ABC Post 19: Laundry Woes, Biting Ants, and Toilet Paper Thieves

Since we arrived in the Houston area in February of this year, we have stayed at 4 different RV parks. I am recounting the most notable details of two of them in this post.

When we arrived at the first RV park, we were given a page of rules and policies, many of which ended with the sentence, “You may be ejected from the park.” It was bolded, underlined, and italicized just like that. Violations that could result in “ejection” ranged from non-payment of rent to hanging a clothesline outside. Apparently those are equally egregious. The rules made me wonder if the people who lived there were really that bad, or if the management was going overboard. 

In addition to the threat-laden rules, the laundry experience was not ideal. It had been a couple weeks since I’d done laundry, and I was planning to catch up. The laundry room was part of a building that included the management office, and public bathrooms and showers. Next to the building was the pool. This is a fairly standard RV park setup. 

I did a load of laundry and faced the smelly laundry product woes I mentioned in my post about fragrances. I spend quite a while trying to use an app to pay. Finally, I concluded the app wasn’t working and I’d just use quarters. I had forgotten that sometimes these things happen, and put my laundry in before I figured out the payment, so I went back to the Airstream and tried to round up enough quarters for a load.

When I went back to switch the laundry to the dryer, I realized the washer didn’t spin properly, so I ended up wringing out a large load of sopping wet towels the old fashioned way. Then they took two cycles in the dryer to finish. I couldn’t hang them to dry, because of the aforementioned rule about clotheslines. (In retrospect, I probably could have hung them, but I try not to flagrantly violate rules, even when they seem ridiculous.)

On my way out of the laundry room, I noticed this sign. 

What the bunny slipper!” I said to Matt. “Who would steal the toilet paper? And who would use the magazines as toilet paper?! Are there actually people routinely living here who steal toilet paper to the extent that this sign is necessary?” 

The showers were closed “due to COVID concerns” (although given the way everything else in the area was operating at that point, I’m assuming it had become more about saving time and money on cleaning them.) Closed showers were not a big issue for us, since we have our own, but added to the overall feel of the place. The pool was also closed. It was probably a seasonal closure, but meanwhile, it was full of murky water. Not a great look.

One of the other RV parks we stayed at was right by I-45. We were parked toward the front of the park, and it was very noisy. I’m not sure if I was feeling particularly sensitive, or if traffic noise just bothers me a lot, but I did not appreciate the noise level. We were considering staying there long term, but decided not to after concluding that even the sites positioned furthest from the freeway were still quite noisy. 

Another factor that contributed to our decision to move on was the frontage road. I had never heard of frontage roads pre-Texas, so I’ll explain. Frontage roads are long, straight-ish highways which run parallel to the freeway. When you want to enter or exit the freeway, you merge on or off of the frontage road. The frontage roads have stoplights around each freeway exit, and usually a place to make a u-turn under the freeway overpasses at each light. I imagine this setup exists in other states, but I’ve never seen it in quite the same long, continuous fashion as here.

The RV park I’m discussing here was accessed by the frontage road. On frontage roads, the traffic runs the same direction as the side of the freeway it is on. If you visit a business that is on a frontage road, and then need to go back the other way, you have to drive up to the next light (typically the next major road, or freeway exit) and make a u-turn under the freeway overpass. There was also construction on the frontage road, so it was narrowed to one lane. Both of these factors made it rather inconvenient to get to most places, especially NASA, from that particular RV park.

One of the positives about this RV park was the hot tub. One evening we thought it would be pleasant to sit in the hot tub. We noticed a few leaves in the water, and Matt scooped them out. 

A while later, he jumped and looked around. He said he felt something like a bite. This happened a few times, and he then noticed that there were tiny ants around him in the water. There were biting ants in the hot tub! 

We thought we’d give the hot tub another chance the next night. Again, there was some tree detritus in the water and Matt gallantly scooped it out. But after a few minutes in the hot tub, Matt grabbed his armpit and yelped. And once again, we noticed tiny biting ants struggling in the hot tub. One of them had floated into his armpit and latched on.

We didn’t use the hot tub after that.

I haven’t been feeling well this week, and we have have spent quite a bit of time on our search for a house, so this has been a rather last-minute post. It is my last one in the April Blogging Challenge. Next week I may discuss our house search saga, depending on how it is going. Dorcas will post again tomorrow.


ABC Post 14: Quakehold Museum Putty—The Unsung Hero Behind RV Decor

I started writing this post as a list of interesting or unexpected essentials for RV living. It turns out I had a lot to say about museum putty, so that’s what this is about.

I saw museum putty listed as an RV-ing essential so early in our RV experience that I bought it at the dealership the same day we bought our Airstream. Apparently, I then forgot why it was essential (or maybe that wasn’t explained in the list I read.) For whatever reason, we didn’t end up using it other than to stick a couple items to our non-magnetic fridge. Side note: if you are aware of a practical reason why RV refrigerators do not have magnetic fronts, I would like to know. My current hypothesis is that magnetic = heavier than non-magnetic.

Almost 2 years into RV life, the putty I thought was so essential had spent most of its life in our “adhesives bin.” (We keep items we don’t use every day, but want to have on hand, in storage bins in the back of our truck. We have names for some of the most frequently used bins. The adhesives bin has stuff like tape, glue, and command strips, but also things that should probably be called fasteners, like rubber bands, twine, clothesline and clothespins.) Anyway, sometimes I would run across the putty and wonder why I had bought it.

In our first year of Airstream living, we took a trip around the US, moving every 1-3 days for most of the trip. It was exhausting, partially because of the extensive battening-down process we went through every day before driving. We would clear all flat surfaces, stow things in cabinets, check that cabinets were latched, etc. It doesn’t sound like that should take very long, but I guess we had a lot of stuff out.

Internet lore says that when a trailer is being towed, it is as if the contents are experiencing an earthquake. Different sources state different earthquake magnitude comparisons. I’m not experienced enough with earthquakes to estimate a magnitude, but for the most part, anything left unsecured on a flat surface will be on the floor after driving even relatively short distances. The shifting worsens at high speeds and when driving on a curvy road.

This was a problem for us, especially because I wanted to have house plants. On our long trip, every time we drove we would put the plants in a bin and set them on the floor. They would slide around a tiny bit sometimes, but usually that prevented major casualties. Occasionally, we would forget, and leave a bin of plants on the bathroom counter, for instance, and end up with dirt spilled all over the floor, and a sad plant. Not to mention, we didn’t often end up putting the plants anywhere besides the bins since we’d just end up corralling them again later. Basically the plant bins were just something to step over for the whole trip.

Collapsible plastic/silicone bin on floor
A bin that sometimes holds plants, dishes, or laundry. It is supposed to be easily stowable, since it collapses, but it can most often be found in this spot on my kitchen floor.

Earlier this year, we were planning our trip to Texas. I had also recently downloaded Tik-Tok and was lamenting the unacheiveability of all the adorable RV decor I was seeing in the videos. “They have so many plants!” I told Matt. “And they’re just sitting there on their table! There’s no way they drive around with that setup. It would be a disaster.”

“But where do they put it all when they’re driving?” I wondered about the mountains of throw pillows on a particularly nice looking couch setup. ”They must spend forever re-setting all their decor every time they stop.”

I’m still not sure what other people do. I should probably ask. But what FINALLY occurred to us was that maybe it would be possible to use museum putty to adhere our plants to flat surfaces.

Aloe Vera and Orchid plant sitting on a table

And it is! They stay. No more plants on the floor.

Once we realized the plants were staying on the table, Matt immediately put quake putty to use in stabilizing his office-organizer. It has stayed quite well.

Then he moved on to puttying down a mug to hold silverware, a toothbrush holder, and a soap dish.

We have also used quake putty to hold our Berkey water filter in place. We have the bottom portion puttied to our kitchen counter. When we’re going to drive, we remove the top section and dump any water left in that part (if we’re boondocking, we dump it into a jug.) This is a bit less helpful than with the plants, because we haven’t been brave enough to drive with it completely intact, given the price of the filter elements. (Also, the water would slosh too much.) But it is still useful not to stow the entire thing.

There is still a battening-down process when we get ready to tow our house to a new location, but it has been somewhat reduced by having these items stuck in place.

For those who do not/will not ever use an RV, quake putty can still be part of your life. I have seen it recommended for use to hold down items you don’t wish kids or pets to knock over. The drawback is, having things stuck down on surfaces makes them more difficult to clean, but if you’re a feather-duster user, it might actually help.

Check out Emily’s list of books she’s been reading, and a fascinating ”Ask Aunt Dorcas” about the pressure to use particular products.

ABC Post 9: The Problem With Fragrance

Recently, Matt and I have been looking for a house to buy. An unexpected wrinkle in this process is the popularity of using scented oil plug-ins and other artificial fragrances to scent homes that are being shown. Our realtor has told us that adding a fragrance is a common recommendation realtors make to clients who are trying to sell their homes. 

The problem is, I’m extremely sensitive to artificial fragrances. When I am exposed to scented oil plug-ins, I get a migraine. There have been times when we’ve been in a fragranced house for maybe 10 minutes, and I end up with nausea and an intense headache for the rest of the day, and sometimes even the next day. When we leave a heavily scented house, I can taste the scent, sometimes for hours afterward, despite drinking water, eating, etc. This can happen even if I’ve been wearing a filtering mask. 

Wearing a carbon-filtering mask from iCanBreathe at my office job in Washington D.C. There was some extremely potent perfume there. The giant scarf is because of the frigid air-conditioning.

The prevalence of artificial fragrances and my high sensitivity to them has left us scouring photos of houses we’re thinking of touring, trying to spot potential fragrance sources. It’s also difficult to know what to do when we like a house but there is a fragrance, because we can’t be certain it will be possible to remove. People we know who are also highly fragrance-sensitive have advised we avoid fragranced houses completely; many fragrance sources are oil-based, and can be difficult or impossible to remove with standard cleaning measures (or so I hear.)

The internet is also full of horror-stories from people who have bought fragranced houses and ended up having to take drastic measures, including replacing dry-wall, in order tolerate the home environment. Others suggest getting the house cleaned and airing it out. That might work, but it’s a big risk.

Searching for a house is just one area in which fragrances are a problem for me. Another is using public or shared buildings. For instance, the RV park where we are staying has a community building which includes the management office, a gym, laundry room, seating area, and some games. The building also has several scented-oil plug-ins. 

I’ve mostly been avoiding using that building. When I have, it’s only been for a few minutes, and when I come out, I can still smell the fragrance on my clothes and body. Matt has been doing the laundry so I don’t have to go in the laundry room, but the smell of the scented laundry products comes back with him. It would be nice to be able to use the gym, but I know it wouldn’t be worth it. I have also experienced fragrance-induced symptoms in airports, airplanes, at work, and at church. In airplanes and church there’s a high likelihood that I end up sitting near someone with some kind of fragrance on them.

Fragrance sensitivity is not an uncommon problem. Two surveys conducted in the U.S. in the early 2000s found that 20% of survey participants reported adverse health effects from air-fresheners. The survey also asked participants about scented products on other people, and scented laundry products vented outside. 30.5% of participants found scented products on others irritating, and 10.9% were irritated by laundry products vented outside.

Matt is not sensitive like me, but he used to get a terribly congested nose at his office because of the perfume his cubicle neighbors wore. This went on for months before he realized, because he was so stuffed up he couldn’t smell anything. He realized there was perfume when one of his coworkers walked by and said “What is all this perfume over here!?!?” When he went home, he was better, and it never happened again once he switched jobs and moved to a different cubicle.

It’s difficult, if not impossible to pinpoint what causes people to have symptoms around fragrances. One complication is that any combination of hundreds of ingredients can be listed on a label as “Fragrance.” Fragrances are considered trade secrets, so the specific ingredients used to create fragrances are not required to be disclosed. Scientists have demonstrated that some chemicals used to produce fragrances can mimic the effects of hormones in the body, and some are known to be irritants and even carcinogens. 

A 2012 study analyzed samples of common household and cosmetic products to see what they contain. They found 55 ingredients known to have negative health impacts such as the ones I mentioned above.

An additional finding of this study was that many of the chemicals detected were not listed on product labels. This means that chemicals of concern were likely included in product labels under catch-all terms like “fragrance,” or aren’t required to be listed (this seems to be the case with cleaning products more often than cosmetics.) This is why I am wary of anything labeled as “Fragrance”—I just can’t know if it is something that will affect me.

What do I do to decrease the effects of fragrances in my life?

Mostly, I avoid areas that are scented. When we are looking at a house and it is very scented, we look quickly, and then we talk things over outdoors. I also wear a mask with a charcoal filter made by iCanBreathe. I highly recommend this mask to people with fragrance sensitivities as well as environmental allergies (such as to pollen, smoke, etc.)

What can you do to help people with fragrance sensitivities?

I’ll preface this by acknowledging that some of these are big changes, and I understand that for people who don’t notice the effects of fragrances, they can seem inconvenient. 

  • Choose unscented laundry products
  • Avoid scented-oil plug-ins, wax melts, and candles scented with fragrance oils (this is the vast majority of candles—unscented beeswax candles are a great alternative)
  • Avoid using perfume/cologne/scented lotion/scented hair-styling products
  • If you must scent an area, consider using plant or food-based methods like simmering a pot of water with herbs or spices in it, simmering a spiced beverage like apple cider, or diffusing essential oils. 
  • If you are in charge of a building in which people congregate, try to encourage all of the above
  • If you are in charge of a communal laundry facility, consider setting aside one washer and dryer for use with fragrance-free products only
    • I would appreciate it tremendously if the entire facility would be fragrance free, but if there is one washer/dryer set aside, at least sensitive people can avoid having their laundry smell like products they didn’t use.
    • If anyone has the power to do this and wants ideas on how/signage to use, I would be thrilled to help!

I would add that essential oils probably don’t work for everyone with fragrance sensitivities, but I do find them to be less irritating, partially because they don’t linger as long as artificial fragrance oils.

If you’re also fragrance-sensitive, I’d be curious to hear about your experiences.

This is a post for my part of the April Blogging Challenge with Dorcas and Emily. Emily posted yesterday about how she squandered her tax refund, and Dorcas will be posting tomorrow.

ABC Post 4: 10 Things About Me

This is my first post for the April Blogging Challenge (ABC) with Dorcas and Emily. Since many of their readers have heard of me, but don’t know me, here are a few details in my own words.

I have 1 brother and 3 sisters

I am the middle child in my family. I have a sister and brother older than me, and two sisters younger than me. We pretty much all live in different states now, but appreciate opportunities to get together when we can.

I grew up near Junction City, OR and attended Junction City public schools

My family sometimes had chickens, ducks, bummer lambs, dogs, and cats. Sometimes people assume I was homeschooled, but that didn’t happen. I am aware of some homeschool-y things through friends and former homeschoolers I follow online.

I danced at the Junction City Scandinavian Festival

I danced with the children’s groups starting when I was 3 or 4, and continued through high school. I also cooked aebleskivers in the Lutheran Church booth, answered questions in the windmill (information booth), and dressed up in the troll costumes.

I play piano and flute (but not like I used to)

I took piano lessons throughout childhood and played flute in school band and the Eugene/Springfield Youth Orchestra. I considered majoring in music in college. When I didn’t, I ended up not having time and energy to continue with it as I anticipated. I remember being in high school and pitying (but not understanding) the sad-sounding adults who wished they had kept up with their music practice. “How could they just stop like that?” I thought.

I have a Bachelor of Science in General Science from the University of Oregon

Neuroscience was my focus area, and my main reason for selecting the General Science major instead of Biology. While I was in college I worked in a lab that used mice to study how how brains receive, process, and make decisions based on sounds. My parents remember me being very young and thinking of things to observe and keep track of: the water level in the swale behind our house, the phases of the moon, mushrooms, etc.

Phoebe holding a lab mouse while wearing gloves
Holding a mouse in the lab

Matt and I met in Washington, D.C. 

People often want to know if Matt and I were aware of each other while we were growing up. That would have been weird (or, more likely, inconsequential) because he is eight years older than me. While our childhood homes were only 15 minutes apart, we lived in different towns, attended different schools, churches, and were generally in entirely different circles.

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

I first went to Washington D.C. for an internship

At the end of college, I took a class about autobiography through Inside-Out (a program which brings together college students and incarcerated people.) It was an impactful experience, and rekindled an interest in the legal field.

I started looking for ways to explore that further, and found a criminal defense investigation internship at Georgetown Law School. It was a memorable and growing experience, and gave me an opportunity to become part of a community in Washington D.C. By the end of the internship, I wanted to stay there. I couldn’t find a way at first, but eventually went back for a job. That’s when I met Matt.

I sew

And sometimes knit and crochet. I tend to learn the basics of a skill, and then move on to something different. Eventually I circle around and expand on the basics. I learned the bulk of my sewing skills through a 4-H sewing group I attended as a middle schooler. Recently I’ve been expanding my sewing horizons to include quilting. 

We have a cat

His name is Gandalf. He is a ferocious hunter and an avid tree-climber. He is somewhat leash-trained, but not to the extent that he will walk briskly alongside us. I don’t picture that happening. Gandalf has been on some Airstream adventures, but prefers to be in a place where he is allowed outside at will. Currently he is staying with my parents. 

I get a lot of headaches

I also don’t have much energy. And other stuff comes and goes. My health is vaguely suspect, and it’s been that way for most of my life. Maybe since I had a parasite when I was in elementary school, or maybe genetics. Probably all of it.

Lately, I’ve been working on my health a lot. I found a health care provider who thinks it’s possible to figure out what is causing (and fix!) all my random vague symptoms. We’re figuring it out a little at a time.

Dorcas will be doing post #5 tomorrow, Emily will be posting again on Friday, and I will be posting each Wednesday.