A Place in the Country (Part I)

When considering a major life change, it’s best to take some time to review options, consider consequences, and make plans. At least, that’s what I hear from assorted life change gurus.

But if my husband and I had listened to them, we would never have moved to the country, bought a former Amish farmhouse, and taken the immersion course in country life. And we would’ve missed an experience that’s enriching us every day.

We started out sensibly back in 2007, looking at hundreds of houses online. We knew we wanted something near our family business. And we wanted an older home, with a big kitchen. And, of course, being a semi-city girl, I had to have the mod cons (modern conveniences), especially air conditioning.

And then, in February 2008, we walked into this 14-year old Amish farmhouse just outside Ashland, Ohio. It had been converted, so it had electricity and water, but that was about it. There was a wood cook stove the size of a Volkswagen burning merrily away as we walked into the kitchen. The entire first floor of the house was hardwood, gorgeously shiny. There was a small wood burner in the living room too, and the whole place was so toasty warm! The kitchen was the size of a two car garage—almost. I remember looking at my husband as we walked in the door and saying, “This’ll do just fine.” He looked at me like I was insane, and said, “Do you think you might want to look at the rest of the house too?”

There were five bedrooms upstairs, plus a bathroom that was ginormous. It never entered my head that this might be too much house for two people. I saw an office downstairs and upstairs, laundry room, a craft room, and master bedroom that would actually be large enough for our bedroom furniture.

View from my home office in the fall

OK, sure, there was scary shag carpeting upstairs, and the entire place was painted in (mostly) darkish earth tones. Scarier still, the upstairs ceilings were painted the same colors as the walls in each room.  Believe me, avocado isn’t the color you want over your head when you’re looking at your reflection in the bathroom mirror. But all that was cosmetic. When you looked at what was really there, it was a dream house—one without air conditioning, but a dream house all the same.

We looked at the house, including the full basement, which held a cistern big enough to swim in, should that be needed. Then we walked out to the car with our city-based real estate agent, and said, “We’ll take it.”

She thought we were out of our minds. We’d only looked at four other houses. Most people put more thought into buying a pair of socks. But we knew that this house would work for us.

Once we started on the work that needed done, we did question our sanity. We decided to paint, floor and carpet the upstairs before we moved in. A great goal, but as I ended up with bronchitis just as we were moving, things got a little behind. Thank heavens for the family and friends who helped out.

View from the house to the barn

It does take some time to clean—usually a half day for the downstairs, and about three hours for the upstairs, not counting the black hole that’s my office. We’re much more rigorous about cleaning now that we have a cat in the house these days. Who wants fur tumbleweeds, after all?

Those wood floors only stay shiny when they’re polished regularly with lemon oil. I didn’t know this when we bought the place. I’m not sure I’d have changed my mind anyway. Mopping and oiling the floors isn’t the easiest job, but I feel so accomplished every time I get it done. And the house smells wonderful! Blacking the stoves—another necessary chore that gives instant gratification. And mowing our five acres with our little garden tractor sounds like a big job… but it has a Zen-like quality, and we can see every inch of our land and the fields next to it throughout the season. Once it’s mowed, walking our place is wonderfully satisfying.

There are other compensations. Chili cooked on our Pioneer Maid cook stove is one of our favorite things. That stove heats the house and makes dinner, too. I’ve found that it’s the best thing for stir fry, by the way, providing the woodbox is stoked up.

It’s the coolest thing ever to use a hand-cranked popcorn popper on the wood burner in the living room. (Although there’s something odd about watching television while we do it.)

A country sunset

We can see the sun set from just about every room in the house. That didn’t happen when we lived in the city.

It’s so quiet that we can hear cows mooing—no matter that the nearest cow is at least a mile away, as the crow flies. The quiet was unsettling at first, compared to the busy, noisy city neighborhood where we used to live. Now it’s the first thing visitors remark on. We realize we’ve gotten so used to it that we don’t think about it anymore. It’s also quiet enough that we can hear the rooster the across-the-street neighbor keeps. That bird has no sense of time. But that’s another story.

Our Amish neighbors are kind enough to give us first dibs on the veggies, cider and maple syrup they sell. It’s the coolest thing to see the buggy pull up, because you know that you’re going to have a nice visit, and there will be something yummy included to boot. And all of our neighbors were kind and generous with their produce when our garden failed last year. (We didn’t hear the words ‘city people’ once!) We didn’t put a garden in this year, because I had knee surgery in the spring. We’ll consider the garden question over the winter.

All in all, it’s been an interesting three years. We’re figuring out where we fit in our neighborhood. We’ve overhauled the entire upstairs. Now we’re considering the first floor, looking at paint colors and deciding if we’ll keep the oiled floors, and thinking about other improvements.  One thing I know for sure: the cook stove stays.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Karen Johnson, the newest member of Lehman’s creative team. Look for more posts from Karen about her city-gone-country adventures (including learning to cook on that giant wood stove)!

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