progress and purpose

We’ve been busy at the Green House these days, painting with my Freecycled paint, or paint I purchased at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which sells rescued building materials. I look forward to painting our living room walls some interesting shades of green/sage, but they’re still working on the ceiling. Here’s what the living room ceiling looks like ( <--) after repairing the damaged roof, removing a desperately leaking skylight, and adding beams and trusses where there were none. (That’s right — none.) But now there are many, just the right number, in fact, to keep this roof up and over our heads for another 50 years or so. Falling trees notwithstanding (heh heh).

The light bulb in the middle is actually going to be a ceiling fan, repurposed from the dining room where it had no business being, as there are windows and a nice door already. You can see a window and part of the door below in the dining area.

While I was waiting for the plumber to show up the other day, I primed the wooden panel and trim, aka wainscoting, in the dining area. I didn’t think I had time to do it. But the plumber was late, then actually did not show up at all. So I got the priming done, and am going to call a different plumber. I used an old sheet (Thrift Town, bought for a bed, but full of cigarette holes, yuk!) instead of plastic for a drop cloth, and have been taking good care of my paintbrush. In the past, I would use it, forget it, find it all dried out and ruined, throw it away, buy a new one, repeat, repeat…. Funny how taking care of one’s stuff actually works for the good of one’s wallet and one’s planet. Simply amazing, in fact.

When the guys are inside, hammering, sawing and making noise and mess, I tend to stay outside and work on the garden-that-will-be. The garden area is a rocky hillside, to wit:

Challenge: to create a terraced garden out of a desert-like patch of sloping, infertile ground. I started with a compost corner (at right) to make some good dirt. Food scraps, green weeds and grass, dead leaves, and the addition of some wormy compost from my big garden in Alameda will help. I have harvested rocks from under the deck and around the house to make the rock-lined flower beds in front. I planted sunflowers in front of the deck, not sure if they’ll come up this year or not. I will be planting lavender in the next week or so, because they are very hardy, don’t need a lot of water or TLC, and they’ll attract bees and hummingbirds and add a nice scent to our cottage garden-to-be.
That cement slab is just a boring cement slab, not the top of the cesspool, but very big and heavy, so we won’t demolish it (yet). We started to make a mosaic out of random pieces of marble that are lying around the neighborhood (someone’s leftovers from a remodel, or an art project, perhaps?). When we get the top covered in marble, we’ll affix it with some grout and call it art. I have a potted dwarf lemon tree in a tub that will be lovely in that spot, as soon as I can get it into the car (it needs 2 people to life it, ugh.)

Here’s the kitchen door from the deck. I plan to paint it bright red or perhaps green — something cheery and colorful that will really say “cottage!”

The deck is quickly becoming our favorite place in the world — lovely in the morning and gorgeous in the late afternoon. The Stellar’s jays come for peanuts, the tiki torches burn with citronella at night, and it’s a perfect place for morning coffee or evening glass of wine. The only time it’s unbearable in summer is about 2-5 pm, when the sun beats down without mercy. You just sit there and melt into sweaty goo. That’s when its time to go inside for a siesta or run some errands. Or go jump in the river.

Meanwhile, back on the Isle of Style, my garden is going crazy with green beans that are purple and tomatoes that won’t turn red yet. There are tons of them, so I feel like there’s a ticking tomato bomb about to go off back there. Tick. Tick. Boom. Then it will be salsa, bolognese sauce and Caprese salad time. Looking forward to it. Big time.

I have laundry on the line right now and it smells so sweet. Cats are loving the heat, and prove this by staying indoors. Chickens prove it by refusing to lay ANY eggs for several weeks, yet continuing to eat their stupid heads off. They also continue to poo everywhere. Is there justice here? I think not. However, we are eating baby beets and turnips for dinner tonight, and when the sun goes down I will bake some banana muffins with the black bananas that died on the counter while I was painting wainscoting 60 miles away. The fridge turned out a pack of frozen spinach and a packet of tortellini, so I think we’re set for dinner this evening.

I wonder if a glass of wine on the Island patio is as nice as a glass of wine on a country cottage deck? Luckily, we don’t have to choose. Amen, amen.

judge not, and hot water

I’m back at my post after five days in the redwoods, where our little green house sits. This is the house we just bought, using bubble gum, baling wire, rolls of pennies and our winsome smiles. I’ve been masterminding its renovation, getting inspections and starting to paint, buying things like beams and plaster-patching mesh and oddments from the hardware department.

I had to buy a Simpson Strong Tie item with no name, just a number, to hold a large truss and joist in place. I had to buy four of them, in fact, and the one place was out of them and I had to go elsewhere and ask for it by holding out this odd-shaped piece of metal and say, “Gimme two more o’ dese tings.” Want to feel like a dummy? Walk around with unknown pieces of metal in your hand at hardware stores and ask for help from smug salesfolk. The metal-thingies have no name. But they are indispensable. And they cost about $4.50 each, by the way. (I’m not kidding about the no-name. No one knows what they are called. But they all know what to do with it. “Oh, yeah, we have those — wait here…”)

So — cha-ching! I’ve had guys digging into the septic tank and measuring our sludge. I had a creepasaurus with long fingernails inspect our house for termites. Finding none, he ardently tried to persuade me to inject poison into the soil up to 10 feet deep to keep termites out. Prevention, he says. For a problem that doesn’t exist. For only $2,000. Umm. No, thanks. A nice fellow came and changed all the locks. Another nice fellow walked on our roof and we made a deal. Two more took crowbars to our living room ceiling. The roofer came back and addressed his crew to the roof. They left behind a lightweight, yet solidly sheathed house with sparkling new rain-gutters. The little green house (which isn’t green in color, just in spirit) is so pretty now, I could bust.
We’re going to have a new ceiling, new baseboards, new floors, new paint, new light fixtures and a new garden… all underway as we speak, and much of it re-using what we have or what I found on Freecycle. I feel good about the green-ness of it all.
Which leads me to two topics. Judgement, and hot water. One might lead to the other, you’d think. Not necessarily. So there I am in the new house over the weekend, washing dishes by hand, conserving water carefully, using my soap swisher, biodegradable organic soap, second-hand dishes, handmade dish-scrubber and organic cotton knitted dishcloth. My new neighbor (the ones with the trash and hoarding problem) drives up in her minivan and proceeds to unload bushels of groceries in plastic bags: sweet cereal, lots of ramen noodles, Capri Sun drinks, tons of junk food, individually-wrapped snack items. I didn’t see a fresh vegetable in the load, except a large sack of potatoes. I didn’t see any milk.
I just washed my dishes and watched and counted the number of plastic bags and my mind sped along and I —- had to stop. Because who am I to judge her and her choices? Some kind of green goddess? Is it my job to tell a struggling single mother with myriad domestic challenges, not least of which is a husband who she’s just ditched who abused her and the kids and made all their lives hell? Without going into further details, the woman has enough on her plate. It is not my job to change her, to improve her, to show her my golden way. It is my job to love her. It is all our jobs to love her, and the other people around us who frustrate and challenge us. Isn’t it? It is. Go read your (insert holy book of choice here). Then tell me I’m wrong.
We made friends with our new neighbor and offered to help her clean up her yard when we get a Dumpster and she was so excited. We exchanged hellos a number of times over the weekend and it turns out she’s sweet as pie and really making great strides in her own journey. But even if she wasn’t a sweet Cinderella — even if she was boorish and loud and stupid and repulsive — it’s still my job to love her, not to judge her by whatever class, environmental or other status I live by/in.
And so, to hot water.
We are closer to the cycle of water in our new home than in the city, because the source of the water is the river, and the end result of where it goes it the river. Our septic tank percolates into the dirt, runs downhill to the creek that leads to the river. So what we put in, stays in it and will eventually, at the molecular level, get to the river and the ocean. This is a bit daunting. The responsibility is palpable. It would be so easy to slip and send something toxic down the drain — which is why we’ve made the house totally green. So I’m doing my dishes, per above, and I realized how often I reach for the hot water, versus just water, or cold water. Like — so much. I realized that we — I personally and we as an industrialized nation — are addicted to hot water. Must have it for baths! Must have it for cleaning! Must have it for everything! When I rinse off a dish or a vegetable or my hands, I always turn on the hot water. Why? Because it is easy and thoughtless. It’s always there. I tried to notice how much I reach for hot water over the past few days — because it maybe easy and available, but it isn’t free. And I admit, I’m a glutton for hot water.
Try thinking about hauling your water from a well in the yard. Think about walking 10 minutes to the river, then back with a full pail of water. Think about walking five or ten miles daily with one large jar on your head. Think about gathering the wood to heat the water, and when you would use the hot water in that case. And also think about the oil that is pumped x-many thousand miles from here and how far it is shipped, and what it does to the atmosphere to transport and burn fuel on a grand scale so we can use hot water whenever we want to.
When I put it into that context, I started paying more attention to when I really needed hot water. It turns out that cold water does just as much good in most cases as hot. You really only need hot water when you need to disinfect — such as washing diapers, or dishes, or washing your hands after going to the bathroom. But rinsing your hands after cutting vegetables doesn’t require hot water. Rinsing out a glass before refilling it — cold water is just fine. Rinsing dishes before the dishwasher, if you do that — cold water, because the machine will use hot to kill whatever germs are there.

Just something to think about on this (here) gloomy July day.