Unexpected Occurrences

We have been on a two month hiatus from living in our RV.  And while we have been so graciously hosted in so many friends’ and families’ homes, we have really been looking forward to getting back into our RV and our own lives!  So, just when we were getting so close we could feel our own bed under us at night and see out our own window, at least in our minds’ eye, this happened Sunday….


A low coolant light came on during the very last few miles to our friend Lenny’s house.  After a little research, Jeff determined that the water pump had failed.  This was confirmed by Spitzer Dodge and they are repairing it today.  This repair is covered under our 100,000 mile/powertrain warranty.  They are also looking into repairs on a recalled item.

And this…


While Jeff was cleaning out the car he shut the door (not a slam, just a regular closing of the door) and heard a tinkling sound behind him, like ice breaking, he said.  When he turned around, the driver’s side door window had shattered!  This repair is not covered by anything!

While life on the road is often fun and exciting, sometimes it is just life!  Life is full of unexpected occurrences and instances which force us to slow down or stop, even when we don’t want to. It is a good lesson in making do, staying flexible and really just appreciating what is in the present moment.  For now, I am ever so grateful that we are in a warm, safe place surrounded by friends and family!  Today, we are working on our school work, taking a long walk and waiting on more information from Spitzer Dodge.





Filed under Family, Natasha, RV Living

Christmas Past and Present/RV Holidays

Our holiday celebrations over the last three years have varied.    We usually are surrounded by family and friends. But Christmas 2014, our first year in the RV, we were alone with ourselves at Ichetucknee Springs State Park.  We had to make our own fun, and figure out how to make a small space cheery for the holidays without becoming junky and cluttered. We started with the tree – not the conventional Christmas tree but one the kids fell in love with and were happy with – a small palm type.  Once decorated with a selection of our old favorite ornaments and lights, in the dark of the night, it created much the same mood as a traditional tree might…


We had been collecting pinecones and greens, magnolia leaf clusters and cedar boughs. The kids made their own wreaths out of grapevine.  Here is what they turned into…


A movie on Christmas Eve and a canoe trip on Christmas Day. We still had fun, but it did not bring the kind of joy that being surrounded by loved ones and all your favorite foods and beverages can bring! And then, not all of our packages arrived on time, and so our experience really turned into a sort of spontaneous 12 days of Christmas experience. The kids didn’t care! The packages just kept trickling in from far away family members and Amazon! Maybe we started a new tradition!?

Our second Christmas on the road was spent at Kartchner Caverns State Park, in Arizona.  We volunteered there for two, two month gigs.  My mom came out to visit us and that made the Holiday much more cheery.  Although it wasn’t quite as warm as she had hoped! Our tree that year consisted of two agave flower stalks placed together and strung with lights.  We painted the seed pods with glitter glue and the ‘branches’ were more than strong enough to hold our favorite ornaments.  We loved how it filled our space height wise but wasn’t too fat for our small living room.   And the view outside was hard to beat, with a full moon rising over Cochise’s Stronghold.


Another thing I love about our RV is that I have enough counter space and an oven for baking.  This date cookie recipe was my great grandmothers, Effie Mae.  Always a nice snack after a holiday hike with Nanny Steph.


AND we were able to participate in the Sierra Vista Christmas Parade on the Kartchner Caverns float with other volunteers and rangers!

This year, we came back east for the holidays.  After a fun and rare cross country road trip without the RV (we left it in California), during which we saw several good friends and had our own adventures, we arrived back in familiar territory and were able to visit with a lot of our family members and friends.  Although it has been great, we are looking forward to being back in our own space and discovering new things.  First thing in the New Year we will begin our westward journey to rejoin our nomadic lifestyle!  We embrace the growth and exploration this new year is sure to bring to our family!



Filed under Family, Natasha, RV Living, Uncategorized

Finding Nature in Children’s Books

This post is updated from a previous time.  Please check it out and add your comments with book lists of your own! I have been so absorbed in the novel I just finished that I have neglected to post…

Source: Finding Nature in Children’s Books

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Completion of our Solar Project

Well it has been a long road for our solar installation on our Excel Winslow Fifth Wheel Trailer. I am a little embarrassed at how long it took me to complete the project. I started off well enough, installing the two DM 158w Monocrystalline solar panels just after we left on our adventure of Full-Time living (April 2014).  It appeared I was making great progress. Several weeks later I had the combiner box in, 4 gauge wiring installed from the roof to the Morningstar TS-45 Tristar 45 Amp Charge Controller and our Trimetric TM-2025-RVBattery Monitor System installed and operational. (Check out: Phase One of our Solar Installation and Solar Power for our Rig) But then the project stalled.

I probably could come up with a long list of excuses why it took me so long to complete the Solar Project, but two things come to mind: one was cost and the other was we just did not need the electricity. The cost component was the steep price of the inverter (what turns our battery electricity from DC to AC so we can run anything that plugs in, and I was stuck on a Magnum MMS1012 1000W Inverter Charger with a hefty price of almost $1,000). But maybe more importantly, it was the fact that we just had not needed solar power. For most of our travels we were volunteering, in campgrounds, or in family or friends driveways, all places where we could plug-in. And when we were not plugged in, our Crown 260 AMP-Hour 6 Volt Deep Cycle Batteries, fully charged, could easily go a week off the grid: running our lights, hydraulics, and water pump. The downside when we were not plugged in was: no television, stereo, coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, or charging our electronic devices.

Okay, so enough with the excuses. On May 8th we left Arizona (after being plugged-in for six months) for a month and a half trip back east, with plans to do a lot of boondocking (camping off the grid: no hookups) and dispersed camping (staying in public lands), as we visited as many National Parks in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota as we could. For these travels we wanted to be able to plug things in and needed AC power to do it. It was time for the purchase of an inverter, and to finish-up our solar project!


I did some more research and in the end decided to save significant money and purchased a Xantrex 806-1210 PROwatt 1000 SW Inverter, and so far the Xantrex has worked perfectly in our installation – I have no regrets. Besides the inverter there were many challenges to finishing the solar project, but in the end we are very pleased with the outcome.

The freedom of solar power is remarkable,  something we did not foresee. To be in a picturesque spot deep within a National Forest and able to run everything in our RV makes us feel very smart, and not having to run a generator to do it: doubly smart. And solar power is effortless, once it is up and running, no noise, no fuel to deal with: truly liberating.


First test: grinding coffee with power from the sun!

During our travels east this past spring we were plugged-in only once (Moab, UT, when it was over 100 degrees and we needed air-conditioning), and we stayed unplugged all summer and during our two-month journey to the Northwest. Currently we are visiting good friends in Husum, WA and you know what? The sun does not shine so much in autumn here and our panels are struggling to keep the batteries charged. Add to this the latitude (45 degrees N, same as Montreal, Quebec!) and you have a sun problem for solar power. There are two solutions: one is to add a couple more panels, giving us double the Watts (624), the other is to head south! I think I like the heading south idea!


Filed under Jeff, RV Living, Solar, Uncategorized

Meeting up with June Bug Journeys

We recently met up with June Bug Journeys – friends we were first acquainted with when we were hosting at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. June Bug Journeys is Becky of The Fun Girls and her husband Bob, comedian, singer/songwriter and recently retired from the Bob and Tom Show, a syndicated radio program out of Indianapolis, IN.


Bob and Becky with the June Bug at home in Indianapolis.

Bob and Becky now enjoy their retirement by traveling in their Airstream. We joined up with them at Big Arm State Park on Flathead Lake, Montana. It just so happened that we were both traveling west, on just about the same route, visiting almost all of the same parks at about the same time!

As we sat lakeside and by the campfire, they interviewed us for their podcast!  That interview can be found at www.junebugjourneys.com.   We talk about how we got started in full-time RV-ing, some of the challenges we face in this lifestyle, and joy of minimizing possessions, downsizing living space and exploring the country.


Filed under Natasha, Parkschooling, RV Living

Prairie Pothole Region

We recently traveled through the prairie pothole region of North America.  This region stretches from central Iowa, southern and western Minnesota, eastern North and South Dakotas and northern Montana northward into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.


The potholes themselves are remnants of glacial depressions created over 10,000 years ago and are now filled with water, or are wetlands with surrounding grasslands that provide, food, water and shelter for nesting and migratory ducks and other birds. Many natural potholes have been drained to create agricultural land.  The prairie potholes that remain are critical habitat for nesting and migratory birds.  This is very productive breeding habitat that creates over one half of the waterfowl, such as blue-winged teals, found in North America.


Migratory birds use this critical habitat as “rest stops”. Think about it, you wouldn’t drive from coastal Texas to northern Canada without stopping for fuel, to stretch your legs and have a good nights sleep!  Neither do birds such as whooping cranes.  They need places to rest and refuel just like we do!

National wildlife refuges help to preserve what is left of some of the region’s potholes. Working with landowners, US Fish and Wildlife strives to maintain some semblance of “natural” habitat for nesting and migrating waterfowl and other bird species, as well as the plants and mammals that thrive in this region.

Budget cuts have minimized visitor services within the National Wildlife Refuge System. We visited a beautiful visitor’s center at Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, complete with vast indoor and outdoor classroom space, with no staff to run programming! We were able to leave the 5th wheel at the parking lot and enjoy the auto tour. We also enjoyed a nice walk on the nature trail, where we found this magical shelter for the kids to play in.



Filed under Natasha, Nature, North Dakota, Parkschooling, RV Living

A Visit to Ramsey Canyon Preserve

So we usually write “epic” (I hear that word a lot now and my 7 year old loves to use it!) blog posts with big themes that take us days if not weeks to complete, if we ever do get them finished! I’ve decided to start keeping it simple for the sake of keeping up a bit more.

We are in the desert and, as everywhere, water is really important here. Animals of all kinds flock to it and people use up more than their fair share in more ways than one. Needless to say we have been enjoying the protected riparian areas we find. This week we visited three…Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area to see Arizona’s wintering sandhill cranes, Benson’s Waterfowl Viewing pond, and Ramsey Canyon Preserve.

The cranes at Whitewater Draw are cool birds and it is neat to see them in the desert, plus we saw many raptors, a female vermilion flycatcher and a black-headed grosbeak. In Benson there were a few ducks but it was largely underwhelming. On the other hand, Ramsey Canyon, managed by the Nature Conservancy, is a very special place.

The hiking trail there takes you up in elevation from 5500’ to 6200’ along the cold, clear, spring-fed creek.  Along the way we saw not only the old foundations and cabins left behind from settlements long past, but also the bridled titmouse, painted redstart, Hammond’s flycatcher and gould’s turkey and deer literally feet in front of us on the trail. It is hard to imagine what life might have been like in this canyon in the early 1900’s. The kids had a wonderful time playing in the creek and marking off their bingo cards provided by the friendly staff at the visitor’s center (upon their return they got to pick a prize for each “bingo”).  We will definitely visit Ramsey Canyon again!



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Filed under Family, Natasha, Nature, Parkschooling, RV Living

Ram 3500 Truck After More Than a Year on the Road

This is an update of our experience with our Ram 3500 Truck after 15 months on the road. We have traveled from Idaho to West Virginia, south to the Florida Keys, north all the way to Vermont and the Adirondacks, the east coast: Boston, New York City, Washington DC, back to Florida: Ichetucknee Springs State Park near Gainesville and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park near Panama City, Gulf Coast to Goose Island State Park near Corpus Christi, Texas and down to the Rio Grand River, then north to Maumee Bay State Park near Toledo, Ohio, Indianapolis, Indiana, north to Traverse City, Michigan and as I write this Columbus, Ohio. Soon we will be back in West Virginia. How many miles? Well the truck’s odometer reads over 33,000 miles, oh my!

Day of purchase from Dennis Dillon Dodge Ram in Caldwell, Idaho

If you read our post “Our Week in Pictures” from March 15, 2014 you would know we bought our Ram 3500 new (ordered it from the factory) from Dennis Dillon Dodge-Ram in Caldwell, Idaho. Why Idaho? It was just the best deal we could find anywhere, and even worth the airfare for four to go get it. From day one we have loved the truck, just nothing negative to write about it. There is plenty of room for us and it is as comfortable as can be with all the fancy features anyone could possibly want.

As far as fuel mileage: when not towing we get 22-24 mpg on the highway, when towing the fifth wheel (16,000 pounds) around 12-14. Our range when not towing is over 700 miles, when towing around 400. When we started our journey diesel fuel prices were hovering around $4.00/gallon and a full fill-up $130 or so (32 gallon tank)! With last year’s drop in the price of a barrel of oil we were given a windfall. In Texas we found our lowest price for a gallon of diesel fuel: $2.14! Things have moderated some but we can still find diesel for well under $3.00/gallon wherever we go. Something we learned quickly was buying diesel fuel at truck stops is more expensive than at local stations. So when we are unhooked we shop around and make sure the truck is full when we begin a trip towing.

Our Ram 3500 with the 6.7L Cummins diesel engine demands DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) to clean up its emissions. The DEF tank holds five gallons, and when full won’t need filled again for 5,000 miles (though while towing this number drops significantly). You can purchase DEF in containers at many locations but it costs twice as much as at the pump, and then you are stuck with disposal of the plastic 2.5-gallon containers, a real waste. Finding DEF from a pump is a challenge and we have only found it at truck stops where the big-rigs fill-up. I purchased DEF in a plastic container once, in Vermont (try finding a truck stop in Vermont). For those of you driving diesel cars, be brave, save the plastic container and a few dollars and head to a truck stop for your next fill-up of DEF, it will be an interesting and fun adventure.

The truck has an exhaust brake, a fantastic feature! With the exhaust brake there’s no need to use the conventional brakes while descending steep grades. On several trips across the Appalachian Mountains we didn’t use the truck and trailer brakes at all, saving us wear on brake pads and rotors. After 33,000 miles the trucks brake pads look almost new, trailer’s too, amazing. There’s also an integrated trailer brake on the truck that balances the truck’s brakes with the trailer’s for maximum braking performance when needed.

As for towing the Ram 3500 is fully up to the task. There has never been a time we felt need for more power, and stability is great (we ordered an eight foot bed giving the maximum wheel-base for extra stability). Road conditions can make things interesting at times and our cringe-factor becomes well elevated. While towing there is no swerving possible and if a dip or rough pavement is encountered you just have to grin and bear it. On a recent stretch of Rt. 2 near Sandusky, Ohio we hit two ridiculous bumps in a row, which caused items in the front of the trailer to rise five or so inches and then down. When stopped, anything hanging on hangers was now at the bottom of our closets. This was by far the hardest bump we have experienced and fortunately a rare occurrence.

The truck is heavy (7,000 pounds) and big (22 feet long). Parking is an adventure; we always find a space well removed. The back-up camera and rear sensors are necessities not conveniences. Has ownership of our Ram 3500 been incident free? Well no. In New York Natasha managed to run into the back of an auto-hauler trailer. Rear of these trailers is low and disappears in front of the Ram’s large hood. Her attention was diverted and she drifted into it. When 7,000 pounds of truck drifts into anything the result is bad. No one was hurt, damage to the auto-hauler trailer was minimal but the truck needed a new bumper, grill, radiator and air conditioner condenser. In Florida I was backing up to get near a hose so I could wash the truck. I had the tailgate down making the back-up camera useless (stupid) and the rear sensor alarm disabled (dumb). When I got out of the truck, to my astonishment there was a dent in the end of the tailgate! My first instant of thought was “when did Natasha do that?” My second instant: “&%$#* how could I be such a moron!” I had hit a low pole and did not even know it. Then just days after getting the tailgate fixed (a real hassle) we are pulling into a Ram Service Center to get fixed what turned out to be nothing at all and Jon, in a fit of temper, kicked open his rear door striking a steel and concrete structure, denting the edge of the door. It is difficult to blame a six year old, though I did try, no this was my fault for pulling in so close. Lucky for us they had one if those wizards that can pull dents out of sheet metal (PDR – Paintless Dent Remover), astonishing to me, $180 later no trace of a dent.

Damage from hitting auto-carrier trailer.

The lessons are: easy as you go, absolutely no tailgating, full attention at all times, never park near anything, and do not assume anything. In addition, front sensors were available as an option on the truck, $1,000. We feel the sensors would have been well worth the extra money, with them Natasha would probably not have rear-ended that trailer. If I had left the tailgate up and the rear sensors activated I would not have backed into that pole. And by using my head when entering the Ram Service Center it would have prevented Jon from damaging the door; this is why they call them accidents, all are preventable. Somehow now we have six months of error free driving (knock on wood).

I am doing the maintenance on the truck. Oil changes come at 15,000 miles and with oil (Rotella T-5 Synthetic) and filter costs $75. It takes four gallons of oil and draining the old is a challenge; sad to say I have made an epic mess each time. The fuel filters must be changed at 15,000 intervals as well: two filters (Mopar), $110 for the pair. Changing the filters is relatively simple. The 6.7L Cummins engine is a marvel. We met a guy at a truck stop with a similar truck pulling an auto-hauler trailer for a living. He had 600,000 miles on the truck and had had no engine troubles! Remarkable.

Ram 3500 at 33,000 miles and 15 months.


Filed under Jeff, RV Living, Uncategorized

Grand Isle State Park, Vermont

As I sat with Jon, our 6 year old, on St Joseph Bay, Florida, listening to the red-throated loons calling, I was reminded of the last place we listened to loons calling; Grand Isle State Park, Vermont. It was such a beautiful place, and it was not crowded at all when we were there, which made it even nicer. With our RV safely parked at our friends’ in Danby, we even decided to forego our tent for the lovely Adirondack shelter overlooking the lake.  With our bellies full of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and after a fun ferry ride across Lake Champlain, we were all thrilled to be sleeping outside, even though it was a bit chilly!

As the sun rose on us in the morning, I peeked my head out of my sleeping bag to see Jon sitting up, quietly watching the light come to the morning. The loons were calling. It was a magical moment for both of us. He still remembers that morning, and recently, while reading The Secret Garden, we found the perfect description of those magical moments…

“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun – which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so.”

The Park Manager told us this is the most visited state park in Vermont during the camping season, May 8 – October 18. Surprisingly, when we were there midweek in September, we had our choice of campsites.  After looking around the 121 campsites and lean-to’s, we thought that the prime lean-to named Maple afforded the best view of the lake as well as access down a short, rocky bank to the lakeshore for the kids and dog to play.

While we highly recommend Grand Isle State park and we thoroughly enjoyed our lean-to and the views of Lake Champlain, we also used it as a point from which to take a day trip into the Adirondacks of New York, during which we visited the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, Whiteface Mountain and surrounding areas.  The gondola ride to the top of the ski area was fun and afforded the best views!


Filed under Family, Natasha, Nature, Park Reviews

Thickly Settled

On our way south again, we decided to really change things up and hit some of the big metropolitan areas on the East Coast. And it was none too soon. Not that we didn’t absolutely love Vermont, just that the campgrounds and dump stations were closing up behind us almost literally as we went down the road!  We had to get south!

Our first stops out of Vermont took us to the greater Boston area. We parked in a church lot near the home of our friends Donovan and Kat. Next we moved closer to the city to my dear friend Sue’s house. Our kids played (in between illnesses) while we caught up and we managed to visit the city a few times. We were struck by the road signs warning that we were entering “Thickly Settled” areas! One thing is for sure, we were not in Vermont any more! While in Boston we visited the Science Center, Paul Revere’s house, Beacon Hill, Walden Pond, Concord, Minuteman National Historical Park, Harvard, Cambridge, Wood’s Hole and Cape Cod.  In our history lessons, we had just finished up Mr. Revere and I, an Account in the Career of Paul Revere as told by his Horse. It was perfect timing to actually see his house and stand where he rode.

Willa at Minuteman National Historical Park.


Sue and I dressed up and took the kids out to the local library for a Halloween event.

On a beach on the Cape.

Next we had to hit New York City and were able to park with an old friend in the Central Valley of the Hudson River. Thankfully my cousin in NYC agreed to meet us and help us navigate! It truly was Country Mouse meets City Mouse! We saw the Empire State Building, Times Square (Toys R Us), the National September 11 Memorial, the Fraunces Tavern (the same tavern Phoebe the Spy was raised in, another history lesson), rode the Staten Island Ferry and walked through Chinatown and took 9 different trains!  After all that, the kids’ favorite part was the tub of frogs in one fish market in Chinatown. It was very interesting to say the least.

Silently gazing into the National September 11 Memorial and struggling to answer the kids questions as to what and why.

Lego heaven!


Country Mouse and City Mouse!

Country Mouse and City Mouse in Times Square!


We had at least one tired pup at the end of the day! Waiting for the train ride home…

An old friend of Jeff’s welcomed us into her driveway and her home in Central Valley. The kids trick-or-treated with her girls which made Halloween an extra special treat!

Last but not least was Washington DC. For the second time we were able to park in a church parking lot in Fairfax for 5 nights. It gets interesting boondocking like this! We become very aware of our water and electric usage! While in the DC area we toured the monuments and museums on the National Mall and Memorial Parks and the kids earned their Junior Park Ranger badges for the monuments, which is no small feat.   We were there on Veteran’s Day so there was a lot going on. And not to be missed is the cell phone lot and park at the Ron Reagan airport!  It is right at the end of the runway.   Additionally we had the opportunity to participate, with members’ of our friends’ church, in Our Daily Bread, Complete the Circle FOODraiser. 8,300 pounds of food were collected that day to help feed those struggling in the Fairfax area.

The Korean War Memorial. Jeff’s Dad served in this war.

One of the requirements to earning the Junior Ranger Badge is to rub one of over 58,000 names on the Vietnam War Memorial wall. Lots of volunteers are on hand to answer questions and to help you.

We got to see some of Uncle Jon’s artwork in the Natural History Museum.  We could have spent days in the Hall of Human Origins.

It seems like you can almost touch the planes as they come in to land!

The kids and I were so happy to have the opportunity to participate in something with such a good message and with so much impact. The folks in the red shirts made up the heart surrounding a hand holding a loaf of bread. The (real) photo was taken from high above the ground.

The kids and I were so happy to have the opportunity to participate in something with such a good message and with so much impact. The folks in the red shirts made up the heart surrounding a hand holding a loaf of bread. The (real) photo was taken from high above the ground.

It is so nice to have time to spend with family and friends. That has been one benefit to being on the road…we spend more time with more people and have an opportunity to become familiar with their routine and life. It also feels good that the kids now have a visual of many iconic American landmarks. When we read a story about immigrants coming to Ellis Island or about Paul Revere rousing the Patriots, we can think of exactly where it happened and what it looks like now. Many thanks to our friends Donovan and Kat, Sue and Todd, Ellen and Ted, Tom and Kris, Kathy and Lee and Dan and Laura who helped us navigate these areas and find a spot for our rig!!


Filed under Family, Natasha, Parkschooling, RV Living