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!

Double Digits Down: A 10-Month Report on the Ups & Downs of Camper Life

Howdy. It’s the 14th of the month and you know what that means…blog time!

As of today, it’s been 10 months of camper life. Lots of things are happening, and lots of other things are becoming clearer with more time on the road.

A while back, I went on a frenzy of following other full-time campers’ blogs and got obsessed with virtually relating to others living a similar lifestyle. But now it’s newsfeed overload to the point of making life on the road feel way too ordinary and uninteresting. Pretty much everyone says the same cliche things and comes to the same lame and nostalgic conclusions. My perspective feels different, and I can no longer relate. I haven’t exactly figured out why or how to put it in words. So for now, I’m another cog in the wheel. Let’s keep turning the wheel ’til I figure it out.

Places We Were: Month #9

Last month began by wrapping up our time in Santa Barbara, which has still been one of my very favorite places of the entire trip. I loved the size of the town…not overwhelming but still plenty of stuff to do. The weather rocked and the area offered so many of the things that I love to do on a regular basis: kayaking, hiking, biking, beach, museums, breweries, vineyards, etc. If it weren’t so damn expensive to live in a place like that, I could totally plop down in SB for a while. But maybe that’s not a deal breaker after all, so who knows.

Then we moved onto Lake Isabella, which started out as a total bust. We couldn’t access the Sequoia National Forest because of snowed in roads, which was basically the whole point of moving here. Kayaking was also a bust, and the tiny towns of a couple thousand people each offered little-to-nothing to do. But after wallowing in some self-pity, we made the most of it and embraced the dramatic scenery in full-force.

Finally, we moved to Oceano, California in the San Luis Obispo area. This stay is still in progress, and while the initial reaction was not so great, this area is really starting to grow on me. The campground itself is claustrophobic and overpriced. But we’re right next to the sand dunes with the ocean on the other side, there are fresh farm stands on non-trafficy roads, and lots of local theater stuff nearby.


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

Santa Barbara, California: Home on the Road #37

  • Highlights: Santa Ynez breweries nearby, cute Danish town of Solvang, getting an Easter visit from our friend and her baby in Illinois, visiting an ostrich farm, self-guided mission tour, biking to the beach, chill breweries, quirky shops, uncrowded hikes, incredible flowers and succulents
  • Lowlights: Camping 30+ minutes away from town, weird lake regulations that prohibited SUPing, campground laundry facilities broken & useless, loud and annoying Easter campground crowds

And now…some photos to go with those words:


Lake Isabella, California: Home on the Road #38

  • Highlights: Amazing scenery in every form, fast and free campground WiFi, getting to use the snowshoes that we’ve been toting around in the RV, driving a BOAT, beating (barely) my husband in golf on our first game on an actual course, the surprisingly well-preserved Silver City ghost town in Bodfish
  • Lowlights: Didn’t get to see any sequoia trees, didn’t get to kayak, small towns didn’t have anything to do, realizing how badly out of biking shape I am on moderate hills, hikes that were ended abruptly due to impassable waters

Here are some of my favorite photos…


Oceana, California: Home on the Road #39 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Sand dunes right behind our campground to play on, SLEDDING IN SAND, lots of local theater stuff nearby, Bishop’s Peak hike, horseback riding on the beach (June was the most chill horse ever), wandering around San Luis Obsipo, our wedding anniversary is tomorrow!

  • Lowlights: Probably THE most claustrophobic campground we’ve ever stayed in + the most expensive one = worst combination EVER, 20+ mile winds every day


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #9

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me during the past month on the road.

  • I’m sick of other campers. I feel like puking every time I read another full-time RVers blog about how “fun” it is to meet other people on the road. This will likely be the thing that drives me away from this lifestyle. Or maybe my niche is how to travel/RV full-time with an introverted/anti-social personality. But who’d read that, right?! Everyone wants to romanticize this lifestyle, and that goes against the grain. Still, I stand firm on my belief that there are many other (and better) benefits to travel besides meeting people (how about. trying new things, learning about yourself, disconnecting from the bullshit, or figuring out the type of place you’d be happy in someday?) To me, these things are far more valuable than mindless and repetitive chit-chat with annoying strangers I’ll never see again. I’d welcome another scheduled meetup like we did in Yuma with Sara & Mike, but those positive encounters seem very few and far between. If it sounds like life on the road is making me jaded, that’s because it is. However, jaded is part of my natural state of mind wherever I’m at. Hmmm maybe I should buy a piece of jade jewelry. That’d be pretty.

  • On that note, we are semi-seriously talking about buying a piece of property “somewhere” that’s sorta kinda in the middle of nowhere to put the RV on it and get it all hooked up to water/electric/sewer. With a possible consideration of building our own house on it in the future. My husband is more gung-ho on this idea than I am because I get caught up in the logistics and commitment. But I’m still way interested in this idea over “giving up” and just getting a lame apartment in a suburb. The big question though is “where”?

  • I stumbled across a travel log that I wrote from a trip to Montana/Wyoming/South Dakota trip in April 2013. My writing was 100% better and more interesting. These days, I just rush through this blog to say I did it and to help myself remember things. It feels more like an obligation than a pleasure, which is sad and pathetic. I’m also so burnt out with writing 8-10 hours for work every day that I have nothing else interesting to say at the end of the day. Poor me, boo freaking hoo. Anyway, everything I read myself write these days is disappointing, and I should do better.
  • I’m learning about plants! I’m tired of going on hikes and not knowing what I’m looking at, so I bought a textbook. Plants are hard…but I’m trying.

  • Last month we killed a TON of bugs in the RV. It got to a point of keeping a personal tally to see who killed more at the end of the day. I remember getting up to 6 on one particularly crappy day.
  • It was really easy for me to get used to having less stuff in the beginning when we had a tiny pop-up camper. But these days, it’s been harder to resist buying more stuff since we have more room in the RV. Especially when Amazon delivers right to your RV park. RESIST THE STUFF…resist!
  • I don’t have popular goals like climbing Everest or hiking the PCT. Those are someone else’s goals, not mine. I should probably put more thought into what mine actually are though.
  • I made my first cupcakes in the tiny RV convection oven/microwave! After three batches and two semi-failed attempts, I found that the magic recipe was 350-degrees at 23 minutes.

  • Flavored whiskey is wonderful. Honey and apple…yum.
  • Longer days of sunlight are equally wonderful.
  • I have a hard time respecting full-time RVers with Amazon charity links and who regularly ask strangers for money to support their lifestyle. I built my own freelance writing business on my own from the ground up 4+ years ago. I didn’t get lucky. I figured it out and bust my ass every day. You should too.
  • I totally don’t understand the point of Instagram. I only care to comment on this because I’ve recently been hired to do “community management” for a client, which basically entails just liking and commenting on behalf of the brand on Instagram. I’ve used Facebook as my one and only social media outlet since the beginning of time because the format and features make sense to me. But I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would use Instagram. Can anyone shed some light on this for me? As a professional writer who values content and context, I can’t see any value in sterile and staged photos followed by generic comments with zero substance. I understand that the average person can’t manage to read more than a couple-word caption on a photo. But for me, a picture doesn’t equal 1,000 words. It equals a picture. And as someone who gets paid by the word, each and every one of them matters. Maybe I’m just outdated and one of those rare non-visual learners. Help a 33-year-old out?

Looking Ahead to Month #10

As month #10 continues, we’ll be in Oceano for a bit more and celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary here! We don’t put a whole lot of stock in that court-issued piece of paper, but we made a random pact to celebrate wedding anniversaries at the beach, so here we are. Certainly could we worse! Next, we’re headed up to Fresno and Gilroy to experience some of the lesser-famous parts of Cali.

Hopefully reading this month’s post wasn’t a total downer. There are still plenty of things that I enjoy about camper life, like the easy access to nature and having new places to explore. Yet other parts are wearing me down, and I’m sure that’s bleeding through in my monthly reports. I’m still searching for my voice in all of this to express how my RV experience differs from the “masses”. If it comes to me anytime soon, you’ll be the first to know.

A Day of Love, Hallmark Cards & Our 7 Month Camper-aversary

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
7 months on the road,
Yep, it’s really true.

Happy camper-aversary to us, and happy Valentine’s Day to everyone else!

Places We’ve Been: Month #7

Month #7 kicked off by leaving the crowded Vegas campground and opting something totally different – boondocking in Mojave National Preserve. Our original plan was to head to Palm Springs, California after that, but persistent and heavy rains scared us away and drove us to Yuma, Arizona instead. We stayed in Yuma quite a while trying to get everything lined up for a trip to Mexico. Then we crossed the border into Baja California for a true non-working vacation (finally!) and back to Yuma to finish off the month.

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

Mojave National Preserve, California: Home on the Road #30

  • Highlights: Boondocking next to a canyon far from civilization, amazing Hole in the Wall canyon right behind our camper, pleasantly disconnected from technology, the stars at night, seeing Monkey overcome a really challenging climb

  • Lowlights: No heat on 30-degree nights with canvas walls

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Decent weekly rate, sunny and warm, met fellow (young!) long-term RVers Sara and Mike (check out Sara’s blog), Imperial Sand Dunes, yoga at the Yuma prison guard tower (every Monday evening at 5:30), date festival and Mardi Gras festival downtown, 80-degree weather

  • Lowlights: Very crowded campsites, way too many overly-friendly snowbirds in a constant need of chatting, high winds, not enough hiking/biking trails

Baja California (Ensenada & San Felipe): Home on the Road #32 and #33

I wrote an entire post devoted to our six days in Mexico. Check it out here: Road Tripping to Mexico in the Age of Trump…with a Dog

  • Highlights: Easy border crossing, incredible ocean and mountain views, perfect 70-degree weather, the beaches, cheap food and beer, the vineyard region, taking an actual vacation and not working for a few days

  • Lowlights: Lots of planning & logistics to get down there, loose dogs everywhere, potholes on roads, pushy sales vendors, everyone wants a tip, expensive gas and tolls

Thoughts & Ramblings: Month #7

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #7 on the road.

  • We started doing circuits of push-ups, squats, and crunches around Christmas and increasing the number of each by 5 every 3rd day. We’ve actually been keeping up with this INSIDE the camper on cold days, which is an amusing sight to see.
  • It’s really hard to find campgrounds in the Yuma area for people under 55 years old, that allow dogs over 20 pounds, and that don’t require you to be self-contained (have your own bathroom). What’s up with the snowbirds and all their rules?
  • We celebrated Monkey’s 3rd birthday in the camper! I can’t believe she’s only been with us a year. I can’t imagine this camper life without her.

  • We don’t fit in with or particularity enjoy the prevailing camping culture or demographic. I’d love to go off-the-grid like so many other vanlifers, but we haven’t made the big investment in solar panels, generators, etc. yet. However, I can’t stand traditional RV parks much longer, so something’s gotta give.

Sometimes I feel like we don’t allow room for enough spontaneity in our busy camper life schedule. But an example of something awesome we stumbled across was a wood craft festival in Yuma. Made me really miss crafting, and my husband even found his mom a birthday gift here.

 

Although the southwest has been MUCH less rainy than the east coast, rain is still brutal when your camper sinks into a mud pit.

  • On a whim, I joined a Facebook group called Make Money and RV. We actually met up with a couple living a similar lifestyle to us on the road in Yuma and it was really fun to swap stories and tips.
  • I have been considering taking virtual guitar lessons via Skype from another couple I met through a Facebook group called Make Money and RV. I’m stuck in a practice rut and totally plateaued in terms of getting any better. I haven’t pulled the trigger on committing to lessons yet because I’m worried that my internet situation changes every week or two and often sucks.
  • Dates are a big deal around Yuma. We went to a date farm and a date festival. I thought I hated dates after being force-fed raisins as a child.
  • Good craft beer is hard to find in Arizona liquor stores. However, liquor is plentiful and cheap. One day, I bought a bottle of Three Olives s’mores vodka for $2.99. However, it was disgusting…lesson learned.
  • I’ve been wanting to read a textbook-style book on how to identify plants while hiking. I’ve found some paperbacks on Amazon, but no good Kindle options. Suggestions welcome if you have any recommendations.
  • However, I have been neglecting reading books in general and watching too much TV. I’ve started getting back into the whole reading thing with some short stories on Kindle, like The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Plagiarist by Hugh Howey.
  • Mexico made me feel pretty ignorant with my sub-par bilingual skills.
  • I’m at an age where I feel age-blind. People who are anywhere between 20 and into their 40’s all feel like they’re my age.
  • Here are some photos with captions!

Date farm!

Abandoned mine shacks in the Mojave desert.

Most interesting yoga destination in a long time: historic prison guard tower in Yuma.

Muggins Mountains: destination for a rugged BLM hike

Looking Ahead to Month #8

It wasn’t until we had a few days off to really disconnect from routine in Mexico that we started seriously considering our next phase in this camper journey. I’m not going to say any more just yet, but I will be sharing a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT very soon to kick off month #8!

Catch up with the journey:

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:

A German Village Oddly Misplaced in the Hills of North Georgia

These days, pretty much all travel planning is done via the interwebs. I work for travel companies, write for travel blogs, and Google my way from one destination to the next.

However, this travel story begins differently than all the others. That’s because I planned this trip WITH A BOOK.

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I picked up this book at a local state park after a hike and flipped through it up occasionally while it sat on the coffee table. I picked out six or seven “quick escapes” from Atlanta that I wanted to check out, and one of them was the Helen/Clarkesville/Sautee area. Here are a few key points from the book that stuck out to me about this particular escape:

  • German alpine village
  • Waterfalls
  • International restaurants
  • Local wine
  • German beer
  • Boiled peanuts

Following the book’s recommendations, we started our two-day northern Georgia journey in Cornelia, a tiny town “famous” for having the world’s largest apple monument. It was pretty big, as far apples go anyway.

20150718_113810There isn’t a whole heck of a lot else going on in Cornelia (population 3,834), so we quickly moved on down US 23 to Clarkesville, another little town (population 1,250) known for mountain craft and antique stores. The book recommended a placed called Stephen’s for lunch, but Stephen must have lost in an epic battle to someone named Tucker.

I haven’t the slightest idea who Stephen or Tucker are, but this is when I realized my prized book was published in 1996. Whoops.20150718_130820

Lunch at Tucker’s was pretty alright – a fried green tomato sandwich and side salad, which hit the spot and seemed appropriately southern. Well, the fried part at least.
20150718_131021Then we mozied on over to a few of the little craft shops and watched cows paint other cows. Craft shops and festival booths always make me wish that (1) I didn’t have to have a full time job, (2) that I had unwavering motivation to keep up with crafts, and (3) that I was much, much better at crafts. Le sigh.
20150718_132107Old timey libraries with lots of books and grandma-style couches welcomed us in town…
20150718_135102…and so did little pathways around historic (abandoned?) cabins surrounding by strategically-placed statues. I’m always willing to lend a helping hand to a friendly statue.20150718_135159But statues can only provide entertainment for so long, and our next stop was Sautee, a town best known for its old general store.20150718_143502Inside the store were lots of old-timey relics…
20150718_143554…and even circus-style games that tested the strength of your love and let you watch a little peep show. I think I saw an ankle. I’m not entirely sure, but it still felt scandalous.20150718_144133By this point in the day, I’d worked up a hearty thirst. Fortunately, the Habersham Vineyards and Winery was on the way to Helen. The Southern Harvest label utilizes the distinctly Southern Muscadine grape to make sweet, fruity wines. I picked up a bottle of Peach Treat, which seemed only appropriate for a Georgia winery.

Tastings were $5 per person, but the most memorable part of this winery visit was the slushy drinks. Habersham had two slushy options: a peach flavor with white wine and a blackberry pomegranate flavor with red wine. Wine slushies…what a brilliant idea for a hot summer day!
20150718_151421Nothing really goes better with wine than chocolate, and fortunately, there are lots of sweet shops in Helen. Unfortunately, it rarely dips below the mid-90s here in the summer. So if you’re going to buy chocolate, you’re going to have to stuff your face with it right away or be prepared for a nasty mess in your pocket.

20150718_185851Unlike my typical travels that usually involve stays at campgrounds and hostels, I sprung for a full-fledged B&B this time. In Helen, we stayed at the Alpine Hilltop Haus, whose owners were kind enough to accommodate us for just one night. Most B&Bs in the area require a two-night minimum…even for last-minute bookings, which is annoying.
20150718_182624Our room had the most amazingly realistic mural painted on it. Seriously, nothing in this photo is real except the chairs, table and lamp. Mind = blown.
20150718_182336It was totally relaxing to hang out in the B&B’s living room, which was much more spacious than mine back at home. This is where I watched some ridiculous reality show about dating naked while flipping through old copies of National Geographic Traveler, while my husband started putting together a puzzle of an bland lighthouse.

This is also where breakfast was served the next morning, which was a tasty egg quiche, breads, coffee, and tea. There were four or five other couples staying here as well, but it didn’t feel crowded. The back yard overlooked the Chattahoochee River down below, which would have been quite peaceful if not for all those silly tubers.
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The big thing to do in Helen, which I quickly discovered, is tubing. Tourists stand in long lines waiting to board re-purposed school buses and be dropped off at the top of the river. They leisurely float down the gentle currents, bumping into each other and awkwardly getting out to swim from time to time.

The crowds, lines, and congestion made this an unattractive option for our relaxing, low-key weekend. But perhaps another time.
20150718_191657There were quite a few German restaurants around town in Helen, and although the food is hit or miss, this particular restaurant got my “thumbs up” for having cool steins. And the beer was pretty alright. 20150718_194200

But putting all the trip details aside, I find it absolutely bizarre that a German-themed village is tucked away in the hills of north Georgia.

Apparently, Helen was a logging town that was going downhill fast. To resurrect itself, some local business folks decided to recreate a Bavarian alpine village in its place and try to bring in some tourists. Even franchise businesses like Dollar General and Huddle House have that German architecture look.

20150718_202446And not surprisingly, this is also THE place in the area to party for Oktoberfest. On weekend evenings, this little town square area is filled with DJs spinning bad 90s dance-along tunes and vacation-minded southerners dancing-it-up with plastic cups of beer in hand. Then again, it’s also a total family-friendly area and kids are everywhere.
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After waking up in the B&B the next morning, we took the kayak out on Lake Unicoi, a 53-acre lake in Unicoi State Park. There isn’t a whole lot of water to paddle here, but it is pretty peaceful.

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Then we drove over to Anna Ruby Falls for a short waterfall hike. You only have to hike in a half mile from the parking lot to see the falls, which is created by the convergence of Curtis and York Creeks. Curtis drops 153 feet and York drops about 50.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo this was my experience planning a weekend trip “by the book.” It started with a book, and then branched out into randomness from there. Helen is just an hour and a half from Atlanta, but it couldn’t feel farther away.

Sure, it’s more touristy than authentic, but what more would you really expect from a European replica in the American south? Regardless, it’s one of the most unique places I’ve discovered down here and totally worth a stop to gawk if you’re passing through.

Miniature Garden Update: One Month Later

So a little over a month ago, I planted my first miniature balcony garden, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Read: Miniature Balcony Gardening…in a 2-Foot by 10-Foot Space

Well as you might expect, there have been some ups and downs – but mostly ups. And for that I awkwardly give myself a hearty pat on the back. I think everything out there on that stupid-sized balcony would have been alive and well except for one thing…

I was bitten by the (figurative) travel bug and just had to spend a week and a half in Western Florida.

It didn’t rain much in Atlanta while I was gone so these poor lil’ buggas had to fend for themselves in the pseudo-wilderness. So with a clearer mind and slightly tanner skin, this is what I came back to:

  • Cilantro: A little brown and wilted, but salvageable
  • Basil: About the same as the cilantro
  • Mint: Growing like crazy, like it didn’t even miss me
  • Impatiens: Totally dead, like they never even existed
  • Begonias: One chuck of dead-ness and the rest hanging on for dear life. It’s a hanging pot. See what I did there?

So I cleared out the nasty crap to make way for new pretty stuff…ta da!

IMG_3929Second garden shopping trip to Lowe’s: Check.

Lessons Learned:

  1. My mini-balcony gets more sun that I thought it did
  2. Herbs are pretty low-maintenance
  3. Flower that like shade don’t like me…at least here
  4. Water bugs are terrifying

Ah yes…the water bugs.

So before I hit the road for Florida, I set my indoor plants out on the corners of the mini-balcony to give them the best fighting chance at life while I was gone. These were a half-dying chrysanthemum and a three-quarters-dying African violet.

(Side bar: Have you ever stopped to think how close “violet” and “violent” are. Typos can be really thought-provoking at this time of day.)

Anyhoo, my mini-balcony must have been greeted by a big gust of wind because I returned to find the chrysanthemum totally MIA and the African violet upside down on the deck. When I went to pick it up, cockroach-looking things scattered in all directions.

TERRIFYING.

I slammed the balcony door shut and had to squash one with my bare hand to keep it from getting lost in the house. After a couple random chats with dog owners in the days that followed, I learned that these lil’ bastards are called water bugs, native to Georgia, and basically invincible. 
IMG_3934But trying to put the water bug incident behind me, I got myself prepped and ready for gardening round #2.

I was already missing all of the palm trees in Florida, so I picked up a mini-palm meant for indoor display to put on my coffee table. I’m thinking of installing a sandbox in the corner over the weekend. No really.
IMG_3944Without a doubt, those impatiens were dead as a doorbell and needed to be tossed into the trash. There was really no hope of reviving them.

Taking a page from “lessons learned,” I planted marigolds and celosias in their place. My mom always had marigolds in the yard when I was growing up and I remember them being pretty easy to take care. Plus, they’re orange and orange is awesome.

I’d never really seen celosias before, but their cuteness, colorfulness, and cheapness enticed me in the garden center that day. A little Googling informed me that they’re ornamental plants that are also edible…but I have yet to start snacking on them. They’re also named after the Greek word for “burned,” which refers to their flame-like shape.

That’s HOTTT.
IMG_3945I also finally got something to put into that orphaned blue flower pot in the corner. I thought a blue flower pot deserved blue flowers, but such are actually pretty hard to find. My favorite blue flower is the hydrangea, which reminds me of being back in Rhode Island…where they are EVERYWHERE!

I think these bushes are a little too big for my mini-balcony, but someday I’ll have these blue bastards in my yard.

So for the blue pot, I settled on a blueish-purpleish plant called “blue moon phlox.” Like my other new flowers, these things like sun so I thought they’d enjoy my mini-balcony. Since one of our balcony doors is busted and doesn’t open, I pulled the pot over in front of it so I can see and enjoy it from the inside!

IMG_3931One final gardening endeavor of the moment is sprouting in a sponge. While in Florida, we visited the historic and touristy town of Tarpon Springs, which was a sponge diving port for Greek immigrants in the early 1900s.

Sponges! Like what you scrub yourself with in the shower and wash your dishes with the sink…sponges!

It was a really fun town to explore, and apparently, it has the largest population of Greek Americans than any other town in the U.S. Real sponges from the gulf and handmade soaps line practically every store shelf down there, and I picked up one particular kind that’s called a “flower pot sponge.”

IMG_3932The Sponge Factory, where I bought it, recommended that I plant lima bean seeds or lentil seeds in my sponge, but I couldn’t find either of these for the life of my at Lowe’s. So I did a bit of research and found that radishes should sprout soil-less in a sponge as well.
IMG_3943I soaked the radish seeds overnight and then stuck them into the pores of the sponge. Randomly, earlier that day one of my work writing assignments was about the purpose of sprouting and how to grown your own sprouts. I love when work and life align.

Within just a few days, the radish sprouts began to grow! Who knew?!

While researching for my work article, I kept reading that although sprouts are super healthy, they also pose a risk of bacterial contamination. A sponge seems like the perfect place for bacteria to grow. So I’ve been a bit nervous about eating my sprout and have yet to try them.

But they do look pretty righteous, eh?

IMG_3977So that’s my gardening update…one month later. I’ll plant to write a two-month update right before my trip to Europe to say farewell to these little guys and wish them the best while I abandon them for three weeks. Or maybe I won’t get around to it and you’ll see an update about the epic plant death that welcomes me back to the states.

And oh! As of yesterday, I have one more addition to add to my mini-balcony! My parents went me this ridiculously fun gnome flag that would look perfect out there. Of all the gnome crap I have, this is my first flag. Now I just need to find a way to attach it to the side post…hmm.
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Unlike my mom, who has to wait until after Mother’s Day to start planting due to fear of frost, some of my plants have been going strong – even after the one-month mark. The herbs, in particular, and growing like crazy now…faster than I can eat them!

Do you live in a climate where plants can thrive in March and April? How’s your garden holding up so far?

I have a feeling mine would rock so hard if only I didn’t travel…but right now, that’s not an option. So godspeed dear plants…I’ll do my best and you do the rest!

Miniature Balcony Gardening…in a 2-Foot by 10-Foot Space

I’ve been sporadically growing indoor houseplants for years now, but have never had the pleasure of my own yard or garden to expand to. Now that I’ve moved to Atlanta…well…I still don’t.

But I do have a miniature balcony – one that measures 2 feet wide by 10 feet long.

Indoor plants

My best indoor plants right now: blooming tulips & almost-blooming hyacinth

My balcony isn’t even large enough to put a chair on, but alas, it’s better than no outdoor space at all. It’s even better because the previous tenant actually left behind her old flower boxes, bird feeders, and a pot with a stand.

So on Wednesday afternoon when I wasn’t much in the mood for working (a rare but liberating freelancer moment!) I drove to Lowe’s to scout out their garden section. I’ve been watching the Atlanta weather and am feeling fairly confident that the temperatures won’t dip below freezing again anytime soon.

Impatiens

Also known as “impatience”…which I have plenty of.

I desperately wanted to try growing vegetables, but feared the lack of all-day sun and small space would kill them straight away. So I settled on some cilantro, basil, and mint for herbs and impatiens and begonias for flowers.

After getting home with my new plants, the first step was to clean out the dried-up planter boxes that had been left behind. I had picked up a big bag of potting mix in the garden center…one that promised to “grow plants TWICE AS BIG!”

Basil

Starting with the basil…trying not to make a humongous mess.

Since the only way to access the balcony is through the carpeted living room and is barely big enough to stand on, I set up my gardening project outside the garage in the “front yard.” And then proceeded to carefully carry everything upstairs and through the house…no spills!

Soil goes in, herbs go in, more soil goes in, water, and repeat.

I’m hoping to toss some basil and cilantro to some dishes while cooking and sipping mint mojitos. Seems reasonable, right?

According to the little tags, all three of my herbs like part sun (3-6 hours per day) and part shade. My balcony faces southeast, so I figured this would be a safe bet.

Impatiens 2

Trying to give these lil’ guys the best fighting chance at life.

Next for the impatiens! I remember my mom growing lots of impatiens around the yard as a kid. They’re inexpensive, easy to grow, and don’t need much sun. In fact, they prefer shade. We’ll see how they do with part sun and part shade in the balcony box.

Begonia

Hopefully this big girl doesn’t drip too much on the neighbor’s balcony down below…whoops.

I’ve always been a fan of hanging basket plants because they’re already living in a decent pot and are visible from far away. This is a pink begonia that likes morning sunlight only…or so I’m told.

Gnomekeeper #1

Gnomekeeper #1

But let’s be honest here. One of the biggest reasons I’m interested in gardening is because of the garden gnome opportunities that go along with it. Fortunately, I had a few gnomes-on-sticks lying around to stick into the herb and flower planter boxes.

Gnomekeeper #2

Gnomekeeper #2

So for now, this is what my balcony looks like! A welcome improvement to the drab, plantless-void that was here just a few days ago.

The finished product...for now.

The finished product…for now.

I’m happy to share that I’m one of the first gardeners in my apartment complex to put out plants for the season. Maybe they’re lazier than I am…or maybe they know something about typical weather conditions that I don’t know. We shall see!

A view from below

A view from below

But for now I’m pretty happy with my miniature balcony on the third floor. As long as the maintenance staff isn’t going crazy with the leaf blowers (that seems to be a big problem on Mondays), it’s peaceful here. Birds are chirping, traffic is low, trees are in the distance, and cherry blossom trees are starting to bloom nearby.

Be jealous, neighbors...be jealous.

Be jealous, neighbors…be jealous.

Stay tuned for gardening session #2, where I’ll take this abandoned pot of dead rosemary and transform it into something awesome to sit in the corner.

The next gardening project...dun dun dun...

The next gardening project…dun dun dun…

Armed with plant food, extra soil, and a watering can, I’m determined to make this the best damn mini balcony in the south.

The Semi-Epic Life of a Rooftop Tomato Plant

It was Father’s Day 2014, and in an odd twist of fate, I found myself spending the day with my father. To keep the whole family entertained, I organized a quick trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden to look at plants and such.

But this isn’t a story about my father; it’s about a tomato plant that spent a wild and turbulent summer with me on a rooftop in the city.

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Much to my surprise, I didn’t just stare at plants from a reasonable distance at the botanical gardens. I actually got to bring one home with me! And for those of you who know me too well, NO, I did not secretly stash anything in my purse.

A couple of volunteers were handing out white cherry tomato plants in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden…FOR FREE!

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Apparently, white cherry tomatoes are native to the western coast of South America and the Galapagos Islands. Whatever the heck they’re doing in the suburbs of Chicago is a mystery to me. Too bad I couldn’t have justified a quick trip to the Galapagos to reunite this poor, lost plant with its family.

3Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - June 17, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – June 17, 2014

It sucks to acquire a free tomato plant and have nowhere to put it. I once had access to the roof adjacent to my second floor apartment. But ever since my weird landlord showed up one day to change the locks and board up a door, my personal space is entirely, and sadly, confined to the indoors.

So I meandered up to the 6th floor rooftop of my boyfriend’s condo and found a quiet little corner to transform into a makeshift tomato garden. It became an official garden when I stuck a gnome-on-a-stick and a laminated talk bubble into the pot. I figured this tomato plant would have an awfully lot to say to random passersby.

I named her Piddilywinks and she began to grow tall, strong, and beautiful. Based on the little handout sheet I received with her, she promised to produce tomatoes by my birthday. Good timing, Piddilywinks!

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - July 25, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – July 25, 2014

I tried to take good care of her, being my first real garden plant at all. I even trekked to Home Depot to invest in some stakes and twisty ties to hold up her branches. Piddilywinks began to enjoy a wonderful existence up on that rooftop…until I was reminded of one of the main reasons I don’t have a real garden.

I like to travel. And plants don’t like owners who travel.

On July 27th, I set out on a three-week adventure along the West Coast. Sadly, Piddilywinks wouldn’t exactly fit in my carry-on bag.

Related: Spelunking at California’s Lava Beds National Monument

Related: Resort Ruins and an Auto Graveyard: Rediscovering My Love for Hiking in Mt. Shasta

Related: Gnome Man’s Land: A California Fantasy Land 40 Years in the Making

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - July 27, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – July 27, 2014

When I returned from spelunking, hiking, and gnoming, I expected to find a dreadfully dead Piddilywinks waiting for me. But when I climbed the stairs to the 6th floor roof I found something entirely different…

MY PLANT WAS MISSING.

Totally gone. Without a trace. Pot, gnome, talk bubble, and all.

To me, this was worse than being dead. Where was my closure?!

Being the investigative sleuth he is, my boyfriend sent an email to his condo mailing list to get to the bottom of this. As it turns out, Piddilywinks was kidnapped.

I must admit, however, that she was kidnapped with good intentions. One dude in the building was concerned for her health and welfare and gave her to another dude in the building to take care. Why neither of these dudes bothered to respond to Piddilywinks talk bubble, I’ll never know.

After a semi-dramatic email exchange, Piddilywinks was eventually returned to her original position on the rooftop – and in great shape!

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - August 15, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – August 15, 2014

Dude #2 had clearly nursed her back to health, so I can’t really hold the kidnapping against him.

Piddilywinks had sprouted green tomatoes by mid-August. I was so anxious for them to turn white and taste like cherries. I was promised a white cherry tomato plant after all.

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - August 21, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – August 21, 2014

Much to my surprise, there was nothing white or cherry about Piddilywinks at all! Her tomatoes came in yellow!

As to provide further evidence of my neglectful plant parenting, I abandoned Piddilywinks once again in mid-August to join a spontaneous concert road trip to New York City.

Related: How I Wrapped Up My 30th Year in New York City

But this time, I left her in the care of my boyfriend, who snapped this photo of the first yellow tomatoes.

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - September 25, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – September 25, 2014

Who needs a watering can when you have a large supply of brewery growlers on hand?

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - October 22, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – October 22, 2014

Piddilywinks continued to survive and thrive throughout September and even October. In the end, she supplied me with around 50 “white” (yellow) “cherry” tomatoes. Yes, I ate almost all of them myself. And they were delicious!

There is one crucial thing that I didn’t know until I sat down to write this blog. You’re not supposed to ‘fridge ’em! Apparently, cherry tomatoes lose their flavor and texture deteriorates under 54 degrees. So THAT’S why they always tasted better right after I plucked (i.e. harvested) and washed them!

But as some wise gardener probably said at one point, the lives of all good plants must eventually come to an end.

Piddilywinks final days were spent on the rooftop in early November, when the temperatures began dipping into the 30s. She showed strength and resilience until her final day, when I carried her down to the dumpster in semi-ceremonial fashion. Even when her leaves rotted and withered away, she still hung on to her last remaining unripe tomatoes – hoping the would feed me one day.

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - November 15, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – November 15, 2014

Someday I won’t travel as much. Someday I’ll have a full-fledged garden. Someday I’ll read about the plants I intend to grow. And someday I’ll head to my backyard stead of the market for my produce.

But this year, I had a rooftop tomato plant. Her name was Piddilywinks and I miss her already.

R.I.P. Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant: June 17, 2014 – November 15, 2014.