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If a project isn't completed, maybe it wasn't all that important!

Countryside first entered our home back in 1978 or '79. 1 can't remember how we happened upon it, but the magazine was welcome! We were living in a "trendy" suburb of Milwaukee at that time, and I was swimming "doing my thing" -- gardening, canning, making soap and bread, burning kerosene lamps, and cultivating a yard -- while those around us were giving butch haircuts to their awns an prancing off to the golf course.

Many times during those suburban years I would tell people, "Someday I'm going to live in the country, raise sheep, spin the wool, and make my own sweaters." This declaration was met with ridicule and a self-righteous answer: "Nobody does that!"

So you can see that this magazine was a kind of "lifeline" to me: an affirmation that I could be the person I wanted to be!

We moved to our country three acre "heaven" in the Kettle Moraine State Forest area in 1980. At about that time, I purchased my first spinning wheel and learned to spin. Then my husband fenced in our front yard and built a snug little shed, and we brought home three ewes. Before long, I discovered that chickens were also fun -- as well as rabbits, geese, and ducks. (Dogs and cats had always been a part of our lifestyle, and we continued to enjoy them in our country setting.)

Since moving to our homestead (which we call "Sheepy Hollow") my concentrated nurturing efforts have switched from gardening to raising critters. We have managed to hack some garden space (for rhubarb, herbs, and flowers) out of the glacial debris in our soil, but since we like the wild woods around us, we are content with small scale gardening. Good produce is available, as we live near farms and farmer's markets. And, because most of our children are grown and on their own, it is no longer necessary for me to can and freeze humungous amounts of food!

In the last 10 years I have developed my spinning, learned to weave, and created a small cottage industry. I teach spinning classes, carry a good line of spinning wheels, and create knitted and woven garments, rugs, etc. for sale. Ironically, many of the people who enjoy visiting us most (and the majority of my fiber arts students) are people from suburbs of Milwaukee -- even some of the same people who thought I was slightly deranged years ago when I said I wanted to raise sheep. Sheepy Hollow has become a kind of oasis for family and friends, and I am thrilled with this aspect of country living!

Our biggest challenge in the past 10 years has been keeping chickens, ducks, and geese alive. We love having nature, including predators, around us. I like to know that there are raccoons, possums, skunks (all of which we occasionally see) plus possibly weasels, coyotes and bobcats (which we love to imagine) out there. And these creatures delight in "Chicken McNugget" unprocessed and raw! We managed for several years with high fencing and reminders to close our birds in their sheds at night. Then we got Hans -- a galloopy Bernese Mountain dog without a mean muscle in his body, except that he too, likes Chicken McNuggets. For all his clumsiness, Hans can knock down a fence and catch a bird faster than I can yell "Stop!". Now we seem to be overcoming this challenge -- with extra sturdy fencing enclosing the sides and top of the poultry pens. Hans just hangs around the outside of the pens, eating his heart out.

The most important lesson I have learned in the last 10 years is -- perhaps -- a lesson learned from growing a little older (and hopefully wiser). I have learned that nothing is ever all done on Earth; there is always an unfinished project and unexcavated pile of something accumulating. Because I love creative activities, there is always a dream in process. With frequent assessment of priorities (people first, then the other living creatures, then the projects) things usually get finished eventually; if they don't get finished, maybe they just aren't that important! By the time some projects are completed, others have been started. I have discovered a great peace in this lifestyle; the joy is in the "dreaming" and the "doing," rather than in some kind of driven compulsion to have everything under control. Because I am no longer driven, life is extremely good!

Although economic self-sufficiency was not a consideration for us in moving to the country (if it had been we would have chosen tillable land instead of a wildlife refuge), deriving pleasure from simple things has always been very important to us. It is wonderful to get away from lawn mowers, golf courses, shopping centers and suburban living. (The little village of Eagle has no fast food restaurant, the furniture dealer is still the local mortician, and a 1940's type soda fountain remains to serve chocolate sodas and real root beer.) Mail order shopping saves us extra trips to shopping malls. I enjoy making gifts; between weaving, knitting, soapmaking, and breadmaking there are many gift possibilities. Hiking in the woods, watching the seasons change and the birds come and go, are among our favorite entertainments. We are grateful for our country home, and grow more rooted to it each year.

However, something out here has changed in 10 years; and I giggle to think of it. What has changed is some of the neighbors.

After we settled here, two sets of neighbors began to complain about our creature population and the appearance of our property. In addition to our sheepshed, we had a chicken-duck-goose complex of cute shanties in our front yard. One of the chicken houses was masterfully designed by my husband to resemble an outhouse. The outhouse sheltered two different groups of chickens -- an upper and lower group, the "uppers" entering their quarters via what we called a "stairway to Paradise." The entire ensemble was a scream! Our unhappy neighbors called a county planning commission person who ruled that we had far too many critters for our three acres. (By county regulations, we are allowed one "large animal" or 20 fowl per acre. Pet rabbits, dogs and cats are permissible extras. We had been rationalizing that since a person could have three horses on this land, then one could also have the equivalent size and pooping capacity of those three horses in other types of smaller stock.) Really hilarious was the remark made to our then ten-year-old daughter by a neighborhood friend of hers: "The neighbors wouldn't care how many animals your mom had if she would only keep them in the back yard."

We did scale down the numbers of poultry; and we moved all feathered things to the back yard. Meanwhile the two sets of unhappy neighbors sold their homes and moved to the very suburb we had happily forsaken! Probably those neighbors didn't last very long here because of us!

Since they left, our neighborhood has been largely settled by "horse people." Horse people make super neighbors. They seem to have a capacity for enjoying life.

Recently, a friend purchased the four acres adjoining our property. This friend has no intention of building on her land, and she has given us permission to count her four acres into our acreage -- thereby giving us more "critter freedom." (Our friend also loves critters.)

At present, our backyard poultry operation consists of three geese, two ducks, eight hens and three roosters -- with a mixture of varieties, some "fancy." The sheep count fluctuates. We rent a ram for a few weeks each November. Last spring we had three ewes and five lambs. After enjoying this little flock for most of the summer, I sold six of the eight sheep. We have raised some lovely wool; at the moment we have a Rambouillet and a chocolate brown Border Leicester/Lincoln ewe. We keep from four to six rabbits (Satins), occasionally breeding them and selling babies to pet shops. We have a collie, the frustrated ex-chicken snacking Bernese Mountain dog, and five house cats. We may add a couple of Angora goats to our menagerie next spring. Caring for these creatures gives me a sense of completeness and satisfaction.

When we moved to our country home, our first five children were grown. Our youngest daughter was four when we settled here, so our woodsy place is home to her. She enjoys the lifestyle, but is not at this point committed to it; she has her life to pursue. She is a talented musician, and loves the performing arts. All of our children and grandchildren enjoy visiting us. The grandchildren are especially tuned in to everything we are doing here; they like to make overnight visits, to hike with us, and help me care for the animals.

I believe that -- in years to come -- our family members will be richer in "quality of life" because of sharing our country home.

The future is almost "now" for my husband and 1, as he will be retiring soon. My husband is talented at "homestead" building and repair projects; he is planning a nice addition onto my little studio room. (At this point, my looms, spinning wheels and yarn baskets are all over the house. There will be less to trip over when the new studio is finished.)

Sometimes we talk about the possibility of scaling down our daily chores and traveling in place of tending critters. But my husband and I are so content that we can't imagine being happier than we are this minute! I believe that my soul would shrivel if I didn't wake up to roosters and baa-ing sheep. We can think of no place on Earth where we would rather be than right here at Sheepy Hollow!
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Title Annotation:Lessons Learned, Changes Accepted, in the Last 10 Years of Homesteading
Author:Been, Margaret
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1631
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