By The Russell's

We are a newly retired couple from Delaware (Keith is originally from England) who decided less than a year ago to sell the home where we raised our five kids ( now ages 21-30), buy a 43 foot 5th wheel RV and spend at least a year traveling across country having adventures and seeking out where it is we might want to retire when we grow up. As we are social creatures by nature and found social media to be by far the best way to stay in touch with family and friends, thus we morphed into Empty Nest Nomads as a way to have an identity in this vast digital existence. We video log our unique and often comical quests on our You Tube channel and Jenn, a former principal and lifelong writer, is blogging her perspectives as we go.

We have not killed one another

In retirement, I didn’t know the internet would be something that I think about all the time. However, it seems to consume lots of my mental energy daily . I really thought in 2019 Internet was something that would be everywhere and readily available, realizing that assumptions are often the bane of my

existence.

Since we started our Instagram account and our YouTube channel, I feel responsible to those folks who subscribe or follow us . We started out making the videos for family and friends, but since we got on the road we seem to have a group of friends that we have never actually met, but whom we communicate with often. Many of them are into RVing , but some just seem entertained by our shenanigans and of course , Xena seems to have her own following. We often follow them back and keep up with their travels, picking up tips about certain locations. We have often found the best kept secrets on the road are not available in the tourist brochures, but come from pics and comments shared with people in nearly real time. Often the places we eat aren’t based on yelp or four square, but on places our subscribers /followers have shared.

These are interesting virtual relationships and have been invaluable on this journey. Occasionally, we get to meet up with someone in person and that’s fun. And we have had the strange experience more than once of people coming up to the rig, which clearly says “ Empty Nest Nomads” and strangers being super psyched to meet us. In Elkhart, Indiana recently we had pulled over and a woman got out of a pick up and ran over to hug us. Once we assessed that she wasn’t there to mug us, she was a fan who also RV’d full-time, it was endearing – she felt she knew us. We recognize that we are hardly famous or trend setting, but it’s fun to have people enjoying our efforts to share how lucky we are to have this opportunity to see the country.

So coming out west to be nearly two weeks without strong or steady enough internet to upload videos has yielded some very kind concern from our virtual support system. I’m hoping maybe this RV “ Resort” in Yosemite will allow us to upload Episode 1 for Season 3 and the nearly 3000 people who are paying attention to what we are doing and where we are – will not be worried we’ve killed each other on a moving day 😉

RV Life Fulltime

Full time RV Life was a major change in our world and as we approach the full year mark , I thought it was time to reflect on how it began. We spent most of our lives with two pretty demanding careers and juggling five children’s school and social schedules. Adjusting to life on the road has taken a long time, but oddly we now expect that each day will likely be different and routines are a thing of the past.

People often ask us if this had been our life long dream and how many years we put into getting ready to be on the road full time. This question always makes us laugh because we had never, ever been camping and like many chapters of our crazy marriage, this was a choice born and executed in reaction to a unique life crossroad. In March of 2018, Xena ( our dog )and I were driving cross country coming home from California where we had been visiting our son Quinn in Malibu, California for the month. Along the route, I became incredibly sick with a flu that was completely debilitating. Keith had to fly to Indiana and drive us home, even after being to a hospital ER, my fever was still high and I could not stay awake. It was by far the worst physical illness I had ever experienced; which is saying a lot as I had a heart attack and spent 5 days in Cardiac ICU, four years before that. This flu was intense and frightening, it literally had me in bed for 2 weeks and barely leaving the house for a full month.

At the time Keith was consulting in Connecticut and was gone Monday through Thursday and I was consulting for a tech ed company, where I travelled frequently. We were technically retired, all our kids were gone, but we spent very little time together. Keith spent time on the phone while I was ill, trying to have our amazing family of friends check on me and I had a myriad of nurses coming and going. On the weekends while Keith took over, we discussed how we had created a world where we worked to keep a home that was far too big and with each of our kids having a life of their own, a place that was more to manage than what fit our needs. We were living in 5500 square feet and we barely used half of it and with summer approaching the work of huge flower and vegetable beds and the daily maintenance of the outdoor kitchen, hot tub and pool was daunting. It was not what we expected our lives to be when we retired from our careers.

We talked about buying a smaller, retirement home and spent hours researching where and found ourselves in heated debates about location, with little to go on outside of whatever the internet had to say about a community. As life long scholars, we both liked to make decisions based on facts and experience. Keith was born in England and his job often had him working and traveling throughout Europe and Asia. As a public school educator, I was lucky to attend a conference every couple of years. However, once retired between my consulting job and a road trip twice in 6 months from Delaware to California, my curiosity about many places in the United States was peaked, but I was not knowledgeable about where to buy a retirement home.

In our internet search, one day we came across a video from a YouTube channel called “ Keep Your Day Dreams,” a couple who had gone on a journey through out the U.S. in an RV and made a weekly video about their experiences. We watched them for hours and found others; within a weekend we decided that our search for a retirement home needed to be literal.

Keith resigned from his job April 1st, we drove to Elkhart, Indiana, toured RV factories on April 15th and ordered our 43 foot, Fifth Wheel RV. We spent the next two weeks in a whirlwind of minor house updates and real estate readiness, getting our family home prepared for the market. The For Sale sign went up May 1st and to our surprise, we had several offers that day. That didn’t turn out as easy as it sounds and I could write a whole blog on the nightmare of stucco inspections and mortgage assessments, but by June we had plans to move into a friend’s summer cottage while we waited for our RV to be delivered in August.

This began the long and sometimes emotional process of downsizing. I was not a person that collected items, except shoes, but we had a home filled with beautiful “ things”- 5500 square feet of “ stuff”. We agreed that we would rent a storage unit and keep one bedroom and a family room worth of furniture. Other than that, we could only have belongings that would fill the 500 square feet of the RV. Family and friends had a great time coming through the house like a shopping mall. I still see girlfriends on their Facebook posts, where I can spot some of my outfits or shoes.

By August we were more then ready to be out of the cottage and on the road. We had researched and found a Diesel Ford F450 King Ranch, dually truck to pull the 26,000 pound RV. It was almost comical to trade in the BMW and return my leased little Mercedes to get into the biggest truck we had ever seen.

Once we got to Indiana we lived at the factory for 2 days, getting things fixed (we had a faulty washer & added a generator ) and learning about operating an RV this size. We had one rather brief driving lesson now that we had 5 axels and were the length and height of an 18 wheel truck….we were off. I had taken pages of notes and we used our phones to video things like attaching the fifth wheel hitch and operating the balancing jacks. We laughed and cried with excitement and anxiety as we worked our way through Ohio and Pennsylvania, heading back to Delaware to fill our new home.

The original thrill was soon lost when we struggled with sewer and water at our first campsite. Thankfully, fellow campers were gracious and helpful, but it was very hard not to doubt ourselves and our choices. And like I am guessing is often the case, we found our version of downsizing was nowhere even close to what we needed it to be. I worked through tears as I settled on 4 pairs of summer shoes, 2 pairs of gym shoes and 3 pairs of boots. I took another huge load to give Goodwill of clothes, dishes and pictures. Life was very unsettled and on top of the terror of the unknown, I wasn’t sure how I’d survive on the smallest wardrobe I owned since college and an equal amount of cooking and general “ life gear”. However, we were committed to a plan and so it began.

Now 37 states later, experiences good and bad on the road, we have survived the biggest challenge of our marriage, thus far. We spend 24 hours a day together, 7 days a week in a space that is not much larger than our former bedroom suite. These days, set up and break down is far less stressful and both of us can drive our home without much thought. We have learned more about one another than any other year of our marriage and as the end of the adventure is not far- we end in October, I don’t think either one of us would trade the insanity of the experience. We will soon decide on a place to put another sticks and bricks home, but I’m guessing the lessons learned through our time wandering about will keep us from staying still for too long. And while I look forward to the consistency of routines, the delight of a gym, I daydream about a bathtub and dishwasher , crave a shoe rack with choices and planting a small herb and flower garden, I will miss a few things. Mostly how much Keith loves seeing this country, having become a citizen in his forties , many things I learned about in US History and Geography classes over the years, were all new to him. He is fascinated by this country, it’s majestic lands and the unique cultures of the people in it. In retrospect, I am glad we took the time and energy to create the Empty Nest Nomads YouTube channel ourselves and have video journals of our travels, being able to look back will be fun.

Alas, I have little advice for those thinking about RV full time life. Our decision to do so was very spontaneously executed. In our case, often we overthink things, and we stay stagnant. So perhaps our example is about making the years you retire into the thrills you didn’t have the money or bold rebellion to take in youth. I don’t think our lives will ever be ordinary again, our nomad spirit is now part of who we are.

Freezing Time… rewinding with time on my hands

The path that our kids choose is always something that affects us in ways we had no idea about before we were ourselves parents. The people I grew up with are in our fifties and so mostly our kids are in their twenties or headed that way. We thought getting through middle school hoop was hard, than realized high school was an even bigger challenge. I cannot even think about the stress of getting into college or deciding on a way to make a living. Alas, all of that seems pretty damn easy as a parent, compared to their journey as independent adults. Sometimes it seems the time went so fast between sending them off to Kindergarten to listening to them talk about paying utility bills and true love. It’s hard to say which milestone I’d freeze if I could halt time.

I taught and was an admin in middle school for many years , so I was not as shocked by the intensity of mood swings and teen angst that some friends had been. Their sweet son or daughter went from innocent, loving people pleasing humans to crazy, unpredictable seemingly psychopathic beings. And although I had a better idea than most of what was coming, I clearly remember days in tears, thinking I had obviously done something metabolically to my child ‘s mental stability because I drank that glass of champagne in month 6 of my pregnancy at a wedding I had attended . Then before I knew it, they would morph back into my sweet child for pinches of time, reminding me that I had indeed given birth to them and the hospital had not mixed them up with a serial killer’s offspring. It was hard to learn to contain opinions and let my children face hurdles I could have made easier. Three years of middle school as a Mom, made me appreciate the battle worn look so many of the parents sitting in my office often had. Alas, even the most stereotypical “ perfect” child has moments in the middle years where you have to blink twice to contemplate if it is your genetics standing before you or Satan’s Spawn. You are so glad when it’s time for high school, hoping in spite of impending dread of driving and dating“, that life will be on a more even keel.

Again, my career had a few times put me into a high school setting; I was sure I was ready. That went out the window the first week of drama in band camp, followed on the heels of 9th grade parent orientation, that had me near ulcer level worry about if my kid was taking the classes to get him into the right college. That feeling never dulled in those four years, but was often muted by the chronic pain of the increasing demand as extra curricular taxi duty and a persistent open wallet. However, I wished for that when the extended complication of a first part time job and the anxiety of a learners driving permit became our reality. I clearly recall the first time I felt that priceless bond of my young adult trusting me with an intimate secret and wish I could forget the kind of helpless pain I felt, the first time they truly had their heart broken. I am not sure if I cried more than they did, but I was positive it took years off my life, worrying about if the fragile moment would ever pass. There was battles about curfew, wars about reserving family time and amazing moments of such pride, that the crayoned family portrait still hanging on my office wall, felt likely to be replaced with a Grammy, Nobel Prize or at least a Lamborghini for Mother’s Day. And God Bless the parent of a child in their Senior year, for which I am certain my grey hair largely rooted itself. Ten months of heart wrenching “ lasts”. The final football game, the end of marching band, last homecoming; it all has this ending scenario that makes watching the bus pull away for their first ride, feel like junior varsity parenting. Waiting to hear from a college, riding the chaos of AP testing and enduring the roller coaster of Prom, makes the finish line of graduation feel like the relief of your cruise ship pulling away from the dock. As this is just my blog of meandering thoughts during my travels, I won’t spend time or type on holding your breath that your child is not the one arrested during the somewhere rite of passage called Senior Week.

College is not for every human being and four consecutive years is lovely, but more often unlikely. So with each one, this was a different adventure in my role as a parent. So much of this time is about letting go enough, while finding the balance to be a kind of safety net. It was hard to figure out if that help is often just fiscal assistance or trying to find ways to continue to bridge a new evolved relationship. The first time they are not going to move home for Summer or they get an apartment that looks less like your hand me downs and more like a space that defines them, feels like a piece of your heart has permanently broken off. That doesn’t mean you aren’t proud. I have smiled through some marginally livable spots in neighborhoods that had crime rates that equated to my significant loss of sleep. These were years I found myself frequently biting my tongue and swallowing some helpful suggestions. It is a time that you start to see moments of having that sweet child from Elementary again; they have sporadic spurts of appreciation and occasional desires to spend time and have your attention. It feels like you might survive these many years of parenting as trial by fire.

I have to say that sitting here having the time to write down these things feels like nostalgic rewinding, but it also reminds me that we earned the time we have now. It makes me grateful for the friendships I had throughout raising our kids, where I could share the highs and lows of the crazy train. I wish that I had some awesome words of wisdom for those still in the midst of it, but I know listening when needed is a far better idea. It also reminds me that my job as a parent will continue to be the epicenter of who I am until my last breath. These days I look forward to phone calls that involve significant others and discussions about my own travels and our interests. They are not done becoming who they are, but I am pretty sure, neither am I. So although I regret not always appreciating moments as much as I could have, I don’t think I’d freeze time… there’s more ahead.

I’m hanging out in Truck Stops

Had you asked me 9 months ago if I would spend a great deal of mental energy contemplating Truck Stops, I would have absolutely believed you had broken out your oldest tequila. However, in my current full-time RV world, I am forever planning, reviewing, assessing and obviously visiting our nation’s truck stops regularly. There is a whole culture among this transportation /commerce world that I never even had any idea existed.

Alas, driving an 18 wheeler for a living has got to be an incredibly challenging career choice. We are driving around 65 feet between the F450 and the Fifth Wheel, which is plenty. The average trucker manages 80 feet. We are pulling 24000 pounds, while the legal weight of a tractor trailer is 80000 pounds. The midsized sedans we drove prior to selling the house in Delaware, were about 3500 pounds. So the truckers who drive hours on end each day, with enormously large hauls, frequent these places much the way we did hotels, in our former world.

So, on any given travel day- I’m looking for a clean restroom, decent coffee and reasonably priced diesel- knowing that my fellow drivers will have shower shoes and toothbrushes in hand inside. Understanding that we try to plan our stops and make our longest travel during the day, even at night, I have never felt the least bit unsafe in one of these truck stops. These folks can look fairly rough sometimes, but they are frequently helpful, polite and they always love Xena. We have asked for directions, and had to have someone show us the very unique scenario of getting fueled up in the truckers lane. I even had my debit card not work getting coffee once and some 40 something dude in a leather baseball cap, driving a trailer with a bright red cab which had“Big Red”painted on the side, insisted he buy my coffees. He told me his Mother raised him right and buying a lady and her man a cup of coffee would make her smile from heaven . Hence, trying to not let tears cover my cheeks, I let him and simply said, “ Thank you”. Truckers are some of my favorite new people in our life’s episodes of adventures.

So the next time you smile when the UPS guy brings you a package, remember that likely some man or woman ( forgot to mention that’s been really cool too- many women are driving now and seem very happy in the profession) drove that package across the country to get it there. They got paid, but likely miss family and friends to bring you that Amazon Prime delight.

So today, as we have spent what feels like endless hours on the south east highways of this country, I’ve been really contemplating the zillion trucks we share the road with and thought I’d write about my new found appreciation for them on my journey.

Thinking about the next generation of Nomads

People assume with 5 grown kids that we are grandparents, but they would be wrong. It’s currently something that pleases both of us as we have enjoyed that every single one of them has taken on some combination of careers, adventures, travel and are taking their time to nurture relationships with some incredible people. We are in no rush and absolutely have plenty on our own agenda that makes us perfectly content watching them live their lives as they are right now. However, we also recognize that’s it’s on the horizon and something we struggle with as a factor in our decision to settle on a retirement relocation. Where do we fit Grandparenting into our future?

On one hand we have a group of friends who continue to live close to their kids and have even relocated to be closer to those who have moved away; all so they can play an every day role in their adult children’s lives. They do things like provide daycare and are ever present for holidays and birthdays. They seem quite happy in these roles. Their social media is packed regularly with adorable pictures and we enjoy watching these multi generational timelines evolve from newborn shots to proms.

We have other friends that have moved to the Carolinas, some to Florida and even a few farther west. They retired, packed up and sold the family home and now call snow something they might see on a ski vacation or a holiday return trip to the Tri- State area. They celebrate their investments and spend their pensions with endeavors like golf games, Pickleball and all kinds of cocktail related adventures. Some have amazing new, ginormous homes, but most have modest, quainter versions of where they hosted things in Delaware or Pennsylvania. Like us, smaller is more manageable and few in our age range dream about mowing lawns, cleaning multiple bathrooms or paying utilities that cost more than rent in our college apartments.

We talk about it and find ourselves feeling that the later seems to fit our lifestyle more closely. Having raised our kids with no help, save the family of friends who switched babysitting duties or the rare friend without kids, who thankfully seemed happy to practice with ours. We have raised five extremely independent humans who rarely, after getting a driver’s license, wanted input from us on a daily basis. I say that in no way judging those people who have amazing daily relationships with their adult kids; it’s just not likely a good fit for us.

Alas, I think we want to be the big ticket, memory maker grandparents. We are the ones that will have grandkids that annoy our kids to find a way to come see us every time they have a school vacation . We will do our best to go back when and if we are ever needed. Yet, when we take the grandkids in our sunshine filled home, spoil them unbearably for the precious time they spend with us, we can grow old as the grandparents who might not have shown for each birthday, but damn if we didn’t make the best memories . Now, the unmanageable mental energy to decide what the hell we’d want to be called as grandparents ?!?!

How many likes?

I am just not a blogger and I really thought I would be. Perhaps I can blame it on the ease with which social media allows you to keep the world, although I honestly have yet to figure out why the world cares , very much aware about our daily life. Certainly in my former professional life, I had people who pretty much knew where I was 24/7. It was likely, perhaps even on weekends, my custodian, assistant principal and my secretary, knew what I was up to regularly. When we got on the road last August , we started our YouTube channel and our weekly videos as a mechanism to keep our five adult children up to speed. However, nine months into this nomadic adventure it turns out our kids and closest friends are not the only ones who seem to care what we are doing and where we are, pretty much daily. Somewhere between our weekly video, there are nearly daily updates to Instagram and Facebook.

These communication vehicles have provided us with all kinds of unique experiences, most of which have been pretty damn awesome. We can’t even pretend to be unaffected enough to not check regular on our numbers. When our Instagram hit 1000 subscribers , it was a strange hurdle of popularity that if more humble, we’d have ignored…. but today 1700 people paid attention that we were spending the day on the clear blue waters of the Gulf. They hit “like” and offer comments and emojis that feel like high fives and occasionally even , hugs. In my old school reality, these people are not the friends who celebrated our live’s highs and lent love and understanding for the lows, but they did “ choose” us nonetheless.

The RV community is far bigger than I ever realized before we began and a large part of our following initially gets on board because of shared hashtags regarding the lifestyle. Sometimes this manifests itself with someone knocking on the door of The Nest when they identify our easy to spot purple and green or catch our rear window screening that says “ Empty Nest Nomads”. They are so psyched to find us, I sometimes end up freaked out a bit. Yet, more often than not, we make great new friends, end up sharing a drink or an experience and these random screen names become real people.

All of that being said, my blog has sadly been neglected and I not sure that will change. The good news is that if our adventures are something that remind you to embrace you bucket – list-life or you secretly have some kind of innocent voyeur travel condition, we appreciate your love and attention on social media. When you miss your kids, long for the routines of your every day ordinary life or tear up at the posting of your best friends having a happy hour in your absence , the reassurance of a thumbs up or a three word comment, reinforces that someone cares about the chaos that is your life choice. Occasionally being an Empty Nest Nomad can feel a little alone, and those of you who take the time to voluntarily make us feel part of your world, are truly appreciated!

Aging Fairy Tales

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We were watching “Wedding Crashers” and a line in there says that, “True love is your soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another” and I have to say Keith is likely my counterpoint at every turn. I would not say we are opposites- being married to someone who doesn’t share your core values would be insurmountable, but we really do have very different perspectives on the world. And now that we literally spend 24 hours a day together, 7 days a week, it’s a very distinctive relationship juggle. Some people would think raising kids together would be the hard part. Trying to find time and energy between dance, soccer and seemingly endless taxi services. Others might see the career of a scientist and a principal, demanding of time, mentally draining as a difficult tightrope to walk. I’m pretty certain any staff member that ever reported to me would confirm that I lived in a school building from mid-August until the sacred September 30th count and my closest gal pals could fill pages of blogs about my life when Keith spent week after week on business in Europe or Asia. In retrospect, which does offer amazing clarity, I have literally no clue how it is we managed to keep 5 kids alive, work until we got pensions and stay married. Yet, this nomadic life- the physical morph from 5500 square feet to 500 is like a marriage surviving the space of a cage fight. In the past 5 months, we have never been apart for more than a few hours- our soul’s don’t just recognize one another- we know about one another’s digestive cycles.

It’s this unexpected chapter that has made me embrace and be very grateful for our differences that seemed in the past, to be hurdles when we could only fit in time alone every now and again. We kind of have a life of daily perpetual dates. He is my doubles partner, my workout companion and my recliner buddy. I am the cook and he is the dishwasher. I take early morning walks with Xena, he does after dark walks. He kicks ass in the long game on the court and I’m way better at the net. I worry endlessly about the kids, he believes firmly we have done a good job and they will all figure things out. He watches the news and let’s political insanity get to him, I have a series of routes to Canada preconfigured. He is the peacekeeper among the kids and I’m the one who offers life’s vivid reality and sends the care packages. Yet, there is a terrifying piece to all of this in that we have 5 kids who are extremely independent; none need us- in fact, I worry myself frequently that if we didn’t call- we’d never hear from them. Thus, we are an entity of just two and I am just not sure how one could exist without the other. And that is a road that is hopefully very far away, but true love has a crossroad- thus mentioned in your “until death do us part” vows and the thought of having it and losing that person is paralyzing even in just consideration. We filled our lives and continue to on this journey, with amazing people that are awesome to have in our world, nevertheless each night as we settle, as just two, into our mini world, I genuinely appreciate that I have something very unique in a man, a partner, that balances out who I am- if I could just stop time and aging, my fairytale might work out.