There’s no place like home when home is, like, no place

Those of us who own RVs have heard, seen, bought, or been gifted with something bearing the phrase “Home is Where We Park It.” Makes for a popular hashtag too, and I am guilty as hell for using it on our Twitter and Instagram accounts.

For those of us who took the additional step of selling our sticks-and-bricks houses to live full time in our recreational vehicles, this saying is always true — but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to explain.

Here are 5 ways we’ve learned to re-think the concept of home.

Home is where we say it is

Our least favorite question is “Where are you from?”

Sigh.

There’s no good answer, and few people — even other RV park neighbors — seem comfortable accepting, “Right here for now.”

When I don’t feel like explaining, I say San Antonio, which is the last place we lived in a “real” house before we moved into The Toad. It’s the city we use as a home base for mail and medical, and we’ve got family in town, but we no longer own property or intend to live there again, so it’s not exactly home, but it makes for an expedient answer in a potluck line.

We were two happy kids at the title company, the day we closed on the sale of our Texas house, in March of 2016.

Home is where we can live in our own space but also be tourists

Because we have chosen to make this 5th wheel our only home, and to spend as much time as possible traveling in it, we become both visitors and residents at every stop.

We feel like visitors because we are unfamiliar with the place, and often spend the first few days exploring the area’s most notable museums, parks, restaurants and other tourist attractions.

And we feel like residents because for a week or more, we are living there — sending and receiving packages; doing our grocery shopping, laundry, banking, household and vehicle maintenance; and contributing to the local economy by patronizing independent merchants as often as possible.

Our 2008 Heartland Bighorn at its birthplace in Elkhart, IN, in June 2016

Home is where we’ve lived before

We’re a retired military family, so we’ve got a long list of cities we’ve called home. These places are where our memories are, where friends still live, and they will always be home to us in some way, even if we never plan to live in any of them again.

In fact, you could say that the previous item also applied to our military lifestyle: we lived in various places for anywhere from 18 months to 6 years, never feeling completely like residents, yet taking advantage of each area’s many activities and destinations in fairly short order — like tourists do.

As full-time RV’ers with an empty nest, we are essentially continuing our moving pattern as a military family, only at more frequent intervals, and without having to worry about school districts anymore!

This wooden plaque, our very first RV-warming gift, helps our house-on-wheels feel like home.

Home is where we might want to live someday

With no exact timeline, we are using this lifestyle to find our next permanent residence, and we try to view each RV travel destination with an eye toward future home-worthiness. We’ve saved several different publications’ lists of “Best Places to Retire,” “Best Small Towns in America,” etc., and this year we plan to spend more time checking out some of those cities, to see for ourselves whether they’d make our list.

Home is where our children visit

This is my favorite one!

Both of our sons (a 21-year-old living in WA, and a 19-year-old living in TX) have taken turns staying with us for brief periods in our house on wheels. Wherever we’re parked can be a home to them, because we can still spend valuable time together as a family. Even in the RV, we make their favorite foods, celebrate birthdays and holidays, play games and watch movies, and sometimes even yell at them to GET OUT OF BED BECAUSE IT’S FREAKIN’ NOON ALREADY! 

Just. like. home.

Both of our sons know their way around a toolbox, so when they visit us in the RV, we put them to work!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Pssst. If you go to a dentist in Mexico to save money? Awesome tacos afterward.

“Going to the dentist, eh? Where?”

“Mexico. Right across the border in Nogales. It’s a thing.”

“Oh. (pause) Wait. WHAT???”

I’m guessing we’re not the only RV’ers who have participated in a conversation like this.

I know we’re not the only ones who have stayed in a campground, RV park, or BLM area near the border on the US side, and then walked into Mexico to take advantage of professional, efficient, and inexpensive dentistry.

Yes, you can walk in. In fact, it’s the preferred entry method due to ease and convenience — no worries about a potential automobile search at the border crossing, or about a tricky insurance claim should you be involved in a traffic accident on the Mexican side. The dental practices want to make things easy for their American customers, so they are located within steps of the border.

Into Mexico we go. Our friend, Mark, is in the blue shirt, and Tim is in the red one.

We left The Toad at our RV park in Amado, AZ, and drove the BFT about 30 miles south to Nogales, AZ, where we parked at a McDonald’s that was just a quick walk up the hill from the border crossing. The McDonald’s, like other public parking lots nearby, collects a $4 fee (cash only) and gives you a card to leave on your dashboard to show you’ve paid — and to keep you from being towed.

Parking’ll set you back $4, but you can use the ticket to get a free beverage in town!

But… who?

The practice we chose — based on recommendations from others staying at our RV park in southern Arizona — was Dental Laser Nogales*, which offered the following:

  • Comprehensive and informative web site
  • Prompt responses via both phone and email
  • Fluent English (to include office staff, dentists, and hygienists)
  • Payment via cash, debit or credit; some US dental insurance plans accepted
  • A very clean facility, with modern equipment
  • A full range of services including but not limited to preventive and cosmetic dentistry, implants, orthodontia, dental surgery, crowns, fillings, and of course x-rays, exams and cleanings
  • Both pre-scheduled and walk-in appointments

Our dental destination was in a courtyard just a few steps from the border.

We made our appointments ahead of time. Our friend, Mark, who joined us for the adventure, asked when we got to the office if he too could get a cleaning, and despite the busy waiting room (full of other Americans doing the same thing we were), they were able to work him in. We were seen on time, and all three of us were out the door less than an hour later.

Completing intake paperwork is the same ritual in both countries.

The equipment in the building was quite modern, but these stairs offered a little taste of Old Mexico.

And speaking of a taste of Mexico, we walked to a local cafe for a late lunch of shrimp tacos after our appointments!

But… why?

Why go to Mexico for dentistry when we’ve got that here on US soil?

I can tell you the primary reasons we chose to do so:

  • Cost. We opted not to purchase military dental insurance after Tim retired from the Navy in 2013. Paying out of pocket for a dental exam and cleaning (without x-rays) at our former dentist in San Antonio, TX, would have cost us $110.00 each. An exam, cleaning and x-rays in Mexico? $35.00 each. To avoid international transaction fees and potentially unfavorable exchange rates on our credit card, we paid in cash. US dollars were accepted, so there was no need to exchange for pesos.
  • Adventure. We like stepping out of our comfort zone from time to time, and had done enough reading on the subject to determine that this is in fact a pretty safe bet — but we wanted to see for ourselves.

For more information on why Mexican “dental tourism” has grown such a following in places like Nogales and the even more popular city of Los Algodones, I refer you to this article from NPR that helped solidify our decision to make a go of it.

And if you want to read more personal accounts from others who have done so, especially those who make use of their recreational vehicles to get there, you can find numerous true-life experiences on the internet, by using search term strings like “RV dentist Mexico.” I can’t list every blogger whose story eased my mind or made me laugh, but I thank them all for their honest accounts and helpful information.

Mira.
They said not to drink the water.
I am an obedient traveler.

But… how?

  • Ask other RV’ers in your park who they recommend. If you are anywhere within 50 miles of a border crossing, you will not have a problem finding someone who has been there, done that.
  • If you’re still nervous, ask that person to accompany you, and offer to buy his or her lunch as thanks. Seriously, who turns down tacos?
  • Take your passport.
  • Park on the US side of the border in a designated lot, and walk through the border crossing (see above).
  • Know your cell phone plan, and your service provider’s rules for use in Mexico. We chose to avoid the risk of surprise international charges by putting our phones in airplane mode. For the brief time we were across the border, they served as timepieces and cameras only.
  • Find out beforehand what methods of payment the dental practice will accept, and in which country’s currency. Some practices accept US dental insurance plans, so ask.
  • Be prepared: vendors on the Mexican side will approach you and ask if you’d like to buy whatever merchandise it is they’re selling, or to come into their store, bar, or restaurant. There’s no need to be afraid or rude; it’s how business is done there. We were approached at least three times, but declined each vendor with a “No, gracias,” and were not bothered further.

Back to the US we go…

But… was it worth it?

Yes. And we’d do it again, without hesitation.

It was a convenient, professional experience, and we love that we saved so much money. Also, at the bargain price of $150, a teeth-whitening trip to Mexico is in my future!

Clean smiles

*Disclosure: We were not compensated in any way by Dental Laser Nogales. This was our first and only experience with border town dentistry, and all opinions are our own.

Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Home is… where the cave is?

Two days before Christmas, we took a 30-mile road trip from our RV park in Pahrump, NV, to the old mining town of Shoshone, CA, established in 1910, and boasting a population of 31 people according to the 2010 census.

Shoshone is easy to visit if you’re touring the southern end of Death Valley National Park. If you’re coming from Nevada, it’s about an 80-minute drive west of Las Vegas; from CA it’s about a 2.5-hour drive northeast of the Barstow area.

The miners and prospectors who lived here back in the 1920’s didn’t have access to a lot of building materials, so they dug cave apartments into the surrounding clay hills. The guide we picked up at the local museum reports that this area, called Dublin Gulch, has been uninhabited since the 1970’s. It definitely felt a little spooky, and reminded me of my trip to California’s Bodie Ghost Town in July.

I’m gonna let my photos tell my story; if you’d like a little more history, go here.

Condos in the cliffs.
Hello, Fred Flintstone?

Close-ups of some of the doorways

This one had a little shrine outside, containing lots of objects that are full of sentimental value — and probably tetanus.

There was even a 1-car cave garage at the end of the row.

You can peer inside the abandoned dwellings. Several still contain old bed springs, rusted stove pipes, and other evidence of habitation.

The miners were messy. But I guess if you don’t have weekly trash pick-up, you create your own garbage dump by tossing your pork-n-beans cans out the door when you’re done with ’em.

Meanwhile, in downtown Shoshone…

Don’t blink because you’ll miss it, but do park your car and get out to explore. The museum is free (donations gratefully accepted), and the walking tour can be done in less than an hour, depending on how long you like to linger.

This old thing?
It sits in front of the Shoshone Museum, which served as the town’s general store and gas station back in the day.

This structure was built from adobe brick made on site, although the year is not given on the walking tour hand-out.
The original building, a restaurant, burned down in 1925, so it was sometime after that.
Now it’s used by the Inyo County sheriff and the BLM.

Heading east of town just half a mile, you’ll come to another canyon with a few more cave condos. Watch for the dirt pull-out on the north side of Hwy 178, and tread carefully, as the sandy-pebbly surfaces are a bit slippy.

This former home is called “Castle in Clay,” and boasts what appears to be two stories of living space. Potential real estate description: rustic 1BR, 0BA, EIK with sedimentary rock countertops, natural HVAC, no HOA, no need for lawn mower.

We thank our friends, Dan & Lisa, for alerting us to this place. They’ve got a blog too; check them out at RV Liberty.

Looking into the canyon from the highway…

… and looking out toward the highway from the canyon

We were able to climb up the loose hillsides to peer into some of the caves.
That upright shrub below the cave is actually Tim on his way back down.

Of course our 19-year-old, who was visiting us on his winter break from UT-Austin, had to go to the tippy top. If you’re humming, “All by myself… don’t wanna be… all by myself, anymore…” I’m right there with ya.

To put it all in historical perspective, Fred Flintstone and his friends in Bedrock were out of production by 1966. Those caves in Dublin Gulch? Abandoned four years later. Guess it took a while for news to reach Shoshone that stone age living was no longer trendy.

RV Cooking: Half a Dozen Steps to Dozens of Cookies

The problem: our RV oven contains one rack, which can hold only one 9″ x 13″ pan at a time. (By comparison, “we still live in a house” cookie sheets are 11″ x 17″. Those don’t fit here.)

The solution: I silenced my inner Grinch and figured that shit out.

Not only is it tiny, but it runs on propane, with a typically recalcitrant pilot light.

Step 1: Grant the request of a person you can’t refuse

Our younger son is visiting us on his holiday break from the University of Texas. On day 2, I got, “Mom? Can we bake Christmas cookies?”

D’awwwww. Now how am I gonna turn that down?

Step 2: Choose no more than 2 recipes

You’re gonna be moving that cookie sheet in and out of the oven a lot. I counted 8 times for our 9 dozen cookies.

When we downsized to the RV, I got rid of an entire shelf of cookbooks.
Now I do this.

Step 3: Organize the effort with designated areas for everything

I placed utensils, bowls and pans on one part of the countertop, ingredients on another, and kept my prep area right next to the sink and garbage can. Putting items away as you go is an essential! You’ll know at a glance when you’re done with an ingredient, and it won’t continue to clutter up your space — you know, the space where you’re gonna have to put the actual cookies when they’re done?

I knew you’d see things my way.

Ingredients on my left… (This area later became the Cookie Cooling surface, because by then all this stuff had been used and put back in the pantry.)

Bowls, pans and utensils behind me…

… and prep area in front of me.
I like to leave out a paper plate for used measuring cups and spoons, to help keep the countertop clean. Anything I’ve used for dry ingredients gets placed upright. Cups and spoons used for liquid ingredients go face down. Reduces the chance I’ll stick an oil-covered spoon into a canister full of flour, doncha know?

Step 4: Block off your afternoon

It took me just shy of three hours to make two batches of cookies, from the time I started setting up to the time I pulled the last round out of the oven. Since I’d been cleaning as I went along, it took only another five minutes to wash off the spatula and the last cookie sheet.

Step 5: Share your cookies and your recipes

There are three of us in here. We do not need 9 dozen cookies sitting around. We have neither the kitchen space nor the waistband capacity. One plate went to RV park neighbors; another will go to the front office.

… and Snickerdoodles.
(Hint: Chill the dough longer than recommended. I went with the specified 15 minutes, and my cookies spread all the hell over the place. The first two batches were christened fuckerdoodles.)

Step 6: If you really, really don’t want to mess with your RV oven…

Parks with a clubhouse may have an oven (the standard household size! electric!) available for guest use. Mix up your dough at home, chill it if required, and call the office to make sure nobody’s using the oven before you schlep over there with your dough, pans, pot holders, cooling racks, plastic containers, etc. Clean up after yourself, and don’t forget to leave a plate of your delicious homemade cookies for the office staff!

Disappointment: “We own a new kingpin!” has nothing to do with the mafia. At all.

When Tim said, “Honey, I’m gonna order a new kingpin,” my mind went to drug lords and crime bosses.

I should have known. He meant something RV-related. I swear sometimes it feels like that’s all we buy.

For those who are unfamiliar with fifth wheels, the pin box and kingpin assembly are located on the “nose” of the trailer. The pin then locks into a hitch located in the bed of the truck used for towing.

We’d been wanting to upgrade to a smoother ride for The Toad, and after the usual massive amount of online research, Tim ordered the Flex Air Pin Box Long Jaw by Lippert Components, model 328492. Its integrated shock absorber and air bag should give us a lot less shake, rattle and roll than we’re used to, in both trailer and truck.

It weighs 240 pounds, and arrived strapped to a pallet.
How’s that for excitement?

Unwrapped, all shiny and new and hella sexy

If you’re gonna give this a go: as with any upgrade that is expensive and/or heavy, you’ll want to consult with both the item’s and your RV’s manufacturer before ordering, and make triple sure of all measurements to avoid costly returns. As you can see from the photos above, we definitely didn’t want to risk the hassle of sending this sucker back.

After opening the box came the fun part: off with the old, on with the new. We knew we were going to need a few more sets of hands for that.

Luckily, when it comes to living around other RV’ers, help is there when you need it, and sometimes you don’t even have to ask. Just put up the hood of your car or truck, and within a minute or two, help will arrive. Might work even faster if you are actually leaning over the engine, looking a little perplexed. “Hey, man, what’s going on?” “Oh, you got a busted thingamajig? I’ve got a tool for that.” “Let me tell you about the time this happened to me…” and so on.

I call it the Batman Beacon of the RV Park. Just lift the hood, and you’ll bring all the heroes to the yard!

We were lucky to have park hosts Ed and George, and our neighbor, Dave, show up right on time to help us get the job done that morning. Or maybe they just caught a whiff of the second best way to bring the boys to the yard: set out food and drinks. In this case, it was fresh pumpkin muffins and piping hot coffee. Feed them, and they will come.

Muffins from scratch, and strong coffee for the win!

The process took about three hours spread out over the whole day (you know how it goes), but included only one trip to a hardware store. The new assembly didn’t come with bolts, and the ones from our old unit were too short, so off Tim went.

Another thing that didn’t come with the new pin box? Instructions! Be prepared to spend some time on the phone or online with Lippert if you decide to buy one of these.

Off with the old…

Can you believe I got 18 seconds of video of men working, and not one of them swore? Again with the disappointment!

Take I
Its top edge should not be up against the nose of the 5th wheel like that, so there was a Take II.

Much better.
After a couple of adjustments, we got it into the correct position. Note gap between top of pinbox and bottom of RV nose.

Backing the BFT up to the The Toad to make sure the kingpin is at the proper height to fit correctly into our hitch

Bingo! Kingpin in hitch.
That’s exactly how it should look.

Adjusting the air bag (it’s that black rubber part that looks like a tire) to the recommended 40psi

Tim ended up moving the RV without me for the kingpin’s maiden voyage, and he assured me that the ride was indeed smoother. But he also noticed after the first trip under real conditions, that the thing needs to be adjusted one bolt hole lower for a better fit with the truck hitch.

Looks like we’ll be making use of the Batman Beacon again!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)