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We have chickens!

We’ve added ten hens to our little backyard “farm”. And thanks to Dave Bissette for the coop design from Catawba Coops. The two coops (5 chickens in each) were a fairly easy build (says the girl who didn’t help build them at all). They are like little “chicken tractors” that we can move around the yard to allow the chickens access to fresh ground and fresh bug hunting. They roost in the top with a nesting box on each side that opens from the outside to gather the eggs.

Any day now, these little ladies should begin laying some eggs, so next year we should be able to sell some eggs along with our veggies. And we should have plenty of chicken manure to add to our compost pile and that ought to make our garden very happy!

And the growing season is in full swing here.

We’re considering this our “practice year” before we actually try to farm a slightly larger plot of land and begin selling produce next year. We’ve been weighing all the produce we harvest to track yields and we’re trying to visit some of the local farmer’s markets to see what’s being sold and meet some people already in the business. It’s still very overwhelming to think about trying to make this a business and not just a hobby, but at least the plan is to start small and “grow” this business slowly (pun intended). And if this really is where the Lord wants us, then I’ll rest in the promise of Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” To His glory.

So far, we’ve pulled in several pounds of lettuce, kale, swiss chard, beets, carrots, onions, and even more pounds of squash and tomatoes.

Picking green beans

Beets and onions

Did I mention we have onions?

You can’t have a garden without flowers!

And berries!

We have some sweet friends on Fredonia Mountain who let us come up to their place to pick blackberries and we came home with nearly 15 pounds of berries! And we went out to our family farm where there is a blueberry patch that was planted about 40 years ago. It’s still a little early for these blueberries, but we managed to come home with 5 ½ pounds.

The bushes have grown quite tall over the past 40 years. Perhaps some pruning is in order!

Our cute little berry pickers.

So now we have a freezer full of berries as well as several jars of jam. If you’re local, you should come sample our new experiment: Backberry-Rosemary Jam. It sounds strange, but it’s good. We got the idea from a vendor at the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market when we were in North Carolina.

The 4th of July is next week, so that means more blueberry-picking and a parade! This whole town comes out for the 4th of July festivities here. I’ve been coming to the parade here for as long as I can remember and sitting on the front porch of what was then my grandparents house to visit with people and watch the celebrations at the courthouse down the street. This year, it’s our own front porch, our own town, and our own neighbors we’ll be celebrating with. If you’ll be in town on the 4th, stop by the front porch for some tea or lemonade and visit with us for a while!

After three months working with the City of Chattanooga, Allen is starting a new job.

And I just started a part-time job a few weeks ago.

What?!? Because moving to a new city, starting one new job, renovating a house, planning for a farm, and raising two kids wasn’t enough. Our good God saw fit to bless us with more big changes as well!

To give a little background on Allen’s job change:

Last summer, after Allen was laid off in North Carolina but before we decided to make the move to Dunlap, he interviewed with Ragan-Smith, an engineering firm in Nashville. They really liked him, but he was overqualified for the position and they weren’t willing to move our family from North Carolina to Nashville. Then, about a month after we moved here (about November), Allen learned that Ragan-Smith had just opened a new office in Chattanooga. He contacted them to let them know that we were now living in the Chattanooga area if they were looking to hire for the Chattanooga office. They said they weren’t ready to hire at that time, but they were glad he contacted them and would keep him in mind. Then in March, after Allen had started his position with the City of Chattanooga, he got a call from one of the principles at Ragan-Smith and now 6 weeks later, he has a job with them! While the job with the City of Chattanooga was God’s provision for us when it came, this new job is more suited to Allen’s training and interests. It’s hard to imagine that it was one-year ago this month that Allen was laid off in North Carolina. We never would have thought we’d be here now. Everything in God’s time.

As for my new job, it’s not nearly as tailored to my degree or experience as Allen’s is, but I’m hoping will be educational as I learn how to help those who are struggling in our community. I’m working part-time at a thrift store (like I said, not at all related to horticulture or farming). The name of the store is Serenity Pointe. It’s actually a non-profit ministry here in town that uses the proceeds of the thrift store to minister to people in our community. They provide safe-housing, they offer courses in addiction, parenting, and anger management, and they sponsor people for drug rehabilitation programs. They began their ministry about 4 years ago, so now have a fairly well-established ministry. Allen and I met with the founders shortly after moving to Dunlap to learn more about the ministry they do and to share with them the vision that God had planted in our heads of using our family’s farmland for ministry. And during that first meeting, we discovered that using the land and agriculture as a form of ministry had been a part of their big picture for the work that they do as well. I began volunteering with them in March and on my first day volunteering, they offered me a part-time job working in the thrift store.  I couldn’t say no. It has been and I’m hoping will continue to be, an opportunity to learn about what it means to work with the underprivileged and those who are struggling.

In other matters, we were able to visit a local farm on Saturday called Sequatchie Cove Farm and take a tour of their operation. We were able to talk with the owners for a bit and were very encouraged. When they began 16 years ago, they started small as well while working at other jobs off the farm. And now they are able to do it full-time and are one of the most well-known farms in the area for pastured livestock (and they have a creamery-we brought home some yummy cheese!). They reiterated our idea of starting small and learning little by little what works and what doesn’t. And after 16 years, they’re still learning and growing. It’s encouraging to hear success stories from others. It can be done!

And for a glimpse of our little vegetable patch:

Planting seeds earlier this spring

We planted our tomatoes early this year and we had to cover them to protect from frost a few nights. Those moving blankets we kept came in handy!

Good thing we covered because we definitely got some frost.

Everything coming in nicely. All 24 tomato plants survived several nights of frost under those blankets!

Our first harvest of greens washing in the sink

This was my grandfather’s wheel-plow. We’ve actually gotten some good use out of it!

This is the 80 yr-old (we think) grape vine that my great-grandparents probably planted. We re-trellised it and are hoping for some good grapes this year!

One way I have found to get my kids to eat their vegetables: let them pick it straight out of the dirt. Munching like a little rabbit.

She called this her “sandwich.” Two spinach leaves with some dill in the middle.

Sampling some dill.

My garden helpers.

Hello friends. Below is something that had begun as a personal journal entry for myself that dealt with my own fears and lack of faith about this farm dream that God had planted in our minds. My mom read it and asked to share it on the women’s ministry blog for her church. Since it’s gone public now, I thought I would post it on our personal blog as well. It’s been revised a bit from the original journal entry in order to give those who don’t know our story a chance to catch up to where we are now.

As I re-read it now, the words may sound good, but it’s the follow-through that counts. Please pray that we can have the faith and obedience to follow-through on this dream that (in my mind) seems so far-fetched and out-of-reach. Here’s the entry:

Five months ago, my husband and I took a huge leap of faith. We left our life in North Carolina and moved to the tiny town of Dunlap, TN with a dream to start a farm with some family property. We moved with no job lined up and planned on living in a century-old family house that was falling apart (literally).

Fast forward to now, my husband has secured a job and we are now residing comfortably in the house with a partial new foundation as well as countless other improvements. It has been purely a demonstration of the Lord’s faithfulness and provision that got us to where we are now.

Yet, I still feel like one of the Israelites grumbling about starving to death in the desert after God brought them out of Egypt with such a mighty show of His power.

We’ve cleared the first hurdles of getting here (which included selling our house in North Carolina in only five days) and getting Allen a job (which came from a contact he made 6 years ago while still in college) and seen God help us over those hurdles in amazing ways. But now we have what seems to me the biggest hurdle still to clear: starting what we hope will be a non-profit farm geared toward investing in the lives of youth in our community (through job skills and leadership training) as well as providing food for the poor.

So Allen and have been praying for clarity to come for this vision and how we think God wants us to use this place for His glory. This morning, I was doing my reading in a devotional book called “A Year with God” by Richard Foster and Julia Roller.  In God’s good timing, I began the section on “Guidance.” So I read three day’s worth of entries. Here are some of the things I read:

“Obviously God must guide us in a way that will develop spontaneity in us. The development of character, rather than direction in this, that, and the other matter, must be the primary purpose of the Father. He will guide us, but he won’t override us…The parent must guide in such a manner, and to the degree, that autonomous character, capable of making right decision for itself, is produced. God does the same.” *

“Although there is nothing we can do to force a dream or a vision or God’s still small voice, one way in which we can open ourselves to God’s guidance is by studying the way those in the Bible have heard from God…’we must pray for the faith and for the experiences that would enable us to believe that such things could happen to us. Only then will we be able to recognize, accept, and dwell in them, when they come.’” *

From Jeremiah 1:4-8 about the call of the boy, Jeremiah:

“When the prophet speaks, in response to the call of God, his first word is a word of resistance. The one called for divine work immediately senses his limitations for that work. He tries to beg off, listing his inadequacies.” *

This is where I stand now, I think. I have scales on my eyes. I see only my inadequacies and not God’s abilities. When I think about the idea of running a non-profit farm, I think only of the ways in which I am not equipped or qualified to do it:

  • I have no business skills, very few job skills even since I have been out of the workforce raising kids for almost 5 years
  • I’ve never farmed anything larger than 900 ft2
  • I have no idea how to run a non-profit
  • People will think it’s crazy. It won’t be received well by the community
  • We live in a rural area where most of the youth around us are trying to get away from farming, not into it
  • It’s going to be really hard and take a lot of work

But…

“God tends, it would appear from stories of vocation in Scripture, almost always to call people who are too young, too timid (that’s me:-/), too old, or too immoral. The story is not about the singular virtues of the one being called. The story is about a risk-taking, bold sort of God who reaches in and calls people for divine service, giving them what they need for that service…God equips and stands behind those whom God calls. This is the sort of God who says, in effect, ‘I’m getting ready to change, revolutionize, renovate, and reorient the whole world-and guess who’s going to help me?’” *

So…let’s go for broke. If I continue to live “safely” and comfortably, living a life without risk, at the end of my life, people will say, “She was a good girl. She was involved in church. She was nice to people.” If I continue to live without risk, then I’m living in my own power, not in God’s power. And what does that teach my children? Does it teach them that God is able to do what we ask in His name? Or does it teach them to live without risk because we’re on our own and we have no God who fights our battles for us?

But if we take this big risk, believing that God can and will do something great for His name’s sake, even through someone as afraid and unqualified as me, then I will have made room for God to show Himself great and glorious. Then, at the end of my life people will say “She had faith that God was bigger than she was. She walked in obedience to her calling. Her life showed that God was powerful and merciful in using even the most unqualified. Her life showed that it is not in man’s power, but in God’s power that we do anything.” And this will teach my children that things that are impossible with man are possible with God (Mt. 19:26, Mark 10:27 Luke 18:27). And at the end of my life, I will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21, Luke 19:17).

So I want to live big because God is big. I want to take a risk, step out of my comfort zone, and expect that God can overcome my inadequacies, overcome the obstacles and opposition we might face and show Himself great and glorious. I want to take a risk and see what He will do in my life and the lives of others for His name’s sake. I want to show my children that when we are obedient to God’s calling, whatever the cost (be it hardship, opposition from friends or family, or merely giving up a life of ease and comfort), God is faithful and He will equip us and walk with us through the hardship and He will be our reward for a life well lived.

“Father God, you who call the last people anyone would expect, here I am. As underqualified as I feel to do anything for your world, help me to do the work for which I was created. Give me the courage to hear and answer your call. Speak, for your servant is listening.” *

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

*Excerpts taken from A Year With God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines by Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller © 2009 by Renovaré, Inc. p. 146-148

Settling In

Hello friends! It’s been a while! Sorry for the long delay in updating the blog and thanks for coming back to read. Things with the house are moving at a MUCH slower pace now that we’re actually living here and now that Allen is working in Chattanooga (STILL amazed by the Lord’s timing on that – moved into the house and started a new job all on the same day)!

Getting the foundation fixed and getting the house livable before we moved in was a huge praise, but we confess, since we moved in not a whole lot of progress has been made.

Allen and Claire were able to lay some tile by the back door

We’ve continued some small projects like painting and putting vinyl siding back on the parts of the house where we had to remove it. But then…some parts of the house still look like this:

But until we can get to it, we just close the door and ignore it!

And now we are just taking some time to actually enjoy living in the house and are settling into a routine. And since we’re not ripping up floors and cranking foundation jacks anymore,we’ve been able to turn our thoughts to other things, like farming, which is why we moved here in the first place!

I’ll take a moment here to do a little explaining, because I think we’ve confused some people. We’re not actually living on the farm right now. The house we have been renovating and are now living in was my grandparents’ house “in town.” My grandfather and his sister also owned the farm property which is 4 miles outside of town (long commute, I know). My grandfather’s sister lived at the farm until she died at which point the farmhouse and the acre it sits on was sold out of the family (maybe someday we can buy the house back and renovate that one to-it’s older than the one we’re in now!). But the rest of the 140 acres of farmland was held by the family and is now owned by my dad, his sister, and their cousin. We all met together a few weeks ago and we shared with them our vision for what we would like to do with the farm and they have agreed to let us start with a half-acre next year (2013). Using only a half-acre out of 140 feels really puny, but if I learned anything at the ag conference we attended in January, it was to start small! Besides, Allen is going to be working full-time off the farm, so it will mostly be just me and my collinear hoe. Note-I don’t actually have a collinear hoe right now, so this is a big hint for anyone who’s looking for birthday or Christmas gift ideas later this year. My birthday is June 20th 😉

We weren’t equipped to start at the farm this year and the fields are already being leased out for pasturing horses and growing corn, so this year we’ll just be doing what we’ve always done, a backyard garden. And spring is here! Allen tilled up some new ground and the girls and I have already started our seeds for summer crops and planted our first round of spring plants.

I have also started volunteering at Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga. They are a non-profit farm with a focus on education and outreach. I figured if we’re going to run a farm, I ought to learn from people who actually have a successful working farm!

And for the ministry side of the farm, I will begin volunteering this week with a local ministry here in Dunlap called Serenity Pointe. They have an established and effective ministry for helping those who are struggling with drugs, alcohol, homelessness, etc. I have MUCH to learn from them.

Thanks for following us on this journey and our prayer is that God will be glorified in every step!

Home sweet home. Finally! After 4 months of renovations, we are now officially residing in the century-old family house.

The last weekend before our move-in date, we had our own version of Extreme Home Makeover.

We were hugely blessed to have a crew of 8 people come help us get the house live-able. My parents, Allen’s parents, Allen’s brother Philip and his wife Cory and even Cory’s parents came to help us (we must have looked really desperate)! And this wasn’t just a crew of well-intentioned friends and family. These people are TALENTED! Some skilled electricians and carpenters, fantastic sanders, experienced tilers, professional grandkid watchers, and painters, and Allen’s brother is really good with puddy. We got A LOT done and without their help, the move-in probably would have been delayed for another 2 weeks

But even with all the help, our to-do list before move-in was lengthy. By Sunday, the final trim-work and paint touch-ups were still not done in the girls room, the floors in the hallway had not been put down, general clean-up still needed to be done, not to mention that no one had any beds to sleep in. So, we moved out of the apartment and in with my Nana for a few days. And I’ll just take a moment here to brag on my Nana (my mom’s mother). This gracious and servant-hearted woman has done our laundry for nearly four months, she has kept our dog for us, she has fed all of our friends and family that have come to help us, and she’s done it all joyfully. Meredith (our 2-yr-old) still has a little trouble saying “Nana” so she calls her “Manna.” I think it’s kind of appropriate. She has been like manna from heaven for us; God’s provision for us while we lived like nomads (Exodus 16:31-32).

So, during the last week, Allen and I would put the girls to bed at Nana’s and then head back to the house to work until 1, 2, or 3 o’clock in the morning (it got later each nightJ). And finally, on Friday, the double-blessing came. Allen started his new job and we were able to spend our first night in the house. Hallelujah and praise Jesus!

There are still some ongoing construction projects, but the girls’ room is completely finished, the kitchen and bathroom are functional (very important) and we have…a dishwasher (oh, how I missed it)!

Here are a few before and after photos of the completed projects.

The girls room: Before

Closet shot of the girls room "Before"

In the midst of construction

Yay!! All finished and clean!

New, bigger closet. Essential for two girls whose grandmother's love to buy clothes for them!

Two happy girls, loving their pink and purple room!

The girls’ room and the study was where most of the construction was done. The study is still a work in progress, so we just close that door and ignore it for now.

The other rooms involved only minor repairs with some cleanup and painting.

Living Room: Before

Termite damaged wallboard removed

And now! Warm and cozy! With boxes still to be unpacked

Kitchen: Before

I put verses on the walls in a few places before we painted. Surrounding ourselves with Scripture

Not a drastic change in the kitchen, but even a little paint and a new countertop can make a difference!

And some pictures of the fun we had during our weekend of Extreme Home Makeover: Jones Edition

My dad was our master electrician for the weekend. Replacing fuse blocks in our old school fuse panel. I hope our house doesn't burn down :-/

How many people does it take to put up a beaded tongue-and-groove ceiling?

It took three of us to hang the ceiling, but they left me to paint it all.

Claire and Meredith even helped paint their room

Claire helping her Gigi paint

Cory and her mom, cheerfully cleaning up trim to reuse in the girls' room

Cory's dad was our master carpenter. He did the majority of the trim-work in the girls' room. Allen's brother Philip is in the back showing off some mad puddy skills.

Allen got to buy a flooring nailer for this project. I think this whole thing has just been one big scheme for him to have an excuse to buy new tools.

Further renovations will still be ongoing for quite some time (at a much slower pace since Allen has a job now!), but WE ARE IN!

And, as I sit in our new (old) living room, I just have to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has helped us get to where we are now. Housed and employed! To all of you who have prayed for us, sent gifts or words of encouragement, helped us with construction, watched the girls for us, or even just read the blog and cheered us on, thank you!

And… I’m going to get mushy here…I have to say how proud I am of my husband. I have watched him through these past several months persevere through seemingly endless dead-ends with the job hunt, and persevere through some of the most frustrating circumstances (like re-plumbing the entire bathroom) and he does it so joyfully and with eternal optimism. He is one who can truly rejoice in all things. And I am more in love with him now than ever. I can honestly say this has been one of my favorite experiences for us together as a couple. As far as the renovations, I am often slower at much of the construction work than he is and there has been a much bigger learning curve for me than for him, but he is patient, he is encouraging, and he’s an excellent teacher (even though he’s winging it on a lot of this stuff too). And as far as the unemployment, I have seen his faith increase, I have seen our marriage strengthened and both of us humbled and brought to our knees before a loving God who provided for us every step of the way.

I am grateful that he chose me for his wife. I am blessed to call him my husband. I am thankful that my girls have him as a role model for their future husbands. I have watched him become more like Jesus through this and he makes me want to be more like Jesus. So Allen, thank you and I love you.

Now, enough of the mushy. How about some fishy faces?

How could you not love this man?

Bonafide

Praise God!!!!  I got a call from the City of Chattanooga Personnel Department yesterday to offer me a job!  Don’t worry, I said yes.  I will be a combination inspector with the Land Development Office.  I went in today and signed a few papers and I will officially start next Friday.  So after 8 months of unemployment and moving to a new city I no longer will have to file for unemployment benefits.  I guess I can’t argue now that the government does not create jobs.

One thing that I have learned the past 8 months is that if you obey God’s calling and take a blind step of faith, He will provide!  And the timing is perfect.  Laura and I were able to attend the Southern SAWG conference last week in Little Rock (more from that soon), spend 3 months getting the house structurally sound, and move into the house all before my new job starts.  Yes, we will be moving into the house on Monday, ready or not.

Here is a little story to show how God has had this transition in the works for a long time.  While I was working on my Senior Design Project at UGA I meet a guy named Stacy who worked with the State Planning Office in Chattanooga.  2 months after I started working for Kimley-Horn he called me to offer me a job.  Fast forward 4 years… I called Stacy when I knew my days at KHA were numbered to see if any planning positions were in the books.  The plan was to open a position for a planner, but not 2 months later his entire department was shut down.  Stacy went to go work for the City of Chattanooga in the Land Development Office and was an advocate for me in the application and interview process.  Another example of God’s provision – To apply for the position I had to be a Licensed Landscape Architect.  When I submitted my application I had not yet received my official license, but by the time I was called in for an interview I had only been licensed for less than a week.

Praise God for his provisions and faithfulness!!!  My work hours will be 7:30-4:00, but here is the great part: Since we live in the central time zone and I work in the eastern time zone, I will actually be home by 3:45.

To all who have covered us in prayer for a job, thank you!

Allen

Well, the foundation work is complete! All of the temporary jackposts have been removed and the north side of our house is now supported entirely by a new foundation wall. We even had help from the girls on building the wall.

Watching and learning

Helping out

And I think we have some of the most beautifully colored capstones in town!

We’ve also been at work getting other parts of the house ready for the move-in (only two weeks!). After a hard freeze, we had several pipes burst in the bathroom and ended up re-plumbing the entire bathroom.

Trying to thaw out pipes with space heaters.

The high on this day was 32. The kitchen was the warmest room, so we had a nice candlelit lunch.

Allen has decided that he hates plumbing. In the course of replumbing everything, we had numerous blowouts due to unglued joints or a sundry of other problems.

Allen and his nemesis: CPVC

I had to overcome my claustrophobia to crawl under the house and insulate the bathroom floors

Usually the procedure involved both of us. We would set all the valves and joints and make sure everything was glued or threaded tight. Then I would go out to the main valve near the street and turn the water on and Allen would stay in the house to check for leaks. One day however, I wasn’t able to be there so Allen was on his own. He glued all the valves and joints and then went to turn on the water. Everything seemed fine as he went back inside to check the lines for leaks. He leaned in to check one of the valves more closely and began to hear a hissing sound. Suddenly the valve shot off the end and flew 10 feet and hit a window. Water started gushing out of the pipe and by the time Allen ran out to shut off the main water, there was quite a flood. This happened more than once. I think we went through every towel we own trying to clean up messes from leaks and blow-outs. We managed to get the bulk of the plumbing done ourselves (with assistance on one weekend from my dad). But we eventually caved and called a plumber to finish the job. He is now Allen’s new best friend.

We also hired out the drywall for the girls’ bedroom, the study, and one wall in the living room where we had to remove the wall paneling due to termite damage. The pros can have it done in 5 days where it would probably take us three weeks. All the dry wall was hung yesterday and they are beginning the taping and mudding today.

Drywall hung in the girls' room

Drywall in the study

Living room drywall. The hole is for a mantle and wood-burning stove to be installed later

The rooms are actually beginning to look like real, finished rooms!

And as I type, we are in Little Rock, AR for a conference put on by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Allen and I were fortunate to receive 2 scholarships to this conference from an organization in Chattanooga called Gaining Ground. They are a non-profit organization that promotes local food production. We were particularly fortunate because they typically only give one scholarship per farm. We apparently found favor in their eyes (or sympathy, due to our complete lack of experience!) and they awarded us two scholarships. We were also able to attend a seminar near Atlanta last week given by Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts and executive director of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College. The seminar was on effective methods of poverty alleviation. We figured that was a good prep for the agriculture conference to get our hearts in the right place for why we want to farm and who we plan to serve through this endeavor. If you want to re-read the post about the vision for our farm, click here.

In our next blog post, we’ll update you on what we’ve learned from these two seminars and we’ll share with you our take-away points. Stay tuned!

COUNTDOWN TO MOVE-IN: 14 days!