Perfectly Well Gruntled

Cottage floor tiles

My son introduced me to a new word the other day: gruntled. At first I wondered if he was having me on, but we looked it up and found a definition [“pleased, satisfied, and contented”], and I have since decided that I am completely tickled by this new word. Indeed, it seems the perfect word to have on hand as the project continues – and though its usage may be considered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I am absolutely earnest in my resolution to make it my new byword!

Apparently, gruntled arrived on the scene in 1938 (in a novel, The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse, an indisputable master of the tongue-in-cheek), wryly coined from the word disgruntled, which, since 1682, has meant “discontented or ill-humored.” I like the idea that the word is new(ish) but relies on what went before to give it meaning. In much the same way, though the Lodge and Cottage are being built with mostly new materials, each incorporates a fair amount of reclaimed material as well, and moreover, each takes its cue architecturally from what has come before. I like the idea as well that the word gruntled can’t take itself too seriously, given its derivation. It’s a good reminder that, if I want to find myself often in a gruntled state, it’s best to assign the role of new opportunity to the bumps in the road rather than experience them as harbingers of doom.

I made my way over to Ohmega Salvage the other day, in search of slate tiles I might use for the hearth in the Cottage. Alas, the entire lot I had seen on offer there previously had been purchased. Though momentarily disgruntled to discover this, I wandered out into the yard and was delighted to catch sight of a batch of 24 Arts & Crafts-style tiles waiting for a new home. These tiles are probably too decorative to stand before a highly decorative fireplace (too ‘too’), but it occurred to me they would do nicely on the floor just inside the front door instead. Thus the old will inform the creation of the new in an unexpected way, and I am gruntled indeed! (And, I found jet black porcelain tiles at Urban Ore that will stand in perfectly for the slate at the hearth.)

My meaning in giving the name Acorn Lodge to our new home is to state its existence as a retreat in the woods rather than an inn. Of course, we do hope to welcome friends and family regularly to share the peace and quiet with us, so there is a sense of the inn in the Lodge’s function. But as I see it, the chief purpose of this whole endeavor is to create a place of refuge for ourselves, though it is not wholly without guilt that I intend to retreat from the hurly-burly. It seems to be a matter of wishing to find myself more often in a gruntled than a disgruntled state: the world-at-large often dismays me and I have wearied of the effort it takes from me to keep my spirits up in the face of my dismay. I am looking forward to cosying up in my own small corner of the world, maybe not forever, but for now . . . and perfectly well gruntled I hope to be!

 

gruntled, adj.

“pleased, satisfied, and contented”

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Walk On

Crane Acorn 'Tile"

For nearly twenty years now, we’ve pulled out and added to a family Book of Thanksgiving as we’ve gathered to feast together — it’s become a documentary of the growth of our children and a record of the changes in our lives over the years, a collection of photos and personal sentiments that stand collectively to reflect the gratitude we feel for all that enriches our lives. I’ve tried each year to recognize and encapsulate a theme for the months that have passed since the year before: my gratitude for new beginnings in response to our recovery from a house fire that I had inadvertently started (!); my joy in watching my children grow; my appreciation of the every day, and of the flow of life, just to pick out a few.

Last Thanksgiving I expressed my thanks for beautiful places to walk (on). In the months leading up to that time we had: purchased a piece of property that allows us access to a 5,000 acre state park a mere 50 yards from our future doorstep, moved to a temporary home in San Francisco that is just blocks from the beautiful Presidio with miles of trails at our disposal, and walked 82 miles across the inimitable English countryside. Walking was decidedly the theme of 2014! But moreover, the opportunity to walk on from the life we’d known over the past 26 years in Palo Alto was also worthy of recognizing with gratitude.

As Acorn Lodge begins to take shape and Thanksgiving approaches again, I continue to rejoice in our good fortune at having this opportunity. I’m thankful that I’m able to consider the project my ‘full-time job,’ and yet it’s clear to me that my creative impulses alone don’t count for enough to get the job done: “Huzzah!” for the artisans that are able and willing to bring those ideas to life! I’m appreciative of the expertise and flexibility each brings to the job, allowing the project to continue to evolve organically as progress is made while finding just the right expression of the personality of our home — to my mind, it’s a prime example of Arts and Crafts ideals at work and I’m filled with gratitude as I watch the process unfold.

Mid-November
Mid-November 2015

 I’m grateful for the artisans who are helping to bring Acorn Lodge to life.

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Framing

Framing 1

With the framing well underway (Cottage and Lodge largely done, Barn up next), I’ve found myself musing lately on the multiple interpretations of the very concept of a frame. Certainly as the timbers are first nailed into place to create the frame for a building they serve the purpose of defining the space they enclose, in much the way a picture frame provides a border for and encases a piece of art. What a thrill it was to walk through the ‘rooms’ of our new home for the first time, feeling held in just the way I’d hoped! But now that those timbers are sheathed, that very same frame has become more of an internal supporting structure, no longer even visible from an external vantage point: the frame is more like the skeleton of the house than the skin, my perception of it changed . . . just like that. It is a frame [‘a rigid structure that surrounds or encloses something‘] and a frame [‘the rigid supporting structure of an object‘] all at the same time.

It seems the derivation of the word frame is from the Old English framian, ‘be useful.’ I find this particularly apt as it relates to another way in which I often think about frames. I have long been in the habit of changing metaphorical frames when faced with challenging behaviors or attitudes in others, switching out a negative frame for one that is more positive (or at least allows for a more patient response from me): the ‘stubborn’ child becomes ‘tenacious,’ the ‘insensitive’ neighbor is ‘awkward.’ Maybe our child’s persistence, although not always convenient to manage in the here-and-now, will be the trait that serves him best in adulthood and is worthy of being encouraged to a reasonable degree; perhaps the neighbor is only socially clumsy, with no desire or intent to offend. I find this exercise in re-framing encourages at least a modicum of grace on my part in interactions that might otherwise provoke me to ire or disdain, a very useful tool indeed!

These metaphorical frames serve to provide cases in which I may hold my understanding of others, much as the frames of our buildings serve to encase the spaces we intend to occupy, but I think of them as just that: external borders. It is the internal structure of my own frame of mind that allows me to make use of the metaphorical frames, and I credit the fact that I’m an eternal optimist by way of explaining my willingness to adopt this habit of frame changing. According to Winston Churchill, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Just as one chooses the dimensions when framing a new building, I like to think one may choose to shape one’s frame of mind: I choose optimism and will continue to cultivate my habit of trying new frames to promote a productive way to move forward when the path is unclear.

The frame [see above, andconstitution or nature of someone or something‘] of Acorn Lodge, generous yet cosy, will stand at the ready eventually to welcome and nurture all who enter. The road to completion may be pocked with unexpected potholes — the lenses of my frames [‘glasses‘] are not rose-tinted — but we mean to frame [‘create or formulate‘] an experience that will be as positive, for all involved, as possible.

Framing 2

“Optimism is the cheerful frame of mind that enables a teakettle to sing,
though in hot water up to its nose.”

 

 

Foundations

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The Lodge, Cottage, and Barn have their foundations! Carefully measured and poured, all footings are now in place, ready to stand solid as the underpinning for all that Acorn Lodge will become — this, a crucial step in assuring the integrity of this whole endeavor.

A neighbor stopped by one day recently when I was on the site and commented that progress seemed slow. While his observation was not untrue, I felt compelled to relate to him that over the course of many remodelling projects in the past, our wise and wonderful contractor would remind us in the face of delay that we always had a choice: did we just want the job done, or did we want it done right? Now, as then, we want the job done right!

Our friend Peter says that there are three variables at play with every project, and that only two at a time can be maximized: speed, cost, and quality. So, one may finish the project quickly and inexpensively, if the quality isn’t important; or, one may build to the highest quality standard quickly, but it won’t be cheap; or finally, one may pursue fine quality at a reasonable cost, but it’s not likely to be a time-efficient process.

Acorn Lodge has been carefully conceived, the metaphorical foundation — the heart, essence, and principles that guide us — laid long ago. The cornerstone of that foundation is a trust in the process, and rather than try to rush that process, we value the gift of time in the unfolding, with a belief that all will come right in the end. I walk through the rooms in my head constantly, imagining daily life in each space and fine-tuning the details of the vision, and I am grateful for the opportunity for the plans to evolve: we don’t aim for perfection, but rather meaning, and time is our friend in allowing for the best hope of attaining our goal.

William Morris, the father of the British Arts & Crafts movement, first espoused this idea of ascribing meaning to one’s surroundings many years ago. In trying to practice upon his advice, I’ve found great delight in locating reclaimed wood for flooring and other architectural details, conferring with a local artist who will create a work table for the kitchen, and hunting down unique light fixtures and other hardware, among other efforts. Much as I’ve enjoyed all of this plotting and planning, there’s no getting around the fact that it all takes . . . time.

So, progress may indeed seem slow, especially from a street-side vantage point, but nonetheless progress there is. Now, let the framing begin!

“Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.”

                             — William Morris

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Busy as Bees

honeybee

The property is fairly swarming with activity — in more ways than one! Not only has construction finally commenced, the air abuzz with the sounds of chain saw and giant chipper, backhoe and generator, but a swarm of bees showed up, as if in blessing. In the quiet moments, as machinery paused between tasks, the humming drone of the colony looking for a new place to set up housekeeping thrummed to fill the void, thousands of tiny bodies in communion, and I was thrilled to think that they might settle in at Acorn Lodge.

My friend Helen wrote to me recently and reminded me that I had not posted anything here for a while. As consumed as I’ve been, working to make decisions regarding materials for construction and the finishes within, I didn’t feel I had anything particularly noteworthy to commit to this space: I was, and am, thoroughly enjoying the process of designing our next (and hopefully, last) abode, but I’m also aware that probably no one else particularly cares about the myriad details (“Who will want to read this?!?”). Besides the which, I’ve been busy.

Bees are busy: collecting pollen, making honey, caring for their young, grooming the queen, and swarming when the time is right. But busy as they are, it is worth noting that every one of these activities is reliant upon good communication, a remarkable talent of honeybees — without it, the colony is doomed. Helen was actually home sick when she wrote, taking a day off of work and finally catching up with correspondence, and noting that she “can see the advantages of not working . . .” full time. Keeping in touch with even very good friends becomes a challenge when days are (overly) full, and yet the value of nurturing relationships in our lives cannot be overstated: we need, too, to be in communion regularly with those we hold dear.

The swarm remained on the property for almost a week. Neither the roots nor trunk of the Douglas fir they had descended upon held any possibility of offering shelter for the colony, but rather provided a good resting place along the way to their intended destination. Eventually the swarm followed the scent the scout bees had laid down by way of communication and settled into the new hive space that will sustain the colony for more of the busyness for which bees are famous. I’m sorry not to know where they are now, but grateful that their example will remain with me: busyness needs to be balanced with communion, ‘doing’ tempered by healthy doses of ‘being,’ especially in the company of those whom we love.

“Are you a human doing or a human being?”

Swarm
The swarm — April 2015

Arts and Crafts

“The artist is not a different kind of person,
but every person is a different kind of artist.”

— Eric Gill

I never considered myself ‘artistic’ as a child — others could draw so much more skillfully than I, and that was the standard by which I dismissed my efforts. Further, I naively conflated artistry with creativity, consistently thinking myself also ‘uncreative,’ and I was well into my young adulthood before I recognized that I am indeed a very creative person at core (and maybe even an occasionally ‘artistic’ creative person). In fact, I live to create: children, gardens, a home, memories . . . meaning. Throughout my life, creating things has been my way of bringing purpose to my existence. From smocking dresses for my daughter to conjuring interior and exterior designs for our homes and gardens over the years to practicing kitchen chemistry in service of producing meals both festive and quotidian, creating is my raison d’être. So, while my concept for Acorn Lodge is informed by the design style and ideals of the English Arts & Crafts movement, I am also determined that each of the structures, and indeed the property itself, will provide opportunity and support for the pursuit of arts and crafts, small ‘a’ and ‘c’ as well.

Barn

In particular, the design for the Barn includes what we’re calling a ‘craft kitchen.’ My husband and son (and father, and brother-in-law) have developed an interest in brewing their own beer. I don’t drink beer, but I’m happy to have them develop this interest and begin to acknowledge their own creative instincts, especially as retirement nears for my husband. I just don’t want to have to share my kitchen! The brewing process is hours long — happy, productive hours, but hours nonetheless in which the kitchen is ceded entirely to the brewing process. A dedicated brewing space, though absolutely a luxury, will no doubt prove valuable in terms of giving us each some space, both literally and metaphorically. Furthermore, this second kitchen will lend itself to the pursuit of other crafts (bread-making, preserving, honey-processing, and cheese-making come to mind right off the bat), leaving the Lodge kitchen at my disposal for meeting our needs for daily sustenance.

I’ll have a dedicated work area in the Lodge, upstairs, for the pursuit of fiber crafts: sewing, knitting, felting, smocking, and embroidery. Being able to leave a project out, mid-process, in an out-of-the-way space will be another luxury for me (and a relief to my neatnik hubby). My piano (playing which being a craft I waited half-of-a-lifetime to pursue) will be placed in the Cottage, awaiting frequent practice sessions away from ears that do not necessarily appreciate the requisite repetitions of rehearsal(!). The plans for the kitchen garden include a greenhouse, so I’ll be able to grow year-round, and create menus from the ‘field’ to the table for every season. All in all, there should be plenty of well-supported opportunity at Acorn Lodge to sustain meaning in our lives, to allow us to experience a sense of purpose: each of these crafts, with enough practice, will allow for the possibility of achieving some level of artistry, we hope, but at the very least, we’ll have plenty of good reasons to get up and going each day!

“Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

— George Bernard Shaw

If We Build It, They Will Come

Guest Cottage

This is our fervent hope: that family and friends will come to think of Acorn Lodge as their home-away-from-home. We are building a guest cottage in order to encourage friends and family to stay for extended visits, with the intention that it will be oft-used, regularly providing shelter and nurture to those who would keep us company on our hilltop. Close to the Lodge, but standing on its own, offering a sitting room, bedroom, and bath but no kitchen, the Cottage will be a refuge, a place of quiet and privacy.

My piano will also ‘live’ in the Cottage. I made this decision early in the design process, partly because at 6’8″ long, it occupies space like the proverbial elephant in the room, not part of the conversation, but hulking over the proceedings. It needs a room of its own. But there is another reason for putting the piano in the Cottage and that is that this home-away-from-home can also be a refuge for me: a quiet and private place to sit and play, also providing a change of scenery anytime I feel ‘housebound.’ Guests or no, the Cottage will not sit empty or unappreciated.

Each building on the property is meant to serve us regularly in this manner: nothing in the design is extraneous to the concepts of shelter and nurture, each structure supporting our daily activities and offering the means of extending the possibilities of being creative and productive. The reason for this is my conviction that while relaxation and being the master of one’s own schedule certainly have their place in contributing to feelings of contentment, I, for one, feel most contented when I feel that I am being productive, that I have a sense of purpose. Of course, sometimes that purpose is relaxation, but regardless, it feels good to have an intention in mind, to recognize what I’m about.

Being able to extend open arms of welcome to family and friends will be one of our happiest intentions, our purpose being to share conversation and laughter, good food and drink, and new experiences with one another — to relax in each others’ company. We’ll have the fun of planning and anticipating visits, the enjoyment of good fellowship in the moment, and a treasure of memories to savor forever afterwards. Friends and family, consider this an open invitation: please come help us to pursue our purpose often and enjoy Acorn Lodge as your home-away-from-home!

“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”

— Jane Austen

Hello, Peter!

Hello, Peter!

The very first day I spent some time on my own up at the property I had a visitor. A cheeky brown bunny kept a wary eye on me as I moved about quietly, hoicking out poison oak. I must have looked quite the sight, wearing my bright pink dishwashing gloves, but he didn’t really seem to mind my presence. As he lippety-lopped back and forth to check in on my progress, I couldn’t help but think, “Hello, Peter!” As if I needed any confirmation that this piece of property, after all of our searching, was ‘the one,’ Peter’s appearance sealed the deal, like a thumbs-up from Miss Potter herself.

One of the highlights of our recent trip to England was the opportunity to spend a morning at Hill Top, the inspiration for much of what we endeavor to create as we develop Acorn Lodge. The visit to Hill Top was my husband’s first, and he was just as gratifyingly impressed with the warmth of that dear house as I continue to be. Now, thanks to the wonders of the worldwide web, you may wander through the the garden and cottage too, by clicking on the link below. Enjoy the birdsong!

http://www.photographybyward.co.uk/nt/veg-garden.swf

One of the very few disappointments of our trip was the fact that, try as I might, I didn’t spot Squirrel Nutkin as we traversed the countryside. The list of wildlife sightings was otherwise rather well filled out — bunny, heron, dipper, grouse, buzzard, vole, hedgehog — but no red squirrel. At Acorn Lodge we’ve sighted, besides Peter Rabbit, deer, turkeys, acorn woodpeckers, and scrub jays just in the brief visits we’ve made over the months since we acquired the property. Yet to be spotted are the quail that are known to live in the area, or any other number of beasts we’ve been led to expect to find by a book called Secrets of the Oak Woodlands.

Beatrix Potter was an ardent conservationist dedicated to preserving the Lake District, where she had come to live and love in her adult years. She championed the land and its animals (both wild and domestic) in her lifetime, and in her will, she left well over 4,000 acres to the National Trust, ensuring that much of this beautiful terrain will be protected in perpetuity. We feel ourselves both inspired and privileged to act as the stewards of our new property, cautious to minimize our domestic overlay and committed to protecting and enhancing the natural beauty of our own little bit of oak woodland. While Peter won’t be any more welcome in my kitchen garden than he was in Mr. McGregor’s garden, I hope to catch sight of him from time to time, lippety-lopping atop the rocky knoll behind the house, still feeling safe enough in my presence to feel at home.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”

— Gary Snyder

Spring Rabbits

The Dales Way

Dales Way signpost

We are just back from the ‘green and pleasant land’ that we so love to visit, having spent about half of our time there walking the Dales Way — 82 miles from Ilkley (in Yorkshire) to Bowness-on-Windermere (in the Lake District). The trip was wonderful in so many ways, but the walk was particularly satisfying. We had contracted with a company called Mickledore to arrange for our lodgings and the transport of our luggage each day so that all we ‘had’ to do upon rising was walk, covering about 10 miles a day at a decidedly leisurely pace that allowed for delighting completely in our surroundings.

The peace and stillness that we enjoyed reminded me of the quiet I have experienced in the time I have spent at our property, silence that is deep and calm except for the small sounds of the movement and voices of the animals in the area. In England, there was the bleating of sheep and lowing of cows, but mostly the glorious symphony of birdsong — so full as to be almost unreal. At Acorn Lodge, it is the raucous calls of jays and woodpeckers that break the stillness now, but I am hoping to attract song birds to the garden, and there will be soft clucking from the chickens and the hum of bees eventually too to ensure a companionable quiet.

The orderliness of the Dales, stonewalled fields stretching over the landscape like patches on a crazy quilt, reminded me of the wine-producing areas of Sonoma County. Row upon row of grapes in the vineyards, vineyard next to vineyard, each arrayed to optimize its orientation to the sun in context with its topography — I find that the tidiness imparts a feeling of all being right with the world, a suggestion that consideration has been given and care is being taken to ensure an intended outcome.

I want that same sense of intention to be explicit at Acorn Lodge, but only insofar as it allows for the unintended to unfold as well. There can be nothing so lonely as complete silence, nothing so boring as the exact same routine day after day, however cosy the scene might be. I look forward to organizing our lives around our values and interests, but we mean to leave open the possibility of discovery, to create a warm welcome for even the unexpected guest, to leave the emotional space for whatever comes next in our lives.

Walking the Dales Way was both a meditation and an affirmation for me: we knew what we were about each day, our task (walking) structured for us by our eventual goal (completion of the trail), but with the freedom of time and space to take pleasure in the ‘work,’ find delight in the surprises of sights and people along the way, and experience a deep sense of peace around the unfolding. I came away from the experience satisfied that seeking to create my own little oasis in this busy world will be fine just as long as we leave the door unlocked and the welcome mat out.

Bloom where you are planted.

Harebells
Harebells along the footpath.

Window Shopping

guestcottagewindow

Ever since it began to look likely that we’d be building a new home, I’ve spent untold hours window shopping: considering possibilities, making selections, but holding off on purchasing until we actually break ground and construction is underway. From flooring to roofing to appliances, I’ve been doing the research, my computer screen my ‘window’ to the world of options (thanks be to the internet!), and visiting showrooms, taking notes, and making lists.

The windows themselves were just about the very first objects of my window shopping frenzy. I love windows the way some love shoes, and in fact, I believe that the ‘wrong’ windows can ruin a good house the way the ‘wrong’ shoes can spoil the effect of an outfit. Windows are usually the first thing I notice and appreciate about a building, so it should be no surprise that as soon as the floor plan had been tweaked to my satisfaction, I turned my attention to the windows, gleeful to begin making my choices relating to this very important (to me) component of the design. Casement or double hung? Clad, painted, or stained? Number of lites? Pattern of muntins?

Relating these decisions to choices I was making about siding and trim on the outside, and the ways in which we’ll be using and furnishing rooms on the inside, the window plan began to take shape. Then I did some actual windows shopping (thanks be to eBay!) and these beauties are signed, sealed, and delivered — ours! The overall design fell completely into place once these 100+ year-old hand-beveled and leaded windows arrived safely from Chicago, ready to bestow upon our home (and the cottage) their artisanal grace.

Front Elevation

I’ve tried to deconstruct that ‘aha’ feeling I get, the sense that I’ve hit upon that just-right idea at last, and I am surprised to recognize that there is actually some small bit of grief mixed in with the overall sense of relief I experience. Settling upon a certain concept means letting go of all of the many other possibilities I’ve considered. But acknowledging the disappointment of that letting-go is actually a part of affirming my resolve to follow the path I’m choosing: on balance, the ‘just-right’ idea is defined as much by what I don’t choose as what I do.

Last week my contractor and I met with the window supplier to begin the process of putting our order together, and I realized I am no longer window shopping for my windows — the choices have been made and communicated, we’re off and running. I continue to notice and appreciate all sorts of wonderful windows here in San Francisco (swoon sometimes, even), but I feel completely settled with what we’ve chosen for Acorn Lodge, satisfied that we’ve struck a balance between what-might-have-been and what is that will prove gratifying for the time we have to enjoy there.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough Hellos to get you through the final Good-bye.

entry windows