Thursday, July 20, 2017

Snake on my pillow

I found a snake on my pillow! (This is not my photo, but is a stock photo.
My reaction was not to take a photo of the snake. Rather, I screamed.)
There’s nothing like finding a snake on your pillow to put your trials and tribulations into perspective.

Recently I walked into the bedroom and I spied a snake curled up on my pillow. Thankfully, we do not have rattlesnakes here, so I knew it wasn’t a poisonous snake. It wasn’t a large snake, but it wasn’t a baby snake either. It was a non-poisonous, medium-sized snake. Still, it was a snake. And it seemed to be sleeping on my pillow. So I did what any brave Mountain Woman paddling her own canoe would do: I screamed. Then I quickly exited the bedroom and called the Mountain Man.

“I’ll be right there,” he promised over the phone.

I waited for him outside. When the Mountain Man searched the bedroom and our whole tiny home/camper, he could find no trace of the snake. No doubt my scream had awakened the snake and scared him off. However, the Mountain Man found a frog, which had climbed up the wall above the bed as high as he could. Perhaps the snake had been stalking the frog, and the frog was retreating from the snake. The Mountain Man released the frog outside and then drove away to go back to work. I was not too keen on going back inside, but I did because I had work to do.

Until that moment, my current tiny home/living wild challenges had been finding a single green frog on the floor on my side of the bed almost every day. I know it’s irrational, but I am freaked out by frogs in the bedroom. I am fine with seeing frogs in nature. Frogs belong in nature. They do not belong in a bedroom. But almost every day, I found another frog. Many days, I found him facing the mirrored closet doors. Perhaps he was a vain frog who was bewitched by his own reflection. We put the frog out. I use the word “we” loosely. I opened the door while The Mountain Man put the frog out. And then the next day, the frog would return to face the mirror. Sometimes before we could catch the frog, he hopped underneath the built-in bedframe and disappeared. Were frogs and snakes living underneath our bed?

When the plague of frogs began, I remember saying, “At least it wasn’t a snake.” Now that which I’d voiced had come true. When I found the snake on my pillow, I told the Mountain Man: “At least it wasn’t a rattlesnake.”

“Don’t say that!” he said.

The same day that I found the snake on the bed, the Mountain Man searched the bedding to ensure the snake hadn’t taken refuge there. He hadn’t. Then we took the bed frame apart to peer under the bed. No snake. But there was another frog. The Mountain Man put him outside.

The night of the snake I was a little nervous about climbing into bed. Was the snake still slithering around our bedroom looking for frogs? What if he crawled up onto the bed and tried to share my pillow with me? I removed the snake-contaminated pillowcase, threw it into the hamper, and slid a clean pillowcase over my memory foam pillow. I was not about to get rid of my comfortable, expensive pillow. I am too thrifty to toss out a pillow just because a snake slept there. Besides, buying a new pillow meant a very long drive into town. Somehow, I fell asleep and miraculously, I did not dream of snakes.

It has been more than a month, and we have not seen the snake again. We also are not sure how the critters are entering the bedroom, but the Mountain Man has crawled around the underbelly of the camper to plug holes a critter might crawl through.

Since the snake incident, we began hearing mice in the bedroom running in the ceiling right over our heads. If the snake experience hadn’t preceded the mouse invasion, I would have freaked out. Instead, I bought eight easy-to-set mousetraps. So far, we have caught nine mice. I have learned how to identify whether scat was deposited by a mouse or a frog. (Here’s an interesting fact: Frog poop is much larger than mouse poop.) The Mountain Man sets and empties the traps. I vacuum up the mouse poop and the frog poop. We keep the kitchen clean and store our food in the pantry in mouse-proof containers.

Is the snake still slithering around our home looking for frogs? It’s more likely that he made his way back outside. Just last night we found a frog on the bedroom floor. It had deposited a big frog-poo on the floor right next to the closet mirror. I picked up the poo with some toilet paper and flushed it. No big deal.

I have learned that life goes smoother if you follow the adage “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” With the perspective of experience, almost everything becomes small stuff. A few months ago, tiny spiders dropped from the ceiling every time I showered. Thankfully, I am not afraid of spiders and they weren’t black widows or brown recluse spiders. We don’t have tarantulas here either. I learned to calmly squish the tiny spiders with one hand while shampooing my hair with the other. We also survived living in a camper during the coldest, hardest winter in two decades. It was so cold inside our home that our clothing froze to the closet wall. 

But hey—that’s life when you’re living wild. The extreme cold and the invasion of mice, frogs, wasps, flies, spiders, stink bugs and even a snake is just part of our wild, adventurous life in Northeastern Oregon. Overcoming hard stuff makes me stronger. 

The hard stuff is tempered by the really good stuff. Last Saturday, as we paddled kayaks along the reservoir below our house, we watched two ospreys soaring above the river while looking for dinner. The next day, we hiked into an alpine lake, and the Mountain Man taught me the basics of fly-fishing. As I stood barefoot on the spongey bank and practiced casting my line, I reveled in the trout swimming near my fly, the glorious show of wildflowers, and snow still clinging to the high peaks above the lake.

Some days you might find a snake curled on your pillow. But other days, you get to hike into an alpine lake with your best friend. I even caught my first fish.




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What would you do if you weren't afraid?


"What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

In January, I wrote that question on a Post-it note and attached it to my computer at work. Then I attached a second note above our kitchen sink so I'd read it while I was washing dishes or making a meal. So every day, I pondered the question:

"What would I do if I weren't afraid?"

Sometimes we allow fear to cripple us. Eight years ago, fear not only was preventing me from moving forward, but it also was overwhelming me so that I couldn't think lucid, rational thoughts. I was so gripped with fear--mind, body, and spirit--that I was unable to even make an action plan to move beyond my fear.

Then, while my feet were still cemented to the ground in fear, life took over and blasted me free to think, to act, to move forward again.

So many things--good and bad--happened to me in those eight years. My stable life was yanked from underneath my feet and I fell on my rear. Hard. But looking back, even the very hard things like the loss of my marriage, my job, my home, my financial security--were catalyts for me changing from the inside out. For letting go of fear.

In survival mode, I improvised a new life at age 52. Seeking an affordable, safe home, I moved five times in three years, including living in an artist's backyard studio with no heat, water, or toilet. I started a new career as a newspaper reporter.

Facing my fears, I sought adventure by trying new experiences I'd once feared. I joined a women's dragon boat team, the Mighty Women. I tried belly dancing, zip lining, archery, swing dancing, backpacking, kayaking, spelunking, skiing--and the scariest of all--online dating. I fell in love with the Mountain Man. Four years later, I moved to the mountains of Eastern Oregon to start a new life with the man in love--in 323 square feet with a breathtaking view of two mountain ranges.

I reveled in my new life in Eastern Oregon. But even though I'd changed almost everything about my life, I still clung to the notion of a secure job. Health insurance. Paid vacation. Stability.

Good jobs are scarce in Eastern Oregon, but I got a full-time job at a social services agency managing a program to help pay heating bills of low-income folks in four counties. I also managed a federal VA program to help homeless veterans. The job paid $ .07 more per hour than I made as a newspaper reporter, but with Oregon income tax, my take-home pay was less. I had health insurance again, but it had a $2,500 deductible. My insurance would kick in only if I had another catastrophic accident like my infamous breaking-both-wrists ATV ride.

Although there was some satisfaction in helping people in need, my job was an incredibly poor fit for my skill set. I am not a social worker. I am not a budget guru who can decipher spreadsheets. I didn't have the right tools to do the job. I am a writer, a story teller. My supervisor and executive director were pleased with my work, but deep inside, I was extremely unhappy. Unfulfilled. My spirit shriveled a little bit more every day.

Each day, I looked at the Post-it note and pondered the question: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

The fearlessness of friends and family propelled me forward.

* My high school friend, Kim Hogan, and his wife, Cindy, left steady jobs in the public school system to teach at a school in Qatar. They have seen camel races and gone camping in the desert. On their weekends and school breaks, they seek adventure all over the world: Germany, France, China, Greece. Fearless adventurers they are!

* My friend, Ruth Friebos was afflicted by a life-threatening, mysterious illness that eventually led doctors to save her life by amputating her leg above the knee. Despite so many setbacks, this active woman and skilled photographer continues to see life through the lens of hope and joy, rather than fear.

* My daughter, Katie, has been barraged by a series of very hard things--but has faced fear and not crumbled under the pressure. She's a survivor, that daughter of mine!

As I pondered what I would do if I weren't afraid, I came up with a list.


  • If I weren't afraid, I would go skiing again. I hadn't gone since I'd broken both wrists. I was afraid I'd crash on the hill and the titanium plates holding my shattered wrist bones together would poke out of my skin. So, calling up every ounce of bravery I could, I went skiing. I fell--a lot, but I wasn't hurt. I checked skiing off my fear list.
  • If I weren't afraid, I would make my living as a freelance writer. I started calling and emailing newspapers, magazines, and local agencies. Immediately, I began getting writing projects. I took a deep breath and quit my job. Now I'm freelancing full time--and loving it. 
  • The next biggie on my "fear" list is to finish writing my memoir, "Paddling Her Own Canoe." I've written about a third of the 33 chapters. Now, with discipline and more creativity flowing through me, I will finish writing my book and publish it.

As I write this blog in our tiny home with magnificent views of two mountain ranges, bluejays and doves serenade me.

Fear is behind me. Adventure and joyful living lie ahead.

So here's a question for you: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"



Monday, March 20, 2017

Not my best ski day: Careening down a mountain headfirst, on my back

Some days, the snow is powder, the sky is blue, and the skiing is fine.

But that doesn't describe my latest adventure in skiing.

The powder snow had melted, and then turned to ice. It was raining shards of ice that pelted my face and obstructed my vision.

Skiing on sheer ice is difficult for an experienced skier. For a novice like me, it's a death wish. How do you control your turns and your speed when skiing on a sheet of ice? Very carefully.

One minute I was skiing and in control. But the next, I was careening down the hill on my back--headfirst--so I couldn't see where I was going. Apparently, I also was screaming.

I couldn't get my legs out in front of me to stop. As I slid down the mountain upside down, I prayed I wouldn't slide right off the edge into nothingness. Or hit a tree. Or another skier.

I didn't.

Eventually, I stopped. Amazingly, I still had both skis and poles--not to mention my limbs. No damage to the wrists either.

Shaken, I popped off one ski, and pulled myself back up. Am I crazy for trying to learn to ski at age 57--so soon after breaking both wrists? Many normal women my age are content with keeping both feet planted firmly on the ground.

Maybe I should take up knitting or scrapbooking like a normal woman? But I've never been normal.

A few minutes later, after giving myself a quick pep talk, I was skiing on sheer ice again. As I made my way clumsily down the mountain, I fell several more times. None were as spectacular as my earlier agony-of-defeat head-first death plunge.

When I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, my heart rejoiced. Even though I'd been shaken and scared by the fall, I'd pulled myself together to finish the run.

The next day, I awoke in a body that felt beat up. Large, purple bruises emerged on my right leg.

Some days are golden, with fluffy, powdery snow and blue skies. Other days, we're careening down the mountain on our backs--headfirst--with no view of the danger in front of us.

Just another day in this adventurous life.

Monday, March 6, 2017

For the first time since my ATV accident, I went skiing


Today for the first time since my horrible ATV accident, I got back on alpine skis. And much to my mother’s relief as well as my own, I didn’t break any bones. 

It’s been two years since I last skied. I was a beginner who had just taken my first solo ski runs—and my first solo chair lift rides. When I first started skiing at age 54, the chair lift was the most traumatizing part of skiing (due to an unfortunate chair lift episode when I was 19). The Mountain Man had assured me that skiers do not fall off the chair lift. But trust me, if anyone could fall off the chair lift, it would be me. The klutz.

My saving grace is that I’m an adventurous klutz. So even though I had been terrified of falling off the chair lift, I wanted to learn to ski. So I forced myself to sit down on that chair lift seat and ride it to the top of the mountain. It wasn’t technically good skiing or confident skiing. I fell multiple times. And I was so slow that when I watched a video of one of my runs that first year, I seemed to be skiing in slow motion as other skiers flew past me. Despite my lack of speed, it was fun.

Then the fun ended 18 months ago when I crashed a four-wheeler while crossing a bridge. Despite the fact that people had crossed that bridge on ATVs for decades, I was the first person to ever crash on that bridge. But leave it to me, on my maiden voyage driving an ATV, to crash spectacularly on that bridge. I crushed both wrists. Now I have titanium plates holding my wrists together. I’m the Bionic Woman. Well, maybe the Klutzy Bionic Woman.

After my accident, my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist sidelined me for an entire ski season while I continued healing and regaining my fine motor skills. My surgeon said I could eventually return to skiing and other adventurous pursuits. He said my titanium wrists would be fine—as long as I didn’t take another forceful fall rivaling my spectacular somersault over the ATV handlebars.

Still, I was nervous about skiing. Last night when I laid out my ski clothes and gear, I worried that I might get hurt. I imagine myself falling so hard that the titanium plates would poke out of my skin.

I awoke in the middle of the night and my mind started playing the “what if” game. What if my wrists weren’t capable of holding myself up on the handle tow? What if my now-arthritic left wrist and thumb couldn’t hold the ski pole firmly? What if I fell off the chair lift? What if I fell on the mountain and wasn’t strong enough to get back up again?

But here’s the question that was at the forefront of my mind: What if my accident had so paralyzed me that I’d lost sight of the adventurous woman who had given me so much confidence and transformed me in midlife? I didn’t want my fear to paralyze me.

Sometimes, when I begin to doubt myself, my old, bitter soccer mom persona pays a visit just to taunt me and throw doubt on my self-confidence. Last night, uninvited, she threw open my door and made me question myself, my abilities, and my existence. In her sarcastic voice she asked: “What makes you think you can ski again? You broke your body. You are 57 years old. Maybe it’s time to take up knitting from a rocking chair. What makes you think you can do this?”

Wow. That woman loves stealing my joy. 

But I won’t let her do it anymore. I’ve learned to shush her quickly and put her in her place—far away from my Adventure Woman ears. Now I am the Dragon Diva. The Woman with the Dragon Tattoo. Yes, I also happened to have a klutzy, horrific accident that crushed both wrists and sidelined me for many months. But now I have two titanium wrists. They are strong. And so am I.

I thumbed my nose at Soccer Mom and told myself: “You can do this. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Then I climbed back into bed and slept soundly.

Thankfully, the Mountain Man is not only a ski instructor, but a calm man who inspires calmness and confidence in me. First, he gave me a quick beginner’s lesson to remind me of the basics: turning, controlling my speed, stopping. Then we skied down a small hill and headed for the handle tow to take a couple of turns on the bunny hill. Would my once-broken wrists be strong enough to hold myself up? Would I fall? Would I get hurt again?

But here’s a fact: My wrists are titanium. They were strong enough to hold myself up on the handle tow. We made two runs down the bunny hill. My body and my mind remembered how to ski. The Mountain Man asked if I wanted to make another bunny hill run.

“No. Let’s get on the chair lift and go skiing up on top!” I said.

So we did. The chair lift wasn’t as scary as it had been before. On my first run, I fell once, almost right after we started down the hill. But it wasn’t a spectacular fall. I wasn’t hurt. No broken bones. I didn’t have titanium poking out of my skin.

But I did need to take control of my self-talk. Although skiing is very physical, it’s also a mental sport. You must believe that you can maneuver your way down the mountain—or you won’t be able to do it. Sprawled on my back in the snow, I tried to get up by pushing myself up with my ski poles, but my arms didn’t have the strength to do it. So with my ski pole, I released my right ski and stood up, and snapped my ski back into the binding.

“You can do this,” I told myself. “You’re the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Dragon Diva.”

Then I skied down the mountain—and I didn’t fall again. I had fun. Although my 57-year-old body is exhausted and my legs feel as wobbly as Jell-o, I am glowing. I conquered my fear, and I experienced joy at 8,000 feet. 

Confident that I will return to the ski hill next weekend and the weekend after that and the weekend after that, I bought a season pass that’s good for the rest of this ski season and all of next ski season.


Dragon Diva has returned! 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tiny living secrets

Here's my cozy writing/reading/daydreaming spot: our little couch topped
 with a beautiful quilt made by my dear friend, Kathleen Brown.
Out this window is an amazing view of the Elkhorn Mountains and the lake.
Sitting on the diminutive couch in our tiny living room, my stocking feet are curled against an electric heater. My fingers, also seeking warmth, are wrapped around my coffee mug. I’m wearing three layers of clothing, including an old cashmere sweater and a thick flannel shirt lined with fleece. We've had weeks of sub-freezing weather, and even sub-zero weather. After six months of living tiny in the Eastern Oregon high desert, my body is still adjusting to the colder temperatures.

Four years ago, after some unsuccessful and mostly depressing attempts at online dating, I’d sworn off men and any hope of a romantic relationship. Instead, I concentrated on becoming an adventurous, joyful woman. But then—so very unexpectedly—I fell in love with an adventure-seeking Mountain Man who lived 300 miles away. Tired of cultivating our long-distance relationship, we decided to bridge the gap between us.


At the end of last summer, I left my newspaper reporter job and my old life in the city. Now I’m settling into my new life: living large in 323 square feet in the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains in Eastern Oregon with the Mountain Man. 

Living in a small space fits who we are now. Both of us have owned houses requiring hefty mortgage payments and endless maintenance and yard work. We are both at the point in our lives that we don’t want to be tied down by possessions or lengthy to-do lists. We’ve decided to live simply while enjoying a bountiful life rich in experiences rather than material things.

We’re well on our way to succeeding. In the six months I’ve lived here, we’ve soaked in a hot springs, performed as the musical entertainment at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, hiked in the Elkhorn Mountains, had a picnic while perched on a log on the banks of an alpine lake and then did some fly fishing, paddled kayaks, danced to live music at Ten Depot in La Grande, dined at the Barley Browne’s in Baker City, visited the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker, and much more.

We’ve also spent a lot of time editing possessions and determining what's essential and what isn't. What do we really need for our comfort in our tiny space? As I write, my laptop rests on the tiny red table I found at an estate sale more than a decade ago. It takes up little floor space, but is useful for holding a laptop computer, a cup of coffee or a bowl of popcorn. In my old apartment, I had an antique desk for my laptop, but truthfully, I usually write curled up on the couch. So the little worn table with chipped red paint fits perfectly into our tiny space.

Tiny home tip: Use floor space sparingly. Use tiny furniture with multiple uses.
 

Here are some tiny kitchen tips we've gleaned after living tiny for six months. 

Tiny home tip: Size--and numbers--matter. Four mugs. When you live tiny, you must scrutinize every item you bring into the house and justify it taking up precious space. We have space for four mugs. When I painted this lace-covered leaf mug at a fun ceramic shop in Gig Harbor recently, I had to give the boot to my cracked Star Trek Jean-Luc Picard mug. But I couldn't completely give up Jean-Luc. He's in storage.
If you had cupboard space for only four mugs, which mugs would you choose?
Tiny home tip: Use smaller dessert plates rather than larger dinner plates. We use my dessert-size English Spode plates as dinner plates. They fit in the narrow cupboard better and it's harder to overeat. The larger dinner plates didn’t fit in the cupboard, so we are storing them.

Tiny home tip: Use vertical space to double the number of spices in the spice rack. We could fit only nine spice bottles in our tiny home’s built-in spice rack, so the Mountain Man took the built-in spice rack to his wood shop and built a second tier, essentially doubling the number of spices it holds without increasing its footprint on the counter. It allows us to keep our essential, every-day spices at hand. The rest we store in a box in an overhead cabinet in our living/dining/kitchen.
The Mountain Man took the spice rack to the wood shop
and doubled the vertical space.  Notice my kitchen towel
embellished by friend Rhona. Even in a tiny space, display
favorite, beautiful, useful things.
Tiny home tip: Edit your appliances to the essential. We use our hotpot daily to make coffee and tea. It's the only appliance that gets real estate on the tiny kitchen counter. I donated my bread machine and toaster and am storing our crock pot and blender. But lately, I’ve been hankering for one of my childhood comfort foods: cinnamon toast. Do I find a tiny toaster or toaster oven? If so, where would we store it when we aren't using it? Or do I forgo toast altogether?

Essential appliances:our hot pot plus microwave, propane range
and  oven and refrigerator. I can live without a dishwasher, but
I can't live without my morning coffee.


Tiny home tip: Tuck the cutting board away when not in use. To eliminate counter top clutter, the Mountain Man built a holder for our cutting board. When we aren’t using our 12 x 12 cutting board, it’s neatly tucked below a kitchen cabinet.

Tiny home tip: Hang the broom on the wall. We have no broom closet, so the Mountain Man built a wooden holder to hang a broom high on the wall near the ceiling. It’s out of the way, but easy to reach.

Tiny home tip:  Place the dish drainer over one side of the double sink. And wash dishes as you get them dirty. Even if you're just eating a bowl of cereal and drinking a cup of coffee, wash up after yourself. Keep your tiny counters uncluttered and ready to use. We have no dishwasher, but I don't mind hand-washing dishes.
Our tiny kitchen has a double sink. We found a stainless steel
dish drainer that fits perfectly in one sink. 
 Tiny home tip: Keep clutter off kitchen counters so you have space for cooking and meal prep--even  if it's just making a simple peanut butter sandwich. 
A bigger view of our tiny kitchen. 
 Tiny home tip: Unbreakable dishes that stack are practical and help stretch your cupboard space further.
Vintage and practical: our 1950s Italian Bascal aluminum cups and
tiny bowls stack neatly in the cupboard and take up a tiny footprint
 in our tiny kitchen.  I snagged them at an estate sale years ago.
Tiny home tip: Keep your silverware drawer neat by keeping only six knives, forks and spoons. Even though tiny home drawers are--well--tiny--measure them to find silverware trays to organize your drawers. Our trays are individual plastic trays that snap together. My standard silverware tray was much too large for our new drawers.
A bare bones silverware drawer: six forks, knives and spoons. 
Tiny home tip: Extend vertical space in cupboards with rubber-coated stackable shelving.
Two narrow shelves hold most of our dishes, including
our Spode plates and Fiestaware bowls.
Tiny home tip: Consider it a treasure hunt. Find tiny items that also are beautiful and inspiring. While browsing in Bella Main Street Market, a fantastic kitchen shop in downtown Baker City, I found these lovely little bowls hand painted in Tunisia. They were on sale, and I got three for $6. These stackable bowls are perfect for sauces, yogurt, applesauce or tomato soup.They're not dishwasher safe. No problem. No dishwasher.

Tiny home tip: Where possible, incorporate whimsy--and your personality--in practical tools.
R2-D2 egg timer at the ready in an old enamel bowl above the sink.
The droid egg timer was a gift from the Mountain Man,
I also display a Millennium Falcon serving platter.



Saturday, February 4, 2017

Acclimating to my large life living tiny in Eastern Oregon



It’s a balmy 37 degrees today. We’re having a heatwave in Eastern Oregon. For the first time in a couple of months, the temperature has risen above freezing. As I’ve been walking outside today, I’ve worn a flannel shirt, but decided it wasn’t cold enough to warrant a coat, hat or gloves. That’s when I realized I’ve acclimated to life in the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains.

We live at about 3,600 feet. Where it hasn’t been plowed, our accumulated snow is thigh high. The top rails of the fences are nearly buried in snow. And yet still it comes down. The Mountain Man has spent hours plowing the long driveway with his green John Deere tractor. It’s the first week of February. The groundhog saw his shadow this week. We are guaranteed for many more weeks of winter. Locals tell me this the hardest, coldest winter they’ve had in 40 years.

Inside our tiny home—a 323 square-foot camper, the temperature has soared to a toasty 63 degrees. It’s so warm today that we don’t need to turn on the propane furnace. Instead, two radiator-type electric heaters keep the temperature comfortable.

Here are some things I’ve learned after living for five months in Eastern Oregon:

  • Be prepared to drive in severe weather and really scary road conditions. I grew up on a farm in Northeastern Washington, but our roads were not as challenging as what I’ve faced on my daily commute into La Grande, 26 miles away. The freeway is often closed due to icy roads, and blowing snow that causes white-out conditions. On the way to work yesterday, I drove 35 miles per hour with my flashers on in a driving snowstorm. The snow was blowing so hard that I could barely see the road. Out here, the snowbanks drift quickly and you can get pulled into one and then you’re stuck. Yesterday after work, the freeway was closed, so I had to take the long way home through Union and Pyle’s Canyon. In some places, the snow was blowing so hard across the road that I had to stop and find the road again.
  • Be prepared to be stranded in a snowstorm—and be prepared to dig myself out. The Mountain Man’s dad encouraged me to keep my gas tank full in case I get stuck in a snowbank all night and I have to keep my motor running to keep from freezing. In my Subaru Forester I keep a snow shovel, broom, long-handled ice scraper, tire chains, snow pants, heavy gloves, hat, down vest and coat in case I get pulled into a snowbank and have to dig myself out. I use the broom to sweep snow accumulation from my car in the morning. I wear my sensible, warm snow boots wherever I go. When I get to work, I change to clogs.
  •  I keep emergency rations in my Subaru in case I get stuck in the snow overnight and have to wait until morning for help: granola bars, trail mix and a bottle of water. It immediately froze. I also have an LED flashlight that doesn’t use batteries, but is powered by winding it up.
  • When you're driving, keep an eye out for critters that might run into the road. On my first day of work, I encountered a rancher moving cattle along the road. But more often, I encounter deer, quail, wild turkeys and other wildlife crossing the road. 
  • When it was -6 degrees outside, it was getting pretty chilly inside our little camper. One brisk morning I tried to pull a fleece jacket from my closet, but it was so cold inside our house that the jacket was frozen to the closet wall. When I pulled it loose, it was covered with a layer of frost.
  • For the past two months, we have kept a faucet running to prevent our water pipes from freezing. The Mountain Man also bought a heated hose and wrapped the pipes at the source in insulation.
  •  To insulate our little camper we positioned a thick layer of straw bales all around the outside of our camper. And now, accumulated snow reaches up to the windows, adding another layer of insulation.
  •  I am grateful to concerned family members who sent us gear to keep us warm. Doug and Tara sent us slippers and a heated throw for our tiny sofa. It’s glorious to sit underneath it, drink cocoa and watch a movie. Kalyn and Mat sent us a heated mattress pad with dual controls. I turn that baby up before climbing into bed, and I have toasty toes. Mom sent me thermal top and leggings for my birthday because she’s my mommy and she worries that I’ll freeze.
  • Dress for the weather. Soft flannel shirts and down vests are a must. Keep your head covered to regulate your temperature. l ordered a beautiful handmade wool hat from my dear friend, Jean Jones, a Chewelah friend. My hat rarely leaves my head these days. Even when I’m inside.
  • Sometimes when we get up in the morning, it’s 38 degrees inside. At first, it was a shock to my system, but I’m used to it now. Turning on the propane furnace quickly heats our little home to a toasty 55 degrees. And sometimes, we even heat it to 60. A cup of hot coffee and oatmeal helps heat me up on cold mornings too.
  • Be prepared to be dazzled by gorgeous, sweeping landscapes, the immense starry skies and the kindness of the people.
  • Learn to look for the wonder all around, and you won’t be disappointed.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Spiders and stink bugs and flies! Oh my!


 I stepped into our tiny home’s shower, turned on the water, and heard an insistent buzzing. Looking up at the skylight, I realized I was showering with about a dozen flies. Oh well. Unfazed, I continued showering. No matter how many times a day we vacuum the flies from the shower, the windows and the light fixtures, a larger number of flies descends upon us. It’s a bit like the endless armies of advancing orcs in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Although if orcs were lurking in our shower, I would refuse to shower and I would be stinky.

In that case, I might be as stinky as the masses of stink bugs that entered our little home a few weeks ago. My stink bug strategy is to either vacuum them up or pick them up and whisk them outside before they give off their sickly sweet stinky aroma they emit when threatened. I’m not afraid of stinkbugs, but I’m not crazy about their odor. 

When I was a girl sleeping in the upstairs of our farmhouse with my two sisters, I sometimes awoke in the night to the strong aroma of stink bug. I’d turn on the light and discover a stink bug lurking on my covers, and I’d freak out a little. I no longer freak out at the sight or smell of a stink bug. But I still don’t want them in our house.

It’s a good thing I’m not the kind of woman who is afraid of bugs. Before the stink bugs showed up, waves of wasps sought refuge from the cold in our little home. We sucked them up in the vacuum as soon as we discovered them. We also bought two fly swatters and strategically placed them at either end of the house to arm ourselves to battle with the bugs.

We've been invaded by lygus bugs!


Next, we were invaded by lygus bugs, which were unfamiliar to me. Like stink bugs, the small, winged lygus bugs give off an unpleasant smell when disturbed. These plagues of lygus bugs, flies, stink bugs, and wasps sometimes have occurred simultaneously this fall. Several times a day we sucked them up with our efficient canister vacuum or swatted them until the buzzing ceased—at least temporarily.

I'm thankful Aragog hasn't descended from our ceiling.
Illustration from Aragog: Harry Potter Wiki
Our current plague is tiny spiders that descend from the ceiling right in front of our faces. I have met people who are terrified of spiders, but I am not one of them. We recently watched the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings films. If these tiny spiders were the size of Aragog or Shelob, I’d be alarmed. But they are simply one more annoying creature invading our small living space. When I was a girl, we sometimes discovered black widow spiders crawling in our old farmhouse. Mom trapped them in a jar so we could get a closer look and learn how to identify them. Thankfully, these dinky spiders invading our space are no threat. They are simply seeking refuge from the cold. Nonetheless, they are not welcome here.
Thankfully, I don't have to battle Shelob  as Frodo did!
Illustration from Shelob: The One Wiki to Rule Them All
As I write this in the early morning hours, the living room is dark. An insistent fly is seeking the only light source—my computer screen. He’s buzzing around my head and dive-bombing into my hair. Perhaps it’s time to get out the canister vacuum and begin the battle of the bugs in this new day.

Is living with these annoying insects worth it, you might ask. Yes, it is. Without a doubt. Even faced with plagues of flies, spiders, stink bugs, and wasps, life is very good. I’m waking up to views of fresh snow on the Elkhorn Mountains. At night I watch the stars splattered across the big, big sky. Most of all, I’m sharing my new life with the Mountain Man. We’re hiking, kayaking, dancing, playing music and laughing. Each day brings a new adventure, including battling with bugs.

It could be worse. Aragog could be lurking in the closet, ready to pounce on me. But here's more good news about living tiny: Neither Aragog nor Shelob could squeeze into our tiny closet.