Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Lauren: I’m Growing! September 18, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 6:22 pm
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If you would have told me when I was growing up that six years after I got married I would want backyard chickens, I would have said you were crazy. C-R-A-Z-Y, crazy.

I grew up in a typical suburban home in Cleveland, Ohio. There, my mother’s hobbies leaned more in the direction of Bingo rather than sewing or gardening, so I didn’t grow up knowing or seeing someone doing those things.  The first time I used an iron, the one that had idled in my mom’s linen closet for quite some time, was to straighten my hair in high school. In my defense, this was back in the day before flat irons became widely available. I got pretty good at not burning myself.

So what changed? It all started when I stumbled into the bottomless well I now know as the Netflix documentaries page. Growing up, I thought documentaries were a teacher’s way of torturing small children by making them sit through some old guy talking for an hour about the life cycle of the dung beetle. It turns out they aren’t boring like I thought they’d be and instead let me sit down and learn something new (in one hour!), a feature I especially enjoy since I have a toddler and infant at home. Oftentimes I only have one hour, if I’m lucky, when no one needs to be fed or held or changed, when no one (husband included) is asking “Want to play?” And there are only so many times I can read “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon. . . ” before I start to crave some more challenging concepts. Not that I don’t love Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, but sometimes I need a little more.

Most people will never forget their first love, I’ll never forget my first documentary: Food Inc. 

 Food Inc. was the movie that planted a little seed in me to be more conscious about the things I am buying and what I am putting into my body and the bodies of my loved ones.  And that little seed has sprouted. Continuing on with the analogy. . . My frugality is the water that helps it grow. It’s cheaper in a lot of ways to make your own cleaning spray or new skirt or graham crackers (more on those later). I prefer the term thrifty rather than miserly.

In short, I am in love with becoming more and more self-sufficient. Then I can make things exactly the way I want them with the ingredients that I want. Hmm. I think am starting to sound like a control freak. I don’t think I really am. Let me explain. Sometimes I have this daydream about what would happen if there was an apocalypse and then I envision how I would handle it. My husband usually daydreams about being a hero and saving people and I daydream about being the last ones on earth. (I really am a happy person. See this? That’s me.) Anyway, then in the daydream I list off the things I could do/make myself and try to gauge how well I could take care of my family (we all survived the apocalypse, of course). So in trying to defend myself about being controlling, I’ve let my weirdness show. Oh well. It was bound to come out sometime.

Now I find myself dreaming (a happier dream) of a little farm with goats, chickens, a pot belly pig (as a pet; they’re so cute), a huge garden, and a root cellar full of food I’ve canned. But I am not sure when (or even if) that will happen. Right now I have to be content with turning my little bungalow in a small city into a little urban farm and teaching myself how to make things myself.

I wish my porch still looked this clean.


Sarah: It’s been a long road… September 17, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 4:29 am
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Colorado, the place I get to call “home” for now

…and it runs from the South where I grew up, across an ocean, halfway across another continent and back, and west across the States, finally ending in Colorado, where I have found a temporary home.  I’m referring to the road that brought me to Suburban Pioneering.

Here is what I considered healthy food growing up. Note the distinct lack of anything pre-processed.


Mine was not what you would call an auspicious beginning.  Though my mom could (and claims she liked) to cook, she could also recognize a losing battle when she saw one.  When it was clear that my dad and sisters and I preferred macaroni and cheese to anything leafy or green, she hoisted the white flag and confined family dinners to spaghetti night (noodles generously topped with Prego) and taco night (all toppings stuffed into a pre-made hard taco shell).  I don’t think I’d ever eaten a bell pepper until my husband, who’s from California and considers pepper de rigueur at every meal, forced the experience upon me.


If you’ve ever lived in the South, you know that we Southerners like our “bought air” (as my grandmother called air conditioning).  A lot.  Most restaurants make it their goal to freeze the sweet tea in everyone’s glasses (saves on making ice).  We also like to drive.  We like our indoor malls (Chattanooga, TN, my hometown, boasts one of the larger ones in the South).  And we like fried things.  Fried chicken.  Fried pickles.  Fried Coke.  Fried Oreos.  I’m serious.  This passes for food.  If this intrigues you, by the way, you can find the recipe here:  All things considered, the South isn’t really a breeding ground for Suburban Pioneers.


Then I got married and went to Europe.  My husband, Keith, and I have a penchant for combining stressful life events (see upcoming later post about buying and remodeling a house while having our first child).  So, 6 weeks into our fledgling marriage, full of boundless optimism and naivety, we went to Slovakia to teach English.


Slovakia is that country next to Austria.

We lived in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital city.

“You mean like Czechoslovakia?” people ask.  Yes…sort of.  Only 20 years later than what they’re thinking, since the Czech Republic and Slovakia split amicably in the early ’90’s.  They are now two countries, though Slovakia’s more like the poor step-child, since the Czech Republic got more of the industry and commerce that had been built since the end of communism in 1989.


In any case, living in Slovakia helped us to make more sustainable lifestyle choices–namely because there weren’t any other choices.


We rode the bus everywhere.


There was no dryer in our apartment, so we hung all our wash to dry (see my upcoming post on the proper use of drying racks).


There was no air conditioning (we learned that, in Europe, when the temperature does happen to rise into the Fahrenheit 80’s or 90’s, people just strip down and loll about their apartments…or sunbathe nude, whichever strikes their fancy).


Our apartment also was only one room, so there was a lot less to heat.

our living room/bedroom/closet/study in the Bratislava apartment

our galley kitchen in the Bratislava apartment


And, though a tomato looks pretty much the same in any country, packaged goods do not.  For nine months of that year, I thought Slovaks made all their own soup because I couldn’t find any cans.  Turns out they just have packets of soup mix instead.  But I didn’t know that at the time, so I learned to cook from scratch.


It was easy to live making less of an impact.


And then we came back to the States.  It’s a lot more difficult to live as a Pioneer when you have a lot of choices.  And it takes a lot more self-discipline.  I’m not always good at it, I confess.  It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation to cut corners by buying paper plates for a cookout (though I draw the line at styrofoam!) or using saran wrap to cover those leftovers.


The one thing I can say is that my food choices, at least, fall more automatically into Pioneering ways.  Last time I tried to expedite the cooking process by buying some Campbell’s tomato soup, I couldn’t eat it.  No amount of spicing it up could conceal the sickly sweet taste of corn syrup.  There are some things that, once embraced, cannot be relinquished.


But overall, it’s a day-to-day challenge for me, in the midst of working and keeping the house (not very) clean and raising my daughter, to be as sustainable as I would like to be.  I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can save the world by washing out Ziplock bags or composting my kitchen waste.  But this is part of how I try to live faithfully and responsibly.  It’s about fostering an attitude of caring and attention.  It’s about at least noticing that there are choices out there.  This blog is one way of holding myself accountable to keep trying.  Keep trying, my friends, in spite of the mishaps…that’s all any of us—or many of us, for there are thousands of Suburban Pioneers out there trying to make more sustainable daily choices—can do.


Definition: sə-bərb-ən pī-ə-ˈnir September 16, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 8:56 pm
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According to Miriam Webster, a pioneer is:
a :a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development

b : one of the first to settle in a territory

We like this definition for pioneer, particularly the part about opening a “new line of thought.”  We definitely don’t think we’re originators, but we hope to be part of a group that does help to open thought about the daily choices we make as middle class Americans.  We also mean “pioneer” in the sense of a homesteader, one who settles on land and cultivates it…in this case, one who settles on land and a house in the suburbs.

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