Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Farm update.....

Lots has happened, and I mean a lot...since we arrived at the farm after my retirement.  I guess really, a lot was happening before that, I just didn't see it.  But that's another story.  I'll just come on out and say it.  We're done....we're done with the farm.  God gave us that farm for a very specific reason, which Erin and I are well aware of now.  He wanted us to own it for such a short time to show us something, mainly me, that I'd been missing for several years....God wanted to show me something, someone..and I'll leave it at that.  We know, and that's what is important.  Naysayers will say I told you so, and we're ok with that.  We know how it looks on the surface, but only a few know inside, God's true plan with that.  I won't lie, I love the idea of homesteading, but honestly we also bit off way more than both of us could chew.  We just went "too" deep, too off grid.  But hey, when have we ever done anything small right.  I know many of you will have questions, and I'm not trying to be mean, but you'll just need to learn to live without the answers.  Just live knowing that God's will is being done and all the Glory is His.  We don't think of this as a failure, in fact just the opposite.  God has His tools, some bigger than others, this was a very big life lesson.  I'm thankful for the experience, thankful for the friends I made out there, and thankful that He gave us the farm for His reason.
     What's next you may ask...We'll let you know when we find out.  We aren't going back to the farm.  I mean I'll go back eventually to pack and move things again, don't know when though.  I'm sure I'll go back to take care of some business.  But for now, we're on the road.  Enjoying some time together as Husband and Wife, and a family.  Visiting with friends and family and just listening to God.  I guess you could consider us Nomads for now, but that's ok...We will keep this blog, along with it's name, "Our Side of the fence"  Cause it still fits us and our life...we just have a movable fence now.  We look forward to our next adventure, heck we're on one now...Keep us in prayer that we'll continue to seek God and He'll continue to bless our family as we travel.

Ciao` for now....

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The "Big Move" Pt 1


    So we're on the eve of the first day of the "big move".  Confused...the packers are coming tomorrow, and I don't mean from Greenbay.  The moving company guesstimated us around 15k pounds, yeah, lots of junk.  So it's a 2 day pack and a one day pickup.  It's nice the Navy takes care of all this for us, and I've only had one bad experience with a move before (theft).  In about 14 hours, our already chaotic home will be full of at least 3 total and complete, bonded, strangers.  Armed with a gazillion tons of packing paper, 72 miles of celophane tape, and a box in every imaginable size, they'll descend upon us in the morning with one goal in mind.  Total and complete wrapping, boxing, inventorying, and packing every conceivable item in this house.  Hopefully the cat will stay out of their way, I've heard stories of pets getting packed.  We've had them pack a bag of trash from the bathroom before.

My retirement gift from Erin.  Well actually I got my bike for
retirement, this was something for me to open now.
We've done about as much as we can to prepare, well not really but what are you gonna do.  The fuel tanks of the mowers are drained, the tent garage is down, all the chickens are in their new temporary traveling coop for the long ride to TN.  The house will be in utter chaos the next few days, but then again, when isn't it.  After the pickup on Friday we head to Va Beach to stay at Sheila's for the weekend.  We're hitting Busch Gardens on Saturday, yeah Memorial Day weekend, so pray for our patience.  Next week we prepare for the retirement ceremony.  The script is fine tuned, all my major players are good to go, reservations at the hotel made.  I've got my good bye luncheon with my brothers and sisters in the Mess on Tuesday, picking up Nate at the airport on Wed, along with my DD-214, rehearsal on Thursday, big event on Friday.  Saturday to recoup, then Sunday dark and early we hit the road.

More to follow.....

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Coolest thing about spring, EVERYTHING WAKES UP! The kids & I just went for a run, well, I ran & they walked, down a wooded dirt road across the street from our house. We stopped to play @ a huge decomposing log that's been there for the 3 years we've lived here. While I stretched out, the kids started tearing into the decaying wood. Tons of skinks & one sleepy toad fell out. Piper immediately captured the toad, named him Chester, and oohed & ahhed when Chester started to chirp. She then began to explain the difference between reptiles & amphibians to me, and that toads close their eyes to swallow because it pushes the food down their throat. She also reminded me that toads excrete a fluid that tastes terrible to predators that try to eat it. We also talked about the importance that the fallen log had for the creatures around it, creating a whole new habitat. Luke then found a tick (ick) in the grass and told me that although ticks are arachnids, like spiders, they're not the same. Science for today ~ DONE! 
Cutter, who is a huge lizard fan, named his skink Cleveland after Groover Cleveland. He then proceeded to tell me that he remembered that Groover Cleveland was the only president re-elected for non-consecutive terms. He thought that was cool. History for today ~ DONE! 

My kids have played in the sun, breathed in fresh country air, touched just a few of God's fascinating creations, laughed & asked questions, and it's not even lunch. So in a few years they may not remember that commas go before conjunctions. But I bet they'll remember that although they look innocent, skinks bite!

Friday, November 23, 2012

First Impressions, well second for me.

School doesn't wait, just for a trip.
    As I sit at our folding table in the dining room, at the farm, my family is laying on a carpet remnant we brought in front of the wood stove playing banangrams.  The house is quite, only the sounds of us.  No car nosie, no highway noise, no annoying neighbor dogs barking, no refrigerator hum, just us.  I must admit the LED lights are a bit harsh, but I'm sure we'll get used to them.  From the table I can see the fire licking at the glass door of our FlameView cook/heat stove.  I've been told it's the Cadillac of wood cook stoves.  It's been burning now for a day and a half, the house is warm, sometimes hot, and it's probably in the high 30's outside.  I sit here and drink our spring water and write this under free electricity.  I know life is good.
  So it's our first trip to the farm together.  I bought the farm based on my first visit, and a bunch of pictures and video I took for her to see.  It was a long drive, 14 hours from the Shore, so we broke it up over a few days.  So Friday morning we arrived around 9am.  To pass the hours in the van, we talked about plans, dreams and excitement of building tree houses and forts.  As we drove down Russell Creek rd,  I was expecting to see a lot of "plain" folk in their gardens, or their children helping drive the team of horses with a plow, that's what I saw in my last trip.  But today the fields were empty.  Then we passed the school, yard full of bicycles, and it hit me that it was a school day.  We rounded the bend in the road by Lew Beachey's farm and saw the pink surveyor tape that marks our property.  I turned into the driveway as Erin and the kids saw our farm for the time.
     When we got out of the van, first thing on the list was to turn on the water, once the water was on we could fill the boiler tank and start a fire to knock the chill out of the house.  Now the ceiling of the basement is a maze of pipes and valves that allow us to move water from any one of our three sources of water to the holding tank on the hill to gravity feed to the house.  David had left us a DVD explaining the farm's inner workings and send instructions on how to "start" the farm, but it was a little more difficult than I had expected.  Finding and opening the valve for the main line was simple.  It was clearly marked, but filling the boiler tank was another story.  After about 35 minutes of staring at the ceiling, and rereading the instructions about 50 times, I finally finger traced the lines and everything started to make sense.  I had it narrowed down to one valve, this one had to be it.  As I turned it, I heard water flowing.  Now if only it was flowing to the right place.  I ran up the 2 flights of stairs from the basement to the 2nd floor and heard air purging from the boiler tank.  SUCCESS.  Once the tank was full, we lit the fire and decided to explore a bit before we unloaded the trailer.

Sweeping the summer kitchen
    The kids immediately found the hill directly behind the house and headed up it, scoping out possible fort locations.  Luke decided on an uprooted tree that left a great depression in the dirt behind the stump.  He started dragging scrap lumber up the hill from the wood pile to build a lean-to style fort.  Cutter, our perfectionist, insisted on hammer and nails, which unfortunately we weren't able to provide this trip,  So he settled with dragging an old door up the hill to serve as a wall.  Luke discovered a homemade scooter thing made from lawnmower wheels and plywood, it was missing it's rear wheels but he sat it aside for us to fix later.
     We walked around the property, investigated the barn and guest house, followed the spring line back up to the spring to see where the water came from.  We tried to climb the hill on the other side of the pasture, but got half way and realized we were crazy.  It's probably about a 60 degree incline.  Cutter and Luke made it to the top, I was so afraid that Luke would just jump and take his chances rolling down the roll.  He kind of did the jump and shuffle method.  It was amazing he didn't get hurt the whole week.
Warming the tootsies..

Surveying potential fort locations..
     The first night came to an end, it was getting dark, not dark yet, but near dusk, you know that time when if you are playing catch you get hit in the face cause you lose sight of the ball.  Well the hill the kids played on  all week, had a few dangerous small stumps on it, and when it gets dark our there, it's DARK, so I called them down.  Luke walked in, huffed has he plopped on the floor and said, I'm just going to die....no TV to watch, no electronics...then I heard snoring...he was out like a light in mid sentence.  It was the first and last time anyone mentioned technology or being bored.  It gets so dark in the valley so early, and I was being a bit stingy with the power, since I'm new to the whole solar thing, plus we didn't bring anything to waste time with at night, so we all went to bed.  Yep 7:30pm, we were all in bed.  I had to get up a few time to throw a log in the stove, still learning it, but we all slept good and warm.  The Sun woke us around 5:30, we got up and had breakfast done and cleaned up before 7am.  The kids headed back up the hill to play, within sight of the huge kitchen window.  Erin and I just walked around in the house and tried to imagine our stuff in it, and how/where it would fit.  After a few hours we walked down the road to see the underground cave/creek and just see our community.  We met a few of the neighbors, all super nice and friendly.  And all seem very eager to help us learn their way of life.  One particular neighbor, Vicki West, has a great little farmstead going, and one of the best swimming holes in the community, is like the great aunt everyone has and loves.  She has a youtube channel about country living and such.  She was so lovely to talk to and wants to have us over for dinner sometime.  She also turned us onto the Blue Healer breed of dog.  More research is needed, but she said they are the best family dogs that also have a working/guardian instinct.  She's also very knowledgeable in the homeopathic and natural remedies of the local area.  We learned about comfrey and mullen, which is all over our land.
Firewood warms you at least 2 times.
     The rest of our trip went about the same, early to bed, early to wake, meeting the neighbors and just browsing our land.  The kids probably spend at least 492 hours playing on that hill in the dirt.  I never thought I'd enjoy the sound of the screen door slamming, but it didn't bother me.  The boys and I re-stacked a fallen cord of firewood and spend a few lunches on the big deck eating and chatting.  Even with just a few things from home there, we brought our loveseat sofa, which we never even sat on, a double bed we slept in and some dishes, it felt like home, it felt like we belonged there.  Tuesday morning we loaded up, winterized the house and left, for now.  All the way down Russel Creek rd, the kids kept asking me, sleepily, if we had to leave.  And of course Erin was asking when we could come back.
     First impressions....June can't get here fast enough, we're ready for the next chapter.

More to follow..........

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mountain Moved, deal closed...

   Well if you hadn't already heard, we bought a farm.  Before I get to in detail about it, let me back up and tell a brief story of how we got here.  Some of my Facebook friends may have seen some hints on my wall posts, about "My God can and will move mountains", "I hear it rumbling", etc...
We shouldn't have gotten this farm. Period, End of sentence, Finit, whatever else you want to say.  However...it was so God's will that we got this farm.....CONFUSED......let me digress and explain.
Up until a while ago, our plan was to retire from the Navy, move out to WV and build on the 15 acres that my Mom inherited from her father.  It was prime Monroe County farmland, currently growing hay. One small problem, that didn't seem too hard.  We had to wait until her and her sister settled the estate following Grand-Dads passing.  Things drug on for a while with her sister, hemming and hawing about how to divide the land, etc...Mom bent-over backwards to accomodate her sister, and now 2 years later still is.  But her sister just doesn't seem to want to move on and settle this stuff, even when she comes out ahead.  We extended a year in the Navy to help give a little cushion for them to settle things, but when we hit the 10 month out from retirement, there would be no more extensions, we had to make the hard decision that maybe this wasn't what God wanted for us.  After all it was raw farmland and we were going to build gradually as we could afford and eventually move in on my retirement date.  After some talking with mom, realizing her sister wasn't budging, and it may go to court, we knew we had to move on.  So I started looking online for homes with land, we always wanted lots of acreage.  We kind of gravitated to TN for some reason, maybe because it's so beautiful, or probably more that they don't have a state income tax on normal earnings.  I was looking at places with small houses, from the 50's or so, knowing we would eventually tear it down and build what we really wanted, and at least 20 acres, with a few of those acres tillable.  It was slim pickings, cause even though the house would be temporary, it was hard to look past how ugly they were.  Stick with me here, this is where it starts getting good.  In the sidebar of the website I was on, popped up one of those "more property like this" type ads, it said 27 acre Certified USDA Organic mini-farm, I thought, no way would we afford this.  The picture showed a gigantic green house and a looooong gravel driveway to the house and red barn.  First thoughts....wow, no way we could afford this.  But what the heck. CLICK.  Up popped the page for this place.  It was awesome, on the side of that long driveway was about 6 acres of flat tilled, and currently growing vegetables organic garden.  It was nestled between 2 mountains that are part of the property, it has a well, natural spring, and underground creek, all of which we can pump water from, the house is about 1500-1700 sqft, with a walk-in basement.  It's solar powered and heated with wood. I was in love...
My gigantic front porch...a coffee drinking porch...
         I kind of hid it away and asked the realtor for more information.  I wasn't quite ready to show Erin yet.  Not only did I get an email from the realtor, but the home owner also emailed me to answer a few questions.  I started chatting via email with David, the homeowner and really started falling for this place, it was getting serious.  Erin came by one day and I showed her the webpage, without hardly seeing the pictures she said, "buy it", We decided I should go look at it in person, and so one long weekend I drove over to TN, mom came with me, David had already moved out, so the place was empty.  We walked around and looked in the green house, the barn, the guest house, and even the fruit stand at the front road.  Then the house.  Honestly the house isn't the way we'd build it, if we started from scratch, but it's a good start and we'll no doubt make it our own.  A downstairs master suite is already in the plans.  I'd seen enough....I wanted it..but I didn't want to seem too eager in front of the realtor.  I took mass pictures and even walked around the property and house with my camera phone rolling to give Erin a tour.  After the realtor left, David had suggested we find the neighbor Carl and talk to him about the community.  Carl was a hoot, he was probably in his early 50s and lived in a cabin with no electricity at all.  Just running water, and he collected carts, like horse carts, he had a barn full of them.  I sat on his porch for 2 hours talking about the community, it's mennonite, and how tight everyone is.  He assured us we'd be tolerated and/or accepted as long as we didn't have wild parties or start a nudist colony.  When I got home and showed Erin all the pictures and video, we decided to make an offer.  Now I'd pay list price for it, that's how bad we wanted it, plus I honestly thought it was worth that and still be a good deal.  We made an offer, below list, and asked for closing too.  David, the owner, accepted right out of the gate.  AWESOME......now what.  Here's where God really shows himself.  Being a vet, I naturally wanted to use my VA loan, for 0% down.  But since this was a non-traditional house, the solar, and wood heat, VA was not an option.  No biggie, intrest rates are low anyway and NFCU even had a 2% down loan option.  I started paperwork with them, first question they asked, is it zoned residential?  Yeah I said, it's got a house on it.  But I decided to confirm with David.  To my dismay I learned it was in fact zoned Agricultural, better taxes.  So what does that mean, oh it means that NFCU or any other big bank with the great rates will not loan on it.  Plust the 27 acres was scaring them away.  I'd never thought that finding a lender would be difficult, I mean I get junkmail all the time asking me to refinance.  So we had this awesome place and no way to pay for it.  David had paid cash when he bought it.  I took a stab in the dark and googled farm loans.  Low and behold there are farm credit unions.  I called one and spoke to Nathan, and asked him, here's what we want to buy, here's what we have, is that something you could do for us.  I was ready to get down to business.  He calmly said, yes sir, that's what we do, loan on farms...SWEET, lender found.  But then he dropped the bomb on us.   It would be a traditional, 30yr, fixed, with 15% down.  15% down, we didn't have that kind of cash laying around.  Options...quick, what were our options....a signature loan for the down, NO that would be dumb, and dad would kill me if we did that, borrow from family, NO, didn't want to do that, we prayed and prayed about it.  God revealed and we moved some investments around and cashed out a few things and were able to pull together the down payment.  SWEET now we're cooking with butter.  The only thing left that would sink us was the appraisal, which it appraised fine.  We were off, the lender drew up the paperwork, and said oh, i'll need proof of insurance on it before we close.  No sweat, I call USAA to get a policy.  Screeching brakes...what do you mean you don't insure vacant homes. (we won't move in full time till June 2013).  Too much risk they said.  I called State Farm or Farmers, can't remember, they did insure vacant homes, but it was like $2700 a year.....wowsa...that's a tough sell.  Then he told me that if it was a second or vacation home, and we occupied it occasionally, it would drop the rate.  DEFINE occupied...I said.  It just has to be livable and someone has to visit it once a month.  DEFINE livable...I said.  You have to have running water and power turned on.  And you have to be able to stay there on vacation.  DONE...write it up.  So next week we are heading out the farm for a 4 day vacation, dropping some furniture and dishes out there to satisfy that part, flipping the switch on the solar, and opening the spring valve for our water.  Livable....
   Oh and this will be the first time Erin and the kids see it in person.  So to make a long story even longer, God moved so many mountains during this whole process (the VA, lender, insurance, etc) we have no doubt it's where He want's us.  
View from my front porch.
We've also been able to kindle this relationship with David, the previous owner, that I'm sure will help out tremendously our first few years.  Oh speaking of God's timing..listen to this.  After everything was moving along and closing was in sight, David emailed me and said that one of the neighbors, Eric, had asked him if he would ask me if we minded if he could keep a small herd of goats on our hill side to graze until we moved up there.  Now, no kidding, not a day earlier, I was thinking once we closed, I was going to contact Carl, the other neighbor and see if he knew anyone that wouldn't mind putting some goats or sheep on the property to keep the weeds down...isn't that unreal....

We're all super stoked, and most of our friends seem just as excited, some even more, than us.  We are officially Farm Owners...soon to be Farmers....
More to follow.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cold Frames

Mason Jar Cloques'...not so good.
Sampson being Solar Kitty.

     Spring is nipping at our heels, but Winter seems to be  hanging on with the occasional frost.  I'm really itching to get things in the ground and start the garden, but the potential for frost makes me weary.  I've read about cold frames and French Cloques', but never tried them.  After I potted up several of my tomato seedlings, I had a few that we didn't have pots for, so I figured I'd plant them in the garden, and throw an overturned mason jar over them.  Instant Cloque', right, wrong.  They quickly overheated and wilted.  I suppose that's why the french had an army of laborers to go out and prop open the cloques' to allow air, and they were much bigger than my mason jars.  Oh well, live and learn.
Probably won't last the season.  It
has 8 inch "stake" legs, so it really
bites the ground when you push it down

The sides open to allow air and

  So while mom was here, I was piddling out in the yard, that's what I call it when I want to be outside, but don't really have anything, or know what to do.  I had this old painters drop cloth, the clear plastic kind, and a bunch of furring strips in shed.  So out came the hand saw, and screwdriver. About 2 hours later, I had a quasi green house/cold frame/waste of time maybe.  It's about 4 feet square and maybe 2 feet high.  It's ugly, I already know what I'd do differently if I made another, but it really warms the soil up.  I've got some soy beans and purple runners in there right now, still waiting to sprout, but hopefully it will let them get going, with no danger from frost, and be established when the warmer weather comes.  As I was standing around in the garden waiting for something to do to speak at me, I remembered I had a ton, literally a ton, of cinderblocks behind the shed, from when the landlord build the house foundation.  So I lugged about 10 into the garden and made a big old square with them, then laid a window I found on the side of the road across the top.  I didn't dig up the grass, or even put dirt in it, I'm thinking of using it when it's time to harden off the seedlings before they go in the ground.  I don't know, it stays plenty warm in there, maybe we'll put dirt in it anyway and keep lettuce there in the winter.
Look how good that dirt looks...

Adds about a 10-15 degree advantage over
the outside air temp.
I tell you though, this warm weather is not only confusing the mosquitoes and other bugs, we've had a baby fly explosion around the yard, but it's got me confused too.  I just want to start growing things.  Everyday the weather is nice, I let the girls out and we sit in the garden, which is still just dirt, and pick weeds, turn the soil, they eat worms, I get the weeds out.  There isn't much more to do, until that Last Frost Date has come.  Oh I am fermenting some wheat and chicken feed to attract some Black Soldier Flies.  That's another project, kind of gross, but their larva are super composters, like a colony that will fit in a 5 gallon bucket will handle up to about 3 pounds of kitchen waste a day.  That's some composting.  Plus the larvae will "self harvest" and we can feed them to the girls, like chicken crack.  But that's another project, another day, another blog post.

Till next time.........

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Substitute Teacher

Frog Eggs Day 1

Frog eggs Day 1

So my mother came up on Wednesday to celebrate her early birthday and to watch the kids Thursday and Friday.  Erin was headed up to Baltimore, I think, for a home school convention with our friend Heather.  We didn't want me to have to take anymore leave so Mom came up.  It had been a while since we all saw each other anyway.  Thursday, it was a great day so Mom took the kids across the street to the sandpit/marsh for a nature walk.  I don't know how long they spent over there but they brought back the following.  A small pimento jar full of tadpole eggs, or I guess frog eggs that will turn into tadpoles, an unidentified animal bone the size of a human hip bone and an old bottle.  I've already watched the eggs go from little clear blobs with a black dot to clear blobs with a larger oval looking shapes in the middle.  Pretty cool.  Now as I sit here and type this on a beautiful sunny Saturday, my boys are in the front yard playing baseball with the neighbor boy, Nate, only 3 kids, but they're making it work.  I love it when the kids are out doing the things kids should be doing.  Getting dirty, skinning knees, and battling imaginary monsters.

Day 3
Day 3