Monday, 31 August 2009

Finding The Rural Life

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I have a dream that I have often shared on my blog, it is a simple dream which includes having a little house, at least an acre of land, a couple of dogs, a few hens for eggs, perhaps a goat or two, and a rescue cat or three ;0) From my kitchen window I can see our garden and the hills & countryside which surround us, my children playing and fruits and vegetables growing in abundance. Right now this little dream is completely out of reach and may be for some time. I've always lived in cities or suburbs (both in North America and England) and when I began to love the countryside I wanted to live the life straight away. I used to find it depressing that I simply didn't have the resources to fund such a dream, but through some little changes I've found ways to bring the countryside into my every day life and have never looked back. I may still have the dream, but I also now as much as possible, living a country life in a city.

So I thought I'd share some tips for how to having the rural life (or perhaps some of the best bits of it) while having to live in the city or suburbs! Please do share any tips you have in the comments!

The first thing I did was start walking, every single day. At the time I was caring for several children full time as their own immediate family couldn't take care of them. How I wanted us to be able to spend more time with them exploring rivers and streams, yet with full time work, children in school and homework needing doing, all we could manage was a simple walk. The goal became to get out for 30 minutes every single evening and an hour each weekend. It gave us a chance to relax, regroup, chat about the day and enjoy some nature. Sometimes walks had to simply be around our neighbourhood and didn't involve any real exposure to nature, other times when we had a bit more time or the evenings were getting lighter we could drive to a local park or nature centre and then start from there. The goal was simply a chance to relax, get some natural form of exercise and escape the indoors!

I then began looking at what activities we were doing, yes there were swimming lessons and gymnastics for the children and I was pretty active at my gym (pre-kids) but I began to think about how we could get more exercise in the great outdoors while still being limited to a very strict budget. Some things we/I've enjoyed is hiking at the weekends, beginning with 30 minutes and working ourselves up to a good 2 hour hike on Saturdays and Sundays! We also tried canoeing, kayaking, swimming in the local lake/pond, skating on outdoor rinks and bike riding! By looking around and diversifying, I was able to stick within our $50 a month entertainment budget and yet make sure we enjoyed some of what the real outdoors has to offer!

Another change that made me feel more a part of the rural life was to begin to eat more local food. This was something I felt was impossible initially and to be honest resisted - I felt I simply didn't have the budget to support farmers or the time to "shop around". How wrong I was! By looking around, speaking to others, phoning my local council, I found out about little farmer's shops & stalls and local food co-ops. I now purchase about 50-75% of my fruits, veg, dairy and breads from farmers or markets and my grocery budget went down. In fact I slashed it by 75% which is something I've talked a lot about on my blog. Yes, it does mean I vary where I shop and yes I do often visit 2 shops in a week but the health benefits and feeling from supporting my local farmers and bringing the rural life into my kitchen is priceless!

Another food choice I've made is to try to grown my own. I don't have a garden and am on a very long (3 year!) waiting list for an allotment, what I have been able to do is take a small part of my mum's garden to attempt to grow my own and recently a friend has said I'm more than welcome to help her on her allotment. So don't hesitate to ask around, perhaps if you offer to cut someones lawn they'll happily let you use their garden for growing fruits and veg! Of course even without space you can grow window box herbs or have small plant pots by your door/window.

Finally one of the best ways I was able to enjoy some of the rural life while living in the city was to lessen our commitments to city pursuits and increase our time for rural pursuits specifically spending time with animals. I found two city farms which had various talks, volunteer opportunities, craft making events and great facilities to spend a lazy Saturday enjoying. I found out about several local reservoirs and forests that had trails, we started exploring more and more, making time to feed ducks rather than run errands. Instead of meeting friends for time at an indoor play place, we began meeting friends for hikes, farm trips, bike rides and nature walks. Spending time enjoying a picnic and drawing pictures of the animals we came across became a favourite activity!

I have turned from someone who rarely escaped the office, car & home to someone who every single day finds ways of bringing the rural life in. I now would much rather hike and chat then sit & chat. I've gone from feeling I'll never have the life I want to feeling I'm living in transition - transition that will eventually mean living in the country, a life I'll be really ready to embrace!

So I'd love to hear from you. How do you get nature or outdoors time when you are busy living and working in the city or suburbs? Have you got any tips for our readers?