Wednesday, November 9, 2016

RVing full-time with kids...pros and cons

Alrighty then, many of you who read the last post commented on how fascinating the idea of full-time RV life is...especially with kids! Actually, the "with kids" part is deemed nutty by most people but there are a few who have said to me "Wow, I wish I could do that". Or: "We're seriously considering this, I loved reading your posts about it". I figured I should share some of what we've learned along the way so far. I still feel like a newbie at all this after we have run across other families who have been doing it for YEARS. Which leads me to a pretty big announcement. We purchased a house!! Yep. In about 5 weeks no more RV for the Pfeifer family. That's ok. We're ready for the next thing. When we tried the Williamsburg area on for size via two campgrounds over a period of 6 months, we fell in love. For various reasons this area is a good fit for us. That and the shower in the camper is having some major temperature control issues, which in itself is motivation for house hunting. ;)

On to the main topic of this post. Don't you love pros and cons lists? So concise and informative! When we were researching and considering doing this I read interesting stories on many blogs. What helped the most though, were the articles that got down to the nitty gritty, gave details, real life experiences. I was frustrated not to find as many of those as I would have liked. Then again I was obsessing and probably had an unusually intense need for information. ("Input, iiiinnnnpuuut!!")

Ok here goes. Keep in mind these are only based on my personal experience.

  • It takes very little time to clean 480sf. Even with the mess that four young children and a dog can make. I can have it looking fabulous in about an hour. 
  • Forced family togetherness. When we are angry, there's nowhere to go. We are forced to work on self-control and conflict resolution. We spend much more time connected and engaged with one another. I absolutely love that.
  • Increased outdoor time. Being confined in a small space does make you want to step outside more. Normally I'm really only happy being outside in nice weather...not too hot and not too cold. I've gotten much better about it now. The kids have done SO much exploring outdoors. They capture bugs and other hapless creatures for examination (and to be completely honest a few of them met an untimely demise that way). They play in the mud, run through the trees, ride bikes, conduct "experiments", collect rocks. I could go on. That's not to say we don't spend some days watching tv and playing video games indoors. The outdoors is sort of an extension of our living space though, and that's nice.
  • Low cost. This depends on a few factors of course. Since we already had a a fifth wheel before going full-time, the trailer and truck payment were already part of our normal budget. The average campground monthly rate for us has been about $600. The utilities are partly or completely included depending on the campground. So it's cheaper in terms of monthly expenses. We've been able to put aside some funds towards moving expenses and purchases we will need for our new home.
  • Flexibility: Wherever you go, you take your house with you. So convenient! If we want to stay an extra week somewhere or try out another area...we just have to switch reservations around. Now we haven't had the amazing experience of travelling around the country as many RV families have, but still,...a portable house is a nice perk.
  • Not being tied to our "stuff". While preparing to move into the RV we purged many of our belongings. It felt great! The rest of our things are in storage, and occasionally we want or need something that is inaccessible (because it's packed in a box at the back of the storage unit) but for the most part it's not even an issue. The kids rarely ask for the toys that have been stored or donated. I had read on other blogs that this happens but was so surprised when it did. The things they begged for and treasured are not even part of their reality anymore. In fact I'm planning on sneaking over to storage and sorting through the toys again before we move into our house! Ha! Living in an RV also forces you to exercise self-control when it comes to acquiring things. There's only so much space to store and use things. If I can't use it or don't have room for it, I truly don't want it. I'm hoping to carry that mentality with me. Too much stuff adds unnecessary stress to your life. Google "stress" and "belongings" and you can pull up multiple articles on this concept.
  • A sense of accomplishment. Doing something like this just to say that you did it would not be a wise undertaking. It takes a tremendous amount of planning and effort. However, now we can say we did it! We sold our house, got rid of the majority of our belongings, and lived in an RV with four kids ages 10 and under. Go us!! Lol. I'm so glad we can look back on this and realize that with God's help we were able to do something unique and amazing as a family. I'm so thankful for it.
  • A stronger marriage. This ties in with the forced togetherness thing. In such close quarters you really can't hold a grudge, you really see each other at your best and worst, and you have very little privacy. (Ha!) I feel that Justin and I know each other better than we would have if we had spent the last 8 months living our normal lives. We've faced challenges and shared experiences that bonded us closer in a unique way. It's not something that can happen through attending a marriage seminar or trying to be a better spouse. It's just the natural result of doing this crazy thing together.
  • Meeting new people. I am a people person. I LOVE the fact that I constantly get new neighbors. Many of them are retired folk (which I thoroughly enjoy) and we've met a fair amount of families also. It's so interesting and fun to get to know new people all the time. There's already the common ground of RV living, so most people are open and friendly. Only a few grouches. ;)
  • Slower paced lifestyle. We don't have a big house and yard to take care of, we are not able to commit to as many outside activities. We spend more time being instead of doing. We have more opportunity to hang out, relax, play with the kids, and waste time on facebook. (I'm just being honest) Now I will say my days as a homeschool Mom are just as busy and chaotic. Time management is not my forte. However it still feels easier doing this life than it it did when we were in a house.
  • SPACE!! When people say "How you do it??" they are referring to the tiny space. I know. And they have a point. When I want to get to the trash can in the kitchen, I have to wait patiently for Justin to come out of the kitchen, or hand him the trash that I am holding. The kids run into each other and trip over each other. The dog is always in the dang way!!
  • Clutter. With a family of 6 in an RV there is no such thing as "a place for everything and everything in its place". Nope just not going to happen. Even when it's completely cleaned up and everything is "put away" there is still clutter. Some things have no where else to go so they sit out. Sometimes a pile builds up somewhere and it takes me awhile to clean it up because I have no idea where the items in it are going to go. For the most part I've figured out where to keep everything but there are little outliers. For instance, recently I became nostalgic and bought a box of twinkies. They will live on top of the stove until they are eaten because...nowhere to put them! By the way I'm sad to report that not only did my kids have no idea what twinkies were, but my taste buds have matured too much to enjoy them. Tragic. At least the 10 year old loves them. :)
  • Sleep issues. We've struggled with our youngest, who was 18 months old when we started this journey. I spent two weeks prior to the big move getting her used to sleeping in the camper. However, she still has been waking a few times a night. I am a believer in sleep training and have used it with all my kids. It's pretty much impossible to sleep train when the room is shared by two older children. Most nights I am up with her around midnight and am able to get her back to bed. Sometimes up again around 2am. Every morning she comes in around 5am and stays in the bed with us...because I'm too tired to fight it and also she'll often sleep longer that way. If there is another child in the bed due to illness or nighttime fears, we are squished in together. I like my space!! At least we have a king sized bed. The other thing is that sound travels easily in the small area we live in. We spend alot of time whispering if someone is asleep.
  • Privacy. Are you the kind of person who runs the water or turns on the fan or waits until your spouse has left the vicinity when you need to use the restroom? I know some of you are! I've gotten over that the longer I have been married, but as a female I still want to maintain a semblance of dignity. (Yes even after giving birth four times, a girl can draw the line somewhere!) It's really tough to do that in an RV. Lots of throat clearing and polite pretending you didn't hear a thing. ;) I also often lock the door when I'm getting dressed. The kids view the master bedroom as an additional play area, and I haven't discouraged that too much considering how much square footage we live in. There's a strong chance they will barge in while I'm dressing despite admonishments to knock.
  • Dirt. Campgrounds have lots of it. I've had to give up on keeping the outdoor toys clean. I've had to be ok with dirt being tracked inside. With trekking through mud to the car when it rained. I've had to embrace dirt! It's really not all that bad, it just takes getting used to. Not much makes it into the camper, unless you count the amount that gets onto the kids. Nothing some bubble bath and laundry detergent won't fix. We have an all-in-one washing machine in the camper...I don't think I could live without it!
  • Cooking. Cooking stinks in a tiny kitchen. That's all I have to say about it. We have a dishwasher that attaches to our sink and washes about 3/4 the amount of dishes per load that a regular dishwasher does. I don't think I could live without that either.
  • Showers. We have a tankless water heater, which is AMAZING. Except for the fact that it performs poorly with low water pressure...a common problem in campgrounds. The campground we spent the summer at had bad water pressure, so we spent the summer taking showers that alternated constantly between freezing cold and scalding hot. If you have a regular water tank, you have less temperature control issues but run out of hot water quickly. So it's a trade off. Our particular model has a tub large enough to soak in, and it could not even be filled up with a standard 10 gallon RV water heater. So the tankless heater is worth it in that regard (for some reason no temperature control issues when filling the tub, only when using the shower) and I highly recommend it if you go full time.
Well folks that is all my little brain can come up with at the moment. I'm sure a few things will come to me as soon as my head hits the pillow. If you are a full-timing family and have some to add, feel free to put in your own pros or cons in the comments section. If you've made it this far thanks for listening to my rambling. My next post will probably happen after we've moved into our new "stick and brick" (full-time term for a house) and I'm planning to continue to post entries in the future. This wasn't intended as a full-time RV blog but rather a space for me to share my thoughts and experiences from our crazy little corner of the world, wherever that happens to be. Here's a little photo album for y'all!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tha Camper Life

It's been awhile, I apologize. Things get crazy up in here. Not to mention one computer for 6 people in a technology driven age. Even in the RV man!! Yes it happens here too! Ok so I've been wanting to do a post about what life is like for us here. I know y'all are dying of curiosity. At least I was when I found out that people did this type of insanity. Then I decided we should do it be careful what you read. ;)

First off here's the RV tour I promised. I filmed it a month or two ago. We are at a different campground now with a much nicer site and loads of lovely green grass. (Cue angels singing) Anyway of course it's still the same RV and pretty much everything is set up the check it out here. 

Let me catch you up a bit since my last post didn't even elaborate on our journey up until the point at which I was writing it! We left the house at the end of February, and spent the first month in Ashland, Virginia at Americamps. What it lacked in greenery and landscaping it made up for in community. We met a bunch of other full time families there and enjoyed free waffles almost every morning. I should say, when we were not quarantined. Unfortunately we spent a good amount of time SICK. Two respiratory viruses and one (possibly two, it was hard to tell) stomach bugs made the rounds in our "tiny house" within a month. This culminated in one of the toughest weeks I've had camping anywhere at any time. We had moved to Thousand Trails Williamsburg by then, newly acquired by the company and rumored to be the most run-down facility they owned and sorely in need of updating. We found it tolerable, except for the lack of grass (hey lots of shade at least!) in our sloped campsite. (Which took us 3 hours to park in) It was this beautiful site away from the noisy pool area and really spacious. Wooded. Lovely. No sewer. Wait...

Yes, no sewer. Aforementioned stomach bug was in full force and the sewer on our "perfect" site was completely blocked up. According to long-time campground members it had had issues for a few years. While waiting for the site next to us to open up, we proceeded to fill up our black (toilet) and grey (shower, sink, etc.) tanks fairly quickly despite efforts to be conservative with water use. One symptom of the second stomach virus making its way through our family was severe abdominal pain. Poor Liam (the 4 year old) was writhing in pain throughout the night, literally every 60 minutes. The only way to relieve it, it seemed, was a warm bath. Then he would stop moaning and calm down enough to go back to sleep for another hour or so. This went on for several nights. Justin was able to drain the grey water somewhat by going very slowly. Then one afternoon when Liam was in the tub again, he had an accident. The kind of accident you have when you are 4 and experiencing severe digestive distress. It was in the tub and on him and I was sick at the time as well. After putting on my game face and doing what Moms have to do and getting him cleaned up, I grimly reached into the tub to pull the plug. Nothing happened. The contaminated water didn't budge. The grey tank was full! Justin was at work and I was hesitant to try and drain it on my own because I was sure I'd overflow the sewer and it would drain onto our neighbor's site. Soo...the I opened the bathroom vent, turned on the fan, and locked both doors. Thanked Jesus our camper had two bathrooms.

I suppose sharing that little episode might give you a negative impression of "tha camper life". It's really not that bad. Awesome actually. I'll leave all the "whys" for another post. So we spent 4 months at Thousand Trails, while the kids enjoyed the dirt, worms, woods and bugs. I did also, (in a Mom watching her kids play happily kind of way) but not quite as much. I was ready to move on. Then I heard about a place called Rockahock. Actually I had looked into it before and written it off because it had a reputation as a party place. A place where people come to go boating, listen to concerts, drink beer. Not so terrible, but not a place I'd want to live with 4 young kids. A friend then told me the manager had become a Christian and banned the drinking/partying stuff. They were even hosting a kids Bible camp the first week of August and a Christian bluegrass festival in September. The pictures online showed large, flat, grassy sites. From that point on I keenly wanted to go there. Ohh, grass! (And family friendly, that too. But grass!!!) Only we had to wait for the house to sell.

The house closed on August 1st! Anyone who has been in the situation of paying two mortgages because their house hasn't sold, or of renting out a house that cannot be sold at the time you are moving out, who has been responsible for getting it fixed up to sell, and then had to pay for repairs and maintenance far more than you expected to need to...can relate to the joy and relief we are feeling now that this albatross is free from our necks. Praise God the house is sold! We moved here to Rockahock July 26th at the end of our monthly term with Thousand Trails. We will be here until mid-October. So far it's great! They did host a Bible camp that the kids all attended right here in the campground for a week. The campground paid for all of it and it was staffed by volunteers from local churches. Not only did the kids have a great time, they took home substantial woodworking crafts (think stepstool, birdfeeder) and were fed lunch every day. The adults were even fed "grown up food". So awesome! In the summer they run a "fun zone", which is a bunch of bounce houses in various configurations set up underneath their large domed amphitheater . There is also a jumping pillow, a pool, a river to fish from, and restaurant on site well-known locally for its amazing Italian food. We love it here, so there's a strong chance we'll come back for an extended time at some point.

Before I ramble on too long let me give you a glimpse into our daily life:
6:30ish am: Arabella wakes up and I leap out of a dead sleep to get her, to prevent her crying waking up Liam, who does NOT wake up happy if it's too early.

6:30-7:30am: I cuddle with Arabella in our bed, watch cartoons, try to sneak out and make some coffee. Sometimes there is another child in there if any of the older three have come to join us in the night due to a "bad dream" or something of the like. Some parents may frown upon our leniency...but my take on it is eventually they outgrow it and I won't have cuddles like that anymore. And it's waay easier than getting up out of my cozy bed to soothe a scared child back to her bed. Nope, I just pat the pillow in the middle and roll back over to snooze. ;)

7:30am: Wake the others. Plop them on the couch to watch a movie while I get my first or second cup of coffee and a round of chocolate milks. We don't have internet strong enough to play netflix here. The only kids channels on the cable are nick and cartoon network...which tend to have shows I don't like my kids to watch. So out comes our dvd collection every morning. We are working on expanding it due to having watched every kids movie about 20 times now.

Folding Lap Desk, in Aqua8am: Chores and start school. Someone takes Joey out to his tie-out so he can go to the bathroom and then yelp intermittently until he is let back in. (Taking him for an actual walk is another chore later in the day) School consists of all the children using these great lapdesks and workbooks in the morning, various subjects. 
I go back and forth between them, helping them along and hoping that Arabella stays content. Sometimes she is not content so she is on my hip. Or I get a child who has completed one or two subjects to take a break and play with her. This is much better than last year when she was a young toddler and only wanted ME. And cried. And tried to grab the school supplies. Now she will sit at her own little desk and do "school work" with crayons and old coloring books. :) At least for a little while. Another strategy I have is putting Arabella, Liam or both of them in the master bedroom watching a preschool prep DVD. This series is great! Totally lame (Barney the purple dinosaur kind of lame) but it completely fascinates them AND effectively teaches them shapes, colors, letter recognition, etc. Win win!

12pm: Fast forward to lunch time. The morning was spent pretty much working on school and giving the kids a 30-60 minute break at which point I do dishes and throw in a load of laundry. That's the most housework I will do on a school day, and there's really not much else to do besides that. Once a week we do the "weekly" chores like wiping down surfaces, cleaning toilets, mopping, etc. The rest of the time it does not take much to keep a small space clean! If you can keep up with the clutter produced by 6 people in 480 square feet. That's just...challenging. So anyway at this time of day we eat, and Arabella goes down for a nap. The kids can't access the playroom while she is sleeping. So they either do school, a quiet activity or play outside.

12:30ish: We do some history read-alouds and complete a science lesson or project if it's science day. (two days a week) We do whatever book work did not get finished in the morning. 

1:30/2:00pm: Done with school! A chore or two and then they are free! We relax, watch tv, read, play, and wait for Arabella to wake up. When she gets up we do something fun together. Most days it's the pool (it's so freaking hot right now), sometimes it's the jumping pillow and playground, or the WISC (really cool indoor sports complex with amazing kids play zone), or a friend's house, You get the idea. I love that I don't have to stress about getting things done or leaving things undone to spend time with the kids. We just go...and be together. Sometimes I sit outside on a camping chair and watch them splash in the toddler pool, chase dragonflies, squirt each other with the hose. It's lovely. (When it's not a heat index of 117 that is. This heat wave needs to stop now.)
5:00pm: Justin's loud diesel truck rumbles up and Arabella (the 2 year old) squeals "Daddy home, Daddy home!!" Followed by the other kids running outside to greet him. (Unless one or two have been sucked into media of some type. I honestly do strictly regulate it, but we don't have a certain time of day it happens/does not happen.)

5-7pm: Usually Justin cooks unless I have a recipe planned. He's more the throw things together type and he's good at it- so long as I provide him with a type of protein to cook, and some veggies or other type of side options. When I cook, I use my instant pot much of the time. I highly recommend this handy gadget that actually does several different types of cooking! It replaces several appliances so it's perfect for RV's. Anyway, so during this time Justin or I cook, the kids run around the campsite or watch tv depending on the flow of the day.

7-10pm: This is our getting the kids to bed time. (Hangs head in shame) It needs fine tuning. Part of the reason is because of the RV. Three kids sleep in one room and the two oldest of the three have to wait until the youngest is fully asleep until we can sneak them in there. If we are on top of our game we get them down efficiently, about 30 minutes per child and they are in bed by 8:30. We do jammies, teeth, stories, cuddles. Then there's Cade. The ten year old. He hops in our bed after the other three are asleep and tries to hang out. As if he's above bedtime now. Sometimes he is offended that we do not want to spend the rest of our evening with him. Sometimes he just needs some extra coaxing or a firm tone. Once we get him moving, I read him a chapter or two while we snuggle on the couch. Then he brushes his teeth and climbs up to his bunk. I climb onto a stool and cherish the fact that he still asks for me to sing to him, stroke his head and pray for him. I don't know when he'll outgrow it but it almost makes up for the fact that I'm often doing it at around 10pm. Some nights it's better, more like 9 or 9:30.

10pm-11pm: We get ready for bed and veg out until someone passes out (usually Justin). 

See, this is sounding pretty normal isn't it? The little things like running the AC fan all night to keep a white noise on for Cade, making sure another load of laundry goes in and also a load of dishes. (small capacity)...they don't even make it into my narrative because we've adapted to this life. This feels like home. It IS home. Maybe I can do a pros and cons post for those seriously considering this lifestyle. We'll be doing this for at least another year. The current plan, unless God leads us in another direction, is to purchase some land in New Kent (conveniently located between Williamsburg and Richmond) and build a house on several acres. We will have chickens, a garden, maybe some bees, a trampoline, and either a mini-cow (yes! there are miniature cows!) or a few dairy goats. We'll aim to start building in March so that we'd be moving into the house in the early Fall of 2017.

That's a long time in this camper. So yes, it's home. I'll post some pics of our recent improvements and try to share some adventures or funny moments on my next post. I added a subscribe button so if you want to just have my random but totally awesome (maybe just sort of great...ok mildly entertaining?) posts sent to your mailbox just put in your email there. :)

If you've read this far, I'm impressed. Thank you for your interest in our life, and my rambling thoughts.
Here are a few more pics of our campground days and some adventures the past six months:
Fossil Beach York River State Park
Busch Gardens
Playing in the mud
Caught first fish
concert at Busch Gardens
The time the tree guy almost smashed 
our awning (and possibly child)
National Zoo
lots of hammock cuddles
Building a deck to avoid the mud
Picking raspberries
Beach day
Campfires several nights a week
Campground 4th of July parade
Sent Cade off to camp for the first time
Rode the ferry
Virginia Beach Aquarium
Jumping pillow!
Fun Zone!

More fun and crazy and challenges and amazing-ness to come! :)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

How it all began

Three months in. It's only starting to feel like the life we imagined it would be. On the Friday before Memorial Day we watched the kids play with friends and lounged in the hammock. We also supervised their activity on the campground road closely, due to the large influx of guests coming in for the holiday weekend. One downside to this life is that I've traded our tame cul-de-sac for a busy camp resort with massive trailers and RV's coming down the steep little "street" we are parked on. Anyhow, with the weather FINALLY getting warm actually, we're thoroughly enjoying spending entire days outdoors. Sunblock, water fights, eating on the picnic table, playing in the dirt...oh and heading to the beach because we feel like it and there's a beachfront on the James River only 20 minutes away. If I could make a list of what I love about doing this, those things would be near the top.

We started this whole thing last summer. In the Spring we had done a trip across the country in our 26' travel trailer, complete with 4 bunks in the back. At the time it was quite an upgrade from the little hybrid pop-up that we purchased initially. (We actually started camping in tents, when the older two were an infant and preschooler. I know some of you think that's crazy and some of you are like "right on"...haha some good memories there!) We had jokingly talked about moving into the travel trailer and saving money. ALSO, we discussed selling the house and getting a place with some land. Enough room to have some chickens, a garden, maybe even a couple of dairy goats. (Mainly appealing to me because milk is expensive and I think goats are cute. Never mind that we'd all have to actually like goat milk.)

Slowly, the idea of living in an RV with our four young children solidified. We Googled and discovered there are many families out there doing this. Wow, really? I prayed. I'm always anxious about big decisions, specifically about whether I'm doing God's will. This isn't because I desire to follow His plans for my/my family's life (although I do), it's because if I can get instructions from God written in stone...then anything that happens after that is on Him. Everything falls apart and we end up in financial ruin? Well- it was God's idea anyway! Right? So it's a fail safe for me that I attempt to rely on. It usually doesn't work because God is not in the habit of giving out stone-written guarantees for your future. ("Wait, didn't He already do that? In THE BIBLE?" Yes, but stay with me here.) What I've come to learn through this experience and others is that He leads us as we move forward in faith. I have to trust that He will direct our hearts and our paths and there are no guarantees of success, only of His faithfulness. When I served in full time missionary work I saw that proven time and time again...yet it's still a lesson I'm learning.
Back to our crazy idea. Over the summer we began letting on to people that we were going to do this thing. I expected much more resistance than we encountered. Even from those who had a track record of anxiety-driven well-meaning advice. No, mostly once they got over the shock, people were supportive. There have a been just a few naysayers. We've had lots of people express envy or longing to do the same thing or something similar. To break out of the ordinary and focus on the things that matter. You can do it! (In the voice of Rob Schneider)  More on that in another post. So we told people about this idea of ours and in the Fall we had a yard sale. We needed to purge some of the massive amount of "stuff" we had filled our house with in the 5 years that we had occupied it with two, then three, then four children. The yard sale was sort of a flop. Ha! Yard sales are a PAIN. Ugh. Kudos if you've had a successful one and felt you earned enough money selling your stuff to justify the effort. In the end we were better off selling larger items on Craigslist and giving away the rest. We've also got a storage unit which is filled with heirloom furniture, hand-me-down clothes, Christmas decorations, etc. keep myself from rambling here's the general timeline:
-Spring 2015: We take a road trip across the country to CA with our 4 kids and a 26' bunkhouse travel trailer. We decide to upgrade to a 5th wheel bunkhouse. It's so spacious and the trip out west was such a crazy but fun adventure that we say to ourselves "We could almost LIVE in one of these".
-Summer 2015: We decide to do just that!
-Fall 2015: Yard sale failure
-Winter 2015/16: When not educating the kids and attempting to keep house, I work on purging, sorting, and more purging. Justin helps, and takes loads to Goodwill and storage. We decide we need to fix up the house some before putting it on the market but come to the realization that it's really difficult to do so while living in it.
-February 2016: Even though our bunkhouse 5th wheel is awesome, we are reading blogs by other full time families and seeing a lot of toy-haulers. This set-up seemed much more workable for our family, given that many of them have a loft area over the garage which would be perfect for Cade (who is 10 going on 15 and needs "space") among other reasons. We found a model we fell in love with...the Heartland Cyclone. Two weeks before our official move date we drove 2 hours or so to a dealership that had a good deal on a 2013. If you are curious about the interior here is a link it's been great for us! I will post a video tour soon eventually of our own so you can see what it looks like lived in (not quite as snazzy, more "homey" if you catch my drift).
-March 26th 2016: The Pfeifers have flown the coop!!