Wrap up

Our summer is done. The weather is still warm and the leaves are still on the trees, but our summer of living in the woods is finished. This marks a new beginning for us. We’re rested, refocused, and ready to get Peartree Leather Co. rolling to it’s full potential. 

This summer was a good one, but also had some struggles, and we want to share them with you. While our pictures and posts made things look quite glamorous and styled, the truth is that any place can start to grow redundant if you let it. Regardless of living situation, you can either choose to let it be beautiful, or slowly watch it creep into the mundane. We have that choice; it’s not a matter of money, time, or style. It just takes love for the place and a willingness to invest in it and make it better. It means spending time in that environment and imagining good things for it. Bringing friends to that place and spending time together. Making a beautiful space or retreat is not a matter of buying the right things to put there, but investing time and imagination to it. 

Our garden this summer was both a huge success and an embarrassing flop. Before this summer, the only thing I had ever grown successfully was a tomato plant (only one of the three I had planted really gave any fruit). This summer I got to dig a bed and plant some vegetables I hadn’t tried growing before. We had planted beans (managed to harvest a good few before we left), cucumbers (succeeded to grow a whole 3 lumpy things off of two plants), mesclun mix (dead), spinach (dead), Yucaipa lettuce (eaten by slugs), cabbage (no progress), cauliflower (failed miserably), onions (didn’t grow), and some herbs (which turned out lovely). The truth is that most of what we grew didn’t turn out. The soil here is acidic and full of rocks, so the plants didn’t have much to grab on to. But the gardening was fun! While there wasn’t much yield, it was still beautiful to watch the way that things change throughout the season. I got to water the garden and take care of something beautiful. Even though it didn’t produce much I’m ready to try a garden again, having learned more than a few lessons about plants. 

Our leather work here has felt somewhat similar to the gardening. We’ve been trying to order leather since the beginning of June and still nothing has come through. After having run a kickstarter campaign and expecting to have received our order a long time ago we were left somewhat helpless. We’re still waiting on the leather and things are unsure for us at this point. But we’ve learned a lot through it. We used up all of the leather that we had ordered previously, but we want to wait until everything is made before we start shipping. Like the garden, we lack control in a lot of areas of our life and need to learn to work around that. I will be making adjustments to how I run a business based on experience in the same way that I will be making adjustments to my garden over the years. 

Tracy and I had lofty ambitions for this summer. We knew we would have a lot of time on our hands and saw that as an opportunity to load it up with all kinds of things that we have been meaning to do for years. Tracy was going to journal, paint, and read everyday. I planned to run regularly and get lots of exercise. We both wanted to spend more time in prayer over the summer. But things don’t always work out the way we plan. Certain activities took a lot of time out of our day and the fact is that we didn’t always feel like doing those things. Leading up to this time, Tracy and I had both made “the woods” out to be a magical place where everything would change and we would be filled with limitless amounts of energy to do all of the things we’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the time. But things don’t really change. Well, they do, but not the way we think they will. We are constantly told that we can change by buying the right product, or buying the right home, or taking the right vacation; and that all of those things will allow us the energy to do what we’ve always wanted. But change isn’t so closely linked to the things that we acquire or the places we go. It’s actually tied more to the things we decide not to acquire and where we decide we maybe shouldn’t go. Allowing ourselves the freedom to not do certain things opens up space within ourselves to grow. It’s a slow process that comes from the inside by constantly de-cluttering our time from things that won’t bring life to ourselves and others. We need to refocus and eliminate to be able to find space for the areas in which we wish to grow. We have both been learning a lot from Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J. Foster. He addresses a lot of the questions that Tracy and I had wanted answered over the summer. This summer freed up a bit of space for simplicity, but we’re looking forward to applying it more to a “normal” setting, where we are not so isolated from groups and friends and other’s struggles. 

The uprooting from Nova Scotia was a weird one; we still don’t feel like we’re back. We flew from our quiet life in the maritimes to the busiest airport in Canada. The shift was so sudden and so far removed from how we have been spending our last few months that it feels like a whole different life. The truth is that it’s sometimes easier to make a huge shift than to make a small change that will fit into the rest of your life. And this summer was definitely that - a huge shift. It’s difficult being back. We’ve been thrown back into a world where we are surrounded by screens, internet, and fast food with no time to adjust and prepare. For that reason, it almost feels like this summer was a dream. We have reset to the way we lived before we left for the woods. For about a week we will be living with my parents so that we can find a new apartment in Hamilton. Having returned, we need to make sure that we are looking back to where we came from in order to remember what good habits and lessons we had learned there and try to reintroduce them to living in the city. It’s going to be a difficult process but we’re looking forward to it. 

So here’s to another beginning. Our lives are full of endings and beginnings, we are constantly transitioning between something or other, the trick is learning how to transition gracefully. Let’s hope we can do just that.  This next stage for us will involve learning how to slowly reintroduce simplicity into our day-to-day, and to live a lifestyle that is minimalistic yet firmly rooted. We want to make space for growth within ourselves by eliminating what we don’t need.

Soaking it in

This week we began to “soak it all in” and tried to fully appreciate the beauty around us and not take our environment and time here (of what we have left) for granted. We had some rainy days, but also some really warm and sunny days. Wet and chillier days can sometimes feel too slow, uncomfortable, and a little discouraging. But they can also bring some of the best times for Tracy and I. It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge that some things we just can’t control (like the weather) and it gives space for a day on the cabin porch, having some great conversations and do some serious reading- two things we would normally do far too less of. However, we are continually surprised at how much our moods lighten once we see the sun and things start to warm up. This week we tried to take full advantage and did some extra biking days into town. We even found a sweet little family-run restaurant on the ocean that serves ice cream, just a little ways down the road.

Nice days also mean that I can get a fire going to cook over. This past Tuesday Tracy and I celebrated our 3rd year wedding anniversary, so we made a special meal with scallops and homemade pasta noodles. We even treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and took a little extra care in our meal preparations, which we love to do together. 

Yesterday was our last Friday here and it was time to say goodbye to the Chester farmer’s market. It’s been a huge blessings to us, not only for the fresh food, but also for the inspiration we get from local artisans and the culture here on the coast. There seems to be a great appreciation and long history of local crafting here and we loved how it has encouraged us to keep creating and support local makers. We are especially inspired by those we have met here, but also those back in Hamilton who are driven to make their small business known and really put the long hours into perfecting their products. Here’s a glimpse of the work of two our favourites, David, who we met the first Friday we were here, and Kat, who we were so pleased to meet yesterday, our last Friday. 

Have a great week and look forward to a sum up of our experience here next week. 

Working from the Woods

We’re starting to realize that this time in the woods is quickly drawing to a close. We’ve booked our tickets for the 19th, which leaves us with only a week and a half here in Nova Scotia. Obviously we’re feeling torn about the timing. We will both miss the woods and would love to stay longer, but we are looking forward to coming home and spending time with our friends again. 

We’re getting to the point where we can start to sum up our summer. We’ve been here long enough to get a good grasp on what it’s actually like to live out here. I’ve noticed a few things about doing leatherwork in this setting. Some things have been really good, while other aspects of being here have been difficult. 

Probably one of the best things about working out here has been the abundance of time and space. We don’t spend hours a day getting to and from work. Everything we need for the week is here and we are alone without distractions (for the most part). However, sometimes having an abundance of time - just like having less time - calls for it to be managed and used wisely, which we are still learning. And we can still get easily distracted even in this quiet environment. 

Overall, it’s been good to have some new perspective on our products. Being out in the woods and seeing what we make is refreshing. We get to see our products in a natural environment, which we had originally envisioned them for. 

While the woods have been beneficial in a lot of ways, we’ve also learned about the blessings we have by living in the city or at least on the grid. For one, internet. It’s very difficult to run a predominantly-online business from the woods. Having constant access to email and social media is something that we had taken for granted and underestimated its value. A second thing is people. We’ve loved the solitude that we’ve been given, but the truth is that I love people. I love big crowds and people-watching is one of my favorite hobbies. So the lack of large groups has been missed (though Tracy would say otherwise). 

Weather has been a big deterrent of work for us. When you’re cooking on fire and working outside because there is very few good options for strong light indoors (without power), you realize what a difference having good weather makes.  When wood is wet, cooking can take forever. And being so exposed to the elements can really slow you down in the head. 

But the biggest thing I’ve missed since moving out into the woods is a solid and consistent work space. It’s tough having tools and tables that need to be moved for every meal and visitor and work day. I like to keep a somewhat “lived in” workspace, and having a space that is so transient makes that a little more difficult. 

The tradeoff of convenience, technology and people to living directly in-and-with nature is one that we’ve treasured and would love to take into the rest of our lives. It has certainly replenished us and we hope this type of environment will continue to be a necessity for our sanity in the busy and complicated world we live in. We’re just trying to figure out what that would look like, especially as we continue to work with Peartree. 

So while living out here has been exactly what we needed at this point in time, and we have found that living out here does come quite naturally to us, it does have its difficulties and lessons to be learned. Without a doubt we will miss the sounds and smells, the pleasure we experience in each of our daily tasks, and our time of adventure. However, Hamilton is calling us once again! 

These past two weeks...

Two weeks ago we said that we were looking forward to getting back into our routine... That didn’t happen... at least for the first few days. The weather was looking poor and it was time to do some admin work, so Tracy and I made our way into Halifax for the first bit of the week. We had a great few days relaxing in the city with cousins, aunts, and uncles. But coming back into our routine last Thursday was refreshing and we were excited for one of our favourite days here - Friday. 

Every Friday morning, Tracy and I jump on our bikes for an hour and head into the small town of Chester.  After the blog has been updated and email has been checked at a local coffee shop (or sometimes even at the convenience store ;) ), we head to the farmer’s market. It’s always great place to be. Visitors are excited to buy and the vendors are proud of what they are selling. We love meeting the people who have grown or prepared our food, plus it tastes so good! 

One thing that amazes us is how little not having a fridge has affected our meals here. We have simply been more aware of what and how much we eat and try to plan out our meals for the week. Fresh eggs and vegetables, which we would normally throw in the fridge at home, can easily be kept on the counter and canned or dry goods are always an option. If we want to have meat or dairy we buy only what we can eat that same day or the next. We’ve also enjoyed some fresh herbs and lettuce from our small garden as well. The soil here is quite sandy so it has been slow going for the rest of what we planted. 

Even though there is still the temptation to buy processed foods and eat junk foods (we still love our chips and chocolate!) we have grown to also love being more intentional about the food we eat, which starts with this first step of carefully choosing where to shop. 

Appreciating good foods and carefully put together meals is really important to us here, and we hope we can carry that with us when we return to Hamilton. We find it helps us to focus on our day to day tasks, but also to enjoy the time we have here and the beauty around us. 

Eating local foods, being more active, and even reading instead of watching tv at night are all things that have been slowing changing how we view the daily routine and the simple life. It has taken us awhile, but we are slowing learning how simplicity is not something you can gain possession of, but something to cultivate and live out. It's not constrained to a particular living arrangement or setting, but a mindset that can be held in any environment. 

These few weeks we have been sleeping in our tent when we can (instead of the cabin). Wild blueberries have also been popping up everywhere and the river is filling up again from all the rain we’ve been getting. Despite all the rain, we had a couple really nice days where we could also catch up on laundry and soak up some heat. 

Have a great week everyone and happy August!

Cabot Trail

The past month has been filled with family and friends. We’ve been spending time with people almost non-stop since mid-June and things are finally starting to slow down.

This week was spent with some of Tracy’s family. We managed to take a road trip out to Cape Breton to see the beautiful coastline and old fishing towns along the Cabot Trail. 

We also got to stop in at a place called Louisbourg, a 18th century fortress that was settled by the French. We took our time walking through the simple, yet stunning buildings which all served a specific purpose for the community of soldiers and families. All the houses were built with timber frame and stones. Though the construction of these places was basic, it was beautiful because of the way all the natural materials would wear and age.

Tracy’s parents and brother left yesterday, and now that family has left, Tracy and I are looking forward to being on our own again. It’s been great having everyone down, but now we’re excited to get back into our routine. Our week will again be taken up by cooking, building fires, and making leather goods from our Kickstarter campaign. Looking forward to what this week will bring!

Slim Wallet

This week has been spent (among other things) building wallets. It’s been nice to sit down and work on a big batch of items. The repetition and tediousness of each task helps me focus on my work. 

Our wallets are simple pieces. Sometimes it's easier to describe something by saying what it is not. Our wallets aren’t big, they don’t carry change, they don’t fit all your receipts from the week. There are a lot of things that our wallet isn’t designed for. But that’s also where its beauty comes from. It has been built for one simple task of carrying around a minimal set of cards. It helps with organization and diminishes the wad that you used to sit on. For these reasons my brother-in-law has been using one of these wallets for a while now. We love to simplify, and this was a great way for me to simplify my own wallet and we wanted to pass that on to everyone else. 

These past weeks have been spent with friends and family, and we're looking forward to yet another week of that. It’s great that being here has drawn out friends and family, where meals can be shared and laughs can fill what would otherwise be quiet evenings. 

What are we doing here?

It’s been about a month here in Chester, Nova Scotia, with less than 2 months to go. In the beauty of our environment and circumstance, my uncertainty seems to seep in and I start asking Chris, “What are we doing here?” It’s easy to forget what brought us here in the first place. 

Chris’ role is quite clear - make leather products and keep the fire going.  My role, however, is more ambiguous. As Chris’ wife, I am his number one supporter to his big ideas and a critical eye to his leather work. But that, of course, leaves plenty of room in the day for thinking about my role and what it means in the big scheme of things. 

Sometimes the quietness and stillness can drive me crazy. Sometimes I miss having a job to cling to or school work to keep me grounded. 

When people ask me what’s hardest about living without electricity or running water, I tend to draw a blank. Who wouldn’t want to bathe in a river every morning and sit by a fire at night? But then I think maybe living simply doesn’t just mean carrying out simple tasks or having an empty afternoon to sit quietly. It means just being - and man, can that be difficult!

In one of Carl Jung’s books I’ve been reading this week, he talks about a place in the wilderness he would often retreat to: 

I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, and I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple!
— Carl Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

The daily routine is simple, and it has been quite easy for us to get used to our small day-to-day tasks. The most difficult part is being okay with being simple - or just being. I wonder if this is what Jung was getting at as well. 

I’ll probably continue to ask myself what I’m doing here and what my purpose is here until the end of August, but I’m trying to be okay with that, and trust the process we’re going through this summer. I want to encourage those questions to arise and learn to embrace the simple (and somewhat ambiguous) role I have here - which is a really good one, considering I get to see Chris in his ideal environment, doing what he loves to do!