familyMy husband, Matt, and I are facing a common issue for the sandwich generation, my mom is sick and we need to find a way to care for her and our children. My name is Paula and up until now, we (me, Matt, and our two children, Finn and Ashlinn) lived in a charming 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in Redondo Beach, CA. I’m an only child, which is only relevant because 6 years ago my mother, Jayne, was diagnosed with Primary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), a rare and fatal lung disease with no cure in sight. When she was diagnosed at age 60, the doctors gave her two years to live, which was very hard to swallow given my dad died of a sudden heart attack at 48. It just doesn’t seem fair to lose both your parents at a young age, but as my dad often reminded me as a child, “sometimes the weather’s fair”; I don’t think he knew he was preparing me for such a devastating experience of life’s unfairness.

The progression of her disease is horrible. As the arteries in her lungs get tighter, her breath is being slowly stolen from her making it hard to do the things we all take for granted, like going to the bathroom. In 2013 she got really bad and moved into our house. Our living room became her new bedroom. Now I love my mom, but having her on our couch for 9 months was a serious test of patience for everyone, including her. Luckily, she got into a drug study at UCLA and although the drugs have painful side effects, she’s doing much better than she was when she was our roommate. Still there are no promises.

This experience with my mom forced us to start thinking creatively about how we were going to manage the next part of our life. What happens when my mom needs more consistent care? How would we afford it? And most importantly, how could we use this experience to teach our children about handling what life throws at you creatively and gracefully?

Living in the South Bay doesn’t leave many options. The homes here are so expensive, moving into something that would accommodate all of us was an impossibility, we couldn’t afford more than we already had. The one option we had was a piece of property that my mom and dad bought in 1978. It had been used as a rental property for all these years and felt untouchable being it was the main source of retirement income for my mom. But after many late night discussions and number crunching it started to make sense. We could pool our resources and create a space for 3 generations on one piece of land making it possible to share resources and support one another.

We knew if we were going to tear down the existing homes that we needed to build something green, we want our children to be stewards of the earth and it’s important for us to model what that looks like. So we started exploring all the green building options out there, everything from pre-fab to using green materials, architects, and builders. What we found was, building green came at a premium. We would have to spend a lot more than we would if we just went with a traditional stick built project. It felt like our grand idea wasn’t going to work out exactly like we imagined.

Until we were introduced to Peter DeMaria. He’s a local architect that creates buildings out of upcycled shipping containers and he swept us off our feet with his progressive thinking about green building. One of the many things he said that resonated with us was, “if it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more to build green, it would be better for the planet to give that money to an environmental agency and build in a traditional way because an environmental agency is going to do more good with the money that you can with one house.”

So that was the beginning of a beautiful plan to build the first multi-generational container home in Southern California. It has not been an easy road, we started this process over a year ago and we’re only now in line to get our permits. We hope to break ground this February and if all goes well, we’ll be moving in by the end of 2016.

I’ll be documenting the process in our blog so stay tuned. We hope to inspire a new way of thinking about building green, living consciously, and creating a community of like minded people who truly want to change the way we live to improve our world.

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