Monday, April 25, 2016

Danger Vacation and Peppernuts

Do I start with the assembly of  36 boxes of walk-in closet or do I start with our recent Spring Break travels? The former sounds like torture compared to the latter but trust it, they each had their moments.

I'll start with Spring Break.  Our original plan for Spring Break was to drive the Winnie B to Yosemite National Park.  It was an ambitious plan that turned into a foolish plan after our RV nearly drove itself off a mountain pass on a recent ski outing outside Seattle.

We decided to take a "safe" trip, stick closer to home until we were confident the Winnie was no longer an imminent threat to our wellbeing.  Instead of hauling 17+ hours down to Yosemite, we would drive a mere 8 hours to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Seven hours of the drive passed with no problems; the engine kept running the entire time AND I was able to steer!  I had relaxed considerably by the time our GPS told us it was time to turn off the interstate and onto a sweet little country road called Tiller Trail Highway.

It was nice to be off the freeway and back into nature.  Tiller Trail was all trees, a winding little thing but nothing I couldn't handle.

It's funny how bodies work, how keen they are to sense danger before you consciously realize you're in danger.  At first it was a slight prickle on the back of my neck -- "is this road narrowing a bit?" I wondered to myself.  I also had a sense of being really high. I felt it in my gut before I saw it with my eyes.

The curves in the road were getting so severe, I was unable to look at anything but them. I called Alex up to the front.  "Alex?  This road is getting a little weird, can you come help me for a minute?"  Alex moseyed up to the front and I soon heard a sharp intake of breath.  Then he said, in a voice I could tell he was keeping measured for my comfort, "Yeah.... can feel free to slow down here if you'd like."

Alex doesn't worry about danger much.  There have been many situations where I thought we were going to die and he was like, "What's the big deal, freakazoid, everything's fine."  But in that moment he was tense, and I could tell he was tense, which told me our situation was a precarious one indeed.

I said, "Tell me how bad it is" and Alex replied, "Well, we're up on a cliff kind of thing and there's no shoulder and no guard rail."  I gripped the wheel a little more tightly, "OK, how far down?"  and Alex said, "I'll give it to you in meters so it's not so scary.  It's about 50."  Oh God, I know what meters are. We are going to die.

I didn't lose my cool.  At least not outwardly.  My internal dialogue was a little negative, though, and may have involved the fact Winnie had just suffered a catastrophic electrical problem a couple weeks prior and oh my god, they probably didn't fix her correctly because the entire world is full of idiots and they are very likely some of them.

There was no choice but to keep plodding along and ignore the people piling up behind me on the road.  I drove much of Tiller Trail in the middle of the two lanes because our lane alongside the cliff was too narrow to accommodate our girth.  All I could do was pray no car would come around the hairpin turns from the opposite direction.  We got so lucky none ever did.

It took almost an hour to clear all fifteen miles of Tiller Trail Highway.  We eventually rolled into our campground slightly unhinged but unharmed.  I was contemplating a shot of whiskey when we checked in with the campground host.  I told the gentleman working there, who was sporting a perfect handlebar mustache by the way, "We just took the worst road to get here." His eyes grew wide and he said, "Oh no, did you take Tiller?" When I said "yes" he reached out to touch my arm in a comforting way and put his other hand to his mouth in horror.

We camped next to a guy named Glen, a marijuana growing libertarian from Northern California.  He and his wife recently moved into their RV full time because "property taxes are bullshit."  Glen was chatty, leapt out of his RV immediately upon our arrival to ask if we needed help.  I soon began to suspect living in an RV full time has been lonely for Glen.  If he saw us leave our rig, he was soon out of his rig, too, talking our ears off about whatever was on his mind.  And trust it, Glen has lots of things on his mind.

We began sneaking quietly out of the RV and hiding around the sides of it to avoid those inescapable chats -- that is, unless we needed a question answered.  Since there was no cell phone service nor wifi, he became our Google.

Me: How long do you think the hike is from the campground to the lake?
Al:  I bet Glen knows.

*Alex goes outside, just stands outside our door doing nothing for five seconds*
*Glen leaps out of his RV*

Al:  Oh hey there, Glen, how long is the hike from the campground to the lake?
Glen: That's about 3.5 miles round-trip.  Hey, did I tell you taxes are stupid?
Al:  You sure did, Glen.

Glen didn't want us to go.  He stayed with us throughout the entire breaking camp process, including dumping the sewer line.  Dumping your sewer line is a bit....personal.... so it's possible Glen and I have a difference in opinion about boundaries and personal space.

When we left, I swear Glen cried.  He and his wife waved enthusiastically as we drove off.  Just before, Glen had dug through his RV and returned with peacock feathers and quartz crystals for both our kids. He's a good dude, that Glen.  I hope he finds lots of people to chat with for the rest of his property tax-free and weed-full life.

In more recent events, Lucien just ran into the room to tell me he wants a pet rabbit.
He's already chosen a name -- Peppernuts.
Peppernuts the rabbit.
Then he ran back out again.

Whatever the hell that was.

Keep being yourself, kid.
And hell no on the rabbit thing.

Our Spring Break travels not only nearly killed us on Tiller Trail and brought us to Glen, they also took us to the uniquely wild Crater Lake National Park.  Crater Lake was formed thousands of years ago when a volcano erupted and then caved in on itself, forming a large deep crater.  The heavy snowfall and rain of the area eventually filled the crater with pristine, clear, and extremely blue water. No water flows into Crater Lake, no water flows out.  It is all perfectly purely contained and it takes your breath away.

Did you notice Coco isn't in those pictures?  And related, do you see the tense clench of our jaws? Coco was melting down ten feet away because her socks were wet on account of walking through snow so she'd decided to give up on life. 

She sat over there on that wall and cried and repeatedly asked when we were leaving in a high-pitched squealing voice.

Ahh, making family memories.

The second half of our vacation found us back in Bend, Oregon, one of my favorite towns in this region of the country.  Our campground was fancy, even had a place for the kids to rent movies, which is how we came to enjoy Mulan in the woods.  We didn't realize at first but we had accidentally turned on the outside speakers along with the inside speakers (we're still learning all the buttons on that thing), which meant our immediate neighbors were forced to enjoy Mulan, too. 

I like to imagine the expressions on their faces when the song "Be a Man" exploded from the Winnie B and suddenly split the silence of forest.  

The grand finale of Spring Break was a bluebird ski day up at Mount Bachelor.  The area had received fourteen inches of snow the night before, which is a ton for Spring, and the morning had dawned with a blue sky.  We could not wait to get up there.

The drive up Mount Bachelor was a little hairy.  That's an understatement; the drive was a yeti.  It began nicely enough, roads were clear, dry, and bare down near our campground but with each mile our situation grew a little more dire.  It soon became apparent they had not plowed the road up to Mount Bachelor.  Why the hell didn't they do that. 

For the last nine miles up to the resort, I was driving Winnie B through deep snow.  The only thing that kept me anchored to the earth were the tracks of the handful of people who'd made it up before me. I kept the Winnie as firmly in those tracks as I could and swore a lot under my breath.  Why is it scary every time I get in this damn thing.

The drive was a tricky balance between going fast enough to keep a giant heavy vehicle moving uphill in snow and going slow enough to keep control of the thing in slippery conditions.  I can't believe we made it.  By the time we did (and I emerged once again shaken and looking for whiskey shots in the parking lot) we had another trail of people stuck behind us.  I felt terrible knowing I held many people back from their perfect bluebird ski morning.

One of the people stuck behind me screeched up next to us in the parking lot.  The woman in the passenger seat jumped out and ran at me with arms wide, yelling, "Great job, honey, that was some hella impressive driving you just pulled out!"  She shook my hand, said she and her husband were behind us cheering the entire way, "Come on, girl, you can do it!  You can do it!  Keep going, baby!" They agreed it was total bullshit the road hadn't been plowed given the volume of people headed up the mountain for a glorious end to the ski season. 

Alex and I shook off the terror and soon got overexcited about the new snowfall.  We immediately took the chairlift up to the very top of the mountain, an exposed area that cannot be reached by slope grooming equipment so was still covered in over a foot of very fresh powder.  Alex and I are not powder skiers.  I hate powder, have no idea why we went up there.  I guess we had visions of looking like this --

But proper ski form goes out the window when you're stuck in powder and don't have the skills to be there.  You barely move through the heaviness of the stuff (a toddler learning to walk could have passed me on that slope), you catch weird edges, you look like a graceless idiot.  I didn't look like that guy above.  At one point my feet were about six feet apart from each other and my arms were clutching poles at strange angles from my body.  

Like lookin' in a mirror.  Uncanny.

The best part was when Alex got frustrated, said, "to hell with it" and tried to ski faster. He hit a jump he hadn't seen until he was on top of it and landed face first in many inches of fresh powder.  At least all that fluffy stuff broke his fall.

It's official. We are not powder people.

We're home safe now.  We saw some beautiful places and had some laughs on our most recent RV trip but I think Lucien's face sums up how we felt about much of it -- 

Next time I'd like to write about the closet.  A closet post!  A closet post!  I think everyone agrees that sounds very exciting.

"Tiller Trail of Tears"
MJ, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Capable Associates

Hi, guys.  Anyone hanging around here anymore?  Well I'm here and I'm pretty sure my mom checks in from time to time so hey there, Judy.

It's just a hunch
but I think Natani has been on the front porch lately

The Paris book writing is going as well as can be expected from me -- and by that I mean I'm raising kids and driving an RV all over the place and am easily distracted by pretty much everything.  I'm slowly filling a binder with chunks of printed paper I consider "good enough for now."  I wish I was filling the binder faster but life continues to happen in intrusive ways.

I recently celebrated my 41st birthday.  41 isn't as interesting as 40, which was very interesting indeed. I marked my birthday this year by homebrewing beer with my friend of 15 years, Reba. Reba is always up for my schemes (as I am for hers, it's a true friendship).

I've long wanted to understand how beer is made.  It seemed such a magical process.  But now, after trying my hand at it, I know beer is made by simply boiling a bunch of stuff together, adding yeast, then sticking it in a closet for a couple weeks.  Important processes happen in the closet.  Then you use a siphon to put it in bottles then it goes back into the closet again for more processes.

.....yeah, it's still just pretty much magic.

delicious, delicious magic
(Coco is photobombing, not brewing, promise)

Reba and I dropped a rubber stopper into the 5-gallon fermenting bucket as we attempted to affix the airlock to the top of it.  Our long-handled brewing spoon was deployed for a search-and-rescue mission but it was unsuccessful.  This accidental addition will either ruin our batch or give it a little extra special something.  Every brewer needs a secret ingredient and for now, rubber stopper is ours.

Ferment well, little beer, next to those old light bulbs we don't know where to recycle.
See you in a couple weeks.

It's spring soccer season for Lucien.  The Loosh is not a good soccer player.  He knows this and it doesn't much bother him, as his self-esteem is linked more closely with other endeavors. He'll come home after a game, pull off his cleats and announce cheerfully, "Wow, are we bad!"  He goes on to explain none of the "good" players were there that day, "the ones who know how to pass and stuff," so that's why they lost.  Then he runs off to do whatever.

He's also begun playing a video game called Sim City in which the player is the mayor of a town responsible for growing it, managing it, keeping its residents happy.  I looked over his shoulder at one point and half of Lucien's town was burning.  There was a giant lizard flying overhead eating people off the sidewalks and he had also accidentally unleashed a zombie invasion.  I told him things were looking pretty grim and he said, "At least my new wind power plant is up and running!" At that very second, a tornado came through and destroyed his wind farm.

Lucien then stood up and said, "Well....I believe I've done all I can do here,  I'm just going to leave this town in the hands of my capable associates and..." *whistles as he tap dances out of the room*. The Loosh is a future politician, seems pretty clear.

Since I last wrote, we have been endangered many times by the Winnie B. The first problem was a near catastrophic one.  We drove up to the mountains to camp overnight at a nearby ski resort.  The Winnie B hit a medium-sized pothole just outside the resort entrance.  All the lights on the dashboard briefly lit up, then the engine stalled and I lost power steering.

Luckily, I was turning into the parking lot at the time so instead of flying off a mountain cliff we just rolled to a soft stop in a snowbank.  Alex and I stared at each other in horror for a couple of long, silent minutes. I turned the key, tried to start the engine again and she started right back up like nothing had happened.  How dare she pretend everything's fine!

Get your sh*t together, Winnie.

We camped up there that evening anyway because skiers want to ski even if their vehicle is behaving badly.  We relied on our propane tank to power the gas heating system throughout the night but learned a fun fact at 2:45 a.m. -- liquid propane doesn't work well in freezing temperatures.  It gets sluggish, fails to do what it's supposed to do until temps rise again.  I awoke to a softly crying Coco.  "I'm sooooo cooooold," she wept from her sleeping bag, teeth chattering.  Lucien suddenly spoke up in the dark, "I'm warming myself by farting!"

The same stall/no power steering issue happened again on our drive back home when we hit another bump.  I was ready for it that time, had aimed for the shoulder as soon as I felt the rattle and saw the dashboard lights flicker.  We coasted to a nice stop alongside the road.

The Winnie drove the rest of the way home without further incident but it was not a relaxing drive for any of us.  The following morning, I drove her to the dealer with an angry determined set to my jaw.  I was going to get answers and I was going to get fixes.  Alex stayed here with the kids and texted me a few minutes after I'd left: "You were such a badass driving that death trap away from the house like you didn't give a damn."

The people fixed it.  It was a loose connection to the battery.  Let's not dwell on what could have happened up there, let's not dwell on our very cold night, let's focus instead on the pretty ski day we enjoyed.  Alex tied a scarf around his head instead of wearing a hat.  It was worth some danger to once again marvel at that man's oddness.

We recently returned from Spring Break.  It was also fraught with danger.  I'm going to write about it next time.  I would also like to address the closet situation at one point.  Al and I have a walk-in closet in our master bedroom that's always been a mess, a hodge podge of random shoe racks and shelving units.  We designed and ordered a new cohesive system online.  The cost of installation was prohibitive so we decided to save a lot of money by installing it ourselves.

We second guessed that decision when the closet arrived in 36 boxes --

I'm now going to leave this blog in the hands of my capable associates and...