Friday, September 25, 2009

The beauty resides within...

It is a gorgeous day here in New England. The sugar maples are turning brilliant red and there are splashes of golden yellow and orange leaves, with wonderful wafts of wild grapes and ripe apples in the air. With the cooler breezes come the excitement of change in the air, so like the squirrels, we are busy preparing for the changes to come! Rather than preparing for another long, cold winter, we will finally uproot from beautiful, scenic New England and set sail on our big adventure, meeting people from all walks of life, offering our talents, services, and friendship as we lead Laughter Yoga sessions and launch our health and wellness coaching business.

Autumn in NE has been my most relished time of the year, albeit a mixed blessing with the long, harsh winters that always follow (harsh, that is, for this Kentucky born Army brat). I know I will miss these particular stirrings of new beginnings, the often dazzling, colorful and fragrant reminders of the impermanence of all things.

But no matter where we are, the fall will always be a time of new beginnings--schools start, the Jewish New Year is celebrated as is my birthday and the birthdays both of my parents who are, thankfully, still alive and well. I just may always yearn for the smell and sensations of New England autumns and hope to be transported there quite unexpectedly from time to time with the smell of grapes, the sound of leaves crunching under my feet, the fall harvests, Halloween, certain music and voices, and maybe even the first frost of the year bringing that invigorating, chilly nip.

As Keith has said to me many a time of late, "I am looking forward to being able to miss New England". For me, I am holding space within for both grieving the old and familiar and celebrating the new. Stepping into the void of the unknown has been unsettling indeed, but that is exactly what is required of us right now to uproot after 20 amazing years here.

Now that I have shared my piece, I will step out to hula hoop under the pine trees with the decreasingly warm sunlight reflecting off the lake, and take in all the autumn beauty that surrounds me, breathing it deeply into the recesses of my being. Like a squirrel storing acorns, I will keep being conscious of such moments so that I may call upon them in my mind's eye some rainy day on the road when I am homesick for the good old North lands, Kennedy's Country, this majestic part of God's green earth.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Adjusting, Arranging, and Planning

Well, time is marching on, and we are now approximately one month from departure. We've been living in Scottie LaBlanca for more than four weeks now, and I think we are pretty much adjusted to life in a small space. We're still trying to find the "perfect" arrangement for pots and pans, dishes, food and supplies, but we're getting closer and closer as the days go by.

So, there are several areas where some fine-tuning is needed, and our focus shifts towards those areas as we hone in on the home-stretch:

Storage: this is a commodity truly at a premium, and some hard decisions will need to be made as we get closer to departure. Some things will just need to be left behind, whereas others will just have to find a place to live.

Towing: whether or not to tow a car is truly something we are wrestling with. There are many opinions about whether or not to tow, and we are considering our options carefully. While it is true that towing a small car will indeed impact our gas mileage over all, having a small car to drive around locally when we're parked at a campground or community will decrease the amount that we drive our big rig on small local roads in attempts to go shopping, visit hard to reach sites, and explore back country roads that a 29-foot truck can't negotiate. So, having a fuel-efficient small car for such local driving would most likely offset the loss of mileage on the long hauls. To tow or not to tow, that is the question. And when that question is answered, which car comes along? And, needless to say, we'll need the equipment to do it (compliments of the local welding company.) And one more thing: the tow car will significantly improve our storage capacity!

Grease conversion: now that we feel more serious about converting to veggie oil, we are faced with the fact that the actual mechanical work to do the conversion may take 7-10 days to execute. Since we're living in the rig full time and have nowhere else to stay, giving up the rig for a week seems almost impossible, especially since we want to leave so soon. So, we may forego the grease conversion for now, keep raising money towards the work, and have it done down south or out west when we have more time to spare and can perhaps find a less expensive conversion mechanic to do the greasy deed. Converting to waste vegetable oil is important to us, and we just may have to wait a little while to do it. Meanwhile, we'll look for biodiesel wherever we fare.

Mechanical issues: making the rig road-worthy has been a process, and we're almost there. Like any used vehicle, it's needed some work. The brakes are now up to snuff. A few tires, the internal water pump, and a tailpipe will soon be replaced, and then we'll pretty much be ready to roll once our mobile RV mechanic makes one more visit to button up a few small details.

There's more to tell, but that's the report for now. Our jobs are absolutely ending on the 15th of October, so the end is in sight. Meanwhile, every weekend from now til our departure is booked for visiting friends prior to our journey.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mary and Sabina

Here's Mary with our wonderful niece Sabina, who was our third overnight guest in the ol' rig.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

We are consistently meeting people who support our new lifestyle and vision. Just this morning, our next-door neighbors here at the campground went out of their way to regale us with tales of beautiful places that we simply cannot miss, giving us loads of excellent advice for our upcoming journey.

Of course, like anywhere, there are people who want to chat and talk and shoot the breeze, and then there are others who won't even give us the time of day. But that's just life and human interaction. But when we meet people who, a) have lived this lifestyle themselves, b) currently live a traveling lifestyle, or c) have always wanted to do what we're doing, then the sky's the limit in terms of conversation, camaraderie, and the enjoyment of one another's company and mutual enthusiasm.

Every time we speak to someone who encourages us on our new path, I experience yet another welling of excitement that moves me closer to feeling that our freedom is ever closer!

A Reggae Artist on the Beach

Here we are on Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts with a reggae artist (Zeblum?) from Jamaica, who was doing a shoot for a music video, despite the insistent wind and blowing sand. They began filming at sunrise, and when we arrived at 11, they were still getting shots of him dancing on the rocks, one of his songs blasting from a boom-box.

At Mary's insistence, we went over to speak with them on a break from the filming, and he graciously posed for a photograph, saying "We are all family, mon. Bless the mama, bless the papa, blessings, blessings on all. Rastafari!" This sweet, loving man also said, "Family, keep dem togeder, mon. Jah Rastfari".

For me (Mary), it was especially nice to hear this message from a Jamaican man who may wield wide influence on his fellow Jamaicans. From our experience implementing our humanitarian relief project in Jamaica, we learned that it is common among certain segments of Jamaican men to father many babies from many mothers. This cultural norm still exists today that Jamaican health workers described to us as a contributing factor to the rise of single mother households unable to meet their most basics human needs. In our outreach to "the bush", we witnessed firsthand how sadly right they were and thus committed to channel resources from the richest country in the world to this rural area of Jamaica in St. Thomas parish. How we did that is a story for another time.

Meanwhile, Keith and I made a lasting special friend, Rainford Brown, during our 3-year project. He is an artist whom we hired to repaint and decorate the dilapidated children's ward of Princess Margaret Hospital in an impoverished rural Jamaica area. Since there is much suffering and little work on this part of the island, we've also provided annual financial support over the years, thanks to many friends and family who've joined us in this tithing. Rainford has thus been able to slowly build a little home that will now house his growing family. Yes, we recently learned that Rainford and his girlfriend will be having a baby in late January! We just sent him an early holiday gift that was a portion of the proceeds from the sale of our house. 1% for peace, right?

After our photo opp. on the beach that windy day, Z. warmly hugged each of us in turn and blessed us once again. Sweet.

---Keith and Mary

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cape Ann Camp Site

Ahhh. Friday evening, and we have landed ourselves at Cape Ann Camp Site, not one mile from Wingaersheek Beach in West Gloucester, MA!

When Mary and I first met in 1988, I was living in Gloucester in the home of my great-aunt, the well-known artist and writer, Theresa Bernstein Meyerowitz. At the time, Mary was living in the Washington, DC area, soon to move to Woodburn Hill Farm, a communal intentional community in Southern Maryland, founded in 1975 and still thriving to this day.

We lived on Woodburn Hill Farm together for 4 or 5 months, celebrating an outdoor hippie wedding on the farm on July 2nd, 1989. After our honeymoon, I spirited Mary and Rene away to New England, where we lived with Theresa and several of her assistants for a series of summers. During the chilly seaside winters, we served as caretakers of Theresa's drafty and haunted house when Theresa was back in her studio on the Upper West Side of New York City.

We spent three full years in Gloucester, enjoying life by the ocean, living in semi-poverty most of the time while Mary pursued her undergraduate education at Lesley College in Cambridge (now known as Lesley University, the site of Rene's recently completed baccalaureate education). Medicaid, foodstamps, fuel assistance and the local food pantry kept us in good stead along with Theresa's largesse and our hard work cleaning the houses of the rich and not so famous of Cape Ann.

In 1992, we finally extricated ourselves and settled in Amherst, our home for the last 17 years. Actually, we moved to Western MA in search of intentional community, originally intent on life in Oregon or Northern California. However, we only got as far as the hills of the Pioneer Valley due to our attraction to the Sirius Community, a relationship that never blossomed into us becoming active members, however we remain friends of the community and hold their vision of sustainability and spiritual growth in our hearts. We are now actualizing that vision for our lives through more simple living, embarking on our tour of the United States in search of an intentional community to call home.

So, here we are, full circle, back on Cape Ann in our new biodiesel rig, Scottie LaBlanca, within reach of the ocean, the chilly sea air blowing in our open screen door, with a sunny weekend stretched before us. Local friends---including my lovely goddaughters---will visit us at our campsite, and we will bike and walk (and maybe even borrow a car), tooling around the seaside over the next 36 hours. We will be sure to take some photos and post them here, including you, dear Readers, in the action and adventure.

Thanks for stopping by, for indulging my walk down Memory Lane, and for supporting our full-time RV journey by paying us a call. Please leave a comment so we know that you were here, and our blessings to you from the shores of the New England seashore.


Mary Cooks!

Here's Mary cooking a simple but lovely meal as we settle into our first campground with our rig----in our old hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts!

Very Happy Travelers

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Our new TomTom GPS unit glows on the dashboard.

Here's the unit, ready for action.

Annie in Our Bunk

Here's our dear friend Annie, our third overnight guest in the rig, hanging out in the bunk over the cab, blessed by the Tibetan prayer flags.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cleanin' Da Roof

It was a bright sunny day today, so I left work, drove home, changed into my work clothes, and decided to tackle what I have been avoiding for weeks, now----cleaning and treating the rubber roof of our rig. Yikes.

RV'ers in the know issue dire warnings about rubber roofs, admonishing would-be RV'ers to avoid rigs with rubber roofs due to the high maintenance needs therein. So what did we do? We bought a rig with a rubber roof! And so it is......

Several weeks ago, the mobile RV tech who installed our new fridge and fixed some other things in the rig urged us to clean and treat the roof as soon possible. Rubber roofs can dry, crack and spring leaks when exposed to the sun and not treated with UV protective coatings, thus they must be vigilantly maintained. Also, seams and other areas where water can enter must be watched closely and patched before leaks can develop.

So, there I was, climbing up and down that damn ladder, scrubbing the roof in small sections with a baking soda solution, removing the blackened areas, exposing the white coating of the roof that is its natural state.

I did as good a job as I could, scrambling up and down, trying not to slip and fall, entertaining images in my mind of my wracked body laying on the ground at the base of the ladder, a shattered femur and broken ankle a testament to my devotion and clumsiness as a handyman. After an hour of struggle, toil, sweat and no tears, I beheld a (relatively) clean, white roof, and then had to spend another half-hour washing and wiping down the outside of the entire rig, which had become covered with a gritty and grimy baking soda and dirt cocktail!

Completing my task, I rewarded myself with some time relaxing in the sun, waiting for the roof to dry (and folding some laundry).

After an hour of drying time in the blazing late summer sun, I grabbed my brand new sponge mop and a bottle of "rubber roof UV protectant spray", and slowly but surely made my way from the far end of the rig back to the ladder, careful not to trap myself in a corner from where I could not escape back to the solid earth.

The roof is not necessarily all solid---there are soft spots, seams, and some areas where it feels quite scary to put one's weight. Thus, I painstakingly traipsed my way around the air conditioner, solar panels, vents and other objects up there, and did the best job I could.

By the end, I was covered with splatters of baking soda and water and grime, but I came away satisfied that I had least done a passable job cleaning and treating the membrane that actually protects us from the elements above.

And my concluding thoughts about the roof treatment and cleaning process that needs to be done every 3 to 6 months? Next time I'll hire out.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Solar Panels

We are very grateful for the high-quality photovoltaic panels that live on our roof. These panels can charge a set of two deep-cycle marine batteries that we can use to run all of our power for many, many hours. We can also choose to charge a third battery that lives next to the engine battery under the hood.

These solar panels and batteries allow us to "boondock" anywhere we like, with our own mini sun-powered electricity.

The Interior

Here's a quick gander at the kitchen area of our rig, just to give you an idea....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Speaking of Vicissitudes....

After 11 years of living in a two-story house with three bedrooms, a living room , a screened-in porch, two bathrooms, a dining room, a small kitchen, a sunroom, a finished basement and a small basement kitchen, adjusting to life in a 29-foot motorhome does indeed take some adjustment.

There are several areas that I can identify as being the most challenging.

First, I can count on one hand (so far, that is!) the number of times that I have hit my head (hard!) on several key spots in our rig. There’s one spot just next to the bed where I struck my head so hard last night that I think I saw stars. Was that the Big Dipper?

Next is space to stretch out. The bed in the bedroom of the rig is indeed hinged and can be stood up and locked in the upright position, but it is still a challenge to find enough space to truly stretch out, do yoga, Pilates, or other exercise. While we can certainly stretch out on the full-sized bed in the bedroom or on the queen-sized bed over the cab, it’s not quite the same as having a carpeted living room or den in which one can roll around and generally cavort freely.

Then there’s water and sewage. In a perfect world, we would spend a fair amount of time hooked up to the water from someone’s garden hose or from a camground water hookup, allowing us unfettered water use at all times. At our current location, that is not possible, so I fill our fresh water tank (capacity 44 gallons) every few days and we keep an eye on our supply.

As for sewage, our “black water” tank holds 22 gallons, and our “grey water” (from sinks and shower) holds 33 gallons. When we’re out in the wilderness, we plan to use “nature’s toilet” as much as possible (there’s a shovel in the storage compartment beneath the rig), but here in civilization it’s somewhat more difficult, so if we can’t make use of our host’s bathroom next door, our own tanks take the heat, so to speak. So, we make the trip to the local sewage treatment plant and dump our black and gray water several times per week as needed (photos forthcoming, perhaps next time we go!).

The need to fill the water tank and empty our own sewage helps me to feel less disconnected from the source of my water and the eventual destination of our waste. Living in a house, one simply turns on the faucet or flushes the toilet, and unless there’s a problem, there’s nothing else to do or think about. Here in our rig, these issues are front and center.

Storage. Now there’s a subject near and dear to many full-timers. If one lives in a “Class A” RV (one of those huge buses), storage is not much of an issue. Class A’s have huge “basement” compartments, allowing one to carry most anything one might need, within reason (ie: frivolous things like party lights and tiki torches). For us, our frivolity comes in the form of a hidden space beneath the bed that houses Scrabble, Sequence, mancala, art supplies, an alto recorder, a small mbira, and, of course, Nurse Bob and his personal supplies.

In a “Class C” rig like ours, storage is at more of a premium, and every decision about space matters. A lot. Just last week, we had a large storage bin bolted to the rack on the back of the rig, and the welding company reinforced the hitch to make it stronger and able to carry the load of whatever we put inside it. They also needed to extend the hitch out six inches so that the top of the bin would clear the spare tires that are mounted on the back exterior wall of the vehicle. This bin, however small, relatively speaking, allows us to stow a tent, sleeping pads, chairs, tools, and any number of other useful but space-consuming items outside, padlocked and out of our way.

In terms of the kitchen, storage is also an issue, so since we ‘re not been on microwaves, we use the microwave as storage for towels, pot-holders, coffee filters and tea!

There is so much more I could say, but time is another thing that seems in short supply. Tune in soon for more updates and musings, and perhaps Mary will chime in soon with her own take on the new RV


Monday, September 7, 2009

Our Maiden Voyage

Well, we did it, folks. We launched our rig and ourselves on our maiden voyage last Friday, and although the start was rough, we did have fun!

Before we were out of the starting gate, the toilet backed up (yuck!), the engine battery was dead as a doornail (we did something wrong, of course), and the front brakes were grinding like the molars of a narcoleptic.

So, what did we do, you ask?

First, we cleaned up the toilet overflow, jump-started the dead battery, and high-tailed it to the Amherst Sewage Treatment Plant and emptied our "black water" tank. What a relief!

Next, we found trusty local truck mechanics who told us to simply "baby" those recalcitrant brakes, downshift on the hills, and head out of town without a care in the world. We took their advice, crossed our fingers, and lumbered down the road in Scottie La Blanca!

First stop was Shelburne, MA, where we visited our good friend Meike who is living on the land with her cat, goats, llama, ducks, rabbit---an entire lovely menagerie of creatures.

Trusting in our solar power to get us through, we were able to run lights, cook on the propane stove, and even take a hot shower, completely unconnected to any source of power or water.

In the morning, we had a leisurely walk on the beautiful Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, visited some tag sales (shopping judiciously only for things we need, of course, like books on CD and Tupperware), we also had a swim in the river just north of Shelburne, one of favorite swimming places.
Saturday night saw us in Warwick, MA, camped out on a dirt road and attending a party with old and new friends at a luxurious and rural home on a rushing stream. We participated in a wonderful Qigong lesson in the yard, did a Laughter Yoga session for some of the partygoers, and then shmoozed and ate and drank and shmoozed some more with a very interesting and wild group of diverse people. Mary talked gibberish, danced, hula-hooped, and was generally the life of the party, while I was more of a quiet but content observer of the fray. Between the pot brownies, the joints, the beer and the 60's music, it felt like I was a Gen X'er paying a visit to Baby Boomer Heaven.

After a good sleep (despite our less-than-level site on the side of the dirt road, with the rig lurching to starboard something fierce), we were treated by our friends Dona and Jedd to an incredible outdoor brunch at The Copper Angel in Warwick, MA. The cook and owner is actually a puppeteer, and our table was lucky enough to be visited by her newest creation, The Queen of StinkyLand, who will preside over the North Quabbin Garlic Festival in early October.

Further testing our rig's capabilities, we successfully located our dear friend Shen and her compatriots from the Insight Meditation Society at a state forest campsite in Petersham, MA. We were very impressed with our rig's ability to negotiate a steep gravel road into the woods, failing brakes be damned! We talked into the night about philosophy, Enneagrams, travel, the Dharma, and we all slept the sleep of the blissfully content.

Rolling home to Belchertown, we looked back over our maiden voyage, happy that the brakes did not fail us, and ready to have them repaired forthwith on Tuesday after the long holiday weekend. We are emboldened now to think that our rig can do just about anything, that diesel engine ready to tackle most any challenge, and it seems that only our 29-foot length and 11-foot height will stand in our way now.

At any rate, Scottie La Blanca is now broken in, and we are finding our sea legs as we careen with certain momentum towards our departure at the end of October.

Stay tuned!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Within Reach

Last night at the Sirius Community in Shutesbury, MA, we had the pleasure of meeting Ryan and Mandy, a spirited and wonderful couple who are "bike-packing" around the United States with the goal of visiting 100 intentional communities, using pedal-power and solar-powered computer equipment. (Randy carries a 20-pound solar panel for charging all of their electronics.)
During the course of the trip, this intrepid and inspiring couple are making a film entitled "Within Reach" about sustainable living in its many forms, and last night we caught a tantalizing glimpse of what that film will eventually become when completed. The film will be a feature-length documentary which will inspire ordinary people to take extraordinary steps vis-a-vis creating a more sustainable world.

Mandy and Ryan are now half-way through their journey, already having bicycled 4,762 miles and having visited 72 communities. Their website is worthy of frequent visits, and you can donate by the mile for $8.33, or simply send a sum of your choosing to support their trip and the making of the film. Within Reach is now registered as a non-profit, so your donations are 100% tax-deductible.

We were incredibly inspired by Mandy and Ryan's presentation at Sirius, and hearing about their adventures and ideas for creating a better world has lit a fire under us as we continue to plan our journey of discovery.

Coming home to our new mobile abode from that lovely evening, we realize that visiting intentional communities, learning about sustainable living, and bringing the gifts of Laughter Yoga and health and wellness coaching to people around the country is something we truly feel passionate about. Please join us in supporting Ryan and Mandy, and bookmark their website so that you can follow their progress as they complete the second half of their incredibly inspiring journey.