Saturday, August 27, 2016

My life is AWESOME -- Day 304

"The rarest treasure in life is a true friend." ~ Sensei of Truth

When I was a dorky teenager trying to figure out how the world worked, I met another dorkier teenager that was equally lost. It was a strange time in both of our lives, being the sons of Bible school students, trying to learn about life and girls and sports and balance. Mostly sports and girls. Screw balance when you're fifteen, you know?

Over the years, my friend and I got into all kinds of situations, our parents would probably call "trouble" but when measured against other teenagers from the same era, I seriously question the comparison. (Like the time we VERY SNEAKILY watched "White Men Can't Jump" -- a rated "R" movie, sure to corrupt us to the core!) I won't even mention the fact that this was the summer after we graduated high school, because that would make us sound even less controversial.

Through the years, our friendship has grown and deepened. In the late 90's and early 2000's we worked together at a couple of different places. The most famous was probably Planet Hollywood in Dallas. The stories and adventures continued, even through marriages and kids. Spanning three decades and multiple cross-country moves, we always managed to keep in touch.

Now that we're living in the RV, the idea to visit friends that have moved away is always in the conversation, if the logistics would only cooperate. Sometimes the planets do align, and that happened last week! My friend lives a scant 12-hour drive north of where we're staying for the summer. The timing worked out and the reunion was nothing less than epic.

In celebration, and in line with our history of doing stupid things at the encouragement of one another, we decided to tackle the insurmountable Redwoods River Resort Giant Redwood Ice Cream Challenge.

I have personally built two of these ridiculous monstrosities, and watched 10 people fail at finishing during my time here. Whatever fantasies I may have entertained when first hearing about it were destroyed by watching other "more worthy" contestants get humbled by this mountain of sweets and dairy.

Until my friend came.

Let me be clear: I am an adult. I am a grown man. I have a wife and two children. I have a job and I use that money to pay bills.

"Dude," says my friend, "we should totally do this!"
"Dude," says adult me, "we TOTALLY SHOULD!"

Donning our server shirts from Planet Hollwood, circa 1999, we entered into the contest. We had plans and strategies that we had worked out over the course of the entire preceding day. We had read articles about food contests, and took notes. We weren't just going to beat the challenge, we were going to beat the challenge TOGETHER!

And then they built the sundae.
The distressed look on this child is for my health and safety

The judge (who also happened to be my boss) read us the rules, had us sign the disclaimers, and then set the clock for 45 minutes.
This is the last picture I took

The atmosphere of the gathering crowd was a mixture of excitement and disbelief. The tension was palpable as we prepared for this adventure of a lifetime. And then the the judge said, "Go!"

All strategies and plans flew out the window. I started shoveling this frozen mess into my mouth as quickly as possible. I was making a HUGE mess, with sundae all over my face, in my beard, on my shirt, dripping to the ground. I furiously scooped and swallowed until the warnings of a brain freeze started, and then I remembered the sage tip from Randy Santel at drink warm water. Refreshed, and saved from a pain worse than death, I plunged back into the morass.  I ate, and ate, and ate.

And ate...

and ATE.

I swear they used some magical portal bowl or somesuch, because I had steadily eaten more than I thought I could and barely made a noticeable dent in the damn lake of frozen dessert in front of me. I knew that I had to hurry because we only had a limited time. Glancing at the clock revealed: I had been eating for 7 minutes.

I thought I was going to die.

My friend was not doing much better. The frantic spoonfuls had been reduced to more thoughtful scooping, trying to dig out the frozen bricks that were once brownies, or candy bars. What once passed as ice cream now looked like a pool of Pepto Bismol past its prime. There was enough ice cream in my beard to make a nice sundae for a small child. And we still had more than 37 minutes left.

The mood of the crowd had shifted from morbid curiosity and excitement, to disappointment bordering on disgust. Parents were whispering explanations to their children: the cautionary tale of the overzealous old guys whose eyes were much bigger than their stomachs. Random strangers were taking pictures to immortalize this gross display of hubris and folly.

"Dude, this isn't going to work," my friend confessed.
"How much longer do you want to keep up the facade?" I asked.

We suffered through another 15 minutes of petulant toying with the spoons before finally declaring the challenge to be over. We rose from the table, the still-full bowls mocking my bleeding tongue. A collective groan from the crowd did nothing to boost our injured egos. Limping home, I swore I'd never want to eat ice cream ever again. Or at least not for a couple of days.

My friend and I now have another story to add to the growing library of Remember That One Time. And I love him deeply for it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

I am Home -- Day 296

Many people have written amazing things about the concept of home. I have discovered a deeper truth to that feeling that has nothing to do with a physical place. Often, we associate home with a location -- "going home" -- but for me, home is more of a feeling, a certain level of familiarity and comfort. Living in an RV, I thought, was going to be awesome, because I was going to be "home" wherever we were parked. But there is a deeper feeling that goes beyond being comfortable with the place where I'm going to sleep.

We've been on the road now for almost 10 months, and during that time, we have modified our space and our needs to make the situation "survivable" but I think we fell short of really "livable" in the terms of creature comforts. Finally staying in one place long enough to really get the feel of "living" in the RV has shown us that while we may still only have 250 sq ft of living space, it can really be fun and comfortable.

Here are some tips that I have gleaned over the last 10 months for making your space more comfortable:

  • An outdoor rug -- We have an 8' x 10' rug that really defines the space right outside our rig as our personal space. I love that I can walk barefoot on it, without worrying about rocks, or thorns. I would list this as a "must have" item for RVing.
  • French press coffee -- If you love coffee, or only like good coffee, I recommend getting a French press. Drip coffee is fine, if that's what you like, but when you really want to feel like someone loves you and that all is right with the world, you should get a French press. Plus, it takes up less counter space than an espresso machine.
  • Get a good mattress topper -- I recommend memory foam of at least four inches in thickness. You spend a lot of time asleep in your bed, you should make that as enjoyable as possible. RV beds are designed with the occasional user in mind. People are willing to put up with a poor sleeping experience when they know they get to go "home" to their bed after camping. This is your home bed, act accordingly. 
  • Put a TV outside -- Most people don't watch TV while they are camping for the weekend. Some people will go for a week-long vacation, and not turn on the TV. I actually don't even really watch much broadcast television, but I do love a movie now and then, and playing video games. Putting a TV outside allows you to enjoy the outdoors, as well as building something awesome in Minecraft.
  • Portable speaker (Bluetooth is a bonus) -- I have two different sizes of speakers that I use outside. One that I carry in my disc golf bag (because my life needs a soundtrack) and one that is larger that we plug the outside TV into. Nobody likes watching a movie with a crappy sound system!
  • Ice Maker -- This is the newest addition to the wellness program. An RV refrigerator is usually pretty small, ours is 6.3 cu ft. Which means I can put a jug of milk OR a jug of orange juice in it, but not BOTH. We've gotten really creative with reusable plastic bottles, repackaging things to get them to fit, but there is no room in the freezer for food AND ice. Most people that are camping for the weekend just buy a 10lb bag and put it in the cooler. You only need a couple of days worth, right? Well, we live here and need ice all day, every day. Enter the ice maker! Looks like a bread machine and produces 1lb of ice every hour. All I'm missing is the umbrellas for the drinks ...
  • Family -- This sounds like a no-brainer, like who goes off on a trip and forgets their family? But this week my very best friend in the whole world came to visit me. You forget how good it can feel to be around someone that loves you and accepts you and KNOWS you. Good times.
When we started this adventure, I was asked what the end goal was. Honestly, I didn't really have one. I was thinking that we would spend at least a year on the road and see where that takes us. Now that we are closing in on the end of the first year, I'm realizing that I haven't even scratched the surface of this whole thing. I feel like I'm actually doing a lot of growing up, and learning about myself. One of the things that I'm learning is that it is pretty nice to pamper yourself in some small but significant ways.

And now I feel more like I'm at home than ever.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I'm still learning -- Day 281

For those of you that look forward to these posts, I thank you and I'm sorry it's been a while. Sometimes writing helps to understand where I'm at and sometimes it helps to bring closure to certain situations as post-processing catharsis, once I understand the lesson. Sometimes I just update on our travel adventure, just as an open letter to everyone that knows me to keep you posted as to what's going on with the Traveling Jacksons. This past month has been so full of so many things that I haven't had the time, patience, wisdom, or opportunity to process them all and then put some words down. I'm still in the middle of something, but I wanted to clear some headspace, so here I am.

July was a super busy month here at the campground, the peak of the summer and lots of activities going on. We celebrated Zoe's birthday with a week-long celebration of daily gifts and a big movie night party in the clubhouse with all the workampers. Three of the other people in our group had birthdays that weekend (no joke, June 29, 30, and July 3rd!) so it was a nice celebration that everyone got to participate in and feel celebrated. Since it was also the 4th of July weekend, there were lots of interesting events and games to keep Zoe occupied, and it was really awesome. Her highlight was the "canoe races" in the resort pool, where they put kids in inflatable rafts without paddles and they raced the length of the pool. I don't think the boy she was up against was expecting the RAW POWER of Zoe in a pool. Y'all, she's a water-sign and fully embraces that.

We also have had more opportunities to make some repairs to Fezzik. He's old, but he's tough. Just needs someone with the knowledge to get the parts that are needed and then put them in correctly. I apparently have to become that guy! The nice thing about the RV community is that a lot of the folks are knowledgeable and helpful, so for a newbie like me, all it takes is the willingness to ask for help. And while I am stubborn, I can still recognize when I'm out of my depth. I have the DIY motivation, but lack the skills. Because Fezzik is an elder statesman in the community, we have suffered and made adjustments as things broke, finding workarounds and looking forward to the day when we have the funds, tools, parts, and expertise to repair what is needed. July was that time!

The first thing that we accomplished was the oven. Most RVers don't even use their oven (because most people camp in warm areas, or for short periods of time, and when is the last time you associated a cake with a campfire?) Ours was "working," but had no numbers on the knob; there was no way to determine the temperature of the oven, which I'm told is important for baking. (I imagine my sister, who is a professionally trained pastry chef, rolling her eyes SO HARD right now.) The fix was simple, just an after-market oven thermometer placed on the baking rack, and a sharpie to mark the points, once the oven reaches temperature. But, when you don't have income, the way you spend money is different -- what you have is all you have until there is more. So if you CAN live without an oven, you figure it out. This restoration added a little bit more of a feeling of home to our mobile lifestyle.

I celebrated with twice baked potatoes

I also baked Zoe's birthday cake, which turned out a bit ... lopsided. Pro tip: Make sure your RV is level if you plan on doing any cake baking.

Not sure if you can tell, but the left side is significantly lower

The next big project was trying to fix the leaky toilet. I wrote an entire post about that (mis)adventure! I did get most everything replaced, and stopped all of the leaking. The outside hose is now new, and there are ZERO leaks in our water system (cue the sound of the crowd cheering!) However, the rear flange bolt (that holds the toilet to the floor) has malfunctioned and I now have a rocking-horse style toilet. Not fun, if you don't know how to use it. Also, the rocking breaks the odor seal, so periodically you have to purge the inside of the rig from the poop air. But we have running water like the civilized folks!

The long list of other things that still need repairing include: the hot water heater, the furnace, the handle to the fridge, and one of the outside storage doors. I have the parts for the handle, so that might happen pretty soon (if I can remember where I put it.) The rest will have to wait until they become "necessary" because we are so adaptable that we just go without at times.  August will begin the "road readiness preparation" as we start thinking about our next stop.

July was an eventful month! There was some workplace drama that I'm not going to get into, mostly because I'm not proud of the way that I handled it. Suffice it to say that I forgot who I am, and allowed that to affect my workplace relationships. We have sorted it all out, and things are back to the status quo. I'm still awesome, and that's all that really matters. Now that we're on the backside of this visit, it's time to stop worrying about what has happened here, and start thinking about where we're going next.