let the learning curve begin!

These are the days of the learning curve or, at least, the preparation of the curve up ahead. These are the days of researching what it means to live off of well water, septic, and propane tanks. These are the evenings filled with study on refinishing outbuildings and planting a garden that yields in all four seasons. These are mornings filled with reading about the temperaments, laying patterns, and winter hardiness of different types of chickens (If you are a homesteader or if you have raised hens, I would love to hear from you – what were your favorite breeds and why). I look outside my window and still see our city neighborhood, but I can begin to imagine the view when we glance out of the 120 year old farmhouse windows that will soon be ours.

The winds of change are starting to blow and with them come the duties and burdens of selling a home, buying another, packing, and moving. Inspections, loading and carrying boxes, and cleaning the old and gutting the new home are all tasks I’m not all that excited for. I know the moving drill, having moved homes nearly twenty times in my life so far, and it’s exhausting. But I also know the joys of making a home, my instinctive way of learning the bones and the rooms to that home, and then giving everyone and everything a new place to belong.

This time, I get to do the beautiful homemaking dance while also learning a hundred new things. Husband and I press on, knowing we are in this together, and that four hands are better than two. Land brings with it new responsibility but also new opportunity — for joy, freedom, wildness, creativity, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Well, maybe not mineral, but who knows? Only the Good Lord could write a story like this one. And this story most likely involves many scrap eating, cold-hardy, frequent laying chickens.

now it’s time .

 

 

I have written and re-written this so many times I hardly know the right place to start. so much has happened these past few weeks and I found myself today, just sitting in a quiet room completely still, trying to take it all in.

 

We sold our house today and we are under contract on a farm / farmhouse!!!

 Oh my goodness. Just writing it out like that makes me shake my head in giddy amazement at all that has happened.

 

Let me rewind a bit. Three weeks ago, I wrote a post sharing about the dream we have had to own land, homestead, and have a farmhouse to call our own. We had come across a farm house online that I could not seem to get out of my head. It kept coming to me in my thoughts and dreams, whispering in my ears whenever things were quiet. We went and toured it. Then we went and toured it again. Within a couple of weeks we were seeing all of the previous hurdles to moving to the country turn into open doors for our family..

 

The fear of zion needing botox – his doc says he looks so good he doesn’t feel the need to do botox or bracing or even see him again for a year. “just let him be a normal kid, playing is the best kind of therapy he can have now.” !!

 

The fear of his shunt failing -  his neurosurgeon had an MRI ordered, and all looks normal and well. If his shunt begins to malfunction, zion is aware and verbal enough now to let us know the warning signs of headache, exhaustion, nausea, etc in plenty of time to get to the hospital.

 

The fear of him needing a special needs classroom in the fall (since his special ed school only goes through age 5) – his therapists and teacher met with us last week, letting us know he is doing so incredibly well, they recommend he join a normal kindergarten class with small class sizes and occasional care form a special ed teacher.

 

Having no plans for high school when the brothers finished their french school in 8th grade – there is a local elementary / middle / high school in the small town near the farmhouse where all three boys will be able to learn, enjoy extracurricular activities, and hopefully graduate from, if that is what they prefer to homeschooling. We toured the school with them and they are so excited at this prospect.

 

Not knowing if our house would sell for what we needed it to in order to move – we listed the house yesterday. By last night, we had three offers, all asking price or more. And the people who we are under contract with were meant to be the next family in that home. I’ll have to tell the story at length someday but for now I’ll just say it was crystal clear what offer we had to accept.

 

I told a friend today, “I can’t believe it. I am realizing that God actually loves when we dream. He has shown us such generosity in how this has all played out, as if he is saying he wanted us to have this dream all along, it just wasn’t the right time until now.” She responded, “Yes, because these dreams didn’t come from you… They were put there within you and you’ve lived with them buried deep your whole life. Now it’s time..”

 

I will share more about the farmhouse itself and the life we are hoping for and envisioning someday soon. The owners of the farmhouse have been so gracious and are allowing us to close and take possession in may, so the timetable will allow for the boys to finish out their school year. There’s a few months to go, but I just had to share the good news so far. To those of you who prayed for this dream to become a reality, I cannot thank you enough, truly. For you friends who encouraged us to keep trying, we love you. For the dear new friend who sent a photograph of a homestead through the mail a couple of weeks ago with a letter – I cannot even tell you how perfect your timing was, thank you times a million. For those of you I haven’t had time to call and tell the tale to in person, I couldn’t leave you out of the loop. This story is too good and too big to not share. We are so thankful for all that has happened, for what God has done to continue writing our story and to open doors we never could have opened.

“to him I leave it all”

Whatever my God ordains is right

His holy will abides

I will be still whatever he does

And follow where he guides

Sweet comfort, sweet comfort

Yet shall fill my heart

Sweet comfort, sweet comfort

Sorrow shall depart

Whatever my God ordains is right

He makes my feet to stand

Though sorrow, need, or death be mine

He holds me in his hand

This bitter cup, I take it

My fainting heart restored

So here I stand, unshaken

I trust upon the Lord

He is my God though dark my road

He holds me, I shall not fall

Whatever my God ordains as right

To him I leave it all.

 

mornings like this I hold it together pretty well on the outside, but the inside is swimming in thoughts too deep for me. The further down the road I get from watching my dad pass from this life, the more I realize that moment put a fear in me that doesn’t leave. It’s a quiet voice that sneaks up on mornings like this when I know something difficult might be ahead. It’s a voice that loves to remind me that God has taken something dear from me before, he has made me suffer, and he won’t hesitate to do it again. It pushes gently on the top of my head and watches me struggle for air as I slowly go underwater.

Earlier this week I was sharing with some dear friends about some possibilities coming up for our family, things that are both exciting and scary, and I was letting the scary side win out. One of my dearest friends, Leslie, looked at me and said, “God doesn’t have it out for you, ash. He loves you. He’s a good, good father and he loves to give you good things.” I cried without being able to stop myself.

This morning, amid a swirling sea of about ten other big and beautiful and hard things in life right now, my mind is filled with thoughts of zion’s health. Today he goes to see his rehabilitation Doc, who will decide whether or not he needs Botox again in his calves. It’s been almost a year, and we have kept asking him to push it back. The last time wasn’t easy. the procedure itself is painful, risky, and it’s hard to watch zion’s calf muscles die and to watch him struggle to learn how to walk again, then to be casted a week later for a month or two.

So this morning this Sandra McCracken song is on repeat in my ears. It’s the truth and only comfort I can cling to. That God does what is right, and not only that, but he is near – he holds me close. And this song isn’t just for me. It’s for zion. Sometimes I forget that, “oh yeah, God loves zion more than me! He made him! he is the one who planned out his breaths and life and he holds him together!” I couldn’t help but hear, as I typed these words,

“Whatever my God ordains is right

He makes my feet to stand

Though sorrow, need, or death be mine

He holds me in his hand”

It doesn’t take the tears away that I have this morning for our beautiful son, but I guess I don’t feel so alone and “out to sea” with the things we will face today. He is a good father. The only perfect father. I know that deeper in my bones than I know anything else. He doesn’t have it out for me, my family, or our sweet Zion.

“To him I leave it all.”

our evening routine

our evenings used to be filled with the glow of many screens. then, five years ago, we gave away our television. As if that weren’t enough, almost one year ago we quit social media. so much good has come from unplugging in these simple ways, I couldn’t help but sketch out some of my favorites lately. the more time and distance separate us from the glow of a screen in a dark room, the more we feel like prisoners freed from a hostage negotiation.

 

1.

work hours are for work.

non-work hours are for the family/friends.

 

 

we love working from home. I can’t state that enough. sure, we gripe about it now and then but then we get over ourselves, look each other in the eyes, and say, “seriously?! we get to do this for a living!??”  In the days of counting instagram followers, Facebook likes, and trying to keep up with our “image” it was really easy for the lines of work and family to get blurry, especially in those evening lulls. These days, when it’s work time, we get down to business. When it’s not work time we are lovers, parents, friends, and family who don’t talk about anything even closely related to the business. On the rare occurrence when it’s time to work overtime to complete a project, we clearly state it to the family as a whole as to not let the lines get blurred again.

 

 

2.

the basket

that changed our lives.

 

 

 

I love my friends and family. I even love that they love me enough to want to text me at all hours of the night or day. But I don’t always love the immediacy with which we interact on our phones. I am basically an old granny now, but I remember the days of landlines and answering machines. I remember the days of waiting to call someone back until you listened to their message and carved out the time. I remember the days before call waiting! Yes, there were days when this thing called “call waiting” and “caller ID” were new and groundbreaking technologies. I lived dat shit. These days, we know when our friend received our message, read our message, and we know we are going to be pretty hurt if she doesn’t respond to our message with similar urgency.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t focus on anything with care or intentionality when my phone is constantly telling me to pay attention to it. I can’t create new things in a space where my sly and squarely train of thought is bombarded by tiny “dings.” I can’t cook the dinner or give my son my full attention as he tells a story or, or, or .. It’s not you, it’s me. So to fix the problem, we have a basket hanging in the upstairs hallway for our phones and tablets. When we aren’t using them, they go immediately back into the basket and in the basket they stay until we think it’s necessary to use them again. In the evenings, they live there. And because they live there, we have our nights back, to do what we wish with them. I also firmly believe we sleep deeper, and wake with greater purpose because our phones are no longer the last thing we touch as the day ends or the first thing we see as it begins.

 

3.

ladies and gentlemen, I give you..

reading square.

 

 

 

a good majority of our evenings are now filled with what our boys affectionately deemed our  “reading square.” After the youngest goes to bed, the brothers look at us and say, “mom, dad. can we do reading square tonight?” we all pick our favorite chair in the fireplace room where our four chairs face each other. We bring a book we are enjoying and we read in silence. This time has been known to end in Micah reading aloud to all of us, as we all laugh at some scientific or hilarious story he’s wrapped up in. I love reading square because we all get tired at the end of the day… reading! No glowing screens, no adds or overstimulation. Just the slow, steady flipping of four pages at once, and the winding down a day in thankfulness all together and close.

 

4.

music . .

the old school way.

 

 

the longer we abandon the new school, we can’t help feel the pull to the old way of doing things. gone are the nights of digital noise and non-stop commercials, in are the evenings of the echoing, imperfect scratch of a good record, or the pickin’s of Jeremy on the guitar. Chet baker, ella fitzgerald, sufjan stevens, and andrew bird serenade us on vinyl as we settle into our evening. Jeremy plays old gospel songs and we sing in harmonies as the boys sit in the room listening. Tyler likes to listen with his eyes closed, which makes it feel all the more special.

 

5.

art making

after dark.

 

 

It sounds like the title to some lewd show after hours. or maybe the name for my memoir? any who .. just because the day is over doesn’t mean it’s too late to make something that brings you joy. I have a habit of pulling out the microns and watercolors in the evenings to sketch, play, and paint my little heart out. Sometimes the brothers join in and we make it a family art night. sometimes it’s just me, a slew of candles, and a wet brush mixing colors. sometimes after a day of working hard to make beautiful things for other people, this is a chance to make something beautiful just for me. When it’s not paining it can also be writing, although I have made a practice in the past year of transitioning that into the “real job” hours of the day. But sometimes I hide away under a blanket and write things that are just for me or the family.

 

 

6.

always a hot cuppa.

 

 

as silly as it may sound to mention this, it’s a valuable part of our rituals each night. we make hot drinks and we savor them slowly together. The nights used to end with a bit too much wine or beer and not only was this unkind on the waistline, it was unkind on everything else too. when we went “paleo”/obsessive workout people last year we got in the habit of ending our days with mint tea. Nowadays, we still savor the delights of the vine and the grain in moderation but the evenings are typically accompanied by mint tea, cider, homemade hot cocoa, or the occasional hot toddy. It’s amazing how this one small ritual can go with us in our carry ons and give us the comfort of home when we travel together for work.

 

7.

we end each evening

with a proper goodnight.

 

 

 

we have rituals that we honor every night. We sing secret family songs to each of the boys that no one else will ever hear (probably for the best). The older brothers always put on some type of theatrical scene or pose immediately before falling into bed. Zion loves to have his two songs, a prayer, and his back rubbed in just the exact same way. As for Jeremy and I, we sip our tea and leave only a dim light light on in our bedroom and, well .. read some more. or something like that.

the point being – screens are not involved in the making of our goodnights. They have been safely tucked away in the technology basket for hours and in the basket they shall stay. after all, why would we ruin all of that other good stuff by having screens in the bedroom?

——-

I don’t share these sentiments with you in hopes that you will feel guilty about your own screen usage or the ways you spend your time. I share it because of the joy and connectivity that has graced our home since we started making these seemingly small choices. Even further, the sense of calm and rest that has graced my spirit in the nights when we practice these routines has been so very good. We never set out to be some hipster version of the amish, (although a lot of this did come on the heels of reading a book called “better off” five years ago) we simply wanted to end our days with a greater feeling of contentment and purpose. We don’t do it perfectly but we do it with as much fidelity as we can muster.

These days and nights we take a lot of joy in asking ourselves not “how much technology can our family get away with?” but “how little technology is necessary for us to enjoy our lives and one another?” or in the words of Eric Brende, “what is the least we need to achieve the most?”

 

 

 

 

the dream …

It’s been two years since we moved into this house. Our first night here, tyler broke down into tears saying he was ready to go home. I told him this was our home now and he gasped for breaths between sobs saying, “so … we’re … never … going … back?” I comforted him and stroked his hair until he fell asleep. Then I came into our bedroom and heaved my own sobs to Jeremy.

Looking out the window that night I saw the lights of the city. Tall apartment buildings lit up with thousands of strangers inside. A main thoroughfare known for drug and gun activity was four houses away, in plain sight. Across the street sat an old brick home, a row house converted into five motel-room sized rentals, and an abandoned home condemned by the city. Although we had upgraded in size and features, I realized in that moment, we had lost the idyllic movie set of a neighborhood we used to call home.

In the past two years we have loved so much about life in this home. The house itself is absolutely lovely. It’s almost as if the architect sat down in 1900 with his pencils and paper and sketched this home with our family in mind. The neighbors next door are dear to us, and their kids are constant built-in playmates for our boys. The location is close to our church, many of our friends, zion’s school, and the children’s hospital in emergencies. Date nights are easy, as is grocery shopping, impromptu parties, and going to the movies.

But I am still pulled between all of the pro’s and the pull to something completely different. When we moved here, we lost the ability to let our kids play outside unsupervised without fear of their safety. We underestimated how scary it would be to catch someone breaking into our car, into the back of our neighbors house, or to hear about the people shot and killed on that street just within view. We lost the back yard garden we had invested multiple seasons in. Time outside is paramount to our family and, with three adventurous growing boys, it’s always been where we feel most ourselves. Without the ability to grow our own food and send the kids outside at whim, we feel those sacrifices on the daily.

We have been talking about owning a home on some land, and living off of the land, for about six years now. The desire started when our boys were smaller and we noticed how much they came alive when they were outside. Then our friend, Dave, helped us till up a 5 ft x 4 ft plot of land in our sunny yard so we could plant our first garden. The next growing season we revived that garden and planted another one twice its size. We watched as our kids got into it, too, watering, weeding, and harvesting. Armfuls of kale, lettuce, beets, carrots, cucumbers, okra, peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes became the stuff of our meals and we were grateful.

Truth time : we’ve looked at several farmhouses over the past four years. We frequently have what my good friend Becca refers to as “unprotected sex with Zillow.” The desire to homestead is a dull ache that doesn’t go away, even on our best days in the city. The ache is connected to all sorts of places having to do with family, simplicity, quiet, dirt under our fingernails, and being a part of the regeneration of the earth. But that isn’t the full story. We could move to the dream farmhouse and be stunned at how isolated we feel, at how few lights we see at night when we look out the window, how much it sucks to discover we need a cup of sugar for the banana bread recipe, how much scarier it is when zion has an asthma attack.

We don’t have it figured out. We may grow old in this 100 year old house in the city. but I think it’s important to put our desires out there anyways, so here the desire sits — like a little sketch inside my head.