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Wibbly heap ahoy!

You were warned!

I think we did most of last weeks job list along with some of this weeks too. The garage and garden wall have been painted and I’ve contacted all the Zone three hosts. The kids have waterproof coats, thermals, decent boots and waterproof trousers. I have my years supply of contact lenses. The van is still at the garage and we’ve given notice to anyone who needs it about our impending departure.

Our plan is to start boxing the house up now, storing the boxes in our playroom and then moving them into storage the week before we go. Once we get the van back we will start filling it with stuff coming with us. On our final weekend we should just have beds, sofas and other too large to fit into a car left in the house. We have friends staying for our Bye Then party and then 2 full days left (we’ll have both finished work) to fully clean the house, hire a van to move the last heavy / large things into storage before locking the door behind us and dropping the keys off with the letting agent.

Lots of people are asking how we’re feeling now it is all so real and imminent and the answer is ‘excited and scared in about equal measures’.

Excited because this is something we so want to do and have been planning for months, it’s a relief it is finally here, it’s been quite a logistical event to pull off and I’m personally quite proud of making it all happen. What felt like a mammoth task ahead with lots of scary variables has indeed proved possible to get this far in. I’m excited to be on the brink of what I think will be a life changing event and catalyst for all sorts of things in the future of all four of us aswell as looking forward to the year for it’s own sake – spending time together, meeting some very interesting new people, living with less stuff, getting fitter and healthier, having an adventure and creating a story to tell for when we’re old and grey bouncing grandchildren on our knees.

Scared because there is of course so many different ways it could go wrong. Working phyically leaves many chances for injury or being incapacitated let alone just getting ill with colds or flu or other bugs. Scared because although we have a small contingency fund along with a tiny monthly income we will be living on very tight finances. If the house needed something expensive doing or the tenants left or failed to pay we’d be in trouble, if the van breaks down and can’t be fixed in one day we have nowhere to sleep that night. We might find ourselves staying with people we don’t like or have different expectations of each other. I know Ady is apprehensive about keeping the kids safe and happy in so many unknown locations. I’m nervous about food, whether we’ll like what’s offered and what happens if we don’t, how I’ll cope with the many, many dogs we are bound to encounter along the way!

So… boxes.

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we are proud to announce…

our plans to the whole world :)

We have been waiting for everything to fall properly into place before the final stages of the adventure start and we ‘go public’. Today Ady has handed his notice in at work so the rest of the world can now know.

We have firmed up a date to be out of our house and for tenants to move in which gives us slightly longer than we first thought. This is great as it means everything comes together as per my originial plans. It does mean we will end our time in the house without TV, phone or internet as I’d already given notice for the earlier date but I quite like the transition happening in staggered steps.

Willow the van is at the garage, having an MOT and getting checked over to see what is happening with the batteries to make the vehicle battery not keep it’s charge. We’ve had the landlord gas safety check done and we have waterproof jackets on the way. I’ve ticked off most of this weeks job list, the chickens who left have done so and are happily installed in their new home, the rest are staying here as the tenants are keeping them on.

I anticipate life (and therefore this blog) to rather degenerate into a slightly wibbly heap for the next month as we frantically try and pack everything up, say our goodbyes, documenting as much as we can and heading off on our way.

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Going off grid

We’ve not neatly fitted into boxes for quite some time when filling in forms but today as I try and tidy up loose ends with regard to utilities I am reminded of just how out of the ordinary we are. There is literally no box to tick on any website or number to press given on those automated phone systems for ‘remaining a home owner but having no address, living in a campervan with no utilities attached’.

So today I have cancelled our BT landline and broadband, our TV licence and Sky TV subscription, checked the procedure for final meter readings for gas and electric supply, informed the local council and water suppliers of our moving out date, swapped household insurance for landlord insurance and looked at postal options from PO boxes to redirection.

I have a mini-rant about how bloody difficult it is to stop getting service from places, from the fact they refuse to accept cancellation any way other than by phone, that their dedicated ‘so you think you can just leave like that do you?’ phonelines all have queuing times of ridiculously long, designed to get you to give up trying degrees and quite why they want to admit to ‘we are recieving high call volumes’ to a phone number that is only for people cancelling is beyond me! I’ve swallowed several cancellation / cessation charges and stopped operators about to go into sales pitch mode their breath by explaining why we won’t be needing that service from anybody at all, not just their company.

Yesterday at the tip, or Household Waste Recycling Centre as it is calling itself these days we had some very interesting conversations with Dragon and Star about waste and about what Off Grid means. We were all feeling pretty rubbish (if you pardon the pun) about the stuff we were contributing to landfill. Yes, we compost, we recycle, we freecycle & ebay, we try really hard to reduce waste but when it’s come to actually clearing out our home all of those things we stashed in our garage and loft and we realise that they are simply no good to anyone for anything so need to be landfilled it’s pretty sobering. We chucked out two tables and four chairs due to extensive water damage, wish we’d just freecycled them years ago while they were still useable :( It’s great for Dragon & Star to know already that there is no such place as ‘away’. When you throw something away you are really just moving it somewhere else for someone else to deal with.

We also talked about Off Grid and what that means. We looked at the telephone poles taking cables to each and every home, we looked at a pylon and a power station bringing power across the UK, we looked at sewers and waste water just last week so knew we were driving over a massive network of underground pipes moving water around beneath us. We talked about how we don’t give it a second thought at home that flicking a switch turns on a light, that turning on a tap brings water flowing, that lifting the phone brings the dial tone buzzing in our ear but that these are recent-ish innovations and for all their convenience they are very costly (we explained that about 2 out of the 5 days a week Ady works are just to cover the costs of these things in our home), not necessarily sustainable and very probably not essential. We talked about how on camping holidays we ration energy, water etc and manage just fine, being more creative and putting more effort into ensuring our needs are provided for in terms of light, heat, water often by more effcient, environmentally friendly and less wasteful ways. We also touched on other types of ‘grid’ such as cheap food from supermarkets rather than local, organic or free-range food which may cost more in the short term or not be quite so convenient to get but what the fors and againsts of each are long term. I love talking about these sorts of things with Dragon and Star, they very much have their own ideas, bring a childish form of reason and challenge things that I have long since just accepted. It made me think of this quote:

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
 So today I have been extricating us a little from ‘the grid’, untangling it’s wires from our wrists and ankles, loosening the cable from our throats, reducing our dependancy, rationalising our need. I kind of think that whatever happens to us next, wherever our journey leads us after our planned year we may never fully plug ourselves back in again.
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6 weeks to go, could be 5, could even be 3

But we’re hurtling towards it whatever it is!

We have tenants, not 100% confirmed as there is still paperwork to go through, references to be taken etc. But they have paid a holding deposit and we should have everything signed and sealed a week from now.

We’ve set a date to hand the keys over which gives us a deadline for being out of the house. 3 weeks. 3 weeks!!!

I’ve handed my notice in and Ady has his letter drafted to print off, I’ve put a poster in the staffroom to arrange a meal out with my colleagues, I imagine Ady will have the same and we have a party planned with friends before we go. I’m expecting lots of teary goodbyes, promises to stay in touch and people torn between feeling envious of our adventure yet grateful to go home and sleep in a  real bed at night!

So 3 week countdown to house plans go like this:

3 weeks to go:

  • Friends to stay for a night who are taking 3 of our hens for rehoming. The tenants want to keep the rest of our chickens -yay!
  • Trips to the tip for anything that isn’t worth freecycling
  • Ebay listing of last few things we uncover potentially worth selling
  • Freecycling anything that could be of use to anyone – already sent off a bike and a treadmill this weekend to new homes.
  • Start arranging Zone three hosts.
  • Begin boxing up stuff we won’t need in the last couple of weeks and clearly label boxes.
  • Try and sell old washing machine for spares / repair
  • Order years supply of mail order contact lenses

2 weeks to go:

  • Get kitted out with workboots, waterproofs, thermals etc. We have a mix of these things but need to a proper inventory of clothing we have and clothing we’ll need and fill in the gaps. I have contacted some suppliers of work wear, boots and waterproofs to see if any companies wanted to sponsor us, have us give their products a really good test or let us review for them but no one has showered us with showerproof stuff!
  • Email first round of hosts to confirm dates, give mobile number for contact etc. Draw up a map of locations with contact details to leave with a couple of people who will be keeping tabs on us to ensure we’re safe.
  • Book van hire for Moving Day. 
  • Reduce contents of two freezers into one and two fridges into one, freecycle spares. If extra interest let people know a second one will be available in a weeks time
  • Go through clothing and box up, give away or get ready to pack in campervan.

1 week to go:

  • MOT van
  • Do SORN declaration and cash in road tax for Sharan
  • Cancel car insurance & breakdown cover
  • Cancel house insurance and take out landlord insurance
  • Finish boxing up house
  • Revel in last baths, last sleeps in beds, last sits on sofas, last cookings in kitchen etc.
  • Put together How To Guide to the house to leave for tenants
  • Cancel all household bills

Moving Weekend

  • Transport all stuff for keeping to my parents for storage
  • Clean house
  • Take meter readings
  • Take some photographs of empty rooms
  • Drop keys off with letting agent

We’ve had an incredibly productive weekend and totally cleared the garage and garden of everything except for a few garden tools which we have already agreed with the tenants we’ll be leaving. The chicken coop is all cleaned, raked over and we are leaving a full dustbin of bedding and another of food for them. We feel like we’ve had  taster of bloody hard work (I spent over an hour chopping up firewood and nearly as long again moving logs about and we’ve all been hulking stuff in and out of the car and around the garden) and are looking ahead now ready to get started on the adventure.

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Weeks rather than months….

Further developments to report!

Firstly, and most excitingly we seem to have tenants! There is still paperwork to be completed and final dates, signatures and checks to be done but it is all in hand.

This means today I am off to hand my notice in at work. They already know and have done for months about the plan and I had a provisional leaving date in the diary ages ago but I need to go and confirm it. A will wait until next week as he has a little annual leave to use up anyway which means he shouldn’t need to work his full notice so we’ll wait for everything to be fully finalised before he takes his letter in to work.

This gives us about 3 weeks left in our house to box everything up, clear out the last few things which need listing on ebay, taking to the tip or giving away on freecycle.

I’ve given notice to Sky tv, have lists of places to give notice to once we have a firm date, lists of people we need to try and cram a get together with before we go and a Bye Then party to plan with a large group of friends.

We need to sort out internet access for the van, a solar panel for the roof, waterproofs, thermals and decent work boots. I need to order in a years supply of contact lenses, decide whether a kindle is a worthy investment 😉 and confirm dates with the hosts we’ve already booked and send out the first email enquiry to the zone three hosts on our shortlist.

Let the countdown to craziness commence!

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First of the lasts…

good to get out of the way before we start with the last of the firsts :)

We’ve been away for a weekend visiting friends, so much talking about our plans. People’s reactions tend to fall into roughly three groups:

  1. The excited, delighted, positive & enthusiastic camp. Thankfully most of the people we have told have had this reaction. Plenty of ‘I’m not surprised’ and ‘you’ve been leading up to something like that’ and ‘wow, what an excellent idea, you’ll have such a great adventure’.
  2. The slightly doubtful and concerned, hiding it in better or worse ways depending on how well we know them, asking lots of questions and looking like we’re mad, but generally supportive even if discounting it with ‘I couldn’t do something like *that*’.
  3. Outright against it. Thinking we should have our heads examined, wondering why on earth we’d want to do such a crazy thing, pushing lots of obstacles in our way, being voice of doom.

Maybe it’s that we mix with people who are more like us in their way of thinking, or people know us well enough to think it will suit us even if they would hate the idea but we’ve only really had the very occassional third reaction from people. Sadly my Dad fall firmly into that camp. He is supportive, loving, has helped with lending us money for the van, will be storing our furniture, looking after the house for us and being the contact for tenants but has nothing good or positive to say about either the year long experience or the long term aims behind it. I understand his concerns, I appreciate his reasoning and worries are borne out of love for us and our wellbeing, safety and happiness is his priority, I just think he is misguided in some of his ideas and he thinks I am all but certifiable for most of mine!

Fortunately the people we spent the weekend with and visited while we were away are all very supportive and seem to understand our motivation for the coming years adventure. :-) We’ve also been very excited to find another Home Ed family about to embark on a similar WWOOFing adventure which at least puts us in not quite such a tiny minority ;).

So first of the lasts then… we’re edging towards handing in our notice at work, giving notice to stop Sky tv, BT landline, broadband access etc. We’ve finally had a tenant view our house, no news yet as to whether they want to rent it but at least someone has now looked at it! We have a TO LET board up outside and everyone who needed to be told about our plans has now been informed. We’re getting lots of ‘before you go…’ type things being said to us, my work is certainly winding down with me showing colleagues how to certain things I do ready for when I’ve gone. We could have as little as 3 weeks left in our house so this weekend will be spent clearing the garden and garage, Willow is having another looking at by a mechanic to ensure she is ready to go and will be MOTd just before we go and we’ll be starting to box things up in the next few days ready to go into storage.

I’ve made contact with hosts right up to the end of July, we’ve decided to take some time off in August and I’m about to start contacting the Zone 3 hosts to book September, October and November. I’ve not had any luck finding suppliers who want to send us waterproofs, work boots or solar panels yet but I’ll carry on in the hopes that someone would like a really good roadtesting of their products done for them :).

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Watching & Listening

There is a saying I heard for the first time a while back that I really liked:

‘You have two eyes, two ears and just one mouth – use them that way’
Basically do twice as much watching and listening as you do talking.  I’m not at all sure I manage it, although I consider myself hungry for knowledge and thirsty for learning I’m sure I talk and write far too much to have the ratio right. I do a lot of reading, which is like listening with your eyes though, hopefully that counts.  
I’ve just started reading and so far it’s proving an interesting and enjoyable read. I’m not far in and will do another review when I’ve finished it but so far my overwhelming feeling from what I’ve read is that our on-grid reliance – water, electricity, gas supplies are not remotely joined up, sustainable or even make much sense. I had no real idea just  how many people are living ‘off grid’ and doing just fine. I know when camping part of the fun is rationing light, heat, power, water and planning into our days how to go about gathering resources and using them wisely. I have plenty of friends who already live without one or more of their services supplied by expensive corporate organisations and they have adapted accordingly and don’t miss them at all.
In other news this week I have been shocked and saddened by things I learnt by way of TV and computer. We are avid watchers of Countryfile each Sunday and a while ago we watched with shock when they visited one of the massive cattle holdings in the US, where thousands of cows are kept inside, never seeing sky or eating grass for the purpose of cheap, mass volumes of milk. There is an online petition and plenty of opposition to a planned version of this in the UK. I am hoping there are enough numbers of objectors to prevent this style of farming happening here although I fear there is a larger majority who want cheap produce whatever the cost to animals or the environment. Ady and I have also been very disturbed watching Hugh’s Big Fish Fight and learning of the dreadful waste of fish that goes on thanks to EU rules about quotas and discard, along with the terrible loss of marine life (dolphins, turtles, sharks) with mass fishing styles.
All of these learnings give gravity to another famous saying ‘ignorance is bliss’. I think a lot of us would really rather not be enlightened and educated. Far better to eat your cheap chicken, drink your cheap milk, wear your cheap clothes from the supermarkets and marvel at the low price you are paying without giving a thought to who is picking up the real cost, because someone or something somewhere will be. Once your conscience has been pricked you then have to decide what to do with that knowledge. Do you bury it away, choose to ignore it? Do you make a decision to change your ways and habits, knowing that even if it’s still going on at least it’s not in your name anymore or do you go the whole hog and spread the word, become an activist, try and change things?
We’re beginning with the ‘not in my name’ approach. We’re learning more, changing our ways, lightening our footprints. We’re hopefully spreading the word in a gentle way too. Maybe hearing our story will inspire others to make small (or large) changes themselves, maybe it will give them curiosity to learn a bit more themselves. I know I can get a bit preachy sometimes, passionate about stuff to the point of being boring, I guess we all can on at least one topic. I don’t have answers for lots of the questions, so until I do and maybe even after that I’ll try to remind myself  …’two eyes, two ears, one mouth’.
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Days like these

Anyone who knows me in real life, or indeed has followed this blog for more than a short while will already know I am an optimist. I tend to always see the light at the end, rather than the gloom of a tunnel, the glass not only half full but another bottle or a tap handily placed to refill it again, every mistake or bad move as an ‘improvement opportunity’ or lesson to be learnt.

I know this tendancy can be annoying to others, I’m not 100% convinced it is healthy myself, it can certainly be on the short sighted side, but I’ve got this far in life with an airy wave of my hand and an ‘it’ll turn out okay…’ and thus far it seems to have done.

Today could be framed as a bad day really. My car, which has cost a bloody fortune to keep roadworthy and costs me about £15 a week just to have sat outside on the road in terms of insurance and road tax, isn’t running. It doesn’t like the damp and simply refuses to start. This is both annoying just because I don’t want to be shelling out money I could put to better use for something that’s not working anyway and it is inconvenient because if it was running we would have gone to a friend’s today. If it continues to not start I will have various things due to happen this week that I’ll have to cancel.

The tenant viewing didn’t happen either. 15 minutes after they were supposed to be here, after I’d spent the morning cleaning mirrors, fretting about creating that important first impression and refusing to let Dragon & Star get anything out to play with the agent knocked on the door to say it didn’t look like they were coming.  He came and had a look round the house anyway as he’d not been before. I don’t know why the potential tenant didn’t turn up, I guess it’s irrelevant really.

So days like these, days when everything feels rather out of my control and like it’s all stacked up against us are the ones when we have to really question what we’re doing. I think it is far harder to be responsible for the source of your stress yourself, when actually it is entirely within your reach to stop what’s going on and just decide not to do it after all.

As a Home Educator this is something I am already familiar with. We don’t often have bad hours let alone bad days, but they do come along every so often. Days when life would be so much simpler if Dragon and Star went to school, I went to work and we were just like everyone else. Those are the opportunities for us to challenge what we’re doing, question our lifestyle and re-evaluate whether it is still working for us. Thus far we have always concluded that yes, this is the right path for us and whilst the bad days would be for different reasons we’d still have times of stress and discord and wondering what it’s all about even if we did what everyone else does.

I don’t think there is much in life which isn’t worth sweating over a bit, gritting your teeth at times and getting through the tough bits to the stuff that makes it all worth it. At the moment I would liken our countdown to the first bit of a rollercoaster ride. We’re still in the queue at the moment, it’s been a long, long queue. To begin with we were just fed up to be at the wrong end of such a long wait – that was us back last summer, knowing what we wanted but with very little to do other than hanging around waiting and shuffling forward a little every so often. Now we’re near the front it’s starting to feel pretty scary. I can sense how scared we’ll be a few weeks down the line when we are strapped in and at the point of no return – that tough, uphill bit where every second feels like hours as you climb ever upwards. I can look further ahead to that hands in the air, wind in our hair, screaming for more, rush of adrenaline and crazy excitement as we realise how much we LOVE IT. Or we’ll hate it, realise it was a big mistake and come off shaking and happy it’s over. At the very least we’ll never look at rollercoasters again and wonder what we’re missing, whether it is something we should have tried.

So today I am appreciating the kids being able to choose a dvd to watch, a comfy sofa to sit on, I’ll appreciate a hot bubble bath later, a glass of wine with my dinner and a warm snuggly bed to sleep in tonight. These are things we won’t have in a few weeks time. I’m contenting myself that nothing really worth doing every comes easily and that these challenges and uncertainty and testing times will be what makes it all really rewarding when it all comes together.Which I am confident it will…. just hope it’s soon!

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7 weeks to go

We have a tenant viewing this afternoon, so fingers firmly crossed that all falls nicely into place. Will come and update with any news as soon as I have some.

We have spent time this weekend tidying up the garden to create a good first impression of the house and clearing the cupboard under the stairs. Despite it already being cleared at least once we still found a full bin liner to throw out and another large bag ready to go to the charity shop. We also have a couple of boxes worth of stuff for ebaying. We had a brainwave that all our camping stuff could be stored in my car while we’re away for the year as that is going into a locked garage. Anything that minimises the amount of stuff we have to ask my parents to store for us is a good thing, so we are cramming stuff into our tiny loft spaces and will also fill my car.

We also weeded out some stuff from the camping gear to come with us in the van. We have some solar powered lights, various tape & tools, stuff like cushions, fleece blankets and sleeping bags, a mini cooker which runs on tiny gas bottles and has one ring. It’s tough trying to decide what does and doesn’t justify space in the van. I think we will have a box or two clearly labelled stashed at Mum & Dad’s of stuff that nearly qualifies so that if we realise along the way we should have brought it they can send it / bring it when they come to visit.

Along with my list of what happens when – stuff that gets triggered by us confirming a tenant, I also have a list of things we still need to buy: a years supply of contact lenses, a stash of toiletries, work out what our basic food rations for a week are and whether they fit in the van, waterproofs, work boots, some sort of solar charger, an internet access on the move solution. I’ve started to contact retailers / manufacturers of some of these things to see if they would be willing to loan us stuff for the year to really test and review for them. I feel a bit strange about this as it feels like I’m begging but friends assure me it is very common practise and I guess we will be giving their products a real ‘road test’. Of course all of my tentative enquiries may well return nothing anyway.

Along with more clearing of stuff from the garage and garden we also need to start using up the contents of our kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. Thanks to a big bill for work done to my car at the end of last month we are a bit strapped for cash this month anyway so eclectic meals R us, probably good practise for the coming year!

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8 weeks to go

give or take as many weeks as it takes to find a tenant.

In order for everything to go perfectly as planned we need to have a firm tenant sorted by 20th January. Eek, that’s less than 3 weeks away. That allows both of us to hand our notice in at work and leave on the dates we planned, our Bye Then party to take place, a week in the van somewhere along the way between here and our first booked host from 7th March to fully leave one life behind before embarking on the next and everything to fall nicely into place finances wise.

Meanwhile I’m tying up lose ends on the little things, reducing mobile phone tariffs to bare minimums until contracts run out, checking notice periods on things like Sky TV, BT phoneline, internet provider and so on. My car will be put into storage while we’re gone so the insurance and tax needs to end on that. We need specialist landlord insurance for the house, permission from our mortgage company to let it out and we need to finely tune our finances for the year so that we balance between paying stuff in full in advance and keeping enough of a contingency fund to ensure we can cope if things go wrong along the way.

So we’re poised with phone numbers and addresses and websites all ready prepared for giving  notice as soon as a tenant is found, I’ve changed my car insurance to a rolling monthly arrangement and we’ve pretty much made final decisions on what is coming with us, what is going into storage and what still needs to go. I’ve done another load of ebaying and we still have some runs to the tip and some further ebaying to go. An unfortunate side effect of creating spaces in the house has been that they tend to get filled back up again so we are thinking about starting to box stuff up and allocating one room in our house to a box room from now, if only to give us that feeling of being about to move on.

My car had a very costly bill for getting through it’s MOT and having work done to it which has set us back a month in terms of getting stuff done that costs money but will hopefully be worth the sacrifce now when we come back and have a roadworthy vehicle to use or sell depending on what we do at the end of our year. This means that stockpiling contact lenses, buying waterproof boots and clothes and a solar panel for the van are all on hold for now.

It is suddenly odd that we are no longer saying ‘next year….’ when talking about our adventure, it is now ‘in 8 weeks…’ which brings it all so much closer. We are having wobbles – at the enormity of what we’re doing, at the fresh realisation of saying goodbye to things, comforts, friends, a certain calendar whilst at the same time trembling with excitement that it really is happening, that we will have such an amazingly different year in 2011 to that we had in 2010 – all the adventures, learning and new stories ahead of us poised to happen.