How We Did It (Part III)

We were very happy with our property.  It was good value for the money, in a remote location, yet there were amenities such as shopping and medical care 40 minutes away.  In fact, we liked it so much, my spouse and I realized that we wanted to spend more time there than a couple of weeks in the summer, and that our pop-up camper would be inadequate in Fall, Winter or Spring.

I started researching yurts.  Although they are constructed of temporary materials, they are semi-permanent structures that can even house a wood stove and plumbing.  New they went for $20,000 fully equipped, but on the yurt forums (there is a forum for literally everything these days!) you could find them used for $5000 – $8000.  We even visited a man in NH who started a bed and breakfast with comfortably furnished yurts.  But yurts did have a tendency to develop mold and mildew after a few years, and once I heard that I lost all interest.  That’s when we started looking into building a cabin.

There are many kinds of cabins in remote areas here in rural Maine.  Seasonal cabins, not meant for habitation during the winter, are called “camps,” and are to Mainers what dachas are to Russians.  Many cabins don’t have indoor plumbing, and make do with an outdoor water pump and an outhouse.  More deluxe yet rustic cabins may have a bathroom and a kitchen sink.  Seasonal cabins are usually built on cement posts, with a dirt crawl space underneath.  Because they cannot be insulated beneath the frost line, all pipes must be drained and flushed with antifreeze before winter starts, because if water were to get in the pipes and freeze they would burst and the subsequent leak would flood the cabin and producing mold and mildew.  Since I knew I wanted to use the land even in the winter, I realized we would need to build a house with a  real foundation, for which we had no money.

This is not the first time we have bought a house without sufficient funding.  We bought our home in Israel under similarly reckless conditions.  But with a lot of siyata d’shemaya, it had all worked out then, and so we decided to take a big risk now.

Our credit is excellent, so we applied for a construction loan from a local bank, which would turn into a 30-year mortgage after 1 year.  The small amount of cash we had paid for our land acted as our collateral, and we were approved.  The monthly payments would be taken out of my husband’s retirement account, which could now be done without penalty because he had reached “a certain age.”

As to why we would empty our retirement funds this way, I can tell you only that the amount that we had accrued following the stock market crash was enough to live on only for two or three years in retirement.  At our age, we didn’t have the luxury of time to once again build up our savings in a significant manner.  Our reasoning was thus:  in about 10 years or so we would probably have to sell the house in Maine, but in ten years we were unlikely to be up to the challenges of living in a rural mountain area anyhow.  We might not make a profit, but we were unlikely to suffer a major loss.

We were surrounded by sickness and death:  my mother had died after her long illnesses (cancer and Alzheimers) and five weeks before that, my mother-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure.  We wanted to breathe again!  To live life to its fullest!   To heal!  How long would it be before we would have to submit to the will of our caretakers because we couldn’t take care of ourselves?  The clock was ticking, and we knew it was now or never.

We did do one sneaky thing for which some of our children have not forgiven us: we didn’t tell them of our plans until everything was done.  We were feeling pretty insecure as it was, and we knew that at the first negative comment (“that’s nuts!”) we’d back off and not follow through. . . and that we’d spend the rest of our lives in regret, saying, “if only…”

So we took the plunge, signed the loan papers… and fifteen minutes later got an email stating that my husband had lost his job.

My husband’s company did a simple calculation:  why pay 35 people in American dollars to work on a long-term project, when you can pay the same amount of people in India 30% less?  The entire team was given the pink slip.  Is there ever a good time to get fired?  But this was bad; this was really bad.  We had just signed our lives away on the crazy notion that we could build a retreat for ourselves.  A place where the grandchildren could romp and have great memories of the summers they spent with their grandparents doing all sorts of wonderful, adventurous things in the wild.   I panicked for about 5 minutes, and then I felt an overwhelming sense of calm.

For one thing, people all around us were getting laid off.  It was not a personal attack on my husband or his abilities.  It might be hard for him to find work due to his age, but he did have rather unique talents within his field and an outstanding resume.  He had a severance package that gave him 9 months to find another job, plus a year after that of paid health insurance.  We would do the hishtadlus, but ultimately it was up to Hashem.

We live in tenuous, scary times. We decided to plow ahead: at this point we had nothing to lose, really, because the difference between what we had and what we didn’t was negligible.

As it turned out, he was out of work for only a month.  His entire team was hired by another company with almost identical benefits (including working from home, be it in Maine or our home town).  Baruch HaShem . . . for now!


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