Most tiny houses are on wheels, ours won't be. Here's the 3 meter x 10 meter spot where it'll go.

A post all about the tiny house! I’ve been meaning to write more about the project, but so much else has been going on that it hasn’t been top of mind. Plus, without building materials to do some of the more impressive stuff like framing and, well, building, what we’ve been working on seems boring to me. And muddy. But when I mentioned to a friend that I’d built a rock staircase over the weekend she said, “I want to see it!” So below is a bit about that and more.

As mentioned previously, Covid and NZ’s lockdowns for the past few months have wrecked havoc on the supply chain for pretty much everything. Building materials included. Getting things to the island is hard enough as it is, but the only supplier on island recently told us the list of timber we want won’t be available until after Christmas. There might be some magical other way to locate timber and get it here on the ferry, but so far we haven’t discovered it. So here we are, ready to put on our tool belts but with nothing to actually build with. Turns out, there is actually a TON of work to do that has nothing to do with a hammer. Although we imagined building the house itself and then working in the infrastructure around it, we’ve decided to do the opposite. And there are lots of benefits to doing it this way anyway. So, here's what we're up to.

Our landscape and infrastructure plan so far.

Our water tank, taller than I am.
Water Tank

We purchased a 6000 litre water tank here on the island. With the spot for it cleared and levelled, Isaac and the boys brought a trailer full of sand up from the beach and built a giant sandbox platform for it to sit on. He then wound piping through the forest down to the main house where water is collected off the rooftops of the existing structures on the property. We can pump water up from there and fill up the tank. We’ll need water to mix concrete up at the site, so this is a big win to have finished this!

Picking up hay to mulch on our newly planted grass.

Putting down grass seed under a layer of hay in the rain. Muddy work.

After excavation and clearing was done, a weeklong rainstorm blew in and turned everything to a mucky mess. I was eager to get grass seed down, both to capitalise on the rains for germination, and also to do away with the mud as soon as possible. Once we have grass established, the kids will be able to play on the site more (they love the mud for five minutes and then complain when it clumps to their boots and they can’t walk). So, grass would mean Isaac and I will be able to work side by side while the kids play rather than switching off like we do now.

My eagerness for grass had me slipping and sliding around in the mud to sprinkle seed on the steepest hillside of the site today. We purchased several bales of hay from the farmers next door and I spread that across the soil to keep the grass seed from washing away. (a great tip from my father-in-law!) There isn’t much top soil, but I’m hopeful that the grass will find a way.

Rock walls , steps, paths

When we laid metal (fancy name for rocks, apparently) on the driveway, the digger driver picked out the biggest rocks and dotted them around the property in piles to be used for other projects. We’ve got a few staircases to build for the landscaping, as well as a retaining wall behind the house. With no timber available, we’ll use – you guessed it – rocks. I spent yet another muddy day in the rain cutting steps into the bank leading to our future veggie garden and fitting heavy rocks in as steps. The mud was actually helpful – the rocks went in easily and I could push mud into the cracks between them. I’m pretty proud of the steps actually. I finally feel like I’ve built something!

A ledge where we'll put raised garden beds.
Veggie Garden

We cleared a ledge in the steep hillside below the house where we can put a few raised garden beds. I haven’t worked out the design of them yet, nor have I figured out how we’ll build them without timber (we may just have to wait), but I can’t wait to get started. A muddy pile of topsoil we saved from the excavation is just waiting to be dropped into a future garden bed.

Foundation posts, ready to be cut.

We did manage to get a stack of timber foundation posts of various sizes, which was a win. With careful cuts to each, we can just manage to get the number of posts we need (with a little left over too). Our digger driver can bore the holes and help with the concrete, so as soon as this rain dries up we want to be ready. That means we’ve got to get a truly accurate string line up and mark where to dig each posthole. This is the first of many technical steps to come, and we’ve got to get it right. But once those foundation posts are in, it’ll feel that much more real. I can’t wait.

Until next time!

Almost always the only ones at the beach

It took a while for me to figure out where to get my news here. Scrolling the homepage of the NYTimes or listening to daily news summaries from NPR told me nothing I really needed to know. That is, nothing about New Zealand’s ever-changing lockdown and COVID dramas.

When we arrived here in July, every Kiwi except staff of the managed quarantine program were living blissfully in a pre-2020 era of concerts and dinner parties and maskless grocery shopping. After yo-yoing through a year and a half of closures and distanced outdoor hangouts with friends in SF, we were excited to breeze into this pre-pandemic world. But of course, two days after clearing MIQ and arriving at our new home, Covid slipped into New Zealand. And this time they couldn’t stamp it out.

Since then, the headlines here are all pandemic-related. We tune the radio to RNZ’s news summaries multiple times a day. The number one piece of news is always how many reported new cases there are and where, followed closely by what percentage of the population have gotten vaccinated. At a distant third place are any other breaking news stories, like about people who’ve escapes quarantine, people who’ve been caught disobeying lockdown rules, or the latest rugby match score. We hang on the Covid and vaccine numbers day to day, knowing our social freedom hangs on them too.

New Zealand aims to have 90% of the eligible population vaccinated before opening schools or dining (even outdoors) or shops again. And each week the number of cases rises and the percentage of vaccinated folks slows. So here we are, living the pandemic all over again, seemingly from square one. School are closed and kids have been home for months now with no end in sight. Teachers are nervous to go back to school. Parents working from home are slowly going insane. Businesses are closing and people are losing their jobs. Sounds pretty familiar to me. Everyone is getting more and more frustrated, and even as case numbers climb people are increasingly tempted to break the rules and socialise.

I don’t blame them. I’m tempted too, ready to sit and enjoy our treats at the cafe rather than in the car, and plan playdates with anyone willing to get together. Vaccination is such a touchy topic here, and hesitation to get it so prolific, that you daren’t bring it up in conversation with anyone whose stance you don’t already know. I made that mistake once in small talk with an acquaintance and learned my lesson.

Isaac and I are, of course, vaccinated. We had no hesitation about it after living pandemic life for a year and a half – it was the way back to normalcy for us, our kids, and all of our friends. Unfortunately, we have moved to a place where we get to re-live what we went through in SF last year all over again. Sound maddening? It is.

Another beach all to ourselves.

Every couple of nights after the kids go to bed, we sip tea in the kitchen after doing the last of the dishes and hang our heads in loneliness and frustration. Loneliness because we haven’t been able to make friends with many people at all since moving here, and frustration because the country’s response to Covid seems to have learned little from all the mistakes and trial-and-error the rest of the world went through in 2020.

The social isolation brought on by the pandemic is just one of the woes. We just got word that timber and other supplies we need for our house project are not going to be available until after Christmas, due to Covid-related shipping and production issues. And our container of worldly belongings is still stuck in San Francisco, there simply aren’t any ships coming this way across the Pacific anymore. A few weeks ago I had to ask family and friends to stop mailing anything our way – postal service between NZ and the US is simply not possible right now, with so few planes and boats going back and forth. Kiwis are already stocking up Christmas gifts for fear there won’t be much on the shelves in December.

I knew moving overseas would be difficult, and prepared myself accordingly with pep talks and promises to FaceTime those we love back in the States. I was ready to put myself out there to meet new friends, find kids for our children to play with, and build new routines to replace the cafe visits and playground dates we loved back in SF. But all this has made it more difficult than I could have imagined. Those evenings with Isaac in the kitchen always end with us hugging, then me looking to the ceiling and begging the universe to please let this run its course as quickly as possible. I want to stay here, but not like this. We need more normalcy in our life after already putting in a year and a half of social isolation. We need people.

There was some good news on the radio this week. Auckland’s vaccination rate is the highest in the country. Being the closest city to our island, we follow their lockdown rules. People are hopeful by Christmas we’ll be able to leave the island and others will be able to come here. We might be able to sit down at the cafe to drink our flat whites rather than take them to go. Our kids might get to go to PlayCentre and frolic on the playground with peers. Our extended family who live in NZ might be able to visit us. Maybe. We’ll see. For now I’m drinking my tea, looking at the ceiling, and hoping.

I haven’t posted in a while and have meant to. Our landscape work to level the building site is almost done, the new driveway has gravel on it now, and I’ve thought a lot about what it feels like to have swapped my decade-long career in tech for a role as caregiver and homemaker in such a remote place (short answer: great!). But when I penned a lot of these updates and thoughts to this blog, just as I was about to publish it something glitched and the work was all lost. Any writer's nightmare. So without the time or heart to re-write everything I’d put together, here are some images and short updates.

I carried the kids over the rocks to a remote little bay south of the beach we usually go to and spent a morning playing in the low tide. Despite it being Saturday, we had the place to ourselves. When you go on vacation, you dream of having a private beach all to yourself for a week before heading back to the crowded place you came from. But when you live in that remote and gorgeous place, you cross your fingers there will be other people or families there to share the sand and waves with you. The kids have a great time nevertheless, people or (usually) no people.

Our digger finished clearing the site, and we can really imagine where the house will go now. We cleared a flat spot for our container where a mosquito pond used to be. At this rate though, our container of belongings likely won’t get here until 2022, given the shipping crisis worldwide. When it does though, it’ll be great as storage, and eventually we can turn it into a sleep-out for guests.

Next up is pouring the foundation, getting our house materials delivered, and starting on the work of actually building. Isaac has polished up the plans and we love what has come together. We can’t wait to get started.

Now, fingers crossed I don't lose any blog posts ever again. 🤞

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