3 Tips for a Small Town Newcomer to Live “Happily Ever After”
Most Americans want a “happily ever after” ending. Little girls dress up in gowns. Older girls plan weddings, often to fictitious grooms or movie stars. Young women dream of Mr. Right. Young ladies create wedding boards on Pinterest. Even men graduate from high school or college and envision a future that includes a family.
Many farmers, like Chris Soules (aka “Prince Farming”), dream of passing down their land to the next generation. Tonight many of us will tune into the final episode of Season 19 of The Bachelor to see if “Prince Farming” found a financée through this reality television series. Even if he does propose, will the future Mrs. Soules find happiness on his Iowa farm? Is love enough to overcome loneliness?
How dare I say this? I feel I’ve earned the right because I’ve lived it for 12 years.
I moved away from my small hometown of Greene to attend Iowa State University. Upon graduation, I moved to Kansas City where I worked for a short stint with a major public relations agency before returning to my home state. I worked in Greater Des Moines for nearly a decade. During that time, I got married and we bought our first home in Ankeny. My husband and I were raising our two toddlers in the suburbs, but we really wanted to return to our rural roots.
Small town kids are spoiled, and well, we wanted to “spoil” our kids! John and I moved in 2003 to a small town in northern Franklin County for several reasons: It was equidistant between our hometowns, and it would be an easy 20-minute drive to work. This town has one of Iowa’s best 9-hole courses, and golf it one of my husband’s passions. There’s also a plethora of farms in the area, and I wanted our kids to have an opportunity to take livestock projects to the county fair. We were living the dream, or so we thought.
My kids were not yet old enough for preschool. I freelanced from my home office. I ate lunch – alone – each day in front of my computer screen. The only contact I had daily with people was at the grocery store, bank or post office. I learned to run errands between 9 AM and noon or between 2 and 3 PM because those were the only times that both the post office and the bank were open simultaneously.
Keep in mind, I was used to working in an office with about 100 employees. I was used to working as part of a team to complete projects. I could run to Hy-Vee, Target or the mall over my lunch hour. Even if I stayed inside the office, I rarely ate lunch alone.
After work, I enjoyed pushing our kids in strollers down miles of sidewalks or along paved walking trails. I belonged to the local Curves® fitness center, and I enjoyed early morning workouts with a fun group of young women. I also had enrolled our kids in activities like KinderMusic and Mommy & Me swimming lessons in Ankeny. We also attended a church that I absolutely loved. I had been a confirmation mentor, and the senior pastor baptized our children.
Get the picture? It didn’t matter how much I loved my husband at that time. Bottom line: I was lonely! I had moved “home” and I was miserable. All of my closest friends lived two hours away, and none of us were on Facebook in 2003. We didn’t have unlimited calls or texting plans either. Also remember that I was a working mom of two kids under the age of 3. I was sleep deprived, and sleep deprivation can turn a mole-hill of a situation into a mountain!
Since I wasn’t sleeping well, I would often read books in the middle of the night. I sometimes read during the day to escape reality. I also read for companionship; you’re never really alone if you have a book, right? No matter how many books I read, I still felt sad and unfulfilled.
Then one day I had an epiphany while reading the Heart of Texas series (or perhaps it was the Dakota series) of romance novels by one of my favorite authors, Debbie Macomber. I could relate to this story about a young doctor, who had recently moved into a rural town. One day she found herself confiding to the local pharmacist about her loneliness. She wished someone would invite her to attend a local barbecue or a dance. The wise local business owner lovingly replied something along the lines of “They don’t need you because they already have a circle of friends. You need them. Why don’t you issue the invitation?”
Talk about a light bulb moment! I realized I had moved into a town where people didn’t need me because they already had a circle of close friends. I needed friends, so I developed a plan to make them! I grabbed our church directory and searched for couples with children about the same age as ours. Then I planned a pumpkin carving party for everyone at our house. I came up with a menu, which turned into a potluck. We had so much fun that it became an annual tradition. Eventually I turned my love of pumpkins and my need to interact with people into Enchanted Acres, my happy place.
Because I learned to “make my own happy” the hard way, today I’m sharing three simple tips for women who find themselves in a similar situation:
- Continue to think in terms of “minutes” rather than “miles.” I’m only 25 minutes from Super Target, but I get to set the cruise control and drive about 20 miles to get there. Some people spend more than hour on the train to get to their jobs in the city! I don’t have to fight rush hour traffic to get to work. I don’t have to worry about hitting the lights either because there aren’t any stoplights between my house and the office.
- Expand your definition of “local.” I’m blessed that my little town covers all the basics: community school, public library, swimming pool, gas station with great cappuccino, Casey’s pizza, post office, grocery store and fine dining like the Brickyard Grille at Ridgestone Golf Club. As much as I appreciate everything our town has to offer, I expect to drive to other towns for more variety and to enjoy services not provided here. My daughter took gymnastics in another nearby town, and my son belongs to a basketball team in our regional center. I think of all businesses here in North Iowa as “local.”
- Make new friends but keep the old. Ever heard of “Iowa nice?” I love how friendly people tend to be in rural areas. Embrace it:Learn the farmer wave. Wave at someone just because you’re meeting on the road. Say “hi” to strangers on the street.Please understand that people may be strangers to you, but they will know who you are! People called me by name on Main Street because they had already heard through the grapevine who had moved to town. People called me by name in the county seat, too, because my husband’s family has lived in this area for generations. They would say things to me like, “Remember me? We met two years ago when you attended Christmas Eve service with your in-laws.” or “I taught your husband in elementary.”
While a person can never have too many acquaintances, take time to make your own friends. Even if your husband’s friends and family members welcome you into their circles, seek out others who share similar interests or hobbies. Also make a concerted effort to visit “old” friends. I cherish a friend of mine, who faithfully visits me each holiday season when she’s returning to Iowa to see her family. I also make a point of visiting friends in Des Moines or Minneapolis annually, plus I plan getaways throughout the year that combine business with pleasure like the Executive Women in Ag conference in Chicago.
I truly believe anyone can find happiness in a rural area, whether “rural” is defined as living in a small town or on a large farm in the middle of God’s Country. However, I believe both “love” and “happiness” are choices we make.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve learned to “create my own happy.” My Twitter profile is sincere and it reads: “I’m a wife, mother & entrepreneur. As VP of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. I meet farmers across the Midwest and can’t think of any other place I’d rather call home.”
What advice to you have to newcomers?
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