Sunday, October 18, 2015

We Got Married

I haven't written lately because we've been busy...

Here's a little recap.
We went to Kauai and got married on Shipwreck Beach. It was just the two of us, and therefore, was an exquisite honeymoon, too!

And this event was DIY all the way. Tammy did most of the groundwork and coordination. She did a fantastic job.  Our trip was pretty much perfect.

My effort was to be the wedding music. Write the song. Sing the song. Learn to play the ukulele.  ...and so you can at least get a glimpse of  our day, I put together some of our wedding photos to the song.  I'm no great player or recording engineer, but I did my remedial best with the little red recorder, a cheap ukulele, a guitar, and a regular old SM58. One day I'll do the recording correctly, but for now, you get to hear the living room version.

Here's to the rest of our lives...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

June 26 on Parker Lane

June 26 has come and gone.  We were much quieter than most people.  And there's a reason for that. We don't like attention.  I know that sounds strange since both of us have performed before audiences. That's different. That's not our private life.  So what did we do on June 26?

OTNB, of course

Around here, we have to either wait until the kid is in bed or the kid is away for the night to watch our shows. Whether the governor likes it or not, we've been living like a married couple with a kid for awhile. So on June 26, we opened a bottle of wine that I had saved for a special occasion, and we binged on the rest of Season 3 of "Orange is the New Black" because the real miracle was that we were kid free, and we didn't have to watch re-runs of "The Brady Bunch."

We didn't head to Fourth Street to celebrate with our LGBT community. We just sat on the couch and watched TV.  That's what we did.

Why do you care? Or better question - Why am I telling you this?  Because you may be on the fence, or you may completely disagree with SCOTUS.  You may have your own made up idea about what  it's like at our "different" house. It's not different. It's not salacious. In fact, it's pretty boring.

This is really immoral.  Folding clothes...

We got up early and went to the property to meet the dozer guy

I give up. I am not cutting down any more trees.  It would take us 50 years to clear even one acre, so we called a dozer guy, and we had to get up really early on June 27 to drive to Carmine and meet him. He gave us an estimate to clear that first acre for a cabin site. $1100 for a day of dozer work. 

(And just like you straight folks, I am being constantly interrupted while trying to write this... just so you get a sense of what it's like at our house.  I've been interrupted to watch a video of a kitten jamming to old school funk. Tammy is in constant commentary while trying to hang the bathroom cabinet doors I just painted. We're trying get stuff done so we can all go to a.... yep. kid movie.)

I am not belittling history

Don't go all homo-militant on me. I understand the historical significance of June 26. All I wanted to do was let doubters know that the reason it's so significant, and it's not lascivious and terrible is that we are not any more bizarre and dangerous than anybody else. In fact, we represent the majority of LGBT people. We get up. We go to work. We sit down, as a family, for dinner by 6:30 every night. We do chores. We do home improvement. We make friends with our neighbors. We have  fat dog.

Just like everybody else. 

...also, I had a little time to kill because I am literally waiting for paint to dry. I think I can put another coat on the bathroom cabinets now.  Happy regular old Sunday, y'all.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Name for our New Ranchette

Our new piece of rural paradise needs a name. After a weekend of chewing on nomenclature, and stressful Monday mornings for both of us, we figured it out.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Big Job Number One

Suddenly the sun came out on Saturday and changed our plans for the day.  We threw a cooler, a shovel, a kid, and a shaky plan into the truck and headed to Carmine to "work on our property." I borrowed a chainsaw from my friend, Bill, took another friend, Bev, up on her willingness to help cut stuff up, and we tackled the impossible.

After the first trek around the property a few weeks ago, my memory of the place looked something like this:

It felt a little like "what in the hell have we done to ourselves."

Once we got back out there on Saturday, I have to say, I felt like we could conquer the darkness and honest to god, start clearing a spot for our little tree house.  By the way, it's still too muddy to drive onto the property, so rubber boots were the fashion of the day.

Follow your Golden Rule, Christy - Take it in Small Chunks & Win Big

I'm no stranger to impossible tasks. In fact, I'm kind of good at figuring out how to achieve impossible results, so I decided to follow my own Golden Rule for Tackling the Impossible.
We walked the very front of the property because that's about how much is walkable at all. I thought about the pond, and decided that it's entirely possible it was formed naturally by decades of erosion.

We walked back towards the west property line from the pond and decided we could create our first little space near a cluster of gorgeous post oaks that were hidden behind brush and dead cedars. The spot is far enough away from the pond to give us time to figure out how to improve the water feature and repair current erosion and prevent it in the future.  In the meantime, it wouldn't be that much work to start clearing a path to that first building spot. So Tammy grabber her garden loppers and went to town. 

Baby, I love you, but you were in over your head.

It  was time to pull out the chainsaws and get to destroying dead cedars and the brush that surrounded them. 

Fifty is the New Twenty

Damn straight it is!

Bev and I still have both of our legs, and the bloodshed was minimal as we busted out the saws and ripped up a single tree that was actually about eight trees grown and fused together. We both turned 50 this year. Neither one of us was chomping at the bit to cut up another tree. One was enough for the day. The other 500 trees could wait.

There was no need to overdo it... 

So we drank a few beers.

No Need for Hopelessness

Actually, this will all come together faster than we think.
When faced with an overwhelming problem, taking tiny steps is how you find the solution. As we knock out tiny clusters of trash trees and dead wood, we'll really start to see the possibilities here.

We woke up this morning with aching backs, and we knew, by yesterday's experience, we do need to buy a tool shed to store the tools that have been laying on the floorboard of the truck. We can also store good lumber there. We'll make day trips on the weekends and start clearing space for a driveway, and then our little tree house.

Big Job Number One is complete.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cabin Fever - A Test in Patience

We finally closed on the property!  Now it's raining in Austin. As you know, there have been record flash floods and terrible devastation down in San Marcos and Wimberly. This rain has us grounded in the condo, so we can't get out to Fayette County to start our new adventure. Tammy made me a sandwich, so I can sit here and imagine our rural future.

In fact, it was raining last weekend when we finally closed, and in true stubborn Christy fashion, I attempted to drive through the gate and explore our new piece of swampy paradise. I got stuck to the hubs.

So we met all the neighbors. I mean, everybody in Carmine, Texas took an afternoon drive to gawk at the two girls seriously stuck in a ditch. The two girls who met the sweet man across the road that tried really hard to lift my tailgate out of the muck with his front end loader.  The two girls who met George the wrecker guy who had to wench me out of that ditch. The two girls covered in mud. The two girls that met the man who runs his cows on our property (he's a real wealth of resources, thank god). The two girls the county commissioner knew would call him and ask for a culvert so that they could drive into their new property. He knew because I called him to describe exactly where that culvert needed to go, and he said, "Weren't you stuck in the ditch right there last Saturday?" Which takes me back to everybody in Carmine taking an afternoon drive to gawk at two girls stuck in the mud.

Anyway. Welcome to the country, y'all. And I forgot to take pictures because I was just too hot, too muddy, and too distracted to remember to do that. We did take a walk - or a crawl - through our heavily wooded, very soppy, soaked property that is home to a couple of little streams, one little pond, about a million trees, and a whole lot of mud.

We shall build a tree house

Jungle conditions require jungle accommodations. It makes total sense to build the first little cabin on our new place about 8 feet off the ground. I am actually very happy it was totally gross and wet when we explored. We could see exactly how the water moves through the property, and where it is causing erosion. Not only will a tree house be practical, it will fit very naturally into the heavy forest.

So I took to drawing a tiny tree house.  It's 16X16. It has a tiny porch. It has a tiny bedroom for me and Tammy. It has a tiny space for the kiddo. It also has a tiny bathroom. We can create a cool outdoor cooking and dining space underneath the tree house.  

The first structure doesn't need to be big because we will be outside except to sleep. We have an overwhelming amount of work to do. My friend, Bev, has already volunteered herself, a chainsaw and two home brews. And basically, that's what happens first. A whole lotta underbrush to clear. You know that saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees?" Take that expression literally, and you have an idea about where this land adventure will start.

In the meantime, this is Austin

It's a little stressful to think my tiny little courtyard, in Austin, went from this:

To this:

In such a short time. So imagine what twelve acres of virgin post oak and cedar trees is like. Multiply my stress by thick, thirsty yaupon and kudzo.  Now top it off with me just dropping the rest of my sandwich down my shirt and onto the floor.

The Cabin Fever is off the charts, y'all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lessons For Hikers

We live in this very technological world these days, and sometimes we forget that there is dirt and rock under our feet.  The weather's been nice for hiking during my lunch break. I try to pay close attention to nature as I walk. Here are a few lessons I've learned.

Trust Gravity

If you're headed up and up and up, and you feel like your getting lost on the trail, let gravity pull down to earth. Turn around and go down the trail. You may slip and bust your butt if you move too fast, but at least you won't exhaust yourself going nowhere. Gravity will take you home.

Avoid Shortcuts If You Can

Shortcuts get you where you want to go a little faster; especially when you feel lost up there on the trail. However, you will never be an expert on that hill if you take shortcuts.

If It Twists On The Outside, It Probably Isn't Stable On The Inside

Just like people. You cannot trust a tree that twists and twirls to get to the sunlight. It sure is pretty to see, but beware.  It will fly apart on you when the weather gets rough.

Get To Know The Locals

Please don't forget that they were there before you, and where most are fairly harmless, it's not unheard of for an arrogant newcomer to get bit in the ass.

Always be nice to the locals. They're the reason you came out here in the first place.

Come Prepared

Bring lots of water. Drink it often. Make sure you have a snack if you're going to be out for awhile, and for god's sake, don't wear wimpy shoes. You'll be most productive if you're wearing a proper pair of hiking boots. You're also less likely to fall down. And that gets us back to gravity.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What a High Speed Train Could Do for Our Sanity

We went to a great party at Paradox House Vineyard last Saturday. I've known the Rowletts for many years, and they always throw the best parties. Their vineyard is in Industry, Texas; not far from the land we're still waiting to close on. The instant I drive into Fayette County, I start to relax. I feel like myself. The vineyard is in Austin County, but that's only 20 miles or so from our property, so the effect is the same. Peace, joy, relaxation.

What on earth made me leave this?

Mostly the need for a better job. Plus, I thought I would do better socially if I left the country and moved back to Austin. Granted. It was the right move at the time because I doubt I would have met Tammy while living in La Grange. We had to leave our roots to find each  other, but NOW, we can get back to who we are on the inside.

Thursday, I sat in Austin's crazy, and what feels unnecessary, traffic. I did it again yesterday. It feels like a waste of quality time. And it's not like I'm making a big salary to compensate. I will have to be resourceful to realize my dreams. Same goes for Tammy. She literally breaks her back taking care of indigent dental patients. She works harder than anyone in private practice, and she is paid less to take care of the sickest, poorest, craziest, most criminal in the city.  You can see how we circle the rim of resentment.

However, we see the beauty of having a city home.

Austin is a beautiful city. It's why half the planet wants to move here. We may lack the superior art and performance venues that a city like Houston has, but we make up for it in natural beauty.  We'll always keep our downtown condo.

Why am I posting this rambling piece?  Because I haven't written in over a week. I got sucked into the grind of just trying to go to work, keep a smile on my face, not lose it on my stupid commute home, not think about the massive buildings that are going up around me, that will put even MORE people on the road that offers zero mass transit options...

Brain dead. No inspiration. Tammy says she's going to start feeding me fish oil because she worries about my brain.  Goddam!  Am I that bad?

A high speed train would do wonders for our sanity... and our joy. I want a fast ride to work, right up Capital of Texas Highway. But I could totally get behind a train from Austin to Houston that would drop me off in Fayette County.  Whether I rode it to work everyday or made a quick escape on Friday nights, I cannot think of a better solution to traffic in this congested little city.  

Anyway, we signed the contract amendment on the property. It says we close May 8.  It cannot get here fast enough.  So next time I write, I think I'll post some thoughts on topography and why that's important when you build a house.  I may also do some research on lumber harvesting, and how to sell good trees that will unfortunately have to come down to make room for a structure.

In the meantime, this tiny little space will be our natural paradise.  Fortunately the rain is making it greener.

Bring on the fish oil, Tammy, if it makes it easier for me to imagine that wall as sunrise over a valley.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I got an email yesterday that the closing on our property will be delayed at least two weeks. Boo.  We expected to close next Friday. However, I am OK with a delay due to cautious and thorough research by the title company.

Apparently, there are 7 heirs to this property/estate. One has died. Now they have to track down his two kids in San Antonio. The property has a very old deed. It's been in this family for about 100 years!

I get it. Clear titles are good titles, so this may be a little advanced for real estate novices, but let me tell you! Make sure you have a very clean title for anything you buy.

1. No liens.  A title company should never allow you close your deal if liens are on the property.

2. No back taxes. If you read carefully, or get an attorney to read for you, you'll see that the title company will clearly state that "it ain't their problem" if the tax man comes lookin' for his money from a long time ago. Check that shit. Do not buy property with back taxes owed.

3. Any other restrictions. In our case, their is a water conservation district with sort of dense rules.  Actually, the rules are very straightforward. They're just written like some dude on the legislature - or his secretary, actually - would write them. I'm a good reader. I read that stuff to make sure I was not restricted from digging a well on my very rural, very raw land.

4. Utilities in general. Make sure you can get them. You probably are not the "off the grid" person  you think your are.

5. Pay for the lawyer. If this stuff scares you, come up with the cash and get a lawyer. Get the paperwork read and explained to you.  Do it. Seriously.

Soooooo.... In the meantime, we can research flat pack houses, cabins, rain water catchment, tractors....

May 1 is a long way off, but we will happily wait for a clear title.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tiny Houses - Frankly, I Like the Idea

One of the things Tammy and I have to figure out is what the first house will be like once we're ready to build one on our property.

I started following to get some ideas on floor plans. Although we probably won't go THAT tiny, it's easy enough to add a few hundred square feet to a tiny house to simply make it a small house.

If you're a newbie to building your own paradise, here's an Austin couple that's made the transition without leaving the city. Check out Eddie and Lacey's tiny house on wheels.

Tammy and I are pretty good at small, if not tiny, living here in Austin. With her daughter and a dog in the space, it often feels cramped. I admit it. I want my own private office where no one can bother me, but you know what? I don't think my blog has suffered because my "office" is in the master bedroom. Small house is fine. We eat our meals together at the table. We cook together. We have a nice patio where we can relax and interact with the neighbors. And the community is very pretty. We don't ever need a big house.

More than anything we want a little cabin in the woods because we love big nature.

Back in 2000, I bought some raw land and built a 900 sq foot cabin. It had a 600 sq ft. foot print, and a 300 square foot loft. Not tiny, and barely small, it was easy to expand that structure over the years, and eventually, a tiny cottage with a small kitchenette, was added to the property.

The kitchen was only as wide as the front door. Nobody was cooking gourmet meals there, but it was perfectly fine for simple living. It had a small closet by the kitchen.

 Think of this space as an efficiency apartment with a better view.

When Tammy and I build our cabin, it will have to be bigger than this structure because the two girls are actually three. We'll have to go "bigger" to accommodate for privacy. 

Also, I can't take credit for this tiny house design. I have to give a shout out to Sheryl Cox, who was the first person to turn me on to tiny living. As I recall, she guided the concept on this very livable cabin. But I wanted to share it to give an example of very comfortable and efficient living. 

Also, this particular cabin had an 8X16 foot storage room on the end of it. It served as a long-term, temperature controlled space for the shit we just couldn't part with. The thing about that storage space is that I eventually got rid of just about everything I had in there. I'm happy about that. It's freeing.

Since I recently wrote about the power of nature, I'll leave you with a lesson in tiny living. Personally, I think this is the most refreshing tiny house on the planet. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Nature is a Nuisance Around Here

This past week, I walked down to the mailbox, and on my way back, I passed a wild animal trap with a dead possum in it. Apparently, the HOA has instructed the grounds keeper in our condo community to trap wild animals that stray onto the property. He is to relocate them to the park down the street.

This is like telling someone to trap air and relocate it to the next room.

Even in the city, nature is alive and well. And honestly, it upset me that our HOA is participating in such a stupid, uninformed practice of relocating the ubiquitous residents of the urban forest. They are alive and well and in abundance. They come onto the property to eat from bird feeders and drink from bird baths. I am not a wildlife biologist, but damn! How myopic to trap and trap and trap and then actually let an animal die... in a trap... by the condo unit.... WITH THE BIRD FEEDERS!!!

Let's take a moment to relax into the picture below. Enjoy the mighty beauty of the sunrise over the natural world. I can't wait to get back to it.


I'm so happy you all had a good laugh over the toilet dilemma that awaits our arrival on our new piece of raw land. Our land is about 10 miles from that sunrise up there in that picture. I once saw a flock of wild turkeys where that sunrise is happening. I've seen a deer or two there. Heard a few coyotes singing from that location. As I recall, I took that picture about 10 years ago on a cool spring morning. What is not present just yet, is a snake.

Snakes are so scary to people. I mean, yeah. If you're uninformed you may get bit, but if you're informed, you can safely put that hoe away and simply avoid close contact with a snake. Snakes don't want to be around you either. They don't like you any more than you like them. In a few weeks, I will be tasked with teaching at least one of my family members how to live in harmony with snakes.

Just like that poor possum that died in a trap, snakes may be near by because they need food or water, or maaaayyybeee... you decided to move into that snake's territory. Snakes don't wander aimlessly. They have about a 3 foot by 2 mile wide territory. Instinct dictates their lives. I surely do wish humans would think about this before they decide to kill off animals that have a purpose in nature. I understand the need to remove them for safety reason - because most people don't vibe with the natural world so good - but if you're thinking about a land purchase, please be considerate of the neighbors.

Poison Ivy

I hate this shit.

I looked up it's benefits. None to humans. However, deer eat it. It's a food source. Some bug or something places it's larvae on the underside of the leaves for safety reasons. Otherwise, it's a plantlife terrorist. 

If you're in a non-manicured setting, the stuff likes to grow just along the line between the shaded woods and the full sunlight. It looks like this.

Go ahead and blow that picture up to see the 5 points on the leaves. The red stem. The seemingly harmless and beautiful 3 leaf cluster. Just like snakes, it will always be there. It's up to you to learn how to avoid it. 

Don't Close Your Eyes and Miss It

Here's the truth. I'm upset about that dead possum because it was a juvenile, and it used to quietly sit in the tree in my courtyard, hurting no one. I have no food or standing water for it. It was just living its life. When I feel trapped in a confined space, populated by tired trees and waning sunlight, I like the serendipitous appearance of a wild animal.

Nature tries very hard to keep a foothold on this city. There is nothing as beautiful as blooming wildflowers, climbing vines out of control with color, and a fancy cardinal singing his spring love song. 

It is the promise, to the human race, that nature is too powerful to defeat. No matter what tragedy we exact on it, it continues to forgive us and remind us that it is our mighty keeper.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Don't Get Me Wrong - Austin Still Exists If You Pay Attention

I've been doggin' on the new Austin, Indeed, it's not the same. But last Sunday, Tammy, Elizabeth and I headed over to Zavala Elementary School with our lawn chairs, scouted out a spot on Second Street next to a couple of lazy dogs behind a fence, and watched a parade!

Not just any kind of a parade, but an awesome, disorganized, and what would seem weird to the Governor of Indiana kind of parade. It was the HonkTX parade. A lazy, ambling, colorful, mixed up and underachieving marching band parade.

I love this because literally all walks of life were there. A nice older couple stood by me. Nothing weird about them at all. There were parents and children who arrived in luxury cars. There were Mexicans still carrying their palms from the neighborhood Catholic Church's Palm Sunday Service. There were gay men and some motorcycle cops who looked too fat to ride bikes. There were girls with dogs, and babies in strollers, and little kids running right down the middle of the parade. And there were crazy colorful bands and dancers and jugglers and roller derby girls handing out kazoos.

And there were floats!!  I especially loved this float, made on top of a flatbed trailer. It was very small town of them. The only difference is a group of people pushed it along rather than a pick-up pulling it along. If you look closely, you'll see a dad, carrying a tiny baby, pushing the float.

It was Austin being Austin. I'm sorry more of you newcomers didn't make it out for the parade. Ironically, a girl from Minneapolis told me about it. She gets immediate Austin cred for that. 

Tammy and I are band nerds. We both excelled in our high school bands. I played the clarinet and oboe, and she played the trumpet. This was our kind of Sunday; even if the bands didn't march in time, or really care that their uniforms weren't pressed and neat. In fact, let's ditch that uniform word and just give these crazy street musicians props for some awesome costumes.  Also, there's no age discrimination in these bands. Old and young mix it up in East Austin!

Check it.

If it weren't for Sundays like this and crazy festivals like HonkTX, I would ditch Austin altogether and just move to the country permanently. It's these little slices of communal fun that make this city special. All walks of life show up to celebrate, and as the bands march away, the crowd steps in behind them and follows the joy. 

You should check out HonkTX next year. It's not quite as weird as Eeyore's Birthday Party or QueerBomb, so nobody's going to get offended, and if you do, you need to go away right now. Everyone else, follow the band...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Yes - Size Matters

In 2010, I thought that I could move back to Austin and forget about the country. I told myself that I never wanted to mow another over-sized lawn or cut up another fallen tree. I moved right into the heart of the city and eventually bought a nice little condo with a small courtyard. Any wilderness around here is sliced wide open with a steady stream of traffic.

Even with the sudden crush of people and cars, I was happy to pay ridiculously high HOA fees to have someone else do the mowing. Tammy had a big house with a big yard. But it was suburbia. Given the choice between the burbs and the city, I would still take the city. Tammy handles suburbs better than me, but you see that picture up there with the stream of traffic? It's coming from the burbs. So, Tammy needs no convincing that the perfect balance is to keep the tiny courtyard, but also buy the wilderness back. I've had 4 years to realize I'm too tired during the week to care about my yard, but I am all about a weekend with a chainsaw.

That's a leap! How much land is too much land?

It depends on the person looking for land, but I would say, "More than 5, less than 30." I realize that's a stretch, but here are the things to consider as you start getting serious about a land purchase.

  1. How anti-social are you?  Personally, I can be pretty reclusive and introverted. I'm going for as much land as I can get so that I can keep people as far away from me as I can.
  2. Do you like to laze on the weekends?  You're a 5 acre owner. You don't want much to manage because you know that land is WORK. A nice little weekend getaway is all you really need.
  3. You know that money thing I had you do?  We did a little net worth exercise a few blog entries ago. I think most people who are really serious about getting away from it all are going to fall into the 10 - 15 acre set. You WANT 30 acres, but like me, you can't really afford 30 acres within driving distance of the city. Start looking for small acreage that isn't just an oversized lot.

Day trips are nice, but spend the night, then start with the internet

I'm all about taking a day trip to some slightly remote place about an hour away from Austin. And I would seriously warn against buying a big ol' piece of property in some place you've only driven through. Take a few over nighters and make sure you can really handle the culture of that little town or area. Rural cultures vary greatly.

Once you find an area you like, use real estate website that specializes in land. Here are a couple of sites you can use:

I'm sure there's a "lands of" for many states, but I'm in Texas, so I use that site. Use the Advanced Land Search feature to drill your search down by price, price per acre, acreage (size), property type, listing type, and additional options.  You can also search by location or region or county.

If you did your financial homework, it's the place to start. Plug in your price range and property type, and you'll see very quickly what's available for your budget. In our case, we searched for only acreage. We had a pretty good idea of what land cost an acre, so we could hone our search down pretty fast. Just take your time. Look around. Then take another drive if you find something you fall in love with. Do a drive-by before you call the listed agent.

Tip: Small acreage costs more per acre than large acreage. For example, 5 acres may be $15,000 per acre, but 15 acres may be $8,000 per acre.

O.K., then! You know a little about financing, and now you have a basic idea about how to search for land.  So my final tip is this: Do NOT drive a Prius when huting for land. It's shameful, and you'll get the thing stuck.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Trouble with the Toilet...

We need to talk about something before I guide you too far into this search for land and bucolic days lounging on a porch swing.  The bathroom. We need to talk about the bathroom.  When Tammy and I bought our land, I thought it was understood that raw land meant no bathroom. Somehow, Tammy failed to grasp this.

This set up a dilemma. More for her than me, but the secondary fallout of my partner freaking out, is that I have to figure out how to make roughing it comfortable, safe from creepy crawlies, and sanitary.

The trouble with the toilet is that we don't have one on our land.

We can dig a hole

Our ancestors settled in the very area that we now call our country get-a-way. I'm pretty sure that there was no toilet on the land in 1890. I have always known that the first days of owning 12 acres would mean primitive camping only. 

1. We can buy a toilet seat and attach it to a five gallon paint bucket, and call it The Ladies Room. This property is so wooded that it would be easy to hide a makeshift pot in some bushes. However, even I don't like that idea. I have no desire to cart my own waste back to Austin and gently poor it into my flushing toilet.  Nix this idea now.

2. Dig a hole and build an old fashion outhouse around it. Personally, I think this is a perfectly good idea. It would have been cutting edge technology in the late 1800s. If my great-great-great-great grandmother could do it, then so can I. I mean, she wore this long, heavy white dress. The logistics of going at all, in that dress, are hard enough. Tammy, on the other hand, must have come from evolved space aliens who had a modern European toilet on the mother ship. She nixed this idea.

Clear some land, drink some beer, clear some land, buy some gas

I really hate this idea, but it may be the one that wins it. Once the lack of toileting facilities came to the forefront of our land development planning, Tammy reduced our weekend trips to one day. This does not mean I can keep a roll of toilet paper in the pickup for squats behind a yaupon. It means frequent trips to Round Top. It means we will make a stop every two hours or so to go grab a beer and some pizza. Then we might need to run to the gas station for some more chainsaw gas...

In other words, we won't get much done.  I like to get shit done. But this idea holds heavy sway over the other half.


My mom lives about 30 minutes from our new property. I threw this out as possibility should we want to spend an entire weekend working on the land. Tammy asked a very good question.

"How often does your mother want to see us?"
"Not that often."

This one's off the table.

Buy a camper

1. We can't afford a camper. Tents will have to do.

2. We need electricity to power the pump that pumps the running water, we don't have, from the tank to the toilet in the camper. 

A no go.

Anybody want to rough it with me?

I'll buy the beer!

Has reality set in?

I'm talking about just one thing. A toilet. If you like your fine modern comforts, please consider that you will have to figure out potty time if you buy land.

It's a big deal, y'all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Land Hunt - Let's Start with Financing, Part 2

By now, you've read enough blog entries to figure out that I think your financial health is very important if you're going to buy property. Whether it's your first house or a second home or land, money matters. You don't have to be rich, you just have to be responsible. Part of being responsible is about being honest with yourself. What does your financial situation look like today? What will it look like after you sign those closing papers?

Super simple. If your finances look like crap right now, they're going to get flushed if you buy property. So, maybe it's not time. But maybe you're not sure... Do this exercise:

My Net Worth

Why do this? Because the bank will make you do it anyway. If you default on your mortgage or land loan, they want to know you have something of value. Why? Because they'll slap a lien on it if they have to! Basically, we're talking about collateral. Or net worth. The good news? You don't have to have a bunch of cash in the bank to buy land. The reality? You DO have to have something you could sell to make some cash available. This is a ridiculously simplified explanation, but you get the drift. And to be clear, I'm writing for the novice. Young folks looking to establish themselves. You old farts can go listen to Dave Ramsey or something.

Make a grid or chart, and start listing what you owe, and what you're worth (what you're worth will include equity in existing property, cash in the bank, life insurance, savings, retirement, etc.). Your worksheet could look something like this:

Although you can't cash out Life Insurance if it's a Term Policy, and you wouldn't want to touch retirement, list them anyway. I hope it never happens, but should you die, those policies and accounts can pay off your loan.

Oh my God, Christy, you're morbid!

I'm a realist!  It's never too early to make a will. If you start buying property; including a home, get yourself a will! Make sure you spell out exactly who gets your stuff!  If you have a spouse or kids or partner, make sure they inherit your property!  If they are the beneficiaries of your life insurance and retirement money, then they'll use it to pay off the property. I do not want to die and leave Tammy strapped with all of the bills - including mortgages and land payments.  Do get over your immortal self and make sure your worksheet includes money that only pays out if you die.

So... do this little exercise. If you have a positive number in the bottom right cell, and it's bigger than a land payment, you're lookin' good!  Stay tuned for tips on how to find the perfect property!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Land Hunt - Let's Start with Financing, Part 1

Monday, I gave you several things to consider before you start your hunt for a country property. I was surprised at the number of people who actually took it to heart. I was trying to be funny and only slightly serious, but I guess more of you would like to do this property thing than I thought! So if you haven't read my bits of country wisdom and considerations, go ahead and do it. That's really Step 1.

Now Let's Talk About Money

Money is the biggest hurdle most of you will encounter. Just like buying a house, you need to have your financing secured before you can close the deal. If you're not sure how much you can afford, go ahead and pre-qualify. You're not committed to anything. You're just getting the "yes" or "no" out of the way before you get your heart set on a little piece of paradise. If you know you'll qualify for a loan, then waiting is fine. Tammy and I waited until we found the property we wanted to buy. 

Whether you pre-qualify or wait, you need to know that not every bank is right for land loans. Small town banks get it. They do it all the time. Wells Fargo and Chase may not be your best bet. If you can finance in the same county you're going to buy in, even better. The local bankers know exactly how much that land is worth, and if it's worth a loan. Otherwise, check out Capital Farm Credit, and larger banks that specialize in agricultural and land loans. Tammy and I are using Round Top State Bank because our land is about 5 miles from that little, but powerful, and really local bank. 

What's up with this bubba banking?

1. Land rarely loses value. That's because God ain't makin' no more of it. Bubba bankers know that your land is golden; even if your credit score isn't.
2. Just like a house loan, the bank will run comps on the property. How in the hell will a banker in Austin know what a comparable piece of land looks like 60 miles away? 
3. What's a comp? Comparable value. In other words, if you're buying a $100,000 piece of land that compares to a bunch of $50,000 pieces of land, the bank will say, "no, forget it."
4. Them good ol' boy bankers also know you'll probably build a house on that land one day, and they know you'll come straight back to their friendly offices to finance that house, too. No questions asked.
5. And this is for me and Tammy. Bubba bankers say, "yes, ma'am." They're just nice people.

Land Loans Look Different

Yes. They do. I called around before we decided on a bank to finance our land. I already knew that land was not going to deliver the same interest rate as a house. The rate would be higher. It was just a matter of who would have the best deal for financing the land and then refinancing when we wanted a house. We went with Round Top State Bank. They offer land loans with 5 year Adjustable Rate Mortgages, better known as ARMs. We don't have a balloon note (NEVER DO A BALLOON NOTE!!!!! e.v.e.r.). We did this rather than a higher fixed 20 year rate because we know we'll build in the next 5 years. We are starting with the lowest rate we could find, and that's great as we develop our land.

Land loans also look kind of like a personal loan. So the paperwork is not as lengthy. Of course, we didn't borrow near as much as we would to buy a house. We're not talking high rollin', here. Here's what we needed, and you'll need, too.

1. 3 years of tax returns.
2. A few recent paycheck stubs
3. List of debts (mortgage, cars, credit cards, etc.)
4. The usual personal info, like social security and driver's license. 

Very quickly, a small town bank gave us a positive signal.

In my next post, I'll give you an example of the "Assets and Liabilities" worksheet we had to do to seal the deal. I think you should go ahead and do this before seeking loan qualification or even pre-qualification. It's a great way to get a solid picture of your own worth.

So until next time, start checking out the local, small town banks and farm credit unions near the area you want to buy land.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Are You Meant for the Country?

I talk to so many urban dwellers who dream of owning a country property, but I'm learning that most have no idea where to start.  I think the very first question you have to ask yourself is, "Am I meant for the country?"  You may be thinking, "Of course! Why else would I want a getaway?"

It's not that simple, y'all. Let's consider a few things. My goal is to leave you confused. Unsure of your desire to own a little piece of rural heaven.

Let's get started!

You say "yellow" I say "yeller"

This is more of a statement than a point of consideration:  You CANNOT go to the country and act like a city dweller. You must learn to blend in. Ask yourself this very important question - Do you know how to shape your cowboy hat?

Right way to shape a hat

Bet you don't.
Better learn. It will give you away, no matter how many times you say "yeller."

Wrong way to shape a hat

Do you own Old Gringo boots rather than Justin or Tony Lama?
Don't wear those things to Walmart. Yes. I said Walmart. There is no Target, Central Market, Whole Foods, or Lowe's in the country. You make due with the cheap stuff.  Can you manage going into evil Walmart? Not one of your neighbors will have a single problem with it. In fact, it's possible one of them works there.

Do you hold the door open for people?
You don't belong in the country if you don't. You will never be respected.

Have you ever mowed your own lawn?
If not, do not pass "go," do not sign that contract.
Your mower will be a tractor. You may have to use a chainsaw. Your hands will get beaten all to hell. You'll get  a tick in your armpit. And your neighbor will laugh at you when you back your trailer into a ditch. 

Are you humble and respectful of others?  Do you say "yes, ma'am?"
Ok. This is the heart of the matter. You are a gracious guest, and that's all you'll ever be. Country folks tend to be a little closed and suspicious. They like to gossip and may see a half empty glass where you're concerned. Be prepared to take it. If you think you can bring your refined ways to the country, you may be very unhappy. Some rural settings are tolerant of city ways. Others are not. 

So, there are some cultural considerations.  Let's move on to a few practicalities.

Twenty percent down

Buying your first acreage is not like buying your first house.  Land is always a conventional loan. No question, you will put down 20%. If you have the cash to buy outright, then awesome, but I suspect most of my readers will finance. Get that money put aside before you start looking.

How often are you planning to visit this country paradise?  If it's more than 4 times a year, don't look further than 90 miles away. You are dead on Friday. You're only good for about an hour and half of driving.

How hard are you willing to work on Saturday? And how early are you willing to get up to do it?
I ask those questions together because you will work very hard. And it will get very hot very soon, so you'll get up like a farmer. If you like to laze around on the weekends, you can stop reading now. 

If you are wealthy, and you can buy a turnkey property with a house, manicured ponds, perfect pastures and woodlands, then you don't need my advice. If you're like me, you're buying a raw piece of land.

What do you mean by "raw," Christy?

No electricity on the property.
No running water on the property.
No driveway or road.
No toilets.
No house.
No nothing.

Do you have a plan and/or the resources to turn "no" into "yes?"

I could go on and on, but this would be a novel; not a super long blog post. Keep following my posts, and I'll drill down into the "how to" of purchasing land. Today, I just want you to think about who you are, how you'll adapt to rural culture, and whether you have what it takes to work like a pioneer.

Stay tuned... or start looking for a timeshare.