Your Incomplete Guide to Buying a Used RV

I think our marriage has a pretty typical division of domestic labor: my husband is generally in charge of purchasing the automotive needs of the family, my job is to drive the kids around thousands of miles while crushing Goldfish crackers all over the back seat. It works for us.

So it was pretty out of character for both of us when I suggested that I do the research and purchase a used RV for our family, and that he consented. (Which probably means he thought I said, “TV,” but whatever.)

As a person who is not inclined to think mechanically about anything, this was a definite challenge, but I felt up to the task, and spent about 2 months researching before narrowing down the choices, going to several lots across state borders, and finally finding “the one.”

Because I’m helpful, I’ve compiled some tips on my purchasing experience, so you’ll know what not to do if you’re ever in the market for a motorhome of your own.

1.) You have never known the depths of inadequacy until you’ve tried to retract an RV awning. Factor in the cost of extensive psychotherapy into the sales price.

2.) Be mindful when test-driving that Cousin Eddie jokes fall flat, Thelma and Louise jokes: flatter.

3.) The person who designed all Courtyard motel rooms from 1983-89 went on to decorate every motorhome since. I assume.

4.) Your salesman doesn’t know what Pinterest is. Or email. Or the Internet. The office manager is a guy named Gutenberg who still deals in carbon tissue paper and rotary phones.

5.) You don’t need a special drivers license to drive a Class C motor home. Not even if you beg and plead because your original photo from the DMV looks like a tragic Frida Kahlo self portrait.

6.) When they say that a unit sleeps 8, make sure they are referring to humans and not hobbits.

7.) Patient Zero convalesces on a used RV mattress. Replace accordingly.

8.) An RV can get 18-22 miles per gallon. Oh wait. Check that. They use 20 gallons to run the coffee maker and dome light at the same time.

9.) When the dealer refers to “blackwater” and “greywater” tanks, it has nothing to do with fall fashion trends.

10.) Speaking of backwater, typical division of domestic duties should resume the moment this needs emptying.

11.) It takes a lot more Goldfish to decorate a 31 foot motorhome.

She doesn't have a name yet, so we will just call her, "Ours."
She doesn’t have a name yet, so we will just call her, “Ours.”

©2014 Tracey Henry

If warehouse stores had mouths and took Myers-Briggs tests

As the primary procurer of goods and services for our household, I’ve noticed that stores—both local and national chains—have certain personalities that emerge. I realize this is probably a personal observation and completely subjective, but it helps explain how and where we shop. Depending on the type and the message they are trying to market, some stores seem “friendlier” than others. Or, a better value. Or nice. Or snooty. Or cheap.

And there’s the warehouse store.

They don’t even try to lure you in or affect your perceptions whatsoever. They almost dare you to even try to shop there by requiring membership and then elderly security guards armed with highlighters at the door. And if you do dare cross their threshold, their disdain for you is loud and clear.

Sam: Look, I really don’t have the time, energy or desire to unpack all of this Teriyaki sauce, so I’m just going to slice the top open with a box cutter and y’all can have at it.

Me: But I really don’t need a gross of it, can I just get a couple?

Sam: No.

Me: Ok….What about those Pop-Tarts? There’s 36 of strawberry, cherry and blueberry, but no one in my house will eat the blueberry, so can I just trade them out?

Sam: No.

Me: But my daughter’s allergic to blueberries…

Sam: Then get a 6-pack of Children’s Benadryl in the health and beauty aisle—and by “aisle” I mean “pallet dump.” What can I tell you?

Me: Okay…I understand the bulk packaging concept, but how about things that aren’t naturally packaged that way?

Sam: Are you still here? (Sigh.) Like what?

Me: Like bread. Those were packaged singly and you added a plastic bag around them to sell them by twos.

Sam: But I pretend they’re cheaper that way.

Me: I know, but they’re not. And clothing. How does that fit into the “bulk is better” concept? With the exception that there’s fifty size XXXL burgundy turtlenecks, I don’t get how that fits in here.

Sam: You’re a trouble-maker, you know that? Let me see your membership card. (Looks at it skeptically.) Eh, you’re just a Gold Member. Do us both a favor and get yourself a large box of wine and move along.

Me: I wish I could, but the line is so long.

Sam: It’s a bulk store, we like our lines big like everything else.

Me: But not your staffing levels, I see…

At check out…

BJ: Do you want a box for all this?

Me: No, I want it loose in my trunk to roll around and dent those 55 gallon drums of green beans I just bought for some reason.

BJ: Whatevs. That will be $812.46.

Me: What???? I thought this was supposed to be cheaper?

BJ: (Disinterested.) It’s cheaper by the serving. I assume.

Me: And I didn’t get a fraction of what I needed! I still have to go to the grocery store to get the majority of my shopping list.

BJ: Not my problem. But maybe you should get a tub of fish oil tablets if you can’t remember a simple list.

Me: Great. Should I just look for the faded sign printed out on a bubble printer?

BJ: Hey, we got that perforated printer paper for a steal in 1982! 45 billion cases of it, so we’ll be printing our price signs out on that for the long haul.

Me: Sort of like how long I’ll be shuffling around those blueberry Pop Tarts…

BJ: (Handing me my receipt.) Membership has its privileges.

Me: And its curses.

©2014 Tracey Henry

20 Things You Won’t Hear Me Say This Month

You’ll hear me say a lot of things this month.

There’s a good chance you’ll overhear me yelling at some crazy person on House Hunters that you can buy a stainless steel refrigerator and a can of paint at any Home Depot, you unrealistic idiot. Or my explanation to the police officer that rushing home to check-in exactly 24 hours in advance of a Southwest flight justifies 70 in a 30. You might even get an earful of me telling a waiter that Happy Hour 2 for 1 cocktails has another seven minutes so he should probably get hustling lining those gimlets down the table.

But September can also be a silent struggle. Maybe I don’t have my school year sea legs quite yet or perhaps it’s all of the new activities, routines, expectations and responsibilities, but it can render me speechless for a month that only has 30 days.

And so while you might hear me say a lot of things including expletives and requests for more wine, here are some things you’ll never hear me (or any of my friends) say this month.

1.) I’m really jazzed about this year’s school fundraiser and I think we’re a top contender for this year’s top prize!

2.) I’m having such an easy time finding appropriate and cool clothes for my tween girl.

3.) I wish school could start earlier in the morning.

4.) Carline didn’t make me feel like stabbing anyone at all today.

5.) I turned my permission slip and money in on time.

6.) My school lunches are so creative and fun to make they look like Jamie Oliver’s Pinterest board!

7.) No thank you, I’m cutting back on caffeine.

8.) No thank you, I’m cutting back on wine.

9.) I can’t wait for the first lice letter to come from the classroom!

10.) Yes, please allow Push Notifications for Facebook Messenger and Nike Fuelband.

11.) My car smells good.

12.) I’ve started my Christmas shopping.

13.) My kids love it when I comment on their pictures on Instagram!

14.) I’m thinking about letting my hair go grey.

15.) Hello? ** (**To any phone call with an unknown number on the caller ID)

16.) I just got back from an awesome spin class.

17.) I don’t need anything at the grocery store.

18.) Boy, that was a great night’s sleep.

19.) I hope the iPhone 6 has a different charger and cord than the 4 or 5…

20.) September is my favorite month of the year.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Notice of Policy Changes for an Aging Tooth Fairy


1.) When you have a loose tooth, you must be loud and proud about it. Secret wigglings or private extractions will no longer be recognized. If there is no public announcement in which a person of majority is present, it will not be recognized as a dental earning event.

2.) No longer will placing a lost tooth under your pillow be optimal. For best results, please tape the tooth in a baggie labeled in large letters and affix to the mirror above your mother’s bathroom sink. If this is not possible, please attach said tooth the handle of the coffee pot.

3.) There is no set amount or consistent rate per tooth. The Tooth Fairy may or may not have visited the ATM that night, so $20 may be the inflated price for one tooth and/or if she has change from her skinny mocha latte, expect $5 or less.

4.) It is entirely possible that the money I have left for you has fallen from beneath the pillow, off of the mattress and landed somewhere under your bed. But please do not look for yourself—have a parent come in and look for you. Wearing a bathrobe. With pockets.

5.) The Tooth Fairy is no longer relegated to nighttime hours. If there is a west coast game or a vampire marathon the night before, she may very well postpone her visit until you are at school.

6.) If you inadvertently find your tooth in the household trash after I’ve visited, please do not panic. I am currently participating in a recycling program, and your tooth may just wind up on a piano keyboard or as scrimshaw kitsch on the wall of a Red Lobster.

7.) All deposits must be made Monday-Thursday. This one’s out of my hands, kids. Something about FAA flight restrictions and international banking regulations.

8.) Again, due to pesky tax laws, I cannot enter into transactions across state lines.

9.) Or hotels. It’s a bedbug thing.

10.) Any attempts to signal my arrival or trap my person will render all contracts null and void. And I reserve the right to tack on months with your orthodontist when you’re 14.

11.) And finally, like you will sadly experience later in your life as well, the older I get, the more I look like your mother.


Tooth Fairy

©2014 Tracey Henry

Treat yourself and kids with Custom Confections

Custom Confections
Custom Confections

Available September 1st from Capstone Young Readers, this book is perfect for budding young pastry chefs or families that just want to have some fun in the kitchen.

If you’re looking for some sweet treats to make up with your kids this holiday season and beyond, don’t miss Custom Confections, by Jen Besel.

While it’s targeted for readers ages 9-13, I’ve found more than a few of the techniques outlined in this book helpful and easily applicable to other recipes and projects for my adult sensibilities as well. In fact, many of the recipes call for playing and adapting and inspiring some delicious spin-offs. (Don’t miss the checkerboard cake and the marshmallow fondant recipes.)

Sugared flower cupcakes
Sugared flower cupcakes

So grab the kids, apron-up, and prepare for some sweet fun.

College Countdown

Our oldest is off to college in a few days, and I thought I’d share this handy timeline on how to prepare for this upcoming event.

3 months out: Rent a storage unit to house and hoard your billboard-sized Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons for dorm shopping later.

Actual size is California King.
Actual size is California King.

2 months out: Get a tattoo with the words, “I know we didn’t do it like this when I went to college.” Sure, sounds painful but repeating that phrase a bajillion times is far more so.

6 weeks: Begin your To-Go pile. This is a pile of all of the stuff that’s going to be packed up for college. Mostly this heap will consist of Command Strips, phone chargers, and gift cards.

1 month: Start dorm shopping. If you have a girl, this will entail thousands of dollars, hundreds of stores and dozens of Pinterest boards. If you have a boy, just stop by a military surplus store for standard issue barracks bedding, and you’re all set.

3 weeks out: Explain what shower shoes and a caddy is and why it’s needed. Related: consider iodine soap.

2 weeks: Have a cooking lesson. And a laundry lesson. And cleaning.

1 week, 6 days: Up the meal plan, buy disposable underwear and get immunizations up to date.

1 week out: Buy stamps. Then realize it’s 2014 and your child probably has no concept of the U.S. Postal Service and considers that black box on the front curb as the pole where we tie balloons when there’s a party.

The night before: Try to compose a letter to your child for him to open after you leave. It should of course convey how much you love him and how much you’ll miss him, but if possible try to describe the impossible thoughts that don’t fit into standard word form. The complete and utter awe of who they have become, and who they are still yet to be, and somehow you were lucky enough to be a participating witness to that miracle. Explain that there were moments when they were younger your mind would look to this day, but never did you think the thing you wanted for them most could hurt quite this much. That while your head is swelling with the pride you feel from achieving this milestone, your heart is breaking at the same rate. Not out of sadness, but from the wisdom and life experience to know it’s always harder for the one left on the pier waving goodbye as the other departs for the journey of a lifetime.

The day of: Unpack, set up—take a picture of the decorated, organized room because it will never look like that again.

Paste on the biggest smile, swallow the lump, blink back the tears and try not to break his ribs when hugging him.

Fall apart when safely away from the pier.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Premature Education

As I sit here on the morning of the first day of school, which has crept earlier and earlier each August until it seems as though the 4th of July is closer than Labor Day, it occurs to me that the local School Boards may be suffering from an embarrassing affliction. I know it’s not quite PC or appropriate to discuss outside of AM radio talk show commercials and creepy email spam, but I think there’s a rampant case of premature education going on around here.

It only takes a simple Google clip art image search of the words, “Back to School” with its apple-laden, fall-leaf-wreathed chalkboards and discounted plaid wool skirts with turtlenecks turned up to earlobes covered by fur-lined ski caps to confirm that the web–which is World Wide I remind you–universally accepts the fact that the First Day of School is an autumnal event.

And though I am not Julius Caesar, I maintain that August, and certainly July, land squarely in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and therefore, by its very position in the space-time continuum, charted latitudes and longitudes, maritime tides, and proximity to the solstices and several Independence Days, both foreign and domestic; are historically, meteorologically, ill-timed months to resume scholastic endeavors.
In other words, you may be pulling the trigger a little too early, Board of Education.

August 5th is our start date this year. This is actually a week later than most of the schools around us, so I guess I should feel lucky. The earth has had seven more days in which to retain summer temperatures approaching triple digits.

Clearly there is some confusion on the Board with regard to an appropriate First Day of School. As the helpful citizen that I am, I would like to provide this brief tutorial to school planners to consider when they prepare next year’s calendar so they are not, once again, subject to this embarrassing and inconvenient problem.

~If you start school before your state’s tax-free holiday on school supplies even begins, you may be guilty of premature education.

~If playground balls fuse to the blacktop in the blistering heat, it may be a sign of premature education.

~If August is does not fall into “summer” on the school calendar, there may well be premature educating going on.

~If the first holiday off you have after the first day of school is a Christmas in July mattress sale, it just may be evidence of premature education.

~If parents are confused on whether the first day is a start date or an end date to the school year, well, it just may be a textbook case of premature education.

~If your “Back-to-School” store circulars come in your Memorial Day paper, it’s premature education.

~If you have to pack zinc oxide and salt tablets in your child’s lunchbox, chances are pretty good you’re prematurely educating.

~If your child’s “school bus” has a freezer on board, plays “Pop goes the Weasel” and serves Push-ups from a side window, premature education could be to blame.

~If your official school uniform includes flip flops and a panama hat, methinks it clearly is premature education.

~If math class is taught in SPF values, you know…

~If students have completed all of the material in their textbooks before they’ve chosen a Halloween costume, premature education should be considered.

~If you have the phrase, “But we get a week off for Fall Break in October,” emblazoned on a T-shirt, that’s uniform for premature education.

~If your child was born under the zodiacal sign of cancer and has to bring in birthday cupcakes for his classmates, talk to your doctor about premature education.

~If your child has ever brought a watermelon for a teacher on the first day instead of an apple because that’s the only fruit in season, education prematurely could be the culprit.

~If there has ever been a wave runner in your school carline, there’s no shame in admitting your premature education.

~If your child is taught how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and Celsius to Kelvin to record the average temperature during science class; well, just sayin’.

~If your child has ever had to write a paper on Bastille Day due on Bastille Day; ahem.

~And finally, if as part of their emergency planning your school regularly conducts Sharknado drills; I rest my case.

You’re welcome. Now everyone is satisfied.

©2013 Tracey Henry

(Originally published 8/13 but updated today because the Board of Education didn’t listen last year.)

Weeknight Chicken and Cream Sauce

The August cover of any national food magazine will usually feature some sort grilled meat with a title about throwing the perfect summer party for a crowd.

That’s not exactly the way our editorial calendar works here in Tennessee.

In our neck of the woods, August is not the start of grilling season, it’s the start of school. We are winding down the summer parties and cookouts, and look—not without some sadness—to the end of vacation eating and the return of our school and work day routine and the meals that fit into it. A typical tuesday this month will not include me standing at a grill outside basting a brisket, but probably throwing something together in between practices and homework.

This simple recipe has been a long-time favorite in our family and is perfect for weeknight dinners but tastes good enough to grace a magazine cover any month of the year.


Weeknight Chicken in Cream Sauce

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or fillets, cut into 1” pieces
3-4 Tablespoons of flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
2-4 Tablespoons of butter

1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

*1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced, if desired
*1 jar of marinara or spaghetti sauce, if desired

*Only if you want to ingredient

1.) Dredge chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt pepper—shake off excess.

2.) Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add chicken and lightly brown to a light crust about 6-8 minutes.

3.) Remove chicken from pan and deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any brown bits that have collected, about 1-2 minutes. Add heavy cream, stir, and bring to a soft boil.

4.) Add the mushrooms if desired and cook for a few minutes until soft and sauce begins to thicken.

5.) Add the chicken back to the pan. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook until chicken is cooked all the way through and no longer pink and cream sauce has thickened, about another 8-10 minutes.

Note: At this point, you can also choose to add a portion of the browned chicken back into the cream sauce and/or to a saucepan of heated marinara sauce if you have younger kids that might not like the white sauce.

Serve over cooked spaghetti with a crispy green salad and crusty bread.

(Serves 4 but you can easily adjust, just keep the wine/cream ration even and brown the chicken in batches.)

Easy enough for weeknights, sophisticated enough for weekends.
Easy enough for weeknights, sophisticated enough for weekends.

©2014 Tracey Henry

13 tips to start the college search

As this summer winds down and gearing up for a new school year begins, instead of buying new crayons and construction paper for elementary school, I find myself shopping for extra-long twin sheets and shower caddies.

Our little boy is going to college.

And as exciting and daunting as that is, I can’t help but think back to a couple of summers ago when this whole college search process began.

Admittedly, I was absolutely clueless as to how to even approach this overwhelming task of helping my son choose a school. The decision-making process didn’t resemble my own 25 years ago which consisted of a total of three applications in my home state and a mailbox filled with postcards from schools I had never heard of and promptly ignored.

But after wading our way through together, sorting through the endless stacks of information, advice and counsel, I think we ended up in the best possible place for him.

I’ve decided to write this down because I wish I had a jumping off place when I started, so hopefully you’ll find some tips here if you find yourself as confused as I was.

1.) Forget everything you thought about every school. Period. Chances are fairly high that all of the old rumors, reputations, stigmas, unearned loftiness that you ever applied to any school is either unfair, untrue or outdated. You owe it to yourself and to your child to look at a particular school with a fresh and open mind free of old prejudice.

2.) Now there are eleventy billion colleges and universities to narrow down. Consider starting with a geographic radius—are you comfortable with a 3 hour drive? 6 hours? 2 day plane trip? Urban or rural? A very specific program or major? This begins to answer the questions of what is going to be the right fit for your student.

3.) Hello, Internet. This handy dandy tool can answer immediate questions like size, specialties, costs and activities. You should visit every website of schools you’re interested in—and not just the home page. Here’s also a great place to start in general:

4.) Attend every College Night your high school offers. These may seem like a waste of time when you’re trying to schedule an already busy week, but the information you get from unexpected sources and schools you may not have ever considered is invaluable. Your high school probably has a department dedicated to college—use the resources and counselors there. They’re professionals and can really help navigate the process.

5.) Now start making a short list of schools. The real contenders—the ones you like, but mostly the ones your child expresses interest in. Make sure to include some of varying size and distance. Some safe and some reach schools—some you’re familiar with and others that are new.

6.) Now the visits. These trips to different schools and towns make up some of my fondest memories with my teenager. Not only was it an excuse to spend a lot of time together his junior year, but we learned so much and I can’t imagine having to make the eventual decision without having that real-life experience. College visits not only introduce that specific school, but provide constructive comparisons and tangible feelings that no website or brochure could possibly give.

I remember one particular weekend where we visited two schools—the first was one of my favorites which he really didn’t have much interest in and the second was one of his dream schools. After visiting the first he instantly fell in love with everything about it. The second we were halfway through the tour when he whispered, “I really can’t see myself going here.”

We were able to talk about what was appealing and what wasn’t, and it really helped narrow our search from there.

On these visits, do yourself a favor and sign up for the free tour offered by the school. You are getting a lot more solid information and access to dorms and classrooms which you wouldn’t necessarily see on a drive-by or unaccompanied campus tour. More often than not, these tours are led by student ambassadors who have already figured out how to navigate the process in the not-so distant past.

The magic number of schools to visit? That’s up to you. But start with a few and see where it goes from there. Try to fit in a couple over a weekend or break or combine a college visit within a family vacation or visiting friends.

7.) A warning about Dream Schools. Oh, we all have them—you and your child. Maybe your child has talked non-stop about the University of X since they learned to talk. They have every jersey, T-shirt, sweatshirt and foam finger and never misses a Saturday game during football season. THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY HAVE TO ATTEND THERE 18 YEARS LATER. By the time the decision time is close, chances are their needs and interests have changed as well. Maybe that school is too far away now. Maybe it’s too big. Or too small. Or it doesn’t even offer the program your child is interested in. That doesn’t make the school or your child any less awesome, it just means that the dream has evolved, and that’s okay.

8.) More warnings about Dream Schools if they happen to be out of state. If you feel like instantly vomiting or developing a heart condition, look up the out-of-state tuition costs for your dream school. That number could well be over $60,000 a year conservatively. A YEAR. If you are not independently wealthy, this may be a deal-breaker. If you are independently wealthy, you probably didn’t get that way by tossing around hundreds of thousands without looking into all of the options.

Some states offer in-state tuition rates to students in reciprocal neighboring states, so it’s worth knowing what those are. There are also individual schools that may offer those rates as well, so be sure to ask the school counselor where these options are.

You won’t know how much—if any—a particular school is going to offer for merit, financial need, or athletics for many months, so proceed with caution here. And even with the grades, test scores and money, some schools are notoriously tough on out-of-state students. You may have exactly the same or even better credentials as a local student but still not get in. Some decisions are out of your control and should not be taken personally.

9.) Factor in the intangibles. As your list narrows, so will the factors that are important to your family. Distance, costs, athletics, safety, campus life, housing and academics. Don’t discount these things. They all have a place in the decision-making process.

10.) It ain’t over til it’s over. You may think that once you’ve found that perfect school on paper, it’s time to embroider their fight song on a pillow. I wish. The application process now begins and that’s a whole other process of grades, test scores, essays and fees. So don’t put the cart before the horse and encourage your child to have that final short list comprised of multiple really good and comfortable options so that application process can start with clarity.

Make notes on each of the schools you’ve visited right afterward when it’s fresh on your mind and then you can refer to them when application time comes around.

11.) If we all had our life’s path figured out completely at the age of 18, there’d be a lot more movie actors and art historians. Did you have it all figured out upon high school graduation? Of course not. Don’t expect your child to, either. It’s an exciting time and a place to explore the options out there. Be flexible, supportive, and the best sounding board you can be.

12.) The amount of criticism you are allowed to levy over another person’s college search and eventual choice is exactly zero. I mean it. This is a difficult and uniquely intimate process, and you have no idea the considerations that went into another family’s decision, so leave it alone regardless of your feelings and offer your unwavering support. There is a school for everyone out there and finding the one that fits best is something we should all root for when it comes to our kids.

13.) I’ve written this from a parent’s perspective, but ultimately, it’s their choice. Yes, even if you’re paying for it. By this point, the short-list won’t (or shouldn’t) include anywhere that isn’t a realistic possibility for your family for any of the reasons listed above. So when the applications finally do go out, they are going to a set of schools already-agreed upon between you and your child. This is the time for the discerning of those schools, not after they’ve applied and gotten their hopes up if it never was going to be a consideration.

Parents and students both ultimately want the same thing: to succeed at the perfect school for them. Hopefully, you’ve found that mutually-agreeable place because you’ve journeyed together discovering all of the wonderfully important pieces that went into the decision.

©2014 Tracey Henry