The Blower Door Test

Blower Door Test

Today, Margy and I are working with our realtor to do the paperwork and photos to put our current house on the market. Lots of de-cluttering and packing up work to accomplish in a very short time.  So to give myself some extra energy for the day, I want to quickly write about our blower door test at the new house yesterday.  This technology measures air-exchange in the house, and thus, how well sealed and insulated your home.  One test is done before doing any work, and a second test after the work is done.  Our house passed with flying colors!

And here is why–last week they raised the level of the attic floor by eight inches, sealed cracks, and pumped in a whole bunch of insulation into the attic, and created an insulated hatch cover.  This might be the most important step we have taken for greener housing! It is good to remember that goal in the midst of all the hard work involved in making a move.

Attic Insulation

Cellulose insulation is also under the raised boards.

hatch and cover

The hatch box showing the eight inches that was raised up, and the hatch cover to the side.

Finding Our Way Home

I am acutely aware right now of the parallel journeys I am walking these days. The central purpose of this blog, and of the book I am hoping to publish, is to articulate the spiritual journey into earth community, finding our way home to connection with earth, with each other, and with the Mystery within and between all. And now, Margy and I are trying to “find our way home” in a literal way, to a house that can function more in tune with our ecological desires. Experiencing the ups and downs of that process–the search for greener housing–teaches me so much about the spiritual journey of finding our way home to earth and spirit and each other.

I realize that it is a journey of grief as much as of beauty.  It is a journey of letting go of the things we thought we needed, some of our accumulations of material property, to make room for a simplicity of heart. It is a journey of following the deep desires of our hearts, and sometimes only learning what those desires are when we feel the pain of losing something we didn’t know we desired. It is a journey of many searches, many turn arounds, many disappointments, and yet some surprises that delight.

It is a journey in which we get to know kindred spirits along the path. It is a journey of learning what kinds of systems actually help a house to function more gently on the earth, and what kind of systems help us as human beings to live more beneficially with our planet. It requires great initiative and stamina, but also demands that we cultivate patience, and that we wait in darkness as we experience the contradictions between what is, and what is not yet–what we dream about.

Today I voiced to myself the realization that the spiritual journey into earth community will likely not be completed in my own lifetime. It is a collective journey.  I can give it my voice and my love and my energy, but it will require so many more voices and so much energy from so many people. But most likely I will live in this liminal zone–this space between the world as it is, and the world that is not yet–most likely I will live here all of my days.

So I appreciate more deeply all that I am learning in our search for greener housing. Because experiencing this smaller liminal zone is bringing to me what I need for the larger liminal zone.  Most particularly today, I appreciate that it cultivates in me an open heart to all of the emotions it brings–the anxiety, the excitement, the hope, the disappointment, the grief, the emptiness, the beauty. So when I write of such emotions in this blog, there is a kind of equanimity in me, like a river flowing through my heart. I am glad to be on both of these journeys of finding our way home.
Path in Woods

the not so big house

One of my friends (thanks, Deb!) pointed me in the direction of a great book to add my search for beauty to our search for greener housing. Sarah Susanka’s the not so big house: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live is not a new book, but it is new to me. (By the way, I bought the book with credits from turning in used books to my local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books. Isn’t that great!)

Susanka also has a website–the book and the website are both on the theme of how to reimagine our homes so that they feel like home–with comfort and usefulness and beauty–without being as big as we might think they need to be. (Her website also has resources and links to green housing as well. The two ideas share a lot of resonance.)

She is responding to the tendency in American culture to expand the sizes of our houses so that they have turned into almost mansions. Now, her not so big house is a little bigger than the one we are looking for–in fact our current house would fit her definition, too. But what I liked most is that she talks about particular strategies that can contribute to a feeling of homeyness.

Simple things, like creating a sense of containment around certain spaces by lowering a ceiling, or putting in some sort of molding around an area that gives it a focus.  She also suggests most of us would do well with a more open living plan, where our public spaces are joined together–in a living, cooking and eating area. We then also can create private spaces. Something I had never thought about was the importance of the entryway for making a home feel hospitable and a joy to enter. It all makes sense to me.

It is the details that make a home beautiful. I find I like the details I have seen in Craftsman Style homes, like in this picture below–the simple wood molding around the upper part of the wall ties the room together. Poring over Susanka’s photos and ideas, gives me a better sense of how to imagine renovating houses that we might see that don’t seem to be what we are looking for, but have the potential to be turned into what we want. My imagination has been lit up!

Craftsman Style Interior Photo by Emack2020JPEG Via Creative Commons.

Craftsman Style Interior
Photo by Emack2020JPEG Via Creative Commons.

The Yearning for Beauty

Window DSC00652 - Version 2My heart keeps getting pulled back to the beautiful window house, and finally one morning, I was able to articulate why. We didn’t put this into our wish list, but seeing that beautiful window awakened in me a deep yearning for beauty itself, for something unique and creative in a home.

Perhaps it keeps calling back to me because our search for greener housing is moving at less than a snail’s pace. We looked at two more houses, but were unimpressed. There is nothing out there right now that is anywhere near adequate.

Or perhaps watching “renovation” shows on television are making it seem simpler than it actually would be to make changes in a house to fix its problems. But I notice I am not attracted to all the high-end fashionable features that the contractors put into these houses on television. Rather, I like the quirky and unique, like a wall made of cedar planks, or a screen door with a metal bird design. I think there was a time when beauty was an important part of the craft of creating houses. We see it in old geometric designs in wood floors, and stained glass windows tucked into the turn of a stairway.

So I ask myself, can we add that to our wish list? Might it be possible to find a house that has an art to it, as well as the practical features that would make it work for us and for the environment?  Might it be possible, even in a small and inexpensive house, to find something that makes our hearts light up?

At first this yearning feels almost painful, like grief or a hopeless obsession. But at some point I realize how ancient is this human desire for beauty, how utterly vital to our spirit and survival.  I am able to embrace it, and let it reach out into the morning light.

I Wish There Was a TV Show Called “Downsizing”

Lately, we’ve been watching house buying and selling shows on Netflix. We’ve picked up a few good tips on de-cluttering as an important step in selling a house. But it is unbelievable to watch these reality show folks looking for new houses. It seems everyone is looking for bigger and better and more “in style.” No one likes houses with decor from the 90’s or 80’s or 70’s. They all want granite countertops in the kitchen, huge walk-in closets, several bathrooms, cathedral ceilings, and thousands of square feet.

Our house’s kitchen has not been updated. We have lovely custom maple cabinets, and the original built in two ovens and stove top. But our reality show hosts would likely have a field day–they’d pull out all the counters and flooring and appliances and upgrade to granite and new tile and probably paint the cabinets, and put in stainless steel appliances.  I’m not sure what they would do with the brick wall–we’ve learned from these shows that exposed brick is so “seventies.”Brick DSC00849

I wish there was a show we could watch in which every episode follows people who are downsizing from a big house to a small efficient home. Even better, the people would be adding insulation, and putting solar panels on the roof, and exploring renewable sources for heating and cooling. They wouldn’t care about the latest in style, but would look for classic and ecological features. They’d have the latest ideas in how to make the most of small space.

Are you listening HGTV?

Closets

Broom DSC00663It is funny what bubbles up. In our search for greener housing, there were some things that didn’t make it onto our dream list. Like closets. But after writing the post about the beautiful window house, as I lay in bed trying to go to sleep, I realized that that house had almost no closets–one big bedroom had an okay-sized closet, the other big bedroom had a very tiny closet, and there was one very tiny closet in the hall. That was it.

I began to try to imagine–where would we put our coats and boots and scarves and mittens? (We live in Maine after all.) Where could we put our bathing suits and beach bags? (Maine in summer!) Not to mention clothes and linens and shoes. Where would we put an ironing board or vacuum cleaner or broom? We are trying to simplify our lives, but we also need the tools that go into daily life, and a place to put them.

Then I started to notice other things about the house that weren’t very good. For example, there are two and one half bathrooms (we only really need one) but if a guest comes to stay, they have to go into another bedroom to use the shower. Isn’t that a little crazy? The big beautiful window can’t be opened, so what does that do to airflow? The basement was musty–will it freshen up with some attention so that we’d feel comfortable storing boxes down there, or will it be off-limits to us?

Our realtor reminds us that some of the features we do like about this house don’t come along very often. We are going back to the house today to see if we can imagine solutions that work. But at this moment, this morning, I am paying attention to the voice that says, “maybe not?” How do we find clarity? Perhaps the voice of wisdom will come through the silliest thoughts and feelings that creep into our hearts as we try to sleep.

A Cattail Basket

Cattail basket MJ DSC00428I made this basket tonight from cattail leaves! I went to a workshop at the Resilience Hub, led by Ashirah from the Koviashuvik Local Living School. She brought the leaves, which had been picked when they were green, dried for a few days and stored, then re-dampened shortly before our workshop. We used darning needles and sturdy green thread, and Ashirah taught us how to coil the leaves and thread them together. My first basket is uneven, and had a will of its own but it smells great and it came from plants the grow wild and abundantly here in Maine. Hurray!

Shredding and Thoughts on an Anxious System

Shredding DSC00379As part of our downsizing, simplifying, and search for a greener home, I have been cleaning up old financial records that I had basically just boxed up and kept forever. I checked online sources to figure out which records I actually needed to keep and which ones I could throw away and recycle.

I found out that the IRS has three years from your income tax filing to audit your tax return for miscellaneous errors, and six years if they suspect you of underreporting income, so they suggest you keep all your returns and documentation for seven years. As a minister, this means I must also keep the documentation for all housing expenses, since our housing allowance is treated differently for taxes than regular salary. I have also read that I should keep anything related to purchase or sale of a house, and permanent improvements to the house. (If you think you might want to do some shredding, please do your own research on this, because I am not an accountant or tax expert.)

I have been doing this process for an hour or two at a time, because the shredder gets tired after a bit of time, and I do too. I’ve fed it thousands of old receipts, old bills, old bank statements, old tax returns. I have filled up four huge trash containers with paper for recycling. I am just getting up to the seven-year mark in my papers–starting from many years ago I’m finished up to 2007. What am I learning? It takes almost as much work to eliminate old papers as it did to acquire them. Finances have gotten so complicated that they take more time and energy than I want to give to them. In the financial world “green” does not refer to environmentally sustainable.

It makes me realize that the structure of our society’s economic system is based on fear and anxiety. The IRS is the adversary who might bang at our door and discover we threw away the letter acknowledging a donation. I am not against the idea of taxes or contributions to social security. (I don’t appreciate that so much of the money goes to weapons and war.) Ideally, taxes are the way we support the Common Good, the way we recognize and contribute to shared resources like roads and firefighters and schools and libraries and care for our elders. I wish healthcare for everyone was also included among those shared resources. I deeply value giving energy to the Common Good.

And I wish there were a way to approach it all beyond anxiety and the complicated accumulation of records. I am curious if others have found a way to truly simplify the financial processes in our lives?

The Sacredness of In-Between

Circle Stone MJ DSC09547I love that there is a word for the sacredness of being in between one time and another, one place and another. It is called Liminal Time, or Liminal Space. It is the moment when magic can happen, when anything can happen.

I am now in the last week of my four-month sabbatical, and I am noticing that I haven’t finished any of the big goals I set for myself at its beginning. But that is okay–I am in a liminal space with each of those goals.  One goal is to publish my book, Finding Our Way Home. I have completed another full edit, and sent out queries to some publishers and sent out the manuscript. Now I am in the time of waiting to hear back.

Another goal is to find greener housing. Again, Margy and I have started on that process–we talked about what we want in a new home, we engaged a green realtor, we looked at some houses that didn’t fit, we sorted out some financing options. I’ve begun the process of simplifying and letting go of things I no longer need. That process will take a lot more time, and we are waiting for the right house to show up on the market.

A goal that emerged during these months is to do more with the Work that Reconnects. I want to devote myself to making changes that will move human beings into a more beneficial relationship with all life on earth. That in itself is not a new goal, but rediscovering the tools that Joanna Macy has created for this work has been a true gift of these months. I am imagining how I can bring those tools to my ministry in the congregation, and beyond. I’ve had a chat with a local colleague who is also interested, and I look forward to plotting together.

I feel like I have been planting seeds and tending the soil, but the harvest time is still up ahead somewhere, unknown and unknowable. And for now, it is important to let it be unknowable. If I want to experience the sacredness of this time, I must open to its mystery and uncertainty, I must celebrate its possibility, I must wait for its unfolding. The Holy is right here.

Letting Go and Giving Away

Books on Shelf DSC00283Even when there are no new houses to look at, there is plenty to keep me busy. Another side of searching for greener housing is getting ready for the move into a smaller place. This means paring down what we have collected over the years in a space that has abundant room for keeping things.

First stop: Books. I have shelves full of books that I have read and loved for many years. But I also have developed an allergy to any book that is more than a few years old. If I want to read one of my older books, I have to put on a mask and gloves, and even then I might get a headache from it. So perhaps now is a good time to let go of most of these old friends, and to pass them along to others who can enjoy them.

I had to take a deep breath when I thought about actually giving away my books. I decided to take pictures of the books on the shelf, because it makes me happy to see the titles there. And I still have to keep a few of my long-time, life-changing favorites. Even with a mask, I might need to read them again. I will also keep the books I am currently using in my work. In other words–I will still have a lot of books, just not as many as before.

I learned that our local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books, will take used books in trade for store credit. You can only bring in one bag or box at a time. My first grocery-size brown bag netted about $14 in store credit. It’s not a way to get rich, or even get very many new books. But it is a way to re-use and re-cycle and get a few new books, and support a great local institution.

I also did some research to see if prisons would accept book donations for their libraries–but I learned that certain ingenious addicts had figured out a way to import drugs into the prisons through book donations from their friends–so no more donations are accepted from individuals. But then, I heard about a Native group collecting books by Native authors to donate to the prison for the benefit of American Indian prisoners in Maine. I can’t imagine a better home for these particular treasures. I gathered two boxes that I will drop off.

I now know that the Portland Public Library will take book donations, and that Preble Street accepts donations of books and magazines for its center for homeless youth and adults.

There is a kind of joy in simplifying one’s life, in having fewer possessions to haul around. But it is an even deeper joy to think that someone else might be inspired through these books, by insights and stories that were so important to me on my journey.