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Getting closed in for winter, and heading to the USA

I have been meaning to put an update on this blog for a long time now but haven’t had a chance. Since my last post, we had a burst of activity working on the house, getting the rafters and all the other details ready to install our steel roofing. Our wet winter weather set in, turning the work site into a muddy slip n slide, as well as making life in general harder. Simply put, living off the grid in winter is hard.

A freezing cold day working on the roof.

Our electricity and primary hot water system relies on the sun, and without sunshine we are constantly on the edge of running out of power and hot water. We can do without power pretty well and are used to managing most nights with headlamps and rechargeable LED lanterns. Our laundry piles up while we are waiting for a sunny dry spell (in order for the washing machine to have power and for our clothes to be able to dry on the line afterwards). A few weeks ago we had our first dry sunny day in a while and whipped through five loads, then filled up the washing lines and had laundry strung up all over the house drying for two days.

Our wood stove is a “wet back”, which means the water pipes are heated when we have a fire going, so in the winter we crank it every afternoon in order to both heat the house and get us enough hot water for dishes and baths. We burned through the existing pile of wood, so many afternoons in July were spent hauling pieces of timber from the piles we cleared around our house site, chain-sawing it into manageable pieces, trucking them down to the chopping block, then wheelbarrowing the firewood and kindling around to our wood box. I learned a good lesson about chopping wood when I was smacked in the face by a a stick as I attempted to cut it in half lengthwise with the axe. The chores never seem to end this time of year.

A break from chores to explore.

By the middle of July, we were on track to get the roof on, get the windows and doors put in, and get the house wrapped in time for our departure to the USA for a trip at the end of the month. Then, we all got Covid.

Needless to say, things slowed to a crawl as we nursed the kids and tried to recover in time to jump on our trans-Pacific flight. With help from builders we hired on the island, we got the final tasks done on the house just in time. When we boarded our flight to San Francisco at the end of July, we were thoroughly exhausted, but breathed easy knowing our house was “closed in” and would be protected from the winter weather while we were away.

Due to having Covid, I didn’t get to be involved nearly as much as I would have liked to in the process of closing the house in. After knowing how each piece of the project has been done up to now, it’s strange to look at it and not know how the roof was put in, how the windows fit into the frame, or how the cladding (siding) is attached. By the time we headed to the airport, I was still so wiped out from Covid that I had only walked up to the work site once to see the progress. I can’t wait to get back and dive back into the project. (Below: the process of getting closed in, first the roof, then wrapping the building and putting the windows and doors in, then adding plywood cladding/siding to the outside)

For the next month, we’re traveling around the western USA, visiting friends and relatives, and feeling both at home and far from it. I had forgotten how friendly Americans are, and we were shocked by the portion sizes when we stopped to get lunch in the airport on a layover in San Francisco. My salad looked like it could have served a family of four, and the hot dog we ordered for the kids came with a mountain of fries and a pickle the size of my toddler’s forearm. “Welcome to America!” Isaac said as we dug in.

The gas here seems so cheap to me, at $4.60 a gallon. Back on the island we regularly pay as much as $11 USD for a gallon of gas. And when I loaded up a cart at Trader Joe’s and saw that the total was only $280, I couldn’t believe it. Everything here is so cheap compared to what we pay living back on the island.

Right now we are near the end of a two-week adventure through the Pacific Northwest in a 22-foot RV. Sleeping together in the same small space has been challenging and joyful. I often wake up to a toddler crawling across me in the semi-dark, and it’s light until 9pm so our bedtime routine involves taping black plastic garbage bags over the windows to make the kids think it’s time to sleep. But that’s a small price to pay for getting a delicious taste of summer in the middle of our wet New Zealand winter. We’ve eaten as many melons, berries, and nectarines as we can get our hands on, and even got to pick our own raspberries at a farm in Washington (not many made it into the basket).

Despite enjoying our trip immensely, Isaac and I talk often about the house back home in New Zealand. We’re on a tight timeline to finish it before Christmas, and part of me will be thrilled to pick up the drill again and get to work after this nice little break. Until then!

Exploring North Cascades National Park

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