Youtuber Sweatshirts and Knee-High Socks

Even what seems like the best idea may soon look like a complete disaster depending on your perspective. When we made the decision to sell our house late last summer and move into a glorified tin can, we had an idea in mind and it seemed like we would be fulfilling our dream. Finding your dream house is extremely difficult, but building your dream house sounds much more likely. Maybe this statement has sparked a flame inside of you to do the same. Grab a fire extinguisher and put it out before it spreads and burns you from the inside out.

A few of you are probably thinking that I am a little crazy, and you would likely be correct. You are saying to yourself, “Isn’t this the same guy who has been parading his life of sacrifice so that he and his family could fulfill their dream?” Yep, that’s me. Same guy, but with very important experience under my belt. Funny story about my belt, couldn’t find it all day yesterday. Where was it hiding in our mansion of a house? I found it rolled up with all of my daughter’s clean clothes that she pressed into a hideous monstrosity of Youtuber sweatshirts and knee-high socks that she had “folded and put away”. Back to the main event. Pants held firmly in place by my rediscovered belt.

They say that time heals all wounds, but what most of us forget is that wounds can leave scars. This experience of uprooting our lives and downsizing into a glorified tin can has left all of us wounded. I am not able to nor do I desire to speak for my wife or children, but I can say that I will walk away from this time in my life with a whole new perspective and any scars that I have from it was earned and will be worn with pride.

Time has a way of bringing forth change. Over the past eight months, our plan has drastically changed. Trying to get the land divided so that we could begin to build has been a nightmare from day one. You can’t build your house over there, it would be over a septic tank. You can’t build your house over here because it would be too close to the house on the adjoining property. You can’t build your house there either, it would be too close to the electrical substation. We have over two acres of land and we have a four-foot by four-foot square that we are allowed to build in. I guess we will have to build a tower to live in.

How can you progress with such restrictions? You have to find a loophole. For us, we determined if we built the house on top of 15-foot stilts. Then we could build it wherever we wanted. I am only joking. Our loophole came in the form of a telephone call my wife received. It was from her mother’s long-time neighbor. She was inquiring as to how the building was going, as she had noticed that there had not been much done in the way of construction. My wife told her about some of the roadblocks we had come to. She then made a suggestion that would alter our path. She told my wife that we should just purchase her home, as she wanted to move. Really? Let’s go look at it and talk with her about the details, we decided.

Every good plan is full of changes. Even bad plans are. Our plan was now completely different. We were now considering purchasing a house and moving on from our original plan of building. My wife and I communicate throughout the day by text message every day, and since this idea had been put in front of us, 90% of our conversations were about this. In the evenings, we would talk about it while sitting in our bed and watching television.

Right when we thought that we had nothing figured out and everything going against us, we now had another option to consider. Was it our dream home? How could we know yet? What we did know was that it was the right size. It was already established and functioning. We could pick up what we have and move right in. We would have room to breathe. We would have space of our own. We would have a home.

Ignoring our original idea altogether, we decided that this was in fact the best option for our family. Excited does not seem to hold the weight necessary to describe how I was feeling when we finally signed the purchase agreement. I honestly felt a lot of words that begin with E. Yes, I felt excited, but I also felt eager, educated, elevated, and even embarrassed.

Can living in a travel trailer be done? Technically, yes. Realistically? Not for everyone. Honestly, not every family could pull it off. I am not saying that we are better than any other family, I am only saying that not all are built for such an undertaking. We were put to the test more times than I want to think about. You have no personal space at all. Zero. Sure, you can go outside, but who wants to do that when it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. Once winter hit, then it was snow and blistering cold.

Historically, change is viewed as scary; fear of the unknown. I want to challenge people to face change head-on. When one asks for strength, they are often given obstacles to overcome from the universe, which in turn makes them stronger people. Sure, change will likely bring obstacles, but overcoming those obstacles allows you to stand tall and confident, showing everyone what you are capable of.

Consistent at Inconsistency

It has been too many weeks since my last post. We just returned home from our first Spring Break trip as a family ever. We spent the previous week in the Bluegrass area of Kentucky and it was an amazing experience. To begin with, the land down there is absolutely beautiful. Rolling hills of bluegrass, roads that wind around the exposed cliffs that seem to just jolt from the earth. Another highlight was the people. Southern hospitality is alive and well. All of the people that we interacted with were just about as friendly as you can be. Not only were they polite and hospitable, but they were also thankful for us to come to their area for our vacation. If you have never visited, it is worth a trip.

Our view of the Kentucky River Palisades

We stayed just south of Lexington in the area of Harrodsburg and Wilmore. We rented a VRBO that was on the Kentucky River. The picture above is the view from the back porch of the small house that was our home for a week. Most of you will likely think this part is silly or maybe even find it hard to understand, but the thing that we seemed to enjoy the most was being in somewhat of a normal house. Like sitting around the dining room table and playing games together for hours at a time. Just being together connecting was a breath of fresh air.

When I described the house as “somewhat of a normal house”, I was referring to it having many normal house-like qualities. It had a front door that didn’t have to slide, though it did have sliding rear doors. It had a kitchen that did not require you to make sure that you had your propane tanks turned on prior to using the stove or oven. The bathroom, I could go on for days about the bathroom, but I will force myself to only highlight a few things about the bathroom because, well just because. For starters, it had a shower that I could move around in. I could turn around without knocking every single item on a shelf off and shifting the entire position of the camper. I could open the shower and not have to worry about whether or not there was another door within the bathroom open that would prevent me from opening the shower. It had a closet that I could actually step into and not one that can barely hold three towels and my wife’s hundreds of make-up palettes. It also had a toilet made of porcelain and not plastic. You flushed it with a handle on the tank and not a pedal near the floor. It emptied into a septic tank that I did not have to empty every week. I want to add in how much my wife was obsessed with the toilet seat. It was a slow closing one that you only had to slightly nudge and it would slowly close itself. I heard about said toilet seat more than half a dozen times during our weeklong stay.

It had two bedrooms, the master on the ground floor, and the other was a loft above the master that you had to climb a ladder to access. Honestly, it was pretty cool. This was to be Lily and Zakk’s room to share, as it had two twin size beds. I made sure to use the word “was” there, as it did not work out that way. The kids had already seen pictures of their room before us making the trip and had devised a plan of how to get their suitcases and dozens of stuffed animals up to their loft. One of them was going to climb up to the loft and the other was going to hand the items up. Solid plan. As soon as we got into the house, Zakk made his way up the ladder to assess the situation. It went downhill from there fast. It turns out that Zakk is more afraid of heights than we were aware and refused to come down the ladder. As the rest of us unloaded the car, Zakk informed us that he was just going to stay up in the loft for the entire vacation. Awesome. After a lot of coaxing and dad lifting him off the ladder once he made it halfway down, Zakk was once again on the ground level. Not for long though.

After we had gotten everything unloaded from the car and into the house, we were looking around our temporary abode, when Zakk made the decision to once again ascend the ladder to the loft. After he was already to the top, he assured us that he had it figured out and would have no problem getting back down. You can probably guess how this played out. He once again decided that he would spend the rest of the vacation up in the loft and would never come down that ladder. And again, it took mom and dad coaxing him down and mom having to climb partway up the ladder and shield him from the certain death he would face if he fell. It was decided at that time that Zakk would not go up to the loft anymore and would use the futon that served as the living room couch for his bed.

Lily was happy because she now had the loft to herself. She knew that Zakk would not be coming up to mess with any of her things, and she knew that neither my wife nor myself were going to climb that ladder unless it was a life or death situation. Zakk was happy because he had the entire living room and that included the only tv in the entire house, though it did not have any streaming services as there was no wifi there. We spent the first night getting settled into the new place and playing card games together and eating at a dining room table as a family.

Fulling Mill Falls, Shaker Village

On the second day, we made our way to Shaker Village, a landmark that was only around a ten-minute drive from the VRBO. I had stumbled upon it by accident while looking over Google Maps. I don’t know why, but I love looking at maps and can do it for hours, either digital ones on my phone or computer or a paper one. I was scrolling around our area and saw that there was a waterfall listed not far from us. Fulling Mill Falls was a fulling mill used by the Shakers in the 19th century. According to an informational sign near the falls, fulling is a step in transforming wool into fabric. We had to hike a portion of the Shawnee Trail to get to the falls, and while it was difficult, it was well worth it. We quickly learned that we were not hiking the trails of Morsches Park(though we do love those trails. Thanks park department!).

Brave Zakk led Lily and Renae as they forded the Shawnee Run Creek. On a side note, Zakk fell into the creek moments after I snapped this picture.
Moss buildup on the exposed cliffs along the creek.
Another low area in the creek we explored.

This hike was enough for us for one day. We went past the falls and caught more beautiful scenes and landscapes, but after reviewing the trail on the map, quickly realized that we had gone a very small distance on the trail and we didn’t have it in us to go the entire distance. I should add that this is a trail that a lot of people enjoy on horseback. My wife and I made the executive decision to turn back and live to see another day. The rest of the day was spent taking in views of the river from our back porch and enjoying a campfire. We also decided to throw around the football and again was reminded that I am getting old and that this motion was likely going to destroy my shoulder and make my arm fall off.

The next day we decided to take the short half-hour drive into Lexington, as Renae wanted to go to Whole Foods. We found the store and it was a part of what seemed like its own little town by itself. Think Jefferson Pointe mall, but there was an apartment complex in there as well. It was honestly a really cool setup. We decided that grabbing a take and bake pizza from Whole Foods would be good for our dinner that night. We made a pitstop in the small town of Wilmore, as they had a locally owned ice cream shop, and who doesn’t love ice cream? Wilmore was another very welcoming community. We would come back to Wilmore a handful of times on the trip for different reasons, but it was the closest actual town to the VRBO, even though the address for it was in Harrodsburg. During our last full day on vacation, we came back to Wilmore to check out the small shops that we had seen during our previous stops. We spent the evening again playing games together and attempting to enjoy the pizza from Whole Foods, which was not very good at all. I say that after having eaten four pieces of it. No shame in my game.

We decided that after a day of a more relaxed pace, we were ready to tackle another outdoor adventure. We started off by going and looking at a local dam just up the river from where we were staying. This did not take long so I went back to looking at Google maps to see what else was around us that we could go and explore. I found a trail that was owned by Asbury University just up the road from the dam. We made our way there and decided to go for it.

When we arrived at the trailhead and parked the car, we found a group of college girls from the university that was clearly out of breath and all talking about how they had completed “the challenge”. We should have seen this as a warning, but we’re a bit impulsive and said what the hell. The trail started out simply enough. It was a downhill trail and had some beautiful views of a creek that had cut its way through the cliffs on its way down to the river.

Our view of the creek as we descended the trail.

Once we arrived at the bottom of the trail, we were happy to see that we were riverfront on the Kentucky river, just the opposite side. Upon further investigation, we noticed that we were almost directly across from the VRBO, as you can see in the picture below.

I was able to tell it was our VRBO after spotting the teal-colored Adirondack chairs on the back porch.

We also noticed that there was a cave that if we had any gas left in the tank, we could ascend and go into. Renae and I were a little tired, but we had come this far, we felt that pushing a little further was going to be worth the effort.

The view of the cave from the bottom of the trail. You cannot see it in this picture, but there is a trail that leads up to the cliff and a ledge you follow around the face of the cliff to reach the cave entrance.

We made it up to the cave, and to be honest, it felt amazing and terrible at the same time. We felt accomplished, but Renae and I felt exhausted. The final stretch to the cave was rough, but as you can see below, the view was worth the challenge.

The view from inside the cave.
The view from the ledge outside the cave.

Once we climbed down from the cave, we decided it was time to sit down and take a break, because one thing that we had not considered was the travel back up the trail we had come down in the beginning. This was likely “the challenge” that the college students were referring to. It was not always a steep climb, but it was always steadily going up. It seemed like it took years to get back to the car, but we made it. We helped to motivate each other on the way back up. I did so by telling Renae that if she stopped to take a break at any point, she would have to give me a piggyback ride the rest of the way up. Zakk was happy looking for shells along the trail as we walked and was pretty carefree. He found some on the initial descent, but apparently had dropped them in the cave and then stepped on them. Lily didn’t understand why we were struggling and was ready to jog the rest of the way up.

By the time we had reached the car, the sweatshirt that I was once wearing was thrown over my shoulder. I was sweating like a vegetarian former carnivore at a steakhouse. I was positive that I had dropped at least 50 pounds on this excursion, but once back at the house and in front of the mirror I realized that I may have misjudged this. Even though it was still in a strange bed, I slept like a baby that night.

We woke up the next day and decided that we would take another hike, but in a more urban setting. The Fayette Mall is the biggest mall in Kentucky and was just a short drive to Lexington. A flat-level grounded hike sounded much more appealing after the day before excitement. The mall is very comparable to Glenbrook back home, but with different stores. Renae and the kids found a few different things, but there was nothing there that I couldn’t live without. We decided that a break was in order before leaving the mall and noticed that there was a Cheesecake Factory there. Any weight lost during the previous few days of hiking was gained back in quick order. We topped the trip to Lexington off with another stop at Whole Foods. I am not sure exactly what we got during this stop, but likely something edible and likely not the take and bake pizza. Again, we capped off the night with another family game night.

We considered going on more trails but our creaking and cracking joints from the previous ventures told us we had our fill of that. Renae found an outlet mall that was an hour’s drive and seemed like a good idea. It turns out that only a few of the stores were actually “outlet” stores and the rest were just regular, expensive stores. Oh well, we at least got to see more of the pretty landscape during the drive. We decided to have another fire that night. It was not an easy task, as it had rained off and on for the past two days. The wood was wet, but we were able to find a few dry pieces, or I should say dry enough. That is probably also a stretch. We had to use every scrap of paper and cardboard we could find to get it going, but we were determined and stayed the course. We got it going and enjoyed it for a few short moments before it started to rain again and we headed back inside for some more games.

On our final full day there we went back to Harrodsburg and Wilmore to stop at some of the stores that had been closed during our previous trips through town. One of the stops that I wanted to make was at an antique and book store in downtown Harrodsburg. I had gone there on one of our previous stops there and had purchased two books and had left two behind that I was on the fence over. The catch to shopping at this store is that they only take cash, something that I do not typically carry on me. Renae decided to stop at an ATM and withdraw the cash I would need. She pulled up to the drive-thru to a local bank and inserted her debit card into the ATM. After entering her PIN number, the machine quickly sucked her debit card all the way into the machine and flashed a message that for her protection, the card was held and to contact her financial institution. She panicked a little before driving around to the window and telling the older gentlemen working there what had happened. He advised her that as long as she had her ID on her, he could open the machine and get it back for her. Crisis adverted. She later figured out that it was because she was trying to use her old debit card and not her new one.

The day culminated with dinner and dessert. We went to a local pub that had highly rated pizza in Harrodsburg. It did not disappoint. Renae chose to go to another local ice cream shop, ironically called The Local. We found out it was just soft-serve, but oh well. She ordered the strawberry and quickly regretted the decision, stating that it tasted like cough medicine. We went back to the VRBO and packed up the things that we would no longer need and got the house straightened up so that we could leave first thing in the morning. We played a few games and even enjoyed an episode of Jeopardy. Renae made the mistake of challenging me during the show and she was promptly destroyed. We all went to bed a little early as we knew that the trip would be coming to an end early the next morning. It was a nice but exhausting five-hour drive home. Nothing but positive experiences while in the bluegrass state.

“Honey, the House is on Fire”

Sorry for the delayed follow-up with my blog. I would love to blame it solely on the round of illness that has swept through our family or on the fact that work has been very busy and quite stressful for me as of late. But that would not be entirely true. There has been another culprit that goes by the name Letterkenny. If it is known to you, then congratulations, and if it is not, this has hopefully caused enough intrigue for you to look further.

My timeline has now brought us to the start of winter. Thirty years ago, even as early as November would have likely meant snow, but not anymore. It does bring sub-freezing temperatures though which can throw a wrench into many different things when living in a camper. Even prior to the temperatures dropping hard during the daytime, it was beginning to drop down at night low enough that we were beginning to wake up in the morning with either very low water pressure, or no water movement at all. The hose running from my mother-in-law’s house over to our camper was beginning to freeze up at night. Some mornings it was an easy fix of turning the faucets on and leaving them on and eventually, the water flow would force it’s way through the frozen section and we would be back in business. Other days, if this didn’t work, we would be forced to head outside with an extension cord and my wife’s hairdryer, slowly heating up the hose until the water began to flow again.

This got old really quick and our next big purchase was a heated garden hose. This took care of that problem in a hurry and water between the house and the camper has not froze up even once. Unfortunately, this was not the end of our problems. The next thing on the list was making sure that we would be warm. Obviously, the camper is heated, but the nice couple that we had purchased the camper from had warned us that running the furnace through an entire winter would likely burn it up as they are not meant to be used full-time. The camper that we had purchased came with an electric fireplace that provided a good amount of heat, but we knew that it would not be enough for the entire camper. I love to research and put this to the test. I found a product called Refletix that is a reflective insulating bubble wrap. I bought a 50′ roll of this and cut pieces to fit over some of our windows(mainly those located near where any of us would be sleeping). I then sealed the Refletix over the windows. This made a huge difference almost instantly.

The next step was to find some small electric heaters. I had initially looked at models that mounted on the wall, but for anyone that has been in a camper, the walls are not exactly what I would describe as sturdy. I liken them to a solidly made paper mache. My wife and I found a few different smaller electric space heaters, one for the back half of the camper and one for the front. They worked wonders and we did not have to use our furnace for more than maybe an hour or two the entire month of November. At this point, I was patting myself on the back and feeling pretty damned accomplished. Well, it didn’t last long.

We quickly stumbled upon our next hurdle, the septic tank. From the beginning, this was my job and something that I did once per week, usually on either Friday night or Saturday. It was not my favorite task, but a necessary one. I have suffered many blunders while carrying out this task, many fit for a bloopers highlight reel. I have had the hose pop off and you can imagine the outcome. I have forgotten to put the cap on the small portable tank and started to wheel it over. This problem was an entirely different monster that I was not prepared for, a frozen septic tank. Yes, a 42-gallon tank of frozen waste. Wonderful. I liken this experience to thawing your Thanksgiving turkey, only the turkey weighs around 350 pounds and is not the turkey, but human waste.

Our next investment was a propane heater to assist in thawing out the septic tank. My wife and I rotated on who was going outside to move the heater to face different sections of the tank to ensure that the entire tank was thawing out. As much as my wife would prefer that this incident never be mentioned again, I feel for the sake of the world, it needs to be retold. She had moved the heater to point at the tube that carried the waste from the tank to the exit valve to ensure that it also would thaw. Upon going out to see if her work had produced any results, I hear her frantically yell out that the house was on fire. I can reflect back on this and laugh now, and if I am being honest I laughed about it later the same day.

There were two parts to her statement that were not entirely true. First off, it is not a house, it’s a camper or travel trailer and identifies as such. It is not a permanent house and has made it perfectly clear that it does not want us to live in it full-time as a house. The second part that was entirely true was that it was on fire, at least the flames had dissipated by the time that I made it out there. But for at least a brief moment, my wife had caught our camper on fire.

I should add that by this point, we actually did have snow at this point and there had been a decent amount on the ground at this point. When I made it out to the area that she was at, I could see no flames, but it was obvious where the fire had been. The valve that you connect your hose to in order to drain the septic tank was deformed and bloated from where the flames had caused it to swell. It was still smoking, but clearly no longer a hazard. My wife, the quick-on-her-feet-thinker that she is, grabbed handfuls of snow and smothered the flames. I am thankful that the valve remained closed during the fire, can you imagine the septic tank emptying through a flaming hole all over the ground. I decided to give it a try, connected the hose to the small portable tank, and gave the valve handle a tug, and just like that the tank began to empty. All we needed to do was to set the valve on actual fire, and we were all set.

We were warm, we had water, and our septic tank was empty. It was another successful week. One down, a few dozen to go. Obviously, we had the propane heater to help us thaw things out, whatever those things might be, but we were also not the best at heater placement. I decided to do some research online, yes we actually have high-speed internet in our camper(just clocked it at 313 Mbps). I found a heating pad that sticks to your septic tank that kicks on anytime the temperatures drop to below 45 degrees. Sold. Thanks to us being Amazon Prime members, that thing arrived in a few days and has been heating up our waste ever since.

That is all for this week, but I assure you that there was much more excitement for us before winter was over that you don’t want to miss. Tune in for the next installment coming soon!

When It Rains, Stuff Gets Wet

I have been wondering why we as a people attempt to fix things that are not broke. Some things just need to be left as they are. Examples that come to mind, Ghostbusters, NFL Rules, kids being outside, and windows. I don’t know about you but windows are meant to open, close, and occasionally be cleaned. Camper manufacturers decided that they needed to be far more complex than that.

The leak that sprung during my absence was due to a window. Though the window was closed, water was pouring out of the track/frame that the window fits into. The immediate leak was addressed thanks to my wife’s quick thinking with covering the window. I didn’t want to leave it as it was though, so I did what most people would do, I searched the web.

What I found was that inside of that track that the window slides into when closed, there are drain holes that get plugged with debris over time. I needed to find a piece of wire, similar to an old metal coat hanger(something else that didn’t need to be improved upon). My daughter happened to find a piece of wire that fit the bill perfectly. I used the wire and cleaned out the drains. I took my work for a test drive and sprayed the window and watched the water drain perfectly out the drain. Amazing.

What the hell was wrong with windows the way they were. If it was nice outside and you decided to have the windows open, you were able to enjoy a nice breath of fresh air. If it started to rain and you found the wind had picked up and began to blow the rain through your screen, you closed the damn window, problem solved. Seems like a pretty good system, why throw a wrench into it?

Oh well, no need to dwell, the problem was solved, wasn’t it? Not exactly. The window that was originally leaking was no longer an issue, but a different window in our kitchen was now confused and behaving like a faucet, pouring enough water out of it to be a major issue. A towel was placed onto the counter underneath the window, and I grabbed the same wire that my daughter had found for me and took care of this window. A few days later, I was starting to think that maybe I should go around to all of the windows and clean out the drain holes in them. Great idea, but the wire disappeared and I have yet to find another wire that fits through those drains like that one did.

Thankfully, we were nearing the end of the forty-day-long flood, or so I thought we were. I was wrong. The rain continued for many more days, maybe even weeks. I cannot properly gauge how long it lasted because considering our situation, it likely felt much worse than it was for everyone else. We didn’t feel that we could catch a break. The windows were no longer leaking, but it was so wet and muddy outside, we could no longer get from our camper to our cars and vice versa without our shoes getting completely covered in mud. Goonies never say die, and neither do the Hoffmans. We came up with a plan and that weekend, put it into action.

We decided that we needed a sidewalk to walk on between our cars and our camper. It did not need to be permanent, and we didn’t want it to be. My wife and I decided that since the grass was now gone where we walked and was now a river of mud, a pathway made of mulch would cover the mud and make walking back and forth much less messy. We made a trip to Ace the Helpful Place and bought ten large bags of mulch. With the help of a few nice gentlemen employed at Ace, we stuffed them into the trunk of my toaster.

We had the mulch to cover the mud, but we needed a border, something to keep the mulch contained to the pathway. Again, we wanted this whole thing to be temporary, so I didn’t really want to spend a ton of money on a fancy landscaping border. We remembered that we had brought our firewood with us, and those logs would make a nice border. We had a nice wagon that we had brought with us that I loaded up with pieces of the firewood that we had stacked in a pile near the woodline. I brought them back and made an outline of where our soon-to-be path would be. My wife and I, with the help of our kids, emptied the bags of mulch within the wooden border, and in a short amount of time, we had our path. We were so proud of this accomplishment and all agreed that it actually looked really nice. It was another step towards making this camper our (temporary)home.

Storm of The Century

Okay, you got me, calling it the “The Storm of The Century” may have been me embellishing a bit. It did storm a few times. What came and didn’t seem to stop for eternity was the rain. We learned a lot during this monsoon season. We found our resolve being tested like it had never been before.

I don’t remember the exact day that the rain began. I recall noticing that it had begun to rain but I did not become alarmed until returning home from work to find a strangely dressed bearded man herding pairs of animals into our camper. I suppose he had more confidence in our camper to survive the Great Flood than I did.

Joking aside for a moment, I noticed that the rain was excessive when the driveway flooded over and there was a constant stream running down the path we were using to get to our front door. No exaggeration, there was a stream and what used to be grass had become a muddy mess. We needed a proper sidewalk, but other, more immediate issues would need to be addressed before the sidewalk could be tackled.

After a short time, we noticed that we needed to figure something out with the trash. When you live in town, you simply throw your bags in the can outside and wheel it to the curb. It’s very different once in the country. You throw your bags in the can outside and prepare for the 50-yard trek down what appeared to be the Nile River, and park it on the 90 degree angled ditch by the highway. If you could make it in one trip, awesome, if not you stopped halfway down and set up camp. We actually didn’t have trash pick-up set up yet and we could not share with my wife’s mother. We would have it overstuffed. I decided that we needed a burn barrel. Why pay for trash pick up when you can just burn it.

I took to the Facebook marketplace to find our burn barrel, which I found relatively quickly. Even better, it was only about an 8-mile drive to get it. Let’s go! Not to my surprise, it was raining. Actually, at this point, it was a downpour. Oh well, I won’t melt. I jumped in my wife’s car and headed out. The rain was starting to slow slightly, I might be able to get the barrel loaded and only get a little wet. As I smiled to myself at my potential good fortune, I checked my speed as I am not used to driving my wife’s car, I noticed that it was almost out of gas. I guess going to town was part of the plan now.

As I pulled away from the gas station on the edge of town, I couldn’t help but notice that the rain had returned with a vengeance. It may have even been stronger than it was before. I made my way back to the gentleman’s house to purchase the barrel. After struggling to find the driveway in the downpour and hurricane-force winds, I was now tasked with getting the barrel in the car. As I am fighting to get the 55-gallon drum stuffed in the trunk of my wife’s SUV, I keep feeling a vibration on my wrist, presumably an incoming call and my watch alerting me. Welcome to the next major issue.

I finished stuffing the drum in the SUV and ran gracefully to the driver’s side door, kinda sorta. I grab my phone to see who had called me. It was my wife and it was multiple calls. Probably just to see how I was doing. I’ll call her back after I wipe off my glasses. Just as I was about to set the phone down and start, the phone rang again. My wife was calling again. She must really be excited about the burn barrel, which is funny because she didn’t seem all that happy about me getting it. Glad she was on board now.

Yeah….that did not turn out to be why she was calling. Apparently one of the windows of the RV had water coming in. She was really worked up about it though, so I believed her when she said that it was a lot of water. But honestly, how much water could realistically be coming in? It was raining pretty hard, but the window was closed, or at least I hoped it was.

I pulled in the driveway and could already see my wife outside on our ladder in front of the presumed leaking window. I could also see her older sister, who I should mention along with her husband stay with my wife’s mom to help care for her. She was supervising my wife from a distance. I’m sure my wife was calm and took the advice being offered with a lot of sincerity.

During my drive, the rain had slowed to just a sprinkle. My wife was able to get the water to stop coming in. She has a lot of ingenuity but don’t tell her I said that. She took a trash bag and covered the window, holding it in place with a block of wood on top of the slide-out. It wasn’t pretty, but honestly who’s going for pretty when living in a camper. It held us over until the problem could be solved.

Camper Critters

As much as I would love to skip ahead a week to get caught up, the excitement continued on the day after the camper was delivered. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

First impressions of the camper the first night were mostly positive. Compared to the room that we as a family had shared the night before, the camper felt huge! It had a lot of room; maybe too much room. Yeah, no.

Again, I have no experience with campers. Absolutely none. It has two slide outs, but obviously they were taken in for the delivery. No biggie, just open them, right? After a short scavenger hunt, the switch was located and upon pushing it, drumroll…..nothing. Awesome. What could be the issue? Oh, that’s right, electricity. I was getting way ahead of myself. Probably should think about power and water before transforming Optimus Prime into our humble abode. Plug and play, right? Plug and play.

Well, we had an extension cord and that should cover us. Not exactly. For starters, it was not long enough and to be honest, it was an indoor cord, probably not the best option to power our house. A trip to the local rv dealership was in order, but not until we made attempts to connect everything else.

Luckily we had two 50ft hoses to connect the water. We had brought them in the move from the old house. I had ordered them a few summers before. I remember when I was kid and how drinking water from the hose was the norm in the summer. Unbeknownst to me, the hoses from today are not actually safe to drink from. I made it a point to purchase hoses that would be safe to drink from, because I am still a kid at heart.

My wife and I got the water connected successfully, and felt like professionals. Anybody else setting up your camper for the first time, call us, the pros. Not really, you’d be better off hiring George Utley from Newhart. We made our trip to the dealership and found the power cord that we needed. I was expecting maybe $75 to $100. Nope, the cord that we needed looked like it was made to power the strip in Las Vegas and not the 40ft aluminum tube that we were calling home. $300 later, we were on our way home, ready to bring the house to life.

Once electrified, we stepped back to the slide situation and doubled the square footage and smashed some atoms together. We spent the next few hours moving the truckloads of boxes from the room to the camper. While putting things away, moving them from the east wing to the west wing, getting lost in between occasionally, I noticed another issue that would need to be addressed in the very near future. Walking through the camper was akin to walking the deck of a small pontoon boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Who would’ve thought, our house that was currently hovering on four wheels and a trailer jack would be unstable?

We spent the first night in our house and I have to admit that I slept so much better than the previous night. We didn’t roll away, there was not high enough winds to flip us over. We had electricity and water. Now, we had a good night’s sleep under our belts. Stabilize the camper and we should be good to go right? The excitement should be over, right?

The next morning held a batch of new suprises. Living, breathing, moving suprises. I began work on stabalizing the camper, luckily for us the camper was equipped with scissor jacks on each corner. I forgot to mention that the night before had included a trip to everyone’s least favorite big box retailer. We picked up a few things to assist with stabilizing such as blocks to place under the jacks and a few wheel chocks. While I was working under the camper, getting the blocks into place, I noticed something moving under the camper from the corner of my eye. It was small and moving relatively quickly. Seeing that I didn’t know exactly what it was, I decided that the best course of action was to climb out from under the camper and better assess the situation.

Upon climbing to my feet and my knees popping and snapping back into place, I peered down where I had just been working. Nothing. Maybe it was just my imagination. I had been working and sweating and feeling out of shape for at least ten minutes, plenty enough time to account for visual hallucinations. I decided to begin the descent back under the camper to continue the job. Just as I had made it down to my knees, I caught my first full glimpse of the creature lurking under the camper. It was a………baby squirrel. To be completely honest, I initially thought it was a chipmunk and told my wife as much. When she came to inspect the creature, she corrected me on the species.

After performing an ocular patdown of the trespesser, I decided it was safe to go about my work and that I was not in any immediate danger. I kept my guard up though, I have seen Monty Python and The Holy Grail and know that seemingly harmless animals can turn deadly in a moments notice. To my surprise, this animal was not afraid of me, though I must of looked like King Kong to him. He remained within a few feet of me as I worked. It was at this point that I witnessed a second, likely the present one’s sibling or sleeping mate. Great, now there were two. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned about how many there were and where exactly they were coming from.

After finishing what I was working on and making my way out from under the camper, I stood and admired my handy work. Mostly to recover from working, but also to admire my work. The house was stable, about as level as a $3 2×4 from Menards, but at least we would no longer be getting seasick.

As I stood there, pondering over my life decisions up to that point, I felt something on my pant leg. Looking down, I found one of the furry tresspasers climbing on my pants. Wow. I could honestly say that I had never experienced a squirrel being this forward. I shook my leg gently, but he was not budging. This little guy was very social. We established that they had been sleeping in a nest that was resting under one of the slide outs. Apparently they had made the trip of around an hour and survived.

My wife made some phone calls, because obviously she has connections to people that take in wild animal babies, who doesn’t. My wife managed to wrangle them up and stuff them in our cat carrier. They escaped multiple times, as they were small enough to slip through the bars on their cell. My wife managed to wrangle them up each time.

A few hours later, the animal rescuer arrived, taking both the tiny squirrels home to prepare them to be released into the wild. The next morning, I got up early, preparing for my return to the office. Again, it was a great nights sleep. I had a full day ahead of me, but noticed I had a few texts from my wife. Apparently she had came upon a third squirrel. Unfortunately she was not alone in her discovery. Jasmine, our 80lb pit bull was accompanying her. I want to point out that Jasmine is one of the least aggressive dogs on the planet. She is afraid of EVERYTHING! Apparently she found the little squirrel adorable as well and wanted to play with it. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for the squirrel. Barely 24 hours in and there was the first victim of our adventure.

Extreme Downsizing

Back in August of 2021 my wife and I decided to sell our house. This had actually been the plan for quite some time. We were no longer happy with our house and we were no longer happy with where we were at. We had been there for just over ten years and felt that it had run its course. We wanted a different setting; a new adventure. The plan had originally been a five year plan, but when the housing market caught fire, we bumped it up to a month plan. You read that correctly, we made the decision to sell our house and we were listing it in a month. There was nothing that was going to stop us.

That is just what we did. We got rid of more than half of our possessions. We had a dumpster dropped off and we filled it way too fast. We had it emptied and dropped back off. Again, we filled it way too fast. The things we were throwing away were things that we had been holding on to for way too long. Some of these things had made the move with us from our previous house. We had stored these items in some cases for more than a decade. Things that no longer held any value. They held memories, but we came to the conclusion that the memories were in us and not attached to these items. There was no reason to hold onto them. The sentimental value was substantial for some of these things. Sentimental value is not something that can be measured by money, but by what it means to you. For us, we had always thought that if we parted with these items, that meant that the memories that we had attached to them would inevitably go with them.

I have some good news to report. We filled those dumpsters with actual trash, but we also filled them with these items that held no practical use, only memories. I sit here now with those memories still intact, even while the items have been removed. I am not going to tell you that it was easy, because it was not. It was honestly an emotional roller coaster. Some moments it felt as if my heart was being ripped out of my chest, but others it was the feeling of stress caused by clutter being eliminated. Why did we feel the need to get rid of so many things? For starters, moving sucks and this meant fewer things to move. Secondly, when we decided to sell our house, the plan was not to buy another house right away. We had come to the conclusion that we would build a house on some property that was being offered up to us by my mother-in-law. So were we going to rent a house while our dream home was built? That would be a sensible assumption, but the answer was, no. We sold our 1,400 sq ft home and made the decision to live in a camper on our land while the new house was being built. Before you can ask, yes both of us are crazy, and yes we are medicated for it. Apparently not enough though.

We sold our house within 48 hours of listing it and were given a closing date that was under a month away. We had three weeks to empty our house of the things that we had decided to keep and decide what would go with us to our 200 sq ft camper and what would go to the small storage area that we had rented. It was honestly a difficult thing to do. I have never even slept in a camper overnight, how was going to plan for our family of four and three pets to live in one with no timeframe for how long.

My wife found a camper that we liked and felt would be a good fit for our needs. It was a large park model. It had a full size kitchen, stackable washer and dryer, and even an electric fireplace. When you put the two slides out, it felt quite large. This of course was our thoughts when viewing it nearly empty. We asked the gentleman that was selling it if we put a downpayment if he would hold it for a week, which was when we were closing on our house and would be able to pay cash for the rest. He and his wife agreed to this. At this point we asked for another favor; would he be willing to deliver it? He thought about it for a moment before telling us that he would be willing to do that for us. The plan was for him to bring it for us the following Monday, the day that we closed on our house and would be handing over our keys.

We continued to move things that would not be able to go to the camper with us to our storage unit. Like our dumpster, it was filling up way too fast. It was a ten foot by ten foot square. By the time we had everything in it that needed to be there, it was filled front to back, side to side, and damn near to the ceiling.

We were anxious as the day of closing got closer. Then, my wife got a message from gentleman selling us the camper. He was still going to be delivering the camper, but it was going to be a day later than originally planned. While on the surface this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but remember, the original day of delivery was the same day of closing. We handed the keys off on that day. This meant that as of Monday at 5pm we would be homeless until the camper arrived on Tuesday. Well shit.

We tossed around ideas. We could stay in a hotel. But what about our animals? We could stay at my office, but again, what about the animals? The animals ended up shaping our final decision. We would stay the one night at my wife’s mother’s home. There was a room that was in transition and currently not being used. It had one full-sized bed and a dresser. This was going to be our hotel room for the night. The four of us humans, two dogs(both around 70lbs), and a cat would all be staying in this single room. But wait, there’s more…..

One thing that we didn’t consider, and you reading this also likely didn’t consider, what about our things that were going to be moved into the camper? The storage unit was close to bursting at seams so that was not an option. Guess where it went…into our room with us. We had Rubbermaid totes and cardboard boxes stacked on the floor to the ceiling. That is not an exaggeration. Our cat climbed onto the top of the stacks and his tail was dragging along the ceiling as he walked. There was a path to the bed and that was the extent of our floor space.

My wife and I took the bed. Our son made himself a bed that had him under the bed with his head sticking the only thing sticking out. Our daughter made herself a bed along the walkway between boxes. One of our dogs slept in an empty section of the floor. The other dog rotated between sleeping under the bed next to our son and on the bed between my wife and I. Not much sleep was to be had.

The next day the nice gentleman delivered our camper. As he pulled it into place, snuggled up between my mother-in-law’s house and the property that would be ours really soon, at least we hoped that it would be soon. After he unhitched our new temporary home from his one ton diesel truck, he went over a few things with us. Soon after we watched him and his wife driving down the driveway, we rushed into our new home. After the previous nights stay all together in the over stuffed bedroom, this felt like a mansion. It wasn’t much, but it was going to be home, like it or not.

I am assigning myself the task of documenting our experience living as a family in the camper by writing an entry in my blog every week until the story has played itself out. Obviously, I have some catching up to do as the story began in September and it is currently January. I will catch you up as fast as I can and then provide weekly updates on the challenges and victories we experience. This might mean that I put out a few posts each week until I am caught up. Tune in. Subscribe and have this amazing story sent to your inbox as soon as it is published. I promise that it will be an interesting story to follow, sometimes comical at our expense, sometimes sad and depressing, but interesting nonetheless. Thanks for joining us on the journey.

Well, that’s life….

Raise your hand if you are tired of struggling. I see quite a few hands up. Yeah, me too. My wife and I had a very emotionally charged conversation this morning. We are both full-time workers, full-time parents, and full-time college students. We have struggled financially throughout our entire time together. It has always been paycheck to paycheck. In fact, in our early days, the paychecks did not last long enough to meet each other. 

I actually met my wife right after I graduated from high school. I got my first job as a house keeper at the hospital. I was an eighteen year old punk with little to no direction. I enrolled at a technical college and went to class occasionally in the evenings. This was my first real foray into the real world. It was my first real job. It was the first time that I had real responsibilities. I didn’t handle it in the best way. 

My future wife was also a housekeeper at the hospital. We actually didn’t get along when I first started. She took her job and life seriously, I didn’t. As time went on, she was promoted to the supervisor of the department that we worked in. It is a wonder that we would ever end up together as our lives were very different at the time, but fate put us together. For the next decade and a half, we would be in this struggle together. 

I eventually dropped out of college, thinking that it wasn’t for me. We began our family together. The struggle continued, but it was something that we had both become accustomed to. Maybe we had just accepted that this was just the way things were supposed to be. This was just the way people in our part of northeastern Indiana lived. 

As the years went on, our family continued to grow and I decided that college might be something that I was ready for now. I enrolled full-time and continued to work full-time. I was only able to succeed with the support of my family. My wife also came to the conclusion that college was something that she was ready for and also enrolled. Times were tough but we were fighters. We knew that we could power through. 

I am proud to say that almost two years ago, I graduated with my bachelors degree. Life should become much more manageable right? Wrong. It is not that I am a glutton for punishment, the career that I was seeking required a masters degree. I enrolled in a different university and began work immediately on this new path. The struggle continued. 

This brings me to current day. I will graduate with my graduate degree in August. In seven months I will realize a goal that I have been working towards for what seems like a lifetime. My wife will graduate with her bachelors degree in just a few months and also intends on pursuing her graduate degree. We both want to help others. I will have my degree in counseling and my wife will be working towards a Master’s degree in school psychology. 

Don’t get me wrong, all of this is positive. It is all for a great cause. It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to live with. We struggle year to year, month to month, and day to day. It takes everything that we have to press on. At times it is very difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It gets quite dim at times. No matter what though, even when it is faint, it is still there. We are fighters. We will get through this. We will reach our goals and do what we set out to do. 

If you like what you read, please take a moment to like my Facebook page (J.M. Hoffman) and subscribe to my blog on WordPress (hoffmanjm.wordpress.com).

Decluttering for a Purpose

Today marked the last Friday before Christmas break ends. The last week has went lightning fast. My wife and I have spent the week cleaning our house. We are working to get rid of things that we no longer need or have a use for. A few of the items that we determined were no longer needed but had some value were placed onto Facebook marketplace. 

The items could not have been much more random: a desk with hutch, four seasons of our favorite cooking show on DVD, a few small wooden signs, and a post hole digger. The items are meaningless to us. None of them have any sentimental value. They are just material items. They do represent our tendency to hang on to things that we simply do not need for far too long. The post hole digger that I listed for sale has been sitting brand new in a box in the corner of my laundry room for years now, doing nothing for us besides collecting dust. 

Why did it take me so long to part with it? Again, it doesn’t hold any sentimental value to any of us. I had no use for it, I just couldn’t see myself parting with it. What if there came a day when I needed one? Then I would be glad that I had one. I should point out that I have another post hole digger in my garage. It is doing the same dust collecting that this one was doing. I live in town on a single city lot. I really have no use for a post hole digger, but I own two of them. First world excess. 

Now that I have decided that I can part with my beloved extra post hole digger, there is that now vacant corner in my laundry room. Well, it was vacant for all of a few hours. It is now the home for two tool bags and a socket set. These items actually do see the light of day as I have many projects around the house. All of this is being done with an intended purpose. 

My wife and I have decided that we would like to realize our dream of moving. Where to you might ask? No idea. We are not sure where we will land yet, but we have concluded that where we are at now is not where we want to be. This is something that we have been talking about for a few years now but have left it as just talk. 

We had a long talk on New Years Day. I put everything out on the table. I was ready to have things move beyond it just being talk. I told her that I was not happy where we were. I need some different scenery in my life. We agreed that we live in a nice house, but it just doesn’t fit our family’s needs. Too much of the space is wasted. My wife came up with a timeframe that we both felt was acceptable. We are giving ourselves three years to get everything ready to sell and move. This may sound like an excessive amount of time, but we have never sold a house before. Plus, we have three children that all attend school. 

This period of time will allow our oldest daughter to get her first few years of college under her belt at a local school before she transfers to a bigger school a few hours away. It will allow our middle daughter to finish middle school and our youngest son to finish elementary. If you are going to go through change, might as well do it all at once, together. 

Holidays are a wrap

Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone again. Honestly, it hasn’t felt like Christmas for a few years now. Yes, part of this is because of the weather. Living in the Midwest, we expect to see snow. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been a white Christmas, but it has snowed around the holiday season and it has been cold. In recent years this has not been the case. Here it is, four short days after Christmas, and it’s over sixty degrees outside. I understand that this is not out of the ordinary for a lot of people around the country and they are capable of celebrating Christmas. This just isn’t the case in the Midwest. It should be cold and snowy.

Another issue for me has to do with the disappearing generation that my grandparents were a part of. I think of my family as a well built home. This may not be the same with everyone, but in my case my mom’s mother was the foundation that our sturdy home was built upon. She was the boss, the commander and chief. She assigned holidays to certain family members. She decided on the meal. She informed you of what you were to bring.

My maternal grandmother was a big fan of Easter and thus she hosted this holiday along with my grandfather. The main course was ham along with my grandfather’s famous baked beans. My mother was in charge of strawberry jello cake topped with whipped cream. My grandfather would have eggs hidden outside for us kids to find.

Christmas and Thanksgiving would change up with each new season. One year, we would host Thanksgiving and my aunt would host Christmas. The next year it would switch. There was never any fighting or disagreements. Grandma made sure that everyone got along and enjoyed themselves.

Sadly, she passed away quite a few years ago and our holidays have never recovered. The glue that held us all together was now missing. The foundation of our home was broken when she passed and the home was becoming more and more unstable.

Fast forward to present times, and we still celebrate these holidays but they just don’t have the same magic as they did when we were young. Maybe it’s because I am older. Maybe my wife and I are the parents at the end of The Polar Express, we can no longer hear the bell.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel however. The magic may not be there in the same sense, but there is a new type of magic involved. As a parent, you have a front row seat to the greatest show on earth, the faces of your children lighting up as they open presents that Santa left them overnight. This is something very special and it never gets old being a witness to it. Find a way to bottle that up and sell it. Joy to the world would be a fitting name.