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.