Wednesday, July 15, 2015

# 556 - Construction - Timber Goes Up!

This week has been a fast moving week for the construction of our house. The day we walked over to the side of the acreage where the house is being built, we were shocked to see the basic first framing in place for the first floor.

Truly, I was overcome with emotion at this sight. We have waited so long for this moment. I was so overwhelmed that I cried some of the happiest and most relieved tears that I've ever felt.

Sgt. Dave walked hand in hand with me and we made our way to the part of the house that will be the wrap around porch and we headed toward the front doors, just as if the walls were already in place.

When we reached the front door threshold, Sgt. Dave insisted upon carrying me across the threshold into the interior portion of the house so we could properly enter the house for the first time. I was worried he would crumble beneath my weight, but he handled carrying me like a champ!

Yes, it was romantic and loving and it summed up so much of the good character of the man I love.

Each day this week, the house made fantastic headway. In the photo above, you can see some of the construction workers standing on the rafters...not something I would want to do.

Every day, as Sgt. Dave heads to work, he first drives to the construction site to make a quick video and to take pictures of the progress made the day before.

In the photo below, you can see the holes in the roof for the three dormers. We are putting on a metal roof. I changed a few things at the last minute, but am extremely happy for that decision.

Since this is a custom home and we literally designed our floorplan on our own, we have never been inside a house like this one, which makes it nerve-wracking to wonder if the house will be as great in reality as it is on paper. Once we walked through the framed house, I could clearly see that I will LOVE this floor plan and LOVE every element in the design. I might eventually try to explain the reason behind each decision because all of it took incredible thought and planning. But, I will probably have to wait until the finished house is photographed before trying to explain some design elements.

One thing is for sure, I am ecstatic. My husband has trusted me to completely design this house and he absolutely loves it. He is finally seeing things as I've seen them in my mind for the past two years. So much of this house has been designed for the man I love because I have been married to him for 29 years and know his personality.

Here is the side hallway that will lead to the driveway and on one side
of the hallway is the laundry room and on the other side of the hallway
is the second bathroom downstairs, so Sgt. Dave can run inside with
while wearing his dirty overalls and then walk across the hall to the
shower. I am LOVING

Side still feels weird that I am 47 years old and have been married 29 years.

Since the framing has gone up, each day when he gets home from work, Sgt. Dave drives the tractor to that side of the acreage and sits on the porch deck and savors his wrap-around porch. Then, he comes back to our cramped RV and tells me how much he loves our house, every bit of it makes sense to him and the vision now belongs to him too.

I am breathing easier, but until the house is finished, I won't feel completely relieved. But, that day is is fast approaching.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

# 555 - John Deere and a Shock Collar

Our lives have been transformed...we now have a John Deere tractor!

For the past several months I have been negotiating and getting prices for the tractor we wanted...contacting John Deere dealerships within a three hour radius of our place. It has been a ridiculous process.

In April we were given a great price. We also have an Ag-exemption which means we do not pay the sale's tax. And we were paying cash for this baby, so there is another "cash" discount off the regular sale's price.

In May, they raised the price nearly $3,000. and other dealerships were almost $5,000. more than our preferred dealership's price. So, I wouldn't go with it. But, we REALLY needed a tractor as the rains beat upon our acreage, especially making our private road a super special off-roading experience!

One thing is certain, we definitely need equipment to match our lifestyle...and living on acreage means you need heavy equipment that can handle the amount of land and terrain. The yard equipment we used at our previous suburbia homes in Greater Houston are inadequate to handle the level of work needed on our acreage.

Sgt. Dave needs to be able to go outside and have the right equipment on hand, ready to cooperate with him, which will help preserve his energy, his back and his time.

But, first, we had to get the tractor home so it could be unloaded. The front-loader was used with straps to unload the box blade, which weighs around 600 pounds! Sgt. Dave did a GREAT job!

Later that day, we made time that day to discuss a few common-sense rules and expectations regarding heavy equipment usage, not just for his safety as the operator, but for the safety of other people, of our pets and animals, and for the preservation of other vehicles and structures.

Slow and easy it goes. No rushing, especially around ANY person, animal, structure or other vehicle. Heck, a potential disaster is one pot hole away. No drinking and operating any heavy equipment, common sense rules. Pro-active upkeep so that equipment stays in good working condition and will look great for as long as possible.

I have personally learned that a tractor is especially dangerous because of its attached parts, whether those parts are moving or not because there is a tendency to already be massively distracted or goal-oriented while operating a tractor instead of worrying about what is behind or beside you. Not to even mention the massive weight of the tractor and attachments, this can be a very dangerous tool.

Actually, the need for stringent ranch rules was confirmed after Sgt. Dave unloaded the tractor and a scary incident occurred. I was standing behind the trailer as he unloaded so I could make sure the wheels remained aligned with the trailer wheel-rails as he slowly backed it off the trailer. He did it slowly and carefully as I held one end of the strap tie to keep the 600 lb dangling box blade from potentially swinging back onto the tractor front end. We did great and Sgt. Dave got it unloaded.

However, after unloading the box blade, Sgt. Dave forgot about being safety conscious and he suddenly swung the tractor around to head out to the pasture and he must have completely misjudged that the brush hog was sticking so far out behind him and it nearly clipped my legs, but I literally jumped out of the way, just in time. I also screamed out, but he never heard me. I was videoing at the time and was NOT very happy at this sudden swing around as he forgot he had a very large attachment behind him that was going to be swung into MY SPACE. If I had a chance to press the button on a shock collar attached to Sgt. Dave at that time, that would have been perfect!

He never even knew what he did because he suddenly didn't pay attention to what was going on behind him as he focused on his desire to move forward with the new tractor. Still, I would have preferred for the slow and easy going motion to have continued until I was safely in HIS view at a good distance from the radius of the tractor's attachments.

Fortunately, for both of us, especially for me, I was not clipped by the sharp-edged piece of unforgiving machinery. As people operate heavy machinery, it cannot be assumed that others in the vicinity are mind-readers who will magically understand the motions you will be making with the equipment...same with the dogs, they aren't mind-readers either, so this was the first and hopefully the ONLY close-call for this piece of large equipment causing potential danger to others, especially others who are in the midst of helping said tractor driver who needed to be hit upside the head with a 2x4.

If a lot of people are around, there will be NO tractor usage because the near accident with me can definitely happen with when we have a lot of company visiting, the tractor keys will be put away until they've left. The potential for disaster is too high. A tractor is fun, but it is not a toy. After he had a few hours on the tractor, Sgt. Dave began to understand what was behind him in a different way...he quickly learned to be a pro while he developed more respect for the machine he was operating and the dangers it could present, especially to people and animals around the tractor.

So far, we both still have all appendages and our heads are attached. Sgt. Dave is learning to also pay attention to what is behind him BEFORE he hits something, which is a great lesson in life. And the next time he needs my help, I will first attach a high powered shock collar to his neck and will be holding the button, ready to remind him that I am present and near the machinery, even when he cannot see me. I bet we won't have any more problems down the line. We're off to a GREAT start!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

# 554 - First Week of Construction!

If you live in the South, you already know. If you watch the news, you already know that Texas and beyond has been experiencing record rainfall that has created widespread flooding, devastation and even death.

All the rain has made every step a more dangerous and prolonged, especially the timber clearing phase.

That should have taken 4-5 days and it ended up taking 4-5 WEEKS due to the nearly nonstop rain. But, once the home-site was cleared, I was amazed.

It might look like a massive pile of dirt, but we have vision. I can literally envision everything finished with lush green grass surrounding a manicured yard with landscaped zones.

After the clearing was finished, we had seven dump truck loads of fill dirt delivered.

That was actually a LOT of dirt, but our home-site is so spacious that the dirt looked ridiculous, as if it would make a ridiculous dent in our home-building process. Then, I reminded myself that the dirt was really to build the garage at a higher elevation because that structure will indeed be on a concrete foundation.

So, we got things cleared and prepped for construction to begin, but the rain kept pouring. And then...finally...we got three days of sun in a row, which allowed for THE DAY for the crew to put the piers into the ground!

It actually took two days for our construction crew to set the piers deep into the ground. Our builder needed to get them into the ground because we would have to wait an additional week before more construction could take place, to allow the concrete to set and not be disturbed.

The pier and beam foundation is exactly what we wanted and needed for our home. The piers are huge...not small ones seen on some older homes. Also, according to the government regulations for the lumber we're using for our piers, it is recommended for "Severe Environments." The next level piers in the rating system, just above our own, are suitable for "Extreme Weather" conditions, such as to build structures in tropical locations.

Our piers are meant to be used for ground contact and can be used in direct contact with water, sea-water, wet concrete, masonry and more. The piers are also treated so that they are not enticing for insects, which will keep the piers insect and termite-free. These treated "marine" piers are also less combustible, so they help prevent fire hazards.

This house will definitely have a solid foundation; it will probably be the most solid, sturdy home we've ever lived in. After living through our last home being gutted and rebuilt due to Hurricane Ike, we are ready for some extra-sturdy-construction.

We are thankful to be building this house. We are beyond sick of RV life. Sgt. Dave said he is NEVER GOING CAMPING AGAIN! HaHaHeHa.

Our 29th wedding anniversary lunch at a spot
on Lake Livingston.

We celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary on June 14th and we had lunch at a restaurant on the lake.

On the way home, we stopped by the muddy build-site, while still wearing our good shoes.

We savor the sight of our house being built. We don't take one moment forgranted.

This house has SEVENTY-SEVEN piers ready to hold up our house. The piers in the back portion of the house are placed closer together because the load is heavier in that area...that area will have a second story over head, the bathrooms and such. The front portion of the house has soaring ceilings to the second story, so the load will be lighter along the front of the house.

As for those piers for the house, I am thankful we have a builder who has the experience to select just the right lumber for the job, even going above what is considered normal to do a job better than expected. Tags are attached to each beam; the tags attest to the details for the lumber as part of federal compliance with regulations, and I can attest to the fact that our contractor goes the extra mile, and we are in great hands because we took our time selecting a builder and because we have kept outside interference on our job site to a bare minimum...meaning just the crew along with me and Sgt. Dave.

This is part of the acreage we've already gotten under control. Yes,
it took YEARS. But, it can all be just as beautiful with patience.

So far, that minimum crew has worked out beautifully...stress-free, communication easy and no bossy people trying to re-direct everyone or drive everyone crazy by standing over people as they work wasting breath trying to tell them what to do, as they are already are doing it. Yes, this has been a GREAT experience to avoid all of that, truly, it has been pleasant! We truly don't have any complaints! At least, not yet! :-)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

# 553 - Country House Construction in a Rural Setting

May of 2015 for Texas has been odd. Most of all, it rained and rained to the point of waters rising and swirling and sweeping homes and people away, forever. There has much to mourn about this May here in Texas. The rains were coming every day; you stepped through the yard that had become a mud pool as others took a canoe to get across their street.

But, as for us, personally, things have been going well. The best part of this month was the week we kept our grand-daughter Coraline for a straight week. The good thing was...we returned her to her parents unharmed, she still had both her arms and both her legs, proving we can do a bang-up job as caregivers!

Coraline loves being with her Pappy.

Coraline and her Pappy

The week we were wrapping up with our grand-daughter went straight into another week with our niece, Shaye. I was thrilled that she was able to come to our place and to stand in the middle of the dirt field that will soon have a house upon it, and we got a picture of her next to the apple tree that Sgt. Dave planted this past year.

And I have to share how my faithful friend Howdy looks pretty darn cute himself!

Howdy at the lake on our acreage.

Now our home-site is FINALLY cleared enough to take the next few steps needed for us to start building the house. These are truly exciting times.

The future home-site coming together...tree and stump free.

The timber clearing crew got some major help when Sgt. Dave came home with a Stihl chainsaw, an early Father's Day gift. He says that chainsaw cuts through wood as if it were butter and we have LOTS of "butter" on our acreage.

Sgt. Dave helping the clearing crew by playing, I mean, working his
own new chainsaw to take down some big trees.

I think we have learned our lesson with buying tools and such. We no longer wish to spend money on less expensive versions because the better quality tool usually holds up longer and performs exceedingly above expectations. Over the years, that chainsaw will definitely come in handy. But, Sgt. Dave is in Man-Heaven.

A rolling hot fire!
The bonfire got smaller and smaller, until it turned into a heap of ash. Either tomorrow or the next day, we are having several loads of fill-dirt delivered to elevate the actual homesite and pad for the detached garage along with the outdoor kitchen zone elevated so we won't have drainage issues. This week, we might actually get to put in the foundation piers and start building an actual HOUSE!

Each step is very exciting to us. The weeks and weeks of rain was a real bummer. Having good weather sure makes all the difference in the world with either moving forward or coming to a dead stand-still and it sure is great for all the people working in the construction industry who NEED their weekly pay and depend on good weather in order to work each day.

This week, I even enjoyed hikes across the acreage by myself. Of course, I had my walking stick, my three dogs, a .38 on my hip and my daughter Stefie on the phone. I was PREPARED for lions, tigers and bears!

Before the entry was widened a couple of feet
on each side. This is actually the second part of
our entry.

After the entrance was widened a bit more. We will do some more
upper limb trimming ourselves.

The above photo shows the drive toward the home-site...the forested area on each side is something we purposefully kept so that our privacy would be a priority. However, we are having about two feet on each side removed so that we can have additional space on each side to drive through the area without scraping vehicles.

This undertaking is not for the faint of heart. Our new construction of this country home is set deep in a rural area and that means we are far removed from the comforts and conveniences that come with a "cookie-cutter" neighborhood where several families are building their own new construction project, near your own. As for us, we're pretty much the only one for miles building a new home out here.

And we have discovered, the hard way, that "rural" means "I am sorry, we don't deliver to your area." I should have figured this would be our situation after we lived without any possible pizza delivery for TWO YEARS --- I can tell you that sacrificing our weekly pizza delivery was a huge initial adjustment to country life in itself. HaHa.

But, I love it. I love every bit of it.

We are getting exactly what we want. We are living a dream.

You know how there are times in your life that you savor? THIS is one of those times for me and my husband. Yes, we all have bad things happen, rough times, suffering and such, but this is one of those moments in time that feels as if it really belongs to us and that we should enjoy it to the fullest.

Sgt. Dave hosing off my rubber boots for me.

My teeny tiny corner of the world feels as if it is changing for the better. And that's a great thing and a good feeling!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

# 552 - Clearing Land - a GrandBaby - a Niece!

The past two weeks have found us to be busy...nonstop. We first started with the unbelievably great experience of having our grandbaby Coraline with Nana and Pappy! I laughed about us being in an RV during our first extended visit with Coraline, but it was a blessing and rather easy to keep up with a 20 month old in a small space! She has stayed the night with us a few times before, but this visit was a week long visit...perfect!

Coraline and her babies as they are kissing goodnight!

Then, it became an extra delight to find that my daughter Heather had already been potty training Coraline and our stay gave her a warp push forward with potty training, probably because of the small space involved with our temporary living quarters. Soon, Coraline refused to wear a wet diaper or even a dry diaper and the good news is, in seven days of watching her, I only had to change ONE poopy diaper on her first day with us...all other poopies were IN THE POTTY! Yes, if you change diapers or have EVER changed a diaper during your lifetime, you can understand that this is newsworthy info!

One sunny afternoon at the park to let the
grand-baby RUN --- too many days of rain
had made us stir-crazy. She needed to be a kid!

The next week, I had my eight year old niece Shaye to watch. She was adorable. Actually, I had both children for nearly 48 hours, so I was reminded of what it is like to have two energetic children in my possession! It was wonderful! And I was thankful these cousins got to spend some time together.

Coraline and Shaye...My grand-daughter and niece. Super special kids!
I even got to enjoy a visit with my dad who got to cuddle and be delighted by his first great-grand-daughter. I know my dad, these moments were Heavenly to him. I could see the father he had been to me as he held is great-grandbaby girl. He becomes a puddle of mush when allowed to just be himself with the baby. I sure love my dad.

My daddy and his great-grandbaby.

Soon, Coraline was on her way home with her parents, back to the Greater Fort Worth Area and this gave me and Shaye some much needed time alone. So, we headed back to the country and I bought Shaye a pair of galoshes so she could go on a hike through the acreage to see the future home-site being cleared by the timber crew. I wanted her to see the construction process from the start. But, she had never owned a pair of rain boots and wasn't very confident in their ability to keep her feet dry.

Her Uncle David had to say, "Girl, step into that water! Those boots were made to keep your feet dry!"

She finally took a timid step and then she shared a HUGE smile as she realized her socks were still dry. Then, Shaye began to find every puddle in her path so she could tread across the muckiness.

Shaye and Gracie had a great time exploring the build-site together.

Of course, she got to have her new boots hosed off after the hike. Shaye LOVES her rain boots. We talked about her being able to wear them on rainy days and not worry about the puddles. I think she will be ready for the next rain day with a smile.

Next, it was my turn. Sgt. Dave hosed down my own boots as I stood and giggled. How does that man still manage to make me giggle and smile as my cheeks get flushed?

It is difficult to believe that our house will soon be standing in this area. We will soon have a REAL house, with a metal roof instead of an RV with slide-outs!

I can't wait!

Have I said that I can't wait?

Oh yea...I CAN'T WAIT!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

# 551 - Rain, Rain Go Away, I Want to Build Our House Today

We closed on our construction loan as of May 5th, then we immediately had a crew jump in to start clearing the home-site of the densely wooded forest. Everyone was READY TO BUILD! Then, the rains in Texas began pouring.

And it poured.

And much of our part of Texas began to experience devastating floods.

Then, the rain stopped for a moment, oh, but wait, it soon started to rain again, for weeks.

The fires that we had started so that massive timber debris could be turned to ash didn't have a chance. A sizzle wasn't even possible. Hauling this level of unsellable timber away costs THOUSANDS of dollars. Out here in RURAL burn the timber removed from your homesites, but that wasn't happening. Everything sat in the pouring rains and became soaked to the core.

The land became so saturated that the large equipment needed for clearing couldn't stand a chance at running through the muck. If they try to operate, the bulldozer would simply become bogged down and create more damage than good.

Since we cannot remove the remaining large trees we selected to be removed from the home-site, we could not proceed. And we can't start building unless the trees are removed because there is no sense in having one of these massive trees fall on any structure being built, so we can't begin building.

Additionally, we need to haul in several loads of top soil after the composted soil is removed so that we can build the house and detached garage upon a proper crowned, elevated site to prevent drainage from pooling under the house.

Each step is critical. But, for weeks we didn't make one step forward because the rain put a halt to all construction steps.

During these weeks I watched news reports highlighting widespread and devastating floods, especially throughout the Greater Houston area where most of my loved ones live. The images were terrifying.

Across Texas, there were stories of tragedy and unexpected flash floods that took unsuspecting lives. Experiencing a true flash flood is something that one cannot imagine...I experienced one at 17 years of age in San Antonio and I NEVER want to go through another one. There but the Grace of God...

Remaining outside of my own small-world irritations with construction delays due to rains wasn't a choice, due to widespread suffering. Of course, I had been feeling sad that our long-awaited construction process was so severely delayed. I was feeling the severe pinch of living in an RV for a much longer time-frame than intended, but as we realized the rains were not stopping and there was 90% rain in the forecast every day for the next week, and the next, then I began to also breathe a sigh of relief that we hadn't started construction the week prior to the heavy rains because we surely would've suffered major issues with material damage. As for construction, I would rather be patient and wait out the major rains.

The picture below is from about a week ago. This is 288, which is a route we take to reach downtown Houston and the Medical Center. For years I drove this strip of 288 as I traveled either to Rice University or to Houston's Medical Center and we still drive it whenever possible, very frequently. The bayou running parallel to 288 became so inundated with flood water that it completely covered this entire section of 288. I had never seen such massive flooding. Indeed, people died in this area. Terrible tragedies.


So, I could cry about the tragic losses due to massive flooding, but I am getting back on track in my small world. Truly, we do need a minimum of two solid hot days to begin drying out the land, even though we have fantastic drainage on our acreage, the terrain is still problematic after it rains day after day, for weeks. It would be problematic, anywhere.

Even so, if all had gone as expected, I thought most of the shell of the house would be constructed by now. So, constructing our custom country home has not gone as expected, but WHAT part of life ever goes as we expect? I am thankful Texas is getting some sunny weather because we could not have endured much more flooding.

Flooding inside Minute Maid Park...

Keeping things in perspective, I know our family is extremely blessed and being content with rain is normally a good thing. But, this level of rain has been challenging. Fortunately, nobody in my own family flooded during this round of storms, but many of our friends have flooded homes and vehicles. Eventually, the rains will slow down, and we will be working like dogs beneath the Texas sun. Until the hot, rainless days come, I am happily making sure that all of our construction decisions are livable ones that truly feel right. And, it seems that everything is really great...even though not much is going on.

Sgt. Dave is digging around our home-site zone for old bottles about
50 years old. This area was once an old Timber-Town. Every now and
then, we find truly valuable treasures. We have so much fun!

Along with the rain, I've had ample time to reconsider spare closet placement in the house along with other nook and crannies to be added. The down time has been well spent. I also spent one full week taking care of our first and only grandchild, Coraline, and the next taking care of my niece, Shaye, as my sister and her husband took a week long cruise to Mexico for her 40th birthday. After those two weeks, I was BEYOND WORN OUT and sick with a terrible cold virus unlike anything I've experienced in YEARS. Life...

However, I pray for everyone directly impacted by these horrendous rains because Mother Nature can indeed be unrelenting and indiscriminate. But, the selfish side of me screams, "Rain, Rain, Go Away...I want to build our house today!"

I spent about a week with my niece Shaye. It was great
to see her stand in the area where the house will be
built. Sharing the house-building process with her has
been fantastic! However, it is not very exciting to an
eight year old, in fact, it's kind of boring. But, that's ok.

Oh well, as of a couple of weeks ago, we've now officially worked for TWO YEARS to build this house. I cannot believe it has taken us this long to get to this point. Building on raw acreage in a rural area is NOT an easy process.

The great news is that today has been another bright and sunny day and our area has several days of hot, great weather ahead of us. This time in Texas can give LONG hot days, which can be beneficial for those in construction, especially after weeks and weeks of traumatic flooding. Even better, I can hear sounds in the distance of the crews working and it is MUSIC TO MY EARS!

As I sign off, I can also smell timber debris burning. It's good we are getting all of it burned before the hot weather kicks in the dreaded BURN BANS because those will present a completely new kind of hurdle, if we're not prepared!

House...I want you...I NEED you...I want your closet space, your bathtub, your full-sized kitchen...I want all of our lifelong belongings out of storage to be placed inside your innards! House, oh house...the house of my dreams that I have never seen in real life...I am ready for you!