First, be honest about what you want


Someone once asked me to think of a moment in my childhood that was really nice. I thought of one.

Wait. You think of one, now. Quick. Just any one…

So I thought of a time: it was in my grandparents' huge yard with fruit trees and flower gardens and grass for running. And it was so peaceful.

What you remember as really nice tells you something about where you belong. Whatever you thought of, learn something from that.

Where I belong is in nature. And in quiet. When I lived in New York City, I spent most of my time in Central Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Most people who live in New York City say they spend a lot of time in Central Park. I almost lived there. I thought I would die if I didn't go there each day. (Wait. Here’s a test to see if you belong in New York City. I definitely don’t.)

When I drove up to the farm, the first time, I knew I belonged there. I think I fell in love with the farmer that second. And I saw my whole life as the process of coming to grips with the fact that I am not as fast and cool and cutting edge as I wish I were. I do not belong in a city.

So you'd think, now that I'm marrying the farmer, I'd finally get my farm. But I don't. Farm land is not like any other possession in the world. Laws of marriage and property and value do not apply. We went to a lawyer to get a prenuptial agreement, and it turns out that it's not marital property. Instead, it's everyone's security, and everyone's life long dream, and everyone's connection to the earth.

So maybe I will not get to live on this farm. It's ironic, because when the farmer first started seeing me, he wouldn't really do it unless I agreed that I could come live on the farm. And I said yes, I could, way before I really thought I could, because I wanted to be with him so badly.

Now I love the farm. But maybe, the farmer will have to buy different land. It's not clear. Surely, I will love whatever land we live on, because it will always be a farm. But I really love this farm. It's where I fell in love with the farmer, and the country, and where my kids looked happier than they have been in years.

I've never posted a photo of the farm because I am scared to want it. I'm scared to want to live there because I can't really control if I live there. It's between the farmer and his parents. But today, I'm posting a picture. Because part of coping with adult life is allowing yourself to want something even if you are not sure you'll get it.

So many of the questions I get from people are questions they answer themselves, in the very email where they ask the question. They ask if it's okay to want what they want because they're so scared to want it: A book, a blog, a job change, lots of money, less money. It's scary to want things in life. But if you don't know what you want, you can't even know which way to move.

The trick is to admit what we want, even if we are scared we won't get it. We can only be who we are. And if we are disappointed, later on, well. I guess that's just part of being a grown up and knowing what we want.

So. This is what I want. To live here, on this farm.


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  1. Mike Darga
    Mike Darga says:

    I hope it works out Penelope. And even if it doesn’t, it’s easier to find another farm to live on than it was to realize you wanted to live on a farm, right?

    Thanks for this. It’s aptly-timed for some decisions I’m trying to make right now too.

    Mike Darga

  2. richa
    richa says:

    Ok, I’ve been following ur blog for more than a yr now..and I rarely ever comment.
    But this time had to stop by.

    Here’s wishing you what you want – a happy life on THIS farm!

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Good luck. That place looks gorgeous. (I live in NZ so I know a thing or two about gorgeous places)

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this post by the way. My ‘fond’ memory from my childhood is being awarded 17 prizes on one single day, for academic and sports achievement.

    I am now challenging myself to memorise 300 pages of study material within the next 24 hours. Just because I can. Will update and tell how I went.

  5. malcontent7
    malcontent7 says:

    Is it the location or the lifestyle you want? A jet set lifestyle from this location will be very difficult.

  6. Alex Lickerman, MD.
    Alex Lickerman, MD. says:

    Yeah, fear of disappointment is a big one. But disappointment only stings for a little while and then your horizons move on. We think when we want something so badly that our entire happiness depends on it. When we don’t get it and instead get something else (sometimes even something better) and time passes, we realize that was a delusion. Want what you want with all your might (how else will you be able to muster the determination you need to get it?) but the path to your goal is rarely exactly what you think it is, and if you don’t get it, there will always be something else you want in the future just as badly you may.

  7. Brad
    Brad says:

    “I’m scared to want to live there because I can’t really control if I live there. It’s between the farmer and his parents.” Sounds like the parents own the farm and they don’t especially want you there. Wow, thanks for the support, Mom and Dad.

  8. Chuck
    Chuck says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Though this won’t be the most eloquent prose, I wish you and the farmer all the best. May your lives together be better than anything either of you could have imagined.

  9. Lois Geller
    Lois Geller says:

    The farm looks beautiful. Any place would look just as good to me if I know that you and the farmer and the kids are together.
    I have a friend who lives in a “not so great” place and she’s just as happy as I’ve ever seen her in her life. Others live in mansions and are quite miserable.
    So place is always second over the people your with there! End of my Monday Morning Sermonette.
    P.S. Last night I spent the evening and early morning hours with a dear friend in the hospital, as her husband
    was struggling with his life. He was a wonderful guy and she loved him so much. He passed away, and I was thinking as I drove her home that we have to grab minutes, hours days of good times with each other…and be grateful for them.

  10. Harshi
    Harshi says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I came to your blog after coming across an article in Inc. managzine that mentioned it. I love it. i am being drawn to read your blog everyday. I loved that you posted a photo, and I truly wish you get to be here on this farm. You know, I feel touched with the fact that you not just write about yourself, but you care about the reader as well. I have been feeling stuck with decision-making lately and your words gave more impetus to what I was thinking as well. And I did learn something from the memory I recalled from my childhood where I felt very happy – playing on huge construction sand mounds with other kids. Maybe I need to find a way to do something like that :-).

    Best to you,
    Thanks for a wonderful blog again. I am yet to read all the other pieces you have written. Look fwd to that.

  11. JD Brunner
    JD Brunner says:

    My childhood memory called to mind at a moments notice: playing in the leaves with my sister on my parent’s farm. I always wanted to live in a large city, and actually did for a few years. But I live now on five acres in the country with my husband and son. Thanks for reminding me that I have found my place. And am very happy. I wish you the same.

  12. Heather
    Heather says:

    “What you remember as really nice tells you something about where you belong. Whatever you thought of, learn something from that.”

    Great words of wisdom, and something everyone should explore, particularly before they are married and especially during their marriage. Good for you for identifying your inner farm girl early on in your relationship. I’ve got an inner country girl, and my husband will never share this, and it’s a missing piece of our puzzle.

  13. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    My happy childhood memory was teaching my grandparents dog to go through a homemade obstacle course. This was competing with my second favorite happy memory of finally getting a family friend’s dog to settle and calm down at his first big party when he was terrified of everyone around (he had been likely abused before our friends took him in).

    It makes sense then that what makes me happiest now are my hours with the local shelter–working with the dogs there so they learn skills and confidence and get adopted into great families.

    Good luck getting the farm. I hope it works out for you.

  14. MJ
    MJ says:

    Good post. THE most important thing is to be who and what we really are – NOT cool and cutting edge and New Yorky if that isn’t right. The internet is a hindrance here, as we can all see so many fake, mannered presentations of cool (the writer must live in Brooklyn, the cool girl must wear just the right vintage and have sparrow tee shirts and china). It’s all artifice and bullshit – the last thing any of us should ever think about is how we appear, or if we are cool and cutting edge. That way lies mediocrity.

    Best wishes – I hope that all works out.

  15. Lucie
    Lucie says:

    Hmmmmm…so how does his family feel about your relationship? Sounds like an issue of trust at the heart of things.

    My family owns and operates a family farm and has for many generations. My father and uncle run the farm(s) along with my grandparents. My father, stepmom and their children actually live on the main farm. My family has set up the business so that in case of divorce or death the property and business cannot go to either my aunt or stepmom. The business can only be passed on to a blood relative (the children and grandchildren).

    My aunt and stepmom can work on the farm and earn a salary but they are not be able to assume any type of ownership or leadership role within the business. My family incorporated the business many, many years ago.

    So, it can be done. My family and many other families have been able to find a solution to this type of situation. Patience and good luck!

      • anonymous
        anonymous says:

        eh? I wouldn’t call that patriarchy – if it could only be owned or run by male children, yes, but in this case it seems to be just a matter of blood relations (who in this case happen to be male) as opposed to people who married into the family (in this particular case the females)… and in this day and age – with Divorce as common as it is – I can see why people would do that.

    • Bob
      Bob says:

      The Penelope I know would never agree to waive all future ownership rights. And, perhaps, there lies the problem.

    • Lucie
      Lucie says:

      I am sorry that my message wasn’t clearer. The system was put into place to protect the family business in event of divorce or a lawsuit. If a spouse of the farm owner is sued there is no legal recourse to go after the farm.

      The intention is to keep the business within the family. It is based blood lines not gender. I can inherit the farm and family business, as well as my half sister and female cousin. We have equal rights with all the male heirs.

  16. Grace B.
    Grace B. says:

    It’s a beautiful farm. I understand beeter why your boys are so happy there. I wish you and the farmer the very best. I have a feeling things will work out….many years from now you’ll both be rocking in chairs in the front porch, still holding hands. -grace

  17. Tina Flammer
    Tina Flammer says:

    bravo. it takes people lifetimes to figure out what you just wrote. and many folks never do figure it out.

  18. Molly
    Molly says:

    For those of you accusing the farmer and/or his family of being “unwelcoming” to Penelope, please do some research or talk to someone who has lived and worked on a farm to understand. A farm isn’t a just a house on some land. It’s also a heritage, a beloved place, a definition of self and family, and, perhaps most fundamentally, a livelihood and family business. Penelope seems to understand and accept this; I don’t understand why others are having such a hard time with this.

    I grew up on a farm in a farming community. I’ve seen countless families blow up when someone died or fell ill and it wasn’t clear to whom the farm should go and who was responsible for what. Seriously, second generations of families not speaking to each other or attending family holidays and weddings because one sibling ended up with the home farm and another was cut out. There has been similar strife on both sides of my own family surrounding farm succession and sales, though not as severe. It’s complicated, both in a business sense and an emotional sense. As the owners of the business, it *is* the farmer’s and his parents’ decision about how to handle business ownership, planning, and succession. The farmer’s plans for a new family and how he wants to run the farm will play into this, along with countless other factors. I wish them good luck in figuring out a very difficult and emotionally fraught business decision and congratulate Penelope on her understanding of the complex process, especially in light of her personal wishes.

    • Dan
      Dan says:

      Molly, a farm is a business just like any other business. Why should we treat the property any differently than any other business? The amount of subsidies and handouts we give to farm businesses in America as taxpayer’s is BEYOND ridiculous.

      • Molly
        Molly says:

        I fundamentally disagree with the assertion in your first sentence, which should be clear if you read my comment. If you’re asking why property laws regarding farms are different than those for other properties, I don’t know the answer and didn’t attempt to address that question. I suggest consulting a legal professional. As a guess, I would venture that they developed from the fact that family farms ARE fundamentally different than many other businesses, as they combine the functions of business, home, stewardship, community, and heritage. Surely, some other family-owned business serve these multiple functions, as well, and I would guess that they, too, are managed differently to serve their multiple functions, rather than to strictly meet business goals.

        I agree that federal farm subsidies are huge and mostly misdirected. We’ve built a system where commodity farmers simply cannot make a living without government payments; subsidies have been internalized into the business model (e.g., farms loans and land prices are calculated based on included subsidy income). If you talk to farmers, many would tell you that they would LOVE to operate independently in a truly free market and not need government subsidies. That said, if you eat, you should care about agriculture and be willing to contribute to the food system. Since American consumers pay nowhere near the true cost of what it takes to produce food, expect to contribute through taxes that support subsidies, rising healthcare costs, and other hidden costs until this changes.

      • Dan
        Dan says:


        I used to live in Madison and actually worked with a woman who grew up on a farm and she said most farmers were horrible businessman and my roommate at UW-Wastewater said his father lost his farm in Delavan for this very reason, he borrowed more money for new equipment than he could ever pay back.

        I disagree we don’t pay “the true cost” of what we eat. Where in the world do you get that idea? Not only do we pay it, American corporate farms are so efficient, we are a huge agriculture exporter, in spite of having 307 million of our own to feed.

        An illustrative example of why farm subsidies should immediately end is the buy out of tobacco farmers. Do you know what happenned when tobacco subsidies ended, here where I live in Tenn? Yup, the farmers changed their business models and now grow profitable items, set by the free market, like soybeans. There is no need to subsidize farms with tax dollars, we simply make it unprofitable, due to over supply, for farmers to grow those crops without subsidies, and encourage them to do so.

        Again, farming is a business just like any other business. Is a home office not a home business like farming? Should I get special treatment if I decide to make one of our four bedrooms into a home business? Give me a break, and it’s not just farmers who wish to give their land/home down to their children. Most homeowner’s wish to do this, real homeowner’s, not those buying with no equity.

  19. blacky
    blacky says:

    Do you have to own the farm to live on it? Why would the issue of the farm not being marital property prevent you from being able to live on it with him?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This question actually goes pretty far to clarify the discussion above, about why a farm is a different kind of property than other marital property. If you want to farm, you want to live on the land you farm. And if ownership of the farm is messy on paper, then you never really know if you can live there. It is, technically, day to day.

      Most people do not need to live on the property where their job is. Most people do not work their whole live for property where they work instead of cash. And most people do not pass their businesses down within their family.

      I don’t even understand everything, frankly. But I understand that I started out with a really arrogant view of how I know business so I know how farming business should work.

      The first thing about understanding another culture is understanding that understanding takes time.


  20. Jake
    Jake says:

    Wisconsin has tighter non-marital definitions than other States. If marital money & resources are used to improve the land; you could still end-up with a partial marital share.

  21. Dan
    Dan says:

    Do the farmer’s parents know or care that you wished to abort their grandchild? I assume since you wish to marry this man, that the child was his and not someone else’s.

      • V
        V says:

        I’m sorry but Dan’s question has been crossing my mind too ever since Penelope announced she was getting married.

      • Dan
        Dan says:

        Ask a manager or whomever you are, my parents insisted my sister not put up her fatherless child up for adoption so they could know their grandson, much less abort him.

        Do you not have kids? As a father/mother, we have a right to know about our grandkids and whether or not our infant daughter wishes to dispose of them. Do you not want grandkids? I am sure my mother would be less than thrilled if we had wanted to tear our daugther apart from limb to limb.


    • Erin
      Erin says:

      What business is it of theirs if Penelope and the farmer conceived by accident and she wished to exercise her law-given right to have an abortion?

      • V
        V says:

        I’m not questioning the right to have an abortion.

        I’m questioning the decision to announce the desire to have an abortion at the place of employment, Twitter and the media. Like it or not, people get hurt and/or offended. It can then spill into the personal life.

        I believe this is why women are silent about it at work.

        For every woman I met who was grateful for an abortion, there was an equal number who craved to conceive, and for them it is like a kick in the gut when someone announces their desire for an abortion (especially coldly like the Twitter Penelope sent.)

        And yes believe it or not, men also can get hurt too.

        Penelope has already said that she has trouble judging social situations because of Asperger’s. Well I think the Twitter was another case of that.

        (and I’m sorry that this post is here and not with the original comments on the twitter blog, but it took me a couple of weeks to understand why I was so upset by the tweet.)

    • Kay Lorraine
      Kay Lorraine says:

      Dear G-d: Is there no way that you/someone can simply permanently banish Dan from the comments section? We have all heard everything that he has to say about abortion and he can’t seem to talk about anything else and we’re soooooo sick of his one-note propaganda. Can’t you please help us? We’re doing the best we can down here. Thank you and amen.

  22. Chickybeth
    Chickybeth says:

    Oh Penelope, I do hope you get what you truly want! It is hard enough to know what you want in this life. If you finally discover it, you should be able to have it. Good luck!

  23. Isao
    Isao says:

    I have been living in the city or suburb as far as I can remember. But as I recall, my happy moment in my childhood was when the whole family climbed a tall sandhill sitting nowhere in the coastline of Malta, after getting almost lost for a couple of hours or so. Everyone got exhausted but I clearly remember the triumph moment.

    My analysis of this result is as follows.
    – I love the sense of getting lost and wander around.
    – Interacting with people is not my first priority.
    – Even though I believe I am a city-dweller, maybe I am better off in the countryside, especially close to the ocean (really scary thought).

    Thanks you for the stimulating topic, as always.

  24. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I swear we were separated at birth because this is exactly how I felt when I was dating my now-husband. I, too, was divorced and scared to want to be married to a man I was crazy about after being in a horrible marriage the first time around. He had a gorgeous house and I used to do the exact same thing–wish I lived there. When we were dating he had to put the house on the market because he couldn’t afford to keep it. I was devastated, and so was he. Turns out it didn’t sell despite being on the market for a month–thanks to the horrible market at that time–and then he ended up getting a huge raise and being able to keep it after all. A year later we got engaged and married and now here I am.

    I totally believe in The Secret, btw. Not to sound crazy but I swear it works–and by posting this picture and allowing yourself to want it, I’m sure it will work out for you.

  25. geetu
    geetu says:

    “Because part of coping with adult life is allowing yourself to want something even if you are not sure you'll get it.”
    That’s one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever come across. Simply loved it !

  26. MLee
    MLee says:

    A friend sent me this link – your story is lovely and I hope you get your farm and a happy family too. When I think of golden moments in my childhood, though, I think of time spent with my father, who died when I was young. I’m so glad I was able to really enjoy those moments – even though I realize now that some of my favorite moments in my childhood took place sitting in horrible traffic, which doesn’t lend itself to beautiful photographs. :)

    The places we go and the things we do don’t matter nearly as much as having people who love us and want to be there beside us. If you don’t enjoy that when it’s given to you, you can’t ever get it back later. Even in hard times, that’s what can get you through.

  27. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    “After a time, you may find that “having” is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as “wanting.” It is not logical, but it is often true.”

    — Spock, “Amok Time”, stardate 3372.7

  28. Sarah Evilsizor
    Sarah Evilsizor says:

    Aloha, Penelope!

    Congratulations! It has been a bit since I read your blog and on returning today I find you are marrying the farmer. Wishing you and your family the warmest,


  29. Leftcoast
    Leftcoast says:

    Wow … In some ways this is your most revealing, and perhaps the most mature, blog yet.

    I should clarify what I mean by mature. The themes of self-discovery, passage, yearning and compromise are themes of folks in their 30’s and 40’s, themes we all work through after we’ve handled lifes thrills and disappointments. The are the themes of those who’ve lived a little. And being able to step PAST them and place your heart out on a figurative (and as the picture shows, literal too!) limb.

    I grew up in the California foothills and worked on my uncle’s farm/ranch with its two red barns, white broad board fences and beautiful oak covered hillsides. I loved it dearly and knew every acre. In the 90’s that farm was plowed under to build a country club and the hills reshaped for either putting greens or homesites to the extent that it’s almost unrecognizable. The decision was unarguably rational and family security achieved but also dreams died and something beautiful was lost forever.

    See? Self-discovery, yearning and compromise.

    I truly hope you and your soon-to-be husband can find a way to live your own dream.

  30. LydiaMcD
    LydiaMcD says:

    Thank you, that was sweet.

    You were right with the memory thing, and it made me so happy to realize the same thing–where I belong is on a farm, in that perfect link between nature and civilization. Not too much of one or the other. This week I’m closing on my own 33-acre farm and I feel that same inner joy and excitement every time I set foot on it. Best of luck in finding a farm that can truly be yours, whether it’s this one or another.

  31. RickSmithAuthor
    RickSmithAuthor says:

    lovely post. really enjoy your honesty – it is so refreshing in a mainstream blog.

    One way to know what you want in a career is to stop climbing someone else’s career ladder, to stop wanting material things like title’s and offices, and go after the actual job that is best suited for you. First, discover the intersection of your strengths and passions (i created a free tool to do this – Then migrate your career toward a job that leverages these strengths and passions every day!

    its ok to want. But make sure you are wanting the right things, based on your own road map.

    Rick Smith

  32. Jillian Davis
    Jillian Davis says:

    Penelope, your writing on moving to the farm (I’ve only seen two posts) is for some reason, incredibly interesting. Your words leap out of the page when you write about this bent in your life.

    Keep it coming!

    Fan, Jillian

  33. Jacqueline
    Jacqueline says:

    Could you subdivide off the smallest legally allowed parcel of land and build a house on that? Then you and the farmer would still be right there, but you’d have your own home with separate title and ownership than the farm.

  34. Julia
    Julia says:

    First, just have to say I love your blog Penelope.

    I recently got married and within a few months relocated to a large city for my husband’s job. Having never lived in a big city but always feeling like I should (for some reason I equated big city living with success), I was eager and enthusiastic to get our things packed, ditch the car, and take on newlywed life as a “chic city couple.”

    Six months later, the newness has worn off and it turns out I’m not a city person at all. My husband is, but I’m not at all. I kept this inside from my husband, family and friends for the first five months, as I assumed there was something the matter with me for not liking living in a luxurious high rise, amazing views, having a door person, and taking in the sights and opportunities my new city has provided for me. I guess I just assumed I’d grow to like it, but honestly, I just don’t think its for me. At all.

    Thanks for your post. It is insane how dead on this is with my life right now. I have fantasies about packing up my things and leaving our cab lined street and moving into a big ol’ house on a quiet road in the middle of the country. In my daydream, I wake up every morning, sit on a chair outside, drink my coffee and hear nothing but the wind and birds. The farm looks beautiful. Congratulations.

  35. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    Penelope, you have taken on and mastered one of the most intriguing of all coming-of-age indicators: longing. Or “yearning,” as some of the responses have called it. You address longing in a clear and present and poignant manner in this post. You are NOT brazen in this post, nor bombastic, nor dramatic. It is true tenderness that you have captured and sent to your blog fans. To me, it is a beautiful thing . . .

    At the same time, right beside the poetry of the post, you have shown that you have analyzed and factored in practical concerns. You say you have seen your boys happier on the farm than anywhere else . . . This is a huge mark in the “pro” column.

    And you have used terms synonymous with maturity: adult and grown-up. This move in your life has brought out the best in you, as a mom, as a writer, as a grown-up. Sounds like a good direction to take.

    Go ahead and long for Plan A, and then create a Plan B, as well. You will know how to do this . . .

    I hope the Farmer is as comfortable with longing-and-letting-go as you are.


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