ONE YEAR LATER: Nomadic Life, California Style

It’s July 14th, which means that we’ve now been doing this full-time camper life thing for a whopping 365 days!

To quickly recap, we’ve settled in something like 15 different states and made 43 new “homes on the road” over the past year. In some ways, it seems like the time has flown by. But in other ways, it feels like I’ve been living this life for way longer. Starting with the east coast, moving across the south, and finally up the west coast, we’ve been moving slow and staying in each place a couple weeks. Seven of these 12 months were spent in our little pop-up with canvas walls, and then the last five months have been in Dragoon, our upgraded Class-A RV.

On the day we left Atlanta last July, we really didn’t plan on being on the road for this long. Originally, the grand plan was to spend a few months traveling around and then pick a place to plop down “somewhere out west.” Well, we haven’t picked out that magical western place, but we sure have seen a lot by carrying on with this whole nomad thing for longer than expected.

We’ve never set a time limit or a goal for how long this adventure would last. But at this point, it feels the new normal, and it looks like camper life is here to stay for a while. In fact, we’ve already thrown out ideas for where to possibly end next spring and summer.

Camper life isn’t that glamorous stuff you see on Instagram (I still don’t understand Instagram). For someone like me with a restless spirit, living in a new place every few weeks makes me feel alive and satisfies my relentless curiosity. It’s easy to keep up with my work on the road, and I’m fortunate enough to have a husband and dog who are on-board with all of this as well.

But the lifestyle can also feel draining, lonely, claustrophobic, and even dull after a while. I don’t see the purpose of sugar-coating it, but I’m also not unappreciative of my opportunity to try this out for a while. But even with the ups and downs, it sure as hell beats arbitrarily plopping down somewhere just because “that’s what people do.” Twelve months later, I would still choose this lifestyle over something more stationary. After all, there’s plenty of time to do that later if nothing more interesting comes along. But I suspect that something will 🙂


Here’s a recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41 (continued from last month)

  • Highlights: Winery in walking distance of our campground where we met the owners and were invited to stay for a home-cooked dinner and basketball game viewing party, hiking through caves with flashlights at Pinnacles National Park, adult swim hours at the campground pool, finally found some light jackets for unpredictable Bay Area weather, seeing a Bollywood movie (thankfully with subtitles) in a theater
  • Lowlights: Sucking at golf pretty badly, missing out on visiting a friend before leaving Santa Cruz, quickly killing a mini rose plant, failed attempts at airing up the RV tires (have since bought our own portable air compressor to be self-sufficient)


Oakland, California: Home on the Road #42

  • Highlights: Trying a Hawaiian poke bowl for the first time and discovering it lives up to the hype, putting in a record number of friend and family visits, amazingly spacious campsite with eucalyptus trees and wild turkeys, some rare chill-out/do-nothing time, checking out the SF Pride Festival, seeing the places where my husband grew up, seeing the utility pole gnomes of Oakland still up and in-tact, a fun 4th of July with friends
  • Lowlights: Awfully long and twisty/turny drive to get anywhere from our campground, super challenging to find decent WiFi, trying to bike the insane hills of San Francisco, a bad dog boarding experience at Wag Hotels, two weeks of rib pain/ab soreness from flying on a trapeze


Napa, California: Home on the Road #43 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Decent campground at the expo center in town and in walking distance of downtown, Day trip to Calistoga with hot springs/massage/petrified forest, geyser, bike paths/lanes to get around, good doggie day care experience at Camp Rawhide
  • Lowlights: Traffic – everywhere and all the time, way too many wineries – how does anyone choose which one to go to???, not much hiking close by


“TOP 5” LISTS OF THINGS AND STUFF

To celebrate our one-year anniversary of living on the road, I’m doing something a bit different this month. Instead of my usual section of ramblings, I’m making a few “Top 5” lists. Limiting each list to 5 will really make me narrow things down and not get too annoyingly wordy like I tend to do. Besides, everybody likes lists, right?

Things I Like About Camper Life

  1. Never being bored
  2. Exploring potential areas to move to one day
  3. Being about to do my job just like I would sitting in an apartment somewhere
  4. Choosing to be in places with nice weather
  5. Easy access to nature and adventure activities

Things I Dislike About Camper Life

  1. Paying for fuel in the gas-guzzling RV
  2. Close quarters and shantytown-like conditions next to campground neighborhoods
  3. High cost of campsites in ideal locations
  4. Lack of reliable internet, a deal-breaker for remote working
  5. The exhaustion of constantly doing travel research

Things I Miss About Stationary Life 

  1. Drinking drinks with good friends on the regular
  2. Consistent Wi-Fi access
  3. Easy travel for holidays with family
  4. All my gnomes (now tucked away in storage)
  5. Easily doing arts and crafts

Things That Set Us Apart from Other Full-Time Campers 

  1. We’re not old
  2. We work full-time jobs
  3. Half of us isn’t white
  4. Free camping isn’t a priority
  5. We’re not big fans of people

Common Research Topics in New Places (pardon me while I break the 5-limit rule)

  1. Hiking trails
  2. Biking trails
  3. Comedy shows
  4. Bar trivia
  5. Local theater
  6. Dog-friendly breweries
  7. Wineries/distilleries
  8. Community rec centers
  9. Concerts
  10. Dance classes
  11. Driving ranges/golf courses
  12. Disc golf courses
  13. Arcade bars
  14. Archery ranges
  15. Dog daycare facilities
  16. Cafes with Wi-Fi to work at
  17. Neighborhoods to check out
  18. Dog parks
  19. Festivals
  20. Climbing gyms

Most Frustrating Moments

  1. Not being able to get internet reception/Wi-Fi
  2. Unreasonable pit bull bans
  3. RV sewer leakages
  4. Ant, moth, and other insect infestations in the camper
  5. Learning to drive an RV towing a jeep on treacherous roads

Things that Have Surprised Me About Camper Life

  • How easily I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle and how normal it feels (i.e. daily routines, eating/drinking/exercising the same as I would in a stationary place, the same things stress me out/piss me off)
  • I have become more introverted
  • After seeing so many new things over the past year, I’m not as easily impressed
  • I have become exhausted with travel planning
  • Even with more “me time” than I’ve ever had before, I still struggle to find time to do hobbies, chill out, etc.

Plants I’ve Grown (decently) in a Camper

  1. Cactus
  2. Succulent
  3. Begonias
  4. Orchids
  5. Mint

Favorite Areas from the First Year 

  1. Moab, Utah
  2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky
  3. San Diego, California
  4. Asheville, North Carolina
  5. Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Regions I’d Consider Plopping Down at for a Bit

  1. Santa Barbara, California
  2. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  3. San Luis Obispo, California
  4. Tucson, Arizona
  5. Salt Lake City, Utah

Daily Routines 

  1. 4 Monkey walks per day, alternating 2 per person
  2. Morning yoga in the RV
  3. Texting with my best friend throughout the day about anything and everything
  4. 8+ hour work days
  5. Guitar practice (not exactly daily but working on it)

Biggest Life Changes Since the Camper Upgrade 

  1. Not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night after one too many beers
  2. Avoiding the nastiness and awkwardness of public bathrooms
  3. Driving shorter distances from one place to the next because driving an RV is exhausting
  4. An extra monthly payment to budget for
  5. Being able to withstand more extreme temperatures/storms

How Monkey Has Made Camper Life Interesting 

  1. We’re always looking for dog-friendly places and restricted as to where we can do with her
  2. Way too many unwanted social interactions because of her extreme friendliness
  3. Keeps us on a schedule of waking up early…ugh
  4. Gives us something to focus on besides each other, ideal for a 24/7 confined space
  5. A steady source of entertainment (twirling!) and frustration (pulling!)


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Napa for a little while more, and I’m excited to re-visit one of my gnome collector friends that lives in Santa Rosa. LOTS of gnome pics coming up soon, so gettttttttttt readyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

From here, we’re headed to the coast to check out Mendocino and Fort Bragg. It’s pretty hot out here in Cali, so we figured the coast is the place to be as long as the campgrounds aren’t insanely overpriced. Things are a little up in the air after that, but it’ll all be figured out in due time.

But for now, it’s time to go track down some wine and celebrate this random little anniversary of ours. Thanks for following along for the past year and keeping me accountable to continue putting together these monthly recaps!

 

Catch up with the journey:

It’s Been 11 Months on the Road…Will We Make it a Year?

Ummm….yeah. So that was a silly question, but perhaps I had you fooled.

In all seriousness, we have no intention of switching up our lifestyle anytime soon because frankly, no better-sounding lifestyle has presented itself. When it does, that’ll be the day we stop moving from place to place every couple weeks.

I left off last month right before our two-year “marriage anniversary” in Oceano, California. It was a pretty sweet anniversary actually. We took off after half a day of work, soaked in some hot springs, hiked to some beach caves, destroyed some sushi for dinner, and watched an in-jeep movie at an old-timey drive-in theater. Good stuff.

As you might have noticed, we’ve been zig-zagging across the state of California from the coast to inland and back again. This past month started right by the beach in Oceano, then went inland to Frenso and back out again towards the coast to Gilroy.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Oceano, California: Home on the Road #39, Continued

  • Highlights: An ultra-random and low-key beach anniversary, more time at the sand dunes, retro dinner inside a renovated train car, kayaking/SUPing Lake Lopez
  • Lowlights: A painfully hot and thorny hike around Lake Lopez, thorns that can penetrate hiking boots/socks/skin

Chief looks good at vineyards

Touring a luffa (AKA loofah) farm…who knew they grew in greenhouses and not in the sea?!

Private hot springs…ahhh. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach.

At the bottom of a very steep hike down by Avila Beach

Avila sea caves…crazy impressive and worth the ultra-steep hike

Rock ‘n’ Roll Diner in Oceano…in a train car!

Kayaking with the Monk on Lake Lopez

Ouch. No way I’m getting all those thorns out. Hiking socks = trash.


Fresno, California: Home on the Road #40 

  • Highlights: Finding fun indoor things to do because it was consistently 100+ degrees (bowling, billiards, arcade games, movies, climbing gym), good campground Wi-Fi, cheap campground, farm tour at Naylor Organic Farms and learning all about nectarines & apricots, lots of dog-friendly places, FINALLY hiked among the giant sequoia trees, washed the RV ourselves in the campsite and saved $100+
  • Lowlights: The fact that it was consistently 100+ degrees, homeless people pushing carts everywhere around our campground, hard to find farms open to the public and that give tours, the epic frustrations of trying to sew a dress

How is this even possible?

Indoor activity #1

Indoor activity #2

Indoor activity #3

Kind of obsessed with fancy, flavored, locally-grown olive oil right now

Blueberry farm, The Berry Lady – too busy to give us a tour but now I know what blueberries look like in a field

Farmer Naylor teaching us about nectarines

Feeling pretty pleased about this apricot

Kings River Winery

Farm things, continued…

The giant sequoia stumps left behind from the massive logging operations of the late-1800s/early-1900s. So sad for the fallen. So happy a few of them still remain.

Hiked out to the Boole Tree…makes me feel so small

Rub-a-dub-dub


Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41, In Progress

  • Highlights: The smell of garlic in the air (because I actually like garlic), local farm stands everywhere to buy fresh produce, biking and scenic drive in Monterery, seeing my husband’s childhood home and schools in the Cupertino area, seeing seals, watching the Golden State Warriors win the finals at a walking-distance winery by our campground with the owners and their family cooking us dinner, comfortable weather
  • Lowlights: No garlic farms to visit even though this is the garlic capital of the world, super cramped campsites with no personal space

Visiting the one and only real garlic-themed attraction in town, a shop called Garlic World

Garlic ice cream…this exists and it’s not as terrible as you’d expect.

Scenes around Monterey #1

Scenes around Monterey #2

Scenes around Monterey #3


This Month’s Realizations & Ramblings from Month

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of last month on the road.

  • We are making use of the breadmaker we resurrected out of storage! Don’t worry that isn’t mold…it’s olive bread and it was delicious.

  • I’ve also resurrected my shaker and love of bartending. Using some mint leaves from a plant I’ve been growing and some agave nectar here. Anyone have any recommended cocktail recipes to share? I’m always up for new booze challenges.

  • I can’t believe it’s mid-June, but that may be due to the fact that I never really felt the impact of the seasons for the first time in life. We were in Tucson in December, for example, where it was in the 70s. But unlike a lot of people (husband included), I don’t really miss the seasons because I love warm weather. But I’m just taking note that time passes by a bit differently when seasons aren’t a factor.
  • Some of the burnt sequoia trees look like artistic sculptures that belong in front of libraries and museums.

  • Claustrophobic campgrounds are really getting to me and feel like living in a shantytown. Full-time RVers who don’t work internet-heavy, full-time jobs can boondock in remote and beautiful places. But our situation usually plants us down in RV parks, and you never really known what you’re going to get until you show up. The close quarters are not fun at all and I spend a fair amount of time developing strategies to avoid neighbors. We are definitely overdue for a boondocking experience like we had in the Mojave Desert…hopefully soon.

Close quarters = no bueno

  • We bought a new board game called Ticket to Ride – it’s super fun and travel-themed!
  • Sewing is so freaking hard. I found a pattern idea in a blog titled “The Easiest DIY Maxi Dress Ever,” which was supposed to take one hour to make. It took me four. After much cursing and a couple of those cocktails referenced above, I did it. It sure isn’t perfect, but IT IS DONE. And I’m pretty happy with it.

  • Here’s the finished dress! Whew.

  • Work is still as busy as ever for us both, but we do our best to squeeze in one fun activity per day somewhere in every 8-10 hour workday.
  • The new RV (we’ve had it nearly 4 months…when will I stop calling it “new”?) makes me feel like I don’t always have to be on. I can be sick, lazy, or sad in here and that’s just fine.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Gilroy for a little while longer and then moving on to Oakland. After that we’re headed to Napa Valley. From there it’s all unknown, so I guess we’d better figure that out sometime soon. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Toot-a-loo!

9 Months Later…Yup, We’re Still on the Road!

Howdy, and thanks for keeping up with my journey over the last NINE MONTHS! Month #9 has been entirely spent in SoCal, and yes, there’s been plenty of sunshine and lovely weather.

I’ve been practicing driving our new RV because I’ll be damned if we’ll turn into that stereotypical old couple where the guy drives everywhere while his lady passively sits in the passenger seat. As a self-sufficient and stubborn feminist, I’m determined to learn every little thing about how this baby works.

Work has been going well – not overwhelmed, but certainly not underwhelmed either. Here’s a typical work day scene in the RV: back-to-back laptops in the dinette-turned-office, old college t-shirt, messy hair, cucumber & cheese snack plate.

During month #9, we wrapped up “home on the road #34” in San Diego. Before hitting the road again, we hit up a driving range…

…checked out Old Town San Diego with its historic park and festive nightlife scene…
…squeezed in some stand-up paddleboarding in Mission Bay in absolutely perfect wind/weather conditions……spent some time at the dog-friendly portion of the beach at Imperial Beach……and felt bummed to leave the San Diego area because it was pretty much ideal in every way.

As we transitioned from San Diego to our next destination, Banning, we also embarked on our first DIY project for the new RV. Now that I have my sewing machine with me in the RV, I’ve been dying to start a new craft project. I kinda missed doing projects since hitting the road, but with all this newfound space and storage, I figured that now’s the time to get back into it.

The curtains aren’t gorgeous by any means, and certainly not perfect. But they’re homemade and a hell of a lot easier to operate than those cheap and impossible blinds.

Read all about it: Our First DIY RV Project: Homemade Curtains


Places We Were in Month #8

After San Diego, we relocated to Banning, California. We originally tried (very hard) to stay at a campground in Palm Springs and found it impossible due to high nightly rates, pit bull bans, 55+ restrictions, and lack of internet reception. There really is nothing to do in Banning, but it provided a somewhat conveniently home base for the places we wanted to visit in the region: Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs, Salton Sea, Slab City, Idyllwild, etc.

Then came the Los Angeles area. We stayed near Simi Valley and hit up everywhere from Burbank to Malibu, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and so on. Most recently, we’ve plopped down in Santa Barbara and are just getting settled into this new area.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Banning, California: Home on the Road #35

  • Highlights: Chill campground, cable TV hookup that allowed us to binge on Forensic Files, local brewery called Brew Revolution with lightning fast Wi-Fi, hiking a tiny part of the PCT, seeing gnomes in Idyllwild, amazing wildflowers, hiking through an oasis, epic found art at Slab City, hitting up a local bouldering gym
  • Lowlights: Abysmal service at Gastronome (a gnome-themed restaurant in Idyllwild), crazy high winds like all the time, being discouraged by the Palm Springs visitors center that there is “nothing” to do in town with a dog

And now…a slew of photos to go with those words! I was lucky enough to access some lightning-fast Wi-Fi at a couple breweries and cafes, so photos are aplenty in this blog post.


Los Angeles Area (Tapo Canyon) California: Home on the Road #36

  • Highlights: My parents flying out to visit us for a long weekend, doing all the Hollywood touristy stuff for the first time, archery at our campground, meeting up with my longest client of 4+ years and founder of Inside Philanthropy in the hippie mountain town of Topanga.
  • Lowlights: Not much to do outdoors or otherwise near the tiny Tapo Canyon Regional Park, crazy flying insects started coming in our camper and continue to do so – I have no idea what they are

Cue the mass of Los Angeles photos! Tapo Canyon felt like a million miles away from Los Angeles, but it’s only actually about 45.

I loved giving my parents the “grand tour” of our new home. Anyone want to book a tour in advance with me – spots are (not actually at all) filling up fast.I’m learning all about movie sets and whatnot on the Warner Brothers film studio tour here.Oh Rodeo Drive…how I cannot afford thee! Archery randomly happened at our campground Saturday morning…why not?! It’s pretty fun actually, and I’d love to pick up a bow more often. Paramount Ranch was a pretty cool place to walk around to see where some western movies and shows were filmed. I’ve gotten more into westerns after living in the west. There was a wedding happening here the day we stopped by. Malibu was gorgeous, as expected. We took a tour of the Adamson House and saw the most intricate and beautiful tile decor all throughout the historic home…totally worth the $7.Here’s a panoramic scene of the goings-on at Venice Beach on a Sunday afternoon.
Hollywood was essential to visit, but alas, it was time to move on. But not before Monkey posed with her favorite Walk of Fame star. She has no idea who The Monkees are, but neither do any of the other young whipper-snappers walking by. So, she gets a pass.

I’m actually going to save Home on the Road #37 for next month since we’ve only been here a couple days and haven’t experience enough of the area to really write about it yet. So far, our regional park campground is pretty sweet and we’ve got lots of fun things planned around work for the next week and a half.


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • Less wasted time walking back and forth to the bathroom and to do dishes has meant less time to listen to podcasts. I’ve had to find other times of day to satisfy my podcast obsession, like while doing push-ups and squats in the RV. I plowed through all the episodes of S-Town last month.
  • I love working outside. Bright sunshine makes my laptop die at times, but I will continue forcing it out into the outdoors whenever possible.

Trying to navigate super-sharp shells and dead fish parts to take a dip in Salton Sea. OUCH!

  • We’re still working on training strategies to get Monkey not to pull so badly on the leash. It really makes hiking miserable, and we’ve tried all sorts of leashes and tactics. We’re trying a Halti harness/easy-walk type thing right now. Lately, we’ve been using tiny pieces of cheese as training treats and walking in front of her to stop her from passing us. Anyone else have an obsessive leash puller on their hands?
  • Camping with (what we at least think is) a pit bull in California continues to be a huge challenge. This state has a stereotype of being full of liberal and inclusive hippies, but clearly that mindset doesn’t apply to dogs. My latest strategy for campground booking is to answer the question “What breed of dog are you bringing?” is “She’s a rescue dog, so a mix.” After all, we don’t honestly know what she is besides a “mix”, and everyone loves rescue dogs, right? This strategy has worked a couple times for me already actually for upcoming stays.

  • Staying in a small town with not much to do (like Banning) really takes the pressure off of daily travel planning. Sometimes it’s nice not having so many options so that you can just be lazy instead of feeling obligated to see and do everything you’re “supposed” to.
  • It’s totally possible to feel stuck in a rut even when you’re moving to a new place every two weeks. Finding joy in the little things is a challenge no matter where you are or what you’re living in.

  • Sweetwater Regional Park campground outside of San Diego was one of my all-time favorite campgrounds so far. I love the onsite trails for running, the green space between sites, and the chill atmosphere. Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara is right up there too, especially since it has disc golf and a place to kayak.
  • I am STILL struggling with how to dress myself in the west/in the desert. When I go out for the day, I always end up either sweating through my shirt with pit stains or shivering cold and miserable. To remedy this, I’ve started packing a tote bag with multiple outfit changes anytime I leave the RV. It’s overkill, but I’m determined to understand how people in this part of the world dress themselves.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

As the next month on the road begins, we’ll be in Santa Barbara for a little while longer. So I’ll have more updates about SB next month. After this, we’re heading to Kernville and then to San Luis Obispo – staying on the outskirts of both towns to explore the regions. Our pace has settled into at least two weeks per place, which seems to be working well right now.

Life feels comfortable, which is something that’s easy to take for granted but I keep reminding myself not to. Being able to get to know the various personalities of California continues to be fascinating, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this massive state. Thanks for following along 🙂

Catch up with the journey:

Our First DIY RV Project: Homemade Curtains

It’s been almost a year since I pulled out my trusty sewing machine and settled down with a new project. While living in the pop-up camper for 7+ months, there was never any consideration of bringing it along for the ride. Space used to be so limited, but not anymore with our new RV!

On our recent side trip from Yuma to Atlanta, we eliminated our storage unit and brought back with us a few key things. This stash included skis, a snowboard, snowshoes, kitchenware, and yes, my sewing machine.

But the first order of business wasn’t a new skirt or handbag. It was something much more practical: curtains.

You might wonder why a brand-new RV would need any sort of upgrade so soon, but the window coverings have been pissing us off since day one. You’re probably familiar with the type of blinds I’m complaining about here…the cheap roller shades that look like this.

But that malfunction with every use and only go up about this far (if you’re lucky) after a dozen attempts.
One of my favorite things about the new RV is how many windows there are and how much natural light comes in. Every morning when I wake up, I love to open the blinds and look out at the view for a few moments before getting up to start the daily routine of yoga/breakfast/work. Mornings would be even more pleasant if those impossible blinds were replaced by user-friendly curtains that added some character to our new home as well.

While sewing is “my thing,” creating patterns is not. My spatial skills are subpar, and I have an incredibly difficult time figuring out how to come up with a pattern from scratch. The husband, on the other hand, excels at these sorts of things and never fails to remind me about it. He has also finally accepted the fact that I don’t do “sewing speak” and prefer terms like “loopy bits” and “holdy bits” over stuffy technical terms.

Here are the patterns he came up with to design curtains for our office and living room.
The next step was to shop for materials. Convenient fabric stores were very limited in the area we were camped in while attempting this project, so we had to make the best of what we found.

I wasn’t terribly excited about this fabric (plain, light blue, cotton blend), but it was the best option available without making a big hassle over it. Besides, who knew if the curtains’ first attempt would even turn out? It was also a challenge to find something that wouldn’t clash with the overhanging interior fabric that came with the RV.
The next step was to make the curtain rod. We picked up a cheap wooded stick at Home Depot and sawed it off to size. This was one of the husband’s part of the project. He also bought a fancy new drill to drill the hardware into the rod to hang it in the window frame. There’s no such thing as a workbench while living on the road, so he made do with a picnic table.
After measuring out the fabric, it was cutting time. Again, large tables are in short supply in camper life. The largest clean space in the RV was the bed. So we placed an X-ACTO mat that we’d also retrieved from the storage unit onto the comforter and started whacking away.
Fortunately, I’d also remembered to grab the fancy iron that my mom gifted me with last Christmas from the storage unit to bring along on our journey. Initially, I used a fleece blanket between the curtain fabric and the X-ACTO mat. But that was a stupid choice because the fleece got stuck to the iron when it touched the edges and had to be scraped off after cooling.

The next time around, I just put down a bath towel as makeshift protection. It’s not ideal and any real seamstress would just die seeing this, but I got a couple hard creases out didn’t start any fires!
Next came the pinning stage to create hems around the curtains. I flipped on the bedroom television for some pinning entertainment and tuned into dramatic soap opera on the one Spanish channel that was coming in through the antennae.
Now here’s where the real fun began. None of the table/chair surfaces in the RV are very conducive to sitting down with a sewing machine, so I decided to stand. I used the little table between the driver and passenger seats as my base and hunched over to make it work. Fortunately, my back hasn’t yet suffered the effects of aging. But this may be the thing that takes it over the edge!
Of course, the sewing machine jammed a few times and I had to use a seam ripper to fix my mistakes. Sewing is never easy, and it’s even more challenging when you’re out of practice.

In addition to sewing the big rectangles, there were also the loopy bits that go around the curtain rod, the hangy bits that tie the curtains back, the Velcro to make that stay, and the border at the bottom.
Although the color and style of these curtains is not the least bit exciting, my favorite part of these curtains was the bottom trim. I picked out this owl border because it matched and because creatures are fun. My mom used to collect owls, so I think she’ll get a kick out of seeing this when she visits us soon.
Ultimately, we decided that loopy bits around a curtain rod were not ideal because they wouldn’t scoot across well. So instead, we picked up key chain rings at a craft store and attached them with grommets. This gave the curtains a shower curtain-feel, but none of that actually shows up anyway the top. And besides, the grommet/ring strategy meant easier scooting and less sewing for me!

The process of making new curtains took several hours on a few different days, which was longer than I ever expected it all to take. In the end, the curtains certainly aren’t perfect (somehow the living room curtains ended up too short?) but they are DONE, and they are thick enough to block the sun and deter peeping toms. That’s really the whole point, right? Thankfully, I’m no perfectionist.
The office curtains ended up being just the right length though. Here’s a shot of them pulled back with the Velcro ties.
After all this work, I’m in no rush to tackle the bedroom windows. But maybe someday.

Even with all the hassles and headaches of working on arts and crafts, these types of projects take my mind away from the routines of work and travel planning. Crafting doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s always an uphill battle. But after the projects are done, I can appreciate the way they make my brain work and laugh about the finished project, while feeling a little bit accomplished at the same time.

With my sewing machine now back by my side, I also feel a bit more grounded…like I’m living a “normal” life instead of a transient one on the road. There’s a balance there that touches on pursuing hobbies without standing still. I never seriously considered putting much DIY work into our old pop-up camper. I loved it, but it always felt a bit temporary. Meanwhile, this new place of ours feels like home.

I’m not sure what my next DIY RV project or craft idea will be, but you’d better bet it’ll be moderately crappy, terribly frustrating, and absolutely awesome.

5 Months on the Road: Wait No More, Your Full-Time Camper Life Update Is Here

December greetings from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona!

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Month #5 has been a continuation of our journey in the West and Southwest, and I’m definitely still loving the region. We finished up our stay in Salt Lake City, spent a couple weeks in Moab, and a couple days at the Grand Canyon before showing up here.

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We had to adjust our plans a bit due to cold and single-digit temperatures. Being in Tucson right now wasn’t the original plan, but I’m loving the 70-80-degrees and sunshine, so the switch-up was a success. These “snowbirds” really know how to live life right.

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Another interesting development is that we bought a GoPro as a holiday gift to ourselves. So we’ve been experimenting with the different mounts and putting it on our heads, chests, windshield, and even the dog to capture videos of our adventures. I even wore it on a horse!

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Places We’ve Been: Month #5

Here’s a quick rundown of how those places played out.

Moab, Utah: Home on the Road #24

  • Highlights: The otherworldly arches at Arches National Park and canyons at Canyonlands, horseback riding on Sassy (and she was!), mountain biking on the Bar M trails, slacklining festival on Thanksgiving, great campground Wi-Fi and scenery, nice community rec center in town to lift weights and swim laps, scenic winery next to a western film museum, Corona Arch as an uncrowded alternative to Delicate Arch, small-town Christmas festival

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  • Lowlights: Restaurants are way too busy, and un-fun, mediocre local brewery, consistently cold nights in the 20s, hilly bike trails too hard to bike with Monkey’s trailer, getting a flat jeep tire on the side of the road

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Home on the Road #25

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly hiking trails around the rim, shopping for family Christmas gifts and finally finding some, a weekend that didn’t up feeling as cold as we expected, beautiful art gallery at Kolb Studio

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  • Lowlights: Very icy sidewalks and trails that made hiking with Monkey really hard, being underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon (who’da thought that was possible?!) because of all the other amazing canyons we’ve been seeing

Tucson, Arizona: Home on the Road #26

  • Highlights: The amazing Saguaro cactus(!!!), Arizona Sonora Desert Museum that we could have spent several days at, private campground bathrooms (no sharing!), salsa dancing class for a different kind of Friday night out even though it was HARD, great bike trail right behind our campground, bringing home a little cactus to decorate the camper, discovering Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant, days warm enough to do yoga and work outside (or until my laptop overheats and powers down)

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  • Lowlights: Many parks (including Saguaro National Park) not being dog-friendly for hikes, crowded campground with sketchy WiFi, Monkey getting cacti stuck in her paws on trails

Random Ramblings: Month #5

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #5 on the road.

  • Moab was the first place that really made me question why we keep moving on and don’t just stay put for a while. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise in every sense of the word, and we would have been perfectly happy there for a while. In the end, the only reason we left after two weeks was because of the cold temperatures rolling in that would have made outdoor activities pretty miserable going forward.

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  • I have a t-shirt that’s probably a decade old with Grover from Sesame Street on it that says, “Anywhere I am is here. Anywhere I’m not is there. I still wear this shirt occasionally and it reminds me of the old saying that wherever you go, there you are. No matter how what city or state we’re in or how long we’ve traveled, the same things still make me happy, annoyed, anxious, excited, frustrated, etc. Many years ago, I saw a shrink (hey, Tony Soprano did it, so why can’t I?). At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was move far away and start over. I wanted to get out of my rut, leave everything behind, and find out if the grass was greener somewhere else. I remember said shrink telling me some version of “wherever you go, there you are.” He suggested that I’d still have the same personality/issues when I woke up to different scenery. It all sounds pretty obvious when I think of it now, but it was a novel idea that had never occurred to me back then. And it still rings true today.

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  • Division of labor makes camper chores manageable, and yes there are camper chores! Fortunately, we are both reasonable people who understand what sharing responsibilities means. For example, I take care of putting together (i.e. not cooking) breakfast and lunch, while my husband cooks dinner. He does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. And we take turns with doing dishes and dog walks. This goes for travel research too. He’s better at big-picture planning, and I’m better at figuring out daily details. So we tend to stick to what we’re each good at to avoid duplicating efforts and getting at each other’s throats. Been working pretty well for 5 months!

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  • Constantly looking for things to do is exhausting, but it does keep us on our toes. Ultimately, I keep coming down to the same research topics no matter where we are, which reiterates the point that wherever you go, there you are. Here are some of the things on that never-ending research list: hiking trails, yoga, comedy shows, local theater, bar trivia, breweries/wineries/distilleries, community rec center, dance classes, festivals, dog parks, cafes to work at, driving range, bike trails, fun neighborhoods, concerts.

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  • I really thought I’d have more free time while traveling like this but I really don’t. Between 50+ hour work weeks and squeezing in time to explore new places, there’s really nothing left. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and just want to zone out watch The Sopranos in bed. Times that I draw in my sketchbook, do personal writing (like this) that’s not for money, and play guitar are few and far between. I thought I’d be trying to learn more new songs on guitar by now, but I’m stuck on the same old ones and not getting any better.

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  • I prefer non-standard holidays to tradition. We celebrated Thanksgiving by going to a slacklining festival across a canyon in Moab. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see my parents and grandma back in Illinois. But doing the same thing every year out of nostalgia or sentimentality doesn’t appeal to me, and unfortunately, that’s what traditional holidays are all about for most people.

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  • Monkey did great in a totally free-range, open-play environment the last time we “practice boarded” her in Moab. I think she’ll do great at the pet resort in Phoenix while we’re back in Illinois for Christmas. It’ll be weird without her, but I’m feeling much more confident about leaving her for five days.

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  • We’ve run into a few more campgrounds with breed restrictions. I’m looking at you, Las Vegas. I won’t get on a soapbox for very long, but these pit bull bans are absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give my money to these types of discriminatory business owners even if they’d take it.
  • The dry weather of the west makes my hair so much more manageable and easy to take care of. No more Midwest/East Coast-style frizzy tangles!

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  • I had to repair a button on a shirt the other day and it made me how much I miss sewing and crafting in general. My sewing machine is sadly sitting in a storage unit in Atlanta collecting dust 🙁
  • I also realized I miss swimming laps. I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but it’s great exercise and really helps relax my muscles and clear my head. I found community rec centers in both Salt Lake City and Moab with public lap swim hours and only a $6-7 daily fee. Also a great way to lift weights and work these noodle arms. I’ll be looking for cheap rec centers like this in future places we go too.

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Looking Ahead to Month #6

Month #6 will be an interesting one because it’s smack dab in the middle of holiday season. This will be a nice taste of what’s it’s like to be traveling full-time during a very busy and traditional time of year.

We’ll be relocating to Phoenix soon for a short stay before flying out to Central Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my family. The plan for New Year’s Eve is Las Vegas, so that should be a fun way to kick off 2017. And after that, on to California!

If you made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! Although I’ve still only been getting around to it once a month, it’s still nice for me to take a moment to reflect upon where we’ve been and where I’m at personally in relation to that. Cheers!

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Related:

Month #3 on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update!

Today marks three months of life on the road…and finishing month #3 strong in this tiny camper home with the spouse and pup!

Unlike lots of other solo travelers and couples doing the full-time travel thing that I keep up with, my blog here is just a hobby and a personal outlet. Although a monthly update is about all I can manage with my work my schedule, it’s still something I’m holding myself accountable to on the 14th of each month. And BTW, work is going great…never a dull moment!

Places We’ve Been: Month #3

Month #3 marked a huge transition for this camper journey and a big move from the east to the west. After spending time just along the East Coast so far, we made a quick stop back where it all began (Atlanta) to swap out gear from the storage unit and put in some social visits. Now we’ve moved on to the West/Southwest and will be here for the foreseeable future!

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Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Home on the Road #14
    • Highlights: Last kayaking & SUPing of the season at Lake Wylie, discovering Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (off-leash dog park + craft beer bar!), campfire storytelling
    • Lowlights: Police shooting riots downtown

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  • Atlanta, Georgia: Home on the Road #15
    • Highlights: Taco dinner & great conversation with my BFF, hiking up & camping at Stone Mountain, stocking up on Indian sweets for Navratri
    • Lowlights: Navigating all the excess stuff in our storage unit and wondering why we kept it

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  • Morrilton, Arkansas & Amarillo, Texas: “Passing Through” Homes on the Road #16 & 17
    • Highlights: Hotel stays to treat ourselves after 8+ hours of driving per day, nice trail behind the Amarillo hotel, soup on the side of the road, free Wi-Fi and breakfast!
    • Lowlights: Getting nauseous trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat

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  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road #18
    • Highlights: Finally checked out the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, new alpaca sweater and hats, scenic dog park, started biking again – feels great to be back on a bike!
    • Lowlights: Weather prevented the balloons from launching on the one and only morning we had in ABQ, no dogs allowed at the festival

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  • Cortez, Colorado: Home on the Road #19
    • Highlights: 2 weeks in one place, Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, Southwest hikes & landscapes, very comfortable town with pretty much everything I want, went to yoga and belly dancing (first ever!) classes, got a good haircut, fall festival in Dolores, boarded Monkey at doggie day care for the first time and that went ok
    • Lowlights: Low of 27-degrees at night with no good camper insulation, annoying locals, not many dog-friendly businesses

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Realizations & Ramblings: Month #3

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #3 on the road.

  • The East Coast was nice but isn’t long-term for me. I felt ready to leave it and head west.
  • Weather really affects my mood, motivation, and how I spend my days while living outdoors – Cortez has been full of sunshine 🙂
  • Clotheslines are incredibly useful in a campsite – especially if you’re by a beach or doing water sports and trying to avoid a mildew infestation.

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  • I love camping next to trails and have been trying to get into trail running, slowly but surely.
  • Despite all the new environments, I haven’t really gotten sick on this trip so far. Yay! But my immune system gets run down every once in a while with symptoms of a headache and a sore throat. Fortunately, it’s been going away within a day.
  • Bag salads with toppings and dressings are my favorite semi-healthy lunch.

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  • This lifestyle reinforces my lack of attachment to places.
  • The social interactions that every other travel blogger talks about being the “best part of travel” still mean very little to me. Random encounters bring me anxiety, annoyance, and disinterest. Perhaps it’s a phase. Or maybe just me getting older and working/living remotely for so long. Either way, I’m cool with it. And I feel like someone needs to share the perspective of how introverted long-term travel can be just as fulfilling, if not more.
  • Hotel stays are a fun occasional treat – especially after long driving days.

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  • We played a fun storytelling game one night that was really fun. It goes like this: Tear up pieces of paper and on each one, write (a) characters, (b) characters’ goals, and (c) an obstacle to characters’ goals. Randomly draw one piece from each category pile. Grab a small notebook and Person #1 writes one page to start the story. Person #2 only gets to read the very last sentence of what Person #1 wrote and then keeps the story going with one more page. Go back and forth 3 times and then read your story aloud at the campfire. Our story involved a park ranger who dreamed of making the best grilled cheese sandwich ever but had debilitating social anxiety.

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  • For the first time on this trip, we stayed somewhere more than a week: Cortez. We really need more than a week to get beyond the tourist highlights and get into a good work groove to discover local stuff. It’s nice to get to a point of comfort in a new place where I can do normal things like get a haircut, go to a yoga class, and try belly dancing for the first time (hip scarves are hot).
  • Small decorations for fall make the camper feel more festive for the season.

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  • I enjoy the hassle-free lifestyle of small towns but the anonymity of larger cities.
  • Playing disc golf with a dog is impossible – never again!
  • I have no idea how to dress for fall. Living most of my life in Illinois, hot summer basically turned into cold winter before I had a chance to think about fall clothes. I went shopping for some layered outdoor wear, but I still struggle with what to put on myself when it’s in the 60’s. I’m open to advice on this one!

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  • Desert landscapes make me feel peaceful.
  • Chief Surfs with Manatees, my Jeep, hit 88,888 miles (now over 91K) and is still going strong!

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Looking Ahead to Month #4

Month #4 will continue our exploration of the West in Colorado and Utah. We’re skipping the familiar parts of Colorado that we already know and sticking to the southwestern part of the state between Cortez and Grand Junction.

Other than an epic canyoneering trip in Zion a few years ago, Utah will be totally new to me. So I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, and all the amazing landscapes here. I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 7+ so I’m also planning to snap some awesome photos to share!

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Halloween is also coming up, which is my favorite holiday of all time. So we’re planning to celebrate with a pumpkin patch visit, perhaps some cheap & easy costumes, and plenty of pumpkin-flavored desserts and beer!

Thanks for following our adventures and definitely looking forward to what month #4 brings!

 

Related:

Two Months on the Road! A Full-Time Camper Life Update

Two months down…??? to go!

Two months ago, we drove out of Atlanta with the Jeep and pop-up camper filled to capacity and have been touring the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states ever since. On or around the 14th of each month, I’m aiming to write a quick update about where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and things I’m learning along the way.

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Related: 

Places We’ve Been: Month #2

We slowed down our pace a bit and have been spending a week in each place to better accommodate our work schedules and see more in each place.

  • New River Gorge, West Virginia: Home on the road #8
    • Favorite Parts: Hiking around the gorge and bridge with beautiful views, coal mine & ghost town hikes

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  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Home on the road #9
    • Favorite Parts: Turning 33, meeting up with my parents, rock climbing and lazy floating on my birthday

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  • Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia: Home on the road #10
    • Favorite Parts: Easy access to kayaking & SUPing, playing horseshoes, decorating for fall

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  • Roanoke, Virginia: Home on the road #11
    • Favorite Parts: Staying in a hotel (Labor Day camping is for amateurs), solo museum outings, Black Dog Salvage

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  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Home on the road #12
    • Favorite Parts: Camping right next to the beach, beach yoga/running/swimming, meeting up with my buddy Dwight

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  • Surf City, North Carolina: Home on the road #13:
    • Favorite Parts: Still here, but so far it’s been surviving a crazy storm with flooding (bit of a rough start)

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Biggest Challenges: Month #2

A lot of the challenges that were really getting to me in month #1 have mellowed out as I’ve settled into a better routine. Overall, the weather has been more pleasant in month #2 and our campgrounds have been pretty accommodating.

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The single biggest challenge I’ve felt this month is finding good internet for working. We’ve had to upgrade our data plans to make up for crappy service at campsites and have even had to move sites within campgrounds for better reception. These distractions cut into my productivity and make it more difficult to enjoy the other aspects of camping life.

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The other big challenge that comes to mind is mold/mildew. After some rainy days in West Virginia, it started growing on our camper canvas above the two beds. We didn’t discover it until we were in the Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky where cleaning supplies were very sparse. Vinegar ended up working pretty well until we got to a bigger store and picked up some mildew spray. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #2

Over the course of the month, I jotted down random thoughts as they came to me. Here’s what my month #2 list looks like:

  • I’m getting better at doing yoga in weird places and feeling better physically and mentally because of it.
  • I’m getting more tolerant of bugs and getting better at ending their lives when necessary.
  • Monkey needs social time even when I don’t. We met her perfect playmate at Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville, WV – a hound named Hank.

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  • Keeping the inside of a camper clean is hard, especially when you’re camping in mud or sand. We are constantly sweeping the floor with a tiny broom and dust pan.
  • I really crave my end-of-the-day beer or mug of wine
  • I don’t necessary identify with West Virginia culture, but the uncrowded/outdoorsy vibe really resonated with me.

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  • Having our own downloaded TV shows to watch separately makes for easy and refreshing solo time. I’m currently watching Girls, Scandal, and Wentworth solo.
  • We did an “art in the park” day that involved drawing in sketchbooks and painting on watercolor postcards. I want more of these days.

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  • It’s possible to keep up many favorite hobbies even without an apartment.
  • When one person in your travel party isn’t coping well, the other needs to pick up the slack. Take turns with negativity.

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  • Inspired by scary campfire stories, I wrote a short fiction ghost story. Once I fix it up a bit, I’ll plan to share it here and perhaps write a few more too!
  • Once a month, it’s nice to treat ourselves to a hotel to switch up the routine. The Sleep in in Roanoke over Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds and the hurricane was really fun.
  • I love living by a beach.
  • Inspired by the beach I’m trying to start meditating again. I’m trying out guided meditations on this app, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  • I’m getting tired of wearing these same clothes and can’t wait to toss/donate them at the end of the season.
  • I have made more income so far this year than ever before in life!

Looking Ahead to Month #3

If you take a quick look at a map, you’ll see that we’ve made a big loop and seem to be circling back. But don’t be fooled because this trip is nowhere close to done!

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After stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, we are heading back to Atlanta for a few days. Here we’ll revisit that packed 10′ x 12′ storage unit and swap out water sports gear for biking gear, and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. This will wrap up our tour of the Eastern U.S., and from here, we drive west!

For many years, we’ve wanted to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, and this is the year we’re finally going to do it! So we’ll be putting in long hours in the car to breeze through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to get to the festival in time. Month #3 will be incredibly different from months #1 and #2 because it begins our journey of the west. I can’t wait, and as always thanks for reading and staying in touch!

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Crappy Craft Creations: A Recap Stuff I Recently Made

It’s always hard for me to focus on doing crafts during the summer because I love warm weather and being outside as much as possible. But once fall and winter roll around, it’s always a little easier to be an inside-dweller and get back into crappy crafting.

Like most of you reading this, I spend entirely too much time on my laptop and generally staring at screens. There’s something unique about crafting that appeals to me on a psychological level because it’s so different from what I do to make a living.

Here are some of my recent craft creations that have made my brain work in different ways than my day job.

IMG_0386Hands down, this winter’s craft-of-choice has been loom knitting. I’ve done knitting and crocheting, but this is a different approach for a similar result, and one that I find to be way quicker and easier than the alternatives.

IMG_0388I bought a set of colorful looms at Michael’s and a few balls of yarn. The process of loom knitting is really as simple as wrapping yarn around pegs over and over again. After looping the yarn around each peg twice, you pull off one piece of thread with a needle, which makes a knot.

And after just a couple hours….BAM….you have a hat!

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One thing I really loved this winter about loom-knitted hat making is that it’s a portable craft. I have knitted hats while riding in the passenger seat on road trips and even inside our new pop-up camper with a bottle of wine and a podcast.

IMG_0463The simplicity of the process and the pretty-much-perfect results every time motivated me to make more hats…

IMG_0623And more hats, and more hats! Basically everyone on my Christmas list got a hat this year.

IMG_0918Sewing has taken a bit of a backseat so far this winter and continues to intimidate me. I received this shirt pattern from a friend and decided I would use it to try making my very first shirt.

IMG_0456Hours of struggling resulted in this blue thing that has two sleeves. Two sleeves = shirt, right? I continue to have issues with translating my personal measurements into properly sized garments, and this shirt was drastically large and floppy on me.

Some seams are inside out, but at least all the pieces are in the right place. I can’t say that I’ll be wearing this out of the house anytime soon, but I am glad that I at least stuck with it and finished it. Maybe the next shirt will be easier?

IMG_0454Another craft I’ve really gotten into lately is needle felting. Check out my post, My First Attempt at Felting: Project Plush Gnome, to learn more about how this whole felting thing works.

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For Christmas gifts this year, I decided to make two felted birds….one for my grandma and one for my sister-in-law. So far, I’ve made a needle felted gnome, a monkey, and an owl-in-a-tree, and I’m always surprised at how fool-proof this craft is. I literally just stab fluff with a needle until it takes shape and it somehow turns out looking pretty good.

I was super pleased with how these little birds turned out. I bought the little nests at Michael’s and super-glued the birds to them so they have no chance of escaping.

IMG_0921I used one of those paint-a-mug sets designed for five-year-olds and made a mug for my grandma too. I mean seriously, what else do you give a 92-year-old besides homemade gifts?

IMG_0912The paint is supposed to be cool with microwaving and dishwashing, but only time will tell. It was a really basic set so all the writing and drawing was done free-hand, adding to the kindergarten look of it.

After painting it, the instructions said to put it in the oven for 30 minutes, which I did. I’m not sure if I’ll make another one of these, but it was an easy craft an I think my grandma enjoyed getting it.

IMG_0913Sometime earlier this fall, I painted a birdhouse with crazy colors that would drive even the most sane bird batty. I have a bird feeder and hummingbird feeder on my miniature balcony outside, so I thought a birdhouse would be a fun addition.

However, I have not yet figured out a way to attach it to the balcony. So it remains sitting on the living room floor taking up space, dreaming of future bird residents.

20150808_101343In other news, I sculpted a really dumb-looking elephant.

Sculpting is definitely not my gift, and I honestly don’t have the patience or precision for it. But a couple years ago, I randomly made my husband an elephant out of clay. It was purple and lumpy and barely distinguishable. When we moved to Atlanta, that poor purple elephant’s ear fell off, which must have been quite painful.

Elephant 2.0 is blue, has tusks, and is misshapen in different ways than Elephant 1.0.

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So what’s next for this crappy crafter?

Well, I figure it’s high time for a new sewing project. I’ve been wanting to learn to make handbags for awhile now and just settled on a pattern I found online.

One barrier to sewing for me is going to the craft store. There isn’t a convenient one nearby and I really don’t like shopping in stores for much of anything. So to eliminate that barrier, I ordered some materials via Amazon Prime and used some old fabric I had lying around. Yes, that’s the same gnome fabric from the skirt I made from my very first sewing class!

So far, I’ve cut out the material, pressed out the wrinkles with my fancy new Rowenta iron, and gathered everything up to dive right in…one of these days…

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Creating via crafts is so different from creating via words, and I’m so glad I didn’t wait until old age to pick up on these hobbies. I try to be a minimalist and hate being surrounded by clutter, but I do enjoy giving homemade gifts and wearing things I’ve made with my own two hands.

My crafts are far from perfect, but that’s not really the point. For me, crafting is just as much about the process as the end result. When I’m not cursing in agony and frustration, the process of creating something from nothing feels therapeutic. It makes me focus on one thing at a time and takes my mind away from whatever else is clouding it up. I wish I could sneak a couple extra hours into the day to make more time for crafting, but for now it’s a great mini-escape for me that results in something that I can show off, give away, or just laugh about.

Chronicles of the Pop-Up Camper: Adventure #1 of 1,000,000

It’s not yet the new year, but a new era of travel an adventure has already begun!

We recently bought our very first camper, a tiny pop-up that’s perfectly sized for two and in awesome condition. You hear nothing but horror stories about Craigslist sales these days, but here’s a success story. A random dude in Sharpsburg, Georgia took amazing care of his pop-up and was selling it to upgrade to a larger one to fit his wife, toddler, and dog. But for two people (like us) and no extraneous beings (like we don’t have), it’s perfect.

IMG_0643We live in an apartment complex that isn’t exactly camper parking friendly. Fortunately, we have a one-car garage that it fits into perfectly, while the cars sleep outside. Chief the Jeep likes it outdoors better anyway.

The destination for our first “trial run” with the new camper was Mistletoe State Park, a random state park along a lake near Augusta, Georgia. I packed the Jeep with bedding, pillows, towels, and kitchen items to use inside. It might be small, but it is mighty. There’s a kitchen inside with a sink, stove burners, and ice box. Our seller even threw in a free mini fridge.

IMG_0644The size of the camper makes getting gas not too much of an ordeal, which is nice. Because of construction and traffic, it took nearly three hours to reach our campground. A Dairy Queen ice cream stop was definitely needed to ease the nerves.

IMG_0646The campground was pleasantly vacant, though the temperature still pretty warm. Gotta love the south! Like idiots, we had left the manual at home and sorta kinda forgot where to stick some poles for the set-up. Fortunately, you can find everything online, so the internet came to our rescue.

Ta da!

IMG_0647The set-up was actually pretty easy, even for a first time. We picked site #31, and when we checked in there were 56 sites still available. We were right on the lake, which would have been perfect for some kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. But alas, it was a bit chilly and rainy for all that.

The interior of our new camper is in surprisingly wonderful condition, considering it’s a 2002 model. The cushions and curtains have no rips or stains, and all camper interior designs are retro ugly so there’s really no way around that.

IMG_0649I had a blast setting up our new house-on-wheels and getting everything organized. It felt wonderfully spacious, cozy, and clean. As expected, there were a number of things that we forgot to bring…things that you probably wouldn’t think of until you’re in-the-moment and in the camper. These are things like water hoses, plastic bins for dishes, an outdoor bristled floor mat, long lighters, spice shakers, and a bucket.

IMG_0662I popped open a bottle of wine to celebrate our first camper set-up success and enjoy the peaceful view. And rightfully so…take a look at this perfect outdoor scene!

IMG_0672It was a little hard to leave it behind, but we also wanted to check out the city of Augusta while it was still daylight. There’s a really nice river walk area in the middle of town that makes for a scenic stroll. Our stroll ended at Hive Growler Bar, which had a zillion types of craft beer on draft and served up a mean vegan bean burger with kale slaw. Definitely a recommended food and drink spot downtown.

IMG_0676Then a completely random idea came up…why not play bingo at an Army base? You know, seriously, like why not?

Coincidentally, my dad actually stayed at Fort Gordon when he was in the army before I was born. He was part of the military police and stood guard at the entrance where we passed through in search of bingo fame and fortune.

IMG_0680Security was incredibly tight here, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect since I’d never been to a military fort/base before. After passing by the guards with guns, we checked in at the entrance and had to hand over everything from social security numbers to fingerprints and our intentions for the evening.

The fort wasn’t all that interesting to drive around honestly – a lot of residential buildings but not much in the way of restaurants or shopping centers. After a considerable amount of driving, we finally reached BINGO PALACE.

IMG_0681Now I’ve played bingo at a couple bars around town on weeknights, and I remember a particularly random Saturday afternoon back in college with my girlfriends when we went to a hardcore bingo hall in Peoria, Illinois. I’ll never be able to get those images of super-intense bingo-ers with their colorful dabbers, good luck charms, and spread of cards out of my brain.

But unfortunately, this bingo outing was a flop. The woman working at the front advised us that it was a “high stakes” night and it would cost $60 per person minimum to play. That’s a bit rich for my non-gambling blood, so we bailed to spend the remainder of the evening in the new camper instead.

But I didn’t really mind. I can entertain myself pretty damn well with a knitting project, bottle of wine, and storytelling podcasts. This night’s picks were a winter beanie hat I was making for my dad’s Christmas gift, Riesling, and The Moth.

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With a wide open schedule for the next day, it seemed like the perfect setup for a lazy Sunday morning. In a rare moment of laziness, we spent all morning lounging, reading, and just looking around the camper that was ours…all ours.

When the temperatures warmed up after lunch, we packed up to hike through the state park, starting on the Cliatt Loop to the Rock Dam Trail.

IMG_0690This was an 8-mile hike, but we took a few wrong turns and blamed the abundance of dead leaves on the ground obscuring the paths. This made our hike a couple miles shy of the full route, but it was still a nice day to be out and active in November.

Besides, this trip was all about trying out the new camper. Just looking at her next to my Jeep was perfection and made so much sense. Although I’m still trying to think of a name to call her.

IMG_3315What’s next for Little Miss Nameless Camper?

First up is a New Year’s Eve/Day camping trip to Skidaway Island near Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia. This will be another “first,” because we’ll be trying out camper camping with a dog for the first time! My favorite dog-sitting pup, Roxy, is staying with us for a while, and if any dog I know can handle this adventure it’s her!

Then the ultimate “first” adventure is in talks for February – a multi-week southeast-to-southwest camper trip. New Mexico is destined to be a big part of this journey, and the rest TBD!

I’m certainly not giving up tent camping, which is awesome in its own ways. But the camper adds more versatility to the camping experience and allows us to live in the outdoors even when the weather sucks. There’s a heater and air conditioner inside and semi-soft beds to keep us comfortable and less cranky. And most importantly, it’s way more accommodating for working from the road (a la outlets, a table, and shelter from the elements), which is definitely something I crave more of in 2016 and beyond!

“Gnome Hunting” with the Boden Gnome Ranger at a Lovely UK Arboretum

Still on a “gnome high” from my visit to the Gnome Reserve in the English countryside, I sat in a cheap motel in Bristol and thought about my new move.

There was one more place in England that I had dreamed of visiting… and I didn’t know when I’d be back around these parts.

About an hour and a half north of Bristol lives a magical colony of gnomes that I’ve become acquainted with through the power of the internet. The Bodenham Arboretum is located in something of a mouthful called “Wolverley, Kidderminster, Worcestershire.”

Here’s a little blurb for historical background:

A mile long drive winding through undulating countryside gently climbs to the brow of the hills to reveal a secret garden nurtured since 1973. An oasis of plantations, pools and avenues beautifully landscaped including over 3000 species of trees and shrubs from all over the world.

Bodenham is an area of outstanding landscape beauty and interest. Its 156 acres contains mature woodland, specimen trees and shrubs and two acres of pools and lakes.

So honestly, what better place could there be for gnomes to take up residence?!

Lucky for me, I’m well-connected to the ultimate Boden Gnome Guide, who just happened to be available to meet me the next morning.

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Davy is the one and only Boden Gnome Ranger. He is the faithful leader of the Boden Gnomes, which are the mystical, woodland characters  that help the farmers and the arborists with their work at Bodenham Arboretum. He and his lovely wife, Jackie, were kind enough to squeeze us into their busy day before an 86th birthday celebration with less than a day’s notice.

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I was so excited to meet spend my morning with this friendly and welcoming gnome enthusiast and meet all of his woodland gnomes. An important distinction to remember is that woodland gnomes wear green hats. It’s all those garden gnomes that wear red ones.

Much to my delight, the Ranger was in full character and costume: green vest and hat, a beard reminiscent of a mop I used to have in the kitchen, rain boots with mushrooms on them, a fishing pole with a squeaky toy fish on the end, and a gnome-carved walking stick.

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Equipped with this hiking stick and a fishing pole, we ventured into Poplar Dingle and were greeted by our first Boden Gnomes near the entrance.

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The arboretum hosts a “gnome hunt” in the summertime. And no, there are no gnomes harmed in this type of hunting of course.

The Boden Gnome Gnome Hunt – June 3rd – August 30th

This summer the ‘BodenGnomes’ will return for the whole of the Summer holidays to enable children of ‘all’ ages visiting Bodenham to join in the fun and search for the hidden Gnomes around the Arboretum.  Details and a map of the route can be found at the Visitor Centre. There will be a prize draw for all entries. Normal entry charges apply.

I spy one up there in the tree with a “G”!

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And there’s another lurking in the weeds! Both gnome statutes and wooden gnome cut-outs call the gnome trail home.They’re not too hard to spot if you’re moderately observant.

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And just when you least expect it…a Viking Gnome appears on a fence. Man, he looks fierce.

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Gnome spotting is hard work, so we stopped for a moment to sit a spell and chat about travel and gnomes. Many of the hiding gnomes were holding letters, which formed a secret word that I won’t reveal in this blog in case there aren’t plans to change it next year. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise 🙂

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Obligatory posing at the festive cardboard face cutout was a must. And now I’ve gotten a brilliant new idea to sew a mushroom skirt.

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If you’re having any difficulty imagining this magical day by just my words and photos, how about a video or two? Here are a couple gems that really give you a sense of the Boden Gnomes experience…at least to tide you over until the hunt picks up again next summer.

Whoops, caught a lil’ bugga with his pants down! Gnomes here are strapped in for protection from vandals. Gnome thieves are the WORST, and I hope they never find their way into this lovely arboretum.

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Sadly, our visit to the arboretum was coming to a close…but not before a surprise gift was presented to us through the most beautiful row of trees.

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Would you believe that the Boden Gnome Ranger is also a skilled painter? He painted me a replica of my new newly-inked ankle tattoo, a hiker gnome, which was based on my husband’s original design.

The painting looks exactly like my tat, which is amazing! It survived the journey back to the States with no damage and I hung it above my bedside table when I returned to remember this awesome day.

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You can see more of his art on the Painterman Davy T. Facebook page. Davy’s wife, Jackie is super talented too and made us a lovely gnome-themed wedding card. Check out Crafting with Jackie to see some of her stuff! Just like my dearly wedded, Jackie isn’t all that interested in gnomes, but she’s sure a damn good sport about it!

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I was disappointed to not find any gnomes in the arboretum gift shop, but it sounds like the Boden Gnome Ranger is really campaigning for more gnomes on the premises. So hopefully it’s only a matter of time before little green-hatted men start pretty much running the place.

There’s also a really cute black dog that hangs out at the arboretum that made me miss my dog sitting business back home a bit.

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After the gnome hunt with Davy and Jackie, we spent some time walking around the arboretum to admire the wide-open, natural surroundings, which used to actually be part of a farm. So with my visit to the Bodenham Arboretum, my Euro-gnome travels had come to a close. Gnome enthusiasts really are kindred spirits, and I was so glad to have met another on my international journey.

I totally admire the Boden Gnome Ranger’s creative spirit in dressing up, singing songs, and leading prospective gnome fans through the woods in search of magic and fun. I can’t wait to see what next summer (and the summers after that) bring to the arboretum and what shenanigans these green-hatted gnomes get up to throughout the year.