Friday, December 30, 2016

Fence Building with an Adolescent Girl

The title of this post sounds terrifying. It's Christmas break, I'm on vacation (trying to burn up time so that I don't lose it), and things need to get done out in Carmine. Primarily, we need a fence around the cabin to keep the dog in and a wintertime explosion of calves out.

I have heard stories about how prolific Norman the bull is. He is a master of breaking fences to get to a cow he fancies; no matter how far down the road she may be. But lately, I'd say he's managed to satisfy the love craving within his own heard.

Norman is very white and very ugly.  However, he knocked himself out on the cuteness factor this winter. Especially this one whom I've named Napoleon Dynamite because of his frizzy frontal fro.

Although he's very young and inexperienced where begging for range cubes is concerned, he seems to be a fast learner. This little guy is not opposed to a little tug on his fro if he thinks it will produce a goodie. Easily the most mellow calf I've ever encountered. I think he's going to be a major pest, so I need a fence fast.

Hate looks at 8 a.m.

As many already know, I'm a morning person, so I wanted to get up and get out to the property early. That means a certain 13 year old girl would not be sleeping until noon. It sucked for her, but I flipped the light on by 8 a.m., took the nasty glare without batting a eye, loaded up the truck, and had us on the way before 10 a.m.

Once she was up and awake, Elizabeth turned out to be a very good sidekick, and to my surprise, fence builder. Granted, this is going to cost me some money, but that's O.K. One of my parenting goals is to teach her the value of hard work.  After spending some time with the cows  - I mean, it is cowland these days - we got started setting fence posts.

(I'm naming the little tan one Bart because he totally looks like Bart Simpson)

Two Capricorns make a lot of noise

I wanted to get at least one line of t-posts driven in one day. With Elizabeth as my helper, I figured the learning curve would be steep, and it would take way longer than it should. Let me tell you. This kid is a natural. We got those posts driven in less than an hour. She asked to be the pile driver, and I agreed because it's easy to pull up a post if it goes in crooked. She was efficient, and her posts were straight. That means I had time to dig the hole and set the corner post.

We finished by 1:45, went and had some lunch, then went to visit an old high school friend. And we still beat Tammy home! What makes this so amazing is that Tammy and I are both Capricorns. We get stuff done. But when we get stuff done together, it's two too many bosses on the job. So the arguing is thick. The posts may not be straight because the technique will vary greatly between us. We'll get it done, and get it done right, but not without a lot of noise.

Elizabeth is an easy work partner. 

Since we did so well on day one, we went back out to Carmine for a second day and finished driving all the posts; including the final corner post. Elizabeth knows how to square a corner, she's an expert with a pile driver, and she is quite pleasant. (She told me we work so well together because she lets me tell her what to do; unlike "Mama.")

It's time to stretch some fencing. And I need to do something about that pile of brush, as well as move those monster logs somewhere else. We'll have many more to add to the pile in the next year, so they need a less visible place to live until we can get them milled for use.

Stay tuned for fence stretching. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Tiny Christmas House in the Office and What it Taught Me

November and December have mostly lost their charm for me. Deep in my spirit, I love the holidays. I love houses shrouded in colorful lights and Christmas decorations.

I love my mother's dressing to the tune of an annual weight increase that takes three times as long to shed as it took me to eat my way through half a pan of bready goodness. These days, I work really ridiculously hard during the holidays. I mostly miss any holiday cheer. I can't remember what happens from year to year except that I work really hard.

That means that work on the property has come to dead stop. There is a line of fence posts standing behind our cabin. It's waiting for our return. I don't even know when that will happen. But things will calm down, and we'll get the rest of that fence built and the rest of Tammy's amazing bar-b-que pit built. Just not now.

Here's the Irony

I want nothing more than to pack up the truck and spend all of my time working on the land. There are so many things to do. Even though work is nowhere near fun this time of year, the company did challenge us to decorate our departments for a fun holiday contest. Since my department worked so hard, and I do love satire, and my team mostly wasn't into it, I made a lunchtime decision to create a Minions scene for us. It lightened the mood.
It wasn't much. I don't expect to win. I just don't want to be the company scrooge team, and as I've already said, I secretly love this time of year. 

Irony #1 - Besides me and one other team member, one of our Jewish team members wanted to do this, too. He got his first terrible experience with hanging Christmas lights. 

Irony #2 - The SEO and PR team had been mysteriously lax in decorating until this past Wednesday. On my way into the building that morning, I ran into Mark trying to get a arm load of 2x4s and trim pieces up the stairs. This I can appreciate. They were going BIG! They pulled a late-nighter and built this.

That is a 150 sq. foot tiny house right in the middle of the office. In my opinion, we needed to call off the contest, and just declare Mark and his team the winners. He built a tiny house kit and assembled the frame right around his department!

Amazing Office Build Gives Me a Chance to Learn

I lurked around this little Christmas cottage all day Thursday. I totally admire the whole concept conceived by the team, but I'm mostly interested in Mark's execution. He pre-cut the structure, pre-drilled his screw holes, and made minimal adjustments once in the office. I'm totally stealing this little house frame idea and building a structure out in Carmine. I'm sure Mark makes it look easier than it is, but I'm going to do it.

What did he do that I've never thought of? One thing. Pre-drill the holes. That means less work for my drill batteries once I'm out on the land where I have no electricity. I know that doesn't sound like much, but I promise. It is.

As for fun. Not only is this little house super spectacular, it's also a reminder of those great tent houses we built as kids. Our secret hideaways, right in the middle of the living room. In this case, I want to be on the SEO team the rest of the year so that I can hide away while I work. 

Expect a future blog about an outhouse kit and storage barn kit inspired by the SEO & PR team at

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Get Ready for the Let Down

It's not your government's responsibility to motivate you.

Big promises were made during the presidential campaign. The person promising to put people back to work, making the kind of middle class income that defined the Rust Belt many years ago, may find that promise hard to fulfill. It's a different world, and the skills and knowledge we filled our heads with 25 years ago, may not be so relevant today.

Nobody told me that two degrees in English would land me a job making one dollar more than minimum wage while dragging around a cardboard tube housing a master's degree. My first "real" job required math and physics knowledge overlaid with "people skills." I learned very fast to master the subject matter I spent the first 25 years of my life avoiding. I became a professional manager during the Clinton years. Gas was 92 cents a gallon, by the way. A person doesn't forget a number like that. I bought a house. I wasn't using one bit of my degreed education. Math and people skills.

One could argue that a good liberal arts degree hones people skills. It can, but my sister kind of does the same kind of work that I do (just in a different industry), and she doesn't have a liberal arts degree. And she makes pretty good money. Her education is in fashion merchandising.

Don't blame "them" if you can't find a good job

We live in an age of technology. It came on us really fast. That geek that couldn't throw a football is the workplace hero these days. In fact, he's quite fashionable.

If a person feels left out or left behind, that person has to take the personal initiative to learn marketable skills. That person has to do the research on his/her community and figure out which jobs are needed. It could be construction. It could be plumbing. It could be software development. It could be automated factories. Healthcare's a good one. So is education; especially math and science.

No matter what swill we drank in 2016, the outcome is not going to be what was promised. Accept that. Get off the whine wagon. Transform. Go to work.

Re-education can be very cost effective


I love this website. It's full of thousands of educational videos. Most cost less than $20. I've taken a free course on SEO because I work in the online marketing world. I'm currently taking a course on Excel 2016 from beginner to advanced. It cost me $19, and I log on and learn at my convenience. I cannot tell you of any online marketing management job that excludes skills in Excel. Tammy is taking a Reiki course. It may be more about enrichment, but I mention this because I want you to understand the breadth of Udemy's library.

Community Colleges

Whether it's a full on semester of coursework or community education, community colleges are the cornerstone of reinvention for the workplace. Find yours, and explore. I've often thought about taking some electrician training courses. Just in case. Because that's an eternally marketable skill. Welding is another good one. It's not only marketable, it can be fun.

Online Schools

Some of these may be sketchy, but I think there are plenty that are legitimate, and they offer students the opportunity to get degrees on their time. They are very expensive, so I caution you to weigh the cost with benefit. i.e. will your new skills land you a job relative to the cost of your degree. In many cases, the answer is "no." However, it could be that your passion requires an accredited degree, and online universities may be the best option.

My political bottom line

Hate speech, inciting bad behavior and rioting is not o.k. I don't want to live in a banana republic. I'm concerned that 50% of my country is going to be very let down by the disappointment that's going to follow the promise to make America great again by putting people back to work in outdated jobs. We need energy and building materials and cars, but please understand that those things are produced with technology that has replaced much of the human workforce. Learn new skills. Be agile in a changing world. Once upon a time, the blacksmith was busy dude. No matter what anyone said to him, it didn't stop the proliferation of the automobile.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Building Fences and Fires

It's been a hectic week, so I'm behind in reporting weekend activities in Carmine. First of all, our gate was completed last week. One of our country neighbors sent me this picture, and what a relief. Dragging cattle panels across the gap every time we drove through the gap was getting tiresome.

Now, I've got to track down the fence builder to pay him. These guys are so laid back. As I've written in earlier posts, don't get in a big hurry in the country.

Now that one fence is built, Tammy and I spent the weekend starting another fence. We need to keep cows away from the cabin, and dogs away from the cows, so I started digging post holes for the corners.  We're using cedar logs from the property for the corner posts.

This is ridiculously hard work, and if I did this for a living, I'd have the traps of an Olympic swimmer.

We're fencing about 8100 square feet so that the dogs have plenty of running room. Once again, I'm digging deep into my memory to pull out high school geometry to get this fence line straight. By the end of the weekend, We had the back line plummed, and t-post driven.

You can see the bright pink string that stretches from corner post to corner post.  It gives us an easy visual for driving the metal t-posts.  It also gives me a solid reference for squaring the corner to start running the next line of fence. Again the 3,4,5 method of squaring got me a nice square corner.


I was actually surprised that Tammy eyeballed the turn almost perfectly before I ever started digging holes.  She helped me dig that corner post, too. Because I was so tired, I just didn't have much left. Each post is 6 feet long, and it has to be set 2 feet into the ground. That's a long way when you're digging through clay.


Besides working on the new fence, Tammy and Elizabeth started building a big barbecue pit out of cinder blocks.  We still need to locate the right gauge metal for the grates, but once it's done, it will be a nice solid fire pit/smoker/barbecue pit.

It doesn't seem like a lot of work, but it was because it was heavy, back breaking labor. 22 cinder blocks get very heavy at about number 10 when you've moved them for the third time. Once that pit is done, it better never have to be moved.

If it stops raining, we'll try to get back out to the cabin this weekend and finish the pit, and run another line of fence.

It's getting there, y'all.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Get to Work

The day after the cabin delivery, Tammy and I gathered up the tools and headed for the country to work on it. It was our first full weekend on the land. Although it wasn't leisurely, it was relaxing because we weren't in the city working our butts off. We were in the country working our butts off. It was rugged and hot, but it was awesome.

The big job was to build steps into the cabin. It sits two fee off the ground. This gives me some wiggle room when I need to get underneath it for future plumbing. Tammy's the carpenter, so I let her take on the step project while I did what I call "prison farm work."

We needed an outhouse, a way to shower, a washing station, a campfire builder and cook. Those were my jobs. Before leaving Austin, I built a box frame out of 2x4s and attached a toilet seat to it. I inserted a Home Depot bucket under the seat and called it "the bathroom." Even though it was really a joke on Tammy (who has been very adamant that she is not squatting in the woods), it is actually kind of the perfect portable composting toilet. My aunt gave us a little pop-up outhouse about a year ago. It's really a deer blind tent, but it easily camouflages in the woods while housing my rural potty.

As I looked around the property for some kind of compost that might have a "nice smell." I saw a pile of debris from some brush and cedar clearing.  I scooped it up into the original Lugable Loo, and used that as my poo coverage. It actually smells like cedar, and thus, a smell free, composting toilet.

The key to smell-free is to only do the dirty work in your toilet. Urine needs go elsewhere to keep the pot from getting wet and stinky. Dirty work covered in composting dirt and cedar chips is less offensive. This is intimate and scatological talk, but it's serious and real business. Folks. I have created a crude, stink-free potty.

Eventually, I took down the deer blind because Tammy felt cramped and to my surprised, preferred to have her pot in the natural surroundings of the woods, tucked out of sight behind the cabin.

Let's move on to showers.

Earlier in the week, I naively bought a two and a half gallon sprayer at Carmine Farm and Ranch, and  I filled it with water. It was my makeshift fire extinguisher. It was a dumb idea for fires, but a great idea for a rural shower, hand washing and dish washing station. Two and a half gallons showered us 4 times, plus hands and dishes for 2 days. We even washed our hair.

Besides a shower and a toilet for refined comfort, we only needed a pot for water, coffee and a french press. We effectively moved all we ever needed from civilization to the country. We heated water and cooked in our outdoor kitchen. We could actually relax while we worked.

Tammy worked on her stairs.

I made sure I looked thoroughly embarrassing taking care of pots, showers and fires.

Although we've moved in a futon bed and my old kitchen table and a chair, the interior of the cabin still needs walls. However, for now, it's our country home, and we love it.
Hopefully, it won't be long before I can write about interior work, but first, we need to build a fence around the building so that our dogs have more than an 8x8 pen.  I'll fill you in on that progress after the weekend.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Cabin Arrives!

Thursday was the big day!  The cabin was scheduled to arrive around 12:30 p.m. It's 24 feet long and 14 feet wide, so I started to worry that the truck wouldn't be able to maneuver around a brush pile, cedar logs and the pond to get the cabin onto the pad. I spent the first few hours of the morning chopping away a wide enough path for it's arrival.

I have to say, it's pretty amazing to watch a big truck move with such ease, and deposit a building in a grove of trees.

This driver was a pro. The delivery is figured into the cost of the building, so it was really an economical way to get a structure onto our land. In fact, it was about $3,000 less than building a similar structure and only drying it in.

"Drying it in" means that the exterior walls and roof are on the structure, but the inside has not been finished, so no rooms, kitchen, floors, or even real walls. Just a building shell. Our little red cabin included insulation, so that made the portable cabin an even better buy. Plus, it only took an hour to set it up and level it on the pad. It would have taken us months to build it.

I was completely fascinated with the leveling process. The trailer moved at every angle possible. The driver had a little remote control that he used to work the trailer and level the building onto 16 inches of concrete blocks. Totally fun to watch, and so fast and efficient. 

I paid an extra $75 for the driver to set the blocks and level the building. I told him I was totally fascinated with his cool remote control, and he laughed and said he wouldn't do his job without it. Technology in the country! Even the good ol' boys embrace it.

It is amazing how quickly I felt myself completely relax and settle down once that little building was in place and I was alone with it. The country is so quiet and peaceful, and knowing that we have a little house to come to really felt like a spiritual shift. I felt like myself for the first time in 5 years.

Tammy was able to join me on Friday, and she quickly got to work making steps into our new little retreat. By Saturday, our property finally felt like the country get-a-way we intended it to be when we bought a heavily wooded, rough, swampy raw piece of land two and a half years ago.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Friendships are Hard Work

Here's a quick update before I get going this morning. I've given up political commentary, and I've been driving out to Carmine every day this week to get ready for the arrival of a cabin! Yep. After crunching numbers and lots of discussion, we decided to buy a cute, red, portable cabin. It will arrive in 5 hours!

This week, a longtime friend has been helping me clean up the cedar trees we'll eventually use for our own construction wood. Meg was in a band with me in the 90's. Her career is Assistant Director in the film business, and that sounds glamorous. However, she's informed me it's extremely hard work. She brought that hard work ethic to the country, and man! Those 30 foot cedar logs are ready for the sawmill! Three days of working with a chainsaw, and in her words, she's become a chainsaw expert.

Two musicians* walk into a pasture...

Here's what you need to know. Christy and Tammy are musicians who get stuff done. Meg, is a musician. It seems counter intuitive, but musician friendships can net some serious results. Maybe it's a holdover from our years in a band together; loading equipment, setting up shows, and hours and hours of time together practicing, but I can set a plan and not worry one bit that it will happen. In this case, I handed over my chainsaw, and went off to start building an outdoor kitchen. I took occasional breaks to drag away cedar debris into a burn pile that we thought we would burn, but common sense took over and told us we weren't equipped for a fire that big.*

Tammy and I are taking on the "off the grid" challenge to see if  we can master it. I started working on an outdoor kitchen. I built a rocket stove out of cinder blocks, bricks and an old oven grate.

A rocket stove works like a fire place. I put kindling and small bits of wood in one of the lower chambers. The back of the stove is built like a chimney, so the fire is pulled from the chamber up one of the chimney stacks. Viola! A two burner stove! The top cinder block's upward facing chambers act as warming spaces. It doesn't get super hot, but it will warm tortillas or keep something warm after cooking. 

Next I started a fire ring. This can be used for a dutch oven or foil meals.

I'll finish up the fire ring today. We'll also buy a barbecue pit. That's really all we need. Tammy and I will figure out how to fashion the logs in the background into a bench of some sort. We'll test out the kitchen Saturday night. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Right now, I've got to get going. Stay tuned for the arrival of the little red cabin.

* - I had an awesome earth sign reference going with this blog. My premise was that earth signs get stuff done. Tammy and I are Capricorns. I thought Meg was a Virgo, but she corrected me real fast. She's a Leo. The odds of a Capricorn and Leo accomplishing something smoothly is probably 50/50. With those kinds of odds, I honestly thought my Leo pal was a solid Virgo.  Anyway. I had to rewrite a paragraph because dare not misrepresent a Leo.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

5 Nasty Women

Regardless of political leanings, I will not vote for Donald Trump. There. I think you all knew that. I will not vote for any Republican in Texas who has not denounced Donald Trump and his ongoing play to turn our country into a low rent reality t.v. show. I don't normally vote straight ticket, but let it be known to all that I will do it if I have to.

Yes. We should be voting for the champion of the issues that matter to us. For me it is Education, Economy, Healthcare and National Security.  Immigration is like the third smoke screen in the cadre of divisive issues for me.

1. Abortion - Why is this an issue for the less government is best crowd? Plus separation of Church and State. If religion is your driver, then please do that in your religious private sector. Otherwise, go get a damn medical degree before you take on God's job of judgement.

2. Second Amendment - I'm a pretty good shot with a big ass gun, and I think it's fun to shoot it, but jesuschrist - if a person's on a no fly list, he doesn't need a gun in America. Why is this the same as abolishing the Second Amendment?  Move on people. The NRA just wants you to renew your membership and demonstrate your loyalty to their bottom line.

3. Immigration - Total scare tactic. I like Mexicans a lot. Let's just talk about the greatest food on the planet. Let's talk about the critical thinking skills of the workers who can figure out how to do crap no dude in my neighborhood can do. Craftsmanship - there's a good one. Smart kids. If the hard working, valuable undocumented workers get rounded up a la Nazi-style onto buses and trains (did anyone else get a cold chill at that suggestion at the third debate????), frankly, the Texas economy will fall apart. I care about the economy.

On to the Nasty Women

First, I'm not really interested in having a President who owns a beauty pageant. I don't like the culture of pageants and the message it sends to already insecure young girls. None of the hot mic, sexual advance accusations, or stupid-ass-of-the-cuff-misogynistic-shit that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth surprises me. I have a feeling that the very Republican men in my family would punch any other man who said anything like Trump says to any woman in their family.

Lesson #1 to my liberal lady friends. Real Texas men don't treat their women like Trump does.

On the national and world stage, there are 5 nasty women Trump will have to work with.  How on earth will that go down if he actually gets elected?

Mary Fallin - Republican Governor of Oklahoma. Trump should have picked her as a running mate. She's a textbook Republican in many ways. Her stance on abortion, climate change, charter schools, and restrictions on minimum wage make her his kind of woman. I guess the problem is... she's a woman. That's just some nasty luck for Mary.

Nikki Haley - Republican Governor of South Carolina. I think Governor Haley is pretty, so I can only imagine how Trump describes her. Her ethnic background could have been the balm in the Donald's Gilead had the party seriously considered her as his running mate. And if it's reality t.v. the American people want, this ticket would have made for some goooood television. I mean, she's proven with her "bless your heart" response to his twitter attack on her that she's a class act. And I think she's a good governor.

Susana Martinez - Republican Governor of New Mexico. Oh, boy. A Mexican Republican with some colorful controversies chasing her around. She can party. She can hustle. And people LIKE her. All kinds of nasty problems for a sexist president.

And then there's the world...

Theresa May - Brexit, here comes Donald. Ms. May is a liberal conservative. Don't let that confuse you. Think Bush senior. If her reasonableness were to rankle Trump, could that lead to the loss of our very most important ally in the world? I found this interesting - She doesn't think it's fair to crack down hard on Anti-Social Behavior as a crime prevention tactic. Anyone want to guess who might reverse her position on this?

And finally... a badass. Not only nasty, but frankly, a baaaaad hombre if your politics are remedial:

Angela Merkel - Holy shit, she's smart. And German. And in control. Like your mother-parsing-out-a-barely-earned-allowance kind of control. The Donald is a punk compared to the Chancellor of Germany. My hometown friends will totally understand what I mean by this. Angela Merkel is a German Lutheran. She knows austerity. She knows grace. She knows how to run the world household. A disparaging comment wouldn't serve a reality star well on her world stage. Yep. She owns it. Nasty problem for a guy who loves to brag about his money.

There you have it! 5 nasty Conservative women.

Why am I getting so political all of a sudden? Because we are two women with a daughter. We are hardworking taxpayers trying to make the best for our family. We want the issues that are important to us to be expertly addressed - even though that's a tall order. I'll go vote on Monday. I will hold out hope that the word "nasty" disappears from everyday rhetoric, and that the loser's supporters will take a step back from the trash talk and get educated on the things that really affect them. And then do their parts to improve their households and communities. We all can start by teaching grace and civic responsibility to our children. Then we can take a truly responsible approach to making our own communities a better place to live. Let Trump be a celebrity. Let the citizens of the United States behave like a civil society.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Planning the Cabin

I had aggressive goals for this weekend. As irritated as I feel when I don't meet those goals, I remind myself that they were aggressive goals. Since the pad is done in Carmine, we headed out there to start on cabin plans. The ultimate goal was to square it off and then get the piers in. We also needed to build a small dog pen because it's time to start taking the dogs and staying overnight. The weather is perfect for camping!

Some things went as planned; albeit, not as timely as I had hoped. Some things simply didn't happen, and that's O.K. because today was a day about finances and what's really feasible in a pay as we go situation.

Our dogs are citified

We built a little pen, but frankly, I feel like we did it because we bought the materials; not because our dogs were in rural heaven. Ellie Mae spent most of her life in the country, but it became apparent that either her new citified and easy life, or her advance age, has taken the country dog right out of her. She made a couple of sassy attempts to run in the neighboring horse pasture or run away from me towards the road, and then she gave up and got back in the truck.

If that doesn't look like misery, I don't know what does. She's still sleeping it off today. Even so, I started building an 8x8 pen out of t-posts and cattle panel. I tried to get ahead of my help and drive the posts with a hammer. I only succeeded in wearing myself out. My friends, Bev and Lib, arrived with a pile driver, and a pen went up pretty easily.

As you can see, despite our efforts to make it shady and comfy, Ellie chose to lay like the dead on the grass. I get it. She can stay home next time.

Plotting out a cabin

After the dogs were secured and sufficiently miserable with rouging it, we set to plotting out a cabin on the new pad. Bev and I squared off a 20x24 foot area on the back of the pad so that we could visualize a footprint.  Friends, this sort of activity is why tenth grade geometry was important. It's a practical course if you ever plan to build anything in your life.

Using stakes and string, we started at one of the back corners of the pad and created a square corner. Here's why geometry is important. Every corner has to be perfectly square in order to get two perfectly measured 20 foot sides and two 24 foot sides that don't turn into some weird parallelogram or even worse, a trapezoid geometric mess.

How does one do this without fancy software and/or Google? One uses stakes, a couple of tape measures and pink string. We drove one stake and then eyeballed down a 24 foot line to where we wanted the back wall of a cabin to go. We measured out 4 feet and drove another stake. Then, at a right angle we measured 3 feet and drove a stake. Ideally the distance between the 3 foot and 4 foot stakes is 5 feet. It never is, so adjustments take place until it is correct. It's called the 3,4,5 method. Honestly, 3,4, and 5 is too short to really square a building this size, so we multiplied those distances by 3 and after some struggles with unwanted geometric shapes, manged to square off the area. This means a potential cabin would not end up with impossible doors and windows and such.

Discussions and ideas about a cabin

Tammy and I discussed a cabin floor plan at length. Surely, building a cabin would be less expensive than buying a pre-built portable cabin. We figured we could get more space for around the same price as a smaller pre-fab. In March, we found a little portable cabin that measured 336 sq. feet. It wasn't finished out, so we could create any space we wanted on the inside. It also had a little loft that would make a great sleeping space for Elizabeth. It cost around $7200. 

This would definitely qualify as a tiny house, and it's kind of ugly, but not hideous. Eventually, we could build a nice big deck around it because we both love the idea of being outside in the country. I sketched up a possible interior which could be done as we have the cash. In the meantime, we at least would have a building to shelter us.

If you imagine every little blue square as one foot, you can see that this is a very cozy space. It's good for sleeping and sitting out rainstorms. The outer lines in the drawing represent decking. That's the place to be. It would be pretty easy to catch rainwater off the gabled roof, and for awhile, a 4,000 watt generator would run a window unit on hot nights, plus minimal lighting. This could work.

I also drew out the cabin we could build, as plotted by our squaring off exercise. It would be 480 square feet, and much roomier on the inside.  After some more mathematical figuring and discussion, we decided a lean-to style roof would be most economical, and it would make the interior feel even bigger. I sketched out the the following concept.

By the time we got this done and discussed, we decided to call it a day. Nevermind camping. We came home, and I got up this morning to do some cost estimates.

Spreadsheeting and data swing the decision

Based on mine and Bev's calculations, I came up with a pretty accurate materials list. I created multiple tabs on a spreadsheet. I had a foundation tab, a frame and dry in tab, window and doors tab, plumbing and electric tab, and interior tab. I had a material list, quantity column, and columns for various lumber stores. I started running the numbers. I focused on foundation and dry-in so that I could compare the cost to the pre-fab cabin.

In order to dry in a 480 sq. foot cabin as conceptualized by us, we'd need $10,000. I'm sure I'm overbuilding for such a small space, but realistically, I have a feeling I'm not off by much. Therefore, I've emailed the cabin dealer with the portable we liked, and I'll wait to see what the final cost would be to have it delivered and set up about 16 inches off the ground. I want this so that I can plumb it in the near future.  (Read The Trouble with the Toilet on this blog to understand why I need to plumb it ASAP.)

So, next entry, we probably will have made our decision. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Building Fences, Roads and Building Pads

Finally!  We're making more progress on our Carmine property. Last week, construction began on a new fence along Shoenst Road, a 200 foot gravel road that leads to a building pad, and of course, the building pad. I drove out today to take a look, and I'm happy and excited to move on to building a cabin.

A fact about barbed wire fences

Our property is only 288 feet wide. That is too short a distance to pull a barbed wire fence tight and expect it to stay that way. We went with cattle panel fencing.

Had we gone with barbed wire, it would have required extra bracing, which drives up the fence post cost, and there was no guarantee the bracing would prevent sag. Cattle panels are more expensive than barbed wire, but we offset the cost because we didn't need extra posts for bracing. We'll add a decorative top board to make it look really sharp. 

Use existing resources

The pond on our property really isn't a pond at all. It looks like someone pushed up dirt to dam up the creek and prevent washout on the neighboring property. The previous sentence is a passive aggressive way to say that the neighbor did an unethical thing by digging that hole to prevent erosion on his land. The previous owners lived as far away as California and never came to this property.


We used the neighbor's little unethical damn to create a 30' x 30' building pad.  The area is very gravelly, and the building is so small that soil quality isn't as important. 

About half the dam is gone, so it's pretty ugly right now. Needless to say, the next dirt construction project will be creating a real pond by digging out the existing hole and moving that dam around to the northeast where it actually belongs. We just have to wait for the water to dry up so the dozer doesn't sink and the frogs have time to bury themselves.

There were easily 300 frogs in that hole today. I swear. They didn't even care that I was standing next to them.

Those little bumps in the water are frogs! I couldn't get them all in the shot. As far as I know, there's only one bull frog, and his head is as big as my fist. He wasn't around today.

Build in harmony with the land

The building pad sits under a patch of oak trees, so it will be nicely shaded on all sides. We'll build a 480 sq. foot cabin with a 6' wide front porch that faces southwest. We'll be able to see the sun set, but the trees will keep us shaded from the direct heat. Tammy can watch the horses in the adjacent pasture. Along the east side of the cabin, we'll build a 10' x 32' deck.  It will be a shaded outdoor living space that can be accessed from french doors on the cabin. Eventually, we can close the deck in to increase the size of the cabin.  

I always build in squares so that building expansion is easy. In the meantime, we've got a nice pad, ready for a cabin.

I sat on one of these logs today and just felt the breeze. I paid attention to the sun. I felt which direction the wind was coming from. I looked at the way the land falls, so that I could figure out where to put a septic that would drain easily. I thought about how to position the cabin.

Settlers didn't have air conditioning and glass windows. They built their houses to work with the seasons. We'll set our little cabin by the wisdom of our ancestors.

We're pretty excited. What was once an overgrown maze of cedar and yaupon is now a budding road to possibility.

Stay tuned. The fun is about to begin.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Christy's Fireside Chat

I realize a fireside chat seems silly on the wane of a ferociously hot Sunday, but the light in the sky has changed. There's a different charge in the air, and it ushers in fall. The changing of the season. And the ramp up to a nasty election cycle. I have a few thoughts, and I really hope more of you agree than don't. I suspect I'm right, so let's imagine we've just lit the first fire of the season. Let's get cozy, relaxed and honest.

These people are crazy

My thought.  The scary presidential election is not about scary candidates. It's about scary voters. Here's why.
  1. Many people are simply uneducated, and basically illiterate. No need to read when the mobile device will feed you a video instead.
  2. Reality TV isn't real, but since apparently, no one knew that, the presidential election seems real.
  3. Nobody is listening to smart Republicans, and the Democrats are simply trying to hold it together.
  4. Your average Republican doesn't hate your average Democrat, and visa versa, so stop with the drive by paranoia.
  5. Putin is not our friend.  ....ever. 

A "regular" guy shoots a terrorist

This weekend was crazy.  Three separate attacks in three different places. One off duty police officer kills a terrorist. Mark one up for the second amendment people. You won that one fair and square, and I'm glad you did. However, I really don't want a leader who goes all loudmouth and knee jerk. Trump is too stupid and egotistical to know he's being played.  I know people think Clinton will make hubris, but there's something that tells me that when she loses her shit, she'll castrate ISIS. Charlton Heston will rise from the dead to watch it happen.

Different is precariously close to being a bad thing. Different blended with uncertainty, fear and economic crisis = crazy asshole taking over your country. His name was Hitler. Find a few videos and "read" about him. Don't go there, America.

I heard a retired Air Force officer say Iraq was the wrong war. This isn't a casual maneuvering of people's lives. Our military shouldn't be pawns to old vendettas and misguided revenge plans. And for god's sake, I have yet to live through a presidential election where the winner didn't promise to take care of our soldiers, and not one of them on either side of the aisle has come through. 

Your money will be fine - It's the world you should be worried about

I really do believe this is the foreign policy election. Big business runs our domestic policy, so Trump isn't going to bring anything new to the table, and Clinton won't either. However, the world is so interconnected because of globalization, and we are really ripe for another tragic episode in world history.

The dinner table looks the same around the world - This is Budapest.

The Syrian refugees, the French victims of terrorism, the defiant Hungarians, the financially fragile Brits. Whether Americans want to admit it or not, those people really do matter to our well being. You don't want an American President who praises Putin. That is stupid. That is weak.

Different skin color and accents and languages don't make people bad. Power makes people turn bad. A Syrian refugee isn't the problem. A convoluted three-way circus of foreign policy in a violent country that harbors terrorists is the problem. Clinton won't fix it, but Trump doesn't understand it. Trust me. Putin can't wait to give the Donald a worldwide wedgie.

We learn history for a reason

Back to literacy. Review your history. Relearn it. If you don't read anymore, check out the Smithsonian channel.  It's the way the History channel used to be before it fell prey to reality TV. Watch the ancient battles between the Christians and Muslims. Watch the Vikings terrorize Europe. Watch kings cut a deal with the Pope. Pay attention to the 1930s in Germany. Watch the isolationist U.S. get blasted at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. 

America won't be great by staying home and singing LaLaLa, and frankly nobody is going to pay $100 for a t-shirt because it was made in the USA. Don't like? You shop at Wal-Mart and Old Navy. You support Globalism. It's been on the rise since the early 20th Century. TPP is not a revolutionary concept.

Stop being so stupid. Stop posting stupid opinions on Facebook when you have no research or facts to back it. Stop being so stupid. If this country wants to be "great again," then everyone has to stop being so stupid. You still have time to make a truly informed decision on election day.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Today is a Good Day to Be a Human Being

Here it is. Can you believe it? The 15th anniversary of 9/11. Just like everyone else, I remember exactly where I was. I watched the towers fall. I saw shocking videos, via world news reports, of the jumpers.

...and that's really where I want to put my my prayers and my intention. The jumpers. Don't get me wrong. Every single image. Every single story makes me cry. But the people who fell. By accident, while trying to climb away from the fire, or by choice. They had 10 seconds to wrap it up and know that their time in this space was over.

That's a long time when you're life is ending unexpectedly.

I wish I could reach them in the quantum universe and say, "wow. it's so crazy and mean and scary and violent today. And I want you to know, they got that guy. They killed him."

Falling Man has haunted me for about a year. He's the person that I wish for time travel to meet. He's the person that I wish for Angels to hold his hand. He's so graceful. His family should hold him close, and I know they do. He is triumphant, and I think he looks like he beat the terrorists, the radicals, and the hate.

I hope the presidential candidates remember him today, and that both of them can honor him by showing the kind of grace in their campaigns that this man's final seconds show he must have had buried deep in his soul.

It's a good time to take a few minutes and think. Every news report, every news broadcast, every Facebook post does not have to be a bloodbath. That happened 15 years ago.

Be kind. Send love into the past, the present and the future, and do no forget the jumpers. They are messengers of change and courage and decisiveness. Some may have been Muslim. Some may have been undocumented Mexicans.

Remember that. America, and especially New York, represents opportunity, hope, and a melting pot of unity that celebrates our differences - because without them, we would be the homogeneous evil that became Nazi Germany.

Love everyone who died. Love the heroes. Love the families. They are a diverse religious, international, politically diverse, socially and economically diverse people. That, my friends, was the real America.  Falling man, with his dark skin, was America. He will forever be a lesson in grace and defiance and unity to me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Suburban Greenbelts and Graffiti

Tammy and I worked our butts off for most of the Labor Day weekend, but we did take an hour long hike in the greenbelt at the end of our street on Saturday. We live in a nice, mostly upper middle class suburban neighborhood in Southwest Austin.

The houses are basically neat and well kept. It's a very quiet place to live. There's an Alamo Drafthouse and NXNW craft brewery less than a mile away. We have an indie steampunk style restaurant within biking distance. We can put on fake beards and man buns and peddle down there for pretentious and slightly average food.

The HEB is merchandised for engineers, soccer moms, and doctors. The streets are wide, free of potholes, and lined with wide bike lanes. Circle C Park is to the south. Dick Nichols Park is to the east, and our little greenbelt is to the West. We can bike to the Circle C park, and walk to our greenbelt, follow the many secluded winding paths, and end up at Dick Nichols Park. There, we can swim in a nice pool, run or bike along the path that is dotted with workout stations, play sand volleyball, play tennis, shoot some baskets, or watch kids play soccer or baseball.  All sounds really utopic doesn't it?

A quiet walk in the woods

It's easy to get lost in quiet green spaces in the better neighborhoods in Austin. They're not of the stunning visual scale of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, but they're much quieter, and they do the job when someone like me thinks she can't take one more minute of city or suburban life.

Tammy recognized my near urban breakdown on Saturday, and she marched me down the street and into the greenbelt for a quiet walk. It did the trick. I usually stay on the well groomed cinder path when I'm down there, but this time, we cut off into the woods, towards the dry creek, and followed the volunteer arteries that zigzag their way towards Dick Nichols Park.

After an hour of walking through sprinkles, bird songs, and fragrant wild plants, we ended up under a bridge on Beckett Road, right at the park.  The city has even added handrails under the bridge. We decided they were for idiots who get caught in a flash flood while hiking the green belt. Either that, or it's a secret place to teach your kid to roller skate.

The ugly truth about the suburbs

I think most people know that suburbs are full of liars. People who keep perfect front yards, drive luxury cars and respectable family style SUVs, have adorable dogs, and blank-eyed and frowning teenagers. To drive around this part of town, suggests that by living here, all will be well, no matter what.

People don't teach their kids to roller skate under that bridge. No one gets washed away in a flash flood, but I would definitely say there are some children who are floating away from the hard earned facade their parents have created.

As Tammy and I entered under the bridge, we saw graffiti. Not gang tagging graffiti, but teenage girl stole her mom's purple spray paint and wrote profane and revealing phrases in neat cursive writing graffiti.

"F--- School." "(fill in the blank) me daddy." And so forth.  


So, let me tell you. There are people in my neighborhood that don't mow their backyards. From now on, every time I feel exhausted and strung out from not only mowing and edging my backyard, but cooking fresh meals nightly, teaching sixteenth notes during the 30 minutes of clarinet practice, using my free time to take a kid to the movies, listening to Tammy direct, interrogate, instruct, question, and expect respect from that same kid, I will think about the graffiti under the Beckett Road bridge. Tammy will keep spying on teenage text messages. I'll keep getting up and going to church; even though I'm not religious. And we'll both do everything we can to make sure the exterior of our house reflects the interior.

A well kept backyard requires more than lawn machinery. Now. I'm off to bed. There are home cooked meals, middle school conversations, homework help, and jobs to go to, and the week will feel long, but the yard will look as good as possible.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Thoughts from an Early Riser

September has arrived, and it precedes my favorite season. Fall. I wake up ready to live the day. I'm an early riser, and I don't remember when this happened to me. I used to stay up into the wee hours writing. Now, I'm awake before sunrise. My mind is churning at a crisp clip that makes my wife a little crazy. She's not an early riser.

Early Risers

Christy's thoughts at 6AM Saturday morning

Tanner - is a canine alarm clock. He keeps me in rhythm. He knows 5:30AM.  He can "hit the snooze" until 6AM. I start my Saturday morning by feeding the dogs.

Suburbia - is quiet at sunrise. However, Wendy isn't around the corner anymore, so I can't send a quick text that says, "want to meet me at Magnolia for breakfast?" I think suburbia might be more isolated than the country. At least a morning in the country is shared with birds, deer, cows, the sunrise, fish, frogs, and dogs.

Costco - should open before 9:30 on a Saturday. At least I could get that out of the way. We're down to the last two rolls of toilet paper, so it's fair to say I need to make an emergency run to Costco.

The River - is a people soup. The thought of throwing my kayak on the back of the truck and taking an early morning paddle is a thing of the past. When your city grows as fast as Austin, you are no longer an elite few early risers.  

Hike and Bike - is no different than mall walking these days. Population explosion takes the solitude out of it.

Rain  - means two years of delays on the Carmine property. I thought by now, I'd be rising early on a Saturday morning from a quiet cabin in the country.

Writing - is something I want to do more than once a week (I tried twice a week, and I found that work/life balance doesn't allow for it).

Quiet - is the benefit of early rising. It's so still and quiet right now that I can only hear a distant plane. Even the dog went back to sleep.

Thirteen - is the age of transcendence for girls. Twelve is the year a parent lives with an alien.  Thirteen is the emergence of someone who's actually fun to take to the movies.

Two hours - ago Tanner woke me up.  I've  had my coffee, and my mind is giving way to my body's desire to get up and get going.  

A bike ride - is a great way to burn off the morning, or at least kill an hour and a half until Costco opens.