image A favorite quote from the Janette Oke book-series-turned-screenplay “Love Comes Softly.” A slightly corny Christian-values story about a homesteading family, not unlike Little House on the Prairie. But, as Kirk can attest, I love those stories, mostly because they are about homesteading. But they also contain a lot of universal themes that resonate with almost everybody- hardship, perseverance, resourcefulness, kindness even in the face of hostility, and hope and faith.

Given this time of year is one where we often think of the future and reflect on the past, I’ve been thinking of our meager beginnings and where they are headed.

A few years back, I happened upon a house that was set to be demolished, and bought it at auction for $1. A dozen lucky breaks led me to buy a derelict old dairy homestead to put it on, and thus this old farm began again. But the beginnings were, and still are, somewhat meager! Towards the end of the project of settling the house on the land and getting it signed off proper with the county, I met Kirk, and he, too, got roped into this project and later married into it! The project was still in a pretty chaotic state then, and this is what the backyard looked like (!):

JunkYard Lest you think I/we are some kind of Grapes of Wrath denizens, let me explain a little what all is in this photo, and why it’s so significant. The travel trailer behind the house was mine before this project, I used to use it to travel to dog shows in style. During the project, I lived in it for six months, to guard the tools and construction materials, until the house had heat and lights. Truly meager, but sufficient, accommodations. And when you’re working hard all day, you hardly need a fancy place to eat and sleep!

The house’s siding was half painted, half new wood because the roof was cut off and replaced in the house move. It was too expensive to rip off all the siding and put on new, and yet the old siding’s paint was peeling and needed a lot of work. So, the “pinto” coloration endured quite a while. The scaffolding was there to put up the siding. There was silt fencing, required by the county to prevent erosion from the site excavation. And there were piles of lumber and salvage materials under blue tarps (ech!) because there was (and still is) no garage or other place to store them. There was a lot of construction debris from working on the house, and things recycled from the house’s previous site that had not yet been dealt with.

There are dog agility weave poles out there, my training long since abandoned for this project. The chain link panels are a dog kennel that I keep on hand for situations where I need to pen something temporarily. They were stacked in the barn, and a portion of it fell down, pinning them. There were weeds everywhere, and blackberry vines insanely out of control. And mud during the rainy season.

And then, there was the existing “farm debris” that came with this 1885 homestead! The blue truck bed, a broken red hay tedder, rolls of black water pipe, loads of scrap metal, and trash. And, the clawfoot tub-turned-cattle-water-trough (from the original homestead here, I think). This is how I met Kirk, he refinished it. And knowing that this is how the yard looked when he met me, I can’t help but think how impressed he must have been! Not! 😉 I imagine the reason he agreed to a second date is that he must have been morbidly intrigued. 😀 I think I remember that by the third date, he got out the weed whacker and started forging paths through the wilds.

Thankfully, with his help, and my favorite “little-by-little” approach, most of this is under reasonable control now. How I manage to stay motivated in the face of the chaos of such a large project is always bargaining with myself– just spend five minutes on it, just do one thing today. It’s Kaizen for the home. And, in time, you can get even the worst Grapes of Wrath, century-old farmstead whipped back into shape, if you just do one small improvement at a time. (And, you don’t watch TV!)

Today, the backyard looks so much better, here’s a photo showing some progress: nearly two tons of scrap metal hauled to recycling, garbage removed, blue tarps gone (yeah! I ban blue tarps!), site smoothed, new dog potty yard built, house painted, blackberries nearly gone. Not to mention, the farm back under production again with sheep and poultry.

imageYay, SO much better. But, we still have a lot left to do….

The original 8,500 square foot barn built in 1902 fell down, it had never been re-roofed and was not structurally very well-designed. So, for a while we were faced with this gigantic, non-navigable rubble pile. Literally, the roof was pancaked on the ground, and all the beams underneath it in a crazy tangle. We could not get a wheelbarrow, let alone a vehicle, in there at first. Kirk did a ton of work by hand, and our friends Jerry and Scott helped more than once, to get this beast under control. That was the ultimate definition of little-by-little, as sometimes a whole days’ effort might only clear a few feet into the pile! 😛

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Today, it looks like this, we’re still working through the last of the lumber, recycling what we can, and using the rotten and pest damaged stuff to heat the house:

imageIt’s fun to look back at old pictures and see how far we’ve come! But there is no time to rest, of course, we still have meager accommodations in other areas that need improvement. Our big goal for this year is to replace the barn with a new one. And, boy, will it feel like a luxury to have a place to park farm equipment, store hay and feed, put tools, pen up animals, and work on projects out of the weather!

So here’s to 2010, and meager beginnings- never despise them, for with effort, they usually turn into great ends!

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