Here It Comes Again

Winter.

Forget fall. Autumn and spring seem fleeting in this part of the country. Blistering heat, wildfires, and drought suddenly give way to moderate temperatures with some  sprinkles. That lasts about a day and fall is done. The only other sure sign that the changing of the guard is occurring is junior’s empty bed. School has begun.

As Winter cannonballs itself onto the scene, it gives me the impression of being alive.  It’s a supernatural being that changes not only the landscape but your frame of mind. For us, living in the rough, winter grabs hold of your thought processes and emotions and dominates. You can’t not think about it as you have to rearrange your entire life around it. It won’t be ignored.

The first year we were here Winter seemed to wage a battle against us. Being invasive by nature, it crept into our trailer and froze our water pipes as I systematically hunted down each draft and cold spot and crammed whatever material I could find into crevices and holes.

Since we couldn’t wash our dishes inside due to the frozen pipes, I piled them all in a big tub to take to the shelter we were temporarily staying in to wash. They were forgotten and the whole lot froze into a huge dishburg that didn’t thaw until spring What Happened To Our Dishes Last Winter.

One morning I was inspired to write a poem when I noticed frost creeping up the inside trim of the door: Cold. Giving it a name and acknowledging it as a sentient being helped me to deal with it.

Cold

 I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us.  The what-ifs have begun to play over and over in my mind: What if the car gets stuck again. What if the water pipes freeze. What if we run out of wood. What if.

I compiled a never ending to-do list last week. Everything from insulating the windows and doors, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, chop and stockpile the wood. Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood. I personally don’t like chainsaws due to lack of experience and being from King County.

I try to temper my snowmageddon anxiety by reminding myself that if the car gets stuck we have shovels, portable pads to place under the tires for traction, and salt. We developed a protocol for dealing with the rest of the issues like keeping the hoses in the basement of the fifth wheel between uses. We run a heater fan in that space 24/7 to keep those and the water pipes thawed.

I buffer my anxiety with thoughts of sledding, creating snow sculptures and of course, Christmas. I’m not sure the thought scale is even but we asked for this. We wanted four seasons and we got two and two quarters. It’s better than the 365 days of rain in the Puget Sound region we left behind.

Writing also helps stave off winter worries. I’m looking forward to sitting by the crackling fireplace making blog posts while I thaw out. The construction of the fireplace is the single best improvement we made regarding winter and it has a story of it’s own.

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.

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.

 

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. 🙂

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.

 

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:

 

 

 

Ode To A Power Inverter

The usual disclaimer that I love my solar power system but my power inverter seems to have fallen victim to either myself or the elements and it just makes for good material. The metering is confusing so I’ve underlined the syllables you put emphasis on.

You once sat so proud upon the top shelf of the rack

Your spot above the batteries the leader of the pack

Then one fateful rainy night I went out to go ground you

I raised the lid and God forbid a drop of water found you

I flipped your switch there was a glitch as I dealt the death blow

That was the end can’t comprehend Be missed more than you know

You failed the test you weren’t the best now all I have is scrap

To Amazon where you belong you sorry piece of crap

I bid adieu I feel for you it just might be my fault

Made a mistake you I did break was a form of assault

Now I’m stuck and out of luck no microwave, TV

Back to the gen where I began for electricity

Moving Into The New Shed

Not us; our stuff.

Looking across our property at nighttime through the mist of a very low lying cloud is the beckoning rectangular shaped glow that is our near-assembled ShelterLogic 12′ X 30′ snow-load rated shed. Almost a month after receiving it, we’re down to the last touches. Important touches like installing the anchors that will keep it from blowing away. It’s supposed to take three people about 3.5 hours to assemble. It took me, my husband and son a month.

The instruction book was all in pictures but we can’t seem to read pictures any better than written instructions. Our main strategy was to jump as far ahead as possible before making a crucial mistake then backing up to where we left off on the instructions. Fourth time’s a charm. We ended up two washers short out of all of the hardware. Not too bad.

shed instructions

We’ve needed a real shed for a year. Our old “shed” is constructed of pallets with a huge billboard tarp for a roof. Whenever it snowed or rained, the pockets of tarp in between the latticework of various sized pieces of lumber we put up for a roof would sag heavily with either water, snow, or ice.

We would have to push the water up and out to drain them individually, making sure we or anything important was out of the way first as water cascaded onto the muddy floor in torrents.

We’ve been moving our “stuff” in for a few days and hope to see a vast improvement in the appearance of our property as we shift and sift through piles we’ve made. Antiques we’ve found on the property, bikes, cleaning supplies, tools… all of it goes in and suddenly I’m thinking we should have gotten a bigger shed.

In addition to storage, we’ll be using it for hanging out in, miscellaneous projects, and for my art. It’ll be freezing in the winter but we’ll stick a propane heater in there and hopefully keep the edge off a bit with the ends closed.

Here are some pictures. Still getting things arranged.

DSCN1259

Attorneys, Unsocial Norms and a Cul De Sac

Last week, our new neighbor of one whole month approached me in a very disconcerting way and asked me if wanted to cut down our trees or have him do it so he could move a huge shared cul de sac thirty feet over and onto our property.  He affected a totally casual attitude like this was a branch overhanging his side of the fence or something. It was as if he was trying to rush in and hit us shock and awe style. He didn’t approach us in advance.

We’ve all heard horror stories about property boundary disputes between neighbors and they are quite common. In this case, however, we think the neighbor’s behavior was slightly bizarre.

My husband and I discussed it at length and questioned whether his approach was appropriate and we thought about the implications going forward. We asked ourselves if we’d over reacted or perceived his motives wrongly. Should we be wary of this person? Does he have any other intentions? What kind of a person would act in this manner? Are we over analyzing?

Now notice what we’re doing psychologically in the above paragraph by questioning ourselves. That’s what manipulators count on and they use it to their advantage to do something called Gas Lighting. It’s the creation of self doubt in the target in an attempt to weaken their position and gain an advantage.

We’ve been doing a lot of research and have learned that manipulators take advantage of a person’s conscientiousness in order to cause them to question themselves and grow doubtful of their own judgment. The recommended reaction is to listen to your gut when dealing with people like this, don’t question yourself, and deal with them accordingly.

With that said, I believe it may be pertinent to our situation. I believe this guy thought we were naive and would be pushovers. We believe he would have gone ahead with his plans had we not stopped him; and gotten away with it.

We stopped him or at least placed an obstacle in his way for the time being. We’ve done our homework, gave him a written notice of trespass (he’d already gone onto our property and marked survey lines for his cul de sac with spray paint), told him we don’t want the cul de sac, and we saw an attorney to make sure we had a legal leg to stand on. We have a plan to deal with the situation as it evolves depending on what he does or doesn’t do and any conversations we might have in the future.

Yes, what happened is a big deal and we should be concerned. This is our property; our home.

We drove to Spokane yesterday for the consultation and everything went much as we thought it would. Here’s what happened: Our neighbor had done his own survey and discovered the existing easement road was fifteen feet to the side of where it is shown on the survey so he just decided he was going to move it to where it’s depicted.  The road, however, has been in place for decades and would most likely be considered an implied easement and remain in place.

Things get a little dicy beyond that. The easement is also described as being in the location of an existing road in other parts of the same legal documents! There seems to be a contradiction in the legal paperwork necessitating a little extra examination in order for the attorneys to determine what the law would most likely favor.

The deed we signed is subject to an easement agreement going back to 2011 which is subject to another easement dated 1994. In order for the statute of limitations of at least twenty years of the implied easement use to take effect, we would have to “tack on” our own term of use to those in the past or we won’t make that twenty year statute.

Another point brought up by our attorneys is that the proposed change would be to our detriment and the neighbor’s benefit. We would be the only ones out of the three property owners subject to the easement to be affected negatively. I guess that also figures into the decision by the court, in our favor.

We were instructed to ask our neighbor for a professional survey first, see if he could produce one and go from there but I realized after we left the attorney’s office that the current one seems to be accurate with the exception of the location of the road.

Confusing!

We’ve decided to just watch and wait at this point then take action as need be with another trip to Spokane if things start to go sideways. We were told that it would save everyone a lot of money to just negotiate rather than go through litigation. We could even propose a sum for the use of our property as an option. Not sure we want to do that but it’s nice to know that’s a possibility.

We hope the neighbor doesn’t pursue construction of his behemoth of a turnaround but his personality as evidenced by his actions so far concerns us. We could have lived without this threat to our home and peace of mind. It could go either way although most likely ours.

Time and human psychology will tell.

 

 

Rant Poem On DIY Solar

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!