Thursday, July 17, 2014


Are you ready for the next Farm Life Lessons segment for the rural country home construction process as we live in an RV for OVER a year?

Breathe deep...

This past Monday, Sgt. Dave and I went to an early dinner meeting with our builder. He has an office, but we decided to meet "after office hours" since we are all busy and wanted the option of fitting in dinner with the business meeting.

This builder passed all of the research hurdles I conducted, he passed the reference checks, as well as shined through the process of me contacting lenders/closers he has worked with to make sure that he, as a builder, did not add to conflicts regarding issued loans or with closing hick-ups due to inspections or other potential problems that could stem from the builder...I am pleased to say that the meeting with our builder went great and this final step gave this builder the seal of approval to build our home.

Fitting in with our country life, the restaurant where we met our builder was actually located next to a truck stop, just outside of town. I had home-made peach cobbler with ice-cream. Yum.

During this face-to-face sit down extended meeting, we learned that all us communicate easily with each other, and I LOVE that he is a straight-shooter and does not allow the lines to be blurred between what he is responsible for and what he is not responsible for during construction. Our builder will be building the "shell" of our home, which will be the foundation, the frame, the finished parts of the structure itself with the windows and doors along with the roof, then he will "builder-assist" with the other elements of finishing our house, as needed. He is loaded with proven vendors.

This is one of our trails near our build-site.

I am going to be building the house to be as similar to a Colonial Farm house look, as possible. We will see how it goes.

This means the overlapping clapboard will be white, the shutters black, the front doors will be gorgeous, the metal roof a dark grey for perfect contrast, the front porch deck flooring painted the same grey as roof and the porch beams and railing will be white. Can you picture it?

Here is a house that the builder is finishing right's the engineered log-cabin look that many here in the country desire, but the point is to show his construction.

Since the soil in Texas can often be uncooperative with a residential concrete foundation and since we see most of our longer-lasting homes in Greater Houston built on pier and beams, we are going that route for our foundation. However, our garage is supposed to be built on a concrete slab because it will actually serve as a workshop with a corner to be my artist-studio. If the soil is not appropriate for a concrete slab, we will still build a workshop with a covered-carport area for the cars. This is an area that is still slab-undetermined.

Once we build our house, it will be necessary to move ALL of our chickens into a new coop area since our current residential site on the acreage is quite a long distance from where the permanent residential site will be located. This means we will have to select a site near the new house, get a new coop built, then haul all of our chickens to that area. That will be interesting. The new coop will have to be closed for several days so that the chickens become acclimated to their new home-zone.

Once we build, there will be no more chickens on my porch...sorry, but I have NEVER liked chickens on my porch, nor do I relish their poop on my walking path, nor do I like the trip hazard they invite as they flock around my feet, nor do I like the disgusting flies that accompany said poop.

Therefore, since Farm Life Lessons have taught me, at my last two residences, to not like chickens in, on, or near the porch, I will have our chicken coop be placed within a decent walking distance from the house, but not so close that the side effects of having chickens is negative upon our day to day outdoor life.

More importantly, when our home is constructed, I will be in MAJOR landscaping over-drive, and I have learned, the hard way, that chickens and decorative or functional gardens do NOT mix. Chickens devastate a garden, very quickly. The chickens even target my potted plants with aggressive destruction. The gardens around our house will not be subjected to a chicken assault...that is for sure.

We will also have an outdoor Café-Kitchen zone which will, of course, need to be kept free of roaming chickens so that space remains as healthy and as clean as possible, which would be impossible to maintain as near 30 chickens intrude upon that space.

I might have to include a small budget to get a chicken run and coop put behind the garage since we will be so busy with other tasks...we shall see how it goes.

I love my chickens, but I NEVER wanted to live WITH chickens taking over my residential space...when I sweep the porch, I don't want to walk back outside five minutes later to find chicken poop on the steps...just...hell NO. Lol.

It is my great hope that our house will be built with our new kitchen ready to be put into good use by Thanksgiving or by Christmas, at the latest. I am sure there will be details for us to finish, but I would like to be moved into the house by that point and this builder is organized and determined enough, according to his factual construction record, to make this possible.

Hell No!
I think I need to work on a sign for the next home to put into the backyard that says "ZONING ORDINANCE...NO CHICKENS ALLOWED WITHIN 200 FEET."

Consequences for violators...hmmm...OFF WITH THEIR HEAD.

Nawwww. I am just kidding. Maybe. Perhaps. Lol.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


I am tickled pink. Well, if I were actually tickled, I would be BLUE because I can't breathe when being tickled, and my husband learned LONG ago that such a silly act might shorten his lifespan.

However, I feel emotionally tickled because we FINALLY have selected our builder and have an official sit-down meeting scheduled this coming Monday - July the 14th of 2014! Ta-Da!

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you KNOW the extensive journey we have taken to just get to this point. If you are a new reader, the synopsis is...Sgt. Dave and I have blogged while living in the Greater Houston area about how desperate we were becoming to move OUT of city limits and to our acreage. However we had nothing but woods waiting for us. We sold our house, bought an RV, packed up, put things into storage and towed the new "house" to our acreage and we roughed it...our electricity was even powered, initially, by generator, only.

It's been a long, eventful year of Farm Life Lessons.

Living in an RV this year has been interesting. For anyone wondering if it can be done, yes, it can be done. However, after more than a year in an RV, I am ready to be land-based again, minus the wheels and hitch.

Frankly, it would have been more fun to buy acreage with an old house on it and to renovate it, but we are having to build brand new construction, which is always concerning to me because today's construction does not compare to the solid construction of long ago.

So, let me tell you the reasons we selected our builder. First of all, he is not intimidated by me. Little ole me. As you might imagine, some men are indeed intimidated by a woman who has a business background and has no problem speaking directly about a topic without tip-toeing around it. I don't have to have perfect answers, but I do need to work with someone who is a straight-shooter and who will listen to our construction needs instead of telling me what he wants to build with our money.

There you go with that part.

This builder can do...
1) 10 Foot Ceilings
2) A Possible Loft
3) Matching Detached Garage, but on concrete slab
4) Install Any and All of My Custom Window Selections or Work to Solve Issues
5) Can Build a Steep Roof Pitch
6) Can Install a Metal Roof
7) Cathedral Two-Story Ceiling
8) Dormers
9) Pier and Beam Foundation or Concrete

So, we have scheduled a meeting with our builder this coming Monday to discuss the most basic of issues...the floorplan. Basically, since I want to keep my costs down, he will help me decide upon a cost effective structure that would meet my square footage desire, and then we will work on the internal floorplan for separate rooms and overall layout.

This week, I keep looking at different kitchens and am more drawn to a light and bright design.
marble counter, brass/copper industrial lighting, laura casey interiors
The above kitchen is pretty fancy, but I like it.
I have had two white kitchens, those were my favorites due to their welcoming and bright environment, but I didn't like the constant upkeep required of them. Yet, my white cabinets were able to be scrubbed down and that did make it nice. I suppose they weren't any more difficult to maintain and keep nice than any other cabinets.
traditional kitchen
I had considered solid pine cabinetry, but I am not sure whether or not the look would wear on me too fast.
like the tin bar with wood top.  also like the metal light fixture.  Wish I could see it all.
I also like the cream colored cabinetry with the stain in the crevices to give them depth, then a light colored countertop...I no longer want a dark countertop; however, I am hoping they can take our old fallen White Oak tree and make a kitchen eat-in bar out of it, with raw edges left unfinished.
 wood bar.
But, I do know the appliances will be stainless steel and we will have a wall-mounted vent-hood. Actually, we will have the appliances as listed below:

1) Wall Oven with Above Microwave/Convection Oven (looks just like a double oven and is technically a double oven with the convection oven). This gives me double ovens, but I don't have to pay for, separately, and install, separately, a microwave.
2) Cooktop - Larger cooktop, not sure if I will be doing propane or not, at least five burners
3) Oversized Wall Mount Vent-hood to match the size of the cooktop that will be beneath it. The vent-hood is so large that we wont need to buy cabinetry overhead, so the vent-hood will cost more money upfront, but we wont be spending any money on cabinetry above the cooktop.
4) Kitchen sink: I prefer higher end stainless steel with double tubs, one deeper than the other. Sgt. Dave does not really like stainless steel sinks. I don't want granite, been there done that...awful.
5) Stainless Steel Dishwasher
6) Stainless Steel Counter-Depth refrigerator

The floor in the kitchen, dining, laundry room and probably the entry will be a spanish terrazzo tile. After picking and choosing certain elements that I enjoyed from past homes we owned, I know that terrazzo tile is a warm earth-tone color that is diverse and will go well with our pine wood floors. It is also very easy to maintain. For me, the flooring is EXTREMELY important.

We will also have a "Café-Outdoor Kitchen-Combo." It will be a structure separate from the house and will be very rustic, appearing something similar to this...
Rustic Bar
We also will install a rustic outdoor shower for those days when we are grimy and dirty and chicken poopy. We will place this outdoor shower near the end of one of the porches, out of the way, with a path leading to porch steps so that the shower will have privacy. This area will be multi-purpose and will be a great place to also bath the dogs.
Outdoor shower
The great thing about the builder we selected is that he has assured me that whatever I would like to do...he will do his best to get it done or be straight-forward about valid obstacles so we can discuss solutions or alternatives.

I hope the face-to-face meeting will be as great as I am hoping it will go. We have toured properties he's built or is building and I have checked on his references. Everything is looking great. Maybe we will be much closer to beginning to build our house within the next few weeks. We shall see!

Friday, July 11, 2014

# 519 - A Gracie-Update

Gracie, the dog found in the forest, has grown to be quite an awesome member of our growing farm. I was concerned about her having a "bullish" breed in her DNA, but she has become one of the best protectors a farm could have for their weakest and most vulnerable critters.

The vet said it appeared Gracie also has Aussie or Collie in her because of the speckling...regardless, she is a blessing to us.

She still has the itch to satisfy her wanderlust, but she's getting better about staying around the home zone, especially if she knows my eye is on her...she also wants to be close by me. Very sweet.

One issue we had with Gracie is that she loved to sneak into the kitchen area as we slept and dig into the trash. Often, we'd wake to discover trash strewn from one end of the RV to the next. Yes, we are still in our year of exploring our acreage to prepare for building our next house, and that means living in the RV.

Anyway, we solved the problem of her digging into the trash, other than putting it out of her reach, which is difficult to do with good-sized athletic dog, by putting a light sprinkle of SPICY chili powder across onto the trash. Magic trash-repellent powder.

Life is much easier when the dog is not getting into the trash every day.

Anyway, Gracie gets along beautifully with the chickens. Well, the second flock that we added after the initial flock were a couple of months old was a massive mistake on so many levels.

That won't ever happen again.

That second flock confused the older chickens and Gracie because we kept the youngest chicks separate for so long, inside the barn, and Gracie thought that the moments they wandered into the yard signaled a new intruder. So, she would start to treat the second flock of chicks as if they were like the moles she would dig up in the yard...and then "play" with until they could never play again.

It has taken a lot of extra training for Gracie to learn that the "barn" chickens are the same as the other chickens and to allow them access to the yard. But, the important thing is...she GOT it. We went through a couple of bad situations, but then she understood that we were okay with the other chicks mingling with the big chickens and that it was okay to give them free range in the yard.

Now, they are all with each other, every day. The younger chicks still go to the barn to sleep at night while the hens go to their chicken coop.

Gracie is a lot of fun. She loves to find "special" sticks and branches to play with...the photo below shows Gracie with a branch that she dragged around for a few days and when we'd walk outside, she'd duck low behind it, as if the branch made her invisible. It was hysterical. If she walked away, she dragged the branch with her.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to see Stefie in San Marcos, to get her moved into a new apartment for her last semester of on-campus classes for her Master's Degree. We brought all three dogs with us. Sgt. Dave and I stayed in the old apartment on an air mattress so we could disinfect and clean the old apartment so the most of the deposit could be returned. While there, our dogs slept in their kennel, and they were so well-behaved.

The road trip, one way, took about four hours, so that meant we were in a vehicle with the dogs for a long time, and we had to keep the child-lock engaged for the windows to remained locked since Howdy has learned to eye the controls and to put his paw on them to roll down the window.

He figured this out years ago...we would roll it up, he would look down, put his paw on the window control button and roll it back down...until we figured out that he was doing it on purpose. A typical Aussie. So, we are forced to keep the windows locked.

Howdy sitting on Gracie, in typical Aussie fashion to use any part
of their body to control and direct another animal into doing what they want.

As we got close to home, I had to roll down my window for a moment and we forgot to re-engage the window locks. Bad mistake. That created a scary incident that could have been the worst kind of experience for those traveling with dogs. As soon as we turned off of a busy highway near our house and finally reached the long road that goes through part of our own property, and as we were jamming to loud music, Howdy rolled down the back window without us knowing it at that moment. We were on our private road, still pulling a trailer down and we suddenly noticed the window was down, we both stopped to look at each other and then to be in shock as Gracie jumped out the window.

What the heck????

I guess she recognized the acreage as "home and decided she was getting OUT, at that very moment. Howdy seemed to have read her mind and worked as her co-conspirator for the great escape.

Actually, Howdy's eyes were huge as he gave us that "What the ???" kind of expression as he sat in the backseat, not knowing how to react to her jumping. The whites of Howdy's eyes were showing HUGELY...demonstrating that he KNEW something was really wrong.

Gracie jumping out the window, without any warning. was shocking to us, especially because we were still driving.

Thank God we were on our property, but Sgt. Dave slammed on his brakes as we went through shock at what had occurred. And then we again look out the front window to see Gracie running to the grass in front of the truck and she squatted in the grass to immediately begin peeing. I supposed she REALLY had to go.

I had already told Sgt. Dave that Gracie was an escape artist while in a vehicle and to be VERY careful because she WILL jump out HOWEVER she can, and if you are in a busy area, she probably won't meet a kind ending, which will be traumatic for all involved. Gracie does not like being trapped in a vehicle...she can appear to be sweet and kind, but she is really plotting her escape.

This trip, she was a much better travel companion; however, when she is ready to get out, she will act upon her desperation. Our trip to San Marcos had been so much fun, but Gracie jumping out of the window was a sobering end because we did not know how long we had been driving with the window lock disengaged, probably for at least 20 miles, down the highway. Thankfully Howdy didn't decide to roll down the window until he saw that we were home and thank goodness he didn't jump out the window to go after Gracie.

That dog Gracie. I love her. Window-jumping-warts and all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

# 518 - New Flock of Big Girls!

Having lots of chicks follow Sgt. Dave around is a dream-come-true for him. Of course, he never thought they would be the kind of chicks that have no control of their sphincter muscle and that eat with their face, but they are adorable! He's a lucky man!

My chickens are now laying eggs. They began laying over a week ago. I am concerned that some are wandering around the acreage to lay eggs in their own hidden nesting area, but we do have several going to the coop nests every day to do their laying. The best scenario would have been to have the chickens behind a coop fenced area for a bit, until they become accustomed to coming to laying their eggs in the coop nests, consistently.

Regardless, I am getting beautiful white and brown eggs. The eggs always start off small as the hen begins to lay, then the eggs increasingly become more large as the hens gain laying experience.

The back two eggs are the average size of most eggs being laid. The
larger egg in front was the first egg that was more substantial in size.

For now, they are rather small eggs, but the eggs will also help cut down on our dog food costs since I boil eggs and give them to the dogs, as a treat. I just cut the hard-boiled egg in half, and the dogs have a great time digging the egg out of the half-shell.

We have several kinds of chickens in this big flock of 26 remaining chickens.

Our chickens are entertaining. They are functional. They are producers of nutritious food for our table.

I have lost two chickens out of a total of 29. Not bad stats for getting tiny chicks that are only days old and nurturing them until they are egg-laying age and looking beautifully robust!

I love my Plymouth Barred Rock chickens...they are very interactive and chatty.

I went on a hike with the dogs a couple of days ago and the chickens always follow me into the woods for as long as they can, then once they hit their personal outer boundary, they turn back.

My chickens are now becoming big girls...full-fledged egg-laying hens.

I think it's about time for some Quiche with swiss cheese and freshly sliced mushrooms. Oh the yummy goodness of ultra fresh eggs from the coop!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

# 517 - Selecting a Country-House Builder

Finding a builder for our country-home has been more difficult than I had expected it to be. For this post, I have included pictures I took along with pictures from cyberspace, just to show some things that strike my eye.

Living in the Greater Houston for most of our lives exposed us to numerous residential developments that made it very easy to buy a house. Even if you were going to build a "custom" home in one of these developments, they still had the overall development already completed with roads, water, gas, electricity, cable, septic and readily available and with floor-plans to select from that meet neighborhood requirements.

However, here in the country, I have found that we are so far from town and so deep in the rural area that we have fewer choices for a builder that I thought we would have. That's a huge Farm Life Lesson.
perfect little cottage
Being in an rural area with heavily forested land also creates problems with prepping the land for construction. For us, it's not just about taking the trees down...and we are talking about TOWERING trees, but also dealing with getting those trees out of the construction zone without it costing a fortune.

Since we are building the country home on the side of our land that has not been touched, has never been lived is a challenge.

One builder quoted me a MINIMUM of $121-123 per square foot! That is more expensive, per square foot, than had been our beautiful home in the Greater Houston area. Heck no! That builder was eliminated quickly as they were too pricey for our budget. This is Texas folks, you get a lot of square footage for your money! Usually...

Then, I scheduled for this one builder to meet us on the acreage. However, after conducting a more thorough interview of him, by phone, I decided there was NO WAY we would select him to build our home.

First, I told him that our design included a metal roof...he immediately responded to cut me off to inform me that he doesn't do metal roofs, but will do composition and that would be "good enough" to meet my needs.


I am paying for it...I have waited all these years to build a house in the country and yet this builder had pre-determined exactly what was "good enough" for me.

I didn't give up...I kept asking questions while wondering if he could redeem himself.

He went on to explain that composition roofs were "just as good" as metal roofs. Actually, that is not true. I have lived with architectural composition shingles, the top of the line, but a metal roof is superior, just not allowed in every neighborhood because of the conformity that composition roofs bring for developments, in addition to the cost savings.

While metal roofs are more expensive to install due to higher upfront costs, the roofs are longer lasting. Metal roofs often save the home-owner long-term savings with their home insurance because of their fire-resistant quality. Additionally, metal roofs, especially in our area of heavy trees and sap, will be more durable and easier to clean. And being in a forest, I like the extra fire-protection and the insulating value that the metal roof offers.

I took this photo of a beautiful home in Brenham, Texas this past week.
Yes, I was the stalker woman at the main road. The darn acreage in
between the house and the road made it difficult to shoot. Persistent me.

That same builder that has been eliminated proceeded to tell me that I didn't need a metal roof because they also need to have their screws replaced every 15 years, approximately. However, the aspect of cost that this builder did not discuss is that, compared to a composition roof, replacing screws on a metal roof in about 15 years is much cheaper than having to replace an entire roof.

Often, metal roofs will last a minimum of 2-3 times as long as a composition roof. For our area, most people have metal roofs. For the construction of our home, a metal roof is something that is non-negotiable, but this guy did not know how to do a metal roof. However, I continued to try to give him a chance, asking if he could prep the house for us to hire a roofing company to install a metal roof, especially since I want my roof to be professionally installed. Then, he said that he's never built a house with a metal roof and did not know how to prep the construction property for one to be installed.

Oh, that explains a LOT. It got worse.

I then tell him that we are needing someone who could possibly do concrete piers and he told me that I did not need those either. At this point, I am not impressed.

I quickly discovered that the line, "You don't need that" actually translates to "I don't know how to do that."

Believe me, I would rather hear, "I don't know how to do that."

He might build the most basic of country homes, but not the kind with elements that I wish to incorporate into our next home.


To top it off, I ask for the approximate square footage cost for his most basic shell home and he said, "Somewhere in the $68.00 - $72.00 per square foot range."

Somewhere in that price range for a shell home? Wow.

Considering I had already interviewed another builder who is reputable, can build the home as we want, with a metal roof, and the piers the way we prefer...for much lower for the shell price per square's safe to say that the price per square foot that he quoted was not appealing to me.

Nix that builder. That means I would be paying for the most basic of construction and would still need to finish the plumbing, wiring, HVAC costs, insulation, sheetrock, and other major costs, such as putting in the kitchen cabinets, etc., and the shell costs would have eaten a huge chunk of the build costs.

In Houston, for the square footage price he quoted to me, you can buy home in an established neighborhood...nothing spectacular, but nice. Here I am, in the country where licensing and permits are dirt cheap...and this guy cannot build economically.

Then, the next guy is a builder who has been in this area for 31 years...time tested...a great builder, but same thing with lack of flexibility as he builds a country home that does not give much room for change. He cannot change the roof pitch to add a loft, and most importantly, he can't change the window selection from his own standard preference. thanks.

However, after all of the interviews I conducted, there is one builder who stands above the rest...he also has broad experience with building all kinds of homes, such as log homes, homes on pilings at the lake, and more traditional homes throughout the countryside. He can build on concrete piers or with 8x8 double-treated wood piers, which is the kind of pier they build the homes on at the lake and those are the kind of piers used in the water to support the boat-docks, they are long-lasting, weather-durable and are heavy load-bearing piers.

Just to check on this builder, I called the busiest and most trusted banking mortgage lender in this area to ask about closings he has had with this particular builder constructing his clients home.

The lender told me that every house that builder had constructed definitely closed either under budget or right on budget, but he never went over budget. Also, the lender said this builder usually completed construction before the deadline had arrived, so I would need to be ready to sub-contract the other items as soon as the shell was completed.

We are saving major money by having a builder construct the shell and then we will have sub-contractors finish other areas of the home. Actually, Sgt. Dave will probably do a lot of it himself...such as the insulation, sheetrock, taping and floating, texturing, and I will probably do most of the painting.

We will do the baseboards, crown molding, bead-board (wainscoting) and most of the trim ourselves, and we won't use that particle board trim that is such bad quality material! Fortunately, Sgt. Dave always lays our wood floors and tile, so that will save us thousands in installation costs. It is a good thing that he has saved substantial comp-time to take off during the weeks of finishing the house because we will be working on a task list every single day to wrap things up.

Sgt. Dave can also save us major money by installing all of the light fixtures, after the electrician provides the up-to-code wiring.

As for plumbing, I prefer to have a top plumber handle all the plumbing and installation of any item attached to the plumbing, such as tubs, faucets, exterior water faucet spigots, toilets and food disposal and that's because we cannot afford to have plumbing problems down the road and a professional who does plumbing day in and day out is more knowledgeable. Anyone who has suffered through their home having plumbing problems can appreciate a great plumber that can do things the right way and prevent you from having ANY destructive leaks! One leaky incident is damaging enough...I won't let anyone who isn't currently a certified plumber touch our plumbing work.

Anyway, I am supposed to make a list of all items that will be needed to complete the house or there won't be money in the budget to get it completed. Since we are doing a lot of the work ourselves, this means I better price things properly and account for every little detail. For the items being done by sub-contractors, I had better make sure I get a written estimate and that they do the job as specified and agreed upon.

Regardless, this list must be comprehensive so that it includes every construction detail...and I was told that it is better to over-estimate than to under-estimate because in the mortgage process of custom construction, you close the deal with the lender upfront, before construction begins. During construction, you make "draws" to pay the vendors for their work, and you cannot add more money to the cost of your mortgage loan to compensate for the kitchen costing $1,700. more than you anticipated or for the air-conditioning system that costs $2,000. more than you thought it would, so it is better to over-estimate the cost of each vendor than to be forced to pay them out of pocket. Also, consideration must be taken into account for the approximate time and schedule that each area will take to complete so that everything can be done in the right order.

On top of all of this work, in addition to daily life in an RV that can be an increasingly intense challenge, we have also been so busy with our seven-year old niece came for a week visit. A few days after the niece left, my oldest daughter came to visit with my precious grand-baby for several days, and last weekend we went to San Marcos to help Stefie move into a new apartment since she has six months left in college.

In a couple of weeks, I will be going to see my oldest daughter in the Greater Fort Worth area for a few days, and in August, I will again have my niece, Shaye, for at least a week, which is so AWESOME!

I want a house again...minus the hitch, slide-outs and wheels please.