Endings/Next Chapter

Tomorrow we are closing on the sale of our house in North Yarmouth!  Margy is there cleaning up tonight, and I took a last carload of stuff home tonight after work.  Lots of feelings: relief, weariness, glad to have us finally all in one place, sad to leave the trees, glad to have seen the daffodils bloom.

Meanwhile, I’ve been plotting the next chapter in Portland.  I’ve arranged for replacement of our roof shingles, which were nearing the end of their useful life.  That should happen next week.  And, I’ve been researching solar options with a couple of installation companies.  It has been more confusing that I thought it would be.  Lots of options, and the companies didn’t make exactly parallel proposals, so it has been hard to compare.

Meanwhile, state legislators this very day were debating the future of solar energy in Maine.  Our governor has been an opponent, claiming–I believe falsely–that ratepayers are subsidizing those who are using solar.  Right now we have net-metering, where consumers who have solar panels can send extra power generated by solar panels to the grid (for example on sunny summer days), and get a credit for watts that they can use later when they need power in winter.  This benefits the grid because summer is the time of highest demand.  It is what we hope to do.  But the current plan is scheduled for some sort of change after this year, because we’ve reached 1% of energy generated.

It is so crazy, because we all need to keep expanding renewal energy as much as possible, if we are going to have a planet for our future generations.  I wrote emails to my new state representative and state senator, and they are supportive–but there needs to be more support to override a veto by the governor.  He is doing so much damage.  No one in the opposition talks about the subsidies that oil and gas industries still get.  I wonder who is planning for a future  going up to 50% solar?  And then, how do we imagine a fully renewable energy grid?   Meanwhile, despite the political uncertainty, despite the opposition, Margy and I are going forward with our own plans for solar, casting our vote for the future.Bridge to the Sun

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Little Beautiful Changes

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The new windows!

The carpenters are busy at our new house, creating some beautiful changes.  One has been to create a double large window in the back bedroom, where there was only one small window before.

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Before

It is a balancing act for green housing, because any hole in the envelope is a hole in the envelope–but these are on the south side of the house, and will let it a lot of light, and connection to the yard.

It made an immediate difference!  This will be my room where I also hope to put a small desk for writing.  My files will be in the basement, but I wanted to write where there was a lot of sunshine. Today I was looking for a sunny spot in our current home, to read a little for my sermon this week, but a sunny spot was hard to find… I am imagining how nice it will be to sit in the sunshine of these new windows.

I am so glad that in our search for greener housing, I learned how important it was to me that there be beauty in my home. Perhaps otherwise it would have felt too extravagant to include these windows in our plans for making the house our own.

Here is how it looks on the outside, before and after.
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Contradictions

Maple on BirchwoodIn our search for greener housing, we’ve come upon a paradoxical sad choice. There is a large tree next to our new house, whose branches stretch dangerously over the roof.  If the branches get covered in too much snow, they might break and fall on the roof.  Also, they will block morning sun to our future solar array which is so important for our ability to stop using fossil fuels.

It turns out that this tree–we believe it is a maple–is on Portland Water District land.   At first we thought we could just prune the branches that were over the roof, but this would be quite a severe pruning.  I did some research online and learned that mature trees do not handle severe pruning well: pruning it as needed would likely cause the tree to deteriorate and eventually die. I never knew that before. The PWD doesn’t like the idea of pruning because it would cost as much as cutting it down, and then they’d have to come back later and deal with it at some point in the future.  I had a chat with the PWD right-of-way person today, and we’ve decided reluctantly to let them cut the tree down.

I am someone who listens to trees, and earlier, when I asked the tree about what to do, the tree expressed a willingness to sacrifice itself for the purpose of our moving into greater harmony with the earth.  It seemed so easy and gentle about it all.  But I feel so sad about it all. I love old trees. I love that this tree has multiple trunks and I can squeeze in the middle of them–though I also learned that multiple trunks are not as healthy for a tree.

I am not asking for advice here–just expressing the contradictory feelings that come up for me as we try to navigate our way forward into greener living. We plan to plant many trees on this land–most likely fruit trees and nut trees.  So we will give back when the season arrives.  We may be able to keep the mulch that is created by the process, to use in future gardens. But today, I just want to honor this grandmother tree, and her kindness and serenity and openness to the sincere and contradictory journeys of human travelers.

The Search for Greener Housing, Part Three

House Search #1 DSC09847Following our dream of finding greener and accessible housing, we have now looked at six houses. The first was in a great location (halfway between the houses of two friends!) and had an amazingly private back yard, despite being right in town, though it was hard to get to the yard from the house. It had an almost south facing roof, but narrow hallways, and we couldn’t imagine how we could make it accessible without major reconstruction. Plus, there was a tenant in the basement who had lived there over 25 years, and the house wouldn’t have worked for us without the basement space. Bad karma?

The second house had such great character–it was a house we would love to live in. There were blueberries and raspberries in the yard, which we were told we could pick, and so we did. House Search 2 DSC09736There were gardens and a hoop house for extending the growing season. Lots of windows, sunny, and though it was a bit out of town, it was close to a lake, which was a nice bonus. There was not quite as much work to make it accessible, (though still some) but it was a very old house, and there was water along the edges of the basement–along with a mildew smell. And because of the unique shape of the house, it might be hard to insulate and put up solar. Regretfully, we decided it was too much to take on.

The third house had a great open living/dining/kitchen area, a lovely back deck, and also a great yard–though the very back of it fronted onto an in-use railroad track. It looked like we could put solar on the garage. But the bedrooms were dark and felt small, and there were two very tiny bathrooms that would have to be remodeled into one. We talked about whether we could put in more windows. Also there were a lot of steps to the front door.

The fourth house was on a busy street, too small, and not really worth looking at.

The fifth house was fully accessible! It had a lovely open kitchen/living area, a great deck, and nice bedrooms and bathroom. BUT–it was larger than our current house, and so that didn’t fit our goal of downsizing and having fewer expenses. They said it had been insulated, but it had used quite a bit more gallons of oil over the season than where we are now. However, it was great to see what someone else had done for accessibility and beauty.

The sixth house inspired a long conversation with our green-building savvy real estate agent. (That was one of our practical steps–to find an environmentally experienced agent!) The house was in great shape, with a lovely living room with a fireplace, a big mud room, two nice sized bedrooms on the first floor and extra finished space in the basement. It had a one car garage that probably could have been expanded to two ($), we’d need to remodel the bathroom for access, widen a doorway–and once again, it was an odd-shaped roof, so solar might be more expensive. Plus it had these great old cast iron radiators along the baseboards, but if we went electric they would all have to come out with much ado. And even with a lot of work, we probably couldn’t get to zero-carbon in this house, would have to keep using oil.

Our agent suggested that with all of these houses we’d seen so far, we were trying to squeeze ourselves into a house that wasn’t really quite right for what we wanted. Each one would require a lot of renovations in addition to solar and air-source heat pumps and insulation. It is an emotional up and down–excitement over houses that seem worth seeing, and in some ways are so close to what we want, or have such nice qualities, but then the disappoint that they don’t quite work. AND tomorrow could mean another house comes on the market that could be just right.

The Search for Greener Housing, Part Two

After deciding it is the right time to start searching for a more ecologically friendly house, my partner and I sit down together and make a list of what we hope for in a home.

  • One-level living that can be made wheelchair accessible (because my partner can’t do a lot of steps, and we have friends who use wheelchairs, and universal design makes sense for a house we want to get older in.)
  • South facing roof that is solar energy suitable
  • Able to be retrofitted with more insulation and air-source heat pumps
  • Location closer to Portland and public transportation, near some sort of village center
  • Quiet street
  • An area safe for lesbians and people of color
  • Privacy in the back yard
  • About a quarter-acre lot, smaller than where we are now, but still room for permaculture gardening. Some parts shady with trees, some parts sunny, and flat enough for easy access. We want to get rid of lawn to mow, and have other kinds of plantings instead.
  • And, perhaps counter to our village center idea, a location close to woods and critters?
  • About 1200 square feet of house (this number to be adapted as we actually look at houses and see what the spaces feel like.)
  • Two bedrooms plus some office space and guest space
  • Living area that can hold ten people or so for gathering together
  • Some extra space, like a basement
  • Wood floors or equivalent–no carpet, no mold, no smokers. (We have allergies. If there is carpet, plan to replace with wood floors.)
  • Big windows, lots of light
  • Two-car garage (because of Maine winters, and for now we need two cars)
  • Laundry on first floor
  • Mudroom area
  • Fireplace or wood stove, more for the feeling of a hearth than for heat
  • Deck
  • No vinyl siding (That stuff is really bad for the environment! Watch the documentary Blue Vinyl!)
  • Electric appliances

Okay, that’s our list, that’s our desire. And of course, we want a sound, well-built house that will last. The other part of the equation is that we want the price to be enough less than our current house so we can afford to do the retrofits and add solar energy without taking on more debt. Our goal is to own it debt-free before we come to retirement, and to have the ongoing taxes and utilities and maintenance costs affordable to us on a low retirement income.

There is a strange magic to finding a new home. There are practical steps we need to take, but then, it all depends on what is out there. And what will emerge in the next day or week or month. I have moved dozens of times in my life, and it always brings up a lot of anxiety for me. Will we find a home that works for us? Will we recognize it when we see it? What is essential on our list, and where can we compromise? It took us four months to find our current home when we moved here to Maine. Will it take that long for this process? If we find a house we like, will we be able to bid for it successfully? My partner has her own list of fears.

In this magic of finding a new home, we are placing our desires up against our fears. That is why it feels important to me to name our very specific desires for a new home, and also to acknowledge and honor our fears. I know that magic works that way. But there is another deeper movement going on as well. It comes to mind again as I look at houses-for-sale online. In the listings, they don’t mention the orientation of the house, so I try to figure it out by looking closely at the maps. It is discouraging how few houses have a south-facing roof.

Then I remember that we are trying to do something new with this move–we are trying to re-orient our home environment into harmony with all life on earth. The current built environment is oriented around cheap oil and other fossil fuels. It can’t last. We are trying to take our own small steps closer to a whole new way of living that is about beauty and sustainability and a future for the generations yet to be born. There is a great Earth energy that is beneath our feet guiding our way down this path.

It says to me, “Remember to embrace the process. Enjoy the whole journey, right now! You don’t have to wait until everything is ‘settled.’ Keep taking small steps until you are ready to leap. Until the time comes when it is clear. You do not have to rush. Keep holding hands with the ones you love.”

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer