A Project to Die For

Some days the excitement buoys me up, motivates me, inspires the energy to do things no 73-year-old woman in her right mind would touch. Here I am in the deep freeze of northern Minnesota, working physically harder than I’ve ever worked before, manifesting yet another dream.

I’ve been retired for twelve years. I finished building my house in Bali in 2015.

Wait.

That’s not true.

The skilled Balinese crew, men and women, created a stunning residence while I watched. I may have painted a wall, but other than designing the structure and the space, engaging myself in actual labor was against the law. I was required to pay Balinese workers to do it.

My home there was spacious and light-filled. It looked over a river valley dotted with tiled roofs, rust-red against jungle green. I could hear my neighbors chatting and laughing and I drooled over the scents wafting from their cooking.

Then, of course, Covid happened. I told that story in this post https://wordpress.com/post/writingforselfdiscovery.com/22362. If you care to go there with me, click the link.

Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t seen my children and grandchildren for two years. The pang of missing them sat in my body like wet cement. In September 2021, I was finally, fully vaccinated. I flew to the U.S. and reconnected with family. When it came time to catch the return flight to Bali, I couldn’t. Waves of memories of monkey trauma and loneliness wracked my nervous system.

I haven’t gone back.

Instead, I’ve spent the last 6 months in northern Minnesota on the family farm building another home. This time I’m fully engaged in the physical process. My body is regularly taxed to its limits and beyond. Working with my sister and brother-in-law, I’ve dug trenches for electrical cable, installed insulation, screwed sheetrock to the walls then mudded, taped, and sanded…

…sanding is nasty business!

I’ve foamed gaps, caulked crown and base moldings (up and down, up and down, up and down the ladder) and, with the immense help of my tireless sis and bro-in-law, laid laminate flooring all the while repeating the mantra…My body aches but not my heart.

Some days I used every ounce of willpower to make myself work, dreading the rigors of the task I’d left unfinished. What I judged would take a week, often took three or more.

Each phase of the project melted into the next, but plumbing was an ongoing puzzle. I have no well and my sleek, Separett composting toilet needs no septic system. A 50 gallon tank under the sink is the source of water. My brother-in-law mulled, sketched, erased, and watched one how-to video after another to come up with a workable system. He’s been installing it with the help of my sister while I marvel. I’ve seen lesser works of art in the MoMA and I told them so.

Then my sofa came and changed everything. It was softness in a harsh, backbreaking world of work. It was the beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel, the promise that one day in the not-too-distant future I would live in comfort here.

Each time I set a move-in goal, the date arrived and passed. I’ve quit doing that. It will be when it will be – could I hope for Valentine’s Day???!!!

Building this house has become a project to live for. It’s made my body strong. I know my home from the studs to the electrical face plates and everything in-between – a more intimate relationship than I’ve ever had with anything alive or inanimate.

Now…

The fun begins. I get to shop for things I love that will enhance my 399 sq. ft. home. That will be so much more satisfying than the fortune I’ve spent on lumber, electrical wire, screws, and nails. I couldn’t believe the price of nails! Home Depot has been the go-to destination for all my purchases for months. I’m so ready for a change.

And for those who wonder how I’m faring in the deep freeze of a northern Minnesota winter after tropical Bali?

The experience surprised me. All I knew from living and working in Minneapolis pre-retirement, were endless months of dirty sepia. Here, 200 miles farther north, unbroken white undulates across open fields and meets a frosted black treeline. Soundless. Boundless. Reflecting the sky as it did this morning….

At minus thirty degrees, I dress for the weather and brave the cold.

It’s an adventure in a culture far different than Hindu Bali, a culture of rural farming and Scandinavian roots. It feels distantly familiar but mostly new since the last close contact I had with it was over half a century ago. The people have changed. I’ve changed. But the place has not. This farm was my father’s joy. His sweet energy permeates the land. It’s good to be here. Very, very good.

Is it a Winter Wonderland or has Hell Frozen Over?

Snow came in sticky, wet abundance, frosting the trees and shrouding the world in silent white. It was magical, like sitting in a snow globe as the inches piled up. First three…

Then seven more…

then another eight…

It happened fast and I found myself caught between awe and overwhelm. It was intimidating, an all-encompassing blanket that changed the colorful landscape into a monochromatic composition overnight. On cloudy days it was cozy. On sunny days, every crystalline flake reflected dazzling bursts of light.

Holidays approached. Nostalgic aromas of gingerbread cookies and lefse filled the air. My sister sends dozens of home-baked gifts to relatives every year. When it was time to frost and decorate her creations, W and I pitched in.

Mind you, these are only the gingerbread cookies. She made thumbprints, several varieties of spritz, date pinwheels, bourbon balls, pineapple tartlets, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, turtles, three kinds of biscotti, and I know I’m forgetting some. Years of collected decorations appeared throughout the house. Their giant philodendron, aptly named Phil, sported a string of twinkle lights and transformed into a Christmas tree.

All that happened while I hung insulation, sheetrocked around all those beautiful windows, and mudded, taped, and sanded as though my life depended upon it…because it kind of does.

And then…

This:

Temperatures plunged to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit. I went out to shovel and start my car. When I finally chipped away enough ice to open the door and get inside, the battery was dead. But it didn’t really matter because the fuel line on W’s snowplow tractor was also frozen. Without plowing the road, none of us was going anywhere.

Suddenly, the reality of WINTER in Minnesota hit me. Sherry, this is your life for at least four more months. Can you do this? Of course, I can do it. I gutted out two years of Covid lockdown in Bali, besieged daily by foraging monkeys. I CAN DO ANYTHING. But can I do it happily?

Every winter?

For the rest of my life?

Whoa! Back up! Let’s stay in the moment!

Last night we, my sister, brother-in-law, and I celebrated winter solstice. I found a guided meditation by Julian Jenkens. We sat in candlelight, listening, musing, contemplating, and, nudged by his wise words, probing our souls. We spent the following two or three hours in deep philosophical conversations, dining on Gwen’s heavenly lasagne, W’s garden salad, and garlic toast, accompanied by a bottle of Josh Cabernet. It was a feast befitting such a night.

Today, blustery winds are blowing the newest, fluffiest snow into drifts. Forty-five-mile-per-hour gusts are predicted to last through tomorrow. My best-laid-plans to visit Jenny’s family in Minneapolis for Christmas may be postponed. But the gifts are wrapped and ready.

Meanwhile, invitations are pouring in. If we can get out of the driveway, there are Christmas Eve festivities at Uncle John’s two miles away. Dinner is on the agenda for Christmas day with old neighbors who became dear friends.

This is how I grew up. This is what I left behind and have now returned to. It hasn’t changed.

But I have. One of the questions posed last night was, What beliefs can you let go that no longer serve you? As the candles burned down, I let go of the, I hate winter story. It’s time to embrace and embody the fullness of who I am, a child of the snow, born in January, a Capricorn.

According to Molly Hall, on Liveabout dot com, I’m the crone, the elder who lives with the specter of death and knows that winter is coming and prepares for it. How perfect is that?!

Season’s Greetings and News from Granny’s Landing

This will be my first holiday season in a country that celebrates Christmas since 2012. That’s not to say Bali didn’t splash out with balloon Santas and glitzy trees. It did. Staff in the grocery stores donned elf hats, and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer blasted over sound systems. Those dear people did it for us, the ex-pats. Their Hindu beliefs welcomed others with grace and hospitality.

Now, contrary to every impulse I’ve had since fleeing the deep north eleven years ago, I’m back.

It’s a joy having family close, and an adventure as I create a home for myself thirty miles from the nearest Home Depot. A friend asked me how many houses I rehabbed when I was flipping real estate. I tallied them on my fingers, at least ten. I loved it. but I worked with Fred Roth, a brilliant contractor, and all I did was paint when he’d finished everything else. In Bali, I remodeled an old house with the help of a Balinese crew that showed up with their wives and children every day for nearly nine months. I lived in one of the old bedrooms all the while and did none of the work myself.

This is a different story. My brother-in-law, sister, and I are the commander and crew and it’s an awakening. My appreciation for the professional help I’ve had in the past has grown exponentially. I had no idea.

Then along came the tiny house with all of its sullied potential.

This is how it looked when I first saw it in May.

It was on a property adjacent to the family farm. The house had been given to my cousin and the property owners wanted the eyesore gone.

Enterprising sister, Gwen, and persuasive brother-in-law, W, talked to cousin John on my behalf and I was gifted the house. (He said he didn’t have time to move it so if I could get that done it was mine.) I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not stuck in episode 99 of a fantasy series.

For several weeks in June, I stayed with Gwen and W and we built a foundation. Then I returned to Mexico to spend a few last weeks with precous new friends, Elaine, Diane, Barbara, and Patricia, and say goodbyes.

In August, I left San Miguel de Allende behind and made the permanent move north. After several companies quoted the job, I hired Leighton Movers to relocate the house to Granny’s Landing. Watching Leighton at work with a benign smile that never left his face and moves as smooth as a dancer’s was a thrill. When the house was loaded and creaked to a start, I stopped breathing.

After the first corner with ditches on both sides, which Leighton executed with flair, https://youtu.be/sxJyeFb6goc I exhaled, stopped sweating bullets, and mentally moved into my new home.

That was then. I was naive. I hired help, waited for weeks and they didn’t show up. Finally, the Lofty and Dante team came and framed my front windows. Glorious light poured in.

For a gasp-worthy fee, electricity was trenched from the closest pole to a pedestal near the house. I won’t have a well or septic system in my semi-off grid tiny house, but electricity was a non-negotiable must. When the electric company left, we still had to bring the cable to the house in a 4-foot deep ditch. It was an endless, grueling day.

That’s when I knew for sure I was no longer seventeen.

I’ve never done such physically demanding work. Ever. A new mantra sustained me: My body hurts but not my heart. It was painfully true.

The piddly stuff seemed endless, and so un-visible. I tried to imagine my after-finished-house life here and drew a blank. But step-by-step, progress happened. Jack-of-all-trades, W, wired for electricity and it passed inspection – a major accomplishment. My expectations for a move-in date fluctuated, ratcheting down, and down, and down again. There were shadowy moments when I almost questioned my decision. But they were fleeting and quickly banished.

In November I took a much-needed break and went to Minneapolis for the twins’ birthday. Haircuts for the boys at Floyds in Uptown was a festive event. Mom and Dad asked them how they wanted their hair cut. Rowan went into great detail describing the front, back, and sides that translated into something suspiciously like a mohawk. Mom and Dad exchanged glances. Remy was quick and to the point: very, very short.

When all was done the boys were happy and I’d developed a severe case of boot envy! On the way home, we stopped for treats at Glam Doll Bakery. A terrible name but I drool remembering the sugar ‘n’ spice of my sweet potato-filled doughnut.

Seeing my east coast granddaughters when the snow is neck-deep in Minnesota is something I’m really looking forward to!

Back at the farm, the house awaited my return and the dreaded sheetrocking process. Young(er) neighbors, Kent and Bruce, came to help with the ceiling – a brutal task but they made it look easy. W used his head. In the three days following, Gwen, W, and I finished the walls.

The putsy job of drywalling the window wells was all mine. I’ve been chipping away at it, measuring, cutting, cussing, and screwing. Suddenly the shabby, tiny-house shell was transformed into something I could imagine inhabiting with great pleasure for the rest of my life.

Now we’re at the place I’ve been waiting for: the fun stuff. Packed solid under my hide-a-bed at Gwen and W’s, are light fixtures, faucets, a tankless electric water heater, the kitchen sink. I kid you not, my new kitchen sink is under my bed. In their garage, a ten-foot countertop, refrigerator, cabinets, the bathroom vanity, and my composting toilet await installation. A couch will be delivered before Christmas and hopefully, there’ll be a finished floor to put it on. So many details. But my vision is manifesting and I’m thrilled.

The gratitude I feel for my sister and her husband overwhelms me. They’ve shared their tools, knowledge, time, energy, food, resources, and their home with me for over three months without a single argument or cross word passing between us. That, in itself, is miraculous. House-speak dominates our happy-hour conversations every evening. And they continue to show up for me. With kindness. Smiling. Going so far above and beyond they could be orbiting the moon.

As I wrap up this tale, fat snowflakes tumble out of a moody, gray sky. Dark trees at the edge of the field scribble a jagged horizon line. An antique clock from the Southern Pacific Train Depot in Santa Barbara, California tick-tocks the minutes and I’m aware of time slipping by. But I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do, soaking up family vibes. In the weeks between now and the end of the year, there’ll be cookie frosting, tree decorating, lefse baking, and cozy get-togethers. It’s a familiar feeling as I relive memories of growing up Scandinavian. And someday soon, I’ll be welcoming friends to coffee at Granny’s Landing. Won’t you join me?

I wish you big dreams and the courage to manifest them.

Happy holidays!

Door to the Future

The wooden sign hung on the wall in the bathroom hallway and ingrained its message into the fiber of my being from the time I could read until I left home at eighteen.

Standing with legs crossed and butt cheeks clenched, waiting for a sibling to flush and unlock the door, I committed its words to memory:

On every visit home over the years the little plaque was still there to remind me. 

When had that message been more pertinent?

My seventieth birthday brought with it a paradigm shift of proportions not seen before in many lifetimes – perhaps ever. Foundations were rattled. Belief systems challenged. Trust in the order of things was upended.

For me, it felt like being stuck in the center of a bowl of lime jello. I could move a little and see fuzzy shapes through the green haze. But my hands had nothing to grasp. I couldn’t get out. I was forced to be with myself.

In the pressure cooker of Covid, the flames intensified under anything left on the back burner to deal with later. Later, was at hand. Emotions, the closeted things I hadn’t wanted to look at, were storming the gates.

Grant me the serenity…

Stoic Capricorn knows how to stuff it, move on, and don’t look back. That can work for a long time and it did. It took me on a glorious Bali adventure. It allowed me to compartmentalize the trade-offs – seeing family perhaps only once a year for a few weeks and living the dream in paradise the rest of the time.

 But plague ravaged the earth and everything changed. All at once, I was restricted. I couldn’t just hop a plane back to the States. Vaccinations wouldn’t be available to ex-pats for many months and to fly I needed proof that I’d had them.

Life, as I’d known it in the village of Ubud, disappeared overnight. Locked down without the distractions of friends and fun, the walls of defense cracked. Feelings tumbled out, messy, tangled, unruly, demanding attention.

Accept the things I cannot change…

Weeks and months dragged on. I wrote, meditated, did yoga, journaled. “What’s next?” I asked the Universe and the All-Knowing said, Take time to reflect. Having nothing but time, I did as directed. Slowly, like waiting for a Minnesota winter to end, I dug through my psyche, dusted shadows off neglected data, deleted old stuff, and upgraded the system.

I Zoomed with family. As soon as we finished and the screen went dark, so did I. I’d cook something. Take a solitary walk. Bury my nose in a book. And sob.

I learned a long time ago that nothing changes until I know what I want. It was easier to know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want the coronavirus. I didn’t want isolation. I didn’t want to live with fear. I didn’t want to miss my family. But the Universe doesn’t respond to negatives so I remained stuck in the jello.

What I needed was a want big enough to dream about, to energize me, to propel me toward a goal.  

Courage to change the things I can…

What could I change? What did my heart long for? I sank onto my meditation pillow, raised my hands to offer gratitude for the many blessings I still had in my life when a voice resounded in my ear so loud and clear it made me jump. What are you doing here?

In Minneapolis, 2009, bored and miserable, I’d asked myself that same question. My answer had been immediate and shocking: “Just marking time waiting to die.”

I’d come full circle. If I was honest with myself, I’d felt the rumblings of impending transition for the past two years. But a new dream hadn’t taken shape and there was nothing to do but wait for it. There is no forcing the door to the future.

The shift in energy, however, was undeniable, and the tug toward children and grandchildren grew to an overwhelming ache.

The vaccine was eventually offered to foreigners. I got my first dose and was given a date for the second. There was, as yet, no big dream, but I knew I had to connect with my family and I hoped if I took that step forward, light would shine on the path ahead.

I made the circuit from California, to Minnesota, to Pennsylvania, basking, wallowing, and delighting in joyous reunions. I’d booked a round-trip ticket when I left Bali. Now it was time to catch my return flight. I’d left everything there, a beautiful home, dear friends, a life. But the closer the time came to leave, dread filled my heart. I couldn’t go back. At the last minute, I detoured to Mexico.

It had been forty-six years since I’d been in that country, but I knew people there. I quickly acclimated and yet the big dream, the overarching want eluded me. Until I realized…

…and wisdom to know…

Family was the force tugging at me. Roots. Familiarity. A foundation that wasn’t continuously shifting. I wanted accessibility to loved ones without crossing an ocean or needing a passport. Mexico was still too far away. There was only one place that checked all the boxes: the family farm.

I arrived in northern Minnesota in late August to begin the rest of my life. It was an idyllic autumn. The weather was perfect. Leaves changed and held their colors as tamaracks turned golden. Work on my 400-square-foot tiny house progressed.

And then…

It snowed.

As I stare out the window at a landscape gone white and gray, I’m once again flooded with emotions hooked into memories that sent me fleeing the north country years ago. Tangled up with those feelings are others that speak to my soul. I am winter’s child grown old. I’ve come home to embrace what I rejected in my youth, peace, stillness, mortality, and the cold, dark nights between November and June. Unwritten stories whirl in my head. Plots twist through my dreams. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about the present. My heart and mind are primed to plug into the resilience of my Norse ancestors. My body will adjust!

Meanwhile, I want to paint a plaque to hang outside my bathroom door. It will go something like this: Grant me the serenity…

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.

Moving the House to Granny’s Landing

I tried to imagine the process. I lost sleep thinking of the ditches, the lumpy field, the mature hardwoods lining the road. I obsessed. Even if he managed all of that, how would Leighton, the mover, maneuver the house to fit exactly on its foundation? Had we made it the right size?

I wrote about building the foundation in Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay. Three, seventy-year-plus old farts (my sister, brother-in-law, and me) dug sixteen holes, five feet deep, and secured posts to support the platform that would hold the house. In a few hours, I’d know if our combined math skills had withstood the test of time.

Me: “How will we know if it’s square?”

Gwen: “If the lengths of the diagonals are the same, it’s square.”

Me: “How do you figure the length of a diagonal? Doesn’t it have something to do with the Pythagorean theorem?”

W: “Only on paper. Right now, all we need is this…” He whipped out the tape measure.

Me: “Oh”

I am beyond lucky and so grateful that these two have my back. They’ve done it all many times and have answers to questions I don’t even know enough to ask.

Wake-up coffee and breakfast were finished when W sounded the alert. “He’s here!” I glanced at the time: 9:00 a.m. Leighton said he’d come between nine and ten. I gave him an A+ for punctuality and raced out the door.

W and I jumped in the gator and took off while Gwen leashed four-month-old Freya, their German Shepherd puppy, and walked with her to the site of the action.

When we arrived, Leighton was already at work.

I took hours of videos and ran three phones out of battery power, but I’ll spare you most of them and cut to the chase. The adrenalin rush when the house started to move is impossible to describe.

His father moved their house when Leighton was a baby. That was his practice move. From then on, he was in the business. At an early age, Leighton became his right-hand man and inherited the company when his father passed. This professional guy had thirty-plus years in the business and it showed. His every move was fluid. It was clear he’d done this so often it was inscribed in muscle memory. He didn’t even have to think.

On his prior visits, Leighton assured us that the two, right-angle turns at ‘T’ intersections with deep ditches on three sides, were nothing to worry about. W had already spent hours clearing trees from the right-of-way and had a stack of potential firewood to prove it. But as the house approached the first corner, and the machine pulling it dipped in and out of the ditches, I’ll admit my mind went to scarey places.

After that first masterfully executed, impossible hairpin turn hauling two tons of house, I began to relax. From the beginning, Leighton had said, “No problem.” Sometimes my vivid imagination is a terrible thing. I obviously have trust issues. Maybe that’s typical for a woman who has spent most of her adult life depending solely upon herself. But this post isn’t about introspection or self-analysis so, back to the story.

The house trundled merrily down 578th Lane faster than it would have if I were driving. The massive tires absorbed every rut and bump in the gravel road. The house seemed to float

Lieghton polished off the second turn as elegantly as the first.

As he pulled the load across the field toward the platform, Uncle John and Aunt Joyce arrived to watch. My aunt and uncle never come empty-handed and this was no exception. We’d feast on their goodies when the work was done. I introduced them to Leighton, whose perpetual smile never wavered. He joked that his job was a spectator sport.

Up to that point, precision hadn’t exactly been necessary. Big beams, big wheels, big house…there was wiggle room. Now, there was a 20′ X 22′ foundation platform and a more-or-less 20′ X 22′ foot building to set on it.

Gwen, W, and I had measured as best we could, but winter frost heaved the ground under the house and it was torqued. One end sat for years approximately nine inches higher than the opposite end. I’d been assured it would even out once it was on its new, perfectly level foundation. But what if our measurements were off? What if – I was sweating.

I don’t think I fully believed any of this was really happening. I’d pictured it in my mind for months, but in my heart, I’d remained skeptical. As I watched, my home came to rest squarely on the platform, set down as delicately as a bone-china tea cup. Cheers went up from the peanut gallery while I swallowed the lump in my throat and fought tears.

It was perfect from the start to Aunt Joyce’s pizza-and-chocolate-chip-cookie finish. As the sun sank slowly in the west, there it sat, my house at Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay.

Now it’s time to turn this abandoned hunting shack into a home…wish me luck!

Don’t Destroy The Messenger – Even If You Don’t Recognize Her

I didn’t listen to Frank Zappa in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when he was at his most prolific. But when I found this quote, I pulled up his Live in Barcelona Concert on YouTube and fell instantly in love. What a satirist. What a brilliant and open mind.

Which mine wasn’t. You’ll see why.

It’s not that I haven’t been meditating. I have. Like a fiend. At this epic juncture in my life, I want all the help I can get and the Universe never lets me down. But, sometimes the messages coming through are obscure. Sometimes, they don’t look, sound, or feel like emissaries from a most powerful energetic source.

I’ve welcomed spirit guides in the most unusual forms that I won’t discuss here because I want to maintain a modicum of decorum for all of you who at least try to believe what I write. Those messengers, in whatever fantasmagorical shape they assume, have answered every question I’ve ever put out there in the most synchronistic and beautiful ways.

For that reason, I thought my mind was conditioned to promptings, especially when seated on my pillow fully focused on getting those downloads.

But today, as I sat trying to access that quiet dark place behind my eyes, intent upon merging with all beings, all energies, becoming one with the flow, a fly, yes, a common housefly infiltrated my space with no awareness of personal boundaries whatsoever. Concentration impossible, I leaped up, grabbed the flyswatter, and returned to my pillow. I had several perfect opportunities but swung and missed, swung and missed, swung and…

A while ago I read a book, If Truth be Told – A Monk’s Memoir the life story of Om Swami. A visual of the monk high in the Himalaya’s, sitting for hours in the bitter cold without eating, drinking, or allowing any distractions to interfere with his meditation, glided into my mind. Here I was getting hot and bothered over a common fly.

I took a deep breath. I would not kill the fly, not now, not ever. It seemed I couldn’t anyway, and once again I settled into the quiet.

The fly crawled up my arm. It traipsed across my shoulder and lit on my closed right eyelid. Suddenly, the light came on.

“No!” Laughter erupted, deep, ironic laughter. “No!” I said again. “You are NOT my spirit animal. I detest flies. Okay, Universe. I’ll admit you have a great sense of humor, but, a fly? No!” And yet, I knew. This fly was a resounding Yes. It had been tirelessly trying to get my attention and escaping all my efforts to annihilate it. This fly had a message.

Trying to meditate at that point was futile. I got up and Googled Fly Symbolism.

The Universe has creative ways of letting me know that I’m on the right path. The fly messenger was no different. The speed at which changes have unfolded for me in the past nine months, as baffling as it has seemed at times, was affirmed by the fly. It was the appropriate messenger with exactly what I needed to know for this moment.

I still don’t like flies, but this one, the one that’s dive-bombing my head even now while I’m paying it the ultimate compliment, has earned my respect and the right to co-exist with me until it dies a natural death or escapes through an open window. I’ve bonded with worse.

Granny’s Landing on Fantasy Bay – The Countdown

As of today, I have four more weeks in Mexico, then my adventures here will end. I’ll fly to Minnesota, the house will get moved onto this finished foundation platform, and life will …

…will what?

Life will be a race against winter – an all-out effort to have a warm, secure place to live as temperatures plummet. I’m almost as eager to write about that process, the ongoing saga of Granny’s Landing, as I am to experience it.

In my absence, electricity is being trenched to the site. The underground cable will follow the red line from the pole, around the white stake, to the little flag… ‘

My sister keeps me updated by sending photos like this while my brother-in-law clears brush and trees from the ditch along the roadside to widen the area so the house can pass. They met with the electric company and made arrangements. They found the house mover and ferried him around to find the most direct way to get a 20 X 22-foot structure from point A to point B. They’re tirelessly helping me. They say they’re as excited as I am to have me there. That’s my family.

Far away from the action, I tune into Tiny House Nation. I’ve never been a crowd-follower but come to find out, small houses are trending worldwide. It’s a movement and I’m part of it. I watch DIY how-to videos on YouTube, and research heating possibilities – baseboard, in-floor, mini-splits, heat storage units, and off-peak options.

What I really want is a wood-burning stove, the kind you can see into and watch the flames, like a fireplace but more efficient.

A red one.

The decor isn’t quite my aesthetic, but look how cozy that fire is!

I’ve been counseled that a stove could be a backup heat source but I’ll need something less high maintenance for the long frigid months. Something that doesn’t require chopping massive amounts of wood, hauling it, splitting it, stacking it, and, okay, okay, I get it.

Or do I?

There’s something innately appealing about that process, about not having to depend upon electricity. Being self-sufficient.

Then again, I’m seventy-two. Should that end the conversation right there? I don’t think so. I’m in excellent health, strong, able bodied, and my sister adds, Now. Okay, granted. I could do it now and when I can’t I’ll hire someone else to chop, split, and deliver firewood to my door.

These are the types of debates that are carried on continually with people who know a lot more about what I’m doing than I do. But I’m a risk taker. I love a challenge. I need a large measure of that in my life. So I’m tempted to just do it. JUST DO IT! I can always add one of those befuddling other heating systems if tending a fire proves to be too much.

I’m also told I’ll need a vehicle. Bah! Humbug! I haven’t had a car for eleven years. I’ve lived in places where I could walk to everything I needed. But they’re right. It’s thirty miles to the grocery store. There are no Lyfts or Ubers (or a trusty Ketut with his motorbike). If I must have one, I want a Jeep. Does anyone have an old Jeep they don’t need anymore? I’m serious!

Meanwhile, the succulents adorning my San Miguel rooftop suck moisture from frequent showers and grow fat. Sun-filled days kept cool by drifting festoons of fluffy white clouds lure me outside. I wander cobblestone streets meeting load-bearing donkeys and the bronzed, wizened men that tend them. Church bells, firecrackers, mariachis – two nights ago at midnight I awoke to a procession. A group of maybe thirty, maybe fifty local people paraded in the dark singing with loud, melancholy gusto to the steady beat of drums. They stood in the street in front of my house for thirty minutes, serenading the shrine located there. It was haunting. Beautiful.

At a fair last weekend, my friend bought medicinal herbs from a vendor. In the course of their conversation in Spanish, we were invited to Temazcal, a thousands-of-years-old sweat-lodge cleansing ritual performed by indigenous women in a nearby village. Thrilled, we accepted. As we walked away I said, Do you think we’ll do this naked? Barb went scurrying back to ask and returned with a look of relief. Clothing, it appears, is optional.

Remember The Sound of Music, that iconic movie starring Julie Andrews? I saw it seven times and one line from a song she sang toward the end is embedded in my memory. Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good. That’s how I feel about my life now. Since I retired it’s been touched by magic and there’s a knowing in my gut that says in spite of outrageous politics, global warming, and never-ending covid, there are plenty of good times ahead.

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