One day my supervisor approached me at work. She had something in her hand; a folded piece of cloth. She said, “i’m making a housewarming present for you and i just wanted to get your opinion on whether you think this is something you would use before i continue.” When she unfolded it i saw a beautiful embroidered buck, complete with antlers, in front of a patch of trees. I instantly loved it! I couldn’t beleive she had embroidered this animal! I mean, to draw an animal takes skill, but to create it with thread is a whole new thing! She wanted me to measure my window and that would let her know how long to make the top of the curtain where the little rings would be holding it on the rod. She had made me a bathroom curtain so the wildlife wouldn’t be able to see me while i was on the pot or in the shower. A week later she returned with the finished product, the top of the curtain crocheted from soft cream colored yarn and tiny plastic rings stitched in place to hang it from the curtain rod. As the house began to come together, i noticed a piece of my family and friends in each part. My supervisor provided the bathroom curtain. My mother provided the heater. My grandmother provided the rocking chair, and my sister would be making the curtains for the living room. There was a piece of all these people in my life in the various parts of my property. I didn’t know it at the time, but this trend would continue as more people came forth to contribute what they had to give, whether it be their time and labor, something they’d created with their hands, or something they’d bought because they knew the property needed it. My land became like a jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table at a family reunion. Each person that walked by put a new piece where it went.
I guess most people who are trying to homestead don’t have a day job that has nothing to do with homesteading. A lot of my projects happen in a very gradual manner because i only have time to work on them in the evenings or on the weekends when i’m not scheduled to work. I love my little slice of wilderness, but, as i am not infinitely wealthy, i need my day job in healthcare to pay for it. For my bigger projects, i would ask for a day off a month in advance and use my accrued pto to cover it. So, when someone decided to cancel on me or the weather didn’t cooperate, i had to wait another month before i could have a day off to reschedule. On the day we were supposed to work on the skirting I think the high was something like 34 degrees farenheit and the low was 29. The forecast predicted rain. The handyman called me and asked me if i wanted to reschedule. I told him that if the roads were dry and he could make it, i was still down to work on it that day. I say this because the handyman i hired wasn’t the type to work for you…it was more of a partnership. You had to clear your schedule because you were going to be doing half the work. You would also be providing half the tools. To be clear, it had not started raining where i was when the handyman called that morning. Apprently it had been raining in his town all night and there was ice on the roads where he was. This detail, he did not share with me. If he had, i would have called it off and told him to stay home. About 5 minutes after he arrived, with a surprising amount of ice on his vehicle, it began to rain. The rain came in the form of little balls of ice. The ones that landed in the plants and on the tree stumps stuck but the ones that landed on the ground melted. It was right around freezing. Sometimes over, sometimes under. The main discomfort was the wind. It numbed ones fingers and made one’s toes burn through the boots. I couldn’t tell if my nose was running or just frozen. I had ice bits in my hair. Before long my coat and pants became soggy from the dampness of the melting ice rain. I didn’t care. I was there to do a job. I’d taken a whole day off work to do it, and i was going to get it done. When i’m determined i have a one track mind and i’m like a creature obsessed until the job is done. My handyman did not share my enthusiasm. He took his time, and a fair amount of rest breaks. He kept saying, “okay, let’s rest now. Okay, no more for today.” I was so frustrated with peoples’ speed and pace at which they wanted to do things. I had a limited amount of free time. Every moment had to be spent doing something productive if my projects were to survive and get off the ground. I didn’t have time for resting or coming back another day. I wanted to finish the skirting on the house. Part of the problem was that my handyman had only brought a manual tool to cut through the tin, which took a long time and a lot of effort. A power tool would have used less of his energy and been quicker, but he didn’t have one. I kept us moving at as brisk a pace as i could manage. He kept asking, “you cold? You want to go inside?” I knew he would be coming with me and the work would be finished for the day if i answered yes so my answer was always, “no, i’m fine.” We spent the entire day in the freezing rain. All i could think about was how much warmer this was going to make the house now that the wind couldn’t whip underneath the house, chilling the floor boards to an icy temperature. When we secured the last piece in place the handyman stood up and shook my hand. He said, “we did it.” Without going over my checklist, i assumed we were done. He began packing his things up. I paid him. He warmed himself in the house for a little bit by the space heater and then set out down the road. I returned to the tiny house only to see the bag of airflow vents lying on the stovetop. I was not calling him back. I didn’t think he’d even come. He was so glad to be done with the winter weather for the day. I was so tired of half finished jobs. This was not going to be one of them. I called my coworker who lived down the road. I asked her if her husband had a tool that could cut through tin. He had the manual tool that could cut through tin. It was rusted by the salt water from being left in the bed of his truck when they went fishing at the coast, but if i wanted to borrow it i was welcome to. I met her at the corner and she handed me the tool through the car window. I headed back to the property and set to work finishing the skirting on my house. I used a drill bit to make a hole in the tin where i wanted to put the vent. Then i wedged the tin-cutting scissors in that hole and cut out a rectangular piece. I laid the vent over the hole i had created and switched the drill bit to a tiny one. I made the itty bittiest of holes for each screw to sit in. Then i switched to a screw driver bit and drove them into the tin, securing the vent in place. I sat back in the frozen mud and admired my handiwork. I had done it. There was a vent. The rain would not cause mold to build up underneath the house and render the structure worthless. I would create airflow to dry it out. I went around to the other side of the house and repeated the steps. I broke two drill bits but luckily, i had multiple sets from previous years’ projects. Which was good, because there was no hardware store where i lived. When vents were installed on both sides of the house i called my coworker to return the tool. She told me just to give it to her at work the next day. I set it on the floorboard of my car and went inside. I put a pasta pot on the stove and began boiling water for a bath. I was cold and all my muscles hurt but i had finished the job. The house was skirted.
When i moved in i noticed a hole under the house. There were mosquitos flying around the entrance in droves so i didn’t venture too far into the hole. Instead, i gummed it up by wedging rocks in it and pouring dirt on top of those rocks with a shovel. The next day, the rocks were strewn around the yard and the hole was dug out again. Obviously, whatever dug the hole was still living in it. I was hoping it was vacant. You see, i was planning to put skirting around the bottom of the tiny house and the opening of this animal den happened to be directly under said house. I wasn’t looking to have a critter permanently trapped under the floor. I tried to research what kind of animal could have dug such a hole but there was no way to narrow it down. According to the internet, some animals inhabit abandoned dens dug by others. So, even if i figured out what made the hole, there was no guaranteeing it’d be what was in it now. I heard noises at night underneath the window on that side of the house. I was sure that whatever it be, it was nocturnal. So, i figured i’d wait for the noise and then rush out in the yard with a flashlight and witness what it was. A good plan but an idiotic one too. Whatever critter it was; me pulling on shoes and running around the side of the house gave it plenty of time to duck back in its den. So i tried a stake out. I parked the car where i could see the den and then sat very still and quiet inside the parked car for hours at a time waiting for the critter to emerge. Nothing. I was beginning to think the critter had gotten spooked and gone to find a new den. I forgot about the critter for a few days. Then, one morning i got in the car, flicked on the headlights, and the biggest possum i’d ever seen crawled under the house and into the hole. I sat in awe of what just happened. I had identified the critter! It was a possum! I went to work full of optimism about my ability to handle the situation. Possums were actually beneficial creatures to have on the homestead. I didn’t want to get rid of the possum, just keep it out from under the house while putting on the skirting. I had a plan. I’d go to the tractor supply store, get a trapping cage, stick a can of cat food in there, catch the possum, hold it in the cage for a day, put the skirting on the side of the house, and release the possum. It was a good plan, in theory. I didn’t account for the possum being smart. I set the trap out in front of the hole, under the house. All it did was attract flies and make a bunch of maggots. The possum did not get in. Then i had a thought. What if the trap smells like me and the cashier who handled it? Of course he’s not going to get in. So i rubbed the whole thing down with tuna juice and dirt. I set it to the side of the hole, then in front of the top of the hole on the outside, facing the house. Each time, only the flies were interested. I tried a different brand of cat food. Nothing. Then one morning as i was getting into the car to drive to work, something walked past me in the dark. It was the possum. It casually sauntered by me and walked off into the darkness. I couldn’t believe it. This possum was smart. Smart enough to deserve a proper name. So i called it Max. Max the possum disappeared into the night. For another whole week i set the trap every day before dusk and found it empty every morning. On the final day before the handyman was scheduled to help me with the skirting, i set the trap one more time. This time i put a packet of real tuna in a bowl in the back of the cage. Maybe Max would like that better than the cat food. I got up the next morning before dawn to check the trap and see if there was anything in it. The trap was sprung but the food was inside and it was otherwise empty. I was bent down examining the trigger mechanism and trying to figure out how the animal had done it. When i stood up i turned to see two little eyes watching me in the darkness. It was Max, sitting on top of the mulch pile. He seemed rather pleased with himself. I had to laugh. I’d been outsmarted by a possum, several times now if we were counting. I said in the darkness, “Okay Max, you win. You win.”
I realized pretty early on that i was going to need a second shed, located not far from the first one (a shed remodeled into a tiny house) to keep the rest of my stuff in. Clothes, dishes, cookware, quilting supplies, knitting, extra chairs…these were all things that i wanted to hang onto that didn’t necessarily need to be in the main cabin on a daily basis. I stopped at one of those road side lots displaying sheds with windows and porches. They showed me the model i was interested in, made me a good price, offered a payment plan, and i put down a $100 deposit. There was something that didn’t sit right with me about it though. The guy didn’t have an office. He used his buddy’s 3 in 1 printer to make a copy of my driver’s license in a uhaul office. Between him, his buddy, and his buddy’s wife, they couldn’t find a highlighter. Nothing about this transaction screamed professional. Everything about it screamed “danger will robinson, danger!” I started asking lots of questions. For instance, there were models on the lot that had holes cut out of the sides or bags of trash in them. Some of the models were missing doors or looked very used. Why were they like that? The guy assured me i had nothing to worry about. Once i got back in the car i googled the company he supposedly worked for. It turned out the models looked lived in because they were. The company was in a different state and contracted all these random people to sell their sheds for them all over the USA. There was no office, no help desk, and nowhere to file your complaints. The sheds did not arrive as advertised. They were not water proof and some of them didn’t have the windows or shelving they were supposed to come with. Many of the shed porches didn’t have the railings or the sheds didn’t have porches when they were supposed to. One shed came unpainted. Another shed’s paint flaked off within a week and the plywood rotted in the rain. These people were all on payment plans for their sheds. So, when the company made no offer or attempt to repair the sheds, the people stopped making the payments on them, and they were repossessed. The same man that would have sold the shed to them would have a crew load it back onto a truck and dump it in the very lot where he had ensnared the people in his scam to begin with. So, the sheds i had seen with the cut outs in the side like they had once been glued to another structure or the bags of trash locked inside…this was a graveyard of sorts for repossessed sheds purchased by poor duped suckers like i was about to be. I called the man from the car and said i’d read some reviews and changed my mind. I told him i knew he’d be keeping my 100 dollar deposit but i wanted to cancel my order immediately. The man said that the reviews were true, but that he was different from the company and he’d been doing all the repairs himself for his customers and he took care of his own. I said that was fine but i still wanted to cancel my order. He said, well, don’t worry about the 100 dollars. I will give you your 100 dollars back. I figured this was just a ploy to get me to think he was a nice guy so i’d reconsider and want the shed. I was right. He did cancel my order and i never saw my 100 dollars. I was very shaken by the 300+ reviews i continued to read in the car at the HEB parking lot. One horror story after another. All these people were trapped paying on this giant rotting, defective eye sore in their yard that they couldn’t store anything in and they couldn’t stop paying on it if they wanted to maintain their credit. I wanted something legit. I went to home depot, dropped $2000 more than planned, and bought a custom tuff shed. They forgot the window in the door and the vent for airflow, so the crew had to come back 2 times (free of charge) to put those in. However, they built me a really sturdy, water proof, well made shed. It was another one of those “you get what you pay for” moments for me. I tried to save a buck and it almost back-fired big time. Sometimes there’s something to be said for going with the mainstream option. I ended up paying it off in 6 months, before the interest kicked in. So, that un-air-conditioned shed is the only thing on the property that i own outright. Hopefully as time passes more things will join it.
When i lived in the city, somebody always came once a week and emptied the dumpster. It just happened automatically. I didn’t contract them to do so. It was set in place long before i got there. When i moved to a smaller town outside the city limits, i suddenly realized two things. Firstly, I didn’t have a trash can. Secondly, there was no city to send city services from. I started to wonder what all my neighbors were doing with their trash. I asked some people who lived in my area how they got rid of their trash. They said the unlucky ones had to make a run to the landfill every so often and paid the landfill a pricey fee to take their trash from the minivan. I didn’t fancy riding all the way to the landfill with a car full of trash and forking over as much dough as they were describing to get rid of it. They told me that other people burned their trash. They would bury the tin cans and things that wouldn’t burn and dump everything else in a barrel and light it on fire. I didn’t fancy burnt plastic fumes drifting in through the window so i counted that idea out. Then they said, “if you can get ahold of IWS, they’re a private trash removal service. Its some guys with a pick up truck pulling a trailer. They’ll take 2 bags from each household and they’re way cheaper than the landfill.” So i called. I realized early on why the people who advised me to call them said “if you can get ahold of them…” it was pretty near impossible to get ahold of them. I always got the answering machine and they never rung me back. So, i made up my mind. I was going to find the time when my call would get through. I called every two hours (not at night…i’m not unreasonable) for about two weeks, even on the weekend days just in case that was the time my call would get through. Finally, the call picked up and i heard a woman’s voice on the other end of the line. I was so happy and so afraid the call would drop. I must have been shouting into the phone. I was talking so fast to get her as much information as i could before she disappeared. She said my area was indeed covered and if i wanted to get a spot on their route i could. She told me if i wanted i could think about it and call back later with my decision. I shouted, “no! No, i want to go ahead and schedule it. I’m sure. Let’s just do everything today.” She said, “okay, i can certainly help you with that.” I gave all my information over the phone. The woman told me i would have to go to home depot or lowes and purchase an outdoor trashcan. She gave me my pick-up day and time and told me to have the can visible for the guys at the curb by that time and they would take the bags and leave the empty trash can. I thanked her profusely and hung up. I went straight to lowes and purchased an outdoor trash can on wheels. I put it in my shed. Every trash day i rolled it out to the curb and every time i returned the trash was gone and the can was empty. I loved the service so much. It worked like clock work. I didn’t want anything to happen that would lose my spot on these guys’ route (some of my neighbors up the road lost their spot because the unpaved road became too treachurous for their trailer after all the rains). I began to notice the months tick by and i still hadn’t received a bill. I called and called and called until i reached a person. I asked them to make sure i was on the billing list because i loved the service and wanted them to get paid for their work (and keep me as a client). They put me on the billing list. I started receiving bills and all seemed well until i witnessed a woman empty a 6 pack of beer bottles and some take-out food (not in containers) into my trash can. I drove up as she was doing it. I got out of the car to ask her why she had done what i just watched her do. She rolled up the window, locked the car doors, and began making a series of phone calls while sitting in her car next to my trash can. She looked straight ahead and ignored my existence as i called, “excuse me…” when it became apparent i wasn’t leaving she put the phone down and drove off. I took down her license plate number but a soiled trash can wasn’t top priority on law enforcement’s list. I spent a good half hour cleaning the inside of my trash can and then, to add insult to injury, had to add her trash to my bag for the next week. Her stale beer and rotting food sat in my bag in my kitchen cabinet all week, as a reminder of why i enjoy the company of dogs over humans. She wouldn’t be the last to deposit things in my trash can. I thought it was raccoons i would most have to worry about but i was mistaken. Eventually it would drive me to install a surveillance system. Once that was in place, anyone who stuck their hand in the cookie jar (or in this case trash can) was on camera. I thought i was moving to the wilderness, but as i was learning, i was still civilization adjacent.
So, this is how people were getting onto my property. The couple i found peering in the windows to see if they wanted to buy the place (already sold) flat out told me they just climbed through the 6 foot hole in the wire fencing. When they said that i decided i really needed to take a walk around the property and see what i was dealing with. I knew the fence was not viable, and i hadn’t cared because Sili was a digger anyways. No material fence void of electricity was going to be sufficient to pen her in. However, i hadn’t thought about what a fence would do to keep things out. Starting out, my thought was that i would repair the fencing that already existed. I looked into acquiring wire to string across the existing posts in the places it was absent. However, i soon realized, some of the posts (maybe a third of them) looked like they would fall over if you kicked them. Some of them were more sticks than posts. Later i would learn that there were termites living in the fence posts, which the pest control company recommended i leave in place. He said, if you take their home away, they will just look for a new one. I’d rather have them in the fence than one of my structures. He also mentioned that if i ever did replace the fence, i would need to treat all my structures to prevent termite relocation. This estimate suddenly got expensive. But, i skipped a part. Let me go back. Before i knew anything about the termites’ existence in the fence posts i was trying to work with the materials already in place. Nobody wanted to dig new post holes in the limestone rock and the moment i mentioned doing that all my helpers and even 1 professional said “i’m out”. When i realized i would likely be fixing the fence myself, i didn’t want the mess of mixing and pouring concrete. I was too afraid i’d have the leftover bits cemented to the property in various places and worried that washing the mixing materials and container without a hose would require depositing cement debris directly under one of my spigots. My friend offered to help me with the wire but he needed some specific tools to tighten it and clamp it down, tools that could only be obtained online and wouldn’t arrive by the day he was scheduled to be passing through town. My coworker offered to gift me a couple rolls of metal wire fencing that they had once used to pen chickens in. All i had to do was come pick it up. However, upon examining the state of the existing fencing, i was beginning to think the thing needed an overhaul more than a patch job. This is when i started thinking about privacy fencing. I loved the look of those panneled wood fences lowes was offering. It would essentially wall in my little slice of paradise, keeping all my intruders out and not allowing anyone to see in. There were a few problems with this idea. Firstly, no matter how many times i left a message in both the lowes and home depot fencing departments, nobody ever called me back (this went on for weeks). Mainly, cost. Fencing 2 acres is no small job cost-wise. I wasn’t sure if i’d ever be able to come up with the money to do it, and the fencing companies were about as confident as i was in my ability to produce that kind of cash. There was one other consideration when it came to a privacy fence. The deer, the road runners, the foxes, the racoons, the possums, and the coyotes seemed to come and go as they pleased. If i were to build a wall around the property, would i be shutting down their highway system? Would i see less of the nature i so loved and wanted to immerse myself in? In the winter, the sun rose over my neighbor’s property, framed by his two spanish oaks in a field of scattered trees. It was visible through one of my windows. I thought about how much i had enjoyed watching those pink and periwinkle sunrises in the chilly morning temperatures, wrapped in a house coat at the window. Would i be able to make peace with the idea if i commisioned someone to block my view of such an awe inspiring wonder of nature? Eventually, the cost drove me to put the privacy fence in the “bananas” pile and the termites drove me to end my quest to replace the fence altogether. I was back to the “repair and patch” idea. Then a different thought sprang into my head. What if the fence wasn’t the thing that kept intruders out? It would be cheaper and easier just to get a second dog.
When you are a child, you cling fast to your mother’s hand. When you grow older, you begin to drift away. You go out into the world and forge your own path, and in many ways, your parents can’t be a part of that. You have to figure it out on your own. When i bought the property, it was January, and i think my mother realized we were cold. Whenever i would speak to her on the phone, Sili and i would be curled up under the blankets and i’d be wearing a hat and layers of clothing. My mother sent me a heat dish as a house warming present. It was my very own space heater, the same kind we’d had to heat the bathroom in winter when i was a kid. When i lifted that box over the post office counter i was giddy with excitement because i knew from the label on the box what it was. We were finally going to be warm. What a luxury it would be. Instantaneous plug-in heat. I was almost drooling at the thought. I loaded the box into the car and excitedly drove it home to Sili. She watched me with an inquisitive expression on her face as i unpackaged and unwrapped the styrofoam block on the kitchen floor. Inside would be our favorite and most cherished posession, though she wouldn’t realize it yet. I thought i would have to show her how it worked. I thought there would be a lot of explaining to do, but she is a smart dog and as soon as those coils lit up orange, she took to that thing like white on rice. If the space heater was on, you knew where to find her. She would be the furry blob parked 1.5 centimeters in front of it. She sat so close at times i worried her fur would get singed, but it never did. I put it in the bathroom every morning to warm it; 7 to 10 minutes before i went to take a shower. I faced it towards the kitchen while i was cooking. I put it in front of the rocking chair when Sili and i were winding down for the night. Most importantly, i placed it in the middle of the room, facing the bed, and left it on at night to keep the temperature from dropping while we slept. The house stayed warm while we dreamt and when Sili and i awoke, we weren’t exhausted from shiverring. This space heater had brought comfort to our little existence in the wilderness, and i was grateful for it. Every time i plugged it in i thought of my mother. I may have drifted away, as all children do at some point in their lives, but every time i plugged this space heater in i felt my mother’s love. She had made sure we were warm.
Usually, when you move from one place to the next you pile all the moving boxes in the back bedroom or the home office and unload them at your leisure over the course of the next few months. When you live in a 1 room house that is under 400 square feet, this is not a viable option. I couldn’t hire movers. Where would they put the stuff? I was already paying the mortgage on the new property and the rent on my apartment as well. I couldn’t afford to add the monthly expense of a storage locker to the mix. So, i moved my things over to the property in my suv, one load at a time. I made a trip every day after work. It helped me to avoid clutter. In the climate controlled house, i put the bare necessities. Anything i didnt use on a daily basis, but wanted to keep, would go in the shed. It would take me a time period of 4 months to get everything out of the apartment. Piece by piece, after work and before bed, i moved all my things over to the property. I would lug Sili’s crate back and forth. She would stay in the apartment while i was at work and packing the car. Then she’d ride to the property with me, nestled in the front seat amongst all my material things. We would unload the car by lantern light and collapse in bed.
At night, with the lights on, you could see straight into the house, clear as day. I needed some curtains. I wanted a tad bit of privacy. If nothing else, from the coyotes, and whoever turned off the electricity to my well pump that night. I had a particular vision though, for the functionality of these curtains. I didn’t want floor to ceiling curtains. In a structure in the wilderness, whatever touches the ground is soon coated in a layer of dusty soil. Also, my animals would either chew or tear curtains that hung within their jurisdiction (space directly above or on the floor). I wanted half-length curtains. I was surprised to find out, there was no such thing. After visiting multiple furniture/houseware stores I decided i’d better go to the fabric store and pay someone to make me curtains from whichever fabric i picked out. That way, i could designate the length. My sister, who is a gifted seamstress, got wind of the idea and volunteered. She said it would be her housewarming gift to me. I absolutely loved the idea. Every time i pulled the curtains i would think of her. So i picked a fabric and a style and she set about making them. My sister had a lot of stuff on her plate at this time. Just exactly what, was her business and not my place to share. However, making curtains for the tiny house would not be an instant job. I had to get used to the idea of sleeping with the windows bare. Even the bathroom had a window, so there was no place to dress without being visible and you had to get over yourself to take a shower. I tried to adopt the stance that i was in the middle of 2 acres and i was not an interesting sight to the foxes and raccoons. It still felt taboo. It felt as if i was on a nudist beach surrounded by non-nudist city blocks and forever waiting for disaster to strike as i was carted off to jail for traumatizing some poor neighborhood kid that had never seen a fat roll around a middrift. I looked forward to the eventual addition of curtains but at that time the bare windows gave me a beautiful view of the moon as i was falling asleep each night. They also reminded me that i was in a box and the box was in the wilderness. It gave one a sense of being part of the night rather than sheltered from it. We were part of the wilderness, for now.
Hiring a handyman was an eye opening experience for me. I learned, you get what you pay for. If you hire a handyman that is going to charge you an arm, a leg, and possibly a kidney, you will be broke but you will have the job done right. If you hire someone affordable, you will be redoing the job yourself later. One by one all of the projects (except the shelves) that my handyman had worked on fell apart and i had to figure out what i was going to do about that. The handyman himself had created something that broke. If that was the professional’s handiwork, i couldn’t possibly do any worse. The handyman was half the reason i instated my new “no more professionals” rule for the property. When i needed a septic guy, a roofer, an electrician, and an exterminator to come to the property, they would reschedule 3 or 4 times, setting my date back weeks. Then they still wouldn’t show. One guy was finally honest enough with me to let me in on the fact that repair men weren’t going to drive all the way out to a small town for one job if they had 3 possible jobs in a bigger city that day. They were going to stay where the money was at. So, unless i had multiple jobs for them in my surrounding area, they were not likely coming. I got tired of taking days off work for people that never had any intention of showing. That’s when my determination to do for myself was let out of its cage. I had always had an independent spirit but this was different. I was dealing with things i knew nothing about. I simply came to the realization that i could probably learn a new skill faster than i could teach somebody else to care.