Nothing To Lose, A World To See: Shannon Edwards

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

I have always loved traveling. Growing up my parents made traveling a priority even though we had very little money. In the summer we would take a couple of weeks or more just to travel somewhere around the country. My Mom and Dad stashed money away throughout the year to make the travel possible. They also kept a small can of pennies under the front seat just in case they needed that for gas to get home in an emergency. We traveled by truck and van and sometimes a small camper trailer. The camper trailer wasn’t big enough for the whole family of 12 so there were two big tents that we slept in, one for the boys and one for the girls.

My Mom and dad always talked about buying a motorhome after they retired and traveling all over the United States. Unfortunately, that never happened. My Mom passed away from cancer shortly after retiring. By the time my Dad retired he had diabetes, congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s that kept him from traveling like he had always wanted to.

I traveled some as a young adult, but then I had a family and found very little time and money for traveling. Through my path with life, I found myself a single mom with two boys after my divorce. All of my energy was put into working a full-time job and trying to keep up with everything. It was overwhelming, but I had to keep focused on working just to keep our heads above water.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

What Led Me To Enjoy Life With My Boy’s

In June of 2015, I took a fall and twisted my ankle. Somehow in the process, I also dislocated and shattered my radial cap. Surgery to replace my radial cap with a prosthetic was the first of 8 procedures that I would have over the next 2 years for various reasons including 2 on the wrist from the same fall. During that same time period, while I was fitting in physical therapy sessions two or three times a week I was also taking my sons to numerous doctors appointments where they were each diagnosed with several life-changing genetic and chronic illnesses. Our life consisted mostly of me going to work and the boys going to school with breaks for doctor’s appointments and little else.

Both of my sons were diagnosed with Ehlers-danlos which is a connective tissue disorder. My older son was also diagnosed with Dysautonomia, similar to a type called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) but without the tachycardia so far, due to many blackouts and presyncope episodes. He was also diagnosed with anxiety and gastroparesis. My younger son was diagnosed with Tourette’s and the common comorbidities of anxiety, OCD, and depression. I found us in the emergency room with my 9-year-old voicing Suicidal Thoughts.

I was doing everything I could to get my boys the support they needed from therapy and doctors while at the same time dealing with my injury and fibromyalgia that was flaring up. I was also trying to advocate for them at their schools, but this was proving more and more difficult with there rare invisible disorders being misunderstood by students, teachers, and administration. Both boys were being bullied at school not only by other kids but by teachers that thought they were making up the symptoms to their illnesses or just trying to avoid work.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

Then in February of 2018, I was fired from my job as a teacher’s aide because my elbow and wrist had still not recovered completely from the fall in 2015. I was not eligible for FMLA because as a teacher’s assistant I worked 36 hours a week and was off during the summer so I did not have the necessary hours to qualify. I was devastated at first but then saw this as a wake-up call to do what I had wanted to do for so long, spend time with my boys and travel.

I realize that life was short and that life was unpredictable. The future is fragile and we don’t know what it will bring. For both of my sons, all the changes that happen during puberty could cause more difficulties for them. And the connective tissue disorder tends to bring dislocations and likely a wheelchair when they are older.

I decided to stop putting off life that would bring us more happiness and togetherness. I wanted us to be able to spend more time as a family and reduce the anxiety levels for my children, which could have a positive influence on their other medical conditions. I also wanted them to be able to see as much of the country as possible while they are both as mobile as possible.

Taking The Leap And Buying An RV

With our income tax refund, we looked at many RV options and finally found one in July that was the right size and in our price range… In August 2018 we launched to live full-time in our RV.

My two boys and I, plus our two cats and two more foster cats, live in a 24 foot 1991 Fleetwood Flair motorhome on a Ford Chassis. We chose this RV because I could pay cash for it and it was big enough for us to all fit yet small enough that I could drive it.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

I was fortunate that I was able to take my career as a teacher and turn it into a career that I could use on the road. I work for Vipkid online. It’s one of the favorite jobs that I’ve ever had. I get to talk with kids from other countries and help them learn English. All of the content is already prepared and structured so my main job is helping with pronunciation and keeping students motivated with rewards and fun things as we work.

The biggest difficulties with the job is being patient enough to get enough bookings for the hours that I need and getting up really early (but I usually take a nap afterward). The other difficulty is making sure that I have Wi-Fi at the times that I need it, although the Verizon hotspot on my phone has proved to be very good for this. All of the hours for working are from 7 in the evening until 8 in the morning with my choice of which hours to work. The job works well for me because I do not have to be away from my children for extended periods of time. Most of the work I can do while they are sleeping.

So far I have not been able to work consistently enough to have all the income I need just from Vipkid. Mostly because of RV repairs needed and some medical issues that came up for me. So I have also worked a work camping job and plan to workcamp more.

I did the sugar beet Harvest last fall which supplemented our income very nicely. Unfortunately, instead of it taking two weeks, as usual, it took about a month and a half. It was one of the most stretched out harvests on record. Fortunately, they were paying all of our camping fees for a full hook-up site so all I had to worry about was our groceries and making sure that we headed south before it got too cold. I loved the experience of working the Harvest and learning so much about sugar beets as well as meeting some great friends.

For the future, I plan to keep working Vipkid as well as working some workcamp positions as I work to pay off credit card debt that has accumulated and student loan debt that is still there from my 1995 Master’s Degree. I am hoping that being able to focus on a simpler way of life and not pay huge rent and utilities will allow me to finally pay off the student loan debt so we can enjoy life more.

What We Have Found Joy In While RVing

We have been on the road for less than a year but we have found a number of enjoyable experiences just in day-to-day life. One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling is being free to stay longer in places that we like. At one Campground in Iowa, the boys found the perfect trees to create tree forts. We stayed for an extra day for them to keep building on those tree forts. With homeschooling, I was able to give them extra time to be outside in nature working on their own creations and we were able to incorporate this into our lessons.

The most enjoyable experience about traveling full time for me is not a place, but the change in attitude and interactions between my sons and myself. Their anxiety levels have dropped tremendously. Our ability to communicate with each other in more calm productive ways has increased. I’m not going to lie and say that everything is perfect now, but I found that removing all of the overstimulation of public school and the anxiety of trying to perform at a certain level constantly has had a major positive impact on my boys. They are also no longer surrounded by people who do not understand their disorders. My son with Tourettes has always had difficulty with emotional regulation. Although most people don’t realize it, this is a common part of Tourrettes. He also has tics that are constantly changing. They can range for a simple hard blink to high pitched screams. His brother and I realize what is going on so he does not get in trouble for his tics like he used to in school

I am generally more relaxed and patient as well. I’m not stressed out and overwhelmed with getting out the door so I can make it to work on time. I can give the boys more of my time and not worry as much about a schedule as we used to. The boys are able to generally communicate more calmly with each other and enjoy doing things with each other more than before. This is huge because my older son used to avoid his brother because of his anger outbursts. He still needs his alone time, but they do more as a team now.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

I have seen their creativity increase and confidence in themselves increase. I have also seen their physical strength increase. This is very important with their Ehlers-danlos. We must always maintain a careful balance between protecting their joints and increasing their muscle strength to help compensate for their weak joints. They have hypermobile Ehlers-danlos which one of the indicators is over-flexible joints. This is caused by faulty collagen that makes the tendons and ligaments over stretchy. Stronger muscles hope to hold the joints in place, but people with Ehlers-danlos have lower muscle tone, have a harder time building muscle town, and lose muscle tone faster than a typical person. Having time to allow my boys to do lots of physical activities that they enjoy is very beneficial to their long-term health. Most of this activity is general playing but we also try to get to the swimming pool on a regular basis because this is the best exercise for them. We also do periods where are they have physical therapy and occupational therapy targeted towards specific needs. When they were attending regular school these doctors appointments caused them to miss a lot of time and then they were always behind and stressed out trying to catch up. With homeschool, roadschool, I’m able to adjust more readily to their needs.

The Many Maintenance Experiences

Getting started on the road has not been exactly smooth for us. Between repairing things that come up in the old RV and medical issues it has been a difficult beginning. It has been almost like a series of unfortunate events RV style.

Our first day out we had a blowout on our back tire less than an hour on the road. We found a local person that was able to fix it and we were back on the road after a few hours. The next day we figured out that the gas gauge does not work on the RV. Unfortunately, we didn’t just need gas. Because it had gotten down to the bottom of the tank, this old tank, rust had gotten into the fuel filter and it wouldn’t start even with gas. Luckily we were within an hour of my brother who is a mechanic, was able to get us back on the road again. Well, he was able to get us to his shop where we were able to buy a new set of tires, new to us but only a couple years old. The RV was in his shop for a week as he fixed the tires, the fuel filter, blower motor for the heater and air conditioning, and several other things that needed fixing.

He finished just in time for us to head north to the sugar beet Harvest. Then as we were heading south from the sugar beet Harvest the alternator went out. I bought new batteries thinking it was just the batteries but figured out it was the alternator. We continued limping toward my brother’s shop traveling about a hundred miles at a time before stopping to plug in at a city park or campground to recharge the batteries enough to go again. We were very fortunate to reconnect with some friends we made at the sugar beet Harvest, the Tumbleweed family. We traveled together and had them there to rescue us so we could travel a little further at a time and take some time to see the sights on the way since we could leave the RV parked at the campground and travel to town with them.

We made it back to my brother’s shop to fix the alternator. The Tumbleweed family and my boys and I stayed at my sister’s house doing some jobs for her. The plan was to head out at the beginning of December, but then I was throwing another curveball.

I fell and shattered the radial cap in my other arm this time. I had to have surgery to replace the radial cap with a prosthetic and repair ligaments in that arm. The plans of heading south to warm weather for the winter had to be abandoned. I would have to stay near Iowa for my insurance to cover the physical therapy and doctor visits. My sister let us stay at her house until I was able to drive again after my surgery. Then we set out to Council Bluffs in the RV.

Since we were sticking around Iowa I decided to establish the boys with their new doctors. With their various diagnosis, both of them would need a specialist in almost every body system.

My plan was to use the campgrounds in the area as needed, but then boondock when possible since the nearest campgrounds were at least half an hour away from all of our doctor’s appointments. The boondocking did not quite go as well as planned when the RV would not start in the morning after running the furnace overnight. After a few times of jump-starting the engine in the morning I found a place and had them install a switch on the motor battery so I could turn it off overnight and the coach would only drain one battery instead of both of the batteries.

Hopefully,y we have reached a point of the RV not needing more repairs……

Our Family Of Cat’s

We started our RV Adventure with our cat Silk. He is a bit of a loner and tends to be skittish and completely avoids new people. He absolutely hates travel days and will hide under the driver or passenger seat. He also hides there if there is too much going on in the RV or there are new people. But at night when the RV is quiet he likes to come out and get his attention and sit on the dash or on the back of the driver’s seat to see what is going on outside.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

We were not long into our adventure when Dune Bug adopted us. We were simply taking our morning walk before starting homeschool lessons and he decided to join us. We pet him a little bit and then he would not leave us alone. We went around to houses in the neighborhood to see if he belonged to anybody. After talking to some people who said he was a stray we decided to allow his choice of adoption to go through. He has become the source of endless entertainment, cuddles, and contentment. Just looking at him he starts to purr. He is the perfect animal companion for my son with Tourette’s because he is so patient and gentle.

I was perfectly happy with two cats, but my kind heart could not watch as little baby kittens died from the cold and some kind of infection that an antibiotic could help. We came back to my hometown where my son helps to take care of the strays and found a number of the kittens that were a few months old had died. We took the two remaining kittens, Tinkerbell and Tiger, to the vet for antibiotics and decided to foster them until we can find them a home. They have each developed their own personality and make our RV Hearts very full. They also tend to make our 24 foot RV pretty full with having four cats, two children, and one adult. We set up the litter box in the shower but found that scared the cats, Sil, and Tiger, we’re not brave enough to make that journey if there was noise or strange people. So we have now set up one litter box in the front of the RV and one in the shower.

After trying several different ways to work with their water and food dishes we decided to take off the door to the storage area under one of the benches for the dinette. We made this into a quiet area for them in the back with their food and water toward the front where it is easy to refill it. This spot also allows us to be able to pull the top off and take the cats out if we need to. For example, we needed to do this when the RV went into the shop for repairs. We have fortunately been able to take them into my sister’s house for short times when this

My Son’s Adapting To RV Life

I found that a lot of the stuff that we have in the RV is stuff for my two boys. Children have to have toy’s with them and those toys could take up quite a bit of space. We have been very fortunate that my sister has allowed us to store things in her basement that we can change out when we go back to visit. That is where the majority of their toys stay. When we are on the road they each have two small totes that hold their toys. These totes are generally full of Legos. My younger son also has his tools and things to create using sticks or other things that he finds. I have noticed that encouraging their creativity helps them to make more with less.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

Except for rainy, cold or travel days, my boys spend much less time on their electronics than before. There is always a tree to climb or a stream to check out. The lure of the outdoors quickly pulls them away from the electronics without me needing to make rules to limit their time. They are learning to self regulate which is an important skill for them to learn.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

Since before we started in the RV I have been on a minimalist Journey. There is no possible way I could say that I have achieved any sense of minimalism except that we have the basics of what we need within a 24 foot RV. However, we are learning more and more that we do not need near as much stuff as we thought. My boys are learning this as well.

Being in an RV has helped us to learn more organizational skills. It has helped my boys to learn the importance of having a place for each thing and putting each thing back in its place as soon as you are done using it. For two boys with ADHD and other memory issues, this is not a small accomplishment.

We have incorporated our travels into our homeschool time. We have an atlas of the United States that we mark in to show where we have traveled. I have not purchased it yet, but we will have a map with stickers on the outside of the RV to show which states we have visited as well. We also have a huge timeline that we started in some of our earlier travels. It is about 10 yards of muslin fabric split into time periods dating back to the Precambrian to the present with a little space left for the future. As we visit or read about places we put a token or patch or drawing on the timeline to see how it relates to the rest of the timeline.

A lot of our homeschool is focused on places that we visit. Sometimes we visit a place and then learn more about what was there. Other times we read or watch something and add it to our list of places to visit. I am still working to be better at road schooling and do less traditional schooling.

Internet On The Road

We have chosen Verizon as our phone and internet connection. We have long used Verizon because it is the best carrier in my home town which is in the middle of nowhere. So far Verizon has done a great job of having phone service as well as data through the hotspot on my phone. After we use up our 10 gigabytes of tethered data then it can run slowly if there are others using it. We especially noticed this if we are in a highly populated area. But for the most part, Verizon has been great. It has supplied data for my job teaching English online in most places. One place that did not work unfortunately was in Crookston, Minnesota. It would have been nice to work at my online job while waiting for the Beets to heal or for the fields to dry, but we can’t have everything.

Cheers To Many More Adventures

We plan to continue full-time for the foreseeable future. We are just getting started and really want to enjoy the national parks and historic sites. One thing on our bucket list is to visit every one of them. We also want to expand the number of playground reviews. Every new town we come to we do a playground review from a child’s perspective. There are many more playgrounds that we need to check out. Our next adventure will most likely be centered around Iowa until my physical therapy for my arm is finished. We are considering me working at Adventureland or maybe Mahoney state park which is just across the border in Nebraska. Whichever one, we are looking forward to warmer weather and future years of avoiding the cold areas in the winter.

Nothing To Lose, A World To See Shannon Edwards

To follow Shannon and her families adventures click the links below.
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