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.
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.”
One minute we are milking goats, collecting eggs, making soap. The next minute we are loading up boxes and storage containers to move to yet another “forever home.”
Everything was running stunningly. Until it wasn’t. To make a long story shorter and less complicated, our investment and retirement that would not quite allow us to live in the lap of luxury, but would at least allow us to shower daily, fell through. Kaput. Splat. A sale that happened, but on paper only. A change of government that suddenly decided Americans were not their friends. But American money was. Good friends. Such good friends that they would not let the said Americans part with their money. They’d keep it safe. For a long time. Like, forever.
Goats and rabbits and chickens all found new homes. Our house found a new owner. And we found ourselves on the road in an RV looking for the next great adventure.
Sounds exciting, yes? A 33 foot trailer, towed to bright new horizons. Count me in! On the road again. The road less taken. Take me home, country roads. Down the yellow brick road. We’re hitting the road, Jack. The long and winding road. Why don’t we do it … ok, maybe not that one.
My husband was optimistic. “It will be fun” he said and we loaded up the essentials to get by for a few weeks – enough until we found something that suited both our fancy, and our wallets. Those essentials also included two rather large Labrador retrievers.
Me, the big guy (6’4″ and all beef) and two large animals. As a friend coined it “that’s a heck of a lot of flesh.” In a space that seemed to get more crowded as the days turned to weeks, turned into a month.
Labs are wonderful dogs. Until you spend a month stepping over them, smelling them, trying to keep them quiet in an RV park that has “quiet hours.”
Tui, our chocolate lab, has issues with potty time. He can’t go if he’s on a leash. Or if you are looking at him. Or if the stars are not aligned. So we have to suss out a place where he can run free, but be contained, and be secluded enough so nobody sees him do his business.
Barley, our yellow lab, has issues with everything else. He barks at whatever sound is “unusual.” He eats anything that’s on the ground. And he has digestive issues that makes the RV smell like bad salami and rotted vegetables.
All in all, life is not a highway, and as it turns out, I have no desire to ride it all night long. I wasn’t born a ramblin’ man. And, shameful as it may seem, I wasn’t even born to be wild.
Officially, we are out of the evergreen state. We thought, for a New York minute, that we’d settle in the central/northeastern part of the state. Towns are too small, land too dry, in no close proximity of anything I was looking for, and I was sure I saw the Alaska Bush People howling on the side of the road.
So east we go, to the Big Sky Country, which has been one of Brad’s dreams for as long as we’ve been married. We’ve got at least 30 possibles from Zillow, about 10 cans of my homemade pasta sauce, 4 old, dusty CDs in case the radio doesn’t work, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and a Keurig in the RV. What possibly could go wrong?
Lately I’ve been inundated with the mad, crazy information that millennials no longer use top sheets. Oh, the horror! No top sheet? GROSS!!!
My millennial son informs me that no, there is no need, as they all use duvets with covers. The covers then zip off, get tossed in the wash, and back on they go. No need for a top sheet. Clean and easy.
I can’t fathom not having that tucked in top sheet, but decided for my Air BnB guests, I would use a top sheet, but also get a duvet cover so as to guarantee no skin cells but their own will ever touch their skin.
Yesterday my first Amazon ordered duet cover arrived. So I dragged it upstairs, on the road to becoming the cleanest Air BnB this side of the Mississippi.
20 minutes later and I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s clean or dirty. I don’t care if nobody wants to book my rooms. I just don’t care. Here’s the process I went through, from “I’m excited to have a crisp and clean bedroom for guests,” to “I really don’t give a shit.”
Find the zipper. I’m not being stupid. Literally I laid out the cover and rotated it over and over and over again. No zipper. Went downstairs to find the packaging to be sure I didn’t just get two queen sheet that were sewed together. Nope. It said clearly “City Lights Comforter Cover.” Finally, looking closely at each corner, I found the zipper tucked away in a seam.
Unzip. Carefully. Every few inches it gets caught up in all that material. So the process is slow, and if you have the patience and attention span that I do, you’ll end up swearing and jiggling the zipper until you are this close to yanking it so hard you’ll rip the whole damn thing.
Lay out your comforter and start stuffing. This is the part that set me over the edge. It sounds so easy. 15 minutes later I’m still shoving. This is the thing – it doesn’t just lay flat. It doesn’t fit nicely in the cover. It bunches. It bunches up a lot. I started on one side, got the bottom edge nice and smooth, worked my way up to the top and smoothed that out. Then I went to put the other bottom side down, only to discover the other bottom that was smooth, was bunched up and turned under. And I have to tell you, My arms do not reach far enough down on a queen sized duvet to pull it flat. I had to basically crawl on top of the bed, shake the duvet and crawl partway into it to unbunch the edge. All the while threatening to beat the comforter to a bloody pulp.
This went on for 20 minutes. Unbunching, cussing, unbunching. The corners would not lay flat. Not now, not ever. But in 20 minutes I did manager to get all of the comforter into the cover. And if I punched the bunchy bits REALLY HARD and slapped it around a bit (for my own benefit) they seemed to flatten out.
4. Go downstairs, pour a glass of wine, contemplate your achievements, glare at the elliptical and think murderous thoughts about your son, who talked you into the whole comforter cover thing. And ignore the one in the king bedroom until more wine is consumed.
I’m in an Air BnB host forum. European Air BnB owners never use topsheets. They use duvet covers. American Air BnB owners use top sheets AND duvet covers. “Oh yes,” they said on the forum. “And we launder them with every check out.
My son also said he launders his with the rest of his bedding. And I have this to say …
LIARS. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. YOU
Because there is no way in HELL that you are all washing these damn things every day or two. Because like me, Air BnB owners typically get a lot of one and two night stays. And I cannot believe that they battle the stuffing process every day or two. No way. No how.
So here’s what I think. Millennials are either dirty, or dirty liars. Plus, here’s my Baby Boomer philosophy. Want clean? Buy a second top sheet. There are three benefits. 1. It’s cheaper to buy another top sheet than buy a duvet cover. 2. Just as clean – one top sheet on the skin side, lay the comforter on top of the first top sheet, and top with the second top sheet. Done. and 3. There is no fighting. No cussing, No battling the cover, no stuffing, no zipping, no cussing, no punching or slapping.
“Susan. You insisted we needed to buy comforter covers. You’ve already laundered them and used them. We can’t return them, so we’re stuck with them. But i’ll help.” That’s Brad. My husband. Thinking that him climbing on the bed with me as I’m shrieking will help to heal all wounds. And make the whole process easy. Silly Man. He really doesn’t know me at all.
The rain has settled in on the great Pacific Northwest. I’m looking out my office-slash-bedroom window and the drizzle of autumn has replaced the “bluest skies you’ve ever seen” that is summer in Washington State.
And all of a sudden I’m assaulted with those beach memes … and I’m sure you’ve seen them all …
Basically – I hate the beach. There. I’ve said it. Nobody I know would ever admit to it, but I have the sneaking suspicion that there are more of us out there.
When I was just a baby and not even walking yet, my mother took me to Jones Beach – our preferred spot on New York shores. She tells me that she put me on the sand and I immediately crawled towards the water whilst my mother ran to save me from the massive waves that often crest in the Atlantic – which, of course, is never unless you are running towards an 8 month old baby and everything is a threat.
And I’ve been like that ever since.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the “look” of the beach. I love the thought of the beach. Kind of how I love the thought of sleeping outside under the stars. Sailing around the world. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Running a marathon. They all sound so romantic. But the reality is far grimmer. It’s the whole activity of “beaching” that I just can’t tolerate.
When I was in college in Southern California, I was a quick 30 minute drive to the ocean. I’d pack in with my dorm mates and head “to the beach.” Making sure you had no classes on Fridays was a necessity and if you were clever enough to work magic on your schedule, you were assured a three day weekend every single week. And that treasured Friday off was mostly reserved for the beach.
I’d sit on my towel with my girlfriends, all who had the required-at-the-time crocheted bikini, bouncing around, bored, sandy, and waiting for the first one to get up, run to the water and jump in. Nobody would ever make a move. As they once told me “we’ve never gotten our suits wet.” Wait – you go to the beach and don’t go into the water? And they looked at me in horror and said “you actually go IN the water?” And there you have it. Not a beach person. Water, definitely. Beach, no.
For 14 years we lived on an island. And like all islands, it was covered on all sides by beach. I never laid out on the beach. Not once. Not once in 14 years. Don’t get me wrong. My surroundings were gorgeous and beaches are beautiful to look at …
Yes, this was what I used to put myself through every single morning
But it is the “being on the beach” that annoys me. It’s all that sand. I used to exercise by taking long walks on the beach, but in my tennis shoes. Barefoot? Gross. The sand underneath my toenails and clinging to my feet? Not happening. And you can NEVER get all of it off. You rinse one foot, which is great, then you have to put it down to rinse the other one, and the first foot gets sandy again. It’s a never ending story. So you are stuck with gritty feet and sand in your toes and you have to climb in your car and drive with that squeaky, grainy sand all the way home, and I’d have to practice out-of-body experience to stop myself from screaming on the whole drive.
Yeah. I never made mud pies as a child either. Dirt under my fingernails? Not in my wheelhouse.
When we lived on the island, for 10 of the years we lived on the beach. Directly on the sand. 20 steps to the water. I’d swim and snorkel a lot in the warm South Pacific seas. But it was a constant attack of beach. It got everywhere. It clung to your bathing suit, your shoes, your entire body. As much as I swept and showered and vacuumed there were still small particles between our bedsheets. For the entire decade I was uncomfortable in bed. Every night I’d sit at the side of the bed and brush the bottoms of my feet together, hoping upon hope that this one night would be a night of sparkling clean and sand-free sheets. And every night I could feel the grains of sand attaching themselves to my legs and ankles.
I also never could understand all the “beach people” who would sit on a lawn chair or repose on a towel “sunning” or “tanning” as if it were an activity in and of itself. And reading.
Do I love to read? Yes! But not on the beach. If I’m going to tuck into a great novel, I want to be settled into a cushy armchair. I don’t want to have to stop and swat at things crawling on me. I don’t want to constantly dust the sand that’s getting on my person or sneaking into the binding of my book. I don’t want a sun glare on the pages. Or on my Kindle screen. I don’t want to lie on a lumpy patch of sand. Or a stiff lawn chair. I don’t want to scratch my head and get grit under my fingernails. I shudder at the thought.
My favorite time on the beach is winter. In the Pacific Northwest. Why? Because nobody expects you to baste yourself in oil and place yourself in nature’s rotisserie, turning every 15 minutes so you’re broiled on all sides. Or sit under an umbrella in a sunhat, and do nothing but plop. Or doze. Or, worst of all, have a picnic. On sand. So now it’s on your feet, your hands AND your food. Yum.
The beach in winter is a marvelous thing. You don’t take your shoes off. Nobody is around and if they are, they have a sense of purpose – clamming, oyster hunting, fishing. You wear coats and gloves and boots and all that outerwear comes off when you get into your nice heated car. It’s magical – a match made in heaven – a perfect blend of sand that stays where it should, foggy skies, mist on your face, air that is almost cold enough to hurt your nose, but not really, the scent of the sea AND – as an added bonus, we have the LONGEST BEACH on the west coast, and the longest driveable beach in the nation – right here in Washington.
So, when I see all the inevitable “Who wants to shut off their phones and head to the beach?”memes, I am tempted to reply “not me.” But then it’s like saying you don’t like John Wayne (he can’t act) or bacon (it’s ok but really? On cupcakes? Or ice cream?) or the Walking Dead (zombies are stupid) or Titanic (omg barf) or cute kitty videos (not so much) or shoes (I don’t get the allure). It’s kind of like you become “that person.” The one who doesn’t like “normal stuff.” Un-American. Weird. Contrary.
And I am “that person.” I spend my day in men’s sweats. I talk to the TV when I’m alone. Or the dogs. Or the food processor if it pisses me off. I got angry at a key lime pie once and threw it at my husband (ok, it was my husband I was mad at. But the pie annoyed me as well). I like gelato better than ice cream, and fish better than steak. I’d rather buy kitchen stuff than a new pair of shoes. I have tennis shoes, ugg boots for the winter and 2 pairs of sandals for the summer. Anything else is excess. I prefer rain to sunshine. Winter to summer. Snowy days to blue skies.
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.