Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Ok, so I’ve been binge-watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix, and I can’t get that Clash song out of my mind.  But “Should I Stay or Should I Go” perfectly describes the dilemma I faced when I left Fresno in my RV in early December.

As mentioned previously, my plan was to store the RV and car at my uncle’s house in Los Angeles.  My flight to Seattle was scheduled for December 14th, but since I had an appointment to bring the full rig to the Camping World in Fresno on the 7th, I decided to head for LA the same day.  I had to completely unhook and pack up the RV at the campground to take it to the shop, so it made sense to just keep driving.

The most direct route from Fresno to LA is via the “Grapevine”, which is where I-5 goes over the Tejon Pass.  It’s a long and steep climb – I’ve driven it with a car many times.  I was terrified of driving it with my rig, and preferred to avoid it at all costs.

Another alternative is to drive west to the coast, and then south along the 101 freeway.  It adds a few hours to the trip, but it’s worth the extra time to avoid getting stuck. So I carefully planned that route, studying maps and the Mountain Directory to make sure there were no big hills.

Two alternative routes from Fresno to LA (the coastal route continues to Ventura and then east, but Highway 101 is closed due to recent mudslides so Google maps would not allow me to finish the route).

I didn’t have reliable television in Fresno, but the night before I planned to leave, I happened to see an online headline about fires in Los Angeles, and thought I better check it out. I soon learned that a section of Highway 101 was closed due to the Thomas fire, directly along my planned route.

Reluctantly, I researched the Grapevine option, but learned that there were strong wind warnings,  especially for vehicles with high profiles.  That would be me.  Clearly, the drive to LA had to be postponed.

Not wanting to go back to the Fresno campground after the Camping World appointment, I decided to drive south, stay overnight in Bakersfield, and see how things looked the next morning.  Highway 101 had re-opened the following day, but the wind was fueling the fires and making everything worse.  Should I stay or should I go?  If I go, should I drive through the fires, or tackle the steep and windy pass?

Thomas Fire on Friday, 8 December 2017 (source: cdfdata.fire.ca.gov)

The campground in Bakersfield was lovely.  It had everything I needed, including cable TV so I could stay informed about the fires.  And it just so happened to be directly next door to an RV repair and storage place, which got me to thinking that perhaps I should give up the idea of driving the RV to LA, and store it in Bakersfield instead.  So, I checked it out.  It cost only $50 per month for storage, and they could do all the repairs I needed.  Best of all, storing the RV there would allow me to postpone the drive to LA until next year.  It felt like the right solution.

I spent the weekend preparing the RV for storage, and doing my packing.   I was able to wash the RV for the first time since May because the campground allowed it, which is rare.  I got up on the roof with my big push broom, a bucket and a hose, thinking constantly that this would NOT be a good time for an accident.

But it’s a good thing I did go on the roof, because I discovered a big hole in one of the vent covers.  Rain water would have poured in, creating a disaster inside.  I was able to buy a new vent cover at the local Camping World, and replace it.

Hole in the vent cover

My uncle’s house was a quick hour and a half drive over the Grapevine in my car, and I spent three wonderful nights in the warmth there before my flight to Seattle.  It was an exciting day when I finally got on that airplane with my two 50 pound suitcases, all ready for Christmas with my kids, and then 5 months in Europe….

 

Two Game Changers

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I pretty much had two years of my life planned out in advance.  And I’ve followed that plan so far.  But, two little grenades have been thrown into my life, and thus, things have changed.

The first involves the impact of health care on my budget, which has forced me to choose which parts of the plan I can still afford to implement.

As I’ve written about before, I enrolled in health insurance for 2017 through the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.”  Since I retired early, prior to eligibility for Medicare, there weren’t a lot of choices.  So I didn’t do much research in advance – I just went on the healthcare.gov website and enrolled.

My income in 2017 consisted of a small pension from the State of New Jersey, and Social Security.  I became eligible for Social Security in June, so I received just six payments.  At that income level, the subsidy toward my health insurance premiums was about $350 per month.  I selected a very high deductible plan ($7,500), making my premium about $275 per month after the subsidy.  Fortunately, I didn’t get sick in 2017 so I didn’t have to pay much of the deductible, the premium was affordable, and it all worked out pretty well.  Fingers crossed that I stay healthy at least until I’m 65 and eligible for Medicare.

Next year, my income will include a full year of Social Security, making it higher than 2017.  So when I enrolled for 2018, I was in for a complete shock. Not only did the premium for the same high-deductible plan increase by about 50%, but I was no longer eligible for any subsidy because my income was too high.  So, my premium was going to increase from $275 per month, to $775 per month.

Did you know that if you exceed the maximum income amount, which is around $47,000 per year, by even one penny, you lose all of your subsidy?  I had no idea, but I certainly do now.  There’s a thing called the Obamacare “cliff” – at a certain income level, you just drop off it and get nothing.

The short version of the story is that I was able to “un-do” my application to start my Social Security in 2017, thereby keeping my income well below the Obamacare threshold.  Without the Social Security income, my health insurance premium for 2018 is $12 per month, and my subsidy is about $9,000.  And once I re-start Social Security, maybe when I’m 65 and on Medicare, my monthly check will be significantly higher.

It’s the right decision, but it does have a big impact on my financial situation, and on my travel plans.  Although it’s relatively inexpensive to live in an RV, I can no longer afford to do the other traveling I’ve been doing.  I decided NOT to change my plans to stay in England and Wales for the winter and spring of 2018.  There would be a financial cost to cancel because everything is already arranged, and besides, I really feel that if I don’t do it now, I might never do it.  So, I’ll be funding it with savings.

But, I have to cut out my planned summer sublet in New York City, and I’m debating about the Panama Canal cruise next September.  And these changes are really OK, because of the second game changer.

I’ve mentioned before that my 23-year-old son has moved from Seattle back to his hometown of Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and started a career in real estate (see http://www.newtopias.com).  It has been quite an amazing transition to witness.  After graduation from college, he had a strong pull to experience “somewhere else”, so he went to Seattle, where his sister was living.

Then last summer, after a year of struggling to support himself and make new friends in a new place, he is incredibly happy to be back home.  He’s lived in Bucks County since he was two, and that’s where he’s comfortable.  He’s an Eagle Scout, and has been active in sports since he was four, so his network is wide and deep.  All the people who know him the best are there – except, of course, for his family.

So, I’m going to change that!  I think Kyle and I have learned very similar life lessons, even though we’re at very different points in life.  We’ve learned how much we appreciate “home” after we’ve been away from it for a while.  We realize how incredibly important our relationships are – the friendships which we’ve spent years nurturing.  Both of us have realized that we belong in Bucks County.

During my travels across the country, I enjoyed visiting all sorts of different places.  I’ve been all over the country, in all four corners, and in between.  I’ve seen big cities and small towns, rural and suburban landscapes, dramatic mountains and peaceful farmland.  A common theme I felt was that the people who live in each place seem to belong there.  They fit.  And it made me ask myself “Where do I fit?”.  Everywhere I went, I asked myself “Could I live here?”, and I tried it on for size in my mind.

Before Kyle made his decision to move back, I might have answered my questions with “Maybe here.  Maybe.”  But, I didn’t feel enthusiastic about anyplace.  After Kyle’s decision, every time I considered a new place, I asked myself, “Why would I live here, when Kyle is back in Newtown?”.  And that’s what stuck.

The combination of the desire to live near at least one of my children, and the desire to be near many of my very dear friends, including a whole community of genealogy friends, made the decision to move back to Bucks County an easy one.  It was literally a no-brainer; I just followed my heart.  And I’m ready to make it happen as soon as I touch down in Philadelphia on May 20, 2018.

More details to follow as I work them out!

Fresno – the Good and the Bad

My RV was in Fresno for about a month in November and early December, and during that time I had wonderfully high highs, as well as some challenges…so typical of life!

I spent Thanksgiving with my kids at my uncle’s house in the Los Angeles area.  I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle in about five years, and hadn’t been to their home in decades.  My kids met my uncle when they were too young to remember much, so this was truly a family reunion.

The day after the holiday, my brother’s two kids rode a train for two hours each way to visit with us at my uncle’s house for four hours.  We hadn’t seen them in almost two years.  I can’t even describe with words how amazing it all was.  A fabulous visit!

The four loves of my life – the boys are 6’4″ and 6’5″ – my father and both brothers were also tall!

From Los Angeles, my daughter and I drove up to San Francisco to visit an old friend.   I lived there in my 20’s and early 30’s, and hadn’t seen my friend in 28 years – so many great memories!

My house in San Francisco in the 1980s

And, my father grew up in San Francisco, so we visited his childhood home as well.  From there, we drove back to the RV in Fresno, and Caitlin stayed with me for a few days before flying back to Seattle.

General Grant Sequoia at Sequoia National Park
Road to Kings Canyon National Park at sunset

That part of the past month was fantastic!  But, for the remaining three weeks of my Fresno stay, I was alone – two weeks before the trip, and one week after.  Unfortunately, I was able to do very little genealogy research, which was the whole point of being there.   I spent a few hours in the genealogy section of the library one day, and my daughter and I visited the cemetery together.  That was it.

Caitlin and I are fascinated with my great-great Aunt Elsie, who purchased a house in her own name in Barton, Wisconsin, where she lived with her mother until she died in 1895.  Then 45 year old Elsie went west.  On her own?  We’d love to know the details!

My time in Fresno was spent preparing for my trip to England, and taking care of a myriad of administrative details.  It was enrollment time for health insurance, which threw me into a financial tizzy for a week afterwards.  I researched trip insurance,  phone, internet and medical coverage overseas, RV storage options, car rentals in England, rental car insurance, how to get my prescriptions filled while I’m away, and what to do for a GPS.  I finalized lodging plans for England and researched options for my trip to Italy.  I did my online Christmas shopping and worked on my genealogy classes.  In other words, I was busy.  Not much fun, but all good.

When I was in LA, my aunt and uncle very generously offered to allow me to store my RV and car at their house while I’m in Europe, which will save me a ton of money, and give me peace of mind as well.  More good.

Moving on to my complaints, I truly did NOT like the Fresno campground.  I paid extra to be on the lagoon, but it was all dried up.  The site was sandy, which meant I tracked the stuff in to the RV and I was constantly cleaning.  There was no picnic table.  My fellow campers seemed to be more or less permanently there – perhaps seasonal workers – most of whom had dogs which constantly barked.  Either that, or there was loud music playing into the night.  Or both.

It was cold – the last day there, I woke up to 28 degrees – and the bath house wasn’t heated, so I had to wait until it warmed up in the afternoon to take a shower.  Not only that, but the bath house was disgustingly dirty.  Even my daughter said that she didn’t know how I could stand it.  I took really fast showers.

I had an infestation of ants and lady bugs.  I was under a tree which constantly dropped something hard, like a nut, which made me jump out of skin every time I heard it.  The tree debris also prevented my slide-out from retracting on the cold morning I packed up, so I had to get up on the icy roof with a broom to sweep it all off.

And, things started to break.  My brand new computer completely crashed and I had to send it back to HP for repairs.  My brand new microwave stopped heating food.  The hot water heater was emitting a horrible burning smell, so I turned it off and had no hot water for the last week there.

Oh, and let’s not forget the car.  I had a recall notice regarding the seat detection mechanism on the passenger side, which impacts the airbag.  There was no Mini dealer anywhere near Fresno, so I scheduled an appointment in LA.  Then, I had to jump-start the car with the RV several times the week before the appointment, so I asked the dealer to take a look at the battery.  The final bill was $1,200 – evidently the power steering lines were leaking and had to be replaced, which was completely unexpected.

For car repair news on the positive side, I took the whole rig into the Camping World in Fresno the day I left. They repaired the damage to the front end of the car at no charge.  The hitch shouldn’t dip more than 3″ between the RV and the car, and my level was something like 9″, they said.  They corrected the hitch by installing a down bar (which I understandably had to pay for), so it won’t happen again.

It was kind of serendipitous that as I was coming to the end of my time in the RV, things were falling apart and I was feeling very ready to move on.  I just felt done, and very much looking forward to the next chapter in my adventure.

Phoenix to Mexico to Fresno

As I’ve mentioned before, I love love love the southwest.  I hadn’t been there in so long that I’d forgotten how delicious the air feels to breathe, and how big the sky seems.  And a nice side benefit is that it completely takes all the frizz out of my hair!

View of Superstition Mountains from Lost Dutchman State Park Campground

I fantasize about wintering in Arizona, but I don’t think I’d want to be there in the summer.  The temperature was nearing 100 degrees in late October, and I came home one day to this:

Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot!!!

The outdoor thermometer must have been directly in the sun, because it wasn’t really 115 outside – more like 98.  But I’m sure the inside temperature was correct.  The air conditioner worked really hard to get that number down!  The desert is always much cooler at night, so there was some relief.

Sunset from my Arizona campsite

I only had a few days in Arizona, and I spent one of them with a genealogy friend, visiting the historic town of Wickenburg.  Then I caught up on personal business, and prepared for my trip to Mexico.  I put the RV into storage near the airport for a week (I would highly recommend Guardian Self Storage on Van Buren), and stayed at a park-n-fly hotel the night before the flight.

You may think that someone who’s retired doesn’t really need a vacation, but that’s not true.  Even though I’m technically not working, it’s still a great relief to take a break from the “real world”.  After seven months in the RV, it was truly terrific to just spend a week doing nothing but laying around the pool reading novels.  My good friend Sandra and her 28-year-old daughter joined me there.

View from our balcony in Puerto Vallarta
Sunset view from the balcony

Keep in mind that I’m still, and always will be, a Frugal Traveling Pensioner.  The timeshare week in Mexico was a gift from my ex-husband, back when I was taking care of my dying brother in 2013.  And the flight to Mexico was paid with frequent flyer miles.  So, my expenses were limited to food, drinks and incidentals in Mexico, storage for the RV, and a night in a hotel before and after the trip, all of which totaled less than $500.

Sandra flew back to Phoenix with me, and we made the two-day drive to Fresno together. I’d never had anyone ride shotgun in the RV before – what a difference that makes!  I mapped out a route which avoided any big hills, so we crossed the Sierras at the very south end, over the Tehachapi Pass.

During the second day of the drive, we noticed that there was a gap between the bumper and the hood of the Mini Cooper. The hood of the car was also slightly uneven.  I had no idea how or when the damage had happened.

Can you see the larger gap on the right under the headlight?

After more thought, my theory now is that it happened while driving along a road in California that had some unusually severe undulations (when I was off the interstate trying to avoid the mountains!).  When the hitch was originally installed last year at the Camping World in Lakewood, New Jersey, Eric was concerned that the height distance between the RV and car was too great.  At the time, the mechanic said it was on the outside of the range (we had read that there should be only a three inch height difference), but that it would be fine.  Well, it wasn’t fine.  At least, that’s my theory.

I stopped at the Camping World here in Fresno last week, and they seemed to agree.  I have a longer appointment scheduled in December to see what they can do.

As Eric and I often say to each other – IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING!!  But that’s true of life in general, right?  In my retirement, in my quest to avoid stress and conflict, I prefer to take these blips in stride, deal with them, and move on!

Missouri to Phoenix

From Illinois, I headed to Marshfield, Missouri, where I met a first cousin for the first time.  People ask how it’s possible that I have a first cousin I’ve never met.  It’s because my uncle had a daughter in between his two marriages, and he didn’t meet that child until she was a grown woman.  Once I knew she existed, I just never made it a priority to get to Missouri until now.  I totally regret that, because Dixie is an amazing person and I wish she had been in my life all these years.

I met five of Dixie’s six children, seven of her ten grandchildren, and two of her four step-grandchildren.  I have never seen a family where every single person is so happy, grounded, bright and respectful.  It just felt good being with them.  I especially enjoyed having 5 year old Abby take a nap on my lap, and holding little 8-month old Ellie while she laughed:

Ellie’s laugh was totally contagious!!

One night, we had a “Show and Tell”, with my computer hooked up to their television so together we could see our family tree and pictures of our relatives and ancestors, and hear all the family stories.  That was great fun and definitely cemented our family connection for all of us.

I was sad to leave Dixie and her beautiful family, but I was also excited to head west.  I hooked up my car in Marshfield in the dark, at 5:30 am.  Last Christmas, Eric gave me a headlamp which I use all the time – hands-free light, wherever I need it!  I try to hook the car up the night before a departure, but sometimes the site configuration doesn’t allow for it.

About halfway to my overnight destination in Sayre, Oklahoma, I passed a police vehicle with its lights flashing on the side of the road.   The next thing I knew, he was following me with his lights still flashing.  Did he want me to pull over?  I certainly wasn’t speeding – the limit on I-44 was 75 mph, and I was only going 62.  The shoulder was very narrow, but I decided I’d better pull over.

It took about a half hour for him to give me a written warning because my right front headlight was out.  Sheesh, it was broad daylight and I didn’t even need to have the lights on – I wished I had turned them off once the sun came up.  On the bright side, all of my paperwork was in order, thank goodness.

So of course for the rest of the drive that day, I wondered whether I would be able to figure out how to change the bulb, or if I would have to take the RV to a repair shop.  I was planning to leave in the dark again the next morning, and knew I needed to take care of it before then.

I arrived at the Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre around 2:30 pm, and the owner says, “Looks like we’ll be gettin’ some weather tonight”.  So I asked what that meant.  Well, there was gonna be some heavy winds and rain, and possibly a tornado.  He pointed out the underground tornado refuge not far from my campsite, and said I would hear the sirens in town, and he would make sure all the campers were gathered together.   Holy Oklahoma!!  A tornado is not healthy at all for an RV!

My first concern was to take care of the headlight before the storm came. I opened the hood, and it was just not obvious at all how one would access the bulb.

 

Right headlight with truck hood up. The left headlight was the one that was out, but forgot to take a “before” picture!

So I checked the internet, and to my great relief a kind soul had posted photographs of exactly how to remove the casing and access the bulb, which I was able to do with the help of the incredibly nice campground owner (the trick is to pull up and back on those two little black tabs above the light).

Headlight after removing the casing

Then it was off to the auto parts store, where they had the correct bulb; I bought two, just in case.  Back at the campsite, I was able to install it and put everything back together.  Whew!

About a half hour later, I saw the owner wandering around, and went out to ask him what was up.  He looked at the sky and said, “Looks like some wind is coming – you better get inside”.  And seconds later the wind was so strong that I had to fight it to get the door to the RV closed – I flashed on Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

It wasn’t a tornado, but the wind was so strong that the RV was rocking, and it was being pounded hard by what looked like white rocks.  I initially thought that the wind was stirring up all the gravel around us; the sound of those rocks on the roof was absolutely deafening.  It was frankly quite terrifying.

Hail storm in Oklahoma

It turned out to be hail – very large balls of ice. How does that happen on an 80 degree day??  My car now has little dents on the side that was facing the wind.

I was very glad to leave Oklahoma and head on to Albuquerque.

From there on, the trip was relatively uneventful.  I drove probably 200 miles out of my way to avoid going through the mountains.  The  direct route from Albuquerque is to head west on I-40 to Flagstaff, and then south on I-17 to Phoenix.   After referring to my Mountain Directory, which I acquired after overheating on a steep hill in upstate New York, I decided to go south from Albuquerque on I-25 through Truth or Consequences, and then west on I-10 though Deming and Tuscon.

I loved driving through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona – it brought back many memories of the time I worked at the Grand Canyon when I was 19 and 20 years old.  The whole area has always been magical to me.  It quite literally stirs my heart to be there.

And at the end of the road, this was my reward:

Campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

More about Illinois

I absolutely loved being in Illinois along the Mississippi, near the little town of Fulton where my Abbott ancestors lived.  In fact, it was probably my favorite place to date.  In my previous post about Illinois, I included a picture of a gorgeous sunset across the river – I saw many of those.  Here are daytime pics in both directions from my campsite at Thomson Causeway:

View from my campsite in Illinois looking left
View from my campsite in Illinois, looking right

Toward the end of my stay there, I connected with the very friendly and helpful folks at the Fulton Historical Society, who put me in touch with present-day Abbotts in the area.  I promised to provide the Society with my research on the Abbott family, which I first need to write up properly so others can benefit from it.

I spent a delightful afternoon with 91 year old Bill Abbott at a local nursing home.  It turned out that he is from a different Abbott line, but I greatly enjoyed hearing his first-hand account of the history of the area.  The next day, I had a great chat over coffee with a distant cousin, a descendant of my pioneer ancestor Clark Abbott.  Unfortunately, no one had any information on Clark’s parents, which has been a long-standing brick wall for me.

Amazingly, I also discovered some collateral Goodenough relatives who lived in Morrison, the Whiteside County seat.  My branch of Abbotts left Illinois in the late 19th century, while the Goodenoughs didn’t arrive until the early 20th century, so the common location was purely coincidental.  It was certainly thrilling to see my maiden name on all sorts of dairy farm memorabilia in the Morrison Historical Society’s Heritage Museum!

 

Model milk truck from Goodenough’s Dairy Farm 

On the “RV Living” side of things, my microwave got fried. I had decided to steam a bunch of vegetables in advance, so I wouldn’t have to do it in single servings every night.  After almost an hour of using the microwave, the breaker blew, and the skin inside the microwave was peeling off.

The microwave breaker is tripped and won’t go back up!
When I saw the tear in the liner, I knew the microwave was toast.

It was quite distressing because I use the microwave all the time.  I cook in batches, freeze serving sized portions, and then use the microwave to warm up a meal.  In addition to steaming vegetables, since I don’t have an oven, I often cook a baked potato in the microwave.  So it was basically a microwave emergency.

You would think that replacing a microwave is pretty straight forward – you just buy a new one and plug it in, right?  Not so.  The microwave in my RV is built in to a cabinet, so I knew there would be issues with venting, and with keeping it securely positioned.

The old microwave in the cabinet. What to do??

I thought about having someone install a new one for me, because I didn’t really want to mess with anything involving the electrical system.   I could contact a mobile RV technician who would come out to the campground, but it usually costs somewhere around $100 for the house call, and then the hourly rate for the work can be $125 or more.  And my experience with taking it in to a shop, like Camping World, is that they are booked out weeks in advance.  So, besides the timing of getting it installed, I didn’t really want to spend the money.

After much angst, I decided to try to replace it myself.  How hard could it be?  If I failed, I figured I could get help any time in the process.

My first step was to remove it from the cabinet so I could see what I was working with:

 

The empty cabinet after removing the microwave.

It looked do-able, with a simple outlet in the back for the plug.  After hours of research online, and of course consultation with my RV expert, ex-husband Eric, I figured out what I needed, and then found one specifically for RV’s that was the correct size for the opening, the correct wattage, the proper venting, and with its own trim kit.  So I had it shipped to my next stop – my cousin’s house in Marshfield, Missouri.

I’m skipping a lot of steps, but the short story is that I did it.  Here is the final product:

Fancy new microwave, installed!

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was a tremendous challenge.  I was SO GLAD not to have to spend the money on professional services, and it felt GREAT to complete a successful DIY project!

 

Random RV Tidbits

I’ve learned the hard way that evidently my credit card gets pre-approved for $100 at the gas station, before I start pumping. So when the pump ticker hits $100, everything shuts down.  I had no idea until recently – cause who spends over $100 on a tank of gas, ever?  I do.

Tolls can also be pricey with four axles.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New York Thruway each cost about $55 in tolls when I was crossing those states. I paid $52 in tolls to get from Ohio to Wisconsin.  There are probably routes which avoid the tolls, but I feel much safer on the main highways, so it’s worth the extra cost.  I was glad when I got west of Chicago where there were fewer toll roads.

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I’ve learned that the gauges for my black (toilet) and gray (sinks, shower) tanks are completely unreliable. So I have to know my limitations in other ways.  The black tank can go a long time – longest I’ve gone is two weeks without dumping, and I’m sure I could go longer.  The gray is another matter.  When it’s full it overflows into my shower basin, so it’s very obvious.   That happens after about four days.  I have a strong preference for a sewer hookup and no worries.

Gauges directly after dumping – note that the black (aka “holding”) and gray tanks don’t show empty, even though they are!

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My little Mini Cooper needs to be completely cleaned each time it’s towed to a new campground. Apparently, the RV spits dirt and all manner of gunk from its tires as it’s traveling, and it covers the Mini to the point where it would be embarrassing to drive it around.  Most campgrounds don’t allow car washing, and commercial car wash places don’t allow the Mini through with the hitch gismo in the front, so I do a lot of “wiping down” with a bucket of water and a few towels.  I enjoy the job, since it’s one of the few things I do that’s away from the computer.

Hitch Gismo

Speaking of the car, when I first started thinking about buying an RV, the different options were overwhelming: the size of the RV, the type (a trailer, or a Class A, B or C motor home), and whether or not to tow a car, among many other choices.  Now, after living with it and seeing lots of other options on the road and in campgrounds, it’s a good feeling to be able to say that I made exactly the right decision for my needs.  The size of the RV is perfect for me (26 feet), it was a great price, and I’m so glad I chose a Class C motorhome, towing a car.  I can’t imagine how I would function if my only vehicle was the RV.

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Going over a particularly rough road recently, a few of the unbreakable dishes in the cabinet above the sink flew out and broke. Ever since then, I use a bungee cord to make sure the cabinet stays closed.  And the first time I open any of the cabinets (or the fridge) after a day of travel, I know to be ready to jump out of the way of falling objects – because, like the airline attendants always tell you, things really do shift in transit.  Cans of food are especially painful.

Mini bungee cord on cabinet doors

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I much prefer the cooler nights of the fall to the heat of the summer.  And in case you’re wondering – yes, I do have a heating system when I need it, but so far I’ve only used it one morning when the temperature inside the my little house was 47.

Speaking of the heating system, I’m also learning how much propane is needed. Propane runs the heater, the hot water heater, the fridge when it’s not hooked up to electric, and the stove.  The propane tank has only been filled three times:  mid-November last year, after living in the RV for almost three months; late May, after only two months of use; and in early September, after roughly three months.  Probably it didn’t last as long in the spring because I had the fridge on propane for a week while I stayed at my cousin’s house in Virginia.  That doesn’t happen very often.  But it’s not a big deal as it’s not very expensive.

Propane tank being filled by Ohio campground owner

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Downloading movies and TV shows from Netflix and Amazon is a whole THING for me now.  Since my cellular data is limited, I don’t want to spend it on streaming – I need it for my research.  Actually my cellular data plan is Verizon’s definition of “unlimited”, which cuts the speed down so far after hitting a certain threshold each month that it becomes almost useless. And often, I’m not able to get television reception.  So I’ve learned how to download and watch shows offline, which first involves finding a place with good internet.

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that Starbucks has absolutely the fastest internet by far, and I can access it for the cost of a small cup of coffee, which is about two bucks.   This doesn’t apply to the Starbucks kiosks that are sometimes inside grocery stores.  I’ve had one hour shows take a full hour to download at some places, and that’s just a waste of time.  At Starbucks it’s a pretty reliable five minutes.

The Netflix app works on both the laptop and the kindle, but the app can be “buggy” and the rules aren’t clear – sometimes Netflix retracts shows off your device and you’re not allowed to download them again for a year.   The Amazon app only works on my kindle (not my laptop or Chromebook), but I like it better because you can download the show and a 48 hour viewing window starts when you begin watching it.  I plan ahead so I know if there is going to be a Starbucks near my campground.  If not, I download a ton of Amazon shows and movies in advance, and then I can watch them over several weeks without feeling pressured.  I’m a very happy Amazon Prime customer in general.

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I have a completely different relationship with possessions since I downsized to an RV.  I’ve never been a shopper – in fact, shopping is right up there with root canal in my top ten things to avoid at all costs.  But I marvel at the fact that when I drive by a shopping center these days, I ask myself if I need anything, and 99% of the time, the answer is no.

I drive right by the Home Depot – don’t need anything for the house or yard.  No home improvement projects, no mulch, plants, or tools.  I drive right by Bed, Bath and Beyond – don’t need any shower curtains, mops or other cleaning supplies, fancy coffee makers, or bath accessories.  Don’t need Pier One – no knick-knacks, no photo frames, no furniture.  I pretty much live in T-shirts and shorts or jeans, so I don’t need many new clothes.  I even saw a Camping World the other day, and didn’t need to stop.  Once I got all set up in the RV, I was done buying stuff.  It’s amazing to realize how little one needs to live a simple life.  I find it to be a great relief.

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My friend Peg asked if I get lonely and/or bored on my long drives.  Well, I’m certainly not bored.  Driving the rig takes all my concentration, even for hundreds of miles on an interstate.  I still grip the steering wheel so tightly that my hands get numb from my carpal tunnel – I try to remember to take Aleve in the morning on travel days.   Sometimes I turn the radio on for a little entertainment, but not often.

Loneliness is entirely another matter.  Before I started this new adventure, I figured I would probably be lonely, but that was nothing new for me.  I was living in a country setting and didn’t know my neighbors, I no longer had any single girlfriends, my kids were grown and gone, and after my mother died, I found myself quite alone.  Although I would prefer to have company, I wasn’t about to let “being alone” stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

What I’ve found is that I’m lonelier now than I was before, and in my opinion that’s the biggest downside of this lifestyle.  When I was working,  at least I had the company of my co-workers during the day, and I also had my genealogy friends.  Now, I can literally go days without speaking to another human being.  I’ve always been very independent and strong, believing that I didn’t need anyone else.  One thing this trip has taught me is that my attitude was kind of a false bravado, and I really do need other people.  I’m looking forward to the time when I can belong to a community again.

Meanwhile, it’s really NOT as bad as it may sound!  I’m perfectly fine being on my own and I’m SO enjoying the total freedom I have.  For the first time in decades, I don’t have to consult with anyone else about the schedule for the day, and I don’t have to concern myself with someone else’s needs.  It’s all about me.  And there’s a lot to be said for having that experience, at least temporarily!

 

 

 

The Heartland

I’m thrilled to be in Whiteside County, Illinois, camped directly on the Mississippi River.  After years of seeing the local place names on maps and in historical documents about my ancestors, I’m finally actually seeing the landscape here and visiting my ancestors’ graves.  That’s been the case with all the locations I’ve visited, but for some reason this one in particular has really called me.

View from my front door.

I’ve camped on or very near numerous bodies of water: Lake Ontario in New York, Lake Dunmore in Vermont, Mohawk River in New York, Clear Fork River in Ohio, and Lake Lenwood in Wisconsin.  But the mighty Mississippi is downright magical.

I’m so close to the water that I can hear the frogs plopping in for a dip all night.  In the evenings, the geese come to feed – it seems like hundreds of them.  I watch their little tails go straight up in the air as they dive for dinner.  And there’s always something  – don’t know what – coming to the surface and making a splash and a swirl.  I can hardly believe my good fortune in getting a front row seat for all the action.

The trip here from Wisconsin was relatively short at only 200 miles, so I only had to make one stop. But it was a memorable stop because about an hour past it, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that I had left my credit card sitting on top of the pump.  After much gnashing of teeth and hurling of four letter words, I finally calmed down and decided to return the next day to fetch it, and take the opportunity to use the wifi at the local Starbucks since there isn’t one near my campground.

As it turned out, I truly enjoyed that drive.  While my RV GPS had routed me the long way around to stay on interstates as long as possible, the shortest route by car was an hour and a half of zig-zagging on two-lane country roads.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, so I put the convertible top down to soak it all in.  It was classic heartland landscape, but instead of “amber waves of grain”, there were endless corn stalks, interrupted occasionally by a farm house, a silo, a barn, or a few cows.  I passed through very few towns – maybe two – and saw very little traffic, except for gigantic farm equipment which took over the road here and there.

As I drove along, I tried to imagine what it looked like when my ancestors first arrived.  According to the county history books, Clark Abbot and his family were only the fourth to settle here.  Clark married Betsey Jennings Crouch in Vermont, then moved to Chautauqua County, New York in the mid 1830’s, and then Illinois in the early 1840’s.  They established a large farm and Clark was a prominent citizen until his death in 1880.  He and Betsey are buried in the little town of Fulton, just a few miles south of my campground along the Mississippi.

Henry Ustick, head of the other ancestral family which settled here, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and moved to Ohio after serving in the War of 1812, where he married Abigail Young.  He brought his family to Illinois in about 1848, using a land patent from his military service.  He and Abigail are buried near Morrison, the county seat.

One of the things I like to do, if I can, is to identify the location of the land my ancestors owned.  Usually, the land has been completely developed, but I have a feeling that here in Whiteside County, the land is still being farmed.  That will make it a lot easier to envision what it was like 160 years ago – I don’t think it’s changed much!

Goodenough in Wisconsin

It’s hard to believe I’m in Wisconsin in late September in 90+ degree heat.  When planning this part of the trip way back in the spring, I was concerned that it might be too cold!  Last year, I saw frost in upstate New York in early October, and I was hoping to avoid that.  As it turns out, no worries there!

Earlier this month in Ohio, temperatures were in the 40’s at night – delicious sleeping weather! I tend to have an instinctive urge to make soup when the weather turns cold (don’t we all?),  so I went out and bought the fixins for two different kinds of crock-pot soup: split pea with ham, and a black bean and veggie soup.  Once here, though, considering the weather, I made the soups but then froze them for later.  Who wants soup in this heat??

It was a long haul from Ohio to my Wisconsin destination – about 500 miles – and it involved driving through Chicago, which was a source of some angst before the trip.   My main concern was the possibility of getting stuck in a major traffic jam, and not being able to make it to my scheduled stop in a reasonable amount of time.  As you know, I plan all my stops, and I never want to be in a situation where I have to choose a stopping place on the fly.

It turned out just fine.  Here’s a picture of the scenery on the highway through Chicago:

Chicago Skyline en route to Wisconsin

I’m liking it in Wisconsin.  I went to college here (Beloit College), so it certainly brings back happy memories.  The campground is quiet, and my site has a lovely lake view:

Lake at Wisconsin campground
Wisconsin campsite

So I’m here to research my great-great-grandfather Darwin Erasmus Goodenough and his family.  Unlike the other research locations I’ve visited, this time it’s only one family group, one surname, and one county, which makes everything so much easier.  And I’ve never camped so close to all the important places; I’m about five minutes away from the courthouse, the library, the town where the Goodenoughs lived, and the cemetery.

While reviewing my digital Goodenough surname file in preparation for my research here, I ran across this cartoon which had been in my father’s genealogy files:

Newspaper clipping of Goodenough joke. Source unknown.

My parents both had a great sense of humor, particularly my mother.  They enjoyed the teasing about their surname – they saw it as a conversation starter because those who hear the name for the first time usually make a comment of some sort.  Sometimes it’s “Oh, that is so CUTE!!”, but mostly it’s “Is that spelled the way it sounds?  Really??”

You can imagine the jokes I’ve heard about my surname throughout my life. I had a tough time with it as a kid, because I saw it as a put-down.  I wasn’t great, fabulous, or exceptional – I was just good enough, which is what the above cartoon is implying.  As an adult, though, I took my parents’ cue and went with the flow.

And then, my wonderful ex-husband set it all right when #1, he gave me the name Roberts, and #2, he put a different spin on the standard joke, by announcing during his speech at the wedding reception that he’d told his mother, “Mom, I finally found someone good enough!”  Now THAT made me smile!

While doing some newspaper research this week, I stumbled upon this little gem from 1890:

“Humorous”, The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 29 January 1890; digital image, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 25 Sep 2017), citing original, p. 2, col. 3.

Nothing like a good joke – er, Goodenough joke – to feel that connection with my ancestors!  Evidently, Goodenough jokes have been around for a long time.

As I got out of my car at the cemetery, this was the first headstone I saw:

Junk Gravestone, Newark Cemetery, Young America, Wisconsin

which makes me extremely grateful for being Goodenough instead of Junk!

Fall Schedule 2017

During the fall, I’ll continue my trek west; by the end of the season my RV will be in storage and I’ll be on my way to Seattle and then England for several months.  I’ll be driving more miles after Labor Day than I have all year so far.  For more info, see the post called Long Term Schedule.

Here’s the fall route, showing all the stops along the way:

Fall 2017 Route, Ohio to California

As I started to write this post, I realized I’ve already written a post called Fall Schedule – in 2016.  I began living in the RV at the end of August last year, so it’s been one full year since I retired and started life on the road.  Time has truly zoomed by!  It doesn’t feel at all like it’s been that long, but at the same time my former life seems in the distant past.

Next Monday, I’ll drive from Ohio to Washington County, Wisconsin, where my Goodenough line settled in the mid-1800’s.  This line migrated from New England to upstate New York, and ultimately to Wisconsin.  My father’s grandfather, an itinerant carpenter, was born there, married in Iowa, and settled in California.

At the end of September, I’ll travel to Whiteside County, Illinois, where my research will focus on the folks from Ohio (or their descendants), who went there in the first half of the nineteenth century, as well as my ancestors from Vermont.  I’ll be staying at a campground directly on the Mississippi River which I’m excited about!

After Illinois, I’ll have a break from researching for a bit while visiting a cousin in Missouri, and then I’ll binge-drive to the warmth of Phoenix as it starts to get colder in the north.  With the RV in short-term storage,  I’ll spend a week in Mexico with a friend at the end of October, and then we’ll travel together in the RV from Phoenix up to Fresno, California, arriving around November 7th.  Many members of my Goodenough family lived there in the early twentieth century.

Leaving the RV at the Fresno campground, I’ll drive my car to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving with my kids and my favorite uncle.  My daughter will then spend a few days with me in Fresno during the week after the holiday.  Once she leaves at the end of November, I’ll be spending most of my time working through the logistics of putting my RV and my car in storage, preparing to leave the U.S. for five months, and then flying to Seattle in mid-December for the Christmas holiday.

Whew!!   It’s hard to imagine saying good-bye to my RV in just a few months, and I don’t feel ready.  I have just under 5 more weeks to enjoy my genealogy research before I hit the whirlwind of the long drive to Phoenix, the vacation in Mexico, and then the holidays.  I have a feeling that after all the genealogy research and solitude of these months heading west, I will welcome that whirlwind when it comes!