Searching Simplicity, an Interview with Jenna Millsap
I have been married to my best friend for 12 years. I enjoy being a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) of 3 active little ones (ages 10, 7 and 3) and 1 teenager. We are a family of former city dwellers trying to make it in the country. We live in a little town, in a little valley, in great big mountains. We are striving to change our way of thinking and simplify to the max. It is our belief that simplicity will build a stronger family, help us connect with the earth, and help us to appreciate every passing day. Our ultimate goal is to be fully self-sustainable. We love creativity, food, togetherness, and outdoor adventures. Our blog is a journal of our family adventures (and a little bit of everything else).
What did you find easy and what did you find difficult when transitioning from the city to the country? Why was moving from the bustling city to the quiet countryside a good change for your family? What advice can you offer to those who may be looking to make a similar transition as well.
Mostly, the transition from city to country life was easy, because this was something my husband and I desired. The friendly people, the open spaces and laid-back way of life reduced our stresses caused by the fast-paced way of life we knew in the city. The most difficult change from city to country was convenience. Stores are not open on Sunday. So we have to plan ahead. There are only small town, mom and pop stores (which we absolutely adore!) here that are open from 9am to 5pm and sometimes close early if business is slow. Our closest mall is 1 1/2 hours away. Our closest large retail store, like Walmart, is a good 45 minutes away. Distance is not our only challenge. Since we live in a valley we are surrounded by mountains and the only way in or out of the valley is by mountain pass. We have three. So if winter weather is bad they may be closed. Therefore we can’t get in or out of the valley until snowplows can get through. But we knew about these challenges when we moved here, and we welcomed them. It makes us slow down and appreciate our surroundings. We love the tight community feel because we are all here together to help one another. We shop local to support our community, and get involved in community activities, which create close relationships.
Our slower, country lifestyle has brought our family closer together. We work together and play together. Living in a valley with harsh winter weather, beautiful mountains and little to do as far as entertainment, we have learned to use our imaginations and create our own fun. We love the outdoors and our mountains are full of trails. We started hiking as well as creating goals for the summer to climb to the top of nearby mountains. Last winter we tried snowshoeing and found how peaceful the nearby forests can be in the winter. We saw beauty we normally wouldn’t see as stream banks iced over and the woods became still. We go skiing at our local ski resort together and enjoy board games in our warm home when winter storms roll in. We have tackled projects together as we try to become more self sustainable such as canning and raising chickens. Our rural atmosphere has strengthened us and sill continues to as we find joy in togetherness.
Our advice to anyone who might want to make this transition would be to do your research and some soul searching. We have made major changes in our lifestyle and still are making changes. We are constantly planning and dreaming about our future here. It seems everything we do is by trial and error So be ready to make mistakes. Be ready to laugh at yourself when you do. It certainly is a learning experience. There is the good and the bad.
Tell us more about your vegetable garden. How do you get the whole family involved with the garden?
When we lived in the city we had a small vegetable garden. When we started growing veggies it seemed really easy. I was like, “Why doesn’t everyone do this?” We just grew a few items like tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Really, I had no idea what I was doing. I would buy the seedlings from the nursery and stick them in the ground. A little water and sun and bam! We got veggies. I now realize how lucky we were to have such fertile soil, a long growing season, and to live at a “growable” altitude. Here in the mountains our challenges are the short growing season, the altitude, and the not so rich soil. So our garden has been a work in progress over the years. We do try to grow more in our garden here. Our ultimate goal now is not to just grow for fun, but to grow for sustainability. So now we always start our garden from seeds. This again has been trial and error. The timing is the hardest thing to get right. It’s hard to predict when the last frost of the season will be here since we have had freezing temps as late as mid June. But we have had much success with root veggies like carrots and potatoes. Cold weather leafy veggies and peas really do well. As well as berries. Last year we tried squashes, though we have been told they can’t grow here. We were so surprised and pleased to have zucchini at the end of the season. We babied that one plant that made it. Our cucumbers and yellow squash didn’t make it, but now we have hope. And we have struggled to grow tomato plants. So, yes, we are learning and each year is different. For instance, this year our leafy veggies didn’t sprout. No idea why. But next year we will try again. And maybe the mystery will be solved. Also last year we had an abundant crop of green beans. But years before, they struggled to produce. We just take is as it comes and enjoy the blessings.
My children are very involved in the garden process. We start off the season by letting the children choose what veggie they would like to take care of. This gets them excited about it. It gives them responsibility. They are to water and weed their rows, and when their veggies are ready for harvest, they feel a great deal of pride. One year, the children created a garden journal. They drew what they dreamed would be in their ideal garden. That got interesting when my oldest drew Mountain Dew plants and Snickers vines. It really got their imaginations going and was lots of fun. Then they could draw or write what their veggies looked like and how they dreamed they would grow to be. Natural fairy houses have also become a norm in our garden–inviting fairies to take care of our plants. All these things get our children excited about being part of the growing experience.
What are some ways your family tries to save money?
I can honestly say that limited local shopping and living so far away from big box stores has helped with this. How many times have I bought things that I really didn’t need when we lived just minutes away from a discount store. Now we plan our trips to the city and buy in bulk. And whatever we don’t need we do without. I cook a lot more from scratch as well. It’s amazing what yummy foods can be made simply from the staples in our homes. Yes it takes a little more time, but really not that much. We also don’t have cable. We get movies from time to time. Cable was the first thing we knew we didn’t need when we moved to the mountains. We basically just streamlined. Living within our means. Asking ourselves what we really need.
Do you have any blogs or websites you recommend for moms?
Here are a few blogs and websites I enjoy visiting:
http://soulemama.com/: This blog is my favorite. Amanda Blake Soule is an author and naturalist. Her simple lifestyle with her husband and five children is inspiring.
http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/: I enjoy reading the this family’s simplistic living.
http://www.skiptomylou.org/: This website is full of crafty ideas for the entire family.
http://rhythmofthehome.com/: This quarterly online magazine is full of natural crafts and parenting advice.
What are your top 5 tips for moms?
Don’t take things so seriously. I had a tendency to do that when we lived in the big city. I wanted to look like the perfect mother, the perfect family, the perfect house. That’s not reality. We’re all here to learn. Every day with our children is a learning experience. Laugh at mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
Be mindful. I still have work to do in this department. By mindful I mean when your child wants to sit and read with you and your in the middle of something, take that moment! Drop the laundry, close the computer, put away the cell phone and take time to really be in the moment with your child. Don’t think about what needs to be done, or what hasn’t been done. Just take a moment and really be there when you spend that precious time with your child.
Kiss your children goodnight, no matter how old they are. This advice was given to me when I first became a mom. I took it to heart. I intend on following it with all my children. My oldest is 15 now. She is at the age where hugs from her parents are not cool. But yet our nightly ritual of saying a family prayer together in the living room while holding hands, then giving hugs and kisses goodnight are part of the norm. We have done it since she was little. She is old enough to tuck herself in bed. But after she is in bed I give her a final kiss goodnight. Then I tell her I love her..I don’t usually get a response. but I know it is important. The last thing my children hear before they sleep is that I love them, and they feel that love with a kiss on their forehead. They fall asleep with the secure feeling that their father and I will be here for them always.
Take a quiet moment for yourself. I’m sure you have heard this before, but I think it needs repeating. Quiet is essential for our lives. Noise and busyness causes stress. And when I feel stressed I don’t feel like I am being the best mom. Quiet moments to read or just be help us to restore our inner self. Taking in solitude during nap time or after children are in bed can help you feel rejuvenated.
Take time for your spouse. City life put a strain on my relationship with my husband, simply because we were too busy for one another. Our slower lifestyle has renewed our relationship. We take time to get involved in one another’s interests. We take moments to truly listen. We tackle projects together, listening to each other’s opinions. Both of us have become more humble towards one another. And we uplift each other in our challenges life still gives us.