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 (more on that in the next post). The DNR owns a ton of land near us 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. 🙂

The Wild West

This morning when I opened our front door, my eyes were greeted by a skunk rummaging through the bag of garbage we forgot to take to the enclosure rather than three inches of new snow but nevertheless, it’s a sure  sign we ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Our family moved from the “burbs” to the outlying areas of Stevens County Washington almost two years ago now. We didn’t plan it perfectly, maybe not even fully responsibly, but here we are still although I sometimes wonder if we did chew off more than we could handle.

The differences are cultural on top of pragmatic between the burbs and the country. Here there’s a palpable attitude of “buck up” although I often wonder if that’s really necessary. My preferred “trail mix” is not overly-done PC with some buck up added for good measure.

We aren’t super liberals nor super conservative. You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing Birkenstocks, wool socks and a denim skirt nor will you ever catch me posing with my latest kill. Each to their own with no judgement. We are in the middle on most things and for us, a moderate approach to life works.  We love this area and the people though, and are grateful for the breath of fresh air that is eastern Washington.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of listening to another of our neighbors taking target practice on the upper property. After a few hours of it, I decided to look up the laws of the state and county as it was close and a bit unnerving. It didn’t help that the title of the county’s official welcome pamphlet was The Wild West and had the same “get used to it” tone. Is it possible to live in the sticks without this?

State law clearly precludes any shooting within five hundred feet of a house or any structure and an earthen berm is required to absorb the impact of the projectiles. The neighbor was shooting from about three hundred and fifty feet with no berm.

Sigh. I decided if they make any habit of it, I’m on it. I’m not letting someone with little respect for other’s safety put me or my family at risk. Don’t get me wrong.  My husband loves firearms and I don’t really have an opinion except are you gonna shoot me on accident? They are shooting from the hillside where some dumbass almost shot one of us when we first moved in.

In the meantime, we are looking for property in the same area but with a much bigger buffer between ourselves and other humankind.

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

The petticoat of snow has quickly abated and revealed an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! Snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone…:)!

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, re-grading the road, spring cleaning the property, yay!

All in all, a sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries, frozen this and that. A lot of energy goes into keeping things thawed and now Mother Nature is taking the helm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone. And that’s before the proposed upgrades.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a road that we may need to hire someone to come in and fix but aside from that, the rest seems doable.

Today we are thankful after an especially trying month previous to this. Putting the sloggers on….

Happy Spring!

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You’ll never know to whom I’m referring but I need someone to talk to right now, if not someone sitting across from me.

I’m upset and depressed.

I’ve mentioned before, that we have some interesting neighbors but do any of you live next to The Neighbors From Hell? When confronted with conflict with them have you asked yourself repeatedly, “have I somehow caused this or attracted this conflict into my life”?

I have been, but I also feel it is clear that we didn’t “start” this nor have we continued this.

Here’s the story.

About a month after purchasing and moving onto our land, our “nice” neighbors moved into town as they were elderly. They had a house and some acreage just over the hill above the lower part of the parcel that our shared driveway easement passes through. The lower property is not theirs, nor is the easement for their use.

The new neighbors then moved in and almost shot us right away when they shot over our property with a gun, ricocheting off of one of our trees. I hit the deck and yelled at them that there were people there.

Then they let their dogs lose and accused us of killing one. Of course we didn’t but we put up with them pooping on our property and chasing our cats without escalating as well as we could.

Last year, they decided to trespass across that section of land with their snowmobiles, riding up and down the hillsides and across the easement and tearing up the road. We complained second hand to the realtor who had just sold them the property rather than confront them face to face.

Whether or not that was the right thing to do; that’s what we did. They were given a warning not to trespass again, and, aside from hearing their twenty or so dogs barking twenty four seven, we’ve gone out of our way to have nothing to do with them. Until now.

We suspect a friend of theirs bought the upper parcel to the property that was divided into three and, to our best guess, their friend has invited them to use that lot upon which to ride their snowmobiles.

Here’s the problem. For the last two evenings, the non-owners of that property; our “interesting” neighbors, have brought it upon themselves to ride their snowmobiles from their house, through the upper property, and down through the shared easement (that we have plowed at our own expense all winter), and are circling back up to their property. Like a race track; through our property.

I think anyone in our shoes would be incensed so I left a second note in their (open) mailbox this afternoon telling them to stop.

Not fifteen minutes later after we’d returned home, we heard her yelling at the top of her lungs to stop messing with her mailbox. It was all I could do not to yell back to “stay off our f***ing property.

I know we are in the right and we are already planning on using law enforcement as the go-between from here on out now that we’ve notified them for a second time. My issue is that I feel like crap emotionally and we’re scared of them because we know they have guns.

I simply need someone to talk to. Would you feel the same had this happened to you? Their dogs have repeatedly gotten lose also and their pit bull charged me and my son on several occasions. We lost the phone videos we shot, unfortunately.

Have any of you been in this situation? Did it help to know you weren’t alone; just in need some moral support? We have a plan of action thought out and the evidence captured. It’s just the emotional stuff. I don’t like this personal second-guessing.

Thank you for listening.

December In March

 

I wake up at three in the morning, open the door to the RV and what am I greeted by? Spring crocuses? Nope. The sound of songbirds (although not likely at this hour)? Nope.

Try a foot of new snow on the doorstep. It’s March for Godsake.

Did spring lose it’s way and pass our driveway by? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. County too. As a matter of fact, BIG sections of the country are experiencing an identity crisis of seasons.

I don’t know if it’s global warming or the natural long-term patterns of a planet but the thermometer reads zero degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

I’m tired of this. I’m whining at full volume and full speed ahead. No apologies here. You can tough it out all you want. I’m done.

Just when we thought we had this tiger by the tail, it’s whipped us. We managed to stay above twenty degrees for most of the winter until March. And more snow is forecast for Monday through Wednesday coming up.

The cats and I went to scrounge for some catnip in the Winter garden this morning but it’s just that……buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. I knew I was getting close when the felines suddenly began to dig alongside me.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and half trudged, half excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. I quickly dismissed a half-second thought of clearing the whole garden patch. Didn’t take too much effort.

The wilted mass that is catnip.

Water’s been mission impossible for the last week in the below normal temps. We’d drag the hoses inside, filling up our RV with loop after loop of frozen rubber while the ice inside melted, then drag the thousand feet of inevitably tangled anaconda-like mess outside only to have them freeze up again by the time we had them strung out and ready to siphon.

Although we’ve done our best to keep the pump and heated hose clear, the zero temps are still having their way with us.  No water until they thaw with the help of a small heater fan every morning.  The cold and snow have also been having their way with our driveway. Already got stuck and shook hands with a small tree last week due to worn tires.

Off to Walmart to have new tires put on so we can get back up our driveway.

At least they have coffee.

The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

Silent and still, the garden sleeps.
Crooked fence posts stand sentry, starkly contrasted against the brilliant landscape.
A single glass totem sits, tilted and topped with snow. Temporarily forgotten.
Barbed wire sags lazily, resting in wait of it’s required vigilance.
Remnants of ragged twine dangle loosely, motionless.
Brittle and greyed corn husks defy the authority of the commanding white mantel, escaping it’s grip by inches, in denial of their demise, unaware of the life they shield at their feet.
Folding topography of ripples and mounds an intimation of the graves of last year’s remains.
Tatters of tomato vines and pea plants leech nutrients into the soil, preparing a bed for their progeny.
Seeds slumber under the shimmering arm of winter, sheltered from harm.
Life quietly awaits instruction from the Almighty God to resume.

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

Snow……………two to three feet of it as far as the eye can see blankets the region we now live in and it has become like the annoying guest who has overstayed their visit. We used to pray for it but it’s different now that we’ve moved.

I have come to the new conclusion that snow is an entity and it doesn’t want you mobile. Period. It’s heavy and slippery and it’s somewhat evil. That’s my theory. Nothing’s easy in the snow and there is a lot of it here as opposed to where we used to live. Our attitudes have changed.

In all fairness we asked for this. We chose to move here partly because we disliked the constant grey and drizzle of the Puget Sound region surrounding Seattle. Throughout our childhoods, both my husband and I would pray for just an inch or two; please God, so school would be cancelled and everyone and their Aunt could go sledding and make snowmen.

Now we just want it to go away.

Snow was a major event back where we lived. Highways would turn into skating rinks, school would be cancelled,  and twenty four hour news coverage would begin with reporters positioned around the region for up-to-the-minute coverage of the event. An old standby was the intersections at the base of Queen Anne hill in Seattle, where, inevitably, action was sure to be caught on camera as car after car would lose control on the incline.

Cul-de-sacs would become central meeting places or snowball-fight war zones, depending. Snow was a happening; an event. It was cause for socializing. It brought people out of their houses to come together – back in western Washington.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with, not celebrate. Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road which our almost half mile driveway is. Too many times we’ve had to mine our way through the last precipitous  section of road after having gotten stuck within one-hundred feet of our front door. Groceries be damned.

For several months a year, the very idea of wading from the house to the car becomes an adventure in itself. Once, my husband slipped on the ice and spun into an out-of-control sort of falling dance that lasted for a good fifteen seconds. As he flailed around wildly, I thought he was joking until he desperately pawed at me before he finally hit the ground.

Slogging back and forth to chop and carry wood to the house is plain tiring.

The snow gets so deep here even the wildlife shares the trails once they’re blazed.

Don’t leave that ax on the ground or you might not find it till Spring. Last year I lost a coffee pot lid and never found it. Our hatchet disappeared beneath the ice and we couldn’t find it for a good month. Bets were placed on it’s whereabouts among other items that had come up missing.

The other day we had to exhume two hundred feet of category five Ethernet cable from beneath it. The top foot or so was light and fluffy but the lower layer was solid ice. We had to carefully chip away at the ice with a pick ax for a good half hour in order to free it. God knows where the garden hoses are.

Here in eastern Washington snow is regarded as inevitable; something to be dealt with. Celebrations are considered best to be had indoors in crowded kitchens or within the proximity of a baking fireplace. The weather is met with a sense of resolve and a big sigh in knowing you’re going to have to have your driveway plowed again when you had it done two days before and the roofs are going to have to be cleared for the fifth time in a month.

Here, winter means it’s time to put snow tires on and make sure you have a chord or two of wood for the fireplace. People adapt; socially and logistically to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

I want Spring.

 

Tinkham Campground

We spent about four months on the road living in our 20′ Jayco Lite travel trailer after we sold our house in Snoqualmie Washington. We lived on the road for about four months, mostly in the Snoqualmie National Forest, while we looked for property. It was a memorable summer.

We spent the first month or so up the Middle Fork Road just outside North Bend but you’re supposed to only camp for two consecutive weeks at any time in the national forest so we were under pressure to keep moving. Still, the Sheriff did their jobs pretty well and it was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them. We were forest bandits.

We had to spend a week at the Summit At Snoqualmie Motel for awhile just to get out of the national forest for the prescribed time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower easily and be more comfortable.

We spent a couple of weeks at the Denny Creek campground near Snoqualmie Pass but it was under the control of Darth Dunder. He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously; and he was simply an asshole. I wrote about him in a previous post.

After spending a couple more weeks in another open camping area, we moved into Tinkham Campground for almost the last month on the road.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air in that the hosts were super friendly and didn’t administer the camp like a internment facility. It was located about halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still “living” and working near our old home, we could still commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. A quick drive up the forest service road to the freeway entrance and we could blast down I-90 in about twenty minutes. It was a beautiful commute.

We found an open spot on the river side of the campground with our own semi private trail to the river. I can’t remember if it was the north fork of the Snoqualmie or another river. Denny Creek fed into it just a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

We were at the river often to get water, prospect, or just to play around and throw rocks. The beach was extremely rocky and I noticed that someone had begun to build a trail of sorts from the tree line to the river’s edge. I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks continuing with construction of the trail. I treated it like a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, put down the rock and fill in between them with sand. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It became somewhat symbolic to me. It was a contribution of sorts to those that would follow; an easier way to the water other than the ankle twisting journey one would normally have to take. It was an invitation of sorts to come and enjoy. It was a testament to the small dedication of one person to create something ordered out of chaotic jumble of stones lining the river. I hoped it would be enjoyed for months, maybe years ahead. I hoped other people would help to maintain it. I would like to go back and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were there. When the event happened, the shadows deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach, me with my camera, my husband with three pairs of sunglasses, to view what we could of the show.

I wanted to capture the eclipse on camera but although I could see the shadow of the moon creeping across the face of the sun, I couldn’t capture it on film. We all ended up taking turns putting on the multiple pairs of sunglasses to see what we could. It turned out to be anti climactic but was memorable all the same.

We went prospecting up at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. With the weeks I spent prospecting there, I realized just how difficult gold really is to find. Being so heavy, it sinks down to the bottom of the gravel and sand and you have to be experienced and have the right equipment in order to recover anything. Lessons learned though. Sometimes it’s learning how not to do something that teaches you how to do something. The process of elimination.

We were able to pull off more than the usually prescribed two weeks stay because the season was coming to a close for the winter and the hosts, being an older couple, were quite open to the idea of having us clean up the firepits. We worked over the course of about three days to finish all fifty or so campsites.

We found the property we were looking for and the negotiations finally went through in the last couple of weeks of September 2017. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go. Somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and say thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now behind us, most likely for the remainder of our lives but a new adventure awaited us ahead.

 

Tidbit

All I see are the points of two ears angled sharply backward; below them are two intense eyes barely visible above the snow line. Retinas contracted into black slits in the brilliant sunlight, they bore a hole right through me; it’s target. I stare back.

I didn’t see it until I was almost on top of it. Most of it’s body was hidden in the snow, the predator having found a depression within which to lay in wait. Too late, I see the butt wiggle in preparation for the attack then…..it launches at me.

Tidbit, our cat, connects with a brilliant catfoo double-time cuffing at my legs before ricocheting off at a ninety degree angle, ears still laid back. Recovering, he swaggers away, satisfied he has made the kill. Time to go summon the pride for the feast.

I just stand there giggling. wishing I’d gotten it on my phone. I continue on my way and cat falls in behind, para-scope up (what my husband and I call the tail when straight up in cat greeting).

Half of Tidbit, the white half of his black and white coat, blends into the snow leaving only the black features of his little body visible against the winter backdrop. He skulks up the hill, sprinkling a path of miniature paw prints behind him. This is routine for him. He follows us around the property, targeting bits of snowballs and taking advantage of the deepest footprints we leave behind for cover.

Our entire property is crisscrossed with cat trails. Their little paw prints reveal their wanderings in search of birds, sounds, snowballs, sticks, mice, or whatever else draws their attention. Tidbit and Asshole, our other cat, go in and out of our house hundreds of times a day, it seems. We wonder how they occupy their time when they’re by themselves. What is entertaining to a cat? Hunting is the obvious answer although we rarely see them actually catch anything other than a careless grasshopper or the unluckiest rodent of the day.

A cat can’t just walk with a human. They have to turn it into an epic display of their prowess and it takes a lot of energy to make it look like you’re not “with” the human; that you just happened along.  This particular cat will run at a gallop aiming directly for the space between your legs. Faced with either stepping on the cat or falling, you are forced to choose.  I can’t tell you how many times he has noodled me and I never see it coming.

Tidbit acquired us a few months ago when he showed up at a friend’s house hungry. Apparently, he waltzed right past their four Corgies on “guard duty”,  and found the cat dish inside the house. He was still munching when I got there.

A search for his owner didn’t yield any immediate results so when I was ready to leave, we took him with us to keep unless someone surfaced. My friends were full up on cats horses and dogs and we had an opening anyway.

He made himself welcome immediately and we had him fixed a couple of weeks later. Asshole was annoyed at first but soon warmed up to the idea that he had an extra toy to play with.

Tidbit craves attention and we wonder if he was taken away from his mother too early. Our answer to this is “regression” therapy. It’s good for all of us. He loves to be wrapped up tightly where he goes into infant mode. So do we.

Tidbit is boneless. He goes limp when stroked. He is more like a dog than a cat. He falls over and roles onto his back and let’s us rough his tummy up. He has no dignity. He doesn’t care

Tidbit is also the devil in a fur coat. He rattles around the house all night. He gets into Asshole’s face constantly, and steals our seats as soon as we get up.  His cuteness factor offsets the annoying stuff though.

It’s been about three months since he came home with us and his owner never came forward. This cat is the most unique cat either my husband or I have ever met and he fits right in with the eccentric theme of our family.

Gotta go…he’s on top of the RV again.