Home with a Heart

Six months ago, when I started researching how to pull off this full-time RV dream, one of the (many) important steps was to decide which state was best for establishing residency.  You can travel around all you want, but you have to have an address somewhere for official purposes (IRS dealings, for example) and a place to handle your mail if you do not have other arrangements.

There are so many factors that go into this decision that there is no one right answer.  For me, the thing that convinced me to go with Texas and The Escapees RV Club/Mail Service was one very special and unique feature that showed this group of people has tremendous heart.

This feature is the Escapees CARE program (website:  www.escapeescare.org) that they have established adjacent to their campground property at Rainbow’s End near Livingston, Texas.  CARE stands for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees.  This is the first (and apparently only) center designed by and for RV’ers to assist members who need that extra level of care.  In addition to a wonderful staff, the program is served by a multitude of member volunteers and funded by donations.  I was extraordinarily touched by this community who has devoted such time, energy, and resources to help their fellow travelers when the road becomes too rough to continue and respite and assistance are needed.

Anyone who has worked in a field related to senior services or who has walked the path of declining health with a loved one is likely familiar with the types of care available as people age, including facilities that range from independent living, assisted living, and nursing home.  A CCRC (continuing care retirement community) has all of these levels within one large campus.  In my work with seniors, I often found tremendous resistance to moving into any of these situations, and a deep desire to stay in one’s own home as long as possible.  Indeed, the Aging in Place movement that is spreading throughout our country helps people to achieve this goal.

The beauty of the Escapees CARE program is that it is like a melding of Aging in Place with Assisted Living.  The member’s home (their RV) gets a site near the CARE building.  A wheelchair ramp and a small storage shed is on their site pad.  Staff is available to help them in their home with things like housekeeping, laundry, and waste-tank management.  The large CARE building (shown in the photo above) houses the dining room (supplying three meals a day, seven days a week), activity center, library, nurse’s station, and other rooms.  Several vans are available to drive people to doctor appointments, shopping trips, and other outings.

In addition to serving the residents, CARE also has an adult care program (ADC).  Participants can come to the main building Monday through Friday for just the day.  CNA’s (certified nurse assistants) are on staff to help them with activities of daily living, including hygiene, eating, exercise, and entertainment.  Some of the people who benefit from the ADC program are the spouses of those who participate.  By having a safe place for their loved one to spend the day, they are given respite from caregiving responsibilities and can regenerate their own energy.  Their loved one comes home at the end of the day.  Caregiver support groups exist so that experiences can be shared and burdens eased.

Home, with a heart.  The Escapees who built CARE are a loose assortment of people from all walks of life who have delighted in years, sometimes decades of independence and widespread travel.  Many were full-time RV’ers, and their homes were wherever they happened to be parked that night.  Their network of friendships were woven from chance encounters and often maintained over great distances, with perhaps only occasional face-to-face meetings.  But their bonds, their hearts, and their love was and continues to be strong, strong enough to have built something like CARE.

I feel honored and blessed to be able to be a part of such a community.

(This post was edited on 6/27/15 after my first week of volunteering at CARE.  After learning about it in more depth, I felt it was important to correct some of the previous details.)

Lively Clouds

I made it a week out on my own!  And only one call back to Phoenix USA with a question about the emergency brake (which I won’t even tell you what it was because it was so basic that you’d fall over flat imagining someone as green as me out here with this beautiful RV).  I’m exceptionally proud tonight because I screwed something up with the water pump when filling my fresh water tank this morning, and I was able to figure out the remedy along with the help of good-fellow-Google.  What did we ever do before Google?

I am finding that I have to concentrate very hard to do all the steps of even the simplest things correctly.  Like when I arrive at a campground with electrical hookups, I need to plug-in first and make sure my surge protector approves of the power source.  At one perfectly lovely campground in Illinois, I had to try four posts before I found one that satisfied my surge guard monitor.  Boy was I sweaty when I finally found a good one, and it didn’t help that at the first one I had already started unpacking and setting things up before realizing the power source was no good and had to move.  Again and again and again.

I am excruciatingly careful with the propane, from the stove to the tank itself (faithfully turning it off when I fuel up), and mentally following all these steps that are so foreign to me.  I am becoming attuned to the finer points of balancing how quickly my gray and black tanks fill up and how fast my fresh water gets used.  I am becoming a gourmet cook (at least my hungry tummy thinks so) using the simplest and most basic ingredients.  I am listening to my body’s timetable for important events (sleep, wake, potty breaks) rather than dictating to my body.

I have discovered that sweat is not a dirty word.  Nor is wearing a shirt for more than a day or pants until they cross the line on their own two legs.  I have found that I can dry myself off after a shower with a simple washcloth, and that big pink towel I brought (and forgot to bring to the campground shower facility) was superfluous.  (So much for any friends/family who read this inviting me to stay with them for a spell!)

Most wonderfully, I have been introduced to the most lively clouds I have ever seen.  For two days now, while driving through Arkansas, I have enjoyed a magnificent display of white on blue as far as the eye can see.  Ever-changing shapes bring back memories of children’s games of I-Spy in the clouds…  Turtle-gator!  Pikachu!  Armadillo!  Tasmanian-devil-twirling-with-Caspar-the-friendly-ghost!

As for Dawny, she is looking happier each day.  She is starting to relax and sleep when we are on a long-drive day.  Her campground leash allows her movement within our campsite without being tethered to me.  We have had campsites where she can sit and just stare into the forest, study the little creek that runs behind our site, and dream of who-knows-what.

Perhaps she is concentrating on her own steps that are so new to her, like not barking at or chasing any animal, stopping and quietly appreciating the deer we often see on our morning walks, walking at a reasonable pace so that we make it back, and stopping to ponder those shifting shapes up in the sky…   Doggie cookies!  Chipmunk-Squirrel running up a tree!  More doggie cookies!  Buster flying through the air after a tennis ball!

Who would ever have guessed the sky was that big?

(Above photo taken at Ferne Clyffe State Park in Southern Illinois.)

Dawny’s Journal

Dictated Monday 7/7:

Arghhh… 16 hours!  16 hours, you hear that?  Mom thinks I can’t count but I sure enough can, and I let her know FAITHFULLY (like a good dog) every two hours that it was time to stretch our legs and pee on a few rocks and bushes.  Anyhow, we are finally here.  Wherever “here” is.

More importantly, the few things we have left–admittedly, the most important things, like food and cookies and toys (only 8 tennis balls–I must have left 20 good ones back in our big-house yard) are now loaded into this HUGE doggie-mover that Mom says is our new house.  I think I must have peed on, like, six wheels!

It seems to have everything we had in our big-yard house that we left.  A kitchen (yay! pans to lick!), a bed (wish it was mine), a Mom bathroom (I still don’t get that whole process–what is wrong with the grass?).  It even has an outside shower for my baths.  Sheesh, thanks Mom.

I sure hope Mom settles down now.  I swear I thought she had gone stark raving mad there for awhile–getting rid of, well, our whole house.  Bopping around in our little doggie-mover and living in what she called our hotel-house for 9 days (I kept count).  I gotta admit, though, we had some great walks, walks like we haven’t had together in years.  Poor thing had a case of fear-based depression or something.  She says I used to have a case of fear-based aggression.  I guess that’s one reason we understand each other so well.

Ah well, that seems to have blown over as the world has flown by our windows for–did I tell you?–16 hours!  Sheesh, she’s calling me Road Doggie now since I’m so awesome at this.

Dictated Saturday 7/12:

Well, I’ll be darned.  Mom took the annoying little bell off of the kitchen blinds.  I suppose the little ringing sound it made as we rolled down the road wasn’t worth it to her.  She seemed sorta wistful for something called gypsy caravans at the time.  I understand way more than she thinks, but some things will never make sense.

All I know right now (and right now is all that counts) is that I would love to burn this harness.   But I guess Mom’s right that it is good for all these walks.  I sure wish she could walk faster, though.  Hmmm, I DO have twice as many legs as her, so I should give her a break.  She always teases me about my “lack of opposable thumbs,” as she puts it.  I say, who needs ’em?  Just give me enough time and I KNOW I can open that doorknob with my mouth!  Ah well, it all seems to even out and we make a good team out of it.

I saw a new critter today.  Mom called it a chipmunk.  She made me stay back and just look at it until it ran off into the woods.  What a waste of a perfect bite-sized varmint!  Then we saw some deer.  I’ve seen those before at my big-house yard, where I could bark at them to my heart’s content.  Mom seems to think it’s important we stay quieter now as we move to different places and see different things and critters.  Something to do with respect and sharing territory.  Whatever.  I am not one to argue.  Honest.

The hardest part is not barking at other doggies, though, especially when they bark at me!  Mom!  Have you no sense at all?  No mercy?  Ugh!  Arghhhh!  Grrrrr….. AROOOFF!!!!  Ahhh, that feels better now.

Wish me luck on that, OK?  And if you talk to my Mom, tell her she can take this leash off me and I’ll be good.  I promise I promise I promise!  Bye now!  We’re heading out for our fourth walk of the day!  AROOOFF!!!!