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Our First Thanksgiving at Home

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We sat around the table feasting on yummy food and I realized that this was our first Thanksgiving at the homestead.  We got a much needed reprieve in the cold weather and the kids spent most of the week outside.  Everyone was around the table laughing, talking, and eating, and my heart was full.  This has been the most amazing week for us.  My father-in-law was able to come and help us build a bridge across the creek and for some reason, that bridge meant so much more to us than just a way across the creek.  We have already cleared about a quarter of an acre of trail around the property and we have been out every day with the kids.  Our boys are so much happier and easier to handle now that they are romping in the woods.  Suddenly, with the construction of that bridge, everything seems to be coming together for us.  What a difference it makes to walk across that creek and into the woods!  I never imagined that a few days work, two 40-foot telephone poles, and 40 treated 2×6 boards would  open up such a world of possibilities.  Mt heart feels full and happy!  We were sitting at the table last night and we asked our six-year-old what his favorite part of the week was.  His answer echoed all of our own answers, “eating Thanksgiving dinner with Grandpa and Gigi, and hiking out in the woods together”.  I feel so blessed and so thankful that we have finally made it to this point and can actually appreciate what it is we have here!

 

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Bridge Building

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We have been going full bore on the house to try and finish the major projects before winter hit.  All we had left before we were going to take a winter break was the closet door, some trim upstairs, and some sort of temporary stair railing.  Then Algebra happened.  Dave has been going to school on top of everything else we have been doing, and his eight-week Algebra class started and everything else stopped!  We faced the tough decision of either stopping the work on the house and passing Algebra, or dropping Algebra and finishing the house.  I voted for passing Algebra.  Every fiber of my being wanted to scream out to forget Algebra- who really needs that stuff anyway?  But sometimes we have to make decisions that have nothing to do with what we really want and more to do with what is best for the team.  The house can wait….  Dave said that sometimes he feels like our motto should be the Latin phrase, “Auribus Teneo Lupum”.  I tend to agree.  If you are not familiar with this phrase, it basically means that you have the wolf by his ears, so he can not bite you, but you cannot hold him by his ears forever.  Essentially, either decision that you make will have consequences, and none of the decisions is really all that great.  I do not mean this in a negative way, just realistic, that our time here, building this house, has been inundated with all sorts of decisions like this. So, in line with this phrase, we decided to drag out the house project and subsequent refinancing of debt in order to ensure that Dave can finish Algebra and still graduate in the Spring.

Since we have had some down time while Dave works on school (Haha!), we decided it was time to get to work building a bridge across the creek!  I wish the photos were better, but we have been weeks without true sunshine and cloudy photos just do not turn out as well.  We rented a trailer for our two wheel drive farm truck, picked up some 40 foot telephone poles, got the truck stuck in the field, hauled it out with our other truck, pulled the poles over to the creek with the also two-wheel drive tractor, pushed the poles across the creek with the same tractor, and await the come-along to come along in the mail so that we can finish hauling them across the rest of the way.  Once complete, we can buy the decking, fasten it to the poles, build a side railing, and off we go through the woods!  For three years now we have lived on the edge of the field with 25 acres of woods at our backs, with no way to access the woods without walking all the way down to the road and back up on the other side of the creek.  We decided it was way overdue to build a bridge and start making trails so that we can use the property for some desperately needed recreation!  In true Sims fashion, we spent a free day working instead of lounging about.  This is the kind of work that feels good, though, because it will get us access to the rest of the property!  Sometimes it is nice to pause the projects that never seem finished in order to complete a task that is immediately beneficial!  It was really sweet for me to get to watch our oldest steering the tractor while sitting on his Papa’s lap.  I have memories of driving the same model tractor while sitting in my Grandpa and Uncles laps!

 

Just Like That

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Just like that, the cold winds are blowing in on us and winter is fast approaching.  Early Autumn is my favorite season, but lately, late Autumn is my least.  All of the sudden, the looming shadow of all of the things that are not yet done seems to be threatening to swallow me up.  As I sit and listen to the wind howling tonight, and survey the forecast of suddenly dropping temperatures, I feel disappointment in my heart.  I wanted to be done with the house.  I know, it has only been three years, but I just wanted to be done.  I want to spend time with my kids, play games and watch movies. I want to have time again to sit and talk about the world with my husband.  I want to focus on educating my first grader without having to interrupt his schooling for more and more projects.  I want to be present.

We had not been to church in months, since the finish house marathon began again in earnest, and my oldest son was asking to go.  I loaded everyone up and drove into town for the evening service.  Funny that the pastor had a message just for me.  I do not remember the entire sermon, but several things popped out at me.  He was discussing part of Nehemiah and the people rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.  He talked about the things that he saw from the story that get in the way of our relationship to God and in the way of listening to God.  The first thing he listed was a loss of strength, and the second was a loss of vision.  I absolutely cannot remember the third, and the fourth was a loss of security.  We are experiencing these three things in totality!  We have lost all our strength to keep moving forward on this project.  We look around at all that needs to be done and find ourselves just not caring.  Vison?  We have definitely lost that!  What exactly are we doing here?  Why did we want to build our own house, and a rather small one at that?  Why did we leave the comfort and security of our last home to literally camp in a field in Minnesota?  As for the loss of security, that has happened as our tensions mount and we begin to snap at each other.  That has happened as more and more money gets poured into these four walls and more and more debt threatens to overtake us.  His message  did provide solutions, and very much provided a sense of hope to me, but I have to dig deep to find the mental reserves to do anything about it.

Tonight I spent about three hours moving things downstairs in anticipation of having carpet installed upstairs.  I am sitting on the sub-floor as I write this.  It is the last real reminder of how we have lived for so long, and I am overwhelmed by the mountains of stuff that I still have to move to get ready.  Five people living in a space that is under 900 square feet, and we have stuff packed into every available space.  All that stuff has to go somewhere, and while my husband is dutifully studying for a large math exam tomorrow, I have to figure out how to get it all downstairs and still manage my flock.  I feel so weary.  In the sermon, the pastor gave three specific things that we can do to get back on track, and of course, in my fatigued mom-brain, I cannot seem to remember what they are.  I know one of them was prayer.  One of them could perhaps be perseverance (or patience).  Since I cannot really remember what they are, I will stick to prayer!  Praying that I will find the strength to get all of this stuff moved downstairs while somehow managing to make my children feel loved, cherished, and cared for.  Praying that I will be able to get it all moved back before returning to work.  Praying that we will be able to finish up the trim, baseboard, and stair railing despite the challenges that winter brings when hauling materials and painting.  Praying that we will somehow be able to head into winter, into the oncoming wind, with our heads up, our hearts ready, and our Spirits renewed.

 

Garden Harvest in Spite of Madness

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We had a good year in the garden despite my serious lack of attention.  We planted early (the middle of May in Zone 3b) and promptly left to go on a two-week vacation.  We eagerly strained our necks coming down the driveway to see if anything had survived the lack of daily watering and attention.   Everything but the strawberries survived and thrived.  Days turned into weeks and I often found myself neglecting the garden when I should have been mulching, weeding, loving.  I was too busy, though, weeding, mulching, and loving my own three little people plants.  I wandered out into the garden every now and again to see what was happening, but I did not spend the hours upon hours that I used to spend.  Somehow, in spite of my attention, the garden provided us with an amazing abundance of food.  We have canned salsa, canned spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, frozen beans, carrots, and zucchini ready for making relish.  The cupboard has onions, potatoes, and oodles and oodles of roasted sunflower seeds.  The still plywood counter top boasts butternut squash, and the pumpkins are on the stairs awaiting carving.  There is applesauce, spiced apples, pineapple zucchini, and zucchini lemon pie filling.  A bag of still crunchy carrots sits in the fridge, ready for little hands to grab and munch.  The crisper drawer is full of the last of the corn, ready for boiling and rolling in butter and salt.

The garden looks lonely now, covered in brown leftovers and a few remaining pumpkins.  It is hard for me to believe that the garden could have provided us with so much food, for so little work.  It seems a little bit wrong.  Autumn is my favorite season, and this year is no different.  I love to see the last of the produce going into jars, bags, or boxes.  This will be the first year that we will get to carve pumpkins from our own garden- the kids have already picked out their favorites.  I will not say that I am ready for winter, but this year, for the first time, I look around and see what we have done and do not feel so overwhelmed by  all that still needs to be accomplished.

The kids are in bed after a late night by the fire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and watching the stars and northern lights.  The downstairs is almost done, the upstairs just awaiting carpet and trim.  The scented candle burns on the newly installed cherry windowsill.  Our little house on the edge of the field is finally starting to feel like a home.

 

The Risk and The Reward

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Ecclesiastes 11:
Invest in Many Ventures
1Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
2Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
3If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
4Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
5As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed
Or know how life (or the spirit) / enters the body being formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.

 

The Bible contains so many references to risk, and includes so many stories of people that must take huge risks to reap huge rewards.  When we came here, we felt so solid in God’s calling, so certain that our risk in giving up everything would reap benefits that we could not yet see.  We felt so sure that there was a deeper purpose for us here and building the house and starting our homestead were just the tip of the iceberg for what God would do for us.  It was a huge risk.  We literally sold everything and drove away with just what we could fit in the trailers (and maybe some at my parents)!!  We camped in a field and watched it rain and rain and rain while we attempted to plan how we were going to build.  So many times in so many ways, we were at the end of one rope or another, yet we prayed, and believed, and we made it through. So many times we could have literally been homeless, without shelter, or heat, or water, or food.  Although I know that not all risk is rewarded with success, I also know that there is never a reward without some risk.   Risk and reward. We gave up everything to come here and build OUR dream.  But once we realized that everything we needed was in God’s hands,  we really were never at risk of losing anything. We made a commitment when we came here, to put God at the center of our lives and build our house, and our family, around that faith.  Since being here, we have realized that none of this even matters without God, and that all of this could fade away, and we would still receive the reward of spending eternity with Jesus!

As we come closer and closer to completion on the house, I am constantly reminded of the risk and reward of what we have done, and see all around me the many ways that God has blessed us.  We came here with the child-like faith that God would provide for us.  Many people saw us as irresponsible, maybe a little crazy, and might have wondered if we would fail.  There were times that we wondered these things as well!  Our intentions when coming here were to risk everything to return to our lives and live each day with faith the size of a mustard seed.  We wanted to slow down, and stop barreling down the highway of technology and progress so that we could teach our children how to survive in a world that feels increasingly unsafe.  We really wanted to restructure our lives and put our faith in God first.  I feel like we were somewhat misguided initially with our vision of life here, because we often fought the knowledge that none of it was possible on our own, but ultimately, it led us down the path that perhaps God intended all along- to bring us back to the realization that the ‘reward’ in all of this was not that we were able to accomplish our dream, but that none of this even matters without centering our family, our lives, and our daily existence around God.  Had we not sold everything and driven here (the risk), we would never have realized what God really wants for our lives (the reward).

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In Ecclesiastes 11, the first six verses, the Bible talks about risk. These verses to me talk about what we cannot control, what we do not know, and what we can do anyway if we believe in a power outside of ourselves.  Verse 3 of Ecclesiastes 11 says, “If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth.“ This verse makes me laugh when I think about the rain and the many things in this building process that have slowed down or been impossible because of the rain.  No matter how much we wanted sunshine and dry weather, the clouds did not ask our permission before they made things wet. When it rained, it rained, and there was nothing we could do about it.  Just as obvious was the statement in verse 3: “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.”  Life happens. We are learning to deal with it and move on!

Not only do we not really control everything (anything), but we do not know everything (anything) either!   Verse 5 of Ecclesiastes 11 says, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”  Verse 6 of Ecclesiastes 11 closes the section by again urging us to take risks and not to be paralyzed by fear of failure.

Life is a risk. The Bible is pretty clear about that. I find it very easy to be anxious and frustrated when I forget  who holds the future.  I don’t know everything or control everything, but God does. So there are basically two options:  either get frustrated at the fact that I am not God, or else put my faith in the Lord and rejoice that God is God. Trust him. Life is an adventure, full of challenges and risks, and faith helps us to take those risks.

The last few days have really brought all of this home for me.  Yesterday we took time off from building to just BE.  The kids were lined up at the counter, helping me make dinner.  We had a great day playing at the beach, catching frogs, and stomping around in the creek.  I realized just how wonderful it was to have this space to be living in together, and everyone was clamoring to help me make dinner!  After dinner, the kids were climbing all over my husband and giving him hugs while I cleaned up. Tonight, again, I was struck by the many blessings of what we have here.  My husband was sitting on the couch playing the Ukelele while the boys played together upstairs.  I had our youngest in the kitchen, ‘helping’ me get ready for dinner.  We all sat down together (as we do every night) and prayed together.  This is the reward.  After three years, it is all starting to come to light for me.  And let me tell you, it was so worth the risk!

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Out of The Rain

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Hindsight is always so humbling, isn’t it?  Today it rained most of the day.  Although I have had a long stretch of time off of work (the one I actually get paid for), we decided that we would try to work on the house every other day and spend some time together as a family the rest of the time.  Today was a work day, actually, it was a painting day.  We are finishing the trim in the bathroom and starting on the trim upstairs around the windows.  I waited and waited all morning for a break in the rain.  The break came right after lunch, so I ran the trim down to the new building and set up to paint.  I painted off and on for a couple of hours.  While I painted I listened to the rain on the metal roof (one of my favorite sounds).  As usual, I spent the time alone thinking about our life, and reflecting.

Such a simple pleasure to be in the shop painting while the rain poured down.  Dave spent a little bit of time with me while the kids were sleeping and we laughed about all the times in the past three years when just having a roof over us would have been such a blessing.  We still cannot figure out why we talked ourselves out of building the shop before the house!  We could have had this huge space for the kids to play in the first year when it rained all but about ten days while we lived in the tent.  We could have had the tent set up in the shop!  We kept having to move the kitchen tent around because the ground underneath it would get so thick with mud and muck.  We could have had our ‘kitchen’ in the shop.  We could have had a space for the many tools and building materials so that  I wasn’t sharing the living room with them once we moved in to the house.  I did not think about all of this to make myself feel miserable for not making the right choice, I just thought about it because I realized that things often look much clearer in the rear view mirror.  I felt so blessed to be painting on a day that would have been unproductive.  We waited the rain out for so long.  We used to love to hear the rain and we came to dread it because of what it meant for our project.  Today, I loved the rain again.  I painted and hummed to myself while our little guy, up from his nap, played in the sand at my feet.  He didn’t remember the muddy days in the tent, the days on end stuck in a small camper, the panic of rain coming in the new windows because they had been sealed incorrectly the first time, the lost time when the rain pushed back the site work, the concrete, the roof, the septic, the well, etc., etc.  He just knew the rain made mud and it was fun to play in.  He looked up at me when I was almost done and said, “Mama, it is nice to hang out with you- just the two of us, while you are working.  It makes my heart happy”.  Me too, little buddy, me too.

Can’t Get There From Here (but we did)

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Funny how just looking at the house from the other end of the field gave me more perspective.  The kids and I walked down to the other end of the property to look at the progress on the shop.  Standing on the edge of the site, looking back at the house, I was hit with a memory of when we drove in from West Virginia and saw just open field in front of us.  For so long now, all I see everywhere I look is more projects, more work, not enough money, and not enough time.  Tonight, though, when I look at the house and outbuildings from the shop site, I see our home.  I see the garden built with love and hard work.  I see the sheds built with Sophie in a backpack sleeping.  I remember each and every moment of making it happen, but rarely get to really appreciate the view from afar.  There is more work to do yet, but it is neat to see the property with a wide angle lens instead of the magnifying glass.

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