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?
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 is the day after the “day of gluttonous feasting.” The day after – when dishes are done, leftovers are conveniently stored in the fridge so that if you happen to get hungry today, you can grab a turkey drumstick on your way to whatever Black Friday special you simply MUST HAVE.
So I thought I’d take time to offer some insight into a home cook’s Thanksgiving reflections.
When you tell your guests that Thanksgiving will be ready at 4 p.m. that kinda means dinner will be ready at 4 p.m. If you show up at 5, and don’t alert us beforehand, you can come in and maybe get some dessert if you are lucky. If you show up at 2 and I’m in the kitchen cooking, I’m probably going to throw a hot sweet potato at you.
Here’s the thing. If I ask you “do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions I need to know about” what I really mean is “I don’t give a shit.” I DO want to know if you have a shellfish allergy and I’m serving shrimp on Thanksgiving, for some reason, so I don’t kill you. But that’s the extent of it. I don’t really care that you are “trying to eat vegetarian.” I make my Italian sausage cornbread stuffing. You don’t want the sausage, spit it out. Likewise if you are “putting your body into ketosis” that’s your problem. You don’t want the cornbread part of the stuffing? Spit it on the vegetarian’s plate and you can have her sausage.
Back when we were kids, we got Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody asked us what we liked. We ate it. We gave thanks, damn it, even if we didn’t like the sweet potato casserole thing that Mom made. We were thankful that on Thanksgiving the napkins were big enough to hide that casserole underneath. Nobody cared if you were “cutting carbs” or “avoiding animal fats.” Do it on your own time. But don’t bore me with your laundry list of things you can and can’t eat. And please don’t ask me to “pull aside” something before adding whatever. What I will pull aside is a wooden spoon and chase you out of the kitchen.
Etiquette While Dining:
Dialog and conversation is allowed. As long as the dialog and conversation mainly revolves around the food. Take note on this: the person who cooked the fabulous meal that sits in front of you, most likely started at 3 in the morning (yes, yes I did). And worked until 4 p.m. when the last bit of gravy is poured (and after a few glasses of chianti). So when you are tucking into my succulent turkey cooked in the Cordon Bleu technique, the sweet potatoes with meringue topping straight out of the most recent Cooking Light magazine, brussels with warm, whole grain mustard vinaigrette, or fresh cranberry orange relish; you must (and there are no exceptions) exclaim loudly with each bite “this is the most delicious and amazing food that has ever passed my lips.” You may then (and only then) continue with whatever conversational topic you choose, and if it’s political, I have to agree with you. My house, my kitchen, my wooden spoons.
There are none. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain shoving everything into the fridge. It’s a mirage. Sleight of hand. Because for a home cook who was cooking and prepping for 13 hours, leftovers are the artesian springs in the middle of the arid desert. Mecca. Because leftover means that, for at least the next 3 days, my husband won’t ask “what’s for dinner?” or even “what are we having for lunch?” My clever sister Jen even incorporated stuffing into scrambled eggs. Genius!
Leftovers? I’m owed it, and if I see you abscond with as much as a turkey wing, I will run you down and tackle you in my front lawn.
In Summary, I hope you all had a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, full of amazing food, tantalizing desserts, family, friends and joy. Ours was peaceful and quiet, just the big guy and me, and right now I’m looking forward to a turkey and stuffing sandwich. As well as a massage and foot rub and lots of chocolate. Which I won’t get, but I’ll settle for the sandwich.
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.”
When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl, I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.
Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists. When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.
So it stands to reason that after Jomar introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.
Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.
A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.
So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.
I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.
The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.
If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.
Meat, fish, etc gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.
And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. The best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously. My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.
When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.
By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.
We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.
Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .
The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.
It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.