These RVers have found the perfect on-the-road hobbies to go hand in hand with the motorhome lifestyle
Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, is a funny guy. If you need further proof, just Google “Dave Barry colonoscopy.” He makes me laugh, even when I disagree with him. He once said, “Hobbies of any kind are boring except to people who have the same hobby.” Even though I don’t share the same talents with 90 percent of the people I’ve interviewed for this MotorHome series on RV hobbies, I’ve always found the people and their passions to be fascinating.
Nanci Stahlman-Drag (she claims she’s never been one; it’s just her name) comes from a musical family with six kids. She grew up on church music and sang in the choir. Nanci, a real-estate developer, has been singing in local restaurants for more than 15 years. She also enjoys songwriting, especially about her camping experiences. In 2009, on her first date with future husband, Paul Drag, she wrote a song about Airstream travel trailers. She’s written 20 songs – 12 of them about traveling – including blues, folk, rock, classic Americana and even one rap song. Her favorites to write are 12-bar blues, which are repetitive and easy to sing. That’s important, since audience participation is her goal. Her method for songwriting is to have a story, figure out how to tell it, make it rhyme and set it to a melody. While her husband drives on RV trips, she sits in the passenger’s seat playing her ukulele, trying out lyrics and melodies.
If you ever camp next to Nanci, you’re in for a treat. She often introduces herself to neighbors with this line. “Excuse me. I hear you’re breaking the law. You can’t have a campfire without singing, so I’m here to sing.” She brings her guitar and ukulele, and plays songs people know the words to, encouraging her new friends to sing along. If you’d like to purchase her CD, Travel Tunes, email Nanci at [email protected].
- Ham Radio Operator
If you were camped next to Gary Stone, you might wonder what he’s up to. Gary is an amateur (Ham) radio operator, call letters N5PHT. When he sets up camp, he strings wire antennas in nearby trees, either by throwing a rope tied to a rubber mallet over tree limbs or propelling a rope with a bow and arrow, then pulling up the wires. Gary has set up in more than 70 U.S. counties in 19 states. Even more impressive, he’s made 13,517 contacts from his RV. He enjoys “DX Chasing,” which is contacting distant stations around the world in the 339 “entities” (usually a country, but not always; Alaska and Hawaii are separate entities). While RVing, he’s contacted 152 entities, and from his home station, he’s contacted 338. Gary has participated in United States Islands on the Air, Summits on the Air (hiking to mountain peaks and making contacts on the radio) and various Ham radio contests from campgrounds. You might consider yourself lucky to be camped next to Gary during inclement weather, since he and other Ham radio storm spotters keep an eye on dangerous conditions. If he’s running for cover, you should too.
- Sock Maker
Whether she is at home in her park model or traveling in her RV, Diane Thomas makes 300 to 400 pairs of socks per year on her 108-year-old circular sock-knitting machine. These cast-iron machines were popular during World War I, when women used them to make socks for soldiers. The first time Diane saw one of these machines was when she Googled a knitting term and ended up watching a video titled “The 8½-Minute Sock.” She had to have one. Her husband bought a collectible machine for $2,700 for her birthday in 2012. It takes her about two hours to make one pair of socks for an adult. First, she winds the yarn into a “cake” shape so it will feed freely through the machine. Each ribbed sock takes about 20 minutes to knit (the 8½-minute socks are for a child). Finally, she finishes the toes and works in the loose ends of the yarn. She sells them at craft shows. I love the pair I bought from her. From November through February, she does 10 to 14 shows.
- Crocheted Purse Designer
Blanch Murin crochets one-of-a-kind purses from wool or cotton quilting material that’s leftover from her quilting projects. Before heading south for the winter, she cuts ½-inch strips of fabric using a rotary cutter on a cutting mat, then joins the pieces together and wraps them into a ball. While her husband drives, she crochets, making the bottom of the purse first. When she is ready to do the sides, she adds eyelash yarn. At the top of the purse she adds a button made from retro jewelry found at garage sales or fashions a button from a gourd, then uses an elastic hair band as a button loop. The handles are made from recycled belts. A true creative artist, Blanche doesn’t follow a pattern. She often enters the purses with gourd buttons in juried gourd-art shows, along with other pieces such as lampshades and bowls. She sells her creations at arts-and-crafts shows in Casa Grande, Arizona; and Michigan City, Indiana.
- Mandala Artist
When Marlene Brown saw a rock mandala online at Pinterest, she decided to try making some. She already had an extensive collection of acrylic paints, brushes and styli from other projects, so all she needed was a bag of round river rocks from Home Depot. Her first step is to use a stencil to draw a circle on the rock, then paint a dot in the center. From there, she paints a pattern of dots radiating toward the circumference. Finally, one coat of varnish is applied to give it a light sheen. She paints several mandalas at a time to avoid wasting paint. Occasionally, she paints a mini canvas to match. On oblong stones, she paints fish patterns. Marlene finds the process relaxing. She winters in Fort Myers, Florida, where she has taught classes in mandala painting.
- Travel Website Developers
Before retiring in 2007, Nan Miller was a freelance travel writer for 18 years. She and her husband, Earl, have been RVers since 1975. In 2012 they started describing their travels with emails sent twice a week to 32 friends. It has grown into a popular travel website, www.nanmillertimes.com, with more than 1,500 page hits each week. Nan writes the narratives and Earl provides photographs. When new articles are posted, an email notification goes out to subscribers. There’s no advertising on the site, nor is there a subscription fee. This website is a labor of love.
The Millers have explored Colorado, Oregon and Alaska. They tend to keep away from large cities and give exposure to smaller towns and lesser-known attractions. Nan has a knack for finding unusual bits of history about the places she visits. Earl’s photographs are simply divine. Their readers say they feel like they’re riding along with them.
- Mixed-Media Wall Artist
Sandy Pittman was approaching retirement three years ago, and the thought of all that idle time gave her panic attacks. As an avid crafter, it didn’t take her long to fill her time with a multitude of art projects. Her favorite medium is crochet, so she routinely stows bags of yarn in their RV for “road work.” Once they reach their destination, the projects get more complex. Recently she has been creating decorative wall art. She starts with a stretched canvas and applies chalk to it. Next, she applies Gelatos – creamy paint, not ice cream – with her fingers to help move the chalk. She calls this the “funnest” part. Once she’s satisfied with the background, she positions items such as photographs, feathers, raffia, fabric and scrapbooking cutouts where she wants them, then glues them on. These unique art pieces make great gifts.
- Pinewood Derby Car Builder
At 9 a.m. on a Saturday in 2009, Jack Koons’ grandchildren asked him to make pinewood derby cars for them. At 3 p.m. that afternoon, the grandchildren, ages 8 and 9, entered Jack’s cars in a race. Their cars came in first and second. Clearly Jack had a knack for this, which isn’t surprising since he used to own a racetrack for radio-controlled cars. In the ensuing years, he’s made 10 more cars, and still has five of them. Now he races the cars himself at Pinewood Derbies in Arizona and South Dakota. After winning both the stock and modified races in 2015 and 2016, he plans to retire the two championship cars and build new ones this year.
To build a car, he buys a kit with four wheels, four axles and a block of wood. He shapes the wood with a band saw, sands it with a sand belt, paints it and then assembles the finished product. Each car takes about 14 to 15 hours to make.
A Cricut is a personal electronic cutting machine used to make greeting cards, scrapbook items, cutouts for T-shirts and anything else creative minds can imagine. Debbie Wilson is an avid Cricuteer. When she and her “dearest hubby” were in the market for a new RV, they bought one with a bunkroom. They took out the bunk beds and replaced them with a desk with enough storage for her Cricut and various supplies, including paper, vinyl and glue. They call this room “Debbie’s Craft Cave.” She said, “It’s like playing Tetris to pack it up when we travel.”
Debbie enjoys making 3-D sculptures, cards, vinyl signs and iron-on designs for T-shirts. She imports cutting files with intricate designs to her Cricut Explore Air. She made a 3-D haunted house for her grandchildren that won a Cricut-sponsored contest. The light weight of these decorative items is an additional benefit in an RV.
- “Arm” Knitter
On a personal note, when a friend gave me an arm-knitted cowl for Christmas last year, I couldn’t wait to try it. That night I Googled “arm knitting,” watched a YouTube video, read some instructions and made one with some spare yarn I had in the closet. I was hooked on my own hobby. Within a couple of months, I made 45 cowls for friends and strangers (I donated some of them to a charity), and one for a friend’s dog. Using two strands of yarn and my arms as big knitting needles, each scarf takes about an hour to complete. It was a great way to pass the time while riding in the motorhome on our winter’s journey to warmer weather.
Are you enthusiastic about your RV hobbies? If you’d like to be considered for inclusion in next year’s article, send an email to [email protected].
Mary Zalmanek and her husband, Jim, enjoy traveling in their 2019 Winnebago Vista LX when they are not at home in Colorado. Mary loves to cook and entertain, even in the small confines of her motorhome. She shares her favorite recipes on her food blog cookinginaonebuttkitchen.com