Saturday, December 26, 2015

Peace (And a Lot of Rain) on Our Earth

The fire pit filled with water.
Holiday cheer came crashing down on Flat Top, with more than 9 inches of rain in a matter of three days. Admittedly, it rains a lot here in Chattanooga. I read news of the U.S. drought and feel guilty. And lucky. But the Christmas Day deluge?

Most of it fell overnight into Christmas morning, when we were planning to leave the mountain and do Christmas with Mom in town -- that's what we call Chattanooga, Hixson or Soddy-Daisy -- anyplace where you buy more than gas, Bud Light and lottery tickets.

The rain from two days before had already pushed our creek over our road, rushing with impressive importance for a creek that normally trickles, gurgles and burps. The firepit was already turned into a koi pond, minus the koi.

After a slight lightening in the skies, we called Mom and told her we were going to go for it.

Today the creek was still over the road, though barely.
Yesterday? It was almost scary.
Wow. Not only was our creek spread wide over our little road, the massive gravel hill just beyond it had become a river. Rivers. The rushing water cut 6" deep and 24" wide ruts in the gravel, which was bullied down the hill by the force of the water and left in a large pile at the bottom and alongside the ditches.  Damn. That little stretch of road had been one of the best in our miserable 2.5 mile trek to civilization, aka the hard-top road.

Along the rest of the dirt road, three or four creeks had claimed the right of way. Water reached the running boards of the Jeep at one point. Once we hit the asphalt, I called Mom to report our success. And to report that I would be needing a stiff drink. (DAMN, this is when we realized we forgot to bring homebrews... ACK.)

So how did we spend the day after Christmas? No mall for us. We dug gravel and dirt and rocks and mud, creating new ditches at the top of our road for better runoff. We've done this before, and I'm sure we'll do it again. Damn ATV'ers like to ride over the berm we create to guide the runoff down into the gully, rather than down our road. All we can do is keep trying.

So, I'm sore, my back seizing midway up and a fat broken blister on my right palm. Mason swears he isn't sore, but I'm certain that's just because he didn't work as hard as me. (Payback for that septic tank digging.)

And then, in the final hour before darkness began to fall, we hear the gunfire. It started with a single shot at 9:08 a.m. Christmas morning. (Someone got a new Glock for Christmas? How sweet of Santa.) But right now, it's rapid fire. An automatic? Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.

"Whatever happened to peace on Earth, assholes," Mason yells.

On that note, we hope your Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day or other family gathering be dry, restful and quiet.

My perfect little April Pink camellia, which isn't supposed to bloom till spring, got tricked by the warm weather.  This is the only camellia the deer have yet to devour. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Last of the Color

When these leaves are gone, that green grass is what helps get me through winter.
That, and the evergreens I've planted here and there.
This is the Bloodgood Japanese Maple I planted the day Dad died.
Why so quiet, you ask? Because we snuck off to Texas for a 12-day jaunt to see Corpus Christi, visit family in Arlington and surrounds, and see how many pounds Nan could gain eating three meals out every day. The verdict: A good number of pounds, or a bad number, that is ...

Visiting Arlington is now such a study in contrasts with our current life. There, we stay at Mason's ex's house and can get to the hardware store in 2 minutes. Here on Flat Top, it takes 50 minutes. To Mason's favorite burger joint, 1.5 minutes. Here? Trick question. All of Mason's favorite burger joints are in Texas.

All of that convenience -- and the thousands of restaurants within a 10 minute drive in Arlington -- create a parallel universe to Flat Top. So we go there, get our fill, appreciate it all, then retreat to the cabin and fall back in love with our little home in the woods. I can't tell you how much I look forward to winter, when I will no longer be working and we won't leave the mountain six days a week and create satisfying meals out of whatever is left on Days 5 and 6. Of course, I prefer that it be spring or summer, when it's warm, but I'm trying not to be too greedy.

This Seiryu Japanese Maple didn't give me much color last year,
 but this year? I'm happy.

When we returned to our little cabin in the woods last week, we found a forest full of leaves covering the ground and just a speck of fall color left. So far I've gotten the leaves off the grass, but there's a whole lot of raking and shredding in our near future. And soon, that pile of firewood you see in the background of that bottom photo will be keeping us warm day and night.  It's good to be home.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Missing Our Mountain

The color was better yesterday. Sorry.

I work only three days a week, but the past month has felt like a marathon of work. It all caught up with me today, cured only by a rejuvenating 1.5-hour nap on a rainy fall day.

I woke up in a cathedral of fall color. The best days were the past three, when it was sunny and glorious – and I was working at the nursery.  I didn’t get the camera out until today. So consider these a day off from peak!

How many times have you seen this photo in the past five years?
Our road; a good portion of it, anyway.
Why so busy, you ask? Well, mostly Mom! We’ve been going into town more frequently to help her with her new back yard. There has been planting and painting and more, but it’s almost done for the season; we’ll add a few more plants in the spring.

We also have a house-sitting gig that pulls us off the mountain once a week, and a few side gardening jobs. It’s just been way too much time away.

Of course, there are always a few plants to get in the ground here on Flat Top. This fall’s additions: Annabelle hydrangeas, a cotoneaster tree, an edgeworthia and some evergreen clematis vine.

In the veggie garden I’ve got spinach and lettuce in for the fall, and peas ripening as we speak. Fresh peas are divine. Oh, also a few carrots. And a whole lot of weeds. Bad girl. Busy girl.

So busy that all these Juliet tomatoes went to waste. Boo!
My succulents, thanks to Cheryl, before they came into the house for the winter.
My fall-blooming Shishi Gashira camellia.
Mason? He’s been busy with beer – and projects at Mom’s, poor guy.  He built her a 10-foot long trellis on which we are attempting to espalier a Carolina jasmine vine. Looks pretty damn good!

After all those trips in and out on our dirt road, we finally wrote our county commissioner to see if there’s anything that can be done to get some fresh gravel on it -- maybe even a grader. I’m sure they’re having a good laugh about that down at the county offices about now. We tried …

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Summer Vacation

The last bonfire of summer; it's back to work tomorrow.
Three months can fly by, even when you're not doing too much. We had two goals this summer, and today, the day before I head back to work at the garden nursery, we achieved at least one of them. Kinda.

But first, let me tell you about how much fun we had this summer:

1) A trip to Beaufort, S.C., to stay over on a few days our friends' big-ass power boat; there was kayaking, sunbathing on Hilton Head and a whole lot of food. And some boating to boot.

2) A trip to Arkadelphia, Ark., where my sister's family has parked their 80-foot houseboat (and ski boat) on a gorgeous lake. I even got up on a wake board, though I kept calling it a waterboard. Oops.
3)  Many trips to Mom's to mow her yard. Oh wait. That wasn't so much fun!

So our first goal this summer was to install a new septic tank. We're penny-pinchers, 'cause all we've got are pennies, so we decided we could dig the hole ourselves. Exercise is good for us, right? Four feet by 4.5 feet by 5.25 feet deep. Mason's oft-repeated mantra: What could possibly go wrong?

Down in the hole, pre-jackhammer.

Let's just say we rented a jackhammer at one point, and it's still not done. But it's close! Complicating matters -- besides the layers of rock we found 3 feet down -- was rainwater that kept filling the hole. A good-looking frog has taken up residence in the resulting "pond." He's about to get evicted to the nearby creek.

And for our second goal of the summer, my vegetable garden finally has a lovely deer-proof (we hope) fence, topped by a pergola-like decor. In full Flat Top fashion, we built it out of a bunch of free wood we scored from an acquaintance who was tearing up an old deck from his house. Yes, we're scroungers. (The biggest slabs of wood will be used in the "Bunkhouse" project, coming soon, maybe, possibly; we'll see.) But scrounging comes at a price: See those cross pieces atop the fence? Each one came from an old deck railing. Each one had 4 nails removed from it. Each one was cut and belt-sanded and painted. Much the same for the 2x6s that top the fence.

Best-looking veggie garden fence on Flat Top!
In between those adventures, there was a lot of watering plants, harvesting vegetables, making pesto and tomato sauces, eating, drinking and walking the beloved Nick the Dog. I picked up a few landscape jobs along the way, yet I'm completely mentally unprepared for my return to the nursery grind. Not sure Mason is looking forward to it, either.

Mason trying to get Nick to look at the camera.
I worry about how much time these two are about to be spending together.
Cutie boy!


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mason's Kin Come Calling

When you think Flat Top, you think: Beer. Bonfires. Feasts. Political discussions. And a good dose of nature.  Well, you can now add toddlers to that mix. Wait, WHAT?

Yes, Flat Top experienced a full-on family vacation last week, and Mason and Nan lived to tell the tale. (But note that it took us a week to recover and tell you about it.)

Meet Sawyer, age 18 months.

Jackson, 4.
(And that's Matt on shoe duty.)

And Emery, just about to turn 8.
Throwing rocks into the lake was a big hit.

These are three of Mason's seven grandchildren. They came with their adventurous parents, Matt and Joanna, who like camping and foolishly thought: How much harder could a few days on Flat Top be? (Smartly, Matt chose not to tell his wife that we don't have air-conditioning until the day before the trip.)

Luckily Grandma Cook (aka Karen, The Keeper) was smart enough to send along a blow-up pool to help entertain and cool the kids. The hammock was also fodder for great entertainment. I set up our new croquet set, which was entertaining for awhile, but in the end, it was a rope hanging from a tree in the front yard that kept Emery and Jack entertained for hours. Seriously, hours! Digging up potatoes and picking tomatoes in the garden also were big draws.

Walking back from the lake.
Who wasn't happy? Nick the Dog. He was banished to Grandma Williams' for the duration. Nick + one kid, manageable; Nick + three kids = Not good. But on the bright side, Nick got to lounge in icy cold air-conditioning while we sweated in 90-degree heat that dripped with humidity. Hmm, maybe he WAS happy.

Sooo, people, who's next to visit? (Tip: You may want to wait till September. This summer's heat has been brutal.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015


We pitched the tent where the bunkhouse is scheduled to be built.
 Soon. As long as the stock market cooperates.

Yes, that's right, we've fooled more people into visiting us! This time it's family. Mason's son Matt and his wife and three kids are clearly a bit crazy, because they're coming tomorrow. And it's stinking hot. Low 90s, with humidity in the low 90 percent range. It's Africa hot, for my Matthew Broderick fans.

We've tackled a few jobs before their arrival. Ever since August heat arrived in June, we've talked about installing a ceiling fan in the loft. We don't have electricity to burn, but on sunny summer days, we can at least afford to run a ceiling fan for at least a few hours at night. And because we're going to give the visitors the house to sleep in, the fan became a top priority for Mason. Last night was the first night we needed it, and trust me, it's heaven sent.

We'll be sleeping in the tent for the next couple of nights. When Mason bought that damn condominium of a tent when we lived in Minnesota, I just shook my head. Now? Heaven sent! Camping ain't camping when you can stand upright in your tent, even if you're Mason. Throw in the double-high queen blow-up mattress, and it's really not even roughing it. OK, it's not home sweet home, but it ain't bad.

The tomatoes are out of control! These got blanched,
peeled and turned into a tasty tomato sauce.
Now if only I can convince our guests to eat nothing but cucumbers and tomatoes while they're here. ... But Mason makes the call on the menu for his family, and the call is for steak. And shrimp. And chicken. And twice-baked potatoes. (OH, and I made some homemade banana/salted caramel ice cream that's TO DIE FOR!)

So, are there any tomato- and cucumber-lovers out there who like to sweat all day but get free food? You can have the cabin to yourselves if you just help devour the harvest!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What's Blooming

Gotta love zinnias; unfortunately so do baby Japanese beetles.
(We don't water the lawns; so far, the rain has cooperated.)

Summer days on Flat Top just kind of unfold. Like today: I didn't plan to have a bonfire on an 84-degree, 95-percent-humidity kind of day. But after we finished our Sunday waffles and walked Nick, I headed to the veggie garden with my clippers and a colander. After snipping a few tomatoes, I noticed flies, which are one of the few kinds of bugs not common here. Then I noticed the stink.

Apparently a two-foot-long black snake (that's non-poisonous, Michiela!) got himself entangled in a pile of plastic netting I have left sitting outside the garden when we started to put up the new permanent fencing. (Thank goodness we don't have dolphins here!) Not sure how long the snake had been there, but long enough to stink, and be rotting from the flies and ants.

So we started a bonfire and got rid of him. And once I had a roaring fire going, there was no more ignoring that box of old receipts Mom gave me to burn. Receipts from as far back as 1990. From Sears. For things like T-shirts. OY.

It started to thunder, then rain, but I just kept on burning. No shortage of downed limbs and such to burn along with the paper.

And so goes a Sunday on Flat Top. (Mason, you ask? He brewed beer, of course.)

Mandevilla, a rare annual for me. I'm too poor for annuals these days!

Chicago Apache daylilies.

Love this mix of foliage.

My Quick Fire Hydrangea tree.

Mason's gladiolas, which desperately need dividing this fall.

Two of my nine apples!! 

My friend Terry gave me these happy lilies!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Blood, Sweat and Beers

Shelling peas in the heat of the day, with NPR on the radio.
I don't know about wherever you live, but June on Flat Top Mountain was stinking hot. The first few weeks of my summer vacation flew by with serious garden puttering, sweating and digging in the dirt. Then there were a few lazy afternoons spent shelling peas on the porch. And a loyal nightly 7:10 appointment with a homebrew.

And as soon as the June heat broke, July ushered in monsoons. The rain gauge clocked 4.5 inches in the past 24 hours. And that's on top of at least 3 more inches in the past week. What's good for the plants is good for Flat Top, so I can't complain. But I want to.

In between those two weather extremes, we were treated to a vacation from our summer vacation: a 4-day trip down to Beaufort, S.C., to spend several nights with friends on their fabulous 52-foot power boat. We left Nick with Mom (the first time he's been without us since February 2006), and played tourists with dinners out, beach time, a kayak adventure and a boat ride up the Intracoastal Waterway. It was all seriously lovely.

Spanish moss in full glory, in South Carolina's Port Royal/Beaufort area.

These past two months have also featured a whole lot of car repairs. As I type, Mason's got the innards of the Jeep driver-side door splayed over our kitchen island. Today, amid errands in the monsoons, the window got stuck down. Meanwhile the Honda is up on blocks for repairs to its suspension. Anyone who has driven our road would understand.

And the truck? Driveshaft fell out coming up the mountain hauling a trailer full of gravel. It still runs, but only in four-wheel-drive low -- kind of like an old person on a Rascal -- so it's restricted to mountain work only. No more jaunts into town. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer Break

Butterflies on my butterfly weed, with the site of the future bunkhouse in the left rear. 
As of Monday, I became a free woman again, and Mason couldn't be happier! Noooo, I didn't toss my man out! I stopped working at the garden nursery for the summer, when the gardening business is much slower and the brutal heat on a asphalt lot is hard on an aging woman.

So instead, I'm taking it easy.

HA! Like that ever happens on Flat Top.

Since my last day of work Sunday, I've planted several blueberry bushes and a couple of rosemary plants I scored free from a customer I did some planting for, and I did some weeding. And I helped Mason dig a hole 2 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 4.5 feet long for a new septic tank. Only 3.5 feet deeper to go. And ... I smoked a pork butt, tended to the veggie garden, made homemade dog biscuits from spent brewing grains, mowed Mom's lawn and painted 10 landscape timbers for the veggie garden fencing project. And we visited with my sister and her hubbie, who were driving through town.

I also helped Mason clear out the northern corner of our circle driveway, tearing out a vicious wild rose and many other undesirables to give me one more area to landscape. JUST what I need, right? Since I'm barely on top of all the other areas. And I even helped Mason disassemble the Honda's struts, which are shot after two years of commuting.

So you can see how summer vacation plays out on Flat Top.

And Mason and I couldn't be happier.

Happy little coneflowers and butterflies.

Honeycrisp apples!!! If I can nurture these to harvest, it'll be a miracle! They are on my espaliered apple tree, which has a total of nine apples that are all looking pretty damn good. 

I may have planted too many potatoes, considering I have no idea what I'm doing.   

The six tomato plants are all about to kick into gear, and the early lettuce in the background is about to bolt.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our Girl's Got a Home

Our tractor finally has a dry place to call home! Way to go, Mason!
When we built that second shed, more than a year ago, we had planned to create a shelter between the two sheds where we could park our beloved tractor. Finally, the girl's got a home! Even more impressive? Mason got it built in a day!!

Our tractor was kind of an impulse buy when we first moved to Flat Top. Mason wanted it. We weren't really sure what we'd use her for, but damn she was cute, so why not buy her, right?  For the first year or so, she got parked in various spots around the landscape -- our version of yard art. But when it rained -- and lemme tell ya, people, it rains about 54 inches a year here -- we had to cover her in an ugly tarp.

Then I got a free greenhouse from some neighbors. Nothing fancy, just a plastic tarp over metal hoops. But before I could load her up with plants, Mason parked Miss Tractor inside it.  Two years and several storms later, the greenhouse was in pieces and our girl was back under the tarp.

Alas, she now looks like she was born to live between our sheds.

And as you can see from the photos, while Mason's been building, I've been busy planting. Big surprise, right?

That's a Saute Sunset azalea ... AND Mason's latest work.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Part Time, and No Time

I added those splashy hot pink (supposedly Hershey Red) azaleas last fall.  
I'm only working part time at the garden nursery, three days plus some at-home landscape designing, but I feel like I have no time at all for MY garden. It doesn't help, of course, that the past week has been nothing but rain. Sorry, Californian friends: No drought here!

Congo azaleas: Woody and boring most of the year, but lovely in spring!
We have managed to get a few things done: a strawberry planter in the veggie garden, a dozen or so new plants, weeding and more weeding.

New on the menu at Flat Top Kitchens: Homegrown strawberries.
We're also expecting apples, nectarines and plums this year. Maybe more blueberries, too,
if I bring some home this weekend. 
We're also working to restock our firewood supply for Winter 2015-16, but we're way behind schedule. (Did I mention the rain?) So far we've focused on clearing the future site of the guest "bunkhouse," which is now officially on the schedule for 2016, with some initial work getting done this year. Like chainsawing all 70-foot trees in danger of falling on said bunkhouse.

Future home of the "bunkhouse."
 And tonight, with great melancholy, we finished the last episode of the last season of "The Wire," which has been our main source of entertainment for the past three months, thanks to our pal Karen. Now I finally know what y'all have been raving about. Now that it's over, pour my misery ...  down in the hole ...

Monday, March 30, 2015

Momma Is In Da' House

That's Mom, aka Gerri, and her adorable pup Will, and their new front door.

Say it with me: Home Sweet Home! Momma is home sweet home!

After several months of great stress, tension and uncertainty, my mother almost seemed happy and relaxed tonight as she stacked toilet paper in her new linen closet in her new house in Hixson, Tennessee.

Of course, after driving our dirt/mud road for a week, who wouldn't be happy? But let's see how she feels after sleeping tonight on a blow-up mattress. And tomorrow, the moving PODS arrive. So Mason and me? Not so happy... and likely really sore.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Meanwhile, Back on the Boat

Mason negotiates lines as Sea Dragon goes through locks cutting across South Florida.

Just when our supposed-to-be gentle Southern winter decided to give us a final "%$*&#! You" -- bringing temps in the teens, snow and an ice storm -- Mason left me alone in the freezing woods to go play on a megayacht in Florida. Seriously, people, how lucky is this guy?

So the story is that our new Chattanooga friends, who sailed the South Pacific like we did and recently bought a 52-foot powerboat in Florida, needed help getting the boat to Georgia. They didn't expect to need help, but the wife racked her back in a seriously bad way doing something as silly as shifting a case of water bottles in a shopping cart.

So, Mason to the rescue!

He was gone for 11 days, not that I was counting. And talk about timing, he was gone JUST as my mother was flying into town for her second round of house-hunting. (No, really, Mom, it truly was JUST a coincidence!)

In that time, he enjoyed 70-degree sunshine, got tan and ate filet mignon and seafood galore. Me? I ate McDonalds in between 12-hour days of house-hunting (including commute time).

Alas, Mason had a fun time checking out what it means to travel the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and came home with tales of adventure -- and perhaps a renewed appreciation for our boring little mountain life.

As for me, a final contract was signed today on Mom's new house. It's a bit nerve-racking, because she put a bid on it based on my recommendation; she had left town with a bid on a different house that fell through.

And now, it seems spring is finally breaking through. Today, we took down two massive trees  -- the first of our Winter 2015-16 firewood. We're behind schedule in getting that firewood restocked, so it felt great to get that project started.

And in the final sign of spring: I'm back at work at the garden nursery, just three days a week.

Sooo, what's new with you?

This winter apparently wasn't as cold as the last one; we had all this firewood left over!
(That's Mason lumberjacking in the far right corner.)

Hello, spring!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Showering With a Garden Hose

Mason and Nick, napping on my Mom's front porch. In his defense, we kept him busy with lots of Mr. Fix-It tasks. 

I just took a fantastic hot shower. In our shower. With a garden hose. With the garden spray nozzle set on "shower," of course. Now, granted, it was my first shower in four days.

Just another glamorous Flat Top story. You see, we were out of town. In Texas. Doing the family thing. And we turned off the water to the cabin while we were gone and opened the faucets. Well, at least we THOUGHT we opened the faucets. But it seems the shower head never really drained, and Flat Top hit 3 degrees the night before we got back.

You people with thermostat-controlled heat just don't know how good you've got it. Or maybe you do.

OK, enough details. The shower's busted and we're on standby until a burst overhead pipe is repaired. Think: Tile and backer board removal, etc. Luckily, Mason went to the MacGyver School of Innovation and fixed us up with a stand-by shower.

Other details: Before we drove to Texas, I flew there, then drove back with Mom and her dog, Will. We house-hunted for a week while her house sale fell apart in Texas, so she returned home without being able to buy. Then she sold her house again, while we all were in Texas, so she was flying back to Chattanooga tomorrow. Except that her flight got canceled due to a Texas ice storm.

Yeah, the last month has been a bit nonstop. So a busted shower? Meh.

Meanwhile, could someone tell me what the hell happened to the 60-degree February days we enjoyed during our first Flat Top winter?

Ice caked on our bedroom balcony door. Welcome home.