Tag Archives: Habitat for Humanity

Land as Palette

Earlier this year my husband and I, with the help of the generous staff and volunteers of Habitat for Humanity, bought a house on .18 acres of land.

Yes, that’s a decimal point. That’s almost two-tenths of an acre. With a five bedroom house on it.

I’m not complaining. In my ideal world, I’d have more land, but in the real world, I never thought I’d own anything. I owe it all to the fact that my life partner is relentlessly driven and hopelessly dedicated to providing for his family.

Having lived here only seven months, the land is still relatively blank, like a canvas waiting for a work of art to bloom upon it.

Although our imaginations are constrained by space restrictions, in a sense, it allows us to be even more creative. We have to get wacky and funky (which we both love to do) with our designs, and we are forced to narrow down what actually matters to us and what we can live without.

For me, I very much want: vegetable garden, strawberry patch, fire pit/hang out area, herb garden

For my husband: fruit trees, workshop

This morning we drew a sketch of the property and played with possibilities. I am acutely aware of what a special time this is, to lay the foundation of the life we will live.

It will, Great Spirit willing, be a life of food, family gatherings and creativity.

What Kind of Neighbor Are You?

I was raised to keep to myself, and I’ve been searching ever since to find some kind of community in which I could participate and feel a sense of belonging.

Civil War Reenactment - Hickory, North Carolina - 2009

The representation in film and literature of tight groups, whether composed of soldiers, medieval villagers, gangsters, prisoners, or some other version of interdependent coexistence, I find irresistible.

Here in cyberspace it’s easy to be the perfect community member (although it’s near impossible to find the perfect community); you can edit your posts and comments before anyone ever sees them, you can show your best face and even avoid the internet altogether on those days that you know you would just be a bear on a rampage.

But in a real neighborhood, you will see each other on your worst days.  You will see each other chasing the dog across the yard in your p.j.s, you will run across each other on that day that you just wish the whole world would be vaporized, you will have to make nice when you just wish everyone would shut up and go away.

Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina - 2007

Our impending move has me pondering — besides thinking ahead to where to put the furniture, how to decorate, what to do with the yard, and all the physical details, I have to wonder, what kind of a neighbor will I be?

Now certainly this depends partly on what kind of neighbor everyone else is.  Everyone will be part of the Habitat for Humanity program, so we will have at least one thing in common, some sort of foundation for introductions.  Almost all of us have kids, and since I have a whole age range myself, I should certainly be able to relate to most people on that level.

What makes this really different for me is, I’ve never owned a home before.  I’ve always rented, and been around mostly renters, in which case, there is a lot less pressure.  You can think to yourself, maybe one of us will move soon, so why even strike up the first conversation with that weirdo over there?  You have the luxury of tolerating the temporary.

But we will all be there as homeowners in our Habitat neighborhood.  Not to say people won’t sell and move someday, but the possibility exists to a much greater degree that we will all be neighbors for the rest of our lives.  Like marrying someone you’ve never met, only it’s not even an arranged marriage where your parents see some kind of merit to the relationship, but an almost purely random wedding between complete strangers.

San Francisco, California - 2006

But we Americans are used to dealing with strangers, especially out in the Wild West of California, where we know just how to treat neighbors – like the suspicious strangers they are.  Don’t get me wrong, I did have a few good neighbors over the many years and in the many neighborhoods I resided on the West Coast.  I got a taste of what it might be like to live among friends, or at least comrades, or perhaps just among other individuals that you’ve established a polite civility with.

But it has to start with me.  What will my attitude be?  How will I present myself and my family?  How open or guarded will I be on a day-to-day basis?  Will I encourage bonds between my own children and the neighbors’ or will I try to be a barrier to keep my kids safe against the unknown?

Snow day for the neighborhood kids at Family Student Housing - Eugene, Oregon - 2007

Will I give in to my idealistic desires for community and try to be everyone’s great friend, or will I give into my ingrained fears of people and hold everyone at arm’s length?  Or will I walk a wise way balance somewhere in between?

Tell us, what is your neighborhood like?  Have you dealt with much conflict?  Have you developed techniques for dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of being a neighbor?  What kind of neighbor are you?

Countdown to Move In

I feel like today starts the countdown to March 30: closing day.  Just this morning I’m feeling completely overwhelmed.  I got so much done yesterday and a childish part of my brain was hoping for even a small spray of confetti, but it was not forthcoming.  Just the rest of the mile-long to-do list waiting for me, not so patiently.

I am trying a new strategy; instead of my usual response to feeling overwhelmed, which is to move faster, I am slowing down.  I am going to find a groove in all this and ride it out.

I’m In Love

We took a second tour of the house we will be buying.  The first time we hadn’t even been accepted into the Habitat program yet, so I just made a quick run through to get the general idea.  I guarded myself very carefully against getting attached at all.

Home - Where My Heart Is

On the second trip through, months later, everything is far better than I remembered it, and I let myself fall in love.  A place in my heart that has ached for a place to call its own, to baby and cultivate and treasure through the years, has been healed.

Like an extra huge surprise present on a birthday that is already bigger than you’d ever hoped for, there is a dishwasher in the kitchen.

Where I will feed my family

If I weren’t such a gasbag, I’d be speechless.

Movin’ On

Here is the house I sit in, preparing for the big move.

The House with One Bathroom for Seven People

Of course, currently there is no green grass or sunflowers; it’s just bare winter brownness.

Our tentative closing date is March 30 on our Habitat house.  A house with TWO bathrooms.  And five bedrooms.  Here’s hoping the squish factor will diminish significantly.

So I’m in the list phase right now.  I’ve got a list for stuff to get rid of, a list of stuff to do, a list of stuff to buy, and a list of stuff for my husband to make (he’s into woodworking in various permutations, including furniture and cigar box guitars.)

In addition, we’ve still got 100 sweat equity hours to get done, classes every Thursday, monthly budgeting, and meetings involving lots of paperwork.

I want to pack.  I want to move boxes.  I want to do something that involves physically making this happen.

But for now I will sit with my lists and my spending plans and my dreams.  I have a feeling that the rest is coming like a speeding freight train.

Feel free to jump in and share your home buying or house moving experiences during any of my homebuyer updates.  It’s supposed to be one of the more stressful events in a person’s life, and the stories we create as we live through these events make up part of who we are.

Journey to Home Ownership

One thing I’ll be sharing with the tribe here is my family’s journey from renters to homeowners, a transition which should take place in the next couple of months.  Our story is a little bit unique because we are partnering through Habitat for Humanity, which has always been a program that I’ve heard about but never knew the nitty-gritty of, nor have I ever known anyone who’s actually gone through it.  Now you can say that you do!

To fill you in a bit on our back story, here’s an introductory essay I wrote when we were first accepted into the Habitat Homebuyer program back in September of last year:

The Dream of a Home

In the last two years of her life my Grandma suffered a lung embolism and a broken hip, wrist and foot.  My parents repeated, as they had for years, their offer for her to move into their spacious home, which they’d bought in that size specifically for such an eventuality.  My Grandma politely but adamantly refused.  They then offered to help her move into a retirement community of her choice.  She again declined.  As absurd as it seemed for a frail, ailing 90 year-old to intend on living alone, and as worried as I was for her, I did understand; she lived in the house she and my Grandpa had bought over 50 years ago, where she’d raised her son, entertained her bridge group, spoiled her grandkids and comforted her dying husband.  In addition, she lived a few blocks from her church, her friends, her hairdresser and all her favorite shops, her “village” as she always referred to it, and she wasn’t leaving it for anything.  And she never did.

My Grandma’s attachment to home and community lives on in my own heart, though it has yet to be fulfilled.  I’ve lived my adult life below the poverty line, moving from town to town in search of a stable situation, unable to sink the roots that ache to make a lasting connection.  It seemed the world had changed since my Grandma’s day and that home ownership was an impossibility in the economy of my day. I never allowed myself to dream that I, too, could have my own home in my own “village” until I met my husband six years ago.

He is unlike anyone else I’ve ever met in that he talks big, and then he lives it.  I’ve heard lots of people dream and then I’ve watched them languish in their ambitionless lives as their dreams withered.  When I met Richard he planned to get a Master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, but he hadn’t even been accepted to the program yet.  Within two years he had graduated with achievements under his belt which proved he was not only going to do what he said, he was going to completely rock it.

So when he talked of his own dream of owning a home, I let a little hope in.  Then began the systematic dashing of those hopes against the rocks of numbers on paper — Richard and I owed too much money and he was being paid too little in the career for which he’d earned his Master’s.  Apparently the future of our little family having a home in which to nurture five wonderful children to happy, healthy, productive adulthood was not a risk any financial institution would consider taking.

And then he told me about the possibility of home ownership through Habitat for Humanity.  Not only was there a renewed glimmer of hope that we could work towards owning our own home, but there was also a community already established in which I might earn a place to be useful, where my children, my husband and I would finally belong.  I was suddenly grateful that we’d been denied entrance into an impersonal, money-oriented bank loan arrangement so that we could have the chance to participate in something much more meaningful and people-oriented.  To think that our mortgage payments will help to perpetuate such an amazing program makes home ownership an even greater blessing.

When I told my Mom the news that we’d been accepted into the Habitat program, I mentioned how sad it made me that I couldn’t call Grandma and tell her my good news the way I did with everything else before she passed away this last Christmas.  My mother paused, then said, “You know she knows.”  Even though I can no longer hear the joy in her voice or her words of pride in receiving the news, I do know that my Grandma knows and shares in this happy opportunity for her granddaughter and great-grandchildren to live her same dream of home and community.