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The Sustainable Community Loses An Important Voice. We Return To My Hometown, And Leave With France.

It is with great sadness that the sustainable building community this week lost a bright voice: The architecture/ engineering professional, Mel Starrs.

The UK, and all involved in sustainability, architecture, and engineering standards, lost an important voice, too soon. I am still shocked by the sudden passing of Mel Starrs... I can't just tell you why she was important- only if you read her blog, her tweets, can you understand how her questioning, in-depth knowledge, and passion that spurred on her profession. And her humor... I am just truly so sad. She welcomed everyone.
More on the impact Mel has had on her friends and colleagues:

Su Butcher set up a storify account which curates some of her posts and remembrances. Please read it...

Back in the day:
My non-professional data collecting...
Back in the days when we were, for fun, measuring the heat loss of our off grid prefab home when it was still really under construction and we were basically camping in the shell, in really cold conditions, Mel would always ask what the data was, supportive, knowing that I was just glancing at a temperature reader vs. professionally collecting data or doing an energy audit.

I just loved her humor and... and she was just a really cool gal.
RIP, Mel.

My professional report:
"It's freakin' cold! Yet the temperatures drop within
the prefab, without heat, at 1 degree per hour."
Thanks, Mel, for your interest.
The prefab home in rougher times.
Can't wait to break in the radiant heat in the slab
this winter! Ahhhhhh.

At The Passive Solar Prefab Home
At the passive solar prefab home, electric work continues! Also, the plywood to cover the interior of the SIP (structural insulated panels) is scheduled to arrive early this week, and Tony & Dustin have been busy readying for its arrival.

At The In-Town Ramshackle
We were not there. We were in Richmond, picking up our FRENCH EXCHANGE STUDENT, A.!
We have often mentioned that the remote beauty of the area that surrounds the passive solar prefab, in Virginia's Appomattox/ Charlotte Court House/ Brookneal area, with its gorgeous trees and farms and music and good food in the beautiful foothills with mountains in the distance- how it reminds us of France, of Switzerland...

Each time we travel a vineyard, eat great homemade cheese, or stop at a friend's farm with beautiful backdrop of hills and mountains as the sun sets, we think,
"This is just like France, but in our back yard!"

Well, now, France has come to us. Welcome, A.!
We drove to Richmond to collect A. from the airport, and spent a few days there.

Back at The Ramshackle, Tony, after working on the passive solar prefab in the 110 degree heat without air conditioning, happily acquiesced to stay at The In-Town Ramshackle (and return to the water) so I would not have to lug three wild dogs and six clucking chickens to my parents Richmond home.
Not that they were invited...
Dogs?!? And CHICKENS?!? HERE?!?

Good thing he stayed, because with the intense, crazy storms and rain that came through, they revealed more not-yet-addressed roof leaks in the old 1800s farm house. He stayed busy.

Meanwhile In Richmond, We Showed A. Around.
On Saturday, I thought I'd show her some history and art. So:
On To The Virginia Historical Society (whose exhibit on the beginnings of Virginia I enjoyed *immensely*- this is no dusty, file ridden museum!)!

On, To Hollywood Cemetery!

A.: "Mom. And then my weird host family took me to... a cemetery. For... fun." ; )
[So, for the record, here is why Hollywood Cemetery is cool: ]
Architects & historians:

From the web site,
 "Much more than a cemetery, Hollywood is a living story in stone, iron, and landscape. It recalls Virginians of bygone years whose lives shaped and influenced our own. With stunning views, Hollywood overlooks the James River, near the site where Captain Christopher Newport planted a wooden cross a few weeks after the founding of Jamestown. Hollywood Cemetery was designed in 1847 by the noted architect, John Notman of Philadelphia, and has been operating as a cemetery in Richmond since 1849. Hollywood serves as the final resting place of two American presidents, six Virginia governors, two Supreme Court justices, twenty-two Confederate generals, and thousands of Confederate soldiers. Its status on the National Register of Historic Places recognizes its importance to the nation. Hollywood is also the beautiful resting place for a host of men, women, and children from all walks of life. Together, their lives represent the story of a community. Hollywood’s paths wind through 135 acres of valleys, over hills, and beneath stately trees of natural beauty and tranquility. The architectural beauty of monuments, statues, buildings, fences, and tombs enhances the setting.That scene appears to be unplanned. Yet skillful design, faithful stewardship, and nature’s blessings have combined to make Hollywood perhaps America’s most historic and beautiful rural cemetery. These attributes have uplifted the spirits of thousands of visitors since 1849."
On, To The Museum Of The Confederacy!

On, Through Shockoe Bottom!

On, Through Richmond's Harlem Of The South, Jackson Ward!

On, Through Northside!

On, To The Arts District! And The Downtown Artwalk Block Party!

And then Handsome Husband taught A. how to make bread.

And about Hank Williams music.

It's all in a day's work, folks. That chile' is now cul-tured up! And we edu-ma-cated a nephew at the same time!

Reading Club:
Our prefab home utilizes passive solar,
opening & shutting windows at night/day,
and ceiling fans in summer but
admittedly on 110 degree days,
one might yearn for more cooling...
I use spritzed cold water but
others have other ideas...
"Ever heard of Strong Towns? Try now.

'We need to end our investments in the suburban pattern of development, along with the multitude of direct and indirect subsidies that make it all possible. Further, we need to intentionally return to our traditional pattern of development, one based on creating neighborhoods of value, scaled to actual people. When we do this, we will inevitably rediscover our traditional values of prudence and thrift as well as the value of community and place.

The way we achieve real, enduring prosperity is by building an America full of what we call Strong Towns.'


This isn't your typical sustainable-city analysis. Strong Town centers its vision on the intersection of sustainability and sound city financials, similar to how we view the high yield of ecosystem services.

So take a look at this website, learn from it, and then take those learnings to your own city and community, to create 'neighborhoods of value.'" Read: The Growth Ponzi Scheme
P.s. Check out this hilarious yet sad video someone in tech made for the Chesapeake region:

What is so frustrating in this video is it portrays exactly my experience- you give helpful, researched data, the zoning person across from you repeats their bias & misinformation, lol!

All this debate on air-conditioning, as we, again, expect more heat, heading our way.

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