Thursday, April 30, 2009

Livin' FREE isn't always EASY

From the movie Easy Rider
Then and now—40 years have passed, but seeing this may remind you
of the saying, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

George Hanson (Jack Nicholson): You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it.
Billy (Dennis Hopper): Man, everybody got chicken, that's what happened. Hey, we can't even get into like, a second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel, you dig? They think we're gonna cut their throat or
somethin'. They're scared, man.

George Hanson: They're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent to 'em.
Billy: Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.

George Hanson: Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell is wrong with freedom? That's what it's all about.
George Hanson: Oh, yeah, that's right. That's what's it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Of course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free, 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh, yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.

Billy: Well, it don't make 'em runnin' scared.
George Hanson: No, it makes 'em dangerous.

Enough said. -CAC

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Trouble with "Simple"

For quite some time now, I've been looking around for examples of what I would call "simple living." I had no idea this would be so hard to find.

Plug in the words simple house or simple living into a Google or Yahoo image search and what will you find?

Images like these:

What generally pops up is not a simple house but a normal, regular house.

I guess the word simple has evolved over the years and has come to mean anything less than grandiose.

This picture came up under simple living. The furniture may have simple lines but it's NOT simple living.

None of that was what I was looking for. I didn't mean small or normal...I really meant simple.

I've been looking for photos for my new book entitled "Shacking Up" touting the benefits of living in what most Americans would consider a "less than perfect" house.

Something more along the lines of this

or this...

...or this.

Generally, when Americans run across someone living in conditions such as these, they immediately rush to the conclusion that whoever is living there is in a horrible state of affairs and they want to jump right in and help them—Those poor people!

I won't even go into what they say when they see the kids running around without shoes and covered in dirt. (Somehow they forget the fact that the kids were screaming with glee and laughing the whole time they were doing this.)

I know, I know...not everyone wants to live like that or in a place like that. Not everyone has a choice and I'll be the first to admit that when that's the case, it's no fun. But when you make a conscience decision to live simply by choice, it's a different matter all together.

Living in simple, earthy structures such as these can be surprisingly comfortable and rewarding. Often even more so than living in the lap of luxury.

Living in a house that has doors and windows lacking perfect seals—one with dirt floors, candle and lantern lighting, the natural breeze for cooling, a box stove for cooking and heating, and maybe even an old-fashioned outhouse can be quite enlightening. No radio, no TV—just books and birds for your entertainment.

This can be an experience that changes your life, but not in the way you might think. Naturally your first thought would be that living like that would give you a profound appreciation for the finer things in life—but it does just the opposite. There is no way you can know this or believe it until you've done it.

Just try spending some time (months) living like this, away from all the distractions, then come back to civilization and you will know what I mean—The traffic, the horns honking, the radios and televisions blaring, shut up inside the sterile environments that our homes have become, sitting around glued to the television for hours on end.

We seal ourselves in and shut everything else out. When nature tries to come in, we either spray it or smash it.

And we don't want anything coming within a few hundred feet of our sterile environment either.

We mow it, spray it, smother it in plastic or cover it with cement. We've even enacted laws to make sure our neighbors do the same...mow it and kill it or we'll fine it.

We all seem to agree that nature is beautiful. We know this because we've seen it on TV—but God forbid, we let it come too close.

I won't go into all the benefits and advantages of living simply that have been so eloquently stated by Thoreau. I'll leave that for another post. But there is a reason it feels so good to go on a camping trip, sleep in a little cabin or tent, or better yet, sleep under the stars.

Maybe someday you'll be lucky enough to give this way of life a try and find out why.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Desert Paradise—and it's for sale!

NOTE: It is not my intention to use my blog posts to pitch real estate, but this home is so unique and different, I just had to tell you about it. I wouldn't want you to miss this one if it happened to be "just what you were looking for."

I am always complaining about the state of architecture out there. Almost ALL of it is boring, sterile, and boxy. Trying to find something different, unique, earthy or curvy is next to impossible but here is an example of just that. This home's rugged, earthy construction and feel is not for everyone, but if you like natural shapes in a natural setting, you may want to take a look...

Talk about unique! This house has been in Architectural Digest THREE times—even making it onto the cover of the Italian Version. Now just being featured in the magazine doesn't necessarily mean it isn't going to be sterile and boxy, but here is an example of something really special.

Located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Arizona and built in 1984 by renowned architect Alex Riley, this one-of-a-kind passive solar gem rises right out of the desert as if it grew there.

It's an architectural wonder designed to emulate the Anasazi and Hopi Indian Kiva dwellings. Just check out this floor plan—Now that's CURVY!

The exterior and interior walls are constructed of foam core re-enforced concrete. The architect used rebar, metal mesh, and foam to form the shell and interior walls and a process known as "gunite" to spray high strength concrete over both sides. He then smoothed them out by hand (this same process is used to form in-ground concrete swimming pools). This resulted in exterior walls of over 13" thick—an average of 6" of concrete on both sides of 2" foam.

With a 3 bedroom/3 bath split bedroom plan, this home is considered on the small side these days coming in at around 2200 sq. ft. (not including a 400 sq. ft. guest house.)

The open and airy design boasts over 20 skylights. Every room has walk-out doors to private decks and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Everything is hand-built including cabinets, doors, shelving, and even sculpted baths/showers.

The thickness of the walls both inside and out, and floors made of rough and beautiful exposed-aggregate concrete make for WOW amounts of thermal mass.

The passive solar design, incredible thermal mass, and two Rumford fireplaces account for very low utility costs.

The desert pond (pool), was done in greens and browns to soak up the natural sunlight helping to heat the water, and also creates a beautiful reflective surface emulating a natural pond you might run into on a hike. (The home is on 3.5 acres and very private.)

Natural desert landscaping (and I mean really natural) brings an abundance of wildlife up close and personal.

Here a bobcat comes for a refreshing drink of water.

Deer on the driveway checking out a noise they heard off in the distance.

A couple small friends outside the dining room window

and a baby bunny lounging in the shade under the deck chairs.

AND look at what you're REALLY close to:

Located at mile post "0" on the Mt. Lemmon Highway, you can just step out the front door and walk to some of the best hiking, biking, and rock climbing in the world.

Well known as one of the best training grounds for bikers,

Mt. Lemmon highway has wide lanes and over 25 miles of 5-8% grade to hone those biking skills.

Walk to world class rock climbing and bouldering

and take in Tucson's famous sunsets.

Alright. That's all pretty awesome, but how much is it? Well, it's not cheap, but it's not millions of dollars either. The owners are moving to experience a new kind of paradise and have just reduced the price from $685,000 to $599,000.

Not bad when you consider what it is, and what's right outside the front door—yet this retreat is only 10 minutes from shopping and 20 minutes from central Tucson.

If you've got the cash...this one's a steal.

For more information, contact:

The Pepper Group Diversified
Real Estate Company

Kristine McCraren

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's all about ME? NO...It's all about THEM!

I've got to say, "I really don't get it..."

Have you ever known anyone who buys new furniture then immediately covers it with stiff, see through plastic so it will be perfect for whom ever they sell it to 6 years from now?

How about the guy I knew that would order a new car for himself with really nice plush seats every couple of years. That's all well and good, but as soon as he got the car, he would put disposable blankets over the seats. He sat on those blankets the entire time he owned the car—so he could get more for it when he traded it in. Poor guy never got to enjoy the seats.

It's the same with houses these days.

A couple years ago, my wife and I set out to find a house to buy. We told every realtor we worked with that we were looking for a small "dump in the desert." They all looked at us rather peculiarly when we told them this but said they had just what we were looking for...then proceeded to take us, every time and without fail, to see a great big sterile box.

We would explain that what we really wanted was a great piece of property—with a shack on it. You see, we wanted to put our money toward the location instead of the house itself. We wanted something with a couple acres, privacy, natural vegetation, and hiking nearby—something "with bunnies and quail," as my wife put it.

In order to afford such a location, not too far from town, the house could not be much and would have to be small. We didn't much care what the house looked like. As far as we were concerned, the smaller the better. We would fix it up the way we wanted it anyway. Personally, I would rather start with an old barn than begin remodeling one of those sterile, anal boxes.

A house and property such as this one would have been ideal. Am I the only one out there that thinks fixing up a house such as this a bit and living on this gorgeous piece of property would be a thousand times better than what most of us are living in today?

We soon learned that finding our dream was next to impossible. It didn't exist. It just isn't done that way anymore. No one builds a small house on a great property. They lose money if they do that. People make the most money if they build the biggest house the area can absorb. That's just how it is these days.

I know there are people out there that don't necessarily want a "shack" in a million dollar neighborhood but they would like the option to pay less for a small house in a great place so they could afford to live there.

Now, when I said we were looking for something small, I meant 600 to 1000 sq. ft. We soon realized that the definition of small, in the areas we were looking, meant 2200 to 3000 sq. ft.

Yes, we did think about just buying vacant land and building something small ourselves but because we needed to be near the city, that would mean building under permit which would mean building and living in a little, square, sterile box—YUCK.

It is ALL about money these days. Sadly, when you live in a society such as ours, you do have to think about that. It's almost impossible not to.

People don't build for their own needs these days. They don't think that way anymore. What people DO think about is what the house will sell for down the road and they build their house for THOSE people.

So, when we need a one bedroom one bath house do we build it? No. We build a 3 bedroom 3 bath house—for the people who come after us.

Hows that for living in and for the NOW?

Monday, April 20, 2009


After numerous requests (and many "ruff-ruffs" and "grrr-grrrs"" from you know who about not showing up yet in my blog) I thought I had better show you all a few pictures of Gizmo the construction puppy featured in my book.

"Wanna play?"


"Just follow me!"

"Oh... if only."

"I know, I know!"

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Mr. Building Inspector

(The following excerpts are from my book "The Cheap-Ass Curmudgeon's Guide™ to DIRT". )

The days of the independent contractor and the do-it-yourselfer are numbered.

It wouldn’t surprise me if in the not-too-distant future, the only homes going up will be built by big development companies offering a wide selection of no less than three boxes to choose from. We are not far from that now, and that’s where we’re headed.

These may be our only choices as they will likely be the only houses that can be permitted anymore.

Permits have all but killed building something with real character—something unique. Sure, you can still build a small playhouse or shed without them, or even a perimeter fence as long as it’s under 5-feet tall, but trust me, this “freedom” won’t last long.

I'm all for the permitting of public buildings, roadways, bridges, etc., that makes sense, but in my perfect world the individual should have the right to opt out of the permitting process. We should be allowed that freedom.

In doing so, we would be required to record a notice at the County Recorder’s office that our houses were built without permits and without inspections. That way, when it came time to sell our homes, any potential buyer would be notified automatically. That should make everybody happy.

Would your house, built without permits (but built like an army tank) be worth any less to a buyer who knew you had built it yourself? Not if you could show how it was built. I doubt the value would be negatively impacted and would likely be worth MORE because of it.

At the very least, we should have that option if we are building outside city limits in the countryside, where homes are few and far between.

Artistic endeavors such as we’ve been discussing here do not fit into the mold. That’s why I wish we lived in my “perfect world” where we could take responsibility for ourselves and what we build.

I am not suggesting that you should or should not build under permit. That is something you will have to decide for yourself.