Saturday, September 28, 2013

Winter Lodging: Update

Maybe it's luck (that intersection where preparation and opportunity meet) and maybe it's divine providence, but we have found ourselves the most amazing opportunity for the winter.  The birth of the idea to secure a furnished cabin for the winter was actually Brian's and the task felt daunting.  We had just over a month to figure out what we would be doing.  I am, by nature, a worrier...and not having a concrete plan for when we got off the plane in Phoenix in the wee hours of November 1st was causing me some pretty intense anxiety.  Add to that our limited budget...that already includes paying for our tickets back to the mainland for the month of October...I had concerns about how we would pay deposits and other expenses that usually accompany renting.

It's been years since we have been renters.  We have owned a home for over 14 years.  This home is, in fact, a rental property and we are landlords.  We know first hand the trials of being landlords.  With our previous tenants, receiving monthly rent in a timely fashion had been a struggle even prior to leaving Pennsylvania and only grew worse as the distance between us and our former home grew.  In addition, since our departure from Pittsburgh in February, we have had two major repairs...both the furnace and the hot water heater decided to stop working.  UGH!  And then in May, our tenants broke their lease without notice.  They left the house trashed (literally) inside and out.  We have been lucky to find new tenants, who seem to be excellent all around, but our last experience has left us feeling cautiously optimistic.  Only time will tell.  How were we going to assure our own landlords that we would be acceptable tenants? 

My worry is spins and spins and tends to snowball out of control. 

As I stated in the previous post, I sent out numerous emails into the abyss of cyber space.  When you do this you never know what you will receive in return.  Will anyone respond?  The response was actually overwhelming.  We had properties to choose from.  One particular email stood out from the rest.  It was from a couple named Brad and Caryl.  They had read the blog and addressed the email to all three of us by name.  They mentioned the property was prepared for children, equipped with a diaper genie and toys.  The only drawback (for us) was that the property was in Arizona, and after our previous experience in Arizona, we were hesitant to commit to spending 6  more months there.  Also, the Heber property, though ideal was approximately 30 miles from Show Low (where I already have a job prospect and interview scheduled for the first weekend in November).  The deep discounts and amenities they were offering meant it was an option we could not avoid exploring further.  Through our continued correspondence it was disclosed they also have other properties in the area. 

I had shared our struggles as landlords and I guess they felt a kindred connection to our story.  I also disclosed our financial situation, which included not being able to pay rent until the fourth of each month.  I was entirely anticipating a generic"thank you very much for your inquiry into our property, but we have changed our minds" response.   Instead, they sealed the deal with an offer we couldn't refuse.  They lowered the monthly cost again and offered use of the Show Low cabin for the winter.  All they wanted in return was for us to handle a few simple affairs for the properties in their absence.  You see, we were actually an answer to their prayers.  They are in the process of moving across the country and were becoming increasingly concerned as to how they would handle maintaining their properties while they were so many miles away.

I'd like to share with you a brief portion from one of their emails.

"The cabin in Show Low is a true log cabin, very nice, on about 3 acres, it features a master bedroom, and an upstairs bedroom, the master has a king size bed, full closet, full size bath, the other bedroom is a loft, which features a new trundle bed, with a bathroom shower instead of a tub.   The kitchen features granite counter tops (all new), new sink, new fridge, new gas stove, and plenty of new hickory cabinets.  There is a new leather full 3 piece suite couch, loveseat, ottoman, and our custom built alligator juniper coffee table.  It's main source of heat is a wood stove, which is extremely efficient and will heat the whole place very nicely, but it means dealing with building the fire and stocking wood for the winter.  We do have some space heaters, and the bathroom downstairs features one as well.  It has well water, with about a 10,000 gallon storage tank, and about a 3000 sqft garage.  We just had new decking installed about 1320 sqft of decking, and our new Starcraft camp trailer sits on the property in it's RV spot.  It is a true show place."

We will begin our stay in the Heber cabin (the link we originally posted online) and then will be moving into the cabin described above, once they have left for their new home.  They actually prefer we stay in the Show Low cabin.  For those friends looking for a getaway to the White Mountains this winter, I highly recommend you check out the Heber cabin for your stay.  It turns out, we will be yours hosts.  As Brad explained to me via phone, all their renters are not actually renters, but guests...this includes Brian, Truman and I.

You see (and I quote) Brad is of the opinion that...

"Of course we are always trying to avoid your unfortunate issue where tenants just break a lease and trash your place, but we have to trust everyone at some point."

We no longer have a need to find lodging the night we fly into Phoenix.  We just have to get in our car and drive to the Heber cabin.  Due to the time difference, we should arrive "home" shortly before midnight on October 31 (Hawaii Time...that is).  We already have the key code and well as detailed directions to the property.  We have been advised there will be food in the fridge...because isn't everyone hungry after a long trip? 

Our goal when leaving Pittsburgh was to find adventure outside the box.  We may have been short sighted in the beginning and have definitely had our share of bumps and growing pains along the way.  But, I have a good feeling about this.  It is my hope that this is just the start of wonderful things to come. 

This newest development exceeds even our wildest dreams. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Winter Lodging

We have decided that upon our return to the "mainland", we would be interested in renting a furnished cabin for approximately four to six months.  This will give us the opportunity to "regroup" while living with some extra creature comforts through the winter months.  Our lodging in Hawaii was graciously covered by my birth mother.  Though it was indeed a "free" place to stay, expectations and reality are many times very different.  She already has a full house and the addition of two adults and one toddler added a dynamic that no one was fully prepared for.  At the completion of our visit we will have spent three months living in a three bedroom condo with a total of six adults and two children.  We are still living out of our suitcases, Truman and I have been sharing a twin bed, while Brian has taken up residence on the living room couch for the duration of our stay.  We are in desperate need of some family time with just the three of us.  We are also in need of a good night sleep on a decent bed and a return to some sense of normalcy.  In addition to the living situation, simply being back in an urban / suburban setting was difficult.  Daily sounds of traffic, sirens, and construction caused what can only be described as culture shock following nearly eight months of camping in rural locations.  We had grown accustomed to the peace and quiet. 

Our search for the perfect winter lodging began on  A property in Palomar, California peaked our interest.  We seriously considered this property, speaking with the owner several times.  During our first conversation via phone he advised we check out the property's rental reviews via  Though at first this rental seemed like "the one", the idea of having to vacate during Thanksgiving and Christmas made us reconsider this option.  Lucky for us, we never received the e-mail with the rental application for the Palomar property.  The owner was very kind, so I do want to provide a link to his website in case someone in that area may be interested in reserving his property for a mountain getaway.
 Using, I was able to find hundreds of properties that would suit our needs.  Vacation properties are appealing because they are furnished and prices are all inclusive, many times covering utilities, cable, internet, and more.  I sent out the following message to each prospective property.  

We are a family of 3, full time traveling and are considering wintering in the state of (...). We will be returning to the mainland on October 31 following an extended stay in Hawaii and would like to secure housing before our return. We are interested in this property. Please feel free to check out our blog and see if we are the type of family you might consider renting to  Hope to hear from you soon.
Amber Hobbins"

The response has been overwhelming.  Owners going out of their way to see if they can accommodate us for the winter...many offering deep discounts.  We focused our search in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington.

The property below is now the top contender.  I wish I could share the lovely e-mails we have received from the owners of this particular rental regarding accommodations and amenities should we decide to go with their property.  They have even offered to purchase a sled for Truman.  We would love the input of our readers.  Here is the link to their property.  Please let us know what you think.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Review: Allegiant Airlines

Tonight we confirmed our flight back to the Mainland from Hawaii.  We will take off October 31, 2013 at 3pm...if the flight leaves on time.  This time we will fly Hawaiian Airlines, a traditional commercial airline.  I've been sitting here this evening reviewing the airline's site.  I am practically giddy.  The amenities range from an in flight meal to in seat entertainment.  It almost feels luxurious when compared to our flight over.  Is "no frills" worth it?  You be the judge.

After perusing "the usual suspects" (ie. Expedia and Travelocity) it appeared we may never leave Arizona.  The cost to fly was not within our budget.  Just when we were about to give up, we found out about Allegiant Airlines via a friend on Facebook.  This airline was by far the cheapest way to fly even with the extra fees...or so we thought.
Allegiant Airlines is considered a "no frills" airline.  What exactly does this mean?  For us, it meant an initial financial savings.  Our tickets were $118.50 per person (two tickets $237.00, since Truman flies free until age 2).  Sounds  Once you select the tickets you are asked to select your seats.  The seats vary in price depending on their location within the cabin.  Our seats cost $15.00 per person (two seats $30.00).  Purchasing seats is optional, but reviews of the airlines strongly advised buying seats in advance in order to sit together.  Sitting separately while traveling with a toddler was not an option, so seats were selected in advance.  Next you are asked to identify luggage in advance.  Each passanger is permitted one personal item.  This is defined as a purse, briefcase, or laptop bag.  All other luggage is able to be transported at an additional cost.  Since we knew we would be staying in Hawaii the minimum of one month we had decided we would have both a carry on and checked luggage.  Our carryons were $25.00 each (two carryons $50.00) and our checked baggage was $35.00 each piece (two suitcases $70.00).  Paying in advance for luggage was an easy decision since paying at the airport actually doubles the cost.  This is clearly stated on the website at the time of booking.  In the same section there is an option for priority boarding.  I personally recommend this option.  It is a mere $5.00 per ticket (two priority boarding statuses $10.00).  Lastly, each ticket is entitled to insurance at $11.50 per ticket  (two tickets covered by insurance $23.00).  A bad experience with American Airlines while pregnant made us realize flight insurance is not optional, but necessary.  $23.00 for peace of mind...priceless.  Of course there were taxes and fees totaling $9.00.  Cost billed to credit card $429.00.  Once the flight was booked I was able to call Allegiant to add Truman (as a lap child) to the itinerary.  Aside from the hold time of nearly an hour the process was fairly simple.  The representative was courteous and knowledgable.  It was at this time that I was informed the airline allows for the diaper bag, stroller, and car seat to fly for free.  We were booked!  Our flight was scheduled for August 4, 2013 with a departure time of 12:35pm.
Finally on the plane.  Truman's not quite sure about this.
 The day of the flight arrives.  We get to the airport with the recommended 2 hours to spare until scheduled take off.  Allegiant flies out of Mesa Gateway Airport.  The airport is very small and there are no carts available for our luggage.  There were also no electronic kiosks for check in.  We were used to both amenities with previous travels.  Two points against Allegiant.  The line for check in wrapped through what seemed like miles of ropes.  We had two laptop bags, two back packs, a diaper bag, two suitcases, a stroller, a car seat, and a very unhappy toddler.  Luckily our priority boarding status enabled us to skip the long check in line.  We found ourselves in a line with just one other set of travelers.  Point for Allegiant. Once at the counter we were greeted and then quickly told our flight had been delayed until 3pm.  Point against Allegiant.  Then our bags were weighed and apparently one of our suit cases was over weight.  A payment of $50.00 and our luggage was checked.  This charge is non-negotiable (no matter how nice you are or how cute your baby is...believe me, I tried).  Total cost to fly adjusted to...$479.00.  Point against Allegiant.  Allegiant has an iPhone application which is supposed to offer flight check in as well as boarding passes at your finger tips.  Though we were able to check in for our flight in advance, we were not able to get through security without a trip back to the ticket counter (because the ticketing feature of the application never worked).  Point against Allegiant.  I will say it was the easiest airport security experience we've had in the past 10 years.  Maybe it's because Truman is so cute.  The only hold up in security was that I had packed Capri Sun pouches for Truman for the plane.  Because they are over 3oz we could only take what would fit in his bottle...and the liquid had to be tested.  Can't really blame that on Allegiant.  Five hours in an airport terminal not much bigger than a football field with a toddler that needs a nap...a billion points against Allegiant (especially after finding out this particular flight is consistently on a 3 hour delay).  While waiting for the flight we order lunch and few cocktails from the only airport restaurant...just to pass the time.  Our bill with tip totaled over $80.
Brian and Truman watching Rango for the millionth time
Boarding was actually a breeze.  As patrons of priority boarding, we were able to enter the plane with just three other families.  It was nice to settle in to our seats without the pushing and shoving that tends to occur during most airline boarding.  I also feel priority boarding was the reason the size of our carryons were not questioned and the third seat in our row was never booked.  This allowed Truman a seat of his own, eventhough he was originally booked as a lap child.  Two points for Allegiant.  All food and drink on these flights is fee based.  Nothing is complimentary.  I knew this in advance and had tried to prepare, but due to the extended delay, the turkey sandwiches I packed were questionable.  We decided not to chance food poinsoning with a 6 hour flight ahead.  We ended up spending way to much on in flight refreshments.  Point against Allegiant.  Once the plane was full of passengers an annoucement informed us there was a problem with the plane's bathroom.  One hour sitting on the plane while they fixed the problem...come on Allegiant!  This could not have been addressed during the 3 hour delay?!?  The plane was clean, the flight was smooth and take off and landing were flawless.  Three points for Allegiant.
Checking out the clouds
Needless to say, it was a long day.  Will we fly Allegiant Air again should the opportunity arise?  The answer is...maybe?  The day we landed I would have said yes, but on October 31, 2013 we will be flying Hawaiian for just $513.00.  This flight will include complimentary drinks, a meal, and in flight movie.  Sometimes cheaper is not always better...and not actually "cheaper".
Finally asleep!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Truman's Milestones: Growing up on the road

When you sell all your possessions and hit the road to travel the world with a little one, you wonder if you are doing right by your child.  The voices of the naysayers dance in your head, but it seems our son may be better equipped for this life than his parents.    Truman has made friends everywhere we have been thus far.  With a wave of his hand and a clearly spoken "Hey!" he makes our introductions easy.  He is all extrovert.  He forces us out of our comfort zone and into the world.  Everyone knows Truman everywhere we go. 

Recently, I shared the most beautiful moment with our son. We were at the playground that sits on the hill just above the town house where we are staying here in Hawaii.  Truman also seems to have a knack for directions.  In Roosevelt, AZ he could get to the store where I worked, the club house in the RV park where we lived, and certain sites of campers who gave him special attention.  He has known how to get to and from the playground since just after we arrived here.  Of course, we would never let him venture alone to these destinations (though he could probably get there and back again without difficulty), but as unschooling minded parents, we tend to let him lead us in the direction HE wants to go.

He has started to play quite independently these days. Things he couldn't do just over a month ago are now a "piece of cake". This enables me to sit a bit and watch him in a less anxious state (will today be the day he falls and breaks...?).

He stopped playing and came to stand next to me where I was sitting on the platform. Every time he leaned in I kissed him and he laughed. All of a sudden he stopped, stretched out his arms and enveloped me in a great big hug! I thanked him for this hug and so he gave me another...and then another, laughing with pure delight each time I thanked him.  Kids tend to feel the emotions of the adults in their lives, so it was reasonable to assume our stress would have a negative effect on him.  This innocent moment of reciprocal love has made me rethink that least in regard to our son. 

 It's been a rough week here in Hawaii.  We have had several conversations regarding our choice and whether it may have been a big mistake.  Our son is thriving and it's moments like these that let us know as long as we have each other we can be anywhere in the world.  For now, the journey will continue.

Check out Truman's new skillz

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Reminiscing bath times past

Beginning in Louisiana, we started bathing Truman in a clear Rubbermaid container.  Instead of transporting a baby bath which only served one purpose, we decided to use one of our large storage containers as a bath.  This offered the convenience of dual purposes as sealed storage during travel as well as a bath when stationary.  We would fill it with water in the morning and heat it in the sun.  This maintained a pre-bedtime bath routine we had started shortly after he was born.  It has created a sense of structure and familiarity no matter where we have been or what we have been living in.  This type of bathing was a necessity while living in the pop up, as it had no internal plumbing.  When we moved into the RV, it actually had a bathtub just slightly bigger than the Rubbermaid he was used to.  Here are some photos of baths along the way.
Bath time in Pittsburgh

Bath time in New Orleans

Bath time in Roosevelt

Truman is our water baby (born a Pisces...I guess it makes sense). Our little fish!  Seeing the enjoyment he gets out of water, we have offered multiple forms of water play for him...from sensory play to a baby pool and sprinklers.  In the past few days he has taken to crawling into the low plastic container we have set up for water play here in Hawaii.  Check him out just lounging away.  I am left to wonder if he is telling us it's time to get back on the road, back to camping, and back to bathing in water heated in the day's sun, outdoors in a clear Rubbermaid.

Bath time in Hawaii?