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Pine Bark Beetles periodically devastate Colorado pine forests. We arrived in 1974 and I remember helping my supervisor, Bob Rye, spray Ponderosa pines on his 17 acres that summer. I spent the day lugging 5 gallon jerry cans of an oil-Lindane mixture being sprayed on the trees. Lindane was effective but environmentally risky and has long since been banned. The beetles are still a problem.

Pinon and Ponderosa Pines are main constituents of the foothills forest in Fremont County and, with Rocky Mountain and Utah Junipers, make up the forest on our property. At present, the Mountain Pine Bark beetle, which attacks Ponderosas, is only a minor problem but another beetle, the ips Engraver beetle, which attacks Pinons, is devastating local stands. Evidence of beetle infestation, i.e., dead trees, began just outside of Florence last summer but this year has progressed up the road to our area this summer. We lost a tree a couple of weeks ago and expect to lose more unless we get some serious, soaking rains. A healthy tree in moist soil can repel a beetle attempting to bore into their bark by, essentially, blowing it out with sap flow. In drought years, like this one, however, the trees lose this line of defense and the beetles can infest and kill a tree in a matter of weeks.

That preamble was to explain why we were watering the trees around the house last week. Just trying to help protect them from the beetles. As we were finishing up, water spraying from a sprinkler head sitting on a small boulder, a hummingbird flew up and studied the water spray from a few feet away. It moved a little closer, still looking, and another hummer joined it. Then it flew through the spray, hovered a second, and did it again. Soon both hummers were zipping back and forth through the spray like kids in the summertime cooling off in a lawn sprinkler.

The next day, when hand watering our little garden, another (or the same?) hummer came up. It hovered a foot or so from the spray, then moved into the gentler part of the spray hovered there. After a moment, it perched on the fence around the garden about 5 feet from me and fluttered its wings and fanned its tail to dry off. It was a young Western Broadtail hummingbird, a species that looks very like the well known Ruby Throated hummingbird. It is easy to identify because of it’s broad tail (duh) which fans out to almost 1 1/2 inches when it hovers. Curious to see what it would do, I directed the spray at some lavender on the other side of the fence and this time the hummer moved over, perched on the fence in the edge of the spray, again spread its wings and fanned its tail, and just soaked in the spray for a minute or so. Some birds like a bird bath, others, I guess, like a shower.

Hummers were indirectly involved in another observation last week. We have an old hummingbird feeder in the tree outside the kitchen; one of those with a number of feeding holes around the edge, the holes decorated with little plastic flowers; except a couple of the flowers had fallen off, leaving larger openings. Now, hummers aren’t our only cohabitants interested in sugar water. Bees and wasps, even butterflies, will visit the feeders. This time it was a couple of hornets and one had apparently crawled through a feeder hole into the syrup and had gotten stuck trying to get back out. There it was, head sticking out of the hole and the other hornet was trying to help it, frantically pulling at it’s head, bowing it’s body and pulling hard. At first it struck us that this hornet was trying to rescue it’s friend. That’s what it looked like. But that’s an altruistic behavior, not an instinctive one, and something not normally associated with the insect world. In retrospect, it seems that the setting might have triggered an instinctive nest response to help a newly gestated wasp come out of its cell for the first time. Nonetheless, it was fascinating. I took a small twig and held it near the stuck wasp which it quickly grabbed, pulled itself free, and both wasps flew off.

We’re slowly getting settled in and unpacked. Every day is a new wonder, a new bird, another colorful sunrise, a bear visit…yes, a bear wandered onto the back porch our second day there, looked around, inspected the backyard, and moved on.


Well, we’re moved in. But before I get into the details, a couple of caveats: 1) the builders are done but we aren’t really done yet, there’s still a lot of stuff to finish; and, 2) after 7 months in the cabin and 16 years in the planning, I am moved by sentimentalities that could fill many pages. I’ll try to constrain myself and not get too corny.

The house passed final inspection on Aug. 8th. We had already started moving stuff from the mobile storage container, mostly boxes, into the house in hopes that the container company would pick it up. They haven’t, it’s still there, and we just got another billing for it.

Our kids, Sarah, Andy, Allison, and surrogate family member Emily (collectively known as the Prime Movers (if you’re a parent, you get that name)) came down on Saturday and Sunday and helped us move the furniture from the garage and boxes from the garage loft. We used the 5×8 hauling trailer to ferry loads from the garage either to the basement or to the garage driveway and it went pretty smoothly, if not effortlessly. The two biggest challenges were the chest freezer, which Sharon and I had hauled down from Lakewood, and a large walnut shelf unit. The freezer was easy to unload, as it’s not super heavy, and Sharon and I had a dolly to help. But moving the freezer up from the basement of the townhouse in Lakewood was a pain. Andy and I had to take the basement stairs door off, and the freezer door off, and then carry (no dolly) the freezer up the stairs. The shelf unit is 6′ tall and about 10′ long and is solid walnut. It’s heavy, but with Sharon and I and Prime Movers to share the load, one on each end and two on each side, we just carried it from the garage around the house to the basement. It was pretty much the last piece we moved but a job to be pleased with, considering that we had equaled the efforts of the 3 professional movers with a medium-sized van who had moved our furniture into the garage.

Sharon and the Prime Movers: clockwise Emily, Allison, Sharon, Sarah, and Andy. Thanks guys.

Pretty much the same crew, except Sharon insisted on a pic with El Bloggo in it.

Jeff Boccaccio came by Sunday afternoon to pick up his backhoe. In a way, that Case 580 did more work around here than everybody else put together. Jeff stayed a bit, we talked and had a couple of beers but then he loaded up the backhoe. He told us when he showed up back in January to break ground that he was usually the first and last person on the job; breaking ground at the start of the job and grading and building retaining walls at the end. That is pretty much how it worked out.

Jeff and Case 580 passing the front of the house… 

down the drive,

loaded up,

and down the hill. They’ll be back. I think we’re going to need a root cellar.

We got to know Jeff real well over the past 7 months and it was a little hard to see him drive off, but he’ll be back to visit and it’ll be good to see him.

Later on Sunday, after the Prime Movers had left for Lakewood and it was just Sharon and I, in our new house, in the country quiet, sun going down, sitting on the back porch, just enjoying the moment, it was cause for reflection. Being there, finally, felt like the end of a long journey. A journey begun in 1966 when we met. A journey committed to when we married in 1969. A journey with some struggles, many wonderful memories, three lovable children (is there any other kind?), two careers and a lot of hard work, etc. If life is like climbing a mountain, this was the mountaintop. We had made it, and the feeling at that moment on the back porch, and again now as I write this, was rich and warm. A harvest of contentment and joy. We are, and have been, so lucky.

Back porch, looking southwest, sundown…home.

This is pretty much the final post of the Pine Nuts Spa and Insanitorium building blog. But, this blogging is a bit of fun. Doesn’t matter if anyone’s listening, actually, just a good chance to look inside at what’s going on. Stay in touch with our lives. So, if you feel like it, check back on the Pine Nuts now and then – we ain’t done yet.

Sunrise, Monday, August 9th…unreal.

Well, we’re not moved in yet…but we’ve started. With son Andy’s help, we moved everything from the Mobile Mini storage container into the house. The container is empty and ready for pickup, which may have occurred but we don’t know because we returned to Lakewood yesterday to load up stuff to take down to the house tomorrow. Chest freezer, grill, desk, bookcases, etc. in the trailer, kitchen stuff and clothes in the car. Allison, Andy, and Emily (Allison’s roommate) are going back with us and, with that much help, I think we will be able to move all of the furniture we stored in the garage into the house. That will leave only things stored in boxes which Sharon and I will be able to handle without help.

The final inspection is scheduled for tomorrow, as well. Details and minor issues have been, installing the almond toilet instead of the incorrectly delivered white one, installing the master bath shower doors, getting the right burner orifices in the range (propane needs different ones than natural gas), etc. And cleanup and final grading outside which is the best part of this post.

Jeff Boccaccio started the building by excavating the basement. He told us then that he would be both the first person on  the job and the last, because he would do the final grading after the house was built and everyone else was done and gone. He also described repeatedly how he would grade the lot. How he would use boulders and dirt to build walls and grade around the house. How that pile of excavated earth was for fill but this pile was cleaner, with fewer rocks, and would be used as cover in the front and back. How he would grade and channel runoff away from the foundation to where it could flow into the valley or across the driveway.

He could see it but at times we couldn’t. It took more imagination and experience than we had.

Believe it or not, this is the building site in mid–December.

Well, Jeff did it and it is great.

Photo of building site, pretty much from same spot as first photo. Kind of leaves me speechless (me speechless; ROTFLYAO, right?). Note the steps curling up from the drive and the porch.

There is a massive 6′ high boulder wall on the north side and 4′ wall on the east that hold the front yard at the main-floor level.

East walls: upper holding up front yard; lower holding up the side yard.

And he carefully preserved several trees during the process that act as natural landscaping. To the west, this wall tapers down to the end of the garage approach.

Another boulder wall, about 3′ lower, holds up the yard on the east side. In between these two levels, Jeff built a small series of steps out of flat boulders that climb from the driveway level to the front yard level.

Another view of the north retaining wall.

Looking east down the front of the house.

In the backyard, the natural slope carried runoff and water from the SW downspout right past the back porch

We have already eaten dinner with friends (the Heismans) and enjoyed a couple of happy hours out here on the back porch. Love it.

and down into the walkout area behind the basement. Every time it rained we had a small pond outside the basement. Jeff built up a small retaining wall, and backfilled and graded so that now water flows away from the house and into the valley behind us.

The walkout all graded out and ready for…whatever, haven’t decided yet.

The outside grading and walls look great and give us a good place to start with doing some landscaping, probably with native plants for the most part because we don’t want to water and we don’t want to mow grass.

Jeff really did exceptional work, which we really appreciate, but the best part was sharing a beer with him at the end of the day and listening to his stories.

Little things can keep big events on hold. Like the inspector who finally got around to “blue-tagging” the propane system on Monday. Which delayed the hookup of the gas (necessary for trivial luxuries like hot water and cooking). And the toilet which was the wrong color and the correct one still not installed. Little things that delay the final inspection, delay showering and cooking (we are really looking forward to those events–they may get their own blog posts), and delay moving in. Oh well, after 16 years what’s another week.

On to the expanded update.

Jeff Boccaccio has finished the septic system. With a 1200 gallon tank

The 1200 gallon septic tank. Gonna take us a while to “prime” it.

and a 1000 ft2 leach field,

About 200′ of perforated pipe and 6″ of gravel, all buried about 30″.

it’s adequate for a family of four. Four what you ask? Elephants, perhaps? Needless to say, we doubt the septic system will ever be overloaded–if it is, it will have been one heck of a party.

Speaking of Jeff B., he was the one who loaded up the Blazer on his trailer and took it to Canon City. Acted like it needed a fuel pump and, indeed, that was what was wrong. We won’t discuss the cost of the repair but the loading up of the Blazer is worth comment. Jeff backed his trailer up in front of the Blazer and hooked a cable to it.

Jeff (the conductor), his truck and trailer, my Blazer and tractor.

The cable then ran from the Blazer to a 6″ pulley hooked to the back of his pickup (in front of the trailer) and from there to my tractor, which was parked more or less beside the Blazer. I steered the Blazer while Jeff backed up the tractor, pulling back on the cable and drawing the Blazer up onto the trailer.

Let the music begin.

Piece of cake. When Jeff brought me back from Canon, we just had to have a beer to celebrate.

The light fixtures are all in, the appliances have been delivered, the countertops installed and the kitchen awaits only propane to be fully functional. Sharon can hardly wait; 7 months of cooking on a two burner Coleman camp stove in the cabin have only sharpened her desire for a real kitchen again.

Kitchen and island.

Sink, dishwasher, and refrigerator.

Oh yeah, there are a couple of appliances that work fine without propane or hot water and we have tested them carefully. The Crappers work perfectly I want you to know

Civilization has made it to Pine Nuts.

and are a welcome improvement over the outhouse. Also, the swamp cooler has been getting daily use and, with the ongoing 90+ temperatures, has made working inside more comfortable.

I promised more about Jeff Dawes in the last post. Jeff is a finish carpenter and has been pretty much here every day for the past month. Helping Chris put in floor tiles, wall tiles, trim, kitchen cabinets, doors, etc. and now helping with the detail cleanup for the final inspection. I have been watching him a lot, because I will be doing some of the same things in the basement when we finish it. He gave me a workshop on hanging and trimming doors that will be really helpful downstairs.

Jeff Dawes and a nicely trimmed out door.

We’ve also done quite a bit of cleaning in the basement. After pulling up the paper that we put down to protect the floor during drywall work and painting we still had to clean the floor. The paper did a good job put there was still a lot of fine dust that took multiple passes of sweeping and mopping to finally clean off.

Hopefully, the next post will have us living in the house and reminiscing about the winter (twenty-twelve, I think it was) we spent in the cabin.

This is just a short update with a bit of breaking news.

You heard it here first. Chris Jenkins expects to schedule the final inspection later this week. Just a little over 7 months from ground breaking and we’ve even started to move some things in. But there are still things to do. We need to pick out vanity mirrors and bathroom hardware like towel bars and TP holders; and, we need a couple more boxes (10 per) of door/drawer handles (we bought 50 already and thought we would have leftovers–guess we can’t count). But Chris and Jeff Dawes have already started cleaning the place up. More about Jeff Dawes in the next post which will come (trust me) later this week along with lots of pictures.

We did have a little setback last week when, on Friday morning I climbed into the Blazer planning on using it to ferry boxes from our storage container to the house but it wouldn’t start. Turned over but acted like it wasn’t getting any gas. Might be the fuel pump. Anyway, Jeff Boccaccio was there on Friday filling in the septic system trench and had his trailer with him. He offered to haul the Blazer into Canon City to an auto mechanic so we loaded it up (a story in itself, to be detailed in the expanded coverage later in the week) and did so.

With the Blazer kaput, Allison and Emily brought down our Sentra from Lakewood on 
Friday so we wouldn’t be stranded. At the moment, we are back in Lakewood. We will run our errands and head back to the hills this morning. We’ll be moving boxes and small stuff in during the week and looking to round up some muscle to help move in the heavy stuff from the garage and some things from Lakewood, like the chest freezer. For anyone willing to work for beer and board, the signup sheet’s next to the coffeepot in the break room…

The house is now starting to look like a house. Not just from the outside but on the inside, too. And every thing that gets done paves the way for the next step, or steps.

Last week Chris (Jenkins Homes) acid-stained and sealed the upstairs floor and it looks great, especially in the kitchen/living/dining area. When we did the basement floor, we used the same stain but at a higher concentration. This produced a nice floor but we thought we would like a little bit lighter floor upstairs and so Chris diluted the stain some when he did the upstairs. WOW, look at the picture.

The floor looks great, much better than in the picture.

With the floor done, the kitchen cabinets have been set and we really like them.

The beginning of putting the kitchen together. Next post should have countertops and maybe appliances.

This allowed the final measuring yesterday for the CambriaTM countertops which will be installed next Friday by Tops in Stone of Colorado Springs. We shopped the tops carefully and think we found the most reasonable price and a topnotch installer. Once the counters are in the plumbers will come back and finish the hookups for the sinks and faucets (we might even be able to take a shower…). We really like the Cambria tops: they are a synthetic stone that, unlike granites, won’t crack, don’t need to be sealed to prevent stains, and are heat resistant. And they have a wide range of patterns that convincingly mimic natural stone. As a geologist, I almost literally get lost in some of the natural granites used for countertops. I get out a hand lens and study the mineralogy and texture. And, although they are called “granite”, few are. There are garnetiferous metamorphics, diorites, a ton of pegmatitic granites, and a myriad of other rock types some of which are just geologic rock candy, at least for me. But we’re practical folks, I guess. No “Romancing the Stone” for us. But wait until you see our countertops…I think we’ll be happy.

We’ve also ordered granite countertops for the upstairs vanities from a discount supplier in Denver. They had to be cut to size but we will pick them up this weekend and bring them down on Monday.

Chris spent yesterday working on the banister for the stairs. It has  a nice golden oak stain that, with the ceiling paneling, gives the entryway a nice look.

Entryway with ceiling paneling and banister almost done.

We’ve finished painting the basement. The bedroom and family/exercise room have light blue-green walls and very light blue-green ceilings that give them a nice calm, cool feel.

Basement family room.

I think they are going to be great space and we look at each other at times and wonder if we might not end up living in the basement more than upstairs. We did use the mustard in the storage room; it turned out well for that space and meant that the mix (up) wasn’t a total loss.

Basement indoor rootcellar.

The bathroom is a soft, warm yellow.

The porch on the front

Front porch.

and the patio outside the basement

Walkout patio.

were poured last weekend. Whenever we have some free time (TIC) (tongue-in-cheek) we can start building rock retaining walls for the bank and stepping stones for a pathway from the patio to the old cabin. This should get done within the next year or two, no problem.

Well, it did cool off, finally. We had a couple of days that only made it to the high 70s and some scattered thundershowers. Sharon and I were talking about when we first moved to Colorado and most summers had a spell of really cool weather – usually in July and often with a day or two of rain and temps that never got out of the 60s – and how that hasn’t happened in years. We sure could use it now.

The garden seemed slow at first, maybe because of the heat, even though we tried to keep it watered. It has taken off in the last week, though, and we are getting some lettuce, onions, and basil; the tomatoes are setting; and the cukes and zukes are coming on. Would have had more lettuce but the local rabbits discovered it. Apparently, they figured out how to get through the fence and climb the strawbales (I wondered if they would…now I know). I wrapped the garden in chicken wire and so far it seems to be keeping the rabbits out.

Garden. It ain’t much, but it means this ole boy’s had a garden for 42 years running. Keeps the streak alive.

Next week, the electricians will come back and put in the light fixtures, switches, and outlets. Over the past several months, as noted in previous posts, we have scoured the region for lighting that we liked. Then we ended up buying most of it at Lowes and Home Depot. Everything we could afford was from China anyway, and it was cheaper at the building supply stores than at the specialty stores, often for identical fixtures.

It’s not like progress isn’t being made; it is. It’s just not the big, visually exciting progress of the early stages. So, without breaking news, it’s easier to put off updating the blog; but then procrastination has always come easy to me. And we have been busy, too.

Since the last post: the interior walls were textured, and painted; the entryway paneling is in; the front door is on (I guess Chris finally thinks it is safe from construction damage);

We still need a porch and welcome mat, but we’ll have ’em by the time you get here.

and, the upstairs in-floor heat tubes have been installed.

The upstairs texture is a trowel-texture that reminds us of a plaster finish.It’s pretty smooth with a few light swirls and it makes the bale walls look much like adobe walls. We like it.

Close-up of hand texture upstairs.

The garage is a simple orange-peel texture that was quick and easy to apply.

Orange-peel in the garage.

The basement is a knockdown texture where the original sprayed-on pattern is flattened out with a drywall trowel.

Knock-down texture in basement.

Painting comes in two flavors: professional and fast, and DIY and slow. The upstairs was painted by Chris and Jeff Dawes (Jeff also helped some with the bale walls) with a paint sprayer. Last week a Sherwin Williams pickup arrived (after first getting lost, we heard) with 10 five-gallon buckets of paint (yep, 10, as in 50 gallons of paint). Thursday the entire upstairs received primer and, a couple of hours later, finish coats of paint. All done. In about 6 hours. That’s how the pros do it.

Our bedroom, painted.

Starting at about the same time, working with brush and rollers, the homeowners, the DIYers, also known as Sharon and Joe, began painting the basement. (A finished basement wasn’t part of the original bid but we’ve been trying to get a few things finished as the work goes along because it is easier now than when we’ve moved in.) Yesterday (Tuesday) we finished the primer coat in the basement, after about two days of painting and 15 gallons of primer. We’re not pros.

We thought we had planned ahead on paint for the basement when, about a year ago we bought 9 gallons of paint on a closeout sale at Lowes for about $15/gal (regularly $40). We had a light pastel yellow (5 gallons), a dull light brown (2 gallons), and a reddish brown (2 gallons). So after priming, we were ready to use our sale paint and pat ourselves on the back. What we’re doing is kicking ourselves in the butt. We decided to mix the yellow and light brown, both soft colors, to make sure we had enough paint for the open room in the basement. Mixing paint is something we have done several times in the past and it’s always worked before. Honest. I guess it doesn’t always work, though. This time we ended up with 7 gallons of bright orange mustard.


We started to paint with it and stopped in minutes. Neither of us can stand it. Bleahh!

How you start with 5 parts of the yellow and 2 of the tan and end up with the above is beyond us. Smacks of alchemy.

Oh well. Off to the Sherwin Williams store for paint. Maybe I’ll put the mustard on Craigslist.

Jeff Boccaccio, with help from Chris and friends, will start pouring the upstairs floors today. The heat tubes are installed and once the floors are poured, stained, and sealed the real finish work can start. Putting in cabinets and doors, trim, light and plumbing fixtures, etc.

We can start to see the end of this road and it’s exciting and we are anxious. Especially with the weather we’ve been having. It’s been routinely topping 100° here the past two weeks and it’s not predicted to cool off soon. This weather is setting all kinds of records (if Denver hits 100° today, it will be the sixth consecutive day over 100°, breaking the old record of five days). This all makes us want to be in the house even more because, while we’ve been suffering in the cabin with no relief other than fans, the house has remained in the 70’s and 80’s. Without the benefit of any kind of cooling it was 73° in the basement yesterday while we were painting. Outside it was 101° and I think it was 97° in the cabin.

Just a quick note to catch up. Antonio’s Stucco crew finished up the stucco on the outside of the house with the color coat, and finished up the scratch coat on the inside. As noted in earlier posts, their work with aligning the strawbales and with the stucco finish is so good, the corners and edges so straight, that is hard to believe this is a strawbale house.

North side.

Looking southwest.

Looking northwest.

The big back porch.

Looking southeast.

The outside is basically done except for pouring the driveway,  the front porch, and the walkout porch on the back.

The drywall seams have been taped and the nail holes filled and the drywall is about ready for texturing.

Looking towards the kitchen from the living room.

Basement open room looking toward the guest bedroom.

Also, we have decided to finish the inside of the bale walls the same as the drywall. Otherwise, they would have had different textures and appearances. The first coat was put on the inside of the bales walls today.

Big window in the living room with the first finish coat. The bales walls, with stucco, turned out to be about 21″ thick.

Although Chris Jenkins tells us that it may be a zoo around here the next few days (exterior stucco finish–coat crew, interior drywall tape–and–texture crew, and landscape and/or leach field excavating by Jeff Boccaccio), over the last two weeks things have slowed down a little but progress has been made and fun has been had. I’ll try to summarize.

Over the last several weeks, it seems like Sharon and I have visited just about every lighting store in the Front Range. You go to a high end store and see very costly fixtures, then very similar ones at Lowes or Home Depot for much less. And they’re all Made in China, it seems. We’ve bought most of the light fixtures that we need for the house, inside and out. We need a few more but we know which ones we want and just have to  go and buy them too.

Between us and Chris, we acid-stained and sealed the basement floor. The floor is a light brown concrete. Before applying the stain, the floor had to be very clean. Now, after 4 months of construction including several weeks exposed to winter weather, the floor was dirty. Really dirty. It took a lot of sweeping, vacuuming, and choking (until we found the dust masks) to get it clean. Then Chris applied a turquoise blue acid stain, we cleaned it up again, and then he sealed it. He got the easy work. Cleanup involved neutralizing the acid with ammonia solution, probably about 15 to 20 gallons of it, then mopping it up. Or using a wet vac, after we wised up some. Either way, more choking with the added pleasure of burning eyes. Then the floor had to be carefully mopped and cleaned until the mop water was clear, with no traces of the blue stain, before it could be sealed. But it looks good. Sorry we don’t have any pictures of it, but right now its covered with paper to protect it from damage and mess during the drywalling. Next post will have a picture.

Speaking of drywalling. Most of you probably don’t think much about how much drywall there is in your homes. Last Thursday the drywall was delivered. By two trucks, one with a forklift on a boom arm. By my conservative guess, 6 tons of drywall. Maybe more. Friday the drywall–hangers (workers who hang drywall) showed up. Martin and Adrian were a couple of pretty quiet guys who must communicate telepathically. Like people who work together at the same job for years, they are incredibly fast and efficient. They finished yesterday. Today or tomorrow the drywall–mudders (workers who tape the seams and cover the nail/screw holes with joint compound, and texture the drywall) will start.

Bare drywall in the upstairs, looking from the kitchen towards the corner of the living room.

Bare drywall in the upstairs, looking from the living room towards the kitchen.

Antonio and Manual of Antonio’s Stucco were here yesterday to check on what color we wanted for the exterior finish. Pretty easy, since we just want to match the existing garage. They will be back today to start the exterior finish coat and maybe start on the inside scratch coat on the bale walls.

One other thing in the house. We hope to use the room in the NW corner of the basement for food storage – kind of an indoor rootcellar – so after the insulation was inspected and passed, I went in and pulled the insulation from outside walls and put it in the partitions separating that room from the rest of the basement. The room is now insulated from house heat and open to earth cooling. It  is on a separate zone in the heating system and we’re hoping we can keep it pretty cool. Be a nice place to store fruits and vegetables, grown by us or bought when in season, if it works.

A couple of side notes: Andy is back from Alabama/Georgia for good. He finished up his MS in Forest Ecology and is looking for a teaching job. He and I went for a hike in the National Forest just up the hill from us on Saturday. I only mention it because we saw some bear sign and a bear. Unfortunately, at least from the bear’s perspective if not ours, the bear was recently deceased. No obvious cause of death but he/she was in the early stages of smelly decomposition.

Bears like to scratch trees, especially aspen, to mark their territory. Andy is 6’1″ and the claw marks on this tree are nearly two feet above his outstretched hand. Wouln’t want to meet that bear.

Poor, dead, smelly bear. Eewww… (Note sunglasses for scale. This was NOT the bear that clawed the tree).

And, we have had enough rain for the cactus bloom to be pretty nice this spring. Not enough rain for much of anything else, but enough for the cactus. Enjoy the pics.

Yellow-blooming prickly pear.

Prickly pear with more butterscotch colored blossoms.

Red blossoms on small barrel cacti.

Say goodbye to the strawbale look.

Scratch, or base, or brown (even though it’s gray) coat of stucco is on the outside of the house. Antonio and his crew finished it up yesterday.

Scratch stucco coat finished and It really looks like a house (from the outside).

They did a great job. The bale walls are so straight and square and the stucco so smooth and flat that you can’t tell where the framed walls end and the bale walls begin; i.e., you can’t tell it’s a strawbale house from the outside. Strawbale houses typically have a small door on an inside wall that, when opened, shows the strawbale core of the wall; these are called “truth” windows. We haven’t decided where to put the “truth” window, yet, but we have to have one. Otherwise we might have a hard time convincing visitors that it’s really a strawbale house because the stucco is so smooth and flat, not slightly bumpy and irregular like most strawbale houses.

Framed wall below, strawbale above. The strawbale wall is as flat and smooth as the framed wall.

Antonio’s will be back to put on the finish coat outside and stucco the inside bale walls in a couple of weeks, after the drywall guys get done. Drywall hanging, taping, and texturing should begin next week.

And we have a raised relief sculpture beside the front door. Sharon took a piece of 2″ thick foam board and carved a silhouette of a tree from it. Antonio mounted it on the strawbales and it will be stuccoed over to provide a little outside decoration to the front of the house.

Sharon’s tree sculpture by the front door.

Since the last post, the house is hooked up (almost). Trenches were dug for the electrical conduit from the old garage to the house,

Trench for the electrical conduit.

for the septic lines from the house, and for the propane and water lines from the tank and cistern, respectively, to the house. Jeff Boccaccio has been busy on his backhoe and skid loader. He just has to finish trenching to the septic tank, setting the tank, and laying the perforated pipe in the leach field and the basic utilities will be in place. Jeff’s a great guy and, now and then, has time to sit and drink a beer with us at the end of the day.

The cistern for the well  came at the end of last week and it was an eye opener for us. Some folks that live in area have to haul water. They typically do this in a 400 to 500 gallon tank in the back of a pickup. That was pretty much what I pictured when Chris talked about installing the cistern. What showed up on a flatbed trailer was a tank big enough to float a hippo, roughly 5 wide x 6 high x 10 long, that holds 1700 gallons.

Our 1700 gallon cistern. Wes from Rick’s Well Servce is standing behind the tank for scale.

Wednesday, Sharon and I spent a choking day meticulously cleaning the basement concrete floor. I started without a dust mask and was wheezing and coughing so badly in about 20 minutes that I had to stop. Luckily, I had a couple of quality dust masks left from my days working underground at Yucca Mountain. Shower sure felt good that day.

Thursday, Chris acid-stained the basement floor, which is tinted light brown, with a blue stain. The goal is a mossy look and I think it worked. Pictures in the next post after we get it sealed.

Got the raised bed garden in. Call it a “watchyerstep” garden because the plantings are so tightly spaced that you have to watch where you put your feet; all watered with soaker hose winding through the plants so you have to be careful about tripping on the hose, too. Planted rows of lettuce (3 kinds), kale (young leaves are a great addition to salads), and cilantro; a hundred onion sets to chase the bugs away; and tomatoes (3 plants), cukes, zucchini, and basil (5 clumps). That’s a lot for a roughly 100 ft2 garden but with manure, mulch, and water I think it will do alright.

Speaking of soaker hose, I love it. The poor and lazy gardener’s drip system. Just lay it out, cover it with mulch to limit evaporation, and you’re done. Put a cheap valve on the inlet and control flow from a slow drip to fairly fast. Hook the system up to a $15 timer and you have an automatic shutoff so you can’t accidentally waste a lot of water.

Last week I ran across Dan Dougherty, an old friend, in the Lowes parking lot in Lakewood. Recalling that he has a pretty large lot that is partly wild, I asked him if he had any Rabbitbrush that I could dig up. I want to get some going down here because it is very drought tolerant and a fall bloomer; good for the land, good for the bees, (maybe hell for those with allergies, I dunno). He didn’t have any but did know someone who did who was trying to get rid of it.

David Wann is a founder and initiator of a small planned community in Golden called Harmony Village. Harmony Village is on a 10-acre parcel that he and a group of like-minded people bought 10 or 15 years ago. They then hired architects and designers and had 4-townhome-units built for everybody to live in. Very nice. On an irrigation ditch (with ditch rights), lots of mature trees that were protected during construction, a huge community garden, and sustainable lifestyle a high priority. Dave is, among other jobs (like authoring several books and producing videos on sustainable, envrionment-friendly living; see, in charge of the garden and sustainable landscaping at Harmony Village. And the man with the Rabbitbrush. I got 6 plants from him and put them in yesterday. Once established, they should do fine on their own.