The Last Really Good Shack #39

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

back in the shack
by John Matthew Waters

you’ll find it in the middle of somewhere
surrounded by a fog in a field of woods
discoverable through a natural maze
filled with a variety of wildflowers

walking through the door you swear
you became someone other than yourself
and the moment you sit and open your mind
the shack is filled with a beautiful light

copyright j matthew waters

A good friend wrote a wonderful poem this week and on reading it, I was instantly carried back to our old home, the last really good shack.

John’s poem beautifully describes the feeling I have for that house and how it changed me in the decade we lived there.

I don’t know if I have told you much about any of that personal stuff. How a city girl fell so head over heels in love with a rocky piece of land on the side of any Ozarks ridge and the worn out old shack that clung to the side of that ridge.

Just as the poem says, it was in the middle of somewhere, but somehow completely separate from the world around it.

There, the world revealed its magic to me and I was an enraptured pupil.

I would walk that steep acreage almost daily, visiting the blackberry brambles, or the wild dog roses, or the frog pond at the top of the ridge nestled in a grove of black ash trees. I found each spot that the wild ferns grew, knowing that if I dug there under that rocky soil, a spring would bubble up to the surface.

I knew where the deer rested with their fawns and where the squirrels hid their harvest of black walnuts. I learned how the sun moved along the eastern ridge during the seasons and, at night, we were mesmerized by the visits of comets and meteorites.

With Bob’s skill, we created a home out of a hovel, adding what everyone who visited will still tell you was the best porch in all of history. My mom called it the healing place. I said it was the navel of the universe where all possible good resided.

It was visited by friends and family, and an occasional angel.

And in those ten years, I learned more about myself than in any other decade. I made choices that have changed me, and changed my path in life. I became more spiritual and open, more aware of my place in the universe.

I became a better wife, daughter and friend.

And all these changes came about from lessons I learned while we lived in the last really good shack.

And I am grateful for each minute I lived there.


A special thank you to John Matthew Waters for his gracious permission to use his wonderful poem, ‘back in the shack’. You can read his poetry on his website and his twitter account @jdubqca.

My Beautiful Bath

bathroom 8

bathroom 7

My beautiful bathroom is complete!

It is a jewel of seaglass and the pale gray of driftwood, and the color of stillness. I am thrilled at the outcome of this long planned and long awaited project.

With many thanks, hugs and kisses for Pete Gleason, musician, friend and bathroom remodeler extraordinaire and my wonderful, hard working and loving husband, Bob. They both took my vision and created this most beautiful of rooms.

The square footage is tiny and there is no way to expand, so every inch was used. The only things that remain from its previous beige existence are the white china towel holders and the bathtub itself. Three and 1/2 walls are now 12×24 gray porcelain tiles with a ribbon of frosted glass inlay mosaic tiles the colors of sea glass. The wall left is clad in 3/4 inch wood paneling in a taller than usual wainscoting and a new wooden door with lots of personality are all painted Silent White to match the new vanity.

White marble is used on the counter top of the new vanity as well as the trim and baseboards. I took a tip from HGTV and used marble floor thresholds as the baseboards. And it is just the prettiest thing I ever saw!

Brushed nickel fixtures, lighting and door hardware add to the beauty of this calming and soothing room.

And the little cabinet is a great find from an antique store in Ozark, MO. It is a dental cabinet constructed entirely from wooden fruit crates. It has tiny drawers inside the right door, made for the tools and implements needed for a dentist in the early 20th century. I painted it a pale aqua and it is adorable!

This room is a joy to behold and makes me so happy each time I walk in.

bathroom 9

bathroom 6

bathroom 5

Bathroom 2

bathroom 4

bathroom 3

Bathroom 1

the color of stillness

that is the color I have chosen.
the heartbeat of the morning,
the breath of the evening.

The evening you and I walked the gravel path
to the shore of the once mighty river,
now moving in its ancient course
far under the placid stillness of the lake’s surface.
The evening you and I inhaled the breath of sweet grass
as it exhaled into the night’s beginning.

Stillness –
the early morning hours when you lay sleeping-
your breath, my heartbeat.
Dawn’s faint heartbeat of light
until the first birdsong-
the exhalation of daybreak’s stillness.

That is the color I have chosen
for you to paint the walls of our bathroom-
the color of stillness.

*** Well, yes, it would have been more romantic if it were the bedroom or any other room in the house! smiles – But it is the final stage of our long process of remodeling our bathroom (well, my bathroom 🙂 )
I will post photos when complete – with towel racks and pictures on the walls. It is beautiful and I am so grateful to Pete Gleason (Parabalas Pete – wonderful musician and friend) and my husband for their hard work creating this beautiful room for us (me!).

The Last Really Good Shack – 38

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

I can’t believe its been a year since I wrote a shack story! But its this time of year that makes me especially nostalgic for that wonderful old house.

By the autumn, at least a couple of cords of firewood would already sit stacked out beside the shed along the top of the drive. If I had been really organized, the wood would have been there all summer, getting good and dry and seasoned, so that it would burn perfectly.

But most years, the woodman was called at the end of August and we stacked it just in time for the first cool night. It was not unusual for us to have a fire in the evening by the middle of September. The weather might be beautifully warm during the day, but as the sunlight began to dwindle into autumn, the nights would get clear and frosty by dawn.

Those first fires were sometimes a little smoky, causing us to open every window in the house and turn on all the ceiling fans to rid the house of that first fire smell. The nice thing about our wonderful woodstove ( that I loved so well after having a wall eyed fit about its placement – see earlier posts about the chimney saga), was that once there was a good fire, the bed of coals could last all day. So the stove stayed a little warm and was usually no problem getting the nightly fire to blaze.

Once we had cold weather move in for good, the stove had its own routine. Each morning, Bob would fill it up with wood, working with the night’s coals and maybe with a little extra kindling, building a steady flame, making the house warm and toasty. He would soon be out the door to work. So as I left, I would add more wood, dampen down the vent and making sure the stove door was closed, good and tight. I, too, would be out the door and off to my job.

Each afternoon, as I drove down our tree covered lane, rounding the last curve, there, perched on the side of the ridge, the shack would come into view. And each afternoon, I would think –‘Well, it didn’t burn down today!”

One thing I loved about heating with wood was the quiet. No furnace fan or blower, just the occasional shifting of logs or the popping of embers. A gentle, living warmth radiating from the corner of the living room, into each room and up the stairs. It was perfect.

Perfect, except for the constant attention it needed, the removal of ash, which caused a trail of fine particles to dust the entire living room. And the occasional popping ember out of the stove onto the carpet and the days when the wind was just right, the smoke refused to go up the chimney and would just much rather stay inside the house. Oh and those bitter, snowy nights when it need to be fed from the stack way on the other side of the shed.

Yes, my glasses aren’t so rosy that I have forgotten all the trouble it took. And now, when the furnace kicks on, loud fan and all, I can remember the wonderful old woodstove in the warm comfort of our lake house.

Until next time – and I won’t go another year – smiles…

*** And I promise to go thru all the photos and start sharing more pictures from the shack years.

The Last Really Good Shack #37 – Black Walnut Season

The Last Really Good Shack - porch

black walnuts<

The heavy thud of black walnuts falling to the damp ground is a constant for a few weeks in the fall.
I didn’t know anything about this particular variety of tree nut until we moved to northwest Arkansas. Having spent my childhood in pecan country, Texas and south Arkansas, where even the standard walnut seemed a little foreign and exotic- the black walnut was completely new to me.
When I first saw the big green globes hanging in the trees, I actually speculated that they were a variety of bois d’arc or horse apples as we called them when we were kids. Didn’t take long to figure out that they were a nut under all that green hull and that they dye your fingers a dark walnut color pretty quickly when you pick a few up off the ground.

Of all the trees in the Ozarks, black walnut trees are not the most gorgeous tree in the woods. They can be straggly and rangy looking, the last to set leaves in the spring and the first to show yellow and fall in autumn. Their occupation is to create these hard to crack nuts and then rest for the balance of the year.

We had several on our property, and I must say, one of the nicest looking black walnuts was on the northwest side of the shack. It was not crowded by any other trees, far enough away from the huge white oaks in front and just enough room from the tree lined fence on the north part of the dog yard.
Each season, for however long it chose, it was a full and quite nice shade tree, airy and lacey, given dappled light to the yard swing and perennial lily bed. Bob would sit on the step at that end of the porch, while I sat in the swing and listened to him play his guitar, or we would play ball with the dogs in the shade of that walnut tree.

A cottage industry springs up in the fall as the nuts ripen. A local company will buy the nuts from anyone who shows up with a bag or truck load. So many an afternoon along the narrow Ozarks roads, you will see folks with sacks or buckets retrieving the fallen nuts.
In autumn, when the harvest began, a young family would drive slowly up our little lane, the dad driving and the mom and her two youngsters would pick up the fallen walnuts. Tossing them into the trunk or one year in the back of the station wagon, they would pick the road clean. Each year when they came by, they would ask if they could gather the walnuts from our tree. Of course, that was always fine and we welcomed them each season.

I always hoped it would help them – this was a hard way to earn money. When you took the walnuts to sell, they would place them in a spinning hopper to release the nut from the hull. Once that was done, the nuts were weighed and you were paid $11.00 for one hundred pounds! That took a whole lot of nuts in the back of a station wagon to bring home $11.00.

With each gust of wind, I hear the heavy thuds – its black walnut time in the Ozarks.

**** Dear Readers, I know it has been too long between stories of the shack. I am in the process of editing the previous stories and The Last Really Good Shack will soon have its own blog. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy these little snippets of our life in the Ozarks.
Thanks, Kathleen

The Last Really Good Shack #35

The Last Really Good Shack - porch

In the previous post, Mom and I had wallpapered the dining room and I described the paint color for the trim as a dark black green. Well, I loved the color – not in your face green, but a good solid dark dark green.
And since Mom and I were in the updating mood, it only made sense to paint the kitchen cabinets.
Now our cabinets were a mismatched mish mash of beautiful oak cabinets of different styles and sizes. We had been the grateful recipients of discarded cabinets from a remodeling job in Texas done by my uncle and Bob had driven down to Dallas to pick them up. We had worked out the arrangement and were happy with the outcome.
But they needed to have a unifying look and what better way than paint!
Mom and I called my brother for advice since he had been a remodeling contractor for several years. He proceded to explain that we would need to sand all the finish off until we were down to the wood, then we would need to fill all the holes, sand again and then paint at least three coats for the paint to look good.
We then ignored all his wonderful advice!
After removing the cabinet doors, we did take the old hardware off and filled holes with wood filler. And we did sand each door – kind of. It became really boring after doing several doors. So the first ones were done really well and then it tapered off as we decided -‘oh, this is good enough’! We at least took the shiny top layer off. And after cleaning all the cabinet boxes, we were ready to paint.
I began by painting the boxes and that was the easiest part of the job. By the time I had one coat around the room, it was dry enough to paint the second coat. Then the third coat and it looked wonderful!
Mom, on the other hand, began painting the doors. It seemed as if they were multiplying – a never ending line of doors to be painted. And then there was the problem of where to lean them when done – cabinet doors began to spread across the house. Mom and I painted all day – got up and painted all the next day – got up and decided whatever wasn’t perfect – was just fine!
The cabinets were hung with their new hardware – all matching – and looked – PERFECT!
The color unified the kitchen and even though there were three different styles, the cabinets came together into a warm, beautiful space. It was one of my favorite spots – sitting at the little kitchen table, on a stool built by my grandfather – and looking up the ridge to the horizon far above the house. This was the window where our local deer would sometimes spy on us.
I am grateful to have this special memory of working with my mom. She lives with us now and wishes she could do all those fun projects. But she still supervises any painting I do!
Well – until next time…..

The Last Really Good Shack #34

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

My mom and I were never afraid to tackle any kind of project. We would strip paint, (using that horrible stripper that would take the meat off your bones and most of the paint you were trying to get off of what ever object you were working on) sand and re-paint or stain anything we felt like needed a little sprucing up. We did chairs, tables, book shelves and old china cabinets. If we found an old wooden piece of furniture, we would go at it without a thought.
Bob could find things along the road – cast offs, drop offs or just junk – bring them home and Mom and I would start a new project. Anything looks better with a new coat of paint!
My family also has a long history with wallpaper. Now I realize that some may scoff at the idea of wallpaper, but I personally have loved it all my life. I can still remember my Mamaw re-papering her Waco, Texas dining room with the wildest bird print – that may have been the start of my love affair! We also have a saying in my family that if you can do a wall paper project with your spouse and remain married, it is a true test of the marriages longevity.
So as with all things ‘shack’, there were many projects calling out for my mom and me. We decided to wallpaper the dining room.
Now if you recall, the dining room was the first room we entered upon discovering the shack. The door faced the south and fell in when touched. It was there Bob fell in love at first sight. It was a small room, the door opened to your left and against that left wall were the hall tree with an old foxed mirror from Bob’s familys home in North Carolina and a small pine china cabinet Bob and I found at a flea market in Springdale AR. To your right was the table -a large harvest table we found in Neosha, MO with lots of mismatched chairs. Windows at a little higher than chair rail height were along the south and western wall. Bob had cut a pass thru into the kitchen next to the kitchen doorway where you would take a step up from the dining room level.
The walls were not square or plumb and the ceiling had a strange slope to it, but not consistant across the small room. A perfect candicate for wallpaper!
Mom and I scoured the wallpaper books filled with wonderful samples of exotic papers. Any color of the rainbow- stripes and patterns, birds and animals, foiled and flocked! After much consideration, we found an open vining pattern with a white background, vines of deep green punctuated by the occasional pear, plum or peach. Just fresh and charming for a little country dining room. I then choose a deep green almost black paint for the wood trim around the windows and doors.
Mom stayed in the guest room the night before our project began. And after sending Bob off that morning, we got underway. We believe in lots of wallpaper paste, so we mixed a bucket full, figured our starting point and where our pattern match would fall and made our first cut. Now Mom and I are not that precise, but she is really good with the razor and straight edge. It just became more and more apparent that straight would not be a big consideration with this project. Each piece was a different length and the pattern match was becoming more and more a guessing game. We did take down several pieces and started over a couple of times. And there was plenty of wallpaper paste on the paper, walls, on our clothes and in our hair!
But by the end of the day, the paper was up – and stayed up! The only place the pattern was mismatched was in the western corner where the window frame camouflaged the mistake. A great success in our book!
And this little dining room saw many happy meals with friends and family. Laughter and love also papered these walls each time we sat together at the table.
Until next time….

The Last Really Good Shack #33

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

We had a storm blow through last night. It woke me up about 1:30am with the wind howling, lashing rain and very bright lightning followed by VERY boisterous thunder. Now we needed the rain, so I can’t complain.
But as I lay listening, I was reminded of the storms at the shack.
If you remember, the way the house sat on the side of the ridge, we were below the ridge tops, facing west, with the road basically running north south in front of the house along a narrow hollow. From our porch we looked up across the road to the facing ridge.
We could watch the wind move in the trees across from the house along the top of the ridge, move down through the oaks and hickorys, up our property into our white oaks before we even felt a breeze. It was a mesmerizing sight to watch the trees move. And of course depending on the severity of the storm, the trees would move wildly or more sedately with the wind.
I remember the first time I heard the rain coming up the road from the south. It took me a few seconds to realize what I was hearing – the sound was so different than anything I had experienced before. But I could hear the storm and the rain slowly approaching and getting louder and louder until I watched the raindrops, almost at a walking speed, come up the drive to the porch. It was astonishing!
And the thunder! Now that was something! It would literally roll down the hollow. And not only could you hear the sound rolling, but you could feel the thunder as it rolled past the house. It was wonderful.
Because the porch was so deep and the roofline so low, unless it was just a terrible wind, we could sit comfortably and watch as the storms progressed. Now it was loud because, remember the roof was tin! And even a little rain shower was noisy – but in a good way.
It was always a joy to watch the wind blow across the ridge and hear the rain coming down our little lane. And I can still feel the thunder as it rolls by.

well, until next time……

The Last Really Good Shack – # 32

Fall really was the best time of year when we lived in the shack. The weather was gorgeous, the woods filled with autumn color and many fall festivities to enjoy.
The first festival of the fall season was always the county fair. The fair grounds were in the middle of the county seat, old wooden barns and structures that were used for rodeos and for showing prize animals in the arenas.
But for those few days in September, the fences and barns were given a new coat of whitewash. The grounds would become the midway with all the brightly lit carnival rides and booths. The big show barns were filled with prize vegetables and fruit, beautiful glass jars of preserves and pickles, huge pumpkins and giant ears of corn, flower displays of mixed arrangements and gorgeous roses, primped and shown to perfection.
A barn for textiles and crafts was overflowing with hand pieced quilts, knitting and crochet work as delicate as lace, needlepoint and handwork with the tiniest stitches, it would make your eyes cross to look at them.
Small animals would be shown in the next big white barn. Rabbits of all colors and sizes, long hair and short, huge and pygmy. Then the poultry section with so many different kind of chickens, it would make your head spin. And one of my favorites was the specialty poultry showing tiny quail and golden pheasant and so many other birds I can’t even tell you.
Walking across behind the show ring, you would come to the stalls with the 4H or FFA kids and their livestock. Sheep and goats, pigs and bulls, milk cows and tiny calves – all being washed and combed, curried and trimmed and readied to show off in the big ring. Each of these kids had raised their animal and now would show it with hopes of winning a ribbon and selling it for market. Not to say they weren’t a little sentimental, but these young people were learning to be business people too. The higher the bid for your animal, the more money for college was put into your savings account.
Bob and I would always walk through and admire each of the display, checking to see if we knew the grand prize winners. It was a rural county with a small population, so we were bound to run into many friends. Bob would try to win me a stuffed animal at one of the booths. We would check out all the food vendors – he almost always would choose a sausage and I had to have my annual fair funnel cake. Nothing wrong with hot fried dough and a ton of powdered sugar!
After visiting with friends and walking through the midway rides, we would head back down the holler to our little shack in the Ozark woods filled with the scent of woodsmoke and the sound of owls.
Until next time …..