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...