Sunday, August 21, 2011

These are the good old days. (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

The Barn Removal Project.

Or as we've come to call it, the Barn Razing (as in completely destroy and remove all traces of existence).

When we moved to this house and property, seven years ago, there was an old barn standing on its last legs. A barn with a leaking wooden roof, rotten beams, and due to the (now wet) straw insulating the walls, rotten everything. When we had our inspection prior to buying this house, the inspector told us the barn was condemned and we should not let anyone go in it. As a matter of fact, I never did go in it. We put a barrier of snow fencing around it to keep the kids away. Our insurance company had no problem with having us sign an "exclusion" of that building and so over the past years we've let trees and grass and weeds grow up around and through that old barn while it slowly and then finally sank to its knees. Old steel siding folded in, then covered the fallen barn as if with a blanket for its last sleep. In the Summer, it was hidden by the wild of green. In the Winter, it was covered with snow. Other than glancing at it over in a corner of the now non-existent farm yard in a nostalgic sort of way, we never thought of it at all.

Until the letter came. The letter explaining that we had 30 days to remove (or rebuild!) the barn or our insurance would drop us. Really? What about that exclusion? Well, that was then and this is now. The barn must go.

This letter coincided with a letter from our insurance agent telling us that our insurance company had become difficult to work with in the rural areas, she would no longer be representing them . . . and would we like to switch to a new company, one that would save us hundreds of dollars in the process?  "Why, yes indeed.  How convenient!" we thought.  Then we discovered that the new, friendly company also required removal of the barn––in fact all companies were now in agreement that the potentially dangerous old building would need to be removed.  And soon. Within 30 days of our new policy's start date.  By the end of August.

We literally stood staring at that thing, completely hidden by overgrowth, wondering how on earth we could solve this problem. Our preference for an easy answer . . .  professional demo, sorting, removal, hauling and dumping was looking to cost many thousands of dollars. So that was not an option.  We heard lots of advice . . . "People love that old barnwood! They'll even remove it for you!" Or . . . "Dig a big hole and just shove it in there - that's what the old farmers do." Or . . . "Have the fire department burn it for practice! That's only $600-800." Or . .  "Wait until winter, push it all into a field and just burn the whole thing."  Dear Mr. Friend suggested shoving it just ten feet north of the property line (through a few trees) and then claim it was his problem!  All intriguing ideas, but things we couldn't well achieve on a shoe-string budget, no large equipment, nearby flammable buildings and trees, those pesky new environmental rules about burying things, and a 30-day timeline.|

Finally, we thought of one possibility. It seemed a bit too easy and so probably wouldn't work. Could we burn it gradually on a campfire sized fire, piece by piece, sorting and saving the good to give away, and burning the bad? Working on it all of August? With a five-dollar burn permit? At times we thought- "Yes! We can do it!" A minute later we thought of other details - "No! This is impossible!" After all, this was completely not on the agenda this year. How could we spend that much time on it, all of us working, even if it worked? Three weeks ago, just before the date we were set to begin, we were very discouraged. The type of discouragement that makes your eyes fly wide open in the middle of the night with anxiety, but also causes you to cry out to the Lord for help.  The type of discouragement you see in each other that makes you want to smile and be brave and say out loud "It's all going to be OK."

I started mentioning this "barn project" to friends and the response was always the same.  A surprising enthusiasm, encouragement to ask others to help, and even to think of it as a party. A definite intrigue with the idea of an old barn whether it was going up or coming down. A universal desire to be a part of such old-fashioned, hard, manual work. A desire for their kids to have a chance to do that sort of "real" work. An outpouring of love and offers from many, and genuine sadness on the part of those who had other plans and couldn't come help. After all, that barn was put together by hand (and we imagine with the help of friends and family), why not pull it apart piece by piece with the help of friends and family? It sounds like The Good Old Days.

So we asked for help. And help came.  Mr. Friend came with his backhoe and his skilled use of it, and what we would have done without him I don't know. He has come early (accommodating us by waiting until 6:30am, when he'd been up since 4:00), and late–when Kevin got home from his city job. Whenever the big machine and his expertise would be of assistance. Fathers and sons have come to help, moms and a kid or two, entire families, and men alone or in pairs.  One day of particular progress we had two adult men in the morning, rain in the afternoon, and then a family with six children came to help in the mud of the evening. All these friends along with our own work crew did remove that barn.  I expected it to take every bit of that 30 days.  I was expecting to be rushed in the end. But that's not what happened.

In just six days the major work was done––and we had even taken one day off for sheer exhaustion, and the good excuse of rain. We breathed a sigh of relief and scheduled one more work day and more help arrived, just at the right time, even after we turned a few away because we thought rain would ruin the day. Now, just the odds and ends of splintered wood and dirt remain. Sorted wood, still good for use, is sitting here and there, but the barn is gone. We can prove it with photos for our insurance file. We are so thankful for the answer to our prayers that came through our Brothers and Sisters and good hard (but doable) work for our family.  The type of answer that teaches us all (not just the children) that the Lord still moves mountains.

Which is what reminds me that these are The Good Old Days, the days the Lord has planned for us. I want to recognize it as we go along, and not just with hindsight of years to come or through the romantic lens that doesn't see the grit in these good days.  I want to see it all and still feel the goodness.  The days of family, friends, and children still at home. Of hard work, too, and impossible needs. The days full of challenges that answer our prayers that our children will be prepared for lives of their own. Lessons provided by floods, and vans breaking down, and mothers on crutches when the house guests arrive, and hard work on barns, and depending on Brothers and Sisters when we'd rather not be in need. Lessons from hearing mom and dad praying for something to work out, with a feeble sort of faith. Praying themselves because they know it's something we really need, something really important that we can't make happen on our own. And then seeing the answers come one after another. And after that, seeing the greater provision of the Lord's design in all of these things, better than any plan we would have made for this Summer––back when we thought coffee on the deck, family bike rides, and maybe building a tree house (to teach the kids how to work a bit) was the best plan. The plan that defines and meets our needs, burns away the chaff, and draws us closer to Him.

I've looked at that barn coming down, looked at the friends coming together to offer hours of hard work, looked at the pieces of old wood and the old-time nails, looked at beams of the barn made of unmilled logs, and thought of that time of tremendous hard work on this farm 100 years ago when that barn was new. Work without machines and nearly without rest.  Work without a hot shower at the end of the day. An exhausted sleep on a hot summer night without fans or A/C.  A tenacity to build from the ground up, with no guarantee of success, that we can hardly imagine. Building projects, hoping for a good crop, investing in animals and newfangled machines.  Thousands of days preparing meals and feeding animals and cleaning up and making do. Marriages and children. Gains and loss. Hard times and good times and daily chores. Times spent on knees in prayer and times asking friends for help.  Answers and help provided.

The Good Old Days.

Lord, let me lean into these days and live life to the full as it unfolds . . . with thankfulness, trusting in You for the plan.


ps.  Kevin just came home and said a friend of ours (that we haven't seen in months) offered us a load of oak firewood, already cut, that they really have no use of.  Could we use it? My eyes are glistening. More answers to prayer.  One concern of the barn project was that Kevin and the kids had no time to begin to work on cutting the free firewood available from Mr. Friend's land for this winter (which we use for the major source of heat for our home).  This friend, with no knowledge of our need, offers an answer to a prayer barely asked in passing. Whispered lest we ask for too much. I am thankful and amazed. (The "load" turned out to be THREE cords.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's all humor and poetry.

Sometimes people get the impression that life at our house must be all humor and poetry.  I'm here with proof that this is, indeed, true.

This summer has been a big one for big storms. 

We've had storms that did damage with 70 mph straight line winds. Some of it quite severe. In our little area of Minnesota, thousands of trees went down in not one, but two separate storms. Huge, old towering trees pulled up from the roots.  Oaks snapped off ten feet above the ground.  Four of Mr. Friend's tree line pines, planted in 1950, fell thunderously to the ground just missing his house. We ourselves lost a few trees-including a much beloved old orchard apple tree.  It fell and smashed a younger tree we were hoping would take its place. 

The orchard apple tree, old already in 2005
We've seen crazy winds toss the big outdoor playhouse about 40 feet to a new location, random objects fly through the air, and heard that loud hail pounding the house. We've lost power on hot humid nights and a couple of times, we've had to make our way down to the old cellar for tornado warnings.  

Did I mention the time we ran from a tornado in our van? That was last year, but still fresh in our minds.  It was like a scene from a movie, with a tree limb falling across the road right in front of our path as Dad slammed on the brakes to avoid a major collision, just as it came into focus, huge in the illumination of the headlights.  The screaming in the van was soundtrack perfect. We sheltered that one out actually in the vehicle, parked close up to an L corner behind a big building. 

Anyway, perhaps it's not surprising that some of the kids have gotten a bit skittish about the weather and (mildly) obsessed with watching the radar for potential danger.  We suspect this may actually lead our nearly 12-year-old Nat to become a TV weather man. He's got the smile, the personality, and now he's talking weather all the time. In any case, he has not yet made peace with his weather interest, though he has learned a ton about weather patterns and is frequently looking up weather news on the internet this summer.

Today, he was a bit freaked out by the big storm system headed our way on the radar.  It was one of those long lines of stormfront with a big area of red in the middle, surrounded by a lot of yellow, and a fringe of green.  Of course, our house is a pin on that computerized radar map, and that monster was headed right towards us. Pretty much a bulls-eye.  The fact that the accompanying text info included no warnings for severe weather, and the forecast called only for several hours of very heavy rain, did little to reassure him.  That thing did look serious. "What if their interpretation of the data is just wrong?" he asked with a nervous half-laugh.

What, indeed? 

Teasing him, I said, “Nat, you shouldn’t be scared. It’s beautiful! It’s powerful! You should write poetry about it! That’s what I do… (wink)”  

Nat’s quick deadpan response, “OK, how about a Haiku…" and as he counted off the syllables on his fingers, out came the following gem on his first try. 

The storm is coming
And it is really scary
I’m going to die

At this point everyone, including him, burst into laughter.  His sisters begged him to let me share this and he readily agreed.  After all, the storm came and it was nothing but a lot of rain. He is most likely going to survive until morning.  But if not? At least he has left this poem as a legacy.

See what I mean? It's all humor and poetry.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sweet summer evening, after rain.

Sweet summer evening, after rain.

When the light is just right. 

    Soft, with scattered spots of fire
         in raindrops left behind.

And there’s that golden glow
     that burns along the edges of the leaves.
Each leaf, it seems, would be consumed,
         but is instead transformed
               into transparent living gems.

The light so bright in shifting spaces, 
      pure white
           between the shadows and the green,
and shafts shine down 
     on laughing children on the grass.

Life itself slows down so we can catch a glimpse of glory,
   and feel the gentle ache between each heart beat.

A homesickness for promised times we’ve yet to know.

The birds, so bold at other times
      are calling softly, shyly
              in the quiet of the almost night.

      Perhaps they feel it, too.

An eagerness to look ahead, into the glow.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

These are the good old days. (Part 1)

At the beginning of May this year, we were looking forward to the Summer, just amazed at how wide open the days looked.  We had two greatly anticipated trips on the calendar.  Otherwise, it looked like a long lazy Summer was in store for our family.  We dreamed of family bike rides, coffee on the deck, reading outside on the big swing, painting sheds, and building a chicken coop, or perhaps a tree house, with all that extra time.

Turns out, the days the LORD had planned for us were not exactly what we had in mind.

Just after returning home from our first whirlwind trip (a wonderful family wedding weekend) we discovered our basement contained a lake.  Yes, with all the rain this year, our basement was now sitting IN the water table.  Eighteen inches of water surprised me when I went down to get something out of storage.  All of our plastic bins containing off season and hand me down clothes had floated and turned over and leaked (requiring drying outside on the old fashioned laundry lines while waiting for a wash and dry inside, fifteen extra loads of laundry in our big machines) and the bottom of our furnace, a dehumidifier, and a fan were underwater. Lots of shoes, old toys, and miscellaneous stuff (junk) ruined. That same day, our main breaker went out (as we turned it off to be safe in the water) and it needed to be replaced.  Without electricity, our well pump doesn't work, so no running water.  The hot water was out anyway, and we had visions of propane bubbling up through the water. Better women than myself could have cleaned up from this in a few days.  It took me, even with everyone helping, the better part of three weeks.

I was officially done with flood clean-up the day before we left for a two week road trip. That trip, too, was full of the unexpected.  A break-down on the Great Plains on a 100 degree day on a Sunday morning with no repairs in sight. A limping, unsteady 70 mile drive that (thankfully!) returned us safely to Grandmom's welcoming, air conditioned home. A drive in a borrowed car, five hours round trip, to get the only rental van available in the state of Kansas.  A nice beautiful new rental van that wouldn't haul our trailer. A four hour re-packing job to pare down our carefully selected originally packed items (plenty of room in that trailer) down to an amount that would fit inside the rental van with us (a sight to behold).  We left at least half our stuff in our trailer in Grandmom's driveway, ready to pick up, along with our repaired van, on our way back home.

Hearing the details of 'the-day-we-drove-eight-hours-and-went-nowhere' my mother (on the phone, waiting for us at our destination in beautiful Colorado) cheerfully commented "I hear a blog entry in all this!" It was hard to laugh along in the crabby, sweaty, tired atmosphere of that evening while we repacked in the hot and humid evening air.

We did have a great vacation. Interspersed with the beauty and excitement of that Mountain trip (which was given to us as a gift, including that rental van, by generous grandparents) were a few more misadventures.  We lost track of a child in Vail, CO, who was found by the nice local police before we even knew he had left the big Pirate Ship playground.  He, just six-years-old, mistakenly thought we had left him behind and had run for the car (far away in a parking garage) while the rest of us (five adults, two teens, eleven younger kids ) continued to enjoy the playground full of children and a stream nearby.

By the time we were packing up and commenting "Hey, where is Sam . . . has anyone seen Sam?" the above-mentioned nice police man came up and asked me, "Are you looking for a boy in a red shirt."

Me, cheerfully, "Why, Yes!"

His serious response, "We've had him for ten minutes."

Oh no!

Though they told us he'd been so upset he was unable to talk much, once they brought him back to us, right where we'd been all along, he settled down after a few minutes of being strongly held by Dad.  It turns out for this particular boy, believing you've been forgotten is quite traumatic, but finding out you just made a mistake about that and thus discovered you have an uncanny ability to make your way back through the winding streets of a village to the place where your parents parked the van, meeting nice people who help you out, and policemen who take you right back where you started is just an adventure. Of course, we are extremely thankful things turned out so well and I did have several panic attacks about the whole thing later that night.  And I'm giving up my nomination for Mother of the Year.

Did I mention I got thrown from a horse?  Yep, about a minute after I was taking deep breaths of cool mountain air, praising God for the truly awesome view, and thinking how peaceful and quiet it is to travel on horseback.  I didn't even have that moment where you think 'Oh, no! I'm falling!" Nope. One second I see the horse getting kicked by one of his horsey friends and without any time passing . . . my face is resting in dust and my only thought, "I'm on the ground," was accompanied by small explosions of pain in my shoulder, hip and knee. I didn't notice the cuts on my hands or broken fingernails at first. But, with 18 anxious members of my family watching and calling out in concern, and not wanting to miss or ruin that ride and campfire dinner adventure, I did get back up on that horse, and thankfully there were no serious injuries.  I was rewarded with one particularly impressive bruise on my hip, and a limp which eventually required crutches . . . the week we had four extra great kids stay with us for a much anticipated "Camp" week at our own house, beginning two days after we got home from vacation.

Fast forward a few more days through 4th of July back at Grandmom's (her basement flooded, too!) and past County Fair week (I guess I didn't have that on the calendar way back in May) which brings us to...

 . . . the BIG unexpected, impossible, and nearly overwhelming task that we did not once think we'd have to face this Summer–which we discovered we would have to accomplish one way or another before the end of August . . .  and my point for bringing up all this in the first place.

The part that makes me remember that these ARE the good old days.

But it's getting late, so I think I'd better leave that for a second entry.  I'll try to write it soon.


(Part 2 can be found here)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Journal Snapshots ~ Summer Catch-Up 2011

Hello Family, Friends, and die-hard Shull Family Fans everywhere . . . it's time for another episode of Journal Snapshots! An insider's look at the more lighthearted moments in our household, at least from my point of view.


Dad to a grinning 10-year-old who started off a round of family Bananagrams with a nine letter word, "It's really not fun playing with people like you." :)

Baby Daniel is experiencing his first day of 90s and humidity. He doesn't seem too impressed.

Today is the third time Minneapolis went over 100 degrees in the past century. This historic event makes the snow boots in our front porch look a bit odd.

I do realize that most of the world has little interest in the moodiness of the weather in Minnesota–but I just realized the temp has plunged to 65 though it is still sunny. Everyone has to change clothes before we head to the church picnic! (Local friends... grab a jacket and meet us there?)

‎Grace just received a college recruiting letter trying to convince her that their college (whose name we shall not reveal) was the right place for her to live out her college dreams. We became suspicious they might not actually possess the key to her future as we read the beginning of the letter: 
      Hello [NAME]...

Ah, Juneuary! Perhaps a little fire in the fireplace?

Helpful tip for boys: While it is manly and exciting to see how far one can throw, it is best not to use one's siblings' rubber boots for the purpose, especially when throwing into the hayfield and the grass is taller than one's head. Thank you. (Yes, Dear, our boys . . . they've found all but one)

Big brother Nat (age 11), thinking of the explosive properties of propane when he went outside to find his 4-year-old brother standing on top of the big outdoor tank: "Jon, what are you doing?! Get down! You shouldn't be up there!" 
Jon scrambling down, looking concerned: "Is that a Ten Commandment!???" 

Singing this in my head today: How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure...

At Grandmom Joan's, where fireworks are legal . . . I walk outside to find Dad with all the kids huddled around various smoking, sparkling, crackling and snapping items. 
Ruthie greets me with a huge grin: 
     "Oooooo Mom! We're blowin' stuff up!"

Last night's winner for Funniest Dinner Table Comment: 6-year-old Sam, after staring out into space over his half-eaten supper for a few moments, suddenly asked, "Can I have a snack?"

Windows all open, listening to that peaceful rain. 
    That smell, that sound, that cool breeze... 
          A gift in July.

County Fair Dog Show this morning for Grace and Lydia (and Boaz and Tipper). Perhaps the predicted 100 plus heat index will have a calming effect on teenage puppy Boaz during his first show? Go girls!

Me to four kids (8, 6, 4, 3) at the County Fair's Kids' Day: "Ok, we're not going to use the stroller so I don't want to carry a lot of water bottles. I'll keep one in my purse that we can share, and if it's so hot you're dying, we can refill it or find a drinking fountain."

Jon's reply: "Mom, you don't need a drink if you're dying. You need a drink if your tongue is dry."
Sticks out tongue and touches it, to illustrate.

After a particularly exasperating day with our exuberant little Ruthie, she just came up to me and threw her arms around my neck: "You're my best mom! You put my underwear on and you scratch my back."

Big sister Grace was just admiring 2-year-old Zac's very curly hair, "You have gold for hair!" she said to him. And then as he casually walked away, oblivious of the attention, she said in a hilarious accent, "My hair is currency in certain parts of Europe..." (which apparently is a movie quote, but completely cracked me up in any case.)

Feeling bad for 10-year-old Essie that my “quick stop” at the store was dragging on and on, I turned to her and said, “I’m sorry this is taking so long, are you getting impatient?” Her sweet reply, “Well, It’s hard to be impatient when you are doing something this fun.” That really improved my views of shopping at Walmart.

Jonathan pulled away and made a face when I leaned in for a quick kiss on the cheek after helping him tie his shoes. “What, no kisses this morning?” I asked. 
Jon’s reply, looking at me patiently, “Mom, kisses are for nighttime.”

                                          ~ to be continued!
Treasure from the Junk Drawer
copyright © Sara Shull
•All text and poetry by Sara
•Art illustrations by Sara
•Photos by Sara or the Shull kids
~~~~All rights reserved~~~~

Bible verses:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)