Living with Lucille

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Returning to Lucille: an exercise in Hope and Babyproofing

Well, we're back. After such a long blogging hiatus, our intrepid travelers return, wiser, stronger, more well-rested and better at crawling. Well, one of us, anyhow. That is the big news. Addie is officially ON THE MOVE.

After 6 weeks staying at Nana and Grandpa's house in Illinois, with plenty of floor space to practice, Addie started creeping around on her belly about a week ago, and only 3 days after reuniting with Lucille the RV, she started crawling in earnest. For a while, we would set her down on the floor, put some toys out of her reach, and instead of crawling, she'd just look at us forlornly, as if to say "really? What gives, ma?" So, not being motivated by toys, I took a lesson out of the E.T. playbook. Cheerios set out in a line seemed to do the trick, and with proper motivation (FOOD), she was perfectly content to creep her way across the floor.

The RV environment is a tricky one for a moble baby. On the one hand, there's not a lot of room. Just one long hallway down the center of the RV for crawling, and unfortunately, several downward-leading steps along one side of it. We watch her like a hawk when she's sitting on the floor near the entrance to the coach, because a tumble there could end on the ground, outside! There is fortunately only one electrical outlet at her level, and very few sharp corners, so that does seem to simplify things. She spent the morning exploring, pulling up to standing on perfectly-sized shower ledges and dinette benches.  The trouble will be finding a place for her to crawl around that's nice and open. Plenty of grassy areas in our new home, but since it poured rain last night, still a bit too damp for exploring.

Which brings us to our new home: Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and in particular, Jessie Lea RV Park. Back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and for real this time. Big Stone Gap is a small town nestled in between ridges. It is unbelievably gorgeous almost everywhere you go. It was a gray, drizzly morning when I departed our campsite to the grocery store at 8am. When I emerged, I looked out over Food City's parking lot and was taken aback; the view, even with a foreground of lined concrete, was breathtaking. The tops of tree-covered mountains emerged from the lower elevations shrouded in mist. I felt lucky to be here.

The campground itself is owned by perhaps the nicest gent you'd ever meet. With a meandering stream and biking path running through the park, lots of willow trees and the cleanest bathrooms you've ever seen, Jessie Lea is an RVer's dream. Just like hotels, campgrounds all have their own distinct character. Pikeville was owned by the City of Pikeville, and it felt like it.  Concrete slabs made for easy RV leveling, but hot, impersonal afternoons.  The bathrooms looked like the ones from junior high locker room, with institutional metal stalls and concrete floor. Jessie Lea is the opposite. At the office, there is a large pavilion with lots of picnic tables, several gas grills for guest use, and rocking chairs. With only 40 or so sites, it feels inhabited, but not crowded, an accidental village. The owner is a sometime wood carver, his wares are for sale in the office, and an old man carved in a tree by the stream surprises you on the way to a footbridge. And did I mention the bathrooms? They feel like Gramma's house. In a good way. Seriously, it seems like a simple thing, but when you spend your days showering and doing your private business in a place that is not your home, you want to feel comfortable. And CLEAN. These bathrooms are spotless.

Jefferson spent the last six weeks in Columbus, Ohio working at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where he worked 5 days and 50-60 hours a week, not including his classtime and homework. Here in Big Stone Gap, he'll be at Lonesome Pine Medical Center, a much smaller, community hospital. He'll be back to 4 days a week, and back with his wife and daughter, he'll no longer have to fend for himself when it comes to his meals. He's still working his tail off, but at least he gets to see his growing baby every day, and I can fill his belly with good food. These pleasures are pretty simple, and yet, we missed them a great deal during our separation. We get to delight in one another's company again.

Oh, and did I mention Addie only woke up ONCE last night? That, my friends, makes for a pretty fantastic Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rice Cooker Chocolate Cake

Moving from our 2 bedroom apartment in Richmond into a 27' motorhome means that our life was divided into 2 categories: the Things We Bring, and the Things We Don't Bring. Some items from each list:

Things We Bring:
- 1 guitar, 1 banjo, 1 ukelele
- 1 chef's knife, 1 paring knife, recently sharpened
- 10 pounds of Rancho Gordo beans
- 1 road bike, 1 Mazda 626, 1 umbrella stroller

Things We Don't Bring:
- the other guitar, the other banjo, 2 trombones, 6 penny whistles
- 1 GORGEOUS 7-quart (and 20 pounds) cast iron dutch oven *le sigh*
- At least 20 different kinds of Penzey's spices (I restrained myself to about a dozen.)
- 1 Toyota MR2 two-seater, 1 jogging stroller

So far, I think we made good decisions regarding which items we can live without, and which are indispensable (or in the case of those beans, small luxuries too good to forgo.) And not surprisingly, as the items that we've stored drift into the back of my memory, I find it quite easy to live with what we have. One of the joys of living in the RV is knowing how lightly we can tread with regard to material items. There is great deal of freedom in that mobility, and a levity in those limits.

Then, Jeff's birthday came around.

Those of you who know me well know that I love to eat. And cook. And with no sense of appropriate modesty, I've been cooking LIKE A BOSS in Lucille's little galley kitchen. I've learned that to cook well in such a small space, my prep work (chopping, measuring, etc) has to be done all in advance. I've also mastered the art of minimizing the number of pans and dishes dirtied. Recent meals have included fish tacos with fresh pico de gallo, broccoli-parmesan vegetable fritters, peanut-tofu-soba-noodle salad, Israeli couscous salad, and for Jeff's birthday dinner, a mushroom-barley risotto.

The last two of which were cooked in our new rice cooker. When cooking in an RV, any cooking you do with electricity is free, as your electric is included in your nightly fee, whereas you pay for your own propane to run your stove (and furnace and hot water heater). Also, when cooking in a small space while running the AC, using a rice cooker or crock pot means you aren't simultaneously heating up the space you're attempting to cool. Given that we eat brown rice about twice a week and it takes about 50 minutes on the stovetop, the rice cooker seemed like a solid $30 investment.

I will tell you what: it was a game-changer. If you have never owned a rice cooker and you eat any kind of whole grains regularly, do yourself a favor and go buy one. If you own a rice cooker now, are you aware of what diabolical cookery can happen in that innocent looking appliance? (Also: WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME TO BUY ONE EARLIER?) With any whole grain, flip it on while it's empty, start a cook cycle, add a bit of olive oil or butter, toast your grains in the bottom, then add the appropriate amount of stock or water and set it to cook. You can add extra ingredients, like mushrooms or spices. (Or wine.) You can open the cooker mid-cycle, tweak it, and close it up again. In addition to brown rice, we've made Israeli couscous, steel cut oats, barley risotto, and now, chocolate cake.


Yes, chocolate cake. It was Jefferson's birthday, and I don't care what kind of a monastic, simplified, renounce-all-material-possessions lifestyle you're living, you can't have a birthday without cake.  Turns out, you can make a cake in a rice cooker, and it's really simple: mix up a box of cake mix, grease your rice cooker bowl, add cake mix and press cook. Keep restarting the cycle until the cake is baked. Unfortunately, although I restarted the cook cycle 3 times, and my "cake" ended up looking like this:

Disappointing, yes? Ah, but never fear. With the ingenuity of a seasoned RVer (plus some heavy whipping cream and fresh strawberries), Jefferson celebrated his birthday with this confection:

And if I do say so myself, it was some of the finest, moistest chocolate cake I've ever had. Well, cake might be the wrong term; perhaps cakey-like deliciousness, topped with a pudding-like center where the box mix didn't finish setting up. Whatever, it was freaking tasty. So with that, Happy Birthday to my wonderful husband, and happy rice cooker cookery to all of you! (Just google "rice cooker recipes". The possibilities are endless. And tantalizing.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

If you don't care

Last week we took a hiatus from posting here because we were not actually living in the RV last week.  We were living in a beach house with a bunch of friends at Nags Head, NC.  As a senior nurse anesthesia student, I don't get a lot of time off.  This was a terrific way to spend a week and our little monster was in a really good mood the whole time, which made vacation even more awesome.

There are a few interesting cultural / linguistic gems I've noticed in Pikeville, and that was actually the inspiration for this post.  The ubiquitous "Coal keeps the lights on!" bumper stickers are hard to miss starting in about Coeburn, Va., and the inclusion of the "black lung" check box in the respiratory section of the paper pre-op form are both telling.  Frequently our older male patients are retired miners.  These were obvious or predictable culturalisms though.

Here's an odd one.  Pink is way in fashion.  I'd venture to guess about half of all women in Pikeville are wearing pink at any given time, and half of the pink-wearers are wearing hot pink.  Hot pink, for real?  Are we stuck in the 80s here, or is pink back?  Don't know.

As a linguistic nerdy nerd who took a whole college class on English dialects, I really like the following dialectic idiom.  The phrase "if you don't care" is routinely substituted for "if you don't mind."  I probably hear this 10 times a day at the hospital.  For example, a CRNA might say to the tech "we'll need the a fiber optic scope in the room if you don't care."  (I also love that "care" is pronounced /kir/, or "keer" if you don't read IPA.)  Today I heard this substitution in a way which I now consider to be ambiguous in  meaning.  The context was my CRNA said "I don't care to do it that way" in reference to a suggestion I made.  Previously I would have interpreted that as a rejection of my idea, but I now know in Pikeville it is the opposite.

Monday, May 20, 2013

RVing, Star Wars Edition: The Phantom Menace and A New Hope

So, after our last optimistic post with Bill and Jefferson, our handyman heroes, it rained. Not much, but enough to make us realized the roof was still leaking.

You must understand, there's little that creates more sturm und drang in RVers' lives than a leak. When water finds its way from outside to the inside, there's more at stake than ones possessions and a dry place to sleep. In particular, older models of RVs have coach bodies that are constructed from plywood and framed out with wood, rather than newer models which are usually entirely aluminum. So, little Lucy has wooden framing and walls, and if water finds its way in there, it's very difficult to get out, and therefore, can lead to mold, mildew, and ultimately rot. Catching a leak early is crucial to maintaining the integrity of one's RV, and protecting it from the Phantom Menace of leaks. (See what I did there?)

Well, we caught it. It's definitely been rained on a few times before we could repair it, but we seem to be able to keep drying things out. Jefferson and Bill repaired the window on Saturday morning, and ran a hose along the window, with no leaks. Hooray! We went along our merry way, fixing all the other things that can go wrong with a 20 year-old RV: do those awning arms lock? (Yes.) Why are they bending in the wind? (Because you didn't lock them.) Why won't the generator start up? (Don't know. Good thing we've got power.) Why did that fan stop working? (Fuse blew.) Wait, the microwave and AC just went off. OHMIGOD WE BROKE LUCILLE! (No. City power went out. Bill doesn't have power either. GET A GRIP, WOMAN.)

*whew* Seriously. If you're as dramatic as me, living in an older RV is an emotional rollercoaster.

Then, it rained Saturday night. And in the morning, we checked the overcab area: the Phantom Menace had risen again.  So much for our lazy Sunday. Jeff would spend 3 hours in the hot sun on the roof, patching with a different kind of sealant to see if the water was coming from higher up, and just escaping around the window.

But first, we made pancakes. Because when troubled by the Phantom Menace, a breakfast of coffee and pancakes is a handyman hero's superweapon.

Jefferson went roofward, and I went into the RV to struggle with Crankers McCrankypants, who had gone several days taking really crappy naps, if any at all. It was a long day. When folks asked me if we were EXCITED about moving into an RV, I always said yes, but with the caveats that at times, it would suck, and that the first 2 weeks would probably be the hardest. I recalled those comments later in the evening, and Jefferson said, "yeah, I believed you, but I didn't think it would be quite this hard." We both went to bed feeling a bit discouraged about the state of Lucy, saddened by McCrankypants' difficulty with the transition to RV living, and teething, and not nursing to sleep, and not napping in a swing, and generally wondering if we had made a big mistake.

Monday Morning:
Jeff went back to the hospital this morning. I woke up at 6am to the sound of heavy rain on the RV. I ever-so-gently crept around a SLEEPING BABY in my bed, extracted myself without waking her, and snuck up into the overcab area to check the leak. It was damp, but I was pretty sure that was the day before. I checked again at 8am (baby still sleeping!), and no pooled water. Just checked again at 9am and there was only a few drops where the leak is. Now we're getting somewhere. A New Hope springs forth! Hopefully in the next few days, before we leave the RV for a week in storage, we'll be able to get the leak taken care of completely. Meanwhile, forecast calls for rain every day, so we'll have plenty of chances to check it.

Oh, and did I mention Addie slept until 9:10am?

Looks like Monday morning is the new Saturday afternoon. A new hope, indeed.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


We were warned before we embarked that RV folk are generally helpful and pleasant people.  It's not that I don't believe such statements, more that I take generalizations with a grain of salt.  Not every camper at the Pikeville municipal RV park has fit that description.  There's a trailer next to us which houses six, yes six, plumbers who do not wave or reply to a "hello."  (I might not be too happy living with five other dudes in a trailer, so I guess I understand.)  There is a retired couple here from Michigan visiting family who pretty much  do fit the stereotype.  The other day they loaded us up with leftover homemade chili and hamburger buns.  He's a retired contractor who worked for facilities management at a state university, a self described "jack of all trades and master of none."

With our recent leak in the front window of the RV, we've been outside standing on the hood of the RV pondering where the water is coming in, applying and removing the tarp, etc.  Without needing an invitation, Bill has offered caulk, a hair dryer, various tools, a garden hose, and manual labor to assist with fixing the leak.  Looks like we now have it under control.  Thanks, Bill!

In other news, here are some gratuitous, adorable "Addie in the RV" photos.

Gumming a measuring bowl
Gumming a teething toy

Gumming a bib
Gumming her hand
Almost pulling up and out

Friday, May 17, 2013

A few additions

Pikeville (pronounced "PAHK-vll") has been pretty good to us so far. Aside from the SNAFUs already mentioned, we are having a good time, and this is very beautiful country.  Although Megan's post is titled "Week 1," this is actually week 2 for me.  Week 1 for Papa was spent in Jenny Wiley State Park and commuting 40 minutes each way to Pikeville Medical Center.  Other than missing Megan and Addie, I'm seriously not complaining here.  The campground was fun, the weather comfortable, and I got to witness several games of cornhole.  ("Throw 'em back, J.R.!")  Here's a photo of the cheap tent and 1989 MR-2 which I called home for Week 1.  Obviously the motorhome is a huge upgrade.

This would have been awesome in 1989.
Having now completed two weeks of my clinical assignment (out of five total), I've gained several experiences which I had thus far found very difficult to find in Richmond.  That was much of the impetus for this adventure actually.  That and finding a craigslist post for a 1988 Holiday Rambler motorhome, thinking it looked like a bus, and thinking I needed to own it.  We did not end up buying that RV, but a different one which is in much better shape.  Anyway, in two weeks at the hospital I've been able to give anesthesia for an aortic valve replacement, several cesarean sections, and perform several peripheral nerve blocks, all of which had proven elusive in Richmond.  It helps that there is only one other senior student here, and P.M.C. has a very busy OR.

Just a couple more photos for now because it is getting late.

The fam
Perhaps my favorite thing about this particular photo is that a stranger approached us with open arms, as if to say "hand over that baby."  We are pretty compliant with those requests, and we let them hold Addie until she cried.  The stranger then took our picture.

And of course, here's one with the RV as it currently exists with a tarp over the leaky window.  We promise to be less trashy very soon.

Did you know that "tarp" is short for "tarpaulin?"

Pikeville, KY: Week 1

We set off with Lucille on Saturday, May 11th after an arduous moving of all of our "we-live-in-a-2-bedroom-house" belongings into a smattering of friends' homes, parents' basements, and distant storage units. Two bits of advice:
     1. When you "reserve" a moving truck, make sure it's an actual reservation, rather than some mystical promise of unicorn-like moving equipment that will disappear only 2 hours before your scheduled pick-up, leaving you "moving" without a "truck" because your "reservation" wasn't an actual reservation.
    2. Do not let your smug self-satisfaction of your supremely efficient packing of your storage unit distract you from checking to make sure that said unit has a latch that can be locked on it. Otherwise, all those perfectly positioned earthly possessions will be stacked into a unit that CANNOT BE LOCKED. If this happens, don't panic. Sit on the edge of your empty moving truck, and drink a warm beer.

After a stopover in Blacksburg on Saturday night and a fine breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes provided by our excellent host Old Man Kelly, we took to 460 West, the weather glorious, the views stupendous, and the baby... well, she did just fine, considering everything. Pulled up in the City of Pikeville RV Park, hooked up the electric and water, and since Jeff starts at the hospital in the morning, we put the baby to bed, and packed it in. The real work started tomorrow.

Captain's Log, Day 1: Monday in Pikeville, KY

Finding a place for the things of 3 human beings in a 27-foot motorhome is no easy feat, but we managed. After removing one of the on-board "lounge" chairs in the coach to make room for the nursery (*ahem* Pack 'n' Play), we found stowage for Addie's Things. Ohsomany things a baby requires. Cloth diapers, wipes, clothes, burp cloths, swaddle blankets, diaper lotion, toys, books, changing pad, sippee cup. Even with our modest packing, Addie's stuff takes up a fair bit of space. By comparison, our clothing items fit in the back bedroom with room to spare.  Our "office" items are limited to our laptops and one file box with important papers, a few paper clips, and a stapler. No books. No media. No knickknacks. Only the essentials.

Oh, and then there's the kitchen.

When it comes to material possessions, I am not a collector of things, but I have a weakness for kitchen doo-dads. However, to my great shock (and Jefferson's delight) I have managed to pack a PERFECTLY APPROPRIATE AMOUNT of cooking tools, dinnerwear, and pantry items into our new home.  (Jefferson made me leave the 6 quart cast-iron Lodge dutch oven at home. He's very smart.)
Monday supper was sweet potato-black bean tacos, our first motorhome-made meal.

Captain's Log, Day 2: Long Day's Journey into Naptime
Addie is awesome, but I'll be honest: she sucks at sleeping during the day. It's gotta be DARK, it's gotta be QUIET. How do you achieve this in a 27-foot RV, and still have somewhere to be? Turns out: lots of blackout curtains.  Naptime goes like this:  asleep for 30 minutes, awaken crying. Spend 1 hour trying to get her to fall back asleep. Give up. Deal with pissy baby for 2 hours. Try again. Sleep for 30 minutes, wash, rinse, repeat. Do not get groceries. Do not pass go. Do not cook dinner. Proceed directly to Dairy Cheer for Smashburgers and milkshakes. Actually, "Smasharue" burgers, which are fully loaded, but also include the bonus of scary cheddar cheese sauce and bacon bits. Feel considerably better about Day 2.

Captain's Log, Day 3 & 4: Wednesday & Thursday
Aside from Jeff's bike's affliction of flat tires (!), we start to settle in. We find a rhythm. Addie sleeps a bit longer. I FINALLY figure out how to put out the awning and pull it in again (a very complicated process requiring an advanced mechanical engineering degree or MENSA membership). Addie chills in her bouncer on the concrete pad on a little rug, bouncing and smiling like a fiend. The whole thing is pretty freakin' adorable.

Wednesday dinner is smashed chickpea pasta salad, and Thursday we have bison burgers on the grill and a big green salad. Lots of beer. Jeff has Friday off, so we stay up late (10pm!!) chatting in the back, delighted with our adventure.

Captain's Log, Day 5: Wherein Our Parade is Rained Upon
Everything was going splendidly. Went for our first hike with Addie in the morning, up a giant radiotower road. I swear, the last half mile we climbed 400 feet. I got my heart rate up for the first time since 2012, and Jefferson, LIKE A BOSS, wore Addie in a backpack all the way up and down. Thunderstorms were forecast for afternoon, and the weather delivered. A good long, strong rain shower for about an hour. Addie and I were snug in the RV while Jefferson visited his new barber, Jimmy. Songs were sung. Toys were chewed. Fun was had by all. Once the rain stops, we'll go to the laundromat to do our pile of dirty diaper laundry.

Until we checked that spot up by the overcab window. You know the one. The one we thought we'd fixed a few weeks back. Erm, not so much. Actually, more like, water trickling into our RV, water working its way into the wooden walls, finding it's way into our "attic" space.  NOT GOOD, PEOPLE. Jeff triaged the situation, soaking up the incoming stream with cloth-diaper-burp-cloths while I called the nearest RV repair shop. The tarp is re-purposed as a temporary roof band-aid, because of course, chance of showers for the next 4 days. Jeff hustles to the RV repair shop to get some info and materials for resealing the window. Laundry will fester in the trunk of the Mazda for another day, and we console ourselves with a (delicious) supper of drunken beans with tortillas and avocados.

 No really, it's gonna be FINE. Good thing our neighbors, Bill and Sheila, are handy with RV repairs. And are willing to lend us their hair dryer.