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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Breath of Ice. Breath of Fire.

When Locus Architect Paul showed us his first crude drawings I knew---or imagined that I knew---that Home the Land Built would connect me to the rhythms of the sun.    How could it not?  There’s the solar panels, generating power whenever the sun shines.  And the bank of windows, all seven facing south where the sun lives.  Even the 2.5 foot overhang above the windows, shielding us from hot summer sun, inviting in the light when the sun is low and cool.  Yet there is one solar connection I’d missed entirely.  Perhaps Paul knew it.  Or perhaps he too will be surprised to hear what I've learned.  We’re breathing ice.  We’re breathing fire!

All because of passive solar, that low---supposedly anemic---November sun slanting through the south-facing bank of windows, painting the concrete floor, warming us like a greenhouse.  By 11AM, even though its only 15F outside, its raised the temperature inside from 68F to 76F.  “Ah summer!” I say, stripping down to shorts and a t-shirt.  Just when I was contemplating a refreshing umbrella drink, I hear a party-ending groan. 

“I’m so-o-o-o-o HOT!!!”.  It was Linda.  Poor Linda, barely 2 weeks after having both hips replaced.  Confined to the now sun-scalded recliner, her ravaged and drugged body regulates temperature with the skill of a block of concrete.  Mostly too cold.    No longer. 

Almost puking she begs, “Open a window.  Please?  Open a window.”  OK.  I’ll admit I hesitated.  I loved the heat.  And besides, I’d just had an epiphany.  We only needed one masonry heater fire a day, not two, when the sun shines.  Not that I mind starting fires.  I mean what could be more thrilling than a roaring inferno in the middle of your home?  But this passive solar was just way too amazing.  Who would have thought that here in Minnesota, the sun could play a major role in home heating, without anything fancier than efficient south-facing windows?  
Pop!  My passive solar bubble burst.  Of course I’d open a window.  I might be an imp, but I’m no demon.  I could see how truly miserable she looked there in the chair.   Cranking open the lower window in front of her, I felt the bite of the incoming air falling upon my feet.   She still looked miserable.  Off to the bathroom, I flicked on the exhaust fan, sucking a cool breeze past the recliner.  Past Linda.  “Ah-h-h-h!”  She felt better.  And just as slight disappointment rose within me---the end of my passive solar heating dream---a new thrill filled my lungs. 

Fresh air!  It’s winter outside and I've not only got a window open but---like a hot summer day---I've got a fan going.  Not that there’s a shortage of fresh air here on the Land.  There’s a greater abundance of fresh air than anything.   I've never let the cold fresh air just pour in.  My epiphany was this:  Instead of burning less wood when the sun’s fire heats our home, what if we pull the cold air in?   Inhale the Land.  Breathe the winter’s ice.  Breathe the sun’s fire. 

And I guess that’s been the trick of Linda’s recovery.  Ice and fire.  Literally she’s wrapped in ice right now, trying to shrink both her swollen legs and her surgical pain.  And before icing she fired up her legs muscles, dutifully performing the exercises, strengthening her cut and reattached hip muscles.    Then there’s her Zimmer implants.    Once cold and lifeless, they’re now being transformed---one breath at time by oxygen-guzzling mitochondrial fires---into Linda. 

And then there’s our life.  Her bone-on-bone arthritic hips were descending her, and me at times, into a winter.   Not only the constant pain, but the nearly frozen hip joints slowly isolated her from the Land, forcing her inside.    The air became stale.  We knew we needed to open a window but how?  There was only one way.

Add a lot more heat!  Scalpel, drill, hammer.  Neighbors, family, friends.   Faith, focus, fire.  
Now our days---though spent inside, mostly in front of the bank of windows--- feel anything but stale.     As I type, she’s working an old puzzle on the dining table:  Minneapolis, 1984, the year we were married.  Exhale the old.  Breathe in the new. 
My is she feeling new.  “I think I want to try walking outside today.”   Why not?  November’s morning clouds are finally breaking.  The firelight of the sun, slanting through the bank of windows, is beginning to warm Home the Land Built.  Soon she’ll back away from the puzzle and groan.  “Open a window.”  And I will.  Breath of ice.  Breath of fire. 

And as the sun warms our greater home, perhaps we’ll open the door, and walk out onto the porch, onto the driveway.  And breathe.  Ice AND fire.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Yes of No

In some ways these 14 days since Linda’s double hip-replacement felt like some of the most grueling of my life.  Doubts.  Worries.  Cabin fever.  Loneliness.  Exhaustion.  Ragged sleep.   And yet they've also been some of the best, in part because I did what I do best. 

Ruthless prioritization.  For good or for ill, I feel the thrill of saying no.  And no is what these 14 days are all about.  No work, no projects, no conversations, unless  relevant to the task at hand:  healing Linda.  I've come to understand that I’m peculiar in my affinity for no.  And a few months ago I discovered why.
During an incredibly engaging conversation with my friend Bob, he asked me something no one had ever asked before.  “How are you thinking about our conversation?  Not what, mind you, but how?”  I must have stared blankly for several long minutes.  “I see no words.  No solid images either,” I finally tried to explain my thoughts.  “I feel what can only be described as a vortex of energy.   Some things swirl toward the front:  the epiphanies of our conversation, the warmth I feel with you right now.  To these I say yes.  And at the same time there’s an equal and opposite reaction,  the wind of no thrusting out the back of the vortex, propelling me forward like a rocket toward the yes.   Just what it is I’m going to say no to isn't clear yet.  But it will be when the time comes.  The decision is already made.”

We’d never have said yes to Home the Land Built without saying no to so many things.  No to my career at Medtronic.  No to my neighbors and house in Minneapolis.  No to expensive vacations.  Even long ago, when we said no to having children.  All these things allowed me to shout “Yes!” to Home the Land Built.

“How’s the book coming?” my friend Sarah asked this week.  It took no small amount of energy to firmly recall the novel I’d worked on every day for the past 8 years, the novel I’d committed to self-publishing by Easter.  “Haven’t really given it much thought,” I shrugged.  Apparently even the novel was expelled in the wind of no.  The decision was already made.  Ruthless prioritization.  To what end?

To the yes of no. 

To engage so fully---to say no to everything else and say yes to Linda’s recovery--- is worthy of a novel itself.  The terror of her post-surgery low blood pressure.   The thrill of her rising onto her feet.    
The wee-hour dance of me and Linda, of nurse and patient.  The problem-solving fun of configuring the composting toilet for Linda (and it worked!).   
And today, to witness as her own legs pushed down and closed the recliner.  She’s free!  We’re both free.  She can sit and stand at will AND I---no longer required to free her from the chair---need not sleep in the couch next to her.  Tonight I will sleep in our own blessed bed.

Yesterday Linda suggested I take a walk.  And so I did.  My first since the surgery.  I’m not too proud to admit that I wept as I walked the trail, where golden prairie Indian grass meets hedgerow boxelder, sparrows flitting and chirping in the naked branches.  The Land missed me and I her!  This morning’s fog, a blanket of no upon our view saying yes to the miracles inside Home the Land Built.

OK.  Maybe that wouldn't make much of a page-turner.  Not for you.  But for me, its priceless.  Gripping.  Its my reward.  I've no doubt that Linda will not only recover but---for the first time since we've moved---fully engage the Land.  And Linda and I will dance as never before, upon the green, green grasses of June.

The yes of no.   I've felt it.  I feel it now.  I’m propelling toward its light-filled future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Off-Grid Stress Test

We always knew we’d do it.  More than once we’d wished we’d done it BEFORE the big move, BEFORE leaping off the grid into Home the Land Built.   But we didn't.  And last Wednesday that day came.  Or perhaps it was Friday.    On Wednesday, Olmsted Medical Center replaced Linda’s arthritic bone-on-bone hips with bionic implants.  Both of them.  Indeed a red letter day, frighteningly ripped with pain yet pregnant with the possibility of new life: to once again stride confidently over prairie gopher mounds, to feel the vibration of the chain saw as she slices through next year’s heat source.  Friday brought another challenger, and we’re still trying to determine the color of that day. 

On Friday, bionic Linda returned---gripping her ribbon-draped walker---to Home the Land Built.  What would it mean to nurse Linda back to health, while at the same time keeping our off-grid electric, solar hot water, wood heated, composting toilet, rainwater harvest systems alive and healthy?  Though I’d never nursed anyone, I believed I could learn.  Silly me!!!  Perhaps it was good not to know what I didn't know:  managing medications, enabling Physical Therapy, changing dressing, keeping her comfortable, plus all the newly challenged activities of daily living:  toilet, shower, sleep.    And if this weren't enough I needed to maintain the systems:  monitor the batteries, feed the masonry heater, haul buckets of pooh.   And when I dashed out to fetch wood, my worries lingered inside, “Is she alright?”   So here it was, the great stress test of our off-grid home.  How would we hold up under the pressure?  Could we heal AND keep the home healthy?

By end of day Saturday, I had my doubts.  I’d progressed from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.   Aware now of what I didn't know about nursing, I longed for my old denial.   And while I knew how to keep the home systems healthy, I struggled to find the time.  Four full buckets waited in the garage to be emptied.   The morning routine with Linda delayed the fire, letting a chill creep through the windows and into the home.   But now, only days later, all that seems weeks ago. 

We've hit our stride, managing Linda’s pain between 2 and 4 (10 is worst pain ever).   Like new mothers, we sleep when we can.  The home is toasty while two full buckets wait patiently in the garage.   What made the difference?

Friends.  Family.  Neighbors.  You.  In the end, stuff is stuff, work is work.  What feeds me, what sustains me, is love.  We can feel it!  Love---expressed in thought, prayer and deed---pulsing over the long miles to the Land, rooting into the prairie and rising like a healing fire into Home the Land Built.   And at night, when sleep is hard to find, Orion leans over his dog and peaks through the great bank of window.  We asked Locus Architect Paul for a home the enables our connection to the Land while welcoming family and friends.  Well Paul, you did it.  Not only in good times, but in these trying times, this off-grid stress test. 
The test is far, far from over.  We’re still one hour at a time.  Yet rarely do I fear failure.   How could we when surrounded by so much love?    A chorus---a coyote roused chorus please--- for community reliance!

I’m a lucky man.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When All Other Lights Go Out

Abundance AND scarcity.

Sunlight is scarce, at least here beneath the somber clouds of November.  Accurate weather forecasts are scarce, especially regarding cloud cover. has promised some sun every day for the last 3 days.   Even this afternoon, as the drizzle began anew, insisted on promising Partly Cloudy.  Time is scarce.  OK, that’s an exaggeration.  Yes each day gifts me 24 hour, but tomorrow I could use about 33 or so.   Battery capacity is scarce, falling to 75%.    Actually, we’re well above the 50% threshold for permanent damage.    But with the scarcity of sunlight, accurate weather forecasts and time tomorrow, I did something I haven’t done since last winter.

I started the backup tractor-powered generator.    Like it or not, there’s an abundance of smelly diesel fuel.  Or at least, they never seem to run out down at the Elba Convenience Store.  So I harvest this apparent abundance.    That’s the problem with the grid---any grid---it’s so complex, so impossibly opaque, I’ll never be able to “see” their capacity, unlike my off-grid batteries which are now at 95%.    If November delivers just a little sun, that will hold us until Friday. 
Friday:  the day Linda is scheduled to return home from her bilateral hip replacement.

Suddenly, time feels scarce.   After months of preparation angst, the surgery scheduler says we must arrive at the hospital by 8AM tomorrow.  And as Linda’s official “coach”,  I’ll be helping her---navigating, cheering her on---from the time she wakes up and rises from her bed (yes, they insist she stand almost immediately) until she’s whole again.    Until Linda returns, I’ve little time to tend Home the Land Built.  Accurate recovery forecasts are scarce, especially when replacing both hips at the same time.  And light feels scarce.    By 5:00, the November drizzle drew the curtain shut outside our bank of windows.    To see beyond the darkness, we harvest what we have in abundance.

The lights of friendship.  The lights of community.  The lights of love.   

Linda’s star-studded walker, draped with ribbons by her yoga kula.   E-mails, Facebook comments,  phone calls.    Best wishes from Paul,  a man we met only once at the Solar Home Tour.    The love we feel---pulsing over the miles to us here on the Land---from so many of you. 

Galadriel is right.  There is a light when all other lights go out.   And if I could, I'd say there's not only a light, there's an abundance of light when all other lights go out.