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Second Chances, by Dirt Surgeon

Introductory Note: I originally composed this story in August of 2011 just months after our family went through a devastating event.  At the time of writing the essay was short, sweet and to the point.  I have reconstructed my family’s journey of the past 24 months to the present.

Thanks for all that you and others do by sharing information, educating and inspiring the thought process. It is my hope that this short family history will provoke some to think about their lifestyle, what is important and the effect an event like this has on a family.

Four years ago my wife and I purchased fifty acres that join our families’ three hundred and fifty acre farm, built a new home and a seven acre lake (we built both the house and lake ourselves, our labor our time).  We sold a business that we built at a very large profit.  We dumped the capital back into the purchase of the 50 acres.  The plans were to built modestly and have a small mortgage or none at all; we got carried away and ended up with land free and clear but $138,000 mortgage on the house and 10 acres.  Once the house was complete the market crash of 07-08 occurred, this is when we truly woke up, we must prepare.  In our research we discovered survival blog, and rural revolution blog we have learned so much.  Our family has farmed, gardened, canned, kept chickens for generations, just our way of life, but we didn’t truly prep for potential collapse, which leads me to the bulk of my story:

May 5th, 2011 changed my family forever.  With the wet spring in the Midwest early garden planting was nonexistent, May 5th was no different ground was in good condition to plant but rain was in the evening forecast so I took off from work early to plant potatoes’, broccoli, cauliflower and so on.  When I turned in the quarter mile drive I met our black lab, who never leaves the house, I thought this was strange continuing on I noticed blue smoke coming through the timber, panic struck, the house was on fire.  I grabbed the cell phone dialed 911, then the garden hose, long story short we lost everything.  People it is a sickening filling when you realize all you have in the world are the clothes on your back and the cash in your pocket.
I cursed God that evening, how could he let this happen to me and my family? Even now typing this I do so with tears in my eyes, not so much for the tangible loss but the pain I could see in the eyes of my wife and eight year old daughter, I’m dad, it’s my job to protect.  It took several days for me to realize that God sent dumpsters to my house instead of coffins, for that I am thankful, and I hope he will accept my apology for the things I said and thought.

The day after the fire my wife, daughter and I went shopping for clothes, we had been discussing money and the situation in ear shot of our eight year old daughter.  Our daughter who loves horses and collects Breyer horses lost her collection in the fire.  We had been in the clothing section of our local farm and garden center when daughter went missing.  I found her staring at the shelves full of breyer horses.  She would pick one up, look at it and set it down.  Pick another up and put it back. I watched from behind a cloths rack as she dropped her shoulders, turned to walk away with tears in her eyes.  Gentlemen if you have never seen this look in your child’s face I will tell you it will tug at your heart like nothing else.  I was so proud of her because she was not going to ask.  I stepped out from behind the rack and asked her if she found a horse she liked if not pick one out.  She said “but mom” I told her mom would understand.  This over a toy I could not imagine how I would feel if something of a larger magnitude were to happen.

Two days prior to the fire I turned the basement lights on and the light switch arced. I guess that is where the fire started.  I should have called my electrician buddy then and there. Poor choice, and poor decision.

You may ask “What does this have to do with this blog”?  Well, there are lots of lessons to learn and lots of blessing to count.

Some Lessons Learned:

  1. We lost several years worth of food, canned goods, canning equipment, meats the list goes on. Note: do not store everything in one location.
  2. Guns, ammo and hunting equipment. Note: purchase gun safe, make sure guns are on separate rider for insurance.  Most policies only cover $2000 worth of guns I had one gun that was worth that amount, just by itself. (Point of concern insurance companies require serial numbers for coverage) I listed most but not all.
  3. Cash and coins, thankfully a fire fighter was able to retrieve a large sum of cash hidden in the house.  Note: this goes in the safe or hidden outside with other cash. My dad was impressed when I took a shovel and dug up a mason jar.  He said “I thought only old timers banked that way”. Interest doesn’t pay much but I know where the teller is.
  4. Pictures, gone. Note store some in other locations
  5. Keep a list or film your personal contents you will have to list every item to collect your replacement costs from your insurance company, this is painful. Imagine setting down and listing every item in your house. The big items are easy but think of every can of beans, every item in the cabinets, bath room closet, toys (although our daughter had a pretty good idea of what she lost.)
  6. Important papers, titles, DD214, marriage license, birth certificates note: these go in the safe

Blessings counted

  1. My family is safe, yes we have a lot of work ahead of us
  2. The mortgage is gone, we can rebuild like we should have the first time
  3. Add a root cellar
  4. Insurance has eliminated all of our dept.
  5. Our commitment to preparing is stronger
  6. Our family is stronger
  7. Most of all we found out who we can truly call our friend.
  8. We will never look at someone else’s misfortune the same.

It hit me hardest when I was hilling potatoes. I thought if this was a total collapse, we’ve lost everything and if the garden I stand in fails my family would more than likely not see the spring of 2012.

During the summer of 2012 we spent some insurance dollars and built a 30 by 50 shed complete with storage, 30 by 30 living space and fireproof hidey hole.  We have been living for the past two years in a two-room shed, bathroom and the rest.  This has been a great experience in close living, a great example of retreat living.  At times this has been fun and at time it has been difficult the following are some examples of both:
Fun times

  1. We never replaced the satellite television.  Board games, cards, conversations and reading have been our main source of entertainment. Our 8 year old is now at the academic level of an 11 year old and her grades along with creativity have improved.
  2. The time spent outside has doubled maybe tripled. We walk the property more, garden more, camp fires in the evening
  3. This style of living has given us a glimpse of what close living will be like when family comes knocking.
  4. We purchased a Kitchen Queen Cook stove to heat with.  If you have never cooked with wood it is an experience of fun and education.  Although we installed an electric stove the wood stove has been entertaining, daughter loves to cook cookies, pizza and her morning toast on the wood stove.

Not so fun times

  1. Even though the shed is insulated the 12 foot garage door allows the cold air in when the wind picks up and the temperature drops.
  2. The experience has made the wife and I wonder how pioneers had such large families when living in a one room homestead.
  3. Storage has been an issue. Hanging cloths, books, toys, food, everything just seems to be cluttered all the time.  Constant cleanup and pickup. 
  4. Bathroom issues with just three in the house someone is always knocking on the door. Hot water is always in demand during peak times.

Lessons learned

  1. This has been hard, we cannot imagine what it would be like without electric or water.
  2. Fire wood being the only source of heat is tuff.  We have always had wood heat but we always had a backup (electric or gas) when the wood pile gets low you really start to worry about the outside temperatures.
  3. With a full time job, rebuilding the house (will discuss later) there is very little time to prep.  The garden did well this year but canning was minimal. Gave lots of produce to friends but let the garden go in august.  How did homesteaders find the time to build a home, put food by, cut fire wood? All by hand without modern equipment and energy.  This should be an eye opener for all.  Times could get very, very difficult.

Where are we now?  In January 2013 we finally demolished the old house. Our goal has been to rebuild with the end result of no mortgage payment.  Working with insurance dollars and out of pocket/savings we are finally trimming the home.  This is large mile stone to a more normal lifestyle.  We made lots of changes this time around because of our prepping lifestyle. Here are some of the major changes:

  1. We went from a conventional 2,800 sq. ft. home to a 1,400 sq. earth berm home. Both for security reason and efficiency reasons. 
  2. Because the house is a basement style home I found that if we have our water tank full we can back feed water through the hydrant to the lower level and have a toilet when the electric is out, doesn’t help with potable water but it beats running to the timber.
  3. Added some solar, but not near enough. But the house has been wired for future addition.
  4. On demand hot water (gas) hope to use the energy savings for additional preps
  5. Purchased a large gun safe all items of value are stored/protected
  6. The wood cook stove goes in the new house for both cooking and heat.
  7. This time around the kitchen stove is gas not electric.
  8. Utility room designed specifically for storage of food and other preps.
  9. All basement windows have large window wells installed for egress and potential fields of fire.
  10. Most important hard wired battery backed up smoke detectors. One in every room.

In many ways we are better prepared than we were prior to the fire. Most importantly we are free of mortgage companies and banks. This makes life so enjoyable, knowing that most of our monthly income can go towards prepping, savings, et cetera.  God has blessed us in that respect.  In many ways we are less prepared.  Our food stores are less than before, with two seasons sense the fire we have consumed as much as we have set by.  With livestock to tend, hay to bail, daily chores and a full time job something had to give while rebuilding.  It’s mid-October and we are in no way prepared for winter. Not a stick of wood is ranked.  Equipment has not been winterized. One last round of hay to get in the barn, the list could go on, but we should have enough to get us to new crop.

We have replaced many things already, we have a long row to hoe but with gods’ help and lot of work we will be prepared for our future.  We have a second chance to make changes to better prepare and make better choices.  My prayer is for all to look at your situation and think, double check and rethink, anything can happen and it may very well happen.

To my best friend whom I lost in June of 2013 to a heart attack, I think of you often, thanks for your help of cleaning, demolishing and rebuilding.  I’ve been helping with the boys they are doing fine you are missed.

God bless and please learn from our experience.