Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A West Coast Girl's Guide to Living in the Midwest.

So, West Coast city dweller, you wanna move to the Midwest but don't know what to expect? Lean in, I'll letcha know what to expect. The good, the bad, the culture shock, and why you might not ever look back. Living in a small town may sound like some kind of nightmare but you never know, you might just love it. The kids ride their bikes in the street, the ice cream ladies remember your order, and folks wave at you when to drive by.

There are a lot of what-if's and a fair amount of uncertainty when you are trying to decide to move or not....and more than likely all your friends are looking at your like you have lobsters growing out of your ears.

How do you adjust? It's not so bad. You can do it.

The first thing to remember is that there are a lot of us out here. Most of us moved from big cities for love or family. You might remember how I finally won the lay-off lottery and was able to move back here to marry my husband.

I can name off five other former-city dwellers without even trying - a pastor from Motown, a French chef with an impressive resume, my favorite corporate attorney, the guy from the social security office, and a very successful business person - all of us gave up big lives to move back here on purpose for family or to marry the person of our dreams. So you are not alone. Come on and join the fun!

The biggest obstacle to deciding to move out to the rural Midwest is probably the derogatory remarks and lack of support from your friends. They will think you are nuts. But just remember that their lack of enthusiasm is more about how they are interpreting your move as a rejection of them or their lives....and not you and your goals. So you really need to tune them out as you are packing your bags. They will flood you with objections - usually the same ones:

1. But the WEATHER! It's horrible! Snow! Ice! How will you manage?
A lot of people like four distinct season. Me? I like three seasons. I hate the winter. I moved out here in the middle of winter and it was probably not the best idea. But I knew what I was getting into and I didn't have a lot of choice about my timing. Just remember that winter is an ugly time here. Unless it snows - then it can look kind of pretty. Some people like the snow. Not me. But it's over soon enough and then we are into spring, summer, and spectacular fall.

Remember too that we aren't living in caves - central heating and air conditioning really put a dent into the "weather" objection. And for every "But it's Tornado Alley out there!" you can counter with "Yeah, well -  earthquakes, mudslides, and fire season!" So everywhere has their thing.

2. BUGS! So many bugs!
I dunno.... we really don't have a ton of mosquitoes where we are. But we run a lot of poultry so we don't see a ton of bugs. We have some really huge spiders tho.

3. It's the Flyover! A cultural wasteland with nothing to do!
I don't know... more and more of the country is starting to look exactly the same. So this is probably less true than it was before. There may be fewer choices than you are used to... but if you drive far enough there is a lot to do. Don't forget you are only about 6 hours driving to Chicago or Washington DC.

After you talk thru these objections then your friends will just kind of walk away confused still not understanding why you'd leave The Best Place On Earth to move to the Midwest. That's OK. You can do this.

But the culture shock is real.

I think we all remember the screaming break down I had the first week I got here because I had to *gasp* make my own coffee and clean my own house. It was barbaric! And then there was the Dreadful Pig Breakdown when I stood covered in pig "mud" screaming at my husband that I...and I'm quoting here... "...I used to BE someone! I shouldn't be here! I should be in Maui right now not standing here in the mud with these stupid pigz!"

Sometimes the adjustment can be hard. Good thing my husband has a sense of humor and is the most patient man I've ever met. Eventually I learned to make my own coffee. I miss Cleaning Lady tho. I miss her real bad.

The best way to avoid scenes like this is to be prepared. Actually both of you need to be prepared. The person who lives/wants to be here needs to remember that it's their dream - and not necessarily yours. So some leeway is warranted. An occasional trip to civilization, expensive cheese, or the keys to the zippy car are all ways to make the incoming person feel less freaked out.

And the incoming person needs to understand that it will be different. There are not as many choices, the folks may seem provincial, the scope is narrower, the pace slower. It's not worse, not better, just different.

When I go back to the city I stand in one of many luxury grocery stores and marvel at the selection... so many choices! Back here I've had to make my peace with Walmart. But who really needs 12 different kinds of frozen peas anyway? Right?

Instead of choosing between the nine different Thai restaurants that were within 15 minutes of my city house... there is one here. One. In the whole state as far as I can tell. We just found it and it's real. But we need to make sure we have gas in the car before we leave because it's kind of a long drive.

The solution, of course, is to learn how to make your own ethnic food. There is not a wide range of culinary delights when the nearest town features no fewer than four restaurants that specialize in chicken wings. Get good cookbooks and learn to order exotic ingredients from Amazon... or make a pilgrimage into one of several international grocery stores in the nearest big city. They are fantastic and you can find just about anything.

Speaking of driving, I never liked the car culture of the West Side. It was too much for me to drive more than six miles from my city house to my job. Now my husband commutes 51 miles each way. I'd die if I had to do that. Traffic here? Ha! Are you kidding... freakin' casuals. They know nothing of bad traffic.

The distances are far... which may not be a surprise. But what is a shock is that there may be nothing...and I mean nothing on the way to your destination. The trip to the vet? I gotta make sure I have a snack before I leave and to build in time for a rest stop before I get there.

And it's flat. Real flat. Like... that wind has been blowing since Kansas and nothing has been in the way since then flat. Initially couldn't find my way around because there is nothing to reconnoiter with. Before I just used the water and the mountains. I finally had to figure out to use the position of the sun. Can you believe that? Now I can find my directions - north, south, east, and west - without a compass.  In fact, I can now tell what time it is in the summer by the position of the moon at night.  Half the time in the city I couldn't even see the moon let alone the stars. Out here.. there are soooo many stars. It's amazing.

The scope of wealth here really surprised me.  It seems.. kinda narrow. One of the best things about the Midwest is that you can afford to live here. But coming from a place dripping in money... it's just kind of weird. Heck, where I used to live you couldn't even open your car door without hitting a Porshe. The only car any of us ever turned to look at as the yellow Lamborghini - and that was only because we knew who it was and he was kind of an ass. But what is considered top shelf back here would get the bad parking spot if left with the valet in the city. 

But then, that works for you. We bought this property - 15 acres and the garage/buildings - for what we'd need for a down payment in an expensive city. When I got the property tax statement I laughed. The affordability is what is really stunning. The bill was so low first time I took my truck in to be fixed that I called someone and asked if I should pay the fix-it guy more? Nope. That's just what it was.

Salaries are lower, opportunities are fewer, but so are expectations. You can afford to live here and you probably won't kill yourself doing it. "Meeting" expectations - instead of exceeding them is just fine. There is not the same level of hyper-competitiveness and self promotion you see other places. There is a humility here that is kind of nice.

In fact, some of the folks you may be tempted to discount first may have the most. So don't just assume because a guy walks by in work clothes and a tractor hat that he's just some no account rube. Some of the farmers around here have equipment in their barns that is more valuable than any house you will ever own. It's kind of an odd little world.

Another thing I didn't expect? The wildlife. Yep. I know folks who pay good money to pay a guide to drive them around and looks at hawks. Out here we call that "our drive to church." We know most of the birds of prey along the way. And the ones that live in our woods. I couldn't believe it the first time I heard the hooo-hooo-hoooo owls in our back woods. I didn't even have to pay anyone for that.

Of course, all of the cliches about how the folks back here are genuinely nicer are true. When I'd go back to visit my old city I really started to see how angry everyone really is. I was accused of "smiling too much" and "being too friendly." I didn't remember everyone being so angry - but back then I was probably living off caffeine, adrenaline, and indifference.

Folks here really do care about you. You'll remember what happened when our truck broke down that one time. Out here plenty of folks will help you if you need it. That alone makes it easier to be happy.

The other great thing is, you can be whoever you want to be. Some of the small mindedness of the past is fading away.  Sure, there are horrible people everywhere but there are more and more folks living the life they want even this far out. I'm friends with the Orthodox hipsters who run the vegan, gluten free coffee place, the Mennon-"Not" lady who works in town, the Holiness lady who makes the good rolls, Mrs. Miller who makes the other rolls, and the other Mrs. Miller who puts the sign out when she sells her angel food cakes. The hippy farmers, the mommies, the small time lawyer, the big deal attorney, the guy who owns the orchard, the old timey pastor, the gal with the good tattoos, the gal with the bad tattoos, the guy learning to be a fireman, the guys who sell soap, and the other guys who sell wool - we are all out here together.

Do you want to start a business? Start a family? Raise some sheep? Get an impressive degree? You can do all that out here. We've had to start and restart a couple of times. This is a great place to do all those things. You just have to find the clusters of folks who are headed in the same direction and get in with them.Then it won't feel so weird.

 I can recognize folks who are more like me. In fact, you can't help but see each other. One time me and some gal ran across a parking lot towards each other, "Where are you from?" We both asked. The same-ish place. So we hugged each other, called each other "dude," and might have cried a little being as we were so glad to find "our" people.

So you'll find each other. Once you do then you'll feel like you fit in better. But if you can't find a lot of like minded folks then get a lot of online friends, swallow your pride, develop a sense of humor, and learn to blend in a bit with the folks around you.

I could not explain my last job to some folks with a herd of nerds and a white board. So I don't. I also don't talk about my old life to most folks. Half of them wouldn't believe it and the other half just wouldn't care. It may be hard to understand, but not everyone wants to live on one of the coasts. Folks like living here and don't like to be told how it isn't as good. So I stopped comparing and started appreciating

The fact is that there are a lot of us folks from somewhere else. We all came here for the same reasons and we are glad we did. Is it the same? Nope. It's different. I miss the ocean. I miss Cleaning Lady. But we can have the life we want here. The summers are glorious, the fall is spectacular, and if I can get thru another winter I can't wait for spring to show up.

How do I cope? I'll use this winter to learn how to make really good Thai food, I'll have lunch with other former city dwellers, talk to my friends online, and I'll order anything I need from Amazon. When my city friends complain about their annoying co-workers or how expensive it is to live there... well... I'll just kind of nod understandingly. But inside I'll be laughing about how I'm my own boss here and we can afford the life we want.

Can you really make the move here from the West Coast? Yes you can! Pack your sense of humor, adventuresome spirit, and get a good winter jacket. You'll be just fine out here, baby, we can't wait for you to get here!


David said...

and don't forget your boots!

Vera said...

Oh what a fantastic post!

"You just have to find the clusters of folks who are headed in the same direction and get in with them ......" - this is the part which spoke to me strongly, because we still haven't found those folks yet so do feel isolated sometimes. Most people who are incomers here are retired people either from the UK or northern Europe, so just wile away their days amusing themselves, watching TV, socializing etc.... so are clueless as to why we do what we do, and that we must be mad.

Blogging helps me to not feel quite so isolated, but I still feel that I am finding my way. The language barrier is also a difficulty to meeting like minded people.

So well done you for speaking your thoughts. It helps to know that there others out there who are on the same page even if they are living in a different country!

Moon-Shadows said...

AMEN we moved here to the hollers of TN, gasp almost five years ago. I totally cried the first six months here, even had the breakdown you mentioned screaming i used to be someone, minus the pigs insert terriorist psycho goats. But you do find your way, God has mercy and will send you a country wise friend/guru or two, and eventually when you get internet signal and a smart phone you can find a wonderful blog that you cant wait to read because it usually makes your morning seem normal- finding chickens upside down, goats climbing the fence to run after the UPS truck hollering baaa-woof and what not. Thank you for keeping the adventure in the good land real!!!

Vintage Maison said...

We've been in France for 12 years, and have met like minded people, and discarded some who were, quite frankly, pains in the rear end! We are careful frugallers and small holders, but have friends who are loaded and wouldn't dream of growing a carrot if they could nip down to the super marché to buy it...it all comes down to personalities. Still, I miss my cleaning lady too.

MT Dreamer said...

What a great post! Loved the Mrs. Miller references. Perhaps I'll have to write a guest post on a Southern Girl's Guide to Living in the Rockies! Looks like 2015 is the year for the move! Can't wait! And then this suburban girl will be struggling to fit in with the mountain folk. =)

Anonymous said...

We moved from California to Ohio 10 years ago and heard many of the same comments that you listed. We wouldn't move back to California for anything now and probably couldn't afford it anyway. We do miss Yosemite and In 'n Out and Tommie's Chili burgers and Donuts. Why can't Ohioans make decent donuts? I guess it is because there aren't any southeast Asians here to make them.

Anonymous said...

I went from Ohio to visit relatives too many years ago and stayed to marry. Still love Ohio. Too bad I will never be living there again though. Still write to friends back there who thankfully still do live there. My heart will always be in Steubenville the way it used to be years back. Then it was full of peaceful,friendly very hard working folks who loved life and God. I have thanked God any times for having been born there and having lots of family around us then. It breaks my heart to see how much a lot of it has changed. It warms my heart though to hear people in Ohio now sing its praises. Thank you very much. Sarah

Anonymous said...

Such a refreshing post. I moved to Kansas from Socal and have been trying to find ways to cope. Finding other transplants is such a great idea and I'm going to look for people like me. Thanks for the advice. It's been rough.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

oh no, Anon... sorry. and yeah it's tough. but you'll spot other West Coasters - dont feel shy about calling out across a crowded room, "Dude!" the real west siders will turn their heads.
ps i found out how to make a home made animal style in n out burger from the imgur:

Oregon Girl said...

I currently live in OR, been here now for 24 years. I'm originally from OR, I moved around a lot as a kid due to my dad being in the Army. I've lived in OH and that is where my mom's side of the family lives (I'm the closest with them). I just recently spent 10 days out in OH with the family and after spending quite some time with them, am realizing that I want to go back to OH. I loved being out there again. I know I will miss the mountains and the ocean, but it's not like I can't ever go back to visit OR. The move would include my 15 year old daughter and myself. Now, just where to begin with all of this? I've moved a lot in OR (with now recently ex-husband), I just haven't ever moved out of state by myself. Not sure where to begin. I'm doing a lot of research and this is the best blog I have come across so far. I love what you have written. It actually made me laugh out loud a few times. Thank you for sharing your story. I want a change in my life and I think a move to OH is just what I need. Let's see where my adventures take me.

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