Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Plans.

I have a confession to make.

I considered using a Ouija board to choose my house plans. Or closing my eyes and flopping open a book of plans and building the first house that I see. I even considered scrapping the project altogether and joining the ranks of apartment dwellers who live in landlorded comfort, not having the daunting proposition of choosing their structure's style and then knowing every cement block in its foundation and every roll of Tyvek home wrap hidden in its walls.

This house is the thing which I will place all of my other things within. I will raise my child here. I will shelter from storms and take charge of my guests' comfort within these walls. One day I may be wrinkly here. How do you choose what to build that could be adequate for all of that?

At first it was fun. I hated every one of the plans I looked at. I laughed when I saw the stucco and cow skull home which would have required me to serve fajitas for every meal on multi-colored Fiesta dishes. I put on my best Thurston Howell-meets-Snagglepuss accent to mock the double turreted, 3 story mansion mysteriously named "The Hinkleman Legacy". There were cabins with built-in gun racks over fireplaces which were ruled out because I don't own a Confederate flag or 7 shotguns and ultra modern geodesic domes I rejected because they look like miniatures of the Epcot center. The last thing I need is disappointed children walking into my giant golf ball expecting Mickey and finding me. Not to mention, I checked out some of these geodesic hippie homes and found that there are internet forums for Dome dwellers, rife with domicile puns and advice on furniture placement for people with no square walls. No thanks. My piano is unruly enough in a house with 90 degree angles.

Dad sent me to sit in the grass facing my house lot, admonishing me, "Envision!" "Daydream!" "Imagine!" (Side note: my father is not in the care of a mental health professional, nor did he consume hallucinatory chemicals in the '60's. Unless you count the stuff that made his labs smell like nail salons and rubber hose. You never know quite how pickled a chemist's brain might be.)

Armed with a sense of purpose and mom's impenetrable-by-light, make-a-coffin-nail-float coffee, I went to daydream.

Perhaps I have read/traveled/seen too much in my 31 years because when I daydream major things happen.

First, I sat cross-legged in the grass, eyes closed, chin raised expectantly and...saw the Ripley's Believe it or Not Upside-Down House complete with upside-down car on a driveway high up beside the bottom of the house, its gabled roof buried in the ground as though it had just dropped from space like a suburban landing module for a terribly clever alien species.

I sighed heavily and wondered if all those Ripley's books I had smuggled into school inside sleep-inducing textbooks were the victorious act of rebellion I had thought they were, or if I had, in fact, rotted my brain like Mrs. W. said I surely would.

I resumed the position to allow my imagination to create a house for me. And... I saw a restored Torwood Castle, which would be my home in Scotland if I were to win the lottery...twice. I could hear myself cursing the drafty rooms and stalking the hallways, a kilted and grumpy Lord of the Manor, wiry-haired wolfhounds at my heels, tapestries billowing in my wake.

Is allowing yourself to purposefully dream a recipe for heartache? Confusion? Frustration??

Reminding myself of the purpose of the homestead I rededicated myself to reality. Taking a deep breath and stifling the inner child that rears her spoiled pigtails far too often, I dug in to dream more realistically. A farmhouse. That's all I need.

Like a dream sequence in a war movie in which the hero longs for home and sees it so vividly in his mind that he's able to soldier on for one more, Oscar-worthy battle scene, the house from Field of Dreams came easily into my mind, complete with ball field, acres of corn and mitt toting ghosts. (I told you the inner child awakes at will!) Mentally erasing the ball field and players, I had something I could work with.

Running back inside to search for plans, I typed in "farmhouse" and "2 story" and, what should appear? A house named, I kid you not...The Field of Dreams. It was destiny, I tell you. God Himself had known the house for me and guided my Google search like King Arthur to the Stone of Excalibur.

My heart a-flutter, inner child skipping with heady giddiness within, I looked at the house details. 3500 square feet. 3500, a number which would require nearly 3 times the budget we must build this house with, a size of home in which I could raise my livestock INDOORS! Every home I have ever lived in COMBINED would be about 3500 square feet.

Crushed, disenchanted, feeling the beginnings of despair creeping onto me like the kudzu that crushes the life out of anything left sitting still too long in Alabama, I glanced to the bottom of the page. "Smaller Families May Also Consider: The Mountainview". At first thought, Mountainview sounds like somewhere you'd bury a good horse or rent a honeymoon cabin but I clicked on it anyway.

50% plain as brown paper, 50% adorable, my house looked out at me. It's what you might imagine if someone said the word "house" to you. (Unless you, too, have been to too many Ripley's Believe it or Not museums...or are an architect...or Hugh Laurie.)

It has everything I had written down as "No Compromise Requirements": front and back porches, a master bedroom big enough for my library (which is, incidentally, about the same size as our local library, God Bless Mississippi), a spot for a fireplace (which I will replace with a potbellied, wood-burning stove because they can heat a house unlike a fireplace, which The Professor often reminds me, create "negative heat".), and a bathroom big enough for the biggest bathtub I can find.

Looking at the plans, I could see The Kid happily reading some obscure work of dystopian fiction next to his dormer window which looks out on our slice of near-utopia, I could smell the bread I will bake in my country kitchen tucked away under the optional loft which will hold our desks and overflow library. I spotted a wall that could house my neglected, untuned, turn-of-the-last-century upright piano and even imagined my garden gnome, Sheldon, smiling out at me from among the fictional species of foliage drawn by some artist, cursing his job as a houseplan renderer and spicing things up with fanciful vegetation.

I had found our house. If I'm honest, it doesn't make my heart sing like castles and oddities that would put me in the Guinness Book for best roadside attractions. But it doesn't feel like a costume, either, like stucco homes and pseudo-mansions created to make the nouveau riche bourgeoisie feel like venerable states-people no matter where they build their brick and fountained monstrosity.

It makes me feel like a pioneer couple: half hard-working, forethinking husband building what his family needs to survive, half loving wife, feathering a nest to make the utilitarian shelter into a lovely home. I trust this house to serve its purpose, but I also think it will be a homey little addition tucked into the pines that cover our hill.

I may have to find some other way to get the attention of my beloved Ripley's but, believe it or not, I like my house plans. Just fine.

Enter the Crazies.

I read a book years ago that had been dictated to an author by a woman who had lived the first 89 years of her life in part of the Appalachian Mountains completely cut off from the rest of the world. She couldn't read or write a word, didn't have a tooth in her head, and never once laid her eyes on the neon and stucco edifice of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Just shy of her 90th birthday, they began to build a highway through her part of the mountain creating a shortcut connecting two freeways. She used vernacular that had been obsolete since the Native Americans had stood on the coasts, squinting at the lumbering ships on the horizon, realizing they should probably have some immigration laws. She tells the story of the day she stood on a hill as she watched men spread the tarry blacktop, pungent in her nose like a cast iron skillet gone rancid, and declared, like a minor prophet of the old testament, "They've just made way for the crazies to come in."

Well, dear reader, the virgin recesses of The Land experienced the same thing today on a smaller scale. Way was made for the crazies. I got a driveway!

Maybe it's silly that I love the driveway already and long to drive my little Ford along it through the woods to my precious little knoll...but I do.

There's something about the road home, no matter where you live or how much you love where you've just been, that feels a little special. The section of the old rural route that I grew up on still makes me think of my mom in the cozy kitchen with the picture window and my dad jogging along the back yard pushing a mower in front of him while pulling a mower behind him, and the treehouse my brother and I had nestled among the pecan trees. On that street we had ridden bikes for hours on end, played football games that lasted until someone went home bleeding, been b-b gun snipers and water balloon launchers. We had trick-or-treated, skint knees, gathered beloved pets that had been killed by speeding cars, learned to drive, and gotten into trouble. But most of all, on that section of road, we were always almost home.

Today we created our new road home. It's only a red clay road through trees and down a hill with a culvert. One day it may show a tendency to wash out in the bottom or flood a bit and I may cuss the day it was created. But today I think it'll be the best road home we've ever had.

By the time I arrived today the red clay stood in burnt orange piles scattered along the cleared path and a man named Chuck with an antique John Deere was already bulldozing it down into place while my nephews climbed and dug in the piles of dirt.

If you have ever heard the expression "Happy as a pig in s***" (editor's note: My mama is reading this, y'all!) you understand the sheer glee that my nephews experience where dirt piles are concerned. I have watched them be drawn away from us from the very earliest days that they could walk when their little eyes spied good dirt piled for new construction or repairs to the road. I remember watching my nephew Dylan before he could even speak, walk right up to a pile of topsoil my dad had ordered, scramble his way to the top, and, putting his hands on his hips and taking a deep, barrel chested breath, survey the land like a sea captain gazing out on uncharted waters or a pioneer claiming his new homestead.

I love that kids, especially little boys, seem to be born with the drive to climb to the highest part of anything they can get to, be it dirt or ladders or, like my brothers and I, every roof in the neighborhood.

I can't help but think this innate tendency is, in part, what has pushed men to tackle Everest and dare to think that you could circumnavigate the globe or traverse an ocean in an airplane. Before we ever know about a corporate ladder or a dog-eat-dog world, we just want to be the king of the mountain.

Probably to the dismay of some very dirty little boys, the piles were gradually spread thin like bright orange oil paint in one of Bob Ross's happy little sunsets. There's no orange that compares to Mississippi red clay. Once, in my redhead days, I had a very southern older lady tell me my hair looked like a gravel road on a rainy day. I thought she was commenting on my personal hygiene and went home searching my scalp for the flower garden my mom always told me would grow in dirty hair...until I found myself on a gravel road after a rain. It's a color like no other and I didn't really mind having hair that matched so many of the backroads in my great little state. That's not to say I would ever go to a salon and ask to have my hair colored "Backroad Orange" or "Dried-up Riverbed".

The gravel is yet to come and we still need to spread hay and grass seed along the sides to help prevent erosion but it's exciting to me that the way in has been made. Funny, maybe, to celebrate the road home before there's a home there. But it felt good to stand on the new path and imagine my friends driving in to see us or my kiddo hiking out to the road to get the mail.

One thing is for certain, The Land will never be the same, God help it. The crazies have a road in.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2011, a journal entry.

I found the journal entry I wrote the day I decided to sell my house and build on The Land. It is a list of 31 things I am chosing or deciding this year. A small selection of them are (in no particular order):

1. I will wear overalls and poo-shoes more this year than any other year. (*poo-shoes being the shoes which everyone should own which can come in contact with various species' respective poos and not send you searching for the saddle soap and anti-anxiety meds. Poo-shoes ARE anti-anxiety meds and I don't need the FDA to confirm it!)

2. At no point this year will I commit to do anything that steals my time/joy/sanity. I am building a house, homeschooling a genius, and healing from shoulder surgery. I don't have to feel bad for not selling popcorn, carpooling, debating politics or watching friends' children do ballet. I love my friends but ballet damages my calm. Sorry. But not really.

3. I will spend tons of time with my dad. Pretty inevitable since we're building the house together but still worth a mention. After 2 major health scares for him in as many years, I am more grateful than ever for time with him and more cautious than ever not to let it get away from me. Somedays that he and I will share may be quite like Thunderdome ("TWO MAN ENTER, ONE MAN LEAVE!") but others will be productive or hilarious or totally blessed or any combination thereof. It'll all be worth it. No doubts.

4. I will expand our homeschool curriculum from the rather mundane pre-algebra/first term paper fodder to also include How To Roof Your House Without Casualties, Maintaining the Peace with Your Adolescent/Single-Parent Whilst Calculating How Far You Could Throw a Claw Hammer (*that one should be a book like those old Polish/Italian joke books that are one title on one side and the other upside down on the opposite cover.), and First Aid for Middle-Aged Gentleman with Nailgun Wounds. These should all be merit badges in the Boy Scouts, I'm thinking. (Also, just a side note, they should be books which replace the Such-and-such For Dummies series. I refuse to be called a Dummy by some random hobbyist who wrote a book on some random subject. If your life's work is a big yellow book on a life skill or computer program imagine my boot coming in contact with your butt because calling someone a Dummy to cash in on your skill is not cool. Your mama should have taught you better. I hate those books. Okay...stepping off soapbox and taking a deep breath....)

5. I will play my bagpipes with more joy this year even if I have to sacrifice a little precision to do that. I will play them with gratitude that I have a lucrative skill but also because it will be so good to be back to it once the shoulder heals. I miss making some noise.

6. I will rid my life of clutter that I don't want to bring into my new home. This will include things that I want to sell on ebay but can't get a decent photo of (if it looks like junk sitting on my kitchen table then it probably is. Sorry, New Kids on the Block action figure!), every bit of personalized stationery/pad of checks/business card that has my old last name on it (I don't want to be reminded of the Old Mrs. L. when there could be a New Mrs. L. gag.), most socks, t-shirts and underwear the kid and I own (because we have owned them since Clinton was confused about the definition of certain words in the English language and they look like things that would be unearthed with dusty corpses on one of those forensic science shows), and the 2,000 Tupperwear lids which reside in my cabinet despite the fact that I only own 7 pieces of Tupperwear. Those things must breed like rabbits....or, even scarier, multiply like Gremlins.

7. I will thank God everyday that I have a chance at a fresh start, time with people I love, my health, most of my teeth, and a dog that thinks I hung the moon.

It may be kind of a random sampling but instead of New Year's resolutions which mean deprivation or constant self-deprication I think we should just resolve to have resolve. To know what we think/believe/trust and just live like it.
This year I am building a house. It's scary. But I resolve to savor the scary. And not throw claw hammers at my loved ones.

The Homestead.

My land consists of a few acres lying down a hill, across a creek and up a hill from my parents home. My brother lives a stone's throw in the other direction from my parents. Never in my life did I think we would be a family compound sort of bunch but it seems to be working out that way. I whole-heartedly blame my dad, who began buying this beautiful land out in the county 12 or 13 years ago and constantly planted suggestions in our heads like Big Brother or those weird recordings in the baby cribs in Brave New World. "Wouldn't you love a house on this spot?" "Your goats would love it here!" and the ever effective, often thrown-about "I'd buy you a horse if you moved near us!" (What is it with some girls and horses? I once promised to clean the house for the pink My Little Pony with the blue mane. Don't recall ever cleaning the house but I do remember that fateful day when mom melted said Little Pony in the dishwasher after she got muddy trampling GI Joes into the yard. Ah, the casualties of war. RIP, pony. You served me proud. heehee)
I am desperate to maintain my autonomy whilst also being able to shout from my bedroom window to my mom on her porch. Fear and trembling, indeed.
After going through a pretty gruesome divorce just over a year ago, my own Wunderkind and I find ourselves in a house slightly outside our means and slightly unsuitable for the life I am dreaming of these days. Don't get me wrong. I love my current house. I wanted to raise a family here and make millions of memories in the hardwood floored-vaulted ceilinged-rough hewn wood trimmed-fireplaced living room. (Dear readers, bear with me in my tendency to over describe and adjective invent. I pray you'll find it more charming than unintelligible.)
In short, it's a great house that I can't afford on a piece of land that can't support my ever increasing menagerie/crops.
So, I'm off to become a homesteader.
The Land, as we've all come to refer to mom and dad's property, is a huge chunk of our county with a little pond and a littler pond and a sometimes streaming stream/sometimes gravel bed. There's room to do so many great things which up til now have gone largely undone with the exception of mowing which has been nearly constantly done by anyone who can sit on a mower or tractor long enough to fight the good fight against ever attacking tall grasses.
I have dreams of fainting goats (Google them!) and sleepy-eyed Highland cows, an apiary and raised bed gardens in every sunny spot. I want enough hens to eat a fresh egg whenever the desire strikes and a compost pile that would make Al Gore dance a jig. (Not because I care what Al Gore thinks. Just because compost is worth celebrating and he knows it. Can't seem to trust a guy that discusses how many toilet paper squares he uses, though. Sorry.)
Sometimes I am a seed-saving, vegetable growing, livestock keeping person because it seems wise in these strange times but most of the time I am because it feels right to have dirt under my fingernails and assorted poop on my boots. Maybe it's God's way of healing me from all the wear-and-tear of a less than joyous marriage and less-than-amicable divorce. Maybe it's my destiny. Or...maybe I'm still just kind of a hippie at heart, although I am pretty sure my membership in the N.R.A. and the Peace Through Superior Firepower sticker on my car make me a really bad hippie that would be unwelcome at many healthfood stores and music festivals. I bet if they saw my compost, they'd forgive me my handguns, though.

The Beginning. Kind of.

My dad, The Professor, has a theory. It states that you can cut a board shorter but you cannot cut a board longer meaning you should err on the side of caution where power saws and lumber meet.

I have never seen my dad do this. We have a pile of slightly-too-short lumber a mile high, each piece thrown with staggering precision to the top of the heap with a trail of expletives streaming behind it like the polutants following a jet across the sky.

Occasionally, I have even seen power tools fly toward this pile, often with blood-sweat-and-tear-drops vaporizing into the air like something in a Marvel comic book that would have word bubbles containing various onomatopoeia like "Pow!" "Biff!" and "WHACK!" scattered among them.

My dad is brilliant. He is a chemist, professor, consultant, polymer science guru and occasional home builder. What he lacks in singleness of focus, he makes up for in determination and Jedi mind tricks (which he only thinks we don't recognize as such).

This month, in what can only be described as an Odd Coupling, he and I are beginning to build my new house together. He, the National Merit Scholar/Ph.D./Popular Science reader and I, the barefoot chicken farmer/high school drop-out/bagpiping single mom, are embarking on what can only be described as a terrifying, exciting, bloody knuckles and thrown power tools extravaganza. Okay...hopefully no power tools will be hurled but that always remains a distinct possibility where hot-headed, untrained homebuilders are concerned. Consider yourself warned.

Join us next time when we hear The Professor say: "Are you sure you need toilets?"