Monday, April 14, 2008

Saturday: Strawbale Keith and a New Family Member!

Much is made about the new "Green Economy". Obama and Hillary both mention the promise of millions of Green jobs, as we move to a more sustainable society. For the past thirty years, there have been those who have been struggling (and succeeding) to make a living as they pioneered this new economy.

These guys (and gals) are all pretty much the same. Last fall I had the privilege to hear Paul Hawken speak. Paul (a Green Entrepreneur) has written an excellent book: "Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming" (quite the title) in which he describes and defends this new environmental movement based on love of the land and also people. When you meet these folks, they almost always dress the same. Blue Jeans. Either a T-shirt or a Flannel shirt. Hiking boots (the old leather kind). And they tend to be thin. Energetic. Healthy. They look like they live their values.

Politically it's hard to pin them down, as they promote both capitalism and environmentalism. They aren't socialists (but they have morals and a community ethic); they aren't capitalists (but they promote sustainable living and products). Frankly, they befuddle me. I'm thinking of Michael Pollan, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Bill McKibben. Granola heads with values and a functioning checkbook, they seem to be.

Saturday morning we awoke, had some coffee and drove to Grass Valley to meet with our Strawbale Consultant. "Strawbale Keith" (as I'll call him) has a business next to all the other construction companies and home product stores in the growing ex-burb, foot hill town of Grass Valley, California. He runs a multitude of businesses there. His Warehouse is made out of recycled materials. Old tin. He sells "blue jean" insulation as an alternative to that nasty pink stuff. He sells solar systems (and has won awards as the "best of Sacramento" for solar installation). He also builds, thru his construction company, Strawbale houses. From the photos of them, they all looked like Strawbale McMansions.

His office had the appropriate pictures of John Lennon (from the early Beatles), a multitude of posters of "Get the US out of (insert your own country here, as we've intervened in most of them)", and in true Grass Valley California Hipness, a poster that admonishes people to eat their medical cannabis.

Somehow Joni managed to get him to be our consultant, and he kindly agreed to meet with us on a Saturday. And just like Paul Hawken and all the other Green Entrepreneurs I've ever met, you never know when you meet him if this is a business meeting, or are we going for a hike? Solar Power t-shirt. Blue Jeans. Brown leather hiking boots. Thin, lithe frame and clear eyes. He had the Green Enviro Entrepreneur Look down perfectly.

He invited us to sit with him. Joni pulled out our house plans. I sat, and the snap on my shorts Popped!! Too much Napa Valley Food and Wine for me over the last five years.

He looked at the plans; listened to us talk of adobe floors, adobe walls, Log frames and strawbale construction. He rolled his eyes ("here's another dreamer couple from the Bay Area with Good intentions but no common sense") and politely said:

"You guys are ambitious".

Joni took over from there. And her months of study about drainage, home construction, load bearing and the like...paid off. Brilliant, she sounded.

I just sat there hoping that my shorts didn't fall off from my button popping.

In the end Keith found our plans workable, with the following recommendations:

1. Build a model of it (Joni had already ordered a "strawbale model kit".

2. Find a good contractor for the Post and Beam part.

3. Don't do Load bearing Strawbale. Do Post and Beam (and he helped frame it our for us on our plans) so that you can get a roof on it, freeing up time to work on it at your own pace.

4. He gave recommendations on how to secure Posts to the Pad and the existing House.

5. Let him meet with our contractor (at a small fee) so that it is done right.

6. Do the Family Room first. Then the Strawbale addition. Don't do it all at once. (We will ignore this advice--as we need a place to sleep this winter).

7. Think about putting a trailer on the property, as he thinks there is no way this can be done by Two Amateurs with no experience (nor common sense).


Driving back to the Compound we stopped at a homemade sign advertising : "Pure Bred, Yellow Lab Puppies. Joni and I had talked of getting a yellow Lab. Joni had one as a child ("snuffy") and we felt that our female grandchildren needed a companion.

A neighbor at the Compound came home a few weeks ago, only to find a Mountain Lion under his porch. And the Cougar didn't run away. He didn't spook.

With a Mountain Lion in the vicinity, we feel like our Grand girls need a Guardian Angel besides us. A Yellow Lab meets that description. So we bought one. Six weeks old. Kindly. Loving. We named her "Angel" as she is to be a Guardian Angel to two delightful six and eight year old girls.

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