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Back from overseas, and back to work

I write this sitting in our shipping container with the big metal doors flung open. I’m at the desk Isaac built for me out of a sheet of pine when I needed a place to work at home in 2020, sitting in the office chair I bought back then too. Both are smeared in mud now and coated in sawdust. The back of the container is piled with boxes we haven’t opened for over a year now, and mattresses that have been wrapped in clear plastic for as long. Around the desk are boxes of nails, tools, building drawings, and a big basket of snacks. The babbling sound of yesterday’s rain storm is trickling down the drain we dug behind our work site like a creek. I’ve sat here many times to write, though it’s been a long time, and today when I look out I can see the house we’ve built, painted dark green and nearly finished. It makes me so happy.

Much has happened since I last got a chance to write. Our six-week trip to the US ended up being more stressful than we could have imagined. Our youngest sliced his arm open in a fall that required stitches, then our oldest was bitten in the cheek by a dog, requiring more stitches. A shelf fell on his head shortly after that, requiring yet more stitches. The universe seemed to be telling us to get back to the island. We also did SO much – saw all our friends and relatives, visited two national parks and countless campgrounds, went to zoos and aquariums and a gazillion new playgrounds, ate heartily and shopped like true Americans. It was exhausting.

Revisiting Golden Gate Park in San Francisco

Both those green bags are filled with stuff we purchased in the US.

After a 12-hour flight followed by a rough 30 minutes in a 10-seater plane through inclement weather, we finally made it onto the island’s grassy runway. We rejoiced. Isaac and I unpacked our bags (we had bought two duffel bags worth of stuff in the US, amazed at how cheap everything seemed, and of course we stocked up on Trader Joe's delicacies). Then, we dove straight into working nonstop to get our house project moving along. We want to be moved in by December, and the clock is ticking.

With siding/cladding and windows done on three sides of the house, we just had to complete the rear, which includes two doors and a store room. I put one of the doors in myself and cannot believe how tricky it was to get the thing plumb and straight. My shims kept slipping out or moving, and once I got it level in one direction, it would fall out of level in the other. The siding and fascia boards are equally tricky, being so visible. Framing, it turns out, is a forgiving part of the building process compared to these last bits.

Putting up siding/cladding

Last week we had all the plywood siding up and were ready for my favourite part of the job – painting! We picked a dark green colour called “scrub”, which is what the manuka trees all over the island are referred to colloquially. True to its name, the paint makes our house blend in nicely with the trees all around. Two days of painting and I’d covered the whole thing with two coats. As my mother-in-law put it, “It’s perfect.”

Our plan is to get to “minimum viable house” by December, which basically means making the house liveable so we can move in, even if trim and bits of work have yet to be done. We’re still working solo, with one of us looking after the kids while the other heads up to the site. It’s a joy to work alone, but we do have help coming to finalise the electrical and plumbing. We also hope to get some help putting the gib/drywall up, given how heavy the sheets are. Then we’ve got to lay the flooring, after which point we plan to set up the kitchen and move in. We won’t have a bathroom, but can shower and bathe down at the big old house we’re living in now; our outhouse and composting toilet will only take a few days to build once we’re moved in. It seems insane that we thought this project would take us six months when we first moved here. It’ll have been about 18 months when we finally get it all finished.

What we do on a rainy day when there is nowhere else to go but our yard.

In between pounding nails and sloshing on paint, we’ve been gratefully enjoying the quietude of winter here on the island. After such a busy and stressful trip overseas, I have a newfound appreciation for how safe and uneventful life is here. Last year at this time, I was awestruck by mundane things like cows meandering in the road, or rains that flooded our little valley and trapped us at home. Now they’re commonplace – the other night I drove the boys home from dinner at a friend’s house only to slam on my brakes a quarter mile from our driveway when I hit a flood. I had to backtrack a few miles on the road to get cell service and call my father-in-law so he could come get us. Just another day on the island. Now that we have wetsuits for the boys, rainy days mean swimming in mud puddles that crop up around our yard and driveway. Oh, the joy.

We’ve also gotten quite good at trapping mice. We discovered when we got back to New Zealand that they had infested our store room and chewed tiny holes in every bag of food we had in there. After cleaning out and patching up that space, the mice doubled down on our house, finding their way up through rotten floorboards into storage spaces throughout the house. A week of strategic trapping and clearing things out, and we’ve patched up their holes and are mouse-free again, thank goodness. Our son can’t stop talking about wanting to get a cat, which he says he’ll train to chase mice. That would be nice.

I also managed to find a few afternoons when the waves were small and the wind was offshore (blowing out to sea rather than toward the beach) to pick up my huge pink foam surfboard and head out for a surf. I hadn’t been out at all since we moved here, even though Isaac bought me a surfboard before we moved. One of my US purchases on our recent trip was a wetsuit for myself, which makes winter swimming and surfing a joy. I can see how people get hooked on surfing – I smile nonstop when I’m out there, despite how bad I am at it, and then can’t wait to go again.

There’s a turn in the road not too far from our house where it edges out over a cliff and you can look down on the whole of our little beach. Isaac has always pulled over there whenever we’re driving to or from our house, sometimes to my annoyance, to watch the swell for a little while. After just a few days surfing this beach on my own, I find myself doing the same. I stop the car and look over the edge to see how big the waves are, whether the water looks glassy (good) or choppy (bad), and imagine where the sand banks are underwater so I can picture where I might go out. This newfound love is just one more incentive to get our house done by summer. So now, back to work!

The surf lookout

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