BERTHOUD, Colo. — Christopher Schieffer began to wonder about his wife when she unplugged everything: the vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher, the KitchenAid mixer and the coffee grinder.
Then, she retired the air conditioner and even the furnace in favor of sweating out summer heat and warming their home with a wood-burning pellet stove in the basement during the winter.
He appreciated the cost savings, but balked when she stopped replacing burned-out barn light bulbs on their 7-acre hobby farm.
"You've got to be able to see out there after dark. ... But going off the grid? She's leading me there," Christopher Schieffer said.
People outside the Schieffer family — which includes seven kids, ages 3 to 12 — might consider their evolving lifestyle eccentric, even backward, for how they forgo so many labor- and time-saving devices hard-won in the last century.
"I tell people my kids are growing up in the 1950s," he said.
For instance, his wife, Robin Schieffer, prefers to knead bread with the kids instead of letting the KitchenAid mixer's dough hook do the work.
"So, in some ways, it's the 1920s or even before that," she said.
Yet, rearing a family with some pioneer spirit — they home-school, hand-wash dishes, slop hogs and milk a cow and goats — puts them in a satisfyingly low gear.
"Christopher needs a computer and a cellphone for work," Robin Schieffer said. "And I get a little bit of flak sometimes because I'm not on email.... But this is not a political statement. It comes from needing to be in your heart and in your head and asking yourself why you're here."
Before she married in her late 30s and began adopting children, Robin Schieffer never asked that question.
A self-described "triple type A" personality, she mopped the floors of her Gunbarrel home daily and once worked as a university grant writer who started checking email at dawn.
Now, she walks out the back door of her home with mud on her boots and barely gives a thought to what she passes on the way to the barn.
"Do you see all my weeds?" she said one evening in early August. "I'm pretending they're not there.... I try not to look at what needs to be done, because then you forget to count your blessings about what did get done."
Robin Schieffer's conviction to live a slower, less commercially driven life deepened on a blustery winter's day in 2008, their first year on the farm.
With her shoulders hunched and her back to the wind, she felt impatient waiting for water to flow from the hose into her chore bucket.
"But the water only comes out so fast, and I really got to thinking about that across all of life," she said.
She started unplugging appliances shortly after — including the livestock tank's water heater — and said that decision gives back beyond a slashed electric bill.
"Chipping ice is good for your soul, and there's nothing hard about it," she said.
Mainstream parents might view the Schieffers' penchant to unplug — they use an unpowered carpet sweeper, a Hoky, instead of a vacuum — as a perplexing series of time-consuming, make-work strategies.
Yet, the couple — both in their early 50s — shifted to low technology living to make more time with their kids, whom they call "little souls."
They believe that doing chores together and teaching the children to address them with a "Yes, ma'am" or "Yes, sir" instills two family values they want to pass on: a work ethic and respect.
This child-rearing approach also provides yardsticks to measure and celebrate progress.
"This life gives us all sorts of opportunities to notice the baby steps in their growth," Robin Schieffer said. "There are lots of little rites of passage here."
For instance, the family totes water from the house to animals in assorted pens during freezes, a chore that gives both kids and adults a progress check, Christopher Schieffer said.
"Each bucket weighs about 40 pounds. So, usually by March, I am in really good shape," he said.
The younger children double up to carry a single bucket, half-full of water, and know when they can carry it full and, finally, when they can carry a full bucket alone.
Another rite of passage includes learning how to grasp and pull on the teats of the cow to milk efficiently.
Ruth, 12, demonstrated her success during evening chore time earlier this month.
She began by locking the cow in the stanchion, tying the animal's tail to the sidebar with frayed orange twine, washing her hands with a sanitary wipe and squatting to milk.
"Tying her tail keeps her from whacking us in the face because sometimes she lays in the manure," she said, looking up with a knowing smile.
Elizabeth, 11, soon squatted on the other side of the cow to help milk.
Their delicate hands then worked in a way most American kids will never know to empty the udder.
"When she gets all baggy, I know we're done," Elizabeth said.
Then, the girl stood up to slop a half-dozen grunting hogs penned nearby with some milk, cornmeal and alfalfa. On hot days, she seasons the slop with cake or pudding mix to whet their appetites and keep their weight gains on track.
Though the younger kids play with yellow Tonka trucks in the barnyard while their siblings muck out stalls, dole out feed, milk cows and goats, too, the family's daily routine is a "Little House on the Prairie" redux.
"But our kids are not isolated," Robin Schieffer said.
They participate in two 4-H clubs — Rinn Valley Livestock and Cloverleaf Riders; have been members of Berthoud's Turner Middle School chess team and the Berthoud Recreation Center swim team; take violin and piano lessons; and do mission work at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder.
Also, though TV-free, the Schieffers own a DVD player, which is one of the few things still connected to an electrical outlet. They use it to watch old musicals, such as "Mary Poppins," and long-running family television shows from the 1970s and 1980s, such as "The Waltons."
"And sometimes dinner time comes around, and I got nothin'," Robin Schieffer said. "There are those days, and we call for pizza. So the pizza man knows our house. Or we go to McDonald's."
She and her husband nevertheless provide enough structure to keep each day from feeling chaotic, and they prefer to use the word "full" versus "busy" in describing them.
Ultimately, they hope their labors of love and lessons on wholesome, country living pass along their faith in God and that it will ground each in the midst of modern hurly burly.
"Even now, when we're out doing chores, one of them will pull us out of the barn to look at the sunset," Robin Schieffer said.
Information from: Daily Times-Call, http://timescall.com/