Erin with an E
My name is Erin, but people who know me usually just call me “E.” I think Erin was too long and complicated of a name, so I was shortened to just one letter. I don’t mind it though, I like being E. I think it suits me. Short suits me. I’m around 5’5″, but I tell the DMV that I’m 5’6″. It just sounds better. Is anyone going to be able to tell that I’m an inch shorter and 10 pounds heavier than what my drivers license says? Probably not. Plus, I’m planing on growing an inch or two and losing that 10 pounds starting on Monday.
So, you’ve already figured out that I’m an optimist. I’m a little bit short. I change my mind a lot, and I like to eat. I LOVE food, good food! I workout pretty much JUST so I can eat more sourdough bread and occasionally…cake for breakfast.
People might describe me as having an insatiable drive and determination to do more, be more, create more…but really, I get bored easily and I crave change. While some people may fear change, I live for it. I rearrange the furniture in my house about once a month. I paint and then repaint our walls, I move us across state lines often, and change careers like I’m changing a pair of socks. Experiencing life in a linear pattern is certainly easier on the adrenal glands, but boredom and predictability and complacency have never been friends of mine.
Let’s Back up – wayyy back
When I was just 14, I got my first job in a bakery. Baking certainly wasn’t foreign to me at that time. I had grown up like a sponge, soaking up every ounce of knowledge I could from watching my grandma and my mom cook and bake. Those are some of my warmest memories in life; a tattered and faded apron covered in dusty flour and loosely tied in the back, good music playing in the background, the smell of yeasty honey wheat bread, tender forearms from kneading dough, sticky fingers from jam…and dancing barefoot in the kitchen with my mom. Perhaps that’s why I sought out a bakery for my first experience at earning my keep. What 14 year old kid wants to get up while it’s still dark out on a Saturday morning and head to work? And yet…I loved it. By the time I was 16, I was promoted from a counter clerk to a baker. I learned how to make cinnamon rolls and lemon bars and mini quiche and muffins and my little paychecks helped pay for me to be on my high school dance team.
We didn’t have much money growing up. We certainly weren’t poor, but my two sisters and I were being raised by a single mom and that meant us girls had to learn to make our own money from a younger age than most of our friends. By the time I was a junior in high school, I had quit the job in the bakery and was waiting tables at two or three different restaurants. The summer before my Senior year, I also started teaching dance, and a funk aerobics class at a local gym. Remember aerobics? Hysterical.
After the birth of my son in 1997, I got a job working as a technical writer for a firm in the securities industry. My sister and brother-in-law worked for the company and recommended me for the job. I went to the interview with zero experience, no resume to speak of, and no college degree. But I somehow managed to convince the hiring manager that I could write technical help documents despite my lack of knowledge of anything technical. Being a young, single mother of a baby boy, and having an overwhelming urge to do right by him had single handedly propelled me into the corporate IT world. By the time the big 2K rolled around and the world was scheduled to end and then…didn’t, I was working for a major healthcare company as a technical writer and was itching to do something much more creative than writing help files and creating flow charts. I put my name into the ring for a position opening up within the company designing and developing the front end of websites. Much to my surprise and trepidation, I was awarded the promotion and was suddenly swimming in the deep end of technical art and design. For several years, I continued to climb the ladder within the company and eventually became a Senior GUI (General User Interface)Designer. The creative beast inside me was content and well-fed until somewhat out of the blue I realized I was getting paid a 6 figure salary and spending 8 hours a day, give or take, debating whether the shade of a blueberry was cooling and calming enough to make people feel as if they were healthy. All the while, that deep down urge to do more, be more was growing louder and louder and I was having a hard time keeping it quiet. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great career. It paid the bills and I was lucky to have such a position in a huge corporation without an ounce of college education. I was self-taught and had paved my way on determination and perseverance alone. Not having a college degree had never stopped me to this point, and for that I was very grateful and appreciative and more than willing to work hard.
Despite the increasing feeling of unfulfillment, I stayed on with the position another year and a half strictly due to the fact that I was somewhat distracted by a certain co-worker of mine. A tall, athletic, very attractive and charming curly-haired man. His name was Corey and he had a weird last name that was hard to pronounce and I was undeniably…smitten. I was blindingly focused on my career and certainly was not looking for a relationship, but the relationship, I realize now…was looking for me. Quite beyond my control, Corey and I fell in love and were married by the flicker of candles on a trail of red rose petals in a little lake house in the Colorado mountains on a gorgeous October day in 2002.
Not long after we were married, we started trying for a baby and a month later I was pregnant. I wasn’t expecting it to happen that quickly, but I took it as a push from the universe and I made the decision to quit my comfortable yet boring corporate job and start up my own design firm. The Big Pixel, LLC. was born just months before my daughter Rylee came into our lives in the Spring of 2004. The timing was perfect. I was able to stay at home with my baby and work on my business when time allowed. It never occurred to me, really, that giving myself no time at all would ultimately be my downfall and eventually threaten the bond of my marriage. By the Summer of 2005 our second daughter, Madelyn was born. Just 14 months separated my two girls and my business had finally started to take off. At the same time, Corey had started traveling for work and was gone, a lot. I was a very busy and very tired momma of 3 and like most working mothers of young children, I was struggling to keep my head above water. Something had to give in order for me to retain any ounce of sanity, and so I reluctantly yet also very deliberately started to let The Big Pixel die. My kids needed me, my husband needed me, I needed me.
It’s a strange feeling going from the corporate world, to a business owner to a stay at home mom. You have this weird sense of self at times, and feel awkward answering the question from strangers “what do you do for work?” with an “oh, I’m just a stay at home mom.” Then you watch the car salesman write “housewife – unemployed” on the application and cringe with a little dose of self-doubt at your lack of a real profession. Yep, JUST a stay at home mom…as if being a 24 hr caregiver to small humans and being so busy you have no time to pee, poop or god forbid take a shower, isn’t quite…enough.
Shouldn’t I be doing more? earning a living? helping my husband pay the bills? Shouldn’t I be more happy? Shouldn’t I be going to the gym? Shouldn’t I have more friends?
Without even really realizing it, I started over-achieving at the whole just a stay at home mom thing. For starters, I began planning elaborate birthday parties for my kids. And naturally, that meant over-the-top, fancy birthday cakes. And why, pray tell, would I buy a fancy, over the top cake when I can make it myself? Did I have experience making fancy birthday cakes? No. But I had a background in baking and could follow a recipe…what could go wrong? When I was stopped in the middle of the food court at the mall, carrying my daughters “Hello Kitty” themed birthday cake complete with a crude Hello Kitty made out of fondant, crookedly perched on the top; and was asked if I was cake baker and if I had a business card – a teeny tiny crumb of an idea was planted internally. Grateful for the compliment, I apologized that I was not a cake baker and that I was just a mom that made her daughter’s birthday cake and giggled as I walked away. But down inside, something had already started brewing. A pondering. A thought. A spark.
With each cake thereafter came major disasters, failures, mistakes…and then somehow in the end would turn out pretty great, despite my determination to hate every cake design I came up with. As it turned out, designing cakes was a very demanding hobby that sometimes kept me up until 4 am, stressed beyond belief of just HOW to turn this monstrosity of sugar, flour, eggs and milk into something beautiful and delicious. I was falling in love with the challenge of it all, but it was exhausting and demanding work. Six short months later, I was gaining more and more momentum and learning so much with each finished cake, that I started baking and creating cakes for other people. I remember a late night in the kitchen, all three of my kiddos on the barstools watching me intently as I was putting the finishing touches on a cake.
“What will you name your bakery momma?” said a tiny little face with pink cheeks and sleepy blue eyes.
My bakery. It had a nice ring to it. Is that what this was? I liked the idea. No, I loved the idea. It felt so right. I looked at the sweet, curious faces of the three little loves of my life; always hovering, watching, learning, demanding…like little baby birds. All of this was for them. I thought it was for me. I thought perhaps that I had to prove to myself that I could do it, or prove my worthiness to some invisible, internal voice that liked to whisper on repeat “you’re not enough, you’ll never be enough.” But really…it was for them. I could very easily hide my unhappiness, I had become an expert at it. My unhappiness meant very little to me, but being a good mother to my children meant everything.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly. Fly blackbird…fly
Three Little Blackbirds became an official business in the Summer of 2008. The business went from cute birthday cakes for kids, to high-end wedding cakes and staged cakes for magazines and photo shoots. By the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, the business had an impressive online following and we were known worldwide for my hand painted fondant cakes. Three Little Blackbirds Cakes had over 350K followers on Facebook. And then in the Fall of 2012, I was paid to teach an edible hand painting class on Craftsy and by December of 2012, I was interviewed for Cake Central Magazine that ran a 2 page spread on the success of TLB and we were also featured in Brides Magazine.
It was all like a dream really. A wonderful, exciting dream that spread like hot wildfire and managed to burn me out internally in the process.
I could feel a distinct shift happening yet again. I no longer wanted to make 4 or 5 tier exquisite high-end cakes. I had been there and done that. I wanted to make cakes that simply tasted delicious and maybe didn’t look so perfect. At the same time, the trend for super fancy cakes was slowly starting to drop. More and more brides were wanting natural and “naked” cakes. Cakes with no perfect buttercream frosting, no fondant. Cakes that looked messy with icing dripping down the sides. My cakes had always been organic but I desperately wanted to go back to the basics. I wanted to make single tiered cakes with seasonal ingredients and not a drop of artificial food coloring, ever. I wanted to make cakes that looked like what our grandmothers and their mothers used to make. I wanted the flavors to speak for the cake and not the perfection of the design. I had this overwhelming urge to have land and start growing my own fruit for the cakes and raising chickens so I had my own supply of organic eggs. I suddenly, very passionately…wanted to live on a farm.
Becoming an Accidental Farmer
Life is like a boomerang. Whatever you put out there with a strong sense of conviction and energy, will come right back to you. I was good at focusing my brain intently on something, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
“I’ll believe it when I see it”
But I think it’s more accurate to say “you’ll see it, when you believe it.”
I realized sometime in my 30s that I had been doing this unconsciously my whole life. Visualizing what I wanted my life to look like and then taking steps to manifest that vision, rather than the other way around. My mindset in the Spring of 2013 was no different.
The house I was looking at on craigslist was in Washington State, a good 1300 miles away from me in the cramped, cookie-cutter suburbs of Colorado. It was a gentleman’s farm on 5 acres, complete with a chicken coop, a huge garden and an orchard. I stared at the pictures for hours, pouring over every detail that I could see in the small squares. The blooming apple tree that quaintly hung over the edge of the chicken coop. The grape arbor. The huge trees. The flowers. The horse pasture. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
…I wanna touch the Earth
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly
oh, it sounds so good to me…
And just like that, we were saying our tearful goodbyes to our family in Colorado while loading up the moving truck and heading out to Southern Washington. Our new farm was just over the border of Oregon on the other side of the Columbia river. We moved in on June 15th, 2013 and I can honestly say our lives changed forever. In July we bought our first 4 chickens. They were pretty red star pullets that all looked exactly the same and I was only just slightly terrified of them.
Three Little Blackbirds Cakes became Three Little Blackbirds Farm and we started selling fresh eggs and farm style baked goods instead of wedding cakes. I was starting over as far as the business was concerned, but it felt amazing. This…was what I was meant to do. I could feel it in my bones. For what felt like the first time in my entire life, I was truly and wholly…happy. I was a farmer. The proudest title I’ve ever owned besides “mother”, second to “wife.” My work had meaning. I was feeding people good food. I was rescuing animals and giving them a good home. I was giving my children experiences they would remember for the rest of their lives.
We moved to North Texas in the Summer of 2017 to pursue our dream of owning our own piece of land. Since then, we have been renovating our farmhouse, our land and our chicken coop, and it has been quite the adventure.
I’m so glad you’re here to follow along in our continuing journey…