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Where the grass is greener

A "summer" day at the beach here this January

January brought the worst weather-related disaster in New Zealand’s history to the North Island. Rain bucketed down for weeks, dropping multiple times the typical monthly rainfall in just a few days in some places. The storms flooded towns and homes and caused landslides and slips all over the country. Our little island wasn’t spared, though the natural landscape around us drained most of the water away with little damage to buildings. Crews were out clearing rocks and mud off the roads where slips had blocked things, and we were able to go eel fishing off the edge of our driveway when the creek swelled above its banks for a week.

This is typically the time of year when water tanks are running low. In January last year we had run out of water and were pumping up regularly from the creek at the bottom of the hill. But now, our backup tank is full and our main rain-water collection tank is overflowing. To take advantage of the weather, and in an attempt to prevent erosion on our clay banks, we spent the beginning of January spreading topsoil and grass seed across a patch of our site. Within a week, the hillside was bright green, and we dreamed of a time in the future when the grass would spread to the rest of our muddy lot. In the places where we hadn’t planted grass, the clay soil grew a slick of algae like a creek. It’s been that wet.

Our driveway

Eel fishing with a stick and a hook beside our driveway

Our kids were elated to catch one!

Besides the full tanks and green grass, there’s nothing to love about the weather we have had all summer. “We haven’t gotten a summer yet,” someone said to me at the local cafe the other day, to which I agreed. Our visitors over Christmas and New Years spent most of their holiday indoors playing card games and stoking up the wood stove to get hot water. We were thankful to have our own space, camping up in the unfinished house, especially when two different flus made their way through the crew who was visiting. We eventually got both bugs, with the kids sick back to back, and myself sick with a fever and then a stomach flu for a week. And that’s how I found myself curled up on the kids’ old crib mattress on the floor of our unfinished house clutching an empty paint bucket in the middle of the night, wondering why on earth we’ve chosen to live this way.

Bucket baths in the rain beside our muddy patch of grass

It was a low moment, and when you’re sick and living without an indoor bathroom those are easy to end up in. As I lay there, I heard a scrabbling sound in the box where we kept dry goods in our makeshift kitchen, just a few feet from where I lay. A rat, I thought. Too sick to do anything, I called to Isaac, who was sleeping on the floor of the kids’ room nearby. “Isaac, wake up, a rat!” I called. He roused himself and stumbled into the kitchen where the commotion was. He kicked the box of dry goods and the rat bee-lined for the back door beside where I lay. It must have come in there earlier in the evening when I had the door open to cool the house off. Finding his escape-route blocked, the rat turned and zipped into the other side of the house, to the master bedroom which was filled with building materials and tools and a million places to hide. Crap.

“Get the trap,” I said to isaac, “it’s outside by the compost pile.” Within a few minutes, Isaac was setting the trap with peanut butter beside the door to the tools room. We went back to bed. Fifteen minutes later, an unmistakable “snap!” woke us up. “Got it,” Isaac announced as he carried the trap and victim out to the back deck. I tossed and turned in a sleepless haze of sickness for the rest of the night, and heard scratching and banging on the other side of the wall where Isaac had put the trap outside.

In the morning I sent the kids out to check the rat trap, and Jude came in to tell me the rat we’d caught was still moving. The trap hadn’t killed it, and I'd been hearing his struggles all night. Isaac picked up the sledgehammer and headed out to the garden to finish the job. When I heard a bang and a shriek later, I asked what had happened. “The brains splattered all over my leg,” Isaac said. I covered my eyes with my hands and mumbled, “I can’t believe this is our life right now.” I was over it.

When I’d turned the corner on the stomach flu, I sat out on the deck and told Isaac the truth – I had run out of energy for this house project. It felt never-ending and we still have so much to do. I wanted to live somewhere else. Somewhere with places to go and things for the kids to go do when the weather was foul. I was desperately wanting modern conveniences like a dishwasher and a flushing toilet. And most of all, I was lonely and needed a community, which is something I haven’t quite found yet here. The grass seemed greener somewhere more populated, and I dreamed longingly of that place.

But the truth is, the grass is green where you water it. And for now, this is our spot. Isaac and I made a plan to move down to the old house now that the holiday visitors had all trickled back to their lives on the mainland or overseas, and we would plow some more savings into the tiny house to get help with finishing it.

And so we trundled the kids bunks and our few boxes of clothes back down to Isaac’s childhood home, our camping adventure in the tiny house now over. Sleeping on a real king-sized bed again after a month on mats and crib mattresses on the floor felt divine. A crew came last week and finished the drywall up in our tiny house. This week, someone is up doing the sanding and plastering, and next week Isaac’s best childhood friend is going to paint the interior for us. We’ve got to get the wood flooring down and finish the electrical, and then we’re pretty much there. Our kitchen cabinets came flat-packed in our container from the US, so those just need to be assembled and put in place for us to have a kitchen. We figured we’ll chip away at the bathroom and the endless outdoor projects over time, given that our outside toilet and shower will suffice until winter.

Drywall is done!

Looking out on another rainy day

All said and done, we hope to be living in the place, with furniture and real beds, by end of February. When we moved here, we thought we’d knock the project out in six months. A year and a half later, here we are. That's life!

Today the sun came out and the winds switched direction for the first time in a month. The flooded creeks are back to normal, and it feels, finally, like summer. The vitamin D has lifted my mood and whisked away the smell of mildew that permeated everything. The beach is calling, and we plan to go camping in a few days at our favourite spot with a few families we love here – turns our we do have a little community after all. We know someday we’ll move from here, likely to a small city with all the bells and whistles I miss. But for now, we’ll keep watering our green green grass and marvelling as it grows.

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