Perhaps part of the reason I have been strangely quiet has been the very difficult events of the past few years. What has happened wasn't really something I felt like bragging about.
But in an attempt to continue to search for the good life, I feel that writing and sharing my journey may be helpful. Discoveries tend to surface when I sit down to write.
Some years ago I left my job in order to...well, I thought I would become a carpenter. I wanted to build beautiful cozy houses from natural materials. Hobbit houses made from mud with grass roofs, or timberframe houses with straw bale--or even just regular houses, as long as they were simple, passive solar, made with natural materials.
|Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley's cob home...image from this article|
I worked for some months with a local carpenter, assisting him on projects such as building a semi-circular deck, and replacing windows.
After a while, I rented a small space where I made furniture from discarded wood. My creations were rustic, but I began to discover a style. I gradually sold off my Ikea furniture and replaced it with my own. Some pieces were discarded tables and chairs that I repaired. I created tables and benches and crates that function as bookshelves. I discovered a preference for a natural finish made from a blend of walnut oil and beeswax.
I also discovered that making furniture to be taken apart and put back together was very handy, so I mostly used screws for my creations (even though nails suit my old fashioned aesthetic more closely). This came in very handy when we ended up moving at least 6 times in the past 4 years.
During this time away from my job, I met and married a man. He is an artist, and his opinions and preferences have helped me to refine my choices. He influenced me to use more natural materials and to use reclaimed wood when possible.
I shared with him my dream of moving to the country. We came up with the idea of making a yurt because then we could have a portable home we could set up anywhere. We completed the skeleton of the yurt using purchased lumber as well as bamboo harvested in a local park.
We visited two intentional communities and looked into the option of living on land that was not ours, in a loose community of others who also built their own homes, grew their own food, and used composting toilets. Ultimately we decided that the two we'd visited were not the right fit for us.
We travelled and searched in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia for places that might be right for us, but nothing felt right. We live in New Jersey, and there isn't much land in New Jersey where prices and codes are flexible for what we are interested in doing.
Ultimately, after a year of searching and false starts, we returned to New Jersey where I was re-hired to the teaching job I'd left 4 years earlier. It felt like a betrayal of myself to return to what I'd left with high hopes of something truer. At the same time the job has provided stability and additional savings, and the dream is still alive.
We've been through some hard times, and yet I think I've learned a lot. Nothing is ever lost. Last year, I had my first real garden in the back yard of a house we rented.
Later last year, Hurricane Sandy flooded that house with almost a foot of water. The good news is that we read the forecast of an 8 foot storm surge, so we moved all the books upstairs, emptied the lower cabinets in the kitchen, and after putting the table legs in buckets, put the couch on top of the table. We saved a lot of our things.
Our yurt, which we'd been storing out in the gazebo, had already gotten sadly mildewed (there was no better place to store it, and it was already moldy from its previous home in an apartment basement). Then Sandy's waters soaked it again, and we agreed that it was time to let go of this yurt structure we'd been moving with us for 2 years. It had started to feel like an albatross. The mold, mildew, and finally the polluted waters of the New York Harbor officially made it a bad vibes feeling object.
It was with relief that we dumped it on the side of the road along with a lot of other junk.
Because we moved from a house to a small one bedroom apartment, we ended up getting rid of a lot more stuff. Then we discovered that the apartment complex no longer had basement storage, and we got rid of even more. The storm had the effect of helping us to considerably lighten our load, although unfortunately a lot of that lightening happened after the move.
One more moment before I wind this up.
A couple of days after Hurricane Sandy: We'd been evacuated to a friend's house. She hadn't made a spare key for us yet, so we were waiting on the front steps for her one evening. I remember sitting there and talking. We both felt that this storm had swept us out of our house and it was helping to set things in motion. It was time for a change. The struggle with our landlords was not yet resolved and yet we knew we wanted out of that house, and we didn't want to sign another year long lease, so that we'd have the freedom to leave when the time was right.
That is what we did. We don't like living in apartments, but we're doing ok, and we're working for a better future when the time is right. I still want the house in the country (with a wood stove so we'll never be without heat for 9 days like we were last November). But I am also studying the skills of contentment, because learning to be happy with what we've got right now is an essential skill for happiness in any context.