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. 🙂

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.

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.

I’m No Authority

What you WON’T find here.

If you’re looking for authoritative pieces on this and that you aren’t going to find it here. You see, I’m no authority on just about everything. What you’ll find on my blog is my personal experiences, thoughts on things, and some poetry with odd themes such as solar power set ups and Halloween.

I’m the first one to admit I’m not perfect. I have a really bad anger problem along with depression and anxiety.

We don’t have our shit together by any stretch of the imagination but when we made the big move from our suburban home to a wildly different setting, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about it. It was just too interesting.

We are, however, bumbling our way through this way of living. The bumbling part I hope, will make for some interesting reading.

We are self professed eccentrics; responsible people wannabes. We’re the folks who envy the people who seem to have their shit together. We are the ones who show up at the farmers market with a cute collection of things to sell only to discover the seller down the row has four times the inventory, professionally displayed with matching business cards (that really happened).

I’d like to think that we represent the archetypal underdog. That part of our collective consciousness that is in all of us that we hide from other’s view.

I hope that by being honest about ourselves and our mistakes, we can reassure others who suffer from less than perfect self esteem that it’s OK.

As a matter of fact, we like being a little off. Were intelligent and witty and we kind of revel in our offness. We are castaways on The Island Of Misfits. In a nut shell, we have low self esteem but we also think we’re pretty cool. Reconcile that.

As humans, I think we all struggle with the fact that we have aspects of ourselves we love and those we loath and they have to occupy the same space in our heads. Just stay on your own sides of the room.

So we’re not perfect, and we don’t have the picture perfect display. At the end of the day, you’ll find us using duct tape when we’re supposed to using electrical, and so on. Why? Because we either don’t want to do it the right way or we don’t know how.

The Amazing Miracle Pallet

Never seen on TV

Free wood!

If you live off the grid or just have a lot of projects requiring wood, pallets are perfect.

They are a great choice for many reasons:

  • They’re free
  • They’re already nailed together
  • There’re plenty of them
  • They have about a billion possible uses
  • You can find them EVERYWHERE

Where can you find them?

  • Behind grocery stores
  • In the alleys behind hardware stores
  • In the garbage/recyling areas of businesses
  • On Craigslist

What can you do with them?

  • Make furniture for your house: benches and tables
  • Craft projects: Signs, decorations, hangers for jewelry, etc.
  • Shop uses: shelves, tool holders, work tables
  • Dismantle them and burn them
  • Build a shed or even a house

We’ve utilized pallets extensively on our off the grid property. We didn’t have much money the first year we lived here so free was a good if not necessary choice for a building medium.

We built a garbage enclosure, benches, LOTS of shelving units, racks, and we burned a lot of them during the cold months of the year.

We drove around town and just looked for places that had them sitting out in back and  we always asked first if it was OK to take them. It works out for everyone. They get rid of surplus and we gain our next….you name it.

To cut them up or dismantle individual planks use:

  • a jig saw
  • a circular saw
  • a pry bar
  • a nifty tool we bought at an Ace Hardware called The Wrecker (a fancy pry bar with extra “bars” for whatever leverage you need
  • a hammer and a chisel for working the nails out
  • a hammer to just whack the slats free (might break it)
  • a couple of two by fours to remove individual planks without breaking them

They also make special pallet tools called pallet busters just for the purpose. Maybe a good purchase if you plan on using a lot of pallets.

The biggest pain in the ass is the nails they’re put together with. My husband and I could just visualize some guy with a nail gun going nuts on the assembly line. No limit to the number of nails used in each pallet. We’ve gotten them so riddled with nails, it’s almost impossible to take them apart.

And the ones that are STAPLED together……If we were desperate enough to need the pallet, we’d have to remove every staple individually with a hammer and needlenose pliers. Staples that were about two inches long sticking out of the piece of wood after we ripped it off of the pallet. Sometimes we’d just take a hammer and whack them down flat rather than deal with them.

For assembling various projects use:

  • A drill and drill bits for pilot holes through thick boards
  • A screw guide for the drill (a MUST)
  • Wood or deck screws of varying lengths
  • Nails
  • Brackets made by screwing two pieces of wood together or metal ones from the hardware store to add extra strength at attachment points
  • Circular saw for cutting leg lengths and larger straight surfaces
  • Hand saw
  • Hammer
  • C-clamp for holding pieces together tightly (the third arm) while installing screws
  • Jig saw
  • Tape measure
  • Wood router
  • Wood pencil for marking (works even on wet surfaces)
  • Other hardware such as hooks and hangers
  • Varnish

As for the how-tos and ideas, I just looked online. The projects haven’t always come out looking pretty but that’s just my craftsmanship or lack thereof.  Functionality is my main goal. You can make some really nice pieces if you do the job right and have the right tools.

 General tips:

  • That screw guide for your drill makes sinking those long screws SO much easier
  • C-clamp for securing pieces – night and day
  • Pilot holes for those thick pieces. You’ll strip the screws otherwise
  • Pilot holes to prevent cracking. You don’t always have to but if the wood is prone to cracking or on the thin side, it’ll help
  • Look for the better specimens in pallets. There are some shitty torn up ones you just pass up
  • If you DO end up with a shitty pallet, you can add slats from another shitty pallet to make one whole NOT shitty pallet

Here are some photos of things we’ve done so far: