Saturday, January 23, 2010


Because you asked--and only because you asked--I will tell the abbreviated story of our move to Tennessee.  The year was 1998--the year my first born would get married and my second born would  graduate from high school and my third born would turn ten and my baby would turn two.  And it would be the year that the chatter about Y2K would reach my ears.  But more importantly, it will forever be the year that God led us out of the wilderness into the promised land.  I can't believe I just wrote that.  It didn't really *look* like the promised land at the time.

Sometimes the opportunity to be courageous and adventuresome is thrust at you whether you want it or not.  But sometimes it is the result of a decision to not walk in fear, but to walk by faith and not by sight.   Y2K did not panic us or make us fearful.  It gave us a reason to chase a dream, to try something risky, to learn something new.  I do believe that all those years of watching Cinderella had its affect as well, and quite honestly,  I was not about to be caught with my coach turning into a pumpkin when the clock struck midnight.  So, like many others, I stashed away some supplies and learned a few new skills--which I have never regretted even though  my coach did not, in fact, turn into a pumpkin. 

I hated did not prefer living in Florida.  Terrible circumstances, that I will not write about at this time or probably ever, led us to the wilderness of the south.  And while I know that our time there was part of God's plan, I was more than happy to move on when our 40 years time was up.   And in 1998, our time was up.

What appealed to me about the Y2K chatter was the idea of eliminating debt and living in the country and simplifying.  I was a homeschool mom feasting on books like Little House in the Big Woods and Heidi and The Girl of the Limberlost.  And I wanted to hike the mountains and grow the beans and catch  luna moths with my children.  And not in the Florida heat.

I made friends with other like-minded friends on the Internet--this was way before blog world.  We got to know each other on message boards with no photos.  What folks looked like and how they really lived was left to your imagination.  And this is where my Tennessee story really begins.

A movie that my family and I had feasted on until we could practically recite it word for word was Anne of Green Gables.  If you are familiar with it, then the picture I'm about to paint for you will make sense.  Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are brother and sister.  They never married, are older, and live together in a lovely home, Green Gables.  They are proper kind of folks with a charming home on beautiful property.  You have the picture, right?  Hang onto it.

Okay, so I hook up with this couple (brother and sister) on a homesteading message board.  Let's just call them by their names so I don't confuse you.  Oh, that's right, they shared a name--you know, trying to stay anonymous and all.   It was The Survivors.  I learn that they are older and living together in the mountains of East Tennessee.  Wow!  I had visited the mountains of East Tennessee and was quite fond of them.  In fact, if I could have picked a place to move to, it might have been the mountains of East Tennessee.  There was only one problem.  There is always that one problem.  It is called money.  Wherever we were going to move to had to be within our budget--our cash budget.  And I doubted it was going to be found in East Tennessee. 

If you remember, we moved to Florida after something dreadful.  That something dreadful affected our finances a bit, so we were not going to have oodles to spend on this new home in the country.  We first looked at property in West Virginia.  It was definitely not it.  So the invitation was extended by Matthew and Marilla The Survivors to visit East Tennessee.  They assured us that beautiful land was available within our budget. 

I can't believe I convinced my husband to actually do it, but just days after our daughter's wedding and the selling of our Florida home, we were headed to meet The Survivors in East Tennessee.  We hooked up a 28-foot camper to the back of our Suburban and headed off into the sunset.  We were actually homeless at this point so the stakes were pretty high.  Twelve years later it sounds more crazy to me than ever.  For those of you who care to know, I do believe I was walking as closely to the Lord as I ever have.  Really.  He was leading me. I have my prayer journals to prove it.

Imagine the feeling in my gut as we traveled across the mountain--I mean a real mountain with windy roads with no shoulder and very steep, one-way cliffs in which to fall off of to your death for sure.  Oh, the looks from my husband and sons.  Thank goodness Tessa was too little to realize the danger.  The only thing that kept me going was the thought of Matthew and Marilla The Survivors greeting us with a glass of iced tea and a big southern smile.  I imagined their sweeping porch with rocking chairs and potted mums.

I'm going to cut to the chase because this is turning into a novel.  I'd love a book deal, by the way.  Let me mention that this was before everyone had cell phones and digital cameras.  Olden days.  So we pull up to their house.  How I wish I had a photo.  How I wish I could have called my daughter, Kelly.  It was literally built into the side of an East Tennessee mountain.  The road was narrow and there was a river down below on the other side.  And we were in a Suburban with a 28-foot camper behind.  I thought my husband was going to shoot me.  Thank the good Lord that we had convictions about guns back then.  There was no big porch or even a place to park.  There was no sweet tea.  There was no Matthew and Marilla.

There was, however, Gail and Ed.  Just plain Gail and Ed, The Survivors.

One was an ex-hippie with a pony tail.  Don't let that bald head in front fool you.  And the other was-- interesting. They did, however, open up their home to us and even cooked up some venison and spinach for us to eat.  It was quite good in spite of the fact that I was feeling sick to my stomach having just brought almost my entire family to The Twilight Zone.  One thing that I forgot to mention is that another couple met us there as well, so, you see, I was not the only trusting, crazy person who hung out on that homestead board.  They were from the Washington, D.C. area--and normal and smart.  I ended up visiting them as well a year or so later, and Ann made lovely soap and spun wool--but that is another story. 

The Survivors were convinced that the government was out to get us.  They had stockpiled all kinds of stuff.  I mean boxes and boxes to the ceiling.  There is no point to going into all that, but suffice it to say, we were not really kindred spirits as Anne of Green Gables would say.

While trying to turn the camper around to park right smack up against the mountain, my husband blew out two tires.  And then the next morning the pipes froze.  And then the next morning I demanded that he take me off  of that mountain and back to civilization.  He did.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express.  And I cried.  I was homeless.  My little girl was married.   And we might have to move in with the newlyweds.  It just couldn't have gotten any worse.   And my dear husband said not a word.  He didn't dare.  We eventually found a campground and hooked up with a realtor.  Her name was Sandra, and she was great.  Sandra lived a daring life.  She had faith for the impossible.  And she proved it by what she took us to see.

Just in the nick of time, she found the property on Speedwell Road for us and negotiated the deal.--the cash deal.  She also negotiated the cash deal five years later when we sold the property to the folks with the jaguar.  We loved Sandra.

We made the deal and returned to Florida where my husband deposited me and our two-year-old on the newlyweds' doorstep.  How awkward is that you ask?  Very.  He and our two sons then headed back to Tennessee to begin their first renovation project ever.  Oh boy, oh boy.  We had never really seen this type of construction before.  We had just spent twelve years in a brand new home in Florida where the building codes are ridiculous because of the hurricanes.  Before that we lived in Connecticut where the standards are also way above average.  It was shocking to say the least.  We were so stupid.

As I told you in a previous post, there was no central heat or air.  There were not even any real ceilings.  See those ceiling tiles?  On top of them was the insulation.  And how about that kitchen.  Did you even notice the light fixtures?  Did I tell you that one room was wallpapered with the daily newspaper?  I have to stop or I'm going to be ill.  What were we thinking?  It didn't matter because it was just going to be temporary.  We were going to build a log cabin.  That's right.
At this point, I think it finally hit him that we were in over out heads.
01-22-2010 09;50;51PM
There is so much more that I could tell, and so many pictures that I could post, and maybe I will another day.  I do want to end this post with some after photos. My guys tore out every wall and every ceiling and taught themselves how to put it back together again.  They learned how to frame and wire and install cabinets and hook up sinks.  We paid cash for everything and turned that shack into a charming home that served us well in spite of its substandard conditions for five years.

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

You can see the tail end of that saying which I stenciled on the wall in the photo below.  It was the first thing you saw when you walked in the door. 
We celebrated holidays and birthdays and life together in that house.  We homeschooled in that house, and I read to Tessa--a lot--in that house as she swung inside--because she could.  And I painted the OSB floors instead of putting down carpeting because we lived in the country with chickens and goats and horses and dirt--lots of dirt.  And we didn't worry about a thing.  We owed nobody and it felt good.
And when the spring came, I planted my first square-foot garden.  And I hung my clothes out to dry.  And I watched my older son build his first structure, a two-story garage/apartment.  And it was nicer--much nicer--than our house.  And I was so proud of him.  Today he is a licensed contractor.
And we built a well house/potting shed.  And I painted it happy like.
And we planted a butterfly garden.

And we did so much more, but I am tired and emotional, and it's time to quit.  If you've made it to the end, I thank you.  I hope you have enjoyed my little trip down memory lane.  It took courage for me to post this, but I'm glad I did it.


Funky Junk Interiors said...

I have to admit, I sat back and haw hawed at the pic of your hubby sitting in 'the kitchen'. You have come a long way, baby!!!

The result was quite a charming personalized home that I could tell you later enjoyed. Your happy happy joy joy painting outside was total icing on the cake.

I enjoyed the read. Is there a part 3? :)


erin said...

wowza! what a story and what a writer you are, my dear! just wondering...when you drove up the mountain, did you here "Dueling Banjos" being played cuz i swear i did one time in the hills of east tennessee.......well, you made it through and are better for it, with a lovely home and family.....
you are blessed.

Anonymous said...
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Dan and Deb said...

So, please do a part 3...

slommler said...

What an adventure! Thanks so much for sharing it. I am sure it was difficult to go back and remember what all this felt like. I had a similar experience and I know that feeling well.

Sheri said...

Awww! What a bittersweet story,so glad you found peace in the end!

Anonymous said...

I cried like a baby. Beautiful!

Mady and Jacks Mama said...

There is no place like East Tennessee! I have lived in all three parts of Tennessee, West Texas, and Central Kentucky. Those mountains of East Tennessee are where I would live if I could pick anywhere. So beautiful!

cornbreadandbeansquilting said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I was fascinated the entire time! I dream of moving out to the country to plant and grow and dig in the dirt. Ahh.....someday.

KolentynePoppy said...

I hope there is more....please tell the rest of the story...please!

I wanted to roar laughing when you described the folks in the picture...the ones in the mountains BUT I didn't. I sat on the verge of crying or laughing hysterically and then I realized that I needed to breathe! Phew! That must have been something!

Such a risk.

Thanks for sharing this with us!


Mimi said...

Another great story of your wonderful adventures!!!!
I admire you for doing that!!!!
What a fun and adventurous time!!!!

Emily Lawrence Bray said...

you are such an inspiration, and a picture of what reckless abandonment to the plan God has for each of us looks like! i'm glad i know you in for real life, and that i call you friend/mentor.

Kelly said...

There is probably a part 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8!

edie said...

What a story Ms. Denise. And one I've never heard. I am always amazed/inspired by you and that post had me on the verge of tears and belly laughs. Love to you and sooo happy you made it to East TN!

Red said...

I loved reading your story, my husband is from E. Tennesee and grew up in a house that looks all to similar to the pictures you posted. His Mother still lives there in another crooked little house built on the side of the mountain. Someday we hope to go back, those mountains get into your soul and you can never really leave. I grew up on the other side in Virginia, and they call to me in my dreams.

You did a great job fixing it up!

Amy Kinser said...

I enjoyed reading this and loved seeing The Survivors. So funny. I would actually love to hear more.

I live in Tn and love this beautiful state. My in laws live in East TN . So pretty.

Rebecca D said...

Leaps of faith are always scary... and rarely what we invisiond, but always amazing in the end... Thanks for sharing yours.

Terri Smith said...

Good gracious alive! What an amazing story. Denise, have you ever been told that you should write professionally? Mercy me. You definitely have a way with the written word. Seriously. Kept me going to the end!

But now look at how lovely everything turned out. Your boys did good! Real good!

I'll for sure revisit often..your way with words put a smile on my spirit today. Blessings and sunshine, Terri

Ali said...


One of His Sparrows said...

I enjoyed reading these comments. I'm sorry I have taken you for granted. I was not suprised that you wrote this so well. I know you can write like this and I even expect it and look forward to it but I don't tell you thank you very often. THANK YOU. I enjoyed it thoroughly. You have also proven why Michael's hair changed color!

Jessica said...




Kim@Simply Domestic said...

What an adventure! I want to catch luna moths after I read Girl of the Limberlost, too! Thanks for sharing your story. I'm so glad I found your blog.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Michelle said...

I Love this story andI'm so glad that you posted it. The end part is my dream.

Anonymous said...

ups sorry delete plz [url=].[/url]

Gillian Layne said...

I can't tell you how happy I am you posted this. I think the Lord sent me your way this a.m., and I'm going to be late for work....but I'm so happy I "found" you!

Please post a part three. Please, are a comfort to complete strangers, I can guarantee it. And yes, you are a born writer.

Jillian said...

Just found your blog and have enjoyed spending time here reading through your posts. This one in particular touches me in several ways. So glad you shared your heart.