New truck? Didn’t make my butt look big, but definitely caused a weight problem, plus much crying and swearing.

Warning: I don’t come off well in this story.

I was petulant. I whined. I yelled at my husband (even though it wasn’t his fault). I stomped, swore, shook my fist at the heavens, hyperventilated, and lost sleep.

I considered all kinds of unspeakable acts to try to get out of what I considered a horrifying situation: having to take a written test and an actual driving test in order to get the license I needed to legally tow our 5th wheel.

“Wait. What?” you say. “Emily. Haven’t you been driving that get-up for more than three years already?”

Yes. Yes, I have. I even wrote about what it was like to learn how.

But… our May 2017 upgrade to the new BFT (B is for Big, T is for Truck, and you can figure out the F), a 2017 Dodge Ram 3500, caused us to gain enough combined vehicle weight rating that it bumped us up into a new level of driver’s licensing requirements in our home state of Texas.

Oh hello, Hell. How very unpleasant to encounter you. I am not gonna like this.

If we’d stayed under a 26,000-lb Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) with the truck/5th wheel combo, as we had with the prior BFT, a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500, we could have kept our regular old Class C licenses, and motored on as usual.

But the Ram put us over the limit of 26,000 pounds GCVWR. Thus, Class A non-commercial licenses would be required to keep us legal on the roads. And that meant:

  • Written test
  • Driving test
  • Dammit and FML

Top: under 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Silverado
(Orrrrr… maybe not. See embarrassing update at bottom of page.)
Bottom: over 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Ram

We bought the new truck in Kentucky in May, and registered it in Texas, but then continued to travel out of state until after Christmas. When we returned to the Lone Star State, we started working through the license upgrade process.

In January, we studied the appropriate material from the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook.

Don’t panic.
If you’re doing this for an exempt/ non-commercial license like we did, there’s a lot of material in here you can skip.
(Screen cap of handbook cover from

In February, we took our 20-question multiple choice tests, and both of us passed on the first try.

We then scheduled our driving skills tests for March, and here’s where things go sideways for me.

Since The Toad was all set up and hooked up for our latest work camping gig as the home sweet home it is, we borrowed a friend’s trailer for practicing and testing purposes. Because his trailer is rated in the same weight class as our 5th wheel, we were able to use it legitimately on test day.

The trailer’s class is 14,000 lbs, which put our GCVWR at about 26,000, which is what was required for the test.

But practice didn’t go well for me.

It probably went even worse for my patient, long-suffering husband, who coached me through it, but he never let on. Yes, nominations for his sainthood will be accepted. Maybe not by the folks at the Vatican, but definitely by me.

I hit curbs. I backed in the wrong direction. I couldn’t get the feel of the damn thing. And worst of all? I knew it was my fault.

I know I should have been making myself practice these skills all along — it’s been 3.5 years since we bought the RV — but I haven’t.

On the outside, I swore. A lot.

On the inside, I cried.

But I knew I needed to do this. I could see the benefit of the training. And I drew inspiration from the knowledge that I’m far from the first woman to drive a big-ass contraption like this. I know women who RV solo. Hell, I’ve interviewed three of them.

As stated above, yes, I have been towing our 38′ RV all this time.

And in the limited situations in which I’d take the wheel, I was very good at it. So good that Tim would usually nap or work on his laptop while it was my turn to drive.

I was safe, skilled, and conscientious — at going forward. On highways. And into parking spots in gigantic lots where I had zero likelihood of having to put our 10 tires, 13+ tons, and 60 feet of vehicular insanity in reverse.

In other words, I was a wimp about it, and relied on Tim as a safety net for doing the tricky stuff.

(Go ahead. Close your eyes and shake your head from side to side with an audible sigh of incredulity. I deserve it, and I’ll wait.)

In order to pass the road test for this license upgrade, I’d have to be able to show proficiency in situations that I have almost always effectively avoided: in-town driving, backing up, and parallel parking.

And after our second practice session, I felt so demoralized and incompetent that I rescheduled my test for a later date, because to be quite honest, I would not have passed me. I knew I was unqualified, and I did not want to go through the trauma of failing the test and having to repeat it.

So with Tim’s help, I dug back in, because I know I need to be able to do these things on my own, without coaching, even though I hate all of it, and I don’t want to do it.

I decided to approach the parking and backing skills like I did yoga.


Hear me out.

When I started doing yoga, there were poses I couldn’t access (yoga-speak for “pretzel myself into”). After regularly practicing the same maneuvers over and over again, I could then perform them correctly, and with ease, almost every time — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And on those occasions when I messed up a yoga position? I knew how to make a series of tiny corrections to get myself back on track without damaging anything  — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And power to the namaste, y’all. That’s what worked! I’m still not what anyone would call great at parking and backing up, but I’ve progressed enough to know how and when to pull forward and fix it — which is what I had to do during the parallel parking portion of my test, and it’s the only “bad” mark I got. I passed!

Tim’s report card is on the left, with perfect marks.
Mine’s on the right, with that one ding for parallel parking control, but I am thrilled beyond coherent speech that it took me only two tries.

So now we’ve completed the whole process, we’re legally licensed just in time to roll out of Texas again, and wow, I hope we never have to repeat that. Our next home state may be determined in part by whether or not we’d have to!

Practice makes perfect-ish.
It also occasionally crushes safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones. I never meant to hurt you.

Important note: I intentionally did not try to tell you whether or not you might be required to upgrade your license or how to go about doing it, because this story is about me. But someone I am lucky to know, an ever reliable source of information and recommendations, has already done those first two things. If you are a Texas RV’er, you’ll find all the information you need in this very thorough FAQ by my friend, David, of Landmark Adventures.

Embarrassing update: Tim read this post, and said, “Um… I guess maybe I didn’t make it clear, or didn’t even tell you, but… we were over the weight limit with the Silverado too.”

Ack! Just not as much??? Meaning we went from somewhat illegal to even more illegal, which is all really just plain illegal? Oy. Back to hyperventilating…

Work camping, Take II: This time, everybody wins

We’re doing more work camping!

No, no. Not for Amazon again. That was… memorable… but not worthy of a repeat. Here’s why.

This time, some friends who live and work in Kerrville, TX, made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, and to make a long story short, we’re spending 2 months helping with spring maintenance at one of our favorite parks in Texas.

It’s a city park now, but until 2004 it was a state park, with the acreage, trails, riverfront and wildlife to show for it.
We think it’s a perfect camping destination for those who want the feel of a state park while exploring the Texas Hill Country. Yes, longer RVs can fit here (I’ve seen several with 3 AC units on top, which is a big clue), but spots that big are limited, as are spots with full hook-ups. Call the park to check availability.

Our camping fees are waived, in exchange for volunteering our time for various maintenance and upkeep tasks. The park did do background checks on each one of us, but there’s been no strict accounting of our hours. Rather, we’ve proven by example that we are willing to do what needs to be done, and to complete jobs as assigned.

Those jobs have been very reasonable in the level of effort and skill required, and we find it exceptionally rewarding that our work has offered immediately visible results. Plus, it’s a great feeling to know that everything we do improves visitors’ experiences at the park.

We usually work together, but there have been a few blocks of time that Tim has gone out on his own. Both of us have battled upper respiratory crud over the past month, and the weather has often been wet and uncooperative, so unfortunately, there have been stretches of several days when we were unable to work at all.

We hope that the tasks we have completed make up in quality and value for those missed days, if not in actual accrued hours. Here’s a quick photo essay of some of the jobs we’ve done.

We spent our first couple of weeks replacing picnic table tops and benches.
See what I mean about immediately visible results?
What a difference!

And hey, look at the view we had from our “office.”
Hello, Guadalupe River.

We have access to the park’s maintenance compound for tools, supplies, and equipment, including golf carts, so that we don’t have to use our truck.
No cats were harmed in the use of this golf cart. That’s one of the park’s many feral kitties under there.

We’ve swept out cabins, to make sure they’re free of bugs, grit, and cobwebs for incoming guests.

We’ve helped clean out fire rings, which are used depressingly often as trash receptacles, and in the process of doing that one day, we encountered a mysterious ring of raw broccoli.
I have no explanation.

The scourge of Texas: fire ants.
For those unfamiliar, this is a fire ant hill, and if you’ve ever experienced fire ant bites, you know to steer clear.
Which is why…

… one of Tim’s jobs was to sprinkle killer crystals on as many fire ant hills as he could find. And there were lots.
See all those little pests running for their lives?
We are not sad.

We’ve also swept and mopped the rec hall between rentals.

Swept off the porch too…

… and wiped down the kitchen and serving areas.

And yes, we’ve done this too.
Cleaning public bath houses is not my top choice of tasks, but it needed to be done, and we were available, so we pulled on rubber gloves, and we did it.

Oh, and did I mention that our work is often closely monitored?
Our supervisors tend to show up for a drink at happy hour, and they never tell us we’re doing a poor job, so I guess it ain’t so bad.

And now that spring has arrived in the Hill Country, we are starting to make plans for our next move. We’ve been in Texas for nearly 3 months, which was about 2 months longer than planned. No regrets, but we’re feeling a little twitchy…

So where to next?

Nothing’s firm yet, but after spending so much time here in Texas, near our younger son and my side of the family, we’re thinking it’s time to make our way toward Washington, to hang out with our older son and Tim’s side of the family. So convenient of all of them to confine themselves to only two states, yes?

We expect to be rolling again by the end of this month.

From My RV Kitchen: Versatile Mediterranean Quinoa

As you know from my earlier post, we’re working as Amazon Camperforce associates in Tennessee for 3 months.

Hours are long, and I’ve been cooking dinners on our days off to reheat and eat when we get home — starving and exhausted — on work days.

So here is my version of a recipe post, a direct slap at all the Foodie Blogs that contain miles and miles of annoying and unnecessary background information and far too many precisely staged photos of every step. Are you ready? Here goes:

I made this. It’s delicious. I would make it again. Maybe you’ll like it too. Here’s the recipe.

5 from 1 vote

Versatile Mediterranean Quinoa

I put in all the Mediterranean-inspired things I like. Feel free to make it your own by omitting, adding, and substituting at will. Want a veggie version? Omit the chicken. Hate spinach? Replace it with zucchini. Can't find Kalamata olives? Use plain black olives. You get the idea.

Makes 9 1-cup servings of 270 calories each.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Mediterranean
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 9 cups
Calories 270 kcal


  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas), rinsed and drained
  • 3.5 ounce jar capers drained
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 6 ounces roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  • 5 ounces kalamata olives, halved or quartered
  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 2 cups veggie or chicken broth (For an added flavor boost, reserve some of the juice from the capers, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and/or kalamata olives, and use that as part of the 2 total cups liquid.)
  • 10 ounce bag fresh baby spinach leaves


  1. In large (at least 6-quart) sauce pan or dutch oven over medium heat, brown chicken and garlic in oil. 

    Stir in thyme, red pepper flakes, dill and turmeric.

    Add next 7 ingredients (garbanzo beans through broth/liquid) and stir to combine. 

    Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed the liquid and becomes light and fluffy.

    Remove pan from heat and stir in spinach leaves, about 1/3 of the bag at a time, until wilted and combined.

    Serve immediately or refrigerate/freeze in smaller portions for a future meal.

My recipe is adapted from the one I found here.

You can find more stuff I’ve cooked by going to my “Categories” drop-down bar and selecting “RECIPES: Or, we’re basically a food truck.” This feature appears on the left or near the bottom of any page, depending on what type of device you’re using.

Coming up in a week or so: a mid-point assessment of our Amazon Camperforce gig

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!

10 Ways I Stay Fit on the Road

Let’s start this off with what you need to know about me:

I’m not a fitness fanatic or expert, and I don’t have a perfect body. In fact, you could say that my desire is not to stay in shape, but more to stay out of a certain shape category.

The round one.

I fight really hard to keep my waistline narrower than what’s above and below it.

At 48, I’m a curvy size 8, 5’4” tall, and my weight hovers around 145. A few pounds less, and I rejoice. A few pounds more, and I extend my middle finger at my scale — and then spend several weeks counting calories to get back on track. This is what’s normal for me.

See? I’ve got curves.
And on that day, I also had new shoes, and they coordinated with both my outfit and the RV park’s fitness room. Winning!

So that covers Vanity, the first tenet in my holy trinity of fitness motivation. Ready for the other two?

Sanity. Activity that works my body gets me out of the RV and my own head, and just generally makes me feel better about myself, my day, and whatever I need to face during the course of it.

Survival. Exercise is widely known to be effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence. I’ve had that shit. I don’t want it back.

That said, I exercised regularly before my diagnosis too — hell, I was even a Jazzercise  instructor for almost 7 years — and now it’s more important than ever.

As I wrote in a Facebook comment earlier this year, it’s not a matter of “Look at her. She was fit and healthy, and got cancer anyway, so why exercise?” To be quite blunt, cancer doesn’t care how fit you are. But being fit and healthy at the time of diagnosis makes a tremendously positive difference in how the body handles and recovers from treatment.

Now you know the why. Here comes the how.

I can take 19 steps from one end of The Toad to the other. That means I’d have to walk it 526 times to reach that ever popular daily recommendation of 10,000 steps.

Not. Happening.

Instead, I’ve developed an arsenal of several alternatives that I rotate, not just to combat workout boredom, but also to be able to get some sort of exercise even when the weather’s uncooperative, or when we don’t have much time, or when the roads aren’t safe for walking or biking, or when I’m sore from pushing myself too hard the day before, etc.

In no particular order:

Walking — I hoof it at a pretty good clip, 3.5 to 4 mph, on urban trails and in parks when possible, and on regular ol’ roads when not, but only if there’s a wide shoulder or sidewalk to keep me safe. Yes, I always walk against traffic.

I walked in cities all over the country wearing these eye-catchers — until they literally fell apart.
I miss them.

Hiking — I’m slower at this, usually averaging only 2 mph, but that’s because the terrain is often uphill and tricky, and I’m wrangling poles and a pack too.

One of my favorite hikes for scenery was this one in California’s High Sierra, July of 2016.

Biking — We carry our bicycles on the back of the RV, and we use them for both fitness rides and for local transportation.

Our October 2015 ride along the Virginia Creeper Trail

Dancing — It’s my favorite exercise method of all time. I’ve made use of empty picnic pavilions, rally halls and all-purpose rooms, laundry rooms, a fairgrounds exhibit hall, and a cousin’s garage. Have tunes, will travel! Forget dancing like nobody’s watching, and dance like somebody’s filming.

I danced up a sweat in here.

Here too.

Resistance Tube — It’s a small, nearly weightless alternative to dumbbells, kettlebells and the like, which are just not practical to store in an RV. I use it primarily for arm exercises, but occasionally I throw in a few leg and abdominal reps too.

Yoga — Sometimes I use the Yoga Studio app on my phone; sometimes I just do my own thing. I’ve taken enough classes over the years that I can put together my own 30-minute sequence of poses for strength, flexibility, and/or relaxation.

My set-up is a little cramped in here, but I can get my yoga on anyway.
If the weather’s nice, I take it outside.

The Fit RV — Unlike me, James & Stef are fitness experts, and they focus on workouts geared toward those of us with nomadic lifestyles. Thanks to them, I’ve learned how to turn a picnic table into a home gym! Those videos are here and here.

Photo source: The Fit RV

Fitness Centers — Not the kind that require paid membership, but the kind that are included as amenities at RV parks and hotels (yes, we stay in hotels from time to time), and the ones we are able to use for free when we’re parked on military bases. Nothing like walking into a gym full of young soldiers, sailors or airmen to get this girl to work harder!

Here’s a generic hotel fitness room, and a view of my armpit scar. It’s a visible reminder of the good news that the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, so I guess I’ll keep it.

Fitness Classes — It’s a little pricey to pay on a per class basis, but sometimes it’s worth it. I’ve been to boot camp classes with a cousin, and I return to my old Jazzercise center any time we pass through Norfolk, VA. I’ve not yet participated in a “yoga in the park” session, but several cities offer them, often in conjunction with their farmers market. It’s on my list!

Healthy Eating — I’ve admitted already that I count calories when I’m feeling tubby. Overall, I try to eat right by focusing our meals around reasonable portion sizes of lean meats, fresh produce, and whole grains, while also trying my best to keep splurges to a minimum. We love to try local treats, and I will happily order a low-calorie entree in order to sample guiltlessly a hometown diner’s famous pie.

In conclusion, living in a tiny, rolling space is no excuse for me to slack off. I can and do #ExerciseEverywhere.

Disclaimer: I’ve received no compensation from any brands, apps, or entities mentioned above. I’m just sharing what I like so that maybe you can benefit too!