Tuesday, November 30, 2010

getting it together

A lot has happened since my last post. Our tent is really turning into a home. We have gained a lot of necessary amenities and spent our first holiday up here. We’re not completely unpacked or settled in yet, but we are making progress.

Ben’s job seems to be going well and I am still on the search. All the pets seem very happy with there new home. I have been enjoying spending time with the kids as they are getting used to us being around. I had a little set back on my mandolin learning, I broke a string. I need to go to Lexington to get a new string, and also plan on buying a beginner mandolin book, since I’m not making much progress without one.

Ok…. now for my day-by-day…

DAY 7 – Tuesday (11/23/2010)

We made it through our first week up here! Our little ball of canvas made some major transformations in our first week.

Tuesday Ben had to work in the morning. While he was at work I finished painting the door. While I was cleaning out the roller and paint brush I noticed that one of the chickens had gotten out of the fence. Let me mention this was the third time I had seen this particular chicken out of the fence, and note I have only been here one week. I tried to chase him back through the door into the chicken coop, but couldn’t do it alone. I went inside to get Keely to help, and the kids took a break from their bookwork to help too. Then we noticed that almost all the chickens were in the small guinea area. We chased the first chicken back into the coop, then had to deal with all the chickens in the guinea area. Basically it was a chicken extravaganza, Keely and the kids and I were all chasing chickens from different directions as we let them out of the guinea area. A few decided to go the wrong way and into the yard instead of into the coop, then we had to direct them back towards the coop while simultaneously keeping the dogs at a safe distance (Odin was lickin’ his lips hard). I wish I had pictures from this moment.

After the chicken round-up I went on a run in the woods. Odin, Freya and I went back in the woods and ran along the trail. It was really nice and peaceful. Odin and Freya were super happy. Running is my favorite way to bond with Odin; I think he loves me more each time I take him running. Walking or running is the easiest way for me to clear my mind. It was really nice being able to have my dogs off-leash, and having my own personal running trail right in my backyard, not to mention it’s incredibly beautiful.

After lunch I went into town with Keely and the kids. We ran some errands and got some coffee and hot chocolates while we were in town. Also we stopped by the Red Caboose so I could pick up an application. The Red Caboose is a little burger joint in Clifton Forge; it’s new and busy so hopefully that means they need more employees. We went by the tavern too, but it was closed, I will be applying there as well (and maybe going in for a drink too!). We stopped by Kroger on the way home for groceries, I applied there too since it is so close to home.

We talked about want we want to do in our kitchen and drew out some plans Tuesday night. We found an old cast iron sink in the barn and considered using it in the tent.

DAY 8 – Wednesday (11/24/2010)

It was COLD Wednesday morning, it had been cold every morning, but Wednesday felt much worse. We got out of bed at 8am and it was 31* outside. We drank our coffee and warmed up and then got to work.

We hung our door (hooray!!) and it looks really great. We had to do a little work to get it to fit in there just right, but we got it swinging very nicely. I cleaned up the glass, pulled open the canvas and was immediately in love with my new view of outside.

Later on that night we did something even more exciting. (I know your asking, what can be more exciting than hanging a door? Right?) We got our wood stove!!!!!!! Getting a wood stove has made more of a difference than anything else possibly could. We were totally amazed Wednesday night when we were hanging out in the tent and couldn’t see our breath. It’s actually pleasant to hang out in here at night now, and we’re sleeping a lot better. I’m glad we slept in here a few nights with no stove, because it has made me appreciate the stove even more.

Ben’s brother Dan was in town for Thanksgiving. He came over and brought an old wireless internet router. They hooked up the router in Keely and Curt’s house; the signal wasn’t reaching out here at first, but now we have the internet pretty regularly in the tent. It doesn’t feel much like roughing it when you’re on the internet in the tent.

DAY 9 – Thursday (11/25/2010)

THANKSGIVING – that’s all I have in my notes for this day. Didn’t spend much time on the hill on Thursday. We spent the whole day with our families and enjoyed lots of good food and good company.

We had two Thanksgiving dinners, my dad was in Palmyra (which is two hours from here) at his brother’s house. We went there for lunch and saw my dad and a few of my aunts, uncles and cousins. My dad had planned on coming to see our tent on Friday and help us put in a sink. He had told my aunt Donna (who owns a thrift store) about our situation, and she happened to have a utility sink that she wasn’t using. Since the utility sink would be much easier to install than the cast iron one here we decided to use that one instead! Thanks aunt Donna for the sink! My dad brought it with him on Friday when he came to visit.

Our second Thanksgiving dinner was in Lexington at Ben’s uncle and aunt’s house. We had a great time and got stuffed again. We came home to our wood stove, warmed up the tent, and went to sleep warm, fat and happy.

DAY 10 – Friday (11/26/2010)

My dad got here around 11 on Friday. We showed him around a little and then got to work on installing the sink he brought from my Aunt Donna’s. We went to the hardware store in town to get the plumbing supplies and we also bought a rain cap for our stove pipe. Ben dug a big hole outside of the tent. Inside the hole we put a five-gallon bucket upside down with holes drilled in the sides. We ran a pvc pipe down from the sink, out through the plywood on the bottom of the wall, down into the ground and finally ending into the five-gallon bucket. We filled the hole in with rocks all around the bucket and then covered it with dirt. That is how we created our mini drain field.We secured the sink inside. We hung another five-gallon bucket above the sink with a hole in the bottom and a hose attached. That is our form of running water for now. So, we still have to haul in the clean water to use, but at least we don’t have to haul out our dirty water and dump it. We didn’t finish working on the sink until after dark. It will be great for washing hands and face and dish-washing. Now that we have a sink we can start getting our kitchen together and start cooking in here. Thanks to my dad for coming and working all day to get the sink in.

DAY 11 – Saturday (11/27/2010)

Ben and Curt got up on Saturday to collect wood to cut for fire wood. They got some hard wood and started to cut it up. While they were gone I cleaned up the dirt and mess we had made from digging the drain field for the sink. I hooked up my laptop to the computer speakers, and appreciated having canvas walls so I could listen to my music while I was working outside. I have been doing that a lot since then. Eli called the tent a “canvas music-box”. When Ben got back he put the rain cap on the stove pipe.

Dan (Ben’s brother) was still in town for Thanksgiving. So we went over and visited with Ben’s grandmother for lunch. Ben had to go to work when we got back from lunch. Shortly after he left for work I noticed some small burn marks on the canvas ceiling around where the stove pipe is. The rain cap was really the culprit here. We had been burning fires without the rain cap, and had no problem with burns because the sparks just went straight up in the air and burned out before they hit the tent. I took the rain cap off and got Curt to help me wrap screen around the openings hoping that it would prevent the large sparks from coming out and burning the tent, like a spark arrestor would do. We found out later that this helped a little but we were still getting new burn marks. I later ended up making a spark arrestor out of rabbit wire and doing away with the rain cap. We also added a little more height to our stove pipe to put it up above the ridge pole. With the taller stove pipe and the rabbit wire on top we seem to have eliminated the burn problem.

home-made spark arrestor

DAY 12 – Sunday (11/28/2010)

I woke up very cold and grumpy on Sunday. We worked on our kitchen on Sunday and I did some laundry. We got one counter top built with shelves underneath it. I was able to unpack some of our kitchen boxes and put the stuff on the shelves. I love getting rid of the boxes it really makes it feel better in here. We are getting close to having a home for everything in the tent. Only a couple more boxes left to unpack.

Ben had gotten some “old” filet mignons from his work. So we cooked those for dinner. They were still really good, didn’t taste or smell old at all. We luckily had seven steaks and seven people to feed. It was a good Sunday dinner with everyone up here on the hill.

Sunday night we burned some hard wood in hopes that I would not wake up so cold and grumpy on Monday. We filled up the wood stove, closed the vent down and still had coals in the morning burning when we got up.

DAY 13 – Monday (11/29/2010)

Monday it was nice to wake up with a fire still in the stove. It was very cold outside (20*) when we woke up, but it was almost 50* in the tent when we woke up. We put some more wood on the fire and in about an hour we had the tent up to 70*. The tent stayed nice and warm all day, and has been warm ever since.

Ben worked on cutting wood some more with Curt. We bought some rope and tied down the bottom grommets on our tent. We had secured the sod cloth to the plywood and thought that would make the walls tight, but found it when the wind was blowing it just wasn’t enough. We used the ropes and stakes to pull the canvas walls tight straight down towards the ground. I think this will help a lot to reduce draft in here, and the canvas is more insulative than the vinyl sod cloth, so having it pulled down further will help us to keep more heat in.

We started the second kitchen counter and shelves unit and worked until dark. We got the frame finished and started working on the shelf supports and will finish the rest once we have time. My Aunt also gave us some linoleum flooring she had, so we will cut this and use it on top of the plywood counter tops, so we will have a surface that we can wipe down.

DAY 14 – Tuesday (11/30/2010)

I cannot believe that tomorrow will be the first of December. Time is flying since he have been so busy working on our new home. It was nice and warm when we woke up this morning, we only slept with one blanket last night (we had been sleeping with three). It was about 40 outside and much warmer in the tent. It rained all night, it started raining around 1am and now at 11am it is still raining. I was nervous when it started raining, afraid we might have a leak. But it is totally dry in here, even where the burn marks are it didn’t leak (I was especially worried about those burn marks).

So, it’s just a rainy day today. It’s a good day to finish my blog, doubt I will get much else accomplished. Ben is at work this morning. I plan to surf the internet for jobs and try to get my Christmas lists together. I am very pleased that it is warm and cozy in the tent, and I have a dry place to be away from this rain.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tent Life - getting started

Ben and I decided we want to spend what is left of this fall, this coming winter and the following spring in the mountains. Since Ben’s family has a farm here in Clifton Forge, VA, we decided to live here on “the hill”. This will be my account of our adventure of living on the farm.

We are interested in simplifying our lives. Our plan was to live in a small space where we would only be able to have what we need (cutting down on clutter is a great feeling). We want to lessen our monthly bills as much as possible, so we can focus more on living life and less on money. We wanted to build our own cabin to live in, but instead we found a less expensive and more portable option. We bought a 14ft x 16ft canvas wall tent. We plan to live in the tent here for about 6 months, then we will move on to do something else and possibly be bringing the tent to a new location to live in it.

We have been focusing on preparing our shelter for the last week. The first step was deciding what to bring and packing it up. We chose what furniture would fit in our tent (bed, dresser, couch, desk and some chairs) and decided we would need a uhaul trailer to get it all up here from the Outer Banks. We packed up our furniture along with clothes, lots of blankets, personal items, cooking supplies and of course our computers and were off to the start of our adventure. We decided it would be easier to get a wood stove once we were up here. We were lucky enough to have help from Ben’s dad, Bob, he drove up with us and pulled the uhaul trailer behind his truck.

Ben’s sister Keely and her husband, Curt, and three children, Emma, Evan and Eli; have been living here on “the hill” for over two years now. Their animal companions include: Hank the hound dog, Thomas the tom cat, Ellie the cow, Wally the goat, a slew of chickens and a few guineas. They have been kind enough to let us share some of their amenities while we are living here. We will be able to use their bathroom and shower and laundry machines as well as share their company up here on the hill. We were able to stay in their house while we were getting the tent set up.

We built a platform for the tent to sit on as well as an interior frame to hold the tent nice and sturdy and taut. Since we will have it set up for six months, we figured it was worth our time and money to build these things to make our stay more comfortable.

DAY 1 – Wednesday (11/17/2010)

We got here last Tuesday evening. Wednesday we got up and started making plans of what we were going to build. Having Bob, Keely and Curt was very helpful in talking through our plans and making a decision on what lumber we would have to buy. Once we got our plans written out we made a list of what lumber we would buy and headed off to the hardware store. We bought various sizes of 2 x 4’s, a few sheets of plywood and nails and screws. Curt also had some materials around the farm that we were able to use.

The next step was to choose the location for our tent platform. We wanted to be fairly close to the house, so we could run an extension cord from the house. The spot we chose is about midway between the house and the barn; we are about 150ft or so from the house. Just north of us (less than 10ft away) is the garage/workshop. Just south-west of us is the old smoke house. The smoke-house has a small fenced in area that is good for the dogs. Ellie, the cow, and Wally, the goat, live out in the barn. This was also a good place because the ground is pretty flat here. We chose a spot that gets a lot of sun, especially in the morning. We decided to face our front door south to catch as much sun as possible. It is very nice and sunny in here during the day.

Now that we chose a location it was time to start the building process. The first thing we did was lay out the perimeter of the platform in 2 x 4’s. We made the platform the same dimensions as the tent 14ft x 16ft. We decided to staple a layer of plastic inside of the perimeter to help keep moisture out. Then we ran 2 x 4’s every two feet across the perimeter. Once all the 2 x 4’s were in place we nailed rough-cut hemlock planking to them. That was some splintery stuff! We worked until after dark having to use a lantern and headlamps to finish up.

I had been concerned about moving our cat, Kazak, up to the hill. But by the end of the day we could already see he was feeling comfortable and enjoying exploring his new surroundings. Of course the dogs love it up here, we already knew that. Freya gets a little cold every now and again, but with a good blanket she fares just fine.

DAY 2 – Thursday (11/18/2010)

We were able to get an earlier start on Thursday since we already had all of our materials. We stapled tar paper on top of the splintery hemlock, and got started on building the walls to the frame. Instead of describing every detail of the frame I will just let you look at the pictures and figure it out.

We made our frame walls about 16 inches taller than the canvas walls. By doing this we added 16 inches of height to the entire tent. We used 16 inch strips of OSB (plywood) around the bottom to fill the gap from canvas to platform. This has made the tent more comfortable (especially for Ben at 6’5”), also it gives us more room for storage and shelves on the walls. We put the walls up, Then used 2 x 4’s to temporarily put the ridge pole up where it needed to be so we could build the rafters.

We put a few braces in the walls, and then came the moment of truth: putting the canvas on. Honestly, I had been very nervous about the frame building process, I was afraid all day that the canvas may not fit right. We got the canvas over the frame and it fit like a glove, a very tight glove. We were happy that the canvas fit tight and didn’t sag anywhere.

We also found an old door in the barn with a glass pane on top. We decided to fix-up this door and hang it on our frame. That way we would not have to zip and unzip every time we were coming and going from the tent. Also, I think that window will keep me sane. We have a beautiful view of farmland and mountains out of our front door and we will be able to enjoy it through that glass.

I took some pictures of the tent, and when I looked at them later on that night I really noticed how beautiful our surrounding here are. We had been so busy that I had not fully appreciated the mountains and sky. I made it a point to make sure I took a moment to appreciate everything around me the next day.

DAY 3 – Friday (11/19/2010)

Friday we finished putting in some permanent braces on the frame and started working on the door frame. We decided to put the door off center to make it work better with the zipper opening. I worked on scraping paint and sanding the door to get it ready to be repainted.

We nailed down 3 sheets of OSB in the front of the tent for our floor, in the back of the tent we nailed down some carpet. Bob had to leave us after that to go ahead and get on the road for his journey back home. We are so grateful we had him around for all of his ideas, experience and help in building.

Ben had set up a job interview and had to leave for that before noon. He interviewed for the position of cook at the Red Hen. It is a small nice restaurant in Lexington (about 30min from the hill). They must have liked him because they asked him if he could start the next day! It’s just him and the chef in there cooking so he should learn a lot.

While Ben was at the interview I started unloading the uhaul. I pulled the bed out first and got it in the tent, then I nailed down the pieces of carpet that we brought around the bed and in the back area of the tent. I unloaded all that I could and Ben helped me finish when he got back. We got all of our furniture in place and everything else moved inside the tent.

Curt took us all out to a Chinese buffet in Lexington that night. It was good and nice to not have to cook. We slept in the tent for the first time Friday night. Since we had no wood stove yet it was quite cold. We were cozy and warm under all our blankets. I think it got down to about 29 outside that night, and not much warmer in the tent. There was ice in the dogs water bowl in the morning. Both dogs and the cat slept in the bed that night.

DAY 4 – Saturday (11/20/2010)

Ben got up and when hunting super early on Saturday since it was “doe day”. He did not see anything unfortunately. When he got back we ate breakfast and started working on painting the exposed plywood. We got the kids to help prime all the outside OSB walls, then we painted it with some exterior paint we got really cheap because it was mistint. I worked on scrubbing down the door to get it ready for paint while Ben chopped firewood.

After lunch Ben went to work for his first day. I worked on unpacking and setting things up while Ben was at work. I unpacked our clothes and put them in the dresser and I hung some tapestries and organized stuff. Curt ran us an extension cord, so I plugged in my laptop and had music to listen to while I was unpacking. Having the glow of a computer screen and music made me feel more at home. I started to feel like the tent was my home when I was listening to music and setting our stuff up. Ben didn’t get home from work until about 11pm. Keely and I watched a movie in the house, and then talked to Ben about how his first day at work went. Then Ben and I retired to our tent for the night.

DAY 5 – Sunday (11/21/2010)

Sunday morning we slept late (until about 10:30). I woke up to a very bright and sunny tent and quickly realized that it was really warm. It was a lot easier getting out of bed when it was that warm in the tent. We made coffee in the tent on the coleman stove. We are looking forward to getting our kitchen set up and being able to cook more in the tent.

We primed the door, and went to the hardware store to get hinges. We got to see a little bit of Clifton Forge when we went to the hardware store. We drove down the main drag and saw different stores and restaurants. I was taking note of which places I may want to apply to work at. We ate a Sunday brunch buffet at Vic’s, and went grocery shopping at the Kroger.

Sunday evening we tacked down our sod cloth to the OSB we had painted. Curt cut us some long thin pieces of wood that we put over the sod cloth and screwed into the studs. The long pieces of wood hold the sod cloth pretty tight to the OSB, helping to prevent a draft or any moisture coming up. After dinner, Ben set up his computer in the tent and we sat on the couch and watched a dvd before bed. First movie in the tent, little things like that make it feel more like “home”.

DAY 6 – Monday (11/22/2010)

It was much colder when we woke up this morning, probably because we got up at about 8am today. We managed to muster up the effort to get out of our warm cozy bed into the cold.

After breakfast Ben taught me how to split wood. We need to split a lot of wood, he will be doing most of that, but I figure I can help a little. I am getting better at it, and it’s definitely a good work-out. We started a wood stack out back of the tent. We will have a big one out back and a couple in the front as well.

We went to move the goat and cow out to the field. We had done this a couple times in the last few days. Everything went fine before, but today the goat was not happy with me apparently. He’s got big horns and knocked them in my crotch twice. It hurt, and it was embarrassing.

I painted one side of the door green, will have to wait until tomorrow to paint the other side, then we will be ready to get the door frame up and hang the door. After we hang the door the outside of the tent will be all finished up. We will still be working on the inside of the tent, we need to build some shelves, a rack for hanging clothes and counters for the kitchen area.

We are brainstorming ways to have water in here. We mainly just need water for doing dishes and washing hands. We are thinking we will do some kind of gravity fed system over a sink. We would like to find a way for the sink to drain outside so we won’t have to dump the water every time we do dishes. Also we will be looking for scrap pieces of linoleum for the kitchen area and some kind of countertop material.

I will need to start applying for jobs tomorrow, hopefully I can find something interesting. Some of my favorite times so far have been when Ben and I have gone for sunset walks in the woods. He can step right outside into the woods and it is very peaceful. I love going on meditation walks out there. Mike let me borrow his mandolin, I have messed around with it a little. I want to get a beginner mandolin book so I can start learning. We don’t have internet in the tent, so I will be posting from Keely’s house.

My camera is now refusing to work, so all my pics will either be from Keely's camera or my cell phone. A lot more pictures can be found in my facebook album here's the link: