April 23, 2013

Be careful what you ask for. . . (and a moment of sentimentality).

"Just remember, this is what we signed on for."

Aaron and I say this to each other with regularity and have ever since we signed the paperwork for the land in September of 2012.  Prior to then, we pretty much spent our evenings whiling away the time by watching the equivalent of "Ow My Balls" on YouTube and our weekends were spent in the leisure or hedonistic activity of our choice.  For quite a while, we were feeling sedentary and complacent and neither of us was comfortable with that feeling at all.  Part of the impetus of starting this homesteading project was to get us off our soft asses and into a more active lifestyle.  Necessity, we knew, would be the only driver to properly motivate us, and necessity is bred from a more simplistic lifestyle.

Now I say "simplistic lifestyle" because that is the common nomenclature for a back to basics existence, but in truth, back to basics is ANYTHING BUT SIMPLE.   The way of life we know now. . . . THAT'S simple.   Having to live with awareness and consciousness every minute is no longer the norm.  Water comes easy.  Electricity comes easy.  Food comes easy.  Take away the easy and you have anything but a simplistic existence.  You have a lifestyle wherein everything comes with a modicum of thought and effort and, yes, hard work.

Hard work is what we are into now.  We thought the shed had elicited some hard work from us, but we now know that we'd seen nothing yet.

Having determined that we were going to move the workshop up higher in the field, we laid out the rough dimensions and broke ground in early March.  Our friend, Ben, came out with some heavy machinery and helped us immensely by digging a three foot deep trench for the distance from the electricity pole to the corner of shop, just under 200 feet.  This would have taken us months of pain and frustration had we done it by hand, so we are VERY grateful for  that assistance.  This trench became the housing for the electrical PVC conduit wherein we will eventually run wire to the shop.

Trench, ready for the PVC pipe to be kicked in it.
Ben also cleared the sod away from the area where the workshop would go.  This gave us a place to start really laying out the dimensions of the shop.  This is also the point wherein we started to spend some real money for building materials.  First came the 6x6 uprights and cement. 

Trailer laden with initial workshop materials.  Aaron with a beer. 
 The first upright was easy to install as Ben had left the last 12 feet of the trench open for us to install it.  The most difficult part of this step was that the trench kept filling with about 18-24 inches of water.  That continued to be a theme while digging holes for all the uprights.

The electrical conduit sitting in seeping water, even after we've bailed it out. 

Aaron sets the first upright next to the electrical pipe.  This is one hole we did not have to dig by hand.
After that first upright and some mighty measuring for the footprint on Aaron's part, we started what I still firmly believe was the hardest work in this endeavor to date, which was preparing for and setting each of the uprights/supports for the shop.  This involved hand digging each hole in rock and clay with post hole diggers and a rockbar until they were 3 foot deep and 18 inches in diameter.   What followed for setting the posts was only slightly less grueling.  Here's the pictorial view of our process:

1) Prepare to become intimate with these implements.

2) Using implements, dig a hole through rock and clay that is roughly half the size of your body

3) Drill holes in a 6x6x12 post and pound some rebar in there. 
4) Pull a helluva lot of gravel from the hoop house and put some in the hole.  Tamp. 
5) Place 6x6 in the hole and add more gravel until it's a couple of inches below the rebar. Tamp some more.

6) Mix some cement in your wheel barrow. 

7) Shovel cement into the hole until it covers the rebar by an inch or so.

8) Dig another hole or harvest more gravel while cement is drying.
9)  Shovel gravel over cured cement.
10)  Repeat until you want to die and then repeat some more until you have 8 sturdy uprights.

I won't lie.  We got the west uprights completed by hand in a day.  It sucked. When we came out to do the east uprights on another weekend, we rented an augur. Even then, there was a LOT of stopping to dig and clear rocks by hand, but the wear and tear on our bodies was significantly less on the second weekend.  

We were so exhausted by the time the uprights were done that I, at least, could barely function. But even through the fatigue, seeing the footprint of the shop made me extremely giddy.  This space, this single area that we were carving out for ourselves, would be our next dwelling, and it would be our own doing. I wish I could properly express what that feels like. It is a feeling that I'm sure many of our ancestors understood all too well, but it is one that our modern, convenience-centered lifestyle has robbed us of.  It is a feeling of great accomplishment in even the smallest of tasks.  It is the knowledge that every grueling step of the journey is a step toward something wholly of your creation, something that brings you closer to security, accomplishment and home. 

Home. . . . .that one, for me, is a huge thing. I'm going to digress and wax sentimental, for a moment so that you might understand the significance. 

"Home" to me is a symbol of something that, in my 40 years on this planet, I've never really felt I had. My childhood was nomadic, which instilled within me a very dominant sense that there is no such thing as permanence.  I've never lived in a place that I felt was mine or that I felt I could go back to after I had left it.  I have no childhood home. I'm not really FROM anywhere. Houses are places to park yourself for a while. Even when I bought a house in Des Moines, I never had a sense that it would last or that it was fully mine.  It was a transition to something else, and I've never been extremely sad to leave a place behind.  People, maybe, but not places. I've even often found myself making up songs about coming home, all the while knowing that I have no place that aptly fits that sentiment. 

But here, on this 12 acres, standing amidst 8 pillars erected by the grace of our own sweat, blood and many flung profanities, I feel a stirring of something the likes of which I've never known before.  There is a profound love and pride eked into everything we do here.  Combine that with a deep seated feeling of cooperation and love for each other, and I know that what we are creating, here, is the place we will go back to again and again. It is the place we will call our haven and our refuge. And even without a permanent dwelling as yet, it is, in fact, my first true home. 

March 30, 2013

The USS Nemesis will not defeat us!

As we predicted, winter hit and most of our productivity slowed significantly.  We reveled quite a bit in our shed.  It's basically done, except for a few more pieces of plywood we need to put on some of the inside walls.  Throughout the winter, it's proved to shed snow and ice and keep the water out.  In other words, it's doing its job nicely, so far!

The shed is all but done!!!
The completion of the shed in January inspired us all the more to build, but alas, we knew we had a daunting task ahead of us before we could do that.  Enter THE CAMPER (aka Our Nemesis).  

The USS Nemesis!
Now here's the thing:  when you're really excited about moving forward, knowing that you have this monstrosity of a cleanup nightmare in your path is a real motivation killer.   The problem with the camper is that it sits in the EXACT location where we wanted to build our new building; the same building that we will move into as our transitional home. Basically, this thing sits in the path of us getting the hell out of the city.

As you can see from the pic above and pics I've posted previously, this thing is so dilapidated as to be unmovable in its current condition. It has only 1 out of 4 tires on it and there's no telling if the axles even COULD turn if it did have tires.   The only option we really have with it is to dismantle it and haul it away piece by piece.  Not only is this an arduous task, but it is a nasty one as well.   The camper has been exposed to the elements for many years, gathering mold, mice, wasps and any other randomness that cared to take up residence.   In short, dealing with it in any way is unpleasant at best.

We sat and pondered on the camper and how to go about this clean up for quite a few very cold weekends. Aaron finally just said "Screw it" and picked up a sawzall.

That was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last too long.  So we pondered some more. And then we hit upon a plan.

What do rednecks generally do when they 1) can't use explosives and 2) must destroy something?  They ply a bunch of friends and family to come over with the promise of beer, food and chaos.   So, that's just what we did.  We picked a weekend that didn't promise to be too heinous, weather-wise, and got a crew of willing, generous and somewhat crazy folks who agreed to help us with our problem.  Truly, all kidding aside, these guys became our heroes.  They got more done in a few hours than Aaron and I could have done in weeks, and we are so grateful!!!  Here are a bunch of pics of the beast going DOWN!

Half the camper is disassmbled.  Appliances are out. 

The front of the camper, looking much smaller. 

Piles of camper refuse, sorted.  Some we might be able to use.  The rest goes to the dump. 
Oh the power of multiple sawzalls, mauls, and cases of beer!

Our awesome crew of friends and family take the beast down to its base!

Some mighty conquerors. 
So we ended a very productive day with the camper being taken all the way down to its base and all the trash being piled into different piles for different disposals.   This is what it finally looked like:

Aaron contemplating the end result. 
This was a very exciting result!  That being said, we also knew that we had a bit to go before we could start building and spring was coming up on us rather quickly.  We still needed to move this very heavy base.   We contemplated using cutting torches, getting rolloff dumpster, hauling it away weekend by weekend, but it all came to the same predicted result:  a LOT of precious time would be taken up by getting this thing out of here.  Aaron landed upon the idea of just moving it out of the way, finally, but that proved fruitess with the equipment (the truck) we had on hand.  I even joked about just digging a big hole and burying the thing in it, but again, that would take precious time and keep us in the city much longer.   As we were in the midst of attempting one last move using primitive (probably Egyptian stone moving) techniques, Aaron and I got frustrated and somewhat punchy and had the following exchange. 

"Damn this thing!!! It's fruitless!" I said.  I was to the point of giving up. 

"Well we have to move it!  What choice do we have?"  Says Aaron.  

"We say, fuck it! Leave it for later and move the shop up higher in the field!"

"Really?" Aaron looks at me in all seriousness. 

"Hell yeah. . . we adapt.  That's what this is all about, right?" I said.

Aaron wastes no time in quipping, "Well that's where I wanted it in the first place!"  

We both giggle in the way that we do and I say, "Well lets do it then." 

And that was that.  Both of us, I think, felt instantly lighter knowing that we could set this task aside and start on something that actually gets us closer to being on the land full time.  The idea now is that if we can actually get ourselves out there, we'll be able to work on this type of clean up every day if we choose.  What is killing us this winter is that we have to drive back and forth from the Springfield house, nearly an hour each way, to get stuff done.  As a result of the drive and the lack of winter daylight hours, most of our work is done only on the weekends.   Once we're out here, we'll have much more time to actually get clean up work done. For now, we have to learn to live with the chaos.  

So once again, we adapt to our circumstances, and because we are both so open to such changes, it does all seem to work out.

January 19, 2013

I.O.U. One blog post about lessons learned

But for now, I'll give you the pictorial version of our lessons learned about overhangs.

It looks so NAKED!
Fixing it after the fact is not quite as easy, but it's doable. 

Ah. . . . All better. 

January 2, 2013

Forest Gardening. . . A natural journey

If you're into farming or gardening at all, I cannot recommend enough a little 48 minute documentary by a wildlife photographer and farmer entitled "A Farm for the Future"

This little documentary has really enhanced my thinking regarding the way we plan on growing food at the homestead. I say "enhanced," because this was pretty much my introduction to forest gardens and permaculture and I have a lot of learning to do on this subject.  But I do know this:  we have approximately 2-3 acres of grassy pasture land and 9-10 acres of newly thinned Missouri forest at our disposal.  In the forest, alone, are a variety of land features including: 
  • hills facings in all directions. 
  • A rich wet weather waterway.
  • A partially bermed wet weather spring. 
  • A low, flat area between hills, mostly clear with partial sunlight.

One of the flat low lands

The wet weather bottom and south facing hill

"Our hilltop"

The density of our Oak and Hickory trees

So much potential
With all of this in mind, I truly believe we have the foundation for something great and natural to occur here.  I'm admittedly ignorant, but I'm also excited. It is my hope that this excitement will spur me into education through practice, reading and training, and that that education will lead to something that garners excitement year after year, through natural development, food yield and a harmony with our surroundings. 

I inadvertently started the process by beginning to educate myself about the native plant life. I've always been a fauna person and not so much a flora person until relatively recently.  But in the last few years, I've had a growing interest in wildcrafting and survival practices, namely what we can and can't eat in the nature around us. This start, along with observations about the unique qualities of our own land, are the factors that will springboard the beginnings of our forest garden.   

Now don't get me wrong here.  I don't plan on pursuing this to the exclusion of all other cultivation methods right out of the gate.  Quite simply, I can't if I expect us to eat from our land in the next couple of years.  I have a lot to learn, in general, about plant growth and native plants and these types of forest gardens do not develop over the course of a single year. Having a conventional garden will, in a way, help me supplement my learning, and serve to feed us as we get a start. 

Buddhists say that the journey is all.  I really feel that the forest garden is to be a journey.  It's not something that will ever be complete or perfect.  It is something that, if done right, starts as it needs to and evolves as it goes.  It is much like life itself and thus is to be treated with as much compassion as anything else. It will not be hurried or forced, like a conventional garden, but it will be coaxed, convinced and led, and it will give back according to its pleasure.  In that way, there are no fast tracks and no guarantees . . . . . but won't it be fun to experience along the way!

December 31, 2012

Investing, homestead style

Packet after packet turned over in the cashier's hands as she typed in the amounts.  $2, $3, $2.50. . . .

It went on for a few minutes and then she hit the subtotal button:  $83.97.

"Whoa!" my brain silently exclaimed as my eyes got big.  I just spent $84 for, of all things, SEEDS!

I mulled this thought over as I handed the cashier at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds my card. Seeds.  Lots of Seeds. Lots of seeds equal, if all goes well, lots of food.

I turned to our friend, Amy, who was with us and who spent much of last year gardening many of  these same seeds with what, to me, seemed like great success.   I asked her, "Amy, how many times did you buy vegetables last year?"  She looked at me and smiled and held up her hand, fingers curled around to touch her thumb.  Zero.  I chuckled, feeling comforted by that.

If I think about our consumption habits and how much we've spent in grocery bills for, not only vegetables, but for other foods that were "convenient,"  I can honestly see how a bank of seeds costing $84 could pretty drastically change our lives.  This is especially true when coupled with some succinct knowledge about food preservation, such as canning.  When a garden is at hand, healthy foods become your convenient foods and eating habits change.  These are not merely seeds.  These are an investment, of sorts; an investment in our future, our independence and, ultimately, our health.  The onus now lies on me to make these seeds into something we can use, so I've got to get cracking on some hardcore learning.

On a side note, I highly encourage anyone that gardens or wants to garden to check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  They have thousands of seed varieties for vegetable, herb and flower gardens, and all of their seeds are "non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non patented."  They offer free catalogs and are equipped for online orders!

December 28, 2012

All I want for Christmas is a new mindset.

Sorry, in advance, for the long post, but there’s some ground to cover in this one.  I’ll get to the updates on progress, but first, I want to talk a bit about how this whole venture is changing Aaron and I and our mindsets.

We’ve had an unusually splendid fall season.  Most days we’ve had full sun and have been able to work in short sleeves.  We’ve made some progress that was unexpected this winter, so I guess I can’t complain about the weather turning blustery all of a sudden.   On Christmas, the weather started to turn pretty cold.  We thought we might spend Christmas day working on the place, but when we realized that temps weren’t going to get above freezing, we declared Christmas to be a kitchen cleaning day in town.  To say that this was a necessary action is the understatement of the season.  We’ve been neglecting the house severely due to a general apathy for it and a drive to work on the land. That general apathy for the Springfield house requires us to rev up to a good cleaning spree, so on Christmas eve, the plan, in total, was hatched for Christmas day: 1) Get up, 2) get “Merry Christmas” soused and 3) clean the damn kitchen.   

I guess I should add this, for those who don’t know us too well.  Neither Aaron nor I subscribe to Christmas.  We don’t cotton to it in the least, subscribing more to a spirit of giving throughout the year, which really makes giving all the more special anyway.  And, well, to put it mildly, we aren’t religious, so “the reason for the season” is completely lost on us.  We don’t say bah humbug or anything, but we do want to punch inflatable snowmen in the face and smash Christmas CDs.  In fact, I took it as a sign of how much Aaron loved and understood me when one day at the estate he ran the generator a little long, even when we weren’t using it, just to drown out the Christmas song that was playing on the radio.  I was oblivious to it until he told me why he kept the generator on.  I love that man!

So yeah. . . we cleaned, happily, while pointedly NOT celebrating Christmas.  We started with the liquor cabinet, and the kitchen angels sang from on high until we 1) were soused and 2) had a damned clean kitchen.  

All this cleaning got us to thinking about all the dishes and utensils and crap that we have in the kitchen, about how they pile up, and about how much we really NEED.   In all aspects of our lives we are coming to realize that the capitalist mindset of MORE MORE MORE and having one specialty tool for every darned thing you might want to do creates one succinct result:  A LOT OF FREAKIN’ CLUTTER.   Because we are very aware that our space is soon to turn into what most would consider to be insanely constricted, we realize that need to begin thinking and acting in a very minimalist way.  We don’t NEED a special tool for every little thing we do. We don’t NEED a set of dishes for 8 people.  We NEED to figure out how to keep our lives clutter free, which is no small feat considering that neither Aaron nor I are what you would call “neat freaks.”  However, our space limitations will quickly require us to find ways to force ourselves into being neat freaks.

So we’re coming up with a plan and are starting to really think about things differently, especially with an eye towards need versus convenience and what minimizing will do for our cleaning habits.  

It started with clothes, for me, when I moved from Iowa to Missouri.  I have a tendency to be a total pack rat with clothes. (Mom, if you’re reading this, what follows IS NOT CRITICISM. I love how much you have done for me and the character it created in me! Ok, that being said. . . ) Part of that clothes hoarding tendency comes from my childhood, which was not wanting, per se, but things didn’t come easy in a low-middle income, single parent home.  As such, I wore clothes until they were dead.  Not just dead, but DEAD DEAD.  And I never got rid of them if they had any potential use in them. That habit never died, even when I had more money in my life.  Couple that with an insane loathing for doing laundry that caused me to often do things like buy new socks instead of hunting down dirty ones to wash, and I had a genuine hairy, scary clothes monster on my hands.When I moved, hoping we’d be able to eventually move into our 14x20 cabin, I recognized the need to purge.  I gave something like a dozen bags of clothes alone to Good Will.  It definitely helped my clutter situation, but it still isn’t enough.  Now, as a potential move into that tiny cabin gets closer, I’m beginning to think in terms of how many shirts do I NEED?   How many pairs of jeans?  Can I wear the same grunt work jeans more than twice?  Can I get my grunt work clothes all down to an amount so that they are covered in one load of laundry? Hmmmm. . .  And that’s where my thinking is going these days.  If I have a very minimal amount of clothes, I’m FORCED to wash them as they are dirty.  Consequently, I won’t have a ton of dirty clothes laying around waiting to be washed creating the dirty, hairy, scary clothes monster.  . . . . . . Less is more!!!! It’s true! Now to put it into practice. . . .

I empathize with Edwin Rhemrev on this.
The only real trouble that I have found, so far, with Aaron and I being a couple is that we are too similar in this aspect:  the banes of my cleaning existence are also his banes, and those two banes are laundry and dishes.  So what was true of my clothes situation, is also true of our kitchen situation.    We are coming to realize that we have far too many dishes and pans and pots, and eventually all that kitchen clutter ends up dirty and on the counter for an extended period of time.  Honestly, left to our own devices, it’s been proven that Aaron and I are completely useless in the areas of dishes and laundry.  We’ll obliviously walk by a stack of filth for quite a while before the words “clean this” pop into our consciousness.  I’d be embarrassed about it, but I’ve come to own it honestly as a part of my person.  I’ve never been able to change it and probably never will. . . . if I continue in the same way as I have, that is.  For that reason, we’re going to try the FORCED route.  Much like the clothes, if we are FORCED to wash dishes, then they don’t accumulate.  See the key word here:  “FORCED?”    If we minimalize to the point where we only have a few key items that can be used for multiple purposes, then, not only do we save precious storage space, but we are FORCED to clean those items in order to use them.  We’re both pretty gung-ho about this new approach, hoping that it’s far too brilliant to fail.   Now Aaron and I are very honest about our downfalls, so we know if there’s a way for this plan to fail, we’ll find it unintentionally, but we’re going to give it a go.  The plan is to immediately begin trying it in the current house.  Prior to moving, we will commence with an event I have named “THE GREAT PURGE,”  but for now I’ve devised a list of the things we’re planning for.  We’ll try as many of these in the current house that we can, while simultaneously trying to preserve the sanity of our roommate, Kenneth.  Here’s the list, so far:

  • Have 1 place setting and utensil set readily accessible for each person living in the house.  Store the rest far from the kitchen for replacements as needed or for guest use.
  • Get rid of Teflon pots and pans (with exception of 1 pot for boiling water for pasta and rice) and begin using Cast Iron more. We have no less than 6 different Teflon pots and pans in the house.  In addition we have several Cast Iron pieces:  a couple of skillets, a griddle, a pot and a dutch oven.  We’re learning more and more how to properly use our cast iron such that our reliance on Teflon is waning.  
  •  Get away from using “semi-disposable” or plastic storage items as much as possible. The convenience of semi-disposable such as Tupperware, gladware, etc., creates a mass of clutter.  A couple of glass/ceramic alternatives and jars  should be used in place of these things.  
  • Become very conscious of how much food is made at a time.  Try to minimize leftovers, unless planning for freezing or a bulk storage.
  • Replace plastic kitchen tools with wood or steel and minimize the number of tools used. Needed items include: Spoon, Whisk, Ladle, Spatula, Potato Masher, Tongs
  • Minimize the number of cups.  Aaron and I are thinking of going to ceramic, almost exclusively, since we’re already used to this for our camping events.  We’ll keep a couple of plastic cups for outside use (equal to the number of people in the house) and a glass (because I like some liqueurs best in a glass).
We’ll keep you updated as to how it goes, and we’re always up for some suggestion if anyone has any other ideas.  All in all, it’s an adventure every step of the way, that we hope will lead to genuine self-improvement as well as improvement in our living and awareness.


The week before Christmas, we got a bit more done on the shed. Aaron was able to procure about 50 more sheets of plywood, so it now has windows fully installed plywood on most of the internal walls.  The windows are all in, as well.  We sealed most of the roof and faced the front in cedar.  There’s still a lot of finish work to do, but at least we now have a pretty dry, internal space that is big enough to work in.  Once we get a door on it, it’ll be pretty easy to warm up, as well.   Here’s what it looks like, now.
Inside the shed looking at the back wall.  Window is installed and internal plywood is going up.

Love how the cedar is dark red when it's put on and then turns orange after a while.

The shed, just prior to christmas 2012.  Still a lot of finishing work to do.

We’ve also had a couple of visits from our friends Nate, Amy and their kiddos.  We love it when friends and family come out, because it inspires motivation in different areas.  By way of example, Nate and Aaron got to looking at the old camper on its side last weekend.  After a few moments, Aaron came back down to the shed, saying “Put up the dogs, baby.”   Now I’ve come to recognize that this patent phrase coming from Aaron is akin to a redneck saying, “Here, hold my beer and watch this.”    Last time he said this phrase to me, he may or may not have turned the inside house hallway into an archery range.  Regardless, I always know that this phrase indicates that something sort of less than safe may be going down.  When he came back from his truck with a come-along and a wad of tow straps slung over his shoulder, I had my confirmation. 

Now I will say this:  We’ve been mulling over how the hell to turn this camper right side up for quite a while.  We knew we’d need to get it righted in order to get it off the property, but the difficulty is that it sits so close to the fence line.  Its proximity prevents getting a normal truck to just pull it over.   In addition, there are no live trees anywhere near the thing.

So Aaron  and Nate got to brainstorming on this for a few moments and they discovered that the nearby fence is partially embedded into a 3 foot high tree stump.  They’re both pretty smart cats, so together, they’re somewhat dangerous – in a good sense, I suppose.   They decided the tree stump was stout enough and close enough to attach a come-along to.   With a minimal amount of planning, action was taken.  The rest of us gathered around for the show which was. . . . well, see for yourself:

Rednecks ARE entertaining!

December 19, 2012

Town gossip - a little history

I forgot to mention this in my last post.  We finally met our neighbors with the 345 acres that surrounds us on 2 sides.  They are this nice older couple that have owned their property for 50 years and lived there for 30.   I have to admit I felt like I'd just moved into Walnut Grove and was getting the town gossip while talking to them. It was a hoot.

We learned all about our neighbor to the south, his one acre cemetary plot on his land and his family history. We learned how things have developed on the little gravel road and beyond for the last 50 years.  We also learned that the woman who owned our place a while back used to keep 16 horses in the field.  SIXTEEN!!!  I was floored, to say the least.  Turns out there was never a fire on the place.  The trees in the field are dead because of the horses chewing on them.  And having stepped on a 2 foot thick layer of petrified horse manue in the barn, I now understand why it got so bad.

We found out why the fence lines are a bit wonky. They even offered to show us exactly where our back fence line SHOULD be (the way it's laid out now the fence is about 15 feet into our property).  We learned that the camper was, most likely, overturned by hooligans in between ownerships and that the well pump was most likely absconded with by those same hooligans.  We also learned that the hoop house was never in use, as it was never fully finished.

Also, much to my delight, it seems, our neighbors have much experience with horses and goats.  They raised Halflingers and a herd of 70 goats for a time out on their land.  

I'm so glad they dropped by and introduced themselves.  We have been meaning to go over but were worried about intruding.  It turns out they are pretty down to earth people and should be great neighbors to have!