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Our family's passive solar zero energy off grid house kit construction blog.
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9/28/10

Now The Reason We're Here

I will not whine.
But I'll admit I'm low.


The Colorado prefab house kit project is off.

After I gave this gentleman my own foundation plans for free (that I had paid to create for my own prefab house kit in Virginia), after we sent him confidential documents and SIPs drawings, after he picked my brain on EVERYTHING green building and systems related for a year, after he built the foundation to fit our prefab footprint, this gentleman suddenly disappeared when it came time to order his prefab house kit.


For weeks, no phone calls or emails were returned. 


And then today we got a call from our network of SIPs plants.  
"Hey Joe, we've got a casa ti going up in Colorado but it doesn't say anything about us sending information or payment to Green Modern Kits?"
Do you really think we won't find out? Really?


If one more prefab house kit customer puts in a paltry deposit to then get our detailed construction information, then disappears because they were talked out of an efficient prefab house kit by a contractor who doesn't understand green building technology and doesn't want to learn to work with SIPs, persuaded into a less energy-efficient stick built  copy just to "save" a thousand dollars...
OR
...for those that try to take our designs and work with another SIPs plant who might quote them a few hundred dollars less and crudely mimick our design...
then...
Shame on you.



Ok: For those that want to rip us off to save a few (seriously, a FEW) bucks, let me lay this out for you:

HERE'S WHAT YOU WON'T GET:


Fortunately we are busy with the West Virginia, Virginia, and more prefab house kit projects to concern ourselves with you. Your project is now considered what they call in construction a "one off."
That means, you are alone.

In the end, your prices will pretty-assuredly be higher, because you are not within our network, not just for the house kit, but for all kinds of other stuff: systems, cladding... it will add up, your lone contractors lack of a network of global green building yet affordable knowledge and vendors.

I thought it might be a good time to, for those that wonder, explain what you DON'T get when you rip off our Green Modern Kits / Green Cottage Kits / Green Cabin Kits designs:

You might take a page off our web site and get some local SIPs guy to *kinda* reproduce our house kit.
  • Your SIPs won't have the 20 year guarantee, the experienced plant support, documentation, manuals, the in-depth knowledge about all the hidden features of our house kits... 
  • You won't have the interest of our custom architects (who would never approach your market because their job is to build custom dream homes for millions of dollars) looking over your shoulder and checking your team's work to make sure that, although on an affordable budget, your prefab house kit looks like a million dollar design and works just as efficiently and your product choices tread lightly, elegantly on the land.
  • You will not be able to pick the SIPs plant or our brains for what systems work best for your local conditions and needs. 
  • You will not be in our prefab house kit gallery and blogs where people can find your house kit to see what you did with it, and learn about your business.
  • Like Airstream and Sears Homes, your home will NOT be featured and admired as an official Green Modern Kits prefab home on national tours fifty years down the road. Oh, you scoff, but I am convinced these tours will happen, because here you not just buy a house kit product, an energy efficient passive design prefab house kit, but you buy the team experience, support, connection with other house kit purchasers; YOU INVEST IN AND BECOME A PART OF OUR GLOBAL COMMUNITY of green building experience.
We're (Green Modern KitsGreen Cottage KitsGreen Cabin Kits) not going anywhere, but your one-off contractor might. We have the solid foundation of amazing architects with passive design in affordable prefab house kits.  So when you have questions, years down the road? We'll be here.

Because of you, Mr. P., my attitude might have shifted slightly.  
I'm beginning to feel... taken advantage of.

*Maybe* we need to ditch affordable housing and return to custom, high end only design for only those that have stacks and stacks o' money.  Maybe we should stop with the Prefab Open Houses and the welcoming phone calls and answering emails for 2-3 hours a day answering all your general green building questions... Maybe we'll only speak to those that can afford our custom designer prices.

And then I find this:
(THANKS, many grateful thanks, to Bethe Almeras... i.e. The Grass Stain Guru
who reminded me that maybe that is just not how Copeland Casati or the family of Green Modern Kits operates.)

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine

WATCH J.K. ROWLING'S HARVARD UNIVERSITY'S COMMENCEMENT SPEECH.
And yes, I'm speaking in full caps, because you really need to sit, and watch it fully (full text here).


At the end of her talk? I have the same sentiments, welllllll, maybe except maybe for the Death Eater part: : )
"...But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives?...
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. 
I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, people who have been kind enough not to sue me when I took their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister. 
So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much."
Being a friend, a true friend... for life... is everything, and I approach business the same way.
I wish you all very good lives.
That is what matters in the end.
I was livid and shocked when I began this post, but now I'm over it and moderately cheerful.
What I've always aimed to do is not only be a good friend, but to help create beautiful, functional housing at good prices in communities.  To foster and encourage community, through green building in a smart growth setting.

Plus: As my friend Justin often says, "Don't steal. It's bad karma."


June Carter Cash - Keep on the sunny Side


So, fine. There's dem sum bad apples everywhere, but I won't look down at that.
Here, we are all of us in the gutter
but some of us are lookin' at the stars. 


This post dedicated to, in order of appearance, my childhood friends, and good friends made later, today, that still after all these years make me sunny: Anna, Sally, Leah, Marc, Eric, Katja, Patti (er, Patricia), Violette, Lori & Nate, Melanie & Mark, Amy, and all our Green Modern Kits and Pamplin City friends... and especially, Handsome Husband.


Pretenders ... message of love

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9/27/10

Zero Energy Passive Design Prefab House Construction Continues

Dawn outside the zero energy passive design prefab house.
Zero Energy Passive Design Prefab House Construction Continues

I realize: "Hey! They're starting solar!" There's the frame!

We got a late start on our journey to the zero energy off grid prefab house kit, so when we arrived, it was dark. It wasn't until I woke up early and ran outside to take pictures of the beautiful pink and aqua dawn that was appearing over the valley, that I turned and saw the frame for the solar panels now on the roof, the wiring for electricity inside the prefab house kit, the busy indications of systems boxes open and arranged in Pipsqueak 1's bedroom...
Under construction!

We are clearly back under construction!
We are so excited, yet as I type this, I eye my laptop setup and think,
"You know, I'm going to kinda miss the days when I telecommuted off a tractor battery..."

It is all happening just in time - fall is here, and the morning chill reminds me that soon enough it will be the dark ice of winter, and this stage can't happen soon enough.  I do NOT want to spend another winter like last year.

Honeychile, I may have been gloating that it was ten degrees outdoors yet inside the passive design of the prefab home enabled the interior to never sink below 45 degrees, but... I do not want to spend another day indoors in 45 degree weather ever again! Heck no. I want to breeze in, from a frosty day outdoors, cheeks frozen, mittens soaked from snowballs, and have the warmth of the zero energy prefab house kit warm me quickly as I toss my wet frozen clothes to the floor, which instantly begin drying from the floor's radiant heat while I make my way to the soup pot simmering on the cook stove...
THAT is how to spend the winter.

Our candle supply (thank you, church yard sale who sold us a box of about $100 worth of candles for $2!) is dwindling, so yes, it *will* be nice to flip a switch and read by the lamp's glow...
I know I'll be nostalgic about These Old Days... but really: who are we kidding.



Observations


A week ago we set up the composting toilet, and rushed to indoctrinate it over the weekend.  When we arrived last night, a week later, I kept traversing the space within the house kit, cautiously sniffing, sniffing... I mean, a composting toilet in a tight envelope SIPs house kit could be... could be...
Week 1: It is fine. And I'm impressed how the children immediately ingrained how to open, close, use it correctly, even in the middle of the night.

However, there IS one item I'm musing on in the bathroom, and that is the tub. I love the way it looks. But I wonder... about how it will elegantly, cleanly meld with the shower when installed, with a modern line.... I love that it's a livestock trough repurposed, but I'm pondering the shower set up.  Its lines will start narrow at the top and bottom, and bell out to give the user elbow room? This will be something fun to consider...

Things We Seek


Always look about you and make a mental list of what might be useful in the future (1-10 years) that you might discover in thrift stores and yard sales... Here's my current list:
  • Cannisters for food items like flour, etc.
  • Metal trivets (because when used on a cook stove, it gives just enough height from the stove top to turn your pot into a slow cooker! Who'da thunk it? Not I, which is another reason I appreciate the wisdom within Woodstove Cookery by Jane Cooper)
  • A cool mod step stool. Yes, for the composting toilet. This functional item could use a redesign by RISD students, honeys. When you sit on the (literal) throne, yer feet dangle. How will a 2 year old or 80 year old address this?
  • A huge big ole griddle thing-a-mah-jig. I predict a future of slinging masses of pancakes and bacon to hungry guests off the cookstove in my future.
Afterwards


We ran into Appomattox to get a new tire for our tractor. Which keeps popping, thanks to the briers we are attempting to eradicate by aggressively mowing.  And, as custom, stopped into our favorite shops - the Salvation Army, B & L, Baines Books & Coffee, and again, without children, whom I happily, callously left behind with Handsome Husband eating berry scones at Baines, I trolled the fabulous but very breakable 13,000sf of Appomattox Gallery. Again.



Found cannisters at B & L.
Late '60s / early '70s MUSHROOM THEME.
Just enough pop and friendliness to bring a bit of warmth into the modern sleek design of the south room.


AND, a coup: a giNORMOUS seasoned cast iron pan for the cook stove!!!!
*Perfect* condition, $25!!!!!
I will be slinging hash for twenty, easily, daily, with this, for a lifetime. Think of all the fried chicken I could make. The breakfasts. Dag. Come on over.
I'm ready.

Unexpected Solar




Jason and Kristen Dorris stopped by.
The next thing you knew, all the boys were up on the roof, including Pipsqueak 1, installing solar.
Guess that's what happens when your contractor is your friend and well... you know boys and toys....
Solar installation was a family affair.


Kristen and I lounged. I passed her Dwell's "An Introduction To Architects" which I had read last night, giggling yet appreciating how informative and correct it was, knowing it would amuse her. Kristen, an architect and Tulane grad, exclaimed, "Wait! That's Dan!!!" and started laughing too, as she read Dan Maginn's essay.

So here we are in population 199 and Kristen knows the Dwell architect who wrote an essay that made me laugh out loud for the first time in ages.
#LoveOurTown

I think I'll send Kristen's contractor husband Jason Dorris Mr. Maginn's essay on contractors. : )
The children played, we made food out of whatever we could find, and had a lovely unplanned evening sitting around the candlelit table with pipsqueaks hopping about while dogs lounged tired and heavy on the floors.


Over dinner, ; ) Jason and I briefly discussed the composting toilet success and laughed at admitting we both keep walking around... sniffing.

It Doesn't Just End With The Building Of A Prefab House Kit
Broadcast seeding the field

Sunday I broadcast seeded the field, trying to overcome weeds and improve the soil.
With the electric and solar completed soon, I remind ourselves that this project does not end with the completion of an off grid zero energy house kit; we have years ahead of improving the soil, crop tree release, and finishing the interior.


Broadcast Seeding The 8 Acre Field

I enjoy walking the field. But I do not enjoy tearing up my heels in boots - I will never go a season without regular boot wearing again! So when you see me at the pool next year in boots... that's because sowing season nears.

It was satisfying to see the last of the seed spread just *minutes* before the gentle rain began.
Another productive weekend with friends in the zero energy passive design prefab house kit!





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9/19/10

The Zero Energy Prefab House Kit Has A Guest, And More Off Grid Systems!

My childhood friend Lauralyn came to visit us in the zero energy prefab house kit.


Lauralyn is an artist.
Lauralyn runs around nekkid and takes pictures of herself.

I do not run around nekkid. I take pictures of off grid zero energy prefab house kits.
But I did laugh and talk alllllllllllllllll weekend-long with a great, dear friend who was experiencing the zero energy prefab for the first time.
We had adventures.
Yet finished the weekend rested and relaxed.

What is new in the off grid zero energy prefab house kit?
Jason Dorris installed the composting toilet, bathtub, concrete pad (to be poured this week) for the battery bank and (optional, future) generator.

So, the composting toilet was installed... but: there was a glitch.
I read the directions Friday on how to set up and use the toilet about a hundred million zillion katrillion times.
Then, confident, went to follow through the set up (dumping in the starter peat, etc.) and realized... 
Remember when we stored the composting toilet in the shed and a mouse made a nest in it with the manual and hopped out all indignant when we moved the toilet from the shed to the prefab house and we thought it was really funny?

Well, it was in the dark, on a Friday night, with guests, and children eager to try out the system, when I realized that not only did the mouse eat the manual, but the mouse also ate the composting toilet paper mat that's supposed to prevent the soil from falling all the way down as well... Well, I wasn't laughing anymore.


I frantically searched online for, "What Happens If You Remove The Paper Mat From The Composting Toilet" in the dark, lined the bottom with toilet paper, crossed my fingers, and continued the setup.
And then the rush of people eager to use the composting toilet commenced.


Saturday we had a Very Serious Zero Energy Prefab Team Meeting to plan out the next two weeks.  This is what our Very Serious Team Meetings often look like:

[What we don't mention in the video is that this group includes a talented contractor, a licensed architect, and a certain couple who, er, know a thang or two about green building... ; ) ]


So, next? This week the racks for solar power and solar hot water will be mounted on the roof.
We have a systems cabinet we are mounting externally between the two sets of clerestory windows to house the solar combiner box and to protect the penetrations into the building envelope for power and plumbing.
And Pat Root might show up and start working on electric!

I thought I'd take a moment to list some favorite key, non-electric off grid appliances we are finding valuable in the zero energy prefab house kit:
- non-electric coffee grinder (new!)
- composting toilet
- solar shower slung over the limb of an oak
- solar cooker (invaluable!)
- backup camping stove
- scythe

Now that we're in this stage of the off grid project, we can take a step back and start to think about finishing the interior of the SIPs (structural insulated panels) as well as FINALLY addressing the home site, working our way towards plumbing and irrigation.
We are very excited for fall. The zero energy off grid prefab house kit evolves, and we enjoy every single stage of it. 

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9/15/10

Off Grid Appliances: The Bathroom For A Zero Energy Prefab House

That may look like a livestock trough to YOU, but to me?
I have a toilet, and a tub.
[note: Temporary placement.]

I confess I always wanted a livestock trough for a tub.
Inner cowgirl, y'know.

The trough will work well with the tiny recycled, reused stainless steel sink we purchased from Richmond's Restore awhile back.

Here are my first thoughts on these fixtures:
Like Alice In Wonderland or Willy Wonka's hallway, they initially appear out of proportion.
There is a reason for that.

The tub and sink are much *smaller* than traditional counterparts.
In average homes, the bigger the sink and tub, the grander.

In an off grid zero energy prefab house kit, luxury comes in other forms, but not from waste of water.

Initially, I asked Handsome Husband to consider the 6 foot trough.
"We never have time for baths, and you could lie full out in a 6 foot tub, like you did in Skibo!
Ah, those were the days when you could stretch out in not a bathroom tub but a ROOM built for a tub, in a castle, and peacefully while away a morning sipping coffee and reading the paper as the sun streamed into your suds!
"
[Handsome Husband can thank me now for not publishing corresponding picture of him, in a tub, in Skibo.]

His rebuttal grounded me: "There is no room for water waste in an off grid zero energy prefab house." Agreed.

And instead of a sleek, discrete modern design toilet, we have the
big
honkin'
no-hiding-THIS-anywhere
clunky
non-electric composting toilet.

Which, one step ahead of its dual-flush / tankless / high-efficiency cousins, uses NO WATER.  It's so in-yer-face big, I'd almost call it Eco Bling except it's so ugly!

But boy is it effective. It not only reduces water use in the household, but reduces septic needs. (Much more on this in future posts, don't make assumptions here until we post our detailed and approved-by-department-of-health-for-Virginia irrigation and septic information!)

NO MORE PEE PAILS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
NO MORE HOLES BEHIND THE HILL THAT THE DOGS DIG UP!!!!


So yes, if this looks a bit awkward at first, I assure you:
It is a major step up for this off grid household!

Styling can come later.

Today, it's solely about off grid zero energy efficiency and effectiveness.
And the livestock trough will look really cool once we install the corresponding metallic sink and shower fixtures.
Promise!

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9/13/10

The seasons turn in the off grid zero energy prefab house kit, and here we are, back in fall.


The seasons turn in the off grid zero energy prefab house kit, and here we are, back in fall.

We spent 9-11 at a Firehouse Fundraiser in a small, vibrant community in rural Virginia, Darlington Heights near Hampden-Sydney.

It was appropriate. The community, the true spirit of pulling together to help others, creating volunteer emergency services from citizens standing up and stepping forward to help their neighbors...plus, shared with their gritty urban cousins in big cities nation-wide, there is that character, that strength, that, "Hellz Yeah!" that I love that you only get in extremely urban or rural communities.

Now I'm relaxed and happy in the zero energy prefab after dinner, the children are asleep, we are reading by candlelight and suddenly...
I am listening to rain.

I remember...
camping on the land, with a toddler and 3 year old... in the 1960's teardrop camper... no respite from the heat, never enough protection from the cold... it was always challenging, but after each successful endurance, we recalled it fondly. The worst moments were: rain.

I remember packing up frantically, adults dashing convoys from the camper to the car in the downpour, hoping we wouldn't get our car stuck in the mud with no one to know our plight... No one knew us, we knew no one for help, if it might be needed... we were truly on our own, in the middle of nowhere.

I remember the sudden darkness as afternoon storms rolled in, and with the beginning drops despite our hopes it would pass over, a split-second decision, even in the dead of night: Leave.

I remember this now, each time it rains.
I think it helps that we clad the zero energy off grid prefab with galvalume, so that even with the SIP (structural insulated panels) we can still, thanks to the metal, hear the pitter patter, pitter patter of the rain clearly.  It is a lovely sound, and I write this by candlelight as I listen to it overhead and each time find it ironic that now one of my favorite moments on the land IS when it rains.

Outside: it rains, cold.
Inside: The children are warm in their beds, the adults, reading quietly. And despite the wet chill of outdoors, the temperature is so cozy inside the zero energy prefab, I might crack the windows open, further.

We are still without systems, so we, in the prefab house kit, are zero energy off grid in the most base form.
But the systems have now arrived, and next: we install.
Throughout the evening, the rain intensified and waned, in interludes. I slept lightly, enjoying it all.

Sunday we awoke to a bright blue sky; unexpectedly, it was warmer.

At ten, Pat Root, our electrician, Jason Dorris, our contractor, his wife Kristen Dorris, who is an architect with an emphasis on graphic and interior design, Handsome Husband, and myself met to go over systems installation and, with Kristen, some color schemes.


As usual, in our crammed-into-one-hour-of-intense-discussion weekend meetings, there were also all manner of animals and mini-humans running amok.

That didn't deter us from accomplishing the final electric meeting before Pat Root and Jason Dorris start work on electric, The Cloud, the bathroom (composting toilet), and I can finally dream of finishing the SIPs (structural insulated panels) with a smoother solution so we can get to painting those darned green SIP another color. Not that I minded it that much, but... it will be nice.


Kristen Dorris did a great job of taking my ideas, and established themes and finishing them with color. It pulled everything together, allowed for interesting notes of dimension while retaining the airy feeling that is so important in a small footprint prefab house kit.

On my end, I made two purchases last week for the bedrooms: lamps.
After racking my brain and going over accounting... I think... that I never ordered those darned lamps I have been moaning about since spring.  I could find receipts for EVERYTHING ELSE, but not those "missing" lamps. No emails confirming purchase or delivery, no QuickBooks line item, no proof that it ever happened. I am shifting the "missing lamps" blame from Handsome Husband to myself.

So I splurged: 
Fifteen 1960s-ish Venini Murano hanging tubes that would make up one of Murano's historic mid-century chandeliers except I bought them separately to play with and create my own version of something fab but not too fancy. (Who needs "Dealer price upon request" prices any-hoo?)
 Here's what one tube looks like:


And
I bought this lamp for 99 cents:
It's fantastic. It makes me happy. It was 99 cents.

Now, Handsome Husband is getting some Big Ideas, I will warn you.
It's not just about The Cloud, which I will go into next week.
He is now going on now about The Beach.
I will fill you in as details filter in.

Watch out, this sounds serious. I feel a Hawaii 5-0 moment coming on.
Picture we, with umbrella and towel, on the roof.

Better check those roof loads, honeys.

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9/6/10

Virginia Jaunts And Escapades

[Photos and construction information of our off grid zero energy systems in the prefab house kit / green building progress coming soon. Yep, yer gonna have to wait further. Believe me I am as anxious as you to install our off grid systems and get heat here before the fall! But this is the last weekend of summer. We enjoyed it.]

One note on camping in the off grid zero energy prefab house kit (still with zero off grid systems not installed) in September: Unlike summer, when the screened windows are wide open, September brings some interesting notes: the temperature outdoors climbs high during the early afternoon, but drops dramatically at night.

Indoors, during the day with the windows open, it is breezy and comfortable.  At night, we crack a few windows to keep it from getting too hot even as the temperature drops but close the rest, and it is always surprising to walk outside in the morning and see how COLD it is outdoors.

I have to temper my brutal-winter-survival mode and resist how I approach being here in January; it would easily get too hot indoors, just from buttoning up and the movement of children playing!

September through November is when we used to be able to camp on the land in our 1960s teardrop camper when the children were toddlers - we couldn't camp in the true summer's heat; still it would be challenging to get through each evening, through the cold. Even without our zero energy off grid systems installed, the difference between then and "camping" in the off grid zero energy prefab, is incomparable.





This weekend was all about Virginia Jaunts And Escapades.


I admit I have been cranky. Hence the desperate clinging to summer's waning light. I know and am grateful we have our raw land-being-slowly-turned-into-a-permanent-home, Higher Ground, and my parent's Bay House to run to.

But dag it, we all have worked over fifty hour weeks all summer long (and that's supposed to be our "down time" in the business cycle) and we are now short-fused. It's a good problem to have. I am not going to go into that. I am going to vent as someone who has not had a maternity leave for either of their children yet, and they're now in frickin' elementary school!

I wanted a VACATION. You know, a real WEEK off. It didn't happen. It never happens, I have four businesses! I watched that narrow window of opportunity diminish to impossible as the summer closed and School Time neared with desperation.

Sulking out to a happy weekend on the land, thinking of What We Could Have Done If That Durned Technology Project Was Done (I was putting the blame on his work, but really folks, you know I would have had to equally cancel vacations on my end. Too many projects coming to fruition at too close of a critical time to allow ANY project managers to leave...)

I just desperately just wanted to feel like... I did something this summer for more than a weekend, went somewhere, relaxed.

And here begins my South Of France Argument.


As we drove down the allées, almost to the land, my brain flashed back to drives in the French countryside, to drives in rural Germany... where, like here, the winding gorgeous country roads twist gently, flanked by old cedars and groves...

Every now and then a sudden village quickly rises, and you memorize the architecture, the local color, and community all centered in one tiny spot, the cooking, the season in which you passed...

I started to laugh: "Waaaaait a second. All those experiences, I cherish still, but
Wait.
A.
Second: THIS is just as gorgeous, just as historic (ok fine you don't have the Roman stone wall ruins of the French countryside but honeychile we have old tobacco barns and split rail fences! And just as much wine!), and... you don't have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to just get there. You just need to know where to go, and how to do that tour!"

YOU. DON'T. EVEN. GET. JET LAGGED.
Dag!

Now if I did today over, I wouldn't do it like this. (Eyebrows raised, glances surreptitiously, meaningfully at Handsome Husband, Mr. "I Drive The Alphabet Vs. Going From Point A To Point B" Casati...)

But.
It.
Was.
Fabulous.

Thank you, Handsome Husband.
I will never long for the south of France or rural Germany again, when I have VIRGINIA. Not to say I won't go and enjoy it, we're sociable! But I have become especially grateful for Virginia.
Heck, we can even speak German with the Amish if we desire the sounds of foreign tongue! ; )


We started the day in Appomattox.
Take the walking tour of Appomattox (plenty of brochures in the Appomattox tourism center on Main Street).

Carefully but jovially ate at Grannie B's. (Embrace the stewed toe-maaaaaaah-toes and corn pudding. Skeptically consider the meat, and when ordering, stick to the baked ham, steak sandwich, etc. or you will get PARTS-rolled-into-something-claiming-to-be-a-patty.)

Browsed through the fabulous Baines Books & Coffee, where they celebrate local food (and use our friends' Frog Bottom Farms produce), local crafts, and often have local music play in the evening.

We also visited B & L Sales (go into the left room, tons of great recycled finds! There was a great wicker picnic basket set there for $20! Handsome Husband: "You already have FOUR picnic baskets. Keep moving."), Appomattox Crafts Center (local crafts for sale!), and FINALLY, while the children were, with Handsome Husband, safely in Baines reading books and eating scones, I finally was able to sneak away without children to The Appomattox Gallery at the end of Main Street - with over 15,000 square feet of very breakable antiques!


From the Salvation Army Thrift Store we got a bunch of cool, colorful 1960s vintage cookbooks, and at the country store, picked up a bunch of local newspapers (useful to see what's going on over the weekend). Great weekend reading!


We headed home via back roads (down Red House Road)... until, at Red House, when we were supposed to go left, Handsome Husband said, "Look! That house looks cool down there, let's go right!"

I was game.
For awhile.

Until I realized we were frickin' headed to Brookneal!

Now, Brookneal needs to be a day trip.
See, you *start* by heading down 47, visiting Mrs. Esh's Amish stand in the morning on the way, cutting down Germantown Road, with your day destination a cool event already going on at Patrick Henry's Red Hill, so you get yer history AND excitement, then finish the afternoon at Sans Soucy Winery with a wine tasting. That's how *I* planned it, when looking at the map last, a year ago.

Of course we didn't follow a planned schedule, practical-like, we're at the mercy of Handsome Husband!

Thank goodness, because we ended up finally visiting and lingering at Sans Soucy Vineyards, with Cameron giving a fabulous overview of their delicious and varied wines while the children spent the time adoringly petting, pampering and grooming a willing winery lab. This tasting encompasses quite a range of wines!

Whether you lean towards dry or sweet, they have award winning wines for you to consider. If you enjoy sushi you must purchase a bottle of their Ginger Wine, served cold, to enjoy with your next summer sushi.


Sans Soucy Vineyard
hosts lots of neat events, make sure you coordinate your weekend with something special there! You can easily stay in historic Charlotte Courthouse (which also has a walking tour) at The Henry House- make sure you check with the hosts there about the food, if you are a foodie... I know he trained in Switzerland and likes to serve Swiss and authentic Virginia colonial food.


We wound our way home, and I critically compared the occasional glimpses of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the matured hay in the fields, old homes and structures...

...the unexpected cedar lined allées...

...open rolling hills, the cows... (and I used to compare cows of every country I visited, I used to say you could tell a country by its cows)... and suddenly it was clear: I already knew it, I've been talking about it this entire time but I will say I felt it this weekend: Respite, discovery, and bowled over by what is in my back yard. You could not have had a better adventure in the south of France. : )

And this was Day One.


Day Two, we awoke to a brilliant sunrise, all pinks and oranges streaked with blue...
Handsome Husband built a bridge over the creek with leftover wood in the morning which serves several purposes:
  • protects the beloved creek so the tractor doesn't muddy it when he has to pass over it to bushogg the road beyond
  • protects the children when, sledding down one steep hill with the creek at the bottom to then ascend the next steep hill, they are able to do so without ending up upended in icy water!

In the afternoon we piled into the car and wound the back roads, thus cutting off 20 minutes of the official commute, to Holliday Lake State Park.

Those vintage cookbooks we had been poring over all weekend?


That atmosphere, of the sparkling lake ringed with rolling hills, the red canoes, the barbeques, the Time Life Photographs Of A Life Far Away And Unobtainable... well, they are, HERE, honeys. That picture postcard camping and camraderie in Virginia State Park life still exists!

On the beach, you wade in easily following your children on a gentle slope as they make their way to the rafts, to climb and then jump off in a big spash, you smell that fresh water lake air, watch the schools of minnows run ahead of your steps along the sandy floor... and, as you stand waist deep, egging yourself on for an end-of-season plunge despite the cooling afternoon, see: just beyond the ropes: groups in canoes, out for a spin, you admiring them, the view, they, in turn, admiring the picturesque beach.

A mid-century travelogue postcard, live.
This is what those families who for generations travel endless hours traditionally from the south, heading north to lake houses, experience, except... it's here.
This is why people drive hours to the south of France, why they roam Switzerland, southern Germany: hoping to discover a place like this, to talk about and cherish in memory, to hopefully return to one day...
Except... it's here.



You can camp, you can fish, you can hike, canoe, paddle boat... you can even have lake-side barbeques.

It's crazy: Twenty-ish winding, twisting, backroad minutes away from our land, and you're in another world.

In the time it would take to drive to some ugly Anywhere USA Suburban Shopping Mall in any city, you could be here.

We plan on, next summer, doing chores in the early morning, wearing the dogs out, serving lunch, then heading over to swim in the hottest hours with the dogs closed up comfortably inside the prefab's shade, until the evening's edge hints of coolness, to return, still hints of lake-side dampness in our hair, as the daylight fades.

And that's how we'll get through our hot summers:
with Park Rangers, canoes, barbecues, and a beach.

I am now not clinging to summer.
Thanks to this weekend, I am excitedly looking forward to fall and winter:

It is clear we will attend at least one autumn event at Sans Soucy Vineyard, while visiting Patrick Henry's Red Hill.

It is clear we have a lot of hiking and barbecues to fire with friends in crisp weather at Holliday Lake State Park.

It is clear we need to bring a vintage fondue pot out to the off grid zero energy prefab house kit to prepare for our winter Ski Vacation In Switzerland But Really We're On The Land Tramping Around In Skis.

It is clear we have a lot more to discover here... Onward to adventure!!!!!

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