Sunday, February 28, 2010

What a Great Weekend

I don't really have a whole lot to say, except that this last weekend was fantastic. The weather has been pretty spotty lately, but both Saturday and Sunday were beautiful. Since these are really the days that count, I really appreciate Mama Nature working with us. So, here are just a few pics from this weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hi Boo.

Despite the vet's promises Boo's alteration did not, in fact, instantly make him a nice guy. For awhile, it turned him into a bigger jerk than before.

I think he's been holding a grudge since that fateful day in December.

Can you blame him?

Hi Boo. Sorry about that.'s it hanging?

Oops. I guess it's too soon for jokes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Think I Found My Happy Place

Was a pretty good weekend. Easily a 9 on the 1-10 scale.

It's likely that I'm among a small minority of folks whose crappy weeks are totally erased by one afternoon bonding with a cow by a pond. Probably this makes me a little strange since most people would just grab a cocktail and pedicure.
But this is a fine substitute, and a free stress reliever, if you ever get the chance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clay, Clay and More Clay

And HARD clay at that. We passed two key milestones this week.

1) We were finally able to get the "septic guy" out to evaluate our home site and the dirt in that area in order to give us an accurate bid for the septic system. We've been working with Rudy to get this guy out for a couple of weeks, but it just now was dry enough to get some machinery out there to do some digging. In order to save some money, I was going to dig a couple of holes with my backhoe (and because they gave me an excuse to dig with my backhoe). However, at the last minute Rudy informed me that his guy was going to be coming to Austin with his bobcat to pick up an attachment for it in Austin. So, he could just do the digging himself, but he wouldn't charge us for using his equipment. Ok fine. They roll up last night about 7:00, unload the bobcat with his new trencher attachment (which was really cool, by the way), trench 3 different spots around the home site, load the bobcat back up and leave by 8:00. You could tell this guy had done this before, and that bobcat was pretty impressive. The "inspection" consisted of the "septic guy" climbing out of his machine after making his three holes, inspecting the dirt that was removed, and laughing. He proceeded to inform me that this is about the worst type of ground to have a septic system. Awesome. He told me my options were an aerobic system or a LPD system. Apparently aerobic systems are somewhat involved and require routine maintenance and a maintenance contract. The LPD (low pressure discharge) requires a huge septic field. The aerobic is less up front cost than the LPD but requires more maintenance.

2) Again, because it was just barely dry enough to get any equipment back to the home site, we had the soil sample people come out today to take soil samples for the engineered foundation design. These guys showed up at about 9:00am and finished by 11:30am. This was a much more involved operation than the septic evaluation. Again, you could tell these guys had done this before. They probably said a total of 30 words the entire time they were there, but they definitely had a system down. The soil sample process consisted of rolling a trailer mounted hydraulic auger up to a spot and proceeding to alternate between drilling and taking samples about every 3 feet.

Every few feet, they would stop the auger, remove the bit, pound a hollow tube connected to a rod into the ground, remove the now full tube, and continue drilling. It was a very iterative process, but they were very efficient.

At the end of the 15 foot hole, they had 5 sections of what was once hollow pipe but was now filled with the samples. Then they used another hydraulic ram to push these samples out of the pipe. These samples were rolled in foil and labeled for later analysis.

They needed to drill two holes because of the size of our pad, so during the second hole, I gave Rudy the tour of the land. We strolled around that beautiful morning (sunny and about 60 degrees) and contemplated life's mysteries (or talked about tractor implements, whatever). They finished up the 2nd hole and then headed out, and I headed to work. Needless to say, it was very tempting to call in sick and enjoy the rest of the day outside, but I did the responsible thing.

Other house related milestones:
-the appraisal of the land/house combo has been requested, so we'll soon have an idea of how much equity we have in the land.
-we calculated that we will need about 370 cubic yards of driveway material.
-we calculated that we will need about 1800 feet of piping to run water from the street to our house pad (thanks Google Earth).

We're slowly ticking things off of our to do list.


Yesterday afternoon I ran by the farm to pat the donkeys and join Jer for a moment around the campfire. Tossed my boots in the tackroom in exchange for knee-high work boots. Turned and caught the sun's rays, setting behind the hill, throwing light into the chaos of our little workspace. The epitome of hope and some ambition: broken and patched tools, halters never worn, repaired wooden floorboards, and boots tossed down in the excitement of getting out to the land. It don't get much better than that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It was dry enough to go out to the land and work today. Kind of.

I guess at this point, it's all relative. Since it wasn't actually raining, it had to be dry enough to work, right? Let's put it this way, I only got my 4 wheel drive tractor stuck once. 20 minutes later, after creatively using the backhoe and bucket is ways that the original manufacturer would surely not recommend, I was free again. There were a couple of close calls where I would hit an especially soft spot and start sliding sideways, but I was able to keep enough forward momentum to pull through. I'd like to pretend I was annoyed, but let's be honest, I had a lot of fun playing in the mud today.

The other day, Jenna and I discussed the next couple of steps of our plan. One of which was to start creating the individual pastures so we can separate the animals when we start building. So, we sketched out how we want our pastures to look. Then I pulled out my new favorite tool for picturing the land from a birds eye view...Google Earth. I drew in what we thought were reasonable sized pastures.

Then I punched in the coordinates of those corners into my iPhone GPS program (MotionX) in order to physically mark those off at the land. Again, this whole GPS/iPhone/Google Earth combination is way too cool. While at the land today, I launched the GPS program and told it to take me to these points. I was able to easily navigate to these "waypoints". After walking to these points, I realized we needed to adjust those spots a little bit to better utilize the area. So, I marked off these new spots on my phone to overlay on Google Earth later. The pic above represents this second iteration. With these new spots marked off, Jenna and I focused on clearing a section along one of the fence lines today (see rectangle below. I couldn't help myself).

We were making good progress today until a cold front blew in with a vengeance. Something pissed Mother Nature off something fierce. Up until about 3:00, the sun was shining, the wind was calm, and the temp was around 60. Perfect. Well, it was around that time that 'ol Mrs. Nature decided we had had enough nice weather. Jenna had just commented on the line of clouds that had just showed up on the horizon when a COLD gust of wind came busting through. The temp dropped about 20 degrees in 10 minutes and was accompanied by heavy winds. So, we packed up and headed home. Overall it was a good, productive day. I would have liked to hang out and have a beer after our hard work, but that just wasn't in the cards today. I am really looking forward to the warmer days of spring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rocket Eggs and Other Hilarity

The month-long standoff between chickens and chicken owners has happily ended. Chickens abide by an ancient internal clock that instructs them to shut down and recharge during the short, cold days of winter. For us, this meant that egg laying came to a screeching halt somewhere near the end of November. A lack of eggs spurs under-the-breath cursing from Jeremy every time he finds himself: a) Filling the chicken feeder with pellets, b) Stepping into a pile of chicken poo delicately deposited on the deck, and; c) Hosing mounds of chicken poo off the top step after being delicately deposited approximately 237 times as the chickens sit huddled in a rainstorm (this has easily happened 45 times over the course of our soggy winter). In short: no eggs for months makes us question the existence of chickens in our backyard. But all of those questions have disappeared since eggs started appearing in the nestbox again (and under the deck, etc). I'm not sure if the raccoon attack kicked them back into high gear, but we've had a constant supply since The Incident. Also, The Incident coincided with longer days, and that is more likely the reason.

In fact, one lady apparently got so excited by the Sudden Onset Egglaying that she spit one out shaped exactly like a miniature rocket. Quite an impressive and efficient design.

In other news...........
Ok, let's face it. There really is no other news. We are deep in the throes of self pity. Pruny and soaked from weeks of chilly rain. This is Texas for godssake and the lack of sunshine and warmth is making us all downright sleepy, bitter, and annoyed.

Sure, sure - I have a healthy perspective about our relative lack of winter compared to our northern neighbors. I've read the cheerfully optimistic farm blogs from those in colder climates huddled around fires, excitedly "reading seed catalogs," and "planning for the early summer garden." Patooey. I choose to stare out the back windows with my arms crossed, a martini in hand, and a frown on my face. Enough already! The cold I can handle, but the rain literally keeps us from the land since we sink deep into the mud in all the areas that require work (read: EVERYWHERE). However, we have plotted out spots for three pastures, thanks to google maps and the GPS app (We love you iPhone!). And we're actually, finally, really, maybe, probably going to install the first pasture soon. My recent find of a real Dexter dairy in upstate New York made us both excited about the prospect of pursuing this route someday. But first: a pasture. And second: an amicable cow (check!).

I leave you with Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, whose site I hope you'll visit to learn about the reasons why Dexters can make such great little dairy cows. Or to learn more about something called Kefir Cheese. Or to actually buy some farmstead Dexter cheese. Or to roll your eyes and snort at the thought of me someday milking a cow and turning it into something. That's perfectly reasonable. But, the thought of me milking a cow and turning it into something makes the winter pass more quickly. Well, that and the rocket egg, which reminds me of earnest beginnings at the start of a new season.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

And Then There Were Two

I did it. I pushed through the muck and mystery that is the contracting world. I narrowed it down and two are left standing.

In retrospect, I look fondly on those first meetings with the contractors. This is a special time between prospective builder and prospective new home owner. The prospective new home owner is expected to stand stupidly while the builder walks around the home site, scratches his belly periodically, points at a tree and pronounces that it will have to be downed, holds both arms straight out to scientifically determine the slope of the site, looks at the sky and asks 'which way is east,' spends approximately 5 minutes badmouthing other contractors and the entire architecture industry, walks to the bed of the truck, draws a picture, gives you a number, promises you the world, and then drives away honking and waving. It's a beautiful display and one that I imagine has occurred throughout history and cross culturally. It's a hopeful time. It's all crap. The last person I met with cut to the chase after 10 minutes into the Traditional First Meeting Dance (as explained above), just after my fifth or sixth question interrupted his well-rehearsed production. He said, "Jenna. Um. You know a little too much - I guess you just want me to give you numbers, huh?" I smiled sweetly and nodded. Yes. Yes I did.

I haven't heard from him since.

I will refrain from another diatribe. I promise. The important point here is that we are seriously considering working with two different companies. Actually, in this case, "different" means "completely and totally opposite." So we're considering the excellent virtues and weaknesses that both offer. More importantly, we're back in touch with the bank to learn about the viability of this project in order to avoid any major surprises (I expect many) and basically to understand exactly when we can break ground. June 2010? June 2011? June 20..? Anticipation is the daily vibe around here, at least on my part, and has overshadowed much physical progress at the land. Well, that and El Nino. If you ever doubted this weather phenomenon just take a look outside your window. No matter where you are in America I'll bet you a martini that it's raining. Right? Am I right? Ok then. You owe me a drink.

Speaking of El Nino, I'm smack dab in the middle of the winter doldrums. I know this by the lack of enthusiasm to do anything after a day of work besides having a cocktail and watching an old movie, the new season of Lost...etc. We're not huge TV watchers around here and it's a sign of the times if you catch us in front of the tube for more than an hour on a weekday evening.

However, I just took a peak at our guest bedroom and it's brimming with house projects I promised Jer I would complete at the time of purchase, over the course of a year.... There's the old stove I need to restore to its original glory. The sink(s) and tub(s) I intend to reglaze with a DIY kit from Home Depot. Not to mention 2 huge pieces of furniture that need sanding, scraping, and painting. Also, I have my eye on a gorgeous vintage oven hood (I promise you, these contraptions can sometimes be described as "gorgeous") on craigslist - and it too would require some work. So it's time for a conversation with self. A sort of mental smackdown and shakeup. Get to work sanding!! Those sinks won't clean themselves you lazy arse! But my martini looks so inviting. And it's too wet for paint application. Maybe next week.

Until then, we'll keep you posted about such riveting details as the outcome of soil samples and septic system 'perc' tests. I realize you probably miss our stories about the really "interesting" stuff such as the donkeys, the cows, the hay bale purchase we're planning. For now - we're rained out, saturated, and up to our knees in mud. Winter will pass soon and in its passing will come seed planting, the set-up of our first pasture for the animals, and probaby many more negative accounts of our pre-building experiences. White-knuckle-edge-of-your-seat type of updates. Be ready.

And now I leave you with a few photos to promote peace, love, and happiness. Or at least remind us that warmer, drier times are ahead:

BBQ a la Dee-you-Wayne

Livestock bonding.

A sunset to remind us that the sun will be visible again. Eventually.