Christmas Traditions Past and Present – Lebkuchen!

Christmas is such a special time. it is my favorite holiday — a time of full of wonder and love on many levels. Family traditions are the cozy essence of Christmas for many people, and activities in the kitchen are especially beloved.

Merry Christmas

We’re not thinking about Christmas too much in this photo from Crested Butte, Colorado, but what fun it has been to relive an old Christmas tradition this year.

I love Christmas cooking. However, having chosen to live unusual lifestyles most of my life — living on a sailboat in Boston Harbor in the 1990s, living in our office when my former husband I and founded and ran an IT consulting firm, and then cruising around North America via RV and sailboat for 13 years, I haven’t had the kind of kitchen that was conducive to Christmas fun.

One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories, however, is of baking and eating a special kind of German Christmas cookie called Lebkuchen from a recipe that had been in my family since my ancestors lived in Germany in the early 1800s.

It is a honey-based cookie that tastes like no other, and I remember fondly dipping the cookies in milk and later in dipping them in coffee all day long on Christmas Day and for many days afterwards.

My great-grandmother, Emily Riesenberg, learned the recipe (along with many other recipes) from her immigrant mother growing up in a log cabin in Wisconsin, and she became very skilled in the kitchen.

Emily Riesenberg

My great-grandmother and her son Sidney Riesenberg (my great-uncle) in New York’s Yonkers Statesman, June 1, 1928

Although I was blessed with her name, her outstanding culinary skills didn’t make it across the generation gap to me!

She raised four children, one of whom was my great-uncle, Sidney Riesenberg, that I wrote about when we saw the mules at the Grand Canyon last June. He became a well known illustrator in New York. His older brother, Felix Riesenberg, became a well known explorer, tall ship captain and bestselling author.

When Emily had finished raising her family around the turn of the last century, she began submitting her recipes to newspapers and magazines. She was 50 at the time — in 1906 — and as she later told an interviewer with a New York newspaper, “Now it was time for my career!”

Her recipes were published in many publications, including Ladies Home Journal, and she had a weekly column in a Chicago newspaper. Her column, recipes and tips were very popular, and in 1931, at age 76, she published a cookbook called “Easy Baking” that included all her favorite baking recipes.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

When I was a child, my mother had a cherished copy of this cookbook. It was well worn and stained from being used every year for Christmas baking. My mother would carefully open the book to the Lebkuchen recipe some time in early December and cover the open book with Saran Wrap to prevent us from making any new stains on those precious pages!

A few years ago, my sister found some copies of the cookbook and gave one to me. It had a treasured home in our RV and then in our house. However, each Christmas came and went without me trying my hand at making Lebkuchen.

Easy Baking cookbook by Emily Riesenberg

“Easy Baking” by my namesake!

This year, however, I dove in with gusto. It is an interesting recipe that calls for boiling honey and butter for 5 minutes over a “low fire.” This becomes a very frothy thing! “Soda” is added to water in another step and then the whole thing becomes an extremely sticky batter that has to remain in a covered bowl for 4 days as it “ripens”

Lebkuchen dough ripening for 4 days

The dough has to “ripen” for 4 days. It’s impossible not to peek!

I loved the mystery of all these steps as a child. As I made my way through the recipe this year, I wondered what my great-grandmother would think if she saw me in my kitchen today. It was over 50 years ago that I made these cookies with my mother. 100 years before that, my great-grandmother made these cookies with her mother in a log cabin!

The recipe calls for “citron” or candied citrus fruit peels, and I remember being fascinated by this odd, sticky food that had to be diced very finely. It is a key ingredient in these cookies. Unfortunately, there was none to be found in any of the stores within a half hour drive of our house and none at a reasonable price online either. I imagine that all the true Christmas bakers out there who plan ahead bought it all up before I even got the idea to make these cookies!

I’m sure my great-grandmother would have been quite distressed that I wouldn’t be including any citron in these cookies, but I learned my lesson to start thinking and planning ahead at Thanksgiving. Next time!

After four days of ripening, the dough is extremely dense and requires a huge amount of manipulation to get it to a point where you can roll it out. This was a job my mother always did, and as I wrestled with the dough this afternoon, I remembered watching her putting her whole body weight into getting that dough to comply. I had to do that too!

I didn’t have a rolling pin, but I was able to order one with my Instacart grocery order a few days ago. What would my great-grandmother have thought about my fast flying fingers typing on a keypad so a week’s worth of groceries plus a rolling pin would be delivered at my house the next day?!

Lebkuchen dough ready to be rolled out

The dough is a beast to deal with at first – dense and totally unpliable!

When I was little, we had a huge paper bag full of cookie cutters in all kinds of shapes. There were santas, stars, snowmen and other things. My great-uncle’s favorite cookie cutter was the pig, so we always used that one a lot so there would be plenty of cookies for him.

I don’t have any cookie cutters in my very simple kitchen, but I found that the rim of a mason jar top worked just fine. I could feel my great-grandmother shaking her head at my unpreparedness, but I knew she was smiling too because I was trying, and I had her book open with plastic wrap protecting the pages from flying flour.

Using a mason jar cap to cut Lebkuchen cookies

No cookie cutters? A Mason Jar cap rim did the job very well! I’ll get the ones below next year!

Christmas Cookie Cutters

Back in the early 1900s, ovens didn’t have thermometers, so the Lebkuchen baking instructions were to use a “very moderate” oven (as opposed to a “fast oven” or “slow oven” that were required for her other recipes). No time was given for when they’d be done either — just test them with a toothpick!

I remember my mother being perplexed about what temperature “very moderate” might be and how long to leave the cookies in the oven. And so it was for me today. Would that be 325 degrees or perhaps 350? And for how long? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? 30??

I found other Lebkuchen recipes online (what would my great-grandmother have thought of that?), and the recipes were totally different than this one. None of them let the dough ripen for 4 magical days (and oh yes, we kids often snuck lumps of uncooked dough to snack on secretly when no one was looking — and then we’d be reprimanded when the dough had shrunk by the time baking day rolled around!). The other Lebkuchen recipes online used temperatures anywhere from 300 to 400 degrees, so that didn’t help much!

When I was a little girl, the cookies always got baked somehow. I remember fondly, however, that we always had a batch or two that was quite dark or even burnt on the bottom and a few batches that were too light. Eventually, we’d get our rhythm and they’d all turn out perfectly.

Baking Lebkuchen Christmas cookies

Oh, for my great-grandmother’s skill in the kitchen!

We always made a double batch so we’d have plenty to give away. This involved sifting over 14 cups of flour! On baking day, the cookie sheets went in and out of the oven in a magical, sweet smelling dance all afternoon.

I got a soul enriching whiff of all those memories this afternoon as I listened to Christmas carols and cut little mason jar cap circles out of the dough. I’d made just a half batch of dough, and the smell and taste were right on. They turned out a little hard, however. In fact, they are very very hard! We’ll have to dip them in milk or coffee and tea for a long time!

But that’s part of the fun, and it is exactly how we always dealt with the dark and burnt ones way back when.

German Christmas Lebkuchen cookies

My humble first try. Now I have lots of notes for next year!

My great-grandmother’s recipe (and all the online Lebkuchen recipes) call for icing the cookies, but in our house they never made it that far…eager hands pulled them out of the cookie jar too fast and they disappeared into happy bellies! And so it is at our house this year.

Reese Goosebox

Here is the recipe:

Lebkuchen Recipe by Emily Riesenberg in her cookbook Easy Baking

The ingredient list for making Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen recipe by Emily Risenberg in her cookbook Easy Baking-2

Instructions. Quite different than modern recipe instructions!

For comparison, here is the recipe given by King Arthur Flour. They recommend refrigerating the dough for a day and baking at 350 for 20 to 22 minutes. A commenter suggested wrapping the dough in plastic wrap before refrigerating to keep it moist.

Also, here is the introduction to Emily Riesenberg’s cookbook — an essay by her son, Felix Riesenberg, about the importance of baking homemade bread for the health and happiness of your children!

The importance of baking bread for your children from the cookbook Easy Baking by Emily Riesenberg_

Written by her son, Felix, this little intro speaks volumes about a world of simpler and more wholesome times in America in the 1800s.

Here’s a little about my great-grandmother from the front of the cookbook:

About the author of Easy Baking Emily Riesenberg

About my great-grandmother, Emily Riesenberg

Also, here are the opening paragraphs of the first chapter: key tips every “up to date cook” needs to know about flour!

What Every Cook Should Know introduction to Easy Baking cookbook by Emily Riesenberg

What a different and special world my great-grandmother lived in!

Note added Christmas morning:

Mark and I surprised each other when we opened our gifts and saw we’d gotten each other the same thing! A neighbor who has an artisan woodworking shop invited all the neighbors to come check out his work and buy gifts, and we both snuck out with a gift for the other of a boy (or girl) with a dog. What a sweet coincidence!

Boy and girl with dog made by Rust Art

Mark and I gave each other almost identical gifts this year…with Buddy close to our hearts!

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that you take a moment to reminisce about your fondest traditions, even if they aren’t a part of your festivities now. We’d love to hear your stories too!

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Lost & Found – An Unexpected Guest Visits Us in our RV!

Spring 2020 – We were walking across a huge, empty gravel parking lot in Camp Verde, Arizona, one day when we noticed something white fluttering around on the ground. It was midday and incredibly hot out, probably 95 degrees or more.

At first we thought it was a piece of tissue paper and paid little attention. As we got closer, though, we saw it was some kind of animal. When we were a few steps away, we realized it was a white parakeet!

What the heck?!

Lost & Found Parakeet - An unexpected guest in our RV

An unexpected guest came to visit!

The bird was struggling to stand and trying desperately to fly. It kept flopping away from us as best it could. But it could barely hold itself up and kept falling over.

In a different life, long ago, I used to raise budgies and I had several breeding pairs. So, I instinctively scooped up this poor bedraggled little thing in my hands to comfort it and have a better look.

It had a brown “cere” — the little nose area with nostrils that’s just above the beak, so it was a female (males have a blue cere). I looked at Mark as I held this dear but pathetic little creature to my cheek and shrugged — what do we do now??!!

A lost budgie is found and we entertain her in our RV

Our new little friend was a female.

The whole area around us was industrial, dusty, dry, and baking in the sun. There was one house a ways off. We knocked on the door but they said they weren’t missing a parakeet.

We noticed a Veterinary Supply store down the street and poked our heads in the door. They shook their heads and said there were no escaped parakeets that they knew of.

We realized we could walk all the streets of town for days and still not find the owner. People were at work, and even though our little friend was exhausted right now, she could have flown a long distance before she got here.

We decided to take her back to our trailer where it was cool and we could give her some much needed food and water. We put her in a bucket (with a top!) in the back seat of the truck. On our way home, we passed a veterinarian’s office and asked if they’d heard any reports of a missing white budgie. No, but they suggested we call Bill Harvey of Wild Birds.

We left a message with Bill and then made a stop at the Feed Store to get some bird seed. Even better, they had millet spray! This is a “finger” of dried millet seeds that are still clustered on the stalk. Budgies love it!

Once home, we put her on the table. She promptly flew up to a shelf high up on the wall. Mark found a nice twig and secured it on the edge of the shelf. She liked the looks of this new perch, so she slowly sidled out onto it, contentedly fluffed up her feathers and closed her eyes.

Ahh…rest at last!

Lost parakeet is found and cared for in an RV

She was so exhausted she started dozing as soon as she was comfortable on her new perch.

After a few minutes she put her head under her wing for a good long snooze. She was down for the count for the next 12 hours!

Tired lost & found parakeet

Goodnight!

We were pleased that although Buddy was curious about her, he was very polite. He seemed to know not to frighten her. So, he left her alone and took a nap too.

Napping puppy in an RV

Buddy likes naps too!

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

The next morning we were thrilled to find that she was still alive. She hadn’t moved from her perch, but her eyes were open.

Lost parakeet still alive in the morning

She was still alive the next morning!

Mark tied the millet spray onto her perch, and boy, did her face light up! She dove right in and had a feast.

Happy parakeet with millet spray

Yum…

Parakeet eats millet spray after being lost & found

Don’t mind if I do!

Then she went over to the corner and took another nap. Her little “crop” was bulging. The “crop” is a small pouch below a bird’s neck and above their breast bone where the food they swallow is stored for later digestion. That way they can quickly bolt their food while they’re on the ground and then fly up to the safety of a tree.

Lost & found parakeet in an RV

Crop full and perched high up out of harms way — this was a very happy little bird.

A little while later she began grooming herself. She was coming around quickly!

Lost & found parakeet in an RV grooming

She began getting her feathers back in place.

Over the next two days she got stronger and stronger. She loved her little perch and the shelf Mark had attached it to. That was now her corner of the trailer.

Lost & found parakeet in an RV

Peek-a-boo!

We were all getting used to being together. But then we got a call back from Bill at Wild Bird. He hadn’t heard about an escaped budgie, but he suggested we call Roxanne at the pet store “Feathers and Friends” in the Village of Oak Creek near Sedona.

So, we called, and Roxanne said she’d be more than happy to take care of our little friend until she could find a good home for her.

The timing was perfect. Our sweet guest had gotten all her energy back and she was starting to go exploring around our trailer!

A lost & found parakeet was an unexpected guest in our RV

“Hmmmm…I wonder what’s over here?!”

When we arrived at the pet shop, Roxanne had already set up a cage for her, complete with food, water, some natural branch perches, a swing, a bell and a mirror! We put the little bird in her new cage and she settled right in.

We were sad to leave her behind, but we’ll remember our few days with our little house guest forever. As I turned to say goodbye, she didn’t even notice. She was busy playing with her bell, and she was surrounded by happy birds of all different kinds in nearby cages.

A few days later, we called to see how our feathered friend was doing. She’d already been adopted and taken to her new home!

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Winged Migration

Info about the pet store that found our friend a new home:

For bird and animal lovers

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What’s not to love about RV life? Breakdowns & Repairs!

We love RV life. There’s something so intimate and rustic about living in a crazy, small rolling box, and there’s something so exciting about discovering new places and meeting new people. Those things just don’t happen in the same way or with the same frequency when we stay home!

But there’s another side to RV life that eventually hits every RVer: unexpected breakdowns and repairs. Ugh!

What's not to love about RV life? Breakdowns and Repairs!

Ahem… Breakdowns and repairs!

Of course, conventional sticks-and-bricks lifestyles often involve unexpected breakdowns and repairs too. But in an RV these things usually happen in a place where you don’t know anyone and somtimes happen in a place where there’s no one around!

When your sole means of transportation (and housing) isn’t functioning, your travel plans get totally upended, and it’s easy to feel vulnerable.

2015 – The Year of The Breakdown!

For most of our years of full-time RV travel, our equipment failures were spaced out enough so we could tackle each one without being overwhelmed. Back in 2015, however, we had a series of major RV breakdowns on a two month trip from Nova Scotia to Arizona.

Our fifth wheel’s roof sprang a leak during the endless torrential rains in Nova Scotia. Our living room rug was completely soaked! We bent an axle on a potholed back road in Nova Scotia. Our RV refrigerator died in Kentucky. Then our fresh water tank cracked and our RV toilet quit working. And the trailer suspension failed completely as we arrived Arizona.

What an insane cross-country trip that was!

Reese Goosebox

Yet, as with all of life’s ups and downs, what’s most important is never the problems themselves. What matters is how you react to them.

The things that stand out in our memories from that trip in 2015 aren’t the breakdowns. Actually, I had to re-read my logs to remember all the things that went wrong because those memories have faded. Instead, what we remember most from that span of time were our great travel adventures.

We loved the quaint charm of Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia, and we were smitten by the coastal beauty of far Downeast Maine. We’ll always remember the incredible kindness of the RV service shop manager in Bangor where our trailer axle was replaced and our ride on the Cog Railway in New Hampshire. We were heartened by the incredibly warm community in Maysville, Kentucky, where we were treated like long lost family for our entire three week stay. When our RV refrigerator died shortly after leaving Kentucky, we had a blast barbecuing all our frozen meat in a Camping World parking lot and sharing it with the mechanics who’d replaced our fridge.

Those kinds of experiences are why we get such a kick out of RV travel, and if we can get through the breakdowns and repairs unscathed, all the better.

Our Downeast Maine RV trip involved many breakdowns and repairs

Downeast Maine – Despite all the breakdowns, 2015 was one of our best RV travel years!!

Fast forward to 2023

This summer we were on a Rocky Mountain high for over 10 weeks. But in between our sunset strolls on the beach, hikes alongside gurgling streams and gorgeous wildflowers in the snowcapped mountains, we had one breakdown after another. Mark’s To Do list of repairs grew longer with time, not shorter, as he struggled to keep up.

It was a real challenge at times to keep our spirits up. But then we’d see a stunning sunset or the play of light and shadow on the mountains, and we’d remember why we were out roaming around in our RV, even if our equipment was falling apart.

In the end, though, we cut our summer season short by about 3-4 weeks when our bathroom skylight sprang a leak on a bitterly cold and sopping wet night on a mountaintop. By then, our furnace was broken, the roof was leaking and we could no longer unhitch the truck (details below).

Honda EU2200i portable gas generator

In our full-time RV lifestyle, we would have sought out a comfortable location where we could tackle these repairs one by one. We would have stopped sightseeing and kicked back until we were caught up! In that lifestyle, losing a month or two of sightseeing is no big deal because there are always unlimited sightseeing opportunities ahead.

However, in our seasonal RV travels, we not only have the option to go home at any time, but we know that home is the final destination. Each day of travel is more precious than if we were full-timing because the number of days is finite, and we hate to waste any time with a breakdown.

Dog relaxes at sunset near his RV

Buddy was loving every minute of our travels and was oblivious to our equipment failures.

Likewise, if an RV breakdown grounds us in one spot for a long time until it’s fixed, we’d much rather be living in the comfort of our own home and dealing with the repair there than be out in some remote location with few resources.

Those are some of the subtle differences between seasonal RVing and full-time RVing: The ability to run home vs. making the best of being “home” already; the pressure to make the most of each day in the trip vs. letting life’s storms blow over and resuming our travels afterwards.

So, we had an interesting pairing of truly beautiful destinations and travel adventures this summer alongside some very frustrating breakdowns and repairs.

Here’s a recap:

RV breakdowns and repairs in the RV life - checking under the hood of the truck

Mark checks the engine once again…

TRUCK BREAKDOWN

Our big beautiful 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck began throwing error codes towing our trailer up Monarch Pass. This is a beast of a mountain pass that our truck would ordinarily shrug off as no big deal.

However, as we climbed this pass, the Check Engine light came on three times accompanied by several error codes related to the throttle position sensor and the turbo actuator. The truck went into Limp Mode each time, unable to maintain the speed of traffic.

Sign at the Monarch Pass summit

.

We had to pull over and turn the truck off to clear the codes so we could drive at the normal speed of traffic for a few more miles. Then the Check Engine light would come on again and we’d repeated the whole process. Fortunately, there are lots of pullouts on the Monarch pass ascent where disabled vehicles like ours can seek refuge!

Once over the pass, we continued on to Buena Vista and found a safe place to park about 200 yards off the highway outside of town. The truck didn’t throw any codes until we pulled off the highway. Luckily, our jaunt down a lumpy US Forest Service road was short. Although we didn’t know it when set up camp, that spot would become our home for the next three weeks!

RV parked under a dark cloud

As we set up camp, a storm was brewing…in more ways than one.

It turned out the truck had three separate problems. Why they all hit at once, we’ll never know.

Throttle Position Sensor

The first failure was the Throttle Position Sensor which is part of the accelerator pedal. We found a local diesel mechanic who replaced it within a week (we had to wait for the part to arrive) and the error code never came back.

Exhaust Manifold and Turbo Failures

The other two problems were inextricably linked: the exhaust manifold and the turbocharger. We spent a lot of time learning about these parts, why they tend to fail, and what it takes to replace them. Yikes! If one or both of these fail, you’ve got a huge and expensive repair on your hands.

Two of the bolt studs at either end of the exhaust manifold had completely sheered off! Why? The exhaust manifold repeatedly expands and contracts from heating and cooling. Ultimately, this expansion/contraction caused the exhaust manifold to warp, and that bent and eventually broke the studs.

RV breakdowns and repairs: We replaced the exhaust manifold in our Dodge Ram dually 3500

We discovered this is actually a fairly common problem! It can happen at any time. Sometimes it occurs in the first few thousand miles under warranty, sometimes at 85,000 miles like our truck was, and sometimes at 150 thousand miles or more.

The Ram exhaust manifold is a single piece of steel, and the heat in that area is extremely high. To avoid warping, several after market exhaust manifolds are made in two pieces that fit into one another like a sleeve. This allows for expansion and contraction without stress as the surrounding temperature changes, and prevents the bolt studs from breaking.

RV breakdowns and repairs: we replaced the exhaust manifold in our Ram truck

The signature symptom of a failing exhaust manifold is both the smell of diesel fumes in the cab of the truck and a high pitched whine caused by air leaks when the engine is running.

As we learned all this, we realized that our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 probably had loose or broken bolts on the exhaust manifold as well. We had thought the occasional smell of diesel exhaust in that truck cab was due to the engine going into a Regen, but it was probably exhaust leaking from the exhaust manifold.

Exhaust gas blowing through the engine is not good for it. So, our companion gear failure was the engine turbocharger which had become totally gunked up from filthy exhaust air blowing through it. There was black, sticky, gooey stuff all over the turbo fins. Unfortunately, we had to replace turbocharger.

RV breakdowns and repairs: we installed a new Fleece Performance Cheetah turbocharger

Ironically, one afternoon a Ford diesel truck towing a large utility trailer came flying into the area we were camping. White smoke billowed out the tailpipe. We chatted with the driver and his companions as they waited for a tow truck from their shop in Kansas to come and tow them home. They were certain their truck’s turbocharger had failed too.

The stringent emissions requirements on diesel engines make the turbochargers on all pickup brands susceptible to failure because exhaust fumes flow through them rather than fresh air.

Our biggest dilemma was deciding where to have the work done. We were in the heart of the Rockies which is full of small mountain towns and high elevation mountain passes. We spent several days talking to diesel mechanics with top Google and Yelp ratings from as far away as Grand Junction, Denver, Colorado Springs and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Labor prices ranged from $120/hour to $200/hour. Mandatory diagnostic fees ranged from $85 to $450. Prices of parts ranged from the prices we saw advertised online to twice the prices found online. Getting scheduled for the repair ranged from next week to two months from now. Solutions ranged from “We use only Dodge (Mopar) OEM parts” to “We prefer the after market brands BD Diesel, Cheetah and ATF.”

Needless to say, it was dizzying interviewing these mechanics and narrowing down which one would be a good fit.

Gondolas on the ski lift at Monarch Pass

There are gondola rides at Monarch Pass. Next time!

The trickiest thing was that in order to drive our truck to a mechanic, we faced a towering mountain pass in every direction: Monarch Pass, Hoosier Pass, Cottonwood Pass and Kenosha Pass all lay between us and the diesel mechanics we talked to. We were concerned the truck wouldn’t make it towing the trailer. If the truck died en route, we’d have a huge towing bill on top of the repair bill!

In the end, we hired the local diesel mechanic who had replaced the throttle position sensor. He was a highly rated one man operation and was good hearted and knowledgeable but swamped. He stopped answering his phone or responding to messages during the weeks we worked with him. It was a dark time for us as we wondered what was going on and whether he could do the job. However, he got it done.

In the end, the parts and labor for all the truck repairs came to $6,000. Ouch!!

Time for a Vacation!

In the interim, the truck was okay to drive if it wasn’t towing the trailer. So, to improve our spirits and put our minds back on the right track after 10 days of waiting for the throttle position sensor repair and doing a deep dive into exhaust manifolds and turbos, we left the trailer in its boondocking spot and went on a two night mini vacation to the town of Frisco!

Upon arrival in town the first morning, we treated ourselves to a delightful breakfast out. Eggs Benedict and pancakes served at a sunny outdoor cafe under bright yellow umbrellas on the edge of a quaint street was just what the doctor ordered. Our good spirits were instantly restored.

A vacation from RV life when there are breakdowns and repairs

A tasty breakfast on a flower-filled patio far from our RV troubles put us in great spirits.

We strolled the town, checked out the campgrounds, walked the shores of pretty Dillon Reservoir and took part in Frisco’s weekly outdoor music festival one evening. What fun!

By the time we got back to the trailer, the parts had arrived and we were totally refreshed and ready to deal with the awkward logistics of the truck, trailer and repair. Luckily, the repair took just one very long day that kept the mechanic in his shop until well after dark.

TRAILER EQUIPMENT FAILURES

Furnace

We’ve used our RV furnace many times since we bought the trailer in 2022, but it suddenly quit working after a few weeks in Colorado. Of course, this was on a very cold morning when we really needed it!

The gas flame would light and the blower would blow, but then the flame would go out. Sometimes it would stay lit for 3 seconds before going out. Sometimes it would last for a few minutes. But it never stayed on long enough to warm up the trailer. It just cycled on and off repeatedly.

Suburban furnace in a fifth wheel toy hauler

Hmmm….so what part of this RV furnace is broken??

Mark troubleshot it in depth, tearing the whole furnace apart. The orifice that might have been clogged was totally clear. The sail switch was also working perfectly. We concluded that it needed a new motherboard (a few hundred dollars). We just lived without the furnace for the rest of the summer even though we wished we could use it on many cold mornings.

Ironically, now that we’re home and it’s 95 degrees in the afternoons, the furnace is working like a charm. It might have been the altitude. We’ll see how it goes during our upcoming winter camping trips.

Landing Legs

When we arrived in Lake Granby and started to unhitch, the clutch on the trailer’s landing legs started slipping as we extended them to raise the front of the trailer. We were barely able to raise it enough to get the truck out. So, after we hitched up to leave, we decided not to unhitch again until we got home. Fortunately, the RZR was able to get us where we needed to go in the interim.

Mark had to replace the landing legs on our Hitchhiker fifth wheel many years ago, and he did it while boondocking in the Arizona desert. He was prepared to do it again, but now that we’re home, just like the finicky furnace, the landing legs seem okay!

So we’re waiting to see if it happens again. Replacement landing legs are about $700-$800.

Skylight Leak

On one of the last nights of our trip, we were camping at about 9,500’ in a remote part of northern Colorado when a massive rain storm blew in. After a few hours, we heard “drip-drip-drip” in the shower and discovered the bathroom skylight had sprung a leak. Fortunately, it was dripping into the shower, so the puddle of water was contained! However, that equipment failure was the final straw that sent us packing for home.

Quitting early didn’t end our fun summer travel adventures, though. On our way home, we had lots of good times in Utah that we’ll share with you.

After we got home, Mark was able to fix the leak using Flex Seal Liquid. 24 hours later, a huge overnight rainstorm came through and proved to us that his repair is good! Yay!

RV breakdowns & repairs: Flex Seal liquid fixed a leak

POLARIS RZR SIDE-BY-SIDE BREAKDOWN & FAILURES

Our Polaris RZR had always been very reliable but this year it had several failures.

Overheating

First, it overheated at the top of a mountain near Rico near the beginning of our trip. We were several miles from our campsite! Mark is a quick thinker, though, and he put it in neutral and we coasted for 3 miles all the way down the mountain!

Polaris 900 RZR side by side breakdown and repair

Even our trusty RZR acted up on this trip!

At the bottom, the engine had cooled enough for him to start it up again and drive us the final mile back to our campsite. He topped off the anti-freeze that had steamed off, and the engine temps have been fine ever since. We think it was caused either by the high altitude (10,500’) and/or by inadvertently climbing the mountain at slower speeds in high gear.

Ignition Switch

One day, Mark tried to start the RZR and it wouldn’t start. When he turned the ignition switch off, the start motor kept running! He had to disconnect the battery cable to get it to turn it off. He removed the ignition switch and lubed it with WD-40. Then he put the key in the ignition (with the battery disconnected) and worked it back and forth in the On and Off positions repeatedly. This fixed it. However, just to be on the safe side, he then installed a new ignition switch.

Battery corrosion

When we were having our problems with the ignition switch, the RZR started having trouble with cold starts. The engine would turn over but it wouldn’t stay running when it was cold in the morning. Checking things out, Mark discovered the terminals on the brand new battery he’d just installed were extremely corroded. That might have explained why it wouldn’t stay running. The corrosion was odd, however, because the old original factory installed battery he’d replaced after five years had had clean terminals!

We talked to several Polaris service shops in our travels and they said it was either inferior lead in the battery (an AGM battery from O’Reilly’s) or a loose battery connection.

Mark cleaned the connections with a battery terminal wire brush. The connections seemed tight. However, they were so corroded he decided to cut the terminals off the battery cables and replace them. He protected the new terminals from future corrosion with CRC spray. He has checked the battery frequently since then, and there is no corrosion.

RV breakdowns and repairs: we replaced the Polaris RZR ignition switch

MAIL FORWARDING => LOST POSTAL MAIL

When we set up our mail forwarding for the summer, USPS left off the mailbox number (PMB) when they entered our forwarding address on their computers! This meant the company receiving our forwarded mail, Americas Mailbox, had to look up our mailbox number manually for each piece of mail that arrived.

We discovered that Americas Mailbox doesn’t look up PMB numbers during the busy summer season, though. Instead, they return those pieces of mail to the sender.

Our local postmaster tried to enter our PMB number on our mail forwarding address on the USPS computers, but to no avail. Only two pieces of mail came through with a USPS mail forwarding sticker that included our PMB number.

A few pieces of mail came through with a hand written PMB number because some kind soul at Americas Mailbox took the time to look it up.

We never received at least 80% our mail. Many companies who got the returned mail then assumed our home address was invalid. So, we’ve had to reassure them that our home address is still correct. What a mess!

How did this screw-up happen? On the USPS mail forwarding form, there is a box where you enter your PMB or Apartment number. In the future, we will put the PMB number on the same line as the street address rather than putting it in that box!

On the bright side, we found out that the website Americas Mailbox uses for customers to see their mail and request it to be forwarded to them, ipostal.com, actually offers a mail forwarding service directly.

This is great for seasonal RVers because you can choose an address that is near your home. That way, your mail doesn’t have to travel cross-country to a far distant mail forwarding company. Also, you’ll see your incoming mail within a day or two rather than a week later.

You can buy just a single month or two months of mail forwarding. Even better, because they don’t offer vehicle registration and other services, iPostal’s fees are much cheaper than full service companies like Americas Mailbox. However, iPostal is not an ideal option for full-timers who need those additional services.

Renogy 200 watt solar panel

INTERNET ACCESS PROBLEMS

For most of our full-time RVing lives and for last summer’s RV adventure we used a Verizon MiFi Jetpack 8800 hotspot for internet access. Before we left this year, we used it for a few months at home and all was well.

However, when we got to Colorado it didn’t work in the small mountain towns between Cortez and Gunnison, including Rico, the outskirts of Telluride, the Blue Mesa Reservoir and Silver Thread Scenic Byway to Creede and South Fork. We went for 17 days without internet access in the rig.

Talking with the locals, we discovered most Coloradans in that area use AT&T. Interestingly, when we’d camped near Dubois, Wyoming, last summer, a fellow RVer with an AT&T hotspot was getting an adequate signal while our Verizon hotspot had no service at all.

Dealing with RV breakdowns and repairs in the RV life

Up the creek…but at least he’s got a paddle!

So, when we got to Gunnison, we picked up an AT&T 5G hotspot. We had internet access for the rest of our trip. The AT&T 5G hotspot was generally faster than the Verizon 4G hotspot. In many places we had good service via AT&T and nothing via Verizon.

However, the AT&T hotspot is a Franklin A50 model, and it has a very flaky battery and even flakier charger. We’ve had trouble turning the hotspot on and off, and the charger failed completely. Luckily, the Verizon charger works on the AT&T hotspot. However, it was frustrating to buy a hotspot that had so many problems.

More distressing, though, was when AT&T charged us a day ahead of time for our prepaid month of service and promptly shut down our service because “we had no data left!” WTH??!!

This happened first thing on a Saturday morning. I called AT&T and discovered — to my horrified astonishment — that they provide support only on weekdays!!

We’ve thought about Starlink and have friends who have it and love it in the places where they’ve traveled so far in Arizona. However, at $600 for the equipment, it’s a pricey piece of gear. It’s big and ungainly for quickie overnights in pullouts and rest areas, and it doesn’t work while you’re moving. Their service continues to evolve, though, so we’ll keep an eye on their offerings.

We’ve never had multiple hotspots before, but we liked the ability to choose one or the other. Now that we’re home, we’ve been surprised that the Verizon 4G hotspot is consistently far faster than the AT&T 5G hotspot, even with 5 bars of 5G.

Hotspot speed depends entirely on where the tower is in relation to where you are, whether it is equipped for 4G or 5G, whether your hotspot can receive 4G or 5G, and how busy the tower is for that provider.

Bottom line, we could have avoided those 17 days of being incommunicado if we’d had an AT&T hotspot at the time. But we were many miles from an AT&T retailer. Fortunately, the store in Gunnison was able to order one for us when we got there.

The Verizon store in the same strip mall told us they didn’t sell hotspots and couldn’t order one. We’d been mildly interested in upgrading to a Verizon 5G hotspot because there were rumors a tower near where we’d been camping had Verizon 5G but not 4G. If 4G equipment is being removed when 5G gear is installed, it would explain why our 4G hotspot has been increasingly unable to connect in places were we used get one bar of usable service.

FINAL THOUGHTS

All in all, despite that very long list of equipment failures and unexpected expenses, we had a truly blissful summer. We got to see many parts of Colorado we’ve never visited before, and they were all beautiful. We also got into Utah’s red rocks a little bit at the end.

Traveling in any form always involves risks, hiccups and unexpected frustrations. But in reality, all of life is that way. It’s just that when you’re on the road, you feel more vulnerable.

RV life under a huge cloud- breakdowns and repairs

When storms gather in the RV life, it’s only natural to feel vulnerable.

For every moment of emotional (and physical) discomfort when things go wrong in the RV life, there’s another moment of sheer joy when you witness something extraordinarily gorgeous that you would never see in your own backyard. Or you meet a new friend you would never have met otherwise. Or you visit a destination you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

Hotel or AirBnB travel is another way to go, of course, and we often joke that we’ll sell it all, buy a sports car, pack a few bags and go traveling that way. But we like having the comforts of our own rolling home with us. So, we have to accept that unexpected breakdowns and repairs are an integral a part of RV life. And in reality, that snazzy sports car could leave us stranded too!

Now that we’re home, we’ve cleaned the rig thoroughly and Mark has completed the repair list, leaving a few items under watch for the time being. The travel bug is biting us again, and we’ll be hitting the road for a short jaunt soon!!

RV life - Making music with a dog!

All our equipment may be falling apart, but we can still make music and have fun!

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Toy Hauler Life – What’s It Like Living in a Toy Hauler?

After living in our new Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler for about 5 months, we are absolutely loving this rig. Huray for toy hauler life!

When we first purchased this 5th wheel toy hauler, we wrote an overview with photos of a walk-through which you can see here — Genesis Supreme 28CRT Toy Hauler – Why We Chose It! Now, with a little more experience under our belts, we wanted to show you what it’s like living in a toy hauler, especially an open box floor plan like ours.

Toy hauler life - what's it like to live in a toy hauler RV?

What’s it like to live in a toy hauler?

Living in a toy hauler is different than other RV lifestyles, not only because of the big open garage space, ramp door and the ability to bring additional motorized vehicles along for the ride, but because of the back patio — a game changer! If you are considering getting one or are just curious about what it’s like living in a toy hauler, this page will give you a few things to think about and explain why we like ours so much.

A Toy hauler patio transforms RV life

Nevermind the garage and all the things it offers…
We’ve found the patio on our toy hauler totally transforms the interior of our RV!

Toy Hauler Pros and Cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to living in a toy hauler, like there are with every type of RV. Here are some of the biggest advantages of toy hauler life:

Toy Hauler Pros:

Water: The fresh water tank is usually very big. 100 gallons is typical but 160 gallons isn’t unusual.

Gas: Because toy haulers are built to haul gas powered toys, there’s usually a gas station onboard complete with a gas tank beneath the floor of the rig and a gas nozzle on the side to fill the toys. This makes it easy (and typical) for toy haulers to sport onboard gas generators that seamlessly tie into the gas tank. Our gas tank is 40 gallons, and I believe most toy haulers have a 30-50 gallon tank. However, some of the major brands don’t list the gas tank sizes on their websites.

Patio: The ramp door on most modern toy haulers converts into a rear 8′ x 8′ patio. Some toy haulers have a side patio too.

Beds: The powered Happijac bunks that come on most toy haulers in the rear of the garage have a queen mattress on the top bunk and a queen or full size “mattress” on the bottom bunk, plenty of room for kids or guests. The “mattress” on the bottom bunk is actually two loveseats laid flat that can be raised up to face each other.

Happijac bunk beds in the rear of a toy hauler RV

The top bunk is a queen size and the bottom bunk is a full size. The bottom bunk also becomes two loveseats that face each other.

Toy Hauler Cons:

Decor: Many toy haulers make me feel like I’m in a sports bar. All we’d need to top it off would be a keg, some munchies and the big game on TV!

Furniture: You may not want or need the lower Happijac bunk convertible sofas or the factory supplied heavy moveable table(s) that go between the recliners and between the rear sofas. However, they generally come standard with every toy hauler.

Kitchen: To fit everything into a modest length rig, the kitchen often takes a big hit. Pantries and counter space are reduced or virtually eliminated.

Storage: A toy hauler has less storage per linear foot than a traditional fifth wheel because you can’t have cabinetry on the lower part of the garage walls.

Setup/Breakdown: If you use a toy hauler to haul a toy, loading and unloading it plus dealing with the tie-downs takes time during setup and breakdown.

Rear Wall: Because the ramp door can’t have a window, the back of the garage is a big black wall when the ramp door is closed. If the trailer has a side patio, that creates another big dark wall when it’s closed.

Dirt: If you haul an ATV or UTV, dirt and/or mud will be tracked into the garage.

Gas Fill: Maneuvering a long toy hauler at a gas station to fill the gas tank can be a challenge, especially if the gas fill intake is at the rear end of the rig.

Putting gas in the tank of a toy hauler (Genesis Supreme)

“Fill ‘er up!”
The far back end of our toy hauler is at the gas pump here. There must be room ahead of the gas pump for the whole truck and trailer…

Enclosed Garage vs. Open Box Toy Haulers

There are two basic layouts for toy haulers: a “separate enclosed garage” where the garage is separated from the living space by a wall with a door, and an “open box” floor plan where the garage space converts into living space using moveable furniture. There are big trade-offs when you choose one layout over the other.

Enclosed garages are much more common in fifth wheel toy haulers and open box floor plans are much more common in travel trailer toy haulers.

Here is the floor plan for our 33′ long open box fifth wheel toy hauler with its 16′ garage compared to a 44′ long separate enclosed garage floor plan (a 2023 Keystone Raptor 415) that has a 15′ garage.

When you unload the toys from our open box toy hauler, the whole trailer becomes 33′ of 100% living space. In contrast, you don’t need to unload anything from the 44′ enclosed garage toy hauler to get 29′ of dedicated living space.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT 5th wheel toy hauler floor plan only

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT 5th wheel toy hauler floor plan
33′ long trailer with a 16′ garage.

2023 Keystone Raptor 415 Toy Hauler 44' long with 15' garage

Keystone Raptor 415 5th wheel toy hauler floor plan
44′ long trailer with a 15′ garage

Here are some of the tradeoffs between open box and enclosed garage toy haulers:

Dirt: A separate enclosed garage keeps all the dirt related to the toy(s) in the garage. An “open box” style layout brings the dirty muddy toy right into your living room!

Overall Length: A separate enclosed garage adds 10-15 feet to the length of an ordinary fifth wheel. At the back end of most toy hauler garages the last 18 inches of the floor is ramped. So, if you want your vehicle to ride level and not have two wheels heading downhill, you must add 18 inches to the overall garage length you need. Designers reduce the living area to keep their rigs under 50′ long, but almost all fifth wheel toy haulers with separate garages are over 40′ in length, nose to tail. An open box design allows for the overall length to be as little as 33′. When towing, a 33′ trailer is much easier to maneuver than one that’s well over 40′.

Garage Length: An open box trailer can offer a longer garage in a shorter overall trailer length. Whereas most enclosed garages top out at 13-15 feet in a trailer that is 38-46′ long, a shorter 33-34′ open box trailer can have a 16′ garage. At the long end of open box floor plans, one 44′ open box design has a 26′ long garage! That’s a heckuva lot of room for toys or for indoor party space with friends on rainy days or late at night.

Comfort and Storage: Separating the garage and living area means that both spaces are dedicated to their individual purposes. This allows the living space to have lots of built-ins and be more comfortable and attractive. For a given garage length, an enclosed garage rig has a lot more storage space than an open box design because the garages can’t have any lower cabinetry and in an open box design half of the rig’s length is the garage.

Single Overnights: An enclosed garage can be filled to the brim without impacting the usability of the rest of the rig. If you pull over at a rest area or stay just one night in an RV park and don’t feel like unloading the toys, you can still be comfortable in the rig. With an open box design your living space is gone once the toy(s) are loaded inside. The only way to get your living room back is to unload the toy(s). That isn’t possible or desireable in a rest area and it’s unnecessary extra work if you’re in transit to a distant destination and aren’t planning to use the toy(s) during a one or two night stay in an RV park or campground on the way there.

Tie-down Rings: The garage has tie-down rings and table pedestal supports built into the floor. With a separate garage, these toe-stubbers aren’t in your living room. However, in an open box design, they are. You can cover them with a carpet, but that is yet another thing that needs to be set up or put away each time you travel.

Bottom line: How do you plan to use the rig and the garage? A separate garage room can be used for anything — kids’ room, office, workshop, yoga room, art studio, storage, party room — but it will be a smaller space requiring a longer trailer. An open box offers an open floor plan with a cavernous living area that has a kitchen at one end, a patio at the other, and portable furniture throughout. However, if you’re hauling a toy, the living room will need to be set up and broken down every time you travel, and your toy(s) will bring dirt in with them.

An Open Box Flexible Floor Plan is Fun!

We love our 33′ long open box Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler because our 9′ long Polaris RZR 900 (the reason for getting a toy hauler) fits in it well and the trailer is very maneuverable to tow and park.

Even though this trailer isn’t cushy in the way that our Hitchhiker fifth wheel was, we have found the flexible floor plan is a lot of fun. We set it up differently depending on where we are, where the views are and how long we’ll stay.

Factory Provided Furniture We Don’t Use

Like many toy hauler owners, we removed all the moveable pedestal tables that came with the rig (ours had three). The tabletops for these tables are very heavy, and stowing the tabletops and the poles for traveling was awkward.

Also like many other toy hauler owners, we don’t use the opposing sofas that make up the bottom bunk in the Happijac bunk bed and we haven’t used the lower bunk for anyone to sleep on either.

We do use the lower bunk for storage, however. There is a 6 inch gap between the two bunks when they are flush against each other, just enough to slide in a folding table onto the lower bunk. However, if the items stored there are not secured and you go down a steep descent, things can slide off. We live in a hilly area and face a 150 yard long 25% descent every time we leave home, and we’ve had a folding table slide off the lower bunk in its raised position and land on the roof of the RZR side-by-side.

When we are set up for camping, we keep the bunk beds raised up to the ceiling so we have unencumbered floor space underneath. The upper bunk can make a fantastic napping spot, though, especially when the ramp door is open. It’s like being in a big wide comfy hammock!

Toy hauler upper bunk is good for napping

Mark and Buddy snuggle in for an afternoon nap.

 

Toy Hauler Fun – Bring Your Own Furniture!

So, with all that furniture not being used and the powered bunk beds raised to their Up position (allowing us to move around freely underneath), here is what the floor plan looks like:

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT 5th wheel toy hauler floor plan with moveable furniture and Happijac bunk beds removed.

2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT 5th wheel toy hauler actual floor layout
(i.e., it doesn’t show the raised bunk beds or the moveable furniture).

We replaced the factory-provided pedestal tables with two small folding tables that can be set to dining table height or coffee table height.

This gives each of us a “desk” or we can place them side by side to make a larger table. We can also put one or both at coffee table height if we have company. Sometimes we leave one stowed on the lower bunk and bring out just one folding table if we’re not staying very long.

We also got two small ottomans that have a drawer and a tray flip top. This gives us each a personal “junk drawer” and storage space for small items.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler alternative chair layout ramp door closed

This is a typical layout we use if we’re not staying long. We share a table between us and use the small ottomans (trays up) to set drinks and snacks on.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler living room

Here we have both “desks” set up and the ottomans become footstools
(the Eurochair foot rests aren’t very comfortable).

When we travel, we spend a lot of time on our laptops processing our photos, and having desks is fantastic.

Our Hitchhiker fifth wheel had a tiny built-in desk, but it was so small we never used it. Instead, we always had the laptops in our laps. How nice it is to have our laptops on a table along with a pen and paper, if needed, and a snack or a drink!

Buddy likes to hang out on the sofa. He loves to watch the Outdoor Channel!

Dog looks out the window of an RV toy hauler

Buddy keeps an eye on things from the sofa.

Last summer we made a foldable perch for Buddy’s dog bed so he could look out the rear window comfortably and not have to stand on the sofa to see out.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler ramp door closed

We built an experimental perch for Buddy’s dog bed by the rear window last summer (back left corner).

Once we got home, we ordered a large storage ottoman bench that is the perfect size and height for Buddy to sit or lie on and look out a rear window. The fabric even has a travel motif! We didn’t install the legs that come with it because that would make it too high for the window. As a bonus, this storage ottoman has a flip up lid and a large interior which gives us a huge storage locker!

Storage ottoman bench for dog window seat

A window seat for Buddy with storage for us!

A window seat with storage for a dog in a toy hauler RV

On watch…

You may think we went a little crazy with the storage ottomans, but we had two in our fifth wheel trailer that we loved. We used them to replace the chairs that came with the dinette (blog post about that here). They are very handy because you can sit on them, put things on them and put things inside them!

Our most common layout is to place one chair and table opposite the sofa and the other one towards the back of the rig. This gives each of us plenty of space.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler ramp door closed

Our typical setup.
A slipcover on the black loveseat lightened and softened the decor a little bit
(it’s available here — I think that’s Buddy’s cousin in their ad photo!)

If the views are spectacular, we like to face them.

Room with a view in Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler

Room with a View.

Unfortunately, there are huge divets with raised rims in the floor where the factory-provided table pedestals attach, and those big bumps as well as the D-ring tie-down attachment points in the floor get in the way when we move our furniture around. The D-rings are necessary equipment, but hopefully we can find a way to remove the five metal supports in the floor that hold the table pedestals we aren’t using. We have some ideas…

Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler patio open no screen

Bright and airy with the patio open.

The Patio is a Game Changer!

The biggest surprise for us was how totally awesome it is to have a patio. It has been a game changer for us. We would have LOVED having a patio during all those years we spent living in an RV!

Toy hauler patio overlooking a stream in the woods

For us, the toy hauler patio has completely changed the way we live our RV life.


We used two of these solar panels to upgrade our toy hauler's factory-installed 200 watt system to a 600 watt system.

See our DIY installation here:
RV Solar Power Upgrade

Ramp Door = Patio Floor!

We have a ramp door made by Lippert that is not too heavy. I can open and close it myself although it takes some effort. Mark can do it alone quite easily, and for the two of us together it’s a breeze.

MorRyde makes a ramp door that is so lightweight it takes just one finger to raise or lower it and it can hold its position partway open as well. Quite a few toy hauler brands have these cool ramp doors but Genesis Supreme trailers do not.

Genesis Supreme toy hauler ramp door and RLT mascot

Our ramp door is heavy but not unmanageable, even for one moderately strong person like me.

At first we weren’t sure exactly how and when we would use the patio, and after our first afternoon of totally loving it, we had a bad experience with it overnight.

Most toy haulers have an accordion door system that can close out the elements out of the rig’s interior when the patio is open. There are windows in those doors so you can choose to block out the hot or cold temps with glass or allow the breezes to flow through the doors with the screens.

Vinyl Patio Screen

Our trailer is a lower end model, so instead of accordion doors, it came with a vinyl screen that has mesh “windows” for bug-free fresh air flow. The screen rolls down from the ceiling.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT toy hauler Vinyl screen and patio open

A vinyl screen rolls down from the ceiling. It has mesh windows in the upper half that allow fresh breezes to flow through the rig. There are vinyl flaps that close these windows if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

On our first night we left the patio open. The vinyl screen was in place, fully zipped closed with the bottom resting on the floor. By midnight the entire rig was filled with huge ugly moths that had crawled in on the floor underneath the vinyl screen because there is no seal there.

Talk about a rude awakening. It was like a scene out of a horror movie as we jumped around the rig swatting the walls like mad and shrieking (me)!

After that, we never left the patio open at night again, and we soon stopped using the vinyl screen all together because it is cumbersome and time consuming to set up.

Toy hauler RV ramp door closed and vinyl screen lowered

The vinyl screen is lowered and zipped closed (the ramp door is also closed).
Here you can see 4 of the 5 the toe-stubbing table pedestal attachment points for the factory supplied tables that came with the rig (and that we don’t use).

Toy hauler patio screen rolled up

Vinyl screen rolled up.

Not only does the vinyl screen require rolling/unrolling two large 8′ x 4′ panels (which are held against the ceiling with snap ties) but three zippers (two sides and the middle) must be zipped or unzipped from ceiling to floor.

Once the screen is in place, you are either inside or outside and you have to unzip the middle zipper to get from one area to the other. Most important, even with the mesh screen “windows,” air flow is restricted and the see-through mesh only goes from the ceiling to waist height. From waist height to the floor it’s black vinyl. In contrast, the more upscale accordion doors on higher end units have glass windows on both top and bottom, bringing lots of light in.

Let the Breezes Flow!

However, if we simply open the patio door and leave the vinyl screen rolled up against the ceiling, the interior of the rig is completely transformed. We open both the front door and the patio door, and any stray bugs that wander by fly in one door and out the other. This wouldn’t work in a buggy area, but the areas where we travel in the West have few bugs during the day.

The patio extends the floor space of the rig by another 8′ and you can wander freely from inside to outside. We tend not to sit out on the patio, but we love being inside and having all that fresh air and nature right there.

Toy hauler living with the patio open

Out on the patio it can be hot in the sun and blowy in the wind and impossible to see a laptop screen.
Sitting inside with the patio open, however, it feels like we’re sitting on a covered deck.

Genesis Supreme 28CRT open box toy hauler

It took us a while to figure out how to make the best use of the patio, but after missing out on a few campsites where it would have been fabulous, we realized just how transformative the patio can be!

Patio Rails

Most toy haulers come with a complete patio kit that includes the accordion doors and railings that go around the patio so you don’t fall off. Our patio rails were an option that the first buyer sprang for, but in hindsight they aren’t entirely necessary for the way we use the patio.

Our patio rails are hinged on the outer walls and roll open like two large doors. Once completely open to the outer edges, they get extended to reach the far corners of the patio and then they unfold again, creating a 3-sided rail system around the perimeter of the patio.

Patio rails closed on a toy hauler

In the stowed position, the folded patio rails rest against each other in the back of the trailer.

Toy hauler patio deployed on an open box floor plan

The patio rails roll open until they are aligned with the outer edges of the patio floor.

The railings are easily clamped to the patio floor along the outer edges, and the overall effect is an attractive and sturdy fence system. There’s a gate at the far end so you can step (or jump) down to the ground.

Trailer manufacturers provide big heavy stair systems for patios, but we didn’t want to deal with storing something like that. So, we bought a 16 inch tall lightweight plastic folding step stool to help get up and down. Of course, depending on how level or unlevel the ground is, the patio floor may be very high off the ground or quite close to it. We haven’t used that step stool all that often, but it’s nice to have along just in case.

Over time, we realized that we just weren’t sitting out on the patio the way we anticipated. We were happy to stay inside but feel the cool air or warm sun coming in the back end of the trailer. So, we began simply rolling the patio rails out along the two outer edges of the patio and leaving it at that. Since we weren’t hanging around on the patio itself, we didn’t risk falling off!

Toy hauler RV patio with rails partially set up

The patio rails can be extended to the far corners of the floor and then unfolded further to fence in the end of the patio, but we often leave them just like this so the views from the interior are unobstructed.

Toy hauler patio without the patio rails

The patio rails don’t need to be extended and set up all the way.

Some folks like the patio rails because their furry friends can sit outside on the patio while still being contained without being tied up. One caveat: the floor of the patio gets very hot in the summer sun — too hot for bare feet or puppy paws. We throw a mat down so Buddy can enjoy the patio too.

Many toy haulers have an awning over the patio but ours doesn’t. We’ve found that in the summer months it’s best to orient the rig so the patio gets the cooler morning sun but is shaded by the rig itself in the afternoon. Likewise, when we’ve taken it on winter trips, we’ve placed the rig so the patio gets the afternoon sun, making it possible to open it up for a few hours.

Enjoying the view from a toy hauler RV patio

Buddy enjoys the morning sun…

A toy hauler patio is great for dogs!

…and a little shade too!

Although it’s really tempting to buy a set of folding chairs and a folding table just for the patio, we haven’t done that yet. When we want to sit outside, we’ve found it’s just as easy to drag the Euro chair recliners onto the patio as it is to set up camp chairs. We’ve been putting our old camping chairs out on the ground for sitting outside down there.

For us, the jury is still out on the chairs in general. I’ve thought replacing the Euro chairs with good quality zero gravity chairs with some really cushy cushions. We’ll see!

Loading and Unloading the Side-by-side

Driving a Polaris RZR UTV into a fifth wheel toy hauler (Genesis Supreme 28CRT)

In she goes!.

Although it was super intimidating at first, loading the RZR is not hard. We put down rubber mats under each wheel and that’s what Mark aims for as he drives in.

We use CargoBuckle retractable ratchet straps to hold the RZR in place, and those are worth their weight in gold.

Back in our fifth wheel days when we towed the side-by-side behind the fiver on a flatbed trailer, we used to mess with traditional ratchet straps but they never held the RZR totally securely. We’d have to stop driving to check and tighten them and they chafed through quite often.

Then Mark found the CargoBuckles which mounted permanently to the frame of the flatbed trailer, and suddenly tying down the RZR was a breeze!

The CargoBuckle retractable ratchet straps worked so well on our flatbed trailer that we got another set for the toy hauler. To use these straps with the D-rings in the floor of the toy hauler, we use S-hook adapters rather than mounting the CargoBuckles permanently in the floor of the toy hauler.

These awesome retractable ratchet straps have transformed the whole process of loading and unloading the RZR. We wrote a blog post about how we installed them and use them on both our flatbed trailer and in our toy hauler HERE:

CargoBuckle Retractable Ratchet Tie-Downs – SO EASY!

Driving a side-by-side UTV into a toy hauler RV

Mark aims for the rubber mats on the floor (they are there to protect the flooring)
Notice the table pedestal support holes in the floor (one rubber mat can’t even be flush to the floor), and notice the small storage ottomans and other gear has been stowed against the wall.

 

What’s It Like When There’s a Toy in the Garage?

For us, one of the most important features in an RV is that when it is fully loaded for traveling and the slides are in, you can still make and eat a meal as well as use the bathroom and sleep. That way, if we end up at a rest area or truck stop overnight, we can still be somewhat comfortable.

This is not possible in every toy hauler, and it is not possible in every other kind of RV either. However, the Genesis Supreme 28CRT floor plan works well this way as long as the toy is around 10′ or less in length.

We place the Euro recliner chairs side by side in front of the side-by-side facing into the kitchen. This gives us a place to sit while also leaving enough open area to move around the kitchen and use the sink and stove.

Genesis Supreme toy hauler with the side-by-side UTV RZR loaded

Looking towards the back of the trailer, everything fits, even the bike.

toy hauler with the side-by-side UTV RZR loaded

It’s a tight squeeze but it works. Note that the flip-up sofa is flipped up against the slideout wall with the window, and two folding step stools are tucked in behind a metal bar on the underside of the sofa.

If our side-by-side were longer it would still work, but the Euro chairs might have to be stowed in the hallway that goes to the bedroom instead. This would be fine as long as you didn’t plan to sit in them at all.

Obviously, lots of people travel with their RVs and never overnight in places where they can’t open their slideouts or unload their toys, but it’s something to consider if you travel by the seat of your pants the way we do.

Toy hauler kitchen with the side-by-side UTV RZR loaded

Full access to everything in the kitchen.

Room to maneuver in Toy hauler kitchen with the side-by-side UTV RZR loaded

Sometimes we have to turn the bike wheel a little to get into the lower drawers.

What Toys to Bring?

Last summer we traveled with one mountain bike and the RZR. Before we bought the trailer, I thought there would be enough space for two bikes and the RZR, but once we started working out exactly how we would load the garage, I discovered two bikes would be too tight. So, we took just one bike and loaded it in and out of the trailer at every campsite.

Buddy loves running with our bikes on forest roads and trails, but it wasn’t the same going out without both of us together. So, the bike never really got used.

Now that we’ve lived in the toy hauler for a few months, I’m not so sure I’d want to load and unload two bikes and a side-by-side every time we set up camp anyway. Perhaps a longer trailer would make it possible to stow two bikes until they were wanted.

A bike rack on the back of the trailer wouldn’t work because of the ramp door. So, for all those reasons we won’t have any bikes with us this summer, and I think life will be simpler.

There’s a fine line between taking everything you could ever want along with you in an RV versus being comfortable day to day because you are willing to live without a few things and you’re not crowded out of house and home by all your stuff.

I devised a way to tie the bike to the sofa when it was in its flipped up stowed position against the wall and also clamp it to two D-rings in the floor using rope and two caribiners. The bike was rock solid when we traveled but it was a tight squeeze to get to the back of the trailer if we needed to.

Because of that, we learned to stow the most important daily items in the forward cabinets so they were easy to reach when we were in transit and all loaded up!

What About the Dirt?

Having a RZR in our living space is definitely dirtier than not having one. However, it’s more manageable than I expected. We sweep out the garage before loading the side-by-side and after unloading it. We don’t have a carpet so it’s easy to sweep the vinyl floor. On our next adventure we’re bringing a portable vacuum too.

In reality, when it’s muddy, Buddy brings about as much mud in on his paws as he runs in and out all day long as the RZR brings in on its wheels when we travel from place to place, and the RZR doesn’t bring any dirt into our bed!

So, if dirt is something that would keep you from considering an open box toy hauler yet you have a dog(s) that loves to run around outside, perhaps reconsider. You’ll be cleaning up mud and dirt regardless.

The toy hauler has a fresh water spigot on the outside and 100 gallons of fresh water, so we can rinse off the RZR or at least wipe it down before loading it inside.

Also, if the RZR gets really filthy, we can always drive it to a car wash. We haven’t done that yet, but there have been times when we’ve thought about it!

Overall Impressions

We love this rig. It is just right for part-time travels, and the flexibility of the floor plan and ability to bring the RZR on our adventures is everything we wanted.

In my first post about this toy hauler, before we’d taken it out on a four month journey, I was quite certain I’d never consider an open box floor plan for full-time living. In hindsight, though, we’ve found it actually makes for a very cool home on wheels and could work quite well for full-timing.

In that case, I’d look at a longer rig, perhaps 36′ to 38′ end to end. That would give us a bigger kitchen and/or bigger bedroom. I’d also hunt around for super comfortable and lightweight recliners, and I’d make sure I bought a rig with a light colored decor!

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Genesis Supreme 5th Wheel Toy Haulers – Ours is the 28CRT

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Buddy – A Journey in Sprit

The pages of this blog are full of travel tales from the lives we’ve lived on the road, at sea and abroad, but there are other kinds of journeys and adventures in life that don’t involve an RV, a sailboat or an airplane. This story is more profound than any we’ve shared with you in the past, and it has impacted our lives in the deepest ways imaginable.

Buddy - A Journey in Spirit

Our neighborhood has been inundated with mice and pack rats, and every neighbor keeps the hoods of their vehicles wide open in hopes of deterring these rodents from setting up housekeeping in the engine compartment. Not one neighbor has been spared from repairing the wiring in their car, truck or RV engine. And now, neither have we.

Rumor has it that the wire shielding is made with peanut oil which rodents love. Whether or not that’s true, in the space of a month, part of our truck engine’s main wiring harness was gnawed right through on two separate occasions. Of course, they chewed the wire to the nub, so it was nearly impossible to make the repaired connections hold. To make matters worse, the damaged part of the wiring harness was located beneath the fuse box in a spot that is extremely difficult to reach. Installing a new wiring harness would cost somewhere around $2,000, but by sheer determination and tenacity, Mark was able to make a successful repair.

Puppy at Glen Canyon

After all this, Mark was beside himself with frustration because the source of the problem was still out there. Over the course of a year he had purchased every rat deterrent and trap he could find, and in the process he’d disproven most of the old wives tales about the effectiveness of things like dryer sheets, Ivory soap and strobe lights that blink all night long. Each morning, many of his 20 or so peanut butter baited traps around the truck and the house would be tripped—and empty, licked clean and surrounded by fresh rodent droppings.

In a fit of pique, he bought some rat poison and put it under the truck. That would stop them, for sure!

The next day we took the truck to town and when we returned we parked it in different spot, our minds elsewhere. About 20 minutes later I noticed a green block on Buddy’s mat on the patio that looked like a dog treat. “What’s this?” I asked, holding it up for Mark to see. His eyes were saucers and his jaw dropped. “That’s the rat poison! What’s it doing there?!”

Buddy was bouncing around chasing lizards nearby.

Pup bouncing around

The poison stick appeared uneaten and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I caught sight of a second one. A quarter of it had been chewed. My heart stopped.

The chew marks looked rodent-like, but how had these things gotten on the back patio? Mark had put them under the truck on the other side of the house!

As we scrambled to try and piece together what might have happened in the last 30 minutes, Buddy continued trotting around, tail high and spirits higher.

I immediately called Tomcat, the manufacturer of the poison. Their poison hotline told me that if a 25 lb. dog ate just 1/4 of a brick of the poison — bromethalin — it wouldn’t be a lethal dose. Phew!!

At that moment Mark came barreling into the house, his eyes wild. “The kit came with 8 bricks and I can find only 7, including the one that was chewed. I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find that 8th brick”

As he ran outside again to continue searching for the missing brick, I called Tomcat back. The formerly calm and friendly gentleman at their poison info line had a sudden seriousness and urgency in his voice as he told me that a full brick and a quarter was a lethal dose and Buddy needed to go to the hospital immediately. He needed to be given activated charcoal to absorb as much of the poison as possible ASAP. He gave me a case number for the veterinarian to reference.

My world keeled over and crashed as I heard these words.

Buddy walked in and looked at me with a puzzled expression as if to say, “Why all the intense emotions around here all of a sudden?”

I called our veterinarian and his assistant urgently told us to get to the emergency animal hospital that’s nearly an hour away as fast as possible. “You need to go right now!” his assistant said, “but first induce vomiting by spraying hydrogen peroxide in his mouth.”

Mark did that and Buddy promptly threw up some very pale green phlegm. Our hearts sank. There was no doubt now that he had ingested the poison.

Puppy at sunset

We grabbed Buddy and drove like wildfire to the emergency animal hospital.

Murphy, of Murphy’s Law, was working overtime, though, and we arrived at the hospital right in the middle of a huge rush. One dog had heart failure on both sides of his heart, and another dog had swallowed something he shouldn’t have, and other crisis cases kept pouring in. We got in line.

I was less than patient waiting there, and I complained bitterly to anyone who would listen. The wonderful receptionist, Anne, and the lead veterinary technician, Angela, kindly listened to my complaints and apologized for the delay.

After an hour or more, Buddy was finally taken into the triage room.

He was bright eyed and bushy tailed and looked at us pleadingly as the vet techs took him away. Unfortunately, the team of doctors and nurses on duty was so busy it took another hour or so before they could administer the activated charcoal. Another hour after that he was finally brought out to us.

We learned that he’d thrown most of the charcoal back up. He had charcoal on his paws and his hips even though he’d been cleaned up.

Worse, he was totally panic stricken and his eyes were wild.

We looked at each other in shock. This was not the same dog we had handed over to them two hours before.

Beautiful patriotic dog

We whisked him away from the stress and trauma of the animal hospital towards home, and then decided to stop at a park near the hospital so he could stretch his legs and relax and start to regain his good spirits.

I put him down on the ground next to the car and he promptly laid down and wouldn’t get up.

Hmmm. I carried him to a quieter shady spot under a tree nearby and set him down again. He collapsed and wouldn’t budge.

Something was very wrong. Was it the trauma in the hospital or the charcoal and its after effects? Or was the poison beginning to take effect?

The veterinarian had told us that this particular poison causes brain swelling and seizures and if a dog has a seizure there’s no hope. He’s done. She had seen dogs die on the operating table.

There’s no antidote for bromethalin.

Puppy by the shore

I called the hospital, my voice shaking, and they said to return immediately.

As we drove, Buddy suddenly became a whole different animal in my arms. He was terrified. Not scared like I’ve seen him scared of things. He was constantly squirming in my arms now. His breath was shallow, his mouth agape, teeth showing, and his eyes were wide with terror.

He pinned his ears back and he strained to get out of my arms. His expression was like nothing I’ve ever seen. He wanted out of my arms and out of his body. Now!

His whole muzzle began shaking uncontrollably while I hugged him and consoled him and Mark drove 90 mph back to the hospital.

Puppy in a police car

The vet techs ran to us as we walked in the door and they whisked Buddy away into the triage room.

For the next hour Mark and I alternated clinging to each other and pacing the floor. At one point we heard barks, howls and wails coming from the emergency room that sounded like Buddy’s voice.

We were both beside ourselves. Mark was in tears and I couldn’t stop pacing and incessantly drinking water from the waiting room fridge as I tried to get rid of my dry mouth and panic.

Just a few hours earlier we had gone for a short hike with Buddy on one of his favorite trails. He’d been as charming as ever, trotting along ahead of us with his dear puppy prance, his whole sweet little body overflowing with joy at being alive.

Leaping for joy

The lead daytime veterinarian, Dr. Frost, finally came out of the emergency room and took us into a quiet room for a consultation. Her face was ashen as she leaned towards us to speak. “Buddy just had a grand mal seizure.”

I gasped and couldn’t breathe.

“I hate to be blunt, but I have to be honest with you.” She went on. “His situation is very grave. And you are going to have to make some very difficult decisions. If you want to continue, he needs the highest level of care that we offer. It costs about $5,000 a day.”

Mark broke down and put his head in his hands. “I can’t live without Buddy. If something happens to him, I don’t want to live.”

Dr. Frost rushed over to him and put her hands on his shoulders and looked him deep in the eyes. “Don’t say that!”

Puppy helps out with a photo shoot

We were all quiet for a moment and then someone appeared at my side while Dr. Frost slipped back into the triage room. The person was holding a formal quote for ICU care for the next 12 to 48 hours. The range was $6,000 to $18,000.

I glanced at the quote and the numbers didn’t even register in my mind. They didn’t matter. All that mattered right now was getting Buddy and our happy lives back to how they had been five hours before.

Beloved pink rope

Images of Buddy flitted through my mind: our happy-go-lucky little friend trotting around with his tail held high, and our dear cuddly pup playing under the blankets in bed.

Puppy on the rocks at dawn

Big puppy stretch

He was our sweet kindred spirit who loved adventure as much as we did. He would come alive when we were out exploring new trails.

Puppy on the hiking trail

Puppy dog running in the snow

I closed my eyes and vowed, “Buddy is fine. He’s fine.” He had to be. Come hell or high water, he had to make it. There was no other possible outcome, no other option. There was no other future for us except with Buddy living out his full life in our little family.

Mark sat on a bench with his head in his hands for a long time. The receptionist, Anne, came over to him and said quietly, “We can bring in a grief counselor for you…” He looked up, his face in agony, and said no, that wasn’t necessary.

Puppy love

I couldn’t stop pacing up and down the waiting room halls and drinking water.

Time stopped.

People were waiting patiently on the benches around the room, dogs and cats in their laps or at their feet, but I barely saw them.

Someone suddenly appeared asking for a credit card so we could make a preliminary payment of $7,800. That would cover Buddy’s care until 6 pm the next day. We gave him the card without a moment’s hesitation. We could sell things once we got home, if it came to that.

I went outside and paced all over the parking lot, out across a grassy field and around a distant building. I was half out of my mind, like a maniac, but I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t sit still.

Puppy plays with a slipper

With all my heart, I wanted to beg God for a miracle right now. With every fiber of my soul I wanted to plead with God to save our beloved little friend.

But I knew deep inside that that wasn’t the right approach.

I’ve done a lot of reading about divine healing over the past few years, and we experienced a miracle healing ourselves a while back.

I’d learned that healers who seek divine intervention don’t beg for assistance. They command that the healing take place and they believe deep in their hearts that the healing has been completed successfully already. They even speak of it that way, as a done deal.

I kept repeating to myself — silently and then out loud once I was out of earshot — that Buddy was healed, as if it had already happened. I thanked God profusely for Buddy’s full recovery and for gifting the doctors and nurses with healing hands.

I visualized the whole hospital staff being astonished and overjoyed by Buddy’s recovery.

I imagined the scene of the veterinarian and vet techs glowing with wonder and happiness that Buddy was fully healed.

In the doghouse outhouse

As soon as I’d finish saying and visualizing those things, I’d do it again.

Sometimes I’d phrase it a different way, but each time was like a vivid, forceful statement that had the full impact of all my ragged, intense and frazzled emotions behind it.

I went back in the waiting room and Dr. Frost came out to speak to us again. “I know how much you love your dog,” she said. “I want to make sure that if Buddy needs CPR you want us to do it.”

Of course!!

Modeling in the director's chair

She went on to explain that right now Buddy needed medication to reduce the brain swelling caused by the poison, but they couldn’t administer those meds until the seizures stopped.

So, they were putting him in a medically induced coma to force the seizures to stop.

Once the seizures ceased, they were planning to give him the anti-brain swelling medication. Eventually, if he survived, they could bring him out of the coma. It might take a few days or a week.

The big hope was that if he made it to the point of regaining consciousness, the seizures wouldn’t resume.

Pup in the wildflowers

Dr. Frost sighed and looked me intently. “There’s not much you can do right now.” She said. “But you can pray.”

“Oh, we have been!” I said. “Nonstop!”

I had asked our friends to pray for Buddy, and Mark’s daughter put out a request for prayers on Facebook. The response was overwhelming. Many shed tears when they heard what was going on and ardently prayed with us for a miracle.

Best Friends Forever

Puppy makes friends big and small

Best friends forever

We realized that this was all going to take a while, so we decided to go home and get our truck camper and stay in the hospital parking lot overnight.

We were silent on the drive home.

Mark wanted to apologize and felt the deepest guilt, but I wouldn’t hear it for a second. Our only way was forward.

Any second guessing, guilty feelings, or wishing we’d done things differently were useless at this point. Every ounce of our energy had to go towards manifesting a 100% recovery, with vehemence. With exuberance!

Family portrait with the truck camper

I don’t even remember the drive back to the hospital with the camper. By then it was dark. We parked right around the corner from the front door of the hospital and quickly went inside. For a split second I worried we’d be greeted with bad news, but I banished that thought as soon as it came.

As I fought all negativity out of my mind and opened the door, the evening receptionist looked up with a big smile and said, “He’s doing well!”

Owners aren’t usually allowed into the triage room, but she said we might be able to go in late at night if things got quiet. So, we went out to the camper to wait. A few hours later it was quiet again and we were allowed to see him.

I have never been in an ICU before. The scene was straight out of a TV show or movie.

Puppy portrait black and white

Buddy was lying on his stomach, his front paws on either side of his head. He was intubated with a tube that went all the way down to his lungs. His long tongue was hanging out of his mouth on the table, totally limp.

He had a catheter for urine, an IV inserted into one leg, an automated blood pressure cuff on one paw and something inserted into his abdomen, and his fur had been shaved to accommodate all these things. Wires and tubes went from his tiny little body to display monitors next to the operating table, to an IV bag on a hook and to a urine bag on the floor.

His eyes were covered with a blindfold and ear buds had been placed deep in his ears to block out all the lights and noise of this busy room.

Puppy covers his eyes

But his sweet little ears were still recognizable amid all that technology. I leaned over the back of his neck, nuzzled my face into his familiar warm fur and talked to him.

I told him how much we loved him and how God was bringing him a miracle. How he was going to be cured and made healthy again.

I couldn’t stop talking to him. It was a stream of consciousness of constant encouragement.

Two of the graphs on the monitors were going haywire the whole time. His heart rate and blood pressure were steady (and not far different than ours would have been), but his breathing and some other waveform were totally erratic. They spiked all over the place and then would stop.

“Is he flatlining?” I asked at one point in a panic. Then the graph started spiking again.

As I spoke to him, he suddenly made a gagging noise on the tube in his throat. It seemed that he was responding to what I was saying to him.

Then he let out a very familiar big sigh that always signals his total contentment. I think he was grateful we were with him.

Puppy sleeping

Dr. Frost came around to talk to us. I straightened up from having my head buried in Buddy’s neck and without even thinking about what I was saying, I blurted out, “We’re expecting a miracle. We’ve seen miracles happen. And we’re going to witness a miracle here.”

She nodded and looked at me with the saddest expression in her eyes. Her heart was breaking for us.

“I think everything in life happens for a reason,” I went on. “And I think there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Sometimes it takes many years to see it, but when something terrible happens, it’s making way for something new and wonderful to happen later. Even a tragedy like this happens for a reason.”

I petted Buddy’s soft fur as I marveled at what I’d just said and wondered where it had come from.

“Not many people would feel that way, especially at a time like this,” she said quietly.

“I think talking to him helps,” I went on. “People have come out of surgery and they remember what the surgeons were saying.”

She nodded but looked so sad.

I finally stepped back and let Mark have a turn whispering in Buddy’s ear.

Mark talked to him about hiking and going on RZR rides and chomping on his bully stick, and suddenly his breathing increased and he gagged on the tube again.

Buddy with the RZR

Oh my! He was definitely responding and knew we were there.

In the ICU there was a vet tech stationed by his head every minute of every hour. They worked in shifts, and the first was Emma, a young woman with a warm smile.

She had a clipboard in her lap and was taking notes as she monitored the machines.

Occasionally, she swabbed his closed eyes with artificial tears and moistened his dry tongue.

He was on a dozen different medications, so she was continually swapping out the IV bag with different meds on a strict schedule. Electrolytes and fluids were added into the mix to keep him going.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. We each took turns talking to him some more, but we didn’t want to excite him or disturb him too much, so we gave him some gentle hugs and made our way out.

Chatting with a puppy dog on a hike

We went back to the truck camper and for two hours we lay side by side, wide awake in the dark, staring at the ceiling. Then we couldn’t wait any longer. We went back into the hospital to see if we could visit him again — and they let us right in. It was now after midnight.

This time we were prepared for seeing him wired up.

He was on his side now with a blanket over him. He looked much more comfortable.

Sleeping puppy

All of his graphs had stabilized. The crazy spikes and flatlines were gone now, replaced by steady patterns up and down. Most important, he’d finally become stable enough to receive the anti-brain swelling medication too.

We were overcome with relief. We hugged him tight, closed our eyes and whispered thank you a dozen times into his thick, warm fur.

After straightening up and wiping our eyes, the overnight veterinarian came over to us and took us aside.

“This all looks good, but I have to be frank with you. His situation is very grave. I don’t mean to be harsh, but we don’t know what will happen when we bring him out of the coma. The seizures might resume. He might not be able to lift his head. He might not be able to stand up. He might be deaf, or he might be blind. We just don’t know. He may require intensive care for another few days or for a week or more.”

Buddy bundled up on a recliner

I heard her words but couldn’t let them sink in. For a few seconds I pondered how I would help him learn to walk again if need be, but I rejected that thought too before it could take root. I was certain we were going to see a 100% recovery and nothing less.

Yet deep inside I knew exactly what the veterinarian was saying.

Years ago, a special friend had developed a malignant brain tumor, and its rapid development and treatment left her changed forever. Her once beautifully athletic body couldn’t move fluidly any more and her once robust and expansive personality became more withdrawn, quirky and detached.

For all of us, good health is not only precious but it is often fleeting as well.

Buddy watches the sunset

We returned to the camper and lay wide awake staring at the ceiling for a few more hours.

When we spoke, it was only to talk about how much we loved Buddy, reminding each other of his many special little traits that we cherish.

He is a unique dog, incredibly smart and surprisingly fastidious, and he has a gentle, respectful temperament.

We nodded off for a short spell to internal lullabies of nonstop prayers.

Around 5 a.m. we ventured back into the hospital and were invited into the triage room again.

This time Buddy was lying under a thick pile of blankets. The vet tech at his bedside explained that his temperature had dropped to 98 (normal is 101 to 102.5) and that they had heated up the table he was on and added blankets to keep him warm.

Pup Bundled up on a blanket

We each talked to him again, and as we nuzzled him we thanked God over and over for giving Buddy a total 100% recovery, cementing our own certainty that he would indeed recover as we gave thanks.

We were calmer now and the air in the room was calmer too, although his temperature drop was unnerving.

He was now the only urgent care animal lying on an operating table in the center of the room.

The walls of the room were lined with kennels that were full of dogs and cats resting, and they each had a front row seat to all the action. Some were snoozing, but some were awake and taking it all in. One puppy kept crying.

By the time we came out of the hospital, morning was dawning.

Pause in the Buddy trail for Sunrise-4

The evening before we had rushed home and grabbed the camper in a hurry, thinking no further than sleeping in it for the night. We had no food or anything else with us!

So, we drove back home to get some food, fill the camper with water for showers, and get set up to stay next to the hospital for as long as necessary.

When we got home, a flood of emotions hit us.

The footprints of Buddy’s spirit were all over the house and in every corner of the yard.

He is as important in our little family of three as the two of us are, and the thought that we might lose him forever suddenly hit us full force.

I thought about the sad couple we had seen leaving the animal hospital the previous morning when we’d first pulled up. They were carrying a collar and a leash but no dog, and they were crying.

I kept trying to push those kinds of thoughts out of my mind as best I could so I could keep functioning and gather what we needed from the fridge and pantry, but Mark was overcome.

Puppy in the water

Buddy has a favorite place to rest in each room and all the blankets and cuddly spots were still just as he’d left them.

His favorite toys were in the living room, and his water bowl was on the floor where it had been since before this nightmare struck.

His favorite kibble was in the pantry, his jackets and dog brush were in their drawer, and his favorite homemade chicken soup that I’d just cooked the day before disaster struck was still in the fridge, untouched.

There was no way we could come home from the hospital after this with just his leash and harness.

We finally got back to the hospital with the fully stocked camper, including the fresh chicken soup, around 9 in the morning and when we went in the hospital door we were greeted with wonderful smiles.

“He’s doing well!”

We breathed a massive sigh of relief.

We went in to see him and were astonished that his eyes were open.

Puppy relaxing

The team had begun reducing the coma-inducing meds (a 12 hour process), and he was out of the deepest stages of unconsciousness, although he was not fully conscious yet.

To everyone’s astonishment, the seizures hadn’t resumed.

We hugged him and felt a huge wave of happiness wash the stress away as we excitedly talked to him and fought back tears.

Puppy portrait, resting

Thankfully, the tube going to his lungs had been removed, so his tongue was now back in his mouth.

But a tiny pair of oxygen tubes now went around his head to his nostrils and he was still wired up with the automated blood pressure cuff, the IV, the urine catheter and other plugins.

The lead vet tech, Angela, was at his side now, and it turned out she was the mother of the young vet tech Emma who’d cared for him the previous afternoon.

Angela was overjoyed to see Buddy’s incredible recovery so far, but I noticed her eyes were red-rimmed and she looked tired. She said she hadn’t slept much the night before because she had been worrying about Buddy. She’d stayed on duty at the hospital for 4 extra hours the previous evening to make sure Buddy was receiving the best care possible before she went home.

She had just lost her own beloved, healthy six year old dog a month earlier to an unexpected and sudden 48 hour battle with meningitis. She knew our pain and fear too well.

She said when she woke up this morning, the first thing she did was get online to check on Buddy’s condition. She was so relieved that he was still alive.

Fast puppy in the snow

As we chatted, things began to get busy in the ER again. More sick and injured animals began to arrive.

When two vet techs ran past us pushing a gurney at full speed into the waiting room discussing lacerations and leg injuries as they ran, we knew it was time for us to go back to the camper.

We’d only been in the camper for an hour or so when we heard a knock on the door. It was the early shift veterinarian, Dr. Jackson, and she had the biggest grin on her face. “He’s fully awake!”

We lept out of the camper and ran into the triage room, and there was Buddy relaxing on the operating table looking at us.

His eyes were fully open, his head was erect, and his ears were as perky and as expressive as ever.

We melted on the spot and wrapped our arms around him in huge hugs and kisses.

Dog in the grass

“It’s so wonderful to have you back,” we kept saying into his fur as we hugged him. “Thank you, God!”

His eyes moved slowly around the room as he watched the action going on and we realized he hadn’t lost his vision.

Suddenly, there was a loud bang at the other end of the room and he turned his head to look in that direction. Oh my, he could hear!

I closed my eyes and kept repeating, “thank you thank you thank you” deep in my heart.

Dr. Frost was on duty again and she came over with a radiant smile on her face. Then I realized that everyone in the ER was grinning from ear to ear and was over-the-top happy for us.

Jumping and running puppy

After this first rush of joy I looked down on the ground and noticed that Buddy’s urine bag was a dark shade of brown, almost black.

I didn’t want to think about what that might mean, but Angela explained it was probably due to dead muscle cells being flushed out of his body. Apparently, when you have violent seizures it is extremely hard on the body and your muscle tissue breaks down rapidly.

Not only had he had the grand mal seizure — where his entire body was convulsing — but the seizures had gone on for a long time. They had started when we were in the car at the park and his muzzle had started shaking uncontrollably.

Angela also explained that Buddy had developed pneumonia in his lungs and they were monitoring that.

We went back to the camper for another hour or so and then returned for another visit. Activity in the triage room had surged again, so we couldn’t see Buddy that time, but a few hours later we were allowed in.

He looked up at us from the operating table with the sweetest expression on his face.

Adorable puppy

We brought him a small bowl of my fresh chicken soup, and once we got the okay, we held it out and he lapped it up with gusto. He was hungry!

Please, sir, may I have some more?

We were thrilled to see that he could now push himself up on his front legs but we noticed that his back legs weren’t working at all.

We were also disturbed that his urine bag was still the color of espresso, so we refocused our prayers on restoring all the strength and agility he’d always had in his hind legs and healing all of his organs inside.

Leaping in the grass

A few hours later we went in for another visit and before we entered the triage room, the receptionist, Anne, greeted us saying, “Did you know that an anonymous person paid $100 towards your bill?”

We were shocked.

It turned out that a woman had seen us at our lowest moments the day before, and she’d asked if she could contribute towards our vet bill anonymously. We were blown away by her unexpected kindness.

Puppy dog checks out a trailer in Utah

Then she told us that Buddy had graduated from being on the operating table to resting in a kennel on the floor.

When he saw us come around the corner to his kennel, he gave the tiniest thump of the tip of his tail on the floor.

He still couldn’t get up on his hind legs, but we hung onto the hope that his mini tail wag meant his hind end was healing and he would soon be able to stand up on all fours once again.

After nuzzling and talking to him for a while and giving him a few more slurps of chicken soup, we each stripped off a piece of clothing that had our scent on it and left it in his kennel with him and then we ran out to the camper and got a squeaky toy he’d had since he was a puppy.

He snuggled up in the shirts and put a paw over his lamb chop toy and closed his eyes as we tip-toed out of the room to let him sleep.

With his favorite toy lambchop

Out in the parking lot we noticed a mobile food van had parked next to our camper.

The owners of the hospital had hired the food truck to provide a free lunch and dinner to the hospital staff in appreciation of all their hard work over the last few months.

People in scrubs lined up at the food truck window all afternoon.

Puppy dog at the drive-through window

During a lull at the window, we started chatting with the husband and wife team that run the truck. Their little dog was lying patiently under a tree nearby.

In a back corner of the truck we’d noticed the words “We believe” painted next to a small cross.

We told them Buddy’s story, of the prayers, the visualizations and the stunningly deep conviction we’d both had that he would recover.

After exchanging some emotional hugs, they told us how their little pup had barely survived a pit bull attack a few months earlier. The good hospital staff at this very same hospital had patched him back together again.

They insisted on giving us a free meal, and we felt truly jubilant as we sat down to eat. It was as if the world around us were glowing.

Buddy at sunset

Late that afternoon we came in to find Buddy happily sitting up and looking around the room from inside his kennel.

After another small serving of my chicken soup, we picked him up and cuddled him for a while and then set him down on the floor to see if he could stand.

He stood stock still on all four paws, without collapsing, and a collective sigh of relief and excitement swept the room. He took a few steps and cautiously wagged his tail. Hallelujah!

Several people stopped what they were doing to come over and talk to him, scratch his ears and kiss his forehead and congratulate him.

Puppy in Wyoming

After holding him and talking to him for a while, we put him back in the kennel and closed the wire door.

He put his paw up on the grate in the door and looked at us pleadingly as we left the room. Our hearts melted as we promised him we’d be back soon.

After the evening shift change of doctors and nurses was completed, we went into the hospital again and asked if we could take Buddy for a short walk. It felt so good to put his little harness on him and get him set for a brief outing.

We walked with him into the waiting room and then he led us outside.

He made his way behind a small bush to do his business. This was the first time he’d gone in two days. His poop was rock sold black charcoal. Literally, it was rock.

He sniffed around for a few minutes but then turned around and headed right back to the hospital door and waited for us to open it.

Then he led us over to the door of the triage room, and once inside the room, he led us over to his kennel.

He was ready for a nap, and this was where he planned to take it.

Beautiful pup

If that isn’t a testament to he quality of care he was receiving, I don’t know what could be. I’ve never known an animal that wanted to go into the vet’s office and that tugged on his leash to pull you in that direction!

But he was happy in his kennel and it was home to him for now and we knew he was in great hands.

We took off his harness and watched him get wired back up to the IV and catheters for another dose of meds.

Only days later did we realize that by visiting him and feeding him our own homemade soup, we were throwing their carefully timed medication and feeding schedule for a loop!

Dog in the snow

As we settled into bed in the camper that night, we felt awestruck and overwhelmed by the day’s events.

Without a doubt, we had just witnessed a miracle.

I had prayed that God’s hand would reach down and cradle Buddy to give him strength and help him recover, and it had happened.

However, there was still a long way to go.

The veterinary staff was worried about the condition of his liver and the coffee color of his urine, not to mention the pneumonia that still infected his lungs.

But he had come out of the coma without any visible brain damage and he was still the same sweet little personality he had always been.

Puppy under a rainbow

We visited again briefly around around midnight. We had to ring the doorbell to get in, but patients are admitted all night long and the nighttime staff was wide awake and ready for action. At the moment, though, things were quiet, and we had a chance to talk to the crew a little. What a dedicated group they are!

We also noticed the sign on Buddy’s kennel: “Severe toxicity (bromethalin).”

Next to that, the pre-printed letters CPR were circled and the letters DNR were crossed out.

A shudder went down my spine as I thought, “DNR – Do Not Resuscitate.” I remembered answering Dr. Frost’s question about whether they should administer CPR if Buddy needed it. It hadn’t dawned on me, though, that it was an either/or question and that the alternative to CPR was DNR.

Puppy on a bridge

We managed to sleep deeply for a few hours for the first time in two days, and at the crack of dawn we lept out of bed to see Buddy. He was in fine spirits.

“We’ve all been taking turns cuddling him,” one of the nurses told me. It showed.

He was as happy and well adjusted as is possible for being sick in a kennel in the middle of an emergency room, attached to a urine bag and an IV bag, and surrounded by antiseptic smells and a menagerie of dogs and cats in various stages of recovery.

Dog on the beach at Lake Powell Arizona

A few hours later we took Buddy outside for a longer walk.

We meandered down sidewalks and he sniffed the bushes and left messages for other dogs.

We realized it was such a privilege to be able to do this simple activity with our beloved pup.

He acted as though nothing had ever happened, yet we’d just had our lives turned upside down!

He was tired after about 20 minutes of walking and was happy to get back to his kennel for some rest.

Puppy at an RV window

By noontime, his urine bag began to be more yellow and less brown. Dr. Jackson was on duty, and she suddenly announced that he could be released from the hospital later that afternoon. We wanted to leap for joy!

But we weren’t about to rush home. We planned to stay in the parking lot for an extra 24 hours so we could monitor him and be right at the hospital if he suddenly took a turn for the worse.

Later that morning we took him into the truck camper for an hour of quiet togetherness.

He was excited to be in the camper and he made himself at home on the bed as he always does, master and commander of our tiny rolling home from his perch among the pillows in the middle of the bed.

Puppy resting in a truck camper

We all took a nap together, utterly elated to be able to do that as a little family once again.

At long last the hour came that Buddy’s catheter and other plugins were removed and he was completely disconnected from everything. He was a free dog now and was ready to go home.

Out in the waiting room I held him in my lap as a vet tech reviewed the four pages of single spaced typed documents that outlined the various treatments he had received.

He’d been administered well over a dozen different medications in varying doses throughout the day and night for three days.

I gulped when I realized he was being discharged into our care while still on 10 different medications!

Puppy dog on the trail by a lake

The vet tech explained each medication, what it was for, how much to give, the frequency, the duration, and whether it went with food or not.

I was dizzy listening and had her repeat several things that mystified me the first time around.

“And make sure he gets lots of rest,” she said. “He needs to be a Couch Potato,” she said firmly.

His total bill came to $12,643.

On a hike in Utah

Mark’s very kind and loving sister who couldn’t afford to do so had secretly called the hospital and paid $1,000 of our bill.

We hadn’t even talked to her or cried with her, but she had been riding the terrifying roller coaster ride with us in spirit throughout the ordeal as Mark’s daughter shared Buddy’s updates on Facebook.

The kindness from everyone was overwhelming, and we pondered it all as we quietly took walks together, read and rested together in and out of the truck camper next to the hospital over the next 24 hours.

At last, we felt confident that Buddy was going to be okay and we went into the hospital one final time to say goodbye.

We were astonished when we went inside to see the whole staff casually chatting with each other. For the first time in three days there were no crisis cases on the operating table or lines of animals and people out in the waiting room.

Every member of the staff took a moment to say goodbye to Buddy and to reiterate to us how surprised and happy they were that he’d survived.

Puppy at Bryce

The only person busy with a patient was Dr. Frost, so we wandered outside to wait until she was free.

Suddenly she came running out of the hospital, arms flung wide for hugs, a huge smile on her face.

“In 31 years of practice, I never thought I would learn anything new,” she said to us. “But I learned a few things from Buddy. His case was the most rewarding case of my career.”

We were speechless. We had all learned a few things!

Puppy dog in the wildflowers

When we first met Dr. Frost at the beginning, she’d told us she’d just finished a segment of Continuing Education on toxicology, “So I’m up to date on all the latest toxins.”

Throughout the ordeal she’d been consulting with toxicology experts that were advising her on strategies and treatments. I had assumed the experts were located downtown, but as we stood outside under the trees she told us she’d been speaking with the nation’s top toxicologists in two distant states!

She bent down to talk to Buddy and he looked up at her intently. “Now, I want you live to be 20, Buddy, and I don’t I want to see you in the ER again!”

She wiped away tears as she hugged him and said goodbye.

Elegant dog

When we got home we felt like we were floating on clouds.

Everything was exactly as we’d left it, but we’d made a huge turn in our lives.

“Now, where was I?” I joked when I finally sat down. Who knows what we had been doing or what had been the pressing issues of the day before all this. Our lives had been transformed.

As we lay in bed in the dark that first night home, we talked about the inner changes we had both decided to make. Neither of us had known that the other had made new plans with new intentions, but as we lay cloaked in darkness, we poured our hearts out to each other.

Puppy in glowing light

At the height of the drama, when I was praying for, commanding and visualizing Buddy’s miraculous recovery, I realized that I knew almost nothing about the Bible…or Jesus, for that matter.

I didn’t know Moses from Abraham or Isaiah, and the closest I’d gotten to the New Testament was, well, maybe, some music group called Peter, Paul and Mary.

However, as Buddy lay comatose in the ICU and I rode those powerful surges of emotion, I realized it was high time for me to find out what lay in the pages of that book.

It was also time for me to accept Jesus, something I’d never been interested in before.

Since those dark days last October, my thirst for knowledge and understanding of the Bible and divine healing has been unstoppable, and I keep coming back for more and more and more.

Buddy on a rock

We knew that Buddy’s sight and hearing had escaped unscathed, but it was our nightly game of hide-and-seek that confirmed his sense of smell was still 100% too.

Every night after dinner I grab a handful of treats, let Buddy sniff them, and then ask him to stay in the kitchen while I hide them all around the house.

Once they’re all hidden I tell him to Come, and he starts sniffing high and low to find each treat.

He absolutely loves this game, and if I forget it’s time to play it, he’ll start sniffing along the baseboards and in the corners as a pantomime to show me that it’s time for our game.

Our first night home we started playing and I was really relieved that he remembered how to Stay and how to Come (as well as to Shake, do Other Paw, go Down and Crawl). Better still, even with the lights off, he found every treat in every room, his little nose twitching excitedly the whole time.

Puppy dog playing

As I mentioned, Buddy was on 10 different medications when he got home, each with its own schedule and dosing, some requiring an empty stomach and some taken only with food.

It took me almost an hour to sort them all out and come up with a schedule that would work for us all. From 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. he got either a drug or a meal every hour for the first week.

The hospital sent us home with two cans of wet dog food that was ideal for hiding pills. Buddy loved that food, and Mark was very good at getting the pills-wrapped-in-food to the back of his throat so they’d go down.

Playing puppy tug

One of the meds was administered by spraying something in his throat that made Buddy sneeze, and the liver support pill was huge and required an empty stomach — no food for an hour before or after.

Mark had to shove that thing way way back behind Buddy’s teeth to get it to go down.

Buddy became adept at making it look like he’d swallowed the pill and then quietly spitting it out.

Soon, Liver Pill Time became a game between Buddy and Mark as the pill invariably wound up in his fur or on the floor.

But all the pills eventually went down and Mark got some belly laughs in the process and I suspect Buddy got some sly chuckles out of it too.

Fast puppy

About 10 days after he came home, we took Buddy to his regular veterinarian as requested by the hospital.

The kindly country doctor walked into the exam room holding a thick stack of doctor-to-doctor documents he’d received from the hospital about Buddy’s case. It looked like a book.

“This is incredible!” he said, waving the papers.

“We witnessed a true miracle from God,” I smiled.

“Yes, you did!”

He checked Buddy’s vitals and everything looked good. Most important, his lungs sounded clear. They hadn’t been clear when he left the hospital, but by now he’d finished the course of antibiotics for pneumonia and his lungs were well on the way back to full health.

Big puppy stretch

The veterinarian told us that his liver recovery was the final hurdle.

His liver had processed not only a lethal dose of poison but a boatload of medications round the clock for 10 days.

He held up the papers from the hospital and showed us that when he was discharged, the key indicator for his liver health was a number that should be under 100. It had been 1,500 at the hospital.

After drawing some blood, he called us the next day to let us know that the number was now down to 350. Phew!

He felt Buddy’s liver would be 100% healthy within a few months.

Taking a portrait shot of a puppy

Four months have now passed since all that drama, and we have cherished every minute we have with Buddy.

He was a well cared for dog before, but now we value his presence in our lives infinitely more.

It took him a while to get his stamina back. Even though he was perky and ready to run and chase right away, he would tire quickly and slink off to take a nap.

The first time we walked one of his favorite 1.5 mile loops, he faded in the last half mile, tongue lolling and head and tail down, so we carried him the rest of the way.

Two weeks later we did the same trail and he leaped and sprinted right to the end.

Dog running down a dirt road in the Utah red rocks

A few weeks after that he was able to trot a more challenging 4 mile hike, and a month later, after finishing that 4 mile hike, he wanted to do a little bit more before going home.

Looking at him now, you’d never guess what he went through.

I used to say thank you every night for Buddy coming into our lives. Now I give additional thanks for our lives being transformed and for us each being given a second chance and a new beginning.

Baby pic of a puppy

A WORD ABOUT RAT POISON

We learned some scary things about common rat poisons in all this that might be helpful to you if you own a pet or live with toddlers.

In the old days, rodent control manufacturers used a poison that had an antidote. It was an anticoagulant that made the rodent bleed to death. So, if a dog or cat ate the poison, a simple injection of high dose Vitamin K would thicken their blood and they would recover.

The poison used nowadays, bromethalin, has no antidote. It causes a horrifying death by brain swelling and seizure that occurs anywhere from 4 and 48 hours after ingestion. All the veterinary staff at the hospital and at our local veterinary office agreed that it should never have been allowed to be on the market.

But it’s there on store shelves everywhere.

Tomcat Rat and Mouse Poison

The insidious thing about rat poison is that it is designed to smell delicious and taste truly yummy.

It is bait, after all.

I’d always naively assumed that “poison” is something distasteful with a nasty chemical odor that you would recognize as poisonous and not want to eat. But it sure smelled good to me when I sniffed the piece Buddy had left intact on the patio.

After we got home from the hospital, Buddy went out to the patio and began sniffing around where he’d left the poison bricks. You could almost see him thinking, “Where did my tasty dog treats go?”

The packaging touts that the product is “kid resistant” and says to use it only indoors.

Ironically, we saw identical rat poison boxes in the bushes next to several buildings in the huge medical complex around the animal hospital.

In addition to being aromatic and flavorful, the poison bricks aren’t biodegradable. Once the poison is out there on the ground somewhere, it will be just as lethal 10 years from now as it is today.

I shudder to think how many toddlers, pets and wild animals have died from this stuff.

Even worse, the veterinarian said sometimes angry people put it out deliberately to kill their neighbor’s annoying animals.

Dog playing in the snow in utah

A WORD ABOUT OTHER POISONS

As we chatted with the hospital staff about all the different ways dogs can be poisoned, they told us one shocking story after another of unexpected poisonings they have treated.

They’ve seen dogs die of poisoning from grapes, from chocolate, from the fake sweetener Xylitol (some people cook with it and then share the dessert with their pup) and from lapping up antifreeze that dripped on the ground (it tastes sweet).

The heartbreak these hardworking doctors and nurses have seen in their careers is mind-boggling. I don’t know how they keep going, but they said a case like Buddy’s will keep them floating on Cloud 9 for a long time.

As for unusual pet poisons, there are plenty of lists available of things that are poisonous to our pets that are not poisonous to us, and some things, like those above, are very surprising.

Best buds on recliners in the fifth wheel

DIVINE GUIDANCE and NOT SO COINCIDENTAL COINCIDENCES

In my mind, this whole event unfolded in a very unusual way, as if the stage were being set deliberately.

  • I am still astonished that I saw the uneaten brick on Buddy’s mat. I have no idea why I went out on the patio at that moment. I wouldn’t have normally been out there at that time of day and I had no reason that I can remember for going out there just then. If I hadn’t realized that Buddy had eaten the poison when I did, we never would have made it to the hospital in time.
  • Equally surprising is that the poison had been placed 20 yards away on the other side of the house, yet for some reason, Buddy decided to carry three bricks around to the back patio rather than eating them where he found them. After moving them, he ate one in its entirety, ate a quarter of another and left the third one fully intact. He couldn’t have carried all three of them in his mouth at once, however. He must have gone back for each one individually which is highly unusual behavior and shows just how enticing he found them to be.
  • If we had driven all the way home instead of taking a 15 minute break at the park near the hospital where we were able to observe his increasingly weird behavior up close, we wouldn’t have noticed the beginning of his seizures until we got home and, when every second counted, we would have had a full hour’s drive to get back to the hospital.
  • By calling our local veterinarian first rather than doing as the Tomcat poison center had recommended and taking him straight to the animal hospital, and by having a very knowledgeable person answer the phone there, we were given important instructions for how to induce vomiting as well as getting another round of urgent advice to go to the animal hospital ASAP so he would be in the care of the right people with all the necessary equipment.
  • I had no idea that spraying hydrogen peroxide in the mouth would induce vomiting. How fortunate that we had some on hand! Even though only some phlegm came up, it was better than nothing, and the green tinge to it told us he’d definitely ingested the missing green poison block, something we weren’t 100% sure of until we saw the phlegm.
  • If we hadn’t recently bought a truck camper, we couldn’t have stayed right around the corner from the hospital door for easy midnight visits for three nights. Sure, there are motels in the area, but it was so convenient to be able to walk in at any time of day or night without driving anywhere. The fifth wheel might have worked, but we would have had to park in a distant parking lot where it would fit, and we might not have gotten permission to do so.
  • Likewise, what a blessing it was that the hospital staff allowed us to stay in the parking lot and also allowed us into the emergency room to see and encourage Buddy (and even feed him our chicken soup) so many times.
  • I bake a chicken about once a week and make broth from the bones. Buddy gets most of it throughout the week with chicken meat scraps thrown in. Ironically, I had just made a fresh batch the night before all this happened. The hospital has top quality commercial pet foods, of course, and they give recovering animals real meats too, but how wonderful it was to be able to feed him something we knew he loved to eat, that was nutritious, and that was a reminder of our simple home life. It was as therapeutic for us to feed him as it was for him to eat.
  • We pay off our credit card each month and the payment had just cleared the day we went to the hospital. What good fortune that we could put such an enormous bill on the card in one fell swoop without exceeding our credit limit and scrambling for another solution. Dr. Frost told us that nine out of ten pet owners would have put their pet down — an expensive procedure in itself — because they couldn’t justify or afford the cost given a zero percent chance of recovery.

In many ways, as tragic as this event could have been, the way it unfolded included many extraoridinary blessings that nudged us towards a most beautiful outcome.

A friend of mine suggested these not-so-coincidental coincidences were the “synchronicity of divine intervention” and I added that they constituted “guided movement towards a more fulfilling end.” Whatever name we give it, there’s no doubt in my mind that we were the recipients of divine intervention.

If you have a loved one who is in need of healing, wether a pet or a person, I hope that you carry our miracle with you and feel encouraged to pray for them, not by begging or pleading or bargaining with God, but by commanding it is done, visualizing the recovery with conviction and believing in your soul that it is being accomplished as a demonstration of a deeper truth.

Puppy dog on a dirt road at dawn

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Dirty Little Secrets from the RV Dump Station – RV Dumping Tips + Composting Toilets

When Trailer Life Magazine asked me to write a 2,000 word feature article on RV dump station procedures, including step-by-step RV dumping tips, overall RV dump station etiquette and ideas for how best to empty and manage an RV’s holding tanks, all I could think of were two words:

Don’t Spill !!

Once Mark and I put our heads together, though, we realized it was a perfect opportunity to share the many dirty little secrets from the RV dump station that we’ve learned over the years! Our article quickly filled up with tips, procedures, hints, photos and ideas, and grew to cover seven pages of the May 2014 issue of Trailer Life!!

Holy cow!! I had no idea we’d learned so much about this topic and that we had so many ideas to share with the RVing community. Motorhome Magazine liked the article so much they ran it in their July, 2014 issue!

RV dump station procedures tips and tricks

Dumping the holding tanks is easy. A few short steps and you’re done!

Dumping is a subject that is near and dear to every RVer’s heart (smile). So here is a synopsis of what we think are the most important things to do when visiting an the RV dump station or when you have sewer hookups at an RV park.

Over the years, we’ve received lots of queries about our thoughts on composting toilets and whether we use one or would recommend installing one if you are going to do a lot of boondocking. So there’s a section on that too.

For easy navigation within this post, use the links below:

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A FEW LITTLE TIPS FOR DUMPING THE TANKS

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Keep it Clean - Trailer Life Magazine

Feature article: “Keep it Clean”
Trailer Life Magazine – May 2014

(1) The most important thing at the RV dump station is to protect yourself from any pathogens that may be lurking, and to leave the place clean for the next guy.

Before starting, put on some rubber gloves. We use disposable nitrile gloves.

As you do your work at the dump station, be aware of what you touch, because even though you are wearing rubber gloves, your gloves will still spread bacteria from one item to another.

At the end, when you take the first glove off, peel it back from the wrist to your fingertips so it turns inside out. Then peel the second glove off the same way while holding the fingertips so the second one rolls inside out into the first one in one unit. This keeps your hands from touching the exterior of the gloves. Then dispose of them properly.

(2) We connect a clear plastic elbow to our sewer hose so we can see what is coming out of the tanks. It’s not the prettiest picture, but this way we know the status as we go through the dump process.

(3) Before connecting our fresh water hose to the potable water spigot, we spray the nozzle of the water spigot with Clorox bleach spray.

(4) At the RV park, keep the black and grey tank valves closed. This keeps the liquids in the black tank and prevents the solids from drying out and getting stuck to the bottom and sides of the tank. It also prevents odors from the sewer to creep up into the rig via the sink.

Pouring water down RV toilet

Pour a bucket of water down the toilet
to remove the solids.

(5) When flushing the black tank (about every 4-6 days or so at the RV park, or when at the RV dump), flush it first and flush the grey tank afterwards to clear the sewer pipes and hose of any black tank solids.

(6) At the RV dump, after the black tank is completely empty, we use a five gallon bucket to pour a pail of water directly down the toilet into the holding tank below. This removes any solids that are stuck to the bottom of the tank under the toilet. Usually two buckets is all that’s necessary for the water to run clear, although occasionally we need to dump in a third bucket. If you have a window in your toilet room, you can run a hose through the window rather than lugging buckets of water around.

(7) Once you are finished, hose down the whole area so the dump station is clean for the next RVer that comes along.

(8) In general, be courteous to your RVing friends at the RV dump. We find that popular dump stations often have a line of RVs waiting, especially at the end of a weekend. Try not to dawdle. We’ve heard of people taking showers while at the dump station because there is unlimited water and sewer capacity, but lordy, I would not be happy if I rolled up to a dump station and had to wait around for someone ahead of me to finish their shower!!

And where can you find an RV dump station? They are far more common than you might expect: national, state and municipal/regional parks, interstate rest areas, truck stops and RV parks all have them! The best resources for locating an RV dump station are:

Many RV parks and campgrounds allow RVers to dump their tanks in a site for free, usually about 25% to 50% of the cost of staying for a full night. Many of these places are listed in the above links. Of course, most folks figure that if you’re going to pay $10 to dump the tanks, why not spend $30 and spend the night at the RV park or campground as well!

 

TIPS FOR REMOVING DISPOSABLE RUBBER GLOVES

Thin rubber gloves fit fairly tightly on your hands and they can’t easily be pulled off by the fingers the way ordinary gardening or cold weather gloves can. Also, to be totally sanitary about things, it is best not to touch the outside of the gloves with bare hands after the dirty deed at the dump station is done.

Here’s an easy way to pull the gloves off by peeling one glove most of the way off one hand and then peeling the other off and over the first glove, leaving you with a neat little bundle where all the yucky stuff is on the inside:

Removing disposable rubber gloves 1

Grab one glove by the edge of the cuff and peel it off your hand over your fingers stopping just before the glove is completely removed.

Removing disposable rubber gloves 5

Then peel the other glove off over the first.
Now the first glove is sealed inside the second glove which has been turned inside out.

WHERE TO DISPOSE OF DISPOSABLE RUBBER GLOVES

When we first started RVing, we saw tons of folks at RV dump stations using their bare hands. Fortunately, this article and others have encouraged people to protect themselves against lurking pathogens by using disposable rubber gloves.

However, we’ve begun to notice used disposable gloves lying around dump stations on the ground, in the grate and in the nearby bushes because folks just drop them after taking them off instead of throwing them in an appropriate trash container.

I’m not kidding!

After removing the gloves, please dispose of them properly. There may be a trash can at the RV dump station. If there isn’t, please put them in your own trash rather than throwing them on the ground or in the grate of the dump station!!

Discarded disposable gloves at RV dump station-min

How inconsiderate and unnecessary! This was in an otherwise cute town in Montana!

Happy Camper Holding Tank Treatment

HOLDING TANK TREATMENT PRODUCTS

There are a ton of RV and boat holding tank treatment products on the market, and some of them are extremely damaging to the environment. Many are made with various forms of formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.

If you remember high school biology class and those gruesome dissections of fetal pigs, dogfish and other critters, you might remember that formaldehyde was the putrid smelling chemical that was used to preserve the carcasses. Formaldehyde isn’t the only toxic chemical used in RV holding tank treatment products. Some products are made with different types of embalming fluids.

RV dump station preparation

Getting ready to do the dirty deed.

The idea behind using preservative and embalming chemicals on dead organic matter is to remove the stinky odor.

But do you really want the contents of your holding tank to be preserved?

It might be okay to preserve that stuff a long long time if it didn’t go anywhere, but what about the sewer system or septic tank that the holding tank’s contents are being transferred into when you dump them?

We have come across RV dump stations that were closed due to poisoning of the septic field and damage to the ground water supply caused by toxic RV holding tank chemicals.

The states of California and Arizona as well as the EPA have issued warnings about the use of those chemicals in RV holding tanks. California has considered banning their use all together.

For reference, here are a few links with more info about the environmental impact of toxic RV and boat holding tank chemicals:

RV Digest-ItAs responsible RVers, I think it is in all of our best interests if we use chemicals that won’t pollute our ground water supply.

We have used a product called RV Digest-It by Unique Natural Products ever since we first saw it at the Quartzsite RV Show in 2007 in our first year of RVing full-time.

The demo was pretty convincing. Two identical glass jars were filled with dog food, balled up toilet paper and water. One was beautifully preserved by a formaldehyde-based holding tank treatment product. The other was reduced to mush by RV Digest-It.

How did that happen?

RV Digest-It is an enzyme and bacteria based solution. The enzymes break down the solids in the tank, and the bacteria eat them up. What’s very cool is that, over time, the bacteria colonize in the holding tanks, and they continue working away, munching on the goodies in the tank and digesting them. They climb the walls and nibble on what’s there, keeping the walls of the tank clean and helping the tank level monitoring system perform better.

Another excellent environmentally friendly product that we use is Happy Campers Toilet Treatment. This is a powder product rather than a liquid. We have had equal success with both products.

The difference between these two products are the following:

RV Digest-It Holding Tank Treatment

RV Digest-It

    RV Digest-It

  • Liquid
  • Nothing on label about danger if ingested
  • Does not work well in very hot or very cold temps

 

Happy Campers Holding Tank Treatment

Happy Campers

 

RV Digest-It and Happy Campers are not the only enzyme-bacteria based holding tank product on the market. They’re just the ones we’ve used in both our trailer and our boat.

Click here for a list of other enzyme-bacteria based holding tank treatment products.

These may be just as good, we just don’t have personal experience with them.
Unfortunately, RV Digest-It and Happy Campers are not carried at many RV or boating supply stores, or Camping World, West Marine or Walmart. When we find one or the other, we stock up. Fortunately, they are available at Amazon.

HOLDING TANK CLOGS

Almost all black tank clogs are due to wadded up toilet paper. Most enzyme-bacteria based holding tank products claim to be able to break down even the thickest toilet papers. If you aren’t sure whether you can trust that claim, one way to avoid toilet paper clogs is to buy special RV (or marine) toilet paper.

We like the plush stuff, and we don’t want to test whether the bacteria like to dine on Quilted Northern, so we have opted, in our little household of two people, not to put our toilet paper down the toilet and into the holding tank. It sounds disgusting, I know. But it would be a lot more disgusting to have to fix a clogged black tank!

In our trailer, we find we have an overabundance of plastic supermarket shopping bags. Rather than toss them out, we put our soiled TP in a bag, sometimes doubled up, and dispose of the bags daily. Every shopping bag gets used, and there is nothing smelly about it.

Obviously, this is a very personal decision, and not one that’s worth debating if you don’t like the idea. However, I put it out there as something to consider. For us, having lived with holding tanks and funky RV and marine toilets for 7 years, it has worked just fine.

When it comes to freeing an RV holding tank clog, many people swear by Happy Campers Extreme Cleaner. We haven’t used it because we haven’t had a clog that bad, but if your tank is clogged up, give it a try!

LEAKY VALVES

Valterra RV holding tank valveValterra T-58 Twist on gate valve for RV sewer systems

Over time, the grey and black tank gate valves may begin to leak a little bit from debris getting caught and preventing the valves from closing completely. When this happens, you get a nasty little surprise at the RV dump when you first take the cap off the sewer line — a small bit black or grey water dribbles out. Having a bucket ready to catch that stuff is helpful, but it’s still messy.

One easy way to deal with this is to install an inexpensive Valterra T-58 twist-on gate valve. This screws onto the sewer opening the same way the sewer hose does and provides a final opening and closing valve to catch the dribble.

Screw on the twist-on valve and keep the valve closed until you are ready to dump the tanks. At the RV dump, start by removing the cap off the twist-on gate valve to attach the sewer hose, then open the gate valve to let the dribble out, and then open the grey or black tank valve to begin the dumping process.

For more RV dump station and holding tank tips, check out these articles:

FRESH WATER and WASTE WATER HOLDING TANK MANAGEMENT

WHAT’S A GIRL TO DO at the RV DUMP STATION? – RV Dump Station Tips for Women

For more RV tips, the following index pages give links to our extensive library of articles:

RV TECH TIPS – RV Upgrades – RV Maintenance Tips + Buying an RV

RV LIFESTYLE TIPS – Costs & Finances, Boondocking, Jobs & Work, RV Repairs, etc.

.

IS A COMPOSTING TOILET A GOOD IDEA IN AN RV?

Updated September 30, 2021

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There is a growing interest in using composting toilets in RVs and boats instead of conventionally plumbed flushable RV toilets and marine heads, and we have received lots of inquiries from people who want to live an off-the-grid boondocking lifestyle, like we did, asking us if they should install a compost toilet in their RV.

We lived primarily OFF THE GRID in our RV and sailboat for thirteen years

During those years we spent 4,308 night either boondocking or at anchor in our sailboat.

We were very happy using CONVENTIONALLY PLUMBED RV toilets and periodically visiting RV DUMP STATIONS

In our minds, the expense and hassle of replacing a conventional RV toilet with a composting toilet is NOT REQUIRED AT ALL if you wish to live in an RV off grid. So, if you’re on the fence about whether to jump into this project, save your money and avoid the complications of installation until you have lived off the grid in your RV for a while. At that point you will probably have met several fellow RVers who showed you how theirs worked and you will be able to make an informed hands-on decision rather than relying on internet research.

I used to have a long rant here about the questionable practice of dumping the waste from composting toilets into the trash or out in America’s beautiful public lands. The composting toilets I was familiar with at the time did not compost the feces completely by the time the toilet needed to be emptied. It was gloppy and smelly. Also, the frequent dumping of large quantities of urine on public land seemed like a poor way to treat a National Treasure. Running into public bathrooms every few days to dump containers of pee also seemed like an awkward hassle.

Composting toilets have come a long way since then, and a seasoned RVing friend who has lived off the grid for decades recently showed me how her newly installed composting toilet works. I was astonished to see that the feces were fully composted into soil when it was time to empty the toilet. The urine dumping is still an issue, but if you are kind to the land and don’t repeatedly pour it all in one place, future users of your campsite will appreciate it. I’m still not sure about carrying a bucket of pee into a public bathroom stall on a regular basis…

I took step-by-step photos of my friend showing me how she and her hubby care for their composting toilet, and I noted which products they use for effective composting as well as for the avoidance of bug infestations. I will share those photos and their excellent tips and tricks in this space soon.

For us, we still find that dumping our holding tanks at an RV dump station is effortless and painless, and these days we have a conventional RV toilet in our seasonal-use truck camper.

For more information about living in an RV off the grid, see these links:

RV Boondocking – How To Live Off The Grid in an RV
Finding Boondocking Campsites
RV Solar Power Made Simple

If you’re a gal and your significant other does the dirty deed at the RV dump station, here are a few ideas for how you can help out.

If you ever experience a failure with your conventional RV toilet, here’s what’s involved in replacing it (an hour’s job).

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RV Refrigerator Management Tip – Winning the Turf Wars!

June 2019 – One of the biggest surprises for us when we began our search for a new fifth wheel RV to be our full-time home was the gargantuan sizes of modern day RV refrigerators. When we last searched for a full-time fifth wheel in 2007-08, most upscale rigs had a modest 10 cubic foot refrigerator in the base model.

In those days, many of the manufacturers of higher quality rigs offered an upgrade to a 12 or 14 cubic foot fridge. Also, a lot of the entry level units being built back then by those same (now non-existent) manufacturers had an 8 cubic foot fridge with an upgrade to a 10 footer available.

Our Hitchhiker was a “budget” model that we bought right off the back lot at the factory, so we ended up with the smaller 8 cubic foot fridge.

Fifth wheel RV kitchen with 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator

Our 2007 Hitchhiker fifth wheel has an 8 cubic foot refrigerator. This now “tiny” fridge has served us well since we moved into our trailer in 2008.

This was an upgrade for us anyway. Our first year of full-timing in 2007 was spent in a 27′ travel trailer that had a 6 cubic foot fridge. So, moving to a bigger fridge in 2008 was terrific.

The 8 cubic foot model has been fine for us ever since then, although our ears do sometimes perk up when we hear the turf wars breaking out between the veggies and the beer.

Neither the beer nor the veggies has emerged a consistent winner over the years, but we have found a way to keep the battles from spreading onto every shelf in the fridge.

Even though most owners of late model higher end RVs have either a residential 110 volt a/c refrigerator or an 18 cubic foot two-way “RV refrigerator” that runs on either propane or household 110v electricity, modest sized RV fridges still appear in many smaller RVs and truck campers. So, I thought I’d share our tactic for keeping those big unwieldy bags of vegetables under control.

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size-min

RV two-way propane/electric refrigerators do best when stuffed full.
There’s actually lots of room for goodies even in this small model.
This isn’t even full!

I like to buy all the veggies we’ll be eating for the next week or so at once and then cut them up and store them in a single container all together. I cut them in large chunks and then layer them into the container so they are nicely mixed rather than segregated.

I’ve found about six to nine veggies will fill a half-gallon size plastic tub. I have a taller thinner size container with a snap-on top that disappears inconspicuously into a corner of the fridge. I mix up the types of vegetables I put in it with each supermarket run.

Fresh veegetables ready to be cut and stored in an RV refrigerator-min

All these colorful fresh veggies used to take up a lot of room in the fridge. Their plastic bags were everywhere!

Sure, this method means that we eat the same basic veggie mix until it’s all gone, but I love being able to grab the veggie bin and whip up something without having to take each individual vegetable out of the fridge, get it out of its plastic bag, and chop off what I need for that meal.

If I want the veggies diced smaller, I just grab the chunks I want from the bin and cut them into smaller pieces.

Vegetables cut and stored for RV refrigerator-min

All those veggies fit in this small half-gallon snap-top container!

The veggies seem to last quite well in this snap-top tub, usually a week to ten days. Starting with super fresh veggies helps.

We have our own favorite vegetables, but depending on what is popular in your RV, any or all of these work well:

  • Bell peppers (pretty colors)
  • Zucchini and/or summer squash
  • Broccoli and/or cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Snap peas
  • Baby carrots
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Red onion
Veggie storage in 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator-min

The veggie container is tucked away in a corner!

Things we do with them (sometimes diced smaller) have included:

  • Served raw with a veggie dip made from plain yogurt and a ranch style powdered dressing mix
  • Served on a bed of spinach and/or romaine lettuce as a salad
  • Stir-fried in olive oil in a skillet
  • Cooked in a covered, salted skillet on medium heat with a splash of water thrown in one minute before serving for quick steaming
  • Steamed/boiled in a pot
  • Lined up on a skewer and grilled on our BBQ grill (best if segregated due to different cooking times)
  • Tossed into an omelet with meat and cheese
  • Rolled into a tortilla and microwaved with leftover steak/burgers/chicken topped with a little cheese
Vegetable stir-fry in an RV-min

There are lots of ways to make veggies yummy.

I’ve managed quite a few small refrigerators over the years as I’ve lived on various sailboats and in RVs.

For sailors who come across this article, the best way I found to deal with the big, deep, dark refrigerators on older boats that require a veritable deep dive — feet in the air — to be able to reach the bottom is to put everything in large tupperware containers, segregating the meat, veggies, cheeses and even the condiments. This way, it’s easy to find the items you want because you are handling only a few big containers that are well labeled rather than digging around for that small jar of mustard you know is buried at the bottom in the wet mess somewhere.

Likewise with the tiny 3.5 cubic foot under-counter RV fridge that we had on our sailboat in Mexico. The plastic tubs were smaller and didn’t have covers (so the contents could mound up above the sides a bit as necessary), but the important items were grouped together into two or three bins, and when mealtime prep began, all the bins were taken out of the fridge at once and laid out so it was easy to locate the individual bits and pieces.

One of the unfortunate side effects of RV manufacturers moving towards ever larger refrigerators is that they cost a lot in terms of usable space in the kitchen. An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is 36″ wide while an 8 or 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator is only 24″ wide.

I measured out the 12″ we would have lost if our Hitchhiker fifth wheel had been built to accommodate an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator the way all modern larger fifth wheels are built nowadays. We would have lost an important section of counter space, an upper cabinet that houses three shelves and a lower cabinet that contains a drawer and two shelves underneath. That is a lot of nicely partitioned storage to give up!

RV refrigerator 8 cubic foot size

Modern higher end RVs have 18 cubic foot propane/electric refrigerators that eat up other kitchen counter and cabinet space.

RV refrigerators don’t get the Energy Star rating that many residential refrigerators do. They are inefficient and they operate best when they are packed to the gills with lots of cold stuff inside.

After we do a big shopping spree, we usually have two levels of goodies on every shelf and all the cold stuff is squeezed in pretty tight. As the days go on it loosens up a bit.

Given the RV propane refrigerator quirk of needing a very full fridge to operate well, I can’t imagine having enough cold food to keep an 18 cubic foot refrigerator continuously stuffed in a household with just two people. We would have to chill 24-packs of beer and multiple gallons of fresh water. Frankly, I think I’d be chilling our canned goods too!

That is all fine and dandy, but where space is at a premium — especially in the tiny living quarters of a toy hauler — it seems silly to give up precious cabinets and counter space to have a fridge that is difficult for two people to keep properly stocked (to overflowing) all the time.

Not only does it take a lot of propane to run an RV fridge when shorepower isn’t available, but RV refrigerators are expected to fail after about 8 years. We replaced our RV fridge under warranty right at the 8 year mark when it died unexpectedly.

An 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator costs somewhere around $4,000 whereas our little 8 cubic footer was just $1,500 or so in 2015. We didn’t have to pay out of pocket for it because we had an excellent RV extended warranty.

However, built into the cost of any extended RV warranty is the cost of replacing the major appliances, including the RV refrigerator. So, the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 18 cubic foot RV refrigerator is going to be a whole lot more than the price of an extended warranty for an RV with an 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator.

The bottom line that isn’t so obvious on the RV showroom floor is that RVers get hit with the exorbitant cost of replacing a huge two-way propane/electric RV fridge either way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if RVers were given a choice on a $100k (or more) RV to have a more modest sized RV fridge?

Of course, an 18 cubic foot residential 110 volt refrigerator is a fraction of the cost of an equivalent propane/electric RV refrigerator, along the lines of $2,000 versus $4,000, but powering such a beast without shorepower is a big ol’ can of worms unto itself. This is likely the reason why the National Sales Director at one of the major mass market RV manufacturers told us “The industry is getting away from residential refrigerators and going with the new 18 cubic foot RV refrigerators instead.”

Ironically, requesting a 10 cubic foot RV refrigerator from the custom manufacturers was met with the head scratching concern that their units are built to a certain very high standard and a modest RV refrigerator is not really up to that standard. In the end, they would prefer not to have their name on a fifth wheel roaming around the country sporting a smaller RV fridge. Undoubtedly, that issue could be pressed, but our initial request was not met with the expected enthusiasm of, “Oh, of course we can do that. We’d be glad to!”

Now, these are all very personal preferences, and there’s no right or wrong way to live the RV lifestyle. Our RV search has been an interesting journey through the maze of the modern day fifth wheel market, and this crazy refrigerator issue has been just one odd stumbling block in the whole process.

I just finished writing a detailed article for Trailer Life magazine about what we’ve learned and seen in our search. The article will be appearing in the September 2019 issue. If you subscribe to Trailer Life, keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, give the veggie pre-prep idea a try. I like handling our veggies this way so much that I’d probably do it no matter how big a fridge we had, whether in a rolling home or in a stick-built house!

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Americas Mailbox – Mail Forwarding & So Much More in South Dakota!

Full-time RVers and other long term travelers enjoy incredible freedom in a wonderfully independent lifestyle, but we still need to get our mail every once in a while! Fortunately, there are mail forwarding services of all kinds in several states.

Surprisingly, each mail forwarding service is a little different in what they offer their customers. Some simply collect your mail and then send it to wherever you are when you ask them to while others offer additional services from assisting with vehicle registration to offering a place to stay while you establish residency in the state.

If you’re researching the many mail forwarding options out there, here are some of the things we’ve learned about mail forwarding during our dozen years of full-time RVing. Looking back over those twelve years of travel adventures, we estimate that we’ve received around 120 shipments of snail mail containing about 3,500 pieces of mail. Yikes!

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers

Americas Mailbox provides mail forwarding, vehicle registration and domicile assistance for full-time travelers

Even though most modern communication is done online or over the phone, when you become a full-time RVer or full-time traveler you’ll probably still want to have a way to receive your mail, whether it’s financial documents, old fashioned birthday cards or magazines.

Selecting a domicile state can be quite easy, and the requirements for establishing residency can be quite minimal. However, it is worth noting that if at some point in time you are called upon to prove in court that your chosen state is your true domicile rather than a different state where you might have more ties, you may face an uphill battle if you own large assets like real estate and/or spend a lot of time in a state that isn’t your chosen domicile state.

License plate map of USA wall art-min

America by license plate — on the wall at Americas Mailbox!

There are lots of resources to help with your domicile state decision, including our blog post on the subject here which is the third article in our three part series on full-time RVing here, here and here.

Choosing a state to be your legal domicile is just the first part of the process, however. The second part is selecting a company that will assist you with establishing residency in the state and forward your snail mail to you on the road.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Americas Mailbox is right off of Exit 41 on I-90 – Easy!

The three most popular domicile states for full-time travelers are South Dakota, Florida and Texas, and each state is home to several mail forwarding service companies:

We joined the mail forwarding service Americas Mailbox, located in Box Elder, a suburb of Rapid City, South Dakota, last year, and we have been very pleased with their service. During this past year we have relied on Americas Mailbox to deliver our mail in eleven different states, and we’ve also received their assistance in registering and paying South Dakota sales tax on two new vehicles, our street legal Polaris RZR and the utility trailer it rides on (we triple tow).

Every Long Journey Begins with a Single Step-min

A sweet reminder on the wall at Americas Mailbox.

Some mail forwarding services do all their work over the phone and online, and it is possible to become a resident of South Dakota without physically meeting the people who run the mail forwarding service you choose.

However, Americas Mailbox is very serious about their role in assisting customers with establishing their residency and other things that require staying in South Dakota for a while, and they have not only built an RV park on their property, providing both full hookup, electric only and dry camping campsites, but they have also built several hotel rooms in their main building for customers who don’t arrive in an RV.

We spent several days in the Americas Mailbox RV park on two separate occasions last spring and summer, and we set up camp alongside lots of other Americas Mailbox customers in the dry camping area.

Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Box Elder South Dakota-min

We joined the group lined up in the dry camping part of the Americas Mailbox RV Park.

It was a lot of fun because most of the customers were brand new full-timers who were just getting their wheels rolling, and their enthusiasm and excitement about their new lifestyle was palpable.

Some RVers were doing their mandatory single overnight stay to establish South Dakota residency, and others were staying for 30 days to comply with the concealed carry requirements in South Dakota. In addition, many folks were establishing relationships with professionals in the Rapid City area, from estate planning attorneys and accountants to doctors and dentists and insurance agents.

RV Park Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

We had fun chatting with other full-timers who were staying at the RV park. Many were just starting their adventures!

When we first walked in the Americas Mailbox headquarters building, we were taken aback when we heard a voice say, “Welcome home!” Wow! We were soon shaking hands with the General Manager and being introduced to members of the staff.

Welcome Home to Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

What a surprise to hear “Welcome Home!” as we walked in!
“Travel” is the theme and there’s even a compass rose on the floor!

It really did feel like coming home. All the customers in the room were living the same crazy full-time RV lifestyle as we are, and most were setting up new Americas Mailbox accounts.

There was a flurry of activity all around us. An inviting living room-like waiting area was on one side and a long service counter for staff to work with customers was in front of us. We quickly felt ourselves swept up in a surprising sense of community and homey warmth.

Americas Mailbox was founded by Don and Barbara Humes after they had traveled full-time in their RV for a few years in the early 2000s.

Prior to opening Americas Mailbox, Don and Barbara studied the entire country to determine which state and which county within that state would be the most favorable for full-time travelers to use as a legal domicile.

Welcome Home Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding for Full-time RVers and RV travelers-min

Americas Mailbox founder, Don Humes (right), is a full-time RVer who understands the needs of folks living a footloose and fancy free life on the road.

They settled on Pennington County in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota near the fabulous tourist destinations of Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Sturgis, the town of Custer and Custer State Park, all places that RVers love to visit.

Rapid City is the county seat of Pennington County, and Americas Mailbox purchased a fantastic piece of property in Box Elder just outside of Rapid City, located right off of Exit 41 on I-90, an easy place to find and a convenient place to stay for a while to get your legal and financial affairs in order in your new home state.

Waiting room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The waiting area is like a living room — very inviting.

Americas Mailbox now has a big staff not only up front serving customers who walk in and call in, but also in the offices behind the reception counter where the envelope scanning and vehicle registration work happens and also in the mail sorting room out back where truckloads of mail arrive and are sorted into thousands of customer mail boxes each day.

In addition to providing step-by-step paperwork for changing your legal address to be an Americas Mailbox address, there are step-by-step instructions for registering out of state licensed vehicles, registering new vehicles, obtaining a driver’s license, registering to vote, and obtaining a concealed carry permit. Americas Mailbox also provides a reference list for professionals of all kinds in the area.

Waiting area Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

.

Out behind the main building with its hustle and bustle of mail sorting, vehicle registrations and assorted paperwork going on in the Americas Mailbox offices, the on-site RV park had lovely views of farm fields and was very peaceful. Additional long pull-through campsites were nearing completion during our stay and could easily accommodate our rig. At the far end foundations for future cabins had been poured as well.

Pull-through campsite at Americas Mailbox RV Park Box Elder South Dakota-min

The campsites out back are very nice!

One thing we loved is that Don and Barbara live in their motorhome on-site. Not only do they talk the talk about full-time RVing, but they walk the walk too!

Also, they are so committed to keeping in close touch with their customers and helping them with any issues they might have that Don gives out his personal cell phone number.

The hotel rooms Americas Mailbox were full during our visit, so Don showed us their beautiful hotel suite that just happened to be vacant. It was an elegantly furnished one bedroom condo with a beautiful kitchen. Nice!

Hotel room kitchen Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

The hotel suite would be a comfy place to stay while doing business in Rapid City!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

Want to get it all done without driving your RV to South Dakota? Stay in a beautifully appointed suite on-site!

Hotel room Americas Mailbox Mail Forwarding Service for full-time RV travelers Rapid City South Dakota-min

A nice and homey place to relax — but there are more basic hotel rooms available too

One of the reasons Americas Mailbox was so incredibly busy during our visit was because another mail forwarding company in South Dakota had just gone out of business without giving any advance notice to its customers. People were flocking to Americas Mailbox and other South Dakota mail forwarding companies to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. Chaos ensued at all the South Dakota mail forwarding facilities for several months!

This unfortunate scenario brings me to some of the things we think are worth considering before choosing a mail forwarding service:

Long Term Stability of the Company

Your life will quickly turn upside down if your mail forwarding company goes out of business unexpectedly. It seems like it should be easy to switch to a new company. All you have to do is let everyone know your new address. However, there’s a bit more to it.

Most companies require you to keep a balance of cash in their possession to cover future postage expenses they incur on your behalf, and that money may not be refunded to you if they go out of business unexpectedly. They may also never send you the mail they’re keeping in their possession on the day they shutter the business. In addition, any monthly or annual dues you may have paid up front may not be refunded.

This may not sound like much but could add up to a loss of a few hundred dollars on top of the frantic search for a new mail forwarding servicing and letting all your contacts know about your address change.

Most aggravating is that you may not be able to forward your mail to a new mailing address using the US Postal Service change of address form (PS Form 3575).

When you move from one home to another you can fill out the US Postal Service Form 3575 to forward you mail from your old address to your new one. However, your PMB (Personal Mail Box) at your mail forwarding company’s street address is not distinguished by the US Postal Service as unique from all the other PMBs at that address. Obviously, you can fill out and submit the form and hope for the best, but the Postal Service may not acknowledge the address change and may be inconsistent about forwarding your mail to your new address if they even do it at all.

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The offices and waiting area at Americas Mailbox are trimmed with all kinds of fun travel themed decorations.

It is impossible to know for sure if a company will last a long time, and I remember vividly how shocked the engineering community in Massachusetts was when Digital Equipment Corporation went from being a major employer with campuses all over the state to vanishing into thin air over the course of two very short years.

Some mail forwarding companies have seen several changes of ownership and management in recent years, and with each change there are staff, policy and procedural changes that affect the customers, whether they are explicitly notified about what’s going on or not.

In general, though, if the mail forwarding company has been around a long time, has a lot of customers, and treats those customers well, it is likely it will survive. Don and Barbara have many long term plans for Americas Mailbox and theirs is a family operation with plans in place for the company to outlast them.

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How Fast Will They Ship Your Mail?

Every mail forwarding company has a different policy for how quickly they commit to packaging up your mail and sending it to you after you make your request for them to do so.

Some companies require that you notify them by 5:00 p.m. the night before it is shipped out. If you are in an earlier time zone or don’t think to make the call before 5:00 pm their time, your mail won’t be packaged up until the day after that! That is, a mail shipment request made at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday won’t be packaged up and sent until Thursday. This means your mail probably won’t arrive until the following Monday because of the intervening weekend unless you are in a neighboring state.

If they receive your request after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, then your mail will not be shipped until the following Tuesday, four days later! If you are in a distant state, it may not reach you until the following Friday, a week after you requested it! This is very frustrating and very inconvenient.

Americas Mailbox has a really rapid response time and will get your mail off to you first thing in the morning as long as you request it by midnight the night before and it is a weekday. Requests made at any time during the weekend up until midnight Sunday night will go out Monday morning.

For us, that is a huge advantage. Lots of full-time RVers plan their travels in advance, so that kind of instantaneous response isn’t important, but we regularly extend or cut short our stays depending on whims like changes in the weather. So, if we suddenly decide early one morning that we want to take off in a few days, it is critically important that we be able to get our mail packaged up and sent out as quickly as possible.

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Some America’s Mailbox customers are international travelers.

Virtual Mail – What Do You See and Not See on the Envelope?

Many companies offer a “virtual mail service” where they scan every envelope you receive and either post the images online or email them to you for you to view. You can then instruct them to open the envelope and scan the contents or shred it or just hang onto it until you request your next shipment of mail.

We have found this to be very useful, but the quality of the scanned images can vary a lot, and poorly scanned envelopes are useless. The most important piece of information for us is the return address, of course, so we can see who the piece of mail is from! You’d be surprised, but sometimes scanned envelopes show only YOUR name and address.

It sounds silly, but you need to be able to read the full name and full address of whoever sent the piece of mail or you’ll be left scratching your head. Obviously, if the image is blurry or cuts off the company name (you’d be amazed how often that can happen) or if the image is of your own name and address instead of the return address of the sender, then the image is useless.

We chatted with the gal doing the scanning at Americas Mailbox and watched the meticulous care she takes with each envelope to make sure the scanned image is not only readable but is of the correct address — the return address (not OUR address).

Americas Mailbox outsources the software that manages the scanned envelope images and we’ve found it works very well.

One thing that is especially helpful with their software is that they clear out all the images of the scanned envelopes once they are sent to us. That way we can distinguish between the mail that is waiting for us in South Dakota and the mail that we have received. You see, if all the images are left in the database and you receive regular mail from certain entities, it can be very confusing to look at a scanned envelope and determine whether it has already been forwarded to you or not, especially if it was scanned right around the time you ordered a mail shipment.

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Ins and Outs of General Delivery

When mail is sent to an RV park it is a pretty straight forward process if the park regularly receives mail on behalf of its customers. But sending mail to General Delivery at a post office can be tricky. For starters, it must be addressed very simply (no street address is included), and the software has to make sure no street address is inadvertently inserted (bad software can do that!).

General Delivery mail is addressed as follows (USPS explanation/example is here):

Your Name
GENERAL DELIVERY
City, State Zip-9999

If a street address is included, all hell breaks loose. Literally. It can cost days in delivery time.

We prefer to use small town post offices instead of big city post offices for general delivery because they have less volume and fewer employees.

We like to call the small town post office directly ahead of time to find out if they accept General Delivery. The USPS website lists whether each post office accepts General Delivery mail, but in a few cases we’ve found that the website says they do when they actually don’t. Disastrous!

We also like talking to the folks at the post office because we can let them know our package is coming and approximately when we’ll be in to pick it up. Post offices are supposed to keep General Delivery mail on hand for 30 days, but we had one post office return it to the sender after 24 hours. Of course, the contents of that package were very important time sensitive financial documents, and at the time we were total full-timing newbies who had been out on the road for all of a week!

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Despite being on the outer edge of Rapid City, the area right around Americas Mailbox is wonderfully rural.

Addressing Mishaps Caused by Auto-Fill !

Another thing to watch for is the “Bill To” versus the “Ship To” addresses when you order something online.

Lots of websites have Auto-Fill, and they’ll very helpfully fill in all kinds of info for you. Unfortunately, the next thing you know, you’ve sent a huge package to your mail forwarding address that you wanted to go to the address of the friend you’re currently visiting. Not only will your receipt of the item be delayed by a bunch of days but you’ll have to pay to ship that heavy package twice, once to your mail forwarding company and then again to your friend or some other destination you’re headed to!

Don told us a hilarious story along those lines. Americas Mailbox goes out of its way to accommodate any and all packages that are sent to them, even when they are a bit unwieldy. One day they received several mammoth crates from Harley Davidson that turned out to be all the pieces for a big beautiful motorcycle.

Curious what they were supposed to do with it, they called the customer the crates were addressed to and asked if he’d just ordered a motorcycle from Harley Davidson. “Yeah, I did. How did you know?” the confused customer asked. “Well, we’ve got all the crates right here at Americas Mailbox!”

Of course, the customer meant to have those boxes shipped directly to wherever he was in the world at the time, but he had mistakenly given his Americas Mailbox address as the “Ship To” address.

Shipping crates is outside the norm for Americas Mailbox, but they hired a qualified shipping company to pick up the crates and get them to the address where their customer was staying.

As a side note, many companies charge a small fee for oversized packages they receive because they require extra time and space to handle. Americas Mailbox charges a dollar or more for oversized packages depending on the size.

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We had some wonderful stormy days during our stay at Americas Mailbox.

What Happens to Improperly Addressed Mail?

Despite your best efforts, some entities won’t address your mail correctly no matter how often and how nicely you tell them what it is.

Most addresses in this country don’t include a PMB number, and some folks just leave it off. The correct address must include your PMB number, preferably on the same line as the street address, and it may be written as “123 Main Street PMB 789” or “123 Main Street #789.”

In our experience, an awful lot of entities leave off the PMB number all together. By leaving off the PMB number, the address they send our mail to is simply the street address of the mail forwarding company itself, leaving your piece of mail lost in a sea of thousands of people who share the same address.

When this incorrectly addressed piece of mail arrives at the mail forwarding company, the mail sorters have to figure out who it’s for and what the PMB number is so they can put it in the right box. The bigger mail forwarding companies use super fast mail sorting machines as well as people reading the addresses, and an incomplete address gums up the production in a massive way.

Some companies have a policy in place to set the piece of mail aside and then later look up the name of the person to find out which PMB they have, write it on the envelope and then carry all the mis-addressed envelopes to the appropriate PMB files.

However, some companies simply mark the envelope “RTS” (“Return to Sender”) and put it in their outgoing mail for USPS to pick up because it is too time consuming for them to go through all the wrongly addressed mail and look up all the PMB numbers.

Americas Mailbox has a tiered strategy. First, they look up the customer name (hopefully your name is unique!) and hand-write the PMB number on the envelope and put it in your box. They’ll call you if they have questions (i.e., “Are you the John Smith that is expecting a package from Amazon?”). Last of all, they’ll write “RTS” on it and put it back in the mail for USPS to return it to the sender.

Be sure to find out from your prospective mail forwarding company exactly what their policy is for mail that arrives without your PMB number, because it is guaranteed that at least one piece of mail for you will arrive that way someday.

Also, take the time to triple check with anyone sending you either important documents, a check, or a time sensitive piece of mail that the address they put on the envelope for you is 100% correct.

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Vehicle Registration and Sales Tax

Americas Mailbox dots every “i” and crosses every “t” when it comes to registering your vehicles and paying any sales tax that is due.

We were floored by the degree of detail and the number of documents necessary to get our RZR and our utility trailer registered, licensed and on the road: Power of Attorney for Americas Mailbox to do the legwork registering the vehicles, images of front and back of our licenses, fronts and backs of the titles, bills of sale, money orders for the sales tax, and a few other goodies.

Americas Mailbox provides a detailed checklist of the documents you must gather, and of course some might have to be notarized. If you don’t have a scanner, you can just take a good quality photo of each document and attach all the photos to your email correspondence with Americas Mailbox to verify you have all the right pieces in place before you mail the package of documents to them.

Another thing to watch for when you buy a vehicle is whether the community you are making your purchase in will impose a local tax on the purchase. Maricopa County in Arizona (Phoenix area) is notorious for dealerships charging tax on all vehicle purchases made by out of state buyers.

So, while you may think you will be paying only the South Dakota sales tax on your purchase, you may find yourself staring at a document at the dealership that requires you to pay a tax to Arizona too. I’m not sure if there are other places in America where this happens, but double check with the person who will be writing up the final sales receipts and taking your check before you finalize your purchase.

Owner-Americas-Mailbox-Mail-Forwarding-Service-for-full-time-RV-travelers-Rapid-City-South-Dakota

On Mother’s Day Don brought roses to all the women on his staff. Now that’s class!

Final Thoughts

There are all kinds of mail forwarding services available, and they range from bare bones to full service. You may need just mail forwarding, or you may want to have someone handle the vehicle registration and lines at the DMV, and/or you may want to have a sense of “home” with an RV park where you can stay each time you return home to take care of life’s legal and financial technicalities.

We’ve found that Americas Mailbox is a wonderful full service operation, and what’s more, we love the Black Hills and being “residents” of this part of South Dakota.

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Coffee Kiosks of the West

February 2019 – One of our favorite sightings in our RV travels is the cute little coffee kiosks and coffee huts we find tucked into parking lots and standing on street corners all around the West. As America’s quest for the perfect cuppa joe has become more refined and exotic over the years, these adorable little coffee pit stops have been sprouting all over the place.

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Drive-up (and walk-up) coffee kiosks can be found all over the American West!

When we got to Oregon a few years back they were everywhere. And no wonder. Starbucks is headquartered in Washington, and it seems that America’s demand for fancy, fluffy coffee spreads out from there!

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De La Bean Coffee in Bend, Oregon

Some of the little coffee kiosks serve more than just coffee too.

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Hot Shots and Smoothies in Oregon

As we’ve taken our RV from one small town to another we’fve found that many of these cute coffee joints are marked by a big “Espresso” flag flying out front.

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Java Rock Coffee Shop, Terrebonne Oregon

Along with bearing whimsical names, many of these coffee kiosks have all kinds of amusing displays and props too.

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Blue Banana Coffee Shop in Lostine, Oregon

These coffee shacks are usually simple little buildings, just big enough for a barista or two inside, and they often have an inviting porch or patio area decorated with flowers out front.

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Coffee Corral in Baker City Oregon

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Java Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon

Besides being cute and serving great coffee, what I love about these little coffee kiosks is that they are all mom-and-pop shops.

Rather than being part of an impersonal international corporate behemoth, they are locally run and the owners have often put everything they own on the line to try to make their venture a success.

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Bare Naked Beans (now called Cricket Flat Coffee) in Elgin, Oregon

When I visited one coffee kiosk a very little girl appeared at the window to take my order. Her mom was busy with another customer, and she was helping out.

I hung around a while afterwards to enjoy my coffee, and the mom told me this was the perfect enterprise for her. She could walk to work, she was with her two small children all day long, and she was building a business at the same time.

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Longhorn Espresso in Enterprise, Oregon

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Coffee Depot in Redmond, Oregon

One of the first coffee kiosks we ever encountered was Wicked Brew in Moab, Utah. We discovered it before we began RVing, and it was so neat to see it was still going strong years later when we returned to visit the area with our fifth wheel.

This classy little coffee hut serves each cup with a chocolate covered coffee bean perched on the lid!

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Wicked Brew Espresso in Moab, Utah

This past summer we came across a lot of little coffee kiosks in Montana. From the Beartooth Highway to the Bitterroot Valley to the towns near Glacier National Park, we tasted lots of delicious brews from these fun little drive-up coffee shacks.

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Beartooth Beanery in Columbus, Montana

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Hungry Horse Espresso in Columbia Falls Montana

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Espresso kiosk in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Usually, these coffee kiosks are drive-thru shacks with windows on both sides of the building.

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Drivers pulled up at both sides in Douglas, Wyoming

However, we often walk up to them instead. It only took two or three walk-ups for Buddy to realize that the smell of coffee, the sound of the milk being steamed, and a patient wait at a window might add up to a doggie treat!

Now he sits expectantly looking up at the window and licking his lips.

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City Brew Coffee in Red Lodge Montana

Although the frequency of coffee kiosks diminishes as you go east and south from the Pacific Northwest, they are still plentiful in Wyoming.

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Dry Bean Coffee Shed in Ranchester, Wyoming

The lively town of Cody, Wyoming, sports several!

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Rocky Mountain Mudd Espresso in Cody, Wyoming

At Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming, Buddy decided to do the ordering for us.

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Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming

He’s a smart little guy, and he knew this clever stunt could win him two doggie treats instead of just one!

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Buddy puts in his order.

On our first trip through Newcastle, Wyoming, we visited the Kaffee Klatsch several times, so we were looking forward to a return trip the next year. But the Kaffee Klatsch wasn’t there any more! After a brief hunt around town we found it in a new location.

The owner explained that they owned the building but leased the land it sat on. Happily, the new location has made their business grow exponentially. How cool is that?!

We don’t have a photo of that shop, but we do have a few others from South Dakota.

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Pony Expresso in Belle Fourche, South Dakota

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Hot Springs Coffee Kiosk in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Of course some of our favorite coffee shops are in ordinary buildings. One is the Calamity Jane Coffee Shop in Custer, South Dakota, where we’ve spent many mornings sipping a latte, munching a muffin and chatting with the owners, Jim and Deb.

This enterprising couple had a camera shop in this location for many years. Deb is a photographer, and Custer is located in a popular tourist area surrounded by tons of gorgeous scenery and almost-tame wild animals to photograph.

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Mark and owner Jim ham it up at Calamity Jane Coffee Shop & Winery in Custer, South Dakota

But the rise of the internet and digital photography n eput and to film sales and retail camera sales at their shop. Rather than throw in the towel, they thought about what modern day tourists are looking for when they come to a small historic town, and they realized gourmet coffee would be the perfect thing.

The addition of a wine tasting room out back and a huge wine selection was another clever idea, and their store is as busy as can be.

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This former camera shop is now thriving as a coffee shop and winery in downtown Custer, South Dakota.

East of the Dakotas the little coffee huts disappear for the most part, but that doesn’t mean great coffee can’t be found. In the small town of St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan we came across Harbor Hope Coffee.

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Harbor Hope Coffee Shop in St. Ignace, Michigan.

This unusual coffee shop is home to a church group that gathers to worship in the back of the shop each week, and the profits from the coffee sales go to charitable causes. We were astonished to hear the volunteer barista tell us the story behind this unique coffee shop, but what made Buddy’s ears really perk up was when she ased, “Does your puppy want a puppaccino?”

A what?

She grabbed a whipped cream dispenser from the fridge, filled a small bowl with homemade whipped cream and put it on the floor in front of Buddy.

He went crazy!! I have never seen him lap up a bowl of anything so quickly. He got it on his whiskers and all over his muzzle.

The next day, the moment we parked in front of Harbor Hope Coffee Buddy just about jumped through the window to get inside. I knew I was addicted to hazlenut lattes, but Buddy was absolutely bonkers over puppaccinos!

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Buddy tastes his first puppaccino. Yum!

Unfortunately, although dogs are warmly welcomed at most coffee kiosks and they are usually offered a treat to boot, some coffee shops with inside seating have strict rules for dogs relating to food service and unexpected visits from the Health Inspector.

So, Buddy has learned that not every “Open” sign at a coffee shop is actually an invitation for his four paws to head in.

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Sometimes our four-legged friend has to wait outside.

In Wisconsin he had to wait outside several coffee shops. Fortunately, he is a patient pup.

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Buddy watches my every move through a crack in the front door.

At one coffee shop there was a bucket of chalk outside, so we marked his special waiting spot.

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This time he got a specially marked spot to wait on outside.

In Hot Springs, South Dakota, before Buddy joined us, we found another shop with a bucket of chalk outside, so we added a bit of sidewalk art there too!

Happy RV Travels-min

Have fun in your travels and thanks for reading!

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Dog’s Life – Buddy’s Got It Covered!

While I’ve been typing away during this past year to bring you a glimpse of our travels on America’s less traveled roads, roaming about with a little pup in tow, I had no idea that Buddy was working on his own pet project for his canine RVing friends.

Dog's RV Life Magazine - Buddy's Got It Covered

Buddy explains to Mark what it’s like to live a Dog’s Life!

I thought he was just licking his paws over there or maybe surfing the web for better dog treats. I had no idea that he’d created a popular dog magazine…!

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K9 Publishing by Puppy Chow

It turns out that for the past year our friend Bob (a PhotoShop and photography expert) has been working with our little Buddy (whom he affectionately calls Puppy Chow), and together they have created quite a library of magazines for RVing pups and their owners.

I had seen the first issue last year and had shared it on the blog post where I introduced our new furry roommate:

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Since then I’ve seen a few of these unusual magazine covers float by every once in a while, but I didn’t realize just how many there were until recently when I noticed there was quite a collection.

For a change of pace from our ordinary blogging fare, here are a few covers from these fun magazines. Hopefully they’ll put a smile on your face today!

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Each issue reflected a bit of what was happening in our lives at the time, so when Camping World brought a camera crew out to make a video about our RV lifestyle, that special event was highlighted…

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When we got out into the snow-capped mountains and had some wintry feeling spring mornings where we could see our breath in the air before we got out of bed, that unique tid-bit of RV life made it onto the cover…

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Buddy’s mouth was too small to grasp a baseball at first, but when he grew a little bigger he could hang onto a baseball in his teeth just fine. This was just in time, too, because he’d found one under a tree near our campsite…

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Despite spending a lot of months in very buggy places last year, we avoided getting too bitten until we got to Missouri where Buddy got four tick bites in a week and I got one too! Apparently, after that bout with those nasty little biters, Buddy came up with some tips for avoiding them…

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Now, “Dog’s Life” isn’t the only publishing project that Buddy and Bob have been working on. They’ve put together a few other periodicals too, from “Trailer Dog” to “Gun Dog” to our very own Roads Less Traveled magazine.

The first “Trailer Dog” issue came out when Buddy was very young just shortly after he’d found a very old dead bird and made a meal of it…only to have the meal come right back up again a few minutes later…

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The movie reviews were lots of fun, and we were especially tickled when Buddy reviewed the all time classic, “Old Yeller.”

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The arrival of our new RZR made the cover (yay!)…and Buddy solved a very important mystery that has been puzzling a lot of folks!

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Road Less Traveled March 2019-min

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Road Less Traveled March 2019-min

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And that’s it for today from the Buddy-and-Bob K9 Publishing team. Hopefully they’ll keep ’em coming!

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