“The measure of the strength of a society is in the number of old men planting trees whose shade they will never enjoy.” ~Unknown

Dear mishpacha v’chaverim / family and  friends,

Those of you who know of me probably know of the lady who took her family cross-country to homestead land. Some may think of me as someone who takes risks and thinks of consequences later… possibly. Those of you who know me (the real me) know that that is far from the case, and that this trip cross-country to homestead and build our home of grain bins while we lived in tents through tornado- watch summers, working against the clock  before  early winters, is uncharacteristic of my grounded and rather sedate personality. Even those who know me intimately may not realize how much I feel responsibility for both past and future generations: not just the grandparents I’ve met and grandchildren I will meet, but responsibility  to help correct the mistakes of generations for hundreds or thousands of years of history. I have a deep yearning  to leave  the world in such a changed state  that, thousands of years in the future, there will be less pain  because multi-generational mistakes have been corrected in my lifetime. This long-term vision is sharply in contrast with an instant-gratification society, and sometimes leads me to occasional bouts of emotional exhaustion. Yes, my husband has informed me that this is entirely unreasonable …and it hasn’t transformed me. He does balance me well, and reminds me that the present does exist on occasion. As we say in Judaism, he is my “ezer kinegdo,” or strength in oppositional force. Without him I’m afraid our children might be depressed with all of Mom’s reality checks. As it stands, they seem to be fairly well-balanced young people.

This time of year, in between the high holy days and Sukkot (just passed), and Thanksgiving (coming up), has me noticing squirrels. They tuck their food away for winter in nooks and crannies and wherever they can hide it. They are smart creatures in that respect. Winter is long here. It’s only sensible to tuck away a wee bit extra if you can. This is the first fall where I have felt like we have been able to tuck away just a wee bit beyond this week’s groceries. We are finally beginning to feel the stability of not paying rent. We are far from what most people would call “in a stable financial position,” but to us it feels very comforting to have more than one week’s groceries in the house.

The picture of the squirrels tucking their bits away has given me a deeper level of comfort even beyond the image of a few extra groceries. Squirrels are not perfectly efficient creatures, even if they do think ahead. They forget where they have buried their acorns. Stashes of nuts go unused because they’ve forgotten them. It is exactly those lost bits and pieces; the ones they couldn’t keep track of; the ones that spilled out and were forgotten: they give me great comfort this year. Some of those lost bits buried in the earth in some forgotten stash hidden away will become the oaks that will nourish the next generation of squirrels and humans. May all of the places where I couldn’t hold all of my bits together, and where I made mistakes, and where I forgot  the very important “acorns” that I had meant to keep track of serve as instruction for future generations to become the mighty oaks of wisdom that nourish them beyond what I ever could through my responsible efforts.

 

 

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E’s new mandolin, hand-made by J.

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J’s banjo-in-progress, inside the grain bin-come quonset-workshop.IMG_20190220_181944179

Half a grain bin, on its side, with tarps on the ends to serve as walls. “The shop.” Someday, we hope to insulate and enlarge it enough to be able to do reliable woodworking / climate control / insulation.

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E playing her new instrument. Friends patient enough to use a mattress in the kitchen during their visit.

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J and our friend enjoying a lathe & furniture-making workshop. Thankful for the gift of learning to J this spring!

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Our little grain bins-come-castle in the woods. Thanks to all who helped make it possible!

Every week, we do housecleaning and food-prep to  get ready for Shabbat. While the kids are doing their lists of chores, they play music from youtube. This week they found a new one.

If your spring cleaning (or this April blizzard!) feels oppressive, smile. Freedom is around the corner!

Dear mishpachah v’chaverim,

We are warm and well. The blizzards are staying outdoors, and we are grateful for those who helped us to insulate that first year we built the initial grain bin structure. We’ve been blessed to have house guests twice now. The first are very good friends whose sanity I question, but they did survive with us in Minnesota winter for a few days before we were insulated, and helped us to insulate along with several others who pitched in financially.

The second group was a family visiting who came to see where we had landed. The kids enjoyed playing in the snow together and didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the depth of it. It only added to the play value.

My world is expanding a bit more, and I’m not in need of the chair as often. I’ve also begun using voice-to-text, which allows me to write a bit more. It’s a useful tool for learning to think before one speaks, but I’m not finding it useful as a creative friend yet. I may grow to love it more in future.

We are grateful for neighbors who have helped clear snow from my driveway on multiple occasions, the most recent of which would have taken us two days to dig out on our own.

This winter we also finally graduated to having the master bedroom *not* in the kitchen. Loving that.

A neighbor brought over a dining room table to celebrate the occasion, along with 4 dining chairs to match. It’s rare that we’ve had matching furniture, but it’s pleasant and feels a bit decadent.

The Chinese herbs continue to allow me to function more than I had been. I feel less in need of 24/7 care and more able to cope.

The children are growing amazingly, with unique skills and interests. They’re each blossoming into their own kind of beautiful. J is doing a lot with woodworking and building musical instruments. He plays a bit of recorder and guitar, and is making a mandolin for E. He just went on an adventure with a friend to a traditional skills school, and came home with the project he’d built over the weekend: a bar stool, with the tool marks still in it, quite lovely.

H is continuing with her art, practicing drawing with pastels and charcoals  and also learning a little guitar and the Scottish whistle flute. She is also making beautiful progress with our rescue dog, who had never been socialized to humans. She now comes and goes in and out the doors, which had been a fearsome spectre when she first arrived with us. She also is learning not to fear strangers, as we found in this most recent visit from our friends.

E is crocheting and knitting up a storm and also writing poetry, which she hopes to publish in a book. She is also working on a book co-authored with her siblings about our adventures in homesteading. Her mandolin got a test drive before the strings broke, and she can play a few songs already.

K took up the guitar about 2 months ago, and has already surpassed his father’s teaching capacity, so he is now learning a good deal by watching musicians on YouTube. He still loves to build and create, but the music has got his attention lately.

S is working on growing his business and we are grateful for many repeat customers. The trick is going to be finding indoor projects sufficient for the winter. The outdoor projects waiting for spring and summer are piled up as deeply as the snow. I’ve never experienced a March that felt so very much like January.

The clean air and absence of rent or house payment hanging over our head feels more than adequate compensation for the late Spring, though I wouldn’t mind if it were to arrive tomorrow. The next stage of construction is a roof and wall for the bath. A hot bath always had seemed to me a “basic necessity,” but i am learning how luxurious a thing it truly is.

Meanwhile, enjoy our little “Grown-up nook,” the height of luxury afforded by the bedsheet that a friend Out West had given us before we headed out here. There is one room of solace from the mylar in the little castle in the woods.

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After thousands of years of attempts to annihilate monotheism, we are still here, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says YHVH.” Zechariah 4:620181203_172238

Life has thrown us a few curves, but we are still here. RA has given me several months in a wheelchair, and made it difficult to write, AND we are still here. A Chinese herbal combination seems to be helping, and a wind-proof menorah stands on the driveway in Catholo-Lutherans’-ville. We are still here, proclaiming miracles.

 

Dear Mishpacha v’Chaverim,

Spring is coming!!! Yes, I know it’s probably “here” for most of you, but for us, it’s “coming.” The nighttime temperatures are now reliably above zero, but still not reliably above freezing, even during the day. We made it through winter, with all of us healthy and learning and growing well. Internet is the latest “big exciting thing” here. The corrugated steel grain bin shell of our house is great at deflecting signals, as is the mylar vapor barrier (and infrared heat reflector). The combination meant that our cell phones got very little reception and wireless internet didn’t work at all. The tax return came in, and we re-stocked the pantry, bought a water filter (so we can purify our own water, rather than buying & hauling it from town– YES!!!), and got internet. We are well-blessed.

Our bedroom is also the living / dining / kitchen room (apx. 200 sq. ft.). The kids have a divided bedroom (the first grain bin’s ground floor, another 200 sq. ft., in which we all lived for a month before the second grain  bin’s ground floor was insulated so that we could move into it while insulating the first grain bin’s ground floor) within view of it. At 600 square feet of live-able space so far, it feels pretty big after the 150 square foot yurt, and then living in either half of this space before we got both sides insulated. Each space has felt successively larger and more pleasant. I’m beginning to feel more normalized… nothing like “normal,” you understand  😉  but functional.

“The Grandfather Clock” (a Schoolhouse Regulator, re-named because Gramps built it, not because it’s actually a grandfather clock) made it out of storage last week, and is now on the wall, chiming the quarter-hour. A few other things are filtering their way from storage into our home, and we are beginning to settle in a bit. It’s not quite enough space to bring everything out of storage yet, but enough to bring a few books and odds & ends to make it homey.

Thank you to all of you who have prayed and supported us through these crucial parts of this first-stage build, and helped us to realize our dreams of clean air and affordable, healthy housing! You are all angels (messengers), and we’ve heard your voices loud and clear: “You are loved. You are cared for. You are believed in. You’ll make it.”

Love to all of you!

B’Shalom,

Yochanna.

Shalom Mishpacha v’Chaverim,

L’Chaim! Life is good. It has been a long journey from our home Out West, here to The Frozen North, back Out West to see you all again for a few months, and back here again to continue building our homestead. We are warm and well, and there are pumpkins from a local gm-free farm in the house and wood from dead tree removal by the stove. The children are in bed, asleep. The cats are patrolling. (Yes, we have victory over that allergy!!! All honor to He Who Causes to Exist!!!) We are in a house (solid walls!!!) that we built from the ground up of 3 small grain bins this year. Our family has unity like I’ve rarely seen. Each personality has a unique and vital contribution. What more could we want?

We miss you. We miss alternatives and a culture with a more broadly educated “mainstream,” especially in the medical and religious communities. We miss Hebrew lessons and Hebrew school and services and holidays with community and helping to set up for events. I miss local grocery stores that carry more OG food and natural medicines than I keep stocked in my house for the week. I miss kitchen counters attached to kitchen sinks, and my very own bathtub with a door that locks. Sigh. OG food and other Jews are an hour away. The naturopathic RN is 45 minutes East. The showers are at the Y in the town 15 miles South.

The high today was -5°, and tonight it is supposed to get down to -15°. (Edit: it wound up at -18°). Internet is a luxury item here. Cell service and internet are both blocked by the corrugated steel of the grain bins and the mylar which serves as both a vapor barrier and to reflect infrared heat back into the house.

The local YMCA has been indispensable for showers and a place to be when the weather has been inclement, as well as a more reliable WiFi spot.  Tornadoes, ticks and mosquitoes in the summer compete with blizzards in the winter for our time,energy and prep work.

At around 600 square feet of heated living space, we’re far from palatial, but the mylar, accented with poplar battons (harvested from the land), does reflect the menorah lights quite regally. We brought the Chanukah box from storage and decorated the house with snowflakes, doves, and menorot. There are those who would argue that the real miracle of Chanukah is in the survival of the Jewish people (allowing, historically, the development of both Christianity and Islam from the Roots that were not destroyed before their birth) and rededication of the temple. For us, the menorah is a beautiful way to remember this miracle, whether the miracle of the oil ever occurred or not. (There is much debate over this, but we don’t see it as the more consequential question. The question of the survival of Judaism was answered with a resounding and miraculous “YES!”) We bless with “natanlanu” in place of “v’tzivanu,” and thank the One who makes all miracles happen, whether we can prove them from the earliest historical accounts or not. Officially, it’s over now, but we’re relishing the after-glow. The kids made several crocheted gifts and we found some “just right” things in thrift shops.

Proverbs recommends planting the fields before building the house. I don’t know whether that bit of wisdom is truly applicable in this climate, but we are hopeful that planting after getting the temporary house built will bring blessings as well. We’ve walked a beautiful, trying journey to appreciate the value in the Instruction in Tanach. Planting and letting the land rest and the years of release have been major landmarks for us. They are “written in stone” in our hearts and gut-instincts.

I’m not sure on the official timing of when to put the mezuzot on the door posts, but we’re thinking it will be sometime near when the wood siding is nailed up around the slider. A friend Out West went to Israel and brought one back for us with a real, Kosher scroll for it. It will be the first Kosher one for any home we’ve ever had. Up to this point, we’ve made do with paper print-outs from the internet. Please send good thoughts and prayers for our home to honor the Torah it holds, as well as the Torah it brings to mind, and the One Who gave it. Note: there are different opinions on how to fulfill this mitzvah. Some put the little box on the doorpost. Some put an open-faced mezuzah, allowing people to see the words. Some believe that it’s similar to the phylactories, and is a figurative instruction to have it always on our minds and in our hearts and to “build our homes” with “posts” (foundations / structural elements) of Torah Instruction. Our view is that these things are all good. Unity is not uniformity, but the capacity to converse and argue and struggle for truth in a social world that allows others to do the same.

May you all be blessed with concrete experiences,  “stones to put in the Jordan,” to mark the places where you have found the life in Torah for your homes as well.

B’Shalom,

Yochanna