NATURE for the win

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in,where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

I was born in a city.  I have spent the past six decades in cities and towns and many of my vacations in places like Amsterdam, London, Hanoi, Bangkok, Lisbon, and Auckland. I love cities!  So how is it that I now find myself surrounded by nature and living somewhat remotely in my last chapter?  Gather round the firepit and I will tell you a story.

If you have been following the Shirley adventure, you know by now, that a life in the trees, was not what we had in mind for our final years, in fact current wisdom points to being nearer to amenities, able to walk to town, and closer to health services for successful ageing.  Truth be told, we had been living a lovely life in a seaside town on Vancouver Island for more than 25 years, and dreamed of spending months in Portugal while visiting our grown children in various parts of the world. But the universe has a way of guiding you in a different direction, the right direction, if you are willing to listen and to be led.

For more than a few years, our now adult children were traveling and living abroad; our thought had been to spend time with each of them in whatever part of the world they called home and live the balance of the year, back on Vancouver Island.  You know what they say about best laid plans.  All the kids came home, and decided to stay on the Island, which started a new conversation around supporting each other, ageing in place, and dying at home. Afterall, this is exactly the model we had lived while raising our children with my own ageing parents in our shared house. Little did we know how fortuitous a revised plan would be with an impending pandemic and more climate changes, on their way; sitting here now, almost two years into that pandemic, with heat domes, flooding and gas shortages a reality, we could not have made a better decision.       

Fast forward and the kids are stewarding a beautiful property on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where nature reigns supreme, stores are hard to find, and street lights are non existent.  Did I mention I am a city girl!  But here’s the thing about embracing change, about being curious and even a little scared, and about leaning into the adventure; the gifts are all there waiting to be discovered. All you really need is an open mind, a love of learning, and a willing spirit. Oh, and a really big generator!

Here’s what I now know, a few months into living in the woods. Nature is what I needed all along.  This is the right time for me to be here, amongst the trees, with all the creatures that share this space, and with the serenity that calms this land.  We are literally surrounded by nature; enveloped by evergreens and shrubs, by berries and ferns, and by rivers, beaches, hiking trails, and wildlife.  It’s as though this beautiful place on the land opened up and someone dropped this small sustainable house in the middle of all its beauty.  This place heals and restores, and teaches you to take pause.  It slows you down and commands you to be present because there is nothing to be done; when a bear happens by, while the birds are singing, as the wind waves through the conifers.  Nature is in charge here, and if you allow it, it befriends you, provides the medicine you need, and nurtures your very soul.  It’s my safe place to land, on this land. 

I could not have imagined how much I would enjoy this life, right here, right now.  I could not have forecast how it would make me feel, nor anticipated the generosity of the natural world. It gives me so much, that at times I feel unworthy. While I haven’t spent much of my life wandering in nature, what I do know is that all my travels have led me here. Every exciting journey I took to a city was preparing me for a time when I could leave them all behind; to be restored, to create balance, to find harmony, to come HOME.     

50 shades of GREEN

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair —Khalil Gibran

It’s been almost eight weeks since we moved into the woods. I am surrounded by dirt, pipes, trenches, building supplies, and tools, but mostly I am surrounded by trees!  And truly surrounded; we cleared only what we had to in order to make the footprint for the house, so from every vantage point and through every window, we see green.  It’s spectacular.   

When the pandemic went into full swing last year, my work life changed greatly.  One of the transitions I made with my extra time, was to awaken with the sun rather than an alarm. I am self employed so I determine my start time, and as I have always been a morning person it wasn’t a huge leap to waken more naturally.  A year later, I now awaken to the sun streaming through large glass windows, to birdsong, and to trees. It’s quiet and peace filled, serene and the air smells so amazing; clean and fresh, and still.  I am in love with my surroundings.

Because little has been done to this particular piece of land, it is still a very wild and organic place for the trees to grow.  They are sharing tight quarters, different types and varying heights, all vying for their place in the sun.  I am just learning to identify what is actually growing here and the more I learn, the more grateful I am for trees.  They represent some of the best of what the planet has to offer and will be here long after I am gone (if logging doesn’t take them all); I take comfort in that.  Trees give so much and take so very little.  They are the perfect place for my hammock, filling me up on days when I am feeling depleted and defeated.  They provide soil and water conservation, clean air, shade, medicine, solace, wind break, they store carbon, moderate our local climate, and have the most positive effect on my mental health.  I simply LOVE trees.  In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben makes the case that the forest is a social network, much like human families and in his newest book, The Heartbeat of Trees, he provides even more scientific evidence around our deep connection to the natural world.  I am falling in love with rural living and this natural place I now call home.   

In terms of inside living, there is still plenty to do, 15 months into the build.  We continue to shower outside by the well, but hot running water and in particular clean drinking water is arriving very soon.  Our rainwater system is ready to go, just working on a few more plumbing connections.  This is more than can be said for many of our Canadian Indigenous communities, who have been without clean drinking water for years; you will not here me complain about waiting a few weeks. Our bathroom is now tiled and will soon have our toilet in place, so we will go from an outdoor portable toilet to an indoor portable toilet. Not a huge difference in facilities but we won’t have to use our flashlight to find our way or spot bears in the dark on route to the bathroom.  Some interior finishing still to do, door and baseboard trim, some painting, plumbing fixtures, a few lights, but nothing that interferes with what matters most; cooking and sharing food, reading, meditating, writing, long walks, and simply being; this place is conducive to that, being rather than doing; the perfect shade of living.     

                      

what you SEE is what you get

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

First, I want to thank all those who continue to comment on the blog and on the build. I appreciate your interest, your kind comments and all of your great questions.  As the last couple of blog posts were more philosophical and I heard from more than a few folks that you are looking for a progress report on the actual build, I thought I would provide an update.  

In no particular order, here is what has been happening:

  • The house and garage are almost completely clad now.  We chose wide grey metal panels for our roof and outside walls for a few reasons; it will respond better in a fire, it won’t need replacing in our lifetime, and it works better for rainwater harvesting.
  • We’ve added narrow cedar siding as an accent (296 pieces, stained and sealed) to add some warmth, natural texture, and some contrasting colour to the grey metal.  We have enclosed our front entrance, our back patio and have added it to the outdoor shower and the garage front and side entrances.
  • We have painted all of our exterior doors in black and have added black ‘smart technology’ hardware.
  • The well pump house is almost finished (where the instrument panel is housed) and will look very similar to the house when complete.
  • We have yet to bring the soil level up to height of the entrances, which will allow us to have a ‘no step’ entry and we have landscaping still to do, but both will have to wait until we have more time and money.
  • The rainwater system is almost ready to hook up.  We have installed a 5,600 gallon/21,000 litre rain barrel for storage and a concrete rain tank for processing.  We have installed special rain gutters with guards, on the roof and we have an impressive control panel in the garage that we are looking forward to learning how to operate and maintain.  We will soon have fresh water running through our taps; once we figure out what all those levers are for!
  • Our greywater tanks are in and we are preparing their connection to our greywater field which is located at the rear of the house, spanning 120 feet/36 meters and which will eventually be topped with fruit and nut trees.
  • Our well is now set up to run as our backup water system.  The pump house where the well’s working system is installed is much like the rainwater and greywater systems, in that it includes a lengthy manual which we will need to read and understand in order to keep everything running smoothly.   
  • Our compost toilets are almost ready to hook up and our ‘critter proof’ shed will soon be installed, where our waste will be temporarily stored.  This likely won’t seem like much of a transition since we have been using a portable toilet throughout the build.  Let’s hope our visitors come to see us more than once.
  • Our heat pump is installed and working alongside triple glazed windows and we are thrilled with the level of comfort inside the house, even on the coldest days.  We went with a two-cassette system for our small house (850 sq feet/79 square metres) and are pleased with the energy efficiency of this system.
  • We are currently installing window and door trim, and are looking forward to laying our new floor (waterproof, luxury vinyl plank) before building our small but efficient IKEA kitchen and tiling the bathroom and kitchen.

Along with the end of construction and the final house finishing in Shirley, there are all sorts of other things I am working on at our home here in Sidney.  After 25 years in the same house, I have a notebook filled with myriad things to arrange in order to move the 75 kilometres from here to there, in a matter of weeks.  Our Sidney house will be rented so while building the new, we have been renovating the old, ensuring that those who fill our space will enjoy it as much as we have.  And while moving day isn’t far away, there is little packing to be done.  Not owning much means that we won’t need to hire a moving company, but will instead make a few trips with our own cars and a family truck.  

As we look toward the completion of construction in Shirley, I am reminded that arriving there means leaving here.  I continue to reflect daily on some of the most wonderful years of my life, knowing that it takes a village, and feeling so very glad we chose this one to raise our children and care for our elders before moving on to our final chapter.      

the NUMBERS don’t lie

“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Henry David Thoreau

Building our new house has always been about the numbers; square footage, the budget, the orientation to the sun, the property lines, the size of the windows, the budget, the number of cedar boards, the time it takes to frame, the start date, the degree of slant in the roofline, the closing date, the number of gallons in the rain barrel, the budget, the hourly wage for the trades, the temperature of the heat pump and oh yeah, the budget. For someone who prefers words to numbers, it’s been a steep learning curve, and while I am not sure of the percentage of growth, I know I have learned a lot! 

I have lived in nine houses over the past six decades, this one will be my tenth, and likely my last.  Some of those houses were brand new when I moved in, no one had slept in my bedroom before me. Most were on lovely streets and in ‘good’ neighbourhoods.  It never crossed my mind that I would ever be without a home; somewhere safe, and warm and dry. And while my parents, like many, emigrated with little, worked hard, and saved even harder, they didn’t ‘deserve’ those houses, they too were lucky, plain and simple.  It could so easily have gone a different way.   

Years ago, having recently moved to one of those nine houses, this one in Calgary, I chose to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, a global non profit housing organization committed to creating safe places for families to call home.  Inspired by Jimmy Carter, one of my favourite people, I became the Chair of one of the local committees and helped onsite with one of the builds.  The experience was humbling, rewarding, and a welcome reminder of just how privileged I had been to have grown up in so many wonderful homes. It was also an introduction to the fact that so many Canadians live in substandard housing, or no housing at all and that for many around the world, the possibility of any form of adequate housing remains unlikely.

The 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada report states that “approximately 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness on any given night, and that at least 235,000 Canadians are homeless in any given year.”  It is suggested that these numbers greatly underestimate reality.  The BC Homeless Count in 2020 showed 2,095 homeless in my province and the largest number of homeless street youths in Canada are in some of our largest and most progressive cities; Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

The United Nations identifies adequate housing as a fundamental human right, defining it as “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity,” yet it would appear that we are still a long way from a lasting solution for this complex problem.  And while sheltering in place has become routine for many around the world, and residents in BC are operating within provincial health restrictions, our family is able to continue to build a new house, while sheltering in our current one. We are blessed, and for no other reason than the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  I don’t deserve to have a home more than anyone else and I am reminded daily of my good fortune.  You will not hear me complain about having to stay home during the pandemic, at least I have one in which to stay.  

As we all look forward to better numbers in the coming months; fewer COVID-19 cases, higher outdoor temperatures, and more daylight hours, perhaps it would be prudent to remind ourselves that there are more than 7 ½ billion of us living on this beautiful big planet and each one of us DESERVES a place to call home.

      https://habitat.ca/en           https://coolaid.org

Henry David Thoreau’s house on Walden Pond

the best laid PLANS

circa 1995

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! – Dr. Seuss

I can see it now. Everyone gathered together just like we have for the past 25 years, around our long dinner table, on Christmas Eve. I’m in the kitchen trying to keep everything hot long enough for everyone to sit down and enjoy it.  Surrounded by grown children, good friends, my older brother, and his youngest daughter; a familiar sight that we look forward to each and every year.  The menu varies ever so slightly; traditional items that the children love and long for, some vegan options along with a beautifully roasted turkey, soup to start and mincemeat tarts and shortbread for afters.  And so, it flows, conversation and cuisine, laughter and love, this is the story of our Christmas. It’s pure JOY.  

This year, is the last Christmas in this house, as we look to the future and a new home in the woods.  It’s a nostalgic time, filled with traditions and lasting memories. One final tree trimming, one last showing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, our grown kids sleeping in the same room, a neighbourhood stroll, and lots of lazing around, simply being together in this place, that holds so much of our lives.  Our children grew up here, my parents grew old here, and our love grew great here.  So many people gracing our threshold, visiting from near and far, sometimes staying on for days and weeks, knowing that our door is always open.  This beautiful container has held so much. 

There’s a feeling that I love at this time of year. It’s a fullness and a fondness and it arrives just a few days before everyone else arrives.  It’s a sense of completeness, that all is right with the world, and that we are surrounded by and filled up with a sense of place.  We belong here, and we belong together. We hold each other’s hearts here. This house has been a haven for much of our children’s lives, for the last part of my parents’ lives, and for the last 25 years of our lives.  It has seen and heard it all, been a witness to our very best selves, and to the sides of ourselves we long to forget and have long since forgiven.  It’s embraced our most beautiful offerings and held us close in our worst tragedies. It’s been our safe place to land. We haven’t just lived here, we’ve LIVED here.

This year our adult children will choose their favourite ornaments and pack them up in special boxes to take home, to their own trees and trimming parties.  They’ll select cherished items and art that we are not taking with us to our next home, and they’ll finally move those boxes out of the furnace room, the ones no one had an interest in or inclination to move when they left home.   

We’ll sit around the family room, start sentences with “remember the time…” and laugh at photos with bad haircuts.  We’ll reminisce about the years their grandparents lived here, the many friends who stayed over and hung out here, and all the great parties we’ve hosted here.  We’ll laugh a lot and loudly, and we’ll shed a few tears for what’s gone on here, for what’s been endured here, for what we might have changed here.  And it will be unforgettable. 

Well…. that was the plan.  But we all know what happens while we are busy making plans, life happens.  And happen it has; to you, to me, to us.  This year has bent us out of our familiar shape and demanded that we adapt or die, and in some cases, sadly, both have happened.  Nothing is familiar, and little is like it was.  And while I have not yet crumbled under the weight of it all, I have shed my share of tears, have had to renew my optimism often, and have constantly adjusted my sails to navigate the pandemic storm.   

With new restrictions in place here in BC and new rules around gathering for Christmas, we have a new plan.  No big dinner on Christmas Eve, no shared Christmas tree trimming, no group movie night or neighbourhood stroll, no ‘together’ in this space.  This, our last Christmas here, won’t be unforgettable; it simply won’t happen.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t be memorable.  It’s up to each of us to choose what we hold close.  The memories that dwell in this house, also dwell in our hearts, in the memory box we house them in, so they are available anytime we want to give them light.  That feeling of fullness I get around this time of year, will still find me here, not because of where I am, but because of what I already have.   

I am one of the lucky ones.  I am well; healthy when so many are not.  I am not hungry, cold, oppressed, lonely or afraid.  I have shelter, and we have each other, connected by blood and belonging and we can gather virtually when we feel the need to see smiles and hear laughter.  

Christmas will still come like it does every year, and this year, I will again be present; welcoming in what comes our way, knowing that there are worse things behind us, better things before us, and that all is right with the world… as right as it can be right now.    

you’ve come a LONG WAY baby!

“Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” Khalil Gibran

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post to update you on the build.  What had appeared for ages to be a slow grind, has suddenly gained momentum and we are well on our way.  In life, there are blessings and blunderings; our build has been no different. 

Progress is defined as a ‘forward or onward movement toward a destination’ regardless of the pace, so while it may seem to many, a long time since we first dug into the land in late March, we are only 8 months in, and a great deal has already happened on this little patch of dirt.  Our entire build has happened during COVID and even with sheltering in place, and limited social contact, we have been able to safely continue through Spring, Summer, and Fall, and now entering Winter, we feel lucky to be in the forest, where the air is fresh and plentiful, distancing is easy and masks are worn for more than a few reasons. 

Our crew has remained steadfast, mostly family, with a few of our new neighbours helping out when they have time.  Everyone is still healthy, only minor accidents to speak of, and a continuous work pace moves the build forward, every single day, regardless of the weather.  And weather there has been, with plenty more rain, cold, and even snow, set to arrive before we open our front door for the first time.    Luckily, the majority of work will now happen inside, with the exception of cladding the buildings which may have to happen in the rain but no fear, rain gear is abundant on the site.

Electrical and plumbing are now complete and looking great, not something I ever thought I would be saying about a maze of wires and pipes.  But, the more I see behind the scenes, or more accurately behind the walls, the more respect I garner for these hard working, talented individuals who are not only learned in their trade but creative, hard working and fast paced. Their contribution to the build is vital; we simply would not be able to flip a light switch or turn a faucet without them.  And while we may have chosen to have compost toilets, we also want power, lights, fresh drinking water, and clean laundry; and we shall have it all.   

Speaking of compost toilets (and we speak about them a lot), they have not been without their headaches. As I write, we are still finalizing venting systems, after having already gone through a long approval process, and more than a few placement designs.   Who would have thought that toilets would be the thing that would hold us up? Let’s hope that everyone who uses them appreciates our back to nature approach to such a natural bodily function.

The passage of time is measured easily when you are building from the ground up; you see significant change happening right before your eyes. Change is constant, and along with a new house, this year has already included many personal milestones, all of which have been celebrated in and around the build site.  The natural world has been a real ally this year, with most of our parties being hosted in the woods.  Thanksgiving was the exception, held in the garage with the sound of torrential rain pouring onto our new metal roof, rain that will eventually make its way into our taps.  It’s been wonderful to honour the passing of time while watching the future unfold. I turned 60 in July, and Tom (the man on the roof) turned 60 in September.  In between birthdays we celebrated 40 years of marriage.  The irony is not lost on us; our house is in its infancy stage and we are in our final stage.  We will be moving house in the winter of our lives, ready to spend our last chapter here.  

For now, we continue what we started and whatever the next few months bring, we will be here, hammers in hand, time on our side, grateful for what comes next; especially if it’s a passing grade for our compost toilets! 

intentional by DESIGN

“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” Charles Eames

I have always been more about practical than pretty.  When I got my first job as a teen, I remember my mom’s advice was to “buy separate pieces, not dresses, they are far more versatile and practical and you can mix and match and buy less.” That advice along with much more has held me in good stead for decades, always choosing functionality first, design second, and in the best of both worlds, they’ve come as package deal. During my first stay in Sweden, I recall how well the furniture ‘operated’ in the homes I visited.  I so appreciated the practical, and multi- purpose pieces I saw; beautiful to look at but always simple, smart, and so functional.  And while some might favour this love of function as a nod to frugality, for me, I just love when things ‘work’ and when they serve more than one purpose, that ticks all the boxes.   

When I met with our house designer for the first time, he asked me the usual questions; where was the property, how big a house, what was our budget?  And then the bigger ones; why were we building, what was our vision, what mattered most about this new home?

What I appreciate most about John, was that he got us.  He designs using a holistic approach that reflects well on paper and we hope, in the finished build. He understands what we are trying to achieve with our last chapter, our intentional lifestyle, and our limited resources. 

Some of our design requirements include: an ‘accessible’ home, that meets our needs now and can adapt to the future, a public side and a private side, rooms that are not defined by name but rather by function. So, while on a drawing, they may need distinction, we purposefully haven’t built permanence into the design. For example, our bedroom is a bedroom only if we deem that it’s the best fit; if we put a bed in there, if we indeed sleep in the space.  There are no built-in cupboards or closets so we are able to design based on how we want to use a room; what happens there, where does the light fall, and how does this place flow into others. By not building in permanent structures, we are able to design and redesign as time passes and requirements change.  If at some point, we are unwell and need to sleep in a larger space with easy access to the outside and lots of natural light, then perhaps our bed moves into the larger space, and a ‘living room’ becomes a ‘sleeping room’. If we need to isolate for any reason, to write a novel or do yoga in private, then we have another space that allows for that. If we want to invite many people over to share our table, then we can place a table in the best possible location; inside, outside, whatever works best for that gathering.   

Within our adaptable spaces, we expect to choose our furniture with the same intention. What we move into the house needs to serve more than one function, two is great, three or more, even better.  So, we are not hung up on a ‘kitchen table’, we simple have a table or tables that can serve as a dining space, a working space, a reading space, a bread making space, a place to create.  Cupboards are also free to live wherever it works best.  If we need to house clothes, then we can put a cupboard in where we dress, if we need to house dishes, then we can put a cupboard in where we make food, and if we don’t need a cupboard, we simply won’t have one.  Keeping in mind that we intend to bring very little into our new space, we hope that we will need few places to house ‘things’. Benches must include storage, tables must fold and expand, everything must be useful, and if it’s beautiful, that’s a bonus. Function is more important to me than form.  There won’t be shelves for things to simply sit upon, there won’t be boxes to simply hide things in, items will be permitted to stay if they can prove their worth.  For those who are imagining a home without beauty, art, and colour, fear not, there will be creations and makings, but with more windows than walls, just fewer of them.

If you have visions of entering our new house and seeing only a chair and a plate, don’t worry.  There will be modern and historical pieces, artwork and beautiful furniture, but it will have been put there with intention, on purpose and with purpose.  We intend to incorporate ‘functional minimalism’ which is defined as a more mindful approach to purchasing, owning, and organizing physical goods and operates on one central tenant – you should only own things that you value. 

For me it’s not about being more organized, purging, or finding better storage solutions.  It’s about intentionality. It’s about deowning, not just decluttering. As Joshua Becker says in Becoming Minimalist, “At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it. It is a life that forces intentionality upon us. As a result, it forces improvements in almost all aspects of your life.”

Our hope is that as we age and the woods and weather change, the place we soon call home, will continue to meet us where we are. We hope it can evolve alongside us, until our current living space becomes our final resting place, all going well.    

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Bookcase that is also a table and 2 chairs – designed by Sakura Adachi

Coffin designed by William Warren -first launched at the British Library during the 2005 London Design Festival.  We haven’t bought this, but I like the way he thinks!

FRAME of reference

I have always had the ability to envision, to form a mental picture including size, texture, and colour. It’s been helpful as an event planner to be able to view an empty space and see what’s happening there; the band on stage, fully dressed dining tables, the flow of guests at the buffet, the lighting, a completely decorated room.  

Even with the architectural drawings and a concrete slab with colourfully chalked rooms, a finished house has been somewhat harder to imagine; waking up to the view, showering outdoors, eating breakfast at the kitchen island.  Now that walls have arrived, my senses are in overdrive, in a good way!  

What a frame does is it defines the container in which everything finds its place or attempts to fit within imposed boundaries. It outlines the edges from which we can then find our central focus.  For me it has helped my mind’s eye place furniture as well as place us in our new life. Like a camera that captures the present moment, I am able to see us at home, dining outdoors, resting indoors, and moving from room to room. I can sense a measured approach to living, imagine a slower pace of doing, smell the conifers ouside our bedroom windows. 

That ability to envision along with the plan’s proposed measurements has allowed us to better design the spaces that we will soon find ourselves in; to place furniture, to organize function, and to imagine the flow of life there.    

With our space being limited and becoming more defined each day, we are now able to design with intention what we will bring into our new home. We can determine what won’t fit the spaces and what won’t fit our lifestyle. Working with this frame of reference allows us to clearly design a way of living that allows for movement and flow as well as fixed forms and distinct function; and as is often in art and advertising, white space is key.  

So our earliest discussions around design now become decisions around what’s pragmatic; what goes and what stays, what’s really needed and what’s mostly wanted, what’s of value, and what still brings us joy. By the time we pack up, we hope to have a clearly defined plan as well as a very limited number of items to shift from one house to another.  And because we have our eyes set on the future, we are designing with the end in view.  Not only have our needs changed, our numbers have changed. When we moved into our current home, we were seven.  When we move into our new house, we will be two, and with a much smaller footprint.

So as we begin to walk the chalk edged rooms, we anticipate what will fit within the lines, and not only how the house frames the spaces, but how our home will frame the next part of our journey.

a sense of PLACE

Recently, during a break in the build, and with some time on our hands, we decided to reflect on leaving our home of 25 years; what will we take with us, what will we leave behind, what has this place and home meant to us.  

I grew up in different houses; my parents bored easily so they looked forward to new builds and new towns. I didn’t take my friendships with me so I didn’t age with a sense of belonging.  My husband grew up in one house, in a small village in Scotland and to this day, returns often and still maintains friendships with nine of the men who shared his childhood; he knows where he belongs.

When we moved together in 1995, it was to join my parents and to create a home for all of us to grow and age, to live and die.  Our children were 3 ½, 3 ½ and 7.  My parents were 72 and 66.  Tom and I were somewhere in between.  The deal was we’d stay for at least 20 years, to create a sense of place, to build community and to forge lifelong friendships.  

It would be a fresh start for all, a place to live through many of life’s pleasures; school concerts, new jobs, first loves, birthdays, visitors, parties, driving licenses, dance recitals, holidays, anniversaries, soccer tournaments, first tattoos, celebrations; the stuff of love and life. And it would be where we would also endure our share of hardship, tragedies, accidents, surgeries, depression, heartbreak, funerals, sadness, arguments, break ups, leaving home; the stuff of love and life. Over time, our family has become smaller, our hearts have broken open, our bodies have aged.  Through it all we have opened our doors to many; shared our table, our money, our cars, our garden, our stuff, our time, our energy, ourselves.  

So when we leave later this year, we will take it all with us, in our hearts, in the life that lines our faces.  We are 25 years older and  filled with gratitude for what this house has been to us; a container in which to hold our lives, a place to call home, our safe place to land.

Few things will travel to our next home.  My parents’ belongings are long gone, we saved only some published works and a string of pearls. Our children’s things left home when they did, I don’t need the past, when I still have them in my present.  When we try to hang on to things, what we really long for is the memory of that past; what happened there, in that dress, around that table, with that loved one.   

This is where my mother and father died and the place we left for almost a year to take care of my dying mother in law. It’s where some passed exams, fell in love, fell out of love, learned to ride bikes and drive cars, lost teeth, built go karts, learned to cook, celebrated milestones, lost friendships, found confidence, laughed out loud, developed their strengths, found their voice, walked their truth.

What is it about leaving that makes us grieve, what is it about arriving that makes us cheer?  I think we long for a past we are certain of, a memory preserved. If we were truly present when it happened though, then we can’t really ever leave it behind, it’s already gone. 

So, whatever comes our way, we’ll be OK.  We are on steady ground here,  we trust what this new house will give us; a sense of place, a chance to belong and friends to welcome through our new front door.  And, no matter what happens, we’ll all still have each other.

Next time….let the framing begin.

how SLOW can you go?

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” Alan Watts

For more than two decades, I have been a proponent of ‘slow living’ and more recently, a fan of Brooke McAlary. Having been born in Toronto, and later a commuter in the corporate world, speed is in my DNA.    

So, moving to Vancouver Island, and in particular Sidney, was like putting on the brakes for meandering wildlife to make its way across the road.  It required an almost immediate adjustment.  In the early days, I will admit to being frustrated in the grocery store while neighbours and staff alike, asked after our health and happiness, but it didn’t take long to realize that this was about being in community and a beautiful way of life. When you live and work in a fast-paced environment, you adapt or die, it’s almost impossible to swim against the current.  And while I tried for a few years before abandoning a life out east altogether, it was a completely different situation having arrived on the west coast.  The waves were lapping instead of crashing, life was moving at a much gentler pace and time was not the enemy. And, just so there is no confusion, I am not talking boring, I am talking slow. And while it may not be for everyone, I do think that the pandemic has forced us collectively as a planet, to slow down, and at times to stop, which has given many the pause and permission they required.    

Now, and for the past 25 years, we enjoy a much more simple, tranquil, and slow life; we are the better for it, no question.  Don’t get me wrong, my favourite holiday destinations are still cities, and I will always be a city girl at heart, but that doesn’t mean that our needs don’t change and that we can’t find another way to live, especially if it contributes to us living our best life.  What I want now, is even more time, to stroll, to wander, to think, to create and to simply be.  I want to slow it all down, wash my dishes by hand, read a book for more than a few chapters, garden for hours, and swim for days.  And I want to continue to do one thing at a time, with intention, and to do it well.  I want to walk to a slower beating drum.

Building a house has been the latest lesson in ‘slow’ although some might suggest it’s been more a lesson in ‘delay’.  It has afforded us time to make thoughtful decisions, without distraction and without deadline pressures. Often, I find, that because we have an almost too full ‘to do’ list, we feel required to also do it at lightening speed. For me, this is more a function of the list being too long rather than there not being enough time.  So rather than wish for more hours, and more haste, I wish for fewer things to accomplish, and more time to contemplate; why I’m doing them, what’s the best way to get them done, and the most important question, does it actually need doing? 

For those who are wondering, I am not ‘retired’, in fact I don’t really subscribe to that all or nothing notion.  I am still working, albeit less, and contributing, accomplishing, adventuring, volunteering, and living life to the fullest.  All the while, I continue to adjust to our new rural environment, recognizing what’s different, accepting the limitations and celebrating the opportunities.  I am adjusting my sails to changing winds and looking forward to a time of living slowly, but Shirley.