Moving to the woods was inevitable and right for us in so many ways. My husband has a wonderful job working for the County in the heart of cottage country. We wanted more land for exploring and growing our own food; it would cut his two hour commute (and thus, our gas bill and general vehicle wear and tear) in half. There was no other place we would rather go, but we doubted we would meet too many kindred spirits in a place as sparsely populated as Gooderham, Ontario. Prior to moving, we were beginning to build a good circle of friends and acquaintances with similar parenting and lifestyle goals. We were excited to move to our cabin in the woods, but we quietly feared we would perish without a like-minded community to converse and break bread with.
We participated in Doors Open Ontario in an effort to meet locals, but, as delightful as those folks who visited our house were, none were younger than 60. It is interesting to me that the older generation has managed to keep strong community bonds among themselves with church bake sales, quilt making, and knitting socks. They tend to welcome young folks wanting to learn lost arts with open arms and warm smiles and though I respect, admire, and appreciate that generation and their stories, the need for a young family to spend time with remained. Someone who can relate to living in this culture of excess and convenience, but wants something different. Someone who wants to learn lost arts and methods from scratch; arts and skills which were once commonplace, and often taken for granted in another lifetime.
We plan on homeschooling, so in a slightly desperate attempt to find younger families in the area with similar values and goals, I did something I have only joked about in the past. I posted a flyer in our local post office and library which basically said “crunchy homeschooling friends wanted.” I had nothing to lose, but felt a little sheepish as I waited for the burly man picking up his mail to clear out before I tacked it to the message board. With a shrug and a smile I trotted back out to the car to my husband who laughed and playfully shook his head. I quickly forgot about it.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later when we received a response from Andrew and Kira that I remembered it. That email turned into more emails, a mama and kid get together and, finally, a meeting of the families. The friendship is still new, but holds such promise. Since that fateful email we have spent birthdays and solstices together; slaughtered a pig and built a chicken coop; discussed politics and God; swapped recipes and ideas; decorated cookies and spent hours at the local junk shop. All of that and the most wonderful thing about it is that they have re-ignited the fire to go deeper into this life; this life we have been dreaming of and planning for so long. We may have different goals and paths, but with quiet confidence, they press forward and inspire us to do the same.
Without stepping out of my comfort zone, I fear we may have never met them. Being a stay at home parent can be isolating and exhausting especially when living in rural areas. Since many of us have lost the gift of having multiple generations living under one roof or very close by, it is important to stay connected and surround ourselves with kindred souls. Sometimes they tumble into our lives out of thin air, but most of the time we need to step outside of our comfort zones, take risks, and be vulnerable if even for a moment.
What hidden gems are in your own hometown? Well, I do declare it’s time to find out. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.
Tips for creating community
Post a flyer
Take a page from our book and do something unexpected and a wee bit silly; you may be amazed by the response!
Visit your local library
Many libraries offer free story time and other children’s activities so it may be a great place to get to meet other young families. Also, homeschooling families are likely to frequent the local library, especially if internet in your area is scarce. Your librarian may also be a good person to ask about local homeschooling families in your area.
Check out your local yarn/fabric/health store
We are blessed to have a wonderful health food store which is also the most comprehensive yarn shop I have ever seen, complete with felting, spinning and knitting supplies as well as spinning workshops and knitting circles. These may be a great place for you to meet kindred folks, both young and old.
Look into starting or joining a natural food buying club
Here in Ontario we have the Ontario Natural Food Co-Op. We were able to start one with Kira + Andrew, but there may already be one in existence. Ask your Naturopath, Chiropractor, or health food store if they know of any.
Frequent your local farmers market
Not only are you supporting your neighbours and cutting out the middle man, but by taking the time to chat with the vendors, you open yourself up to incredible new friendships and connections. We had the pleasure of meeting a previous owner of our house and learned some interesting facts about our house and land and await an impromptu visit she promised.
Participate in local studio tours
Contact your local tourism office and find out if your town or municipality offers these sorts of events (they are often held when the fall colours are at their peak). If you are an artist or crafts person you can open your home to those who appreciate art or you can simply take the tour and connect with some inspiring artists you may not have met otherwise.
Blog and embrace social media
I have been humbled by the wisdom, kindness, and surprisingly intimate friendships brought into my life through blogging. I have been doing it, though more privately for the first four or five years, since early 2005 and I am amazed at how many of those readers have turned into dear friends. The online community is incredibly warm and helpful. True, it may not be local, but it can be a wonderful thing for rural families and may be a great adventure for older homeschooled children as well.
Host a potluck
Once you have met a few folks you like, be brave and open your house or yard to a good old fashioned picnic potluck. Exchange recipes, eat new food, wear the kids out, widen your circle, meet new people.
Trust your gut and say “hello”
One day this summer Kira and I took the kids to the park in town and we saw a woman with two children. I knew instantly that we would connect so I smiled a friendly smile and said hello. Just as we were leaving, she asked us if we knew a local family who were friends of hers. We didn’t know them, but it turned out she is a Waldorf teacher from Toronto and her and her young family are looking to move to the area soon. The friends she spoke of are building a Waldorf inspired school in our area for homeschooled children to gather at. Another two wonderfully local connections made.
Erin Ellenberger-March is a stay at home and soon to be homeschooling mama. She and her husband Mike, along with their two children Poppy and Silas, live in a 103-year-old settler cabin on four acres in rural Ontario with their dog, two cats, and six laying hens. You can read more about Erin on her blog.
If you would like to read more about their friends Andrew and Kira, you can check out their new blog.