Settling In

My living room with that comfy couch and art on the walls.

I have my stuff! Friday morning, five weeks after Dan and Ryan and crew from Santa Fe Moving &  Storage loaded my furniture, many boxes of books, tools, art, and other household goods onto a truck to move out of my house on Altura Road, a semi-truck and trailer from Cody’s own Cook Moving & Storage pulled up in front of my house here with my load.

I meant to shoot a photo of the truck and crew, but I was so excited, I forgot. (A real bed after five weeks of sleeping on my camping mattress on the floor! My office desk and chair! My pots and china instead of paper plates and a battered camping pan! A couch to relax on in the evening instead of my little backpacking chair!)

A real bed to sleep on!

A friend said, “It’ll be like Christmas when your stuff finally comes.” Well yes, if Christmas involved a lot of sweaty work moving furniture, assembling shelves, hauling, unpacking and collapsing boxes; and many trips to the recycling center with packing materials….

By the time the Guy arrived 28 hours after the movers left, I had much of the unpacking and arranging done.

After the movers left, there were stacks of boxes everywhere…
And now, it’s starting to look like a home.

The Guy hadn’t seen the house, except online, and as I explained my renovation plans and we walked my neighborhood trails, he nodded and smiled.

“I approve,” he said in his thoughtful way when he left this afternoon. “It’s simple, it’s a good size, and it’s a great location with nearby wild in sight and in easy reach. It’s home.”

He’s already talking about a longer visit in mid-September, when Ring Lake Ranch, where we will both be working for the next two months, closes for the season. I look forward to time together exploring the Buffalo Bill Center for the West, Cody’s world-class museum complex, checking out the riding trails in the McCullough Peaks, and wandering the river.

What have I been doing while I waited for my household goods to arrive? Beginning house renovations, of course. Starting with insulating and putting up walls in the small attached garage so it won’t heat up the house in summer, and freeze it in winter.

And then choosing and ordering plank flooring to replace the ancient shag carpet in my office.

My office before floor work and painting…
And after. A much lighter and more cheerful space.

I did the painting; my contractor installed the plank floors. Painting walls in my office was the beginning of “un-browning” the house, which the previous owners had painted a shade of mocha brown throughout–including the ceilings of all of the upstairs bedrooms! The whole effect was just… dark.

Experimenting with sunny yellow to lighten the gloomy rooms. (Notice how dark the hall is.)

I picked three colors, a soft sage-green for the dominant color, plus a pale blue with hints of turquoise and a sunny yellow for really dark areas, and set to painting a wall a day. I knew I couldn’t get the whole house done in the time before I leave to work at Ring Lake Ranch on Thursday; my aim was simply to brighten select walls throughout the house.

The hall after painting one wall yellow; my office down the hall with sage green and pale blue walls–and shelves and books!

In between painting and cleaning, I’ve been tending my new landscape, both the domesticated yard and the strip of sagebrush-bunchgrass prairie outside my fence atop the river bluff.

I pruned a pickup-load of sprouts from under the neglected boxelder tree in the side yard to encourage it to grow upward and shade the west wall of the house. I cut down another truck-load of fat and half-dead Mugo pine stems, and trimmed dead branches out of the big cottonwood tree that shades the front yard.

The boxelder trimmed into a tree-shape again.

I also spent some sweaty hours crouched on the river bluff, hand-pulling cheatgrass, an invasive annual grass that not only crowds out the local wildflowers and bunch grasses, it is extremely flammable. I haven’t finished the whole strip of bluff-top, but I have made a good start by removing three yard-bags of cheatgrass and its seeds.

A yard-bag full of flammable cheatgrass and its seeds.

The renovation of the house and the tending of the yard and nearby wild are all part of my mission to restore–or as the Guy says, “re-story”–this place where I live. Bringing light back into this house gives it back its healthy and essential beauty; tending the landscape and removing invasive weeds–the bullies of the plant world–helps the community of the land withstand climate change. I am reciprocating for the gifts I receive: the shelter of the house and the joy I take from the land and river.

Botanist and member of the Potawatomi Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer calls reciprocity one of two responses that transform our commodification of the living world into a healthy relationship of giving. The first response, she writes, is gratitude for the gifts of the living world, and the second is reciprocity: what can I give these beings in return for the gifts they give me?

What I can give is my time, sweat, creative energy, and a deep appreciation of the stories of this house and the land.

Restore, re-story, reciprocate–all imply a new or renewed relationship. And that is something we sorely need these days: a new and respectful relationship with the community of our fellow humans and those with whom we share this living planet, and with life itself. I cannot change the world, but I can change my small part of it by building a reciprocal relationship based on respect and appreciation, and my own sweat, creative energy, and time. It’s part of living with love, even in–especially in–this hard time of dying.

Settling In

Before Badger, the Guy’s Vizsla, lies down on his heated mat on the couch to snooze away the time between walks and other outings, he always turns around two or three times, ruffles up his blanket, and then settles in with a big sigh. He’s customizing his spot to suit him.

(And that canine remodeling is why my beautiful blue leather couch wears a sturdy gray dog cover when Badger is in residence. As for the heated mat, Badger is almost thirteen–he’s earned his perks.)

The couch without the cover and Badger. Lovely, but pretty empty.

I’m not so different than Badger. With every move in the past nine years since Richard died, I’ve engaged in my equivalent of circling several times and rearranging the blankets in each living space: remodeling.

The first move was to Creek House, the little house I helped design and build for myself in Salida, so that was a bigger deal than remodeling. I made that space my own in spades–I guess you could say I circled quite a few times!

Creek House on the right, Treehouse (the garage/workshop and guest apartment) on the left

Then came Cody, and the seriously dilapidated mid-Century modern house that I rescued, renovating from basement to roof, bringing house and yard back to beautiful life. That circling and rearranging the blanket took nearly two years, but it was oh-so-satisfying. (The neighbors were thrilled that the neighborhood eyesore turned beautiful too.)

Who could resist restoring this vintage kitchen? Not me….

Followed by my move to Santa Fe, and into a small condo that really didn’t need work, but was pretty tired. I replaced worn carpet with vinyl plank floors, renovated the galley kitchen, replaced the aging metal windows with new and more efficient wood ones, and updated the furnace and water heater. And added color to the walls.

Compact, but elegant and welcoming.

When I bought Casa Alegría, my current house, my intention was only to fix what was actually wrong, including a faulty pellet stove with a pipe not up to code, leaky windows, and a mouse-infested attic over the garage and laundry room. And of course paint a few of the boring white walls more interesting colors.

I guess it should be no surprise that I haven’t limited myself to just those projects.

Casa Alegría now boasts a new, efficient and safe woodstove, new windows and screen doors, plus an exterior door replacing a small window, an attic that is properly sealed and insulated (and bio-cleaned so it doesn’t stink), photovoltaic panels on the roof that generate clean power for the house and excess for the power grid, new mini-splits delivering incredibly efficient heating and cooling, a new garage door that actually seals out cold and rodents, and of course, colorful walls.

The great room on a fall afternoon. The pink panels in the sunroom ceiling are a thermal efficiency experiment; they’ll be covered up by beadboard soon.

My latest project as I settle in? Replacing the small flagstone patio in the backyard that was so buried under dirt and debris that I didn’t discover it until I used a shovel to dig out some weeds and hit rock.

The old flagstone patio partly unburied (also before new windows and doors replaced the old, leaky ones).
Patio renovation in progress: The guys dug up and saved the old flagstones at my request, and then leveled the bed.
The renewed patio, with old, paler pink flagstones artistically mixed with the new. Now I need some patio furniture!

As I circle and settle, I am contemplating what else I need to do to make this place fit me, the way Badger makes his couch space comfy. But first, I think I’ll just drag a chair out onto the patio and admire my new outdoor room. Before fall changes to winter with tonight’s snowstorm….

Renovation: Condo and Memoir

When I bought my snug condo last October, I promised myself I would not get involved in a long renovation project. There was nothing really wrong with the place, except for being a bit stuck in 1984, when the building was built. (The photo above is the dining area as I first saw it.)

Well, nothing wrong except for the 20-year-old carpet. Carpet and my lungs don't get along. And carpet replacement isn't really renovation, or at least not much. It's pretty simple. Carlos Ornelas, the head of maintenance at my condo complex, pulled up the old carpet, and my fabulous Cody contractor, Jeff Durham, drove to Santa Fe to meet me and install plank floors. 

Only there was a rare October blizzard the day Jeff left Wyoming hauling his workshop trailer. By the time he arrived at midnight, he figured he was hauling an extra ton or so of snow and ice. Still, he plunged right into work the next day, and by the time he left at the end of the week, I not only had gorgeous new plank floors and baseboard, I also had a chic ceiling fan-light in the dining area, thanks to my artist friend CC Barton, who had removed it from her house down the hill. 

The dining area with new plank flooring and the new ceiling fan/light (the old one is sitting on the floor–it went to a good home). 

The new floors looked so great that I decided to have Carlos paint a few of the walls something other than white, to add some color. That wasn't really renovation either, just paint. 

The living room, with plank floors and paint–and Arabella, who rode all the way from Wyoming in the back of Red, my truck. 
The living room, before the not-exactly-renovation improvements. 

With new flooring and paint though, the kitchen really looked tired. 

The kitchen before (you can't tell how shabby the cabinets are in this photo, or that the breakfast bar is so tilted you could easily roll marbles–or food–off of it.)

So I decided to have the cabinets refaced and the counters replaced, plus I bought new appliances at a fall sale. None of that was really involved, and it would all be done before I moved anyway, so it wasn't really much renovation.

Right? 

Well… Actually the kitchen didn't get finished until February, because of the usual issues–stuff we didn't expect to have to fix, the holidays, appliances that got delayed, and so on. But it was worth the wait, no doubt about that. 

The dining area and the kitchen after renovation. The breakfast bar is level, the cabinets aren't ugly, and the appliances all work.

After the long kitchen process, ultimately satisfying as it was, I said to myself, okay, No. More. Renovation. 

And I didn't listen. In March, Nick, the manager of our condo association, announced that he had negotiated a bulk buy for good-quality windows and patio doors to replace the 35-year-old not-great-quality originals. He was looking for owners interested in pioneering the replacement project, which the association would manage with a contractor Nick had selected and vetted. So of course I signed up. 

Because… I feel like I've found my forever-home. And because I had saved up money to buy my small van-camper, and when that fell through, I figured I might as well invest in improving my condo.

Also, replacing the old windows in my Cody house with new ones in the same style but more efficient showed me what a huge difference that can make, in comfort and a smaller energy footprint. Since I live and work in my condo and I care about climate change, those matter–along with beauty. 

So this week, my living room, which had been looking pretty settled, went from the photo above to the photo below, as Jose and crew of Twins Construction took out the old sliding glass doors, which leaked so badly it was ridiculous, and put in the beautiful and solid new ones.

Except… the manufacturer sent a door that opens from the right side (from inside) instead of from the left. So this door is tacked into place until the correct one is made and shipped, in about three weeks. 

The rest of the project went more smoothly, if not more quietly. Removing the old doors and windows, and cutting a new door opening from the guest bedroom to the patio where there was just a window before involves pounding the stucco off the walls outside, and pounding the metal drywall corners off of the inside. Which makes for dust, and–did I mention this?–noise. A lot of both.

The new door opening from the guest bedroom to the patio in progress. 

The door in place and trimmed, waiting for touch-up paint. 

But oh! The new windows and doors are solid, beautiful, and well-insulated. My condo is now much quieter than it was before construction, and the temperature stays constant. So its definitely worth the cost and disruption. 

The new window in my bedroom/office. 

After the adventures of the past week, I promised myself that I am NOT doing any more renovation.

At least not until fall, when I think I'll tackle one of the bathrooms, which both have stupidly low counters and tub/shower units showing signs of leprosy…

I am doing some renovation to my memoir-in-progress. I read the first 20 pages of Bless the Birds out loud before submitting them to another publisher. As I read, I "heard" some places that could be improved, so I did a bit of revision. Just as with my condo after Jeff painstakingly laid down the new plank floor, once I made some improvements to those first twenty pages, I could see other parts that needed work too. 

So I'm reading through and renovating the story, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter. My aim is to go from darkness to light, grief to laughter, even as the story cycles through Richard's brain cancer and death. I'm highlighting our shared terraphilia–our love for life and for this Earth. It's not easy, but it feels right. 

Fifty-eight Boxes, 3,200 pounds, and 775 miles later…

After packing, numbering, and inventorying 58 boxes and half-a-dozen un-numbered metal crates, hauling them to the garage, bubble-wrapping and loading 37 pieces of wall-art into Red along with other belongings not suitable for mover-transport, and then driving 775 scenic but very long miles from my Cody house to my Santa Fe condo with the movers several days behind me, I am finally settling in.

(Big thank-yous to my Cody neighbor, Kate, who supervised the loading after I left; to my Salida friend, Denise, for the much-needed massage on the way; and to my Santa Fe neighbor and friend, Liz, who welcomed me with a place to stay before the condo was ready.)

Sierra San Antonio, a volcanic dome marking where the Taos Plateau of northern New Mexico becomes the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. 

The photo at the top of the post is my new living room, and yes, it's missing some furniture, which will arrive in about a week. Still, it's already inviting! The photo below is my Cody garage, all staged for the movers to load up. (That's what 3,200 pounds of my household looks like, if you were wondering.)

When I got to Santa Fe, my kitchen looked like… well, like it was in mid-remodel. The photos below give an idea of the destruction. Believe it or not, what you see there is a big improvement over the 1984-vintage kitchen of before. 

New counters are in, old appliances are out, and the cabinets are stripped and ready for a face-lift. 

New sink too, but not hooked up yet. 

Oh, the difference a week, a lot of scrubbing, a diligent carpenter (thank you, Alan Baca!), and a tidy plumber can make! The kitchen still lacks back-splashes, but the counter guys will return for that. It also lacks a microwave-range hood, which will be installed tomorrow if the weather allows. I've already filled the cabinets and am happily enjoying cooking in the galley-sized space. 

It's been a bit of a challenge figuring out where everything goes, not just in the much-smaller kitchen, but in the whole condo. I downsized from 2,483 square feet on two levels into 848 on one. I still have two bedrooms and two baths, but no garage. (Red is surviving outside–it's not generally as cold in Santa Fe as it gets in Cody!) 

I've hung almost all of the art, set up my desk in the office area of the master bedroom, organized linens and closets and bathrooms, arranged the furniture I have in the living and dining areas, and in the guest bedroom. I also assembled two new bar-stools for the curved breakfast-bar counter between the kitchen and dining area, and assembled the mid-century modern bar cart for the dining area. (Go, Tool Girl!)

The breakfast bar with new barstools and bar cart

Next comes unpacking several dozen boxes of books, but that has to wait until my bookshelves arrive. One set comes tomorrow, along with my dining table, and my bed. (I am sleeping perfectly comfortably on a mattress on the floor, but it will be nice to have an actual bed.) 

The sunny master bedroom with my office in the corner, awaiting bookshelves.

I love every cubic inch of the condo, especially with the warm sun streaming in on these cold and snowy winter days. My absolutely favorite space is the living room (photo at the top of the post), with the patio outside, and the tall cottonwood tree shading it in summer. The light and colors make me smile. Come spring, I'll grow a garden in pots on the patio, adding wildflowers and native plants to provide beauty, and food and shelter for native bees and hummingbirds. 

This small space already feels like a refuge to me, a place I can hide away and write without interruption. I have always been drawn to small spaces, whether the little writing hut in a yard, the tiny houses on wheels, or this cozy condo.

Which I know raises the question of why I bought my gorgeous but terribly run-down mid-Century modern house and yard in Cody. Because the project it was then called to me. Restoration–whether of land or houses–is my passion, and that house definitely deserved to be brought back to life. Now that it's ready for its next 60 years, I look forward to finding someone to love and care for the place.

For the next phase of my life though, I want a nest, and that's what I'm creating here. As the old year ends, I say, "Welcome Home!" to the new one.

My wish for all? May 2019 bring more kindness and compassion to everyone, everywhere, and less turbulence and pain. And may we all be welcomed home, wherever  and whoever we are. 

Bathroom Renovation, Eclipse Week, Family

This was a crazy week, as befits a week that includes a total eclipse of the sun passing across central Wyoming (the exact center of the zone of totality was just about two hours south of where I live in Cody). I spent last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday madly working to get the house ready for a family visit from my brother, sister-in-law, youngest niece, 89-year-old Dad, and my sister-in-law's two Italian greyhounds, Sarge and Pepper.

(The photo above is the fam atop the Beartooth Plateau, the largest alpine plateau in the lower 48 states, on Wednesday morning. From left to right: Alice, my niece, holding Pepper; Lucy, my SIL, holding Sarge; Bill; and Dad)

In the midst of my family-visit-prep frenzy, I also had a lovely visit from Harry, Nicole, Ethan and Diedre Hansen, incredibly talented metalsmith friends from Salida. (Check out their work at Sterling & Steel.) They were on their way to a show in Bend, Oregon, and came to Wyoming for the eclipse.

Sterling & Steel candlesticks paired with "Prosthesis," a tabletop sculpture by my late love, Richard Cabe.

I had intended to take time out on Monday to drive south with Cody friends and see the eclipse. Only I woke that morning feverish and chilled, feeling very, very punk, and not up for going anywhere farther than from my bedroom at one end of the house to the kitchen at the other end to greet my contractor, Jeff, when he arrived at seven am to work on the basement bathroom.

Work that had to be finished by Tuesday evening, when the Subaru bearing the Washington crew was scheduled to arrive, since Dad would have the upstairs guest bedroom and bathroom, and Bill, Lucy, and Alice (plus Sarge and Pepper), would occupy the private and cozy family room downstairs with its own bathroom. 

Family room now… 

The family room was as ready as it was going to be, having already made the transition from ugly to comfortable over the past couple of months.  

And when I first saw it last October (the photo does not really do justice to just how ugly the room was!)

But the bathroom… Well, honestly, it was so awful that until I realized that the family visit would come in August, I had tried not to think about it. It wasn't just ugly when I bought the house, it was downright scary; only one of the fixtures worked and was actually something you'd want to use. (Not the sink, nor the shower.) And the disgusting floor and termite-nibbled walls… Ick. 

The basement bathroom when I bought the house, a room I described as one you'd want a tetanus shot before entering.

Improving the bathroom involved basically starting over within the existing shell. So I watched the shadow of the eclipse sweep across northwest Wyoming in between helping Jeff as he built a new shower in the gutted bathroom, and began laying new floor.

(I've seen a total eclipse before and it definitely put the "awe" back in awesome. Seeing the stars come out in the middle of the day, hearing the birds make nighttime sounds, and watching a 360-degree "sunrise" simply are unforgettable, one of those experiences that changes the way you understand the world.)

Bathroom post-demo, mid-renovation

As it turned out, everything took longer than either Jeff or I expected (that darned eclipse!), and it was mid-morning on Wednesday before the bathroom was finished enough to be usable. Which was actually fine because Bill et al. didn't arrive until a day later than expected: they were in eastern Oregon watching the eclipse when Dad became unresponsive. He ended up watching the total eclipse through the windows in the back of the ambulance ferrying him to the clinic in Fossil, Oregon.

(He's fine. At 89, he sometimes forgets to drink enough water and notice when his chronically low blood pressure goes into the danger zone.)

So instead of them arriving in Cody Tuesday evening in time for dinner, we rendezvoused in Red Lodge, Montana, the next morning, and took one of our planned field trips–driving the Beartooth Plateau–as a caravan on their way into Cody. 

Arctic gentians (Gentiana algida) on the Beartooth Plateau

Despite a serious haze of smoke from huge forest fires in western Montana, it was a glorious day up on the plateau. The tundra was already russet and gold with fall, but we saw arctic gentians blooming, black rosy-finches, and a small family herd of mountain goats, the latter so close that Dad, who is losing his vision to both glaucoma and macular degeneration, could see them through Bill's scope. 

Mountain goats grazing a still-green swale in the tundra atop the Beartooth Plateau (that pointy arete in the background is the "bear's tooth" for which the plateau is named). 

And when we got home, Jeff had finished enough of work on the bathroom that it looked great, so everyone was impressed. (Me included.)

The basement bathroom, much improved…

The next day we wandered downtown, toured the Buffalo Bill Center for the West (actually, we only toured two of its five museums, the Draper Museum of Natural History, which I could easily spend a whole day immersed in, plus the museum about "Buffalo Bill," the stage persona of Col. William F. Cody, and Cody's fascinating and difficult life). 

Friday morning, we split up. I drove Dad and Bill up the North Fork and into Yellowstone National Park, while Lucy and Alice and the two dogs headed south to Colorado to visit Lucy's sister TD. (Lucy and Alice wanted to go to Yellowstone too, but they had committed to being in Colorado Friday night.)

It was another gorgeous day, complete with an afternoon rainstorm which cleared out the smoke haze and opened up the distant views. I didn't take many photos–I was driving. But I enjoyed showing Dad and Bill "my" park. They have both been to Yellowstone a number of times before (I think we visited as a family for the first time when I was 8 years old and Bill ten). I took them to some favorite and lesser-known sights, and showed them the areas where I have been weeding these past two summers. 

Lake Yellowstone, an azure sheet of water-reflecting-sky, from Lake Butte Overlook. 

We saw bison and pronghorn and loons and swans and elk and all sorts of late-summer wildflowers. The traffic wasn't bad, and the rain was a true delight. 

Lewis monkeyflower (Mimulus lewisii) and fivenerve sunflower (Helianthella quinquenervis) on Mt. Washburn

On our way home, as we wound down the Clarks Fork River (one of the West's few un-dammed rivers) and up and over Dead Indian Hill, Dad said, "I understand why you wanted to move back to Cody. I can see that you're happy here."

I am. And I feel very fortunate to have been able to come home to the place that has held my heart since that first family trip to Yellowstone fifty years ago. It makes me happy to think that Dad, who was quite worried about my move, now sees the place I love through my eyes. 

The next morning, watching he and Bill watch birds at Alkali Lake just outside Cody, I realized that this likely is Dad's last trip to visit me. I'm grateful to Bill, Lucy, and Alice for bringing him, and grateful to have been able to show him my house, my town, and this beloved landscape. 

****

And on a current news note: My heart and thoughts are with southeast Texas, and to all affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. Please be generous in your support: Here's a round-up of ways to help

Blessings to all, and stay safe.  

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…