Dearest Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania Dutch Country was my destination right after leaving my friend’s show in Astoria, Queens.   I plowed through New Jersey and a good part of Pennsylvania until midnight, when I started to get tired.   I found a Waffle House where I decided to have a late night “dinner”.  There was a busy inn next door, so I discretely parked in their lot for the night.

The next morning, I finally made it into town.  Lancaster is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to!  Sprawling farms with bright green mounds of grass at almost every turn.  There were cows and finely bred horses basking in the pastures.  I visited this area once before, as a child, but there’s a difference between seeing it from a crowded chartered tour bus and your own RV.

I had set my navigation to a beacon location (any national chain that can offer free camping, wi-fi, or some other gypsy necessity), a Super Walmart to camp.  I was surprised that, their main roads were hectic and busy.  I guess that’s expected when you’re in the middle of a huge tourist destination.  The Amish community is the center of it.  They live on their farms, separate from the modern world, but you randomly see them as you move about town.  They are riding on their horse buggies along the roads, selling baked and handmade goods at stands on their property, I’ve even seen Amish men and women shopping at Walmart!

The Amish way of life is simple, full of contentment, and God-centered… and it shows!  I’ve noticed that when I am around Amish women, in particular, I sense what I can only describe as ”Purity of Presence”.  Plainly dressed, silent, and detached from everyone around them, I’m compelled to have a deep respect for them.  It’s almost like how I feel being around a nun (as someone who never attended Catholic school).

During my visit, I ate… a lot!  I went to the lunch buffet at Bird in Hand Restaurant, owned by the Smucker Family (distant relatives of the folks who make jam).  Their food, had traditional Dutch fare such as fried chicken, buttered noodles, apple dumplings and shoofly pie which was amazing.  Their meat, fish and produce all came from local farms and hatcheries, if not their own.  How did I know this?  My waitress, Leisa actually started a pleasant, full-length conversation with me!  Folks are genuinely friendly here.  Let me list what usually passes as friendly service where I’m from: 1. Saying “hello”. 2. Smiling (real or plastic).  3.  Refraining from spitting in your food.   I also, remember another waitress, Stacy at the second Waffle House I visited in Pennsylvania.  I was sitting at the counter and we had a conversation about the unexpected paths that God has us take in life.  It’s been two weeks now and I still remember their names and it’s not because I wrote them down somewhere.  In contrast, I can’t remember the names of any of the servers I’ve had in living in Connecticut.  Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a stranger about God either.

Speaking of God, I had noticed right away that the culture here skews religious.   Two DJ’s on the classic rock station casually quoted The Bible in a humorous conversation about an argument one of them had with a friend.   On the community board at Dunkin’ Donuts, there were a few business cards that included Bible passages as their tag line.  Some of you reading this may be puzzled about why I’m pointing this out, but I was raised in a place that is very much secular in spirit.

There were many good and free (and close to free) things to do in Lancaster.  I took a tour at Mascot Roller Mills and Ressler Family Home, a completely water-powered grain mill that was run by three generations of the Ressler family.  Though the mill is still fully functional, it’s preserved as a museum.  The tour started off with a ten minute video interview with the last Ressler to run the mill (who has passed on in the early 90’s).  During the tour, the guide turned the mill machines on and demonstrated how the grains were processed.  I’m embarrassed to say that before I had taken this tour, I had no understanding of how flour was made.  Now I can tell you the different processes of making whole wheat flour, white flour, pastry flour, and which part of the wheat plant makes bran, and wheat germ!

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Water-powered Mill

Next stop was the Mennonite information Center, where I took a guided tour of The Biblical Tabernacle, a beautifully designed reproduction of the tabernacle in the Old Testament.  A Baptist minister in Florida originally built the exhibit in the 1940’s.  The Mennonites later purchased it for public display and for students of Biblical and cultural studies.  The tour guide (who I can only guess is a minister) gave such a gentle, plain, and impassioned presentation, that some of the visitors (me included) were moved to tears.  What touched me the most was when she explained a common ritual practiced by the Hebrews exiled in the desert, outside the Tabernacle.  Once a year, they would pray all their sins unto an unblemished lamb before sacrificing it since only the shedding of blood could atone for wrong doings against God.  She went on to artfully weave this into the meaning of the sacrifice of Christ.  I was pleasantly surprised by poignancy of this experience.

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Tabernacle Replica

After the tour, I watch two short films in their screening room, “Who are the Amish?”, a documentary about the Amish way of life and “Postcards from a Heritage of Faith”, a documentary about Mennonites faith, history and how they differ from the Amish.  Though a little dated, they were well made, entertaining and informative.  Though the Amish film was beautiful and quaint, I feel that I got the most out of watching the Mennonite film.  In the late 1600’s a group split from the Mennonites because they felt they were being too worldly and receptive to change.  Those folks who split are whom we know as the Amish.  The Mennonites see change as inevitable, live modern and actively reach out to other communities and countries to spread their faith.  The split must’ve been for the best.  The film featured Mellinger Church located in town.  Seeing several brown faces in the pews aroused my curiosity.  In Dutch Country, the Amish get all the attention, but the Mennonites are way cooler!  I planned to pay that church a visit!

I arrived bright and early Sunday morning for their 8:30AM coffee and fellowship.  There was a greeter at the door who asked me if I’d be attending Sunday School.  “Isn’t that for children?” I asked.  She told me that in this church, they have it for all age groups then handed me information pamphlets.  I took three steps into the lobby before I was approached by a well-dressed, sweet-faced elderly woman named Maye* who introduced herself and asked if I was just visiting or looking for a new church home.   I told her that I was only passing through and wanted to visit before leaving Lancaster County.

Maye brought me downstairs to the kitchen and banquet area where parishioners were having coffee before class started.  The room was large with round covered tables and a kitchen window towards the back where refreshments were served.  She enthusiastically introduced me to everyone who crossed our path on the way to the kitchen.  The counter had a full spread of coffee, teas, and condiments.  The group of men behind the counter was friendly and jovial.  I helped myself to some lemon-ginger tea and sat down with Maye and five of her friends.  It was then that I noticed that the men and women sat at separate tables.  I didn’t see this as a bad thing.  If you’re retiree who spends most of your time with your spouse, “girl and guy talk” should be taken at every opportunity!  Maye’s friends were pleasant to chat with and made an effort to make me feel welcomed… Which I did.

A good-looking man with dark features in his late thirties approached our table and Maye introduced us.   Dave* is a Deacon at the church and she told me that I’ll be going to his Sunday School class across the hall (classes are divided by age groups).  “Don’t worry, he’s safe… He’s married!”, Maye chuckled… half jokingly.   Dave laughed as a blush washed over his face, “Of, course I’m safe!”  Maye’s words struck me as quaint.  It allowed me to imagine a time when women were more protected from wolves, cads and humiliation.  An electronic bell chimed and everyone went to class.

In Dave’s class they discussed the book, “Just Walk Across the Room”.  It’s a guide about evangelizing the people you come across by simply connecting to them.  Dave handed me his copy to follow along.  There were seven of us in all, sitting in a circle, including Dave’s wife, Melony* who was sitting next to me. Everyone was attractive, wholesome and fashionable in a J.C. Penny sort of way. There was some small talk about what I thought of my visit and the sights around town, etc.  Everyone seemed a little surprised about my solo RV trip.  “You’re doing this alone?!”, Dave asked.   I couldn’t help but feel that the men in the group were hoping their wives wouldn’t get any funny ideas!  They were warm and friendly enough, but I did feel low-grade tension and I couldn’t place the reason.   I don’t think it was because I was black (that’s a totally different vibe).  Maybe, they’re not used to uppity women.  Maybe they rarely have visitors under 65… I don’t know.  At the end of class, they prayed for me to have a safe trip.

Dave and Melony invited me to sit with them during the service and Dave let me keep his book.  Their beautiful daughters, aged 8 and 10, sat in the pew behind us.   I was a little surprised to see that the Mennonite style of worship was no different than a white Baptist service.  There was a band that played contemporary Christian music as parishioners followed the lyrics on a large screen.  Some people, Dave included, raised their hands up in the air as they sang to receive the Holy Spirit. The older folks dressed more formal.  Some of the older women wore traditional white bonnets on their heads.  The younger people dressed casual.  Since I was wearing my long summer skirt and Teva sandals, I did not feel out of place.    One thing disappointed me.  I didn’t see any black faces as shown in the documentary… Where the hell did they go???

As the service came to a close, I wondered if I would be invited to go out somewhere afterwards as church folks often do for newcomers.  I quickly started going through a list of excuses to give because I was in a hurry to move on to my next spot.  Also, Melony didn’t seem comfortable sitting next to me; she had her arms folded the whole time.   At the end of the benediction, everyone stood up to leave.  Melony turn to me and said, “It was really nice meeting you, have a safe journey.”  I thanked her and extended my hand.  She reached out to give me a hug…. Seriously?  Dave, who was sitting on the other side of her reached over to shake my hand.  “It was really nice meeting you.  Thank you for visiting us.”  I felt his sincerity.

I rushed out to the lobby and briefly scanned the room for Maye, but did not see her so I quickly left. Feelings of guilt lingered as I sped down the highway for not waiting around to say goodbye to her.  She was so nice and welcoming to me, but I felt compelled to leave right away.   My guilt has since subsided.  I’ve decided that since my gut told me to leave, it was simply the right thing to do.

Up next… Gettysburg!

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Side Note:  It’s been a month since liftoff!  With writing, I have a lot of catching up to do!

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

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LIFTOFF!

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Eunice in Astoria

I’m happy to announce that I’ve gone full nomad and now on the road!  It’s been a month since I’ve been laid off and a month can speed by fast, especially when your life is about to change.   A month is the amount of time I gave myself to tie up loose ends and grab ample amounts of quality time with Beau before heading off.  The date of my cousin’s wedding (that I recently attended) was set a month after I got pink slipped, so I planned to leave shortly after then.  Yesterday, I left Connecticut and a filmmaker friend of mine had me as a guest on his popular podcast, New York Cine in Astoria to discuss films, my gypsy lifestyle, and plug my blog.  What better way to leave the Northeast with a bang than right after a joyous celebration and a broadcast of my launch?

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Latest New York Cine Podcast wrapped up!

I had much to do, most of which entailed just figuring things out like receiving my mail and packages while on the road.  I have a P.O. Box with street addressing, but their mail forwarding service is too pricey for my budget.  I get mostly junk mail anyway, but gave my key to Beau in case anything important arrives.  With the exception of my Utah Concealed Firearm Permit coming through, I expect nothing more and will let my box expire when the term is up in a few months.   I’ll officially change my address when I finally get to Texas at the end of the summer.

For ordering goods off the Internet, I’ll simply have packages sent to the Post Office in the town I’m in and pick it up there.  This is referred to as General Delivery.  To have mail and packages held for you, have your sender write, “General Delivery” under your name.  For Internet orders, I’d use the address line on the order form.   Write the town, state, and full zip code and be sure to include the extension.  The Post Office will hold your mail for 30 days.  Finding out this piece of information will save me a lot of money and time since I was seriously considering using one of the many mail forwarding and pick-up services catering to RVers and travelers.

Since I’ll likely be in areas that are not populated with parked cars on the street, stealth camping overnight on a curb could attract the wrong type of attention.  Rest stops are out of the question because they’re spooky to me.  With a little research, I’ve found that gas stop facilities, which cater mainly to truck drivers (Travel Centers of America, Petro, and Pilot), are an excellent alterative to boondocking.  They are RV friendly, offering free overnight parking, nice pay showers (around $12), sewer tank dump stations, convenience shops and really good restaurants… some are buffet!  It’s great to know that these beacons are everywhere, in just about every state and situated right off the highway.

Another quick option (especially if you’re starting to get dangerously tired on the road) is to park at a hotel or inn, preferably with a lot of cars so you can to blend in.  It would be a good idea to find a spot out of view from the check-in desk.  Most seeing your van or small RV will assume you are renting a room.  I picked up this tip from a video and did this successfully just last night!  For those who prefer peaceful solitude and aren’t fearful of being deep in the woods and surrounded by nature in pitch darkness (like Beau), there are government-owned parks throughout the country where people may camp for free.  Don’t expect any of the conveniences of paid camps like water or electric hookups.  However, that can be part of the fun!  And let’s not forget the retail boondocking staples: Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Cabelas!

A word about finding water without staying at paid campgrounds, I’ve read on a forum somewhere that you can fill up your tank at most gas stations if you simply ask nicely… and tell them that you only need a few gallons.   We’ll see how this works for me.

Fast food, take-out, and dining on the road quickly adds up financially and on the scale.   Since I’m unemployed and many pounds overweight, this needs to be a concern of mine.   Most days, I’ll be drinking my Walker Diet low-carb powdered shakes for breakfast and lunch.  It tastes good, has a thick consistency, and mixes with water, so I don’t need to worry about refrigerating milk.   A can of it will last me a week and it’s pretty affordable at less than two dollars a serving.  For dinner, the simplest option is to go with canned food and veggies.   I’ll try my best to eat out no more than twice a week.  Good food is a weakness of mine.

With the burden of figuring out the logistics of long-term road travel out of the way, I was able to focus my attention on other things. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something.  I quickly realized that this feeling was due to not packing belongings, something one usually does when picking up and leaving behind everything they know.  I had to wrap my head around the fact that I was leaving and not coming back.   I drove through the center of my town and thought to myself,  “I may never see this place again… and if I do, it may look totally different than what I see now before me.”

I queued up lunch and coffee dates with a hand full of friends who mattered to me, in one way or another.   It occurred to me, that if I were to ever see them again, they too would be different than how I remember them now.  Fortunately, the goodbyes at the end of lunch and coffee were not as solemn as I feared… with people connected on Facebook, to each other, they no longer have to be.

In contrast, parting with Beau, though temporary, was not as easy.   We spent nearly everyday together since we met and now, we will not.  The morning of my journey, he cooked me a simple and delicious breakfast and cut me a fresh, fragrant bouquet of roses from his garden to carry with me.  Beau had also given me a mint amethyst pendant… it’s beautiful! Before I hopped into the driver’s seat of my van, we must’ve kissed, hugged and said goodbye at least five times… painfully lingering.  The final time we embraced, we prayed for God to watch over us and to keep the other safe while we are apart.  There was a heavy lump in my throat and one coming up again as I write this.   As I drove down the interstate, I realized that Beau (the strong silent type) was the only man whose eyes teared up over parting with me.

We managed to get some good quality time together and worked out a plan (and alternatives for that plan) for when we reunite in Texas at the end of the summer.  He has a few projects and obligations to square away in preparation for his move.  The up side is that since there is much for both of us to do, three months will, hopefully, go by fast.

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So what’s on the itinerary?  I’d been asked that a lot and the answer is that I really don’t have one.  However, I have a short list of places I’d definitely like to visit.  I’ll simply roam about in between those places of interest… after all, that’s what gypsies do.

It is somewhat surreal that I’m writing this entry from Pennsylvania.  It’s been roughly a year ago since I decided to pursue the nomadic lifestyle and it’s now a reality!  Because of you, my readers (who have kept me focused), a lot of grit, and a touch of luck… I’m HERE!  Houston, we have liftoff!

LET’S CELEBRATE!!!  

Side Note:  I had a blast being a guest on New York Cine Podcast, co-hosted by underground filmmaker, Thomas Edward Seymour.   Have a listen and let me know what you think and be sure to subscribe, especially if you love film… even bad ones!

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Wonder Woman

Spring has finally arrived and hopefully that means the end of freezing temperatures and the beginning of a lush, green, romantic season.  I am proud to say that I have successfully survived the harsh New England winter as a full-time vandweller!   Doing so was surprisingly easy… after I took certain precautions and made needed adjustments.  However, it was not without its unexpected challenges.

What does one do when the worst thing feared happens?  While camping for the evening during my trip to Rhode Island, I noticed the air from my furnace took much longer than usual to heat up.  I chalked it up to it being an unusually cold night and not running my engine or battery all day since I’ve been out, visiting my Godfather.  A few nights later, my furnace went out completely, blowing cold.  It was the dead of winter, I live in my van, and I had no heat!

It was the middle of the night and naturally, I panicked.  “It is going to happen… I am going die!”, ripped through my mind.  The terror was so great, that I snapped into survival mode.  I emotionally removed myself from my situation and started looking for a solution to get me though the night until I can get Eunice to my RV shop for repairs.  The answer quickly came to me: 1. Use the heat from my running engine. 2. Wear thermal underwear under my pj’s and wear a winter hat on my head. 3. Layer my linens for optimal warmth.  After doing the first two steps, I covered myself with a bed sheet, fleece blanket, down comforter, and a quilted coverlet; in that order.  Layering in this manner worked very well for me when my apartment in the country hills lost power for three days after a blizzard two Halloween’s ago.  I was happy to realize that past challenges make harder ones much easier.

Wake up time is around 5am, so I only had to endure the chill for five hours.  Luckily, I had an engine starter installed with my alarm system.  It enabled me to turn my heat on and off throughout the night without leaving the warm comfort of my bed.  If it started to get too cold under the covers, I’d just reach over to my nightstand (i.e. kitchen counter) and press the starter.  The forced heat from the front vents was enough to warm up the entire van within three minutes.   The starter would automatically shut off after ten minutes, allowing me to sleep without fear of running out of gas.  When it was time to get up, I’d put the starter on and wait until I was free to move about the cabin!

I took a half a day off from work to have my RV’s furnace looked at.  I was hoping that the problem would be quickly fixed.  Three hundred dollars and three hours of waiting in the customer lounge later, I still had a broken furnace!  The time (and my money) was all spent on just diagnosing the problem. Oh well, at least I got to take a nap someplace warm.  The tech who worked on my van told me that I had fluid in my pipes and blah, blah, blah… he needed to order a part that would take a few days to arrive!  I didn’t have a few days.  I needed my heat working that night and I was simply out of luck. That feeling of dread flooded up again from the bottom of my gut.

I left the shop in a daze, unsure of my next step.  Before hitting the highway exit, I decided to go to a discount store a few towns over to browse electric blankets, anything that could hold me over until this was all straightened out. I bought a small ceramic space heater for $20 and headed to my relative, Shirley’s* yard to plug in.  The heater worked amazingly well!  Just as with using the engine heater, it easily filed up my small living space with warmth.

Using a space heater was a good solution, but to continue using it, I would have to continue to use Shirley’s electricity.  Our current arrangement allowed me to plug into her outdoor outlet overnight, once a week to charge my house battery and then I’d reimburse her for the difference in her electric bill (around $10 a pop).  I was very grateful for this accommodation.  Now, my situation has changed drastically, calling for more use of resources.   I reached out to Shirley the next morning, proposing to change the terms of our arrangement.   I asked to plug in on nights when the temperatures drop below 20 degrees (when the cold in the cabin gets most brutal), anticipating that would be two or three times a week.  Of course, I would gladly pay the increase.  Shirley declined because she wasn’t comfortable with fronting a bigger electric bill.  I felt somewhat slighted, but decided to chalk it up to the economy as to why finances would come first in these situations.  Since Shirley’s home was a half an hour away from my work and usual camping site, I figured it was best to use that gas (and time) for running my engine heat, instead.  Plan C it is!

The week went on and I simply toughened up and adapted to my situation.  Self-insulating and running my engine a few times a night wasn’t bad at all.  Having a hot, steaming sauna at the gym to look forward to in the morning also helped. The needed part for my furnace arrived and I decided to put the repair work on hold indefinitely.  The service advisor guestimated that fixing my furnace would be an all day job, which would set me back around $1,000.  Since I already shelled out $300 (roughly half a week’s pay) with nothing to show for it, I grew resentful and stubborn.  I saw sticking it out for the last half of the winter as a possibility.

A few weeks passed.  I was still alive and did not die.  However, some nights were colder and more uncomfortable than others, like when it dropped below 20 degrees.  Sometimes, I would come home to find my tiny bottles of oil-based perfumes frozen solid.  Needless to say, I spent as little time in my cold camper as possible.  Never in my life have I been so happy to wake up at 5am in the morning!

It was around this time that I met my boyfriend, Beau*.   He knew that I was living full-time in my camper and thankfully; he was very supportive of my lifestyle.  He was also aware of my busted furnace and gave me one of his low temperature sleeping bags that he uses for his winter camping trips in the snow… the man has three of them!  Having one of these improved the quality of my life immensely.  My new sleeping bag is designed to keep me warm down to -10 degrees.  It is a mummy styled bag that tapers at the feet and covers tightly over my entire head, leaving only my face bare.  Some nights, it would get down to 5 degrees and I would still be quite comfortable.  Since I still had the habit of layering my clothes, there would be some mornings they would be lightly moistened with sweat!

All was well for a few weeks until I fell ill with a terrible fever.  Ironically, the cause was not from rugged winter living, but from my comparatively posh working environment.  At the time, I worked in a small, lower-level cubicle with seven other people.  Ventilation was very poor and the windows could not be opened for fresh air.  It was the type of place that if one person got sick, the virus would make its rotation to everyone else within days.  Before working there, I haven’t had a cold or flu for six years.  After working there, I’ve been sick six times in one year!  My office was jokingly referred to as “The Petri Dish”.

This time around, what I had was more than sniffles and coughs.  I came down with some sort of super bug.  I was fatigued, aching, weak, dizzy, and found it hard to breathe due to congestion.  Beau (who I was only dating at the time) kindly took me in for a week and nursed me back to health.   All I wanted to do was sleep, but he made sure I ate, drank plenty of fluids, and stayed comfortable.  On some evenings, he chopped down wood and fired up the fireplace to keep me extra toasty!

The moment I realized that I was getting very sick, I felt vulnerable and scared.  If Beau wasn’t there for me, I honestly don’t know how I could’ve managed being so ill by myself in a van with no heat.  All I can say is that I have seen the invisible hand of God bringing the right person into my life at the right time. Amen.

Shortly after I got better, I folded and got my furnace fixed.  I hired a mechanic from the RV store who was willing to repair it as a side job at a deep discount.  We agreed on $250.  It took him only two hours to fix what the shop estimated would be an all day job (and $750 dollars more).   I was grateful to have something as simple as heat back in my van.  It was nice not to have to always think about staying warm and I was able to fully enjoy my camper once again.

My state of mundane bliss only lasted a month because my furnace’s motor gave out and I would need to get a new and expensive one to have it run again.   This was a big disappointment because money I could’ve used towards getting a generator (that would allow me to run my space heater) was wasted.   Since spring was only a month or so away, I decided to just stick it out the rest of the winter… because I knew I could.  And yes, my next big purchase will definitely be a generator!

Looking back,  my friend (who convinced me not to back out of winter camping) was right.  I did have a better appreciation for the spring.  I have come out at the other end of this not only with a respect for the elements, but also a new respect for myself for working through my fear of it.   This winter was an exercise in self-reliance and having reliance in others when needed.  I survived winter in my camper van… Believe, it can be done!

So, what does one do when the thing feared most happens?  The answer is nothing but get through it.

Side Note:  I was forced into the realization that the body and mind will always adjust to discomfort… or simply die.  Never be emotionally or physically lazy and get in your own way by saying, “I can’t do that”.  Kill the Bear!

*Name changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Sex and the Single Camper

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Valentine’s Day has recently come and gone.  What could be more befitting than the subject of the above title?  I’ve always been a true romantic, though not always an optimistic one.  Some may be surprised to know that when I decided to become an RV-living gypsy, I gave very little thought about having a love life.  I guess it was for a good reason.  In the four and a half years I’ve been single, I have had not one long-term relationship.  This is not by choice, though relationship gurus and teachers of the Law of Attraction may tell you otherwise.  Maybe I’m still holding on to deep issues from my messed up childhood.  Could it be that I’m not visualizing Mr. Gypsy with enough focus and faith to bring him forth into my life?  Erm… No.  I want a relationship.

Though there may be some truth to the above, I honestly believe having (and keeping) someone good in one’s life has a strong element of luck, timing, and circumstance at the heart of it.  It is the hand of fate.  But, I digress.   I didn’t consider the issue of dating when making my decision to be a nomad because my luck with men has been beyond disappointing (i.e. shitty).

After a lot of fruitless Internet first dates and relationship false starts, I’ve grown to accept my hand.  I have to share that Internet dating is a horrible way to meet someone.  In the online world, people tend to have a shopping cart approach to finding a mate.  A date becomes more expendable because three more dates can easily be scheduled that week.  That guy or gal you’re really hitting it off with keeps any sort of commitment with you at arm’s length because there is a bigger and better deal a click away.  These Picky Pickers fail to realize that it is just as difficult meeting someone special online as it is meeting someone randomly on the street!  Online dating only gives the illusion that there are countless numbers of people that you can happily be well matched with.  Having said that, I do have four friends who have met their spouses this way, but there are also people who win the lottery.  I sometimes wonder if becoming a gypsy is a way for me to prepare for a life alone… an exciting, fulfilling and adventurous life, but most likely, alone.

What I didn’t consider with this lifestyle was how potential suitors would perceive me.  I realized that many men may associate women and vans with EASY SEX.  At the dealership where I work, some men have dubbed Eunice as the Shaggin’ Waggin’.  I was even asked, in jest, if I had “Christened” my van yet.  I wasn’t offended by this question, as I was also wondering when that would happen!  Though they are being playful, I can’t help but ponder if at the heart of their folly, they perceive women with vans (especially vans with beds) as more “sexually accessible”.   I feel that I’m no more or less accessible than any other and truth be told, I’m a healthy woman and have needs.

With dating, I find there are adjustments I have to make.  By adjustments I mean defenses.  Months ago, I was on the phone with a older successful gentleman that I was set up with by a mutual friend.  He asked me the awkward question, “Where do you live?”   I jokingly told him that I live “everywhere” and how I moved into my camper van.  He chuckled in a fatherly way and asked if our friend knew that I was doing this… as if I was in some sort of trouble.  Though he seemed okay with it, I realized not every man would be comfortable with the way I live.  I passed on meeting him in person, but from our conversation, I decided not to talk about my lifestyle until I knew that my date would be cool with it.  Also, it’s a good practice in safety to hold off on giving that piece of information until trust is established.  Though I have an alarm system and an NRA sticker on the back of my rig, why invite trouble?

I want to be a gypsy, but I also would like to have a meaningful relationship.  Since most people have a traditional home, I would most likely be expected to settle down if I meet someone worth while.  However, I can’t alter my plans for someone who may not come into my life… or worse, someone who does.  God forbid someone comes into my life for the sole karmic purpose of bungling up my plans!

For the first time in my life, I fear finding the relationship I want.   Since day one, I asked myself, “What happens if I meet someone within the three months that I am giving myself to leave Connecticut?”  I didn’t dwell too much on it because, seriously, what are the chances?  I do recognize that my needs and desires push and pull me in different directions. This life stuff is complicated.

I figured I should actively find a way to merge my gypsy lifestyle with finding a life partner.  Maybe I could go online and join groups to find another vandweller to whom I can be suitably mated.   It makes perfect sense, but I think I’ll pass on that idea.  Forgive my prejudices when I say that I believe many men who choose the nomadic lifestyle (with the exception of men who are under 25, divorced, or jumped in with a wife or girlfriend) are either gay, confirmed bachelors, or eccentric loners.  Since the main biological goal of men is to attract women, most wouldn’t choose this lifestyle if having one in their life for a permanent relationship were a priority.

I figure I’ll keep things joyfully open-ended by traveling the U.S. and perhaps meet someone along the way, maybe “settling down” if the things worked out.  After all, it’s a big country out there!  If not, I’ll continue on with my gypsy ways.  I have tried to guide fate’s hand my moving my online dating profile to parts of the country that I’m interested in exploring.  However, I admit this was done mostly out of curiosity to see which parts of the U.S. I was considered most attractive.  Not surprisingly, it was not in my own state!

Though my online excursion was mostly experimental, I did connect with an interesting man named John* in Ohio (my most popular state).  From what I could tell, we shared many of the same values and beliefs.   This appealed to me because most men I happen to meet tend to be agnostic/atheist and have values opposite from my own… I tend to skew towards “Midwestern”.  He had no problem temporarily carrying on a long distance relationship and he was open to moving outside of his state. We spoke on the phone for a week before deciding to video chat on Skype.

The Saturday we were to chat, I broke from my usual weekend schedule and set up my laptop at Dunkin’ Donuts for our 3pm date.  Though a plain Jane, I made sure I wore makeup and had my hair back so he could easily see my features.  I rarely use Skype, so I made sure the speakers and microphone worked and that the webcam was well positioned.  I was ready!

At around 2:55pm, in walked two men.  Like all of the other patrons coming in and out, I barely noticed them.  They were the opposite of each other in appearance, stature and bearing.  The first man was tall, fair, with a robust build and carried himself with a slow and steady confidence.  The second man was dark, much shorter, with a compact body that was controlled by quick sharp movements.  The first man picked up his order and turned away from the counter.   I looked up from my laptop and his eyes met mine, lingering longer than a passing glance.  I saw that he was ruggedly handsome.   He said hello and I returned his greeting as he sat down at the next table facing me.  I put on my headphones and continued with setting up my video call.   He insisted on starting a conversation with me anyway.

His name was Beau*, an avid outdoorsman who has hiked and camped all over the U.S.  One of the things that impressed me most was that he enjoys camping, even in the dead of winter… that’s pretty hardcore.  We talked for hours until his friend dragged him out of the shop.  He asked me out for a date before he left and I accepted.  Beau called me up an hour later and we went out to a dinner and a movie that very night! That was a month ago and we’ve been spending time together almost everyday ever since.  I have also come to know that not only does he have a love of nature and travel, but he is also in touch with his spirituality and has reverence for God.

I can say that I’ve had a beautiful Valentine’s Day!  Perhaps I should take back what I said about going online to find love.  After all, I have met someone special while on an Internet date!   Jest and butterflies aside, what now of my gypsy plans?  Oh, that hand of fate.

*Name changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Gimme Shelter

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Old school, one story motor lodge (Bates Style)!

As most of you already know, Nemo, the great blizzard of 2013 has fallen upon us in the Northeast.  Though I had a full tank of propane, gas, and a cupboard of canned goods, I dared not brave the weather with Eunice alone.  God forbid I get trapped inside my rig with the snow so high that it blocks up my exhaust systems, leaving me to choose between suffocating or freezing to death.  How’s about choosing between watching cable T.V. in my bathrobe or downloading shows with free wifi instead?

I went to seek out “traditional shelter” by booking a room at an inn for the weekend.  I stayed at Americas Best Value Inn in Manchester.  I found them through Hotels.com after searching for some place good, clean, cheap, and comfortable… and that they were!  A big added bonus was that the building was situated on top of a high hill, so the snow did not reach as high as the lower, surrounding areas.  It was also super close to the highway and a supermarket, which managed to be opened the day after by putting up employees in the inn next to mine.

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Eunice in the beginning of the blizzard

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Eunice afterwards

Picture 6Snow to the left of me

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Snow to the right

555862_4105890135971_1988121937_nCozy accommodations

Staying at an inn was a fun little break in my routine.  I had my own shower, a plush bed, and more personal space than I knew what to do with.  I almost forgot how time consuming mindlessly flipping through channels could be.  By the second night, I was ready to go… cabin fever was already starting to creep down the back of my collar.  Fortunately, the inn keepers had their plow and maintenance guys on the ready and I was able to leave when I needed to.  There are many in my region who are still stuck in their homes or workplaces as I write this… I feel really lucky.  The main roads in my area are still pretty rough, but drivable and most businesses are closed. Thankfully, not my Dunkin’ Donuts!

Side note: I’ve been getting a few posts on Facebook and on here suggesting that I should move me and my rig to a place with a warmer a climate… Trust, I’m workin’ on it!

Good Groomin’

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I’m a woman living a camper van without running water in the dead of winter.  How do I do it and still be fresh and well groomed for a 9 to 5 job?  It’s time to talk logistics.  I’m not only going to talk about grooming, but also matters of functional sanitation and the like.  So if your sensibilities are especially delicate, I suggest you refrain from reading the rest of this post and patiently await the next one.  Otherwise, brace yourself for a little TMI.

My RV is fully winterized, meaning that all the tanks and lines have been drained and replaced with antifreeze.  This protects pipes and tanks against freezing which would result in expensive damages to my system and ruin my Spring.  After an RV is winterized, it is usually at this point that owners put their RV into storage or park it in their yard until the weather gets warm.  Not me!

Since I do not have the luxury and convenience of indoor plumbing, I have quickly found ways to get around it.  For showers, I go to the gym six days a week.   I make the most of my time there by going extra early to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour.  After my shower, I bake myself in the sauna to clear my head for 10 – 15 minutes and usually pray at least one Hail Mary and Our Father for the last five.  It keeps me grounded for the day.  Then I head back into the shower for a one-minute Arctic blast to cool down my system.  I get dressed and head off to work, right around the corner.

I must say that in choosing this lifestyle, you can’t be germaphobic or unwilling to shed some germaphobic tendencies that you may harbor.  With the exception of the occasional visit to friends and family, all of the toilets, sinks and showers I have used have been public.  This is not to say that I have absolutely no fear of germs and pathogens.  I do. I just take simple steps to avoid excessive contact with either of them.  Outside of work and the gym, I only go to public restrooms that are clean and well maintained.  A double layer of toilet paper line the seats and a few squares in the bowl to avoid splash backs… My apologies to tree lovers!  I always wash my hands afterwards and never grip any handles or doorknobs without paper.

At the gym, I bring along a strong water-bleach solution in a spray bottle to sanitize my usual shower stall, towel hangers, and sauna bench before I go upstairs to work out.   Most of the bad germies are dead by the time I return to lather up.   The idea came to me when I couldn’t find flip-flops in stores during the cold season to use in the showers.  I’m much happier with using bleach spray instead.  So far, no athlete’s foot… Win!

Late at night when most places are closed, I do not venture outside my camper to find a public restroom.  It’s not safe and it’s super inconvenient, especially if I’m already in my pajamas.  That’s why I have instituted third world techniques to get my business done.  In my sink, is a gallon jug of spring water for drinking and oral hygiene and a container of antibacterial hand wipes.  Hidden under my sink are two 64oz plastic containers from the local dollar store that act as substitute “liquid waste” tanks for my rig.   That’s right… pee jugs.  This is something that men have been using in cars since the creation of plastic bottles.

Since I am female and not male, putting my little tanks to use in the same manner as a man would pose a challenge.   I first tried using a Go Girl, an apparatus that would allow for a woman to go like a man, but I couldn’t bring myself to stand and go.  It just felt so unnatural… I may be a little rough around the edges, but I’m still a woman, damn it!  Also, I feared to have urine roll down my legs and unto my stain free carpet.

A solution was found to my problem.  I went out to a medical supply store and bought a pink fracture bed pan.  When nature calls (numero uno), I place it on the floor in a medium sized, rectangular plastic wash basin and then crouch over it like a cat in a litter box.  When I am done, used toilet paper gets tossed in the garbage and the contents of the bed pan get carefully poured into one of the holding containers.  This is done over the washbasin to avoid any spills on the carpet.  The bedpan is sprayed down with white vinegar solution, wiped dry and stored away.  I clean my hands with sanitary wipes and continue on with my evening.  I empty the containers as needed (usually every 5 days) at the dump station or a secluded bush under the cloak of night.  I like to replace the containers with new ones at least once a month.

For bathroom emergencies (the dreaded numero duet), I just go ahead and use my toilet… GASP!  I make sure that afterwards, I flush everything down with a good amount of antifreeze, which I have handy to prevent the waste from freezing.  I picked up this very helpful tip from JC at Longview the day I had my rig winterized.  I only had to resort to this twice, coincidently around my indulgences the week of Thanksgiving.

That time of the month isn’t as difficult to handle as I thought it would be.   The chance for messy mistakes can be high if I’m not on top of things during my heavy days.  Since I love the aqua velour upholstery throughout my camper, ruining it would be unacceptable! I usually like to use a super plus tampon in tandem with a pad, but I’ve been using a Diva Cup instead since moving into my van.  I find that using one really simplifies things and is way more economical.  It holds more liquid for longer periods of time and therefore, less bathroom changes are needed during the day and night.   The downside is that they can take getting used to in the beginning, but by the next cycle, you’ll find them easier to use.  There is also a chance of leakage if you don’t insert them properly or leave them in for too long.  It’s always a good idea to wear a pad as a back up when your flow is heavy.  I also like to place a towel under me when I go to sleep.

Keeping my beauty routine was easy.  I kept my hair’s natural, African texture and had it dreadlocked in a feminine style.  Though I choose to go to the salon once a month, it’s a simple style that I could maintain myself when I finally go on the road.  I find this style more favorable than when I had my hair chemically straightened years ago.  Simple is always best.  Woe to the black gypsy with high-maintenance hair who finds herself without a qualified salon in the remote corners of South Dakota!

My skincare is low-maintenance, as well.  I like to shower with Suave shampoo because it’s chemically identical to body wash, only cheaper!  I tone my skin with witch hazel and moisturize with facial lotion by Lacura, a low cost, high quality skincare line that can be found at any Aldi’s grocery store.  I then lotion my body from the neck down using a somewhat pricey body cream, CeraVe… my one “splurge”.   I mix in as much liquid MSM in the jar as I can get away with to keep my skin tight during weight loss.

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Day & night Cream and a water optional cleanser

Hands

I usually don’t wear a lot of make-up.  I’ll fill in my eyebrows, line my eyelids and apply some mascara.  I dust my cheeks with blush in a natural hue and put on some lipstick… usually coral pink.  Yes, pink can really look beautiful on women of darker shades, especially mocha ones!   I find that it gives me a youthful glow, so I stick with it.  At night, I use eye make-up remover for my mascara and Walgreens make-up remover wipes for the rest of my face.  I’ll follow up with cleansing using Walmart’s version of Cetphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, tissue it all off, tone with witch hazel and moisturize with Lacura night cream.  The routine is easy and effective, no running water needed!

Side note:  Going to the gym regularly is an unexpected benefit of my new lifestyle.  I’ve never consistently gone to the gym for this length of time before.  I do so because I have to and I am glad for it!  I have so much energy at work and my body is much stronger and supple.  I’d like to add that anyone living in a camper would have a lot to gain from working out.  At least twice a day, I have to stretch my whole body over into the cockpit to pick up my 25 pound gym bag on the passenger side floor and it feels easy to do so.  I’m 40 pounds overweight and there was a time picking up a bag in this manner would feel like a strain.  Since I rarely enter and exit my home via the side door, I constantly have to jump back and forth over my storage box between the seats, which separate the cockpit from the house part of the van.  I always have to keep good balance while hopping in and out of my vehicle, which is somewhat high off the ground.  It is important to be able to easily navigate in and around my rig.  I also have changed my eating habits by eating low-carb.  Though I’ve cheated several times, I still feel great.  Simplified life realization: Our health is our wealth!

How to Lose Your Job in 60 Days

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“I want to go full nomad and be free, but I need to figure out how to get rid of my job first.”  When I say this to people (friends and strangers alike) an almost hysterical look washes over their face, followed by a humorous smirk with a suggestion to just pick up the phone and quit.  I wish it could be that simple… or could it be?  I have a job with a large car dealership as a Web Administrator/Graphic Designer.  I appreciate it, as it’s the best-paying job I’ve ever had (which still isn’t much).  Instead of answering phones all day and watching the clock, I get to use my creativity.  My days and weeks usually sail by.

The peculiar thing is that this job fell into my lap a year ago (my anniversary was last month).  My temp assignment at a hospital abruptly ended two months early, at a time when I really needed the money.  The day after, I was literally sitting on my couch thinking, “What am I going to do now?” when my phone rang. It was my company’s recruiter who found an old resume of mine floating around on Careerbuilder.com.  I quickly went in for two interviews and reported for my first day of work two weeks later!

It was a complete career change for me.  I have a practically useless degree in Psychology and never had any formal training in graphic design or web stuff.  What qualified me for this job were skills that I taught myself running my own perfume business and side projects part-time years ago.  As a budding artisan perfumer, I didn’t have a big budget to work with.  To market my perfumes, I had to create my own packaging, labeling and logos by playing around with Photoshop.  I managed my website using Yahoo Merchant CMS (content management system), which has user-friendly templates to work with… no coding needed!  For my film promotion website, I used Joomla and worked closely with a web developer to get the tasks done that I couldn’t do on my own.  The recruiter counted this as experience in project management! I also learned how to get my perfume business and film website into local newspapers and industry blogs.  I guess there are other ways to be rewarded in pursuing self-employment other than money.  In my case, it was with transferable skills!  Unfortunately, my little ventures didn’t bring in enough for me to not need a job in the first place.

During these difficult times when people are desperately looking for a job, I am desperately looking to get rid of mine.  I understand how fortunate I am, but Gypsies can’t travel if they’re required to report to their cubicle every weekday morning at 8:30 AM.  I have to move on.  I also have to be discrete about who I am in my posts.  Declaring to the world that you are looking for ways to leave your job usually doesn’t sit well with employers.  My true identity will be revealed when it’s time.  That’s right… I’m a super hero!

My three phase plan (1. Get an RV 2. Lose the day job. 3. Live the dream) has been moving along surprisingly smooth, thus far.  I honestly thought the first step would be the most difficult, but it’s not.  The second step is the big hurdle to jump.  I’m looking at a lot of uncertainty and variables that could either help or hinder my goals.   I need to have income independent of a traditionally structured job in order to support myself on the road. The good thing to know is that my “overhead” is much lower since I have no rent or car payment.  However, I want more than to  just scrape by, I want to live.  Time to do a little homework explore my options.

A.  I can become fully self-employed. I’ve reopened my perfumery and now have both my website and Etsy shop up and running.  Unlike the first time around, I will aggressively promote and take it seriously with the intent of making a living.  By my calculations, I’d have to sell at least 20 bottles of perfume a week to live comfortably.  With some hard work, that can be achieved, right?  I still have a small following… thank goodness I kept my Facebook page and Twitter account!

B.  I can take a stab at freelance writing.  This was something I first considered two years ago but never thought of pursuing seriously, until now.   I have two friends who are writers and they have given me advice on where and how to start. Assignments right now are tight, due to the economy.  Like anything else; gigs may be few and far between, especially for new ‘uns like myself.  By the way, I’ve read some positive comments regarding my writing style over the past few days… it’s been very encouraging!

C. I could temp as I travel around the country.   I’m registered with a large, national temp agency, Kelly Services.  They have offices in each state, which I could travel with, and work for.  Though, I would be working a 9-5 schedule, I’d still be “getting the ball rolling” by traveling.  The potential pitfall is that it’s only semi-guaranteed income.  If assignments aren’t available, I don’t work.  Some areas of the country will have fewer jobs than others and there are sure to be salary differences.  I’m also looking at websites offering seasonal jobs to gypsies, RVers, and vagabonds such as coolworks.com.

D.  I could find another permanent job in a totally different location.  I asked Him for guidance and became spiritually drawn to Modesto, CA.   I had two friends suggest to me, in different instances, that I should move to California.  Mind you, neither of them knew of my thoughts of settling there in the future.  Remember that gentleman at the RV shop with whom I felt a “Cloud Atlas” moment?  Well, he was the second person suggesting I go out west.  He mentioned that I would most likely make better money doing the same job at a dealership in California.  The seed in my mind has been planted.  I knew there was something special about him! This option appeals to me the least because I’d simply be trading one pair of brass handcuffs for another.  However, just as with option C., the status quo, that is my life, will be changed.  In most cases, it’s better to do something rather than nothing and this could be the something that keeps me moving in the right direction.

I have a “back up, back up plan”, if none of the above options work out within the next 60 days.  I will continue to save money for an additional 60 days more, quit my job and go full nomad no matter what.  I will have by then a small cushion that should be enough for gas to take me cross country, provide safety for emergencies and incidentals, and coverage for a month’s worth of expenses until I find a gig, temp assignment, writing assignment, etc.  I figure many immigrants came to this country with much less in their pocket and ended up okay.  I should be okay, too!  Unexpectedly, if I were laid off today and couldn’t save any money, I’d head out west tomorrow and work all along the way until I get there.  The ultimate plan is to always move forward… no matter what.

Side note: If you are curious about my perfumes, simply let me know in the comments section below and I’ll email you my website’s link.   Also, I have found another cool gypsy who talks about the subject of earning money while on the road.