If Willy Wonka had been a florist instead of a candy maker…

… his world would look like this. The colors of these flowers are almost obscenely vivid and rich, to the point of surreality.

We are visiting family in western Washington during tulip season! Usually we visit during the holidays or the summertime, so this is a rare treat.

For better event and travel information than I can give you (because my advice would be “Call my mother-in-law, and she’ll tell you everything you need to know,” and I’m not sure she’s up for that), visit the Tulip Festival and RoozenGaarde.

I’ll let my photos* do the rest of the talking. You start planning your trip for next April.

I can’t take him anywhere. #selfiespoiler

Recreating an iconic family photo: the preparation

Nailed it!
On the left, our sons in 2004, which was the last time we tiptoed through the tulips. The boys were 9 and 7 at the time, and our family was stationed in Bremerton, WA.
On the right, these two parents in 2018, ages 51 and 49.


* I used the auto-enhance feature on these photos, but no filters. In person, the colors of these flowers are so vibrant and luscious, you may be tempted to lick them. I do not recommend it.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 1st quarter 2018

Everything’s bigger in Texas and it’s our home base and lots of people we love either visited or were already there — and that kind of explains why we spent the first three months of 2018 in the Lone Star State.

Here’s a summary of our time there, mapped with a little help from Google. Links to prior updates appear at bottom of page.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 970, all in Texas.

We went from San Antonio to Port Aransas, back to San Antonio, up to the Fort Worth area, and back down to Kerrville.
(source: maps.google.com)

San Antonio, December 26, 2017 – Jan 6, 2018: Still recovering from our stint as Amazon Camperforce Associates, we arrived at home base San Antonio after Santa Claus did, but we were just in time for a quick meet-up with new friends, Marc & Julie Bennett of RV Love, before ringing in the new year with old friends from our older son’s years in Boy Scouts. We took a walk through the South Texas RV Super Sale, introduced some of our own family to our Heartland Family, and then our sons arrived for…

Yes, our sons are very tall, and we are very not.
I’m not sure how it happened.
Fed ’em well, I guess.

Port Aransas, January 6-10: Family work party! The two of us, my parents, our younger son from Austin, and our older son & his girlfriend from WA caravanned in three vehicles from San Antonio to Port Aransas to help my brother’s family do some building after Hurricane Harvey. Then it was back to San Antonio to clean up and prepare for…

Fort Worth area, January 14-25: New flooring for the RV! I wrote a detailed post about that whole adventure here. In summary: The first round of vinyl planking looked good until it didn’t (the next day), so we had to extend our visit for a do-over. It was one of only a few RV repairs/upgrades for which we wrote a check instead of doing the work ourselves, and I think we’re still getting over it.

Before: worn, stained, smelly carpeting and cheap linoleum
After: fresh, cushiony, odor-free carpeting and chocolaty vinyl planks

Kerrville, January 25 – March 31: We did a little more work camping, this time alongside friends at Kerrville-Schreiner Park; upgraded from a cranky and complicated manual awning to an automatic one that works with the push of a single button; met fellow RV nomad, Peter, of Faith: the Final Frontier for a couple of beers; and reconnected with Lisa of Always on Liberty for an afternoon of shopping with my mom, her sister, and a bonus giant chicken. One of the best things I did was take a goat yoga class, and I’m pretty sure it offset the worst, which was going through the hassle of upgrading our driver’s licenses to show we’re qualified to drive this much rig. But both of us are official and legal now, and I only cried a few times.

Sorry. There’s no photo of me throwing a hissy fit over having to take an actual driving test at the age of 49.
But you can read about my unattractive meltdown here.

Where are we now? We’re parked for a few days in Salt Lake City, on our journey from Texas (home of our younger son and my side of the family) to Washington (home of our older son and Tim’s side of the family). Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go!


We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

4Q 2017        3Q 2017        2Q 2017        1Q2017        2016

He ain’t heavy, but his new shed is: helping my brother with a build, after Hurricane Harvey

Let me start by telling you what we didn’t do.

I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea: We did not go rolling into Port Aransas like white knights on horseback to help rebuild the town — although that was kind of my original intent in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. See?

What's next for us? This screen cap of a text I sent back in August helps tell the story. In short: More hard work, but it'll be more personally meaningful. In long: It's now been just over four months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast. My brother's family lives in one of those coastal towns. Their house sustained minor damage. Their business, quite a bit. Their hometown of Port Aransas was devastated and faces many more months of recovery. So in lieu of a traditional Christmas celebration, we're gathering the family — including our two sons who are both skilled in construction — for a New Year's working party in Port Aransas. Our caravan of 7 departs San Antonio tomorrow, and we'll spend a week building a replacement fence and shed at my brother's house, and might be able to help some other folks out if time allows. We did not exchange traditional wrapped-in-a-box gifts this year. We chose to spend our money on this experience. And that's how we like to roll. #thebestgiftscantbewrapped #familyworkparty #bestchristmasgiftever #hurricaneharvey #harveyrelief #portaransas #portastrong #ownlessdomore

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We didn’t even rebuild anything at my brother’s house, which survived comparatively unscathed after the Category 4 hurricane came through on August 25, 2017, leaving 75-85% of the town’s homes damaged or destroyed. (Source: Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan, in this article from weather.com)

Although we thought we were going to be rebuilding his fence, which had been damaged by the hurricane, needs dictated a storage shed as top priority. While he and my sister-in-law continue to search for a new location for their shop, some of the shop’s contents are taking up a significant chunk of their garage space — space they need for supplies to rebuild the fence and fix other damage. Make sense now?

So here’s what we did do.

We cleaned and repainted some siding on the house, which looked pretty dinged up after having who-knows-what-all hurled at it during Harvey’s 110-132 mph winds.

And with the help of several construction/renovation experts in the family — including our 20-year-old son who drove down from Austin, and our 22-year-old son who flew in from Washington — we built a shed over four days, to the point that my brother and sister-in-law can handle the finishing touches themselves.

It was our family Christmas Vacation, just delayed to January because of our jobs at Amazon.

It was the first time all of us had been together in more than two years.

(And by “all” I mean the two of us, our older son and his girlfriend, our younger son, my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, my sister-in-law’s mom and her husband, and the 9 cats, 2 Great Danes, 1 bearded dragon, and handful of exotic fish that rule my brother’s house.)

And it was exactly what we wanted.

For those who’ve never heard of Port Aransas, Texas, it’s a quirky little beach town just east of Corpus Christi, on a barrier island along the Gulf coast.

Population of Port Aransas: about 3400 (before the hurricane, anyway)

RV parks in town have reopened, and seemed to be doing booming business, with what we surmised to be a combination of regular Winter Texans, temporarily displaced Port A residents, and workers who have been hired or are volunteering for rebuilding efforts.

And what do I mean by quirky?

Well, scenes like this weren’t unusual even before the hurricane.

Yes, you can drive on the beach, and also camp overnight in an RV or a tent.
But don’t just show up. An inexpensive permit is required, and there are restrictions on location and length of stay.
You can find all that information right here.

How bad was the damage from Harvey?

Here are some numbers from the Island Moon, in an issue published just over a month after the hurricane hit.

Further statistics, including a staggering amount of debris removed from the island, are in Mayor Bujan’s Facebook post dated October 2, 2017.

What’s Port A like now?

It is a town with an already strong identity, in the process of repairing itself. The sights and sounds of renovation, regrowth, and rebuilding were unmistakeable, unavoidable — and encouraging. Some of our old favorite places like the San Juan Restaurant, Gratitude, Irie’s, Stingray’s, and Winton’s Island Candy have reopened, and more businesses will reopen as repairs are completed.

But as mentioned in the graphic above, some will not return at all. We have no doubt that new friends — and just about everyone in Port A is your friend — will bring fresh ideas and establishments to take their place, and we look forward to our next visit!

Scenes like this are still common on sidewalks, although my brother assures me that this is nothing compared to the debris piles that lined the streets in September.

And if the town didn’t have an official flag before, it does now, at least temporarily: the blue tarp.
They’re festooning buildings all over town, because as you might imagine, roofers are in high demand and hard to find at the moment.

But you’ll also be greeted by scenes like this in Port A…

… and this …

… and this.

What can you do to help?

Visit, and spend money. Many hotels, RV parks, restaurants, and shops have reopened, and Port Aransas needs your business!

Or use your internet search skills to find ways to donate your time, skills, money, and/or supplies. As ever, research any charitable entity before you commit your dough, although I will help get you started by pointing you toward the Rebuild Port Aransas Facebook Page, which seems to be a locally run clearinghouse for relief efforts.

And finally, watch this 3-minute video. It shows the extent of Harvey’s destruction, and says a lot about the strength of the people who call Port Aransas home.


Author’s note: This post was unsolicited, and I was not compensated in any way by any entities mentioned above. I do not represent Rebuild Port Aransas or SandCastleMinistry.org (appears at end of video in link above), nor should my mention of them be considered endorsements. All opinions are my own.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 3rd quarter 2017

Here’s a summary of our third quarter travels for 2017, mapped with a little help from Google. (Want to review the others? Here’s the first quarter, and here’s the second.)

The map’s a bit misleading, because we did some doubling back on parts of I-81, from northern Virginia to just northwest of Nashville, TN, then to southwestern Virginia, followed by the southeast side of Nashville.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 2565. RV miles traveled this year: about 7665.

Fond du Lac, WI, June 30 – July 5: What an all-American 4th of July experience we had in Fond du Lac! Not only were there fireworks over Lake Winnebago on a perfect summer night, but the local symphonic band played patriotic tunes in the lakeside bandstand, which has been home to these concerts since 1901. It was like going back in time to a much simpler era, when entire communities showed up to make the most of holiday celebrations. We also took in the weekly farmer’s market, and I got to visit with an old friend in her new life on a small farm. She’s got chickens, horses, acreage, and hay bales, and I got to meet Olive, the turkey. He’s a very patriotic looking fellow himself!St. Ignace, MI, July 5-9: Ohhhhh. The upper peninsula. Now we get it. Summertime in northern Michigan is indeed worth singing about (see Kid Rock video) and although we crammed a lot of sight-seeing into our 4-day stay, it didn’t feel long enough. We took the ferry from St. Ignace to Lake Huron’s Mackinac Island — home to the Grand Hotel (remember the movie “Somewhere in Time“?), famous fudge, fantastic bike riding, and no motorized vehicles.

That’s the famous Mackinac Bridge on the lower left, which we crossed under on the ferry, and over in the RV. Luckily, we had a wind-free day for that!
On the lower right is our reward for hiking 9.2 miles at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Erie, PA, July 10-24: The youngest cousin at our kids’ level on Tim’s side of the family tree graduated from high school this year, so we rolled to Pennsylvania to help celebrate, with more family members than we could count. Let’s hear it for reunions! We also took advantage of our first “mooch docking” opportunity, and parked for free in a cousin’s driveway for a week. Other celebrations included Tim’s birthday, and a milestone wedding anniversary for us. Can ya guess which one?

Upper right: a map of Presque Isle State Park.
We biked the 14-mile perimeter, and checked off our third Great Lake for the summer. In June and July, we hit points on Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie!

Haymarket, VA, July 24 – Aug 8: Here’s the deal. Tim’s parents wanted to take him on a birthday trip to the Netherlands. And since we could pick any airport for his embarkation point, we chose one in a part of the country where I had lots of friends to play with. And play I did — with Army, Navy and Air Force friends from several of our prior duty stations, as well as with a fair number of high school friends. Some live in the MD/DC/VA area, and others showed up at my 30th high school reunion in Frostburg, MD. I didn’t ask any of them for permission to share their photos here on the blog, so you get two of my photos from my day exploring part of Manassas National Battlefield Park, and one that Tim’s dad took in the Netherlands.

That’s General Stonewall Jackson up there on the right, rendered in, ummmm…, stone.

Ashland City, TN, August 9-22: One of us was very, very excited about the total solar eclipse on August 21, and insisted on booking a campground as close to the path of totality as possible. The other was just along for the ride. But an old shipmate of Tim’s drove down from Boston to view the spectacle with us, so I had the pleasure of watching those two 50+ men act like little boys on Christmas morning, as we stood in the middle of a cornfield in Springfield, TN, waiting for it to go from light, to dark, and back to light again. All they lacked were feetie pajamas.

Is it time yet? Is it time yet?

Damascus, VA, August 23 – Sept 18: We spent almost a month in Trail Town USA, so that Tim and a friend from Norfolk could tackle a 7-day hike together on the Appalachian Trail. I used the first week to fly to San Antonio for my regular round of 6-month cancer appointments, and plenty of check-in time with family. This also happened to be when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, and we watched, horrified, as my brother’s hometown of Port Aransas was nearly wiped off the map. His family, their pets, and their house made it through, and their town will too, but it’s going to take a years-long, arduous effort of cleaning, restoring, and rebuilding.

Top left: Yet another visit to the mammography clinic’s changing room. All clear!
Top center: My parents taking our younger son grocery shopping the day before fall semester classes started at UT-Austin.
Top right: Tim & Greg starting their hike.
Bottom: just a tiny part of the scenic Virginia Creeper Trail. It took us two visits, two years apart, but we’ve now biked the entire 34 miles — some of them twice. I wrote about the first half here and the second half here.

Manchester, TN, Sept. 18 – Christmastime: I’d say “here we sit” in Tennessee again, but we’re really not doing all that much sitting. We’ve taken on seasonal jobs as pickers at the Amazon fulfillment center in nearby Murfreesboro, and after two weeks of work, I’ve walked 65 miles! I blogged two weeks ago about why we did it and what we expect from this adventure with the CamperForce program, and I’ll post an update on how it’s going when we reach the halfway point.

My typical “work hair” style channels my inner Rosie the Riveter.
That’s the official t-shirt on the upper right, and our back yard for pretty much the rest of the year on the bottom.

For now, here we don’t sit, and the current plan is to make our way back to San Antonio after we’re done working. Not sure we’ll make it before Santa Claus arrives, but we’ll definitely have done our job as elves this year!

2 years in: RV there yet?

Today marks the start of our 3rd year of living full time in The Toad, which, depending on my mood or the situation, is also our rolling bedroom, a 38′ port-o-potty, an imminent disaster on wheels, or Emily’s Food Truck.

We shall celebrate this milestone by answering 12 of the Questions We Hear All The Time. (By “We,” I mean me and my computer, because Tim is out of town. And by “All The Time,” I mean yeah, pretty much all the time.)

Sounds like a lot of things go wrong with the RV. Don’t you miss living in a house?

Yes they do, and no we don’t. Things go wrong in everyone’s RV, from the newest to the oldest, from the high-end to the low — just like in a house. They never happen at a good time, they’re expensive to fix, and although Tim can handle most repairs on his own, sometimes we have to pay someone else to do it — just like in a house.

You don’t miss anything about having a house? Really?

Fine. We miss having a bathtub. And I’m not crazy about living without my photo albums and other prior-to-digitization mementos, all of which are in our storage unit in San Antonio. I feel like a big chunk of my history is missing.

How many states have you visited in the RV, I mean like, for more than just a rest stop?

By my count, 19: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Virginia, West Virginia, Utah, Wyoming, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon

I didn’t compile a “year in review” of 2015 or 2016. Sorry. But I’ve been keeping on top of summaries for this year! 1st quarter 2017 is here, and 2nd quarter is here.

This loop represents just four months of travel, from mid-April to mid-August of 2016.
We started in San Antonio and went counter clockwise.
(Source: maps.google.com and my crappy skills)

Have you found a place in any of those that feels like home? That’s what you set out to do, right? Find home?

Yeah… about that. No. We are no closer to finding home than we were when we started this crazy adventure, and that is because we’ve spent most of our time going from one “Hey, come join us for this” occurrence to another, and occasionally finding spots to explore and play between those events. But we’ve spent time with more friends and family in these last two years than we had in the prior 20, so we have no regrets!

Flagstaff, AZ, was a contender for a while, because we liked the size, the landscape, the people, and the vibe, but when a friend posted a few months later that it was 28 degrees on the morning of Memorial Day? Gone. Dead to us. Off the list. No.

You sold two houses in 2016, so are you just rolling in dough? Must be nice to be so rich that life is a permanent vacation.

Come closer.

I want you to hear me say this: We lost money on both houses.

I won’t tell you how much, because there is not a big enough margarita on the planet to make me feel better about it, but for 13 months of these past 24? We were paying the mortgage on a house we weren’t living in, waiting for it to sell.

It hurt, I don’t recommend it, and we should probably not be allowed to buy property ever again because we are terrible at market timing. We are relieved to have the homeownership burden lifted, and we are now rebuilding our savings, thankyouverymuch.

House 1, in San Antonio TX, sold in March of 2016.

House 2, in Norfolk VA, sold in November of 2016

So… are you poor? Is that why you’re living in an RV?

No. We’re not poor. We are living on Tim’s military retirement pension, and had in fact been doing so for two years before we downsized to the RV, so we already knew that if we maximized use of his retirement benefits while simultaneously reducing expenses, we could make it work. The RV is simply the means by which we are Owning Less to Do More. It could just as easily have been a tiny home or a boat or a yurt.

Are you thinking about getting a new RV still?

No. We’ve decided to keep upgrading and modifying this one until… well, until we feel like we’re done. We’ve painted, replaced some furniture and fixtures, upgraded the power system, added disc brakes and a bit of insulation, and I forgot what the hell all else, but we talked a lot about it in this video by Heartland RVs.

The old got the old heave ho into the landfill.

The new required some assistance.
I can now answer the question “How many RVers does it take to get a new sofa into a 5th wheel?”
It took 4 of these fine folks, and we didn’t even have to remove the door or a window!

How about a new dog?

No. We miss Lola, but this just isn’t the right time for us to add four paws to the mix. Besides, we really don’t look good on paper (no yard, no fence, no vet, no permanent address), so I’m not sure a shelter would deem us a proper adoptive family anyway. Now if a dog finds us? All bets might be off.

– Lola –
Oil on canvas by Tim’s sister, Whitney

About that “no permanent address” thing. How do you get mail? Or vote? Or go to the doctor?

OK, we do have a permanent address; we just don’t live in the UPS store where it’s located. We’d already been renting a mailbox in San Antonio for a while before we started traveling, so we just kept it. It’s the address we use for our driver’s licenses, voter’s registrations, vehicle registrations, banking, etc. Every 2-3 weeks, we call them to have our accumulated mail forwarded to wherever we are.

Our medical “home” is also San Antonio, and we return every 6 months for my cancer follow-ups, and anything else that needs attention. While traveling, we are able to make use of military treatment facilities and VA hospitals, thanks to Tim’s 25 years of Navy service.

Do you like the new truck?

Yes! Wow, do we love the new BFT (2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually). We actually rather liked the old BFT too (2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually), and would have kept it until death did us part, but… oh wait. It did die. We just chose not to live with it after the major organ transplant.

But anyway, the advances in comfort, maneuverability, and electronic features between those model years is noticeable even to me, and I don’t really pay much attention to that kind of thing. (“Does it start when I turn the key? Yes? Good. That’s all I need.”)

2017 RAM 3500 Laramie Crew Cab 4X4 8′ Box
6.7-Liter I6 Cummins® Turbo Diesel Engine
AISIN 6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Dual Rear Wheels / 17-Inch x 6-Inch Wheels
Black interior
True Blue Pearl exterior

How long ya gonna keep doing this?

We have no exit strategy. When we started, we thought it would take a year or two to get all our exploring done and find The Place, but now we’ve decided to play this hand for as long as we can comfortably hold the cards.

Tim is 51, I’m 48, and we’re frequently the youngsters of the RV park, and I’m OK with that. If you’ve read our “How we met” story, and are now trying to do the math, let me help you out. Yes, we were young. We married at 26 and 23, had our sons right quick, and that is how we ended up with an empty nest by the ages of 49 and 46.

We celebrated our 25th anniversary in July, with an escape from the RV to a B&B — the very same B&B where we spent our wedding night.

What’s next?

We’re going to play with friends just a bit more this year, in VA and TN, and then from the end of September until Christmas, we expect to be working seasonal warehouse jobs for Amazon’s CamperForce program, at their Murfreesboro, TN, distribution center.

More on that to come, but for now, if there’s a topic I didn’t cover, you are welcome to ask your question in the comments section below. But keep it clean. My parents read this.