Finding the Home in Homestead

Oh hi there. *sheepish wave*. So, yes, it’s been 9 months since I last updated the blog. In my defense, I got the kids through their homeschool year in the middle of a global pandemic, dealt with the uncertainty of (yet another) year as contingent faculty (“will I have a job or won’t I?”) while also maintaining my role as (very underpaid) breadwinner since Brian’s new job imploded suddenly in March of 2021. It was. . . not a good time for me. It was so overwhelming I didn’t realize how stressed I was until September 2021, when (1) the kids returned to public school, (2) I started another academic year as a fully employed faculty member (though this is the last year they can hire me in a visiting line), and (3) Brian found purpose and meaning at a new job. Without the added pressure, I lost 10 pounds of stress weight with little effort and began to feel like I could once again make plans for more than a day or two at a time.

And those plans are really what this post is about. We bought our current home almost 11 years ago on my 29th birthday. We couldn’t afford much, what with it being a recession and us having been happily surprised with two young children as Brian and I were both struggling to finish our undergraduate degrees. I had been told I was probably infertile, and then came Chloe, much to our delight. But, it meant not accepting the study abroad at Pont-Aven France for Brian. It meant me not following along. It meant leaving our downtown townhouse with little space and a high price tag to move in with my parents in a northern suburb. It meant me taking a break from school so Brian and I could play “trade the baby,” with me working evenings as a chef while Brian finished his degree during the day. By the time we saved enough to buy a home, Liam was crawling, and Chloe was a toddler. We celebrated Liam’s first birthday and Chloe’s third a few months after moving in. Dear reader, I will be 40 in May.

We weren’t supposed to be here this long. Our home was and remains a blessing. It was the least expensive home in a nice, quiet neighborhood with no HOA in the nicest small town in the Indy metro area. It sits on almost a half-acre and backs-up to a real forest, complete with a hiking loop and requisite animals. Our children grew-up outside, running free for acres with friends, inventing games, finding and making forts, sledding on the enormous hill, and riding bikes safely down the court and then cutting through the grass to the nice paved parking lot of the church that owns the forest.

We put in a garden before we even celebrated the kids’ birthdays that first year, and over the years, as we’ve documented here, we’ve expanded. We added space to the main garden, added chickens, added a perennial and herb garden, added more chickens, the perennial and herb garden got destroyed by the chickens, decided that was too many chickens (oh but I do love them), and added a raised bed garden and new perennial border. We’ve foraged for morel and chanterelle mushrooms and wild garlic and blackberries in the forest. We’ve harvested walnuts and maple syrup from our trees. And, most importantly to this post, we’ve taken our 1,300 square foot house from a vacant foreclosure with animal nests in every corner and in need of serious repairs to a lovely and safe family home.

And that is the crux of it. For a decade there hasn’t been a month where we haven’t been engaged in some home project, whether small or large. We’ve fixed the water heater, replaced the entire HVAC system, the water softener, added a humidifier, fixed the septic system, replaced the roof, replaced all the windows and the sliding door, added a back paver patio and the raised bed gardens, completely reconfigured the floor plan of the main living areas of the house by taking down a wall, putting in a support beam, and cutting a new hallway. We completely redid the kitchen from top to bottom, including plumbing, moved plumbing in the bathroom and redid that, and added a new laundry/mudroom at the back of the house. We’ve replaced electrical and lighting, added a fireplace, custom built-ins Brian made in the entryway, and landscaped the front. Every step of the way, this house has fought back. It’s from 1964, so it’s not really unexpected, but it means that every project has been three times as hard as it should be and taken four times as long. Our kids are 13 and 11 for a few more months. It’s time to be done fixing this house.

Kids helping put on the backsplash to the kitchen (FINALLY!) now versus helping paint 7 years ago
The kitchen down to the studs and Brian replumbing the bathroom
The kids have grown as the gardens have over the years

We had actually found a property 3 years ago. It sat on 3 acres in our town. Then Brian suddenly lost his reliable job, and I’m still sore about it because he was on a grief journey after tragically losing his father and I feel like his employer wasn’t very gracious about it. His grief meant he needed time to heal, to make different choices and plans. And thus me and my tiny contingent university faculty salary became our main source of income. There would be no moving for us.

8 months after losing his job, Brian felt inspired and called to start a makerspace. He began networking with local businesses and investigating loans. He found space where he could start small and use existing equipment, reducing his start-up costs. And then he became severely ill with what we now believe was undiagnosed early COVID. It was Christmas Day. He could barely sit upright. He was gray and could hardly breath. I took him to the ER and they diagnosed him with severe pneumonia. In a few short months after, as the news became clearer, it was only then we realized he had had direct contact with a businessman who had traveled to China just before he’d gotten sick. We remembered because he had been excited to hear about his trip and had told me all about it. He lost 15 pounds. We had a soft-opening celebration. And then the world shut down two weeks later. The makerspace held on for two more months, and then we shut it down, too.

Riding out a pandemic in this house has added to my stress. Not only did things continue to need to be fixed and finished, but I have no workspace. Even now, I’m working from home more than I did pre-pandemic and I sit at our dining room table in the middle of our hard-won open-concept main living area. Our kids’ mental health continues to be a priority, and so some days they are home, other days they have E-learning days, and, due to their balanced calendar (that I’m thankful for because it’s so good for their mental health) they get lots of breaks. But, I’m rarely alone in this open-concept space to do work.

Brian has set-up his workshop in the garage. Our one-car garage. So, not only can we not park a car, we can barely store anything out there, and he can barely work on large projects. The kids have outgrown their rooms and the available living area. There’s no place they can tuck away with a group of rowdy friends without disturbing me when I’m trying to work. And, c’mon, but we have one bathroom for four people. Yes it’s a nice bathroom. We worked so hard on it. But after potty-training two kids in it and not having any space for my grown-up get-ready stuff, I think it’s time Brian and I had our own space. Sanctuary! I’m so tired of cleaning pee off the seat!

And the gardens. While I will always treasure the time spent happily toiling in them over the years and all that they’ve brought us, we put in the main garden with little knowledge and experience. We would make different choices now on location and orientation. Put simply, our beloved forest–source of anxiety relief, foraged food, and childhood adventures–makes gardening in our main garden so much harder than it needs to be. We battle the light and the weeds from all the trees dropping walnuts and pods and acorns.

Don’t get me wrong–our homestead we’ve built here is miraculous. I truly do feel like this home was a blessing from God. And we have treasured it and cared for it and loved it. It has sheltered us through some pretty hard times and kept us safe, and warm, and happy. We’ve been happy here. This home is utterly perfect for a young family. But it’s a starter home. And we’re not starting out anymore; it’s time for us to start a new chapter.

But, that’s proving challenging. We just so happen to have put down roots in a town with some of the highest property values in the state. That’s awesome for us for selling this home, not so much on trying to find land–more land than we have now–to build our dream homestead. We have building plans for a cabin. Of course we’d select a cabin! Brian is project managing at his new job, which, combined with a decade of engineering experience and the fact that he also has built a house before (and fully renovated this one) means we’re going to be doing a lot of the work ourselves. The plan is to sell our current home, upgrade Campy (oooh thank you for so many good memories Campy!) to a travel trailer, live in the trailer on our land while we build the cabin.

My strength remains planning. I’ve got a multi-tabbed spreadsheet going with building costs sequenced out at four different price points, different scenarios all based on different sale prices of our current home. I’ve got estimated monthly budgets at different price points to make sure we’re not over-stretching ourselves. It’s glorious. Spreadsheets spark so much joy.

All we’re missing is land. An acre in our town is around $100,000. Which, yes, is pretty ridiculous. So long goal of 5 acre homestead and hello the small 1 acre homestead. We’ve always made a point about encouraging everyone to use their land–however much that may be–to the best of its potential, even if it’s only a quarter of an acre. But, Brian is salty about it–he wants at least 2 with 1 acre forested so we can harvest a few mature trees to mill our own lumber for the build–and I get it. I so get it. We have done the small homestead thing for a decade. It’s been amazing, but we know we’ve always wanted more land.

But, I also can’t make things cost less than they do here. We’ve barely recovered from 2 years of Brian not having steady work, so our budget isn’t sky-high, and there’s pretty much nothing shy of 8 acres on the market right now (for $450,000–there’s a bulk discount, apparently, but that is still more than our max budget for land and house). Still, we’re determined and, I mean, I’m biased, but I do think we’re excellent problem-solvers. We’ve got 7 different solutions to our current problem and one of them is bound to work.

So, here I am. I’m updating you all so you can be a part of this journey with us. In the meantime, the light has changed in the past week–our little part of the Earth is tilting back towards the sun. Spring is coming. It’s going to be awesome.

Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, student, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

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