We’re grounded

20181217_101051That’s right.

Joe and I will be spending our winter in Pittsburgh. Not a bad place to be, but not the sunny Texas gulf shores we had planned on.

Here’s how we got here.

After being on his feet for more than 30 years are as a retail manager and then a teacher, Joe has varicose veins.  This fall they started acting up while we were on the beach in North Carolina. He went to a doc in the box who recommended he visit a vein clinic.

He put it off. We were already scheduled to spend three weeks in Pittsburgh around the holidays where we had doctor appointments scheduled.

The doc at the Pittsburgh vein clinic evaluated Joe’s legs and recommended an out patient procedure. He could do it and Joe would be good to go in a week. But, that old ugly insurance raised its head.

The insurance company wants Joe to wear compression stockings for 12 weeks before it will even consider the surgery.  And the doc said the clotting in Joe’s legs is so severe he doesn’t want him to drive long hours.

That means we’re grounded, in a campground, in Pennsylvania, in the winter.


We could skirt the camper with sliver insulating panels and buy lots of propane. I could wrap my self in throws and sit in the dark with the shades pulled to keep warm.

I mean, we could do it. But I wouldn’t be happy.

Joe’s mantra has always been “Happy wife, happy life.”

So we began looking for a short-term rental apartment, an expensive proposition. We found one in the city, near a park and children’s museum. It had a gym and  dog park. It would even take Nikki and Pocket, for a fee.

We put down a deposit and paid an application fee. Then the nice young rental agent wanted a picture of the dog, for the insurance company. The complex restricts dogs. They don’t accept “lock jaw dogs,” like pitbulls.

Nikki is a lab mix rescued from the pound. She has blue eyes, which makes us think she has some husky in her. She’s also 13 years old, sleeps a lot and is such a scaredy cat she runs when you jangle your keys.



The insurance company wanted us to guarantee her breed. There was a lot of faxing and phone calls back and forth with the vet. Bottom line, no one can tell you what the mix is and we’re out of an apartment.

Plan B.

Luckily, my son-in-law is part of a co-working space co-op called Work Hard Pittsburgh, which has an apartment above its space. The tenant is scheduled to move out Jan. 1. The co-op has kindly allowed us to rent the apartment for a short time and they don’t care what kind of dog we have.


We’re three minutes away from my daughter, who has gym equipment and a washer- dryer in her house. There’s a park near by. And my cousins have graciously said they will allow us to park the motor home on their horse farm.

So, Jan. 1 we move in above an old hardware store. We’re reliving college. We don’t have a bed, a couch, a table or a lamp. We’re buying a futon and borrowing the rest.

We’ll be warm and close to family. If you have to be grounded, there’s no place I’d rather be than Pittsburgh.

Happy wife, happy life.




There just aren’t enough volunteers

hurricanemichael3_101218gettyPhoto by thehill.com

Josh Hipp, a disaster relief coordinator, sat on top of a picnic table across the bonfire from me and stated a harsh fact that has burned in my mind ever since.

“Volunteers like to go off to the latest disaster,” he said. But with the numbers of natural disasters piling up–Hurricanes Florence and Michael, wildfires in California–volunteers are beginning to burnout, Hipp said.

It’s getting harder and harder to get people willing to give up a week or two repairing someone’s home when the natural disasters come one on top of the other, he said. Everyone wants to rush to the latest spot, but what about the people devastated by last year’s hurricane or the one before that?

I met Josh at a bonfire on one of our last nights of a three-week stint volunteering for NOMADS in Crystal River, Florida this fall. It was an easy gig. We were working for the Crystal River United Methodist Church building new classrooms for a school the church is starting, painting the outside of a house for one of the members, weeding and generally doing maintenance.

NOMADS is a Methodist organization that does service projects in churches and communities. Its members also repair homes damaged by natural disasters. The group has disaster rebuilds in the Midwest and Louisiana for homes flooded out, in Key West, North Carolina and now the Florida Panhandle for hurricane damage.

NOMADS isn’t the first group into a disaster zone. They’re the ones that arrive a year later to repair your roof, sheet rock the walls or put in wiring.

Josh has been traveling around the country for the last eight years doing disaster rebuilds. Lately, his motorhome and trailer have been parked on the church’s property while he works in the area.

He supervises groups like NOMADS repairing homes for people who have gotten grants to do repairs after natural disasters. Recently he’s been working for Catholic Charities supervising Mennonites repairing homes damaged on Florida’s Gulf Coast last year.

Before his time was up in Florida  another hurricane had wrecked the coast. He’s already been called to go up to the Florida Panhandle where this fall Hurricane Michael wiped some towns off the map.

Well-meaning people have already flooded the area with help, but the nagging question Josh faces is will there be enough volunteers to do the work a month or a year from now when the repair grants are approved and the materials bought. Who will hammer the nails or install the wiring?

Experts say the climate is becoming more extreme. More devastating storms. That means more flooding. More damaged homes needing repairs and more people needed to do the work.

Who will do the necessary repair work that will be needed because our leaders have failed to work on the larger question of lessening man’s impact on climate. See the government’s latest climate report.

Will there be enough volunteers?


We outran Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence has made me paranoid. That’s what happens when you move your house four times in a week to avoid a major hurricane. It seemed like she was following us.

As Florence approached we were ordered off Hatteras Island, booted out of a KOA in Greensboro, North Carolina, and fled the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Now we’re in a campground 50 minutes north of Pittsburgh, taking stock and getting ready to drive back to the beach.

I ache for those who couldn’t just drive out of the storm’s path. They lost everything in the storm and its flooding. Joe and I hope to be able to help in someway with the recovery.

The journey, while a little crazy, has been fun. Check out the elk. We saw them up close and personal in the Smokies. The KOA refunded us all but $20 of the cost of our stay in Greensboro because we only stayed one night instead of our planned six because of the hurricane.


We visited with our daughter and son-in-law and dined at Alla Familgia–the best Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh. Tonight we’re going to a Pirates game. Go Bucs!11aflorence_4

Outrunning our first hurricane on the road wasn’t that bad.

There are bits of joy even when there are perils in the journey.





The one where we watch fireworks from 212 feet in the air

Where are you going?

That’s what everyone asked before we left on our grand motorhome experiment.


Patricia Richard and Charley at the IronGirl, by Bill Richard.

People who are staying put want to hear that you’re taking some grand tour as full time RVers. First to the Grand Canyon, then Bryce and Zion, over to Yellowstone and Yosemite. Or maybe you’ve set your sights on going to every stop on the Dave Matthews tour, or hitting all of the major league ball parks. Or in our case every Penn State football game home and away.

Nope, we spent our first weeks on the road less than a day from Auburn.

So that’s why on the Fourth of July, Joe and I were sitting in lawn chairs on an old railroad bridge 212 feet above the Hudson River.  We hadn’t planned it. But long about July 2nd, Joe and I began to wonder where we would watch fireworks this year.

Had we stayed in Auburn, we would have parked the car in the driveway on July 3rd, moseyed down to Emerson Park on Owasco Lake with our lawn chairs to listen to a symphony play the “1812 Overture” and watch a fireworks display that never disappoints.

Joe wanted to watch fireworks from the Palisades in New Jersey across from New York City But it was so hot. So where to go?

That’s the big question, where are we going.

Since Joe retired: I’ve run the IronGirl Sprint Triathlon at Oneida Shores in Onondaga County, we’ve hiked along Lake Ontario at Robert Wehle State Park in the 1000 Islands, skipped down the grand staircase of Boldt Castle while I hummed the theme to Masterpiece Theater, and visited every brown-signed park in Hyde Park. (We’re a little addicted to history.)

Before we left town, I’d look for hiking trails in the Mid-Hudson area and that’s when Google showed me the Walkway Over the Hudson State Park. A 1.2 mile-long former railroad bridge that has been converted into a walking, running, biking trail 212 feet above the Hudson River. The bridge connects to a rail-bike trail on either side of the river that runs for miles.

The best thing about the Walkway is the fireworks. For a fee, you can watch the City of Poughkeepsie’s fireworks shot off from a barge in the middle of the river. Locals come early bringing lawn chairs  and dinner. The adults next to us played cards and discussed national politics. Kids played games and blew bubbles that floated over the river.

We watched boats and kayaks maneuver for the best viewing spot on the Hudson, including Pete Seeger’s sloop  the Clearwater.


As dusk drifted to twilight,  the sheriff’s boat escorted a small tugboat to center stage and the first of the fireworks began popping up over the hills in towns up and down the river.

A little boy yelled out “C’mon Dad we’ve got to go there. We’ve got to go there,” pointing to a distant display.

Our heads were on swivels. Joe, at one point, counted 15 communities with fireworks going off all at the same time.

The main act took it’s time giving the smaller displays their moments in the night.

With a loud BOOM! Poughkeepsie’s fireworks announced its presence  and put on one of the best fireworks displays I’ve ever seen in person. The flashes of red ribbons and hearts, bright blue flowers, gold stars burst in a seemingly endless display with a grand finale that couldn’t be beat.

There is joy in a journey that stops to watch fireworks, no matter where they’re found.

Driving Lessons: A tale of the road to hell and just how did you get that dent?

One of the first things people ask me about the motorhome is if you need a special license to drive it.

No, you don’t. Anyone with a driver’s license can get behind the wheel of one of these 30,000-pound behemoths and drive away.

Joe has driven many a U-Haul truck to move us around. He probably doesn’t need lessons. I’m another story.

I like small cars. I feel comfortable in them. My first car was a 1975 Honda Civic. It was blue and looked like pregnant roller skate. I’ve also owned a Ford Aspire. (Our joke was it aspired to be a car.)

I currently drive a red and black Mini Cooper. It’s a stick with a turbo. I love playing race car driver on the interstate on ramps. So, going from a Mini to a Jayco Precept that you’re not supposed to drive more than 55 mph is a stretch for me.

I wanted to learn to drive the motorhome. I have women friends who also travel in RVs. One can only back her Class C into a parking space with her husband’s directions. She never drives it on the road. The other ruined the tailgate of her truck when she didn’t remember to do something when attaching a fifth wheel.

I don’t want to be limited. Why should Joe have all the fun? And how would I cope if, God forbid, something happened to him and I didn’t know how to drive the thing?

Besides, getting lessons lowers your insurance. That’s incentive enough. So, we spent $600 for two solid days of lessons.

When I told people what we were about to do I got some strange looks.

When I told my cousin Joy I was going to take RV driving lessons she gave me an eye roll. Joy used to work for her father who owned an RV dealership near Pittsburgh.

She turned to her brother Kevin. Do you remember when Dad taught us to drive an RV?

He just threw us the keys and told us to move it on the lot, Kevin replied.

I think that’s sort of like throwing someone in a pond to teach them to swim.

I told a knitting friend that Joe and I were driving the motorhome to Ohio to learn how to drive a motorhome. She cracked up. She turned to another friend next to her. She’s driving a MOTORHOME to Ohio to learn how to DRIVE a MOTORHOME. I totally get the irony.

In early May we drove out to Columbus for our lessons.

Monday morning we met our instructor Terry Bacus of RV Driving School in a Walmart parking lot.


Terry Bacus

Terry and I hit it off. Over the course of the lessons we learned Terry had fought in Vietnam. He married Mary, whom he lovingly calls Grumpy, and he has small dogs.

Terry has been a police officer, a school administrator and is now a driving instructor. This summer he and Mary will travel to Washington State in their motorhome to be camp hosts in a beautiful state park overlooking the Pacific.

terry and grumpy

Terry and Mary 

As we drove around the Walmart lot, Terry told me to stop then pull straight into the intersection until my hips are even with the curb and then turn the wheel all the way before giving the coach gas. It worked well.

After I felt comfortable driving around the lot, Terry told me to drive to purgatory, which was his name for the two-lane back country road through Ohio farm fields.

Stay to the left, stay to the left, he called out, when I drifted over to avoid oncoming traffic. Take as much of the other lane as you want.

What about the other drivers?

They’ll move. You’re bigger.

It’s true, the other drivers moved.

I was driving cautiously, ok slow, and the drivers behind me didn’t like that. One guy honked just as he passed me making me jump.

As we motored I got more comfortable. We went onto a four-lane divided highway. No problem.

Then we got off on the road to Hell.

road to hell one

It was a twisty, turny road through old coal towns. There were retaining walls to avoid, 90 degree turns and old telephone polls that lean out into the road. We went up hills with steep grades and back down again.

I did ok.  The road to Hell wasn’t that bad.


Ah, but the devil’s in the details.

Terry guided me into a state park for practice parking the motorhome. Using hand signals, he guided me on to a parking pad next to a small stone wall guarding a drain.

Then it was Joe’s turn to guide me.

Pull out and we’ll guide you into another space Terry said. Standing next to the space they wanted me to pull into, Terry and Joe began chatting.

I started to pull out and forgot the first lesson Terry taught me. I didn’t pull straight out of the space BEFORE making the turn. I cut it short.

By the time the men noticed I was going to hit the stone retaining wall it was too late.  I scraped the side of the coach and dented a luggage door.


I was terrifically upset. (I didn’t cry, in case you ask.) I’d always thought Joe would be the first to dent the motorhome.

Terry was mortified. He kept apologizing. It wasn’t his fault I’d forgotten his first lesson to pull out straight.

Joe wasn’t upset. I guess he always thought I’d be the one to put the first dent in the motorhome.

We took a break to chill for a while before going at it again. Under Joe’s direction I parked the motorhome again with no problems.

We continued back down the road to Hell, then purgatory and finally back to the Walmart parking lot.

us with Terry

Terry told me he’d sleep in the back with me driving anytime. High praise I’d say.





How many full-time RVers are there?


Joe and I aren’t alone in our desire to become nomads late in life.

When we  pull out of Auburn, New York, we’ll be joining an estimated 250,000 to 1 million people living in their RVs full time. At least those are the numbers I see on blogs. Nobody really knows the actual number because no one has accurately counted them.

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t separate out full-time RV living from other housing structures. The American Community Survey for the years 2009-2011 estimated that the nation has 131.8 million housing structures. The vast majority of those, 61.5 percent, were traditional single family homes.

Then there are various kinds of row homes and apartment buildings.

The closest the survey comes to counting something like an RV is the estimated 8.6 million mobile homes, or 6.5 percent of the nation’s housing stock.

The Census Bureau puts RV living in the “other” category, which is where it puts occupied boats and people living in a van. The “others” represent an estimated 111,000 or 0.1 percent of the nation’s housing structures.

Based on what I see on full-time RV Facebook groups and books I’ve read, the full-time Rvers are way under represented in the survey.

In California, the housing crisis is so severe in some areas that people are living full time in RVs that they’re parking on city streets.


The Facebook sites that I belong to also show a number of young families with mom and dad and two, three, six or eight kids living in fifth wheel bunkhouse pulled by a big truck.  In many of those cases the kids are home schooled and the family is nomadic, traveling around the country  as parents chase jobs.

I’m also seeing a number of military families on Facebook who are living in RVs as they move from post to post.

Then there are those who buy a used RV and are parking it for free on a friend or family member’s land. They don’t travel.

In June, Joe and I will pull our 32-foot Jayco Precept out of the driveway and put Auburn in the rear view mirror. And at that point, I guess, we’ll fall off the Census Bureau’s radar. We’ll be “others.”

Our legal address will be at my daughter’s in Pittsburgh, but our home will be on the road.20180127_155455