Saturday, April 28, 2012

My First Dog, Angus

Angus was my first dog. And, sorry Nick, he was the greatest dog ever.

I had grown up with a couple of cats. Not finicky ones that use -- or don't use -- litter boxes. Our cats came in the house for bacon and loving, but relieved themselves outdoors. They were good cats. But they were no dog, and certainly, no Angus.

My husband Mike and I got Angus in 1994 when we were living in Santa Rosa, Calif. Mike grew up with dogs, and I was game, as long as it was going to be a smart dog. Angus was a border collie, blue heeler and Australian cattle dog mix -- a dangerously high-energy, high-intelligence combination. We took him home from a backyard breeder as soon as he was 6 weeks old. And despite all intentions, he spent that first night sleeping right between us in our bed.

We started Angus early on the game of Frisbee and it wasn't long before he mastered the sport, adding twists and jumps to his catches. At the park near our house, Angus loved an audience. When people stopped to watch, and even clap, he poured on the showmanship -- always throwing in that over-the-shoulder catch 5 feet up in the air. He was so athletic and such a star.

Angus lived for the game of fetch. At our annual Derby Day parties, folks were amazed -- if not annoyed -- with his nonstop passion, throwing that soggy Frisbee at their feet. When we mowed the lawn, Angus quickly learned that if he dropped the Frisbee in our path, we'd have to stop and throw it. The kitchen hallway in our Minneapolis house was streaked with the cheap colors of plastic toys that he dropped at our feet as we cooked, or more likely, drank.

Mike kept Angus when we got divorced. And when I finally decided to get my own dog, I immediately began looking for another border collie. And Nick is the best dog ever ... on Flat Top Mountain. Second-best dogs? Will, Mom's Tibetan terrier mutt, a white ball of fire who showers her with love, and sister Maggie's Newfie mutt Sally, who's also up there in years and fighting the good fight. Yup, the whole family has gone to the dogs.

Last week Mike and his wife Glenda learned Angus had end-stage kidney failure. Angus, now almost 18 years old, had other health issues for several years, but clearly this was his last fight and there was no reason to make it more painful for him than it needed to be. With a vet's help, his fight ended today. His ashes will be buried at the Dvorak family cabin on Lake Superior, where Angus used to swim after sticks until he shook with near hypothermia and we had to force him to rest and warm up in the sunshine.

Loved that dog.
Best. Dog. Ever.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Step One: Cut Hole in House

Nothing more nerve-racking than cutting a giant hole in the side of your house, especially on one of the coldest days of spring. But sure enough, Mason came through once again.

Within 10 minutes of cutting out the hole, the new window was screwed into place, and WHAMMO, what a difference with so much more light inside!

The next step is ripping up the floor. We're gonna put in a tile floor (checkboard, gray and off-white, on the diagonal) in the kitchen. The rest of the house will get new off-white stained wood floors once we're certain we can afford it. But before we can tile the kitchen floor, we're gonna go buy the new gas range (!!) and IKEA cabinets. People, this is very VERY exciting. DO you SEE that stove in the photo (which is now and for the next two months, probably, in the middle of the room!) that I've been living with for that past 15 months? Even one of my bestest friends, Cindy, deemed it "grimey." The girl don't sugar-coat it. Let the good times begin ...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Let the Kitchen Remodel Begin

Today at 3 p.m., after several hours of puttering -- making breakfast, walking Nick the Dog, baking some molasses cookies, contemplating life in general -- the kitchen remodel officially began. Let me warn you now, don't expect any quick progress.

To start, here's the official "before" photo (note that last summer we added the stainless propane-powered fridge on the back wall):

Yes, those are "country oak" cabinets with seriously warped (and sticky) doors. When we moved in, the stainless sink was more of an ashtray than a sink. All of the food is now stored in those green tubs, and the pots, pans, dishes and Tupperware are in the gray tubs. The stove is the very one that once hosted a squirrel's nest in its broiler. We removed the upper cabinets soon after moving in, in a bid to get more light, so since then the mouse-turd infested insulation has been exposed. Also, please also note the pull-chain light bulb in the upper left corner.

Oh yes, it's a fixer-upper, even by Flat Top standards. Today, Mason worked on rerouting and adding some electrical. For the first time in 15 months, I now can flip a switch to get a light over the dining room table, instead of having to plug in the light in the far-from-code plug in the wall. Next up is adding another window to let in more light.

Can't say I look forward to a couple of months of upheaval in the kitchen, but then again, it really can't be any worse than the past 15 months. But then again, even on our worst day, life is good.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fellow Cabin Renovators

It takes a certain kind of person to take on a cabin in the woods. That's apparently why we got along so well with our latest visitors, former co-worker Jackie Crosby, above, a Star Tribune business reporter, and her man, Chris. About the same time that we moved to the Tennessee backwoods, Chris and Jackie bought a heap of a cabin on a Wisconsin lake. So for four people who didn't know each other all that well just a few days ago, we found a whole lot in common.

On Monday and Tuesday, after they drove up during a trip to Atlanta to see how our project was coming along, there was lots of talk about septic tanks, propane tanks and creative repurposing of supplies. They tore down the cabin on their lakefront lot and have been building a new one that incorporates a super cool "Weehouse," a modern architectural pod -- check it out on her blog:

We both apparently have been thinking about building adirondack chairs; Chris wins the creativity award for  his plan to build some out of old snow skis. And they were helpful with ideas for our kitchen remodel, which is next up here on Flat Top.

There was also lots of talk about beer, because Chris is about to launch into homebrewing. We brewed up a batch while they were here, just to show him how easy it is! They were even good sports when we told them about our latest fitness effort: 25 push-ups before every homebrew.

Both were also quite forgiving of Nick the Dog, who begged for food incessantly from them, then ungratefully bared his teeth a couple of times. And we thought Nick was getting more socialized. ... Luckily they're dog people.

And as they say in the South, they're good people.

Oh, and one more thing. Look what they brought in their luggage! Sweet gifts from my sweet sweet friends, Courtnay and Leslie! Thanks so much, ladies!


Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring Break

Leave it to us to persuade the Balafases to spend their spring break in the backwoods of Tennessee. But we think once the week was over, no one was too disappointed with the adventure. Well, maybe Tiko, their white fluffball of a dog, who by Day 4 was sticking real close to their car so he didn't get left.

We fished, shot up some things, even baked cookies and sticky buns. Dino did a lot of grilling for us, and believe me, no one went hungry. Well, maybe Matthew, but he's a teenage boy; he's always hungry. There was card playing (and sadly, yes, videogame playing), catnapping (that's Karen in the hammock, above), hair braiding, hiking and even tractor rides.

And they also took one for the team (for any future visitors, that is), checking out Chattanooga's famed Ruby Falls (worth it if you've never been in a cave) and Rock City (sooo not worth it).

Some photos from the week:

Shooting clay pigeons
Tascha, our skeet thrower ("Pull! ... Yes, NOW.")
Matthew taking a 12-gauge butt to the shoulder
Ceviche and cervezas on the front porch
Tascha making the famous Balafas cookies
Matthew on the iPad
"Hunger Games"-crazed Tascha braided a "Katniss" in Nan's hair 
Nan's braiding attempt in Tascha's hair
And Tiko, in his safe place, watching Dino ride the tractor

Monday, April 2, 2012

Guest Bedroom: Before and After

Before: Flying squirrels living in the ceiling; walls covered in wood planks of all sorts of sizes, none of them the same; half-dozen leaks in the roof; a light powered by an extension cord; vinyl tiles atop laminate atop rotting subfloor.

And after (OK, the desk isn't finished yet. Get off our backs!):

Now accepting reservations. Mid-April and mid-June are already booked! Not to mention today's arrival of the Balafas family!!