Monday, December 23, 2013

Snow Days!

 Winter! We have now lived in our  cozy 14' x 16' tent for 2 years, yet I feel like we have only now officially experienced winter. We had 6 inches of snow, temperatures in the teens, frozen water lines, snow days, and a visit from Frosty the Snowman!
The snow all fell in one night, and Scott was up four or five times to push it off the tent with a broom... it made a surprisingly loud zipping sound as it slowly eased its way down the tarp...echoing in our canvas cave. It created a grateful feeling of warmth and safety, intensified by the awareness of so much wet and cold, hanging just above.
So we awoke to our winter wonderland and no water. Thankfully, we had advanced warning- everyone bathed the night before; dishes were done; and jars and pots were filled with water to ensure we would have our morning coffee. Not too shabby. I was feeling like a pretty accomplished homesteader.... But, it seems that this is actually just the way that Californians deal with temperatures below 32 degrees. Most people I spoke with had frozen pipes, or worse, burst water lines. Why aren't all pipes just insulated like in the Midwest? I lived through decades of arctic jet streams without once worrying that there would be no water, and here, it's going to be 26 degrees at night, and we all fill our bathtubs with water so we can flush the toilet tomorrow. Anyway, I could go on about the debilitating nature of ice and snow, that comes every year, but is always met with shock and a complete shut down of the county.... but I digress.
That is all behind us now, and we are back to sunshine and 60 degrees for at least the next week. The snow has melted, school is out for Christmas, and we had our windows and doors delivered just in time!
Scott jumped right back into building mode, and the first three windows went in today. With two weeks off of work, who knows what could happen?!

So, lastly, I'd like to spread a little Christmas cheer with this video snippet. Here is to simple joys and the beauty of the world through a three year old's eyes....

(And yes, we managed to squeeze that tree into our tent! Merry Christmas!)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ta Da!

In case you were wondering.... no, we did not finish the house this summer. But I think we did pretty well. Here are a couple of the trillions of photos I have of the fully framed building, beckoning us to just move right in! The hard work and steady pace of summer building came to halt with start of the school year and a return to work for Scott. We are in this project for the long haul, and at the end of our third summer in the Sierra, we now have a nicely framed structure to look at and dream about a future of wood floors, windows, heat and a proper shower. But we are very accustomed now, to the feel of living half out of doors- lunch on the porch, snacks on the hay bales, trekking out under the stars to relieve ourselves in the middle of the night. And I have a feeling we will miss this connection to the sky and the forest once we do move into the house.

The building has been made into a nice little package for winter, wrapped in the ubiquitous white Tyvek of a new subdivision. And this is how it will likely look for the foreseeable future. We've been pricing windows and doors, discussing how and when to finish grading and graveling the driveway, and considering the corrugated metal for the roof and siding. But available time and resources seem to be in agreement... now is the time to wait. Again.

Our plans for the winter remain the same.... to stay in our little encampment. But with the experience of one winter in a tent under our belt, we have been busy as squirrels preparing our lair. All of the leftover cutoffs from the building frame have been turned into kindling and stacked four feet high behind the wood burning stove. Wood has been chopped and stacked on both sides of the tent doors for easy, snow-free access. Last weekend, Scott was on top of the camper, caulking and repairing the roof and shower stall to curb the humidity issues that arise during the long stretches of winter rain.
I will be honest... I'm not looking forward to the cold or the rain or the snow. But it is November 13th, and we have had none of the above yet. So this Thanksgiving, I am grateful to be undertaking this experiment in sunny California.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Brotherhood

 I just have to share some photos of the extraordinary work that has been done over the past week and a half. As mentioned previously, Scott's dad was flown in for a clutch week to literally raise the roof of our house. Many are aware of Len's great feats of strength, and this is one more incredible stat he can add to his list of accomplishments. He was off of the plane for less than five hours before the first wall of our second floor appeared.

As the four walls of our future living space came together, all of my mental images of what our home would look like were shifted and squeezed into actual 3 dimensional reality. It feels so big compared to our 14' x 16' tent, yet smaller than my minds eye had envisioned. Scott has a much better sense for space and measurement, and I recall his words as we designed the building-- "It's going to be small, Annie."  

Yes, indeed. But at this point, what is it that we really need? I keep reminding myself--- we have all we need already, though it's made of canvas and recycled denim, we have lived happily and comfortably in our temporary shelter. This building will be permanent. It feels so permanent too. At the same moment that I look at the small footprint of our apartment, I see a massive building rising out of our little piece of earth and think about how we are leaving an incredibly significant footprint. 
So, onward and upward... to the roof! The trusses were delivered and lifted into place by a crane. It was an extremely exciting moment for us, especially our three-year-old. I like to think that it may turn out to be one of her earliest memories. Actually, it was a fairly un-dramatic event-- and we are thankful for that. The owner of the local truss building company was also the truck driver, crane operator, and bill collector. He was highly skilled, and all went without a hitch.

 Still, as that little triangle hovered over our rectangle box, all the shapes came together for the little one, and she got it. This is going to be a house! Like the ones her friends live in... Or like what our neighbors live in? Yes! Kind of!

Then the brotherhood arrived. Friday night around midnight, our dear friends from Petaluma rolled into our dusty driveway, and set up a tent on the porch of our tent. The next day a great work-party began, and lasted for three days. Trusses were mounted, blocked, squared and plumed. Sheets of plywood were nailed around the walls. Coolers were packed with Gatorade and beer. Scott's younger brother arrived that afternoon, and his twin brother arrived the next.

Evenings were spent in the new workshop as Scott continued on after the sun went down. He built the timber-framed posts for the carport while we stood around and watched and talked.

This, in and of itself, was a kind of dream come true.

The idea of a timber-framed home has always enchanted us, and our first, stick-framed building was a cost efficient and time efficient decision we'd come to terms with long ago. Still, the act of putting together one small section of timber-framed post and beam is reassuring and encouraging for our thoughts of another future project....

But, back to that dream-come-true feeling... it came from the family, laughter, appreciation, hard work, and togetherness there in the workshop and outside, the starlit, moonless sky. I had a moment of realization--- I understood brothers in a new way. This is why throughout history, brotherhood has been so celebrated. As an outsider, I had generally attributed it to patriarchy. Of course. But I saw another side this week. Brothers are bonded by accomplishment and doing great things together that they cannot do apart. Brothers are so capable! I've always been partial to girls, for obvious reasons, and felt pleasantly blessed with my little daughter, but after my observations this past week.... seeing their combined strength and ability, their sheer usefulness.... I've decided that having four boys would be an ideal addition to the homestead.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Barn Raising

 Sunrise on the first day of summer. Our homestead project has been sitting idle, all this while.... We poured the foundation in early November, and then waited out the rainy season. Scott started a new job in February, teaching woodworking at the local high school. So, we have patiently waited for summer break--- Scott adjusting to the demands of his new job, Penny turning three and beginning pre-school two mornings a week, and Annie picking up a bit of part-time work. It all sounds so 
ordinary, and it is. We've become accustomed to our tent & camper living, and life just clips along. We skated through another extremely mild winter with plenty of extra firewood and a buttoned up little tent-cabin that felt cozy and warm and comfortable. The camper did not fair so well. The dampness of the cooler months made it a place we went to only to bath and prepare meals. We ate, slept, read and lived almost exclusively in the tent. Though the camper did not leak, the condensation and continual use took their toll. There are signs of deterioration showing up here and there, and we are ever more conscious of the fact that it is a Temporary Living Situation. And we better get our act together.

 Then- BANG! The first day of summer and it all begins. The framing materials arrived from the lumber yard on Scott's last day of school, and the next day he was up  at 6:00 am laying out the sills. Not even one day of sleeping in.
But this is really the fun part. This is what everyone pictures when you say you are building a house. Yet it has taken us three years to get to this point. And it has been two years since we moved into our little platform tent without electricity or running water. But here we are, and now that it is summer, things are moving at lightning speed!

 We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support and energy that our families have given us. My parents came for two weeks and helped raise the first walls. Scott's brothers carved out time away from their lives and families to donate their muscle and sweat, my dad pushed through days and days of heat and long hours to keep pace with Scott, and now Scott's dad arrived today, and has already been put to work raising the first wall of the second floor...
So, here it is. The sequence of events.... how a building arises out of a stack of wood and a few boxes of nails.

Scott built the walls on the ground, squared them, and then we raised and braced them all in one day.

Next came leveling and plumbing the walls. As I had to explain to my father, Scott frames like a finish carpenter- perfect squares, precise cuts and exact measurements. But that has also meant that when things went up.... they fit together! At least so far....
 The sheeting was fast. I felt like I went inside to put the little one down for a nap, and when I came out, we had a building! And I was ready to start moving in. There is something about having those walls that makes living inside feel so possible... so tangible. Why not at least install the toilet right now? Why not? We have walls!

Then there were joists.... and now there is a floor. The footprint of what will be our studio apartment.  Our rent-free studio apartment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reality Check

Homesteading has begun to sink in. The reality of this challenge is in full swing as we make our way through January. Our first winter living on the land. The water line froze this weekend, and we were forced to retreat to South Pine Cafe for coffee and facilities. What a hardship.
The sunshiny glory of the California summer is in the distant past now, and I think about how much we've done- how incredibly hard Scott has worked, and how little we seem to have to show for it. But we have made progress, and I suppose, since we missed the opportunity to send a Christmas letter this year, I feel compelled to let everyone in on all that has happened.
We are indeed back living in our little tent, with the camper now conveniently parked only steps away. As winter approached, we added walls and insulation to the inside of the tent, along with a wonderful little wood stove that is keeping us toasty....sometimes a little too toasty! The camper provides for our bathroom and kitchen needs, but we spend the majority of our time in the tent; playing Ponies, reading books, and doing the occasional puzzle by candlelight when the power goes out. It is a quiet time of year, with the construction halted due to rain and lack of funds.
But here's a little summary of what has happened:
MAY - Moved back to our land and submitted our building plans to the county....Permits!
 JUNE - Clearing. Felling trees, pulling stumps, splitting logs.
JULY -  Destruction. Grading, Leveling, Compacting the earth where our tiny little barn will be. We had wonderful help from friends here. Scott's co-worker's swooped in for a whole weekend to help operate the heavy machinery. So much dust and devastation for such an small building- roughly 32' x 28'. 
 AUGUST - Layout. Now with our perfectly flat building site, Scott began the tedious task of perfectly staking corners and squaring the building. We had a dirty dusty existence this summer... each footstep was like walking on the moon as we entered August... Remember, it does not rain here from June to September. Not even a drop.
SEPTEMBER - In the trenches.  Digging the trenches for water, power, and septic, along with digging the footings for the foundation.
 OCTOBER - Forming. Scott built the forms for the foundation, Leveled the rock, and then in an all-out-blitz weekend, his brothers helped complete the under-slab insulation, re-bar, moisture barrier, and hydronic tubing.
 NOVEMBER - The Foundation. We were ready for the concrete truck just after the first big rain of the season.
 DECEMBER - Holidays and Celebration! We have a foundation!
 We have entered the winter months now with a sense that we have completed the first step in building our home, though there were thousands of steps to get us where we are today. We are resting and recuperating now, but there has still been plenty to do around the homestead. Scott has been digging again this month, putting in a perimeter drain around the foundation, and last weekend was consumed by a burn pile. We have had a mountain of roots and stumps front and center in the yard since July when we cleared the building pad. The largest stump was at least 7 feet tall and we were convinced that we would need to rent the excavator again to move it- but together we nudged, twisted, shoved, and then daringly rolled it into the fiery pit. The last coals were still twinkling after four days of burning. As the mountain of branches disappeared into a smoldering mound, we headed to town again- water lines still frozen- to view the Wild and Scenic Film Festival. I'll be honest- this year has been really tough. Some days it doesn't seem worth it, other days it does. But what else would we be doing with our lives, if not living our dreams?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Back to the Land

Well the harsh winter never really did arrive this year, but whatever chill we had has certainly left now. After 6 months of luxury apartment living, we are preparing to go "back to the land" once again. We are returning with renewed excitement and energy as the spring has brought blooming red buds and rhododendrons to our neighborhood, and we talk about the garden we hope to cultivate. I have spent a couple of days preparing the first bed of our vegetable garden....

The camper has been moved closer to the tent, and we are discussing other strategies to make life in the temporary shelter just a bit more comfortable this year. We learned so much last summer... the way the sun moves across the sky... how to maximize shade in the late afternoon... what things we truly need and use, and what things just take up space. It was only a year ago that we "downsized" and "simplified" our possessions to move here, yet I find myself, once again, donating a carload of mass.

Our building project moved ahead, bit by bit, even during the cooler months. The lack of rain and snow allowed us to install the septic system in mid-January... With that done, we now have all of our initial land development and utilities completed. Power, water, septic, and road access.When we first moved to the land last June, we were hauling water from the street, using candles and flashlights at night, and bathing with a bucket behind the tent.... yikes. Thankfully that was very short lived!

 Scott also took advantage of the laundry room/office in our apartment, and completed the building plans for the first structure- a barn/shop with a studio apartment on the second floor. We submitted the plans last week and will need to wait 4-6 weeks now for the county's approval.

In the meantime, we have plenty of gardening, clearing, and landscaping to do.... We are looking forward to another hot summer with dusty days on the land, trips to the river to cool off, and just being back home.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In The Past Three Months...

Ah, remembering summer! Three full months ago now, and after a long and glorious fall, we are settling in for the harsh winter they keep saying is coming....
September seemed like one continuous work party as we welcomed all of Scott's family members- though not all at the same time. We put everyone to work until they were all tired and dirty and vowing to get a hotel the next time they visit. So much love and sweat and beer. Thanks family!
We had a daunting list of small but important projects that needed to be completed to winterize our homestead. Even though it had been months without a hint of precipitation, some squirrel-like instinct inspired Jeff and Scott to whip out a storage shed. It took less than a day, and they had the whole yard sale- tools and bikes, chairs and all- neatly stowed away, just minutes before the first sprinkles.

There was chainsaw maintenance, filling in the water line trenches, tree felling and clearing, and then the biggest chore of them all....... moving the tent. After much debating and deliberating, we decided to change our original site plan and move the barn closer to the proposed home site. This meant that we had to move the tent (because it was sitting right where the barn will need to be), and it also meant cutting a couple of the big pine trees. Felling 120 ft. trees was a successful, but nerve racking task. This was a compromise plan needed to avoid some less than ideal land formations... (or should I say deformations?) that we found on the property. But we are grateful that we have spent so much time living here and getting to know and understand our land before beginning to build in the wrong spot!
The pace of our projects slowed down in October, as the air cooled and the trees became glorious. With our electric panel and water lines completed, the next major projects all seem to involve some serious land moving and machinery. We hired a local backhoe driver to carve out the driveway and connect us to the road. This had been a high priority because our only access was across our neighbors' front lawn. However, the project had been held up all summer by a PG&E power box centered in the middle of the driveway, and it took until mid-October for a crew to come out, make a big mess of the road, and move the box to where it should have been in the first place. Then, in only two days, for our friend the backhoe driver to expertly dig out a driveway from the hill, and it looks beautiful.

We were so impressed that we asked for his help with the septic system as well. However, with a rainy weekend in the forecast, he talked us into waiting until spring before digging up the field.... so here we sit... waiting until spring....
November has not been as rainy or snowy or cold or anything as people here keep telling us it should be. Perhaps we've lucked out this year, but none-the-less it has become just chilly enough to make spending much time in the tent uncomfortable and impractical. We had a couple of weeks of quality camper living (as you can witness in the video above), before we started to notice Penny pacing the aisle- running back and forth from bed to bathroom in four or five little baby steps- We contemplated insulation options for the tent, different heaters or a wood burning stove, even a hot tub before I found an apartment for rent just down the street......

It's not fancy or cute or quaint, but it is so stinkin' Convenient! Flushing toilets, a full size bath with an unending supply of hot water, Laundry, a KITCHEN with an actual SINK and an oven! We haven't had that since 2006.
So we are now living in luxury with the basic American amenities, while waiting for this harsh, rugged winter to arrive...and then leave. We are feeling quite stress free with the new space and time that comes with convenience, and as we enter the holiday season, we have been meeting new people, and enjoying the most festive little town in all of California! Happy Holidays!