tulstin-troubadours

Our Musical Nomadic Lifestyle

After reading an account of another traveling gal who lives in an RV full time with her circus musician hubby, baby, and cats, as well as the blog of an American writer in Germany (said writer lives in a wagenplatz - several amazingly adorable gypsy vardo-style wagons), I came to realize that this blog has been really rather heavy on the “vegan” part and somewhat light on the “traveling” part. Now, this is not the first time I’ve thought of this; I’ve been taking some photos of our vintage 14’ trailer as we fix it up, and been brewing up some posts in my head about our nomadic lifestyle. However, due to a combination of my natural tendency to procrastinate and the difficulty in properly blogging on a tiny iPhone screen (not to mention that tiny on-screen keyboard!), none of these things have happened.

However, I’m sitting here at the kitchen table in a friend’s house, sipping rooibos & white chocolate chai tea topped with flax milk (probably the impetus for my use of the word “brewing” above), with my computer in front of me and my iPhone and digital camera connected to it and ready for business.

So, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Last week, one of Mark’s friends asked us (excitedly, and in great length) about our lifestyle (“You guys are, like, real nomadic gypsies! The only ones I know! How in the world do you do it?) For him, and for anyone else out there who is curious about nomadic lifestyles (or those people who are already doing it and want to compare notes), here’s our story.


I’ve been taking music lessons since the age of two. I went to college to get a Music Education degree, since I couldn’t figure out any feasible way to actually Earn A Living™ performing music. I spent a year of teaching choir to 6th-12th graders, 5 years of teaching general music to 2-5 year olds at a private preschool, and 8 years teaching private piano and voice lessons. In 2009, I met Mark at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival. We were both musicians there and hit it off right away. We started dating not long after, and decided to form a band as well. We managed to get contracts to perform at the Oklahoma and Kansas City Ren Faires as well as Sherwood Forest Faire outside of Austin, TX. We also managed to score performer passes to the Texas Renaissance Festival outside Houston.

Mark didn’t have a day job at the time, but I was working at the preschool Monday-Friday, and my hours could be anytime between 6 am and 6 pm, depending on when the director needed extra people to act as assistant teachers in any given classroom. I used my limited vacation days to take half or whole days off on various Fridays and Mondays so that I could travel to Kansas and Oklahoma. However, when the vacation days ran out and my boss wouldn’t approve any extra time, I either had to spend tons of money (that I didn’t really have) on plane tickets to fly to Kansas (a 12 hour drive from Austin) or miss the weekend entirely. I had been telling numerous friends for years that what I really wanted to do was quit my day job and perform music full-time. The answer was always "Well, go do it! Live your dream!” However, I was just too worried that not having a day job would leave me too broke to pay rent/buy food/buy gas/etc., so I just sighed and stayed put.

In 2010, I was fired from my job at the preschool. After a day and a half of bawling incessantly, I realized that this might have been the universe’s not-so-subtle way of telling me that it was time for me to go out with Mark and make our music our full-time career. I talked to the Texas Workforce Commission, and found that I was eligible for unemployment compensation (they ruled that getting fired was not my fault). Mark and I had moved into an apartment in Austin together, and the unemployment money covered our rent. Not having the day job left my days free to prepare music and garb (our Medieval/Renaissance clothing), work on making jewelry for my shop, and travel to faires and SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) events.

In November of 2011, our apartment lease came up for renewal, and we were faced with a choice. It was really nice to have a “home base” and an address, but the apartment was sucking money like nobody’s business, and, unlike a house, we were never going to get anything out of that money nor ever be able to stop paying it. Mark owned a 14’ travel trailer from the early 1970s, but it was not exactly in livable condition, nor did we have a vehicle that could pull it. After discussions with my parents and some friends, we decided to not renew our lease. We went through two or three weeks of vicious culling-of-stuff (both soul-wrenching and liberating). Since I had built up a few private piano and voice students, and needed to be in Austin to teach them, I moved some of my remaining stuff to a spare room in some friends’ house, where I would stay Tuesdays-Thursdays, and my full-sized electric piano to the media room of another couple of friends, with the intention of teaching from their house. I moved the rest of my stuff to my parents’ house in New Braunfels (about an hour and a half south of Austin) and to a storage unit also in New Braunfels. Mark (who didn’t have nearly as much stuff) moved most of his things to his parents’ house near Tulsa, OK. At this point, I’m starting to *really* understand where George Carlin was coming from in his “A Place For Your Stuff” skit. (Video contains a bit of NSFW language.) “You’ve got stuff all over the world!!!” Well, after reading several blogs of people who are trying their best to live simply, with a minimum of stuff, I felt much better after getting rid of a bunch of things, and will be continuing to pare down, but that’s a different blog post altogether.

For the better part of three months (December-February), Mark stayed with his parents while I split the time between my friends in Austin and my parents in New Braunfels. While he was in Oklahoma, he worked on the trailer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of it before he started work, but it was pretty bad. There had been several leaks, and the original wood insides had partially rotted away. The back wall of the trailer was just bare metal and the original wide window. The original cushions were all worthless, and several small creatures had made the trailer their home. Mark replaced a good portion of the back wall and celling, and did other repairs throughout to make it livable. In February, before our first contracted gig at the Sherwood Forest Faire, Mark came down to stay with me at my parents’ house, and we made cushions from free foam we’d got from a shop that was going out of business and a futon mattress that a friend was giving away, covered with fabric from the red tag discount shelves at a local fabric shop. We also made curtains. (The beautiful chocolate brown of the curtains really matches the cushion fabric well, but doesn’t show up very well in the pictures.)



As you can see, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Mark is going to rewire the trailer so that we’ve got proper outlets and working lights (we’ve currently got a propane lamp, 3 battery-powered LED lights, and an electric lamp that clamps on to the front cabinet, and everything plugs into one power strip that plugs into an extension cord that comes into the trailer through a small hole). We’re also going to paint the interior walls as soon as we can agree on a color (I’m leaning towards light mint green, personally) and add some laminate tile to the kitchen/dinette area. We’re also going to do our best to add more organizational elements (shelving, hanging nets, etc.). While the trailer does have an air conditioner, it doesn’t *quite* work anymore (we tested it). However, opening all of the windows and the door (which has a separate screen door to keep out bugs) as well as the new roof vent Mark installed goes a long way towards keeping the place cool. We also bought a small but fairly powerful electric column fan, which helps immensely.

A lot of people will look at the trailer and ask “How in the world can you both live in something that small?” Well, after living in a tent (which we’re unfortunately going to have to go back to doing for a few months, since we can’t use the trailer at our two upcoming SCA events), the trailer seems slightly spacious. The couch in the back slides out/folds down (like a futon) to become a bed, and the dinette seat closest to the kitchen comes up to reveal a half-size tub. We’ve got hooks in the celling from which to hang a shower curtain, and Mark has a nifty water pressure pump thing that will take water from the sink (heated on the stove) and pump it through a shower nozzle which can either be held by the person taking a shower or be suspended to the celling by a bracket. Eventually, the other dinette seat will house a flush toilet, but until we get that whole black water tank/sewer line business taken care off, we’ve got a collapsible toilet which uses trash bags and (yes, really) kitty litter. (We were using this Bio Gel stuff that was really neat, but we can’t seem to find it in any of the stores around here anymore. We get eco-friendly cat litter made from corn cobs in bulk at Petco.) As for storage, there’s a cabinet under the stove for food and a small fridge. Mark has stuff stashed in the space above the kitchen area, the space under the couch/bed, and in the small drawers next to the stove, as well as the drawers next to the closet. I’ve got my stuff in the cabinet next to the closet (and, to Mark’s dismay, occasionally scattered on the table). We’ve both got clothes hanging in the closet, though it isn’t full length (due to the wheel well), so my faire dresses get bunched up at the bottom. We do end up tangoing about each other to get from one side of the trailer to the other (about 4 or 5 steps, in all), but we’ve got pretty good about one of us sitting at the dinette or on the couch while the other person moves about. We keep semi-joking that we’re going to buy one of those *really* tiny trailers (like the ones made from a pickup bed) to haul behind our current trailer, so that I can have a separate work space for jewelry, and we can each have private space when needed. If only it were feasible to haul two trailers!

Well, that’s my blabbering for the moment. Right now, the trailer is at Mark’s parents’ place near Tulsa, and we won’t be using it again until after Pennsic in August. Yay, tent-living in the heat. (Yes, that was my sarcastic voice, in case you couldn’t tell.) Once we get it back and make more improvements, I’ll post about them.

April, Mark, & Aaron at KCRF 2010 by apryl_knight
Via Flickr:
Here’s and I playing at the Dunwoodie Dell stage at KCRF with our friend and Kansas partner Aaron. The tarp overhead is our makeshift stage cover - it doesn’t look all that pretty, but it kept us dry. This is also a shot of my linen parti-colored kirtle in action, as well as the psaltery case and Tulstin Troubadours banner I made. Photo by J Michael Stange - www.facebook.com/jmstrange