The Great Mid-Life crisis Adventure...part one.
Updated: May 2
When we bought the Victorian house and spent the first 12 years stripping the woodwork, replacing the roof and the siding, adding a family room/kitchen, wallpapering every nook and cranny, I fully intended--and said so on many occasions-- to go out of that house feet first. In other words I never planned on moving, again. Ever. Ever. Ever.
But, in 1990, the year that I was 50 and Tom was 54, the kids were grown and on their own, I was coming to an end--or so I thought--of my costume designing career. Tom was beginning to think about what he wanted to do in his second life, after he retired from medicine. I had taken up cross-country skiing, not that I was any good at it, but it did get me out in the beautiful snowy woods. Mostly standing at the top of a slight incline making quiet, screamy noises in my throat--but that's irrelevant to this story.
One Sunday, shortly after Christmas, when I came back from my communing with the great ski trail in the northwoods, I found that Tom was paying the bills--always a good time in our household to be absent--and he was, as usual, complaining about how much the upkeep was costing us, as we rattled around in this great barn of a house. Now, I usually find when this conversation starts, that I have some pressing need to shut myself away in the bathroom, but I was on a high--fresh air, trees, snow! And I only fell down three times! So, THIS time I said--"Well, why don't we move, then" ?Just like that--out of my mouth came the words I never thought I'd hear!! And if that wasn't shocking enough, THEN I said--"Let's build a log house".
Who WAS this person who had taken over my body???? I ask you!
Well, Tom's ears perked right up and he pulled out a magazine that he had bought a few months before--"Log Home Living" and handed it to me with a great smirk on his face.. "You mean like this?" And soOOOO, we set off together, into what was to become one of the scariest adventures we ever, ever had. We never regretted building that great log house, but I'm amazed we made it through with our marriage, our sanity and our health intact. By all rights, Tom should have at least had an ulcer and I should have gradually curled into fetal position.
But, the first time we walked out on the property on a cold, icy, February afternoon, we saw a snowy owl. And if that isn't a good omen, I'm turning in my know-it-all badge, right now.
So, first thing you do, when you decide to do something incredibly foolish, like build a log house when you've never even built a normal house before, is to dash out to Barnes and Noble and buy all the log home books and magazines they have. There goes your down payment, right there, because there are many, many log companies and many many magazines being written about them. Then, you want to cut out all the pages with stuff you like and make a notebook. Very organized, yes?? Then you gradually deflate and come back down to earth and face reality, as you find out how very, very much all those fabulous things will cost you. So maybe you don't really need a glassed-in greenhouse attached to the front entryway, but you would like to keep the cement utility sink.
Second thing, go around and look at all the log houses you can and read up on all the different companies making them, because there are JUST A FEW different kinds--peeled logs, milled logs, square logs, log siding on a frame house, cedar logs, dead-standing Lodgepole pine logs and green logs, Swedish cope or chinked? Slanted corner cuts or straight? Dark brown stain, light grey, medium tan? Foundation, or no basement. Heated slab or cinder block or concrete cellar. Walk-out possible?? Turn the house 60 Degrees. Framed with log "buck" windows, or not. Shake roof, asbestos that looks like shake, metal tiles, asbestos that looks like asbestos. Log houses made from kiln-dried, yard-dried or green, wet logs with shrinkage pockets built in so the windows don't explode as the house shrinks and settles. All this and you still don't have the property to put it on. AND you still don't have a bank.
Banks are not happy about what they call "unconventional buildings". They just say "NO!" Uh-uh.. Nope! Nada! Sometimes they try to let you down easily and they say "I'm Sorry, but no"! AND, a large (3,400 square foot) Log home was definitely on page 2 in their handbook of unconventional buildings. Page one had to do with building on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas, with only a rope bridge to bring all the supplies to the construction site. BUT, since the financial stuff was Tom's domain, he got to trudge to all the banks, laying out his case about how trustworthy, responsible, mature, and solvent we were. He finally found one that would agree to give us an "in-house" loan. I always suspected that that particular loan officer had a secret yen to build a log house, too, and was going to do it vicariously through us. No matter. We are grateful to this day.
Me, I was all about the design and decorating and so, I got out my graph paper, pencils and rulers and proceeded to draw up the floor plans. Yes, I am not, nor ever have been, a licensed architect. And no, I didn't know what I was doing. But, it made sense to me, to simply take the rooms and areas of the Victorian house that we used most frequently, measure them and plan the new house around the kitchen, which is where everybody always gathers anyway. And here are a few things I learned along the way.
A true log house--one built with one layer of hand-peeled logs that are visible inside and out-- (not half-logs stuck on a stick-built frame) has interior wood-framed "boxes" for closets, bathrooms, entries and other interior rooms.
These are built after the fact, when the log shell is up. So, that was a new way of thinking for me.
You also have to account for the fact that the logs range from 12 to 18 inches across, and half that displacement comes out of your room size. All of a sudden, you have to back into the powder room because there's no room to turn around.
Plus--Putting electrical outlets into whole logs is a whole new dimension.
So, my modus operandi (plan of action) was this--I would narrow everything down to a few choices--- from the layout of the first floor to the water spigots in the powder room--- and then put it all out there for Tom, so he could get in on all that painful decision-making. This system worked much better than having both of us try to do the same jobs. AND it did cut down on the yelling and pouting. Somewhat. Okey, not much.
So, gradually, we zeroed in on 4 companies, each unique in their own way. Two were in our area, one in Traverse City, Michigan and one in the Four Corners area of Colorado. We personally visited each one of them--this was a huge decision, so we had to pick the RIGHT ONE. Two companies built with green logs, freshly-cut, one built with enormous dried white pine logs and the fourth built with what they called "logs of character". Those were the hand-peeled Lodgepole pine, complete with lumps and bumps, twists and turns.
While we were visiting the Colorado logyard, three huge semi trucks came rumbling in, carrying logs salvaged from the Yosemite fire--just a little charred on the outside. With a little industrious peeling, they'd be good to go! Recycling? I'm all over it. Well, of course you know which one we picked--the one farthest away! With the "Logs of Character".
I sent them my house plans, right away, so their "IN-HOUSE ARCHITECT" could make them "loggable". Fortunately, I wasn't there to hear what he really thought about my doodles and scratches. but he came up with a lovely plan using what he called a "Valley Truss" for the ceiling system.
It was a sort of teepee configuration, way up in the very highest part of the house. Four huge logs that came together at the top with all the other logs laying on them for support. It opened up the interior of the roof without having to have all the T bar rafters.
The actual roofing system made you feel like you were in an upside down ARK. A little dis-orienting, but very beautiful
There was a glitch or two, however. The one upstairs bedroom had a roof rafter log that encroached into the doorway, making it impossible to have a normal door. Took us awhile to figure out that a bi-fold door would work.
So, Our House would be built on the ground, in their Colorado logyard, in three sections--first floor here, roofing system over there, and second floor in between. The logs were all notched to fit together, one on top of the other, but no windows or doors had yet been cut. There was an enormous log that ran the entire length of the house, in the roofing system--66 feet long! There was a log with an unusual bumpy knot that was to go over the fireplace and a crooked "peg-leg" of a log that became the focal point for the back porch, as the newel post.
Since the back door was our "front door" this
was the equivilent of fancy, scrolled columns in any other house. When the log company had the house completely put together in the three sections, each log was numbered with a little piece of paper tacked to each end, then the house was dismantled, loaded onto four enormous logging trucks to make the trip to their new home--Rice Lake Township, Minnesota, where we had purchased 20 acres of pine, poplar, buckthorn, swamp and quiet meadows. Heavenly!
The huge, keep-you-awake-at-night-question still remained, however. WILL THE LOGS THAT ARE ALREADY CUT TO SIZE, ACTUALLY FIT THE FINISHED CINDER BLOCK AND WOOD FOUNDATION THAT WAS ALL FINISHED AND WAITING??? Just a few inches off on either logs or foundation would be a monumental disaster. We were cornering the Market on Tums purchases, at that point.
So, here's the thing, in Duluth, Minnesota, like other parts of the country, you can't really do much large construction until the "load limits are off the road". There are stern, temporary highway signs put up to that effect. Usually by April, the frost would be gone and the ground would have "heaved" and hardened and the cracks and potholes in the roads would be smaller. I didn't say "be gone" did I?? In Minnesota, they are never gone. In the meantime, we had a new quarter mile road to build, a tree-covered plot to clear, a well to drill and septic to dig. And a foundation to construct--a walk-out basement,
The interior of the basement was block and cement, the walk-out wall was wood construction. The other big question that kept Tom up at night was--how could that wood wall actually support two towering, 10 foot stories of 18 inch logs, with balconies, roof and windows? or possibly WOULD IT NOT? Tune in next time for the answers! In the meantime, you can make bets, if you wish!
I haven't even mentioned there was a large Victorian house to sell, 21 years of stuff to pack up or get rid of--oh, and then there were the long-lost relatives we hadn't seen for maybe 46 years, who decided this was the perfect time to come and stay with us for a few days. Just before the new people moved in. They were still with us when the front doorbell rang and the young man standing there said "I'm really sorry but you know that house you were going to rent while your new one is being finished? Well, I just sold it this morning---------." Oh Boy! Where are the Tums??
The next installment will find us unexpectedly living on site", sharing a 28 foot Travel Trailer with two large dogs, after putting everything we own in storage. Good grief! How did that happen??! Well, I'll tell you....................................it's like this.