Doing It Wrong

I spend a lot of time here thinking and talking about how to do better in relationships, but the truth is that I am having a hard time living my words. I have a lot of fear, and a great deal of internal inertia. I have old shit that I am still carrying around that gets in the way of my ability to do the best for my family. Ultimately, the problems that I have are just part of me, and despite having all the access in the world, I don’t know how to overcome them.

I don’t like the way that my life is. I love my husband and my child, I love the opportunities and experiences that our life together. I don’t like that I am ashamed to tell Carlos about my failings, even though he knows about all the worst things I have done. I don’t like that I still hide from him, and that the things I hide are stupider and more petty every day. I don’t like that I feel stuck and keep falling into old, bad habit.

I have things that I need to take care of, and I just keep not doing them. I need to write an editorial calendar, like, six months ago. I have so many interviews to write up, and a whole book to outline, and laundry and thank you notes, and they all just sit on me and make me overwhelmed. I see other people sharing their struggles with their partners, taking care of their own motivation issues, and I know that I should be able to do it, and I just don’t understand why I don’t.

I realize that this sounds a little like self-pity, or fishing for reassurance, but it’s not that. I just need to be honest about the fact that I don’t have it all figured out, and there are things that I do really, really wrong.

I have some practices that i know make me more likely to stay on track, but they can be hard to maintain with the way our life is lately. I need routine, especially since reality means that I need to be creating structure for our household. I need external stimulus, and exercise, and accountability. But I hate leaving the house (I’m starting to think that there is a specific issue there), and I don’t feel like I want to interact with other people, and I don’t do a good job of holding myself accountable.

I have had a couple of really hard things on my plate recently, and I have reached a point of exhaustion that I can’t really describe. We have really good, exciting stuff going on, but I don’t feel like I am happy enough about it, or sufficiently engaged. I want to feel better than I do, to be doing better than I am, and it’s deeply frustrating. It’s frustrating to me, and hurtful and damaging to the people around me.

I am sorry to vent all this here. Like all of life’s journeys, this one has some ups and downs. The downs matter as much as the ups do.

It’s A Dog’s Life

Our beloved, silly dog is having a hard time.

She is happiest when there are multiple people who love her, and when she has a somewhat predictable lifestyle. She’s a creature of habit, with high social needs. Even on her best behavior, she’s still kind of a hyperactive weirdo. Her needs are pretty straightforward – food, water, exercise, companionship.

More than any of us, she dislikes the “van on the road” lifestyle. When riding in vehicles, she prefers to have a seat where she can watch the road through the windshield. She wants more stops, and to be able to go with us everywhere we go. She seems to like it when we have the kind of sleep schedule that lets her to go bed early with me and stay in bed later with Carlos, which isn’t really how things work out in the van.

As a consequence of our life lately, her behavior has slipped somewhat. I catch her nibbling on Rock’s snacks when he’s not looking. Her levels of excitement at new people are through the roof, which means lots of headbutting people in the crotch and jumping on them. At least it’s not biting, right?

This morning my best lady friend sent me a video of her tiny dog wresting with another dog, in complete silence. I had forgotten that dogs could play without barking their heads off! I knew that Dita Lily has been needing some more focused care than she’s been getting, but until I watched Anchovy flipping around, I hadn’t realized quite how much. We exchanged 45 text messages about the best, dog-trainer approved ways to address her barking, and oh, my. So much work to be done.

When we launched in the van, I knew that there were going to be things that would be rough, and that there would be areas that we would have to work on. I feel bad for Dita, and her limited ability to communicate with us about her struggles. Perhaps more than any of us, she’s going to be happy when our chaos settles into a more permanent location.

Process of Elimination – West Virginia

This weekend, I discovered, definitively, one place that I do not want to live. Not the kind of driven aversion that I feel toward ever living in Arizona again (sorry, guys), but a different feeling of certainty.

I do not want to live in West Virginia. Part of me is a little sad about that, because it’s a state that could definitely use an infusion of left-leaning people, but we will not be those people.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful part of the country. Carlos and I tease people who claim that there are mountains where they come from, when they mean the Adirondack Mountains, for example. Those are nice hills, but we started out in the Rockies, and the Cascades. It’s possible that we are mountain snobs. Which brings me back to West Virginia. It’s “The Mountain State!” “Mountaineers are always free!” I do have to admit, while we were driving through it, I could completely understand why West Virginians claim to be mountain people. Not one part of the state is flat, and the hills are steep and covered in trees.

We slept in a campground way up in the hills, and woke up enshrouded in fog. It was beautiful, and an amazing respite from the humidity that has been the hallmark of our time in the East. This was, without a doubt, my favorite thing about West Virginia.

The worst thing about WV, though? I’m sorry to say, the people. Everyone we encountered in a service position was totally cool, but the Mountaineer-on-the-street? Surprisingly shitty. We ate dinner at a chain restaurant, and the pair of women one table over from us sent their food back three times, and then called the manager. The kicker: one of them ordered the wrong food to begin with. The next day, I witnessed a standoff at a three-way intersection that ended with a grown man calling another “f****t,” because…well, honestly, I’m not sure. And the drivers were the rudest and most needlessly aggressive. It’s not like there was a ton of traffic, but they wouldn’t move over so I could merge, and they tailgated/cut me off more than in any other state. I don’t understand.

I can’t say I’m too heartbroken over the elimination of West Virginia. It’s important to know when to say no, and this was an easy choice. And so, on to the next!


photo courtesy of dougtone

Van full of chaos

I thought that living in a van would force me to live in a more organized fashion. I thought that having only 72 square feet would make me place a higher priority on “a place for everything, everything in its place.” Are you surprised to learn that I was totally wrong?

There are some things that always go in their proper place. The kiddo’s safety seat, for example. There’s one appropriate place for it, and that’s where it stays. Almost anything else, though… well, it’s kind of a crap shoot.

This experience has been really education for me, about the way that we live. I am, on my own, a fairly untidy person. Carlos tells me that there was a time when he kept his home neat, but that’s not really something that I’ve ever seen. So, we started with two messy adults, added a baby and a dog, and took everything we own out on the road.

Our life is messy.

We have some organization, boxes and bungees and bags with single purposes, but all of that is no match for the total level of chaos that we seem to generate. It gives me a little angst when people want to see where we live, because I want to have something better, tidier, to show them. I want to have the kind of home that welcomes people in at a moment’s notice, and this is not that. But ultimately, I think that there’s something good about that, too.

Carlos and I set out on this journey to do something very specific together. We are working on our project, and also on our selves. We found our way to this adventure because of the time that we have invested in the relationship we share. This sounds a little narcissistic, but the van, and this journey, have forced us to build some space that really is del Rios-only, and I am happy for that. I do wish that the inside of our little bubble were tidier, but I also have confidence that we’ll get to that place, eventually. Until then, I am thankful for the reminder that we can share our life and still have some places that belong to us alone. And I’m glad for the goal of making our next (permanent) place the kind of open and welcoming space that we love to build.

We Were Here: Ypsilanti, MI

We’ve been pushing east for weeks and weeks, with the goal of making it to Washington, DC for our friend’s wedding. Some days we drive until we’re exhausted, and sleep wherever the road is welcoming. Other days, the road is a little gentler to us, and we spend a little more time appreciating our surroundings.

When we left Vancouver, a friend of ours said, “you have to go to Michigan! My best friend is there, and it’s amazing!”
I’ll admit, I heard “Michigan is amazing,” and I scoffed a little, just to myself. But I was totally wrong.

Michigan is weird, and exotic, and magical. At least, for this child of the desert and mountains, it’s amazing. Dudes. It is SO HUMID here. I have literally 58 bug bites. I got new bug bites on my toes today, while walking around town. Carlos saw lightning bugs on his way back from the laundromat, but I still haven’t seen any. What I did see, however, was a terrifying cicada exoskeleton (and I learned that it’s called an exuvia!), and learned that, yes, my childhood reaction to that particular sight (panic!) still stands.

The MIchigander accent is rather cute!

One thing that I would not have believed before now: the people here are totally different than the Pacific Northwesters that I am accustomed to. This is weird, but…they actually talk to us. Black grandmas on porches, middle-aged white dudes smoking outside bars, college students, moms out with their kids. I don’t know if it’s because we’re a cute mixed couple with the awesomest baby ever, or if people are just more outgoing here, but I like it.

We’ve spent most of our Michigan time in Ypsilanti, home of Eastern Michigan University. Carlos is deeply disappointed that their mascot is not the Emu, but what are you going to do? I found their food co-op, which was surprisingly well stocked, and we’ve found several breweries in town. I don’t know how I’d feel about the winter here, or living in such a small town with a big school, but I think I could manage it. This had been one of the first places we’ve visited where I’ve felt really comfortable imaging a future for us.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think Ypsi is going to be our home, but it’s been nice to find a place that confirms that, yes, in fact, there are places our here for us.


image courtesy

Someone’s In The Kitchen

My kitchen is 16 inches by 36 inches, made up of a single-basin sink and a two-burner propane stove. I have two pans (I mistakenly left my third pan in Portland, d’oh), four coffee mugs, four bowls, a french press, and a whole gaggle of water bottles. Needless to say, I don’t get a lot of hard-core cooking done in there, though I do usually manage to keep us fed.

I expected that giving up all the pots and pans and tools and accessories from my kitchen would be a lot more traumatic than it has turned out to be so far. I live in the kitchen, but I also hide in the kitchen. The kitchen is a convenient excuse, a refuge. Giving up my own kitchen has forced me to let go of ideas about myself that seemed so deeply ingrained that I imagined they were immutable. Letting go of my attachment to the kitchen feels like a good practice for examining my other attachments, questioning how they came about and what they’re actually bringing into my life.

Living on the road and spending our time in other people’s houses has meant spending a lot of time in other people’s kitchens. Many a day, I start our routine on someone else’s stove, in someone else’s toaster, with someone else’s tools. More than their tools, though, I enjoy seeing the way that other people organize this critical part of life, the kind of priority that they give it (or don’t). Which things are most carefully cared for? Which things are absent? Which are present, but neglected? The kitchen is not exactly a window into the soul of a household, but I think it can be a telling snapshot.

Most of the people who welcome us into their homes have done so intentionally, knowing who we are and what we’re about. They’re like us, in some way, or they simply do like us. Spending time in their kitchens feels like a gift, like guidance for how to take the good things and the necessary things and stop worrying about the rest. The task of purposefully rebuilding our life is immense and often feels overwhelming. There are plenty of lessons we’ve learned from our loved ones that that seem impossibly far removed from where I am now. Coming back to the kitchen gives me a tangible place to start reshaping our life to take the best care of our needs.

Appreciating The Best Things

One of my favorite things about being on the road is enjoying the particular specialties of our favorite people. The other morning, I woke up in a house that has a whole section of the kitchen dedicated to coffee makers. There’s a thermal-carafe drip machine, an espresso machine, a siphon, a french press… I don’t even know if that’s all of them. In addition to the assortment of coffee, my friend tells me she’s been forbidden from buying any more tea, and omg, the beer. ALL THE BEST BEERS!

Before that stop, we hung out with my sister, who always has the best snacks. Seriously: when I was pregnant and struggling with the need to eat more food than I wanted to, I called her up to get a shopping list. On our last trip through Boise, her partner commandeered the shopping trip to make sure that we had all the snacks we’d need for the road, and put back the tortillas I had picked, in favor of way better ones.

Every house we’ve visited has had some kind of best thing about it. One of the AirBnBs that we stayed at had the best creepy taxidermy. (This is kind of a special category — no place else that we’ve stayed had any creepy taxidermy, let alone several dozen pieces). Thankfully there was no actual taxidermy in the bedroom we stayed in, just a couple giant plush animal heads. It was both fascinating and a little terrifying, to be honest. Almost every home we’ve stayed in has had some great art in it, which I’m going to call a credit to the awesome taste of the people who like us. Even hard pressed, I probably couldn’t say that one place had the best art. That’s totally OK with me.

Wyoming (to my surprise) had the best smells. Nebraska had the best lightning storms. Aunt Judy’s house had the best bunnies in the back yard, AND the best selection of kid’s books. I couldn’t wait to discover what’s best about my sister-in-law’s house. It turns out the answer is that her house has the best cousins in it. OK, yeah, that’s a tough call to make, but the kids (who are adults, or almost) spent most of the time we were there fighting (so gently) over who was going to hold Rockford, and bringing us delicious treats.

This period of our life is so strange, so chaotic, so unpredictable-despite-our-attempts-to-plan. It’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed, to feel like I don’t have anything but Carlos and Rock and Dita to anchor on, and taking the time to check in with my surroundings, finding something there to appreciate for its own weird and wonderful merit has been immeasurably valuable for keeping me grounded and in the practice of staying open to beauty and possibility. I think that when I have traveled in the past, I have not been great about anchoring my memories to specific places — was that cool castle in Grenada or Sevilla? Where did we eat all those tiny lamb chops? I like to think that making a note to myself about the things that are the best in each place has been helping me be better about remembering the places that we’ve been.

Old stuff

I have a lot of stuff. I have always thought, “I wish I had less stuff,” while simultaneously accumulating more things. I don’t really know why I have always had such a hard time letting go of things, but I always have.

Because of some recent unpleasantness, Carlos and I have had occasion to open and sort almost every box that I have had left over from all the times I’ve moved as an adult, starting in 1999. From the time that I left my tiny home town to go to college, I have moved 19 times. Nineteen!

Among the many boxes that we sorted were photos I took in middle school, memorabilia from high school, textbooks from my time at Reed. I didn’t have very many things left in Patagonia when I left Portland for Yakima, and the things that I accumulated in the time I spent there before going to Olympia were few and had mostly already been purged. But still, my straggler boxes and Carlos’s together filled a 10×4 storage unit to bursting.

I don’t know why I have kept so many things, and why so many of the things that I have kept are such junk. I think that I have held on to so many things as a way to hold on to my past, to make some part of my story permanent.

I am not permanent. Permanence is not real.

I am afraid of change, and I am afraid that in changing, I will completely lose touch with where and who I have been in the past. I have held on to detritus with a belief that it is somehow magical, that those sophomore text books hold within them some secret essence of what mattered to me about that experience.

As I went through those boxes, though, I realized that all the things that I had been dragging around were not the magical totems of my life experiences that I had hoped they would be. They were just things. Now I wonder why I thought that they would hold that kind of power — I have never been a sentimental person, or an especially nostalgic one. As much as I have been prone to getting stuck, I am not much of one for looking backwards. In fact, the lack of desire to look backwards is probably part of how I ended up with so many boxes full of silly crap to begin with.

I can’t tell you that going through all those boxes was easy. I cried a little before we started, and spent a lot of the time cursing my many failings. But like the events that precipitated the Great Box Purge of 2013, there was liberation in the pain. I no longer feel like I have to hold on to parts of my past that weren’t really great the first time around. I had an opportunity to give all those tchochkes a moment of closure, and set them free. I did it with my core team, working together to build a new foundation out of the things that we each brought to our marriage (ok, Rockford didn’t actually help that much, but there was a surprising amount of second- and third-hand baby stuff in all those boxes).

I don’t know whether I’ll be better about my gravitational collection of junk in the future; because we are living so intentionally minimally, I think that I will have to be. I have written before about trying to occupy my physical space as a reflection of the way I want to be mentally and spiritually. I hope that this exercise in letting go can be the foundation for a better path in my future.

You Get What You Need

I have a lot of energy. Once I make a decision I want to make it happen. Sometimes I find myself at odds with what I know and what I want. Sometimes I find myself in the same conflict with Rose: what she wants against what I want.

When Rose suggested staying in Portland for a month I had some concerns. But, the first night in our sublet erased them. We have come here, I think, for good reason. We have experiences that are useful to the people we are living with. Well beyond our goal in this project, these are conversations that Rose and I need to have as people.

June is not a great month for me. One of my favorite people died in June–specifically my father. This year I attended my grandmother’s memorial and found myself leaning on my aunt during the anniversary of her husbands death. Overall this project has been forcing me to slow down.

It doesn’t have to happen today. Just breathe and let your thoughts happen. Getting what you need today won’t stop you from getting what you want eventually.

Conversion Van Renovation

Due to the recent passing of my grandma I put my shoulder to the grindstone to finish the van. I’m going to show what I did, and show you my materials list at the end.

So the Van (we call her Nessy) started like this:

Interior shot - Chinook Interior Cab

But, then I tore ALL out. All the carpet, the bed/seats, the cabinets, the stove, the toilet, the heater and water heater, even the kitchen sink.

2013-04-15 17.19.45

That resulted in over 600 pounds of trash and recycling.

600 pounds of trash

Since we started with a 1986 Ford Chinook I was able to reuse the holding tanks, stove, and heater–I had to replace the water heater, it was too far gone to repair. Once I had the entire thing torn out Rose cleaned all of the surfaces and I started insulating the walls, floor, and ceiling. I used 1-inch insulation board on the floors, 2-inch insulation board on the walls, and a combination of fiber insulation and Refletix on the ceiling.

Framing for van insulation

You can see in this picture that I made framing for holding the insulation in, and to attach the plywood to. I used mainly 2×2 boards with some 1×2 boards for spacing and buttressing. Special thanks to my father-in-law, John, for help during this section.

Framing for conversion van

After all of the parts that require outside attachment (heater and water heater) were back in place and the insulation was complete we used 1/4-inch plywood to cover the walls and floors. Rose found some outdoor fabric that helps us make things look nice and retro at the same time.

Retro Fabric Wall

That window cutout is the bane of my existence, at all stages of the process. The hole in the floor on the left is where our “house battery” lives. Because we started to run out of time we half-assed the ceiling covering (it is bright blue canvas, if you are curious).

Once that was all done I started with the cabinets. I used an old table top to build the new kitchen area and upgraded the faucet to be a taller model with a spray head. The framing for the cabinets are 2×2 boards and the shell is 3/4-inch plywood. I built the back portion to be sectioned in 3-rows and 2 columns. I reinstalled the over-cockpit cabinet and will be adding a bedside cabinet. I used Rose’s favorite Ikea rug and a cheap 4×6 rug as floor covering.

Next, I upgraded to pluming system by replacing the Suburban 6-gallon water heater and switching the lines to PEX tubing and SharkBite unions. With all of the changes in design I also had to reconfigure all of the grey water plumbing. Rockford helped.

Rock helps me cut pipe

Next, because we are bringing our dog with us on the adventure I picked up a 12-volt fan for the roof vent. I chose the Fantastic Fan since it has a thermostat control and move 90-cubic feet of air per minute. Since we only have 144-cubic feet it should be able to keep it fresh even in the hottest weather.

Replacing a vent

I am also replacing the power converter and controller, the stereo (we wanted usb and auxiliary inputs), and the speakers. Those are less interesting to describe though.

Overall the materials list looks like this:

  • 6 – 4ftx8ft 1/4-inch plywood sheets (you might want more for your ceiling)
  • 2 – 4ftx8ft 1/2-inch plywood sheets (miscellaneous cabinet parts)
  • 3 – 4ftx8ft 5/8-inch plywood sheets (We used these to build the vertical walls of the cabinets)
  • 2 – 2inch 4×8 foam insulation board
  • 2 – 1inch 4×8 insulation board
  • 50ft – 48inch Reflectix Sheeting
  • 6 – 2×2 8 foot boards (framing for insulation and cabinets)
  • 12 – 1×2 8 foot boards (small framing, furrings, cleats, etc)
  • 1 – 5×7 foot rug
  • 1 – 4×6 foot rug
  • 1 – 30 gallon tank
  • 1 – 15 gallon tank
  • 1 – 10 gallon tank
  • 1 – Faucet and sink
  • 1 – Propane Cook Range (ours is an older version)
  • 1 – Range hood
  • 1 – Fan-Tastic Vent w/ Thermostat
  • 1 – Suburban Water Heater
  • 1 – Suburban Furnaces
  • 1 – RV Toilet
  • 14 yards – upholstery cloth
  • 5 pounds of screws
  • 12 door hinges
  • 100count wide crown staples

Now Nessy looks like this on the inside. We still need to finish doors for our cabinetry, but this is the gist of it. I will update once we get it all dialed in. 🙂

In Nessy