Blog To Book

I’m publishing a book of our adventures. This is the last chapter:

 

Out of all of the milestones of the past two and a half years since we left western Washington, the night we packed up the trailer and truck in a downpour at Tinkham Campground is the most emotional to me.

It was the night we said goodbye to our family, friends, our old home and our memories (bad and good) and left it all behind.

Over the summer of 2017, we inched our way across the state while we looked for land to buy and that time on the road was only the beginning of a grand adventure.

From the day we first pulled into our driveway until tonight, as I write this last chapter, our experiences have been vivid and memorable, harsh and rewarding. These stories are as much about our emotional journey as they are about our experiences.

From the coldest days of our first winter here when we had to walk through drifts of snow from our truck to our property pulling a wagon converted into a sled to the hottest days of summer we spent melting because we weren’t used to the climate, so much has occurred that could only happen in a place like this.

Everything we previously took for granted like water and electricity, we learned to appreciate as we had to work for them. We had to think every project through and we learned as we went. How to drive in the snow, keep warm in an RV, install and repair appliances, use propane (safely), and how to survive on our own – are obstacles we overcame although we sometimes threw up our hands and walked away.

Today we wake up to see the sun coming up over the mountains across the valley, framed by the massive Ponderosa Pines that populate our hillside. We rise to the sound of pheasant calling and turkeys lined up for breakfast outside our sliding doors. From the other side of our RV, the Huckleberry Mountain Range slopes up into the distance, carpeted with trees and capped with low-lying clouds.

The skies are unobstructed by light pollution and we’ve seen things up there that we can’t explain. On a super-moon event (when the moon is closest to the earth), it sets over the distant treeline, seemingly gargantuan as it slips out of sight over the horizon. The cover photo is one I took at three o: clock in the morning during one of these occurrences.

The spring we dug has provided life and convenience to us and is the centerpiece of our property. It’s where I go to meditate, think, and to cry. It’s the part of our land that draws me the most. There was no sign of water when we moved here. Now there is a series of pools and a trough going down the hillside that we use for all of our needs, including water for our garden. It’s all gravity. If we need water, we just turn on the spigot like a garden hose. I am grateful.

None of us can imagine living back in “civilization” again. We like it out here with the deer, turkeys, skunks, pheasants, occasional bear, cougar, one white rabbit, and, of course, two cats.

We’ve adapted to our new home and are prepared when winter approaches. I recently bought a pool in anticipation of summer. I set it up a couple of weeks ago on a ninety-degree day and it’s been thunderstorms ever since.

Although we still don’t have a house, we’re comfortable in our fifth wheel and we have the shed for projects and hobbies. We installed the solar power system (and boy hasn’t that been an adventure). All the delivery drivers that come up here are impressed.

We paid off our property a few months ago and when we’re outside, my husband sometimes gestures at the landscape and points out that “we own this place”. It’s a nice feeling. The trees, the rocks, the dirt below our feet belong to us – or do they, really?

I wrote about our adventures because I wanted them preserved for my own benefit and perhaps for family members in the future. I recently read an account of my Grandfather’s life and found it fascinating. What is everyday existence for us can take on a whole new meaning for someone down the road.

Our every day lives changed forever that night we packed up and headed east in the fall of 2017. It took a turn for adventure and I hope you have enjoyed the ride.

 

We’re Human

We are the family with the un-mowed grass at the end of the block.

I’ve been comparing my blog with that of others who write about the subject of living off grid – perhaps unfairly. Most blogs offer accurate information and how-tos, informed by education and experience. People like blogs that offer useful information.

Mine is stories.

When we left our old world for our new, the adventures began and I felt compelled to record them, and maybe share them with others. I hope to turn our tales into a book.

Neither me nor my husband or super go-getters so almost nothing we do is top-notch although we try. We end up stumbling along in a human rather than super-human manner and the results of our efforts are often just-enough and not pleasing to the eye.

When I take pictures, I avoid the trashy looking parts of the property. My husband says I worry too much about appearances.

We do all of our own repairs so half of them don’t get done if we can’t find instructions of the internet. That would include our central heat which stopped working when we attempted to install a propane fridge which is now sitting in the shed getting dusty.

I built our generator shed out of pallets and it looks like shit. I also built all of the shelving in our shed from pallets. They aren’t Pinterest-worthy but they hold stuff.

Our garden fence was constructed from trees and old barbed-wire fencing left on the property seventy years ago. Our solar panels were mounted on plywood for the first six months we had them.

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We are experts at nothing but the journey seems to be what is worth writing about. I wonder how many people are like us – that just do their best which is far from perfect but they still live a rich life despite themselves.

Although we’ve struggled financially for the past two years, we haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. We were working on something that has finally come to fruition and the rewards are just beginning.

Now we can pay someone else to fix things or just buy new ones. We paid off our current property and are now in the market for a larger chunk of land with a house.

I’ve thrown some money at my blog hosting site and hope to reach more people in the coming months.

In the meantime, you won’t find hacks here – just stories of how we fudged this or that. I hope that revealing our humanity is enough to keep someone coming back.

 

 

 

“Are You Sure That’s The Cat”?

Nowadays, I never know what to expect.

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

This story is similar.

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

We’d just installed a cat door so we wouldn’t have to let the felines in and out of the house fifty thousand times a day. They could now come and go as they pleased.

I sleepily shambled down the stairs and flipped on the light to see a skunk in the dining room. I shouted something and the poor thing ran into a corner then out the “cat” door which was now officially a skunk door.

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

I went back to bed. Tomorrow, the cat door comes out.

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.

When we bought our RV, it had been refitted for use with city hookups 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.

When the UPS guy dropped off it off, we eyeballed it with suspicion as we’d recently been implanted with wild ideas after watching an episode of the TV show Mythbusters featuring an experiment with hot water heaters.

They had disabled all of the safety measures on several tanks then set the temperature dials to maximum. Upon overheating to the point of exploding, they blew open at their weakest points – the bottoms – launching them hundreds of feet into the air.

We wondered how high our mini-rocket might be capable of traveling under the wrong circumstances as we wrestled it into its compartment on the side of our RV and hooked up the gas and water. We checked for leaks then lit it up.

We turned the water on to check the temperature but it got hotter and hotter then stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing blast-off, we called it a night.

Our luck was no better the next day so we decided to call a professional.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We made an appointment for them to come out and for two weeks we waited – without hot water.

By the time he arrived, the repairman had become a hero in our minds.

Armed only with a notepad and a toolbox, he listened with concern as we told him our plight. Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as he stole sideways glances at the beast that waited behind the access panel that said “hot”.

Finally, he adjusted his collar, turned, and approached his foe with a swagger that would have made John Wayne proud. He opened the hatch, squinted into the darkness and went to work.

We stood back and watched nervously. What if he couldn’t fix it? What if we had to send it back for another? What if this cost us an arm and a leg?

Finally, we heard the rocket-like swoosh of propane igniting as the man cocked his head and made his final adjustments. We tried in vain to read his poker face as he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

Suppressing a grin, he told us “I turned the heat down.”

December In March

Really?

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 Gods sake.

Did spring lose it’s way and accidentally pass our driveway? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. The county too. As a matter of fact, large 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 the planet but the thermometer reads zero-degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

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 garden this morning but it’s buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. This should be easier this time of year.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. For a half a second, I considered shoveling the whole garden then wondered “what was I thinking?”

The wilted mass that is catnip.

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

The water pump is freezing at night again and no water means no coffee unless we go outside and dip the coffee pot directly into the water tank.

We got the car stuck in the snow trying to back out of the driveway. I made things worse when I jumped into the driver’s seat and confidently backed into a tree. Our tires are really worn so it’s off to Walmart to have new ones put on or we won’t be able to get back home.

At least they have coffee.

Tinkham Campground

The last stop on our journey to a new life.

The summer we lived in a travel trailer between homes was memorable.

We spent the first month up the Middle Fork county road outside of North Bend Washington but there’s a two-week limit on how much time you can stay in the national forest. As a result, we were under pressure to keep moving. The county Sheriff patrolled the area regularly and didn’t hesitate to tell people to move on if they exceed their limit. It was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them and we became forest outlaws for overstaying.

One day the sheriff told us to move so we had to spend a week at a hotel at the pass to burn up the prescribed amount of time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower and the beds were comfortable.

When we returned, we opted for a pay campground to take off the heat. Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass was a nice place but the caretaker was anything but.  He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously. He would literally look at his watch when we came to pay.

After that, we camped in an undesignated area before checking into Tinkham Campground – another pay site. We lived there for almost a month before we closed on our property and left for our new home.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air. The hosts were super friendly and didn’t run the place an internment facility. It was located halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still living and working near our old home, we could commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. It was a beautiful drive.

Our spot was on the river side of the campground with our own semi-private trail to the river. Denny Creek fed into it a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

I spent a lot of time at the beach. We got our water there, prospected, or just played around. The leg-breaking terrain was littered with giant rocks that were difficult to walk on but someone had begun to build a trail from the tree line to the river’s edge.

I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks adding to the trail. It was like building a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, lay them in, dump sand between them and pack it down. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It was symbolic to me. The flattened walkway that threaded its way to the water might save someone a broken ankle and was an invitation to enjoy the river. I hoped people would use it for months –  maybe years ahead. I wondered if others would help to maintain it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were at Tinkham. When the sun fell into darkness, the shadows on the ground deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach. I took my camera and my husband brought three pairs of sunglasses to watch. I teased him about it.

I couldn’t get a good shot with my camera but the multiple pairs of sunglasses my husband brought allowed us to see it clearly. Go figure.

We went prospecting at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. By that time, I was beginning to realize gold is heavy.  It sinks to the bottom of the gravel and sand till it hits either bedrock or clay. You have to have the right equipment and experience to know how to get to it. Lesson learned.

We were able to stay for the rest of our time in the mountains at Tinkham because the hosts were cool. Being an older couple, they suggested we clean up the fire pits in exchange for some extra time. We spent three days cleaning up fifty or so campsites.

In mid-September, we closed on our property. 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 thank you to our hosts.

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

 

I’m No Authority

What you WON’T find here.

If you’re looking for authoritative pieces on this and that – keep looking.

You see, I’m no authority on just about everything. What you’ll find here are my personal experiences, thoughts on things, and some poetry with odd themes such as solar power 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.

Neither me nor my husband have our shit together by any stretch of the imagination. 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 but I am not offering advice because I probably shouldn’t.

We are self-professed eccentrics; responsible people wannabes. We’re secure enough with ourselves to admit we envy others who seem to have perfect lives. We are the ones who show up at the farmers market to sell something 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 we hide from each other’s view. I hope that by being honest about ourselves, we can reassure others who suffer from less-than-perfect syndrome.

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

I think we all struggle with the idea that we have aspects of ourselves we love and some 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 didn’t have the picture-perfect display when I sold necklaces at the farmer’s market. We’re the kind of people who’ll use duct tape when we’re supposed to be using electrical. Why?

Because we either can’t afford it, don’t want to do it the right way or don’t know how.

From Our Old To Our New

Reflections.

When we sold our house on the other side of the state, we had no idea where we would settle down. Personally, I didn’t want to move too far from our old home because of our ties. Friends and family and a fierce resistance to change make me like a limpet: I find a place to stick to and I stick to it.

When my husband and son first pitched the idea of moving, I had a tiny panic attack. We’d lived in our house in Snoqualmie for eleven years and in the surrounding valley for about twenty seven. The idea of leaving it all behind scared the crap out of me. I needed time to digest the idea.

For anyone, moving can be overwhelming because of the logistics alone. The emotional and sociological impacts only quadruple the anxiety. I was looking at selling a perfectly good home and launching into the unknown. My family was my only safety net amidst the potential chaos of change.

Selling a house is stressful enough – packing everything you own (which is more than you think), finding a new place and moving all of your stuff there almost qualifies as a traumatic event. You have to say goodbye to friends and family and schools change. You worry about the effect it’s going to have on your child. Luckily, our son was on board which made things a lot easier in the guilt department.

Not having bought anything yet when we hit the road was an added unknown. We did know we loved the outdoors and wanted something away from the cities; something with trees and acreage.

We spent over three months living in the little travel trailer we’d bought as a temporary home, while we looked for property.  We visited many prospects while we camped and pushed farther and farther east in our search. I didn’t want to move too far away but it became apparent that I might have to compromise.

In August, we decided on a place. We would be situated in Stevens county in eastern Washington about seventy miles south of the Canadian border.  It was beautiful and there were four seasons – unlike the monotonous rain of the Puget Sound region we’d left behind. The property fit our criteria perfectly so we made an offer and waited until things were finalized in mid-September of 2017.

On September 17th, on an especially rainy night near Snoqualmie Pass where we were camping, we packed up and headed home – our new home.

The property we’d settled on was raw land and we knew we would be facing some major challenges to make it livable. Ultimately, reality kicked our asses, especially during our first year but we survived (unlike some of our worldly possessions that succumbed to the forces of nature).

Living off-grid isn’t just living; it’s an experience that involves an interplay between emotions and pure grit. Out here, you interact with your environment and surroundings  because you must. What you do or don’t do directly affects the quality of your life. You learn cause and effect and that’s a good lesson.

If I was a princess type, I wouldn’t survive a day but I wouldn’t be here if I was a princess.

When I’m stressed out, the tasks of daily living become burdensome. I’m easily frustrated and ask myself “what was I thinking”, only to wake up the next morning to the sight of trees, mountains, deer and other wildlife bathed in the brilliant light of a sunrise I could never have experienced from the doorstep of my former suburban home.

Being here comes at a price but the cost reminds us we are alive.

 

 

 

Christmas At Walmart

The Experience.

My husband and I spend a lot of time at our local Walmart. It’s almost a joke between us. Nothing against the brand but frankly we associate it with tackiness. Still, here we are again; the goal of the day: Christmas shopping.

My husband always parks in the outskirts of the parking lot because our truck is big. This somehow makes sense to him. He points out the other trucks and large vehicles as he edges slowly into a moorage slip.

During the mile-long walk across the parking lot and having lost me, he’ll call back “Hurry up Babe” while he strides ahead on his six foot plus frame with me taking four steps to his one (imagine a centipede), trying to keep up.

Which door to go into is usually our next big decision after how far away to park. The Lawn and Garden (Holiday supplies in the winter), the Home and Pharmacy, or the Groceries. God forbid we forget to pick a landmark so we can navigate our way back to where we docked  parked. If we lose our bearings, we may end up wandering the parking lot in humiation with a fully loaded cart looking for our vehicle.  Yesterday our landmark was the giant inflatable Christmas tree. Last week, it was the kayaks on display out front.

Once in the store, the shopping cart vetting process begins with a ten foot test drive. Results are categorized on the following brokenness scale: The Drifter (self explanatory), The Harmonic Resonator (the one that alternates every twenty or so wheel revolutions between a powerful bolt-loosening vibration and a Cadillac-like glide), and The Quitter, AKA Old Ironsides (the one that lost the jousting match with a vehicle). There is a rare exception: The Miracle (this is your lucky day. This one’s straight off the truck from the factory).

Any leftover debris in the cart from a previous user is grounds for immediate disqualification and referral to the CDC. 🙂

I usually have my list ready to go and we set off, me leading the way. First through the Home section, then onto the Toys/Sporting Goods, past Auto and Hardware, looping back to Crafts and Bedding, gliding past clothing and shoes before reaching Electronics and pausing at the conveniently located bathrooms at the back of the store. Rushing through stationary and pets and into the Groceries with my husband, pushing whatever the cart of the day is. Now it’s HIS turn to keep up.

Zigzagging back and forth through the dairy and deli, breakfast and baking goods are but a blur. Gaining our second wind, we skillfully maneuver our increasingly difficult-to-steer barge now loaded with five hundred pounds of Walmart through the morass.

Lamps, rugs, electronics, cat food, and groceries are causing our cart to teeter dangerously on corners so we pull over to adjust the load for more ballast. It occurs to us that maybe we should have gone with shopping cart option number five; the military grade Hammerhead. With it’s semi tank-like build and roomy interior, we’d be set but that would have required a side trip to the Holiday section too far off course.

By now it takes a good push to get the carriage up to speed but soon we’re out-pacing octogenarians and the not-so-intense shoppers as we skirt the meats, frozen foods, and produce, then radio ahead for the tug boats. Eyes scanning for the checkout with the fastest line, we see them; the only other people in the entire store who get that this is a competition. Our mental calculations put us at the check stand at EXACTLY the same moment as them. This may be a dead heat. Increasing our speed by three knots we manage to pull ahead by a nose and the line is ours.

Checkout is an art form. I usually predict the total as me and my husband team up to move the inventory from the cart to the conveyor belt. Heavy items first by category (household before food stuffs), then boxed goods and finally, bakery – the delicate stuff. If you want to eat something on the way home, it gets its own bag that goes on top of everything else. I process and bag while my hubby handles the transaction. We make an excellent shopping team and quite often, my prediction of the total is only dollars off. 🙂

Finally, past the pay portal, shopping cart neatly packed according to weight and type of product, we nose out and merge into outgoing traffic, slowly accelerating to cruising speed.

Then it hits: we forgot the Christmas stuff. We bought everything BUT Christmas. Five hundred pounds of NOT Christmas and there is no slowing the shopping cart now. Might as well be the Titanic. If we’d only made that trip to the seasonal section for the Hammerhead…… But it’s too late to change course as we are swept towards the exit in the current.

As we glide past the smiling greeters on the way out the door in the Christmas regatta, (the only vessel not decked out), we maintain our heading and decide to hit the local shops on the way home. It evens out in the end. 🙂

Nine Lives Before Christmas

A catastrophe.

Nine lives before Christmas and in the RV, two felines were climbing up my Christmas tree

The lights and the baubles I’d hung up with care, strewn wall to wall not a single one spared

Shredded remains of my prized Christmas cactus, total destruction they’ve had lots of practice

They found the pine cones left a trail of debris, nothing was spared in the wake of their spree

Forget wrapping presents dispense with the bows, the effort is useless the gifts they’ll expose

I tried hanging garland, Oh what was I thinking, my light strings are broken they’re no longer blinking

cat ornament

I chased them outside tried to clear out my head, they came back in soaking wet jumped on my bed

What if St. Nick dares to come bearing gifts, they’ll ambush his sleigh from behind the snow drifts

Busting cat Kung Fu they’ll knock him out cold, one tailbone broken a fright to behold

Flat on his back splayed out under the trees, cookies and milk won’t fix his injuries

Journey cut short by two renegade cats, no toys for the children no balls and no bats

Packages strewn from his sleigh to the house, next year he’s packing a catnip stuffed mousecriminals