Ten years!

We watched an episode of Grand Designs the other night. As you might expect we are doing quite a bit of that. In this episode the guy spent ten years building his house. Ten years! His children were grown by the time he was finished. They had become builders and makers too, in different ways. It was an extraordinary and lovely thing.

Which is not to say that it will be ten years before we move into our houze. I hope it won’t be. It really won’t be. I know, unfortunately that I don’t have that kind of sticking power.

I do hope our project is a bit like that man’s though. He was relishing every moment, enjoying the process and not dashing to the finish line. I suspect his house will never be finished. Perhaps in a sense ours won’t be either. After all, really we are the house. I think that’s why Ben had wanted so much to do this. To make a house that reflects us, grows and ages with us, shows some strength as it weathers the storms that come our way. At the end of it all, is still standing.

The Man who Took Ten Years had a lot really right. He invested love and care in the building of his house, paid great attention to the detail and enjoyed the journey. We hope to build our physical house within one year but hope to give love and attention to detail to the building of our family. That will take more than ten years, but building our house together will be part of that journey.

Perspective

There are moments in life which put everything into perspective. We are healthy, fed and warm. There is so much we haven’t had to go through. I’m not sure I would be the same good example that others have been going through trials that I have not looked in the face. I watch others endure with grace and beauty and I will try to remember that when challenges come. I suppose we are given these extraordinary examples to show how it is possible to keep going, to keep giving God glory and to do what is right despite great and continuing suffering. To spur us on to do better, to endure when our time comes, to keep going.

Also to remember to be thankful. There is such a very lot to be thankful for and it is so easy not to notice. Blessings come in a torrent every day but until there is an existential challenge I take them for granted, not even perceiving what is being done for me. Every moment. And what was already done. So many moments, each laced with myriad blessings that I skated over, enjoying without really appreciating. Today I stop to notice.

Alabaster stones

Ben asked me what I would like in the house, if I could have anything. My answer, after I thought about this, surprised me and then didn’t surprise me. What I’d really like in our house is a big bedroom. Big enough to have space for our bed, and then space and then somewhere to sit looking out of a big window. I love my bedroom. Not that I actually currently love my bedroom but I tend to want to be in a bedroom. It’s an improvement though. This time last year, stuck in bed our bedroom was the box room with a super king size mattress taking up the whole floor, on the floor. Functional but not pretty. When I’m not ill the thing I like about a bedroom is that it’s a place to go to take a minute. To find calm in the chaos, to retreat for a moment to somewhere that is most intimately mine (and Ben’s, although he’s not one for fleeing to a quiet place).

Now it’s also a different place to be with Birch, a private place for cooing and gurgling together. Sometimes a place to listen to the bustle of the house, extracted from it for a moment. I’d really like a beautiful bedroom with space to stand and stare. What is life without that moment?

I’d also consider putting a standing bath in the window. I do love a bath. Just about every night, in fact it’s where I often write. I conceive of luxury quite well. I don’t think that’s what this is about. We won’t have a bath while we live in a yurt.

I asked Myrtle what she would like if she could have anything. Her answer was humbling. If only she always felt like this :

“Well, I have everything I want so I don’t want anything. Except maybe a fluffy notebook. And a Harry Potter wand”.

Two small steps

Another week thinking nothing would change but expecting perhaps something might and then two pieces of news within a couple of days of each other. News that arrived in the right order.

There are two access tracks leading onto the field. One in the bottom right hand corner, and the other leading up to the top left corner. The current derelict house is in the top left corner but we had made our offer with the understanding that we wouldn’t be allowed to use the track that leads almost to the house. This would mean that the access track would need to be laid, and it would be long. And expensive. Also if there are services to be found they will be under the other access track. The news: maybe our new neighbours are pleased about us and what, if anything they have heard about our plans. They have agreed through the solicitors that we can use the sort, direct access track. This is great news! We are really pleased. It’ll be a much nicer way to come up to the house and will mean we don’t need to lay a track through the land. It will also save us a lot of money.

A couple of days after receiving this news we heard back from the pre-planning application. I guess not being the full planning application perhaps they can’t be as specific and clear as we had hoped, but in general they seem favorable to our idea. Not too keen on the access track though. The one we don’t need to build any more.

It’s nearly time to get our plans to the architects and decide finally on the company we would like to work with. Lots of fun evenings by the fire drawing plans of what we’d like to build, imagining sitting in front of a different fire, looking out on a different view.

In other news I’ve started making bread again. It is one of my favourite things to do but it must be about 2 years since I last made any,what with life, pregnancy and baby. This feels like a really happy thing 🙂

Waiting, waiting

It’s a funny thing when you’re waiting. You begin to think you will never hear the news you are waiting for. That makes it feel like things will never change. But things do change. Things can change completely in a moment. We learned all about that last year when the Blue Line changed our whole life in a moment. Our lives seem so permanent and unchanging and then change comes and you realise it was always transient. You just hadn’t noticed that for a while. We were going to go skiing. Instead I stayed home trying not to vomit.

Here we are in our house, we’ve been here a while and still we wait for news from the planners. It will come but until it does it feels like we will be here forever. This is what life is made of. Moments that feel like they will last forever and then you notice they have passed and the next moment has arrived. Right up until there isn’t a next moment.

I can only think that this moment is worth savouring even though the next moment looks from here like it will be more exciting. Or perhaps it will never come. I hope it will come. Still no news.

What does it look like?

The ground undulates gently downwards towards the valley. No sharp angles or harsh corners. Wild grass grows in clumps along a narrow grass path cut just wide enough for us to walk in single file. The path is wending, the meadow flowers beginning to push their heads out from between stalks but not ready to open yet. The wind is keen, blowing across the land, still with a cold sting but with the suggestion of warmth and growth, new life carried in the air.

Behind me the house sits looking sideways, the wood still looking freshly cut. It has not yet forgotten the trees from which it came. It retains the soft circles and the wood looks scarred, not weathered yet. It will weather over the years to come, just as we will. We will settle together on this patch of earth.

Inside, the first thing I find is that it is cosy. The warm wood comes in from the outside too so that the sense of where we are lingers alongside the furnishings of our indoor life. The fire in the centre of the house welcomes me towards it, the spiral staircase draws my eyes upwards reinforcing the sense of the outdoors being close at hand, the ceiling high letting in some of the sky.

Climbing the stairs I look down and see the space in which a family eats, talks, plays, thinks, cooks, creates, Lives. Upstairs is smaller, the bedrooms small pieces of privacy and seclusion nestled into the eaves. A balcony stretches along the length of the house so that from each bedroom there is access to another piece of outside.

From here we can see the land, the road at the far end, the cars queuing and lorries chugging. Just far enough away that we do not need to feel part of that press. The coppice is beginning to grow but will take a couple more years to become established. There is a lot to do; it will take years to grow this vision. We will be gone before some of these trees will reach maturity. We will leave it better than it was before we came.

This old broom

The broom with which I sweep our floor is over a hundred years old. It’s swept lots of Dwyer crumbs, has lots of stories to tell. The head is held on by an old nail. Getting pretty wobbly now but still it does the job.

It’s a funny thing moving house. We have been doing a lot of clearing out. Before we lived here we moved five times so Ben has moved those boxes too many times. This time we are slimming down, not least because we’ll live with my parents for a few weeks before going into something temporary on our site while the house is built. Lots of our things will have to be stored or disposed of.

The thing I have found is that already I have become detached from all this stuff. It’s just some things. I can imagine what seems so familiar now, seen and sat on every day will seem distant and foreign when it comes out of storage and returns to us after months of living without it. I can see us looking at these faceless objects and thinking, “why do we have that?”.

It was strange when we sold this house because our buyer was also keen to have quite a bit of our stuff. Whilst I found that kind of odd, having the debris of our life examined and some of it wanted by someone we don’t know, I also felt completely ambivalent. It’s our stuff but if they want it that’s fine. It’s a lovely feeling to unburden and not have stuff. At least to some extent.

It’s not quite the same with the old broom. There are a few things that hold more story, mean something more, things that aren’t just stuff. Not the kind of things a house buyer would notice and want for themselves but that will stand in a corner for years and absorb a bit of life with us.

I think this is also something we need to remember. We rented for nine years after we were married, lots of lovely homes that were not ours. When we bought our current house there were a lot of compromises associated with it. The previous owners had bought it to do up and sell on. All neutral, tasteful colours but not a home. We’ve made it our home but it is not a difficult house to leave. What we hope to build will very much be our home I hope. But it will still be just a house. One day we will walk out of the front door and leave it all behind. It still shouldn’t matter all that much.

When I use the wobbly old broom I can think of the other hands that have swept floors as part of their service to their families. That have gone before us and have been involved in making us who we are. Perhaps there is more true house building in this than in laying timber to construct a dwelling.

I hope that old broom still stands in the corner and sweeps a few more Dwyer floors. And I hope I get to do some of the sweeping.

Compromise

Several of our friends have noticed that the plot of land isn’t quite what we’ve always envisioned. At the moment it is bare and exposed, a largely empty field sandwiched between two major roads. There will be traffic noise. We are also not planning to build a round house which is what Ben had wanted to do. Ideally in woodland although that is almost impossible to get permission for unless you work in the woods and even then you have to prove you need to be there all the time. We are intending to get a company to build the house for us which again is not what Ben would have chosen.

There are always constraints, challenges, reasons for making a different choice. For us this is a giant and exciting adventure but it isn’t the whole of everything. First, our lives will continue. Trying to serve God, to raise and cherish our children. To remain fed, clothed and reasonably clean. To spend time with family and friends. What we don’t want is for this to take over. One key reason to move is to be nearer our church in Walsall. Secondly we’d like to be in the countryside. These two factors are directly opposed to each other. What we’ve found is a piece of land close enough to Walsall that we can get there and to our friends’ houses quickly enough and be close enough that we can invite them to us. The cost of that is the noise of the nearby roads.

Whilst I am inclined to crave idyllic isolation that wouldn’t be good for me or our family so the compromise is an important and worthwhile one. We could also wait for something more suitable to come up. That’s a dilemma because it is always possible that something better is round the corner. On the other hand something better would cost more and we could wait for a while and find this moment has passed.

Some people say the ages of 7-11 are the Golden Years. I’m beginning to understand why. Red is 9. He enjoys hour upon hour of quiet time with a book or pad and pencil. He is curious and interested, engaged and fascinated by what he finds around him. It’s a really good age for a family adventure. Myrtle is getting to that kind of place too and would be perfectly suited to tearing down a hillside chasing the wind. She is planning which flowers to plant and wondering for how much of the year she can avoid wearing shoes. It feels like this is a great moment for us. A moment in which being together is the key thing. If it all goes wrong it will be tough for me and Ben but I have a feeling the kids would rather enjoy it. Sometimes they have a firmer grasp on perspective. It’s a good time for embarking on a wild scheme together. This time is fleeting and this seems like the right way to make the most of it. Together.