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! 

Show me the MONEY

One of the most challenging aspects of our new build has been managing the budget.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been managing money for a long time, and I learned its value very young. 

I grew up in a house where finances were private, an adult arena. I didn’t know about mortgages or hydro bills; it was considered vulgar to talk about money, especially in front of the children. My parents were raised working class, so as a result, I was working for my allowance at an early age, babysitting for airfares by the time I was 13 and by 17, I was paying my own way through college with three part time jobs. Married at 20, I have been keeping track of the dollars and the debts ever since.  

So, when it came time to talk house budget, I felt prepared.  It’s more money than I’ve ever seen and I have a healthy respect for those big numbers. I have a beautiful excel spreadsheet that I now consider an intimate part of my life where weekly, I move the numbers around; creative with the cash. While at times, it’s daunting, luckily, I am a realist, so I keep track of every single expense and am generous in my estimates.  I would rather find money than find a mistake.     

Holding the ‘purse strings’ as my mother referred to them, has been an exercise in deepening my inquiry into what we need vs what we want.  We’ve had to make hard choices about what matters most, what has the largest impact, and what will outlive us. We are building for the future knowing the house will be standing much longer than we will. We recognize that we are merely stewards of this place and that others will someday lay their heads here; we owe it to our children’s children to make the best financial decisions now.  Lucky for us, the views are priceless.  

As we ask the hard questions, we revisit our intentions, knowing that what we compromise on now, will show up later on.  Our choices need to stand the test of time.  And, because we are guided by the figures and not our fantasies, we are steadfast in our understanding that if we don’t see it on the sheet, we don’t buy it off the shelf.  We remind ourselves often that it’s a luxury to build, and that humbling tempers our desire to add pretty when what we need is practical. 

Now, I’m not saying that we won’t go over budget, as many more seasoned than us have told us, it’s inevitable.  Something unforeseen always pops up and already, still in the earliest stages, we see that in our project. But we know what our priorities are; rain water over bath water, compost over flush, form and function over frivolous. Playing the long game feels prudent to us as we heed the teaching of Nelson Henderson and “plant trees under whose shade we don’t expect to sit.