Sunday, October 26, 2014

Appreciate What You Have

We seem to be at a place in our life journey where we are really thinking about what we have and how much we appreciate that and how much we have to be grateful for and how we can help others.

The homeschool neighbor dad, whose girls are now in school, spent his twenties and thirties living with a group of guys in Boston who all owned a house painting company together.  They worked
like crazy for months, lived cheaply and saved a lot and then spent months traveling.  They backpacked through Europe, they hiked through Alaska, they walked and tent-less camped the Appalachian Trail and they spent months sailing around the Caribbean in a sailboat (one of the guys grew up on the water and had been sailing since childhood).  Our friend's favorite place was Costa Rica.  He has been back many times and he has told us many stories and we decided we wanted to go there.

We spent 12 days in Costa Rica in early October.  We started in the North, in the beautiful town of Monteverde, where we hiked through cloud forest and crossed hanging bridges in the clouds.  From there, we spent several days at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, and then we spent several days in Tortuguero, where there are no cars and the village can only be reached by a 1-2 hour boat through jungle canals.  The last week we spent at the beach.

It really is beautiful.

We saw many monkeys and anteaters and sloths in trees.
We zip lined and walked on hanging bridges and rode horses to a volcano.
We relaxed in hot springs.
We traveled to a remote village that can only be reached by boat, where there are no cars and turtles lay their eggs.

The water really is that blue.
We often had these beaches all to ourselves.
It was magnificent!

We snorkeled.
We enjoyed beautiful sunsets.
We enjoyed the awesome Caribbean fruit!
Jason and I took yoga classes on the beach and high up in the rainforest and overlooking jungle.

In addition to all the beauty, there is a level of poverty.  In the mountain areas of the North, there was a lot of farmland and I actually wondered who was poor, us or them?  They had less than we did, but they lived in a beautiful place and they had everything they needed and they probably were not caught up in the rat race that we are caught up in.  But in the beach areas around Puerto Viejo, the poverty reminded me of photos I had seen of the Dust Bowl, mothers nursing infants in doorways while children and dogs and chickens played in the dirt, the family's entire wardrobe hung on lines because the maybe 12 by 12 foot house they lived in was not big enough to house a dresser to keep clothing in.

We felt uncomfortable coming back to the luxurious home we rented for the week.  We were embarrassed by the sprawling house we stayed in and how much money we spent on the trip.  The family of three kids and two adults that lived at the gatehouse and let us on to the grounds where the house was located, lived in a house the size of one of the bedrooms in the sprawling house we had rented.  Doors and windows are kept open, flying insects are minimal and you can see from one end of these homes to another.  There was one big room that served as a kitchen and hangout room and then often a curtain that separated that room from a bedroom where I assumed the whole family slept.

It is one thing to tell your kids that they are lucky to be American.
It's a whole other thing for them to see why we say that.
We all came away appreciating what we have and wondering what we can do to help.
The girls are both very interested in volunteering for mission trips to help build or renovate homes.
Several ideas are being tossed around by the girls.  
Making and selling things and donating the profits to the people of Costa Rica has been discussed as well.


Our first house was a 200 year old farmhouse on 2+ acres in Connecticut.  It was a beautiful house (but needed a lot of work and we were young and didn't know what we were doing).  We moved back to New Jersey to be closer to family and we chose to buy homes that did not need as much work and were on smaller pieces of land so that we had more time with our girls who were very young at the time.

The first house we bought, in New Milford, Connecticut.

In the last two years or so, Jason and I have started talking about buying a home with more land.  Jason would like to plant saplings and grow them into trees.  He would like to have chickens.  I would like it to be more quiet and picturesque.  You may remember this collage I made for a post I wrote a few years ago.
 Over the last two years we have looked at few houses but they had certain issues that we did not want to deal with: they were close to a river that flooded or the cost to heat the old house with oil we felt was not within our eco-minded plan or they had water damage or ceilings so low Jason couldn't stand up in the bedrooms!  Or the taxes were high or we just didn't like the layout or they were too far from where Jason worked.

Back in August, I found this house online.  Yes, it needed work, but it was at a price where we could afford to do some of the work and hire someone to do some of the work.  We are not afraid of hard work.  We like working on our home.

It had gas heat and central air!
The garage was in a cul-de-sac of a nice neighborhood so the girls could still ride bikes and rollerblade.
It was in the town where I grew up.
The inside was adorable--just my style, with lots of nooks and crannies and built-ins and character.
The realtor listing it is the realtor that sold us this house and with whom we would list this house--which seemed like it would make life easier.
There was already a chicken coop on the property.
There was a huge barn.
It was our dream.
We got really excited.
We saw it three times in one week.
I felt congested and developed a headache the second time we visited the house.
The third time we visited, we brought a friend who is a contractor and my parents.
Several people felt sick and noticed a strong musty smell.

And then we realized that the basement is INFESTED with toxic mold.

We knew there was a water issue in the basement, but one of Jason's good friends does excavating and had looked at the house with Jason during the week and had come up with ideas on how to divert the water.  

From the beginning we said that we have a perfectly good house, we don't NEED to move.  We see no reason to get involved with a house with issues.  If the mold was caused by a leaky pipe or radiator or roof, those things can be fixed; but underground water issues...there are no guarantees.  There is no reason to buy a house that can make us sick.
Jason is going to call around to mold remediation and basement waterproofing companies this week and get ideas on fixing this.  If someone can GUARANTEE 100% that this problem can be eradicated, we might entertain this house again...otherwise we don't want to buy a headache.

We are disappointed, but in many ways this whole thing made us appreciate OUR HOUSE more.
We might not be happy with some of our neighbors some of the time and there are things about the town I am not crazy about, but our house is close to A LOT OF THINGS (which was why we bought it in the first place).

We have spent the last 11 years building a deck and remodeling our bathroom.

I love the built-in bookshelves that we all worked together on as a family.
Not only does it house our books, it's filled with memories.

The girls JUST redecorated their bedrooms and they are so happy with them and have been keeping them neat and clean.
I am happy with my bedroom.

We remodeled our basement and it has become a place for us to watch movies together as a family and a favorite hang-out for the girls and their friends.  It's perfect for slumber parties!

The one last thing we want to do to our house is remodel our kitchen.
We have saved the money, but before we spend that money and inconvenience ourselves with not having a kitchen for a few weeks, we want to make sure that we want to stay here.

We are still thinking about it.

All of these experiences this month of October have made us really look at our lives and how fortunate we are to have a nice, dry, clean, mold-free house with space to spread out and do our own things.