Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Helpful Visit

Last night, we were invited to a friend's house. We had a nice dinner and pleasant conversation, but those weren't the real reasons we were asked or that we accepted. We really came for the barn tour, the wood stove experience, and the drainage information. I guess you could call it a mentoring evening.

You see, our friends Dee and Tom have a farm--that possession which is the object of our desire. Being a very supportive and generous person, Dee suggested that we come over some evening and tour their barn, to stimulate ideas for our own someday. Snuggling up with tea by the wood stove got thrown in because the person drawing our house plans seemed skeptical that a wood stove could heat an entire two-story house. (Cozy heat, verified.) The drainage tutelage was a welcome bonus. Besides, Dee knows how it is to be stricken with farm hopefulness. She searched for five years to find the right farm for them, so she's happy to help someone else in the throes. They're both inspiring examples from whom we can learn much--like maybe fearlessness.

Dee and Tom, with a little help from friends on a couple of big steps (like erecting the main posts), built their barn all by themselves. Tom dug the holes for the footers by hand using a post hole digger, then mixed and poured the cement himself. They raised the verticals and attached the horizontals. They built stairs to the loft instead of a ladder to make moving things up and down easier. They figured out a cheap way to create horse proof bars in the stalls. They wired it. They even painted it all pretty. It took them four months, but (and here's something that in the past I never would have expected to say) it's a lovely barn. I'm only sorry that there are no pictures because I'm a Loser blogger who hasn't yet learned to carry her camera everywhere. But back to Dee.

Dee is one of my heroes--a creative, energetic, well rounded soul who bakes breakfast treats for church every Sunday but who also operates power tools comfortably. She hangs wallpaper, paints, keeps the church clean, and sells a few eggs when her girls are really laying. In her spare time she's president of the local Woman's Club. When we were visiting she showed us what was probably a floor model ashtray sans its actual ash holding portion that she picked up on the curb somewhere. She plans to paint it in the local university colors, put glass on the top to make it a small table, and donate it to the Woman's Club's charity ball silent auction. (Yes, she doesn't just think of these projects. She actually does them.) She also has made a scrapbook for every year that she and her husband have been married. This is not a cutesy newlywed thing. They've been married long enough to have their first grandchild. Oh, and her house is fully decorated, not that she doesn't have future projects still. (That last one always gets me. Someday, I swear...) In short, she's amazing. When I grow up I want to be like Dee.

Now about that wood stove.
I've lived with one before, but in a one story house, so I was very relieved, after the architect's doubtfulness, to feel for myself that her pretty little Vermont Castings model did indeed heat their entire two story house, even without optimal design for single-source heat. The wood stove is on one end of the lower floor, so the upstairs is a little cooler but comfortable with a sweatshirt. (Hey, it's winter.) We plan to place our wood stove, along with the stairs, in the center of an open plan first floor, so our results should be even better. But if it's cooler upstairs, all the better for sleeping under a down comforter. At least, I know it works.

As for our drainage bonus, we didn't see it coming, but it was welcome. Tom is a wetlands specialist with a natural resources agency. Just ask him about the possibility of rehabbing your old pond, and away he goes. The man seriously knows how to manage and move water. His brain will be handy pickings when we get to farming and need a clean pond, but that night he had a lot to say about keeping a basement dry in this part of the country, which is even more immediately relevant. Now we can have an intelligent conversation with builders about that issue. He even gave us the name of an excavator with whom he's worked who's an alleged drainage whiz. This information was an unsolicited blessing. I've had the misery of a wet basement before. I don't want to go through that again, especially when it will (hopefully) be our root cellar.

Sometimes I feel daunted by all that goes into making our farm dream come true. Not just building the house, but getting a barn up somehow and raising animals well and learning to garden (I'm death to all but the hardiest plants). Thankfully, there are swell people like Dee and Tom who happily encourage us and prove that impressive things can be accomplished with a little daring and a lot of hard work. They help us believe that we can do it, too. Someday I hope to sit beside my own wood stove and uplift others as they share their dreams, whatever they may be, while remembering those who helped us, in a chain of support as natural as the world outside our cozy home.

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