"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Observations and Snapshots

Most people enjoy watching other people.  Not in a lecherous or voyeuristic manner but just observationally.   Have you ever sat on a mall or park bench and just watched people?  Sure, we can cast petty judgment on bare midriffs, blue hair and multiple piercings but I'm talking about watching, with great curiosity, behaviors and mannerisms.  We've all seen TV shows and movies where urban dwellers use their stoops as a window to the world.  I was contemplating the vagaries of human nature this morning, oops, I mean watching a couple have an argument from my window when I realized again how unique it is to live in the microcosm that is RV life.  This post is my sharing with you the view from my "stoop."

Yesterday we switched RV spots because our dogs hate cats.  There is a cat that lives behind our previous spot and every evening its owner lets it out to wander freely, very much against park rules.  Thinking it an accidental escapee, we returned the cat several times early on.  Then we actually saw the owner let it out on purpose.  Keep in mind my neurotic, prey-driven, hunting dog absolutely goes BANANAS when he sees a cat.  And this cat clearly is not afraid of barking, frothing, hysterical dogs as it perches itself on my picnic table night after night, all the while calmly watching my dog work himself into a coronary.  Several nights ago Shakespeare nearly went through our screen, which now needs replacing.  We needed to pay for another month yesterday so Donald explained our situation to the management and they agreed to let us move.  My point is this:  the owner can hear our dogs freaking out because she has talked to us about it; she's aware of the situation but why is she unwilling to obey the rules?  I'm dead certain I would get a million complaints if I let my dogs wander around the park, sitting on picnic tables and taunting other animals.  I'm curious about what makes her tick.  She clearly likes rules because we watched her use sidewalk chalk to write 5 MPH in huge letters on the road in front of her RV.  Maybe she just likes to pick and choose which rules to follow.  By the way, she also, along with several other long term residents, waters her own chunk of grass even though there is an in-ground sprinkler system.  Why do they do this?

There is an Italian American stay-at-home dad who literally walks his two year old son every afternoon.  Seriously.  On a leash/harness system.  While I can see the benefit of a harness at a crowded carnival, zoo, or shopping mall I have to wonder if it is really necessary in a quiet RV park.  You should see Shakespeare and Holly watch this bi-ped on a leash.  They really look confused, as if they know that something is familiar but yet Not Quite Right.  Again, I'm curious.  I've met him and he seems like a fairly sweet, quiet boy.  Is he secretly a demon child, prone to climbing every RV ladder in sight?  Is he just a Terrible Two?

In my last post I mentioned Bob, the helicopter pilot who saved us from serious expense with our pickup.  He didn't have to help us; he could have thought to himself, "If they don't know when their engine sounds bad then it's their own dang fault when it implodes!"  It was a true kindness on his part and we are grateful.  When we brought the new/used truck home we had several hours of men wandering over to check it out and give their approval.  Guys we had not met yet wanted to see "the new rig."  This is a small piece of common ground that brings a trailerhood together.

Another RV snapshot is the mid-fifties couple who go for a walk every evening just before sunset.  She pushes him in his wheelchair.  Really, it is very touching.  Why is he in a wheelchair?  Not knowing the answer we assumed it was a long term situation and then, two nights ago, we saw him slowly perambulating on his own.  It took us a second to recognize him without the chair.  Fighting the lump in my throat, I stepped outside to watch a little longer, making sure he was okay.

I love to watch the young, single guy who lives in front of us and down a few spaces and I don't mean that statement the way it sounds.  He owns an older Jaguar that he keeps under cover on all but the nicest days but never drives it.  Why?  What amuses me most is how he does his laundry.  He piles his basket on the front of a skate board and skates it to the laundry room.  How ingenious is that?  I've considered asking Thomas to give it a try but really prefer to not have my unmentionables scattered to the four winds.

Then there is the couple who have a beautiful motorhome with a 10 inch hole drilled in the side so their cat can slide down a plastic tube into an elaborate, multi-storied, outdoor cage.  I truly appreciate them caging their cat but also think they must have no interest in ever selling their RV because who would buy it with a 10 inch hole?  It tells me, without ever having spoken to them, that they are big time cat lovers who spare no expense in their cat's happiness.  I may not agree with the extent of their devotion but I can admire their commitment all the same.

There is another older couple who go to the pool nearly every evening.  I watch them out my kitchen window as I prepare supper.  She is a tiny, glamourous looking older woman who saunters to the pool looking as if she is going to an elegant, poolside cocktail party, complete with Jackie O sunglasses.  He carries his and hers swimming noodles.  Does she get in the water looking like that?  Does she fix herself up like that every morning?  I only hope I look that good when I'm her age.

I watched a family in another section of the park while I was walking Shakespeare one night.  What looked like half a dozen (but was probably only 3-4) very small children swarmed out of a mini van toward a beat up, ancient and rather small motorhome.  A weary looking young mother, who reminded me of the old woman in the shoe, hoisted a baby higher on her hip as a Great Dane named Daisy bounded from the car up to the door of the RV.  How on earth do they all fit in an RV, especially one that has no slides?  Watching them made me exceedingly grateful for our five slide, 40 foot RV in which my children have their own bedroom/bathroom.  I wonder what their story is.

I'll cap off the observations and snapshots by an anecdote about a man who works here in the park.  Apparently he used to live here in an RV but moved into a house some time ago.  He works part time but even when he isn't working he still spends time here.  I've seen him frequently at the pool with a handful of grandkids.  Donald has had several lengthy conversations with him and sums it up like this:  the man has found community here and wherever folk find community they are loath to lose it because as humans, we go where we find a niche.

This is, for now, our fascinating community.  What I really wonder is, do they wonder about me?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"We none of us want to be in calm waters all our lives."  Penned by that ingenious author of brilliant dialogue, Jane Austen.

Even if I did want to be in calm waters all my life, it just isn't going to happen.  Since my previous wine and roses post we have had to get a new truck.  One of our neighbors was a helicopter pilot in the National Guard for 36 years.  Those guys get paid the big bucks to listen for things that "don't sound right."  Which were his exact words to Donald last week with regard to the start up sound of our diesel truck.  Donald and I pretty much stared blankly at each other because we sure couldn't hear anything.  Since it is our only vehicle and must pull our house when required, Donald decided to take it to a professional.  The professional said some gibberish about two of eight valves completely not working as well as head gaskets being blown.  His prescription was a princely sum of $5,000.  After swallowing hard, several times, we realized there is no way we have that kind of money.  Remember, we just spent $4,000 fixing the same truck in April.  Since we had already discussed trading in for a truck with a better engine we decided the time was right.

As in, right now.

Donald spent 12 hours last Thursday truck hunting, finally returning home, exhausted, with his kill at nearly 10 pm.  He found a dealer willing to give us half what the old truck ought to have been worth and in trade, we bought a 2002 Dodge 3500 dually with a Cummins engine.  It's exactly what my step dad recommends and he knows, being a rancher who hauls stuff as well as an amazing mechanic.  It's not terribly pretty and the back seat is not really large enough for my long-legged and still growing boys.  Not to mention packing in two dogs.  However, the engine and transmission are better, it has less miles than our old truck and the tires are brand new.  Major plusses, all.

This week we get a loaner car from the dealer because they are installing our fifth wheel hitch and trailer braking system.  I forgot how small cars are after riding around in a Ford King Ranch F250 for the last year!  It's a sporty, cute, little Kia something or other and I feel minuscule in it!  My country girl self can't wait to get back into her big, noisy diesel.  It certainly isn't a "green" vehicle but I love it!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Biggest News Yet!

I've been mentally formulating this blog for several weeks now but the need to keep you abreast of Twist Family Developments has activated me.  I like to process my thoughts by internally mulling them about awhile, sort of like adding separate ingredients into a pot until they solidify into something worthy of sharing.  Hopefully ending up with a souffle.  Or a cocktail.  Or, as Minnesotans like to say, a hotdish.  Whatever the end result is called, I'm glad I started mulling several weeks ago because recent developments seem to be the last ingredients needed to complete the recipe.

Moving back into the RV has brought more peace and quality family time than our three months in the perfect house.  Those three months were some of the most stressful months of our lives.  So stressful that, in shocking honesty, I came quite close to leaving my husband.  So stressful that the boys and I drove, spur of the moment, to seek sanctuary with friends, unsure if we would return.  His PTSD was getting the better of him and living with his PTSD nearly got the better of me.  Coupled with the stress of no job, very little money, functioning as a single mom and no direction in life made a nearly disastrous recipe.  Fortunately, I am not the Master Baker of my own life.

Peace returned when, one by one, each of us came to terms with leaving the house.  Since being in the RV Donald has made real progress with getting out of the house more, exercising, and interacting with the boys and with me.  He is participating in life and most days seems almost "normal." He still takes regular naps but now sets his alarm to only allow 30-40 minutes.  He still gets stressed, cranky, sad and occasionally isolates himself.  And, let's face it, meds are still necessary.  The positive thing is that he has re-engaged.  He laughs, once more, with his eyes and his heart.

During our first week back in the RV I began to realize we were not looking at Donald's retirement as the gift that it really is.  We've been looking at it as a holding pattern or maybe a trampoline to What Is Next.  The American Dream is to have X dollars by retirement age with a nice home and a vacation in the queue, right?  Living in an RV on a Navy pension is not going to make us wealthy at all but we are so much happier and more peaceful.  A couple of Tuesdays ago, at the small, mid-week service we like to attend, Donald and I, individually, had the strong impression that a job was not the most important thing.  He also felt he needed to spend more time with the boys and I had an overwhelming thought that he needed to contact George Fox University, a Quaker-turned-liberal arts university/seminary about an hour from Salem.  As we were leaving the service our rector mentioned that he had been praying for us and was certain that our being in Salem had more to do with how we receive a gift, rather than what the gift actually is.  Rather cryptic but he's a professional Man of God.  It's what they do!  For me, his words added to and confirmed what I had already been mulling regarding Donald's retirement being a gift.

Later that week Donald chatted with several people at George Fox about the psychology doctoral program but then ruled it out as too intensive.  I still couldn't shake George Fox out my mind and a week ago Monday I woke up with it being superimposed in capital letters on my brain.  While Donald dealt with a sewer tank issue I looked up the doctor of ministry program and got incredibly excited even though he had missed all the deadlines by more than a month.  I sat on my steps and prayed, "God, if you want Don in school, let a spot be open."  Donald called the school at nine and was told that at close of business Friday there were no spots available but that someone had just called to drop out of the program!  This is the second time in our life this very thing has happened, at the eleventh hour no less!  For some unknown reason we've been packing around an official transcript from seminary for ten years and were able to send it in with his application.  Even better, Donald was told that his GI Bill acceptance letter (which will pay for school and give us a housing allowance) would take seventeen days.  Oh goodie, waiting on the VA again!  The seventeen day letter was in our mail box in four days.  He had a lengthy interview with the director yesterday and was accepted into the doctor of ministry (DMin) program where he will spend the next three years studying with eleven other people and concentrating on Leadership and Spiritual Formation.  The really good news?  The program is mostly online and only requires 10 days on campus each semester, meaning we are free to be snowbirds in Arizona this winter!  We celebrated his acceptance last night with chinese food and Baskin Robbins.

Best of all is acknowledging that God has given us the gift of a retirement to enjoy time together.  He brought us to Salem and has kept us here despite our troubled selves.  We are still not sure how moving into and out of the house factors in any of this but we know that if Donald had called any sooner about the DMin he would have been told there were no spots available.  If he had taken a job it would have diminished God's gift of time.  In a couple of weeks school will be keeping all four of us busy but at least Donald doesn't have to juggle a job.  Living in an RV for an unspecified amount of time is not what we pictured for our life but it brings the gift of travel and the gift of not being geographically tethered to one place.  We finally understand why we are in Salem.  Remember that the word means peace?  Moving back into the RV brought us long awaited peace and God showing us that Donald is meant to be in school confirms that we really are meant to be in Salem, a Place of Peace.

Thanks to all of you who pray for us diligently.  Your prayers have held us together these past few months and your impact in our lives is profound.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summertime and the Livin' is Easy

Yesterday the Twist family officially declared summer break and ordered the younger half to do nothing but read comic books, go swimming and watch cartoons.  Lest you think the older half has lost its ever loving mind, which is a distinct possibility after the last three months worth of stress, you must keep in mind several things.  First of all, as a homeschooling/roadschooling family we do school year round.  We even had school on Christmas Eve eve; according to the boys this was positively Hitlerian.  We do year round school for several reasons, the foremost being that if boys are kept busy and on some type schedule they tend to get in less trouble!  #2 makes boredom sound like child abuse and we've discovered that if we let him get bored then we probably deserve whatever he gets himself into!

Side note:  seconds after I put the period on the preceding sentence Donald called me to look in the bed of the pickup.  What looks like a huge pile of dog vomit with a homemade sword sticking out of it turns out be a collected mountain of tree sap.  Take a guess who put it there and who will be cleaning it out!  Welcome to my world!

The second reason we do year round school is that it allows us to take a day or week off when we it is convenient for us.  We are not at the mercy of a school calendar which is a nice benefit.  A third reason is that it feeds my need to play school!  I used to "teach" my sister in our bedroom, went off to college to get a license to do it legally and now I get to play school with my sons.  Love it!

We have never declared an official summer break in our two and a half years of homeschooling.  Generally we just took leave with Donald whenever the Navy let him get away.  Yesterday the boys probably spent about four hours watching cartoons, two hours swimming, several hours of eating, two hours at VBS with friends, and then, coming home at nine decided to turn the television on once more to watch Supernanny and the Food Network.  We generally don't turn the tv on every day and they each get two hours of combined computer/Wii time every week.  We never even bother with cable in a sticks and bricks but it comes with our RV site here.  So you can see how dissipated they become when left to their own judgement.  #1 had the good sense to cry uncle and put himself to bed at ten but #2 would have kept going, falling asleep on the couch if we let him.  I was the responsible adult and stayed up until 11 at which time I said enough is enough.  Even #2 admitted to being tired and didn't even read in bed, something they do every night in their plea to stay up later.  How can I turn down reading in bed?

I really thought they would sleep in this morning.  Au contraire!  They popped out of bed at 7:00 in a quest for more cartoons!  I'm trying not to be fatalistic but I admit to horrible images of them flunking out of college because they have unbridled access to the cartoon network, sugared cereal and beer.  We may have declared summer break but we never said how long it would last!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Small Space + Foodie = Challenge

I love to cook.  I especially love to bake; it's either genetically or environmentally passed down from my mother and grandmother.  Both are great cooks and when my mom threw me a wedding shower and asked everyone to bring a recipe my grandma did one better and brought an entire recipe box with handwritten cards of all her best recipes.  Talk about an heirloom.  It is now filled with only family recipes from both sides of the family.  I also have a box of recipes collected from friends from all of our duty stations.  I have one cupboard in the RV dedicated to cookbooks.  The rest are in two boxes in storage.  With such an abundance of recipes (not to mention the Food Network online!) I rarely make the same thing twice in a six month period.

I plan my menu for a week at a time because that is the most food my 9 cubic foot refrigerator will hold.  Yes, we go to the store for milk and bananas every other day!  My planning is often influenced by what I'm reading.  Last night I finished Lunch in Paris:  A Love Story with Recipes, a fantastic story about an American who falls in love with a Frenchman.  Every thing she learned about being French she gathered around a meal and each of her chapters ends with recipes.  So guess what our family is eating this week?  Mmmm Hmmm.  French food.

Tonight we had tortillas, carne asada (thanks Jen Nauman!), corn on the cob, fresh cantaloupe, strawberries and blueberry pie with whipped cream.  I grew up with everything homemade and I believe it really is the best I can give my family.  In a house with a reasonable kitchen I can make all of this with ease.  In an RV, on a three burner stove with limited counter space, the job can make me sweat.  I threw the metal bowl and beaters in the freezer (better for whipping the cream) and made the blueberry pie last night.  The carne asada began marinating in the fridge this morning in a Ziploc because it takes up less space.  I had to clear my island, insert the sink covers to create a solid counter top and sliced all the fruit first.  Then I had to cook the corn, cut in half to fit my largest pot, and when it was done the only place to keep it warm was in the microwave.  We had to wait for the corn to finish cooking before starting the tortillas because the griddle and the pot wouldn't fit on the stove at the same time.  I have a rectangular pancake griddle that just fits over my two back burners.  I rolled out 18 tortillas, one at a time, and #2 cooked them for me.  He's becoming a great cook but it's a good thing he's small because otherwise there would be no room for the two of us!  Once the tortillas were done and keeping warm under a towel I could clear the stove and have room for a skillet to cook the meat.  Let me tell you, trying to keep everything warm until all is ready is tricky.  The whole meal took nearly two hours.  Another challenge is the fact that we have just enough dishes for the four of us so if I use something in meal preparation I have to wash it before the table can be set.  Which means uncovering my sinks when that counter space is necessary to hold prepared food.  The nice thing is that 99% of the time my three men are incredibly appreciative of my cooking efforts.  Donald just rolled himself off the couch still muttering about how good the meal was and #1 kisses me and thanks me after every supper.

#2 thinks that Food Network should do a show starring our family and how to inspire other RV'ers and folks with tiny kitchens to make great food in a small space.  I'm not so sure I would like that.  First, it would involve being in front of a lot of people and second, it probably makes the meal look a lot less appetizing when the cook is red-faced, sweaty and kicking a dog out of the way.  Third, my blueberry pie actually became a tart because when I pre-baked the crust it shrunk down in the pan.  I can spin it anyway I want to at home but I'm pretty certain the Food Network is a harder sell!  However, it's nice to know that my kid thinks I could do it!  What I love the most about cooking, no matter the size of the kitchen, is the knowledge that not only am I selfishly satisfying an experimental and creative need but I am passing down a homemade heritage and instilling a love of good food to a group of appreciative Test Tasters and Meal Wolfers Extraordinaire.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

The moving went as well as could be expected with the requisite number of bruised limbs and cardboard cut fingers.  The day was made really interesting when Shakespeare decided to flee the moving madness by taking advantage of an open door and no supervision.  Imagine seven children patrolling the neighborhood and all yelling, "Shakespeare!"  My friend Cassy drove me in ever increasing circles as I leaned out the window and yelled the same.  Having a missing dog made my attitude about moving improve drastically.  I barely thought about the move and just loaded boxes and furniture on autopilot as I tried to pray for my idiot dog who has the speed of a small dirt bike coupled with no traffic sense whatsoever and for the two boys who would miss him severely.  As we neared the end of emptying the house a neighbor across the street received a text about a missing dog named Shakespeare at the same time all seven children were yelling.  Someone several blocks up the street had nabbed him and took him to a not-so-local vet.  The story ends happily with Shakespeare prancing out to me in the waiting room with a "what-took-you-so-long" wag of his stumpy tail and a casual lick of my face.  He really makes me crazy but having him missing for several hours made me realize I cannot do without his quivering, neurotic self!

We've been in the RV for a week and everyone is acceptingly calm about our recent uprooting.  Being back in the RV makes three months of living in a home seem like a faraway dream.  Did it really happen?  Bizarrely, we rather wonder.

We actually like RV living because of its wonderful simplicity.  Easy to clean, no yard work, no bills, and very cost effective on a small budget.  Donald decided against the selling-insurance-to truckers gig because it was 100% commission based as well as paying self-employment taxes (read:  huge headache).  Being in the RV completely eliminates all the stress of having to find a job ASAP as well as the stresses of home ownership.  Bonus:  when we rebuild the savings a bit we can travel.  We still feel like we are meant to be in Salem but we are already talking about going to Arizona for the winter.  The Big Adventure, which never really ended, is back on!