The Long Long Long Driveway

7/10’s of a mile of hell.

It is a buffer between us and anyone who isn’t hell bent on visiting us.

The postal service won’t drive up after that one time they dared and left us a note saying “never again”.

The UPS driver delivers but only in summer. The first few times he drove up the easement, we could hear the overhanging branches scraping along the sheet metal shell of the box truck. He finally asked us to cut the trees back but we still know he’s coming before we see him because of the rivet-busting potholes.

The route is dusty in the summer, clogged with heavy snow and slush in the winter and becomes a bog in the spring. It hasn’t been graded and graveled in God knows how long and has a very steep incline towards the end.

It is our driveway – seven-tenths of a mile of natural disaster area. It is our only way in and out and it is the bane of my existence. We have been within eyesight of our front door and had to abandon the vehicle with our groceries to go get the shovels and salt.

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When the thick layer of snow and ice begin to melt and the ground is still frozen, crevasses open up and torrents of water with no place to go converge to form streams in the ruts. When the ground thaws, driving through the mud displaces giant slabs of Play Doh-like ooze. On subsequent passes, we drive on the tops of those and squish them down until the road is finally flat and dry again. We lay down rocks in the worst places.

We had the gauntlet to ourselves until the neighbors moved in. One of them drives a little sedan that isn’t suited for the terrain. I occasionally see them make a run for the last portion of road – speed helps. I can hear the wrenching sounds of the suspension as they lurch along, bouncing violently over the uneven ground. The scraping of oil pan against bedrock sends shivers down my spine as the car careens up the last fifty feet of hill to safety.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted what is still left of it abandoned halfway up the grade, with it’s wheels frozen solid in knee-deep mud. I don’t know how they got it out.

The sheriff once drove all the way up over an issue about a dog. We found part of a bumper near the gate the next day. The Washington State Patrol once stopped us because chunks of our driveway were calving off the underside of our car onto the freeway.

Someday we will have our little slice of heaven repaired. Until then, I shut my eyes tight and pray every time we back out of our parking spot.

Surviving Winter In An RV

How To Stay Warm

We currently live year round in a fifth wheel trailer. They are notoriously under-insulated for winter because they are just that: recreational vehicles designed mainly for summer camping. We have plans to build a real house but for now, staying comfortable in frigid weather requires a lot of effort.

We broke the central heater in our fifth wheel when we tried to install a propane fridge a couple of months ago (don’t ask) so we’re left with space heaters and the fireplace we installed last year to keep warm.

Earlier this month, an arctic front dipped into the northern United States from Canada. Next thing you know, it’s zero degrees and our pipes are freezing despite our anti-freezing protocol.

The area under and near the front of a fifth wheel is often referred to as “the basement”. It took me a while to figure that one out when I couldn’t find the stairs going down (ha ha). It’s the compartment where all of the water tanks, the pump, and the water pipes reside. You have to keep the vulnerable complex of Pex pipes that wind throughout from freezing. Most people add extra insulation and incorporate some sort of auxiliary heating system. The central heating ducts go into this compartment in our “home” but that’s out for now.

We put a couple of small desk-sized heater fans near the water pump and we use a heat hose to go between our 400 gallon external water tank and the trailer to keep the lines clear. Unless it’s ten degrees below. In that case, we have to remove the heat hose and bring it inside to thaw before hooking it back up. Coffee water comes from dipping the pot directly into the tank on those mornings.

We also leave the cupboard doors open between the living space and the basement to equalize the temperatures. It’s all about strategy out here. Thick dark curtains and/or shrink-wrapped plastic on windows help cut drafts.

Skirting is a standard protection used to keep wind out and stabilize the air temperature beneath a trailer. It’s a barrier running the circumference of the rig from the ground to the body. Everything from expensive kits to straw bails can be used for the purpose.

We installed a fireplace last year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We used the correct components and installed it to the letter of the instructions for safety. We got a fan that is activated by the heat on top of the fireplace which blows air throughout the living space quite effectively. A bellows is mandatory for getting fires started.

We couldn’t afford a cord of wood this winter so we’ve been harvesting it from around the property. Storms have brought branches down and there are three huge trees laying on a hillside that we had to have felled in order to get an internet signal. Those have provided us with a seemingly endless supply of wood but the work: chopping, cutting, sawing the stuff to fit the fireplace – its exhausting.

We also pick up wood pallets from around town when we go down the hill. Most of them fit comfortably into the back of our SUV and they are free and plentiful.

The first thing I do every cold morning is make the fire in the fireplace and it’s the last thing I do at night. Keeping warm is so much work. I’m glad we are on our way towards spring and summer so I can complain about the heat.

A Beautiful Pain In The Ass

Winter is making up for lost time.

After missing its first cue and being upstaged by warm, wet conditions, it has rushed the stage and stolen the show. Determined to make an impression, it has commanded our attention to the tune of four feet of snow in as many days.

With the advent of the first falling flakes,there was the mad dash to move anything smallish undercover lest we not see it until spring. Electrical cords, water hoses, tools, small animals such as cats; everything in danger of disappearing for months went into the RV or shed. We learned the hard way our first winter here.

Our almost mile of easement has gratefully been plowed several times over by the neighbors with another methodically mowing the drifts with his newly purchased Sears snow blower.

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Me? I’m out there with our trusty Walmart Backbreaker Deluxe hand-powered snow shovel with an ergonomically designed handle that only allows you to throw snow to the left comfortably.

Roofs, panels; anything prone to collapse from a snow load ( which means everything), we’ve cleared off multiple times. I’ve seen enough collapsed structures around to motivate me to keep on top of this chore.

Our SUV is older and used and is a supreme mountain goat. Although every drive to town is a nail biter to me, she’s carried us steadfastly and surely every time.

Speaking of the car, a sizable branch, overloaded with the weight of snow came down off a tree right onto her windshield the other day. Could easily have cracked the glass but didn’t. The culprit was promptly dispatched into bite-sized pieces for our fireplace.

The heavy snowfall clung to the trees bringing them down everywhere in the region. It made our last drive home from town nerve wracking and kept the utility companies busy with downed lines and evergreens. Snowplowing is a thriving industry in this part of the country also.

Despite all the difficulties caused by the heavy dump, the winter storms of the past week have left a magical white wonderland behind. This place is beautiful in the winter.

As far as theatrical metaphors go, I’m keeping that stage hook close by.

A Belated Thanksgiving Poem For The New Year

Turkey Day

Turkey Day is on it’s way
My Mom is acting funny
She’s on the phone I heard her groan
While talking to Aunt Bunny
My cousins (there are six in all)
Are coming with Aunt Mazy
She’s bringing green bean salad
I heard Mom say that she’s lazy
For Uncle Fred it’s garlic bread
Enough to feed his four
My Mom’s now pacing, muttering
’bout locking the front door
Plasticwear and folding chairs
Cheap cups, spoons, forks and knives
Mom says no one does their share
The husbands or the wives
Grandma Grandpa on their way
I think it’s time we pray
Clean the couch now Dad’s a grouch
He says his hair’s gone grey
Uncle Ted and Aunty Jill
Are bringing their eight too
They have a dog, spike the eggnog
Tell Mom when she comes-to
Scour the basement and garage
We’ll put all the boys there
We need more room break out the broom
It’s time we said a prayer
God help us all – it’s Uncle Paul
We’ll put him in the attic
No sudden moves speak quietly
He’s prone to being erratic
As for my Mom
Let’s keep her calm
She’s on the verge of tears
Now dinner’s done
This battle’s won
Let’s give her three big cheers

Featured Photo by Ruth Caron on Unsplash
My own photo below as seen from our sliding door.
turkeys brown feathers

Another Walmart Christmas.

A somewhat dingy poem about Christmas. 🙂

Two weeks before Christmas we’re ready to shop.
Got a long list of items to buy in one stop.
By door number two looms a thirty foot tree.
They drag it out yearly for people to see.
Shopping carts strewn up to six blocks away.
The people with vests need a raise in their pay.
Inside is the usual yearly assortment.
Kitchenware, TVs, and glittery ornaments.
Electronic gadgets flying off of the shelves.
Specially homemade by Santa and elves.
Tired looking shoppers with dark sunken eyes.
Stuck in the gauntlet of last minute buys.
The checkout line shelves stocked with last minute gifts.
Checkers are pulling in double-time shifts
We drive past the store with its lights blinking brightly.
This year we don’t miss it; no not even slightly.

The Never Ending Repair Cycle

I keep reminding myself I asked for this. I entered into this adventure willingly but I’m reminded daily that it comes with a price.

Living out here away from the cities with no utilities is exhausting and I’m pretty sure my blog will someday morph into “Stories Formerly From Off The Grid”.

I’m up in the middle of the night again unable to sleep. There’s either an air or water leak in our RV fresh water system and the pump keeps cycling on and off about three times a minute. It’s driving me nuts.

I could disconnect it but that would mean putting my boots and coat on and going outside in the rain to disconnect the pump from the battery – which might wake my husband.

If an RV water pump is turning on and off by itself, it’s either an air pressure or water leak or the pump is bad.

We’ve tried to track down the cause without success. I’ve listened carefully for the sound of running water inside the RV but haven’t heard anything. I looked underneath the trailer for drips but have only spotted a small one coming from one of the holding tanks.

My next step is to replace the heat hose going into the pump to see if the system is losing pressure there.

On top of the leak problem, our furnace stopped working. I browsed the online RV forums for clues but we’ll have to open an outside access panel that’s sealed shut in order to check the fan reset switch, if there IS one.

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We accidentally put bad gas in our small generator and broke it.. Then I accidentally stripped a bolt inside the carburetor while I was trying to repair it. JB Weld didn’t work so now it has to go to the shop. Thankfully we have another larger generator but it’s a gas hog.

We tried to install a propane refrigerator to replace the electric one that was using seventy percent of our electricity but after a month of trying we couldn’t get it to work. The extra fridge sat in our living room for a month but now it’s tucked back into it’s spot. The RV seems suddenly spacious.

It seems like after we fix one problem, another one pops up or we cause another one until we’re back at the beginning. Like a wheel, it goes round and round – never to end.

Update: We bought a new water pump – problem solved.

 

Featured Image by  Christopher Burns on Unsplash.

 

Happy Thanksgiving?

Yesterday, my husband and me had just returned from town when I realized I had overlooked Thanksgiving altogether so we turned around and went back to the store to buy the supplies. We picked up a turkey, whipped cream and the other usual Thanksgiving accompaniments.

I wondered why customers weren’t fighting for the last turkey, why people weren’t wishing each other Happy Thanksgiving and I wondered how I had let the day slip my  mind.

Thank goodness I’d caught myself.

Early this morning I began meal preparations. Our son loves pumpkin pie and I was making it from scratch for the first time ever but with the Delicata squash we’d grown over the summer. We had about fifteen gourds left that had been sitting on a side table for over a month and this was my opportunity to finally use them.

Delicata pie.

I had a basic menu in mind and we were going to keep things simple (with the exception of the pie) . Things were going smoothly but something seemed off: plentiful turkeys at Safeway, no holiday salutations, my own uncharacteristic oversight. With a growing feeling of confusion, I checked the calendar.

Thanksgiving is next week.

 

 

Farm In Autumn

A Poem of Halloween At The Farm

Season of warm colors: red barns, flaxen sun, yellow and orange harvest compliment each other as the farm readies for the day.
Ripened squash scattered atop the mahogany soil, fields spreading flat as far as the eye can see.
Signs hung out inviting passersby to sample the offerings of a long summer’s bounty.
Smell of roasted corn drifts through the crisp air and cider is offered to visitors.
Rain boots of every color adorn feet, following the path of mud and straw to the corn maze.
Rustling groves of tall green stalks hide shady corridors that beckon those who dare to enter.
Wagons loaded with pumpkins are drawn to the scales, delighted children hugging them in anticipation.
As the day shifts light to dark, so to, does the tone and setting.
Country highways fill with bright lights as the brave make their way to the haunted farm.
Muddy parking lots fill quickly as souls bundled against the cold file through the gates.
Ghouls and evil clowns entertain those in line awaiting their fate.
Screams from within evoke nervous looks and giggles, exhalations silhouetted in the glare of lights.
Once in, the macabre awaits them in every dark corner, every hidden space as couples clutch each other in fear.
Witches, skeletons, mad surgeons and the walking dead long to possess their souls: struggling against chains, restrained by bars.
Out at the end to safety with smiles and relieved laughter.
Happy revelers depart for home intact.
Travelers gone, parking lots empty, the farmers set about harvesting the night crop.
In a windowless barn in a far corner of the property, they begin with the heads.

 

 

My Junk

Our property, no matter how hard we try to make it look nice, looks trashy. Until we can upgrade, there’s not a lot we can do about it.

We try our best to keep things organized but it’s difficult to make rusty metal objects, pallets, tarps and trailers appear attractive. One of our newer neighbors is building and it makes us look bad. My prospecting collection of trashy looking buckets, dirt piles, rocks, pots and pans, and holes in the ground doesn’t help.

When we’re out and about though, my husband points out other people’s properties, many of which have old cars, heaps of beer cans and other trash strewn about in order to make me feel better. This is rural America, after all.

I have a large container full of “useful” stuff. Everything’s tangled together in a mass of wire, brackets, screens, hooks, buckets, and parts of old appliances and when I grab something, everything comes out at the same time. It’s indispensable so I keep it.

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Two of my homemade furnaces made of clay and old parts.

I regularly go to the farmer’s dump on the hillside to scrounge for more useful stuff. I’ve found mangled tools, parts to household appliances and old vehicles and other treasures I can’t live without. I’ve harvested screen, fencing, bones (not human), marbles, two can openers, and assorted remnants of ancient kitchenware that I might a have need for someday.

Recently I got distracted on my way to repair something. I was already carrying a load of tools when I veered toward the hillside.

My son came home from school in time to see me wandering away from the dump with the armful of tools, part of a shovel, a leftover wheel from a child’s wagon, a long sharp object, an old tractor carburetor, and a candle holder – all possibly useful.

I left the mangled bird cage behind; this time.

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Try to beat this.

Winter Lurks

I now dread the once magical time of year.

I used to love the snow.

As a kid living in western Washington, we rarely got it. When it did snow, it was cause for celebration. One of the reasons we moved was the year-round rain but after one winter here, we are cured of the love of snow.

We now live in a land of extremes between hot and cold. Fall and spring seem fleeting here. The blistering heat, wildfires, and droughts of summer quickly give way to cooler temperatures and sprinkles that seem to last a few days and fall is done.

Our first winter here was brutal as we weren’t prepared. The cold crept into our travel trailer through every tiny crack and we had to put up insulation along the walls of our canvas pullouts. I remember lying in bed one summer night while we were still on the road when I realized with horror that we might have to spend the winter in a cardboard box with cloth walls on the ends.

I was right to be anxious.

Our water pipes froze and I had to systematically hunt down drafts and cold spots and cram whatever I could find into crevices and holes to keep warm. With the water pipes frozen, I had to wash the dishes outside in ice-cold water I’d gotten from the spring.

We couldn’t drive our truck up our almost mile-long driveway because our four wheel drive was broken so we had to trek back and forth along it’s length with our groceries, gas and propane tanks.

I wrote a poem about winter that year: Cold.

Cold

I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us to prepare.

I made a to-do list last week. We have to put plastic over the windows, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, and stockpile the wood.

Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood.

I worry a lot about winter but I remind myself that we’re better prepared than last year and I try to focus on thoughts of sledding, making snow sculptures and of course, Christmas.

Although I’m not looking forward to the cold weather, I’m looking forward to sitting by the fireplace and writing while the snow falls outside – and being able to wash my dishes inside.