Tuesday, August 11, 2015

# 557 - Country House Shell is FINISHED!

Okay, it's a "Potty Blog Post" so sit on the potty and enjoy some old-fashioned reading.

Every day we are still living in a 30 foot RV in the woods, but our house is finally being built on our acreage. We have waited a long time to see our custom home come into existence.

To catch up any potential new readers...On a hot day in May of 2013, which seems like an ETERNITY ago, we sold our house in the Greater Houston area so that we could move to the country on acreage we've owned for about 15 years. The weekend we sold our house, we stayed an extra three days to pack and clean; thank goodness for securing a three-day leaseback.

Finally, during these leaseback days, we also ordered a new RV which would serve as temporary housing. We had spent many weekends looking at RV's and trying to narrow down floorplans we thought livable while prepping to build a custom home. The RV would make it possible for us to immediately live on our acreage after leaving the house we sold.

I estimated it'd take approximately six months to one year before we'd start building our dream home. If we'd known it'd take over two years of living in an RV to start construction, I'm not so sure we would've been as adventurous. There's a great reason God doesn't give us a crystal ball.

Life itself is an adventure...we make our plans but life has a way of working itself out alongside your well-thought-out plans, sometimes causing our plans to be completely altered or that we tweak it to adjust to life's twists and turns.

As I always told my kids, "Life is what happens as you're making plans."

I've also seen the reason so many people do not take this path. Building a custom home on rural land is quite a challenge. For one, if a person doesn't relish academic work, they probably won't like handling construction details themselves. Secondly, building a custom home in the boonies takes patience. Believe me, it's not a fast process, especially when you're doing everything from scratch.

 We are not in a "custom home development" so that means we don't have a developer handling any portion of our build. I have friends and former clients who built a custom home in a development, but the builder would send them to a design center and tell them...pick your brick/front elevation/carpet/tile from our pre-determined selection. They have so much prepared for them and the process is made easy by having limitations which caps the decision process to the developer's liking. However, for us, we must make every single decision ourselves; we must find every single item for our house, without a design center, without a developer, and without any of the contractors at the developer's beck and call. For us, it means major research, interviews, reference checking and comparison shopping, which equates to a LOT OF HOMEWORK. Again, if someone doesn't like doing their home-work, then they won't like handling a custom build without the aid of a developer.

No doubt, this has been an enlightening process that takes considerable dedication, time, effort, organization and a willingness to learn along the way and the acceptance of the bumps and bruises to the body and ego in the process. For me, this has been a full-time job. Most people just don't have the time to take on another full-time job. Some would rather pay someone else to handle all the details of building their home, but I've been the willing "General Contractor" and the savings that role gives us is significant. Handling much of this myself has given us valuable "sweat equity" into our estate. Proper design and planning increases the value of a home and makes it special...this home is uniquely our own.

My main area of indecisiveness and trepidation was selecting the home-site. This was difficult because we have a few considerations. All parts of our acreage are sloped, with hills, heavily forested areas, and we have a creek. Sgt. Dave had to make the final call on this decision; he was unwavering in sticking with the same home-site he'd selected 15 years ago. .

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND drawing and maintaining a rough Master Plan design of more than just the house, but of the land with any structures or roads or fences that are to be built. Design it as much as possible, even if some things are five years down the road. We have a Master Planned level of organization for our acreage. But, living in the RV on the land for about a year allowed us to truly get a feel for living on the property and allowed us to confidently select the home-site far in advance of any construction.

However, when we first rolled our RV onto this acreage and did our basic set-up, we were grateful to get a break from a house. Our immediate plan was to chill out and not do ANY extra projects for the time being. Truly, we never intended to rush any decision. For both of us, our entire grown-up lives together has been high-pressured with a constant sense of urgency and constant busyness...but this move would be different...we made an intentional plan to get the RV in place, do minimal work to be settled, do nothing permanent for a year and enjoy that one year of planning. One year turned into two years. Yes, over two years in an RV is what it took to build our custom home.

We selected our builder and closed on our construction loan, but it rained nearly every day and we could not start construction for the next month.

On June 5th, we began the first step in building our house, which was to have the ground level piers installed, ones that are designed for a "severe environment."

Then, we had the foundation built for our garage. Our son-in-law Henry handled that part of our construction because it is his life-long profession.


Of course, Henry got the help of our grand-daughter Coraline.

It is awesome that her hand and foot prints are imprinted in the concrete foundation!

Our builder has taken approximately six weeks to build the shell of our house, which is excellent timing. But, I have to say that seeing the flooring and wrap-around porch in place was a shock.

The house is a good size and we have utilized the second story for extra space, but the first story is mainly for our day to day life and it's about 2,200 square feet. The second story has angled ceilings due to the roof pitch, but gives ample room for more living space.

I had been panicked about the house having too steep of a pitch or too little of a pitch...

...and worried about the dormer windows being just right because sometimes they look way too off scale...the porch was something I've never considered, that was ALL Sgt. Dave's much that you can see on paper or look at, but until your house is built, it is still concept and not reality.

Now, I love the house.

Little touches, such as adding the antique stained glass windows I found at a local shop and that had once been in a restaurant we loved, but that has closed down.

The garage is close enough to make it possible to run electricity and plumbing to the loft overhead without much extra expense and the carport is twice as large as we planned, but it worked out.

The loft over the carport is going to be part attic space to store the normal stuff kept in an attic, such as Christmas decorations, etc. and that area will be walled off from the other part which will be used as the art loft, a space where I can work and not be worried about making a big mess.

Whatever flooring we use will be fine to spill paint...that kind of art loft.

But, we have much to do. Plumbing, electrical, HVAC, spray-in foam insulation, septic tank installation, sheetrocking, interior door installation, flooring, trim, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry and more. Some of this work we will be able to do ourselves and some we must pay to have done professionally. Regardless, we have approximately three months of work in front of us.

It still seems like a mile away from reality because I can't even see the house from the RV location. The driveway to the house is on the other side of our acreage, so once we move to the house, we will be driving down a completely different private road on the acreage to go home.

But, I cannot WAIT until we are able to move everything out of this cramped RV! I cannot wait to haul this RV off our acreage and SELL IT. I cannot wait to say goodbye to RV life.

We will probably move into the house before it's really "livable" and it will be easier because we will be in the house, able to do work every day instead of having to be across the acreage.

But, I have no idea when we will actually be able to MOVE into the house.

We are planning on having our family/friend Thanksgiving gathering at the house, so things should be pretty much ready by that time, but I know we want to move into the house as soon as possible. It's difficult knowing the structure is ready, but we are still have so much to do before we can live in it!

This lean-to area for our outdoor kitchen is going to be moved
further away from the back of the house.

I won't even think about other details, such as landscaping and sodding the yard. I'd love to get some St. Augustine grass plugs started within a couple of weeks, but that yard is large and will take quite of lot of time, energy and expense to get sodded.

It has to be last on our list because we are pushing our budget to the max to finish our house.

Our family is very excited that we will finally have a home for us all to gather throughout the year. According to my own upbringing, it is vital to have a home-base for the grown kids and grand-kids to come home to enjoy...a retreat for whenever they need to be nurtured. It feels great that my children grew up enjoying this acreage and now we will continue to enjoy this peaceful spot for many years to come. Last weekend we had a baby shower for my daughter Heather as she is expecting our first grandson in about three weeks!

We are blessed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

# 556 - Construction - Timber Goes Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

# 555 - John Deere and a Shock Collar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

# 554 - First Week of Construction!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

# 553 - Country House Construction in a Rural Setting

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

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

Coraline loves being with her Pappy.

Coraline and her Pappy

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

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

Howdy at the lake on our acreage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sgt. Dave hosing off my rubber boots for me.

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