Author Archives: Rob

In an Instant

Ten and a half years ago Melissa and I bought a quaint little fixer upper in Loudon County TN. We worked day and night on our little investment until we had turned it into a home fit to live in and raise our baby girl. Some time after, despite having very limited funds, we decided that two young children could share a bedroom until we could afford a larger home and so tried for another child. Although our logic was sound, we were thrown a wonderful curve with news of twins, thus a hurried renovation of our two bedroom bungalow into a three – so Melissa and I would have a place to sleep. Over the last 10 plus years as time and the budget have allowed, we’ve taken on all kinds of “do it yourself” renovations, even some not for the faint of heart. We’ve proudly installed a new roof, windows, entry doors, floors, walls, interior doors, wrap around decks, planters, rainwater collection set up, window well, foundation waterproofing, security system, surveillance system, attic access, insulation and countless others.

On a Friday morning just over three weeks ago, I got up way before dawn, grabbed my hunting gear and headed out to the woods leaving myself plenty of time to be in a tree overlooking a newly discovered deer trail well before the sun had a chance to come up.

I settled in just before 6:30 a.m. and my mind raced with the anticipation of at what might come down that trail. I sat quietly as the sun’s first light revealed my surroundings, this would be a good day for hunting. I was already trying to decide on venison stew, or tenderloin with fried potatoes and eggs…. but as it’s been said before in so many stories, “and then”.

“And then,” for me and my family means that while perched nearly 20′ high in a tree, in the dense woods, down a narrow trail, across two hay fields, around a lake, through one electric fence gate over 30 miles away; I receive the following text from Melissa.

“The house is on fire. It’s burning”

My initial response “Ours?” (as in, it can’t be ours… right?)

Response “Yes. Please come home”

“On my way, kids?”

Now insert a very long period of time between the question “kids” and  any response…

“Here with me” (along with pet status info.)


I cannot tell you the range of emotions that I went through as I franticly abandoned my post and ran back to my truck, nor will I apologize for my actions as I desperately tried to close the physical distance between where my family needed me to be and where I was. I will, however, make these few comments:

My 03 GMC 1500 appears to be missing the “Rev” limiter .

To the woman traveling in front of me for approximately the last 6 miles to my destination (burning home):

  • Bless you.
  • Bless you for having the resolve to stay out in front, to travel well below the posted speed limit, to exercise your right not to yield a right of way, or make the slightest effort to pull off to the side and allow someone to pass.
  • Bless you for sticking to your guns even though the vehicle behind you has their 4 ways on, flashing lights at you, blowing the horn, and has made multiple attempts to get by you in an obvious attempt to respond to some sort of an emergency.
  • And, Bless you, especially, for taking the time to stop in the middle of the street some 20 yards from the final turn off for my house, so you could watch my house burn… while I unravel at the seams.


Once I “parked” my truck in the ditch, and after visual confirmation that my wife and kids were safe (along with several hugs and kisses) Melissa tells me what happened:

Melissa was preparing lunches in the kitchen for the girls as they finished breakfast at the table when they began to smell something burning (like plastic).

Melissa turned off the heat although it didn’t smell like the typical dust on the coils smell then went downstairs to check but found no evidence the smell was from downstairs. She returned upstairs to continue her investigation but could not determine the source.

Melissa decided that the smell must be close to the dining room (where they were) and opened the top part of the window next to the table to try and let the smell out. She told the girls, “it HAS to be right here”.

Just as she finished stating that the smell had to be right there, thick black smoke and flames began coming up through an AC vent in the living room.

Melissa told the girls to grab a coat and get outside and get in her truck.  (It was bitter cold outside) One of them asked, “should we get our shoes on?”  Emily, 11, yelled, “NO!  We have to GO NOW!”  And out the kitchen door they went.

Melissa surveyed the situation, went out and checked that the girls were safe in the truck, then returned back to the house. She grabbed the extinguisher from below the sink and tried to keep the furniture and curtains from catching but realized it was too much for her with the addition of flames from a second register on the other side of the couch.

She grabbed the house phone and tried to call the fire department from the front porch, but the phone was dead.

She went back into the house and got her cell phone from the kitchen table and called from it.

On her way out, Melissa was able to grab her purse and an envelope that contained documents that were to be taken to the safe deposit box on our next trip to the bank and our dog.

She turned at the door, kneeled down and looked into the house as the fire consumed it and the smoke bellowed. (I think she went into shock)

The operator on the phone told her to get away from the house and she went to the truck to find the girls hysterical, a first responder called to her from the bottom of the driveway to mover her truck down away from the house so the fire truck could get in and not block her which she did.

By the time the fire trucks arrived, the house was “engulfed”  – a term that conjures up new imagery for me.


Since the fire, just over three weeks ago, and in no particular order:

We’ve rented a beautiful temporary home not far from our house from a very understanding family.

We’ve decided that our house is still our home and we intend to rebuild there… maybe a bit bigger though.

Being prideful people, we’ve had to come to terms with “donations”.

Donations of clothing, furniture, housewares, shoes, hats, gloves, food, money and so much more have poured in and we are grateful – Thank You so much. Melissa and I are able to laugh about the movie “RV” quoting the line “we don’t know why they like us so much, we’re not even that appealing” – seriously though, Thank You.

Melissa has talked about “if she’d taken it more seriously” at this point that she “could have saved more”  but I think she is just now starting to realize that things could have been much worse. I am so blessed she had the presence of mind to get the kids and herself to safety.

We’ve had several self appointed advocates: Tina B., Angie H., Stacie G., Stephanie M., Laurie “B”, Stephanie H., Larry & Kay & Katie C., Pat F., Sheila B., Lyssa M., along with so many more; we can’t thank you all enough.

My mom and dad were actually travelling down to stay with us for the weekend and stopped in Bristol the night before. As a parent myself, I cannot imagine how helpless my mom and dad felt when they arrived that morning to find our world turned on it’s side. Many thanks to them for holding us up while we tried to get our feet under us. That’s not to say we are any less grateful for the long distance support from all those that couldn’t be here – we love you all.

We’ve tried to come to terms with how closely we came to losing the things that really matter, we are so fortunate. From the outside, it may appear we’ve lost everything, but that’s simply not true and we realize it.

Our children have their own issues to contend with (apart from mom and dad hugging and kissing them even more than before). They don’t like having to go to the house, it depresses them and I totally get it – it’s difficult at best. I can only imagine what they went through watching Melissa go back into the house to try ad save it. And, to sum up, they lost the only home they’ve ever known along with all of their possessions.

We talk, we laugh, we cry – together.

The best explanation: We as a family have decided that life for us right now is kinda like if you were on an extended vacation. Yea, it’s a nice place, it’s quite, and beautiful, but no matter what the amenities are, it’s just not home and we can’t go back to what we had before.

Everyone has told me good things about Farm Bureau Insurance. We are not through our claim process, however, they SEEM to be on the up and up. Only time will tell. In my mind though, insurance money is there to “make you whole”… but that’s just not going to happen now is it?

I lived the first 18 years of my life as a military dependent stationed at one time or another in what seemed like every base on earth. To a small degree, I should be a bit more  “used” to putting my belongings into a suitcase and starting over, after all, we did it every few years…. but this is much different. That accounts for why I’m so impressed with Melissa and the Girl’s attitudes to move forward.

It’s said that military families “take care of their own” but to be honest,  that level of care and generosity pales in comparison to that of Tennessean’s, especially Loudon County. I’m not sure I will ever want to leave Loudon County, TN.

We miss our cat terribly and no, I’m sorry, but a kitten is just not the answer.

I admire our kids. While I stood there that morning talking to some ladies there helping us I looked past them to see my kids who were allowed to come back to the house only after the fire trucks left and saw in the face of a tragedy they are able to keep things in perspective, pointing out to everyone that the half charred stuffed animal laying in the front yard is “still good”. Not at all like one of those little shits at Wal-Mart screaming at his/her parents because they don’t have “latest” I-Phone or game console, they deserve spankings every dam one of them… the kids too. It makes me want even more to be able to give my kids their heart’s desires because they freakin deserve it.

My faith in God remains unwavered, but my faith in humanity now has promise. All too often, we have to see the worst that people have to offer…

Lots of people want to help and we are grateful. The truth is there really isn’t much anyone can do at this point. We need to demo the remaining portion of the house and clean up the property to get it ready to rebuild but, it’s simply too dangerous for volunteers. We certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt, never mind that Melissa and I get distracted with the sentimental aspects. So we’ve decided to hire out the cleanup portion by a professional company so we can get it done quickly and close the wound. Then we can concentrate on a new home.

We do have an alternate idea though; if folks still want to help when we are building maybe they would like to come and help then… like an old fashioned house raising. We will have to see on that one.


Things we’d like to pass on – lessons learned, advice:

  • Gun safes work, spend the money.
  • Preppers: Spend time thinking about a cache of supplies readily accessible, not just a bunker 2 hours away. You may need to stay local, but not have a home and you may not have your “bug out bag”. A storage area, outbuilding or a wood pile with cash, firearm, clothes, water etc right there on your property but not in your house.
  • Take pictures of everything in your house. Include model / SN’s and receipts if you have them. Then store those pictures, original important documents and scanned documents elsewhere (safe deposit box maybe). Copy digital pics and scanned doc’s and put a copy of them elsewhere – like a safe deposit box.
  • Water damage is easier I think to recover from than fire. thus a residential sprinkler system is probably in our future.
  • Seconds count – have a fire escape plan and talk to your kids about what to do.
  • Don’t underestimate how quickly fire can spread – we were shocked.
  • I told Melissa I’ll not sleep in another basement like the one we had. I watched the fire fighters try for over 2 hours try to gain access to where our bedroom was while the house was on fire.


Back of the House
Back of the House
A&S's Bedroom, Bath, E's Bedroom
A&S’s Bedroom, Bath, E’s Bedroom


A&S's Bedroom, Bath, E's Bedroom
A&S’s Bedroom, Bath, E’s Bedroom


Girl's belongings
Girl’s belongings


Back of the house
Back of the house


E's Bedroom and back of the house
E’s Bedroom and back of the house


E's Bedroom (Left), Living Room (Right)
E’s Bedroom (Left), Living Room (Right)


Living Room window
Living Room window


Living Room
Living Room


Standing at the front of the house, looking through living room and E's bedroom
Standing at the front of the house, looking through living room and E’s bedroom


Front Door
Front Door


Dining Area Collapsed Floor into the basement
Dining Area Collapsed Floor into the basement


Front Porch
Front Porch


Dining Area (Left) Kitchen (Right) Looking through Hand Rail of Front Porch
Dining Area (Left) Kitchen (Right) Looking through Hand Rail of Front Porch


Front of the House
Front of the House


Under Front Porch
Under Front Porch


Kitchen, Kitchen Door, Stairwell to Downstairs
Kitchen, Kitchen Door, Stairwell to Downstairs




Kitchen Door
Kitchen Door





Beekeeping – Winterizing Hives

It’s been getting cooler in the evenings (down into the mid 40’s F), so I decided to make the cut over to solid bottom boards, reduce entrances, and leave vent covers in place for a bit more. Came back later that evening and put insulation on in the dark (after I finished a 4-H obligation).

Hint: At about 1:12 in the video you can see my reaction to one of the little ladies making a quick ascent up my leg inside my pants (sorry I went off camera though). I didn’t get stung, but the neighbors got a show!


Insulated Hives (2) Insulated Hives (1)

Rabbitry – Hutch

We’ve decided to try our hand at raising rabbits from the “livestock” perspective (even though they are technically not considered livestock). I realize many may find this disturbing; however, we must be practical – there are several benefits that could be argued, but that’s for another time…  For tonight, we look at the hutch.

I found a supply of 9 free 9′ pallets that fit the bill for this build. We tore them down and built a 9 space hutch:


Just over 8′ 6″ wide and about 7′ tall and cages are 30″ deep made from pallet wood and mesh, cement boards, cement blocks, tin roofing (to be installed shortly) – very heavy.

Top Row can house 1 buck and 4 does

Bottom Row has 4 larger sections for weaned offspring litters.

Between rows has Durock (tile backer board) on an angle covered with plastic for drainage

Bottom row has “pit” style collection (to be shoveled into upcoming flow through vermicomposter – stay tuned)

We are working on automatic watering valves etc. (more to come)

Hutch (1) Hutch (2)

Hutch (3) Hutch (4)

Hutch (5) Hutch (6)

Hutch (7) Hutch (8)

Hutch (9) Hutch (10)

Hutch (11) Hutch (12)

Hutch (13)

First Occupant

photo (Large)

Beekeeping – Winterizing Observation Hive

I’ve really been troubled as to what to do for the colony in the observation hive. After a great deal of debate, I decided to put the queen and brood back down into the Nuc, move them into the shed and insulate them for winter… hope it works. Here are some of the details:


That evening, I moved them into the shed, insulated them and created a plastic entrance/exit out of the shed (pictures from the following day).

Observation in the  Shed (1)

Observation in the  Shed (3)

Observation in the  Shed (4)

Observation in the  Shed (5)


Beekeeping – 4-H Farm Day Exhibit

The Loudon County 4-H office holds an annual “Farm Day” in which they bring 4th graders from all over the county to Sweetwater Valley Farm for a day of exhibits and learning. This year, I was asked to be an exhibitor for beekeeping and wow, what an experience!

I decided early on that I wanted to build an observation hive for the event and after it was finished, I performed a split from one of my hives and asked a friend of the family to foster them until they could return. I don’t think it was too much of a hardship for Angie, she’s pretty eager to get her own colony as soon as possible (thanks again Angie).

Melissa created a really great tri-fold board; we gathered up wax chunks, candles, protective gear, a smoker, the solar wax melter, an empty hive, a model hive, captured some hive beetles, gathered propolis and comb along with all kinds of interesting display stuff and headed down to the farm. At the event, I had three 4-H’ers (Emily, Robby, Eion) that really stole the show, they did an outstanding job all day long talking to students and teaching them about honey bees. We were told there were over 500 students – 27 classes, probably 20 students per plus parents, teachers, event staff and tons more – how great is that.

News Harold Article –


Farm Day  (3) Farm Day  (4) Farm Day  (5) Farm Day  (6) Farm Day  (7) Farm Day  (8) Farm Day  (9) Farm Day  (10) Farm Day  (1) Farm Day  (2)

Homesteading – Chicken Tractor #2

OK, so we built Chicken Tractor #1 and really liked it. While we waited for chicks to become available, I know right – we actually got it done before we needed it, we decided to list it on CL to see if anyone else would be interested it, as it turns out we met and sold it to a really nice couple.

After we sold #1, we looked over the design again and decided to make the next one a little different. Here is what we came up with:


6′ x 14′ Chicken Coop/Tractor.

6′ x 6′ Coop features easy access from end via hinged side panels (coop itself is rotated 90 degrees)

  •  9 nesting boxes
  • Full width roosting bar
  • Hinged and screened ventilation window
  • 2″ x “2 1/2″ roofing supports
  • Cedar plank and screen floor (1/2 & 1/2).

6′ x 14′ Run features

  • Heavy gauge ½” square wire for night time safety from predators.
  • Run also features an access gate for “free range” activities during the day.
  • Can be moved regularly to provide fresh grass & bugs and fertilize the lawn.

IMG_2289 (Large)

IMG_2278 (Large)

IMG_2240 (Large)

IMG_2239 (Large)








Homesteading – Chicken Tractor #1

A while back Melissa came to me wanting to try to raise chickens again…. ugh.

She did say that she had seen something called a chicken tractor that would make for a better experience with the chickens (wouldn’t take much to be honest). I studied the designs she found, put our own spin on it and built our first one… we liked it so much we decided to list it on CL to see if someone else might be interested. Turns out, there was. Be sure to check out Chicken Tractor #2


4′ x 8′ Chicken Coop/Tractor.

Coop features easy access from either side via hinged side panels

  • 7 nesting boxes
  • Full length roosting bar
  • Hinged and screened ventilation window
  • 2″ x “4” roofing supports
  • 7 ply flooring.

Run features

  • 2″ x 4″ and 2″ x 6″ PT lumber and heavier gauge ½” square wire for night time safety from predators.
  • Run also features an access gate for “free range” activities during the day.
  • Can be moved regularly to provide fresh grass & bugs and fertilize your lawn.










Homesteading – Casa La Bun Bun

Built this new rabbit hutch for the girl’s rabbits.

Left side double doors and elevated mezzanine, black “Poop Deck”, right upper is Bedrooms, bins below slide in like drawers for food and bedding.


Removable shutter for inclement weather


elevated mezzanine


Upper and lower bedroom entrances