The Great co-housing adventure continues.

Boxes and furniture put wherever they would fit.

Boxes and furniture put wherever they would fit.

The front porch after the removalists left.

The front porch after the removalists left.

Perhaps there’s a reason why  Wendell Berry’s statement “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire” caught my eye this morning.

But I would never be relieved to see my house catch fire and while I know we have too much we are looking forward to sorting and simplifying.

I want to show you our home as it is today, after the removalists have brought everything, right at the beginning. I want you to share this adventure of co-housing and community with us, the creating of the home, the evolving garden, our own journeys, the shared journey, the challenges we face, the successes, the life – our own, the house, the garden, the community, this valley and neighbourhood.

When you see these photos it might cross your mind that there’s quite a lot… and I’d agree, but there are mitigating circumstances. And here’s the background.

I am more able to understand nowadays the devastating effect chronic insomnia, illness and continual exhaustion have had on my life. The more I understand the more  accepting and compassionate toward myself I am. As I become less tired and have fewer external demands I’m experiencing the contrast between a life chronically exhausted and a life less so.

No wonder I have spent years reading mainly escapist literature. No wonder I have started so many wonderful books only to put them down because I couldn’t concentrate. No wonder I have such a long list of things I want to do when…

There are flowers by the door- not all is chaos.

There are flowers by the door- not all is chaos.

I have just spent my longest period ever in a full-time permanent job.  This was interrupted by severe and long illnesses, but…with a secure wage I experienced the joy of buying a spacious light-filled house –  three bedrooms, two bathrooms. And then I enjoyed filling it up- such pleasure in having enough linen for guests, buying  quality saucepans, a dinner set, crystal glasses, furniture that wasn’t just cast-offs and the indulgence of books and books and books (and yes, clothes and more clothes).  I remember feeling I was a proper adult when I bought myself a new and beautiful fridge…and then a washing machine. I could look after myself, I could be independent, strong and capable. So empowering. But illness, Chronic Fatigue and exhaustion meant that I couldn’t keep up with the sorting and clearing out and throwing away…it’s all come with me.

Angela, my co-houser, moved to the UK eight years ago, for a planned long-term stay. Her possessions- furniture, linen, books, kitchen…all went into long-term storage. The move didn’t work out. Angie arrived back in Australia- heartbroken, homeless, jobless, broke…but not friendless.

This is Angela's bedroom. Wait until it's painted and organized!

This is Angela’s bedroom. Wait until it’s painted and organized!

When she found work her choice was to house-sit, furniture and possessions staying in storage. A move into a small unit meant there was no space to retrieve her belongings. After several years, my dominoes all fell perfectly and we bought this house. I moved… and all my stuff. Angela remained living and working in the city, but  was finally able to move her long-term stored things to this house. (Imagine her delight in seeing much cherished possessions again! ) We stacked everything somewhere- we are talking two households here and neither were minimalist. And this house has no garage or external storage space.

At last Angela has reached the moment when she can leave her current work, uproot herself from the city and move to her home in this small, beautiful, rural valley. Today, the unit has has been packed up and all the contents are now here, Angie is yet to arrive. As Max says “Let the show begin!”

Share our adventure!

One of my kookaburras yesterday.

One of my kookaburras yesterday.

(And I thought this post was going to be all photos! Silly me.)

The Great co-housing adventure begins!

images[6](Or, as Max says in “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Let the show begin!”)

Well, it’s almost begun. Angie, my co-houser hasn’t arrived yet, but all her things are here. (Well, except the clothes and things she needs for the next few weeks.)

Life is an adventure!Here’s some of the background to this adventure.

Angie and I have been friends for forty years. More than friends, she’s part of my family. We have cared for each other, slept on the floor at each other’s homes when we’ve been homeless. She’s the person I have phoned in the middle of the night, after I have phoned for an ambulance. Over the years we have  guarded each other’s back, when trouble was stalking.

We’re often single. Careers and security have not been our primary aims. So we haven’t reached middle age, financially secure and affluent. ( Most of the time we realise how  very secure and how richly abundant we are in so many other ways.) For many reasons we have chosen to buy a home together.

There are so many reasons. I am passionate about the necessity to create community and build a safe and loving space where we can belong and have that absolute sense of trust. I love the Wendell Berry poem which says “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

to give my presence, my aim

to give my presence, my aim

I want home to be that place of unconditional love, total trust and safety…the place where I know I can be completely vulnerable… and I’m not thinking only of these four walls here and of Angie and myself. I am committed to building a larger community and helping to create such a space for others.

With Angie here, I can relax. There’s someone else to share all the jobs.  There’s someone who loves  and supports me through thick and thin. There’s someone who will give me space and silence and solitude whenever I need it. There’s someone to provide that rare and special feedback that will enable us each to grow and blunt our sharp edges, to point out when we  have been less than the best we can be.  There’s someone to laugh and play with, to have fun. So much, so much to be so very grateful for.

The garden will be started- finally! The house will be painted. (I HATE THE COLOURS!) Together we will practise living frugally and sustainably and we’ll be better at it, because we’ll  have each other to prop up our resolve when we fall into lust and wanting. (We both love things- books, paintings, beautiful objects… and I adore clothes. I fall into lust and wanting very easily.) We have more than enough.

(And you thought this was going to be easy, Angela!)

Life in the moment!

Life in the moment!

I said to Ange the other day: “Thank God you will finally be here!!! We can paint and garden and start a market stall and go to the gym regularly and get fit and have picnics at the beach and invite people for meals and sort out boxes of stuff and get started on that photographic project and you can begin building and making and maybe we’ll have some hens and we’ll sit about and read and have a glass of wine together and cups of tea and…(I stopped for a breath)”.

Angie: “I’ve been looking forward to resting and doing nothing much for a while!”

(Silly girl!)

Garden Diary

Yet again, I’m forced to acknowledge that I can’t do everything. Does this mean that yet again I need to let go some things I want to do?

One of my highest priorities is to live simply and sustainably. This includes having a beautiful and productive garden. Gardening is always one of my highest priorities. It grounds and renews me and brings me quiet joy.

a sad plant

a sad plant

A move to a new home and environment? Start the garden! But here I am, more than a year later and the garden is almost untouched . The weeds are still there, old plants cry out for pruning, there’s lots of potting to do, plants I bought last week are languishing, unplanted. And there’s a whole new garden to develop.

Whenever I’m outside I end up feeling disheartened, overwhelmed and frustrated.

What can I do?  I can judge myself, become highly critical and end up with no gardening done feeling thoroughly miserable. Or, I can choose to practise self-acceptance and self-compassion with no judgement.  To do this I must first accept that I cannot do the impossible; to start this garden from where it is now, is just too big a task for me. So I stop thinking I will.

So here’s what I shall do: I have settled on a plan, after much deliberation; we shall create no-dig gardens, or lasagne gardening; growing on top of the ground by building up layers. This soil is too hard and too degraded to attempt to dig. And to begin with, we shall have beds where there is now lawn, leaving some lawn around each bed.

the beginnings at Tarbuck

the beginnings at Tarbuck

 

I can’t do this. I don’t even make an attempt. It’s too big for me, even if I practise doing it “a bucket at a time. ”

So this week I shall find a gardener who will plant fruit trees and set up the garden beds. I have two sources to go to for information. I’ll ask my same sources if they know where I can buy old railway sleepers for my garden edges. If I can’t get any, then I shall order  treated pine. I will talk to the garden suppliers to decide if I will order garden soil and compost at the same time. That will depend on whether I can begin to move it myself, slowly, “a bucket at a time”,  to build up the beds. I need the beds started to get me over the first hurdle. Once the beds are in place and some initial layering is done, I’m going to try hay bale gardening. That way, I can start growing some vegetables before the beds are set up fully- I do know that it will take me time to set

a new bed

a new bed

them up. And as the bales break down they will become part of the process.

You see, this will be my second spring here and still I won’t have sweet peas, poppies, cornflowers, delphiniums, forget-me-nots, lupins, irises, daffodils, jonquils, anemones and all the other joys of a spring garden.  For a second year we may not have the pleasure and sheer delight of extravagantly beautiful, fragrant roses; fruit trees take several years to bear fruit. I want to go out to my garden and pick that night’s dinner. For too many years I have not had the things I consider to be essential  I don’t have  years to wait. Housman talked of having only fifty years left to see the cherry hung with snow. I sure don’t have fifty years.

bluebells in Spring at Tarbuck

bluebells in Spring at Tarbuck

What have I learnt? To accept, yet again, that I am not superwoman and I can’t do everything. That I am prone to self-judgement and am still learning to be kind to myself. That I remain a work in progress. That, surprise, surprise, I’m still not perfect.

More prosaically, I realize that I have needed to live here for a time before I could clarify what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.  And that plans take time to develop. Patience! There will be enough time! If I live each moment fully, that moment will be enough. When the flowers are blooming, Kathryn, remember to appreciate them. Drink in their beauty, share them, fill your house with them. And always, keep your hands in the earth. It’s the Amish who say that we are closest to God when we have our hands in the soil.

a Spring bouquet

a Spring bouquet

Country Life.

Some of my loot!

Some of my loot!

I’ve just arrived home from our monthly farmers’ market. It’s a lot of fun, although I always buy much more than one human being could possibly eat. There’s so many yummy fresh vegetables and fruit, home-made jams and pickles, organic meat, seedlings and much more all begging me to take them home and grow them.  Chooks and ducks, rabbits… once I was offered a belted Galway calf (oh, the temptation!). For a person who yearns for the large, productive, rambling and beautiful garden, for the paddock with an alpaca or two, a donkey or two, maybe a pretty cow, a dovecote, chooks, ducks, a dam, a creek with a stony bed and maybe platypuses, deciduous trees, an orchard every aromatic herb ever…it’s an endless source of temptation! You get the picture?

(The reality is a yard that is too small for even one alpaca or donkey or cow; there is no dam or creek; the garden is still in the planning stages; maybe there will be chooks; maybe we’ll get a paddock.)

But there’s still the monthly market. I’ve been living here just over a year and so I’m familiar with most of the stallholders. There are the wonderful women from landcare who run the community stall- when I have an excess of produce I will sell it there. I go into the local Landcare office with all my questions and they provide advice with endless patience.

John's Japanese pumpkin. Isn't it beautiful?

John’s Japanese pumpkin. Isn’t it beautiful?

Then there’s John from Chichester- probably three hours away. He’s a large genial man, dressed in King Gee overalls with a broad grin. He gives me practical advice on saving seeds, on how to grow everything.  He’s a country man of several generations so his advice is grounded in what has worked. His produce, like all the others, is picked that morning and will last for weeks. Goes without saying that everything is delicious.

This week I meet a young couple who are pickling the vegetables they grow. They also have some ketchup, some harissa paste, some fermenting- all from their own garden and all organic. They ooze their dedication and love of what they’re doing. I make a note to remember the ketchup for Christmas presents. They also have Jerusalem artichokes and guavas. I have to buy them because my grandmother grew them. As I eat them it will be a chance to remember her.

Jerusalem artichokes and guavas, in memory of my grandmother.

Jerusalem artichokes and guavas, in memory of my grandmother.

I don’t need fresh macadamia butter or oil from the couple with the macadamia business. The macadamia butter is probably addictive it’s so delicious. And, it’s good for you!

I buy some pecan nuts and make a note to myself: visit Uncle (about an hour away), to gather some pecans for myself. He has so many they fall to the ground, ungathered. Maybe I’ll meet my niece there  to talk about bees and bee-keeping. My uncle lives on my grandparents’ farm and my grandfather kept bees. My niece who is experimenting with dried honey products, wants to see her great-grandfather’s bee hives and talk about bees.

I’m glad to see the family with the local, organic oranges is back. It’s orange season and these are sweet and juicy. Almost as good as the ones were on my father’s orange trees.

I meet my neighbours and we have a coffee. I’ve talked  to everyone and had a wonderful time. Once again I relish the sense of well-being from that comes from the simplicity of life in the country. And I’m grateful.

And here I am, living in the country

As someone once said to me “it doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll always get to where you need.”

So, here goes!

Some years ago ,I fled to my mother’s, who still lived in the village where I grew up, to put some space between the man I loved and myself. We needed some distance to lick our wounds and give ourselves time to see whether we had a future.
I ended up with a job and a mortgage and have stayed without ever really making a choice to stay.  Continual illness and large chunks of time off work  meant I have lived in constant anxiety about not being able to keep up the mortgage payments and becoming homeless.

.. It’s a long story. Eventually I sold my house, left my job and  bought this house with one of my friends- a large house in a small, country town. The main street still has a shop (more a shed), for irrigation things and the rural supplies shop has hay bales and farm bits in the window. Window display is clearly not a selling point. I hear cows mooing at night. There’s a sheep in the backyard a few houses along.

Six months after moving into this house, I’m still living in chaos. Boxes line the hall, books are stacked downstairs and I spend too much time searching for a piece of paper I had five minutes ago.

My friend has never lived in the country and she prefers inner-city; she is truly an urban dweller as was I.  But we are mortgage free! And we have some space where we can grow vegies, live a simpler life, put solar panels on the roof and contribute to our community.

Renting in Sydney, I couldn’t see how I could ever buy. I feared being a bag lady. Buying with a friend has risks. It’s a challenge. But it means I don’t always have to put out the garbage. If one of us is ill, we have someone to drive us to the doctor, make the chicken soup…And, we are sharing resources rather than  gobbling up so many of the earth’s resources.  A couple of times I’ve thought I might have been getting sick- my first thought? It didn’t matter. I don’t have a mortgage. My friend and I are two of the lucky ones. We can only give it a go!