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. 

Henry David Thoreau’s house on Walden Pond

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.

HOME away from HOME

In a former life, and for more than 11 years, I travelled 90 kilometers daily for a job I loved in Toronto. For the most part, I enjoyed the trek, however, through the years, the scenery changed from green to grey with neighbourhood views replaced by concrete sound barriers.  By the time I left that life, my morning commute took 75 minutes.      

Fast forward and I’ve been working from home on Vancouver Island for more than a decade. My most recent commute has been a rather short one; a few minutes down the hallway to my dining table, a view of neighbouring homes and gardens and a schedule that requires using a car only once a week; a much better work/life balance than I had in the Big Smoke.

Our Shirley build is another 75-minute drive from home, and while much of it includes spectacular scenery along winding roads, it has meant almost three hours in the car some days, which has led us to make a temporary and part time move to the building site.  

When interviewing others who have also taken the plunge to build, many solutions were shared; staying put and driving back and forth, renting near the build site, living with nearby family, and selling the existing home and living onsite in trailers or huts.

For us, what has made the most sense, and while we are both still working, is to live part time here and part time there, a home and a home away from home.  We are however, talking about two very different homes. 

Our temporary Shirley abode is a decades old tent trailer, reminiscent of the wonderful summer holidays our family shared when I was a child. I have very happy memories of Expo 67, lying on one side of the trailer with my Mrs. Beasley doll, while laughing at my brothers’ jokes from the other side, and falling asleep listening to the fire crackling outside. I am far from 7 now and quite certain that the new memories are going to be very different.  While the view from the front door is spectacular, the look inside is dated and tired. Luckily, the roof doesn’t leak and our snoring scares the bears.  Steps away from our future bed, we tell ourselves it’s all part of the adventure, and while I no longer have Mrs. Beasley, I still keep my flashlight nearby, and walk very briskly to the portable toilet just as I did way back when.    

Our trailer is a 2-minute walk to the meditation corner, a fire pit where we can distance ourselves, and our family’s trailers, leaving us close enough to feel the love and the heat. We have what we need; tasty food, clean water, and great company.  There is nothing quite like waking to the sound of songbirds and the buzz of bees… and saws. 

So, for now, we are camping, living alongside our family of builders, dividing our time between two different worlds. And while I never thought I would be living in a tent at this age, we are grateful to be safe, warm, and dry, when so many others in this world are not.  Less time on the road, means more time on the land; close enough to have conversations and make decisions while we adjust to our new locale, roughing it now to make way for the smooth life later on.