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!

Small House Magic


How much do I really need?

That was the question I asked myself as the calendar left 2010 and I turned sixty-one. My life wasn’t working. The numbers I scrawled in my journal every morning didn’t add up to an early retirement – more like no retirement – ever. Too many bills. Too much debt. Too little IRA.

As blizzards stormed through that January, the thought of another winter in Minnesota gave me cold sweats. It wasn’t just the sixteen-hour arctic darkness, or icey steets, or no parking so the plow could get through that I dreaded. Or snow snow and more snow, or shoveling off the roof, the driveway, the sidewalk, or frozen pipes, broken pipes, ankle-length down coat over layers of fleece, socks, boots, hats, mittens, heating bills, aching joints. It was all that and more that made it unbearable.

And…I…was…over…it.

So when the numbers didn’t add up to the right answer, I tried a different question. How much do I really need? That sentence hounded me. The truth stared me in the face. I needed very little and had way too much. The weight of my belongings crushed me. I was imprisoned by abundance.

I’m a Capricorn – a goat-like being with stubborn drive and dogged persistence toward a goal – the top of the mountain will do. Without that vision it’s a slippery slide into grumpy discontent. I was teetering perilously close to the pit. But one thing was clear: I had to purge possessions.

Was it easy to let go of prized belongings? Not the Ralph Lauren farmhouse table. I knew if I could part with that I could part with anything. So I took photos and put it on Craigslist. It sold within hours. I whirled and whooped in the space where it had been and paid off two-thirds of my credit card debt. I couldn’t get rid of the remaining treasures fast enough. By winter of 2011 everything I owned fit into three plastic bins and a suitcase.

Debt-free from sales of all the unnecessary excess I could afford to dream. Without the responsibility of stuff I could go anywhere. I’d vacationed in Bali several years earlier. As I journaled through that December, visions of terraced rice paddies and swaying palms floated through my mind. Could I retire early and move there? My 62nd birthday was a month away. On March 1, 2012, a week before the first Social Security check came, my plane touched down on the Island of the Gods.

I took some risks those first years – used every dime of savings to lease a parcel of land in the center of Ubud and renovate the old house that sat on it. I knew nothing about building in Bali but I drafted plans for a major overhal and the patient crew told me I’d drawn walls too high to sustain earthquakes. They would build them for me if I wanted, but just FYI. Back to the drawing board…literally! Finished, my new apartment was a hair shy of 500 sq. ft. and it was perfect.

There’s magic in small spaces. Since upkeep is minimal, I have time and energy to do all the things I love. I possess only items I want to look at because there’s no place to store anything else. I get fresh produce daily because my small fridge will accommodate only one day’s fruits and veggies. I eat simple meals because I don’t own a microwave or an oven. I save money because it’s less expensive to care for 500 sq. ft. than it is to maintain a mini-mansion.

That leap into the unknown has changed me. How could it not? I no longer have to cope with winter. I love my tiny house, my giant view, and the wild freedom to live life full throttle. But to get here…

I had to take that leap.

The custom teak table and chairs do dual duty: desk and dining. Behind the carved door is my only closet…gulp!
The kitchen is compact and functional. I love the hand-carved apron and the hand-woven under-counter storage baskets.
The dorm-size refrigerator tucks under the counter. The only other appliances are a blender and yogurt maker.
During the day the doors slide open to give the breezes and butterflies free access.
The daybed (original paint) was buried under logs and branches in the corner of Ketut’s family’s woodcarving shed. His father made it years ago for his growing family. I’d been looking all over Bali for exactly that! It’s my sofa.
The queen-size bed faces east. I love waking up at 6:30 to the sunrise!
Sometimes the first thing I do when I open my eyes is grab my camera.
I’m standing in the shower to take this photo of my sweet 4′ x 6′ bathroom.
The shower occupies the far end.
The ceiling peaks at 20 feet and lends volume and beauty to the simple room.
And my view over Ubud’s rooftops…to die for!

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