Reality Check

It was inevitable, the rude lurch into winter. Overnight, rich-scented fall days brilliant with color turned ashen gray. Cold blew in. Icey snow fell. The honeymoon ended.

I’d been floating on a magic carpet of dreamy-eyed familial love, deluding myself into thinking the splendid sun-filled days and warm moony nights were the way it would be forever-and-ever-amen. I was enmeshed in the rigors of remodeling, gardening, and harvesting. I basked in the company of my sunny-side-up sister and brother-in-law.

Yesterday, they left for Texas. They’ll be gone a week.

I’ve never known quiet as deep as the soundlessness that descended with their leaving. This morning I tried to meditate. I’d neglected the practice for the past two months. As I settled into position, the roaring in my head drowned out the silence. It was unreal. I thought I’d hear a deep, profound, nothing. But the clamor in my brain was worse than the traffic on the corner of Cjon. Valle del Maiz and Salida a Queretaro where I lived in San Miguel. I learned to tune out the cars and buses there, but getting past the mental babble that had taken the place of real noise proved to be a thousand times tougher.

So I sat. And waited. And focused on no thought, empty mind.

Quiet eventually came, then a dawning realization of the very different world I’ve landed in.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, were coveted tourist destinations. Both had thriving communities of ex-pats. Entertainment, fine food, and friendly people spilled out of every doorway. The hustle-bustle of shops and markets, the parades, the fireworks, there was always something happening. Distractions of every nature awaited discovery. Whatever I needed or wanted was a quick walk from my door.

At Granny’s Landing, I’m surrounded by thousands of acres of hayfields and forests. There are zero ex-pats. The friendly people are my sister and brother-in-law and I’m staying with them until my house next door is finished. A walk to the mailbox is a mile round trip. The food is superb but we cook it. A deer leaping across the meadow is a distraction. So is Freya, the six-month-old German Shepherd that owns us. Shops and markets are a half-hour drive to Grand Rapids, a small town that boasts a Target, a Walmart, and a Home Depot. What more could anyone want?

Hard work is also a distraction and there has been plenty of that over the past couple of months.

Two days ago, winter blew in from the north bringing snow and freezing temperatures. I went into hibernation mode. Yesterday, all day, the wind howled. Tiny shards of ice ticked against the windows and I remembered why I left Minnesota.

I chose to return even though for years I swore I’d never live in the north again. There is no doubt in my mind that it was the right decision for me at this juncture in my life. But in meditation this morning, I was faced with questions: Who am I here? How do I want to spend my time? What will occupy me through endless months of winter?

One thing that is crystal clear is the necessity of a wardrobe adjustment. In Bali and San Miguel, I pretty much dressed up every time I left the house. It wasn’t unusual to see tourists in Ubud decked out to the nines. Young women paraded the perilous sidewalks in spike heels and frothy gowns. And there will never be anything as spectacular as a Balinese woman in full traditional regalia. The see-through lace kebaya over a tight-cinched Mona Lisa corset with the colorful silk batik sarong hugging every curve and sashed at the waist is a hard act to upstage in any culture.

In Mexico, the locals’ love of costume, whether white-painted skeleton faces or feathers and leather, made everyone else look tame.

That was then.

I’ve put away all but my simplest earrings. I feel overdressed wearing even those. I haven’t touched my lacey tops and flowy skirts – I may not ever again. To go outside today, I donned a vintage jacket W’s brother had when he worked in Denver for Continental Airlines. I added a blaze-orange stocking cap (a safety measure since bird hunting season has begun) over the scarf wrapped around my neck, head, and face for warmth. Ski mittens and felt-lined rubber boots completed the outfit. It wouldn’t matter if I wore this getup on the streets of Grand Rapids. I’d fit right in.

Then I stepped into the whipping wind in this 30-degree Fahrenheit world to walk the dog.

If I’m honest, I have to admit it’s a relief. I’m tired of noise, congestion, buildings, and traffic. My nervous system needs a rest. I like the androgynous anonymity of winter clothing. It allows me to go anywhere incognito. It’s bulky and forgiving if my stomach pooches out.

I’m being pared down to my core. What’s left will be the genuine essence of someone I tried very hard not to be. But now I can embrace her. I’ve lived fully. I’ve loved wholeheartedly. I’ve earned this peace.

“Winter’s Coming” to Granny’s Landing

Am I stuck in a season of Game of Thrones? Since moving to northern Minnesota, I’ve heard the ominous phrase, Winter’s coming, more times than I can count. It sends an anticipatory chill down my spine. Leaves are turning and the next thing we know there’ll be white drifts waist-high.

I loved GOT, but I don’t dare start the sequel, House of the Dragon, before my own house is winterized and liveable. I’d be hooked, binge-watching, and worthless, like I was when I finally tuned into the blockbusting House Targaryan/House Stark series and swooned over Jon Snow’s woeful appeal. In spite of violence, torture, and relentless bloodshed, I couldn’t stop watching. That’s what happens when the plot is irresistible.

What does any of that have to do with my little house on Fantasy Bay?

Plenty! After hiring Leighton Movers to bring an abandoned, half-finished cabin to a prime spot on the family farm, my sister, brother-in-law, and I have been working our senior bods to the point of extinction, skirting the crawl space, putting in new windows, insulating the floor, and digging a trench from the electrical pedestal to the house. It’s a scramble to meet the encroaching cold. Every morning the thermometer reads a degree or two chillier as we brew coffee and shiver under our layers.

Sometimes it seems like an impossible dream. Then we complete another day’s work and I drag myself to bed, hopeful again.

This was the cabin when I first saw it about a quarter mile from where it is now.

The idea of installing new windows across the entire front of the house was daunting. I hired local handymen to remove the front wall and build frames for six. “Six?” Lofty, my main guy, repeated the number. “Yes, six. And I want them six inches apart.” I showed him my drawing. He scratched his ear and nodded.

I would have loved a full wall of glass, but…winter’s coming. In the far north, windows aren’t the best insulators. I compromised, couldn’t afford all that glass anyway, and I still have a to-die-for view. Eventually, two more windows will wrap the corner on the right.

I want it all now, of course. Finished – like it is in my head. Patience was never my forte.

After Lofty and Dante had been at it for four days, the framing was ready and the exterior was sheathed. Gwen, W, and I cut holes in the Tyvek, installed the windows, and applied flashing tape. Ahhhh! The view!

Then we turned our attention to the floor.

I’ve never seen such a thorough job of screwing as demonstrated in the sheets of plywood we had to remove to install insulation. There must have been fifty rusted screws in each piece and they didn’t want to let go. With bruised knees and slivers in our butts from scooching along the floor, we were able to get about one-third of the sheets up the first day. I removed old insulation from the walls to reuse between the floor joists. It took us three days total to complete that job.

After each phase of this project, I’ve thought, Whew! The toughest part is over. Then something even more physically challenging comes along.

Thirty feet long and two feet deep, that’s the length and depth of the trench required by code to bring electricity from the pedestal to the house. I filled out the form on the State of Minnesota website, paid the fee, and within seconds the electrical permit landed in my email box.

Digging the trench would have killed us all if we didn’t have the auger. With that beast of a machine, W punched eight holes in the ground, each one of them four feet deep. Then we shoveled out the solid-packed dirt between each hole connecting them and removed the excess that had fallen back in when the auger came out. We persisted until we had our two-foot depth.

When I say dirt, that’s a euphemism. This soil is clay. When it isn’t sticky-wet slime, it’s a dense, rock-solid wall. Salty sweat burned my eyes. My heart pounded. My shoulders and back ached. I was so tempted to throw down that shovel and walk away. But there was Gwen, sweating and scooping the earth like a maniac, and W the same. Gratitude, guilt, and willpower kept me going.

By the way, what do you think of my fashion-statement designer overalls? They’re Gwen’s. She sews her own and guessed my wardrobe might not be up to the tasks we were about to undertake. So she gave them to me along with the pretty peach workshirt. I accepted, delighted, knowing she had three more of the same pattern. She wears them for gardening. The others are in sensible colors: green, brown, dark blue. I have the serviceable-but-pretty floral ones. I’ve never worn anything as comfortable!

But I digress.

What’s next?

We’ll bring the wiring to the electrical box inside the house and install outlets, switches, and lights. Then the inspector will come to point out everything we did wrong. When he leaves, we’ll correct any mistakes. Once again we’ll call him for another look and he’ll give the final thumbs-up. That’s a best-case scenario. Fingers crossed.

Right now, it’s fifty-two degrees and raining at ten-thirty in the morning. We’re still drinking coffee and procrastinating. That’s a luxury that doesn’t happen often because that phrase beats in our heads with every tick of the clock and drives us forward.

Two words…

Winter’s coming.

Progress Report from Granny’s Landing

After living in dense communities near pulsing commerce and throbbing nightlife in both Bali and Mexico, I could only theorize about peace. Quiet, for me, was closing all doors and windows against noise seepage and turning on Leonard Cohen.

What would it be like at Granny’s Landing with a mile-long gravel road to reach the blacktop, and the closest neighbor also that far away? What about the twenty-minute drive separating me from the nearest town, Palisade, MN, population 167, with a church, a gas station, and the local pub? I couldn’t imagine it.

Now that I’m here, my understanding of quiet has been radically redefined.

Deep and profound, the hush stretches unbroken across fields to the horizon. Sun-soaked or moon drenched, it envelops my senses and holds me in a womb-like embrace. Jangled synapses in my over-taxed nervous system relax. Sometimes crickets, sometimes the rattling bugle calls of cranes passing overhead, remind me that other life exists.

Actually, that’s not quite true about the distant neighbor. My sister’s front door is a short stroll from mine – like half a city block at most. But Gwen and W are family. They occupy a completely different category.

I’m staying with them while my dwelling takes shape and they’ll be my main social scene in the years ahead. We have extended morning coffee and hash over the latest breaking news. At five o’clock witching hour, we convene on their screened porch to recap the day’s events. Wine flows and our conversation morphs into deep philosophical discussions while sunset outlines the treetops in gold.

Wonderful family! They know what needs to be done, how to do it, and who to call if they don’t. They have a seemingly endless supply of saws, drills, hammers of all sizes, and motivation to get my house built. (I would, too, if I were hosting me!)

But when it came to installing my new windows, we needed help. At 10:00 a.m. this morning, reinforcements appeared on the scene. A van and a car lumbered toward me, a mini-parade kicking up a trail of dust. My construction crew had arrived.

Lofty, his right-hand man, Dante, and Gene, whose role remains a bit of a mystery, unloaded an impressive stream of power tools, looked at my plans, and groaned. “You want six windows across the front here? And three more in this wall? Nine windows?”

Of course, I want nine windows. The view is spectacular. I love light. And I think I mentioned that number when I hired you to install them.

I didn’t say it, but I thought it. Instead, I asked if there was a problem with my drawings because the installation of all my windows appeared to work just fine on paper. The three of them studied the diagram again and agreed that it could be done. I left them to it for a few hours. When I returned, the southeast wall as I had first seen it like this…

had been transformed to this!

The vision I’ve carried in my dreams for months, inviting light and sky and the tranquility of pastoral views into my house, is manifesting.

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