The Last Really Good Shack 21

I will finish my story about building the shed and how it became an important part of our home.
The house looked lonely, sitting on the ridge by itself. The only other building on the property was the little well house at the curve of the drive. And it was small, just enough room to duck in and work on the pump. Not an imposing structure at all, and not in close proximity to the house. It would, in the summer, be covered with poison ivy the size of tree trunks and filled with wasp nests! We would hack at the vines each year and beat it back, but we were never able to get rid of it.
So anyway, Bob needed a shed. We had enough lumber from the glass crates and set about  pulling nails and deconstructing the crates until we had all the different dimensions of lumber laid out. There were enough 2x6s to create the floor structure and enough 2x4s to build the walls and the roof. Bob used concrete blocks for the piers under the floor, just one step up into the shed. He used the extra 2x6s as the flooring.
Our friend, Kevin Higdon, helped Bob with the construction. It may have been the first time he ever held a hammer in his hand, but he was good company!
Bob and Kevin had the structure built in a long weekend. We used plywood for the roof and a few rolls of roofing finished it up.
That’s when we ran out of money. We had a roof and a structure, but no walls, windows or doors. And Bob still needed to get his tools out of the weather and in some sort of order. So….. we bought 4 plastic tarps – they just happened to be a camouflage pattern!  These were nailed across each wall –  the shed was now dry and Bob could happily unpack his tools.
We joked and laughed that the locals driving by to see what the new people were up to, would just shake their heads when they saw this camo covered shed. “Don’t they know that deer blind is too close to the house!”
A few weeks later, it was finally sided with 4×8 siding and painted  white with merlot and gray trim. We located the shed on the south of the house, close enough to build a covered walkway from the house to the shed. It also created a private area on the south of the house. And the area in front of the shed became my little kitchen garden. We fenced it with a picket fence and the garden gate was a headboard from an old wire bedstead – how that was found on the property is a tale for another time.
I grew herbs, cucumbers and beans, but also had lots of flowers – foxglove and lilies were my favorites. I laughed that the future owners would curse me for planting peppermint. It  was very prolific and would take over, but how lovely to walk on the stone path and have that wonderful minty scent fill the air.
We planted a japanese maple, a bloodgood, in the corner of the garden and that astonishing burgundy color was one of my favorite things. It anchored the garden and gave the south side of the house shade in the heat of the summer.
This little shed and its surrounding garden was an essential part of our lives. It was a place to work and also a place to just sit and enjoy the day.

And I am sure that peppermint is still going strong!

Until next time…..


The Last Really Good Shack 20

There are so many things that I learned after we moved into this house – especially since I had never lived out in the country. One of the first things I learned was – it is very dark at night! When we first moved in, there were no outside lights on the house and once you left the doorway at night, you walked into the darkest dark. That is, until I became accustomed to the country nights.

I loved to go outside and once my eyes adjusted, I could see the silhouettes of the huge oak trees and the outline of the trees at the top of the ridge. Then looking up,it was the stars. Oh my word, the stars! It was as if I had never seen stars before. And our sky was not broad. Because of how the house sat on the ridge and the steepness of the hillside, there was actually very little sky overhead. Our horizons were above the house, both east and west. So sunrises were late and sunsets, early. But I learned to love that strip of sky and its changing constellations.

In the summer, the night was filled with lightning bugs. There were nights that the trees were so thick with the fireflies, you could see shadows on the ground. Disney couldn’t have created anything more beautiful. And when these charming little beetles were out in force and we had a yard full of children, too, it was a picture made in heaven.

We were happy to have enjoyed the annual meteor showers in our little piece of the sky. And we were really lucky to make the acquaintance of  the comets, Hyukatake and Hale Bopp. Hale Bopp was magnificent and stayed in our view for a long time. So long in fact, that we missed him when he was gone. And, one summers night while on the porch with friends, a meteor crossed over our yard. A bright green light cast such a brilliant shadow, it was if a klieg light was over the house. It was seen over several states and was such an astonishing sight.  I will always remember the excitement and wonder we all felt – witnesses to something extraordinary.

But it seems there were always extraordinary things happening while we lived in the house – extraordinary acts of nature and acts of friendship and acts of love.

We will talk about all of these things in later posts – until next time…….

The Last Really Good Shack 19

Well, we were in – actually living in this wonderful old house. Now there were many projects in front of us, but we were IN!
One of the most important items on our list was some place to put Bob’s tools and store the outdoor stuff. We needed a shed!
At this time, Bob was working for a glass fabricating plant and the glass was delivered to this plant in large wooden crates – all 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 and 8 and 10 feet long. So we are talking BIG crates. And this wood was just left for recycling. So ….. we recycled some – well, quite a lot actually.
First, we brought the crates home just to store the tools. Remember, the ridge at the back of the house had just been cut away, so with the rainy season setting in, it was pretty muddy. We put the crates against the house and that is where Bob’s tools were put and covered with tarps.
This has reminded me of a story – doesn’t have anything to do with the shed – but the crates. One afternoon, we heard the dogs barking their heads off out in the yard. When we went out to see what was going on, we noticed the tall grass on the path moving. And I swear the biggest snake I have ever seen was moving down the path toward the house! It was an enormous rat snake. And being a smart city girl, I had read that these particular snakes were good snakes, not poisonous, and would eat mice and other snakes. So I told Bob, just get something and shoo it away from the house. Bob picked up a shovel and pushed the snake to try a get it to turn around. Well, that did not deter the snake at all and it was picking up speed and heading towards the house. By this time, I am standing on one of the crates, yelling Bob, Bob, its coming to the house, don’t let it in the house! Bob pushed it one more time and it raised up like a dang cobra and struck at the shovel – ka ching! Well, that was it – the snake was put out of our misery. And when Bob picked it up with the shovel, holding it almost waist high, it dragged the ground, on each side. That was a BIG snake.
The rat snake population and the new inhabitants of the house (us) learned to live in peace. We would see a few now and again but never one as large. We would occasionally see copperheads too and would be very careful when working in the garden.  I learned to live with a lot of the wildlife in our little haven, but we will talk about those in later posts.
And I will get back to the shed too.

Until then…..

The Last Really Good Shack 18

I guess it’s time to tell you about moving day. We had been working non stop for 6 weeks,  most days 18 hours. The house had been cleaned like it had never been cleaned before. Bob had opened the wall between the kitchen and dining room, built an entertainment nook under the stairs in the living room and added a closet in the downstairs bedroom.  He installed baseboards and trim around all the windows and doors. The upstairs floors had been sanded and polyed 3 times. We had painted everything white, put in gray carpet on the main floor, vinyl in the kitchen and dining room.  We bought a new refrigerator and we had hired a plumber to install a new toilet and hot water heater.

So the shack was habitable and our time was up on the rental.  Time to move.

The first sound I remember on that Saturday morning is our friend Jim Womble pounding on the bedroom window  and hollering – ‘Are ya’ll moving today?’ Bob had asked him to bring his truck and help move the big stuff – the washer and dryer and the large pieces of furniture.

Now you need to understand – we had been at the shack every day, all day for 6 weeks. The only time we had been to the rent house was to fall into bed late at night and to shower and dress in the morning.

When did you have time to pack, you might ask. And you can imagine my feeling on being awakened by our friend that morning. Oh my gosh – we need to pack!

That’s right – not one single thing in a box. In fact, not a box in sight. How on earth are we going to get all this stuff over to the new house? Well, I called in reinforcements. I called our friend Kevin Higdon, who had been helping with all the work, and my good friend, Vicki Finn, told them to pick up as many boxes as they could find, some boxes of giant garbage bags and to get over to our house asap.

Our sweet next door neighbor, Justine, came over with an armful of old newspapers and started wrapping my china and all the breakables. By the time the boxes arrived, she had cleaned out the kitchen cupboards and everything was ready to be boxed up.

Bob and Jim were already making their second trip with the appliances, mattresses, sofa, chairs and tables.  So I gave Kevin and Vicki each a box of garbage bags and told them to fill them up. Didn’t care what it was – if it wouldn’t break – stuff it in a bag.

I carted out arm loads of books and pictures and paintings to the car and we started to make haul after haul after haul. Each of us would load our car with boxes and bags and anything we could stuff into the trunk or backseat and off we would go to our new abode, only to dump it out and hurry back to the rent house.

Bob and Jim made the final few trips getting all of Bob’s tools and outside stuff – grill, lawn furniture and lawn equipment, while I cleaned and vacuumed the rent house. It had been a good home to us and we would miss our neighbors.

I headed back to the shack and tried to organize the chaos. We did get the bed set up and found the linens in a garbage bag, so we had a bed for the night. We had arranged the furniture in the living room, so we had a place to sit. But everything else was in giant black garbage bags and a few boxes. No labels and no idea what was in each of these bags and boxes- each one was a surprise.  In fact, one bag had our pots and pans, and since we didn’t have a kitchen, they were put aside into a ‘ to be gone thru later’ pile.  Once we got around to this bag, we discovered Bob’s one missing work boot! How and why it was in with the pots and pans remains a mystery.

So, on a day early in May 1992, with the help of great friends, with no kitchen to speak of, no heating source for the winter, and still a monumental task ahead of us, we slept in our home for the first time.

We were HOME.

Until next time…….

The Last Really Good Shack 17

We haven’t talked much about the lay of the land around the house. As you remember, it sits on the side of the ridge – not quite half way up. The front is about quarter acre, with big – and I mean huge – white oak trees with a nice size black walnut on the north side. Small elderberry trees lined the drive on the southwest. We never did try to make wine, though it was the topic of conversation each summer when the fruit fell!

As we move up the ridge, the acreage is split in half – the south is open meadow and the north is trees. Wonderful trees that we will talk about in a later post.

And just to remind you again that the property was as neglected as the house. Garbage had been liberally spread over the property and it had been allowed to go to rack and ruin. Overgrown with bindweed and blackberry vine, there were poison ivy vines that would rival any you have ever seen. Trash trees and undergrowth covered the hillside. It was so bad that we hadn’t actually walked the property. We had driven up and around in the 4 wheel drive truck, but it was almost an inpenetrable mess.

Not only had the plant life taken over, the actual land had moved to settle against the house. You can imagine that years of neglect and years of erosion had allowed the top soil to move toward the bottom of the ridge heading to the hollow. And the house just happened to be in the way of a portion of this slow moving earth. The ridge leaned heavy against the back of the house along the laundry, kitchen and dining room wall.

We were fortunate that Bob had worked with a man that owned heavy equipment, so after a phone call, we had a very large bulldozer on the property.  He cut out the hillside so that we had a flat area behind that house and moved the soil to level out the south side  where we would build a shed. After his hard labor, the ridge cut out was about 14 feet from the house, nicely contoured so that the water would drain away.  This is the route that our little family of deer would take each day and would occasionally peak in the windows.

We added a door from the laundry room to this new area. This was the door the dogs would take into the yard or I would take when I walked up the ridge to the pond.

In the very early days, we were lucky that Bob was at the house as the county road crew scraped the gravel road in front of the house.  He asked and they agreed to scrape our driveway. This took out the giant ditch that our car had almost foundered in that first visit! They would scrape the drive each time they came by for several years until the drive was perfect.

After we moved into the house, we added a porch across the front, rock walls and azalea beds, stone steps down into the yard and many more improvements to the land. These we will talk about in later posts.

Until next time …….

The Last Really Good Shack 16

We were last talking about the kitchen -the cabinets given to us by my Uncle Jim were installed and we had a double oven and range top from a garage sale.
Now to install the oven and range top, we needed the electrical system checked out and a 220 added to the kitchen.
Somehow, Bob knew a couple of journeyman electricians that were working on the side. We made arrangements for them to come to the house and give us an idea about what all was required to upgrade the electrical.
The first thing we discovered on their arrival was that there was not enough space in the fuse box – cleverly located outside on the south side of the house. And not only that, the fuse box on the well house was considered an antique with the button fuses. And, yes, one fuse sported a penny between it and the connection – an old timey remedy for a bad fuse.
Next on our electricians’ list of ancient wonders of the electrical universe was the attic – there they found cloth and knob wiring. For those that don’t know what that is – just know that it is BAD and DANGEROUS! Also, some enterprising soul had used extension cords wired together, without benefit of tape or wire nuts, just bare wire, to hardwire most of the second floor ceiling lights.
And, yes, Dear Reader, this is BAD and DANGEROUS and the house should have burned down decades ago.
But our heroes, the intrepid electricians made it all right. We had a new fuse box for the house (though we did leave the old button fuse box on the well house – don’t remember why), we had new wiring upstairs and down, new safe outlets and switches. It was a modern miracle! We were ready to install the kitchen appliances.
And if my memory serves, I think we paid them $600.00 for all of this!
Our dear friend, Les, a retired electrician came by to wire the new oven and stove, and proceded to wire it backwards, causing lots of consternation. But it was all soon put back right and we had a way to bake and cook to our hearts content.
This was 5 months after we had moved into the house!

I loved this kitchen and it’s bright sunny windows. Occasionally we would be startled by faces in these windows – our little family of deer would peer in to see what we were having for dinner. This kitchen was the center of activity and was the place that many friends and family were fed. There are lots of people in this world that have happy memories of meals served with love and laughter from this kitchen.

Until next time…….

The Last Really Good Shack 15

Now, the kitchen……

As you may recall, it was basically a haz mat site when we first entered the kitchen. There was one wall of cabinets on the north side of the room. This wall held the plumbing for the bathroom and laundry. The cabinets were 1/2 inch plywood, finished, four below and four upper. The counter top was 3/4 inch plywood covered in squares of orange, green and brown patterned linoleum. Yes, nasty. The counter was being held up by a galvinized pipe attached at the sink. And the cabinet doors had been scratched and chewed on by some animal. Lovely!
There was a refrigerator full of food that had been left to rot. I do not have a memory of what happened to that – it had to have gone to the giant debris pile in those days when I was still in tears. There was an old gas oven that we traded for work we had done and that was the space.
Bob, in those first days of demo, cut a pass thru from the kitchen into the dining room. This opened the room up to sunlight pouring thru the dining room windows from the south and east, changing the whole feel of the room.
After the many days of scrubbing, I felt we could use the cabinets without contracting some dread disease. So we added a counter top and new sink and bought a gorgeous new refrigerator. With the walls painted, the vinyl flooring and the new lighting fixtures, this was our kitchen for about 4 or 5 months. No oven, no stove, not many cabinets – we had my grandmother’s electric skillet, the microwave and our grill. Adventure in cooking! But we made it fine, just didn’t want grilled food for about 3 months once we installed our oven and stovetop.
Being a fortunate niece of a generous uncle, Bob and I got a call from my Uncle Jim, a contractor in Texas. He was redoing a kitchen and we could have all the cabinets he was taking out of the home. Eureka! Bob drove down that weekend and with a UHaul trailer, brought home our beautiful cabinets. They were lovely oak cabinets and
many different sizes. So we adjusted and figured and moved and changed until we were happy with the configuration. Now all we needed was something to cook on and in!
Then another fortuitous call this time from my Mom. She had bought us a double oven and stove top … at a garage sale! I know – great, huh! So one more trip to Texas that next weekend and we were ready to put together our kitchen.

There is more to this story – so until next time…….

Heard About the Partridge in the Pear Tree? How About Bald Eagles in the Oak?

Bob and I have a Christmas tradition that each year on the weekend before Christmas, we go to Eureka Springs. We have lunch at Sparkys, buy an ornament for the tree and window shop.
So today was our day and we drove the route that takes us a little east, then thru Berryville, AR to Eureka Springs.
Just north of Berryville, Bob spots an eagle flying. And then we saw this – an oak grove with eagles as thick as sparrows! We pulled over onto the shoulder and counted at least 2 dozen bald eagles.
And I apologize for these photos – and I know our friends that have such gorgeous wildlife blogs will have heart failure – but I did the best I could!
We were so thrilled to see these magnificent birds – and so many!

As you look at these pictures, almost any bright spot is an eagles head! In the second photo, under the cedar tree to the right, you can spot an eagle on the ground.

An exciting and thrilling sight in the course of our seasons!

The Last Really Good Shack 13

At the top of the steep stairs, there is a odd landing that connects the three rooms. Immediately at the top of the stairs is a small room created when the kitchen was added to the house. This room was used for storage until we added the bathroom.
The ceilings are low on this floor – maybe 7.5 feet – and the bedrooms on either side of the stairs have the pitched walls of the shape of the roof beginning about 4 ft from the floor. These are spacious rooms, don’t let me give you the impression otherwise. And there are narrow windows on the front and side walls. These windows are small and because they are low on the wall, we never added trim or curtains – it would have looked odd. I found honeycomb blinds that fit like a glove and they were never ornamented with anything else.
The floors are wood – pine planks – I’m sure original to these rooms. The north  room’s floors had at one time been painted a blue gray and the south room’s floors had been painted a dark brown. The paint was worn from the years of many feet! Bob rented a belt floor sander and took all the high spots out. What paint that remained was very attractive and gave these rooms their color schemes. We put 3 coats of poly – satin, not gloss – and the floors were perfection!
The north room became our spring and summer bedroom. We put a small air conditioner in the side window – an absolute necessity in the hot and humid Ozark summers! We painted all the walls in the house a creamy white, but I added pale gray blue accessories and bedding. It was such a fresh and inviting room.
The south room was the autumn and winter bedroom.  And until we bought another queen bed, I would actually move our bed back and forth twice a year!
This room with its dark floor and white walls was treated to a color scheme of forest green and golden brown. So warm and restful on those long winters nights. Since this room was above the living room, the heat from the wood stove would keep the floor warm and toasty.
We added family furniture and bits and pieces that we had collected over the years. The pictures and paintings on the walls added whimsy to the old house.
In these rooms, we heard the owl calls and the baying of hounds. We listened to the wind and the thunder roll down the ridge. The spring peepers told us of the return of spring and the cicadas would lull us to sleep in the summer.
These rooms held our dreams waking and sleeping.

To be continued……

The Last Really Good Shack 11

I have been thinking about the stairs lately. I loved those stairs – so steep but wide too. When you opened the front door, there was a small entry, large enough for the doors into the two downstairs rooms. The stairs were directly in front of you. They split the house in equal halves and terminated at what would become our upstairs bathroom.
When we began our monumental task of cleaning, I thought the treads were painted black. Ok, if you have been following this story, you know that the stairs weren’t painted. Nope – just grime – years and years of grime.
Well, I took my bucket and scrub brush to these old worn wooden treads and risers. Using gallons of Murphy’s Oil soap and lots of elbow grease, I would slowly, one by one, beginning at the bottom, scrub on the stairs. And after a while, they began to show their stuff.
The treads were beautiful, wide planks – probably white oak or hickory. They had been worn smooth with the footsteps of the generations in the house. I was surprised to find that the lower risers had been painted a very dark brown with a red paint underneath. It would peek out occasionally through the brown paint.
After the days of scrubbing, one by one, the stairway began to shine. We never needed to varnish or poly the steps. The old wood stayed a warm and beautiful color with the grain shining through.
These steps were our first places of rest on the long days of cleaning. They remained central to the life of the house – and I hope they will remain as long as the old shack stands.

Until next time…..