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A New Beginning

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Yellow1

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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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!

 

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!

 

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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Garden Bounty

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Somehow, between all of the millions of things we did this Spring, we still managed to put in a garden.  We literally worked every day to get it planted the week before we left for vacation, and then we were gone for two weeks, and prayed that it would still be there when we got back.  We rigged up an anti-deer fence, anti,bunny fence, and watered the new plants.  We pulled in the driveway two weeks later and it was all we could do not to run straight out to the garden and see what survived.  Guess what?  EVERYTHING!  We have munched on snap peas, enjoyed fresh salad greens, and the boys eat the carrots whole.  Zucchini bread, zucchini relish, diced onion, summer squash  boats, radish and carrots dipped in sweet chili sauce.  The boys check almost daily for the emergence of green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and their beloved pumpkins.

I feel like there was some mistake, because the garden that I almost virtually ignored in the beginning has exploded into a crazy jungle of food-producing madness.  I can barely walk the rows between the tomato plants taller than I am and the various squash plants that are creeping across walkways.  I look for deeper meaning and hope that our spirits can grow this wild and wooly with little attention.  I love watching the kids beg me for fresh carrots while I am making dinner.  Looking forward to next year when we can add chickens and maybe goats to our funny farm.  As we enjoyed the cool evening by the fire, I feel secure in the knowledge that God is with us.

One Day at a Time

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We were laying in bed last night, talking, and I started looking around at our room.  I expressed my continual amazement to my husband that he has built every inch of our house with his own two hands.  He dug the forms for the slab.  He did the foundation.  He built the walls, wired the house, plumbed the house.  He did the drywall, gas lines, lights.  Every single thing that my eyes stop on, he did.  I have a memory of each and every inch,  every added comfort, every moment in time that our lives improved with some added form or function.  Many people have a house built, but not many people build a house.  When you hire a crew, things get done quickly and in the proper order.  Our house has been one upgrade at a time, which has made us appreciate each and every thing that most people take for granted.

When we moved here, we had no comforts.  Life was about as basic as it could ever be.  We washed our clothes in a bucket with a hand plunger-washer.  We upgraded to the laundromat, and now, after almost three years, we have our own washing machine.  We ate in a tent and kept our food in a cooler.  Our laps were the dining room table.  When we moved into the house, we were able to have a card table to eat at.  It took another year to get a proper table and chairs, and eighteen months to get a refrigerator.  After more than two years we upgraded to a proper kitchen sink and kitchen cabinets.  We began our journey with a solar shower, ‘bathroom tent’, and a bucket.  A year and a half in, we took our first showers in the bathroom with a makeshift hot water heater and flushed the toilet for the first time.  We just upgraded to a permanent hot water heater and no longer have to heat the kids bath water on the stove.     We have upgraded based on necessity.  When I could no longer make myself use a cooler as a fridge, we got the power running and received a gift of a fridge.  When we found ourselves tiring of emptying the water bucket and hauling water, we were finally able to get the water running and hook up the plumbing.  It almost seemed as if God gave us the financial resources and means to complete a particular project just as we were reaching the breaking point.  I know that there are going to be amazing lessons in all of this as we continue to look back and remember.  Each and every thing that we have been able to do has not only increased our comfort exponentially, but because it came at a time when we were feeling overwhelmed, we appreciate each step all the more.  We were blessed with a gift of carpet just as I began to worry about the baby having to crawl on subfloor.  I made just enough extra at work to get the washing machine, right when I was feeling like I could not bear the laundromat even one more time.  When our third child was born, I could not stand the thought of coming home to no power or running water.  My husband turned the water on 9 days after she was born, and the power came on a week later.

We are nearing the end of Phase One, and have found ourselves looking back on our journey on a regular basis.  We are both amazed and awed by what we have done here, and how God’s provision has allowed us to not only endure amazing hardship, but use that hardship to appreciate everything that we have.  Sitting on a couch, washing dishes in a sink, keeping food in a fridge, playing with the kids on a carpeted floor, closing a door to separate us from everyone else….these are things we do not take for granted.  We remember each and every painful step to comfort, and it has taught us so much.

The progression of the kitchen and bathroom……..

The living space metamorphoses…….

The kid zone…….

Laundry Day……

We are almost there.  The flooring is waiting to be installed.  The last two doors are on order.  The trim and upstairs carpet will hopefully follow, and then we can begin on the finishing touches to turn it into our home- photos, paintings, bed frame, medicine cabinet, towel rack.  Hopefully we can get finished up just in time for……the addition!

It is hard to believe sometimes that three years have passed.  At the same time, it feels like it has been the longest three years of my life.  As this chapter comes to a close, though, I know that God has been and is with us every step of the way- guiding us, providing for us, and preparing us for the journey ahead.

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