As I finally sat down to write this (yes, quite late), the first thing I did was open up Purple Air to see if it was safe to sit on my balcony — which means one thing: it’s officially Summer a.k.a. Smoke Season. In fairness, it’s been a pretty typical spring up here in the mountains. We’ve had a few hot spells, a few late snows, thunderstorms, and even some rain. The grass is just now starting to dry out, the wildflowers are starting to fade, and the air has mostly been clear. Of course what’s typical to the long arm of history is a bit of an anomaly to recent experience. So it’s been a bit of a weird one. In a normal way.
Last time I sent out a letter, we had just started primary framing on Aster Pines (have I mentioned that’s our name for the house?). Today it’s a whole house! Well, at least it’s the shell of a house.
To use a word as its meant to be used — it’s been pretty awesome to see my little rendering projects come to life. Even the shadows line up! (I mean, that was kind of the point…)
It’s been great to watch the structure take shape, to see the walls closed in and get a feel for how the rooms will feel. It’s kind of wild to see how big it feels. I mean, to us. I have friends with living rooms much larger than the conditioned + unconditioned space of this house. But to us — it’s big!
All the framing in this house (with the exception of one steel beam) is engineered lumber — a pretty cool building material. One of the most recognizable forms of engineered lumber is a glulam — instead of one huge beam made of a massive tree, a larger beam is made by gluing together many smaller pieces of lumber together. You’ve probably seen these somewhere before.
The walls are a similar material, but made of wood chips rather than smaller pieces of lumber — LVL (laminated veneer lumber) studs. This means instead of one piece of wood (which twists and warps as it dries), each stud is actually a bunch of wood chips glued together in the same fashion as plywood. The benefits of using these engineered materials is that walls will be straighter, stronger, and the material can be made of much smaller trees and wood that would otherwise go to waste.
The exterior is all sheathed in ZIP System Wall Sheathing. It’s like a normal piece of OSB (oriented strand board), but it has a waterproof / vapor-proof coating on the outside. That means no more Tyvek — that plastic sheeting you see on new construction. To complete the water/air sealing, the builders will tape up the joints and caulk over the nail holes. The end result is a very tight structure — meaning very little air can move in or out of the house. A lot of people worry about “suffocating” in these new houses, but the point of making a tight house is getting control over the air that comes into your house. We’ll have plenty of windows to open on our cool summer nights, but if the outside air is filled with smoke? I’d rather get our fresh air through a HEPA filter. You don’t have control over those decisions if your house isn’t air-tight.
Now that primary framing is complete, the next step will be rough HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and working toward the exterior insulation & rain screen. By the time winter’s here, we should have a house with windows, siding, and a roof! And since everyone always asks: the builders think they’ll be done by May 2023. I keep calling that a great optimistic deadline. My gut tells me we’ll be in sometime next summer. Maybe!
I’ve also been spending a bit of time thinking about the end of the world.
Okay. not exactly the end of the world. But a little while ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Do By Friday where one of the hosts asked jokingly, is it the end times now? And you know? Maybe it’s not such a silly question.
The climate change that’s already here is wrecking havoc on our way of life. The fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts have already killed millions. There is a plague, it has killed a million Americans, and it is still here. People are being slaughtered in public, both by police and citizens. Our government is ineffective, authoritarian, and uncaring for the vulnerable. All around the world, our institutions have built-in a rampant disregard for future outcomes, and those debts are coming due with increased frequency. This all feels very… obvious? true? But based on my experiences, I’d say most people don’t agree. It all makes me feel a little insane.
I don’t have great solutions. I know that we need big, bold, collective action to meet the moment. I know that isn’t likely to happen soon. This is all really hard to live with. I wouldn’t classify myself as a doomer, but I also won’t ignore reality. Optimism earned through ignoring reality is even more harmful than giving up. My goal is always to accept reality without giving into despair — and to be honest, that’s been pretty rough lately.
So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about the end of the world — or put it another way: I’ve been gardening my worldview. We’ve got some pretty gnarly stuff ahead of us. If big, bold, collective action isn’t possible — maybe small, bold, collective action might be? At the very least maybe we can get some small, bold, individual action?
Maybe I can build little prototypes for the future.
One piece of the future I’ve been pretty excited about lately is my new ebike.
Here’s my sell: it’s like all of the good things about a bike, without the sweat. I love bikes. I still ride my mountain bike all the time. But sometimes I just want to go down to the lakeside concert and eat a burrito. For that and a million other use cases, ebikes are awesome — and far more enjoyable than driving a car through congested streets and searching for parking.
Between South Lake’s extensive multi-use trails (paved, off-road bike paths) and the infinite number of dirt trails connecting neighborhoods, we can get pretty much anywhere in town in less than 30 minutes without breaking a sweat or dealing with traffic. That’s pretty sweet.
I have some mild hopes that this new future of ebikes, scooters, onewheels, segways, powered skateboards, and all manner of personal electric vehicles might be the catalyst for South Lake to start curing its plague of cars. I don’t think it’ll happen fast, but I can tell you that riding these little electric vehicles is really fun and sitting in traffic really sucks.
In between all of that, life continue to march on.
In May, we went down to Sacramento to celebrate my cousin Nicole’s graduation from Sac State with a B.S. in Geology. Nikki’s always been a pretty core part of our family, and was a particularly central part to my Stepmom’s sanity while my Dad was sick. I honestly don’t think we would have made it through without her. But on top of that, she decided at some point she wanted to be a geologist and… did it! That also makes her the first person in her family to get a college degree. So, fuck yeah Nikki! Now she’s off wading around in muck and digging up soil for the USGS.
A few weeks later, Jess & I went back down to Sacramento for the Crocker Art Auction with my Stepmom and a few artist friends. It’s a big fancy gala type thing with a bunch of rich old people sitting around a courtyard buying pieces of art for charity. It’s still kind of weird to me to exist in places like this — places where people are just used to having money. But hey, now I have money and I like art, so we picked up a couple of pieces: An Honest Place by Micah Crandall-Bear and The Candy Snatcher by Alex Couwenberg.
Over Memorial Day, we finally made it back to Ohio to see Jess’ family. We had previously been going out every Thanksgiving, but Covid put a stop to that. It turns out visiting Ohio in May is a lot nicer than visiting it during November. Instead of huddling inside looking out at the grey landscape — we got to enjoy prime back yard season and do some very Ohio Things™ — including a Young’s Dairy visit and the annual making of the sauerkraut.
To close out the end of Spring, we ended up heading down to Murphys, CA to celebrate the birthday of one of Jess’ friends. It was the first time I’d been down to Murphys and I gotta say — it’s an incredibly charming little town. If you like good food, casual wine tasting, and charming little gold rush towns in the foothills, you owe it to yourself to check it out sometime.
Since it’s summer, I thought I might share a couple of my favorite summer time recipes. As a treat. Both of these are simple, easy to make, and ridiculously delicious.
This is the best margarita on earth. It’s a perfect blend of acid, salt, and sweet. It is simple to make – but each ingredient matters. Feel free to use your favorite tequila or orange liquor (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier). Don’t skim on the fresh lime juice — the bottled stuff doesn’t compare. If you’ve got time to enjoy a cocktail, you’ve got time to juice a lime.
Dip the rim of a glass in lime juice, then dip into the salt to line the rim. Drop one large ice cube into the glass. Combine tequila, cointreau, and lime juice into a shaker. Cover the liquid with ice and shake for a few seconds. Strain over ice cube and enjoy.
Note: In general, cocktails with citrus (lemon, lime, orange, etc) should be shaken. We’ve been enjoying this insulated shaker lately to avoid cold fingers!
All the good about carnitas — crispy, juicy shredded spiced pork — without the vat of oil. Perfect for taco night. This is adapted from Kenji’s no-waste carnitas recipe, but by using the Instant Pot you can reduce a lot of the babysitting and oil handling. I make this all the time! Usually paired with a tortilla, salsa, crema, pickled red onions, and chopped cilantro (or as pictured above: in cheese cups!).
Cut pork roast into rough 2 inch chunks. Season with salt & pepper and sear on high in Instant Pot until all sides are a little brown. Turn instant pot off and add about a cup of water to the meat.
Cut the onion into quarters and nestle between the meat. Cut orange and limes into quarters, squeeze juice on top, and nestle the quarters in between the meat. Add the garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves in between the meat pieces as well.
Set instant pot to manual high pressure and set timer for 30 minutes, followed by a natural release (15 minutes).
Remove the lid from the instant pot and remove the pork chunks to a bowl to cool. Strain the liquid remaining into a glass measuring cup and allow fat to separate a few minutes. Discard the onions, oranges, and other solids.
When pork has cooled some, shred it into medium sized chunks. Something taco-sized. Separate and save most of the fat from the remaining liquid. You can usually just pour it off slowly since the fat will be on top. At this point you can refrigerate the pork and fat until you’re ready to eat.
When you’re ready to eat, set broiler to high heat. Mix the shredded pork and the fat together, then spread evenly on a baking sheet. Broil on high, turning the pork a couple of times, until the pork is crispy all over.
I guess that’s about all that I have in me to write out for now.
Enjoy more sunsets, friends.