Intentional living doesn't land in your lap (or so I say when I'm tired)

On a beautiful, bright Sunday afternoon, this past Sunday to be exact, my family left the house while I stayed put, nose buried in a love story.

I closed the book shortly after they left (having read almost half the book since picking it up at the mail box that morning) and laid down for a nap.

Then I slept for a couple hours on an outdoors-worthy afternoon.

Those were probably the most delicious hours of my whole week. I would wake, briefly, hear the silence and feel the tug of my eyelids and surrender to it. And when I finally did get up I felt refreshed and still enjoyed an hour's quiet before my family trooped back in the door.

I'm tired.

Summer is always a busy time when you live in a cold climate. Whatever warm weather activities you don't do in these couple short months you won't have a chance to do for another 10 months.

If you don't live it, you'll miss it. Just like life.

But it's not summer that has tired me out. It's making a dream a reality and all the incredible work that goes along with that.

Specifically, we are hiking and "camping out" for six months next year. And when you have a family of five (most of those family members eating a lot of food) you don't just "show up" at the trailhead on a hope and prayer.

I love stories of people doing spontaneous, wacky things. I love those stories from afar since I'm not a spontaneous person myself, though I am learning how to go with the flow a lot more.

But spontaneous trail stories tend to work best for people with few responsibilities or perhaps a pension, college grads and recent retirees. Those of us with (hungry) children who outgrow their clothes every two weeks and deserve an education and some interesting life opportunities, we have to plan our adventures a little more in advance.

And planning means working.

The irony is that to spend 6 months outdoors as a family we have to spend a lot of time on the computer right now. A few months ago this irritated me. Irritation I then took out on my husband, which is always fab for the marriage.

There's so much blog spin about what intentional family life must look like. And in certain circles intentional family life is sans-technology and features lots of goats.

Our work is not harvesting and preserving our food for winter, or raising goats. And as a family we love and use a lot of technology to meet our goals. It used to bother me that maybe I was an intentional living fraud without the pre-requisite homesteady-husband. (Yeah, I've had some hang-ups.)

Our work is digital and online. It's writing code for clients. Writing content for blogs. Writing e-mail and connecting with people on social media.

Like a friend commented, "so basically you're an online communications firm". Never thought of it that way before but it's rather accurate.

One of the obvious questions people have about a family adventuring for six months is how do you afford to do this? and what about work?

We're not wealthy people by North American standards. We don't have sabbaticals, big savings accounts, or severance pay. We're instead relying on other means to make this possible.

  • We will be homeless during our hike (i.e. we will have no at-home housing costs).
  • We have no debt (except the house we own in Maine and after we sell that baby we never want a mortgage again) therefore we have no monthly expenses we are beholden to pay. This includes cell phone plans etc. We choose to own outright and pay as we go for those things we want.
  • We will have a small amount of money saved.
  • We are building an online business that can support us, in part, while we're hiking.
  • We will be working while hiking (this isn't a vacation). All of life is work. We were never hiking to escape this reality. We are hiking because we want our work to include our outdoor pursuits. It's a holistic view of work and life that we have been aiming towards for years. Nothing is separate from each other. Your work both feeds your belly and soul. And your passions in turn fuel your work. In the case of our hike, together with partners, we will be working on a project while hiking that will in part support us.

(For more on affording six months of hiking see this comment.)

Work is work no matter how you slice and dice it. You may be passionate about the outcome, it may be an expression of your values, but it's still work.

Intentional living doesn't land in your lap.

Even meaningful, values-driven, holistic work is hard, and tiring.

This is not a complaint. This is reality.

But sometimes I need a break from this reality. I think it's called a vacation, and if that's not in the cards an afternoon nap will have to do.

We have a long ways to go - a lifetime actually - and I can't burn out now.

What has made this past month especially busy (and no, it's not berry picking) is that we still own a house in Maine.

A house we're unable to sell (and financially break even) for a couple more years. This is what happens when you buy a house with very little money down in a very high market before the market crashes. You end up owing more on your mortgage than what the house is worth. And if you want to move this means a long slog of being landlords until you can sell and break even.

We've owned that house for 8 years already. It was our family home until we moved and since then its two suites have been rented out and managed by a local property manager.

This summer the main tenants left (we have a full house and a 2 bedroom basement apartment we rent out) and our property manager gave notice and it's been an intense time for me of finding a new property manager and helping both property managers - outgoing and incoming - secure new renters.

It's mentally and emotionally draining because finances are tight and this piece of property, which is all it is to us now, tethers us. When what we really want to do is close that chapter of our lives.

I haven't yet learned to surrender completely in that area, to trust through all the ups and down. In spite of knowing that every scrap I hold onto, in my desire to control the outcome, causes me more stress in the end.

So that's the truth of it. The photos at FIMBY often tell a beautiful and fun story. Because that's the life I live - when I actually step back and see it for what it is. (Which is why I love photography so much, it's the tool I use to focus on the beauty.)

But the whole story is that there are days, weeks, and seasons when my boots are in the quagmire, and the days are long, and my mind so easily reverts to worry if I'm not careful.

Work is work, but when I get whiny (as I sometimes do) Damien likes to remind me we have to work regardless, so I can be thankful we get to work at something we believe in. Even when it tires me out.

We've been here before. And we got through. Looking back on "getting through" is what keeps us moving forward when we doubt our strength for the current task. And a long afternoon nap doesn't hurt either.

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  • Kika

    Kika on Sept. 6, 2013, 2:08 p.m.

    Your posts always carry so much food for thought on a deep level so it usually takes me a couple days before knowing how to respond:) At the moment, though, I want to say I'm happy to hear that you took the rest you needed and say thank you, once again, for your willingness to pour out your thoughts, struggles and victories with us. xoxo


  • Tonya

    Tonya on Sept. 6, 2013, 2:28 p.m.

    Yes Renee! Intentional family living can involve so many different kinds of lives... with the key being having the ability to choose - to me that's what it is about.
    For us, we do have goats and we grow some of our own food, but for right now with seven children (six still living at home full time) we are comfortable being home-based. But, we have positioned ourselves by buying a very inexpensive homestead and a 10 year mortgage that will be paid off in 8 years. This will give us even more freedom. Even, now we could sell our homestead and potentially live mortgage free if we really wanted to "rough it" again. We are in a place now of actually considering this in order to have the freedom to travel more and for Mike to work in the woods more and for me to have more time being an artist:) We will see, as our children's needs also need to be met. But I hope you won't hold anything against us goat owning intentional living types:) Thinking of you and am thankful for your honesty as you live your life. Love, Tonya


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 6, 2013, 4:05 p.m.

      Tonya, Oh My goodness! Of course I don't hold anything against goat owners (but I think you were teasing me). In fact I support young goat entrepreneurs who want to start angora wool enterprises (smile).

      I've had a few hard years in the past of thinking we weren't on the right track if we weren't growing our own food. Because a lot of the people who share my life values do that also, and so I thought that was part of intentional living. Also there have been a whole slew of books and blogs about that movement but less so about other intentional and hang-onto-your-hat life paths - like family adventuring. In the past I've felt kind of lonely in this but I'm starting to find those folks. They are fewer and farther between than the aspiring homesteaders but I'm starting to connect with them.  Ideally, I think it would be cool to be both but that's not in the cards right now, but maybe someday. But the thought of Damien gardening is nearly comical.

      I only mention the goats because a few of my online friends have mentioned them lately, so it came to mind easily. 




      • Tonya

        Tonya on Sept. 6, 2013, 4:36 p.m.

        yes I was teasing:)

        but in a way the goat venture is something that has weighed heavy on me as I don't think I am 100% sure I want to be tied down to animals/milking - I have an adventuring side that I long to explore - you know live in an rv and travel across the country type, or have the freedom to travel on a whim, or devote much of my time to creating... life is so good!


  • Sarah m

    Sarah m on Sept. 6, 2013, 2:42 p.m.

    The house situation is completely draining, isn't it? We've had a near-same experience with a home we owned back in Lincoln. Thank the Lord (and I mean it) that chapter IS closed for us, and that's one of the reasons we were able to finally move away after years. My husband wanted to move away while we still owned it and were doing a 'rent-to-own'. We didn't have a property manager so I didn't feel comfortable with that, but luckily for us, other than time (2.5 years), we were able to break even in 5 years when it was all said and done. Although it was worry-inducing, money-sucking, and otherwise a more painful memory than good, we have learned so many lessons through it. 

    PS-So glad you are loving the book. I thought you'd enjoy it!

    Sarah M



    • renee

      renee on Sept. 6, 2013, 3:58 p.m.

      Yes! Sarah, I keep meaning to send you an e-mail to say thank you and then I keep forgetting. Thank you! I love it. I'm reading whole sections out loud to my family.


  • Renee Newell-Boucher

    Renee Newell-Boucher on Sept. 6, 2013, 3:53 p.m.

    Hi Renee, this is off topic but I do need to ask....I sent a question last week about being able to read Toe Salad? I updated my browser but I still can't read it, what am I doing wrong?

    In reply to todays post, I look at your situation and think your living a dream. Oh how I would love not to spend my days stuck behind a desk away from my children. But I have no guts to go without the income and find something else from home that would support us. You have alot of strength for sure! We all get tired, thanks for your honesty.


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 6, 2013, 4:07 p.m.

      Maybe try a different browser, like Chrome, Firefox or Safari. And if it's too much bother I don't blame you for not reading it at all. I don't like jumping through hoops to access info. so don't blame you if you decide to say 'forget it'. (smile).


  • Jennifer @ kidoing!

    Jennifer @ kidoing! on Sept. 6, 2013, 6:04 p.m.

    Hi Renee, I wanted to comment on your last bullet point. You always manage to say what I'm thinking. I grew up in a paycheck to paycheck house where work was a means to an end. When I started working, I enjoyed it for a while, then got stale and lived for the end of the work day, weekends and vacations. I see this everywhere I turn...people unhappy in their jobs just putting the time in and waiting for their time "off the clock" so they can live and enjoy themselves. They put their time in so they can accrue a retirement account or pension to retire and live how they wanted to all their lives. But, the sad part is that some people don't even make it to retirement. Some are sick and can't enjoy themselves. I don't have any clear answers but just know that I don't want that life. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your journey and paving the way for us.  


  • Launa

    Launa on Sept. 6, 2013, 8:49 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    I have been reading your blog for about a year now, though I have only commented a couple times. I know I've said this before, but I love your honestly and transperancy. I often feel that the blog world is particularly dreamy, especially in the family raising and intentional living realm. Not that I don't enjoy beatiful pictures and inspiring stories (I get much of much of my inspiration from other mommy-blogs), but they can also touch on my insecurities as a mother and human being. I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable when you share your own insecurities and struggles. As I always wish the best for you and pray that you get through them as painlessly as possible, they remind me that I am not alone. That it is OK to feel scared and nervous about my family's choice to homeschool, it's OK to question my role as full-time mother and homemaker after leaving an academic position, and it's OK to share the not-so-fun moments in life along side the beautiful ones. 

    My family is still young and growing, we do grow our own food in what some peole would lable an urban homestead, and we have just purchased our first home. I have succummed to several aspects of life which I never thought I would including taking out a mortgage, but I am realizing that in order to have some of my dreams now I must saccrifice others. In order to be at  home with my children and live on one income, we had to settle for a more traditional houseing situation. I have many ups and downs as I adjust to a life in the suburbs. Your words and the warmth and sincerety that come from them have been comforting. I wish you and your family the very best and  I lookforward to hearing more about your journey! 



    • renee

      renee on Sept. 6, 2013, 10:35 p.m.

      Launa, Comromise is always a part of the journey. Like taking on certain obligations, like a mortgage, to make other goals happen. Congratulations on your first home purchase! I wish you nothing but sucess in that venture!

      Traditional housing and mortgages work for millions of folks, you are in good company (smile). And it actually really worked for us while we lived in the home we "owned". We had tenants in the basement and they made home ownership possible for us (with money left over to eat well and do fun things!)


  • Launa

    Launa on Sept. 6, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

    OK, I just skimmed through the post about your family home....ah, that is where my life is now. You've come so far in reaching your gaols for your family, you must feel so proud (along with the uneasiness and difficulty you've expressed)! Seeing that reminds me that noting has to be perminent and life can always be evolving. Thank you, I needed that.


  • jacinda

    jacinda on Sept. 6, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

    Ok, so i soooo get the mortgage thing. We still have a section tying us and after 6 years I am in a totally new place..passed the struggling and the kicking and the exhaustion and the frustration of it all. Because really, we have learnt (and are still learning) so to be humble, appreciate what we have (and at that times, materially that feels like very little) and still choose to actively define our lives (rather than let the financial burden define us). In some kind of weird way the large size of the tie has become liberating because nothing we could do in terms of tightening our belts would make any sizeable difference (we've tightened as much as we can and we're not willing to go double income, send the kids to school - that's us keeping hold of defining our lives) and so we just keep going, giving large amounts of money to the bank for land we don't use and appreciating the lessons and gifts that come with living a simple life. 


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 6, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

      That is a profound, but no doubt difficult lesson Jacinda. I try to remind myself when I feel whiny about our situation that so many people have situations much worse holding them down and defining their lives - slavery, abject poverty, non-loving relationships, etc. So nice to chat with you today.


  • Susan MOELLER

    Susan MOELLER on Sept. 7, 2013, 2:09 a.m.

    Alas, I dream of goats, too. We often talk about how to bring the family farm model to life in our suburb, with our non- farming careers!


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2013, 1:53 p.m.

      Susan, I'm imagining goats in your urban NJ backyard right now. It's a good picture. Perhaps a little disturbing for the neighbors, but hey people have dogs, why not goats. You wouldn't have to mow the lawn either!


  • Rana

    Rana on Sept. 7, 2013, 2:48 a.m.

    Renee your posts as usual are always so thought provoking. We are in a similar situation with our home, we are actually moving soon into a short term situation hopefully for a year but who knows. Like you I hate that not settled feeling. Everything is so up in the air. I'm trying to take a lesson from you and just go with it. 

    As for being intentional, we are learning to live within our means. I guess that's our main goal right now as a family. Future plans are my husband wants to support us(the kids and I) in our volunteer ministry work full time. But in order to do that we must live simply and get out of a home that is not so simple.   So we are both working. Working our butts off to see this through.  As usual my Mama Mentor you inspire me with your life's work, the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of it. I don't want to sound cliché but you keep it real and that's what I need. 


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 7, 2013, 2:08 p.m.

      You are right on the money Rana. Living simply is the key and so are seasons of intense work. 

      Sometimes when I feel bad about the "intense work part" (because shouldn't family life have the sepia, soft edged tone of a life of ease? - ha! ha!) I remind myself that this is how we teach our kids to reach for goals and to work hard doing so. We teach by doing. 

      I'm sure you get the question sometimes as a relaxed homeschooler, "but how will your kids learn to work?" Like, because we're not making them "work" at learning, they're never going to learn to apply themselves. (roll eyes), never mind the fact they have to work in the home... I digress

      Our kids learn to apply themselves and work hard by watching their parents do it. Just like they learn how to stay married by watching their parents do it. Just like they learn how to be kind to each other, speak in love, be faithful even in times of trial and doubt (both in terms of marriage and our religious beliefs), etc... 

      So take heart with all you're teaching your kids by your example right now (and this is the same thing I tell myself regularly). 

      xo, Renee  (a sister-in-arms, fighting and working our butts off for the things we want for our families)


  • Alison

    Alison on Sept. 7, 2013, 7:35 p.m.

    It's good to hear both the excitement of the AT coming closer for you all, and the reality of all the rest that needs to happen before you can start.

    I'm in a similar phase right now - lots of 'have tos' before I can get to more of the 'want tos'. It's been hard to get going on 'have tos' - there have been a lot already this year, and more to come. But today I got a bit of rest in too (as well as tackling lots of little 'have tos') - and I realise I'm in a better place by the evening. And afternoon naps - particularly with the house to yourself - are delicious!


  • Isabella

    Isabella on Sept. 7, 2013, 9:17 p.m.

    I enjoy reading all your post, though I don't comment much.  I keep thinking you'd be able to write an ebook or manual for the city dwells of us, on how to arrange things to get into the woods, with hiking, and gear and that challenges of motivating the family in that direction.  I grew up hiking and backpacking, it's just something we did. Now almost, not quite 20 years after college, and a family who has never been camping, and we've always lived in the city.  It's so different, yet I'm determined to get hiking and outdoors.  Our blessings are the parks we enjoy in Pacific Norhtwest.  I also love reading people's homesteading adventures, and after all these years, I love having a small apartment, with less to clean and more time to write, read and explore.  I'm looking forward to reading about your AT adventure and preparing for it too.


  • Mama

    Mama on Sept. 7, 2013, 10:10 p.m.

    Oh. My. Goodness. Renee, I am totally feeling the same way right now! I have a post coming out Monday about where I am at emotionally right now, and it is all about being honest with the tough parts of living our dream. Thank goodness for the lessons we've learned and feelings we remember of passing through these dark places before.


  • kyndale

    kyndale on Sept. 8, 2013, 3:33 a.m.

    Gosh, you do have a lot going on.  I'm sending good thoughts your way so that you can close that chapter (or at least stabalize it) and feel less stress as you plan your big trip.  ♥


  • Cari

    Cari on Sept. 9, 2013, 4:14 a.m.

    What an honest and beautiful and inspiring post. It is real and refreshing. I am taking a deep breath on your behalf and looking forward to watching your family move through this season.


  • Anastasia B

    Anastasia B on Sept. 9, 2013, 11:32 a.m.

    Oh you too?! The place we live in now is under as well. We've bought it just before the crash in 2007, now we can't sell it and we're stuck here. Schools are horrible in this town, but thankfully we homeschool. We also will not be able to break even for at few more years (we've lived here for 6, married for 7). All of my work is digital and online, my husband's isn't, yet.

    I have to agree, things look pretty on my blog, people don't see just how much work this kind of lifestyle is. It really is an entire life - it's not work separated from life, it's mixed all into one. It's definitely exhausting, but so worth it!


  • marie

    marie on Sept. 10, 2013, 3:26 a.m.

    What caught my attention were the comments on being underwater and reluctant landlords (I don't have kiddos, so this is the part that I can relate with) - and I wonder what impact this terrible housing crash will have? I remember in my childhood parents, family and friends using some of their vacation and/or weekend hours to maintain their homes. My sister has a beach cabin and we would all go down for work weekends with a roaring bonfire after - the older folks would cook vast quantities, the middle aged ones would pitch in labor and kiddos helped with tidying up. Now, it's expected that many thirty-somethings are still in apartments and that time is available for employers to leverage. I have peers who fully expect to live in a separate city/state from their spouse for years at a time. I have other friends who, despite a college education & steady employment, don't ever expect to own their home. I think all of this means the definition of "tangible accomplishment" is changing. Where a previous generation pointed to a nicely maintained yard or new addition, we point to websites and creating an online community. Which is all just a roundabout way of saying that the time you and the Mr spend developing online resources is the creative role model that an intentional life aims to achieve.


  • Meg Bennett

    Meg Bennett on Sept. 14, 2013, 3:08 p.m.

    Didn't see a place to comment on your weekly email,but the bouncing in two directions is where my life is at right now. I t helped to read your thoughts.



    • renee

      renee on Sept. 14, 2013, 3:18 p.m.

      Meg, there isn't a place to write public comments in my weekly e-mail, like there is on a blog post. But sometimes people will just hit the reply button and write a note directly to me. Thanks for clicking through to share your comment here. 


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