Settling Into Home

Driving home the other evening, I stopped in the middle of the road to shoot this photo, because it captures what I love about this place I’ve landed after a decade of wandering. The valley, greened by water harvested from the surrounding peaks and mesas, is a patchwork of orchards, organic farms, and vineyards. The small town of Paonia nestled along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. And above, the still-mostly-wild landscapes of Grand Mesa and the West Elk Mountains.

It is that mix of healthy cultivated land and wild land that draws me, the lively small town, and the Guy nearby. And the sweet 1920s bungalow I bought, with its forest-glade backyard and cozy interior.

The yard and house need some work, but not a major re-storying project. Just polishing what is here, and shoring up some of the sagging bits. Nothing huge or scary.

Today, for instance, the Guy brought a chainsaw over, and we cut down and removed some of the sickly and spindly trees in the backyard forest that has become too crowded, and took out a few limbs that needed pruning, including the large crabapple branch weighing down the electric line.

The backyard after some thinning to give the existing trees more room to breathe and harvest sunlight.

I started the backyard tree removal project yesterday with my trusty hand-saw by removing the ash tree that had been allowed to grow horizontally right across the alley entrance to the garage. I think that snake-like tree was seeking light, but honestly, it wasn’t a healthy growth habit. (Also, I want to use that driveway!)

The light-seeking, horizontal-trunked ash tree before…

Removing it left me with a big pile of ash limbs to turn into chippings, ie, mulch for the yard.

And after removal, opening up the driveway and the alley entrance to my two-car, offset-door garage. 

In the front yard, I hand-sawed a whole thicket of root sprouts–some as tall as 12 feet–from base of the big cottonwood trees. Now you can actually see the front of the house from the street.

Big trees, tiny front yard, and a lot of gravel, which I’ll slowly replace with drought-tolerant natives for more of a cottage garden look.

I also planted several clusters of peony tubers and daffodil bulbs, which meant digging through six inches of gravel mulch and three layers of landscape cloth to make planting spots. And I planted two pots of native pollinator flowers to brighten up and add instant habitat to the gravel yard.

Front-yard seating area with a pot of native appleblossom grass, which the little native bees love.

Last week, the wonderful crew at Empowered Energy Systems installed solar panels on my south-facing roof.  They’re now hooked up to the power grid, so I’m generating my own clean electricity.

It makes me happy to have a solar power plant on my roof!

Inside, I’ve already gotten started on my part of the most difficult renovation project: digging out a passage under the floor to access the aptly named crawl space under the floor beams. Last weekend I spent a sweaty morning digging construction debris and loose dirt out of a small hatch in the dining-area floor, and carefully wheeling four loads of debris and dirt out of the house.

Yup, that’s the crawl space access, with the wheelbarrow positioned for me today out and lift up the debris and dirt. Fun stuff.

Sometime next month, my intrepid contractor, Jerry Fritts, will slide in, crawl over, and jack up the floor beams sagging under the weight of a quartzite-topped breakfast bar installed by the previous owner. In 1920, when the house was built, floor beams were not engineered to support the weight of rock-slab counters. Carefully jacking up the beams and putting support columns under them will give that old wood floor another 80 years of life!

In the midst of all of this, I’ve settled in, making the house my home. Here’s a quick tour, with before and after photos:

The former owner used the front porch as a dining room.

Very formal, and so not me!

I chose a different use.

For me, it’s the ideal library and writing room, and it has a south-facing window for Arabella, my venerable Christmas cactus.

The living room/kitchen area used to be HGTV metro modern.

Nice, but not my style, especially the light fixtures over the breakfast bar and the kitchen sink.

I’m more a southwest-style cottage person myself. I placed my dining area between the living room and the kitchen.

Oh yeah, that’s more me–colorful, comfy and eclectic.

What’s next?

Running a writing conference, and then turning to my own writing.

Next week, I drive to Oklahoma City for Women Writing the West’s 28th Annual Conference: Red Earth Voices–We All Have a Story to Tell. I’m teaching a landscape and language pre-conference workshop with my writing comadre, Dr. Dawn Wink, and helping to run the show. It’s going to be an inspiring and amazing three days, with keynote speakers Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, novelist Laura Pritchett, and memoirist Amy Irvine, plus tours of the new First Americans Museum and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, craft workshops, agent and editor pitches, roundtable critiques, the annual WILLA and LAURA awards, and much more.

It’s not too late to sign up for the conference, if you or someone you know wants to join a vibrant and welcoming community of women writers!

After the conference, I am home for the winter, and will finally be able to truly settle in and write. I can’t wait. Blessings to you all!


22 thoughts on “Settling Into Home

    • Thank you, Priscilla! The work isn’t anywhere near as backbreaking as some house projects have been, and I got to settle in right away, which is lovely. One of these years perhaps you’ll return to the continent and come visit. (By ocean freighter perhaps?) Or not, but either way, I so appreciate our connection. <3

  • Thanks for the update and tour, Susan. Wishing you lots of happy and productive time in this lovely new home. ❤️

    • Thank you for that lovely benediction, Susan S! I am really looking forward to getting back after the WWW Conference and having my time to myself again. 🙂

    • Thank you, Rain! Right now, I’m focused on putting out last-minute fires with the Women Writing the West Conference. After that’s successfully finished, I’ll have time to really settle in and pick up my writing again. Blessings to you!

    • Linda, thank you! I have way too much practice with rehabbing and switching houses. It may be a challenge to actually stay put for a change! 😉

    • Thanks, Deb! And yes, as you can imagine, I’m not much for formal dining! A writing room and library is much more my style. As for the tree removal, three down and two more to go. Most of the trees in the yard are self-sprouts, and I don’t think anyone has every done any thinning. I have way too many crowded and skinny trees, and with the Emerald Ash Borer now in Grand Junction and inevitably heading this way, way too many ash trees. So I’m selecting for the best of the self-sown maples, and only saving two of the healthiest ash trees.

  • Susan, welcome home. I’m sorry I’ll miss you at the conference, but I wish you safe travels and an invigorating event. May that porch bring you many prosperous writing hours.

    • Andrea, Thanks! I am looking forward to after the conference when my time is my own again. In the meantime, I have a few days to enjoy the lovely dappled sunlight in my front-porch writing room, and to think about writing. When I’m not out riding or working in the yard, that is…. Enjoy this glorious fall weather!

  • Dr Chery Kendrick says:

    Oh how Wonderful! I was looking forward to seeing this blog. I am so happy for you. I am so sorry you don’t have outside access to the crawlspace- ugh- I will be going through the bracing-up process and encapsulation of the basement here at my new place in November.
    That project and one more HVAC and I can then look into solar here too- unfortunately not as easy to come by here in the backwoods of TN mountains- much easier in my beloved home of California and the enlightened state of CO ;>
    Much love and blessings from me and Aggy pup
    Chery (Doc Chery)

    • Hi, Doc Chery! I wish my place had a basement, but it really is almost on the ground, so the “crawl” space is barely that. And foundation work in the 1950s complicated access, although it resulted in great support, except in this one area. I hope your shoring up and basement encapsulation goes well next month, and then the HVAC too. And that you find a good solar provider. I’m loving watching the KwH produced rack up on my net meter here. 🙂 Hugs and pats to you and that sweet Aggy!

    • Thank you so much, Sherrey! I feel very blessed to be able to live in such a comfortable space, and to give the house some love in the form of structural support and mechanical updating. And I am so looking forward to having a winter to write. 🙂

  • It’s beautiful and cozy. I love it. May you have many many joyful years here writing and loving life. Hopefully I’ll be visiting in the next 5 years. ;). Hugs your way.

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