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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alternative Home Builder: Week 32

Honest, I didn’t plan it.   Even if I had, what chance is there that it would have worked out?  And yet it did!  We installed our composting toilet on Fix a Leak Week. 
According to the EPA, the average American household annually wastes 10,000 gallons of water due to leaks.  That’s a trillion gallons of “clean” water for the US.  And the number one offender is that darned toilet, always running.  Had we dug a 700 foot deep well and buried a 1500 foot long grid-attached cable, we could have provided the massive amount of electricity required to consistently pump the 10,000 gallons we’d waste on a leaky toilet.  But we didn’t.  Instead we buried a 5000 gallon concrete cistern in the ground to harvest the rainwater which spills off our roof and erected 12 solar panels to supply the (relatively) meager electricity needed to pump the water from 14 feet below us.   Had we a flush toilet, we’d need to fill our cistern twice each year just to feed the leaks, stealing a third of all the rain that falls on our roof.  And we haven’t even flushed the toilet yet.  Even a dual flush toilet consumes 15 gallons a day or another cistern full of water per year.  So a flush toilet would consume half our available water.  So yesterday we installed the only toilet that never leaks.  Ever.  Our composting toilet.  There it is!
The first cherry toilet in Winona county.  While most of what you see in the picture is self-explanatory, you might wonder about the tower on the wall.  That’s our “tank”.  The bin.   It provides the sawdust you’ll scoop to “cover your stuff” in the bucket beneath the bamboo seat.   If you look closely, you can see the fill level indicating the bin is about half full.  I’d just poured three five gallon buckets of sawdust into the top of the bin.  When the bucket is full, I do the flushing by dumping the contents into our compost heap, which after covering with straw, doesn’t even interest our neighbor dog with its smell.  And best of all, it’s beautiful!  Like Linda said yesterday, “No one ever calls a flush toilet beautiful.”
Mark the day in red letters!  Saturday, March 17.  Official move-in date.  Or---since we’ve been moving stuff in for two weeks---perhaps it’s move-out day:  the day both our bed and Kirby cat move out of our tiny cabin and into our new home.  And on St. Patrick’s day, of all days.  Not that I’ve typically celebrated or even know much about St. Patrick.  But I dearly love my Irish friends.  Especially you, Martin, if you’re reading this.   I just unpacked that beautifully bound Lord of the Rings you gave me and displayed it proudly on the bookshelf in your guest room.  In fact, the guest room is waiting for you now, clean sheets on your Murphy bed. 
And if you raise the bed into the wall, you can relax into the rocker by the window with a good book (you know which one). 
Come Sunday---this very Sunday, mind you---you can rise and join me, cup of tea at the bar before the fire.  We’ll crack the window, just a little, and invite in the smell of morning.  And the song of the meadowlark.  And if you would, you’d also crack open that copy of Mary Oliver on the table and read to me from Making the House Ready for the Lord.  “And still I believe you will come, Lord:  you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am speaking to you whenever I say, as I do all morning and afternoon.  Come in, Come in.”
Suddenly everything’s got itself in a hurry.  The sun, having skipped March and April and moved right on to May, replaced the biting wind with the sleepy song of the meadowlark.  The ponds---swelled with melt-water rushing off the surrounding prairie hills, first heaved then swiftly melted the room-sized blocks of ice.  Then two, perhaps three minutes after ice-out, a spring peeper tapped his baton on the podium.  And the night chorus swelled.  Only to be joined by red-winged blackbird and robin and those too excited to sleep.  Now we’re caught up in the excitement, too.  After our year long marathon, we’ve sighted the finish line.  Spirits high, we’re sprinting to Saturday.   Painting.  Staining.  Hauling box after box from both cabin and shed.  Making our house ready.  Working until sunset, and maybe a little beyond, we finally retire, in t-shirts and shorts, to the yoga loft porch. 
We open the wine, the binocular covers, but mostly our ears as meadowlark gives way to the night chorus.  All we contribute is a sigh, the well-earned sigh of the sprinter. 
Is there yet another one up here amongst all the dusty boxes in the hayloft?   Well lookie there, hiding under the carpet pad.  Is this the last one?  I hope so.  The last unopened Rent Joe’s Box.   Small, heavy, I wonder what’s inside?  The “Memorabilia” label doesn’t mean as much as I thought it would when I wrote it on the tape strip last June.  Brush off the dust.  Cough.  Slice the tape.  Snap!  Pop!  Open.  Peer inside.  Oh!  Our wedding album, professionally photographed, leather bound.  June 9, 1984.  Look at you!  Like some fairy I stumbled upon in a wood, so beautiful!  And there’s your dad.  And there’s my dad.  Happy as can be, considering they have to have their pictures taken.  Sad they can’t be here Saturday, another red letter day for us:  March 17, 2012, the big move.  They would have loved the house in their own ways.  Or they would have loved that we loved it.  And they also would have loved the idea of a man-cave up here in the hayloft.  Still a jungle of boxes, that’s all it is right now:  an idea.    Coffee mug in hand, my dad would have loved to talk about that idea: a semi-primitive hang out.  Turntable and vinyl.  Card table and lamp.  He wouldn’t understand the writer’s corner and he’d just have to get a wood fire up here somehow.  Your dad wouldn’t talk much once I assured him that women, the girls, are definitely, most especially, invited.  And he wouldn’t really care about the idea; he’s a doer.  No matter.  He’d just smile and set to building us bookshelves from scrap lumber.   And as I stand here, holding the leather bound wedding album---holding you, my two dads---I gaze out the hayloft window through your eyes.  To our new cedar-sided house, our home. 
Over the steel roof to the prairie.  And beyond to the wooded ridges and the mist rising from the Whitewater.  

To you.  To both of you.  I’m glad you’re here.  It’s a big day!  A red letter day.  Get out the camera.  Wait!  No!  Don’t go.  I’m sorry I mentioned the camera.
Saturday March 17 Move In Day
We packed up the litter box, carried Kirby Cat into the car where, on the card ride over, he proceeded to puke on Linda’s lap.  So please, if you would be so generous, extend good wishes, prayers, thoughts, loving energy our way.  Thank you dear blog readers for all your support! 


  1. I'm thrilled for you both. Thank you Mike for your sharings through this amazing journey. Congratulations and best wishes for unbridled happiness in your new home. love, Karen

  2. Reading this brought tears to me. What a blessing it is to share in this journey with you - the actualization of a dream. The drawing together, on this day, of past and present as the meadowlark sings to you of the future.
    Blessings to you.

  3. Fantastic, exciting news! I hope the first night in your new home was amazing! Congrats! thanks for sharing the journey with us. I feel like I've been there every step of the way (without doing any of the work). Looking forward to celebrating with you. Lynn

  4. That toilet is beautiful. Particularly like the sawdust tower. How do you get the sawdust into the bucket? I presume that you open a door in the bottom of the tower and scoop some out.

    1. Thanks. Probably the only cherry toilet in the county. Yes, we simply open the bottom lid of the sawdust tower (revealing the scooper), scoop and sprinkle. I'm heading outside to "mix-up" another batch of sawdust. Turns out I need to stir in some water before filling the tower.