Last year I spent a long weekend in Joshua Tree at the end of June, which ushers in the hi-desert’s hottest season. Temperatures climb into the 100’s and the sun bakes the earth. This year, I was prepared for the same when I took nearly a week at the Mojave House over the 4th of July.
It wasn’t actually that bad! But the sun is still intense, and I have fantastic air conditioning in just one room. So, measures had to be taken. I had to master the art of the siesta. The key, my friends, is coconut sorbet with iced sun tea. It’s like a double-punch of electrolytes and caffeine - just what you need to rehydrate and recharge.
First, if you move to the desert, bring an ice cream maker.
Second, if you don’t have TV or internet, get a complicated cookbook, like the Ciao Bella gelato/sorbetto bible.
Third, visit your local farmer’s market! You may just meet a lovely Persian-Armenian who blends her own saffron black tea.
The night before, make your coconut sorbet base, and chill in the fridge overnight. Ciao Bella’s recipe uses coconut water, water, sugar, and shredded coconut that gets mixed in right before churning. Then, in the morning, stick the base into the ice cream maker. Liberally drizzle caramel sauce over it when it’s done churning, then pop it into the freezer. (I don’t even take it out of the mixer - just straight in.)
Your second morning task is to pop 2 tea bags and cold water into a mason jar, then leave it outside in the sunniest spot. Ideally, this location will not see shade until afternoon. This is the time to give some love to that otherwise un-usable section of patio.
Then, pretend you’re in a regular climate and go about your day doing all of the things. At about 1 or 2 you will collapse, begin feeling light-headed, and ask yourself why your lips are continuously parched even though you are drinking plenty of water. It’s time to replenish.
Scoop out some of that sorbet, and pour your sun tea over a glass full of ice, then put your feet up. Between the rejuvenating electrolytes in the coconut sorbet and the way the sultry sweet caramel brings out the saffron in the tea, you’ll be recharged and ready to tackle the rest of your day in no time. Just stay inside until it cools down a bit.
There’s a mouse in the house. Or, maybe a rat. Or, possibly a family of rats, which explains the cute ears but small size. Whatever it or they are, though, is resourceful. We’re currently renegotiating their rent control.
I’ve been in the Mojave House now for almost six weeks. I consider it warmed. My parents and close friends came for Memorial Day weekend and it functioned as a dwelling, both indoors and out. I’m writing this from the outsized comfort of a $300 IKEA outdoor sofa on the patio, which seems idyllic if you don’t consider the sunburn I’m getting on just my left ear. There is still work to be done.
This project never was a reno, and I am so grateful for that. I am one person. And, this is a weekend place for now. But there are a few things that need to be done, because is any house ever really move-in ready? You leave it for just a hot second and mice, escaping from hurricane force winds, move in. These are my top priorities:
1. Art Studio/Shed: I got a place in the desert so that I can have a detached art studio. The first place I looked at had a rectangular studio that opened with French doors onto its own patio, creating an indoor-outdoor workspace. I want that, but more square. This place has a great 13 x 15 studio with French doors… and the roof is caving in. It is unsafe. We must rebuild, to code, at 10 x 12. The slab is still good, so now I just have to decide what I want, who will help me make it, how to get the old one out, and how to re-do the fencing. There’s already a gate for horses and a hitching post… they may help. I have the beginnings of a plan and am soliciting ideas.
2. Window Coverings: I have a textile addiction issue. I really like them. I like to scour the world for motifs, learn about techniques, and buy the pretty ones. I literally have contemporary batik from Malaysia that I bought thinking “I have no use for this, but I see it being a window covering.” When my mom insisted the window coverings of my house were to be included in the sale, a small part of my heart sank. When I moved in, the owner absconded with everything in spite of the contract. No curtain rods, no curtains, temperatures pushing 100 and 12 windows to deal with. I took what I believe to be an affordable course of action to rectify this with my own handmade window coverings. Thank you, Pinterest. The living room will be Malaysia themed, and if this makes sense to you, this is what I’m going for:
Maybe I should use Guatemalan woven accents in the kitchen, or West African prints in the bedroom? There are so many options, but I put up some field expedient ikea liners and old curtains I made myself when I was a very entry-level employee until I can decide. Shibori, you ask? That will be the the throw rugs at the entrance and exit.
And then this…
3. Mice in the Exterior, I swear not inside: The legal documents I signed would suggest that something with four legs that climbs vertically and chirps at 4 a.m.moved into the house once the previous owner put it up for sale. There is no sign of them inside the house, but they are somehow between the drywall and the siding, or the ceiling and the roof. The inspector did not find any holes, but my dog found one access point. We plugged everything. They still make their way in from a mystery location. Two weeks ago, I guessed that location was the exterior water closet ceiling, which is not fully visible. We knew something lived in there, but since it isn’t in the house I didn’t worry too much. We cut a new door to fit, we plugged holes, and then I saw that the rodent brought in all this old construction material to stuff a McMansion between the door and the hot water heater. The next day she barricaded it with pieces of spiky cactus. Also, those three little Stuart Littles I saw last time? Probably babies because the momma is bigger, likely identifiable with the desert rat who was peering into my screen door watching me do a Green Bay Packers puzzle for hours on end.
Did I mention she is now using a key for her house?
I’ve jury-rigged a temporary solution - door sweeps and a really big rock. This has kept the destruction at bay, but I suspect there are live mousetraps and a drive down the road in my near future.
My goal here is to observe the seasons change and watch the wildlife go about their days. The dogs are amazingly on the same page. Aside from the mice, we have rabbits, jackrabbits, coyotes, kangaroo rats, a very social roadrunner, and quails, all of whom pop by to say hello on schedule.
It’s jackrabbit hour. I must be going.
No matter what your week looks like, there’s nothing like pulling up to your house at 11 p.m. and seeing the Milky Way.
When I first started this house-in-the-desert boondoggle, I was in the throes of February loneliness. I had just turned 36, and that’s a challenging, if scientifically anachronistic, number for a single woman. Where had the time gone while I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, and why did the doing not lead to the family I was promised if I did what I was told? Why was I so very, very alone? I solicited the thoughts and pity of friends near and far, since my West Coast pool was certainly limited. But, even as people declined invitations due to family commitments or errand fatigue, we made plans. I would double down, make an effort to meet someone, and not be alone forever. My friends would support me via text messages during specific windows of time when their attention was not otherwise allotted. Add to that emotional mess an unusual amount of rain in the Southern California climate where my Vitamin D-addicted body landed a year prior, and I was bound to do one of two things: make a rash decision or wallow with rose and frosting for dinner.
Yet, whenever I took myself on a long art-making weekend in Joshua Tree, there was no loneliness in being alone. The granite slabs of the Mojave welcomed me as I was, kept me up all night with crazy dreams, checked in with sunrises and sunsets, and opened their arms to my authentic, creative nature.
On paper I was supposed to be a career-oriented successful woman, enter into an elite pool of fascinating people, cherry-pick one of them to marry, and then affordably raise kids in international schools abroad while saving the world as part of a power couple. So, I should probably have focused on getting that next promotion and networking for a management position. As a qualified polyglot without the burden of family, that meant Central Asia again as a hot-shot bosswoman, a war zone to prove how much I loved to sacrifice, or - most intriguing - a slice of Africa with terrorists.
The only kicker was, my 30-something male peers were not single, and after a decade plus of that environment I wasn’t positive they were my type. Was I my type? What the hell was I doing, anyway?
After facing slammed door after slammed door at work, the only thing that gave me a feeling of agency was to just do the damn opposite. I’m lonely? Great, I’ll go be alone and live as an eccentric hermit. That made far more sense to me than continuing on the same path, if continuing meant treading stagnant water. In an effort to incorporate my personal goals into my life, I decided to pursue the opposite of what I thought I wanted.
Logically, this did not make sense to me, and I struggled to put my finger on it. I eschewed the term “authenticity” as a branding buzzword, fearing that if I valued it I would tumble down a path of excessive self-care straight into narcissism. There was something else gnawing at me that I couldn’t put my finger on. My best friend told me it was indeed authenticity I was searching for. I told myself it was freedom through burning it all down.
After months, maybe years, of stagnation, I found momentum in the Mojave. Not only would getting a place there chop my debt by a third (paradoxical, I know), but in February a little blue house with a shed-studio popped onto the market for a hot second. I made an offer with the determination that this process would bring me joy and freedom rather than stress, because really - why was I buying a house in the desert? It fit nothing in my life as it existed on paper. Intuitively, though, this was the only thing that had felt right in a long time, and as I moved through escrow, unexpected doors in the desert began to open.
Around this time, as I wired many thousands of dollars, I started to hear it articulated. On a podcast, someone mentioned that it is the thing to which you have the most resistance that is the most interesting. In the words of Wesley AKA The Dread Pirate Roberts at the Fire Swamp, “the only way out is through.”
The only way out is through. I’m lonely? Fine, I’ll go be alone. Or, as my friend saw it, I’ll go do the thing that feels like me and turn my back on what is expected of me. I’ll live my authentic life.