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.

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.

We have Been Doing

Obviously, I’ve been having a  hard time getting here to write. I love writing for you all and I love doing all the things. I can’t always do both.

Since our California trip Here>>>>Golden State of Mind
We have been as busy as summer allows. Jeremy was training and massaging, our youngest got out of treatment and we transitioned him back into his home life, and I’ve been working on finding organization in The Girl Next Door, along with my full time job.

The weekend after we got back, we met my family of origin in Mauston, WI at some cabins on the lake. Seeing all of my nieces and my nephew was refreshing and exciting. Great conversations were had, as well as some delicious s’mores. We had fun playing on the beach and catching up. Babies are part of what make these trips worth it (although they’re not the only thing!)

When we returned, there were presents waiting for us. We got new hoses for waste removal. With the new hoses, we don’t have to move The Girl Next Door to reach the septic on the edge of the property. Jeremy took the time to spray off and open all of the awnings, as well as spraying down the rest of the siding and windows. Thankfully, I remembered to close them before he started.

Sometime in the middle of all of this, Jeremy noticed that he had a pain in his knee. It didn’t seem to be the type of pain that he could take a day off and ice it to help it get better. The pain persisted through weeks of lightening his training. The problem with it was that he was signed up to participate in the Shell Lake Triathlon on July 22. In the end, he gave away his registration for Shell Lake Tri AND sold the registration for Twin Cities Marathon in October. He saw a doctor finally this week, got a knee brace, and has been forced to do no training for at least a few weeks, when he’ll take a nice long ride with my mom. No impact training (read: no running!) for a month. I think we’ll probably have a pretty irritable Jeremy in a week or two. He’ll be seeing a sports medicine doctor soon and hopefully be able to figure out what’s been causing his pain. Once that happens, he’ll be back on the road, I’m sure.

Speaking of being on the road, that’s something I’m loving about working where I do. Aveda recently started a campaign for the employees that includes a Wellness challenge, a free fitness tracker, and a website for accountability. I saw this as a sign that I need to really put some more effort into my health. After having to cancel my Spartan Sprint race in June, I hadn’t been training much and I had started to feel down about my progress. I’m really thankful that Aveda offers this type of thing for us and their care for their employees is one of the main reasons I came back here.

Jeremy’s also been still in the midst of a med change. We are looking at the end of the transition, which is nice. He’s started to be able to focus and calm himself long enough to do self care again, to see how to make healthy nutritional choices, and to take his medicine on time regularly. He’s recognizing the things that are bothering him and getting to the point where he can really voice his needs. It’s an amazing thing to see how the medicine helps him become himself again; the man I love returns. This is a good point to be at because of his physical injuries. Now he’ll be able to force himself to really listen to what the doctors have to say.

Last weekend, Jeremy got the motivation to finish fixing the exhaust on The Girl Next Door. She now has 2 full exhaust pipes and purrs like a kitten…. a very large kitten with Glasspacks. Either way, she’s lovely and idles at a rumble instead of a roar.

He also decided today to take out the original RV futon so that we can add a newer, more fashionable, storage-heavy futon/sleeper to the living room.  He gave it  to someone from Facebook and the rest is history.  Here’s to “renovating the guest room”.

So, Jeremy will be sitting out for a while, but I’ll be out training again. I’ll be adding some hiking regularly, as well as a few runs and strength work. I hope I will have time to start writing something worth reading again. Until then, I’ll be doing all the things worth writing. Come back to catch up on our adventures; we’ll see you on the road.

Golden State of Mind

One of the reasons we went to tiny living was the opportunity to travel eventually. We wanted to reduce our cost of living so significantly that we could pay off debt faster and faster, as well as raising money to travel after this debt purge.

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait until then to travel. We are extremely blessed and humbled that last week we got to use our Christmas gift from Jeremy’s parents. Because of their generosity, we could leave the Girl Next Door and Ruby at home. We were able to travel to Chino, California for a family reunion, as well as some touristy sight seeing. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity.

This kind of thing is a major motivational kick in the pants. Being able to see what we might be able to do and where we might be able to go once we get ourselves together is a catalyst for the desire of wanderlust. The whole trip had me thinking of lists of destinations in my head. The flight back had me planning my debt snowball strategy again and again, trying to find other places here and there that I could cut spending and increase the impact I can make on the mountain.

Jeremy even got the bug from the trip. Today, we spent 2 hours getting him caught up on the last 10 years of monetary management. We worked on figuring out what we can spend on what and where we can cut costs.

Here are some of the pictures we got while in Cali, just so you have some ideas why we are so jazzed to get moving:

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That’s all for this trip. We’ll see you on the road.

Oh, What Projects You Will Know!

The weekend was filled with projects.

First, I did not finish the bathroom yet. I did get closer, though. I got some fabric from the neighbors. Now I need to spend some time sewing and stapling before we ate all the way done.

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We spent Saturday doing most of the projects. First, we worked on the engine. She’s been chugging along with some fuel issues. Jeremy and Jason thought it may be the fuel regulator. We learned very quickly that neither of them were going to take care of that with our current equipment. The space under the regulator is only about an inch deep. The bolts holding the regulator on must be removed from that side of the plate. An Allen wrench is used to get those small bolts out. Someone with smaller hands was needed; I ended up being that person.

The guys are the brains of this type of work. Jeremy told me what I needed to do and coached me on doing it right. The Allen wrench was tiny, it had to be “just so” to fit in the bolts, and I couldn’t see my hands at first. I got a bright idea from Jason to use my phone camera so that I could see.

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Eventually, we got it back into the spot and tried it out to see if it helped. We found out that it’s not the fuel regulator. But, while Jeremy drove The Girl Next Door into the spot again, Jason’s wife Ona and I noticed that it’s bogging down and there’s air coming from somewhere under the coach. We’ll see what happens when Jason and Jeremy get back underneath.

Saturday we also helped Jason and Ona get their garden started. We’re really grateful for them letting us plug in and we like to help whenever we can. They decided that this weekend was the weekend to till up their corner and create their awesome veggie garden. We all 4 worked hard to get it started on Saturday, then it got finished up on Sunday. They also got the fence to keep rabbits and dogs out measured by Sunday evening. What a great weekend project.

In other news, I got to be a local tourist with Erin on Sunday. We went to Interstate Park in St. Croix Falls, WI. It’s about 40 miles from Baldwin, where we’re parked. Positioned right along the river, there is also an Interstate Park in Taylors Falls, MN. We only hiked a few short trails, so we’ll have to go back to hike the rest another time.

While we hiked the Pothole Trail, along the water, we ran into a troop of rock climbers. It was really interesting to see them setting up, which ones wore helmets, hear them talk to each other, and imagine the rush of going over the edge of the cliff. Some day, maybe we’ll try climbing a local cliff or traveling somewhere to climb.

When I got home, I did my workout. The hiking was just for fun, you see; the workout was pretty fun too. I chased Jason & Ona’s dogs, Summer and Winter, around the driveway while everyone else was working on stuff. They have some pool rings that the dogs like to pull on. For some weighted squats, I pulled the dogs while using my legs instead of my arms. I was sore a few days later, but it was worth it. Those dogs are so much fun.

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Jeremy and I are intending on transforming those fabrics sometime this week. With both of us working extra to pay off debt, we don’t get around to projects like that nearly often enough. When we do, it’s a labor of love. We both agree that we love The Girl Next Door and Ruby. So, we’ll keep on keeping on and hope to see you on the road.

The Wheels on our House Go Round and Round

Jeremy has taken to singing this song now that we’re on the way to our “new home” for The Girl Next Door. Please don’t sing “The Wheels on the Bus” to me or mention the wheels on our house… I think I may lose my mind.

It’s amazing how fast this all is happening!

Once the windows were done, Jeremy wanted to start moving as soon as possible.

So, one day I came home to this. The Girl Next Door was parked in front of our townhouse. She just barely fit in the yard. You can see in the big picture that she really didn’t get to be level while there. Our yard and driveway are slopped so that rain and snow melt run away from the building. That kept her a little off kilter. So, front door to front door, we started moving in.

Jeremy and his parents had wrestled our regular queen mattress into the bedroom. It hangs a bit over the end of the platform, but it is so much more comfortable than the foam mattress that existed. We don’t know if it was the original from 1990, but we wouldn’t have been surprised. Now we have a pillow top queen mattress stuffed right in where it’s supposed to be.

Jeremy and I moved most of our things from the townhouse into the belly of The Girl Next Door. We made some organizational decisions on the fly, like who gets what closets, where the spices go and if we’re going to use the under cabinet appliances or not. So, the toaster went bye bye, the “pantry” became Jeremy’s closet, and the spices are above the sink.

Saturday and Sunday nights, we decided we were going to try it out. This way, if it was too cold, something broke, or we changed our minds unexpectedly, we could just go back inside and sleep in the guest bed. It was actually very pleasant with a heated blanket for most of our heat. The more of our stuff we moved, the warmer the place stayed. It also helped that I finished all of the Reflectix window insulators.

Monday morning, Jeremy had gone to workout when there began to be a knocking on the townhouse door, then on the door of the RV. When I opened it, I found our association manager. He told me that we needed to move the RV somewhere else; that it wasn’t allowed and there had been complaints. At the same time that he was talking to me, Jeremy got home. So we jumped into action.

Everything that would fit from the counter and table got thrown into the sink. Jeremy took off the window insulators and started scraping off the frost that had accumulated both inside and outside of the windows and windshield. I put the larger things away where we planned to keep them later when we move around, including the basement, the closets, and just tied up in a chair. Once Jeremy unplugged her cord, we were on our way to our next destination: our friends Jason & Ona’s house.

Jason & Ona will be helping us with making sure she works well. Jason has some experience working with big engines like this. He was the one that helped so much with the exhaust back in February. They’ll also help us out a bit to make sure the appliances and electrical system are working correctly. We’re more than a little grateful for their hospitality and help.

We weren’t able to stay long when we dropped her off at their house. Jeremy had to get back for a massage immediately, so we left her sitting in their driveway and Ruby took us to the office. That night, we got home and looked around.

Our living room, guest room, and kitchen were 90% empty. We were excited that we got that much done and ready to take on the next steps of moving. I finished going through my clothing that night.

This morning was the first time we were able to eat at home since then. We found out a very important bit of information about moving gradually… keep the spices and most food where you’re living!! For eggs and porridge, we had no cinnamon, nutmeg, very little ginger, and our pepper is getting very low; we have all of our walnuts and almonds in the RV.

Jeremy picked up what we needed most at Walmart and we went without the other stuff. When I roasted our spaghetti squash for dinner, I did so in a cast iron sauce pan because all of our baking sheets are in the RV. We even made our spaghetti sauce in the microwave at the office because we ran out of time from having to run to the store for seasonings.

We won’t have to worry about this for too long. We are planning on moving into The Girl Next Door mostly full-time starting this weekend. The rest of our things will be moved and all that will be left to be done is cleaning the townhouse and giving them back the keys. T-minus 4 days to full-time. We’re both excited now and ready to have it done with.

There are still things to get rid of and there are communications that we haven’t had yet on the things that need to be done before we can be done at Jason & Ona’s place and move to our semi-permanent location closer to our office. No matter what, we’re happy to still be moving toward embarking on this journey together, no matter how far the mercury falls below zero. Stay warm all, snuggle your loves, and we’ll see you on the road.

Little Red Riding Toad

Until about a month ago, we owned a beautiful, big, blue 2007 Chevy Tahoe LT. We had gotten it a few years ago when both boys were still at home. You see, our family is a big family. It’s not that we have tons of kids or animals. We are all just large people.

At the tallest, the oldest is 6’5″ tall. He’s no string bean either. This is a man who has worked on a farm since he was 14 and has hands big enough to hold a calf bottle in one hand. Size 15 feet needed some room in the back just to sit in the car.

When we bought this behemoth of a vehicle, Jeremy was the largest he’d ever been and the largest in the family. At 6′ tall and 290 pounds, he was a mountain of a man. The youngest took in his foot steps already at 12 years old. At that time, he was 5’8″ tall and 260 pounds and had size 12 feet. We knew that he’d keep growing taller and probably get stronger, thus maybe heavier. He has since gained some size 14 feet and is about 6′ tall. He’s still around 245 pounds, so he’s slimmed down, but still tall.

So, a full sized SUV was not a frivolous buy for us. It was also WAY at the top of our price range. When we went in, I knew we could handle about $100 a month for insurance and about $300 a month for a payment comfortably. When we came out, we had signed a loan for $412 a month, plus the insurance was still $100 a month. On top of that, this large of a vehicle only got about 14 miles/gallon of gas. Less if you used the flex fuel option. So that we could have a comfortable vehicle, we tightened our belts, worked some extra hours, and paid a hefty sum.

The need for the Tahoe changed about 2 years later. The oldest was an adult and moved out of our house. With his own vehicle, he could get himself where ever he wanted to go without our monstrous motor. Jeremy’s ex moved to a town 20 miles away. That meant that the custody agreement for the youngest had to change. He started an every other weekend schedule of visiting us and we agreed that he would stay longer during the school breaks. We started paying some child support so that he had everything he needs when we couldn’t be there. So, we stopped having to drive him to work & school events.

We held onto the Tahoe for a while longer just because it was nice to have all that room. With a massage business, taking a portable massage table anywhere either means you give up your back seat or you need a big vehicle to haul it. Eventually, though, that payment “adjustment” caught up with us. We were no longer able to pay so much for such a large car.

At the same time, we decided that we would soon be changing our living situation. If you’re unfamiliar with RVing, you probably don’t realize how people with RVs get around. Our RV is a Class A motorhome. That means it has its own motor to pull the “house” part. Most people that have one of these also tow a smaller vehicle behind (a towed vehicle or toad). It gives them the flexibility to leave the motorhome where it’s parked and use the smaller car for errands. So, in short, the grocery-getter is really used for getting groceries and the RV sits parked. A large SUV like the Tahoe is not really conducive to tow behind a Class A.

We started the process to get rid of our luxury blimp. At first, we thought we’d downsize by just getting rid of the Tahoe and keeping our 1994 Chrysler Concord to tow behind our RV. We parked the sizable wheels right outside our office with a “For Sale” sign on it with our info. We waited… and waited… and no one called. We reduced the price each time that we made a payment so that maybe someone would bite. The Tahoe’s picture ended up on Carsoup.com, Craigslist, and even Facebook Garage Sale sites. No one was biting. Apparently, our unseasonably warm autumn made people far more comfortable with their tiny little gas-getters.

After 2 months of trying to sell it ourselves, we started looking into consignment, trade-ins, and dealerships that might buy it outright. Jeremy spent one Saturday visiting the local dealers. Eventually, he came back with some numbers. Most places would give us $2,000 less than we wanted as a private buyer and a few didn’t even feel the need to have us buy a different one from them. He finally did find one place that would trade-in the Tahoe for only $1,000 less than we wanted.

In the meantime, I took the Chrysler for its regularly scheduled maintenance. The mechanic did not have a good word for me when I picked it up. He told me that he wouldn’t put very much more money into this car. The body was rusting and he didn’t see it lasting too much longer. One of the bolts holding the engine on had already rusted through and the others weren’t far behind.

Back at the dealership, Jeremy did some test driving. After a few hours, he called and told me he’d found the one for only $6000. That means a total debt reduction of $6,000. I showed up to test drive a 2010 red Ford Focus, manual transmission. I was ecstatic that we were looking at a manual. She is gorgeous and drives very well. The number one plus: We can tow a manual transmission “4-down” very easily. That means that we will not need a tow dolly. Plus, we will not need to disengage the transmission when towing. I like the feeling of power I get when driving a manual transmission.

So Ruby became ours. She’s only $160 a month payment, $100 a month insurance, and gets 35 miles/gallon. Plus, she’s a cute little speedster once you get the handle on second gear. Now, we’re ready to hit the road with Ruby and The Girl Next Door. What do you think? Stay warm everyone and we’ll see you on the road.

A Mexican Nightmare… Finale

After Day one, things got better. In day 2, we went to see the doctor. My client got approved for the treatment that the doctor had first suggested. He even started treatment later that day.

Also, during day 2, we found a company that was willing to build a ramp for his wheelchair to be able to take some tours. This is a big accomplishment in Mexico. There are very very few people with wheelchairs there, much less people with power chairs. We were lucky to find a company with caring staff that built a ramp just for my client and took the middle seat out of their van so that we could go around San Miguel.

Day 3 we changed some money and got used to our surroundings. Day 4, my client got a double dose of treatment and we took a tour of the city. Our first stop was Atotonilco, a church with a rich history and great paintings on the ceiling. Our tour guide told us that it is considered the “Sistine chapel of Mexico”. It was beautiful. Then, off to a local high end artist market. There was nothing there for me, but my client got his wife a very nice necklace. While he shopped, our driver and I talked some. We got to know about each other’s families and life outside of this day.

After shopping, we returned to the hotel. My client got another treatment. Oh, did I mention that the doctor made “house calls” to our hotel? It was much easier than trying to treat my client in his office, as his office was on the upper level with no elevator. It was very nice of the doctor to be willing to do this. I know the concept of a doctor coming to your  house or hotel seems foreign in this day and age, but this doctor still does it.

I finally go to do some authentic shopping at a large market that evening while my client got a shave. It was an alley littered with vendors. Every ounce of extra space was taken up by booths filled with handmade and reproduced souvenirs and Mexican goods. Every vendor took USA dollars and would give change in pesos. About 75% spoke just a little English. It was nice to find a few things to bring home to my family and friends while trying out my Spanish.

Saturday, day 5, was probably the best day of the trip for me. My client was pretty tired from his week. He wanted to rest up for the next day, which was a travel day. While he rested, I got a spa treatment. For 155 minutes, I got a body scrub, a mud wrap, a facial, and a massage. I fell asleep half way through, which almost never happens. It was glorious. Thanks Norma for a great treatment. Afterward, I went to get some fried chicken for supper and hit another, smaller market. It was much more unique than the previous day. I found some great gifts to bring back, as well as some of San Miguel’s wonderful leather in some wallets and a bag.

All in all, I felt very at home in San Miguel. Leaving on Sunday was hard for me. For one, I knew that things would probably not go swimmingly on the flights. Second, I did not want to return to the -20 degrees of Wisconsin. Third and finally, I was really starting to feel like I was hitting my stride in touristing.

We left the hotel at 1pm. Thankfully, we got our sweet cab driver from the week to take us to the airport too. It was a leisurely drive that we stopped to get a melon on and enjoyed the scenery as we went. That was the best part of our return trip. Thanks, Freddy, for a great trip. If ever you get to San Miguel, look up San Miguel Magico tour company. They were more than accommodating and very helpful.

The airport was a mad house. The day previous, there had been a snowstorm in the Midwest USA. That meant that many of the flight crews were stranded there for extra days, which delayed everything. The Leon airport had multiple cancellations and every single flight was delayed. Yikes! On top of that, their baggage check area is the same as their customer service. As I said, madhouse. Our flight was delayed 2 hours, moved to a different gate, and renamed. We were just happy to be able to have a flight at all. But because of our delay, we missed our connecting flight by 30 minutes. Ugh. This time, we had to wait for them to bring the wheelchair to us behind immigration and customs before we could go to the hotel. It took over an hour for them to bring the wheelchair to us. At one point, they even LOST THE WHEELCHAIR!!!

For those of you that know me well, you know that I do not lose my temper often. In fact, I tend to be very very chill and patient. So much so that it is annoying to those around me. When they said they couldn’t find this chair, I lost my temper. Not just a little bit; my client was visibly a little scared of my new stance. This is not a manual chair that folds and can be stowed somewhere under something. This is a humongous 350 lb specialized piece of equipment. Eventually, they found that the staff from the tarmac had taken it to the domestic side, rather than the international side.

We got the chair back after going through immigration and customs, since they would be closing soon. Then, on to customer service again. They were swamped again, for the same reason that Mexico was. We waited. Once we were in customer service, we mentioned our horrible time last time with Houston airport. They gave us a special person to help us with our damage claim. Except there wasn’t really a damage claim. There was a number that lead to a confusing bit of badly worded explanations and no names of who to contact. We found that the number the supervisor had given us the week before was to the woman we were now talking with. This, along with updating the badly written damage claim, took a few more hours. By the time that we were done with all of this, it was 2:15 in the morning. We had to be back by 8 am to get ready for our 10 am flight. If we had decided to find a taxi with a wheelchair ramp or lift, then the hotel room we were supposed to go to, then transfer to the bed, then back up in the morning, find a taxi back; we would have maybe gotten 2 hours of sleep.

We decided to stay the night in the Houston airport. It was cold, it was uncomfortable, it was ridiculous. Every 30 minutes or so, I would wake with another idea of what could be done to gain back some dignity and care. I called about 10 numbers that night searching for information and help. I took a picture of my client in his wheelchair sleeping in the Houston airport. It shouldn’t be like this.

To top off my anger, at midnight it had become my 34th birthday. I was supposed to be home shortly after midnight. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be held by my husband. I wanted to wake up refreshed and enjoy my birthday.

A young girl traveling with her family was tired of being in airports. She didn’t speak English, so I told her in Spanish that it was my birthday. She felt bad for me and congratulated me on my birthday. Her mother and I spoke a little in broken Spanish and English. I told them to call me when they got as far as MSP. I’d love to see them again.

16 hours in an airport or on a plane on my birthday was not my idea of a great birthday. 1 hour of sleep did not make it a really fun day.  It absolutely could have been worse. I had my health, my client was not in danger, and my husband knew I wasn’t going to be home yet. While his anxiety was high, he also was able to understand that I was safe. It was an adventure that I came out of.

I came out of it with first class seats, some knowledge of how to get my client a possible refund on his seats, and knowing some helpful people in 2 states in the US and at Leon, MX BJX airport. Adventures like this don’t usually come easily. It’s the times that you roll with the punches that things become real adventures.

As we embark on our next adventure, I’m even more prepared to roll with it. So, if you get a chance, come visit where ever we are at. Good luck with your travels and we’ll see you on the road.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 2

When your connection is missed, as ours was, most airlines will put you up in a hotel if it’s overnight before the next flight takes off for that destination. Remember with a wheelchair, you need to check ahead of time if it’s an accessible room.

So, here, we wait for the power chair to come back. That  means that tomorrow we go through all of that again. If we could have gone without it, we probably would have just to save the hassle.

Boy, were we glad that we made them get the chair. When they finally brought out the power wheelchair, there was a collective gasp from my client, myself, and the attendant that the airline had sent with us. The chair was folded out all the way flat. You could see spots where the cover was cracked and one of the controllers was missing.That left controller was, thankfully, for the tilt of the chair. On the main controller on the right is where the computer and driving options are stored. The supports for the armrests were lose and the headrest was extremely off center. Thankfully, the chair was still usable by the computer override.

The extensive damage brought out 4 levels of management to deal with it. While I was on the phone with our Mexican taxi company and our hotel for the week, my client spoke to the managers present. When I turned back around, there were Italian suits and placation vouchers all around. We each got $400 for future flights, a new voucher for a free cab ride, and informed that a technician would come to our hotel room to try to repair the controller. Our attendant was instructed to help us get all the way to our hotel room. So we stepped on the Houston subway to go to the Airport Marriot. It was a nice room and we were well taken care of there. After so much excitement, we went to bed fairly early.

The next morning, we woke early. We called the doctor in Mexico to inform him that we had flight issues and would be a day late. We called the number given to us the night before for a repair technician and got no answer. By the time we got done with the room, the breakfast was over, so we got a small coffee and some scones in the hotel coffee shop.

After going through the excitement of check-in and TSA again (we had already checked our bag the night before), we went straight to the gate. At the gate, we informed the gate attendant that we would need an aisle chair and we would need to talk to the baggage attendant that would be getting the wheelchair. They came up to the gateway and were given much better instructions. We made it so all they had to do was push the chair, no power necessary. Then the 3 hour flight to Leon.

In Leon, the Mexican airport dealt very well with helping us with immigration, customs, and getting the chair back. The chair was in the same shape when we got there as when we left. They brought it out quickly when we were ready to get it. Here’s the thing, though: Mexico is NOT a very accessible place.

The number one issue we had was that our prearranged cab ride was for the day before. And they weren’t here for the rearranged pickup on Tuesday. We got an email from them saying that, because of the “no-show” the night before, they wouldn’t be there at 4 today. So, I guess it turns out that my horrible grasp of the Spanish language really did leave us fairly stranded. The Airport transport gave us a “free” cab ride voucher and set us up with the AT supervisor… who had no idea what to do with us. Mexico being as inaccessible as it is, the AT did not have a van with a ramp or lift. After about an hour, he says, “I think I have something. 15 minutes” We wait and a full sized van pulls up. My client is transferred into the van seat with very little supports. The chair is rolled to the back of the van. 6 AT employees work together to lift the 350 lb power wheelchair into the back of the van. No one puts the brakes on the chair down.

2 miles down the road, my client and I realize that the chair is rolling around in the back. Time to try my Spanish again. I convinced the driver, who spoke no English, to stop quickly so that I could climb into the back and stop the chair from rolling. The rest of the ride went well for my client and I.

We arrived at the hotel at around 6pm. Between hotel staff and the van driver, we got the chair unloaded and finally checked in. The room was accessible, beautiful, warm, and best of all, had nice beds. Finally, “day one” was done…. a day and a half later. This is akin to what must have happened to the person who first said “The important part is not the destination, but the journey.” This journey is not yet over… you’ve only heard the beginning.

Check in tomorrow for the rest of the trip.

A Mexican Nightmare… An education

I talked in Part 1 about all of the preparation I did getting ready for a working vacation on a client’s medical travel. This is a first time for me. I’ve done 14 years of personal care work, but never had a client pay for me to travel like this before.

So, we left Monday, Dec 12 with high hopes of a good trip. Our cab came just a tiny bit late, but still got us to the airport 2 hours early. Our check-in at MSP went without a hitch. Checking our bag in was 5 minutes. TSA spent a total of 8 minutes on testing the wheelchair. There were almost no lines and we were even able to get a snack on the way to the gate.

Here’s where we need to go over the difference between travelling with a wheelchair and without one. Here is my experience without a wheelchair: You get to the airport 1 hour before take-off. Check-in takes a maximum of 5 minutes, bag check another 5-10 minutes, TSA maybe 10-15. If you’re running over on those, you’re totally able to run down the stairs, up the escalator, and through crowds to get to the gate, where they will be loading by this time. You board just by handing your boarding pass to the gate attendant and you find your assigned seat. You have no need for anything extra beyond a seat and a spot for your carry-on. Total time from curb to boarded: 42 minutes.

Now, add a wheelchair: First off, the preparation is so much more. Before you buy your tickets, it is prudent to call ahead to the airline and see what size of aircraft is right for your needs. Wheelchairs, especially power wheelchairs, often take up more space and need extra support from staff to get the client on and off the plane. So, you spend an hour on the phone with the customer service of your chosen airline. If you “shop around”, you need to do this more than once. You also should find an assistant to come with you to help carry bags and direct the airport staff as to your needs. You’ll be tired, you don’t want to do this yourself. Then, you need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early. Here’s why- Check-in takes 5 minutes, as usual, with one extra click and double checking that there’s some special accomodations. Bag check takes 10 minutes easily because you have to explain to the check counter that you also have a power wheelchair and ask them to call ahead to make sure there’s an aisle wheelchair available. TSA usually takes between 20-40 minutes, depending on how your prep went. Sometimes, you can do TSA Pre check, so that helps cut down on time. If you have dry cell batteries (which many modern wheelchair companies are going to) or you have a manual chair, you cut down the time a little too. But, TSA needs to wipe every surface of the chair with a small tab that tells them if there’s explosive or drug residue on the chair. They also need to pat down the inhabitant because they’re unable to see any bulges that may exist. After TSA, let’s say you need the bathroom. You need to wait an extra 5 minutes for the special stall. Not only that, if there’s stairs, escalators, or crowds, you’re going to take double time to get to where you’re going. Elevators are notoriously slow; picking your way through a crowded terminal can be even worse when people’s eye level is above your head. By the time you get to the gate, you hope that it’s still before they start boarding. You have to pick your way right up to the gate attendant and warn them that you’ll need an aisle chair. Often, no one was informed of this, even though you’ve taken proper precautions. They call for customer service to send down an attendant and an aisle chair. You wait until the gate is opened and are the first person boarded. Hopefully, when you got your seats, you thought to put your assistant next to you. If not, you’ll have to discuss that with the gate agent also. First, you roll to the end of the gateway where the aisle chair and attendant are waiting. You are transferred into the aisle chair. Your assistant informs the baggage supervisor in attendance about how to move the chair. Your assistant also sets the chair up for travel, often having to lay the chair out flat, unhook controls, or remove pieces that may fall off or get damaged during transport. (Think doubling your carry-on) The baggage crew takes your chair while you pray that they were really listening and pass on the information. You are rolled into the plane by no less than 2 attendants, plus your assistant. The three of them coordinate moving you to a seat depending on where your seat is. We recommend an aisle seat; there’s less moving to get to that one. They take away the aisle chair. VERY OFTEN, your flight will be delayed because of maintenance. Do not be fooled; this is often because someone is trying to move your chair and have no idea what they’re doing. Ok, you finally leave and everyone’s boarded and ready to go. Time from curb to boarded: 156 minutes (2hours, 36 minutes).

Now, you guessed it, you’re only on the plane. Most people just debark and you’re done once you land; 5 minutes. Nope, not when travelling with a power wheelchair. You have to wait until every other person has gotten their stuff and gotten off of the plain. The flight crew has to call ahead and warn the destination that you need an aisle chair and an attendant for help. You wait for them. They get there and you reverse the process. If you have a connecting flight, it is my opinion that you should leave at least 4 hours between flights. Yes, you may be sitting for 3 hours if EVERYTHING goes correctly. But, you are much much less likely to miss that connection. Less than an hour for connecting with a wheelchair is just tempting fate. Hell, 2 hours even tempts it a little. Get ready to tempt fate over and over again if you’re travelling with a wheelchair.

This last week, we dealt with all of these and more issues with our travel. Next, I’ll tell you all about these great adventures in purgatory.