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One Year in the Barn – Homestead & Garden Update

Well friends, we moved into our barn in July of 2013 and have now been living in it for an ENTIRE YEAR. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long, but it has. We’ve accomplished an awful lot around our little homestead this past year, and I’d like to take you on a tour of some of the events from the past year.

One Year in the Barn - Homestead & Garden Update

Well friends, we moved into our barn in July of 2013 and have now been living in it for an ENTIRE YEAR. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long, but it has. We’ve accomplished an awful lot around our little homestead this past year, and I’d like to take you on a tour of some of the events from the past year.

One Year in the Barn – Homestead & Garden Update

passive house Iowa

The biggest accomplishment is the Passive House we are building. {Curious what a passive house is? Read this.}

That’s it right there! The great thing about being married to a fabulous home builder/remodeler is SOME DAY I will get to live in that beautiful beast of a house. The bad thing about being married to a super talented home builder/remodeler, everyone else’s home projects come first. That means progress on our house is slow going. But we have made remarkable strides in the almost year since we started the house. We dug the hole last August, right after we got back from Paris.

Considering we had the worst winter on record in so, so many years, considering our windows were delayed by over a month from Europe, considering the hubs has never used many of the building materials he’s using or built a passive house before, I’ll take it! Windows are in. Interior framing is almost done. Exterior of the house is almost done. Insulation has been started. We’re making progress. I’d love to hope we will be in it by Christmas. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m kind of taking this time in the barn as a time to kill everything, so to speak. My dishes keep breaking, my towels get more stained every day, and more and more stuff is sent to Goodwill.  I’m getting new furniture, new linens, and new dishes when we do finally move into the new house. After almost 17 years of marriage and 4 kids, our stuff is just looking a little shabby. I’m taking trips to Ikea, making wish lists, and dreaming. We’ll be living in that house soon enough.
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We’re Living in a Barn!!

On our path to a more sustainable life, we are going to be living in a barn while we build our super insulated passive house. Here’s a little bit more about that decision.

We’re Living in a Barn!!

Sorry for the radio silence. Life has been seriously crazy this summer and I have not been able to spend time on my computer – which is both good and bad! Sometimes I feel like my computer is my life and it’s nice to disconnect from it every now again. It’s ironic that I disconnected right after an awesome blogging conference in Cincinnati, but that’s how it goes, right?

life in a barn

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that we are finally moving out to our barn! We have been planning to move there for quite some time, because we’re getting ready to build our dream house, a super insulated passive house which will need no furnace even in the brutally cold Iowa winters. But the new house isn’t started yet so moving out to the country hasn’t really been possible. A couple months ago, though, we decided  to bite the bullet and get out to the country –> house or no house. We are quite done with living in town and we seem to do a lot of things because we think they’ll make a good story. 🙂

farm kids in a wagon of mulch

We moved to Iowa in 2006 in large part because we wanted to raise farm kids. We decided it would be impossible to raise farm kids in the suburbs, and suburbs were pretty much our reality due to active duty Air Force life. So we moved to my hubs’ hometown in rural Eastern Iowa and became self employed. Since 2006, though, we’ve lived in town. Granted it’s a small town, and we had a small acreage to play at, but town life is town life. And we want to be in the country. So we just moved into our barn. If you haven’t read the story, we were given a free barn in 2009 and moved it to 5 acres we own with the help of a professional large structure moving company. The barn was days from being burned down, and it most likely should have been burned down.

barn house
Less than a year after we moved it, the barn almost burned down again in an accidental fire {before we had insurance on it}. That was a huge scare and we got insurance really quickly after that! Since then, we’ve spent the last 3 years rebuilding the barn, and at Christmas time in 2012, we finally finished the upstairs into 3 offices and a showroom area for our home construction / remodeling company.

This summer, we decided the barn would make a good temporary home, after hemming and hawing about moving far, far away because of the potential for a nuclear power plant 5 miles away.  News of the nuclear power plant was really hard on me. We decided to move to Iowa for clean country living and all my research said living within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant can be quite dangerous and have pretty bad health consequences. Additionally, our county has the dirtiest air in all of Iowa and our well water is so contaminated with nitrates that we can’t drink it. After I got word of the nuclear power plant, I told my husband we should get out of Iowa and move somewhere far, far away. That’s easier said than done, though, because we’ve spent the last 6 years building a business and investing in our 5 acres and barn. And really, what area doesn’t have something bad located not too far away?

We actually decided to go ahead and build our dream home a couple of weeks before we got news that the nuclear power plant will NOT be built! YAY YAY YAY YAY!! And  so we’ve spent the last few weeks moving out to our 5 acres! Moving with 4 kids has been a huge challenge. We’ve been moving into progressively smaller homes for the last few years without getting rid of many possessions. Now we’re in our 1200 square foot barn office. I also have a huge kitchen/laundry room/bathroom downstairs in the barn in addition to the 1200 square feet upstairs, so there is actually more room than we had in our last home if you count the kitchen. However, it’s not a “proper” kitchen space, and part of it is occupied by our construction shop, so it will be quite challenging trying to work out of there. Once I clean up our mess, I will share some before and after pictures.

For now, I am breathing a sigh of relief. Our old house is cleaned out and rented. Every single thing we own is out at the barn. My garden is out at the barn. And the barn is in the country. We are no longer living in town! It will be so much easier to tend my garden and raise farm kids now. And while this might be one of the crazier things we have ever done, after spending three nights in the barn, I’m happy to shout: “I’M LIVING IN A BARN!” My barn is a tragic, tragic mess, but we’re there.

So give me your best “Were you born in a barn joke.” I’m collecting them. 🙂

Garden Update 10/30 ~ Moving a Garden Shed & Confession Time

Welll…here’s my confession. Garden = abandoned. I have NOT even cleaned it for winter yet. Oppps!!! I keep thinking I’ll get out there and do it, and then I don’t. It’s a mess, and I’ll even show you! The good news is, I did get another surprise garden haul yesterday: Broccoli, kale, a radish {I didn’t even realize I planted!}

blankThere’s the surprise garden haul! I’m pretty sure I could continue harvesting kale for a long time. The broccoli, though, is about done. It’s been really cold here the last couple of weeks – down into the 20s at night. And even cold hardy broccoli can’t survive those temps forever.

blankAnd here are some of my dead tomato plants. Before we went to Colorado it was predicted that we’d get pretty cold weather. So I actually went out to the garden the night we left and picked a whole bunch of green tomatoes. My Great-Aunt tells me that it’s possible to wrap them in newspaper or arrange them in a single row and they will redden over the winter. I am trying that {but admittedly, my tomatoes are still all thrown in the box I put them in when I picked them. Some have gone bad and I’ve thrown them out, but others are turning red. I’m using them for a salad tonight so we’ll see how they taste. I figure they can’t be any worse than store-bought tomatoes.}

blankAnd here’s the money shot. My garden as it looks right now. 🙂 I have got to clean that sucker up. It’s over-run with weeds. The tomato stakes need to come out. I’d like to till it up and add some manure to get it ready for spring. Hope that happens this coming up weekend.

Moving a Garden Shed

But the really exciting news about my garden is my new to me garden shed! If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you may recall that we moved a barn to our property several years ago. We’re just about ready to move our home remodeling business offices into the barn, which is very, very exciting news. But this past weekend, my hubs also moved a little shed out to my garden.


His parents own a lot about 3 miles from our property that had this shed on it. After paying a professional moving company to move our huge barn several years ago, my husband has been itching to try it out on his own…so he and his dad spent last Saturday jacking up this shed, loading it onto a huge trailer, and driving it out to our property.


The scariest part was watching them drive it down the curb to get it on the street. I thought for a minute that I might ought to move my van out of the way so it wouldn’t topple over on top of me…but they made it!

blankI drove in front of my husband with my hazards on and my mother and father in law drove behind him with their flashers on. It was only about 3 miles out to our barn, but it was slow going. I love this picture of the shed in my side mirror – “ARGH!!! Something’s following me!” 🙂

blankThat’s what the rig looked like going down the road. It was pretty funny!! LOL!

blankAnd I love this picture of the big barn and the little shed. Can you believe that the red barn looked much worse than the shed when it was moved? I can’t believe the transformation that red barn has undergone.

blankAnd now, the shed is sitting out by my garden and my hubs says I have work to do. Huh?? I didn’t sign up for another project. Hmmm.

Do You Believe in Ghosts? ~ Barn Renovation Part 5

Do You Believe in Ghosts? In this installment of our barn restoration story, we describe some paranormal activity we’ve had out at our barn! Crazy but true story.

Do You Believe in Ghosts? ~ Barn Renovation Part 5

When I last left off with our barn renovation efforts, we had just pulled the barn from its old home a quarter mile away to its new foundation on our property. When I look back on these old pictures, I cannot for the life of me, figure out what the heck we were thinking. Does this really look like something that ought to be saved?

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

At its old home, the barn was sunk down into the ground. Picture a garden basement, if you will. We wanted the barn to stick up out of the ground further. So we had to build it up quite a high compared to how it had been originally. The home movers jacked it up with their blocks and my husband built temporary supports. It looked like this:

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

Then, the moving company picked their support beams and jacks up, and the barn sat there. For a long time. It had taken all of our money to get the barn to our property and we had to wait a while before we had money again to start rebuilding. We joked a lot that when we had the time to work on the barn, we had no money. And when we had the money to work it, we had no time. It was a vicious cycle.

We moved the barn in August 2009. It sat like the next picture until the spring of 2010 – except without that half of the tin roof or the dormer. I can’t believe I can’t find a picture of the barn as it looked all winter. I know I must have one…

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

Anyway, here’s where it gets a little freaky. When we bought the property we moved the barn to, we had no idea it was haunted. After we bought the 5 acres though, we heard from person after person that we had bought haunted land. Of course, we just laughed. Really? Ghosts? But our ghost even had a name: Charlie Wacker. And we heard stories of his antics and practical jokes. Vivid stories. It was a little weird. And so many people told us over and over: “that place is haunted.” I tried not to let it bother me.

But back to the barn – 2009/2010 was a super windy winter. The barn was obviously very poorly supported yet it stood. In the spring, our crew went back to work. They started with the tin roof. Getting a tight roof was the highest priority because without a roof, everything would continue to rot – but they only got half the roof on before they decided walls might be a wise decision for the structural integrity of the barn. My husband decided a dormer would be nice so he could look out of the barn and see our future house – it will be built on the east side of the barn. So he built a dormer. Then they went to work building the barn side walls. We debated about using tin or wood for the walls, but we eventually settled on wood.

barn in the process of being repaired

My husband, his parents, and our construction crew worked for a solid week building new walls. They finished up on a windy Friday afternoon. We had several little brush fires burning near the barn that we carefully put out before we left. I went home first and my husband stayed longer to make sure everything was tidied up and the fires were under control, and then he finally came home around 6:30-7:00 pm. We had a late supper and were sitting around talking when the phone rang. Our neighbors (the former owners of the barn) called to tell us that our barn was on fire and burning.

I can’t even begin to describe the sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach. We had paid quite a lot of money to have the barn moved to our property. We had just worked on it non-stop for the last couple of weeks, and it finally looked like it might have a future. We had not insured it. And it was so windy. We knew, without a doubt, that the barn would be pile of rubble and ashes when we got there. And we felt so sick.

We loaded the kids in the van, drove to pick up one of our crew (his great-grandfather had originally built the barn), and headed out to assess the damage. When we got there, we were shocked to see a line of fire trucks – probably 10 trucks lined the dirt road out to our barn. Our town fire department was there and so was the next closet town’s department as well but only a couple trucks were actually at the barn. It was dark, cold, and windy. But the barn was still there. In fact, it suffered very little damage, all things considered. Only the south side burned and it had just started burning the support beams when it was extinguished.

barn after the fire

We were later shocked to find out that the fire department went first to the wrong property and ended up taking 45 minutes after the initial 911 call to get to our property. They heard our last name and headed immediately out to my husband’s parents’ farm. Not that many people knew we owned our land. And it took the fire department 45 minutes to figure out where the fire was and get there.

Of course, after people heard about the fire, many told us that the ghost, Charlie Wacker, was mad at us for moving the barn out there. On the contrary- we felt very lucky and credited Charlie for saving our barn!

Since then, we’ve made a ton of progress on the barn. You can see a pretty current picture at the top of my blog page. We sort of forgot about Charlie Wacker until very recently.

March has been barn month for us. My husband, his parents, and our crew again, have been hard at work finishing the mow so we can move our home building / remodeling company offices out there. One day I went to the barn to see the progress and Dan (my husband) said the guys were freaked out because the big overhead doors kept opening and closing – on their own – and a lot. I looked at Dan- I was surprised to hear this.  My husband is not one to buy into ghosts and such, but he said it was really freaky. He was there and saw it too and said there was no reason those doors should be randomly opening and closing like they had been. I was officially freaked out.

A couple days later I mentioned the ghost to a friend of mine while we were chatting on the phone. She told me in all seriousness that we needed to introduce ourselves to Charlie Wacker. I thought it was a bit strange, but you know what? I told my husband and he did! The next time I was at the barn, I also spoke up and introduced myself, too. I felt a little strange talking out loud to “no one” in the barn, but I said Hi to Charlie Wacker. I introduced myself and thanked him for saving our barn from the fire. I told him he was welcome to stay in our barn and keep it safe. And I asked him to please make sure the doors were shut when everyone was gone.

Since then do you know how many times those big overhead doors have opened and closed on their own? Not once.

So, I’m curious. Do you believe in ghosts? Because I never did before, but I’m starting to now.

If you’d like to read the rest of the story about moving our barn, it’s here.