-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Saturday, January 10, 2004

The first post

OK, where to begin.... I decided to start this blog as a way to record all the ups and downs over the next 5-10 years in working towards our dream. We took the plunge early in 2004 and although there's a long long way to go, so much has happened already that I didn't want to forget it. Actually, I'm writing this in Sept 2004 but I've tweaked the dates of the posts so that it roughly represents the time when it happened... figured it would be easier that way to follow, and once I catch up to "present day" I can just post as it happens. :-)

"We" is me - Lynette - and Dave, my husband. At the moment we live in London although we're both from Melbourne Australia originally. We have your typical urban professional life, minus the trendy / party side as I'm a bit of a homebody and Dave prefers to go to the pub with his cricket mates rather than go to a fancy club or restaurant. No kids, but two pet house rabbits and two pet hens (more on them later).

The dream started out as mostly my dream, to be honest, but Dave seems to have adopted parts of it as his own. I had a test though to make sure I wasn't forcing him into anything so I'm convinced it is something he wants just as much as me (I'll explain that later too). But, I can't tell Dave's story so I'll just tell mine and if he wants he can add his later.

In broad terms, my dream is this... To escape from the treadmill of office work, the Mon-Fri routine, and the stress and expectations that go along with having a serious career, and to try a totally different life. I've already jumped off the standard career path - I did the blue chip management consultancy, I did the MBA, I got on the high flying management track. But after my first experience in line-management I realised I hated it. I hate managing teams and dealing with office admin and politics; I like being intellectually challenged and rolling my sleeves up to do the thinking and analysis.

So, I side-stepped and now I have a job that, 9 out of 10 days I really love. It pays OK and I don't have to work unreasonable hours, and I get to spend my days learning about things that interest me and kind of evangelising about them to others, and the majority of the people I work with I like and respect. There's still some crap just like in any job, but surprisingly mostly it's pretty good. I say surprisingly, because I don't know that many people who seem to like what they do as much as I do, and I feel very lucky to have found my professional niche. So this dream isn't something that I came up with because I'm unhappy with my job.

It's just... I'm 34 already, and I think it would be really sad to be 60 and looking back on my life and realise that all I ever did was to sit behind a desk. I want to try a different way of life, I don't want to be 60 and feel like I took the safe road and never gave it a shot. I might hate it, who knows, but the plan is to keep open an escape route back, at least for a year or two.

In specific terms... the dream is to move to the country, have space and land, and have a "playfarm" and make a big garden. I've always adored animals, have seldom lived without them. Even when I spent two years living in New York in a tiny cramped apartment where we couldn't have pets, I befriended the squirrels on the fire escape. Most of my childhood, from the age of 2-10 approx, I spent in a small country town but in a sort of suburban frame - we only ever had cats, dogs and hens (and I never got to have much to do with the latter that I recall). We had a nice house that my Dad built, but it was on a bush block, no paddocks for horses or cows or sheep, and no money to pay for them either. Yet, I always loved visiting friends on their farms, especially getting to "meet" the farm animals. So, on the "playfarm" I'm going to have pet cows, sheep, horses etc... not many of each, and certainly not enough for them to be anything like economic. They will be pets and family members, not treated as livestock.

The dream of having a "playfarm" I've had for as long as I can remember, even though it took me a while to articulate. The second part of the dream though is a recent addition. Making a garden... a big garden, something that is bigger than me, that will be here long after I've gone. I never used to pay any attention to gardening, just wasn't interested. Then, about 5 years ago, we bought our flat in London and with it came a decent sized established garden. The people we were buying it from had planted the garden mostly from scratch except for a couple of trees. Before we moved in, Matty took me on a tour of the garden, pointing out in great detail what each plant was, etc. It was obvious she cared a lot about what happened to them.

I wanted the garden to stay looking nice, and she'd given me a great starting point, so I took it on as my project. Dave does the mowing and helps with the hard grunt work, but the garden soon became my thing. And, the more I did of it, the more I found I loved it. I can spend hours out there, even if horrible weather, until my bones are aching, and I still love it. It turns out I've inherited my grandfather's "green thumb", so my Dad says. I'm not at all an expert, my approach is trial and error, learn as I go, and I'm afraid that I've made all the usual beginner's mistakes. But gardening is something I've discovered a passion for, and now I can't imagine not ever doing it.

It helps hugely that we're living in England. If there is a more conducive place to gardening I haven't found it yet. Other places might have better climates, but gardening here is almost like a national pastime! And things grow... everything is so green... it's just glorious. There are also all these wonderful extraordinary gardens dotted around the country that you can visit. Yes, nowadays they're mostly owned by the National Trust, but at the beginning they were always the vision of someone. OK, normally a rich person with a fleet of gardeners... but still... The gardens I've liked best you can always trace back to someone who loved them, for whom the garden took on an identity of it's own... who'd plant a tree even if they'd be long dead by the time it reached its full glory, because it was right for the garden. I've decided that I'd like to do that. Even if I fail, I'll have a great time trying. And I can't think of anything nicer as a contribution from living than creating a wonderful garden for others to love and enjoy.

So... a great dream, bit whimsical, impractical etc but hey. I'd pretty much given up on it, given the cost of land these days. Figured I should just compromise, satisfy myself with the 1 acre garden in the house we'd bought in Melbourne to return to one day and forget about the farm.

Then... I came across a property of 30 acres in Amherst, with a skeleton of a house, 2 hours from Melbourne, at a price that - although still sizeable - we could afford to buy outright just by topping up our mortgage here in London. I saw it in an email from an Australian real estate site - I'd signed up for alerts whenever new properties came up that fitted certain criteria, mostly just to dream about, not expecting anything we could afford to turn up.

I showed it to Dave... he was really interested, more so than I'd expected. I scarcely dared to hope, figured it had to be too good to be true, so I was just going to leave it. I told Dave, I'm happy to go along with it but you're going to have to do the legwork to make it happen, if you want it. This was also the test that I alluded to earlier - I figured, he wouldn't take the lead on it and do the work if it wasn't something he wanted too. Especially since he's usually crap at organising things, it's just not his forte. Even things that are important to him he seems to put off doing. But, to my surprise, he jumped at this. He called the estate agent, he liaised with my parents (with me helping) for them to go inspect it, he spoke to the planning officer, he arranged the finance, etc etc. 5 days after we had discovered the property, we put in an offer. Called the estate agent on Sunday morning in Australia, he said great, it's yours... then on Monday morning called us back to say there'd been a mixup and his colleague had accepted an offer from someone else before we called. So we'd lost it.

I figured, that was that, of course it was too good to be true. Then a few days later we got a call back. The guy who'd bought it was 3 hours late for his appointment to sign some papers and hadn't called; they figured they were within their rights to offer it to us instead (plus I think felt bad for what had happened)... and so, a hurried fax later, it was all back on.

It took about 8 weeks to get through all the paperwork, financing etc... everything was complicated by us being on the other side of the world. But on 18th March 2004 it was finalised - it was ours! Even though we'd not seen it yet.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully said. And thus starts a grand adventure for you guys! You're young to be taking that kind of stock in your lives...and your legacy...but I guess it's never too early.

At 40 I did that assessment. The fact is, future generations will know one thing about each of us...if that. "She was the lady who..." "He was the guy that..."

I didn't want to be "the guy who owned an ad agency." Big whoop...what does that really say about me as a person? Not much. I far prefered, "He was the crazy guy who risked everything to buy our family's dump-of-an-ancestral-home and bring it back into our family...where it still remains." Yeah...I like that much better.

Life is for living!

Best wishes!


Anonymous said...

Fascinated by what you are doing because it is so hard to envisage spaces aspect and views without being there. If you have read all the books in your reading list you have taken on a lot of influences; I came to your blog when searching for Geoffrey Jellicoe.
My suggestion is that you should go back to one of those books, the Pattern Language and select a few patterns that appeal to you, and even go through the marking out process that Alexander recommends. This will give your designer 'handles' to work with and through which you can communicate. Peg out the existing house in the local park and walk around it. Reorient it north-south though to allow for the different hemisphere.
Try to find two other books by architects who worked on Pattern Language: The Good House; Contrast as a design tool by Max Jacobson (et al) Taunton Press and especially Patterns of Home, by the same authors and also from Taunton. I am an architect in Perth, WA and find these books very good for giving my clients an idea of the themes and issues that can be used to organise their houses.
I have examined the comments of your designer and he seems to be saying the right things as far as climate is concerned. But I think he is struggling to encompass all your influences.
One complaint though; the links in your Background page, apart from the top one, come through as program script, not words or diagrams, so I am unable to comment on the plans. Look forward to that being sorted out

Lynette said...

Thanks for the encouragement guys and the suggestions

Martin, thanks too for alerting me to the problem with the links. It should be fixed now. :-)

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog attracted by "Amherst" (I lived many years in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts). It is all very exciting for you and am enjoying all your posts. We just left NYC for a lifestyle change.

gibbo9000 said...

Wow Lynette, what a great story!

We look forward to seeing back here for the next part of the dream!


Anonymous said...

Fantastic story to read. I wish you both all the best in Amherst as it is a truly wonderful place.

As I have been on the same adventure with the same personal background and circumstances I can truly relate.

Place is coming along nicely, I will be sure to look out for it next time I am driving through Amherst.


Daniel McDonald

Jennica said...

Stumbled upon this blog somehow and glad to have found it! You're doing just what I'd like to - fix up a home/farmstead on a good piece of sustainable land. Good luck in the adventure!

Kristy said...

I'm keen to see where you go/how you address the eco/sustainability side of things... am always checking out blogs with essentially same ideas + and that ideal behind it.

There's quite a few others out there doing similar to you but with more emphasis on eco/permaculture - it would be a nuts (in a good way) meeting of the minds and ideas if you got to exchange some.

We're slowly (much, much slower than you, at the moment) working our way to our version of what you're doing.

Good luck! :)

Lynette said...

Thanks Jennica, thanks Kristy... it's providing a slow - very slow - journey, but we're making progress. :)

Patricia Knowles nee Dobell said...

Hi there, Just came across your blog whilst doing a search on Amherst and Talbot and have enjoyed reading about your adventures in the old goldfields.

My interest in the area came about as it is the area that my g/grandfather came to with his young bride back in 1855. They raised a family in Amherst and Talbot and moved to Newcastle in NSW somewhere between 1872 and 1877. Perhaps they made a "fortune" in the gold fields as they are reported to be shopkeepers in Newcastle. Interestingly the grandchild of my Amherst relatives went on to become Sir William Dobell, my fathers cousin.

From your photos (love the sunsets from the lakehouse)I can see that it is a very beautiful area and I must come down that way sometime soon. I look forward to reading more about your home.