Tenting Tonight

When we realized that the farnhouse had black mold we knew we would never live in it. But what to do next?

Mitone suggested yurts—-tents favored by Mongolians. Penny suggested log homes. Lacey offered to let us stay in her room.

After much thought we decided to build our own small house.

But where would we stay while all this was happening and all of our money was tied up until we sold the Kansas house?

We would camp!

It’ll be fun I told my husband. An adventure! You’ll love it!

That’s when I had the idea to put the tent on a platform like MASH, the TV show.

After much debate we chose the lean to next to the barn. And really, during all of those heavy summer rains—-we once had 5 inches in an afternoon and had to dig trenches for the water to run through the barn!—–the tent never got wet!!!!!

We were happy sleeping on our pallets in the tent.

Val and Dave couldn’t find housing so they camped too. You can see their tent on a tiny platform too.  They put up an umbrella and it felt like a patio party all the time over there!

Then I had to leave to work on my last Kansas gig in Iola, KS.

Although I enjoyed  the gig I was thrilled to return to Stephen and Haven Farm at the end of September.

“It’s getting cold and this is taking longer than I thought,” Stephen said. “We’re getting an airmattress!”

That night Stephen decided we would set it up right away.

“I’ll go in the tent and you stay outside,” he said. My job was to hold the extra flashlight.

That night I heard thumping and groaning and in the moonlight and shadows of the tent it seemed as if Stephen was wrestling a ferocious monster.

In the end he won.

He opened the tent flap and shouted,” Look honey! This queen sized mattress fills the whole tent—it looks like a moon bounce in here!”

We flopped on that bed and it was soft—-much better than the ground. We bounced and laughed at how it really did seem like a moon bounce.

Things were definitely looking up.

And that night we slept ever so soundly, lulled to sleep by songs of the cows and coyotes.

PS Jammin’

That last entry was written by me—Vicky.

Mitone and Penny are fabulous cooks. They even believe they can teach me to cook! Bless their foolish hearts!

Raising the Roof

Folks have been asking for more pictures of the house. So here they are!

As you can see, we started when the weather was really hot—–80-90 degrees!  Look at my cousin Dave’s clothes. He started wearing a straw hat with his T shirt and shorts.  Then look at my husband Stephen. He is wearing an oxford collared shirt and jeans—–remember how I wrote that KS men never wear shorts?——and a feed cap.

The two looked like the beach meets the prairie!

But boy can these men work! And the interesting thing about them is they didn’t use a lot of words to communicate what needed to get done.

They did everything from lifting shingle pallets and making rafters to putting up siding to pulling wires to pounding nails and putting in screws and brackets!

And they did it 6 days a week in the heat and then in very high winds and freezing cold temperatures—-40 degrees!!!! And they never complained!!!!They are real heroes!

We started in August and it is now the third week in October.

Look at how the trees change to fall colors and notice how we wear more and more layers. It is hard to believe that in the first week in October we were wearing  hats and scarves and gloves and sweaters and two pairs of socks to stay warm!  We even built a bonfire two mornings to stay warm!

I included some pictures of the frame of the house in the late evening. If you look carefully you can see how we covered the rafters and sides with great big pieces of plastic. What a job! After working all day we were exhausted and then trying to lift or thread the plastic up and over the rafters practically killed us!  We are all in agreeement—-that was the worst job.

While I was able to help with the foundation work—–and right now I am digging trenches or covering up trenches!—–I didn’t help as much with the framing part. Mostly I used the speed square, held boards while they were getting cut, swept up debris, fetched nails, cleaned the site, kept the moldy house as clean as possible, worked in the garden, carried food and water to the site, and did a lot of laundry!

My job was to dry up any dew that formed on the house to prevent mold.  You are probably thinking —how much dew could there be?—-buckets full!

You see the dew would collect in the plastic sheets and it would get so heavy we had to use brooms and sticks to push it up over the rafters and twice we even poked a   hole in the plastic to get rid of the water!

During that time it seemed like it rained every afternoon in August. But we noticed that the water was crystal clear here at Haven Farm!

If you look at the pictures on page 6 you can see the men shaking hands on the scaffolding they built as they put in the last soffit. They grumbled about the silly pose—but I insisted! After all—-we were finally enclosed! And if worse came to worse and the wind blew harder than the 35 mph it was—we had a place to stay safe!

All in all we are grateful that God kept everyone safe from harm. Dave and Stephen have made a snug and cozy house for us!

We keep praying that God will help us move quickly as we begin the interior work!

And HE will! HE is faithful!

The Skirt

The other day my husband Stephen said to me, ” I need a skirt.”

Startled, I replied, ” I beg your pardon?”

“For work. I need one for work.”

Now what you need to know about my Kansas born husband is that he is a real manly man. He won’t even sleep on a  flowered comforter.

In my mind I imagine that a Kansas 10 year old has this experience with his father:

“Now son. It’s time we have The Talk.” 

 You may be thinking The Talk is about the birds and the bees, but a Kansas child learns that around 4 years old.  This talk is even more important!

“Son, you are getting to an age where you need to watch what you wear. Always wear your hat,  stick to plaid shirts, keep your boots clean, and NEVER EVER show your legs in public!”

Consequently I have traveled all over central and western Kansas —– and my new home in Virginia too!—–and have seen so many men  in plaid shirts that I couldn’t tell them apart. I started refering to them as the Blue Plaid man or the Green Plaid guy.  These men also have half and half faces. You know, tan from the eyebrows down and white from the brows up.

As for the leg business, I can vouch for the authenticityof that part. My husband is so tan that he looks like he is wearing brown leather evening gloves that reach to his biceps. 

But from the neck down—–he’s as white as a swan! He’s smart because so many farmers and ranchers die from skin cancer.  So the advice is really important but I can’t imagine ranching in 120 degree weather in boots, jeans, gloves, and a hat! 

These folks who grow our food are real unsung heroes!

My husband pulled me out of my reverie,” What kind of skirt should I get?”

“Won’t it be hard to build a house wearing a skirt honey? It’ll get in the way.”  I tried to be gentle—-maybe this was a mid life crisis.

Shocked he shouted,” It’s for the house! It’s for the house!  You know,  the part around the piers to cover the cement posts holding up the house. I’d better go ask your cousin Dave.”

He adjusted his red plaid collar, pulled his hat lower, and fled out the door!

So my friends, we have learned that a skirt is also something that covers the bottom of the house.

And to this day whenever I pass the construction site, I turn my head in embarrassment because I can just see the house trying to cover up its knees and pleading—–hurry up and make the skirt!

Breaking Rock

When we first arrived at Haven Farm  it rained.   A lot. 

And whenever the fog cleared, we could see how the water ran down the gravel drive into the basement. One time the water came so fast I thought I had left a faucet running. It was the basement filling up. The last look I had was of 3 happy frogs splashing around!

I kept muttering—-FROG means fully relying on God—–things are going to get better, but I wondered if we should consider building an ark instead of a small house.

 Our friend Lewis who grew up on the farm——the nicest man!—- advised us to try to divert the water as it ran down the drive.

So on one of the first dry and sunny days, as we waited for Dave and Val to arrive to build the house, we looked for a way to divert water. Since we knew every penny at the moment was important, we looked for materials on hand to use.

What I had thought was an herb garden was really an overgrown trailer foundation made of cinder blocks. In these pictures Stephen and I dug out the cinder blocks and threw them onto the back of the pick up. We drove  to the gravel driveway and threw them down into the low spots.

Then, using sledge hammers, we broke the rocks into smaller pieces and backed the pick up over them to pack them down firmly.

My husband is not only smart and handsome——he is really strong! He picked up his sledge hammer as if it was a toy!

BANG! SMASH! BANG!

He really had the hang of it!

I picked up the other sledge hammer and tried to immitate his movement. At first the hammer simply felt heavy……..bang……..

 but gradually I began to feel a rhythm and was able to use the weight of the sledge to put some power into my swing.

BANG!  I did it! 

We grinned at each other. We had finally begun the work to make Haven Farm a place of refuge and beauty.

It felt great to begin!

Making Hay

Mowing Part One

When I first came to Great Bend, KS in May 2008, I was just married to Stephen. That’s when I found out about his secret love affair!

Mowing.

Yep. Mowing. He loved it. And because he loves me he wanted me to have this same wonderful experience!

OK,  I thought.  Looks pretty straight forward……kind of like driving.  And an acre can’t take that long, right?

My husband eagerly sat me down at the controls and gave me a quick little lesson.  Like a proud father launching his child into the world he patted my back and wished me luck.

I tried to remember his instructions as I lurched forward into gear. Funny,  I didn’t know my husband could jump backwards so far and so quickly……..I started off and actually did find the hum of the mower quite soothing. In fact it was so soothing I almost fell asleeeeeeeeee   yikes! Suddenly I was wide awake…….

Where did all of these trees come from? Three wind breaks—-I thought KS didn’t have trees! Suddenly the trees were everywhere and they seemed to be jumping out at me!

And what was this? A shed? Who thought to put a shed in the middle of the back field! I tried to steer around the garden and compost pile to avoid the shed. Crunch! Well, maybe Stephen wouldn’t notice the little dent in the metal shed.

I was so busy thinking about the shed that I totally missed the back of the house. I should say FORGOT about the back of the house. I didn’t miss it at all. Thunk!

Stephen came  out to check on me.

He was just in time to see me turn the corner.  He had a funny look on his face that I couldn’t quite figure out.

I turned to wave at him —–thinking that I must look awfully cute on this mower!  In that split second I ran into the culvert and tipped over.

Look ooooouuuuuutttttt! Too late. Stephen ran over and helped me up. It was hard to hear what he was saying over the hiss of the deflating tire, but I think he decided that mowing might not be for me. I felt terrible, like I had let him down somehow. But I gave up my seat and watched him wheel the mower away. He kept patting the seat as if to make it feel better.

A week later, he kissed me and said ,” Honey, the tire’s fixed—-gonna mow!”  He ran out the door before I could ask for a second chance.

I started making cookies and soon enough Stephen returned. He loved the cookies, but I still felt bad about my feeble mowing efforts.

“Stephen, I am so sorry about hitting the shed and the house and popping the tire in the culvert. Can you please forgive me?”

My wonderful husband took me in his arms, scattering chocolate cookie crumbs in my hair and said,” Don’t feel bad honey. I just rode over the drip line for the trees and cut the line!”

Mowing Part Two

Well I never mowed again in Great Bend. Mostly I just carried water out to Stephen and made sure he had enough sun block on his face and arms.

Flashback 21 years………When I was 25 years old and living in Philadelphia I drove my car down an icy hill and hit a neighbor’s car.  It all happened so slowly. That sliiiiidddde and that feeling of UH OH! Then the gentle bump bump as my vehicle hit the neighbor’s car in two places—–like a slow underwater ballet.

The next morning I told my neighbor I would pay for the damages—-just get two estimates.

Imagine my shock when I read the itemized bill. Front and back panels cost A LOT of money! But then I noticed something else—–150 dollars for a hood ornament. What? But like my mom said,” Just pay it and put it behindyou. And don’t do it again!”

Shoot, I couldn’t afford to do that again!

Now you may be wondering where this post is going, but I was reminded of this when I was mowing at Haven Farm.

Yes, you read that right——mowing!

I told you in earlier blogs that these were busy times—-trying to get the garden planted and the house built before fall and look for work and volunteer at the county fair.  In the pictures that I took, I show Stephen mowing and making hay. The grass got so high from all of that late summer rain that we used the hay on our garden.

My job was to spade up a garden spot 10 x 30 feet. Then rake up about two acres of hay. Stephen and I laid the hay in between the garden rows to keep the weeds out.

Hard work, but very satisfying.

However, as the house progressed, time was tighter and tighter. One day Stephen turned to me and said,” You’re going to have to mow!”

We looked at each other fearfully. After all, we had only just managed to build the footers and floor joists amid lots of thunderstorms and mud—–what if I hit the new house?!

My husband’s voice was shaky as he gave me a refresher lesson on how to work the mower. In my mind  I called it the MONSTER! It gobbles everything in its path!

I set off for the back field. My hands were sweating and I could feel Stephen and my cousin Dave’s eyes on me. I was pretty sure they were far enough away so that I wouldn’t run them over, but I did notice that they looked ready to run  if needed.

But these were desperate times and I really wanted to help Stephen have one less chore to do after building all day long. I really concentrated and suddenly mowing was easy! And relaxing!

I could feel the sun on my face and arms and legs. It felt wonderful after being cooped up indoors in KS because of the dust storms for two years.

As I mowed, the grasshoppers exploded out of the grass and leaped ahead of me. It was almost as if they were heralding my new accomplishment!

Vicky Town is finally mowing the field! Vicky Town is finally mowing the field!

That’s when I noticed one particularly brave grasshopper. He had hopped onto the area of the mower where my feet were. And there he perched—-leaning forward like a great, wonderful, green hood ornament!

He rode with me for  about 20 minutes before hopping off to join his friends.

But the whole time I was mowing with my tiny friend, I thought,” Now that’s a beautiful hood ornament—–one of God’s creatures——a priceless treasure! ”

I looked up at the beautiful farm—-our farm! A priceless gift from God. And I knew that I was finally home.

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!

Fireworks

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!