Monday, July 26, 2010


During the early planning and dreaming and scheming phase of our building project, our little family of 3 lived in a gigantic sprawling 6-bedroom late-60's vintage ranch rambler in the suburbs near the bottom of our mountain. It had a big yard with cherries in the early summer and concord grapes in the late summer, good light, and a garage that housed the Heliocentric projects. 

In June 2007, with all the enthusiasm and optimism of inexperience, we packed up our house in the suburbs, put lots of our things in storage, and moved to two roomy canvas tents on platforms on our property in the mountains. It was glorious that summer. The Boy Builder was just 3 (!) years old that summer and we had such a lovely time. The sounds of the rain on the tent roof, the coyotes yelping in the evenings, the birds in the morning. It really was a dreamy way to live.

Our idyllic interpretation of our living circumstances was not shared by all, however, and we spent a stressful month or so being harassed by over-involved neighbors and county agencies until we finally acquiesced and moved off our property and into a condo at a local ski resort in August of 2007. While the circumstances of our move were incredibly stressful, we were partly consoled by the fact that the condo had access to a beautiful pool!

Despite the huge interruption all the moving nonsense caused that summer, we did manage to get our septic system, water line, and electrical conduit installed that summer, as well as a bit of excavation. 

The first snow came in September that year, reminding us that ski season was coming and our (relatively) affordable rent was coming to an end. We needed a new living situation. Papa Builder's parents kindly offered use of their condo in Tucson AZ for the winter and we began making plans to move out of state.

However, before we moved out of state, we needed a bridge location so we could tie up some loose ends locally. Some very generous and kind friends (who hardly knew us at the time!) graciously invited us to stay with them in their home for a few weeks in November 2007. Here's a picture the Boy Builder took of our room:

During those couple weeks, Heliocentric started to blossom in a new way making it clear Papa Builder would need to be in Utah for most of the winter and we were reticent to split our family across state lines. Our kind friends offered to let us stay on with them through the winter. In gratitude, I provided childcare for their adorable daughter and we shared meals and household responsibilities as equitably as we could work out. I really can't thank those friends enough for the home they provided us those 7 months. Here's Boy Builder and his surrogate sister watching a soccer game, which we did a lot of that winter:

In June 2008, feeling anxious to get back to building (and perhaps in danger of wearing our welcome thin!), we moved back to our mountain and back to the condo at the ski resort. We kicked off our arrival in the mountains with a party with lots of our young friends and their parents.

We spent the summer playing and working from the condo. We finally completed the permitting process, completely our excavation, poured our footings, and nearly finished building our foundation forms before the first big snowfall shut us down for the year. 

Once again, the snow brought the ski season, which sent us packing from the resort life and into a tiny, ill-maintained concrete block cabin in November 2008. 

Despite the cold and other challenges (like rodents! ewww!), we managed to make the little cabin cheery and homey. We worked and played from there, getting our home built to the point of nearly a whole roof on until, in December 2009, very cold temperatures and no snow cover conspired to freeze the water line. We lived for a couple of weeks with no running water until the sewer line also froze, making the little cabin home completely uninhabitable.

In a desperate situation, we were thrilled to find sanctuary in a store-turned-apartment with functional plumbing here in our canyon. Our new digs made it possible for us to continue working through the winter on our building project. Plus, there was a VW bus-truck built right into the kitchen!

As time went on, however, we outgrew the one-room store. Over-crowding, a wearying of one-room living, and a serious water/mold problem at the store culminated in a move last week back to the familiar condo at the ski resort. 

We're still surrounded by stacks of boxes, which I'm trying to sort through in the in between moments while keeping the building project moving forward. If you weren't counting, last week was the 7th move we've made in the past 3 years. Whew!

In reference to the beleaguered, exiled, but ever optimistic Russian communist and founder of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky, the narrator of the fabulous new Barbara Kingsolver novel I'm reading called The Lacuna observes: "For any homeless wanderer he is a miracle of instruction: now that he is exiled from every place on earth except a desert wilderness, he declares a passion for cactus."

In this period of homelessness, I'm doing my best to develop a passion for my metaphorical cacti. In occasional clear bright moments, I even succeed.

But, I will own up that I so look forward to having a homeplace again. Here's to a transition from transience to rootedness in the near future!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

the radical choice of homemaking

I'm in the midst of a crisis of faith at the moment. Navigating my way through the myriad responsibilities and stressors crashing in on me to rediscover the path I've chosen and the joy it can bring me.

While sipping tea the other day (a vice getting me through crises of faith), it dawned on me the dysfunctional relationship we have as a society with shelter. We humans have only a few basic needs for survival: food, water, air, shelter. And, like the locavore movement, farmer's markets, and a resurgence of interest in gardening and home food preservation are helping us heal our broken relationship with our food supply, we likewise need to heal our relationship with the making of shelter.

It wasn't all that long ago that shelter was built by the hands of the people who would live in it with the help of their neighbors, using materials close at hand. Now, it is downright rare to see people building their homes themselves. There are many reasons for this disconnection ranging from a dysfunctional system of land ownership to overly complex and opaque building codes to ill-advised, old-fashioned, and protectionist laws about zoning and building (naming just a few).

The complexity of the shelter problem easily overwhelms me. But, like so many really big and complex societal problems, this problem will only be solved one conscious decision at a time. When I envision the kind of world I want to leave for my son and grandchildren (if I'm so lucky to have them), I realize what a profound, value-laden, and radical step I'm taking by building this home.

Building this home is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I regularly costs me blood, sweat, tears, and, at times, my sanity.

But, I reaffirm my choice to do it consciously.
In keeping with my values.
For my family.
And, perhaps, in some small way, to heal my planet.
Because through what I do, I become.

What choices are you making that will change the world?

neighborhood fun

One of the considerations for moving to our mountain home was a concern about playmates for the Boy Builder. He is a very social, charming boy and we weren't entirely sure how the relative isolation of the mountains would compare to the suburbs in terms of playdate opportunities.

Our concerns could not have been less valid. Check out who we've found on our mountain.

Here's river building with E, our next door neighbor, if you can believe it (who also has an adorable little sister and lovely parents):

Here's getting dizzy at a birthday party with A:

Here's throwing paper airplanes with G from the crow's nest:

Here's "fishing" with S:

And here's climbing in the tree house with S's big sister M:

All I can say is: a playground like our mountain and fun kids to share it with... Does it get any better than this?

Here's hoping you will be coming to play with us soon, too.

ka-pow! summer

Summer comes on dramatically here on our mountain. July's fireworks have nothing on the ostentatious, stunning, explosion of flora we see in the month of June.

To illustrate the point, here's our house on June 4 this year...
Here's our house June 19...
And here's our house July 2...

While our mountains are best known for winter fun, the summers are truly glorious. Beautiful temperatures, lots of sun, rumbling thunderstorms that echo off the entire mountain range, loads of wildlife scurrying to feed before winter comes again, flocks and flocks of wild birds including all variety of hummingbirds that zoom about doing fly-bys, and beautiful bouquets of wildflowers. All that plus the sun is out until 9 o'clock. Summers really can't be beat.

There are literally new variety of wildflowers blooming every day we go in to the site. I'll try to photograph this weekend...

How's summer progressing in your neck of the woods?

Thursday, July 1, 2010


My hard disk is full.

This is relevant to design because my full hard disk helped me appreciate my husband more. Specifically, it helped me appreciate my husband, the designer.

Last night I had some urgent computing to do and my computer was complaining because of aforementioned full hard disk; thus, I was forced to find things to delete. I started in on the iPhoto library looking for lens cap photo opps and blurry photos of table corners. As I plowed through the 1000s of photos in our library, I was dumbstruck by what an amazingly thorough designer my husband is.

Let me explain. We've had a digital camera for about 9 years now and I have a lot of photos on my hard disk. And, will you believe that I have hundreds of home design idea photos representing all 9 of those years? Wow!

I think I've mentioned before that Troy's been wanting to build a home of his own since he was a wee lad. So, truly, this design process has been a lifetime of effort and my digital portfolio is but a minor representation of the process. But, to jump ahead to the present timeframe, we bought the land we're building on now in 2005 and Troy's been actively, earnestly, diligently designing our home ever since. And, believe it or not, somehow I didn't really comprehend how seriously and competently he's been approaching this process until just now. (To be perfectly and honestly truthful, I'm thoroughly embarrassed to admit I've sort of begrudged the many hours spent at the computer tweaking and perfecting. So, I suppose it's about time I started to appreciate.)

To give you a sense, here's a small sampling of the many, many photos I found in my library that have contributed to the design process of our home:

The process of design has been an interesting one. Design is something that I find really difficult and sometimes downright vexing. Especially designing an object so big and complex as a house. I also find it difficult to translate 2-D images on the computer to real live 3-dimensional space in my mind. Troy, on the other hand, is an absolute natural at design and his spirit is fueled by the creative process.

This skill gap with relation to home design has proved challenging at times when Troy wishes I were more available to visualize aloud with him. Every good designer loves a sounding board and Troy is a designer who would love me to be a collaborator. I try, but sometimes my vision is limited and we get stuck. So, I defer, because I've learned to trust Troy's judgement in these matters. Everything he makes is beautiful.

Resources we've used in designing our home are

Troy actually designed and drew initial plans for several homes before we settled on our final design. He's so thorough and his designs are so lovely that he's actually sold one of his designs.

One of the challenges in any design project is balancing form and function. In a very functional design project like a home, function is absolutely key and cannot be compromised, but form needs to be approached holistically so the building looks united and integrated. 

A good friend, stone mason, and artist we know advised us early in the process to remember that everyone will have to look at our home for many years to come and it is our duty to make it something worth looking at. We've tried to keep that community vision foremost and make our home something that enhances (or at least doesn't detract from) the beauty of the place it sits.

The primary design criteria for our home are
  • The smallest footprint to accommodate the needs of our very busy family who work, play, relax, and learn at home
  • Reduce the maintenance related to our very heavy winter snowloads as much as possible (no shoveling, if we can avoid it)
  • Make our home accessible to all ages; for us, this doesn't relate so much to ADA accessibility, but making it a place where children, adults, grandparents, etc. can all be comfortable and enjoy themselves
  • Natural materials and finishes
  • Plenty of natural light that takes advantage of our lovely views
  • Openness of space with plenty of small nooks for moments of privacy and comfort in a bustling home, without feeling separated or cut off
(This list is a bit contracted and edited, but represents the main criteria.)

And now that the home is framed and I've had a chance to "live" in it in my imagination for a while, I think we've done a pretty good job. I have no hesitation giving Troy full credit for that success. 

Here's the drawings of the exterior of our home to be

And here's what it's looking like in real life these days