I Am NOT the Woman You Are Looking For

And feel sorry that you thought I might be.

Dear John,

Yes, I know that isn’t your name but I certainly don’t want to embarrass you in public. What follows might indeed embarrass you if people connected it to your real name. I don’t want that to happen.

I thoroughly enjoyed most of our day and evening together yesterday. Lunch, wine tasting, walking around town to look at the odds and ends in Wenatchee’s trendy consignment shops. Lots of conversation and laughs. Fun stuff — very promising for a second date.

I looked forward to our dinner together as I drove the winding roads to my temporary home with you behind me in your car. I appreciated you helping me with the groceries and my unexpectedly malfunctioning smoker. (Honestly, if the thing had worked properly for the entire time I was out yesterday, those ribs would have been much better.)

But it was during our conversation while I made dinner that things started to go south. You see, you originally represented yourself as “divorced.” I was very surprised to learn that not only was your divorce not finalized, but you haven’t even filed for divorce yet.

News flash: You are married.

You told me about your troubles with your wife — although I’m not sure why you referred to her as your “ex-wife” when you’re still legally married. I understand that things are not what you want them to be. You told me that she kicked you out, although you also said that she refuses to admit that she did so. Maybe she didn’t? Maybe she was giving you some freedom so you could get your head together?

And I think you need to get your head together on this.

When I asked you outright whether you would go back to your wife, you had to think about it before replying.

And what’s with the apartment without furniture? You say you have furniture in storage — why not move it to your new home? Is it because you’re not committing to that as a new home? Is it because you think there’s a chance that you and your wife might get back together and you don’t want to go through the process of moving twice? You did say more than once that you could pack up everything in your apartment into your van. Are you thinking of moving back in with her? Be honest with yourself! What are you really thinking?

You tell me that you send her money, so you’re still supporting her. You refer to your house that’s up for sale — don’t you realize that she owns half of it? In fact, because of the length of your marriage, that she probably owns half of everything you own? And, until you file for divorce, she can lay claim to half of everything you earn?

You tell me that your separation went smoothly and that you and your ex-wife remain on good terms. But she’s not your ex-wife! She’s your wife! Wait until you finally file for divorce — if you ever do. Things will turn ugly very quickly if you have something that she wants and you’re not willing to give it up. And how do you think divorce negotiations will go when another woman is involved? (Ask my ex-husband. He threw away any chance of the “amicable divorce” he claimed he wanted when he lied, cheated, harassed me, and made unreasonable demands for money and property. He turned what could have been a quick, civilized proceeding into a costly, never-ending war.)

And what about your kids? Do you really want them to remember you as the man who cheated on their mother?

I’ve given all this a lot of thought since you left last night on your long drive home. I realized, with a great deal of sadness, that you’re playing the same game my ex-husband played: poking around on dating sites to see whether you could replace your wife before doing the paperwork to legally end your marriage. You’re showing the same weakness he did: a fear of facing life alone. I honestly believe that you’re suffering from the same kind of confused thinking that plagued him in the final year of our marriage. That midlife crisis gone horribly wrong.

Yes, as I mentioned to you last night, my ex-husband also signed up for an online dating site while he was still married, before there was any talk of divorce. While he was talking to me on the phone about spending the summer with me in Washington, he was dating other women in Arizona, actively looking for my replacement. I can imagine him telling those women the same thing you told me: that you and your wife were separated with no chance of reconciliation. Is that really the truth? It wasn’t the truth for him.

But unlike the desperate old whore my ex-husband wound up with — what else could you call a woman who sleeps with a married man and takes his money and gifts? — I don’t date married men.

I have morals and principles. Being “the other woman” does not fall within the realm of what I’m willing to do for companionship and a warm body beside me in bed. And I’m not looking for a meal ticket or someone to tackle a “honey do” list.

Unlike the old woman who seduced my weak and morally confused husband with her sweet talk, 30-year-old lingerie photos, and god knows what else, I am not desperate enough to compromise my principles. And I never will be.

I do appreciate your honesty, even though it was belated. I’m just not the kind of woman you might think I am.

I’m disappointed. I really liked you a lot after our first date. So much, in fact, that I as I showered and dressed for yesterday’s date, I considered the possibility of asking you to spend the night if things went well. I even made appropriate preparations for whatever that might entail. But your revelations about your true marital status put any such thoughts out of my mind.

I’m also a little angry. I feel misled, manipulated.

So I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that I’d like to end this now, before it goes any further. I don’t need to make another bad emotional investment — I’m still reeling from the last one.

And do you know what’s crazy about all this? If the woman my husband left me for had half the moral fiber I have and had walked away from him as I am walking away from you, my marriage might have been saved. Maybe I’m saving yours.

And yes, I’ll speak to you in person before I post this online. It’s not my intention to break this kind of news in writing, especially in a public forum. Only a coward would do that — and although I’ve been called many things, coward is not one of them. This blog post is a reminder to me — and others in my situation — of how misguided some men can be. I’m so sorry that you’re one of them.

With sadness but no regrets,

Maria

100 Coffee Filters

Tracking house-sitting time with cups of coffee.

As I blogged a while back, I had every intention of spending the winter in my RV on my property in Malaga. The winterization worked well and I had no trouble with water, electric, or sewer hookups. I had enough heat to keep me warm night and day. And I had all the conveniences of home — the same home I’d been living in full-time since May and every summer since 2010.

The big drawback was the cramped space. Let’s face it, the mobile mansion might be big for a 5th wheel RV, but it’s not big for a full-time living space. And with winter weather outside — often at freezing temperatures — there was no outdoor living space to complement it.

Still, I’m not home very much — I have a pretty active work and social life — and I was prepared to deal with it. After all, the winter wasn’t that long.

I went to Seattle on a Sunday in mid-December. I had some chores to take care of — new battery for my phone, shopping for cross-country skis, hiking with a meetup group — and I’d already decided that I’d make at least one trip into Seattle every month, just to insert a dose of city amenities. When I got home that evening, there was a note on my door. It was from a man I’d never met — we’ll call him Joe to preserve his privacy — who happened to be friends with one of my neighbors. “Don says you’re going to freeze,” the note said, referring to my neighbor. It then ended with an invitation to spend the winter in his house since he was going away to (ironically) Arizona. He’d be gone until February month-end.

I thought about if for three days before calling him. Then I said that I appreciated the offer but thought I’d be okay. Still, maybe we could meet in case I needed a Plan B?

Before meeting, I talked to two people I thought might know him. They both had nice things to say about him. He’d lost his wife in March and was working his way though that. They both told me that he lived in a nice house.

In the meantime, the weather forecast changed. It had been in the 40s every day and I’d been able to get work done outside on the path I was building and in my shed. For some reason, I thought it would stay like that. But no — it was going to get colder and those midday jaunts outside would soon end — at least until the snow came and I could take the skis or snowshoes out with friends.

I met Joe and told him I’d reconsidered. If the offer was still open then yes, I’d love to take advantage of it. He showed me around his wonderful three-bedroom home just two and a half miles from my place. Situated on a shelf — just like my lot two levels up the mountain — it had a wrap-around porch and nearly the same view I had of the Wenatchee Valley. Furnished with antiques, it had a few modern conveniences I missed: a dishwasher, washer, dryer, and satellite television. There was plenty of room and plenty of privacy. There was even a garage and space in a covered carport to park my Jeep and truck.

It was more than I could possibly ask for. And all he wanted in return for letting me use the place was for me to pay the utility bills while I was there, keep the place clean, and keep an eye on things.

Joe, in the meantime, was heading south with his trailer and a friend. They planned to leave on December 2. I was welcome to move in any time, but I honestly felt a little weird moving in before he left. That would make me (and Penny) a house guest instead of a house sitter. So I held off, prepping for the move back in the mobile mansion.

At November month-end, the forecast warned about bad weather on December 1 and 2. Joe’s friend, who was coming down from Canada, came early. They packed up and pulled out on November 30.

I was supposed to do shuttle flights between two wineries — Martin Scott in East Wenatchee and Malaga Springs in Malaga — on November 30, which was a Saturday. But low visibility and some freezing fog made that a dumb idea. With my afternoon suddenly open, I decided to start my move that day.

I made a few trips in my truck, bringing along the bare necessities like clothes and food from my fridge and cabinets. I wasn’t sure what I’d need and, at first, I also brought along linens and towels and my electric blanket. I wound up bringing all these things back to my RV. I wanted to keep things simple so it would be easy to move out at the end of my stay.

I went out that evening with some friends and returned to my new (temporary) home around nine. I’d already picked one of the guest rooms. I put Penny’s bed on my bed, atop the comforter I’d brought along, and and climbed between the covers. I turned off the light and lay on my side, facing out one of the room’s two big windows, looking out at the lights of Malaga, Wenatchee, and East Wenatchee. My new home would have windows just as big. I felt as if I were getting a preview of what was to come.

Coffee
Coffee, coffee brewer, filters. What else do I need?

The next morning, I made coffee, just as I did every morning wherever I lived. I’d brought along my little one cup coffee brewer and a brand new pack of #2 cone coffee filters. I opened the pack of filters and brewed some coffee. I let Penny out and she did her business somewhere out in the yard, which she’d already explored the previous day. When she came back in, I fed her — I’d also brought along her placemat, dishes, and food. It was life as usual for the two of us — just in a different place.

But we’re used to that. For the past 18 months, we’ve been sort of gypsies. We lived in at least 20 different places, including various homes and hotel rooms. Even the RV had been parked in six different places in three different states. Penny and I adapted as necessary, settling into each of our temporary homes with ease. I loved the variety our gypsy lifestyle offered us and Penny didn’t seem to mind one bit. I think she’s come to expect it.

I spent much of Sunday morning prepping the RV for winter vacancy. That meant blowing out the water lines, putting antifreeze down the drains, and disconnecting the power for the heat tape on the water line. And packing up and moving a few more things. The weather was still iffy, with low clouds and mist. I had a gig flying Santa into Pybus Public Market later in the day and, for a while, wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. But by 12:30, I decided to give it a try and headed out to take care of it, leaving Penny behind for the first time, alone in Joe’s house.

After the flight, I met up with some friends at a wine tasting room and we wound up going to dinner. I didn’t get home until after 9. Penny was excited to see me. I checked the house out thoroughly to make sure she hadn’t had any “accidents” while I was gone. All was okay.

By Monday morning, life had already settled into a routine. I let Penny out, made coffee, let Penny in, and fed her. I caught up with email and Facebook while having breakfast at the kitchen table, watching the valley light up as the sun rose. (The view really is magnificent.) I showered and dressed. I already felt at home.

I ran out to do some errands that included dropping off my Jeep for service. It had been leaking from the transfer case for about a year and I needed to get it fixed. After all, it would eventually run out of whatever was leaking. But what really prompted me to get it taken care of was that I wanted to park it in Joe’s garage and I didn’t want it leaking in there.

I’d arranged for a neighbor to pick me up on her way home from errands in town and I had time to kill. After dropping off the Jeep, I had another breakfast in town — Sassy’s Dinner makes the best breakfast! — and then walked to Caffé Mela for a latte and to update the software on my iPad. On the way, I noticed that there was fresh snow on the hills north of town. Then I wandered to a used furniture store to browse for a dining table and chairs — the only thing I needed to furnish my new home when it will be built next year. My neighbor and her son picked me up and we drove up to where the mobile mansion and my truck were parked. I was surprised to see fresh snow on the ground — it had snowed during the three hours I was gone.

I decided that I didn’t trust my RV winterization. So I set up a heater in the basement and inside the RV. Power was cheap enough that the two heaters would be cost-effective insurance. I also had the added benefit of having the place kept warmer than freezing if I had to come back and fetch anything I’d left behind. I still had one more trip to make — to get my computer, printer, and camera gear — and then I’d close up the slides. That would make a smaller place for the inside heater to keep warm and minimize the amount of roof space exposed to the snow.

I should mention here that my hangar is large enough for me to park the RV in it, too. But it’s a pain in the ass to move and I did an excellent job parking it right where it is. I’ll admit it — I’m too lazy to move it and then move it back in February. (There’s also the very real possibility that snow on the ground would make it impossible to move in February.) And because of that, the mobile mansion will spend its very first winter outdoors.

Joe Miller Road
Joe’s place is truly wonderful.

When I got back to Joe’s place, I stopped at the end of the driveway to snap a photo with the dusting of snow all around and the valley off in the distance. It really is a beautiful place and I know I’m very fortunate to be here.

More errands yesterday afternoon, including a quick visit to where my helicopter is parked inside Pybus Market. Then home to Penny and dinner. I set up my Christmas tree for the first time in three years. We even watched a DVD.

This morning, I got right into my routine.

As I pulled a coffee filter out of the package, I consulted the label to see how many were in there. 100 coffee filters. I thought about my stay at Joe’s house. Three months. Pretty darn close to 100 days. I realized that I could see at a glance how much time was left of my stay just by looking at that package of coffee filters.

It’s still very full.

I rock? At least one person thinks so.

A buried treasure in my inbox.

The other day I began a full frontal assault on my email inbox. I had accumulated more than 1600 messages — which is really absurd when you consider that I also use about 20 individual folders to sort my mail into topics and projects. I needed to sort through all the inbox messages and either file them into the folders or delete them.

I wound up deleting more than 1000 messages. Seriously: 1000 messages? How the hell did I accumulate all that crap? I also filed about 500 of them. Right now, my inbox sits at 31 and I’m very proud of myself.

Along the way I found a handful of messages from blog readers that I just didn’t get a chance to reply to. Here’s one from June that’s worth saving. But rather than save it filed in my email account, I’d rather share it here.

From: CG [I'll let her remain anonymous]

Subject: You rock!

Message Body:
Maria,

I found your blog by accident while googling for something random, and I ended up reading several of your posts and looking at some of your photography.

I am a 28-yr-old woman with an engineering degree and too many hobbies (photography, music, motorcycles, scuba diving, bicycling, arts&crafts of various sorts, reading). I just wanted to tell you how inspiring your blog is to someone like me. While I do love shoes and own too many of them, most of my interests have made it easier for me to relate to men and to find far more male friends/role models/mentors/inspirations than female ones. I have shared your experience that most women are either interested in things that seem petty and pointless to me, or else they have focused on building a family instead of building a career or having adventures. So it really excites me whenever I discover a woman who is independent, bold, adventurous, strong, rational, intelligent, and highly skilled.

I’m not looking for advice, or even a reply. I only want you to know that you have one more admirer as of today. I’m sorry for the pain you have experienced at the hands of your father and husband. I also don’t believe in karma but am hoping for it in this case! That picture of the amazing view from your Washington home is proof that you are capable of making a wonderful life for yourself. I know that reading your blog does not mean that I know you, of course, but as far as I can tell, you are an amazing person and I wish there were a lot more women like you!

Thanks for making my day.

- C

Thank you, C, for making my day. Back in June when you originally wrote to me and then again this week when I found your buried message.

It’s email like this that convinces me that I’m on the right track in my life. And makes me glad that I share so much with readers on this blog.

And if CG lived around here, I bet we’d be very good friends. She rocks, too!

Prepping my RV for Winter Living

A lot of work with good results…so far.

It was October when I realized that I’d likely need to stay in Washington for the winter. Although I didn’t expect to have much work to do, other business in-state required me to stay for various meetings throughout the winter months.

And then I started getting flying jobs, out of the blue, giving me enough work to make it worth sticking around. I started thinking about enjoying a winter season for the first time in 15 years, of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with friends. Of really enjoying all four seasons of a year.

Not only was I going to stay, but I was going to make the best of the situation and enjoy my stay.

The No-So-Tough Decision

But where to stay?

I had a few options for winter lodging:

  • I could rent a furnished apartment. There are some available in the area, including some that are normally rented out to skiers coming to nearby Mission Ridge. The monthly cost would likely be somewhere between $500 and $1,500 — if I could find one that allowed dogs.
  • I could rent an unfurnished apartment. This would likely be cheaper, but it would also require me to move some of my stored furniture to make myself a home. I had to figure in the cost and bother of the move. And again, I needed to find a place that allowed dogs.
  • I could “camp out” in my hangar at the airport. The hangar has two offices with baseboard heaters, as well as a full bathroom. My furniture is already there, so it’s just a matter of reorganizing it to meet my needs for the few months I’d need to live there. Unfortunately, I didn’t think my landlord — the folks who manage the airport — would like those arrangements.
  • I could live in my RV, either in my hangar — there’s plenty of room — or on my property where it was already parked and hooked up. The trouble with that was that my RV, the “mobile mansion” is not designed for cold weather living. To make matters worse, I had parked it 66 feet from my onsite water source and I knew the hose running in a makeshift conduit under my driveway was very likely to freeze.

Morning View
Here’s what I saw out my window the other morning, not long after dawn. I look forward to seeing the changing seasons in my view.

In the end, the decision was made easy by the amazing views out my window every day. From my perch high above the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley, I could enjoy the ever-changing scenery, which varied throughout the day with changes in light and weather. I could watch low-level clouds form and dissipate over the river. I could see the shadows move and lengthen with the shifting of the sun. I would watch the moonlight play upon the hillsides and cliffs. And I could marvel at the lights down in the city, sparkling with color. Would I see all that cooped up in a tiny rental apartment? Or closed up in a cavernous hangar with just three windows? No.

And what of the work I could do on nice days? I was working on a pathway from my RV parking area to my beehives. I’d been planting wildflower seeds and bulbs. And I still hoped to begin construction on my building at the beginning of the new year; I wanted to be around to supervise and document the work.

Besides, since I’d been living in the mobile mansion full-time since the beginning of June, it had become my home, my space. Bought to house two people, a mid-sized dog, and a parrot, it was amazingly comfortable for one person and a tiny dog. After dealing with seemingly countless delays, I’d finally moved it to the piece of land I’d been dreaming about for over a year. I was in my home, on my home. I was loath to give that up, even for a few months.

Of course, to stay in the mobile mansion meant a lot of prep work. I needed to “winterize” it and its water connection to ensure that my water pipes — inside and out — didn’t freeze and that I could keep warm inside. And with frost appearing outside my door on some mornings, I knew I didn’t have much time.

PEX, the Miracle Pipe

Heat Tape
Heat tape comes in rolls. I bought this at Home Depot.

The first thing on my list of things to do was replace the standard RV drinking water hose that ran from my city water source across my driveway (in a makeshift conduit I’d created) to the mobile mansion. I needed to run some kind of water line that I could run heat tape along. Heat tape (or trace heating) uses electricity to apply a small amount of heat to pipes to prevent freezing. I had some experience with it from my Howard Mesa cabin, where we’d used it on a very short length of hose between a water tank and the building. But rather than a 6-foot length of the stuff, I’d need 66 feet of it. That meant two 30-foot lengths plus one 6-foot length.

Regular hose, however, was not recommended by the heat tape manufacturer, which clearly specified metal or plastic water pipe. A hose was not a water pipe. Perhaps it wouldn’t work as well. Or perhaps it would degrade the hose and cause problems. I could imagine being poisoned by the breakdown of chemicals in my hose. (Seriously: I have a pretty good imagination sometimes.)

PEX
PEX comes in colors; blue is usually used for cold water and my water was going to be cold! I bought this at Home Depot.

Enter PEX. My friend Mike, who’d done most of the interior work on his home in Wenatchee Heights, had raved about it. I did some research. PEX was more costly than PVC but less costly than copper. It didn’t require any welding — or whatever it is that people do to copper pipes to join them — and it was flexible. There were two kinds of fittings. One kind required special (costly) crimping tools. The other kind, known as PTC, let you literally snap pieces together, with no special tools at all. All I needed was a PVC pipe cutter (which I already had) and a very inexpensive tool I could use to separate joined pieces if I made a mistake. The snap fittings were a bit more costly than the crimp type, but I only needed a few. I bought a 100-foot roll of blue 3/4 inch PEX.

PTC Fitting
A typical PTC to female pipe fitting.

I also bought PTC fittings. I needed one to join the PEX to a male hose connection and another to join the PEX to a female hose connection. I had a tiny bit of trouble with that — PEX connections normally work with pipe threading, not hose threading. (The fact that the two threadings are different is something I learned back when I set up the irrigation system at my Wickenburg house years ago.) The Home Depot pipe guy helped me get what I needed.

Pipe Insulation
This rubber pipe insulation has adhesive on one side, making it easy to wrap pipe. I bought this at Home Depot.

But there was one more thing I needed: pipe insulation. I wanted to wrap the pipe with the heat tape on it to help keep it warm. I checked out my options and decided on an adhesive wrap. Although it came in 15-foot lengths, I wound up needing 7 rolls of it because it had to go around the pipe. (This, by the way, is also when I learned that when you buy stuff for a home project at a place like Home Depot, always buy more than you think you need. It really sucks to run out of something in the middle of a project and you can always return unused items later. Home Depot has an excellent return policy.)

I went back and got to work. The biggest chore was attaching the heat tape to the pipe and insulating it. The big challenge there was straightening the PEX. It does straighten, but it straightens easier when it’s warm and it does require muscle. (Needless to say, I was sore the next day.) I cut off about 70 feet of the stuff and ran it across my driveway from the water source to my RV’s water connection area. Then, with the sun shining full on me the next morning, I brought out a clean damp rag (to clean away dust on the PEX as I worked), set up a chair, and got to work.

You see, because the PEX was so long and relatively inflexible, I had to move along the length of the PEX to get the job done. I couldn’t stay in one place and move the PEX. Adding the heat tape and insulation also made the PEX heavier, so moving it later would not be a good option. That was okay.

I was very pleased with my choice of insulation. Normally, I’d have to tape the heat tape to the PEX every six inches with a piece of electric tape. (Heat tape is not adhesive, despite its name.) But the insulation tape was adhesive so I just used it to stick the heat tape to the PEX, wrapping it as I went along.

It took a long time. Three days of about four hours a day with a few breaks for phone calls, snacks, and to track down a tiny dog who thinks she can chase bighorn sheep up on the cliffs. But finally, I was done. One end had two cords (one for the 30-foot length and one for the 6-foot length) and the other end had one cord (for the other 30-foot length).

I attached the fitting on the RV end of the PEX. I could not believe how easily it snapped into place. Working with this stuff on my new home was going to be a breeze. I trimmed the water source end and attached the fittings there. So far, so good.

Finishing Up the Water Pipe

Of course, I couldn’t have the wrapped tape stretched out in the elements across my driveway, especially when the snow started falling. So I got out my shovel and I dug another trench just deep enough to lay a conduit that I could seal the wrapped PEX into to keep it dry and enable me to drive over it.

For the conduit, I used brown vinyl downspout pipe. That’s the stuff people usually use to go from the gutter on the edge of the roof to the ground. I bought six 12-foot lengths of the stuff and six connectors. I also bought a pair of matching flex elbows to use at either end. I ran the PEX in this pipe, making connections as I went along. Then I laid it in the trench, put the flex pipes on both ends, and connected the ends of the PEX to the water source and RV. When I was finished, the PEX was completely enclosed in the pipe.

I crossed my fingers as I turned on the water. This was the moment of truth. If any of my connections leaked, I’d have a bunch of disassembling to do to find and fix the problem.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when not a single drop of water leaked from either end of the PEX! I love this stuff!

I had a few more things to do:

  • I needed to insulate the water source pipe and any portion of the pipe that wasn’t covered with heat tape or adhesive insulation. I used regular foam pipe insulation for that.
  • I needed to cover the water source area with waterproof material to prevent water from getting into the flex elbows. I used a heavy duty plastic garbage bag with bungee balls to keep it in place.
  • I needed to cover the trench across my driveway. I shoveled the dirt back in and placed construction cones at either end where the pipe emerged from the ground.
  • I needed to plug in the heat tape. I plugged two of the three cords in at my power pole and ran an extension cord across the driveway for the third plug. (I didn’t want the heat tape using the same circuit as the RV for various reasons.)

Then I was done.

Testing the Water Setup

Just in time!

The next morning was cold. I turned on the faucet and nothing came out.

I turned on the RV’s water pump. My internal tanks were full and functioned fine. But I had to troubleshoot the problem with the new pipe.

It turned out to be pretty simple: the heat tape was plugged into a socket that had tripped its GFCI. I reset the GFCI and tested the outlet. It worked.

Of course, it didn’t get cold again for quite a while. Three weeks, in fact. This morning, the temperatures dropped down in to the 20s. I turned on the water and it flowed.

All that work — and the approximately $150 I’d spent on parts — had paid off.

Basement Pipes

The mobile mansion has what I call a basement. It’s a huge storage area in the front under the bathroom and part of the bedroom. Most of the pipes that supply water to the bathroom fixtures run exposed in the basement ceiling.

The basement is not heated. When temperatures in the basement dropped down to freezing, the pipes could freeze, too.

My first thought was to insulate them with regular foam pipe insulation. I even got started doing that. But then I realized that a better solution would be to simply put a space heater in the basement and make sure it ran when it was cold out.

The trouble was, the basement was full of stuff. I’d have to move all the stuff out. I couldn’t fit all the stuff inside the mobile mansion. That meant having to store it in my hangar with the rest of my things.

I was bummed. There was some stuff there that I wanted to keep handy. Still, protecting the pipes was more important than convenience so I resigned myself to moving it all out.

Radiator Dog
Every morning, Penny lounges by the radiator in the living room.

That’s when I happened upon a gently used 6 x 8 shed for sale at an amazing price. I moved almost everything in the basement into the shed. Storage problem solved. The basement was now empty enough to put in a heater and not have to worry about things catching on fire.

Inside the RV, I had been using one of those oil-filled radiator style electric heaters for years. I kept it in the living room. In the bedroom, I had a small tabletop electric heater with a fan to push the warm air. Trouble was, I don’t like listening to a fan while I sleep so I never used it at night.

The radiator heaters are silent. I bought a second one, which had a fancy thermostat, and put the original in the bedroom. That freed up the little tabletop heater for basement duty and ensured a warm, quiet sleeping environment.

I placed it in the middle of the basement floor. Then I connected it to a temperature-sensitive outlet called a Thermocube at the end of the extension cord I was already using for the heat tape. The Thermocube supplies power to its outlets when temperatures dip to 35°F and turns off power when temperatures rise to 45°F. I turned the heater on to the lower of its two settings, figuring that would be enough to keep the area from freezing.

Basement Insulation
In this shot you can see the basement insulation panel as well as the connection for the water into the RV. The orange wire is for the heat tape; the red is the extension cord. Both are run into the basement where the heater is also plugged in. The blue coiled hose is the RV’s “outdoor shower” which I can’t seem to disconnect so I left it there.

Of course, like the rest of the RV, the basement isn’t very well insulated, either. Fortunately, I had four foam insulation panels I’d bought for another purpose. I did some trimming and made two insulation panels for just inside each basement door. Although it wasn’t a perfect solution for insulating the space, it was better than nothing.

Over the next few weeks, I’d open the basement doors to check the temperature in there. Although I never saw the heater on, it was always considerably warmer in that space than outside. I assumed the heater was getting the job done.

The Straw Skirt

The reason I had the foam insulation panels in the first place was because I had a crazy idea about possibly using them to build a skirt around the base of the RV. Many people had advised closing this space off to help keep the RV warm. But the mobile mansion is about 35 feet long. Foam was neither practical nor cost-effective.

I consulted with several friends. My friend Bob sketched out a frame that I could build with 2x4s and plywood. It would take a lot of wood and a lot of work. He gave me some wood for the frame to get me started.

But then my friend Tom, who lives in Vermont, suggest straw bales. I felt like slapping myself on the side of the head. Like duh. Not only were they good for insulation, but I’d be able to use them in the spring in my garden.

Straw in Truck
My first load of straw bales in the back of my truck.

So I went to get straw bales. I started with six. They loaded them in the back of my truck. It reminded me of the old days, when I’d get hay for my horses. I even bought a hay hook to make it easier to move them around.

I backed the truck up near the mobile mansion. The guy who loaded them told me they weighed around 80 pounds each. I don’t think they were that heavy. After all, I was able to get them into position easily by myself. They made a nice thick skirt against the sides of the RV.

Straw Skirt
The first six bales of straw in position around the mobile mansion. It took 22 bales to get the job done.

But six wasn’t nearly enough. I went back later in the day and bought another eight. This time, the loader put a palette in the back of the truck. It just fit. I strapped the straw down to prevent it from tipping off and brought them home. When I finished moving them around, I realized that another eight bales should do the job.

I got them two days later and put them in place. Although it wasn’t perfect, it was better than nothing. I’d fiddle with them and with spare pieces of wood and cardboard throughout the coming weeks.

Total cost of the straw skirt: around $200. Time and effort: minimal.

About the Physical Activity

I want to take a moment to comment about the physical activity needed to get all this work done.

First was dealing with the coiled PEX. I really needed to put some muscle into it to straighten it out. And that needed to be done about 3 feet at a time.

Next was digging the trench across my driveway. Although I’m fortunate that there are very few rocks in my primary building site — which also made the septic system guy pretty happy — the driveway did have a layer of gravel over it. I had to dig through that gravel and into the softer dirt beneath it. Later, I had to shovel all that gravel back. Hard work!

Finally, I had to deal with moving 22 straw bales from the back of my pickup into position all around the RV. I don’t really know what they weighed, but they were pretty heavy. I did a lot of dragging, mostly because I couldn’t do much lifting.

The days after doing each of these things, I really felt it in my muscles: shoulders, arms, abdomen, etc. But the soreness felt good. I can’t really explain what I mean by that. I think it has something to do with finally being back in shape after so many years of living in limbo. I’d let myself go physically (and mentally) while my future was delayed, waiting for a partner to fulfill promises he never meant to keep. Losing weight last year, getting back into outdoor activities, feeling good about myself again — that’s only part of my reward. The other part is the ability to do hard work again, to get a job done without waiting for someone to do it for me. (Not to mention the ability to make decisions without having to debate them with someone who seems to prefer arguing over getting things done.) The aches and pains were a reminder of how good independence really is and how great it feels to be physically fit and healthy. I love it!

The End Result

Last night, the temperatures dipped into the 20s. I know because I bought a thermometer with three wireless sensors — the one I fastened at my water source read 22°F this morning. In the basement, the temperature stayed in the high 30s. When I turned on my taps, the water flowed.

Inside, the RV is cool but not cold. Both radiators are on, although the one in the bedroom is set to low. I have an electric blanket on my bed so I’m never cold at night. The RV’s gas heater with its loud fan supplements the heat in the living room in the morning. I know I could keep it warmer if I’d just close the blinds, but I’d rather put on a sweater than miss out on the views outside my windows.

It’s unseasonably cold this week so I’ll have a good chance to test my setup. I’m not too concerned. The other day, one of my neighbors, who is going away for the winter, kindly offered me his home. I’ll talk to him later today; that might make a Plan B for nights that are just too cold to stick around. But it shouldn’t get much colder than it is this week, so there’s a good chance I’ll be living in my own space all winter long.

We’ll see. I’ve done my part; let’s see what Mother Nature challenges me with.

My New Old Tools

They just don’t make them like this anymore.

I finally get it. I understand why tools are a big seller at estate sales.

As I wrote earlier this month, my godfather, Jackie, passed away in late October. Although personal business in Washington made it impossible for me to see him before he died, I was able to join my mother and cousin a few days afterward, to help them go through the things he left behind in his house. I came home with the monkey lamp I’d always admired and a never-used Proctor-Silex toaster dating from about 1965 that I now use regularly.

I also came away with some tools. I didn’t expect to, but when I first laid eye on the marvelously shiny, new-looking nail clipper made in Italy, I just couldn’t let it go to Goodwill. You simply can’t buy something like that anymore — hell, everything in this country seems to be cheap crap made in China.

A while later, we stumbled into a drawer filled with more tools. Woodworking tools, garden tools, pipe wrenches, awls, and a manual drill. Every one of these tools were well used but still in great shape. Best of all, they were heavy duty, made in USA, proudly stamped with patent numbers or manufacture locations or both. The kinds of tools you simply can’t find anymore.

Although I was flying home on an airliner and didn’t know quite how I’d get the tools home, I chose a few I knew I’d be able to use — tools that would complement those I already had in my toolbox. (Even though I’m a girl, I have a remarkably complete toolbox that can help me get most jobs done.) I bundled them up in bubble wrap and eventually loaded them into my checked luggage (with the toaster and lamp base). I admit I was amazed when that bag weighed in at 48.5 pounds. (Another pound and a half and I would have paid a premium to get it on the plane.)

My New Old Tools
The tools I brought back from Jackie’s house.

I’ve already used some of the tools to get work done around my place. I like the way they feel in my hands — sturdy and stronger than me. I don’t think any of them will break — unlike numerous made-in-China tools I’ve destroyed in the past. In a way, I wish I’d dug deeper into his collection — perhaps in the garage — to find more old tools I could use. It would have been worth the extra baggage handling fee to get them home.

Now all I need is one of those big red toolboxes…