Fridge Foibles: Dealing with the Tiny Space within our Tiny Space

Our 2008 Bighorn was built back in the day before residential refrigerators made it into luxury and four-season fifth wheels.

We’ve got one of the old “glorified dorm fridge” units, and its 8 cubic feet of storage is adequate for just the two of us in most cases, including the time we contributed half the dishes to the family Thanksgiving feast.

But there are occasions when that same amount of space can be either a frustrating curse or an unexpected blessing.

When our 19-year-old, 6’2”, 220-lb son lived with us in The Toad for two months over the summer of 2016: definitely a curse.

I had to play Refrigerator Tetris on the daily to make everything fit in there. Adding a third person to the mix — especially one that size — created an entirely new family dynamic, and not just in the kitchen storage department.

Full means full.

However, when we need to empty the fridge for extended non-RV travel or for a week-long service appointment: definitely a blessing.

If we’re willing to eat a few unusual meals (recently we ate ham and cream cheese sandwiches, because we’d already run out of cheese slices), the two of us can strip that baby down to condiments in less than a week!

Oh, and don’t worry about that wine bottle you see in the door.
I’ll make sure it does not go to waste.

Ta-daaaa!
See there? All that’s left is … ummmm… fruit.

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

RV Travels: Where the Wild Things Are

~ a post in honor of World Wildlife Day, March 3 ~

Although we’ve encountered lots of creatures while RV’ing around the country in The Toad, the only Bighorn we’ve seen in the wild is the one we live in. Notoriously shy, those sheep!

Look! A Bighorn in the wild!

Most animals were outside the RV, living unperturbed in the environments where they belong — at least until I showed up and became the Annoying Human Taking A Selfie.

There was one notable exception. I don’t like talking about it, and I’m not sure it even qualifies as wildlife, but it definitely wasn’t a domesticated critter, and it was living inside our RV. I’ve got to work myself up to that one, so I’m saving it for last.

The others, in alphabetical order:

Armadillo – I’ve spent enough time driving in the Lone Star State to know exactly why these armored gray diggers are called Texas Speed Bumps. Yeah. Ewwwww. But I found a live one in Shreveport, LA, during an overnight stay at the Barksdale Air Force Base RV Park, so of course I positioned myself for a discreet selfie. The armadillo did not say no.

April 2016

Bison – This guy was blocking our path to Frary Peak, the highest point on Antelope Island, in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. “Bison encounter” was one of those bucket list items I didn’t even know I had until I experienced it, and I wrote about it here. We’d been warned by multiple signs not to approach or feed the bison, but the signs didn’t say anything about begging them repeatedly to get out of the way, so that’s what we did. I think the poor bugger eventually got tired of listening to us, and trotted down the hill toward the females.

July 2016

July 2016

Burros – Wild burros are a common sight in rural western Nevada, and this group took their own sweet time crossing the road to the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty.

January 2017

Cat & Deer – Yes, together, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. There’s a posse of feral cats at Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Texas, and we watched them interact with the deer on several occasions. Most of the time, each regarded the other in some bizarre form of woodland creature détente, but we once witnessed one of the kitties deliberately baiting one of the deer by sneaking up behind it and pouncing. The deer was not amused.

February 2017

Elk – There we were, walking along a paved path on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, when I was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity: sELKfie for the win!

October 2016

Fox – We were driving to a trailhead in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon with fellow Heartland Owners, Dan & Lisa of Always on Liberty, when we saw this fox trotting across a parking lot. What does the fox say? I can’t tell you. What I said was, “A fox a fox a fox!” It’s very difficult to remain eloquent when faced with such a rarity.

December 2016

Llama – On one of our first trips in The Toad, we went to Blanco State Park in Texas for a weekend escape. I was supposed to be guiding Tim as he backed the rig into our spot, but it took more than one try because — and I am not making this up — I was distracted by a llama. It kept grinning at me, I swear. See?

November 2014

Whale – While visiting family in western Washington, we drove our whale of a rig onto the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry to get from one side of Puget Sound to the other, and were rewarded with a visit from a pod of orcas, right off the bow. So majestic!

December 2015

Wild Ponies – The highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers. To get to it, we hiked through Grayson Highlands State Park, which is home to a herd of wild ponies. I tried for a selfie with one of them too (it’s what I do) — and became a victim of what can best be described as “pony shenanigans.” While I posed with Pony A, Pony B took advantage of my distraction and tried to eat my backpack. Emily = stupid human.

October 2015

 

And now…

The Thing That Ate My Pastry Brush – We had a critter in the RV last fall.

Based on the droppings we found, we were pretty sure that cockroaches were afoot (although it could have been a mouse), but whatever it was, it nibbled. the bristles. off. my silicone. pastry brush. Ack!

Nothing like spending an evening researching various types of vermin poop to make a girl feel sexy. I seriously though I was going to throw up, and contemplated bathing in boiling Purell, but instead set about cleaning and disinfecting every reachable surface in our kitchen.

And then I set out dishes of a vermin-eradicating cocktail composed of equal parts powdered sugar and Borax. Success! Emily = smart human.

October 2016
See the middle finger? Unintentional, but oh so hilarious!

To learn more about the real World Wildlife Day, visit http://wildlifeday.org

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

If the tiara fits…

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.  ~Hans Christian Andersen

Once upon a time in a land called Suburbia, there lived Queen Emily and King Timothy, a couple of 40-something royals who had grown tired of living in their oversized brick castle.

The royal couple, circa 1996

Their sons, Prince Alden and Prince Dane, had already departed to seek fortune in foreign lands, leaving behind empty bed chambers and a dust-filled game room. The long table in the dining hall, once the scene of ample family feasts, had become a surface used solely for folding linens.

One day, upon recalling a fun-filled family excursion many years past, Queen Emily proposed selling the castle and moving into a modern-day coach-and-four instead — the kind a couple could live in comfortably while making epic journeys throughout the kingdom.

The royal couple in 2006

Not wanting to disappoint his queen (who is wont to become royally feisty when not obeyed), King Timothy quickly procured both chariot and horse team, in the form of a 2008 Heartland Bighorn 5th wheel, and a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500.

But woe befell the king and queen, as they soon realized that an evil witch must have cast a spell on their 6-year-old coach, turning it into a toad. Among other issues, the royal front welding failed, the royal landing gear met an untimely fate, one of the royal tires came undone during travel, and the royal commode developed leaks.

“Forsooth!” spat King Timothy, upon each occurrence. “What fresh Hell is this?”

(image created at myplates.com)

Valiantly ignoring his desire to park the chariot conveniently in front of a fire breathing dragon, the king instead turned to this Forum of Benevolent Wizards, whose sage advice and helpful spells enabled him to wave multiple magic wands (and swipe multiple magic credit cards) to remove the toad’s warts.

Queen Emily was most pleased.

King Timothy got to keep his head attached to his shoulders, so he too was most pleased.

They continue to travel throughout the kingdom, living their Happily Ever After.

The royal couple in 2016
(Photo credit: Lisa Brown, Always on Liberty)

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

Twelve Tuneful Ways We Conserve Water & Power While Boondocking

~ A song-inspired list ~

No matter what you’ve got by way of power sources or water tank capacity in your RV, here are a dozen ways to extend the life of both while dry camping (boondocking). Don’t miss the item at the end that brings us up to a baker’s dozen!

All set up in the desert.
No power? No water? No problem!

Our own big test came in January of 2017, when we spent a personal record 12 days without electrical, water, or sewer hookups, on BLM land just outside Quartzsite, AZ with an RV social group called the Xscapers.

Since singing a cheerful tune makes any situation better, at least according to Disney cartoons, I did a lot of singing while I learned to waste not, want not in the desert.

Sing along with me!

In the Navy

You might not be near a Y-M-C-A, so learn to take Navy showers! As a retired naval officer, Tim is an expert. Get wet, turn off the water, lather yourself up, then turn the water back on for a quick rinse. If you don’t have a shower head with toggle switch, get one. It helps keep the water temperature right where you want it for that rinse.

Makes for a right handy microphone, now don’t it?

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

If you’ve got an onboard washer-dryer, wear clothes maybe a few more times than usual so that you can go a week or longer without running either one. If you just have to do a quick load of underthings and socks, take advantage of a warm breezy day to hang them outside to dry. Amuse your neighbors!

 

You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman

Ladies, go au naturel when it comes to your face. Skipping the makeup saves at least one hand-washing and one face-washing each day, and it’s liberating. Give it a try!

 

It’s Only A Paper Moon

We compromised on paper plate waste by using them for only one meal a day. And speaking of paper, you’re going to want an extra roll or two of paper towels, for wiping off regular dishes before washing. See next song.

 

Splish Splash

Give your dishes a bath — the non-paper ones, of course. We washed dishes only once each day, and used a dish pan to help conserve water. On Night 1: put a small amount of hot soapy water in the sink for washing, and an equal amount of hot clean water in a dishpan for rinsing. Save that rinse water in the dish pan, to use the next night as wash water. Continue pattern.

We All Live In a Yellow Submarine

You know the saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow?” Do that. It saves space in your black tank. And on a related note (pun intended)…

 

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

Pretend you’re in Mexico, and throw away your toilet paper instead of flushing it. It’s not as bad as you’d think! Just carry out your bathroom trash daily, or invest in a can with lid to reduce odors. We believe that when dry camping, it’s far easier to deal with a few extra bags of trash than it is to manage a black tank dump.

Dim All the Lights

If you’ve got toggle switches on your ceiling lights like we do in our 2008 Bighorn, set them all to the half-way mark, so that when you turn them on at the wall, you use only one side or the other. Yes, this means half the brightness, but if you’ve switched to LED bulbs (another way to conserve power) it won’t make a tremendous difference.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

With regard to heating and air conditioning, go back to your “starving young adult in a crappy apartment” days. Run your HV/AC only when absolutely necessary, and keep them set a couple degrees cooler or warmer than usual.

 

You’re the Cream in My Coffee

Unplug your electric coffee maker, and use a pour-over method instead. We love our 10-cup thermal carafe, but smaller versions are available, including individual mug sizes. You can make your morning java using no power at all if you use a gas cooktop or camp stove to boil the water, and minimal power if you use an electric range. Bonus: because we use paper filters, clean-up is easier — and uses less water — than with a French press or percolator.

Red Red Wine

Conserve water by drinking wine. Conserve gray tank space by covering and saving unfinished wine for the next night (I know I’m a lightweight). Hey. Every little bit counts, and I am a team player!

We’re All In This Together

Be prepared to meet other RV’ers who are far more rabid about conservation than you are. It’s not a competition. Share tips and learn from each other — maybe over a few glasses of that wine you’re drinking to conserve water.

 

And now: The Complete Playlist

My fine editorial team at Heartland put together this YouTube playlist of all 12 songs, in order. Everybody grab a shower head, hair brush, or spatula — and sing!

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

Pssst. If you go to a dentist in Mexico to save money? Awesome tacos afterward.

“Going to the dentist, eh? Where?”

“Mexico. Right across the border in Nogales. It’s a thing.”

“Oh. (pause) Wait. WHAT???”

I’m guessing we’re not the only RV’ers who have participated in a conversation like this.

I know we’re not the only ones who have stayed in a campground, RV park, or BLM area near the border on the US side, and then walked into Mexico to take advantage of professional, efficient, and inexpensive dentistry.

Yes, you can walk in. In fact, it’s the preferred entry method due to ease and convenience — no worries about a potential automobile search at the border crossing, or about a tricky insurance claim should you be involved in a traffic accident on the Mexican side. The dental practices want to make things easy for their American customers, so they are located within steps of the border.

Into Mexico we go. Our friend, Mark, is in the blue shirt, and Tim is in the red one.

We left The Toad at our RV park in Amado, AZ, and drove the BFT about 30 miles south to Nogales, AZ, where we parked at a McDonald’s that was just a quick walk up the hill from the border crossing. The McDonald’s, like other public parking lots nearby, collects a $4 fee (cash only) and gives you a card to leave on your dashboard to show you’ve paid — and to keep you from being towed.

Parking’ll set you back $4, but you can use the ticket to get a free beverage in town!

But… who?

The practice we chose — based on recommendations from others staying at our RV park in southern Arizona — was Dental Laser Nogales*, which offered the following:

  • Comprehensive and informative web site
  • Prompt responses via both phone and email
  • Fluent English (to include office staff, dentists, and hygienists)
  • Payment via cash, debit or credit; some US dental insurance plans accepted
  • A very clean facility, with modern equipment
  • A full range of services including but not limited to preventive and cosmetic dentistry, implants, orthodontia, dental surgery, crowns, fillings, and of course x-rays, exams and cleanings
  • Both pre-scheduled and walk-in appointments

Our dental destination was in a courtyard just a few steps from the border.

We made our appointments ahead of time. Our friend, Mark, who joined us for the adventure, asked when we got to the office if he too could get a cleaning, and despite the busy waiting room (full of other Americans doing the same thing we were), they were able to work him in. We were seen on time, and all three of us were out the door less than an hour later.

Completing intake paperwork is the same ritual in both countries.

The equipment in the building was quite modern, but these stairs offered a little taste of Old Mexico.

And speaking of a taste of Mexico, we walked to a local cafe for a late lunch of shrimp tacos after our appointments!

But… why?

Why go to Mexico for dentistry when we’ve got that here on US soil?

I can tell you the primary reasons we chose to do so:

  • Cost. We opted not to purchase military dental insurance after Tim retired from the Navy in 2013. Paying out of pocket for a dental exam and cleaning (without x-rays) at our former dentist in San Antonio, TX, would have cost us $110.00 each. An exam, cleaning and x-rays in Mexico? $35.00 each. To avoid international transaction fees and potentially unfavorable exchange rates on our credit card, we paid in cash. US dollars were accepted, so there was no need to exchange for pesos.
  • Adventure. We like stepping out of our comfort zone from time to time, and had done enough reading on the subject to determine that this is in fact a pretty safe bet — but we wanted to see for ourselves.

For more information on why Mexican “dental tourism” has grown such a following in places like Nogales and the even more popular city of Los Algodones, I refer you to this article from NPR that helped solidify our decision to make a go of it.

And if you want to read more personal accounts from others who have done so, especially those who make use of their recreational vehicles to get there, you can find numerous true-life experiences on the internet, by using search term strings like “RV dentist Mexico.” I can’t list every blogger whose story eased my mind or made me laugh, but I thank them all for their honest accounts and helpful information.

Mira.
They said not to drink the water.
I am an obedient traveler.

But… how?

  • Ask other RV’ers in your park who they recommend. If you are anywhere within 50 miles of a border crossing, you will not have a problem finding someone who has been there, done that.
  • If you’re still nervous, ask that person to accompany you, and offer to buy his or her lunch as thanks. Seriously, who turns down tacos?
  • Take your passport.
  • Park on the US side of the border in a designated lot, and walk through the border crossing (see above).
  • Know your cell phone plan, and your service provider’s rules for use in Mexico. We chose to avoid the risk of surprise international charges by putting our phones in airplane mode. For the brief time we were across the border, they served as timepieces and cameras only.
  • Find out beforehand what methods of payment the dental practice will accept, and in which country’s currency. Some practices accept US dental insurance plans, so ask.
  • Be prepared: vendors on the Mexican side will approach you and ask if you’d like to buy whatever merchandise it is they’re selling, or to come into their store, bar, or restaurant. There’s no need to be afraid or rude; it’s how business is done there. We were approached at least three times, but declined each vendor with a “No, gracias,” and were not bothered further.

Back to the US we go…

But… was it worth it?

Yes. And we’d do it again, without hesitation.

It was a convenient, professional experience, and we love that we saved so much money. Also, at the bargain price of $150, a teeth-whitening trip to Mexico is in my future!

Clean smiles

*Disclosure: We were not compensated in any way by Dental Laser Nogales. This was our first and only experience with border town dentistry, and all opinions are our own.

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