The Backwoods

Where we teeter between our love of modern convenience and the yearning for something long past; a world where neighbors knew your name and a “Friend Request” was eye contact and a smile.

Admitting Defeat…and a photo journey of success

Posted · 42 Comments

I’ve not written in weeks and I promise this won’t be one of those “I’m sorry I’ve not blogged” posts. But well, I’m sorry.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Phew.

SO now down to why I’ve not written…Pride…purely pride.  You see, we’ve retreated into our old house for the winter and I’ve been afraid to say it in bold type for fear it will make it true.

Our little cabin in the woods, which we have lived in whole heartedly throughout most of the summer, and on which we worked our fingers to the bone… is not fit for winter.  We came so close…

Here is what is NOT done:

  • The cabin is not skirted, therefore the cold wind blows right under and freezes the floor…so we cannot turn the water on for fear of making a popsicle of our well line.
  • The water line is not attached to the cabin…it is just under it.
  • The incoming water lines are not installed…no water hooked up anywhere
  • Pressure tank and hot water heater not installed
  • Our woodstove is not big enough…has to be restocked every hour and a half…even at night.  That was a hardship in that nobody was sleeping very much.
  • Breaker box not wired, wires just sitting in wall
  • Power system, inverter, generator, batteries…though we have them…are not set up. No power.
  • Bathroom is just a storage room with a shower stall. No water/toilet/sink/laundry.
  • Kitchen not really usable, well, not in a pleasant way.  No power to fridge means no fresh meats or dairy.  We were surviving on boxed foods which we detest. Nobody was feeling healthy.
  • Cracks between floor boards not filled with anything…other than dirt. 😉

The truth is, we had to make some difficult decision on just how “rough” we were willing to live.  I was peeing in a bucket in my loft three times a night because I have the bladder of an old man, and Luke was afraid to go at night because the outhouse trip in the dark was NOT happening.  And so he just….went.

We were showering seven miles away…which is fine…except by the time we were finished working at night nobody wanted to make the trek to showers.  After a while, that builds up on little boys. Laundry too was seven miles away.

The temperature dropped to the teens.  The winter wind picked up.  Working outside, most days, became difficult.   My arthritis has taken on a new level, hands and elbows aching constantly. It became easier and easier to just not work.

Our old house was beckoning us, warm and inviting.  It seemed silly to pay the mortgage on that warm empty house while we huddled together in the cabin under blankets, watching our breath float out in a fog every time we spoke.

The kids didn’t complain.  They never once, not one time, said we should go back to the other house.  Dan and I talked and talked…wondering what to do.  Was it right to “give up” when the kids weren’t even voicing the desire?  Should we keep on working through the winter?  Were we ever going to have any fun?  Was this all worth it? Were we just being stubborn?

We had put every extra dime we had, and then some, into this dream for the past year.  The money simply ran out.  Our energy ran out.  A few weeks ago all of our trucks broke at one time. Not easy fixes, but major diesel engine repair, which left us borrowing a rig from my folks.  There went several more thousand dollars.

Then four of the kids started sports, which meant our time was spent sitting in the gym cheering, rather than swinging a hammer.  Which is fine, we like to cheer.

And when late one night after a volley ball game we ‘camped’ at the old house, nobody complained about that either.  And then we spent a second night.  And a third.

There simply was nothing left.  Not emotionally, physically or monetarily.  We were, in all possible ways, drained.  We’d had enough.

And so we resigned ourselves to the old house. Not that it’s a hardship in any way…we are blessed to have the option and it’s certainly nice to flip the switch and watch the heat come on.  It’s just extremely disheartening and disappointing after all our long, hard work, to feel as if we’ve gone in reverse.

But here’ s a list of what we have accomplished since June:

  • Gravel driveway, 800 feet
  • A gravel pit on our own land
  • Garden, fenced
  • Chicken/goat barn and fenced area
  • Tree clearing and firewood
  • Cabin nearly livable, all done by our own hands
  • Septic installed
  • Well drilled and line buried
  • Outhouse built
  • Underside of cabin insulated (by Robin)
  • Interior walls framed
  • Windows  and doors installed
  • Addition for kids built this year
  • Roof tin complete
  • Electrical mostly done
  • Kitchen started
  • Shower installed
  • Drain pipes plumbed
  • LOTS of labor intensive saw milling
  • Some interior wall boards complete
  • Kids ‘rooms’ (let’s just call them stalls) roughed in
  • Woodstove installed
  • Fireplace mantle built with hand picked slate
  • Emptied our old house completely and readied for sale
  • Billy also built an entire cabin, dried in, windows in, roof on. Not insulated or ready to live in.

And when I look at this list I KNOW it was a lot of work and that we accomplished a LOT but that doesn’t take away the sting of not quite making it in before the temperatures dropped and the money ran dry.

SO here we sit, refusing to move our furniture and ‘things’ back into the old house because that would feel like utter defeat.  So we flopped mattresses on the floor, stacked our clothes in boxes along the walls and brought enough pots and pans to make some edible food. Our homeschool stuff looks like a garage sale across the floor of the living room; a plastic folding table makes my desk and the corner piece of an old sectional couch, my seat.  This is why bean bag chairs were invented.

And so we’ll spend the winter planning for next year, homeschooling, cheering our kids from the bleachers, reading, and maybe I’ll do a little writing. Five months and the weather will let us get back to work.

But truth is, every time we drive up to the cabin our hearts break that we are not there, huddled in around our woodstove by lantern light, watching the snow drift down against the backdrop of our very own piece of the woods.

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42 Responses to "Admitting Defeat…and a photo journey of success"
  1. Georganne Hurt-Hampton says:

    Great lesson in having a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, and showing your kids that sometimes things don’t work out how we want, no matter how hard we work and how well we plan. Sometimes you have to go to Plan B and that’s ok too. That’s why you HAVE a Plan B.

  2. Chris Day says:

    Good read, G8 family & Mom – Dad keep up building their characters showing them the way.

  3. I don’t think anyone can fault you for trying or running out of money. So it is going to take longer than you planned, at least you are attempting it.

  4. Kim says:

    you’ll get there! You’ve done so much already, you should feel pride in what you’ve accomplished. When you get the time (and money) to begin working on it again, I’m sure you will because you will be refreshed from taking care of yourselves properly (which you could not do in the cabin). Don’t sweat it. I wish I had 1/2 of your willpower and ability to make your dreams come true!

  5. Night Rider says:

    I’ve never understood this whole ‘nobly suffering’ thing. I think it stems from the judeo-christian ethic that suffering is good for you, and happiness and comfort isn’t. I seriously wonder sometimes how mankind ever evolved this far.

    The things you have accomplished just this year are amazing, and to do it in that environment, while nurturing, teaching and supporting all the kids and Big Dan, borders on the miraculous. Christ, you shouldn’t view going back to the house as a failure, but as a well-deserved vacation!

    If nothing else, take a military view of the situation, and think of it as a tactical withdrawal, in preparation for an all-out assault. I’m pretty sure that anyone who is a fan of yours has no doubt that by the end of next summer, you will be rocking the new house, and writing incredible tales about the insanity you call your life.

    Carry on soldier!

  6. Jay says:

    Good Lord woman, you did an amazing job so far. Your only failure comes from not realizing how big the job is. You will get it done!

  7. My childhood home was started in 1972. It still ain’t finished. Your kids have learned a whole lot and you have accomplished much. Keep your chin up!

  8. Betsey Knox says:

    Keri, I’m impressed with all you’ve gotten done in one summer. I know our first years up here, I felt like survival took up all my time, with hauling water, cutting firewood, trying to make our home livable, get clothes and cloth diapers washed, etc. and struggled with the little time we had for homeschooling. Our family of 8 then was probably never closer as we were in those days and I think our kids probably learned more in those lean years about how little they really need to be happy, They also remember all the wonderful answers to prayer as the Lord met our needs in miraculous ways. You’re making memories they’ll never forget and maybe even write about themselves someday.

  9. Jennie Handke says:

    First, I love reading your posts. Second, I have never commented on one because… well, I’m just that way. I have to chime in on this though. You are amazing, and it’s obvious to me from what I’ve seen and read that you are an amazing mother, and your kids are going to be wonderful adults because of how you’ve raised them. I applaud you.

  10. Barb says:

    What you accomplished was amazing. 🙂

  11. Kat says:

    You are not defeated or giving up! You are practicing patience. You are teaching your kids that you have to work hard, really, really hard for what you want. And sometimes that takes longer than planned. We know that – we’re on year 4 of our 5-year plan to fix up our very decrepit 100-year-old farmhouse. We’ve slowly been gutting to the studs and starting over one project at a time. And we’re in Wisconsin, so I have the vaguest idea of the cold you’re dealing with. Wind whistling through walls. Icy floors. The deep desire to just hunker down under miles of blankets and wait for spring. Not to mention living in a constant state of packing/unpacking. Nest in, keep warm, recharge after a long summer’s work and keep going next spring. We’re rootin for ya here!

  12. Kristy K. James says:

    I haven’t read the other comments yet, so I don’t know if anyone else has said this or not. But I think you’re looking at this the wrong way (NOT what you’ve accomplished, because that was a LOT!). But very few worthwhile goals in life happen exactly as we expect them to. There are kinks, there are bumps, and in Alaska, you’ve got the weather to contend with. Not even going to go into money, because unless you’re Bill Gates, it runs out.

    So look at this time back in the warm house – with the working plumbing – as a vacation. A well deserved vacation. Move a little furniture back, treat it as a resort (where you still have to cook and clean, so ‘resort’ might be stretching it), and enjoy it for what it is. A time to relax, recuperate, and regroup. Your long-term goal remains the same. You can probably get some of the interior work finished over the course of the winter (that’s what kerosene heaters are for).

    Reevaluating plans and setting new goals is just a normal part of making our dreams come true. Yeah, it helps to set a deadline, but it’s okay if it takes longer than we thought it would. So have your vacation. Make it as luxurious as you can. Build your dream house bank account back up, and put the new plans into motion in the spring. You’ll get there when the time is right.

  13. Loisgroat says:

    Just one more winter. Then you will be there. You can hold out for one more winter. We are all rooting for you. And we are SO glad you are writing again. We miss you when you don’t write.

  14. Pam Alexander says:

    Hey Keri! Hope to see you while I’m here keeping Zoe. This is not a story of failure, it’s a story of perseverance on so many levels. Kate has egg cartons for you. I baked cinnamon cookies tonight. If you’re in the neighborhood, would love to see you.

  15. Big Mama J. says:

    I should be asleep… ohhh let me count the multiple reasons I should be asleep…. but I had to chime in to implore you NOT to be hard on yourself about this so-called “defeat”… NOT to feel embarassed to let us know what’s going on. Baby… you guys rock on multiple levels. Many would have tossed in the towel long ago. The list of challenges you were living with is massive and just… too challenging. You did not give up, you came upon the universal rule of any renovation project: it will cost WAY more than you thought and it will take WAY longer. That’s all. That is not failure or defeat… that is reality and Life. In Florida you could continue to camp. In Alaska you simply take one step back. It’s a blip in the road, a temporary detour. I say move all your stuff back, get organized and comfy and enjoy a cozy winter relaxing and marvelling at all you got done. Then rock on in the Spring. Kudos to the non-complaining kids. Like I said… you guys rock.

  16. Gayle says:

    I totally get setting goals and not reaching them. Building/remodeling is the most rewarding and frustrating thing I’ve ever done. We ran out of money before we started and it always seems that something goes wrong. I’m trying to be happy with what I have and block out the visions of what could be. I get depressed (or bitchy). I think you did an amazing amount of work and the best part is that your kids helped. (Mine will not…lazy little buggers). Be warm and cozy this winter and you’ll be able to finish up next summer. 🙂

  17. John says:

    That’s not defeat, it’s just postponement of success.
    Laced with common sense.
    You’ll get there sooner or later. For now, relax, be cosy and think what great foresight you had to keep the old house available as a temporary measure.

  18. nancy ceglarek says:

    you guys rock, backwoods mom. don’t sweat it. you’ll get there. and you should be proud of yourself and the family you’ve embraces:)

  19. Liz says:

    Keri, I personally think you are an amazing family…I don’ t see ANYONE giving up…I see you using wisdom. I love what you’ve all done…we’ve been in similar situations…you are teaching them to be patient and not use debt or credit to continue but save and begin again in the spring! LOVE to you all~

  20. lilo says:

    I think you are all doing an AMAZING job! I can’t even imagine even trying to build my own home. I say stay puckered down (my daughter’s term for hunkered down) for the winter and rest up. The memories you are making for yourself and your children are priceless. Keep up the good work!

  21. I think what you have accomplished this year is amazing… and I think that you have made the right decision to what is best for your family.. so perhaps you need to get whole heartedly behind that decision and spend the winter making plans for the warm weather and not looking back with regret for what did not happen…

  22. Lynn Falconer says:

    Okay Keri, just read all these messages and let yourself be convinced they know what they are talking about!! You have done good! It takes a very astute woman to know when to step back and let the perfect picture develop rather than trying to stage it, or how to set a young mind on a track to research and learning, and young men and women on they way to being highly respected, honorable adults with a work ethic second to none!!! You know you are that astute woman and the bother of a nasty bout of pneumonia has left you feeling down. Get well love, take it easy on the bones and you will be ready for spring when she gets there. God Bless you all, stay warm.

  23. Sacha says:

    I wish I could give my kids the kind of gift you are giving them. Some of my favorite childhood memories are working with my father, pulling wire and working construction.

  24. Patrizia F says:

    I can imagine how you feel, but I really think you all have been so courageous to try hard and also ti admit it isn’t (not yet) the moment to love in your cabin. In life you win and you lose, so it has been a very important lesson to your kids: sometimes you just have to admit your limits….smiling anyway. I’m glad you’re back in a warm house and that you’ll be cheering and homeschooling in the next cold months. In spring you’ll have the energy to go on, I’m sure.

  25. I m glad you had not sold the house yet. And you are not giving up, just postponing the final move in. You are teaching your kids, that despite set backs and the lack of time and funds, you aren’t giving up your dream, but merely delaying it for a little longer. I know this is probably wasn’t the way you wanted it to happen, but reality does jump up and bite us and it is hard; but then we just have to change the game plan and deal with it all, a little different way. But as long as you do it together, as a family, it will all work out ok. I applaud you for the efforts of what you are accomplishing !!!

  26. We built not one but two cabins for all the additional friends and family that always seem to multiply each season. You could say we were gluttons for punishment?? None the less, what you have accomplished is astounding and more than most folks today would even give a second thought to try. As a proud owner of a cabin, I have to admit, the work “never” ends, but the same can be said of the memories. The memories are what I found to be the most important with the building process. GOOD JOB and concentrate on the many future memories to come !!!! The kids will thank you.

  27. Ronda Hausser says:

    Not defeat, just a pause in the process. Focus on the accomplishments you’ve made and all the lessons you’ve taught your kids. You have an amazing family and we will all wait patiently until the building season starts again. And, just maybe, we’ll hear from you more through the winter.

  28. TheAtomicMom says:

    I’d say the list of what you got done far out weighs what you didn’t get done, so don’t be so hard on yourself. You worked HARD! So take the winter, recharge, rest, and then start anew in the Summer. You will have this done in no time.

  29. Shari says:

    All I can say is – it sounds like you had a great summer. And… I don’t think that’s defeat – I think it’s called common sense! 🙂

  30. Valerie Pienaar Landon says:

    I think you’re teaching your kids NOT to give up. They’ve worked really hard and they thought they’d get their reward in time for winter … and now they have to wait. That’s really hard, and of course you’re disappointed! But what a great opportunity to learn that things just don’t always work out the way we want them to – but you don’t quit – and now, also, don’t fret. Waiting isn’t quitting.

  31. Sue says:

    What I see here is a family who works, plays, learns, struggles, overcomes all obstacles TOGETHER. I think ya’ll are just awesome.
    So what if it didn’t all get finished before your brutal Alaska winter, there will be a spring and summer in 2013. Look forward to continuing the work, the love, the journey with your children.

    Many folks, including me, are rooting for ya’ll, praying for ya’ll, and we can’t wait to read the next installments of your daily lives, that we secretly wish we could be a party to. You and your husband are so blessed, and so are your children. May God continue to bless you.

  32. Chrisv says:

    You may feel defeated, but this is awesome!! You have done so much! Yay for having a plan B, even though you didn’t want to use it. Yay for kids who are happy with either option. Yay for you! Next summer I’m sure you’ll get it all finished. Good on ya!

  33. Lee Eakin says:

    keep the faith you are doing a great job and after a winter of r&r ( rest and recreation ) you can start up fresh in the spring. FYI some of us are so jealous of you guys and your wonderful lifestyle

  34. Jo says:

    Keri you and your family have all worked so hard on the cabin. The effort and sheer grit shown in times of trial astounds me. The fact your kids have all pitched in to help create not only a new family home but a life time worth of memory is so special. Those times will be imprinted on their hearts forever. And next summer you will get it finished!

    Here’s a quote I read recently and believe is fitting for your family right now
    “Surrender doesn’t mean giving up. It just means you stop fighting.”

  35. Audrey says:

    i’m in awe. I hope you can be nice to yourself and truly appreciate what you all have accomplished. Straight out of Mother Earth News, for crying out loud! You and your amazing family are characters in a wonderful story that inspire so many. Enjoy your electricity and your kiddos. Take care of yourself. All is as it should be.

  36. sweetpea05 says:

    Do not ever feel bad for doing your best. Even the best armies have to back up, regroup, and fight again another day. You have done an awesome job. Enjoy your family this winter and work on your house as you can. You never fail until you quit. You are not ‘quitting’. You are just regrouping. Hugs!!

  37. Carolyn in Toronto says:

    And the best thing is that you are all together and tomorrow is another day.
    Revel in cheering your kids on… sleep warm… and by next spring you will be renewed, just like your land and your bank account and you will finish your house! (It looks amazing by the way!)

  38. Denise G says:

    I see only an amazing family who did what they could and because circumstances ( or divine intervention) has been blessed to take some time from this labor of love> Your family is safe, warm and healthy, Cabin will wait patiently through the long cold winter looking forward to the family to return come spring.!

  39. Theresa says:

    Amazing woman! Amazing family.You have done so well. Step back, recup’, regroup. Be proud.

  40. That means you’ll all be ready to work even harder to make that dream become a reality next spring, and you’ll appreciate it even more when you do.
    Bravo on getting so MUCH accomplished this year! You guys are amazing and inspiring.

  41. billy is so handsome 😉

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