We Are Doing it Now! That traveling thing…

My Summer Vacation. 

My New Life (so far) by Kate.

One of the many things I love about travel is how time seems to be manipulated.  On the road I feel like I am in another dimension where time stops or at least I have more ownership of my time.  Travel forces you out of old habits. I think that is a really good thing.  However, if you need to get actual work done while you are traveling, you must have some very strong work habits in place.

On June 1st, we uprooted ourselves from our cozy and comfortable RV Park in Austin TX, because we knew summer was coming… In Texas, that means EXTREME heat. We have done the heat many times before and we wanted out. In 2011 we had ninety days in a row with triple digit temperatures in Austin. That is when we first started plotting our summertime exit.

Fast forward to now. After living in our RV for a year and some change, we rationalized, our house is on wheels. This is why we live in a tiny travel trailer, so we can roll, so we can chase some good weather…

We did something that we knew how to do. We headed North.  Almost as far North as you can possibly go in the US.  We also played music.  Our band, Before Dawn, has always been a great reason to travel.

We had a great time playing shows at Steel Bridge Songfest in Sturgeon Bay, WI.  Then, we went even further North to my parents remote cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, near Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We parked our tiny house on wheels in their yard and continued to live in it.  We were in the warm embrace of family and far from the scorching Texas heat.

One of the main reasons my parents got this cabin was to have fun, relaxing, “family times” together in the summer. We were going for it damn it!  All the way!  All family – all the time!!! What could possibly go wrong?  This was Clark Griswold and Chet Ripley’s biggest fantasy come true.  National Lampoons Vacation meets The Great Outdoors!

The Northwoods has a culture and lore that is all its own. Without getting too esoteric, it is something that cannot be explained, it has to be felt.  If you have been there, you know exactly what I mean. It is magical. It is densely populated with trees and wildlife, but not people. There are more stars than you know exist, and tons of lakes, both named and unnamed.  Sometimes the silence, peace and solitude are so intense that it feels almost violent. Eventually you get used to it and realize that it is exactly what your brain, your heart and your soul needed.  Your cellphone and internet are nearly useless. You are forced to be with yourself, with nature, and with your family. Without being distracted.  Perhaps it is disconcerting at first, but it is ultimately glorious.

I have to admit it took me about two and a half weeks to quit flipping out.  “What have we done???” I missed Whole Foods and Planet Fitness something fierce. City life in Austin was comfortable and familiar.  I had not spent this much time with my parents as an adult since I moved out when I was eighteen. How would this dynamic work? We are all living in the woods together! I felt very overwhelmed by this life change and feared the loss of my autonomy.

I fully expected my mother and I to possibly have some friction, after all when I was a young adult and a teenager, we fought. I was rebellious, she was strict. She is a Taurus and I am a Scorpio. Growing up, we pushed each others buttons, played devils advocate and often accidentally insulted each other in the name of love.  Now my husband and I were spending three months living in my parents yard!?!?  What was I thinking? Who came up with this insane plan? I did!

We got along the best we have since I was four years old. We had so much fun together.  We did crafts, we played games, cruised around the lake and took day trips to cute little nearby towns.We were totally on the same team. My mom even taught me how to hook. I went to weekly hooking parties with all of her hooker friends.  Trust me, this sounds far more scandalous and scintillating than it actually is.

My father and I have never really fought much. To my surprise we actually did have several spats this summer.  The thing is, in the woods, you really tend to want to work these things out quickly because 1.)there is fun to be had and 2.)slamming a door and leaving really isn’t that easy.

Our quarrels weren’t serious, but it caught me off guard.

I feel closer to my parents now than I ever have before.  We all took a risk immersing ourselves in each others lives and it really paid off in both fun and love!  Rob and I both think that this just may have been the best summer of our lives!

Despite being in the woods, we had goals this summer.  Some of them we attacked immediately, others took longer to get rolling. The first order of business was finding ways to make money. This was the perfect opportunity to tryout and hone our ability to have location independent income.

Rob got to work immediately by turning his ten year old computer repair business into something that can be done remotely.  As I mentioned before, decent internet access is not easy to come by in the Northwoods… Rob paid a premium to have the good stuff installed at the cabin which was still far from city internet speeds; but it was good enough to support his clients.  Rob also made sure he had a few associates in Austin that he could call on should a technician need to be physically present to assist a client.  This all worked out really well!  Survival income accomplished.

I kept teaching Yoga.  Prior to going “Up North”, a friend of a friend of my mom was interested in having Semi-Private Yoga Therapy sessions with her friend and her daughter twice weekly.  We set a weekly schedule as soon as I arrived.

Sometimes multiple family members of my Yoga clients would be visiting and I would teach “Family Yoga” to three different generations! It was beautiful to develop these different Yoga practices and through word of mouth I picked up several more clients.  This was not just survival income but something that I looked forward to and enjoyed thoroughly.  Helping others toward greater health and wellbeing has become my hearts work.

Our passion project is our band, Before Dawn. We love writing, recording and performing music together.  We had a mission to do all of theses things this summer. We were in a different environment, in the woods, far from Austin. We played at tiny Northwoods bars and open mic nights, and made recordings in our little travel trailer. A change in environment is always good for creativity.

This change of scenery was a wonderful adventure that created many unexpected outcomes, opportunities and new relationships.  Every time we played in front of people we were offered more opportunities to play. We seemed to play live shows minimally once a week in the various small towns up north like Minocqua, Land O’ Lakes and Iron River.

Sticking to a regimented writing and recording schedule was difficult, especially if the sun was out and the lake was calling. We were able to record our next single, “Light The Way“. It was a crowd favorite from our most recent tour.

We even got the chance to do a radio interview on WXPR.  The DJ, Jeremy Starz, played four of our songs and debuted our new single, before its official release on September 30th.  This was a first for us. The single is now available on Itunes.

Rob also made some summertime fun videos in the Northwoods. He also composed all of the music!

Amphibious Airplane from Rob Houle on Vimeo.

Whisker Cam from Rob Houle on Vimeo.

This is what we did this summer. This is what we did “Up North” with family, in our tiny house on wheels.  It was all possible because we live tiny.

Stay tuned! More blogs, more music and more videos soon!  By the way we are in Los Angeles now.  How did we get here?  Well, that is an interesting story.  Sign up for blog updates and find out soon!

The Most Exhaustive Minimalist Gift Guide Ever!

I was inspired to write this post because of the recent Black Friday madness and general holiday mania I have been witnessing.  It is that time of year where consumerism sky rockets to levels even more outrageous than normal and people feel compelled to buy gifts for each other, even if they can’t think of something meaningful, useful or in many cases can’t afford them.  I understand the frenzy.  I have been in it.

The truth is that unless a person really uses and or cherishes a gift, it was a waste of money.  I don’t have money to waste!   Most people don’t. I just had a Birthday and Rob’s is coming up shortly. Parents, in-laws, siblings etcetera often ask, “What do you want for your Birthday or Christmas.”  I typically have a hard time answering this question, but even more so now.  I compiled this list partially for that reason.

We have worked really hard to get rid of most of our “stuff”.  We still have stuff to get rid of.  Every time we take something new in, we have to get rid of something we have. That is the rule.

So, what kind of gift does one give someone who is attempting downsize or become more minimalist?

More and more people are realizing the benefits of minimalism.  Do you have someone in your life that fits this description? What does one give someone who is a full time RVr, tiny house dweller or even a van dweller?

Here is an exhaustive guide I have compiled. I think it could be helpful for for everyone on your list, not just minimalists!  I also would love to hear if you have any additional ideas! While we are happily living in an RV Park, far from “off the grid”, we are in search of a more independent, self-sufficient and simple lifestyle.

We are taking baby steps and we have downsized because we value freedom over debt, making memories over amassing material things and living consciously over mechanically.  Most people who embrace this lifestyle tend to embrace experiences over material things.  Here are some literally “outside of the box” gift giving ideas for your consideration.

Tickets to Entertainment…

  • Concerts – Find out a loved ones favorite bands or venues and then get them tickets.
  • Plays – It is always fun to go see a local or touring show!

Shows from Cirque Du SoleilRingling Brothers, a local ballet, aerial or circus troupe.

  • Comedy shows – Laughter is a really great gift and there are comedy clubs, touring comics and comedy festivals in most cities!
  • Sporting events – Do you know their favorite team or the hometown college?
  • Movie Passes – Date night!  Who doesn’t like to go to the movies? My sister gave us this as a gift one year, I thought it was the greatest!
  • Museums – There are so many museums I have been meaning to and wanting to go to, having a pass would give me just the reason to go!
  • Events and Festivals – Austin and many other cities have many annual events and festivals ranging from super cheap to outrageously expensive. From food and wine to film, to marathons or music…
  • Activities – Rock Gym, Zip Lining, Paddle Boarding, Surfing, Boat Rental, Yoga, local bowling ally, the list goes on.  Most people love the opportunity to act like a tourist in their own town and get out of their regular routine!
  • Theme Parks – In many cases this will end up being a great day trip filled with fun memories. When Rob lived in Orlando, his mom used to get him an annual pass to Disney which provided many days of fun all year long!

The internet makes it super easy to find out what types of activities, destinations and entertainment are in a reasonable proximity to your loved ones, giving them a good time and memories to be cherished will most certainly be appreciated!  Make sure you know the person well enough to select something that they would love to do or try and you can’t go wrong!

Restaurant Gift Certificates:  Who doesn’t like a dinner date?  When people start cutting their expenses, one of the first things to get cut is always dinning out.  Dinning out can be such a tremendous joy!  It is something that I know Rob and I always look forward to and most definitely bond over.  Like many people these days, we are always looking for places with fresh, farm to table ingredients.  Most people seeking minimalism are doing it as a way of living a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle and food and nutrition are most definitely core values in that picture. If finding a restaurant for people like us seems like an intimidating task, try these Google terms,  “Farm to table”, “local ingredients” or “locavore”, “seasonal menu”.

There are many such restaurants in Austin and in most major cities.  I want to give a shout out to some of the great local Austin favorites!

Hillside Farmacy

Contigo

Restaurant Jezebel

Olivia

Wink

Cipollina

Is there a place you have been wanting to try in your city?

Wine Bars:   This can be an inexpensive yet very classy gift.  A date with a wine and cheese flight (an offering of several wines to taste and discuss) is always a good time!  Most wine flights are usually in the neighborhood of $15, sometimes less, rarely more.  Google a city and “wine bar” and at least a handful will pop up.  Some locations have beer flights as well for those who prefer beer to wine.  Check out what kinds of flights an establishment offers and make your decision from there….

One of our local favorites is House Wine, and we have been wanting to try Vino Vino, we have heard great things!

Coffee Shops:   Austin is known for having really great independent coffee shops that often have offerings such as yoga, live music and great little menues as well.  I like promoting the local, independent businesses I know about, so I am going to give a shout out to:

Bouldin Creek Cafe

Bennu Coffee

Cherrywood Coffeehouse

Houndstooth Coffee

There are of course tons more.  Just do a search for Austin and Coffeehouse and you see what I mean!

Speaking of food, grocery stores are great!

Whole FoodsTrader Joe’sSprouts and even some local farmers markets all offer gift cards.  Our grocery bill is our single highest bill every month by a significant margin.  In talking to friends, I have realized that we are not alone.  I think others would agree that it would be great gift to have that offset with a grocery gift card!

Money Saving Memberships:  No, I am not talking about a “Jelly of the Month Club” membership. Or a membership that in anyway will send more “stuff” to a person.  In general it is a good rule of thumb not to send someone any kind of subscription to anything they have not specifically asked for. People are bombarded by excess mail, lets all try to avoid contributing to that. Here are some ideas that might be useful to local adventurers and travelers! Many of the suggestions are specific to Austin because that is where I am and what I know, but it should still give you a good idea of what to look for. There are similar types of foundations and associations in many towns and cities.

For Locavores and Foodies

Go Local

Texas Wine and Food Foundation

For Artsy Types

Austin Film Society

Or a

Museum Memebership

For Outdoorsy Types

State Parks – This link is for Texas, but most states have State Park passes available.

National Parks

For RV Traveling Types

These are the clubs that save campers money on RV parks and other RV related things while they are on the road.

Woodalls

Good Sams Club

Passport America

KOA

Learning and Enrichment:

I don’t know about you, but I love learning new things!  I love it I love it I love it!  What do you want to learn more about?  What hobbies do you have? I love pretty much anything dance, aerial apparatus and circus related.  In Austin there are quite a few resources for such things; from my favorite, Blue Lapis Light, to the ever popular Sky Candy to the high flying, Trapeze Austin.  For dance there is of course Ballet Austin and Tapestry Dance Company among many others.  What great classes exist in your city that you or someone you love would love to take?  This really is the gift that keeps on giving.  Maybe you and your partner want to take Salsa or Tango lessons together?  You learn new skills and create memories together instead of collecting “stuff.”

Yoga, everyone needs it!  Even yoga teachers like myself love to take more yoga classes.  Did you know that Meditation is more effective for pain management than Morphine?  Yoga soothes and improves the body, mind and soul.  Who wouldn’t need that?  Yoga can help people learn techniques for stress management that will forever change and improve their lives.  What the world needs now is more Yoga!  With all of the many styles of Yoga that exist, there is literally something for everyone! Check out my friends Aerial Yoga Studio, Four Elements!

Races – is there a running or marathon enthusiast in your life?  Races usually have an entry fee and that fee very often goes to a charity.  You can kill two birds with one stone by entering your friend or loved one in a local race that they can participate in.

My other passion and obsession is building and architecture.  This is one of those things that I have only fantasized about. I would like to actually get my hands dirty and learn to do some real building beyond what I have learned in stagecraft!  I am particularly focused on the Tiny HouseMovement, building materials and how to reclaim and repurpose materials for extreme sustainability, affordability and functionality.  One of the main reasons my husband and I decided to move into our RV is to save money so that we can buy a piece of land, loan free and build our own small house with our own hands, mortgage free.  There are workshops for this sort of thing. Here are some resources, if you are interested. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving, helping someone learn to build their home is a big deal!  Do you have anyone in your life that would appreciate a gift like this?

Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshops

Tiny Texas Houses

Yestermorrow Design Build School

House Alive

Eco Nest Building Workshops

Portland Alternative Dwellings 

Relax Shacks

Services:   Massage, Haircut, Dry Cleaning, Automotive upkeep, Firestone etc. – When you think about it, these are all luxury services, not necessities. But they are also everyday services that many Americans incorporate into their weekly or monthly routine. They are services that we enjoy or appreciate which is what makes them good gifts!  Do you have a favorite Spa, Dry Cleaner, stylist or Mechanic? Honestly all I really want for Christmas is a massage!

Goods and Supplies Gift Cards:  It is true, we still need some stuff.  Most of it is rather practical, like a ladder and a rake.

Home Depot– We are forever going to Home Depot whether for Diatematious Earth to ward off ants or for a piece of outdoor carpet or exterior illumination.  If you know of a local mom and pop hardware store where your tiny dwelling loved one resides, this might be a better choice.  However if your people travel often, you know that a big box store like Home Depot or Lowes can usually be found.

Ebay – I actually buy a lot of my medical supplies on Ebay from sellers who have surplus. The situation of their insurance companies doling out extras and me not being able to get health insurance somehow becomes a symbiotic relationship where I can get inexpensive supplies that help keep me alive. You can never go wrong with an Ebay Gift Card.  I think most people tend to price compare almost everything they buy with Ebay or…—————————————————–>

Amazon – Honestly, Amazon has everything except for probably a soul.  I know, I know it is far from “local” or good for small businesses.  It is in fact the antithesis of my general philosophy and has put many small book stores out of business.  BUT, I live in a small space and I LOVE my Kindle.   Any books, magazines or reading material I receive needs to be in this format and I suspect that many tiny dwellers feel the same way.  Though I parted ways for good with Wal-Mart more than three years ago, I just can’t give up Amazon yet.

Sears – Tools, Automotive, Outdoor Living.

“Evil Chains” that are helpful when traveling: When you are a traveler and you are on the road chains simplify life because they are abundant and close to the interstate and you know exactly what to expect. Sometimes it is a nearly necessary evil. Though we try to avoid them as much as possible, here are some of the chains we tend to frequent when on the interstate.

Starbucks – Rob and I once made a $15 gift card to Starbucks last 3.2 trips by splitting a coffee and a breakfast sandwich each time.

Pet Smart – Sunny is on file at Banfield Hospital which is located in Pet Smart.  No matter what city we are in we can get the right food and meds for her.  This is such a relief.

Dollar General – Dollar General has more retail locations than any other retailer in America!  I bet you didn’t know that.  Many of them are somewhat rural which can be hella convenient when you are far from cities and towns.  Convenient and cheap. They are not overwhelmingly monstrously enormous and you can get septic safe toilet paper, laundry soap, panty liners and all the GMO trail mix you want there.

Target – Unforeseen miscellaneous needs.  Need I say more?

Gas Cards and Truck Stops:  It is no secret that people who travel generally need gas to get to where they are going.  Some super ambitious and conscientious people have converted to bio-diesel. I wish we were that cool! These gas stations are very friendly to large rigs and are generally easy to pull in and out of.  They are most definitely our preference when traveling.Loves and Pilot/Flying J

Camping and Tripping Supplies:

Camping World – There is ALWAYS something that we need from Camping World.  Right now I want these shoe holders.

Academy – If I was only allowed to shop at one store for the rest of my life, it would probably be Academy.

CampmorL.L. BeanREI = GEAR, GEAR, GEAR!!!

La Musica: Remember when getting someone a new CD was a great gift? itunes gift cards are the new music gift. And if you know someone who actually plays music, getting them a gift card to their local music store or Guitar Center is wonderful.  String players always need more strings!

Oh So Medical Oh So Awesomely Practical:  Eye Exams and Dental Cleanings– Many people don’t have vision and dental care.  What a lovely gift an eye exam or dental cleaning would be!  My mother-in law often gives us the gift of a teeth cleaning with their family dentist.  We couldn’t be more appreciative! – That was Robs gift this year and honestly, it is all he really wanted!

WalgreensCVS or other pharmacy Gift Cards – Medicine is expensive!  Insulin is outrageous!  These are major burdens to much of the population.  This would be an awesome, jump for joy gift!

Donations:   Make a donation in the name of a loved one to a charity that is close to their heart.  Perhaps you have a person in your life that is far more generous than they are rich.  Or perhaps you have someone in your life that can have anything they want at any time… This is an incredibly special, personal and perfect gift.  What are your favorite charities? What charities are important to those you plan to buy gifts for this year? Here are a few of my favorites!

*Is the person you are shopping for an artist, film maker, musician or generally having creative projects in the works?  As a gift, find out if they need support for their next project.  Most of the creative people I know would give up “gifts” forever and be eternally grateful if they could just get their project funded.  Even small amounts are very helpful!*

Things to avoid…..

Clothes and Accessories:  Scarfs, gloves, hats, sweaters, pajamas, really clothes of any kind.  For all you know, this person may already have 18 scarfs and sets of pajamas that they already don’t wear or know what to do with.  Having said that, one of my favorite gifts ever was a jersey knit scarf that a friend gave me; it is just the perfect weight for Texas and Florida cold!

Bath stuff:   Lotion, soap, bath salts etc.  People are very particular about what kinds of body products they use.  It is never a good idea to impose your product tastes on someone else unless you are absolutely positive that it will be a hit.  This is very personal territory!

Knick Knacks and Novelty Anything:   It isn’t the “thought that counts”, it is the “function” that counts. People have their own tastes and again, it is usually pretty specific.  Don’t get someone an item that is just going to take up space in their closet.  Like I said before unless someone truly uses or cherishes an item, it was a waste of money.  If you see an item that you think would be “funny” to give someone, don’t waste your money, just take a picture of the item with your phone and send it to the person.  You can still have the LOL, no one has to waste their money and no one has to store useless “novelty” crap.

Please comment!  I want to hear your suggestions.  Is there a place you would like a gift card for that I didn’t mention?  What is your favorite independent restaurant in your hometown?  What is your go-to travel stop? Is there a class you would like to take or a new skill you would like to learn?  What is your favorite charity?  Tell me!!! I want to know.  Give shout outs to your favorites!

Here is a really lovely blog post on Becoming Minimalist about giving your children gifts they will remember.  This blog post really speaks to me.  Enjoy!!!

Happy Holidays, whatever you celebrate!

By the way, HUGS make great gifts!!!

American Dream

When I was in college, and for about a year thereafter, Rob and I lived in a duplex in Orlando off of Dean Road.  I remember being in the kitchen of that place when my mom called and said, “Guess what?  We bought an RV.”  At the time I did not know anyone with an RV.  How strange I thought…  I figured my parents were being eccentric.  An RV?  Whatever, it is probably just a “phase…”

Not too long after that she called to say that they were going to come visit in the RV.  They wanted to pick me up, but they couldn’t come down our street because their rig was too big and there was not a good spot to turn around. Ok?  I guess, I will meet them at the end of the street, on the corner of River Pines Court and Dean Road.

The day I was to meet them came around.  Rob was at work, doing Science Theater at The Orlando Science Center.  My parents had a plan. We were going to the Science Center to eat lunch with Rob and see a few shows and exhibits via the new RV.  My father, a Chef by profession, of course was going to prepare our lunch in the RV.

My mom called to let me know that they were in the vicinity. I went to the corner as instructed to await their arrival.   “HOLY SHIT! THAT’S A BUS!”  is what I thought as the 40’ diesel pusher with the words American Dream emblazoned across the side, elegantly rumbled up to greet me.

I had never seen the inside of one of these things before.  When the door opened, there was my mom, dad and two dogs all excited for me to get in and check this thing out!  It was glorious, and yes, I still thought it was a little strange.  This massive RV had tile floor, gold colored fixtures, leather sofas and a “slide out” that makes the room large enough to entertain guests.  This was a Motorhome?

I was so green.  I had so much to learn.  But this was the beginning… Even though I was initially against that kind of “camping” and said stuff, like, “ridiculous!”,  the truth is I didn’t understand it yet.  This would take some time…
Eventually I would love and even obsess over RV’s.  They have two key qualities that really reach the core of my being: 1. Extreme mobility / opportunity for travel and adventure 2. Minimalist living quarters that demand cleanliness, organization and economical use of space.

A side note to this is that I had just been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  Deciding where to keep my insulin refrigerated while camping in a hot climate started to become an issue.  Nevertheless, I still was not convinced by the motorhome and its fancy convenient refrigerator!

It would take some time, some trips, some campgrounds and some experiences to win me over.  I initially found it somewhat uncomfortably formal… It kind of bothered me that you could have a full cocktail bar, non “camp food”, watch TV and charge your cell phone while attempting to be outdoorsy.   These activities seemed mutually exclusive to me.  None of it fit into the boxes of preconceived ideas that I had built in my head. Somewhat stubbornly, I thought, “this is NOT how I learned to camp!”