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.