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Tycho knows how to live it up.
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The medicine cabinet in our RV was generously sized (in our opinion), but it only had one shelf. There was a lot of wasted space.

While we could have stored about 16 super-tall cans of 80’s Aqua Net, we’ve both outgrown that phase and our toiletries are a bit smaller these days.

The cabinet itself is made of a light ¼ inch plywood, so it is not a good base with which to attach a shelf. However, I did this, I wanted to avoid visible screws. I chose some light hardwood lumber that could be stained to closely match the rest of the cabinet. Rather than installing standard shelf supports (which would likely require visible screws), I made two legs and used double faced tape to attach them to the inside of the lower shelf in order to support my new shelf.

I cut and stained the new shelf to match as well.

The one additional shelf added a lot of room in the cabinet. If we find ourselves running out of space again, I could add an additional shelf to the lower area in the same manner. (Or, more likely, we do a little spring cleaning.)

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As we continue our quest for space optimization, we discovered some wasted space in the cabinet below the sink. Only the top half of the total cabinet space was usable as a cabinet when we bought it. The lower half of the space was closed off with a panel, in order to hide the plumbing connections and electrical runs.

Barely enough room for one cat.

The area below the sink was opened for a previous project where I found myself tracking down a water leak. The space was closed off with a ¼ inch plywood panel to protect the water lines, drain, and some electrical feeds. When repairing the leak, I realized this area still had quite a bit of usable space, if I made a few modifications.

My plan was to install a sub-floor in the cabinet and close off the areas with the water and electrical feeds using floating walls. I started by adding a grid of boards to the bottom of the cabinet space to support the new sub-floor and allow for some clearance to route the wire. I cut a paper pattern for the usable floor area and used that to cut a sheet of ¼ inch plywood. The cabinet will see a lot of use, so I lined these parts with woodgrain shelf paper for durability and to match the existing wood.

The floating walls were cut from the same paneling as the sub-floor. The walls are attached to the cabinet face and the new floor of the cabinet, and the job is done.

This new area more than doubled our usable space under the sink!

We only post Tycho-approved RV modifications.
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Shortly after we moved in, we started noticing water on the ground under the dump valve for the black tank and one of the gray tanks. Thankfully, the water appeared to be either fresh water or gray water! But it was a concern and needed fixing.

Our unit has an all-weather sealed underbelly, so the water leaking could have been coming from any number of places and traveling along the underbelly to the drain valve area. We were really concerned, because water can do a lot of damage when the leaks are not addressed quickly. During the course of troubleshooting, we noticed the leak was the worst when the bathroom gray tank was close to full.

I made a small incision in the corrugated plastic liner covering the underbelly to dry it out and get a better look at the problem. I could see the bottom of the gray tank, but it still wasn’t clear where the water was coming from.

I moved indoors and opened the two access panels in the bathroom, one under the shower and another under the sink. Under the sink, I opened the lower access panel in the sink cabinet and found a large space with the water feed, the drain plumbing, and several electrical lines. (The lighter colored boards in the floor area of the lower cabinet were added for another project I started shortly after fixing the leak. Stay tuned for a future post about that.)

The black sink drain pipe ran straight down through an opening in the floor and directly into the top of the grey tank. I got a nice look at this area when the tank was full and there was no indication of water leaking in this area. The water in the park tends to be hard so a chalky residue would have been present if there was a history of leaks in that area.

The shower also has a drain that leads to the grey tank that is accessible through a second small access panel under the shower drain pan.

When I pulled this panel off the cutout area behind it was barely large enough for my arm. I wanted to get a better look so I used my cell phone camera as a periscope to see what there was to see.

When I first moved the phone into the opening a very frightening picture appeared: a large hairy spider appeared on the screen that appeared to be the size of a dinner plate! Once I adjusted the zoom on the camera, I realized we were not being invaded by giant spiders. After recovering my dignity and rehoming the tiny arachnid who was as surprised by the intrusion as I was, I tried again.

My arm barely fit in the access hole, so I used a razor knife to open things up and dull the sharp edges. I was able to fit one arm and my phone in the space so I used the video option to view the areas under the shower pan. (I was not very excited about sticking my arm and phone into an area where there may be more spiders but tracking down the leak was important.)

It took several attempts, but I was able to get a decent view of the drain and saw that it went straight down from the shower pan and took a 90-degree turn just below the floor. I could not see where it entered the grey tank. To check the area I could see I started running water in the shower and monitored the area for leaks. Very quickly, I saw water dripping from the connection to the shower pan. That connection used a friction-fit coupling and a large plastic threaded nut to secure the drain line into the shower pan.

It took some contorting, but I was able to reach far enough to get a hand on the nut— which was very loose. The loose nut caused the shower drain pan joint to leak directly into the space below the floor and drained out the lowest point by the dump valves. Of all of the problems that could have caused the leak this had to be the best problem to have, the water leaking was soapy shower water. I was able to tighten the nut enough to stop the leak. I suspect it was not properly installed at the factory. I have heard of issues like this coming up from time to time.

Success! We haven’t seen any leaks since.

This issue could’ve been a major problem requiring expensive and invasive repairs. We are grateful that this was such a quick fix!

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We brought these low-profile condos David made for our sticks-and-bricks home with us, because they fit perfectly behind the kitchen island. We have put them in several places in the RV, including under the window next to the table (where we ate too much cat hair with our meals) and on either end of the kitchen island (works well, but takes up too much floor space). Our cats love them.

This post was originally published on The Whisker Shop’s blog with the title Helping Cats Live Large in Small Homes, and we’ve used this philosophy for “cattifying” our RV home, too.

If you lack the square footage for elaborate cat furniture, there are plenty of ways to help your cat branch out (and up), and make you feel like he’s got more room than you.

Tip #1: Think vertically! This is really the best way to maximize a cat’s space. Adding shelves, or rearranging stuff on existing shelves to make room for cats, is like a cat magnet for most cats. Keep in mind the size and age of your cats: smaller or older cats may need additional shelves or a chair moved so they can get on and off the shelf safely. Make sure the shelves can hold your cats’ weight and the force of their jump, to avoid unnecessary injuries or repairs.

Tip #2: Think multi-purpose! Dedicated cat furniture is beautiful and helps your cat feel like she really owns her space. But sometimes you just don’t have the floor space for it. Adding something like a Clamp-on Desk Shelf to an existing desk or table will let you keep working while your cat supervises from above. If you already have a desk with a shelf, consider clearing off some space and adding an inbox for your cat. Sometimes an empty box lid is all that’s needed to entice a cat to use a new space, or you can try something much cozier, like a MidWest Deluxe Bolster Pet Bed.

Tip #3: Maximize space! If you’ve got extra leg room under your desk, or under a table where you spend a lot of time working, your cat may want to join you (and get in your way). Try tucking a cozy place to call their own near your feet (but not so near where you might kick them!), like the Zen Den Cat Hideout. We like the Zen Den because the top comes off for easy access in case of emergencies, and it folds flat for travel or storage. It’s also great for cats who prefer to be closer to the ground. Or keep it simple and cheap: keep a couple fleece blankets on hand, fold one for underneath a favorite chair or table, and rotate them out on laundry day.

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Two of our cats are brothers we rescued at 5 weeks old. They’re now 5 years old, and still a handful. They hate being in hard-sided carriers with a passion. But on our last pre-RV relocation with a car full of stuff and 5 cats, they destroyed their soft-sided carrier before we even left our neighborhood. We ended up stopping at a pet store on our way out of town to buy two hard-sided carriers to contain them for the 600-mile trip.

But we’re trying to make RV life easier on them, and we’re confident we can get them comfortable in the truck if we’re patient and creative. So a couple weeks ago, we bought a Pet Gear Soft Crate for the boys and another for our two girls (who are perfect angels on the road), and set it up for the boys to get used to having it around.

Last weekend we changed parking spots in the same park. (To be closer to the pool!) It was a good test-run for the new crates– and the boys did less damage than we expected, but they still put holes in the screen. We really want to make these soft carriers work because they’re more comfortable for the cats, so I wanted to repair the damage.

We are HUGE fans of Pet Screen, because it renders screens just about indestructible when it comes to cats and dogs. We replaced all the screens in our RV with Pet Screen before we ever moved the cats in– not only does it keep them safe, but it’s so easy to get tiny tears in standard screens even without pets, that this stuff keeps the bugs out and keeps the screens looking nicer longer.

Since I had some left over from the RV screen install, I thought I’d try to replace the two torn parts of our new cat carrier. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this stuff is to work with, and how well my sewing machine handled it.

Tycho and Kepler before they realized the crate could go outside and ride in trucks. Exhibit A. The damage done in less than an hour. Honestly, it could’ve been a lot worse. Exhibit B. The damage up close. And a reminder that we should’ve trimmed their nails before moving day. The folding crate is basically a canvas shell around a folding metal frame, and removing the fabric from the frame was easy. Using a 1/2″ seam and a box of safety pins, I pinned pet screen directly on top of existing screen, using the zipper seam as a guide. It’s important to get assistance with big jobs. Sewing along the existing seam, right on top of the old screen. I needed to use a zipper foot to get around the zipper. The pet screen worked really well, including around the curves of the zipper. With small, sharp scissors, I cut away the old screen along the seam. I used the same Velcro from the old screen door on the new screen, so the door can be rolled up and left open as a cat hangout in the RV when we’re not traveling. I also replaced this screen window that had no zipper, so it was an easier job. Kepler approves of these repairs, but makes no promises not to destroy the rest of the carrier on the next trip.
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I love being able to work or study anywhere (weather-permitting), but mealtimes while traveling require some creativity.

Finding gluten-free food on the road can be tough. This is not a post about finding gluten-free restaurants, or about all the magical gluten-free dining experiences a traveler with celiac disease might find if only they were brave enough or bold enough.

I am a super sensitive celiac. I am more sensitive than the average celiac, and it takes me longer to bounce back than many of my celiac peers. Once, I was glutened so badly by a careless restaurant that it took me over a year to feel “normal” again.

Consequently, we don’t eat out much.

So this is a post about where to find gluten-free groceries while traveling.

Even before RV life, when we traveled, we brought a suitcase for our clothes and a suitcase for our food. (The food suitcase was usually bigger.) RV travel has made eating on the road MUCH easier and simpler, but there’s a lot of overlap between how we handled food on the road with a car compared to how we handle food on the road in an RV.

We recently got an Instant Pot, which we love, and I kept my stovetop pressure cooker for those days when we might not have electricity or when we need a large stock pot. We’ve got a small and medium sauce pan, spare pressure cooker seals, oven mitts, a jar opener, an electric tea kettle, and a countertop ice maker. We also keep masking tape and a Sharpie marker on a nearby hook so that we can label leftovers and date open containers so nothing sits around too long. Packing BYOS: Bring your own Stuff.

What gadgets and condiments do you use every day? What’s a must-have for your suitcase or RV kitchen? Here’s our list of essentials:

  • We loved our Aroma Rice Cooker for years, until it finally stopped working at a nice old age. Now we can’t live without our 3 Quart Instant Pot.
  • Bamboo Cooking Utensils, which are super durable but inexpensive, so it’s not so heartbreaking if one is lost in transit.
  • Lightweight cutting board(s) are handy for food prep on any suspicious surface (like a hotel table or campground picnic table).
  • A paring knife and a serrated knife
  • Utensils: Now that we’re full-time RVers, we get to bring our metal utensils with us. But when car-tripping and nowadays when we want to save water and time, we always keep some kind of biodegradable cutlery on hand.
  • Paper towels in generous quantities.
  • Small bottle of dish soap and a sponge
  • An electric tea kettle, which we used for tea and mugs of veggie broth at the end of a chilly day.
  • Folding cooler with a shoulder strap, for keeping things cold and fresh– and for staying out of the way when not needed.
Stock up on essentials.

Everyone has favorite foods that are hard to find. For us, it’s vegan ranch dressing, Daiya cheese sauce, and nutritional yeast. We also bring San-J Gluten-Free Soy Sauce Packets (it’s actually tamari), and the Drogheria & Alimentari Four Seasons Peppercorns Mill (it’s the best grinder and pepper blend) because they’ll dress up anything in a pinch!

If you know there will be a grocery store or farmers market where you can safely purchase foods to enjoy raw or cook in your trusty rice cooker, but you might not be able to find your favorite barbecue sauce or sriracha– bring it along, and bring more than you think you’ll need. You might even make some new friends because you’ve got the best condiments at the campground!

Our essentials: Daiya cheese sauce, some kind of shelf-stable vegan ranch dressing, and Califia Farms vanilla creamer. We could live without out them, but why should we? Your Route and Your Destination Find nearby grocery stores.

Many chains are run by parent companies so sister stores carry the same brands. If you’re like me and you know that Kroger brand Worcestershire sauce is safe for you, you might look for Kroger’s family of stores to find Fry’s, City Market, or King Soopers. If you know you can find safe food at Safeway, you might also try to find a Vons or Pak-n-Sav.

Get creative at convenience stores.

Nowadays, gas stations are getting creative. In 2014, Pilot Flying J truck stops announced healthier food options, and even if the restaurants aren’t safe (cross-contamination), we’ve seen fresh fruits, corn chips with guacamole, nuts, dried fruit, and gluten-free protein bars. We’ve bought carrots and hummus at Kwik Stops, and Justin’s Nut Butter packets all over the place.

Download apps before you go.

Most travel apps focus on food for people without celiac or allergies, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Amazon. If you’re a Prime member (and if you’re not, you should try Prime free for 30 days), you get discounts at Whole Foods, which is a gluten-free paradise. The Amazon app lets you pull up your discount QR-code and will also help you find the nearest Whole Foods Market with just a few taps.
  • Shipt grocery delivery will bring you groceries anywhere you’re staying (well, almost anywhere, boondockers!) but I’ve also used the app just to find out what grocery stores are in the area, so we could plan our shopping trips.
  • iExit is a pit stop finder, and it helps you find upcoming exits and the services offered. It’s great for gas stations and all kinds of shops from Petsmart to Home Depot.
  • Find Me Gluten Free is mainly for restaurants, but I’ve found plenty of natural foods stores with this app. (If you use this app for restaurants, celiacs beware: I’ve been glutened after trusting some of the reviews here. I realized later that many reviewers are not gluten-free for medical reasons.)
Meal and Snack Suggestions Be Flexible

We’ve had stir fry for breakfast and grits for dinner because we needed something hearty to start the day and something light to end it. Sometimes you have to think outside the box about foods typically eaten at certain times of the day, and think more practically about whether or not you’ll have electricity, or if you’re trying use up bulkier ingredients to make room in your packs/pantries.

Have Fun!

Life with celiac is often a literal picnic for us. We don’t have to search for a restaurant that’s open or has adequate parking, and then worry about if they can cater to our needs. As long as we’ve planned ahead, we just need a good place to park, and we’re ready for a great meal with great company. We used to love going out to eat, but we long ago realized it’s not about the restaurant. It’s all about having fun experiences and spending time together.

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The basic concept of calculating towing capacity isn’t exactly complicated: your vehicle needs to be capable of towing whatever it is you’re trying to tow, and you should never go over that limit because it’s dangerous (and potentially deadly). But actually calculating towing capacity and understanding the details to be sure you’re within safety limits gets a bit complex.

It’s important to remember you can never have too much truck, when it comes to towing.

Doing the calculations for towing capacity involves math, but it’s straightforward: some addition and subtraction and comparing two numbers. The tricky part is finding the data you need because there’s no single source for all things weight-related, and the only way to be sure you’re under capacity is by visiting a weigh station to have your vehicle and RV weighed separately.

Here are the important terms and definitions:

Vehicle curb weight, or dry weight: The weight of your vehicle (the one doing the towing) completely empty. This can be found on a sticker inside the door frame, in the owner’s manual, or elsewhere from the manufacturer, but it’s often an impractical measurement: it’s the weight with no driver, no passengers, no cargo, no extra features, maybe even an empty gas tank. The only way to get an accurate actual curb weight for your specific vehicle is to take it to a weigh station and weigh it with no one and nothing in it.

GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: The maximum amount your vehicle can safely weigh, including all passengers, cargo, and the weight of the trailer hitch (see below). This is provided by the manufacturer on a door sticker, owner’s manual, or other manufacturer’s publication.

GCVWR, or Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating: The maximum weight of the combination of vehicle and trailer, including all passengers, cargo, water and waste tanks, propane, food, and toys. This is provided by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

GCVW, or Gross Combined Vehicle Weight: The actual weight of the vehicle plus trailer, including all passengers, cargo, water and waste tanks, propane, food, and toys. The only way to get an accurate GCVW is by taking your vehicle and trailer to a weigh station like a CAT Scale or Escapees SmartWeigh.

Trailer Dry Weight: The weight of of a completely empty trailer. Manufacturers’ definitions of “empty” can vary widely, and may or may not include propane, water, waste, or extra features. This number can be found on a sticker from the manufacturer, but the only way to get an accurate dry weight is to take your trailer to a weigh station and weigh it empty.

Trailer GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: The maximum amount your trailer can weigh, including all cargo, full water and waste tanks, and propane. This is provided by the manufacturer on a sticker or other manufacturer publication.

Hitch weight, or tongue weight: This is the amount of weight exerted vertically (downward) on the hitch ball. Hitch weight is generally about 10% of the trailer’s GVWR, but is provided by the manufacturer and can be measured by yourself with a trailer tongue weight scale. Remember that tongue weight can vary, depending on the amount of gear loaded towards the front of the trailer and loaded on the tongue itself.

Payload rating: The maximum weight that can be hauled inside the vehicle doing the towing, including driver, passengers, cargo, and the hitch weight. A payload rating is published by the manufacturer, but can also be calculated by subtracting the the vehicle’s curb weight from the GVWR.

Payload: This is the actual payload, or the total weight of the driver, all passengers (including pets!), cargo, and the hitch weight. This can only be accurately determined by taking the loaded vehicle to a weigh station and subtracting the vehicle’s curb weight.

Can I Tow This? If GCVW is less than GCVWR, then you are within the towing capacity of your vehicle, so yes, you can (probably) tow this.

The Math
  • GCVW = Truck Curb Weight + Driver + Passengers + Truck Cargo + Trailer Dry Weight + Trailer Cargo
  • Payload Rating = Truck GVWR – Truck Curb Weight
  • Payload = Driver + Passengers + Truck Cargo + Hitch
  • Trailer GVWR = Trailer Dry Weight + Trailer Cargo
  • Goal: GCVW
The Calculator

Because I was constantly having trouble remembering all the differences between the somewhat similar acronyms, I created a towing capacity calculator with all of the above math and definitions, and used it while we were shopping for our RV and truck:

Can I Tow This?

The Research

Trailer Life Tow Guides are an outstanding resource, because they are annual publications offer the tow ratings for most vehicles going back to 1999, and free to use. We used these while shopping for our truck, because we purchased the trailer first, and needed to make sure whatever we bought could tow our RV.

This calculator (and this post) do not factor in more subtle concerns about towing capacity, such as Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR), which more specifically defines the amount of weight that each axle can carry. In most cases, GAWR is factored into a trailer’s GVWR, but if you’re hauling very uneven loads (where one end of your rig is disproportionately heavier than the other end), you may need to dig a little deeper into the numbers and weights. If you’d like to know more, How Stuff Works has an interesting article about GAWR and why it’s important.

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Image of grocery carts in motion by Heinz Anton Meier from Pixabay.

With food allergies and severe celiac disease, we don’t go to restaurants very often. Going out to eat requires a great deal of preliminary research and phone calls to restaurant managers, and even then it’s a gamble whether or not a business is going to be “gluten-free enough” for someone like me. Getting contaminated by a careless restaurant can cause me a health setback that will require weeks or even months of recovery.

To play it safe, we cook at home almost exclusively, and have a great time doing it. One of the greatest things about taking our kitchen on the road is that we always have our favorite gadgets and snacks, and we know they will always be safe and clean. We think our Keystone Laredo 335MK has an enormous kitchen, with more fridge and counter space than my first apartment. It’s actually enjoyable to cook in it!

Consequently, we tend to get more excited about a popular grocery store than a popular restaurant. Exploring new grocery stores can be exciting, but it’s also time consuming when I should be working, and it’s occasionally a gluten contamination risk when the store has a big, active bakery department.

So I have to tell you why I am in love with Shipt!

Shipt is a grocery delivery service, and it’s great because it makes grocery shopping quick and easy, saving me a ton of time. It’s a membership service where orders over $35 are delivered for free. My shoppers communicate with me every step of the way via text message, making sure that any substitutions are safe for me and checking in to make sure I didn’t forget anything before they check out. With Shipt, I can do my grocery shopping while I work from home, or while I’m taking the cat for a walk.

I think anyone with disabilities or chronic illnesses who finds grocery shopping an exhausting and taxing errand can benefit from Shipt, too. I’ve used other grocery delivery services in the past, like Instacart and Safeway’s own delivery service, and while they’ll almost always work in a pinch, I find the markup on Shipt items to be more reasonable than other apps, and I think its app is a bit more user-friendly than others.

Since participating stores aren’t limited to grocery stores, I’ve even been able to replace broken phone chargers and headsets in a pinch, and we get cat food delivered all the time!

Don’t get me wrong– no service is perfect. I’ve had a few orders delayed because there were no shoppers available for my preferred time slot. I’ve also had shoppers be less-than-careful with delicate produce, or bring me the gluteny version of a gluten-free item. But these incidents have been extremely rare, and Shipt is always quick to make it right by offering a refund for the incorrect items. Fortunately, I can count the number of problems I’ve had on one hand, and they’ve all been easily resolved.

Shipt isn’t everywhere, but if you’re staying somewhat near civilization and not boondocking, you may be surprised by the number of stores available. Because Target owns Shipt, any area with a Target is more likely to be within Shipt’s service area.

If you use this referral link to sign up for Shipt, you’ll get a 50% discount on your first year membership ($49 instead of $99), and we get a small commission for referring you. Other shopping apps I’ve tried will charge about $5 per order for delivery, so we signed up thinking the service would pay for itself after 10 orders. But we liked it so much that we’ve been ordering 2 or 3 times a week for nearly a year, and I find myself plugging the addresses of future RV park stops into the Shipt app in order to plan trips with more adventures and fewer errands.

Edited to add:

Because someone reminded me, I wanted to remind you to tip your shoppers well! No matter which company you use, people don’t make much money doing this kind of work. Please tip generously! I always tip 30-35% for good service.

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