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.

When home changes, but it’s always the same, and will never be the same

A few days ago, I added an event to our calendar because “Oh. We’re in town! We could go to that!” 
 
Didn’t hit me until yesterday that San Antonio is not the town we’re in anymore.
 
It’s due to a combination of having so many places we think of as home, thanks to Tim’s military career, and the fact that the interior of our home no longer changes along with our location, so I sometimes forget where we are.
 
Also, I’ve been inhaling a lot of paint fumes, as we work on our S&B house (in Norfolk — I know we’re in Norfolk now), so that may be part of it too. But look at how much progress we’ve made!
FullSizeRender 2

Those are cedar shake shingles. After priming and replacing them for nearly two weeks now? Only a mad man…

Just don’t remind me that this is Project 1 out of 5. Five big ones, most of which we are doing ourselves, before listing this house for sale with an agent. If you or someone you know wants to get in at a pre-listing price, please see this ad (link removed 6/11/16), and give us a holler! Our neighbors are so good, they are actually helping us get this done. Who wouldn’t want to live in a ‘hood like this one?
And speaking of homes, we’ll be leaving this one tomorrow, the Sea Mist RV Park at Dam Neck Annex, because our reservation expires. Wish we could have enjoyed more of the beach out our back door, but neither the weather nor our work schedule supported it. But we knew we were on a military base (again), when we were greeted by this sign:
FullSizeRender 3
and noted the following verbiage in our page of rules and regs:
“Surfing, fishing and sunbathing are allowed on the beach any time it is not secured for drone launching.”
Right, then.
~ ~ ~
A final heartbreaking note: if you’ve been following us on social media (all the links are over there on the left side), you already know that our home will never be the same. Due to advanced kidney disease, we had to say goodbye to our faithful RV dog, Lola, earlier this week. It was a comfort that we were here in Norfolk, where we adopted her nearly ten years ago, and could take her to her old veterinarian to ease her way out of this life. She came home to go home, and we will miss her terribly.
Lola. Oil on canvas by my sister-in-law, Whitney, who gifted us with this art for Christmas, before knowing of Lola's illness. It's even more of a treasure now, and displayed prominently here in this home.

Lola.
Oil on canvas by my sister-in-law, Whitney, who gifted us with this artwork for Christmas, before knowing of Lola’s illness. It’s even more of a treasure now, and displayed prominently, here in this home.

Other posts on this topic:

  1. How it all started
  2. Getting things started
  3. Coping Inappropriately
  4. Before & Afters

1 job of our own creation + 1 from Mother Nature = 1 hot day on the roof

Job 1:

It all started when Tim said, “Honey, I’m ordering a new antenna, and it will be the solution to all our internet connectivity problems, and by golly, you will never suffer service interruptions again!”

OK, that’s not what he said. It’s just what I heard, because I didn’t understand a single word of all the techno-jargon he used after “antenna.” Also, he never uses the phrase “by golly.”

New antenna means wires. Wires need a place to go. And there's a void on top of this cabinet, which makes it a perfect place to drill through the roof. I can now say that Tim has drilled through walls in every home we've owned, for the sole purpose of boosting our connectivity.

New antenna means wires.
Wires need a place to go.
And there’s a void on top of this cabinet, which makes it a perfect place to drill through the roof.
I can now say that Tim has drilled through walls in every home we’ve owned, for the sole purpose of boosting our connectivity.

Taping the wires to the roof...

The new antenna is in the foreground. We used aluminum tape to affix the wires to the roof, and you can see the entry point behind him. It’s now all sealed up with two different kinds of caulky stuff to keep moisture out.

And now our router sits right there on the shelf above my cookbooks. Don't worry. He'll find a way to make those wires less obtrusive. Or else.

And now our router sits right there on the shelf above my cookbooks.
Don’t worry. He’ll find a way to make those wires less obtrusive.
Or else.

Job 2:

Mother Nature slammed San Antonio with an intense hail storm late Tuesday night. We’re talking national news-worthy baseball-sized stones, and those babies were loud from inside this here tin can. More than 16,000 damage claims were filed with our insurance company alone.

By the light of Wednesday morning, Tim and I went outside to inspect the BFT & the Toad, and were relieved to find only a small cluster of dimples on the roof of the truck, and a couple of cracks in the skylight above our bathroom. Nothing had shattered in the night but our nerves!

Knowing it’s far better to prevent a leak than to wait for one to surprise us at a more inconvenient time, Tim ordered a new skylight, and we got to work today, since rain is predicted for tomorrow, and we’re hitting the road on Tuesday (more on that next week).

I don’t appear in any of these photos because I was taking them, but I assure you that in between all the clicks, I really was helping (and sweating, and swearing, and wishing one of our kids were here so that it could be Rohrer & Son RV Repair instead of Rohrer & Wife RV Repair).

It's kind of a skylight-within-skylight deal. The interior one just needed a quick cleaning and re-taping. The exterior one was pried off and flipped to the ground below.

It’s kind of a skylight-within-skylight deal. The interior one just needed a quick cleaning and re-taping. The exterior one was pried off, flipped to the ground below, and taken to the nearest dumpster.

Trying to scrape off all the old caulking was a chore. Hair dryer to the rescue again!

Trying to scrape off all the old caulking was a chore. Hair dryer to the rescue — again!

Dry placement to make sure the new skylight is gonna fit...

Dry placement to make sure the new skylight is gonna fit…

Fresh caulking going down...

Fresh caulk going down…

Affixing it with brand new screws...

Affixing it with brand new screws…

And finally, sealing the seams and screws with more caulk. Best part? It's on the roof, so neatness does not count. Which is good, because both of us are pretty lousy at this.

And finally, sealing the seams and screw heads with more caulk. Best part? It’s on the roof, so neatness does not count. Which is good, because neither one of us is all that competent with a caulking gun.

And guess who got to lie in the grass and “supervise” the whole operation. Yyyyup. Good-for-nothin’ fur ball.FullSizeRender 8

 

Important update on things that aren’t working right, one of which involves surgery

Katy Perry had Left Shark.

Tim has Left Adrenal Gland.

It produces too much aldosterone, which is why it’s being ejected from the game next month. Ready for a little medical education in an RV lifestyle blog?

I’ll try to make this very long story (6 months worth of doctor’s appointments, imaging, testing, and waiting, to which I obliquely referred in this post) a little bit shorter:

Although Tim had no obvious lifestyle or dietary risk factors (genetic factors are an unknown because he was adopted), he was diagnosed with high blood pressure a little over ten years ago, in his late 30’s, and has been on medication ever since.

Within the last 3-5 years, he’s also had very low potassium levels, as in, “Sir? Are you sure you’re feeling OK? Because your readings are barely above the mandatory hospitalization mark.” Hello, gigantic horse pill potassium supplements.

Then last summer, right about the time we moved into the RV, Tim internet-stumbled upon a rare condition called Primary Aldosteronism, and asked his doctors to start the testing process.

“In primary aldosteronism, your adrenal glands produce too much aldosterone, causing you to lose potassium and retain sodium. The excess sodium in turn holds onto water, increasing your blood volume and blood pressure”

High blood pressure. Low potassium. Ah haaaaaa.

“Diagnosis and treatment of primary aldosteronism are important because people with this form of high blood pressure have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Also, the high blood pressure associated with primary aldosteronism may be curable.”

Ohhhhhhh. So… curing it means no more meds?

“Options for people with primary aldosteronism include medications, lifestyle modifications and surgery.”

Turns out that surgery is indeed an option for Tim, as the left adrenal gland was determined quite clearly to be the culprit. Had both glands been overproducing aldosterone, then the only recourse would have been daily, lifelong medication in the form of a hormone blocker — because like kidneys, you can live with one adrenal gland, but not with none.

Anyway, once the pesky left one’s out, Tim will be able to discontinue his potassium supplement for sure, and his BP meds can either be significantly reduced or eliminated entirely. So it’s a good thing, and we’re thankful we’ve got the military healthcare benefits to make it happen.

What it means though, is that we’ll be putting off our rolling adventures for another few months. Surgery is scheduled for 3/23, and it’s followed by 4-6 weeks of recovery and follow-up appointments to make sure the remaining adrenal gland picks up the slack, so San Antonio is home through at least the end of April.

Two really cool things

  1. We’re talking laparoscopic, robot-assisted surgery. Robot, y’all. Oh, how I wish I could watch!
  2. Tim’s surgeon is the same doc who saw me for follow-ups after my breast cancer surgery two years ago, and he remembered me when we showed up for Tim’s consult on Thursday. I greeted him with a cheerful, “Hi, Dr. N. You’ve seen me before. Quite a lot of me, actually!” He looked at me for a second and then said, “Oh I remember you. You’re the funny one.”

And then he drew a diagram for us, right there on the examining table paper:

The four dashes on the right side of the drawing, at the lower end of the kidney, represent 8-12mm incisions where the laparoscopic stuff goes in. If for some reason things go sideways, the doc will make a traditional incision instead, and take care of things "the old way." This will mean more pain and a longer recovery for Tim, so we're hoping all goes well with Dr. N and the Robot.

The four dashes on the right side of the drawing, at the lower end of the kidney, represent 8-12 mm incisions where the laparoscopic instruments go in.
If for some reason things go sideways during the operation, the doc will make a traditional abdominal incision instead, and take care of things “the old way.” This will mean more pain and a longer recovery for Tim, so we’re hoping all goes according to plan with Dr. N & the Robot.

And what other things aren’t working? As if a human gland weren’t enough?

Lola. She has retired as our hiking dog, and she still willfully ignores her bed in the most in-your-face way possible.

Lola.
Due to her age and kidney deterioration, we opted against surgery for her torn ACL. Thus, she has officially retired as our hiking dog. Also, she still willfully ignores her bed in the most in-your-face way possible.

The RV clock/thermometer. It was in here when we bought the thing, and has since decided to ignore new batteries, and submit us to 105 degrees all the time. "Honey, the thermometer's broken. We need a new RV!"

The RV clock/thermometer.
It was in here when we bought the thing, and has since decided to ignore new batteries, and make us think it’s 105 degrees all the time.
“Honey, the thermometer’s broken. We need a new RV!”

I’m sure my journalism textbooks said something about always getting photos of the road kill. Maybe.

Walkies were a little different this morning.
– 39 degrees outside
– Raining (No really. Again! And I’m not losing my shit over it at all!)
– No Lola, for she is lame
– No sun, for it has forsaken me
But we were that desperate to get outside and get moving, and along the way, we saw a penny farthing mailbox, a dead bird, a potato rock, cows of the forest, and a wet cemetery. It’s kind of like the 12 days of Christmas, but through the eyes of David Lynch.
IMG_3950

Tim: Why on earth do you need a picture of a dead bird? Me: I don’t think you understand how photojournalism works. Tim: Well, are you going to report the cause of death? Me: IT DIED OF RAIN!

Tim: Why on earth do you need a picture of a dead bird?
Me: I don’t think you understand how photojournalism works.
Tim: Well, are you going to report the cause of death?
Me: IT DIED OF RAIN!

I thought it was a potato, even though roadside potatoes don't make sense. So I picked it up.  Rock.

I thought it was a potato, even though roadside potatoes don’t make sense. So I picked it up.
Rock. Not good for potato salad at all.

I don't think the Brothers Grimm wrote any fairy tales about forest bulls. Did they?

I don’t think the Brothers Grimm wrote any fairy tales about forest bulls, but they should have, because this would make an excellent illustration.

IMG_3954 IMG_3956The gray and misty bay

Let a smirk be your umbrella.

Let a smirk be your umbrella.