Archive | October, 2010

An adventure in laundry

25 Oct

So, here I sit in the Laundromat waiting for my clothes to dry, while Richard holds down the fort in the Grummy. I can see the van outside the window I’m looking through. He brought me a cup of coffee and then went grocery shopping while I sit in here writing this, listening to the machines and waiting. For the first time ever, the place is completely empty.

Your typical laundromat

Ever spend a lot of time in a Laundromat? Over the last 4 years, I certainly have. We might have a lot of wonderful things in the Grummy but we don’t have a washer and dryer. So we’ve had to find places, wherever we go, to clean our clothes. When we visit our kids we use their machines and it’s wonderful because I can do a load whenever I need to, but when we’re on the road, we sometimes don’t find one until we have exhausted every piece of clean clothes we own.

Remember when you first lived away from home and had to use the local Laundromat? Remember what your outfits looked like on laundry day? I don’t know about you but when I was young and living in a house full of other young adults, everyone hated doing the wash so we all waited until none of us had anything decent to wear before we dragged our bags down to the Laundromat. Now I’m talking the 70’s here so you can imagine some of the outfits we appeared in public in…. purple corduroy hip hugger bell bottoms, with a blazingly bright orange tie dye sweatshirt and sneakers with no socks, because we didn’t have any clean ones left. Damn good thing I don’t have a picture of that as it would likely cause retinal damage. From the looks of some of the folks I’ve seen in Laundromats over the last few years, I’m thinking not much has changed.

Geez, and we really used to think we were cool!

You get to see a wide range of humanity in a Laundromat, from the local college student away from home for the first time, to the homeless with just enough money to clean the few clothes they own. I’ve had conversations with those who waited for the washer to stop spinning, from the mundane to the outright weird…. a local native artist who was so thrilled that I’d talk to her and listen to her life story, while our laundry went around and around, that she made me a beaded necklace and presented it to me as she left, an older gentleman who actually just stopped to say he’d seen me from the window as he walked by and because I was reading a book, I reminded him of his late wife, the young man who was completely flummoxed by the whole thing and wanted to know what the bleach was actually for, to a couple discussing a story that they’d read about dishwasher cooking and could you do the same thing in a washer if you used the hot water setting!

I like this place, not only does it have great coffee, a wonderful smell of roasted coffee beans and WiFi, but it has Artwork made of lost clothing all around the walls and Buddhist prayer flags hanging from the ceiling. Oh, I did tell you that I was in Victoria didn’t I? The city that combines 7 separate municipalities in the same space as one very small town, the worst homeless problem in Canada,  the most moderate climate in all of Canada, a very high number of retirees over 80, and one of the few places in North America where not only are you likely to smell someone smoking Marijuana, you’ll see folks sharing a joint as they walk down the street. In other words, Victoria’s an interesting city and the local laundries are just a microcosm of it.

Neat idea.

Great creativity!

This Laundromat is fairly small, both in physical size as well as numbers of machines and I like it that way. I’ve found places that were cavernous, with enough machines to clean the clothes of everyone in a  small town simultaneously and as noisy as a construction site, to sites where only one or two machines are available or operational, and so quiet, you’re afraid to speak above a whisper. Prices vary as well. In some, it would cost less to buy new clothes, in others you wonder how they manage to make a profit, here it’s about average.

Not only can you wash your clothes in a Laundromat these days, but lots of places give you other options besides just reading your book or paper. As I mentioned above, the place I’m in today has WiFi and an attached high end coffee shop, others have video games and lots of vending machines, or multiple TV’s tuned to the news, sports, soaps and  movie channels. There are ones that offers free hot showers, while you wash your clothes, others have a pizza stand connected with it, another with a car wash, pet wash and detailing shop attached and I’ve even heard of one in Nevada that has an attached bar, where you can have a drink and play the slots. You know, get your clothes clean while you get cleaned out!

We all need to wash our clothes and when you live on the road permanently you often find yourself looking for a place to do just that. You have to ask the locals or explore to find them, so you end up off the beaten track and when that happens you meet all sorts of interesting people and find unusual places. Remember life is about the journey, not the destination and trying to find a Laundromat is just another path in that journey.

Who knew doing ones laundry could be such an adventure, eh?

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The circle of life

20 Oct

Have you ever watched a very young child in Autumn? The look of sheer wonder in their eyes as they watch the leaves, that to them have always been green, suddenly start to turn red, and yellow and actually fall off of the trees. Or to see a brightly coloured fish where none were seen before. I know I don’t remember what I thought the first time I saw those things. Cohen is only 33 months old so really can’t tell us what he thinks, but it sure is obvious that he’s fascinated. Isla being only 4 months old can’t tell us anything, but even she was looking all around her with curiosity.
As you’ve probably guessed, Richard and I accompanied our daughter and her two children to Goldstream Park the other day to watch the salmon run, one of my all time favourite pastimes, besides fishing for them!

The river in all it's fall finery!

Coastal BC is home to 5 of the 6 Pacific salmon and Goldstream River is the natal river of 3 of them, the Coho, Chinook and Chum, with the chum numbers vastly overshadowing the other 2 by a factor of 20. On an average year over 30,000 chum return to this river to spawn and die.
I know you’re thinking 6 Pacific salmon? There’s only 5! Well, you’re almost right. There really are 6, but one is not found on this side of the Pacific Ocean. It is born and returns to die in the waters off of Russia and Japan and is called the Cherry Salmon( Oncorhynchus masou). See, there, you learned something new today!
Now, before I go any further in this story, I have to shake up a few widely held beliefs. Chum are known by many names, Chum,  Dog salmon, or Keta as they’re called  in commercial sales and most anglers will tell you they’re just ugly boots that aren’t worth catching. I’m here to tell you different.
Chum salmon or Oncorhynchus Keta are fabulous fighting salmon when caught in salt water. They actually combine the fighting abilities of both Coho and Chinook, they average around 15 pounds, though they can reach up to 25 and will give even an experienced angler a run for their money. Returning to our coastal waters in mid-September  through till mid-December, they taste great fresh and make fabulous smoked salmon! When caught in the salt, Chum have a silver bright body, with a metallic  blue green back. They can be damned hard to distinguish from Coho without examining their gills or caudal fin scale patterns.

The bad rap comes from their appearance when they start to head for their natal rivers. As the males reach sexual maturity they develop large canine fangs, hence the name Dog salmon. They also grow purple and orange stripes which makes them not the prettiest fish in the river, that honour is held by the Sockeye. Those teeth are not just for show either, in the river they use them to fight with one another for access to the females and to hold territory. If you don’t believe me ask someone who works in any hatchery, they’ll probably just pull up their pants to show you the scars put there by an aggressive male Chum. See I told you I was a retired Salmon fishing guide!

Chum males ready to spawn.

Now back to our original programming!
I’m afraid it was just a little too early to see the chum since they are the last salmon to return to the rivers and the others have long since returned, spawned and died, but the weather was warm and sunny and the park trees put on a fabulous show for us.
The weekend before, the Park had been jam-packed so our daughter thought there might be a few fish to show her son who was too young last year to have cared. No such luck, but that didn’t mean our trip was in vain.


The Big Leaf Maple Tree leaves were turning multiple shades of red and orange, and covered the footpath. They are as big or bigger than your head and have sturdy stalks so of course they must have been put there for small hands to carry. There were also rocks to throw into the stream (and no fish to bother) and a Nature house with a great Owl display. Now Cohen has been here before, but what child do you know who doesn’t revel in playing with something interesting over and over again, plus he had his Grandpa with him. That meant that he had someone new to show all the buttons to and how they worked to make owl calls, of course never realizing that his Grandfather has seen them before.

I wonder what they're talking about?

The two of them walked hand in hand, looking at giant fallen Cedars with holes big enough to stand up in, and discovered that the old side stream tunnel under the highway makes for great echos. We looked at slugs travelling on the path, and large spider webs shining in the dappled sunlight while our daughter carried the baby in a sling and took photographs.(Liz has a well known food blog, guiltykitchen.com and is an excellent photographer, plus she had a new camera to play with!)

I think all of us enjoyed the outing and all for different reasons. For me, I revel in the outdoors in all is mutability though I have to admit that as I age, the cold and wet winters here are becoming unbearable. Besides that though, I look forward to showing all my grandkids the exceptional beauty that surrounds all of us, if only we’d look. I want to be able to let them see what wonders abound in nature and help them to enjoy it. To teach them not to be afraid of, but to embrace the experience. I did this with my own daughters, who are as capable of surviving in the wilds as Richard and I. They also have a great respect for and enjoyment of the outdoors.


All of those thoughts came to me as I watched Cohen pick up a yellowing maple leaf, throw a pebble in to the stream and try to pick up a slug, all the while chattering continuously to Richard, in words barely understandable about everything he saw.
I turned and looked at my daughter and I saw myself 30 years ago, starting to take my own children out into the world. I also saw gratitude that we taught her something she loves and the ability to pass that love on to her own children.
Life really is a circle isn’t it?

Full timing it on the cheap, Part 2

13 Oct

All right, so how to travel on a budget?

Well, first of all I have to explain about our van. Our gummy is a reconfigured commercial delivery truck, and due to the way Richard built, it still looks that way. There are no windows in the sides, all our light comes from the huge front windows and the large skylights.  It had original decals on the outside that had at sometime been painted over, so we left it that way. For all intents and purposes we became essentially invisible. No one pays much attention to an average looking commercial truck. So….

We can park just about anywhere for free, as long as we don’t over stay our welcome.

Pretty much everyone who RV’s is aware that Wal Mart will allow you to park in their parking lots and if you’re travelling on any  major highway in Canada or the US most rest areas allow an 8 hour  or overnight stay.

Buying strawberries at the local market - 150 pesos per box

When we hit the road, it’s never on to the next RV Park, it’s just on. When we get tired or want to stop to eat or have a coffee, we look for a rest stop, a parking lot, a wide gravel shoulder, a dead end road, or any place where other large trucks are in evidence. No one notices one more truck. We can even park on city streets and have done so, but then we’re not worried about a little graffiti. Just adds to the commercial look.

Now RV Parks have got a lot going for them usually. They have pull throughs, electrical hookups, fresh, clean water, hot showers, sewage dumps, some have Wifi, and laundry facilities. There’s also the social aspect of them. Lots of folks from lots of different places, together for a while, can make for a fun time. They are also expensive when you’re trying to live the way we do on a very strict budge.

Most parks average 25-30 dollars per night, with laundry extra. Since we live in our van full time, there is no way we can afford to stay in these parks, though that doesn’t mean that we don’t use them. When we need to dump our tanks, and we can’t find a free municipal or county one (And there are lots of those) we’ll use one. Most parks charge about $5.00 per dump and will quite happily let you use their facilities as long as you are dumping only grey and black water tanks.

I mention this only because due to our looks, we’ve been questioned a few times as to what we were dumping from our tanks. People see what they want to see and when they see a commercial truck dumping waste I’m sure the first thought must be,”Illegal toxic waste”, hence the questions.

If you live in BC, and don’t stay in RV Parks make sure you pay to dump in them and retain your receipts. ICBC insurance is invalid in Mexico, you need special Mexican insurance to drive there. You can apply to ICBC for a partial refund, based on how long you were out of the country, and you need receipts for this. We hang on to our fuel, and dump receipts which we write the vehicle VIN numbers on and when we get home we submit them to ICBC. It’s never the full amount for the time out of country, but something is always better than nothing right?

Laundry facilities are widely available all through North America, even in Baja and we’ve found that they, on the most part, are cheaper than those available in RV parks.  In Baja, you can take your laundry to a “Lavamatica” where the owners will wash, dry and fold your clothes for about 4-5 dollars a load. The only problem is you have to leave it overnight, but hey, if you’re being a tourist, it just gives you reason to hang around for another day. It’s times like this that you find something spectacular or memorable, even if it’s just having a taco at the local street stand with the rest of the neighbourhood.

The only RV site we ever stay in, is a place called San Quintin. It’s about 150 Km south of Ensenada, and it’s the first glimpse of the beauty to come. It’s a very simple place that offers spectacular views of the west coast beaches, hot showers with brackish water, and a place to dump our tanks.  Richard has mentioned it in his “First Years Accounts”. The cost is $12 per night and this place truly is worth the cost. We generally stay 2 nights both coming and going. The tienda up the road has internet, there’s a place in the local town to get laundry done, and the local fishermen land their boats right on the beach in front of our rig, talk about fresh seafood!

This is our first stop in Baja where we can slow down and relax after driving full bore to get here. After a couple of days of sun, surf, sand and seafood, we are refreshed and relaxed enough to continue our journey south to our destination, Rattlesnake Beach,(Playa Quemada as the locals call it) south of Loreto, Baja Sur.

Rattlesnake beach, our winter home. We're the first white rig on the left hand side.

Once we reach our destination we quickly settle into our usual spot and activities. Living in Baja is extremely cheap compared to Vancouver Island, especially food. The average wage in Baja is less than $150.00 per month so the cost of living is comparable. Fresh food is available either at the local, once a week market, or any of the big or small grocery stores and you are likely to find the cost is about 1/10 of what it costs at home. There are also vendors who bring their products to the Anglo enclaves. Most of that stuff is going to be tourist junk, blankets, beads, and trinkets, but there is usually a vegetable and fruit vendor, if not others selling tortillas, bread, beer, even scallops, clams and lobsters.

The catch of the day

Food is cheap here and I find if I spend $50.00 per week, I’ve been extravagant and we’re going to eat very well!

Now because we live in our van full time, we pay no mortgage, no rent, no pad site fees and we are blessed with 2 daughters, as well as other relatives and friends who have areas big enough and flat enough for us to park our rig. They also like us to come visit and stay for a while, which we do!

Our lives consist of travelling to Baja and spending 4 – 6 months revelling in the warm sunshine, clear waters, abundant, inexpensive fresh food and the friendliness of both the locals and the other travellers we share our beach with. Then back to our own country, slowly taking in the view all the way. Once we get home, we visit with our family and friends who are loath to let us leave, spend a little time on our own travelling to places we haven’t visited before, then preparing to do it all over again.

Full timing it on the cheap, Part 1

9 Oct

I read an article in an RV magazine the other day.

It was written by someone who considers themselves to be full timers. They moved their adult children into their home, moved all their stuff into storage, bought themselves a $200,000.00 Class A Motorhome, with slideouts and have spent all their time travelling from RV park to RV park.  Now, if you’ve got the money to do that, more power to you, but I’m here to tell you, you don’t need it.

 

It's only $199,000.00 on sale!!

We were supposed to retire at 55. At least that was the plan, and then in succession over 3 years, I lost my brother-in-law, my Mother and then my sister. During a rather shell shocked conversation it became clear to both of us that the loss of our loved ones was spurring us to want to retire and start enjoying all we could of life. So we started to look at the numbers and question what we were willing to do, to be able to retire  at 51 and survive until Richard’s pension started at 55. What we decided we wanted to do was sell everything, step off the treadmill, move into and travel in an RV. We also wanted to be able to take the road less travelled and get into places where most either can’t or won’t go.

Selling the house was the first thing, since it was paid for and made up the bulk of our worth. The market was hot but the town we lived in was not everyones cup of tea. Our daughters had told us that though they loved growing up in a small town, they had no intentions of ever having to return and move back in with Mom and Dad, so that decision was a fairly easy one. Our jobs were easy to leave as well, since both the local pulp and paper mill where Richard worked and the sport fishing industry that I worked in, were on a downhill slide.

Then we had to decide what to do with all our stuff. You know, the things every room, cupboard, garage and closet in your house are full of. The decision was made to sell everything, because if we planning on doing this permanently, then putting our stuff in storage was just going to be a waste of money.

Just so you know, all our daughters school memorabilia and trophies were boxed up and given to our daughters along with baby teeth, hospital bracelets, baby books, pictures and all the photo albums from both our families.

We had a lot of family heirlooms from Richard’s family. His Grandparents had spent many years in India from the early 1900’s until the second world war. So we sent out a message to the whole family and told them they had 6 months to come and claim anything they wanted. Some things were taken but no one wanted rather moth eaten skins or boars tusk trophy, so then we approached one of the local auction houses.

Looking a little worse for wear!

 

We live on Vancouver Island where the city of  Victoria stands, the capital of BC. It’s also been called more British than Britain and has a very large antiques community as well as two well known and respected auction houses. They auctioned off all of the leftover heirlooms, bits and pieces of original art  and collectables that we had accumulated over the years. We also ran our regular furniture through our local auction and had a very successful garage sale. All together it added up to a tidy sum, but it sure wasn’t the million dollars everyone tells you you’re going to need.

 

We took all we had to a financial advisor and adding in the relatively little amount of money in our RRSP’s, there was enough to provide us with a small monthly income. We were pretty sure that it would be enough to keep us in gas and food until Richard’s pension came in. Plus we kept a saving account with a couple of years worth of income as emergency money.

While we were doing all this we were also getting our new home ready.

We had looked at all the commercial vehicles and realized that we either couldn’t afford them, or they didn’t have what we wanted in them. So the next step was building our own. We started by buying a used, 26 ft,  4 cylinder diesel, Gruman van. It’s a small motor but it gets great milage compared to just about everything on the road right now. The average is 8 miles to the gallon, we get 12 to 14. Why pay more for fuel, when you don’t have to? We might not be able to fly down the highways, on the other hand you get to see a lot more when you’re moving slower.

The smile and the kayak came later.

We then had many conversations about a queen sized bed, whether we wanted a full shower and toilet, should we build in a second bed for visitors, where we would eat, how big the water tanks need to be, furnace or heater, hot water tank or instant water heater. There are lots of things you can build in to make you comfortable and lots of things you can do without. Everyone thinking of doing this needs to have this conversation.

Once Richard had a good idea of what we both thought we needed, he started building. He had always said he wasn’t a carpenter, but he built and installed everything, fitting each piece individually sometimes, because the van, due to it’s age, was no longer completely square.  Now, a Gruman van is just a big box and it doesn’t come with slide outs, but by the time he was finished, it had a queen sized bed, a full bathroom with shower, instant hot water, a small 12 volt fridge, propane heater and stove, settee, lots of storage, plenty of lights, a large counter top and sink, solar panels and all the other things we had decided we wanted. It took him a year, it also cost us less than $25,000.00 and that included the cost of the van itself.

 

Yeah, we know, it's a little bright

Now because of the way we built the van, we have no need to hook up to power.  We have enough solar panels (2) and battery storage (4 deep cycle golf cart batteries)to operate everything we own. We also have enough fresh and dirty water storage to last at least a week though with practice we’ve stretched that to 10 days. We travel all over Canada, the US and into Mexico and we hardly ever pay to camp, or dump our tanks.

The cost of travel is all in part 2……

To borrow a phrase, “You are where you eat”!

2 Oct

Have you ever attended a Harvest Feast? Richard and I did a little while back, after being convinced to go by his sister.

Now Richard’s sister is a superb urban gardener. Her piece of heaven on the Saanich Peninsula is a little like walking into an old fashioned English garden. At least until you get closer and realize, though the layout may be familiar, many of  the plants aren’t.  This garden is full of vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants that are native to the lower part of Vancouver Island. Of course the usual old standbys, found in gardens all over the world, are also in evidence.

My youngest daughter is a food blogger who lives in the Cowichan Valley a few miles north of  Saanich Peninsula. She insists on using in season, locally grown food as much as she can, in her pursuit of new and exciting recipes that she can photograph and share with her growing audience. She is also growing as many of her own fruits and vegetables as she can. Not to mention raising a few hens for fresh eggs.( You can visit her site at guiltykitchen.com)

These two women are part of a growing trend. More and more you hear folks talk about eating “locally” and the island is in the forefront of that movement. Hence my original sentence, “Have you ever been to a harvest feast?”

The one we attended was billed as, “Saanich Peninsula Harvest Feast, A community celebration of Saanich Peninsula food and agriculture”. Everything we ate, except for the black tea, coffee and sugar came from within 20 miles.

I don’t mean just the vegetables, like squash, beets, carrots, green beans, lettuce, corn and potatoes. I mean the wheat that was milled and ground to make flour, baked into rolls and served with the meal, along with locally churned butter. The cranberries that were sauced and served with the turkey. The menu offered beef, salmon chowder, jellies made from wild Oregon Grapes and Red Currants. There was pies of all sorts, made from apples, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. And to top it off, lemon meringue pie! Yes, that’s right, lemons grown on Vancouver Island. There was even cider and wine! The meal was superb to say the least and not only was everything grown locally, and donated, the locals who grew it, along with help from local businesses, made it, prepared it and served it. An excellent effort by all involved!

This is an interesting return to the land and an attempt to control our food supply. If your neighbour grows it, it’s handled less, it travels only from the farm to your home and if you have questions, you can ask the grower face to face. Though it may seem like a retreat into the”old days”, this makes an enormous amount of sense. The food is healthier, fresher and cheaper and the sense of community that this movement generates is tremendous. You get to know your neighbours this way, not just the farmers but those folks you meet every weekend at the  Farmer’s Markets that spring up every summer, not just in the rural areas but right downtown Victoria.

It does require a change in eating habits though. Foods that are not in season are expensive so why not just eat what is available? It’s a bit harder in the winter but there are still fresh vegetables that can be had, as well as all the preserves and canned foods put up over the bountiful summer.

Now, since we have limited space and weight issues, we have to be careful about accepting handouts, but we never leave the island without a couple of jars of Apple Butter and wild Oregon Grape jelly. To be honest, we take full advantage while we can. Enjoying great gourmet meals prepared by both our daughters, getting jars of this or that from Richard’s sister and stuffing ourselves with all our favourite fruits. Mmmm cherries!

Soon we’ll be in Baja and our eating habits will change to harmonize with the foods that are available there. The vegetables are different, the beef much, much leaner and more seafood than you could possibly believe. We can hardly wait! In the meantime though, we’ll enjoy the food that we find here on the island, including looking forward to the Thanksgiving turkey that the farm down the road has raised for our daughter. Just remember, you are where you eat!