Making headway!

“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness”
John Ruskin

Can we interest you in a pile of VCR tapes, John? True to Mr. Ruskin’s thoughts, we realized that fact the past few years, as our jobs consumed our time and our ability to enjoy the things we had accumulated over the decades. As so many people in our position have stated, purging the majority of our stuff to live our lives on the road in an RV ended up being a liberating experience. Letting go of the items we thought were so dear to us turned out to be quite a weight off of our shoulders.

With that being said, it was always our intention to keep one storage room. Not knowing how long we would be full timing, we decided to hold onto things we really did like. Also, we have envisioned that we may someday settle down south in the winter months, and have our RV kept in the northern tier of states for use in the summer. We would need to furnish our southern base, hence the need to store some things. Well, in the mad rush of moving, our one storage room filled up. We had a second small storage room that we had stored items while we fixed up the house for market. That ended up with quite a few boxes in it. At the last minute, we grabbed a THIRD storage room…a climate controlled space where we could actually sort out the stuff we had to pile in at the last moment. Well, by the time we were settled in at the campground and ready for winter, November hit with a vengeance. Our plans to get those boxes out of the small storage room had to be put on hold until the snow melted. Our fear was that we were going to be stuck until spring.

Last weekend saw heavy rain, which took care of the snow. We were fortunate enough this weekend to have decent weather, so we went after the small room.

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The two of us made multiple trips for the better part of the afternoon.

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Before the sun set, we had the small room empty and all of the boxes in a warm, accessible space. We can now tackle the job we had hoped to do in September before closing on the house. We are planning on being down to one room by April.

On another note, we have some numbers to update for November. We ended up using eight 30 lb cylinders of propane, and 1156 kilowatt hours of electricity. Pretty much the same expenditure, money wise, as our house last year. We are pretty happy with that, especially since 26 inches of snow fell on us this month, and the temperatures were often well below freezing. If we were in a different climate, those numbers would be much more favorable, but life doesn’t always allow for that. When the snow falls, make a snowman. 🙂

So, rounding out November, we have a lot to be thankful for. We were able to take Jenny to see Jim’s aunt and uncle, which was a truly wonderful day. We lost our puppy to cancer the very next week, but she had given us 10-1/2 years of pure love. The weekend before Thanksgiving, our friends Mike and Cindy stopped in for a visit with their son, Eric.

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Mike and Cindy are dear friends of ours from WMU.

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Eric is wearing his Batman shirt, as the three of them had just come from Grand Rapids Comic Con.

Following that, we were able to spend Thanksgiving with Jim’s sister and brother-in-law, along with a friend of theirs.

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The meal and the company were outstanding.

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Judy and Dale go all out on holiday decorating; even the duck decoys have scarves. 🙂 Their home is comfy and cozy.

It has indeed been a month to remember. And Mr. Ruskin would be proud of us, as we didn’t buy a single thing on Black Friday!

It’s Not The (Lack Of) Heat…It’s The Humidity!

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”
Thomas Edison

In that case, Mr. Edison would probably find our RV to be pretty smart!

We are well on our way through our first snow event. While we have not experienced what Buffalo, NY has had to deal with, we did manage to pick up a foot of snow as of this morning. The single day record snowfall for November 18 in Grand Rapids was 2.9 inches. We shattered that record. Mid-day yesterday, our trusty Stanley revealed the following:

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Grand Rapids picked up more snow in a 24 hour period than it did at any point during last season’s record setting winter. We are up to 23.4 inches of snow for November, which is the fourth highest snowfall total on record. The last 7 day’s temperatures have been 15 degrees below average. And thanks to Lake Michigan, we have only had 7% of possible sunshine.

As stated before, we have been concerned about moisture buildup inside the rig. Propane heat naturally gives off water as a byproduct, as does breathing, showering, cooking and excess snow coming in from outside on our boots after shoveling. The result becomes apparent in two places: the corners of the RV and the aluminum window frames.

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We have found that drying the window frames off with paper towels in the morning and evening helps a lot. The day/night shades trap a lot of moisture during the night, and a quick wipe with a piece of Bounty eliminates that. Once the shades are open in the morning, the air movement from our ceiling fan keeps them fairly dry, though not 100% moisture free. The daily maintenance prevents mildew and water running down the walls. The corners of the RV have also been places that dampness builds up, especially inside cabinets. This doesn’t seem to be as bad as the windows, but it still does require daily attention. We are keeping those cabinet doors open and doing our best to point fans at the problem areas. The Eva Dry 500 dehumidifiers we put in the cabinets seem to be helping with that. We also just purchased an Eva Dry 2200 dehumidifier for the bedroom area to compliment the Eva Dry 1100 we have in the living room, so we will see how that helps the overall picture. One other thing that is working well is the fact we are taking our showers at the YMCA every day. That not only cuts down on the humidity, but also eliminates the need to run the power vent, thereby keeping the heat inside. Working out at the Y also keeps us in shape, both physically and mentally. In addition, we are able to run two electric space heaters on ‘low’, which not only provides dry heat, but it cuts down on the propane bill. We are filling a 30 pound propane tank every 3 to 4 days at $25 a refill, and our electric bill looks like it will be around $160 for November. Keep in mind that we also kicked on the heater inside the skirted area below the rig. We have it set at 45 degrees, and our floors are staying comfortable as a result. Our estimate is that heating that area is costing us $40 a month. The skirting itself would definitely keep that area above freezing, but the floors would be cold, especially in our slide outs. We feel our comfort is worth the extra money.

Following are several photos of our campsite to this point. Not a lot of snow, but it is only mid November!

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This was taken out of our window in the middle of a lake effect snow band. At that point, the snow was coming down pretty hard.

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The campground has a good sized Kubota to keep the streets plowed. Keeping our campsite itself cleaned is our responsibility.

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The area we are keeping open is plenty wide, as we know that the snow banks will creep inward as the winter wears on. Knock on wood, the campsites on either side of us are not occupied. Hopefully they remain that way.

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We put partially inflated beach balls under the slide toppers. This keeps them up and will keep the excess snow and ice from pooling in them.

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Our Awning Airwedge is also helping, although not as much as the beach balls.

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We are getting a fair amount of icicles, meaning that the heat from inside the trailer is melting the snow on the roof. We think that we might need to brush off some of the excess snow today, in hopes of minimizing the runoff. We will attempt that with our 8 foot step ladder and a snow brush, as walking on an icy roof is not a good idea,

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Our bedroom slide sarcophagus seems to be holding up well, although it wouldn’t hurt to have the snow removed from the top of it also.

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Campfire anyone? 🙂

All in all, this has been a positive experience for us. While the windows…even though they are double pane…have been a daily maintenance issue, we are extremely thankful our rig has so many of them. Being able to look outside prevents winter claustrophobia. The view out of our windows is beautiful. Ok, so it isn’t the Tetons or the beach at Grand Haven, but it is pretty neat nonetheless. Our winter preparations seem to have paid off, even though we were going on other’s recommendations and our own trial and error.

Which brings us to another one of Mr. Edison’s quotes:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Fortunately for us, most of our efforts are working!

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We will miss you, sweet Jenny

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to our dear Jenny girl. Her cancer advanced much quicker than anyone thought it would, and we had to make the decision that no one wants to make. She sure will be missed.

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She touched a lot of lives, and we were fortunate to have her with us for 10-1/2 years.

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We love you, Jenny girl!

Frederik Meijer Gardens

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

West Michigan is blessed with more than its share of philanthropists who give back to their community. None was more loved than Frederik Meijer. Fred, as everyone in town referred to him, was the son of Henderik Meijer, a barber turned grocer from Greenville, Michigan. Fred started out working at his dad’s store at age 14, bagging groceries. Eventually, he took a liking to one of the cashiers, Lena Rader, and they were married. Fred took over the company from his dad, and he pioneered the one-stop shopping big box concept in 1962…long before Walmart used the model. He grew Meijer into a huge regional player, with over 200 supercenters in 5 states. Along the way, he became the 60th richest man in America. But the chain itself was not the true measure of this man. It was his deep commitment to his employees and his community. He considered his workers to be his family, and he was truly concerned about their well-being. It was not unusual for a worker to head into the break room to find Fred there in a flannel shirt and jeans, asking how they were doing. This would happen day and night, as Meijer is open 24 hours. He would pop into hospital rooms to visit, or call and follow up if he couldn’t personally be there. He would show up at funerals, sharing hugs and tears. His focus was always on what he could do to improve the employee’s lives, not what the employee could do to improve the bottom line.

One of Mr. Meijer’s greatest gifts to his community was the Frederik Meijer Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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This world class facility has become the top tourist attraction in West Michigan. There are many facets to this amazing place, and it continues to grow each year.

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A visit to Meijer Gardens begins with the greenhouse. There are several temperate zones represented, with the largest zone dedicated to the tropics. This is a great place to go on a cold winter day.

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If a visitor is wearing a winter coat, it usually comes off, as it is that hot and humid.

The real magic begins when you step out the back door. That is where the outdoor portion of Meijer Gardens begins. The current footprint of the park is 132 acres, and promises to grow as additional land is purchased.

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One of the first things encountered is the Amphitheater. This venue hosts a summer concert series…members to Meijer Gardens get first dibs at tickets.

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With this type of lineup, it is a nice perk. It is a great way to spend a summer evening. We have seen Harry Connick, Jr., Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Martin and Lyle Lovett there. People bring wine, cheese and all sorts of gourmet delights.

Another membership perk worth mentioning is the reciprocal agreement with over 200 other museums and gardens throughout the country. Our membership gets us into all of them.

Following along the path behind the amphitheater, The American Horse appears.

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This is a 24 foot tall colossus sculpture based on Leonardo DaVinci’s lost work. Efforts to recreate his masterpiece in the making began in the latter half of the 20th century, and were finally funded by Frederik Meijer. Two identical castings were made; one for Milan, Italy and one for Grand Rapids.

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The sheer size of it is remarkable. The grace it exhibits as it stands on two of its four hooves is a thing of beauty.

Beyond the horse, paths wind through several different types of zones; woodlands, prairies, wetlands and such. Throughout each zone, sculptures are interspersed into the flora.

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Lena Meijer has always admired formal gardens. Fred and Lena also had a love of Japanese gardens, and Fred wanted to give Lena one for their park. He enlisted the help of Helen and Richard DeVos (of Amway fame), and a new addition to the sculpture park is being built.

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This is no small undertaking. The garden spans 8 acres, encompassing a 2.5 acre pond. The workers were brought in from Japan, so this feature to Meijer Gardens promises to be the real deal. It is slated to open in June, 2015.

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Beyond the Japanese garden is a Michigan farm. The house is a 3/4 scale reproduction of Lena’s childhood home.

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Barnyard animals are actually bronze sculptures, and the garden behind the farmhouse is tended to as any other garden would be.

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It is here that you will find the final resting place of Frederik Meijer. Lena will join him here someday. A humble stone for a humble man.

Fred Meijer truly loved everything about his life. His success was rooted in his love of his fellow man, and his legacy stands firm in West Michigan.

Learning as we go

‘Here I stand, and here I’ll stay-
Let the storm rage on….
The cold never bothered me anyway.’

From the Disney movie ‘Frozen’.

Well, hopefully it won’t bother us, now that we’ve made a few modifications after last week’s cold snap! Once the temperature dropped below freezing, we noticed that our bedroom slide had a lot of moisture building up on the outside wall. Also, the upper cabinets were experiencing the same thing. We tried running the vent fans, but that barely seemed to help the situation. Our DampRid canisters didn’t do a thing to help. We even purchased a small dehumidifier, which still was not enough to draw out the moisture from those areas. The bedroom slide didn’t have the benefit of being able to be skirted to the ground, as it is so high up, and it has the propane tank compartment right below it. So, here is what we ended up doing:

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Not exactly pretty, but we encased the slide in foam sheathing. We even cut window holes into it and put some plexiglas in to allow light into the bedroom. We immediately noticed a difference. We still need a good post-modification cold snap to confirm our efforts, but we think we will be OK.

As for the cabinets, we used these rechargeable wireless dehumidifiers from EvaDry. They work especially well for cabinets.

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The reviews on this product are favorable, so we decided to give them a try. We will update on them in a future post.

Our biggest positive so far has been the skirting. The temperature below the RV has yet to drop below 45 degrees. We have an electric heater down there ready to go, but we have not had to turn it on yet. We were down to 25 degrees outside one morning, but the skirted area stayed plenty warm. In the month of October, we occupied the rig for 19 days. We used $75 worth of propane (90 pounds) and $60 in electricity. Not too bad.

We have another ace in the hole to combat our moisture problem:

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We have a membership at our local YMCA! We were going to put it on hold once we started out on the road, but decided to keep it through this winter. It is a nice place to get away, a great way to stay in shape, and a sure-fire way to keep the shower steam out of our fifth wheel!

In the earlier photo of the bedroom slide, the covering for the sewer line is able to be seen. We actually used solid PVC pipe for the sewer to allow for smoother flow…just in case things get clumpy. 🙂

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We hinged the end of the covering with silver tape and weighted the underside with a piece of wood. We will open this when dumping the tanks, so as to allow the sewer gases to escape, and not run back up under the trailer.

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We also have a large access door for the heater and two of our three sewer levers. The silver piece of foam flops down over the door to hold it shut.

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The inside connection can be seen through this door. We have a clear connector on the pipe, so we can monitor the flow. Just what you want to see, right? One of our dear friends refers to the dumping process as a ‘blue job’, as it is for boys only.

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Another modification was a foam box over the air conditioner. We had heard that a lot of heat is lost through an air conditioner, so we followed a few of our neighbors leads and built this.

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We used these small clamps from Home Depot to give us an attachment to the gutter, in order to allow us to have something to attach the bungee cord to. We found them in the electrical department.

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We also boxed in the fresh water connection to the RV. As you can see, we have a Pirit heated water hose. So far, it is working great!

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The final modification we have done is using window film on the inside of the windows. These are the plastic sheets that you tape on the window frame and use a hair dryer to make them taut. As you can see, the film still allows us to see outside quite well. Our large rear window is pointed due south, so we are looking forward to a little solar heat this winter!

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So there you have it! We are pretty sure we are set for the cold. Bring it on, Queen Elsa! We will post updates on how everything is holding up in future posts.

Safe travels!

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