Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year, Fresh Start

So 2013 is finally upon us and Katrina and I have been living in the RV for a little over a month now, with no ill effects to our well-being. Fritz and the kitties have adjusted well, likely because we have dedicated much of the living space to their comfort and peace of mind.
We have had to make some adjustments in our thinking- with such a small space, it's impossible to keep cats off of counters and the dinette table when we're not around- so we have learned to embrace the concept of Lysol Sanitizing Wipes. We have also been training the cats to not jump on the table while we are eating, lest they wish to have a nice refreshing spray bath from my trusty water bottle.
Ironically, my spray bottle has miraculously disappeared in the last few days. I say miraculously, because it's singularly difficult to actually lose anything larger than an earring in 119 square feet of organized living space. I suspect that a feline plot is afoot. I will keep you abreast of details as the mutiny gains a following.

Did you notice my subtle insert of the key phrase "organized living space"?  Brilliant segue if I do say so myself. Yes, the trailer is finally organized. After a year of planning, the realities of "space" still eluded me once the move was upon us.
There is a drastic difference in thinking required to plan to live in an RV than there is in a stick and brick home; most notably with accessories. In a stick and brick home, you are provided with a blank canvas on which to paint the designs of your life. You are responsible for providing table, chairs and bookcases on which to sit or place your keepsakes.
In an RV, everything is already built in; there is little room for extraneous furniture or decor because space and weigh are at a premium. In today's new trailers, there is more space for decorations because of our modern ultra-lite materials and improved designs- but our little tin can is an 1974 model, which is light years behind today's technology. There is no space for any additional furniture and precious little wall space for pictures and decor.

When we first moved in, the dinette table and both benches were piled high with stuff that we couldn't  find room for. Our clothes were in giant clear tubs on the shelf above our bed and they were clumsy & bulky and not at all user-friendly, but we felt them necessary for keeping animal hair off of our clothing. Getting dressed each morning was an arduous chore and keeping everything organized was next to impossible.
Enter the handy spray bottle and we were able to pile our clothes in naked (gasp) stacks on the shelves, putting non-stackables (socks, undies, etc) in small plastic baskets that can nest if needed. Once the bulky tubs were eliminated, the clothing took up less than half of the original space and the kitties quickly learned that those fuzzy pajama pants weren't as nice of a bed as they originally thought (thanks H2O!!!). Additionally  we were able to make kitty nests of soft fleece blankets in the free space adjacent to the clothes and three kitties can snuggle together at once. Kit's too tubby to jump up to the shelf, but he has a cat bed on the wheel well under the dinette and there are two additional beds under the kick out beneath our bed. The pet bowls of food and water , as well as the pet basket with brushes, treats and bath sprays also fit under our bed, a major boon since floor space is negligible. Room for our shower flip flops and our winter boots is under the bed by the door, an added convenience.
Once our clothing issues were sorted out, it was easier to weed through the remaining mountain of belongings to find a home for each item or to determine whether the item in question still had value to our current lifestyle. Our biggest challenges are that both Katrina and I have hobbies that we thoroughly enjoy and have no intention of giving up, but that take up significant amounts of space. I, for example, love to sew and take pictures.
 My photography setup alone consists of my Canon camera, tripod, monopod, five studio lights, reflector with stand, 16 foot studio backdrop, umbrellas, etc. Most of my studio kit is currently in storage but just my camera bag and tripod weigh around thirty pounds. My sewing kit is much the same. My machine, kit, sewing basket and assorted materials, including the fabric for new curtains and dinette pads that aren't orange, weigh about the same and take up most of the space under the seat on my side of the dinette.
Katrina makes jewelry and her kits weigh more than mine because of her stamping anvil and pins alone. She has to have room for both of her beading kits and her bedazzler (which she won't live without and who can blame her), plus her lighted magnifying glass which conveniently bolts to the dinette for her forty year old eyes to see with.....

The things that most people take for granted in a home that doesn't move is the weight and volume of each and every belonging that they own. When you drag your house behind you everywhere you go, you pay every day (in the currency of petroleum) for the luxury of keeping your junk close at hand. When you consider that a pair of socks weighs an average of 1.6 ounces and you multiply that by all of the socks that you own and then you multiply that by the rest of your clothes, and your spouse's clothes and your food , water, toiletries, cleaning supplies, shoes , winter gear, summer toys, hobby gear, lawn chairs, charcoal, dishes, pots & pans, silverware, jackets, boots, dogs, cats, fat cats, blah, blah, blah..... AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!
You see why even ounces become important to trim. If I can trim just five ounces from each of the twenty-two categories listed above,  I can eliminate nearly seven pounds of gear. I am not a physics major and I cannot accurately calculate the weight to energy ratio of not hauling seven pounds of gear around every day or week or months, but I am a slightly bright bulb and I can certainly see the benefits of eliminating as much crap from our can as humanly possible.

The challenge in our current socio-economic culture is to make others understand that it's not only okay to not buy me unnecessary crap for Christmas or my birthday, but it's actually preferred; and that by continuously perpetuating the Western Philosophy of consumerism, you are actually making my life harder by either forcing me to chose between keeping your gift and eliminating another of my possessions, or by trying to fit my new Tchotchke into my canned ham of a  home,  or by simply re-gifting or donating your contribution to a person in need. The latter option being the most uncomfortable when you come to visit and ask where I chose to showcase your present and I am forced to either lie (my cowardly preference) or tell you the truth -that the God awful resin bird clock from Harriet Carter simply did not fit into my modern decor- even though you bought the clock knowing how much I like birds and bird watching (I love cats, too, but PLEASE don't ever buy me cat crap- I will unfriend you from more than just Facebook).

Another social challenge to living in a trailer is the common misconception that you are uncomfortable, cold and/or would rather be somewhere else.
People outside of the RV community cannot understand that you actually do have food and heat and entertainment. We are constantly being offered dinner and showers and laundry facilities, as well as solicitations about our health and well-being and whether we are 'warm enough'. Let me dispel the myths:

We sleep on a brand new Sealy pillow top mattress with 600 thread count Ralph Lauren Sheets, a Martha Stewart Microfiber Dual-control electric blanket, a goose down comforter with 400 thread count duvet cover and my darling handmade comforter from the quilt shoppe at Gardener Village (thanks Mom!). We also have two goose down Ralph Lauren pillows, and three Tommy Bahama microfiber filled pillows (all five pillows on Costco special). Bet my bed is nicer than most... I certainly think so!

We also have more heat than we know what to do with- and other problems indicative to trailer life. The RV has a propane furnace that works too well but being that it's 40 years old, it did not come equipped with a thermostat- only a round knob numbered 1-5, so fiddling is required to find a non-sauna comfort level. Another consideration when heating with propane that most folks under sixty years of age or living west of the Mississippi won't know, is that propane heat induces moisture into the air; Not a big deal in a stick and brick home that is well-ventilated. In 119 square feet of space with seven respirating bodies, a bit more of a concern, unless you like mold- which I don't unless it's in the form of sauerkraut,  kefir or a tasty kombucha/vinegar. So we often opt for our trusty electric heater, which does a beautiful job as long as the outside temperature remains above thirty degrees. Once the temperature drops below that, a combination of low furnace and electric heat keeps the trailer nice and toasty and much less humid. Our three week cold spell of 17 degrees to three below taught us much about fine-tuning. I can only hope that once we pull up stakes and winter south of the Mason-Dixon line, the heating issue will resolve itself and the furnace will be sufficient for our tropical winter heating needs.

Now we have settled into the trailer nicely- My Harman Kardon speakers have been mounted under the cabinets above the dinette, the DVD player is hooked up to the flat screen (thanks Mom-in-law!)- although I have yet to mount the swivel bracket for the screen (another weekend project to complete very soon).
There are still kinks to work out and by most standards we are still roughing it. An example is that we need to re-run new flexible hosing from the city water outlet to the bathroom sink because the hosing was cracked and old and there is not shut off valve to exclude the bathroom sink from the rest of the trailer water supply (1974, remember?). Soooo.... we have no running water in the trailer currently. Before you flip out and think that we're dirty and don't flush or wash our hands, relax.  Right outside the trailer door is our handy, dandy water spigot- all wrapped up in heat tape and plugged in to stay warm (another RVer bit of knowledge that will elude a few of you)- all we have to do is take our plastic water jugs and fill em up for fresh water. I keep one in the bathroom sink for flushing and hand washing and another two under the kitchen sink for heating to wash dishes (showers and hygiene are accomplished in the shower center a short walk from our RV). We don't drink the city water, we fill our other jugs at the Harmon's filtered water station. at 39 cents a gallon, it's pricier than the green store (25 cents) but still greener and healthier and cheaper than bottled water. We have done this longer than we've lived in the RV, so it's nothing new, but the water jugs for washing are a bit rough and not what I think most people would prefer for day to day living. We are roughing it a bit more than I had originally planned but now that I have gotten accustomed to it, it think it's beneficial for us to learn this way- on the road, we won't be hooked up to city water and I don't plan to travel with full fresh tanks because of the weight- so getting used to the jugs is common sense for our adventure. I do still plan to fix the water hoses in the spring because I want everything to work in my home and because I will certainly use running water if it's a luxury that's afforded me.
Also, since the frozen poopsicle fiasco last month (see previous entry for details), I have implemented a poop embargo in the trailer. Fortuitously, the sanctioned were in force prior to the running water incident, thus further easing the burden on the jug method.  The embargo limits were tested around New Year's when a viral colitis infection reared it's ugly head. Traipsing two hundred feet in the snow in nine degree weather at three a.m. with a puckering sphincter is fun for no one, no matter how hilarious it looks in print a week later.  One finds religion in the repeated mantra of, "oh God, oh God, oh God....pleeeeeeeaaaassssee, nooooo!" Luckily, the sphincter muscles are still in the prime of life, which probably won't be the case in ten years.

Disgusting bodily functions aside, an air of domesticity has settled over our lives and we are learning how to live and move in a small space. Two people cannot move around the trailer at the same time. In order to pass, one person must sit down on either the bed or the dinette because the aisles are only about twenty inches wide. One person cooks and hands dishes and food prep to another sitting at the table. A side benefit to such small living space is that dishes cannot be left unwashed since the kitchen counter also doubles as a nightstand for the bed. Everything must be washed, dried and put away immediately after each meal. Water heats on the stove while cooking (we turn the heaters off when the stove and oven are on to conserve energy) and is then poured into one side of the sink with dish-washing detergent.  The kettle is refilled with cold water that heats while we eat dinner and then the dishes are washed and rinsed in hot water and towel dried before they are put away. It's a nice routine completed to streaming Pandora music on our Harman Kardon speakers plugged into Katrina's iphone. We no longer sit around watching TV all night- we get things done, go for a walk, maybe watch a movie if it's really cold, shower and go to bed. The basketball court and playground are about 50 feet west of our trailer and I look forward to shooting some hoops once nuclear winter abates and the sun emerges from it's winter slumber once more.

I think we will still be here this summer- we are planning on staying in Utah until mid-September before heading out on the road for good. I think it will take my company that long to ready everything for my virtual existence. We plan on a few long weekend jaunts to get our trailer legs and we are driving the trailer to Austin in May for a convention that my company always attends. It will give us a chance to see what working is life while living on the road, plus, it will save my company money and allow us to take our full booth regalia without renting stuff that won't fit on the plane. I have to make sure that the trailer and van are both in tip top shape before the convention. This trip is an excellent excuse to get everything in order sooner rather than later. I am anxious to get on the road and out of the trailer parks as soon as possible.

I was lamenting (i.e. feeling sorry for myself) the other day, all of the changes to our lives in the past six years. We no longer own a real house or a sexy car and all of our stuff is either in storage, sold or donated. Katrina pointed out that even in this economy, we still own our own house and that it's completely paid for- something that not many Americans can currently boast. We don't have student loans or credit card debt.  We will always have a roof over ours heads, even if our heads happen to be pulled into the nearest highway rest stop to sleep tonight. We will always sleep in our lovely bed, surrounded by our kitties and puppy, no matter where our bed happens to be parked. And just because the view from our bedroom window isn't a beautiful one today, the same doesn't have to be said for tomorrow's view. We're one step closer to being as free as the wind and our pocketbooks allow us to be...

Peace, happiness and best wishes for the New Year from the Camper Chicks....

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