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

Nature is Our Living Room

Sometime in the night, as if by magic, a little bubbling spring seeped up through the earth and emerged beneath the tiny house.

With the recent rains flooding the Poudre Canyon, the underground river is suddenly coming to the surface in pools dotting the grass, making our new parking spot a muddy marsh. In exasperation, Big lays a makeshift boardwalk in the mud so we can make our way, stepping gingerly, to the truck.

Tiny house on a muddy farm
Little House in the Marsh

Three days later, the marsh is spreading. “Our home smells like the Jungle River Cruise at Disneyland!” I cry in dismay, swatting away flies. “All we need are the hippos!”

It is sultry summer, and the butter melts on the counter. Big labors to install window screens so we can let in the fresh breeze without inviting wasps, flies, and honeybees. A ceiling fan is on order, as the one we picked out was crushed by a falling crate at the store.

For now, we relish shade, wet hair after showers, and the gorgeously cool evenings with pink and lavender clouds swirling into the summer night.

Colorado has famously good weather and boasts 300 sunny days each year. But somehow over the last seven years of living in the state, I did not fully experience the other 65 until now.

Two weeks ago, it was Thunder Snow! Booming grey clouds brought a blizzard of heavy wet snow, swirling all around the tiny house and blanketing every green thing the Spring had brought thus far.

Thunder Snow tiny house farm

During these times, we watch the rain or snow shower down all around us and content ourselves with hot chocolate and watercolors, library books and pillow forts.

After one of these rains, we discovered that the moisture from the soaked ground had evaporated up under our tarps of tools and possessions still in the yard, soaking everything. Hours of sun drying toys, washing quilts, and line drying papers and photos ensued.

This afternoon, we were under a tornado warning, and Big hunkered down in his truck across town until the golf ball sized hail let up. Then, all of a sudden, deep blue skies broke through the silver clouds.

Nature and blue skies at the tiny house

And the skies above are not the only thing we’re now closer to in a tiny house.

Mountain lion in the pasture

Large, unwavering eyes following Big one night led us to be extra wary of the mountain lions that stealthily prowl the foothills. We keep the kids indoors after dusk and go together when we need to run out for something at night. And a rifle has been added to our belongings, courtesy Papaw.

Raccoon at the tiny house

Silently​ precocious raccoons and skunks have visited the grounds around our trailer at night, pawing for worms and other treats.

Colorado fox

We awoke with a start one dark night as a fox pair screamed their banshee wails to one another across the windy pasture.

Canadian geese on the tiny house farm

In the icy months of late autumn and winter, the wide swaths of grass welcomed flocks of Canadian​ geese. A sleek coyote would circle around, setting his hungry eyes ambitiously on the giant birds.

Honey bees at the tiny house

Occasional honey bees from the nearby hives flit here and there around our house. But on the afternoon we were set to hitch up and move thirty paces closer to the main house, something got into those bees!

Suddenly billowing to a 70,000-strong swarm blocking our path, the local beekeeper arrived, and we learned that the hive was splitting. Lasting less than an hour, we were soon able to go about our business unplugging, hitching up, and moving the house.

Colorado fall tree tiny house

After growing up in southern Arizona, coming to Colorado marked the advent of experiencing real seasons for us. Furthermore, living only a few steps away from the outdoors at any given time means that we see, hear, smell, and feel nature more immediately, with little separation from these things.

It’s interesting to see the kids playing and acting out the things around them, rather than characters from shows. Chickens and coyotes, foxes and geese, they imitate the squawks and growls and make dens and nests on the couch and under the table. And wide-eyed Baby Hazelnut is big sister Firebell’s “precious baby calf.”

Firebell and Calf at the dairy

Being this close to nature isn’t always comfortable and often makes us scramble. But our hope is that the kids are thriving during this tiny house season with nature as their living room.

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!