For most people in my family packing for the plane ride was probably quite simple. They popped some dresses off hangers in the closet and folded them into the suit case, dumped in some travel-sized toiletries, and a few lara bars for the plane. My trip preparation was a bit more extensive. I had no use for dresses on the homestead. Dresses and skirts left one’s legs very exposed to ticks, crickets, snakes, scorpions, spiders, and anything else living in the grass. It just didn’t make sense. When walking through tall grass, boots and long pants were the most practical choice. So my dresses were folded and tucked in various plastic bins in the shed. First i had to find them. They were in amongst linens and extra pillows, stuffed animals from childhood and old school projects. When i finally found them i realized they smelled; they smelled like the excess dog food i stored in the shed; like rancid stale chicken. I could not wear those anywhere. They had to be washed. I had to wait for a day when rain was not forecasted. When they finally did get hung on the line they looked funny. It seemed very odd and out of place to see dresses and skirts hanging from the laundry line on the homestead. Once i had worn them of course, but that was a time before my daily routine was surrounded by ticks and mosquitos. That was a different time in my life. If i had wanted sugar free dried fruit i would have had to drive into fredericksburg or san antonio to get it so i bought some in the san antonio airport last minute. It cost a small fortune for 1 serving. For me, packing was as much about what i didn’t bring as it was what i did bring. Every morning i left the house with a machete and a lantern. Now the d batteries in the lantern would have ended me up surrounded by a ring of airport security officials with tasers pointed at my chest and the machete, well that’s just a common-sense no-no in an airport. That’s a way to render one’s self in need of a good lawyer if not a medic. So both the lantern and the machete had to stay in the house. So too did the box cutter on the key chain, the box cutter in the glove compartment, and the mini one in my purse. When one broke i typically just replaced it with a new one, rubber banded the old one back together, and found a new compartment for it because though it had lost its ability to fold properly or needed one to hold the screws in place while using it, it still worked. I also did not bring any instant coffee. It was a sea of little granulated brown pellets in an unlabeled glass container. I thought the airport security might mistake it for explosives. So, without coffee, without the lantern, without the machete, without the box cutters, and with a suit case full of dresses, i made my way back to the city to catch a plane.
A while back i made a post about buying steel toed boots to wear during my projects. I alluded to the fact that the reason i didn’t end up liking them had nothing to do with the quality of the boots and more to do with the intelligence and know-how of the human wearing them. They were wildly uncomfortable until they got wet, muddy, and smooshed. All of a sudden they fit like a glove. Amazing! So, yeah, they had to get broken in.
It was late July when all of this mess started. I came home one day and there was a black pulsating mess of legs all over my doorway. For some reason they really liked to congregate directly above the door or window on the front of the house. Nowhere else. Just the only entry point to the structure i lived in. And they were getting busy, all of the time. I’d had a hard day’s work. I was just trying to get in the house. I’d swat these suckers across the porch boards. You know where they went? Right back up the wall and into the pulsating mass of legs above my doorway. Sigh. The photos pictured above were from the beginning of the long-leg mating season. When the door was covered in a thick black cloud i wasn’t taking pictures anymore. I was busy playing a strategy game to get in the house. I had to get some object that wasn’t already in the house (usually from the shed), scoop and fling the mass as far as i could, and run in the house before they all made their way back. They were surprisingly fast for how goofy they appeared. The problem arose when the dogs needed to go out potty. The dogs would line up, i’d fling open the door, the dogs would take off running like horses out of a chute and i’d stand there playing goalie with a broom against the onslaught of daddy long legs pouring into the house from the top of the door frame. I would find them dead everywhere. In the dish water, in the bath tub, on the stove. They weren’t real resilient little survivalists. They would come in the house, die, and then when you stuck your hand in the dish water you could feel legs. Eventually my youngest dog Cashew picked up on the fact that i did not like these critters in the house and she began eating them. My sweet little vacuum. I am hoping they pick a different spot for the swingers party next year.
On the homestead a knife is used often and what begins sharp is quickly dulled. Knives are good for cutting tall weeds away from the laundry line, cutting through zip ties, cardboard boxes, and plastic packaging, cutting twine to secure hanging plants to the porch beams during windy days, and cutting the plastic tips off tubes of tar. All this cutting will eventually dull the blade and the way to remedy that is by sharpening. You do not throw out the knives and go buy all new ones. You get a sharpening stone. I started at home depot. I figured that was the place to be in my predicament. The staff member kindly pointed me to the right aisle and i set to reading the description and price tag on each stone. Every single stone, from the least expensive to the most, had a label on it that stated, “This product does cause cancer.” The label didn’t say “may increase risk of” or “has been known to increase risk in some cases”. The label stated that they knew for a fact that exposure to the material they used to manufacture their product caused cancer. Not one brand in the whole store said anything different. I left. I tried lowes, tractor supply co, and walmart. In all of the stores i encountered the same label that said the same thing. I was really disturbed by this. All of the knife sharpeners were made from combined materials blended together by a man in a laboratory. I started thinking; we didn’t always have laboratories. What did we do before the advancement of science? I had pretty much turned back to the pioneer days for the methods to complete most of my regular tasks. Now i turned there once again. How did we sharpen knives before sears and walmart? To find that information i had to go to google. As it turned out, people in italy were still sharpening stones in the old fashioned way. I had to order a stone all the way from italy and have it shipped to texas to find a knife sharpening stone that was just that; a real stone. I didn’t want a man-made blend with two differently graded sides. I wanted a stone from the earth that was capable of shaping a blade. Well, italy did not disappoint. One day i stopped by the post office to find a package shipped from italy. Inside was some tissue paper surrounding a small box. Inside the small box was a rectangular stone. I could hold it in my hand without worrying about the side effects. It was a good old-fashioned stone.
Now of course, there had been a place on the website where you could order the holder for the stone; a shallow wooden box that held the stone in place while you dragged the blade across it. However, they wanted a hefty sum of money for this holder and i was on a budget. I had seen some guy on youtube make his own sharpening stone holder with a board of wood, a permanent marker, and some nails, and that was exactly what i was going to do. So i did.
It wasn’t the fanciest or most beautiful holder a person ever laid eyes on but it was functional. I watched around 20 youtube videos on how to sharpen different types of knives on a stone and then i set to work. I sharpened my favorite knives last so that by the time i was working on them i had gotten the hang of it. I tested the knives against my finger after sharpening them. If they cut the skin at first touch i had succeeded and that knife was done. If i could touch the blade and come away unscathed the knife was not finished yet. It was a very empowering experience being able to control the sharpness of my knives with my own two hands. If they came out poorly there was nobody but me to blame. Before i got the hang of it i dulled a few blades before i rendered them sharp again. However, once i got the hang of it i knew i’d be able to maintain every knife in my posession and i’d never need to call on somebody to perform that task for me. This was a useful tool to have in the tiny house.
By the time i made it to the nursery to look for hanging plants it was July. There were not many things left that were considered in season. Spring was the time to buy hanging plants. The only thing left was white bougainvillea or red bougainvillea. There was plenty of white. Nobody wanted white; they all wanted the colorful plants to decorate their yard. There was one burgundy red and one maroon bougainvillea in a hanging pot in the entire nursery. I bought them both. I wanted the red against the sage green house. I wanted a little pop of color. I wanted to make it feel homey. I hated bougainvillea. I found it to be thorny and sharp. Its petals weren’t soft and round like so many plants i loved, but, as the season wore on the bougainvillea grew on me. It was a very hardy plant and it blossomed constantly without any fertilizer. The hummingbirds loved it and would visit its flowers. Honestly, i don’t dislike it anymore. Anything that can survive a texas summer without much care from me has got my respect.
When i first moved over from my apartment i had a number of things i meant to hang on the porch that had been hanging above the patio at the apartment. I never got around to it because it would have involved a ladder, time, and patience, and it just took me that long to muster all 3 in the same place at the same time. I had a day off and i had finished most of my chores and i thought, “Today’s the day.” So, i climbed up the porch railing with a drill, some screws, a hammer, and some hooks, and set to work personalizing the porch. The little garden bell was a gift from my sister. Apparently in Japan you can ring the bell once and it will help the plants live harmoniously together in the garden. I ring it once a day, usually in the evening because it’s dark when i leave in the morning. It is a much cherished gift as it reminds me of my sister and brother in law whom i don’t get to visit often. The thermometer was my grandmother’s. It lived in her garden for many years and she gave it to me when she moved out of her house. They just don’t make them like that anymore. The tile depicts a scene of hummingbirds visiting flowers. I fell in love with it once at a plant nursery and it came home with me. I screwed some hooks into the porch roof for future hanging plants. I also hung my wind chimes. The blue and purple ones have been with me for years but the little silver one with a hummingbird hanging from it was a gift from my grandmother and has a higher pitched and lighter sound to it. I use the wind chimes to let me know when weather is coming. The wind always picks up when a storm or front is coming through. You just can’t trust the weathermen out here. You have got to rely on wind chimes, spiders taking down their webs, humidity, and the ability to see clouds coming from miles away over the undeveloped land to tell you everything you need to know about weather because there is one weatherman for a vast area out here and there can be a big difference between the temperature in the hills and the temperature in a valley. Frequently the weatherman tells me over the radio that the low for tonight is going to be 41. I wake up and there’s ice on everything. They can’t be trusted, especially when it comes to your young fruit trees. No, you’d better forecast the weather yourself in the hill country.
One night i called the dogs in and only Cashew came. I knew immediately that something was wrong because Cashew was my wild child. She was the one who bucked the system. She was the one who stayed out all night and had me traipsing through the grass in the dark with a lantern, wearing pajamas and boots. She was the one who always thought we were playing a fun game when i had to chase her down to bring her in so i could go to work. Sili was my homebody, my couch potato. She was the one i had to push out the door to get some exercise because all she really wanted to do was nap at the base of my rocking chair. If Cashew came and Sili did not, she was either injured or dead somewhere. I quickly threw on my boots and grabbed the lantern and my favorite machete. I flung open the door to go look for her and then i saw her, limping towards the house ever so slowly. I searched her body for blood but found none. I wondered if she had broken or twisted something. I had to get her inside so i could properly examine her. I carried her up the stairs of the porch. I laid Sili down on the floor in the house. I held the lantern up to her, examining all her legs closely. I could not see anything abnormal. I could not see anything there. Cashew watched quietly from the corner of the room. Sili licked one of her paws constantly and refused to put weight on it. I could not get her to stop licking the leg and eventually i was forced to put a cone over her head to prevent her from creating an open sore. At first i thought it was a sprain, that she would recover if we just left it alone. However, 5 days later she was still refusing to bear weight on the affected leg. For the life of me, i couldn’t understand what she had gotten herself into. Then one day i noticed something tiny, sharp, and beige sticking out of Sili’s paw. As i touched it she began shaking and whimpering. Though i wasn’t touching her any longer she continued to shake. She appeared to be in shock or having some kind of pain response. I went to the tool box and grabbed my pliers. I pulled the tip of the little beige thing out of her paw. I couldn’t beleive what i was looking at!
It was a brown and beige needle-like spine. It had been stuck in her leg all this time! It had really been wedged deep in there. Sili began walking on it immediately after i removed the spine. She was so grateful she kept licking my face. I began googling animals with needle-like spines but it would get me nowhere. It wasn’t part of an animal. It was a defense mechanism for a cactus.
What i did not realize was that Cashew had gone through the cactus patch as well. Her paws and rump were full of spines wedged deep in her tissue and she hadn’t said a word this whole time. Cashew had a much higher pain tolerance than Sili. I could barely get a hold of the tips of the needles with the pliers to pull them out of her foot. They had almost disappeared completely under her skin. I couldn’t beleive it. Sili, my sensitive one, had come to me for help with 1 cactus spine. Cashew was riddled with them and never said a word. After all the spines were removed from both dogs i released them into the yard with the words “watch for cactus”…words they would not heed; words i would have to repeat many times in the future.
There’s always something going wrong or about to go wrong at the homestead. It’s just part of the lifestyle. Either you need a new water heater, air conditioner, refrigerator, pests are chewing through things, predators are traveling through areas you use frequently and getting too comfortable with the territory, deer are in the compost, the dogs have torn something down, the power is out, the well pump needs repair, the shed door won’t open because it’s come off the track, the septic tank needs repair, the roof is leaking, there’s broken glass and cigarette butts everywhere from motorists that threw things out the window, the holes the scorpions are coming through in the walls around the appliance plugs need sealed up, the windows need switched out, the house needs more insulation, the weather won’t cooperate, the ants are invading again, the termites are on the move, the coons spread the trash all over the ground, or random strangers are using the trash can on the surveillance camera. It’s a lifestyle of struggle and anxiety and a lot of coffee. It is wildly worth it though. There are moments of beauty, immersed in the wildness of nature where you feel so lucky just to be breathing the air and seeing the sunlight filter through the trees. One day i came home and there was a rainbow above the yard. As i looked closely i realized it was a double rainbow. There was a faintly visible second rainbow atop the first. Sometimes when everything is broken or about to be broken, God gives you a little encouragement to renew your faith.
I was lying in bed one day when i began to hear a noise. I thought it was the rain tapping against the window. However, when i got up to walk across the room i stepped in something wet. At first i thought a dog had peed but it was clear and had no odor. I laid a paper towel over it and lifted it up. It was definitely not pee. It was water. But…their water bowl was across the room. Suddenly something wet hit my head. I looked up. Sure enough, the roof was leaking. It began to rain harder and the water started to drip faster. I hurried to the kitchen and grabbed a pasta pot. I placed the pasta pot beneath the leak and stood back. For the most part, it was catching the water. The first thing i did was to call a roofer. They said they would have to charge me 500 dollars even though my roof was that of a tiny home because that was the minimum amount they were allowed to charge for any roofing jobs. They hadn’t even seen the house and had no idea what was wrong with the roof but it was already going to be at least a 500 dollar job. I called around and nobody in the area felt that they could say for certain they could beat that price. I wasn’t taking a day off work for a “maybe”. So i stuck with the second company i called; the one who assured me they would show up. You see, the first roofer i tried said they would show and never did. They did not return any of my phone calls after that. The second company assured me they would show and then didn’t. So i kept taking time off work and requesting a half day for nothing. Then i tried a different tactic. They said if i left the gate open i didn’t even have to be there. They would just let themselves onto the property, climb on the roof, assess the problem, and i could come by the office to pay and schedule the intervention day. They didn’t show. So, my gate remained open all day for nothing. The third time we attempted to meet he called and told me truthfully that he had more job offers in a nearby city than my tiny town and if he received more job offers in a city than he did in my quiet little town, he was going to stay where the work was and just keep rescheduling me. He wasn’t too sorry to see me go as a customer. It didn’t seem to phase him that i was taking my business elsewhere. I asked one of the maintenance staff if they could tell me what was leaking so i knew what to tell a repair guy if needed. He said he’d help me diagnose and fix the problem. I was delighted. He came out and had a look at the roof. After a while he said he thought he knew what was causing the problem. He said, “your house is not level.” There was a white pvc pipe sticking up out of the metal roof. Around it was a circular mound with a flap of rubber on top of it. It appeared to have some sort of residue where an adhesive had once held the rubber flap to the metal but it was all gone now. The maintenance man said there was once tar on the roof holding the flap down but it had cracked and fallen away and there was nothing left holding the flap in place. Rain was getting down inside the rubber part and running the length of the sheets of metal in the ceiling. He said that because my house wasn’t level the water droplet was traveling from the front of the house to the back to fall into the pasta pot on the floor. It made sense. The roof had never leaked before. All of a sudden it did. It made sense that it would have something to do with worn out glue on a rubber flap. So the maintenance man agreed to go with me to home depot, gather supplies, and fix the roof for a reasonable fee. But, something came up and he couldn’t make the appointment. Due to unforseen circumstances, the guy wouldn’t be able to help me for a month. It was a very wet spring for texas. There was historic flooding. It was raining nearly every day. I was having trouble finding windows in the weather to hang my laundry. I couldn’t wait a month. It was then that i decided i was going to fix my own roof. I marched myself into home depot and began picking out an adjustable ladder. I tried to buy tar from several employees but they either didn’t know what i was talking about or they knew what i was talking about but they weren’t sure where to find it. Eventually i stumbled upon a guy in an orange smock who would at least hear me out. I told him i wanted to buy tar because i was going to get a ladder, put it up to the roof, don my rubber water shoes, and tar my roof. He looked at me with an amused smile on his face. He said, “you’re going to tar your roof?” When i answered that i was he paused for a minute as if to take it all in and then began asking me a series of legitimate questions. How steep was the roof? What material was it made out of? Did the shoes have good tread? Did i want a bucket of tar or tubes? Did i already have a caulk gun or did i need one of those too? He gave me 2 tubes of tar for the caulk gun and told me multiple times to wear gloves because if i got it on my hands i would have to buy something to get it off. I thanked him for his help. He said, “Good luck” and watched me head towards the cash register with my ladder, my box cutter, and my tubes of tar. Doug proved to be most helpful for all of my later projects in that he could decipher my specifications and measurements such as “this much” “a tad” “anything remotely close to this cell phone photo” and “thinnish”. So i took my ladder and my tar home and began to plan out how i was going to execute the project the following morning at dawn. I had to plan it ahead of time because the metal roof would only be bearably cool around dawn and again around dusk. I set the ladder up and made sure it would sit well against the house without bending the sheet of metal hanging off the edge of the roof. I put my water shoes on and made sure the rubber gave me enough traction on the smooth roof. All systems were go. With everything ready and the sky darkening by the minute i put the ladder in the shed and went inside the house to sleep and wait for morning.
10 minutes before dawn the alarm clock woke me up. I yanked on my boots and headed to the shed to get the water shoes and the ladder. I laid the ladder against the side of the house and up i went. I used the rubber water shoes to climb to the top of the roof toting the caulk gun and a tube of tar. There i straddled the highest point of the metal roof. I cut the tip off the tube of tar and used an old nail to puncture it. Immediately i recognized the smell. It was tar alright. I examined the area in question. There was the pvc pipe above the kitchen. Around it was a square piece of metal bolted down to the bigger sheet of metal underneath. In the center of that was a rubber flap placed around a mound surrounding the pvc pipe. The flap had pulled away from the mound. So i took the caulk gun and placed tar everywhere i felt it should be to seal off the areas where water might find an opportunity to enter. I made a ring around the mound, securing the flap against it. I put tar over all the bolts and edges of the square piece of metal. There was also a little spot where there appeared to be an indentation in the metal where it had split. I put tar there. I smoothed it out a bit with a gloved finger. Then i climbed down and waited for the sun to dry it. For the next couple days i kept placing the ladder against the house and climbing onto the roof to check if the tar was dry. One thing i realized right away was that morning or evening, there was a great view of the property to be had from the roof. I liked being up there.
In an ironic twist it stopped raining the day i tarred the roof. It didn’t rain again for months. It had been so rainy and then all of a sudden it disappeared and texas became dry again. I wouldn’t get a chance to test the roof patch until late summer. Everyone kept asking me if i had fixed it but truthfully, i didn’t know if i had. Then one day i was lying in bed when i heard it; the most beautiful sound in the world, the sound of rain on a tin roof. I hurried over to the pot placed on the floor beneath the edge of the metal ceiling sheet. It was bone dry. Not a drop of water was in it. It stayed dry all the rest of that day, though it poured cats and dogs outside. I had done it. I had fixed the roof leak. The tiny house would live to see another day.