Kin

By the Boardwalk

By the Boardwalk

My cousin, Mona* was expecting me in Virginia Beach during the week.  I opted to have a few days to myself and do some exploring before visiting her on her day off.  I’ve been to Virginia several times before as a child and I’ve always had fun family memories here.  I decided to hit the beach.

When I arrived at the coast, finding free parking for my van was too much of a hassle.  I caved in and paid five dollars to a Catholic Church that rented out its parking lot to tourists during the week.  Though the weather was very warm, I had no intention of swimming.  Instead, I walked all along the boardwalk to take in the scenery.  I saw families riding together in rented bikes, lovers holding hands, and children running around in the sand.  It felt good being surrounded by so much energy and joy.  I came upon carnival rides, including one of my favorites, the swinging Viking ship, which will turn your stomach inside out.  I considered buying a few tickets, but the zeal quickly passed me.  I don’t want my stomach turned inside out… I guess I am a grown up now!   I wandered off the boardwalk and window shopped at many of the interchangeable souvenir shops in town.

The next day, I visited Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.).  Edgar Cayce is known as “The Sleeping Prophet” and “The father of Holistic Medicine”.   He has given psychic readings to thousands of clients while in an unconscious state where he would diagnose illnesses and foretell the future.  Visiting A.R.E. was a big deal for me because I’ve been interested in Cayce’s work as a Christian psychic, prophet and healer since I first heard about him on the show, Unsolved Mysteries in the 1980’s.

Edgar Cayce Portrait

Edgar Cayce Portrait

I attended their free, guided tour of the visitor center, watched an orientation film and enjoyed two spiritual lectures: Holistic Healing and Spiritual Awareness.  Edgar Cayce believed Virginia Beach was one of the safest places in the world to live because he felt it would be naturally protected from dramatic climate changes.  It was pointed out to us that (unlike other towns in close proximity) the area has yet to be devastated by hurricanes. This wasn’t hard to believe. Virginia Beach, by the water has a very peaceful, dream-like, spiritual vibe to it.  The breeze from the ocean was always warm, soft and regenerating.

Cayce's reading couch

Cayce’s reading couch

Library holding 14,000 Cayce readings

Library holding 14,000 Cayce readings

Before I left, I decided to walk their outdoor Labyrinth to meditate on a concern I had about Beau* and the direction of our relationship.  I found myself growing suspicious of him. Though we talked twice a day, something wasn’t right.  Questions about him and about us flooded my brain and overwhelmed me. This is normal when you’re away from your man for so long, right?  Before I entered the labyrinth, I took a deep breath and with the warm ocean breeze guiding my back, I meandered along its snakelike path.  I recited the Holy Rosary a dozen times to quiet and focus my anxious mind.  Within 30 minutes, I reached the end and gained clarity but not comfort.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

Edgar Cayce was quoted as saying, “You are your own best psychic.”   As a very intuitive person, I understood.  However, it didn’t stop me from seeking out the services of  a psychic reader affiliated with A.R.E.  I was second guessing myself and needed confirmation that there was, indeed, a sword hanging over my head.

I met Gwen* at her office across town.  She invited me to have a seat in an armchair angled closely towards hers. She had a pen, pad and pendulum ready. I asked her if it was okay to record our session and she was fine with it.  I took out my phone and activated the voice recorder app.  She asked to hold something that belonged to me. I handed her my keys.  I decided to refrain from volunteering any information during my reading and save my specific concerns for last.

It’s understood that no psychic is 100% accurate, but the things Gwen picked up about me were on point.  I asked her about my soul’s purpose (a question A.R.E recommends readees ask).  “To bring joy wherever you go… wherever you are planted.  It doesn’t matter if you’re at your job, at home, or just out gettin’ a burger that’s what you do.” She said with a husky Southern drawl.  “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not.  Whenever you enter a situation or room, the energy just lifts…. People respond to you.”  No, I haven’t noticed this… I was puzzled because most of the time, I’m rather low-key.  Then I remembered strangers and random people I’ve met over the years making a point to tell me the same thing, that I have a “good spirit” or they felt really good being around me.  I’ll take it!

I asked her about my family.  “You get picked on a lot.” She said plainly.  I surrendered to the fact that she wasn’t speaking in the past tense. “That’s right, I’m the scapegoat.” I confirmed.  She continued, “The reason you’re the scapegoat is because of that special energy you carry.”  “Really?”, I was surprised.  “Seriously.  I’m from the smoky mountains of east Tennessee.  We had chickens running free in the yard during the day.  What amazed me was that there would always be one chicken that would stray farther out in the garden than the others. She was probably looking for juicier worms somewhere else.  The rest of the chickens would attack and peck her because they considered her different!   You’re different.  They perceive you as weak, when you’re actually very highly evolved… and tough.  They can’t see that, so they turn on you.” She explained.  Gwen went on to say that in the last couple of months, my “perceptions” have been getting stronger and stronger.  This also struck me as true… This is the most spiritually intuitive I’ve ever been since I hit puberty.  She advised me to continue listening to the Universe (i.e. God) when it speaks.  As for my concerns about Beau*, she eased my mind by assuring that he deeply loved me.

Later that night, I touched base with my cousin, Mona and made plans to visit her the next day.   I got a little lost finding her place, so she was waiting outside for me when I pulled up to her condo.  Boy, was she was eager to meet Eunice!  Mona is jovial, quick-witted, fiercely independent and boldly assertive… traits not uncommon for women on this side of the family.   She’s also good-looking.  With large, wide-set eyes, high, dimpled cheeks, and square jaw line, she has a resemblance to Helena Bonham Carter.  Every time I see Helena Bonham Carter flash across the screen, I think of cousin Monaher dark facsimile.

She rushed up to me and gave me a big hug.  I happily gave her a nickel tour of my home.  Mona’s daughter (a gifted violinist) was on a music tour in Europe with her college class.  I was offered her room to stay in and made myself at home. When I was growing up, I would see Mona and my other cousin, Margene* (from Richmond) once a year. They have about 10 years on me, so I was never able to hang out with them as an equal.  My aunt (who was the same age as them) would join them on local excursions and have all the fun instead.  Sometimes, they’d take me along… but it wasn’t “big girl” fun!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my cousin.  Maybe, the last time I’ve seen her was at a funeral. We sat in her beautifully decorated living room and did a lot of catching up. We talked about our not so great marriages and life after our divorces.  “The women in our family have no luck with marriage.” She said with a bluntness that was softened by the lilt of her Jamaican accent.  “We’re just too hard-headed and strong-willed.” She continued.  I didn’t want that to be true, but I nodded my head in agreement because maybe it was.   I see myself as easygoing, having a softer temperament than most people I know and I don’t consider myself  “a feminist”.  However, I have come to recognize that there is something unyielding in me that cannot be dominated or compromised.  Perhaps we are daughters of Lilith and not Eve.

My great grandmother had 11 children.  With the exception of one, all of her daughters (including my grandmother) had tragically broken marriages or a string of unfortunate romances.  The boy children, however, seemed to have escaped this curse with good wives and intact homes.   But, maybe this is because these women were raised in a third world culture where parents treat female children far more harshly than males.

Mona made plans for us to visit my great aunt Gladis* in Hampton, 45 minutes away.  We drove in her car and had a discussion about our family’s past and there were jokes and laughs sewn in between.  We both hashed out old family secrets before moving on to share our disappointments.  I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt abandoned and betrayed by kin at my most vulnerable hour of need.  For her, it was a life-threatening illness… myself, a divorce.   I quickly realized that my experience wasn’t unique to just my immediate family.  I was now able to stand back and see that all the dysfunction that I endured (even into adulthood) had little to do with me.  My familial misfortunes were part of a much bigger problem!  I found this both comforting and disturbing.   Through faith in God, Mona was able to forgive all the wrongs.  I, in contrast, remain less magnanimous.

We pulled up to our aunt’s house and she invited us inside.  Her lovely mirrored living room looked exactly as I remembered it as a child!  Strangely, it did not look or feel outdated.  It was as if time moved on, but didn’t.  After some catching up and joking around, we headed out to have lunch at a near by restaurant.  Before we ate, Mona cued for us to pray grace.  After seeing people publicly praying in restaurants everywhere, it was my turn!

We returned to Aunt Gladis’ house after lunch and retired to her youngest daughter’s bedroom, which was converted into a den.  It was, in reality, the family museum.  All of the walls were covered, top to bottom with framed photos of our clan, spanning six generations.  I even spotted my own picture, a high school senior portrait!

Aunt Gladis gave me four old photo albums to look through.  One of them had black and white pictures that were from the 1950’s and 60’s.  It felt like I should be handling the pages wearing white cotton gloves.  Most of the people in the album I didn’t recognize, but I did get a glimpse of Aunt Gladis’ life as a young nurse living in England.  Roughly half of my large family immigrated to the UK since Jamaica was once under the British crown.

There was one photo of her standing outside her apartment building in a white, buttoned-up nursing uniform.  She had perfectly styled curls, meticulously arched eyebrows and (what I could imagine to be) deep, crimson lips.  It was evident that she had a certain maturity and poise that is rarely seen in young women nowadays. As I continued through the album, I managed to recognize some of my great uncles during the “Madmen days” whose dapper suits and youthful good looks nearly startled me!

Mona and I returned to Virginia Beach to relax for the rest of the evening.  She offered me her washer and dryer to do my laundry and I gladly accepted.  At the end of the night, I went to her daughter’s room to retire.  Looking around, it was easy to tell that this room belongs to someone bright, cheery, and full of life… someone who was raised happy.  She was in Europe living her dream, a dream that her mother lovingly supported since she was a young child.  Destructive patterns of the past doesn’t have to control a family’s future.  I have hope.

Side Note:  My great grandma and grandma loved watching The 700 Club!  In their honor, I went to a taping at CBN studios while I was in town.  You can see more photos on my FaceBook page!

Gordon Robertson after taping

Gordon Robertson after taping

Original 700 Club set from the 1970's

Original 700 Club set from the 1970’s

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Roots… of My Country

Townspeople of Williamsburg

Townspeople: Free and Otherwise

It was already the last week of June and I finally started to feel the heat of summer as I drove down the interstate into Virginia.  I stopped at the welcome center to stretch my legs and browsed the tourist pamphlets.   I’ve been to Virginia several times before because I have some relatives that I visited throughout my childhood.  Though, the patriot in me was excited to experience reenactments pertaining to the American Revolution at Colonial Williamsburg, I came to Virginia mainly to see my cousins and great aunt.   Since my cousin in Richmond was still on her trip (world travel is her hobby) and the other was way down in Virginia Beach, Williamsburg was slated as the first stop.

The sun was going down when I reached my destination at Walmart.  To my delight, it was close to all the gypsy friendly amenities needed, including gyms!  The idea of sponge bathing no longer appealed to me; I had grown spoiled.  Since truck stop showers can easily add up to a big expense, my strategy for grooming was to find gyms with decent facilities and a free trail period.  I limited my search to local gyms only and avoided large national chains since I haven’t yet decided which one to join.  I chose American Family Fitness because their facilities were very impressive, rivaling L.A. Fitness.

How does one sign up for a temporary pass without a local address or any intention to stay in town?  The answer is to simply have a good story as any novice grifter would! My story was that I recently moved to the area and currently living with a relative until I find a job and my own place.   This explains why I still have a Connecticut driver’s license and no place of employment.  I found the closest apartment complex and committed the street address to memory in order to fill out the visitor form and engage in any “small talk” if asked about where I live.   Was this honest?  No, but my showers were free, clean and accessible.  Hopefully, plugging them in this post will tip my Karmic scale back to a favorable balance.

I took a day to drive around Williamsburg and it’s a very beautiful place.  All the buildings I drove past were newly constructed and well built. It was as if most of the town was created as a planned community.  The people weren’t as friendly and open like the people in Baltimore or Lancaster, but they had a pleasant and welcoming vibe, which was enough for me. The evenings were comfortably warm with a comforting, caressing breeze.  I took half a business day and reserved a two-day pass to visit Colonial Williamsburg for the next day.

I made an effort to arrive early in the morning, since there were a lot of things to do and see.   After I picked up my pass (which was to be worn during my visit), I stopped to look at a scale model of the grounds, which was overwhelmingly huge.  I was glad that I opted to visit for two days instead of just one!  I glanced at my map/schedule and checked off all the available activities I wanted to do.   There was an orientation film, Williamsburg: the story of a Patriot that was starting in the visitor center theater in just a few minutes.  It was shot in the late 1950’s, starring a young and handsome Jack Lord.   The story was about Virginia’s role in America’s independence.  Though the film was dated (longest-running motion picture in history), it primed me for the experience of going back in history.

I left the theater and crossed over the bridge onto the Colonial grounds.  It was like stepping into another time.  There were townspeople in character of every social station of that age, ready to casually interact with visitors at their post or shoppe.  I visited farmers, local tradesmen, homes of nobility, and took a tour of the lavish Governor’s Palace.   Then, I popped into the gunsmith’s shop to see how guns, bullets and silverware were made.   The blacksmith demonstrated how he keeps the fire hot enough for melting iron.  His wife showed me her collection of molds for spoons, pots, and bullets.  Afterwards, I went to the town’s theater and watched a short period comedy and gained insight into the culture of the performing arts during that period.  A tour of the courthouse was open and I witnessed three very entertaining mock trails with some of the visitors playing the role of defendant and plaintiff!  It was all done in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner, but you left with an understanding of how everyday disputes were settled.

Governor's Palace

Governor’s Palace

Governor's Chef

Governor’s Chef

Cured Meats

Cured Meats

Ye Olde Gunsmith

Ye Olde Gunsmith

Instruments of Freedom

Instruments of Freedom

Parade to Town Square

Declaration of Independence Announcement

Declaration of Independence Announcement

The event I wanted to see most and above ALL was the Meeting with a Forefather reenactment, where a founding father performs a speech and interacts with the audience.  Washington, Jefferson, or maybe it will be Benjamin Franklin?  It is not known which forefather will arrive or what he would say.   Being what one would call a rabid “Constitutionalist”, I was thoroughly intrigued!  However, my schedule for the day was already full, so I decided I would save the talk for the next day, which started late afternoon. There was just so much to do and learn; it was nearly overwhelming! I began to have a strong sense of how we, as a people, worked together as a community to sow the revolutionary seeds of our nation.  I am proud to be an American.

Being in such an immersive environment can be an enriching and positive experience.  However, I found that engaging, enriching experiences also cut the other way.  The next morning, I attended an inspiring reenactment of the public reading of The Declaration of Independence.  Afterwards, I looked at my activity sheet and decided to take The Life of a Slave tour.  On the itinerary, it had a disclaimer that it was not suitable for small children.  “Curious.” I thought to myself. Though the slavery of my ancestors was endured in the West Indies and not in America, as a black person, I was compelled to check it out.  Right after this was scheduled to end, it would be time for the Meeting with a Forefather reenactment… Perfect! It wouldn’t start for a few hours, so I decided to attend some vaguely named short play that was about to start on an outdoor stage.  I had no idea what it was going to be about.

As the time drew near, people gathered on benches around the plain wooden stage under a sparse canopy of trees.  I sat in the front row.  Just as everyone settled in, out of nowhere, a rough looking white man in a wide hat and dirty white shirt, holding a rifle carried a young black woman by the arm onto the stage.  She wore a nice yet plain blue housedress covered by an apron… she was a house slave.   He takes her to her place and disdainfully unhands her before turning to leave.  “‘Scuse me, Sir!  When will my babies be commin’ here to be with me?” she desperately asks him with a slave accent.  “Soon.” the overseer says flatly and leaves.

Three other slaves, a woman and two men, whom she knows, are also brought on stage.  It’s apparent that they are in a holding cell to be sold on the auction block, off their plantation.  The mother’s two young boys will soon be joining her in the cell, also be sold.  Her friend, the other female slave, tries to ease her mind that there is hope someone would buy all three of them together and not break up her family.  The mother is still deathly frightened.

One of the male slaves, possessing a rebellious spirit, discouraged the soothsaying between the women and told the mother to accept the reality of what is about to take place… her children would most likely be sold away from her.  The friend starts to see his point of view.  She looks into the mother’s eyes and calmly says, “When your children get here, you have to talk to them.  I know it’s gonna be hard, but you got to let them know what’s gonna happen.”  To which the mother cries, “All they know is this plantation! All they know is me…” her voice trails off.  I saw the anguish streak across her face. “I know, but you got to be strong for your boys.  You’re gonna have to tell them calm and then say your good byes.  Have faith in God.” The friend advises.

The rebellious slave turns his attention to the other male in the cell and picks a fight with him because he failed to hold up his end of the bargain in an escape plot the night before, resulting in both of them being captured and put up for auction.   Just as the two men’s quarrel was about to reach the boiling point, the overseer returns.  He’s accompanied by his armed second to assist him in handling the slaves.  “All of y’all! It’s time to go!” the overseer barks.  Everyone lines up except the mother.  She jumps up, rushes to the front and asks him, “My babies… where are my babies?”  The overseer (annoyed and impatient) says, “What? We done sold them already!”  The mother gasps.  Struck down by shock and loss, she faints, causing her body to fall forward towards the overseer.  “Get up off of me!” he yells in disgust and pushes her away with his arm.  She tumbles off the stage, rolls on the grass and lands just inches from my feet.  Part of her dress rode up, exposing the bottom of her bloomers.  Her friend comes to her aid and helps her up as she sobs into her breast.

Everyone is lead out of the cell to their awaiting fate, in the distance no longer be seen.  The plain wooden stage is left bare. No formal closing, the play had ended as abruptly as it had started.  The audience fell silent and remained seated in bewilderment, trying to absorb what they have just witnessed.  I was left broken and wept.

After I collected myself, I roamed around Revolutionary City in a daze.  I visited some shops, but didn’t buy anything.  The time was getting close for my slave tour.  It was across the city and I didn’t want to walk, so I decided to use the free shuttle service.  I met a middle-aged black couple with their teenagers while waiting at the shuttle stop.  I’ve seen them around the day before.  We nodded at each other in acknowledgment as we passed by on a wooded path… as if we were in a secret club.  The same thing happens whenever I pass by another person with dreadlocks.  I wonder if white people do the same thing.

We struck up a conversation, telling the couple about the play I had just seen and the powerful impact it had.  “Nah, I’m not going to see that! I’m not going to work myself up and get angry around here!” the husband said in a half joking tone.  But, I knew he was serious at his core.  I couldn’t blame him for passing on such an emotionally raw exhibition.  I know, first hand, that the line between making peace with the past and being completely consumed with rage is a broken fence.

I made it just in time for the slave tour.  A group of people sat in an enclosed area under a tree.  There was a slave woman at the gate and I had shown her my pass to join the others.  Looking around, I saw that it was a diverse group of people, both black and white families of varying ages and classes. The benches we sat on were nothing more than logs on the ground in a circle formation.  In the center of that circle was a tall and robust field hand who was slowly pacing around and waiting for any remaining stragglers to arrive.  By his side, were a few tree stumps with a stack of papers and curious artifacts on top of them.  We waited patiently for his presentation to start.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!” he said looking around his audience.  “I’m a an African-American historian and I’m here to give you a glimpse into the everyday life of American slaves.” He continued.  The field hand’s casual yet commanding presence had everyone perked up in their seat.   “It’s good that you’re all enjoying your time here at Colonial Williamsburg and experiencing some patriotic pride in our American heritage.”   Was he reading my mind?  He went on, “All of that is important, but there is another side to this story and that is slavery.”  He continued with his presentation, passing around copies of wanted posters for runaway slaves and Victorian photos of people with whip-scared backs.  Afterwards he passed around replicas of black iron tools used to keep people in bondage: shackles, locks, and spiked neck collars… used to “break” the most willful of Negroes.  The replicas were heavy, cold, and dreadful to hold in my hands.

Paper Clipping

Paper Clipping

Whip scars of a slave

Whip scars of a slave

Afterwards, he went on to explain the next segment of his presentation, “We will now begin the tour.  This will be a hands-on type of thing… How it was like to be a slave.  When slaves were called to work early in the morning, they weren’t treated with any type of respect.  They weren’t spoken to nicely.  It’s time to head out to work in the tobacco fields.”  Then something in the air quickly shifted.  “Now, git up… I says, GIT UP!” he shouted as the shackles made a clanking noise in his hand.  We were startled and all glanced at each other before quickly raising to our feet.

The field hand walked us out to the tobacco fields.  He assigned each of us a plant and ordered us to inspect under each leaf for any insects and eggs.   Whatever was found, we were to grind them up between our fingers. This was very important because they could destroy the leaves and each leaf was money for the master.  We had to be very careful not to break a leaf because that would warrant a whipping.  The same if the overseer checked our work and saw any bugs or eggs left behind.  Since the plants were short, we had to bend over to do our job… after a few minutes, it started to get very uncomfortable for my thighs and back.  And then it started to rain!  Everyone started to straighten up, intending to leave and take cover somewhere.  “Keep working! Slaves don’t get to sit out from the rain!” he ordered sternly.  We did what he said and kept tending to the tobacco… in the rain.  This went on for only fifteen or twenty minutes, but it felt much longer.  I couldn’t do this all day, everyday.  I just couldn’t.

Tobacco Fields

Explaining as it was

Explaining as it was

When we were done, he told us how Thomas Jefferson had a tobacco farm just like this one.  He went on to explain that Jefferson wrote in his journal that he had some profitable years and some lean years in selling his crops.  He bragged that whenever he had a lean year, he would easily recover his business losses by simply selling off one or two of his female slaves at a handsome profit.  We all just stood there, silent.

The field hand finally took us to the slave house, where slaves slept.  It seemed like a nice enough little cottage, until we were told that it usually housed up to 15 slaves!  He explained that it was usual for overseers to lock them all in at night so they wouldn’t escape or take revenge on their masters at the big house.

Slave House

Slave House

Hearth and root storage

Hearth and root storage

Stairs to the attic

Stairs to the attic

Sexual exploitation of female slaves by overseers and masters were a common thing.  I asked him where did these atrocious occurrences usually take place since there was no privacy in the house.  He explained that it was not uncommon for these rapes to be committed in the presence of other slaves in the house, including the children.  This was the fact from the tour that I have found most disturbing.

Everything came to a close and he shared some things for us to put in perspective.  “Our forefathers, though noble, were what we call today the 1%.  If you lived back then, chances are they wouldn’t even talk to you.  The average white during the revolutionary period was illiterate, working-class, and just a step or two above a slave.  They didn’t have a voice to rise up, either.  They were too busy trying to keep their six or seven children fed.  It’s about money!” he casually declared.  “The establishment found ways to keep both whites and blacks slaves in the South, into the 1950’s.  That’s what systems like sharecropping and Company stores were all about!”  Older people in the group (who may have remembered these times) nodded in agreement.  Understanding that most Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck and enslaved by debt, the past still rings true today.

In closing he continued, “Have pride in your country and honor our forefathers for the good that they have done, but never forget the truth and the contributions made by the slaves and others who have toiled and suffered. If not for them, these men wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.  Black or white, know that you are descendants of survivors… they were some tough people!”

End of the line

End of the line

Afterwards, most of the people approached him to shake his hand in gratitude and to ask more questions.  Participating in this tour, we were broken down and built up again with a new perspective.  For reasons one may have deduced, I was no longer in the mood to attend the Meeting with a Forefather presentation and left… with my patriotism still intact, less my idealism.

Gimme Shelter

Picture 8

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.

Picture 9

Eunice in the beginning of the blizzard

Picture 7

Eunice afterwards

Picture 6Snow to the left of me

Picture 5

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’

surprised-woman

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

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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.

Stops Along the Way: Part 2

Five o’clock quickly arrived at my desk on my first night as a full-time RVer.  I left my office and walked into the dark parking lot knowing I would be home in less than 30 seconds.  No one from work knew it.  Since I land acting and print gigs on occasion, they believe my camper is to go on jobs out of town.  Half-truths go a long way.  I also made it a point for them to know that owning an RV has always been a dream of mine.  I considered letting my co-workers know of my new lifestyle, but I’ve grown less trusting with age.  My managers may feel less compelled to give me higher raises since I have fewer expenses.  My supervisor may look at me with scorn if I come in late on a snowy day. Co-workers may think I’m just plain kooky… and they would be right!  Yes, none of these things would be fair, but life isn’t fair and neither are people’s judgments and actions.  If the folks at work ever did find out (and some may already suspect), I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However, why put myself out there if I don’t have to?

As I approached close to my camper, I visually took it all in.  “This is my home!”.  Realizing this felt odd, good… and a little scary.  I got in the van and drove to my RV friendly parking spot.  Like a dog, I instinctively circled the lot twice before parking.  There were two big rig trucks settled in for the night, so I parked next to them under a light post.

I climbed into the cabin, turned on the house lights and furnace then organized my things the best I could with the limited space I had.  It didn’t take long.  I went back up to the driving area and hung the camping drapes for the night that came with the van.   They expand along the front windows and windshield for insulation and privacy.  The down side to using these is that it becomes obvious to people that you are camping.  However, it’s not a concern in this particular parking space.  I sat on my couch bed and opened up my laptop to find there was no wifi (this retailer’s only flaw).  At that point, I was ready to retire for the evening.  I put on my jammies (with a thermal undershirt), made my bed, and quickly fell asleep.  The weather was mild and I rested soundly. My first night was anti-climactic… that’s a good thing.

I woke up early in the morning, headed to the gym for a workout and hot shower, and arrived at work without skipping a beat.  “I can do this.”, I thought to myself as I got settled at my desk.  My day went on, as usual.

I’m now well into my second month as a full-time RVer and going strong.  I’m all settled in and have my new place they way I want it.  My storage unit has been emptied.  Everything in it has been sold, given to charity, or put to use.  This means that all of my worldly possessions are in my camper!  I’d also like to point out that I made sure to have an alarm system with a kill switch installed.  I’ve finished “decorating”, mainly for my two most important concerns: warmth and privacy/safety.  The first thing I did before spending my first night was put up insulation curtains between the cabin and the cockpit.  This serves several important purposes: 1. It keeps my living space private while I’m driving or away from my vehicle.  I’ve had curious co-workers jokingly admit that they’ve tried to look into the back of my van during their cigarette break… Good luck with that!  2. It keeps light from escaping the outside of the curtain, leaving the front of the van dark for oncoming traffic and passersby, thus, allowing for stealthy camping. 3. Eliminates the need to hang conspicuous camping drapes when I’m boondocking.  4. It keeps the heat in and the cold out!

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Insulation curtain separating the two areas

The next important thing was insulating my house windows and roof vent.  I looked into different options like getting special plastic films or Styrofoam, but opted to get creative with what I already had.  I had four 2’x2’ purple acoustic panels that I used for home recording just taking up space in my cabin.   Using fabric scissors, I cut them to fit each window and entirely lined their backs with black Gorilla tape to make the foam impervious to wind and light (always think stealth!).  I then snapped them in place, over the windows using 3M Picture Hangers.  I had to use Gorilla Glue to keep the hangers on the plastic window frames because the hanger’s adhesive was not strong enough to hold on this surface long term.  Tip: do all of this during the day when the surface temperature is highest for the glue to work best.  I did the same with a grey 1’x1’ foam panel (minus the Gorilla Glue) for the roof vent.

In all, my insulation project was a success!  My cabin is toasty and just as importantly, retains more heat.  This was just in time for our first snowfall, which wasn’t much.  I managed to stay every bit as warm as when I lived in a land home.

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Window above my sleeping area

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Windows by the galley

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The house lights are ON inside!

A note about catalytic heaters:  I’ve read on several blogs, boards, and videos that they are a must for winter RVing.  It’s mainly because they use propane more efficiently than the forced air heat from RV furnaces by using radiant heat.  Fearing a nasty winter, I bought one from Amazon for $250 and had it installed by a technician.  However, I ended up having it uninstalled and returned for a refund in a week!  First off, because of the size and layout of my camper, there was no graceful place to mount it without it being a fire hazard.  I had to have it stand freely with legs on top of my stove.  Secondly, because of its limited location, the radiant heat could only radiate in certain places, leaving the floor and corners cold… and since you have to leave a crack in your window (to avoid asphyxiation) you are left being even colder!  I ended up just using my furnace heat most of the time.   

Bottom line: It was not worth it for me.   I’d also like to point out that you wouldn’t save much money using these heaters in a class B RV.  Since the living space is tiny, it wouldn’t make much difference cost wise.  I only spend $15 a week on propane for my furnace.  How much more could I possibly save using this thing… maybe $2 a pop?  Catalytic heaters are only worth it with larger RVs, where you could see a big difference in your budget and have more location options for mounting.  I only wish that I were clever enough to do this math before I spent money on the purchase, shipping, installation, de-installation, and restocking fee… You live and you learn!

Within my first week, I carved out a comfortable routine that’s working out well for me.  I get up around 5:30AM and head to the gym to work out, shower, and use the sauna.  I then head off to work, which is conveniently right around the corner.  After work, I drive to the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and use their wifi until they close.  I used to go inside to sit at a table, but I’ve found it’s easier on my money and waistline to just stay in their parking lot.   Afterwards, I head to my retail campsite for the night.  I usually work on random projects, “socialize” on Facebook, and watch a couple of my favorite shows on my laptop.  When I’m in the mood, I’ll listen to music.  There’s nothing sweeter than relaxing to some good classic rock in a camper… something about it just feels so right!  I’m usually out cold by midnight.

This changes up a bit on the weekends.  Saturday is my day of rest, no gym.  I get my propane tank filled for the week.   Most of the time, I enjoy something leisurely like going out to a buffet lunch and or see a film at the theater.   On Saturday night, I find myself usually venturing to boondock on the streets of Hartford’s West End.  I would camp in neighboring West Hartford, where I grew up, but they enforce a strict street parking ban after 2 AM.  I have one favorite spot in Hartford that I’ve been going to each week because it’s quite and safe with available wifi.  Sundays, I usually hit the gym again. My laundry gets done every two weeks by the wash, dry, fold service at my favorite 24 hour Laundromat.  As a single person, it’s only a few dollars more than doing the laundry myself.   They also have a strong wifi signal which I help myself to throughout the day as I wait for my clothes.  Sunday evening, I camp at a relative’s home to charge my house battery for the week, since I do not yet have a generator.

Since I’ve become a gypsy, I’ve noticed there have been little adjustments in my patterns of thinking.  For instance, when I’m about to leave somewhere (usually work) I no longer say, “I’m going home.” Instead, I find myself thinking along the lines of, “I’m going to set up camp…”.    My third day in, I had to return some beauty products to Target.  While I was in the customer service line, I realized I forgot an item.  I felt a rush of frustration with my forgetfulness and resigned to the situation, thinking to myself, “I’ll bring it back some other time, after I go home.”  Then I remembered home was in the parking lot!  All of my items were returned that very night in ten minutes flat!

I have to say that so far, I’m very happy with my lifestyle… and with the money I’m starting to save.   I’ve also noticed within me, a stronger feeling of independence and self-sufficiency.  Of course, living this way is not without it’s challenges.  I’ve blown fuses, been late to work due to dead batteries and endured a late night bathroom emergency or two (I’m dry camping, remember?) which was all due to my own occasional carelessness.  Of course, there will be challenges ahead that will be out of my control.  By the way, be sure to get your AAA RV coverage or Good Sam membership, kiddies!

To avoid trouble, I always have to be aware of things.  I have to be aware of the amount of power I’m using in order for my rig to remain self-sufficient and running. I have to be aware of my surroundings to remain safe.  I have to be aware of my schedule to get important things done regularly, such as keeping my house batteries charged (it powers everything in my home), keeping my propane tank filled (I don’t want to risk running out of heat in the middle of the freezing night when fueling stations are closed!) and keeping a sufficient amount of gas in the tank that will last me until next payday.  Being a gypsy is an adventurous, leisurely, fun way of life, but I would not recommend it for the mentally or physically lazy!  I was a little of both before the day I moved into my camper.

The simplicity of my life is starting to grant me a certain feeling of peace.  This past Saturday, I parked in the West End of Hartford, as I usually do.  It’s mainly an upper middle class /upper class enclave with beautiful stately Victorian homes belonging to a very diverse mix of people; artists, businessmen, educators, social activists and the like.  Since I was a very young woman, I dreamed of one day living in one of these lovely, solidly built homes and becoming part of their vibrant, socially active community.   I’d often wish that I had a half million or so to plunk down to buy my way into that life.  Now there I was, ironically, driving down these roads looking for a place to camp for the night, leading a life that is completely different.  As I drove past these proud dwellings, beautifully decorated with Christmas lights, a quiet voice within me rose up, “Is the dream dead?” to which I replied, “No, it simply is no longer my dream.”  For the first time in my life, I feel free.

Side note: I heard this song on the classic rock station one night when I was driving.  I think I may have a new theme song!