Oak Tree Branch

branch.jpg The branch of an oak tree was lying in our driveway on a recent morning. It was about fifteen feet long, and took some effort to lug out of the way. In Los Angeles the main reason for keeping your car in the garage is to avoid dust and thieves. Here, you also need to worry about having the roof of the car caved in and the windshield broken.

…at this point you are most likely thinking: how the hell did this urban denizen identify the tree as an oak ? It was really just a simple process of elimination: every Southern Californian knows that there are only five kinds of trees on the planet, which are

  • Palm (ubiquitous in LA)
  • Maple (identified by the leaves, which are said to look like the Canadian flag)
  • Pine (which smell like air fresheners sold at car washes)
  • Christmas (identified by their ability to support ornaments), and
  • Oak (aka, none of the above)

I have heard rumors that there are other trees, and now have evidence to support it. Have made plans to identify the trees around the property, as some of them do not appear to be on the list. Expect to see updates on this front as they arise.

Hello Connecticut


Life is beginning to settle down here in South Glastonbury. I spend much of my day in this one corner of the living room, where I have set up my office. There are two windows facing out towards the back yard, which is decorated in various shades of green and brown. Thunderstorms have punctuated just about every day this week, and we have learned to recognize the locals in the parking lots of stores, because they are the ones who make no effort (any more) to use an umbrella in between the car and store during a sudden outburst. The wisdom of this is becoming apparent, as the storms are so short that by the time you leave the store, the rain has past, and all that the umbrella does is to drip all over the store’s floor making things hazardous for everybody else.

ant.jpgLiving things are everywhere. The only purpose of wire-mesh screens, it appears, is to filter out only the very largest of the insects of every stripe and leg-count which amble their way through our house. The ants, in particular, can be very large (right). Their saving grace is that they all appear to be “scouts” who travel alone. Quite honestly, these ants do not seem to be trying very hard. We found completely open boxes of sugar in the cupboard when we arrived here — which in Los Angeles would have been swarmed by a line of ants within hours — but not a single ant was near. It could be that there are simply so many things to eat outside (e.g. an entire farm’s worth of blueberries) that these ants are all spoiled, and have lost the teamwork spirit that drives their southwest cousins to march in lock step. Mostly poet-ants, then, who have all gone off to the woods to find themselves. They could also be rebellious protest-ants, but they don’t look very religious…

ten_oclock_rabbit.jpg The ten-o-clock rabbit was a bit late this morning, passing under the picnic table around 10:15am by my watch (EDT). He does the rounds, chews on a few flowers, and then moves on. There are strawberries and blueberries right next door, so my guess is that it just comes through here for the roughage.

kitten.jpgIn the afternoon we went shopping for food, making a point to stop at the local farmstands which dot the countryside. Got some corn, tomatoes (as sweet as plums), and some squash, under the watchful eye of the proprietor’s black kitten, to whom everything seemed surprising.


Our home life is now about boxes and packing, and getting rid of junk. If it won’t fit into our car on our roadtrip to Connecticut, it is going into long-term storage. If it is not worth storing, we are either giving it away or tossing it out.

It is just now sinking in to our friends in Southern California that we are really going to be moving out. For good, most likely. Time is short; in less than a month we will be on the road and heading into the unknown. Economic news is grim. Global warming with its storms and droughts loom metaphorically on the horizon, if not literally on the road ahead. It is a good time to be travelling light, agile and quick on our feet. The fewer posessions to bog you down, these days, the better.

“To lead an empty life, fill it up with things” — H. D. Thoreau.

Next Stop Connecticut

Looks like we are heading out to Utah… by way of Connecticut. It is looking more and more like we will want to wait one more year before submitting new bids. So, my thinking is, given that Gigi can write her thesis anywhere and I can telecommute, why not take advantage of this time between California and Utah and go somewhere else in the world? We looked around at a lot of places, but given that we wanted a place

  • Near a university
  • close to water
  • quiet
  • affordable
  • historically interesting
  • rural-ish
  • near an area related to Niles’ novel

the Connecticut area seemed about right. We looked at a couple different places in the sabbatical homes website, and finally decided on renting a place in Glastonbury, near a blueberry farm. We expect to be there for nine months, after which we plan on heading back west to Utah.

And someday… Springdale.

Happy Holidays 2007

As Gigi’s buddies on the housing bubble blog predicted, the whole subprime mess has gone to Helena Handbasket, and the median price of a home in the US has dropped for the first time on record. Nervous congress-folk are making noises and passing bills that will make it seem like they are doing something to rescue fools from the consequences of their own actions but the bottom line is that a whole lot of people were fooled (by others or themselves) into thinking they could buy a Maserati house on a Yugo income by playing one great big Ponzi scheme in the real estate/refinance/property flipping/equity loan/ universe. Short of divine intervention, a lot of very unhappy foolish people will be out of a home, out of work, out of credit, out of luck. Recession is all but certain, depression a possibility.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

The housing bubble has burst and new and used home sales have tanked. Interest rates remain at historically low levels, and will probably be held at that point by the Fed for some time, even in the event of new stagflation.

The only thing left on our wish list is for the cost of construction material (lumber, concrete, steel, stone, copper) to come down. Lumber has already gone into decline with the collapse of the residential construction, but the other materials have remained under high demand in the commercial construction business.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is China, which has been eating up all the concrete and steel on the planet the last several years. A lot of this is simply a consequence of a former third-world communist country discovering capitalism and the industrial revolution. At their current rate they are somewhere in the nineteenth century, and robber-barons (with Communist membership cards) are buying limousines and there is a lack of regulatory discipline that would make George Bush jealous. But within a year or two, China will likely also pass through their own 1929, and eventually the anti-materialism backlash of the 60’s and the ecology movement of the 70’s will bring some maturity to their accelerated adolescence.

In the immediate future, however, what has been driving a substantial portion of the Chinese construction demand over the last four years has been the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In addition to the main stadium and the huge new airport, a good portion of the city has been torn down and rebuilt from scratch, all of which requires a lot of construction material. If they stay on schedule, most of this construction must be completed this month so that they will have six months or so to get the “bugs” out of the huge construction projects, and to bring the air-pollution levels down to the point that the participants do not keel over from smoke asphyxiation.

Our plans remain to head out to Utah this summer and find a house to rent in Cedar City, 45 minutes from Springdale and just minutes from our architect. For the moment, we are content to wait and see how the construction market goes. In the ideal case, the economy will go south enough that we can afford to build our house for close to the original $125/sq foot estimate we got in 2004, but at any rate, with luck the economy will not be so bad that everybody is out of work and the dollar completely worthless. If it is, then we will both be out of a job along with half the country, and we’ll have a lot bigger problems to worry about than how to build a house. Like, say, how to locate the nearest soup-kitchen.

This is of course a totally selfish and unsympathetic attitude to take, regarding events that will cause much suffering. But it was pure and simple greed that was the cause of this whole housing bubble debacle in the first place, causing distortions in the market that rendered our own relatively sane and financially responsible approach to building a house of our own, economically unworkable. We knew we couldn’t afford to build a $700,000 house, and so, instead of getting a subprime adjustable like all the other idiots, we said NO. We are not shedding tears over the rise in foreclosures. The sound of high-fives echo down the hallway of our rental here in Long Beach. All we want to do is to build a nice modest little house in a place that we love, live our lives to the full in that house, and then die happy just before the polar caps turn our Utah property into beach-front. If this requires walking over the bloodied corpses of fools to do it, then so be it. No mercy, no quarter.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

House Appliances

To solidify some of the plans, we need to specify the appliances. After some field work and a trip to the Great Indoors, here’s what we’ve come up with (click on each named appliance for a link to that product’s description and specs):


  1. Sink: Blanko 1 1/2 Bowl undermount (black)
  2. Cooksink: Kohler Pro Cooksink Model K 3396
  3. Dishwasher: Kitchenaid Architect II custom-panel (U Series)
  4. Cooktop: Kitchenaid Arch. II series 36 inch (black)
  5. Oven: Kitchenaid Architect Series 30inch True Convection (black)
  6. Hood: GE Monogram Euro style 36 inch hood

We have not settled on the refrigerator. We want to move it from the side wall to the “wall of books”, directly behind the counter. The goal here is to minimize the “work triangle” between the sink, the range/stove and the refrigerator. To avoid going too deep through the wall we have been looking at the “cabinet” depth refrigerators.


  1. Shower control / valve: Hansgrohe Solaris ThermoBalance (Item 06635000)
  2. Shower bar (for handheld): Hansgrohe “Unica’A set” (Item: HG 27825000)
  3. Hand-shower: Hansgrohe Clubmaster
    or else Hansgrohe Aktiva A8

Haven’t decided whether to go with chrome or brass finish. Everything comes in chrome, of course, but with the craftsman motif we will have some copper touches and the brass would go with that a bit better.

Great Room

  1. Fireplace: Heat-n-glo Gas 3-sided Fireplace

We’re hoping to get the plans into shape for submitting for bids in September or October. We’ll see how it goes…

Ramping Up Again

It’s February, and we’ve already had a few heat waves. The housing bubble is
bursting nicely, and so it looks like it’s time to start working out the kinks in
our current design with Ray before resubmitting our plans for bids.

Here’s a starter list of topics we want to revisit with our plans:

  • Bedroom
    • Wider Door into BR
    • Closet
    • Bathroom
  • Great Room
    • Fireplace Relocation
    • Wood-burning FP if low-particulate okay?
    • Piano Location
    • Kitchen Design
    • TV Location
    • Moving bookcases/ladder to SE corner
  • General
    • Wheelchair Ramp
    • Extra-wide Front Door
    • Larger Pool / jacuzzi
    • Walled Herb Garden
    • Steel Frame / Wood Frame
    • Ensure x-mas light outlets along outside
    • Satellite Dish Mount

Happy Holidays 2006

Looks like 2006 has almost come and gone without a single posting, so I thought I bring things up to date. As we suspected, the housing boom became a bubble, and is now in the process of bursting.

From what we now know, it looks like our very first venture into the construction bidding process coincided with the largest spike in construction material and labor costs on record. We are in no rush, and are now just biding our time. Our current plans are to work with Ray on fine tuning our plans, and jump back into the bidding game around November or December of 2007, by which time we expect to be living in a substantially different environment.

For more entertaining news, check out one of Gigi’s favorite blogs, called The Housing Bubble Blog.

Stay tuned… Happy Holidays!

Construction Bids

Not much to report. We have three contractors working up bids
on our project. The initial bids were surprisingly high, twice what
any of us were expecting. The construction market is very hot
in Southwest Utah right now, which is part of the reason. In any
case, we will have to see if we can get the bids down further,
at least within our budget. If not, then our Plan B is to just wait
for the housing market to cool down a bit, and see how things go.

Stay tuned…

Ritter Block Retrieved

Gigi and I flew out to Illinois and were able to meet up with my folks out
there and return with the Ritter Block to be used as the cornerstone of the

We stayed at Aunt Pat and Uncle Jerry’s house. My dad, Uncle Bob and
his wife Lillian also came up from Arkansas. We were given a tour of
Pinckneyville and surroundings, where my great grandather George lived,
along with his sons Charles (my granfather), Leo and Bill Ritter, my father Don,
and a lot of other Ritters. We also dropped by Aunt Eunice’s house (Leo’s wife),
who showed us through her museum and gave us a history lesson of the Ritters
here in southern Illinois.

Dad, Aunt Eunice, Niles and Aunt Pat in Pinckneyville


The observant reader will have noticed that the title of this website is now “A House Named Anthem”. The house is named after a song called “Anthem”, that was written by Lyra, a classical guitar and violin duet. The duet consists of Maryanne Kremer-Ames, who plays the classical guitar, and Allen Ames, her husband, who plays both violin and the violyra.

We first heard Lyra’s music while we were traveling through Sedona, and
stayed at the Briar Patch Inn bed and breakfast. We were sitting out by
Oak creek, eating our breakfast, and Lyra was playing a beautiful piece that
we had never heard before.

When we asked them about the piece, they said that it was titled “Anthem”, and
that it was inspired by the beauty of the Sedona area. We liked the piece, and
the area, so much that when we got married it was at that same Bed and Breakfast,
and we invited Lyra to play at our wedding. The name of the piece they played during
the ceremony was “Anthem”.

We later found out that Allen and Maryanne were married at the Briar Patch Inn,
ten years previously.

The fact that “Anthem” is also the title of Ayn Rand’s short novel, is not entirely coincidental, either.

Plans For Town Council

Here are the plans that we will be presenting to the Springdale Town Planning Commission
on February 15, 2005. Both Ray Gardner and our builder Jason Campbell will be
attending. We also plan on meeting with the developer, Milo McCowan, prior to the
town meeting.

Title Page The Title Page ( Original PDF Version )

Site Plan The Site Plan (Original PDF Version)

floor plan The Floor Plan – Window Schedule (Original PDF Version)

North Elevation North Elevation (Original PDF Version)

West Elevation West Elevation (Original PDF Version)

Cross Sections (Original PDF Version)

The Floor Plan – Electrical (Original PDF Version)

Foundation Plans (Original PDF Version)

Stone For Columns

Here are some possible stone samples, that our builder Jason Campbell
has provided. The first is local sandstone (I think it is from the Moenkapi formation),
the second is limestone, and the third is called “moss stone”, and has some
natural lichen growing on it. We are leaning toward the first two types.

Final (?) 4.3 Plans

Here is a PDF version of the latestHouse Plans from Ray. In this version, the cooktop (which is now a six-unit Jenn-Air downdraft model) has been moved back off the island and back to the counter, the oven centered in the island, the sink moved over to the western side of the counter, and the bar section shrunk down a bit.

I think we’re mostly done with the plan-level stuff. Time to work on choices of stone and colors…

4.2 Plan Revision

Here is a new PDF of the latest 4.2 plans. And here is a quick snapshot of the plans:

The main differences in this plan are that we have moved the central deck over to the
eastern deck, along with the exit door. Also, Ray wanted to make the kitchen counter
more centered with the roof beams, and so has moved it about 3 feet to the west. In
the process, he has also moved out the wall to my office an equal amount, creating
a space in the northwest corner of the southwest room that can be used for the
soundsystem components. This goes along with our intent that the southwest corner
will be used for the TV, music etc center.

The new plans are not as symmetrical as the previous design, but we think this
placement of the deck is a practical improvement on the views and usage.

There is also an extension to the kitchen counter, for use by people at the level
of the great room. Not sure if we like this or not.

1 3 4 5 6 7