After finishing my grades, buying and baking for the holidays, I came up to 29 for a few days with my trusty dog to work and enjoy the quiet. There were two jobs to do: dig and lay the foundation for the earth oven that we will build in January, and turn the RV into a tropical Tahitian paradise from the uninviting 80s mess it currently is (see next post). Defining jobs is important when you're here because there is so much to do it's overwhelming, and you find yourself walking in circles, directionless in the desert.
One reason to build a traditional mud oven is to respect the land, using what's on hand rather than buying supplies. I'm following the advice of my clay mentor and friend, Terri H-O, and the book she recommended, Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer. I gathered all the concrete blocks that were spread out over our five acres, and all the broken bricks and "urbanite" (broken concrete trash). The wheel barrow is my friend and my arms are much stronger after three days of hauling heaving stuff.
Here are the steps I followed so far:
1. dig down about 6" for the foundation (this area is not low, not at risk of flooding), and fill with gravel and rocks
2. set the first layer of bricks and start to fill in the cavity with the trash
3. continue each layer, filling with sand
Our new handyguy, Solidfoto, helped out, although he's a perfectionist and is probably frustrated by my sloppy work (I actually like that we had to level one side with smaller bricks and it's multicolored and textured). The base is long to allow for a prep area beside the oven. I'm very proud of our foundation and can't wait to build the oven and get to baking pizza and bread!
We are throwing our first big party--Thanksgiving on a Saturday--and friends and family are driving out to stay. It's a test to see how the property works with lots of people on it, and also a deadline to get projects done.
Here's the list of our major accomplishments over the seven months we've owned the property:
6 or so (lost count) large bigs of trash collected and removed
barn roof started (not finished yet)
well rebuilt, water restored to property
electric panel updated
front and side yards detrashed, enough to be raked
house roof patched
sunroom ceiling and insulation redone after leak
most rooms painted
bad RV removed, useful one set up
I haven't been writing much because, one, October has been crazy with work and shows, and two, the Dairy is at the point of getting worse rather than better. The two converged recently: I taught in San Diego, then drove to 29, met with handyguys for an hour, and then drove to LA for an artfair the next day. 375 miles in about 12 hours. Driving is part of my job right now.
Sixty years of deferred maintenance is a bitch. Here's the construction update, filled with comedy and sorrow:
Bathroom: Money continues to flow into that hole. The "free" tile mosaic shower stall took forever to install, but it's a work of art. Handyguy even cut some rocks from the yard and fit them into the walls. We didn't have enough free tiles to finish the floor. Each is 12" x 36", too fragile to ship, so I had to drive to Anaheim and pick up a few more boxes, which of course I didn't open. A few days later I drove them to the Dairy, and when Handyguy tried to finish the floor, the tiles turned out to be patterned and textured. Ugh. The wholesaler couldn't get replacements for six weeks, so we have decided to use the pattern and be damned.
That blocked pipe in photo? The water heater before being replaced. Nice, huh?
Roof and leaks: Original farm roof is sloped, but the addition was flat, and now sagging, hence the pool up there when it rains. We decided to patch it rather than replace the entire roof. Then replace insulation in the sun room, currently wet and not the correct grade (why, if you were insulating, wouldn't you use the right stuff?)
Fireplace: There is no heat in the house except the fireplace, so we got a chimneysweep out there to inspect. And of course, it's a disaster. The fireplace is not really a fireplace in the modern/safe/permitted definition. It's just a rock wall with no innards. The current insert is very dangerous. Since it's probably been in continual use for 90 years, I don't know how the house escaped being burned to the ground. We either have to tear it down and rebuild it, or leave it as decoration, which is probably our option now (campy electric logs, anyone?).
Barn: Still nothing happening, our San Diego contractor is too busy. So we'll bring a guy from LA to finish the roof there.
Trash situation: All the construction is creating more trash, so we'll soon have to do another huge bin. Will cut up the jacuzzi (yes, of course there's an in-ground one sitting above ground), and one more big pile by the barn.
All this push is for November when family will descend upon the desert. Party deadlines have always been the way I've cleaned my houses, this is just a really big clean up.
Our security cameras went out midweek, and T was convinced of the worst (thieves, vandals, fire!). But it turned out that our internet was cut because someone, who will be unnamed, lost his credit cards and forgot to update the account with the new number. Anyway, it was a relief that all remains tight in our little disaster of a property.
Five degrees cooler makes it almost bearable in 29, so I spent two days madly working. I repainted the office wall beige (pink did NOT work), I cleaned up from the bathroom construction, I realized at 4am that the bathroom configuration we had decided on was in fact TERRIBLE, and we reversed course. I met our handyguy at Home Depot and spent a fortune (tariffs at work), and I laid out the tile for the shower all over the living room floor. I got the last of the strange garden structure in the front yard removed, using the wheelbarrow. Manual labor is what I wanted in my life, and I got it.
Last weekend my older son wanted to see the property, so I brought him, his brother and his cousin out for one night. We arrived during a slightly cooler spell, meaning at 5pm it was only 101 and not 110. Still hot, and I really needed a cold drink before making dinner for three hungry teens.
What awaited us inside was a dead refrigerator and no electricity in the front half of the house. Why? A week earlier Ted had driven out for a 7am appointment with the electrician only to have him cancel. So Ted had to turn around. The guy came the next day and replaced the electrical panel (which was very old and dangerous) after months of delay, at a hefty price, of course.
Needless to say, it was not my best moment. All the food I had in the freezer and fridge was rotting, a huge bag of ice had melted everywhere, and there was no cold beer. Our electrician did come out on a Saturday night to fix what turned out to be a loose wire, apologized and said he'd pay for the spoiled food. But I don't know, it just seems like this sort of thing is happening more out here than in the city.
Next morning I calmed down with yoga at the 29 Palms Inn, and painted a wall in the office pink. So there!
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.