Monday, January 31, 2011

Big, big day on Flat Top

Just looks like a big yellow truck, right? But see how it's wedged in between those two trees?  David the Well Man backed it up perfectly on his first try. The man is clearly good at this. At least we hope he is!

He and his two trusty mates launched the 40-foot-tall rig on the back of the truck and drilled a 6-inch-diameter hole into our mountain for about four hours today.  Four hours! And guess how deep they went? 375 feet. Gulp. They struck water, two streams David said, but not the "gusher" (his word) he was looking for.  As they quit for the day, it looked like we were getting about 3 gallons of water per minute -- livable but no gusher. (All that gray stuff in the pix below is sand, from the sandstone they were drilling through -- and yes, Nick managed to walk right through it and make a mess of himself.)

The gentlemen's verdict: Leave the truck and rig in place for the night and see what we think in the morning. Looks like we may go a bit deeper. Forgive us, dear mountain, but we do crave our water.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our new neighbors

So today we're walking the property. It's our new/old routine. Just like in Edina, after we eat breakfast and play our daily Sudoku, we take Nick for a walk. These days, we tend to walk the property lines, trying to learn the trees and landscape. So today we're in the farthest corner away from the house when we hear a car coming down our drive. We haven't got many (OK, any) visitors, so we sprinted back toward the house, only to see a pickup drive past our lot and onto the next property, which shares the same drive. So much for a visitor. We continued our walk, only to meet up with the truck once again as we walked up the drive.

His name is Phil and he owns the place down the road, and apparently he used to own our house, before he traded it in as part of a deal for a better house near the gate welcoming folks into Flat Top Association. He kindly filled us in on the locals, the critters (only one bear sighted in 2 years, so that's good, but lots of bobcats), and a few details about our new house. After he pulled away, Mason asked me whether I had noticed the pistol (a .45, it appeared) that Phil had tucked into his front seat between the console. I hadn't. Nonetheless, I was happy to finally met another neighbor.

As for that militia tease ...  Yesterday, we were driving off Flat Top, still on the dirt road, to head into town when we passed by a friendly looking man, toting a big-ass rifle. Then came two small kids -- I'm talking no older than 6 -- and they're toting shotguns. Then a teenager, with a rifle. And another adult with a rifle. Mason turns to me and comments: "Now did you ever think you'd drive by a bunch of men with guns as you left your house and really not be concerned?" I'm not sure what it means, but he was right, it didn't really faze me. Did we mention we live in a big hunting area? We've seen deer, but not one turkey, which we were told are prolific here.

Today was spent cleaning up the property ... again. Mason, above, used no sense whatsoever as he climbed a debris pile to chain-saw a huge tree tree trunk for firewood. The man is nuts.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Summertime (in winter) And The Living Is Easy

After two weeks in our new home, we were finally treated to a more typical Chattanooga winter day:
sunny and nearly 60 degrees. And let us tell you, it was such a perfect day (Lou Reed, you get our nod).

First, we resumed our old Minnesota ways and took Nick for a long walk : first down our long driveway
 and down to the community lake, then trouncing around our property. Nick was a dog in heaven
 –- sprinting down leave-strewn paths and sniffing out the footprints of the wildlife party from the
night before. He smiled the entire walk.

For the first time, we walked off our property lines – we thought five acres was going to feel
too small, but it really isn’t. It might help that our neighbor on one side is a thousand acres of
timber company land. Or that our other “neighbors” are summer-only visitors, two with
small cabins and one with a mere shed (complete with Confederate flag, of course).

We spent the bulk of the day chopping down five, quite tall trees, thanks to our chain saw --
donated courtesy the Lo-Banks household -- while soaking up the sunshine and grooving to the
tunes of the local NPR station, which thankfully is spun by some hip local college kids who
have decent music taste. Between “Morning Edition” and “Fresh Air,” we score some decent tunes.

We were sad to lose trees, but we have, um, hundreds … wait … thousands, and we really had
to clear a specific space for the new water well that’s coming soon. Very important that the water
well is uphill of the septic, for obvious reasons.

The sun was shining strong, and we stripped down to just T-shirts while we chopped, lopped
and snipped down all the trees. We saved the tree trunks to use for the pole barn we plan to build,
which meant that Mason (and his trusty truck) got to pull two 60-foot-long tree trunks across the
property to the future pole barn site.  The boy was in his element.

By 4 o’clock, we cracked out first beer and set fire to front-yard fire pit.  People, this is a serious fire pit.
It’s maybe seven feet wide and completely lined with sandstone.  When we moved in, it was filled
with scrap wood, pieces of a broken old dresser and assorted trash, much of it nonburnable
 (must let these Tennesseans know that glass does NOT burn). After sorting out the nonflammable,
 we set a get big bonfire and spent the next two hours poking at the flames while we doused our thirst.

Dinner for Mason was steak and potatoes, for Nan, edamame.

Yup, heaven. And the next few days are also supposed to finally be more typical for
Tennessee winter: 60s and sunny.  We can handle that.

Tomorrow: The militia in our driveway ...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Barely Legal

So for a week now we've been trying to get Tennessee driver licenses, but we're still not there. Who knew we we such undesirables? (Don't answer that!)

So Tennessee law requires two proofs of residency before you can get a license. Well, one proof is no problem -- we have the copy of the deed showing we own our adorable rustic property, which by the way we're loving more and more each day. But the second piece of proof has been a challenge. It seems most people just use a utility bill, but if you've been following our story, you know we have no utilities (we wish!). We can't even get mail delivered here.

One alternative is to show a pay stub with a home address. Hmm, we're unemployed. Another alternative is to show that you're registered to vote. We tried that, but the computer wouldn't accept that the address on the property deed is listed as 0 Young Road. It seems computers can't compute a zero.

So we tried the option of switching Mason's truck title over to Tennessee. Errrrrrrr. Same problem -- the computers just don't like that zero. But the surprisingly friendly DMV worker suggested that we have our insurer fax them a piece of paper that shows we've paid for car insurance and registered the vehicle at our silly 0 Young Road address.

(At this point lemme mention that Mason is ranting against the Running Scared Republicans, the 9/11 backlash and he is savoring the opportunity to contact his (Republican) congressman to explain that the state of Tennessee is denying him his right to vote.)

So today we finally succeeded in getting the car registration place to accept our address as 0 Young Road and we scored a TN license plate. I knew they wouldn't turn down cold hard cash.  (Get this, there are about five pro-life plates to choose from but not ONE that supports environmental causes. Ugh.) BUT ... the computer wouldn't recognize our UPS Store mailbox address, so Helpful DMV Employee Rebecca wrote it on an envelope that she will hang on to and personally forward the truck title to us when it arrives from Nashville. Now THAT'S service!)

While we're at the government center, we decide to go pay our property taxes ($400 a year, people; seriously, it's worth living in the sticks). Well, it turns out they've been paid through October -- who knows -- but they refuse to take our new mailing address so we can receive future bills. Why? 0 Young Road strikes again.

So one more stop for the day -- the county assessor's office. We thought maybe they could help us out with the whole address/you-don't-exist thing. Sure enough, the good folks there had been trying to find us. Apparently they, too, couldn't register our purchase of the property because of the damn zero. Alas, they say we deserve a real address and Lynn called the county planning department to find out that truly, we're at 4125 Welch Lane. Who knew?

Of course we still can't receive mail at that address, because technically we live on a private road in the "Flat Top Association," a 1970s attempt at a subdivision that failed miserably. And the Post Office just don't do private roads.

After all that, we still haven't been able to apply for TN driver licenses. That will be next week's adventure. But tomorrow, the WATER WELL GUY is coming!! And we're gonna get some big-ass propane tank ... we hope. Not sure if their trucks can get up here. Seriously, you gotta see this place. Eventually.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blue Jobs, Pink Jobs

After a week on the homestead, it's a flashback to living on the boat. (For those not in the know, before moving to the Tennessee mountains, and before our Minnesota stint, we lived on a 37-foot sailboat for two years and sailed from L.A. to Ecuador to Bora Bora to Hawaii  before going broke.)

In the cruising life, jobs are clearly defined. If it has to do with generating power or anything to do with the head (that's toilet talk, you landlubbers), it was Mason's job -- a blue job. Meal planning, cooking, organizing and cleaning? The second mate stepped up to the job.

Now on Flat Top Mountain, when I wash the daily dishes, just like on the boat, it's a challenge to see how little water I can use. (We're still restricted to using just bottled water -- today we finally got a local bank account (that's another story to tell), so we can call the well-drilling guy on Monday.)

Mason got the toilet functioning, but armed with baking soda, vinegar and Lysol wipes, I was the one who truly made it usable. Still, flushing isn't possible without filling buckets with rainwater from our rainwater collection system. And that routinely involves chipping through the layer of ice that forms on the rain barrels every night.

On my hands and knees, I scrubbed the filthy cabin floors with heated rainwater. But I couldn't have done it unless Mason knew how to rig the house lights up with a generator and battery bank system and keeps the kitchen stove fueled with propane.

I've put myself in charge of fire safety (which includes two extinguishers and lots of fretting), but it's Mason who must split the firewood daily to keep us warm at night. (Note to concerned friends: Chimney inspector coming in a few weeks to make sure we don't set fire to ourselves. Until then, pray for us.)

In the dark of night, when it comes for Nick the Dog's final pee for night and bears may be on the prowl, that's Mason's job all the way. I go on Nick's morning jaunt, thank you.

See? The division of labor is clear, and it works. But there's just so much labor ahead...

Monday, January 17, 2011

19th Century Meets 21st Century

The past three days have involved a month's worth of emotions and exhaustion. But get this: We're tapping out this latest update from the kitchen table of our new homestead!! That's right: No water, no power, but we're wired!!

Thursday's drama of getting the U-Haul up Flat Top Mountain was nothing compared with Friday's climax of getting the empty U-Haul OFF the mountain. I credit Mason's undefeatable optimism for somehow defeating the ice, mud rocks and treacherous roadway. Soon as the truck was returned fairly unscathed, we both could breathe easier.

But then came the first night in our new home. Battling the bitter Southern cold, we fired up not one but three propane flame throwers (ok ok, heaters) as well as the wood stove, which appears to be Civil War-era. We were a raging candle in the middle of a forest, in a wood cabin loaded with petrol-based particle board. And we have no water, if a fire breaks out. And we had no phones to call 911. And even if we could call, we have no address to tell them where to come rescue us. ... It wasn't our best night of sleep.

Day 2: Mason discovers some plumbing transitions from small pipes to larger pipes are made using duct tape, instead of being properly plumbed. Nan discovers a small rodent, maybe a chipmunk, has been nesting in our broiler (sorry, Mason vacuumed it up before I could get a photo!). And Nick the Dog finds the tracks of a very large cat -- mountain lion, cougar? -- in our front yard. We finish the day with a kitchen area cleaned of all mouse poop, the sink scrubbed of cigarette ashes and the space at least functionable, if not yet pleasant.

Day 3: Main floor gets cleared out of the old owner's belongings, and we assemble what approximates a living room. It's almost cute, if you don't notice the mouse poop on the mantle that I've yet to clean up. It's still cold, and Nan can't sleep for fear of the wood stove's chimney setting fire to the whole place.

Day 4: A very productive day. We got an address -- 5928 Hixson Pike, Suite A-302, Hixson, TN 37343 -- and new cell phones, AND get this, one of the phones creates a Wi-Fi hotspot, so while we have no modern heat, no running water and no permanent electricity at our new house, we now have THE WEB!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Today's Guessing Game

Which of the following events really happened today?

1) A new neighbor, who crossed our path as we were abandoning our U-Haul auto transport trailer by the side of our snowy, ice-covered dirt road once we realized the road was too bad to tow it, left us be, then thought better of it and turned around and offered to help guide us in for the final 2 icy, hilly miles to our new home.

2) My yoga mat, which Mason bitched about me packing within easy access, was the key to getting traction when the rear-wheel-drive U-Haul couldn't quite get over a few hills on those final 2 miles.

4) It took us at least an hour to go those 2 miles.

3) We were greeted at our new home by an unidentified critter living in our walls -- who apparently didn't take kindly to sharing his space.

4) We were greeted at our new home by empty beer bottles, molding condiments in the little moldy fridge, a puppy pee pad in the main room, mouse turds on the kitchen counter and an unspeakably unusable toilet.

5) The U-Haul trailer that we left abandoned by the road for several hours was still there when we returned with Mason's pickup to tow it to the Soddy Daisy drop-off point.

6) Mason had to drive his truck in reverse (with the retrieved trailer behind it) for a good mile or so because the road was too narrow to turn around with the trailer in tow.

7) Our return that evening to our motel was stalled by a tow-truck rescue of a tractor-trailer that got stuck in the snow delivering chicken feed to a nearby Tyson operation.

Yes, people, you probably got it right: They're all true, and it's been one unbelievable day!!! For those good guessers, here's your reward -- and ours: Home sweet home!!

(PS: That's a Tennessee state flag to the left of the front door, NOT a Confederate banner.)

Tonight we took long hot showers (perhaps our last with water pressure for a while) and tomorrow night, we will stay home for the night ... and the next, and the next. ... But first we have to get that U-Haul truck back down the mountain. ... How's that for a teaser?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

See? We Made It!

Well, almost.

Halfway through the drive today, I'm so bored I read the U-Haul contract for entertainment. Apparently we weren't supposed to pack the towed pickup full of heavy crap to the roof and then park it backward on the trailer. (Mason note: We WERE FORCED to back it onto the auto transport, or we would've had 4 feet of Truck Ass hanging off the end of the trailer.) Hmm, maybe that's why it was swaying back there behind the U-Haul anytime we exceeded 60 mph. ... Thank Mohammed that nothing bad ever happens to Mason.

And that includes how we miraculously escaped death when a 3-cubic-foot chunk of ice blew off the top of a Wal-Mart trailer (thanks so much, Covenant Transport) and landed square on the windshield (Nan's side; thank you, Buddha) of the U-Haul. Not a scratch on anything, except for on Nan's psyche.

But now we're tucked safely into Chattanooga, where 4 inches of snow apparently shut down the city on Monday. Tomorrow we'll see if we make it up Flat Top to the end of Young Road.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Leave it to us

Leave it to us to head to our new home in the worst winter storm of the South in recent memory. But come on, people, we conquered Minnesota winters ... we're not scared!  Today we left the comforts of Karen's Arlington home -- after much packing help from Karen and sons Bart and Mason the Younger -- are headed east in a trusty U-Haul, which is towing Mason's rusty Dodge truck.

Tomorrow we'll sliddddddde into Chattanooga and spoil ourselves with another motel stay before climbing Flat Top Mountain and seeing exactly what we dropped $50K on a month ago. ...

Photos to come soon, hopefully.

Let the fun begin.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tired of waiting?

Tired of waiting for the action to start? So are we! But we finally closing in on the return to Flat Top Mountain (yes, that's really the real name of the location of our new home -- it's on Flat Top Mountain outside of Soddy Daisy, TN).

Before we could return "home," we had to take care of a long shopping list: generator (not one but two), battery bank, battery charger, inverter, cables, flashlights, carbon monoxide detectors, bed, etc... Then there was research to do on water tanks and wood stoves. Then Nan had to check out IKEA for  her potential new kitchen. You get the idea.

But that list was finally been whittled and we're raring to go. As long as the weather holds, looks like we'll say goodbye to Texas on Tuesday. Just Mason, Nan, Nick and a U-Haul with all our belongings, pulling behind what's now our only car: Mason's truck.

Tic toc tic toc. We can't wait either!