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September 30, 2006

One last day at storage?

Just a quick entry today because we are heading out to ... you-know-where ... again today. This is the big day. We are going to consolidate the two storage units into one, except for the stuff that people are coming to buy tomorrow. We'll also make the big final trash run, using a utility trailer. So the job will probably take all day.

Craigslist has proven helpful for selling the furniture. I posted a bunch of stuff yesterday and managed to find buyers for three large pieces. But I'm also getting a bunch of scams, including this one:

RE: (4) cherry spindle-backed chairs - $240
I saw your advert posted on the internet for sale and am very much interested in buying it from you, I am a dealer in all kind of electronics and am currently based here in Canada I will be responsible for the the shippment from your location to my base, so I would want you to get back to me with your asking prize and recent pics and also I would want to know it's present condition. I will await a reply from you.

Wow, what a bad scam. Can you see all the obvious tip-offs that this guy is a phony? And yet people fall for these all the time. I also got a phony notice that I have won a "Euro-Afriq lotto" for $800,000 this week. It's rampant. Just be cautious if you are selling stuff on the Internet, and try to do business locally.

September 29, 2006

Recycling and freecycling

Yesterday the expected rain did not arrive and so Eleanor and I got a bonus afternoon at our storage units. (We spend so much time there, it's like our second home now.) A friend came by and filled his pickup truck with an armoire, two dressers, and a chandelier, plus we've sorted out a lot more garbage.

Yesterday our Argosy-owning friends Lou and Larry tipped us off to "freecycling", which is not about bicycling as you might guess. There's a grass-roots organization called which has local units in many communities. It's simple: you list what you have to give away, and other people list what they want. This allows people to circulate good usable stuff to people who can use it, rather than having it end up in landfills.

Membership is free, and it's all handled on Yahoo Groups for maximum convenience. From the activity on the group, it really seems to work. I only wish I'd known about it a couple of weeks ago, because it's a great service for getting rid of stuff. At this point we have most of our free stuff allocated.

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Our truck, loaded with recycling and rummage sale stuff again

So, for you future downsizers, where did all our stuff go? Here's the list:

1) Small valuable items went on eBay, either listed by myself or a local service
2) Large inexpensive furniture went to friends and a local fellow who distributes such things to people to need it. Freecycle would have been good for this as well.
3) Old magazines and other paper went to the local recycling center
4) Personal papers were burned
5) Children's clothes, toys, and basic housewares went to a local women's shelter
6) Misc household stuff went to various church rummage sales
7) Most books went to two different book sales to benefit a local charity and a local library. A few went to friends.
8) The car went to someone who needed it. (He picked it up last night.)
9) Misc cash went into our pockets -- we found Canadian dollars, US dollars, British pounds, Euros, and a $100 Savings Bond amongst our stuff! The obsolete French and Swiss francs are trash, replaced by the Euro.
10) Old boxsprings and dead mattresses, a rusted bike, broken lamps, and other such stuff went to the landfill
11) My desk and other office equipment is being distributed to various friends
12) Valuable furniture was sold through craigslist or directly to local friends
13) Old towels, blankets, garden hose, cleaning supplies, laundry supplies and pet supplies were donated to the local Humane Society
14) Two pieces of antique furniture were sold through a local auction house.
15) Wearable clean clothes and other personal/household items were donated to the local Goodwill
16) Leftover cherry and maple lumber was given to a friend who likes woodworking projects

You'll notice we mostly donated things rather than trying to sell them. There are two primary reasons: Selling things takes a lot of time, and donating things gives you a warm feeling. Eleanor felt strongly that things should go to people who needed them. It made it much easier for her to part with certain "treasures".

You might also notice we didn't do the first thing that most people think of: a garage sale. I've had enough of garage sales that attract dozens of people who want to pay fifteen cents for a Ming dynasty vase. Too many times I've wasted a beautiful weekend to sell $90 worth of stuff -- after having paid $35 for a classified ad in the newspaper. Giving things away was much more fun and a lot quicker!

It was also fun to discover a few long-lost items. Eleanor found her diploma from Johnson & Wales University, and I found my FAA pilot certificate. Of course we also found boxes of photos -- at least half a dozen -- and it was hard not to spend hours digging through them and walking down Memory Lane. Mostly we have consolidated the photos for a future session, next summer.

Today is for dropping off the latest truckload of stuff at various churches, friends, and recycling centers. It's going to rain all day anyway. Tomorrow we hope for clearing and a big final session in which we haul off the remaining trash and consolidate the two storage units into one.

The latest message is as follows:


My goal in baiting this scammer is to tie up her time and money so she can't rip off someone else. So I sent this reply today:

"We have a lot of other people interested in this car. I took it off craigslist because you said you were willing to pay right away. My cousin is already expecting your check. If you can't get the money to my cousin soon, he may sell it to someone else. Will you be able to provide me with a tracking number? That might help."

That oughta get a reaction. After all, this scammer thinks there's a bona fide sucker on the other end. She's not going to let me slip away that easily! I wonder how long we can keep this little charade going?

September 28, 2006

Red Moon Over Essex

We are definitely getting somewhere with the divestiture process. One of our storage units is now only about 1/3 full, and the other is running about half full. Today the director of the local Humane Society came by to buy our Cuisinart and we ended up donating a bunch of stuff that the Humane Society can use, like pillows, blankets, towels, and garden hoses. (No, the Cuisinart is not for work purposes ...) After Saturday, when half of the bedroom furniture is scheduled to go away, we should be able to consolidate the two storage units.

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Two weeks ago this was packed to the ceiling!

And just in time! We are scheduled to leave here on Friday October 6. It's getting cold at night. Our first freezing nights will likely come in the next 10 days. This is approximately when we would harvest the pumpkins, back in the days when we had a big garden.

Charlotte fire view.jpg

Last night we had what might be the last beach campfire of the season. I burned another box of personal papers -- utility bills and closing documents from a house we bought in 1993. Eleanor and I had double Boca-burgers with cheddar cheese, while we all watched the sliver of an eerily red moon set over Essex NY, three miles across the open water of Lake Champlain. Spectacular!

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Red crescent moon setting over Essex NY

A blog reader volunteered his business address for my Nigerian scammer, so I contacted the fake "Dr. Lilian Williams" and asked her to send the fake check for $2,500 to "my cousin in Virginia." So that deal is still on. Here's the latest:


Uh-huh, sure ... I won't be depositing that check. Depositing a fake certified check can land you in handcuffs. Meanwhile, the guy we gave the car to is planning to come over Saturday to pick it up.

By the way, these Nigerian scammers are notorious for hijacking the names of respectable people. In this case, there is a real Dr Lillian Williams (slightly different spelling of her first name), who is a professor at the University of Buffalo. She obviously has no connection to this pathetic attempt to rob me of $2,500.

September 27, 2006

Why blog?

I know that a lot of people read this blog to capture ideas for their own travel in the future. That's why I talk honestly about the good and the bad, our experiences with equipment, people, and places. It's my hope that you can get an idea of what's waiting for you when you get on the road yourself.

Lately I've been talking a lot about non-travel subjects like divesting household stuff and getting our tow vehicle serviced. That's because it's part of the lifestyle. It's not glamorous dealing with some issues, but absolutely necessary. I find a lot of people have questions about seemingly mundane things like "How do I decide where to go first?" and "What do I do with my furniture?" I can relate because those little things can be the difference between going and being bogged down by uncertainty.

But there's another, more selfish, reason that I blog. While I enjoy helping others get going, and sharing our adventures, I also benefit from your feedback. As of this month, over 5,000 people read our blog. So when I have a problem, I can call on you for help -- and that's incredibly powerful.

For example, yesterday I mentioned needing an address for our scammer, and having some things to give away. Right away, two blog readers offered their addresses, and another one made arrangements to get some of our stuff from storage. When we have had a problem, blog readers have been there to help us out. When we've needed a place to stay, you've offered us courtesy parking. This two-way interaction makes the whole thing work.

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So the answer to the question of "Where should I go?" can be found if you take the time to share your experience with other people. We get invitations to camp, invitations to join rallies, and suggestions of really terrific places to go, all the time from our Internet friends like you. The Internet blog phenomenon isn't just an egotistical expression of a few outgoing people. It's a form of communication that really adds value to an adventure like this -- changing what was a solitary pursuit (full-time RV'ing) into a group experience.

The new generation of RV'ers is different that way. A decade ago, the big full-time RV trip was almost solely for retirees, who effectively dropped out of communication for long periods of time. Now, we are a generally younger crowd (the average new Airstream buyers are still working and in their 50s). We are in constant communication through our cell phones and Internet. And it works for us, because going out on the road is no longer just about dropping out -- but equally about dropping in, in other words, seeking out new experiences, new people, and sharing those things.

That's why this blog continues. In about a week I (with occasional contributions from Eleanor and Emma) will have been blogging this experience for a full year. It has been a massive amount of work, but I foresee us continuing the blog for at least another four months, probably longer. I'm happy to do it because you make it worthwhile.

Eleanor is dropping off more stuff from storage with friends today: a box of cherry wood scraps, a cherry table (sold), kid's stuff for the local playgroup, and leftover building supplies from our former house. I've made contact with a local guy who takes good household items and donates them to needy families, so he'll meet us Saturday with his truck to take some furniture. I'm hoping by Sunday we'll have our remaining stuff reduced to just one storage unit, which has been our goal all along.

September 26, 2006

What Has Value?

Dispensing of things is a curious business sometimes. Our society defines has value in unexpected ways. We have given away piles of perfectly usable merchandise, including furniture, appliances, toys, clothes, and computers. We have thrown out hundreds of items that are still functional but worthless because new replacements are readily available and no one can be found to take the used things.

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A few of the things yet to be sold, or given away ... Click for larger.

For example, I have a completely operational color TV, and a combination print-fax-scan device. Our local recycle place won't accept them. Apparently the TV is too old, even though it works perfectly. I don't know why they won't take the 3-in-1 device.

Charlotte furniture thumb 3.jpg Charlotte furniture thumb 4.jpg Charlotte furniture thumb 5.jpg

But while I can't sell or even give away those things, I discovered that I can sell an obsolete version of TurboTax software for up to $25 on eBay.

Charlotte furniture thumb 7.jpg Charlotte furniture thumb 8.jpg Charlotte furniture thumb 9.jpg

Why? Because as it turns out, people sometimes need to reprint their old TurboTax files. If you've lost the paper copies and didn't make a PDF, you are forced to find an obsolete copy of the software to open and reprint the file. This problem is apparently so pervasive that someone has even made a business out of it. So when I discovered a 1999 version of TurboTax in my old files, I put it on eBay. It's weird what has value.

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The cameras are going on eBay ...

Speaking of weird, here's the latest from my friend in Nigeria, "Dr. Lilian Williams." She is still interested in sending me a fake check for $2,500 for a rusted-out car.


I'm not eager to provide this scammer with a home address, so perhaps I'll give up on the quest for a souvenir fake Nigerian check. It's not worth opening a private mail box just for this. If anyone else wants to volunteer an address, let me know, otherwise I'm going to say goodbye to Dr Lilian.

Charlotte furniture thumb 12.jpg

Yesterday: six hours at storage. Our cumulative time on this project of dispensing with excess stuff has to be in excess of 60 hours at this point. We are still at least 20 hours from our goal of having cut our total volume of stuff down by half. I am beginning to chant the mantra Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle as I work. Clearly, the first "R" is the important one. I doubt I will ever want to buy a big house again -- they fill up with stuff too easily.

Eleanor and I are talking about schedule on a daily basis now. We think we will be spending Christmas Day in Corpus Christi, TX. I've updated the official schedule with the information we have at present.

September 25, 2006

The Scam

Several years ago, when Eleanor and I were looking for our first travel trailer, we met a nice lady who had an Argosy trailer. She was eager to sell it and received a full price offer from a nice fellow overseas, who planned to ship it to his home in Nigeria.

You've probably heard this scam before. The next step is that the "buyer" sends an overpayment via a fake certified check, and asks that you refund the extra money to him (or his shipping agent) via wire transfer, often Western Union money order. If you are gullible, you deposit the fake check (which looks quite real), the money appears in your bank account, and shortly after you send the balance back, your bank informs you that the check was bogus and takes ALL the money out of your account.

We warned the seller that she was about to get taken, and so she didn't fall for it when the fake check arrived.


This is known as the "Nigerian 419 scam". I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got contacted by someone wanting to run this scam on me. A few days ago I posted our 1991 Honda Prelude (the one that failed inspection) on craigslist for $500 or best offer. I also posted some furniture.

The next morning I got replies on both items. Both responses were identical, except for the name of the "buyer":


Clues that this is a scam: "she" didn't identify the item for sale, didn't ask any questions, and is offering full asking price with a certified check right off the bat. Fractured English and all-caps writing are also suspicious.

So (because I've always wanted to see one of the Nigerian fake certified checks) I wrote back that I would be pleased to take a certified check for the 1991 Honda Prelude.


Not wanting to reveal all my personal details, and wondering just how dumb this scammer was, I replied with a fake name and phone number:

"Please make the check for $500 out to my cousin -- it is his car.

Ayres T. Reem
PO Box 74
Ferrisburg, VT 05456

I can sign the title over after the check clears.

I heard back immediately:


Gee, what a surprise! Extra money for shipping expenses. That's a lot of money to spend to ship a $500 rusted car. And where exactly is it going? "Dr Lilian Williams" didn't say. But I wrote back that this was fine.


So I'm waiting for my check now. Can't wait to see it. I hear they make good fakes.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and I have given the car away. Yesterday while we were at storage, Colin Hyde of GSM Vehicles came by. He took a few bulky things, including a desk and my old mountain bike, and then Eleanor mentioned the Honda Prelude. Turns out that Colin has an employee who has no car and is going through a divorce, so we gave him the car. He'll need to patch a rust hole to get inspected, but otherwise it should be a good reliable car for him for at least another year.

Charlotte pumpkin carving.jpg

Yesterday Emma and her grandmother worked on a Halloween pumpkin. (The best part, as always, was the perfectly roasted seeds that resulted.) Pumpkin carving means it's really Fall in Vermont. I'll be on the lookout for foliage developing in the next two weeks.

September 24, 2006

Don't believe everything you read

OK, I've been told that my little joke of yesterday was too subtle and went right over peoples' heads, so I'll confess. The "mystery mounds of Addison County" are in fact septic system leach fields. See, it was a joke ... there's a lot of clay soil in Addison County and so most people have to put in a "mound" type leach field to compensate.

But I really am thinking about doing the tongue-in-cheek guidebook for "flatlander" tourists who come to Vermont. Seems like a fun idea, and it will give people a reason to visit Addison County and take pictures of something besides foliage.

Bert called yesterday from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He and Janie are anticipating being back in the northeast US in about two weeks. They'll catch the high-speed Cat Ferry from Yarmouth, NS to Maine, and then rendezvous with us in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania.

Adam called yesterday as well. He and Susan are flying west to pick up their Airstream Class C and drive US Rt 50 through Nevada, Colorado, and Kansas. We've driven a lot of that route and it is a terrific (if occasionally lonely) trip.

Rich C called from Florida -- he's stuck there for at least a month, probably more, but at least he's feeling better. And we're still here, watching the Fall weather and frantically trying to get our stored stuff under control before it really turns cold and windy. Eleanor and I are heading up to storage again today to pull a few Adirondack chairs out and donate them to friends and family.

September 23, 2006

Mystery mounds of Addison County

This area is distinguished by an interesting terrain feature that people don't often talk about. Dotting the landscape are what I called "mystery mounds" -- lumps of earth that are clearly not natural in origin. Resembling ancient Native American ceremonial mounds, these can be found all through Vermont, but there is a particular concentration of them in Addison County.

Charlotte mound.jpg
A "mystery mound" on public land in Charlotte VT, near the modern-day baseball diamond.

It is known that the mounds are not Native American in origin. These mounds are typically rectangular, low, and vary in size from about 20 feet by 30 feet, to as much as 100 feet square -- nothing like Native American mounds found in other parts of the country. They are more reminiscent of Roman earthworks found in parts of Europe.

I find the diversity of these mounds to be fascinating, but the fact that no one really bothers to research them is even more interesting. To be fair, the mounds are subtle enough that many people don't notice them, or perhaps think that a given mound is a natural phenomenon. But when you begin to realize that they can be found in backyards all over Addison county, it becomes clear that some forces were at work to form them, other than natural geological phenomenae.

Were they in fact built by a previously unknown prehistoric people? Are they just heaps of discarded trash, like the shell middens found in Florida, or do they contain human remains (more likely, in my opinion).

Next summer, I am planning to work on a book which photo-documents and describes about two dozen of the most spectacular and well-revealed examples of mystery mounds in Addison County. There are many more, but I hope that by publicizing this unique feature of Addison County, the region will become as well known for mounds as Madison County (IA) is known for its bridges. Perhaps someday, there will even be a movie resulting. The region could certainly use the extra tourism. ;-)

We were going to drop in on the Northeast Street Rod Nationals today. It's being held at the same fairgrounds as the 2003 WBCCI International Rally, just about 20 miles from here. But the weather is gray and rainy today, not great for walking around the fairgrounds and seeing the cool cars. If things clear up a bit maybe we'll still go, and if so I'll snap some photos.

September 22, 2006

The start of fall foliage

It has started. I got a peek of foliage when we were up a thousand feet in the Adirondacks last weekend, but now the foliage has started even down here in the Champlain Valley. We're in the "banana belt" of Vermont, so if we can see trees turning here that means it's beginning all over the state. So far the colors are good (nice and bright) and at this rate I would expect a peak in a valley's foliage around Oct 1-6.

Charlotte foliage.jpg

I took a walk after work yesterday, down the road which I walked every day for a couple of years in high school to catch the bus. Things have changed since then, of course. Now many of the little ranch houses along the lake have been replaced by McMansions with huge vegetation barries to give them more privacy. But at the end of the road, a massive red barn still stands. It has not been used as long as I can remember, but the owners still paint it once in a long while, and it has become such a landmark on the road that I can't imagine the local residents ever allowing it to be torn down.

Charlotte barn.jpg

The weather was spectacularly crisp and clear -- a classic Fall day in Vermont, the kind that sends the Vermont Life magazine photographers scurrying out to capture images for next year's magazine.

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My walk took me down to a small covered bridge a mile away by the Town Beach. This bridge is full of memories ... good summer days climbing among the beams with my friends, and one bad day in the winter when a 10-year-old friend fell through the spring ice and disappeared, swept away by the current. I can't ever see this bridge without remembering that. The tourists who come through are lucky -- they can see the bridge for what it is: an innocent and historic little piece of architecture in a quiet idyllic setting.

We'll be getting out & about in Vermont in the next week hopefully, and this will give Eleanor and I a chance to spot some foliage, if the weather cooperates. Although today is perfect for that, it's still too early, so we plan to spend today at the storage units, once again culling out stuff. Eleanor spent a few days this week dropping off things with friends, and four boxes of trash went out yesterday, so we are getting close to our goal. Another three or four sessions and we should be ready to consolidate the two storage units into one.

September 21, 2006

New curtains

The first curtains are up in Emma's room, and they make a big difference in the space.

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Fall-like weather has arrived. There are a few red maple leaves on the deck, and the sky is getting that "northern fall" look in the evenings, scudded with white clouds and a cool breeze. Our days are in the low 60s now, and sunset is creeping closer. We're back to needing the furnace at night, so a couple of days ago I plugged in the trailer and refilled one of the 30-lb propane tanks.

There's a skunk living under the deck this season. Last week he sprayed a visiting dog, and every few days we can smell evidence of his nocturnal prowlings. At night, when we are heading out to the Airstream in the driveway, I have to walk very slowly and cautiously until the motion-sensor light on the deck comes on, lest I surprise Mr Skunk in the dark and get a dose of perfume myself.

Skunks don't have good vision but they can hear quite well, so I make a lot of noise as I walk. For some reason, I'm always the first one out of the house each night. Eleanor and Emma follow ...

This is also the end of rally season in New England. There's one more Airstream rally Oct 6-9 in Townsend VT that we are hoping to attend before we head south. When we lived here year-round I always hated winterizing in October, but it's unavoidable: we will have freezing nights in three weeks. In the upper elevations of Vermont (2000 feet and up), there will be snow flurries toward the end of the month. It's amazing how fast Summer bows out and Fall flicks by.

September 19, 2006

Making Curtains

Since last February, when we got serious about continuing our trip for another year, Eleanor has been saying that need to make the trailer as much of a "home" as possible. We've done a lot of decorating and upgrading since then, and now that we are settled in Vermont for a while, she's taking to the opportunity to change the curtains.

We've never been wild about the curtains that came with the trailer. We like colors, and the factory curtains were basically bland. Today she got working on the curtains in Emma's bedroom. These will be simply a fabric stitched to the existing curtain. This is the easiest approach.

In our bedroom, I've requested a light-blocking fabric backing, and more fullness to the curtains so that they don't need Velcro closures to stay shut. Eleanor is going to make all-new curtains there.

Charlotte curtain making.jpg

We haven't picked out a fabric for the middle curtains (dinette and living space). They may carry the theme of one of the bedrooms, or be something entirely different. I know a designer would say we should carry one theme throughout since it is such a small space, but we've haven't made that decision yet.

More plans are in the making. Bert and Janie report that they need more time in Nova Scotia and are wondering if we can push our plans to leave New England back a week. I've also got business that may keep us here another week, which is a shame, since we've been invited to visit Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park and it closes by Oct 15. Looks like we won't make it.

Last year I would have pushed hard to get out early and make every date we've been invited to. But going forward we need to slow down. We logged 30,000 miles in less than a year, crossing the country four times. We made about a hundred different stops. This year, we're going to stay longer, drive less, and probably miss a few things in the name of more relaxed travel.

September 18, 2006


Comments from a few friends of mine recently have made me realize that people often get the wrong impression of what we are doing. Seeing us downsizing to a trailer, giving away personal possessions, and extolling the virtues of a mobile life, people think we are dropping out of society.

I think the logic goes like this: If you don't have a house, and you don't have a lot of stuff, and you roam the country, and you homeschool, you must be rejecting society and working to become some sort of combination hippie / Unabomber. All we need now is to take the wheels off the Airstream and find a spot in Montana to park it forever, eh?

Actually, what we are doing is "right-sizing" our life. The big house and many possessions aren't happiness, for us. Neither is living in a trailer park somewhere. The right balance is somewhere in between. Exploring the country in a fully mobile fashion with only 200 square feet of space takes us to the opposite extreme of where we were a few years ago, and thus we can weigh the benefits of each mode of life and decide what we ultimately want to settle on.

So we really do have a master plan. It evolves as we learn more about what we need and don't need. Our travel adventure has become an essential part of the process of figuring it out. Full-time travel is wonderful and it works for many people for years, but in our case we expect to end the full-time segment in the next year or so.

We're already scouting for places to call home for at least six months of the year, and give all of us the benefits of a local community while keeping our option to travel open. That's a tall order, which is why we will spend another year working it out.

Today's developments: Eleanor got her semi-annual allergy checkup and it was generally good news. [One tidbit: Zyrtec is available over the counter in generic form in Canada. Guess where we'll be going soon?] Afterward, she slaved another day at the storage unit, offloading a carfull of stuff on a friend and generating another box of trash. Meanwhile, I ended up donating six boxes of books to a local library, since the used-book buyers in the area weren't buying. I did manage to get $25 for a box of paperback mysteries and sci-fi books, but the good stuff -- over 50 hardcovers -- will support the library in its book sale this October.

September 17, 2006

The meaning of "Ugh" boxes

As planned, Eleanor and I went to our storage units again today for another session of sorting and groaning. We spent all day Friday there, when I should have been working, digging through boxes and finding buried "treasures" that we have not missed in the past year at all.

There is a particular category of box we call the "UGH" boxes, because of the sound we inevitably make when we open them and find a collection of what the movers euphemistically called "miscellaneous". The best "ugh" boxes contain a wide range of stuff we absolutely do not need, yet which is just a bit too good to throw away directly. Thus, we have to sort through it, pull out the trash, find homes for numerous other items, and re-categorize the few things we are actually planning to keep.

Friday we sorted through at least a dozen "ugh" boxes, and ended up with 440 lbs of trash. I know the exact weight because the Waste Transfer Center weighs us going in and out. There's a $39 minimum charge each time we go through, up to 760 lbs, so we are trying to keep our visits to the dump to a bare few. We also brought about eight boxes of stuff to friends and relatives over the weekend.

Today we met friends, a younger couple with a large house, and they took a pickup truckload full of stuff -- and they'll be back on Monday for more! Even still, our storage units are still more than half full. Upon examination, it appears the major culprits are: (1) furniture; (2) food; (3) books. Eleanor stored a lot of her pantry because we thought we'd be back in six months. There were about 20 boxes of non-perishable foodstuffs stored, which we have been sorting and sharing with anyone who will take some. Of course, some of it has ended up in the Airstream, too.

As you might guess, I read a lot. My library is not particularly large for someone in the writing profession, but nonetheless I have more than a dozen boxes of books stored. I decided to sell or give away all the books except a few exceptional or rare ones. Today I culled out eight boxes of books and they are loaded in the back of the Armada for dispersion on Monday. Some will get mailed to friends, most will end up at the local used-book store.

I kept some of my favorite authors: Paul Theroux, Stanislaw Lem, Primo Levi, Ian Fleming, Philip K Dick, and a few others. I also kept a few favorite references, including my collection of caving books and mushroom books. It took me years to get those together. All the Peterson's field guides (birds, mushrooms, wildflowers) will go in the trailer for future hikes. The Heinlein collection will go to Brett, who appreciates science fiction. All the popular authors who somehow managed to slip into my library but who I never liked, will go to the used-book store: Dick Francis, Stephen King, Clive Cussler, etc. We kept a few Agatha Christies for book swaps -- they are almost as good as cash in a campground.

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After logging six hours at the storage units, we came back to Charlotte for a fire, roasted hot dogs, s'mores, and a big paper-burning session. Goodbye, decade-old tax forms, pre-2000 credit card statements, maintenance records of cars and closing documents from properties we no longer own, divorce forms from 1989, and much more.

Charlotte sunset.jpg

It is a huge job, culling down the detritus of decades, but I think of it as a spring cleaning long overdue. Except perhaps for a rocking chair, nothing we relinquished today will be missed.

September 16, 2006

Eagle Cave

I mentioned a few days ago that Eleanor and I used to go caving often. In our travels over the past year, we've visited numerous public and commercial caves, including Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park, Kartchner Caverns, Mammoth Cave, Lava River Cave, and Oregon Caves National Monument.

Today, I joined my brother and a friend on a day-long caving expedition to the first "wild cave" I've visited in at least three years: Eagle Cave, atop Chimney Mountain in the Adirondacks of New York. Eagle Cave is made of talus (fallen stone), like the small one we visited in Pinnacles National Monument last December.

The cave is tricky to navigate, like most talus caves. The collapse of rocks often creates maze-like passages which look very similar. We had maps from previous cavers, which helped a lot. To traverse the cave, you first need to drive way out in the Adirondacks (2.5 hours for us), and then climb Chimney Mountain, which is about a 1-mile hike, half of which is steep.

Parking location for Chimney Mountain. (You need Google Earth to view this.)

Then in the cave, you need a map, water, snacks, three sources of light, kneepads, warm clothes, and a helmet. Gloves are a big plus. There's a lot of scrambling over wet and cold rocks involved. To get into the lower levels of the cave, you also need the ability to descend and climb a 12-foot dropoff. This sorts out the unprepared, since there's only one way down and one back up!

The cave has at least five levels, all of which we explored. The second level has a Bat Room where we saw many Little Brown Bats sleeping. The third level is very confusing without a map, and the fifth level is just plain maze-like. As late as August you can find ice in the lower levels. We were in there exploring for over three hours! It was great fun, even with the 12-foot free rope climb at the end.

If you want to try this sort of caving, go with someone who knows what they are doing. The best-prepared people tend to be members of the National Speleological Society. People who adhere to the principles of that organization will know the risks of caving, know the equipment to bring, appreciate the need to protect the cave (taking out trash and not disturbing the bats), and hopefully have the sense to avoid getting into dangerous situations.

Tomorrow we need to do penance at our storage unit again, and then hopefully we can reward ourselves with some time on the boat.

September 15, 2006

Alternative magazine covers

If you subscribe to Airstream Life magazine, you may have noticed that we strive to make every magazine cover "different" and beautiful. It's one of the hardest jobs in the magazine.

Each quarter, our Art Director, Jim Burns, reviews numerous images to select one worthy of the cover. It's harder than it looks. A cover photo has to be technically perfect, high-resolution, colorful, and indicative of the Airstream lifestyle or interest area. For the upcoming Fall issue, we have an article on "gypsy caravans, the first RVs" and so Jim wanted to use an image of one of these colorful wagons.

Here's cover test #1

scaled.Fall 2006 cover test 1.jpg

This reduced JPG is blurry, but you can see it's a nice colorful image. We almost went with it, but when Jim got the proof back from the printer he felt it didn't have the quality we needed. The image was scanned from a print we got out of England, and often scans don't hold up when reprinted.

Here's cover test #2

scaled.Fall 2006 cover test 2.jpg

This is also a nice image, but the composition is flawed. On the right side, which you can't see because it is clipped off on this image, there's half a man. He's a distraction from an otherwise great photo. So this one was dropped from consideration as well. But both of these images are good enough to be used inside the magazine, and you may see them there.

So what image did make the cut? Our friend David Michael Kennedy contributed a really great photo of himself taken by his girlfriend Heather Howard. They live in a 1960 Airstream full-time and roam the country taking pictures professionally. I can't reveal it here, but you'll see it soon enough when the Fall/Winter issue comes out in mid-October!

September 14, 2006


We're back to "Cat in the Hat" weather here. I am reading blogs from friends in California, Colorado, and Florida, and all of them are enjoying wonderful warm -- even hot -- weather. Yesterday it never broke 61 here and rained most of the day. My instincts tell me to flee for the south, because the freedom to seek out better weather is a privilege of Airstreaming. But Eleanor says otherwise. We still have a lot to do here.

Eleanor is starting a curtain project. We've never been fond of the curtains that came with our trailer, so she has found something funky to replace them. She's going to back the fabric with light-blocking material so we can get real darkness in the bedroom when we want to.

She's also come up with a better solution to our bath mat problem. We bought a small standard rubber-backed bath mat some months ago. But when it got dirty, we found it was very difficult to get cleaned on the road. When we stop for laundry we don't want to toss it in with the clothes, and yet running a separate wash for it wastes time and resources. Worse, it can't be dried in the dryer due to the rubber backing, so it ends up wet for days before we can use it again.

Instead, she bought two small towels that match our bathroom decor, and she's simply sewing them together back to back. This makes them thick enough to serve as a mat and it's easily washable. I'll show you a picture when it's done.

Emma is working on a project today too: making a suncatcher out of glass beads.

Charlotte Emma suncatcher.jpg

One of my projects is to search for things in the trailer we can dump in storage or give away, to lighten our load and free up storage space. The latest thing is my Windows laptop, an elderly Pentium III running Win 98. I kept it only because there was one program I needed to run once every three months for the magazine. I've since found a better version that runs on Mac, so the Windows laptop is history, saving us about 6 lbs.

That may seem like a ridiculous economy in an 8000 lb trailer, but every ounce counts. It's the little things that add up surreptitiously. I like to keep the trailer light. We can carry up to about 2000 lbs (including optionally installed equipment like solar panels and extra batteries, plus fresh water and propane). In reality, by weighing our rig at truck scales every few months, we've found that our typical load is only about 1600 lbs, and that's as a full-timing family of three, running a business!

That's largely due to scrupulous attention to what we carry. I see people with chainsaws, cinder blocks, hatchets, hundreds of feet of hose, cast iron cookware, solid wood flooring (added in after-market), heavy custom furniture, giant air compressors, full mechanic's chests of tools, and racks of canned goods. No wonder so many people are driving around with overweight rigs.

Even if you don't haul a lot of obviously heavy stuff, culling down the excess quantities of lightweight stuff is still important. We don't carry five pairs of shoes when we only need three. Tools are kept to a basic kit suitable for most situations, not every possible situation. Paper is culled out often -- recycling magazines and scanning almost everything else. Even Emma's rock collection is limited to samples < 1" in size, and the collection is reduced by half every time she flies back to Vermont. My goal is to take at least 100 lbs out of the trailer while we are here. I think we are probably halfway there.

Solar report: with gloom and rain all day, we captured only about 10 amps all day. Our battery bank is down to about about 57% (reported). In fact, we have more power than that. We initially set the TriMetric monitor to report only about 60% of our actual capacity, so it reads conservatively. That way, we don't overdraw the batteries. If it hits 50% reported, I'll probably plug the trailer in for a full charge. If so, it would be the first time we've gotten that low since we installed the solar panels and four batteries in May.

September 13, 2006


Yesterday was one of those fabulous late-summer days in Vermont. We took the boat out for what will probably be the last trip of the year, and my brother Steve went waterskiing.

Charlotte waterskiing.jpg

Steve's a pretty handy waterskiier, and the lake was almost glassy calm at sunset, so I had the opportunity to shoot some nice photos. I'll post a few on Flickr. All were taken with the new 55-200 mm zoom lens, using ISO 400 for better stop-action on the water.

These days I'm usually alternating between Program mode on the camera and Aperture priority. Instead of Shutter priority I stuck with Program mode and occasionally spun the command wheel on the Nikon to get a higher shutter speed. (If you don't have a Nikon digital SLR none of this probably makes sense.)

Charlotte waterskiing splash.jpg

The sunset light made for some fine lighting on the splashing water. I wish we could go out again today but some weather has arrived ... rain and gloom. Summer is over up here in the northeast.

It has been cool enough at night (40s) so that we are using the furnace now. We still haven't plugged the trailer in, and with the gray skies today it will be a test of our battery bank and solar panels to stay charged. So far we have been unplugged for three and a half weeks, a record -- but of course one week of that we were not in the trailer. I'll be interested to see how much solar we can capture today and tomorrow. We may plug in tomorrow if the batteries go as low as 50% of capacity.

September 12, 2006

Cribstone bridge

I took a couple of days off from the blog, only because we were in that sublime space between being busy and being relaxed. On Sunday, Adam and I took a long walk around the island and stopped off by the famous cribstone bridge that connects Bailey Island to Orr's Island.

Bailey Island cribstone bridge.jpg

This bridge takes the stress of tides, ice, wind, and vehicles without any fasteners. It's basically a big pile of stacked granite -- the only such bridge in the world.

Bailey Island bridge construction.jpg

It's quite narrow, and a real experience if you're towing a trailer over it, as we did two years ago. It's also the only way to get to Cook's Restaurant, which is a worthwhile destination for lobster.

Bailey Island Cooks.jpg

Now we are back in Vermont and back in the Airstream. Trip planning is underway for the next six months. Bert & Janie are still planning to meet us in Pennsylvania in a few weeks (right now they are in Maine near Mt Katahdin). Before we leave we will probably go to GSM Vehicles in Plattsburgh to look at the '52 Cruiser, and Montreal. We've also got stops in southern Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland, but everything is still fluid right now.

September 09, 2006

Tin Can Tourists & Tearjerkers

This weekend the Tin Can Tourists, a vintage trailer club of which we are members, and the Tearjerkers, a club of teardrop trailer owners, had a small rally in Scarborough. We headed down there to visit our friends Zach and Deb, who were staying in the rally campground in their Airstream Westfalia.

Scarborough Shasta.jpg
A vintage Shasta trailer

There were probably a dozen teardrop trailers in attendance, plus two Argosies, a 1969 GM bus with over 2 million miles on it, three Serro Scotties, a couple of Bolers (fiberglass trailers), and a few Shastas.

Scarborough Serro Scotty.jpg
1965 Serro Scotty "Sportsman" 15 footer

I was particularly interested in the Serro Scotties, since we have one in storage in New York. This one is similar to ours, but ours is unpainted (called a "silverside"). This one belongs to the couple that runs a Serro Scotty discussion group on Yahoo. If we can get ours fixed up, we can take it to some local rallies next summer.

Camping in a vintage 50s or 60s "canned ham" trailer like this is more primitive than in the Airstream: no bathroom, no air conditioning, limited water, no holding tanks, and very very small spaces. It's fun because it's a nostalgic experience, and the vintage canned hams are rolling art. It's not about creature comforts when you take one of these tiny trailers on the road.

Who knows, perhaps they will see a revival sometime soon. Many of the little Shastas or Serro Scotties (or other trailers made by one of a hundred other manufacturers who thrived back then) are so light and towable they can easily be hauled by a small car.

Bailey Island lobster rolls.jpg

This evening Susan made lobster rolls for everyone from the lobster collected yesterday. Fabulous! Dessert was Eleanor's classic Tiramisu. We're eating awfully well this week, and the best part is that we have plenty of leftover lobster for tomorrow. Hmmm.... lobster omelettes, or another round of lobster rolls for lunch?

September 08, 2006


Going down to the dock to buy lobsters off the boat is just about as classic a Maine experience as you can have.

Bailey Island harbor.jpg

We headed down to the tiny harbor 1/2 mile from here, where the boats come in to Glen's Lobsters every day after checking their traps all around the island.

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We bought six 1-1/4 lb lobsters right off the boat for $42. The guy who sold them to us wasn't sure if we had five or six in the bag, so we let them out in the bed of his pickup truck to re-count.

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Adam has an outdoor lobster cooker, powered by propane. We steamed them in a stainless basket. This looks like a good accessory for our Airstream ... if I could find a place to store it!

Bailey Island lobsters cooked.jpg

Then Adam placed them all on the deck to cool, like fresh-baked pies ...

Bailey Island cleaning lobsters.jpg

... and not long after, Eleanor and Emma helped pick out all the meat. We'll save it until tomorrow, for a special dinner. This weekend both Adam & Susan and Eleanor & I will be celebrating our anniversaries. We've been married 13 years.

September 07, 2006

Bailey Island moonrise

Remember last night when I mentioned the moon rising over the Atlantic? Tonight I got a picture of it.

Bailey Island moonrise.jpg
Click for larger.

Little of note has happened today, but Bailey Island continues to delight the senses. In the evening I always notice the sound of the waves on the rocky shore. Every morning I open the sliding glass door and smell the sea air. During the day the seagulls screech overhead, the sun warms our little cottage, and a slightly damp sea breeze ventilates.

This cottage has no insulation, so we feel the change of temperature through the day. It reminds me of old Adirondack camps that I've visited -- creaky floors in the morning, and the outdoors just a thin board away as we sleep. The sensations are a lot like camping, which is probably why we like it.

September 06, 2006

Working at "home"

I thought I'd share a couple of pictures today of the crew "at work." I am usually found at my laptop doing something most days, but I don't often post pictures of any of us because work is not the exciting part of our lives. Work is, however, the focus of many days.

Bailey Island Emma working.jpg

Here you can see Emma at her workbook, practicing skills for reading. She's coming right along, which I like to see. It's as exciting as when she was learning to talk and every week I noticed new words in her vocabulary.

Bailey Island Eleanor working.jpg

Eleanor spends time on her laptop too, once in a while. Usually she's emailing friends or researching recipes.

Today was tumultuous. Emma's uncle Steve departed this morning after breakfast. The rest of us worked through about 2:30 and then drove up to Bowdoin College to pick up Adam. (He caught the bus from Boston to come back up here and hang with us for the rest of the week, which is very cool.)

While we were out, a friend called from Vermont to ask for some advice about a business partnership that went bad. I had to give some hardnosed advice. I always hate having to tell people to get a lawyer. And, I worry about my friends who are having trouble, although in this case I'm certain they will land on their feet. (I should worry more about myself, since inevitably someone threatens to sue me for libel at least once a year! Such is the downside of being a publisher ...)

In the afternoon I bought the Nissan Extended Warranty for the Armada. It's comforting to have that resolved since our original warranty is up in 5,000 miles and I expect to log another 25,000 miles in the coming year -- most of which will be towing. If we eat another exhaust manifold, it will be covered. We're good until we hit 100,000 miles.

And then, in the late afternoon, I got word that an old friend, and a fellow who I respect very much, is battling cancer. I think we are going to try to rearrange our plans for October so that we can drop by and see him and some other old friends in Maryland. I'll have to start researching places to put the Airstream as close as possible, or find courtesy parking in someone's driveway.

Finally, Adam came over and we all had dinner together, and talked about everything while the moon rose over the Atlantic. It has been a day of work but nonetheless a good one. I am reminded that we are fortunate to have great friends, family, and freedom to roam the country visiting them.

September 05, 2006

Rainbow over Bailey Island

Susan and Adam have left to go back to work today, and I've had to hit the laptop again myself. But there has been time for Emma to go for quick snorkel with her uncle, who is visiting, and we took a walk along the rocky shore at low tide as well.

Bailey Island rainbow.jpg

Last year we were here for three weeks, but this time we are only staying a few days. There's no real deadline on this visit but we have many things to do back in Vermont. Otherwise, I would prefer to stay a couple of weeks and then head up the coast to Acadia National Park. Acadia is a terrific destination, and really underappreciated. You can hike there for weeks and keep finding excellent spots. It has everything: beaches, mountains, carriage trails, hiking, history, historic houses, wonderful restaurants, boat tours, and fantastic scenery. From here it would be about three hours drive.

But we didn't bring the Airstream, so there's no temptation. That was a deliberate choice. I would really like to go up to the Canadian Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, PEI, etc) to join Bert and Janie. Bert will be testing the difficulty of getting online up there, so I'll have that insight to use when planinng a trip next summer or fall.

September 04, 2006

Labor Day on Bailey Island

It has been a wonderful couple of days with our friends Adam and Susan. Yesterday we took in the Maine Maritime Museum, which is a great institution in Bath, near the famous Bath Iron Works.

Bath piloting ship.jpg
Emma waits her turn to pilot a tugboat. Click for larger.

The museum is filled with great maritime history, including model ships, paintings, fishing equipment, cargo, and interpretive exhibits for the kids. Outside, there are sheds and barns with the historic equipment used to make wooden ships.

Bath model ship.jpg

There's also a great wooden fishing schooner on site which was built in 1942, although it seems much older in design. You can go aboard and check out everything up close, which is cool.

Bath painting.jpg
Not actual ships, but a painting! Click for larger.

Today the weather is a bit better than yesterday, but still cloudy most of the day. We've been out walking and talking about everything in the world.

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Adam and Emma. Click for larger.

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Sign of the week! Spotted at the Maritime Museum

Today a neighbor (a former schoolteacher) came by and gave us a homeschool project for Emma. Irish Moss (a type of seaweed) is commonly found on the beaches here. It's the source of the food ingredient carrageenan. We collected a cup of Irish Moss, cleaned it, and boiled it with milk, sugar, and chocolate.

Bailey Island moss in pot.jpg
Irish Moss ready for boiling. Click for larger.

The Irish Moss releases carageenan, which thickens the mixture and makes a sort of pudding. (You strain the Irish Moss out after boiling, before things thicken up.) Actually, it came out more like chocolate gelatin, so the mouthfeel is peculiar, but it tastes just fine. Emma likes it. I think we used too much Moss relative to the milk.

Bailey Island cooking.jpg

Now we are all in the cottage, and Susan is helping Eleanor finalize what promises to be a spectacular dinner. Here's the menu:

Vietnamese salad rolls with shrimp
Tom Kha (Thai coconut soup -- sorry Brad)
Salad with Asian greens, plums, mandarin oranges, cucumber, snow peas
Stir fry noodles (tofu, snow peas, black bean sauce, ginger scallion, coconut water, sliced chicken, lime juice, garlic)

On the side: A dipping sauce made of satay sauce, peanut butter, coconut milk, ginger, black tea, mint, scallion, lime juice, and red curry paste

So that's our Labor Day 2006. No barbecue this year. Your results may vary. ;-)

Bailey Island family.jpg
The Luhr family examining periwinkles on Bailey Island.

September 03, 2006

Bailey Island, ME

The tattered remnants of Hurricane Ernesto have arrived here in Maine, shortly after we did. We pulled in late Friday night and our unwanted neighbor Ernesto started to show himself on Saturday, with cool wind and gray skies.

As Adam says, "Maine is always nice, no matter what the weather." And it is. We are once again in Adam and Susan's lovely cottage and taking our semi-annual break from the Airstream. The last time we left it was January in San Diego.


It's not that the Airstream gets tiresome. Our constantly changing scenery keeps us from getting bored or confined. But moving out once in a while gives us new perspective and helps us re-evaluate whether it's time to move into a house. (Or, it keeps us from wanting a house.)


Last night Emma took out the Monopoly game and asked us to play with her, so we did. It turns out Monopoly is pretty handy for teaching math! We may be playing again.

Our Google Earth location (note: fixed 9/4/06)

September 01, 2006

Bats and boats

Yesterday we found a bat roosting under the umbrella which goes over the outdoor dinner table. Actually, we found two, but the first one flew off before I could get a picture of him. I believe these are "little brown bats" (myotis lucifigus), but correct me if I'm wrong. We've seen quite a few of these bats in our old caving days. (Eleanor and I used to spelunk in upstate New York when we were active members of the National Speleological Society.)

Charlotte bat.jpg
A little brown bat looking at me. Click for larger.

We love bats. Our old house had a bat house on the side, which I bought from a vendor recommended by Bat Conservation International. I always like to see bats flying around at night because I know they are eating bugs by the pound. A small colony of harmless bats nearby is the most efficient mosquito killing device you can have -- and they are free!

I was sorry that the bat couldn't stay in the umbrella. After I took a few photos he decided to find a quieter place to sleep, and flew off. I think they have a colony somewhere near the house, because we are seeing them every night at dusk. If you take some time to learn about bats you'll be amazed at what they can do, in terms of flying and capturing bugs.

We have moved the trailer. Our neighbor was perfectly happy to have us stay indefinitely in her driveway, but we needed to dump the tanks and get propane so it was time to hitch up and tow over to the nearest campground. After getting the holding tanks empty, the water tank full, and a fillup of propane, we brought it back to my parents house and shoehorned it into their driveway. I hope I can get it back out later!

Charlotte house.jpg
The Airstream is squeezed in behind the house.

The trailer will stay there for the rest of the month. Since we aren't using the trailer for much more than sleeping now, I expect one tank of water to be sufficient for the entire time.

Today we are leaving for Bailey Island, Maine, to visit Adam and Susan and spend a week in their cottage. This is one of our rare times of living outside our Airstream. It's important to get some variation in lifestyle, at least for us, when you live in a small space for long periods of time. I plan to use the bulk of the week to work on the book, while Eleanor intends to go visit some long-lost friends of hers.

Charlotte ski tube.jpg
Emma loves the tube! Click for larger.

Emma took a spin on the ski tube yesterday afternoon, which was a good chance for me to get more experience with the new Nikon lens. In a perfect world I would have bought a 28-200 zoom but anything close to that was much heavier than I wanted. The new 55-200 is great when I need it, but it's too long for a lot of shots. I hate switching lenses while hiking or boating but there will be circumstances in which it is necessary. For action shots of Emma on the tube, the new 55-200 lens was perfect.