I'll be honest and say it seems we barely have time to think these days never mind write about our moving journey. Yet I fear that if I don't keep written track of all the happenings they will eventually be lost to memory. So I'm discplining myself to take time from these busy days to record where we're at right now in this momumental move.
Our trip to Quebec
Let's start with our recent trip to Quebec. During the month of June we took a week long "vacation" to the Gaspé peninsula, the area we plan to move to. The weather was summery, we stayed in our tent and my parents joined us - all the makings of a typical vacation for us - though it was also a work trip to find out what we could about moving there next summer.
We didn't have any set agenda in going, ie: no appointments or meetings lined up before our departure. The goal of our trip was to hopefully look at some properties (land, houses or combinations of those), meet people, become more familiar with the area and further determine if we really can reach our family's goal for freedom in this place. Specifically, freedom to build a livelihood that supports an adventurous lifestyle and the ability to achieve debt-free living.
This second visit to the Gaspé confirmed to us, once again, that yes we want to move to this beautiful place. And as far as we can tell it is possible to achieve our family's freedom goal there.
The Gaspé is a very naturally beautiful place with many opportunities for backyard adventures. The area we are looking to move to is minutes from the ocean yet nestled into the tail end of the Appalachian mountain range. We will be a one hour drive from amazing hiking in the Parc national de la Gaspésie yet 15 minutes from the nearest health food store, local farms, ocean beaches, arts and culture. The opportunities for our family to explore, adventure, learn and live in this region are very exciting.
What makes it financially possible for us to consider moving to such a cool place is that the area is somewhat remote by North American standards. Not Alaska remote but still a little ways off the beaten track. Which means that housing and land prices are inexpensive compared to many areas. The area we want to re-locate to is 7 hours from the nearest largest city (Quebec City) and you don't just drive by, you have to make an effort to visit the Gaspésie. Those that do however are rewarded by the beauty and culture of the area. During our visit we saw many cyclists, tourists and a few backpacking hitchhikers. This place is a destination and that excites us.
However, because it is out of the way there is not an economy that pays people the way city jobs do. This would be a drawback for many people. For us it is an advantage. We are not planning to earn money from taking a regular paying job with the local (fill-in-the-blank) business. That is not to say the area is dead, it is not at all. But people who are used to living in more populated areas will not find the high paying jobs that they are used to.
For us that's ok because we're making this move specifically to have freedom to create our own livelihood with the skills, interests and talents we have as a family. In that case what we need is creativity, contacts and connectivity - all of which we are actively working on.
One of the big questions we answered on our trip was what kind of housing we are going to pursue. Initially, many months ago when we first talked about moving, becoming debt-free was not even on the table for discussion. The possibility seemed too far off. But the more we talked about moving the more we started to talk about all our other dreams for life - more sustainable living, being debt-free, downsizing. If we were going to move why not go for the gusto and make some of these dreams reality?
Inspired by that kind of thinking we have decided to try to purchase a small piece of land and build a yurt. I can write that now in one sentence but you have no idea how much dreaming, discussion & soul searching went into that decision. And we really only arrived at that decision when we made our trip and realized that buying land at an affordable price is a real possibility in Gaspésie.
Through a very serendipitous string of events (we believe God-directed) we just "happened" to meet a couple who are willing to sell a piece of property. As we found out, there is not a lot of advertised property for sale in the area we want to move. That doesn't mean no one wants to sell, it just means they want to sell it to the right people. In other words, you can't just find a realtor and find land. You have to know people.
We happen to know people from our first visit this Christmas. Those contacts were where we started on this trip and from there it just snowballed. Our recent visit was largely about making connections, though we didn't know it before we went. We truly felt that God really orchestrated many parts our time in the Gaspé so we would meet the right people who knew other people.
In spite of all that, we don't know yet if we will buy the property from this couple because there is a lot of budgetary factors that have to be worked out before we feel confident making an offer. As it stands now we are seriously considering this option while making other connections with people we met on our trip.
The main budgetary factors that we have to work out right now on this property are the costs of establishing off-the-grid living. This is another development that takes us by surprise. We had no intention of living off-the-grid, though the model fits our values perfectly, if the price is right. As it stands, we are now trying to determine if the price is right. If this property turns out to not be for us (we love the location so the deciding factor right now is cost) we are trusting something else will come up. This move is ultimately in God's hands, not ours.
But let's talk yurt again for a moment. Choosing to live in a yurt is all about freedom and simplicity for our family. It's a housing option that will allow us to be debt free within a couple of years. Being debt free gives us the freedom to earn less but love what we do (ie: working a family livelihood together at home) while allowing the possibility for adventure and travel as a family, a huge goal of ours. To say we're excited about the potential of this housing option is an understatement.
Although we plan to build a yurt with power, running water and other amenities (we're not trying to recreate Little House on The Prairie) we are still going to have to downscale sizeably to make this possible. This involves sacrifice and looking forward to our dreams while letting go of certain expectations of "normal" North American family living.
When we determined that land could be had (if you know people) at a reasonable cost we decided to move forward with the yurt idea. To that end we are now thinking design but more importantly we are looking at suppliers. We are hoping to use our blog writing and photography as a way to subsidize the cost - to have this blog gig help pay our way a bit with this venture. Explicitly, we are in contact with a Northeastern yurt manufacturer about a reduced cost for purchasing our yurt in exchange for the advertising they will get from our writing about the process. Because you can be sure if we build a yurt it's going to feature heavily on our blogs.
We are very blessed that Renee's father has generously offered to help us build whatever we decide to live in. He is a master builder and his expertise and power tools are going to make this build possible. Also (and this is another huge blessing) Renee's parents currently are building a home and are living on their property in a 30 ft camping trailer. This trailer will be ours to use next summer when we move and need a roof over our heads. Thank God for parents!
One more thing about building a yurt. We are designing a raised platform that will be storage and utility space. So although the living space is technically only 30 ft in diameter we will be doubling that space with an insulated, fully functional platform space. We are fairly hardcore about downsizing but we are a family of 5 afterall, with tools, camping gear and school supplies - that's all gotta go somewhere.
How do you gear up to move out of the country, build a business on the side (when you can't earn money outside your job - because of your visa restrictions) all while working a regular 40 hour a week job? Not to mention be a parent, homeschool your kids, cook your meals from scratch, be outdoors often, get enough sleep, write and photograph your adventures. That's a great question and one that we are in the midst of answering.
Our short answer to this is that we are learning to daily live with much planning, focus, enthusiasm and prayer.
One of our biggest challenges and something that requires the most creativity of this move is our inability to earn income outside of Damien's full time job as computer programmer at Bates College. That goes for both of us, which is a huge reason we are moving in the first place - no freedom.
What this means is that Damien is working right now on building a strong on-line presence in his areas of interest, specifically the outdoors with family and minimalist shoes. Currently he is investing time in a few projects that have the ability to earn money over time, though not right now. Not forgetting that his bread and butter is computer programming he is also making contacts in that area.
The ability to earn money by next summer is a top priority for our family right now. Building a yurt is all fine and dandy but if we can't eat that's just no good.
Practically this means our days are very focused. Damien goes to work and Renee manages the home and the kid's education, as well as works on building her own on-line presence to add to the family livelihood in due time. In the evenings we share supper, clean up and family time and then we work again. Damien is writing, programming, making contacts and reseaching our housing to hit the ground running next summer. Weekends and vacation days are time for outdoor adventures and fixing up the house as much as possible before selling next year.
Moment by Moment
Life right now is very focused, purposeful and busy. Renee is scaling back out-of-the-home commitments to keep our home managed well and is keeping a tight rein on the finances. Damien is working hard to provide both now and in the future for our family.
In this very busy time we recognize the need to connect as a family around our faith, our purpose and our vision. While still having fun, remembering to laugh and live with joy.
We are very blessed with Damien's job being a mere 5 minutes from home so every non-working hour can be used well (ie: not commuting). Also Renee's parents have offered to help in numerous ways and we appreciate their support even though they live 12 hours away. The children are healthy and happy and we are keeping them engaged as much as possible with everything going on.
It's challenging, it's exciting and some days it's tiring. But mostly it's wonderful to dream, plan and live this next stage of our family's life.
Thank you so much for joining us thus far. We can't wait to see where all this will take us.
Please feel free to ask any questions about our move in the comments. There are many details we didn't share here to try and keep this post brief (ha, ha!). But we want to encourage others and share our joys and struggles on this journey also. So speak up if you have something to say or something you want to know.