Getting There

Sonoma landscape

The end of construction looms so close I can almost taste it: flooring is going in, cabinetry is being installed, and the trimming of doors and windows has begun. Outside, most of the siding is in place, masonry is proceeding nicely, and the final roof tile will be nailed down this week. Slowly but surely, we are getting there!

Meanwhile, we have moved from our transitional digs in San Francisco (such lovely digs they were!) to a temporary furnished rental . . . in Sonoma. We’re finally residents of Sonoma County, two years after buying our property. The fact of our arrival here is doubly sweet because it means my commute to the property is 30 minutes instead of the hour and a quarter the drive from the City took: getting there is now so much easier.

It’s not that I minded the drive – I’m generally happy to be with my own thoughts, and the opportunity the drive afforded to ruminate on the project did not go amiss. Besides, Highway 12 is literally signposted as a Scenic Route (and thankfully, that’s the stretch of the route that constitutes my current commute). The bucolic character of the Sonoma Valley continues to delight me almost beyond measure, and the delight that I experience is a good reminder of the need to appreciate the journey even as we endeavor to reach our destination: after all, getting there is (often more than) half the fun.

In fact, I am so enjoying the journey that I’m a bit apprehensive about nearing the end – but only a bit. I remind myself that I’ll have ahead of me the challenge of setting up the beehive and figuring out how best to nurture the chickens, the opportunity to create and sustain a new garden, and the delight of turning my creative energy toward feathering our new nest with curtains and cushions and the like. The building will be finished, but maybe like a good garden, a good home is never really ‘done’ . . . maybe we’ll never actually get there after all, but oh, what a pleasant jaunt it may be when we strive toward that for which we long!

“If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art
and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer,
‘A beautiful House.'”

— William Morris

Rock On!

Rocks on the property

I feel lately like my head is full of rocks — but it’s not all bad! Certainly there was the rocky road of the black paint brouhaha that we had to navigate: I found myself so distracted trying to stay upright during that bumpy and bruising journey that the every-day just fell away, and simple tasks like putting out the cans for recycling and trash collection fell off my radar completely. Whoops! We’re glad to put those metaphorical rocks in the rear-view mirror and look forward to a smoother ride as we accelerate back up to cruising speed on the project. Besides, we have other, actual rocks that happily command our attention at the moment.

The foundations for Acorn Lodge conform, of course, to current construction standards (i.e., they are poured concrete), but I love the idea of a home built on a stone foundation. Especially in a setting such as ours where the soil yielded a veritable trove of fine specimens when we graded and dug to put the foundations in place, it seems a shame not to incorporate them into the design. So the mason has his work cut out for him: he is charged with creating the illusion that the Lodge and Cottage sit on stone foundations. We can’t make use solely of the rock we’ve recovered from the property because much of it is over-sized, so I’m on the hunt for suitable stone to add to the mix, bearing in mind the importance of maintaining the integrity of the project. Just because it is an illusion doesn’t mean it should reveal itself as such by a failure on my part to pay attention to what is suggested by our setting: I want for the finished product to feel as though it mushroomed up out of the ground organically and for it to look perfectly at home in its surroundings, a natural fit for the sylvan charm that surrounds us. I am, therefore, determined to wear my rock hound hat until the ‘just-right’ rock is found and secured!

Meanwhile, perhaps the most exciting ‘rock’ of all has made its appearance at Acorn Lodge: the sheet-rocking has begun, and I say, “Rock on!” I was particularly pleased to walk into the kitchen the other day and find the breakfast nook looking ready to receive its panelling and trim. This is the space we will inhabit as we welcome each day, with sun from the east spilling through the windows; as well, here is where the two of us will enjoy cosy kitchen suppers when we want to give the dining room a rest. Cooking and eating are central to my notion of well-being, so besides having a functional and attractive kitchen to work in, I need a beautiful and welcoming place to sit to enjoy both the fruits of my labor and the company of those for whom I cook. As imagined, the nook will fit the bill perfectly, and in fact now that the sheet-rock is in place (‘on’), I can empty my head of each of the rooms as conceived, and begin to enjoy them as they are: rock-solid interpretations of all that I yearn for when I conjure my notion of home. No more plotting and planning — just appreciation for what is!

Breakfast Nook

“Write your worries in the sand,
Carve your blessings in stone.”

— Robert F. Kennedy

Good to Go


After a week’s worth of Sturm und Drang, we got the happy news this morning that we may begin painting again – our choice of black for the trim has been approved by the Architectural Committee — so we find ourselves relieved to feel we’re no longer going to the dogs but rather good to go! Truthfully, it will take some time to put this whole unhappy episode fully behind us, but we mean to take heart from the notion that “You can’t keep a good man/woman (project!) down.”

Initially rejected by the Architectural Committee, the black paint was decreed to be too bold (“shocking,” in fact), too much in contrast with the natural environment that enfolds the community. I will readily admit that at the moment, because the house is sheathed in white Tyvek, the black does appear rather stark at first glance. But the picture won’t be complete until the siding is put in place [the dogs were barking up the wrong tree]: the relative value of the black will be aptly matched by the brown of the cedar shingles, bringing the house as a whole into harmonious balance. Moreover, there actually IS no contrast in black with the environment except of one that has the effect of enhancement:

Black is a good foil for green.
In a garden or against natural surroundings, black will recede
and focus attention instead on green foliage.

Thankfully, with a concerted effort on my part, I was able to convince the Architectural Committee that my choice of black for the trim was based on qualifications of good design and was meant to contribute to the greater good of the community, in keeping with the committee’s guidelines and standards. We’re another step closer to making ourselves at home in Acorn Lodge, our little brown nut sitting prettily among the oaks.

I’ve long taken the following as my own personal set of guidelines and standards:

To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self;
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived . . .
this is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

And so the transgressions of misguided neighbors will be forgiven, hope is restored in my heart, and I find myself grateful for the opportunity to rededicate myself to my ideals — it occurs to me that we are not merely building a home, but continuing to build character in ourselves in the bargain!


Emerson quote


Going to the Dogs


Doesn’t it seem a shame that some people, though they are of at least average intelligence and are comfortably well-off in their lives, enjoying advantages that some may never have the good fortune to experience, aren’t able to appreciate their position, to find noble endeavors in which to busy themselves, perhaps even meriting respect for benevolence which helps ease the lives of others? Here was I, innocently tooling along at 65 MPH (and feeling perfectly well gruntled, I might add) when, WHAM, a two-minute conversation brings me to a screeching halt. Okay, maybe I had already slowed to 40 because of a phone call the day before . . . but still. That truth is often stranger than fiction has been confirmed — you can’t make this stuff up, though I’ll pretend for the sake of handling the situation (and myself) gently that all of this is ‘just’ a story.

Once upon a time, there lived a pack of dogs in the Lovely Woods, woods that appeared peaceful and calm, a sanctuary for those who lived there. There were the Border Collies, a pair who displayed a high-strung need to keep everything in order and a fanatic willingness to try to keep everyone in line; there was the Pit Bull, whose temperament from moment to moment was anyone’s guess, now drooling with charm, now snarling; and there was the Basset Hound, a quiet hanger-on who nevertheless was eager to add to the baying chorus if circumstances seemed to merit. This pack of dogs was seen regularly patrolling the neighborhood, the Border Collies in particular on the lookout for anything that might be amiss or anyone who seemed not to be following the rules – this is after all, what Border Collies do best. And they knew they could always count on the Pit Bull as their staunch ally in nosing out threats and the Basset Hound as a loyal dogsbody when the need for action arose.
Enter yours truly, who wants only to paint the trim on her new home black. The painter is to begin the job by providing me a small painted sample; however, gifted with the first dry stretch of days we’ve had in weeks, he decides to give almost all of the woodwork a first coat of paint. The dog pack responds with a full alert – WOO, WOO, WOOF – hassling the workers at the job site, and registering a complaint with the Architectural Committee (to which we must answer regarding all design details). And so I receive a phone call: “You must submit samples before proceeding with any work. The committee is meeting tonight, so we shall consider the work that has been done so far as your sample, and render our decision about your color choice based on that.”

Tap the brakes, slow to 40 – there’s trouble stirring in the Lovely Woods.

I arrive at the job site the following morning, and the mason shows up for a meeting. We conduct our business, and then, because he is troubled by something that has happened, he shares with me that he had been up on the roof of the Cottage a day or two before when some of the dogs from the pack had approached the property with a group of others, upset about the black paint. The Pit Bull proceeded to detach herself from the group at the curb, and after acknowledging the mason’s presence, began to sniff all around the property and take photos before rejoining the group at the curb. And this is when the vicious barking and growling began: a diatribe against the project that stunned the mason with its vehemence.

Hit the brakes hard, I’m at a complete standstill.

Wow. Just . . . wow. Really?!?

In my world, the words ‘private property’ mean something. I’m a generous person by nature, but even had she wanted to take photos for innocent purposes (maybe she likes a design detail?) permission to be on the property, and especially permission to take photos should have been asked for as a courtesy. To have run loose all over the site without my knowledge, taking photos with malice in her intent, is beyond reproach to my way of thinking. (Perhaps this Pit Bull needs to be on a shorter leash.)

Further, to set forth her opinion loudly and publicly that the project is ill-conceived and bound to lower the property values in the neighborhood – all this when I am not present to defend myself or the project – that’s the kind of display that is frightening to experience (no wonder the mason was upset!). Moreover, her rabid rant was wounding to hear repeated. (Perhaps this Pit Bull is in want of a muzzle.)

Acorn Lodge is the product of my heart and soul, and it has been impossible for me not to take this episode personally. I am angry and hurt — and deeply shaken to find myself made newly aware that the Lovely Woods may not be quite the sanctuary I yearn for. I am generally a very trusting person (probably to a fault), always expecting that people are putting forward their best in the day-to-day. In other words, I’ve never been particularly afraid of dogs. But moving forward I will be wary, very wary, of the dog pack of the Lovely Woods as I try to anticipate the end of the story.

It may be hoped that the oh-so-capable Border Collies might come to donate their considerable energy to the community in some more worthwhile cause than challenging my color choice for the trim on my home; that the pugnacious Pit Bull might receive some training and encouragement to render her better able to respond appropriately (read: sensitively and courteously) to a perceived crisis; that the doleful Basset Hound might come to realize her steady companionship could be better appreciated by other quiet souls, ones with more worthy intentions. Sadly, I’m not sure I should hold my breath waiting for any of them to discover a Happily Ever After.

In the meantime, I will shake myself out; put myself in a good, long Down Dog pose; then begin again to wag my tail as hard as I can (“Fake it till you make it,” right?). There are neighbors whose  appreciation of all that we are bringing to Acorn Lodge is continuous and genuine – these stand ready with welcome and warmth, and with these I shall look forward to sharing the Lovely Woods.

Live and let live.

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”


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 2015

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



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.”





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


Busy as Bees


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?”

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.


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