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Camping for Christmas

“All I want for Christmas is to spend it up in our new tiny house,” I said to Isaac not too long ago. It was late at night after a ten-hour day installing insulation and drywall. Despite working seven days a week, eight hours during the day and two more after dinner, to get the place into a liveable state before a busy Christmas season, it didn’t look likely. Too many setbacks, both within and out of our control, had pushed our goal out of reach.

I could write a whole post about all the mistakes we’ve made along the way, but suffice it to say we made a few. Each added up to a lost day here and a wasted afternoon there, which pushed out the window of time in which we needed our plumber and electrician to come. A huge mistake in ordering the wrong thickness of insulation cost us days of extra work, and by the time we were ready for a builder friend to come help with the drywall insulation, it was nearly Christmas. Everyone was shutting things down and heading off on sailing trips or to visit family on the mainland. We’d missed the window of opportunity to get these crucial extra hands on the job, and now would have to wait until the end of January, when the summer holidays end and work picks back up here in New Zealand.

None of this would have been much to write home about, except that Isaac’s family is large and his five brothers all love to come home to the island for Christmas, bringing girlfriends and kids and dogs and surfboards with them. I knew it was time for us to vacate the old family home of theirs we’d been living in and give the space over to the relatives for the holiday. Plus, the prospect of sharing a one-bathroom home with ten additional family members was stressful for me, what with our two toddlers and all. Hence the rush to get our tiny house done so we could escape to it for the holiday.

Above: the state of things just weeks before we hoped to be moving in.

Below: finished drywall along the lower part of the walls, thanks to some long days of work.

A week before everyone was set to arrive, I was a mess of anxiety and had hit a wall. We needed to make a plan. Our plumber had been tied up at other jobs for weeks now (there are two plumbers on the island, and endless demands on their time), which meant no hot water or gas in the tiny house. But we had a hose and a tank of rain water, which seemed like enough for us. We didn’t have electrical outlets and lights hooked up, but we did have a solar power system we could run extension cords from. If we could set up our camp stove and put together a quick outdoor toilet system, we’d be set. “It’ll be like camping,” Isaac said, “with a really good view and a roof over our heads.” As long as we could make the interior of the house safe for kids (no live wires, no insulation hanging out, no dust), we’d move up for the holiday season.

We ordered ourselves a two-burner camp stove and a “boom bucket” for our toilet, and re-set our expectations. Once I wrapped my imagination around the idea that we’d be camping for Christmas, I got really excited about the idea. It would be one our kids (and we) would remember forever. And most of all, we’d have our own space.

Isaac watched YouTube videos on how to put in drywall, then worked nonstop to get the lower walls of the house covered in it, finishing on the summer solstice. We spent the next day trundling our fridge, kids beds and dresser, and boxes of dishes and food up the gravel driveway to the work site where our house stood. By evening we were set up and the kids were bouncing in their bunk beds, overjoyed at getting to sleep in this structure they had watched us build for the past year. “We did it,” Isaac said as we fell onto our camping mats on the floor, utterly exhausted, that night.

Cleaning up after sunset in order to get ready to move in the next day.

Moving our fridge up to the tiny house – the biggest thing we moved.

All set up in our unfinished house.

Doing dishes in buckets on the deck.

The day before Christmas Eve, we cut down a pine tree and decorated it (actually, three pine trees strapped together because they are so spindly!). I hung our stockings and let the kids dig into a tin of Christmas cookies. It was feeling festive, and we were all really happy. Besides a few hours spent cleaning up construction debris around the site, it was the first time in nearly a month that we had taken a break as a family and just relaxed together.

Then, on Christmas Eve we got a very special surprise – our plumber showed up in his truck, ready to work as long as it took to get our hot water and gas hooked up. Isaac put on his work boots to help, and the two of them worked 13 hours with short breaks for coffee. I dressed the boys and headed down for drinks and dinner with the rest of the family, urging Isaac and the plumber to come join us. They kept working. It was dark and the kids were fast asleep dreaming about Santa when the guys finally finished, dusty and drained. We couldn’t have been more grateful as we received the best Christmas gift we could have asked for – hot water and a gas stove hook-up. Isaac ended his day by taking a hot shower outside under the stars and we sent the plumber off with hugs and a sandwich made from leftovers.

Our outdoor shower – not having hot water sure makes you appreciate it.

Our camping Christmas, in the end, was magical. Santa managed to find us up here, much to the kids delight, and my anxieties about living in such an unfinished house proved unfounded once we got up here. Even before we got the gift of hot water, we had everything we needed – cozy spots to sit on the floor and read Christmas books with the kids, a dry place to cuddle up and sleep all together in one room, a glowing Christmas tree, and shelves of delicious food. Our kids have been so happy since we came up to the unfinished house, spending the days playing on the floor and running around the deck. They love the small space and being close to us all the time.

As obsessed with presents kids can be during the holidays, they also remind us what Christmas is really about – being together, having fun, and making the most of what you’ve got. As expected, this will be one we’ll remember forever.

Below: Our progress over the past year, from January at the top to December at the bottom.

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