FAST Blog: Family Homestead

Permaculture, Preparedness, Homesteading & Survival

Thursday, 29 November 2018

When Life Doesn't Give You Lemons...

It's been a little over 6 months now since I last posted on the blog. I've struggled to talk about what has been going on because to be honest it's been pretty unbearable, but Carly has managed to write a post that will bring you up to speed on the roller coaster we have been on so I'll post a copy of it here for those that are interested in our journey - Tricky 


When Life Doesn't Give You Lemons...

OK. I've started to type an opening line at least 12 times now and then proceeded to backspace every single letter...This is gonna be a tough post to write. I can already feel a lump in my throat forming - a physical manifestation of my words getting stuck.

No one, particular thing has lead me to write this post this evening, but there's been a nagging in the back of my mind. A gnawing that I can't ignore any longer. So here I am.

This isn't a post that's full of devastating news. But it's real, and it's uncomfortable and mostly it's hard to accept, let alone write about. But I think I need to. It'll be cathartic in the least and hopefully, it could help someone one day. Perhaps even myself when I read this back to myself in 20 years time.

I don't really know where to start - hence the waffle. I'm just gonna dive in head first, I guess.

So, if you're a friend or family member, or maybe even a follower of this blog, or one of our other blogs, you might be able to think back and remember our big dreams. Let's start there - the Dream.

We had a dream. In 2016 we sold our 3-bed terrace in Essex to uproots and move to Spain. We would buy a plot of land in Spain. We would build the eco-house of our dreams. We would implement permaculture into our land and our lives. Live a good, slow life. One full of nature and wonder and happiness. We would create our paradise and find a way to share it with others. A way to show people who were interested in that kinda stuff that it was possible. That if we could do it...well, then surely anyone can.

But, that's the thing. We haven't done it.

...yet.

I'm adding the 'yet' on because that's an important and integral word right there.

I'm not ready to give up. Not yet. So I want to share our journey so far and continue to share it, because I'm sure there must be other people in a similar boat and maybe there can be some strength found in solidarity, because I need to find some strength from somewhere.

Let's start at the beginning...

When we sold our house in the UK we had made a healthy profit of around 70k. We originally thought that that would be enough to purchase our land and build our house. If you recall, we planned on self-building from the start and so the cost for building our house wouldn't include labour costs, luckily (thanks Dad). So not only did myself (Carly), my husband Tricky and our 2 children up sticks and move to Spain, but also my Mum and Dad. The 6 of us decided to go on this roller coaster together.

The first hurdles came when we were selling our house in the UK. Months of delays, buyers pulling out, valuations coming in way under the agreed sale price...hell. Tricky and my Dad moved over with a lorry full of our belongings while myself, my Mum and the kids stayed in the UK for a month to finalise the sale. We had no furniture, no beds...it was not ideal! In the mean time, the boys had arrived in Spain to a cockroach ridden partial cave house that definitely did not look like the photos on the rental website, and spent a month panic cleaning and organising to make the place livable before we arrived with the kids. After living apart for a month, and with the sale of the house no closer to being completed, we decided to go ahead and move anyway. Whether we stayed in the UK or not, the sale would go ahead at it's own pace, right? Actually, it left us with no money to live on for months when we first moved over to Spain. My business had only just started to make a decent amount of money and it was sporadic, and so we struggled. Hard.

The rental house in Spain was grim. I'll be upfront and tell you that when we moved in, I wondered how we were gonna stick it out for a year, but I honestly believed that we would only be there for a year tops! I figured that once the house sold we could buy the land which we were told would only take 30 days, and then we'd start the building process.

How bloody naive. The sale of the UK house took 6 months to go through. Remember that we already picked our plot of land before we moved, and so we pretty much marched straight into the estate agents to get the ball rolling for the land purchase once the house sale money went into our account.

30 days my arse. So the sale of the house finally finalised in January 2017, and we finally signed at the notary for our land on the 8th June 2017. Oh, that wasn't without it's hiccups either - we were told when in the notary office, pen in hand, that there actually wasn't any water connection to our land. Great. But we went ahead with it, because what else could we do? We hadn't seen any other similar-sized plots in our region, with the option to build, for that sort of money.

We'd already got the ball rolling with our architect. Now, don't get me wrong, our architect is amazing and the plans she have made are everything we could have ever dreamed of, plus an extra sprinkling of amazing just for good measure. BUT. And it's medium sized but. The architect fees are more than we had anticipated. Way more. When we first met with the Eco build specialist company who our architect is in conjunction with, we showed them our plans and told them we were on a tight budget. By that point I think we had about 35k left after purchasing the land. They made it sound like it would be totally do-able for that sum, as we intended to self build etc. I'm not passing any blame at all, and this is not a dig at our architect who is also now a friend, but it's a dig at our own naivety and lack of budgeting effectively.

It isn't just the house stuff. Everyone's mental health has suffered since we moved here. This rental is not a nice place to live. Cave houses are not fun, folks. They're dark and depressing and stale. Tricky has made it no secret that he intended to take his life that summer. The stuggle just got too much for him. Luckily, he didn't as I managed to stop him in time. But the weight of the living situation and lack of forward motion was obviously taking it's toll.

As if that wasn't enough, a bigger bomb drops.

On New Years Eve 2016 we planned a family visit to the land. We were gearing up for starting the build and we just wanted to be over there, and set the intentions to build our house the coming year. Myself, Tricky, the kids and our 2 new dogs went in the car and my parents followed on my Dad's motorbike. Mum and Dad didn't make it to the land. They had a terrible crash on the bendy vineyard roads about half way there and my Mum broke her neck. I can't go into it too much because I still find it too upsetting. Ultimately, Dad managed to scrape by without any broken bones but with bad tissue and muscle damage and was bed ridden for a few weeks. My poor Mum wasn't so lucky. She spent a night in ICU with severe concussion and memory loss. She had a cave in one side of her head, by one temple, that looked like someone had smacked her with a baseball bat. AND she was wearing a full face helmet when she crashed. She had other fractured bones too but the neck was worrying. Because of the language barrier we didn't learn of the broken neck for a couple of days. Not until they came to fit the rigid neck brace. I stayed with her in hospital for 4 days and nights, sleeping in 5 minute bursts on a solid armchair while my Mum cried in pain every couple of hours. Whether from the fire-like pain in her hands and feet (the nerve damage) or the pain from the neck brace being fitted incorrectly and literally cutting a chunk of her scalp away at the base of her head...it was an actual nightmare that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

She came home after the 4 days in hospital but had to spend 8 weeks in a rigid neck brace. She'd fractured C5 and C6 vertebrae and had a lesion on her spinal cord. How she survived, no one knows. She's a miracle. None of the Dr's can believe that she has managed to recover with minimal nerve damage to her hands and that's it. We battled pulled groin muscles, depression, bed sores, not eating, anger....all of it.

But boy, were the first few months of 2018 tough. My business is run by myself and my Mum, so while she was recovering, I was having to try and keep the house running and the business a float. I think that despite my best efforts, we did eat into our savings. One woman trying to hustle enough to keep 6 other people and 2 dogs and 6 chickens alive on little to no sleep and a hell of a lot of stress, was not an easy feat. My brother had come to stay, and we had so much help from friends, luckily. I don't think we'd have got through it otherwise.

But, despite the odds, Mum and Dad both recovered. Fast forward to April 2018 and our house plans had been complete (Projecto simple) and the town hall granted our building permissions. Amazing news! It was just what we needed after the past 4 months from hell. We went to the land on the 16th April 2018 which we agreed with the town hall would be our official start date, and we spent that windy day with our architect and technical architect plotting our house, and marking the foundations. What an amazing day. Being able to see the outlines of our house on our ground was pretty incredible.

But the thing is...we'd run out of money. We'd spent thousands on architect fees, license fees applying for mortgage fees...and now we had nothing left to show for it but our dream house planned out on paper and drawn out in spray paint on our land. Torture of the highest degree, let me tell you.

When we realised that money was running low we applied for a mortgage of 75k. We figured that would be enough to build the house, furnish it, pay the fees, get the decent bio digester and the rest of it. But that bank decided at the last minute (after 6 months of back and forth, paying yet more fees for surveys etc) that if we wanted a mortgage for 75k, we we would need to have the difference between the mortgage amount and the house build estimate, in our bank as a deposit. The house build is valued at 150k in the projecto simple. But the thing is, the house build estimation is based on employing contractors and labourers and skilled tradesmen. We are planning to build ourselves, (my dad is a constructor and amazingly talented handy man) and so we wouldn't actually need to pay out for any labour costs. So if we wanted a 75k mortgage, we would need 75k in the bank. Well obviously Mr Bank Manager, if we had 75k in the bank, we wouldn't need a mortgage!

So, we tried a different bank. They agreed that we wouldn't need to show a deposit in the bank as they would take our outlay for the land and architect fees into account. Amazing! But, they didn't work with the same surveyors/valuators that the previous bank did, and so we'd have to agree to have the land and project surveyed again. The valuation came in from the last bank at 254k as an estimation for when the house build was complete. As we were only asking for 75k, that would be easy peasy, they said. 4 weeks and it would be sorted, they promised. That was July 2018.

Finally, 2 weeks ago, we were called for a meeting at the bank. The survey had finally been done (for some reason the survey company didn't get the 4 week memo). The valuation came in at 54k. How is that possible for what will be a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 2 kitchen, A rated Eco-house on a 5 acre plot of land? Well it wasn't. They had only valued the land and not the house that we wanted the mortgage for. So the bank ordered an urgent valuation report to be done, with Friday just gone as the deadline. So, we call on Friday and our contact at the bank is not in. Monday, not in. Manager isn't in either. No one seems to know what is happening. We get told that the lady we are dealing with at the bank is ill and will be off work for 14 days. We get told the manager is on holiday until the 17th December.

We then get told that actually, this bank has now changed the rules, and they won't lend a mortgage on a new build. Over the phone. Like it was no big deal. I'm sorry, WHAT?! After months of toing and froing, after money wasted on insurance policies and new bank accounts that we were told to open and take out for the sake of the mortgage application. All we needed was the survey to be done correctly and we could sign the papers. And now this. We fall at the final hurdle.

I've done pretty well to not swear so far, but fuck my life. My fight is running so fucking low right now and I just don't know what to do. Why have things been this tough? Why is everything a fight? Why is it such a struggle? I feel like all the odds are stacked against us. Is the universe telling us to just give up, because it really feels like it sometimes. I'm a fighter, I don't give up easily, but I'm pretty damn close.

But the thing is, we want this. We need this. We could not build a house in the UK. We could not afford a house in the UK. We could not afford to live on what we do here, in the UK. We are not willing to go back to the 9-5's, daily grind, that we gave up.

I'm incredibly aware of our privilege as I spew this blog post out. We are self employed. We have our dream creative jobs, working for ourselves. We set no alarms to wake up early. We get to spend so much time with our kids and watch them grow up. We own land. We have a lot of freedom.

But we're also in a rental that was only intended to be lived in for a year max. We stress and worry constantly about how we will build our house. We've sunk our life savings into this project and I can't, no refuse, to believe that this is the end.

I don't know the way forward right now, but I will fucking find one. I promise. And I will update the journey on here more frequently.

I had always put off writing on this blog until we'd started the build. Until it was real. But that's not authentic. This is part of the journey. I always said that this blog would be somewhere we'd share the real shit of our house-build journey, and I didn't feel like it would be legit to share anything before we started. But no. That's not what's gonna happen. I always said that the highs and the lows would be documented to maybe help someone else in the future, and so I will share. Even if I only have the lows to share.

I'm signing off with a picture of my warrior, Rori that we took when we were last on the land. She reminds me everyday to be fierce and strong and to keep fighting.


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9 comments

  1. Your setting a great example to your children. for them to be with you on this journey is amazing and it shows them that anything worth doing is worth fighting for. Sorry that you've had such a bad run of luck on this, I was so excited by your dreams and wanted it to happen for you and your family. I hope you find a solution and I'll continue to watch with interest at how you get on. Maybe when you get to roof level you can put me up for a week and I'll come give you a chuck!

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  2. I read every word of your entry and felt all the anguish, grief, frustration, disbelief, and - even - injustice your family has had to endure since your last post. You are very brave and very honest and we should all thank you for 'telling it like it is.' Homesteading is not easy. Know that we know that you're there, still envisioning a future, still fighting for what you want and love. And know that we'll be are here pulling for you.

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  3. What a struggle! I really ache for you. I don't even know what words to say. I just want to give you all a big hug and tell you to keep going. If you've got through this, you can do it. Keep strong. Be kind to yourself.

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  4. I can feel every word you have written. It is really, really difficult. However, all you are warriors. You''l succeed in your task. At the end you'll smile, and I'm waiting for that. I'm sure, you'll write here, that Everything is in great shape now.

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  5. I had visions of Tricky spending his summer in a hole in the ground with a shovel , instead lifes been chucking piles of shit at you . But you have the family and things will get better if it has to be a long term project so be it . The kids are building good memories , your still together , what more do you need

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  6. It breaks my heart to read this post, I am so sorry to find out that life has been so so difficult. I am really happy to read that your mum and dad are well and that your mum is not suffering from major long term health problems. What a miracle! You'll achieve your dreams, I am sure of it. There is a lot of fight in you and a lot of simmering energy, even it feels different just now. Dealing with inefficient bureaucrats must be absolutely mind numbing. Keeping my fingers crossed for a swift resolution. Keep warm and safe and look out for that little light at the end of the tunnel. It is there xx

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  7. OMG what an ordeal you and your family have been through. So glad to hear that your mom has recovered with very little long term damage. I hope that Tricky is recovering emotionally. I can't believe the crap you have gone through and the financial drain. I hope that you find a solution and are able to move forward and start your long awaited build. Take care.

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  8. Oh, you guys. What a discouraging time you've been having. Everything seems so unfair. Thank you so much for sharing this. It's hard not to worry about folks when they stop blogging for a long time. And in spite of it all, you are still choosing to persevere. Too bad it's winter or you could camp on the land. Yurt maybe?

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  9. I was going to suggest a Yurt too. There is a blogger based in Australia who is moving to a land parcel and they have bought a yurt to live in until they build their home. I've no idea how much a yurt costs though. The blog is called A Simple Living Journey, perhaps they could advise you if its possible? Good luck, I feel you really need some. x

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Etsy

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