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.

Sure it’s small, but we do have to clean the place, ya know

WARNING

By necessity, the photos in this post are going to show you what’s in my fridge, closet and shower.

Don’t judge.

When you’ve got only about 350 square feet of living space, house cleaning is a breeze! It doesn’t take much time, and also doesn’t take much by way of cleaning chemicals or supplies. A good all-purpose spray, plain white vinegar, microfiber cloths and a vacuum cleaner can handle just about everything here inside The Toad.

I spend 30-40 minutes every Monday morning on eliminating grit, and making the place look good enough for company. We have no kids onboard, and our sweet black lab, Lola, died in May, so without stickymuddy kid messes or dog hair in the mix, a weekly interval is adequate for us .

That said, I’ve adopted a little strategy I call Clean Plus One, meaning that I add at least one deep cleaning item to my list each week. But even then? Less than an hour’s worth of effort. And I am more than okay with that!

This is the house we lived in before we started full-timing in our 5th wheel. At 2900 square feet, with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 4 humans and a dog, it took the better part of a day to clean. Good riddance!

The Weekly Cleaning List

  • Wipe down kitchen and bathroom countertops and sinks with all-purpose spray cleaner
  • Dampen kitchen sponge and disinfect for 30 seconds in microwave oven on high. The resulting steam loosens any gunk on the walls inside, which is then easily removed with a paper towel.
  • Scrub interior of shower with a squirt of shampoo on a microfiber cloth; rinse
  • Scour toilet bowl with mild soap (harsh chemicals like bleach are not recommended, as they can damage the rubber in that all-important flush ball seal); disinfect seat, rim, and lid with all-purpose spray cleaner on a paper towel
  • Clean all mirrors using paper towels, and vinegar/water mix in a spray bottle
  • Dust surfaces using a damp microfiber cloth
  • Vacuum all floor surfaces
  • Mop linoleum in bathroom and kitchen — by which I mean use one foot to scoot that microfiber cloth across the floors, after you’ve used it to clean everything else and given it a good rinse. No need to take up valuable closet space with a real mop!

The “Plus Ones” (1 per week, working out to about once a month for each)

  • Wipe refrigerator shelves, drawers, and trays with a solution of vinegar and water, which will clean off the  crumbs and spills without leaving toxins behind. Clearly it’s better to do this when you’re low on groceries, especially if you have one of the 8 cubic-foot models like ours. I call it our glorified dorm fridge, and we usually pack it to the limit on grocery shopping day.
  • Wipe out the oven interior with more vinegar and water solution. Since I use mine so rarely, it actually gets dusty in there! Again, you don’t want to use too many toxic chemicals where you store or prepare food; vinegar is a safe alternative.
  • Flush out sink and shower drains to keep water flowing freely. I pour 1/8 cup of baking soda into each drain, followed by about 1/4 cup of plain white vinegar. The bubbling action will help jiggle loose some of the crud build-up inside the pipes. After it quits fizzing, I pour in 1-2 cups of boiling water to help flush everything through. (Caveat: This is the full extent of my knowledge of plumbing issues. If you’ve got something stubborn, consult an expert.)
  • Gently vacuum the blinds and cornice boxes using a brush attachment. Those things get super dusty!
  • Clean all window interiors using vinegar/water spray and a paper towel
  • Pull all the shoes off the closet shelves and floor, and vacuum out the grit that has collected underneath them.

I’m sure others have even more tips for keeping our RV interiors dirt- and dust-free. Wanna share a favorite? I’m all ears, standing here in my French maid get-up, holding a feather duster and rolling my eyes.

I can’t believe I wrote a whole blog post on cleaning.

Sheesus.

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

We are feeling famous, and also road ready!

We’ve recently been featured as RV Lifestylers on the RV Like A Girl blog — and just in time to announce that after this 3-week visit that turned into two months, we are ready to roll away from San Antonio once more. The medical issues I alluded to in this post have been resolved to a point that we are confident about traveling again!

To learn more about why we're living this way, check out our interview at RV Like A Girl.

To learn more about why we’re living this way, check out our interview at RV Like A Girl.

Meanwhile, Tim hasn’t been the only one with issues.

The Toad developed a few as well -- I know you're shocked -- and we've done some further repair work on the AC, 12-volt electrical system, and slide out sweeps (the black rubber gaskety stuff that keeps the rain out).

The Toad developed a few as well — I know you’re shocked — and we’ve done some repair work on the HVAC and slide sweeps (the black rubber gaskety stuff that keeps the rain out).

The main AC died, and since it's still damn hot in Texas in September, fixing it became a priority. Old guts out...

The main AC died, and since it’s still damn hot in Texas in the fall, fixing it became a priority. Old guts out…

... new guts in.

… new guts in.

Old thermostat off...

Old thermostat off…

... new thermostat on. I did the wiring myself -- and nobody got fried! Best part is that the new motor is not nearly as loud as the old one, so we no longer feel like we're shouting at each other over a jet engine when the AC is running!

… new thermostat on.
I did the wiring myself — and nobody got fried!
Best part is that the new motor is not nearly as loud as the old one, so we no longer feel as though we’re shouting at each other over a jet engine when the AC is running.

We took on water -- in the living room -- during the last round of heavy rain storms here in San Antonio, and luckily Tim was able to trace the source to failing seals around our slide-outs. Also luckily, it hasn't rained much since then! This is still a work in progress, due to having to special order the stuff.

We took on water — in the living room — during the last round of heavy rain storms here in San Antonio, and luckily Tim was able to trace the source to failing seals around our slide-outs.
Also luckily, it hasn’t rained much since then! This is still a work in progress, due to having to special order the stuff, and um… messing up the first round.

We expect to depart San Antonio within about a week. On the Planning Table of Possibilities: Big Bend, the Grand Canyon, and winter in Arizona, perhaps with a side trip to Mexico.

¡Vámonos!

Befores and Afters: House 2 is ready to sell, and we are ready to roll!

I wasn’t going to put all our home improvement photos on the blog because they don’t have anything to do with RV travel or living. But…

  1. I’m stinkin’ proud of what we did, even though I whined nearly constantly about having to do it, and
  2. It’s all part of Owning Less. Once this house is sold, we will own no property other than what we’re rolling around in, and both the BFT and The Toad are paid for.

(Confused about why we’re selling another house? That story is here, with a little more here, plus some NSFW ranting about it here.)

It took us

  • 7 weeks (out of a planned 4, and a hopeful 2)
  • more than 60 trips to big box and locally-owned home improvement/hardware stores
  • help from nearly a dozen friends who loaned us tools, garage space, sweat equity, and/or their grown sons who were eager to work for some summer cash (all three former Boy Scouts, and friends to our boys when we lived here)
  • around $10,000
  • and I don’t even know how many hours of our own labor. A million, maybe. We didn’t take many days off.

Witness the transformation of our 1912 Craftsman-style bungalow. She’s beautiful, and awaiting new owners to enjoy not just her charms, but also the best neighborhood we’ve ever lived in — and we’re a retired military family, so there’ve been lots.

Befores are on the left; afters on the right.

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She’s bigger than she looks from the street: four large bedrooms, giant eat-in kitchen, high ceilings, three full baths, 2237sf, detached garage

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The cedar shingles on the west side of the house looked like nothing so much as rotting, crooked teeth. We tore them all off, primed and installed new ones (about 2,000 — all by hand, but who’s counting?), then hired a house painter to paint all four sides plus all the ivory trim.

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Now to the back deck, where there were several rotting boards. I didn’t take truly corresponding photos, but these will give you an idea of the work we did. P.S. Prying up deck boards makes for an awesome core and upper body work-out — and I hope I never have to do it again.

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Lots of geometry involved in rebuilding the steps. I’m thankful Tim and our Eagle Scout helper did the math.

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And then a week later, we finally decided that leaving it with such obvious differences between new boards and old was probably not a good idea…

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… so we painted it.

The carriage doors on our garage showed significant wood rot and sagging. Rebuilt them both!

The carriage doors on our garage showed significant wood rot and sagging. Rebuilt them both!

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Inside of the garage: lots of mystery grime So we swept, vacuumed, degreased, scrubbed, primed, and painted.

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And it made a big, big difference!

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Here’s the front porch, which we’d last had refurbished in about 2008. It showed a lot of wear in the main traffic area to the front door…

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… and there were a few rotting boards that needed to be replaced. It was challenging because they’re made wider now, so Tim had to custom mill them using a friend’s table saw in order to get them to fit.

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Next stop: kitchen. The self-adhesive vinyl tiles we’d put down in 2009 didn’t hold up well. Many shrunk and separated at the seams, which then filled up with dirt.

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The new vinyl flooring snaps together and floats over the old surface, so there shouldn’t be as many issues with expanding or contracting. Helps to have a friend in the business! He told us what we needed to purchase for our particular situation, and then sent his team to install it. Bought them lunch, paid them for their labor, done!

So of course after we put in the new floor, we realized how awful the doors and molding look. Project creep: the struggle is real.

So of course after we put in the new floor, we realized how awful the door and molding looked.
Project creep: the struggle is real.

The only worker/contractor who didn't show up was the plaster repair guy. So Tim the tool man did it himself.

The only worker/contractor who didn’t show up was the plaster repair guy. So Tim the Tool Man did it himself.

Here we go again! Second -- and final -- house is now on the market. Come onnnnnn, buyers!

Here we go again! Second — and final — house is now on the market, a mere 3 months after we closed the sale on the first one.
Come onnnnnn, buyers!

Full list of what we did:

  • Replaced cedar shingles on west side of house
  • Had shingles painted on all 4 sides, plus trim, front porch, and front door
  • Refurbished back deck, front porch, and garage doors
  • Replaced rotting framing on 3 windows and above garage doors
  • Repainted garage interior, and several ceilings inside house
  • Had kitchen flooring replaced
  • Repaired HVAC disconnect switch
  • Refreshed mulch beds on 3 sides of house
  • Repaired cracks in plaster walls in living and dining rooms
  • Fixed like a hundred other pesky small things, like busted outlet covers, cabinet door hardware, window screens, etc., etc., etc.

Sacrifices to the cause:

  • 1 canopy
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pair of fitness capris
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 1 hoodie

Also, a bird pooped on me on Mother’s Day, and our dog died.

I could have done with a little. less. character building.

Interested in the house? Of course you are. At the very least, we know you want to see the asking price because everybody wants to know the asking price, so visit our real estate listing here. (The virtual tour wasn’t available as of this posting, so check back again soon if you want to see photos of the interior.)

Tomorrow, we roll. First stop: Northern Virginia for a few days, to visit with Air Force, Marine, and Navy friends from prior duty stations. After that, it’s westward ho, with a stop in Chicago on Friday to pick up our younger son for the remainder of our summer travels!

Other posts on this topic:

  1. How it all started
  2. Getting things started
  3. Bye, Lola.
  4. Coping Inappropriately

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!
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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:
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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