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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.

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.

 

 

Meditation and Mushrooms

In my quest to better myself and my life, I’ve decided to take up meditation and in my husband’s quest for mushrooms, he stumbled upon a whopper. A Giant Western Puffball mushroom eight inches in diameter and weighing nine pounds. It looks eerily like a human skull.

I’ve known about puffballs for years and have collected and cooked them but I had no idea we had these enormous masses growing in the Pacific Northwest. They are edible and taste and feel much like tofu from what I’ve read.

We put it on Craigslist.

As for meditation, all I have to do is learn how to do it while the neighbor takes target practice a few hundred feet from me. 🙂

I’m keenly interested in rewiring my brain and like the growing base of knowledge of the science behind it. I like things I can wrap my mind around factually although I very much believe in the metaphysical and spiritual side of life. I always saw meditation as a sort of “hippy” thing to do. Sure, I’d like to be more peaceful throughout the day but when it comes to self improvement, I always look for the biggest bang for the buck. I like results – now.

Meditating never seemed like that bang until yesterday when I read an article about how it temporarily disengages your mind with the subconsciousness and all the preprogramming that comes with it. It gives your brain and mind a chance to breath, feel, and be without all of the garbage that self sabotages our daily lives.

Apparently, that time span while you’re disconnected allows for the old wiring to be circumvented; or so that’s what my takeaway is. Habits of thinking and emotion can be rerouted or perhaps eliminated synapse by synapse to be replaced with more positive attitudes and thinking patterns.

I’ve long compared our brains and their functions to computers with the running background programs representing our subconscious. I see the RAM as our cognitive awareness or “I” which we don’t use a lot of.

When the brain is in a state of meditation, my impression is that we are able to access more of our connection (Internet?) with the collective conscious. So off I go to “update” myself and commune with the Giant Puffballs. I’m going for five minutes this time while the neighbor reloads.

Bear

Doesn’t take much of an explanation. A bear showed up last week and made the circuit between us and our neighbors a few days ago. The neighbors called Fish and Wildlife to make a report. On our end, we’re making sure everything that could attract a bear is locked up tight.

We’ve been watching the cameras and being really careful. I haven’t seen it in any videos for the past couple of days. We’re hoping it’ll move on. It was pretty big.

A “Nostalgic” Look At The Property

I have a really nice camera that has a sepia filter. I thought that setting might fit into the nature of the history of our property as it was last occupied 75 years before we bought it. There is a “farmer’s dump” here and we’ve found so many neat and wonderful things there!

With that said, here’s a look at the property in sepia.

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Mushroom Farm

Morels. 40.00+, a pound. And they’re apparently hard to cultivate but we got lucky. You see, they already like it here. They grow on our property. Just not enough to sell but enough to make mushroom “slurry” out of.

We’ve been tossing around the idea of farming mushrooms since we moved onto our 3.7 acres of land in eastern Washington almost two years ago. For quite a while, we were thinking oyster or medicinal mushrooms but our tight budget, the need for snow-load rated greenhouses, and a lack of knowledge have kept us from moving forward.

Then I had a great idea the other day. The mighty morel!

The morel I’m no expert on but my husband and I have been harvesting them for a couple of years and know they bring a pretty penny per pound, dried or fresh. The biggest problem is that they only grow once a year – in the spring – and for a very limited time. You have to know where to go to get them and how to move them and we have yet to find any real sweet spots.

We’ve been up and down many forest service and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) roads and looked but not a one have we seen – until we get back home. Turns out we are fortunate to have land that is naturally host to morels.

In our area of the Pacific Northwest, they grow around Ponderosa pines in slightly grassy to semi-spongy areas and along roadsides. That’s a generalization but it’s what we’ve found to be so far. My understanding is that the mycelium or main mass of the things live in connection with certain tree roots underground. The mushrooms themselves are the fruiting bodies of the mycelium. That’s the extent of my education on mushrooms so far.

They are far and few between though so we’ve dried out those we’ve found so far and have started the spore slurry. I’m not 100% on the efficacy of the slurry but the basic idea is you soak the mushrooms in water that has had salt and molasses added in order to germinate the spores. The molasses feeds them and the salt keeps the bacteria away.

After soaking them for 24 to 48 hours, apply the liquid or slurry to the areas around host trees where, theoretically, they’ll search for roots to become roommates with.

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 I was stirring the slurry with a wooden paddle when the thought came to me that if they like wood, why not add pieces of wood directly to the slurry then bury them under trees when ready? The thought is that the spores will find and start a home before they are planted. This will be an experiment that won’t show results for a couple to a few years when the mushrooms grow, if they take.

If this works, in a few years we’ll have mushrooms aplenty and might be able to begin to harvest an amount large enough to put a dent in our pocketbooks. It’s one of many adventures we’re embarking upon.

Never put all your morels in one basket.

 

 

Restoration

When we “moved in”, we were intent on securing the necessities of every day life such as water. I was also motivated by sheer curiosity about wells and well digging. During the summer we were on the road before we found some land, I went online to find out more about the subject, knowing it would be something we’d have to think about if we bought raw land.

After we pulled up the driveway and secured the trailer, we were exhausted. My husband pooped out but I was so excited, I traversed every corner of our property before I succumbed to slumber.

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I was driven to find prospective spots for water and my curiosity paid off. I found a trench that ran down a hillside with matted vegetation that suggested it was, in part, a runoff zone. I also found some green grass at the end of a long summer. That meant the possibility of water.  I later came to realize our whole hillside and the meadow above was an intricate and plentiful source of springs and fresh water most likely due to the fault lines crossing the landscape.

I started to dig by our second day, as I remember. I was obsessed with finding the secrets hidden under the ground, being them gold or water. I had a few tools I’d collected over the summer for the task and I set to work digging through the very rocky, sometimes solid rock and soil.

I found water about one and a half feet down. 🙂  My dream had come true.

Zooming forward, we subsequently dug about a twelve by five by five foot hole and use it for our water supply year round. In the process of a year’s long dig however, we threw a lot of rocks and mud around. By the end of the first year, the upper part of the property looked like a bomb had gone off.

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 The shear volume of rock and mud in the form of small to super large slabs of quartzite littered the ground from the top to the bottom of the area where our main spring lay. I came to want to restore the natural beauty that was there when we arrived. I decided to start a restoration.

 Surprisingly, it went faster than I anticipated. I began to throw and rake rocks into piles; to conglomerate the debris. By hand naturally proved to be the most efficacious method due to the nature of which it was deposited in the first place and we don’t have any mechanized equipment. 20190518_121902

 I started last fall and got about a third into the estimated work. I cleaned up the main and lower spring areas where the hillside was slathered in bits and pieces of debris. This spring, I started on the second upper spring area. There’s so much rock I can only gather it up into piles until we can get a tractor of some sort up the hill.

I’m having to painstakingly dig out from between plants because wherever there is rock, there is no growth. The area looks so much better already although temporarily worse in spots because of the exposed soil. Next year, I’m expecting the place to look really beautiful; resplendent with the moss and greenery that come with natural springs.

 

 

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Does Sasquatch Exist?

My husband and I went on our first outing since the snow melt a few weeks ago. We drove up a nearby road just into DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land. We didn’t get far as the snow still had a hold on the road just past the boundary gate.

We decided to walk up the snow covered road then pick our way back to our car over the fallen logs and debris winter had deposited next to the creek paralleling the road. It hadn’t snowed for at least a week and we ran into tracks along the creek that were fairly large along with the usual occasional and obviously human tracks.

The prints were in the snow and had been subject to the spring melt. They had been distorted by the melt or could have been an animal’s prints that combined it’s hind and forefeet to create the illusion of one track but they were unusual enough for me to take some photos.

It was impossible to see the tracks in the snow so I ran the pictures through some filters on my computer and below is what came out. Opinions?

Marshmellows and Coffee

Five a.m. and I’m on my third marshmallow with the coffee brewing. Off to a good start.  Not the best food choice but I seem to be doing well enough for my age. Years of exercise.

We decided to roast marshmellows for Easter this year. Twenty minutes family time is what we managed to squeeze out of the teenager. Incineration was the preferred cooking method. Who doesn’t like a carbonized shell with a gooey dirt magnet underneath?  I couldn’t whittle my stick thin enough so every time I tried to force a mellow onto it, about ninety percent of it would be displaced, leaving nothing but shreds.  Surprisingly, our son suggested we roast again the next day.

Dusting off the lawn chair.

Speaking of food choices, my husband will eat anything.  He finds tortillas especially useful and would put a trout on one only he doesn’t like fish.  Yesterday, I saw him crammed into the pantry from the waist up, looking for a snack. Later I caught him ladling the last night’s hamburger gravy into a sourdough bun he’d hollowed out. Not so bad except he was eating it cold. I’m grateful he recently discovered cooking with Chef Ramsey.

We always have sweets around but so too do we have fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s tick season so we keep the garlic out on a cutting board. Every day we slice it up and eat it on bits of cheese or tomato to help it go down. Garlic can make you nauseous if taken alone. My husband and I smell but that’s the point. Thankfully, we cancel each other out.

We could eat healthier and exercise more but our coffee and marshmellows aren’t going anywhere.

 

Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we had recently seen an episode of Mythbusters wherein the guys purposely removed all of the fail-safe measures on some water heaters and cranked the heat up. The tanks shot hundreds of feet into the air after smashing through mock ceilings without effort, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

Itching To Get Out

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid soil. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees.

Morel season is quickly approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day. The DNR owns a ton of land that they manage for recreation and various other commercial and governmental type uses.

This area is well laid out with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants. We’ve been promised to be taken out to pick but have been warned that the bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray as we always do The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville station of the Colville National Forest for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”. The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower. I was instructed to spray our bear spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally to create a sort of wall in front of us before the animal gets close if we are unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a predater. Good advice. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest. The staff warned of hidden holes and falling trees as dangers so I think we’ll stick to safer places. There’s plenty out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza which is free but you can download road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest in addition to being able to navigate off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig, and crawfish waiting for my pot although I have yet to learn the spots they like here locally. We knew the other side of the mountains fairly well (except the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets; more like begging.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking promising looking rocks and I dug a hole right into what, to the best of my knowledge, is a geological fault. Our own private one. How’s that for a selling point? Our property has the perfect geology for possible gold and comes with natural springs . Couldn’t get any better for a geology/nature fanatic! Take a look at the map I found showing the fault. The photo is crummy but you get the point.

The back of our SUV is crammed with gold panning/prospecting stuff just in case; classifiers, my pan, my sluice, a shovel, the Fish and Gold Pamphlet required by the state to have in our possession so there are no excuses should we be caught out in the field breaking the law. 🙂