When we bought our Victorian house, I fully intended, and said so on many occasions, to go out of that house feet first. I never planned on moving again. Ever. Ever. But, in 1990, the kids were grown and on their own, I was coming to an end of my costume designing career, and Tom was thinking about what he wanted to do 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 gathering my courage.
One snowy Sunday, shortly after Christmas, I came back from communing with the great outdoors to find Tom grumbling about the upkeep bills on this great barn of a house. Usually when this happens, I find I have some pressing need to shut myself away in the bathroom, but I was on a high — fresh air, trees, snow! So, this time I said, "Well, why don't we move, then?” Just like that — out of my mouth came words I never thought I'd hear! I looked around to see who said that. And then I heard me say, "Let's build a log house." Who was this person who had taken over my body?
Well, Tom's ears perked right up, and he pulled out a magazine, "Log Home Living," and handed it to me with a great smirk on his face. "You mean like this?" And with that, we charged into what was to become one of the scariest adventures we ever, ever had.
When you decide to do something incredibly foolish, like build a log house when you've never even built a normal house, you dash out to Barnes & Noble and buy all the log home magazines they have. Next, you want to cut out all the pages with stuff you like and make a notebook. Very organized, yes? Then you gradually face reality, as you price how much all those fabulous things will cost you. Maybe you don't really need a glassed-in greenhouse off the front entryway, but you would like to keep the cement utility sink.
Second, look at all the possibilities: peeled logs, milled logs, square logs, log siding on a frame house, cedar logs or dead-standing Lodgepole pine logs, Swedish cope or chinked. Slanted corner cuts or straight? Dark brown stain, light gray, medium tan? Windows framed with log "bucks" or not? 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 "unconventional buildings." They just say "no!" Sometimes they are sympathetic and say, "I'm sorry, but not on your life!" A large log home was on Page 2 in their handbook of unconventional buildings. Page 1 had to do with building on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas, with only a rope bridge to bring all the construction supplies to the 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, brave, reverent and solvent we were.
Me? I was all about the design. My plan of action was this: I would narrow everything down to a few choices, from the layout of the first floor to the water faucets in the powder room, and put it all out there so Tom could have a say, then pick what I wanted in the first place. I'm amazed we made it through with our marriage, sanity and health intact. By all rights, Tom should have had an ulcer, and I should have gradually curled into a fetal position.
In Minnesota, large construction waits until the "load limits are off the road." By April, the frost was past, the ground would have "heaved" and the potholes would be smaller. I didn't say "gone," did I? In Minnesota, they are never gone.
But, things were looking up. Our Realtor found a beautiful chunk of land, 20 acres of woods, swamp and meadows. The first time we walked out on our new property, on a cold, icy, March 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.
Next time: Remember “go big or go home”? This is not your ancestors' log cabin.
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at The College of St Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.