Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015!

See the burning embers in the lower right? I know, it's hard to take your eyes off that adorable hat.
I'm posting this a little early, because who knows what typos I'd come up with at midnight. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, like I can make it to midnight anymore!). We celebrate tonight with a bonfire of questionable (possibly toxic?) combustibles, and with an exceptionally toasty home on a chilly winter night. Nevermind that we only have half a floor in the cabin. But we ARE making progress on that project. Give us a few more weeks ...

In the meantime, I got restless, watching Mason do all of the work on the floor, so I decided it was time to sand and paint the "dining room" table.  Multiple projects makes for a merry household.

So here's to 2014, and let's hope 2015 can bring just a little more peace, joy and happiness to the world. Our world? We've got all that, and more, by the case!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Under Construction

Out with the old ...
And in with the new!
Operation Wood Floors is underway and the house is a disaster area. But that didn't stop us from celebrating Christmas our favorite way -- German-style, on the Eve, with libations, of course. If there are real kids around, then Christmas morning is a must; but when it's just us kids, we're all about the Eve!

We (i.e. Mason) installed about one-fourth of the new flooring before we hit a snag: uneven subfloor boards. So don't expect to see any great progress too soon. One step forward, two steps back.

Burned out on Christmas music (remember, I work retail), today we turned the radio dial over to "Hippie Radio," which I'm sure is some nationwide computerized radio station but today it hit the spot. Nothing like the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" to rev up the construction crew. I danced around to songs of my childhood, while Mason relived his teen-age years with The Five Americans' "Western Union." Mason ripped up floorboards, while I made homemade pizzas for lunch. It was a good day.

We also were treated to the gift of sunshine, which hadn't shown her beautiful face around here for about a week. The solar panels, batteries and our souls were thankful.

And to end this Christmas day, we will begin watching "The Wire," which we somehow have never seen but received all three seasons as a Christmas gift. Thank you Godin!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter Vacation!

First step: Removing all of the tags from the flooring.
Today I begin a three-month hiatus from the garden nursery, and I'm in a ridiculously good mood. The sun is shining broadly through our homestead, my playground, and I see nothing but fun projects ahead.

First, there are holes to dig for the last new plants of the season, then Christmas caramels to make. Trees to cut down for Winter 2015/16, then the biggest project of the year: installing wood floors in the cabin!

Our woods floors will be as cheap as you can get, because while our cabin is our castle, our castle is just a cabin in the woods. We'll slap some oil-based paint on the pine flooring and call it country chic. First up is ripping up the old laminate and subfloor in the cabin. We've never installed wood floors, so once again we dive into the unknown. What could POSSIBLY go wrong ...

More later, but now it's time for a three-mile hike with Nick the Dog.

Yes, life IS good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Acorn Update

Acorns: It's what's for dinner.

Look's like the neighborhood squirrels and chipmunks also decided our grill was a great hiding place -- until I went to cook Mason's steak. Then the next day, Mason lifted the hood of his truck to reattach the battery (long story, don't ask) ... and sure enough, the entire engine manifold was covered in acorns.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Signs of Winter

All the leaves are finally down, except for a few of the oaks, which wait 'til spring to shed.
The tipoff that winter was nearing came this morning, as we readied for Nick's walk. I use the word "morning," but in truth it was noon. OK, 10 minutes after noon. Twenty-plus years of working nights has many lasting influences, like never moving too fast in the morning. Besides, we had delicious homemade yeast-raised waffles to enjoy. (Cindy and Dean: We have greatly improved our recipe; you must come again to see how damn good these are.)

The tipoff to winter wasn't the layers of clothing we needed. Today we kissed 60 degrees, thank you very much, Minnesotans.

The tipoff came when Mason gave his boots a routine shake-out -- because we get some pretty good-size spiders around here, not to mention scorpions -- and about 15 acorns came pouring out. Apparently the resident squirrels felt his thermal-lined boot would make for great storage come January's chill. The second boot was stocked full, too. We immediately transitioned into our panicked squirrel voices to imagine his/her dismay when he/she comes calling in January.

After our "morning" walk, I spent two hours picking up acorns that fell by the bucketful this fall -- an alleged sign of another hard winter to come. Oh, joy to the world.

In other news, we enjoyed four days at Thanksgiving down in the Florida Panhandle, where we visited a buddy of Mason's and our Chattanooga friends who just bought a very impressive boat, which Nick almost seemed comfortable on.

Highlights of the trip? A 50-inch rattlesnake relieved of its life on Mason's buddy's farm (yes, we're snake magnets), and eating an insane amount of seafood. Lowlight? When we got home on Thanksgiving night, our fridge was empty, so Mason ate a Boston Market turkey and dressing dinner that was in the freezer ... and it gave him food poisoning!

Now, we're back to our usual antics: brewing beer, slinging plants at the nursery and puttering in the yard. I'm back in the kitchen, too, sparing Mason from the evils of processed food. Nick's scoring too. I've taken to making him homemade dog treats from the spent grains we use in our beer-making process! 

We had to chop this guy's head off before he finally stopped writhing on us.

I need to buy a dog-bone cookie cutter; my hand-shaped biscuits are a bit wompy-jawed, though we suspect Nick doesn't really mind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Best of Fall

Can you see Nick? Try the left side, that black speck just below the trees, among the leaves.
Nick the Dog loves his leaves. He loves playing in leaves, dropping his toy in a pile and then digging and digging like he doesn't know exactly where he dropped the damn thing. This, in Nick's world, is premium entertainment. (Clearly, we find it pretty entertaining as well, but we be dog people.)

And the only thing better than digging in piles of leaves is nesting in them. While we're slaving away in the yard, planting plants and painting new window trim and such, Nick digs himself a bunker in one of our massive piles of leaves and nestles in for a light nap.

A better angle of Nick, and a mighty big pile of leaves.
I spent all summer thinking I'd move this burning bush, but of course now I'm loving it.
This is a Spring's Promise camellia. Kinda lovely, huh?
And in the upper right corner you can almost see my Seiryu Japanese maple that's now a lovely red.
Needless to say, we have a whole lotta leaves just about now. Because it's fall, or at least it was yesterday, when it was a glorious 70 degrees and awash in sunshine. I was in shorts and a tank top all day.

Today? Wool cap. Gloves. Thermal boots. And layers. Multiple layers. But did that stop me from playing outside most of the day? Hell no. Just don't ask me about the forecast for nothing but more days of layers and boots for the coming week.

One firewood stack gone, 10 to go.  Our little wood stove is in for a workout over the next week or so.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Rockin' to the Dead Leaves

Rocking out. (And yes, I'm quite the fashionista these days.)

In the words of a good friend:  Don’t Judge.

Today I spent four hours using the worst (and best) invention for the average homeowner: The Gas-Powered Leaf Blower. I fully acknowledge that the gawd-awful droning sound of that gawd-awful (and God-sent) machine is pure torture to anyone out enjoying the woods, nature and all that green stuff like clean air and peace and quiet.

But when a forest’s worth of leaves are blanketing your homestead …
And snakes love them leaves …
And there are no neighbors around for at least a mile…

Catherine Preus, aka African Catherine, please forgive me.

I drowned out the noise by wearing our circa 1980s big fat radio headphones/ear protection. And because NPR wasn’t coming in very clearly, I tuned in to a 1980s flashback “rock” radio station at the top of the dial.  Sweet REO Speedwagon! And Kansas. And Doobie Brothers.

OMG, who knew leaf “raking” could be so much fun? And who knew I still knew that many words to “Carry On.” (“Carry on my wayward son, Don’t you cry now more…” Buh buh buh buh buh BUH BUH BUH BUH!)

I’m not proud, but damn did I have a good time. I danced all day. And that blower tube makes a really good air guitar.

I know, not the Nan you are used to. I'm full of surprises. And sometimes, it feels so good to be bad.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Color and harvest

Today's color shot.
Today's harvest: Bok choy, which I served in an Asian beef soup. Delicious.
And now, it's back to work...

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Height of Fall Color

This was taken from our backyard fire pit.
From our bathroom window.
Love the long shadows, but not the raking.
I can't decide if the height of our fall color was on Friday or today. Either way, it's pretty spectacular around here lately. That also means our bodies are about to be aching from all of the raking it takes to clean up about an acre's worth of forest. (We leave the other four acres au natural.) And once all of the raking and shredding is done, then we throw all those mulched leaves back on the garden beds. We never put on pounds during the fall!

Today also marked my return to a three-day work schedule, giving me more time at home than at work, which we all know is one of the keys to true happiness. To mark the occasion, my Gift Goddess of the North, Michiela, somehow unknowingly sensed the moment and sent me a massive box full of books that say "Nan" all over them. From cookbooks to gardening tales to best-selling novels and nonfiction, Michiela always sends the most fabulous care packages. As soon as gardening season ends, reading season begins, and I'm so well-stocked now!

The man's a natural. Grrrrrr.
And now, you ask, what do Mason and I do if we're not painting, planting or puttering (or brewing)? Golf. The other day we finished our chores early, so we broke out the clubs for the first time in four years and worked on our chipping. We started chipping toward the south lawn from a berm near the future bunkhouse/brewhouse/guesthouse, but after Mason's powerhouse swing nearly smacked the cabin, we found a new site chipping to the back lawn. Mason's natural athleticism is annoying. Me? Well, at least we didn't lose any of the balls in the forest of downed leaves.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Something New is Brewing

Mason's fly-sparging his mash bed. That's beer-speak, y'all!
The leaves are at peak color, the sun has been gloriously warm every afternoon and Mason's been brewing up something new: all-grain beer. (Because he doesn't have enough to do, like finishing the bedroom wall, shredding a huge pile of leaves, etc, etc...)

The new brewing technique takes a lot more time, but less money, so you can understand the appeal.  Give us a month or two, and we'll let you know how the first batch turns out. Until then, we'll just keep drinking our high-dollar homebrews.

That's a lemon tree seedling in the pot;
some microgreens that got macro on me; arugula;
lettuce and peppers in the background.

In other news, we've finally set the last post for the perimeter of the veggie garden, where the lettuce is doing fantastic; started to finish the bedroom wall; planted hydrangeas, a Florida Sunshine illicium, lilies and a sad little spruce tree; and just been keeping up with all of the chores of a house in the woods.

And yes, I know, it's been nearly a month since my last blog entry. I promise, I'm trying to be better. In a couple of weeks, I'll be working one fewer day every week, giving me more time at home. Yes, this makes Mason very happy: one more buddy on the mountain to hang with.

Can you see that HUGE spider web? 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Drone Footage

Check out this video that my pals Cindy and Dean Johnson put together for me during their recent visit. I had a low-resolution link earlier. This one's better!! Thanks guys!! LOVE it!

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Eggert Visit

Miss Cindy Eggert, way back in 1990-something, traveling in Egypt,
 where the local men would propose to her on a daily basis.
We had so much fun with Dean and Cindy Johnson's whirlwind visit this past weekend that we failed to take a decent photo of us all together, despite all their fancy camera equipment, too. Bugger! So instead, as Cindy and I have been good friends since 1989, when we were in our young-20s, I thought she (and our close associates) might get a kick out of this photo of her at the Great Pyramids outside of Cairo, from 1992? 1993? '95? Help me out, Cindy! Or Mike?!?

That's Dean controlling the video drone, which you can barely see in the distant center,
and Cindy monitoring what it was filming.

The only photo I took of Cindy and Dean while they were here was one of them working their drone. I've been having fun showing off their super-cool footage of our little cabin here. Nothing but rave reviews, guys!! (Though everyone asks if Lili is our dog.) I see serious business potential.

Our weekend together involved a lot of food and brews, some cards and hikes, and simply not enough time. But we take what we can get. Especially from crazy people who drive 14 hours straight to come see us.

We debuted our new waffle maker for our guests,
complete with honey/cinnamon fruit and fresh whipping cream.
As for mountain life, we cracked open another watermelon from our garden while the Johnsons were here. Gorgeous, and sweet as hell! The watermelon, too.

Pretty damn delicious, it was.
Looks like Mom might be our next visitor, at Christmastime. But if any of you have a hankering for fall color and bonfires, the best color seems to be about the last two weeks of October. The guest room is free!! Call now and make your reservations!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Harvest Girl

Oh dear. Insert your own melon joke here.

We're in full harvest mode here on Flat Top. This year we only had a few experimental crops in the ground; the veggie garden still isn't finished being properly fenced against our neighborly deer. But at just half-capacity, we're not complaining. Even Mason, who'd take a hamburger over an heirloom tomato any day, has been enchanted by the rewards of growing stuff he can eat, especially the jalapenos.

That's our first watermelon, above. I know, sorry about the juxtaposition. We'll crack her open tomorrow. We've had so much rain here, I'm not sure she's going to be super sweet. But if she isn't quite ripe, I'm still eating her -- maybe with the help of the blender, a little honey and some rum. We've got four more melons on the vine; we just need a little break from the damn rain. (Sorry, rain-starved California readers ...)

The tomatoes are in full production, though I don't think it will last too much longer. Damn blight. Yesterday, I had three meals featuring my 'maters. It's impossible to decide which was tastier: the breakfast taco with microgreens and cherry tomatoes, the BLT or the panzanella salad.

Refrigerator pickles; the cucumbers were picked fresh today!

And tonight, I made my first batch of refrigerator pickles! We'll get back to you on whether they were a success.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Snake: It's Not What's For Dinner

Dead snake No. 8 for the year.
There's a 39-inch rattlesnake in my freezer. 

Yes, you read that correctly.

I'm saving it for my neighbor. 

Yup, you read that right, too. But it's not for her dinner. She skins 'em and decorates walking sticks.

Seriously, folks, how far from my sterling silver upbringing on the Palos Verdes Peninsula can I get?

So today, I'm gardening (of course, because what else do I do on my days off?) and Mason's down the driveway a good ways, weed-whacking the overgrown greenery encroaching on the road. I'm tossing tree roots into the firepit when I notice a good-size snake winding its way across the driveway and into the north lawn. (Yes, we have a north lawn, as well as a west lawn, a south lawn and a back lawn, which is really the east lawn, but we don't want to sound snooty, so we just call it the back lawn.)

I quickly haul my ass down the driveway and flag down Mason, who conveniently has the snake pistol on his hip, because when you're weed-wacking the driveway, odds are good that a snake may be in  there.

Now, a few weeks ago, we were talking to a weekends-only neighbor about how many snakes we'd killed this year (6 copperheads and a rattler that I almost stepped on). Explaining her walking stick art project, she asked us to save our future kills. Sure, no problem.

That's right; we measure our kills.
But we failed to ask what the best way is to save the snake. Today is Tuesday, and she won't be back up on the mountain until Thursday evening. So we froze the snake. It's in a Ziploc, behind the Boston Market frozen meal that Mason will eat for lunch when I go back to work.

The gross part is that snakes still do a fair amount of moving despite decapitation; once we got half the rattler into the Ziploc, the back half  just curled itself right on into the bag. Then we double-bagged it, for good measure.

SO, that's our snake story of the day. In other news:
My Little Lime hydrangea is an absolute winner. Buy one, people. Buy five of them!
A frog has taken up residence in my watering can. I dump him out; he moves back in.

My hardy begonias are blooming. Love those veiny undersides.

Heucheras do really well here; this is Silver Scrolls.

I harvested my first eggplant; the babaganoush was delicious.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Past 24 Hours

OMG! Aren't my watermelons the cute-i-est?
 I've created a little hammock for this one so the stem doesn't break.

In the past 24 hours, we have:
1.  Dropped a 70-foot pine tree that was blocking evening sun from the solar panels.
2, Killed a copperhead snake hiding in a wood pile.
3.  Cut the tree into 2-foot logs to be split tomorrow for future bonfires.
4. Burned off all the tree's needley top in a bonfire. Snake carcass burned, too.
5. Cleaned the mold growing inside the house because it's been so hot and humid. Yeah, I know. Gross. Luckily, boat life prepared me for this.
6. Pruned the tomatoes and watermelons.
7, Mowed the lawn areas.
8. Prepared a steak dinner for Mason, veggie tacos for Nan.
9. Slept 11 hours.
10.  Designed a back yard for a North Chattanooga home.
11. Ate a delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwich with tomatoes from the garden.
12. Mowed up by the lake.
13. Cleaned the chimney for the coming winter. (Involves a trip up on a VERY steep roof.)
14. Killed 16 Japanese beetles.
15. Pruned the watermelons, again.
16. Prepared a grilled shrimp dinner.
17. Watched "One Hour Photo" to honor Robin Williams' dramatic (i.e.: creepy) skills.
18. Walked the dog four times.

In all, not a bad life, I say.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Dinner Guest: Moo

My name is Moo; I'm a serious spitfire of energy.
Meet Moo. He's adorable. He's also only 2 years old and has more energy than the Energizer Bunny.

Moo and his parents braved our dirt road today to come see where Nick's crazy parents live. Thanks to recent visitors Ralph and Foti, we now can give folks a Google Maps address (not ours, but close) that makes the drive in much more simple, if not easier. Of course, it helped that Moo's dad drives a big-ass truck.

I met Moo's parents at the nursery, when I helped them design their incredibly gorgeous back yard. People, you have no idea how beautiful a more than 180-degree, 2,300?-foot cliffside view all the way to the Smoky Mountains is. After some chatting, I learned that Moo's parents once sailed the South Pacific (much farther than we did). Needless to say, we had something in common.

Nick has come a long way in getting along with others, and did quite well with Moo. He didn't really play with the pup, because Nick's "special" that way, but he did wag his tail a fair amount. And he only growled now and then. This is progress, people!! Nick even begged for loving from Moo's parents. (Yeah, that's right, I'm not naming them. I'm willing to give people a lot of anonymity up here. What happens on Flat Top, stays on Flat Top.)

After our guests left, we rounded out the evening with a bonfire, listening to an NPR music special on the music of L.A.'s Laurel Canyon. And now, "Silverado" is on the broadcast movie channel.

How good is this day? Seriously. Life is incredible.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Progress In the Veggie Garden

Ask Mason to pose for a photo with his latest achievement, and you get this:

Kilroy was here.
Isn't this better?
Hey, handsome!
But alas, isn't the new gate to my veggie garden cute? The fence isn't finished yet, and won't be till winter time, but hey, I have a really cute gate!  Especially since, before the gate arrived, we were having to duck under bird netting every day to water our plants. We also had to water using rainwater and watering cans until ... MASON RAN A WATER LINE OUT TO THE GARDEN!! Who's my hero?

That's my eggplant you see on the lower left of the upper photo; none of the flowers has set yet. Damn. But as I said before, I got started late. I've just started harvesting tomatoes, and the watermelon plant is now about 12 feet wide and several tiny little melons are charming us daily.

Wait! One more garden gate photo, and my happy place:

This is a trilobia rudbeckia ... Craig, what was the name of it again?
We'll be adding a pergola top to the whole garden fence, come winter. Patience, my friends.

We've invited new friends to come to the cabin on Wednesday for dinner. Pray for us, and for them ...

Monday, July 28, 2014

One Thing Leads To Another

You're looking at the new sliding glass door, downstairs, hooked up the the pulley system Mason built that nearly killed us both as we hauled it upstairs.
The new wall on the north end of the cabin only highlighted how terrible the south wall was, so summons the crowbar!! And while we're at it, out with the old crappy door and in with a cheap-but-good-enough-for-cabin-life sliding glass door that pours natural light into the loft. Can't wait for the reading season, winter, when I snuggle up with a book on the chair or bed up there!

But first, how do two reasonably strong people get a 180-pound, 6-foot-wide door up to a loft in a cabin? Mason to the rescue! He rigged up a pulley system, but Nan's upper body strength didn't live up to expectations. For 45 minutes, Mason lifted the door from the living room -- Russian-weightlifter style -- while I cinched up the pulley rope. I still can't believe we did it, though we felt the success in our muscles for the next few days.

For a couple of days, we had a pretty big hole in our wall, but give us a few more days, and we'll have the "after" photos for you.

Yes, that's a big hole in the side of our house (bedroom).

So, while Mason's been busy tearing down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev, I've been pampering my plants. The veggie garden now sports nine tomato plants, a 10-foot-wide watermelon plant, an eggplant, lots of herbs, some peppers and maybe 15 stalks of corn. Today, Mason dug a water line out the the garden area; he's clearly motivated by the first batch of pickled jalapenos he's enjoyed.

This week we plan to build a gate to the garden, which won't be finished until spring. For now we're using bird netting to keep out the deer and the bunnies. So far, so good.

My cherry tomatoes.

The underside of my Sum and Substance hosta.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What a Difference!

The new wall!
The painted ceiling.
Check another big project off the To-Do List, which is an awfully long list, I might add. This one entailed finishing painting the ceiling (which we started about ... oh, six months ago), and then rebuilding the upper north wall of the cabin. Ever since we moved in more than three years ago, the wall was a major eyesore, with exposed insulation, crappy wallboard and a fine nest of cobwebs.

Today, check out those trimmed windows!! Check out last week's photo and check out the difference in how much more light bounces into the room. Massive improvement, thanks mostly to Mason.

Next up: The upstairs wall on the south side. That will mean a new sliding glass door out to the deck and new siding on the inside. Yup, the fun never ends.

In the meantime, we've also been awfully busy out in the yard, growing vegetables and installing an outdoor shower. More on that tomorrow ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ceiling Painting: Round Two

Nothing but fun today on Flat Top. That's Mason on scaffolding,
with a headlamp and a ShopVac, taking on some nasty cobwebs.
Remember that crappy particleboard ceiling we started to paint over the winter? Well, we've finally got around to finishing the job.

In our defense, we had to wait until it was warm enough to no longer need the wood stove, which is now enclosed in paper to protect it from flying paint. Painting a ceiling is very messy, if you weren't aware. Of course, now that we've waited for the heat of summer, it's become The Job From Hell, because it's hot as hell at the ceiling of an un-airconditioned cabin with a metal roof.

To do the job, Mason had to build some scaffolding so we could reach all of the ceiling that's about 20 feet over the living room. That's him, above, vacuuming the cobwebs before we paint. After a day's work, we're maybe a quarter of the way done.

Of course, one job always leads to another here on Flat Top. While the scaffolding is up, we'd be foolish not to take the opportunity to refinish the upper wall on that side of the living room. That wall was never properly finished by the original owner. The windows were never trimmed, and the particleboard on the ceiling looks like Grade A carpentry compared to the quarter-inch paneling that was on that portion of the wall.

And that thing about one job leading to another? Once the paneling was down, it was clear some critters had been nesting in the insulation up there. Maybe we should just be surprised there WAS insulation up there. Alas, we'll be replacing that, too.

Despite the undertaking, Mason -- covered in sweat, insulation dust and paint -- was unusually chipper. "Look at us!" he chimed in mid-afternoon. "We're a team again!"

He's not the only one enjoying my new work shift, which is down to three days a week for the summer. Tomorrow, before I start painting again, I'm putting nine tomato plants in the new veggie garden, which is far from finished, but I just couldn't resist.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mom's Perspective

Here are some photos my mom took while she was here:

Good morning.
An afternoon dip.

Mom liked my bowl collection. Thank you ladies!

Putting in post for the new veggie garden.

Waving to a neighbor driving by while on one of our twice daily walks.

The conversation pit, aka Tiki Bar.

Begonias in my hanging baskets.