The Good Life?

Byram and I e-mail back and forth all day long most days. I like having the ability to communicate almost instantly, but some days, I like to try and generate topics of discussion, so that our e-mails vary from “How’s billing going? What did you eat for lunch?”

Today, I asked him how he envisioned our lives changing when he envisioned our dream of owning a couple of acres in the country. I wanted to know the good and bad things he saw for us, and it occurred to me that writing out my own vision might be a fun blog post.

First, I envision that any property we can actually afford (without significant assistance from our families) is going to be 30 or more miles from Downtown Richmond, where we both, currently and for the foreseeable future, work. This means a minimum of an hour commute every day, which is a little daunting. It is an hour less we have in our overall day, and I would consider this the number one “con” of the pros and cons of rural living. It would increase our fuel budget a great deal and increase the wear and tear on the vehicle, plus car insurance increases the further you have to commute from home to work.

That being said, the overall cost of rural living is typically lower, particularly where housing is concerned. We could afford 4x the land our house currently sits on, and at least the same amount of square footage, and in many cases, quite a bit more, for a newer home than what we currently have. Taxes are usually lower (and they are in the counties I am looking at) and replacement values are lower, so home owners insurance is lower.

Perhaps the best thing is the freedom to do more with my property. If I want to have a huge garden in the front yard full of corn, beans, squash, and other goodies, I would have to worry less that an irritable neighbor is going to be upset that I am lowering the curbside value of his home, or even worse, that I am in violation of a county ordinance.

Another idea I cherish would be the quieter surroundings. As we live on a relatively busy county road right now, sirens, large trucks, speeding vehicles, and booming sound systems are simply a normal part of our daily lives. I dream of a quieter life.

A major downside for us would be a decrease in entertainment venues. Not that we visit movie theaters or museums all the time, but living 30 to 45 minutes from the cultural center of our area would preclude some activities we take for granted right now; for example, if we suddenly decide one night we want to go to some trendy restaurant downtown, it is no hardship for us to hop in the car and go. A 40 minute commute in (particularly when we already make that round trip 5 days a week) would reduce the appeal. Worse, most of our friends would be far out of driving distance for an evening of hanging out and playing games. Things like cable television and Netflix would be requisite for our family. I believe we would have to learn to be content staying home a lot more often, and also discover new sources of entertainment (can you say more knitting?!), and also find entertainment value in the things we would do around our home and property. The SCA would change in certain ways; we would be less active at the main Richmond level, but I am sure we would still travel and participate at events, but I could see that decreasing due to our changed finances.

Educational opportunities for Grace would decrease. Maybe there would be a private school close enough and affordable for us to send her too, but maybe not. But there are whole counties where you have 3 public schools total: elementary, middle, and high school, and outside of homeschooling and private school, those are your choices. No magnet schools, no specialty schools. Not that every kid coming out of your typical rural school is doomed to a mediocre future, but a better education certainly produces more choices for any child.

One of my other major concerns is the differing visions I expect Byram and I have. I see a massive garden, growing and storing a much larger quantity of our own produce. He could get behind that, I am sure, but the work load of such a garden expansion would require his help, which is probably not what he is signing on for. Grace would have to contribute too as she grows up, in the same way I hoed rows, weeded, and harvested in my grandparents’ 100×200 foot garden when I was under the age of 10. Further, I imagine a little henhouse, housing a half dozen or more happy girls making eggs for our family (and possibly to sell when we have the inevitable spring overabundance), and when their time came, even becoming food for the table themselves. Byram very much does not share that vision, but it is hard for me to pull that out of my little homestead fantasy. I imagine keeping a bunny, maybe a angora rabbit for the fiber. One of my wishes is that Grace can have the experience of caring for a pet because I think it is the best way to help a child learn responsibility for the care and happiness of another living thing, and a bunny who lived outside in a hutch would accommodate Byram’s allergies, provide me entertainment in the form of fiber, and Grace would get the pet experience. I am sure he and I will hold vastly different opinions about this as well. Our conflicting interests and desires will provide opportunities for both of us to compromise and grow, but I could see it causing friction and in a worst case, even resentment on either or both of our parts.

I would see us become gun owners. I would not be comfortable in a rural setting without a gun. That is simply the honest truth. Further, I could see myself becoming a hunter. I grew up in a bow hunting family, but if we already had a large caliber gun for protection, it would not be a stretch to employ it for hunting. That would provide its own source of “entertainment” as well as food for the table.

This is just the surface, and the reality is that there is no way to know what life would be like, for sure. I grew up in a very rural environment until my pre-teens, and I remember what life was like; it was a life I really loved and never felt happier than when we lived in “the country.” However, shifting from the suburbs to a rural home is a downgrade in a number of ways. You have fewer choices in general. Longer drives to almost anywhere. A lower standard of living across the board. I could see the downward adjustment being tough in the long run; you simply cannot expect the same standard of living in Charles City County or Amelia County as you can in Chesterfield or Henrico counties, where the populations are high enough to support a larger variety of goods and services, and that is the honest truth.

It would be a huge change, both good and bad, but one that I am hopeful to undertake.

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