This morning my husband came to me and said “let’s go for a ride.” It is a bright, beautiful and clear Sunday morn in the brilliant Bitterroots of Western Montana. Still, in late May, you can see frost on the tender spring grass, a hint of nip in the air, but the sun rising in the cerulean blue sky holds the promise of an earth warming breeze.
As we packed up water, pups, and a few snacks, I was reminded of the days of long ago, when a Sunday wheeled adventure was the norm, not the exception. As a child, it was a family ritual to load the car on Sunday to take our “Sunday Drive.”
In New York, that drive took on different hues, depending on the season. In summer, it meant heading to Jones beach with a blanket, watching the sea and stopping to grab an orange Nehi and a Coney Island. In spring we’d head to Connecticut to visit my grandparents, who ran a cottage motel. In the fall, the Catskills were alive with autumn splendor.
And my favorite ride, in winter months, with ice skates and a broom packed in, was a trip to an iced pond – either nearby, or if we had time and funds for fuel, to Westchester county. My Dad would spend considerable time and energy brooming snow off the frozen surface to make way for a day of skating, followed by an afternoon of hot cocoa at a nearby coffee shop.
When we moved west, to the mile high city, I fondly recall visiting the Rockies for the golden glow of autumn aspens. Or my most cherished place to visit, Tiny Town. Tiny Town is now a park, with train ride and admission charged, having been rebuilt after a disasterous flood destroyed the town in 1969. But back in the 1959 Tiny Town was a hidden place of magic and wonder, a place to spur the imagination of the 6 year old I was back then. A complete pint-sized town created in the foothills just west of Denver, we’d ride through the streets admiring the intricately crafted homes and businesses, and I would imagine what fairies and elves inhabited the buildings.
Once we landed in San Diego, my mother’s favorite Sunday Drive was La Jolla. A new navy wife by then, she would take careful note of the stunning homes, jotting down her ideas, and snapping photos on her Kodak Instamatic for future reference.
When the folks finally settled into the desert of eastern California to forge their forever home, the Sunday Drive became less frequent, with more babies and bills, swim meets and school projects, life and responsibilities taking its place.
Years later, when I moved home to help Mom when she fell ill, she’d look at me on Sundays and say “let’s take a drive.” Into her Buick we’d go, driving the streets of her desert town, looking for new housing developments, “scary” roads, stranges structures, and trying to get lost and found again. A faded memory revived, and looking at the glean in Mom’s eye, a memory that perhaps she missed as much as I did.
As we drive through the ‘Roots this fine Sunday morn, watching the river run, water rushing down sides of mountains and hillsides, feeling the sun on my face, crisp scent of pines and firs, I can’t help but feel that this lock down has taught us something important. It’s not the grand gestures that make life special. It’s the little, inconsequential things that, once you look back on them, you remember how grand they truly are.
So turn off the TV, stop streaming, posting and tweeting, and take a Sunday drive. Be free and make memories. Revive the Sunday Drive.
It’s October. In Montana, that doesn’t mean Fall. In October, it means winter in the Bitterroot Valley.
I must say that I was not prepared to have whiplash watching Autumn come and go. The colors? Glorious. Quaking Aspens shimmer in the breezes, their canary yellow leaves seem to fluoresce in the afternoon sun. Rocky Mountain Maples glow with their reds and fuchsias, leaving one breathless. Cottonwoods, Birch, Western Larch, and Alder all share golden and orange hues. Close to the ground, even the chokecherry leaves get into the act, with every shade of magenta and purple known to Mother Nature.
But now, Old Man winter kicked the crap out of Autumn, tossing him aside like a piece of overcooked steak. And rocked Montana with “unseasonably cold” weather.
So, I thought it would be appropriate to play the old “Never Have I Ever” drinking game. Or as it’s also called “10 fingers.” These are my 10 fingers:
NEVER HAVE I EVER …
#1 Thought that I’d be living in an RV (or as my husband tries to upgrade it by saying “travel trailer”) for 6 months, in one location, where the hot water tank holds about 5 minutes of hot water. So my showers are a process I rarely anticipate in winter:
Wet yourself down. Turn off water. Shampoo hair. Turn on water and rinse quickly. Turn off water. Apply conditioner. Wash body parts. Turn on water. Rinse body parts. Turn off water. Use back brush and foot scrub. Turn on water. Rinse hair and back and feet quickly before it turns cold. And it does by the time you get in between your toes. Turn off water. Wrap yourself in a towel. Shiver. Cuss. Complain. Dry off.
We keep the heat at 64 degrees inside because its heated with propane. In small tanks. And we don’t have the luxury of going up and down the mountain to refill the tanks frequently. Because Brad is steadfast in his indomitable determination to finish the house before the snow falls.
The snow fell. A month ago.
#2. Lived in a forest without human interaction. There are people. I’ve seen them. But they have their own lives and come and go and I’m in an RV chittering away like the squirrels outside, where nobody hears me but the two dogs.
A bright beacon of light shined down on me last week. Part-time neighbors came over and invited me to dinner. I had to hold off a sob. Dinner? In a proper house? With a fireplace and floor heating and a kitchen that doesn’t belong in a doll house? I almost followed them home immediately. And since they are only here around a week or two every few months, I wanted to fall to the ground, wrapping my arms around their legs begging them not to leave.
#3. Used an outhouse as a main source of bathroom necessities. Actually, I don’t remember ever really using an outhouse. Those mobile things they have at concerts? Yes, and I thought they were repulsive. But because the property we bought had no toilet in the cabin (and I use the term loosely) the only facilities were an outhouse. AND – because the septic guy, who was supposed to be here in September to dig and install the system never showed up, I won’t have a place to “go” until spring.
By the way, in case you are wondering, in the winter, it takes approximately 3.6 seconds for a toilet seat to warm up after you sit on it. You’re welcome. Use that in your next Trivia game.
Before you ask, yes, the RV does have a toilet. BUT – without a proper septic tank to dump in, we can’t do the “big number” in there.
And it IS a big deal. Because I have a system that functions quite regularly. Which leads me to #4 …
#4. Pooped in a shopping bag. I know. Why would anyone poop in a shopping bag? Picture, if you will, temperatures of -9. Yes, that’s right. At 6 in the morning, when sunrise isn’t until 8. There’s no way of “holding it” for 2 hours. Neighbor reported a bear broke into his outside freezer. Another neighbor said a bobcat attacked his fake deer in his front lawn. And we had a red fox sitting by our woodpile. There is no way, for all the Chianti in Tuscany, that I’m going to go outside, in the pitch dark, walking over mounds of snow with a flashlight scanning the horizon for animals that are higher on the food chain than I am.
So I do what I have to do. Bag it, drop it outside and wait for the sun to come up so I can drop it in the dreaded outhouse.
#5. Had to warm my clothes on a heater before putting them on.
Because we are thrifty with our propane, which heats the trailer, we set it at 56 degrees at night. Even if it’s set at 90, everything stored in the drawers and closets are kept away from the heat, sitting on the uninsulated sides of the RV. So the clothing is frigid.
Waking up is a battle of wills. Who will win? Who will last the longest under the 40 lbs of blankets we have on our bed to keep us warm throughout the night? Who will be the one to rush out, turn up the heat while the other one waits until it gets above freezing? After which we have to lay our clothing, piece by piece, on the small radiator to heat it up before we put it on our bodies.
# 6. Had to ration water. We’re not talking 10 minute showers. We’re talking hard core rationing.
Yes, this is the water I have to use for the day. Because the house isn’t done enough to live in, and the water tank is hooked up to the house, we have to use a hose for water into the RV. And the hose is above ground. And because it’s above ground, if it gets to freezing temperatures, it freezes. No water. None. So every day Brad fills up the jugs and I ration them. I have two bowls in the sink, one to wash and the other to rinse dishes. I heat the water in an electric kettle for dishes. I pour the jugged water into my Britta. I cook and clean with it. I yell at the dogs that they’re drinking too much water. We brush our teeth and wash our faces in cold water in a glass.
And by the way, I DO rock the no makeup look.
#7. Gone for 5 days without a shower. See above. No running water, no showers. Each day Brad says “oh, gosh, on Thursday it’s going up to 41!” We can have a shower! Wash clothes! I am gleeful. Only 2 more days. I just bought some natural “Lume” deodorant. It works for 72 hours they say. They lied. We’re those people. The best thing I can say about us is that we have our own teeth.
So – it’s Thursday. Weather report checked this morning. Instead of being 41 degrees at 2 p.m. it’s not getting above freezing. No shower. None. More jugs. I told Brad “I’m over this” and he said “why?” I said “because I’m dirty. My head itches, my feet itch, I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 4 days now and I’m willing to pay $50 to take a goddamn shower.” He rolled his eyes.
The ground is too frozen to bury a body. Which leads to #8…
#8. Bathed in a bowl. Sorry, but I couldn’t stand myself. And there is no hope on the horizon. So I took the kettle, took a towel, took a washcloth and 2 bowls. Heated the water and dunked my head into a bowl of steaming liquid heaven. I stood on the towel and scrubbed myself from head to feet. I lathered with my lavender goat soap, dried off and covered myself in sweet smelling lotion. Put on clean clothes, and became human once again.
9. Considered sweats a fashion statement. Look. I used to work in the fashion industry for over a decade. People looked up to me! I was always on trend, always the first to wear a brand new style. When the mini skirt died, I was the first in my crowd to wear a midi. When the mini skirt resurfaced, I was the first to give it that reincarnation. I had cute clothes and cute shoes. Now? Not so much.
I literally jumped for joy when we drove to the post office so I could pick up my 4 pairs of long underwear. Seriously I was the girl who got excited about LONGJOHNS! Who am I? And to top it off, I got these rockin’ pair of Santa boots from K-mart. And a pair of big men’s sweats to complete the look. Not to mention snow pants I ordered which, combined with the snow jacket I found at Costco, makes me look like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.
#10. That I would marry THIS guy ...
I’m a city girl. I like to go out. I like to shop. I like the outdoors if it stays outdoors. I can enjoy it. I can love the smell of pines and firs, the west fork of the bitteroot as it meanders up and down the valley, a hike in the forest. But after that, I want my creature comforts. And then I met this guy.
He’s a hunter, a fisherman, a lumberjack, a pounder of nails and maker of joists. He’s a dreamer and a planner. He sets goals. He talks to me of things to which I know nothing. And I nod like those bobbleheads in the back of cars, making appropriate sounds that signify absolutely nothing. I’m none of those things. And yet …
He builds walls. And houses for me, that he thinks I will like. He plants gardens with herbs and flowers. He takes me to Home Depot so I can pick out the toilet of my dreams. And sometimes, just sometimes, when I say”I’m over it” he doesn’t roll his eyes. He gets the keys and says “let’s go. You deserve a dinner out.”
And just like that, it doesn’t matter that I pooped in a garbage bag in the morning. That my hair looks less Charlize Theron and more Amy Klobuchar. That the best I can muster to wear that’s still clean is brown fleece pants and a stretched out blue sweater. It doesn’t matter that the highlight of my day, up to that point, was flossing my teeth. Because, with him, I can see the big picture. And I know that someday, somehow, I will be warm and comfortable in a house that smells good and looks out over the snow capped bitterroot mountains.
And that this guy, this Renaissance man, let me pick out a toilet with TWO flush buttons. If that’s not love, then you can just butter my butt and call it a biscuit.
Brad is busy building a house. He’s out literally from dawn to well past dusk renovating (tearing down?) a summer cabin and building anew in a flurry of activity to get it done and livable by Thanksgiving. Before we’re buried in snow so deep that they won’t find our frozen bodies until well into spring.
I’m inside the rv in my own flurry of activity – but mine is more the mental rather than physical type. I’m on the computer, off and on, until I go to bed. I’ve never been a manual labor type but even so, my mental fatigue is every bit as real as someone else’s physical exhaustion.
Same, but different.
Breakfast has always been a “whatever you want” meal, each on our own. I don’t do breakfast. I can’t cook first thing. I have coffee, half a bagel, and wait until the electrons start firing. I have no problem making the “main meal” but I am certainly not interested in cooking full gourmet fare three times a day. Or even twice. We eat Mediterranean style, so our main “supper” is done in the afternoon. And the evening meal, if you are still hungry (which I’m normally not) it’s a sandwich, salad, or leftovers. Easy, light and thrown together quickly.
When I was overloaded on the computer, Brad would sometimes take pity and take me somewhere, anywhere as long as I didn’t have to cook, or clean up afterwards.
Here in the woods, all bets are off.
One of the biggest obstacles for a writer is interruptions. This goes for anyone who has to write anything for a living – I do marketing full time and writing part time. Both involve searching for the right words, put together the right way.
When Brad takes a break, he wants to eat. IMMEDIATELY. And for me, I’m in the middle of doing numbers and writing prose and I look up and think “oh, shit it’s 1 p.m. and the beast will be arriving soon wanting something in his mouth within 10 seconds flat.”
If I had my crock pot (which is still packed away with all my summer clothes, which doesn’t matter now because summer is heading out the door here in Montana) I’d throw a bunch of stuff in it and call it supper. I don’t. So I don’t.
But I”m getting better. I’ve started a bit of planning at breakfast, and by the time Brad gets himself into beast mode, I have a healthy, filling and delicious meal to last him the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, that’s good in theory but not in practice. After I prep, cook, and clean up, I have to jump back on the computer. And by that time, I’m elbow deep into emails, promos, planning, not to mention my promise to blog about the construction process of the home. I promised Brad I’d do that. Even though I have no idea about the process. So I sound like an idiot and make it up as I go along. A promise is a promise after all. I never promised it would be good. So my hope was that the huge afternoon meal would suffice. Silly girl.
Last week, I was horrendously busy doing bookings, loading information on several booking engines, updating social media, answering phone queries … that I had literally grown roots in front of my computer. I forgot to brush my teeth. I hadn’t looked at a mirror all day. My neck and shoulders were stiff, my back hurt and my knees locked up from inertia. I was an aching, rigid, drained yet over caffeinated mess. A mess without a plan.
So that I don’t sound like a complete whiner, I do understand. Brad works harder than anyone I know. He’s out there doing sweaty stuff. Felling trees, lumber milling, peeling logs, digging holes, filling them with concrete, building and installing floor joists. By the way, I just actually learned what a joist was. I had a vague idea, but now I actually know. Brad? He’s a regular Paul Bunyan. And of course, he is starving when he walks in the door. Whereas I’m so worked up, stressed and trying to hit my deadlines that food is the last thing on my mind.
He walked in, looked around and asked “what’s for dinner?” Mind you, he had three huge burritos only a few hours earlier and I thought it would fill up the gnawing ache in is belly. I had one and I would have vomited if I put any other food in my mouth until breakfast.
He started rooting in the fridge, pulling out the egg carton. And then I stepped into it. I asked, innocently enough “you’re going to have eggs? Again? You had 2 eggs for breakfast.”
I had awakened the hibernating bear.
“Well, what am I supposed to eat? There’s no lunch meat, or anything!”
I offered to make a salad, and he informed me that he needed PROTEIN. Again, trying to appease, I said that we had some cooked beans. A good protein!
“BEANS? You expect me to eat BEANS? I need MEAT!”
I was scared, so I let him eat his eggs.
I then vowed that I would do a more Biblical job of feeding the hungry, so started, of course, looking on Facebook. And found an article by a doctor, a cardiologist no less, on the best forms of protein. And so it went …
Mind you, this is one of those annoying videos that you have to sit through to get the answer, and then you’ll have to give up your email and then you’ll be stalked until you give up and get a different email address.
But the doctor set out the protein options starting with the first – cow. Cow is good. NO cow is bad – move on to pig.
Pig could be good, but it’s not. It’s not the ‘other white meat” so don’t be fooled. Chicken is the best bet.
Except it’s not because out of all the protein, fish is the healthiest. Yes. I love fish. We love fish. We can do fish … except
There is too much mercury in fish. It’s not healthy. The best form of protein is BEANS.
We do beans! And legumes! I make a great bean soup and a killer bean, veggie and rice burrito. SAVED. Except
Beans are bad. They used to be good until this doctor found out how bad they are. They have lectins. Lectins can destroy your body. Last thing you want is a lectin messing with you!
At this point the video is winding down, and I’m thinking, if one more person tells me that beets are so good for me, I’m going to grab my Italian Mama wooden spoon and go after the backs of their thighs.
But wait. Dr. Feelgood has the answer. And all I need to do is grab it, and put it on a plate for Brad. Protein. The best ever protein. TWO CHOICES EVEN!
Wait for it …. drumroll please ….
Spirulina and Chlorella!
And, if you’re not sure how to prepare these amazing forms of the best protein ever, the good doctor has just the spirulina and chlorella shake that has your name on it. And he will sell it to you for the price of $19.95 plus shipping and handling. I’m dragging out my credit card as we speak.
Yesterday I went to the store. I bought chicken and hamburger and tuna and beans and pork. Today I put together meals enough for a week, and stuck them in the freezer. So we have taco and burrito guts, pasta toppings, chicken sandwich fixings, and pulled pork at the ready.
Because, when I go and meet my new primary care physician, and she inevitably asked me “do you feel safe in your home” i won’t have to say “no. I do not feel safe in my home.” Because I have learned my lesson. Never, under any circumstances, do you poke an angry lion.
June is my birth month. And every June I get the inevitable question from my sisters … “what do you want for your birthday?”
The answer is quite simple. I simply do not know. I need a lot. I mean, I’m living in a 33 foot RV with an irritable man and 2 big labrador retrievers. I have no room, and as one friend put it “that’s a lot of flesh in one small space.”
There is zero counter space. I love to cook. It’s my bliss. I love creating something spectacular out of what I can scrounge up in the refrigerator. But with an EZ bake oven, a Suzy Homemaker fridge, and counterspace taken up by a dish drain and kettle (which is all that the tiny counter holds) I find myself throwing hot dogs in a pot and calling it dinner. It’s not me. I don’t know who it is, but perhaps I have descended into the Trailer Trash who microwaves all her meals and spends the day watching old Lifetime movie reruns. If I only had a TV.
And my sisters are so kind, and generous. So I try to downplay gift giving, because I’m bad at it. And I’m broke. So when their birthdays come around, I have to try to be creative, which is not in my wheelhouse, and come up with things that you can’t put a value on.
So I mentioned warm socks and long underwear. Because my neighbor scared me when he asked whether we were leaving come winter. And when we said no, he laughed. He thought it was hilarious. I guess being the butt of the joke means you don’t always get the joke. Until he told me that it gets down to 20 below.
Wait. What? 20 below? Like below ZERO? I can’t even picture what that would look like. I’m thinking, when the dogs go out every day to pee, does that freeze too? Will my hair and eyelashes freeze and break off?
Will I be even more of a house root vegetable than I already am? Questions that deserve answers I’m quite sure. But answers I do not have. Check back in December.
My sisters don’t give me what I mention. Because they’re better than that. They read my texts and know me. So I get wonderful gifts that are so timely and appropriate, that I’m horribly embarrassed to send them homemade huckleberry jam and other delights that I can scratch together in a kitchen that a Lilliputian would have a hard time fitting in.
Low and behold, one box arrived at the post office. With the most glorious snow boots a girl could dream of. Covering essential parts, warm, luscious. I Immediately put them on and walked around, saying “SNOW? WHO’S AFRAID OF THE STINKING SNOW? NOT THIS MOUNTAIN MAMA!” I was wearing my fuzzy lipstick lounge pants, and it was 75 degrees outside, but you get the idea …
Then another gift arrived. Along the same theme – surviving the Montana winter. Another smart move. For what is one to do when the snow is crawling up the side of the home, your eyelashes freeze if you go outside, and the Direct TV dish, in all likelihood, will be covered in snow (once we get it) and I’m quite sure Brad will not tromp out so I can watch American Horror Story. I’m sure because he didn’t tromp out in Washington, and the snow was just a couple of inches.
So the answer, of course, is to entertain thyself. And my sister gave me the perfect solution to get me through the trying times …
By the time the first snow falls, Brad promises that we will be “dried in.” I will have a larger kitchen, I’ll have a wood burning stove, there will be a pot of beans, or soup, or stew on said stove, and I will be well equipped for the freezing temps – book in one hand, boots on my feet, armed with an attitude that will astonish the snowbird neighbor who heads to Arizona come Thanksgiving.
I can do this. I think. I mean, it’s snow. How bad can that be?
Armed with our RV packed with 2 adults, 2 big labs, and a reams of paper printed from Zillow on the perfect pieces of heaven, we drove off to look for America.
At first I was smitten and wanted to look at all the small towns that dotted north central Washington. The names drew me – Tonasket, Chewalah, Metalline Falls, Oroville, Okanogan, Loomis. They looked adorable. Small and picturesque. Friendly!
I joked with Brad that perhaps the Alaskan Bush Family, who moved there, could help him build his dream log house. And he could be on TV! YAY!
They were small. And far away. From anything. Remembering last year when Brad was butchering chickens and somehow forgot that it was the chickens he was butchering, and not his forearm, which resulted in me tearing down the highway to get him to the nearest hospital for his gazillion stitches, leaving me to bag up 50 warm chickens … AND knowing that the closest large hospital in north central Washington was 3 hours away from these cute small towns, I decided to pass.
And Eastern Washington gets hot. Like really hot. Like hot, desert hot. I don’t do hot. I don’t sweat. So we tossed those Zillow sheets in the trash.
Brad loved Montana. I swore I’d never live in Montana. I pictured myself living amongst survivalist Mountain Men. Guys stashed in shacks with double aught shotguns pointed out a ripped screen of the front window whilst spitting tobacco into a spittoon on the front porch with a banjo playing the sound track from Deliverance in the background.
But, in doing further research, I stumbled upon Missoula Montana. Missoula! Missoula had upscale shops. Missoula had downtown flair. Missoula had a 5 star French restaurant. I can do Montana. I can live amongst the smart and trendy!
With glee, practically rubbing his hands together, Brad put together about 100 properties in Montana. All the while telling me how much he loved me and my adventurous spirit. We could have it all – in Montana.
We spent weeks going through the Zillow sheets. One property topped both of our lists. We knew we had a limited budget and this came in below it. Brad wanted to build, but this one had a building we could comfortably live in while he spent time building his dream log cabin. It had water, power, it was on a river, it had 20 wooded acres. It was PERFECT.
“ 20.17 ACRES OF TIMBERLAND WITH A SEPTIC, POWER, WELL & DOUBLE DETACHED 32′ x 36′ GARAGE. READY TO BUILD YOUR DREAM HOME IN WESTERN, MONTANA. REMOVE A FEW TREES & YOU’LL HAVE FANTASTIC RIVER VIEWS! SEVERAL YARD HYDRANTS & A FEW OUTBUILDINGS FOR MORE STORAGE. GARAGE IS APPROX. 90% INSULATED WITH 220 AMP SERVICE, 10′ DOORS & A WORKBENCH. HOT TUB INCLUDED! “
As we crossed over the border of Montana, I begged Brad to stop, first, to see our dream property. It had everything on our check list! Timber, woods, river, a place to live, and a hot tub to boot!! I wanted to look before someone would swoop that up. It was gorgeous.
Until it wasn’t. As we drove across the small country road that backed the property, we came to the next door neighbors. The neighbors who shared a common chicken wire fence with.
Something that Zillow neglected to mention – your next door neighbors are hoarders. But it’s OK, just plant some trees and you’ll be fine.
When we arrived, I looked at Brad and said “this can’t be it.” Because, it was not on a river. Or close to a river. And you couldn’t just “cut some trees” to get a river view. Because the trees were not on your property. The river was not on your property. But what WAS on your property was a railroad track. Yeah, the house sit right by a functional railroad track.
To top it off, the 20 acres were not. There were about 2. The rest were up the mountain. Unusable unless you wanted to raise mountain goats. And never wanted to see them again.
“Let’s not be discouraged. Let’s explore Montana. We’re not on a timeline, so let’s just drive around.”
And we did, and I discovered Whitefish. I could live here! These people could be my people! I loved this town! Whitefish is calling to me, and I NEED to live here! It’s at the entrance of my absolute favorite national park. It’s a sign!
We tossed through our Zillow sheets and found one (only one) listing that was within our budget. Whitefish is not a budget town. Whitefish is where the rich and famous come to play. So buying the worst house on the best street has GOT to be an investment, right?
Armed with the Zillow stats, we contacted the listing agent and took the drive to our cabin in the woods.
Pictures showed a cute wooden cabin. Pictures showed log interior that was cozy and oozing with charm. Pictures lie. Zillow lies.
So the house, on first glance, looked great. But upon entering (which took several tries by the realtor to try to shoulder into the door. Because the concrete foundation had somehow moved from under the house, to over the bottom of the house) the interior was more like this:
Not only could you roll a marble from one end to the other at breakneck speed, but what was equally troubling was the fact that there was a bathtub inside the living room. Inside. The. Living. Room. Is that considered entertainment for guests? Who bathes out in the open in full view of everyone? Oh, wait …
I wanted to go home. Unfortunately, there was no going home. There was no going back. There was only adventures ahead. And I wanted no part in it. And, I’m seriously considering suing Zillow for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Montana Living. To Brad it means, finding raw land, building a house with his bare hands, and after a year, moving into the incomplete home while still constructing and finishing it. All the while doing chopping, sawing, digging, dragging, cutting, nailing, hammering, sweating, cussing and yes, there will be blood involved.
My vision was finding the perfect little house that needed a bit of “gingerbreading” but where everything is already in place. A bit of paint, a bit of furniture, and maybe constructing deck in the back and veranda in the front. And drinking coffee at sunrise and red wine at sunset. Done.
Being that our budget is more conducive to Brad’s dream than mine, it came to pass that we might need somewhere to live between the sawing part and the moving in part. So we started the process of “Finding the perfect yet temporary home on wheels.”
First off, just have to say, people on Craig’s List lie. I’m less willing to accept things on face value. Brad gets excited and I have to play the Eeyore role and burst his pretty little bubble.
Because, inevitably, RV’s and travel trailers on Craig’s List are pictures like this:
But end up in reality looking like this:
Or the words sound wonderful, pictures pristine, and Brad wants to drive down immediately to take a look. And then you get “the story.” We’ve had “the story” many times on Craig’s List. It is almost identical, whether you are looking for a 5th wheel, a puppy, or a used car. The recent ones went:
“The RV is in a container. It’s ready to drop ship directly to you. Just pay via Amazon pay and I guarantee you’ll be happy. It was my husband’s, who died a year ago and I just can’t look at it.”
Unfortunately, this is just a variation on a theme. It can be a purebred boxer, who was owned by her son, who died in a car accident 3 weeks ago, and all you have to do is pay for the cargo flight for the dogs from Alaska, even though I posted the ad under the Lancaster California Craig’s List site. Or a car that she can’t use because she’s serving in the miliary and is currently overseas serving our country in Afghanistan, and it’s in a container ready to ship directly to you.
Brad gets excited about the listings, because “it looks nice and clean and the price is incredible.” And I always say “write and see who died to make this incredible deal possible.” And I’m always right.
We searched. Going from one Bubba Gump
…Does the slide out work? …Yes …Can we see it work? …Fumbles with the buttons, nothing happens, Fumbles some more …Um, it works, I guarantee it.
To the next
…Why is there a bed in the front yet a dirty mattress and pillow on the floor in the back? And has the stove ever been cleaned? Or the shower? Or the toilet? And I’m sorry, but is that something living in the oven?
…Um, it’s my sons. He’s not real clean. But he’ll include the TV.
Until we finally hit pay dirt with a really nice 33 foot trailer from a really nice young man who got it from his grandparents who were really nice and everyone was really nice. It didn’t smell like 3 month old body odor, everything worked, and they threw in a Keurig. I mean, what’s not to love?
So, we hitched up in Washington, loaded up with a few essentials, tossed the two labs in the back and hit the road. Heading across 3 states. To live in an RV park until the perfect piece of Montana heaven would fall squarely in our laps.
It was 7 p.m. when we finally started on the road – Brad driving the truck and pulling the trailer, me bringing up the rear with our SUV. We were to drive “as long as we can.” For Brad, it meant driving at least 12 hours a day. For me, not so much.
Armed with long range walkie talkies so Brad could communicate every minutiae with me, we set off. As soon as we hit the road, Brad radioed “I just want to get over the pass and then we can stop anywhere.” Being that we both woke up at 4 in the morning, I sucked it up and replied that I’d give it the old college try. But not really feeling it.
After a few hours (and many many hours less than the “just over the pass) I was struggling. It was really dark. And really cold. And my eyes started to do that weird thing that eyes do when they have trouble focusing on simple things – like the car in front of me. The side of the road. The steering wheel. I told Brad I would continue but I was having trouble focusing. He told me that we “only” had another 2 hours, and to roll down the window and put in a CD. I had 3 choices. I picked the loudest, an old Jimmy Buffett best of CD, and sang out loud. Blinked a lot. And talked to myself.
Thirty minutes later we turned off the side of the road. At the top of the pass, not over it, thank you very much. There was a gas station and convenience store in the distance, and I drove there so I could wash up and go to the bathroom. Because, I was belatedly told, the RV was “winterized.” Which meant I couldn’t use anything in the RV except for the bed. I didn’t sign up for that part.
“But – I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. At least once maybe twice. What am I supposed to do?”
Brad was pretty sure it would be ok if I peed in the toilet. I just couldn’t use the water in the sinks because the RV had antifreeze in the pipes.
Like clockwork, I was up 2 hours after falling asleep and used the toilet. Got back into bed and it felt like my arms had Ben Gay on them. Icy hot. I just KNEW that somehow that antifreeze jumped out the toilet and the fumes wrapped themselves around my forearms.
I shot out of bed and took a bottle of water, VERY COLD water, and rinsed off the entire top part of my body. And went back to bed.
5 a.m. And I had to pee. Bad. The kind of bad where it’s either now, or NOW. And I wasn’t going to pee in Satan’s toilet again.
So I planned it out. I would pee outside. Yep, me. On the side of the trailer in full view of every trucker from here to eternity who stopped in front and back and on either side of us. I could do it.
But how could I accomplish such a feat? Without being discovered? Well, I had a plan. A very good plan. The best plan that had ever been planned.
I slipped a sweatshirt over my nightgown. I pulled off my underwear and slipped into my warm Ugg boots. My plan was to casually sit on the outside RV steps and act like I was gazing at the sunrise. The steps are metal, so I sat on my nightgown in the event that it was so cold I’d freeze my butt permanently to the stairs. At the very, very edge of the steps, gazing and donning my newly discovered Mountain Mamma persona I casually peed.
Proud and satisfied, I climbed back into the trailer. Only to discover that the back of my nightgown was soaked. And my cherished Ugg boots? The ones I bought while visiting my friends Annie and Glenn in Sydney? Authentic Australian made and purchased in Australia and carefully transported from Sydney to Fiji to California to Washington and soon to be worn in Montana? THOSE Ugg boots? Drenched. Soggy. Sodden. Sopping. Danked. Waterlogged. Trashed. Ready for a Valhalla Viking burial.
I was so despondent. My Ugg Boots. I’ve had them for years. And they kept me warm and cozy. I told Brad that I was going to start a Go Fund Me page for new Ugg boots. Thinking he’d have pity on me and try to find replacements, or at least offer words of comfort, he turned to me and said:
“If you’re going to do a Go Fund Me page, do one for something important. Like for a new tractor.”
Today I was called upon to assist in moving our goats. My husband, Brad, built some beautiful new goat barns, and since they were nearing completion, it was time to move the goats to their new homes.
The barns were built for several reasons. The primary one was to provide more separation between the boys and the girls. Last month we caught Mojo, our buck, breeding with crazy Luna, our fast and loose doe, through the fence. Yeah, that’s right. Through. He didn’t even bother to try and jump the fence, he just cozied up to it, found a suitable space, and no matter how many apples Brad hurled at him, he remained unfazed. I, on the other hand, was scarred for life. But that’s a whole other story.
So three barns were built – one complete and the other two will be within a day or two.
Building crew. Brad and son James. We don’t have a lot of friends.
The first one for the girls, the second one for the babies and to store feed, and the third one for the boys. This gives a buffer zone so that we don’t have accidental breedings like this one, which now means that babies will be born in the dead of winter instead of spring.
Since Mojo has hit every single one of our three does, Brad took down the fencing between all in order to create the new barn and pastures. So they all lived together in one big happy mess – being that they couldn’t do any more damage than they already had. And today was the day that the entire herd of 6 would have to be convinced to move, en masse, out of their pasture, into the barn, out of the barn, up the driveway, across the side road and into an unfamiliar pasture and barn. And Brad was sure the two of us could do it if we tempted them with grain.
Yes, Baby Ruth, I know. I had the same look when Brad told me it would be easy.
I know I’ve mentioned it before. Goats go where goats go. They are not like cows. They are not like horses. They are not like dogs. They are entities unto themselves. And unless you plan on physically picking them up and carrying them, they are moving only when they want to move and only where.
When the barn door opened and we unlocked the pens, it seemed easy. They all ambled out, looking a bit dazed. First off, two of the 6, Cinnamon and Pepper, were born right there in that same barn. Three of the others – Mojo, Buddy and Luna, were there since they were just past toddler stage. And Baby Ruth (don’t make fun of her name – her Mom was Reese’s and her Dad was Skittles) arrived 6 months ago as a baby. So this was home for as long as they could remember.
Out from the pasture, into the barn, out of the barn – that part went smoothly. Brad had a bucket of grain, I was to lead the way, open the gate to the pasture, and when he went in, I’d close the gate after him. Done and done.
I was trying to walk fast, with purpose, but had goats running behind me trying to get their heads in the scoop of grain. Whilst I was determined to get them all into the pasture as quickly as possible, I also knew that if I did anything foolish, like run, I would inevitably step in a hole, twist my ankle, and end up with 24 full grown hooves on top of my body, breaking something important that I would probably need sometime in the future.
We did, finally, get them in. I was tasked with “keeping them occupied” while Brad filled up their water basins. Keep them occupied? How? Did they want a song? A story? No, Brad handed me both the grain bins. Ok. Picture with me, a 5’5″ woman balancing 2 grain buckets with goats that, if standing on their hind legs would reach over Brad, who’s 6’4″. And you can’t just move out of the way. Noooo. They are shoving and butting and trying to grab the buckets out of my hand. I ended up throwing them over the fence and scooting out the gate before they noticed.
Then Brad and I realized – 5 goats in, 1 still out. Crazy Luna.
Me, move? Not happening.
If goats are stubborn, Luna is unyielding. And she decided she’d rather not. Not do anything like anyone else. Buck Mojo was getting anxious, as his main squeeze was not with the herd. Everyone was a bit tense, and I just wanted to get back to the house to eat the pizza we made for lunch.
Brad’s plan was for me to be inside the gate, wait until he coaxed Luna right up to the gate, at which point I’d open it, he’d shove her in, and all would be right with the world.
He coaxed Luna, I stood by the door, unlocked it and Mojo made a mad dash for the opening. I tried to grab him, but he’s big and buff and while I had a hand on him, he bumped me to the side, I stumbled, and grabbed the fence. The electric fence
A jolt went from my hand, down my back, up my neck, through my other arm, to my hand and right onto Mojo’s back. He jumped, I screamed, he ran, Brad shoved. He slammed the gate, turned to me and I waited to see his concerned look, for I was sure he was awash in worry about my well being.
He looked at me and said, “well, at least we know the fence works.”
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we decided that an investment we made in a country not our own, when sold, would yield us a small yet tidy profit we could live on and eat with and not have to work all the way until we were 90 or died. Whichever came first. It was a great plan, a beautiful plan, a plan like no other. And since we have been self employed for, like, forever, it was the only plan we had.
As plans go, it worked on paper. It worked in real life. And would have worked swimmingly if it was a plan executed in the United States. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Getting money out of foreign countries can be like getting milk from a bat? Have you ever tried to milk a bat? I haven’t but I assume it would be pretty hard.
And as such, instead of traveling to Italy in August for the gelato festival, we are now living our Plan B. Which is, let’s throw something against the wall and see what sticks.
I have no skills. No, really. I can’t do much. I’m ancillary to the big guy. When everyone is out creating something special, I make the ice tea and chocolate chip cookies. I’ll provide the best lasagna this side of Asti after you are done building goat barns. I’ll bake an Italian cream cupcake that will knock your socks right off your bone weary feet. But doing anything that actually produces something profitable? Just not in my wheelhouse.
So when our does, Luna and Cinnamon, became “with child” we had to decide what to do with the vats of goat milk that we had no room for.
This is Luna. It’s obvious why she’s called what she is. Her registered name is “Fieldhaven Winter Moon.” But Luna is what she is.
I know, she’s a bit off. Hence the name.
We had a refrigerator so full of milk that we had no room for food. Literally. So I made cheese. Making cheese was fun when you only had a gallon of goat milk. I made loads of ricotta. I made a ton of chevre, all sorts of chevre. Lemon rind, lavender, rosemary, smoked salmon, blueberry. But when you have 20 gallons waiting to be turned into cheese, I just wanted to run into the bedroom, hop in bed and throw the covers over my head. It was too much, all at once, and it was a never ending process. Make one gallon, get two more. There was no getting ahead.
So I came up with the bright idea that I would make goat’s milk soaps. The best part is that if you make soap out of goat milk, you have to freeze the goat’s milk. Problem solved! I didn’t have to hear Brad nag that “we’re running out of space, when do you think you’re going to make more cheese?” All the excess milk could be frozen and I could merrily make soap today, or tomorrow, or even next week.
Soap making was fun. It was a lot of work for a little bit of product (hours to make 10 bars of soap) but I liked it. But then I got bored. I made a nice bar of soap, but I wanted more. I always want more.
So I played with scents. I blended. I played with colors and textures and patterns. And then I took it to the streets. Or in this case, the internet highway and decided to sell online.
Being that I was in marketing for over a decade in my fresh-from-college years, I knew how important presenting the soaps would be. I wasn’t going to just take a photo of a bar of soap. I mean, how plebian would that be? This? Absolutely not:
Who would buy this plain old thing?
I told Brad I needed to infuse my soaps with the personality they deserved. My soaps needed to have a platform! And I had to shoot on location. My Ocean Shores scent needed to be taken to ocean shores. Made sense to me.
Cottongrass needed to be shot in cottongrass. Lavender Fields needed to be shot in a lavender field. How else do you promote your exotic, carefully blended pure organic soaps?
Brad was willing to support this one small skill I seemed to acquire. But to a point. “We are not going to drive an hour to the beach for a $5 bar of soap, Susan. We’d spend more in gas.” And of course, if we drove an hour to the beach, I’d demand lunch as well. And he knew that. You can’t take me somewhere and not buy me a meal. Or a gelato. I’m not getting to Italy anytime soon, so I need at least some creature comforts.
I set out to find locations onsite for the soaps. I trekked through our woods, and it seemed to go pretty well I’d say.
But there was only so much grass and ferns and oddities, and I needed more. I got my marketing juices flowing to create scenes and stories. My soaps deserved no less than a great story.
And the names reflected their stories – Avalon, the mystical island of King Arthur. First Kiss, that sweet second of innocence and romance. Sea and sand, fresh ocean air and sand between your toes. Empress, when being a princess was just not enough.
My girls had arrived.
I became best friends with Michael’s and Home Goods and Hobby Lobby. I needed sparkly things and shiny things and stones in bags and feathers! I’m a woman on a mission. To save the family farm – one bar of soap at a time. And I can do it with props! Lots and Lots of props! Joan of Arc, riding on my horse, soaps in my satchel, fighting off pestilence and famine with the prettiest little bars of soap you could ever hope to find.
The other day Brad asked me “why is there soap propped up against my pillow. And why is there a sleep mask on the soap?”
Silly man. It’s my new Chamomile and Lavender Sweet Dreams soap. And he had the puffiest pillow in the house.
“You have to do something with all that milk.” That’s what I heard first thing this morning when my husband, Brad, opened the refrigerator door. That’s what I heard before I drank my first cup of coffee, brushed my teeth or even looked in the mirror. Although recently the mirror has not been kind so I’ve skipped that early morning ritual.
To his credit, we DID have a ton of goat milk in the refrigerator. I count 5 gallons of milk in the fridge, and packs of milk in the freezer to make 2600 bars of goat’s milk soap.
“We have too much because YOU are not doing anything with them.” And, before coffee, at times like this, I want to open a gallon and pour it over his head. Again, no coffee, plus reprimands, makes me have serial killer eyes. Unfortunately, the crazy eye look seems to go right over his head. Otherwise, why would he keep asking me questions? Especially when I have a pot of hot coffee in my hands?
So, I’ve decided to allocate points. Based on what we do, and whether we like it.
We have this agreement, Brad and I. He mainly tackles the outside jobs. The stuff I find either taxing or repulsive. I handle the inside jobs, INCLUDING the jobs that I find both taxing and repulsive. He cleans poop outside – all brands and all sizes – goat, rabbit, chicken – and I handle the poop inside – 3 bathrooms, 2 that are used by Air BnB guests and seem to be cleaned almost every other day at times. Neither of us enjoy these jobs. So it’s a wash. HAHA. Yes, literally.
He spends a lot of time on his riding lawnmower/tractor. I know he mows the lawn, but what else he does on his John Deere, I can’t imagine. I know he moves dirt, moves poop, moves compost. He rides it to the neighbors to ostensibly talk about farm stuff.
And please don’t write and tell me this isn’t a John Deere. I know it’s not a John Deere. Reluctant Farmgirl, remember? This is the only picture I have of him on a tractor, and it was his first one. Stop bugging me about it.
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. He loves to ride the lawnmower, I enjoy cooking, but cleaning? Not so much. So I get one point. Or a half. I do get annoyed that we eat three meals a day. Seems like every time I clean the kitchen, it’s close to time to make yet another meal. When we both worked, breakfast was on the go, lunch was at work, and all I had to really think about was dinner. Now it’s a constant aggravation to think of something for 3 meals a day. With the Air Bnb, I’m also planning guest meals and executing with my usual charm and grace. So yeah, I’ll take the full point on that.
Brad feeds the worms in the worm bin, and distributes his “worm tea” to the different compost areas. Which I find repulsive. But he doesn’t so he doesn’t get the point. I wash the laundry for us and for the guests. I don’t like doing this, so I’ll take the point.
Brad makes stuff. He loves woodworking. I make soap. I love making soap. It’s a win-win for both of us. However, he does have to help me with a few steps, but he doesn’t hate it so I won’t even mention that. And my soaps are legendary …
He walks the fences and mends when needed. He hates walking the fences. That’s an assumption on my part because Loose Luna, one of our does, seems to always find herself in the boy’s pen. She was in the boys’ field twice this week, prancing around and switching her little tail in front of our buck, Mojo. She really is the slut of the neighborhood. Me, I hate dusting which, with two Air Bnb Rooms, I do every couple of days. And our house is almost 3,000 square feet, so there’s a lot to hate. Another wash.
Brad’s major hate is trimming the goat hooves. And he’s also not fond of going down to milk the goats every morning and evening. He has this nice little milking machine, which I would gladly do, but it needs electricity to work. The goat barn is a quarter mile from the house, so it requires a generator for power. And if my life depended upon it, I could not start that pull start generator. Seriously. If I was down at the barn, solo, and needed power to save myself, I would just sit down and cry. I don’t have the upper body strength or stamina to pull that cord hard enough to make it start. I would be more capable of ripping my own arm out and beating myself with it, than starting that generator. So, if he would replace it with one that maybe starts with a button, I would happily go down and do the milking. He gets the point for that one, but with transgressions.
I do all the marketing, writing, reservations, sales for the farm. I love it. It’s what I am trained to do and what I’ve done my whole life. He readies the garden, I help with the planting and harvesting. And I do the cooking and freezing of stuff, and he does the canning. Mainly because I am scared to death that I’m going to kill someone if left to my own devises. I’ll do it but we both agree I shouldn’t handle a pressure cooker, at least not unsupervised.
So, when he says to me that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing with the goat milk, which means making more cheese that we could possibly eat, I think to myself, OK. We have enough milk stored up for the next zombie apocalypse. Why don’t we just let the two does dry up? Give them a break. If Loose Luna scored two days ago, in 5 months we’ll be knee deep in milk all over again. That makes sense, right?
Well, I’m sitting here complaining to y’all because in the fridge is the makings of cheese. I’m supposed to be making cheese. I’m supposed to be doing this while Brad is picking up a third doe we purchased last month with the profit from selling the 3 babies that were born in February. Which means if all three does get lucky, we will have 6 babies to bottle feed, and 3 does to milk and even more milk in the fridge and freezer. If I make cheese out of 5 gallons of milk, and we eat that cheese, my butt will grow so big it will be a gravity defying feat just to stand up.
And if I make the easy cheese – ricotta – then I’ll be tasked with making homemade raviolis. Which are the bomb (do they still say that?). But are a half day’s worth of work. So I’d make them for lunch and hope that Brad eats enough so he doesn’t want dinner. Which, by the way, never happens. He says “oh, I won’t need dinner” and I think “thank God. I don’t have to cook.” But then 7 o’clock rolls around and he says “were you thinking of anything for dinner?”
And you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking yes, I do have an idea for dinner. Why don’t you take a big glass, fill it with fresh goat’s milk, and get back to me in the morning.
You’d think by now I would not be surprised by anything my husband could come up with. I mean, it’s been 32 years together. There’s not much we don’t know about each other. Yet, he continually amazes me with the great lengths he will go to, to find a bargain.
We’ve driven an hour just to pick up an old table. Granted, it was free, and granted, with that one table (and 4 matching chairs) he managed to make a farmhouse style clock, a coffee bar and a living room coffee table. Not to mention a new dining room table (with new top).
But for the better part of the week, he’s driven back and forth every day, most of the day, picking up dirt. “But, it’s free!” he said. And I’m thinking, dirt? It’s free? And that’s a revelation?
We have dirt here. We have 16 acres of dirt. Some is under grass, some is under trees, some is just sitting there. We now have additional mounds of dirt, to add to the mounds of dirt he has when he had the pond dug. I’m not sure what all this new dirt means to me, or what it is supposed to magically do, that the old dirt hasn’t done in the past four years.
The exciting part (I guess) is that today the “free man” gave Brad the use of his trailer thing. This was met with great joy, and so I had to surreptitiously sneak out of the house to photograph this stunning achievement:
It was definitely a Kodak moment. The piles of dirt have made their way from down the bottom of the driveway, to within throwing distance of the front door.
“It’s fill dirt” Brad said, with that look that says “why can’t she see the obvious?”
And I admit. I can’t. See the obvious, that is. All I see are mounds of things. There are mounds of sawdust waiting to become something, I’m sure. There are mounds of compost. There are mounds of poop, categorized by type. Yesterday I had to look at a mound to admire all the worms.
I took on chickens. I took on ducks. I took on goats and even pigs. The mounds, however, confound me. Brad has promised these mounds will accomplish great things. I am to anticipate a joyous event when I see these mounds turn into barns and driveways and landscape art. Yes, it shall be monumental. Behold what I shall do with a week’s worth of mound transportation.
I think I’ll make myself my own mound. Of chocolate chip cookies. Those, I’m sure, I can figure out how to move. And it won’t take a week, or a trailer, to do it.