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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.

 

 

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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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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!

 

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.

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