Adirondack chair on the guest cottage porch. (The rock is a weight.)

Whew!

Adirondack chair on the guest cottage porch. (The rock is a weight.) Adirondack chair on the guest cottage porch. (The rock is a weight.)

Eight days ago when I wrote the last post, the sale contract on Terraphilia had fallen apart.

First thing Tuesday morning (after Labor Day)–as soon as they learned the news, the people in second place re-tendered their offer.

By the end of the day Friday, after working out some small details, we had a contract. And I got an email from the prospective buyers saying they were “over the moon” about my accepting their offer.

Wow! (Much appreciation to my realtor, Kathleen Nelson of Keller Williams Mountain Realty.)

Of course, it’s not a sale until you have the certified check in hand. There is still the appraisal (this is not an easy property to appraise), the loan, and other hurdles.

But something about this contract just feels right–nothing logical, mind you, it’s a gut instinct kind of thing.

Treehouse (foreground) and Creek House (on the right) from the City Trail across the creek. Treehouse (foreground) and Creek House (on the right) from the City Trail across the creek.

I’m also exhausted from the whip-saw of emotions in just a few days from what felt like a sucker punch when the first contract imploded to cautious excitement and relief. (Fingers crossed….)

This contract gives me more time to move. Which is good, because as with every construction project I’ve ever been involved with, the new house and garage/studio are taking longer than expected.

There’s been lots of progress, thanks to my contractor, Dan Thomas of Natural Habitats, and all of the wonderful sub-contractors who have made time in their crazy-busy schedules for my small but not simple project.

On the outside, the first coat of stucco is on (the gray parts of the building exteriors in the photo above). The board-and-batten siding is all up, and after some dirt-work this coming week, the stairs will be built on the outside wall of Treehouse and the second-story deck will appear outside the studio door. (Access now is by ladder, which I enjoy climbing, but I recognize isn’t a permanent solution.)

The kitchen area with cabinets in, before Mackee began building sills and putting up window trim. The kitchen area with cabinets in, before Mackee began building window sills and putting up trim. The cabinet sitting by itself in the foreground is the kitchen island, without its top.

Inside, Creek House is painted (thank you, Alex of Timberline Drywall and crew!) and the kitchen cabinets are in and looking very fine (thanks to Rob and Rachel of Westwood Cabinets). Baseboards and doors are in, and door and window trim are going up–thank you, Mackee and Verlyn of Natural Habitats.

This coming week, the final coat of sealer will go on the floors, and we’ll be ready for plumbing fixtures.

It’s feeling like a house!

Here at Terraphilia, there’s progress too.

Eric Hagen, master of tools, wood, steel, horses and many other things, sorted, organized and priced the contents of the shop and held a shop sale. What he couldn’t sell, he found homes for, all but the big industrial dust-collection system and a wall-mounted veneer-press. Surely someone needs those….

The shower part of the tub-shower enclosure. Thanks to Tom and Lane of Alpha Plumbing, who had to go on eBay to find all the parts to the fixtures! The shower part of the tub-shower enclosure.

(Richard loved tools, plus everything else involved in designing and fabricating sculptures and functional objects from wood, steel and stone.)

And my most ambitious finishing project, the custom tub-shower enclosure in the master bath, is finally done, thanks to a lot of help.

Maggie and Tony Niemann patiently worked with me to finish the walls and trim.

Steve Duhaime of Architectural Glass wrapped the sill and added the “reedy” glass half-walls with their cool steel brackets.

Tom and Lane of Alpha Plumbing scoured the internet to find parts for the shower fixtures (the shower was roughed-in about 14 years ago, the fixtures have long since been discontinued) and invented the black steel shower-curtain rods suspended from the ceiling.

Glass half-walls screening the shower area. Glass half-walls screen the shower area.

Finishing this house and building Creek House and Treehouse feels like the best community effort, drawing on the art and skill of people I respect and appreciate.

When I started this process, I didn’t know I could learn to use and love tools, much less working with wood, steel, stone and glass.

I had no idea that I could dream up a house and be intimately involved in building it. Or that I would find the process fascinating and rewarding.

Yet here I am.

Tonight, as I was writing this post, I made myself a cup of ginger-lemon tea.

And read the tag on the tea bag:

Wherever you go, go with all your heart. Just the words I needed.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

YES.

Richard Cabe inflating our brand-new kayak at Frantz Lake, September 2009.

Time Off

Richard Cabe inflating our brand-new kayak at Frantz Lake, September 2009. Richard Cabe inflating our brand-new kayak at Frantz Lake, September 2009.

My youngest niece, nineteen-year-old Alice, is visiting for a while in her time off between summer job and college. She’s been helping me weed and pack. Today I promised her time off.

We hefted the bulky duffel containing my inflatable double-kayak into the back of the Subaru, added paddles, PFDs (high-tech life-jackets), and the foot-powered pump, and headed for nearby Frantz Lake to play around.

I haven’t used the kayak since my late love and I took it for its inaugural paddle four years ago on my birthday.  He had just been released from his first-ever stay in the hospital after seeing birds that didn’t exist.

Although I insisted that bringing him home was the only present I needed, he bought me the kayak I’d been lusting after. On the afternoon of my birthday, we took it over to the nearby lake and had a grand time learning its rhythms.

Alice and I set out for that same lake, and in fact, pushed off from the very same beach.

Alice Tweit ready to hit the water at Frantz Lake. Alice Tweit ready to hit the water at Frantz Lake.

First though, we figured out how to inflate the kayak: “After turning the valve counter-clockwise to lock open, partially inflate Chamber 1. Then inflate Chamber 2 until firm….” And then we carried it down to the water.

Alice snapped together the poles and posed for a photo, and we both donned our PFDs.

She got in the bow, I pushed off and slid into the stern, and we paddled away. It was perfect weather–not too hot, not too windy. We paddled across the arm of the lake, practiced turning, backing and paddling cross-wind. Once we had our rhythm, we circled the little island, paddled around the east arm, and stopped at a beach to wade and hang out.

A paddler with the muscle tone of a wildland firefighter, Alice's job last summer. Alice paddling

By the time we paddled back to where we started, we had that glow of having exercised enough to feel slightly tired and quite righteous.

We deflated the boat, not nearly as rigorous an operation as inflating it, and then folded it, wrestled it into the huge duffel, and carted it back to the car.

After a side-trip up Ute Trail in the Arkansas Hills east of town to check out the trail head where I’ll drop her tomorrow morning for a hike, we headed home. And hauled the kayak up onto the back porch to dry, where it looks rather like a bright orange beached whale.

I have been so focused on finishing this place, getting it on the market, and overseeing construction of the new house that I haven’t given myself time off to play in, well, months. The hour on the lake today with Alice reminded me that I need that time.

The deflated kayak, drying on the back porch. The deflated kayak drying on the back porch.

Especially now. The imminent sale of Terraphilia, my house/guest cottage/historic shop building hit a serious snag late last week. It’s not clear what it means, but it’s not good.

I learned the news late Friday afternoon and spent a few hours awake and worrying that night. Summer is the prime selling season here. I’m borrowing money from my dad to build Creek House, and I can’t pay him back unless the place sells. If this contract falls through….

At two-thirty this morning, I realized that my fears are just that, fears. I had a plan and life isn’t following that plan. Surprise, surprise.

We plan, we hope, and in the end, we work with what comes along. Flexibility is strength. As is remaining patient, keeping our hearts open, and acting from our best selves, with love and faith.

Didn’t I learn that lesson thoroughly in the two-plus years Richard and I walked the journey with his brain cancer? Or as Mom’s life faded? Or after deciding to sell this home my love built for us, and realizing that meant I’d have to learn to do the finish carpentry myself?

Silliness with an iPhone. Silliness with an iPhone.

Apparently I still need practice. Cultivate patience. Live with my heart outstretched. Cultivate patience. Live with my heart outstretched….

And take time off to have fun.

Treehouse (foreground) and Creek House with board-and-batten siding appearing.

Clearing Out All But the Love

Treehouse (foreground) and Creek House with board-and-batten siding appearing. Treehouse, the garage plus with studio above (foreground), and Creek House, both with Craftsman details appearing.

In a month and a day, I’ll hand the keys to Terraphilia to the buyers.

Over the next few weeks, I have to finish the master bath (it’s close); sort, pack and move the contents of the house and guest cottage; and clear out the garage and shop. Of course, Creek House and Treehouse need to be ready for me to occupy as well. Yikes.

I still have some writing deadlines to meet. But as of today, all of my spare time goes to organizing, packing, and deciding what I no longer need. So at mid-afternoon yesterday, I headed out to the garage, thinking I’d spend an hour or so downsizing my gardening supplies.

On the way I decided to clean the barbecue, which has sat unused on the back porch since Richard died a year and eight months ago. I figured I could sell it.

Now that it's clean, the 16-year-old barbecue looks pretty good. Now that it’s clean, the barbecue looks pretty good.

Only once I had spent most of an hour scrubbing, checking to make sure all three burners lit, shooting a couple of photos, and looking at new barbecues online to get an idea of what this one might be worth, I decided to keep it.

It has a history: Richard and I bought that barbecue sixteen years ago when we moved to Salida. It was our summer kitchen the whole time we lived across the alley in our little renovated 1902 brick duplex.

Of course, everything I have has a history. The fact that I am trading 4,100 square feet of space for a little over 1,400 (garage included) generally keeps the “it has a history” excuse from being too compelling. In the case of the barbecue though, I decided that it could serve as my summer kitchen again at Creek House.

When I finally made it to the garage, my neighbor Bev Gray came over to help. She cleared all of the garden-clutter off the shelves and helped me decide what I wanted to keep (who needs five dozen plastic pots?) and what could be donated to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore store or recycled.

Tidy shelves of camping gear (above) and garden stuff (below). Tidy shelves of camping gear (above) and garden stuff (below).

By the time we finished, the piles of gardening stuff to keep had diminished considerably.

I donned my face mask–I have serious respiratory allergies–and swept that part of the garage thoroughly. Then I headed inside and took a lovely long soak in the tub in my almost-finished master bathroom tub-shower area.

After which I imagined writing a blog post. Until I remembered I needed to call my dad and check in. By the time I got off the phone, my brain was fried.

I couldn’t resist going out to the garage one more time before bed. I had to admire those newly clean, organized and spacious shelves. And move a couple of boxes of books to the “library book sale” stack in the car….

When my energy for sorting, re-purposing, organizing and packing falters, I have only to walk down to the other end of the block.

Seeing the progress there reminds me of where I’m headed, and why I’m putting all this time and effort into sifting through the detritus of my life for what I want to carry with me as I go onward.

Treehouse from the shop loading dock. (It's name comes from the vantage point of the studio, which feels like its in the trees.) Treehouse from the shop loading dock. (Its name comes from the lofty vantage point of the studio.)

It’s not a bad thing. Most of the memories that come with my stuff are good ones, or at least sweeter than sad. I have been fortunate in many ways, recent losses aside.

That the love of my life is no longer with me is undeniably hard. Still, I am determined though to walk forward with just sort of love we shared, as a way to honor our time together. That steadies me somewhat as I look at how much I have to do in the weeks ahead.

I’ll be ready when the time comes, I know. Just as I know that Creek House is exactly where I need to go as I walk this new life on my own.

With love. Always.

The tub-shower enclosure in the master bathroom.

[Re]Learning My Limits

The tub-shower enclosure in the master bathroom. The tub-shower enclosure in the master bathroom.

I’m close! So close to completing the finish work on this house that my punch-list lives in my head, not on paper.

In the master bath I only need to etch and seal the concrete floor in the shower, and seal the steel trim on the galvanized wall-panels.

The plumbers still need to put in the shower fixtures and plumb the two sinks. My glass guy needs to install the two half-walls of reedy glass above the sill in the shower area. But my part of that tricky job is almost finished.

In the rest of the house, I need to install the thumb-pulls in the closet doors in the guest bedroom, cover a gap where two panels did not quite meet in the corrugated tin of the back porch ceiling, and nail a doorstop I invented last night in place in the master bedroom. That’s it. (I think.)

Mesquite drawer-pull I crafted for a drawer in the kitchen. Mesquite drawer-pull I crafted for a drawer in the kitchen.

I’m this close thanks to my patient and talented friends Tony and Maggie Niemann, who not only taught me finish carpentry, but who regularly nagged me to set up weekend work days so they could help.

And consulted whenever I got stuck, as I did the other night while installing the drawer-pull in the photo, crafted out of a chunk of mesquite trunk salvaged from my parents’ Tucson yard more than a decade ago. (Richard crafted pegs from that same mesquite to join the corners of the cabinet face frames, a Craftsman touch.)

I figured that once I finished my punch-list here, I’d start on the trim carpentry at Creek House. The walls are painted, the light fixtures and ceiling fans are in, and Westwood Cabinetry is at work on built-ins. Trim work can start anytime now.

Door trim in Terraphilia. Door trim in Terraphilia

I’m planning the same simple Southwest style of trim I’ve done here, using 1X6 pine boards (No. 2, paint-grade), ripped in half lengthwise and painted the same color as the wall. The header piece extends an inch and a half out on each side, like the trim around the bathroom door in the photo to the right.

(That photo dates from late winter, before baseboard, before I invented narrow galvanized steel trim to finish the raw edge of the drywall around the chiseled block walls, and before the lovely curved counter in the bathroom. A lot of work has happened in that time!)

I had thought I would do the trim myself. Until I realized that I was regularly waking in a panic at four am.

Until I realized that I have six weeks and a day to finish Terraphilia, meet a couple of writing deadlines, oversee the work on Creek House, get packed, sort through and sell or give away the contents of Richard’s shop, and move. (Closing for the sale contract on Terraphilia is September 13th, with possession at noon.)

Huh.

The living room half of the front room at Creek House (the kitchen area is behind the camera). The living room half of the front room at Creek House (the kitchen area is behind the camera).

Learning to notice and respect my limits is one of those life lessons I never quite complete. I figure it out–usually the hard way, and then… Perhaps I get too complacent. Maybe it’s arrogance (No! Me do! shouts my inner toddler). Or control issues. (I am a double Virgo.)

Sooner or later, I find myself over my head again, waking at four in the morning reviewing all I have to cram into the next day, next week, next month…. The frantic tide rises. I find myself rushing through my days instead of enjoying the moments.

And then something causes me to stop and reassess. Oh yeah. I don’t have to do everything myself. It’s not all on my shoulders. I can delegate.

That’s where I am now.

Siding in progress at Treehouse (the garage/studio) and Creek House (my new house). Siding in progress at Treehouse (the garage/studio) and Creek House (my new house).

So with some regret, I’m delegating (read “paying for”) the trim carpentry on my new place. I’ve proved I can do it here. I’ve got plenty to do over the coming six weeks.

If I don’t try to do everything myself, if I [re]learn my limits, I might even enjoy that time, wild ride or no.

That sounds good to me.

Dad with Colin and his little brother Liam

Road Trip!

Dad with Colin and his little brother Liam Dad with Colin and his little brother Liam last summer

This Tuesday noon, the little Subaru Forester and I will aim west on US 50, headed for my brother’s house in Olympia, Washington, 1,444 miles away, to spend the weekend with the extended Tweit clan. I’m going to celebrate two birthdays: Colin Roland, one of my great-nephews, who will be 4 years old, and Bob Tweit, my dad, who turns 85.

Before I head off what will be seven days of driving (three and a half days each way) and two days of family (and probably no blogging), here’s a bit of an update on the projects that fill my days.

Bless the Birds: The rough draft totaled 135,000 words at the beginning of last week; now it’s just over 126,000. I have to cut out at least 35,000 more words. It’s a memoir in two voices (the other one being the smiling guy in the photo below), and that makes editing tricky since he’s not around anymore to comment. (Dammit.)

Richard Cabe, my late love, 1950-2011 Richard Cabe, my late love, 1950-2011

I know the story will emerge from my careful work leaner and stronger, more compelling. Too much detail in a story is like food that’s too rich. It may taste good for a while, but it slows everything down until the story, like a digestive system, becomes tapada. (Tapada translates literally as “covered,” but in southern New Mexico, where I learned the word, it also means “stopped-up.”)

Be a Habitat Hero: What started out as a modest pilot project to inspire gardeners and birders in Colorado and Wyoming to landscape in a way that offers a habitat life-line for songbirds and other pollinators is quickly morphing into something bigger.

The project is a partnership between Audubon Rockies and the Terra Foundation, along with Colorado State University’s Plant Select program. High Country Gardens, the major online retailer of regionally adapted plants for the western and plains states, has just signed on. Check out the project’s blog and website, written by yours truly. Let me know what you think!

Creek House and Treehouse (the studio, named for its vantage point) with siding going up. Creek House and Treehouse (the studio, named for its lofty vantage point) with house wrap on and siding going up.

Creek House: The siding is going up on the exterior of the house and the drywall is textured. While I’m away, the roof will go on and the interior of the house will be painted. The garage and second-story studio are several weeks behind the house, but the wiring and plumbing are in. Both spaces feel good already.

Terraphilia Complex: Tony and Maggie came over tonight and helped me cut and bend a long strip of copper to flash the cap on the half-wall between the shower/tub enclosure in the master bath. I worried about doing the cutting and shaping myself because the copper sheet I’m using is one Richard bought. I don’t want to mess up his materials.

The half-wall dividing the custom tub/shower enclosure from the rest of the master bath. (In the right background is the door leading out to the master suite's private patio.) The half-wall dividing the custom tub/shower enclosure from the rest of the master bath.

There are still more details to be worked out in this most complex  part of the project I’ve tackled in finishing this house, but it’s inching along toward completion.

You can see that long piece of copper flashing where it catches the light in the photo to the right, just below the ash sill that tops the half-wall. In the right background is the door leading out to the master suite’s private patio.

And one last note: After weeks and weeks of hot and frustratingly dry weather, we had our first real summer rain tonight. We’ve had whiffs of rain since late June, but never enough to actually moisten more than the surface of the soil.

This evening, a thunderstorm rumbled its way down the valley, bringing a gentle rain that began falling at 5:42 pm and lasted almost three hours. It’s tough to read my rain gauge in the dark, but it looks like we may have gotten almost half an inch. That may not sound impressive, but here where our total precipitation so far this year just barely topped 3.5 inches (in over seven months), it’s huge. And welcome.

I’ll check back in next week after I return home, 11 days and 3,000 miles from now….

The for-sale sign seen across the front yard just after we had a brief shower of rain this evening.

Names: Terraphilia & Creek House

The for-sale sign seen across the front yard just after we had a brief shower of rain this evening. The for-sale sign seen across the front yard with its blooming wildflowers and silky bunches of native grass.

The for-sale sign is up!

My house/ guest cottage/ historic studio complex is officially on the market. The house itself is not quite finished, but it’s close. The shower-tub area in the master bath still needs fixtures and more trim, and there are a few touch-up details elsewhere.

I can finally see the end of the finish work, which helps me feel a mite less overwhelmed.

I am ready to sell. So ready that I spend time every day “fluffing” the house and yard to make sure they look their best. (The yard is a particular challenge in this third year of serious drought.)

While I was working in the yard this evening, reveling in the cool air after a five-minute rain-shower, I pondered a friend’s question: “Have you named the new house yet? ”

I hadn’t even thought about a name.

Terraphlila: A house designed and built to love its patch of earth. Terraphilia: A house designed and built to love its patch of earth.

Names have power. A name is a symbol, a kind of shorthand for the meaning and often also the value we attach to the thing named. A name can inspire, amuse, remind, teach.

A name can also subdue. One of the first things a conquering culture does is put its own names on landmarks, replacing the names given by the culture it has vanquished, as if to erase that culture, to sever the bonds that weave culture and family to place.

I respect the power of names. I call this place and its reclaimed half-block of formerly industrial property “Terraphilia,” the word Richard and I coined to describe the bone-deep force that motivated us in work and life:

An intrinsic affection for and connection to the Earth and its community of lives.

Terraphilia reflects the spirit of the house and guest cottage Richard helped design and build with their earth-friendly, sculptural feel, and his respectful restoration of the historic studio. Terraphilia also reflects the love and effort that we put into reviving this patch of ground to its native beauty and resilience.

Garage and studio in the foreground, tiny house in the background. The deck is the flat roof space in front of the second-story studio. Garage and studio in the foreground, tiny house in the background. The deck is the flat roof space in front of the second-story studio.

And the new tiny house? As I watched the garage with second-floor studio sprout from the footings this week like a mushroom after a summer rain, I pondered names. Nothing fit.

Until I clambered the ladder to the future deck on the south side of the studio in a quiet moment. As I scanned the panorama of the peaks rising beyond town, a sound worked its way into my consciousness.

The same sound I had heard when I sat in the open front door of the house, my legs swinging in space where my front-entry deck will be. The deck that will extend my tiny house outside to the upper bank of Ditch Creek.

The sound that struck me wasn’t the sound of passing tires on asphalt, a dog barking from the back of a pickup in the Safeway parking lot, or the clickety-clack of skateboard wheels coming down the trail. It wasn’t the thunder of a motorcycle engine or the chirping of swallows dipping and swooping in the air.

Ditch Creek, vibrant and sparkling after a decade of restoration work. Ditch Creek, vibrant and sparkling after a decade-plus of restoration work.

The sound I heard was the murmur of running water. The voice of Ditch Creek itself, making its way downhill under the canopy of native willows, Indian plums, red-osier dogwood and skunkbrush sumac Richard and I carefully planted to restore the channelized, weed-infested and trash-choked creek to health.

There was the name: Creek House.

I fell in love with this thread of urban creek 16 years ago when my late love and I bought this then-very-neglected place. The name honors the sweat and time–and faith–we expended in bringing the creek back to life. The joy we took from watching it revive.

Even though I will soon leave the place Richard built for us, the place he and I lived in and loved, I’ll still have the creek and Creek House. Love endures.

The view into the master bathroom with the counter in place.

Tool Girl Progress: bathroom counter

The view into the master bathroom with the counter in place. The view into the master bathroom with the new counter in place. It is supported by a “rail” screwed to the wall, and one sculptural steel support.

After seven years of living with an unfinished master bathroom including a temporary counter created from scraps and an old red sink that had been headed to the dump, I now have a beautiful free-standing bathroom counter with two sinks.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it represents one of the final steps in finishing the house that my love helped design and build, drawing on his extraordinary sculptural sensibility and terraphilia. The house is simple, inspired by earth it rises from and by the industrial heritage of the site.

Only, the interior was never finished. (Who needs trim, interior doors, baseboard, cabinet backs and master bathrooms, right? I didn’t —until I was ready to sell the place.)

Over the past six months, I’ve worked at completing the place, helped by friends who patiently taught me everything from how to use a table saw to how to hang an interior door (in sum: level the hinge side first), and from how to choose the right screws to how to see the steps involved in doing a project in the first place.

The counter after having a layer of 3/4-inch plywood glued on underneath to stiffen it, and the galvanized steel edge attached with adhesive and many clamps. The counter-in-progress after having a layer of 3/4-inch plywood glued on underneath to stiffen it, and the galvanized steel edge attached with adhesive and many clamps.

I can’t call myself an accomplished finish carpenter, but I can say I have fewer nights when I wake and worry about how in the heck I’m going to ever pull this project together. And how in the heck I can honor Richard’s artistic vision in the doing.

I didn’t set out to do the finish work myself. But it turns out that what I could afford was my own sweat equity. Hence my apprenticeship.

(Thank you, Tony and Maggie Niemann and Bob Spencer for teaching me. Richard’s talented nephew Andrew Cabe did the work in the guest cottage. Thanks also to Grant Pound and the volunteer crew for Colorado Art Ranch for installing the ceiling in Richard’s studio.)

I am absurdly pleased to have learned the basics of finish carpentry, and to be able to solve some design and construction problems myself. I’ve said before in this space that I didn’t grow up building, designing or even working with my hands (except in the garden). Nor did I ever aspire to be what my friend and fellow writer Susan Tomlinson calls “tool girl.”

Now that I’ve acquired a little competence in the Tool Girl area, especially in understanding what I need to know to complete a project I can vaguely see in my imagination, I am absurdly pleased when what I imagine turns as well or better than I envisioned it.

Guest bathroom counter with its new galvanized edging and the beautiful Richard-carved basin. Guest bathroom counter with its new galvanized edging and the beautiful Richard-carved basin.

That’s the case with the new bathroom counter, which I imagined as echoing the counter Richard designed and built to hold his gorgeous hand-carved stone sink in the guest bathroom. I envisioned the new master bath counter as free-standing and curved at one end like that counter, with an edge of galvanized steel like the one Tony, Maggie and I applied to complete Richard’s counter.

Only the master bath counter would have two basins, and they wouldn’t be hand-carved stone ones. (I haven’t any more.) Also, I wanted it to use the same laminate that Richard used around the tub in the master bath.

I didn’t build the new counter—a local cabinetmaker, Rob Bornehurst did. But Tony and Maggie and I added the stiffening layer so it could be free-standing, and the galvanized steel trim. Tony showed me how to hang it, and he fashioned the metal support alá Richard.

Now what’s left? The shower-tub enclosure in the master bathroom.

The tub part of the enclosure is coming along; the shower part isn't done yet. The tub part of the tub-shower area.

After installing the counter though, I can finally see the end of this once-endless-seeming house-finishing project. It’s satisfying to be completing the projects that my love didn’t get to. Having my hands on his work has helped me be ready to move on.

Which is a good thing: the for-sale signs go up this week. May this creative complex find new people to inspire!

(Click here for the sale flyer.)

The first page of the two-page current issue

Hot off the press: eNewsletter and life

The first page of the two-page current issue The first page of the two-page current issue

I send out a “News from Sus[an]” newsletter by email every so often with updates on my writing, teaching and life in general. I try to put them out quarterly, but sometimes circumstances intervene, hence the gap between the January issue and the eLetter I just finished yesterday. (If you want to be on my eNewsletter list, send me an email and I’ll subscribe you. If you are and don’t, just let me know, and I’ll remove you.)

I don’t usually put the newsletter up on my website, but it’s occurred to me that I should. So here it is. Click on that link (or the one in the previous paragraph) and you should get the PDF, either downloaded or opening in a new window.

The eNewsletter is two pages long with images, it totals half a megabite and may take a few moments to load. Just be patient.

Which is great advice for life in general, and advice I’ve certainly been taking to heart since the universe in the form of three different injuries smacked me upside the head (literally, the last injury was to my face–with my own car door) and reminded me to slow down. No matter how fast life swirls around me, I’m determined to pause, take deep breaths, and not move faster than suits me.

You can see the long, curving laminate counter with the galvanized edge and the two sinks on that wall, right? You can't? I almost can.... You can see the long, curving laminate counter with the galvanized edge and the two sinks on that wall, right? You can’t? Not to worry. It’s coming soon….

It seems to be working. As I just told my Dad, despite glitches in permitting for the front-entry deck of my new house and the fact that the master bathroom in this house is still not done, and that I’ve had to set the memoir aside this week to prepare a talk for the Plant Select program at Denver Botanic Gardens on Thursday, I’m enjoying myself.

I’m enjoying finish work, even though it’s hard, the learning curve is steep, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. It’s going well, and I’m proud of my work. That makes it satisfying.

I’m enjoying building the new house, even though the glitches in permitting my front deck have meant a lot of scrambling around to get forms filed and then a lot of back-and-forth about possible solutions.

Downtown Salida and the Arkansas Hills seen from the future deck off my bedroom. Downtown Salida and the Arkansas Hills seen from the future deck off my bedroom.

It’s still not clear what’s going to happen, but I have faith that my builder and designer and I will work with the city to figure out a solution that is aesthetically pleasing, environmentally friendly and allows an accessible house. It’s hard not to enjoy a house that’s as sweet as my new one is, even though it’s still at the gangly studs and wiring stage. Look at that view out my bedroom door….

(Yes, you have to imagine the deck at door-sill height. It’ll appear in time.)

I’m even enjoying working on the talk and accompanying digital presentation because, hey, it’s about gardening in a way that restores habitat for wildlife and leaves a patch of ground in better shape than you found it–inspiring stuff.

The truth is, I feel pretty fortunate. Yes, I have a house to finish. But it’s a beautiful house. I’m doing work my late love would appreciate, and that makes me feel closer to him.

Yes, I have two construction projects going at once, something I tried to avoid. But the new house makes me smile every time I set foot in it.

Needle-and-thread grass (in foreground) and sidebells penstemon (lavender spikes) blooming in my front yard grassland Needle-and-thread grass (in foreground) and sidebells penstemon (lavender spikes behind the pot) blooming in my front-yard native mountain prairie.

And yes, the landscape I love is still in a drought and the larger world is full of war and pain and global climate change. But it’s also full of love and light and hope.

The sidebells penstemon and needle-and-thread grass are blooming in my yard. A black-headed grosbeak was warbling down by the creek this morning. It’s the end of spring, summer is coming in a rush, and I’m alive.

That last alone makes me very fortunate. Walking with Richard through death from brain cancer taught us both to love life. All of it. That’s a lesson I hope to never forget.

 

 

My tiny house this evening from the path along the creek.

Envisioning the new house

My tiny house this evening from the path along the creek. My new house from the path along the creek this evening.

On evenings with no meetings, events or house guests, all of which have occupied every night this week, I walk to the other end of the block after work to visit my tiny house-to-be.

I’m usually at the job site at least once during the day to check on what’s happening and answer questions. The place is full of noise, activity and people working. All of which are good.

But in the evening, it’s is quiet, all mine. I wander at my leisure and admire the day’s progress. I pause to get the feel of a room and imagine myself living there.

Ditch Creek where it runs past my new tiny house, with the shrubby riparian canopy my late love and I carefully restored over the past decade and a half. Ditch Creek with the shrubby riparian canopy Richard and I carefully replanted to shade and clean its flow.

This evening, I finally had time to stroll down for a visit. It was a special pleasure to follow the path along Ditch Creek, because this little urban creek, dry for ten months from July until May, is running again, burbling along.

Our terrible drought isn’t over, but an inch of rain in May rejuvenated the springs that feed the creek. It feels like life is returning to my world with its flow.

I’m still not finished with the finish work on the current house, the wonderful place my love built for us, but I can see completing the last major project in the new few weeks. That makes it easier to enjoy the project of the new house.

As the tiny house takes shape inside, I’ve begun to envision precisely where furniture, art, clothing, linens, pots and pans and kitchen stuff, books, and other special things will go.

In particular, I’m getting clearer about how much more downsizing I need to do to be able to comfortably fit into 725 square feet of house and 384 square feet of studio/guest space.

My current kitchen, more than commodious enough for two (one cook and one baker), much less the one of me now. My current kitchen, more than commodious enough for two (one cook and one baker), much less the one of me now.

(“Comfortable” by my definition means “no clutter.”)

For instance, my current kitchen boasts 26 linear feet of counter space (including the double sink and five-burner gas range top) with cabinets below and above (all except the 5 feet of breakfast bar/peninsula).

My new kitchen will have 12 feet of counter space with cabinets below and open shelving above, plus 4 feet of kitchen island/breakfast bar with cabinets below.

It’s a different configuration, so comparing the two is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. (Yes, they’re both fruit, but….) I figure the new kitchen will have about half the storage and counter space as this one.

It's hard to see the kitchen in the studs here, but the sink will be under the window, and where the wires stick out of the slab in the foreground will be the kitchen island. The kitchen at the stud stage. The sink will be under the window on the left. The kitchen island will go where the wires stick out of the slab in the foreground.

It’s well-designed, so I’m not worried. Still, I need to decide which of my kitchen things and dishes I really want to take with me, and find good homes for those that aren’t necessary and/or favorites.

As I sort through, I’m setting aside some special family things for Molly and my brother Bill’s three girls. I’ve put aside a few things for friends too. Mostly though, I’m sorting what I won’t move into two categories: worth taking to Free the Monkey, an excellent local consignment shop, or still useful but better donated to Caring and Sharing, the Goodwill-type store.

It’s not as difficult as I thought it might be to whittle down what Richard and I accumulated over the years. I work at it a little at a time. When I can’t make a decision, I envision my new kitchen as it will look, and then imagine placing the particular object there. If I can’t see it, it probably doesn’t belong.

A brief shower just before sunset yielded the grace of this rainbow over my neighborhood. A brief shower just before sunset yielded the grace of this rainbow over my neighborhood.

If I still can’t decide, I either set that particular thing aside or take a break.

The important things stand out. They’re either associated with family, or they have a special story from our nearly 29 years together, or they’re just particularly lovely and/or well-designed.

The truth is though, it’s all just stuff.

What I won’t leave behind when I move are the memories, the love we shared, and the community and landscape that nurtured both of us.

Those are what really matters.

The Oklahoma Panhandle, between Guymon and Boise City, a landscape that brings new meaning to the word 'level.'

Pacing the Journey

The Oklahoma Panhandle, between Guymon and Boise City, a landscape that brings new meaning to the word 'level.' the Oklahoma Panhandle between Guymon and Boise City

When I smacked my face with the car door last Monday evening in Guymon, Oklahoma, my first thought after “I can’t believe I did that,” and “Holy Toledo, that hurts!” (only I didn’t actually say “Holy Toledo”) was “I’ve got to slow down. I’m trying to do too much.”

With 400 miles to drive the next day and the first hundred traversing the western end of the Oklahoma Panhandle, one of the flattest landscapes I know, I had plenty of time and space to think about that last observation.

What responsibilities and to-dos could I let go of?

The most obvious is selling my beloved house/guest cottage/studio creative complex. I had planned to handle the sale myself, since I know the place better than anyone else, and honestly, a real estate agent’s commission amounts to a pretty big chunk of change for someone who has had essentially no income for the past several years.

But I’m not a real estate professional. And sales is not my forte, as evinced by the fact that I’ve given away many of what may be the most valuable books in Richard’s extensive library, preferring to pass them to friends who would appreciate them or donate them to our public library rather than sell them.

Sangre de Cristo Range, east of Raton, New Mexico Sangre de Cristo Range, east of Raton, New Mexico

Okay. Selling the house/cottage/shop is one rather large responsibility I could shed. What else could I let go of?

I pondered that question as the Panhandle gave way to the rumpled black basalt flows and volcanic cones of northeastern New Mexico, and finally to the first views of the snow-streaked Sangre de Cristo Range, the mountains I follow home.

Well…. I could ask for more help with the final push to finish my beautiful-but-not-quite-ready-to-sell place. Thanks to my friends Maggie and Tony Niemann, plus Bob Spencer and my nephew, Andrew Cabe, a lot of the finish work is done. There’s just the master bathroom and then all the “fluffing” details. Which is still a lot.

The tiny house with windows! The tiny house with windows!

Beyond those two things though, I got stuck. No one else can write Bless the Birds, the memoir I’m immersed in. Or mastermind the launch of the landscaping-for-wildlife project for Terra Foundation and Audubon Rockies. Or give the talk at Denver Botanic Garden in just over two weeks. Or keep tabs on the myriad details involved in construction of the new tiny house. Or….

The next morning, I woke in my own comfy bed remembering Christian McEwen’s book, World Enough & Time, which I reviewed last August. One of the things I learned in reading McEwen’s book is shedding to-dos and responsibilities is only part of making “enough” time. The other and perhaps more important part is pacing.

I could choose to race frenziedly through each day, telling myself that once I got through this crunch, I’d take some time to rest and recover. (That’s my usual M.O.) Or I could choose to recognize that this isn’t a temporary crunch, it’s simply a full and interesting life. And I need to find the time each day to breathe, rest, and take care of myself.

It’s that old saying about life being what happens along the way, not the end of the journey. Oh, yeah.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end. (attributed to Ursula K. LeGuin)

I’ve spent the week practicing pacing my journey more deliberately. Every time I feel that panicky need to race through something just to get it done, I remind myself that this isn’t a temporary crisis. It is the journey.

Sitting in the doorway of my tiny house yesterday evening, dangling my legs over what will be the deck, this is what I saw--a gift of taking time to just be. The view from the doorway of my tiny house yesterday evening, as I sat and dangled my legs over the space where the deck will be, a gift of taking time to just be.

And I rest when I need to rest. I stop and breathe. I look around me and appreciate that I am here. Now.

I’m accomplishing just as much, and appreciating more. I’m finding more grace and delight and outright joy. And I’m less overwhelmed and burnt out.

Also, I haven’t fallen, smacked myself in the face or injured myself in any way. I think I’m making progress. 🙂