The Auction

“You’re riiiggggght” shouts the auctioneer, at just past eleven o’clock on an overcast, but dry, Saturday August 31 2013. “We’ll start with this wagon load and at noon we’ll sell the farm”. After explaining to the crowd who my parents are and, surprisingly, his own history with the farm they have owned for the past fifty years, the auction begins. The auctioneer knows my dad quite well as a cattle dealer and a regular auction attendee.  A number of the articles he will sell today dad bought under his hammer at other farm auctions over the years. He reminisces about watching hockey games in this house over fifty years ago when his uncle owned the farm and the only television in the neighbourhood.

And the auction begins!!!

And the auction begins!!!

For the next three hours, the rapid fire chant of the auctioneer will barely stop between articles held up from wagons. When the wagons are empty the crowd will follow him around the yard, from item to item like a swarm of bees or a flock of blackbirds, straining to see, not wanting to miss the final price or the opportunity for a deal.

The highlight of this sale, for some, will be the sale of the farm. There are a number of folks in the crowd interested in buying the real estate. Most have visited at least once, toured the buildings, walked the land. But, when the bidding starts, only two bidders emerge to compete for the right to the deed. The rest are out of their price range in the first moments of bidding.


These Mennonite men seem overly interested in something on the household wagon

These two bidders represent something of a conflict playing out in rural Ontario. One of them is the neighbour down the road whose family traces its history in the area back to the first settlers. He has been renting the land here for the past five years, or so, and operates what many might see as a large, industrial style, beef farm. He already owns well over 500 acres, feeds hundreds of cattle, but feels he needs to continue to expand to stay ahead of rising costs. This property would fit well with the rest of his operation, but he will have little use for the house and other outbuildings. He is very active in the community, his church, service clubs, well known and well liked.

The other bidder is a Mennonite who would like this property for his son who is soon to be married. In many ways, Old Order Mennonites are resettling many parts of Ontario. They are building farmsteads where the original ones had been bulldozed to make room for cash crops. They are bringing livestock and large gardens; building new churches and schools; looking for opportunities for their large families. Whole concession roads have been transformed, one farm at a time, and they would really like to add this farm to their holdings. The bidder is a leader in his community, a deacon in the church and one of the first to settle in the area.

As the bidding accelerates upward there is a feeling of tension in the crowd, Could this farm really be worth so much money? The final bid sits with the Mennonite family and the auctioneer, as he had promised, stops the bidding to consult with my parents. They return and declare that the farm is now selling without a reserve and bidding is opened again. Tension increases as the battle between stability and change goes on for another $65,000. In the end, the neighbour is outdone by the seemingly endless resources of his Mennonite competitor.  With the declaration of “SOLD” and the bang of the gavel, the crowd’s tension is broken and there is a round of applause for both bidders. The neighbours go home, defeated, and the Mennonite women crowd in to inspect the house, to claim their prize. Change continued its relentless movement.

The rest of the auction was uneventful, almost an anticlimax, the main event was over. The farm would continue on as a single family unit, the buildings would be maintained and improved, livestock again would be pastured in the fields and a large garden would again be planted near the house. For all of the “return to the way it was”, however, there is also a fear for the community as we know it; the Mennonites bring their own community with them and interact only as they need to with the local village and its institutions. I wonder now, if the auctioneer and his relatives, didn’t have many of the same feelings of something slipping between their fingers, as they watched the hockey game fifty years ago in what became my parents house, part of the Dutch migration of the 1960’s.

In the next few weeks, my parents will move to their new home. Much of their stuff is gone, carried, and driven, down the driveway last Saturday. I overheard a neighbour ask my father if this was going to be a sad day. He responded very quickly with “Why should it be sad? We’ve had a good life. We’ve been blessed here.”

And so, surrounded by family and friends, an era ended, change came, and something new is begun.


Home from LBL Cottage

We are home again from a wonderful week of doing almost nothing. Nothing is not really true. Those of you who know us, know that doing absolutely nothing is just not part of the program. We did do things. We canoed, we hiked, we read (a lot) things that were not necessary to read, we ate (a lot and well), we drank (most of us in moderation), we played games together, some of us knitted, cross stitching and chip carving happened. We went to bed early and slept late. We were together as a family for the first time in over a year and we are still a family at the end.

LBL Cottage was both an inspiration and a disappointment. Inspiring in that  living in a log house has always been a sort of dream for J and I.  This log house (called a cottage) was something over 3000 square feet and gave that feel of solidness that comes with a big log building. A huge fireplace dominates the great room and was used on a couple of cool nights. The place maintains its cottage feel throughout with painted plywood on the floors and a very simple kitchen. The cottage was built over 20 years ago and the trees have filled in all around it.  It sits alone on the private lake making it a very quiet place.

Our lake for the week

Unless the generator is running! The cottage is off the grid.  A generator provides electricity to run the water pump and really nothing else.  We continually watched the water pressure gauge which was mounted in the kitchen.  The mathematicians of the family started to calculate the  pressure costs of each household function. A flush of the toilet was eight pounds, filling the kitchen sink was 10. Each running of the pump would yield four flushes or three fills. When we took showers the generator ran constantly. We got used to pumping water, not a big disappointment.

The view from the bathroom window

The disappointment came with the propane side of the equation. All of the other things in the cottage that we normally run with electricity, were propane. Propane lights were fitted throughout the house, a total of nine fixture for the entire 3000+ square feet. These fixtures produced about as much light as a 40 watt light bulb.  With all the lights on, we still needed flashlights to read at night. The propane fridge was actually more disappointing. Quite a lot of food which we bought in a volume big enough to last a week since the stores were far away, spoiled before we could use it because the fridge was just not big enough or powerful enough to keep up.

The disappointments, while adding a bit of a damper, were not big enough to spoil our week.  Maybe they made it. If the place had been perfect, it would either have been booked or far too expensive for us to afford. It sure beat living in a tent!!!

Next week, back to school.

We’ve got a Building Project Going On

We’re building!!!

For a number of years we have felt that our hot tub is just in the wrong place.  It’s on our deck right outside the master bedroom door.  Now this is ideal, since lots of folks say that if the tub is more than three steps away from the door, you won’t use it in the winter time. That may be true, but  this deck gets three to four feet of snow on it and if those three steps are steps up to your thighs in snow, you don’t use the tub either. Especially if you need to spend twenty minutes shoveling the thing off before you can even open it.

The other disadvantage of having it just outside the bedroom door is that when it does its cycling (pumping water etc.) during the night, it wakes me up.

Its been in its current location for five winters now, and that’s enough. Its moving.

We are going to add a piece to the west side of the house.  Really just a roof in a corner. Two sides will be open. The tub will be three steps from the garage door.  Maybe not quite as handy for that early morning, straight out of bed sitting in the tub time, but likely a bit more convenient in terms of snow, rain and noise in the night.

We have a young contractor who is going to build the roof. We decided to take on the floor ourselves.  Initially we looked at having a contractor do coloured stamped concrete, but that was way expensive.  We’ve decided to do almost twice as much, with patio both under the roof and outside, using patterned patio stones and we will spend less than half the money.

J and I started Monday, clearing out the sod and by this evening, between working on Hebrew and all the other things that go on in life, we have the base finished for our new 16X30 foot patio. It’s all level and compacted.  Now we are waiting for the patio stones which had to be special ordered at the lumber yard.  It’s been really hot this week so we have been working in the morning and evening and tackling other things (read Hebrew) in the heat of the day.  We still come in soaked.

Running the compactor making a hard base for the patio stones. Doesn't it look nice and level.

Our contractor will pour the concrete for the posts which will hold up the roof on Monday.

After a summer that seems to have been spent in my office, writing papers, studying Hebrew, and  running rations, its nice to do something with my hands and back.


Today, half of our group traveled directly from Triacastilla while the rest took a route that is supposed to be less onerous, but longer, through the town of Somas and past an old monastery there. It is now almost 5:00 pm and the second half has not yet arrived at the alberge.  We, those on the shorter route, have been here since 2:00. The other group will have likely had the bigger adventures.

Our trip was onerous, but no more so than yesterday.  We went up 250 meters and then came down 600.  We did have some of the loose washed out steep pieces, but not as many as yesterday.  The views again were spectacular.

We watched the landscape change again.  In the hills, the farms are very small, steep, and appear to be struggling.  As we came into the valley that we are in now, there seems to be some more prosperity, fields are bigger, and there is more diversity.

One neat feature is the churches.  A village often appears to be little more than a couple of farms and maybe the extended family of those people, but each one has a church. One we passed by today was right behind a dairy barn.  It had two benches, and all the other bits that your would expect to find in any full-sized church, right down to a confessional that was a four-foot long bench with a two foot high screen in the center. Spain continues to be the most Catholic country in Europe.  Today is Sunday, and all the stores in downtown Sarria are closed.

The church just down the street from our alberge

Tomorrow we will rest here.  This city is the one where many pilgrims begin their journey, so we have been warned that it will be a busy place.  We are 111 km from our destination. To earn the Compestella certificate at Santiago de Compestella you must walk a minimum of 100km making this city a starting point for many.

We are moving slowly. J’s feet are still an issue and the steep rough surfaces seem to be hard on one of her hips. We continue to move though and are determined to finish as planned.

As we walk we find metaphors for life in the landscape around us, the people we meet and the situations in which we find ourselves. More on these in a future post.

2010 Almost Gone…Fondly Remembered

Tonight we will say farewell to 2010.

Some years couldn’t leave fast enough.  2010 will not be one of those.  We have been blessed in many ways  this past year and as it comes to a close, we pray that those blessings will extend to 2011.

2010 was also a year of great change for us.  Those of you who follow this blog regularly are aware of the good changes that happened in our lives. Leaving a job that was taking its toll both emotionally and physically was a highlight.  The consulting business which replaced that job has been very successful and has allowed us to enjoy a very flexible lifestyle.  The transition to being a full-time MDiv student has gone well with excellent marks in the first full-time semester.

J and I have been able to enjoy a lot more time together.  We have cycled over 3000km together, spent a week canoeing, time camping together and have been able to spend lots of time together doing things at home.  Now when the Blackberry rings there is not the same feeling of intrusion because the company no longer owns my life.

We were concerned that leaving full-time employment and going to school full-time would severely hamper our income.  Since the area in which I consult is so specialized, this has not become an issue.  The phone keeps ringing, and sheep and goat farmers continue to seek my nutritional expertise, again, on my terms.

This year, our youngest daughter was married.  While our son is still single (there is a pretty serious relationship ongoing now) this wedding felt like  the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.  Our kids are really and truly out on their own.  The wedding itself was memorable for its own reasons, what it symbolizes is even more significant.

My struggle with calling continues.  The change in my educational path and my acceptance into Calvin Seminary’s EPMC program is opening future doors. I am excited about the journey ahead, as I work my way toward those doors.  If and how I walk through those doors is still a mystery to me.

We have much to be thankful for.

We wish all of you a happy and blessed New Year

Down to the Last Week

The semester is coming to a close.  The last week has been sort of frantic with paper writing.  There were five papers due on either the 30th or the 1st.  Two of them were major assignments, the other three were pieces that need to be done for courses that carry on into next semester. Still, a big pile at the end.

Since nothing was due this week, I moved the due dates for two of the assignments, for myself, to this week.  I handed them in so that I would not be tempted to go back to them to make them better.  They are gone.  So I am left with three.  One of those, a history paper on Pelagius (try to stay awake, it really is exciting stuff) is about half done.  A theology paper on Jesus and his stumbling blockedness is also due Tuesday and is causing me some trepidation because the last paper for this class earned me a lower mark than the previous three and I’m not exactly sure why.  The prof for the contextual ministry class gave us all a reprieve last week and moved her due date to the seventh of December so once the other two are done, I will start on hers.

It’s a lot of stuff.  Along with that Threefold Consulting was getting a bit behind, so I needed to spend today working at things there to catch up.

Pelagius….here I come!!!!

A Summer of Holidays

We probably have too many ways to go on holiday. Way too many.  We have invested in the proper gear for enough different ways to get away that we don’t actually have enough time to use all them to their fullest.

We just returned from a short (one night) outing with our travel trailer.  We bought the trailer in the fall of 2008.  It is a small unit with just the right amenities for the two of us and the dog.  This was the first outing for this year.  the next one will be the Labour Day weekend when we camp as a church at a local provincial park.  We may get out later in the fall, but, it looks like we will spend about four nights in the trailer this year.  It’s convenient, quick, and conventional.  It can also be surprisingly  costly.  Camping fees at provincial parks are over $40/night with electricity.

In 2007 we bought the canoe and outfitted ourselves for interior canoe trips.  These are trips of four to seven days (for us anyway) where everything that you bring along fits in a canoe and will need to be carried across portages from time to time.  The equipment needs to be light, so we have special stoves, cookware, even chairs for this type of holiday. This year we will be spending a week in the interior of Algonquin Park with two other couples.  These are unconventional holidays with lots of exercise and solitude.  Interior trips are inexpensive because there is very little service provided ($11/person/night)

This year we dove into the most unconventional type of holiday yet (for us anyway), unsupported bicycle touring.  We had tried this in a small way last summer using our road bikes and staying in B&B’s.  Recently, we bought the bikes, more panniers, a smaller tent (different from the canoeing one, that one needs to fit the dog) and various other bits that are only really good for this job.  We have our first tour of the year in and have another two weeks coming up at the beginning of August.  In terms of cost, this type of holiday is not that much cheaper than the trailer.  We use non electric sites in provincial parks (about an$8 saving), but we tend to hole up in hotels when no campgrounds are available or to get away from bad weather, adding to the overall cost.

Oh, did I mention that we also enjoy visiting our kids in Edmonton and San Fransisco?  None of the aforementioned stuff is any good for those trips.

We are blessed to be in a place in our lives where our schedules are flexible enough and our health is good enough to be able to enjoy all of these holidays in a single summer.  Hopefully we can continue to enjoy life, people and God’s creation for many more years with as many choices.