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.

Wood Gathering: A Poem

At night in the woods.

Disclaimer: This is kind of a cliché poem but I had fun writing it.

Air sharp as glass, ice scraping flesh

Breath escaping in frosty plumes

Feet frozen, struggling up hill to the place where the wood lies

Snow glows bluish, dark shapes fracturing it’s crust, frozen in escape

Stillness, snow holding tightly to all sound but the travelers

Constellations assume their poses, looking back through time with patient curiosity, eyes extinguished for millenia

Flashlights swing right to left and back, searching

Pausing, putting down the wood bag; catching breath

One stands watch while the other sets to work

Listening; sharp crack, blade falling

Wood rending under blows

Load bundled, nervous glances; fears better left unvoiced

Back to light, too far away

Not too quick, not wanting to look behind

Home close, steps quicken in urgency

Silent reassurances; nothing is there

A sound from the darkness, wood flung aside, clattering

All thoughts of fire forgotten

In flight, flashlights abandoned

Stairs, porch, door flung open, in

Dawn brings light, safety promised

Door opens, cautious glance

Long shadows cast by an early sun reveal clawed tracks in the snow

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A track my husband found right outside of our trailer last winter after hearing howls “like out of a movie” nearby.

Overwhelmed

Trying to keep up.

I feel so overwhelmed right now. We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day (see picture below for current status). There it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark hitting earlier hasn’t helped.

Our little matter with the neighbor over the cul de sac kind of derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct, firm letter for him and his wife on one of the fence posts he erected stating we had checked and confirmed that the land survey was correct and recorded and asked him to respect our private property signs going forward. He’d previously gone onto our property, past well marked posts, and spray painted the ground while he was planning his cul de sac. We weren’t too happy about that.

I wonder what he’s thinking right now? My husband and I have wondered whether he made a gargantuan mistake in his surveying or thought he’d just see if he could get by with us offering no resistance to his grand plans. That’s purely speculation but one thing isn’t; he never mentioned a word about moving his road onto our property in advance. That baffles us.

He was up here with his chainsaw today cutting down trees again but we couldn’t tell if he was cutting them down along the easement or further out on his property. It was a bit disconcerting to keep hearing the “thumps” as they came down. I might walk down the easement road a bit tonight and check.

We didn’t get the covenants from the recorder’s office the other day and are still not sure where we stand legally in the decision process about making changes to a shared easement. Common sense says that we should be consulted and have to agree to any such changes. Still waiting on the attorney. There was a conflict of interest and we were referred out to another attorney.  Tomorrow morning we go and comb over those covenants.

The neighbor said he was planning on adding a lane to the easement road and a lot of gravel to a steep portion to level it out. This is OK with us but we’re not OK with not being consulted.

We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property and exchanged antique ax heads for cash off the delivery. Very nice guys. One of them also does handy work so we may have our guy to help with some work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game. We can do it ourselves but the time….

I insulated the battery bank tonight as the inverter wouldn’t turn on the past couple of nights in the cold. Some research told us that with the battery temperature sensors now in play, the charging voltage is probably way up and the inverter is most likely protecting itself from over powering. We’ll see if the insulation helps. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.

The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve our son more in responsibilities around here for the benefits those things offer a young person; a sense of responsibility, confidence, ownership, a sense of independence, family time. 🙂

Work in progress photos:

It was time to refill the huge water tank we bought about a month ago but alas, the freeze sneaked up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us about an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into the tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out of them. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after use from now on.

I moved the ever growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago but still haven’t installed out of the trailer. We want to put all the extra stuff in the shed but it still needs to be built! Uhggg.

We need to clean up from all of  our projects too. It never ends around here.

I also have a million administrative type tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of things to do. I’m a list person and I decided to get this stuff out of my head where it’s a giant whirlpool of thoughts and feelings onto paper where I could organize them. I drew a big mind map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done, along with every sub category attached to it until I’d gotten it all out.

The page looks like a mess unto itself but everything’s there in bubbles that I can look at and know I at least don’t have to keep trying to remember what needs to be done. It’s still a lot but I feel like I have a semi handle on it now.

At least the main mission of the week is handled. The most terrifying to our sense of peace; the issue of the cul de sac. We are so relieved and there will be fallout surrounding the dispute but it sure wasn’t our fault. We simply had to respond to this threat to our land and our peace of mind in an assertive way.

Tomorrow is Monday. Another week starts but for the most part, my husband and I look forward greatly to our future here and have a concrete list of goals to grow in every way.

Writing my blog helps me to just get it out when I feel overwhelmed (between appointments with my counselor). It’s nice to talk at people

It also helps me avoid the bubble list.

 

 

Energy = Power

What hasn’t someone come up with yet?

Energy is power out here (literally and figuratively). Power = survival.

I’m kind of glad, in a way, that our neighbors denied us a utility easement through their property. What is the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention”?

I’ll give you the perfect example of someone who created something new and better as a result of a being in a difficult situation. Roger Lehet of Unforgettable Fire LLC.

My son dated his daughter a few years back and that’s how I know him. Basically, he moved onto a boat during some really tough times. He needed a better way to heat the boat and I believe he experimented with different prototypes until he came up with a really efficient wood stove and created a company around it.

I’m always trying to make things better; improve on the existing so I understand where Roger was coming from when he designed his stove.

I was looking into alternative forms of energy today when I ran into something called a thermal electric generator. It basically uses differences in temperatures to generate electricity. One way is to use one in conjunction with a wood stove. I don’t understand how it works but it sounds intriguing.

I thought of Roger and his stove after reading about that so I messaged him to ask if he had considered moving in that direction with his stoves but to my embarrassment, he’s way ahead of me. He’s already branching out into the thermal electric field. I’m impressed with this guy.

Some other forms of generating electricity we’re looking at are:

  • Wind: we don’t get enough in our area unfortunately.
  • Hydroelectric: would have to be seasonal as we only have water flow in the winter.  I really want to try that. Might also be expensive (expensive for us at this point), unless we can build our own generator.
  • Adding to our solar: One of our best options and at a reasonable cost.
  • Thermal Electric: Need to learn more about this.
  • Geothermal: We’d need help exploring beneath our property. We have warm water coming up out of the bottom of our spring. Would have to wait until next year with better finances.
  • Steam generation? This is one I gotta look into more. Anything that uses basic wood burning to make electricity sounds interesting to me. Considering we’re afraid of our own hot water heater, I’m not sure about this one.

I’ve been thinking of other possible ways to generate electricity. It just seems there must be some way to harness heat, or energy of some form in a way no one has thought up yet. Heat from the sun turned into electricity somehow. Anything that moves in nature, and somehow turn that movement into electrical generation besides water. There has to be something out there…. Or a super efficient system that transforms small movement into much bigger somehow to generate electricity.

I know…ants! Harness their collective energy to make electricity. Just kidding.

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I used to have an Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm. Might have to order a new one. They don’t call me crazy for nothing. 🙂

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Would the energy of the falling ball be enough to transfer enough energy through the balls on the side to the top ball and cause it to fall and repeat the process?

 

 

Winter is Our Friend, Winter is Our Friend

Say it with me..

6 am or so. Snow is falling and the neighbor is texting to say she hopes the trailer doesn’t cave in. I go out into the white with my pajamas still on under my coat, boots and gloves. With a huge groan, I wrestle the ladder around to the back of our makeshift shed that is topped by only tarps that are sagging under the load. I don’t want a cave in.

I climb up the ladder with a shovel and start to scoop and push snow off the side. At least the plastic is slippery and I can move some of the snow to the edge and off. One shovel at a time. I figure each push is a little less weight on the “roof”. The snow is heavy and the shovel is cumbersome to manipulate from the top of the ladder. I’m bummed. Very little money and little means to live comfortably at this time in our lives. The snow is oppressive to me right now. Not fun. Like it used to be.

I feel resentful that I agreed to sell our home in the burbs to come out here and experience this. I did agree to it though. Maybe a reward is somehow coming down the pike for all this. I often burst out in tears at this point, wanting to live somewhere else.

Deep down, I know this will pass, that there is meaning in everything. That I’m learning and experiencing things in life that will be worth telling a story about sometime in the future but it sucks. I’m breathing hard and I’m cold and miserable. I’m angry. I’m depressed. Once again, for the hundredth time, I feel resentment that I’m even here.

When I say last winter sucked for us, I mean it really did. Writing this blog, I tend to skip past a lot of the emotional upheaval that truthfully underlies our story. We’ve argued and cried (mostly me) time and time again about our circumstances. I want to blame but I know I have no one to hold accountable but myself. I understand we have made our decisions to come out here together but this is really, really really hard.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

A hundred, not even a hundred years ago this is how people lived but they were used to it dammit. We went in with a certain amount of naivety. I actually hate the term newbie but it fits. You learn as you go or from watching Youtube.

Ultimately, we discussed it and me and my son went to live at an emergency shelter in town for three months while my husband stayed on the property with the cat. I didn’t even care about admitting defeat by that point. I was glad to be able to get away from the cold and I had a bigger responsibility to our son to provide a warm place for him.

When I think back on all of that last winter, the feeling that I’m going into overkill on winterizing dissolves.

Every day we do a little more to prepare. We finally got Bridgette the truck out of the shop so we can bring up supplies to put a real roof on the shed. We have the tools now that we need to do the jobs. We have the means we didn’t have last year and that’s liberating. I have an all too good understanding now of what’s in store and I’m taking this all very seriously.

We’re looking for a more efficient heating system for the fifth wheel that accounts for keeping the basement area warm enough to prevent freezing of the water pipes and drains. We laid down insulation, if haphazardly, in the basement and added insulated sheeting to the access panels, along with doors, windows, etc.

Today we bought a 350 gallon water tank for storage outside our trailer. We’re exploring ideas on how to keep it from freezing. I found a heat hose that came with the RV. I gotta figure out how it’s used or if it will apply to this situation. We’re talking about heat blankets or some other means of keeping the water in the tank from freezing.

I bought a full body Ted (the movie) sleep suit to keep me warm in the mornings. It has a hat with ears and a logo from the movie (which I’ve never seen, thank God), which I’m going to remove before I puke, but the suit looks soft and warm. That’s for the cold mornings inside when I first get up to blog. 🙂

Although I grew up in Utah where the climate is very similar to that here, I’ve lived most of my adult life out of the snow belt. Western Washington, the Puget Sound region is where I’ve spent a majority of that time. It’s the rain belt; a place of moderate temperatures year round and lots of rain.

I used to pray and pray for snow every winter because I missed my childhood days of sledding, snowball fights; the usual stuff.  After we moved from Utah, snow became the little bit of cake mix left in the bowl you got to lick. There was never quite enough and you were always left wanting more.

Now I’ve had the whole bowl full of cake mix and I don’t want to eat anymore. It’s not so fun anymore. As a matter of fact, it’ll soon be the only thing I get to eat every day.

When it snows only sporadically, it melts pretty quickly and you get to go back to what you were doing until next time. But in the snow belt, it’s here to stay for months at a time. You can’t get away from it.

That first 15 minutes of play time is soon over and you have 172,800 more minutes to try to get it out of your boots, car, carport,  half mile of driveway, off your windshield, off of the top of your trailer, off the top of your shed, off your solar panels, off of your sidewalk (if you have one), and out of your life in general.

The reality of snow is that it slows you down, gets dirty, is heavy, is cold, is wet, and rules your life for months at a time. But snow is also transforming. It muffles sound and brings soft silence. It is fun to play in and it’s just beautiful. That’s why I missed it so much all of those adult years.

I think our biggest problem last winter is that we couldn’t get out of it and get comfortable. We had to trek back and forth up and down our half mile long driveway to and from our truck. The road was completely impassible from the first deep snow on.

We wore ruts in it with our feet that became the last portion to melt come spring because of the compaction. We had good truck tires and four wheel drive initially but we didn’t put weight into the back and we had transmission problems later in the season.

Now that we have neighbors moving into the upper lot next to us, we’re hoping they’ll have the equipment to do the plowing. We’d be happy to take turns, we just don’t have the plow.

Ultimately, I have no regrets about moving. This is a dream come true for me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  The same for snow. I just want to be comfortable and be able to function during the worst of the winter months. I can now take my favorite hot baths when I get too cold. We’ve made sure things are in place for those types of comforts. We’re even considering the possibility of putting in a wood stove which I dismissed at first but am now reconsidering.

I want to enjoy winter days and nights all tucked in safe, warm and cozy while we watch the snow fall outside.

Next winter, I want to be watching the snow fall from the window of a log cabin.