Thursday, April 23, 2009


I have seven weeks and two days till the moving van arrives. I have a to-do list as long as my arm, or likely longer. I am doing nothing on my list.

My list is not exciting. It includes things like health insurance and rental insurance and re-incorporating or registering our business. I need to sell a bunch of furniture and stuff we aren't bringing. I need to get back to cleaning out files and closets and cabinets. I need to plan a party - one big party - to say goodbye to everyone important to us. Maybe it will get exciting if I push it all to the end.

I tried to get started. I picked a closet. There's really nothing in there we couldn't live without. It could all be donated or dumped or packed up. It includes fabric and needles and thread. So of course - some creative procrastination. Can you blame me? Look at my daughter modeling her new outfit and her dance moves.

And while we're admiring Bella, look at my roses. We had three days of near-100 degree weather. The roses were already blooming, but that heat burst the laggards into bloom. Luckily it is cooler again so we can enjoy them a little longer. I love these roses, water hogs they may be. I planted them all as little bare root twigs and I will miss them. Maybe I can get my friends to send me pictures each April.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's easy being green

With apologies to everyone's favorite frog - it seems it is easy being green.

We're deep into design on our new house. I'm calling it an Eichler/Kaufmann-inpired North Carolina contemporary home (may need to shorten that a bit). We have floorplans, elevations, product specifications, a budget and a projected checklist from the NAHB website that shows we'll exceed the requirements for Gold certification if we build as planned. And the cool part is - it's all been fun. We haven't sacrificed anything to get here. Yet.

We have made a few choices that are less than perfectly green. I'll put them out there so no one thinks I've overlooked them.
  1. We're building new in a time when 1 of 9 houses (apparently) is empty. This one requires a little explanation. We didn't really set out to build. We planned to buy. And we certainly looked at just about everything on the market. But our list of needs and wants was just too long - we needed space for 3 generations, a couple horses, a grand garden, no windy mountain roads, and close to but not in town. And the property we found was just so perfect we couldn't resist.
  2. We aren't going off-grid. Our house is passive solar with active solar for heat and hot water. That accounts for a large percentage of total energy use. We aren't sure if we'll do solar for all our energy needs. At a certain point, there are trade-offs. Do we have enough room for solar hot water & solar panels? Do we want to invest in big batteries to be off-grid? Is it good enough to aggressively reduce electric use?
  3. We plan to capture and use rainwater, but we might not incorporate gray water re-use. Without getting some seriously special permits, we can only use gray water for below-ground irrigation. I'm not sure how much irrigating we'll do. If we collect rainwater, we may not have a logical use for the gray water.
  4. We aren't installing composting toilets. Sorry - just not ready for that. Dual flush, low water? No problem. But becoming our own sewage treatment system seems a little too intense.
  5. We're building a little bigger than we absolutely need. We live in 2000 square feet with 2 kids, a big dog, a cat and a guinea pig, and we work at home in 1/2 of a small garage. We've lived in 2000 square feet or less for our entire adult lives. Our new house will be about 2700 square feet, with a separate office for our business. But hey, we need room for guests!
But here's a partial list of the things we will do:
  1. We're using ICFs with about 60% recycled content. The poured concrete will contain 15 - 25% fly ash. So we use less wood and the house should last just about forever.
  2. The house uses passive & active solar design (both for hot water used in the house and for the radiant heat floors), super insulation, and loads of natural light and ventilation.
  3. All our appliances and systems will be super-efficient and wherever possible we will use recycled or renewable products.
  4. Our site is perfect for solar -- we can orient the house due south, and our property slopes up the hill to the west to naturally shade afternoon heat.
  5. We're trying to minimize the disruption to the land, and whatever we cut down we'll use or replace or both. We know we need to cut down several nice white pines. We're using them for beams, trim, and cabinets.
  6. We're planning great organic gardens and a few chickens to produce some of what we eat. We'll recycle everything we can.
And of course -- we'll compost. It all comes back to that.

A friend in Asheville

I was so good about posting. But I've slipped up - already. I think the pattern is I post on days I run alone. That's when I give myself time to think about anything I want. But this week, I've enjoyed the company of a good friend and running partner. We've logged a lot of miles together - fast, slow, good, bad. Our schedules have changed, and we don't run together as much, but when we do - we fall right back in where we left off. This week, our schedules have fit back together, so I've been chatting through my runs. I'm going to miss my friend, and I'll miss our runs.

But my post tonight is about my first visitor to my blog. Check it out - a comment! Of course, I commented first - but still. She asked if we had any friends or family in Asheville. I realize I've spent most of my time thinking about how to help my kids make friends. But I'm going to need new friends too, and that may be harder. Baseball camp for mom? Probably not. Yet, I'm hopeful.

When we started telling people we were planning to move to Asheville, inevitably, the response was the same. Everyone - and I mean everyone - seemed to have a friend there. It became almost an inside joke for me. Dentist appointment? Best buddy from school moved to Asheville and started a new practice. Loves it. Hair cut? Stylist's got a friend (or uncle or something) who moved to Asheville years ago -- loves it. Mammogram? Even here - in the midst of chilly metal machinery - the technician has a friend who left South Pasadena a few years ago - is in Asheville - and loves it.

Except, of course, us. We know no one in Asheville. Other than our realtor (not for this post) and our builder (we really like him, but we're paying him. Not fair to call him a friend, yet) - no one. Unless you count my online "friends". And here's why I feel hopeful.

I do everything on line. If I can't find it, buy it or learn about it online - then in my opinion it might as well not exist. So besides choosing the town and finding our property, I've turned to google for everything. And people have responded with astonishing generosity. I've found preschool for my daughter (thanks willbo1!), soccer camps and Little League info for my sons, and, in response to a quick question about irrigating - an offer to organize people to help us unpack our truck and move in - courtesy of Tammy at the Asheville Gardener. I've got cellphone numbers and email addresses and welcomes from all directions.

So - here's to friends, old and new. Here's to everyone willing to extend a hand, give a phone number, commit an act of random kindness.

We're looking forward to meeting you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Table talk & tissues

We're pretty big on dinner here. We sit down together almost every school night for a meal and some conversation. Some nights are better than others. Some nights our conversations are really just telling the kids to please sit down and eat. But other nights - we talk. And those nights make all the others worthwhile.

Two nights ago dinner was all about our garden dreams. Last night, it was more about the actual fact of moving. It will be a pretty fast transition - school is done June 10th and we have to be out of the house by June 15th. I think the kids will go to stay with their cousins while we pack and drive across the country. So, after a long build-up, it's going to feel pretty sudden. One day, class party. The next day, leave forever. It gives the usual summer excitement a different feel.

Last night my son was sad about moving. I have no experience with this. As a child, I never moved. So I'm not really sure the best way to deal with this. The hardest part of the move for me is accepting the fact that it will make him sad. At least in the short run. We've always been pretty honest with our kids, so it feels false to just keep telling him how great it's going to be. He's leaving everything he knows.

So when he said "I'll probably cry" - I told him I know I'll cry.

"I wonder if my friends will cry."

I wonder the same thing. But I'm buying extra tissues just in case.

As memories will do - thinking of times that Mom cried brought him around to other times. He remembers a time when I was having a "melt-down". In his words -- after the baby that didn't live. As I said - we've always been honest with our kids. So when he was 3 - he knew we were expecting, and he knew when that ended. And he remembers.

I remember too. I remember sitting in the doctor's office for hours, bleeding out a tiny life and some small part of myself. I remember the doctor, not my doctor, just some woman I'd never met, handling this incident as though it were an every day thing. I know it is. I know the statistics But for me, and for every other person who has gone through it - it wasn't an everyday thing. I remember my husband calling - unknowing - on a business trip in Vermont - and having to tell him what was happening. I can only imagine what his trip home must have been like. At least I had friends to call. I think his scars are a little thicker than mine on this one. This, too, has been part of our table talk. And it is a part of who we are as a family.

I asked him if he remembered all the doctor trips before his sister was born. He was just her age - not quite 4 1/2. He does -- he remembers the ultrasounds - the goo spread on my pregnant belly and the big machine. I had a great doctor. She'd have him stand at the end of the bed while she did the exam and started the ultrasound, finding the heartbeat to be sure everything was ok before she invited him around to see. I remember her kindness as a counterpoint to the other doctor's unintentional cruelty.

Memories are funny. They aren't easy to organize. They swoop in and take you places you aren't planning to go. This happens to me a lot these days. As excited as I am about moving, we have history here. For my kids - this is all they know. I need to let them be sad about that. We'll just keep talking. And I'll keep a stock of tissues.

In our next house, I think we'll have a booth in the kitchen. Most kitchens these days have an island with a bar. You sit all in a row - shoulder to shoulder but not eye to eye. But our builder put a booth in the most recent drawing. After seeing us with our kids and listening to our thoughts on how we want to live -- he thought a booth was better.

I never thought about a booth. But I think I like it.

Slide on in next to me, and let's sit a spell.

I'll get the tissues.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Garden Dreams

We get to gardening. It had to come in here somewhere. Truth -- I don't know lots about gardening. Growing tomatoes and basil on the fire escape in New York doesn't really count. And here in California, my .13 acre homestead is hot shade in the backyard (yes, there is such a thing. Hot, dry, shade. Nothing loves hot, dry, shade). The kids declared the front yard off limits. They need someplace for soccer, baseball, cartwheels and frisbee. So - my flower beds host a few pepper plants and two lovely artichokes. I hope the next owner enjoys them.

So when we needed to get our hands dirty, we had to be creative. With credit to the "Square Foot Garden" website and my husband, I had five great garden boxes - 3 foot by 3 foot each, raised up and set right in front of our garage (hey - it's California. We never put the car in there anyway). I don't know what the neighbors thought of this arrangement, but we successfully grew beets, carrots, cabbage, swiss chard, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, spinach, lettuces, strawberries, snap peas, mini watermelon, nasturtiums,basil, cilantro and mint. Unsuccessfully - fava beans. But they were fun to start - shooting up inches in a day.

When we put the house on the market - our realtors said the boxes had to go. Not socially acceptable. My sister inherited 4 of them, lucky girl. Always the rebel - I kept one. My snap peas and spinach are mid-season! Can't give them away. I gave in to pressure and (regretfully and with apologies) uprooted my very leggy sungold tomato plant. I loved that plant. No matter how ugly it got, the tomatoes were as sweet as candy and kept coming - July to January. Now my tomato plants are sprouting in pots, surrounded by more acceptable pansies. We may be gone before we get to eat them, but I couldn't help myself.

With 12 acres in our future, my kids and I are dreaming of our gardens. This is something I've heard real gardeners do. Dream. In the down season. And read garden magazines. But I've never done this. Because I garden in California and there's never time to dream! No matter how hard I try - I'm always behind. Something is supposed to be blooming or bearing fruit all year round. The pressure is just too much.

But at dinner last night, the kids set forth their plans.

My son (9) dreams big. He wants a maze and tunnels and those square bushes (we'll have to have a talk about those) and azaleas. His list of edibles: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pears, rhubarb, and very select vegetables -- corn (for the maze), pumpkins (obvious) and sweet potatoes (for fries). He's got it all planned out in his head.

My daughter (4) tells me she has her garden plans on her "mind list". She has lots of things on her mind list. But her garden is right at the top. She wants flowers. And artichokes, carrots, corn, tomatoes, all the fruit her brother wants except rhubarb and plus apples, and mint.

Pinch me . My kids are dreaming about gardens. We haven't even moved yet and North Carolina is working its magic.

Sweet dreams all. May they be organic.