Friday, November 27, 2009

Cancer allows you to be a dreamer. Or maybe it's the Dex.

So I am naturally a dreamer and over the last few years I have learned to apply my visions and make them into a reality. Early on in my marriage for every 10 ideas I brought home to Cassie, there were probably 10 more I left on paper in my car. The first big dream that came true was our Old West Side home that I designed and built all under six months, while transitioning to a new job, introducing our second child to this world and living with the in-laws (who are awesome for more reasons than I could list here). The home is charming, spacious and fits the character of the almost 100 year old neighborhood. What a dream.

Immediately after the diagnosis of an incurable blood cancer, everything slowed down for me. I started thinking more practically as I started to run the "what-if" scenarios over and over again. The first thing I decided was my dream home had to go. I could not fathom Cassie being stuck with two little babes and a mortgage that would put her more than six feet in the ground. So we listed our home and although we had a lot of interest, our home did not include a garage (yet) so buyers would not pull the trigger. Actually, right before the start of treatment we thought we came to terms with a buyer, but they eventually walked at the thought of having to build a two car garage.

So we remain in our home, but the dream has definitely changed since diagnosis. Although our house is situated in one of the most desirable locations in Ann Arbor; walking distance from Jefferson Market, Washtenaw Dairy, Downtown A2, the Big House and a stone's throw from one of my favorite parks, it still doesn't seem to completely fit our evolving dream. Even with the best porch on the Old West Side. Seriously, nothing compares to living six blocks from the Big House on a football Saturday, tailgating from the comfort of our home, watching the game from the cable jack on the porch. (My little stroke of design genius.)

One thing cancer has taught me and apparently my Cancer Kicker friend as well is that forming a team or what I would call community is critical in difficult and challenging times. But why just difficult times? Why does it take a cancer diagnosis in order for neighbors to feel comfortable enough to drop off desserts and friends the ability to drop in and say hi while providing dinner? I have my theory about where society has been and where it is and where it is going, but I am far from getting my PhD in Sociology (I haven't even had a college course in English, let alone Sociology), I was one of the four fools on the football team to spend my non-football practice time up on North Campus at Michigan.
To the left are the only football players stupid enough to study engineering. Yes, I was the only one in my class to graduate from the School of Dorks.

So our desire is for ongoing community; free of the busyness of American life which offers us black Friday, fast fried food and attached garages that close out the world and the neighbors upon entry. Since listing our house I was powerless to resist seeking out the next dream. So for the last year I have been searching for land like those who expanded the western frontier, although in my 1998 S10 and not on my horse.

Our recent trip to Calder Dairy farms confirmed our desire to be out West (of Ann Arbor). A group of our close friends ventured out last Sunday to a little family farm that was chock full of goats, cows, ducks and more. I took plenty of photos, all majestic, but what captured my eye was the ability for the adults to intermingle as the kids just played together and ran all about the farm. Freedom!

Needless to say, I have been out driving the country roads 3 times in the last 5 days. Two of the trips included stopping by to visit some dear friends who just started a Barn Wedding business and it is blowing up, so it's not like I am driving the S-10 aimlessly back and forth down random country roads... although that sounds fun. I have been pretty wordy (thanks, Dex!), but to bring the dream down to earth a little, I hope to acquire 50-100 acres where I can build 10 to 25 homes depending on what the township allows.

I have a passion for design that takes into account place, efficiency and environmentalism. Although I'll be the first to admit building a new home (or 25) can be seen as not environmentally friendly, I think as caretakers of creation we can bring restoration to the land and rejuvenate it after decades of industrial farming. I also would like to take to practice green design principles that push the envelope with the help of modern day technology: solar, wind-turbines, geo-thermal heating while including proven building principles that have been abandoned (e.g. timber framing, masonry heating, etc.). In the end, I want to build something that will last.

So if you either want to buy our house or live in the country with us, let me know. ;)

This post was written while dominating Velcade and Doxil, and was written moderately under the influence of Dex, but it didn't slow my domination as you can see below!


Brenda said...

Hi Phil,

LOVE your community vision! It sounds like small town amenities near the bigger city. Don't forget those front porches of old. They'll encourage the neighbors to "come up and sit a spell.":)

Dream on...

Jill sends her best. Her computer gave up the ghost but she logs onto your blog periodically at a friend's, and says she really admires your positive outlook and wishes all of you well.

Brenda N

Phil said...

Thanks Brenda! I didn't get into too much details on the amenities, but I definitely want to have an organic farm, canning station and at least some fresh farm eggs. Not too mention I would ideally like to build the community infrastructure so that it could be "off the grid" power-wise.

greatstreets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zachary Branigan said...

We are in my friend, for real!

Daniel said...

Just make sure there is Internet! And you'll need some spare rooms when we come up for a few months every summer!

amy said...

phil i think this is fabulous! my parents lived in intentional community when i was a kid (meaning that in both houses we lived in our neighrbors on all sides were also in the same faith community and good friends). it was a pretty great way to grow up, walking in an out of neighbors houses to play with friends or be fed a snack and meant i had no concept of babysitters as anytime my parents needed to go somewhere we'd simply head next door or across the street or whatever. i'm sure they could tell you what some of the sticky points about living in intentional community were but from a kids perspective it was pretty great.

Roobeedoo said...

Hi Phil,
Oh crikey! On the one hand you don't want to land Cassie with a half-finished house, and on the other you want to be a community developer? I think that you and my husband were separated at birth (by a few decades admittedly!). One minute we are barricading the broken front door shut with wellies, because he can't be bothered to fix the lock and the next minute he is talking about turning our 85 acres into a golf course! Cassie - you have my sympathy! And Phil - write it all down and think about it again on a non-dexie week. Just saying ;)

Phil Brabbs said...

Yes Roobeedoo,
I have problems other than cancer and this post clearly shows my impatience and inability to just exist. Thanks for calling me out and I'll see what post-dex Phil thinks.... :)

Sandy said...

Intentional communities are beginning to spring up again all around the world... it's part of the spiritual growth of those who are awakening to the realization we are truly inter-connected and why not live that way? Think about building with rammed earth - easily done, can be creative, insulated easily and uses earth materials... good luck on your dream!! We started living ours about a month ago.

Phil Brabbs said...

I was actually introduced to rammed earth a year ago and was amazed by how green it is and you can get the material right on the site! I think this is something I definitely need to continue to research. There's so much old technology that is extremely sustainable. People want to talk about solar panels, but what about building an efficient home that doesn't need 30k in the latest technology. I am with you on this one!

Sara Bellum said...

Hi Phil - i've been catching up on your blog and am just blown away. I also have had a similar vision to yours - my friends and I call it our "commune". I even have the property picked out - just need 3.5 million dollars. Anyhoo, my husband has a business selling reclaimed lumbar from historic barns in case that ever falls into your realm of interest...stay strong - we miss you here at work!!!

Anne Fischer