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.”

Itching To Get Out

After months of snow, we can’t wait.

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid ground. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees for a change.

Morel mushroom season is 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 area is cross-crossed 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.

A local promised to take us out to pick but we have been warned that bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville National Forest ranger station 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 areas. If we have to use bear spray, the ranger told us to spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally in front of us to create a sort of wall. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest where they thrive after fires. The staff told us there are hidden holes and the danger of falling trees so I think we’ll stay away from those. There’s plenty of mushrooms out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza. It’s a free download that shows road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest. You can also use them 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. Crawfish are fun to catch (and delicious to eat) although I don’t know where to find them on this side of the mountains. We knew the back roads and where to look for things where we used to live (except for the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking rocks. I dug a hole right into what I believe is the location of the fault running across our property. Imagine having your own private fault line? Take a look at the photo that shows its location. ūüôā

The back of our SUV is crammed with prospecting equipment just in case. If you look for gold in Washington state, you have to keep a copy of the Fish and Wildlife pamphlet with you. It has the rules for prospecting in it.

Let me close with an example:

“You can pan in the northwestern upper corner of the easternmost part of whatever creek as long as you use a sluice no longer than your arm but no shorter than the length between your elbow and your hand. You cannot dig more than three feet past the upper waterline of a hundred-year storm nor under the lowest point of a hundred-year drought on Saturdays and Sundays and only on tributaries to every river in Washington state except Snohomish County. You may wear only bright purple and use a shovel rather than a pick ax unless you are driving a Suburu in which case, you may wear purple with polka dots. This only applies to prospecting done during leap years.”

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

Melting snow reveals a disaster area.

Nature’s petticoat of snow has finally lifted to reveal an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! The snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone! ūüôā

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, and spring cleaning – yay!

A sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries and frozen asses. The sun will now take over the task of keeping things warm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a driveway but I’ll take that in lieu of four-foot snow drifts.

Today I am grateful as I pull on my rain boots to slog through the mud to pick up trash.

Happy Spring!

 

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.

The Winter Garden

A poem.

The Winter Garden

Silent and still, the garden sleeps.
Crooked fence posts stand sentry, starkly contrasted against the brilliant landscape.
A single glass totem sits, tilted and topped with snow. Temporarily forgotten.
Barbed wire sags lazily, resting in wait of it’s required vigilance.
Remnants of ragged twine dangle loosely, motionless.
Brittle and greyed corn husks defy the authority of the commanding white mantel, escaping it’s grip by inches, in denial of their demise, unaware of the life they shield at their feet.
Folding topography of ripples and mounds an intimation of the graves of last year’s remains.
Tatters of tomato vines and pea plants leech nutrients into the soil, preparing a bed for their progeny.
Seeds slumber under the shimmering arm of winter, sheltered from harm.
Life quietly awaits instruction from the Almighty God to resume.

Tidbit

All I see are the tips of two ears angled sharply backward; below them are two intense eyes barely visible above the snow line. Retinas contracted into black slits in the brilliant sunlight, they bore a hole right through me – it’s prey.

I stare back.

I didn’t see it until I was almost on top of it. Most of it’s body was hidden in the snow, the predator having found a depression within which to lay in wait. Too late, I see the butt wiggle in preparation for the attack then – it launches at me.

Tidbit, our cat, connects with a brilliant catfu double-time cuffing at my legs before ricocheting off at a ninety degree angle, ears still laid back. Recovering, he swaggers away, satisfied he has made the kill. Time to go summon the pride for the feast.

I just stand there giggling. I continue on my way and cat falls in behind, para-scope up (what my husband and I call the tail when straight up in cat greeting).

As I walk along, kitty darts up the hill behind me, climbing the occasional tree and pouncing on imaginary prey. He leaves a sprinkling of paw-prints behind him in the snow.

Our entire property is crisscrossed with cat trails. They reveal their wanderings in search of birds, sounds, snowballs, sticks, mice, or whatever else draws their attention.

Cats are narcissistic. A cat can’t just walk with a human. They have to pretend they just happened along and they don’t walk – they skulk. Tidbit has a habit of running straight for the space between your legs. When he makes contact, you are faced with either stepping on him or falling. I can’t tell you how many times he has “noodled” me.

Tidbit acquired us a few months ago when he showed up at a friend’s house hungry. Apparently, he waltzed right past their four Corgies on “guard duty”,¬† and found the cat dish inside the house. He was still munching when I got there.

A search for his owner failed to turn anyone up so when I was ready to leave, my husband and I took him home with us.

He made himself welcome immediately and we had him fixed a couple of weeks later. Asshole was annoyed at first but soon warmed up to the idea that he now had something to play with.

Tidbit craves attention and we wonder if he was taken away from his mother too early. Our answer to this is “regression” therapy. He loves to be wrapped up tightly then goes into kitten mode. This causes us to regress also.

Tidbit is boneless. He goes limp when petted and he is more like a dog than a cat. When he sees us coming he throws himself on the ground and rolls onto his back. He has no dignity. He doesn’t care

Tidbit is also the devil in a fur coat. He rattles around the house all night, gets into Asshole’s face constantly, and steals our seats as soon as we get up but his cuteness keeps our annoyance at bay.

This cat is unique and he fits right in with the eccentric theme of our family.

We’re glad he adopted us.

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.

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 are plenty of them
  • They have 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/recycling areas of businesses
  • On Craigslist

What can you do with them?

  • Make furniture for your house.
  • 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 out of them.

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

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

 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 shitty pallet

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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