Hello Barefoot with Kids followers and friends,
I’m not usually the one to post on this blog and I apologize ahead of time – Rose is a lot better with words than I am.
A lot has been going on in the Barley household lately. As some of you know, and some of you don’t, we decided last summer, as a family, to move out of the city and onto a farm. For those of you back east, and even those here in Fort McMurray, please don’t think this is an indictment against Fort McMurray. This city has been great to our family and we don’t regret moving here for a second. The last six years has had it’s ups and downs but Fort McMurray has been home for us, and it’s the only home Elijah and Lucinda have known. We tried very hard last year to explore options for bigger properties within the Municipality of Wood Buffalo so that we could stay here, but it was to no avail. It was then we decided that the spring of 2017 was our target time to move.
Since then, Rose and I have been watching real estate listings and kijiji ads to keep an eye on trends in the market and to try to pinpoint where we could buy a farm that would allow us the freedom to live the lifestyle we’re looking for, as well as a price point that we could comfortably afford. (We originally wanted to be closer to Calgary…but $1M+ for the land size we wanted was a little out of our range!) Because I will be keeping my job and switching to Fly-In/Fly-Out, it was important for us to be within an hour of either the Calgary or Edmonton airports.
Enter Winfield, Alberta. Don’t worry, I had never heard of it before, either. Population: 224 (according to the 2011 census). Back in September, Rose had sent an email to a couple that were selling their property near Winfield. With no response within a couple of days we figured they had sold their property, which was fine, since we weren’t planning to move for at least another year. About a month later, near the end of October, Rose received a response that the property was still for sale with a suggestion that we should go for a visit and tour the property. We discussed if there was any point to go look if we weren’t able to get a mortgage with the amount down we had, discussed with Nathaniel if he could afford to buy us out if things worked out and decided to get in touch with a mortgage broker to talk financing. On the Monday morning I spoke with a mortgage broker who figured we could get financing with 5-10% down and that afternoon we packed up the kids with no plan aside from going to the property the next morning. Anyone that knows Rose very well probably won’t believe me, but it was her idea.
Though I love the idea of spontaneity, I also love control and careful planning. Heading off on a 6 hour trip with three little kids is, by all accounts, madness. But, that’s what we did! We had a commitment to sing and play guitar with a friend in the early afternoon, so after we said goodbye, we packed the kids into the van and trucked off towards Edmonton. I will admit to a slight amount of giggling on both our parts – it’s not very often that we do something so very out of character!
As we neared Edmonton, we began discussing where we’d spend the night. It Andrew’s tendency to go to recognizable chains – it’s fast, easy, and you know what to expect. However, in recent years we’ve become more and more committed to supporting local businesses… the exact opposite of your standard Super8. So, on a whim, Andrew suggested I google hotels in the Winfield area.
I believe I laughed and said something like, “Really, Andrew? It’s a hamlet. There won’t be anything.” But, I found myself doing just that. (I have to pause and say that being able to access the internet on our phones has truly transformed travelling, and I’ve been extremely thankful for it on more than one occasion!) Well, if you can believe it, Winfield does have a hotel, of sorts. It’s actually a beautiful little retreat, perfect for families and groups. In fact, if you’d like to take a look, this is where we stayed:
I called, at 9:30 p.m., or so, and the lovely lady who runs the place said that they had a vacancy. She went on to tell us that she was going out, but she’d leave the door unlocked and the light on in the guest house, in case she wasn’t home in time to meet us. (Spoiler alert, traveling with Lucy made us much later than we’d expected – she was indeed back by the time we got there!) Furthermore, this retreat was minutes away from the property we were to view – right across the highway, actually.
Have you ever been to a place where the serenity was almost palpable? We arrived, a little frazzled, with kids that were not thrilled, to say the least. Yet, when we got out of the van, into the cold, blowing snow, we felt a weight lift off of our shoulders. It truly felt as if the Lord was in this place. Barbara, who owns the retreat (which is a retired sheep farm), greeted us and sent us up to the beautiful, spacious guest chalet. She instructed us to just leave the money in the chalet and she’d get it later, as she’d be going to work the next morning. She assured us that she trusted us completely. As we didn’t have cash on us, we planned to run over to the Winfield bank in the morning, and jumped into bed.
The next morning, we were up in plenty of time to make it to our 9:30 appointment. Too much time. The kids were hungry, so we made our first foray into Winfield. This is when we learned two important facts – the bank can only be used by account holders, and the Winfield Family Restaurant is not currently open (or so we gathered). Instead, after sorting out an email transfer for Barbara, we visited the convenience store, bought a box of crackers, and chatted with the owner, who was very friendly and insisted that we really ought to move to the area. He also assured us that his groceries were just as cheap as at big box stores. I politely smile, and then paid for my seven dollar box of crackers. Haha.
When we rolled up to the potential property, our emotions shut down. Really. Andrew and I split up, after having a look at the nice little mobile. Lucy and I stayed with the lovely lady at the home, and the boys and Andrew piled into the pickup truck and toured the property with her husband. It was a lovely property. There was a huge trout pond, fed by three gushing springs, a separate cabin, and an array of fruit trees, bushes, and beautiful gardening investments. I could just imagine the place in springtime, when it was bursting with new life. While I waited for Andrew to return, my new friend told me all about the area – she told me how there are a bunch of organic family farms and many homeschoolers. She told me about all the wildlife, especially the birds and deer. The picture she painted was lovely, and I desperately wanted to tell her that we’d buy the property. She and her husband needed to sell, due to illness, and I wanted to help. After finishing the tour, Andrew and the boys returned, we thanked the owners, said farewell, and hit the road.
Once we were headed back to Fort McMurray, we carefully said nothing to each other. We made small talk, admired the scenery, and ignored the elephant. Eventually, after several hours, we started talking. We both felt like God was directing us to this property, and we decided that we’d see what it would take to purchase. It was amazing how easy it was for us to discuss pros and cons, once we got started. Andrew and I can both be quite emotional, and struggle not to let emotions direct our decisions. It was such a gift to be able to discuss things with clear heads and hearts.
Once home, though, we were set upon by nagging doubts. What about a church family? We’d have to leave my family and our church. The last thing we wanted was to be adrift without any support from other Christians. We didn’t want to raise our children that way. And, then, what about piano? Would Jude and Elijah have to give up lessons if we were to move to this area? I decided to email Barbara, who lived in the area for many years, to see if she could give me more information…