Around The House - Late Summer 2004


Folks have been requesting pictures to show how things are progressing. We have been in the house for almost a year and a half. Most of our "priority one" outside projects are completed. They consisted primarily of cleanup, establishing lawns, and installing retaining walls. There was actually quite a lot of work getting those things done.

Cleanup involved picking up all the construction debris and loose rock. It is surprising just how much crap is left in the dirt when construction is done. This was in spite of the fact that we had many truckloads of topsoil spread over the top of the existing dirt after construction was done. My guess people will be finding chunks of bricks in the dirt around here for centuries to come. The loose rock was loaded into the tractor cart and carefully spread on the spillway behind our dam. We stopped counting after two tons.

Putting in lawns was a critical task. The turf covers the sticky clay mud when the ground is wet. During the warm time of the year, mowed grass keeps the ticks and chiggers away. Plus, it is nicer to play on than bare dirt.

The retaining walls were needed down around the basement due to the slope of the ground. The challenge there was digging the footings for the walls. There were several large boulders that needed to have their tops chipped off with a sledge hammer. Once the trench is cut, building a wall is relatively simple. Of course, the fact that each block weighs 80 pounds makes even that hard work.

I walked around one evening (August 23rd) and took some pictures. It had just rained 2.3 inches that day and it was still overcast. I decided to try getting pictures then because the lighting softened the shadows so more detail would show. There are some shots of the landscape around the house taken in sunlight further down the page.

First let's start on the porch. The first picture below is of the screened porch, looking southward toward the pond. If you look through the railing near the left side of the picture, you can make out the rubber boat down on the pond. We often have breakfast and dinner on the porch when the weather is mild. 

  The next picture shows the porch, looking east along the south side of the house. This is the side of the house that faces the pond. You can see the windows that look out over the pond.

The rocking chairs provide a comfortable spot to sit in the shade and look out at the water and forest. You can see the dam and the edge of the pond near the right edge of the picture.

The screened porch is to the left of the bench at the far end of the porch.

Rain does not normally make it onto the porch as you see it here but this was an especially heavy rainstorm with lots of wind, thunder, and lightning. 

  Below is a view from the rocking chairs. You can see the rubber boat tied up at the edge of the pond.

You will also notice that the grass is very thin in spots. The soil there is the original dirt which is not very good for growing anything. The lawn in that area all but died when it went dormant during July and early August. It is starting to recover now. Lawns here are usually seeded with cool season grasses which go dormant during hot months. Our heavy mowing seasons here are spring and fall. Over time, the grass that survives will have produced roots that go deep enough to keep it green all through summer and most of winter.

  Below is a view along the south side of the house. You can see the retaining wall work in its current state. The banks are stabilized but we will gradually add more wall to emphasize the natural ground contours.

We had originally thought we would enclose part of the concrete paved area outside the basement as a greenhouse. What we found though is that it is a very nice area to just lounge around, protected from wind and sun.

Towards the right side of the picture in the distance, you can see a table and some chairs near our barbeque pit.

  The next shot is of the "front" of the house taken from the visitor parking area. The camera is facing the southeast. Calling it the front is a bit arbitrary, seeing that the house is in the middle of the woods. This side just happens to face in the general direction of the driveway. You can see the pond in the distance at the right side of the picture.

The porch around the house is intended for shade and protection from rain. Technically this kind of porch is called a veranda but that sounds too high falootin' for the Ozarks. Once we decided we were going to have porches, I used sun angle calculations to determine their width and location. This allowed us to design them to keep the house cooler in the summer by shading the walls but allow the sun to shine on them in the winter. This effort appears to have paid off as our power bills are significantly lower than those of our neighbors, even taking into account our use of wood heat in the winter.

  The picture below shows the barn and carport. The gravel and wood blocks in the lower left are part of the visitor parking area shown in the picture above.

The large box and pedestal in the lawn near the porch is our electric transformer and meter. I stood a small mast with a VHF radio antenna against the meter pedestal. The coax cable from the antenna runs in a conduit under the lawn into the house.

Both the house and the barn are oriented north and south. Now that our furniture is in the house, the barn is working out great as a large workshop and garage for yard machines. That is a luxury I completely enjoy.

The carport is common sight in the Ozarks. They are used as shields to protect vehicles from hail storms. Though really damaging storms are rare, when one happens cars and trucks come through it looking like they were attacked by crazed monkeys brandishing ball peen hammers.

One question comes up frequently from people from dryer states like California: Why didn't we put up a covered walkway to get from the vehicles to the house when it is raining? As you learn once you are here for a while, rain and snow are not that big a deal. Most of the rain in the Ozarks comes in the warm months of the year so the rain is not cold. Getting a little on you is not all that uncomfortable. As for snow, if it is cold enough to snow, you wear a heavy coat. A little white stuff falling out of the sky doesn't make much difference. 

  Speaking of cold weather, the picture below shows my woodstove firewood stack. The stack under the tarps is adequate for this coming winter. The uncovered wood in the foreground is the start of the pile for the following winter. The longer wood intended for use in the fireplace is stacked in a different location. There are always dead trees and fallen limbs to clear so we will never run out of wood to burn.
  The shot below is taken looking back toward the house and barn from behind the RV sites. As you can see, even the driveway and RV parking spots have become covered with grass.

You will notice that you can see the house through the trees near the right edge of the picture. Normally, the trees and undergrowth would be so thick that would not be possible. What is going on here is that I have been clearing that area so we can plant grass to make the area inside the driveway loop into a small park.

The optimum time of year to plant grass here is early September. That way the grass has a chance to get started before going dormant for the winter. It then has spring to grow again before having to suffer through the hot part of the summer.

  The picture below may give you a better feel what the foliage is really like. The shot was taken only about 50 feet down the driveway from the visitor parking area. You will notice that you can just barely see the house through the brush.

Oh yes, the sign says "THE WESCOMS". Our brother in law made it in his woodshop. It is probably redundant since we have our name posted out at the road. It does, however, make people feel they are heading where they intended after driving a couple hundred yards back through the woods on the driveway.

  The picture below shows what it is like when you get out on one of the trails through the our woods. There is lots to see but it is through a screen of foliage. Most of what you see here are Oak, Hickory, Sassafras, and Cedar trees plus occasional grape vines. It's a little hard to judge the scale in a picture like this. For reference, the trail is about 5 feet wide (wide enough for my riding mower of course!). Tree limbs have been trimmed to about 8 feet above the ground over the trail. Our trails are usually shaded enough that they develop a carpet of moss.
  The picture below shows how I have been "adjusting" the trees near the pond to improve the view from the house. I trim the trees up so you can walk under them comfortably. I thin them so they can grow straight and healthy. The main thing I do is try to keep things looking fairly natural. Of course, I suppose having a mowed lawn under the trees is not exactly "natural" but nobody has complained about it so far.
  The picture below shows the view through the trees described above. It looks a little better in person. In a photo like this, you can't see the three dimensional effect of the trees a varying distances.

You will probably also notice the steps I built using the retaining wall blocks. It just seemed a little too stark to have a blank retaining wall. The steps add interest to the view. Putting in steps like this is not particularly hard but it does take time. The weight of the gravel and blocks is so great that I had to excavate and then let the dirt and gravel sit for months between each course. This allowed the ground to settle enough so the steps would not sink down over the coming years.

The grass at the base of the steps shows the results of the summer heat. The grass that is growing in now is more rugged than the variety that died back in the summer. By the end of fall, all those brown areas will fill in again. Remember, the idea is to have low maintenance stuff. All we do is mow it and every once in a while spread a little fertilizer on it. Gradually the lawn will fill in with grass hardy enough to survive all year. We just have to let the lawn do what it will until then.

  All this discussion has been sounding like I have been doing all the work. Faith has been doing stuff too. You can see in the picture below where she has planted a row of creeping Junipers that will eventually grow out and drape over the retaining wall. 
  Outdoor work is healthy and fun as long as the weather cooperates. The picture below is of my basement ham shack cubby hole. Faith's quilting area is diagonally across the room from here. We have set our outside work temperature limits as 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. For days that are too hot or too cold, we have our hobby activities to keep us occupied. 
  Of course.... There is always more than one way to deal with hot weather!
  Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!