Thursday, July 29, 2010

Getting Here Part 2: The best house hunter

So that messy, rambling last post described how we finally got the guts and the opportunity to leave the rat race. This one is about this last little leg of the journey.

I've been interested in homes for longer than I can remember. Sometime in elementary school, I remember my sisters redoing mom's bathroom with strawberry wallpaper, and I wanted to hang a little Strawberry Shortcake picture I had in it.

Mom never had what most women had. She turned 75 yesterday, and as I was thinking of her, one word came to mind that always comes to mind- contentment. Mom knows how to be content with whatever. Maybe she didn't learn it gracefully; maybe at some point before the period I can remember, she felt restless or like striving.....but I've never seen it. I've never seen that woman strive after anything. I can't say I take after mom in that respect, though it is something I'm striving to do. Woops. Anywho, the thing I've probably strived after the most is my idea of a home.

A lovely little cottage is something that's been in my heart for a long time. Whether you realize it or not, there are many aspects to a home that affect your sense of well being. There is an art to making a home lovely and it, in my mind and heart, involves a whole set of experiences that has less to do with what you hang on the wall and more to do with your overall sense of comfort, space, balance, and light.

When Cory and I bought our first house I started my first great striving project... I mean, remodeling project. We just got the bones of the thing finished when we had to put it on the market because the coffeeshop was pulling us under. Right before we left there I remember starting to think about building our own house... the idea was wonderful to me. To have something exactly the way I wanted it was more than alluring. Fast forward past many rentals, a house we bought and sold in less than a year, another rental, then our move to the country, and two more rentals. It was during the first rental after the move to the country that I started drawing.

What can you do when you are renting a place with an oven handle that looks like it came off a Buick? Draw. I spent a ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous, amount of time drawing the floor plan and elevations of the house I wanted ... every free second I had for an entire year to be exact. I not only had the house in my head, but we wanted to build it for cash on a large piece of land in the country... kind of a lofty plan, I admit, when you are living from paycheck to paycheck; but that's how a zealot rolls (at least, in their head).

I researched construction loans, garage apartments to get us on the land, living in a yurt (that's a round tent), etc.etc. It's a conflicting experience when on one hand you know you have to have a set of quad arched french doors in a jamb as thick as an English built manor, but on the other hand you want to be totally debt free and minister to orphans. Hmmm.... a bit of a quandary. God listened as I wrestled with him over these things. I even talked with him about how foolish I felt for caring about something that seemed to matter so little like beauty in a home. He straightened me out on that one though. It seems God likes beauty too and doesn't feel it's a waste of time at all. He sort of invented it. He is it.... if you want to be totally accurate. He patiently walked me through what was really behind my ideas... seeing the beauty outside that He created, feeling His peace... I wanted a home that emanated Him.

In the spring of last year when we were ready to start looking for land, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the internet. We had a huge area we could look in and it was still like finding a needle in a haystack. I had no idea land was so hard to find. It seems that every piece of decent land is bought up by a "developer" who destroys it and turns a small fortune by building a "community." I was getting discouraged. It looked like all we would be able to afford, with financing, was a garage apartment with a ridiculously termed construction loan. So I go back to God. What's the deal God? So I've made this place sort of a little, teeny, tiny idol. It's okay to want something, right?

TTTHEEENNNN, after wrestling a little more, I say, "Okay God. If you want us to just buy a place, I will do that. I want this house that I've drawn, but if you have something different, I give you permission to override my wants." Did you know God is a gentleman? A lot of people don't know that. That's why Jesus says "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." He doesn't kick in your door. You always have a free choice, free will. He had this place waiting for us all along but would not override my efforts without my permission. Of course His plans for us are always better than what we can do; but, even so, He is a gentleman; a gentleman who also happens to not want His lady having any other gods before Him. So I go back to the computer and find an ad on Craig's list for this place on all this land. I love this place, this gift from God. He even made sure my beloved beech trees were here. But it gets better.

Cory and I bought it feeling sure God gave us the land and the place to stay in while we built the house I designed; as sort of a giant addition (how we would pay for it and find the time, I can't tell you). I started wrestling again recently with my drawing, and our finances, and this place...wondering how we'd ever make that happen. The other day after I broke out my drafting paper and starting working on version gazillion, everything started to click into place. God started giving me eyes to see that it's almost all done. I can have almost exactly what I wanted by making some modifications and adding less than 200 square feet. LESS THAN 200 SQUARE FEET. At one point I calculated 7 feet and 10 inches to fit in the french doors on the west side exactly where I want them. I went inside the closet to measure how much room the air handling system was taking up on that wall and... surprise surprise...7' 10" exactly.

I can't say we're totally done but I'm pretty sure I see how it all will fit together now. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't have been able to fit everything in such a small place on my own. I had tried and my drafts kept ballooning up into megahouses instead of the small cottage that I wanted. It looks like I have a good designer though. I think it's gonna be good.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Step off Canero (Latin for Cow)

Did you KNOW that a bull (or steer for that matter) can smell when you are ovulating and try to mount you? It's a good thing I am always on my guard to ensure Caramel doesn't lick my head. I'll let him lick my hand or arm, but not my face- absolutely not. That's where I draw the line. I have this animal spit phobia. Yesterday, dude starts to move his head toward me while I'm pulling up his stake right next to him and I step back (to avoid a cow lick) just in time to see Mr. Cow isn't trying to lick me, he's raised up on his back legs. Um. No.

So, I ask Cory what the deal is- the cow has no "hormonal storage areas" remaining, I say. Cory says it doesn't matter, they try it anyway. This is a problem for two reasons. #1: Buttercup is a petite little thing and she can't have Caramel on her when they can finally dwell in the same pasture (if that ever happens- right now they still can't stop assaulting each other in other ways). #2: Caramel is going to get a LOT bigger. I can't be having a 1000 lb. steer coming after me. Huh-uh. There is a term called animal husbandry that means the practice of raising and breeding livestock. I always thought that was a weird vocabulary combination to choose- why animal husbandry? What about wifery or couplery? Now it all makes sense, though, because, at least in our household, I've decided it means that when the animals get too big or dangerous, your husband's going to have to do all the work. Somebody call Webster so he can add definition number two.

These are little things you don't think about ahead of time because you just don't know. Our plan was for the ducks to go to the creek and dig it out, eat the bugs, and make that their home area. While they were growing, though, we had them in the field with the cows. We didn't know that the ducks would think Caramel is their mama. If he moos, they quack back. "MMMOOOOOO!!! QUACK quack quack!" is sort of the system they have set up. It turns out the ducks don't want to be far from their mama at all- they want to hang out in the field burrowing little holes in it all the time instead of the creek. Great.

The gardening thing isn't exactly going as planned either. We've got nice looking basil and corn growing, but something keeps eating the bean leaves. The carrots seem to be doing well from what we can see of them. Many of the other things either got scratched up by the chickens or choked out by the weeds before we knew they were weeds. Maybe some of it just never germinated, I don't know. After a snake showed up in the lower garden last week, I lost a little zeal for tending to it. The basil appears to be ready to harvest so I need to figure out how to dry it. It's on my to do list. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. You can't learn unless you get started.... this being our first go at everything, I think we're doing all right.

The wild blueberry bushes that are strewn down the ravine have started to fruit so the boys and I went picking last week. We didn't even plant or tend to the things and got a harvest from them- very nice. We had picked a few blackberries earlier in the month too but I know now that those bushes need to be better tended to- the drought and heat got to them. By next year I am going to have them cleaned up and plan to keep them watered. It was still fun picking what we did. There is no other smell that reminds me so much of being a kid than blackberries. In Pennsylvania they are along almost all the country roads in the Hollow. Have I mentioned it's only by God's protection none of us ever got bitten by a snake when we were kids? Looking back, it's really amazing. In case I never sent a shout out to my guardian angel, props to my angel. You are wildly under-recognized, my friend.

It looks like I will be finishing up Sam's floor today. I only have a few more rows to go. The rest of my time I have been using to prepare for the coming school year- we are starting early. I guess I am a glutton for punishment or, more than likely, an idealism zealot, because I am sticking with my classical trivium baseline for their education. That means we are going to start getting our feet wet with Latin this year- alphabet, phonograms, pronunciation, vocabulary, and some phrase memorization- no grammar- not yet. I found an awesome site:

You can go to it and see any verse of the bible in Latin. It looks like Latin is beautiful. The Bluedorns, in their incredible book, Teaching the Trivium (no darn underline feature in this Blogger site!), said that 80% of the vocabulary of the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian,etc.) is Latin... "It is like having a ticket to Europe or to South America with an 80% reduction in price." Wow. The Bluedorns taught their kids Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; used original sources to study history and literature; and basically wrote an astounding how-to for teaching in the classical model from a biblical perspective. They show clearly how the three components of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) weren't begun in Greek and Roman culture at all, but in the very word of God...called knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Amazing stuff. If I were ever to kidnap anyone, it would be the Bluedorns. Oh, and they have a Jersey cow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Put up or shut up

There was a lady named Ellen that worked at Cox when I worked there. She was probably the age I am now, though at that time I thought she was quite "middle-aged" aka "old- er." Once I got to that job and did my little I- have- this-mastered routine, I started whining about how I hadn't been promoted and how I was being undervalued and how another company would love to have me as an asset. One day Ellen just said, Well, then go. She wasn't rude about it... which is probably why it was so profound to me.

There have been times since then when I can hear Ellen, Ellen Cavitt was her name, telling me to put up or shut up in her tactful way and I realize that I have been running my mouth about something for WAY longer than anyone (namely Cory) should ever have to listen to (even if he is contractually obligated). Today is one of those days.

I have been whining and complaining for years about how I don't have the resources, or the time, or the money to do what I want to do. First I needed the time. Now I have the time. Then I needed the place. Now I have the place. Now I need the money and the ability to juggle everything. Unfortunately, most of my time is taken up whining about how I don't have time to juggle everything, which is precisely why I don't have the time to juggle everything. You know, I don't remember another word Ellen ever said.. but there she is. again. Either do it or shut up about it, Jackie.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

McGyverWalden and Cottage Industries

Do these blogs often seem like random thoughts all crammed together? Well imagine what is still IN my head and have a little grace.

Along with the outside stuff, we still have a serious amount of work to do in the house. I finally got back to working on Sam's floor. My brother Mike gave us a massive pile of leftover wood from miscellaneous hardwood floor jobs he had done last summer. We spent a day sorting it into types and sizes. I had enough to do the kitchen and mudroom, and still have quite a bit left. I didn't care if the sizes were varied (I like that actually) or the grade of wood because I am painting them... so what would have probably been trashed is now free remodel material. I love painted floors, they're very cottage-y.

This past weekend we couldn't do the projects we had planned so I set out to continue my woods thinning in the area that you see out the kitchen window and Cory set out to tear down the shed extension (please nobody mention I posted a picture of him in his holy work pants, and I don't mean consecrated unto the Lord). I knew Cory was smart when I married him, but I can't overerstate the vast array of things he has been able to take on and figure out since we've been here. He has fixed, made, and modified more than I could begin to tell you. Even though our funds are so dried up it's laughable, I still like to say things like, "Do you know how much it would have cost to have hired someone to do that? Then in our minds we are SO ahead. That's called McGyver compensation psychology.

I like this duck picture. How can you not like this?
These little birds were looking out of their birdhouse today hungrily waiting on food, but too tired to stay awake. I can totally relate. We also found this dung beetle carrying off some crap. I can also totally relate. I know. Get out more, Jackie. Touche'. As a matter of fact, since the van has been broken and I haven't gone to karate (or anywhere for that matter) during the week I feel myself really nestling in- like I am hitting my stride a little bit or something. [Cory and I have decided I am the anti-Oprah).

Quinn, ever the naturalist, was ecstatic with our findings. He knows all about most of the things we find and tells me all kinds of facts. I haven't read extensively about wald kindergarten (, but what I have read is very much in sync with what is in my gut. They know there is a difference between wissen, "to know about something," and kennen, "to know by experience;" and they have sought to reclaim kennen for their children. I love that.

Two weekends ago when I was in Pennsylvania, my brother Kenny gave us a tour of his shop. Quinn is interested in the models Kenny will be making, so Kenny gave him a very kennen experience. He single handedly put together a plastic injection mold facility and is preparing to start his own company. He bought his own used equipment, repaired it, taught himself how to use it, and modified it for his needs. He also is teaching himself the CAD interface to make the molds he needs to cut the models he will make.

That is called a cottage industry. They are what this country was made of before the industrial revolution. It's what I want to do with the business I hope to open. I think, along with the revival of the family farm, it's the best path for our country's citizens to take from where we are economically and environmentally. I do.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Getting here part 1: freedom and feminininity

Part 1 A:
This picture was taken three years ago on the 4th of July. Cory and I had gotten into the habit of stealing away with the kids every weekend we could to be in the country and talk about where we could live. He had started to get familiar with a lot of Gloucester and the surrounding area because he was running those routes for UPS. This particular weekend we decided to venture into Urbanna. What I loved about Hampton (where we lived ever since we were married) was that it was a water town. We could walk to the end of our street and see Chesapeake Bay. Urbanna is a gorgeous little water town nestled in the country and just the ride to get there is beautiful... lots of beauty, lots of space, lots of air. I could breathe.

I don't know for sure if it was this weekend or one close to it, but we started to really like the area and talk about maybe moving to it someday... but it was such a long drive from Cory's job. Sometime the next winter I became sure I was ready to leave our life in Hampton. But, we found out that UPS does not allow transfers. There was no way. Then God worked his Godness, and that spring UPS moved the country routes out of Newport News to a country center; and asked for driver volunteers who wanted to go with them. We only had a few weeks to decide. We left within 30 days.

We rented around his center, which is north of here, and when we were finally ready to buy we decided we wanted to be half way between his new location and our old life in Hampton... so here I sit, 3 years later- a hop, skip, and jump from Urbanna.

I had at least one friend that was concerned for me during that time. "What if," she said. What if I needed to re-enter the workplace? In other words, what if Cory failed and I had to provide for us again? It took many painful years and God pulling us through a mess so that I could be home and begin walking toward the life I wanted. Having to go back to that was one of my greatest fears and a well worn road in our past. But I had been home for a year and a half... God was providing...What to do?


There are a million reasons this country is beloved by those in it. The one I usually think of first is that I can lay down to sleep at night without fear. There are places where mamas have to lay down at night, not knowing what type of militant psychos are going to act up at any given moment; and I can't imagine getting any rest like that. My mama bear instinct would be all flared up ALL the time. Putting your kids safely in bed at night where they are warm and fed is something many, many, many men bled so that I could do and I don't take it lightly.

Many of us have watched as, in just the short years that we've been alive, the government of our country has changed. It has started to morph- the philosophies on which it was operating are changing at breakneck pace. Part of me really understands that the people behind these changes believe they are doing good. I even understand the reasoning. I used to be a liberal back in school- from around late middle to early high school and I was quite vocal about it. Sure I was young, but I had positions on issues.

Looking back now it's embarrassing. I believed I was espousing what was right, which just happened to be in line with what the news channels and educational mainstream thought. It was nice to be on the majority "winning" team. I thought the women who were leaders in the conservative arena appeared weak. Most of them wore motherhood like a crown. I wanted to be a mother but it wasn't the only thing I was capable of doing. The subservient wife role I saw the women around me play as their husbands neglected them and left them with no options was something I never wanted to repeat. I wanted to be sure and have my own money, my own career, my own life.

A lot of the positions I held could be rationalized, but I hit a brick wall one day and couldn't get around it on the issue of abortion. Nothing in my brainwashed little head could rationalize killing unborn babies. At that point, despite my political bent, I had been a christian for a good 7-9 years. The Holy Spirit, known by many names, among which is the Spirit of Truth and the Great Counselor, knotted my stomach on this. I loved children. I always had. I looked at the scripture. It refuted what these well-educated progressive thinking leaders were saying. Then I started looking at the other things they were saying in light of the scripture and started to walk into understanding.

There is no treasure map more intriguing than the bible. It says things like those who lose their life will find it. Those who seek to preserve their life will lose it. How does that make sense? It doesn't with a carnal mind. The scripture actually says that the Holy Spirit is necessary to be able to interpret the scripture. That, until you believe by faith, it is impossible to have your heart impressed with the understanding of what the words are really saying. They (the words) are speaking to our spirit and the Holy Spirit, which we receive when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, is the secret decoder ring. No decoder ring, no understanding.

Femininity is something gifted to our gender. It came under assault during the decade I was born. I haven't researched it, but I think feminism (have you ever noticed women who are textbook "feminists" are anything but feminine?) was rooted in a response from women who were mistreated by men. They decided they didn't need men, didn't want men, were an equivalent to men, were better than men. Then, irony upon irony, they decided they would reject men ultimately by becoming like men.

Trusting a man isn't easy and I advocate extreme measures of evaluation before you marry. I also am most definitely NOT advocating that a woman stay in an abusive situation. But, let's talk about the married rest of us. We've all seen husbands trample on their wives. I can't say that I've never felt trampled. But closing your life up to protect your heart imprisons you. If I had insisted on staying in Hampton so I could be close to employment to protect myself from all of the what-ifs that might happen, we would have never come here; and I'm so glad we did. Any person who loves someone (and I still loved Cory) must make themselves vulnerable to that person. You cannot escape it. There is always the possibility that you will be hurt. And sometimes even someone who does love you very much hurts you because they are imperfect, just like you.

So the secret-decoder-ring truth that I found about femininity (irony upon ironies) is that it is strength, not weakness. It is essential to love a man. Femininity is unique to a woman and essential for her man to be fully masculine- exactly what she wants him so much to be. It frees you from trying to be for him what he alone can be. This is scary, I know. But, the scripture says there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. Casting out fear in your own heart takes much more strength than battling the essence of masculinity. The rewards are much greater too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lovely days

On the 19th, a Saturday, I picked up my mom for a week before taking her to Pennsylvania for my niece's wedding that will be on the 4th. That Sunday we castrated Caramel. I was in charge of keeping him still (right.) and Cory did the deed. It was one of those moments, of which we've had several since moving here, where I think to myself, "When I was standing at the altar, I never imagined doing this with this man." They don't put those pictures in the marriage brochures.

Despite the veterinarian's suggestion that we leave it to a professional, Cory did an excellent job and Caramel has healed quite nicely.I have to say that it was sad for a bit. Once we got him up, he just stood there looking bewildered, glancing back and forth at Buttercup like he knew his plans for her were over. Aside from moving slower for a little while he got back to normal quite quickly.

In other cow news, the latest edition of Countryside magazine had a cover story titled: Is it time for a cow? It has about 6 articles about getting cows- very neat. Honestly, though, it hasn't been easy lately. Since we didn't properly prepare the pasture before we got them, and there's been a heatwave, it's been looking sad. We've had to move them all around the yard. It saves on mowing, but you have to watch where you step. We are also weaning Caramel off of milk replacer and he has been mooing his head off. I hope the neighbors aren't upset about the mooing. Once their roosters crow at O-dark-thirty, he starts.

Later that week I had the brilliant idea of moving the pen but not the box for the chickens, since the box is so hard to move. We had horrible heat, the shade shifted, and two of our chickens died within just a few hours of the time I last checked on them. All of the books say you will make mistakes, but I felt terrible. It was a hard lesson. The sick chicken also died later in the week so we are now down to two hens and a rooster.

It was good having Mom here. It's nice to have an adult to talk with throughout the day sometimes. When I met my brother Mike in North Carolina to pick her up, as we were talking, I found out that all of these years I have been falsely called "Big Mouth Jackie." Apparently it wasn't really my fault that I told him he was getting a Lone Ranger for Christmas! My sister had taunted him about what he would be getting and I was too little to know that you weren't supposed to tell. So, since it was obvious he wanted to know, I told him. It was an innocent mistake, not a blatant lack of discretion. What can the falsely accused do? - just pick up the pieces and move on.... but I want the last 31 years back- DO YOU HEAR ME!!??

The Monday after Mom arrived our truck broke down so we had to call the same tow truck guy that had towed our van here the preceding Monday. All and all it has cost us an unplanned fortune... but four more payments and she's all ours. The van repairs are still pending. Cory's two main projects for this weekend are the van and the new chicken coop. He is a man of many talents.

I was able to visit my family in Pennsylvania this past weekend when I dropped mom off. I learned a few things more and had a great time- though it was very rushed. Pennsylvania is still breath taking. I told Cory if I could put Pennsylvania in Virginia, I would live there. I know. He thought about it for a minute too. I drove the kids down to Rehmeyer's Hollow past our old house. The big red barn that is in so many of our pictures and memories is still there. We went down further to the little bridge that's near the trailer where I was born. When we were kids we used to walk down all the time and throw rocks in. So, the boys threw rocks in and I just stood there like I had one foot in one time period and one in another. I sometimes think those moments are a small glimpse of what will be revealed to us one day- when time is stripped away.

This week started out really hard. Cory and I had missed each other a lot, but had an argument when I got back. The vehicle stuff and strain of all the work has been getting to both of us. We had a great night together Tuesday night. Then, God gave me two of the most beautiful days I've seen in a long while, and I was able to spend them outside... just in the garden and in the woods. Somewhere in there He put all of my cares in their proper place and my mind and heart were free again. He knows one of my favorite things in the whole world is to spend the day outside with Him, so He set it all up for me like a candlelight dinner on a roof. That's enough for now- the day awaits and I think it's going to be another beautiful one.