I Choose Joy July 2017

Yowza!! This past month has been a hot, simmering, summer slice of change and movement. Many days when I’m sweating it out under the fan after coming in from farm chores, I remember and reflect just how basic our thankfulness should be.

We all like to joke about our “first world problems,” but if you ever take a spin through third world life for even a short season, it gives you a little perspective on what not to complain about, as well as simple things to smile about.

So first, things we’ve survived without (albeit temporarily) that I’d like to acknowledge and appreciate:

  • opening up the faucet and feeling hot, clean water
  • flicking on a switch and enjoying warm, stained glass light
  • sitting in front of a whirling electric fan on a sweltering day
  • feeling a fresh breeze through screened windows, leaving most of the bugs outside
  • opening up the fridge and being able to throw something together for dinner . . . even if it’s just things like rice, chicken, beans, tortillas, cheese, milk, eggs – what a feast!

Farm fresh eggs

Life is abundant. Life is also scarce and grasping many times. But we can acknowledge life’s myriad facets and strive to trust God during both feast and famine, and all the better.

More July joys for the Big Country/Liberty clan:

  • Celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. Our beautiful former host family of 12 watched the kids, and we enjoyed a restful break with sushi, Beren and Luthien, a time to reflect and dream, and a kayak adventure across the gorgeous evening lake.
  • Big Country beating out 100 other candidates for a spot in this fall’s Fire Academy. So proud! We are moving onward and upward.
  • Mamaw’s visit. Yummy food, visiting friends, meeting her fun AirBnB host, and taking the kids to the splash pool and lazy river for Firebell’s third birthday.
  • Big’s co-workers stopping by and taking time to build a little tiny house made out of Legos for the kids.

Lego Tiny House

  • Baby Hazelnut beginning to crawl! And I am suddenly aware of how non-babyproof this tiny house still is. Well, at least the loft railing is up!
  • Spending some one-on-one time with Rig, reading several books to him at his request, as the little girls napped.
  • Playing in mud puddles after summer rains.
  • Mamaw’s homemade pillows and curtains. What would a tiny home be without those sweet touches?

Homemade pillows in the tiny house

  • Big massaging a chicken with a bent neck, comically trying to restore its mobility as he has with his human clients.
  • Being invited, so many times now, to the family gatherings here on the farm. Hope they’re not asking us to join in just because our house is blocking the picnic table and the fire pit!
  • Rig beside himself with anticipation about chicken processing day! Participating and learning so much about this age-old community event.

Old-fashioned chicken processing

  • The kids doing each other’s hair, putting clips in baby Hazelnut’s wispy topknot.
  • Seeing the kids’ faces light up with joy as they wade into a swimming pool.
  • Picking chokecherries in the rain, out of the bed of the pickup truck.

Picking chokecherries

  • Late at night, making delicious, rich chokecherry juice.

Fresh chokecherry juice

  • Library and park time. Enjoying the three kids playing together quietly and busily in the train room.
  • Cloudy, drizzling cool afternoons, often accompanied by full rainbows. So refreshing to sit out in lawn chairs and watch the majestic thunderheads rolling in.
  • Cherry pie at a local hole-in-the-wall and a drive to the dairy with a good friend.
  • The gentlemanly, yet ornery raw milk dairy manager.
  • A mysterious card from an anonymous friend wishing us “Home Sweet Home” and including two generous gift cards. Whoever you are, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Home Sweet Home

I Choose Joy June 2017

“Summertime .  .  .

.  .  .  and the livin’ is easy .  .  .”

Boy, I wish we were lounging on a shady porch sipping sweet tea and lemonade all summer long!

In reality, this is the season of dawn to dusk labor, as much as the long light will allow. Be it up on ladders and roofs at his regular job, hauling buckets of feed on the farm, giving massage therapy treatments, training for the fire department, or hammering on the tiny house, Big Country is always on the move.

The hours are long, sweaty, and hard, but it’s investment time, and gathering in the fruits will come later.

Time to be thankful! This month:

  • The first pink rose out our big window.

Pink rose at the tiny house farm

  • A long, hot, luxurious shower at a friend’s house while she watched the kids
  • Rig’s fifth birthday, a delightful family day in town. Rig wanted to spend his big day at the library, a local coffee house with a kid’s play area, and eating Cajun food (ok, his parents influenced that one a bit). What a sweetie!

Rig's fifth birthday in the tiny house

  • Cooling rains extinguishing the afternoon heat.
  • Picking rhubarb by the armload and making sweet strawberry rhubarb sauce for pancakes.

Strawberry rhubarb pancakes

  • Big Country carrying our speaker to the chicken coop and playing a recording of a fox screaming, just for his own amusement.
  • Catching up with friends at church, enjoying the fellowship of genuine, funny, encouraging people.
  • A beautiful morning, shaded by the trees, at our old neighborhood park overlooking the lake.

Rig and Firebell climbing rock wall at the park

  • Fun, unexpectedly bilingual library storytime.
  • Baby Hazelnut hefting herself into standing!
  • A lingering Sunday afternoon visit at a friend’s homestead. Eating hot beef and turnip greens soup, cold gazpacho, hibiscus tea, and quinoa bars. Pushing the kids in the swings, looking out over the endless grassy prairie to the faraway mountains, the same view horseback travellers saw hundreds of years ago.
  • A sunny, light-filled home.

Iris on the tiny house farm

  • Rig sweetly following around and holding hands with an older teenage girl working on the farm. “I love to work! I’ll help you shovel!” he said, staggering back under the long heavy tool. “Well, maybe you could help me instead!”
  • Digging out our camping bin, packs, and sleeping bags for a young friend to borrow. Wonderful memories!
  • A fresh breeze on a hot day rushing through our newly screened kitchen window.
  • Homemade chocolate mousse and blackberry shakes.
  • Sitting in front of the fan and putting on a once-in-awhile nature video for the kids on a hot afternoon.
  • Fun at a friend’s 37th birthday party (hey, why not?) Pinatas, samurai swords, water balloons, Mama Jo’s homemade enchiladas, margaritas, and lots of little kids having a blast.
  • Firebell massaging Hazelnut. “Roly, roly, roly . . .”

Firebell massaging Hazelnut

  • Friends being genuine, yet not complainy. “Yeah, the first half of the year, our car was stolen and trashed, I changed jobs, we paid the ER two visits, and our marriage was under quite a bit of stress . . . but I’ve been reflecting on it, and this next half year’s going to be great!”
  • Tiny yolkless pullet eggs the kids get to keep.
  • Shady sandbox play.

Tiny house kids in the sand box

  • Kids eagerly helping the farmer and his wife move the meat birds out to pasture. And Mr. R thanking them with ice cream sandwiches.
  • Celebrating our wedding anniversary! 10 years as husband and wife, 15 as best friends, and 20 as fellow classmates, trouble-makers and dreamers. Here’s to many more!

Big Country and Liberty wedding

Big Country and Liberty when we were young

I Choose Joy May 2017

Truth be told, sometimes day to day life with three young kids can feel like a slog. The constant chores, diapers, laundry, cooking, dishes, potty-training, sweeping, vacuuming, compost dumping, egg gathering, making sure little feet don’t have chicken poo on them, coming up with the exact length and weight that a T-Rex Whale would be if it existed . . . my days are full.

But of course there are the times they’re asleep, or playing nicely together in what they call “the dirt box,” or hugging each other instead of fighting, and somehow it convinces me not to throw in the towel just yet!

And besides, I’d be remiss to overlook all the little joys that add up to make a family’s life. My blessings of this past month include:

  • Fishing with Mamaw and Papaw . . . watching Rig throw a perfect cast and enjoying the kids’ enthusiasm when making a catch!

Papaw and Firebell fishing in Estes Park

Daddy and Rig fishing in Estes Park

  • Sitting on a balcony in Estes Park listening to the constant rush of the river below. If only I could move to that balcony . . .
  • Roasting marshmallows and hot dogs with Mamaw and Papaw and our host family on the farm.
  • Later in the month, a hot dog roast with good friends on a sunny hot Memorial Sunday, right before the cooling rains hit.
  • Firebell’s braided buns

Firebell's braided buns

  • The soothing sound of rain on our roof and the fresh smell of rain out our windows.
  • Taking family pictures of the five of us, on Easter at church and in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Rescuing our photos from a drenched box left out in the rain and smiling at our discoveries . . .
Rescued photo of Big Country
Who’s that handsome kid?
  • Walking briskly hand in hand with Big out through the big pasture at night under the full moon to check on the wagon chickens.
  • Discovering a newborn baby calf one morning! We even found the remainder of the bag of waters, so we knew just right where it had been born. So far, the ruddy brown calf with a white spot is being called Brown Sugar by the kids.

Cow and calf tiny house farm

  • Rhubarb pie and fellowship with a friend who has such patience with our kids!
  • Big Country dancing with Firebell to festive krummhorn music one morning as we made breakfast.
krummhorn Iowa State University
Yes, this is a krummhorn. Courtesy Iowa State University.
  • Thunder Snow! Snuggling warm and cozy under our quilts at night, with hot chocolate and skillet potatoes in the morning. But I am glad we soon returned to a lush green Spring.
  • Rig and Firebell prancing and hiding in the tall grass and purple wildflowers, pretending to be tigers.

Tiny house playing in the grass

  • Climbing hand in hand with Rig to the top of a grassy hill overlooking the foothills and the town of Bellvue.
  • The three kids, including baby Hazelnut, sitting together in the sandbox, absorbed in play.

Tiny house kids in the sandbox

  • A last minute business trip of sorts, in a light-filled, well-appointed cabin in Estes Park next to another cabin with Big’s boss and family. The men washed windows at a new hotel by day, and we all enjoyed two fun dinners together in the evening.
  • A sunny pool day with friends. Dangling my feet in the water and dunking baby’s chubby legs.

What are your reasons for joy this month?  I would love to hear from you!

I choose joy spring flowers

Spring Blooms in the Tiny House

Spring is in full swing, here in the tiny house on the farm!

Lush tall grass has filled the surrounding pastures and hills. Billowing clouds roll off the mountains, bringing invigorating, Englishy rains. And two little wobbling calves have been born this past week.

Cow and calf tiny house farm

We seem to be getting into the rhythm of life here. Roasting hot dogs with family and friends around the fire pit on gorgeous, cool evenings. Big Country contentedly pruning rose bushes and lilacs, Rig and Firebell eager to scuttle off with enormous branches to the burn pile.

Lobbing wagonloads of last fall’s apples to eager chickens. Baby Hazelnut turning her head at every new sight, smell, or sound, fatter and squealier than ever.

Brown hen tiny house farm

Our expectations have, for the most part, come into focus with life as it is. Not a complacency but a humored acceptance of where we are, with a slow-burning ambition underneath and a keen eye to the future.

We’re ever learning to become more fluid, more content with incremental, patient gratification of dreams. It may not seem like things are happening, but under the surface, there is tremendous growth. Things are changing, building, progressing.

Specific tiny house milestones this late winter and spring:

King-size sleeping loft with strapping and cable supports since the corners extend slightly over windows.

Studs and strapping tiny house loft

Tiny house loft cables

The night Big and I hoisted the enormous futon into the loft, we suddenly had a sitting area downstairs and a bedroom upstairs!

For five years now, Big Country and I have co-slept with our kids. First one, then two, now three! Sleeping all together has been one of our most rewarding parenting decisions, bringing peace, calm, and connection for all of us. So thankful we can continue this tradition even in a tiny house.

Ladder to the loft, with ladder bar. After experiencing futility with a flimsy RV ladder we took the trouble to modify and paint, we found that a storable telescoping ladder was our best solution for now. In the future if we shorten the loft to a Queen for renting out, there will be room to have a convenient, rolling library ladder.

Ladder bar tiny house loft
Big installing a pipe to serve as a bar to attach ladder

Windows washed in and out.

String lights under the loft for evening. Now our life is a party!

String lights under loft tiny house

Clothes storage: shelves and fabric cubes, closet bar, hooks, and a laundry basket to keep work clothes and farm boots. Still a bit messy for me, but at least everything has a place.

Clothes storage tiny house

Blinds and a trimmed kitchen window.

Kitchen blinds tiny house

Dish rack over the sink to both drain and store dishes, along with a trimmed sink and tiled space under the Berkey. So homey to see our dishes. And it streamlines cleaning up when you don’t have to put away dishes after they’re dry!

Tiny house over sink dish rack

Sleeper couch, a gift from a friend. A place to read stories, make a pillow fort, collapse after work, eat midnight chocolate, and everything else during waking hours. We’re thinking of making a slipcover and putting the couch on risers for extra storage.

Tiny house living room and sleeper couch

Washerdryer. The kids have christened it Blast Off, for good reason. But we love it! I typically do one load every morning, cloth diapers every third day and clothes the other two days. Perfect for us.

Loading the washerdryer combo

Book shelves, hooks, and some (but not all) outlet covers. With every purchase carefully budgeted, we’re still holding out for a few fancier decorative outlet covers. Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous, but another token of slow-burning gratification nonetheless.

Book shelves tiny house

Cleaned up build site, roughly taking 25 man hours’ worth. Trash chucked. Lumber, personal possessions, and tools organized. Amazingly, there are still several items to give away or sell. And the rest of my sewing fabric went to Mamaw, a great relief.

Hand held vacuum makes it easier to clean up all the sawdust, wood stove ash, and dirt tracked in!

New compost pile in the back pasture to dump our Loveable Loo and kitchen scraps. Made with metal posts and chicken wire found on the farm, this means no more expensive and unsightly blue barrels, and the three we have we can now hose out and sell.

Humanure compost pile Loveable Loo

Bathroom wall framed, sided, sanded, and tung oiled. Next up with this project, shelves for kitchen storage between the studs and a sliding barn door. And yes, that is a beach towel clamped in the doorway.

Tiny house bathroom wall

And finally, we moved the house! A friend came by with his work truck to haul the house (with the kids and I in it!) just thirty paces away, closer to the main house and out of a pasture needed for chickens.

Moving the tiny house

We miss the wide open view of mountains and pasture to the north but are looking forward to seeing the blooming of a giant rose bush out our big window in the new location. And who knows what kind of views we’ll see out our tiny house windows in the future!

I Choose Joy April 2017

This month in the tiny house on the farm was one of ups and downs, sickness and blooming flowers, setbacks and promise of joy to come. Here are some highlights and simple joys of April . . .

  • Spotting a raccoon hurrying along the fence in the moonlight.
  • Mud puddle play in our farm boots.

Playing in mud puddles

  • Hearing neighbors’ peacocks and horses bray in the distance.
  • Pancake breakfast at the local firehouse.
  • Kids riding bikes, jumping on the trampoline, and picking dandelions together.

Picking dandelions outside the tiny house

  • Quiet afternoons reading with a napping baby in my lap.
  • Wildly chasing chickens into their greenhouse in the evening.
  • Running into friends with three little kids our kids’ ages. Life for both of us is unrecognizable from five years ago!
  • Easter egg hunt here at the farm with good friends and their toddler joining ours.
  • Rig’s imaginative stories about T-Rex whales, everwhite apple trees, tsunamis, avalanches, and riding on the backs of sharks.

May you live all the days of your life

  • Giving a massage to a long-time client and friend. It feels good to do something so valuable for someone else!
  • Picnic with Big Country at the coffee house with the kids playing together nearby.
  • Discovery museum with friends . . . stuffed bison, megaladon teeth, unique musical instruments, and of course rubber ducks and trains for the toddlers:)
  • Hot spicy stew and delicious homemade kombucha with friends on a rainy day.

  • Mamaw and Papaw coming into town!
  • A beautiful, colorful, joyful quilt of little houses, made with love by Mamaw.

I Choose Joy March 2017

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Spring is in full swing! Here are my moments of thankfulness this past month. Think back . . . what are yours?

Plum blossoms on the farm

  • White plum blossoms emerging on the farm.
  • String lights hung under our loft, a festive glow for the evening to eat, relax, visit with friends, and read.
  • Clean windows! For the first time post-construction, we found time to thoroughly clean the windows, and it makes such a difference.
  • Firebell enjoying a daddy-daughter date and squealing as a calf at the dairy licked her!

Calf at the dairy

  • Teaching Rig about the north slope of mountains by showing him the snowy side of the wood chip piles.
  • Rig to Firebell, pointing to hydrangeas: “those flowers look just like you!”
  • Kids finding blue jay feathers and decorating our table with them.

Blue jay feathers and lemons

  • Cuddling up in the loft at night, our faces pressed together. “You’re my special Firebell.” “And you’re my special Mommy.”
  • Rig explaining that his icecle seed will grow into an icecle the size of a tall pine tree.
  • Baby’s first tractor ride! And the two kids riding in the trailer behind us over the bumpy pasture.
  • The kids so thrilled when we unpacked their books! And us, too. So glad to see the favorites we’ve saved all this time, including the little free library find of the century, a leather bound, author-illustrated The Hobbit!

Firebell reading books in tiny house library

  • Horses we can now see running and frolicking in the neighbor’s pasture.
  • Hearing the kids practice saying the chicken breeds here at the farm: Black Austrolorps, Buff Orpingtons, Araukanas, and Rhode Island Reds.
  • And one hen we’ve named Henny Penny, wandering into our house!
  • Rig telling me about inventing an airplane that plants wildflowers.
  • Dinner visit from our friends who live out in the country in a converted, solar Tuff Shed. A beautiful evening, and good to share it with others who understand the life of a hand-built homestead, an interim home with quirks and challenges.

Tiny house family

  • Our friends, the Italy host family couple, pulling up in their car one rainy night during dinner to come see us and the house … “Hope you don’t mind, we brought three homeless people with us!” All ten of us, seven adults and three kids, standing in the middle of the house talking and pointing around the house at the progress we’ve made, or lack thereof! “This is really nice,” the elderly man in the group softly said.

Tiny house quilt

I Choose Joy February 2017

At the beginning of this year, I made a resolution to not only endure but move toward thriving through gratitude.

So now every day I try to write down the simple joys, the unexpected blessings. Through a fog of stress and exhaustion, these joyful times shine through as pinpoints of light.

I choose joy. And this month’s joys are . . .

  • The kids chattering happily together during one of their long, lingering lunches at home.
  • Coffee with a new realtor friend, discussing future possibilities for us, our tiny house, and a new future home.
  • During a particularly difficult morning, Rig encouraging me, “Mommy, it’s going to be a great day . . . tomorrow.”
  • Witnessing a newborn calf nursing and wobbling around at the dairy.
  • Visiting the saw mill with the kids and watching a log loader up close.
  • Our new washerdryer! Thank you Mamaw and Papaw!
Loading the washerdryer combo
Firebell hard at work unloading the washerdryer
  • The freedom to have the kids play safely outside on the farm without me right there.
  • Wearing sandals much of the month! And still burning the wood stove at night.
  • Snuggly, chubby baby asleep against me in the wrap.
  • Sitting in the sun with a good friend watching the kids play at the park.
  • Pizza lunches, laughs, and playtime for the kids with two different sets of friends who let us invite ourselves over after church.
  • A special Valentine’s day dinner put on by our Italy host family of 12, complete with dollar store table decorations, a homemade card, and a timely book about God’s sovereignty and goodness. What better way to spend Valentine’s than with a dozen kids? We love you, too!

Homemade Valentine's day card

  • Watching pink sunrises out the loft window as we wake up.
  • The kids laughing gleefully at our Mr. R using the wood chipper.

Rig and Firebell on the farm watching the wood chipper

  • The grass arriving!
  • Running outside to take down diapers and clothes from the clothesline just in time before the evening rains.
  • Hunting for hard-to-find eggs in the nests the chickens have been secretly making in the bushes . . . our very own Easter egg hunt!
  • Seeing myriad clumps of pristine snow on the evergreen boughs on the way through Lyons to Estes Park.
  • Big Country building our sleeping loft and surprising me with flowers in my favorite colors.
  • Feeling more at home here in the tiny house.

Onward to March, and on to Spring!

I Choose Joy January 2017

My New Year’s resolution this year, what I’m resolved to do because it’s difficult but vital, is Joy. This year, I’m on the hunt for joy in the simple things.

I could easily drown in the worries of today . . . and they are very real . . . but instead I want to be grateful for what is good and pure and true.

This is partly because it’s the right thing to do, to give us a real perspective on how blessed we are and plant gratitude deep in the heart. But partly, it’s simply so that I can continue to endure this season and not just survive but thrive.

Thrive . . . bloom, blossom, boom . . .

. . . flourish, grow, prosper . . .

. . . shine, radiate, rise, wax . . .

And so, some simple joys this month . . .

  • The farm’s new roosters! Hearing them cock-a-doodle-do, watching them strut, the shiny black feathers flashing green in the sun. Listening to the kids talk about, imitate, and name them (Ponytail and Orange).
  • The kids eating up their rice and beans and asking for seconds and thirds. I guess they’re not feeling deprived!
  • Dinner with friends here at the tiny house, pleasantly discussing wood stoves, frozen hoses, truckloads of squash, and medicinal tea sales at the nearest bargain grocery.
  • Not having TV during an election season!
  • The grocery store’s florist offering us a free sample bouquet of fresh flowers.
  • Becoming more versatile with simple, hearty meals. Favorites: 1) oatmeal with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, butter, and cream; 2) rice and beans cooked in homemade broth with onions and herbs; 3) harvest stew with beef, pumpkin, apples, and beets.
  • Gathering eggs, sometimes surprised by six or eight under one hen.
  • Catching up at a friend’s while doing laundry and enjoying some breathing space in a big house.
  • Watching a sleek coyote stalk geese across the frosty pasture one early morning.
  • Watching big hay bales being delivered on a semi truck next door at the feed store.
  • Being trusted and needed by the farmer and his wife on whose land we live. Falling into the rhythm of life on a farm in winter.
  • Making the long, scenic drive to church and drinking a thermos of hot chocolate while catching up with Big.
  • Warm, sun-filled days walking across the pasture, watching the kids play in the creek bed, play king of the mountain on the wood chip piles, bulldoze through leaves in the garden, and fly down the porch ramp on their scooter.
  • Visiting our Italy-traveling host family of 12 for the day, the kids running around and playing for hours.
  • Attending a jewelry party with lots of fun gals, baked brie, and my sweet sleeping baby. No need to buy anything for me; the camaraderie and the break itself were well worth it.
  • Gaining confidence in problem-solving issues that have arisen with the house: planing the door so it doesn’t stick; cleaning out creosote from the chimney.
  • A cheery, fiercely burning fire in the wood stove at night.
  • A spark of hope, energy, and optimism about a future career and even long-term housing prospects. We are moving forward in the adventure!

What are your simple joys of this month? Share in our newly opened comments below!

Aurora Gladness: a New Year has Dawned

What a gift that we get to start over every day, every month, every year.

I love imagining the year as one continual paper calendar, the months extending down, down, down like a scroll unfurled. And then, as if by magic, sometime in the night of December 31st, we’re shot up to the very top again to begin the year anew. Starting the year on top – that’s a good feeling.

Resolutions for each new year are a positive thing, because they signify that we want to begin putting energy into the things we value. And resolutions are the best if they’re not make-or-break, if you can’t fall off the wagon once and fail.

I realize that last year, my unspoken resolution was simply endurance. To keep our family together through multiple moves and transitions; to keep our health, finances, and kindness toward one another intact as we pushed ourselves to the mental and physical limit with the tiny house build.

In many ways we failed in these aspects, having shredded our immunity with stress, drained our resources dry just to procure basic shelter, and snapped at the kids all too often, reacting from impatience, exhaustion, and fear for the future.

However, by the skin of our teeth, we’ve come into the new year at least still here! We’ve survived, endured, and still love each other at the end of the day.

As we emerge into port with ripped sails and a battered hull, this coming year my resolution is joy. Like love, joy does not capriciously happen. It’s an action, a pursuit, a deliberate, patient seeking. This year, I choose joy.

I choose joy

So through the day, I am beginning to jot down a record of moments that make up the best parts of the day, the parts we smile about but don’t always take time to really be grateful for. When we lay in bed in the still of the night, do we dwell on tasks yet undone, future worries, past regrets? Could we instead dwell at the end of a long day on the simple, sweet joys?

This year, when it is not always easy, I will pursue joy and a dawning of thankfulness.

“Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord! You have put more joy in my heart than they when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:6-8

Big Country and baby simple joys