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New Frontiers

In 2002 just after we moved into our Vermont farmhouse, PBS a groundbreaking show called Frontier House, a “reality show” that challenged three modern families to try to recreate and survive an 1880s homestead life in Montana. The Big Guy and I had were kickstarting our own homestead, and I saw our family of two-plus-toddler as unofficial entrants in the game. On the surface, we were all asking if we were capable of creating functioning, self-sufficient homesteads. But the bigger question, then and now, was and is what is a functioning home?

The families in the original version got a crash course in frontier survival skills, and for the first episodes they struggled with building their shelters and starting their gardens while preparing for winter (a never-ending job in Vermont). Our team patted itself on the back over our firewood supply and the stocked deep freeze and barn-board pantry. I even made a quilt. Over the years, we’d watch reruns comparing our egg production with theirs, even thinking briefly of trying to produce our own milk.

As Thing1 got older and Thing 2 came along, however, the garden got smaller, and the flock was not replenished.

These days our team often races in four different directions, often at the same time. Now, like most Americans, our family has been stuck in neutral with our navigation systems locked up. Thing2’s middle school is online. Thing1’s college is also delivering all of the homework but none of the pesky “college” experience online for the remainder of the semester. The Big Guy, recently retired and managing family errands, is in neutral, trying to plan the next phase of his life. 

The family has been doing Zero-K walks around the house this week. It’s been therapeutic, but we clearly needed something more. 

Friday Thing1 and I started outdoor time early, heading to the overgrown garden. Clearing the 40’ x 40’ plot seemed daunting, but with no excuses and nothing else on our social calendars, we dug in. The Big Guy soon joined us, cutting away raspberry vines that had invaded the space. Thing2 came out to help after an online birthday party for a friend. 

As the afternoon light turned gold, we talked about rebooting the veggie gardens. We talked about chicks on order at the feed store and restarting a favorite family tradition.

The Big Guy and I eventually stepped back to watch the boys strategize next steps. We all agreed our sweat equity had earned us burgers and any fries we had in the deep freeze — something simple but satisfying. 

As we sunk into our first bites, each of us remarked what a great day it had been. Those few hours clearing and cutting, excavating and sweating and planning had got each of us at least a little bit unstuck. 

The boys will still study at home, missing friends and independence. The Big Guy is still in a holding pattern. But, as we reboot our home version of Frontier House, we’re creating new frontiers not just for our homestead but for our group therapy sessions. 

The first time around homesteading was all about the skills. It was about what we could produce. This time around it’s still about productivity, but I’m finding out it’s also very much about connection.

Working together won’t change the course of events beyond the end of our driveway, but it will keep us working on things we can control instead of worrying about things we can’t. 

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