Building Your Dream – and Keeping it Real

We have never built a spec home. Our first house was my grandmother’s 3 family clapboard on Buffalo’s eastside.It was a Polish Habi-trail. When I was little we lived in the back apartment. My aunt and uncle lived upstairs. My grandparents lived in the main unit.We went to Polish Mass.They spoke Polish at the neighborhood bakery. We walked to the Broadway Market for fresh vegetables and home-made kielbasa and pierogis. The house was 90 yrs old, had no insulation, slats and plaster walls, space heaters, 12 ft ceilings, and tiny bedrooms. We had to leave the water dripping from all the faucets from November to April, so the pipes wouldn’t freeze.

Next was a brand new French style townhome in Laguna Niguel, Ca. My wife, being the enlightened perfectionist she is, had me rip out all the brand new carpeting and install Mexican pavers throughout the bottom floor, and bleached hardwood throughout the 2nd floor. Our son was born here.

Then it was a 50 yr old house in Redwood City, Ca. By the time we sold it 10 years later, we had redone everything including the driveway, garage, landscaping, flooring, kitchen, windows, added an office, etc. We won the Mayor’s Award for Best Remodel in 2006.

So after all this experience, we thought we were ready to tackle the building of a small resort from the ground up in southwestern Nicaragua. It was a beautiful location, just back in the hills from a major surf zone, on a hilltop. Yes the roads were dirt, there was no electricity, no water, no stores. It was pastureland in a third world country. But we had a vision.

We found a terrific architect who had been educated in the States, and had done a number of upscale projects in Florida and in Nicaragua. Her plans looked great-just like we pictured our place. She even picked me up from one of the surf camps in one of the 3 helicopters that are in Nicaragua, with the entire local village watching. But as we proceeded along, we began to realize that this project was going to cost us a whole lot of money. And this was before the stock market and housing/equity crash. Once that started happening, we had to redesign (meaning reduce). Our personal living quarters went from a 2-story, 3 bedroom home to a single bungalow.

We finally had to sever our ties with our architect. We took bids from 3 contractors. The first 2 were charging US prices. The third one seemed reasonable, we thought. He did a small weekend prep job for us, and when we got that bill, he was gone. We ended up hiring the local contractor who has built most of the new buildings in the area. He has 11 brothers and many of them work with him. Some are masons, some are carpenters, some are painters, some are apprentices. He turned out to be a diamond in the rough. He was honest. He kept his word. He didn’t flinch when my wife asked him to tear this wall down, or change these steps, or any of the other redos she requested. And most of all, he made our dream affordable. He used local laborers. He utilized local materials whenever he could. He and his crew were very willing to learn. And, to my surprise, they had no problem with a “gringa” as their boss. I originally thought that given the heavy machismo reputation of the Nicaraguan males, my wife was going to run into difficulty managing them. Casey is an alpha, a leader, a driver, and does not stop until things are right. And it is amazing to see her in action with these guys. They listen. They are patient. They are loyal. And they aim to
please. They respect her.
Now we are still having major delays with our furniture carpenters (who are from Managua), but all in all, our experiences with the local people as workers and neighbors have been extremely positive.

So, one month away from opening, our dream is almost realized. It has been a long journey of many ups and downs, fears and anxieties, loneliness and loss. Loss in the sense of giving up one’s self-identity as a successful professional of many years in the US. Loss in voluntarily giving up a very familiar, relatively easy and comfortable way of life.
But also growth and rebirth, new friends and new skills. Excitement for a new start. And new insight
Discovering that one is not just what one does at a certain time in a certain capacity. One gift Nicaragua has given us in the time we have spent there is allowing us the time to see ourselves without distractions. We don’t have TV. We eat fresh and simply. We talk to everyone we meet. People stop over all the time. We are outside most of the day. We walk a lot. We have a number of dogs and cats who have adopted us. We can see the ocean 24/7. We are in the middle of the cows, the horses, the pigs, the chickens, the kids, the oxcarts, Not sitting in a small apartment looking out the window at the world outside during commercials…

When we first began planning our dream, we really didn’t include things like “a simpler lifestyle” “more interaction with nature” “a real sense of community” “personal growth”, etc. We were looking for a good place to build an eco-resort we could retire to. But as the creation process evolved, and the structures began going up, these other benefits began emerging and taking on more importance. These are things that will keep us young in our “retirement”. And who doesn’t dream of staying young?

Ps. We just got an email invitation to our 40th high school reunion.

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