Friday, October 12


It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything to the blog. Part of the reason is because my new Apple computer is a piece of garbage. It is the worst Apple product I’ve had since my first, many years ago. That was the first of Apple’s Power PC products, using the Motorola Power PC chip. It had an astonishing 120 megabytes of memory. It was a big beige-colored metal box. I took it down to the local Apple fixit shop so many times I couldn’t count. Its memory was replaced. Its hard drive was replaced. Its disk drive was replaced. Its power supply was replaced. Its motherboard was replaced. I finally ended up with the realization that the only thing on it that was original was the paint.

My until-recent computer, the iMac, started getting goofy after a few years of use. It had stripes of bright and dark in the display. It forgot things, and kept losing passwords to commonly accessed things like mail. I took it to the Apple Genius bar for diagnosis. They replaced the power supply for free. It still stunk. So I bought Apple’s Thunderbolt display which has a gorgeous 27” screen. I tried using it with my Apple Macbook Air, the really thin portable. I wasn’t satisfied with its operation, so I bought a Mac Mini which has the Thunderbolt capability. My Mini is mini in many ways, like in speed. It is achingly slow. It acts like it has no memory at all, using the hard drive all the time. Even though it comes with two gigabytes of memory it’s like the memory is not used at all. It also came with Apple’s Lion operating system, which I think is for dummies.

I have been an Apple supporter and fanboy for at least ten years. But my experience with their recent junk has turned me off entirely. When its stock goes over the $700 mark again, I am going to dump my shares.

I have pictures of our new house and its progress that I can’t use in my blog because getting them into Photoshop for processing is an arduous process. For some obscure reason using the new computer I can’t connect to the blog site. So I have to copy everything to a thumb drive and use my old computer to post a blog. It is difficult to write nice things after spending hours fighting the system. Shame on you, Apple. You have failed me.

Saturday, September 15

Ten thousand more

Progress on the house ground to a halt when the bid from the electrician came in. As usual, it was $10,000 over what we had planned. Sometimes I think all these contractors get together and say, “Okay. Whatever you can do the job for and still make a profit, add another ten grand.” Finally fed up with the ten-grand-upcharges, I said that’s it. We’ll find another way.

A small part of the silvery snakes in the attic.
Note the white plastic pipe to the right side. "What's that for?" I asked the installer. "That's the furnace's stove pipe," he answered. The furnace is so efficient it uses ordinary PVC for its exhaust!
Karla and I were making a progress payment to the air conditioning company owner. His people had finished stuffing the attics with silvery pipes going every which way. We told him about our frustration regarding the electrical job. He said, “You can do it yourself. It only has to be to code.” That got us thinking. When I was in the Navy, I was an electronics technician. Put an old vacuum-tube radar in front of me (or one of those new-fangled transistorized gadgets) and I can fix it with my eyes closed. But modern house wiring isn’t the same. It is the most heavily-scrutinized part of building a house. Every circuit, every connection, every wire run is pored over till you are drenched in sweat, waiting for the inspector to spot a piece of cable that’s too close to one of the nailing plates on a ceiling joist. Or too many outlets in a run. Or wire size too small for the circuit’s potential needs. Or a hole in a wall stud that isn’t exactly centered, making the wire going through it just a tad too close to the wall where you could possibly pound a nail to hang a picture and touch a hot wire.

We still needed someone who knows the code by heart. I could pry it out of a book, but an experienced eye is priceless. We know an electrician who used to work for a pack station at the lake. We hadn’t seen him in years, but had his phone number. Karla called the number but it didn’t go through. Had he moved? We were stymied. Then guess what? We found out that he was in the campground by the dam. He hadn’t come back up to the area in years, but when we needed him, he walked into the store. He had 45 years’ experience and said he would love to help us with the wiring. When asked what he would charge, he said, “Cost plus my salary plus ten thousand, just like everybody else.”

Just kidding.

Friday, September 7

An observation about sneezing

At this very moment I am sneezing. Why? I don’t know. There isn’t any sneeze aggravator in the air. Recently I have observed that my sneezes don’t come in twos but threes. For most of my life I have sneezed twice per sneezing session. Now I almost always sneeze three times. My current sneezing spasm has produced five sneezes. It seems to me that as you grow older such events as sneezing should diminish since the body is less capable of supporting their energy expenditure. Does this make sense? Do bodies really have less capacity to sustain such wonderful releases as the sneeze? I hope not.

I love sneezing; it feels good. Sometimes the best thoughts of my day occur during a sneeze, at least the really brief thoughts. All body pain is masked during a sneeze unless that pain is from a bruised or broken rib. If I’m tired, I get invigorated during a sneeze and for a brief few moments afterward. I would sneeze all the time if I could, but several things would have to be put off till later, such as if I’m preparing a meal for others. Ditto talking on the phone. Or while soldering a micro-picofarad capacitor to level four of an eight-level circuit board next to a multi-gigabyte memory chip during a thunderstorm while soaking wet and naked.

Or picking my nose with an untrimmed fingernail.

Wednesday, September 5

There’s a reason for the silence

I haven’t been pouring on the coals in the blogosphere recently. Sure, we’re building a house, but how much can I show about the plumbing, or the air conditioning pipes threading through the ceiling? After all, most houses have all that stuff, and once they’re inhabited, those things are invisible. The showy, cool, really neat visible stuff is not happening now.

We have a set of plans at the county planning department for a back patio and the front approach to the entry. The county guys are thinking about how they can challenge the plans to thwart our intentions, I’m sure. I mean after all, when you’re a faceless government bureaucrat with ultimate power over a mere citizen’s wishes, you have to wrack your feeble brain in order to get your way and slow progress and inflict pain; it gives meaning to your otherwise unpardonable existence. But if the plan you’re judging is exquisite and has elegance written all over it, it takes longer to do the pain thing. So you just stop the process and shove it aside.

So that’s where we are now. The county can use its age-old excuse about suffering from budget cuts and reduced staff, but it really comes down to just plain reluctance to allow mere citizens to get their way without a fight. Once the project gets going again, I’ll have some stuff to show you.

Wednesday, August 29

Jury duty ends in triumph

When we went in to the deliberation room after the prosecution and defense counsels’ final presentations, I rediscovered the real value of the jury selection process. It had taken an entire week to put this panel together. Hundreds of people were interviewed for selection. It ended up with fourteen, the jury panel and two alternates. The twelve of us made up a varied cross-section of the citizens of the county. A man who farms 11,000 acres of almonds, a woman who’s a retired executive from one of the biggest farm services companies in the world, a man who drives for United Parcel Service, a free-lance software writer, a schoolteacher, and the sharpest promoter of his own business ever to set foot in a courtroom (more on that later), plus others whose occupations I didn’t find out.

The first duty of our panel is to select a foreperson (used to be foreman, but I digress). I spoke up and said, “If this is a beauty contest, I’m out,” Chuckles. We selected a man whose job is to hire and fire workers for a large industrial construction company. He had been a jury foreman several times and knew the ropes. We had previously listened to the long speech from the judge about our duties and responsibilities; it took the better part of an hour. Our foreman summed it up in twenty seconds: Go down the list of charges, discuss each of them and vote guilty or not guilty on each. We had a general discussion of the case and everybody chimed in with his or her opinion. It was a very revealing conversation as it proved that everyone was paying very close attention during the trial and had a good understanding of the case. One real surprise to me was the man who was off by himself during all our breaks. He never got into the juror banter when we were out of the courtroom. I assumed that since he was the only black man on an all-white jury, he didn’t relate to the rest of us. But in the deliberation room, he opened up and poured out his convictions in a huge gush. He summed up in very quick succession what all of us eventually decided on, and included the reservations he had about the prosecution’s case, the star witnesses’ testimony, the defense’s strengths and weaknesses—in sum, he had the case nailed. We all agreed with his assessment. I tell ya, United Parcel Service has some pretty savvy drivers.

The Sheriff’s Department handles the service to jurors through a bailiff. If jurors need some printed documentation, the court reporter’s notes, some drinking water—that’s his responsibility. I asked if we could get Shiatsu massages and he said no but maybe he could bring in a stray cat we could pet and pass around if need be.

As the foreman read the charges against the defendant and asked for our vote, it was “guilty” from each of us in turn, twelve times each on the four charges. Probably took all of five minutes. I asked if there was a competition for fastest verdict on something like the Guinness Book of World Records. We had finished in maybe twenty minutes since we entered the deliberation room. The software writer volunteered to look that up, but said we probably couldn’t win because that’s really not one of the things that juries should aspire to. But our guy was so incredibly guilty I’m surprised they even bothered to have a trial in the first place. But of course that wouldn’t have been fair or legal. Even in Madera County we don’t have a hangin’ tree outside the courthouse for quick administration of justice.

Oh, before I forget—the sharpest promoter of his business (mentioned above) was yours truly. During the jury selection process the prosecutor asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I worked at a guest ranch in the high Sierra along the John Muir Trail that was private land in the middle of the wilderness and had been since 1885 and had the San Joaquin River going through it and log cabins and tent cabins and hot spring baths and we delivered resupplies to thousands of hikers on America’s most-traveled hiking trail and accommodated guests for a day to a week at a time and had superb dining. All one sentence—no commas.

After the trial, the jury members met with both attorneys in the hallway outside the courtroom. I thanked them for their good work and commiserated with the hapless defense attorney. White-haired, mid-fiftyish, portly, he looked like he belonged in a movie from the 1950s. “You had an impossibly tough case,” I said. “I know,” he replied, “but then sometimes the firm gives me something I can win just to keep my spirits up.” He had a good sense of humor. The prosecution attorney was a trim athletic vibrant woman whose final summation was worthy of an Oscar. She asked if I had a card—she wants to come to the ranch next summer. I gave her my business card. One of the jurors asked for one also. They took the last two business cards in my wallet. Now I have to go get some more in case I make an off-the-cuff sales pitch to some other unlikely group.

Thursday, August 23

The chosen ones

It started a week ago, and took all day today, but finally a jury was impaneled in the Criminal Courts Department Two of the Superior Court of Madera County. Not kidding—it got down to two people out of about five hundred before the two lawyers ran out of challenges (they get twenty apiece) and we had twelve fine citizens ready to pass judgment on some poor schmuck who should’ve known better than to do what he did (if he did it, that is). As a juror on an open case I can’t talk about it but in the end, I won’t be talking about it even then. Some crimes are truly disgusting. Barf bags should be distributed to all of us.

The judge predicted that the trial will be concluded by next Thursday.

I am continuing my pattern of being a single-digit-numbered juror: number 5 last time, number 4 this time. Somehow I have been lucky to constrain my juror number to only odd or even numbers so I can easily remember them. I feel good about that; it’s empowering.

I managed to get the whole courtroom laughing about something I said, but forget what it was. Oh well, the jokes are coming to me so naturally that I don’t have to take notes. Maybe some day a book will be written about Madera County’s Joking Juror. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, August 22

Time for crime

I got notice awhile ago that I would have jury duty this week. I checked in and found out that they wouldn’t be needing me Tuesday but to check back. Sure enough I was to report on Wednesday morning. So I checked in and went to the jury gathering room which holds over a hundred people, went to the back and sat on a hard wooden bench. There were plenty of soft chairs, but hey, this is law and order and justice and should be taken seriously.

I then spent the longest hour I ever experienced in my life. Around me people’s heads were bent forward as they stared at the screens of their smart phones and ebook readers. A couple of people were old-fashioned enough to have gone over to the magazine rack and grabbed something to read. I was stoic—I just observed. I made a joke or two to some nearby jurors-to-be, but mostly sat in silence and watched the parade of people going in and out of the room. Some of them had been chosen and were wearing their juror tags, green for some, orange for others, proclaiming their juror number. There was a 4, a 6, a couple of 9s and a 14! Must be an alternate. I didn’t get to see all the numbers, so I can’t say for sure if each juror covey was complete. I’ll let the judges judge for themselves.

We were told that this was an unusual situation. Seven of the courtrooms were busy, trying all kinds of cases. Normally it’s two or so cases a week, but today’s demand was high. Finally, after marching to two different courtrooms, we got to see a judge who said it was getting late and would we please come back tomorrow morning at 9:30. Odd, I thought since court normally starts around 8:30, but since tomorrow was going to be a heavy juror induction day, there was simply not enough room to get the newbies in while we veterans would be here at the same time. “Please, don’t arrive before 9:30. There isn’t enough room,” begged one of the juror handlers.

I have the feeling I’m going to be sitting on another murder trial. Yuck. I think I’ll wear my Barfo the Clown costume again tomorrow. They hadn’t seemed to have noticed that I wore it today, too, even when they confiscated my oogah horn at the entrance. They must be desperate to get butts in the jury boxes.

Wednesday, August 15

It’s so darned hot!

Going down to the house site every day is a bit too much. The recent high temperatures have been in the triple digits (Fahrenheit, not Celsius) and it simply makes a person wilt. Some of our builders have been arriving at 5AM to work till maybe noon then go home to their swimming pools, lake fronts, river fronts and other cooling venues.

Today I had to go to town on business so I stopped by the house to check on the progress. I had hoped to get a picture of the owl that lives in the great room’s rafters, but he had flown the coop. Probably fed up with having his space invaded by the plumbers installing the fire sprinklers and all the banging of hammers by the carpenters sealing up the under-floor spaces.

A straight-out-of-the-catalog garage by our house builders, but taller

The garage, the boring, dull garage, is actually quite exciting. I think it looks so huge because the walls are so much higher than normal garages’ walls. It has enough space to easily hold the array of batteries we will need to back up our solar-powered electrical system. It just makes sense to put them in the garage rather than under the house. Less of a ventilation problem too (lead-acid batteries emit hydrogen gas when charging, a fire hazard in a confined space). We can put the backup generator on the far side of the garage, making it even quieter in the house when it’s running. It means the wires from the solar panels down the hill from the house will be quite a bit longer, but the whole thing works out better overall.

This morning’s call from Randy, our project coordinator, was a bummer. The bid from the people who wanted to install our roof tiles came in roughly ten thousand dollars higher than we had planned for. Randy checked around, seeking a lower bid with another contractor, but when he factored in all the materials that would be included in the first bid, the second bid was only a thousand dollars cheaper. And the first bid was from real roofers who had worked with our exact same roofing tiles, not people who would be learning on the job. So $18,200 it is. This wasn’t our first shock price-wise. The roof tiles we had already bought cost more than the installation bid, but only by a few thousand. The well pump and tanks and pipelines came in ten thousand higher than we’d anticipated, and the plumbing is going way over our original estimate by several thousand dollars. When do we get a break?

Wait till you see how people get from ground level to the entry door in the center of the right half of the house.
We’re designing it as we speak. It will be beautiful.

We actually already got a break on all the interior doors. They’re solid maple, and oversized: taller than normal doors and wider too. Fifty dollars each! A steal! They had been ordered then never picked up by a homeowner whose house never got built. They hung around for decades, taking up space in a warehouse. I wonder if that homeowner-to-be ran out of money when he/she found out what plumbing, roofing, and water systems actually cost. I can empathize.

Thursday, August 9

It’s been awhile…

Nothing could be more boring than the construction of a garage. It’s a box; ten-foot-high walls, gable roof, big door for cars, medium-size door for people, two slider windows on the sides. Flat slab of concrete with grooves to drain any water tracked in by the car/truck/van/whatever.


So I spared the pictures. Tomorrow was going to feature the plumbing inspection, which would have been really exciting. I had seen that the plumber put a connection on the drain pipes and vent pipes that could be hooked to a hose to fill the entire mess clear to the roof. Then the inspection for leaks would prove that the system was intact from the septic tank clear to the skies above. Problem is, the inspection was today, and I didn’t go down to watch. Bummer. I could have used some excitement.

The plumbing inspection would also include the fire sprinkler system throughout the house, and all the hookups to the shower, toilets, laundry, ice makers, and so on. And hose bibbs—don’t forget them! Wow, this could have been as exciting as a mega-blockbuster 3-D IMAX movie and I missed the whole thing. I MUST keep better notes of the activities around here.

[An aside: There is a really big housefly crawling on one of my typing hands as I speak. He/She is of a variety of flies that has no fear of humans. I have seriously considered making these guys pets, but they die in a few weeks so my affection would be short lived.]

This is a Photoshop JPEG of a screen shot taken with a three-generations-old cell phone. Will miracles never cease?

Speaking of pets, we have a baby goldfish! Only one, so the others must have been eaten. My nephew Pete told me of goldfish in his experience having babies. I am tempted to remove this little inch-long fish from the main tank where there are ten big adults, but I don’t know how to determine if the little guy/gal is weaned yet. Try as I may, I can’t identify its mother by any mammary enlargement. Maybe I was not cut out to be a botanist. I mean ichthyologist. Whatever.

Thursday, August 2

A garage slab is created

I got to the site this morning thinking I was early, but missed the entire first pour from the first concrete truck. Man, these guys must get up around four or something. I guess when you know the afternoon temperature will be over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, you get to work early!

By noon, the job was done and everyone went home. Nice work.

By the numbers

I see how they did it now; the A3s go here…

All the B1s go here. Simple.

Karla laments the soon-to-be loss of this view of the trusses with the 16 by 5 foot “room” where the air handling equipment goes so the house will be cool and warm. Oh well, we do have pictures of the space.

Monday, July 30

Time to soak in the ambiance

The wall with the broom leaning against it would be terrific in glossy black.
Today Karla and I sat in plastic lawn chairs in the house and looked around at what we had wrought. A steady hot breeze blew in through the large empty window space in the “great” room, keeping us comfortable even though it was probably near a hundred degrees at four in the afternoon. We had spent quite awhile today and yesterday exploring our newly created space, wondering how we were going to finish it off. There is now a delay in construction due to the fact that our water pressure isn’t what we predicted so the fire sprinkler system has to be re-engineered. The engineers who do that are notoriously slow in coming up with solutions. Everything is on hold.

Additional roofing parts had to be ordered and since they are custom-made, even the finished roof is on hold.

Our stucco guy told us to check out a job he had done on the Big 5 sporting goods store in Oakhurst to see the quality of his work. We stopped by the store this afternoon and were extremely pleased by the beauty. It looks like the walls are carved from sandstone. I even want some of that INSIDE the house! In our house, from the south end of the great room looking north there are a couple of walls that are monumental. They can’t simply be covered in wallboard and painted white. One of them demands to be made to look like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey that was approached by the awestruck apes near the beginning of the film. Reminiscent of its shape and size, it demands to be black.

"Without these ladders, I could fit a whole grand piano in here."
The wall that has the entry doors to Karla’s piano room is just like something you’d expect to see on a tour of Aztec grandeur. Done in sandstone it would be indistinguishable.

This whole experience is really, really delicious.

I feel sorry for people who don’t turn their house’s quirky assets into magnificent fake stuff.

Tuesday, July 24

Fireplace arrives

Using his forklift, Randy picks up the fireplace.
Randy then pokes the fireplace through the big window in the "great room."
This morning a truck dropped off the 500-pound fireplace that goes in the main room. They also brought a smaller gas heater that will be in the bedroom (not shown). It got installed using a whole lot of large-diameter stainless steel chimney parts and has flexible pipes letting outside air in to the firebox and into the box’s surrounding shroud. The heat from the fire is then blown into the room at variable speeds, controlled by a handheld remote control.
Holes were cut through the fireplace's "room" prior to installing the many parts.
By three in the afternoon, the heating machine was in its space, all hooked up to its breathing apparatus.
The hand-hammered/wrought iron faceplate is still at the stove company’s office, wrapped up tightly and stored in a secure location. It cost a bunch and they don’t want things like drywall mud splashed on it or some piece of construction material falling against it and damaging it. So for now we get to look at the complexity of the fireplace’s innards.

In spite of its high-tech mass, it’s actually a simple wood-burner. Just with lots of electrical fanciness.

Starting to look like a house

Some shots from various angles.…
Looking to the west/north. This will be regarded as the back of the house.

From the west end looking back northish.

The entry will be in the hole in the center of the right portion. A deck will cascade down and to the left. The little gray box on the right end is an outhouse with a real toilet for the workers.

Sunday, July 22

Journey’s end (if you’re a wimp) and the solution (if you’re a rebel)

In Madera County north of Fresno there is a pedestrian-unfriendly intersection. It’s where State Route 41 crosses State Route 145. If you’re a law-abiding citizen on foot, your journey ends here. I am not kidding; all four corners have “Do not cross” signs.

To be legal, you’ll have to thumb a ride with a willing motorist to cross either road. Or go back to where you came from and complain to your state representative. Or—my favorite solution—charge across the road on foot, even against the red light! Jumping up and down even! Scofflaw! Rebel! Freedom fighter! Libertarian! My kinda gal/guy! Make a movie of your flagrant violation with your cell phone and post it to YouTube! Wow! This could be the start of something big!

Don’t forget where you heard about this terrific idea.

Friday, July 20

The perfect transport machine

When a car, bus or train breaks down, you’re stuck. Nothing moves. Same for an elevator, with more frightening implications. But an escalator beats all for utility; if it stops, it instantly becomes a stairway!

No sense of humor

I pointed out the words at the top of the milk carton to the checker at a supermarket where I don’t usually shop. “Look,” I said. “They misspelled ‘pasteurized’.” She didn’t laugh. I’m not shopping there anymore.

Wednesday, July 18

More on the house

They installed the Jacuzzi plumb, level, and square

Every day more work gets done on the house. Today I got to witness plumber stuff. Butch, the lead plumber, told me last week to buy and bring up the bathtub we wanted. I hadn’t realized that bathtubs get installed before the drywall goes on. Karla and I had eyed a nice Jacuzzi whirlpool tub at Lowe’s, so we decided to indulge in basic hedonistic self-indulgent sybaritic decadent immoderate bathing. What the hey—we only get one lifetime at a time on this goofy planet.

Here Butch installs the water feed for the fridge’s icemaker

One thing that surprised me is that many of the walls in the house get reinforced with plywood panels behind the drywall (sheet rock) surfaces. Apparently the house has to be strong enough that if it happened to be lifted off its foundation (unlikely since there are seventeen hurricane-proof deep anchors connected clear to the roof) and launched into low earth orbit then dropped back to earth, if it survives the heat of re-entry (very likely since it’s sheathed in fireproof materials and has an internal fire sprinkler system) it can impact the earth and only be dented a little at the impact point. Wow, we feel SO SAFE! Thank you, regulator/inspector/engineers! The old ways we’ve used for thousands of years to build houses were SO BAD! Government regulations will save us all from our sloth and ignorance, and enrich those who own and control the regulators.

Tree failure

Why does it always happen that the double-trunk part is on the road?

This morning at exactly 4:05 I heard a tree crash to the ground. I looked around the house after daylight came but found nothing. I did my usual morning chores then left to go down to the house site to make a progress payment to our contractor. Below our corral I was stopped by a large tree across the road. I went to the phone book for the number to call for the Madera County Public Works Tree Removal Service. Those stinkers must have intentionally left their number out of the book, so I called the next best thing—neighbor Bill.

I was basing my need for help on thinking I had been left with only the tiniest of our many chain saws; usually the big saws go to the high ranch for the summer. Imagine my surprise when I went out to the woodshed and discovered a brand new, never-been-used saw with an 18-inch bar. It still had the label advertising its features attached to the handle. Well now—watch out tree, here we come!


It was a big bull pine, and the part on the road was its double trunk. These trees often split off to many trunks when they get to be around 20 or so feet tall. This one was probably 80 feet tall. Bill and I worked on it for over an hour and reduced the part on the road to firewood-length pieces. For a short time, we considered felling its companion tree, which is also threatening to fall. Since I had been up since around four this morning, I begged off, claiming being pooped out already with more work to do today. Ah, the joys of living in the boondocks!


Friday, July 13

No, I haven’t died…

…not yet at least. It’s been awhile since I wrote a new entry to the blog. The reasons are myriad, and include being too busy, too tired at the end of the day, and too depressed because of the increasing intensity of obligations when building a house and paying for it as we go along. So far, everything we have shown of the house-building is totally paid for. The only thing we bought on credit is the astonishingly expensive roof covering. Our contractor’s mouth fell open when I told him what it cost. But we don’t want a shoddy house, so we bit the bullet. After all, the original ceramic tile roof we bought twenty years ago was to be a signature piece, our feather-in-the-cap. When the county building department denied it, the price of the house went up.

Thurman sprays, Chad digs

The start of this week was intense because we came to a point in building when we had to make a whole series of snap decisions. The air conditioning people are going to be putting ducts in the ceiling spaces, and that means we have to know where the duct from the stove hood will be. Precisely. Originally we planned to have the stove on a counter space where we could have seating on the opposite side, facing the living room (excuse me: Great Room). But hanging stove vents that go up to a fourteen-foot ceiling are much more expensive (by thousands) than the kind that are mounted on a wall. Move the stove, save thousands. We moved the stove. Then, having a cooktop and a wall oven means we have another venting problem from the oven. It will have to be on an outside wall, which doesn’t work design-wise. Otherwise, more expensive ducting since it’s a gas oven. Electric ovens can be anywhere. Gas ovens are impossible to find. One sales rep told us that only 3% of wall ovens are gas, and he hadn’t sold one in decades. So we settled on a gas range. We toured the hundreds of appliances at a place called Pacific Sales. They have everything a kitchen builder could ever imagine buying, and very good prices. A Viking range caught our eye. It is more beautiful than even the Viking stovetops and wall ovens. Then we saw how well it fit, design-wise, with the other Viking stuff. The french door refrigerator matches the stove’s design and does not have a ghastly ice and water dispenser through the door. The stove hood has infinitely variable fan speeds and is as quiet as a pleasant dream made on a down pillow.  The dishwasher is a gem. Its interior is entirely stainless steel—NO plastic parts whatever. The door holds its position regardless of whether it’s fully open or anywhere else in its travels, the racks are infinitely adjustable for any possible arrangement of dishes, glasses, and whatever. There are about a million wash settings, or a simple “Get ’em clean” command. Simple. We love Simple.

Tomorrow I have to go to Fresno to buy the bathtub. The plumber has to have it now for some reason, even though all the rest of the bathroom stuff can wait. It’s a Jacuzzi. Indulgence? Perhaps. Karla and I were going through the Lowe’s store and fell in love with a funky vanity for the half-bath. It will make anyone who goes into that room break out in a huge smile.

I’m having second thoughts about my preferred toilets made by Kohler. They’re one-piece, and rather elegant, but we bought one for our current house and after a year it is showing problems with its flapper valve not always closing the way it should. Consumer Reports magazine says American Standard makes the best toilet, but it’s two-piece and not as elegant looking. So what do I do? Look good, or work every time? Tough choice.

Early Sunday morning I have to meet with another stucco contractor. Our first stucco bid was nearly $50,000. That’s ridiculous. We’re hoping to get that down by half or near so.

Garage goes here

We had some grading done today for the garage. Our good man Thurman Wallis along with his son Chad did their usual earth-moving magic and provided a gorgeous space for the garage. Then Chad moved soil away from the house in a county-inspector-pleasing way so water drainage near the house meets their specs. There was a large oak tree in the way so he couldn’t smooth things out the way we wanted and they asked me if I could finish off the pretty parts with my little road grader. You bet, I said. Their work was a bargain at $1,200. Paid for.

There’s more to come, and I’ll try to keep current. Wish me luck.

Saturday, July 7

The Higgs boson

If you have any interest in physics and the quest to determine what it is that gives mass to the universe, the recent results of experiments conducted at the supercollider on the border of France and Switzerland should have you and the science world on the edge of ecstasy. Sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons) are accelerated to near light speed and run around miles (kilometers, actually) of a track then smashed into each other while scientists look at the debris of the collision to find what matter is made of. Finally they found the Holy Grail: The Higgs boson, the thing that gives mass to the otherwise only-electric-field-stuff of the universe. I have tried to understand all this, only to come to the conclusion that in my experience the only really fast things that most people can relate to is cars.

The first brand new car I ever bought was a Porsche. It was fast enough to get the second speeding ticket of my life when I was racing to Fresno to a surprise birthday party for a friend after I had overslept. The CHP chase car was after me for almost fifteen miles before he caught me. When I saw the red lights in my rear view mirror I pulled the parking brake handle to slow down, knowing that it wouldn’t trigger the brake lights, which would show the cop that I knew I was speeding and was guilty. After he handed me the ticket for going 70 MPH, he asked, casually, “How fast were you going?” He had only a crappy Oldsmobile and couldn’t match my speed. “I really don’t know,” I responded. “I just knew I was late for a party for a very dear friend.” I was hitting at least 120 MPH, and was proud. Flat straight road, early morning, no traffic, no problem. Probably cost me a hundred bucks.

My first speeding ticket was when I was 16 or 17 years old. I was building up speed in a 36- horsepower 1957 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia to get up a steep hill near Bass Lake. The speed limit in that space was 25 MPH, but I needed much more than that in order to get up the hill without having to shift down to second gear. The young deputy sheriff who nabbed me must have thought I was a super criminal and had me get out of the car and spread-eagle against the side while he frisked me for weapons. Fortunately, he didn’t find them and I was able to continue my crime spree, robbing a bank and a liquor store before retiring that night to my hideout.

Friday, July 6

Another way to build a house

I found this little three-and-a-half-inch-diameter gem a couple of days ago, clinging to an oak branch. The use of color and contrast are so pleasing; the lightness of weed stems and wads of spider web outside play against the darkness of horse tail hair on the interior.

We are currently in the throes of choosing the color for the exterior of our new house. It’s several hundreds of square feet and had better be right the first time. Our preferences are narrowing to the various hues of the soil surrounding the house. Just like this little bird’s nest, we too can blend with the surroundings.

Enough house—here’s Big Ben

I looked out the kitchen window and here’s Ben, former World Champion Something or Other Mule, munching on the apricot tree! I let him keep on eating the leaves because he seemed to enjoy them so much and besides if he eats a few twigs with them I can park the car underneath in the shade.

Tuesday, July 3

Light and shadow

It gets confusing—when I walked through the house it was hard to discern what was solid material and what was shadow. The truss picture here makes my point. Near the bottom center is the odd thing; a series of squares punches through the triangles and looks like a mirror reflection of something else entirely.

Looking down on the patio area where shadows take center stage.

Kim had to ride the boom into an oak tree in order to free up a truss that got snagged on an old dead branch.

Time off for a day. Tomorrow is Independence Day here in the US. Hang up your belt and hat and go watch a fireworks show at Bass Lake.

Monday, July 2

Adding triangles

Up goes a whole stack of eight or so trusses
So far we’ve had nothing to look at but rectangular shapes. This morning the crew added something new—triangles! They go on top of the squares. By noon half the structure was already up. Amazing.
Of course, it still helps to be part monkey
Starting to look interesting and complicated
I forgot my real camera, so these are cell phone pix. Sorry. Tomorrow I’ll do better, I promise.

Saturday, June 30

Roof arrives

The metal is very deeply sculpted. This picture doesn't show the true depth.
When the county building code folks told us we couldn’t use our real ceramic roof tile because it’s so old it wasn’t rated for energy efficiency, we searched for an approved tile that looks similar. We found it in Decra metal tiles. They’re made of zinc/aluminum coated steel that has crushed stone bonded to it. It isn’t cheap. In fact the driver who hauled the load from the north Fresno Home Depot store was told by his manager, “Be careful. This is an expensive load.”

He was careful and the five pallets arrived in fine condition.

Big beams

Karla and I went by the house site on the way to a day of shopping for the high ranch. She loved what was going on so far since she hadn’t seen any of it since the floor joists were finished. Before leaving, we watched the raising of some of the support beams. They’re big, and one of them is immense. But the crew moved quickly and efficiently and got them in place in practically no time at all.
Big beams get muscled into place

But BIG beams…
…get a little help from a machine.

“Hm-m-m,” thinks Karla. “So THAT’S how they did the pyramids.”
Karla didn’t really think that. Just kidding.

Thursday, June 28


Rule number one about hydraulics: Plumbing is the bane of civilization, humanity’s greatest folly. Being closely related to plumbing, hydraulic systems are doomed to failure. Often. Constantly. Eternally. The rule of frequency of failure:
  • Easily-accessible hydraulics fail the least.
  • Difficult-to-access hydraulics fail the most.
Randy crawls under the boom, freeing a bound-up hose
That was today’s problem. The lift we depend on decided that its longest hydraulic hose was due for failure, which it did. Not only longest, but most difficult-to-reach since it’s inside the 30-foot-long extensible boom. Randy was up to the task, having replaced that line several times. But this failure had a novel feature since the hose was trapped between a thick steel cable and a pulley and had to be cut loose with a power saw.

My job today was traveling back and forth getting the needed tools from our shop a mile away on our bad road. But we prevailed and the lift now works. Meanwhile, the building crew were busy putting on the additional bracing needed before the roof goes on. And plumbing up the walls. It’s so nice to have plumb walls. For the workers, it could be called a plumb job. Ha ha.

The capper on the day was the good news that Karla would be home from Florence Lake tonight. I can’t wait to take her down to the new house early tomorrow morning and watch her face light up as she sees the potential of living in this wonderful space. I was so pleased today as I saw the actual sizes and shapes of all the rooms we worked so long to plan. The reality is so much more exciting than our guesswork as we laid everything out on paper. The window sizes are so much different from what I imagined. They’re huge! We can see forever, and the vistas are so much greater since the house is so high off the ground. The dining room is big enough for a thousand people. We can easily accommodate a party of two thousand in the great room. Even the bathrooms can allow several people to use the facilities simultaneously if they like each other.

Well, almost.
It helps if your DNA retains ancient monkey-ness

The different ceiling heights starts to show in the outside wall profile

Again, the monkey genes come in handy
It will be hard to be unhappy in this wonderful house!

Wednesday, June 27

Instant house (almost)

Pick a wall space and nail the plans for all to see
Just follow the plans and put the right numbered panel in the right place and repeat. The pictures tell the story that started around 7:30 this morning. I expect all the wall panels will be in place by this afternoon, exterior and interior. Wow. Four workers and one guy who knows this place by heart and can do it without plans.
Stand the wall panels up one at a time
Nail them in place
Later, much later, put a grand piano in this room
Bring up more wall panels with the loader
Then start putting up interior walls
Tomorrow, we may start putting up the roof. That takes more time since each of the pieces has to be braced to the one next to it, then add another, and brace it, and add another….

The really fast stuff is over. After the roof is on, then we think about finishing the exterior and interior. That will take time, too.