Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas with Us 2010

4th-floor view of Gulf of Mexico
Last week, Sage and I were thisclose to calling off the adventure.  The details in all their gory glory are described in previous posts, if you're interested.  We did not give up, fortunately, and went on to have a truly wonderful Christmas holiday on South Padre Island, Texas.  El Valor and Truckwagon enjoyed the break, too, I think.  The view from our 4th-floor hotel room included the pool and hot tub downstairs, boardwalk crossing dunes and natural vegetation, a ribbon of sandy beach and the Gulf of Mexico.  Roughly one-half of the "frame" of our view was water...delightful.  We swam in the pool and soaked in the hot tub, where we met families and expectant young couples thrilled to be celebrating winter holidays in a warm, sunny location.  Of course, we met a lot of retirees, too.  They got a kick out of Sage's lack of fear of the water.  One family we met from Missouri are part of a Christian band and ministry,  Check them out.

Warm temps and light beach breezes overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Heated pool and hot tub for cooler nights.  Hot breakfasts and two-drink happy hours, daily.  Christmas dinner spread with live entertainment and movies.  Visit to Sea Turtle, Inc.  Laid-back attitude.  Yes, this plan worked out beautifully.  And now we are on to our next adventure...

Merry Christmas!

Pics of Christmas on S. Padre Is., TX

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Time is treasure that liquifies and slips through our fingers.  No matter how big our cup, how fast our movement, we can't seem to scoop up the gilded molecules of yesterdays or Today or RIGHT NOW.  When we are young, we either don't notice or don't care.  Or maybe we believe Time is a "renewable resource."  As we grow older we become gradually aware of the priceless value of Time.  Our treasure appreciates as we reminisce about our High School Years, College Days, When We Were Single, Before Children, Before We Gained Weight, Before Cancer, After Divorce, and When He or She Was Still Alive.  We evaluate ourselves by the number of "moments" we have checked off our arbitrary Life Timeline.  Our eyes look forward to anticipate the next big event, then back to relive the last one.  But what about today?  What about NOW?

This year, I want more time with the people I love and doing the things I enjoy most.  I want to see my mom and Joe more than once a year, or every other year.  Meet halfway, plan a family trip.  Something.  I want the dad I know to come back.  He has not been himself in a very long time...and for many good reasons...but now it's time to move forward making many more great memories.  Selfishly, I want Sage to have happy times with her only grandfather.  David's dad will always be alive in photos and recollections, but she can never make new memories with him.  With my dad, she can.  Beautiful moments.  Togetherness.  I want more time with my brother.  Not let-me-come-watch-you-play-music time.  At least not all the time.  One time on a whim he, David and I went to the aquarium at Fair Park.  Such a great, spontaneous and educational experience for everyone!  Those are the types of moments I want.

I want more time to celebrate Life with extended family and friends.  I want more time to write, to run, to admire my little girl.  To sit quietly and watch the sun rise or set, to chuckle at my dog's elation as he sprints full-throttle along the beach.  To be grateful just to be Me.  I also want to get back every moment I was selfish and hurt someone.  Every moment I felt angry or hurt, not because someone genuinely wronged me, but because my damn insecurities tricked me into feeling offended.  I want to erase the years of silence between friends...years we lost because we were too stubborn to say "I'm sorry" and "I love you" and "Let's go play!"  And I especially want back those slivers of time when I felt unworthy of love or happiness or success.  What is that Degas quote about self-doubt being an insidious enemy?  Give me back those moments and let me continue to savor my life Now and Tomorrow without fear or pettiness.  Definitely without self-doubt.  I do not, however, want more time to clean.  Ha...sorry, this post was starting to get a little too heavy.

The guiding principle of our mobile journey, I suppose, is a quest to capture Time.  Purging possessions is symbolic of shedding responsibilities and preoccupations that rob us of precious time with the people and experiences that bring us the greatest joy.  Downsizing to a tiny-home-on-wheels enables us to spend less time cleaning, organizing, decorating, building, deconstructing, maintaining -- all the obligations of owning a home.  Instead, our chores steal only moments from our day, leaving the rest of the day to be spent as we choose.  (That is, as long as the energy and connectivity infrastructure is reliable and intact.)  Downsizing also allows us to model the principles of environmental stewardship we embrace: to conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate Nature.  But our new "lifestyle" goes one step beyond...we conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate the fundamentals of a happy life together.

I have taken enough time talking about...well...time.  Time for me to go spend some beautiful time with my precious angel preparing for Christmastime.  Wishing you and your family plentiful happy times RIGHT NOW, today, this holiday season, and beyond.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Game (Almost) Over

If you have been following our story, you know that about a month into this journey our fun was marred by power outages and poor signals for phone and mobile broadband services.  Our trailer jumped ship and faceplanted itself.  Our camper fell TWICE, and somehow we have sustained no serious damages.  The power and connectivity issues have been the most problematic because our work was delayed, which means collecting payment was delayed.  Keeping in touch with family and friends has also been a challenge, as a result.  But as we caught up our work we were able to piece by piece, little by little, resolve all of our issues.  Creatively...

Saturday was to be a day of replenishing crucial supplies -- water, propane and fuel for the generator.  I awoke feeling dizzy and completely drained of all energy (pun somewhat intended.)  As I explained my condition to David we discovered the generator was not running.  He checked the fuel and oil, spent a lot of time following the manufacturer's troubleshooting guide.  Dead.  Great.  What was supposed to be a very reliable primary source of energy now and only a back-up source after we install wind and solar generation kits has kicked the bucket.  Only three weeks since we purchased it...great.

The brand new canopy also collapsed.  Actually, two different versions of the canopy failed.  We also need new shocks on the truck and a new axle on the trailer.  We also discovered one of the tanks we use to carry fuel for the generator had cracked and was dripping fuel on the outside of the trailer.  Since we will not have the generator, we gave the cracked tank to some beach revelers who built a giant pyre near us Friday night.  They were thrilled.

So there we were, thirsty and hungry and fearing the nighttime cold and without our primary source of energy.  Sage was uncomfortable.  I was getting cranky.  David was smoldering.  His intensity only made us feel worse -- I told him so later and not in a very nice way.  Yes, let's just use the cliche that "emotions were running high."  That's enough detail for now.  Ha.  From the beginning of the planning phase, we agreed that we would end the journey if it stopped feeling fun or safe.  The trailer rebuild is all but finished; it has transformed into a playhouse/dance studio I would have dreamed of as a little girl.  Sage adores it.  She also loves El Valor so much she hugs the doorway often and says, "I love you, camper."  She gets just as excited as we do about traveling. But Saturday, with Mommy and Daddy feeling edgy and our adventure infrastructure crumbling all around us, she was ready to call it quits.  In truth, I considered it, too.  Briefly.

By Saturday evening we were checking into a hotel for a 4-night stay.  Half-way through, I can honestly say that this little reprieve has done more for morale than I had expected.  The dizziness has subsided.  I think I was just a wee dehydrated because I was not drinking enough water.  Rationing is commendable but not if it means Mommy suffers from vertigo...Our little "regrouping break" has also given us time to take care of other very necessary items.  In a few days the generator will be returned for a full refund.  New axle and wiring are being installed on the trailer right now, and tomorrow the truck will get new shocks and a stabilizer arm.  Oil and fluids were changed and topped off this morning.  At this very moment the canopy is being replaced AGAIN.  This time, we are also reinforcing with additional poles and straps.  If you have ever camped for more than a day or two on the Texas Coast, you understand how unforgiving the conditions are sometimes. 

All of this comes at a very inconvenient time -- so close to Christmas.  Our holiday plans might be affected but not so much that we have to end our journey, I hope.  Instead, I will believe in the magic of the holiday season, that everything will be resolved by Christmas Eve.  That everyone will feel recuperated and ready to ring in the new year with love and hope and joy and prosperity.  Oh, and more adventures.  Definitely more adventures!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Does it ever seem to you that people or money or messages arrive when you need them most? Not always when you want them most, mind you. I can wish all day for my mom and Joe, or my dad or anyone else I love to be sharing this journey with us. Or for a windfall worth billions to land at my feet. Or the answer to the long-debated chicken-or-egg dilemma. But it does not work that way. Sometimes life takes you by surprise; it's up to you whether you enjoy and appreciate the adventure, or you resist and resent it. Naptime started out horribly today but suddenly Sage sighed. "Mommy? I really love you." She hugged me tight as she drifted off to sleep. I cherish every hug, every smile, every I love you, but today's was extra special. Today I really needed it. More than she or I knew.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Catsup or Ketchup?

Neither.  Really, it's catch-up.  As in, "This is one heckuva catch-up post."

Let's start with our energy situation.  We calculated our consumption needs in watts and determined the size of our deep cycle battery bank (to store the renewable energy to be harvested), and were ready to invest in one 100-watt solar panel, one 400-watt wind turbine, and three deep cycle batteries.  The trailer (aka truckwagon) will be modified this winter to become our tiny home on wheels.  Installing the new sources of energy, and then reinstalling them after the rebuild, would be a waste of time.  Plus, our departure from Cedar Hill had already been delayed two days after our camper, El Valor, we did not have enough time to mount the panel or turbine before returning to Rockport.  We decided to buy a new generator instead and to postpone the solar/wind install until after the trailer is finished. 

new "pumpkin" generator

Meet the Generac 2000 watt inverter generator.  Plenty of power to run the air conditioner and one laptop, or two laptops and all the camper lights, on one gallon of gas for about four hours.  An inverter generator is imperative for providing energy for a laptop, especially.  Our old generator was not an inverter model, and we fried the battery on both computers.  Now that we have the new generator we can replace the batteries without worrying about power surges.  Furthermore, we won't need to be plugged in except to recharge the new batteries, so we can back off our consumption of fuel used to operate the generator.  More efficient!

The solar kit will cost around $500 and the wind kit around $600.  Deep cycle batteries run around $90 each, so 3 new ones will cost just under $300.  The Texas Coast is mighty sunny and windy.  Based on conservative estimates of energy collection and liberal estimates of consumption, our investment will be returned in less than 6 months.  Additionally, when/if we take the wheels off our home, so to speak, we can always reuse these kits. 

Connections to cell phone and internet service are patchy in some of the more remote areas we "live."  There is a gadget that costs around $500 that enhances these signals.  It is popular among RVers, especially folks like us with off-road capabilities.  But like the solar/wind energy combo, we will have to postpone that purchase until after the trailer is finished.  This relayer, I think it's called, could also be reused on our future home-without-wheels.

When we travel on highways, I power my laptop and charge our phones by utilizing the 12V outlets inside the cab of the truck.  The outlet draws energy from the truck battery, which is recharged when the engine is running.  The deep cycle battery we currently have installed inside El Valor is also connected to the truck battery, making our pickup a sort-of diesel powered generator.  Because it is durable and can handle the load of several tasks simultaneously, and diesel burns relatively clean, it is considered an efficient and green method of accessing energy.  The other benefit of working while we are in-motion is that I almost always have a clear, strong cellular and mobile broadband signal.  The downside is, we are ALL IN THE TRUCK TOGETHER.  If you call, you will be treated to a heaping helping of background noise.  Ha ha ha.

Refrigeration is next.  I really appreciate all the suggestions from our facebook friends.  There are so many good options to choose from!  For now, we have turned off the fridge except when we are staying in locations with water and electric hook-ups.  When switched to propane, at least this time of year, we could probably keep most produce cool enough for a few days.  That is the next experiment; I'll post the results soon.  Down the road, we will probably replace the fridge or maybe just buy a new one for the trailer.  Again, the design of the rebuild will dictate that purchase.  Until then, we will continue to focus on self-packaged and non-perishable foods when dry-camping, and expand our choices when staying in "civilized" locales.

Water is more valuable than gold.  To campers, at least.  Access to clean and palatable water is scarce, more limited than you mght imagine.  Bottled water is not the best solution due to the cost and the amount of trash/recyclables that generates.  (More about waste management in a moment.)  Filters are great, but not for our situation.  The holding tank on El Valor is old and in desperate need of flushing.  Even then, I'm not interested in actually drinking the water that pours forth from this 25-year-old faucet.  One idea has been to replace the tank.  Another has been to buy a gigantic tank and mount it somewhere on the trailer.  Like most of the solutions, this one will also have to wait until after the rebuild.  Until then, we refill a 5-gallon Igloo container with drinking spigot and two 1-gallon plastic jugs.  We also have two 5-gallon shower bags: one is used for washing hands, the other will be used for rinsing off the rest of our bodies.  The source depends on our current location.  When dry-camping on the beaches near Corpus Christi, we use the potable water station near Malaquite Beach.  In Rockport, our client allows us access to her water (and commercial ice maker!!!!)  Otherwise, we use the water connections at the parks where we pay to stay. 

Waste management has become a tremendous task.  In parks and on the beaches, we have unlimited access to trash and recycling receptacles.  In Rockport, however, we have to drive our trash to WalMart's public bins or parcel out our packages of waste in the bins of the many businesses we frequent: the gas station, the grocery store, WalMart, the laundromat, etc.  Regardless of our location, we have discovered ways to minimize our refuse.  One is to buy self-packaged foods, such as bananas, avocadoes, assorted berries and citrus.  Yes, even peel-and-eat foods leave "packaging" behind, but at least it's bio-degradable.  I have no problem flinging produce refuse into vegetation.  Maybe some desperate animal can gnaw on my old banana peel until its typical foodstuff comes around again.  Another is to avoid glass packaging.  Along the coast, glass recycling is not available so all those jars and bottles get tossed into the landfill.  Not green, people.  We recycle metal wherever available.  Anything that is paper or plastic, we burn.  We "reuse" those items as kindling for our campfires.  Cutting the recycling machinery out of the loop is more efficient, energy-wise, and therefore greener.  I can't guarantee that it always smells all that great, though...

Exercise.  Putting out these fires these nearly-three months has kept us very active, both physically and mentally.  We are still very fit.  But as we streamline processes, we will have more time and (pardon the double meaning) energy to restart our running regimen.  I find myself fantasizing about it, really...that and consistent access to showers and toilets.  But that's another post...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Midnight Writers

This will be somewhat of a collaborative post.  It is late (by our standards) but we have meetings in Dallas starting tomorrow and for the next several days.  We must drive tonight until we are at least within 2 hours of our destination.  David spent a lot of time photographing and reveling in the progress of the Rockport project today.  He was not really needed onsite, and we were scheduled to leave early.  But if you know him or his work, you know he could not leave until the last boulder was placed.  Keith and the Appealing Gardens crew still had about two hours of hard labor today and will work a half-day tomorrow cleaning up.  We will all be back very soon to plant and continue working on the homage to the Appian Way.  The project is jaw-dropping, truly.  I will let David add to this post later his thoughts and pics of this magazine-worthy masterpiece.

So David is dictating to me, reminding me that more than 100 tons of stone were laid in 6 days...and there is more to set when we return.  Amazing is an understated description of the transformation of this one section of the property.  The home and the view are priceless, and the vegetation was beautiful as it was.  But this little "enhancement" has seamlessly connected the architecture with the million-dollar view of Copano Bay; and the native plantings to come will render the place undeniably stunning.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime creation for any artisan, and we cast members are grateful for our roles.  So many blessings...

Tomorrow will mark 9 weeks since this journey began.  Our energy issues will be resolved soon -- work-wise, our plate has been too full to settle in one place long enough so that we may address each weak link in the energy chain.  We know the problems, now we have to fix them.  We also want to reconfigure the trailer to be more like a tiny house on wheels.  That is the heart of our camp, we have discovered.  Change is constant when you live a mobile lifestyle, and if you embrace the beauty of change your journey will be richer.  If you resist it, a magical moment can be lost in a soup of struggle.  A lesson that reveals the first step down a new path of opportunity and enlightenment might be ignored.  Sometimes, like when I wake up stoked about breaking camp and changing my perspective (literally), I find that I actually thrive on change.  Sometimes I have difficulty letting go of people, places and possessions steeped in nostalgic value.  After 12 years, I finally set Grandma's gowns free...but not her scarves or her books about poetry...El Valor, as sentimental as we feel about her, might also be liberated.  As "truckwagon the trailer" (gets a new name and) becomes more central to our rolling homestead, we might not need the camper.  We have other ideas that would further simplify our set-up, and would enrich our experiences as we together.  Bluebonnet aka Hula Girl -- my truck -- might also be allowed to find a new home.  In nearly ten years, she has paid for herself at least a hundred times, and has continued to be dependable in landscape "retirement."  It seems shameful and disrespectful to stow her in a sandy lot, exposed to the brutal coastal conditions.  Nobody is ready to say goodbye to her yet, but we are preparing ourselves.  Change is good, and sometimes very good.

Nearing Austin.  I don't think David can keep going much longer.  Maybe this is a good time to just do a quick summary of our journey so far:

One night in Austin, three nights in Plano, then two weeks in Cedar Hill.
Three nights in Lockhart, then three weeks on the beach.
One night in Mission for the Texas Butterfly Festival, then one week in DFW.
One night in New Braunfels, then to Wurstfest for the afternoon and one night in Mathis.
One week in Rockport.
So many memories, already.  So many lessons...about energy, portable food, water, precious value of TIME...and priorities that allow you to savor the deliciousness of Now.  Too often, we fill our mind-bellies with thoughts of Yesterday or plans for Tomorrow that we can not fully appreciate Today, and more specifically, Now.  This.very.moment.

At this moment, my little butterfly girl is snoozing alongside her furry brother, Folsom.  Like most days, she has played in her playhouse (aka truckwagon...we really really need a new name for it...) and sung songs and made up stories about her dolls with Mommy.  She practiced writing letters and pretended to read her books.  As we said goodbye to the Rockport folks, she kissed Keith on the cheek and thanked Damion for taking her for a ride on "the tractor."  She picked up her mail and squealed with delight when she opened her new Dora shoes.  She told the cashier at the gas station she is not allowed to have cookies anymore because sugar turns her "into a monster."  After a huge glass of milk and much more singing and dancing in her carseat, she finally called it a (long) day.  Precious girl lives every moment, every day, as if it's her best, not her last.  Just like Mommy and Daddy are teaching her.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Island

Drive leading to our camp on the 'island'
I have my own island. Peninsula, rather. And really it is "mine" only for the next few days. For now, though, my mobile office/home is perched in the center of a cul-de-sac of land, a spit that forms the driveway leading up to it. Our view of Copano Bay is almost 360 degrees of waterfront. In the near distance is the fishing bridge and beyond that the bridge connecting to Lamar and Holiday Beach. Apart from whispers of traffic and small aircraft overhead, I am serenaded by fish jumping and birds chirping. Sounds of heavy machinery -- of work getting done -- are there, too. They blend with rather than blast through the music of Nature. Trucks and cars hum across the bridge, now. Equipment is silent for the moment. Great Blue Heron squawked directly above me, flying low. Sage is finally napping after refusing to sleep for several days. I'm recalibrating.

Salute to Sausage!

Last weekend after leaving Cedar Hill we drove to New Braunfels. Our friends, Laura and Daryl, invited us to plug in the rig, then join them at Wurstfest. The 10-day salute to sausage! They ended up going without us because we had a meeting Saturday morning and left later than planned. Then, just as the late-autumn sunset enveloped us like a grey sweater, the lights on the trailer malfunctioned. For 2 teeth-grinding hours I assisted David and burned some of Sage and Folsom's energy. He unspliced and respliced the wires more times than I would have patience to do. In the end, it was the bulbs; they had become loose. Apparently that can happen after faceplanting...Finally we arrived at The Manor long after they had wrapped their night of sausage and Shiner. Still, we spent some time gabbing and catching up. We have an open invite which we will gladly use...and we did make it to Wurstfest, after all, the next day. Festive!

Thank you thank you thank you, Laura and Daryl, for your hospitality.  And thanks to Sam for taking Sage on her first golf cart ride.  :)

sage and sam

Coyotes and Bobcats

The coyotes were hungry early. My brother, Mick, and I constructed a campfire while Sage entertained us with stories and dancing and singing. David was on his way back from meetings and a speaking engagement at a college. It was just after sunset. Folsom's floppy ear stood up straight, and we all heard the symphony of several coyotes singing and yelping. Usually, they begin their song around midnight. Usually, you hear but do not see them. But the next day, mid-morning and just before the weekenders arrived, one coyote emerged from the vegetation that delineates campsite from campsite. He stood in the middle of the road. About 15 minutes later, a bobcat stood in the same spot. Neither approached our camp but looked us over. They were gone as suddenly as they appeared, and before I could pluck my camera from inside El Valor. Now we are in Rockport on Copano Bay. Coyote tracks are sprinkled all over this little peninsula. Raccoon and various bird tracks, too.
The gifted and ever-inspiring Mick Tinsley, fireside at cedar hill sp

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trailer Tragedy

Any story that begins with "Everybody is fine" usually takes you on a few twists and turns, right?  For starters, "everybody is fine..."

If you have been following our story recently you know that Friday night and Saturday morning we spent in Mission, just a couple of miles from the US-Mexico border.  We took Sage to the Texas Butterfly Festival in Mission and then headed north for a week's worth of meetings in the DFW/Denton area.  Initially we had planned to stay at Ray Roberts State Park, but as we approached DFW, we decided to stay in Cedar Hill.  We hoped to find a car wash to hose off our truck/camper/trailer configuration before checking into the state park there.  Three weeks on the beach have left a thick film of salt, sand and who-knows-what-else on the siding, the windows and everywhere in between.  By the time we arrived in CH, we chucked that idea and decided to go directly to the park and check in, then dress Sage for trick-or-treating and head out for an early and quick Halloween celebration.  Good thing we had a sudden change in plans...Sometimes all the best-laid plans fall apart.  Have I not written about this, ad nauseum?  And recently?

We checked in without incident.  I asked the reservations clerk about neighborhoods close to the park that might be suitable for t-or-t with a 2-year-old. She drew a map for me and even told me where she lives.  Armed with a fistful of useful information, and happy that Sage was napping before the Big Night, I suggested to David that we quickly set up our campsite first, then rifle through Sage's dress-up clothes to pull together a unique handmade costume before hitting the nearby neighborhood.  I was recounting some of my favorite childhood costumes -- the gypsy, the year I was Pete Rose (before he was dishonored) -- and the virtues of creating something spectacular from everyday items lying around the house.  I think I was mid-sentence describing the map Stella had drawn for me, and thinking aloud about the materials I needed to pull together Sage's trick-or-treat bag costume, as she had requested.  Suddenly, I heard metal crunch and an awful grinding sound -- it sounded like the truck's transmission was falling off a cliff and hitting every boulder.  Sage continued to nap peacefully. 

"What's wrong with the truck?" I shrieked. 

And then everything shifted into slow...motion...

Nothing was wrong with the truck.  I looked into the rearview mirror in time to watch -- again, in slow motion -- a chasm between the trailer and the truck develop then widen.  The trailer pitched forward and made an awful, pitiful moaning sound as it skidded to stop.  The truck kept lurching forward -- faster, faster.  The trailer faceplanted onto the road.  Everything inside surely had been destroyed, because the heaviest item -- the 88-lb. generator -- was at the back of the trailer.  And everything in its path forward is flimsy, plastic drawers filled with tiny toys, books and puzzles, and clothing.  Surely none of these items escaped the destruction of the flying dead-weight, gas-leaking generator. 
sheared metal

The trailer did not become unhitched.  The hitch and about half the towing arm were still attached to the truck.  Metal fatigue is how a few people on the scene as well as on facebook have explained the 'tragedy.'  Basically, the arm broke off at the trailer.  Here are some of the weird and wonderful details of our catastrophe:

1.  None of us were injured.
2.  The incident occurred inside Cedar Hill State Park, not on the highway.
3.  We were moving at 15 mph, no more but most likely less, on an uphill section of park road.
4.  The park is nearly empty so we did not cause any serious traffic problems.
5.  The trailer pitched itself forward, tumbling very slowly uphill, instead of rolling backwards and downhill into the trees.  Or worse, into the few cars that did follow us uphill.
6.  When the trailer landed on its nose, the gas cans mounted on either side were facing upward and did not leak.
7.  The generator fell "up", sort-of, so no gas leaked.  Only a few knicks in one of the sets of plastic drawers, the generator did not destroy anything, surprisingly.  And it was being stored at the rear of the trailer.  When it went on its nose, I was certain the generator pulverized everything in its path.  Aside from the minor knicks, there is no damage to anything.  Miraculous.
8.  The generator started on the first test-pull.  We might not need it for another few months but at least we know it still works.

showing sage the scene..."mommy, i don't think sticky tape will fix this."
my kitchen!

The failure of the metalworks is easier to understand than rationalizing the minimal nature of the damage to our belongings.  Logically, everything should be completely useless now.  Quite the opposite.  Everything but the 'tongue' is intact. 

Park police were on the scene within seconds.  The officer tried not to laugh but eventually he could not help himself.  The sight of our bicycles dangling into the sky alone was comical.  He remained with us as we tried to assess what went wrong, photographed the 'carnage' (ha), and even assisted us by calling a wrecker service to turn our trailer upright.  He continued to stay with us as the tow truck picked up the trailer, towed her, and deposited her onto our site inside the park.  Wonderful guy -- thank you, if you are reading this!  The trailer was on our site but we still needed to prop her up so we could access the contents -- namely, Sage's clothing so that we could assemble a creative and suitable Halloween costume.  First, we needed to open the front end door.  When the trailer landed on it, we were certain that all the contents had also landed there.  David asked me to stand back while he opened the door.  He pried it open...and stood back to the side of the trailer...and out tumbled Sage's tricycle, slightly bent, and one beer.  That was all.  A few taps of a hammer and the trike was good as new.  The beer was still cold...

Apparently when the trailer fell forward the cooler spilled ice, beer and food we had purchased the night before.  The beer and food fell INTO the ice, so when we were ready to imbibe, our beverages were cold and ripe for the drinking.  Thank you, army of angels. ;-)  Feverishly and frantically, we worked to empty the trailer (and an ice cold beer or two) so that we could lift the trailer high enough to stabilize it on blocks.  By the time we finished that, and found enough elements to create a Dora costume (the bag idea was not to be...) it was almost 9pm.  Who takes their 2-yr-old trick-or-treating at 9pm???

We did.  Despite the near-miss-tragedy, and the potential for all of our clothing, Sage's toys and some of our business supplies (e.g. printer and laminator) being destroyed, David and I were adamant about taking our little girl out to celebrate Halloween.  Just in case we could not remedy the situation in time, I prepared her for the worst.  She started to whine a little.  Then she said she heart crumbled.  There was no way I was going to let her down.  She was going out, no matter what.

In her drawers I found a pair of orange shorts, a pink sweater (not a pink t-shirt as Dora is known to wear), white and pink (instead of white and yellow) ruffled socks, tennis shoes, and an official Dora backpack with Map hanging out the side.  I pulled back her hair -- c'mon, there was no way I was going to find a brunette bobbed wig at that late hour -- and painted flowers and "Dora" on her tiny cheeks.  She carried her monkey doll -- Boots -- that she has had since before birth.  Maybe it was a half-ass costume, pulled together two hours past the eleventh hour -- but it worked.  We made sure we complimented her incessantly and treated her as if she were the 'real' Dora.  Smiles galore. 

We don't know the neighborhoods well enough but I had that map from Stella, the park employee.  In all the chaos, the map fell between other papers and possibly under the seat.  I don't know.  I couldn't find the darned thing.  As of this moment, I still have not excavated it from the rubble inside the truck.  So I relied on my memory and we found an area nearby that still had revelers going door-to-door.  As you might imagine, there were not many homes receiving trick-or-treaters at 9:30pm.  Actually, we found only two homes.  I'm sure there were more but there was no way I was keeping her up any later for such slim possibilities.  My grand idea was to take her to WalMart (it's almost next door to the park) and buy candy and holiday decor.  When we returned to our site, I could decorate the camper and then let her t-o-t for the candy we picked out.  She seemed to love the idea, or maybe she felt really sorry about all that we had been through, and decided to be grateful for David's and my effort to make the holiday special.

oh noooooo
ready to tilt

almost up now

quick and professional, and personal, this company

ilfrey ladies in total shock

oh look, i found a book under all this mess

In my family, we call this the Easter Basket Incident.  When I was younger than Sage my mom totally freaked out on my dad because they did not have a basket for me on Easter.  She wigged.  Seriously.  I don't remember the incident but I've heard about it my entire life.  There was a time that I rolled my eyes..."oh Mommmmm."  Now I'm that mommy.  My little girl was looking forward to dressing up, getting candy, and celebrating spookiness.  Two of her favorite books are Halloween-themed Dora the Explorer tomes.  No way I was going to disappoint her.  No way I was going to let something like a trailer flipping over and breaking off our truck ruin her holiday.  So we emptied the contents of the trailer all around our site and pulled something together, last-minute.  I cried while we worked, because I was concerned we might not be able to get to her things in time to dress her and celebrate.  I cried because although I had no direct responsibility for anything that had happened, I felt guilty that her holiday might be ruined.  No way that was happening.  No way was my little girl going to bed without even a hint of the Halloween spirit.

Everything we dragged out of the trailer was left disorganized and strewn around our site.  Doors were left open.  We hit the town and had a great time.  Although she only got a few treats, she enjoyed the experience.  She got it.  We celebrated together at home briefly before everybody collapsed into bed around midnight.  Today, we organized the mess as best we could.  A welder repaired our trailer, so now we are back in the mobile lifestyle business.  And Sage's fondest memory of Halloween is "driving to go trick-or-treating."  Tragedy (somewhat) resolved.

exhausted but ecstatic about being dora

boots?  oh yes, boots.  my best friend.  right.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Waking up in WalMart the parking lot, that is. Last night we slept comfortably on the backside of the San Marcos WalMart. Boondocking. In other words, we slept in our camper in a parking lot without hookups to electricity or water. No big deal. We have been living this way -- hauling our own water, generating our own energy -- for the past three weeks. Except for the one night we stayed at Americana in Mission, we have been almost entirely self-reliant for all our energy and resource needs...Plus, WalMart has bathrooms! And 24-hour-access to food...Day 2 of our northbound quest has begun. if you notice us on the highway, be sure to wave or shoot us an email. You can't miss us...and we would love to hear from you!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mission to Butterflies

There is nothing quite like listening to Willie Nelson as you drive across acres and acres of rustic Texas terrain.  And if you are sucking on a fresh-picked grapefruit or orange, only moments off the tree, then you must be travelling through the Rio Grande Valley.  Like many of you, I have visited South Padre Island and Brownsville -- even backpacked across the border into Matamoros, Mexico, and two months' worth of points beyond.  But I had never been to McAllen, Edinburg or Mission until yesterday.  I don't know the Valley, really.  The past 24 hours have been filled with the kind of experiences that make you wonder what wizard is behind the curtain orchestrating them.  Sometimes, when you stop forcing life to follow some arbitrary plan, stop trying to dictate or predict outcomes, you are treated to tiny treats.  You are treated to surprises that sweeten your journey more than any sugary delight wrapped in shiny paper.

Yesterday I hung up my bikini for the season.  We left Corpus Christi to take Sage to the 15th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival in Mission, and by the time we return to the beach in a few weeks, the water will be too cold to swim.  (Dang.)  We have been planning to attend this festival for months.  As I always do, I searched online to map the quickest route, to search for lodging, and information about the festival.  I called an RV park located next door to the state park.  Everything was arranged...but then life happened and we did not leave Corpus Christi until much later than anticipated.  Long story, but for some reason our phones would not connect to service ANYWHERE yesterday.  Not even in places in our old neighborhood where we have had a strong, reliable signal for two years!  This inexplicable technical mishap delayed the start of a design presentation, pushing back the rest of the morning's activities.  That meant we would not be able to stay in the park I had called because they close at 4pm and gates lock at 5pm.  We arrived in Mission around 5:30pm with no reservations and no clear idea of the layout of the town.  The plan had failed.

In another lifetime, this would make my head spin (and, yes, my mouth would spew pea soup.)  Yesterday, though, I saw this quandry as more of an opportunity than a 'failure'.  We could explore the city a bit, find the state park and feel our way around the place before deciding on a place to stay.  The drive south was spectacular.  I was blogging so I did not see as much of the changing plant palette as David, yet I picked up enough from quick glances that I knew I had been transported to a very different place.  Different in terms of flora and fauna, climate, culture -- so much.  I stopped typing and started observing.  I took my time...I breathed slowly and deeply.  Needed that.  Drove around the state park grounds briefly before setting out to find a place to park for the night.  We had decided to find WalMart and 'boondock' (google that).  On the way, we noticed an Anglo couple in their 50s, maybe early-60s, walking with several yellow bags from Dollar General.  I watched them turn into a cozy RV park.  Parks line both sides of this road for miles.  This park, Americana, is smaller, older, and seemed more...friendly, I guess, than the others.  In the other parks we passed, nobody was outside.  All the streets were wide and swept perfectly clean, but nobody mingled.  Apart from site-after-site filled with rigs, there were no signs of life anywhere.  Except at the Americana.  Curious.  That looks like a place we might stay, I told David.

Immediately after we pulled in we met the folks who run the place.  Residents waved as they walked toward the game room where the men were playing pool and the women were playing dominoes.  The roads are narrower but still very clean.  Most of the sites have natural-looking vegetation.  Whether or not it's native, most of the plants and decor appear to have always been part of the landscape.  Other places were too manicured and resort-like for us.  Americana has character, genuine style that must evolve naturally.  It can not be forced, taught or bought; it is are its residents.

We found a little site directly next to the bathrooms and showers, pool and sauna, and game room.  While we were unpacking and setting up, Mr. Jim (the man-in-charge) showed up to introduce himself.  He introduced us to his Boston Terrier, Ollie.  What a coincidence, I told him.  Our little girl is somewhat fixated on that name.  She names all our new toys, shells and imaginary friends 'Ollie.'  We put Ollie and Sage together; Folsom pouted and growled from inside the truck.  But now she has a real friend named Ollie!  Bliss!  We explained we were only staying one night because we had brought Sage to see the butterflies, but that we have to get back to Dallas by Sunday night.  Why, we have a butterfly expert right here in the park, he exclaimed.  She has written 6 books about butterflies and gives presentations about them.  Let's go!

Mr. Jim invited Sage and me to ride up front on his golf cart with him and Ollie, and David rode on the back.  We drove over to Miss Kim's house.  She was out for a walk so we tracked her down.  We chatted briefly and then David asked where we might buy her books.  She had some in her house!  So after we took care of a little shopping (Folsom needed food) we stopped by her house to buy Butterflies of Northeastern Mexico.  She even autographed it for Sage!  Although she was leaving this morning for a one-week trip to Oaxaca, Kim spent about an hour talking with us about travelling in Latin America, living simply, living thisclose to the U.S.-Mexico border.  Funny, we didn't talk much about butterflies.  We all leafed through the book together after we returned 'home'.  Dreamy, vivid photographs of skippers and swallowtails, hairstreaks and metalmarks, and more.  Instantly I knew I wanted to visit with Kim again.  Maybe we will be back soon, and maybe she will be interested and available to swap more travel stories.  THAT is my kind of girls' night out.

Today we rushed through breakfast, through getting ready, through packing up.  We were eager to get to the butterfly festival.  Sage painted butterflies made out of coffee filters and clothes pins.  She colored pictures of butterflies.  We walked the butterfly gardens, petted a sphinx caterpillar, toured exhibits about birds and their flight patterns.  We waited in a long line for a long time to get her face painted but left to see the other booths.  By the time we returned, the artist had stopped accepting face-canvasses.  No big deal.  Folsom was overheated and pooped out from walking all over the grounds.  Sage had had a great time, and even boogied in front of a roomful of folks watching their kids demonstrate zumba fitness.  I know I probably should have pulled her away, but she was having so much fun and the teachers and other kids seemed to enjoy watching la guerrita shake her groove thing and imitate their dance moves.  At least I could have encouraged her to move to the back or the side...not front and center!  What can I say, what can I say...

Sage and Folsom have been sleeping for hours.  David and I have been nibbling on fresh grapefruit and oranges and listening to Willie Nelson.  He's driving, I'm blogging.  Sage is awake now and smiling as she snacks on raisins and watches the scenery blur past her window "really fast."  We are almost to San Antonio and once again the plants and topography are changing dramatically.  Once again, we find ourselves reflecting on a meaningful day in this journey.  Sweet, sweet journey, it is.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Schroeder Park at Golden Age Home, Lockhart

Schroeder Park
When David and I were students at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, we met a lovely couple, Mr. and Mrs. B.  They hired David to design and implement a perennial border because they learned he had completed the Professional Gardener Training Program at Longwood Gardens.  Over time, they sort-of adopted him, and me, into their family.  Many afternoons I spent sipping mint tea with them in the sunroom and gazing out onto the profusion of blooms dancing in the last moments of the day's rays of sunshine.  I wore a straw hat that had been their daughter's, and did so with honor.  I never met her but she was apparently an always willing helper in the garden. 

Years went by, and we remained in contact with the B family.  We became acquainted with their son and daughter-in-law, and their first grandchild.  Then the second grandchild was born.  One is in high school now -- where has the time gone, really?  Mr. B passed away not long after we married.  When we announced our engagement he had said, "It's about time you marry that girl."  He was quite a character, and by all accounts a real stickler about keeping a neat appearance.

A few more years passed and the B family asked us to develop a one-acre native plant garden for a retirement home in Lockhart.  While we were completing the first round of installation in early spring 2005, then-director of Golden Age Home told a story about meeting David many years ago.  Mr. B had raved about David and his plant knowledge.  Apparently, he spoke about David often and she was really looking forward to meeting him.  One day she dropped off some paperwork at Mr. & Mrs. B's home and David answered the door.  She said she was shocked and probably stammered a was this man covered in soil and mulch...and LONG HAIR!  This could not be the same plant genius Mr. B had told her about...We all had a good laugh remembering Mr. B's frequent pleas for David to "get a haircut" and to "marry that girl."  There have been other phases and frequent volunteer workdays since then.  We check on the progress several times per year.  And always we stop at Smitty's, our favorite barbecue joint in the Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Lockhart is located in the southernmost area of the Blackland Prairie.  Grasses and perennials are the foundation of the Schroeder Park garden.  A few small trees which are found along the edge of prairielands are also included.  This vibrant and verdant color wheel garden requires minimal maintenance and watering; no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides; attracts plentiful species of butterflies and birds; and truly celebrates a small but vital portion of Texas' natural beauty.

This project is meaningful to us for many reasons.  It supports our mission to restore Texas.  It is a living memorial to our friendships with three generations of the B family.  And it brings us intimately close to the best barbecue, and authentic ambience, in Texas.

Lost Lockhart

Somehow I have not posted any of the gorgeous photos we took in Lockhart State Park.  Between lack of access to services due to "dead zones" inside that park and intermittent (at best) access to electricity because of blown laptop batteries, fried fuses, a deep cycle that is not recharging, and more, I have "somehow" not made uploading pretty plant pics a priority.  Shame on me.

I'll go round up some highlights of that part of our trip now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Time to fly

Tomorrow, we will have been camping on the beach for 3 weeks. Astounding. Two weeks we lived gulf-front on Padre Island National Seashore, then we spent one night on the Nueces County beach. For the past week we have been perched on the sweetest spot of Bird Island Basin, a spot within the Seashore on Laguna Madre that is popular with windsurfers and fishermen. Our 'site is but a few feet from the water. Sunsets, moonrises and sunrises have inspired us daily as we continue creating landscape designs that help to restore Texas' natural beauty. Tomorrow we will leave this coastal paradise and start making the familiar trek toward another of Texas' gems: the Blackland Prairie. But first, we have an exciting detour...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Milk(y) Way

Sage likes to have a glass of milk every couple of days. Hands down, this has been one of our greatest challenges: keeping milk cold. Without access to electricity, our refrigerator will not work. Our cooler keeps things cold enough for a few days, but there are other issues. I started with a plastic half-gallon container. About half of it soured because I don't drink the stuff and David only does with cookies. We haven't been eating many of those, either. I scaled back to smaller packaging, but mostly they are paper-based, and become waterlogged as the ice melts and everything dives into the icy soup. Quickly the paper breaks down, creating a milky frothy mess in the cooler. Then I tried individual sizes in plastic containers. Worked great, except the caps are not water-tight. No matter what, the milk spills or spoils. Not green...or economical. Powdered milk, you're up. Dazzle me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Good things come

A couple of days ago I read in Simple Abundance that by having a more positive emotional response to money, we can attract more money and thereby perpetuate positive sentiments about money. It's a Wall Street spin on the attracting-more-bees-with-honey adage, I presume. Although I seem to most an insufferable Pollyanna, I'm actually a skeptic turned believer of the power of positive thinking. Believe me, I've walked through some of life's dark corridors and wondered if I would ever make it out alive. I did, and since then I make a point to celebrate every moment of life. Fully. So for many years I've lived my life, my way. I dare to dream and expect -- no, command -- them to come true. "Failure is impossible", declared Susan B. Anthony. I agree, especially when you have the muscle of unflappable confidence and positive thought on your side. You don't need others' support when you believe in yourself and your dreams. But if you want bounteous good things to come your way, support a dreamer's dreams.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This is why...

Some days, like today, I look at Sage and worry I've missed something important. One of her developmental milestones, if you will. I find myself rapidly running through first tooth, first steps, first word, desperately clinging to every moment. Then I seem to regain logic and reason; I haven't missed a thing. I have been with her almost every second of her life. David, too. Maybe all mommies (and daddies) experience this memory-panic. Maybe it's because today she is exactly 2-and-3/4-yrs-old and subconsciously I am marking the anniversary. Each day there are new moments to commemorate, new milestones to celebrate. I want to witness every single one...and this is just one reason why we have chosen this lifestyle. There are other reasons -- some I have written or will write about, and others that are private. When I see all the things my 2-almost-3-yr-old is learning and seeing and doing, I do not question my choice. I know all the reasons why we are here, happily celebrating milestones...together.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Ilfreys have left the National Seashore

If you want to test your child's mettle (and your own), try living outdoors for two weeks. On the beaches near Corpus Christi, under a blazing sun and in the path of some pretty spectacular wind. These are harsh conditions, and that my almost-3-year-old endured them -- no, THRIVED despite them -- impresses me. She has not complained once about the sand or salt or wind...or anything, really. Except maybe naptime; she worries she might miss something exciting. The wind picked up today. Blustery. Tide is we had to move on. Still in Corpus but no longer on Padre Is Nat'l Seashore. Everybody is exhausted. Before now, David and I have never lasted more than 3 days camping on the seashore. This time, we survived a whopping 2 wks. I hear the wind snarling as it pushes and shoves our truck and camper around. I'm smiling, a proud green mommy. We did it. If we are still enthusiastic about our journey after today, and believe me are, we could live like this a long time. Dream realized.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Yesterday I donated 5 more bags of clothing. That makes around 20 small bags, or so, of clothing and household items in three separate visits. Every few days we assess a thing's usefulness and versatility. If it is being used, and can fulfill a few different roles, then it stays. Negligible or non-use, or single-purpose items go the way of my paint-splattered Crocs: Goodwill hunting. With more items gone, we are now able to put away all our clothing, shoes, dishes and towels. David and I each have one drawer and our shoes are combined in a space under Sage's bed. Sage has two drawers for clothing; one for dress-up clothes; one for art supplies: two for books and puzzles; and one for miscellaneous dolls and other toys. She also has a crate full of "bouncy balls"...and that's just the stuff in the trailer. Inside the camper, we each have a bin with small sliding doors. Books spill from all three. Toiletries are stored in a basket approximately 12" long x 12" wide x 12" tall in a cabinet under Sage

Step One Toward Full-Timing: Choosing Your 'Rig'

Last weekend I discovered an additional purpose for this blog: a how-to manual for would-be full-timers.  Several couples and families stopped to talk with us as they cruised the beach.  They wanted to know who we are, what we do and how we are able to live a mobile lifestyle.  Above all, they really wanted to understand how we made the transition...not 'why' but what it took to make it happen.  This got me thinking about the future of this blog and the other two.  Maybe I should streamline and organize this one more clearly?  That's a post for another day...

So today's post will be a brief discussion about planning a similar change in lifestyle.  In other posts I have already mentioned that our blood runs pure gypsy.  I've touched on our Mexico Adventures and teased about future posts about our Seattle Adventures, Florida Adventures and more.  We tried RVing once before, but really only went two places: a park in Destin, FL, for 6 months then another park a few miles away in Seagrove, FL, for another 6 months.  Hardly a mobile adventure.  But that year was truly an adventure and we learned much from real RVers.  Fast-forward a few years...we missed the beach and thought about RVing again.  We wondered if we could make online landscape design a marketable service and started planting the seeds (pun intended.  ;-)  Not long after our daughter was born we tested our remote online design idea by moving to Corpus Christi.  This allowed us to live at the beach and continue building on our DFW/Denton clientele, and start expanding our services into other areas of Texas.  But the gypsy blood never ran dry, and after 6 months I started feeling the "highway Jones." 

David, too.  But neither of us wants to leave the started thinking about RVing again.  I'll skip a lot of details now that can be found both here and on  I'll go directly to choosing the right vehicle...

A 5th-wheel would give us plenty of room, storage and creature comforts.  The downside is, the gooseneck hitch takes up the entire bed of the truck and during certain times of the year would be too heavy to drag through sand.  We hope to spend most of our time in sand...have I mentioned we belong at the beach???  Then we thought about a trailer.  Most are towed behind your truck so the bed is still available for storage.  In most cases, they are lighter than the 5th-wheels.  Unhitching them is much easier, and newer models can be as big as a small 5th-wheel.  Like 5th-wheels, many travel trailers have quite a bit of room, storage and creature comforts.  Still, hauling one through sand is not always possible.  Both 5th-wheels and travel trailers do have some impact on a truck's gas mileage.

We made a list of priorities and desired amenities.  Most importantly, our 'rig' had to be able to easily handle sandy conditions.  If it could shift into 4-wheel drive, even better.  4x4 conversion vans exist but are way out of our budget.

And that was another consideration...we wanted to be able to pay cash for our RV and not have to raise too much additional funds to modify or upgrade it.  For months and months...and many more months...we considered our options and checked classified ads.  Finally, we decided the best option for our prospective routes and budget would be a slide-in truck camper.  One of our trucks is a 4x4 and we had already traveled back-and-forth from Corpus Christi to Dallas comfortably.  It is almost 10 years old but has a durable and powerful 7.3L diesel engine; it is designed to last nearly forever and to be a heavy-duty workhorse.  I was adamant about having a bathroom because of my own preferences but also to make Sage comfortable.  Truck campers with baths are fairly pricey...and much smaller than travel trailers and 5th-wheels.   In the end, we settled on an older truck camper that pops up, does not have a bathroom, but is in near-perfect condition.  In total, this camper is 65 square feet.  There is a 3-burner stove and fridge.  The stove is powered by propane but the fridge is so old it only works on 110V electricity now.  That means, unless we are camping in a park with hookups, we do not have a refrigerator. 

We also do not have adequate storage for two adults, one toddler, one dog and a very busy business.  I take up the least amount of space.  David is larger so naturally his clothes are larger and require more room.  His shoes are size 13.  Yep, they fill up spaces much faster than mine.  He also has more toys -- fishing rods and tackle, for example.  Sage of course has toys overflowing...and books...and changes clothes several times per day.  All I need is my bikini, laptop, journal and I'm pretty much set.  Unless it's cold or we are away from the beach...ha.  Then I need more clothes and running shoes, but really not much else.

To handle our storage needs and to accommodate my wishes for a bathroom, we decided to also tow an "adventure trailer."  They, too, are pricey.  We got super lucky when we bought the camper, because the seller also had an old rusty utility trailer.  For about $100 we took it and cleaned it up, and decided to design and build our own adventure trailer using materials we had lying around our house.

My bathroom is still unfinished but, honestly, I have not missed it.  I'm surprised that I have lasted nearly two weeks on Padre Island National Seashore without one.  A few miles away at Malaquite Beach there are restrooms and showers; I've used them a couple of times when I was on my way to run errands.  Otherwise, I have become quite fond of my natural sanctuary.  Many years ago, I would not be caught dead in the dunes.  Now, I relax and listen to the waves and the birds and enjoy the vibrant scenery waking up for the day.  Rivers of Little Bluestem wish me good morning.  Monarchs leap and twirl from Dune Sunflower to Sea Oats to Railroad Vine to Evening Primrose.  Yes, the pesky mosquitoes and gnats are there, too.  But not always, and when they are I am too entranced with Nature's ballet to notice.

Sand is everywhere, all the time.  When we leave here the first thing we are going to do is CLEAN.  Clean the truck, the camper, the trailer and, above all, OURSELVES.  Our living spaces are indeed small, and we have had to adapt in some ways.  But I would not trade this litany of significant and meaningful experiences.  Not for the plushest bathroom in all the world...

PS I have not had to scrub a toilet or scour a shower in 5 weeks!  Totally worth it...ha ha ha.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

People of The Road -- Part One

Not too many stories unfurled the first week of our journey.  The first night we stayed with normal people, normal friends, in Austin.  Between kids and dogs and a few beers -- not to mention DELICIOUS FOOD -- we were treated to a relaxing night, a respite from packing, moving, garage-saling and preparing for a huge lifestyle change.  (Thank you, again, Mike and Cat.  :)  The next few nights were odd in that we were connected via extension cord to Dad's house and were set up in his driveway and his next-door neighbor's driveway.  (Thank you, again, Mike and Cass!)  Some curious neighbors came by during Dad's final garage sale and snooped around our "rig."  I have to admit to a twisted sense of satisfaction that I ruffled their snooty feathers.  Get over yourselves, people.  Ha ha!

The two weeks we spent at Cedar Hill State Park were for the most part uneventful, too, in the people-meeting department.  I mean, we met really nice folks -- some who are interested in hiring us.  None were what you would expect from traveling...The Road...My brother Mick toured with Aristaya/Ice Cold July for about five years.  He has some incredible stories!  David and I have our own from Mexico, Seattle, and Northwest Florida.  So by week three, having met only very nice and very normal people, I was beginning to feel like this lifestyle might not be so "alternative" anymore.

In Lockhart we met Mike and Peter.  Mike is an ex-Marine, a gun-wielder, and a liberal-hater.  He is an insurance adjuster and armed guard of oil companies' gated lands.  He is also a super-friendly guy who gets a little lonely after extended assignments, and will offer to help anyone adapt to the full-timer lifestyle.  Mike invited us over to barbecue, to watch movies, to swap stories.  He offered us his spare heater when temps dipped into the low-50s.  A heckuva guy.  He travels with his docile German Shepherd, Grace, and was on his way to deliver his mother for a visit with family near Fort Worth.  Most of our stay in Lockhart State Park was spent trying to get phone and internet signals -- remember, our business depends on these services!  Maybe next time we cross paths we will be able to spend more time with Mike.

One morning a park ranger pulled up to Mike's site.  Someone had complained about Grace not being on a leash.  After the ranger had left, Mike told me he knew one of the complainants.  He had met her in another park, when Grace had killed a goat.  Maybe a lamb?  I think it was a goat...anyway, Mike said Grace was playing with it and accidentally killed it.  He asked the owner if he could compensate him and the guy demanded $500.  Of course I didn't pay it, he that reputation had followed him (unfairly) from the other park.

Peter arrived in only his truck.  "I just had to get out of the city for one night!" he shouted across three campsites.  Was he talking to me?  Nobody else around, I decided he was and so I turned around and welcomed him to the park.  Peter is an ex-truck driver turned entrepreneur.  He owns a trucking company now and until recently also owned a limo service.  Apparently he rents an apartment in San Marcos and a storage room in Fort Worth, and conducts business by phone and email from anywhere.  He just couldn't get the dust of The Road out of his blood, so he escaped to a state park to camp in the bed of his truck.  I don't know how long he decided to stay because he was napping, his bare feet hanging off the edge of his tailgate, when we left.  Nice to meet you both, Mike and Peter.

Back in Corpus Christi, we met Mike and Tammy.  They are around our age.  Mike has adult children, ranging from 25 to 19.  Tammy has no biological children but raised her nephew for several years.  They have been full-timing for 5 years.  Like us, they also have a mobile business.  Their gig is remodeling, and they have been working on Andy's Kitchen for a while now.  Landscaping, too.  We joined them for a beer that turned into many more.  Their stories were the best!  I might confuse some of the details but this one was the most goes...

They were on their first trip as full-timers and were traveling on the ferry at Port Aransas.  They met another couple with a camper who were going toward Padre Island.  Mike and Tammy pulled over at Mustang Island, maybe JP Luby Park.  The couple -- who claimed they were going to Padre Island -- pulled alongside them and set up camp.  When they met on the ferry the wife kept mentioning "the kite" several times and Tammy -- a self-described naive farm girl from eastern Washington -- wondered what she meant.  She also wondered why any experienced campers like this couple claimed to be would set out toward primitive camping without flashlights or other lighting.  Mike offered to loan them a spare and took the husband inside their camper to look for it.  The wife asked Tammy if she liked swapping...and Tammy, Ms. Naive, thought she meant swap meets like those she remembered from small-town Washington.  Eventually the wife recognized that Tammy did not understand, so she said plainly, "My man is old but he'll do you good."  Tammy's jaw dropped (mine did too when she told me this story!) and she felt very uncomfortable.  Mike and the husband seemed to be gone for a very long time, and she was growing restless listening to this stranger and her interest in swapping.  Finally the men returned and through body language and arm-pinching Tammy communicated to Mike that they needed to get away from these people.  FAST. 

That night, she said, ALL NIGHT, the wife would flag down cars and lure people into their camper.  Tammy said she could not keep up with the number of visitors who stayed for about 20 minutes or so, then left.  The next day, livid and appauled, she stopped a park official and told him about the goings-on next door.  He said they (law enforcement) knew about this couple, and others, and were keeping an eye on them.  He also suggested to Tammy that she and Mike NOT camp next to anyone flying a rainbow kite.  I guess that's the rv equivalent to a red light?

They had other stories, and were well-stocked and generous with their beer.  But we do have a toddler and had to get to bed.  The next day we met them at Bird Island Basin inside Padre Island National Seashore.  They were intent on staying up all night drinking and fishing, even among the brutal mosquitoes.  We had to pass...can not keep up with that pace.  We found our own sanctuary among the dunes and coyotes and native plants in profusion.

After two days of busy traffic, we were treated to two days of near seclusion.  Then Richard and Barbara arrived, in a truck camper too.  Sage and I were running errands but David rode his bike over to say 'hello.'  Great people, retired couple who live west of San Antonio.  The next morning they gave David a batch of banana and walnut bread.  He left mid-morning to speak to Port Aransas Garden Club.  Sage, Folsom and I played all day on the beach.  I worked directly off the truck's battery -- and did not recharge it -- so it.was.dead.  The next day, Richard came over to see if he could help and to introduce himself to Sage and me.  He is a living file of stories about the relationship between ranchers and illegal immigrants from Mexico.  He told us about the drug cartels poisoning the water supply along the border to try to keep the illegals from leaving Mexico.  Before we began this journey, we met a couple of people who own land near the Rio Grande and both told about illegal immigrants damaging their property extensively and repetitively.  Richard corroborated these claims, adding that many ranchers along the border are tired of repairing again and again damage caused by people entering this country illegally.  I'm not taking either side, I'm just sharing their opinions here and hoping thoughtful conversation will emerge.

Richard and Barbara left yesterday.  New folks arrived then, too.  We will be leaving this area soon.  The beach does not care.  The birds, the fish, the insects, the coyotes...the waves and sand and sun...they pay no attention to us humans, really.  Their world continues, long after we are gone.

christy's writerlust: Even more raw

christy's writerlust: Even more raw: "My body was accustomed to mostly raw foods...or so I thought. When we were camping in parks with full hookups, not much had changed from li..."

christy's writerlust: Sweet, smart, silly...and strong

christy's writerlust: Sweet, smart, silly...and strong: "About a week ago I started teaching Sage what I call the 'winning combination.' To be truly successful in life, I explained, you must feel ..."

Friday, October 15, 2010

I have lost so many posts written (typed) on my phone because of an overly sensitive back button. And an overzealous thumb, most likely. Raising those lost treasures from Davy Jones' locker would be an impossible feat. That's right, I just invoked a pirate metaphor. Fitting for the current leg of our journey...Power is almost restored so I should be posting more regularly and coherently soon. Cross every available appendage. Please. We have a lot of designs to do...and intermittent "juice" is just not working out...Also, I have many posts ready to upload. Only 4 wks mobile and already there are wacky stories to share. They may be grouped as a) discoveries in Nature, b) bleep Sage says, c) mishaps, d) people of the road and e) answers to your questions. I'm not sure where to begin. Send me your suggestions; I'll let you guide the next several posts...All is quiet in El Valor except for the faint beeping of me texting and the slightly louder crashing of waves. High tide should peak within the hour..

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

You're Wild...WILD!

Wild nature greets us every morning and tucks us in every evening.  Great Blue Heron stand majestically at water's edge, peering into the sunrise and the surf.  Around lunchtime -- or so it seems -- seagulls, pelicans, willets and oystercatchers line up for their turn at the fish feast.  In the evening, I think every bird on the island drops by.  Where there are birds diving there are fish running, so David grabs his rod and reel and sprints into the waves.  Tonight he hooked a Spanish Mackerel...but he jumped off.  Then he caught several Ladyfish -- not good for eating.  As he reeled in his line after one particular cast he saw a 5-foot Black-Tip Shark at the breaking point of a wave chasing his lure.  I was inside the camper with Sage, but watching him, and knew instantly from his body language what had happened.  He was almost to the second sandbar, and at first, he simply walked backward slowly.  Then he picked up his pace, and soon he was turned, mouth agape, and high-stepping to the shore.  All I could mutter was, "I know that look..."  And I was right.  That encounter -- unusal as it was -- is precisely what keeps me in the area between the shoreline and the first sandbar.  Period.

Last night I went outside around 11pm.  There was a light-colored shadow about 10 feet from our camper.  Instantly, or perhaps instinctively, I knew it was a coyote.  This morning we noticed coyote tracks around our truck/camper.  A section of a Crevalle Jack (aka Jack Crevalle, or simply Jack) that had washed up after being partially devoured by a shark was missing.  The area where the dead fish had lain was outlined with coyote tracks.  This morning Folsom was ballistic around the adventure trailer.  I let him off the leash momentarily to sniff around inside.  I never figured out what had interested him, but I did see a lizard scurrying across the sand drifts against the trailer's tires.

We have not observed many butterfly species.  One monarch yesterday, two yellow sulphurs today and something I have not yet identified.  It is mostly brown and white with long hindwings, similar to a swallowtail.  Perhaps a type of skipper?  A gigantic fly caught himself in the mesh room of our canopy.  We have named him "mega-fly."  Aside from the flies, beetles, and gnats (annoying creatures, really), the only real flying or crawling pest is the mosquito.  If you are familiar with the Texas Coast, you know their size and level of aggression are something to fear...and combat with only the most awful of products...Deep Woods Off!  I hate the stuff, but its stench and potential health hazards are nothing compared to malaria.  So, after many rounds of natural combatants, I eventually succumb to the evil that is Off!

A moment ago I peeked into El Valor to check on Sage and Folsom.  Both are sound asleep, while the generator sputters and whines.  Looking to the left (north), then to the right (south), I see nothing but deep black.  The deepest shade of black.  Wild.

Power to the(se) People...Please?

Since last Friday we have been camping on the beach in Corpus Christi.  A fishing tournament last weekend attracted enough ambitious anglers that even the primitive camping areas seemed filled.  By Sunday evening, however, we had miles of beach to ourselves.  The darkest skies, the tiniest twinkling stars, and the gentle whoosh-whoosh of waves gave way to a gentle breeze.  The water has been clearer than I ever  The wet sand is not sugary, the water not turquoise like that of Northwest Florida or the Yucatan Peninsula.  Wet sand here is sort-of tan, but the dry sand leading up to and enveloping the dunes is a bright off-white.  Water here has a sea-green, but not fungal green, hue with bands of deep blue beyond.  (Farther than I will venture, ha.)  Weather, water and vistas are pristine and primitive; despite constant access to phone and internet services we are completely immersed in nature.  This is where the real adventure begins.

In Lockhart we had accessibility issues to services we depend on for our livelihood.  Here, access is not the issue.  Rather, our current problem relates to energy.  Our generator provides enough energy to run the air conditioner, interior and exterior lights, blender or juicer, and both laptops simultaneously.  But it is a bit noisy, so that option is not reasonable during naptime or bedtime.  (Tonight, though, Sage is exhausted and sleeping peacefully while the generator chokes and coughs enough to keep our laptops whirring.)  Besides, this machine requires gasoline and the nearest pump is miles away.  We carry with us 10 gallons of gas (perhaps you have noticed the bright red cannisters perched on either side of the trailer?)  One gallon lasts approximately 3 hours.  The other option is to recharge our laptops via 12V adapter plugged into one of the outlets inside the cab of the truck, or the one outlet inside El Valor.  The cab connection is perfect when travelling but not ideal when parked.  Inside the camper we have one deep cycle battery that is connected to the 12V outlet there.  Even when parked, we can rely on the 12V for most things because the deep cycle battery is wired to the truck's battery.  Every time we start the engine, one of the truck batteries recharges our deep cycle.  Blogging, therefore, requires efficiency and economy of words (a challenge for me, ha). 

Energy is not an issue when we camp in parks.  Neither is water, but when we are off-grid both become quite valuable commodities.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

christy's writerlust: A brief visit to Central Texas

christy's writerlust: A brief visit to Central Texas: "The past few nights we stayed in Lockhart State Park. There are only about 20 camping sites, half with electricity/water/sewer, the other h..."