Plenty of 20s

I bought a flag to hang at the property tonight. It cost $20.

Looking at shovels in hardware stores this week. Know what they cost? $20.

Axe to cut firewood? $20.

Garbage can? $20.

Rakes? $20.

The scythe I bought day before yesterday cost $20 when you added in the new mailbox letters I bought while I was there.

Speaking of the mailbox, you’ll never guess what it cost after taxes — $20.

Padlocks for the door and gate? $20 apiece.

Nail puller/pry bar with a box of roofing nails and a pack of brass screws for the mailbox? $20.

New rain barrel. $40 (That’s $20 x 2).

Lunch today? $20.

So tonight, when I opened the birthday card from my mother, what do I find? A $20 bill.

Thanks mom. Whatever I buy tomorrow is covered.


The property is mine now and I’ve spent the past five days getting things in the shed in order and working to tame the yard.

The grass is cut, my tools for the most part are in their new home and I have a great place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world while I plot the future.

Things are going great except for one minor setback — I haven’t spent the night there yet.

I will, mind you. But the 250-gallon water tank I planned to use for a cistern sprang a leak about 2 weeks before we closed on the sale and now it doesn’t hold any appreciable amount of water.

My plan was to use a solar shower bag to clean up each afternoon after a sweaty day’s work. But there’s barely enough water in the tank to wash my hands, also making me a little leery of building a fire at night with no way to control things if it gets out of hand.

The nearest fire truck is 7 miles away and the closest hydrant is 2 miles up the road.

Cumberland River Compact sells rain barrels for $40.

All is not lost, though. I discovered that the Cumberland River Compact sells 55-gallon rain barrels for only $40 apiece. I pick up my first one on Friday. The plan is to add a barrel each week (I can only fit one in my car) until I have four tied together, giving me more than 200 gallons of water to deal with any issues that come up.

But I knew going in that solving the water issue was my first priority.

It was to that end that I invited a well driller to the site two weeks before closing to get his opinion on whether a water well is feasible for my property.

The short answer is yes. But to get to that answer, he employed “dousing” or “witching” or any of the other names that finding water with a divining rod goes by these days.

If I hadn’t spent 10 years of my life studying geology while drilling oil wells in Louisiana and Texas when I was in my 20s, I might have believed in this magic.

Even if I suspended my disbelief for a moment, there’s no way you can convince me that a magnetic field is involved when you’re holding a copper rod in your hand. I just ain’t buying it.

He found his spot and as he was leaving, we walked by the cistern and he cracked the valve open to get a look at the water inside the brown-tinged plastic square. Then he couldn’t get the valve to seal.

Two-hundred fifty gallons of water weighs a ton and the pressure was more than the IBC Tote’s valve was designed to handle. When I tried to force it closed, the weight of the water cracked the side of the pipe and my dream of having a full tank of water on Day 1 sprayed out without mercy.

I will say this, though. The grass grew the thickest at the spot the driller picked for the well.

I may end up drilling a water well there one day. But for now, rain barrels will meet my needs and I don’t have to think about the cost involved with a dry hole.

Life is looking up, up on the Ridge.

You’ll always find what you’re looking for in the last place you look. Or so the saying goes. While that’s true with car keys and tennis shoes and various and sundry items, it turns out that it is true with more tangible things as well.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

What I’m saying is, I found my land.

It’s 5 acres, not the 60 that I first dreamed of. But it is less than 40 miles from downtown Nashville, on top of a ridge about 600 feet above sea level, sloping down to a spring-fed creek at the bottom.

The property faces South, which opens the door to solar power and satellite TV. It gets strong 4G wireless signals and will handle a septic tank and drain field. (See previous post on the inside poop with tiny houses.)

I should close on the purchase by the end of the month.

I’m excited. The search is over. Now the work begins.

It’s funny how life does that to you. One thing ends and another begins. On the eve of what would have been my 14th wedding anniversary, I am happy to say that I am closer to my goal of a small house in the woods and in a position to make it a reality in the coming year or two. Life does get better.

I think I’m going to call the place Coonass Ridge. Stay tuned for the adventure.


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.)


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.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers