Monday, June 18, 2012

Fog and straw and tiny teapots

Now that winter is here I find that some mornings, as we drive up to our land, I feel like I am in the mountains of southern Mexico again. If I squint and ignore the eucalypts I am transported to those mountains where the the roads were dirt, the clouds hung low and the air was cold. I was there in early 2003, winter time. Like many good left wingers I had decided to spend some time with a Zapatista community and found myself in the community of Oventik in the mountains near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, southern Mexico. With a handful of well-intentioned westerners I was there learning Spanish. A program had been established whereby relatively rich whiteys could live in the community and learn Spanish and Mexican history, with the money we paid going towards the autonomous school that had been established for the kids of the community. We slept in a wooden hut with a dirt floor. It got down to zero degrees inside the hut over night so we slept in a beanie and our clothes. It rained and rained and rained and we ate a lot of black beans, tortillas, avocado and lime. It was a good time. And yes it was a time before children.

When I see that morning fog and feel the cold air I do find myself yearning for those black beans and tortillas again. And while I've not embarked on so many life-changing-across-the seas adventures since the kids came along, this house-building adventure of ours feels like a pretty big one, pretty life-changing at that.

Mummas at work 

Our very helpful friend Brett 

I'm sure many people think that owner building is a crazy thing to do. Why do it yourself when you can just pay someone else to do it for you? The answer to this is kinda complicated but I'm hoping to explore it in an upcoming post about our own personal war on complacency. Oh and why inflict this owner building hoo ha onto your kids? Hmm... yes why do it to your kids?  I have spent many hours wondering if we're inflicting one of those terrible childhood experiences onto our kids that will haunt them into their adult years. And while I still don't know the answer to that, and maybe never will, I think we're all doing pretty well.

Little strawbale surrounded by building detritus

It would be a lie to suggest that it is all smooth sailing. A house is not built without some tears and setbacks and unexpected challenges. I'd be lying if I suggested that there are not whingey kid mornings and a mother shouting, "Please just go and play!". But I guess the thing is that this is the stuff of everyday life, regardless of whether one is trying to build a house or not. It's true that kids slow things down and while there can be some frustration to this, we try and remain conscious of our guiding vision which is that the kids should be a central part of the process. We've always envisaged this home building shenanigan as a sort of huge family craft project and this commitment has helped us maintain perspective on those cold, windy, whingey, whiney days where it all starts to feel a bit hard. On these days, we end up a building worker down as one of us wiles away the hours close by to the kids eating, swinging, singing, bird watching, plant indentifying, clay pot making, digging, cuddling....And as days go, this is a rather lovely way to spend one.

Serious Oscar, atop his bale

Olive Rose self-portrait

But to be fair to the two O's, they have been pretty spectacular in their enthusiasm and their embrace of the project. They've spent many hours playing happily amidst the building chaos, roaming the land and helping in ways they know how. Olive has developed a penchant for essaying the process through photos and we find ourselves delighted and intrigued by her five-year old's perspective. All the photos in this post are courtesy of the Olive Rose 2012 collection.

Fairy party

Tiny teapot

Soon, very soon we will be living in our little house and in some ways the pace of our life will slow but the life craft project will continue. We've 7 acres to nurture, design,  plant, mulch, water, populate with creatures, make edibly productive... and we're expecting that the kids will be a central part of this process too. I'm enamoured by the notion that they experience, from a young age, what it means to be a part of creating something beautiful. Something that is simultaneously beautiful, productive, sustainable and live-giving and no doubt punctuated by the occasional tears, disappointment and whingey whine.

Afternoon sky 


  1. It is such a tricky thing this building gig. When I owner built our last house I went into it with rose coloured glasses for sure. I thought it was going to be the learning experience of all learning experiences and Lewi would have a ball and love every moment of it. We all learnt a lot, no doubt about that one. But Lew pretty much loathed the build by the end. I tried really hard to make it as fun as I could but it just wasn't for him. He was 5 at the time. Now, at 12, he's really quite similar. Although we are not owner building this time around it's still very much a huge part of our lives cos we're living about 5 metres from the build! This time I had no rosey glasses. Very real, crystal clear ones now;) That's the negative. The positive is that Lew, at 12, is far more flexible and understanding towards the whole process. We can talk about things in a much more mature way and process it all together. Turns out that he's just not that into building and stuff. Oh well. It's not for everyone.
    Oh man, I've taken up so much space here and haven't really conveyed what I wanted to ... I could go on and on;) I think you guys are doiing a wonderful job at blending the build and the kidlets and making it fun for them and helping them to be a part of the whole process. It can be such a stress at times but it seems to me like you both have a wonderful handle on the whole thing. Your kids, to me, look happy and coping beautifully:) xx
    PS Could there really be more I need to say;) I love that gorgeous little teapot and Olive, your photos are beautiful!!

  2. I don't know if it's any encouragement or not but my eldest 2 were both tiny tots when we started owner building our extension (the extension was large for us, almost the size of the original house, although the original house was tiny). The girls only remember funny stuff like being able to draw on the walls and not get into trouble, sitting on a saw horse and dangling feet into mud, sitting up the back on New Years Eve and toasting the roof being finished - this was far more exciting than the fact it was turning 2000! It has been 11 years and 3 months since officially finished the building and while they laugh about the funny things I am still relieved it's over. We had many whingy days, with lots of tears (mostly by me - ha, ha) but they seem to have forgotten that side of it, and since then there has been another kidlet join the fold, she feels rather left out that she missed out on such fun. I think you are doing a magnificent job, take lots of photo's and in years to come you will have lots of great stories to tell. Take care xxx

  3. Oooh I love this post AND the comments above.
    In fact, I got inspired and wrote a post about your post.
    I hope that is ok.
    Thanks for your blog- it is a delight.

  4. Thanks for your comments lovelies! Yes, of course it is most encouraging to hear that other kids have made it through the house-building process unscathed, with positive memories. I grew up in homes that were constantly being added to and renovated and I have very very fond memories of those times - the smell of sawdust takes me back every time!
    Shelley, THANK YOU for your post. You're very sweet. xxx