Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Working Together

It's been really fun, the few times our days off have intersected with each other, to spend time as a couple. I've been contemplating how different my life would be were I still single and trying to do any of this on my own. That's what I was having to do not that many years ago, and sometimes it's still an adjustment merging the particulars...a welcome adjustment, I'd have to say.

You Gotta Love a Man Who Can Fix Things

I daily am more appreciative that J has the skills he does. He loves to tinker, and can build or fix pretty much anything. He's also had a lot of years of trial and error, and has some well-defined ideas of what mistakes he doesn't want to repeat...and of successes he'd love to duplicate. He's also a good financial manager overall. He's determined that the risk factors, especially at where we are in our lives now, should be given a long, hard look.

I'm learning that much of what we're calling Homesteading is really living in a way that is best for us and being good stewards. We have a developing mental picture of some ultimate goals, as we're now in the thick of the preparations. Many of our "wants" have had to bow to the reality of their practicality.

Preference and Practicality

I love older houses and the craftsmanship of their construction. My sister lives in a turn-of-the-century house in Illinois, the lovely old white sort with wraparound porches. Beautiful! Those houses speak to me, and I love the sound of feet on a wood floor, the older craftsmanship, the surprises you find in a house with a history.

I love wood. I love a wide variety of animals and used to dream of raising horses. I love being at home, being a homemaker. I love large acreages where a person doesnt feel crowded and you don't see houses next door.

We've begun merging our preferences with practicalities, and so for us, renovating on a large scale is at the low end of our wish list, though we'd absolutely love it. We simply don't forsee the finances. For my husband, that is also the case with wood floors. Florida meltdowns and humidity make wood a Welcome Home sign for insects, especially termites. That's why he prefers tile for interior floors, and concrete block or stemwall designs for the structure itself, finished out with "knockdown" textured stucco. That's what he incorporated in our present home...concrete block with a knockdown finish stucco and clay-toned cement barrel tile roofing -- 18" ceramic matte finish tile for the flooring throughout. I have no complaints, with the only precaution being that unseen spills can make for a hydroplane tailbone-cracking experience. :)

We're finding that the house plans we've sketched during all this process have morphed. At times it was plans for a large house, and then started becoming smaller. Charmed by what I found in the Tiny House movement to smaller, customized dwellings, we drew plans for the more diminuitive of liveable structures -- hardly more than a garden shed in size. It's interesting seeing how we're shifting over time. Recently, we discussed the use of steel shipping boxes as a possiblity for incorporating as part of the underlying structure of an expandable design, since they come in widths of 8 1/2 feet. Then J began thinking about modules that could be constructed over time, in sequence, for expansion. We've run the gamut.

Here's what we're thinking at the moment:

An Evolving Plan

If we can trade for acreage, we want a structure that we're not wasting our money on, that's easy to build, that can be built quickly, and economically. It needs to be expandable.

As we're thinking presently, this is the proposed sequence after acquiring the land:
A. fence the property with a perimeter fence
B. build the first structure, the size of a guest cottage, which will serve as our "camp" as we improve the property, build animal shelters, put in our first garden, etc.
C. start very small with animals and build from there, in stages, seeing what works for us best and which animals we find we really want to continue expanding the numbers of and which ones we don't want to
D. living for a time, during the transition, "half in and half out," meaning that we'll keep our residence we're in now, pay only cash for the above, and do the actual building of the small guest house (with kitchenette and loft) by hand or partially sub some of it out -- taking it in stages. See HOUSE, below. It's surprising just how useable a small square footage can be if designed that way.
E. Once we're "set" on the land, with the structure built, we'll find a way to transition and sell our present home.

F. Start with animals and plants we can use to begin substituting for our present grocery bills. Make things ourselves. Starting simple, with the goal being to try raising things that are going to help us be self-sufficient. This means we may not focus on a specialized breed at the beginning, if it's not obtainable locally or requires risky investment. And we want to focus on the right number and types of animals for the specific property. We can fine tune that over time to include our ideal breeds of animals and bloodlines, etc. First, we probably need our learning curve, and to do it in stages slowly. For instance, we may decided we want dairy and meat, but we don't know right now whether that would be a goat, a cow, or something else better suited for bartering with another local farm. We'd try our hand at two or three sheep rather than setting up for a larger herd. We want to discover which we love to work with ourselves, and which we'd rather admire at a distance.

The House
As stated above, one idea begins with constructing a very small guest house (1 bedroom with loft for more sleeping room if needed)and kitchenette, which would be used later as a guest house (duh :)) or mother-in-law wing, or for a farm-sitter to live in if we traveled for any length of time.

That could be expanded from by way of a short enclosed dogtrot (sun porch) connected to a common room-- a really big room that's essentially a simple square or rectangle and big enough to have a lot of people in, or to use as a dual purpose living room/kitchen. The main gathering room, a place several people can work on a canning project together, or other big projects, for gatherings, Bible studies, sleeping a bunch of kids in sleeping bags for sleepovers, etc. Tables could be set up or taken down in it, or it can just be arranged into a great family room.

A third expansion step would be to expand from that room with another enclosed dogtrot (connecting porch) connecting to a third structure, which houses a master bedroom/bath, large closets, loft office, and sitting room/library (a quiet nook to knit or read or talk together privately); essentially a little bigger structure than the guest house, but with no kitchette. Still very easy to build.

The buildings could be arranged according to their best site advantage on the property.

If we don't go that route, and opt for an all-in-one house, we have a second design better suited to doing passive solar, though anything we build, J will try to incorporate sustainable and economizing materials and means.

The Properties in Discussion

There are two properties now on the board. One is five acres of mostly pasture with a crescent of trees toward the rear of the property, and it's already fenced for cattle. There are neighbors on every side, some with a lot of collected clutter (I dont mean tools and tractors and such...just...clutter). Across the street are two very unique houses...one still under construction, approximating an unfinished, castle with a metal roof, complete with moat and mounds of fill dirt from where the moat was dug, and the other a recreation of a beach retreat (there's no beach nearby) with holes dug around the property and boardwalks suspended over them.

Since the neighbors are probably lovely and fascinating, my only concern at present is if we'd ever be able to resell the property for what it's worth if we found ourselves having to at any future point. Not that we're buying anything at this point for its resale value. I think the Tennessee girl in me wants pristine vistas of views, and I'm very spoiled to rolling hills and mountains. It would just be a minor adjustment, I think. The road is a dirt road, which I love. The front edge of the property has a wet-weather (sort of) creek thick with some mature hardwoods, brush, and thigh-high ferns...I really liked that.

There was a separate 10 acre parcel that I was more interested in, which is mostly pasture, but has two ponds. I did actually tell J he ought to offer to swap everything for that one. There is another man from out of the country who owns five and ten acres in the next county, and his land is all wooded. That would be a whole new set of considerations. So we're praying for wisdom and one of these opportunities to become a reality. In the meantime, I'm so busy at my job that I don't have much time to fret and worry over any of it. But it will be a red letter day the day I can type right here "the land is ours!" (which calls to mind the native american realization that no land belongs to us, but it's under our stewardship)...ah well, you know what I mean, though. I can't wait to make this step!

The Town Nearby the Potential Properties

I love the little town it's in. Though the views overall are unspectacular (in comparison), the area is smalltown, which I LOVE. The drive in was of a lot of big agriculture such as orange groves, berry, tomato, and potato farms, but there were also smaller farms with signs reading "Eat Local!" and such. There are some really big holdings of hundreds of acres, mostly vacant in places except for Beefmaster cattle. There are also many smaller farms tucked here and there. It has all the small town features I grew up with in Mississippi...the single grocery store, hardware store, a junk store (perk!), and a few others...few and far between...and a real one-room (ok, it's really five rooms) school house still in operation. There was a five acre vineyard not far from it, a sand hill crane sanctuary, phosphate mine at the perimeter, butterfly farm (how cool is that?), and local folks raising cattle, horses, and minature goats.
And at this point, I'm resisting the urge to beg J to just give all his remaining handful of vacant residential lots, waterfronts included, to this man so we can GET THERE and have our land. Only that's really impulsive, he's much smarter in real estate over the long term than I am, and I have confidence that our prayers won't be in vain. We'll BOTH have a good feeling about the acreage when it comes.

Debt-Busting Progress

He thinks we can retire it within a year. R's nursing school expenses, my used car purchase and repairs, and the commute gasoline costs offset the increase in our profits since I've had this sheriff's department job. However, there is a momentum that has built from the efforts we're all making. It does feel like we're making some forward progress. I'm making "thermometer" charts so we can visibly see the debts going down each paycheck as we eat away at paying them off entirely. It's good that this all will be a process, because R still needs to live at home until she's well into her second leg of becoming an RN. She's finishing the LPN first. I never had parents available to help me over the financial bumps between high school and college and beyond. I vowed I'd not leave my child stranded and without some direction if she wants to make the most of that, so even her schooling has been a group effort. We pay for her transportation an hour away to the daily clinicals and labs, and each of us puts in 12 to 14 hour days before we arrive safetly back home. I have no complaints...I just hope I have staying power...lol!

The Blog

(Sigh...) I just havent been here very much. But I try to update as I can. I STILL have to do that promised blogroll, give honor to others and thank Phelan and Wilma for their inclusion of this site for two blog-buddy awards. I'd like to know how to make the blog graphically more attractive, especially with a customized header...you know, the sort with photos and a decent font. And I'd love to get a camera and take pictures to add to the journal entries to add visual chronicling, too.

Ah, what would life be like without all the To-Do lists??

I'm going to knock out some household chores and grocery shopping, and maybe I'll be back later today to give more attention here and catch up with emails. Life's exciting and busy, but not much fun without clean clothes and some occasional homecooking...ha!

Sayonara till Soon, hopefully :)

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