Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Part IV: A Welcome Set of Visitors

I thought I better get busy once again, before people begin to think we gave up on our project!

Here goes ...

As I explained in my last post, our pop up camper was situated across the field from our semi trailer, refrigerator, "compost toilet" -- and electricity. That meant a lot of activities centered around the electrical outlet. I was used to taking a shower every morning while living in the city. Well, the only real way we could clean up now was to make a 4 mile trip to Metigoshe State Park to use their facilities. We sure made good use of our state park pass that year. Approximately every 3 days we would hop into our station wagon to take showers. That was one time I was glad I had boys instead of girls, since Jim had the job of making sure the youngest to the oldest got cleaned up. There was one time when I had to take David and Andrew in to get them cleaned up in the ladies side, so I had to make sure it was just us. This park has very rustic facilities, with no source of heat other than the water from the shower. We had to stand on wooden grates to keep out of the drain, and try hard to keep towels from landing in the not so quickly drained floor to dry off and get dressed. I was thankful that it was after Labor Day, so the park was very sparsely populated and we pretty much had the facilities to ourselves. I did end up with a nasty case of something like Athlete's foot, and was thankful to discover friends in Texas that had developed a salve that took it completely away.

The boys just told me about times when someone would come into the shower room -- only to discover the place was full. There were only 2 shower stalls and 2 toilet stalls, so Jim and the boys made for a full house. I wonder how popular we were in the park.

The state park also was our source for drinking water, so we filled up our 7 gallon water carriers any time we made a visit over there.

Doesn't this look like a good way to wake up? Dump water on my head and make an attempt to style my hair! I am standing in between the power pole and the refrigerator.

Nine days after we moved onto our land we had a visit from Jim's folks. They pulled their camper all the way from Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire to northern North Dakota. In fact, they pulled through the border station at the International Peace Gardens just after the memorial service for 9-11 (in 2004). We sure were glad to see familiar faces. It was a bit chilly, as you can see by the winter jacket Grammy is wearing. Even Jonathan had to keep a hood on to keep warm! The boys had picked her a bouquet of local wild flowers.

Grandpa received a bouquet of Canadian thistle! Of course he played right along with the boys' joke.

Here we are: middle of September, and we are all wearing warm jackets! I used my 18 quart roaster to make everything, from bread to stew to whatever. I did discover that it took much longer to cook something out here, because it was cooking in cooler weather. The same went for my crockpot. I plugged everything into an extension cord that ran from the semi trailer (where I set up my "kitchen" on the workbench in there) to the power pole.

Grandpa B brought an old pump with him to see if we could use it in some way. They decided to submerge it in the lake to draw water up to the top of the hill for using in any way other than cooking or drinking. The boat Jim is in is a little 12 foot sailboat that he and the boys built in the office of our house in Fargo. I think when we moved there was still epoxy glue on the carpet ...

I will have to ask my experts (the boys), but I think this photo shows Grandpa B setting up the piping that would run from the pump to the top of the hill. They purchased a small Culligan filter like the ones used under a sink to filter the water. However, every time they would siphon the water up the hill the filter would become clogged since the water was so dirty.

It's a bit hard to tell in this photo, but by the time Grandpa came into their camper from working with the pump he was soaking wet! It had begun raining.

Grandpa B felt sorry for me, as all we had was the "compost toilet" in the woods (check out my Part III blog entry), and decided his next contribution to the farmstead was a good old fashioned outhouse. This is how it looked as they brought it over to its present location. Thanks, Grandpa!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Part III: Getting Settled

Since all we had on our newly acquired land in the country was our pop-up camper and the semi trailer, we needed to be creative in how we organized. Jim decided his office would be in the semi trailer -- with his "desk" being the clothes dryer that was sitting on top of one of his workbenches. He kept everything in there: from paperwork to our cell phone (that really didn't work unless we walked to the top of the highest hill on the property).

We did not have a well, so that meant I traveled the 15 miles twice a week to use the town's laundromat. What a job that was! I wonder what the town regulars thought when I would drag my huge sacks of laundry in and take over the big front loading washers. I didn't have clotheslines yet, so I had to use their dryers as well. My youngest used to beg me to take him along, since right across the street from the laundromat was the grocery store and a bakery. The donuts tasted great.

I remember the first week we were on the land ... Jim and the boys were over at our old Norwegian cabin cleaning it up, and I was sitting in front of our camper, pretreating and sorting dirty clothes to take the next day to town to wash. All of a sudden I heard the sound of an engine, and lo and behold -- up comes a UPS truck, driving through the middle of the field! What a welcome sight, and yet so out of character so far out in the boonies. I enjoyed having a bit of conversation, and then off the man went again.

The boys and I drove to town one day to do laundry; I took everyone, because I promised them we could check out the county library. It was definitely a disappointment after having a large university library right across the street from us in Fargo, and we also discovered we could no longer order books through interlibrary loan for free. We would have to pay $2.00/book to make a request.

Anyway, it was raining that day, so I wanted to get back to the camper to try to figure out what to make in the rain for supper. There are two ways we can reach our land: one way takes us past 6 homes on 2 miles of gravel, and the other is a very narrow gravel road, with no human habitation. The boys talked me into taking the uninhabited way in, and I regretted it as soon as we got going. The road hadn't been well maintained, and I was not used to driving on loose gravel with muddy ruts from recent rains. There is a hill not too far from the entrance to our property, and I slid down sideways in our van! My heart was in my throat, and I was so thankful that we didn't roll. When we got to the bottom the boys' comment was, "Wow! Let's do that again!"

I don't remember how long it was, but it took a long time to finally get a cement contractor to begin work on our basement. We spent more than we initially expected on our 160 acres, so we had less than we expected for construction of our house. By this time the days were getting colder, and we wondered if we could live on the property for the winter. We checked with a local realtor to see if we had any options in renting a place for the winter; she had a few ideas, but nothing seemed to fit our needs. One morning we awoke to only 27 degrees, and we knew we had to close our time of living in the pop up camper.

The boys were so proud of the "outhouse" they had constructed for me! They thatched one wall to give some privacy, but the other 4 directions were open to the woods. There was also a thatched roof that did keep out the rain, but not much else. The compost toilet consisted of a wooden box with a toilet seat and cover, with a 5 gallon bucket to catch deposits. The Rubbermaid container held wood shavings that we used to add to the contents of the compost toilet. Toilet paper was also stored in the container, since mice enjoyed chewing on the paper. I also made sure there was waterless handcleaner handy. I told Jim this was not exactly a very private place, and come fall when the leaves in the woods fell there would be absolutely no privacy from the workers who were finally starting on the basement! Jim had great plans to use the compost called "humanure" for eventual spreading on our garden areas, but I have had a hard time with that thought. I guess there is a book written on the topic.

Our beige refrigerator was a throw away from an apartment building across the street from us in Fargo. At first we only had the dorm sized refrigerator on the left to use for storing food, since Jim was utilizing the refrigerator and chest freezer to store tools. That little refrigerator was soon not enough room, so Jim relinquished the refrigerator to use it for what it was intended for. The power pole had our only outlet for electricity and was located across the field from our pop up camper. I had plenty of exercise that fall, because I was constantly running back and forth from the camper to the refrigerator and semi trailer, and back again. The compost toilet was located in the woods not too far from the refrigerator and freezer.

Here is a photo of our first home. The camper was supposed to sleep 8, but it was more than cramped for Jim, myself and our 4 growing boys. I grew up in the 70's and so did this camper; it was decorated with avocado green and bright orange cushions, with a bright orange sink. The tent was used to store coolers before I could use the refrigerator, and also towels and other supplies. The tent leaked, so I had to keep everything in Rubbermaid containers. The little canopy was loaned to us by Jim's folks. They arrived for a visit from New Hampshire just 9 days after we moved up to the land. They were such a help to us, since they brought their big camper. We were able to bake in there and eat inside instead of in the cold and rain. Grandpa Bartlett felt sorry for me, and built me a real outhouse!

This last photo is of our "driveway," which is 1/4 mile to the gravel road and our mailbox. It was nothing more than a cattle path. This was taken from close to our mailbox, looking up into our property.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Part II: Our First Night in the Country

This is a "rebroadcast" from my very first attempt at blogging back in January 2006. In order to chronicle our adventures, I needed to add this one to the story.

My husband Jim and I and our 4 sons moved the end of August 2004 to the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota from the "big city" of Fargo, ND. Having lived in the city for all of my life, living in the country has been a whole new experience for me. The boys immediately took to country living and have loved it ever since. My experience has been more like throwing a cat into water! Yes, it is possible for a city girl to become a country girl, but the adjustment takes more time for some than others!

We arrived on our property around 6:00 p.m., later than anticipated. I had only seen the land once, to see if I thought this was the property that God had planned for our next residence. Jim and our sons had already spent two weeks here, living in our 1974 model pop up camper. Jim had decided not to close up the camper the last time he was here, thinking everything would be okay and it would look more like someone was living here. Well, during the week they were gone the area received about 7 inches of rain, and there was a terrible wind storm. When we arrived we discovered that one of the cables to hold down one side of the canvas tent on the pop up camper had broken during the storms, allowing rain to enter the camper. One half of the camper was soaked, including the foam cushions that made up two of the beds. We hauled out the mattresses, and tried to clean up as best we could. I am not a camper, as I enjoy the comforts of a nice bed and bathroom facilities, so this was not the way I had anticipated adjusting to a life of camping!

I did not know what to expect in the way of food storage, so I brought only the bare minimum of food. We had been given a refrigerator, but I soon discovered that Jim was utilizing it for the storage of tools. My chest freezer was also sitting outside -- with many tools inside. We did have a dorm size refrigerator, and that was large enough to store a half gallon of milk and some eggs, but not a whole lot more. Thankfully we had stopped in the town of Rugby to eat supper before arriving, so I didn't have to tackle using the camp stove that night.

Our bathroom facilities consisted of a compost toilet in the woods, located across the field from where the camper was situated. The toilet was originally close to the camper, but Jim had moved the camper across the field to make sure it was out of the way from construction of the basement. The boys had thatched a roof and one wall for the compost toilet, but there wasn't any other source of privacy!

I struggled to figure out a way to sleep all six of us in the camper with half of the sleeping facilities completely soaked. I managed to place Jim on one of the tables that converted to a bed, and used a mat to cover up the wet plywood and rolled out his sleeping bag. The "dry side" table was brought down and Peter (10) and Jonathan (13) slept on that. The trouble was the camper's manufacturer's idea of a double bed is a lot smaller than mine, and Peter kept falling out of bed. I placed myself, Andrew (8) and David (5) on the dry double bed side, and now know the meaning of being "stacked like cordwood."

Bedtime was interesting. We took turns telling each other to "don't look" as someone would change into nighttime clothing. Thankfully everyone cooperated and we all were ready for bed. I needed to "use the bathroom" one more time, and as I was more than a bit on the crabby side I decided to find it myself. I took a flashlight and proceeded across the very dark field and into the woods. I found the compost toilet and did what I needed to do, then got turned around and ended up walking deeper into the woods instead of out. All I could think of was how many beady eyes would stare back at me as I shined my flashlight to try to find the way out! Thankfully I calmed down enough to find my way back to the compost toilet and out of the woods, but my heart was certainly pounding.

I don't think anyone slept that night, as a wind came up and blew in a circular motion around the field and through the trees. I remember one set of trees in particular would rub together and make a kind of squeaking sound. This was the first time in my life I had heard the howls of coyotes, and wondered if they could or would chew their way through the camper's canvas and to us. I felt guilty as I had the two younger boys sleeping with me on the side of the bed toward the outside (they were smaller and the ceiling was lower over there), and was afraid the coyotes could get to them before me. It's interesting how many unreasonable thoughts can go through a person's mind when overtired and very much under stress.I neglected to mention that we did not have electricity since the electrical pole with an outlet was now across the field, not far from the compost toilet. It was a cloudy night, and as soon as the last flashlight was extinguished there was nothing that could be seen -- not even my hand in front of my eyes. It was a very strange feeling to not even be able to see the boys that were sleeping right next to me.

Later that night the rain began to fall. The camper's roof was metal, and what was probably a soft rain sounded more like BB pellets bouncing off the roof. We all lay as still as we could (who could move?!), waiting for daylight to arrive.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Our Move to the Country

I decided I better get busy and journal a bit about our move to the country. My sons had posted these photos quite a while ago.

Our family lived in Fargo, ND, in the heart of the city. Jim taught in the Engineering College at North Dakota State University, and the college was right across a busy street from our house. It was a blessing that he could work from home, then walk over when it was time for his office hours or to teach a class. Jim's desire was to permanently work from home, and no longer had an interest in teaching in a secular university. Many times he would be squelched when attempting to bring his Christian faith into what he was teaching. Besides, he felt the Lord had something else in mind for our family.

We have four boys, and our backyard was too tiny to keep them occupied. We did not allow the boys to play in the front yard unless Jim or I were out there with them, since there were so many people walking by on their way to the university. Jim would take the boys out to state parks or the national grasslands -- anything to give them the freedom they desired to run around and enjoy themselves.

We felt the Lord stirring us to sell our house in Fargo and use the money to purchase land in the country. This search took approximately three years. Jim is originally from New Hampshire and I from Minnesota, but we both felt strongly that we wanted to stay in North Dakota. Our family spent a lot of time doing internet searches, putting out "feelers" by asking people if they knew of land available, and praying for the Lord's direction.

I will blog another time about the adventures we had while searching for land. Finally, on June 30, 2004 Jim called me on the phone to tell me he felt he had found "our land," and gave the owner earnest money. Later that week the entire family took a trip up to Bottineau, ND, and we prayed and felt that this indeed was the land the Lord had for us.

We figured the best way to transport all of our worldly goods was in a semi trailer. Jim found a company that sold old trailers, and one was driven up from the Twin Cities and came to rest on our front lawn in Fargo. I'm sure it was quite an eyesore for the neighbors, but it gave the college students something new to look at as they walked past our house to school. While Jim was spending time up here trying to contact companies to bring in power, phone, water, concrete, etc., I was back in Fargo, feverishly packing up. It was quite a trick to pack everything so the contents wouldn't shift when the semi hauled the trailer the 5 or more hours up to our land.
We were very thankful to have the Kenney family help us with the "big stuff." What a challenge to fit everything in! The work benches you see in this photo are now my kitchen counters in the basement we are living in. Boxes were loaded first, and then Jim's shop tools were placed at the end of the semi trailer.

There is an ordinance in Fargo against front yard parking, so approximately 5 days before our actual moving date a police officer showed up and asked Jim when the trailer was going to be moved. When he heard it would be within the week, he let us go and we breathed a sigh of relief.

This is the Bartlett version of traveling like the Beverly Hillbillies. We borrowed the Kenney's trailer and brought up to our new land (5 hours away) anything that could sit outside and be exposed to the elements. As Jim was pulling away with this load he almost couldn't make it out of the driveway, since the back end of the station wagon was too close to the ground to make the dip down to the road and the trailer hitch touched the ground. Whew! He made it!

Since we really wouldn't be unpacking for a while, I decided to use a recipe card box and list on individual cards the contents of each box. This made it much slower going in the packing business, but at least I knew when I needed something it would be easier to find. I can't remember the exact count, but my numbers on the boxes reached over a hundred (not to mention what Jim and the boys had packed of their own stuff!). We also packed all of our furniture into the trailer; good thing we never did have much, and what we had was almost all second hand! All the wooden objects needed to be wrapped to prevent scratching, etc,. and I was very thankful that on Mondays a certain thrift store in Fargo had 99 cent sales, so I came home with a lot of cheap quilts and blankets to do that type of packing.

We were thankful that one of our neighbors had a brother who did over the road trucking for a living, and offered to pull the trailer up for a better price than what another company had quoted us. I was a bit apprehensive, as this guy was very eccentric and I thought that if I didn't know whose brother he was I would be afraid we would never see our possessions again! He told us to relax, as his main job was to haul million dollar jet engines all over the country. His family had a lake cabin not too far from our location, and wanted an excuse to go up and do some fishing.
Well, we arrived at our pop up camper about 6:00 in the evening, and at approximately 8:00 the next morning our semi trailer arrived. Nothing to worry about, most everything survived without damage. The trailer was a life saver, as it was parked next to our utility pole where the outlet as located, and I could plug in my toaster oven or crock pot and do a better job of cooking than on the camp stove! I could also store some of our food items in the trailer, and it became our "home away from home."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Always Learning Something New

Our family can add one more item to our growing list of new things learned. Yesterday we got going early and drove 1-1/2 hours to help our friends the Hendersons with butchering and processing pigs.

It was very cold outside, and I felt sorry for the men having to work in such a biting cold wind. Donna and I stayed in the house with their younger boys while everyone else did the pigs in. I must admit I was thankful not to have to watch that process! The pigs were killed and gutted, and then it was time for lunch. When I really stop to think about it, it's amazing that anyone could eat after gutting a pig, but activities like that just become another fact of life when living on a farm. A friend once asked me how I could stand working with dead animals, and I guess I can honestly say if you have to do something -- you do it. Must be part of God's grace in helping me to do just one more farm related activity.

Later in the afternoon we were ready for the actual processing of the meat. Hendersons have a bandsaw that was purchased specifically for meat cutting, and it did a very slick job. They also use it for processing venison, and Jim and Jonathan had a lesson from a great teacher in how to do the various cuts of meat. My job was to wrap all the meat. I sure hope I did a good job, as I don't want to waste any of it. I don't remember how long it took, but I thought we were done with the first pig; however, I was informed that we had only processed half of it! Porkchops, steaks and ribs just kept on coming my way.

We didn't make it home until 1:30 a.m., but we certainly weren't empty handed. One of those processed pigs came home with us. What a blessing it is to have home grown chickens, venison, and a pig raised by friends in our freezers.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Just Stopping By

We are in the midst of processing the 2 deer our son Jonathan shot during hunting season. We had planned to take care of the venison during Thanksgiving weekend, but Jim was sick and we just let the meat freeze upstairs. Unfortunately, we didn't let the venison thaw out long enough, so we are kind of butchering rather than processing! That's okay, though, as we love to use hamburger. Goes farther that way.

In spite of the very cold wind chills, the basement has stayed warmer than it did last week. Jim decided to try keeping the floor heat going along with the woodstove, and that has helped immensely. It's still quite breathtaking at night when crawling into my sleeping bag (!!), but it isn't unbearable any more.

My oldest son Jonathan and I are in cahoots together to work on a book this winter (don't ask me where we'll find the time, but we'll manage), facetiously titled, "Improvisational Homesteading: Making Do." The boys have 2 posts already for me to work on in the "drafts" file, so I better get busy. Jonathan posted some photos and wrote about our first goat shed over at his blog. (The link didn't work, so try going to .) You folks will be our guinea pigs, in trying our hand at writing. Jim tells me I need to just do a little every day, but my personality would rather spend lots of time in stretches! Guess I need to just do the best I can.

By the way, I found an interesting little tidbit when going through the mail the other day. This came from a little booklet in a sample issue of "Country Woman Magazine." Here goes:

"Here's a trick to save your hairdo, especially during plowing and planting time. This trick works for me when I sleep, too. I wrap toilet tissue lightly around my hair, holding it in place with thin bobby pins. I tie a nylon net scarf over my head and clip the sides. It's cool because the air blows through, but every hair stays in place while being protected from dust."

Maybe us farm ladies could start a new style! I wonder how it would do under the hood of my parka ...