In 2007 we decided it was a great time to invest in real estate. Yes, we know how funny that is. By 2015, our investment was finally approaching fair market value.
But Neighborly Lane was perfect, it gave us a great weekend camping getaway and potential retirement property. Let's not talk about the price, just the fact it was already set up with utilities.
Here's a quick summary of what life was like. To see the full set of stories, check out Life in the Woods.
Camping is great, but indoor plumbing is even better. We quickly added a 2000 SF shop and developed an indoor living space.
Wildlife, some more wild than others
Though we heard them a lot, it was 14 years before I saw a horned owl. Now they're around a bit more. Here are other animals and birds you're likely to see. I don't know the names of all the birds, if you spot one you can identify, please let me know!
It wouldn't be the same without Betty
Betty is the silent partner on the Neighborly Lane project. Without our Kubota (named Betty in honor of all feisty redheads everywhere) we'd never have developed the property the way you see it now. She's moved a lot of dirt, rocks, logs, and debris. And she's pulled out a few dozen tree stumps.
We have enjoyed ourselves immensely. Though Betty got pretty annoyed when I let her run out of diesel. (City girl didn't know that's a really bad idea. Betty had to go into Burlington for repairs.)
Sharing the fun
This is the perfect place for entertaining. Particularly in the spring and fall when we host burn parties. We build a huge bonfire with all the debris we've gathered over the prior six months and hang out around it (or in the shop when it's raining). The heart of the party is our group of friends who come to throw a log (or, sometimes, old journals, old jeans, or even an old wedding dress) on the fire.
Building the house
We built the house between March and November 2015. At the time, we lived in the shop, and I worked from home. It worked out great for staying on top of the building process. So many details!!!
Here's the short story, from ground clearing to moving in.
Too frugal to buy plants for the deer to eat, we've relied on working with what's already here. You'll find a rhody and some maple trees, but pretty much everything else is from here or seedlings from our house in Seattle.
The pandemic garden
I argued against a garden on the grounds that I didn't want to take care of it. But Fred needed a project during 2020. And he even made the boards for the raised beds using his chainsaw. It ended up being a lot of fun for both of us.
Watching the garden grow
When Fred started the garden project I was loudly opposed, it'd be a lot of work and make it hard for us to leave for extended periods. Turns out, it's not really that much work and he put in an automated watering system so we could get away on the boat or in the trailer.
We're still learning and some veggies are doing better than others. And it's fun.
After 14 years I finally got a decent owl photo. Fred says the bird probably had a fresh meal laying around somewhere and was just waiting for a private moment to eat in peace. And, as always the other animals make it feel like a Disney movie. No photos yet, but trust me, the bunnies are rampant and I even saw a brown squirrel.
No. It's not a "she shed" or "Robbin's Nest."
Over the years we've used the original toolshed that came with the property as a rustic hangout. The following section outlines the history. This past month, I upgraded the interior to create a space for my books and hobbies.
We've always called this building the cabin, despite the lack of basics like kitchen and bath. It's still called the cabin. Know why? Ever get called "Robbin red breast"? And "Shed" is fine but "She shed" is just bad grammar. With that, here's the makeover.
When we first brought the property the only facilities were basic utilities and a tool shed. So we spent weekends in our camper. That got cozy, so we converted the tool shed into a basic place to hang out. We updated it over time, but you could always tell it started as a toolshed.
The prior owner had added a funny little room to his tool shed where his wife could keep her parrots. We tore the wall out between the two rooms and replaced the two doors with a single door. Over the years, we painted and outfitted the room for watching TV and sleeping. I worked there for years. After building the house, I used it a little for my hobbies, but wished it was nicer.
You may not know this about me, because I know it's silly: but I don't like odd numbers. They're not symmetrical. You can't split them in half and line up piece evenly on the edge of your desk. As you know I tend to do. So I woke with a vague sense of wellness on 1/1/20. An even year and an even decade.
Then everything went to hell. There were, of course, bright spots:
Which brings me to this year's Christmas letter:
I started not to write a letter this year, as really, the less said the better, don’t you think? I tried to think of (relatively) safe topics and all that came to mind were sex, money, and religion. And I don’t have much to say about any of them.
Just because you don't own animals doesn't mean you don't have them on your property! Our neighbors have an ever-changing cast of characters, mostly 2-legged (eggs anyone?), but a few four legged ones.
Recently we looked up from working by the shop to glimpse what we thought was a very fat dog. Nope.
It was an extremely masculine porker on the lam. Not lamb, that would be weird. We were to discover he was capable of two speeds: trot and statue.
Shortly the owner came looking for him and the fun began. Here's what transpired.
When we bought this place in 2007 we escaped here on the weekends, but could never have imagined it becoming a literal refuge. It was great to be remote, but the idea of "surviving off the grid" was a laughing matter.
We're not off the grid, and don't expect to be. But we could be. We've got independent water, power, and septic. Our heat water with solar and our home with wood. We have lots of flour, yeast, rice, and beans. And a few vegetables. And friendly neighbors with more vegetables.
We're on five acres at the end of a dirt road. We have lots of things to do here, and suddenly, lots of time to do them. So yes, while this is a horrible year we count ourselves as both lucky and blessed.
Here's what we've been up to in 2020:
Enjoying simple living
Watching the (not terribly wild) wildlife
Fighting off tree attacks
While we were in Arizona last winter, a storm blew a tree down onto the side of our shop. We'd already taken down a lot of trees that threatened the house and shop, and really hated to take out more. But safety won over privacy, so we took out another couple dozen.
The gardening begins
2020 is the year of the garden for many people. Fred’s wanted to create a garden for years. For once, we're home long enough this summer to tackle the job. We've started small with a few plants here and there, which is about as much as I want to take care of. It's spread around in a couple raised beds and some pots. The beds have provided rhubarb and strawberries for years, and this year we added squash.
We started building a real garden. But first we had to get rid of a huge log and its stump. It was such an overwhelming job, we'd just left the whole mess alone for years. But it blocked our best garden spot, so I reluctantly agreed to dig it out.
People who know me know that I’m pretty proud of my ability to dig up stumps. I've done dozens in the past 13 years and generally enjoy it. Nothing's more satisfying than ripping out the last root and seeing the huge hunk of wood move. Usually it takes from a couple hours to a couple of days. But the tractor can only do so much, and this was a very, very big stump.
This took a couple weeks, and even then, part of the stump is down in the pile waiting for the next time we can burn. (See hot parties.)
Battling Moby Stump
But a Fred-size garden is 36x40. It requires a tractor, not a shovel. It uses 6X6 posts for fence corners, not sticks stuck in coffee cans. So. Here. We. Go.
After the stump: smoothing and fencing
Yes, that's an irreverent title for an obituary, but if you knew my mom you'd know why I say it. And, if you've known me very long, you might feel as though you also know my mom. Curious, courageous, engaging, unconventional, and, honestly, a handful at times, she was a frequent topic of conversation.
She'd tell you she was a pilot (bought a plane and learned to fly in her late 50's) and a published author (the distinction being that she was a writer who got paid for it). Married twice, to my dad for 36 years and my step dad Jim for 19 years, she toured as far around the world as they'd go with her.
She'd always dreamed of flying, and as my dad was dying from cancer in his late 50's he talked her into getting a plane and learning to fly it. After he passed, she met a fellow pilot who became my step dad. They went to Alaska several times and slept under the wing of their plane. They also hopped on a freighter to Australia then backpacked across that country and New Zealand. They toured Europe and once drove across the US in the winter so Jim could see the world's largest snowmobile. (He loved to drive. Even after he couldn't see.)
When they weren't traveling they spent summers on an elk preserve in eastern Oregon and winters in an adobe they rebuilt on the border of Mexico.
And when my step dad passed, she took herself on a Mediterranean cruise at the age of 80. Using a third of her remaining cash to do so. Given that wasn't an unusual choice for mom, it took a while for me to catch on that she really wasn't able to make good decisions, versus just not always choosing to do so.
So I pulled her under my wing a bit and helped make sure she was safe and comfortable. Over the past few years she and I spent a lot of time together, she was getting a little fuzzier around the edges thinking wise.
Our big adventures went from a cabaret in Paris in the 70's to a burger and shake at Burger King in Sedro-Woolley. She wasn't having much fun anymore but was a good sport. Healthy as hell, I fully expected her to go to 105 or more. But in the week before Halloween she was taken down by a totally unexpected event: renal failure, possibly caused by large amounts of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds used to treat her decaying teeth.
My brother Craig and I got to spend some time with her in the hospital and she was thrilled to see us together. My husband Fred and I were with her at the end. She died at 11:30 PM October 31.
She'd howl if she knew she died the day before the Day of the Dead. She'd also howl to learn that by not living another half hour (12:01 AM November 1) she wouldn't receive her Social Security and military income for October.
It's an awful paradox how a loss like this makes you want one thing more than anything: your mom. I miss her enormously, and always will.
But I am so thankful to have had such a wonderful role model for how to live life the way you want to. When I tell Fred I want to spend a third of our retirement funds on a Mediterranean cruise, mom will feel like she did a great job. Of course, she also thought marrying Fred was the smartest thing I ever did. And knew that he'd never go for the whole shoot-your-wad-on-a-Mediterranean-cruise idea.
So as you embark on your biggest adventure ever just know you left of good memories behind. Happy landings, mom.
In 11 years I've never seen so much life here at Neighborly Lane. It's like a Disney cartoon. Bunnies are hopping everywhere (four were on the back lawn last night) butterflies flicker by (too fleeting to catch in a photo, sadly) and deer of all ages wander through eating what the bunnies leave behind. And yet, no owls. The one hawk we've seen was a red tail eating something other than a bunny. Thank god.
Stuff is growing like crazy too. Countless Foxgloves with many offspring for next year. We even have new weeds I've never seen before. Not a treat, but bad with the good, I guess.
We've been working like field hands (bless them, what a horrible job) just trying to get grass to grow on the east side of the house. Tearing out the tree stumps was a hell of a lot more fun than hand picking endless, truly endless supplies of weeds and rocks while spreading more and more seed on the deadest earth (a worm wouldn't survive in this dirt, it couldn't even tunnel into it) we've ever seen. Water simply runs off the packed clay (self-packing, roto-tilling simply churned up more rocks) and consolidates the grass seed at the bottom of the hill.