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House Rising

Guest post by Stephen Cowan

Earlier this year, we thought we would be living at the ranch by the end of summer.  Well, summer is over, and the house is still slowly being pieced together in fits and starts.  However, the end of construction is getting closer, so maybe we will be in the new house by Halloween.  The trick-or-treaters certainly won’t miss us.  We haven’t had any trick-or-treaters come to the door of any of the 3 houses where Jessica and I haved lived in the last 6 years.  We always tend to live in houses where the front door is hard to find, or on dead end streets.  And now with the ranch being in the middle of nowhere, the chance of trick-or-treaters is nil.

There has actually been a lot happening the last few months as our slab of dirt has risen into a real structure. Here is a picture of the house as it stands now.


For our siding, we chose tongue and groove 1×6 Con Heart B redwood, which translates to redwood boards of darker wood, without the lighter colored sapwood, and a few tight knots.  We received a beautiful shipment on which we applied a semi-transparent stain made by Cabot called Seacoast Gray.  Semi-transparent stains allow the grain of the wood to show through, but still protect the wood (at least for a few years) from sunlight and mildew.

The metal roof was installed last week, and it is also a light gray color.  Luckily, it matches pretty well with the siding.  As you can see in the picture, the exterior portion of our glue lam beams are painted a light green color called Energized, by Kelly Moore.  We also placed some colored panels on the front of the house to liven up the outside.


Our interior walls are being paneled with birch plywood, which will be finished in some kind of light stain with a clear coat on top.  I am testing different shades of stains this week that will hopefully complement the yellow tone of the glue lams and the light color of the T&G pine ceiling.  Here is our master carpenter Steve Gresham installing a birch panel.


To keep us cool inside during hot summers we are using a ductless air conditioning system made by Mitsubishi.  Our house doesn’t have any attic space, so we wanted to avoid having ducts running across our ceiling and interfering with the open beams. With a ductless system, the condenser sits outside and pumps coolant to smaller individual units attached high on the walls of each room.  We installed a unit in each bedroom and also in the living and kitchen area.  They have a white cover which we will probably end up painting to match other interior colors.


We have tried to stay away from white, other than in the bathroom, which will be painted white and have 2×8 white tile in the bath, along with blue laminate.  Yes, laminate.  We will have lots of laminate in our house, from the kitchen to shelving.  I have always loved 1960s style architecture and have chosen some shades of laminate that are not popular today, but were common 50 years ago.  Kiwi green for kitchen counters, one called Orville, which is kind of a wheat color for shelving, and Caribbean Blue for the bath countertop and shelving.

Lots of detail work stills needs to be done, but at least the end is in sight!

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Guest post by Stephen Cowan

The beginning stages of building a house involves digging up a lot of dirt and hiding stuff in the ground.  It is sort of like buried treasure, except whoever digs up the stuff in 200 years will find septic systems and pipes instead of gold.  We have dug holes for septic tanks, ditches leach fields, culverts for drainage, trenches for pipes full of wire, and other holes just so someone from the county could stand in them.  Sometimes we will dig a trench, move the dirt out of the trench, then move the dirt back in the trench, and then realize something is wrong in the trench, then dig the dirt out again, then put the dirt back in.  I keep hoping with all the dirt we have moved, to find something interesting or historical beneath the surface, but we only find more dirt underneath the dirt.

Here are some examples:

Water line

Water line

Gas line

Gas line

After many months of planning and preperation, the pace of building is finally starting to accelerate.  It has taken a while to hire the right contractors, and we have waited patiently while they finish work on other projects.  One thing we have learned about new construction is to not expect to have work done on our timetable.  We have been dreaming and looking forward to this new house for so long, it has been hard to have the patience for delays.  However, these last few weeks we have been lucky to have our main contractors work several weeks in a row and a lot has been accomplished.  Framing started a couple of weeks ago.

Exterior wall framing

Exterior wall framing

We were able to have our first picnic at the house, and introduced our 2 month old son to his future home for the first time.  He enjoyed it for a while, lying down and looking up at the trees, then went berserk when Daddy picked him up.  Luckily, there were other arms to pass him onto.

First picnic on newly poured patio

First picnic on newly poured patio

This week has been busy with sheathing the walls, putting in thousands of nails, and preparing the beams for installation on the roof.

Plywood sheathing being installed

Plywood sheathing being installed

Glulam beams for roof

Alaskan yellow cedar glulam beams for roof

With a little luck, we will begin our life full-time at the ranch by the end of summer!


Construction Begins

Note: Guest post today by Stephen Cowan. Stephen was kind enough to share his photos and knowledge about the beginnings of our house construction.  Enjoy!

IMG_0043The spot on which we are building our new house was formally the site of an older mobile home, which was recently demolished (bit of advice: if you are demolishing a home, make sure you remove the windows before doing the demolition, otherwise you will be pulling broken glass out of the ground for years to come).    The old septic system was inundated with roots, so repairs were done and a new leach field is being installed in this picture.  The leach field will handle all of the wastewater from our home.

IMG_0039This trench was dug to reroute some of the electrical lines that were running thru the corral, which now contains our new leach field.  The old electrical lines were accidentally cut while digging, which led to the well pump we share with our neighbor being shut down.  Whoops!

IMG_0097Almost ready to pour the foundation.  Here are the form boards that will contain the concrete slab.  Our contractor is meticulous about getting a perfectly level and square slab, so a lot of time was spent measuring and adjusting to get it just right.  This house will be just under 1000 square feet, with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath.  The footprint looks really small now, and with 2 little kids, it will probably seem even smaller once it is built.  Luckily, there are a couple of hundred acres outside to hide in.

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Laying the Foundation



In the beginning, God made art.  His art marks the foundation of everything we know.  The kind of art God makes is not an afterthought or a weekend hobby he does on the side.

God’s art is the starting point for the story of the world.

– from A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman

Everywhere I look around there are trees.  Pines, madrones, douglas firs, oaks, trees of which I do not know the name.  I’ve always been a lover of trees.  I admire their height, their strength and stability (most of the time, though some do fall down), and their sense of purpose.  Doesn’t it seem like trees just know what they are doing?  They root down into the earth and take hold.

 Ever since four years ago when I stopped working as a social worker, I felt a bit directionless and wondered what my own purpose was.  I wasn’t feeling eager to return to social work in the years ahead and although being a mother and wife has brought me much joy, I’ve been yearning for something more. It’s been a slow process of much prayer and opening my eyes to see God nudging here and there by which I have arrived at this place.  When I stand here at the ranch surrounded by all these trees, I finally feel my sense of purpose and feel fully alive.


Above is a photograph of where our guest house will be with a view of Stephen’s workshop in the background.  We plan to build the two bedroom, 1000 sq. feet guest house first before we begin the main house.  Our hope is to move in and live there while the main house is being built. The photograph below is a view from the opposite side looking down towards the barn.

 We have yet to lay the concrete foundation.  A few things need to happen before then such as getting our septic tank inspected, submitting the guest house plans, and finally getting the building permit.   A foundation is not a living organism.  It’s not alive like the trees all around it.  And yet, it marks the beginning upon which the growth of our house will spring forth.  This is the beginning of our story on the ranch.  It begins with a slab of concrete placed in the ground.  A firm foundation upon which to build.

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Waiting, Wishing, and Being Still


We’re in the in-between-times right now.  I suppose if I’m honest, it’s felt like that for over a year now.  A year ago at this time, we sadly realized we would not be able to build our house on the land we thought we’d raise our children on.  A year ago at this time, we had already spent a whole year working with architects to design a main house, caretakers’ house, and guest house only to never see those house plans come to life in real buildings.  And we moved on, letting that dream go so that we could start anew on this ranch.  And now we wait some more.  Waiting for the county to approve our house plans to begin the building process.  But nothing ever takes as long as you think it will take in house construction; it always takes longer.  And so we wait.

I’ve been reading Emily P. Freeman’s new book  A Million Little Ways.  In one of her chapters she writes about “the pain of letting things grow.”  I’m 7 months pregnant now, but  I want to be 40 weeks.  I remember last time around how slow the process of pregnancy is from conception, to wanting my belly to show, to the final days of entering labor and giving birth.  And so I wait.

I’m well acquainted with waiting though I’m not very good at it.  I waited a long time  until I finally met my husband at age 29.  There were no other male suitors in my life before then.  I mean, yes, there were dates here and there, but no relationships.  And then I waited another two long years for my husband to propose to me.   It felt like a really long wait.

It’s easy for me to wait and be still and be stagnant and feel like nothing will ever move forward in the way I want it to.  But I think Emily is spot on when she writes about “learning to move while you wait.”  I have to hope like the daffodil bulbs we planted last month that my in-between-time will be fruitful.  That though my movement may be “so small it feels like stillness” that I will live fully in these moments of waiting and keep moving forward.  Maybe it’s slowly, but life can’t be put on hold merely because we’re waiting for something better to arrive.

It’s the last day of 2013.  I thought it was time to begin what I’ve been wishing and wanting for some time now.  I’ve decided to make 2014 the year that I show up and dare greatly.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.
–Rilke’s Book of Hours, I, 59