New Stuff, an Update on the Bran Van Adventures and a Heartbreaking Goodbye

Hello readers! I know it’s been quite a while since my last post and so much has gone on in my life, so here’s a quick recap. First of all, I’ve actually been staying in “Savana.” The night of Christmas Eve we were having a winter storm rolling through the area and I lived in my 5th wheel at that point. It’s parked on some property up on a mountain in the Melrose, Oregon area andI didn’t want to get stuck there and miss spending time with my parents, so the three pups and I loaded up and headed to my mom and dad’s where the van is currently parked. Finally spending some time in it, sleeping, working, playing with the pups, it felt AMAZING! When my mom and I were building out the van we had tools and crap wood everywhere, things were being manhandled into place, the front seat hadn’t been removed yet…it was a mess. With most of the stuff finally having a place to call home the van feels a lot bigger now. I was able to comfortably sleep in my bed with two out of the three dogs (Tipsy chose to sleep in the dog bed on the floor close to the heater). The van holds heat remarkably well, and there were times I had to turn the heat down for fear of all of us poaching our insides while asleep, and that was even during the snowstorm. There is still some work that needs to be done before I’m able to fully “live” in it. There are a couple of items that I’d like to get done before we actually hit the road: Get a backup camera installed, Install a roof rack, and get a solar system set up so that I can continuously power my refrigerator. The Jackery works great for powering up my devices on the go, but I think having a semi permanent solar system mounted and installed would be a total game changer.

I promised I’d talk about the “New Stuff” going on and I’m so excited to tell you what’s in the works! First of all, you’ll notice in the tabs at the top that there are two new ones! One is called “Van-Tastic” reads! In that column I’ll be updating you on what I’m reading, posting up some new book reviews, gushing about my favorite authors, telling a bit about fun literary stops along my travels and pretty much everything that makes my book nerdy heart happy. I took a step back and took stock of what my main interests are in life: Travel, Family, Books, Writing and my babies…so now there are tabs for pretty much everything that makes me smile!

The second new tab is called “Pupdates!” That’s where I’ll be letting my pup’s take over and offer up their own column! For example: I’m quite certain Chloe will have a lot to say about being forced to wear diapers now. Chloe’s bladder has been questionable at best lately so I’ve now taken to calling her “Señorita Soggy-Britches.”

And lastly, our family had to say goodbye to Daisy-Lou. I’m absolutely devastated. For those of you who don’t know me in real life, Daisy was my uncle’s pup that I inherited when he passed away. He used to work at the local animal shelter and specialized in working with animals who were heavily abused and were either too scared or too aggressive to be re-homed. Daisy-Lou was one that he just couldn’t let go, it was love at first sight! She had been beaten, starved, shot at, and her spirit was broken. He worked so hard to get her to trust him and then he took her home. There was so much still to be done with her, but unfortunately he never got the chance. He died of a heart attack in January of 2019, so she came to live with me. The way I looked at it: he was then taking care of the chihuahua that I lost in 2016, and now I was taking care of his girl here.

When she passed away in January she was almost unrecognizable. Gone was the skittish girl who hid under the table and away from visitors. Gone was the food aggression and the night terrors. She now loved to go for car rides, adored being picked up and loved on and gave kisses before I put her leash on her to go for walks. She loved her “mama time” when I came home from work, some thing that I do with each of the pups to give them individual time with me to know they’re adored, safe, and missed each time I leave the house. Her happy places were under any blanket, but definitely the one I had covering myself. She was able to enjoy one last Christmas and was happily bouncing through the snow and playing with Tipsy just a couple of weeks before she passed away. In the end she passed as my mother rocked her in the recliner and told her just how loved, safe and special she was. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my sweet sassy girl, but I take comfort in knowing that she is once again safe and happy with my uncle and that I will one day be reunited with them. Until then, heaven just gained one more angel to look over me. As sad as I am knowing that she’s gone, I’m just so grateful for the time that we did have together and knowing just how far she had come.

I’ll work on updating this blog a lot more, and I’m working on sketching out a few YouTube videos and will be filming those within the next couple of weeks. I’m going to be working on building up the channel while I’m still here so you can see what I’ve been able to do to the van before I hit the road! Thank you to all of you who have been incredibly patient while I was absent from here, and a special thank you to everyone who reached out when Daisy passed away. It was appreciated more than you know! I’ll sign off for now, but I’ll be back soon! There are special things in store for The Bran Van Adventures and I can’t wait to share them with you all!

Here’s a short video that my mom took of the pups and I outside in the snow! Tipsy (the largest of the “Floppy-eared Brigade”) and Daisy had a blast bouncing through the snow! Even Chloe (The chihuahua) had fun!

Savana Update & Questions Galore

Hello and welcome back! I’m sorry, I know it’s been a while between my last post and this one. Honestly so much has been done between then and now. I’m going to try and catch you up a bit and answer some of the questions I’ve been getting lately. 

Here’s the update on “Savana.” Check engine lights are a frustratingly regular occurrence lately. Between the misbehaving gas cap on my Kia Soul that makes me panic every time the light pops on, to the super fun listening to my mom’s Kia Forte, a car that is practically silent while running, now sounding like a tractor that just ran over an irrigation pipe…I’m so over them. Savana unfortunately was not immune to the epidemic of “let’s give Brandilyn a mild stroke” lights. I’m not a girl who knows cars. Like at all. “One is blue, that’s a truck, ooooh! Isn’t that one pretty?!”…pretty much sums up my total knowledge of cars. Heaven help us all if I have to look under the hood of anything. In my way of thinking, neurosurgeons and mechanics are on the same level of badassery on a topic I could only inflict harm on. Apparently Savana has two catalytic converters. Nope, I have no idea what that is…just that she has two, I’ve begun to think of them like “car kidneys”  and one needed replacing ASAP. Luckily there are pretty much three people I trust to work on my car and not take every last cent out of my wallet like the Sheriff of Nottingham. He quoted us a number that made my ears ring a little and my vision go slightly dark…but either way the work was going to need to be done before she was ready to hit the road. I’d rather do it now while I have a steady paycheck flowing in like I do. I almost cried when it was time to pay for the work…not only did they replace the two catalytic converters and a full tune up on our girl, they even came in at about half the cost I was quoted on. I’m not entirely sure what the qualifications are for Saint-hood…but after Rocky at Rocky’s Auto Repair in Roseburg,  straight up saved my bacon, I may need to do a little research. 

So now that Savana is out of the car-hospital, she’s home again and mom and I have been fine tuning the organization inside to make the most fit in the smallest of spaces…who knew that the Van Dolah family Tetris rivalry would ever be useful in real life. I may have won the Tetris rivalry, but I’m coming to learn that my mom’s talents have been wasted for years. If NASA ever needed a pro to pack for a trip to the international space station…they should call my mom. I’ve taken my laptop out and spent much of a day inside the van, and never felt claustrophobic. The bed actually is the perfect height for an inside desk. I used the “poo bucket” as a stool and had the laptop on the bed. I’d love to take credit and say that after extensive measuring and mathematical calculations we planned on the optimal height of the bed for both work, sleep and used as an organizational staple…but really, we just slipped, tripped and fell into a vat of awesomeness on that one. 

Now onto the questions. I’ve been getting them on the regular lately and thought I could try and answer a few of them. Keep in mind that I’m not on the road yet, so I haven’t had a ton of obstacles, most of the ones I’ve hit up to this point have been funding based, and only being able to do large scale projects on my days off. 

  • Why am I leaving home?
    • This is a hard one to honestly explain. A lot has happened since I came home from Germany in 2015. Divorce, death of a beloved pet, death of family members, being locked down on campus during a shooting spree and the daily struggles I have from it, I’m just over it. I’m from here. I grew up here. I love this place, but I want to leave now while I can still say that I’ll miss it. I don’t honestly think I can take much more here before my view of home is irreversibly damaged. 
    • I’m honestly the best version of me when I travel. I open up to new ideas, experiences, and people. I can feel the passion and creativity bubble up inside of me just thinking about hitting the road and all of the endless possibilities that it offers. I miss learning. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to go back to a college campus for the long term or if my aversion to it is strictly limited to Umpqua Community College. I’m realizing though that learning and fueling my passion for creativity isn’t limited to a college environment. Researching social media platforms and digital marketing strategies for this project have sparked something in me I almost forgot existed. I legit feel like Hermione, soaking up every book and putting it to good use. Warning: I will absolutely try to shoehorn as many Harry Potter references in here as I do in real life. Heaven help you all. 
  • Why a van and not a motorhome?
    • That one’s a relatively easy one. With a motorhome I’m a little limited on places to park, cities I can drive in, parking spaces to find, etc. A van offers a lot more freedom and even opens up the ability to stealth camp. Basically, pulling into a spot on the street, in a parking lot, etc, closing the curtains…and sleeping. This versatility will hopefully be a lot more cost effective in the long run. 
  • Why did I buy a smaller passenger van as opposed to a larger cargo van?
    • This one was a huge debate for me honestly. I loved the space a cargo van would allow, but the initial build would include insulation, and possibly adding an aftermarket window that had the possibility of leaking if not installed or sealed properly. The windows were a must have to keep inside cool with a cross breeze. My only deal breakers on vans were these: I wanted the two doors that swing out on the side…I wanted to be able to use that space on the doors and not lose like I would with a sliding door. I also wanted the same on the back doors as well. I wanted to be able to use that space to either deflect wind while cooking, or hang a shower curtain rod across the back door if I needed to shower if I’m in the back country and not near a gym. I also needed to have windows. The ability to open those up and cool down the space was an absolute must have. Not just for me, but for the pups as well. This van fits all of my conditions and with it being a passenger van vs. a cargo van…most of the insulation has already been done for me. The fact that the van just looks like a van on the outside works in my favor. Sitting on the street my van doesn’t look out of place.
  • What am I looking to gain out of this?
    • Several things really. I’m looking to sort of reconnect with the better version of myself. I’m looking to gain a better perspective on what I want to do career wise. By drastically cutting down my monthly expenses I’m hoping to pay down my debt that way if for whatever reason I decide to stop living the van life and once again find a stationary home somewhere, I’m better prepared financially for it. By freeing myself from some of the monthly costs, I may end up trying out some online courses. I’m still a bit on the fence about it really, but I may find that I want to learn more marketable skills to help aid financially while living as I will be. 
  • Where am I planning to go?
    • The short answer….yes. There is so much out there to see and do, it’s hard to name it all. My first destination is to Long Beach, CA. I have a cousin who lives there that I haven’t seen since my wedding, that was 12 years and one husband ago. My best friend and her kids live in Long Beach as well. I’ve been threatened with bodily harm if they aren’t my first stop. She’s a tiny human, so naturally I fear her. She’s already offered to show me a few of her favorite spots in the Southern California area while I’m there. Most of my stops I have planned are subject to change since we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic and places are either closed, or have a limited number of spots available. Ideally I wanted to go full-on-tourist in Los Angeles. I planned it all out. Tourist map, bus tour, pictures next to my favorites along the walk of fame, and I even had thought about making an investment into a fanny pack, just to make sure I’m looking the part. I only have a couple of things that are time based. I’d really love to see the northeast during the fall, and the slightly twisted side of me wants to spend Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts. Other than that, I’m fairly open to when and where I go. 
  • What am I doing with all of my stuff?
    • The plan is to put the irreplaceable items into a storage unit. The family mementos that I can’t bear to part with, photo albums, etc. and sell the rest of my possessions. It would be like killing multiple birds with a single stone. I’m putting money into my ‘oh shit’ fund for if large scale things happen. If my transmission goes out, I blow a tire and need to replace it, etc. once I’m happy with enough cushion in that fund….then comes the gas fund. Rolling down the highway isn’t free. I won’t lie, the biggest thing that I will have to learn to do without is the fully stocked bookshelves. I’ve already invested in a Kindle and have probably more books on it than any one person should have, but there is still something comforting about holding a book in your hand on a rainy day that you can only get with a physical book. I did account for some of my favorites to travel with me: the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson books as well as the Stalking Jack the Ripper series which is my newest obsession. 
  • How long am I planning on living in the van?
    • This is one that I don’t actually have an answer for. I don’t have any expected end date. This isn’t like an extended vacation where I come back to my old life again. This is a full on change in the way I live my life. It’s both terrifying and exciting. 
  • What am I going to do for an income while on the road?
    • I’ve been doing a TON of research for jobs that I can do remotely, or jobs I’d like to have at some point along the road. Working at a library or a bookstore would be a dream come true, but I don’t actually trust myself to leave once I get a job like that. I’ve already started this blog and a YouTube channel to go along with it, but I’m hilariously far away from being able to see any monetary value from either one of those avenues. I started my own side business, Athens Digital Marketing Co., but I don’t have a client list yet, so still nothing from that avenue either. The biggest thing I think I can do is to offer my services on Fiverr or find new and exciting options on FlexJobs. Both sites are very much for those who need to work remotely. This is honestly the biggest hold up for me. I can’t leave here without a steady stream of income somehow. 
  • When am I expecting to leave?
    • This is one that seems to keep getting pushed farther and farther out as new issues arise. Initially I wanted to actually be in California on May 1st. That obviously didn’t happen. Then the plan was to leave here on June 1st. Definitely going to miss that mark as well. I think my mom and I may need to adjust our plans because we’re entering the warmer season which isn’t ideal. 
  • Will I be traveling solo or with someone else?
    • I’m neither crazy enough, nor brave enough to fly this solo. I’m very lucky though. My parents actually live in a motorhome and are itching to get out of here as well. I’ll be traveling with them for the most part. My dad has specific places he wants to take me to, such as the Van Dolah castle and the Van Dolah homestead, both of which require traveling east for. I may very well splinter away from them for short trips I want to make, but for the most part we will be traveling together. 

  • Why in the world am I doing this with three dogs?! What obstacles do I see in regards to the pups and how do I plan to overcome them?
    • My dogs are my kids. They’ll be going with me pretty much everywhere. That’s why I don’t like the idea of traveling south during the summer. Ideally I’d like to sort of chase the cooler temperatures, especially since I will have three, four-legged copilots riding with me. I imagine that there will be days that little travel will actually happen, just because we’ll need to stick to cooler weather. I’m choosing to not look at that as lost time or a missed opportunity. That will allow for walks with the pups, downtime to catch up on the blog or do some video editing for the channel. If I’m adjusting my life so I can cut the strings with the life I’m currently living, I’m certainly going to be able to adjust to make them comfortable. 

  • What have I done to the van to customize it to my needs, and what do I still plan on doing?
    • The bed is probably the biggest thing I can point to. I’m able to fit six tubs under the bed and the van even now has a tailgate that folds down. This will allow me to either cook on the surface or use it as an outside work station. I’ve placed battery operated lights throughout the van and even have some super cute fairy lights to add a splash of adorable to the van. Most of the must-have items that I’ll be using everyday are either in the “9-block,” a square cubby that holds 9 fabric containers. I’ve also invested in a Jackery 1000 Explorer…the bundle that I purchased has the solar generator along with two “suitcase” solar panels. They fold in half for easy storage, and when unfolded they can be moved around to capture direct sunlight. 
    • Plans I’m kicking around for the future: installing a roof rack so I can mount a solar panel or two on the roof for continuous power, a roof mounted storage pod, a mounted awning for shade and the ability to create a bit of an outdoor space. I’d also love to install a light bar on the front of the roof, something that will give me extra light when driving around BLM land. When you’re driving what is essentially your house around, that isn’t the best time to hit a deer, boulder or tree stump. I’d also like to mount a spare tire to the back of the van. Currently it has one underneath the van, I’m not wild about having to crawl around to change a flat tire, especially since I have slight aversion to all things slithery or creepy crawly. *stares at the entire southwest region of the U.S.* Tarantulas, scorpions, snakes, and other terrifying creatures don’t sound fun to me. I’m okay if they exist. Just not existing near me. 

That all being said, I’ve got a lot to do in the future and would absolutely welcome any help from you guys! If you have any advice on products, how-to videos on setting up a solar panel system, car racks to buy and which to avoid, recommendations on filming equipment or must do places and experiences you’d like to see filmed…let me know! You can either drop a comment below or contact me on one of the social media platforms I’m on. I’ll drop a link so you can find and follow me at your will.

Sore Muscles and Creative Swearing

Attempting to smile through pain, sweat, and laughter.

Everything hurts, I have a messed up fingerprint on my right thumb, and I’m pretty sure I made my mother blush with my ever increasing creative swearing…but there has been major progress on the van. Here is my current running to-do list:

The reason why I still have sawdust in the van and My Jackery that I am probably a little more excited about than any human should be.
  • Install the rearview mirror – My bed is probably the only thing I’m going to be able to see, but that means I can see any sort of tomfoolery that my dogs are getting into. Chloe is too scared of pretty much everything to do anything…it’s the floppy-eared brigade you’ve got to watch out for. They are both stealthy in their shenanigans and yet somehow the complete opposite of graceful.
  • Put the tailgate on – play a country music song about trucks and tailgates while installing it. Just for that authentic ‘merica feeling.
  • Cut out and spray paint the reflective insulation to place into the windows, these will be used for both insulating the van as well as privacy. No one needs to see Victoria’s Secret. Hell, at this point i’ve eaten so many tacos that I can’t even see Victoria’s Secret either!
  • Cut the memory foam mattress to fit the bed. Tipsy will need to approve the final product. He’s very particular on the bed he steals.
  • Unbox the Jackery Explorer 1000, shout with glee. Set out solar panels and juice it up. Shout out “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” in my best straight to DVD version of Dr. Frankenstein. Potentially scaring my mom and dad’s neighbors in the process.
  • Label and organize tubs and cubes. Go through phase 2 of downsizing my possessions. I’m not quite a hoarder…but now that I’m going through my stuff and weeding out the necessary from the unnecessary I’m feeling like I may need to have an intervention with myself.
  • Hang fairy lights in the bedroom area of the van. Will myself to become more mystical and boho…I’m fairly certain that I have more than the allotted amount of sass and sarcasm to be either one of those things. Also, see the taco comment above.
  • Vacuum out the van. The man glitter needs to go. I’m not against it smelling like the lumber aisle of Home Depot, but I draw the line at slivers in my foot.
  • Wipe down the dash and install the popsocket holder of awesomeness.
  • Secure my fake succulent plants. I love plants. Plants do not love me. I’ve proven time and time again to be the plant equivalent of the grim reaper.
  • Remove the hostile arm on the passenger seat. The freakishly warm feeling of the heated seats, that I didn’t turn on, needs to go. I’ve already maxed out my quota of momentary panic attacks while I quickly assess my bodily functions and see if anything betrayed me, for the year.
  • Stare at the stereo until it bends to my will and functions. If that doesn’t work then look up the user’s manual online and see what is going on with it. Option one is my favorite.
  • Put the throw rug over the aggressive metal pieces on the floor. I’m afraid of both what the neighbors will think if they hear shouty me, and also afraid of what will happen if I suddenly become on the same level as Daisy-Lou. She’s the only dog I’ve ever met that will stare at you with confusion in her eyes as her body gyrates on pretty much whatever is near.
Do not blow spray paint against the wind. You’ll have it all over you for days. DAYS! More Jackery love. Behold! A tailgate on a van. Just one more reason that I think my mom is brilliant and amazing!

The build is coming along beautifully and I couldn’t be happier. I’m hoping to be able to sleep in it over my next days off (Monday and Tuesday) and get an understanding of what works, what doesn’t and what just needs to be tweaked. It’s starting to feel more and more real with every screw, injury and can of spray paint I accidentally inhale. It’s a very surreal thing to work so hard to create a home for a life that you don’t currently have, but are working hard to make a reality. I feel a similar sense of joy and impatience that I had when I was a kid and Christmas was coming near. I know that freedom and adventure are just around the corner, with every day I get a little closer to loading up the pups, grabbing a box of Mike & Ike’s (my go-to driving snack), a coffee from Ruff Day Lattes and hitting the road. That’s all for now, i’ll let you all know how my first sleepover goes and how the pups react to our new home. Have a wonderful week and stay safe!

Home sweet home.

So I Did A Thing The Other Day…

I did a crazy thing the other day. I finally made steps towards living the life I want. Lately I’ve been feeling stuck, both physically and mentally. So, after months of research, touring car lots, and making a list of things I absolutely wanted, and things that would be nice but aren’t necessarily deal breakers…I bought a van. I bought a 1999 GMC Savana low top conversion van and will be drastically downsizing my life so that I can live the van life fulltime. Together with what can only be considered the most adorable trio of co-pilots in the history of doggydom, we’ll be hitting the road and documenting the highs, lows and hysterical mishaps along the way. Here’s a peek into the list of why I bought the van I did and why it fit into the criteria that I’ve been searching for. Also, I know I’m a little crazy to get a low-top van, but I’m vertically challenged at 5’4” so a high-top wasn’t exactly a dealbreaker for me. 

  • The backdoor opens with two swinging doors. I figure this would come in handy for cooking since I’ll be installing a sort of tailgate to act as a cooking surface for outdoor cooking. The two side doors could help protect from wind. Also, no one can see if I straight up botch a meal. If no one sees it, it never happened. 
  • The side of the van also has two doors, not a slide. I wanted to make sure I had as much workable space as possible, slide doors were super available, but I wanted the option to use that space and not lose it when the door slides open or shut. It also has the added bonus of me not breaking it within the first leg of the trip. By me I mean my dog Tipsy who has all of the characteristics and coordination of Scooby-Doo. 
  • I went specifically looking for a conversion van because it would already be insulated. A cold Brandilyn is a cranky Brandilyn. I would classify this one not as a decision made out of a sense of self-preservation decision but also as a public service. I feel like I should apologize anyway to all the people I would have yelled at on the road had I not slept the night before because my dumb ass decided to go with less insulation in the van and then tried to reenact the epic door in the water scene from Titanic. Real talk: they both could have fit on that door! Good job, Rose…just chill on the door while your man turns into a popsicle. Not cool. 
  • A high-top would have been nice, but the only one I had close by to look at had a fiberglass top, I wanted something sturdier and slightly more insulated. I’m short anyway, so having to duck will be a new and refreshing experience. 

I’ll toss up some links to some of the things I’ve either already purchased for the van or will be investing in down the road. My plan is to not do a full on build out of the van, but to leave here with the bare minimum. Yes, that sounds a little crazy, but I promise there is a method to my madness. I don’t know about you, but whenever I get a new place it takes me a couple of times of redoing the living room before I’m happy with where everything is placed…I’m using that very same principle with the van. Eventually I may want to invest in a sturdier bed, actual cabinetry or running water, but not until I have lived in it for a while and can tell what I use and where it should be placed. I’ve been straight up binge watching some van and RV life videos on YouTube and the only thing I’ve learned so far: no two are the same. 

            I mentioned before that I felt stuck. I’ve decided to change that by fully etch-a-sketching my life. I’m shaking it up and starting again. Once I have sold, donated or stored my possessions I’ll be hitting the road and traveling. The only thing I know for sure is that Long Beach, California is my first destination. That’s an 819-mile drive south…12 hours and 10 minutes (According to Siri, who has never let me down. *insert sarcastic eye-roll here). Why Long Beach? That’s probably the closest location to family I have on the map. I don’t have any specific timeline for my travel, but I’d like to be back east when fall comes around. I’d love to see the leaves change in Vermont, and I’ve got a spooky date with Salem, Massachusetts for Halloween. Another factor in my travel plans will be weather and temperatures. I’ll be traveling with three pups who don’t particularly like the heat, though they’re pretty okay with stealing my blankets if it gets cold. I also have Fibromyalgia, so extreme temperatures either way are kind of the Drago to my Creed. That’s a Rocky reference to all you young ones out there. Though I don’t have a specific timeline, that doesn’t mean I don’t have plans…I have a full-on vanlife/travel bucket list! I’ll be posting that up in my next edition.

Thanks for reading!

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