Apr 30 2011

Life in Manitoba

by andrew

Here’s a much abbreviated a snapshot of my adventurous past week from which I am thoroughly enjoying the reprieve of Sabbath.

We got back to the homestead-waiting-to-happen from an excellent time in Winnipeg on tues and in addition to all the fun stuff I’m working on for Clvr the following productivity ensued (in somewhat no particular order):

  • emptied our black tank into the new 25 gal holding / tote tank on wheels we picked up in Winnipeg and drug that out into the pasture to dump into the sewage pit I dug with Bennah the week before. “And you shall have a place outside the camp, where you shall go out, and you shall have a sharp implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your excrement.” (Deu 23:13-14)
  • covered the poop pit with a hood from an old red chevy truck so that animals in the pasture don’t fall in and break a leg or something. “And when a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it, the owner of the pit is to repay, he is to give silver to their owner, and the dead beast is his.” (Exo 21:34-35)
  • took my two sons of thunder for a couple mile hike around the property (yes that’s the poop pit bottom left):


  • started researching immigration / residency more thoroughly
  • walked out and flagged what will become our roughly 1/4 mile driveway so that we can hire a loader to come out and knock the right trees down to make a path and build it up.
  • several rides on the quad (ATV)
  • Reayah made friends with the horse by devising a bribe that involved an apple
  • i used a roll of white duct tape patching up our awning from driving through hail and wind damage
  • filled up our 40 gal water tank again since the weekend was going to bring freezing temps and pointless hook up to the hose when that happens. temps were supposed to hover around 30 F / -2 C which would have been fine but it got much colder and the pipe from tank to pump froze anyway. thankful for a warm house to come hang out in with our cousins.
  • lost power last night… and somehow “get propane” never made it from my mental list to my written list and we ran out a couple hours before the power died. fabulous. no heat and just in time for a freak blizzard and 20 F / -7 C. what an amateur move… just so happy to be here and distracted by everything going on that I didn’t really take much thought to the fact that it’s already almost 3 weeks since we filled one of the tanks. SO. gave myself a bit of an unintentional adventure in the middle of the blizzard night to hunt down other tanks on the property. even the tanks from our cousins’ camper were pretty much empty but their grill had a full, albeit smaller tank that should get us through tonight at least to where we can maybe make it into town tomorrow if the highway opens up (yep, currently closed).

  • ok time to take the kids out into the blizzard for 5 minutes to get their crazies out and sap their energy for the rest of the evening where burgers and The Prince of Egypt are on the agenda.


The deck is actually at least 2 feet off the ground…. but where did the ground go?

Feb 19 2010

Day 314: Harbor and Haven

by andrew

I have to tell you about the last place we stayed at. I booked it for a couple nights because it was near Orlando and it had great rates (two things I thought might be mutually exclusive when I first started looking around). I booked it over the phone, site unseen, from a little picnic area where we had stopped for a break on Key Largo as we worked our way back to the mainland. When we pulled into this place the next day I was reminded that, well, you never really know what you’re going to get I guess.

It was the kind of place that makes you want to grab your video camera and start shooting a documentary because there are a million insane stories among the inhabitants along with dramatically mundane and rundown visuals, and it’s all ripe for the picking… while at the same time your brain is screaming “you shouldn’t be here, you shouldn’t be here at all, you especially shouldn’t be here with your five children and pregnant wife.”

It wasn’t really anything obvious or overt. And it wasn’t the poverty factor alone. We found ourselves landing behind a tiny 8-room motel in a little campground run by the same folks where most of the sites had turned in to the permanent residences of people getting by in 20-30 year old campers. And it wasn’t really the people either… sort of… they were extremely nice actually. But they were almost too nice. Something was off, but I was resisting that gut impulse, because I kept feeling compassion for their condition and couldn’t help but wonder how I and my family must appear to them. I was also too aware of my own subconscious prejudices and unintentional elitism. And after all, maybe we were there for a purpose. The last thing I wanted to think was that we were too good to stay there… but…

At the beginning I sincerely did not feel like it was even a safe place for our children to play, but Renee was totally comfortable with everything. By the end of our stay those impressions had reversed between the two of us somewhat, but there was never any fear or worry – just an internal struggle between prudence and empathy; wisdom and charity.

It didn’t help that our sewer connection was a horizontal length of 3″ pvc running along the surface of the ground, connecting all the sites in our row – each site with its own tap in – and most of those quasi-permanent. I knew exactly what was going to happen when I opened the cover on the tap at our site to tie my own hose in, but I had no choice – one of the reasons we were there was to dump our tanks and get in a shower or two and I wasn’t going to leave with 500 lbs of waste water in my tanks. I gritted my teeth, unscrewed the cap, and watched helplessly as a couple quarts of liquefied (and quite fresh) sewage backed up and spilled on the ground under our trailer. I won’t enhance your nightmares with additional details of the procedure, but I am convinced that I was experiencing something that was quite illegal.

There was an inventor living there who had made some crazy things from old junk that would never get him anywhere, but were naturally fascinating to children – like a wagon that had been rigged with 2 sizes of bicycle wheels dragster-style with a large office chair bolted on for a seat. There was a guy working on a van next to us with an air compressor and an armada of good tools. There was a lady growing cantaloupe beside her trailer, and – even though it just looked like a bunch of weeds – she was very touchy about kids getting near it. She said she was also growing pineapple. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen pineapple grow before, but it looked like she had just buried one in the ground so that the cluster of leaves were just sticking up out of the dirt. Across the way, there was a camper that looked like it would fall down if you shut the door a little too hard, but it had a direct tv dish bolted to the side. Our other neighbor had 5-6 cats that he fed by pouring a long line of dry cat food out along the cracked concrete pad of the site between us that had some sort of burned out, crumbling brick and re-bar chimney behind it. Oh, and he showed the kids his giant python that he brought out from his completely camo-painted trailer.

I could not make this stuff up. See what I mean? Instant documentary. Camp for a week and get more stories and footage than you could ever cram into a 3 hour feature.

Unfortunately, that is not why we were there. We were really on our way to Georgia and normally would have just Wal-Mart hopped until our final destination. But we had stopped near Orlando to accomplish three major things, the first of which required electricity, running water, and sewer (to buy some time).

  1. Knock out a major milestone in one of my work projects
  2. Get some laundry done
  3. Make an important business connection

#1 turned out to be impossible, but #2 and #3 were smashing successes.

I can’t explain why we were so eager and relieved to leave in any tangible, physical, evidence-based manner. The people were extremely friendly. The inventor gave Reayah a bike (which we had to end up leaving because… well, we were extremely appreciative, but it needed  way more fixing than riding). The pineapple lady gave Reayah a bunch of bracelets and necklaces (we didn’t end up keeping those either because they felt extremely weird spiritually… hard to explain unless you already know what I mean). And they all gave free advice: use duct tape on the sewer tap, keep trying the different washers / dryers until you find ones that work, check out the wildlife refuge down the road.

Despite the weirdness that I was writing off as merely a challenge to my own environmental conditioning, I was seriously considering checking on what their monthly rate would have been like. My logic at the time was that it would be warmer there overall than trying to go further north (even Georgia is still colder than it’s supposed to be right now), basic utilities were covered, it would cost more to keep travelling and then stopping for a month, the campground we had in mind in Georgia was turning out to be a bit more expensive than we initially thought or planned, I had a new business buddy in the area (Orlando) and some stuff could happen there, etc. As I hacked away on some code into the wee hours of the morning I had hopes and prayers in my head that we’d get some clear direction.

At 2am Renee woke up and started talking about the vivid dream she was just having. In her dream she was having a conversation with YHWH – asking Him whether we should stay or go, and He was telling her that we had to get out of their right away because He was going to wipe that place out with a tornado. We got up early and never had a more efficient and orderly time of breaking camp and getting the trailer ready to travel again. We weren’t taking Renee’s dream literally, but we were taking it as our answer, and there was already enough motivation once we had a clear plan.

I never asked about the monthly rates. I didn’t even ever open the valve on our black (sewer) tank, because I knew what would happen. As badly as I wanted to get on the road without that extra weight, it wasn’t worth the consequences under the likelihood that there wasn’t anywhere for the tank’s contents to go. Sure enough, there was a lot of gray (dish and sink) water backed up and stuck in our hose as it was, and that ended up having to go somewhere.

As we were pulling out, the truck started making a bad sound. Here we were, checking out an hour early (which never happens – we’re usually out just in time) and then I had to start wondering if the truck is going to fail me and strand us there. Got the trailer out of the site and started slowly down the road, but the truck was still protesting. It wasn’t the extra weight – we’ve pulled extra before – something sounded wrong. Pulled over behind an industrial building and started hitting diesel forums and trying to figure out what and how bad it might be. I was looking at all the info and starting to make a plan in my head about how to go about checking some things, but I got the distinct impression in my heart that we should just leave and trust. Renee reminded me that we should pray about it and so we did. Putting my analytical side on the shelf, we drove away and it was completely fine – the sound was totally gone!

Several hours later we pulled into paradise. Not by appearance. Not by amenities. Not by a stretch of the imagination – but by the standards of weary travelers who have been on the road for a month and a half, through 8 states, over 3200 miles, a dozen Wal-Marts, a handful of campgrounds, not longer than a few nights in any one place (except for the 2 weeks with our friends), trying to move major work projects forward through all of that, and more than ready to have a fraction of stability.

We are parked. We have a lake view. Actually, we’re only 50 feet from the lake and can fish for free without a license since it’s private. I even set up the slide-out jacks and our out-door carpet. We have electric, water, AND sewer (with a proper pipe and everything). We have free WiFi (which is a big deal because with all the work we have we were otherwise going to bust the 5GB limit on our mobile provider this month). There is laundry 50 feet away. Bennah was catching lizards again today. There is a rec house with puzzles and games for bad weather. Jaiden and Zach made a volcano with some water and a giant climbable dirt pile. The “neighbors” are mostly older, but very sweet. Reayah has a new best friend – the campground owner’s daughter. Necessity shopping is 30 minutes away. It is beautiful (though still a little chilly) here. Joy is taking it all in stride. Business is really looking up. Spring is close. And we have dropped anchor for at least a month.

Apr 15 2009

Day 4: Black Tank Battle

by andrew

The day went moderately well: I watched the rest of “The Pirates who Don’t do Anything”  with the kids, the rain stopped, Renee took the kids to the library in town which freed up some valuable project time, I went over to meet our friend’s neighbor to offer replacing the bike ramp / board my son and his friend broke trying to use it as a trampoline, I hauled another load of stuff to get rid of out of the trailer, had a quick but productive talk with Joe, put the chicken in the oven for dinner, set up the computer and flat screen that serves as one of my development machines and doubles as a large picture frame with 40,000 of mine and my dad’s photos (including scans) parading in an endless random slide-show, figured out how to pull down the awning, immediately saw that it had been poorly cared for by the original owners which led to a massive soap-broom-and-hose scrub down session, and set up the exercise bouncer (one of our kids’ favorite things back home was our huge trampoline, and we figured with all the new trailer rules – no running inside, no jumping inside, no bouncing on the bed, etc – they should at least have something they can bounce on rain or shine… and hopefully prevent breaking any further boards-that-are-NOT-trampolines).

And that’s where the day got dicey.

In our first bit of RV life drama, our black water tank clogged up. For those thinking, “big deal…” or “what the heck is black water… is that some sci fi thing like dark matter or something?” Well, the interesting thing about modern conveniences like city water and sewage is that they make us almost completely oblivious to the amount of bodily wastes we each generate on a daily basis. Not so in an RV. One has the blessed opportunity to become intimately aware of the byproducts of such gratifying endeavors as eating.

So, when things stopped disappearing down the toilet, I knew we had a problem. Hmmm. Where to start? The internet of course. After a wee bit of research – the kind one always wishes they had done before the information is actually needed, I launched into action with some great helpers. The scene was hilarious, and now I cannot believe I neglected to have Renee catch some shots, but let me paint a mental picture for you: Imagine me in the bathroom wearing latex gloves pushing a garden hose (metal end cut off) down the toilet as far as I can and holding the flush lever open with my toes while my 3 year old son tries to shine a maglight down the hole so I can see if any progress is actually being made and my wife – who is outside – communicates with me via speaker phone (cell phone to cell phone) so I can have her turn the water supply on and off and pull this lever and push that lever as necessary. And that really about sums it up.

Of course, that was after several other… um… less invasive solutions failed in the attempt. In the end, I think we are on the path to recovery albeit not quite out of the woods just yet. There is still quite a bit of black water in that black water tank. I’ve poured a couple bottles with very scary warning labels down the toilet, and added a bunch of extra water, and I’m hoping things will be sufficiently liquefied by morning to get a clean dump. What an paradoxical notion.

Now, I’m just sitting here at 10:30pm sipping wine, eating chicken, thinking about all the other things I would have liked to have gotten done tonight, and blogging about it. Life has never been better. I know you think I’m crazy, but this is exactly why we hit the road in the first place – well, one of the reasons at least – to face life head on and force confrontations with challenges that we’d otherwise never even know are out there.

And what happens in the process? Why even bother? Because it changes us, teaches us, refines us, sharpens us, stretches us, enlivens us. YHWH uses all of these mundane and even, in some cases, gross / disturbing / painful experiences to strengthen us.