Stories Formerly From Off The Grid

It was a huge moment for us – a major landmark on a journey that began on the evening of September 17, 2017, when we pulled onto the road at Snoqualmie Pass, rain pouring down, on our way to a new life.

On the fifth of November, 2021, at precisely 3:05pm, I flipped the switch.

We are no longer off the grid.

Actually, I didn’t flip a switch; we plugged in a power cord. It took three tries. I stood at the “console” recording video while my husband and son both unplugged their respective cords from the generator and brought them over to the shrine – uh – new power pedestal that stood at the end of our driveway.

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Our son was to do the honors. He plugged in his trailer as we watched the meter. He checked to see if he had power. Nothing. My husband then cracked open the breaker panel and sure enough; the switches were in the “off” position.

He flipped them all over for a second try. This time he plugged in our own extension cord. His slow walk back from the RV said it all; nothing. I was getting nervous at this point. Had the power company done something wrong or forgotten to turn a dial?

One more thing, my husband thought. He reset the mini-breaker in the middle of the outlet. A light! I started recording again. He plugged in and…four years of generators and not enough solar panels later…

WE HAD POWER!

That morning, I heard heavy equipment starting up in the driveway after waiting for two weeks since the pedestal was installed. I peeked at the security camera monitor and spied a backhoe and a gigantic roll of power cable attached to a digging machine.

It sure wasn’t UPS.

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I woke my husband up and sprinted out to greet the workers, my husband struggling behind me. We watched a backhoe dig a trench from the location where the transformer was to be located toward the pedestal with the meter and plugs.

The powerful bucket easily broke up the ground, neatly depositing ton upon ton of earth and rock in piles next to the road. My husband and I eagerly eyeballed the debris for boulders. Gold, maybe?

We snuck up on the mounds of fresh smelling dirt when the crew went to lunch and picked through it. I found a rock that looked like a huge stone foot and set it aside. My husband grabbed a couple of samples before we retreated.

No gold. Not visible, anyway.

The work commenced but the sound of bucket grating on stone reminded me we’re sitting on top of bedrock. Fifteen feet from the pedestal and we were looking at another couple of grand should the guys have to use a hammer attachment to break up the rock.

About the same time, a hydraulic hose broke so the driver took the machine back to exchange it for another. Upon returning, he was able to scrape enough rock away to make the trench deep enough.

In the meantime, the funny spool with the machine attached dug it’s way down the easement and to its destination at the power pole down the hill. The crew installed the transformer box, laid the cable and brought the meter in- all while we stood around gaping. They couldn’t have understood.

Finally, trench filled, driveway scraped flat, jaws still hanging open, we watched as the backhoe operator disappeared down the driveway to join the rest of the magical electricity elves.

Then we did the official plug in.

We are now slaves to a big corporation and we don’t care. I never said we chose this way of life as a matter of principle. We almost had electricity early on but the neighbors wouldn’t let us run a couple of hundred feet of cord across a remote portion of their property – so we waited.

A few months ago, the opportunity presented itself again. We debated whether or not to go ahead as we still might move but after factoring in some dynamics, we decided to do it. At the very least, our property value just increased.

No more waking up at five in the morning to refill the generator. No more daily trips to fill up the gas cans. No more oil changes, spark plug replacements or broken pull cords.

I love solar. I love being self sufficient. We’ve learned so much from having to go it alone. I wouldn’t trade our experiences and lessons of the past few years for the world but would I do it again? I don’t know.

Besides, we have some really big equipment on the way that will require too much electricity at once for a solar setup. That, however, is a story for another time.

Our first evening with public utilities closed to the sound of silence – except I swear I could hear the meter counting up the watts and kilowatts.

We’ll have a different bill to pay next month.

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A Morning In The Country

It’s 7:45 am as I sit in our shed and look over the latest in the news (a habit I need to curb). I’m the only one up. I hear gunshots from next door and realize Mr. **** (Lawnmower Man), is probably after some critter that is after his chickens. I wonder if he got “it”.

I also hear the usual dogs barking, the roosters, and from farther away, the whinny of horses. A morning in the country.

It was cold last night and I’m thinking we need to move the stove back in for the winter. Nothing better to take the chill off. We went from baking to chilly pretty fast. I ponder how humans have such a limited tolerance to temperature variation. One tip in either direction…

Fires have been raging across the county for weeks but the rain of the past week has cleared the air. The two-month-long stretch of smoke and heat left us dragging. Larger pieces of burned bits of trees were beginning to fall from the sky last weekend along with the ash.

I guess I’m glad for the cold and rain. The water is getting gardened. 🙂

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Our garden is best classified as “wild” this year, with volunteer pumpkins and what I think is cantelope fighting for space within the narrow confines of the fencing. The beans never beaned. They just vined like crazy – most likely because of the excessive heat. The pumpkins are pumkining but are still small.

pumpkin

I’ve busied myself with projects such as the cat cabin Building A Cabin For The Cats. After it was finally done, I decided a zip line was the next “just the right thing”.

We have plenty of trees and hundreds of feet of old telephone pole cable half buried on the hillside. That’s most of the ingredients. I spent half a day digging the cables out and discovered they’re in excellent condition. Breaking the old bolts on the plates that secure them was tough.

Cable can be dangerous to work with. It’ll spring up and whack you hard if you aren’t conscious of it at all times. Hanging it requires a lot of tension. We had to buy a cable puller to get it around the tree trunks.

I ordered a trolley. It’s the thing with the wheels that runs along the cable. I’m going to recheck and reinforce all of the connections before we try it out. If it’s fun, we’ll run a series of them; just in time for us to move.

Speaking of that, Holdmybeerguy appears to be trying to claim adverse possession of the end of the easement by putting up a barrage of no trespassing signs with a note that says “Not a easement” (sic).

not a easement

We can’t let him do that. We have an ownership interest in fifteen feet on his side of the property line going up the hill towards his trailer. Once we’ve relocated, we’ll be having the road professionally graded and graveled – all the way to the end – where he can see everyone coming and going. He deserves it.

We’ll be adding an extra entrance to our own property at the very end. It’ll boost our property value and prevent him from claiming he has an exclusive right to access (adverse possession). A better road will benefit all of the land owners. If they want to chip in, fine.

I still have to tell the story of the skunk but I’m shivering.

Building A Cabin For The Cats

Or was it really for me?

As the summer lags on and the clock seems to almost stop, a little project can break up the monotony.The Cat Cabin sounded like just the thing to keep me occupied for a couple of hours. Three weeks later, I’m finally satisfied and now it sits, in all its feline glory, behind our shed.I wanted to keep it simple with a few rows of “logs” for a frame with some plywood for the roof. I broke down the Toilet Teepee (don’t ask), and cleaned up and sawed the logs to size. Cutting the slots was by far, the worst part.How does one build a full-size cabin for God’s sake?

I used The Patriot (our electric chainsaw), to cut the grooves and began to stack. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would.Now it was time for the upper deck.I made a floor out of boards screwed onto a pallet which my husband helped me place on top of the logs. Next was the roof. I originally used a couple of pieces of insulation board but it looked tacky.It was around that point that I became obsessed with the details.I decided looks were imperative and I wanted rustic. I replaced the fake roof with real wood and installed decorative support beams.IMG_20210820_201705256I hit the town woodpile again looking for matching pieces because now I had a color scheme: Lincoln Log green and brown. Six cans of paint later (with red added because the brown was out), the cabin was starting to look like – a cabin.I added a back deck with all-natural railings and a cat toy. The entrance now sported a driftwood figurehead of nothing in particular – it just looked cool. Painted pine cones were the finishing touch.Now I needed some cats.Tuna juice and the addition of an extra door finally got them in but by golly – they now have a Cat Cabin.Even the skunk likes it. Oh – I didn’t tell you about the skunk that’s moved into our shed?

Guns, Shovels and Signage

A long overdue rant.

Enough is enough.

We’ve decided to move.

You expect a different mindset in different regions but what we’ve experienced over the last three years has been completely off the charts and it’s getting worse.

One of our neighbors has installed a bunch of “funny” no trespassing signs on our two shared easements and more on his fences. Last count was about ten. It looks like a used car lot from hell – tacky and cheap.

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As I creep through the gauntlet in my dusty Durango, I almost expect a salesperson dressed as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre killer (only he has a shotgun), to step out from behind a tree into the car’s path.

In this particular scenario, I look nervously around from the driver’s seat as he walks around to the window and growls “Can I interest you in a vehicle? Just got some new ones in. Turn around real slow and have a look at the inventory.”

I look over my shoulder and see a field with a cow and a couple of goats as he jerks his head around at his house and yells, “Ma! Get the John Deer fired up! Gotta’ customer wants a test drive.”

You would need the John Deer to disappear a whole Durango.

“Never mind the dog – beware of owner” one sign says. We’re bewaring all right. He adds more every day and I wonder if he has one of those programmable electronic signs on order from ebay with maybe some of those frilly flag thingys thrown in.

I am not opposed to guns. I am not opposed to second amendment rights. I’m not on either side politically but I am irritated that this guy assumes we all want this kind of welcome mat.

Will this affect our property values?

What is this guy so threatened by? The government?

Did I mention this is no other than Cowheadguy The Totem?

At any rate, this is another example of a situation that forces us into either a  pushover or busybody position. We need to find our assertive position but I think we’ll end up waiting until the threat of being shot passes to object or let it go.

I miss the quiet we had during that first year after we pulled the Jayco Lite up the long dusty driveway. We’re looking for property with a larger buffer a little closer to a metropolitan area but still away from it all.

We do, however, have one card up our sleeve: this particular neighbor has inquired into buying our land when we leave.

Payback is a bitch.

What We Found In Our RV Air Conditioner

More heat wave fallout

I usually write in this blog sporadically but the past few days of record breaking temperatures have been memorable.

Our RV is a heat magnet, being poorly insulated and ultimately not meant to be lived in long-term. Although we insulate and skirt it during the winter, for some reason, we pull it all down in the spring.

Not this year.

As a result of the climbing temperatures, all of the insulation came back out of the shed today and ended up in places we’ve never put it before.

The front of the fifth-wheel is now draped in tarps for awnings and as of this morning, the front walls, or broadside where our entrance is located is newly plastered with tacked-up odd shapes of foam insulation. The walls resemble a cracked hard boiled egg but I don’t care.

My priority is to survive, no matter how that looks.

We’ve been trying since yesterday to troubleshoot our air conditioning unit. It would run fine for awhile plugged into our heavy-duty generator, then turn off.

The unit was installed in 1994 so there could be a lot of things wrong with it. After making the generator more comfortable in the heat by cutting a larger ventilation hole in it’s shed and adding oil, it ran out of gas.

That wasn’t the only problem though.

I noticed the kitchen light fixture was filled with brownish water. It needed washing anyway so I cleaned it and hung it back up. That was yesterday. This morning it was filled with the same brownish liquid again.

Putting two and two together, we came to the conclusion it must be from the A/C unit; condensation most likely. I browsed the internet looking for a clue and discovered the drain pan was most likely clogged, causing it to overflow rather than be directed off the outside of the RV.

I told my husband and was surprised to hear footsteps on the roof a few minutes later. I went outside to see my him crouched over the A/C, asking for a screwdriver. I threw one up and he took the cover off.

I went back inside then heard scrambling. I darted out the door to see him practically sliding down the ladder. He pointed to the skeleton of the air conditioner.

It was occupied.

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Several wasps nests clung menacingly to the structure. My husband was lucky to have escaped without a sting. Any further maintenance would have to wait until we took care of the nests, leaving us to look forward to another day of 100° + heat.

main hive

While he got the ladder and sprayed the nests from a distance, I dragged The Trough closer to the RV and began to fill it again. Later, I put about twenty feet of PVC tubing together to form a long arm, climbed up the ladder, and knocked the nests down.

shroud and nests

Tomorrow morning, my husband will go up again to look for the drain pan and clear any clogs – if there’s a drain pan. Regardless, I figure anything we do is an investment into a more comfortable existence in the months ahead.

Once this heat wave is over with, 90° weather is going to seem like Spring.

Heat Wave 3

The battle for A/C

It was 115° in the shade at 3:00p.m. today.

It doesn’t look like it in the picture, but it really says 115°. At 7:40p.m., we’re at 95° and it feels heavenly.

Today, being soaking wet wasn’t working any more. I no longer have my pool to dip in. I overturned The Trough because I added too much bleach, and the cooling effect of cold showers lasts maybe fifteen minutes.

I’d finally had it with the heat by 3:30p.m.

I strongly suggested to my husband  that we head down to the hardware store to put a couple of super heavy duty 10 gauge 15 amp extension cords on the credit card so we could cool off.

Forty-five minutes and two-hundred dollars later, we were back home untangling the anacondas and setting up for some air conditioning. Now the Generac 5500XL would be put to the test.

Our son lives in a smaller trailer about seventy-five feet in the other direction from the generator and his A/C unit is smaller so we started with him. So far, so good.

Now us.

I researched the watts and btu’s and all of that stuff ahead of time so theoretically we could comfortably run two units on the generator. We plugged in and turned our  A/C on low for a bit, then medium.

Ten minutes later, the generator override kicked in and shut it off. We cut a larger hole for the exhaust in the back of the shed but had a repeat. Shit. Looks like we can run it but only on low and only when we can reset it. That’ll be better than nothing.

We did the egg experiment again today but this time with a cast-iron skillet at the suggestion of another blogger. Why not try to have some fun with this? So far, no success.

egg in cast iron skillet

We also wrestled with the solar power system again.

Ironically, the heat was so bad, the batteries overheated again, even with the shed doors open and in the shade.

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Solar power my ass. 🙂 We cranked up our smallest generator to keep our power on while our son enjoyed his air conditioning.

Me? I crawled into a cool hole until the sun set.

The second spring needed to be deepened anyway.

Heat Wave 2

Cooking with Linda

I just checked the thermometer again. Two steps outside barefoot with two seconds to take a peek and my feet are singed.

It’s getting hotter earlier in the day. At 2:00p.m. it’s 108° in the shade.

Last night I decided to dredge one of our two springs and take more rock out of the bottom because of the threat of drought. I can only do this in the evening or early morning to avoid the sun. If at the end of the day, I have to coat myself in mosquito repellent to avoid being eaten alive. It’s always something around here.

I use what’s called a Santa Fe bar to do some of the work. It’s a six-foot rod made of solid steel for breaking rock. Don’t leave it in the sun then grab it with your bare hands (or anything else made of metal). You’ll regret it.

This morning I beat both the heat and the legion of yellow-jackets and wasps that share the watering hole with us by starting at 6:00a.m. By 8:00a.m., the place was getting too popular for my comfort so I wrapped things up until this evening.

Even earlier, I hung another tarp awning over our RV door because the knob has been getting too hot to touch. I don’t know what we were thinking when we originally positioned the trailer broadside to the sun.

We’ve added a cold shower with clothes on to our cooling repertoire and I now sport a wet T-shirt wrapped around my head.

Today’s shopping trip included some powdered Gatorade. Not usually a preferred drink but we live in different times lately.

We cracked an egg on a rock outside to test the “it’s so hot you can fry and egg on a sidewalk” expression but we don’t have sidewalks here. We have rocks though. We had trouble leveling the one we picked and the egg became partially scrambled during the cracking process. There it sits till later.

Speaking of rocks, a fault line passes directly under the northeast corner of our fifth-wheel (where I sleep), according to the Washington State Department Of Natural Resources geological map. The thought of lava somewhere below us in the depths of the earth makes me cringe and question once again, the placement of our RV.

Looking at a photo of two people hugging makes me feel uncomfortable. Now we practice heat wave distancing. As for dinner: who in their right mind would turn a burner on right now? Salad, Gatorade, and ice cubes sounds good.

The solar inverter started beeping again when it shouldn’t have and I suspected overheating. I remembered the large pieces of foam insulation stored away and grabbed a couple with reflective foil on one side. We stacked them on top of the battery and charge controller shack and drew them out over the front to act as shade.

Upon opening the doors, the charge controllers indicated the batteries were indeed, over heating but once the “breeze” began to circulate throughout the shed, all of the battery status lights changed to green, telling us everything was good to go. We left the doors open with the components now in the shade. Lesson learned.

It’s so hot outside the foam insulation we put around our security camera cords is melting. The cords themselves are fine.

melting foam tube

The ants are going crazy looking for water and have attempted another invasion. They seem to be moving around frantically and I feel bad for them. Even insects need water – but not from my kitchen.

This time around, I soaked a paper towel in vinegar and stuffed it in the hole where they were coming in. It seems to be working and I’m wondering if I’ve discovered a more effective strategy than my old battle plan: Ant Invasion – A Poem

I wonder if putting a dish of water outside and away from the trailer will draw them away? I think I’ll try an experiment.

I take back what I said about the west coast: they’re every bit as hot as us. I hope this isn’t a trend.

Oregon is down to two fires now. Everything is like tinder. Crossing my fingers for eastern Washington this summer.

Three-and-a-half hours to today’s high and counting. I’m going to look at the thermometer and egg again but this time I’m wearing my shoes.

It’s 2:40p.m. and it’s 109°.

The egg is not cooking.

Heat Wave

How we manage not to melt

I’m sitting in a dark place, sopping wet – on purpose: because of a heat wave.

We are in the midst of a week-long, possibly historical weather event with an excessive heat advisory across Washington state. Over the mountains to the west, it’s slightly better but still hot.

Looking at a heat index map, we are smack-dab in the middle of a region marked by a deep red color – the darkest and hottest – according to the legend.

The thermometer inside is pegged past 90° and the one outside reads 105° in the shade.

Leave butter out for any length of time and it’s broken down into its various liquid components. Cheese sweats profusely. Hell, I think my clock is doing the same, Salvador Dali-style; or it’s that hit of acid I took when I was sixteen finally coming back to haunt me.

We’ve closed all of the windows and hung tarps as a canopy in front of the fifth-wheel to see if we can cut a few degrees from the highs. The tarps make us look classy.

tarps on rv

The solar power system is loving this. We are running an electric energy hog of a refrigerator (long story), and everything else on it. The inverter alarm was constantly going off but we discovered that four of our panels were off-line and  fixed the problem.

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The cats only come out at night. I don’t know where they go during the day. They simply “appear” at about 6:30p.m. or so, after the temperature gauge is well into its journey back down the scale.

Since we can’t disappear during the day like them, our main defense is water, or keeping wet.

Here are a few ways we do that:

  • The livestock trough: what I bought last year after my first swimming pool debacle The Pool. It’s a big tub meant for watering animals but it works just fine as a dunking pool. I’m using the now-defunct swimming pool filter/pump and bleach to keep the water from turning green.
  • The sprinkler: hold the hose up and make it rain on yourself.
  • The garden mister: a larger version of the spray bottle.
  • Lakes or rivers: there are  plenty around here; just get there early and plan on scaling a nearly vertical slope in places to get to the water.

lake panorama

Another option is our Generac 5500XL generator. It could easily power an RV air conditioner but we need to wait until the first of next month to pick up heavier duty cords – when the worst of this has already passed.

But we’re in for a lot more according to longer-term forecasts.

In addition to the current heat wave, a drought is forecast for this summer and we’re ready to dig the spring deeper if it gets low.

Wildfires are a danger in weather like this. Oregon currently has three active ones. They got torched along with California last year. I finally bought personal property insurance after several local fires came a little too close. We need to finish trimming the lower branches of our trees as a fire deterrent.

It’s 3:00 p.m. – still three hours of rising temperatures until the red on the thermometer begins to slowly fall for the day. It doesn’t fall enough. Sleep is difficult. The temperature has risen two degrees since I began writing.

We in the Pacific Northwest aren’t the only ones cooking. I was originally indoctrinated to be skeptical of global warming but what I’m seeing year after year with my own eyes and what I’m gathering from credible sources has lead me to have a more open mind on the subject.

My latest thoughts are that we, as humans, need to get our shit together soon.

sun fire

Soap Making Part 2: Resurrection

Obligatory disclaimer included.

Despite the use of the word “obligatory”, I really mean do this at your own risk.

I killed my food processor as detailed in my previous post Soap Making With Linda by flooding the motor compartment with coconut oil. Actually, I barely got started before the incident.

I’ve dried out electronics before but when I held my processor above my head and saw gook dripping out of its innards, I thought “That’s it -she’s done”, before placing it outside.

There it sat in the baking sun after I’d reluctantly thrown the upper components into the trash. I would have to buy another on the first of the month, I’d decided.

I regarded the thing with a sense of regret every time I walked out the door and saw it. The sheen of oil that coated it made it look almost as if it was tanning.

Then I had an idea.

I figured I had nothing to lose at this point so I grabbed a small tub, the device, and a bottle of laundry detergent. I headed for the sink, placed the patient in upside down and began the resurrection.

Against every instinct in my body, I poured detergent directly into the vent on the bottom while I filled the tub with ultra-hot water. I knew I’d need a lot of the surfactant to break down the oil.

I swished the thing around violently in every position imaginable in hopes of removing all traces of oil from the innermost parts of the machine. I rinsed and repeated six times before the rinse water was clear of oil droplets. I also used dish soap as it’s a good de-greaser.

Back out to it’s place in the sun it went where it cooked in about 90 degree weather for six hours or so.

Meanwhile, I dug through the usual egg shells and coffee grounds in the garbage can in order to rescue the accessories I’d thrown away the night before. I washed them and waited for the sun.

My husband was leary of this whole venture, but I had a former tenant submerge my old food processor in a sink full of water. I caught him in the act and booted him out, needless to say. I did some research about rescuing electronic components at the time and successfully dried it out. I reminded my husband about that and assured him I’d gotten the oil out of the processor and that it was a matter of drying at this point.

Of course, do this at your own risk, but as the sun began to set, I grabbed the accessories and the food processor and headed for the shed. I announced to my husband that I was testing it. I plugged it in, put the top pieces on and turned it on.

It worked.

No burning smell, no smoke – just the electronic whirring sound of the blade spinning. I’m letting it sit out for another day in the sun just to be sure.

Welcome back food processor. How was heaven?

Soap Making With Linda

A cautionary tale.

I am the queen of imperfection and soap making is no exception.

I’ve made homemade coconut oil soap before and the measurements and timing are really important. Mixing too.

I used my food processor and discovered how much you try to cram into it matters.

I don’t do this too often so I watched a video on the subject by a woman whom I’m now blaming for the disaster that ensued. Doesn’t matter that I didn’t follow the instructions.

I’m jealous because she built a log cabin by herself and she has her own Youtube channel.

She made the measuring easier by using an entire 54 oz. bottle of the oil, adjusting the measurements for the other ingredients accordingly. “Great”, I thought, as I dug fifty bowls and utensils out, my alcohol inks (for color), my essential rose oil, a scale, a thermometer – and my beloved food processor for mixing.

The normally solid coconut oil was already in liquid form from the heat so I wasted no time and poured the entire container into the mixer.

Then oil started seeping out of the machine.

I’d clearly overfilled it and it was leaking through the blade attachment. I thought fast and poured it into the container that was resting on the scale, zeroed out to measure the lye. In the process, oil slopped all over the place so I put the mixer container in the sink and grabbed the bowl that was on the scale to dump back into the original bottle.

Unfortunately, the oil had stuck the scale onto the bottom of the bowl, releasing it into the sink full of water at just the right moment.

I swiped it out, grabbed a rag, and began the cleanup.

Because our RV isn’t perfectly level (a sheer pin in one of the hydraulic jacks sheered off before we could finish the job and I’ve lived with the fact that in our bathroom anything that rolls, will head west when placed on the counter), the coconut oil also headed west.

It was on its way to the edge of the counter so I hit the most threatened areas first then turned my attention back to the motor unit of the food processor. I sopped up the pool in the tray on top, wiped off the suction cups on the bottom and put it aside while I finished cleaning the counters.

I scraped wave after wave of the skin conditioning, nutty smelling stuff into the sink and down the drain. I figure I lost about a third of the container.

I again picked up the motor unit and noticed a huge puddle of the viscous liquid on the counter I’d just cleaned. Upon holding the gadget above my head, I spied oil coming out of the motor compartment.

So long food processor.

You can actually dry some electrical components out but I’m not taking a chance with this one.

I put the fifty bowls, utensils, alcohol inks, the scale with the now-cloudy digital readout, the essential rose oil, and thermometer away but the food processor unit is now sitting in the hot sun, still oozing – destined for the garbage can.

The moral of my story? Life ain’t perfect but at least my hands are soft.