Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nothing to do but brew

Let the countdown begin. We're now just one month away from tossing back home-brewed copper and Belgian blonde ales. There, on the back porch with Mason, that's a kettle full of brew (well technically it's called wort at this stage, but that really doesn't sound quenching, does it?). It's being chilled with the help of a bilge pump and rainwater we collected in that blue barrel.  Aren't we green? We made two five-gallon batches, which translates into four cases of beer. I won't tell you how long that will last here on Flat Top, because Mom reads this blog, too, and she's got enough to worry about!

The fresh batches of brew come compliments of one of the rainiest Marches in Chattanooga history. We moved here in what was one of its coldest winters on record, and now we've been inundated with rain. They keep telling us this isn't normal, but we're skeptical. Neither of us takes too well to being caged inside, so Mason turned to brewing and I ordered $100 worth of Penzey Spices and started doing more cooking, despite the challenging kitchen arrangements. (That's right Mr. Mouse, I'm talking about YOU.) We also killed some time buying me a car: a 1999 Jeep Cherokee 4x4. I'm ashamed at its gas mileage and suburban mom appeal, but thrilled with its umph climbing our hilly, rocky, muddy roads.

Sunshine and 70-degree temps return Saturday.  Back to the gardening!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blame Tascha

It hasn't exactly been an exciting week on Flat Top, but our No. 1 fan, Tascha, has demanded an update, so here it is:

THE GARDEN:  I've been busy, making another pathway around the south side of the house (above). And I've planted about 15 lavender plants, 6 sedums, 2 coral bells and, yes, I broke down and bought a dwarf peach tree. I know it will take all my might to fend the deer off the peaches, but even if I don't get fruit out of the deal, the tree has these beautiful spring pink flowers and then these fabulous bronze leaves that I couldn't resist. I know the photo above looks a bit sad -- give it three years, people.

THE POWER: Mason's been busy chasing down mechanical troubles with the big main generator (the one we need to power the well); tomorrow he'll test a possible solution (too rainy today; but one thing about life on Flat Top, there's always tomorrow). Then we discovered that our old backup generator is dying and not putting out adequate power.  And on top of all that, we've had two big, expensive marine battery chargers poop out on us. It's discouraging and frustrating, but we all know Mason will solve the problems soon enough. (For now, bringing the batteries up with a big, inexpensive automotive charger. All's well.)

THE BEER: Four boxes of beer supplies arrived today. Tomorrow we may cook up our first batch of home brew on the mountain.

THE WHEELS: The hunt for a 13-year-old or older gas-hog of a four-wheel-drive vehicle for $4,000 has turned into a nightmare. Craigslist has been taken over by scammers and idiots. SO, the hunt continues.

THE WEATHER: The week has featured sunny tank-top days and rainy, sit-by-the-fire days. Spring is great, but bring on summer!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Potty Talk

Big, B-I-G, big day atop Flat Top today. Now, when you flush our toilet with that little magical chrome handle, not only does it flush, but water then fills into the tank, like magic! It's a miracle! After two months of using buckets of water from outside to flush the toilet, this is a major breakthrough in bringing modern conveniences to our mountain retreat.

But wait, there's more!!!

After two months of brushing our teeth at the kitchen sink, we now have a new sink, faucet and, yes, running HOT and cold water in the bathroom. INCREDIBLE. (It's the little things in life, people.) As I type, Mason is celebrating with a shave. "I gotta say, baby, this is just like (pause) shaving," he just yelled at me. "Not a hardship at all."

But wait, wait, don't settle for just that! There's MORE!! Check this out:

That's water coming out of our new makeshift shower plumbing. So tonight, we take our first showers standing up. (The sun shower we've been using required a squatting position ... don't try to picture it; it isn't pretty.)

The whole room, such as it is,  is still on schedule for an entire remodel as soon as the weather is certain to be warm enough for outdoor showering (ooh la la) during the reconstruction phase. The wood planking is going bye-bye, slate tile is on the way, the ceiling will get lifted, and we're still weighing whether to stick with the claw foot tub or just go with a tiled shower (votes anyone?).

Now, all of this progress is thanks to Mason spending a couple of hours under the house yesterday, wedged in a one-foot-tall space between the floor joists and leaf-strewn dirt. A neighbor came by while he was under there and asked me: "He knows there could be copperheads (poisonous snakes) under there, right? They start to wake up about this time of year." Riiiiight. Gulp.

Welcome to the mountain.

And yes, life is STILL good. So good, that we're talking about brewing up our first batch of homebrew beer real soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The path to progress

While Mason's been crawling under the house, working on getting water to the bathroom, I've been keeping myself busy out in the yard. Step one has been to create mulch and rock pathways around the house. This one goes from the back door to the well house, a well-traveled route. That's about an 80-foot-long path you see there in the photo. On the left side, it's lined with a ground cover plant called "mondo grass," also known as monkey grass. So far I've planted 30 of them. The right side of the path is lined with rocks from the property. Every day on our morning and evening walks, we each try to pick up about four rocks along the way (Mason picks up five -- "plus one for the Corps," says the sorry-excuse-for-an-ex-Marine). It took us about 10 days to collect enough to line the whole path. Anyway, you see all that dirt on either side of the path? OK, now close your eyes and just imagine what I'm going to plant there. Oh yeah! It's gonna be great!!

In other news, we finally met Ken, the "president" of our neighborhood "association." He's building a small but tall, three-story weekend cabin near the community lake. We met him on our nightly walk and chatted him up for a good 45 minutes to get all the dope on the 'hood. Halfway through our talk, the pistol Mason had loosely tucked into the back of his pants for our walk (you never know...) slipped, and slid down his pants leg and out onto the ground!! Hilarious! Of course, Ken didn't flinch. Nothing says Nice to Meet Ya, Neighbor like an impromptu gun show.

And while we've had our share of rain in the past week, it looks like a good stretch of sunny, 70-degree days will kick in on Thursday. So life is good.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Long List of Nothings

The past week has seen little progress on Flat Top Mountain:
-- A total of about 6 inches of rain fell over three days. Our massive front yard fire pit became a pond, and our local creek washed over our driveway for a good 24 hours.
-- The hunt for Nan's new (used) car took us to Knoxville and the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, but to no avail.
-- Our fourth (or is it fifth?) attempt to get Tennessee driver's licenses failed, this time due to long lines at the DMV that exceeded Mason's patience.
-- The wet weather meant Mason couldn't get under the house to work on getting that running water to the bathroom.

As Mason just said to me, "You name it, we didn't do it." But the weather forecast is for 68 degrees tomorrow and the next seven days it's expected to be in the 60s and 70s, with lows no worse than 48, so it sounds like spring has arrived. And trees -- dogwoods, cherry, magnolias -- are blooming everywhere

... so we can't let ourselves get too down about one week in a continuing series!!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Battery Charger Woes

Getting running water in the bathroom has been waylaid by cold, wet weather (3 inches of rain in 24 hours) and by battery charging complications that have kept Mason busy.

Seems our old charger wasn't strong enough to power our six-deep-cycle-battery bank, so we UPS'd in a new charger that worked gloriously for a day before we heard an electronic POP! and the smell of smoldering wiring. Seems its fan blew a gasket. ARGH. We'll limp along with a car battery charger for now until we get a replacement. We have power when we want it, thanks to the workhorse of a generator, but we need the battery power to help run the fridge overnight and during the day when we're not generating. The whole battery bank system has been a true challenge. Any battery experts out there we don't know about?

Meanwhile, while Mason's been tied up in the utility room, I've been busy with real important stuff: unpacking all of our knickknacks and artwork and hanging curtains. Here's the living room's latest incarnation:

But on a humorous note: Our well house door has an exterior latch to keep it tightly closed. Mason was in the well house the other day tending to something, when the wind blew the door shut. Just as he heard the latch click, he realized he had neglected to install a release lever on THE INSIDE OF THE SHED!
The generator (next to the shed) was running, the wind was blowing pretty good and I was off a ways playing with Nick, but after a little while I did notice a whistling sound coming from the shed and released the trapped, whistling Mason. Tomorrow, he's installing that release latch. Live and learn, my friends. Live and learn. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The princess is speechless

OK, I'm the first to admit that we tend to be pretty productive people. We DO tend to get more done in a day than others get done in a month. But today? Amazing.

My success was shallow compared with Mason's, so I'll start with me. Pushing five months after we left Minnesota, I unpacked our few personal items -- knickknacks, books and artwork -- and organized much of everything into the bookshelves that we bought yesterday at the Atlanta IKEA.  Then I installed curtains in the dining area. See:

OK, the big news? Really big? Let's talk bathroom. You haven't read much about our bathroom, because, frankly, I want visitors some day. ... Let's start by telling you the room was "carpeted" with a greenish/blue outdoorish variety (pieces seen here after removal):

And it STUNK. To HIGH HEAVEN. It may have had something to do with the cracks in the base of the toilet, though Mason initially denied they existed. My evidence:

Now, lemme tell you how in our waning days in Texas, Mason and I were quibbling for days over the priority of a new toilet. Mason's lovely ex-wife, Karen, had to listen to much of this argument, poor woman. Mason first only relented to a new toilet seat, but after I applied princess-like pressure, Mason amazingly agreed to getting a new toilet -- "the whole toilet," as I had demanded. Karen's classic comment: "Wow, he really DOES love you!"

We bought the new toilet within the first few days that we were here. But it didn't get installed. We had other priorities, such as water and plumbing for that damn toilet. But today Mason was building the IKEA cabinet for the bathroom and, to my utter delight, he decided the carpet had to come up before the cabinet could go in, and THEN once we saw how "wet" (UGH) the carpet was, then the old toilet had to go. PRAISE MOHAMMED.

Tonight I pee in a brand new toilet, leak free, AND even though I have to fill the tank with water from the well, it flushes!!! AND, get this, people: Mason promises me the toilet will be fully plumbed with well water within a few more days.

The princess will sleep well tonight.