Never Have I Ever …

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.

Then …

And yes, that is actually me…

Now …

#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.

… I’m learning …

Trailer Trash

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:

Oh so nice – I could live here for a year!

But end up in reality looking like this:

I think I’ll stay in a hotel, thank you

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?

Yep, Mama’s got herself a sweet ride!

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.

Just no

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.”