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Starting to build, and learning to drive

In all our previous visits to the island, I never got behind the wheel of a car here. It was partly the driving-on-the-left thing, but mostly the terrifying roads, which made me insist Isaac drive. There's not a single stoplight on the entire island, nor are there lines on the barely-two-cars-wide roads. They hairpin around impossible bends up and down the rugged hills, and if you don't hug your side of the road closely enough when an oncoming car barrels down on you, you'll be toast.

After several weeks of winding around the island in our minivan, I'm getting confident as an island driver. Any near misses with other cars have been mostly because passing drivers all tend to give a quick wave as they pass, and it took me a while to master how to lift a hand from the steering wheel to return the gesture while avoiding a head-on collision. I finally figured out how to lift a few fingers off the wheel in an effortfully casual manner and still maintain control of the car. But I wasn't prepared when we came around a blind bend and there was a cow in the middle of the road.

I slammed on the brakes in shock and she trotted out of the way just in time. The land rose steeply on one side of the road and dropped away on the other. It was thickly forested on both sides, so there was really nowhere she could go to get away from us but straight down the road. And that's exactly what she did. I tried gingerly to sneak around her and she trotted forward. We ended up driving behind her for longer than I wanted to before she finally stood aside long enough for me to pass. Up ahead was another cow with whom we played the game all over again. My toddler thought it was hilarious. We finally managed our way around the second cow and drifted down to the bakery for a treat. We ate our sausage rolls and cookies, the kids splashed in mud puddles until they were soaked, and I marvelled at how different our life is now. I'm sure we'll bump into dozens of cows in the road as we continue to live here and it won't even be noteworthy soon enough. But for now these rural occurrences are odd enough for the city girl in me to marvel at and laugh about.

The marvel of the week for our kids was the digger we hired to come over and get our house site ready for building. We heard it rattling up the steep gravel driveway and ran out in our gumboots to greet it. Our toddler was beside himself, explaining to us what each part of the machine was called. "Mama, this is called the arm! And these are hydraulics!" It was perhaps the best day of his life.

In just a few hours the road up to our site was cleared, and after two days our house site was nearly done. We hammered in some batter boards to lay out a string line for the house and deck, which will be used to measure out where we need to dig holes for our foundation posts.

I've never built a house and at times feel like we are way over our head. But after watching YouTube for 20 minutes and figuring out my father-in-law's levelling machine, I was able to go up on my own and get half our batter boards up. It gives me confidence that we'll be able to do this (thanks YouTube!).

The kids hammered and dug in the piles of dirt yesterday evening as Isaac and I put up our last batter boards before dinner. We stood where the future deck of our house will be and looked out. It felt real and good. And overwhelming. There's so much to do before we can actually stand on that deck together, living our dream.

But I want to remember that the process of building the life we imagined for ourselves actually is the dream, in many ways. There's no end point, really. The moving and the adjusting and the building and the learning to drive, each step is part of it. And so far each step has felt right, even if it's hard, and reminds me we're on the right path. Even if there are cows in the way sometimes.

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