What do you call the act or process of working? Whether it’s income-driven or as a volunteer, is your work a necessity to live? To express? Is it an addiction? Or is it to avoid doing other things expected of you?
My husband and I now call the avoidance tactic “hide work.” We’ll sit in our offices in front of our computers for hours sometimes, just to avoid doing house repairs or yard work or unpacking from our move. I’m also well aware that excessively working has been one of my chief addictions for years. Balance is an ongoing challenge.
Being busy, working, started out in childhood as a way to stay in the good graces of my mother. If we were busy, productive, or doing chores, we were less likely to be tasked with things we didn’t want to be doing or suffer the punishment of the day. We might even hear an occasional compliment. There was no such thing as boredom in our parents’ home. We could play “after the work was done.” But it never was… done.
I brought that incessant productivity mind into adulthood and years of employment. Employers loved it! I volunteered for overtime when I could. I worked through lunches. I honed my administrative skills, took classes, and learned to do tasks more quickly (and accurately). There was a time I was commended for doing the work of two or three people. Unfortunately, that recognition did not often translate into a higher salary, so I would move on to another place that was more appreciative of my efforts… until it wasn’t.
Making the transition from that productive, working mindset to a more relaxed and less demanding pace in retirement has been difficult. I find or create projects that require weeks of list-making, sorting, processing, creating, and that, finally, end up with a pleasing result… before coming up with another idea and starting again. It’s what I’ve always done, up until now.
As I’m about to finish a two-year volunteer project (with others thrown in between), I look over the list of ongoing ideas on my whiteboard and think about what I want to do next. The answer is, “Nothing.” Shock! At least not for a while.
The other day I decided to “take a day off” from my busyness and just read a book. It’s been on my desk for over a year. I promised myself I would stay out of my office and off my computer for at least the one day. It was extremely difficult to keep that commitment, but I did it. It was also a wake-up call… again.
While my mind thrives through structured hours and project deadlines, and I will never give them up entirely, I would now prefer such schedules be the exception rather than the daily expectation. I’m “retired” for goodness sake! I’ve traded my time with the world and a myriad of organizations throughout my life, for income and a sense of serving society. And though I continue to serve as a volunteer for a couple of organizations, I have stronger boundaries in place. This allows my life to be filled with creativity and friends and love and seeing sites and being with family… all the things society promised when a person retires. More of that, please.
As I “rewire” my brain and daily address this workaholism, I already sense a shift in how I’m being in the world. I’ve done much personal growth, healing, and self-development through the last twenty years, and yet, I know there is more to do in these final decades of life. I’d really like to learn how to play and not feel guilty about it. My husband has this down; he’s a willing teacher, too.
Perhaps my efforts are only a shift in perception or I’m simply calling it by a different name. However, it’s enough of a shift inside to create a new set of feelings. Calm. Joy. Abundance. Peace. Awe. Love. Oh, to make those a priority for one’s whole life; truly that would be success. As long as I still have time, I’ll work on that.
This is not the first time I’ve blogged about “Choice” and its importance to me. This link https://www.carlaryan.com/?s=choice takes you to a 2013 posting on this site. Current times require that I add a bit more today.
Following the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, many people in this country (the United States of America) are re-examining the right of a woman to make her own choice about safe, pregnancy-related healthcare. Something we’ve taken for granted for nearly 50 years. Something we were told by the newest Justices was “settled law” and a “protected right” in this country. They lied.
What we are discovering is that America is not so much the “United States” about this matter. We (State legislatures and their supporters) are extremely divided on many things and in the manner for which such healthcare should be carried out. However, the bottom line for me is that a woman’s CHOICE about it has been taken away in many states and in many circumstances.
Without the right to choose, she has become less than a full human in a situation she cannot even create on her own! Tell me, what choice has been taken from the men involved in creating the scenario in the first place? What consequence will they bear for their actions?
How is this possible in a “free and independent” society? When did women willingly relinquish control over their bodies to a government entity? For what purpose are such subversive political or religiously-influenced measures being used? What’s the end-game?
Now, more than ever, CHOICE is my #1 value. While I’m past childbearing years, I can exercise CHOICE in what I write, where I live, what I do, who I see, where I go, and how I vote. Those freedoms appear to be still intact and I’m grateful for that. Yet, my political alarm sensors are on high alert. I choose my words carefully both in what I say and to whom I speak. I’m concerned for my children and grandchildren, and their future in this country.
And while, as a minister, I continue to share information about my religious preference with anyone who asks, NEVER in my wildest imaginations would I consider imposing my beliefs on someone else to the point of reversing laws or creating new ones that only make life more difficult for people (women) already in a difficult situation – no matter the circumstance. CHOICE is personal and sacred – whether about my religion or my body. Isn’t that why we founded this democracy in the first place? Freedom from religious persecution and the right to choose our own paths, including decisions about our own bodies?
I love words! I love discovering new words, hidden meanings, pronunciations, dialects, and inspirational quotations. I enjoy playing word games as well. Learning to read at an early age opened a multitude of worlds for me. It still does. I’m happy to share new learnings with those around me, whether in conversation or through my writing. Two word lessons came up this week that caught my attention.
While practicing Tai Chi in my living room via a video instructor, he was explaining the type of early instruction he received from a Chinese master several decades ago. Basically, the master would demonstrate a movement and then expect the student to replicate it and continue practicing until it was perfected. All without any type of correction or feedback.
He called that type of instruction “chi ku” style, which means to bear hardships or eat bitterness. In other words, the master expected the student to suffer toward the perfection of the Tai Chi movements, to struggle through it with difficulty until the student got it right, to figure it out without any additional guidance. Heavy meaning for two small words.
Fortunately, the video instructor did not endorse that style of teaching. He discovered that, when he began teaching Tai Chi in the United States (the West), his students didn’t appreciate that type of instruction. They wanted feedback, correction, input as they were doing the movements.
The second lesson came from a Scrabble™-like game app. I spend far too much time playing this app on my phone, so I was pleased to recognize a valuable spiritual lesson in the process of playing.
Aside from the strategy involved regarding placement of the letter tiles on the board in order get the highest number of points, I love the challenge of creating words – as long as possible – with the tiles given to me by the program. Rarely do I “swap” tiles. I simply work with what I have and, usually, it’s enough. My current stats show I win at least 60% of the time.
The thing is long words are harder to place on the board. If you have a connecting tile available, there’s usually only room for the placement of longer words near the beginning of the game, when the board is relatively open. By midway through the game, even though I might be able to create a five-to-seven-tile word, oftentimes there’s no place to put it. If my intent is to score the most points, I have to let go of the word I created and find shorter words, fewer characters, to place in strategic positions on the board.
It’s the idea of disassembling what I’ve created that causes me angst. I’m faced with recreating a word or vision for what I WANT to do in order to make progress (points) so I can have the best outcome (win the game, if possible).
How often are we faced with that challenge in our lives?
We work and plan and save and strategize to create something in our lives, a dream or goal. And sometimes, by the time we achieve it, the dream or goal no longer suits us… at least, not all of it. We might be able to salvage a piece or a different version of it. Like changing majors in college to fit into an emerging industry. Not everything we’ve done is wasted, and not everything we take with us into the future is what we thought would happen, but there we are… making adjustments to our plans.
The gift I often receive is that the new, shorter word and its placement on the board is usually worth more points than the long word I struggled with and couldn’t find a spot to place it.
We can suffer over it, feel like it’s an undeserved hardship, express our angst… or… we can smile about how we’re able to shift gears, change direction, adapt, and stay in the game. Our response is always a choice. I’m smiling a lot these days.
It’s well after ten in the morning and I’m still in my pajamas. I’ve made several phone calls, read the news online, scanned social media, and finished my allotment of coffee. My daily “To Do” list is almost done. Now what?
We’re as unpacked as we can be at the moment. Every room has been cleaned. More will be completed this week. Several big pieces of furniture will be moved (with professional help) from the local storage unit into our home in a few days, just before the majority of our possessions arrive early next week. Finally! Then there will be a flurry of unwrapping, unboxing, and reorganizing as things are set into place. Until then, life is in a holding pattern.
I find this space of waiting uncomfortable. The longer the inactivity goes on, the harder it is to step into the maintenance of life. I can find tasks that need to be done; they’re just not the ones I want to do. And the things I want to do require the supplies, files, equipment, or furniture that isn’t here yet. A first-world dilemma, to be sure.
A key part of this “problem” is my addiction to work, to busyness, to needing to feel tangibly productive. It’s important to explore what I’m feeling and to find a means to resolve these outdated ideas in some positive way, especially as my activities in future days and years are meant to lean more toward relaxation and/or creative endeavors. However, right now, it feels skewed toward endless drudgery.
I prefer to think of this period of life as “re-wirement” rather than retirement. I choose to have an active life… creative outlets… community connection through service or business… new and fun experiences… that are balanced with the tasks required to maintain a home and daily living. I also prefer large blocks of time for painting walls, writing, sewing, embroidering with beads, or planned recreational activities… not to jump from one chore to another that only gets repeated tomorrow or the day after or the week after that.
The solution, it appears, is to allow myself to enjoy this period of mostly inactivity and repetitive tasks until the rest of our boxes show up. To give myself the freedom to explore empty hours. It’s harder for me than you might think. Meditation is helpful, but the planning voice is loud and constant. The planning voice wants results! Projects started! Long-term goals achieved! Transformations completed!
I think it’s time I had a chat with that annoying voice. Wish me luck.
A key teaching in my New Thought faith is that there is only the Now moment. The Past is gone; the Future has not arrived. We can only think and do and create and live in the Now. Never was this made more clear to me than during our recent move from Colorado to Oregon.
As I drove across the barren, eastern part of Oregon, mental images of the previous 38 years in Colorado filled my head, popping into view to be recognized and acknowledged. The memories and images appeared bright and full for a few seconds, then drifted away like sand blowing in the wind.
I got a clear sense that our time in Colorado – all those years, all the places we lived, all the houses we turned into homes – no longer existed. It was as if to tell me, “Those moments are gone. This is your time. This is your life Now. Be present to it.” That was then. It’s always Now.
This is a big shift in thinking for me. I’m a planner. It’s what I do and is a skill that has served me well in life. It gives me a sense of structure and order. Also, planning helps guide whatever visions I have for my time on earth. Likely, I’ll continue with my “to do” lists and calendars and estimates in all matters. However, I’m also learning to leave space in the Now moment for the unexpected delights that show up. I know they’re there if I just stay open to them.
While initially I thought being in the Now moment, focusing solely on what was in front of me, would slow down the completion of so many tasks, it actually has made me more productive. I’m less anxious or stressed, too. I can give all my attention to the person or task or situation from beginning to end, and put everything else aside. I can forget all the items on my “to do” list until I’m ready to address them. (The benefit of lists!)
This has been a significant discovery given we’ve made this interstate move in the midst of the fall and Christmas holiday season, and a global pandemic, and with so many details to address.
For example, working with several customer service people through a challenging and confusing delivery of our household possessions. Staying patient and respectful through it all. Knowing there is a solution. Or, for the first time, living with adult children (and grandchildren) in their home. Being grateful for the temporary space until we find our own place. Trying not to intrude in their daily routine. Or reviewing and signing one document after another toward the ownership (and mortgage) of our “forever” home. Learning new terminology. Leaning on the guidance of our realtor and lender and insurance broker. Trusting the process. Verifying what I can. Or watching the expressions on the faces of those around the decorated tree as they open presents. Noticing the joy, confusion, disappointment, or excitement in their faces. Capturing in my heart the gratitude of a grandchild, whether expressed through a smile or a text or a hug.
It’s the moment-by-moment effort to stay aware in the Now that is bringing new change, new opportunities, new connections, and new shifts of consciousness into my daily life. And with it, a new way of being in the world. What a gift!
My mother died two days ago. In the midst of a pandemic and right before Christmas. She was 89. I’m still trying to determine if it’s relief or grief that I feel. Maybe both.
We hadn’t spoken for more than a dozen years. Not because I didn’t try from time to time. I reached out through occasional birthday or holiday cards, sending a gift or two. I didn’t have her phone number or email address, but she had mine.
My mother was a woman full of creativity. A talented artist in many realms. Sewing. Painting. Crafts. Gardening. Home decorating. She was even a trapeze performer one summer as a teenager. I’m grateful to have learned so much from her. To be curious. To explore possibilities. To try and fail and try again.
I also learned what not to do. The physical abuse taught me kindness and compassion. To be a different kind of parent to my children. From her fear of lack, I eventually found there is always enough and more. From the loneliness, self-reliance. From know-it-all bluster, humility. And, especially, that angry silence can wound as easily as violent words.
Granted, I’m still learning, all this and more.
As far as I know, the reason she “disowned” me was based on religious differences. She found out that I had abandoned my childhood religion. Her vengeful, judgmental god no longer fit my philosophy for life. It was no longer the basis for what I believed. However, I am grateful now (as an Interfaith minister) for that parochial education.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I discovered a spiritual path full of Love and Universal Principles and Karmic Law. I tried to explain, during that final phone call with her, that a good deal of what I’d learned to that point was not much different from the Bible teachings she held dear… that we had more in common than we had differences… that if she was willing to be open and talk it through, we could both share our beliefs more deeply and learn from one another… and see the similarities. She refused.
I feel a great sadness that we never got to have that or any other conversation since. However, initiating such conversations is now a key focus of my Interfaith ministerial work. My mother’s influence is still present. Perhaps the silent treatment, begun that day as she hung up the phone, is over.
When there’s no going back, the only way to go is forward.
After making the decision to move from Colorado to Oregon, and then selling our house as quickly as we did, there was no time for doubt or regret. We had moments of grief about leaving Colorado and those we knew. And now, ten weeks since making the decision and two weeks after arriving to this coastal community, we can reflect on how easily everything has unfolded. (CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT COOS BAY.)
First we decluttered and put a few things into a storage unit. Then, due to the hot real estate market of 2021, our house was under contract within a few days of listing it. That’s when the packing fun really began. We ended up filling ten U-Haul storage boxes (like pods) to be shipped to a new address when requested. The process provided us with a few box bruises, increased muscle strength, tested our balance, and provided the knowledge to utilize moving tools to make it easier on our bodies. (Think “shoulder dolly” straps.)
On closing (departure) day, I pulled away from our former home in the van, pulling a small cargo trailer (with a few important boxes, suitcases of clothes, and the motorcycle), and Mike followed behind, driving a 22-foot cargo truck with large, heavy furniture that wouldn’t fit into the other ten storage boxes.
We arrived in Coos Bay after three-and-a-half days of careful, slow driving and no known mishaps.
Along the way we received a call that one of Mike’s siblings had been admitted to hospital with serious pneumonia. As a result of this illness and other eventual complications, she made her transition a few days later. She had just sold her house and was also preparing to leave Colorado for good. That memory will always be a part of our move, too. She will be missed.
Children, grandchildren, friends, and new acquaintances greeted our arrival with smiles and open arms. Family members also had arranged a large storage unit for all our road-weary belongings. Its size was more than adequate for what we brought with us. The other ten storage boxes will be requested once we have a new address.
We stayed at a hotel the first night of our arrival. The next morning, before taking our belongings to the large storage unit, a scary incident occurred involving one of our dogs.
As we were trying to load up once again and get to the storage unit to unload the motorcycle and other items, Casper somehow managed to get free of his leash and took off running through traffic. I tightened my grip on the leash to our smaller dog, lunged to grab the escapee, and fell over the cargo trailer hitch, bruising breast tissue and sternum bone. (Nothing fractured.) Traffic slowed or stopped as Casper made his way through two lanes of traffic on Highway 101 toward the intersection, where he paused to consider his next step.
Mike and I were running down the sidewalk after him, calling his name, and dragging little Zoey in the process. Casper made a right turn into a lumber yard. Then, with the help of lumberyard employees pointing out the direction, Mike managed to corner him between piles of wood. I threw the leash over the fence, and we brought Casper back to the hotel. A dreadful incident had been averted. I’ve been triple-checking the leash clasps ever since. Apparently, double-checking wasn’t enough.
It only took about an hour to unload the moving truck, cargo trailer, and van. Thank goodness I hired professional movers to assist. While one of the straps holding the motorcycle in place had snapped, the bike had managed to stay mostly upright. The surrounding boxes gave it some support. We had more than enough help to get the unloading done in record time. Both the rented cargo trailer and the moving truck were returned to vendors within hours of unloading. Whew!
The next step was to move into the guest room of Mike’s son’s house, retaining a few boxes with day-to-day items until we find our own place. They made space for our stuff in closets and cupboards and refrigerator and shelves. We are grateful to have such a welcoming place to reside while we search for our “forever home” one more time. It’s comforting to be surrounded by people who care about us and are willing to share their home with such generosity.
Almost immediately we had appointments with our realtor to tour home options in person. We had done several virtual tours with them, even placing long-distant offers on potential homes, but nothing had solidified.
However, within a week of arriving, we placed a contract on one that appears to meet all our requirements. It will need some minor repairs, but is practically move-in ready. While the house is much older and smaller than the one we just sold (think 1960’s mid-century modern), it suits this next phase of life as we learn to embrace a more relaxed lifestyle. With the formal inspection already provided by the seller and the appraisal waived, we pray that the closing will occur sooner than currently scheduled… perhaps before the end of 2021. It’s possible… and what a nice Christmas gift that will be (photos coming later).
Meanwhile, we’ve been focusing on moving funds from Colorado to Oregon, updating medical options, staying healthy, and driving around town to get familiar with the area. On one of our driving outings I backed into the steel edge of a low-hanging mall sign and put out one of my van’s rear windows. We also have an appointment with a body shop next week. The sign had no damage whatsoever.
Mike’s car is scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon, thanks to a former neighbor who was willing to drive it West and deliver it to us. Thank you, Alec! It will be easier to drive Mike’s car on these narrow streets than my big van.
With the major tasks complete, we find ourselves sleeping long nights and sitting… a LOT! It’s a good activity for me as my sternum is still a bit sore from the fall on the hitch. And now, each of us has a sore shoulder from yesterday’s COVID booster shots.
I’m finding it easier to meditate and have started reading again (a practice I put aside a few months ago). We’re getting to know our two young grandchildren and reconnect with their parents. We’re exploring decorating ideas for our new home, too. Then, once we take ownership of the property and the ten U-Haul storage boxes arrive with the bulk of our belongings, it’s back to muscle-building, balance-testing, and lots and lots of steps for a few days.
At some point we’ll visit the beach; it’s only about 15 minutes away and vast. The bay waters are just down the hill from here and visible from everywhere in town. The dark clouds of winter have arrived. Evening fog fills the gaps between evergreens on the hillside to the west. The air is moist; winter rain is predicted. It’s a great time to be indoors, writing, sharing this adventure with you.
We made the right decision. The only way to go is forward.
We have assembled, packed, and loaded into storage crates two hundred and sixty-six boxes so far in this moving process. Each box has been organized and inventoried with care before being placed into a large wooden storage crate for later shipment to our next home.
So many boxes, so many precious items collected over decades of life, are evidence of the Abundance present all around me. I am grateful for what we have… for what we have released… and for the unlimited possibilities before us.
In this process of preparing to move to another state, the energy required to pack, lift, shove, stack, and organize our possessions into five-by-seven-by-seven-foot crates has also allowed me to release several pounds of excess weight. In just the past five days the bathroom scale displays three pounds gone! In nearly three months, more than ten pounds have disappeared.
While I’m not inclined to exercise at this pace for the rest of my life, I am inspired to increase my activity level from what it used to be a few months ago. More walks. More outings. More energy. I’ve also established an eating pattern that appears to fulfill nutritional requirements without being excessive.
Finally, there are now eleven days until we sign the closing papers on our house and move to Oregon. We have loved living in this house; it’s one of the nicest we’ve owned. And while it’s a bit unsettling that we have not yet found another that meets our criteria, we trust it’s out there, waiting for us to discover its merits and make it our last home. I know, I’ve said this at least once before… maybe twice.
What’s different this time is our age. We’re both over 65 and, thankfully, both relatively healthy. However, doing most of this move ourselves has been difficult both physically and emotionally. I really don’t want to go through this again. Finding the “right” house has become paramount, more logistical than emotional.
Each day provides its own disappointments and successes. Spending so much time together under these stressful circumstances has revealed even more hidden aspects of our relationship to work through. Communication has been raw, direct, healing, fun, and always filled with love. We’ve become physically stronger with all the furniture-lifting and box-dragging. We also enjoy the evening salt baths to rejuvenate and restore our sore muscles. And we keep going. Pacing ourselves. Taking HGTV breaks with hot pads on our lower backs. Taking a walk through Target just to be around other people and away from the boxes. Eating regularly throughout the day; sometimes at home, sometimes at a favorite restaurant. Laughing at the seeming insanity of how we’re being led into this next adventure.
We’ve put offers on a couple of homes already, but they haven’t panned out… so far. Weird obstacles appeared and we knew it wasn’t the right house for us. Our mantras are “This, or something better” and “It only takes one, and what if it’s easy.”
Through it all I have to trust we’re doing the right thing. I don’t feel overly anxious about not having a next address. My ego voice (Naggy Maggie) has been quiet… likely in shock at what we’re doing. I know there’s a house out there, waiting for us to find it. Thus, I do my part every day (several times) by searching realtor.com to check for new listings.
It truly feels like we’re being guided toward something special and that we’ll recognize it as soon as it comes into view. Yes, we get impatient for it to show itself so we can make this move more easily from one house to another. Then we pack another box. Put padding around another piece of furniture. Have another storage crate delivered. Keep moving forward as we do our part of the process.
It’ll be interesting to see what’s waiting for us.
We have decided to leave Colorado and move to Oregon’s southern coast, specifically the Coos Bay-North Bend peninsula. Coos Bay, Oregon – Wikipedia
After two weeks of vigorous packing and decluttering and cleaning, our lovely Grand Junction house goes on the market this weekend. We anticipate and envision a quick sale. Followed by a mountain of boxes prepped and loaded into containers of some sort. Followed by a two-day drive to the Pacific Coast. Followed by a search for our “new” home. Followed by adventures.
While everything seems to be moving quickly right now, this decision came slowly. My husband is a Colorado native; I have lived in this state for most of 40 years. But the seed of this idea to move closer to the ocean was planted in 1997 when we traveled to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia to live. Mike’s job provided us a three-year adventure near the sea. It was life-changing! And the waves never left our hearts. We felt that same pull on our visits to Coos Bay in recent years, especially during our time there last month.
If not now, when? And why Oregon?
The past two years – most of which have been lived in semi-isolation due to the global pandemic – included the deaths of three dear friends. Others close to us have left the area to explore their passions or new horizons. We miss them all. They also inspire us. Life is too short.
Creation’s still small voice for “something more” has gotten louder. We can’t ignore it anymore. We have entered another phase of life. The autumn days of aging. When colors are bursting forth with vibrant energy. New ideas are waiting to be birthed. We must heed the call. No more waiting!
Yes, we have family in Colorado… and Utah… and Alaska… and many other states, including Oregon. That, too, is a big part of the draw for where we’re headed. We have family there, including grandchildren anticipating our arrival and with whom we can share a few years before they, too, are grown and on their own.
The ocean can’t be moved to Colorado. We look forward to cooler temperatures, a more humid climate, and ocean breezes. We experienced similar weather during Sydney’s winters. We survived the rain and cold and learned to adapt. To rug up. We’ll do the same in Oregon.
While we appreciate the variety of all the retail therapy a larger city provides, we choose not to live in such densely populated areas. Thus, the attraction to a small coastal town. Plus, we’ve made a concerted effort through the last three moves to downsize our possessions to right-size our lives. We’re almost there. Whatever extras we want will be at the end of a leisurely drive inland or can be shipped to our doorstep. Everything we need can be found locally.
Given the pandemic restrictions and cautions… and the technology of social media… you’ll hardly notice we’ve left the state. Our photographs will be different. We look forward to more outside activities, especially near the beaches. We will continue to evolve… to explore… and to love those far and near.
Earlier this week we slept in our converted camping van for the first time… with our two small dogs… in the driveway. Given it was the first time, we decided to stay close to home should anything major go awry. That decision turned out to be a good idea!
We purchased the 2004, semi-converted Chevy van only six weeks ago. I’ve spent four of those weeks tearing out and redesigning the interior to accommodate our foray into part-time #vanlife during our semi-retirement years. The intent is to visit our children and grandchildren. They are now scattered about, living all over the western United States. Because their homes are filled with children, there are no longer any guest rooms for us. A wonderful trade-off!
We had stayed at hotels, but didn’t like the associated costs nor having to board our dogs when we traveled. The van is to become our “hotel room on wheels” so we can visit our family (guesting in their driveways), bring our dogs, stay as suited for everyone’s schedule, and not spend a fortune in the process.
In our younger days, my husband and I did remote tent camping, car camping, and even trailer camping. However, due to where we live now, an older, reliable, converted camper van seems our best option. It will also be my daily around-town vehicle. The biggest requirement was that it had to fit in the garage. And it does. Just.
After a week of removing what was already in the van, then discussing desirable camping features with my husband, I spent three weeks re-designing the internal layout. I insisted on a “no-build build” idea so everything can be changed if we need the vehicle for something other than camping.
I did most of the installation, which included sewing, shopping, crafting, arranging, installing, and set-up. I selected everything from a sofa bed to fairy lights to a “Luggable Loo” toilet. My husband provided his input, the money, and muscle, too. We packed everything we might need (and more) for a vacation into the 70 square feet. Still, we decided a test was wise to be sure we didn’t forget anything.
While we had packed the van during the day with snacks, clothes, water, etc., our evening test began well after sunset. That was our first mistake. We did consider that, if something was missing – even though I’d made multiple lists – we could just dash inside the house and collect it.
Lesson 1: Set up camp in the daylight.
After loading up the dogs in their crates and providing them with water, our next task was to connect the long extension cord to an outlet in the garage. Although I had been the one to initially store the cord in the van, my husband was the one to get it out and unwind it. Unfortunately, confusion ensued about how it had been wound to begin with. It was difficult to unwind in the dark driveway. And why were those small bungee cords wrapped around it? We turned on the garage lights to illuminate the cord mess into a workable solution.
Lesson 2: Set up camp in the daylight.
Next, the extension cord was snaked from the garage through an open window into the van to power a surge-suppressor, multi-outlet unit for the computer and monitor (for livestreaming movies). That was the moment we discovered the outlet unit had not yet been stowed. Another trip to the house.
Lesson 3: Test systems completely and keep parts together. Set up camp in the daylight.
Once the electrical cord and outlet unit was turned on, we powered up our computer-related devices. Two small portable fans were already buzzing – one with its own battery and directed at our bed; the other USB-style fan, plugged into an external, fully-charged battery power supply, which gave the dogs a cooling breeze. Both fans – combined with the mosquito-netted, open front door windows – provided adequate air flow throughout the van. It also helped that the temperature was only in the mid-70’s.
Wait! No Wi-Fi? We had assumed we’d be able to connect to our home’s internet account from the driveway. It had worked before when we were parked in the garage, but now, less than 20 feet from our previous test spot, and we had no connection. We tried several times to connect on various devices. No luck. At least we had remembered to bring books and magazines for our nighttime ritual.
Lesson 4: Have internet HotSpot capability – OR – bring reading materials or external DVD/CD drives for movies. Set up camp in the daylight.
Although we had meant to keep the house off-limits for this experiment, that rule had already been broken several times. I ended up walking the dogs through the house (on their leashes) to the backyard for their final pee of the evening. I then marched them back to the van, locking doors and shutting off lights behind me. While I was walking the dogs, my husband shut down the devices and put them away. When the garage door came down, the reality of sleeping in our van in the driveway became really REAL.
Dogs locked in their crates? Check. Van doors locked? Yes. Phones and keys nearby? Of course. Water bottles handy? Indeed. Toilet set-up for late-night routines? Absolutely!
I had earlier given my husband a tour of where all the touch-lights were located and how to use them. The privacy curtain for the toilet area was also in place. All other window coverings insulated us from the outside world.
Lesson 5: Take your time; be methodical. Set up camp in the daylight.
I crawled across the sofa bed to my cozy, corner spot and collapsed into the pillows. As my husband read his paperback crime novel with the aid of a small solar-powered light propped on his chest, my eyes explored the van interior. My mind reviewed all the plans we had discussed and the hot days of working in the garage to achieve this moment. I’m happy with the aesthetic results.
What was disappointing, however, was the sofa bed. So hard! Neither of us slept well after the first hour. We’ll soon add some kind of topper to soften it. The bed is narrow for two people, but we can deal with that. We were both warm without coverings most of the night. Only in the pre-dawn hours did we feel the need for the quilt.
Also during the night, I became keenly aware of the slant of our driveway. While it’s not much of an incline, my body seemed to slide down the mattress toward the street. I repeatedly pulled myself up toward the pillows. Apparently this wasn’t an issue for my snoring husband.
Lesson 6: Find a level place to park. Set up camp in the daylight.
The 6:10 a.m. alarm was louder in the van than it had ever been in the bedroom. I threw on clothes and made another run to the backyard with the dogs. As I tried to get the dogs back into the van, rabid barking ensued. They were surprised by a neighbor out for her morning walk… across the street. Their loud vocal response made clear their feelings about such an intrusion in their corner of the neighborhood.
Thanks to the handy electrical cord and outlet unit, we heated the water in the electric kettle and enjoyed pour-over coffee. The ice in the small cooler chest chilled the coffee creamers loaded up the night before. Strong coffee never tasted so good. While there was enough hot water to make oatmeal, we decided on having breakfast later after we “got home.”
Our overnight test proved to be a success. We survived! My husband retracted the electrical cord from the window. We both shared in storing it in a new way. I hopped into the driver’s seat to move the van back into its place in the garage. Once the garage door was secure, we released the hounds, cleaned up the van, and fixed a welcome hot breakfast.
Lesson 7: Be flexible. Plan for what you can. Enjoy the adventure. And set up camp in the daylight.
Our future excursions will be more than 20 feet from our back door. We’re excited, but nervous, to “get on the road.” We’ve never had a vacation without a timeframe or urgency to return. It’ll be interesting to see how Life shows up in our journeys.