Friday, October 30, 2009

Rain is over...

...for the time being.*

I have already heard all of the swimming pool comments, so save them.. :) Given the amount of rain we had I am surprised that there is not more water in the excavation. Still, I have already capitulated to the idea of putting in a drain in the uphill patio so that any water which accumulates there will immediately be drained out down hill. When living in a timber frame underground house, it is a good idea to err on the side of caution. Well, that is true when building any home actually.

Finishing out the corners will be on hold until we can get the backhoe out, and that may be a little while as Captain Rob has other work to do as well. Speaking of the good Cap'n, he cut me a hell of a deal on the excavation, even knocking off time (and thus money) simply because he wanted to take some other precautions that he had not run by me. This is the sort of business man, more importantly this is the sort of man (meaning "person" in this context) that I want to deal with. As a result I offered to help him with some design and remodeling work on his home, free of charge. 

Good deeds may almost always be punished but I'll be damned if they will be punished by me! :) Seriously though this is how liberty works, or if you prefer how anarchy works. We are responsible for ourselves, but because we interact face to face we relate better to people and so respect them as people. I recall a similar situation in spirit if not details concerning some of the land I will be butted up to. The seller argued that the buyer was offering too little, the buyer arguing that the seller was asking too little. The result has been an ongoing friendship despite the seller moving hundreds of miles away to live a more nomadic, and more social, life. 

I may go into this, and related topics in the next post which would be decidedly political, practical, reasonable, and still a bit of a rant. :)

* What on earth does this phrase really refer to? What is a "time being" unless it is a time traveler?  Dr. Who must be the only time being left...  (Ain't equivocation fun?!)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Decade of (employment) Freedom

While discussing ways to create a homestead, live frugally, and live with as much freedom as we can in the police state, it dawned upon me that I missed an important anniversary this year: Ten years of total self-employment! Come next month it will actually be ten and a half years. 

I recognize that this may not be the path for everyone, though most of us should consider it if not immediately pursue it. There is more direct personal accountability, and more authenticity to be gained, as well as advantages such as in my own case of being semi-retired now after only ten years, in fact I made that move at the nine year mark! 

There is also a great deal of flexibility which comes in very handy in all sorts of situations, whether it be taking care of a sick child, to dealing with the recession turned depression under which we are now suffering, and which will only get worse. My job cannot be downsized, and I cannot be laid off. Because I am flexible, I can take jobs that perhaps I would pass over when times are good, but still keep an income. 

Anyway, I just found the realization an interesting one, and as good a reason to celebrate as any. I've got 30 years of work history under my belt, and a full third of these were spent working completely for myself making others very happy.. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rainy Days

Well yesterday was another rain day, and we are forecast for more coming tomorrow and the day after, so work is on hold. However it appears that captain Rob has all of the dozer work done, as he has taken the dozer off site. We still need to bring in the backhoe to finish up corners and hopefully dig trenches for the posts, then I can begin the build itself. 

For now, I am still in waiting mode except for finalizing some of the details of the revised plans. One of the changes I have had to make in the name of privacy, and also some degree of efficiency, is to lower the roof a bit an decrease the angle. I have decided to make the low end of the roof be a mere 7' from floor to ceiling. This is still enough for me to clear it, and the front door on that side will be taller as it sits in a gable end. Then by decreasing the angle of the roof, I can get the top end ceiling height to be 13-14 feet, thus making the structure a bit more hidden, while not substantially decreasing the overall feel of openness and airiness of the U-house. 

All of which will be subject to change as the build progresses since I am working with natural materials and a difficult site. 

The only other progress being made at the moment is research on alternative energy sources. I've come across a small wind generator (200W or the larger 350W) for a very reasonable price ($150, $200) which I will likely pick up very soon. Though wind alone won't serve me here, it should help enormously in keeping me in an abundant power supply. 

I did receive in three new books: 

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guide Series #23)

The Timberframe Way: A Lavishly Illustrated Guide to the Most Elegant Way to Build a Home

Time Saving Gardener

The Timberframe book may seem odd given that this is an underground house, but in fact it is an underground timberframe house, so I thought that I might pick up some interesting pointers from it. The others are just for pure pleasure of my hobbies.. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Another rain day

Well as predicted we are getting rain all day today, so no progress. But you can see the pond is looking really good. It will take a while to clear up, but once it does this will be a really nice and fairly deep pond. 

I had not found the camera when I was on the site last evening, so this is not the current depth, but it does give you an idea of the progress being made. We have actually gotten to the depth it is going to be, and now simply need to bring in the backhoe to clean up the corners and dig trenches for the posts. Though it differs from the PSP method somewhat, I am going to be setting the posts in concrete (though still protected as per the PSP method) because the soil here does not lend itself to compaction, and because I am sitting on rock which prevents me from digging down the several feet that we would want for the posts. So if I can get a foot into the rock with a trench, I can set the posts in concrete in that without any worries that anything will move. Then too being in the oldest mountain chain in the US movement really is not much of a concern. 

This is why I used heavy equipment to excavate: 

As you can see there are a great many rocks in the pile.. and in fact we hit ledge that thankfully was soft enough to break up. Still, with some rocks weighing more than a hundred pounds, I cannot imagine trying to dig this by hand. 

If the rain will let up a bit, I will try to get back out to the site for today's pics.. If not, it might be a couple of days as we are forecast for rain again tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Camera on walkabout..

As I cannot find the camera at the moment, I believe that I must have left it up at Rancher Bob's place this evening. So no photos today, though I will get some up asap. A little more progress today, in that the rock ledge has been broken up more so that I will be able to sink the house almost ten feet down, which should be sufficient to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

Not much else to report. We are going over budget on the excavation, which does bother me, so I will have to find ways to save on the windows, doors, and other materials needed for the build. Add to this the necessity to set the posts in concrete, which was not in the plan, and I have to find ways to save even more if I am going to keep to the budget. 

Still, in the worst possible case, I will have built a very energy efficient home, which is self sufficient for pennies on the dollar (perhaps even less!) than the average home in the western world, and still retain comfort levels as high if not higher than the best of those.. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Still is still moving to me

Still making progress on the site. As noted, the pond is full which is a delight, especially since it is higher than expected when full, giving me perhaps as much as 6 feet of depth in the pond. Hopefully this means that I will always have water available for myself and my garden. 

The excavation continues as well, and is as of 6:30 this evening about 10-12 feet deep at the lowest point. There has been a lot of rock, and unfortunately much ledge so going is slow meaning that this is pushing my budget as I knew that it would once I opted for the new site... but the incredible views and the dramatically increased privacy should offset the additional effort I will have to make to recoup the additional savings I will have to use to pay for this greater expense. I am also going to have to make some cuts somewhere if I am to suck up this expense and still stay under my budget of $5000 for the house. The excavation, clearing, and pond, could come close to half of that cost. I can deduct the pond at least from that particular budget as I consider it separate from the house, but simply moving the numbers around like some political ideologue won't create any additional wealth.. Still, the reason for moving this to another category is to keep my numbers straight on the house itself so as to work on documenting what it takes to build a home, and then a homestead even in this downward economy. 

No photos today, though I have a couple from yesterday. The camera is fighting me and perhaps on its last legs. She has served me well in travels from Texas to China, to Canada, and across the US. The motor on the lens is failing so I will have to fall back upon one given to me recently which would otherwise have been simply discarded. It is sometimes amazing what you can get simply be being open to the idea that everything need not be new, packaged, shiny, and meeting the approval of the most uptight constipated consumer.. 

I seeded the hillside today with annual rye so as to hopefully decrease the amount of erosion that occurs this winter. I still have more seeding to do, but that will have to wait until the excavation is completed. I probably have more seed than I need at two hundred pounds of seed, but in this case the seed is relatively cheap insurance against erosion, and for a time at least it will give the appearance of a fancy manicured English lawn.. not that I will make any effort to keep that look! 

Through one of the many groups to which I belong, I discovered a wonderful little wind generator at bargain basement pricing:

I am very close to ordering one of these, perhaps the 300 watt model, to provide power for my home in the winter, and any time that the wind is blowing more than 7 miles an hour.  Even at the government subsidized (read : "immorally taken labor of others")  electricity available locally, a little wind generator like this pays for itself in no time. Heck the monthly charge simply to have a hook-up with the local "co-op" electric "company" (again, this is merely a branch of the federal government, not an actual company) would pay for this little generator in less than 6 months, and with the increase that they announced recently, perhaps less than 4 months! This is not exactly the doom and gloom that the folks opposed to individual energy generation (again the feds to a large degree) preach. They tell us that the best possible return is 20 years.. For this they assume a Larry Hagman (yeah, JR Ewing!) approach: buy gigawatt solar arrays to cover any and all possible usage! Crazy approach, though kudos to Mr Hagman as he did this first for his own house which is larger than he planned (he let his wife design it) and voluntarily provides power to some local low income families he screened. 

The point is that we need not adopt these massive arrays to account for our power usage, but rather make different choices when we know power is limited. I won't do without my comforts, such as the internet and computer usage, but that does not mean that I need to be able to power up a stadium either. 

Okay.. perhaps a bit of a rant.. gist of all of this: much progress is being made, some things are really coming together, and we can live very comfortably, in fact even luxuriously if we think before we act or spend. 

More pics tomorrow.. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Daily mundane aspects.

Reading: Survival with Style by Bradford Angier

       Immortality Option by James P. Hogan

      Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen
by James Bovard

Food/gardening/foraging:  Raspberries are still producing! The flavor is improving with the weather getting cold. The persimmons are edible, though still somewhat astringent, they have a delicious sweetness. What we believe are quince are ripe, though I have yet to positively identify them. If identification can  be made, then quince pies (like apple pies) are predicted.. Muscadines are still producing, for eating if not saving for wine. Clover is still up and growing, though obviously no flowers. I am still enjoying the malabar spinach which will in the next year comprise part of the roof of my home.. I am also enjoying the peppers from my aunt's garden, including jalapenos and habaneros... I am also lucky enough to have received some pickles from that garden as well as Basil from the herb garden I built for my mother.

As the weather cools meals of the sweet potatoes I have harvested in the great plains and in the Oachitas will be paired with tea from the brambles, that is from the blackberries and raspberries. The potatoes will be seasoned with wild garlic (maybe wild leeks??) and enjoyed twice as they warm the house during cooking and again in their delicious flavor.

Though it is my first full year here on site, I am glad to be enjoying so much natural harvest and gleaning from the gardens that would otherwise be completely wasted. Over the next few years I hope to be more efficient in harvesting, identifying, and gleaning of the produce of the woods, streams, ponds, and fields around where I will be homesteading. 

Music wise I am alternating between the prog of Marillion/Fish and the celtic sounds of bands like Clandestine. 

The difference a day makes..

After two days of good progress on the site, today work was at a stand still because of constant rain. Still, I am not too upset by this as the rain filled the pond (in fact filled it to overflowing..). This picture is taken looking back at the point where I took the picture of the pond yesterday. I had to approach from this side as the other is all mud where we have done the dozer work. With any luck this will stay full enough to provide me all of the water I need. So maybe no work done today, but still some progress made. 

The rain also gives me a bit of a chance to revise and rework the house plans given the new information about the specific site I have now that we have cleared it. Not that I need an excuse to work on house plans.. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More progress

Captain Rob cleared the rest of the site, including where the pond was to go, then built the pond, and at the end of the day began the excavation itself.  As you can see he managed to get about four feet down into the high side of the hill before calling it quits for the day. We've got rain coming in tonight and tomorrow, so we may be on hold again for a time. 

That same rain which will likely keep us from making any more progress ought to help to start filling the new pond which will be the source for all of my water, in conjunction with whatever rain water collection I am able to set up. 

I know that it looks a mess now, but in a year or two the sides will be covered in grass, and this will hopefully be a nice little forest pond. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


After eight months of delays, of being stagnated and unable to do anything at all to move forward on the homestead, this morning the dry spell was broken. Captain Rob showed up today with the bulldozer and cleared to the site, then cleared the site once I saw the lay of the land and the view and so knew that this was the place to build. He managed to clear a couple of other areas for gardens, and a path down to where he will build the pond which will serve as my water source along with what little rain collection I can do.  

This is a shot of the site itself which is steeper than it appears. The house will sit right at the top of the slope in this picture, with terraced gardens below it.

This is but one of the views to which I will wake every morning. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Change in the Weather

The rain finally broke, and today the sun made its first appearance in a week or better.. The ground is still soaked, so no clearing work, but perhaps a few more dry days and we will see the bulldozer make an appearance. 

The clear skies means a colder night, a predicted low of 36F. 

I spotted what I hope is another possible hen of the woods while checking out the pastures. With any luck I will be able to head back tomorrow to try to confirm that identification. 

That is about all there is to report. I spent the day dealing with tech issues and supervising some construction on Rancher Bob's place. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A very good year..

On the homesteading news, Rancher Bob and I bottled our first vintage today (not counting the two bottles I capped and took with me to Kansas). We netted 14 bottles, or 16 if you count the two 22 oz bottles I took as well. Not bad for a first purely experimental run using only the fruit Bob's vines produced last year. 

We look to be on for at least ten gallons of wine this year, or approximately 36-40 bottles given the fruit we have picked so far. 

The bottles I took with me revealed the best muscadine wine I have ever enjoyed, and a wine which I contend has the complexity and subtlety of fine European wines, while still remaining absolutely true to the muscadine flavor. Though golden in color, the wine has characteristics more often found in bold reds, like Zinfindel or Cabernet, but without some of the more harsh tannic aspects. The wine is still dry, unusual for muscadine wine, but not as astringent as those reds without any loss of complexity. I am even tempted to try to turn it into brandy, though I cannot imagine sacrificing a good deal of wine to end up with a small bit of brandy. Still, I think that the flavors would lend themselves quite well to the endeavor. 

Still very wet here so no work on clearing the site, much less excavation. However it is a good sign that captain Rob called to ask about bringing the bulldozer out to be ready to start should it dry out. This damn excavation which was originally scheduled for February might just happen this year.. 

To those who follow this for that aspect of the blog, I promise more timely updates, pictures, and details once the build begins. 

A bit of Entertainment

Some months ago I picked up a dvd collection of 50 mystery movies, all for under $20, in fact if I recall correctly it was about $12 for the collection brand new.  I mention this because this evening as I was enjoying Basil Rathbone portraying Sherlock Holmes I thought to check the date of that movie, and others in the collection. The dates sounded about right as I read them, as many of these movies are in black and white, but then I did the math only to realize that the oldest are nearly 80 years old! 

This in no way takes away from these movies, in fact often it adds to them as mysteries are not about the special effects, or the nifty camera or CGI tricks, but rather about the story itself. Certainly these are serving as fine entertainment for those rare occasions when I simply want to watch something rather than read. 

I was struck when I purchased the set, which includes parts by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, the aforementioned Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Reginald Owen, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Glenn Ford, Orson Welles, James Cagney and many others, as to the reasonable price of this collection, but watching it now I am also impressed by the frugality of "recycling" or re-using entertainment. These performances entertained my grandparent's parents, and who knows how many others since then, and now, nearly 80 years later in some cases, I too am enjoying them. Moreover I will enjoy them again in the decades to come, and I sincerely hope that I may pass these along to another who can not only appreciate the historical aspects (London with double decker electric trolleys in front of Big Ben) but also simply enjoy well made and well told stories. 

The actors, the writers, the cameramen, and probably all who worked on the oldest of these have passed away, but the pleasure that they bring to others lives on today on my personal computer, and upon the screens of others who recognized this bargain.  Were these furniture, or cars, they would considered antiques, but these antiques can be enjoyed by all today because some foresighted individuals thought to repackage them today for our enjoyment. Tonight I tip my glass to both the original producers and the creative individuals who "recycled" this material so that it may live on, and the enjoyment of these portrayals may also continue to grow. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Simply Priceless

Monday, October 12, 2009

Still up in the air

I know very well that there are those folks who read my blog who are interested only in the homesteading, home building aspects, which I certainly understand. However at the same time a large part of who I am and how I live includes standing up for the undefended, or the "little gal" who has no voice, usually by simply standing up for what is right.  The discussions of this latter sort while wholly in sinc with the discussions of creating a peaceful, self-sufficient life, are often of no interest and perhaps bothersome to many of the granola crowd (a term I use with affection, fwiw)

So I am trying to figure out how and whether to keep the reflections on issues of philosophical and moral importance separate from those issues of a more practical nature concerning solar showers, and earth sheltered homes. 

For the time being I will try to separate the two between the two blogs, but there will be crossover where independant living is threatened.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Picked what I estimate at about 45-50 pounds of muscadines, which are now residing in the freezer to await their transformation into delicious wine. Should be bottling the last batch any day now, and then beginning the next batch or two. The last batch used about 20 pounds of muscadines, so this batch will hopefully be about ten gallons of perhaps the best wine you've ever had. 

For those not familiar with the humble muscadine, it is a native "fox" grape, usually dismissed as being unsuitable for "true" wine and so is treated like the red headed step child of grapes, deemed to be good only as a table grape (it is infinitely superior to any table grape) or to be treated as suitable for "fruit wines" only. 

All commercial muscadine wines, such as the wines from Post Familie Vineyards, a fine vineyard btw, tend to be sweet wines, nice sweet desert wines, but the wine that Rancher Bob and I, along with the help of some eager yeasts,  created this past year is a rich, full bodied, wine that are far more complex than usual fruit wines. I suspect that it would make a wonderful brandy and/or grappa, though I admit to be hard pressed to ever distill any of this delicious elixir, regardless of legal technicalities. 

I have also enjoyed a few lovely persimmons, a treat that most folks in the US overlook or are completely unaware of. While helping to corral the couple of bulls, the retired massive beast and the young up and coming stud, I stumbled across two wild persimmons, one I knew of but often ignored, and another unknown to me or to Rancher Bob. The latter while being smaller and hidden, holds a good deal of fruit as long as one is not looking to make jam or jellies.. for eating these are delicious provided that you let the frost or other conditions to mellow the astringinent aspects. 

Little else of note, other than hearing a bit of good news that the mighty Rob should be bringing the dozer out to the site this week, despite the terrible rainy weather... This means that there is a chance of getting the site cleared in a week or more.. Then perhaps I can site the house and just maybe get the god damned hold dug for the house.. 

Can you tell that I am very tired of waiting??


Friday, October 09, 2009

To the Nobel Committee:

While I imagine all seems very peaceful when you are high as a kite, don't you think that making decisions of such magnitude should be postponed until you sober up?

The first and foremost criterion for granting any award is for the recipient to have taken SOME action, secondarily those actions should be positive. So far on the issue of peace, your awardee has done nothing more than increase the efforts of his predecessor. Surely we can all recognize that this is neither peaceful nor worthy of any admiration. 

So enjoy  your recreational activities, but save important decisions to those times when you might be clear headed. 


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Back on site/ computers yet again.

I made it back to the hills safely yesterday. I am trying to take it easy today, though I do have a great deal to do. There are muscadines to pick, malabar spinach to put up, fish to catch before it gets too cold for them, as well as setting up the Systemax computer that is now fixed. For some reason they felt it necessary to wipe the hard drive, thus removing my partition and other OS, in order to re-install XP. As a result, I first need to set up XP and all of the programs I need on it, then repartition the drive and install the good OS (Linux) for everyday use.  Following that will be the installation of all of the programs used under linux.. I suspect that I won't do it all in a day so this will be an ongoing effort over the next few days. 

On the upside I confirmed 3g connectivity on the site so I can go ahead with my plans to use that for internet service rather than satellite resulting in quite a bit of savings. 

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hitting the road again.

Tomorrow I head out back to the hills, with the promise of a soon start to the clearing of the house site. I have stocked up on essentials and items unavailable locally so I should be set once I get back. The weather is turning chilly again, and it will have been 11 months since I first arrived on site with the intention of building my own home there. All of the work that has been done was completed by February of this year, and since that time I have been struggling to get Rob out to do the digging and leveling that is beyond the scope of what I want to tackle by hand.

Assuming that the work gets done in the near future, as I sincerely hope that it will, then I have to make a decision as to spend another winter in the caravan or to seek out paying jobs in other places so I can travel, see friends, and make enough money to cover the additional expenses and of course restock the house fund which has been diminished by the long delays.

Maybe the weather will hold out and I will be able to get the posts and roof up.. Regardless it will be good to finally once again be making progress towards creating this homestead.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


With the paying jobs done as of today, I am left only with two tasks. The first is to plant some ornamental annuals for my mother, and the other is to decide whether to address the relationships that a couple of individuals have chosen to sever near as I can tell for no good reason whatsoever.

The planting will be cathartic. I look forward to some design and working in the soil.

The other I don't get. I don't get the games. I don't get the lies. I don't get the devaluing individuals who have been very important to your life. These I will have to just ponder further, and hope that something becomes clear. In the meantime I am appreciating the dear friendships which have lasted, and which bring joy to my life.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Light at the end of the Tunnel

I know it has been a while since I posted, and I have no excuse. There is little of interest (to me) to report of the time in KS as the jobs are uninteresting simple maintenance jobs. Replace siding and paint, in one case. Replace siding and sheet goods in another.. and paint a fence in the third. Nothing creative, nothing which provided any challenge aside from fighting the weather.

The current plan is to return on Tuesday to the hills, where it sounds like I might just be able to get some progress in clearing the new site, finally. I've spent much of the last day drawing up preliminary plans for the new site, as it is sufficiently different as to make me abandon the original plans as unworkable. Out of this has come what appears to be a "V" shaped house, which allows for privacy, efficient use of materials, and still give a very open feel to what will be a modest home. I am still looking at about 800 ft sq, with a 100 ft sq loft, which for one person is quite expansive. Even for two, should that come to pass, there is plenty of room for different interests and activities inside the house. That said, this house is going to be designed so as to encourage me to spend more time outside. The uphill patio is a separate room accessible only from the house, yet retains the privacy of any room in the house. Of course the garden will be a refuge for me, and I hope to continue to spend time walking the hills.

But that is all in the future. My current time has been spent doing these mundane jobs which will help to pay for the build, and trying to understand why what I consider to be the most basic elements of any relationship, from friend to lover, are seemingly absence in perhaps our modern culture, but if not that then in a few individuals I know from the midwest. Rather than go into that now, I am going to focus on the future, and hope that at some point I will figure out what the heck is going on. Still it is times like this that I wish that I had continued my work in psychology while I was still studying philosophy...

So I see light at the end of this long and boring midwest tunnel, and I hope to finally get started on the actual build in the coming weeks. I won't be able to close the house in before winter, so I might be traveling for work again, but at least I will have made a start.

So if you have paying work for a designer, remodeler, builder, or philosopher, shoot me a line and let's see if I can turn your house into your dream home..