In July 1999, Farmer Doug made us go to the birthday party of a ten-year-old in Batavia. The party was at a place that turned out to be for sale and Brett & I fell in love with it. Twenty-seven acres, two ponds, fruit trees, a thousand row feet of established asparagus, a stand of lovely old white oaks, and a funky old house with an interesting history and badly in need of a remodel.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For the first six months we lived here, I kept this little diary and it’s still fun to re-read every now and then. But over the years I’ve discovered that living in an old, run-down farm house under construction is both a never-ending list of minor problems and not all that terribly unique. I do love it here, though. (Check the gallery for visual aids.) It’s quiet, the closest neighbors can’t even be seen from our house, and it’s dark at night.
Anyway, enjoy the Farm Diary.
Moved to the farm. Fifteen truck loads. Meeting at Ketterhagen?s to close at noon. Still waiting on that CVB loan. Stress! I was so nervous all morning, and even after we signed I was still nervous and stressed out. It was a happy, giddy kind of nervous, but I felt a little over-amped nonetheless.
We spent our first night there and it was wonderful. The weather held, it was breezy and quite warm for November 1st, and we were so excited and tired from moving that we were asleep as soon as we laid down. There’s no traffic sounds out there, no layers of human consciousness seeping into your skull while you sleep. Just you, a few animals, and the stars.
Finished moving. Where did we get so much stuff? Cosmo?s still upset that the Runyans aren?t home. He watches down the driveway for them.
I love it here. Last night we sat outside near the greenhouse and cut Brussels sprouts from their stalks, then we went in and made lentil soup, steamed fresh Brussels sprouts, and French bread for supper. Such a farm meal! Then we sat at our table and had our dinner while the pea-fowl headed up to bed in the barn and the dogs curled up on the floor under the table. I hope everyone I know always feels free to come out and visit us. We have so much to share now that we have such a wonderful place to call home. Planting in the spring, swimming and canoeing in the summer, harvest in the fall, and ice skating in the winter. Plenty of space to set up a painting studio, or pottery, or woodworking… or to sit and look at the peacock or pet the fuzzy barn kitty.
Friday night Matt and Penny came out to visit. It was so much fun. They brought a pumkin pie, and we fed them lentil soup for dinner. Walking around at night isn’t all that fun if it’s your first time, though. Penny couldn’t really see anything. It’s so dark out there at night; the only light is from the house and the stars.
Saturday Brett had to work, the poor thing. He was bummed to have to drive into town when what he really wanted to do was hang out at home.
I unpacked for a few hours. I put books on the shelves in the work room, unpacked my altar and sewing things, found the phone books. Cleaned up the porch a little and then went for a walk with the dogs. It’s so quiet and peaceful out there.
Late morning it got busy. Farmer Doug dropped in to pick up his goat milking station from the barn, and then Bill Runyan dropped a car off for his friend to use when bringing their van back from Chicago.
I went into town about 12:30 to get stuff from the Adams house, and then I bought some groceries and drove home. Home! I live in Batavia!
Brett got home around five, and after hanging out and talking for awhile, we ventured to the town’s only bar. We had intended to eat at Debbie’s Diner, but it was closed, so we ended up going home and making spaghetti for supper.
Sunday we got up early and went and cut firewood. We had an entire truck load done and stacked behind the house by 11:30! It’s a lot of work, and Brett did the bulk of it. Barb came to visit and helped a little, but she’d broken her toe the weekend before and really wasn’t supposed to be loading firewood. She and I talked about plans for redecorating the house and had tea. It was fun.
All in all, living out there is amazing! I can’t believe how fortunate we are to live somewhere like Iowasis… that’s what the Runyans called it. Ioasis. I don’t know how they spelled it, but it is an oasis in Iowa!
CVB decided to give me a loan. Now I can pay the rest of the down payment into escrow. That reduces some internal stress for me!
It?s snowing! I wish I didn?t have to work today. I want to walk around on the farm with dogs, drink hot herb tea, stand in front of the furnace in slippers.
The Open House was yesterday. It was a small crowd but I think everybody had fun. I got up early and spent the whole day cleaning and cooking. At one, when the party was supposed to start, I was already nearly exhausted. But I got a brief rest because no one showed up until two!
I think November?s not the best time of year for a party. It?s cold and dreary out; people want to stay home and watch videos. I had lots of fun showing everyone around the house and around the property. Reni loved it and I was so glad she came. The men built a gigantic bonfire that burned all night.
I put the bonfire?s remaining cinders out tonight. It was too windy for my taste. It was a really big, really hot bonfire.
This morning I got into the shower. I was in there for maybe 15 seconds when suddenly — there was no water. None. It went from gallons to nothing. Instantly. Brett was in the furnace room nearby so I hollered “What the hell did you just do? I have no water here!”
“Whadjoo do? There’s no water!” I was wet and shivering and beginning to feel pissed off.
“You’re right! There’s no water in here either!” came his voice from the kitchen.
“Shit!” I threw the curtain back and grabbed a towel. “I just got in here! What just happened?”
I dried off, wrapped a robe around me, and scuttled directly to the couch, where I wrapped up in a blanket and shivered hard. “I was just in there long enough to get wet, now I’m wet and freezing and my hair’s gross. What happened? The well dry up?”
Brett frowned. “I dunno. I don’t like it. I’m calling the Runyans if the well’s dried up.”
We discussed a variety of possible reasons for the water to stop. We knew it was too warm to have frozen the pipes already, and we knew the city hadn’t shut us off since we have our own water source.
Finally Brett suggested, “Maybe there’s a wire down and the pump isn’t getting any power. I’ll go check it out.” By then I was beginning to warm up, so while he and the dogs went out to take a look, I scurried upstairs to dress.
He came back in a few moments later as I was coming back downstairs. “The telephone pole is lying on the ground! Fucker just blew right over, snapped off!”
“Wow, you were right!You totally cognized the problem.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m glad it’s something fixable at least.” Then he sat down to think, and began to fret about the amount of work. “Do you have any idea how much a telephone pole costs? They’re like six hundred bucks.”
“Are you serious? I had no idea.”
We had a pole down, live wires on the ground, no coffee, and no water. It was before seven in the morning. We were befuddled. “I wanna know who’s job it is to fix this. The power company, or us,” Brett announced.
I said, “Okay, good question,” and called Allied Energy and asked them if it was their job. “No, if it’s on your side of the meter, it’s your responsibility,” Nadine told me. “But we can fix it if you want us to. Or you could have an electrician look at it instead.”
“We’ll call you back,” I said, and looked at Brett while hanging up.
“Fuck that, it’ll cost us money before the guy even starts driving. I don’t want to dig a hole! Damn it!”
Brett started to outline the details: find a pole, cut the power, dig a hole, move the service to the new pole… “I don’t want to dig a hole!” he exclaimed again.
“You’re looking stressed, Mr. Brett,” I said soothingly. “Just let me remind you,” I said, “that what you’re feeling is not anxiety. What you’re feeling is peace: this is peaceful country living, and the joys of home ownership!”
“Ah,” he responded, “is THAT what I’m feeling? Peace? You’re right, I feel much better now!”
Winter is here. We?re burning several box loads of wood every day. The pond is frozen, a thin crust of ice. If you throw a stone onto it, it makes the oddest, eerie sound.
The peafowl came to eat twice today. I filled their little trough with semolina flour, wild bird seed, and dog kibbles. They like dog food kibbles the best, although the peacock does seem fond of the wild bird seed.
Today I registered michelle-mook.batavia.ia.us and when I get married, I?ll have my own domain! I?ll register brett-mook.batavia.ia.us too, and build him a trade website.
Brett?s Ford didn?t want to start today. The key wouldn?t turn. I thought it was frozen. Brett rattled it but it didn?t come loose. He said, ?You fucking whore!? and walked away from the truck. I turned the key gently? the truck started. It was windy and about 10 degrees this morning. I can hardly wait for spring.
Our first Thanksgiving at the farm was a success. Brett and I got up at 6:45 in the morning and prepared the carcass for the oven. Spider told us where to put the thermometer and how to put foil on the legs so that they wouldn’t burn. The 25.49 lb. turkey was stuffed and in the oven by 7:20–who knew I’d grow up to ever do such a thing! Dinner was on the table around two and everybody who was supposed to show up was there: Barb, Jerry, Grandpa, Krista, Bo, Anna, Melissa, Miko, Spider, and Farmer Doug, who pulled into the driveway the very moment dinner was called.
Jerry, who carved, said the turkey was perfectly cooked and everyone who ate turkey seemed to enjoy themselves. The gravy and dressing were also commented on. Miko and Farmer Doug in particular did themselves in with too many trips to the sideboard; they were both asleep on the couch by dusk. I don’t think we made enough stuffing or mashed potatoes, though, as they were all gone before seconds had started. Both Spider and Farmer Doug crashed at our place that night.
Barb brought us an antenna for the television, so now Fox comes in clear enough to watch, and we get IPTV and a very fuzzy CBS. (This means Brett’s fallen asleep in front of the television twice already. The first two times since we moved to the farm. Ugh.)
The next day we drove out to Bo and Anna’s to see Kaya’s puppies. They’re so cute! (If anyone wants a puppy, Bo’s got 10, and there will be plenty more when Stella has hers in a couple of weeks.) We took Spider back to Coppock Friday afternoon and dropped him off. I think he had a nice time staying at our house. He sure did split a lot of firewood during the few days he stayed! Such a useful guest.
Friday night we had a little bonfire. About 10 people came. I had a lot of fun. Around midnight I made a bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and we all had a snack. Because we stayed up so late, Brett and I slept in ’til 10:00 on Saturday, which is probably the latest we’ve slept since we moved out there.
I got a card from Grandma Hall that says she’s planning to come to the wedding and also that she had to get our new address from Kathy… a hint that I need to send change of address cards to non-Internet people. I desperately need to write to her. I also need to pay my bills and write to everyone else in my family, but even though I just had four days off those things aren’t done.
Saturday, Krista and Andy came out to visit. While they hung out with Brett, I unpacked several more boxes, and hung pictures and Christmas lights around the house. It’s amazing what having some frames can do for a wall. We got a postcard from the Runyans, who seem to be doing well in the tropics. I guess they fulfilled their part of the deal and now we’ll have to give them their dog back!
Tom dropped by later in the afternoon and really liked the place. It had its effect on him: he arrived wired and departed serene. There’s some amazing medicine on our land and I’m so amazed and grateful that I get to live there. Brett’s got a Filson packer with sheepskin cowl coming in a couple of weeks and he’s very excited. Tom might also have Brett come out to Wyoming to do a remodel on the future store.
We ate dinner in Fairfield at Luciano’s and stopped by Barb & Jerry’s to see Brett’s grandpa for awhile. We got a vid on the way back through Batavia and spent a cozy evening at home on the couch. Stella started showing sometime on Saturday, and then proceeded to grow about a centimeter per hour for the rest of the weekend.
Yesterday, Brett and I went to Ottumwa. We completed our Christmas shopping for Barb and Krista, at least, and bought ourselves a set of shelves to put our clothes on. We bought groceries at EconoFoods (shopping in Scrotumwa is quite strange) and at lunch at Taco Bell. Then we went back out to Joe and Bo & Anna’s so Brett could watch football. I took my Christmas cards with me and addressed and signed them in front of the telly. Kaya and puppies are doing fine. Cosmo tried to pee on the wall, as usual. We were home in time for Malcom, and ate tomato soup and grilled cheese in front of the set. I watched Girl, Interrupted while Brett dozed off and had a nice cry during the end, after he’d gone up to bed. It’s good for the chemical balance, to watch the occasional chick flick.
It’s rained a few times. The leaves in our driveway are slowly turning into fertilizer. They’re mostly in the muddy, stick-to-your-boots stage.
I’ve gotten into the habit of smoking my last cigarette of the day while walking up the driveway. I stop in the clearing between the barn and the honey house and stare at the stars. It’s so clear there, and millions of them are visible. When there’s no moon, it’s dark and cold and quiet. No sounds except for the wind in your ears and the jingle of dogs’ collars as they sniff and prod every interesting thing.
Stella is bigger every day, I think. Puppies in 17 days… or so.
Tomorrow is the first of December. I pay my mortgage payment tomorrow. Then: only ten years and ten months left.
Last night Brett brought home some treasures. A strange, beautiful electric samovar, and a secretary. The samovar is white and blue enameled, and it still has the electrical cord. Fill it up, plug it in and presto! hot tea for everyone. I love it; it’s so weird. The secretary is an old piece of furniture that opens up to be a little desk with cubby holes in it. The cubby holes need to be repaired. Mr. Brett has today off, so perhaps he’ll have it fixed by the time I get home. He promised me some kitchen shelves last night, but I think we might actually just take the plunge and begin the real remodel of the kitchen rather than do a “temporary,” half-assed remodel now.
I mean, there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary fix!
Last night the peahen slept in the snow right outside the kitchen window. There’s a nice drift there, it covers up half of the window in the corner, and she was snuggled down into it, looking at us as if to say, “It’s 7:30 already, do you mind turning off that kitchen light? I’m trying to sleep here!”
In the morning she had a fine layer of snow on her back, and she was bright eyed and perky and still not ready to get up. I think she likes to sleep in, and thought we were weird for being up so early.
It was a strange place to sleep, but she seemed comfy enough.
Sunday night it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. And Monday morning there was no school! And even if there had been, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to drive there. Brett could, though, and we made an early afternoon trip into Batavia to the post office. Brett’s Filson coat had arrived, but the weather was too bad for the mail man to bring it out to us… so Brett decided to go get it.
The gravel was drifted across, over a foot deep in places. At one point, the cab of the old Ford steamed up and it started snowing inside. I was freaked. Brett thought for a moment that his heater core had gone south, but it turned out that it was just a giant amount of very fine snow sucked into the intake. We made it to the post office and back in good shape… if you count frozen and covered with snow “in good shape.” There are holes in the walls and floor of the cab, so there’s really no escape from the weather.
Later in the afternoon we made it all the way to Libertyville, and once again it was Brett driving the Ford that got us there. I suppose we could have made it to Fairfield, but it wasn’t really worth it. The Ford’s battery died in Lib’ville and we had to get a jump to get home. The brakes were frozen, too, so the ride home in the blizzard was a little scary.
Tuesday morning it was bright and clear and they still hadn’t planed, and I doubt I could have gotten the Toyota into town. Brett did, but that’s mainly because he was so pissed off at the morning he’d had that he just beat the snow into submission. (The Toy had to be started with a torch because it was frozen, the Ford wouldn’t start, wouldn’t take a jump, and even broke its own key off in the ignition switch. The Impala started right up, but it was buried in a snow drift and couldn’t be moved anywhere useful.) Brett dropped me off at work and drove me home later.
This morning I drove myself to work, but if the weather keeps up I fully intend to leave at 4:00 so I don’t have to drive home in the dark in a snow storm. The gravel, once planed, is a much better surface for driving than the 34 blacktop. Ugh. There’s crazy people driving on the freeway, but the gravel’s nice and empty.
Stella’s puppies are due Thursday night. Ooohh!
My stress level is a little high.
First of all, we went to Brett’s company Christmas party last night and I ate too much and I had too much wine. This means I didn’t sleep well and I feel crappy today. I think I was a little out of sorts to begin with, and then stuffing myself full of too much rich food just knocked me over the edge. Heartburn sucks.
Then there’s the wall in the bedroom that’s saturated with water, the fact that I haven’t completed my Christmas shopping, the extra chores of puppies and peafowl, the fact that owe the vet $100, the burned out clutch in the Toyota, the general stress of the commute… I’m just feeling a little bewildered.
It’s a little too bad that we had to have the worst winter in years just a couple of months after we moved to the farm.
We have ice melting during the day, then freezing at sunset, and slowly working its way into the walls and the roof. With the heat on full blast, it starts to melt. The entire bedroom wall is damp, and the window is dripping from the header. Brett woke up in the middle of the night last night thrashing and flailing because he was getting dripped on. We moved the bed into another room and went back to sleep. Today Brett’s not working because he has to do something about this water issue before it ruins the entire east wall.
Oh, the joys of homeownership.
We went to see the lawyer Ketterhagen hired for us. He didn’t tell us much. There goes another $100 or so for his time.
Now it’s the lunch hour and I feel like I’m coming down with something. Ugh. Just what I need now is to get sick.
Christmas was wonderful. Brett and I opened our mail presents as they came (sort of like the twelve days of) which made the season seem longer. Christmas eve we spent at Barb’s house. Jerry’s daughter and husband were there for supper but left afterward, and then it was Jerry and Barb, Krista and Andy, and Brett and I. Barb went all out, as usual, and topped herself by finding me some fleece sweats that are cuter than hell. There’s also some great kitchen stuff and some books. I got quite a haul. Mr. Brett got fleece slippers that he wears all the time.
Dogs are doing well. Puppies are cute, Stella’s sick of them already. Bindu and Cosmo have such delicate little feet that if they go out for more than just a few minutes they come in freezing and limping. (It’s been well below zero on and off recently, although today its easily in the high teens.)
The peafowl got evicted from the greenhouse when we realized they weren’t unwell but just too stubborn or stupid to travel over snow back up to the barn. Now they’re in the garage and doing well. I haven’t fed them since Tuesday though, so if you asked them they might say otherwise.
The paperwhites Lis gave me have started blooming and I’m very attached to them. They look so lovely and spring-like in the middle of all this snow.
I think our New Year’s plans are simple. I envision going out to dinner in Fairfield or Ottumwa and then going to the Batavia bar, Rach Daddy’s, for a few drinks, and then home and in bed before midnight! I know I don’t want to get drunk (too old these days) and I can’t stay awake in a bar much past eleven if I’m not on my way to getting trashed, so I think we’ll try to call it an early night. I’m sure someone in FF will throw a party, but I don’t want to have to drive all the way home from one.
We still haven’t gotten the list from the insurance company of things we have to fix. I had better call and check on that. And on the subject of things that probably aren’t covered by insurance, here’s the list of things that have broken so far: (1) the telephone pole that had electrical service for the water pump fell down, (2) I sat on the edge of the upstairs bath tub and it shifted, breaking the drain pipe, (3) the entire East wall began leaking and dripping last week and didn’t stop for a couple of days, and we’ll have to put a new roof on this spring.
Oh, Spring. I am really looking forward to Spring. I want to see the farm all green again, and things growing, and little creatures wiggling around in the ponds. I can hardly wait until it’s light out when I get up in the morning, and when I get off work at night. I can hardly wait until we can eat supper outside on the picnic table and watch the sun set. It will be so nice in the spring.
Yesterday someone told me that this December holds the record for snow. Apparently, we’ve gotten more snow this month than ever. What luck, huh? Move to Batavia, have the worst winter of recorded history. Neato!
Snowing again. Drive in was treacherous. Farm is good; animals are healthy, we’re healthy, and the roof’s quit leaking. We’ve been discussing the remodel. We’re going to start by rewiring, which means ripping out the ceiling in the basement, which means buying new ceiling stuff. We’ve also got to buy roofing supplies. Brett’s got a big check coming, so I think we’ll go shopping tomorrow if we can drive.
Our plumbing isn’t. We’ve got shit backed up everywhere. Mr. Brett borrowed a 25′ snake from a friend at work, and it seems to have made the mildest of impacts.
I think the bottle of Liquid Plumber we poured down the hole helped the most, even though we’ve been loathe to use chemicals. We’ve been feeding the plumbing earth-friendly enzymatic cleaners, but they haven’t been up to the task. Brett fears all of the waste we’ve created since we moved in is stuck in the pipe under the driveway.
The strange thing is that the sinks and the laundry all drain perfectly. Where is that water going?
This whole peaceful country living thing is somewhat trying on the patience!
This weekend we got a lot done. Saturday morning Brett announced, “I’m gonna move that wall.” Then he proceeded to do just that, with help from Matt. The wall in question was the one between the furnace room and the porch. They ripped it out, and the wall next to it, and then built a new wall closer to the front of the porch. It’s awesome! Our utility/laundry room is much larger, and our porch is now a normal porch-shape (without all of the wasted space at the back), and there’s more light everywhere.