Faery Tales Can Come True…!

Published on 8 December 2023 at 16:19

Every one I know has heard the adage, ‘Money Talks’. For those who have never heard this expression, it essentially means, you can get whatever you want if you have enough money. Having ‘enough’ money to live, is not the same as having enough money to buy your way through a life of luxury and ease, though.

I have ‘enough’ money to live.

I have managed through my lifestyle choices, to live within my budget, something that became a serious challenge during my 26 years of marriage. My husband was not committed to living within our budget, as his employment came with an ‘expense account’ and he lived far above our income. When he decided he didn’t want to be married any longer, we divided our assets and debts, and for the next fifteen years I struggled on 1/10th of the budget he had, to pay off my half of the debt accumulated during our marriage. I lived on $23,000 a year, with half of that going to mortgage loan and credit card payments.

I have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. It can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels. In my case, my doctor and I determined, the SLE was first triggered by a viral infection when I was a child, most likely Chicken Pox. The early symptoms were severe joint pain (which were dismissed as ‘growing pains’), exhaustion (I was constantly punished for being ‘lazy’) and a butterfly rash on my face (which my mom said was because I was too much of a tomboy and needed to stay out of the sun).

The province of B.C. requires one year of legal separation of married people before allowing the couple to apply for a mutually agreed on divorce. During the year of my divorce separation the facial rashes got worse, turning to pustules and scabbing over as they healed. I was depressed and exhausted and my doctor at the time prescribed anti-depressants and mood elevators. I was becoming addicted to pain killers.I had hundreds of dollars a month in prescriptions for medicinal pain killers and anti-inflammatories. 26 years out of the workforce meant a much reduced Canada pension payment when I would retire, and an enormous challenge to find employment that would allow me to live. I had mortgage payments and couldn’t dependably hold a job to support that money hemorrhagic outflow. I was hosting English as a Second Language students and had tenants or I might well have ended up a bag lady!

At the time the divorce finalized, my sister was having marital problems. When the divorce was finalized, I invited my sister to come babysit my house, my jobs, and my dogs, and I went to live in Greece for four months. While in Greece I met the Erlides (Greek: Ερλίδες), Tsiganoi (Greek: Τσιγγάνοι), Athiganoi (Αθίγγανοι), or the more derogatory term Gyftoi. Now known as Romani or Roma in English, these are the wandering culture that used to be called Gypsies.

The Roma folk welcomed me into their camp, the women taught me about their culture (women are ‘unclean’ and everything to do with their body from the waist down is considered contaminated.) and how to keep from contaminating the spaces and people around me. It was an eye opener. So was their wonderful housing. Many lived in converted British horse boxes!

Each horse box was home for a family, and often included several generations. Each was a marvel of organized storage — everything in its place, and nothing that wasn’t useful and used daily.

When I shared that I’d be travelling to meet a friend in Ireland, they gave me the names of some of the Roma children who had emigrated to Ireland, and entrusted with gifts to give to them, should I find them!

In Ireland I stayed with the family of that friend. I had paid for her airfare, so she could visit her family and so I could holiday in Ireland, saving on lodgings by staying with her family and in hostels. My second day in Ireland I asked about the Roma folk, and learned in Ireland they are known as Travellers. One of the cousins of my friend knew where an encampment was, and we went to visit it. I asked after the Greek Romani and we were told to look for them in Northern Ireland, in Londonderry. As it happened, my friend and I planned to travel to Londonderry to visit her favourite Aunt, coming back to the cousins in Wicklow for New Years Eve.

By the time we arrived at the Aunts cozy home in Derry, she had made arrangements to meet the ‘Pavees’, as she called them, at a pub a short train ride away, the following day. When we got to the pub, we were met by a woman who asked us to go with her to the encampment. We took the chance.

The horse drawn caravans were parked in a row along the edge of the narrow road. It was surreal. They were beautifully painted and exotic looking. I was enchanted! Their horses were glossy, well fed and many stood in harness, ready to obey. The caravans were less orderly and more cramped than the motorized horse boxes in Greece. This small group was on their way home from the last shows of the Fossett Family Circus. They explained they lived in houses over the winter.

We were invited into one of the covered bowtop Vardos, and I spoke, in Greek, to the two young men the Aunt had tracked down. I gave them the wrapped boxes from home. They wiped tears away and everyone seemed to be doing the same. They had wanted to see the world. They had wanted to leave behind the persecution and discrimination they had lived under in Greece, but it existed here too. The Irish travellers called themselves ‘Mincéirs’, and they had welcomed the two Greek Romani into their group, even though there was no direct blood connection. It was enough that they shared the same culture, and these young men were happy to work hard.

Three hours flew by, laughter, lots of tea, and it was time for us to meet our train back to Dublin. We hugged so much and wet kisses on our cheeks felt like rivers of love.

Those wonderful tastes of Romani life, the magical Vardos of Ireland and converted horse boxes in Greece, set me dreaming again of a soft little idea I’d nurtured from the time I was 14 years old. I wanted to one day live in an enchanted little cottage. I almost asked my sister to sell my house and ship me my dogs, but I decided to go back home to Canada.

Back home my soft little dream developed into the desire to build my own Tiny House. The Dragons Nest was conceived in my imagination, during my time in Greece & Ireland. The Dragons Nest had a fourteen year gestation. During the gestation my money did not talk. It cried. My money felt it was overworked, asked to accomplish more than anyone else would have asked it to do. It was. Truthfully. Every penny was asked to do the work of a dollar! I’m glad it COULDN’T talk, frankly. I don’t think I would have liked to hear what it had to say.

I began to design my own future Vardo, which I originally thought would make a nice guest ‘cottage’ or art studio, in my side yard. I read every book on building cottages that I could find, but nothing was out there about houses on wheels, except the books on refurbishing holiday motorhomes, which I knew from helping a friend refurbish one, were not built for 24/7 occupancy at that time. I wanted a Vardo, so that if/when I sold my house, I could take my Vardo with me, and just live in it.

I started looking at utility trailers, and English horse boxes — the former were too small, the latter too rare and expensive. The journey seemed to be filled with roadblocks. I was now struggling to muster the energy for anything, and sometimes my hands and knees refused to function.

Then I read an article about Tiny Houses on wheels. It was mostly about a man named Jay Shafer, who designed and lived in a 96-square-foot (8.9 m2) house.  He is the founder of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, and Four Lights Tiny House Company. The article was about Shafer, who, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon and Nigel Valdez, had created the Small House Society in the USA. They were popularizing Tiny Homes On Wheels, as they offered affordable, ecologically friendly options. Tiny houses were typically costing about $20,000 to $50,000 in 2012, when I started to collect materials to construct my Vardo Tiny House.

In 2014 I downsized from my 2400 sq.ft. traditional bungalow home, which I was only barely able to afford, to an 1180 sq.ft. modular home on a rented pad.  The sale allowed me to pay off all my debt and I was mortgage free as well. I began now, seriously collecting reclaimed and salvaged free materials for building. I even had three small utility trailers which I thought I would build into little garden Vardos, and then sell to finance my dream Vardo. I measured off a space in my mobile home, which would be the same size as my planned 8 foot by 18 foot Art Studio/Guest House/Vardo and discovered I just could not live in 144 sq.ft., it was far too small to use as an art studio, and a bit cramped even for a guest house.

Then I met Karen. She was stealth living (then, and at the time I write this blog, it is illegal to live in a Tiny House 24/7) in her 8 1/2 by 28 foot Custom Built Tiny House. It felt roomy, had a loft bed, and comfortably housed her and an exuberant golden retriever!

Tiny Houses were the media darlings, and television coverage had several series — Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Hunters, Living Big in a Tiny House. I had a few friends who were as excited as I was about my building and possibly living in my Vardo at last. I had three offers of places to park my Vardo when I had it finished, one of which falsely promised a place for life!! (If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!) The plans changed almost weekly, as my mind tried to wrap around a minimalist lifestyle in 238 sq.ft.! I was also learning about the municipalities nonsensical opposition to Tiny Houses.

Tiny houses on wheels are often compared to RVs. As such, living in them 24/7 is prohibited by law. People do it. They rent pads in RV parks and become permanent guests of the RV parks. Without an RV Certification some parks won’t let you park your home-built RV in an RV park. You can’t live in an RV for more than 30 days a year unless parked in an RV park. In Canada and the United States, the ones called park model RVs do not exceed certain size specifications, namely 50 m2 (540 sq ft in Canada) and 400 sq ft (37 m2) in the United States. In the USA long term residency in Tiny Homes has been legally permitted in many municipalities since 2020, with those municipalities having adopted the Appendix Q of the International Building Code into their bylaws, as a guide for the building requirements Tiny Homes must meet.

Tiny Homes can be certified if built by licensed Tiny Home builders, and those builders are held to state/provincial/territorial building codes, while Park model RVs are held to standards set by the Standards Council of Canada or RV Industry Association (RVIA) in the USA. This means PROPERLY BUILT Tiny Houses are supposedly built to last as long as traditional homes, using traditional building techniques and materials, and are aesthetically similar to larger homes.
At the time I write this, it is still illegal to live in your Tiny Home in most communities in Canada. Funnily enough, the United States municipalities are more forward moving on this front, with Portland Oregon being the first to sanction year round living in self-built Tiny Homes, followed by several other municipalities within individual states and including the entire state of Washington!

For many, the idea of building and living in a Tiny Home is like a Faerie Tale. I won’t lie, it was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done!

The construction finally began when I found a commercial flat deck large equipment hauler for sale at a price I could afford. An acquaintance brought it over from the mainland to the island for his expenses. It turned out to be a lot larger than advertised, and my Tiny House plans had to expand from 8 1/2’ by 28’ to a foot wider and 10’ longer! This meant I had the space to put the bedroom on the main level instead of in a loft, and construction began summer of 2019, the year a plague began to sweep the world — Covid 19. All the help I’d been offered vanished into the etherspere. I was on my own. My Faerie Tale was rapidly becoming a Grimms Faerie Tale!
Through the spring, summer and well into the autumn of 2019, I laboured alone, framing the walls, installing the doors, and cutting, constructing and sanding curved laminated trusses.
I live in my beautiful hand crafted Dragons Nest and thank the Goddesses every day that I didn’t give in and out a match to it.
Faerie Tales can come true, so that song says, and it can happen to you! It happened to me….

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Liz Condiff
6 months ago

I absolutely love this!!

A Boxwell
6 months ago

So excited to follow your story. Bright Blessings 🌛🌝🌜