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Belt home reflects global living experiences

The exterior of the home will be finished with split cobble fieldstone to the roofline. The home overlooks a tamarac swamp. An orchard will soon take root on the west side of the home. Three terraces will be built on the east side, which will be home to the clothesline.

Creating a home, defining its character, has been a lifelong odyssey for Kathy and Allen Belt.

Their living quarters together have ranged from an RV to slaves' quarters to an old farmhouse originating in the 1750s in Virginia to the "hovel by the swamp" they purchased 12 years ago north of Park Rapids on Boot Lake Drive.

As the daughter of a military chaplain, Kathy logged 17 addresses before she met Al, the union upping her occupancies to 36 (Al's was a meager four, prior to wedlock). She has lived in 30-plus countries on four continents.

The roots of their interests and enterprises paradoxically span centuries. Al, a power plant mechanic and marine diesel engineer, has "worked on everything from a 747 to a hot air balloon." Conversely, he's a certified farrier and blacksmith.

Kathy's closet holds apparel for participation in the Society of Creative Anachronisms, a group espousing life in the Middle Ages, replete with plague.

Spinning wheels are part of Belt home's décor - and equipment - fleece awaiting the wheel. Handmade bobbin lace and a Victorian hair wreath adorn walls.

A treadle sewing machine is put to use as opposed to a modern contraption. "I can screw up a Bernina." And Kathy is often is found sewing by hand.

A root cellar, built at the back of the house, which is underground, holds rows of canned fruits and veggies, harvested from garden. Its temperature remains at 40 degrees, year 'round.

The pantry is replete with dried herbs ranging from a to u (anise hyssop to usnea, a.k.a. old man's beard).

And Mother Earth News sat on the end tables, "yurt" (a tent of skins used by Central Asian nomadic people) part of her vernacular.

"I've always been in touch with the earth," said Kathy, who began toting recycled fabric grocery bags to the store in 1978.

And now their home is an earth's appendage.

Do your research

The couple moved to Minnesota in 1998, an RV their former residence because of Al's need for mobility.

The decision was based on the proximity to Kathy's parents.

The couple had narrowed their choices of states to six, including Minnesota. Kathy's father's illness drove the decision.

The 40 wooded acres the Belts' original house sat on was the draw, not the ludicrous, hodgepodge floor plan in the home with 1942 origins.

"We could touch the ceiling," Kathy recalled of the house "held together by its siding," the single-pane windows and lack of insulation sending fuel bills skyrocketing. Navigating the bathroom called for contortionism.

Work on the 2,300-square-foot house in the meadow, just a few hundred yards from the original, began six years ago but the design for the "semi-earth home" was 20 years in the making, Kathy said.

"Before you start, make a vow," she advises. "No divorce. Know your limitations - emotional, physical, financial and skill levels.

"Do your research," she counsels. "You need to know what you want, then talk to people. Ask if it can be done."

Inspirations were diverse - from a farmhouse with nine-foot ceilings, enormous windows and huge kitchen, to the Belts' environs in Japan - "seven foot ceilings but you lived on the floor."

Mother Earth News also added tutelage.

"I wanted 15-foot rooms," Kathy said. "Room to wiggle."

Building a home requires engaging life skills, she said.

Al's work on research and development on a Leer jet came into play as did his grandfather's credo: "I can fix anything except a broken heart and a broken balloon."

"We used that same philosophy," Kathy said. "But there were things we forgot. Things we didn't get."

Wimpy's stove relocated

The back of the home and a section of the east side, where the root cellar and utility room are located, is underground. Three-quarters of the home is exposed.

The foyer is stick-built but the remainder is constructed with Logix blocks, the walls nearly 16 inches thick. A total of 180 yards of concrete is in the walls and floors. Window jams are a foot deep. The foundation is built to withstand a tsunami.

"We don't want it to move," Al said, recalling the contractor scratching his head when reading the plans.

There are no interior bearing walls. The ceiling stands 13.5 feet at center pitch. (The 15-foot tree they hauled in for their first Christmas tree in more than a decade required scaffolding to decorate.)

Local contractors were employed to complete dirt work, the septic and well, put in walls and assist with roofing.

"The rest was my own insanity," Al said.

This with the aid of Kathy, who "hauled every piece of wood off the truck and sanded and varnished."

The roof, with heavy gauge barn roofing is at a 6/12 pitch so snow rolls off.

Doors openings are four feet wide. The Baby Boomers, planning to reside many years in the house, wanted the door width to accommodate wheel chairs, as does the shower.

Counter tops are 32 inches in height, with the exception of the pie counter, which is 29 inches, to accommodate Kathy's 5'4" stature.

The duo headed to a large retailer to price kitchen cabinetry but was pleasantly surprised to find local cabinet maker Bernie Cunningham's quote to be "much less."

And the grain of the wood flows elegantly from drawer to drawer in the kitchen that holds an enviable amount of cabinet space.

But the home's piece

d'resistance is the former Wimpy's stove, holding center stage in the culinary laboratory.

"I tore my hair out canning," said Kathy of her former 30-inch-wide standard stove.

The gargantuan gas range they moved from the former Main street restaurant has 10 burners and two ovens.

"I can bake 10 loaves of bread at a time," she said. And 400 jars of canned goods headed to the root cellar last fall.

Eventually, the couple plans to become self-sufficient, with apple, peach, juneberries, raspberries and other fruits to be planted, as well as chickens taking up residence.

"And if gas keeps going up, we'll have a horse," Al said, despite the 17-mile journey to town.

Stick to goals

Meanwhile, work remains, which the Belts hope to complete this summer. They proceeded with construction as finances allowed.

"Do the floors before moving furniture in," Kathy advises. Plans call for the concrete floors, to be hand-painted in a faux rock design. But this will require moving furniture.

Split cobble fieldstone will accent the home's exterior, which the Belts will complete, splitting the stone with hammer and chisel. A garage will be built as will an extension to the blacksmith shop. The fireplace requires finishing. And solar power will be added.

"Set a goal and meet the goal," Kathy advises of construction project timelines. "You don't want to be working on it 25 years later."