leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 25

Today, after a week and half of full-time painting and floor staining, it was back to business as usual.  As it snowed, I trekked across the prairie to light the morning fire.  Tom the Builder’s crew showed up at 10 with a load of cabinets. They set to installing and were pretty much done by 4. 
Hanging cabinets takes two (Tom and Dave) which left Brent to hang our new cherry doors. 
Meanwhile, I struggled with the most un-Mike-like job of my life:  fussily painting the reveal.  Our red elm siding will stop ½ inch from the ceiling, leaving a gap, a deep shadow called the reveal.  It can look cool, but not when marred by unfinished lumber and undulating plastic, dripped with white paint and mud.  So my job, if I decided to accept it, was to paint the reveal brown. 
Imagine the challenge of cutting a brown line beneath a white ceiling.  Now imagine that the surface to be painted writhes, twists and rolls.  Now imagine handing a ladder, a can of brown paint and a tiny brush to a gorilla and saying,  “Whatever you do, don’t touch the ceiling.”  I’m the gorilla.  I’m the guy who chops wood, empties sawdust toilet buckets, maybe rolls a wall.  But this?   Every brushstroke (left to right is all I could manage) invoked such a nervousness.   Rubbing my lungs with Styrofoam would be more relaxing.  The banter of Tom and Dave as they hung cabinets was  my only relief; “almost a hair off plumb”,  “the way Mike’s new concrete floor reflects, a woman in a dress might get nervous”,  “Mike looks good painting up there”.  But in the end, it was done.  At least the easy part.  Now for the space above the windows, 60 feet of it, far too narrow for the 1” brush I just used.   So, tomorrow, I want you to imagine an artist brush between the fingers of a gorilla drawing the brown line beneath the white ceiling.  I beg you, please pray for that gorilla.  
At 5:30 AM, as I continued revising my novel for the seventh and (hopefully) final time, I suddenly got excited.  Of course I knew the plot twist was coming, but I’d forgotten how wonderfully twisting it was.  Little did I know how my novel would foreshadow my day, an entire day of plot twists. 
After Linda left for work in Minneapolis, I strolled down the “grassy lane” trying to rise to my challenge ahead:  painting that darned reveal with an artist brush.  Well that never happened.  Not the artist brush.  Not painting the reveal in any way.  Shortly after I arrived on sight, poof!, the lights go out.  The basement lights, that is, the only lights in the house.  And with the lights went Tom the Builder’s miter saw and compressor.  And with that went any progress whatsoever.  I opened the electric panel.   Not a single breaker tripped.   Now I knew the villain had to be the Outback Invertor, the brains of our off-grid electric.  There it sat, blinking a error code at me.   I called Solar Curt.  He gave me what I needed:  the courage to try.  And so I did.   After twenty minutes of surfing its Mate3 display I finally saw that the Invertor was OFF.  With one press of a button it was ON.    That solved, another crisis reared:  missing door hardware.  A few calls to Marty at Root River Hardwoods and we had a delivery on the way. 
With kitchen carpentry on hold for now, it was time for me to get to work.  I gathered brown paint, artist brush, a pound of courage and approached the windows.  Or at least I tried to, but I then discovered I had no access.  Tom had stacked red elm in front of every window.  Before I did anything really stupid with a ladder and a plank, Tom pulled me into the master bedroom. 
Atop a completed wall of red elm (so beautiful I could weep) Brent had configured a couple simulations of what it might look like without or without the reveal.  “Hmmm…”, I thought.  Fortunately I’ve gained enough wisdom not to make such a decision without Linda.  Painting the reveal would have to wait.   What now?  Fortunately there’s such a thing as a good plot twist, or as Tolkien liked to call it, a eucatastrophe, a sudden and unexpected change for the good, like when Gollum seizes the One Ring from Frodo and falls into the Crack of Doom.  My eucatastrophe might have been somewhat less dramatic, but it did feel good.  My dear friend Bob called.  He’s coming tomorrow.  And we’re painting the Yoga loft.  And he’s a bona fide, 7000 hours of experience, painter.  And we’ll have a great time.  Can’t wait!  So I hauled wood into garage.   I’ve discovered that the most time consuming element in the heat-your-house-with-wood work breakdown structure is  NOT cutting it.  Or splitting it.  Or building the fires.  Its moving it, bar far!  And given there’s really not much about moving wood that’s terribly fun, I just might have to build a wood shed next year.  Right next to the house.  Or at those were my thoughts as I hauled and stacked sick cartloads of wood into the garage, where it will be moved again into the house before building a fire.  So if artistically painting a reveal can twist into the need to build a wood shed, have a care next to think you know how your day is going to go.
I really just want to say one thing about my day with Bob.  Yes, we painted the yoga loft and stairwell up to it. 
Yes, I gave him the tour. 
But really there’s nothing like time with a friend, a dear friend.  Shrugging off paint marks on the ceiling.  Swapping embarrassing moments.  Talking math!  Does life get any better than debating whether or not the transcendental numbers are more infinite than the integers?  All this, after all, is why I’m here.   I’m not building a new house, I’m building a new life.  A life more connected than ever.   More connected to the Land.  More connected to Bob.  More connected to you.  In two months (or whenever we move in), the blog Alternative Home Builder will end.  And, if I decide to keep blogging (quite likely since it’s part of that connection), it will be a new chapter of Rah-dur.  No longer leaving old house or leaving old home or entering new home but engaging new life and maintaining what matters.    That’s what it’s all about.  Thank you, dear Bob, for reminding me.  And thank you, dear blog readers, for granting me this, this most important of connections.  Do know you're invited to call, anytime, and ask, "how about if I come down tomorrow?"
Tom the Builder’s train’s a-rolling and I can’t keep up.  Swinging their mighty hammers, they need, and except, us to lay down the next rail before their next blow strikes.  “Lay the Marmoleum kitchen tile,” barks Tom,  “you’re holding up the staircase.”    Linda hauled 34 boxes home from Minneapolis but they need to acclimate until Sunday.  “Get your Yoga loft cork flooring down, we can’t hang the closet door.”   Today we’re driving to Minneapolis to decide which, among hundreds of corks, we’ll order. Then it’s two weeks to get it.  Ugh!  Light fixtures.  Cabinet pulls.  Polycarbonate sheets.  All holding up Tom’s next swing. 
“You don’t have to paint now,” says Tom.  “But if you don’t it will be a lot more work once we’ve hung all the wood.”  We’re trying.  We’re trying.  But we can’t paint with sawdust flying, so that pretty much leaves us Saturday and Sunday to squeeze in another wall.  Of course I exaggerate, but only in Tom’s tone. In his Winona-polite way, he still intends to get this house done.  And soon.  And so do we!   The glamour of alternative home building is wearing as thin as Tom’s patience.  And really, we just want a home, a (relatively) dust-free nest.  For us.  For you.  So, pick up that rail and lets lay another track!


I’m smitten!  All I really want to do is stand and stare.   I’m supposed to start prepping the jambs for paint, but look...white cedar….black cherry…red elm. 
Wood of the Land and our lives.  I’m supposed to start prepping the kitchen floor for tile, but look…cinnamon concrete floors…flat white ceiling…Seaspray stairwell walls.  Colors infused with our own sweat. 
I’m supposed to roof the humanure hacienda but look…out the big bank of windows…out the Corridor door…out the Yoga loft perch.  The alchemy of carpentry invites the outside in and the inside out. 
 If only we weren’t building such a beautiful home, perhaps I’d already have it done.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 24

Paint.  Paint.  Paint some more with Doug Weatherhead, painter extraordinaire who brought to life the ceiling, the horizontal plane welcoming the inside out and the outside in. 
Perhaps the best thing about working until I drop is its mind-clearing, trance-inducing, live-for-the-moment impact.    We do what we do and what gets done gets done.  And what we did is clean the concrete floor in preparation for yet another unpredictable experiment:  coloring the floor via acid-etching.  If there was a dominant feeling for the day it was humility and gratitude for Tom the Builder’s crew and their heroic cleaning effort.  That floor---spanning the entire first floor save the kitchen--- was filthy beyond compare.   Lawrence of Arabia would have complained about such dust, not to mention the adhered mud.  That floor had not been cleaned since it was poured in early September where it sat open to the elements until mid-December.   Tom’s crew scraped, broomed, scrubbed and mopped.  Then Brent (in the foreground) wiped his finger across the floor. “Hmmm…”  Not yet satisfied, they dropped  onto hands and knees---on concrete, mind you---and washed our floor clean with rags, one of them literally the shirt off Brent’s back. 
And if the debt I felt wasn’t big enough, Dave offers me a bottle of his own home-brewed elderberry wine, red and vibrant as a prairie rose.   All we could offer in return was some apple pie---a Christmas gift from our landlord, Kim---warmed in the masonry heater’s bake oven.   By noon, the white tornado had passed, and all I could do is gawk in amazement at the sheen. 
Team House the Land Built is second to none and captain Tom, well…I don’t know how we’d ever make it to the finish line without captain Tom and his boys.

If there’s some kind of legal limit to gratitude, then the emotions police will be looking for me.   On Monday, Doug, my dear friend and painter extraordinaire, rolled a ceiling to make Michelangelo weep.  Yesterday, well, you read all about Tom the Builder’s crew and their white tornado.  And today, well today was like nothing else in my life.  Architect Paul (he who translated our vague dreams into drawings) rolled up his sleeves and lead our effort to permanently color our concrete floors via acid etching.  While the process seemed simple enough, just spray it on and mop it off, the result is (and will be) a complete leap of faith, like planting a prairie.  There, you prepare the ground, select a mix of seeds, scatter them and then…then you wait and what happens, happens.   With acid etching you prepare the floor, select the colors, spray them and then…then you wait and what happens, happens.  Like a prairie, you get no immediate feedback.  Are we spraying enough Antique Amber?  Too much Padre Brown?  What will happen to those drips of Fern Green?  Also like planting a prairie, we used a process that the expert at the store did not recommend.  “I’d like to do whatever Paul says,” I told Linda.  And, with the same trust we’ve put in Paul all along, that’s just what we did.  “Spray more Padre Brown,” he’d tell Linda.  And she did. 
And in two quick hours, when all (living, dining, Corridor, guest bed, bathroom, master bed) was sprayed, we stepped onto the kitchen’s unfinished plywood and gazed at our work.  The floor was alive.  Colors swirled and pooled like low tide at the beach.  “You won’t know what it will look like until you mop it clean,” said Paul.  And I like that.  Rather than cutting it short, I like using time as a tool.  It feels more like working with the world than against it.  And that’s what we asked Paul to do: connect us the Land.  Though I have no idea what the floor will look like, not yet, I can already say I like it because of how it came to be.

All the while I mopped away the acid, unveiling the color of our concrete floor, I whispered a plea, a prayer almost.  “Please, please don’t be an Easter Egg.”  You see, my earliest memory of peer anger is coloring Easter Eggs.   That was Kindergarten (51 years ago and I can still feel the heat) and Mrs. Fabry must have thought it a good idea to let us color eggs in small groups.  And as the other kids in my group were selecting their dye colors (yellow, blue, green…), I thought it a was good idea to mix them all together.  And I must have thought it was such a good idea, that I poured together all the available dye at our table, perhaps my first all or nothing experiment.  Actually “nothing” would have been a great outcome compared to what happened:  puke brown.  My egg was puke brown.  And when, one by one, each kid at the table figured it out for themselves, that they’d dyed their egg puke brown, their burning eyes turned on me, until in unison it seemed, they all screamed.  “Mike!  You ruined my Easter Egg.”    So acid-etching a concrete floor is a five day dyeing process.  Day 1 clean.  Day 2 acid-etch.  Day 3 mop.  Day 4 mop some more and wait until it’s perfectly dry, and because it’s too damn cold.  Day 5 seal.   We won’t know the final color until Day 5.  Yesterday, day 3, we mopped and tossed dirty water on the hillside.  Now Architect Paul says the color we see after mopping, all shiny wet, is the final color. 
And as much as I love the color I saw all day, I don’t believe him.  For the first time, perhaps, I don’t completely believe Paul.  I mean, the floor is just one giant Easter Egg, for goodness sake, and what if I screwed it up and all the kids get mad at me???!!!  Like the egg, there’s no going back, no acid-etching again.  The color is the color.    Mind you, dear reader, these are the musings of a tired man, too exhausted to blog until the following morning.   Today, perhaps I’ll feel more confident.  But like my Kindergarten Easter Egg, my feelings won’t impact the final color.  And on Saturday, Day 5, sealing day, the final color will be unveiled.  As Doris Day sang in The Man Who Knew Too Much (the very year I was born):  “Que Sera, Sera!”
Every ceiling in the house is painted.  Every wall on the first floor is primed.  And tomorrow, when we apply the sealer, the concrete floors will be done.  Suddenly, I feel like I’m on the doorstep. 
I’m like Frodo when he felt that if he could ever just get into Mordor, somehow the deed would be done. Never mind that the far greater (and nearly impossible) part of his journey lie beyond the fence of Mordor.  And perhaps for me, it will be the same.  Perhaps my far greater journey is yet to come.  But right now, I feel that if Linda and I can complete our house task (finish every wall, floor and ceiling) then somehow, the deed will be done.   Truth is, I don’t know and I don’t want to know.  That’s the agonizing wonder and beauty of all this; I don’t get to know how it turns out.  Still, I’m in awe of the parallel between my house journey and my novel.  As I write this, my seventh and final revision, the seventeen year old hero, Amelan, suddenly landed on the doorstep of Dego’s Village.  Now I, who have written this thing six times before, happen to know that much is yet to come.  But Amelan doesn’t know this.  And I wonder, as I write this ending for the last time, just what will happen.  I think I know, but like Amelan, I’m probably wrong.  In this journey, I’ve come to expect the unexpected.  I’m excited to discover what happens to Amelan.  I’m excited to discover what happens to me.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 23

“By selling all shares of Medtronic stock, you are closing out your Wells Fargo account.  Do you confirm?”  Gulping, I paused, not ready for that question from the customer service rep on the other end of the line.  We needed the money, or most of it at least, to cover overruns on the house and leave us at least a little cushion.   But closing my account---the Medtronic stock I’d purchased over my 18 years with them---meant yet another end.  Another big no.  It also meant the end of another nest egg.  Maybe if I could have flash forwarded to the rest of my day, the decision would have been a little easier. 
As our passive solar system (south facing windows) warmed our house to a balmy 80 degrees, the sheetrock mudders finished their third and final coat.  Ready to sand tomorrow. 
In our refreshingly cool cellar, the HVAC guys completed the plumbing for the in-floor heat.  Now all we need is to hook up the solar hot water.
Beating my chest, I chain sawed the monster boxelder.  Thud!   Thud!  Thud!  One after another, the 2’ thick limb sections crashed to the ground, ready for splitting.
And best of all, perhaps, hunting hawk, suddenly rising from the ridge before me as I walked the spine trail home. 
At Medtronic, I often succeeded (and simultaneously annoyed people) by what I called ‘ruthless prioritization’.  I said no a lot, so that when I said yes to those few winning engagements, I committed and got it done.   That’s what this journey is for now.  Leave old job.  Leave old home.  The two big no’s.  And now there’s another little no:  close Medtronic stock account.  By so doing I can shout a louder yes.  Yes to enter new house.  Yes to engage new life.  Yes to maintain what matters.
I'm like wooly bear crawling out the safety of his wood pile into the unknown of a January sun.

“I confirm.”
Today I was shocked by the one thing---amongst all the amazing things I did today---that really got my heart beating, something so un-Mike-like.  Beautiful as it was, it was NOT the blood red boxelder revealed to me after one mighty swing of the splitting maul.

 Interesting (and disturbing) as it was, it was NOT the nest of carpenter ants frozen inside the next split stump.
Unbelievable as it was (for a Minnesota January 10th), it was NOT the turf springing beneath my feet as I walked back to the tiny cabin, nor the punky ice on the sunny north shore of the east pond.

Exciting as it was, it was NOT the arrival of the Root River Hardwoods truck and the first sight of our new interior doors

nor the red elm paneling which will one day grace our walls.

No, what really got my heart a beating today was cleaning.  That’s right cleaning.  The house was coated with dust from sanding sheetrock.  And if Linda’s reading this up in Minneapolis I want you to know that I’m not kidding.  She’ll tell you (and she’s right), I’m not much of a cleaner.  Yet I knelt on the concrete floor and vacuumed away until the coming darkness forced me to stop (we’re still a little short on lights).  It wasn’t until I walked home that I understood what possessed me.  I’m finally working on the house.  Me.  Doing real work.  For the past 22 weeks, I’ve pretty much done what I’ve always did at Medtronic:  make decisions, help others do their job better.  But now Linda and I have entered the DIY phase.  We will paint the interior.  We will acid-etch the concrete floor.  We will lay the Marmoleum Click kitchen floor.  We will lay the cork Yoga loft floor.  To me, cleaning sheetrock dust was the first step in painting.   Right now, as I type, my heart started beating a little faster.  And so it begins.

I dusted.
I vacuumed.
I covered.
Ready to paint.


There it is!  The first paint brush strokes on our house.  I’m trying really hard to be enthusiastic since we didn’t get done what I’d hoped.  We primed half of the ceilings (bathroom, guest bedroom, master bedroom, hallway and living room).   I’d hoped to get them all done.   While it’s often said that hope is not a strategy, I say it’s an even worse forecaster.    I wonder what percentage of all my sour moods is due to the world not meeting some expectation I cast upon it.  “Do this, world!”  I’m beginning to have grave doubts about the usefulness of expectations, save perhaps of my own behavior.   And of that I did really, really well today.  I started on time.  Ended on time.  Worked hard and learned a lot in between, and I have the ceiling-roller’s stiff neck to prove it.   Thank goodness for Doug, my friend and painter extraordinaire, who not only bought all the right paint, but generously offered great tips.  “Just pour it into a smaller bucket.”  That was Doug’s advice for how to deal with my first 5 gallon pail of paint.  And when I did it, first thing this morning, without spilling a drop, I strutted like a barnyard rooster.  So tomorrow, I plan to try a few more things I’ve never done, including holding off on any other expectations.
Expectations or no, real work is real hard.  So hard that I couldn’t muster Friday’s blog until Saturday morning.  Ceiling painter’s neck aside, I actually did enjoy myself.  Having a friend rolling at my side certainly helped, not only those special conversations that occur between friends working side by side, but the feeling, the silent camaraderie, of doing it together.  The dance of work.  (And Linda had a great idea that made everything come out better;  bring a sawdust toilet in from the shed and put it in the basement.  Presto! Instant potty.  What other toilet design could be so adaptable?  Need a toilet?  Here you go!) 

All this sure helped overcome what is now the biggest challenge:  no windows to look out.    Not a one.  Every window, every door is covered with plastic.  I’ve lost the Connection, the reason for the House the Land Built.  The Land doesn’t exist.  Is it still snowing?  Can’t tell.  I’m a horse with blinders, single-mindedly focused on my one goal:  paint the house.  And that, my generous reader, is going well.  Oh yes, we finished priming the ceiling. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 22

Before the House the Land Built, I always thought of “solar houses” as the ones with the (somewhat funny looking) panels on the roof.    And yes, even if you put the panels on the ground, as we did, they still look a little funny. 
But today, I gained a new vision of a “solar house”.    An hour before sunrise, I leaned into a face-ripping northerly as I walked the ½ mile from our little cabin to the house.  And as I entered the house, I awaited the ‘ah’ of warmth.  It never came.  Anxious to read the thermometer, my sorrels clomped across the plywood that is our kitchen floor.   Yikes!   Only 55F, down from 63F the night before.    Sheetrock mud might take days to dry at that temp.  For the first time, I stuffed the masonry heater full of oak (not the lighter boxelder) and lit it.  Now, some folks say they’ve had challenges getting oak to really go.  Not our masonry heater!    Fifteen minutes later, I had to back away from the inferno I’d created. 
What heat!  What power!  And then it occurred to me; this is solar power.  For at least two hundred years, that oak had sucked carbon dioxide out of the air and converted it into, well…itself.  All powered by the sun.  And as I stood there, feeling the release of that stored solar power, the sun peeked over the cloud-fringed horizon and beamed through the south-facing windows.    
Oh, for that glorious touch on my sun-starved winter face.   As I basked in passive solar warmth, I saw the solar panels out the window and dashed down the basement.  Yes, it was cold down there, but the solar invertor’s Mate3 display---already claiming 700 watts of power-- said, “I can give you warm”.  So, I plugged in an electric space heater (borrowed from landlord Kim).   I stood back in awe as it immediately took the chill off that concrete floor. 
What a power chain; from the solar panels down into the battery through the invertor to the electric panel and finally, to this little dynamo.   Even the space heater is solar in our off-grid home.  Chores done, I meandered, saw in hand, across the prairie down to the east hedgerow.   At noon, I stopped to admire it all.   My stack of wood, all solar.    The acres of prairie, all solar.    And beyond, nearly to the ridge top, the House the Land Built, far more solar than I had ever imagined a “solar house” to be.


“What are you doing in order to make more heart decisions and few head decision?”  Damn!  Don’t you hate good questions?  And at lunch today, for goodness sake.  That’s my friend Kim for you, always making trouble by pointing over the spring rolls toward my better self.  But now, as the project enters its DIY phase---paint the house, acid-etch the concrete floors, lay Marmoleum tiles on the kitchen floor and cork tiles on the yoga loft floors---heart is getting harder to find.  As lunch turned into 3 hours of soul searching, I came to this:  I default to my head, to find my heart requires intentionality.  Yoga.  Splitting wood.  Sipping tea with a friend.  Taking one extra minute to pause and consider sunrise in front of our little cabin (pictured).  So, I’m asking each of you a favor.  Please, send a warm thought my way.  I’m going to need it.  At least for a couple months, when our house will finally became a home and you and I can sit and drink tea, split wood and stand on our hands in the yoga loft.


I hope it doesn’t sound like a cheap cliché when I say that Linda-- love of my life and partner in this, this most amazing journey---completes me.   Complete is probably a bit strong since, even with all her support and help, I no doubt come up lacking at times.  But she certainly brings skills to the table which I  lack.  Take this blog.  Without complaint, she edits my Word document for punctuation, except on Tuesday and Wednesday’ when she works in Minneapolis.  Then you might notice an errant word (or ten) and a seemingly random comma.   I just ain’t got that gooda grammar.  Yet as I write this blog my creative juices feel unleashed, comforted by the safety net of her editing. 
 I can’t imagine what I’d do without her as my House the Land Built partner.  Just this morning, after letting me know she liked my Tuesday blog, I learned another way she “completes me”.   Picking colors actually engages her heart!  I couldn’t believe it and I told her so.  She seems to get so agitated as she flicks through the Hirschfield paint color fan.  And I thought I understood why.  A paint chip means nothing to me.  My mind can’t picture how a square inch of Danube Blue might translate to an entire wall.  At the design stage, all color seems muted, like the house photo in dawn’s low light.  Not so for Linda.  And I always knew that.  She can imagine color like I can imagine shape and form.  But this morning I discovered more.  Linda can picture how the color will make her feel.   Sage Green feels protected.  Rooted.   January Sky Blue feels open.  Expansive.  As she flicks the paint color fan, considering one color then the next, so too her heart, considering one feeling then the next.  I had no idea.  And how could I?  It’s just not something I’m capable of.    I wonder if sometimes there’s a connection between mind and heart.  Perhaps my heart can better engage that which my mind can better picture.   If choosing colors engages Linda’s heart but not mine, then so be it.  Maybe, as she flicks the color fan, I can touch her skin, feel the rootedness of Sage Green, the openness of January Sky Blue.   And if my heart doesn’t feel that, it’s bound to feel something. 
Today I felt like Treebeard when he said, “I could spend a week just breathing.”  Even this morning, as I walked from our tiny cabin to the homesite to tend the day’s first fire, I felt the exhale of the Land, already moist and warm.    And there was something else in that air that made me stop and just breathe.  A sea tang?    Some wayward Pacific breeze?
And then, as I cleared the ridgetop and gazed down upon the sunlit homesite, I felt the inhale of solar panels.   The two guys who tape and mud our sheetrock walls had run drying fans all night, draining our off-grid batteries down to a record low 61% capacity by dawn.   I feared I’d have to start the tractor-powered generator for the first time since we powered up the array.  But now, as the photovoltaics inhaled the day’s first light---even though veiled with high-clouds ---a spring-like hope filled my lungs. 
By noon, was declaring the impossible:  49 degrees in St. Charles.  Though it may have occurred, I can’t recall 49 in January in all my Minnesota days.    Suddenly, anything seemed possible, even picking paint colors.  Linda ran from one room to the next wielding her paint color fan and by 2:30 we had colors, from Seaspray to Ancient Oak.    Why not order our Marmoleum Click tiles for the kitchen?  Done!  And we even had time to just walk.  Walk and breathe.  Like a stroll upon the beach. 
It seemed like the sun should linger for hours, letting us sip a margarita at the bench.  But, no.  It was still January.  By 4:30 we were leaving, heading west down our driveway, when I stopped the Prius and jumped out. 
While my camera captured the view, what I really wished to capture was the feeling of the air.   Warm, moist and tangy.   I inhaled.  I exhaled.  I could have spent a week just breathing.
“That heater must be full-time job,” said the sheetrock mud man as I picked a couple more split logs out of the cart and stacked them alongside the garage’s inner wall.   I didn’t know what to say.  I’d never really thought of it like that, but in a way, he’s right.  Consider today. 
6:30-7:30.   Light first fire.  Drive from cabin to homesite.  Check house temperature:  72F.  Hurray!!!.  Scoop ashes out of firebox into metal bucket.  Retrieve, crisscross and stack 3 buckets of wood into masonry heater fire box.  Carefully stack paper and kindling on top and light.  Wait for bottom logs to catch and burst into the still terrifying “inferno”.   Flick lever that allows escaping smoke to flow under the bench.  Drive home.
9:15-9:30.  Drive back to homesite.  See that the inferno has already reduced all that wood to mere coals.  Open heater door (ho my gosh, that’s hot on the face), stir coals with metal rod, close door.  Flick lever that reduces the flow of combustion air pulled from outside via a 6” pipe under the house.
9:30-11.  Chainsaw boxelder into 16” long logs for splitting.  This big ol’ mother tree, like so many lying dead and down in our hedgerow, was expertly felled 5 years ago by the Minnesota Conservation Corps.   Chain-sawing went well until a bar nut fell off (as usual) and I couldn’t find it (as usual) and I discovered I’d used up all my spare nuts.  Why did I ever buy a Stihl?  At least this time, I stopped cutting before the chain fell off.
11-12:15.  Rolled the barrel-width 16” long logs into small piles.  Fetched splitting maul to see if I could actually split these behemoths.  I could.  Barely.  Brutally.  When it’s all split, stacked and dried, I imagine it will provide a month or so of heat next winter. 
12:15-12:30.  Light second fire.  (Same technique as first fire except less wood).
Before bed:  Light third and final fire.  (Same technique as first fire except more wood).
So if mud-man meant to say that the masonry heater requires a great deal of my time and energy, I agree completely.  I guess what I object to is the term ‘full-time job’.  That’s what I did for the last 30 years at Seagate and Medtronic.  I worked for them.  They paid me.   Not a great deal of connection in that exchange.  And I don’t really know how to explain what it is, exactly, that I get out of heater related effort.  But one day, when you come down here and together we light the first fire of the day, or split wood, or buzz the chain-saw, even scramble in the mould for the lost nut, then you’ll understand why, for me, this is something entirely different.  Entirely connecting to the Land.  Entirely engaging with my life.
And boy, when we’re done, a fried-egg sandwich never tasted so good.