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?