Saturday, August 4, 2007

"Wanna Buy Some Haunted Swampland?"

One of the questions that always comes to mind as we look at another farm or property is, “Lord, is this the place you have for us?” My wife usually prays that the Lord might make it abundantly clear if we should keep looking, and it is interesting to see how the Lord sometimes answers that prayer.

The land we were looking at was about 144 acres with a house listed as “having no value.” Well, when we arrived, we discovered that they had certainly told the truth about the house.

Both it and the garage had seen better days. Upon driving up, our realtor--ever the optimist--said, “Looks like the house has a new roof.” My wife took one look at the house and the property and took her parents shopping at the nearby outlet mall. It doesn’t take her long to discern the Lord’s will. I, on the other hand, need a little more convincing.

The realtor, our two boys, and I walked around the property for an hour or more, trying to see where the property lines were, checking out the views, and seeing where we could possibly build a house. The property had about 50 acres on the north side of the road and about 90 on the south. As we traipsed around the northern piece, we came across three deer carcasses, all together. I did not like the idea of having to deal with poachers on my land.

As we crossed the road to look at the southern piece, we noticed a lot of tree stands up in the woods for deer hunting. I took that as a good sign. However, as we moved further into the woods, we found the land becoming more and more swampy. In fact, the dirt road into the property had small logs laid across the road side-by-side, so that whatever vehicle might venture into this area wouldn’t get bogged down in the mud. I kept trying to think of the brighter side of this swamp, but I must admit it was getting harder and harder.

When we finally found our way out of the swamp, we noticed something different about the house/shack. The front door was wide open! We had checked earlier, and it had been shut tight and locked. We didn’t see any vehicle around, so we were pretty surprised by this. Wondering what kind of person might be living in this shack, and whether or not he might be friendly, we cautiously approached.

Since I was the paying client, our realtor bravely went first, realizing that he wouldn’t get paid if I didn't survive. I cautiously followed, keeping one hand on the revolver in my coat pocket (I had it loaded with snake pellets, not knowing what we might find hiking through the fields). As we slowly approached the open door, one of my sons commented, “This is like a bad movie!” I had to agree.

My son took the above picture. You can see me just before I entered the house. I think he wanted the picture in case he never saw me alive again.

The realtor and I went inside, leaving the two boys safely outside--or so we thought. We slowly went from room to room with the realtor calling, “Hello? Realtor!” It didn’t take us long to see that the two downstairs rooms were empty – of human life, that is. There were plenty of old furniture and boxes of stuff all over the place. I began to think that a homeless fellow was probably staying there.

Since we had been making plenty of noise, and the stairs didn’t look particularly strong, we decided to pass on the idea of going upstairs. If anyone was upstairs, they probably wouldn’t look too kindly on our poking our heads up there. So we decided to go back outside. That’s when my oldest son came around from the back of the house, saying, “He’s back there! He’s coming out of the outhouse!” At just that moment, out from around the corner of the house, came an old mountain man wearing faded jeans, a flannel shirt, and suspenders, carrying a roll of toilet paper under his right arm.

Turns out that he was the owner, that he had lived most of his life on the place, and had recently moved (or been moved) to a high-rise retirement home in town. He told us how he still loved the place and that he came out about every day just to see how it was doing. He was a nice old guy, and after talking with him I looked at the old shack with a new appreciation.

As we left to pick up my wife and her parents at the outlet mall, I began thinking about how to work it so this place would work for us. I went through different scenarios in my head about making an offer on just the northern part of the land, but would I want someone else to own the great hunting piece (temporarily forgetting that it was swampland), perhaps I needed to retain a first right of refusal on the southern piece, etc.

After picking up my wife, we decided to take another run by the property. There was a nice house recently built on the edge of the land, and I wanted my wife to see what a nice place we could build there. As it turns out, this second visit was going to seal it for us.

As I turned onto the road that led to the land, we noticed something up ahead, right in the middle of the road. As we approached, it turned out to be two vicious-looking dogs. They decided that they did not like us, and were determined not to let us pass. They started barking ferociously and actually charged the van! It seemed like they were trying to bite the tires. They were so close in front of me that I couldn’t see them through the windshield. Afraid of running over one of the dogs, I finally came to a complete stop. They kept right on barking viciously and circling the van. This went on for about 5-10 minutes. There were several men working in a field next to the road, but we didn't see anyone making an effort to call the dogs off. When we realized that their owners weren’t coming out to get the dogs any time soon, I started to move slowly forward.

As we finally pulled away from the dogs (after their following us for over a quarter mile), I realized that we didn’t want to live next door to those dogs or their owners. I couldn’t see how we could expect to draw customers to our farm if they would have to brave those dogs each time. I don’t think we would want to brave those dogs each time we went out either. Pictures of what might happen the day I inadvertently ran over one of the dogs came to mind. No, this was not the place for us.

Next weekend we go back to visit the latest farm we are looking at. And so far we have not been attacked by dogs at this place. Does that mean this is the place for us? We shall see…


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cupboards and Pitbulls

We are currently evaluating a farm from over 350 miles away. This is a new experience for us. Our Realtor has emailed pictures and has even taken a video to help us get a better idea of what it is like. It was interesting watching this video with my wife. The Realtor, a man, is narrating the video as he pans around the kitchen. He pauses briefly, filming (or does one now say “videoing”) the wall of pantry cupboards. My wife speaks to the video, “Open the pantry doors. Show us inside the pantry.” But the man, moves on to the “large” laundry room giving us a 10 second panoramic sweep of that room. As we watch, I think to myself, he’s a guy, and I find myself wondering how the video might have been different if a wife and mother had been behind the camera. However, we are able to pause the video to see some details better, although we aren’t able to get the video to open those pantry cupboards, no matter how hard we try!

We find ourselves in the situation of trying to evaluate a property from afar through unique circumstances. Normally we would arrange with our Realtor to visit several properties whenever we were out visiting family in western PA, and that is what we were planning to do when we went out over the Fourth of July. By the time we arrived, we found that one of the two properties we were scheduled to see was already under contract, so we only had one place to look at.

This place was over 50 acres with a couple of run down trailers, an abandoned two-story cement block garage, and 3,500 feet of creek going through one corner of it. The pictures on the listing showed us not to expect too much from the buildings, but perhaps they would prove serviceable as shelter and storage while building the main house. We arrived before our Realtor early Friday morning, and as we pulled into the drive-through driveway (it was a corner lot), we noticed that the property looked like the kind of neighborhood where you wouldn’t want to be alone at night. The combination of several abandoned vehicles and abandoned buildings, all added to the effect.

We therefore decided that we would continue driving through the driveway and see how much we could see from the road. It was then that our Realtor showed up, and we followed him as we cautiously entered the neighborhood a second time.

Who Let the Dogs Out?
We parked our vans outside of the abandoned garage, and left the safety of the vans behind as we all got out (we had our two boys with us), and with the Realtor in front, started to approach the less run-down of the two trailers in case someone was home. We were about half way to the trailer when suddenly, from the far side came two large pit bull terriers barking wildly. As they careened around the trailer, they spotted us.

My wife, sensibly said, “I’m getting back into the van.” And not wanting her to be alone and unprotected, I decided to go along. The boys, and our Realtor, followed suit.

As the five of us sat in our vans, the two dogs began to set up vigil outside. You have to remember, we had an appointment to see this property which they were trying to sell to us. Makes you wonder how uninvited guests might have been treated!

Providential Serendipity
Realizing our Realtor wasn’t going to get out of his van anytime soon to go knock on the trailer door, we decided to drive back out to the road and see what we could of the property. After we noticed that there was a lot of cattails around (a good sign of swampy ground) and that the 3,500 feet of creek was totally stagnant (no water flowing even though it had rained the day before), we decided we had seen enough. It was then I mentioned having seen a “Farm for Sale” sign on the way to this place and we all decided that our time might be better spent looking at that place then spending anymore time here.

That is how we came across the place we are currently considering. No one was at home, so we were only able to look at it briefly, and because of scheduling, we were unable to get to see it again before we had to head back home to eastern PA.

As with any farm, you have land and you have the house (and you have the other barns and out buildings). This place is probably a “9” as to the land: 35+ acres tillable, about 30 acres pasture (fenced), and about 10 acres woods, with a 2 acre pond and a smaller spring fed Koi pond and a small stream. The house is an 100+ year old farm house with an addition that has been nicely kept with an updated kitchen and 2 full bathrooms. However, including basements, it is a little over half the size of our current place, which means making sacrifices and choices.

And that is where we are right now, trying to decide if we are willing to make the necessary adjustments to move into a smaller place. If we decide that we are, we will probably schedule a visit out west to give the place a thorough going over.

Afflicting the Comfortable
Perhaps you’ve heard the quote (I think it was from Spurgeon), “My ministry is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” We have often heard that Christians can lose their effectiveness when they become too comfortable. I find these thoughts have new meaning as I contemplate choosing a less comfortable house and perhaps a less comfortable lifestyle. It is interesting to think that this current house would probably have seemed palatial to those who built the original farmhouse over 100 years ago. But we have become used to comfort and to having room for all of our things.

And so we pray for God’s grace and direction. May God give us the grace to understand and to choose His will as we seek Him in all of this. May we find our comfort to be in Him, and in Him alone.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Easter, Property Hunting and Next Howard King Article

I wish I had the time to make this post longer, and go into greater detail; but I have two boys who want to play a new game with me (one my youngest made up himself) and I have already taken over an hour posting the next Howard King article. As Herrick Kimball mentions, blogging has a dark side, it takes time away from family.

We spent close to a week over Easter to be with family out in western PA. It was a good time of being with family and seeing our new grand-niece (I'm now an official great uncle!). We also got the opportunity to see a couple Amish homes for sale. We are still looking to the Lord for guidance and provision concerning moving out to be closer to family and to get some land debt-free. This all explains why it has been a while since I've last posted.

I wanted to get the next two parts of Howard King's discussion of Ralph Borsodi's This Ugly Civilization up today, but I'll have to settle to just getting the next part up: Industrialism: Rooted in Greed. Hopefully it won't take me too long to get part three up.

Well, I'm off to play my son's new game. It doesn't have a name, but it has Orcs and other such things and seems to be loosely based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I think I'm in for it though. My sons have already played this game before and are busily creating new armies. I might have a chance, if only I can get a few Ents.

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