Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Story House, Chapter 1

The plan!
Woefully, or serendipitously, inadequate, depending on your view!

There is a small house in place now that was only a dream even a few short months ago on land my son

David and his partner Christy own in the Texas Hill Country. It’s rather incredible when you see what the house came from, this plan that I drew, using a clunky Windows provided computer program. I’ve always wanted a garden shed. I’ve looked at thousands of pictures and envisioned a cottage look, something rustic, with a vintage door, big windows, preferably casement, furnished with antiques, a mix of elegant French country and other more primitive things, including chandeliers dripping crystals. I love the juxtaposition of disparate elements. A lot of people think I’m crazy. Sometimes I think so, too! I mean, I’m on my own and women of a certain age … well, you know. Part of me agrees there’s a time when you should maybe not be foolish, but then another part of me dares me to thumb my nose at what’s accepted, conventional wisdom, especially when it comes to getting older. It’s the part that never asks me how far I can push it or how much risk can I tolerate. Anyway, my idea was and is to live in this tiny house, what will eventually become the garden shed and the garage, until I can build an actual house. Initially, I thought I would make it the size of a standard two-car garage, but then, sitting over dinner with Mike, the framer (and a true and wonderful character all on his own), I decided to increase it to 540 square feet. At the time I was living in a 1,570 square foot condo, and when I wondered aloud to David where I would put all my stuff, he said I should get a shipping container, approximate square feet, 305, giving me a total of 845 square feet. Okaaayyy, I said.

He and Christy are living in a container. He has four, and he’s already begun reconfiguring them into a functional and beautiful living space, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. So, on his advice, I bought a one. Before it was delivered the slab for the little garden shed/garage was poured, where last summer we had staked the yellow tape. And then it sat. I needed to sell my house in order to have the cash to build the new one. Part of what I wanted to accomplish with this project was to be completely debt free. I put my condo on the market in December and closed on its sale in January. The new owner leased the place back to me for 60 days, the amount of time we guesstimated it would take to get the little house built. Hah! I can nearly hear all of you out there laughing now.

This is in January - Day 2 of construction
First the frame went up, and it was completed very quickly from Day 1 through Day 6 or so. I was encouraged, or fooled, depending on how you look at it. (My brother who has been building one thing and another his whole life said, “Congratulations, now comes the slow part.”) But I thought what could go wrong? I packed like mad and chewed my nails. Where would all this stuff, a lifetime’s accumulation, go? I had come into this condo from a 3,000 square feet house, and at that time, I had pared down as hard and far as I knew how. Still, I had a lot, antiques, many of them family heirlooms, books, and art, and it was harder to part with things this time around. Using graph paper, I measured the necessary pieces of furniture and put the pieces in place. The plan worked on the page, and I let myself be comforted. I can do this were the four words that became my mantra. I labeled boxes “Home” or “Store” according to the items inside. But I often paused, holding something, a pie plate, say. Would I have room for it? Would I be able to even bake a pie? Would I use a beautiful old Limoge bowl? A cut glass vase? Should I keep out two plates or four? And clothes … they were something else. Because, you see, my plan, such as it was, included no closets, nor does it have one cabinet. By design. My thought was to use my furniture, much of it that is beautiful and old, to hold everything, or that portion of everything I thought I couldn’t be without for however long it is until I’m in my real home. 

 First bluebonnets.
There are patches and fields of them ribboning
  the roadside all the windy way home.
But I’m learning that building a house, never mind altering your entire life, is like writing a story. It is so seldom that anything goes according to plan. Not even the feelings you imagined having are the same, and while any kind of change can be arduous and painful, for me it’s the very element of the unknown that lures me, that gives all the upheaval its beauty and joy even as it scares me.

I think of the friends I left behind and my critique partners with whom I wrote for so many years. I think of the routine I built that so suited me. I think of the convenience of having a mall (although I seldom went there), a grocery store, and the library all within a ten-minute drive, albeit one that was crammed with ever increasing traffic and constant construction.

I’m going to write about my new life experience here, on my blog, from time to time, and chronicle events here, including pictures, as they unfold, while living in what I have named the Story House. I intend the posts to be an exploration of what so many are doing nowadays, scaling back, living with less. Less space, less debt, less noise and distraction, more contemplation. And in my case, living where driving to the nearest town, some eleven miles away is like driving the winding view of a scenic postcard. and where the night sky is dark and vast and studded with the  brilliant light of countless stars I had almost forgotten.