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


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.


Foothills of the San Juan Mountains along US 50 east of Montrose, Colorado

Adventures in Negotiating Real Estate Contracts

Foothills of the San Juan Mountains along US 50 east of Montrose, Colorado Foothills of the San Juan Mountains along US 50 east of Montrose, Colorado

I hit the road for Western Washington last Tuesday. Only my adventures started the afternoon before when my real estate agent, Kathleen Nelson of Keller Williams, called to say that her broker was preparing an offer on Terraphilia.

“Cool!” The place been listed for less than three weeks. But I wasn’t entirely surprised: On Sunday afternoon, a woman had knocked on the door.

“We were driving by and saw the for-sale sign. We’ve admired the house, and we called your agent but didn’t get an answer. Do you have a brochure?”

I ended up giving them a quick tour. Afterwards, they apparently went straight to see Kathleen’s broker, their former neighbor, at home.

Kathleen chuckled. “Yes. Mark’s working on their offer now. I should be able to email it to you soon.”

Price River Canyon, above Price, Utah, along US 6. Price River Canyon, above Price, Utah, along US 6.

Keller Williams’ e-document system had hiccups, so it was 4:30 p.m. by the time I got the offer. I skimmed it and called Greg Powell, the lawyer I rely on for real estate issues. He was out of the office. No problem, except I was leaving on my 1,500-mile, three-day drive, the next afternoon.

Greg called back at six-thirty that evening. “I could go over it with you now.” I walked over to his office and we spent 45 minutes reviewing the offer.

I was too excited to get much sleep that night.

The next morning when I should have been doing last-minute prep for my road-trip, I was discussing a counter-offer with Kathleen.

I finally hit the road one o’clock (I only had a seven-hour drive to my night’s destination). Before I left, I made sure Deborah Robson, the newly arrived Terraphilia Writer Resident, had what she needed. I didn’t even forget anything particularly important.

Snake River at Farewell Bend, just before it heads into Hell's Canyon in Oregon Snake River at Farewell Bend, just before it heads into Hell’s Canyon on the Oregon-Idaho border

At three-thirty, I was driving through Montrose, Colorado, when Kathleen called.

“Another offer just came in.”

“No kidding?”

“I’ll email it.”

“I can look over it when I get to Price, Utah, tonight, but that won’t be until after nine o’clock tonight.”

“They know they’re second in line and that you’re traveling, so they gave you until Thursday morning to respond.”


That night, I read through the e-document with offer number two, and forwarded it to Greg with a note that I needed to talk to Kathleen before he read it.

My first stop to check email on the road the next morning was at a Starbucks in Spanish Fork. I found a counter-offer to my counter-offer on the first offer. I read it through and left a phone message for Kathleen.

Columbia River Gorge east of Hood River, Oregon Columbia River Gorge east of Hood River, Oregon

She called just as I stopped at a rest stop in northern Utah. We discussed my counter to their counter to my counter on their original offer. (Got that?) She relayed the information to Mark and called back to say he thought they’d go for it.

Which meant I would need to sign an e-document before close of business that day (Wednesday). No problem, except that I’d have to locate wifi before I left Utah and headed into a very scenic hundred-mile stretch of southern Idaho that is off the digital-service map.

At the last town, I found wifi, read and signed the countered-countered-countered offer, and also forwarded the second offer to Greg, who called with his comments before I headed into the no-cell-phone zone.

Moonrise over the Columbia Plateau Moonrise over the Columbia Plateau

So I negotiated my way west. When I arrived at the comfy Tweit/Winter farmhouse atop Tumwater Hill outside Olympia, Washington Thursday night, I had news:

“I have a contract on my place.”

“That’s great!” said my sister-in-law, Lucy.

“And another in the works.”

“Two? Wow!”

After a weekend spent enjoying family–including Molly, who flew in Saturday morning–and celebrating the birthday of the second-youngest of the Tweits (my great-nephew Colin Roland), and the eldest (my dad), I hit the road for home yesterday afternoon.

When I checked email before leaving Pendleton, Oregon, this morning, Kathleen wrote that the second buyers had accepted my counter-offer. So now I have two signed contracts to buy Terraphilia. Closing on the first contract is scheduled for September 13th, a mere eight weeks from now. Yikes!

(The photos give a sense of the country I drove through while negotiating two real estate contracts. Scenic and very restful, unless you really need wifi or cell-phone service.)

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.

My house, shot by Terraphilia Resident Robin MacDonald-Foley. Thanks, Robin!

Moving Home

My house, shot by Terraphilia Resident Robin MacDonald-Foley. Thanks, Robin! The house and attached guest cottage–photo by Terraphilia Resident Robin MacDonald-Foley.

This afternoon, I showed my house/guest cottage/historic studio complex to a couple of Salida artists who were gathering information for potential buyers from  out of town.

As I toured them through the property with my real estate agent, Kathleen Nelson, I thought about the time I’ve spent here.

Sixteen years ago today, Richard, Molly and I pulled out of the driveway of the house where we had lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, headed uphill to Interstate 25, and turned north. It was mid-morning and already hot. The Chihuahuan Desert, a stippled expanse of olive-green creosote bush with occasional patches of grass and wildflowers, shimmered in the heat.

I drove the huge yellow rental truck with Perdida, our Shar Pei, riding shotgun on the bench next to me, nose out the window, jowls flap-flap-flapping in the wind.

Me, Molly, and Richard on the front porch of the duplex with Perdida, 1997 Me, Molly, and Richard on the front porch of the duplex with Perdida, 1997 (Richard has hair; Molly has bunny slippers.)

Molly, home from college for the summer, followed in our Isuzu Trooper, pulling a utility trailer loaded with everything that hadn’t fit into the truck. Richard rode with her.

We were on our way home to the Rockies at last, fourteen years after the summer we married and moved away from Wyoming for Richard’s first academic job. Since leaving Laramie, we had lived in West Virgina (nine months), Washington State (three years), Boulder (one year, while Richard finished his second dissertation, a long story), Iowa (two years), and then seven years in New Mexico.

Richard was a tenured professor at New Mexico State University. He was due for a sabbatical and we had decided to spend the year in Salida, his childhood home. Two years before, we had bought a decrepit brick duplex there as a place to eventually retire.

We hired a contractor to renovate the duplex, a job which naturally took longer (and cost more) than we imagined. Once he and his crew got started, it was clear the duplex needed new everything: roof, insulation, wiring, plumbing, windows, actual bathrooms….

We spent our first week in Salida in a motel, and then once one side of the duplex was habitable, settled in. Molly found a summer job in a coffee shop. Richard hit the road as an expert witness in cases across the country, I worked on finishing my seventh book.

The historic brick shop building, from across the creek. The historic brick shop building, from across the creek.

At the end of the summer, Molly headed back to college. A few weeks later, we bought the derelict industrial property across the alley for the gorgeous and very neglected brick shop that sat in one corner, 1,632 square feet of historic timber-frame building, with leaky metal roof, crumbling parapets, sagging beams, broken windows, and filthy interior. It was perfect for Richard’s office and sculpture studio.

At the end of the year, we didn’t return to Las Cruces. Salida was home. We’d figure out the earning a living part however we could.

Our block of Ditch Creek as I first saw it. Not a pretty sight. Our block of Ditch Creek as I first saw it. Not a pretty sight.

We spent the next several years working and fixing up the shop building (mostly Richard), cleaning up the junk-littered and weed-studded half-block of property (both of us), and beginning to restore its native dryland mountain prairie and the degraded urban creek that lined one edge of the place (mostly me).

Eventually, we built our own house on what we took to calling our “decaying industrial empire” (Richard did much of the building) and finished the landscaping (my territory) with an expanse of native grasses and wildflowers, perennial beds, and an organic kitchen garden.

We moved in before the house interior was finished, thinking there would be plenty of time for that. We were wrong. Five years later, in November of 2011, Richard died of brain cancer. The creative complex of house/guest cottage/historic studio on half-a-block of property with its wildflowers and restored creek was suddenly much too big for me.

Wholeleaf indian paintbrush blooming in our front-yard grassland today. Wholeleaf indian paintbrush blooming in the front-yard grassland today.

All of that passed through my mind today. I wondered what the couple looking at the place would have thought of the junk-filled lot and dilapidated studio as I saw them first. And who would fall in love with the place next.

Someone will, in part because of the love Richard and I brought to reviving this once-unappreciated parcel.

We were happy here, and it shows. That’s a gift I am glad to share.

The first page of the sale flyer for my house/cottage/historic studio.

For Sale: Salida “Creative Complex”

The first page of the sale flyer for my house/cottage/historic studio. The first page of the sale flyer for my house/cottage/historic studio. (Click the “sale flyer” link in the blog text to the left to download the actual flyer.)

I’ve done it. After more than a week of agonizing over just the right words and photos, I finished the sale flyer for my house, its attached guest cottage and Richard’s historic studio.

I printed out the first copies and distributed them around town. I gave them to friends who will pass the word around, and posted them on bulletin boards in key places. Next comes the email campaign. I’ll send them to out to my extensive list, starting here in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and rippling out across the country, spreading the word.

Why would I sell this beautiful house/guest cottage/historic studio complex on an unusually large city parcel–nearly three-quarters of an acre, a place with a spectacular view of the mountains, a place that’s walking distance from the Arkansas River and Salida’s lively historic downtown? A place I’ve put sweat, time and a good bit of cash into finishing (and I’m close to being done)?

Richard and I imagined this once-neglected property as our “last home.” He lovingly restored the crumbling old studio and then helped design and build the house and guest cottage, applying his gorgeous terraphilic sensibility to bringing the earth inside with sinks carved from local rocks, sandstone shelves sprouting like outcrops from the walls, and many other custom details. It was perfect for us.

This decidedly junky and blighted property before we adopted it. (Or it adopted us. I've never been sure.) This decidedly junky property before we adopted it. (Or it adopted us. I’ve never been sure.)

Until “us” ended with his death from brain cancer in November of 2011. Now it’s just me. I don’t need the 4,100+ square feet of finished space that comprises this creative complex. And while I’ve loved the challenge of reviving what once was a rundown industrial half-block anchored by a neglected brick millwork building, the property shines now. It’s time to let it inspire someone else.

As I said in my email transmitting the sale flyer:

As part of right-sizing to fit my new solo life, I am putting this whole “creative complex” up for sale, including my beautiful custom-designed and built house with its attached guest cottage, and Richard’s renovated studio. (I’m not moving far–I’m building a tiny house at the other end of the block.) I’m eager to find just the right someone(s) who will love and be nurtured by this extraordinary property with its incredible views and inspiring spaces!

June wildflowers in the front yard "unlawn." June wildflowers in the front yard “unlawn.”

So please help me spread the word: Feel free to re-post this and send the link for the sale flyer to anyone you think might be interested.

I’ve even planted the organic kitchen garden. Whoever buys the place will get eight varieties of heritage tomatoes, ready to pick, plus strawberries, asparagus, sugar-snap peas, scarlet runner beans, mesclun lettuces and herbs and more…. Yum!

I’m ready to move on. This beautiful place, bursting with wildflowers in summer and love and light year-round is ready to embrace its new people. Thanks for helping me find them, whoever they may be.