Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guest Room, the Good and the Bad

Mason and I must have solar-powered brains, because when that sky is blue, we just hum along with energy. And the days here have been sunny, 60s and gloriously productive.  But does that mean the guest room remodeling job is close to done? Umm, no.

It's the classic "one thing leads to another" refrain in remodeling. At first we were making good progress, chasing out the flying squirrels (they left claw marks on the siding in a desperate bid to get back in), wiring the room for lights and drywalling the ceiling. Then it poured and the ceiling leaked. We fixed the leak, then sprung another one in the utility room. That was NOT our day. But then the sun came out again.

We got half of the walls covered in drywall when we realized we'd have to rip up the lovely vinyl floor tiles before we could start building a closet wall. Sure enough, under the glued-down vinyl tiles was a glue-down laminate floor. And that glue? It was icky gooey sticky. After a lot of swearing and getting half the floor stripped to the subfloor, it became clear that the subfloor was substandard: thin, moldy and warped. Yup, it had to go, too.

Am I boring you yet? Yup, remodeling jobs can get that way. I won't even bother to tell you all about the propane line extension and the crawlspace skirt and insulation, other than to say Mason spent many hours on his hands, knees and back.

So, the project I thought might be done by mid-February is looking like March. (Mason's laughing about now, knowing all along that we'd never be done by February.)


Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Return to Reading

As a newspaper copy editor for about 20 years, my job was to read. Eight or more hours a day. Read five stories out of Iraq, then another five out of Afghanistan. Read Washington stories and local stories, then reread them two more times. So when I got home from work, the last thing I wanted to do was ... you guessed it.

I love reading. It's all about learning, escaping, exposing, sharing, reflecting. When we were sailing, we'd pore through books, chasing shade around the deck with a paperback in hand. Cruisers routinely traded their reading material, unable to be too picky and willing to understand pages swollen by the salt air.

Now here in our Tennessee cabin, the chase is back on, this time for sunlight (so we don't have to burn any electricity while we read).

In the past year, I've managed to read about 15 books (see list below). OK, that may not sound like a lot to some of you, but remember, I did that in between sanding, painting, hauling, digging, cooking, sweating and, of course, beer-making.

Most of those books were gifts from my generous book fairies (good friends and my mom), whom I cannot thank enough. They surprise me with big stuffed envelopes, even boxes, full of fabulous reading. But there is one fairy I must mention: Michiela. Those who know this magical woman know her generous heart. Her gift-giving is legendary, not just in volume but for its personal touch. It's as if she spends all her spare time thinking of her friends and finding the most perfect gift that captures their soul.

But there are other fairies. My Twin Cities friends from just sent me a subscription to a fabulous news magazine (thank you so very much, ladies!). After losing touch 10 years ago with a childhood friend, Natalie Baszile, I found her this past Christmas and sent her a long letter. Sure enough, she sent me a long letter back -- and two books!

Natalie is a wonder, and she's also a writer. Her first novel, "Queen Sugar," will be published this spring; I plan to be among the first to buy it. Until then, I have a box full of love from Michiela to pick and choose from. And a pile of New Yorkers sent to me by my longtime partner in crime, Cindy Eggert.

Thank you to all my book fairies!

Here's my 2011 reading list. An asterisk means I recommend it:

"12 x 12" (about living in a 12x12 cabin in N.C.)
"Shanghai Girls"*
"Glass Castle"* (even Mason read and loved this one)
"The Tenderness of Wolves"*
"And I Shall Have Some Peace There"
"The Post-Birthday World"*
"The Help"*
"Half a Life"*
"Blood Bone and Butter"*
"Travels With Barley"
"Gutted" (newlyweds buy a wreck of a house and gut it ... sound familiar?)
"In the Garden of Beasts"* (I love good historical nonfiction)
"The Passage" (*turn brain off and enjoy in the summer sun and wait for FOX TV to pick up for miniseries)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Social Butterflies

We spend days at a time on the mountain with only each other for conversation.  Whoever is chatting on National Public Radio occasionally gets dragged in, and Nick the Dog is often polled when we get into heated political arguments, but for the most part, it’s me and Mason.

Now, we had good training for this social isolation on those long sails out on the Pacific Ocean. We can entertain ourselves for a frightening long time with the most miniscule bit of information.

But this past week, we had the rare chance to interact with “neighbors,” two sets of couples who own property adjoining ours who both happened to be up on the mountain at the same time. 

Suddenly I was startling aware that perhaps in all our isolation, we had lost the art of conversation.

Now to start with, Mason can be a chatty sort. I’ve always said the boy loves an audience, especially once it’s beer-thirty. But as we chatted with these couples, we found ourselves stumbling over each other to tell our tales of the mountain.  One story would spill into the next, and later I wondered whether we made any sense whatsoever, or whether we were giving cause for concern to our neighbors -- who we are utterly delighted with, and not just because they aren’t what one might fear to find in the backwoods of Tennessee.

Then yesterday, I may have just made a desperate cry for help: After years of ruthlessly mocking it, I joined Facebook. I just wanted to see my sister’s vacation photos, I told myself. But maybe I wanted something more, to feel a bit more … connected. Instead, I feel as if I sold my soul.

But today, as we chatted with our favorite Home Depot employee Charles and talked up Chandler and Frank, the boys at our grocery store, about our beer brewing activities, I decided that I was overreacting to our overly chatty ways. There was nothing to be concerned about; we’re just damn friendly people! Right?

The guest room update: Our flying squirrels have left sad little claw marks on the siding outside, desperate to get back inside, but it appears we successfully blocked all of their access holes.  We almost feel guilty.  Almost. The roof no longer leaks, the room has been wired and the ceiling’s drywalled (hell of a shoulder workout). Tomorrow, drywall goes up on the walls. I sure do love progress.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

One Year on Flat Top

Hard to believe it was a year ago today that we managed to get our U-Haul off the muddy, snowy mountain roads, and returned to Flat Top to spend our first night in our new little hunting shack. This was then:

And now (well, actually this was taken in the summer):

We spent that first night in the cabin sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I wore my winter knit cap to keep my head warm overnight; I think the original wood stove was putting out more carbon monoxide than heat. We had to chip ice off the rainwater barrel to get water to flush the toilet. We had to haul in drinking water.

What I'm trying to say is we've come a long way.

Tonight is about as cold as it gets here: 20s or high teens. But the new wood stove does a pretty good job of keeping us toasty. We've got the NFL playoffs on the "big screen."  And dinner will be steamed Asian cod, but first we're about to go down to our "neighbors" (they come up from Florida twice a year in their RV) for a beer.

So after spending 364 days a year feeling like we're never getting enough done, tonight we celebrate. Cheers to our first year!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Spy a Critter Nest

Can you spot where Rocky the Flying Squirrel chose to make his winter home? (Yeah, I know, no imagination in our nickname choice.) Sadly, this was one of several critter nests we uncovered this week as we launched into the guest room remodel.

Finally acknowledging that we probably won't get around to starting that "guesthouse" until this summer, we decided that we at least needed to gut the guest room to increase our chances of luring visitors. The room isn't that bad. See?

But those wood planks were installed with huge gaps, revealing the insulation behind it. And the ceiling was crappy particle board and leaked every time it rained. And then it became clear that some kind of critter was living in the walls.

After two days of nasty demolition work, we can now make that critters ... plural. And they were in the wall ... and the ceiling.

So here's Rocky, who fled outside to a nearby tree only after Mason pawed his little patch of feces-riddled insulation. Kinda cute, isn't he?

We thought he was the lone culprit, but when Mason peeled back another piece of insulation that didn't look "nested" but looked moist (yeah ... I mentioned it was nasty, right?), a second flying squirrel tumbled to the floor. "We've got a runner," he yelled. (I was busy taking Rocky's photo at the time.)

Mason moved quickly and trapped the squirrel inside a bucket (which was catching rainwater leaking from the ceiling so it didn't turn all of the dried critter turds on the floor into moist critter turds) and took him across the road and set him (her?) free:

What's that? Manly man Mason wearing a girly girl dust mask? Now you KNOW it was a nasty nasty job.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why Visit? Because NYT Says So

Just in case you didn't hear, the New York Times in a Sunday travel piece listed Chattanooga, TN, as one of "45 Places to See in 2012." Seriously! It touts the city's big turnaround from its gritty industrial past and its burgeoning arts scene.

And if that's not enough to tempt you to visit, Chattanooga was also named recently by Outdoor magazine as the best U.S. city for its outdoor life, including trails for biking and walking, swimming, canoeing, caving, rock climbing, hang gliding and whitewater rafting.

Not that we've had much time to enjoy any of those activities.

We're not saying Chattanooga is the best place we've ever lived. It isn't, for a lot of reasons (don't even get me started on the quality of restaurant food here). There's a lot about this area of the South that can rub a person the wrong way. But I do confess, I have taken a liking to drawing out them vowels with that twang.

I'm just saying that there is a kinda cool vibe in downtown Chattanooga. And apparently a few other, better, journalists agree.

But before y'all call and schedule those summer visits, maybe I should also confess that our guest room critter, which we think is an adorable flying squirrel, sounded as if he was holding ballroom dance classes inside the ceiling this morning. But now that the back porch is as good as new (way to go, Mason!), the guest room remodel (and critter removal) is moving closer to the top of the repair list, pushing that kitchen remodel further and further away.  Can you hear me crying from there?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mason's Progress Report

Mason already has the upper hand on the back porch repair. As bad as it looked, the whole repair job will likely cost less than $200, not counting our free (and hard) labor, of course. The main support beam is already up and painted (my measly contribution).  Now we have to replace the broken slats that support the metal roofing (1x4's already painted and ready to roll) and screw down the new sheets of roofing. Simple, eh?

Progress has been slowed slightly by that arctic cold snap that brought record low temperatures to the region. We just don't do cold very well. Overnight temps in the teens also gave us a bit of a scare that our water pipes were going to freeze. So tomorrow's biweekly trip to Home Depot will bring home more insulation and plywood to build a skirt around our cabin's crawlspace, trying to keep it a bit warmer, and more insulation for the pipes themselves.

Oh, and that critter living in the ceiling of the guest room? He may have breeched the perimeter. No sightings, but a pile of shredded insulation is a sure indicator. We keep that door shut, so you know, I'm sure he'll absolutely respect our living space and stay in the guest room until we can trap him.