Surfing in Wisconsin

“Social media sites create an illusion of connectivity” — Malay Shah

“We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we do it.” — Erik Qualman

“You have friends all over the world; you just haven’t met them yet” –Couchsurfing.org

I can go on and on with quotes about social media. We have a lot to say on this subject. There’s information to suggest that 55% of people throughout the WORLD use social media. There is NOTHING ELSE in the entire world that 55% of people agree on (other than needing oxygen, food, and water). And I’m thinking that this phenomenon has something to do with us feeling more lonely and disconnected.

I’ve noticed in recent interactions online, I feel empty. It felt like my interactions on social media were more about the “media” than the “social”. This led me to make a decision. I have decided to use Facebook only for groups and events now. Trying to avoid my feed as much as possible. Why? Because it’s not really social there. My feed is a bunch of information being thrown into the world; thrown at the wall by my friends and family. It reminds me of advertising in a magazine. We tend to just flip through it until we find something for us. It has nothing to do with connecting.

Anyway, I’m moving most of my social to groups and in person meetings. Last night was a good example. I used the Couchsurfing app to find a Twin Cities event that happens every week. This community has created great friendships and memory makers. Couchsurfing is a way to travel on the cheap and really see the world through the eyes of others. The idea is that you can lend your couch (or guest room or air mattress or floor) to a traveler or two. They, in turn, teach you something or hang out and offer the same couch service to others if they can. It’s a great way to find travel partners and new friends. I highly recommend you check it out.

Back to my experience with this website/app; Jeremy and I joined the site years ago, when it was in its infancy. When we checked it out first, it was an interesting idea, but not something that had hit any kind of stride yet. There was no one around us that used it and only a small handful of people in the places we were looking to travel to. We also had almost no friends who were willing to write us a reference. We filled out our whole profile and got as verified as we could without paying anything. Then we forgot about our profile there. When Airbnb came out, we touched base back there, but had no desire to focus enough to try this new concept and learn the new website. Then came the app and his most recent trip.

Currently, Jeremy is in San Diego, CA learning about Watsu. It is a bodywork modality that he’s gotten a new passion for. That passion led him to search out classes so that he can also be a practitioner of water therapy and help even more of his clients with their mental and physical illnesses. When we were planning his trip, the question of what I would do for 2 weeks without him came up. Would I still come home every night if I didn’t have to? Did I really want to keep travelling 52 miles one way each day for work? No to both. I wanted to stay closer to work so that I could drive less and enjoy my extra hours in the day.

Couchsurfing came to mind when we were booking his Airbnb stay there. Why couldn’t I stay on someone’s couch close to home? That way, if something was shady, I could just go home instead. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know the tricks to convince a host to let me stay. But I did know how to find local events on the app. I joined an event last night for the first time. My first time actually being able to use the app helped out a lot.

First of all, everyone that joined this event online actually showed up, plus a few that hadn’t joined. This is a new concept for us Facebook users. When we have 5 “yes” answers and 15 “maybe” answers, we expect 2 attendees. Events get lost in the turmoil of the feed. So, our social on FB can turn into that feed thing again. On Couchsurfing, there’s no feed really. The events are front and center; the interactions with real people become the focus. You can’t forget when the event feed is constantly reminding you that you have something coming up.

Second, all of these people value interaction. Why would you sign up on a site to be hosted or host someone if you didn’t care about the interactions? They want in person meetings, hugs, and sharing a drink. That interaction is what taught me that short “trips” are better than long ones. I had posted a 2 week hosting opportunity on my trip, hoping to stay close to work for 2 full weeks. Yet, I have Tuesday class that I would need to go home for and Wednesdays I have a standing time to stay with a friend already. Plus, my mom is coming up for a conference at one point and I plan to stay with her for 2 days. So, that breaks my “staying” down to a few short trips. I have thus changed my trips to a few short ones. Hoping this leads to a stay or two. I’m still hoping to interact with one person or more during the times that I’d like to not have to drive to work.

Third, references are important. Interaction and connection are vulnerable experiences. Having someone tell you that another person is good can be a big anxiety reducer. We already do this for people!! How many times do you vouch for someone in your life? “Oh yeah, I do know Troy. He’s a great guy” when your best single friend tells you that she met someone who knows you. “Kelly and I used to work together. Glad you met her.” “John and I went to school together.” There are ways on the Couchsurfing app to do this. There’s personal references, host references, and traveler references. You may have a great place to stay, but be a slob when staying at others’ places. That can be found on here. You may be great at making friends, but not be able to host anyone at your place. So you’d have no references from people you’ve hosted, but many can vouch that you’re a great person to host at their place. We do this in real life; I like that this community offers the opportunity to do it online as well.

Cutting back on Facebook for my social media experience is a hard thing for me. I have spent hours and hours just scrolling my feed, sharing things that make me laugh or cry or angry. It’s a bad habit that I’d like to break. I don’t want my hobby list to include “spending hours staring at a screen sharing pictures of words”. I’ve had moments like this in the past when I found it particularly good to disconnect. I think this will be a way to find real friends again, instead of 1000 followers that like my dog videos I share. It’s already been wonderful for me. Last night, I loved really connecting with a community of vulnerable people who crave interaction and genuine connection. I’m grateful for their new place in my life.

So, what Apps and events and groups do you use to keep it cheap and still fun? What ways do you really connect with people? How do you contribute to the giant brain we’ve created with the Internet? And how have you contributed to the hands and feet of it that go out and find real interactions? Hopefully, you’ll consider reaching out by staying on my futon. Come and surf in Wisconsin in The Girl Next Door. With that, we’ll see you on the road.

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Catching Up

“When I have spare time, I catch up on things
I’ve had to postpone due to lack of time.” Steve Wozniak, Brainquote.com

For those of you that deal with chronic illness or severe mental illness, you know that sometimes life gets in the way. Appointments with the doctor, counselor, physical therapist, or other health professional tend to take up a lot of time. On top of that, there are times that you need to be making the money that you couldn’t make when you or those you love were sick. There’s also that all-too-sought-after ideal of this thing called “rest”. Who has time for sleeping, reading, watching TV, or “self-care”?

The truth is that we all have plenty of time. Our priorities just tend to take over one way or another. My priorities have been to do that self-care, to get the therapies taken care of, and to get my butt back in gear to live my life. So, let’s go forward and let you know how life is going now.

RV life is still happening!! Jeremy and I have loved being in the RV full-time. This winter, we remained parked at the Round Barn location. Our hosts are snow-birds and they left for Florida in November. They requested that we use the dishwasher, sink, and laundry, along with the toilet, to ensure that the waterlines remained in use. It took a load off of their minds to have someone checking this almost daily so that they didn’t have to worry about coming home to a flooded house.

The use of the dishwasher created a natural migration of our cooking to the house, since we could just put everything directly into the dishwasher. So, here we are learning how to cook in the RV again. We also had naturally migrated much of our clothing into baskets because of the back and forth to the house. Another re-learning experience: fitting all of our clothing into the tiny closets. It won’t be as steep a curve as it was last year. Now we at least have experience RVing, so we know what we need to do.

What has come about because of those “natural migrations” and “relearning opportunities” is that we have not put our things away where they belong. Our RV is a MESS!! I have called in a professional organizer to help me make sense of it all this Friday. I’m afraid it may take more than one session and I am willing to put forth the effort so that we can have a harmonious household.

Family life is much less strained. Jason has been living in a foster home for a few months after a stay in juvenile detention. Thankfully, he’s really putting in the work to stay clean, live by the rules, and straighten out his future. We’re really proud of the hard work he’s doing and we hope he keeps honest with himself and with everyone else. He should be transitioning back to his mom’s place within the next month or so. He will remain in treatment for a time and he enjoys the support he gets from AA meetings that he’s been regularly attending.

Jeremy’s mental health has bounced back very quickly since Jason got clean and started buckling down. I think it’s hard for me to grasp the enormity of emotion that goes with being the biological parent to someone with mental illness. It has helped me see Jeremy’s parents and their relationship with us in a whole new light. I’m so grateful that they stick with us and hold family as such a high priority.

Jeremy’s physical health has also made a bounce back. He’s been biking since January again and started running again just recently. He also swims with a group of friends 2-3 times a week. Last weekend, he raced in a duathlon; that is running and biking. He’s eating healthier and losing weight. His blood pressure seems to be better controlled as well.

Physical health has also moved back to the top of the list for me. Along with Jeremy, I’m eating better and exercising more. I’ve started making all of my social time into active time by going for walks, hikes, and bowling instead of out to eat or drink. Running 3-5 times a week has become the norm because of taking the community ed class, First Steps. It’s amazing what having a calm life can do for your health in every aspect.

Work is going well for both of us as well. Jeremy has picked up a new massage type (modality) called watsu. It’s a way of incorporating the buoyancy of water with light stretching and massage pressure.  He’s been doing intermittent training in it for about 6 months now. He also has been offering free practice sessions to our friends and family as part of his certification. I can say for certain that he has a gift in all things bodywork. He’s extremely passionate about the amazing things that water can do to facilitate healing and relaxation.

I’m still at Aveda working in the Quality lab and loving it. I have great coworkers, a wonderful benefit package, a decent wage, and I’m using some of the schooling I have in Chemistry. The only downside to my job is the distance from where we’re parked. It’s 52 miles 1-way to work. I’ve caught up on my music listening, call my family and friends regularly, and have gotten an Audible subscription. My hips and my back do not thank me for this drive. It’s not that I can’t keep myself busy; I would just like to be able to have a life outside of the car.

I know what you’re saying: “Can’t you just park somewhere closer? Isn’t that the benefit of RV life?” While this sentiment is very true, finding places to park a 30′ motorhome is not the easiest task in the world. We’ve been very very blessed to have family and friends who live close to our “home-base” that have allowed us to park in their yards. They’ve been amazing, helping us put in all of the work we’ve done this far. Our current location even has an RV electric panel now because our friends are so extremely helpful to us. That all being said, it is still hard to find parking spots.

RV parks and campsites tend to be fairly expensive compared to making deals with friends and family. It is not uncommon to spend $20 a day on a non-electric site, $35 a day on the electric ones. This is a barebones site, not often including water, dumping, WiFi, or cable (not that we need cable, as we do not have a television). There are some that have this, but usually run around $200/week. We just can’t afford that. I mean, that’s about how much we were paying for a 2 bedroom townhouse. We might as well not RV if that’s the case.

The spots that are not expensive have plenty of rules attached. There are free sites that can take a tent, but often need to be hiked into or used a boat to access. There are corporate sites at Casinos, Cabella’s, or Walmart, but you need permission and can usually only stay for a few days. $5 Truck stops don’t usually allow more than one day. The Girl Next Door is not young enough to be moving that often at this time. As we replace more parts, she’ll get younger and younger and be able to move more and more.

Thus, we rely on family and friends to barter and trade with us. It has worked out well and the current location is with people that we really enjoy our time with. So, I’ll be driving until we either buy our own place to park on or find another friend closer with a similar setup.

All in all, things are going well. With my new found energy, I’m hoping to be able to write a bit more here and fill you all in on the adventures that we take part in. Take care of your health and the health of those around you. We will see you on the road.

Short and Sweet

This is what we were doing a year ago.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we were rushing to make The Girl Next Door livable. It’s hard to believe that any of this has happened. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year. It feels like we’ve always lived like this.

In a few days, I’m going to go back over everything that has happened in a year and our plans for the future. I’m so excited  you’ve decided to join us on our journey. See you on the road.

Rig-loo

“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations,
but look what they can do
when they stick together!!” -Author Unknown

I am not one to pray for snow. I think it’s pretty when I’m looking out of my parents’ house; me inside with a fire, a good book, a dog to pet, and a blanket. I can totally appreciate how beautiful it is in the trees and creating a blank covering for all of the ground’s imperfections. And I HATE to be cold and wet! I’d rather be hot, dripping sweat, eating some ice cream than need to wear layers and layers of clothing to stay alive. By the way, I hate shoes and shoes are necessary in the snow. Many in my life can attest to my aversion to foot coverings. Again, I like pretty shoes, but rarely wear them. If it was up to me, I’d go barefoot everywhere.

I digress. Snow has not been something I longed for in the past. This is the first winter in my adult life that I was truly happy when we got snow. It wasn’t about the cold or the beauty that I was happy to see it come. It wasn’t about snowmen, snow angels, or snowshoeing. While those things are fun, I still prefer a treadmill, a board game, or a good book.

My longing for snow this year was purely rational; it is free insulation. God showers us with these miniscule pieces of ice. You’d think frozen water would make everything colder. The funny thing about this is that you can stick together these little pieces of ice to make a big fluffy pack of it. When stuck together, snow creates a great heat (or rather cold) barrier. It keeps the heat where it is and keeps the cold out of the heat. As long as it’s cold outside, the outside will stay cold enough to maintain the snow. As long as it’s warm inside, the warmth will be held in by said snow.

That’s what we’ve been banking on. Our skirting is good; our tarps are thick. We added plastic to the inside and outside of our windows. We added foam to the inside of cabinets. We even added Reflectix to our windows, vents, and walls. All of that costs money, so we couldn’t go hog wild on all of it. Now, snow is what we really needed and finally got last week. We shoveled it up and on top of itself to add wind barrier, as well as hold some of the heat in. The heater inside the RV went on half as much that night and less each night that we added more snow.

When we posted a picture of The Girl Next Door last week in an RV group, someone said “It’s a rigloo!” That got us to thinking, “Don’t indigenous peoples have a smart idea with the igloo? Let’s see what we can do with that.” We packed down the snow some, which helped even more.

Today, Jeremy got the best idea. He grabbed a 5 gallon bucket and started shoveling and packing. The 5 gallon bucket offers a consistent shape and size “brick” with a flat top so that we can put the next level on top. Hopefully, in a few more weeks, we’ll be able to really have a wall all the way around us, preventing wind and heat loss. While we’ve had it up as high as 80 degrees inside, we had all three heaters going to do it. I’m hoping we can really ride out the rest of this winter in style once the rigloo is complete.

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In other news, Jeremy had a bit of a run-in with the local wildlife last night. On his way home a whitetail decided to jump out in front of his car. The Buick got some damage to the front end, but the deer got the worse end of that stick. She didn’t make it.

And in good news this week, Jeremy also started his practice rounds for his new bodywork modality. It’s called Watsu as a play on the land bodywork therapy called shiatsu and adding water to it. In all reality, this therapy uses the healing properties of water with the resistance created in motion to promote relaxation and rehabilitation. In short, it’s exactly what Jeremy’s been looking for. His clients seem to be enjoying it too. One of his clients is who turned him onto learning this new therapy. Now he can’t get enough. He’s started training and part of training is practice. We’re excited to see where this goes.

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I’ve been supporting Jeremy in his athletic endeavors as well. He is off on his second fat bike race right now. Today is much warmer than his last race. The risk today is the ice on the trail. I’m praying that no one takes a severe fall because of slick spots. The last race was -14ºF. Everyone had ice on them at some point; Jeremy was no exception. Jeremy even went out one night a while back and tried running a little bit. Just as frozen; no thanks.

All-in-all, we’re doing well. With just the two of us in the RV again, we’re having to rearrange some organization again. More in the cupboards means more to keep the cold out, so we spread our stuff into the edges of the cabinets, hoping for more snow to add to the rigloo. So, start praying for snow for us and we’ll see you on the road.

Dumb Things People Say

Stepmom Magazine is a digital magazine that has had an impact on my life. I never subscribed to it, but I have seen articles and videos here and there that have helped me. I have stepmom friends who have been subscribed to it. They printed it out and read the whole thing, then shared it with the rest of our group to help someone else. It’s been immeasurably helpful to many many stepmoms, often keeping second and third families together.

A blended family can be a mix of first, second, third, and even 4th families. A first family is when an unmarried and never married person marries someone of similar marital past. They have children together and raise said children together. A second or even third or 4th family is a family created after a divorce, especially if there are children involved. Ours is a first/second/third family. I am on my first marriage as Jeremy’s second wife; his ex wife is married to her third husband.

Someone who hasn’t experience being in one of these situations has no idea what the participants go through. I am in part of this family, but I can’t even imagine what Jeremy’s ex or her new husband go through in their part of our family. Every little bit is different, making roles hard to navigate and communication tough to keep up with.

The most common thing that happens to those of us that are on the inside of a blended family is criticism. We get it from each other, from others in the family, and from outsiders. The outsiders part is really the most irritating. The people that are part of the family have a right to have feelings about what I do or say. Those of you not involved in it do not have any right to criticize. Even if you have had a blended family, you don’t know our exact situation.

That said, I know that many of you love people in blended families. You want to help and offering support or advice can be helpful. Sometimes, you don’t really understand what you’re saying though. This is a topic that has been addressed over and over again in the Stepmom magazine. Just in the time I’ve known about it, I’ve seen this topic addressed 2 different ways on the screen. One video is one that came up today for me on social media as a memory. I posted it 2 years ago.

Here is the video: 5 Dumbest Things People Say

Although they may be a little harsh, some of these original statements feel pretty harsh too. I still feel this way about most of these things people say:

#1- Like saying “You knew there were grizzly bears in the forest” or “You knew that cars get in crashes sometimes”… just because someone has kids doesn’t mean you knew how complicated that would be or what wrenches could possibly be thrown in by other people.
#2- Does anyone ever really “need” to have children? The point is that if she wants children or not has nothing to do with whether he already has them.
#3- I’d like to hear you say that to adoptive & foster parents and see how you come out… Here’s some protective headgear.
#4- Because love is just based on being nice… right? Oh… it’s not? Good, that explains the massive loyalty issues, love/hate complications, and painful baggage that my stepchildren have to deal with. It’s not about being nice, no matter how much you try.
#5- My horns are under this cute hairdo…

Read the comments of the video too. You might get some good feedback on how your “help” might be perceived.

Some things you CAN say to help when a stepmom is frustrated and needs to vent to you:

#1- That sounds really complicated. Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling on this?

#2- How are you feeling about his kids? Are you planning to have your own? How do you want to involve your step kids?

#3- Just listen and ask open ended questions. Advice isn’t always necessary. Comments on “parental status” aren’t necessary either. One question that may be helpful is “This is all really hard stuff to navigate. How much parenting do you feel you want to be doing in this situation?”

#4- Tough love is often hard to do, especially if you don’t get supported by all parents involved. Here, have another glass of tea/wine/coffee/etc.

#5- You look great today, despite all of the hard stepparenting work you’ve been doing. Nice job, lady.

If you must comment on these things, there are better options than criticism or assumptions. You can do it, I know you can. I’ve had some great support from people who previously were not so good at it. Communication and listening are a big part of that.

So, keep supporting your loved ones through their struggles and we’ll see you on the road.

A little RV update today: We are plenty warm. In fact, it was 80 degrees inside the other day when it was -20 degrees outside. Win! We’ve done some double insulating on things you’ve never thought of adding insulation to. We’re looking forward to even more time living in the Girl Next Door. How’d you weather the storm?

A Million Ideas

When life is busy, it’s easy to come up with ideas to write. Ideas jump out of the minute details of life. The only problem is that my brain doesn’t flow to typing when I am stressed.

You’ll remember that we recently (well, a few months ago) had Jason (16) move in with us in the RV. He’s had quite a few struggles so far in his short life and we were all hoping this would be a new start. At first, everything went along for a few weeks. Then, the bottom dropped out. I haven’t written about it because I just didn’t have the emotional energy.

Since that day, there have been multiple law enforcement involved events, as well as a few hospital visits. Jeremy took himself to the hospital twice, just to be sent home. These million ideas don’t flow from me, but they do get lodged in his head.

You see, with Jeremy’s mental disorders, he has a hard time letting things go. He also has a hard time sorting through the millions of ideas that already sit in his head. They all become jammed up when he gets stressed and collide in a horrific noise of anger and confusion. I have a feeling Jason has something like this happen too at times. Throughout the last few months, getting anything done was hard because their collisions were both happening simultaneously and being spewed out on each other.

Our place wasn’t a healthy location for Jason and it wasn’t healthy for us to have him living with us, just like his mom’s. It was toxic for everyone involved because of how he takes out his mental collisions and confusions. We (all of the parents in this situation) are not professionals and we are not equipped to deal with Jason’s myriad of mental illnesses, just as we wouldn’t be equipped to take care of a cancer surgery. Jeremy and Jason have both admitted that, when they’re amped up (excited, anxious, or angry), it’s hard for them to hear and see things as they really are. It’s not so much a loss of reality as it is a selective hearing that they don’t get to select. Then, that delusional state attacks them and tells them that they’re not good enough because they miss so much when they’re stressed.

That’s a dysfunction we’d like to change. We have multiple counseling appointments a week between all 3 of us and one of the regular focuses of these sessions is finding ways to deal with the delusions and the loss of memory tied to emotional dysregulation. #1 is to take breaks if anyone starts to get emotional. That’s hard when they’re already functioning lower because they’re the ones getting emotional.

That lower functioning has recently lead to some violence. Many forms of violence: physical, emotional, verbal, and property violence. Don’t know the difference? Ok, let’s address that:

  1. Physical violence is often what most people refer to as violence. In our house, it has recently come out as grabbing, shoving, punching, kicking, and spitting. Jeremy and Jason got into a physical altercation on December 4th. It resulted in Jason moving out of our tiny living spot into his brother’s house.
  2. Emotional violence. This can be paired with verbal violence, but does not entirely have to be. It could be a breach of trust. It could be violating someone’s privacy. It could be gaslighting. Intimidation is often an emotional violence tactic. It could be getting someone’s hopes up about something, then repeatedly disappointing them (most often a visit or something you tell them you’ll do with them). It could be just creating drama and picking verbal arguments. The emotional labor that’s necessary for these situations is staggering and makes it impossible to think of anything else.
  3. Verbal violence: Many people know this, but don’t talk about it as violence. It’s name calling. It’s swearing. It’s also gaslighting. It’s telling someone that their worth is nothing or that their hopes don’t matter. It’s the words someone uses to bring about emotional violence. It can be spoken, drawn, written, or digital. It can even be signed; with more than a middle finger sometimes. This violence has been part of our household for years. Many people don’t view this type of violence as as “bad” as other forms. Let me just tell you… It IS.
  4. Property violence is attacking your victim’s property in some way. Most recently in our house, stealing has happened. Jeremy came home from our vacation trip to find our business address locked, but had things moved around. Our electronics had been used. The Square credit card reader was stolen. The iPad had a factory reset done on it, deleting ALL of our apps and data. The safe had been moved, although not opened that we could tell because, thankfully, Jeremy had locked it. Jason is the only person other than us who knew where any spare keys were. He’s been hanging out with a man who has a felony credit card fraud on his record. I hope that man realizes that his parole can be revoked if Jason gets in trouble because of him. He could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor if he let’s Jason keep coming around.
    Other property damage that’s happened is breaking or damaging someone else’s things. On the night that Jason attacked Jeremy, he also attacked Jeremy’s car. He was kicking and hitting it, which lead to dents. He was also purposely smoking in the car with the windows rolled down, so that it would smell up the car.  Jeremy and his oldest have put holes in walls before, both as intimidation tactics and property violence. Jason’s favorite form is to create more chaos. He will spread the contents of a car all over the yard or tear off the decoration from walls or remove the skirting from the RV. It’s a common occurrence that someone will steal money from others as a form of property violence. Property violence is a way to control someone just as much as emotional abuse, verbal abuse and physical abuse.

And that’s what it’s all about. It’s about controlling another person. That is disrespectful and creates many rifts in relationships.

I need to note here that this is NOT the same as a parent taking a child’s phone if they are doing something wrong or requiring a child to put money into an account to save for the future. It is not the same as a parent giving a child consequences if they are rude or disrespectful. It is not the same as an adult teaching a child by enforcing the rules. There are times when violence and consequences feel the same because no one wants either one to happen to them. The difference is that consequences are something that come because of our own actions. Violence is something someone enacts upon us.

We are sad that it didn’t work out how we had hoped to have Jason live with us. We will continue to love Jason and try to help him straighten his life out. We hope he will stop self-sabotaging by perpetuating violence and getting involved with people who lead him astray. That doesn’t mean we have to be in the way of the tornado until he starts to take responsibility. We will continue to work with his care team and hopefully, he will come clean and get straight before he has a consequence that is permanent.

So, it’s just Jeremy and I in the RV now. We are planning to continue to focus on our own health and wellness, trying always to help others when we can. Hopefully, you’ll join us. We’ll see you on the road.

Frozen Tundra

The Green Bay Packers football team plays their home games on a field that is lovingly referred to as “The Frozen Tundra”. There’s a good reason for this; Wisconsin is a very cold place to be.

We live in this very cold place because of family and jobs. Jason has friends.  I have a job doing production support for a high-end personal care product company. Jeremy has a stable client base. His parents live less than 30 minutes from where we are parked and Jason”s mom is about 45. The people and the jobs are important reasons for us to stay.

Living here is not extremely hard if you have 8 inches of insulation and double pain windows to protect you from the frigid elements. Wisconsin temperatures regularly drop to double digits below zero in the coldest parts of the year. The wind regularly reaches 20 miles an hour. Each year,  the place we are parked averages betweenbetween 50-100 inches of snow in season. This is the reality we are lookin at for the next 6 months.

For these reasons,  we have to insulate extra and find good reliable safe heating sources. For insulation,  we used mostly 2 inch foam board.  We have it in a makeshift wall that covers our largest window,  all around the skirting, and stuffed in the cabinets. We also have plastic wrap and reflectix for the windows. The reflectix alai helps with the vents. We bought a set of insulated curtains and hung them between the cockpit and the living room, making the cockpit into a storage area that’s 4 degrees colder than the living space. We even have a reflectix wrapped foam piece to put in front of the door when we are sleeping. We also placed a tarp over all of the skirting and the whole front end to keep out the wind.

Heat sources are a constant topic with RVers in the Midwest. For us,  we use a ceramic heater under our skirting and warm incandescent light bulbs in our tank bay, as well as the refrigerator compartment. We have a small electric heater that runs most of the time in the winter that sits in the kitchen. We have heated blankets for our beds. We will be baking and cooking on the stovetop regularly. We have one Mr. Buddy propane heater that we use only while we are awake to bring the whole place to a comfortable temperature.  Sometimes I’m awake at 2 a.m. for this reason alone.

While we do have a furnace that is built in to our rig, we have opted not to use it. We waited too long this summer to find someone to do a tune up and the furnace has exterior vents. We want to keep anything that goes outside closed if we can to limit the heat loss. Wealso want direct control of all heating sources and energy drains. A concern with RV living is carbon monoxide poisoning and propane furnaces are high on the risk scales.  So we have chosen to eliminate the use of this comfort in favor of things we only use consciously.

We also have a back up plan.  In the case that our current plan fails or it is far too cold for these measures to keep up, we have a house we can go into.  The place where we are parked sits in the driveway of a good friend of ours. They have included in our winter lease that we can come in the house if it gets too cold outside. Since this is our first full winter in The Girl Next Door, the house option takes a huge anxiety off our minds.

So,  to recap, we are not going south because we need to pay our bills and we don’t want to “just get an apartment for the winter”. We want to see how this works for us for at least a full year.  Being in our own home is important to us. This is the home we decided to try. Stay warm,  my friends,  and we will see you on the road.

We Needed a Wall

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.”–Donald Trump via azquotes.com

This post has nothing to do with politics. Although, it was a great great wall with a “UUUUGE” beautiful door in it. All kidding aside, we did build 2 walls this weekend.

You see, we’re living in the Midwest for the winter. In an RV, this takes on a whole new set of challenges. The insulation that’s put in RVs aren’t exactly created to help with -30ºF. They’re thrown together to replace your typical tent during camping.

There are RVs that are 4 season RVs. That means the bottom is enclosed, they may have extra high insulation compared to other RVs, and some even have built in skirting to prevent wind from getting underneath. Our RV is a “vintage” model, meaning it’s over 25 years old. There weren’t very many Arctic packages back then for RVs. It is called a 4 season model, so the bottom is enclosed and insulated, but it’s 25 year old insulation. Taking extra precautions is a must.

This lead us to add some insulation to our walls and windows. Each window, before the next few weeks are out, will get plastic added. 22199178_1976654349237254_176131283_o

All of our windows have already had some reflectix wrapped styrofoam insulation board made to be held in place with velcro.

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We even added some 2″ foam board with a wooden frame to cover one large window and one fairly open wall.

Well, Jeremy and Jason built the wall with Jeremy’s parents. I took care of creating meals and not knowing how to help.

On top of that, we expanded our cabinets by removing some unnecessary compartments for wires, along with adding the foamboard insulation in every cabinet. You can kind of see the insulation in them on the above pictures.

Jeremy picked up a few batteries off of craigslist for a pretty good deal. We also found evidence of some animal visitors, some of which we hope do not return. The cat is welcome back anytime.

All in all, it was a very productive weekend. We are getting more and more ready for winter every day. Hoping to get on the road to move closer to my job and Jason’s school within the next few weeks, so that’s when we’ll see you on the road.

Teenage Turmoil

Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote something. I went back to read the blog I wrote last week about Jason. I got a little teary and wanted to click “Like” on it, then realized that it’s kind of bad etiquette to like your own post.

Last time, I told you, “The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.”

Jason has always had a little bit of a hard time making friends. Kids are harsh and tics are not the norm. It’s hard for children to look past a constant motion like that. On top of that, Jason’s always been extremely sweet. This didn’t work in his favor with young children. He was easily hurt and often went running back to the adults crying “Bully”. There were a few good apples that were very sweet as well. We had them over as much as possible.

This outcast persona in his life, Jason tried very very hard to make friends. He was pretty impressionable and fell to peer pressure regularly. As parents, none of us knew what to do. You’d think with 4 of us, we’d be able to come up with something. Alas, we kept playing defense on the latest scheme he and his friends came up with.

When a child is this easily swayed, they tend to fall in with friends that may not be the best choices. As children get older, these choices of friends start to create situations that may lead to bad choices in behavior. These bad choices in behavior can lead to addictions, whether it be drugs, sex, stealing, or fighting.

Jason fell into some rough crowds. As parents, we were happy he had friends, and unhappy with which ones they were. We tried to keep him safe by allowing less overnights and asking him to have them over to our house instead. We met the parents and discussed what the rules at our houses were. We pried into his life in ways that make all teens irritated and all parents more anxious.

No matter what we did, Jason out smarted us. You see, this sweet young man is also fairly smart. The IQ tests say he’s high average, but I know better. He’s good at playing dumb. It’s gotten him a lot of what he needed in his life. His mom felt needed because he couldn’t remember things. His dad felt like a protector because he “couldn’t take care of himself”. And he got out of doing wrong things by “forgetting” or “I didn’t mean to.” I’m not saying that every one of these times was a play; I just know that many of them were put on to keep us complacent.

Complacency is something all parents crave. We don’t want to nag, be anxious about your behavior, or check into the person’s alibi. We want you to be trustworthy in all you do so that we can just ride through parenthood without a hitch. And we all know that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, especially when learning about life.

Learning about life is something Jason’s done his share of in the last 2 years. We’ve run into mental health issues, drug issues, stealing, and some questionable choices in how he handles school and other responsibilities. I don’t think these are uncommon. We’ve done the best we can to field the challenges as they come. Jason’s mom took most of the paperwork and agonizing because he’s lived with her most of the time for the last 3 years. We tried to help when we could, but there’s only so much we can do without undermining the other parent, which still happened from time to time because we’re not perfect either.

I want to go back to the sentence I brought forward from the last entry: The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

When a child starts extreme medical intervention at a young age, they generally start using different pharmaceutical drugs very young as well. Prescription drugs such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines are some of the most abused substances among teens. The availability of these drugs makes it that much easier to abuse. Plus, once you’ve realized that some substances affect you much stronger than other substances, you might start to try to find the “one” that “fixes” you.

Experimenting like this happens very commonly with children that have medical issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published an article in 2010 about Prescription Drug Abuse. Here’s what presenter, Nora D. Volkow M.D. had to say about teen drug abuse: “Nonmedical use among children and adolescents is particularly troublesome given that adolescence is the period of greatest risk not only for drug experimentation but also for developing addiction. At this stage the brain is still developing, and exposure to drugs could interfere with these carefully orchestrated changes. Research also shows adolescents abusing prescription drugs are twice as likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior and nearly three times as likely to have experienced an episode of major depression as teens who did not abuse prescription medications over the past year. Finally, several studies link the illicit use of prescription drugs with increased rates of cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, and marijuana and other illicit drug use in adolescents and young adults in the United States. Thus, prescription drug abuse may be part of a pattern of harmful behaviors engaged in by those at risk for substance use and other mental disorders.”

After some scrapes with the law over domestic violence, stealing, running away, and e-cig usage, Jason went into a residential treatment program last October. He was there until June. During that time, he was watched pretty much 24/7. It was grueling and transformative. I think all 4 of us parents started to feel like we had our caring, sweet Jason back.

Jason went from treatment back to his mom’s house. It went well for a time. He was part of an intensive day program for the summer, he got a job, he even had a girlfriend for a while. His mom dealt with all of this in stride for the most part. Once the day program was over, the county still hadn’t set up some of the services they had been going to get before the move home. Jason and his mom both struggled to keep it together. They did well for the most part.

Then, a few weeks ago, Jason started school. The added stress of school, work, and pleasing his parents seem to have become too much. Just over a week ago, Jason was found unresponsive by a friends’ parents. He had taken some prescription drugs from his friend’s prescription pills. Thankfully, he did not take enough to kill himself, but he was in the hospital for a night and his parents were terrified that he might not make it.

When they were done at the hospital, Jeremy and his ex wife decided it might be better for Jason to live with us. That is how we acquired our new resident. He is enrolled in a high school that is 45 miles from where we are parked right now. Getting him to school at a reasonable time before we have to go to work has been the biggest struggle. Picking him up after school has been just as hard.

With all of that, we are doing pretty well, though. There has been disagreements about rules, screen usage, and space. Those are bound to happen, no matter how much space you have or what your teen’s been through. I think those are natural discussions at all households have. But we love each other and all 3 of us are working really hard to gain trust and put the past behind us. We’re hoping to move The Girl Next Door closer to Jason’s school without taking us out of range of the jobs that we currently hold. It should be an adventure. With that adventure coming, we’ll see you on the road.

We have a New Resident

I think middle school and high school teachers are saints. They work very very hard to come up with engaging, thoughtful lesson plans and are often met with eye rolls and inattention. When they try to talk to the parents about it, they’re often met with “Well, maybe you’re just not teaching it well.” Still, there will always be that one kid that gets something out of a lesson; that one kid who participates and loves that class. Every teacher has one kid who inspires them to keep going.

It’s no secret that I’ve never had any plan to have my own children. Something that many don’t know, though, is that I have always taken care of children that were birthed to others. I babysat from the time I was 11 years old. I taught Sunday School and I visited my mother’s kindergarten class regularly. As an adult, I even had a job doing personal care work for 14 years, in which I often ended up having children as clients. I knew I would probably raise kids, but I knew I wouldn’t have biological ones. I don’t even know if I could; I just never felt a leading to be a biological mother. I assumed that I’d probably adopt or be a foster parent. I never dreamed that I would be a stepmom.

I don’t know if ANYONE ever dreams of being a stepmom. Disney movies have made it very impossible for young girls to think of stepmoms in a good light. Between Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Rapunzel, and Snow White, why would anyone want to be the villianess? Disney stepmonsters not-withstanding, this woman would have to take on the job of mom in a household without any of the recognition because the biological mother is given that recognition very naturally. Who really wants to clean, cook, and nurture the household of someone else?

Now that I’ve been in this household for 11 years, I’ve learned that it’s not someone else’s household. I have helped raise 2 young men. I met these guys when they were 5 & 10; we married a year later. Now, at 21 and 16 I have moments where I see the lessons I have tried to teach them come through and feel a small amount of parental pride. As they get holder, I have more moments like that and less at the same time because they are not around as much. The 21 year old rarely sees us anymore; he’s a man who’s too busy for his parents. The 16 year old is finding friends and moving toward driving and has a job. Plus, they both have been living elsewhere; the man where he wants, the teen with his biological mother.

That changed this last week. Jason, who’s the 16 year old, has moved into The Girl Next Door with us. Jason, Jeremy and his ex have decided it is in everyone’s best interest for him to be in our household.

You see, Jason’s had a hard year. I mean, all teenage years are rough. Teens brains are growing and changing. My sister says that it’s like road construction: While one part of the brain is developing, it may be closed down and take some detours for different thoughts to get through. This is where the moodiness, “laziness”, inattention, and indecision of teendom come in. “It’s a little like a traumatic brain injury, only the hormones make it happen,” is what my mother said. Her Masters degree is in early childhood development, but she definitely has a unique perspective on the development of teenage brains because of her 35 years in teaching.

Jason’s hard year came after a pretty hard childhood too. Development is something that really gets stung hard in children of divorce and Jason’s parents split when he was only 2. Along with the divorce, his father has a mental illness that greatly effects the ability for relationships and healthy coparenting.

To put some icing on the cake, Jason was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when he was 9. Tourette’s is an anxiety related disorder that creates tics through shorts in the brain’s wiring. Much like OCD or ADHD, it is led by compulsions, so it can be hidden for a time. Jason hid his all day at school, then had to let it go at home or he would have exploded. At 9, he was diagnosed and began medical treatment. The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

For now, I’ve run out of time to type. I’ll pick up again sometime this week, but just know that 2 have become 3 and we’re loving having the boy we love sleeping so close. Have a great day and we’ll see you on the road.