By Carole Duff

My husband Keith and I talked about finances on our first date. We were in our fifties and no longer asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. Sitting across the table from one another at the restaurant, we spoke about our families, missions and values, finances and health—spiritual, intellectual, and physical. No party faces, and not all pretty. Both of us had failed marriages. In addition, we had children not quite out of our respective nests and jobs in different states. So, we waited three years to marry, four more until we lived together, and budgeted for the future.

“Not very romantic,” Keith’s dad had said when he heard about our first date. He had been married to his high school sweetheart for sixty years.

“No,” Keith replied. “In your fifties, you value character, someone who’s lived a real life, a partner.” To me, Keith was real, very romantic, and God-sent. Christian faith had brought us together and given us common ground, as if our partnership was meant to be.

Faith sustained us as we built our home—literally. We called our retirement house Vanaprastha as in the third stage of life in Hindu culture, forest dwelling—literally. Our mountain chalet at the end of an old logging road was a post-and-beam with no attic and few closets, reflecting our goals to downsize and grow.

Prayer and discernment defined our home-building process, along with some nail-biting on my part. Keith had purchased the 16-acre plot in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains before we met. When he showed me the land and asked if this would fit into our plans, I gaped in awe at the beauty of God’s creation—and the similarity of our visions.

Keith and I educated ourselves at home shows, interviewed contractors, and chose one, but then walked away after receiving a bid beyond our price range. The housing market in 2005 was so hot that builders had to pay top dollar for unskilled labor. Then the bubble burst. Unemployment and foreclosures dominated the headlines. By 2010, contractors were hungry for work. Keith and I thought the time was right.

I retired from my teaching career to oversee finances and construction. We submitted loan applications, provided copious documentation of assets and liabilities, and juggled various bankers’ requests. The year-term construction loan had to qualify for conventional loan rollover. I also coordinated with the builder. We’d paid out of pocket for him to rough in the driveway and prepare the house site. A custom design and production company had rendered Keith’s architectural design then fabricated the SIPs—Structural Insulated Panels—also paid upfront.

When the appraisal came in at the 70% loan-to-value/loan-to-building cost sweet spot, our construction loan was approved. The loan funded “draws” paid to our builder, the first draw covering the poured foundation, installation of water, electric, propane utilities, infrastructure for the geothermal system, and construction of the basement “deck” with embedded radiant flooring—all in time for the SIPs delivery.

Insurmountable obstacles dissolved. My fingernails grew back. Both finances and construction clicked into place as if our house building was meant to be.

A year later, Keith and I received the certificate of occupancy. We spent the following year between two houses, visiting the mountain on weekends and holidays.

Then everything changed.

Our two surviving parents, my mother in New England and Keith’s dad in southern Virginia, needed significant assistance. Keith retired. We sold our house in the city, moved to Vanaprastha, and visited parents.

The “doing” of house building and sale—downsizing—shifted to the “being” of retirement, emphasizing growth, including a new church, new friends and neighbors, new missions, and new health care providers, along with hosting family, caring for parents, and shifting finances to accommodate our new stage of life.

Living in the mountains is romantic and adventurous, challenging us as we age. Sometimes dense fog hovers above or below our house or socks us in, obscuring our view. How will the next stage of life play out, we wonder, when we become our parents? We are unlikely to celebrate our sixtieth wedding anniversary like Keith’s parents did, maybe half that.

On clear days, Keith and I sit on the deck side-by-side, counting our blessings while watching the sun rise across the Rockfish Valley or set behind the Three Ridges Wilderness area. We embrace the promise of what’s ahead because we built our house on a firm foundation—as God in His grace meant us to.


Carole Duff is a veteran teacher, now writing creative nonfiction. She posts to her weekly blog Notes from Vanaprastha (, writes personal essays, and is working on a book-length faith memoir. Carole lives in Virginia with her husband Keith Kenny, also a writer, and two large overly friendly rescue dogs.


Featured photo: Melanie Mauer, Unsplash