Tuesday, June 4

More house stuff

Progress on our new house keeps progressing. Next week the second coat of stucco, the brown coat it’s called, goes on. After it sits for a month, the color coat will be applied. We have stretched out the stucco process for as long as possible on the advice of our plastering man who says the longer each coat sits, the likelier it will be to last forever. The final coat will have some chemical magic in it that assures its integrity forever; we are told it will never crack.

The inside walls and ceilings are finished. Wallboard, texturing, priming and the final coat of paint are done. We were lucky to get the wallboard contractor we have. He does mostly commercial work and is a perfectionist. There isn’t a crooked edge or bulging wall to be seen. Next we will install the light fixtures, and our electrician will put in the smoke alarms and other such stuff. The air conditioning people will install all their vent louvers and thermostats. The plumber will install all the feed valves on the little copper pipes sticking out of the walls, put in the water heater, and faucets and things. The fireplace will get its facing, along with the gas log heater in the bedroom.

Nearly 4,000 continuous watts of free power will stream off these panels, sun willing.
Next we will be installing all the electrical fixtures and switches. We are having our electrician return to help us connect the solar panel array through its underground conduit, then route the wires in the garage to the batteries and inverters and stuff. He knows the building code requirements; we don’t. Then we drag about 200 feet of wire from the garage to the house through another big fat conduit. Finally we flip a switch and enjoy mother nature’s 100% organic solar electric power as it courses through an LED light bulb, one of the dozens that we’ll be using throughout the house.

It’s interesting how minimal your house's interior finish can be in order to be signed off by the county and you are given permission to occupy it (and start paying property tax on it!). After electrical inspection all we need is a toilet, a sink, a cookstove and waterproof flooring in required areas. We have to prove to the inspector that our shower floor is water tight, then we can tile it, along with both bathroom floors, the laundry, and finally the kitchen floor.
Mighty nice natural stone tile! This is a sample on display at the tile store.
We will make all our tile floors using stone in various colors and patterns.
After changing our minds at least a dozen times, we are going to be using natural stone for all the tiled floors. A business in North Fresno, Creative Tile, has some stunning examples of the stuff, and it’s hard to want anything else after seeing what they’ve done. The rest of the house’s flooring will most likely be solid maple. We are getting away from the idea of using wall-to-wall carpet anywhere, opting instead for some nice rugs where needed. Karla’s gorgeous Steinway grand piano will be sitting pretty in its own room on a Mayan-influenced wool rug.
The only wall not covered with wallboard. It will be covered in shiny black porcelain tile instead.
There will be tile on the Black Monolith wall between the entry and the Great Room. I want the tile to fit precisely on its wall without grout so it looks like the monolith shown in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick sci-fi movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie when the ape-men approached the mysterious monolith, they tossed their war clubs into the air and we are transitioned to the space age. (Does anyone out there know where we can get a couple of stuffed ape-men? Or at least a couple of clubs? We can put them next to the potted ficus tree.)

Next we have to build the very long front entry staircase and install safety railing on the back deck. It's been a year so far putting this whole project together and it looks like we still have a few months to go, giving ourselves enough time to change our minds at least a dozen times before doing any particular thing. Except, of course, the Black Monolith—that’s set in stone.

Smart advertising?

Lots of Web sites have advertising that appears alongside their regular content. Some of them accept and display ads that are delivered to them by sites you may have visited earlier. After I have been on a site like Audi.com/us drooling over their cars, Audi ads may appear when I’m on the Yahoo site for instance. Today an ad from The Home Depot appeared in a news site I visit daily. I had just ordered a total of nine eight-inch and twelve-inch white glass globe lights from them, so they thought it would be smart to push an ad to get me to buy some eight-inch and twelve-inch glass globe lights from them. Hey, Home Depot, I just did!

Monday, June 3


How many times do you see the word everyday used when the user means every day? When I went to school, the word everyday meant common, usual, ordinary: “He wore his everyday outfit, jeans and a t-shirt.” Contrast that to every day, which means each individual day. “Every day she drives to work except on weekends.” Several years ago I ran across a magazine ad for Toyota. The slogan they used was, “Toyota. Everyday.” I was shocked! I had worked for an advertising agency in my late twenties and was acutely attuned to using the correct words. I sent a letter to the agency that produced the Toyota ad and pointed out their misuse of the word. The very next week, the same ad appeared again, corrected to “Toyota. Every day.” (Even though corrected, it was still a dumb slogan in my opinion.)

On our bank’s Web site, they use the term Logout to close the online session. Logout is different from Log Out. Log Out is an action—when finished with whatever you’re doing on a site, you Log Out.

Not to be a fuddy-duddy, but during my life I have seen many terms change their form from two words to one, or even from several words to an expression using capital letters. Probably only a few of my readers will remember this one: LS/MFT. It was used by a cigarette brand and meant Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. The military term SNAFU comes to mind. LOL started out meaning Lots Of Love. Then it became Laughing Out Loud. What’s next? Liver and Onion Lunch? Lovers Often Lose?

Here’s one that may surprise you—did you know that the term “today” was as recently as the late 1940s expressed as To Day or To-Day? That was news to me when I discovered it while researching some old advertising.

I finally succumbed to the realization that in spite of my protestation, the world moves on. “Thingschange. Ohwell, getusedtoit,” Ithought. “Whatthehey any way.”

Wednesday, April 3

Busy day

To put in our solar power system we have to build a support structure to hold the 15 big panels. We were instructed by the engineers to dig 10 holes to hold the uprights, two-inch galvanized water pipe. Nine of the holes were easy; the tenth couldn’t happen without either dynamite or a bulldozer. I sent an email to the county plan checker in the engineering department and he wrote back saying to put some foot-long pieces of reinforcing bar into some six-inch-deep holes in the rock, then pour concrete on the whole thing to hold up the pipe.
Four pieces of rebar will anchor one of our solar array legs. I hope the banana taffy I used to glue them in holds.
Today I drilled four holes in the rock with our rotary hammer drill. The drill bit had put many holes in many rocks before, and was a teensy bit dull. So that means it takes longer. Way longer. So here I am, leaning on this chattering machine, watching as not chips, but powder, emerges from the holes. Oddly, neither my hands nor my arms got sore and tired. But my gluteus maximus sure did. All of ’em.
Pure dance. The shovel handler tosses wet stucco up to the platform, while the plasterers spread it on the wall. This is the garage—the house is finished.
Meanwhile the stucco guys slapped another ten thousand pounds of concrete onto the house. Those guys work in a way that would make a Broadway choreographer jealous. Not a wasted motion, just smooth coordination between the guy who tosses sand and cement into the mixer, dumps it into a wheelbarrow, and tosses the mixture with a flat shovel onto the big flat boards on the platforms way up in the air where more guys are slathering it onto the walls. It’s quite a show.

Not to be slighted work-wise, Karla used her favorite chainsaw to clear up a whole bunch of brushy messy wood from a gorgeous oak tree down the hill from the garage. So it was work, work, work today. We went home tired and satisfied. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. Yay.

Cell phone pix: Tom

Tuesday, April 2

Such a deal!

I can’t believe those women just walked past such an opportunity to save.

Cell phone pix: Tom Hurley

Monday, April 1

Make a hole…

Tim directs as Luke eases the Bobcat onto our temporary platform
…times ten. Well, nine. When we started the project, we discovered that the little Bobcat hole digger can’t be used on too steep a slope without tipping forward. So we built a temporary platform out of a bunch of lumber and drove the Bobcat onto it. Worked like a charm.
A very nice hole, one foot in diameter by three feet deep was the result
One of the places where we have to put a leg of the solar panel support structure has a huge rock in it. There’s no way the auger could cut through it, so we are going to propose to the county building department that we put some little holes in the rock, stick bolts in them, then anchor a support for the solar panels to the rock.
We'll tell the inspector that this rock goes all the way to China
It took only a little over an hour to put in nine holes. Try that with a shovel!
As an aside, we discovered that the square tubing we have to use as part of the structure is over-long by almost double. It seems odd that the supplier, which supposedly cut everything according to their own engineering drawings, would be so far off. Waste of money, methinks.

Cell phone pix: Tom Hurley

Friday, March 29

Starting the solar project

Today we decided for sure where the solar panels will go. We also decided which “south” to use, what I like to call “local south.” It isn’t magnetic south which is 14° off true in these parts, and not even true south itself. Why? Because off to the east is a rather tall mountain that keeps the sun off our place till 8 or later in the morning, depending on season. To the west is a tall tree and the garage, neither of which we want to cut down. So we’re aiming the panels south-ish, slightly to the west, toward the middle of the southern exposure.

We will be digging ten holes a foot in diameter by roughly three feet deep. Each hole will hold a piece of pipe supporting a structure on which the panels will be secured. We have reserved a hole-digging machine for Monday, and in the meantime will be pouring water into little trenches surrounding the wooden stakes that mark the spots, hoping it softens the soil a bit.
In the background is the mountain that keeps the sun off of us for several hours in the morning.

Rocks are known to be in the area. When the trenches for water and power lines were dug, some rocks that you wouldn’t want to fall on your foot came out of the ground, one as big as a baby elephant, others the size of koalas and anteaters. And of course squirrel-size, dog-size, and horse-turd-size stones were abundant. I hope that’s all we find in the ten holes! we’re digging. Wish us luck.

Cell phone photo: Karla Hurley

Wednesday, March 27

Starting to look like a house…

Yesterday Kevin and his crew slapped “mud” on the house and it started to look really solid, not like a bunch of tar paper, expanded metal and chicken wire. Eight guys can move a lot of material and in this, their first day, they covered a lot of territory. But we got only one day’s work from them since they had to head off to San Francisco to finish another job. They’ll return next Tuesday and may wrap up the first of three coats by week’s end. Then we’ll wait several weeks to let it cure before adding more.

Karla is pleased to see so much stucco get slapped onto the house
At the west end of the house their scaffolding is four levels high. I asked him if they get nervous when they’re that far off the ground. “We did a job right smack up against a freeway in Hollywood that was eight levels,” he told me. “So this is no big deal.”

Sunday, March 24

A clean bill of health (aside from being crazy)

On Monday March 18 I experienced a weird event. At noon Karla and I had just finished eating a tuna sandwich when I got hit with what the doctors call a mini seizure. It was brief—a five-to-ten-second feeling of fainting accompanied by a strong bad taste in my mouth like bitter/sour/vile. The bad taste lasted exactly as long as the fainting period, then I was fine. It was over.
I brushed the incident off. “Let’s go down to the new house and do something,” I said. We did. Then at four o’clock the same thing happened again, only less severe. We decided that I had a problem that should be looked at and drove back to the old house to change into cleaner clothes. Then we headed down the road to Oakhurst, the closest medical facility. On the way I had another episode, lighter than the two previous ones. After arriving at the Oakhurst hospital they examined me then called the ambulance to take me to Fresno. I was checked in at the Community Regional Medical Center, which is the huge hospital that has an affiliation with The University of California San Francisco as a training facility.

I spent at least the first 30 hours in the emergency ward (in a private room, believe it or not!). During that time I ate exactly one small glass of apple juice and half a white-bread turkey sandwich, but mostly didn’t feel hungry. I was wheeled to various rooms for tests: first a CT scan, then electroencephalographic stuff, blood tests, sonograms, you name it. Several doctors interviewed me, having me recount what I had experienced. In the meantime nurses took blood pressure and other tests almost hourly. Nobody could agree with finality what I had experienced, so more tests were ordered. The best one was the MRI. Wow! Star Wars! 2001: A Space Odyssey! What a cool machine, this hulking massive thing with a General Electric logo the size of a cow embossed over its huge maw, the entrance to hell that must intimidate at least 90% of the people who confront it for the first time. Even when idle it roars like a blast furnace in a steel mill. Wow, I’m going into that thing near-naked and will be pummeled with forces unimaginable fifty years ago! I am fitted to the tight coffin-like tray that will keep me immobile while massive beams of raw force course through my body to expose my innermost being. The noise is near-deafening. The operator was happy that I had brought my own foam earplugs which were much better than the ones provided by the hospital. I always have them in my pocket in case I have to use a chain saw or our road grader, both of which are very noisy. The shrill screeches, roars, battering booms and perky bongo-drum tappings were a weird cacophony that at first was confusing. Then I realized that when you’re looking down from the top of the head you use a different frequency and repetition rate than you would need when looking from the side or the front since you’re looking through a different mass. I tried to guess which angle they were probing from as the sounds varied. It was fun.

After the 30- to 40-minute scan, I was so jazzed I persuaded the operator to take me to her inner sanctum and show me what the scans had revealed.  She pointed to the thumbnail images on the console then called them up one by one to show the various views she had recorded. “Here you can see that your brain has gotten a little smaller because of age. That’s normal.” Overall there was nothing abnormal that she could see, but she pointed out the white fringe on the outside of the brain. “Those are dead cells; it’s normal.” I saw that the center of the brain was black. I was told that was fluid. Water on the brain? Then I had to leave because there was another patient to be scanned.

I kept up my sense of humor during this entire episode. Making jokes, getting people around me to laugh at my silly comments. Highlights involved the urine bottle. Having only deposited about two inches in the bottle, I handed it to Karla and said, “Here. Take it to the sink and fill it with warm water. I want them to think I can pee like a horse.” She refused, being a rational human being. Another urine bottle joke: Pointing to the urine bottle I told the on-duty nurse that the apple juice tasted awful.

Every time the nurses took my temperature, they would slip a plastic cover onto the thermometer probe, then discard the cover afterwards. I told one nurse that I could save the hospital millions of dollars if they simply cut off the closed tip of the used probe cover, hand the cover to the patient and say, “Here. This is your drinking straw. Don’t lose it.”

During this entire episode I was interviewed by several physicians. The lasting impression I got was that every one of them marveled at my condition, especially since I wasn’t taking any medication and hadn’t had a primary care physician for over a decade. My cholesterol level was perfect. My blood pressure was perfect. My everything else was perfect. At the end of my stay, when the nurse entered my last blood pressure stats into the computer I heard her say under her breath, “Unbelievable—perfect.”

My most vivid impression of the entire experience is about the quality of the staff at the hospital. The people were warm, concerned about my condition, and resolutely dedicated to a very high standard of care. When I asked one of them how she felt about what she was doing, she responded that she was very happy to be working at this facility; it was the best thing she could ask for. What a valuable asset to have here in Central California!

All in all it was a beautiful experience. My health was perfect according to everyone who tested or interviewed me. I was thinking about what could have made the whole episode even better and came up with the following made-up scenario:

    After three days I am being discharged from the hospital. Karla drives up the sweeping driveway of the beautifully landscaped entrance plaza. I'm sitting in the wheelchair chatting with the pretty young woman volunteer who brought me down from the ninth floor. The car approaches, and the volunteer starts to push the chair toward it when suddenly there is a commotion behind us.

    A woman bursts through the hospital's front door and runs toward us.

    “Mr. Hurley! Mr. Hurley! We think this is yours! You forgot it!” She hands me a folded piece of red fabric. I open it and see that it’s a cape with a big red and yellow capital “S” logo in the center.

Wednesday, February 20

A couple of Ben pix

It’s been awhile since I’ve shown grandson Benjamin. He’s still growing and getting smarter by the day. Here he is reading about the physics of water—how it can be in vapor phase, liquid, or solid. He is especially interested in how water crystals, always hexagonal, can be unique. No two are alike.

Here Ben examines water crystals. He spent more than an hour increasing his knowledge of the subject. He found out that you can use this stuff called snow to make a ball.

You can throw the ball and a dog with no name (background) will chase after it. But the dog won't bring it back to you—that's something the dog will have to learn. Ben is a willing teacher, so that will happen before too long. The ball may have to be made of something other than snow since that's not always available. Ben is now studying the physical attributes of rubber to see if it can be made into a viable ball.

Photos: Hilary Hurley Painter

We got snow!

Rain gauges don't measure snow very well
 For only the second time since we’ve lived here (30 plus years) we got a whole lot of snow all at once. We measured six inches (150 mm) this morning before the sun came up and it started melting away.

Three of the dogs accompanied us. The fourth, who is yet to be named, stayed back—he's only four months old.
Karla and I took a hike down the road a little over a mile to the new house; it wasn’t drivable due to so many fallen trees. Some parts of the road had become like inch-deep mud pudding where the sun melted the snow.

Grampa and nephew? Only they know for sure.

On the way she spotted a set of bear tracks, “…a momma and a baby,” she remarked. I questioned her observation—“How do you know it isn’t a grampa and a nephew?”

The view south from the new house's bedroom window.
For the next few days we will be cleaning up after the storm. Several trees around the old house shed a whole lot of limbs. I learned that if you want to avoid having to clean up after a snow storm, don’t introduce non-native trees that aren’t immune to the local weather. There wasn’t any damage to the trees at our new house site.

’Snow fun when you want to say it’s snowing

It is uncommon for us to get snow here at only 1,600 feet elevation in Central California, but it’s happening right now. I would like to blog about it and post the blog as it happens, but when I try to connect to the blogosphere via satellite, I can’t do it. Turns out the snow builds up on the dish part of our antenna, thereby changing its shape at microwave frequencies and sending our signal to Mars or Jupiter instead of the relay satellite in orbit around Earth. Dang.

The upside is that my hordes of readers on Mars and Jupiter get my post instead. Due to the distance between Earth and Mars and Jupiter, by the time their comments arrive at my satellite dish, the snow has melted and I can’t receive them. But I know they’re there, and thank all of them anyway.

Will follow up with pictures later today.

Monday, February 4

Speed on steroids

Living in the boondocks has its drawbacks. Like not getting fast Internet speeds. Today we got a new satellite system installed, replacing the old satellite system we have had for over ten years. It’s fast. There’s a Web site that I look at occasionally which consists of 50 or so time-lapse screen-filling full-color satellite images of weather over half the continent. It usually took three or four minutes to load all the images before it would play. This afternoon, it took less than ten seconds!

Four-minute download reduced to under ten seconds!
Wow! Civilization-speed Internet in the wild! Using the new system I wrote an email to a friend, and even before I hit the Send button, I got her reply!

I am awed. I’m also odd, which rhymes.

Saturday, February 2

Walls get packed

The insulation people came and in less than six hours had all the exterior walls, the floor and the ceilings throughout the house packed full of insulation. The ceilings got the thickest fiberglass, which measures nearly a foot thick. The exterior walls got the next thickest, along with the underside of the floors. The entire house is a soft cocoon now, and when you walk through the silence is deafening.

"I'll be making music in a room where the walls are packed with candy!"

Some of the interior walls also got insulated for soundproofing. Karla is shown in the piano room, which got the most insulation of all since grand pianos are really loud. That room also got some sound-deadening board between it and the rest of the house’s interior. Here she stands by one wall where, when the crew ran out of the gray-brown material on the left, cleverly substituted pink cotton candy.

Sunday, January 27

Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)

A rock song of 1988 by the same name sums up what happened to us. Saturday we awoke to NO INTERNET. That’s like NO COFFEE or the TOILET HAS VANISHED. It’s amazing how our lives have been altered by the Internet. Here in the boondocks we don’t have newspaper delivery. Our mail comes to a post office box over an hour’s drive away.

Our particular problem involves a satellite hookup to the Internet. The provider, HughesNet, has been very reliable with only a few hiccups in service. But Saturday our satellite modem lit only two of its five lights, Power and LAN. System, Transmit and Receive were dark. I used my computer to reboot the system, hoping to get it going. No luck. I tried over and over for a long time, then gave up and called their service number. After responding in my best computer-like voice to their computer-voice questions I was told to wait for the next human. Priscilla came on the line after a twenty-minute wait and told me that the company was doing maintenance on the system and was keeping everyone offline till 8:00 PM Eastern time, 5:00 Pacific. Odd, I thought, doing maintenance on a Saturday during daytime. Usually that’s an overnight task when everyone’s asleep.

By 5:30 Pacific time we still didn’t have service, so I called again. After the usual talk-to-the-computer interval, I got ahold of a human whose name I forget. He told me that their tests showed our modem to be faulty. Something about the transmit/receive function having a ground fault. We would have to get it replaced. I knew enough about electronics to have a strong suspicion that the technician was full of beans. Sure enough, after we ended the conversation the system rebooted and we had Internet again!

What was going on? We have been receiving literature in the mail from HughesNet about their spiffy new satellite’s capability. Generation 4 they call it. Ten times speed on downloads! It seemed miraculous and was competitive with the kind of connection you’d get from a local landline link. Were they trying to get us to upgrade? We were suspicious.

Today, Sunday, we awoke to no connection to the Internet. I tried the usual re-booting procedures to get the modem working. Nothing. So I turned it off. With no connection to the outside, we resorted to doing human things, like looking at the world right around us. Rocks, trees, clouds, that kind of stuff. We took a couple of long walks. We saw turkey tracks in the mud. Deer tracks too. The breeze was crisp. Hawks soared above. The air was refreshing; puffy clouds gleamed in the sunlight. The dogs romped and asked us to throw things they could retrieve. We talked and talked.

About 5 o’clock I turned the modem back on. All the lights came on. We were re-connected to the world!

Hooray (I think).

Comets, Chile, chili, solid and steady

Every day the first Internet site I visit is Astronomy Picture of the Day. You should too!
For years I have watched as less-than-able American writers have infiltrated the media: newspapers, magazines, advertising and especially the Internet’s innumerable outlets. It seems they are “learning” their craft in universities where the instructors themselves aren’t very well educated. Recently I read a newspaper article where a horse got tangled in a cattle shoot. My reaction was “Oh chute!” Instructions on my new coffee maker stated that the heating indicator would change from blinking to solid. Steady on, I thought. This morning on the radio a CBS News reporter said the Congress was loathe to take on budget issues. He meant loath.

Ten year anniversary. That one really rankles. Whatever happened to Tenth Anniversary? And if I see another recipe that calls for chiles, I’ll reject it; I can’t imagine the difficulty of incorporating an entire South American country into my meal.

It’s disturbing how these writers/reporters/commentators don’t know the difference between it’s and its. You’re and your make up the subject of a funny piece of Facebook wisdom I recently downloaded and printed to stick on Karla’s desk.

Not to brag, but I learned all this stuff in elementary school.

So what does this have to do with comets? The intrepid news media brainiacs have given an approaching comet the name ISON. It could be one of the brightest comets in history. The name they gave it, though, is the acronym of the organization that announced its discovery, not its real designation which is C/2012 S1. ISON is the International Scientific Optical Network, a Russian astronomy organization. I guess it’s simpler to say ISON than Comet Nevski-Novichonok C/2012 S1, so I'll begrudgingly grant them their point. Their still dummys tho.

Friday, January 25

Notes on a birthday

Today I got a bunch of Happy Birthday notes from my Facebook friends. What are those notices called? On Twitter, they’re called Tweets. On Facebook, are they Facies? Feces? I get a lot of those.
Many happy returns of the day? But it's foggy!
One of the writers wished me many happy returns of the day. I went outside to take a look at the day; it was foggy. It’s been foggy all day. Is this an allusion to my advancing-age mind? I don’t remember as much as I used to, but then I don’t think as much either. I’m still able to get through a day without messing up (I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong).
Fresh! Yummy!
Anyhow, to cheer up after getting an intimation of approaching senescence I looked around and came upon our two half-barrels that once held strawberry plants. They’re now brimming with miners lettuce, a tasty wild plant. The leaves were dewy from the fog.
They bring back memories. Better than eating the leaves from a…um-m-m…I forget.
 Eating them brought back memories of having eaten miners lettuce, so it’s cathartic I guess.

Garage rolldown door installed

Putting it together section by section
On Wednesday the two guys we hired through Costco drove down from Modesto to install our garage door. They made pretty quick work of it, having done this many times. When they were finished, we marveled at the new technology. Imagine!—at the press of a button the door opens. Press again and it closes. What will they think of next?!
The unique thing about this door is that it goes down, not up. Sure saves attic space!

Sunday, January 20

How to cut a four-foot-deep trench

The SierraTel people put in a phone line for us using only a Caterpillar tractor with a backhoe and three Caterpillar bulldozers. How simple!

The most impressive piece of equipment was the ’dozer with the giant four-foot-long ripper. It had to make four passes in order to bury a conduit pipe and a 6-pair wire cable. The first pass gets the ground accustomed to being rent asunder. The second pass widens the channel a teensy bit. The third pass is made with the cable/conduit laying attachment. The final pass smooths everything out and puts the earth back together (relatively).

I was mightily impressed with the driver’s controls to pilot the brawny beast. It’s all done with fingertips! A nice comfy seat gives the operator a good view of the surroundings. In the seat’s soft padded armrests are the controls for speed and steering. If you have thumbs and fingers, you can drive. Steering is done with your choice of the four fingers on your left hand; only two are needed to go left or right or you can use only one if you don’t mind moving it from one paddle to the other. You could steer it with your nose if you don’t mind not seeing where you’re going. Or your big toe if it’s warm enough to take your shoes and socks off. You could even steer this thing with your obedience-trained dog’s paw if you…oh dear—I’m getting too far afield here.

The pictures tell the story better than I ever could.
The mud-coated portion of the ripper is a whole four feet long
Here it is going down to gopher-land
Here it is fully down and ready to rip!
Watch out gophers, ground squirrels, worms, roots, coffins, alien UFO hiding places!
We're puttin' in a PHONE LINE!

Wrapping up

Over a period of a little over a week, we got the house wrapped and ready for the stucco guys to come and encase it in three layers of mortar. A double layer of tar paper went on first, followed by what looks like chicken wire. The soffits (the underside of the roof overhangs) got enclosed in really stiff expanded metal. Corners had special wire structures put on so they would be straight and make for sharp right angles where one wall’s stucco joins to the adjacent wall’s stucco.
The west end of the house is complete with tar paper, chicken wire, and corner pieces
On a chilly morning, Tim bravely staples tar paper onto the house
This job was originally estimated by the stucco contractor to take “maybe three days” using his crew of six or so men. Our crew of three or so men only took a little over twice as long. Not bad at all, guys! Our main contractor, Kim, showed Luke and Tim the ropes and together they made a very nice wrap around the house.
Tim and Luke attach a piece of expanded metal lath underneath a roof overhang
The two-level ceiling over the south deck is covered with stiff expanded-metal lath. When all this is stuccoed, we will probably be able to attach any artwork such as posters to the walls and ceiling with magnets!
Before the first coat of stucco gets sprayed and troweled on, we have to put up the insulation and wallboard inside the house. The stucco contractor, Kevin, doesn’t want any banging on the exterior walls to shake them and cause damage to the curing stucco. Once the first coat is on, we can wait a long time (like months!) for it to cure before the next two are put on; Kevin says the longer the better. The material he uses is a special mixture that is absolutely guaranteed not to crack. That is if we want to spend an estimated $2,000 upcharge. At least it isn’t an additional $10,000!


We had to put in a few hundred feet of trenches to hold the propane and electrical lines, and bring the water the remainder of the way to the house from the fire hydrant. The county requires that the lines be buried at least 18 inches. Most of our trenches were at least that, with some parts being as much as four feet deep. Our lead advisor had told us we were to lay the various pipes in a certain order: Gas line had to be at least a foot from electrical, and water was to be on top. We checked with the inspector and he said to just throw all the pipes in any old way. We did that and when he took a look at them, he approved the whole mess without comment, except to say “Good depth.” We knew that. He asked why we ran three-inch water line all the way to the house instead of something smaller. We answered that in order to get full effectiveness from the fire sprinklers in the house we wanted no restriction in the line since the pressure we had expected wasn’t quite there. We get only about 50 pounds per square inch instead of the hoped-for 65 psi. You don’t lose pressure in a fat pipe compared to a skinny pipe for the same flow rate.

Bundled up against the chilly morning, Luke handled the rented Bobcat as if he had done it all his life.
A nice, deep trench means you won't be running into the utility lines with ordinary digging around the house.
Here Tim, no shorty himself, illustrates the depth of some of the trenching as he cleans up the bottom before we put in the lines.
We rented a ditch digger which Luke manned with expertise. Then the propane people came and laid in their skinny high-pressure plastic lines. Then we laid in the last hundred plus feet of water line and various sizes of electrical conduit.

Then it rained.

And rained.

Some of the dug-up dirt put on a very convincing impression of chocolate pudding. We siphoned water out of the low spots and, using a neighbor’s tractor and backhoe, filled in most of the trench. Then the weather turned cold and the ground froze. This went on for a week or so, with the ground being hard as a rock in the morning, then when the sun hit it, thawing and being impossible to walk on because it had the consistency of a thick layer of warm grease.

With that job out of the way, it was time to start “wrapping” the house in preparation for the stucco contractor. Coming up next blog.

In case of fire…


One of the requirements in our building permit is that we have a 2-1/2 inch fire hydrant accessible to fire trucks. That explains why we have over a thousand feet of 3-inch water line, and ten thousand gallons of water up the hill.

I found out that a shiny new bronze fire hydrant valve costs over $200

I talked with the people at all four of the fire stations in our area. The ones in Bootjack,  Raymond, Ahwahnee and Oakhurst all agreed—if we start to burn, it will take at least an hour for them to respond. That is, if nothing else is burning in the area.

Oh, and to make us feel even better, California has recently imposed a $150 annual fee per habitable building on the property for rural fire protection. The money goes into the general fund, not to the rural fire stations. Isn’t that nice. At least the money should go to the Firefighters’ Marshmallow Fund since by the time they arrive, the embers should be just right for toasting them.

Saturday, January 19

Been awhile, huh?

It’s been a long time since the last blog entry. My mood level was falling, and it wasn’t a good idea to write when in a bad mood. But things are picking up as our house is getting closer to completion.

“They” say that building a house can make you crazy. “They” are right! Especially when you’re trying to build a house by paying cash as you go along. You start out with the hope that you can do the entire job in one long unbroken sequence until voila—you move in to a completed house. But then reality hits and you find out that all the estimates for the individual actions are a little off. Or maybe WAY off. Plus there are peripheral things that aren’t directly figured in to the cost of building the house. Like putting in a well pump, over two thousand feet of big fat pipe, and water storage tanks (just digging the trenches cost thousands). Years ago we had already spent about $20,000 for the well. But getting water out of the well and into the house cost another $30,000. Hm-m-m. Then there’s the septic system—a nice big tank and two nice big 12-foot-deep leach fields. Just another $10k or so. Then we decided to put in a two-car garage. Ten grand per car. Plus the nine-by-eighteen-foot roll-up door and remote controls. We got that from Costco at a relatively cheap $3,000. It will be installed next Wednesday. The local telephone company is burying a DSL line and a conduit pipe for future fiber optic cable all the way to the house from across the river and only charging $800 or so. They used a backhoe and three bulldozers and a week’s time to do it, so we feel we’re getting a bargain.

You’re probably getting the idea by now. Additionally we blame ourselves for doubling the cost of windows because we didn’t want vinyl frames, but rather warm and gorgeous Douglas fir. Doorknobs can cost ten bucks or they can cost $80 to $280 per set if they’re solid bronze with hand-rubbed oil finish. Dang, bronze sure looks good! And feels good to the hand.

Thousands of feet of electrical wiring went in. That really shocked us (pun intended) once we discovered that the wiring is not only in the house, but under it since we have so much potential basement space.

So we ended up putting some of the cost on credit cards. Fortunately, that’s a deep well, but we were getting anxious about how long this can continue. We cut part of our expense by hiring some of the people who work for us at the ranch and giving them room and board besides. Also we’re getting some nice input from son-in-law Luke. In exchange he gets experience that he can use at the high ranch.

As of yesterday afternoon we finished getting the house “wrapped.” A double layer of tar paper and thousands of feet of chicken wire adorn the exterior along with special steel corner adornments, ready for the first coat of stucco. The soffits, the horizontal spaces under the roof overhangs, now have expanded metal covering, along with the entire ceiling structure over the 14 by 34-foot covered deck on the south side of the house. We are hoping our work will reduce the $30,000 estimate for stucco coating by about $10,000. Maybe, maybe not.

We may end up installing the interior wall covering ourselves. Drywall is one of those things that everyone we know says “DON’T DO IT!!” Even our main contractor says to hire out at least the ceiling drywall installation. Gypsum wallboard is heavy and ceilings are the most difficult part. We have lots of recessed lighting fixtures and air-conditioning vents and county-code-required fire sprinklers all over the place and county-code-required CO2 and carbon monoxide detectors to work around when installing ceilings. Not fun.

Our 3,750 watts worth of solar panels sit in their carton in the garage, along with the inverters that will convert their energy to 120 and 240-volt power. We have buried all the conduit to move the energy from the panels to the inverters and from the inverters to the house. Our next big expense will be storage batteries. Our last batch of batteries at the old house came to almost $10,000, and we expect the new ones will be that much or more. Solar panels and inverters came to $13,700. Sheesh!

More tomorrow, with pictures. Stay tuned.