Dec 26 2012

Day 1355: Winter is Here

by andrew

…and we are nestled into our new Winter Ark. This is the view from our bedroom / office balcony on the lower floor, and there are several more photos at the end of this post.

The saga of our house-finding-quest is long and winding and carries with it hints of the coming oppression as well as testimonies of our King’s loving provision in the midst of it. Some of you reading this might already know bits and pieces of this tale, and unfortunately all I can capture here is more bits and pieces that will largely overlap but also hopefully be new to many and additional for some.

Shopping for rental living space with a large family produces a fascinating exposé on the state of our society and culture and its unfortunate trajectory if left unchecked, which by all present indicators it will be. Even in this relatively rural, community-oriented area of Pennsylvania steeped in a history and active presence of Amish and Mennonites, it was incredibly hard to find a place. It wasn’t for the lack of available homes – there were plenty of options. But when owners or agents discovered how many of us would be occupying their place, reactions ranged from polite disinterest based on our numbers to completely ignoring our requests for information. Our personal experience is one thing – we appreciate that potential landlords have no idea who we are and what our values are and we do not begrudge their reluctance to have a large family with many children in their place, especially when there’s a hard logistical limitation like size of the septic system, etc. And many of them were very nice and apologetic that they could’t accommodate us.  However, it was all the incidental conversations and observations our quest generated that painted a more sinister picture. Stories of neighbors turning in neighbors for occupancy “violations” and families getting kicked out of their rental (like a family with 3 children displaced from a 2-bedroom apartment). Owners / agents with 3-bedroom homes unwilling to rent to us for fear of locality inspections. Naturally, we don’t have all the details surrounding all the stories we heard, but they are generally consistent with a large scale trend towards governmental and bureaucratically driven self-centeredness that assaults common sense.

Actually, it wouldn’t stand out so sharply if it wasn’t for the stark, dwindling contrast that still exists: others willing to rent us a furnished and nicely painted / decorated 2-bedroom unit, knowing that we’d figure out how to make the space work for us and that was our problem not theirs. I think at the core that’s what really bothers me: more and more so, the increasing prevalence of a mentality that says people don’t know what’s best for themselves and some “authority” needs to #1 decide for them and #2 enforce / execute that decision on their behalf. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that there are all too many examples of irresponsible behavior that only strengthens that twisted justification. And on the other side, far too many people willing to publicly agree with that justification as it applies to “others” while remaining in complete ignorance that they are simultaneously committing treason against their own freedoms.

So, in this general climate we quested for a winter home over the better part of a couple months (or longer) and began to wonder if maybe we were just supposed to tough it out within the tight blessed context of the survival elements that camper life can dish out over the winter months in non-southern latitudes. And actually, the ups and downs of the search are also very much a part of this story.

It began with Renee’s foresight of our near future needs generating a lot of motivation on her part to find something, whereas my specific busy-ness and natural affinity towards hardship for the sake of answering “can we handle it?” produced a fairly weak motivation on my part to find anything. As you can imagine, this produced some tension. The early conditions of a “suitable” place were also extremely unrealistic. Business was steady, but we were still playing catch-up and getting a couple companies off the ground. Our budget was therefore small, and of course we needed something furnished, big enough, and affordable. Basically we set out looking for the impossible, and I was trusting that if we were supposed to move out of the trailer and into a home it would be a miracle home.

Over following few weeks, the miracle started to unfold, but it happened gradually and not all at once as I narrow-mindedly thought would be necessary to indicate and usher in such a significant transition in our situation. My heart started to change, and I began to think more reasonably in terms of what to expect of my family and space for winter, logistics with a new baby arrival in Jan, etc. Business kept picking up and our budget increased. Doors kept closing and taught us what was really important to us, what we really needed, and how to recognize amazing deals / situations when they arose. A storm blew through and wrecked our awning, which couldn’t be repaired locally and resulted in some unexpected insurance money that ended up being the exact amount of our first month’s rent nearly to the dollar. Renee was watching Craigslist daily and had done a majority of the calling and rejection-handling. Then, one night we were looking at the latest options together and one caught our eye. It was more than we were talking about or seriously considering and Renee might have completely passed over it, but I said we should call and check it out at least for fun.

The owner’s returned our message and we set up a time to come look at it. The day before we had looked at a much smaller place that was fully furnished and all utilities included, and we were excited about the place itself, but it was 40 minutes away from our friends and all the local resources we’ve grown to appreciate in this area. When we looked at this new place – the one that was more than we were thinking we wanted to spend – we were smitten. Everything but the price (which was incredibly reasonable considering the property) was perfect: 4 bedroom, 3 bathrooms, 9 acres in the country for the kids to roam around on, (more than) fully furnished down to linens and kitchen utensils, view of the river from the window room, very close to our friends and still in the area, kind and wonderful owners, wood fireplace for fun, room to park the trailer by the house, and the list goes on and on.

As if that wasn’t enough, and for extra confirmation, the owners were willing to come down on their price a little which matched the amount of the insurance payout that had just hit our account. And since we’ve been here we found an unexpected blessing / confirmation: a trampoline in one of the sheds – an all time favorite. I’ve asked the owner if we can set it up.

We are still settling in. There was a lot of re-organizing and additional packing to do. Like I said, the house was (more than) furnished, and we’ve been packing things away that we aren’t going to use. Thankfully there is plenty of room for the bins in the attic 🙂 It is quite cozy and we’re excited to be on the final last-month-home-stretch leading up to the birth of #7 around mid Jan. We haven’t decided if we’re going to have the baby here in the house, or go into the birthing center where our midwife has a really nice place setup there. But everything is looking really good for that: baby is head down and snug and Renee’s levels are all where they need to be for a home birth. We’re feeling very blessed and thankful.

We haven’t even been in the house for a week yet, and today we had our first real winter storm. It has been really cold and snowy all day (that picture above is from this morning). Here are some other views of the new Winter Ark from a few days ago… once we get everything a little more organized maybe I’ll get around to doing a photo tour of the rest of inside as well.

Sep 17 2012

Day 1255: Land Ahoy

by andrew

Nearly 3 weeks, 1800 miles, descending 5000 feet, climbing 2000 feet, 107 F degree days, 50 F degree nights, twice stranded, 3 unplanned days at a campground, 12unplanned but blessed days with friends, 1 crankshaft position sensor, 2 fuel injection pumps, 4 new tires + alignment, new fuel tank, new fuel sender, new hydrolic brake booster, and 2 new brake lines later… WE MADE IT TO PENNSYLVANIA!!!!

Again, a HUGE THANK YOU to all you brothers and sisters and family in Messiah out there praying for us and following our epic quest. More specific details for the mechanically curious below, but the short version is that – among other things – we needed a new fuel tank and it originally looked like the parts would not get in until this morning. However, they arrived Friday morning ahead of schedule and the shop was able to complete the work by the next morning. So, Matt drove us out there, backtracking west again, on Saturday afternoon and we were reunited with our home after almost two weeks. We had been really curious how all the food and everything would fare. The only casualties were some books that had received the life blood of a couple tomatoes that we left in a fruit basket on top of them, creating the perfect breeding nest for fruit flies. But even the milk in the fridge was still good!

I wish I could adequately recap our time with Matt and Sara and their beautiful family. Their incredible hospitality in our time of need was such a blessing; words cannot quite convey! Throughout the entire time both sets of children kept asking if we could stay longer – a sure sign that new buddies had formed over night. There were a few minor community pressures (what do you expect trying to throw a family of 9 and a family of 8 in the same house, unplanned, for an uncertain duration) but they walked with us through challenges with grace and humility. And quite honestly, it worked remarkably well all things considered. It sounds like the makings for a disaster reality show, but for the most part it was really peaceful and smooth – even with logistics like meals, beds, work, etc. – which is really a testimony to how well things work when there is generosity through genuine, mutual love of Messiah present. How many people would think it’s “normal” for 2 families and 17 total people to share a house and every day life (inconveniences and all) for 12 days and still be really sad when the time was over? THAT is something that only the love of our Heavenly Father can accomplish.

We are now on the property of our wonderful friends in Pennsylvania where we will be taking care of some animals and chores for them while they are traveling. It is beautiful country here, and fascinating to see what has changed and what is exactly the same after a two year absence.

Report: Day 1 on the Farm

  1. Woke up to fog and dew heavy spiderwebs around the yard. Ventured out with the kids to grab the pics above and several others as well as get re-acquainted with one of our very favorite places (after all, it was well after dark when we arrived late last night).
  2. Renee and the kids walked around the property and reviewed all the chores we’ll be making part of our new routine, while I started to get organized with my work for the day including conference calls and whatnot
  3. A big UPS truck and trailer showed up with a few pallets for the shop and our friend’s worker (a very nice Amish gentlemen who is keeping things running and I will from now on refer to as Mr. S.) asked if I could help unload by driving the skid steer (with forklift attachment). So, I jumped into that and figured it out pretty quickly; it all came back to me from the time I used it to move a temporary fridge from the shop to outside the trailer when ours had died a long time ago.
  4. Killed the internet at the house trying to get it to be more stable, and got help from the provider to bring it back up (honestly, what kind of modem wants you to setup the whole connection again just by pulling the power when it’s acting up?) 🙂
  5. Had our first official Never Settle meeting and started to collect our thoughts after travels, honeymoons, and house moves; while the kids had a fun time finding 11 eggs, discovering kittens, riding scooters down the lane hill, and so on.
  6. Ate the eggs for lunch
  7. Drove Mr. S. to one of the rental properties to measure part of the roof for replacement
  8. Looked for a mini trampoline we left here long ago (maybe it’s no longer here, or very cleverly stored) but instead found and dealt with a rogue bag of bad apples in the house basement that were fermenting and squishy and leaking their juice all over the place.
  9. Got some more work done, while Renee was finishing school with the kids and starting supper
  10. Closed the day as a family by sighting the sliver new moon just above the horizon, which – behind a thin veil of clouds – looked like a faint vertical column of light erupting from the earth; and brought in the High Sabbath of the Biblical Yom Teruah (Day of Shouting, Feast of Trumpets) by blowing our shofar (rams horn) and yelling on top of the highest mound in the yard and singing praises to our King for His victory, looking forward to Messiah’s return ON THIS FESTIVAL in some future year, His faithfulness to bring us safely here even in this timing to be able to celebrate the Festival in this place, and all His goodness towards us of which we have written only a fraction.

For the Mechanically Curious:

Describing it somewhat backwards from the order in which everything was finally solved: I knew I had a steering fluid leak. But it went from once a month top-offs to empty between fill-ups in the short time after leaving Colorado. Turns out there was a leaky seal in our hydro booster (I learned that the brake booster increases braking pressure hydrolically using the power steering fluid). New booster busted a rusty break line when they were bleeding the system. Another brake line blew out over night sitting there before we picked it up the next day. So thankful that happened in the shop and not bouncing up and down the Appalachian Mountains the next day. Ok, so for the real kicker; a vacuum had been created in our metal fuel tank and literally sucked it in on itself to the point where it creased in spots and cracked along a rust line. The final sign of the issue was a leak that probably didn’t develop until right around the time we broke down the second time – at least it certainly wasn’t there on our last fuel stop. On top of that, the tube on the fuel sender had been slowly bent and pinched off by the compression. To some extent it was maybe not getting enough fuel. But what’s weird is that it ran strong until right before it died that second time. So maybe the vacuum finally caused the crease, the leak, and bent the sender all at once which starved the pump. The shop owner (Wesley) said he’d never seen anything like it in 31 years. His brother who also works there – never in 40 years.

When I was getting the final run-down from Wesley, he said it should run better than it ever has before. And he was right. We pulled through the mountains along I-80 (admittedly nothing massive, but still) with more power than the other couple times we’ve tackled that same route. It was almost a joy to tow with it. But that was a LONG day. I realized it was only 500 miles from Cincinnati (where we stopped the night before to spend a few albeit way too short hours with dear friends there) to the farm. Before, I was thinking it was 600, but maybe that was from Louisville. Anyway, we made a family-unanimous decision to push through and get here from Cincinnati in one day. The kids especially. And they did great – even voluntarily foregoing run-around stops at rest areas to pull it off. We’re all so glad we did too!

It is so peaceful here and such a wonderful blessing to be back. The only thing that would make it better would be if our friends were here too. But we’re glad that they are having a special family trip and look forward to their return.