What About Family?

Our Family

This is the big question for us.  Family is what brought David and I to Clearwater years ago, which was a lucky thing because that’s where we met and fell in love.  Family is what has kept us in Florida for seven or so years, even though neither of us actually want to live here.  So don’t think we are giving up family lightly.

Both my parents and his live here, and we are very close to all four of them, as well as my sister who has been a most wonderful aunt and godmother.

Hugging her Aunt Cake

Better yet, they are all friends with each other and our birthday and holiday celebrations tend to be combined, and lots of fun.  Ada LOVES her grandparents.  She loves overnights at Grandma’s house and the days she spends with Grammy, too.

Gardening with Grandma

She loves being teased by her grandfathers and sitting on their laps.

Ada and Granddaddy

Annabelle has turned the corner too, from the clinging-to-mommy baby to a toddler who lights up when she sees her grandparents, coming forward with arms spread to be picked up.  I really want my children to have this relationship with their grandparents.  I feel impossibly lucky that my children have four grandparents who are so wonderful, who respect our wishes, and who were just the sort of parents to us that we want to be to our kids.

Baby on Shoulders

And then there’s the convenience.  On the road, we will NEVER have a babysitter.  Never an overnight at grandma’s house so David and I can go out alone.  So we are aware that we will feel the sting of that slightly-more-selfish sacrifice as well.

Annabelle with Grammy

The grandparents are not happy about our taking their kiddos away.  And the last thing we want to do is seem uncaring (because we love you guys so much) or ungrateful for all they’ve done and for being there all the time.  And yes, it gives me great pause to think that we will have a newborn that will not be growing up seeing these wonderful grandparents regularly.

Baby and Grandma

BUT . . . we cannot go on living an unfulfilled daily grind for the once or twice a week that we have a fullfilling family day.  We will not forgo the adventure of travel because our 9-5 lives have one highlight.  We are not weighing the value of grandparent time against the thrill of the Grand Canyon or Old Faithful, because both are valuable and should be experienced.  And that’s why . . .

We are seriously compromising our travel agenda with plans to get back to Clearwater Florida and it’s natural wonders (four amazing grandparents and one stellar aunt) every few months.  I hope our families will see this for the genuine appreciation it is.  Three months is hardly long enough to get halfway across the country the way we want to travel, but instead we’ll be planning to set out and get back in that span of time for Ada’s birthday celebration.  Clearwater Florida is the opposite of centrally located.  Getting anywhere and back is a waste of a lot of the nation, but worth it because we don’t intend to deprive our children from sleepovers and Grammy days, and we do want our new baby growing up knowing his or her grandparents.  And because, as wonderful as they are, it’s the least we can do.

And we hope the grandparents will see fit to come have some adventures with us.  Maybe my parents would take a vacation to Yellowstone with us and have an adventure with their grandchildren, one in which they spend every day together for a week, instead of one day out of the week.  Surely that would help to make up for our absences.  Maybe Grammy and Granddaddy’s business trip to Colorado could coincide with our travels, and we could even travel down to New Mexico together and they could be there when their grandchildren first discover desert.

Maybe such concentrated grandparent-grandchild time will be more rewarding than now when we try to fit each other into our work weeks.  And maybe David and I can go out on a date, too 😉

Grandparents
Grammy and Granddaddy with their son and their grandgirls.

The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.  ~Dodie Smith

Apollo Beach and Lithia Springs Park

Lithia Springs Park
Lithia Springs Park (Hillsborough County Park)

Yes, it’s taken us a month to get away for our first weekend in Benny!

This was our first time really using Benny as a home.  We’ve turned on the lights now and then, and the toilet’s been used several times in my weekday activities with two kids.  But we really needed to get away and use all the systems in order to learn how to use them.

We started out with a trip to Apollo Beach to see the manatees that hang out in the warm waters of the TECO plant during the winter months:

TECO smokestacks
TECO smokestacks--surprisingly aesthetic on this beautiful day
TECO solar panels
Part of Tampa Electric's largest solar panel array.

manatees at Apollo Beach
Millions of Manatees!
TECO manatees
Us girls in front of the manatee viewing.
David and Ada at the manatee viewing
David and Ada at the manatee viewing

happy passengers
Happy Passengers

Florida Mesa
I didn't know we had mesas in Florida?

Then we drove to a county park to spend the night:

hooked up motorhome
Benny hooked up to a campground for the first time.

Lithia Springs Park trail
Exploring the Park

Lithia Springs Park Trail
Exploring the Park

Family at Lithia Springs Park
I LOVE THIS MAN!

He made my weekend.  He did all of the man stuff–propane, hookups, driving, navigating–and most of my half of the work too–carrying children, cooking dinner, washing dishes, reading stories, sweeping, etc.  I got a much needed break, even though he probably needed one just as much.  David, you are my valentine 😉

At dusk we were back at the campsite:

Hooking Up the Water Hose
Ada helped David hook us up to the campground water.

one year old eating watermelon
We enjoyed some watermelon.
dinner in motorhome
David made dinner (our first time cooking in the RV).
Dinette Bed
We made the dinette into Ada's bed for the first time.
motorhome bed
Our Cozy Bed in the Morning Sunlight
Toddler Walk
Setting Out on a Morning Walk

walking

Waldorf Doll
Ada takes such good care of her littlest sister!
Lithia Spring
Natural Warm Spring is 76 degrees, year round.

Lithia Spring
Not warm enough on this chilly morning!
girls behind fence
Poor Caged Children

My favorite part of our short stint living in the RV was how easy it was to focus.  Instead of going looking for Ada to come brush her teeth in the morning, potentially getting sidetracked by an emergency diaper change or potty trip, a spilled cup of water, the ringing phone, and Annabelle’s finally being unable to wait to nurse any longer . . . instead of all that, I just said, “Ada, come here–let’s brush our teeth.”  And there she was.  And while we were there, I brushed my hair and hers.  Then we prepared breakfast, and cleaned up breakfast.  And keeping an eye on the children was built in because they were RIGHT THERE interacting with us.

One thing at a time.  Easy peasy.

In a moment of too much honesty, I will report that mine and Ada’s hair don’t necessarily get brushed every day because the children get hungry and I have to start cooking, then we’re late for wherever we’re supposed to be first, and I haven’t sliced apples and prepared other snacks to bring with us, and Annabelle needs to be redirected away from the oven, and someone gets hurt and needs comforting (even though I need to be stirring the scrambled eggs), and on, and on.

Having all of our family activities in 176 sq ft (and that includes beds, cabinets, engines and drivers seats), brought a level of simplicity (although it reeked slightly of randomity) that I appreciated.

Ada with Winnebago
Ada and Benny

Spent the Night in the RV

RV bed

For a family planning to spend every night in the RV, our first night counts as a pretty big deal.  We’re not moved in, but with Ada (6 years old) spending the night at my parents’ house, we thought it would be a pretty easy thing to camp out in Benny, just David, Annabelle, and I.

Annabelle was asleep in her carseat when we got home from errands after dark, so we left her there for the time being and I lay down on the bed reading while David went inside to collect our toothbrushes, contact lens cases, an extra blanket and pillow, and a couple of DVDs.

Annabelle woke up, and I brought her into the bed where she nursed back to sleep while David and I watched our first movie on the laptop.   I was starting to drift off towards the end, and when the laptop was shut for the night, I fell asleep to the sound of the rain on the roof, nestled snugly in the narrow bed with people I love.  It was really, really nice.

Bartering for Laptops

new (used) laptop

One of the things keeping us from moving out of the house and into Benny is the fact that our desktop computer and our projector and giant movie screen are in the house.  It’s a little embarrassing to admit that such modern, technological luxuries have kept us from our tiny-house dream, but, well, we like a movie before bed at night–it’s our way to relax when the children have been put away…

Movies aside, a laptop computer is a necessity for our new lifestyle because we rely on a computer for most of our income, correspondence, and planning, and there is just nowhere for a desktop to find a home in our new home.

So we’ve been researching laptops.  After reading an article about the poisonous side effects of computers both in the manufacture and disposal, we were committed to finding a used laptop so as not to add to the nasty mire, so that–at least this time–we would not be personally contributing to the terrible situation.

Well, David did some renovation work for a friend on Saturday, and mentioned our laptop search.  Turns out his friend has two laptops he has replaced and would love to trade them to David for the work he’s doing on the house.  Two laptops that are great for our purposes (including one with a big screen perfect for watching movies), with some beautiful, cushy laptop cases thrown in to boot!  And we bartered for them, which always makes me happy.

nice laptop case
Nice case, right?

Welcome!

girls in RV

I’m just creating this blog as a record of our dream-chasing journey around this beautiful country.  The blog is just a baby, and I have a lot to add.  The next few months will have a lot to say about transition.  We have a lot of work to do to shake off the shackles of convention, and it doesn’t always go as quickly as we’d like, but I think that this part of the journey is as deserving of documentation as the yearned for part to come: traveling fulltime.

Once we get going, I plan to add a map of our travels, and lots of pictures of where we go.

Now, while we’re transitioning, and later, while we travel, I plan to wax just a little philosophic as the mundane parts of the day spark little flames of inspiration and revelation in my heart that might speak to yours as well.  This isn’t a blog about travel.  It’s a blog about aligning your life and all of your actions, with your dreams.

Driving the MotorHome Around Town

*I wrote this on 26 January, but it didn’t get posted until now–documents my first driving experiences with Benny*

mirror view

It’s true, we plan to fulltime in the motorhome without a toad, or pulled (towed) car.  That means that we will use our motorhome for all of our errands, grocery shopping, and any other getting around.

I’m getting plenty of practice.  We transferred the registration from my car, to Benny the Brave, which means Benny is now my only means of transportation.  I learned to drive it this weekend.

Monday I drove to the health food store.  I drove around the parking lot until I found two empty spots, back to back.  Benny fits in the width of one parking space but is just a couple of feet too long.  So I usually center the vehicle with the front in one spot and the back in another.  Also saves me from having to back up when I leave, which would not be safe in a busy parking lot without someone to guide me.

Benny also takes up the full width of the parking spots, so squeezing in between two parked cars would not be easy, nor appreciated by the owners of those cars when they returned.  So I look for two spots front to back, and space on both sides.  Grocery stores usually have plenty of wide open spots in the back of the lot.  Maybe I won’t go to the mall on Black Friday, though.

The drive was so easy and comfortable that on the way home from the health food store we stopped at the Salvation Army to look for wooden plates and metal cups (I want our dishes to be not-delicate, and not-plastic).  Most of the parking is only one space deep (we wouldn’t fit) but behind the building are several unused spots and I just pulled into them horizontally, making sure I had room to pull forward when we were ready to leave.  No problem!

Tuesday we stopped to mail a wrap to a customer at our tiny corner gift-store/post office.  They definitely don’t have parking to accommodate Benny, but across the tiny residential street is an unused storage building with plenty of open paved space.  I just pulled right onto the paved space which is sort of like the shoulder of the road.  Trotted across the street to the post office, then back to Benny where I could have pulled forward to leave, but because I wanted to head in the opposite direction, I did a tight little U-turn that Benny is remarkably good at.

Benny parked
Parked at vacant business across from Post Office.

Then we headed for Goodwill, hoping to find what we hadn’t found at the Salvation Army the day before.  Goodwill is in a shopping center and it was easy to find a pull through spot (2 spots, really) near the rear of the parking lot.

Today (Wednesday), I drove to my weekly Moms Group which takes place at a church.  I almost parked in the corner, where I felt we would be out of the way, and then remembered the no-backing-out-if-possible rule.  I circled around and found a double spot near the back where I’d be able to pull forward and out when it was time to go.

After Moms Circle, I headed to the bank to deposit some cash.  Totally forgot I wouldn’t fit in the drive through.  I circled the building optimistically hoping to use the ATM for my deposit but it had a little roof too.  I realize now I could have just parked a yard out from the ATM and hopped out the drivers door to do my business, but at the time it didn’t occur to me, so instead I parked at the grocery store next door.  I was planning to go there next, anyway.  Then I trotted across to the bank and made my deposit inside at the counter, then went over to the grocery store.

What I didn’t think about when parking at the grocery store was that pulling through the two front to back spaces had me facing the wrong way when I pulled forward to leave.  This parking lot had the diagonal spaces where each row is supposed to be one way traffic.  Of course, it’s not a big deal when you’re in a sedan to go down the wrong way, but with Benny’s bulk I didn’t want to block up the passage.  However, there were no cars parked on either side of me and this made it easy to pull out and turn back in the correct direction (a partial u-turn) to leave.  I’ll remember to be more careful with diagonal spots, and park where there are very few cars around to give myself plenty of maneuvering room.

Next learning experience, when leaving the grocery store’s parking lot, I drove around a bank in the same lot, as it looked like the way around the smaller building would be more straightforward and clear of traffic on my way out to the street.  Unfortunately, the far side of the bank was a drive-through with a roof, and no way to go around it.  I had to back into a parking spot to turn around and go another way.  Luckily, the parking lot was not full or busy!  From this I resolved not to go around buildings that I didn’t have to, if I didn’t know for sure what was on the other side!

So, learning more every day, but so far nothing nerve-wracking has come up.  Benny isn’t so hard to drive.  In fact, he’s a really fun drive, with a great view.  And it feels nice to have so much space (our whole house!) around us in the “car” instead of walls and ceilings so close together.

I drove on veggie power!

dashboard

Today I drove on veggie power for the first time!  I’ve been driving on diesel for a couple of reasons:

1) learning curve was slightly curvier than expected and we had to iron out a few kinks in our use of the vegetable oil system (which David could only do on the weekend because he’s still tied to his job, unfortunately).

2) several of my daily errands are so close to the house that I don’t get a chance to switch the engine to vegetable oil.

Number 2 is still true.  When I just go from home to the grocery store, I won’t be using vegetable oil.  Because vegetable oil is thicker than diesel, it needs to be heated to run through the lines (just like when you heat oil in your frying pan it becomes thinner).  So Benny must always be started on diesel, and switched to veggie only once the engine has warmed up.  Then, a few minutes before arrival, we switch back to diesel so that no vegetable oil is left to congeal in the lines for the next time we need to start er up.  A five minute trip just doesn’t allow the time for all that waiting and switching.  On the up side, a five minute trip doesn’t use up a great deal of diesel.

And of course, once we’re on the big adventure, there will be fewer five minute trips and a whole lot more hours and hours of burning vegetable oil.

This weekend David tested the engine to make sure that the veggie oil glitch was truly solved (it was) and filled up the veggie oil tank so this week I am veggie powered and loving it!

veggie oil system
Tweaking the Veggie Oil System

Driving on Veggie Oil

WVO fuel
David pumping waste vegetable oil into the tank.

David and I strongly believe in the importance of taking actions that support our personal survival as individuals, as a  family, as part of our various groups, through the survival of mankind, living things, and the material universe, as well as spiritually, because we are intimately connected with each of these dynamics and our survival is linked to each of them.

So when we first thought of living a traveling life in an RV, we immediately thought of the ecological impact.  Sure, we’d be doing less consuming, adding less to landfills, and at least the meaningless and repetitive drives to and from work and errands would be replaced with more meaningful commutes so that the gas used would at least be better justified.  But for a family that always thought we’d like to discover a lifestyle that was not dependent on cars and gas, it would be awfully nice to find someway to mitigate the crude oil factor of our plan.

Enter vegetable oil, able to fuel a diesel engine in place of gas.  Benny the Brave had a veggie oil conversion performed by his previous family that makes it easy and reliable to run him on used oil from restaurants–recycling an already used up commodity and greatly reducing carbon emissions as well as many other nasty side effects of gas/diesel.

There are other significant perks to running on vegetable oil, most significantly 1) it can be found free around the world and 2) my family will not be smelling and breathing diesel fumes.

Vegetable Oil was an integral part of our plan, and when we saw Benny for sale, we couldn’t resist.  Benny fleshed out our motorhome dream perfectly, and it is a worthwhile bonus to know that he has spent the last year with a family who shares our values and whose lives have been filling up this little motorhome with love and laughter rather than . . . anything else!

In fact, Benny came customized with both “vegpower” and unschooling bumper stickers.  That’s right, the previous family is a family of unschoolers as well!

Learning to Drive the MotorHome

windshield view

The first weekend I spent 20 minutes driving around a parking lot and parking in the spaces.  This weekend I drove us to the library, and later to the health food store and Grammy’s house.  Today I drove the girls to the health food store by myself.  On the way home we stopped at the Salvation Army.

Benny seemed impossibly huge that first day.  When I started on a real street, I could barely watch the road, I was so busy studying my mirrors to make sure I was inside the lines.  Because Benny JUST fits inside the lines!

But it’s not taken long to come a lot easier.  It takes a lot more of my attention, but I can put my singing-to-Annabelle-so-she-won’t-cry on autopilot and still have all my attention on the road.  I was really happy with my self sufficiency, driving the girls around without David to babysit me today.

I’m also becoming comfortable with backing up using only the mirrors (and without turning to look over my shoulder, because it’s pointless).

I wanted to stop by where David’s working today and bring him warm-from-the-oven chocolate cookies but he wasn’t answering his cell and without his confirmation, I was leery of driving down the tiny neighborhood street.  What if parked cars made the street too narrow for me to proceed?  I’d have to back down the whole street, and for that I would need someone guiding me, and what if David wasn’t there because he had made a run to Home Depot?  Nope, couldn’t risk it!

So, I’m still tentative.  But I love driving this thing.  It feels so good!  And people like waving at us.  And we made a friend of the security guard at the Health Food Store because he liked the looks of Benny.  I’ve heard so much about RV people being the friendliest people, but now I’m wondering if RVs don’t just bring out the friendliest in all kinds of people.