Archive for August, 2010

House Building

Where do I start?  So much has happened since we moved here in July!

When Stephen and I walked through the house last month, our hearts sank even as our noses wrinkled with displeasure——that smell was mold!

We went outside and sat on the back porch steps. I looked at Stephen and started to cry. “I’ve ruined us! What are we going to do?” 

And bless my wonderful husband. He said,” Sit on my lap.  It is going to be OK and it is not your fault.”  And then he kissed my forehead and hugged me tightly.

But night was coming. And heavy rains.

We made our way back to Penny’s house in Hillsville. And God bless that wonderful family. Five year old Lacy crawled into Stephen’s lap and he held onto her like a life raft.

Mitone whipped out her Blackberry and started to show us pictures of yurts and log homes.

Penny said, ” You can stay with us until you decide what you are going to do. It’s going to be fine.”

And so we stayed for a week. Each day we went back to the farm. We loved the land—-there really was a peace there under the three big trees.

But oh that house! It even gave Stephen a headache! And me? I had a sore throat and ear ache twice from it!

We bought masks and wore them in the house and tried to begin to put things in order. 

But we arrived at a rainy spell. We would eat meals on the porch in the rain because the mold was so bad.

And through it all, we kept praying. And claiming this  farm as a gift from God and seeing families having fun at Haven Farm.

Then my cousin Dave called from NC.

He would come with his wife  and build a house.  He would come in August with his wife Val.

It felt like the calvary was coming!

Stephen returned to KS for another load of our belongings and I headed to Philadelphia for a storytelling tour.

Two weeks later we met back at the farm in Fancy Gap.

“I have a plan,” I told Stephen. “I brought my brother’s tent. We’ll do like that TV show MASH. Remember? We’ll put in a floor and I’ll put down the Oriental rugs!”

We chose the best and driest site—–under the lean- to attached to the barn.

It was as if God was guiding us as we picked a spot to camp. And although we have had some terrible, heavy thunderstorms, our tent never got even so much as one drop on it under the lean -to!

Meanwhile the house aired out enough that the masks aren’t needed. We can do laundry and cook there. And since we have found most of our things, we even are eating properly again.

I spaded up a fall garden about 32 feet by 10 feet.  Stephen and I built a compost pile. We also took apart a trailer foundation and used the rocks for the driveway. We used the tall grass/hay for mulch in our garden and Stephen roto-tilled the parts I spaded.

And low and behold! It is growing—-mustard, lettuce, spinach, carrots and peas!

While Dave and Stephen spray painted the house dimensions  on the grass—– my friend Nancy at the Primos library  in PA found the house plans and we tweaked them—–I picked peaches and apples and grapes!

Then, before we broke ground, we prayed for wisdom and discernment and safety. That’s Stephen and me in the center of the house to be!

So…. in between rainstorms, I have helped Dave and Stephen and Val pour cement, carry 2x 10’s and put them in as floor joists. I lag bolted the straps to the footers.

Now the men are really doing the hard work—–they have built the interior and exterior stud frames. We are doing the rafters today!

My jobs are easier now—-sweeping the site, putting up the sheathing with the crew, feeding them, carrying water jugs back and forth, passing tools, cleaning boards, and wiping up dew/water.

What I find most impressive is how Dave can hammer one nail and reach for the next one while fiinishing the first! And since he can do plumbing and wiring and everything—-he didn’t need to use anyone’s plans! It is all in his head and in his hands.

And as the weather has cleared in time for us to get ready to frame the house , I am reminded of how God has helped us every step of the way—–including the day we finished unloading the insulation and then the rains came!

We are all in God’s hands.

We’re Jammin’

It is Nov 2 and we are still in the tent . It has been in the high 30’s to mid 60’s.  Today though, I can’t get my feet and fingers to thaw out so I thought I would show you the pictures from when I made jam last summer…….you remember…….when it was warm and camping was easy!!!

That way we can have the warmth of summer again throught the pictures and the story!

I remember picking the grapes in the arbor and at the edge of the farm. I picked and picked and picked…….until I got stung by a bee!

 Then I went back to helping build the house!

But I called my friend Penny and she said, ” I’ll teach you to make jam!”

Well, I didn’t know how many grapes it would take to make a few jars, but I decided I needed every one I could reach plus the ones that Stephen —my 6 foot four inch husband —-could too!

So before he started work on the house I dragged out the ladders and begged and prodded him up the ladder. That’s him looking handsome as he cut bunches of grapes.

I felt like I was in a wine commercial!

With a sigh of relief, he packed me off to Hillsville for a day at Penny’s.

” Now Vicky,” Penny said,” the main ingredient in jam is sugar–lots of it!” She wasn’t kidding!

First we went to Food Lion and bought the biggest sack of sugar they had—–5 pounds—– and later we needed more!

When we asked if they carried sifters we were directed to Sunnyside.

“The sunnyside of the store?” I asked.

“No, but you’ll love this store!” And with that Penny was taking us on a great adventure!

Sunnyside store is the real deal as far as general stores go. It is a social hub for the farmers in the area because you can buy everything from candy to soap to bushel baskets to wedding gifts to plumbing supplies to boots to clothes to seeds and even furniture AND find out the local weather!!!!!!  I couldn’t stop looking! And listening!!!!

The next part of jam making is mashing them in that sifter—–it gets the seeds and the skin off and leaves just a zingy grape juice behind. Good!

Then we boiled and boiled and boiled those grapes and sugar! We took turns stirring and even young Lacey helped!

While we were waiting for the jam to set up we decided to use the last bit to make grape smoothies in Mitone’s new Vitamixer.

These smooties were like no other—–just pure cool concord grape taste. That’s us holding our foreheads because we all endded up with brain freeze!

The amazing part was sterilizing the lids and jars and listening to the POP when the jam set in the jars.

After a wonderful day, I carried my share of the treasure back to Haven Farm.

I couldn’t help myself—-I probably looked a bit smug. For once in my life I hadn’t burnt the meal or created an improvised dinner disaster!

I mean, I simply believe that recipes are suggestions  or starting points for creative cooking! Some meals taste better than others.

OR….. As Stephen philosophically  said when I made a really awful dinner,”We can always compost it!”

But my reputation preceded me and I had to really coax everyone to try the jam.  It took 2 weeks to get my cousin Dave to try it.  But he loved it! 

During our two years of married adventures, Stephen has developed a cast iron stomach.When he realized that I had created something that didn’t require TUMS as a side dish, he was thrilled! The look of astonishment on his face was worth all the trouble to make jam.

All told, I probably spent 5 hours picking grapes and one hour with ice on me for the bee sting, $60 for supplies,  endured temperatures  that felt like a saunna,and drove an hour to make 15 perfect little jam jars.

But they ate it! And they liked it!

Next year—-I plan to enter the Carroll County Fair—–look out jammers!

Penny, Mitone, and Lacy

I first met Penny in June 2006 when I came to Galax, VA to do a summer enrichment project with the kids at Galax Elementary School. I am not sure who was more enriched—–the kids for creating two wonderful Jack Tale plays—- or me for meeting some very generous and wonderful people in Galax.

Penny and her daughter Mitone—-anad Mitone’s daughter Lacey—-have encouraged Stephen and me in this whole process of finding a home that meets both our needs.

I am a professional storyteller and director who works with kids and adults, and Stephen is an agriculture teacher who grew up on a ranch near Douglass, KS.

We prayed for two years for an idea of where we should go and what we should do.  I didn’t want to keep leaving Stephen to return to Philadelphia to perform every two months, but it was the only way since Kansas is so sparsely populated.

It was Penny who came up with the idea of agritourism during a wintry evening in January 2010. As soon as I heard the idea, I knew it was the answer to our prayers.

But oh those land prices!

In May, Penny and Mitone and Lacey drove us all over Carroll and Grayson Counties searching for a farm. We had arrived on a weekend and time was tight. I was due back in Philadelphia to finish a spring tour and Stephen was due back at his college to finish the semester.

But miracles of miracles, Penny told us that she thought she had found a possible farm. It was 19 acres— listed in  a real estate book we had collected for this adventure. I must admit the picture wasn’t very great and 19 acres seemed small after hearing about Kansas farms that have thousands of acres.

“You don’t need thousands of acres in Southwest Virginia,” said Mitone.

“It rains and you can grow anything here!,” Penny stated matter of factly.

Stephen agreed. And better yet, he was interested.

Penny and Mitone and even 5 year old Lacey spent the morning brainstorming things we could do with the farm as we  promoted agritourism. They encouraged us and gave us insider information that saved us weeks of leg work!

So we drove out to Fancy Gap and saw the most beautiful farm in the world. It had everything we had prayed about: Rolling pastures, a growing place, a stream, woods, and a barn. And a moldy house —-but that is another story for later!

And it was in our price range!

Surely this was a gift from God!

The only problem was —-convincing Stephen to act quickly on something half way across the country!

In the end we bid on the farm on May 31.

“Now how’s that for a second anniversary gift?” Stephen said.

My practical husband had just done the most daring act of his life!

He is —as always—- my hero.

And Penny, Mitone, and Lacey are our very special friends whom we love dearly!


Stephen and I are settling in to a routine as we go about dealing with the house issues.  One night last week, I was waiting on the porch for Stephen to come outside.

I was feeling very tired and a little discouraged.  And to be truthful, I felt like summer was whizzing by and all we had done was pack,  pitch tents, and work so hard with nothing to show for our efforts.  In short I was wondering if we had made the right decision to come to Fancy Gap,VA and start Haven Farm.

Suddenly there was a BOOM!!!!!  I looked up over the trees and saw a thunderstorm —–lightning and flashing lights and BOOM BOOM BOOM!

I hadn’t missed out on fireworks at all—-God had provided a fireworks display just for Stephen and me. We sat and watched the thunderstorm over on the next mountain, but we would be nice and dry in our tent that night!


Stephen and I have moved to Haven Farm in Fancy Gap, VA from Kansas. Even as we packed and packed AND packed, we fretted that the house in Kansas hadn’t sold. We hadn’t planned to purchase the farm so quickly but when we saw how beautiful it is and that it was in our price range, we took a leap of faith!
Leap is the key word here.
You see, Kansas means “people of the south wind.”  And that means that it is hard to grow flowers in central Kansas—-they literally blow away! 
But I was determined to put out 3 tiny pots of flowers —-for curb appeal —-to sell the house. I nursed them along by keeping them in the shade of the back porch while temperatures climbed into the 100’s. Every time a prospective buyer would come, I would race around to the front and place them on the steps. Then I would lurk near by and the minute I saw the visitors leave, I would rush to put them back in the shade!
One night I was so tired from packing and I was asking God if moving was the right thing to do.  At 11 p.m. I decided to take a break and water the little pots of flowers. It was too dark to see but I managed to pour the water into the first pot. I noticed that the soil was pushed up so I tried to push it back down.
Something moved. It was soft. I figured it was an air bubble so I pushed again. It moved! Yikes!
Something hopped up my arm and onto the porch!
It was a little frog. He had dug himself a tiny hole in the flowers to cool off.
And right there, I began to cool off from fretting and worrying about the move. You see, I remembered a little saying from church that someone taught me: Frog stands for Fully Relying on God!
It was the message I needed to hear.