Monday, December 15, 2014

(Dec 15) Amazing Weather and a Great Cookout

Kim and I came out on Saturday with our daughters Sabrina and Stephanie and her family. Weather was about 70° with a very light breeze. Perfect for working outside. We grilled hamburgers, salmon and brats over our Chiminea. I don't know if it's because we were so hungry or not but there's something special about working and cooking outdoors. The food just seems to satisfy a lot more.  :)

We finally got the parts to replace the brakes on the go-kart so Sabrina installed those and got it up and running. She and Riley spent the next half hour "testing" them. :)

I got lunch started while the others got busy burning brush in our burn barrel (steel horse trough). It's nice to be able to throw in 5' logs. Still amazes me how intense the fire can get. I had visions at one point of making a grill that would swing out over the fire pit. No sense wasting all of that wood burning. After burning in it a couple of time though, it was apparent that we couldn't use it for cooking unless we waited until some time after burning the wood. Just too much heat. Maybe we'll rig a wind powered spit one day and see if it's usable.

Riley and I watching Sabrina replace the brakes on go-kart. David feeding the beast! 

After lunch, we broke out the rifle and pistol. Stephanie had never shot a gun before so she got some time on both. She did quite well for her first time. I'm much more conscious about shooting these days than I was in my youth. I would shoot 200-300 round per day, never considering how much lead I was leaving in the environment. Now, I have a target backer that I made with 3 layers of ¾" OSB. So far, after 200+ shots, nothing has broken through the back of it yet. It just gets a little heavier every time we shoot. I'm sure there is a site I can take it to when we're done with it and ready to make another. I would like to set up a permanent gun range at some point but am happy with a portable target for now.

Stephanie with Ruger

On Monday, I came back out and spent the day alone out here. Well, as alone as you can be with all of the wildlife. I'll feel bad if our squirrel gets caught and eaten because he's so fat from all of the feed I've put out! LOL He looks very happy though. Besides, looks like we'll have a pretty wet and cold winter. He can use all of the fat he can get right now.

I wasn't crazy after all. I thought it was strange that all of our birds would show up and leave at the same time - Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadees, Woodpeckers and Nut Hatches. I read an article this past week that it's common for them to flock together. Safety in numbers. They would all come swooping into the feeders at once and then about 20 minutes later, they would all disappear as quickly. The Cardinals seem to be independent but eat most regularly at early morning and late evening. I'm sure they miss us (er, the food we put out) when we're gone but I'm not sure I could afford to put out as much food as they could eat year round. I need to find a feed company to barter some work with. :)

Carolina Chickadee
Brown-Headed Nut Hatch
Downy Woodpecker
Tufted Titmouse

I worked most of the afternoon cutting downed trees and burning brush from them. My bar gave out finally on my chain saw. I guess 3 years service was pretty good. I was too tired to go into town for another so I started trimming and pruning the trees around the cabin by hand. I want to keep all of the thicker brush and trees to the west towards our scattered neighbors. I really like the secluded feel of being back off of the road and out of site. Behind us, I'm not so opposed to cleaning up the trees and brush since the property goes back another 1000' behind the camp site to a cattle ranch. No worries about what I'll be doing after we retire. Seems like a never ending supply of wood to cut and brush to clear/burn. Keeps me off the streets at night. By the end of the day, I'm too tired to get into trouble. :)

Plenty of firewood for the next couple of months. The birds were very excited to see all of the cut wood. They got busy scouring it for freshly exposed bugs and worms. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

(Dec 11) Tiny House Movement | Andrew Morrison | TEDxColoradoSprings

This talk was given at a TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Andrew and his wife, Gabriella, are the creators of “hOMe”, the 207 SF (+110 SF in lofts) modern tiny house on wheels. They live and work in hOMe full time, off grid, and debt free. With the extra time and money that they have they travel and enjoy time together as a family.

Read their blog and see the beautiful home they built at

- Enjoy!


Monday, December 8, 2014

(Dec 8) Peaceful Times Between Cuttings

I had the day off yesterday and went out to the property. This is the time of year that I first saw the property 2 years ago. The leaves have pretty much all fallen. The green of the cedar trees really sticks out amidst the brown landscape. It was cool (in the 50s) with a slight breeze. Great weather for working outdoors. I stopped and bought a new chain for our chain saw and wanted to try it out. I forget in-between new chains how they cut like a knife through butter. This at least confirmed my suspicion that the chains that I had "sharpened" were worthless. $6 vs $16 for a new one and not worth that! I'll try another source for sharpening but after that stick to buying new chains. I'm not bored, patient or poor enough to justify the time it takes to sharpen my own. Anyway, I made 50+ cuts and only had to stop to tighten the chain once.

Between cuttings sessions, the wildlife was overjoyed to see me. Well, at least the feed that I put out. Within minutes, the feeders were swarming with birds and one very chubby squirrel. Our normal fare of Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Brown-Headed Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Red Headed Woodpecker and Cardinals. A Red Tailed Hawk flew overhead but didn't stop to eat. We also had a lone finch spend the day with us. Unusual to see them here this late in the year and even more unusual to see them alone. Typically see a flock of 30+ around here through the summer.

The Brown-Headed Nuthatch gave me a treat. I was sitting in a my lounge chair about 20' from the feeder when I heard him land right behind me a start pecking around a pile of freshly cut wood. I sat still and the next thing I knew, he had hopped up on the arm of the chair and was pecking and tugging at my shirt sleeve. I watched him, laughing, for a bit. He finally flew over to another wood pile when I asked what he was doing. I have no doubt he would have eaten out of my lap if I'd had some worms. I usually have a bag of dried meal worms I put put out for the birds that are not very excited over the sunflower seeds or peanuts but was out today. The Woodpeckers prefer suet but had no problem eating peanuts through the morning. The squirrel was busy eating anything that the birds knocked out of the feeder. He finally got bored and scurried up the pole and sat in the bowl of peanuts. They would all scatter as I got rested and fired up the chain saw again but would quickly return when I sat to rest. The peace and quiet offered a therapy I can find nowhere else.

I also used my mitre saw to cut about 150 pieces of smaller material - up to about 4" thick to use in the new smoker. Cutting with a good rip blade is a dream. Quick and easy. I wish I had thought about it earlier but I got the idea from watching a YouTube video of Aaron Franklin (Franklin BBQ in Austin) cooking at home. He's a force of nature in this part of the country. Some of the best BBQ you'll ever eat.

 I smoked some baby back ribs this weekend that came out pretty good. I used 10 lbs of charcoal and 2 pieces of Oak that were about 3" in diameter. I put all 10 lbs in my firebox with only a handful lit and threw the Oak on top. I got lots of heat (300°-350°) for about 6 hours. I really had to keep it choked off to keep the heat down. I ended up closing off the exhaust pipe and the air intake. It was still sucking enough air from the leaks to keep the coals working. The Oak put off smoke for about an hour and a half. Plenty for 2 racks of ribs.

Here's a couple of pics from our Thanksgiving weekend in Rockport, TX. We got mom and dad a new smoker/grill and had to try it out. :)

Pork Shoulder Roast with grilled Pineapple & Red Peppers, Gulf Coast Shrimp and Sugar Snap Peas. Wish we had taken some pics of the homemade Apple Pie! It was stunning!

Threw a chicken on the gas grill to remind it I still cared! 1 ½ hours on grill and it was falling off the bone tender and juicy! Some of the best we've had all year. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

(Dec 4) Building shape determines efficiency of material use

I struggled with form over functionality for a long time and finally came to a conclusion that efficiency of design is crucial the smaller your building gets. the most efficient use of materials when building is a square. Look at most houses from the 40s. They are square with an entry directly into a room and all of the rooms flow from one to another. After coming out of the depression in the 30s, people had taken a hard look at the shape of houses and how to make the most out of limited resources.

We all remember these from our Grandparents or Great Grandparents. They were 800-1000 sf, rooms flowed around a central wall and there were rarely any halls. Every square inch was used and accounted for. The nook on L-Shaped houses today actually cuts off a lot of usable space for the materials used. If you flipped and inverted the L-Shaped wall, you could enclose the space that is cut off with the same amount of wall material. This leaves you the option of reducing the materials and labor to achieve the square footage that you want - OR - using the same amount of materials, you can achieve more usable space. Units are also more efficient if nested into multi-family housing.

Yes, I know. My wife likes the nooks from offsetting a room in a house. It adds style. Is an aesthetic thing that we've gotten used to seeing. We finally compromised when building our house and built a rectangle shaped building. I just wanted to point out that you lose efficiency of materials as you deviate from a square. More building materials and labor for less square footage.

In the above example, we have two boxes with a dimension of 5"x5". The difference between the two is that one has an area that's 25% smaller than the other. They both took the same materials to build, one just has less enclosed area. In a building, the L-Shape also takes longer to build in that you have 2 more corners to deal with and the roof on the L-Shape is also much more complicated. If you are truly trying to minimize your cost of building and maximize your available space, stay with a uniform wall length. 

The example I see all of the time is when I see the little entry nook cut out of mobile tiny houses. That little 3x3 area to stand in front of your door or to use as a tiny porch. I would much rather have a 3x3 closet inside or another 9 sf added to the living area than this little nook. Put an awning out front if you want shelter from the rain and who wants to sit in a little space by themselves. Move your chair out into the yard and enjoy the view! 

Yes, I agree that the L-Shaped houses are more interesting. They give you a little private area on both the inside and the outside. They just don't make good use of your materials and your labor. That said - when building a Tiny House, you are already dramatically reducing the footprint of a McMansion, so build it any way you want. Just my two cents worth! :)