Monday, December 31, 2012

Will We Make It to Midnight? (Short Answer: No)

Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at genuine moonshine, aka Soddy-Daisy Kool-Aid! Can you believe it? Some neighbors -- the ones we met while they were Lady Slipper-huntin' last summer, with Miller Lites in hand well before noon -- they brought these mini-Mason jars over to us tonight. That's a peach slice in one, a blueberry in the other. I started with an itty-bitty baby shot, and I gotta say, it was frighteningly smooth -- and tasty!! My new favorite neighbors, indeed! (Helping myself to a second baby shot while writing this.... Come on, folks, it's New Year's!)

These neighbors hadn't seen anything we'd done to the cabin since we moved in. They said they'd kinda been feeling bad for us, roughing it full-time up up here on the mountain (they have a home in town, and don't yet have running water here on the mountain). But after they came into the cabin tonight, umm, I think all sympathies flew out the window.  OK, we MAY have over-improved the place. At least by Tennessee standards.

Before we broke into the booze, we spent New Year's Eve day splitting firewood, reorganizing the shed for a new project, doing some painting, and I also baked some kick-ass Black-Pepper Cheddar Shortbread snacks.  Oh, and of course, Nick got his walks.

Dinner? Soooo not mountain-like. We got a little batch of king crab legs, which is what I used to eat when I was young, had money and spent New Year's with my close group of Minneapolis friends.  As the butter melted, I called those friends. So bittersweet to talk to them all and not know when I'll see them again.  It's hard, you know? You make some hard choices in life. Leaving my closest friends has been one of the harder ones.

But I also love life on Flat Top. ...  Choices, you know?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Very Merry Christmas

Nothing says Christmas like shoveling rock on the driveway and brewing five gallons of lager. Sounds like just another day on the mountain, right? But don't worry, we also found time for some culinary indulgences and there was an embarrassing abundance of presents from our families and friends! Nick the Dog even scored his first new toy in two years (from my mom), as well as two disgusting lambs' ears that he ingested with startling speed (also from Mom).

We skipped the whole tree mess and just decorated the wood post in the middle of the cabin that holds up the loft. And that's my new hat, from my sister. And check out all these goodies we scored! All of Mom's gifts were wrapped in quilted fabric bags that she made. Talk about DYI!

Mason's ex, Karen, always sends him his favorite snacks: summer sausage, cheese, peppers and such, as well as pralines and sinfully sweet divinity. I scored some gourmet goodies from her, too! She cushioned the presents with some editions of the Arlington newspaper, which Mason promptly uncrumpled and began reading -- kinda like a kid who's more intrigued with the cardboard box than the gift itself ...

In non-holiday news, we've been busy with a big indoor redecorating project -- before and after photos to come soon! And we've been slowly working on rocking the driveway, which had become mostly dirt. It's really classed up the front yard, not to mention cut down on the amount of dirt and mud that gets dragged into the house.

Hope y'all had a wonderful holiday! And stay away from those stores and sales. No better place than the mountain to escape all that madness!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My OLD Man

After spending a week on the mountain (usually we go to town every four or five days, but holiday madness gave us new incentive to NOT go to town), today we celebrated Mason's birthday with a trip to the bowling alley. The local high school team ( Go, Soddy Daisy Trojans!) had the alley booked at 3:30 p.m., so we went into town "early" -- 11 a.m. -- for breakfast, then ran a few errands before hitting the lanes.

Some serious bowlers were a few lanes down from us and must have had a fine laugh watching us, but we had a good time. Just don't ask about our scores. And don't ask how we enjoyed the Budweiser (NOT Bud Light, by the way!), which was the only non-light beer they had. I think if you zoom in that photo, you'll see the little orange wristbands we had to wear to prove we were over 21 years old. Seriously. Like the cottonheads full of gray hair weren't evidence enough.

So, if the world does end on the 21st, we can say that we lived life to the fullest right up to the end! Bowling rules! Rock on! Happy Holiday Kwanzaa Season to everyone!)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Waiting for Guffman (Well, for Doug, actually)

Dogs love routine, I'm told, and Nick is no exception. The day starts when he hears me stir and finally convinces me to roll out of bed and get his bowl of kibble. If I'm not quite ready to roll, I tell him "5 more minutes" and damn, if that dog doesn't know exactly what that means, because about 5 minutes later, guess who's back at the side of the bed, whimpering ever so softly?

After his breakfast comes his walkabout the property. If it's sunny, he will then curl up on the back porch and wait till he hears Mason get up. Then comes Breakfast No. 2, when he gets a few bites of Mason's cereal, then bacon or sausage, depending on the day, and then licks the egg yolk off the plate. And then for Breakfast No. 3, he licks my yogurt container. One, two, three -- every day.

On the couch or out in the sun, he then waits for us to brush our teeth. And when he sees us head back upstairs to make the bed, he knows he's tail-waggin' close to his favorite time of day: The Walk. Every day.

But as soon as that walk is done, Nick has a new favorite time of day: Waiting for Doug. That's him, waiting on the porch, above. If he thinks maybe it's getting real close to Doug Time, he goes out in the yard to wait, staring down toward the cattle gate to the property.

Doug owns the cabin behind ours; we share the same gate. He lives in town and the cabin is a work in progress, but if the weather is decent, Doug comes up almost daily to work on it. He also brings up a dog treat for Nick.

And if you saw Nick's reaction when he hears the tires of Doug's rattly old diesel pickup on our gravel drive, it's the Best Damn Treat Ever Known to Dog. His little legs quiver with anticipation, and he whimpers as he waits for Doug to come up the driveway. Oh my! Some days Nick scores a second treat from Doug on his way back out.

If Doug arrives while we're out on our morning walk, Nick will pick up the scent of his tires on the road, and a quarter-mile from home, he takes off in a sprint to catch up with Doug. And sometimes he'll run another quarter-mile to Doug's cabin just to make sure he isn't missing out.

This routine? It's the new highlight of Nick's day.

But Mason and I also score something out of Doug's visits: He brings us the Chattanooga newspaper! Sometimes it's a couple of days old, but we don't mind. In return, we give him homebrews. That's him  below talking with Mason, back when there were still leaves on the trees.

But as the days get colder, Nick's routine is about to take a hit. See ya in the spring, Doug.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hello, Minneapolis!

Our birdhouse, sunset Dec. 8.

So I woke this morning to find my Minneapolis mates posting photos of the season's first snowfall. I have to admit, it's simply gorgeous when those fluffy flakes coat all of the tree limbs. But this is Dec. 9. There are good odds that those Minneapolis mates won't be seeing the ground again until March ...

Meanwhile, Dec. 9 on Flat Top was spent working in the yard, combining piles of shredded leaves into one giant compost heap that hopefully will become "gardening gold" come spring. Our skies were party sunny and delightfully pushing 70 degrees here on the mountain. At quitting time, I took time to pick up the phone and call the Balafas family to see how they were loving the snow. Sure enough, their two teenage kids were out playing in it when I called. Too cute!

That's me (right) on the phone with Dino -- oh dear, that hair IS gray, isn't it? Anyway, as you can see, we've already made a dent in our firewood supply. But don't fret, we have about five more piles as big as the one on the left. We are NOT running out this year!

Monday, December 3, 2012

We Needed a Vacation

I know, I know. We haven't "worked for the man" in more than two years, and we haven't even been that productive around the cabin lately. That solar project remains hanging over us, not to mention the winterizing project of finishing the "skirt" around the cabin's crawl space.

But, seriously, doesn't that white sand look like more fun? This is Okaloosa Island at Fort Walton Beach, Florida -- just a seven-hour hop south of here. (Technically, in that photo, we were on U.S. military property, but they didn't appear to be using it on this Thursday afternoon, and besides, why should the military get all the good beaches?)

Mason has got a buddy from his Texas high school days who lives here. Well, he "weekends" on the island, then spends the week on his 10-acre "farm" nearby. Not a bad life, eh? We're gonna leave him unnamed, because we're pretty sure he'd prefer it that way.

Now, we've been to a lot of ocean destinations. You know, sailing the South Pacific and all. But the white sand here in the Redneck Riviera? It's truly pretty damn nice. The restaurants and crowds? Meh... But don't worry, we brought icy cold homebrews along. And Nick the Dog loved the beach.

And now, back in Chattanooga, today it was 70 degrees. In December. The good life continues!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thankful for Trusty Recipes

We didn't do much special for Thanksgiving. We went over to the neighbors for a bit, then came home to roast a turkey breast and watch football.

Of course, I couldn't show up at the neighbors' cabin without bringing anything, so I made these little handheld cranberry pies. Aren't they lovely? It was my first attempt at making homemade pie crust (Mixed by hand, mind you, not by food processor! Take THAT, Pioneer Woman!) I have to say, I impressed myself. These tasted like little gourmet Pop-Tarts, only way better. And yes, they are all gone now. And yes, I'll be making them again.

P.S. Not a day goes by -- OK maybe one, but not two -- that I don't tell Mason how much I love my new kitchen.

P.P.S. I really hold nothing against the Pioneer Woman. Just seething jealousy perhaps. (Mason can't stand her, though, for what it's worth.)

P.P.P.S. And, yes, it was tank-top weather here last week.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boots and More Boots

For those who've visited, you know that I have traded in all my nicer footwear and now live almost exclusively in Wellies. You know, rubber boots. I wear them on hikes and walks, while gardening or even just walking the paths around the house when I first wake up in the morning -- surveying my empire. 

In the nearly two years we've lived here, I've gone through four pairs. Amazing, I know.

I've been partial to the dusty pink ones from Tractor Supply, but they do seem to wear out quickly. See those cracks across the top of my arch? Not so good when wading the local creek or watering plants or digging in dirt. (Not to mention they lose their snake-proofness.) So this time 'round I forked over an extra $10 for this brown "kids" pair from the Sportsman's Warehouse. Oh good lord. I can still remember those days when I shopped at Nordstrom and Banana Republic. How far I've fallen ... or is it how far I've come?!

I sure do love me my boots. So when I was in Texas, I picked me up some I can wear into town. I found these red boys' cowboy boots at a thrift store. I thought they were a bit pricey at $15, but lemme tell you, I can't wear them into town without getting a compliment on them. They're nothing special, except to me, maybe.

Unrelated notes: See that sunshine in that top photo? It's been gloriously lovely here lately. Supposed to hit 70 on Thanksgiving. Now there's something to celebrate! Enjoyed that sunshine thoroughly while planting 100 daffodil bulbs the other day.

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Amazing Friends

When I left Minneapolis, I had a tearful goodbye hug with a group of co-workers. That's because they were so much more than co-workers. These women had been incredible friends -- and they continue to be! And one of them came to visit yesterday: Courtnay!!

This gorgeous woman, her husband and their adorable boy Bodhi braved a night on Flat Top en route to Atlanta to see family. See how conveniently located the cabin-at-the-end-of-the-world is? (That's what our insurance man called it ... and he's a local.)

But seriously, I never EVER thought so many of my Minneapolis friends would make the journey here, and I just feel so lucky. AND LOVED!

It was a whirlwind visit, but we made the most of it, despite an inch of rain and Nick the Dog's undesirable desire to herd Bodhi (which meant Nick spent most of the visit leashed to the couch).  We're hoping a little of our hyper-relaxed psyche rubbed off on them, getting their well-deserved vacation off to a good start.

So those other Minneapolis women? They got wind that I may have complained about not having enough bowls, so they sent an early Christmas gift via Courtnay: a box full of bowls! They each picked one out, without consulting one another, and each one absolutely reflects the woman who picked it out. I LOVE THEM -- the bowls and the women.

Look, they even each came with their own lovely card! Seriously people, these women spoil me.

Courtnay also spoiled us with our greatest-ever haul of old magazines, the perfect pastime for rainy and lazy days up here:

And she also gave us another gift: a lovely photo of us on our walking trail that I'm thinking I may just save for the annual Christmas newsletter, so you'll just have to wait for that one.

Thank you Courtnay, for everything!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back in Action

We've finally transitioned from Vacation mode to Mountain mode,  thanks to all the leaves. First we found a wood chipper/leaf shredder on Craigslist. Then we blew and raked, and raked some more.  We raked so much, that we even gave ourselves the night off from the Flat Top Homebrew Rule:  30 push-ups per beer. (Sore arms; raking, ouch.) Praise The Hop Gods.

So far we've raked up about half of the area around the cabin. Tomorrow we'll start tackling the other half. The plan is to use the shredded leaves as garden mulch. I haven't done this before, but my sister has, and she says it works! And while she gardens in the challenging climate of Texas, she has a lovely yard and some amazing roses.

After several hours of raking and an unhealthy dose of pain relievers, somehow I managed to pull myself together and make dinner.  Of course, I really had no choice -- one of the downsides of living at least 35 minutes from the closest fast food. On the plus side, my new subscription to Cook's Illustrated paid off with a damn tasty Italian Wedding Soup:

And on two final  notes: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!! And here's my cutie: Nick the Dog.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To Texas, and Back

Some of you may know these proud new homeowners, but for those who don't: that's Mason's son Matt, Matt's wife, Joanna and their cutie of a son, Jack -- and in the background, their new house in Arlington, Texas.

We just got back from two weeks of "vacation" there, helping them with some of the chores that come with buying a home (mostly electrical work for Mason; yard work for me) and also visiting my family, which involved building a wooden deck/walkway in Mom's back yard. (Sorry, no photo of the deck, unless Mom e-mails me one. Hint, hint. Let's see how long it takes her to read this and send one!)

I use the term "vacation" loosely, because, No. 1: We haven't had jobs for at least two years now, and No. 2, there was no lounging in the sun with fruity umbrella drinks ... unless you count this mother-of-a-margarita that a grizzled Mason sucked down on the road trip West while in North Little Rock, Arkansas. (Mason, a Texan though he doesn't advertise it, apparently holds great distaste for all things Arkansan. Who knew?)

And No. 3 ... We worked more on this vacation than we do on a normal day on Flat Top!

But we did come home richer for the experience: Mom gifted us her 2003 Honda Element, which greatly improves our vehicular collection. I got to drive it home, chillin' in the air-conditioning and rocking to some horrendous Pop 40 radio, while Mason got wind-whipped in the Jeep Cherokee. Nick the Dog wasn't so excited about the air-conditioning, but was happy to ride shotgun.

And who wouldn't be happy to be home when this view awaits them? We may have missed peak color by a few days, but it's still beautiful ... except for the acre of leaves that need raking. So, back to work!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Building Bridges

While I've been mothering my new front lawn (which you can see in the distance above), I've also been working on what I call my "bridge project" -- building little wooden bridges that help guide rainwater runoff away from the cabin and also keep my mulch pathways from washing away.

So far I've built eight bridges, using leftover lumber that we pulled off the walls in the bathroom and guest room remodels.

For the latest portion of the project, above, I tried to build a little retaining wall and then dug a graded trench that hopefully will channel the rainwater down toward the front of the cabin and into the front garden, then onto the driveway.  If this doesn't work, I'll have to dig a French drain along this channel.

See? The projects are never-ending up here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

My Old Man's Old Truck

And we thought Minnesota was hard on our cars ...

If you've been here, you know how rough our road is. After the hard-top road ends, you crawl along better than two miles of dirt road before you reach our little oasis in the woods. In some places, you could call it a gravel road, but in others, it's more of a rocky outcropping. And when it rains here, like today (and it rains here a lot), there's even one rocky outcropping that turns into a lovely little waterfall, which we drive over on our way into town.

So it shouldn't surprise you that our two aging vehicles are in constant need of a little TLC. The other day, riding in our 1992 pickup (mileage in the neighborhood 230,000, a rough 'hood), we started to feel overwhelmed by gas fumes. Now, we knew the truck had an exhaust leak, but that only slightly smelled. (Yeah, it's on Mason's list, but the bolts involved are so rusted out that we've come to embrace the constant cough of exhaust as one of the truck's eccentricities.)

But the gas fumes, they kept getting stronger. So Mason found an afternoon to climb under the truck and it didn't take him long to find a cracked gas line. Who knew that gas traveled from the tank to the engine in this tiny little metal tube that's just exposed? OK, Mason knew, but I didn't.

So he removes the cracked portion of line and replaces it with some rubber tubing. But in all the jostling of removing the bad piece of line, it seems more of the tubing kept cracking farther down the line. Expletives followed, along with more cracking even farther down the line.

After several afternoons positioned on "asses and elbows" (see photo above), two trips to the auto parts store and a good soaking in gasoline, Mason was able to get it fixed.  Or so we hope. We'll find out for sure on our next trip into town.

All this brings you to the fabulous news that my generous mother has just donated her 2003 Honda Element (four years newer than our Jeep!) to the Great Flat Top Experience (she scored herself a fine new SUV in the deal). Get this: The Honda has heat and air-conditioning!! Woo-hoo! So soon we'll be two unemployed persons with three vehicles, living one hell of a life up here in the Tennessee backwoods.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We Love Company!

Now, don't get us wrong. Most days, we do really, really well having only each other and Nick the Dog to talk to up here on Flat Top. But we DO love having company, and this weekend, we had our first "outsiders" visit since June.

Former co-workers Kathleen (see photo below) and Chris (that's headless Chris, above, in full relaxation mode, which I've never really seen him in before) added their names to the list of brave souls who have ventured to see what the hell we've done with our lives. It was great to catch up with all of the latest in the Twin Cities news media world, and even better to enjoy Kathleen's laugh and Chris' great sense of humor. Hilarious, these two! And in a bonus for Nick, they love dogs. Even one that begs for food a whole lot.

It was a busy (and beautiful, see that sunshine?) Saturday, with more weekenders up here than we've ever seen in one non-holiday weekend, and we were pleased that Chris and Kathleen got the full exposure to the Flat Top gunfire experience, including 50-caliber ka-BOOMS! in the not-too-distant distance. (It seems we have new neighbors: a Florida couple with toddlers who bought the cabin at the end of the road so they could come up and "shoot guns." Friendly folk!)

Any more of you Northerners dare the wilds (and the dirt road into Flat Top)? Come on, show us your adventurist spirit!

And as a final note .... the night before the Clontses arrived, Mason thought it was a good time to clean the firearms.

Me? I polished the silverware (or at least four knives, spoons and forks). I found that kinda funny, in a Southern "Garden and Gun" kind of way. (OK, maybe it's just me.)

P.S. Notice that super green new front lawn behind Mason in that photo?? That's mine!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back to Our Usual Antics

Summer is about over, more or less, so our month of piddling is over and we're back to work here on Flat Top, cutting down trees so we can install a solar panel to augment our own little power grid.  (Minneapolis friends, please note that it's still low-80s and terribly gorgeous here.)

Our tree-taking-down technique calls for a steel cable tied as high up as our 16-foot extension ladder lets us (or should I say, lets Mason). The other end is looped around another tree for directional leverage, then tied to the trusty (and rusty) old pickup. Insert chainsaw. The end result? Big tree go BOOM. Right across the road:

You can also see there some of our stockpile of firewood for the coming winter. That's right, this year we won't be scavenging the property in January for dead scraps to burn. At least, we hope we won't.

We've also been busy re-seeding the front "lawn," if you can call it that. That involved lots of roto-tillering, raking, backbreaking rock clearing, and then even more raking. We're finally down to the watering phase, which should bring little green sprouts in a week or so:

With that, we'll leave you with photos of our greatest loves: Nick the Dog and my slowly growing garden:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Love You Always, Dad

I'm taking a timeout today from our usual Tennessee mountain adventures to say probably a few too many words about my sweet, loved, dear old dad, Nick B. Williams Jr.

He died a couple of weeks ago, at age 75, after more than 10 years of that rotten-godawful-dreadful-demeaning-I-hate-it disease Alzheimer's. Our family -- my mom, sister and me -- have been mourning Dad for years now, ever since we had to turn to a nursing home for his daily care. I'm not going to lie; it was a miserable end to a wonderful life.

Dad was a newspaperman, the old-school kind with rolled-up oxford sleeves, inky fingers and an inclination toward alcohol to take the edge off of deadline stress. The best years of his life were spent chasing stories in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, living in Bangkok and Cyprus with an exotic collection of other ex-patriots. Dad's dad was a newspaperman, too, and sure enough, I followed both of them, at least for awhile.

When Dad wasn't at work, or thinking about work, he was in the garden, on the tennis court, or on the couch watching the Dodgers or Bruins. I sometimes tried to be the son he didn't have, playing football in the street, listening to the Dodgers while I helped in the yard. In high school, I'd stay up "late" and watch "Cheers" with him. Got my first sip of beer -- Coors -- when I went to watch him and his old buddy Eric Malnic hit the yellow fuzzy ball around the court.

Last week when I was in Texas with Mom, I spent hours going through old photos of him, putting together a photo album for his wake. It was good to be reminded of those so many good years. There was Dad playing host to our annual Kentucky Derby Day parties; Dad looking lovingly at Mom through the years; on the burning oilfields of Kuwait; in a field of burning marijuana plants in Thailand (rough job); and shaking hands with the Dali Lama; and -- even once Alzheimer's took hold -- dutifully walking his dog Will, who now dutifully watches over Mom.

Dad was charming and sweet, yet rascally if not dirty. I like to think I have his sense of humor, though Mom has a pretty good one, too. The first day he met my college boyfriend Mike -- later my husband -- he took him to Bangkok's infamous red light district and watched Mike squirm as mostly naked, underage girls sat on his lap. Dad? He just sipped his drink and smiled with that smirk of his. Those who knew him, you know that smirk.

I know this was weird, but I named my dog after my dad. I called Dad dad, not Nick, but I always loved that name: Nick. Manly but sweet. That was Dad.

We told Dad that I now I lived in the Tennessee mountains -- not too close, but not too far, from where his family had roots back in the 1800s -- but I'm not sure he really ever knew. Those later years were just so hard; you wanted to think there was still a glimmer of the man he used to be. Days before he died, a nurse checked in on him, and he said, "Still here." Who knows, but it sure sounded just like the witty Dad we knew all along.

Dad had a Southern heart, and always loved the stories of his family's heritage. And living here on Flat Top Mountain often reminds me of those stories. Digging in the dirt also reminds me of him. Not to mention throwing back a beer or two.

So I'll be thinking a lot about Dad here on the mountain. And if you made it this far into this blog post, thanks for listening a lot about Dad.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Singing the Septic Blues

I can think of no better time than in the dripping humidity of high summer to face the inevitable: Our septic "system" is a piece of ... yeah, I'm gonna say it: crap. 

About four days ago during our evening showers, a loud gurgle coming from the toilet and the kitchen sink gave us the telltale sign that something was amiss. Two days later, the gurgle stopped, and so did the flow. 


To keep the story as pleasant as possible, let's just say it boiled down (and yes, we were boiling) to five hours of digging -- 3 feet down, for about 25 feet, in packed soil -- and $15 worth of gravel to get us back in the flow. 

I must add that digging dirt out of a 3-foot-deep ditch requires Squats From Hell.  And Squats From Hell requires heavy breathing. And heavy breathing is the LAST thing you want to do during a septic system rebuild.

But now we're fairly confident that the system is good to go for at least another 18 months (from what we saw of the original and given the "upgrade" we installed, more like five years, sez Mason), and "Installing a New Septic System" has moved up higher on our never-ending project list. 

Needless to mention, no photo with this blog. Trust me on this one. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

July Is For Puttering

Halfway into July, we decided that the month would be dedicated to NO BIG PROJECTS!! Just puttering. A little gardening here, maybe some gutter installation there, and lots of reading. OK, some of you may think that gutter installation sounds like a big project, but not when Mason's on the job.

Helping us out has been rain, rain and more rain. Ever since we got that $%*#! Cow-on-a-Tractor rain gauge, we've been clocking an inch or two of the stuff a day, so we really don't know what "drought" everybody's talking about. Even our little nearby creeks, which usually dry up in summer, are running full steam. Today I even had to run-and-jump to get across one.

On the rainiest days, we did a lot of reading. Yup, even Mason, who pored through three novels in six days. Our highest recommendation goes to "City of Thieves," a WWII-era Russian buddy story that my hip friend Leslie sent me. We also consumed "Child 44," another Russian thriller, post-WWII, and I devoured a few books about living the country life. It got me all worked up about adding a chicken coop to our homestead. Stay tuned on that.

So on last week's trip into town, Home Depot had a bunch of shrubs on clearance, and I couldn't resist a wisteria vine, which I had planted and loved in our Minnesota garden. So, as soon as I got it home, Mason got energized to build a pergola on our fenced-in well-house/garden/generator storage area. We had planned to build the pergola about a year ago, so it was one of those smaller projects that we had left in mid-construction. But, in the past two days, we got much of the pergola completed (see photo).

The next big project is adding solar power. (That job will entail taking down MANY very large trees. We're hoping to not drop any of them on the house. ... This time.) But all this rain also has us talking about adding a French drain to help direct the rainwater runoff away from the cabin. Not sure which project we'll undertake first, but tomorrow we're going to build several little wooden "bridges" that will help the runoff find its way around my mulch pathways. For the record, "little wooden 'bridges' " qualify as a puttering project.

And also, for the record, I'm still LOVING my new kitchen! (And our very laid-back, no-worries mountaintop lifestyle.)

Aloha, y'all ...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rainy Day Confession

I'm fancy myself a gardener, or at least a severe garden putterer. I can spend hours in the yard, pulling weeds, digging shredded leaves into the sandy soil, or just wandering about my plants, which I confess I talk to, and possibly treat better than family members. I check in on them daily, pamper them and worry about them. I know, it's pathetic. Just buy me a cat and call me Old Lady.

So I've done a fair amount of planting around the cabin, and after two weeks of nothing but 100-degree temps here, I was starting to get a bit concerned about our ability to keep everything alive.  We usually get a fair amount of rain, but the TV weatherman kept telling me Chattanooga was down 7 inches for the year. I couldn't believe it, because when it does rain up here on Flat Top, it's almost always a gully-washer. But then, after two weeks of Africa-hot heat (without even a fan to cool us), I started to think a bit too much about getting enough water for my garden. (Maybe blame it on not having a kitchen remodel to fret about?)

So I told Mason: Let's get a rain gauge so I can keep track of how much is falling up here. Oh man, just call us Old People.

Mason dutifully put it on The List. (We keep a serious list up here; we have to, because we only go to town once or twice a week, and lord knows our aging brains couldn't remember whether it was wasp spray we needed or cooking spray.)

Now, with the kitchen remodel finished, The List hasn't had much on it. Maybe that's why Mason seemed overly determined to fulfill the order. First we hit up the Tractor Supply store in Soddy-Daisy, but all there was to pick from was either a really boring plastic tube or a hideously kitschy cow-on-a-tractor gauge. It's on clearance, Mason said excitedly, as he picked up the mini-tractor. ("It's imported!" he mentioned, trying to close the deal and not have to stop at 14 more stores looking for a damn rain gauge. Me? "China does not count as 'imported.' ") I wanted something a bit more "cute" than a piece of plaster, but a cow on a tractor? Um, no way. So off to Home Depot. Nothing but the boring variety. Stockdale's. Nope.

So guess what now graces our upstairs deck railing? Yup. So, so sad. And sure enough, as soon as we brought home the hideous lawn kitsch, the heat broke and the skies fell open. Yesterday it rained nearly 3 inches, and today? Check out that photo (that's our real tractor in the background)! Four inches of rain by about 6 p.m., and it hasn't stopped falling since then. See what I mean? It's nothing but buckets up here.

Oh man, I just hope that smiling cow doesn't show up in a nightmare tonight.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Our Kitchen: Then and Now

OK, let's refresh our memories and take a look at what the kitchen looked like on the day we moved into our little cabin in the woods:

Oh dear. But really, how appropriate that our utility room door -- yes, that's a door -- had a sailboat/beach scene painted on it? Note all the water jugs (no running water at the time). That red tile table served as an "island" -- and the only real work surface. The cupboards were that cheap crappy oak-laminate stuff, warped on the outside and filled with mouse turds on the inside! Here's another angle in a shot taken about a month after moving in:

OK, are you ready for this??? Here's our kitchen today:

Yes, we're very happy. Looking at those photos, it's hard to believe it's the same room. The addition of the matching window over the stove was a winning idea, bringing in a lot more light. I'm also in love with the checkered floor. The other real game-changer was painting the ceiling (which I finished up just today in 98-degree heat and humidity).

OK, OK, the whole thing was a game-changer! Seriously, the new kitchen has transformed my ability to cook. (Tonight, I'm making babaganoosh!) and every day I smile when I see it. Sometimes I even hug that damn island. And I can't tell you how much I owe Mason for making it happen!!

OK, photos are better than words, so here are some more:

That last photo is Mason's ice tea urn, which I made sure would have it's own special place in the new kitchen. It's the least I could do, right?  (OK, he'd rather have it out on the counter, but ...) And that pantry!! It's culinary heaven. Mason pushed for the butcherblock countertops, and I'm glad he did.

Well, that's what we've been up to since about April, in between brewing beer and bottling beer and drinking beer. What's next, you ask? We're already researching our next project: installing solar panels. Step one is more tree removal. Lots and lots of trees. Hello winter firewood!