I Know Why the Gypsies Dance

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This morning I stepped out of Benny to sunshine sparkling on the line of energetic automobiles motoring along the highway and behind them, the less energetic treeline of a Northern Forest. We played outside on the grass at the Saturday parking lot of the Warren County Municipal Center where the police let us overnight.

When Cassidy fell asleep, I brought out my washing: a small blue bucket of water, my equally blue rapid washer (which is the general size and shape of a plunger), and a small satchet of dried soapnut berries. Laundry was pleasant with all the sunshine and the air was neither warm nor cool, and the girls collected acorns and dandelions and fashioned acorn cap bowls and plates from wide leaves for their fairy picnic.

I washed every wet diaper we had, and then the three shirts in our laundry bag, laying the articles on the sunny grass and hanging some on our side mirrors to blow gently and effortlessly dry.

And as I enjoyed my morning activity, I realized that we are gypsies. Without contrivance, we have assumed the role. And I feel like I understand something about gypsies now. We are nomadic because we want to be. We have few possessions for the freedom of it. We don’t want your jobs or your storage units. We don’t want a place to call home because we have a family to call home and everywhere we go we set out our things and make that spot our home.

I hope we don’t look like a bigger version of every city’s shopping cart ladies, because we’re not down on our luck or homeless. We are so lucky that the whole world is our home. We’re not in a laundromat because we prefer it this way, where the sunshine sparkles and recent rains have left mushrooms. I’m enjoying washing diapers in the parking lot of the New York State Supreme Court. Everywhere we go, our dashboard is lined with drying diapers because it works perfectly, and if we change our minds, we’ll quick get a job and a mortgage and a high efficiency dryer.

Some might not want us stopping on the side of their road, hanging clothes to dry in front of God and everybody. They might think we’re dirty, or uneducated but I’ve memorized my formulae, my As, and Bs and Cs, but what I learned came long ago and not from such as these…(Buffy St Marie) and the Western habit of daily showering is slightly ridiculous anyway.

So if you stumble upon our camp in a living or paved forest, and peek at us doing our washing to the beat of our tambourines, you can tiptoe past for fear of being cursed, or you can come say hello and we’ll become temporary friends as we have with others who stop to admire our vintage rig and regale us with their own tales of travels, frugality, self-sufficiency, music, camping and searching through this country.

June 17th…

…is the day we leave Clearwater!  We’re getting really excited and have way too much to do!

So, come June 17th, what will be doing, exactly?

We will be following David’s gigs in our motorhome, as that’s our purpose for going on the road.  But I plan to make a list of things I really want us to do and see on the way so we can plan the tour to allow for those things, which will include but not be limited to:

  • visiting Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg
  • exploring some caverns complete with stalagmites and stalactites
  • day trip to NYC
  • day trip to Washington DC
  • going through the Athens/Princeton WV area
  • visiting a whole bunch of precious people who are scattered along our general route

We have a museum membership that has an excellent reciprocal program around the nation, meaning that we get in free to kids museums and science museums in all the states we’re traveling through.

We also plan to spend our days learning about the unique culture of the different states, cities and towns we traverse, visiting their tourist highlights, participating in their festivals and events, and finding examples of their industry (such as fishing piers or maple syrup taps). I’m also very interested in taking Ada (my 6 year old) to sites of historical significance, such as Gettysburg.

We plan to spend most of our time outside of the RV when we’re not driving or sleeping. We’ll cook meals ourselves, but that can be done outside, or else one of us can take the kids outside while the other does food prep. Nights spent at Walmart may find us parked at a public playground while dinner is made, retiring to the parking lot only at bed time. I could even make dinner while David and the kids buy groceries, and then we could eat in Benny in the parking lot… Other than cooking, our days will be split up by periods of driving as well as errands in new towns and fun explorations. I anticipate keeping very busy.

We plan to visit family and friends all along our route and we plan to make new friends, too!

Yes, between waking up, eating breakfast, driving, doing errands/exploring the town, having lunch, driving, doing a fun thing (museum/hike/playground/farm/statue of liberty), having dinner, playing music, working (blogging/customer correspondence/booking gigs/playing gigs/logging sales/facebook), and daily chores (dishes/laundry/bathing everyone), I expect us to have busy days and fall into bed with loud plops each night.

Planning: overnights

Then there’s the question of camping/rent.  Leaving David’s job means living on a lot less.

As such, we’ll be looking for free camping as often as we can.  Our preference is to find lovely forests to camp in, because that’s where we’d like to be anyway.  Sometimes public lands can be found where you can camp for free in the wilderness (sans hookups and amenities) and this is called boondocking.  As in, you’re out in the boondocks.  The government calls it “dispersed camping.”

We’ll do that whenever we can, and it may be a whole lot easier to find such lands when we go west.  I’m not sure how often we’ll score a forest on our trip up the East Coast.

We will also be looking for family farms that will allow us to overnight free and we will happily purchase fresh food from them in the morning. Isn’t this a great idea: Harvest Hosts As much as we will enjoy waking up in forests and going for hikes, we will also enjoy waking up on a family owned working farm!

Sometimes there’s no forest and no farm, and we will be liberally using Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and other such establishments for their free RV parking.  These will not provide a bucolic playland outside our door, but we’ll not spend much time there, perhaps spending dinner at a playground (I can cook while David watches the kids on the swings) and retiring to the giant chain parking lot only when we’re ready to sleep!

Handwashing Laundry

Yesterday I received birthday presents from my family, and they were kind enough to get me just what I asked for: new toys for the new RV life.

While my sister makes fun of me for my list of practical items, I was seriously stoked.  These are the tools I’m using to build my new dream-chasing life.  They’re my baby steps to leaving behind bourgeoisie mediocrity.  I nearly jumped for joy as I opened them!

I couldn’t wait to do laundry!  This was the first time, so I don’t know what load size will be optimum, or how long a day’s worth of laundry will take me, but we did the trial run with five flat diapers and about as many cloth wipes, plus one cloth liner.

My parents thoughtfully provided a 5 gallon bucket with the breathing mobile washer, and we put it in the bathtub to contain splashes.    With only a couple gallons of water, nothing splashed out so now I know we don’t need the bathtub precaution, or a lid with a hole in it (which I thought we might want).

Putting the six year old to work.

I used four soap nuts, which is what I use in our washing machine.  I don’t know of anyone who has combined these two uncommon laundry methods–soapnuts and hand washing–but I love my soapnuts and don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t work.  In fact, the combo seemed to be a great success.  After a minute or two of plunging, the formerly strongly smelling cloth smelled clean and pure!

I emptied the water from the bucket and filled it with rinse water.  I’m not sure that this will be necessary with soap nuts for detergent.  Soap nuts do not leave any residue in the cloth that needs to be rinsed out, and as I said, the laundry was already smelling like a spring morning.  The water I dumped out was dirty.  After doing a rinse cycle (just another minute of plunging in the fresh water), I emptied the bucket again and this water appeared to be clean.

For those who want a better idea of how this device works, here’s a YouTube video:

Next I searched for a place to use the spin dryer.  I intended to put it in the bathtub, too, but the cord wouldn’t reach an outlet from there.  The spin dryer spits out water, which is why I thought to use it in the tub.  We eventually settled on the kitchen counter as the perfect location, with the empty tube hanging down into the sink.  It was easy enough to transfer the wet diapers to the spinner–I squeezed the water out first, which in retrospect I think was unnecessary because the spinner is equipped to handle water.  Set the timer for two minutes, and the thing turned on, releasing astonishing amounts of water into the sink, and humming a pleasant, quiet hum.

The diapers came out damp and I hung them over the shower curtain to finish drying.  They definitely aren’t dripping–the spinner did a great job and if there was any sun today, I’m sure I could have had them completely dry in 10 or 20 minutes outside.

So, I’m happy with the equipment.  The plunger shaped washer unscrews so that the base and the stick can be stored separately–nice feature for a gal moving into a 22′ home.

The spinner is tiny, but for our new home it’s kind of huge (18 inches tall).  I’m not sure where we’re going to keep it but I’m pretty sure it will be an invaluable part of our routine and worth making room for.  I don’t know of any of our cabinets it will fit in, except maybe the closet, but as the tiny closet is our only clothes storage, it will probably be full of clothes.  The spinner might fit under one of the bench seats at the dinette (each seat opens up like a chest for storage), but with vegetable oil collecting equipment in one seat, and my plans to store baby wrap inventory in the second, I don’t know about that.  It may be that the spinner lives in our shower (which we will not be using so often), and when we need the shower we’ll have to take the spinner out and set it on the floor/bed/table/kitchen counter.

With the spinner taking up so much room, I don’t know that we’ll have space for a five gallon bucket to wash in.  The 5 gallon bucket is about as big as the spinner (and, no, the spinner does not conveniently fit inside).  Maybe a smaller bucket (which might need a lid with a hole to contain splashes) would suffice and could be stored under the bathroom sink.  Or maybe the five gallon bucket could be secured to the outside of the motorhome somehow, being light when empty and durable in that plastic bucket kind of way.  Our shower has a little square bathtub which would work great instead of a bucket, but then there’s no easy way to dispose of the wash water without filling up our gray water tank, and I liked the idea of avoiding that since we’ll be boondocking a lot and not want to have to dump any more often than necessary.  Further brainstorming is required here.

For drying diapers and clothes after washing, I plan to get an outdoor clothesline and an indoor one for when we can’t hang outside.  We may attach a retracting clothesline to the outside of the motorhome that can be pulled out to hook onto a friendly nearby tree.    The indoor clothesline solution might be a simple tension rod in the shower (and the shower rod itself as a second drying rack since the clothes will not be dripping), or something snazzier like this telescoping rack.  So many possibilities.

Now that I’ve used my new laundry supplies, I’m thinking that once we’re on the road, it might work well to do laundry once a day, and that our trips to the laundromat will be infrequent indeed.  Every day may sound like a lot of work, but both the washer and spinner are so quick and effective, that I think even several loads could be accomplished without too great a time outlay, and by keeping up every day, we’ll not have the problem of storing dirty laundry, and we can get away with fewer changes of clothes–both important in our tiny home.

I should also mention that I don’t expect to wash everything we wore each day.  I’m a believer in re-wearing clothes if they don’t look or smell dirty.  Undergarments excepted.  Especially the bulkier items that would fill up a load in my new washing/drying system, can be re-used (thinking jeans here).  So the daily laundry would likely be a few loads of diapers (we’ll have two in diapers but the flats we use are not bulky, the wool covers do not need to be washed daily, and we practice elimination communication with our babies, which reduces the number of diapers we go through), a load of clothes including underwear/socks and some shirts, and maybe another load of rags (we don’t use papertowels or napkins).

I’m pretty happy to find a laundry solution that is:

  • more convenient than a laundromat
  • more sanitary than a laundromat (and free from scents/chemicals)
  • faster than conventional washers/dryers
  • lighter on the planet than conventional laundry methods (much less water, much less energy)
  • cheap and
  • compatible with our low-electric needs since we plan to rely on solar for most of our energy

Other Fulltime RV Dwellers

We’re not the first to think that a family of five can be happy living fulltime in an RV: http://www.lundy5.com/

This family is working on baby #6: Roadschooling Ryans

Family of six living their dream of changing the world: Passion to Action

Unschooling family of four: Clan of Parents

This family of four traveled in a vegetable powered motorhome showing the nation how to live lightly: Happy Janssens

Thanks to Mariza for reminding me to include the Ticknor Tribe, a family of 13(!) living on the road fulltime: Our Traveling Tribe

Or peruse a whole bunch of blogs by families on the road.

And here’s one with no kids, and not traveling, but a perfectly respectable architect living in an RV.  He uses it as a home and office in Santa Barbara, having chosen to live in an RV because “It’s not only beautiful, it’s also useful.”  He offers 12 real life reasons why living in 158 sq ft can be a very grand experience:

http://tinyhouseblog.com/travel-trailers/living-large-in-a-tiny-place/

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