Renovation Progress: Floors and Kitchen Garden

For the past week, I've been caretaking a retreat center and its resident cat, which means I drive out to the center twice a day, first thing in the morning to feed and play with Talks-A-Lot, the cat (she does talk–a lot!), and to check on the buildings. I drive back out again at the end of the work day to either let Talks in and feed her if it's been nice enough for her to be outside all day, or to hear her meow! meow! meow! lecture if the weather hasn't been nice and she's been stuck inside. 

As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, the view of Heart Mountain from the center is glorious, a definite bonus. Talks is quite a character, and the friends who I am caretaking for really needed a vacation, so I'm glad to be able to help out. But the twice-daily commute takes a big chunk out of my energy budget. Plus I have a respiratory allergy triggered by cats, so I'm wheezing and coughing more than normal, and that's tiring too.

All of which is why I didn't get a blog post up last week. And also why I resolved to save energy and make time for one this weekend.

Today was bedroom-flooring day. (The floor in my bedroom was the one wood floor in the house that was too badly damaged to save.) The photo above is what it looked like when Jeff Durham, my contractor, laid the first few strips this morning. They're in the middle of the floor because he was working from the the new flooring he laid last week in my en-suite-bathroom-to-be (photo below). 

Looking in the opposite direction from the first photo, toward the en-suite-bathroom, which is now ready for plumbing rough-in

While Jeff laid flooring planks, I worked on my edible garden. First I made soil in my new mini-stock tanks, using a mixture of coir bricks (shredded and compressed coconut husks, an sustainable alternative to peat moss). Once I re-hydrated the coir, I added bags of local compost made by a farmer in Greybull, on the other side of the Bighorn Basin. (Thanks to my friend Joan Donnelly, who enticed me out to the Park County Home Show last Saturday, where Chad Yost and his wife had their local compost for sale.) 

Starting soil preparation for the stock-tank edible garden (the hunks of earth in the bottom of each tank are turf cut from my front lawn where I cut out a bed to plant peonies yesterday). 

I added a bale of organic soil amendments to the coir-compost mix, and then stirred it in with a spade to made sure the soil was well blended. (My back and shoulders definitely feel the work of hefting bags and bales, schlepping garden trugs full of water to rehydrate the coir bricks, and that stirring. Let no one tell you that gardening isn't good exercise!)

Sheet mulch in place, teepees ready to unfold and fill, tomato plants in the yellow garden trug.

Then I laid out red, breathable sheet mulch to keep the moisture in the soil and warm the little tomato plants' roots, and chose four plants, one each of black cherry, Pompeii Roma, stupice, and tangerine, from the forest of tomato seedlings in my living room.

As I planted each seedling, I unfolded one of the tomato teepees, stood the plastic teepee upright around the floppy plant, and, using a watering wand in one hand, carefully filled each chamber of the teepee with water so it would stand upright and provide thermal insulation and shelter from wind and high-elevation sun for the young plant. 

When Richard was alive, we used to fill the teepees together–it goes much more easily with two people. Unless of course, one of them has a brain tumor that impairs his ability to focus and control the hose, in which case both people get very wet. But they have fun anyway. 

Filling tomato teepees by myself involves balancing the floppy plastic structure with one hand, while aiming the water into each successive tube with the other. It's quite a dance, but it works. 

By the end of the day, I had four tomato plants in the ground, each protected in their thermal shelter. Alongside them, I planted chervil, a French herb that tastes something like tarragon, but with sweet licorice overtones.

While I was in gardening-mode, I also thinned the spinach and baby turnip sprouts in the old wheelbarrow that is part of my front-entry garden, planted some spearmint in a pot there, and watered the sugar snap peas and garlic chives. (All grown from seeds selected by Renee Shepherd and her staff at Renee's Garden, my favorite seed company for their unique, delicious, thoughtfully produced, and easy-to-grow varieties. Thank you, Renee!) 

And by the end of the day, Jeff had finished my bedroom floor. (The floor still needs trim, and the walls need paint, but those will wait until after the window-replacement happens sometime in June.)

My beautiful and smooth new bedroom floor! (I won't miss the splinters and protruding nails at all…)

If all goes well, by summer, I'll have a garden bursting with healthy, beautiful food. And my house will be… okay, not finished. I can't afford all it needs. But it'll be in much better shape than I found it.

In fact, it already is: even partly-finished, the house's inner beauty shines, and it feels like a happy place. That makes me smile, and my heart proud. And it's part of my mission to leave my patch of earth–both the built environment and the natural one–in better shape than it came to me. 

The living room in this evening's lovely late light, viewed from the dining table, where I sit finishing this post… 

One Nation, Indivisible & Renovation


I first heard about the Indivisible movement from my 88-year-old dad in January, not long after I moved to Wyoming. In our weekly call–he lives just 15 minutes from my brother and sister-in-law, but I still check in almost every weekend, since Dad lives alone and is legally blind–I asked what was up in his world. 


“Well,” he said, “three gals from Panorama [the senior community where he lives] and I visited our Senators’ offices to talk about our concerns.” 


“We’re using the Indvisible Handbook,” he added. “And following their recommendations about how to communicate with our members of Congress.”


I hadn’t heard of Indivisible then, and as Dad filled me in about the grassroots movement, my mind leapt to the Pledge of Allegiance, which as a child of the public schools, I recited every school-day for more than a decade:


I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, and with liberty and justice for all.


(That’s the version adopted in 1954; the original version was shorter, especially the final clause, which read simply, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”)


Within the next couple of weeks, Wyoming Rising, the group that formed out of the Cody Women & Allies Rally, adopted the Indivisible Handbook as its guide for action. I’ve been impressed by the speed with which the movement has grown, and its effectiveness in getting out the message of fairness, of liberty and justice for all.


The name “Indivisible” is brilliant: for its simplicity, its evocation of the patriotism in the Pledge of Allegiance, and for its reference to what is a founding concept of this democracy of ours: we are “one nation, indivisible.”


Indivisible. n. Unable to be divided or separated. 


No matter our religious, cultural, racial or political differences, we have more in common as human beings, as citizens and residents of these United States, than not. At heart we want the same things (though not necessarily in the same order): good lives for ourselves and our families, love, jobs, comfortable homes, religious freedom, education, a healthy environment, financial security, health care, a future that looks bright. 


It seems to me that we are most likely to achieve those things if we work together, instead of fracturing on lines of ideology and politics.


I am reminded of the Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn quote on a Solstice broadside sent out by Clifford Burke and Virginia Mudd of Desert Rose Press


If it where only so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and if it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?



None of us are perfect. None of us have all the answers. But together, we can do great things–for all. 


*****


On the house restoration front, it’s been a busy week. Probably the biggest change is that the weather was balmy enough that Jeff Durham, my contractor, was able to work outside and remove the carport addition that turned my front entry into a dark and forbidding cave. 



The front entry before, with Jeff up on its flat roof (which didn’t drain and thus had begun to rot). My front door is back there in that dark hole. 



The front entry after, with my new front-door patio exposed (room for the cluster of pots sitting on the lawn, plus perhaps a stock-tank planter full of tomatoes and basil….). In the morning, the sun now reaches under those eaves and lights the kitchen. 



That now-sunny kitchen, with more door handles returned to their original copper shine (29 handles done, 14 to go). 


Tree-removal work commenced as well, thanks to Aaron Danforth of Arbor Solutions Tree Care, beginning with the big spruce that was threatening to fall on my living room and dining room. For those who hate the idea of removing trees, let me reassure you: When Aaron is done removing three mature spruces, seven Rocky Mountain junipers, two sick European Mountain Ash, and one green ash tree split almost to its base, I will still have a mini-forest of five huge spruces, three crabapple trees (which will have space to breathe and grow), one green ash and one honey-locust. 



(That’s Aaron halfway up the big Engelmann spruce, removing limbs. He’s a rock climber who took to tree work.)


Inside the house, we’re replacing plumbing fixtures that barely work with new efficient ones (one toilet done, two more to go), and, in the most visible development, Shantel, Jeff’s daughter and also mother of his adorable toddler grandson, Jayden, is painting in between mom-ing and school (she’s working toward a nursing degree). 


This weekend Shantel finished the fussy work of painting the kitchen wall above the cabinets “Cloudless” blue to match the wall oven and microwave, and painted the end wall of the adjacent breakfast nook in the soft yellow I picked to go with my vintage metal cabinets. 



(Art on the left-hand wall by Salida printmaker Sherrie York; mandala by Tommy Williams of Riverton, Wyoming; vintage table from Connie and Jay Moody of Cody;  jonquils from Kerry and Dave Nelson of the former Ploughboy Local Market in Salida)


And then she really got on a roll and painted two of the living room walls with that same yellow. (“They Call it Mellow”–you have to love color names!) Between the new paint and removing the horrible brown drapes and hardware, the room looks bigger, lighter and brighter. 



Next week, Jeff will install the insulating roman shades that are currently lying on the floor, and then start framing in the space in my bedroom that will become a small “en suite” bathroom (so when I’m old, I won’t have to share the main bathroom with my live-in companion…). 


Did I say that I love my house? And that it’s satisfying, healing and downright exciting to help bring it back to life?


I am grateful–to be alive, to be home again, and to be involved in so much positive work, my writing, this house-restoration project, and in speaking up for the earth and my fellow humans. Bless us all!

That Balm in Gilead


There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole.


There is a balm in Gilead

To soothe a sin-sick soul.  


Those lines in my favorite spiritual are running through my head tonight because I sang them Sunday morning at the early service at the Episcopal Church.


(Some of you are probably saying, Whoa! What’s a Quaker doing at an Episcopal Church? Well, there’s no Quaker meeting in Cody. The Episcopal Church is in walking distance, and boasts really glorious music thanks to music director Jim Hager, plus insightful sermons by the rector, Rev. Mary Caucutt. And I have good friends in the congregation.)


This last was something new to me, a hymn-sermon service. No words from Rev. Mary, who always seems to say something I needed to hear. Still, as Warren Murphy, the previous rector, and Jim talked about each hymn, Warren interpreting the history and meaning of the words, and Jim the music, I found myself fascinated by these new perspectives on familiar verses and melodies.


And then when we got to the final hymn, There is a Balm in Gilead (click to listen to one particularly good choral recording), my whole spirit just lit up. What I love about this spiritual that has become a hymn is that refrain. There is a balm in Gilead… 


There really is a balm in Gilead. (I realize there’s a metaphor about Jesus as the balm, but I like to know real-world truth under the metaphor.) The balm is an fragrant ointment made from the resinous sap of a small tree called Gilead or Mecca myrrh (Commiphora opobalsumum). The tree, native to the Mideast around the Red Sea, is in the same family as other small desert trees species that produce Frankinsence, Myrrh, Copal, and incense.



Botanical illustration of the tree, and its leaves, flowers, and fruits from an antique German flora


The sap of the Gilead tree is what has the healing properties. (It has been studied recently for its efficacy in preventing and healing gastric ulcers, among other uses.)


By now, you are wondering where I am going with this spiritual, and the real or metaphoric balm. Here’s where:


I didn’t realize, until I moved into this badly neglected house with its beautiful bones, how much I needed a balm, a project that would heal my heart, wounded from losing my mom and Richard five years ago, and freshly hurt by the bitterly divisive politics in my former small town and now the nation. 


This place is my balm. The house with its big windows and great light, the sheltering forest of too-many spruce trees it is tucked into, my restoration project in progress, my small circle of friends and the warmly welcoming larger community, and this expansive landscape studded with fragrant sagebrush, my personal healing plant–all are working to heal wounds I hadn’t realized were still aching, and to soothe my soul, sickened by the violence and hatred and mean-spirited tribalism that seem to be flourishing in our world today. 


I moved home knowing intuitively that I needed to be here, but not really sure why it felt so urgent. Now I understand: this is my balm in Gilead. 


So when I’m not writing (my current project is a feature article for Wildflower Magazine), I am continuing to work on bringing Spruce House, as I have begun calling it, back to life. While my contractor, electrician, and plumber focus on the big stuff (like building walls, making the wiring safe and functional, and installing working fixtures in the bathrooms), I’m doing smaller projects.



Over the weekend, I focused on the basement stairs. Saturday I spent about four hours filling in as many of the nail holes and gouges and I could, repeating to myself “They’re basement stairs; they don’t have to be perfect.” (And they’re clearly not, as the photo above shows!) 


Then I sanded the filler, and washed each tread and riser with oil soap. After which came priming the stairs; that took most of yesterday afternoon. And then, last night, I painted the first couple of steps with their new color: Cloudless, a sky-blue that just happens to match the vintage wall-oven in my kitchen (and the couch where I am stretched out, feet up writing this blog post, as well as my new living room rug). 



Primer coat on, still not pretty, but definitely lighter and brighter… 



And then that blue, a huge change from the filthy brown carpet I pulled off the steps a week ago. 


I’ve started installing bath hardware in the one bathroom where all three fixtures work (one of which is the beautiful granite basin Richard carved), and I’m continuing to strip the dingy gray paint from the beautiful copper door handles and drawer pulls in my kitchen.



New towel ring… 


Each task accomplished (19 handles cleaned, 24 to go…) is one more step toward restoring this house to healthy life; each is also a personal triumph. I can do this!, I remind myself as I pick up a tool or tape measure, as I scrape paint. “Tool girl” doesn’t come naturally for me; it is a skill I only learned after Richard died. So I am continually surprised and proud of myself that I can build, maintain, repair… And that the work gives me such a positive boost. 



Just look at those shining copper-coated handles!


We all need a balm in tough times, something literal or figurative to heal us and soothe our spirits. Depending on our needs and the times, that balm might be a vacation, a new spiritual practice, creative or constructive work, family and friends, a new exercise regime, a volunteer project, a resolve to eat more healthfully or sleep more… 


I am grateful to have found my balm right here in the home of my heart, in this house I didn’t know I needed, in a community and landscape I had forgotten how much I loved. 


Come spring, I’m going to plant some sagebrush in my yard. Then I’ll truly be home. 



Big sagebrush growing on the hill above my neighborhood. 

Renovation and Human Kindness

I am writing this from my new desk in my newly painted, trimmed, and book-shelf-lined office. My desk, a sheet of melamine counter material that Jeff, my contractor, cut to fit and trimmed with nice wood edging, is perched it on two clean sawhorses in the window bay with a view of one of the huge old spruce trees in my backyard.

Above me hangs a beautiful boat-with-a-sail sculpture by Salida sculptor B Strawn, half of the renowned Strawn duo (her husband, Mel, is a also a visual artist, and former chair of the DU art department). The colors could have been chosen for this mid-century modern house, but that's just a happy accident–Richard gave me the sculpture for Christmas years ago. 

Keeping ahead of Jeff and his colleagues means I work long days scrubbing and scraping, painting and assembling (or disassembling), making decisions about renovation and ordering materials, plus preparing for two different presentations at two different garden conferences later this week. I fall into bed each night exhausted but deeply happy to be here, and get up and plunge in again. 

We've made a huge amount of progress, mostly the kind that if you don't love house guts as much as I do may not seem impressive, but trust me, it's big stuff, all critical to bringing my terribly neglected home back to health.

I've got a new main electrical panel, so I no longer wake up at night worrying that the rat's nest of wires in the old one will catch fire. And when I want to replace one of the many truly ugly light fixtures the "investors" who owned the house before me added, I actually know which breaker to turn off so I won't electrocute myself in the doing. 

The rat's nest, partly untangled. (Thank you, Sam, of Bucking Horse Electric!)

My office, a bonus room that opens off the master bedroom, which when I first looked at the house might have been described in real-estate-ease as a "fixer-upper" with "great potential," is now clean, sports trim that seals the gaps between the walls and ceiling and at the corners, is painted cheerful lemon-yellow, minty green and a pale aqua (very 50s colors!); and is lined with bookshelves. 

I did the cleaning and part of the painting (and figured out the color scheme, which was the most fun), designed the "desk" and the bookshelves. Jeff did the trim and the building, and his daughter Chantal, who has way more patience than I do, finished painting the office, including doing the ceiling and the baseboard registers. 

The biggest project we've undertaken so far, replacing Igor, my 60-year-old boiler with a new, more efficient boiler plus an inline water-heating system, should be finished by the end of the evening. I hope so, because I've been without heat and hot water for three days and I'm really looking forward to having them again! 

Igor, just before being retired…

The plan for replacing Igor was inspired during the biggest blizzard in what the locals here are all calling the worst winter in decades, before I even bought the house, when my plumber had an appointment one Tuesday night to assess Igor. When he and Jeff got inside with my real estate agent, John Feeley, the place was cold.

John said in his laconic way, "I think we have a problem." And then they heard a Crack! followed by gushing water, as the faucet in the main bathroom broke and began to fountain. Igor had quit and the waterlines had begun to freeze. (The house was vacant.) The guys spent the next two hours draining all the waterlines to save the house.  

My plumber's been designing Igor's replacement system in his head since that night, and this weekend he began the long and thorny job. (It's a whole heck of a lot easier to put a boiler in a new house than to retrofit a modern boiler system in an old one.)

The big job began on Friday, when Jeff rented a rock-drill with a bit the size of a gas pipe to bore a 12-inch hole through the concrete foundation wall between the basement boiler room and the crawl space for the new boiler flue, which had to go that way before going up an inside wall in my bedroom and out the roof. (The old flue wasn't up to code, and as my plumber discovered when he unhooked Igor, it was so clogged with spruce bark and needles and mummified birds and other detritus, it's a wonder Igor worked at all.) 

Jeff in the crawl space, drilling away…

Listening to the whine of the drill from the basement reminded me of days when Richard would be drilling or grinding away, shaping a boulder into a basin in the breezeway between his studio and Terraphilia, the big house. Is it any wonder that I love tools, and design and construction?

Saturday morning bright and early Jeff and the plumber started in on the actual replacement. First they detached Igor, which meant no more heat or hot water until his replacements, Pancho and Lefty (photo below) were in place, plumbed, wired, and attached to the gas line again.

Pancho, the new aqua-blue boiler (positioned below the substantial hole in the foundation wall) and Lefty, the new inline water-heater to be attached to Pancho as the weekend progresses. That's Igor photo-bombing on the far left side of the picture.

Which will be by the time I get this posted, if all goes well. 

After the guys wrestled all 500 pounds of Igor out of the way, and then wrestled both Pancho and Lefty down the basement stairs and into the boiler room, Dave worked on designing the plumbing while Jeff worked on a path up through the house and attic for the flue (I suggested using the inside wall of my bedroom, which turned out to be the best route). 

Then came the drilling and sawing of holes by Jeff, and the pipe design by the plumber. Getting the flue in place and out the roof (Did I mention a Chinook wind was blowing? That was a blessing in that it was relatively warm, but made erecting the flue chimney challenging) took the better part of the day.

Jeff (left) and Dave (back to the photo) assembling and hanging Pancho's flue in the crawl space. Not fun. 

Out the roof at last! ("There's water leaking down the flue onto the bedroom floor," said Chantal as she carefully painted trim in my office. I relayed the message to her dad on the roof. "It'll quit as soon as I seal the roof," he shouted back. It did.)

Once that was done, my plumber got out his copper pipe and begin cutting and fitting and soldering. That continued until quarter to nine on Saturday night, and all day yesterday, while Chantal finished painting and Jeff installed my office shelves and I worked on a digital presentation. By the end of the day (meaning seven-thirty last night), the copper-pipe sculpture connecting Pancho and Lefty, and the four zones of my heat plus the hot-water-tank was finished. 

The copper-pipe sculpture in progress

This morning, George, the 78-year-old electrician, appeared to do the wiring magic. At dinnertime, my plumber returned to cut and fit gas lines, test the system, check the pressure and install thermostats.

As of right now, I hear a humming in the basement, a happy sound that indicates my radiators will soon be emitting heat, and I'll be able to take a shower tomorrow morning, when the system reached temperature. 

I'm headed for the living room to lounge on my fabulous new couch, which arrived by truck freight this noon. Jeff helped me uncrate it and haul it inside, but I put on the legs myself using the ridiculously too-short hex wrench supplied. 

The house is beginning to warm up, and there's the promise of hot water soon. I'm feeling pretty fortunate. Those simple pleasures remind me to be grateful for what I have. 

Which is a lot. Not the least of my blessings is that I work with people who care enough about the job they do that they stay late and get it done right. We might not agree on everything–I don't know because I don't ask–but I do know that they're kind and caring folks because of how they've treated me, a stranger new to their community.

And that restores my faith in humanity, something we can all use, now and always. 

Moving in a Contrarian but Positive Direction


My house looks like a home for wayward boxes. There are boxes everywhere: Boxes form a half-wall between the living room and the kitchen in the “great room,” boxes hide under the built-in desk in my office and stack up to the lowermost bookshelves; boxes are tucked under the workbench in the workshop and fill the pantry.


Boxes line the garage shelves, and there are even boxes in the studio. All neatly labeled and numbered to correspond with the inventory sheet I’m keeping so I’ll be able to find things once the movers deliver my shipment to Cody in a week or ten days.


(Yes, I am a double Virgo, which means I’m organized. Richard would say “hyper-organized,” but he wasn’t above admitting that he benefited from my tendency to keep our things in their places and accounted for during our many moves, and at other times.)


The moving van is due to pull up at the curb in front of Creek House sometime on Tuesday, less than two days away. I am as ready as I can be, given everything else I’m juggling, most particularly the innumerable details in keeping two real estate deals moving forward, and now the decisions involved in beginning what will be months of careful house renovation. And when I have any spare brain cells, thinking about the two talks I am scheduled to give at two different garden conferences on two consecutive days in early February…


I have spent most of the last two weeks packing, packing, packing, plus making a three-day trip to Cody with a van-load of things difficult to consign to movers, thanks to my friends Nicole and Harry Hansen, the silversmith and blacksmith who together form Sterling & Steel, makers of fine custom tableware, jewelry, flatware and other functional art. Nicole and Harry not only managed to fit my odd-shaped load in Sylvia, their amazing Mercedes-powered panel van, Harry safely drove us out of the blizzard that was blasting Salida the morning we left, and all the long and wintry drive to Cody and back.



Harry, in ready-for-Wyoming cowboy hat and sunglasses, is reflected in the rear-view mirror. Nicole’s beautiful cranberry-colored cowboy hat sits on the dashboard. 


Along the way, we talked about everything from kids and family cultures to politics, art, branding, ethics, geology, and history. Our amazing conversations made the 1,260 miles there and back, and all those hours in the van together go by incredibly quickly. 


While we were in Cody, I closed on my new (old) house, and got my contractor, Jeff Durham, started on the most urgent of the work the house needs. 


It has occurred to me that this move is thoroughly contrarian: Not only am I moving many latitude lines north at a time of life when most folks dream of moving south, I am moving from a new, custom-built-to-my-specifications house into a house built the year I was born (1956). My new-old house was well-designed and custom-built too, but it’s sixty years old now, and has been seriously neglected for at least the past decade, and unoccupied for most of the past 16 months. 



I’m also up-sizing when the trend is toward downsizing. I’m moving from two small buildings with a total living space of about 1,300 square feet plus a single-car garage to a 2,400 square-foot house with a two-car garage. (The main floor is 1,700 square feet; the rest is a furnished basement I will use only when I have a house-full of guests.)


And I’m moving from contemporary–I call my Salida place “industrial chic”–to Mid-Century Modern. Check out that vintage kitchen, complete with original sunshine yellow metal cabinets, and aqua wall oven in the photo below.



I’m even up-sizing my yard, moving from a lot of just under 7,000 square feet to one twice that size, and from a basically finished yard (given that to a gardener, no landscape is ever truly finished!) to one needs a radical beauty-enhancing, water-saving, habitat-providing makeover.  


Why? 


The moving north part is simply me heading home to the landscapes and community that have spoken to my heart for decades. I confess to loving snow, even blizzards. And I am fortunate to have friends in Cody who are excited about my return. 


Also, Cody is a whole day’s drive closer to my 88-year-old dad and my brother and his family in western Washington, including my nieces and their kids. (Except my middle niece and her family, who are in Germany for another year and a half.) If something happens to Dad, I can take I-90 west to Seattle, and drive there in a long day (or a two-hour plane flight from Billings, Montana). 


Dad is so excited about my move that he’s already planning a visit this summer, accompanied by my brother and sister-in-law. He hasn’t traveled since after Mom died in 2011, so I’m thrilled. The downside is I’m a bit farther from Molly, in San Francisco, but she’s being very gracious about that.


The up-sizing part wasn’t my plan. I was looking at small houses, and then I stumbled on this one. One look at the spacious rooms, great light, wood floors, and that fabulous kitchen, and I fell in love. 



The living and dining areas–look at those windows! That fireplace! And the floor…. 


Of course, I also noticed the 60-year boiler that runs the hot-water baseboard (I call it Igor). Igor was top-of-the-line when new, but he’s about 20 years past his retirement date. (Which he proved by quitting the weekend before Christmas in the middle of a blizzard–fortunately, my contractor had an appointment to evaluate the house the following Tuesday, and he and my wonderful real estate agent, plus the plumber, walked into the house just as the pipes began breaking. They were able to save the place without too much damage, which I was grateful for. More grateful than the owner, who grumbled about the cost of repairs. Maybe he shouldn’t have neglected the house…)


And the wiring, which includes a sub-panel in the basement so old I had never seen one like it, and yes, it has to be replaced. I noticed the lack of insulation in the crawl space under the bedrooms, and the half-bath in the basement, which is so awful it looks like you’d need a tetanus shot before using the shower. And the garage, partly insulated, and partly dry-walled. And a host of other things that need updating. 


So here I go, taking up a house and yard project at sixty (me, the house and the very neglected yard–we’re all the same age). Unlike Igor, I’m not ready for retirement. I’m thrilled to be moving home, and excited about bringing my new-old house back to life, and turning a lawn-and-too-many-huge-spruce-trees yard into something more beautiful, sustainable, and healthy for all. 


Mostly, I’m grateful to have a positive project to work on in these negative times. I refuse to succumb to negativity and fear. Perhaps I can’t change the state of the nation, but I can serve as an example of how to live with love, compassion and generosity.


I suppose that’s contrarian too; regardless, it’s me being who I am and doing what I do best: healing this earth and we humans, one house and yard, one creek, one community at a time. Onward!



Chokecherry buds along the creek last spring, on a tree Richard and I planted as a bare-root sapling almost 20 years ago. Treehouse and Creek House are in the background.