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Conferencing

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Tiny House Conference and the only thing I’ve done is continue my quest for land. Most of the acreage available around Nashville is on the sides of steep hills, it seems, but my search continues.

The conference was great. I gained many valuable tips in relation to land, zoning, building codes, building techniques, living off the grid and life in general. I can’t wait for the video of Dee Williams’ keynote talk to be available.

Laura LaVoie, one of the conference presenters has a recap and pictures on her Life in 120 Square Feet blog. Among her pictures are two of me. One standing in front of the shipping container house and the other of me checking Facebook before the Q&A that she and Andrew Odum hosted.

The Q&A session was part of Laura and Andrew’s regular r(E)vo Convo tiny house pod cast. (That’s Andrew pointing at the camera. I’m behind the “Keeper” reading Facebook.)

One of my favorite parts of the podcast was when a guy named Zack who sells SIP panels (OSB sheathing with styrofoam in the middle), proclaims his favored version of SIPs is “less toxic” than others. Good to know. Good to know.

I’ll have more on the conference later. I’m going to look at more property right now.

The inside poop

I attended the Tiny House Conference this past weekend in Charlotte and I can honestly say I have never been to a conference where just about every session touched on some aspect of dealing with human excrement. But the truth of the matter is, whether you live in a tiny house, a tent, a ranch-house or even a McMansion,  you’ve got to come up with a way to handle your poop.

Why? Because if you don’t handle it right, someone’s going to get sick and it’s probably going to be you.

So the inside poop at the conference was you need to deal with poop from the get-go.

In a session on housing codes and tiny houses, poop was a big deal, though not as big of a deal as the stated need to pull a permit before you do anything involving a hammer and nail.

The overall codes message was “I am from the government and I am here to help you do things the way I want you to do them because there were problems in the past that you don’t understand or have taken the time to think about and study like I have.”

All of the sessions on building techniques, design, lifestyles and living off the grid also broached the poop subject, too. Event organizer Ryan Mitchell said poop comes up in just about every tiny house conversation, eventually.

The bottom line with building and housing codes is that if you live inside a city, plan to hook your toilet to the sewer system, or skip having a toilet in your house and use your neighbor’s facilities. I met several people who opted to do the latter, living in friends’ backyards and securing bathroom privileges when negotiating the terms of their stay.

A home-made composting toilet

Others use “composting toilets.” And by “composting toilets,” I mean a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat and a bag of cedar sawdust nearby to absorb liquids and mask odors. For the most part, they don’t live inside a city, so codes aren’t as big of an issue in their lives.

We had a fishing camp when I was a kid that had a cesspool, which was an upgrade in South Louisiana, where most camp toilets involved a board with a hole in it perched above a body of water that would wash the poop away really quickly. Out of sight, out of mind. But I digress.

A store-bough composting toilet

A couple of the model homes at the Tiny House Conference had store-bought composting toilets. Those are great, but somewhat pricey and can be quirky to use. A good composting toilet can set you back at least $1,000. Poop is big business.

Personally, my plans involve a septic tank. Why? Because you need one to get health department approval for your home if there’s no sewer system around.

In my life, I have pooped in garbage bags inside of buckets, I’ve hung my butt over the side of boats in a canal and logs in the forest. I have used chemical toilets, camping toilets, portable toilets and outhouses. I’d rather not have my house smell like any of them. A septic system will do just fine. And the grass above it will always be green.

I learned lots of things at the conference and met some really great people. I’ll have more on the conference later on. But for now, just know this. If you’re going to talk about a tiny house, be prepared to discuss poop. It will come up in the conversation.

 

Presbyterians don’t give up stuff for Lent, I thought as I read about my church’s Ash Wednesday service for the first time three years ago.

Born a Presbyterian, I’ll die a Presbyterian, and we don’t fall for that whole self-sacrifice during Lent trip. I’d been to Ash Wednesday services with my wife, who is Roman Catholic. I accepted ashes on my forehead because they come off pretty easy with soap and a wash cloth. But I never accepted the concept of giving up something for Lent and I often ate meat for lunch on Fridays because I knew that supper would be meatless.

I joined the Downtown Presbyterian Church after the divorce and started attending Sunday services again. But in 50 plus years of being Presbyterian, I’d never seen such a thing as a Presbyterian Church celebrating Ash Wednesday. So I went to my first three years ago. It was nice. I picked up a hamburger on the way home afterward.

Ken Locke, my minister, talked about the sacrifices that Christ made and pointed out that Lent isn’t about giving up something you like so much as it is about focusing on the sacrifice that Christ made. Don’t give up something you like, Ken said. Give up something you don’t like about yourself.

He had us write down what we’d like to give up. I wrote “bitterness” on a piece of paper, rolled it up and buried it in a bowl of sand put out for that purpose as I accepted ashes on my forehead.

Being bitter is easy. Not being bitter right after a divorce took some effort. Every time I caught myself, I’d say “At least no one nailed you to a cross.” By Easter, I’d learned to not be bitter. I didn’t pick it back up once Lent was over.

Last year, I gave up giving into anger, especially while I’m behind the wheel. I put the slip of paper I wrote that down on in the ashtray of my car, to serve as a reminder.

If you think giving up being bitter is hard, try giving up giving in to anger sometime.

No more, “Hey, are you waiting for that sign to turn green?” “If you want to drive that slow, get a bike, buddy.” (I rarely say buddy, so use your imagination there.) “Blinker. It’s called a blinker dipstick. Use it some time.”

It wasn’t easy, but I did it. And I didn’t pick it back up after Easter.

This year, there was no sermon. Church elders led the service and in place of a sermon was a liturgical reading of Isaiah Chapter 58. Read it when you have some free time. It, too, deals with the kinds of sacrifices that God wants from us. Chocolate is not involved.

I won’t tell you what I am giving up for Lent this year because it’s too early and I don’t want to jinx it. I’m on a roll and you have to respect a streak.

I will tell you that the fried chicken I had for supper before the service at Puckett’s Grocery across the street from church was good, though. And I’m looking forward to a Whataburger cheeseburger when I pass through Birmingham on Friday.  (They don’t call us protestants for nothing, you know.)

Handy

The parking lot was empty as I pulled into the AutoZone at dusk. Inside, the place looked deserted, which suited me fine.

I started to stroll the aisles, looking, when a voice from the back room broke the silence.

“Can I help you?” he asked in a nice, friendly way.

He startled me while I was intently scanning the aisles for a chartreuse can.

“I’m not sure,” was my reply.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Yes,” I said, still scanning the shelves and suddenly feeling like I was 18 and back at the Shop N Bag on St. Mary Street in Thibodaux whenever a new issue of Hustler magazine came out.

There was silence.

“OK,” the clerk said nonchalantly walking to the front of the store while drying his hands on a rag. “Just let me know if I can help.”

“I’m looking for hand cream,” I finally said. “You probably hear that every day.”

He laughed.

“This time of year, I actually do,” he said. “Front of the store right by the door.”

I felt stupid. I walked right by it and missed the bright green can.

O’Keefe’s Working Hands.

This has been a brutal winter, marked by wide swinging temperature extremes. It can be 70 one day and 17 a few days later. It’s taken a toll on my hands. They get rough and chapped. At one point, it felt like I had a dozen paper cuts on the edges of my hands. All the hand lotions I found in stores smelled a little too dainty for me, actually irritated my sinuses and left my hands feeling greasy.

A web search turned up O’Keefe’s. It promised to fix dry and cracked hands almost overnight without leaving a perfumey odor after you’ve entered the room. I figured I’d give it a try.

The clerk rang up the sale and I paid cash out of a lingering need to feel anonymous in this transaction for whatever reason.

“Can I get you anything else?” the AutoZone clerk asked.

“Do y’all stock foot cream?” I replied.

“OK,” the clerk said. “Now you’re getting weird.”

I guess you could say that I’ve started looking for land for my cabin in the woods. Although the search sort of began in 2009, a heavy debt load made it pretty much impossible for me to close any deal I might stumble upon on my periodic internet searches for raw land.

The debt is for the most part gone now, so the search is in earnest. My goal is to own property by the end of September. I got sidetracked last year when I discovered HUD houses and HUD auctions. I got pre-approved for an FHA loan and put in a couple of bids on homes that would have been adequate for me and provide me with home fixing projects to last me well into retirement.

I even put in a contract on a log cabin in Madison that would have been perfect for me, until I had it inspected and discovered that the structural and electrical problems it had would have made it cheaper to build one from scratch. So I gave up on searching for inexpensive houses and returned to my quest for land.

1.5 acres, with most of it along the slope of a hill.

So far things have been interesting. A 1 1/2 acre site in Cheathem County with the asking price of $15,000 turned out to be a 50 x 100 lot with a backyard that sloped down the hill at about a 60 degree angle for several hundred feet. It was covered with tires.

10-acres with more old tires than “timber”

 

A 10-acre site in Hickman County that advertised harvestable timber was actually a gully on a steep mountainside that would have required a helicopter to get those logs out. It was full of trash, too.

Today’s search was better. A little more than 11 acres with a creek at the front of the property, $28,500. It was at the end of a gravel road, about 60 miles east of Nashville. A few acres of cleared land and the rest was forest on a steep mountainside. You had to drive across the creek to get to the land. Getting in or out after a heavy rain might have proven tricky and driving on that road after a snow could be downright challenging.

But the views. Man the views. This was a pretty piece of property. I had to drive a mile up the road to get a cell signal to call the real estate agent. Sadly, someone already made an offer and the seller accepted it yesterday.

The road leading to an 11.3-acre site about 60 miles east of Nashville

The search has reaffirmed the reason I want to own raw land in Tennessee in the first place. Tennessee is a beautiful place. My Roland and Bryan ancestors learned this more than 200 years ago when they settled here for a couple of generations. It’s fun following in their footsteps.

I don’t know whose house is on the top of that hill, but they’ve got a great view of this valley and more.

Saut crapaud

Saut crapaud ta queue va brûler.
Prends courage un autre va pousser.

This little ditty is the first French I ever learned in a classroom.

Growing up in South Louisiana, you learned other French words outside of class, but they couldn’t be repeated inside class unless you felt like being sent to the principal’s office.

Saut crapaud ta queue va brûler.
Prends courage un autre va pousser.

These were my first French words from a teacher.

Technically, she was a student teacher. Miss Chauvin was her name and she worked with Mrs. Zeringue, my third grade teacher at W.S. Lafargue Elementary School. We didn’t learn our teachers’ first names back then. I learned later in life that Mrs. Zeringue’s name was Suzanne. I never learned Miss Chauvin’s, which is sad because I had a huge crush on Miss Chauvin. She taught us about Acadian history and culture in the spring of 1966.

Saut crapaud ta queue va brûler.
Prends courage un autre va pousser.

I know it was the spring of 1966, because at the end of August 1965, Hurricane Betsy destroyed our brand new classroom. We held class in the teacher’s lounge until they built a new classroom for us and we didn’t move into it until after Christmas break. It was one of those “temporary” buildings that were still in use a decade after I graduated high school.

Saut crapaud ta queue va brûler.
Prends courage un autre va pousser.

Driving back to Tennessee from Louisiana was uneventful this week. Christmas with my parents and all of my siblings together for the first time in 10 years was great. Short visits with dear friends are always priceless. But the drive back was uneventful, other than me finding the pepper grinder I’ve been looking for. I found it at the outlet mall in Gonzales on my way out of the state.

Saut crapaud ta queue va brûler.
Prends courage un autre va pousser.

I kept singing this ditty, over and over as I drove what is now an extremely familiar route. We learned the song with a somewhat slow tune, but you can sing it fast or slow, as I’ve done a zillion times. I couldn’t get it out of my head all afternoon and into the evening on Friday.

Saut crapau, — Jump frog,

ta queue va brûler. — your tail is on fire.

Prends courage  — Take courage,

un autre va pousser.  — another will grow.

There are other ways to translate this (some rather risque) and other ways to spell the French words. Cajun was a spoken language, so there’s no right or wrong way here.

I’m sure it has a deeper meaning than a warning to a frog. Frogs don’t actually have tails. They have to lose their tails before they can become a frog. And if they did have a tail afterward and it burned off, another wouldn’t grow.

But whatever it means, to me it’s a ditty from a simpler age that pops into my head from time to time, like a post card to me,  from me when I was 8 years old.

Don’t ask me what I had for lunch on Monday, though.

Tom Laughlin died this past weekend and in his honor, I watched “Billy Jack” last night before I went to bed.

Mr. Laughlin’s “Billy Jack” character has been a hero of mine since I was as kid. I wish I could say that movie had a profound effect on my life, but the reality is I didn’t see “Billy Jack” until it came on cable when I was in my 30s. I was in eighth grade when the movie came out, too young for its “M” rating.

But I did see the previews and they helped shape my world view. To an impressionable 13-year-old, the previews were awesome. The way Billy Jack calmly talked before unleashing the worst butt-whipping you could imagine was just amazing to a kid like me with a quick temper. How in the world can you stay calm when you’re so mad, I’d wonder. I tried to do that when I was mad. I sucked at it.

As I grew older, I learned the role that introspection, being alone with your thoughts and at peace with yourself, can play in learning to diffuse your anger. But those lessons were learned before I finally saw the movie.

Not seeing the movie enabled me to fill in the blanks in my mind, letting my imagination shape the story in my head to fit my preconceived notions. I learned right from wrong in Sunday School. I learned to stand up for what’s right from Billy Jack.

From an early age, I always identified with Robin Hood and Robin Hood-like characters. I wanted to be like them: A righter of wrongs in the battle for truth, justice and the American way. Equal parts of Dudley Do-Right and Under Dog mixed with Billy Jack and “Grasshopper” Caine.

But as life would have it, I can take a punch much better than I can throw one, (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). After the first time I got punched in the nose and ripped a knuckle on a guy’s tooth, I decided there were probably better ways to settle disputes. Except for that one time an off-duty cop poured a beer down my back and I hit him with a beer bottle, ending up in USA Today’s state roundup page in the process, I’ve stayed out of trouble for the most part.

That doesn’t mean I don’t stand up for what’s right. I just don’t use my fists to do it. But I can if I have to. And when I finally saw the movie, I realized that was the secret to Billy Jack’s strength. He felt that way, too.

Tom Laughlin has passed away, but Billy Jack abides in the psyche of me and my generation. One tin soldier rides again.

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