Sunday, February 11, 2018

2018 Word of the Year

***BLOGGERS NOTE: I wrote this post in December, but wasn't ready to publish it until now. It feels like my new year is starting a bit late.***

It's Word of the Year time again.

Last year's word was realization and I think I pulled it off – manifesting a cabin out of a vision.

The cabin is almost finished with the end of 2017. It's so close I can taste it.

The selection process for 2018's Word of the Year has proved difficult. I thought I had the perfect word and then lost it and I have had a hard time finding another.

There have been many contenders: recoup, recovery, grounding, presence, celebration, home, settle, joy, gratitude, shelter, safety, release, reboot, rest, solitude, anchorage, nest, peace, centre, lucky...

I've been on a streak of R words for the last several years, and I sat on the fence for a long time about whether I wanted to stick with R or if it is time move on.

After much thought, I have decided that my Word of the Year for 2018 is:


I have loved this word for a long time. As a teenager, I was a big fan Richard Lovelace's poetry. The final stanza of his poem, To Althea, from Prison reads:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
    Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
    That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
    And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
    Enjoy such liberty.

A place of contemplation for an innocent and quiet mind.

A place for dreams and daydreams.

A peaceful place.

A safe place.

I have managed to have such a place built for myself. I plan to take full advantage of it this year, to transform my longing by recreating this spirit of safety within my own heart and mind.

With the companionship and inspiration of my fluffy, orange guru, of course.

If you are contemplating your own Word of the Year, or just hanging out while 2017 draws to a close, may I invite you do so while listening to the New Year's playlist I put together on YouTube? This time of year always gets me in a playlist-y mood. There are some old favourites, some of this year's new favourites and of course, some #banjoy! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Construction: Weeks 13-17

If I thought weeks 9-12 were challenging, they had nothing on weeks 13-17. 

I can't even.

Here are some photos:

My clumsily but adequately installed slab insulation skirt (adequate was the engineer's word for it) 

With added Geotextile

Obstacle course. Crude but (hopefully) effective solutions.

December 17, 2017

The gravel pile.

Keep your powder (I mean, gravel) dry.

My beautiful furnace. I can't even say how magically, deliciously warm my house is.

Covering the skirt with gravel
Mudding and taping

Hieroglyphics (I loved all the bits of random math and cryptic messages I found on the walls of my home)

Making progress.

Coming along
Storm warning morning: January 4, 2018

This is the top of a tree that fell from a height of about 40 or 50 feet, fortunately onto the bare piece of ground next to my well – where it will aid the reforestation the process. The power lines are just about 20 feet to the left. 

The thaw after the storm let me move a lot more gravel

Sunny skies after the storm

Up on staging, priming the walls

Painting in the bathroom

Fresh and clean

Dusty and paint-spattered – and satisfied and tired – at the end of a long day.
Another thaw and this is all that's left of the gravel pile – I shoveled in my T-shirt sleeves in +15 Celsius weather on January 12, 2018. 

It was too soggy to manoeuvre around the house, so I spread the gravel on the driveway, where it was just as badly needed. 
This colour was called "Unforgettable" by the paint company. Which is, let's face it, a pretty forgettable name. My friend who was helping me paint that day (Thank you!) won the renaming contest with "I'm Lichen It" (my suggestion of "Chartresque" received an honourable mention).

I had my first ever exciting interior decorating idea for the bathroom. Here is the first stage – one and a third walls painted grey...

I don't think there is any way I can put together a literal narrative of this segment of the project, so here are some (mostly short) poems which attempt to capture something of these past five ineffable weeks:

Power outages

No back-up heat
Only questions
How soon–?
How long–?

Will it–?


Forest-caught wind
Throat-caught heart

rock solid
in the howling


I heard the SNAP
at two in the morning

Dawn cracks on
torn and twisted

One top dropped
from fifty feet or more
Onto the bare ground
next to my new well

The first step 
in the reforestation project


Frustration met with anger
Anger met with fear

Straight back to the old times
the bad times
the worst times

Always with me


The bite of the
into the big pile
of Class A

The shuddering of
each landing
against the bottom of 
the wheelbarrow

My newfound
favourite meditation



London Road
Milk Mustache
Pink A Boo
Lemon Ripple

Pink A Boo
Was a mistake
I swear
I handed in the wrong card
At the paint counter


With luck
It will be done
next week

at least
before Christmas

No luck

Perhaps January first
Definitely January third

Or not


You'd think
it would get easier
After learning
so much
Figuring out
so much 

The confidence
of accomplishment

It's done!
A building
Warm against the cold
Solid against the wind

But it is not done yet

More interlocking tasks
More deadlines 
to be hit or missed
tasks to be scheduled 
and/or re-scheduled
hit and miss

And I am tired.

Physically tired:
From painting
losing sleep
from surprises
and adjustments

Mentally tired: 
from learning
from failing 
and succeeding
from surprises
and adjustments

Emotionally tired:
from feeling
running on empty
trying to ask for help
managing disappointments
and surprises
and adjustments

I have sometimes thought that 
are the most delightful thing
about having a human brain
And I still think that
But I have learned that
surprises are more fun for me
when I am playing tennis
than they are when I am 
trying to build a place to live

In real-life terms
surprises can be

And so
instead of feeling
like this is getting easier
I'm battling fatigue
and an overwhelming desire 
for this to be over

I promise myself that
I will 
to this place for several years
at least
except for gardening

And maybe 
just a little

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Construction: Weeks 9, 10, 11 and 12

I have been struggling to write this blog post. It has been postponed from week to week.

I have been busy, doing a lot of manual labour out at the site and a lot of desk work the rest of the time. And these weeks have felt challenging; I have been frequently overwhelmed.

Rather than not writing a blog post about these weeks at all, I am resorting to a classic cheat borrowed from William Goldman's A Princess Bride:

What with one thing and another, four weeks passed:

I had some trouble finding someone willing to dig my well and install my septic system, but fortunately, my plumber was able to recommend someone excellent. We walked the land and he recommended the place for the well, very close to the massive felled maple log that was dropped when my power lines were installed last year. It was going to need to be cut up and moved. So, I boldly set about cutting it into shorter logs with my small chainsaw. At one point, I pinched my saw and had to free it with a hand saw. One of the joys of being a rookie... 

A rare view of the low side of the cabin.

In Week 9, the cabin was wired
Roxul insulation getting stockpiled

Week 10: Excavator, on the job!
The septic tank
The septic field
The septic system covered with fill, seeded with clover and covered with hay.
Guess what got dug up? Rocks! Now placed aesthetically along my driveway
Meanwhile, in the house, the interior walls were being insulated. 

And I drove to Ross Farm museum to pick up the barn door hardware they had made for me.

Here's the hatch for my firewood pass-through.

The excavator, resting after its labours.
I take a time-out to appreciate the beauty of a wee, still-red oak
Over the weekend between Weeks 10 and 11, the house sees its first light dusting of snow
Week 11: The well gets dug.

 They went down about 14 feet and there was so much water that the excavation crew could hardly level the first crock before the water was threatening to come in over their boots. Here is the well after the concrete apron has been poured. (The next day the water rose up over the apron!) I feel like I have won the rural home lottery! 

My awesome plumber comes and installs the well-line and pump
Bright blue well line for the water and rainbow electrical wire for the pump – pretty! 

Next, the trench was dug for the well-line. We hit a snag here, but I don't want to talk about it. Suffice it to say, we got through it. 

Guess what else got dug up? More rocks! Including some really, really big ones.

Meanwhile, I was working on augmenting the insulation around the slab, having fun with an exacto knife and a pickaxe.

And inside, the insulation and vapour barrier were complete and the drywall was delivered and stored ready for the following week.

Week 12 began with the site in a great big mess.

(Trenches can be beautiful, though).

With the trench for the well line dug and filled back in, next was the trench to bring power from my shed to the house. 
The electrical cable and the conduit containing my internet cable had to be seated in sand and inspected before the trench could be filled back in.

Where the electrical service enters the cabin.

In the cabin, the drywall was going up.

Outside, I was unearthing some pretty big rocks in the process of regrading the land around the house to lay insulation out two feet from the slab at an angle of 4 degrees (or more). Some of the rocks were too heavy for me to move. Fortunately, my stellar carpentry crew helped me roll the biggest ones out of the way.

Here's one corner of the insulation around the outside of the slab.

On the last day of the excavation work, my well and septic contractor brought me a load of Class A as a bonus – I will use it to backfill against my house, over the slab insulation. 
While putting together the photo essay portion of this post, I think I have found a few words to say. 

These four weeks felt intense. I was on-site a lot. On the one hand, it was lots of fun to be at the heart of the action. I really like all of the people working on the project, so it was great to hang out and indulge in a little banter.

At the same time, though, I was working hard: digging, digging and more digging. It was good for me, but at the same time exhausting and hard on my joints. (I've started going to see a chiropractor again after a 7-year break and it is rescuing me from immobilization).

While it was physically grueling, it didn't require any particular skills. It was a part of the job that I could do, and I needed to invest all the sweat equity that I could because somewhere in these four weeks, I ran out of money. Which is to say that I ran out of my money, money that I had or had access to on my own responsibility.

This project has been more expensive than I hoped. That is always said of building projects and that's because it's probably always true. There is so much to do, especially so much infrastructure to establish for a rural house.

Fortunately, I have friends and family to help me out and they have encouraged me to keep going. Many have provided moral support and encouragement, some have loaned tools and equipment, others have given their time to help, some have loaned and some have given me money to help make it possible for me to complete this project. I feel very, very lucky and very, very grateful.

And at the same time, I'm pretty stressed. I didn't want to take on this much debt. I foresee some austerity measures and as much desk work as I can get my hands on for the next 3-5 years.

I do feel, though, that it is worth it. I have such a longing for a home of my own. It is starting to feel very real; I am getting to the point where I can visualize living in my home: reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, having dinner parties and summer visitors. Having a place to be myself, to be content, to be free and safe and peaceful.

And what a place it is. The Crooked Wood continues to provide me with a blessed sense of belonging. Each time I arrive there and breathe that first breath of forest air, I feel something sacred fill me: mind, body, heart and soul.

The thought of being able to live in my own home, cozily, year round, is worth the debts and the stresses and the challenges of this process.

It's simply where I feel I'm meant to be.