Tag Archives: Farm

Homecoming

Living at my Grandma’s former home, where I spent so much time as a child, I have a lot of moments where I’ll be going about my business and suddenly be transported into memories of the past. I’ll be walking by the green pole barn and suddenly I’m 5 years old and helping grandma put the pets to bed there, or running around on the dusty, straw-smelling floor and climbing up on the farm equipment while dad works on one of the cars, or sitting on grandpa’s lap as he let me “drive” the tractor out of the big back door.

I will be down by the old wooden barn watering trees and suddenly be eight years old and watching my little brother attempt to scale the silo ladder (he fell, and got zapped pretty good by the electric fence). Walking by the big trees on either side of the walkway up to the house, and then I’m four and using the hose to make little pools in the bowls created by the giant old roots. Playing ball with the dog on the drain field, I’m often brought to the oddly silent fort provided by the long, thick branches of the willow tree that’s no longer there, nothing but my nine-year old self, the sound of cicadas and the concentration of weaving willow branches into crowns or bracelets. There are thousands of this type of mental snapshot here.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

There are also a lot of moments of just being stricken by the weirdness of carrying out my daily adult life here. I’ll be laying on my couch watching TV and suddenly feel like it’s just too bizarre that I’m watching Family Guy in the same place where I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Golden Girls with grandma and grandpa. Sometimes while I’m cooking it will hit me that I’m walking the same floor, carrying out the same motions, that grandma did while making every meal for 50 years. The weirdest is having fires out in the pit that we made in the pasture, enjoying a couple of drinks, and thinking “what am I doing here, drinking beer and carrying on like the ghosts of my childhood aren’t hanging around?”

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

The feeling is a strange mix of deja-vu, amazement, and disorientation that bring to mind the Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

The snapshots of childhood remind me about wonder, freedom, and the joyful creativity of being a child left to herself in an expanse of nature.  I can remember exactly what I was feeling or thinking about in a lot of those snapshots. They are amazingly pure visions back into the essence of who I am when all the stress and pressure, failures and semi-mandated accomplishments of my adult life are peeled away.The moments of plain adult weirdness about the overlap of history and present are little shocks of “who am I and how did I get here? What the hell happened?”

Sometimes these moments will make me feel sad, mournful for the perfectly formed little person I was, and for how far she has been buried. Or sad because I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions about what to do with the gift of this place, and the fear of doing things wrong; especially with the knowledge about everything I’ve already done wrong in my life. Other times, and these are the ones I am really trying to focus on, I am inspired to tug that little girl back into the present and get to know her again. To use her joy and love and fearlessness as a guide for correcting all the things I’ve screwed up while making decisions out of fear. To know that the sudden feeling of elation that comes with that inspiration is what it feels like to do what’s right for my soul.

Even with such constant and intense reminders, it is hard to make the minute clicks in behavior towards more personal authenticity. Frequently I’m lonely and scared and running back towards approval-seeking and all of the other things I do to soothe the unsettling feeling of free-falling into the unknown that being authentic represents. But the moments of heart-bursting “rightness” are increasing, and they are inspiring many subtle shifts in how I interact with the world. I am still very, very tentative, but I am also deeply grateful for whatever currents brought me home to the farm where I can hear myself again after so much time spent thrashing around just  trying to stay afloat. 20140831_220347

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Sounds of the Farm

The other night I awoke to the sounds of coyotes in my yard. I hear them every night in my neighbors’ yards, but had never heard them in mine. I assume this is because I don’t have any animals that they like to prey on.  Also due to not having to worry about them eating my property: I usually enjoy the sounds that they make. However, when it’s happening right out your window, it is pretty eerie. As I laid there listening, it sounded like it was actually just two that had become separated from the pack and were trying to get a read on where the pack was. There was a lot of call and response. I haven’t heard them in our yard again since, but it did get me to thinking about the sounds of the farm v. the sounds of the city.

In Uptown the nightly noises were cars, sirens, buses, motorcycles, people yelling in the streets or in the surrounding apartments/buildings, instruments of every type and skill-level blaring out from windows (including beginner trumpet. That was fun! Ugh.). Loud noise was constant there, and I was so accustomed to it that I didn’t really hear it anymore. When we first moved out to the farm the silence was a bit disconcerting. Then I began to notice that it’s not that there isn’t noise, it’s just that the noises aren’t generally as irritating as the sounds in the city: wind in the trees, our neighbors’ sheep bleating or cows lowing, coyotes, crickets, cicadas, birds, distant train whistles in the valley. There are, however, some notable exceptions to the generally peaceful sounds.

First up is gunshots. Everyone around us owns guns and they like target practice. That’s just a given and a truth about living in the country. There will be guns. Despite being generally scared of guns, I know that it’s not very smart of me to be without one myself out there. There are enough large predators in our area that, once we do have animals, a gun will be a necessary evil. I really can’t see myself ever enjoying them, though.

Next is the sound that I like to call “Mad Cow.” Because that’s exactly what it is. A city girl like me had no idea that cows make an insane screechy sound when they’re pissed off. It sounds a little bit like a donkey braying, but every bit as loud as one would imagine an 800 lb animal can be. The nearest cows are at least 5 acres away, but when they’re ticked it sounds like they’re standing in my yard.

This last one is an anomaly, but it’s kind of a funny one. Even though people don’t live on top of each other in the country, the flat landscape on the plateau ensures that sounds carry. It’s not unusual for us to hear music coming from our neighbors a mile away. One Sunday night I was getting ready for bed and, rather than the peaceful sounds of the country, an unwelcome throwback from Uptown began drifting in through my open windows. One of my neighbors was rocking out on his drumset. Like, crazy rapid-fire heavy metal drumming. It sounded like it was in my basement. I am a big music fan, but I have never been big on drum solos (particularly the ubiquitous 4 AM bongo jams that happen at music festivals).

I would have never imagined that I would have to deal with  the infamous “bongo-rage” on the farm, but I felt the flames of the rage rising. Entitled thoughts such as ” this is why I don’t live in Uptown!” and crazy scenarios, starting with me going over and yelling and ending with me calling the cops, went through my head (I was, afterall, trying to sleep. It was 11 on a Sunday! This was outrageous!). After stewing for awhile (this neighbor must have A LOT of energy. He hardcore drummed, non-stop, for about an hour!), I suddenly heard that the drumming was being punctuated by a different kind of percussion: the sounds of sheep bleating. That snapped me out of the rage in short order! Then I just had to laugh at the absurdity of a farm-animal-laced rock-out session. Which made me laugh at the absurdity of how intolerant I’ve become. I used to have to listen to much worse in my apartment. A little farmhouse rock shouldn’t get to me, and is a small, and sort of comical, price to pay for the usual tranquility.

 

We Made It: First Winter in the Country is Finished!

Happy first day of spring everyone! Of course, this is Minnesota, so it could continue to snow for another month.

View from my front steps this morning.

View from my front steps this morning.

Let’s hope not – even the cheeriest people around here are hovering somewhere between dead-eyed apathy and full-on stabbiness. I don’t blame anyone, either. It’s been a bad winter all over the U.S., and in MN it is the worst winter for sub-zero temperatures since 1979. Of course it would be a bad one during our first year of isolation out in the country.

Actually, I think that living  all the way out here in the stix has made this winter a lot more tolerable. We don’t have to deal with other people’s stabbiness so much. Nor do we need to deal with  the terrible on-street parking (and associated rules designed for maximum ticketing and towing. Big fundraiser in this state) that happen in the city. Minimal shoveling. We have a guy that comes and plows our driveway. We have a garage in which one of our cars can live so I haven’t had to do any of the dreaded car-brushing or ice-scraping this year. I work from home on the days when the roads are bad. All of this is a significant improvement from the slogging through snow drifts to dig out a plowed-in car only to move it to the other side of the street so it can get plowed-in again over there.

I did go through a little bit of isolation depression back in December. Or it may have just been the standard holiday season depression…hard to say. Otherwise I have been enjoying how quiet it is out here in the winter. The snow is beautiful instead of dirty and gross. Winter in the country feels like a time to rest and reflect rather than like a time to deal with the bad weather while doing the things that you always do like we did in the city. The main drawback has been that, since most of our friends still live in the city, we have missed a lot of events and happenings with them because of the impact of weather on driving.Well, and the other part is convincing myself to leave the house to attend events. Living here has made it hard for me to choose to venture out, despite knowing that connecting with friends is important and worth it once I get going!

The other drawback has been my commute. The fact that I still spend half of my life either  downtown, or traveling to or from downtown, is leaving me with some personal dissonance right now. I am doing my best to process that, but more on that later! For now, I hope you are enjoying a warm-ish spring day!

Farmhouse Make-over

Finally, here are the before and after pics of our house! A fun fact about this house is that it isn’t really a traditional farmhouse, despite the fact that the rest of the farm is over 100 years old (the barn, for example, is ancient!). The house is 1940’s era, and was actually moved, fully-formed, onto the property in 1942. The original (supercool) old farmhouse was moved into town, and is still there. I kind of wish that we had the original…but the 1940s is turning out pretty well! It’s another “both worlds” thing in my life: the house is really similar to a lot of the houses in Minneapolis, and probably isn’t too far off from what we would have lived in if we stayed there!

We’ll start the tour at the front door! This is the entrance/mudroom before:

Mudroom After 2 Mudroom After 1

This room took longer than it looks in the pictures! We replaced the front door and had to rebuild the threshold. The ceiling was full of cracks and all warped, so it had to be sanded down, filled and repainted. We replaced the lights and painted the walls and woodwork. We went with a dark color for the walls because we have found out that mudrooms are called mudrooms for a reason, and stark white just doesn’t work with mud!  Here it is now:

Mud Room After 2 Mud Room After 1

I kind of forgot to take completely before pictures of the kitchen, but you’ll get the idea. Here it is in process:

Kitchen Before 4 Kitchen Before 3 Kitchen Before 2

The stove and fridge have already been replaced in the pics above, but the stove used to be the same lovely avocado green as the dishwasher. In the kitchen we replaced all the appliances, replaced chipped tiles in the counter-top, ground out all the old grout in the counter tiles and re-grouted, scraped off the wallpaper border, plumbed in a new sink, scraped off the wallpaper base (around the table; not really visible in the pics above), painted the walls, spray-painted the shutters, and installed wainscoting around the base of the wall where the table goes. I really like the wainscoting (my idea!), though I was a little bummed that my original idea was not implemented here: I wanted to use wood from the barn, but my mom (aka, “bossypants” ) said no because of the risk of bringing bugs in. I bowed to her point there.  Oh, we also stripped the ancient nasty wax off the linoleum floor and re-waxed, which was not a small project:

Kitchen After 4 Kitchen After 3 Kitchen After 2 Kitchen After 1

I didn’t actually take before pictures of the living room. I didn’t really have my wits about me at the time of the “before,” I was just too stressed and overwhelmed to think about it. But you can get a general idea of what it looked like on a very good day in these pics from my wedding day (also, what girl doesn’t look for excuses to look at her wedding pics? Even if they are of her lookin’ all classy putting her smokes in her dainty satin purse…heh):

Liss, packing supplies

In the living room we ripped up the carpet, sanded and finished the wood floors, and painted everything but the ceiling. Most of the furniture here is temporary – we threw our old furniture away when we moved out of the apartment and haven’t replaced it yet!

Living Room After 3 Living Room After 2 Living Room After 1

Moving on! Here is probably my favorite room (and the most finished to my specifications!). This is the master bedroom before:

Main Bed Before 1

This is the only room that already had the hardwood floors exposed, but we still had to sand and refinish. Peeled wallpaper, painted everything, and Ta-da!:

Main Bed After 3 Main Bed After 2

Main Bed After 1

I am also a big fan of the bathroom. As you can see, I like the bright colors! I would have gone for something brighter in the kitchen, too, had we not been keeping the linoleum…

Here’s the bathroom before:

Bathroom Before 2 Bathroom Before 3 Bathroom Before 1 Bathroom Before 4

Lovely wallpaper circa 1960-something, rust stained bathtub and tile, mildewy ceiling, crumbly cabinet and medicine cabinet, tilty toilet, 1980’s lights. Awesome. We replaced broken tiles, scrubbed and re-regrouted the all tile, had the tub refinished, installed new faucets, installed a new cabinet (made by my father-in-law), new mirror, new light fixture, sealed and painted ceiling, peeled wallpaper off, leveled (by jacking up from the basement) the sagging floor around the toilet, painted walls and woodwork, and re-caulked the bathtub:

Bathroom After 4 Bathroom After 3 Bathroom After 2 Bathroom After 1

The hallway was a lot more work than it looks like it would be:

Hallway Before

What you don’t see in the photo above is that it used to be wallpapered in this slate blue and dusty rose early 1990’s number:

Hallway Wallpaper

I think that everyone lives in some level of horror of decorating their home in the  style of their childhood. When I was a kid, my mom, who really has very good taste, had my whole childhood home decked out in “touch of country” fashion of the ’90s. That was en vogue at the time, but I have a special hate for it now. That made it extra fun to spend a whole week looking at it while I scraped and chiseled this crap off the wall (the lady that hung it apparently used super glue). When I was done, I ripped up the carpet and crow-barred up a bazillion carpet tack boards and staples. Then I painted the walls, ceiling and woodwork, and Dave and his bro sanded and refinished the floor:

Hallway After

Seeing all the doorknobs in the photo reminds me to note that any hardware you see is hardware that was replaced. To replace all the doorknobs, the doors had to be re-drilled. Fun! And now we’re at the final room on the main level:

Spare Bed Before 1

The photo above was taken post-wallpaper-tear-down, so what you’re seeing is the color of the room as it was when my dad and uncle shared it! So, peeled, ripped, painted, sanded, refinished it looks like this:

Spare Bed After Spare Bed After 2

Kind of bare for now until we decide what to do with it!

That’s it for the time being! This post does not include that the house has been rewired and all of the plumbing has been 100% replaced. Nor does it include the fact that the basement flooded and the entire finished part had to be ripped out AND the foundation got fixed. It also doesn’t include the many outdoor projects. Long story short: it’s been a helluva lot of work, and we’re not done! We just got one level done, which is a big job in and of itself!

Current project: early stages of finishing off basement.

Welcome this is a Farmhouse

Since this is my blog, where I can be a sloppy writer if I want: I don’t know the rules about ripping off song lyrics to use as a blog title, so I’ll just say that the title of this post is from a Phish song called Farmhouse. You should listen to it.

As of July I live on a farm. This was my grandmother’s home for 50 years, and my grandfather’s home for the last 26 years of his life.

The driveway goes to the back of the house. So what we call the front is really the back

The driveway goes to the back of the house. So what we call the front is really the back

They moved to the farm from Bloomington when my dad was six. There is so much to say about the story of this place in relation to my family, but I think that’s for another time. This is just an intro to my personal relationship with this place, and my new way of being here.

This is technically the front of the house. But we call it the back.

This is technically the front of the house. But we call it the back.

My dad has been the primary caretaker of the farm for my entire life. My grandpa had a stroke when I was pretty young…maybe six or so? And from there on out, grandma took care of grandpa until his death, and dad took care of everything else. My dad worked nights when I was a kid, and during the summer he was at the farm at least four out of seven  days, which means my brother and I were here, too.

The barn in February. We have since torn the silo down.

The barn in February. We have since torn the silo down.

I was also very close with my grandma growing up, and spent the night out here frequently. So the farm was basically a second home to me. My brother and I ran wild outside here, did a lot of baking with grandma, ate a lot of her amazing pancakes, and hung out and watched TV with grandpa. All family holidays were here. I  had several childhood birthday parties here, including a hayride. And when I grew up, I got married here.
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Suffice it to say that the farm has never not been a very special place to me. And now I get to live here.

Despite loving the place, I was worried about whether or not it would be really hard to adjust to living here. I mean, I did live in the most populace neighborhood in Minnesota before moving out to the stix. I was used to constant over-stimulation. I was worried that I would be bored or lonely. I was worried that I would be scared to be there alone, especially at night. I was worried that I would grow to hate the commute to downtown so much that I would just hate my life. I was also really worried that it would never feel like my home; it would always feel like I was a visitor at Grandma’s house. That concern wasn’t so much about my grandma imposing her will, but was more about overcoming my own childhood attachment to the place.

Outbuildings

Outbuildings

So far all of my worries were for naught. There is so much to do out here in terms of actual physical labor that being bored is practically a sin! Also, I have been spending a lot more time on writing and reading than I did with all the distractions of the big city, and that makes me very happy. Basically I’ve been making up for lost time with all of the introverted things that I like to do and haven’t done enough of while I was busy being hyper-social.  I have been  enjoying the peace. And being a little on the hermity side.  However, it is also very important that I have still been making an effort to get together with my friends. I’m no longer able to go to everything that I once did due to the distance, but I’ve still been trying to get together with people a few times per month.

Crazy jungle-like garden which I intend to tame this spring!

Crazy jungle-like garden which I intend to tame this spring!

The commute is long, but I finally relented a little bit of my Luddite  tendency (and gave up on feeling that I was  somehow cheating on actual books), and got a Kindle. I’m so in love with it I can hardly stand it. I’ve been reading double-time (which is excessive since I already read a lot before!). Anyhow, I actually enjoy the commute at this point because the 20 minute drive to the park and ride is pretty, and then I get an uninterrupted hour of reading or journaling time!

So far I have not been scared of being there alone at night (well, except for a couple of times when I’ve been letting the dog out and my brain dared to think: what if that thing crashing around in the pasture isn’t a deer or a racoon or a coyote, but a human being? It doesn’t take that long then for my brain to go down the path of adding an ax, chainsaw, etc. to that human. *Shutting mind to possibility of human in pasture*). Otherwise there is nothing creepy about the place, and I think my childhood experience there actually helps a lot. It feels very homey and comforting to me.

Despite the childhood memories, I’m actually surprised by how not weird it feels for me to live there. I feel like the extensive interior updating (pics forthcoming. This time I promise I will actually do it. I will post pics!) has made the house feel like my own, but the memories still overlap the facelift in a way that makes it very comfortable for me. In any case, right now I feel very much like I get the best of both worlds in a lot of ways: City for work and fun and country for home and rejuvination. After a full year of more intensive chaos than is even usual for me, I am feeling pretty blessed.

Farm Update

You may recall, if you have ever read this blog before, that one of my recent-ish posts explained (including helpful flowchart) that Dave & I will be taking over the homestead at my family’s farm pretty soon.  What it did not mention is that my grandma didn’t have an end-of-life plan other than, apparently, dying quietly at home one day while nobody was watching. Since she’s not a farm cat that is sneaking away into a field to die, and her family actually loves her and takes care of her and checks on her, that is not what happened (much to her chagrin – man it’s pesky to have people all “carin’ about you” and stuff!). Anyhow, there have been a lot of arrangements to be made and extensive work to be done. It took about a month to get most of Grandma’s things (items of some use/beauty/value) moved into her apartment. It took another month or so to get her remaining stuff out of the farmhouse. And for the two months we’ve been chipping away at the many, many repairs/renovations that need to happen there before we move in. These include:

  • Scraping wallpaper off in 5 rooms (4 rooms done)
  • Painting almost the entire interior of the house including all woodwork, most ceilings, and the insides of closets (3 rooms done, 3 rooms to go)
  • Pulling up carpet in 3 ½ rooms (done- I pulled up all the carpet in the back of the house myself, and it turns out that’s a real bitch.  But I have to say, I did feel pretty badass wielding my crowbar!)
  • Paint & install base shoe around floorboards in all rooms where carpet came out.
  • Refinishing hardwood floors in 3 ½ rooms (2 ½ done)
  • Installing new (well, gently used) kitchen appliances (we have the stove and fridge, but the electric needs to be redone a bit, so they’re not hooked up. Still need a dishwasher).
  • Stripping old-school  linoleum in kitchen
  • Wainscoting in ¼ of kitchen
  • Re-grouting kitchen tiles
  • Having bathtub refinished
  • New bathroom cabinet/lighting
  • Installing new water-filtration system
  • Tearing down all the wood paneling in the basement family room to make way for fixing the foundation

Those are just the items that need to happen in the house before we move in. There is still plenty to do outside as well! Thus far Dave and I have mainly been responsible for most remodeling decisions and my mom and I have been mainly responsible for implementation. David and his brother have been primarily responsible for sanding/re-finishing the wood floors (which has been the project from hell for numerous reasons). Also, my dad nearly killed himself tearing the wood paneling down in the basement. He is on serious restriction for any further work involving his back (well, we try to keep him on restriction, though he raked up yard debris all day on Sunday, which is no picnic for the back). My uncle and dad have been mainly responsible for legal/financial/repair decisions and associated running around.

We’re aiming to move in on or around June 1, so we’ve been busting ass to get things done, while each still maintaining our normal work schedules. That is why we have not seen most of the people we love for several months and why we will not be making any plans to do so in the very near future. Life has been chaotic and we very much miss having any kind of routine and/or fun.  We just have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a finite project and when it’s done we’ll have a beautiful place to live!

Before/After photos forthcoming!