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Out of the Pot and Into the Frying Pan

How we got here.

My counselor told me to write a book so I’m writing a blog instead. I meant to start it a year ago but being at the bottom of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs delayed things a bit.

The following stories chronicle our family’s journey from suburbia to the edge of the frontier where we settled on raw land. We are a married couple with a fifteen year old son and two cats and we were growing tired of the increasingly frenetic atmosphere of the Puget Sound region.

The decision was made to head east in search of wide open spaces more compatible with our nature. We sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a twenty foot travel trailer and hit the road.

We camped in the national forest and began to cruise the online real estate websites for land. The RV had canvas pullouts and was supposed to be our home for only the summer but we ended up living in it for an entire year. It hit me one night that there would be nothing but cloth walls between us and the snow come winter. I was right to be nervous. More details in future posts.

We bought a few acres of raw land in eastern Washington near the Idaho and Canadian borders and set about making a new home for ourselves. Moving onto undeveloped land meant we had to do without things such as electricity and water from the city. We learned this is called living off-grid and it necessitates using stand alone systems.

For the first few months we hauled city water from a standpipe home in a barrel in the back of our truck. Then we discovered natural springs on our property. How lucky is that? For power we used a gas generator and installed solar power. It was tricky to set up and we learned from our experiences but I highly recommend it.

We initially used WiFi for Internet but it became us vs the Google data pig.  The neighbors let us use their WiFi until we got into a fight and they changed their password.  We could only connect from my husband’s spot in our bed and only if it wasn’t raining. It eventually took downing three gargantuan trees to get Internet service to the property.

 

 Emotional and social adjustments were inevitable with such a big move.  Like the new extremes in the weather in eastern Washington as opposed to those of the moderate rain belt we moved from, the emotional highs and lows have been more extreme.

Hotter summers and colder winters came with newfound happiness that gave way to days and weeks of depression. I hope the hardest times are behind us. I’m ready for the kiddie rides after the roller coaster that was our first year.

It was autumn when we moved in and we were very low on our budget. Still, it was new and fun and I repeatedly thought to myself “this might make for some good reading” and I made plans to start a blog.

Then winter came on fierce and with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. We experienced a reality smack-down like no other and any ideas I had of the self actualization of “artfully” documenting our adventures disappeared under the snow along with most of our worldly possessions.  I was too busy crying to write.

Zero degree temperatures forced us to make the decision to relocate my son and I to an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cat.

Three months later, we came back to the property  and picked up where we left off; still struggling financially and with very little to work with. Spring, then summer came with new challenges. We got a crash course on ticks and dealt with hordes of Yellow Jackets. The heat, and a continuing feeling of oppression made summer one of the longest I’ve ever experienced but we had things in the works.

We tilled rock-hard soil and planted a garden. We dug the spring and water delivery system. We used antiques we found buried on our land to construct things we needed such as the fence to our garden.  We did whatever we could to pass the time and keep our chins up.

Thank you to my husband for helping me to get through it all. When I was at my worst, he would hold my face in his hands, look at me and say “Good things Baby, good things”.

As fall arrived, our “eggs” began to hatch and we were finally able to make some huge changes to our living conditions and begin to build, literally and figuratively, the quality of our lives. We could stop trying to just survive and begin to live. 

It was time to take up that blog again…..

We’ve accomplished a lot since fall. We now have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, an upgraded RV (we decided to put off building until spring), and other necessities. We have a fireplace to  sit by, a wood pile, larger propane tanks and other means for which to stay comfortable and dry for the winter. So far, so good as of January 2019.

We have lot’s of plans going forward. We are excited and ready.

I’ve edited this first post several times and didn’t want to give up my original bullet list outline so though it may be a little redundant, here it is:

  • We are a husband and wife with a teenager who sold their house in western Washington and moved to eastern Washington.
  • We have two cats and want a dog but not before we put up a fence.
  • We are not perfect. Far from it.
  • We don’t care that we are not perfect and we are known to swear but we are nice people (although one neighbor said we are evil).
  • We sold our house in May 2017
  • We lived in a trailer all summer while we looked for property
  • We found property we liked. It “spoke to” my husband 🙂
  • We moved onto the property and continued to live in the trailer
  • We had a major reality check as fall progressed
  • We weren’t very well prepared financially and some things happened that made it worse but things are better now 🙂
  • We made the best of things but winter sucked
  • Summer then sucked
  • Fall is here and we’re doing WAY better but some things still suck but most things DON’T suck anymore

I love humor and aspire to write in the style of Jean Sheppard of A Christmas Story fame. I try to write poetry and you’ll find some in these pages although of a somewhat unconventional nature.

Now that I’ve acquainted you with our story, I hope you’ll enjoy those that follow.

 

 

Two Years Ago Today

We left King County Washington; Destined for our new home on the range.

Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down  A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were driving a 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette pulling a 2001 Jayco Light travel trailer with a very unhappy cat stowed inside. We were on the home stretch of Hwy 395 headed for Colville Washington.

That was two years ago today.

The space between that day and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up; plenty of material for a blog. Survival trumped all else for the first year while we carved a place for ourselves amongst the Ponderosa Pines on the iron rich bedrock.  Survival is still the main theme of daily life out here.

To be cliche, I have cried and I have laughed in almost equal measure during the past two years and things will continue to be tough until we finally build a real house. Water is coming from a spring we dug and we get our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower non longer involve moving mountains.

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 We gained a new cat and relocated another feral one. We’ve learned a lot about setting up systems for every day needs and making them work. We put up a huge portable shed and half built another that’s coming down eventually. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home as soon as a deal we have in the works comes through.

I’m not looking forward to another winter of zero degree temps as the fall equinox approaches although we’ve kind of learned how to drive in the snow and have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wild life for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half eaten tomatoes and squash. I’m  growing a gigantic pumpkin that I’m proud of and we introduced morel mushroom spores to the side of our property where they were absent. We even discovered small amounts of fine gold after looking for two years.

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 Looking forward, we’re  a lot wiser now but have an understanding that humility is a necessary state of mind out here. Never take anything for granted and never get over confident.

Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even starting to get along with the neighbors. That’s true progress.

 

Yard Carp, Gobblers, Cats, skunks……

“Tell Dale to make sure the door is shut because wild animals are getting into the house”.

This was my response when our son left the trailer door open on accident the last two nights and as near as we can figure, one feral cat and one skunk who like cat food paid us a visit. We got rid of the cat door for a reason.

Learning to live with the “locals” has consisted mainly of putting up fences and keeping doors shut because we don’t necessarily want them in for dinner (unless it’s a gobbler).

My husband loves the “hordes” of turkeys that cross the property daily. The adults have a crop of youngsters that make peeping sounds and are currently cute. I wonder at what point does a turkey stop peeping and start gobbling? Is the transition from cute to ridiculous slow or overnight?

 


Deer are called yard carp around here and they have finally made it into our garden. The fence is almost seven feet tall but apparently not high enough. They still prefer tomatoes and squash leaves. I put a motion sensor light near the garden after considering making the fence even higher. I was on my way with supplies in hand when I got distracted by one thing or another. That was enough to derail the project until next year.

In addition to our other friends, a very large muscular cat or bobcat decided our place would make some great new territory so we trapped and relocated it farther out into the hills last week. Hope it doesn’t find it’s way back Homeward Bound style.

We spend all of this time and energy keeping the animals at bay then go and bring more home. That would be our cats.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Gold was there all along but how to collect it?

I’ve been playing in the mud and dirt for three weeks. I’ve sifted, classified, melted, roasted, shaken, stirred, and thrown buckets of it in frustration because I found gold. It’s everywhere but you can’t see it. It is in the form of micro or flour gold. Tiny particles were infused into the rocks during their formation rather than in visible quantities in quartz veins.

For collecting and refining purposes, this a huge problem. Separating the small particles from the rest of the riffraff is near impossible unless a prospector has the equipment. The extras include iron, silica, clay, organic material, maybe silver and copper also.

To make things even more difficult, gold is hydrophobic; it doesn’t like water and tends to repel it when it’s small in form. The kind of gold dust we have here likes to float right over the edge of a gold pan so you have to add dish soap or Jet Dry to make it sink to the bottom of the pan. This leaves me two choices: sink it or take advantage of it’s hydrophobia to separate it from the other materials.

Commercially, a process called flotation is used to float the gold to the surface of the water but for me, my food processor and some dish soap suffice. I’m the woman of the house so when I ruin my own dishes and appliances, I don’t have to explain. I took the cast iron skillet, a metal mixing bowl, our only really big spoon, and the use of the electric mixer for my purposes. Most of these items will never see service in the kitchen again.

Outside in my “shop” it’s mayhem. Piles of dirt, tools, kitchen utensils, a homemade sluice, a store bought sluice, a blow torch, cut up coffee cans and all other manner of weapons lay strewn about in a generally circular area. I tend not to put stuff away in my feverish quest for the golden metal so there is an area that looks like junk fallout.

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 Despite all of the backyard refining I have yet to build a furnace capable of melting a crucible full of Borax and concentrates. I have yet to effectively separate the materials in an efficient manner. I have yet to determine how much gold we actually have per pound or ton nor am I sure if it will be worth the effort to refine it.

Maybe my slow cooker will work?

 

Holes

Give me a shovel and I’m happy.

I grew up in Utah in a middle size town named Roy. My Dad passed away months before I was born but I’m told our house was brand new when my parents bought it. No landscaping was in place when they moved in. Most people laid or planted grass and a farmer who still owned many acres worked his land behind us well after he was surrounded by “civilization”.

Our yard, however, was different for two reasons: First, we had a commercial size playground set that attracted every kid for miles and secondly, because my father had the foresight to leave the back quarter in it’s natural state. The rear fence was lined by four huge trees for climbing and the rest was dirt.

Mud is the perfect toy. It’s great for the immune system, and is superior to the most expensive of Lego sets.  You can mold it, make highways for your matchbook cars, or create mud pies. The possibilities are endless for a kid with a bucket, a shovel and a four year old imagination. Essentially, I grew up in the dirt.

Fast forward to adulthood and the continuing fascination with digging. While we were on the road looking for property to buy a couple of years ago, I dug a few test holes out in the woods looking for water. I knew we were going to be roughing it and I wanted practice. I youtubed instructions on how to dig a water well with nothing but PVC pipe and was successful at one point. My husband promised me that when we got our own property, I could dig any time of day and for as long as I wanted. I couldn’t wait.

Now that our realm is measured in acres rather than feet and there is no HOA from hell to tell me what I can and can’t do, I dig to my heart’s content. I need only the slightest excuse to grab a shovel and open the ground whether it be in search of water, gold, artifacts or to plumb the depths of a fault (a couple of months ago, I got about three feet down before I realized I wasn’t going to run into lava).

When we first got to our new property, I went looking for a likely place for water. To my delight, I found it a little over a foot down and we have have used the springs along a hillside for our water supply without digging a deep well.

I subsequently dug several other test wells and named them alpha hole, beta hole, etc. Most I’ve since filled in lest someone happen along in the middle of the night without a flashlight and break a leg.

Recently, with the drought and all, I began eyeballing a spot I suspected may have been a well for the original occupants of the property seventy years before our arrival. The rocks seemed to be piled into a depression that gave me the impression of a filled-in well.

Although I’d previously dug down about five feet, the idea of digging deeper was daunting because of the terrain and brush surrounding it. With our current water supply dwindling however, I surveyed the area again and finally made the decision to excavate.

Me and my husband spent about a week clearing vegetation and moving the already existing piles of rock farther away from the hole. We spent day after day digging by hand, pick and shovel farther down into the earth until I heard my husband exclaim excitedly “look at this!”. I looked down to where he pointed and saw water actually squirting up and out of a crack in the rock.

We already had water in the bottom of the hole but this was what we were looking for. A strong new water supply. To our best estimates, our new well is producing about a hundred fifty to two hundred gallons a day. Plenty for ourselves and our garden.

We set the pump and laid the hose and power cord over a tree we placed across the opening, cleaned up the bottom and sides and we’re back in business! I felt a great sense of relief and was doubly glad I’d decided to go through with the back breaking project.

My latest excavations are test holes for gold. I currently have about five or six of those going. But I really don’t need an excuse to dig any more.

Reading The Slingshot Balls

Decoding the universe through marbles.

I wrote a blog titled “I’ve Lost My Marbles” last year. It was about how searching for my lost slingshot balls put me into an almost altered state of mind. Today I once again found myself contemplating the universe while looking for the projectiles.

I took up ball slinging a year and a half ago whilst trying to shoot down a yellow jacket nest. I was bored. We didn’t have a lot of money and rocks were my ammunition. I kept it up, bought lots of balls, made a slingshot ball return device (which has now been decommissioned,) and kept practicing.

Although I’m on my way to becoming a crack shot (give it a year or two more) those balls still disappear quite efficiently in the long grass and pine needles surrounding my target. For some reason, the search for them; the wandering around with intent on my mind, puts me into a sort of contemplative state and I feel as if I see things differently.

Where each ball is, how it’s hidden, and how I find it is a clue as to how I believe the universe works. They’re all there but they aren’t. They’re gone when not observed. You can walk past one and miss it only to turn around and see it from a different point of view. It all depends on how you look at it.

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 Is the universe a single thing viewed from an infinite number of perspectives? Is everything connected in some way that is a giveaway of the underlying oneness? Has God created us to experience time and space through ourselves? Am I full of shit?

Symbolism makes perfect sense within the framework of recent scientific theory and has also been relied upon for thousands of years. I’m discovering that if a particular belief’s been around for a long time, it’s probably solid.

Think of Tarot cards for instance. A few years ago I would have laughed at the notion of cards being shuffled and their order revealing some sort of future outcome. Today, I’m not so sure. The same for reading tea leaves.

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 My daughter once said to me “if you want to know what’s going on in your subconscious, take a look around you”. That’s probably one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard given the theory you are what you think.

On occasion, when I go outside, I try to see what the world is saying to me through nature. It seems logical that the natural world is the most perfect manifestation of creation; untouched by human will or hand. Why not pay attention?

I believe the universe, God, or what have you, speaks to us; communicates to us through connections. Intuition has led to some of the most notable inventions and breakthroughs in history.

Looking for my slingshot balls helps me to exercise that part of my brain that I believe has access to that space between the smallest space and past the boundaries of the universe.

If only I could find a practical application for this. Like coming up with a better garden tool or maybe I could do slingshot ball readings.

 

Ant Invasion – A Poem

One, two, three…..thousands…

Crawling on my countertop
Sugar ants they just won’t stop
From the ground they formed a line
Up the stairs they climbed and climbed
In the door across the floor
Saw them, freaked, and slammed my door
Didn’t work they went beneath
Thousands marching past my feet
Mix the borax, sugar, water
Ant buffet go get the swatter
On the glasses plates and pans
Swarming on my noodles, cans
Every bit of food’s a target
Vacuum over under carpet
Vinegar is my new friend
Bring their ant trail to an end
In the bedroom gone too far
Me and them it’s time to spar
To the store for some more bait
Set it out and sit and wait
Bare no grudge against the mass
But it’s them who did trespass
They’re a part of nature’s order
But my doorjamb is their border

“Are You Sure That’s The Cat”?

One night when we were still living in our twenty foot travel trailer our cat jumped onto the top of our canvas canopy and collapsed it onto us as we lay in bed. As I was holding the animal up off of myself and screeching about the damned thing, my half asleep husband mumbled “are you sure that’s the cat”?

This story is similar.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard one of our two cats munching in our dining room and for some reason, I decided to get up. I stumbled out of bed, put my robe on and made my way out into the kitchen to see what was up or to get a snack or something.

We’d just installed a cat door so we wouldn’t have to let the felines in and out of the house fifty thousand times a day. It was great once we’d taught them the “ins and outs”. They could now come and go as they pleased at whatever time of day it was.

I sleepily shambled down the stairs and flipped on the light only to see a skunk in my RV. I can’t remember exactly what I shouted but the poor thing ran into a corner then out the “cat” door which was now officially a skunk door.

I sniffed and to my great relief, realized it hadn’t sprayed. I wondered if it was the same one I’d dumped out of a cage in the middle of the night a couple of months earlier.

What’s a good name for a skunk?

The Medicinal Mullein Plant

We have a plant in our garden that is approaching seven feet tall that has many medicinal properties; the Mullein plant. I don’t recall ever seeing one growing in the western parts of the state but this thing is prolific in our new parts.

It seems to like to grow in freshly disturbed, mostly dirt areas including the space we prepared for our garden. At first we pulled most that were stationed within the boundaries among our peas, squash and tomatoes until I learned of it’s uses.

I noticed a couple of the feathery leaved weeds happily sitting in the dirt as we cleared the area for the vegetables this year and I thought to myself, “why not let it grow”? And here it is, happy as ever as a benefit of the extra water and fertilizer it normally wouldn’t receive in the wild.

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 It’s so tall I cut off the top in the picture. It’s taller than my husband. There’s a shorter one next to it.

The one’s that have the long stalks are apparently second year plants and the stalk, once dead for the year, can be cut off and used to start fires by spinning it in your hands to create friction. My husband and I tried and ended up with no fire and a lot of blisters.

We can apparently use it to treat our wounds although I’d have to look up the recipe.  The leaves are soft and coated with fuzz and are supposed to be an excellent expectorant or butt wipe.

It has a million other applications of which I’m clueless but I made a tea out of the leaves the other day and it wasn’t half bad. I gathered a bunch of the flowers which are currently soaking in olive oil for use for something. Big help I am.

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 Just look up the Mullein plant and see for yourselves what you can do with one. If nothing else, it makes the garden look pretty impressive.

 

The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

I’ve been wanting to write more about the vehicle that was our home for over a year after we sold our house back west as it deserves honorable mention. We’ll never forget the time we spent safely tucked behind it’s half-inch walls. The trailer is a 20′ Jayco Lite with canvas pullouts on each end. It was designed as a camper trailer … the kind you take the family for a weekend campout in, not live in for a year. That was not our plan, I assure you.. it just happened as some things do.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, almost a wood stove (renovations had been started for the project), an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was. It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up tubed in for a year too long. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time doing whatever in our bunk at the rear or in the shed we half-built. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. Just too cramped.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy and it became an art form to pull a shower off in the approximately six minutes available if the water didn’t boil over first. The pipes froze solid during the winter and imagine doing dishes outside in zero degree weather at a makeshift table. It happened.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands what with the canvas walls of the pullouts. We were clearly unprepared. That seems to be the story of our lives.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through all the tarp we put over it too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There isn’t much between the outdoors and the humans either in a canvas pullout. One night the roof caved in on my face. I could feel paws on top of me as my husband half slept. When I screeched at the cat, he said “are you sure it’s the cat?” Helpful. One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard something that sounded big scrape up against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. My husband continued to take the outside position in the bed.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel for a temporary upgrade, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and still occupies it’s space.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

Geology 100 And Gold

Looking for gold in my backyard.

What do you call the course that comes before Geology 101? 100, of course. I am a minus expert in Geology but I’m finding it increasingly necessary to become acquainted with the science in my search for gold

Luckily, our property is a microcosm of the geology often associated with gold. We have a fault line, maybe geothermal activity, quartz intrusions, LOADS of iron, magnetite, garnet and other “heavies” associated with gold, bedrock for easy access, evidence of contact zones with geological maps verifying zones nearby, and the remnants of volcanic activity. We got it all. Every type of rock you can think of. Igneous, quartz, quartzite, gneiss, shale?, metamorphic rock, sedimentary and on and on. It’s all there, but is the gold?

Since I don’t currently have a good metal detector for gold, I’ve been dowsing with rods. I’m not totally convinced of the art’s validity but once I read about the earth’s magnetic fields and the fact that magnetite, which has magnetic properties and is heavily associated with gold, could possibly be influencing the metal rods, I’m half convinced. Besides, it’s fun to wander seemingly aimlessly around the property carrying two metal rods out in front of me. The neighbors love it.

Once I find a promising looking rock, I crush it with a very crude setup and pan it out. I haven’t yet found anything I could say is gold but I’ve been told it exists. 🙂