the dream

All Moved In (but still tons to do!)

Our first winter in the new house and Mother Nature gives us a white Xmas!

Our first winter in the new house and Mother Nature gives us a white Xmas!

I can’t believe it’s been over 3 months since I last posted. But I have certainly been busy, and I needed a break from blogging. Between moving, the kids starting up with their school programs, and Husband returning from a four-month stint in Seattle, there was much to contend with.

After I wrote my last post, I began packing for the move out of the old mobile home. It was a gruelling 4 days of work, aided only by my 80 year old mother (who put me to shame with her hard work). I had somehow been under the impression that since I was planning on getting rid of a ton of stuff, the packing would be relatively easy. How wrong I was. For four days we started early and finished late into the evening. It was stressful, and we were both very sore. Our stuff went into a small container that had been brought to the property, and the kids and I moved to my mother’s home for what we thought would be a few short days.

In the midst of moving hell.

In the midst of moving hell.

Then it turned out that we were missing paperwork for the demolition. The specialized container service that is licensed to remove and dispose of construction waste required some form that nobody else had heard of, and it took me a few days just to track down someone who knew what it was and how to get it. That delay meant we missed the window for the excavator who was set to demolish the mobile. We ended up having to wait a few more days before we found someone who could come.

The demolition bin arrives, but sits while we wait for last-minute paperwork.

The demolition bin arrives, but sits while we wait for last-minute paperwork.

The demolition itself was fun, cathartic, and oh so satisfying! That horrible little hovel, which was literally falling apart before our eyes over the last few weeks of its life, was finally smashed to pieces and hauled away. The excavator driver let me have the first smash! Then my son was allowed to have a turn. That was fun. The rest took only another day or so, and before we knew it, it was all gone.

 

Goodbye, world's ugliest master bedroom. I do not miss you one bit!!

Goodbye, world’s ugliest master bedroom. I do not miss you one bit!!

You could practically hear the unwanted houseguest critters fleeing the scene. Begone rodents!

You could practically hear the unwanted houseguest critters fleeing the scene. Begone rodents!

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

The change in the look of the property was significant. The mobile was situated near the driveway entrance to the road, and blocked the view of the rest of the property (not to mention the new house). With it gone, the place looks a lot larger. Now all we need to do is tear down the ugly pump house (in front of the new house, next to the tree) – but that’s a project for another time.

That nicely groomed earth is where the mobile home stood.

That nicely groomed earth is where the mobile home stood.

After 3 weeks of living at my mother’s house, bless her heart but in the end we were all wanting it to end, we finally got the go-ahead to move into our new house. First, I went to Seattle to visit Husband and escort him back home, then the whole family spent our first night there. It was Saturday, October 15, 2016. We all slept on a mattress on the floor in the master bedroom, as our bed had not arrived, nor had a huge Ikea shipment that would bring the kids’ beds and mattresses, as well as other miscellaneous items. Over the next few days we slowly settled in, but the chaos was far from over. As just one example, Ikea sent the wrong boxes for our dining table – we got an extra set of legs but only one half of the tabletop. It took 3 weeks for them to ship us another. Meanwhile, the place was still an active construction site…

First meal in the new house! Mum brought curry, and we ate on our half-table.

First meal in the new house! Mum brought curry, and we ate on our half-table.

After a relatively painless build process thus far, the last two months were insane. The industry in our area suddenly shifted into high gear and tradesmen were getting so booked up it was impossible to nail anybody down. All we heard was talk of guys having to turn away work for the first time in years, which was good for them but not so good for us. With things off schedule we’d lose our place and then have to scramble get people back again. We were lucky that our builder is so well-liked by the local contractors – many of them came just as a favour to him. One couple we knew had their whole project stuck on hold for two months waiting for crew to become available.

Corrugated metal siding going up on the downstairs room.

Corrugated metal siding going up on the downstairs room.

There were other delays, too. From the cabinet guy who had a mental health crises in the middle of installing our kitchen cabinets, to the siding and deck that took forever to finish, there were days when it felt like we would never enjoy peace and quiet. Everything had been on schedule to complete by the end of October, but it was the end of November before we finally got our occupancy permit. It didn’t help that October was a crazy busy month for me – I’d made travel plans (for work and for fun) much earlier in the year assuming things would be done by now but it all happened at the same time. Even now, there are little things that need to be finished up – they call them “deficiencies” in the business, apparently – but we decided to take a break until after the Xmas holidays. We all needed it.

In my next post I will talk more about what it has been like moving into my dream home after almost 10 years of planning, waiting, and imagining what it would all be like. It’s not so much that I’m constantly in a state of bliss – I mean, nobody is like that. Instead, it’s a steady stream of little bursts of pleasure that I get when living and working in my home. From tidying up the kitchen, to doing laundry, to waking up in the morning to a gorgeous view, the sunshine streaming in through the south-facing windows over these winter days…it’s like a little dopamine machine has been implanted in my brain!

Rock retaining walls going up.

Rock retaining walls going up.

Lots of earthmoving went on, big rock walls were added, siding was still being  trimmed and put up.

Even though we’d moved in, lots of earthmoving went on, big rock walls were added, and siding was still being trimmed and put up.

We still need to get more furniture, but decked out for Xmas the place looks not too bad, eh?

We still need to get more furniture, but decked out for Xmas the place looks not too bad, eh?

Categories: New House Build, the dream | 2 Comments

Planning for the New Home Has Begun!

Back at the beginning of this year I wrote about my forays into house planning. It has taken me over 7 months and many, many edits but I have finally come up with a layout that I like, that gives me what I want, and that puts the house size at under 2500 square feet. In fact, this only just happened two days ago! It was one of those Eureka moments where I was hit with inspiration, ran to get a pencil and some graph paper, and realized I’d finally solved many of the issues I was struggling with.

The timing was perfect, too. Today we interview two design/build firms. The first is the EcoNest company, run by Paula and Robert LaPorte. These guys are well-known in the natural building community, and we are fortunate that they are in the area this month giving a series of workshops. They are stopping by this evening with their local certified builder (there are not many builders in North America trained in this procedure and we are so fortunate that one of them is located just 30 minutes away!). I am really excited about meeting with them and hope they can reassure my husband that this isn’t some freaky hippie experiment in building that could cost us a fortune down the road!

In my previous house-planning post I wrote that I was looking at strawbale and cob for the infill material. Then I discovered “light clay”, which is also called straw-slip or chip-slip depending on the fibre ingredient. This is what the EcoNest folks specialize in. Both use a clay slip as a base (a light, watery mixture of clay and water) in which either straw or wood fibre is mixed so that the fibres are coated evenly with the slip. The beauty of this stuff is that you can pack it into forms and thus reduce time and labour costs considerably. Apparently, it also has a higher R-value for insulation than either strawbale or cob. It does not require a netting or base coat to “rough up the surface” so that plaster can be applied. What really appeals to me is that we could supply the wood chips from our own property. However, we need to compare the cost of purchasing enough straw for the project versus time to gather and chip the wood plus cost of renting an industrial-strength chipping machine.

The other company we are interviewing is a local design/build outfit that has done several projects in the area that we like. They claim to be able to do “green building” but this may turn out to mean conventional stick-framing and house-wrapping with simply using less harmful and lower embodied-energy materials. Nevertheless, I’m open to hearing what they have to say, and seeing how this option compares with the above.

From these interviews I hope to settle on 1) what infill material will be used, 2) how big the house will be, and 3) how much it will cost. The latter two are obviously related quite closely, while the first point will determine the nature of that relationship. My understanding is that building green is no more costly than any other quality timber-frame home but hopefully we’ll find out soon. We know roughly what we want to spend, but whether that is realistic based on our desires remains to be confirmed. We may need to increase our budget. Alternatively, we may decide to do some inexpensive finishing to bring down the budget, with the aim to remodel later when we have more cash-in-hand. Given what we are living in now, anything without mould or rodents is an improvement!

Categories: being green, building things, the dream | Leave a comment

The Dream: revisited

Way back at the beginning of this blog I described The Dream. Yesterday one of my favourite bloggers, Jenna of Cold Antler Farm, (who is well on her way to fulfilling her dreams of being a farmer) asked us loyal readers about our own dreams. I figured it was time to revisit that post I made just over four years ago.

The Dream: 3 to 5 acres, under 30 minutes drive to a particular smallish town we have in mind (population ~ 35,000). A small house (< 2500 sq ft), preferably one-level, ranch style. A pasture for horses or perhaps other grazing animals. A barn with resident cats. A dog, or maybe two. A vegetable garden. Husband works at a job he enjoys, no more than 40 hours per week, and retires by age 55.

The smallish town we had in mind turned out to be a different town than the one we settled in, but we couldn’t be happier here in the Cowichan Valley (population 80,000 spread out over a region of ~ 3500 square km. or ~ 1300 sq miles). We are very close to all the things we need to do (10 minutes to “town”; population 5000) and yet out in a quiet rural area surrounded by forest and farmland. The house is hopefully on its way soon and it will be one level and less than 2500 sq ft. More recently added to the wish lists having it built with natural materials such as cob and/or straw bale with a timber frame skeleton.

We have a fenced pasture/paddock area for the pigs we raise each summer (about 1/2 an acre), and we’ll soon be adding a free-ranging area for this summer’s meat birds. We’re considering getting a couple of sheep to mow the lawn, provide fibre for my knitting hobby, and lambs to sell and eat. And if we can ever put a year round pond in here I’d love to have some ducks. We’ve ruled out goats because of their heavy fencing requirements and because I’m not interested in eating them nor milking them – the animals around here have to earn their keep (even if it’s just carting me around on their back, speaking of which….).

A future with horses is nearer than ever; I am riding again, which was always a part of the Dream even if I didn’t state it outright at the beginning, and what’s even better is Husband is learning to ride and loves it. If things continue as they are going I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up buying horses for ourselves within the next couple of years. Of course, as much as I love the idea of having horses at home, they do require a large amount of pasture space and at this point we are undecided as to whether it would be better to just board them nearby. I suspect my romantic side will win out on this one – I really, really want a barn! And we both have visions of saddling up and riding off our property onto any one of the network of forest trails that range for miles.

We did get a dog about a year before we moved here, and we got a cat shortly after. If not for our tiny mobile home and a lack of fencing we’d have more cats and probably another dog already. When there is a fully fenced property and a barn I think both those wishes will come true.

I have the vegetable garden, but it’s a rather half-hearted affair because I’m not entirely sure if the current location will work out after the house is built, so I’m afraid to do much more than grow tomatoes and whatever other veggies I end up tossing in as an afterthought in late spring/early summer. I have big plans for hugelkultur beds, a greenhouse, perennial polyculture gardens, etc. but the house needs to be put up first and then I’ll know where to plant fruit trees and invest in a couple years’ worth of soil building. I don’t mind waiting (the house is really a priority right now) but I would like to grow much more of our own produce in the future and build up a permaculture system here, of which the gardens are an integral part.

Husband got a job he enjoys; he founded a startup company with two partners and things are moving pretty rapidly there. The fact that he is so excited about what he’s doing is truly wonderful. Unfortunately, not only does it require a lot more than 40 hours a week, but it requires him to be living away from us during the work week. The reward for this sacrifice is that it could possibly mean a much earlier retirement than we’d originally hoped for (and building the house earlier than planned, too), so we are making the best of things in the hopes that it will all pay off in the near future. It’s honestly not that bad – one of the many unexpected benefits is missing my husband enough to be really excited when he comes home from work; not bad after 10 years of marriage!

So what are my dreams now? When Jenna asked that question I decided that really, I was already living my dream and the rest would just be gravy. I’m a full time stay home mum to my amazing kids, we are part of a wonderful homeschooling community, we have our own little piece of paradise nestled here at the end of our long country road surrounded by forest and visited by elk herds…sure the property needs work, it looks pretty unkempt most of the time, the mobile home is ugly and a bit too small for us all. But it’s ours and its affordable, and when I step outside in the morning and hear nothing but dozens of varieties of birdsong I feel that really, the Dream is already here.

Categories: the dream | 1 Comment

House Planning

Winter months are a great time for indoor activities like crafting, reading, garden planning, and other endeavours that can take place from a comfortable chair. Besides doing a fair amount of knitting and crocheting myself this season, I also embarked on another hobby/task: planning our future house. When we bought this property, the plan from the start was to build a house within 5 years. Our small mobile home is serving us well at the moment, but it is old and is likely not going to last too much longer. Moisture problems top the list of issues, and we have a noticeable mouse population sharing our home (despite having a cat). If things continue to go according to plan on the financial front (we should know by summer) we’re hoping by the end of this year to start the initial work (engineering, soil testing, hiring the architect, etc). But even though we are still a ways from breaking ground, I’ve already learned a lot. In today’s post I’m going to share some of this process with you.

 

Step #1: Know Your Land.

When we were first looking at land, many resources I consulted said the same thing: if you are planning to build try to live on the property for at least a year, if not longer, before breaking ground on your new home. One of the great features of this property was the mobile home. Old enough (and ugly enough!) that we would happily get rid of it when the time came, but sturdy enough to house us until such time as we were ready to build. Having spent almost two years here I can appreciate how valuable that advice is. I know our land pretty well now. I know where the rarer species grow, where water likes to accumulate, where it flows during the wet season, and where it dries out first. I know where the frost accumulates, where the wind blows from in winter. I know the path of the sun year-round, what obstacles cast significant shadows on growing areas, what animals visit our property at night, where the birds like to hang out, etc. This is all very helpful information when it comes to the next step.

Step #2: Choose Your Building Site.

 

In our case, there wasn’t a huge choice of locations despite having 4 acres. Our property is long and narrow and there is a residential power line cutting diagonally across the top third of the property with a right-of-way underneath that precludes any permanent buildings. To build below that line would mean a very long walk from the curb on garbage day. Unless we wanted 2 acres of land between us and the street we’d have to build in a gully between hills and that is a bad site for any house – frost collects there, as does water. We also didn’t want to build on the same spot as our current house so that we could remain living comfortably for however long it takes to build. Moving the house and its connections to another spot on the property would be expensive.

In some ways, having limits can be good. There was really only one logical place to build and fortunately it is not where our mobile home is located. The site we’ve chosen is in the northwest corner of the property, on the highest point and furthest away from roads and neighbours (shown in the photo above). There are some lovely views from there, and its southern exposure will allow us to incorporate passive solar heating into the home design. The north side of the site is part of a large forested area, which will be great for insulating against cold winter winds that blow from the small mountains and hills to the north of us. Unfortunately, the entire west side of the property is lined with a tall forest of Douglas Fir trees so we lose the sun early in the day. However, having consulted my bible of solar home design – The Solar House by Dan Chiras – it is just sufficient to be suitable for the job (more on solar design later).

The site is the top portion of the area we had cleared two years ago when we first moved here, but we didn’t clear all the way to the north property line. There is a large Western Redcedar tree there surrounded by a few smaller ones and I did not want to have to remove them if possible. They provide a dense shield against wind (and block the view from the hiking trail that goes past that northern border) plus we don’t have too many cedars in our neighbourhood (it was logged about a century ago and replanted with Douglas Firs). So that limited how far we could extend the house northwards. Westwards we are right up against the property line, so the minimum clearance sets that limit. Eastwards it’s pretty wide open, but the further east we go the more exposed we are to the street (it ends about halfway along our northern border) and the neighbours’ homes. Southwards we are limited by the powerline right-of-way. But there was one other limiting factor.

This high point on the property was dug into when the original owners placed the mobile home, and then cut into some more when a small detached garage was added (see photo above). Thus there is a chunk of land cut out of the southeast corner of the house site. Originally I assumed this meant we’d have to build an L-shaped house and most of my plans were based on that design. Due to the limitations described above I wasn’t getting anywhere with floor plans (I should point out here that we are adamantly opposed to having more than one storey of living space, for reasons too lengthy to get into just now).

And then one day it hit me that if we built out over the cut-out section we could free ourselves up enormously in terms of size and layout. Essentially we’d build out over the current garage, whose roof is practically level with the top of the hill, and it would become a walk-out half-basement. It would house what it currently houses: tools, three freezers full of meat, and Husband’s drum kit among other garage-type items. And virtually none of it would be buried, allowing sufficient light inside that it doesn’t feel like a dungeon. Why it took me months of pacing around at the top of that hill to figure this out I don’t know. But it’s just one reason why I’m glad I have so much time to work on this planning thing!

Step #3: The Layout.

The truth is that we are going to need an architect to design the floor plan and layout of the house. I have zero training in this area and I can’t seem to break outside the box. Literally. I’m using graph paper to work on design plans and I seem to be stuck in this rectangular, stick-to-the-lines thinking that suggests we need a 3000 sq. foot house in order to fulfill our requirements. That is more than double the size I’m interested in. So mostly, drawing floor plans has been an exercise in thinking about the spaces and coming up with a few good ideas here and there. There is no way I could do this in earnest.

 

Thankfully, there are some great resources out there and my current bible of home design is from Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House empire. Specifically, her book Creating the Not So Big House has been an excellent source of ideas, as well as providing me with the language to convey to our future architect what we’re looking for. Finding a book like this which encapsulates your own desires for house design can really help with the whole process. I’m pretty sure that an architect will be able to come up with far more efficient uses of space, and far better workflow patterns, than I’ve been able to come up with during my forays into cubist floor-planning.

Another important consideration is that we wish to incorporate passive solar design principles into our home. This means orienting the long side of the house to the south, placing most of the windows there, and incorporating thermal mass into areas of the home to retain and release heat when the sun goes down. Without going into too much detail about passive solar design right now, it does place some limitations on layout. But now that I know we’re not limited to an L-shaped site it’s not really an issue anymore.

Step #4: The Materials.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been reading my blog for a while to learn that I want to build our home from natural materials, locally sourced wherever possible. The choices boil down to cordwood, rammed earth, cob, and straw bale. While rammed earth construction has been done here (music legend David Crosby has a rammed earth home on nearby Salt Spring Island that was featured in an episode of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things) and it is beautiful, it’s not really my style. Cordwood is problematic in climates with high moisture like ours, and while I think it looks pretty I don’t want a whole house made out of it. I’d had it in my head for some time that cob would be our best choice because I thought strawbale wasn’t suited to our damp climate. I’ve since learned that this may not be the case. And I’m concerned about the fact that cob is a relatively poor insulator. So right now I’m leaning toward strawbale.

We will, however, be using timber-framing for the skeleton of the house. The strawbales (or whatever we choose) will be infill rather than supporting walls. Timber frame simply looks incredibly beautiful, there are several very skilled companies locally that do timber-framing, and the lumber can be sourced right here on the Island (and some of it probably from our own property).

 

Step #5: The Idea Book.

I started this as a Word document some time ago. Any thoughts or observations I have go here. It could be anything from noting that I spend a great deal of time during the day in the kitchen, to wish-lists requesting, for example, a covered outdoor area for hanging laundry when it is raining. I’ve put a huge amount of thought into all the details and recording them in one place makes for a handy reference.

My tip would be to spend a day thinking about where you go in your home at various times of day, what areas are used the most, and which are not used much at all. What items do you have lying around that need a home of their own – plastic shopping bins for groceries before they get taken back out to the car, recycling, mail that needs to be sorted, clothes going to goodwill, etc. Think about what you like about your current home, or what wish you had – for example, when you are taking a shower do you love that there is a window there? Do you wish the shower were wider? And of course there is my favorite topic: how easy is this to clean? I’m amazed at how many design features I see in magazines and websites that look beautiful but I know from experience would be magnets for dust and cobwebs, or be a pain to vaccuum around.

I also wanted to share a great website I found called Houzz.com. Here are hundreds of thousands of images of room design, including exteriors, that you can browse through and add to your own personal Ideabook. My one complaint with the site is that most of these homes are quite ostentatious, much too over-the-top for my liking. I’m looking for something simpler and more humbler than most of the homes shown here, but there are so many great ideas that I continue to build up Ideabooks for various rooms in my future home. The best part will be sharing these books with our future architect, who can then get a very good idea of our taste and style without having to conduct extensive interviews with people lacking the language to describe what they like (that would be me: “Um, I like kind of a rustic look but not messy-looking, sort of traditional but not uppity, something between country and west coast luxury home…but small”…???).

So that’s where I am now. Building up my Ideabooks, having fun with graph paper, and making notes of things that will be important when it comes time to sit down with an architect. Of course there is much that needs to take place in-between, but there’s nothing I like more than immersing myself in some project that leads to the fulfillment of a Dream. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the dream ever comes true; I enjoy the process that much.

 

Categories: being green, building things, learning, outdoor projects, the dream | 4 Comments

One day, a horse.

 

I have loved horses since I was a very young girl. I hung pictures of them in my room, I practiced drawing horses until I could get a decent reproduction on paper, I collected Breyer models, and I dreamed of one day owning a horse of my own. But I lived in the suburbs and, at the tender age of 7, I felt it to be a simple fact that I would not be able to have one until I was an adult, which I equated with turning 19. When I am 19, I promised myself, I will have my own horse. And then sometimes I would start to panic – what if, by the time I’m 19, I don’t want a horse anymore? What a cruel twist of fate that would be! I laugh to remember that, back then, I was certain that I would not recognize myself as a grownup and certain that I may even be a completely different person by then. I wish I could go back in time, visit that little me, and reassure her that, at 43 years old, I am still horse crazy.

When I was 9 years old my mother sent me to a dude ranch camp in the outer rural suburbs. To me it was a world away, an entire vacation trip just to get there. In reality it was only about an hour’s drive, but it was far outside my realm of daily experience. I went for a week, and learned how to ride a horse Western style by going on daily trail rides and being in charge of grooming the horse assigned to me. I was in heaven. I dreamed of “horse camp” all year long, and soon I had convinced my mother to send me for two weeks each year. Looking back I realize it was a lot of money for my mum, but those really were some of the happiest times of my childhood. There was nothing fancy about the riding, just bombing around the trails with friends, but I knew in my heart that riding was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Once I started University life got very busy, especially my social life. But a few years into it a friend called me up one day and said “Hey, I’ve signed up for English riding lessons, wanna come?”. I learned that there was so much more to riding than just going on trails. I learned to jump, and participated in a few little schooling shows, but then I discovered Dressage and I was hooked. It not only appealed to my love of horses but there is a rather large academic component to the sport and that appealed to me as well. I spent the next 8 years training and competing in small, amateur shows. My performance was always mediocre but I had no professional aspirations and I loved every minute of it. I eventually rented a basement suite in the neighbourhood where I rode. I never tired of hearing the clip-clop of horse hooves as people rode down my street on their way to the local riding club. And throughout graduate school I had part-time jobs in the local stables, was an active member and volunteer at the riding club and our local dressage club, and was just completely immersed in the world of horses and the joy of riding.

When I graduated and moved to the US it only took me a few months to settle into my new life before I was out looking for an instructor. I was just getting settled into my new barn, meeting fellow horsey folk, when I met got married and got pregnant. My husband lived in another state so with my pending move and pregnancy I decided to take a wee break from riding.

Kids, cross-continent moves, career decisions, and fluctuating incomes prevented me from seriously looking at riding again. Before I knew it that “break” had turned into ten years. When we moved to this rural area last year I knew one day horses would be in the picture, but it still seemed a long way off. And yet, I’d pass by people riding all the time. There were horses living on our street. Riders pass by the front of our property to access the miles of trails that stretch to the west of our place. And I’d stare with a big, silly grin on my face. Still, I thought, my time hasn’t come.

And then suddenly it did.

Having kids can leave you in a bit of a fog for a while. It’s all about babies and toddlers and preschoolers who have needs that demand so much of your time and attention. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every stage of my kids’ lives, but it does go by very fast and one day you wake up and realize that you have kids now, not babies, and that you are finally in a place to step back, take a look around, and rediscover yourself. And when I did I realized just how much I’d missed riding, and became determined that somehow I was going to get back into it.

Shortly after this private resolution, Husband and I decided it was time for us to take up a hobby together. I was surprised (and thrilled) when he told me that he’d always wanted to learn how to ride. He is attracted to backcountry horseback riding, and we live in the perfect spot for such activities, being right on the Trans Canada Trail as well as several other “off-road” trails that run for miles. We began looking into it, and this Monday he and I are going for our first lesson with a holistic trainer who works with Natural Horsemanship principles, is multi-disciplinary, and who I believe could possibly take us a long way on this new journey. Because horses really are a journey that can last a lifetime.

Our goal is to become competent riders and horse handlers, to get involved with local trail riding clubs, and to eventually get horses for ourselves. Yes, we’ve decided that there will simply have to be a place for horses here at the ol’ homestead. We’re also hoping the kids might eventually get interested enough to give it a try, though sadly neither of them appears to have inherited the horse-obsession gene from me. I will probably dabble in Dressage, while he may decide to do some cross country jumping. But I’m also thrilled that my husband will be joining me in this journey, and I’m looking forward to riding with him, learning to pack for backcountry riding trips, and sharing the wonderful world of horses with him.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this new stage in our lives. I feel like, for the first time in my life, I’m in a place where owning a horse could actually be a reality for me. I keep thinking back to that little 7 year old girl I once was, lying in my bedroom at night, promising myself that one day I would have my own horse. It took a whole lot longer than I had originally anticipated, but I’d be happy to let her know that she needn’t have worried about getting old – I still love horses as much as I ever did.

 

Categories: critters, lifestyle, the dream | 3 Comments

Earning our Keep

As long as we’ve had the dream of moving to a small acreage and creating a homestead, making a living off the farm has never been part of that dream. The truth is, trying to support a family on a farm’s products is labour-intensive, highly competitive, and not all that lucrative. If we weren’t blessed with careers that can be molded to fit our circumstances perhaps we’d be entertaining thoughts of being farmers. But we’re middle-aged, not cut out for heavy work over long hours, and are able to earn a good living doing other things that take up far less time and allow us to get outside whenever possible, not to mention being with our homeschooled children. There’s lots to do in order to turn this place into a homestead, but it’s about providing good food for our family, a healthy environment around us, and a connection to the land. It’s not about earning a living.

For the last several years I’ve been running a small consulting business out of my home. It’s very part-time, the hours are flexible, I enjoy the work very much, and it pays well. About a year ago Husband found a job that fit him perfectly, too. He and his sole partner get along very well, he works almost entirely from home, and his hours are mostly flexible. His partner had already established the business some years before and there’s a steady influx of clients for the foreseeable future. And the pay is good, so he doesn’t need to work long hours to provide an income that keeps us quite comfortable. We’re both very proud of what we’ve built for ourselves, and although we recognize that the socioeconomic situations we were born into certainly helped get us where we are today, we’ve definitely chosen a road less travelled when it comes to the direction in which we took our careers. Husband could be earning a lot more money with a big firm, but he’d also be in an environment he loathes (big business), working long hours, and with little control over his future. We also would not be living here, in this smallish town. We’d be on the outskirts of a major city centre, with a long commute every day and a whole lot less land for a whole lot more money. For me, were I to seek out full employment I’d be earning ten times what I make now, but I too would be working long hours, would have missed out on the vast majority of my children’s lives, and also would not be living in this town. For us, maximizing our earning potential is not part of The Dream. We’ve pared back and chosen a more simple lifestyle, and we haven’t regretted it for one minute.

I’m writing this post because there are two things going on for us right now related to work and income, both of which I’m quite excited about. I’m in the process of re-branding my company. The name I started with is rather generic, as I wasn’t really sure what it would all look like once I got going. As with many entrepreneurial journeys, I found out along the way that there were niches I could fill, ones I didn’t know existed, and the focus of my work shifted and moved until I found my groove. I’m ready to move my business to the next level and work on promoting myself more. Virtually all my business comes via the Internet, so I’m having my website revamped and reworked to up my search engine rankings and include a way to promote those services in which I specialize. I’ve spent countless hours trying to come up with a new name, and I don’t go anywhere now without my scrap paper lists and a pen –  you never know when inspiration will hit you! I’ve found a wonderful woman to work on my website – she’s an old friend from my university and club-hopping days whom I recently reconnected with. Now she’s a stay-home mum with a home-based business and her work demonstrates that she is very talented and creative. It’s not my intention for this to become a full-time job, but I do have room for an increased caseload and I’m hoping this process will result in some more new clients.

The other thing going on is that Husband has begun working on a long-standing dream of his to produce artisan spirits. He spent his teen and young adult years on his family’s winery learning the art and science of distillation, but never really thought anything would come of it professionally. Fast-forward a couple of decades and things have really changed. On a whim he recently looked into the idea again and found that the trend in local eating and artisan food products has cleared the way for artisan distillers. While putting together a business plan we discovered that we can house the facility on our property (gotta love rural zoning) and have planned to build a small barn-style structure for this purpose (we picked the plans out of a book; it’s gorgeous and rustic and exactly what you’d expect on a homestead). What’s so great about it is there are no waste products other than water (which, as the product of distillation, is as pure as it gets) and mash (which the pigs will love). We finalized the incorporation process a few weeks ago and are now making plans to clear some of the property (which we’d planned to do anyway) and put up the barn (using the lumber we recently had milled*) this spring. We’ll be spending the first several months trying out different recipes and working to develop a unique formula and process using locally-sourced ingredients (of course!). Our goal is to produce small batches of a quality artisan product that reflects the unique flavours of our region (which is a haven for locavores). Because of the flexibility of our work schedules (and the fact that our kids are quite independent at home now) we have the time to devote to this side-business. While neither one of us is giving up our “day jobs”, who knows where this might take us? In the meantime, the cash layout is relatively small and we’re sure to have lots of fun along the way.

What’s so funny is that I don’t even drink hard liquor (I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol). But what I’ve learned so far is that making spirits is the perfect blend of art and science. Husband excels at the art aspect of things and the scientist in me is rather excited about taking on some lab work again. Although the setting will be much different than the labs I used to work in, such tasks as performing batch experiments and keeping pristine notes of all processes and variables is right up my alley (they don’t call me the Spreadsheet Queen for nothing). Mostly it just all sounds like a good deal of fun, something Hubby and I can bond over (like having kids isn’t enough), not to mention the source of some fabulous homeschool experiments for the kids. I’m very excited about what lies ahead for us, and immensely grateful and happy that we have managed to craft such a good life for ourselves.

* in searching for a link here I discovered I never posted about our milled lumber; pictures coming soon, I promise!

Categories: career, lifestyle, money matters, outdoor projects, the dream | 4 Comments

We’re Here!

The move on Friday went very smoothly. Thank goodness for our detached garage/workshop – we’ve stored most of our boxes there. I’m slowly putting our home together but it still feels like a mammoth undertaking. I’ve been working like mad because I find it difficult to live in a state of chaos and will feel much more settled when things are in order.

We hadn’t been here since the day we viewed the property and decided to put in an offer, so there was a lot to discover. Some things were not so pleasant, but they pale in comparison to all the positive things. For example, we appear to have an ant issue in the kitchen but we dealt with this last year and know how to handle it. We also appear to have a resident mouse, which was heard nibbling around my pantry shelves last night. Seems we will be getting a cat sooner than I had thought! We also found out that we do, in fact, have “sulfur water”. This is water that smells of eggs. It’s perfectly safe to drink but most people (including myself) find the smell too unpleasant. Bathing, showering, and brushing teeth are all accompanied by that egg smell, but I’m sure we’ll get used to it after a while. If that’s the worst thing about this place (and so far it appears to be) then we are in good shape. On the plus side, it appears the well is deeper and more prolific than we originally thought. Yesterday there was a total of two adult showers, one kids bath, three loads of laundry, and a run on the dishwasher and we didn’t experience any shortage of water.

And now for the pluses…we have a lovely line of moon lamps along our driveway that are connected to a photosensitive power supply. At dusk they light up and it looks so pretty. The crocuses are coming up in the gardens, and the birds are amazing. From the squawking of red-winged blackbirds to the haunting cries of the ravens, birds abound here. Sitting in the living room one looks out the windows to see dark-eyed juncos playing in the trees and on the grass. I can’t wait to start putting some bird-boxes around the place and seeing what other birds we can attract.

There’s a wild cat who comes around here – the owner left a note and some cat food saying she has been feeding him. He’s a black tom with a wonky eye. He sits on the porch railing sometimes, but runs away as soon as he sees us or the dog.

Mostly I’m just loving the peace and quiet. I love puttering around the house knowing that there aren’t cars and people marching past me just a few feet away. Even though I’m inside somehow I just *feel* the sense of space around me. I love it.

And the outdoors…as you can see from the top photo boots are mandatory ’round here right now. Yesterday my daughter, the self-proclaimed “couch potato” went out at least 4 times to explore the area with the dog. I’ve been able to hike around and explore the neighbourhood myself and am delighting in the numerous trails around here.

I’ll end this with a photo of the view outside one of our living room windows. This is the northwest corner of the “back” yard, behind which is crown land.

Categories: the dream | 7 Comments

Countdown

With four days to go until the Moving Truck arrives things are getting to crunch time.

The kids have been amazing, dealing with near total neglect without much difficulty (thank you Nintendo for releasing Super Mario Bros Wii, which has bought me hours of packing time!).

Husband and I are as excited as kids at Christmas. All this talk of what we’ll need to get and what we plan to do is super fun. We did all the legal stuff this past Friday, which involved signing piles of documents and handing over a certified cheque. We are now officially done. All that’s left is to do is pick up the keys!

And, wouldn’t you know it, my consulting business suddenly picked up, with two of my new clients requiring completed reports right before we move! So in between packing and decluttering and organizing (oh yeah, and occasionally remembering to feed the children) I’ve been working too.

The only real casualty in all this, however, has been the dog. She is suffering from way too little exercise and the stress of having her home turned upside down. She is barking at everything that moves outside, following me around whining…it’s driving me crazy but at the same time I feel guilty for neglecting her. Lately my mantra has been “Hang in there girl, just X more days…”.

And this relates to one of the biggest and most immediate changes in my lifestyle when we move to our property. I will be able to exercise my dog without needing child care! I can take her outside and walk around our forested property while she chases squirrels, or just use my ball-throwing stick for a high energy game of fetch (even though our current suburban house has one of the biggest yards on our street, there is not enough room to throw my dog a ball and have the game burn off any meaningful amount of energy on her part). When we get back to three good exercise sessions a day my dog will return to her mellow, quiet self.

That will be just the start, of course, of numerous positive lifestyle changes. I am SO ready!

Categories: the dream | Leave a comment

A New Beginning

For the last couple of years I’ve written about the environment, frugality, living simply and sustainably, eating locally sourced foods, gardening, etc. All this has been in anticipation of fulfilling our dream of buying a small acreage. Now that we’ve “bought the farm”, my blog posts will focus on the giant learning curve that lies ahead of us.

As you can see, I’ve changed the look, the blog title, and other information to reflect this new part of my journey. I was born and raised in the suburbs, and have only really ever lived on a typical suburban residential street or in a high-density urban neighbourhood. Consequently, I have MUCH to learn!

I’m very much looking forward to this new adventure, and I hope you will all continue to follow along with me as I plunge headlong into rural living.

Categories: learning, the dream | 1 Comment

WE GOT IT!!!

After a brief and painless negotiation they accepted our offer. I’m SO excited!! We’ll be moving at the end of February. I have SO much to do…

I can’t believe after all this time we’ve finally found a place. It is as close to perfect as we could have asked for and was definitely worth the wait and the emotional roller coaster ride. The Dream has arrived, and now the Adventure begins!!

And to top it all off, it’s my birthday today. Makes for a very nice present!

Categories: the dream | 4 Comments

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