Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Real Goods

    One of my favorite stops on Hwy 101 in Northern California is at Real Goods in Hopland. Real Goods specializes in solar power and environmentally conscience living. I have fun memories of stopping there many years ago on a road trip with my sister Gloria. The buildings and grounds all demonstrate various ways we can live more sustainably, and we even got our own personal tour with one of the caretakers, who showed us around and answered our questions. We spent two hours exploring Real Goods and it was enjoyed by everyone. 

Pearl overlooking the beautiful grounds at Real Goods.

This bench/planter has seating for 50 and is planted with olive trees and hops. 

The pond is amazingly clear. We could not only see the huge plants growing in it, but it was also full of fish.They use solar power to pump water from one pond to the next and use it to irrigate their garden and grounds. The water flows down through a series of terra cotta dishes shaped somewhat like a figure eight. As it enters each dish, it's drawn out to the edges, creating a whirlpool before falling into the next dish. This serves to aerate the water, adding oxygen to help the plants and fish in the pond thrive. No stagnant waters here!

There are several built in features used to tell time by the sun, and also to show where the sun rises and sets at different times of the year.

Erik and the kids tried out the stationary bikes, which are set up to generate electricity. They each have a light bulb that glows if you get going fast enough. The question is, how much power could be generated by all the people running on treadmills and using other kinds of exercise equipment? 

Inside the geodesic greenhouse. Real Goods offers internships, and much of the interns' food is grown on the property. They learn about all kinds of sustainable practices. I wonder if they take families? 

Greenhouse in the background on the left, tiny house on the right, and a large bank of solar panels behind. There was also a teepee and a cob house. 

This is the showroom and store, where you can buy all kinds of goods related to solar energy and sustainable living. The building is constructed with straw bales and our tour guide explained how it uses passive solar energy. The large overhang shades it during the summer when the sun is high overhead and the concrete floor helps keep it cool inside. During the winter months the large south facing windows take in sunlight and the thick straw walls insulate it, enabling the entire building to be heated with a small wood stove. 

In response to the "drive through trees" that can be found in the redwoods, Real Goods has a "grove" of trees growing through cars. 

If you're ever driving this stretch of highway, plan an hour or two to stop and enjoy Real Goods! I love stops like this that not only provide a fun and interesting place to stretch our legs, but also an important part of education on the road! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Classic Organic Farm

Classic Organic Farm

  I wrote this a few nights ago and am just now having a chance to upload it.

     It’s our fourth night on the road. Each night we’ve found a different place to park for the night. One of my goals is not to have to pay to park if we don’t have to. The first night it was pouring rain and cold, and we ended up pulling into a campground and paying $15. I’m sure we could have found a little pullout somewhere but it was late and we were tired so we decided to stop where we knew we could. The second night we parked on the street in a residential neighborhood in Ukiah. I knocked on the nearest door, smiled, and asked the homeowner if he minded if we occupied his curb for the night. It was no problem. Last night we were visiting friends in the Santa Cruz area and were able to park across from their house. Tonight we’re trying something new, something I’m really excited about. 

This was just before the nearly full moon rose above our trailer.

    Harvest Hosts is a program through which farms and vineyards offer free overnight parking to people in self contained RVs or travel trailers. We paid $30 for a year’s membership, which gives us access to a database of over 400 places throughout Canada, the US, and even a few in Baja, Mexico. I looked at the map and saw that there was a farm near where we wanted to stay tonight, called and asked if they had room for us, and then arrived before they closed. We made our way south today along the 101, over rolling hills, vineyards, sometimes catching glimpses of the sparkling sea. We commented often on the beautiful weather, windows rolled down, sun pouring in. We listened to kids fight over windows being up or down, “too windy”, one said, “too cold”, said another. It was a rough day, truth be told. There were some grumpy kids, some lost tempers, some unkind works spoken. I’m ashamed to say there even some unkind words hollered. (By me.) There were tears. 

Heirloom Tomatoes

   At the end of what felt like a long road, we pulled into Classic Organics Farm, our first Harvest Hosts stay. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect, but we were genuinely welcomed by Helmut, whose farm this is. He showed us where to park and invited us to explore the farm. We pulled into a grassy area and the kids immediately made friends with goats in the adjacent pen. Later on The Farmer’s Wife came and offered to show them the baby kids, who are kept inside so they don’t become coyote snacks. The farm is nestled amongst hills now brown and golden, dotted with large oaks. We watched as five deer wandered across the hillside. The moon rose in the east just as the sun sunk golden behind the hills to the west. Erik disappeared with his camera to capture the last of its light. The kids and I  browsed the charming produce stand, neat baskets of fruits and veggies and herbs arranged on shelves, squashes and pumpkins in all their whimsical shapes and colors. Prices were clearly marked, yet there was no one there to enforce it, just a slot for money and a simple sign saying it was an honor system. There is a u-pick strawberry field, so we wandered through, savoring the sweetness of fresh berries (in October!), and filling our little cartons, then slipping our money in for someone to find. 

    Dinner has been made and eaten. (Bean soup with ham.) Dishes are washed. Kids are all tucked in and sleeping. A dog barks in the distance and moonlight on the hills. We are in a little corner of the world where hospitality is practiced, where trust and goodwill are offered. A farmer sows his seeds, waters his crops, gathers his harvest, and puts forth the fruit of his labor. He offers a place for tired travelers to park, a peaceful place, asking nothing in return. I am blessed. I am humbled, after so many moments of irritation on my part, of being oversensitive, of being unkind to those I love best. Yet here I receive grace and kindness from a perfect stranger, rest for my body, and peace for my weary soul. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Plan G

As we were getting ready to leave my parents'
house where we camped out for almost a month.

I wrote this a few days ago but haven't had a chance to post it. 

    I’m sitting in the tiny bedroom in my new house on wheels.  Our home is officially sold, Erik is finished work, and last Friday we hit the road! It’s all rather exciting. One of the strangest parts of the process has been our complete inability to figure out what we’re going to do. We’ve been asked, time after time, and the best we’ve done is give a vague answer, something along the lines of traveling for a while and settling down somewhere, someday. We don’t know when or where, but we trust we’ll know when we get there. Finally, though, I think we have the beginning of a plan. It’s not that we’ve been entirely without one, it’s just that circumstances have been such that every time we made a plan, things changed, requiring our plans to change with them. I guess this is the way life is now. Flexibility is key in our new lifestyle. If we’re going to blow with the wind, we’d better learn to float! 

    Looking back over the last several months, we’ve been through a number of plans. I’m probably forgetting a few, but it’s looked something like this:

  • Plan A: Fly to Peru September 1st. Explore a couple of South American countries, returning the end of November. Or, decide to stay longer. Plan A failed when the first offer on our home fell through. We forfeited the tickets we’d bought and moved on. Thankfully the tickets were incredibly cheap. But still. 
  • Plan B: Once the house sells, fly to see Erik’s sister in Ontario, Canada, then visit my relatives in New Jersey and explore the East Coast a little before flying out of the country. Plan B seemed awfully complicated and expensive due to flights, the necessity of renting vehicles, finding places to stay, and the logistics of planning it all. 
  • Plan C: Buy an older motorhome and make a road trip of it. By this time we’d accepted another offer on our home and it was scheduled to close September 21st. We looked at some RVs and decided it would be more practical to buy a travel trailer, which then morphed into...
  • Plan D: Very similar to Plan C, only this time we decided to act on it. After looking at many trailers in RV lots, we found one that is perfect for us. It’s only 4 years old and we bought it directly from the original owner, saving lots of money over buying from a dealer. It has triple bunks in the back so the three older kids all have their own space, and Pearl has a little bed on the floor next to us. At this point Erik was also looking into the possibility of a job in California that would start in the new year, on that would require him to move around some and work in different places for a month or so from time to time. We thought the trailer would be perfect for that as well. September 21st came and we moved into the trailer, renting our home to the buyer. The days dragged into weeks as we waited, and waited, and waited for our home to close. As it grew later and later in the fall we began to rethink our plan to drive east, not wanting to run into too much winter weather, but still really wanting to visit our families. The sale of our home finally closed on October 10th, nearly three weeks later than it was originally scheduled. Erik gave notice at work that day. He also had lunch with a colleague who does independent contracting in their field and discussed Erik doing some work for him. One job in the works would require him to be in Washington at the beginning of November. 
  • Plan E: Given the weather and the possible job opportunity in the Northwest in just a few weeks time, we began to look into flying back to see family for a short time then returning so Erik could take this job. A few days later we found out that the job in question wasn’t going to happen, although there is still a strong likelihood of contract work for Erik down the line. 
  • Plan F: We turned our focus once again onto driving east, getting to Ontario as quickly as possible and hoping that decent weather would hold out and that we wouldn’t be caught in a blizzard in North Dakota or somewhere like that. 
  • Plan G: Erik’s sister wrote us a very sweet email, explaining that she understood our predicament and that if we waited to come in the spring it would be fine. At that point we realized we could turn our attention elsewhere, but we still felt we needed to be available for some possible jobs in the Pacific Northwest. As such, we finally, finally settled on a plan. We rolled out of Eugene last Friday (did you hear the cheering?) and spent the weekend in Portland before heading south. We’re making our way down through California, stopping to see the Redwoods, friends in Santa Cruz, and family further south before crossing the border into Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Exploring the Baja is one of my bucket list items, so we’re going to take our time camping along the way and getting to know it. We’ll stop, of course, in San Miguel and see my cousins and savor that special place. I plan to read the journals of my Gramps as well as my great grandparents who lived, explored, and loved the Baja. After that, we’ll see where the wind blows us! 

    So here I sit, with no internet, but still able to write. Rain is dripping steadily on the roof, but inside we’re warm and dry. The kids are tucked snugly in their beds, the dishes are done, and today’s work is over. We’re in one of my favorite forests, the Jedediah Smith on the Redwood Highway. It was dark when we pulled in, and I’m excited to wake up and take in the view. The kids are eager to see the Big Trees, especially the one you can drive through. In the morning I’m going to read them the story of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in anticipation of seeing the ridiculously cheesy and enormous statues at the Trees of Mystery. (Paul Bunyan once waved right at me there. True story.) I’m excited that we are finally on our way, and that at last we have a plan. All that said, plans are entirely subject to change at any time, with no warning! And I’m okay with that.