Time has been flying on this road trip across the U.S. Just a little over a week into it and we’ve already experienced so much. Now that the government is shut down and the national parks are closed, we’re glad we did rush through some of it. We saw the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore in one and half extremely busy, action-packed days, for instance. But now it’s time to relax a little. Today was a life catch-up day: work, laundry, grocery shopping, kids’ baths, even fingernail cutting.

So I’m behind on blog posts. My head is spinning from the knowledge gained and lessons learned already, even after only a week, even after traveling through my own country.

The Badlands

Last week we visited Living History Farms in Des Moines, Iowa. It was a pioneer experience great for homeschooling families and included the 1875 pioneer town of Walnut Hill. There was also an Ioway Indian settlement from 1700, a pioneer home from 1850, and a circa 1900 horse-powered farm.

We learned all about how the various people from the various eras lived. Interpreters showed us how people gathered or farmed food, what their homes were like, what they did for fun, and how they thought about life.

It was fascinating. And a lesson in how far we’ve come as a society (in both good and bad ways).

The funny part of the story comes at the point we were standing in the 1850 pioneer home, which was a tiny log home that could dip to 40 degrees inside in winter simply because winters in Iowa get so cold and the fireplace was not efficient for heating the cabin. It wasn’t an easy life, not by a long shot.

All the kids loved it, but especially Addy, our 3-year-old. She wanted to climb the ladder to the loft, just like Laura and Mary in Little House on the Prairie. She skipped out back to the herb and vegetable garden and then back out front to pet the cow. At a break in the conversation with the interpreters dressed in their long dresses, Addy said, as if we were looking at real estate to buy, “Mom! Dad! I think I like this house! I think we could live here!”

I looked around the tiny, one-room cottage. Except for the 40-degree winter inside temperature, I agreed with her. We COULD live there. The size, the simplicity. We could do it. Our family of six could live in this cottage.

1850 Pioneer Home

And, actually, we are living in a travel trailer for the time being, which is smaller than the pioneer home. We’re up close and personal with each other. Things are simple. Today, it took me only two songs playing on Pandora to clean the entire trailer. As we travel, we can stop anywhere and sleep, eat, or use the bathroom. And, best of all, we’ve lost the constant distraction that a big home filled with so much stuff can bring.

When we first went to Belize last year for our family sabbatical, somebody jokingly commented, “You climbed to the top of the food chain. Why would you give it all away to live off-the-grid in a third-world country?”

We had a hunch that less is more–that’s why we went to Belize. And that must have been what the pioneers who left comfortable Eastern homes thought when they gave it all up to live as their grandparents did, essentially camping in the backcountry. But they knew they had to take a risk, maybe even take a temporary step back, to live their dreams of a rich and fulfilling life.

Life on the Iowa prairie was hard, energy-sapping, and soul-tapping. They faced many perils like illnesses and Indians and even starvation. So why did they do it? Why did they leave their cushy lives back East and leave all their family and friends to head west?

In their way, they were exiting normal.

Through fortitude and determination, they left behind everything they knew because they were resolved that there was something better around the corner. They gave up comfort, faced their fears, and relied on faith that it would all work out okay. They were courageous people who risked what they had because they were being pulled toward the promise of a wonderful new life.

 The Prairie

Where are the pioneers today? Is anybody waking up to realize that the life in front of them is not necessarily the one they want? That the traditional American Dream might be right for some but is not right for them?

Of course I’m not suggesting that everyone would be happiest by pulling up stakes and changing everything about their lives. What I’m saying is that we can all take a lesson from the pioneers and their stories. If life feels flat, change it. If you don’t feel joy, find it. If the air around you isn’t charged with peace, positivity, possibilities, and prosperity, find a way to attract these things to you.

It’s never too late to find the life of your dreams, even if you don’t drive a wagon across the prairie to look for it.