Monday, February 13, 2012 / 5:00 am

Rural Life: Report From Chigger Lake

Life (and death) in the country.

by Donna Schoenkopf

Schoenkopf 41243 sign
Chigger Lake

I'm living on thirteen beautiful, hilly acres in Oklahoma. I live in an affordable ($50,000), environmental (simple rectangle, southern wall a row of 6 sliding glass doors looking down my hill, passive solar in the winter, breezy in the summer) house of glass and steel and concrete that I designed and helped build. I've been here for four years. I am a 68 year old retired school teacher who wants to learn how to do all kinds of things—building, fixing, planting—by myself. I like to experiment just to see what will happen.

I don't have a lot of money. And I do want to keep everything here as natural as I can because I am, above anything else, striving to live lightly on the earth.

Here's what's been going on.

The Fabulous Outdoor Shower

My outdoor shower is going through an awkward period. It had been lush and glorious because it was surrounded by waist high grass and sunflowers that were taller than the house. Then I mowed. That left it naked and kinda ugly.

So I planted some Japanese pencil shrubs. They are slender and will be tall eventually. They frame the pavers I stand on when I shower. I also have some red-tipped photinia out there. But the dogs liked to lie on top of them to cool off during the horrendous heat wave/drought that we've had for a long, long time.

So I got the two foot long rebars I had bought to strengthen the frame of my raised bed vegetable garden. I had disassembled the frame because of the deer. (I have given up the idea of raising vegetables, except on my deck in pots.) I stuck the rebar into the ground all around the shrubbery as a pointed dissuasion to the dogs.

It worked.

I still take showers out there and it's February. I have learned what the Japanese macaques learned from the natural hot springs in their habitat—that you don't get cold if you are in nice, hot water.

Here's how to take an outdoor shower in the winter:

First, turn on the shower to heat it up.

Second, disrobe in the house, get your towels, run outside and get under the hot water.

(You never feel the cold. I promise. I've even showered during a snowfall. That was a great experience.)

Keep turning under the shower to keep your back and front nice and warm and make sure to get your head wet. For some reason, once your head is wet, you get nice and warm. It's amazing. Stay as long as you like. (Well. Don't waste too much water.) You'll be perfectly comfortable. Steam will surround you. Your body adapts to the warmth and even when you turn off the water you'll be warm.

Get your towel and go back into the house.

A hot shower in freezing weather is fabulous.

(I even did it once in the rain, but when I heard thunder I hurried inside. I surely didn't want to be found fried by a bolt of lightning under my outdoor shower.)

My Concrete Floors

People sometimes ask me what I'd do differently if I were to build my house again.

The answer is I would add color to the wet concrete before it was poured, a color that would disguise the red clay that is tracked into the house by the dogs (and me) every single day.

The reason I didn't color it originally was because I had really liked the color of the natural concrete; it was a nice, light dove-gray-taupe color, very beautiful. But it showed every single solitary molecule of dirt because the red Oklahoma dirt is  … RED!

Then I would apply a natural sealer to it before I moved into the house. A nice beeswax, perhaps.

(An aside: I have even fantasized about pouring the concrete in such a way that it would, ever so slightly dip in the middle of the house where there would be a drain. Yeah. I know. Crazy, huh? I would have all my furniture on casters so I could just push things easily in any direction. Then I would bring in a hose with a high-powered nozzle and spray down the whole floor while watching water, dirt, everything go right down the drain. No more sweeping. No more mopping. But I was too shy to ask the concrete guys to do it.)

Anyway, after living with filthy floors (concrete is impossible to mop; the dirt sinks into its pores and won't come out) I found a color I liked, a dark, almost blue gray and hired Nephew Jared to help me paint the floor. We moved all the furniture to one side of the house and scrubbed the floor and applied acid to rough up the surface so the paint would stick and then we waited for that to dry and then we painted half of the house. And then we waited for that to dry.

Then we moved all the furniture to the other side of the house and did the same thing all over again.

It was GORGEOUS!  Slick and clean and very, very cool.

It lasted for about a month.

Then the damn paint started peeling, (we should have put a lot more acid on the concrete) and the dog tracks started to show and so did the dog hair.


The Dogs

I literally couldn't live here if I didn't have dogs.


I have a tremendous sense of security with them here. Not that I've ever been afraid to live alone.

But these dogs, these beautiful, wonderful dogs take really good care of me.

They patrol all day and all night. They catch (and kill) all kinds of critters. Last week they got two skunks and a turtle. The skunks are presently mummifying on top of the empty guinea chick coop and the turtle, which I had put on top of the shelving out my back door, mysteriously disappeared. “You Know Who” reclaimed it.

They brought a deer head home a couple of months ago. And then a leg bone of a deer and then another leg bone. I know they didn't kill the deer. It had died out in my woods and they couldn't resist. It's kinda creepy watching them gnaw on a skull. But that's country life for you.

I did wrest it away from them, though. I'm saving it for grandson Anthony.

The dogs are my companions and, as I've said before, all day and all night. They sleep on a black and white cotton comforter topped by a multicolored afghan on the floor next to my bed. I wash them every Sunday morning.

The dogs are the first living things I see in the morning and the last living things I see at night.

I let them out almost every night for patrol duty because they jump up for no reason I can discern, all on their tippytoes, and want out, especially Angela Davis. The other dogs, Joe Biden and Abby, want to go out because Boss Lady wants to go out.

Sometimes Angela Davis stays out for the rest of the night. She just will not come back in.  Being a malamute mix, she loves the cold air and even sleeps in the snow if I let her.

When she's outside in the dark she sings the sweetest song. She throws her head way back, and sings and sings, howling long, long melodies. She choruses with the coyotes who don't dare come onto our property.

The Compost Pile

This is the fourth iteration of my compost pile. I don't know why, but I have refused to follow directions about compost.

The dogs dig into it, pulling out papaya rinds (which they love) and egg shells and disassembling everything I have raked there. It has been their personal playground.

I tried to fence it once. They just leaned against it and that was that.

Then I dug “honey holes” into which I buried my kitchen scraps along with grass clippings and shredded newspaper and tamped it down hard.. But I have hard, red clay, and there was no drainage in those holes. Everything just sat in increasingly fetid water until the scraps started to really stink and I found out (at my beloved Sustainable Shawnee meeting) that I was supposed to be turning it and not tamping it down. Fluffing your compost is what aerates it and allows the microbes to do their work.


So I built another fence, a sturdier fence with chicken wire over the plastic screening (the dogs hate chicken wire) and made a nice big heap of straw and grass clippings and kitchen scraps wrapped in newspaper. And I now sometimes pour my urine (thanks, Mother Earth News!) on it and it's FINALLY beginning to do its thing.

Hey. Living in the country ain't beanbag.

The Drought

We have had the hottest and driest weather in recorded history this past summer and fall in Oklahoma and we are currently having a dry, warm winter. There has been virtually no relief in almost a year.

I worry about the trees. Some of the oldest and most beautiful ones have cracked and splintered and dropped their huge branches to the ground. The pond is slime. The grass is burnt. I think of Oklahoma's dust bowl. I worry.

So, with that in mind, I say to the Koch brothers, who are rich beyond rich and are in the business of making toxic chemicals and raping forests (they are Georgia Pacific) and also are big time oil and gas men and who are, coincidentally, big time climate change deniers who hate the EPA and want to dismantle it: CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL, YOU IDIOTS!

And that goes for you, too, Senators Inhofe and Coburn and Representative Lankford. You three are bought and paid for by the Koch brothers.

Bad, bad business.


When I first moved into my housie I had nothing but milk crates for kitchen cabinets. Then I bought some cheap cabinets and painted them myself. Poorly.

For a couple of years I just would wedge my finger into whatever crack between the cabinet door and the frame I could find in order to open the door.

Finally I began to want knobs.

I had the barest inkling of a doubt (which I have learned not to ignore) as to whether or not i knew how to put knobs on and I had had enough failures in my fix-it escapades to know that sometimes simple things … aren't.

So I went to Neighbor Jim and he told me how to put knobs on. (Whew. That was a close call. Who knew there was a rule about where to put knobs!)

And now I have knobs. Twenty-six of them. Deftly put in place by my use of my trusty electric drill and Neighbor Jim's template.

I am very proud. And grateful for Neighbor Jim.


I do not want to pollute the earth so I have been very aware of how I use water.

I decided to use my greywater on my east yard for “lawn” watering purposes and bought a long hunk of clear vinyl hose and connected it to my washing machine and ran my greywater over the washer, over the top of a chair and then over the top of a laundry basket and finally out the sliding glass door. I was never able to have a fixed system where I could just unfurl the coiled tubing and bingo! have it perfectly done.


The damn hose, when coiled and put on the top of the idle washer so it would be out of my way, always reacted hysterically and refused to just let me quickly put it to work.

I had to cajole it. I had to rebalance it. I had to move the damn chair or the laundry basket.

And then, after I finally finagled it out of the sliding glass door to water the lawn, I had to stuff socks or towels or some such into the gaps in the door, all the way up to the top of the door jamb to try to keep the critters out.

The socks and towels would fall out and … never mind. It was just a real hassle.

I also tried all kinds of laundry detergents, including soap nuts, which are from trees and are sudsless. But they kill microbes in the ground. You do not want to kill microbes. They are our friends. Without them plants can't grow.

So I turned to different brands of “natural” detergents. They all contained various kinds of salts. The grass turned sickly.

Then I stopped using any detergent. Whites got WHITER! Colors were great.

But you know what?

Critters were getting into the house through the gaps in the socks and towels in the sliding glass door. Critters like little frogs and once a snake!!

So I disconnected my long clear vinyl hose two weeks ago and put the original short black hose back on and stuck it into its drain pipe in the wall and now I no longer use greywater in my yard.

I had no idea I was working so hard until I had stopped unwinding that hose, balancing it on things to make sure the draining worked properly, stuffing towels and rags into the spaces in the sliding glass door and then reversing everything when the wash was done.

I began to have a twinge of guilt about not using all that water on my lawn and then realized that my lovely, clean, pure wash water was going back into the earth and into the huge aquifer below me.

Sweet. Literally.

Getting Big Pharma Outta My Life

I have acid reflux due to a hiatal hernia. The doctor put me on Dexilant so my esophagus could heal. I told him I did NOT want to be on it forever.  (Among other side effects, it doesn't let your body use magnesium so you can get calcium into your bones.  And I already have a touch of ostopenia and can't afford THAT.)

I went for my six month check up and he said I needed to stay on it forever.

I rebelled. I searched the Internet and found out how to mitigate my problem and now I graze, rather than eat full meals. I eat fruits (tons of them), veggies, whole grains, yogurt and milk and an occasional piece of fish.

I drink milk when I have a touch of acid.

I am Dexilant free.

And I feel fabulous.

Well, that's it from Chigger Lake. Y'all have a real nice day.

jicama, avocado, papaya
yummy jicama lunch
Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.


Hi, Donna;

Love the stories of your pioneering efforts to maintain yourself, green and sustainable at Chigger Lake ~ you go, girl!

As a retired Prof. of Nursing, I especially resonate with your efforts
to get off the Dexilant! I worked hard over the past couple of years to educate first, my sister; and then my boyfriend, to the fact that their supposed neuropathy CURE medication,gabapentin (Neurontin) was not helping, but CAUSING their neuropathy, along with other adverse effects of the drug, such as arrythmias, requiring a pacemaker. Dear
God, help us victims of big Pharma and AMA medicine in this age of

Anyhoo, dear Donna,what I really wanted to write about was your lovely
looking jicama salad. My fav way to have jicama is sliced thin, like
chips and dipped in a homemade salsa- delish and no need to use GMO
tainted corn chips!When my organic garden was flourishing the homemade salsa was supurb, but even with winter ingredients instead of vine ripened it is pretty good: SALSA RECEIPE: 6 large tomatoes,
one green bell pepper, one large or two small carrots,a clove of garlic, (or more as desired) salt to taste and as much de-seeded jalapeno pepper as you like.Whirl it all together,in a blender or food processor until the carrot and bell peppers are in very small
pieces. I add the garlic and jalapeno last and do not pulverize them.

When the kids were at home, my medical student son, my ex husband and I took our salsa HOT with lots of jalapeno, but first I made a mild version for our 12 yr. old daughter, and a slightlier hotter version for our 16 y/o daughter. I would put the salsa into 3 separate containers in the frig, and label them “HOT”,“MEDIUM” and “MILD”. I
once got a little carried away with an especially hot jalapeno. I heard my son come in late and go to the frig for a midnite snack. When I awoke in the morning, my containers of salsa were re-labeled by him as “MILD”, “MEDIUM” and “SON OF A BITCH!” My advice is to start out with a small amount of the deseeded, chopped jalapeno. One may always add more, but ya can’t take it out.
Joys to you,
Nancy   PS we met a couple of years ago at ACLU dinner where Frosty Troy spoke

2012-02-13 by Prof. Nancy Cook,(ret.)

Words fail me (doesnt happen very often).  I so enjoyed your report of the goings on at Chigger Lake.  I actually read it twice.  I admire so much your undertaking at “the lake”.  You are my “Wonder Woman”. I could not do what you have done and continue daily to do. You are something else (that is a complement)...
Eddie Hurt

2012-02-13 by SoCal Eddie

dearest & wonderful Donna, not only did I LOVE your keeping us posted on Chigger Lake, I enjoyed Nancy’s message.  Her salsa recipe reminded me of the summer, a few years back, when I decided to outsmart the weather and plant 15 (FIFTEEN!) tomato plants!. You know, just in case some died because it got too hot or too wet. Well, long story made short - NONE of the darned plants died! I made salsa\picante sauce and diced tomatoes and stewed tomatoes, and just plain tomato sauce, till I was sick of tomatoes (sort of.) I did discover that the tomatillas I grew tasted great in the sauces. I also stopped taking gabapentin a couple of years ago - I knew it wasnt helping me deal with pain. Then, I decided recently not to take the cordarone my last Dr. gave me for high blood pressure/heart. Strangest thing - I’ve NEVER had high blood pressure - and this med. has potentially “fatal” side effects. My God! I sure do applaud your earth-friendly living. I wish more people did as you do.  And yes, that salad looked yummy…remind me to invite myself over - soon!

2012-02-13 by Sharon

Loved your account!  Re acid reflux.  I’ve been sleeping on one of those wedge pillows (1” to 6” hi, 34” long x 22"wide, etc.) now and my fierce early a.m. headaches are now gone.  Something to do with sinus/fluid/pressure which being slightly elevated helped, I guess.  Wonder if that would help well. 

Also, years ago my husband built a way cool mulching system.  Built and corner reinforced two 3x3 ft frames, covered in chicken wire, but, here’s the cool part, two of the sides were permanently fastened together (imagine a cube cut across the diagonal) and the open sides hooked together with eye and hooks.  So, hook ‘em together into a bottomless cube.  Dump in material, etc. let it cook for a while, the chicken wire lets air in, and keeps dogs out. If you need to turn it, just unfasten the two angle/sides, move it next to the pile, then re-fill with pile, turning it all top to bottom as you refill. (Or just leave it to cook while adding other stuff and when it’s done, can unfasten the frame and spread the nice mulch. The frame’s light weight so can easily be moved or opened up.  Worked like a charm.

Sorry to hear about the floor paint.  I learned that lesson on our driveway/porch slab.  Original owners painted it years ago.  Big mistake.  But, is there a stain (vs paint) you can apply to the concrete now?  One that would soak in?  I still say you should just spread that wonderful red Oklahoma dirt all over the floor, sweep and moosh it all in, dampen it, then let it dry then sweep it all up and, voi la! all that iron oxide left down in the concrete and suddenly you’d have a red floor?

And, finally, I can’t believe it!  I thought I was the only one who wanted a slab house with a drain in the middle of the floor.  Put furniture on pulleys, zip ‘em up to the ceiling, git out the hose and ker-whoosh!  cleaning done for the week. Hahahahah.  Great minds think alike.

Great posting.  Lovely life at Chigger Lake.

2012-02-14 by Ann Calhoun

Wonder Woman is right, mi Hermana tambien!

2012-02-14 by Fr. Clark Shackelford

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