Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hot off the presses!

What's that you see? Water? Coming from our kitchen faucet?

 Oh wait, wait, is that steam wafting above the bucket? Oh yes, yes, YES! It is!!

A remarkable day on Flat Top today, as Mason plumbed the hot water line to the kitchen sink. The cold water got connected last night. People, you have no idea how novel it seems to turn a faucet handle and get water. I feel like an extra in the "The Gods Must Be Crazy," because the smile on my face when I saw water come out of the faucet was as wide as the Serengeti. I was transported to childhood delight. Utterly deliriously happy.

I no longer have to heat water on the stove to do dishes. I no longer have to heat water to take a shower. OK, OK, I still have to fill a "sun shower" bag to shower, but  those days are numbered. (Target number: 6.) And yes, to flush the toilet, we still have to use a bucket of water (from the shiny new spigot outside the back door!!) ...

... but those days, too, are numbered. (Target number: 8.)

And just when you think that's enough good news to keep us going for another two weeks, guess what  I did today, on the 27th of February? I gardened. Dug in the dirt. Planted. Watered. And it was pure heaven.  The local Home Depot had some hardy ground covers on sale. And as Nancy knows too well, I couldn't resist. I planted 10 little sprouts of Mondo, otherwise known as "Monkey Grass." I also launched into my first massive garden project, creating a mulched pathway to the well house, via what will be the hammock area. On February 27th. Oh, and wearing a tank top nonetheless.

And if that's not enough great news, tomorrow we are road-tripping it to the Atlanta IKEA to buy a bunch of bookshelves for storage.

Oh yes, I'm in heaven.

Friday, February 25, 2011


OK, OK, Nick doesn't count as wildlife ...

So, when we moved in, we weren't sure what to expect when it came to wildlife. We were told deer and turkey were prolific, but that wildcats, snakes and bears also prowled these parts. Our realtor's advice to me: Just strap on a weapon in the morning and you'll be fine. Said the city girl: Say what?

We moved in in January, a few days after one of Chattanooga's rare snowstorms, providing us a startling roadmap to the mountaintop's critters. I spotted tracks that looked like a small wildcat, a big cat and possibly a bear. But then again, I MAY have been seeing things. We spent the first few weeks being quite alert when we were outdoors -- always scanning the perimeter for any potential danger, always armed during our morning and evening walks.

A few weeks later, a neighbor told us that bears are infrequent (once every two years, someone spots one), but that we'd be overrrun with deer and turkey. But weeks went by and we hadn't seen a single deer or turkey. There was a empty old deer trough on the north side of our property, so we filled it with corn -- with no intent to kill, of course, just to SEE some deer!

Day One: clear signs of deer nose prints in the corn. Day Two: a few more. Day Three: the buffet was clearly open -- half the corn was gone. By Day Five, the trough was licked clean. But we've yet to see any deer. That may have something to do with our unbroken habit of sleeping in.

Now here for six weeks, I have let my guard down a bit. I only rarely scan the yard when I'm out and about. But yesterday, I was shoveling the gravel/sand mix that was unearthed by our new water well (yes, still shoveling and yes, my biceps are making a comeback) when I heard something rustle in the leaves about 50 feet away. At first I dismissed it, but then I noticed that Nick, who'd been napping in a sun patch nearby, had heard it, too.

Now I saw three black triangles -- two looked like ears, the third a tail? A panther, I thought? Not this far north. Maybe a dog. Now Nick isn't known for making quick friends with strange dogs, so I started herding him into the house and off I went to investigate.

The rustling hushed. Then all of a sudden, a handful of black turkeys popped their heads up from behind a leaf pile. The next thing I know, a string of about 25 wild turkeys darted away from me. They moved in a single-file wave, reminding me of the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park."

A couple of hours later, on our sunset walk with Nick, he caught wind of the turkeys. One minute he was with us, the next minute he was gone. This isn't like Nick. He stays by our side quite loyally.  Twenty minutes of a panicked search and it was nearly too dark to see anymore. Mason and I had split up, leaving me unarmed and fuming at Nick.

We were just about to halt our search when here comes Nick, running down the path toward me with the biggest damn happy dog smile on his face. I'm still not sure if he was smiling because he had a grand time chasing a scent, or smiling because he was lost and was happy he found me. Poor guy, I promptly swatted him on the ass and told him never to R-U-N-N-O-F-T again.

Damn wildlife.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Every Day, a Bit More Progress

Today I finished painting the well house and shoveled more gravel/sand that was brought to the surface when the water well was drilled, while Mason worked on the water heater installation and added two more deep-cycle batteries to our battery bank. Here's the well house, beside the beautiful new (and grossly expensive) generator and in the background, 500 gallons of Sweet Lady Propane. Don't worry, some shrubs and perennials will be planted this spring to make the whole scene a bit more ... scenic.

Our house is situated in the very southwest corner of our five acres, and those short pine trees you see in the background are part of the 1,000 acres of timber company land that borders us on the south. The pines were recently replanted and won't be harvested for three or four decades, we're told, so they'll make fine neighbors.

And here's the entrance to our "driveway," which is in the northwest corner of our property. The sign was there when we moved in -- we promise to eventually switch to something a bit classier, but it's low on the priority list at this point. But isn't Mason getting even more handsome? Mountain life seems to agree with him, although he keeps muttering something about being "overwhelmed."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Photo alert!

Folks have been encouraging us to post more photos, but we're having a hard time seeing a photo of our new water heater being shared by you with quite the same excitement as we have for it.  So alas, here's me in my new fave Wellies. Yes, that's a beer in my hand. We had just finished our sunset walk, which we take every night at Nick's request. By the way, Minnesota friends, it was 68 degrees today.

We've been apprehensive to show photos of inside the cabin until we've made our "improvements" -- a new kitchen, bath and other accents. But here's a tease of the living room, before and after, which is still a work in progress:

That bulletin board on the right-hand side, beyond the white chair, is on the spiral wooden staircase that goes up to the bedroom loft upstairs. And the window you see in the upper right area -- that's in the "master" bedroom, which right now is our storage room full of everything that hasn't been unpacked yet, which is mostly everything.  And that's the wood stove that's been deemed a danger zone, but yet which we keep using.

The photo was taken from the "dining room" table area, and in the last corner of the main floor is the kitchen, which is not ready for prime time just yet.

Tomorrow's excitement: Installation of the water heater and the possibility of HOT WATER!! Well, at least from a spout attached to the water heater. Haven't quite gotten to that house plumbing. But we've been working non-stop, we promise!! The front yard is now completely leaf-free and the front lawn just got its spring fertilizing. And the battle against wasps invading our home is in full swing. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Department of Water and Power

Two big breakthroughs here on Flat Top. The massive new propane-fueled generator is finally generating electricity. And it's shaming our old generator, bringing our batteries up to full strength in record time.

The new generator also means we finally have enough power to operate the well pump 375 feet beneath us, so yes, ladies and gents, we have water!!! OK, it's out in the yard and not in the house yet, but just you wait!! We do have the water plumbed TO the house, but still have to plumb the house itself.

Tonight we're taking our first showers with our own water, instead of store-bought gallons. Trust me, it's a good thing, even if we're still just filling the sun shower with that water.

Weather's been so warm, we haven't needed the propane heaters at all. Tank tops have been donned and life is good. And in remodeling the utility room, Nan's invented new yoga poses while holding drywall in place while Mason runs the screw gun. Does it get any better?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Two More Critter Nests

There is so much to remodel here, but I never guessed that the utility room would be priority one. But alas, before can install the water heater, or all the electrical/water/propane plumbing, we had to address the fact that our utility room looked like a murder scene, covered in black plastic splattered with ... who knows what. In the teardown today, which was thoroughly disgusting by the way, we discovered two more critter nests: one wasp den, complete with "hibernating" wasps, and another twiggy structure that could have been either bird or squirrel. 

After that fun, we built a timber-lined bed of pebbles for the new generator to sit on.

Then we pushed all the dirt back into all of the trenches we dug last week. 

Then at 4 p.m., we quit for the day -- and felt like we didn't get enough done. We've never been daunted by house projects before, but consider us daunted. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. 

We cracked open two beers and built a bonfire out front with flames leaping 4 feet high. We sat still for about 10 minutes before we started again -- picking up sticks and branches and throwing them on the fire.

Some bright news: 60s tomorrow and most of the coming week. We'll be back in the zone. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

A 500-gallon propane tank has never looked so glorious. The fat boy arrived Wednesday and all of Mason's propane plumbing passed the leak test, conducted by a friendly fella named Marty, who was tickled by a pair of Northerners (his word) trying to go off the grid in the South, and proceeded to share his favorite grilled squirrel and rabbit recipes with us. (And yes, I'm serious!!) Of course the new propane blimp still is not hooked up to the massive new generator or to the appliances in the house. But come on, people, we're working as fast as we can. (Stay tuned for more on that generator -- she's an electrical beast to behold!!)

The same day, we picked up the propane WATER HEATER (!!!) for about $125 less than we expected it to cost. It's not plumbed yet, either, but just the sight of the 30-gallon tank warms the heart.

Then came Thursday, Wood Stove Inspection Day. The inspectors called Wednesday morning to let us know that we couldn't have a fire for 24 hours before the inspection/cleaning. That meant no fire to keep us warm on one of the coldest nights so far here. ... HELLO LA QUINTA!! It was supposed to be shower night, anyway, so we once again threw in the towel and checked in to the motel for a night.

So, the real step backward. The wood stove inspectors, who are also local firemen -- and the one who looked all of 22 years old had delivered a baby in someone's living room earlier that morning -- told us that, while our stove may make it through the season, our stovepipe is apparently a piece of crap. Go figure. And guess how much new piping will cost? About the $2,000 I was going to spend on a 20-year-old used car. Hrrrmph.

We'll replace the whole thing as soon as possible. Luckily 60-degree days are on the horizon. It continues to be a learning process here, but it sure beats working.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Digging It

Does this man look like he's in his element, or what? That's the well house,  protecting our new precious water well and pressurized 84-gallon tank. Those trenches you see crisscrossing the landscape? That was today's project. Thank goodness we rented a trencher for the job. It's a serious piece of machinery that digs a trench 18 inches down, tearing up tree roots and anything else in its path. The 52-degree sunny day was perfect for the project. And don't get me wrong, the machine did the bulk of the work, but a lot of our muscle-power was also expended.

Now all you folks planning on spending those spring, summer and fall vacations here, here's the trench that leads to the future guesthouse, assuming we don't run out of money before we get around to it. (Don't worry, it's still in the budget).

The photo is taken from the middle of the "back yard," where the famed tiki bar is planned. ... Oh there are soooo many plans. But for now, the focus is on getting water plumbed to the house. Laura Ingalls Wilder, you ain't got nothing on me! I think of you every time I have to go get buckets of rainwater so I can flush the toilet.

Friday, February 4, 2011

H, 2, Oooooh Yeah!

I've been duly chastised for leaving y'all in a cliffhanger. Please, blame the WATER! Yes, we have water! Gushing out with a force that could peel off all the layers of dead skin collecting on our shower-starved bodies (sorry for the visual).

The well and its 84-gallon pressurized tank (did you hear that, Leslie? Pressure!) are a thing of beauty, but as soon as they were installed, a cold front was coming down on us so we quickly had to launch into building a well house to protect our new baby! So for two long, exhausting days in near freezing temps, we built a 6- by 8-foot insulated shed.

The job was so grueling -- tho still not quite done -- that I now type this message out from our usual Chattanooga motel, where we treated ourselves to long hot showers, dinner out, 12 hours of sleep, lots of CNN and soon-to-be clean laundry.

So we now have water, but there's nowhere for that water to go. Mason, the hardest working unemployed man ever, has to plumb the house to bring that water inside. So today we rent a "trencher" to dig and bury the water lines, as well as propane lines for the new, more powerful generator that should arrive next week.

Let the hard work begin anew.