Back to the land...

This blog is an account of our experiences trying to homestead in Eastern Tennessee. We've bought almost ten acres with power and a well, and a small shed for the well pump. Half the land is already cleared.

This year we haul out 10 tons of trash from an old burned down home. We plant a large garden, and fruit trees, and build a compost bin specifically for humanure. We build a small pad for a gazebo up under the oaks, and begin building our house/barn, with grading, a stone foundation, a concrete stem wall, and the modified post and beam frame. Everything is done by hand. We also dig four thirty foot swales across the top of the clearing and plant the berms with blueberry. A lot of work, and a lot more to go . . .

I'll also cover the process of picking out a piece of land, the negotiation, and "where to begin?" phase, at least how it all went for us.

[YEAR 2] - We build the shell of a 16'x25' two story cabin from scratch . . . check out how it was built.

[YEAR 3] - We try to finish the cabin . . .

[YEAR 4] - I move up permanently to the property to homestead full-time . . .

[YEAR 5] - Rachel and I try to make it as homesteaders . . with a wood cook stove, dairy goats and a cow, finish the barn, expand the garden, fence pastures, plant more fruit trees, build a flock of healthy layers, grow our own animal food - in other words . . . WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK . . .

[YEAR 6]
'Homesteading in Tennessee' is now HOLDOUT FARM. Check out our new farm website. We produce premium quality raw dairy products from our fodder-fed goats, pastured eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and offer a seasonal list of classes on Permaculture Homesteading.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

The Addition

. The kids and I spent the last 9 days up in Tennessee building the addition for the cabin.

We had perfect weather and it was a highly productive week. I got it semi-dried in with rafters and sheathing and tarpaper on the roof. The only thing left to do is put in the metal, sheathe and wrap the walls, and pop in windows - 4 day's work. I've already bought the windows at Builder's Surplus. 7 windows at $129 a piece - they're large, new, modern . . . 32" x 54". The addition's a combination sunroom/living room, with maybe some greenhouse space.

The first thing we noticed when we pulled up to the property at night were the flowering peach trees covered in large pink flowers. These are the first things we ever planted on the property, 2 years ago. It's nice to see them thriving, even if the fruit is small.

The next day I finished putting in the joists for the cabin floor:

No problems . . . went well. The boards are 2x10's @ 12 feet.

The girls fertilized the apple trees and a few garden beds with the last of the aged humanure compost:

Once the joists were in I put in 2x10 blocking down the middle - this supports and straightens the joists:

The joists tie directly in to the cabin girder. I needed a nailing surface for the edge of the flooring so I run blocking along this side:

At the end of the first day I've finished the frame and put in the first few sheets of flooring with adhesive and 2 1/4" screws:

Here's a shot of one of the flowering peach trees in front of the barn:

On Day 2 I get the rest of the flooring in - Advantech, $20 a 3/4" sheet, heavy-duty, with a 50 year warranty:

Here are some interior shots of the cabin, a lot more comfortable than the early days of sleeping in the tent, gazebo, and the back of the car:



I can't order lumber for the addition till Monday. So I spend Sunday putting up the rest of the posts in the upper story of the barn - these outside walls are the bearing walls for the roof:

Each morning I grade and level a garden bed. There are 9 altogether. It's tough physical work, so I do one a day in the early morning when it's cold. The strawberry and mint had spread everywhere. There's still some debris from the fire, like broken crockery and rusted pieces of metal.

Here a couple of beds are done:

I order lumber Monday morning and it gets delivered around noon.

I build conventional stud walls for the addition. They're not nearly as heavy as I thought they'd be to stand up alone - even the 12' walls with 2x6 studs are no big deal:

The long 25' wall I do in three sections, two at 8', one at 9'. Here's what I've got accomplished as of Monday evening:

Tuesday I stand up the rest of the walls. The 9' section fits perfectly in between the 2 8' outer sections, both at the top and sole plate - a good sign of a square layout and plumb walls:

The rough openings for windows are next. Since it's only one story with a 3' span 2x4 headers are sufficient - I however box them in with an additional horizontal 2x6 to shim against:

I fill the header box with fiberglass insulation before I seal it. Remember the mice that nested in the insulation 2 years ago, and the photo of the baby mice? This is what I used. No mice now - I guess they've moved on.

One of the most amazing sights on the property are the 2 huge autumn olives covered in flowers. They're full of bees and butterflies coming and going. I wish I could order more, but they're now illegal to sell in Tennessee because they're considered invasive. I'll have to order them from outside the state.

Brooke took several photos of the swallowtails in the flowers. Here's one:

One March we went up to camp on Pigeon Mountain, and the autumn olives there were flowering and fragrant and full of butterflies. In fact that photo of me with the butterfly on my hand was taken that trip. It was a beautiful thing to see, and to create that on our own property is pretty awesome.

Once the rough openings are done, I move on to the rafters:

I first run a 25' stretch of 2x6's along the cabin as a cleat to hang them on. This works great and the cleat's screwed in to the studs. This way I don't need to buy hangers for the rafters:

I put in 2x6 blocking between the rafters. I have to shave a 1/2" off the width to keep them from projecting beyond the top of the rafters.

For the rafters I make a seat cut at both ends, as well as a plumb cut where they tie in to the cabin. To make life easy I clamp one 2x6 rafter @14' against the edge of the cleat and cap plates where they'll run. I draw my lines of where it needs cut, and once the rafter fits just right I use it as a template to cut all the rest. It works great and saves a lot of time. For each later rafter I watch how it fits - I fine tune it as a go, modify a seat cut a hair where necessary, and am happy with the results. Also it's expedient. It takes me no more than a day to cut and install all the rafters - much different from the hell I went through with the rafters on the cabin, and each one's custom cut.

Where the rafter ties in to the cabin, I predrill and screw it into the cleat, the blocking, and the cabin for a secure hold.

I use 2x4 blocking at the cap plate, to allow ventilation out the soffit vents:

Here's where I am at the end of the day:

After several days of morning labor the garden beds are leveled and ready to go. Removing the blackberry was much easier than I thought - most of the roots are shallow. But I'm sure there's a taproot somewhere which will keep sending up shoots.

I'd like to buy a tiller and till peat moss into the clayey soil. But the cost of both a tiller and the moss is high. I can get a truckload of topsoil delivered for about $200. We may do that this year.

I'd love to get a fence around the garden - even a cheapo metal one and grow fruiting vines and shrubs all over it. It would help establish and protect the space, as well as shield it from drying winds. It's the intense sun and dryness that we struggle with most in the garden:

Once I have the 20 common rafters in, I put in barge rafters at either end for the 1' roof overhang. I assemble them on my saw table, then hoist them up with the kids.

It's difficult as my ladders are worthless and the girls don't have much muscle. I end up going back to the old methods I used in the barn to hoist joists - rope and bungee cords, then once it's there, clamp and tap it into position:

I use plenty of screws and nails to sister it to the outer rafter, but I think knee braces are necessary if I really want it to be secure. I'll install them after the wall sheathing's up.

Here the frame is finished:
I cut the rafter tails after the rafters are already in. I run a string along the top, mark the tails, then draw plumb lines and make the cuts with a circular saw from the ladder. I end up with a very nice line for my fascia and gutter:

The only hitch is this awful 3 in 1 ladder that no longer works. The locking mechanism is busted, and I can't lock the ladder in any position. So every time I go to move it it buckles. I need to get a regular extension ladder. As usual, the more sophisticated something is, the more likely it is to break down - and soon. We've only had it a year.

Here's another shot of the frame:

Next is the sheathing for the roof. Here's a view out the french doors once I have the first few sheets in:

After the sheathing, I lay down 30lb roofing felt and secure it with button cap nails. I secure it well, as this felt will be left exposed 2 weeks until I can get up there again and put in the metal:

Here's a shot of where it is at the end of the week:

I think it looks good. It's no architectural wonder, but for having no prior construction experience and Patty and I just making it up as we go along I think we've done okay. We plan on ultimately adding on a master bedroom wing on the left side - I've only put in one window on this wall of the addition, as it's north-facing, never gets direct sunlight, and the window is interior door-sized so when the time comes I can pop it out and put in a door. This master bedroom will have it's own stove, bathroom, and patio. Then the girls will have the loft all to themselves, and can divide it up. There's also a large screened-in porch going in on the opposite side of the building from the addition.

Overall it was a great week. I lost 5 lbs working dawn to dusk and eating small meals the girls prepared, like potatoes and oatmeal or spaghetti. I got very tan, my hair bleached blonde in the fierce sun and cloudless sky day after day. We had one short episode of rain Saturday morning.

We took a couple of trips down to the creek to jump in and cool off and bathe. The girls took a few bike rides. They also helped me with mowing and mulching. Our neighbors from Knoxville brought us ice cold lemonade one afternoon, and fresh-baked bread one evening when we were running out of food. It was much appreciated. There may be even some work prospects for me building french drains for a neighbor - something I've done when I built the patio for my parents.

The only big downer was Mishka. He went next door and killed 2 more chickens. They said if he goes over there again they'll shoot him. So we had to tie Mishka up the whole week and he sat beneath the building. We're not going to be able to take him up there for a while, at least the rest of the year.

I'm going back to the property the first week of May to finish the addition. Patty and the girls and I are spending the entire month of June up there. We'll plant the garden, put up the siding, maybe plant some fruit trees, go canoeing and hiking, and have a great time. We've never all spent so much time up there together - only 2 weeks 2 years before, and that was sleeping in the gazebo.
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Blog Index

10/30/08

BUYING RAW LAND

11/8/08

TRASH CLEANUP

11/10/08

WINTER IN ATLANTA

11/12/08

SPRING IN TENNESSEE

11/14/08

STARTING A GARDEN

11/15/08

BUILDING THE COMPOST BIN

11/15/08

THE FROST

11/16/08

GRADING THE BARN

11/18/08

DIGGING SWALES

11/19/08

PLANTING FRUIT TREES

11/19/08

BUILDING A STONE FOUNDATION

11/20/08

THE CONCRETE STEM WALL

11/21/08

BUILDING A SMALL 12'x12' PAD

11/21/08

THE GARDEN

11/22/08

BUILDING A DRIVEWAY

11/23/08

INSTALLING THE SILL PLATES

11/23/08

THE MODIFIED POST AND BEAM FRAME

11/27/08

FRUIT IN THE GARDEN

11/28/08

THE BARN FRAME

11/29/08

AUGUST IN TENNESSEE

11/30/08

HANGING THE JOISTS

11/30/08

CLEARING THE LAND

11/30/08

COUNTRY NEIGHBORS

11/30/08

THE HARVEST

12/1/08

PLANS FOR A CABIN

12/14/08

THE LAND IN WINTER

12/22/08

BARN UPDATE

12/29/08

WINTER PLANTING

1/4/09

EDIBLE PLANTS

1/10/09

WINTER TREES

1/12/09

WINTER TREES II

1/21/09

CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER

2/11/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN

3/26/09

THE STRAW BALE CABIN II

4/2/09

1880 FARMHOUSE

5/6/09

HOMESTEADING / THE CABIN

8/13/09

THE POST AND BEAM CABIN

8/22/09

RETURN TO TENNESSEE

8/25/09

SITE WORK

8/30/09

DIGGING THE FOOTERS

9/4/09

THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/10/09

911

9/11/09

FINISHING THE PIER FOUNDATION

9/12/09

THE GIRDERS

9/13/09

FRAMING THE FLOOR

9/16/09

DECKING THE FLOOR

9/17/09

THE POST AND BEAM FRAME

9/19/09

THE RAFTERS

9/20/09

INSTALLING THE METAL ROOF

9/21/09

FRAMING THE WALLS

9/26/09

DOORS AND WINDOWS

9/27/09

TENNESSEE IN JULY - OUR LAST MONTH

10/2/09

TENNESSEE IN OCTOBER

10/10/09

THE BARN FLOOR

10/15/09

PIGEON MOUNTAIN

11/10/09

NOVEMBER

11/16/09

PERMACULTURE: ANOTHER ROUND OF FRUITING SHRUBS

11/22/09

DRIFTERS

11/30/09

THE BARN ROOF BEGINS

12/20/09

'DRIFTERS' PART I

12/30/09

WEATHER

1/1/10

NEW YEAR'S IN TENNESSEE

1/25/10

DRIFTERS: PART II

3/2/10

MY SISTER'S WEDDING

3/21/10

FERTILIZING WITH HUMANURE

3/28/10

THE ADDITION FLOOR

4/19/10

THE ADDITION

5/11/10

RUNAWAY

6/13/10

FINISHING THE ADDITION

.........................The Timeline.........................

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1992
-MAY . . . for Patty and I's first date, we skip school and go to the Pinnacle - a wooded overlook off the Susquehanna River.
-SEPTEMBER . . . I leave our hometown of Lancaster, PA for college - Penn State in Reading, 45 minutes away.

1993
-FEBRUARY . . . Patty and I both drop out of school, and camp in some woods behind a grocery store in Lancaster.
-MARCH . . . Patty steals her mother's credit card, and with it we take a train to Utah. We ultimately end up on the Northwest Coast, living in Port Orford, Oregon.
-APRIL - OCTOBER . . . We join a traveling carnival and work in it for 6 months. We sleep in the back of a Ryder truck, and go through California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I run the guns, and Patty does the goldfish. We save $9,000.
-NOVEMBER . . . We return to Lancaster and are arrested for stealing the credit card.

1995
-OCTOBER . . . We bike from Lancaster down to Charleston, South Carolina. Patty wrecks in North Carolina, and a friend drives us the rest of the way. We live in Charleston for 2 weeks.

1996
-JULY . . . Our first daughter June is born in Lancaster, PA.

1997
-MARCH . . . We sell everything in our apartment, and hike out of Lancaster with backpacks and our 9 month old daughter. We reach the Susquehanna River.
-APRIL - JUNE . . . We get a canoe and paddle 500 miles up the Susquehanna River to its source. We camp on islands. We get a ride to the Erie Barge Canal and paddle west.
-JULY . . . We are arrested in Little Falls, NY. Our daughter is taken, we're charged with neglect, and we fight the courts for months. We are cleared of all charges, but never get her back.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We take a bus out to Ruidoso, NM and camp in woods just out of town. We return to Lancaster and camp in the Brickyard for the rest of the month.
-OCTOBER - FEBRUARY . . . We live in an apartment in the Amish community of Strasburg, PA. Amish go by in their horse and buggies every day.

1998
-FEBRUARY . . . Our second daughter Rachael is born. We try to deliver her on our own at home and fail. Patty ends up in the hospital with a c-section.
-MARCH . . . We get a ride from a friend down to Covington, Virginia. We stay a week, and look for places to camp in the surrounding national forest. We find nothing, and go to New Mexico.
-MARCH - MAY . . . We camp in the Gila National Forest, north of Pinos Altos, a mile from the nearest trail. We camp above a spring with an infinite view west. We start building a hogan.
-JUNE - SEPTEMBER . . . We live downtown in Santa Fe, NM. Patty markets her paintings, and I get a N.Y. literary agent for my first book 'Flesh Aflame'.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Crescent City, California, on the Northwest Coast, a mile from the ocean, on the edge of a bird sanctuary. It's great until the rains begin and we run out of money.

1999
-JANUARY - FEBRUARY . . . We camp in the Uwharrie mountains of central North Carolina, and look for a place to build a winter home.
-MARCH . . . We get a canoe and paddle the Holston River down towards Knoxville, Tennessee.
-APRIL . . . We get dropped off in the Smokies and paddle Fontana Lake. We stash our canoe at Chambers Creek and hike in to the Smokies for a secret camp. Patty paints the creek, and we stay 3 weeks.
-MAY . . . We live in a trailer just off the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC. The sky is beautiful after storms and we love the pelicans.
-JUNE . . . We camp in the Brickyard back in Lancaster, PA, saving money for an apartment.
-JULY - DECEMBER . . . We live in Lancaster and save for our trip back out to New Mexico. We also buy the jeep.

2000
-JANUARY - JUNE . . . We camp and travel all over the Southwest, from the Gila, to Organ Pipe, to the Weminuche in Colorado. Brooke is born in February in a motel in Deming, NM.
-JULY . . . We stay in condos with a friend in Aspen, Colorado. I do concrete work. We then go to California, and look for a place to live in the Russian River area.
-AUGUST - OCTOBER . . . We rent a small house in Tesuque, NM, just outside of Santa Fe. We hike up into the Pecos Wilderness. We become vegetarians.
-NOVEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Tucson, AZ, then drive to Crescent City and the Northwest Coast. The beautiful weather is over, and the rains have begun. We don't stay long.
-DECEMBER . . . We return to Pennsylvania, and live out of our car in the Philidelphia area while Patty works at a restaurant. We sleep in parking lots and rest stops. It's the coldest December on record for the area, with the wind chill it's -10.



2001
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JANUARY . . . We head south for warmth, try the Chatooga area of South Carolina, then camp in the woods of northern Florida.
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FEBRUARY - JUNE . . . We live in Asheville, NC, in the middle of the Southern Appalachains. We spend nearly every day out on the trails, hiking, and learning plants.
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JULY . . . We get mountain bikes for touring, and bike the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Smokies.
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AUGUST . . . We camp in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, and do a 6 day fast.
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SEPTEMBER . . . We stay in Loveland, Colorado with a friend. We climb Long's Peak on the day after 9/11. We then drive to Vermont, and look for a place to live in the Burlington area.
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OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Tucson, AZ, and try to become raw fooders.

2002
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JANUARY . . . We hike in to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila.
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FEBRUARY . . . We bike in to Turkey Creek Hot Springs. We stash our bikes near the mouth of the creek, and hike the rest of the way. Many of the pools have been ruined from floods.
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MARCH . . . We go to Vermont again, this time the Bennington area of southern Vermont. It's way too cold.
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APRIL - JULY . . . We rent a house in Asheville, NC again. This time we have a large garden, and become 100% raw fooders. Every day I'm out hiking the trails gathering wild edible plants.
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AUGUST . . . We cash out all our credit cards, and move up to Shining Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians, camping at over 5,000 feet. There are blueberry fields everywhere, and blackberry, and wild cherries. Not only are we mono-raw fooders now, much of our food is wild. I hike barefoot everywhere. We bathe in the pool below the falls.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Atlanta, and on a night full of alcohol I break my foot in 3 places. I'm told I'll be crippled with arthritis, and ultimately never walk again.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a furnished condo in Tucson, AZ. I cut my cast off prematurely with tin snips.

2003
-JANUARY . . . We camp off the Gila River at Box Canyon, just up from the city of Gila. I'm still on crutches. We meet Jabber-Mike, and Vet-Mike, and Doug. We trade juniper berries for Doug's black walnuts. We're still 100% raw fooders, and Doug teaches me the local plants.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We return to Atlanta for free medical care so I can learn how to walk again. PT is hell.
-APRIL - MAY . . . We go back to the Gila and camp off the Gila River. We gather cattail, nettle, primrose flowers, and harvest prickly pear pads. We find the most perfect hot spring in all of the Gila, man-made, at Brock Canyon.
-JUNE . . . We fall off our raw food diet, and camp up at Black Balsam again off the Shining Rock Wilderness. We gather wild strawberries. We then camp above the Amicalola Falls in north Georgia for 2 weeks. We become committed to the idea of buying land.
-JULY - SEPTEMBER . . . We live in Woodstock, GA, just north of Atlanta. I do a 14 day water fast.
-OCTOBER . . . We paddle Fontana Lake in the Smokies, on our way to Nova Scotia. We find a great camp and gather wild persimmons, but ultimately abandon the trip.
-NOVEMBER . . . We go back to camping off the Gila River at Brock Canyon. I begin 'June'. We run totally out of money, and gather and clean 10lbs of desert willow seed to sell to a local guy in Gila. He gives us $20/lb, and we use the money to get back to Georgia.

2004
-JANUARY . . . We go to north Florida, and check out the sinks, and the aquifer springs, and paddle the Wacissa River.
-FEBRUARY . . . We paddle the Suwanee River in North Florida. Patty makes a basket out of greenbriar.
-MARCH . . . We camp in the pine flats of Apalachicola National Forest. We make baskets from grapevine, cordage from the retting of Spanish Moss, and a mat from palmetto. We camp here for 3 weeks with no money while we wait for our tax refund. We're 100% raw fooders again.
-APRIL . . . We camp off Owl Creek and paddle the river. There are free hot showers in a nearby campground. There's a great trail with wild blueberry, and we gather the new shoots of bracken. We later camp in Tate's Hell.
-MAY . . . We camp at Sand Creek in the Ocala National Forest, an hour east of Atlanta. I gather cattail in the Beaver Pond. I edit and type up the 'June' book at a nearby library for a literary agent.
-JUNE . . . We drive out to Oregon and camp off the Illinois River in the Siskiyous.
-JULY . . . We camp in the Adirondacks off Jones Pond.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. We gather wild mushrooms, and sell lobster mushrooms to chefs in Sante Fe. We camp at San Antonio Hot Springs for a week, and Big Tesuque Campground outside Sante Fe.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We go back to the Gila and camp at Brock Canyon. We gather desert willow seed again. We swim and play games in the river. We see tarantulas. I gather prickly pear fruit in baskets we've made from willow. We take a trip up to Turkey Creek Hot Springs.
-OCTOBER . . . We camp in the Oconee National Forest southeast of Atlanta, under persimmon trees in a field. We also camp up on Pigeon Mountain near Rocktown.
-NOVEMBER - JANUARY . . . We live in Atlanta.

2005
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We move to Portland Oregon. We paddle the Wilamette River, and go to the nude beach at Sauvie Island, just after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
-APRIL . . . We return to north Florida looking for land to buy. Everywhere is flooded, and there's been a lot of damage from the previous hurricane.
-MAY . . . We camp up on Pigeon Mtn. The weather's perfect, and there's more wild food here than anywhere else.
-JUNE . . . We go to Arizona, and camp in the Hannigan area of Apache National Forest. We ultimately try to get back out to Oregon, but car problems make it not possible.
-JULY . . . We return to Pigeon Mtn in Georgia. The blackberries are in.
-AUGUST . . . We stay in a campground off the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida, while we look for jobs and a place to live.
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SEPTEMBER . . . We move back to Atlanta.
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OCTOBER . . . We abandon the jeep with 320,000 miles in a motel parking lot.

2006
-MARCH . . . the girls and I camp up at Pigeon Mtn, in a secret camp we've made.
-JUNE . . . the girls and I go back to Pigeon and camp longer, this time starting a wigwam from red maple saplings, muscadine vines, and grass I collect naked in the field with a small knife.
-AUGUST . . . the girls and I camp up at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every day we gather the wild blueberries and swim in the pool beneath the falls. We hike all the trails, and establish a secret camp in a grove of juneberries.


2007
-FEBRUARY . . . We look at property in north Florida.
-MARCH . . . We look at property in Asheville, NC.
-JUNE . . . We look at the 10 acres in Sunbright, and make an offer.
-AUGUST . . . We close on the Sunbright property, and take the kids to Disneyworld.
-OCTOBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property in Sunbright, and clean up the trash from the fire. I build a fireplace out of old concrete blocks.

2008
-APRIL - SEPTEMBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property. We clean out the rest of the trash, build a compost bin for humanure, plant the garden, and fruit trees, I dig the swales, do the stone foundation for the barn, and the stem wall, and the post and beam frame. We build a pad for the gazebo.

2009
-APRIL - JULY . . . The girls and I camp up on the property again. We build the 2 story cabin from scratch, plant another garden, and more fruiting trees and shrubs.
-OCTOBER . . . I put the upper story floor in the barn.
-NOVEMBER . . . The girls and I begin building the barn roof.