I struggled with what to write this week. Scot has been ill: We think he’s allergic to Vermont and Florida, which seem to make him sick as the allergies turn into colds. And most of my time is spent with Luna, who goes in and out — mostly in — of needing my full attention, especially as unschoolers. Scot is still an employee of his business in many ways and I am still a full time mom. One without the other would mean that we couldn’t do what we do. Life without Luna would mean we wouldn’t do what we do, and we love what we do, so we do.
But it made for a busy week around here. When I finally came close to organizing what to convey about our current or next steps in tiny travel, I was sitting at a Starbucks in suburban Tampa listening to the buzz around me come and go. It was Saturday. I had written the beginnings of three different essays trying to rein in my thoughts, but my mind map wouldn’t come together, an occasional issue for mostly-non-linear thinkers: There can be many starting points. This is the case currently.
I suspect that with slower travel comes fewer “destinations” and thus a logical driving force, but in turn our ideas have room to expand and evolve and then crystallize when we spend more time in one place. I always like this part. It allows for creation, imagination and the massaging of the soul, and we have more time to talk about all of this dreaming and how to make it come to fruition. And so my brain has been aflutter and at all ends of the spectrum and axis. The map of my mind looks like a spider and I have a different idea at the end of each sticky leg.
Thankfully, Scot saved me from my indecisive create block by requesting via text more tissues and a stronger decongestant, and I was looking forward to being home. We all miss each other a lot when we’re apart. Plus, Luna and I had had some pretty heady conversations about her growing autonomy, gratitude and her/our good fortune. I had to draw some lines and create new ones together with her. Not fun or easy conversations, but good and necessary, especially when one has aspirations of growing her hair as long as Crystal Gayle’s (and is halfway there) but feels “forced” to things like brush it or her teeth voluntarily. Okay, Crystal Gayle. Here’s some Prell. Papa had it handled while I was gone not-writing, but I wanted to keep my finger on that pulse, too. My thoughts would have to incubate some more.
So I decided that would be expedited more efficiently by making my simple chocolate cake, which I did. Then Luna decorated it with sprinkles or powdered sugar. My piece had both. Everybody said thanks and continued to talk about how to help each other more. Good lovin’.
The cake was delicious, and I think it helped, because when I awakened the next morning my thoughts were on a fifth wheel, a version like the one we had visited at the RV Supershow, and it occurred to me that perhaps it would not be such a bad idea after all to upgrade sooner than later. Part of its significance is that it means we would continue to travel after California — something we couldn’t quite visual like we had during our previous travels (mostly the what will it look like part) — and that we could venture into the mountains and snow and all over Canada and Alaska or wherever, which would be easier than with this rig. An upgrade to a fifth wheel would mean an upgrade in our towing vehicle, both creating even more possibilities.
We could finally get back to a king bed, we could have a little more living space, we could include the fireplace (a handy extra heating source, not just eye candy), the kitchen would grow a little and so would some of the appliances, we could live in all four seasons while traveling and, most importantly, Scot could have his own private portable office. Any version of what we were looking at — the Montanas specifically — would measure just over three hundred square feet, keeping our space small and tidy, while giving us a little more room to grow, work and be.
As it turned out, Scot was thinking the same thing, too, and put together a Trello board (one of our many visual aids/dream weavers) as evidence. As much as we love our little travel trailer, it is already showing some wear internally. Scot sleeps on the makeshift bed/dinette (or, as Luna says, “Papa sleeps on the dining room table.”) and all of us use the dinette area for work and play, conversations and eating. The loosening cushion fabric is reflecting this. The table is also very wobbly, and all of us always are shifting whatever it is we are using respectively to make it all work and fit. A designated office space would alleviate this situation.
The bathroom and bedroom are tight quarters, although they are both just fine. But I continue to ferment things in the refrigerator, squeezing out other necessary goods in the process. Furthermore, I finally was able to make a perfect loaf of bread the other day, but it rose so much that it literally wouldn’t fit into the oven. Urrrrgh. Slightly larger equipment would help.
And it is becoming quite clear that there is nowhere in the U.S. that can avoid cold or cooler temperatures for sustained periods of time in the winter. My morning routine now includes wiping the condensation from the windows to avoid mold growth (just give me two fingers if I’ve already mentioned this), because our camper is not winterized, nor is it … summerized??? (or Sommersized), and the cold air outside and the humidity inside make them sweat. In summary, camping in this rig would be uncool in the snow, and we already know that it is ballz hot inside of it when it’s over eighty-five degrees surrounding us. Florida’s temperature variations (and those two super cold nights in Maine) have helped shape our opinions.
Nevertheless, we still adore this camper and feel that it is perfect, because it is everything we need. We don’t need more, but a little more would be nice. About one hundred square feet more to be exact.
Which brings me to another thing on my mind. We receive many comments and questions from people we know and people we don’t about tiny living and/or travel. One question that a friend asked in an email not that long ago was, “So what is it really like?” I don’t qualify “it” yet, because I don’t know if she actually meant tiny living or traveling full time. We can talk about both, but I think it leaned more toward the former, because most people can envision traveling for an extended period of time or far-off places. But most people truly cannot imagine living tiny and we actually think that they don’t believe us when we say that we love it and that it is so, so easy and freeing. (I am just full of statistical generalities right now.)
Some proof comes from conversations we have with people along the way. They shake their heads mid-explanation of our full time travels as we reveal that we sold everything and live in about two hundred square feet. Those whose heads go left to right can’t imagine parting with their things. Those whose heads go up and down get it, but are midway through the process of purging or haven’t started yet but are hopeful. These folks can hardly wait and have dreams about little-to-no energy-sucking clutter and what that means for their calendars and inner peace.
Other proof comes from something I mentioned in Travelin’ Light about stuff and space. During many walks around suburban Tampa neighborhoods, I observed most cars parked outside of all varieties of homes. At any time during those walks I could see why: Open garage doors revealed so much stuff packed in them that the respective cars won’t fit. It was like that everywhere, and is probably like that everywhere else. People have so much shit it is simply incredible and, quite possibly, overwhelming. Unless they don’t think about it, which is why they probably close the doors and keep the cars outside, so no matter.
But the stuff-filled garages and conversations of disbelief remind us of a couple of things. Firstly, we are so glad that we went through the purge process. We have bankruptcy — sweet, sweet cash-dwindling, stuff-taking, restart-pressing bankruptcy — to thank for kickstarting that. This family had a recent conversation about whether we miss anything. We named a few things in the small crate that is our storage unit in Michigan, and a few things our mothers have for Luna. Because we kept what we cherished and could truly identify what might be needed in the long run, we value what remains and look forward to having them in our possession someday in the future. I would love to hear Miles Davis on vinyl again. Luna misses her race cars and marbles and horses. Scot misses my active painting and high speed blending of soups with the Vitamix (I think). But we can name those things. There is no more, no less. It makes for easy pickins because we chose carefully and we don’t replicate.
Secondly, it is clear that a huge hangup for some people is their emotional attachment to stuff, and, in America, their ideas about big homes. A running theme that we encounter often is that there was or still is an understanding that more is everything. In other words, there is a lot of fear — a fear of not having; or a fear of being perceived as not doing (enough); or a fear that without their stuff, who are they? Generally, fear.
There also seems to continue to be an urgent need to stick closely to regular jobs and regular school. It is so ingrained in the modern psyche, despite what we know about their current situations, that it seems that many folks are too afraid to think for themselves or don’t, or that they cannot possibly imagine doing something that someone hasn’t told them to do or doing opposite of what is expected of them. It isn’t like business ownership is easy. Sometimes cash flow is a challenge; no one else gives us a paycheck every two weeks like clockwork. But we don’t have alarms either, or rules. Just guidelines driven by our values and principles. We do this all on our own, and we are free and so we can do pretty much whatever we want.
So cool is what it’s really like.
On the other hand, this question posited by my friend could have wondered how “it” is in regard to intimacy. Or, as another friend asked, “How do you and Scot … ?” “Do it?” I finished for her. “In the closet!” I responded, just like all other parents who co-sleep with their children, or whose kids still roam into their parents’ rooms in the middle of the night, interrupting all romantic possibilities in situ at least. Except we don’t have a closet (“in the closet” has been the number one answer among parent-friends when asked). However, just like most parents with kiddus interruptus, you get clever — and fast and efficient. And quiet. And careful, because the camper does rock, and I don’t mean n-roll. If you’ve ever done it in a car (and I know you have, people), tires filled with air suspended by axles aren’t exactly fixed.
Anyway, I would like to add that intimacy and tiny living have made time together with my Lover more meaningful, because it doesn’t happen that often, which is mostly a tired parent/business owner/stuff-of-life-until-further-notice thing more than it is a result of tiny living. It’s quite nice actually, especially when it’s not cold. And the camper is properly leveled.
But intimacy and tiny living include the oneness that has happened to the family as a whole. The two most common things we do together are talking and listening to music, and often it is talking about music. We listen to opera: I like to play Lakmé for Luna before bed, and Scot’s favorite aria is the “Butterfly Duet.” When Papa is working, Luna and I listen to Zach Brown Band; she likes “Chicken Fried” and “Toes.” She and Papa go anywhere between Gorillaz to ZZ Top. We all listen to jazz and any playlist that includes Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, RHCP, Chris Cornell and Queens of the Stone Age, and Raphael Saadiq.
Family intimacy includes increased listening and attention, because we are almost always together. Luna asks Scot lots about his business now and her questions are fascinating. She likes to taste any dough or batter I make, so we discuss leaveners and yeast and temperature. Her ability to read and write has increased significantly, and I believe it is because we give her the space to learn it as she see fit and in her own time, and we are always around to help. We take many family walks. The not-having of stuff and extra space has made family intimacy highest on the list of things we practice daily. So in that case living tiny is superb.
But regarding bumping in the night … well, the paneling in this rig is inexpensive and the doors wafer-thin. There is a new squeak-creak next to the main door that reminds us that Scot is leaving for his outside office, followed by another similar sound as he descends the stairs. Scot is tall; the dinette-bed is not long. Moving makes noise and makes the camper shimmy, whether I am with him or not. The toilet (still) makes a squeak-creak, too, but in a cheap, plastic-y way: Everyone knows what everyone is doing in there at any given time. And one can hear every pantry, closet or cupboard door open because of the safety travel latches, which don’t open or close quietly.
Recent storms remind us that there is a very thin roof between us and raindrops perceived the size of water balloons, as well as falling sticks. There is no way to quietly flush. All of the cheap faucet handles — both cold and warm — make a sound that I imagine might be one similar to that of a mouse on the rack. We have a tiny set of blue windchimes hanging from a window that begin to sing with the very mention of rhythmic movement, if you catch my drift. And snapping shut the safety windows wakes us up from a dead sleep. Well, not Luna, who sleeps through anything. The igniter dial snaps authoritatively to light the gas stove; the refrigerator clicks and its door squeaks slowly, “Thriller”-style; the microwave makes five long, annoying beeps when finished and there is no way to heat or cool this rig without feeling like we’re inside of a hairdryer.
But holy shit, we love it. The bumps in the night — whatever they may be — are not unlike anyone else’s home that is loved, especially for its idiosyncrasies. We are grateful to be able to travel with a portable roof over our heads and meals on the table. It is home.
One other way I think about my friend’s question is that perhaps she actually wondered if we missed having things — did I miss having things. Like vanity. And the answer is we don’t. All three of us have very small wardrobes. There are still some things I could unload, but layering helps in these surprisingly colder temps, so I discard clothes carefully. There are only three mirrors in the camper — one on each bedroom closet door and a small one in the bathroom. It is rare to get a personal full body shot of oneself in the camper, because generally something is in the way, and the other mirror is so small that one does only what is necessary. I don’t wear makeup anymore, although I wore very little most of the time before traveling. Scot keeps his beard and wears a ball cap almost always. Luna is content with whatever she has and her long almost-Crystal Gayle hair. Tiny living has created an unintentional but very welcomed mirror fast and deflection away from ego self and ego from possessions, enabling much further and necessary exploration of soul-self, so we dig — literally and figuratively.
As far as other lingering thoughts are concerned, we feel that Florida has been a turning point for us. In evaluating our exit plan, Texas is vast. And intimidating. I’ve been to Texas.
The first time I drove through Texas as an adult was during my first epic roadtrip I’m always discussing. My friend and I were headed west to east. We had just visited my grandparents in Phoenix; rocked the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelley in the Painted Desert in northeastern Arizona; hung out in Santa Fe and then got caught in a wicked storm in Carlsbad before we crossed into Texas. We stopped in El Paso for some food and I believe a night’s rest with the goal of finding Austin to stay with friends. West Texas was hot and dusty and folks looked at us like we were truly out of sorts, especially with our short hair. (Lesbianism wasn’t cool then, even assumed lesbianism, and we could tell.) We drove some more. I remember thinking, Waco is here. We found Austin. It was super hot and humid in July or whatever month it was. Thankfully, there was a pool that we could use. We were listening to a lot of Beck’s Odelay. We saw the capital building, we saw the famous bats fly from beneath the famous bridge, we walked Austin’s music-filled streets. Then we headed to New Orleans. I also remember thinking that the Texas highways were long and solitary. I don’t remember if it was before or after Austin that we saw our first cop with one of those giant hats talking to someone he had just motioned to the side of the road. It made us uneasy seeing the true image of Johnny Law. I also fail to remember if it was before or after Austin when we saw that tarantula. It was so big that we could see it from far away in the car. It sat on the broken yellow line in the middle of the road. With no traffic for miles, we actually stopped the car, got out and took a picture of it. I’m sorry to say that the picture of the Texas tarantula is somewhere in storage while we travel currently. I also think that it is quite possible that the tarantula was Johnny Law’s pet and lived under his hat. Or could wear the hat itself it was just that big.
I also believe that Johnny Law would seem less intimidating if he wore a fedora.
In any case, it is going to take a lot of effort to go from Florida to California. We plan on spending lots of time in SoCal and we’re kind of excited to get there. But as I said in the Tampa piece, we are in the midst of dharma. Therefore, there is only one thing to do: Embrace Texas. Then, after that, who knows? We may arrive in California and want to stay for a while. Or maybe we will meander the Rockies and then head to SoCal via the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Alaska is looking more enticing with a fifth wheel in mind, but that would have to wait for summer 2017 if we plan on being in California this summer. We have many connections in Canada now; it would be great to explore. It is all open wide.
Finally, in On What We Might Become, I wrote about how I was excited to learn about what I don’t know. Well, after our time in Florida, we know a lot more and we are completely open to anything that happens. Florida, in fact, has pried us open. No matter what, tiny living was probably the easiest of our decisions, even though the process of purging was excruciatingly time consuming. It also has been vital to our family’s growth and honing our values. Travel has encouraged us to continue to not give into fear; fear is a false god. In this camping/travel world, we are surrounded by travelers with many open minds. Most of them understand intimacy (I see your panties on the clothesline), most of them are cool with vanity (especially the French Canadians in the hot tub) and they all live tiny. Doing what they do, they are generally unafraid of things that go bump in the night and it’s a relief.
And so you see, there have been many things on my mind while Fermenting in Florida, but nothing that a little cake and sprinkles couldn’t resolve. I think it’s fair to say that living tiny and traveling like we do are two of the most awesome things that have happened to us and we are so excited to continue.
So, what is “it” really like? C’est tres magnifique. C‘est trop beau. It is closeness and beautiful and clunky and graceful. It is so much fun and we are grateful. And it goes well with cake, and we can’t wait for more.