Monday, January 12, 2015

Why be normal?

As you may have noticed, we live an unconventional lifestyle.

We’ve been self-employed since 1993. We make wooden tankards for a living. We have a twenty-acre homestead. We work at home. The girls never attended school. In short, we do things our way.

We aren’t slaves to a clock by any stretch of the imagination. We do farm chores (feeding, watering, milking) more by the “clock” of daylight than anything else. We work when we need to get things done rather than by anyone else’s rules. We have times of rush and stress (especially during our busy season) but even then our hours are our own.

And it got me thinking – why do most people live their lives in conformity to the dictates of others? When you think about it, most people spend their time obeying others – namely, their bosses. When you work for someone, of course, that obedience is critical. Maybe this is why we like being self-employed so much.

There are endless millions who spend their lives rushing and worrying, worrying and rushing. They have numerous commitments and obligations, many responsibilities and duties. They have no leisure, or if they do, their leisure is structured and brief. They tour Europe in two weeks. (“Quick, see London! March! Now quick, see Paris! March!”) Ambition is crucial and down time is a waste.

It’s easy to pass this on to children as well. School is demanding, homework takes hours every night, free time is structured into extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or other worthy pursuits. Idle time is a waste and actively discouraged since it doesn’t produce anything “useful.”

When I worked in the corporate world, this mentality was par for the course. Everyone was like that. We commuted, we worked, we commuted again, we did more work at home. Weekends were for catching up on whatever neglected chores or social obligations were necessary before Monday rolled around again and it was back to the grindstone.

While there has always been a segment of the population following this lifestyle, it became much more widespread after World War II. People were expected to follow a prescribed path: Finish high school, get a further education (college, trade school, or on-the-job training), work for forty years while raising a family, retire. You toed the line. You obeyed the rules. You earned the respect of your neighbors by toeing the line and obeying the rules.

I’m not just talking about work. There are many things which are dictated by others. How many people conform their standards of fashion, homes, even morals to the standards of society?

So I guess it was understandable when the 60s counter-culture hit like a ton of bricks and an entire generation of young people decided they would no longer toe the line or obey the rules.

We aren’t hippies by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand their frustration with “normal” rules, behaviors, fashions, and other diktats. When we stepped off this conveyer belt in 1993 and moved to Oregon, we didn’t really think about the repercussions of dropping out of the corporate mentality. But really, not being in the formal workforce has affected our entire lifestyle and attitudes in ways we didn’t anticipate. For one thing, it made us almost immune to the notion of “status.”

I mean after all, who stipulated it was necessary to spend eight hours a day locked in a building with a bunch of strangers in order to obtain a paycheck twice a month?

Who decided it was necessary to own a certain type of home and furnish it in approved ways? Who decided what kind of vehicle it was necessary to own? Who decided how it was necessary to raise children? Why MUST we do these things?

Do you see my point? Those of us who don’t conform to the “normal” ways of living and raising children are considered... well, unconventional.

I like being unconventional. I like not having to keep up with the Joneses. I like not being a slave to status symbols (home, car, career) in order to impress people I don’t know.

We’ve been accused of a number of things over the years. We’ve been told we’re wasting our lives, that we lack ambition or goals, and that it’s criminal we’re passing on such traits to our children. But is this lack of “ambition” as defined by the clock-watchers really such a bad thing?

The truth is, we DO have ambitions and goals, but they’re just not in keeping with the things corporate America values. We have ambitions of expanding the garden next spring and goals of installing a wood cookstove in the next few weeks. We have ambitions of improving the barn’s infrastructure and goals to someday put hardwood flooring in the house. We have ambitions to become as self-sufficient as possible on our homestead. We have goals of launching two well-rounded, sensible, moral young women into the world.

In short, we may lead a life that is quiet and unassuming and “unambitious” and even “wasteful” to the unpracticed eye, but the truth is we’re stable, content, and happy. And aren't these the goals and ambitions of many millions of people – to be stable, content, and happy? We just achieved these things in unorthodox ways.

After all, why be normal?


  1. A few years ago, my hubby did some tree trimming in our Christmas tree patch. We weren't cutting them at near the rate I thought we would be when I planted them. Now the patch was out of control and overgrown.

    He trimmed one tree quite oddly so that we wouldn't have to cut it down entirely just yet. He cut all the branches off up to the last 5 feet at the very top of the tree - giving it and the tree next door room to breathe.

    It looked very funny - a 25 foot, branchless trunk until the last 5 feet at the top. He proudly showed me his handy work, saying "Embrace the weird!" I laughed and thought it looked pretty cool.

    To this day, our motto is "Embrace the weird!"

    Looks like you've done pretty much the same thing. Well done.

    I adore non-conformity.

    I've been known to ask a salesperson, "Which one do most other people choose?"

    "Why, THIS one," they say.

    "Then that's the one I DON'T want," say I.

    Just Me

  2. I was one of the office drones sad to say. I was born and raised on a farm so I guess I should have retained some of the independence streak but alas I did not. One of the things that I missed doing all of those 11-12 hr days (including commute) was my sons growing up. What a waste. I admire you and your family more than you can know because I think you are doing it right. I can not go back and change mine but you will not have those feelings when you get to 70 years old like me!

  3. When we moved into the upscale neighborhood to be close to my husbands work, the neighbors said, ' you don't belong here. You need to move to the country'. When I chose to homeschool my children, I was told, ' put your kids in school and get a job'. When I put in my garden and chickens I was asked, What do you want to do that for, the store is one mile up the road, you are ruining our property values?' Now I have 40 acres in North Idaho and nobody judges my choices but the Lord. AAAAH! FREEDOM

  4. Thank you for this. You've elegantly said what so many struggle to put into words. Sharing.

  5. Funny, I've been thinking about many of these issues lately, too. In many ways I feel like we're straddling two worlds - I work mostly from home but do have to drive into the big city at least once a week to go into the office. My husband works in the city full time. The children, ages 16 and 14, do school at home. I've been worried lately that we're ruining them for "the real world." When they attended brick and mortar school they had to be up and out of the house by 7:15 am. Now they often don't roll out of bed until 7:30 or even 8:00. Are they going to be able to get up to make it to their real job on time? They have a list of school subjects they must study each day but they set their own schedule. Are they going to be able to take orders?
    After reading this post I'm thinking maybe we should be less worried about them able to take orders and more just happy they're learning to be self-motivated and to set their own schedules without being dictated to by the school bell.

    1. You probably have experiences where your children already show they can follow directions/orders and they can wake up earlier if needed. If they really don't have situations allowing them to practice that AND you're concerned about that particular ability, then it may be worth it to intentionally do something that requires an early start and following orders. Volunteering for activities like a Habitat for Humanity build day or even volunteering to help a friend trying to earn their Eagle Scout (or equivalent) gives that practice. Bonus- projects like that can involve learning new skills. Of course you'll need to adjust to your local area- the projects I mentioned are available in many but not all areas.

    2. A few years ago, I found this book from 1909 that is essentially a treatise on why kids have the capacity to study before school tends to train it out of them. The author made this observation:

      "In spite of the fact that schools exist for the sake of education, there is many a school whose pupils show a peculiar "school helplessness"; that is, they are capable of less initiative in connection with their school tasks than they commonly exhibit in the accomplishment of other tasks."

      How to Study and Teaching How to Study (1909) by F. M. McMurry, Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

      Another book published in 1886 promoting the development of schools teaching both academics and vocational skills made this observation:

      "Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are catchpenny phrases. There is much of the former, but very little of the latter. Speech is generally the result of automatic thought rather than of ratiocination. Independent thought is of all mental processes the most difficult and the most rare; habit, tradition, and reverence for antiquity unite to forbid it, and these combined influences are strengthened by the law of heredity. The tendency to automatic action of the mind is still further promoted by the environment of modern life. The crowding of populations into cities, and the division and subdivision of labor in the factory and the shop, and even in the so-called learned professions, have a tendency to increase the dependence of the individual upon the mass of society. And this interdependence of the units of society renders them more and more imitative, and hence more and more automatic both mentally and physically."
      Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand: manual training, the chief factor in education

    3. Thank you for the book references. I appreciate the thoughtful replies.

      I forgot to mention in my original post that we steward 13 acres of land. We husband and house a variety of animals; milk and meat cows and goats, bees, orchards, garden, horses, chickens, pigs, etc. We all work together on everything - mostly because we have to! We literally could not do all the work without the help of our children. They also raise animals for 4-H. Our son is a Life Scout and working his way to Eagle. Our daughter has advanced with her riding to the point where she's working at a horse farm in exchange for eventing lessons and fox chasing opportunities. I guess when I think of all they're learning, apart from books, I should be encouraged. Maybe it's just a struggle all homeschooling moms have, "Am I doing enough, teaching them enough?" etc. Maybe teaching them initiative and hard work is most important.

      These are issues I've struggled with lately as they're coming to the age where they're starting to think about what to pursue after homeschooling has ended - college, career, etc.

      Thank you, Patrice, for the interesting post!

    4. MB,

      I've really enjoyed reading this exchange.

      It's clear to me your family has the right stuff, and that you're giving your kids the best upbringing thy could possibly have: as upright, hardworking young people following in the footsteps of Godly parents and loyal stewards of His gifts.

      It means a lot in today's world to get to see examples like yours. It means an awful lot. So thank you.

      A. McSp

    5. Thank you. Your words are encouraging.
      God's Best to you and yours,

  6. After years of being on the have-it-all-merry-go-round, and having the goal line moved a few times, I became a stay at home wife and mother. This new time in our lives was accompanied by an intense feeling of Sunday night stress, the same stress that came from having to get everything organized for the upcoming week of work and activities. This lasted for a little over two years, then it was replaced by the worry that the homeschooling we had just begun wasn't good enough.
    I leaned heavily on the Lord, but I cling tightly to my worries I guess. I was having a wonderful conversation with a high school friend and she told me about another graduate from our little school having a blog. I went to Paul's blog and there was a link to this blog. The Lord was being firm with me now, giving me real life examples to follow in my pursuit of simplicity.
    We still haven't reached that laid back simple life we are yearning to have, but are on our way. I live in Idaho on 20 acres after having declared that I would never leave Wyoming. We marched all over WY for three years looking for a retirement property but could not find one that was "ours". On our way to a military reunion in Washington, we decided to tour Idaho instead of just taking the usual I-90 route and we came across a lovely town and we were quite taken with the friendliness of everyone. On a second trip through Idaho after making a huge circle that included California, Nevada, Utah and eventually Montana, we visited with a realtor that had just gotten a listing and wanted us to look at it, despite the fact that it didn't fit the description of what we originally wanted. When we got back to the realtors office, my husband did something he has never done before and blurted out "we'll take it". I now am learning to "go a little slower", as I await spring and fence building and my husband's retirement (and joining us).
    I've had to let go of things and stress. Quite liberating. I am stacking up more things to get rid of (I'm bad about keeping mental inventories, so I am going to reduce my inventory). We are pursuing a goal of more gardening (at 3000 ft. lower elevation, it should be easier) and expanding our chicken and egg production, as well as raising our own beef and some for sale (must earn the ag exemption).
    Thank you, Patrice for being the link I was led to that day back in 2010.

    1. Aw shucks. I'm blushing.

      But here's a question -- why aren't you blogging about your journey? Who knows who you might inspire?

      - Patrice

    2. 'Cuz her hubby's still working and the woman's got fence to fix! ;)

      Seriously, I've wondered many time how you do it, Patrice. To me, the prospect of having a blog to keep up and nurture is almost akin to having more critters. They've gotta be fed. lol There's no getting away from it.

      You're pretty amazing, truth be told.

      I like Suzie's post and I share her gratitude for this site. There's a good reason it's been my homepage for years.


    3. Thank you both for the compliments! Now I am blushing...

      I wish that I were fixing and building fence, but one of my shoulders is fully against me on this wish. So are financial considerations, but both are making me learn to be patient. Fencing will come this spring, then calves will be purchased. In the meantime, reading, research and planning are top of the list. Today will "BEE" an exciting day: we are researching bee boxes and sources of bees for our little place.

      I, too, do not know how Patrice does it all. I have a helper right now, but know in a few years that he will be off to see what the world has in store for him. Last night as I did our taxes, I gave him some advice: keep your life simple and keep elaborate records, lol.

      I haven't investigated a blog, but may yet. My 80+ year old parents Facebook, so in order that they may keep up with our adventure, I made a page: Facebook dot com/pages/The-Red-Barn-Farm. I am unsure of the time commitment a blog would require but I it may be a consideration as I feel a need to "journal", if for nothing else to be able to look over my day and see what did get accomplished. It also helps to keep one's perspective and sense of humor when things do not go as planned!
      Thank you to everyone who shares their life adventures. You never know who will be encouraged to step out and be a little braver in their adventures because of it.

  7. I have been living this way for 7 years now and love it.

  8. Aren't the goals and ambitions of many millions of people to be stable, content, and happy? Absolutely! Many millions of normal people, that is. However, liberal-progressives are not "normal." The name of their game is control. They want to control everyone and force us all to conform to what they think is acting "normal." I energetically applaud those like you and your family, Patrice, who actually live the way all "normal" people want to live. BRAVO!
    --Fred in AZ

  9. About 5 years ago the Lord impressed upon my heart the verse in Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I have been a "non-conformist" for many years but never to the degree that I am now. I have been a homesteader for about 12 years but this verse changed my perspective. Now, I seek the Lord's guidance on everything which almost always takes me in a different direction than the rest of the world. I recognize that my 7.8 acres is a gift from God and that I am to be a good steward of this gift. Therefore I work to make it sustainable for myself and hubby and 3 adult children and their families. All work is done as to the Lord, the harvest is done with thanksgiving to Him and all praise and glory is His. I am just the worker sewing seeds, but it is He that brings the harvest. Thanks for the continued encouragement through your blogs and book Simplicity Primer. Rebekah

  10. I agree. We have a little doll that sits next to our computer on the speaker. His shirt says, "Normal is Boring." Nancy

  11. I think most people are too busy trying to be the human doings that other people want them to be to even know what THEY want themselves to be in the first place, but if they did know, it would most likely be, yes. stable, content and happy. I am glad you and Don are making raising your girls to be well-rounded, sensible and moral a priority in your lives. From what I can see, the world would be a much better place if it wasn't for the way the majority of people have babies and then don't PARENT them. It means the kids never actually grow up, and as time goes on, the world is becoming more and more under the care of children in adults' bodies. Apologies, That is one of my most common rant topics.

  12. Amen & amen!!! Good post Patrice! There are many who think like are not're the most normal of Americans. Kudos to you and Don and your girls!

    Holly in ID

  13. Ye Saints and Martyrs, what a wonderful article and how eloquently put. Thank you.

  14. Huzzah! You know, as a child I lamented how "non-conformist" my parents were, though we were not as drastically "different" as your lovely, blessed family. But we were certainly marching to the beat of our own drum. And you know what? Now I am so grateful! I'm now a proud follower of their example, and gloriously, I'm doing it in my own way. I'm not out of the rat race just yet, but my husband and I are working toward it. And I'm certainly already different than my neighbors and coworkers, in my choice of dress, leisure and behavior. If we have more children (our first we placed with an adoptive family), they will be homeschooled as if my life depends on it. You all keep doing the good work! I'm looking forward to it.

  15. Your articule was great, but what about the Bible? The steps of
    a good man are ordered by the Lord. I had wanted to move out,
    like way out 15 years ago. I am very thankful that it did not work
    out like that do to health reasons.
    Yes my husband has an 8-5 job and I am very gratefully for that
    right now also. he has to have surgery tomorrow and can go back
    to work right away, even though he does not have full use of his
    The job will work around that one also.

  16. You're smarter than "normal" gives you credit for.

    I'm not (quite) stupid enough to say something that could be translated as "You are living a utopian life." I'm (barely) smart enough to realize there's no such thing.

    I'm also smart enough (again, perhaps barely) to realize that I'm surrounded by people chasing a measure of security and a modicum of contentment...

    ...when, at least from the road over, it looks as if you have both in the palm of your hand.

    Why be normal, indeed.

    1. What they have in their hand, indeed!

      An old rancher in Wyoming shared with me that he was not aware there was ever a depression: he had no stock in Wall Street, only stock with four legs; no money in a bank, only what was in his pocket. He rode out to care for cattle every day, cut hay with a team of horses, ran his simple irrigation ditches, fixed his fence with tools and wire he all ready owned. He pushed cattle to mountain pastures in the spring and brought them back in the fall. He didn't have tv, radio or a newspaper. He just had his work and his land. Prices of beef went up and down. He never have many clothes, and no fancy ones, but kept a good heavy coat, gloves, hats, scarves.
      He found it strange that "normal" people thought they could make something from nothing and would jump off buildings (something he read years later) when they found out it didn't work. He was happy he lived in what he learned was "fly-over" country.
      My mother's parents faired those same years in much the same way…they were poor and raised every bite they ate, buying only salt and such. No savings in a bank that they "lost". Nothing much changed for them, other than they shared what they had with more people. Country bumpkins that were probably looked down upon, previously, and that in years to come, were most likely looked down upon again, living life simply by the labors of their hands, content to sit on the front porch and visit, to play cards with the extended family and neighbors, to have potlucks after church.
      They had little but I guess they had enough and they seemed secure and content for as long as I was honored to have them as my grandparents on this earth.

    2. My grandma on my dad's side told me a very much similar story. The older I get, the wiser it sounds.

      I grew up during the '80s-- another time when "country bumpkin" was considered a nasty insult and "the sticks" was a place any "normal" person wanted to get out of.

      HAH-- the more I see of "normal," the smarter those "bumpkins" look to me (and the more I want to get the hell out of "normal" and back to "the sticks")!

      "Normal" might be normal, but that doesn't make it SANE!!!!

  17. Thank you for your wonderful 'chats'... We are both 75 yrs old, have raised 6 children, open our house to grandchildren and others. I am very frightened to watch what our world is becoming, we live in Montana, have many neighbors that are fundamental in their lives. We live on a small acreage, with gardens and chickens.. my husband loves his personally rebuilt John Deere tractor. In years past we have enjoyed company of so many folks regardless of race or religion, found that all were respectful of what our Lord has given us. In just a very few years attitudes have changed so much, not better... it is a topic of most conversations. What is going to happen to us?

  18. Hi Patrice - I think what you and Don have accomplished over the years is wonderful. My question is, what will you do with all of these things when you do not have the physical ability to maintain them? Will your daughters in turn take care of you?

    1. That's a question we cannot (yet) answer.

      - Patrice

    2. Thanks for the reply. I'm sure that you think about it at times. I went through the whole process in my mind and ended up with a middle of the road approach. If
      I remember correctly, Helen and Scott "Nearing" went until he was well into his 90's. I hope that it's the same
      for you.

  19. You forgot how "normal" also means in living a life in debt to credit card companies, a long mortgage at the bank, and teetering on the precipice of "one health problem away from medical-bill-driven-bankruptcy".

    That's the part of normal I find most horrifying.

  20. Personally, I admire your way of life...a little jealous actually. I aspire to become what you have done.