Leaving the Forest

It felt like Derek and I had been house hunting for eternity. It had taken awhile for our country home to sell - a normal timeline for a property so far from the city - and thankfully, the new buyers asked for a slightly extended possession date, giving us the extra time we needed to find our next space.

I had fallen in love with one house before we sold ours, but we couldn't jump on it until we sold our house, and of course, someone else snatched the property up. So I stopped looking for new homes until our home actually sold. It made the entire process feel quite drawn out.

We bid on a couple others, but ultimately lost them to other buyers. I started to worry we weren't going to find anything in time.

When we finally decided to move back to the city, our biggest concern was the lifestyle change. I had never met my “neighbours” where we lived in the country; we were pretty tucked in the woods, a few magnificent birch and oak trees standing alone in the yard while the rest of the Tree Family gathered around the yard’s perimeter. Half our acreage was trees. The privacy we had was really the loveliest part of our home.

There were times, however, where that luxury did feel isolating. I’d be lying if I said that beautiful place didn’t come with its sacrifices. The summer weekends were almost exclusively reserved for chores and yard work, and with Derek and I both owning our own businesses, much of the last quarter of my twenties have felt like a lot of work... with very little play.

The seed to move was planted last May. I was buried in depression (unknowingly), and had been lying in my bed completely covered in wasted coffee grinds. I had just had a rage blackout on my mom - who came over to check on me - and I had threw a tin of coffee across the kitchen. It was a particularly bad day. I’m a communicator and storyteller by trade, but I had been constantly overwhelmed and unable to effectively communicate with anyone. I used to not be able to organize my thoughts, and I always felt confused. None of those thought patterns were normal for me, but I was unable to rise up and move past them. It was a really eye opening experience for me on the depths of mental illness.

Derek had just walked the perimeter of the property with my mom, discussing whatever was wrong with me. He found me in bed, covered in coffee, and asked me if we should move. I knew he worried I had too much on my plate, and he didn’t really know how to help me.

By autumn, I was finally feeling like myself again - the first time in over a year. I was vibrant, alert, teeming with ideas (my depression-causing IUD had been taken out; you can read the story here on Our Body Book), and Derek asked me to step on more formally with his business. Since I had a financial background, it seemed like a natural extension to step on as Chief Financial Officer and drum up some cool marketing ideas to help expand the company’s reach.

As we got into it, we took a hard look at our finances and the business wasn’t thriving the way we thought. We were overextended for a new company; fulfilling business as if we had been in business for a few decades. We broached the idea of lowering overhead by moving the business to our property. There was so much land here, and we could have the company pay us rent. It seemed like a win-win. So we grabbed a survey of our land, tiny lasers in hand, and trekked through the bush to mark out the property to determine where we could build a potential shop to house all the company equipment.

The more we pushed forward, the more unlikely the idea seemed. Clearing the birch felt wrong - deep-in-my-soul-wrong. We had a relationship with these trees. And when practicality set in - a nearly $200,000 bill to clear and erect a shop that would have no positive financial impact on the value of our property - we took the idea off the table.

And then our mortgage rate doubled. The payments felt excruciating, and completely unrealistic for a young family. Derek and I often sat outside together, brainstorming and putting our heads together to make smart financial moves both personally and professionally. It started to become difficult to decipher between what was best for our jobs, and what was best for our family.

So we decided to list our house. And oof. What a hard pill that was to swallow. Our beautiful home - our land - the vision we had developed for our life together and what it may look like for our son, now destined to be a short memory. A bit of grieving took place, but at least we were on the same page. Through my depression, it felt like we weren’t only on different pages, but that we maybe had different books entirely. But we were still young, and we needed to make some smart moves - some big moves - now, in order to redirect our family’s course. Neither one of us felt as though we should be as stressed (and depressed) as we had been.

I remember sharing our house’s listing on Facebook to help extend our reach. We knew it would take notoriously long to sell a country house (there aren’t as many buyers shopping for this lifestyle), and I wanted a head start. An old friend of mine (with slightly insensitive humour) teased me when I shared the post, exclaiming, “Didn’t you guys just move there?” 

Oof. Another hard, jagged pill. What the comment really felt like was a laceration, underlining a level of failure that Derek and I were both already feeling. When Derek confessed to me that he felt like he failed our son somehow, by not being able to make this lifestyle work, I went full into my aggressive Aries Moon Sign, wanting to tear apart the internet and anyone that made me, Derek or Hawksley feel less than we deserved.

My erratic emotions were countered with lots of showings - a pristine, clutter-free, de-personalized house on constant demand. It was tiring on top of an already tiring lifestyle. Our house took six months to sell, and oh my, did it ever feel like six months. In that time, I disconnected from my home’s spirit purely out of emotional survival. I had nowhere to “get cozy” and with none of my favourite possessions out, it stopped feeling like my home. I didn’t want to bring everything out again only to re-pack it, and the whole process initiated a major decluttering and minimizing lifestyle that the entire family adopted. Our closets, dinnerware, cleaning supplies and toiletries were all minimized - I even donated three credenzas, two of which were excellent mid-century finds (which I still regret parting with).

And, then, the season changed. It was as if the Universe stepped up to support us.

The trees filled out, the grass colour deepened, and all my favourite blooms started to show the early signs of rebirth. The lilac we transplanted out of suffocation had fresh little buds of survival, the pond was starting to rise, and the apple trees made it another year against the deer. I found myself sitting outside on the deck we built together every morning. We had abandoned childcare to recover the additional mortgage fees we were facing, and so I spent my mornings being slow and present (something I struggle deeply with) with my son and a cup of coffee. Each morning we practiced meditating together on the deck, and he even started telling me “how to talk to the trees” while we listen and do our big breaths.

I started to feel sad every time I made a cup of coffee. I started to understand what Derek said when he confessed he felt as though we were failing our son. What a special place this would be to raise a family. We couldn’t have made it work?

In all honesty, we could have. But I remember my dad working so hard - always gone and away on business - only to prematurely die at 40. He didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labour. And it’s a similar story with Derek’s mom, who also passed away just as she and Derek’s dad were approaching retirement.

Had we not learned anything from the unfortunate spiritual gifts our deceased parents had left us with? Did we really want to work so hard that we were exhausted; zero time for fun and play?

The answer was a resounding no.

At first we were looking for another country home with a shop. We were still hanging on to the original design of what led us to our decisions. But we were looking for something impossible. We needed a specific property size, on a specific budget with a specific shop size - and oh, the house needed to be to my cozy standards as well. We knew it was a tall order. But as time started to dwindle away, we knew we had to change gears. We amended our budget and started to look at really affordable homes in the city.

Small manageable yards. Close to the university and college I had started teaching at (and extensively commuting to) as a contractor, thanks to Rogue Wood's success. Close to our two families and our support systems. Garbage pick up (what a luxury!). City water (another luxury!). A small safe community with French schools for our child. Wi-fi that seems too fast to be real. Still quiet, even if the neighbours are close.

Finally, we found it. I walked into one particular house, and immediately could see my son running around. I felt what his room would look like; how he would feel there. I instantly connected to the house's mood, even if it wasn't exactly my style (yet). We bid once, lost it, felt bummed, and then I dug my heels in to bid again, and we got it. We offered a quick possession date, and the next thing I knew I was moving in three weeks. The logistics were overwhelming, but somehow - that Universal energy? - it lined up to support us and make things happen.

We currently own two houses, and I'm living out of my suitcase while we renovate the new space. I'm still teaching web marketing at the university, and the commute is extraordinarily short. I feel like I have so much time to actually get my things done - that was one of my personal biggest stressors about country living; I was commuting two hours per day, racing back to get my child from daycare, and my actual working hours seemed non-existent. I was just driving so much. My time management and project completion had taken a massive hit.

Even though the new house is a mess of paint cans, no appliances, and only five days of underwear available per stretch, I don't feel even half as stressed. And my skin has coincidentally been the clearest it has been since I gave birth three years ago. I hadn't even considered how much the stress was taking a toll on my health. And for what, my pride?

While 75% of our belongings are with us at the new house, there are still things at the country home. While I'm sure the formal goodbye in July will be hard, I've already made my peace with Pleasant House on the Prairie and what gifts it gave me; what things it taught me.

The new house definitely has a mood (I love how each house has its own energy, and I get excited about discovering it). I feel like this house was just waiting for someone to come along and wake it up. Reinvigorate it. And I'm surprised how different our things look in it.

We painted all the brown and beige away, changed all the electrical, and updated the casing and baseboards to a sleek, modern, dove grey with minimal lines. That was only weekend one, and after four coats of "special paint" on my kitchen cabinets, the house is really starting to transform. Here's what we've done with the living room, and I'll keep sharing while we continue to work through the whole space.

But, my favourite part is the little yard. We're told the previous owners grew prize winning vegetables, and the rows of raspberries and strawberries are the most legit I've seen - regardless of lot size. There is a French lilac by the back deck, and more magenta peonies than my heart can handle right now. Capped off with cedar, rhubarb, dill, purple flowering chives, and bleeding hearts... I'm telling you, it's like the space was made for me.