Happy One Year D20Nomadiversary!

When people take a vacation or a trip to a destination, often there is a sandwich of relaxation pressed between two pieces of stress.  There is the stress of planning the trip, packing everything you may need, and the journey there.  The relaxation kicks in after you arrive and a person can think about nothing if they want and enjoy the time away.  The stress returns with the completion of the vacation and is coupled with the anxiety of returning to work the next day.  So many people work extremely hard to earn a week or two off from the grind; they work, raise a family, send the kids to school, and many other chores and responsibilities that encompass their day.  There are those who flourish in this chaotic lifestyle and, in fact, need it to survive.  To us, the chaos was changing our family and those changes were not welcome.  We decided to do something about it; now, a year later, we could not be happier with our choices, our life, and our future.

Our Travels

We have traveled over 7000 miles, visited 17 states, met some equally awesome people, and have explored countless national parks, museums, and other locations.  It has not always been as easy as that, but through the hardships, we have become stronger and the experiences richer.  This past year has reformed our family and the bond and strength we wield compels us forward.  We are not on vacation, we are not taking a trip, we are not retired; we are living our life the way we want to and enjoying every moment that comes our way.  We have all learned so much over this year of traveling life and have never felt more at peace with living.

White Sands

Carls Bad

Great Smoky Mountains

Waterfall

Sunset

The D20Nomads have seen mountains, rolling hills, majestic rivers, stretches of desert, amazing sunsets and sunrises, vast lakes, and beautiful forest land.  It is difficult to say which was a favorite destination or sight since so many offered so much.  The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina gave us miles of vistas that never seemed to end while the rolling hills and farmland of Lancaster Pennsylvania painted a picture of a very peaceful life.  Arkansas and the hot springs area combined the amazing scenery with deep historical roots and sprinkled in intriguing human interaction which made it one of our best stops so far.  Texas did not lie, everything is bigger there and the state does go on forever when you are driving through it.  Surprisingly though, Texas was a pleasant place to visit and explore.  The contrast between the eastern side of the state and the western side is stark; bustling cities and activity versus more open plains and stretches of horizon.  The real treasures of the country lay just to the west of Texas and as soon as we entered New Mexico we felt it.  There was something about the area that gave us a sense of belonging and peace.  The views of massive mountains, acres of cacti, huge cave systems and what seemed to be the freshest air around spoke to us all.  Arizona was equally as amazing for much of the same reasoning.  The entire southwest culture and life will be difficult to top in our minds.  Our year took a pause in Iowa where we will hold up for the summer and enjoy the surroundings of

White Sands

Adventureland Amusement Park and places like Des Moines and Altoona.  Have we seen everything we wanted to, no, but that is the beauty of our life.  We travel and work and live and have fun.  If we don’t get to see something, we know we will be back to explore the area again.  I think that fact more than any about this journey has given us the most peace of mind.  We do not have to jam everything in to one week or worry about prioritizing what to do.  The calmness that brings is amazing and allows us to breath.  Too often, we see families running all over the place and trying to do everything in the small time allotted before they have to go back to work.  Through their struggles we see the enormous benefits of what we do.  The year has taught us much and those lessons will carry us through the next year and beyond.

If we could offer advice to anyone just starting out or thinking about this life, it would be to find your own way of doing it.  Yes, of course ask questions, and get opinions from others who have been doing this a while, but ultimately it is still your life and your travels.  Take what others say, use what others have experienced, trial and error your own ideas and mash up a way of life that works for you and your family.  You will be surprised at what you think you need versus what you actually need.  In our year of travel, we have changed and adjusted so many aspects of how we do things to get to where we are now and we expect to make more of those adjustments in the years to come.  We look back at who and where we were when we began this journey twelve months ago and have a good laugh at those timid and even scared people who pulled out of a driveway in Hahira, Georgia last year.  We have enjoyed sharing our life, both the good and the bad, with all of our family and friends.  Staying connected and maintaining those friendships has made the traveling more exciting to us.  Without the support and, in some cases, the oppositions of everyone around us we would not be able to do this.  We may be out on the road as a single family, but we travel with a whole host of people by our side.

2015: A year of choice and change

2015 was a year of choices and change.  A year ago we were in full get ready to leave mode and we had half a year still to go before we could begin our journey.  We were all getting very anxious knowing that the time was still months away, but it would be upon us very soon.  So many choices to be made; what do we do with all this stuff, what kind of RV are we going to get, what kind of car do we get, what do we do with the old van?  Somehow, we survived the build up and anticipation and answered all of those questions and more.  The change was now upon us and our new life on the road began.  Every day was now about new adventures, new choices, new challenges, and of course change.

We can say, without any hesitation, there have been no regrets or second guessing about our choices.  We are living life on our terms and our way instead of waiting for things to happen and hoping to “get away” for a few weeks during the year of constant struggle.  Sure, it has not always been easy, but through every hardship we have figured it out and found an answer to keep going.  So much so in the first eight months of our journey that we have self nicknamed our family the Figurerouters (Fig-ur-er-outers).  As individuals, I think we have each changed, at least a little.  For myself, I have become much less stressed and have got back to my easy going nature letting things come as they will and rolling with it.  Christi has boomed creatively, not that she was stagnant before, but now there is no distraction of the struggle we once had and she seems so much more focused on what she wants rather than how can we survive.  Trinity has adjusted to this on the road minimal space life better than we would have ever hoped.  She is very comfortable and has really gained an understanding of the more important aspects of life.  Avery, I think, has changed the most of us all.  She still maintains her go back to and recharge from the social aspect of life, but she has really opened up to going out and playing with other kids and actually talking with other people.  Avery is still very much an introvert, like her daddy, but it has been inspiring to see her adjust and grow yet still maintain who she is as a person.  As a family, we have changed as well.  We have become stronger and more connected; we have become a tighter family unit that bands together and helps each other out through any hardship and we have become a happier family, which may be the most important.

2015 saw many choices and change for us all.  Where once we lived in a 2000 square foot home with rooms for days, we now live in a space less than 200 square feet.  We had many hard choices to make when downsizing and to let go of the material life we once lived.  Yes, we still have possessions, we have not completely given up the idea of the material life, but we have shrunk the need to our family’s basics.  Our family is very tech heavy so a lot of our choices have been around that aspect of material items.  Where once we had the ability to go to another room to get away from whatever, we cannot go really anywhere without still seeing the other people.  However, even in that makeup, we have all managed to find our own space and retreat to it if we need to be “alone”.  We even made a change to our family itself.  The D20Nomads were cat people; at one point I think we had four feline friends.  However, when we hit the road, we were not sure we could do a pet and still travel.  That quickly changed and now, after constant asking for the better part of several months, we got a dog that has joined our family and is now firmly entrenched; Lilith really has been a welcomed addition.

2016 has just begun and the outlook for the year is bright.  We have a good plan and probably many back up plans just in case.  We are ready to take on the challenges as they come and conquer them all.  The D20Nomads are still rolling and the game will not end until we are ready to pack away our dice on our terms.  Bring it on Dungeon Master; we are ready to roll for initiative!

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Whoa! It’s Almost October!

Wow!  Three months has passed since we last blogged?  Where did that time go?  Something something having fun I guess.  Update time!

We spent the summer in Pennsylvania.  We toured Amish country, we went to Dutch Wonderland, we saw knights jousting at the PA Renaissance Faire, we sampled delicious foods, we hiked through Gettysburg, we ate cheesesteaks in Philly, we saw the Liberty Bell and toured Independence Hall, we ate ice cream, and we met new friends.  Life was going full speed but we had a blast.  11813439_1601871436728897_1882384675835078860_n

We are slowing down a bit and staying in Campbellsville, KY for the rest of the year.  While we love our adventures, we also must fund our travels and one of the ways that we are doing so is by working through the Amazon Camperforce program.  During the peak holiday season, Amazon hires RVers to work in their distribution warehouses.  Amazon provides free campsites as well as hourly wages.  Michael has been working since August and Christi will be starting on the night shift next week.  We are staying at the local state park during our time here.  The campground sits right on the lake and the view is fantastic.  The best part of all is that there are currently 3 other families here.  We were a little worried that our kids would run out of playmates once the summer was over, but we didn’t need to worry.  So far, there are a total of 14 kids between the 4 families so the girls have an endless amount of friends to play with.

We decided that this was also a great time to start up Game Day since we will be stationary for a while.  We made some great friends through The Geek Society and would get together every Sunday for tabletop games.  We contacted the local comic shop and they were thrilled to host our event.  We’ve been meeting every Saturday and we had about 16 people at last week’s event.  We can’t wait to see it grow and we hope that it will continue after we leave.  11071079_1618907165025324_7193217897076392088_n

We’re still discussing where we want to go after the holidays but we know we want to go out west.  Where ever our journey takes us, we know that we are loving the nomadic lifestyle!

Set backs only make us stronger

It is said, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”.  Whatever “it” is also beats you down to a sad state of your former self before you decide to rise out of the muck to become stronger.  When you decide to travel full time, you expect things to go wrong over time; over time being the key phrase in that sentence.  The occasional leak from a window or even the roof, the busted plumbing line, clogged drainage, and perhaps a flat tire would be some of the happenstance that might occur while touring the country.  We launched on our journey May 31st, 2015 from Valdosta, GA.  Over the next two weeks, yes, only two weeks, we experienced so many setbacks and bad events that it tested our resolve and made us question if this was really the right thing for us.

It all started the morning we left.  As I was hooking Toady to the car dolly, I apparently laid down in a small pile of fire ants about five of whom decided to taste my arm for breakfast.  As far as omens go, this was not a positive one for me.  If that was the worst thing that was going to happen though, I would have taken it.  As it turns out, it was only the beginning.  Traveling down the road for only the second time, we were still a little on the paranoid side about sounds and watching for any signs of trouble.  Our oldest daughter was following us so we at least had a backup in case something fell off that we didn’t notice.  Typically, while towing the car dolly, Christi and I can each see a fender out the side view mirrors.  Suddenly, I caught a flash of red in the mirror and then a head light and then a little of the front grill.  Something was wrong and it was definitely time to slow down and make my way over to the shoulder.  We get stopped and I go to check out why Toad is trying to pass us only to find he is still tightly attached to the dolly.  The problem was the tow hitch had come away from the back of Floki and was dragging behind us held on only by the two safety chains.  Thankfully, the safety chains did their job and we did not lose our car and dolly down the road.  The hitch locking pin, which is supposed to hold the tow hitch in place, broke off allowing the hitch to fall out of the tow bar on the RV.  *PHEW* narrowly avoid a major disaster but now we have to go find a place nearby to buy a new tow locking pin.  Wal-Mart to the rescue!  After the purchase, we make our way back to the stranded Floki and get the pin reinstalled and everything looks good to go.  Fate, as it seems, would not take long to throw another twist into our plans.

Originally, we had planned to meet my brother and his family for lunch before heading up to a place to stay over before finally heading to the mountains for a few days.  Now, we rejoin our heroes as they leave the side of the highway to continue on their journey.  We pull back on the road and something immediately feels wrong with the ride.  At first, we thought it may be the rumble strips as we crossed over to the highway, but that would have been too easy.  Thankfully, there was a rest area right around the next bend that we were able to pull into and get stopped.  As we were slowly creeping to the rest area, I can see the wheel of the tow dolly wobbling like there is no tomorrow; awesome.  Again, we get stopped and we get out to see what the heck it could be this time.  Somehow, still not quite sure how, all of the lug nuts have become loose and have shaken off to the point of sheering off several completely.  I am guessing that one or two became loose and the shaking made the rest fall off.  So, we are now stuck in a rest area with a busted wheel on our tow dolly and faced with only a few options.  One option is to figure out what happened, figure out how to fix it, and figure out how to get back on the road.  Second option is to abandon the dolly, drive separately and get immediately back on the road.  Third option is to sit there and hate life, cry a little, and give up.  Let’s start from third and work back to first.  We did not just plan for more than a year to just sit in a rest area and cry it out before giving up so option three is not available.  The whole point of full time RV living was to be a family and spend the time and adventure together on the road; plus, we just spent $600 on the tow dolly so option two is not available.  Since we have even started dreaming about this lifestyle, we have always said, “We will figure it out; we are figure-er-outers”.  Option one was the only real path for us.

We made a few phone calls before assessing that we were not going anywhere for the night.  Rather than panic, we found a hotel close by that allowed pets and we checked in for the night to reset our minds, find out what we needed to fix the wheel an where to get the parts, and get a good night sleep to start fresh in the morning.  The night falls on our heroes, but daybreak brings a new attitude and a better state of mind.  Parts in hand and tools to fix it, I set off in Floki in hopes of getting the wheel changed out and the dolly hooked back up and ready to go by the time the girls meet me there after breakfast.  As our luck would have it, the hub assembly I bought was the wrong one and too small.  Also, there was no locking nut in the “full assembly kit” to hold the wheel hub n place even if it did fit.  I make a quick call to Christi, who had the forethought to tell me to take the phone, “Just in case”, she is awesome like that, and we are back at the supply place to exchange the kit for the other one.  One side note, for as crappy as our string of luck has been, there have been flashes of good mixed in which has made the bad events possible to navigate.  One such good spot was the fact that when I originally went to buy the hub assembly, the guy said to leave the broken stuff and he would just throw it out at the store.  Either through his forgetfulness or just laziness, the bag with all the old parts was still in the back with the old locking nut.  *PHEW* the correct part and all needed parts and tools in hand, we drive back to the broken dolly and get to work.  Amazingly, the hub fits and after some elbow grease, get the hub in place and locked and the wheel on and all lug nuts tight as can be before hooking everything back up and finally continuing down the road.  Georgia had finally released us from its vice grips and allowed the Mooneys to venture outside of her boundaries.

Now, follow our heroes as they reach and begin to climb the treacherous Great Smoky Mountains to their final destination Fort Wilderness Campground.  We own a 1988 well used RV.  We were well aware that the power this 350 Econoline engine had was minimal at best and we were certainly worried that Floki would have issues when we got to the steeper inclines.  As it turns out, we were correct.  As the climb got steeper and steeper, Floki struggled more and more to get up the mountain pulling Toady behind us.  So much so, that at one point, we were almost going backward.  By the power of Picard, there was one single pull off area going up the mountain and it was in the right spot at the right time.  We get off the road and decide to unhook Toady and Christi would drive the lead the rest of the way to the camp site.  *Foreshadowing* the strain on the engine and cooling system was a lot.

Could it be?  Could our heroes have actually made it to their destination without further issues or devastating events?  Yes!  The travel gods were smiling, or sleeping and not paying attention, and the Mooneys found their way in more or less one piece.  After a rejuvenating experience in the mountains, it was time to get back to the perils of the road and see what fate had in store for us once again.  If you were paying attention to the foreshadowing, you knew something was going to happen.  To play it safe, we decided to drive separately down the mountain until we got out of the mountains and to more level ground.  The way down was interesting, but passed without any issues.  We pulled over to gas up and re-hook Toady to Floki and as we pulled up to the pump, the very distinctive flow of steam began to billow from the engine.  No worries, Floki was probably just overheating a little so we let him cool down and I topped off the fluids to be sure.  We gas up, reattach Toady to Floki, check the air pressure, and we are back on the road with high hopes.  *insert sound of high hopes being crushed* Almost immediately after we start driving, I see smoke/steam coming from underneath the RV itself and the engine.  We are in trouble and it is not good at this point.  We get off at the next exit and limp to the gas station to stop.  After emerging from a very real cloud of smoke and steam, we get out and just stare at Floki wondering if we can even continue or is this the end of the road; again.  We were smoking so bad that a couple stopped and followed us to the gas station to make sure we were alright and not on fire.  Let me say that again; NOT ON FIRE!  Floki was not going anywhere, not now, not soon, and certainly not without help.  Would he ride again?  Not even our heroes knew that answer.

As the mid day sun burns down on our down trodden heroes, they cannot help but laugh because it is impossible to do anything else.  Floki would have to be towed and taken to a repair place, that much was a fact and undeniable.  Sadly, the only RV repair place was about 25 miles in the reverse direction; yes the direction we just left and back into the clutches of the dreaded Great Smoky Mountains.  A good turn of events in the midst of the bad found us with road side assistance as a part of our insurance package, *PHEW*, also, we had just acquired a new smart type phone with a data plan that was very useful in tracking down information about what happened and where to take it to be fixed.  Progressive, our insurance company of course, arranges the tow and initially informs us that we are only covered up to the first 15 miles of the tow.  Still, small victory that we were able to get Floki towed in the first place.   We were also informed that it would be at least two hours before the truck can get to us.  That piece of information now puts us into a bind; the shop close about 4:30 or so and we are about 25 miles from the shop.  We would be cutting it close if we had any shot of getting fixed and back on the road before dark.  *tick* *tick* *tick* *tick* the time goes by and still no sign of the tow guy.  It was becoming more and more clear that we would be stuck in another location we had no plans on seeing at all.  Suddenly, on the horizon, there appears a tow truck; unfortunately, it has arrived with no chance of us being seen by a mechanic today.

Floki on the hook

The sight of Floki “on the hook” was a sad one as we rolled back to the mountains and to an unknown cost.  Arriving at the RV repair place, I nervously walk into the office and wait to talk to one of the middle men inside.  We are going to have to leave Floki here, go find yet another hotel, and wait for the inevitable call in the morning telling us what is wrong, and more painfully, what it will cost to fix.  Quietly, we gather a few belongings and track down a hotel that will take us.  A good night sleep and a fresh outlook are not going to fix things this time, but we are exhausted, frustrated, and ready for something good to happen.  The next day would bring no relief to our pains.  The phone rings and the hits keep on coming.  The middle man tells us we need some hoses replaced, fluids topped off, and a new water pump, pause for the moment to sinking in, then comes the bad news.  They do not have the parts in stock and have to order them; one place will cost us more and it will not be here until Wednesday or Thursday while the other place will be a little less and be there Monday or Tuesday; then comes the worse news.  The repairs will cost us anywhere between $700 and $1000 in total, pause another moment to allow for more sinking in, wow.  Our heroes now find themselves at the proverbial fork in the road.  What choice do we really have but to have the repairs done and figure-er-outers a way to pay for it.  Once again, plans we had to meet up with some friends are changed and a whole week of activities and visiting must be scrapped.  With great doubt and uncertainty, we gather up everything we need and head to Christi’s mom’s house to wait out the storm, lick our wounds, and get ourselves right before tackling yet another problem.  The Mooneys are a resilient bunch though and they absolutely refuse to quit on their dreams.

Fast forward about a week and we rejoin the fight with our heroes now armed with two brand new freshly minted “emergency” credit cards and a renewed sense of goodness that will carry them forward.  In the midst of this fast forward, I will quickly fill you in that included with all this major “fun” several minor issues have plagued our travels.  The turn signals and lights in general have decided to stop working, the front cab has developed a shaking while we drive; hopefully because of a balance issue but we will revisit that later, and we have fixed a few leaking pipes under the sink.  It’s at this point when I begin thinking of a particular clip from the Ghostbusters movie that I feel fits our situation very well…

Now that we have all had a good laugh at our situation, let’s continue.  During our down time, we laid out a new plan and travel, so when we pick up Floki, we know exactly what we are doing and where we are going.  Since we are still in the mountains, we decide to drive separate for a while and clear or at least try to clear the heavy ups and downs the region presents.  Good news, the mountains release us and we are allowed to head east and to the sanctuary of level land.  A quick stop for gas and we reattach the family and it’s back on the road as a family.  Cruising down the road, it occurs to me that every moment something bad does not happen the more relaxed I am feeling.  *BAM* that was reality smacking me with a two by four or the sound of our front tire blowing out while doing 60 on the highway with a car in tow.  Needless to say, the sound and subsequent actions after your first tire blow out sober you up real quick.  The crazy thoughts we had about making it from point A to point B with no stops in between were quickly wiped away by shredded rubber and the sound of a metal rim grinding on the road.  Slowly and gingerly we make our way to the shoulder with no further issues and put it in park and finally take a moment to breathe and get ready to put out yet another fire.  We exit the RV and are greeted with a completely shredded front tire but still feel ok because, hey, it’s a tire; how hard can it be to change a flat, um yeah.  Getting the lug nuts loose was no problem, getting the front raised enough to then take the tire off was no problem, however, raising the hub high enough to replace the flat with the spare; BIG problem.  The measly regular jacks we have were no match for the hefty weight of Floki’s front end and no matter where we placed the jack; we just could not get it up off the ground high enough.  For at least an hour, I did battle with the wheel hub only to finally wave the white flag and admit defeat.  Throughout my trials with the wheel, would stop occasionally and laugh out loud.  Passersby must have thought me quite mad; here is a man obviously struggling, but still maniacally laughing at a shredded tire, an RV with a blue cab, and a wheel hub that refuses to lift any higher than a few inches from the ground.  It is again at this moment, after all the little and big problems have piled up and piled up and as the extra money we once had has been slowly but surely depleted, that I cannot help but think about another certain movie clip that once again fits our situation…

After a good chuckle, we now pick our heroes up on the phone with a nice gentleman with a tow truck, awesome.  Smaller than the jack I am using but ten times more powerful, he places the little cylinder that could under the wheel well and, with a few simple pumps on the lever, Floki is raised from the ground and the spare is put on and tightened in place.  This tow guy is so awesome; he even checks the other five tires and uses his portable air compressor to fill our spare to a usable pressure.  After offering a small sacrifice to the tow guy gods, we are back on the road and, for the next several hours, Christi and I are at are highest paranoia levels as we are checking the mirrors and investigating every little sound.  This is not how traveling should be; the journey should be half the fun of this lifestyle but instead, it has become the most stressful and hated part of our lives.  Things have got to get better and soon.

Our heroes make it to their next location without further incident and a good night sleep, cup of coffee and a fantastic shower is all that is needed to bring the frame of mind back from the brink of defeat and headed in the right direction.  Do not think that our plight is over though; we still have one more seven hour trip to make before we reach the end of our two week tale of horror and misfortune.  The Mooneys recharge their batteries and head north on the final leg of what has become a very round-about route north to Pennsylvania.  One long blast on the horn and we are underway.  After a short ride, we pull in for some gas and while the kids and mommy go in for some food and drink, dad stays behind to pump the gas.  Standing there, the pump is having trouble with keeping a flow of fuel going into the tank.  As I am playing with the handle and trying to position it so it will stay engaged, I hear the little splashes of some kind of liquid hitting the ground under Floki.  It appears the fuel that is being put in is not finding its way to the tank, but out a hole somewhere in the process.  My first thought is that we have a busted fuel tank and looking at the underneath there is no way to get to the fuel tank without first taking off the black and gray water tanks.  This is not looking good for our heroes once again.  But wait, the flow of fuel has slowed and I can see better with my flashlight and it seems the fuel is leaking from a rubber connector hose which is still not accessible without taking off the black and gray water tanks; light, but ever so dim.  The drama builds as the scene now finds Michael sitting on the ground stinking of gasoline and grease and once again dirty from having to dig around the RV.  Christi and the girls emerge and she asks the question, “Do I want to know?” I reply, “no, no you don’t”.  We both sit on the ground next to our busted up RV and suddenly I know what Admiral Adama must have felt like after a tough battle with the Cylons.  Beaten, bruised, in bad need of repairs, but still floating through space and sustaining the life of her crew.  Desperate, like the dying man on the battlefield asking for morphine to numb the pain, I turn to the one tool that just may get us back on the road and to our destination…

duct-tape

DUCT TAPE!!!  The savior of people with broken stuff everywhere; duct tape is our Obi Wan Kenobi…it is our only hope.  Christi leaps into action, well, slowly stands up and walks into the store to buy a roll.  She returns and the duo begin tearing off strips of tape and very generously begin wrapping the torn hose.  Piece after piece, agonizing inch by inch the black hose becomes duct tape gray and easily twice as thick as it used to be.  Now the moment of truth, pumping fuel into the tank to see if the job is complete;  SUCCESS!!!!!  No leaking from the hose!  The tank is filled and the Mooneys are back to the journey.  A few hours later, our heroes arrive in Lancaster, PA and stop in their site with a great sigh of relief that this part of the journey is complete.

Two weeks had passed since we officially launched and just about every day was an adventure and an ordeal that we did not expect or even dream of happening.  It tested our resolve, it tested our fortitude, it tested our belief in our dreams, but we never gave up and we put on our figure-er-outer hats and figured it out.  We are brand new to this life right now, but we feel we can offer at least this small piece of advice to anyone who may be experiencing something similar or wondering how they would handle it if this was happening to them.  Yes, get mad, get angry, get frustrated, even cry it out if you feel the need to but when all that is out, sit down and really look at the problem and think of all the possible solutions, even the ridiculous ones.  There is an answer; you just have to look for it.  If traveling full time is your dream, things are going to happen and sometimes, obviously, they happen in bunches.  Do not give up so easily on your dreams; make them happen.  Be and do what you want no matter what gets in your way and don’t forget to laugh, even in the face of the terrible misfortune you are experiencing.  This is our life, these are our stories, and we will figure it out!

Leaving for Orlando: the real deal

Bird Friends

The day had finally arrived.  I was on my very last day of post planning for school and was just waiting for the call to go home.  I was hoping that this would be an early release, or at least that I would be told “you really don’t have to be here anymore”, and I would just be a dust cloud outline and already home.  Unfortunately, this was the first in a very long string of events that pushed us to the brink of that one dreaded question full time families ask themselves…”What the hell did we get ourselves into?!?!?!”.  It was turning 4:00 by the time I pulled into the RV Park and after a few difficulties in packing, getting the tow dolly hooked up and loaded with Toady, and making sure everything was secure we finally headed out of Valdosta at 6:00.

We gassed up Floki and headed south to Orlando.  For some added spice to the pot, the gas gauge does not work and we were unsure how big our fuel tank was, so we are making a best guess on exactly how far to go before we stop to put some more in the tank.  We figured Gainesville, Fl.  to be a fair and safe bet so after cruising down the highway, worried that every noise was something falling apart or falling off, we pulled off what appeared to be a good exit.  We figured out very quickly that the station we were trying to get to was going to be a tight fit for Floki and Toady to fit into and then pull out of after fueling.  Definitely a lesson learned, although not one we really would learn because we end up doing the same thing later in our travels.  To make the exit, I had to pull Floki all the way through and blocked most of the path to the exit.  This fact did not stop other motorists from attempting to literally squeeze through and make it to the driveway out.  One fine gentleman, uttered some not so nice words my way.  Yes, I should probably not have been there in that station and yes I was totally blocking most of the driving area, but hey…I am new to this and learning as I go.  Gas ordeal complete, we slowly and gingerly pull out of the gas station and get back on the road south.

Darkness now sets around us, which is one thing I absolutely did not want to do…drive and arrive in the dark.  Darkness, however, is where we are and what we are driving in the rest of the trip there.  We arrive in the area and finally make our way to the Thousand Trails Park.  Tired, hot, and just plain ole worn out from a long day, we pull in to find the park office closed and no after hours check in available.  I was already unhappy about the leaving late and driving in the dark and knowing I would have to set up in the dark, but now we were literally locked out of the park because we needed a key code to open the gate to get in to find a site for the night.  There are not many words to describe my mood and feelings at that time, and the ones that do exist are not real nice to say or type.  Needless to say, I was just ready to put it in park and call it a night until the office opened in the morning.  Thankfully, as we were sitting at the gate key pad staring at the numbers like a dog looking at an empty food bowl, a car pulled in behind us and let us in with their code.  Our relief, however, was short lived, since we still had no idea where to go or what to do.  This was the first time any of us had been to this park and, as it turns out, the park is massive.  Its pitch black and here we are creeping through in an old 1988 RV with a blue cab and a mustache on the front trying to locate an empty somewhat level spot to call home for a few days.  Finally, we find one and somehow get pulled in enough to stop and get hooked up to the basics before falling over and calling it a night.

There are many ways to perk yourself up after a long and arduous day on the road; I am here to tell you that there is no better way than a good night sleep, a cup of coffee, and a glorious shower to wash away the grime and funk of the previous day.  Our first travel and set up was in the books and we felt good about accomplishing something we had talked about for so long.  We were officially on the road and a whole new chapter of our life was beginning.

Ready, Set, Launch!

It’s here!  It’s here!  It’s here!  We have finally moved into the RV! The D20 Nomads are mobile!  Here is an update on life up to this point.

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Floki’s first park

Originally, we had planned on staying in our sticks and bricks house until June of 2015 so that Michael could finish out the school year and we would have plenty of time to purge and sell all of our household stuff.  We started sorting through everything, moving items that we wanted to get rid of into the dining room and items that we were keeping into one of the bedrooms.  Our landlord, however, decided that he had other plans.  A real estate agent showed up to let us know that our landlord was putting the house on the market.  Things were a mess; not the “oh we have company coming over” mess, but the “where the heck did that tornado come from?” mess.  Confusion and time suddenly accelerated.  The real estate agent was under the assumption that we were moving out by April even though the rental agency that we had our lease through was completely unaware that the house was going on the market.  We had stuff  everywhere so the house was nowhere near show ready.  Despite being told that the house wouldn’t show until after we had moved out, four people showed up to view the house the first week that it was put on the market; most of whom came without notification.  It was clear that we needed to get out and much quicker than we first had planned.  We panicked a bit, but after recovering from the initial shock that we had less time than we had thought, weeks instead of months, a game plan was soon formed.

We put in our 30 day notice with the rental agency and got to work on purging the house.  We had three weeks of yard sales and gave away everything else that we wouldn’t be taking with us.  Wow, it was a LOT of stuff!  Why did we ever need all of that stuff and where and how did we even acquire it?  We decided to stay at a local RV park during the last two months of Michael’s school.  This actually worked out in our favor because the monthly rent was less than our house rent and all utilities are included.  We would be able to save quite a bit by staying in the RV Park for those two months.  We did our move out inspection on a Monday, which could be a whole new blog by itself, and headed over to the park.  It was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.  So many questions flew around us as we drove the short distance to the park.  Are we sure we want to do this?  Are we ready to do this?  Are we going to be ok?  Did we get rid of enough?  Where are we going to put the stuff we have left?  All of it didn’t matter though, the time had arrived and we were GOING to make it work.

We are a family that has gotten used to figuring stuff out and overcoming obstacles along the way.  We are not a family accustomed to having things fall our way or even right into our lap.  We got to the park and found our assigned space, and within 15 minutes of being here, the lady who works in the office came by to see if we would be interested cleaning the bath house in exchange for free rent.  We had planned on looking into workamping while on the road, so having an opportunity to workamp fall in our laps was very exciting.  We agreed eagerly.

Setting up took some time since we were brand spanking new and really had no idea what we were doing.  Our RV neighbors were very friendly though and offered assistance and advice.  This has been a huge learning curve and experience; both setting up the RV and learning to navigate inside the confined space.  We’ve been bumping into things and each other but everyday gets better and we are figuring it out.  You would think that in such a small area nothing would get lost and we would be able to find what we needed.  That particular theory is so far not working for us as we keep losing things regardless of the space.  Figuring out the best set up for beds, computers, and everything else that we need has been an evolving experience, but it is taking shape and new ideas are coming to us as we experiment with the RV.  We’re already planning on taking two chairs out to add more storage space and turn it into a little entertainment area to better accommodate our electronics addiction.  I really think all those years of playing Tetris has finally paid off.

A week has gone by and it really feels like home now.  All hook ups, both inside and out, are connected and functioning properly and some of the small fixes have been completed to boot.  We have found a rhythm and routine during the day and even the night time getting ready for bed has become smooth.  The family has adjusted and figured it out.  The girls are enjoying the new areas to explore and bike ride, Mommy and daddy are enjoying the new atmosphere and experience, and the family is enjoying the new sense of togetherness.  Even in the small space, we have all found our little niches and somewhat quiet places to retreat to when we need a break.  Every day is a new one and we are excited to greet each new challenge and adventure with a new found vigor and confidence.  It has only been a week, but it has been a very good start to our new life.

Preparing to leave

Wow!  For the longest while, it seemed that June 1st was so far away and we were sitting in a waiting pattern.  Waiting for our tax money.  Waiting to get an RV.  Waiting to find jobs.  A lot of waiting.  Now that we have our RV, life is a whirlwind of activity and it seems like there are obstacles constantly being thrown in our path.

Getting the RV registered into our name turned into a fiasco.  The original owner was from Arizona and Arizona is one of the few states that requires the title to be notarized in order to transfer it over.  The owner didn’t realize it needed a notary and had signed it over to us upon purchase.  We’ve never dealt with titles needing notarization before, so it didn’t even occur to us to check.  Michael took the title down to the DMV and was promptly turned away.  After a mild panic attack, we were able to track down the original owner and he was nice enough to get a notarized title to us in the  mail.  Problem one – solved.

Originally, we had planned on staying in the house that we rent until June 30th.  Michael has to finish out his contract with the school, which means we have to stay in the area until the end of May.  We figured that would give us plenty of time to downsize our belongings, and prepare to hit the road.  We started the process of purging, moving all of the items that we wanted to sell into the dining room, and all of the items that we planned on keeping into one of the bedrooms.  Basically, piles of shit everywhere.  I’m still wondering why we ever thought we needed half of that junk lovely items for sale. A week and a half ago, we had a realtor show up on our door step informing us that our landlord was putting the house on the market.  What?  We showed him the house and told him that there was no way the house would be show ready any time soon.  “Aww, that’s no problem! We won’t show the house until you guys are gone.  Everything’s FINE!”  -_-  <— My not amused face.  That week, we had THREE couples come over wanting to see the house.  What a pain in the ass.  After some discussion, researching, and more discussion, Michael and I decided that we would go ahead and put in our 30 day notice at this house.  We found a nice RV park in town that will allow us to save money while Michael is still working and we won’t have to deal with realtors and homebuyers.  While we feel good about this decision, it means that we have to speed up the purging process.  Fortunately, everything is sorted and ready to go.  We just need to get it all sold.  Problem two – almost solved.

Purging clothes. Kid not included

Purging clothes. Kid not included

Another problem that we are encountering is the issue of a vehicle. Currently, we have a minivan.  We bought it 2 years ago and we can’t sell it privately because we owe more than it is worth.  However, we can’t keep it, because it is too heavy to be towed behind the RV.  Ideally, we would like to trade the van in for something that we could tow, but we haven’t been able to find anything that is a good fit.  Floki can only tow a maximum of 3500lbs, and any car that is light enough to be towed, is too small to fit 4 people into.  Michael has been researching the crap out of options for us though so I’m sure we will figure it out soon.  Problem three – unresolved.

Even with all of the issues that we have encountered, we are still upbeat and happy about our future.  We are so excited to get on the road.  We’ve set an official launch date of June 1st.  Our first stop will be in the mountains of NC to do some white water rafting and hiking.  We’ll continue to the Virginia area to visit with some old friends, visit Williamsburg, then head to DC.  This fall, we hope to stay in PA for a while so that we can visit family and get a taste of some seasons other than summer, super hot summer, and ermergersh I’m melting summer.  After that, we will see where the road takes us!

Meet Floki!

Wow!  It is finally here!  We have finally purchased an RV.  It is still surreal that our dreams are happening.  We have had a lot of setbacks over the last six months but despite Plan A, Plan B, and even Plan C falling through, we still made it happen.
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We’ve been pouring through RV classifieds for months now.  We’ve looked at quite a few, but there was always something that didn’t fit.  Either the price was out of our range or the RV had damage that we couldn’t fix.  After getting our taxes back and realizing that it was less than we had expected, it really started to take a toll on our spirits.  We continued to pour through RV ads from all of the surrounding states. We came upon a converted school bus in Panama City. Since we have several friends who have successfully converted skoolies into living quarters, we decided it was worth going to take a look. From the pictures online, it looked like it was in great shape. We got up early and took the 3 1/2 hour trek to see the bus. The bus was nothing like the pictures. Oh, it had really nice cabinets, but the fridge was not in it, the other drawers were torn off of the walls, no electricity and the owner was definitely a smoker who had no hesitation lighting up on the bus while our kids were inside. We were feeling a bit bummed, but as we were getting ready to head out, we got a phone call. This guy said he had a 1988 Ford Jamboree. It was in our price range, but from looking at previous RVs, we didn’t have a lot of hope. We decided to ride by and take a look since we were already in the area. We were blown away. The RV was in better shape than anything we had seen so far. Besides a few cosmetic issues, it was perfect.  Everyone was sold immediately.  We took a moment to go grab some lunch and talk it over.  Lunch couldn’t get over quick enough.  We went back and made an offer that was lower than what we were looking to spend.  The owner accepted and we drove our new RV home that evening.  She was a beauty on the road and took the 4 hour road trip with no issues.

We’re so excited and now our dreams feel real!  We can’t wait to get on the road!

Dragon Con and Kids Can Mix!

We'll get you, Mario!

We’ll get you, Mario!

We just got back from our second year at Dragon Con.  While prepping for our trip last year, I scoured through blogs and pages about taking kids to Dragon Con.  Most of the pages had one message in common: Leave your kids at home.  Well, we are here to tell parents that not only is taking your kids to Dragon Con possible, but it can be an amazingly fun experience.  I LOVED watching my kids gush over the costumes, point out all of their favorite characters, and mingle with the cosplayers.  We were taking a break when all of the sudden, Sparkles jumps up, runs over to a cosplayer, and says “Watchdog!  Can I take a picture with you!”.  Yes, we were totally beaming with pride.

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Taking your kids to Dragon Con can be an amazing experience, but a little planning can go a long way.  Here are some tips that really helped us.

Location: The first year that we went to Dragon Con, we were working on a tight budget.  In order to save money, we thought it would be a great idea to camp out at Stone Mountain and drive in every day.  That was a bad idea.  It was a 30 minute drive and after a long and tiring day, the kids got cranky in the car and then no one wanted to cook when we got back.  Also, it is still fairly hot and humid in Georgia at that time so no one was getting a good night’s sleep.  This year, we opted to rent a house through AirBnB.  While it was pricier than camping, it was cheaper than staying at one of the host hotels.  The house that we rented was about 10 minutes away from the festivities.  It was close enough that the drive wasn’t a burden and far enough away that it gave us an escape from the crowds at night.  We were able to store freezer meals that could be popped into the oven for easy dining.

Parking: If you are staying in a host hotel, parking shouldn’t be an issue, but if you are driving in, you will need to budget for parking.  Last year, parking in any of the surrounding lots was $25 a day.  This year, $30 a day.  Once you park, you can’t leave or you will have to repay that fee.  Parking fees are good for 24 hours as long as you don’t need to go anywhere.  It may be cheaper for smaller families to park and take the MARTA into town, but with 5 of us, that option was more expensive.  We liked to park in the lot that is located at the intersection of Peachtree Center Ave NE and John Portman Blvd NE.  This put us right beside the Marriott and was within easy walking distance for lunch time.  It is also a good parade watching spot.

Badges: If you have the option of getting your badges on Thursday, do it!  There is no wait time and the kids will have fun running through the maze of barricades.  If you can’t get your badges until Friday, get there EARLY in the morning.  The line backs up very quickly and you will spend hours waiting just to get your badges.  Your kids do  not need to be present to get their badges, however, adults will need to show ID.  Also, Dragon Con does not provide lanyards for badges.  They are available for purchase, but finding a vendor can be difficult.  Bring your own lanyards to help keep badges safe.  Kids 4 and under do not need to have badges to attend.

Food: Convention food is EXPENSIVE so if you are on a budget, plan, plan, plan for food!  Those really small bags of chips that you get in vending machines?  $3 a bag at DC.  Yeah.  Nonsense!  We brought a back pack with us which we filled with snacks.  We packed a variety of snacks including fruit cups, fresh apples, granola/granola bars, and chips.  We ate breakfast when we got up, packed sandwiches in a cooler to leave in the car for lunch, nibbled on the snacks throughout the day, and cooked dinner when we got back to our rental.  We spent about $80 for the entire weekend on food for 5 of us.

Water: Last year, we attempted to carry around plastic bottles of water.  That got heavy fast. This year, we got refillable water bottles.  There are water fountains located throughout the hotels that have decent drinking water.  Keep hydrated and remind your kids to drink water because it does get hot.

Costumes: Costumes are a lot of fun, but need a lot of planning and consideration.  The hotels are hot and crowded so bulkier costumes can get burdensome quickly.  If you plan on walking around in costume, go with something light and that doesn’t restrict visibility.  If you have a larger costume, the Marriott is a great place to hang out and mingle with other cosplayers.  If your kids are dressing up, have a change of clothes handy.  This year, we had the girls put on shorts and tank tops under their outfits so we could shed them quickly without struggling to find a changing area.  Since the car was parked close by, D20 Dude ran the costumes back to the car so we didn’t have to lug them around.  People LOVE kids in costumes so prepare your kids in advance that people may stop and talk to them or want to take their picture.  Sparkles is an extrovert so she ate up all of the attention.  Rainbow is more of an introvert and by the third picture, she was giving people scowls that would freeze them in their tracks.

Panels and workshops: Panels and workshops can be a lot of fun, but don’t overdo it.  There are a lot of exciting things that happen at DC and it is very easy to over schedule yourself and your kids.  What we did is made a list of events that each of us were interested in.  We marked each event with symbols noting how high of a priority they were.  For example, meeting Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters was a high priority, but the panel on UFOs was low, meaning if we got to make it, cool, if not, no one would be devastated.  If you are attending one of the higher profile panels, such as the George Takei panel, you will need to be in line at LEAST an hour before hand.  They say you can’t line up before that, but everyone does it anyway.  If it is a high priority, be there well in advance.  Waiting can be very difficult, especially for younger kids so bring things to occupy them in line.  We brought tablets and gaming devices.  Of course, this is how D20 Dude waited for upcoming panels.

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Walk of Fame:  This is an exciting part of Dragon Con.  Getting to meet celebrities from your favorite shows and movies.  The line for the walk of fame moves pretty quickly so don’t worry about the wait.  Some of the higher profile celebrities may have a longer wait to meet them, but if you are just looking for a peeksie, you can usually stand off to the side and catch a glimpse.  Celebrities do charge for autographs and pictures so be aware of that.  Prices range from about $25-$50.  However, talking to the celebrity and shaking their hand is free.

Parade: The Dragon Con parade is on Saturday morning at 10am.  Scope out the route before you leave.  The route has changed from year to year so you want to make sure you have the most current parade route.  If you want a good spot, get there early.  There is going to be a lot of waiting, so bring water, snacks, and entertainment.  The roads are not blocked off until shortly before the parade starts so watch for traffic too.  This is a lot of fun though and there are so many amazing costumes and props.

Toddlers and infants: Toddlers and infants can be a little more difficult.  If you have the option of wearing your child in a wrap or carrier such as an Ergo, it will be easier to navigate through the crowds.  Strollers can be very tricky through the crowd and on escalators.  There are elevators in the hotels, but there are usually long lines to use them.  As with any situation with wee ones, be prepared with lots of distractions and take lots of breaks.

Resting spots:  Sometimes you need to get away from the crowds and take a break.  There are a lot of nooks and crannies in the hotels that will give your family space to sit and rest a while.  Seek out spots away from the chaos to take a break, eat snacks, and hydrate.  These breaks gave us enough energy and sanity to keep going through the rest of the day. There are usually restrooms in the more secluded spots that allow for quick trips to the restroom for smaller bladders.

Bring entertainment:  There is a lot to do at Dragon Con, but there can be a lot of waiting too.  Be prepared.  Bring handheld video games, tablets, books, crayons, or whatever else will keep your kids busy during these moments.

Pictures:  There is a LOT to take photos of.  Give your kids the camera for a while and see what they come up with!  Seeing the view from their perspective is awesome.

Days of Attendance:  We buy weekend passes so that we have the option of going at any time.  This may or may not work for your family.  Saturday is the busiest day of the con.  This is usually when the more elaborate costumes come out.  This is also when more of the higher profile panels happen.  There is a lot more to do and see, but the crowds are intense and the lines can be very long.  Friday and Sunday mornings are great because there are smaller crowds but still a lot to do. These are the best days to hit the Walk of Fame.  Monday is still a convention day, but the activities are very limited.  Most of the celebrities are packing up and leaving and cosplayers are minimal.  The upside is that the crowds are sparse so it is very easy to maneuver and attend the few panels that are available.

Hope this helps our fellow geeky parents!  If you have other tips, please leave them in the comments below!

Our Journey Begins…

There comes a time in most of our lives when change is needed. The change can be small like a new haircut, or change can be bigger like a new job; at times, however, change can affect an entire lifestyle.  Our life, like many others that we have encountered, has been an ongoing book with chapters ending and new ones beginning.  Each chapter is a change and represents a new start.  The time has come, once again, for an old chapter to close, and a new one to begin.  Like so many before it, the idea of change began small and through careful nurturing and care grew into a bigger idea fanned by the frustration of life and fed by the hope of happiness.

As we said, change began small; smarter lifestyle choices brought on by the diminishing size of a paycheck.  Those changes grew into the idea of less dependence on “stuff” and more focus on what we really need.  That was never more evident than when we moved from one county to another in Georgia to start a new job.  The move took three days which included packing every square inch of the biggest truck U-haul had to offer, driving to the new house, unloading the metal piñata, driving back to the old house, repacking the truck once again to the limits of capacity before finally driving back to the new house and unloading the seemingly endless supply of boxes and various other material items in our possession.  After seeing just how much was there and the utter uselessness of the majority of it, we purged and sold off and gave away a huge portion of what we once could not live without.  A funny thing happened at that point, the world did not end and we did not miss the items we no longer had.  We had learned that minimal living is not that bad and it is ok to have things, but there is no need to go overboard.  Slowly, we made more and more changes to our lifestyle, all the while feeling comfortable in our choices.

In the middle of these adjustments and changes to life are our kids.  We have three girls who are now 5, 7, and 16.  The two younger kids, Rainbow and Sparkles, have been unschooled from the beginning.  We felt that the public school system would not be a fit for their personalities and would serve to limit them rather than allowing them to blossom on their own.  That choice has been amazing for them and they are learning everyday on their terms and loving every moment of it.  Rainbow and Sparkles both enjoy the freedom to explore interests on their own and figure out just what is important to them.  They have been on board with our changes and, in most cases, have helped plan and participate in all that we do as a family.  Our oldest child, Soccer Chick, is a recent addition to the unschooling world and has enjoyed her new found freedoms to learn and really pursue what she wants to do; not what she is being told to do.  Since her departure from the public school system, she has spent time finding out who she is and what path is right for her.  Like Rainbow and Sparkles, she has taken to this new lifestyle and is looking forward to what the future holds.

As a family, we have decided to start the next chapter of our life and finally shed the weights of doing what we are told and embrace the freedoms of doing what we want.  Our plan is to begin again, this time through traveling the country and living life on our terms.  Together we will experience life on the road as we go from city to city and state to state to free our minds and embrace all of what this country has to offer.  The campgrounds, parks, and open country will be our backyards as we live, work, and learn our way to a better life.  This is our family, this is our life, these are our choices, and this is our journey.