorganized & busy life. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll get to hear all about the various experiments I am trying in this life! I can’t promise any how-to’s necessarily, but I am sure I’ll have a whole bunch of how-not-to’s to offer up for your personal enjoyment.