Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Originally uploaded by chrisnewhouse.
Pictures...remember to go here
to see all the pictures we have online.
I say "touche" to the girls and their comments. Though I'm not particularily worried about Flannery getting eaten by a racoon.
Would it look something like this?
(The link is working now)

Happy Thanksgiving from the Colfax Dumpster Gang!

Life in the City, Life on the Farm

Many of you have asked for more pictures! The digital selection we have is somewhat limited but below are a few of my favorites, not in any chronological order. I'll post some of life in Minneapolis soon, too. Once on this blog, I tend to forget to share much about life in "the city." In fact, our Monday-Friday is not spent merely showing up at jobs until we hop in the car and head back out to Colfax. Lots and lots of cooking and talking and happenings at our home - but I'm missing sharing it with you more.

Charis so eloquently shared some of her fears and struggles in her last blog, which by the way, is worth reading every word! I resonate with many of the same, especially the part about living in the present. It is easy for me to become overwhelmed with a hectic life. I want to slow it down so that anxiety and fear does not come to represent any one aspect of my life experiences. I want to slow it down so that we have more time in this odd limbo - living in our cozy Minneapolis house together, learning about renovating a farm, getting to know our city, getting to know our 36.5 acres, throwing dinner parties for friends in Minneapolis, laughing till we snort with our family, playing 'round the world ping pong in mom and dad's basement, throwing bbqs in the backyard, going to the Riverview Theater, driving by The Rail Station pub, both curious and appalled, shopping at our local grocery store on Lake Street with the most diverse population in Minneapolis, leafing through our cookbook library to make the week's mealplan.

A lot of those things won't change anytime soon, but together they represent this snapshot of the present. Maybe because we're at the height of farm projects do I begin to feel overwhelmed and a little intimidated. Yes, this dream just took off and happened so fast - wonderfully so. But that means that it's really HAPPENING and all those things we imagined just may not be what we hoped. Let's get real though - even if we find ourselves isolated in Colfax and without jobs and without visitors and without Flannery (ref. Charis' blog) - getting to that point has been and will be like no other experience in our lives.

When I was young, whining to mom about how LONG the school year was and summer break seemed to last forever, I distinctly remember her telling me that time would go by a lot faster as I got older. Never before have I felt the truth in that more than today. I am afraid for how much change is to come - how will the farm change me? my relationships? my marriage? our goals? - how will having children (some day) change me? my relationships? my marriage? our goals? - how will I have to accomodate a new lifestyle? how will I reach my friends? metro culture? All of these questions inspire new conversations about faith, values, family, community, acceptance.

My greatest fear is that I'll stop sharing and talking and writing about it. Honestly. Thanks for keeping me in check by demanding more posts! more photos! Keep asking questions and sending your comments when you are curious about what we're doing and saying. The safety net of your support is my dearest comfort. Happy Thanksgiving! I wish I could share turkey, cranberries and pie with each of you.

In October, we were visited by thousands of little red friends - this photo is but a slice of the infestation - sunning themselves by the barn.

This is one of my favorite pictures - the first time Charis and I saw the barn loft in August. This is the child-like excitement we're talking about!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A ridiculously long post from America's Icebox

If you're already one of the unlucky folks on my list of email recipients, you've already seen this bad boy, so just skip right over it. It's been requested that I add it to the blog for posterity's sake.



Hello friends!

It’s happening. No matter how I fight it. The accent is creeping in, and I hear myself – the nasal As and round Os – and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Somebody send help right now. I’m starting to sound like Maahrge from Faahrgoo and it’s not pretty.

They’re telling me it’s been a ridiculously mild winter thus far, and Becca is convinced that I’m wielding some sort of X-Mannish power over the weather, as things got weird as soon as Jay and I showed up. After all of the warnings of super-humid heat and freeze-dried winters, it's been pretty lovely here: a 75-degree summer and now a brisk but sunny fall. Still feels pretty cold to me, as it doesn't usually get to 11 degrees in Portland ever, let alone in November. I'm crossing my fingers as I'm moving the equines to their permanent home at the new farm on December 18, and I don’t want any snow or ice on the perilous-enough-already county roads for that adventure.

Our new neighbors the Beyrers (you can learn more about them by visiting my other entries on this blog) have a son named Tryston, and he’s going to be feeding the horses from January – May on the days I can’t be there. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled about this development. Jay and I will be living out there during winter break to help get the horses adjusted.

I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up a few training clients at my current stables, and may continue on there once my horses are Wisconsin residents. I’m working with a three-year-old colt with tons of potential and a great work ethic and a nine-year-old gelding with some major issues – mainly based in defensiveness and disrespect. The woman with the colt wants to bring him out to the farm next summer for more intensive work, which would be a good challenge.

Most of our family and extended family was present for a giant work weekend at the farm on November 5 – 7, and a buttload of work got done. The blog has details and photos, but I have to tell you that with the help of the Cedarleaf gang and a few other lovable hangers-on we achieved greatness together.

We’re all still excited, but also weary and kind of worn down these days with so much work and travel. I suppose I’ve reached the phase where I have questions, and a few fears popping up every once in a while, some of them reasonable: What if one of us ends up hating this life? What if we have trouble finding jobs? How will Jay find a way to make music with others? How will we continue to forge community, with those directly around us (Minneapolis, Colfax) and with those already in our community who live far away (Portland, Corvallis, Scio, Independence, L.A./Oakland, N.Y., Seattle area, El Salvador)? How will we fit in with the farmers in our neighborhood? How do we collectively feel about hunting on our land (I’ll be blogging on this soon)? What if we run out of money? And some of them unreasonable: What if someone gets a brain tumor? What if nobody ever comes to visit? What if something evil resides in the cornfield? What if a raccoon eats Flannery?

I’m not a city girl, not yet a farm woman. How do I make it through the next 6 months, battling this restlessness? I know that sounds high drama, but you know me.

I’ve never been a person who has cared much for surprises, and this dream/adventure feeds that particular discomfort. I also hate leaving projects unfinished, and believe me when I tell you that this farm is one big unfinished project. This is good, because it means that I’m being forced to grow and stretch in new ways, but it’s also scary.

My biggest challenge, besides missing my peeps on the West Coast, has been to honestly live in the moment, enjoying this in-between stage for what it is and not just as some kind of purgatory or path to another destination. The people who ease that challenge are my darling husband and my two trusty housemates, along with other friends and family here. It has been an incredible relief to realize that the four of us can make this WORK. We are well suited to each other and still have lots of fun together on a regular basis, even with pressing logistical issues presenting hurdles day to day - we’re remodeling an entire farm, for the love of the lord! I am honored to be a part of a tradition that began with my parents, and am grateful for my earlier experiences with co-habitation and communal living: Jay’s and my time at Jaxonia and later with DWarren at our place on 55th. I believe these experiences, having been successful in their own special ways, opened the door to the possibilities for us. We knew it COULD work thanks to our time spent learning and reveling in community.

My work at Hopkins West Junior High has been a mix, but generally consists of fluorescent office malaise. People here in the Special Ed office are extremely nice and clearly overworked, and that’s heartbreaking. It also makes my job a bit of a struggle, as often nobody has the time to teach me much and the atmosphere mainly consists of wait … wait … wait … wait … wait … wait … EMERGENCY!!!!! … wait … wait … wait… you get my drift. The kids who come in to the office on a regular basis are simultaneously hilarious and sad, and are the most stimulating part of my day without fail. Mainly I get a glimpse of the high-functioning autistic kids who come in to do odd jobs around the office as a part of their schedules. Gabe sings symphonies to himself as he walks down the hall, touching each locker. Kyle loves it when catastrophe strikes: “THERE’S A BEE IN THE ROOM! A BEE!” or “IT SMELLS LIKE THE HEATER BLEW UP IN ROOM 100!” The atmosphere is often grim (no money, no time) sometimes joyful (food and snacks 24-7 with a big birthday treat emphasis) and many days chaotic. I feel depressed about “the system.” It’s like many of my temp jobs in that it has opened my eyes to the way a particular place operates (well, at least the microcosm I’m a part of). As a side note, I must say it has been interesting to actually see what a staff lounge looks like (wasn't that always THE most mysterious place when you were a kid in school?)

We were out at the farm over the weekend – Jay and I put up lots of fence that was either broken or non-existent. Now that we have two separate viable spaces for the horses to be, we can manage the pastures come spring. By the way, Bex, Chris, Kevin, Allison and Jay are honest-to-goodness rednecks now, having bucked 150 bales of hay off a trailer and into the barn. We also set up the box stalls, cutting out a piece of wall and fixing other small issues. Next time around I’ll gravel and mat, and I’m getting estimates today on what it will take to get my indoor arena graded. The farm is going to feel like the Ritz after the horses’ current situation! Saturday day was all about manual labor, and Saturday night was all about Hearts and chilly vodka shots and fresh orange slices for the loser. And the winner. Oh, and Jay, Chris and Kevin chasing some hapless cows around and hooting hysterically in the black of the moonless night at the neighboring farm.

One of the best parts of the weekend was the welcome addition of the woodstove: SO VERY COZY AND TOASTY. The gutters are installed too! Even without much legitimate furniture, the house is starting to feel like a place where a person could really spend some time. I have to also add that Chris’ friend Eric wants to make an observatory out of our silo. I’m personally leaning toward a Rapunzel turret. I’m starting the hair growth effort now.

This is all to say that even with windburnt eyes from mending fences in the chill and the abundant hay rash all over my hands, the farm makes me feel like a kid again – gleeful and a little wild-eyed.

Love and giant farm breakfasts with bacon to all of you dear people, especially if you’ve slogged through this thing to the end. It seems only fitting that I post this right around Thanksgiving time, because I’m ever so grateful for the role my friends and family each have had in my life, and for their support in the form of love messages of all kinds. I’ve been a HORRIBLE correspondent to many. My cell phone only seems to work at the top of a treeless hill, and half the time we’re at the farm, which enjoys no signal of any kind, rendering our new fangled technology USELESS. I don’t call people back. I’m living in a bit of a whacked-out fog. Mea culpa, mea culpa. Know that all are still loved like never before. We do have a land line just now set up at the farm: 715 658-1581. We’re there many weekends, but often outside, and there’s no voicemail yet. It will get better – I promise. Right now we’re trying to add photos and commentary to this here blog to keep up with the rapid pace of change in our lives. Good luck to us!


Monday, November 15, 2004


Originally uploaded by chrisnewhouse.
I found these pictures on the world wide web. I tried to mark our aprox. property lines. This view gives you an idea of how much forest is in this area. Although, from this perspective, you can really see how carved out it is too.


Originally uploaded by chrisnewhouse.
This digitized view gives you a good idea of what the topography is like.

sat2 copy

sat2 copy
Originally uploaded by chrisnewhouse.
Here's one from a bit higher up..

Thank You to family for Nov. 6

On November 5 through 7 we had family help us make giant strides toward our home being our home. THANK YOU from Charis, Jay and Becca, Chris

Tony - early rising, sawsall mad genius, stall removing, wall removing, tree cutter
Melanie - vanquisher of pine cones, cheeful primer and painter
Amanda - dragged enough branches to cover the St. Croix Bridge and allowed fresher air upstairs
James - cinder block escort, ax hurling, loft cleaning garbage collector
Ralph - blood sweating wood man with a great laugh
Becky - fearless, relentless paintaholic
Glenda - thorough, constant braided priming goddess
Caroline - cheerleading break conversationalist
Ted - philosophical tool user, patient wall tackler
Jeanine - tireless painter who kept us nourished with soul and food
Sheldon - patient, expert advisor
Jane - humorous, knowledgeable encourager
Erik - it is now safe to climb into the loft
Elissa - whirling dervish painting and stacking wood
Kelly - no more inhaling spiders in the barn
Rafi - ran so much he had to take himself for a nap
Bella - curious stick chaser


The farm is already party headquarters for the summer. Becky suggested the lower ceiling room of the barn as the art gallery. We are now creating party central headquarters for the winter. We have a room now that could seat 30 people. Ten extra leaves, some more legs and 20 more chairs, should make our dining room table complete.
I hear and see the room filled with jubilaint jam sessions and even intimate concerts. I have heard Jessica Williams in a room smaller than our dining room. Hey, I might learn how to play quiet, or I could pass out ear plugs. I envisions candles burning out as people read their writings, share their stories and display their art. Lucious meals can be enjoyed by many. The waltz, jitterbug, lindy, macarana, salsa, square and even a little r & b, has more than enougth room to strut its prowess. Prepare your art and prepare your time to visit.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Permaculture Possibilities

I have been reading a lot about permaculture lately. The basic idea is so simple that it kind of smacks against your brain in a "why aren't people doing this everywhere?" sort of way. Permaculture is a form of agricultural landscaping that attempts to mimic the diverse and balanced structure of a natural landscape. I emailed Marian Farrior at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and asked her for advice in how to go about learning more about permaculture and using it on the farm. She was the only person I could find in the Midwest who has anything to do with permaculture. It is primarily an Australian/European movement that has recently reached the East and West costs of Jesusland. Anyway, here is her response to my email.

Dear Chris,

I had a hard time coming up with a response to your e-mail, which is why it has taken so long. You are right -- permaculture is much more active on the East and West coast, and even in the South and Southwest. It has not really "taken hold" in the Midwest, maybe due to cultural preferences, maybe because the PC techniques for temperate climates are more difficult to demonstrate where there are weather extremes. The places that were teaching permaculture -- Grailville in OH, Michaela Farms in Indiana, are no longer doing so. All the classes and workshops that I tried to teach were cancelled due to low enrollment. There is a "Permaculture Guild" in Madison/Mt.Horeb, but I haven't been able to connect with those folks either. OK, I'm done with my complaining about this.

If I were you, I would visit the farms that are doing PC in the Midwest (and
just buy a few books for reference). That way, you learn from their
experiences (and not just book talk) and identify appropriate varieties of
plants and trees that would work in the Midwest (as well as building

Here's some resources for you:

Greg David at Prairie Dock Farm (a CSA) does Permaculture -- he lives in
Watertown WI and his e-mail address is He would know plant varieties and what works in the WI area.

Similarly, Martin Jelenc does PC and has an orchard -- he lives in Belleville WI and his phone number is (608) 832-6277 -- he could tell you what fruit and nut tree varieties grow in this area. Also, Mark Ludwig has a tree farm in Avoca WI and he does PC -- his phone number (last I knew -- this may have changed) is (608) 583-3036.

Kathleen Plunkett Black has been homesteading for years with her husband and children in Arkansaw WI, and she teaches PC and seed saving -- her number is (715) 647-3033.


There's a lot of info on the web, as you know. I like the simple books, like
Introduction to Permaculture by Mollison and Reny Mia Slay.
The Earth Care Manual, A Permaculture Handbook for Britain & Other Temperate Countries; by Patrick Whitefield looks interesting (though long) -- it's set up like a PC training course.

My friend Dave Jacke wrote a book about temperate zone permaculture
techniques and appropriate plant varieties (he did a lot of research) -- his
book should be coming out soon, and his e-mail is

If you decide to go the training route, the Permaculture Activist magazine
lists workshops and other resources:
Courses are expensive and take an investment of time, but they are a good overview of the principles, techniques, and design.

Another way to learn is to talk to "edible landscapers" or organic gardeners in your area -- they're doing PC without calling it that. If you want to make a living off your farm, that takes more planning and ingenuity, and I would have other suggestions (for example, check into Holistic Resource Management).

After talking to folks and visiting farms, then observe your place for a
year and watch how the energy flows through it -- water, wind, wildlife.
Then come up with a plan, applying the best ideas you've seen and match them to your needs. I've jumped into doing things without thinking them through, only to have to redo them later, so I'm talking from experience.

I hope this helps and isn't overwhelming! Let me know how it turns out....You can call me if you want to talk about this some more.

All the best,

Marian Farrior
Earth Partnership Field Manager

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Family Work Weekend: Ted and Ralph in a classic chainsaw shot. "Fun, dirty, sweaty, bloody and hungry," in uncle Ralph's words.

The kitchen transformation begins with Aunt Becky at the helm...

Aunt Melanie priming the pinecone cupboard doors...and priming...and priming...

Elissa, the fearless painting maniac!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Saturday Sunset

Saturday Sunset
Originally uploaded by chrisnewhouse.
Just got back from a great work weekend at the farm. A LOT was accomplished, including tearing down a wall, making a ginormus wood pile in the garage, and painting just about every paintable surface in the house.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Sunrise 10.04

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Morning After

I'm having a lot of conflicting feelings today - after another roller coaster election and in the midst of a hectic life. I am entrenched in a busy work life in a heavily liberal environment. I allow myself to forget that there is a majority out there that thinks differently than the bubble in which I live. How do we (as a group, attempting to live an alternative life) reconcile our goals and ideas with a conflicting political and social environment? It's overwhelming until I allow myself to escape to this vision of living a slower, quieter, more removed life.

Chris and I took a walk through our woods at sunrise during the peak of fall color a couple of weeks ago. So far, that has been the most profound moment for me at the farm. We slowly trekked the hill, collecting leaves, stopping at each new type of tree to identify its name by color, leaf shape, breadth of crown, and bark patterns. The beauty and solitude among our trees was overwhelmingly of they were welcoming us to the community as we came to know them better. Down the path a ways, at the top of the deep stone hill, I came upon a grove of young Aspen so thick I couldn't walk between the skinny trunks. Their taut, golden bark and quaking leaves looked like costumes on a chorus. From the ground below, Chris hollered up to me, explaining that Aspen grow as one unit...each tree is a part of one organism, connected to its neighboring tree by an enormous, intricate web of shared roots. I instantly became arrestingly aware of how small I am under the powerful hand of nature, in awe of what I have to learn from its example of communal living.

In three days, the four of us will welcome a band of Cedarleaf family, who are opening their hearts, hands, and tool boxes to help us continue to transform the farm house and clean up the property. Today, Chris and Kevin are filling the shell of our living room with new insulation and drywall. (We have learned loads from Kevin's brilliant construction mind. Without him we might all still be standing around a crumbling living room, scratching our heads.) Last night, we did some hot tub shopping and are quickly falling in love with the image of our good friends and family sharing a glass of wine in our tub before taking a roll in the snow! Check out ...then give us a call to schedule your visit.

Despite the post-election long faces, we have much to look forward to. It's a beautiful, cold fall morning here, and I'm escaping my work desk with thoughts of trekking through our woods to visit the Aspen grove.