Slow progress, maintenance, and puttering projects.

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We have lived here for soon three months, months full of the usual fussiness of life, there always seems to be something, but life in all its something-ness seems a little lighter, a little more manageable, pocket-sized, when living in a small house. It is like when you travel and only bring your most comfortable shoes, flattering pants, and black shirts—you never have to think about what to wear, everything works effortlessly. Our house is like a suitcase full of favorites. It fits us.

I cannot say that it fits us effortlessly. There are quite a few chores to be done in a tiny house, especially since it takes some effort to keep it clean and fresh smelling with four wily beasts (Seb, Ada, Alma, and I) romping around. There are days when I do not finish the morning chores until it is time for lunch, given that I eat my lunch early, and it feels rather funny to dry off the breakfast dishes and empty out the drain bucket right in time to put on the beans. There are always at least five kitchen towels on the laundry line, the floor could always use mopping, and soon there is time to chop firewood, which will add to my routine. It is all pleasant and peaceful, I feel like old “Pettson” (a Swedish children’s book character), who tinker away at his days, invents this and that, and talks to his cat and chickens, only I have a hound dog and woodland birds, instead. The stories I tell them. I bet they wish I did not sing so much.

Not that maintenance is something I tend to enjoy without a fair bit of existential angst. I feel with Switters, one of my favorite antiheros, in Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, as he rants about all the tedious things one has to do:

“There’s birth,” he grumbled, “there’s death, and in between there’s maintenance.”

Sebastienne and I both confess to be better at starting new projects than at the upkeep that comes after. If it is absolutely necessary, we can stick to a project that has run dry, say, the soffits… We worked toward the goal of finishing this house for two years, and despite the intention of remaining awake to our days, we frequently had to walk with our wills in front of our feet, something we are both capable of, but choose not to make a habit. The fun lies in the creativity, in the act of creating something new, not in the routine. If I believed in an intentional God, rather than the semi-accidental one I think we are all part of, I would accuse him of the same tendency—he seemed mighty creative in the making of the world, but he is definitely slacking off as far as maintenance goes.

Besides the everyday upholding of order, I have close to an endless amount of building projects to putter with. I built us a bed, a shelf for the foot of the bed, a spice shelf, and a bathroom door, (Seb built the bedroom door in her psychology class, do not ask me how she got away with it.), all satisfying projects to be able to construct and install in an afternoon. It does feel like a luxury to finally have a toilet, especially since the mornings are getting chilly, and it will be great to get enough solar power to run the fridge, and we will not have to buy ice every other day, but otherwise we live so comfortably that I feel no rush to get anything done. Less exciting tasks like installing the gutters and gable vents will be done in time, and I can plod away at my own pace without hurting my arms or interest. If I rather write, like today, or want to enjoy the fall by clearing walking trails in the woods, or want to spend an afternoon with Proust—the house waits without any impatient sighs.

The progress is slow, and not going anywhere more particular than where we are now, but fast progress with certainty as its motor—tends to be violent in one way or another. I think it is nicer this way.

I should perhaps not speak for Sebastienne, who is already knee deep in her PhD program and looks forward to years of intense work, but as far as I can tell, she seems enough emerged in her studies that no future is necessary. That a lot of the work can be done while sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea at her lip and a hound draped over her legs, does seem to ease the blow. I, on the other hand, do not have anything to look forward to, which is a rare blessing. I wake up and live my days. I try not to maintain them.

PS: Forgive the shoddy picture quality, I used my phone. I “need” a new camera…

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All the coffee maker I need, these days.
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Chilly morning studies.
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Bathroom door

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Extra clothes storage under the bed.

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No existential angst there…

Home – writings from the tiny house

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My world is one of beetles and clouds, blisters and stardust, the smell of coffee and endless love, the intimate and the vast.

“We are never real historians, but always near poets.” Bachelard

From a distance, the forest seems impenetrable, the ultimate Strange, but once we step in through its foliage it opens up to us, transforms itself into personable trees, possible paths, and rocks to rest on. As the branches close behind us, the forest is our new reality, and the world we left mere speculation.

“It feels like this is reality now, and everything else is just a story.” Ada mused as the three of us, Sebastienne, Ada, and I, lingered in the kitchen after dinner, sharing our experience of living in our tiny house in the woods where we so far only have limited electricity and no plumbing. Ada put words to the feeling, the realization, that once here, everything else is a there, an elsewhere, and our past only a story in the thickening history book of our lives. The past is transformed into narrative. This is our reality. With the masses of mankind, we mercifully share the ability to sink into our ever changing world, emerge ourselves in whatever circumstance we wake up to. The ones who cannot inhabit their now keep hitting their dense heads into the uncaring wall of existence that separates them from the life that was and the life that will be. What Ada meant is that it already feels completely normal to wash the dishes by hand—boil the water on the camp stove, count each precious drop, and afterward empty out the 5 gallon bucket that is beneath the sink instead of a drain. We are already used to keeping an eye on the electricity meter to make sure the battery does not drop below 12.20, and to unplug everything we do not use. Peeing in the woods have become the kind of normal that might make you want to pull down your pants in a parking lot. Something to watch out for. This life that would have seemed Strange a month ago, is now our Normal.

Already when we drew the floor plan, I imagined this to be my writing spot. I dreamed of this moment. I sit at the gate leg table in our kitchen-living room with trees peeking in through the windows, and clouds waving through the skylight. Across the table from me, my darling wife grimaces, turns her soft skinned face into a mask of furrowed concentration, mumbles quietly to herself like someone in prayer as she reads and takes notes for her consciousness class, Alma, the hound dog, rests heavy nosed and long eared on the sofa, her silky lip spilling over the edge, barely out of pinching distance, and Ada is curled up on the floor in her time machine/spaceship (the box this computer arrived in), chuckling softly at something unsanitary and maladjusted in Calvin & Hobbes, as deliciously pleased at the inappropriateness as only someone as heartbreakingly kind and sweet as Ada can be. I admire the long-legged soon to twelve years old squeezed into a paper box with her careless, deer-like beauty, her father’s one-world-removed hang dog eyes, and a stubborn and self-satisfied resistance against the preteen tendency to stop making box ships. If everyone was as easy to love as her, the world would be a very different place. A woodpecker’s echo rouses this family of dreamers, thinkers, players, and creators, our eyes smile to one another, recognizing the luxury of having built our own house in the same forest as a woodpecker builds hers. I lean back to the sink to refill the water glass, a green mason jar, special edition. Everything is so close here. My family, tea, apples, the woods. Everything is within reach. Everything is right here.

I get the image of this house being a sailboat in the ocean, and of us being its novice crew. I would not want to cross the Atlantic in a row boat, the lack of shelter would corrupt my love for the vastness of the sea into something sickening and clenching, nor would I choose the sin city of a cruise ship in which the salty air gets a refrigerated quality, smudged with smoke and carpet, and the ocean forgotten. A sailboat big enough for my family would be just the thing. I imagine us cozied down below, playing cards and reading, snuggled warm in quilted blankets. I see us on deck—wild in our faces, feet wet, hearts wide, letting the ocean enter, licking off the salt on my lips. This little house is the perfect size to shelter us without separating us from the world. The woods are always lapping at our doorstep, breaking gently at our windows. Equally encouraging us to set sail and anchor down.

Another recurring fantasy is the house as my shell, my body. I imagine my head sticking out on top with the roof for a hat, my arms reaching through the windows, legs instead of wheels, the torso nicely snuggled by cedar siding, the door for…well…this and that. Like a snail or a turtle I take my house with me as I go, tut-tuut, ready for adventure, ready for a nap.

I have always been a homebody (interesting word, come to think of it), or “cave dweller,” as I say when in a self-deprecating mood, despite the seemingly contradicting truth that I have for varying lengths of time lived and worked or studied in six different countries, starting in Sweden, lingering for a substantial time in Berlin, Germany, currently in USA, and have traveled as a tourist to more countries than I remember. No matter if I stayed in a windowless hotel room with turquoise plastic sheets in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, or a bunk bed in barrack full of drunken youths somewhere in Australia—I managed to settle in, sweep the floor, light a candle, sit down for dinner, find a reading nook. I have had the luck (or discernment) of having friends and partners of similar inclinations and talents, which is how my longtime friend Lina and I managed to make a park bench in Havana, Cuba, feel homey and civilized (only for a day, albeit), and my cousin Anna swept flowers as a practice of domesticity and meditation every morning from the Laundromat floor on an island in Greece where we spent a summer.

Homemakers. (Not to be confused with “housewife,” though I do not mind that term either, I think of it as a married version of “homebody,” which is exactly what I am.) My mother is probably the best homemaker of all (though she worked as a high school teacher), and has spent a dominating part of her life feverishly dedicated to the making of beautiful and cozy home spaces. As I tell the narrative about my mother, it is wide pride that I joke that if she was the sole survivor of Armageddon, she would make herself a home among the rubbish and ruins, sweep the floor with a branch, stack cinderblocks into a modernistic sofa, and go looking for an iron. Step 1: Make a home.

So goes my dreams of home. That is what this house feels like: Home.

Besides the obvious impact of having built the house ourselves, its diminutive size and simple setup strongly influence the feeling of home. The fact that I can probably, given some time, list every single item in this house—shows my intimate relationship with my material surroundings. I know what I have and where it is (most of the time, some things have not found their logical homes yet). Another factor is that the limited number of things make me use the ones I have more, also strengthening my bond to them, strengthening their sense of worth and purpose, and my appreciation thereof. I touch everything. I was the dishes by hand, the smooth porcelain slippery and cool, lemon zest in my nostrils. Even Ada claims to prefer hand washing to dealing with the dishwasher. Once clean, the dishes all get dry and put back in their places, something I never managed to achieve when having a big kitchen with lots of space and things to fill up said space. Similarly, the bed needs to be made for the bedroom to feel like a place of retreat whenever the living room spills over with beings, and so the cotton creases of the duvet cover gets caressed by morning palms. I also sweep the floor every morning and every night, a three minute exercise started out of necessity (dog hair and red Georgia mud), but now a satisfying finish to the dressing of the house. I never felt I could be the queen of my castle while living in a five bedroom suburban home with two living rooms, only a lost visitor and maid, my dislike of vacuum cleaners turned into hours of sweeping. 225 square feet is the size of my castle.

Upon rereading, I recognize how obnoxious my love of the domestic can seem, its country romantics and privileged poetics. Who on earth enjoys sweeping the floor? Do I not have anything more important than lemon zest going on? Answers: I do. And no. Being married to my second academic within the social sciences, I am versed with Marx, Foucault, and critical theory, hegemonies and oppression, and could perhaps write about the political and cultural system of corrupt capitalists and their lobbyists creating an unstainable world from which the poor and less fortunate have very little chance to rise. The tiny house movement is fertile ground for positive and creative resistance against an economic system based on greed and a culture of desire for More and Bigger. Not only does a small house offer wiggle room in a tight pocket, and less reliance on loans with its connected need for wage slavery, it is also one possible answer to the environmental abuse the current building industry daily deals out. So…somebody should write that book.

My world is one of beetles and clouds, blisters and stardust, the smell of coffee and endless love, the intimate and the vast. I have never been able to retain much interest for the middle level, the one of society, history, politics, economics, and whatnot. It is not that I do not find it important, or that I deny its impact on me and everybody, or even that I put my head in the sand in regard to the issues of the world—I try to be intentional as far as which industries and companies I support by giving them my money, and I have recently committed to be a fulltime vegetarian rather than the “only ethically raised meat-eater” I used to be, and I strive to treat my fellow beings with kindness and respect, but I have more of a Spinozan do-no-direct-harm kind of ethics than a go-out-marching-ala-Gandhi strategy.

I might not seem appropriately concerned with the world’s suffering, but at least I am not that interested in my own either. It is true that I have been spared from life’s most atrocious experiences, but I could tell tedious old stories of eating disorders, nightmares, family issues, heartache, social anxiety, jealousy, allergies, and chronic pain. None of that defines me, or even interests me very much (the heartache might be an exception as far as the tendency to gingerly poke where it hurts goes), which is why I choose not to write about it. Forgive me if I seem offensively well-adjusted, I only know how to stumble toward the light, but then again, every bug knows how to do that.

People often express envy for our simplistic lifestyle, minimalistic closet, and barebones design, as well as our lack of mortgage, microwave or double car garage, but rarely without adding a serious doubt that they could ever “do it” themselves. Setting aside the common fear of the building process, people seem to doubt their actual ability to enjoy a life with less stuff and climate controlled indoor environments, which might be a completely true and legitimate concern. This is where I come in. I hope to share my experience of building and living in a tiny (though compared to the whole world throughout the history of mankind—it is quite average, but I am referring to modern Northern American standards) house, which might both distill and kindle concerns. It might show an alternative way to live, show that there are choices and possibilities beyond shared societal beliefs. Also, I suspect that you will come to see that Sebastienne and I are not necessarily such radicals or activists, that even though we spend a fair amount of our leisure time discussing virtues and we did in fact build our own house, we are also lazy and comfort seeking, buy environmentally horrible Swiffer (name brand!) sweepers because they smell like lavender and vanilla, enjoy sci-fi movies in bed, and spend as much time reading on the sofa as we possibly can. I read philosophy for fun and have a weakness for existential Russian novels, but “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” are two of my favorite reads. You can wire your own electricity and use anti-wrinkle creams. You can do pretty much anything you like, using the blocks available (little hint to the Lego! movie).

I am a poet without poetry, an artist without art, a monk without meditation, a nun without God. The “without” does not necessarily refer to the lack of (poetry, art, a meditation practice, God…) as much a lack of need for (poetry, art, a meditation practice, God…). I am okay just being here. I do not feel a need to do anything in particular. I have no meaning, no goal, no purpose, no justification of being. But here I am. Hello! As I tried to explain my sense of being as experiencing, and that I feel no need to collect the experiences into something like a person, which is also why I do not feel a part of anything like the classical view of family, community, society, or history, my wife teased me, and imitated me with an impressively metallic, robotic voice: “I am a solid perceiving machine.” Which made me laugh and correct it to “solid perceiving being,” with the solid referring to being as embodiment, the flesh and blood of it all, and therefore, ironically, my own demise and impermanence. I am a breath, an ear, and an eye.

That being, sweeping the floor and enjoying the dish soap do not seem stranger or more meaningless activates than anything else. This dear little house in the woods allows me to sink into the day, sink into the world, melt into existence. To be. As Bachelard wrote in his The Poetics of Space: “The house protects the dreamer.”

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Move-in-ready!

As I write this, I sit at the kitchen table in our tiny house. It is just after 5:30 am, the dark woods are impenetrable to the eye, but I hear the neighbor’s roosters crowing hesitantly. It has rained for two days, and our solar system is running low, so I choose to write by the light of the oil lamp and a couple of candles that my mother sent us. I plug the computer straight into the DC outlet, rather than through the invertor, and I am as glad to know what I am talking about as I am that it works.

We moved in to our little “Getaway” in the woods! The house has reached a level of finished that we find decently comfortable to live in, but it is far from done. We do not yet have a fully functioning bathroom, our kitchen is only half set up, and we must build the internal doors, get a proper bed, buy and install the larger AC solar system, put up the gutters to collect rainwater, decide what plumbing we want, and get and install our heating and cooling apparatuses. Not to mention that we need to deal with the land itself: I would settle for a pristine forest glen full of wild flowers or an unkempt English garden or any natural looking and easily maintainable garden style, but the current mix of brush piles, leftover building materials, trash and weeds give it that rugged, not to say redneck, backwoods feel, which is not exactly what we are going for. There is still a lot of work ahead, but…we moved in, yay!

We do have the big house” in town with Hannes and April where we use the shower, Internet, and laundry, etc., and we have Paul and Terra across the street who let us fill up our two 5 gallon water tanks, which we need to do every other day. We are grateful for friends who feel like family.

The past month was a whirl wind of work. The evidence thereof is that I am currently wearing wrist braces on both arms and am typing slowly with my pinkies. (Insomnia makes me more patient with time consuming tasks. The hours before dawn feel like bonus time.) I have a crippling combination of carpal tunnel syndrome and “tennis elbow” since I, during the last two days’ rush, built and painted a sink cabinet and two small chests/drawers, spray painted two chairs, polished the floor twice with a car buffer, and scrubbed the whole house with yummy smelling oil soap. The floor buffing is what did me in – crawling on all fours for hours while holding on to the vibrating machine intended for much shorter and upright use made my neck wish it could snap off and go and find itself a more comfortable home.

The most exciting new development is that we got our small DC solar system set up. Sebstienne deserves a load of credit for teaching herself about solar power and electricity (Paul is a good go-to for questions) and ensuring that we now have power enough to use any lamps we need, run the ceiling fan (which she also installed), use the computer (We have already watched movies in bed, which feels like utter luxury.), and almost everything we need besides the small fridge (we put ice in the freezer part) or the still non-exciting air conditioner. To get the solar panel up on the roof was tricky, but nothing compared to knowing how it works, and hooking it up to batteries and invertors and power systems.

Sebastienne has an enviable amount of patience for reading the fine prints of instruction manuals, driven by an endless curiosity to figure out the “why” and “how” of it all, which proved very useful during the house building process. Instructions make my eyelids as heavy as pregnant possums, and I have very little interest in anything that I cannot figure out by myself with the use of logical reasoning and trial and error attempts. Fortunately, there is a surprising amount of things that fall into the latter category.  Also, I have plenty of endurance and focus for the actual work, and I got us up and going every morning, which proved very useful, too. In the end, we made a house together – a monument to our teamwork.

The moving day was hot and the humidity had the quality of reversed rain, which came as no surprise, seeing that it was August 1st in Georgia. I was rendered fairly useless with my gimpy arms, and it took us the whole morning to fill the small U-Haul truck. As we got to the land, John Lebowitz and Angie Pace and her girls were there to help us unload our peach boxes full of books and tea pots, and with close to heroic effort, they managed to squeeze Ada’s mattress through the hole to the loft. Despite our skepticism, the sofa slid in through the door without much of fight, and two hours after our arrival, we were already sweatily sipping the iced green tea in the living room.

Now, a week later, Sebastienne is building a dog pen (Actually, right now, she is on the sofa with the hound, blinking sleepily and sipping the tea I made her.) so that Alma can use the dog door, but she is soon about to shift gears completely: In two weeks she will start a PhD program in psychology, and even though we still have plenty of work to do on the house, her priorities have to alter radically. Building will be an occasional weekend and break activity, rather than the all-consuming work (besides our paying jobs) of the past year and a half.

This blogging process is coming to an end as well, (I think). I intend to write one more post during the coming weeks about downsizing, how we fit all our stuff into the house, and how we live here, and there might be a handful of sporadic posts throughout the fall. As the New Year ticks awake, I will attempt to wrestle all this (house building, living small, life in the woods, etc.) into something pleasant and readable in book shape. I will let you know how that goes.

PS: Excuse the bad picture quality, my camera is dying on me.

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We built a porch! (How to impress your kid.)

“…and what are you going to do today?” Ada’s voice reached me all the way from Sweden where she was visiting her grandparents.

“Build the back porch.”

“Oh, Mama, you say that as other people say that they are going grocery shopping!” She laughed pleased, and I could not help feeling very proud that my soon to be twelve years old thinks that I am cool. I know it will be harder when she is sixteen.

I remember a conversation Sebastienne and I had while driving to Asheville some time during our early courtship when we both shared the belief that our teenage selves would have been happy with how we turned out, which we took as an indicator of not being completely off track. Not that we were particularly ambitious as teenagers, I had a foggy vision of either becoming a scuba dive instructor in Thailand, a writer in an attic apartment in Berlin, or have a vineyard outside Siena, and I believe Sebastienne mostly wanted to leave Texas, but as most half-depressed and over-read youths we did know that we wanted something Good, something Beautiful, and something True. And Love, of course.

As most half-happy and decently well read adults we have become rather post-structural and skeptical that there are such things as goodness, beauty, and truth, at least in any objective sense. Still, without being able to rely on any authority on the validity of human values, we feel comfortable enough that we know what ours are and we live to pursue them. And we do have Love. Our young selves with their frizzy hair, pimples, and baby chub would be glad to see that we did not settle for anything less. They would be relieved that we did not become complacent or resigned, that we still have noble heroes (Seb – Dalai Lama, M – Joan of Arc), and strive to be as giant as our 5.3 feet allow us. And they would think that we are pretty cool to be able to throw together a screened-in porch.

People often say that we must feel so proud to have built a whole house, and on a theoretical level, I guess we are, but the project was too long, and too broken down to be able to feel the entirety of it. Each day we worked on something small, painting a wall here, and putting up window trim there, and each task on its own seemed unremarkable and quite mundane. That we by the end of it got a house is difficult to comprehend. The porch, on the other hand, only took us 6 half-days to build from the time we went to Home Depot to get the lumber, down to the finishing touches. I get that.

Framing is by far our favorite part of building, to out of a pile of planks be able to build a three dimensional structure. Lego for adults. It is fun how much we have learned, now do not need any plans, but can make things up as we go along. Play with it. The discovery of Simpson Strong-tie connectors has definitely made it easier to build things fast, straight, and strong. After the base frame, we added balusters to make the porch feel more tucked in, since it is quite far off the ground. We already had the metal roof (we bought it with the rest of the roof a year and a half ago), and chose to leave it without a sub panel or drop ceiling, so that we can hear the rain. The screen door ended up being too tall for us to get the roof angle we wanted, but Seb cut off almost a foot from its center, then hammered nails half way down one side, cut the heads off, added some glue (liquid nails) and put the pieces back together. She used pet screen on the door to make it tougher. We painted everything semi-gloss white (Behr’s “Polar bear”) except the door and the floor, which we painted high-gloss gray (Behr’s “River Bend”) to match the rest of the house. We stapled on the screen, and added pressure treated and painted 1x2s.

Now we have a cozy and bug free place to hang out, drink tea, and wonder what our eighty years old selves will think of us, and we of them.

Coming up soon (very soon): We move in on Friday August 1st, and before that we have to hook up our solar panels for the DC system, finish out the closets, polish the floor, and pack and clean!

We love the Simpson Strong-Tie wood connectors, they make building easy.

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Seb checks the angles of the roof rafters. Notice the guitar pose. My rock star wife. :-)
Seb checks the angles of the roof rafters. Notice the guitar pose. My rock star wife. :-)
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The mega long connector

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Paint push Swedish style: white eco paint and gently treated white pine floor.

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I do not like labels, in particularly not the defining ones, since their lack of paradox, complexity, and changeability make them smell an awful lot like lies, or at least gross simplifications. I consider myself a human, most of the time, that is anatomically female and culturally cosmopolitan. The rest is details, social constructions that occasionally have something interesting to say about my experience, but most of the time hide more than they reveal. One of the details is that I was born in the part of the world that rather arbitrarily is labeled Sweden. I moved away shortly after I finished high school, which has made my lasting impression a mix of idyllic childhood memories and critical teenage disillusionment. I never got a chance to get the adult’s more nuanced perspective on the country I grew up in.

There is one thing that I have fond memories of from both my younger, home-team-supporting days, and my older, no-team days—the aesthetics. I can claim no objectivity here; I was force-fed white walls, pale pine floors, woven rugs, linen cloths, natural materials like wood, metal, and sheep skins, sparse design, pale, subdued colors and white white white. It is all about the light, about letting the sun in whenever it comes for one of its rare visits. I never got sick of it, though, and I still find Swedish design the most unpretentiously beautiful and livable.

I appreciate that it is a classless aesthetics—you can find it in Stockholm’s most fancy villas and in the smallest, summer cottage. Everybody can afford to not have too much stuff…to keep their rooms simple, open, and clean. Rich people often get too tempted to show off their wealth, which is probably why high couture and design can be so tacky, and I am sure that there are tasteless Swedes, but most of the time they use the inclination to spend their money on quality over quantity. The result is homes that you can (and should) walk barefoot in, where a jar of dandelions looks sunny on the kitchen table, and quickly boiled summer potatoes with fresh fish, a bit a butter and dill is all the feast you need.

Sebastienne and I currently live in muggy Georgia with its fireflies and ice tea, without a single reindeer in sight (Not that there were any reindeer outside Stockholm, either.) and plenty of sun to go around. We have made this part of the world our home, and though I rarely miss Sweden, I do miss its beauty. Luckily, my Texan wife, who has a (perhaps) surprising love for romantic French country-style, was easily won over to the cozy Swedish country cottage look. My mother gave us a subscription to “Landliv” (Country Life), and its monthly dose of white and wood helped to convince her. The real reason, though, is that we are going to have such a small house that almost any other style would overwhelm the space. I promised her that if we ever get a castle—she can have all the romantic swirls she likes.

51eEW1N5y+L._SY300_First step in Swedish-ification is to paint the walls and the ceiling white. The natural wood is only kept in saunas, ski cottages, and hunters’ cabins. To pick the white was easier said than done, and took us hours of considerations. We had originally planned to use Behr’s “polar bear,” but we decided to use a more ecologically sound paint, which meant that our search for the perfect white had to be done all over. The company Sebastienne found, Yolo Color House, http://www.yolocolorhouse.com/color/explore-color/?color=imagine02,   uses “no mutagens, no hazardous air pollutants, no ozone depleting compounds, no formaldehyde, no phthalates, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” and has amazing colors to choose from. We wanted a white that really looked white—not yellow or gray, but at the same time did not feel cold or eye-numbingly bright. The color we finally settled on, “Imagine 2,” has an almost imperceptible hint of lime green in it, like elderberry flowers, something they did not mention in the description, but which we really like—it looks bright and cheerful. The runner-up, “Air 1” ended up looking much too dark and creamy ones we saw the large paint chip. We picked semi-gloss, since it looks best on wood, and is easier to keep clean.

Compared to most paints, the YOLO paint smelled a lot less, and as a good paint should be, it covered well, and did not get streaky. The only question/complaint is that it made our nails rust and show up, which is something we are going to contact the company about, even though the second coat managed to cover most of them. Over three 10 hour work days, we got it all done. A handful of friends (Amelia, and Matt and Erin, thank you!) helped, which we were very grateful for.

paint! (10)The second necessity (in my opinion) is the pale, plank floor. The white pine is naturally so gorgeous that it seemed like a shame to cover it with any stain. After long research, Sebastienne (she is so good at that…) found OSMO polyx-oil, which is a natural oil stain from Germany. It is a hard wax, which means that it penetrates the wood rather than staying on the surface, and then hardens. Sebastienne also contacted the company to ask which color combination would preserve the raw wood color, and with that information in hand, we ordered a gallon and a quart of clear, matt-silk stain, and a sample of translucent white to help counteract the wet look of the clear.

The OSMO is supposed to not release any toxins, or anything unsavory at all, when dry, but while we put it on it smelled like turpentine, or something in that direction. Good ventilation is a necessity. We bought the special brush, despite that it cost $30, because we had read that it could get sticky if you did not apply it right. It was easy, though, as long as you applied it thin and really brushed it into the wood. If we saw any wet spots, we wiped them off with a rag. Something that also made a difference, is that we had used sticky, tacking cloths to clean the floors with beforehand, which helped get rid of any leftover sawdust. Once the second coat is dry, it gets lightly buffed it, and ta-da!

Once it was all done, we laid on the floor in our bedroom, soaking up the peaceful beauty, never wanting to leave. It gets harder and harder to go “home.” For our anniversary (3 years already!), we will spend our first weekend there, celebrating Midsummer’s Eve, which is second in popularity only to Christmas in Sweden. It will be a new experience to be in the house without working. To learn to love it through leisure. I am sure it will be lovely, we will build a maypole, decorate it and ourselves with flowers, eat pickled herring and salmon, and plenty of berries. I will feel very Swedish. Paradoxically, a label I do not really mind, after all.

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There is no trim for the trim

Sanding Ada's floor.

It is a year of weddings, we have no fewer than five to attend to, and though large gatherings are not usually our idea of a good time, we are nothing but overjoyed at seeing our friends shiny eyed with love (and a bit of champagne). At two out of the three weddings we attended so far, a certain Kurt Vonnegut quote circled: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” Your wedding day is hopefully a time for murmuring joyful vignettes, but we have already had two of those, and doubt our friends would indulge us a third. Lucky for us, to sit in the woods after a day of satisfying work with our feet high while evening birds chirp and we eat watermelon that tastes like rain and sunshine is not too bad either. We notice it.

It’s a good thing that we know how to rest within our few minutes of lean-back-time, since we have worked pretty much nonstop during the past month, both at our paying jobs and our housebuilding, sometimes going straight from one to the other. (Which is also why I have not taken the time to write or take pictures.) We finished all the trim work–windows, doors, corners, transitions, bookshelves, the ladder to the loft… We dreaded this part, being well aware of that there is no trim for the trim, meaning that now there would be no cover up in case of mistakes. Now was the time to take the house from only being functional to also looking good. It turned out to be both easier and more fun than we had anticipated, the reward being so addictive that we worked late into the evening with the motto: “Just one more window… I just want to finish this… It would look so much better if I only…” And so on.

We settled for simple square trim in the corners and between the ceiling and the wall, since it spared us all the angle cuts required for rounded trim. For the floorboards and window trim we picked super cheap pine 1x2s that cost less than a dollar for an eight foot board, compared to many of the other trim choices that cost more than that per foot. Our laziness and shortage of money turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we came to realize that the no-trim look is perfect for our house. With the house being so small, and everything from floor to ceiling pine planks in one form or another, bigger trim would have overwhelmed and cheapened the look. As it is now, the trim simply cover transitions, but does not stick out at all. It will all be painted the same white, too, which will enhance the no-trim feeling.

The thresholds were also hurdles we had conveniently avoided, but that turned out to be a fun project. During the past year we have probably bought  and  returned at least five different versions, none of which fit or were to our liking. We now decided to make our own, both for the inside (bedroom and bathroom transitions) and for the two external doors. For Forrest’s door, we used cedar to match the look, and I spent a day chiseling, rasping, and sanding it down, which turned out really well.  For the inside, Sebastienne picked white pine to match the floor, and manged to use the circular saw to cut the angles. The porch door got a pressure treated 1×6, which we later treated with polyurethane.

Finally, we spent a week (still going at it) sanding everything from the unfinished trim to the floor. The hand-sander is easy to use, and we both fight over its satisfying efficiency, even though it is loud and sprays saw dust in all directions. Despite face masks, earplugs, glasses, head-scarves, and gloves, we still get the fine sawdust in every crevice. Ada said that we look like an unflattering mix of a nurse, a bandit, and a bug.

The cleaning will be a full day’s work, but by the end of next week we should be ready to paint. We are excited enough to keep up the pace a little longer. This is the fun part. (Haven’t we said that all along?)

Chiseling the threshold.
Chiseling the threshold.
rasping
rasping

trim, sanding, threshholds (3)

sanding
sanding

more trim (11)

High trim to counter act the wheel well
Tall threshold to counteract the wheel well, which will set the door off to a tall start.

more trim (10)

porch threshold
porch threshold
We painted the new porch boards grey.
We painted the new porch boards grey.

more trim (2) more trim (3) more trim (4) more trim (5)

Ada's loft window with trim.
Ada’s loft window with trim with shelves.
Skylight.
Skylight.

trim, sanding, threshholds (9)

The trim around and in the hole was by far the most difficult, since it has so many corner and edges.
The trim around and in the hole was by far the most difficult, since it has so many corner and edges.

more trim (7)

more trim (8)

Seb worked on the wheel wells.
Seb worked on the wheel wells.

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Bookshelves.
Bookshelves.
The handsander.
The handsander.
Sanding Ada's floor.
Sanding Ada’s floor.

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Flowers from Bernie.
Flowers from Bernie.
Blackberry bush from Bernie.
Blackberry bush from Bernie.

Spring at Dogwood Getaway (and Sebastienne’s accident)

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The universe wants to be noticed, or at least it seems that way in spring when crispy green leaves roll themselves open as we walk by, wispy wild flowers wink from the side of the road, and from every mossy nest and wobbly branch–tiny, wide-eyed beings demand our instant attention and adoration. It is hard to get anything done when there is so much to look at and admire. As Kenneth Graham described it in “The Wind in the Willows:” Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.”  No wonder Mole abandoned his spring cleaning to chase the flirtatious wind.

Spring comes slower to our shady Dogwood Getaway than it does in town, but once it finally got warm enough the trees went from winter pale to fluorescent green in less than a week. As the pictures below show, we had jackets and hats on one week, and merely tank tops the next. Like Mole, we had a hard time focusing on inside work when the woods were begging us on its muddy knees to come out and play. Quickly seduced, we did.

While Sebastienne and I spent most of last year hammering away at the house, Ada has been exploring our land, finding clever ways of combining her school work with forest expeditions. Besides the more obviously outdoorsy classes like biology and nature studies, she found inspiration for poetry, art, and adventure stories while roaming the woods. She is now more familiar with the land than we are, and she took us on a nature walk to point out where the creek is the deepest, where the prettiest ferns grow, and where her favorite trees hold court. Violets and Trillium were treasures to discover, and each one elicited a new yelp from whoever was lucky enough to spot it. We also met a baby toad and a baby box turtle, one more shy than the other, but both equally charming to our easily endeared hearts.

Reluctant to go back inside, we decided to take the week to spring clean our woods. When we first got the land, a year and a half ago, we bought a chainsaw, taught ourselves how to use it, and cut just enough trees for the driveway, the house, and a sunny spot for the solar panels. Much of it is already overgrown again, since wet and hot Georgia is a greenhouse gone wild. The speed of growth is spectacular, as is the variety of species. It is with strange pride that we walk around and check on our  favorite giant Pine, Sourwood, dogwood, White Oak, Black Cherry, Maple, and Beech tree, which all have come to feel familial. We love our woods, and want them to stay as natural and native as possible, but we help it along by taking down the excess of teenage pines, dead or overly bushy trees, and cut back a fraction of the muscadine vines whose eerily muscular arms climb the trees and cover the ground.

My wonderfully fun friend and gardener boss Susie is a true connoisseur of plants and all that grows, and she often gives me baby trees and bushes that all come with their family history and nurturing advice. We planted three cedars and three green Japanese Maples of hers, and are excited to follow their growth through the years to come. It does feel a bit funny to cut down some trees and then plant others, as Ada pointed out, which is how I often feel about weeding in general. What is a weed, anyway? I explained it to Ada by comparing it to my take-no-prisoners attitude in regard to decorating–it is not that one color is less beautiful than another, they just do not all look beautiful together. Some “weeding”  and “re-planting” is necessary for them to come to their utmost potential. All in my eyes, of course, since I am the one playing artist with my surroundings. For the woods own sake, we attempt to keep a mix of all varieties and all ages, and enough debris to feed them.

To bind the mud and break up the clay around the house and for our future garden, we planted pounds worth of clover (New Zealand White, Crimson, and Mammoth Red Clover from Johnny’s Selected Seeds at http://www.johnnyseeds.com ) and other cover crops.  Planting required that we lugged buckets of water from home, which was a bit of a pain, and made us even more motivated to finally get up the gutters and water barrels. It is already starting to sprout all around us, but we are still sliding in the mud when it rains, and following Susie’s advice, we got cypress mulch for a path, since it is supposed to stay put. She also recommended that we buy cedar shavings from the pet store to put under the trailer to keep unwanted critters, like termites, at bay. The cedar mulch you buy at the hardware store, like Home Depot, uses the bark of the cedar rather than the center of the tree, which gives it a weaker smell and is therefore less affective. The pet store clerk must have thought we have a hamster farm as we emptied the shelves of litter.

My loveliest spring moment was when I came upon a part of the woods where we rarely walk, which was covered in the darkest, deepest moss and surrounded by ferns. Enchanted, I was careful not to disturb it, but I managed to pick around the edges until I got a bucket full of moss and two delicate and whimsy looking ferns. At that moment, no treasure could have seemed richer. I brought my find back to the house to decorate a stump that is right in our view (in the shade). Here we are, in the midst of house building, and I prettify a stump… It may seem like a frivolous use of time, but I felt like a bird collecting lovely things to decorate my nest. Something eternally feminine (not as in “by female”) called me through the woods, and I felt that I, too, was part of spring.

And now for something completely different… So far we have been getting away with minor scrapes, bumps, and bruises, but spring cleaning  brought with it our first real accident! With enough distance and the relief of knowing the outcome, it does not seem so bad, but it was rather scary at first. We had spent a drizzly afternoon cutting down sad-looking pine trees, and everything was going smoothly. Seb had just said how much easier it felt to handle the chainsaw, when I heard a tree fall, turned around to see my beloved wife clutching her head while the chainsaw laid on the ground. It was on, but the blade was not running, I managed to notice before I ran up to her with a beating heart. She had done everything right, and the tree had fallen as she had planned, but before it fell, it must have knocked down a dead branch from high among the tangle of crowns, which then had fallen straight on her head. (She had honestly forgotten the helmet, which we otherwise always wear.) Besides a bump and a bruise over her right eyebrow, her head was fine, and I breathed out. That was when she noticed her right hand. “I’m pretty sure I broke my thumb,” she said as a matter of fact, and it did look horribly swollen and crooked. “Don’t panic” is rule number 1 in the universe (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams), and we followed the nerd rule and stayed as calm as cucumbers. I got Sebastienne to sit down and take some ibuprofen while I planted the rose-bush that laid roots in the air where I had dropped it, locked the chainsaw in the shed, and got the dog and the kid to the car. The whole time, Sebastienne chatted on almost happily, giving us a moment to moment update on her experience.

Muddy, wet, and with pine needles in the most inappropriate places, we got to Immediate Care (cheaper than E.R.) right before closing. They couldn’t see much on the X-ray, but they at least established that the break wasn’t at the knuckle joint, as we first had feared. In the end, all she got was something to stabilize the thumb, and the advice to take it easy.

To take it easy, is easier said than done when you are a chef at your day job, and a house builder on your days off. I’ve done my best to keep her still, which is easier said than done, too, but she has been using her left hand very creatively, and so far she seems to heal well. I guess I’ll be doing most of the hammering this week, though, and maybe I can convince her to enjoy the hammock. The spring never lasts long in Georgia, and soon the delicate spring will be taken over by the heavyset summer, which knocks you out rather than seduces. There is still time to take notice.

spring (1)
The blooming Dogwood
spring (2)
Pale spring day.

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spring (3) spring (6)

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Decorated stump with moss, ferns, and woodland phlox.

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Ada and the tiny box turtle.
Toad!
Toad!
Mint, Lemon Balm, and Rose of Sharon
Mint, Lemon Balm, and Rose of Sharon
It's sprouting!
It’s sprouting!
Trillium
Trillium
Violet
Violet

spring (7)

spring (8)