Sunday, April 22, 2012


Well, it finally happened.  Four-and-a-half weeks ago I finally realized a dream.  We got our chicks in the mail.  This will be one of those shameless "look at my chicks" post, if you're wondering.

I had ordered 28 chicks: 5 Buff Orpington pullets, and 2 cockerels, 5 Barred Rocks, 5 Welsumer pullets, and 1 cockerel, 5 Speckled Sussex, and 5 Light Brahmas.  When they arrived, we learned that the hatchery had put in three extras for us, bringing the total to 31.  I believe that my extras are Orpington's and Sussex'... as a matter of fact, I think one of the Sussex is a cockerel too.  After about a week, one of my light Brahmas died, no rhyme or reason, just died.  So I went to a local (meaning 18 miles away) Rural King store and bought 3 Australorps and 3 ISA Browns.  Well, there was a six chick minimum!  So now I have 36 chicks.  I could have done with out the ISA Browns and just gone with 6 Australorps, but hindsight is 20/20.

At four-and-a-half weeks, they're almost through the awkward adolescent phase and are nearly completely feathered out.  Some are slower than others.  Several are trying their wings.  Some are sparring with each other to establish pecking order.  It's all pretty interesting.  I have the chicken coop all done and ready for them.  I'll have to post some pics from the coop soon.  I haven't moved the chicks to the coop from the brooder yet because our temps are still really variable with nighttime temps getting down into the 30's once in a while yet (freeze warning tonight!).  The coop is fairly open and I wouldn't be able to keep the temp warm enough in there for the chicks, so they'll have to wait another couple of weeks.

In the meantime, here are a few pics of the chicks just after we got them:

As an update on what else is going on around here... I planted 16 asparagus starts and 6 rhubarb starts this past week.  I also stuck four rather smallish blueberry bushes in the ground too.  Here's hoping for a future crop of all of it!  Also, I started some tomato seeds that were collected from tomatoes grown from seeds (as infinitum) that were originally grown by my Grandmother!  Years ago, she gave some tomatoes to a friend and she started growing the plants herself.  Now, years later, my uncle got hold of some of them and has passed them around the family.  I have several young plants growing and I hope they don't damp off or bite the dust out in the sun when they're big enough to go out.  More on those later... maybe.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Heating the house

When we were looking for a house, I really wanted to find one with a wood stove.  Wife wasn't too crazy about that idea.  She grew up with one and said they were really messy.  We were blessed to buy a house that had one of these in it:
Picture isn't the greatest.  It's a wood pellet/corn stove.  It runs on electricity to drive an auger that feeds the fire pot, and a blower that, well, blows the heat off the firebox and into the room.  There is a hatch on the top to load the pellets.  It has a damper you can adjust and several feed settings to adjust the rate of feed of pellets into the fire pot.  It also has an automatic stirrer of which you can control the rate of speed.  There are only a few places on the thing that get too hot to touch.  The rest of the stove is very safe.  I buy the pellets from the stove salesman a pallet at a time.  That's 50, 40 pound bags.  I keep them stacked in the garage.  It can also burn corn, which burns hotter, but creates more ash.  And the corn has to be very clean, free of chaff, etc.

Our house is far from airtight.  We have a furnace in the basement to heat the downstairs, and a furnace in the attic to heat upstairs.  They both run on LP gas.  This little number, in the corner of the kitchen, doesn't really heat the whole house, or the whole downstairs, for that matter.  But, except in the coldest temps (20 degrees or so) it really does a nice job of warming a large area and it keeps the furnace from running so often.  When the temps are in the 40's it's almost too much, and I have to shut it off if it gets above 50 because it's just too warm.

It runs through a 40 pound bag of pellets about once a day.  As it runs, it produces ash which falls into an ash pan below the fire pot.  There is no smoke, no smell, no dust, no messy wood, and no smoke from the flue.  It's pretty doggone nice. It has to be cleaned out about once a week or so, which is about a 45 to 60 minute job to do thoroughly.  That part is messy, but I use a shop vac so it isn't too bad. Also, if the power fails, the stove shuts down as there will be no way to feed the pellets or run the blower (unless you have a gas generator). In all, I'm pleased with it, and would recommend it to anyone looking for alternative ways to heat your home.

The Move: Part 3

Well, it finally happened.  The previous owners had their auction, found their new house and gave us the keys on the 13th of September.  We were very excited.  It was a Thursday and I had a class that night (that's a story for another post).  So I left and went to class.  While I was gone, my wife and Sister-in-law decided to tear up the carpet in the living room to see what the wood floor looked like underneath.  They dragged the huge wad of carpet to the garage but got it stuck in the doorway.  My wife was in the house and SIL was in the garage.  So the wife decides to step over the carpet to help her sister pull from the garage.  In the process she missteps and falls, while hearing popping noises from her ankle.  Long story short, I took her to the ER after class to confirm that it wasn't broken, but indeed, very badly sprained.

After that, the work began in earnest.  We tore out all the carpet.  All of it!  The floors in the master bed and what became our homeschool room, as well as the living room, were really nice oak.  However, they were a mess.  Some of the carpet had been glued down, other parts were splattered with paint.  So I hired a handyman to sand them for us, and I refinished them.
In this picture, you can see what they looked like, and some of the old paint on the wall.  This is one end of the living room.

We knew we wanted laminate flooring in the rest of the house, so that was ordered and installed.  But that process took several weeks from start to finish.  We painted probably 90% of the house, including trim, doors, walls, closets, and ceilings.  The parts left that weren't painted were a few ceilings, some of which will yet be painted!  It may sound like overkill, but really, the place hadn't had new paint in a very long time and things just looked 'dirty' - and not our style at all.  You'd be amazed at what a new coat of paint can do to liven up a ceiling!
This is our home school room.  The floor is covered with the glued down remains of the rubber backing from the carpet that was there.  It's gone now and in its place is beautiful oak hardwood.  The green on the wall is called "Melange Green".  It was a bit of a daring step for us, but Melinda (my artist/designer Sister-in-law) thought it would be a great color. We had decided that we needed bright, cheerful colors, especially for me during the winter months.  Once we got the color on, we loved it!  It's such a fun, fresh color.  We have crisp white curtains on the windows and black accents throughout the room.  Eventually, we'll add some other things too... maybe a burst of tangerine orange!

The kitchen was another big project.  It needed a new window (and subsequently new plywood below it to replace the weather rotted wood under the siding because of poor caulking).  This little project revealed that the original door to the kitchen was where the sink now sits. We thought the cabinets were ok at first, but then we decided that paint (GASP, paint the cabinets?!? NO!!.... YES!) and new hardware would do nicely.  The bulkhead over the cabinets was a mess and needed to be replaced, so we decided on bead-board for the bulkhead and back splash.  Oh, and the wife wanted a new sink and counter top.  The house didn't have a dishwasher, and frankly, I have too many other things to do without washing dishes by hand.  We had to have a dish washer.  First-world problems, I know. That was going to require a bit of rearranging of the kitchen.  We thought and thought and thought.  There was no way to leave the refrigerator where it was and have a dishwasher too, there just wasn't room to open a dishwasher door.  So we move the refrigerator over to another area and were able to put in the dishwasher.

What our handyman discovered was that the cabinets weren't hung level - at all.  If he put bead-board up, it would look really awful.  So he rehung the cabinets, built new mounts for the bulkhead and put it all back together.  In the meantime, he put in the dishwasher, but couldn't hook it up yet because we were waiting on the electrician.  Yes indeed, there was much electrical work needed doing.  The electrician kept busy redoing wiring, putting in new, hard-wired smoke detectors, etc.  He even wired us up for under-the-counter lights (which we have yet to buy and install). 

The new counter top... well, that was a HUGE headache.  The handyman took the measurements and placed the order.  We had to wait a month for it to be made and shipped.  He showed up on installation day with the counter top on a trailer pulled by his truck.  He began to take out the old counter top, but something made him stop and decide to measure the new one.  Glad he did.  It was too big.  They had applied the outside measurements to the inside, which made the outside edge just that much longer.  How frustrating.  By this time we were in the house.  It took us a month, a week, and two days just to get the house livable for us.  Now our new counter top was wrong and we'd have to wait longer.  The company gave our handyman quite the runaround but eventually, a boss agreed that they had made a mistake.  They decided to make a new counter top for us.  It would actually be cheaper for them to do that, than ship the first one back and fix it!  So we wait another few weeks.  Finally, it arrives.  Sigh.  It's still wrong!  the measurements are short by about a half an inch on one end, and are still too long on another!  More phone calls, more stress and headache (for the handyman, not me - I was just frustrated).  The company we ordered from agreed to take the second counter back and refund our money.  Ok, that works.  Then our handyman, since we still had the first counter, called around and found a company that agreed to cut it down to the right dimensions for a fraction of what the counter top actually cost us.  That still took several days.  I have to credit our handyman, though.  He did a great job for us and worked very hard to get it right.  We got our new counter top in just about a week before Christmas!
In the process of working in the kitchen, we decided to look under the drywall surrounding a protrusion that we took to be some kind of central support.  Nope, what we discovered was the original chimney for the old cook stove!  The bricks were very dirty and had concrete smeared on them.  But I worked on them and cleaned them up (mostly) and they now have the most beautiful, warm color.  They even match the yellow color we painted the wall.  The concrete circle at the top is where the flue from the stove went into the chimney.  I have a clock hanging over it now.  We left it.  It looks rustic and rough, but it's part of the house, part of the history, and we like it.

I ended up remodeling the bathroom next to the master bedroom.  It had some really old tile on the wall and a very large, outdated vanity.  Wife wanted a pedestal sink.  Boy, was that a challenge.  I won't even go into that.  What should have been a pretty simple install, turned into a several week project that I worked on as I had time.  But the bathroom looks really nice now, even if it's still not done.  It needs some trim and touch up paint.  Plus, SIL was talking about putting a stencil on the walls.  Wife wants a spa look.

During this process, I had ordered a 20 yard dumpster.  We FILLED it!  Remodel stuff, old carpet, scraps of wood, trash from the barn, bits of metal/screws, etc. from a burn pile.... we filled it full. But once it was done, we had what we feel is a beautiful home.  Sort of 'Modern Country Farmhouse.'  And so, here are some pics of the finished product:
 Yes, I painted the front door red.  It symbolizes prosperity and welcome.

One end of the living room.  See the pedestal sink back there?  Notice the floors!
It was Christmas.  This is the other end of the living room.
Kitchen.  Pardon the mess!
Sunset at Providence Farm.  One of the many beautiful ones we're blessed to enjoy.
 I may add more posts with more pics as time goes on, but for now that gives the idea.  Let me just add a couple of other things:  First, thanks a ton to my sister-in-law, Melinda Spear-Huff, whose creativity and eye for style and color really helped us in this project.  She's still working with us and helping us put it all together.  Second.  Are we rich?  How did we afford to do all we did to the house?  Answer: No, we are not rich.  God blessed us and helped us sell our house above our payoff price in a very bad market.  And we had some money from a refund.  God blessed us in order to do all of this.  We home our home becomes a place where we can, in turn, bless others.

Keep reading.  I'll soon be posting about my new chicks and chicken coop.  I've got to show you our wood pellet stove, too.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Move: Part 2

If you're just joining me, I'd encourage you to read the post below first.  That way you're caught up and aren't jumping into the story part way.

So here we were, selling our house and getting ready to move with no place to move to.  We knew we were heading north, closer to my wife's family and her work, but we had no house at all.  Sometime near the end of June, my mother-in-law was having lunch with a friend when a mutual acquaintance walked into the restaurant.  The lady struck up a conversation with my MIL and her friend and was talking about how she and her husband were going to move the following year because their place was just too big for them now.  Her husband's health made it difficult for him to keep the place up and there was just too much house.  She proceeded to give more details about the house and property and my MIL said, "Well my daughter and son-in-law might be interested in that!"  Fourth of July weekend rolls around and we head to the in-laws for the usual celebrations. 

We were sitting down to lunch on Sunday and the phone rang.  It was the lady from the restaurant wanting to know if we'd like to see the house.  Evidently, my MIL had talked a bit more to her and found that the couple would be willing to move earlier than planned if they got a good offer.  My MIL had evidently told the lady that we'd be in town over the fourth.  So after lunch, we all piled into the van and headed down the road to see this place.

The couple that owned the house were very nice, answered all our questions, and let us look as much as we wanted.  They didn't have a realtor but were willing to work with us if we wanted to make an offer.  Frankly, it was the first house that even remotely met our requirements.  It's 45 minutes for my wife to get to work on very good roads, and only five miles from my wife's parents.  It's got two very usable acres.  By that I mean the house isn't smack-dab in the middle... there's plenty of 'yard' for pasture, etc.  It has a huge pole barn (56x65).  The house itself has four bedrooms, three full baths and an incredible amount of closet and storage space for a house built in 1911.  We were pretty sure this was it.  We knew that it would need some serious updating, but the house and property were great.

So I met with our realtor and worked out an offer.  Because the owners didn't have a realtor of their own, my realtor and I were going to have to present the offer to the couple ourselves.  That was a little odd for me, but we did it.  They wanted the night to think things over and would get back to us the next day.  Well, later that evening we got a call saying they'd accepted our offer.  We had a house!

Now the fun begins.

If you haven't purchased a house since the market tanked, you may not know what a miserable experience it's become.  I'll try not to bog you down will all the gory details but I'll highlight just a few things that made me just about insane.

First, we applied for a USDA Rural loan.  This is a government loan designed to get people to move to the country.  You have to qualify in terms of income - not having too much(we just made it), and the property itself has to be in an approved area (something to do with population).  We qualified on both counts and proceeded with the loan.  I went to meet the loan officer one day and sign papers, my wife stopped by later after work.  There are a lot of papers.  Additionally, there are all the forms you have to provide showing all your assets and income, etc.  After that day, I continued to get a phone call or email about every other day from the loan officer stating that she needed another form or wanted me to sign something else.  What made this all difficult was that I didn't have my own computer or printer.  It was in storage now because by this time we'd moved to Sheridan and were living with my sister-in-law.  She didn't have a scanner, so I'd have to go over the my wife's folks' house to scan and send.  The mortgage company was about a half-hour away.  It got to the point with all the asking for paperwork that I began to say that I would draw the line at blood and tissue samples.  They could not have that!

One fine day during all of this, I took the kids to a bookstore just for something to do.  Now, I have to admit that all of this paperwork, the phone calls, inspections, appraisal, etc.... it was really making me crazy.  My stress levels were very high and I wasn't handling it well.  So we're at the bookstore and I'm feeling stressed that morning anyway when the cell phone rings.  It's my loan officer telling me very matter-of-factly (and rather quickly without much explanation), now that we're several weeks into the loan process, that there is a new rule that just came into effect in the previous few weeks.  It says you can't get the USDA loan if there's a barn on the property and we'd have to apply for a different loan.  WHAT?  Who buys property in the country that doesn't have a barn on it?  I about came unglued.  I didn't yell or get crazy, but I very politely told her that I couldn't talk about it right then and I'd have to call her back, goodbye. And I hung up.  I was beside myself.  The mortgage company looked into the rule a little more and found that it actually said that if there's a barn, the door to said barn cannot be bigger than 20' high.  This is an effort to keep farmers from buying property on the loan and using the barn to store their tractors with which they make their living.  Basically, the loan isn't to help people make money, but to buy a place to live. 

The owner of the house went out and measure the barn door (12') and my realtor wrote a letter confirming this and we were good to go... or so we thought.

Our loan finally went from underwriting to the USDA for approval and funding.  Then my wife got a phone call from the loan officer (she decided it would be better for my wife to tell me about this one).  The USDA looked at our loan application and asked if we'd been turned down for a conventional loan.  Well no, we hadn't.  Hadn't even applied for one.  Well they can't have this USDA loan unless they've been denied a conventional loan.  NOW we had to apply for a different loan.  What made me crazy is that underwriting should have caught that in the first place.  The loan applications have a checklist of things to make sure of before you even apply.  "Has applied for an been denied conventional loan." This happened about a week before we were due to close on the house.  A new loan was applied for and granted.  But our closing was going to be late, making both us and the owners nervous.

It all came out ok in the end, though and we were able to close.  We would have to wait 15 days to take possession, but it would be ok.

On top of all this, during this time, our dog Toby died.  He was staying with my in-laws while we were living with my wife's sister.  He was doing ok, but had to stay in a kennel most of the time unless we went over and took him out.  Before our move to our new town, I'd noticed that he was acting funny.  There was a day or two where he would hardly walk and wasn't eating.  He just wasn't himself.  The vet thought it might be a sore back so we gave him some pain medicine.  He improved very quickly and seemed to be fine.  Nevertheless, I prayed that God would keep him alive during all the coming weeks at least until we got settled into our new home.  A few weeks after we'd left our old house, Toby had another "spell" and I took him to the vet here.  We had an MRI done and discovered that he had a tumor on his spleen.  This isn't unusual in an older Golden Retriever and Toby was nine years old.  It was really a life threatening situation as the tumor could burst at any time and he would die rather painfully and in considerable distress.  So we decided that we'd have surgery to remove the tumor.  The operation went well and they removed not one but two tumors.  One the size of a grapefruit, the other the size of a baseball!  I got to see Toby after the surgery when he was awake.  He got up and came to see me as if to say, "Ok, dad, let's go home now."  He needed to spend the night though, and so we left him there.  A few hours later, however, the doctor called and said that Toby's heart, somewhat enlarged anyway, was having difficulty pumping.  They thought that it was the size of his heart, coupled with the loss of blood and the shock of surgery.  They were doing chest compressions but they couldn't get him back.

That was the hardest day of the summer.  We had to wait to tell the kids because we were with family and it wasn't a good time.  I felt such a sense of loss and disappointment.  I had to drive and get away for awhile to compose myself.  He was such a good dog.  We had him cremated and will bury the ashes on our property sometime this spring.

Well, congratulations, you made it to the end.  My next post will be about what happened after the closing until the day we were able to move in.  The story isn't over yet!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Update: The Move

It's time.  I've been away too long and it's time to catch  up.  So here it is.  I'm going to spend a post or three bringing you up to speed on my life the past eight months.

It begins with 'the move'.  Our house had been on the market a year and a half.  I was going nutty.  I was in the process of deciding whether or not to put out a garden (since I hadn't the previous summer and lived to regret it) when, lo and behold, we got an acceptable offer on our house.  It really happened pretty quickly.  But we'd gotten a couple of less than acceptable offers before, so I was afraid to hope too much.  Suddenly there was this offer contract with four names on it, and we'd sold our house.  What followed was pretty typical... inspections, appraisal, insurance people stopping by.  We had a couple of things to address from the inspection, but other than that, all was set and we were good to go.  The buyers agreed to give us 14 days after closing to move.

I'd been packing things all along.  We'd staged our house to sell it, and in doing so, we'd put a lot of things away and packed them up.  Little did we know it'd be more than a year before we'd see them again.  But now, packing began in earnest.  I did a lot of it myself because my wife was working.  Someone with more foresight would have taken the time to go through stuff and get rid of things BEFORE you pack it so you don't have to move as much.  Not me.  I didn't trust myself to get rid of things that my wife may or nay not want later, nor did I want to take the time.  I was moving!

Our first snag, however, was that we didn't have a new home to move to.  We'd looked and looked.  By this time we were getting less and less picky and looking at just about anything that might have possibly worked for us.  But everything we looked at had something significant wrong with it that made us decide against it.  Either it was too small, too expensive, had some serious structural issue, didn't have enough property, had crazy high taxes, wasn't in a good location.... we just couldn't find "the place".

Fortunately, my wife's sister came to our rescue. She lives in the town we were moving to and said we could move in with her until we found a place.  Her home is a large building 'downtown' in which she has her art studio and a large upstairs apartment.  It was plenty big enough for us to live with her and make do.  So the arrangements were made to store our belonging and keep up the search.  This really was a blessing because it meant we didn't have to rent a house and end up moving twice.  The apartment worked out really well.  Wife and I had a bedroom to ourselves, the boys slept on a king sized bed in another room, while our daughter took a cot in the same room.  My sister-in-law voluntarily slept on an air mattress in yet another room.  We paid her something to help with utilities, but she never asked for it.  Plus, she was able to eat with us on several occasions, which was a better meal than she would have fixed for herself!

Our belonging were to be stored in a warehouse in five large crates.  U-haul has a business called U-box.  You can get as many crates as you need (but the truck can only haul five at a time).  The truck delivers them, you fill them up, lock them up, and the truck comes and hauls them either to the warehouse or your new home.  In our case, they went to the warehouse for storage.  When we were ready for them, they delivered them to the house and we unloaded.  It was pretty amazing really. 

Each crate could only hold 1500 pounds.  Well, who knows how much their stuff weighs?  The tow-motor that loads and unloads the crate had a scale on it and if the crate were overweight, you had to unpack and reload to fix the problem.  The crates were delivered on a Thursday or Friday and I began to load.  Then Saturday morning, some family and friends came by to help finish the job.  The truck was scheduled to return the following Monday to pick them up.  We left for our new hometown that day with the crates sitting in our driveway.  I would have to return on Monday to be there just in case we had weight problems to deal with. 

Remember how I said I hadn't gotten rid of much before packing? Yeah, that was my problem. Five crates weren't big enough.  The were essentially quite full and I still had some stuff in the garage.  Plan B:  Rent a U-haul truck to drive back on Monday, load everything up, wait for the crates to go, then drive back to the new hometown and store the rest in a storage facility up here.  As is usual with me, I overestimated on the size of the truck, but not by too much.  My father-in-law came with me to help load up.  I was pretty proud of myself, driving that big-ol' truck on the highway... I was pretty nervous.  Of course, it would be one of the hottest days of the summer.  But by dinnertime that evening, we were back and unloaded and the U-haul was back at the rental place.  Oh, and the crates were all fine, none were overweight!  I can't tell you how relieved I was.  We had successfully left our old house and with two days to spare before the new owners really took possession.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


So much has happened in the past two months and I've not been able to post at all.  But we found a house with 4 beds, 3 baths and two acres!  It has a huge pole barn.  It was built in 1919 and even comes with a wood pellet stove!  I'm pretty excited.  We won't get to take possession until the 17th of September, but we've waited this long....  

I'll do my best to write more later about the whole miserable experience of buying a home in these United States at this point in history.  But for now, let me just say, "I draw the line when they ask for blood and tissue samples."

Oh, and my blog may be getting a name change soon.  More to come on that.  In the meantime, I have chickens to plan for, and a garden to think about next year, and fruit trees to consider, and sheep or goats to wonder about (and the wife wants a guard llama.  She likes how they look).  Life's about to get very fun.  I'll do my best to keep you in the loop.  Maybe I'll even get my readership up to over 10!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tomorrow we move!

Moving day is fast approaching.  Like, tomorrow!  I'll take pictures and post them later (maybe way later).  I don't know how long it will be before this ol' computer sees the light of day again, so my next post might not be for awhile.

I'm relatively certain that none of us have any clue what an 'adventure' we're in for, living with my sister-in-law, including her!  But we did go look at a house last weekend.  Funny thing, it wasn't on the market.  You should have seen the people's faces when we came in and started poking into closets!  Naw, they were expecting us.  My MIL knew the lady and had heard they were thinking of moving.  Then Sunday afternoon, the lady calls and wants to know if we want to come see the house.  So we did.  It would work really well for us.... 4 bed, 3 full baths, on 2 acres with a 60x65 pole building!  We'll see what happens, our realtor was supposed to call them yesterday and chat with them.

If you think of us over the next several weeks, say a prayer for sanity and a house!