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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 29

On a nearly daily basis one can sight a fresh coat of white paint blanketing a closet shelf.  Yet early signs of move-in are already being reported.
·         Dave and Brent took the table saw, the last tool to migrate south to Tom the Builder’s.
·         Hay well-laid all around the bare perimeter, the spreading pattern diagnostic of those expecting a new lawn.

·         Insurance agent sent a bid to insure our house.  Actually forget this one.   The presence of an insurance policy, particularly one so under-valued, indicates nothing special.
·         The first completed room, the pantry, documented and verified to be completely trimmed, painted, and cleaned.

·         No one, save yours truly, scheduled to work in the house today, or this week for that matter.
·         The yoga loft, the second completed room, investigated for possible nesting sight of TV, due in part to the book shelves sudden claim upon the guest bedroom.
·         Doors locked, an aggressive yet typical territorial behavior.
Indeed move-in feels like spring in Minnesota.   Like the vernal equinox, I’m beginning to question the significance of a move-in date.  We’re already hanging out, savoring pecan rolls hot out of the masonry heater bake oven.  Before week’s end, jars may line the pantry shelves while shirts hang in our closets.  Yet as any Minnesotan knows there is one, and only one, irrevocable sign of spring:  ice out.  For move-in, perhaps ice-out is bed-out.  Or bed-in.  Or whatever you call that great day when my nephew Daniel and I hoist the king-sized bed out of the cabin and into the House the Land Built. 
The whole house to myself, to do as I darned-well please.  And who would have dreamed that I pleased to clean?  Sweeping.  Vacuuming.  Mopping.  Oh such a joy to begin vanquishing the dust.   Not just regular house dust mind you.  Nor the wind-driven pollens of the prairie.  No, this dust reminds me of my youth leader days, when an innocent pizza making party degraded into a full-fledged flour fight.  In my eyes.  Down the back of my shirt.  To this day I can still find a fine white dust on the rim of my ear.  Tom the Builder’s exacting (and very expensive I’m often told) blades produce a sawdust nearly as fine.  Worse by far is the ubiquitous sheetrock dust.  Sheetrock!  What a misnomer.  There’s nothing rock-like about it.  It crumbles at the base.  Dents with only a sharp glance.  And produces the most wicked of powders.  Lighter than air, the time it takes to settle onto our floor (and every other surface) is measured in half-lives and will be instrumented by some future archeologist to precisely date our structure, long after all else returns to earth.  Still there’s a pleasure in seeing my mop water turn from clear to milky white. 

And even more when I toss it from the lip of the east porch onto the yard.  [Less so when the mop bucket accidentally slips out my hand and tumbles into the mud.]  One half-life removed, a theoretically infinite number to go.  At least there is no new dust being produced.  As Tom the Builder said, “while it does look nice, the real purpose of all that flooring, paint and trim is to trap the dust.”   And there---beneath the yoga loft cork floor and behind the kitchen’s Putnam Ivory paint---may the sheetrock dust, the archeologist’s calendar, lie in wait. 

Cleaned, cleaned and cleaned some more.

Yoga loft cleaned, well enough at least, so what’s the first item to bring up there?  Yoga mat?  Meditation chair?  Jim Brandenburg photo?   All great choices, but no.   Yesterday I stumbled upon it, amongst the hundreds of boxes in the shed’s hayloft:  the compact stereo, Linda’s little CD changer, her meditation music machine from the old 4140 back room.  Unpacking the little unit, plugging in the speakers, it looked so lonely there in the far corner of the empty yoga loft. 
It needed one thing:  a CD.  Which one?  Which songs would the double-thick walls listen to first?  Digging through my stash in the Prius, I found it.  Actually I found them both.  Two precious CDs.  I nervously loaded them into the changer.  Selected CD5.  Touched ”play”.   So quietly they began, those strings, I wondered if the yoga loft walls were whispering.  Louder now, I thrilled to the recognition:  Requiem, my dear friend, Doug Weatherhead’s, amazing creation, sung by our church’s (well-augmented) choir.  I don’t know why but I collapsed, there on the floor before the little stereo.  Were my tears joy or sadness or just the surprising explosion of life?   No matter.  There it was.  And there I was.  Of course, I had to call Doug to tell him.  Over so soon, too soon it seemed, then click!  Oh yeah, another CD.  Songs of the Corridor, by my dear brother, Steve Larsen.  Seven years ago, inspired by the very first version of my soon-to-be-finished novel, he recorded a dozen songs capturing his take on the book.  I sang along, harmonizing with Steve, like I did all throughout our childhood years, conjuring up the best of memories.   And the double-thick yoga loft walls listened to it all.  Doug.  Steve.  Me.  The connection.  The great connection.  That’s what I invited up into the yoga loft.  That’s what the House the Land Built is all about.
Shopping---a sport I’ve never really enjoyed much, save only a very few shops, like Clancey’s Meats and Butter Bakery, of South Minneapolis---is slowly carving away at my soul here in the deep southeast of Minnesota.  Needing to keep the construction beast fed, we drove (again) to Rochester, surprisingly unimaginative for a doctor/engineer city of 100,000.  After two hours at Pier One (Linda says we were shopping for ideas), Hiller’s Flooring America (carpet for stairway) and Lowe’s (LED bulb, coat hooks, toilet seat), I’d almost forgotten why I was buying any of those items.  Still, we needed a mattress.  Oh boy, what could be more exciting?  Exhausted, tempted to go home, we pushed on.  The greater sin is to have to drive all the way back.  In Minneapolis, we could have a found a store featuring many eco-friendly mattress options:  organic, wool, real rubber.  Not out here.  But our disappointing experience with the Natural Built Home Store in Minneapolis taught us something:  a good product is one thing, good service quite another.  While product availability has challenged us throughout this entire build, the quality of service is not only good, but sometimes even heartwarming.  Or, as yesterday proved, quirkily delightful.  We found Rest Assured, where they not only sell mattresses but make them, right there in the box room of their shop.  As he would have in any mattress store, our rep, Eric, invited us to lie down upon one mattress after the next, working our way up in comfort (and $).   But unlike the Slumberlands of the world, Eric could really explain the differences between each bed.  Why?  Become when he’s not selling, he’s making beds.  And when he invited us to tour the shop, I jumped.  Ever since watching the black-and-white Industry on Parade as a boy, I’ve loved to see the secrets about how stuff is made.  
Even more, I love to ask the workers questions. 
“Who makes the beds?” I asked Brendan, hard at working filling a hotel order. 
“We do,” said Brendan.
“Who’s we?”
“Everyone that works here.”
“Every step in the process?”
He shrugged yes.  So did the workers standing near.  Wow!  On the way home I told Linda that I couldn’t help but look for signs of good or bad quality.  Though everything wasn’t perfect, Rest Assured does one thing, perhaps the most important thing impacting quality, that you’ll never get at Slumberland.  Everyone understands why they’re doing what they’re doing.  When I’m a cog somewhere amidst a mile-long value stream, it’s hard, almost impossible, to understand how my work impacts others.  Transparency!  In the House the Land Built, that’s the one principle to which we keep returning.  So one day (very soon I hope), when you come and sleep on your Murphy bed, and you awaken, a little sore from splitting wood, perhaps you’ll feel Brendan’s fingers gently massaging you back into your slumber. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 28

Here’s what remains.
·         Kitchen bookshelf: Tom the Builder brings today for us to stain.
·         LP tank:  Meet with rep today.
·         Entry bench and shelves.  Tom installs today.
·         Kitchen Marmoleum tile:  Complete last few courses Wednesday.
·         Murphy bed:  Help Tom cut and construct Thursday.  Then paint and install.
·         Bathroom tile:  Tile Guy Trevor completes on Thursday.
·         Composting toilet:  Gave Tom drawings yesterday.
·         Yoga loft cork floor.   Complete last few courses Sunday.
·         Hang garage door.  Complete remaining trim.  Tom next week.
·         Electrical switches.  Fixtures.  Electrician John began yesterday.   Entry light works!  No more lantern.
·         Water in cistern. 
·         Paint closets.
·         Bathroom maple counter-top.
·         Kitchen red elm bar-top.
·         Kitchen EcoQuartz counter-top.  Three weeks?   Our new delay.
·         Plumbing fixtures (needs kitchen counter-top):  sink, faucets.
·         Solar Hot Water / In-floor solar heat (needs plumbing).
·         Stove, Fridge, Freezer.  Washing machine.
·         Yoga loft stairway carpet.
·         Touch-up.  Finish everything not on this list.  “Help mom.”
·         Clean.
·         Move-In!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
·         When it’s warm again:  Masonry heater American Clay surfacing.  Porch stone-work. Solar ventilation.  Landscaping.  Rainwater harvest.
This is the first time the list is short enough to actually list.
My day in a progressive quiz (Q2 answers Q1, Q3 answers Q2, …) so no reading ahead you cheaters!
Q1: In our composting toilet, what replaces the normal toilet bowl?
a.       Massive cistern beneath the floor where “it” all collects
b.      5 gallon bucket
c.       Two holes:  his and hers
d.      For criminy’s sake, forget the composting toilet and just flush her down
Q2:  What bucket color best hides skid-marks?
a.      Orange
b.      Black
c.       Gray
d.      Green

Q3:  Whose black logo-bucket did Mike want?
a.       Lowe’s gray logo-bucket
b.      Home Depot’s orange logo-bucket
c.       Menard’s green logo-bucket
d.      Fleet Farm’s black logo-bucket
Q4:  How far did Mike drive to get a black Fleet Farm logo-bucket?
a.       20 miles
b.      40 miles
c.       80 miles
d.      120 miles
Q5:  What will Mike do next time to shorten his 120 mile trip?
a.       Drive faster
b.      Get you to drive
c.       Instead of driving to Rochester and then finding out only Winona has them, call ahead
d.      For criminy’s sake, forget the composting toilet and just flush her down
Q6:  Since he’d driven all the way to Winona, what else did Mike get while there?
a.       Water, water, my kingdom for a glass of water
b.      A diagnosis.  I mean what else could that lady at the Blue Heron, the one over there who refuses to make eye contact, be thinking?
c.       A regular toilet
d.      Nothing.  He’d already gotten the LED bulbs for the dining fixture at Lowe’s in Rochester
A picture is worth a thousand answers.
ü  Kitchen bookshelf: Tom the Builder completed and brought for us to stain.
ü  LP tank:  Installed.
ü  Entry bench and shelves.  Tom completed and installed.
ü  Kitchen Marmoleum tile:  I completed last few courses today.
Right on schedule!  Perhaps I should schedule a date for my cold to leave.  Perhaps I shouldn’t push my luck.

I felt first-day-of-school nervous.   Me?  Help Dave build the Murphy Bed (for your guest bedroom)?  After all, Dave is Tom the Builder’s finish carpenter.  He could finesse me a Sunday suit from the trunk of an oak.  And if that wasn’t intimidating enough for an all-thumbs gorilla like me, I had to arrive at 7:30AM, at their place, Fort Building and Supply in St. Charles, the sanctuary of the saw.   My only contribution, I thought, would be to play the instructional DVD and discuss issues.  And that began as rough as I feared.  Unlike the DVD, our Murphy bed recesses into the wall, so Dave said we should deviate from the instructions.  “Oh no!” I thought, but certainly didn’t say.  “Don’t change the structural elements.  They warn you over and over that the integrity of your bed (and perhaps your very life) are at stake.”  Yet, after a few deep breaths and a lot of “active listening”, Dave thought we could proceed to attach per the instructions.  And then, the magic.  I couldn’t figure out how we’d screw the bed to the wall in our tight space.  “We’ll build the header up-side down,” he suggested.  “Brilliant!” I smiled.  We got to work.  We had a good time.  We got it done.  As done as could be until we put the finish on it.  Dave pretty much did everything.  I just helped assure we did the right thing at the right time (typical Mike work actually).  And it was Dave solid (your bed will never squeak) and beautiful.  Too beautiful. 
 We’d intended to paint the bed to match the wall it folds up into.  But now?  I don’t know.  I do know what Dave would say.  “Painting nice wood is just wrong.”  I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but I enjoy hearing his voice in my mind.  I wouldn’t mind another work day at the sanctuary with Dave. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 27

Maybe I wanted to feel a little sicker than I did.    Everybody else was sick.  Linda.  Tom the Builder.   His boys, Dave and Brent.  Brent---tall, quiet Brent---now he’s to blame for it all, dragging himself around the house last Thursday.  Sure, he went home early Friday, but it was too late by then.  At least for the others.  I’m only sniffling, certainly not lethal enough to stay home, wrap myself in blankets and sip steaming green tea.  Ah well.  At least I got to drive to town to fetch Linda a box of lotion-drenched Kleenex (toilet paper pretty much feels like 100 grit sandpaper after the first dozen blows).  I’ll take any excuse to wind beneath the limestone cliffs of Whitewater State Park. 
Still can’t believe how lucky I am to live just above this jewel of the world.  Returning home, I felt ahead of the game. Or at least ahead of task-master Tom.   90% installed, Marmoleum kitchen tiles await transition pieces.  Same for Yoga loft cork flooring, 60% installed. 
Only the basement stairwell & stairs, guest bedroom and closets await their final coats of paint.  Maybe I’m just tired, but it’s really starting to feel like we might actually finish this thing one day.  One day soon.  And best of all, we’re not even waiting to be done to welcome friends.  Today, my friend Randy asked if he and perhaps 8 or 12 others could come down and spend a day in the Yoga loft talking about what hope there is for the natural world.  (Funny expression, isn’t it:  natural world.  Is there another world I haven’t heard about?) 
Maybe Randy’s invitation shielded me from the virus, connecting me to the best source of wellness I know, warmer and certainly more engaging than green tea and blankets.   When are you coming down?

I did get sicker.  But rather than the hoped for blanket, I’ve earned a badge:  bad cop .  We’ve a disaster with the Marmoleum countertop, involving not only the usual suspects of schedule delay and cost overruns, but this time I feel violated.  A trust broken.   I couldn’t even blog about it last night; it’s hard to type while I’m ranting and raving as I pace back and forth.    All along, Linda’s played good cop with the Marmoleum store, so we decided I’d don the stiff hat and big shoulders of the bad cop.  The good news is we’re not alone.  Once again Tom the Builder is doing all he can and more.  Before I call the store this morning, he’ll provide inspiration, ammunition (dates, $, agreements) and alternatives.  On the phone with me for an hour yesterday, he already providing much inspiration.  I must confess, when I first met Tom, inspiring is not one the words that came to mind.  But now?  I mean look at the detail he put into our staircase.   
Though he would never wax on about it, Tom understands that the enemy of great is good.  Half a day of never-say-good-enough carpentry to wrap a single post in red elm.  This morning, when I call the store, I want Tom at my side.   How then could I not do the right thing?
Being sick isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Neither is bad cop.  I got what I wanted.  Or, I should say, I got what I asked for:  my deposit back.  Now, at least I can move forward without dragging this ball of money worry around my ankle.  In reality, I didn’t get what I really wanted.  I wanted to feel understood.  That didn’t happen.   I wanted trust to return.  That didn't happen.  And through some great miracle, I wanted a solution that worked for me and Linda.  And, most tragically of all, that certainly didn’t happen.   To me, the House the Land Built is, and always has been, as much about Linda and I moving forward  together, the dance of the dream, as it is getting the “right” house, whatever that is.  Perhaps the right house is the house of the dance.   Process not product.  How not what.  I can only hope that today, as we explore countertop options with Tom the Builder---sans ball around my ankle---I’ll feel a little lighter on my feet.


We danced the dream as well as could be hoped, especially with Linda feverish and bed-ridden for a half a day.  While it would be a stretch to say we were waltzing by day’s end, we were moving, together, in more or less the same direction, away from the ultra-green Twin Cities based countertop store toward a local mom and pop shop who may carry a line or two which inspires us.  We’ll see.  Suddenly we seem open to many possibilities.  Perhaps it was the refund.  But I think it’s more than that.  Something happened at the very end of the day which flung our minds and spirits, if not our sickly bodies, into a rose-between-our teeth tango:  the polycarbonate wall.  Whoever would have dreamed that a staircase wall---four sheets of flimsy greenhouse plastic trimmed by red elm---could set our hearts on fire.  “It’s like the Grand Finale,” said Tom the Builder who normally speaks with Winona reserve.  From the beginning, from the first drawing by Architect Paul, none of us had any idea what it would look like.  Especially Tom.  Yet whatever skepticism he felt, he didn’t just lay it aside but took it as a personal challenge.  Three days his entire crew worked---piece by exacting, splintering, sometimes frustrating piece of red elm frame---until finally, yesterday afternoon, they inserted the polycarbonate panels. 
And hey presto!  The whole exceeded the sum of the parts.  The polycarbonate became the sky, less the thing you notice and more the backdrop breathing new life into everything else.  The red elm posts, so warm and strong.  The staircase, a mysterious silhouette.  The main entry to the house, now offering you such a welcome.  So we danced.  Not toward countertops or new dreams but because if we didn’t our hearts would explode.  With joy!  With gratitude.  For Architect Paul and his dream.  For Tom the Builder and his boys for bringing the dream to  life.  For life and its unanticipated abundance.  I’m a lucky man.  Rah-dur!
 As the wind stilled and the first stars---Jupiter and Venus actually---peeked through the great bank of windows, Linda and I settled into the red elm window seat before the fire.  On the floor between us and the fire, a square slab sparkled with starlight of its own.    “It’s like when they refused our variance to live on the west end of the Land,” said Linda.  I knew exactly what she meant.   We didn’t get what we asked for.   We got something better;  our homesite on the east end.  But we’d never have considered this spot if they hadn’t refused us.  Then, the east end was so ugly we didn’t even want to go down there.  What once was a pond, was now a runoff-filled malaria breeding grounds. 

Boxelder, parsnip and goldenrod---thugs that they are---were overrunning the field.  Only when left with no choice but to build on the east end, did we see its potential.  And now, years later, we can imagine living nowhere else.  That’s what Linda was saying about EcoQuartz, our sparkling new countertop choice replacing Marmoleum.  We (Linda actually) had designed so much of our kitchen around the eucalyptus green Marmoleum, especially the Marmoleum floor.    But now, three days after abandoning that decision, we’d danced our way to EcoQuartz, and its stars-upon-the-earth color Terra, a never-conceived-of possibility.
  I could wax about its beauty, durability and post-consumer recycled content, but that doesn’t explain all we felt there in front of the fire.  I wonder how much of our joy was the dance itself?  The thrills, missteps and spills. The mystery of the destination.   And the “us” of it all.    She and I, insisting on, reaching for, finding that connection.  Dancers, fingertips barely touching then, suddenly, thirty feet apart.   And that, the dance of the dream,  is as beautiful, at least, as the sparkling Terra itself.    Perhaps, one day Linda and I will celebrate some new adventure and Terra will join us, our bare feet leaping with joy upon his earthen stars.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 26


Week 26.  Six months.  Is House the Land Built now entering its third, and final, trimester?  Perhaps we should call it House the Land Birthed.  Then again, as my brother Ron pointed out (in an attempt to cheer me up) we’ve been at this for over 7 years.  Procuring the Land.  Obtaining site permits.  That’s like asking when I began.  Birth?   Conception?   When my parents first met?  It’s all about beginnings, endings and the mile-markers along the journey.    A shame really, that I obsess about it so.   Whenever I walk the Land---the crunch of snow underfoot, the cold slap on the left side of my face, the sudden explosion of wings and feathers---I feel no beginning, no end.  Only “is”.  Barely even a journey, for that implies where I was and where I’m going, rather than where I am.  Not that the deer don’t follow a trail (the highways criss-crossing the snow say otherwise) or lack a destination as they bound over the ridge.  But the knowledge of how long they’ve been running---3 seconds, 6 seconds or 9 seconds---seems so out of place.  A calendar belongs on the Land like the deer belongs in my house.   All this is to say that perhaps on one glorious day, I’ll set aside my beloved calendar, turn off my Android clock, and just live.  Not today.  Today, as I lay more kitchen tile, I will try to not fall further behind on Tom the Builder’s schedule.   I wish I could just be as I lay the Marmoleum tile, so beautiful, in hand and especially on the floor, the occasional blue and green tiles like flowers surprising me on the prairie.    
In case your thinking that I’m thinking that our house is truly House the Land Built, then I apologize for leading you astray.  Don’t get me wrong, the house does feel Land connecting.  Here’s what manufacturer Forbo says about the Marmoleum kitchen tiles we’ve been laying for the last three days.  “Marmoleum is made with linseed oil from specially cultivated Canadian flax, wood flour from European trees, rosin tapped from Portuguese pine trees, jute from India and Bangladesh and very finely ground limestone.”    And it’s gorgeous to boot.  But as my knees can attest to, each Marmoleum tile is laid atop a plywood sheet.  And the plywood is laid atop manufactured trusses.  And the trusses are laid atop poured concrete walls.   And the poured concrete walls are laid atop poured concrete footings.   And the concrete footings rest, finally, upon the Land, the Land 11 feet beneath the tiles.  As my feet walk upon the Marmoleum, I experience six degrees of separation---an uninspiring, industrial, fossil-fuel separation---between myself and the Land below.    I just wanted to be honest.  So that one day, when you come and walk upon the Marmoleum kitchen tile and run your hand along the red elm Corridor walls and smell the white cedar siding, you won’t feel tricked, deceived even, by me, or the house.  In truth I say all this more for my sake than yours.  Though I’m thrilled and taken with much of what I’ve done, there’s also a grieving:  the House the Land Built isn’t quite.   But it is a start.  The best start I could make.  And House the Land Built is, and will always remain, a dream, like a star that guides my feet along Marmoleum tile, down the Corridor and out onto the Land.

With Marmoleum kitchen tile complete (at least until 5 more boxes arrive), today was a gloriously lazy day.  Even Tom the Builder, normally the whip-cracker, couldn’t think of anything major I should be doing.  We’re waiting.  Waiting for the 5 boxes of Marmoleum tile.  Waiting for the Yoga loft cork flooring.  Waiting for sawdust to settle so we can finish painting.  Oh, wonderful waiting.   I got to split wood…
wonder at the dried butterfly (a Question Mark?) in our built-in wall display case…
admire the beauty, and rear-end comfort, of the red elm window seat...
and best of all, invite Tom the Builder and his boys to a well-earned after work beer. 
As the firelight glowed on their faces---these three faces I’ve come to know so well and will soon miss---I listened.   Trout grilled until their eyeballs pop out.   Home brewed beer tasting of coffee and goat’s milk.  Roasted raccoon, just the hind leg it seems.   Images swirling, I imagined that one day, very soon now it seems, I’ll walk out the Corridor door onto the east porch and into my own tale.
Ever since last week, when an out-of-the-blue stranger called Linda and asked if they could come see our house, most especially the Serious windows and masonry heater, I’ve been excited.  And today, by the end of our tour with Tom and Sue, fellow leave-the-city-and-build-your-dream folks,  I understood what I was so excited about.  Yes, I enjoyed asking them to touch the glass on the R-value 5 Serious windows. 
“So warm!”  And hearing about the beautiful tile-wrapped masonry heaters they’d seen in Poland---featuring a warm bed for grandma---also invigorated me.  Red elm paneling, solar heated floors, off-grid electric, rainwater harvest, all great, if not a bit overwhelming for a whirlwind one hour tour.  Still, as I was loving every minute and not sure why, Sue nailed it as we climbed the basement stairs.  “It feels good not to be alone.”  She pretty much summed it up.  I don’t know what I could have done to prepare myself for the towering aloneness I sometimes feel on this journey.  And I’m not talking about missing my Minneapolis friends, neighbors and workmates, which I most terribly do!  I’m talking about the aloneness of the journey itself.  “People probably think we’re crazy,” Sue continued.  And whether folk do or don’t think me crazy, leaping this far down the road less travelled, well out of GPS or Google map range, can leave me feeling alone, if not lost.    But after only those few minutes with Tom and Sue, I felt a special connection.  They “got it”.  
Soon they drove off into the fog and I sloshed back down the draw trail to split wood.  Suddenly I stopped.  A light drew me:  fog freezing upon the Indian grass. 
I veered off trail onto the road less traveled, the road way less traveled and that---when I’m feeling connected---makes all the difference. 
On this, the third consecutive day of brooding fog, we all slowed to a crawl, like winter flies.  Tom the Builder's boy Brent went home sick.  Never happens, said Tom.   For the first time in the 26 week project, I witnessed Tom make a mistake, cutting a window trim board an inch short.  And I pretty much did nothing, unless you count deciding which washing machine to buy.  Actually it’s a big decision.    While the sexy (solar panels, invertors…) and the quirky (rainwater cisterns, sawdust toilets…) steal the alternative house show, the real game is determining how I can live more simply so I can afford and appreciate my new life.  How can I use less electricity and less water?  A washing machine uses plenty of both.  An Energy Star sticker, stating the machine meets a minimum standard, isn’t all that helpful.  Hundreds of models display the star.  We want to know the best, not the minimum.  After many a Google probe, turns out such a list exists.  CEE, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, ranks energy star rated washers, with tier 3 using the least electricity and water.  So I found a reasonably priced Tier 3 Frigidaire.  Then the fog wore me down too.  I tire of how we Minnesotans take a beating for our winters.  I always feel like shouting, “yeah but it’s a dry cold”.   On a sunny 10F day, I’m soon splitting wood in only a sweatshirt.  But in this 37F London soup the parka never comes off and, after two hours of swinging and stacking, I’m still chilled.  Thank goodness for Linda and her orange-almond cookies.  Hot out of the oven, their buttery crunch soothed my soul.  While Tom clearly said he liked them, his boy Dave never did.  Instead, he just lifted the wax paper and found another cookie, his fourth I think.  Before they called it quits for the week, we celebrated with a Shell’s Snowstorm.   They’d gotten down what had to get done:  trimming the Yoga loft windows so Linda and I can lay cork floor tile this weekend. 
And the house is looking so achingly beautiful.  With Tom, Dave and Linda in a row upon the red elm window seat and I upon the heated limestone bench, the crackling fire and warm conversation drove out what chill remained.