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Sunrise on Snow

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The snow has already gone, but this was our morning sunrise about a week ago now.  Fall has always been one of my favorite times of year but this year has not been that great. It has rained most of September and October, and when we are usually walking outside in the evenings, working on the trail, or enjoying the last of the campfires, this year we are cooped up indoors watching the rain. We finally had a break in the weather this last week or so and we have been working almost every day to get ready to pour a concrete slab for the shop.  We snuck in some extra time to cut a new trail in the woods as well to build a winter fort to get out and spend time in.

This time of year has always been a time of reflection and introspection for me, but now with the three kids and already in the thick of homeschooling, I am too tired for any extra thinking! In some small way, even as I dread the bitter cold, I also yearn for the time that it gives me to sit and read or crochet,  a cup of warm tea in my hands. I have struggled with my emotions lately because coming here was so very different than we thought. My cousin reminded me of something though that I must hold on to. We built everything here. We came here with nothing and from our inner strength, determination, and perseverence, we have made this place. I forget that too easily in my tiredness!  God never promised that it would be easy, he only promised to be with us all while.  That is what comforts me the most and will lead us on, victorious!

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Happiness Is……

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We have been struggling to finish this sentence, but right now, I am not sure that I can because I am trying to still sort out the turmoil in my heart.  I have not posted in a while, not because I have nothing to say, but because I just have not felt like my heart is in it.  Some seasons fly by with ease and you hardly even notice where the time went.  Other seasons are so painful and slow that you feel like seconds are years.  The season that we are in now is hard.

We recently went to visit family in another state, and as always, we come home wondering if this is really Home, or just the place that we live for a while.  I think that we have always had that question.  Sometimes, we have left a place before we found the answer, and then it seemed to late to turn around and go back.  There are so many things that we miss about Alaska, West Virginia, and even places we have not yet lived.  We have been in absolute turmoil since returning back here.  For some reason, when we leave, we always question what it is that we are doing, and where we are headed.  While we were away, it was easy to see all of the things that we do not have here.  It was easy to visit with family and yearn for the connection that living near family affords.  It was easy to find comfort in the instant and unencumbered love that surrounded us.  It was easy to feel less alone, less isolated, and part of a tribe.  It was easy to not worry about where your children are or what they are doing (even if it involves taking a bath in the dog bowl) because you know that you are surrounded by people who will help mold, correct, and direct their little hearts and minds and bodies.  It was easy to find fault with all of the things that we have here, or more correctly, all of the things that we don’t.

But then, in the days following our return, we were reminded, just as intensely, about all of the things that we have here.  It was easy to spend time in the garden and feel at peace.  It was easy to see the kids running around outside, surrounded by nothing but God’s creation, and feel so thankful.  It was easy to enjoy the campfire in the back “yard” and know that what we have is good.  It was easy to see how all of the time we have together is a blessed thing.  And then it was not so easy to imagine ourselves anywhere but here.

We talked about making a list.  A list that would describe all of the advantages and disadvantages of living here versus leaving here.  We realized, though, that it would not help.  All of the things that are advantages here, would potentially be disadvantages elsewhere, and all of the disadvantages here, would most likely be advantages elsewhere.  So what do you do when your happiness lies on either side of the fence and you are sitting on the fence, unable to nibble on the grass because you are too afraid to jump?  I never imagined that pursuit of a dream would be so difficult.  I always envisioned my dream, our dream, as something romantic and wonderful.  I never in a million years would have thought that the actual journey towards obtaining the dream might wear us out so much that we are not even sure that the dream is what we want.

For now, we are trying to remember what happiness is, instead of what happiness isn’t.  Happiness is walking in the field at sunset.  Happiness is the kids cheeks stuffed full of cherry tomatoes fresh off the vine.  Happiness is sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows with our little family.  Happiness is catching frogs.  Happiness is the solitude and quietness that surrounds us.  Happiness is my almost second grader begging me to start school because, “Second grade is going to be SO much fun and I am NEVER going to go to school anywhere but home!”.  Happiness is walking hand in hand with my husband while we look at all that we have accomplished.  Happiness is knowing that regardless of all the things that we are missing, or want to have, we have more than many people ever dream of or hope for.  Happiness is having the Faith that God will lead us, direct us, and be beside us in all that we do.  That is what Happiness is…

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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 You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

–The Rolling Stones

I was having a conversation with a coworker this last weekend about still not totally being sold on Minnesota as our final destination.  After talking with her at length, she asked if we thought we would ever just go back to Alaska.  The next day, the chorus from this song kept playing over and over in my head.  I began to think about all of the many ways that we have exactly what we need here.  We have always had what we needed, we just often lose sight of that because it may not be what we think we want.

This Winter was tough on our family.  We began to feel the pressure of too many days indoors and thought our foundation might be cracking.  We found ourselves in late March with no signs of Spring, and I began to feel trapped and anxious.  We desperately wanted a vacation and made tentative plans to meet somewhere with my mother-in-law later in April.  Within a few days, I found out that my mother was in the hospital and also ended up on leave from work with a broken foot.  We considered making the ten hour drive to see my parents, but they insisted they did not want us to come.  My mother-in-law then also discovered that her plans needed to change so that she could visit an ill family member.  I was devastated.  I NEEDED that vacation.  We made another attempt to visit my parents, and again, we were turned away.  We also tried to figure out a way to meet up with my mother-in-law and it just did not seem to be working out.  It seemed that God was putting up roadblocks every way that I turned and my heart was heavy.  I felt so conflicted between my need for a vacation, my desire to be with my mom, and also with the desire to meet up with my mother-in-law, who seems to have an overflowing source of love for all of us just when we need it the most.  We finally decided that we just needed to get away from the snow, no matter where we went, so we made plans to drive down and visit my Uncle in Iowa.   No sooner had I finally confirmed a reservation at a hotel, when I heard from my dad that my mom was in the hospital again.  We decided that we needed to be there, even if my parents were not sure that THEY needed us there!  We made plans to leave three days later.  We got down there and I was able to spend time with my mother at the worst of her pneumonia, and as long as I live, I will cherish the time that I spent with her, holding her hand, singing to her, and repaying just a fraction of the many hours that she spent doing the same for me.  In the meantime, my mother-in-law was returning to be with her family member and decided to stop at my parents and visit us as well.  She was able to give us a much needed date night, shower the kids with love, and bless us with her wonderful heart.  My husband spent time with my dad, and it was probably one of the most difficult and also the most rewarding visits that I have ever had with my parents as an adult myself.  I never imagined how hard it would be to be a child, caring for my own children, while also feeling the pull to care for my parents.  By delaying our vacation again and again, God allowed us to be right where we needed to be, the moment that we needed to be there.

We returned home to Spring.  The snow that had persisted long into April had gone.  We sat out in the yard today, grilling dinner while we watched the kids playing.  My husband and I, hand-in-hand, began to talk about our many blessings.  We are blessed with a healthy family.  We are blessed with the ability to afford our lifestyle while I work part-time and he is in school.  We have more time together than we know what to do with.  We are able to home school our children.  Our kids can run around without fear on 40 acres in the country.  We have built a home here and we have a pretty good life.  It may not have turned out exactly as we wanted.  But I am pretty certain that it turned out exactly as we needed.

 

 

Mud Springs Eternal

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IMG_2184So I am not sure what happened to Spring this year, but it has become more of an eternal Winter, or my new favorite term, Springter.  Earlier in the week we were out exploring in the snow and slush and the creek ice looked rotten, but had not yet begun to overflow.  Then we woke up to a fresh coating of new snow, as if to laugh at our hopes that perhaps Spring might finally arrive in the Northland.  Today I went for as much of a walk as a broken foot and two little kids would allow, and there were signs everywhere that Spring had finally sprung!  The water was finally flowing over the ice in the creek. Unfortunately, the melting snow in the field is beginning to form its own creeks in our driveway.  The ground, still frozen solid, shows no willingness to accept any of the water, so it continues to pool and puddle and make mud holes that are only enticing to the little people I am responsible for cleaning!  The car is temporarily stuck in the muck in front of the house and we will attempt to bail it out when the ground freezes again tomorrow night.  The truck is down by the road, and I fear that our fate will be to walk the driveway for some time now, until Spring gives way to Summer.  This is only our third Winter here, but it seems really, really long.  The last two days we have been able to get outside more and it has given us a renewed sense of hope and purpose.  Days and days of being indoors had begun to take its toll on us and we were feeling caged, anxious yet bored, and completely unmotivated.  The warm days and sunshine have led us out to tackle the much and mire that our yard and driveway have become, while the kids zoom and race their bikes through the puddles.

My thoughts today are about the warming of the Earth and how it coincides with the warming of my heart, my mind, my spirit.  I have had a bit of a rough month, being off work with my broken foot, stuck inside with three bundles of energy.  At times, it felt as if every turn in the road brought me to another roadblock.  Every time I made a decision, something would happen to foil my plans.  I see, now, that at each and every point, the new road led me to an opportunity that I would not have had otherwise.  I am thankful and wish that I could not be so fickle and always remember that I am not in charge!

I am so looking forward to “break-up” as we called it in Alaska.  Planting the garden, getting fruit trees and shade trees, working on the trail in the woods, finishing the shop, having some fun, and exploring Minnesota.  I am so very thankful that Spring is finally here!

Life in the Slow Lane

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IMG_1888Just when Spring was beginning to peek its way around the corner, we got about 5 more inches of snow, blanketing everything yet again.  We are growing impatient with the snow and ever-growing puddles of mucky slush and mud that are growing around us.  Perhaps  a gentle (or not so-gentle)  reminder about patience came this Spring as well in the form of a broken bone.  In my infinite grace, I fell down the stairs with our brand new railing, and broke a chunk of bone off of my heel that is now floating around wreaking havoc on the soft-tissue.  So now I am relegated to hobbling around on crutches for a few weeks while I wait for breakup.  Perhaps a tiny blessing as I sit and ponder the Spring/Summer and all that we have planned.  Sometimes I think that we are given opportunities to be still and if we do not take them,  we are forced!  This is my opportunity to be still, to be present with my kids, to pour over garden catalogs and dream of plants and trees and chickens, to watch the snow melt and see the possibilities emerge, and to plan grand adventures.  This is the first time in our four years since moving here that we will finally be able to explore Minnesota, and go farther than the local hardware store.  The house is done enough for now, the shop can get done at a leisurely pace, and we can begin to explore our surroundings and discover what the North has to offer us.

A New Beginning

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I am feeling emotional and full of gratitude tonight.  When my husband and I dragged our two little kids out to the middle of nowhere to live in a tent and start a farm, we were so driven, and perhaps a bit lacking in reality.  So many people told us that it could not be done- but of course, we knew that it could be!  The plan, though, was to come out here and build our house out of pocket, with no debt, and live out our days with no mortgage, free and clear, making money off the homestead, and raising our kids on the land.  Most of that is all fine and good- minus the money part!  We came from West Virginia, where wages were half of what we were used to- and even as a nurse, we were barely above the poverty line.  Because of that, our savings were much less than expected.  In addition, we really had no idea what the costs would be for the many things we needed to do.  We never expected the high cost of the septic system, the well that went foot by painful foot to 120 feet, or the solar system.  Framing the house in was the easy and inexpensive part!  The money kept rolling out and eventually, we got to the point where we had to take on more debt if we were going to continue to work on the house.  We could have limped along and taken longer to finish the house, but with two little kids, pregnant, and then a third- we were pretty burned out on living with no water, no electricity, no flooring, etc.

We decided at some point last winter, that we should just refinance the land and pay off all our debt.  We would still be left with a fairly small mortgage, but no other unsecured debt.  What we did not realize, was that thanks to the crash of the economy ten years ago, things had become a little more intense with banking, mortgages, and requirements.  The house had to be 98% done in order to refinance.   As soon as Spring rolled in, we hit the ground running.  Every day that I was not at work, we were working on the house.  So many nights one or both of us worked long after the kids had gone to bed.  I worked off site, Dave went to school full-time, and on all our days ‘off’, we worked on the house.  Days dragged into months and it still was not finished by Christmas.  Our stamina and endurance had  pretty much left the building.  Finally, the first week in January, we were ready for the appraisal.  And now, less than a month later, we have a closing date.  It is a moment filled with such emotion for me.

This house……This house……  There are so many millions of thoughts running around in my head when I sit on the couch and look around at this place.  To most people, it seems small, maybe tiny, and simple, no-frills.  But let me tell you, there is a castle of emotions and memories built up in this place.  We never imagined when we came here, that building this house would be the last time we would see Dave’s brother alive.  We never imagined the sacrifice that each and every one of us would make, just to be here.  We could not have foreseen how difficult it would be sometimes just to get up and do it all again day after day.  We never thought about the toll it would take on our marriage, our relationship with God, or the experience of our son- being a toddler in such uncertainty and transition.  As I sit and look around, though, I know that we also never imagined the personal growth and STRENGTH that we experienced.  Even through all the pain, we are stronger and more steadfast.  Our family unit is stronger and  happier, because we now appreciate each and every moment where we can just enjoy being here.  Each moment of free time was earned.  Each comfort that most take for granted was bought and paid for with hard labor.

So many people have been rooting for us.  My brother and sister-in-law helped with the foundation work.  My husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law prepared and poured the slab and built the shell.  Dave and I worked the first year to insulate, frame inside walls, and run plumbing and electric lines. Extended family- aunts, uncles, grandparents, and parents sent unexpected financial gifts to keep us going and we were able to have the roof put on, install the septic tank, buy drywall, and stove pipe.  We hung drywall at night after the kids were asleep, with a borrowed drywall jack and homemade scaffolding.  Even having the camper to live in the second and third year was not without sacrifice.  I had to work a round of night shifts after Dave’s brother died and on the way home one morning, spun the truck on black ice, and totaled it.  We used the insurance money to buy the camper.   The camper was bought from a gentleman that had a stroke and was no longer able to care for it- even his sacrifice unknowingly impacted our future.  Then last year we went from living in a construction zone, to living in a home.  We got tongue and groove up, flooring, carpet, trim, and cabinets.  Sometimes when I lay in bed at night I am amazed by how much this place has changed in a relatively short time.  I feel like so many things happened together that resulted in the puzzle being complete, and had any one of those things not fallen into place, we would not be where we are now.

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I imagined that I might feel disappointed because we wanted to move here and build mortgage free.  Instead, I feel light.  A burden has been lifted off of our shoulders that was threatening to crush us.  For me, I felt the burden of making ends meet and needing to make sure our many obligations were met, while still providing for five people’s needs, and continuing to purchase things for the house.  For Dave, the burden was watching the kids while I worked, going to school, and spending every day that I was off, working on the house.  We limited our fun because of financial constraints, but even if we had been able to afford it, he felt a burden to work on the house in his ‘free’ time.   The freedom that we both feel is unbelievably amazing.

I am so thankful to everyone who has had a part of building this place.  I am thankful for my husband, for his immense knowledge and technical abilities, his strength and endurance to work day after day without complaint.  I am thankful for my eldest son, for being willing to live in a tent and forgo all the comforts of home, to sacrifice his playtime for so long, so that we could build and work.  So many days he asked me, “Mama, is today a play day, or a work day?” I would have to tell him it was a work day and feel bad because there were so many times he begged me to play instead.  I am above all, thankful for God, for His unfailing, unending, unencumbered love and grace.  He led us here and we knew that if we came here and built our house from the foundation up and placed him at the center, that our lives would be forever changed.  We came here looking for a new beginning, but even at this stage of the game, I am not sure that we realized that sometimes a forest has to completely burn down in order for new growth to happen, and a stronger forest to emerge.

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When Good or Easy Just Aren’t Enough!

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After living in the frozen expanse of tundra in Alaska, totally dependent on oil for our very existence, we decided that we wanted to find a way to be more self-sufficient.  In our minds, that meant leaving Alaska for a more temperate climate.  Haha to that, because now, of course, we are in Minnesota, which seems to be much harsher than parts of Alaska!  When we landed in West Virginia , we were committed to healthy eating, raised ducks for eggs, and began gardening in earnest.  I canned anything and everything and began making most of our food from scratch.  When #1 was born, we fed him organic or homemade everything.  Then came #2 and life became a little more difficult.  We still had every intention of being self-sufficient and finding our land to homestead, but ‘easy’ or convenient things began to creep back in.  It became easier to just buy quick snacks for the munchkins than make them. it became more convenient to buy frozen food for everyone while I was at work, instead of preparing homemade meals.

When we moved to our land when the kids were three and six months, we were still completely unprepared for the harshness of the path we had chosen.  Living in a tent with our ‘kitchen’ set up across the field, I began to fall back even more on easy and convenient foods.  We bought things in boxes and cans to avoid things spoiling in the cooler.  I cannot really remember what #2 ate as his first foods, but I am pretty sure that it was not organic or homemade anything.  Minutes became hours became days became months became years.  Three years later, and with #3 in the picture also, life is, well, complicated.   I have found myself straying so far from the intended goal and piling my grocery cart with convenience foods for the kids, quick meals for the days I am at work, and taking consolation in the fact that most of it is, at least, organic.

Today while shopping at the local market, I had the amazing privilege of only having one child in tow.  #2 is at the stage where he is absorbing everything and asking as many millions of questions as he can fit into one breath.  As we rolled up and down the aisles, he began by asking if we could buy this or that.  When he would point to something really awful and ask if we could buy it (like Little Debbie Ho-Hos), I would tell him it wasn’t good for him, not healthy.  He began to point at things and ask if they were good for him or not good for him.  When we got to the last aisle, he pointed at some ice cream sandwiches.  His next comment completely changed my heart and has led me to feel completely renewed in our goals of self-sustainability and healthy living.  Awesome how a little dude could impart so much wisdom as to be life-changing, and not even know it!  He says to me, “Momma, why is it that something so good is not good for you?”.  In that moment, I laughed out loud.  Isn’t that the truth?  Sometimes, things that make our lives easier, or seem really good, are just not that way at all.  Sure, it is easier to buy a box of cereal bars so that my kids can feed themselves in the morning while I am trying to stumble out of my never-gonna-be-a-morning-person stupor, but is it really better?  So today, I made peanut butter energy bites.  I made homemade cereal bars.  I served fresh salad and stroganoff for dinner and dreamed about the day when we could be using our own eggs, our own meat, and our own veggies (have not figured out how to do that yet in the winter in Minnesota).   After the first two years of house-building, even thinking about the garden exhausted me (that might have something to do with the three kids under five as well).  I am finally starting to remember, though, why we came here to live this way.  I have begun looking through catalogues at fruit trees, planning the garden expansion, and thinking about chickens.  It is time to start doing things again, not because they are easy or good, but because they are good for us- for our bodies, our hearts, our spirits, and our minds!  And this, little Jacob, is why something that seems so good, might not be good for you, and something that seems hard, might be best!

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