Yuletide blessings to you all & a look back on our year

Hello everyone!

Yuletide blessings

Wishing you and your loved ones bright Yuletide Blessings, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with lots of love from Brett and I, here in our shed on Salt Spring Island.

What a year this has been and although it is not quite over yet, we look back on it with gratitude, despite another twelve months of Covid-19 and intermittent lock downs and so on. We feel immensely lucky to have got through it so far relatively unscathed but realise, with sadness, that this is not the same for everyone we know.

Like many of you around the world, we know those, who have tragically lost their lives owing to Covid directly, or the fact that hospitals are just so overwhelmed that they have not been able to receive treatment for other serious conditions or they have lost loved ones or experienced the pain of long separations from those most dear to them. In addition, we have learned that many friends have suffered from Covid and related complications, and although they may be recovering, it has been a long haul for them.

Our hearts go out to you with our love and sincere wishes for comfort and solace for the bereaved and a complete recovery to good health for those who have been ill. Let us hold everyone in the light and love for a better 2022!

In the meantime, I thought I would attempt to write down a few highlights of our year.

Going up!

This time last year we spent Christmas and New Year with Peggy, Brett’s mum in Kenora in Ontario. It was a white Christmas (and a tad chilly, down to minus 30 C at times) and Kenora was decked out in a myriad of beautiful lights. We enjoyed cosy days and nights in with her, as well as making friends with the deer in the back yard or catching up with good friends, in a socially distanced way of course. While there, I edited a few videos of our adventures in eco-homesteading so far and uploaded them to a playlist called Two Blondes on a Build on my YouTube channel. (You can tell I am very slow at making films as I am a bit behind compared to the real timeline of events, but will do my best to make some more video blogs of our progress in the near future!)

When we returned to our little tiny home on Salt Spring Island, very much rested and refreshed after a dip in Radium Hot Springs on the way back, we threw ourselves into continuing the preparations of our build site in readiness to construct our eco-home. Throughout January and some of February we were engaged in backbreaking work – using the excavator and rock hammer to break up some areas of solid bed rock and clearing away large boulders and also moving buckets of smaller rocks and gravel away by hand, so that we could frame up the footings. It seemed to take forever…

How it started…

In February, two weeks of snow put our work on hold. Thankfully, our tiny cabin was nice and cozy, because we had made sure it was well insulated and we had installed a Grizzly wood stove, which belts out shed-loads of heat, circulated by an eco-fan. We took the opportunity to go for some lovely walks in the winter wonderland around us that reminded me of Narnia…but where was Mr Tumnus?

After snow melt, we continued with the build site preparations and got all the framing of the footings done and we learned how to knit rebar to make sure the foundations meet the appropriate codes for withstanding earthquakes. We were able to hand pour the footings by the end of March, followed by the foundation walls, using a handy, moveable mould on stilts that Brett made. It was a hellish job over about six weeks but we were able to do it with a gas powered cement mixer, lots of buckets, sheer will power and the kind help of one of our neighbours, Hamish, who popped by.

In July, we switched to a Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, because our poor, second hand Dodge Journey kept breaking down. We were able to take advantage of several rebates from the Federal and Provincial governments to make the swap. Recycling our old vehicle meant we received more money back than we paid for it when we bought it. Also, Salt Spring Island has 22 EV free charging points and the province of British Columbia is well served by charging points as well, so it seemed like a timely move. At least, this brought us closer towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Bye, bye petrol costs.

Over the summer months, while building a few of our friends visited, who didn’t mind a rather rustic camp site on the bare boards of our new ground floor! Polly was first to overnight on her way back from a stint on a Maple Adventures boat up the coast, followed by Dave from Kenora, who kindly spent a week with us to help us frame up and then Isabelle, Tim and Arabella from the Sunshine coast stayed for a few days. Tim helped us to secure some brackets for the main beams, which was great. While Dave was here, we went on our first electric road trip to show him some of the sites on Vancouver Island, including Nanaimo, Victoria, Cathedral Grove, Port Alberni and Tofino. We had a lot of fun and it was so good to enjoy a mini-break from all of the heavy work.

Fast forward a few months and we are putting the roof trusses into place. However, this has been hard won, after some blood, sweat and strangely no tears, even though, unfortunately, Brett suffered a couple of nasty injuries, one of which resulted in an operation. He bravely and courageously soldiered on.

How it’s going…

The design for our house is called Prentice from Linwood Homes. We have been using a house builder’s package, which has allowed us to customise the original design to suit our requirements, which were converted to engineered plans and then we received two tranches of building materials, which covers everything we need to ‘lock up stage’ (i.e. wind and watertight). Locking in our house builder’s contract in 2020 was fortunate, because the price of building materials has sky rocketed during Covid, with many companies price gouging. If we had not done this, there is no way we could afford to build a house on Salt Spring.

Daily, I am in awe of Brett’s knowledge and construction expertise. He has built five homes in the past and this shows. His ability to visualise how it all fits together, to anticipate and overcome challenges, to operate all of the machinery and to physically haul the heavy building materials around is incredible. No job is too large. I am extremely grateful for his guidance and patience in putting up with me – the gopher. He often has to explain things several times before I get things right. I learn so much from him.

I will be able to show you all of the in-between stages of our house build in the coming months, when I edit and upload a few more video blogs to the Two Blondes on a Build Playlist. So watch that space! Feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel or this blog (see subscription box below).

Humanitarian consultancy work

Well, I think I am a pretty rubbish gopher, but as far as humanitarian and community development consultancy goes, I have been having a good work year with five consultancy contracts compared to one last year. This year I have had the honour of working with non-governmental organisations based in the USA, Belgium, South Africa and Australia- Corus International, ChildFund Alliance, CIVICUS and ChildFund Australia respectively and more recently with the shíshálh First Nation, based on the Sunshine Coast of BC.

I am truly grateful for these wonderful, interesting and inspiring opportunities, because they help me to keep up to speed with the international humanitarian and development sectors globally, while enabling us to keep pace with the costs of our build at home. Furthermore, I have had the bonus of working with amazing colleagues, whose compassion, dedication, commitment and professionalism remind me that there are plenty of good people in the world, working quietly and tirelessly to alleviate suffering, meet needs and co-create initiatives that make the world a better place for humans and other sentient beings in a variety of unique ecosystems. Yes, I express gratitude for these ecosystems of hope. We need them more than ever.

All of my consultancies have been remote-working assignments, which I can fulfil at home – either while tapping away on my laptop in the sleeping loft of our shed (when the weather is bad), or outside or even on the move in the car or on a ferry! I love the freedom that being a freelancer brings…to take on a variety of interesting pieces of work coupled with being my own boss and therefore more in control of my working hours and work pattern through the year. For example, I was able to take two months off from consultancy work in the middle of summer, when the days were longer to assist full time on the build.

Lovin’ life electric

In October, we took our lovely little EV, called Brigid, for another spin. Our second electric road trip was all the way to Kenora and back to visit Peggy and friends again. We wondered what it would be like to take an electric vehicle across four provinces to Ontario (over 2,000km) regarding the availability of EV charging stations, but we had no problems along the way. The Plug In app came in handy, as well as several other EV charging apps, so finding available plug ins was really easy, many of which were fast chargers. We made the most of charging times to explore places along the way, catch up with friends or…go with the flow…I will post up a video of our road trip soon.

Brett just goes with the flow

Space for creativity

Brett and I began the Bardic Grade course of Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids last winter, which encourages students to live in closer harmony with nature and her rhythms, while pursuing self expression through a range of creative arts. The course is self-paced and there is no rush, which is just as well really as we have usually been very tired by the time the evening comes around.

We do not have a TV in our tiny home, so to wind down after a hard days work we read books, listen to music or make music on our guitars or mandolin. More recently, we picked up a free piano. How do you fit a piano into a tiny home, I hear you cry? Answer: very carefully! Still, this is a wonderful gift and a source of much joy for both of us.

This year I have taken up drawing again after a long gap of many years, when I had set it aside to focus on my career. Although, I am very slow, I have been thoroughly enjoying the creative process and thrilled when I sold some of my pieces of art and design locally on Salt Spring (with thanks to Tim and John at TJ Beans, who have displayed some of my drawings on the wall of their coffee shop) or through my online Etsy shop. Making videos has been fun too…including dipping a toe into comedy.

Gardening is another joy, but I have not done as much in the garden as I would have wished. Having said that though, we have been harvesting some veggies through the year and we planted some tree seedlings back into the forest. I have also nurtured a few citrus tree seedlings, so it will be interesting to see how they fare next year.

This toot shall pass

There are some signs on telegraph poles on the way into town that read “This toot shall pass, Salty.” (no not a spelling error – it really does say toot), which brings to mind our hope that the impacts of the virus that we have all had to endure, will lessen in severity and that soon we will all be able to return to a life that is more like what we had considered normal in the past.

We are so grateful for the friends and family members we have been able to see, even at a ‘social distance’ or further afield over a screen and for the new friends we have made this year. We hold you all in our hearts until we can see you face to face again.

For now, take good care of yourselves.

Lots of love,

Sarah and Brett xx

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