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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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The Lazy Life

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We were having a conversation with someone last week about ‘homesteading’.  This was the first time we had ever met this person and he introduced himself and said that he had heard that we were living with solar power and trying to be self-sufficient.  He mentioned several reality T.V. shows about homesteaders and his next comment was that he had the impression that many of the people who choose to live that way are lazy.  They homestead because they do not want to work.  I seriously laughed out loud and tried to decide if I should walk away from the conversation or try to re-educate this person about our life.  He went on to further dig himself in a hole as we tried to explain to him that his view of reality was just not accurate.  After the conversation ended, my husband and I both attempted to rationalize where these views came from and what exactly he meant.  I believe that this person must really think that what he sees on television is an accurate representation of life and that his narrow view of the world is based on this assumption.  I have thought many times this week about his comment and chuckled to myself as I went about my day.  Perhaps he is right………

Perhaps I am lazy because I really enjoy waking up and coming downstairs in my PJs to make breakfast for the kiddos and read together on the couch under a blanket instead of working every day in the rat race.

Maybe I am lazy because I really think it is cool that we can spend an hour or two on formal education for my first grader and spend the rest of the day cooking, playing, running around outside, and learning by doing things instead of sending him on a bus to be gone all day.

It feels lazy some days to get to spend all day out in the sun picking weeds and tending the garden so that we can harvest food to eat.  It definitely feels lazy to pop open a can of homemade spaghetti sauce for dinner and not have to go get it at the store!

I certainly felt lazy when I needed to do laundry in the middle of a string of cloudy days and I had to run to the store for gas, fill up the generator, start the generator in the 20 degrees below zero temperatures, load the washing machine, and then fold the laundry in the comfort of my home.  This was so much better then last winter when I had to load all three kids into the car for a three hour long adventure to the laundromat!

No question about the pure laziness involved in coming down to the kitchen and having a fridge to open, a full stove to cook in, and a sink to wash dishes in!  It genuinely felt lazy after using a cooler or a camper fridge for two years, washing in a utility sink then dumping the 5-gallon gray water bucket every day, and cooking on a two-burner camp stove.

So many things about our life now are certainly lazy compared to how they were when we were building.  And if it is lazy to have a weekly movie night together on the couch with popcorn, and lazy to spend the warm winter days out cutting trails in the woods with a pair of garden clippers and a machete, or lazy to make pizza together with the kids instead of throw a frozen one in the oven- well, then I guess we are certainly lazy!  Sometimes it seems lazy, I guess, to work less and play together more, and have to do everything ourselves instead of pay someone else to do them for us.  We could just both work all the time and pay other people to do all these things for us!  It does make me chuckle, though, that there are people out there who think that TV is real life.  In my mind, we are really no different than anyone else out there- we just have different priorities and different things that we value above others. Does that make us lazy?  Maybe, but if so, I am the luckiest lazy person I know!

 

Confessions of The Heart

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I have had something brewing in my heart for quite some time now, and I feel compelled to share it, in the hopes that my words may help someone else with a heavy heart.  Before I do, I have to provide a warning.  If you are one of those mommas who has always wanted to have children since you were a child yourself, couldn’t believe your luck when you did, and love every minute of your life, then please skip over this post!  I do not mean to say that I do not admire you beyond belief and wish many times a day that I had your heart, but sadly, I do not.  I really do not even like to utter the words that are begging to come out of my mouth, but I am tired of pretending, tired of smiling, and acting like this is the best thing ever.  The truth:  I do not like being a momma.  There… I said it.  Utter gasps of disbelief if you will, or sigh, because maybe you are one of those people too and it feels good to hear someone else say it for you.

Do not, for a minute, get me wrong.  I LOVE MY CHILDREN.  I love each and every inch of each and every one of them in a way that I never knew possible.  I love who they are, who they will become, and who God made them to be.  I am just overcome day after day by all of the things about motherhood that drain my spirit. I do not like the snot, the poop, the bickering, the whining, the disobedience, the constant testing, the consistent corrections over and over and over again.  I do not like ME when I lose the ability to be patient.  I do not like how I feel when I need to go outside for my own mental health, and I spend 45 minutes getting various feet, hands, heads, and wiggly bodies into bibs, boots, hats, mittens, and coats only to have one kid need to pee and another one want to go inside 5 minutes after being out.  The list could go on forever, but I just am not finding joy right now in the millions of mini-moments that make up our days.  I miss being able to have a conversation with my husband and complete the thought from start to finish.  I want to look at him and feel that new love joy in my heart instead of profound exhaustion from all the many needs we have to fill all day.  I want to pee alone.  I want to read a book under a blanket on the couch and have QUIET.

For Christmas, I got a book that looks outstanding if I can find the time to read it.  It is just for me- the momma that does not like her job.  It is a God-centered, hope-filled feast for my mind and spirit, and I desperately pray that it changes my heart.  I had to be honest, though, because so many of us just struggle through it all, feeling alone, and I do not want to do that anymore.  Tonight, I fought the urge to cry as I did the bedtime routine.  I sang to the middle child and wiped his tears after a tantrum over no bedtime vitamins (which occurred because he sassed me when I told him to get ready for bed).  I then disciplined the oldest for being disrespectful and disruptive while I sang to his brother (because he was mad that I didn’t sing to him).  Last but not least, I prayed with the youngest, who insisted on holding everyone’s hand and hugging us all three times before going to sleep.  It all just seems so hard.  Where in all of this do I find time to recharge?  Where do I find time for me?  When do my husband and I get to work on our own relationship when the only time we have alone is after the kids are in bed and we fall down exhausted?

Please do not think I am a terrible person for disliking my job.  It is a job that I cannot quit or get fired from but I desperately need a paid vacation from.  I need to somehow find ME again in this mess of wiggly, squirmy, squiggly toddlers.  I truly believe that God picked these kids for us, and picked us for them.  I know that every day that I am alive is a day that I can strive to be a better person.  So for today, my prayer is that God fills my heart with an unfailing love for my job as a momma.

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The Path Before Us

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Dolly Sods West Virginia

We have been frequenting the new path through the woods almost every day now, while the weather holds.  We headed out last night for a late night adventure-  over the bridge and into the woods for a campfire and conversation.  It is always funny to me how a campfire brings out talk that can never happen at home on the couch.  We walked side by side back home and stopped, at a distance, and looked at the small house sitting on the edge of the field.  The warm glow of the Christmas lights through the window made me feel happy.  We looked back down the field, to the spot where all of this started, the location of our ‘camp’ three years ago.  We began to talk about the craziness of it all.  I remember so vividly laying in the tent while we were waiting to do the groundwork, still finalizing the drawing of the house- sketched again and again on graph paper, erased and re-drawn so many times the paper was worn thin.  We laughed about how many people told us we were crazy, that it couldn’t be done.  “You cannot move to a field and live in a tent”, they said.  “You cannot build a house like that”.  But here is the thing about us- we can do whatever it is that we say we can do.

I do not mean that to sound prideful, or arrogant, because it isn’t meant that way at all.   God certainly guides and provides each step of the way.  As we stood looking at the house, we began to talk, again, about this process.  We began to look back and realize that God knows so much more than we can ever give him credit for.  When we began to reminisce, we realized that our path has been laid out before us for quite some time.  Everything that has transpired has led us here, to this spot, at this particular moment in time.  I know, this sounds kind of like some hippie mumbo-jumbo, but believe me, it is most definitely not!  We started thinking backwards about all of the events of our lives that landed us here, building this house, and we had a difficult time knowing where to stop.  Every decision, every event, every consequence was all part of the plan that brought us to this moment in time.

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West Virginia

Before we met, Dave and I separately wanted to have land and build our own house, and then we found each other and began pursuing the same dream.  Before we left for Nome, we bought land in Talkeetna, Alaska, with every intention of building our homestead there.  Forced out of our rental home on December 1st, the beginning of a harsh and unforgiving winter just South of the Arctic circle, we moved into a seasonal summer home out in the tundra- uninsulated, no running water, and 1 mile off the main road.  The challenges we faced there made us second-guess our desire to homestead in Talkeetna.  We felt that perhaps we should be somewhere less remote.  This was the first time we became aware that following a dream was not the same as attaining it.  Seeing the dream become reality was much harder than just moving through life pretending that the dream is all there is.  When we left Alaska, we went with no direction- just the trailer and some abstract ideas of where we might want to go.  We landed in West Virginia, again camping (aka homeless) while we waited for the plan to become more clear.  So many things happened during our time there that led us here.  In the quiet of night, God’s voice whispers to us all, and it seems that Dave and I were listening and making decisions based on what he wanted for us, even if we did not know that we were hearing his voice at the time.

The funny thing about a dream, is that the coming true part is really not as glamorous as the movies want you to believe.  This has been hard.  Super hard.  But as we stood in the field, looking at the glow from the windows, we knew, without a doubt, that this is EXACTLY where God wanted us to stand.  We spent most of our adult lives dreaming, and planning, and then making it happen.  This is the first time that neither one of us has a plan for what is next.  It is really quite exciting, because we both are aware of the fact that God has amazing things planned for us, and coming here, stripping away our desires, our idea of what WE wanted for our lives, opens up a whole new world of adventures that is led by what HE wants for our lives.

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Triple Creek- Nome, Alaska

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!

 

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!

 

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