One Year In: The Truths I’ve Learned

“Not killing you.”

That was Ian’s response when I asked him what he was most proud of accomplishing this past year.

WOW. What a romantic.

Granted, he did giggle right after saying it so maybe it was tongue in cheek. (I hope?!)

As we pass the one-year mark of our young marriage, I suppose I’m grateful that his homicidal tendencies have at least taken this long to manifest themselves.

Here’s to hoping that won’t change after some practice with our meat rabbits.

In all seriousness, now that I have officially lost the “newlywed” status, I can say for a fact that marriage is hard. No competition, it’s the hardest thing I’ve never willingly signed up for.

And marriage followed by a complete uprooting of our craft-beer, college-student lives in Grand Rapids to live deep in the woods of Central Appalachia hasn’t made it any easier.

Instead of a subscription to Netflix, we have more livestock than we can count between us.Instead of a college town filled with like-minded peers, we neighbor two Catholic Sisters with more wisdom, passion for their work, and life experience than our millennial brains can appreciate. It’s humbling, to say the least.

I can’t fathom why Ian thinks I’m somewhat hard to live with. It’s not like I nag and pester him to do all the household tasks that I refuse to be bothered with when I’m “feeling creative” and block out the real world, lest it interfere with my burst of writing inspiration.

Or that I’d be ridiculously annoying about getting near-constant foot massages- sticking my feet into his face at any moment, only to recoil in horror when he tries to do the same to me with his hairy size-15 monstrosities.

Hmm….maybe he’s got a point. But  I can promise you that HE isn’t always a radiant beam of charity either.

But minor scuffles aside, we’ve lived a lot of life together in this past year.

No matter how you look at it, this past year has been a big one for us.

We’ve gotten married, moved across the country, invited countless strangers- who quickly became new friends- into our home, and experienced full lives without cell phone service (just don’t mention Pokémon Go around Ian, he’s still sore from disappointment that he can’t join the fad).

Ian’s learned how to build a lot of boxes, and I’ve learned that I can’t be trusted with anything that requires a recipe or careful measuring. We’ve dealt with neurotic dogs, hatched a flock of half-breed silkie chicks, and learned that small scale gardening is a whole lot harder than we anticipated.

Heck, we even were recruited for a homesteading TV show!

As I sit back and reflect on all the changes that have happened over the past year, I’ve come away with some lessons the two of us (well, mostly me) have learned.

The Mountain-Living Life Lessons of Lydia (Year 1)

  • Life really does get better after school. Homework is terrible. I honestly don’t know why I put up with it for 16 straight years. Now that I’ve tasted the good life, I like my weekends uninterrupted by a professor’s agenda, thank you very much. Ian’s still hanging onto the illusion that he will go back for his Masters someday, but I think I am done for good.
  • Getting rid of clutter isn’t always good, or necessary. When we first arrived on the mountain, we had an intense urge to purge everything around us that seemed useless or broken, especially in the buildings surrounding our house. However, I can’t tell you how many times Ian has had to drive into town this past year because he had thrown away a part that he needed.  Piles of clutter might be unsightly, but in a situation like ours where the nearest store is a good forty minutes away, it makes a lot more sense than having to re-buy everything when you need it.

    My babies!
  • When you lack a plethora of nearby human friends, dogs will make a perfectly acceptable replacement. They’re such an ideal substitute for roommates, they’ll even steal your clothes and snacks when you aren’t looking!
  • When you live with one other person on an isolated mountaintop, 93% of your conversations will be about said dogs. Every antic of theirs is so adorable to us, I can only imagine how nauseating we will be when we are real parents.
  • Actually, most conversation will be directed AT the dogs anyways. Sorry Ian, I think you lose in this cute face contest.


However, this is about the same face Ian gives me when I talk to him
  • With a warm wood stove, winter is completely survivable. Around November this past year I got really nervous about making it through our first winter on the mountain. In retrospect (and maybe it’s the sweltering August weather talking), winter really wasn’t that bad for us. Life slowed down and so, I think, did our heart rates. At least that’s my excuse for all the extra sleep we got-our bodies were in hibernation mode! I also spent a good part of my waking hours entrapped in an electric blanket.
A common winter pose for me, especially after we moved our mattress into the living room

However, there is a beauty and order to this seasonal routine. Thanks to the miserable outdoor conditions, I was very active on this blog and my readership exploded, setting me up well for launching into freelancing this spring. I also read books I’ve been waiting to get to for years, and had some quality bonding time with our temperamental wood stove. The months of cold created a natural pause in our lives and I’m surprised to find myself eagerly anticipating this next wintry season.

  • Having a great garden involves actually GOING in the garden. And eating what’s grown. We had the best of intentions. My greenhouse game was on point. Yet, we failed to take into account that our busiest months on the mountain are midsummer. Because our days were spent with groups during the peak of the growing season, the weeds and insects quickly took over and left the garden so junglified it was hard to muster the courage to enter.

    What a monstrosity THIS turned out to be.

We’ll make some big changes next year. I’m going smaller, and we’ll follow the principles of the square foot gardening method. Also, since I’ll be working independently I will have a more flexible schedule and more time for working it. Our current weedlot is only a temporary setback!

  • It’s amazing what you can do with just 5 gigs of WiFi. It’s funny that the time in my life where my WiFi gets restricted is also the time when I get interested in maximizing the potential of the internet. Our early morning data allotments have caused me to become an early riser out of necessity, getting up long before six or seven A.M in order set up downloads, edit blog posts and stream a yoga Youtube video or two.

I decided early on to not let our internet connection become an excuse for me to limit my freelance business, and beyond having to reject jobs that require Skype calls, I would say I’ve succeeded.

  • Ian cannot subsist on guacamole and popcorn. Strange but true. Though I find this combination of delicious snack foods to be a perfectly suitable dinner option for multiple days of the week, Ian seems to find it lacking in sustenance and insists on supplementing my home-cooked dinners with “heartier” foods like omelets and frozen pizzas. Weird….
  • Chickens really are as dumb as they look. Don’t get me wrong. I love the little dinosaurs. However, there’s no getting over the fact that there’s not all that much going on in those pea-brains. Why else would they act like imbeciles and get lost in the woods every time we let them free range around the property? It’s like they’re trying to get us to put them in a factory farm or something.
Don’t let that power stance fool you: this bird is as dumb as a box of rocks.
  • Some of our most vile, passive-aggressive fights will be over whose turn it is to lock the chickens in their coop for the night. Especially in February. And let the record stand that I won- most of the time.
  • It pays to be open to the crazy opportunities in your life; you can’t ever predict how they are going to change you. When we first arrived on the mountain last August, we weren’t planning on staying for more than a year. If things did go well, we anticipated we would stay only by working for AmeriCorps again. Fast forward to the present, and Ian’s in his first month of serving a two year commitment as Director of Big Laurel while I’m in my first weeks of starting an online freelancing business.


Both of these opportunities came upon us without our prior knowledge or even interest; Ian saw a position that needed to be filled and believed his skills made him a good candidate while I decided to take a risk and see what could happen if I fully committed myself to writing, a newfound passion that surprised no one more than me with its strong hold on my life.

It’s too early to say how things will turn out for us, but the fact that we have taken the first tentative steps towards an unknown future is enough excitement for now.

  • Going after something big means you’re going to mess up. A lot. I can’t even begin to go into all the ways Ian and I have screwed up this year. We’ve accidentally locked our cat in the spare bedroom during Thanksgiving break, were forced to neglect the garden after our ambitions didn’t match reality, and allowed our best chicken to become snake food.

We have been living a life of trial and error.

This has extended into my writing life as well. I’ve taken some risks both professionally and with this blog and occasionally overstepped myself. I’ve offended people and disappointed a few of my clients. It’s caused me to threaten to Ian to give up writing so many times he now just rolls his eyes at me.

And deep inside, I know he’s right. Failing sucks. There’s nothing that tears me down faster than disapproval. Yet, the only way to improve is to practice, and playing it safe will never lead to the progress I want to make. I’m going to keep pushing my limits and try new things, and on some of those I’m going to screw up. If it makes me stronger in the long run, I’m more than willing to take those hits.

And Finally,

  • Everything is better with a partner. I absolutely would not be the person I am today without Ian. I’m forever grateful for this past year of learning what it means to live together, to love each other, and to support each other through our ups and downs.

    Back when we were gallivanting around Peru together.

Now maybe he’ll let me live til next year! <3

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6 thoughts on “One Year In: The Truths I’ve Learned

  1. It was a great experience to meet you and Ian. It helps so much to put a face to a name and as well as a place. I had to go back and re-read all your articles. Keep writing, girl. You’re good.

  2. Hi Lydia,
    My husband and I have been married for 49 years, and not to discourage you, but marriage finally got easier. Learning to accept each other as you are and loving each other anyway is the key. I found that my husband expects to be fed at least three times a day. Real food. Lots of food. He, this year, has finally decided that he can do things for himself. [Hell really has frozen over lol] But really you are doing about the same thing we did but we had three little kids, all in diapers and my husband had a job. And what is wrong with garden weeds? Think of them as nature’s decorating the space. Keep up the good work.

  3. Forgot to say, yes chickens are DUMB! And the roosters are macho DUMB. I was attacked from behind by our rooster [I was bringing in water for them] and he raked me with his spurs. Every time I went into the barn he came after me. I finally hit him with a shovel. After that he always hid when he heard my voice. [I don’t want to hear from PETA or anyone else about my rooster.] We no longer have chickens. We had ducks, guard geese, the meanest turkey in the world. He only loved my husband and attacked everyone else. I carried a ripped down 2 x 4 to hold between us. He once attacked my car when I didn’t get out. We’ve had goats, cows, beefalo, and pigs. Now pigs are very smart and can get out of anything. However Charlotte gave us excellent roasts. We finally gave up all the animals due to my husband’s health. Life was interesting though. And I still think a rooster’s crow is the best sound and so relaxing.

  4. I love your honesty on uprooting, living in a foreign place and doing so with a significant other. People always paint these pictures of perfect relationships, but the reality is that they are hard work! But a sense of beauty in your relationship when you get to have new experiences together and that truly strengthens a bond! Enjoyed your post 🙂

  5. Chickens are dumb…lol! My husband has a lot of experience with chickens as his mom is a PhD in poultry science and used to teach for Ohio state. Cracks me up! That said, you two are so cute and I love how honest this post is. My husband Ed and I are newlyweds as well, we have made it to three years now, and though it is both of our second marriages, it is such a crazy adventure of learning and growing. Keep up the good work, courage, honesty, and most of all humor…it will get you far! 🙂

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