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.

The Story of Us. Or, How a War and a Postage Stamp Led to, Well… to This!

We recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and in the course of posting a lot about that on Facebook, we learned that many of our friends don’t know The Story of How We Met, and those who do are tactfully, generously and graciously allowing me to tell it myself.

In other words, they’re sitting back and waiting for me to write it. Finally.

We have recounted it out loud many, many times over the years. It makes people gasp, and sigh, and clasp their hands to their hearts while smiling kind of sappily.

It never gets old, and I have been urged repeatedly to write a book.

Y’all. I’m not writing a damn book about it. That’s what Nicholas Sparks is for.

But I’ve got a blog, so you get it here. Own Less, Sigh More.

Ready?

This. This is how it all started.

So… Remember when people used to write letters? Like with a pen, on stationery with coordinating envelopes?

I’m one of those people.

And one of those letters, written on a whim, to put off opening a college text book and studying, ended up in the hands of the man who would eventually…

… hand it to the man who would become my husband.

It’s like this:

Almost exactly 27 years ago, on August 7, 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered an increase in military strength in the Persian Gulf, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Hello, Operation Desert Shield, and aren’t you scary?

I was 21, and a senior studying journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Nobody in my immediate family was serving in the armed forces at the time, nor could I think of any relative who had served during my lifetime.

I had no clue.

But I wanted to do something to make a difference, so when the newspaper published addresses for folks like me to send morale-boosting mail and care packages to “Any Service Member” deployed as part of Operation Desert Shield, I knew I’d found my gig.

I was not looking for a date, a boyfriend, or a husband. It wasn’t a mail order bride thing, and Match.com and Tinder didn’t even exist. I was going to get my degree and launch a long, successful career in magazine publishing, dammit. I had priorities.

That said, apparently I give good letter.

And this is the start of The One.

My opening salvo, dated September 6, 1990, found its way to mail call onboard the USS GUAM, and was randomly given to a married officer in his 40’s.

That man — who may not even know about the chain of events that followed — encountered then 24-year-old Ensign Tim Rohrer in a passageway, handed him my letter, and joked, “Here. This chick’s too old for me. You should write to her.”

Tim let it sit on his desk for several days. He was already struggling to keep up with correspondence from his own family, a few friends, and a school teacher and her kindergarten class somewhere in the midwest. He was on a ship at sea in the Persian Gulf during a war buildup, and he seriously did not have that kind of time.

But I guess some sort of paperwork or other junior officer drudgery came up that he wanted to put off doing, so the man picked up his own pen and paper, and answered my letter.

We corresponded for 8 months, through Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, through the ship’s safe return to its home port of Norfolk, VA, in April of 1991, and through my graduation from UT in May.

Yes, we’ve saved all those Gulf War letters that brought us together. They’re currently buried in our storage unit in San Antonio, along with the rest of our important artifacts, so I was unable to get my hands on them for this post.
Luckily, I’d scanned a copy of that first letter five years ago, for our 20th anniversary, and I still had it on my computer.

I flew from Texas to Virginia to meet Tim in June. We spent a week together, learning that we were just as compatible in person as we’d been on paper.

A month later, he called to ask me to move in with him in Norfolk.

Ten minutes after that, the Air Force called to offer me my first real job, a civilian position in public affairs at Scott AFB — in Illinois.

But I couldn’t let the story end.

I chose the guy.

Our “We’ve moved in together portrait” was taken on a real camera with real film, in a modest little 2-bedroom apartment we didn’t have enough stuff to furnish.
July 1991: no selfies.

I told my parents I’d made a big decision. They gave me their car, helped me pack it with all my things, and watched me drive away.

They understood — because they had a romantic story at their beginning too.

A year later, on July 18, 1992, Tim and I were married.

Simple dress.
Simple cakes.
Simple decor.
Shades of Owning Less to come…

Our first son was born in Monterey, CA, in 1995, and is now working in Washington state. Our second son was born in Annapolis, MD, in 1997, and is now a student at UT-Austin. (And to the best of our knowledge, he is not sending letters to any sailors.)

To rapidly condense the rest: 1 apartment, 4 sets of military quarters, 2 rented houses, 3 purchased houses, 7 states, 1 US territory, 3 dogs, 10 vehicles, 1 nursery school, 3 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 3 high schools, 3 Cub Scout troops, 2 Boy Scout troops, 5 Navy promotions, 1 Navy retirement, and 1 RV later, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with a stay in the same room at the same B&B where we spent our wedding night.

The carriage house at the William Seward Inn, in Westfield NY.
Do not disturb.

Our story started with a letter.

And a war.

And the wrong guy.

And a whole lot of random gone right.

And we’ll keep writing it.

Because we like it.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 2nd quarter 2017

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

The map’s a bit misleading, because we started in West Virginia, rolled east to the Virginia coast, then backtracked right through WV again on our way to Kentucky.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 1500. RV miles traveled this year: about 4700.

Little Beaver State Park, WV, Apr. 10-19: What a beautiful campground this is! I reviewed it here, and we really enjoyed the peace and quiet of early springtime in “almost heaven.” Best part of this visit: we were within a 2-hour drive of some family on my daddy’s side, so we were able to share home-cooked Easter dinner with aunties and cousins galore, including the newest little leaf on our family tree. Genealogically speaking, Asher is my first cousin twice removed, but I’m just gonna call him a kissin’ cousin, because that’s what I did to his precious face.

Cousin Asher with a boo-boo that was not caused by my kisses, and the views of and from our campsite at Little Beaver State Park

Norfolk, VA, Apr. 19 – May 1: Friends we love, food we’d missed, and our boy! We got to spend a week with our older son and his girl, who flew in from WA to celebrate his former Boy Scout troop’s 100th anniversary. It was his first trip back since we moved away from the City of Mermaids in 2010, and we crammed in as many visits to old favorite places as we could. The kids stayed with friends, and Tim & I parked at the Little Creek military campground, where that “No wake zone” sign became less funny as the rain continued and the roads failed to drain. Ah, sea-level living by the sea. We don’t miss it.

One thing we do miss about living by the sea is access to good, fresh sea food.
We took advantage.
Often.

Williamsburg, VA, May 1-22: We were having such a good time in our former hometown — without a house to work on this year — that we decided to extend our stay in the area for a few more weeks. While enjoying daily bunny visits to our campsite at Cheatham Annex, we also made a side trip via air to visit friends in Boston, added some insulation to The Toad’s basement, and celebrated Mother’s Day by borrowing a friend and her two boys since ours were absent. And we didn’t leave until we got a Very Important Phone Call.

What could possibly have pulled us away from all this, you ask?

Taylorsville, KY, May 23-30: The new BFT is ready! But first, in a twist of fate that I could not possibly make up: minor RV disaster. When we packed up in VA and I pulled in the slides, I heard a pop-hiss from the front of The Toad. A hose had ruptured, spewing hydraulic fluid everywhere under our bed. It looked like a murder scene. Thankfully, we were pulling in once more beside our friends Always on Liberty, and Captain Dan’s quick and able assistance made it so that we could still get to the dealership and pick up our new truck in time. (The full story about what happened to the old BFT and why we bought a new one is right. frickin’ here.)

Out with the old truck, in with the new!
Oh, and we’ll be getting new flooring soon too. Thanks, hydraulic leak.

Goshen, IN, May 30 – June 18: We finally made it to our first RV owners’ club rally, a national one with 500+ attendees, and we jumped in feet first by taking on jobs that required months of advance planning. While there, we made new friends, learned a lot about RVing from them, and survived more potluck suppers than we ever thought possible. Met up with some old friends too (I’m looking at you, RV Love and Always on Liberty), danced, ate like the Amish, and replaced our sofa, recliner and mattress.

Kelly, of RV There Yet Chronicles, snapped the photo of us at the rally, auditioning for the never-coming-to-a-theater-near-you movie “Derpy Dancing.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Ozaukee County, WI, June 18-30: We needed a place to go between scheduled events in Indiana and Pennsylvania, so we headed to visit friends just north of Milwaukee. Summertime in Wisconsin is brief, and everyone likes to get out and enjoy it, so RV park and campground spaces can be hard to find at the last minute. Although we thought several times that we’d end up overnighting in a driveway or parking lot, we managed to cobble together reservations at three different spots, allowing us to experience classic WI activities and treats, like local brews, a baseball game within sight of Lake Michigan, a fish fry, and cheese curds (both fresh and fried).

Three reasons we can’t live here:
Winter
Fried walleye
Cheese curds
I’d be too cold, and I’m pretty sure my body weight would double.

Coming up next: We’ll spend a few more days in WI to get us through Independence Day Weekend, and then we’ll roll to PA for a family reunion/graduation celebration with some of Tim’s cousins. We’ll also be spending a couple of nights in a NY B&B to mark our own wedding anniversary. 25 this year!

How the boys come home, when home is wherever we roam

Not so very long ago, I wrote about what home now means to us.

Now, I’m delving a little further into that concept — and trying desperately hard not to open the Pandora’s Box of parental guilt — by telling you a little bit about what “going home” now means to our sons, who are out of the nest and impressively independent, but still just barely into adulthood.

Our older son is 22, and has been living in WA for more than 3 years. Our younger son turned 20 at the end of February, and has been living in Austin, TX, for about 18 months — the same amount of time we’ve been living and traveling full time in The Toad.

That’s right. As soon as “the baby” left the house, we did too!

That type of move is not without family precedent. My parents sold my family home right after I left the nest (to relocate to another state and another actual house, not an RV), so I do have some clue as to how my own children might feel about not having the same house to come home to.

The big difference? I lived in the same house from kindergarten through senior year, in a small town, with a graduating class of about 150, so it really was my Home-with-a-capital-H.

Our sons, however, are military brats, because of Tim’s 25-year career as a naval officer. They grew up in three sets of military quarters, two houses we rented, and three that we owned. To them, the place we lived in when they left the nest was not the house, but merely a house.

I stood with the boys in front of my childhood home in 2007, 20 years — and an entirely different color — after I’d left it.

As one son put it when I asked how being a military child prepared him for having nomadic parents, “The idea of moving is such a casual thought, all I care about is which time zone you are in.” Not only did that put my heart at ease, it also reminded me how considerate he is to try not to call or text when we might be sleeping.

Always hug your mama, even when the door you walk through to get to her leads into an RV instead of a house.

For us, the short answer to “How do your kids come home” is that they don’t.

With only a few exceptions, we take home to them.

Last winter, we pulled the RV to western Washington for the holidays, so we got to spend time with our older son and his girlfriend, and even hosted them for a couple of overnights. Our RV is “just a house that is close to a different airport each time,” he explained.

It was crowded in here, and it took a fair amount of discussion to explain the many ways we need to be conservative with water use, but we would not have traded that family time for anything.

Last year, we were able to celebrate both boys’ birthdays right here in our home on wheels — one in WA in January, and the next in TX in February.

And when we’re parked in our home base of San Antonio, TX, for a few weeks every six months, our younger son stays with us in the RV for an occasional weekend home from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s a little more blunt about the issue. “I went to college. I don’t care where my parents live,” he said.

Some things about his visits are different than perhaps we’d all expected. For one thing, he gets the RV couch instead of his old bedroom, and for another, he doesn’t bring home his laundry because he’s got a washer and dryer in his apartment. We parents are the ones schlepping our stinkies to the laundromat every week.

But other things are quite similar to the traditional image of having a child home from college:

  • We let him sleep in.
  • He does his homework at the kitchen table.
  • And we often send him back with food, like homemade cookies and rolls, and once, a gallon of our family famous dutch oven chili.

We joke that he can tell his roommates that he stays in his parents’ food truck for the weekend!

Homework at the kitchen table, just like in a sticks-and-bricks

One exception to taking our home with us to visit our sons was when we recently did the reverse by flying our Texas Longhorn to Nevada to stay with us in The Toad for part of his winter break.

So… what do you do when you’ve got a 19-year-old joining you for the RV park’s holiday ugly sweater party? With all the “old” people?

Well.

We tried to come up with an option that took his feelings into account, so I decorated our three sweaters with the words HO, HO, and NO.

Guess who got NO.

And guess who won the ugly sweater contest!

Christmas spirit for the win!

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. In addition, portions appeared previously here.)

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 Always On 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.