Two years ago, our realtor friend, JP – who is always looking for interesting properties for us – told John about a farm by the river that had a “great barn” that he could imagine us in.
What did that mean, exactly?
John told me about it, and I heaved my usual big sigh. See, John and JP are always out cooking up trouble. They found some “acreage” on a deep, V-shaped cavern up in the hills, for example, that used to have a gold mine on it during the California Gold Rush, and a river ran right through the middle of it. John and JP went up there regularly to look at the property, climbing around and fantasizing about fishing and shooting guns and picking ticks out of each other’s heads, I guess….camping out up there. You couldn’t build on it, of course. Not even a porch. And you couldn’t really manage to put a toilet there. But I would love it. Right.
I did go up there once. It was beautiful. In a rugged, rocky, slide-all-the-way-to-the-river-on-your-butt kind of way. I’ve always loved to climb around on giant rocks and scale rugged terrain, so I quite enjoyed myself. Heck, I didn’t even get too upset when I slipped into the ice-cold river water up to my armpits and had to climb up to the car and go to LUNCH soaking wet. I’m a good sport. It didn’t sell me on the place, though.
John was so in love with this gold mine property that he started to try to talk everyone he knew into buying shares of it. Like a gentlemen’s club of sorts. No tie or jacket required.
Funny, they couldn’t get any couples to buy in to the scheme. They got LOTS of guys who wanted in on the action, but when the idea got pitched at home, it didn’t seem to come back with support.
Poor John. He kept dreaming, though. And JP kept finding little gems like this one that would justify a trek into the mountains for the two playmates. Like the million-dollar 640-acre hilltop that was off-the-grid and littered with yurts where they venerated the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers and grew payote. Lots of character and great stories. But no go. Couldn’t pull off the commute.
“Commute? You can do seminars and leadership camps, Kristi! Your work will come to you!”
To be honest, that did sound appealing, but I could only think of about 50 people who would come all the way up there and be without cell phone reception. Nah. That’s not gonna fly.
You see now why I heaved a sigh when JP called about the place with the “great barn”? Another little field trip for John and JP. OK, this one was just outside of town, and I won’t tear out the suspension in my car getting there, so I’ll humor them. I’ll take a look.
True. The barn was amazing. I immediately realized that that barn was something special. I could easily imagine our friends and family and life events passing through this barn. “How cool that would be…” I thought, letting myself get lost in the idea for a moment.
Then we visited the house. Like a Victorian dollhouse with little out buildings scattered around it. Pale yellow with white trim, lavender doors and a wraparound porch. Almost gave you a toothache it was so damn cute. Not my style, but so cute.
I opened a closet in the master bedroom and laughed out loud. “Wow. Imagine living out of this, John.”
“But Honey, there are two closets! See, here’s the other closet one over here.”
“Wow, John,” I said sarcastically. “Together, they’re the size of our front hall closet at home.”
“Well, I wouldn’t need a closet, Kristi. You could have them both and I’ll just put my stuff in drawers.” Bless his heart. (Pause.) Uh oh. He was serious.
So we set off to inventory the total closet capacity of the house. Let’s see…there was one other small closet in the living room….and….well, that’s it. Oh my gosh. There is an attic bedroom upstairs with its own matchbox closet, but that was it.
OK, this was ridiculous. I had all but forgotten about the barn. We were a family of six (although two were away at college eight months of the year). We were in six bedrooms and four bathrooms now (although we really only used one or two of them). This was two bedrooms and two tiny bathrooms. Not cute enough.
The truth was: it really wasn’t a good time to move, either. We were ideally situated in a house we loved, four doors down from my 90-year old mom, great big pool and a house in the back for John to brew his beer and grow his hops. And great neighbors. Especially my mom. “We have plenty of time to do something crazy, but life is too good now.”
I was starting to think of people I knew who might be able to make this work because the barn was so cool. I had a single friend with a little boy and six dogs. Perfect. I’ll call her. Now let’s go to lunch.
I have to admit I was a little sad months later when JP told us that little farm had been sold. I hoped they would do something amazing a good with that barn. (Sigh.)
A year passed. It was February. I had done some work for a group at my church, publicizing a spiritual retreat being held there. It was a silent retreat, and I had often said I wanted to try my hand at shutting up for an extended period of time. I had plans that Saturday afternoon, but I opted to go for the morning to “take a listen” and see how I did. I was delighted to find that the silent part didn’t actually start until after the first morning break, so I was in.
The guest speaker in that first segment was a priest we knew who spoke on the subject material goods and how they weigh us down. I had found myself thinking about this more and more as the years passed and we accumulated more and more stuff. I remember once when this same priest came to visit our home and saw our giant shoe basket by the laundry room door. Overflowing. An attempt to move one category of clutter into one, convenient spot. I was embarrassed by such excess.
So I was certain – like every other person in the room, I imagine – that he was speaking directly to me.
Clutter. Four kids and a house with lots of storage will do that to a family. And I know that clutter – while I can tolerate quite a bit – stresses me out. Being surrounded by piles of laundry (Clean? Dirty? Who knows?), stacks of papers, magazines, books, mail….glue guns, dog toys, half empty chip bags, nail polish remover and cotton balls, pizza coupons….and I am just listing the stuff that’s sitting around me as I write this…). I knew if my life was less cluttered, I would feel better. Be better, in fact. Clear my head.
Then this priest made a point I’d never thought of before: you’re not using this stuff. You’re keeping it from someone who needs it.
Somehow this was a magical twist for me. I always knew if I didn’t use something anymore I could donate it. But the way he presented this idea, I now felt as though someone was waiting for my stuff. The need of others for these things felt urgent. And I felt energized to get it to them. And not just stuff I thought was junky – good stuff. Stuff I liked, but knew someone else could really use. I was motivated.
At the break – the last one before the silence began (and I had to leave) – my table partner and I talked about it. I told her, “About a year ago, my husband and I looked at beautiful little farm that we might have loved, but I told him, ‘No way – there’s not enough room for all our stuff!‘ Can you imagine making a decision about something like that because of closet space? I am missing out because of stuff.” It was truly an epiphany. “That’s it.” I proclaimed to my table partner. “I’m going to change this. I want to lighten our load get this stuff of mine back into circulation where someone can use it. I want to be ready the next time we find the perfect farm. Even if it has no closets.’
I was walking on air.
That was Saturday. I went home and told the kids I was determined to start a campaign to give away every useful thing we had and lighten our load. “Sounds great, Mom.” I started on Sunday.
Monday afternoon at work, John phones me. “JP just called.”
Oh, jeez. That gold mine idea would not die. JP would find us a place to look at every now and again. A half-acre “ranchette” with a stall for a horse here….a cabin by a stream there….a house near the country with a cool view…. Nothing quite right.
“Please tell me this is not about the damn gold mine.” I said, predictably.
“No, no. Remember that farm house with the cool barn we looked at a year or so ago?”
I was stunned. I will never forget that moment. It was like God was standing there, grinning.
“It went back on the market today” he said.
“What? I thought that sold months ago.”
“It did. The deal must have fallen through. Do you want to go look at it again?” John asked hopefully.
“You’re not going to believe this, but I was just thinking about that farm Saturday. And I told myself I was going to de-clutter our lives so that the next time a perfect farm came along, we wouldn’t have to worry about stupid closets. This is it, John. Something is happening.”
“So you’ll look at it again?”
“Hell yes.” I said. Tingling all over.
This time I was ready. Ready in a way John always is. I was open. I let my mind imagine our life there. And I loved it. I let myself fall in love with details. And not just the magnificent old barn….the little house, too.
It was a Sears-Roebuck catalogue house built in 1905. In the kitchen stood the original wood-burning stove the first owner gave to his new bride the year the house was built. There was a beautiful stone fireplace, two stories high, built from river rock gathered from the property. And high at the peak of the living room wall, inset in the round window, a wagon wheel from the original owner’s milk wagon used to deliver milk in the late 1800s from that dairy barn to nearby towns. There was a windmill that used to pump water into a two-story pump house. There was a perfectly breezy screen porch that looked out over the sloping meadow and the overgrown trees and a white bench swing hanging from a giant mulberry tree in the side yard. There was a little square window in the peak of the front gable of the house, and behind it a long narrow mattress perfect for plopping down to read as you gazed out onto the front pasture below. There was a sunny deck off the second floor loft that looked onto a giant tree housing a feral beehive buzzing with life. There was a trail leading to the river flowing 100 yards behind the house. Ruins of a chicken coop and a horse barn. And almost 9 acres of trees – fig, peach, orange, apple – and trails weaving through, leading to fire circles surrounded by stumps for sitting.
The feeling was exhilaration. We both wanted this to happen.
We faced obstacles. Some felt big. Moving 30 minutes away from Mom. Changing high schools. Plus the usual (and some unusual) stress that goes with closing a deal on a house. But who can deny this was divine intervention?
Now we’re home. And we feel like we’ve got our own little gold mine.
(Maybe that’s what John’s digging for out there…..)