10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On the Road or Not)

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Last Wednesday I shared 10 ways to help stretch your food dollar. I think the tips are good for folks living on the road cash, coins, moneyor in a sticks-n-bricks. I’m not out of ideas, so here are 10 more tips for making the most of your food budget.

#1 Steer clear of fast food. If you’re eating from the regular menu at most restaurants, a meal is usually not inexpensive. Also, we all know fast food is not typically good for our health.

If you do eat fast food (and sometimes on the road it seems unavoidable) try to do so infrequently and stick to the value menu. Of course, McDonald’s has a famous value menu, but so do Taco Bell (their Fiesta Potato Grilled Breakfast Burrito with potato, egg, and cheese and a price of only $1 is my favorite fast food breakfast), Denny’s, Wendy’s and Del Taco. Also, it’s admittedly difficult to resist a $5 large pizza from Little Caesar’s.

If you join a fast food restaurant’s loyalty program via the internet, you can sometimes get email notifications of coupons, discounts, and freebies.

#2 Buy distressed produce after the price has been marked down. In many food stores, bruised, nicked, wilted, or otherwise distressed produce is sold at a deep discount. When you find discounted produce that’s no longer at its peak, think about what you might be able to use it for. Could you make apple sauce or apple butter or pancake topping from mushy apples? Could you cut bruises off vegetables and use the good parts to make soup or stock? Would mashed strawberries still taste delicious in a strawberry shortcake or smoothie? Sometimes reduced produce is on the brink of spoiling and still perfectly fine if you use it TODAY.

baguette, bakery, bread#3 Buy marked down bakery items. Bakery items are often marked down before they pass their freshness date. Many large supermarkets with in-house bakeries have a special area for bakery items being sold at a reduced price. Some towns also have bakery outlets where name brand baked goods are sold off cheaply right before or right after they reach their freshness date.

Don’t go overboard with cheap cookies, cakes, and white bread. These items are usually not super healthy, and you probably don’t really need them. You get the biggest savings by not spending money on things you don’t need. You also save money by maintaining your health. However, for a treat, reduced price bakery items can’t be beat.

#4 Buy scratched and dented cans and items past their “best by” date. There are entire grocery stores dedicated to these types of items. You can also look for the clearance section of individual food stores.

The “sell by,” “best by,” or “expiration” date on packaged food is usually only a suggestion. I have eaten plenty of canned beans, energy bars, and corn chips after the date on the package, and I’ve never been sick. Occasionally items with no preservatives or heavy with nuts or oils might taste rancid, but I don’t usually notice that unless an item is more than three months past the date on the package. If I’m skeptical, I’ll buy just one of the item in question, taste it, then make my decision.

I also get good deals on canned goods that have been banged up. Often items in dented cans are not even “expired.” I avoid cans that are leaking or bulging or open, and I’ve never had a problem and have saved a fortune.

#5 Utilize food pantries. Most towns have at least one food pantry. Some require photo ID, proof of income, and proof of address. Some don’t require anything at all. If the food pantry guidelines say you qualify, you qualify, so you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed. Food pantries are there to help people in need. If you are in need, utilize what’s there to help you.

#6 Qualify for SNAP benefits. Qualifying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka EBT, aka food stamps) requires jumping through some hoops and sharing lots of personal information but can really help low-income folks buy healthy food.  You can probably apply online.

I feel the same way about SNAP as I do about food pantries: don’t feel guilty or ashamed for using something you qualify for.

#7 Dumpster Dive I once lived in a town with an unlocked dumpster behind a grocery store. My friends and I got so much food out of the trash there. We got enough slightly distressed, but still salvagable produce there to feed ourselves and each other and sometimes strangers many gallons of delicious and nutritious soup. We also got enough junk food to satisfy all our sweet teeth. You probably can’t count on finding food in the trash in every town you roll through, but when you find a good source, you can eat like royalty.

Orange Fruit#8 Trade your labor for food. If you see fruit or nut trees growing in a yard and ready for harvest, ask the person who owns the trees if you can harvest what’s ripe and keep half of what you pick in exchange for your labor. Maybe the owner will say no or look at you like you’re weird. So what? Maybe they’ll agree to share their fresh and healthy food with you if you’re willing to do a little work.

Foraging is related to this idea of eating produce quite literally growing on trees in urban areas. If you’re interested in foraging, check out the Falling Fruit website. The project calls itself

a celebration of the overlooked culinary bounty of our city streets,

and says that while

[o]ur edible map is not the first of its kind…it aspires to be the world’s most comprehensive. While our users contribute locations of their own, we comb the internet for pre-existing knowledge, seeking to unite the efforts of foragers, foresters, and freegans everywhere.

#9 Eat the food people offer you. Say yes if a friend invites you over for a home-cooked meal. Take the box of crackers you family member offers you after trying one and deciding s/he didn’t like it. Again, there’s no shame in taking what is offered to you.

#10 Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re getting a bargain just because everything in the store costs a dollar. Often items I see at Dollar Tree can be had for a cheaper per ounce price at Wal-Mart or a supermarket. Sometimes even the same size item is less expensive elsewhere. Don’t get caught up in an it’s only a dollar frenzy. (I have been caught up in that frenzy many times.) Occasionally I do find a real bargain at the Dollar Tree, like packages of multigrain rice cakes, but typically the food there is over-priced or junk food or over-priced junk food.

What are you tips for eating healthy food while on a tight budget? Please share your best ideas in the comments.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/cash-coins-money-pattern-259165/https://www.pexels.com/photo/bread-food-healthy-breakfast-2436/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/orange-fruit-221105/.

 

In Praise of a Toothbrush

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The student hygienist at the dental hygiene clinic told me I should use an electric toothbrush. I told her I often had no access to electricity because I work part of the year in a remote location in the mountains. She didn’t tell me about battery operated toothbrushes, but I figured it out on my own.

I was in a Wal-Mart a few weeks before Christmas. I was just doing my normal shopping when I remembered the dental hygience student telling me about electric toothbrushes. I decided to see what the store had to offer. I walked over to the toothbrush aisle, and there was an entire endcap of Arm & Hammer Spinbrushes priced at just $5 each. Oh! That wasn’t too expensive.

ARM & HAMMER Spinbrush Classic Clean Battery Toothbrush
In addition to the Arm & Hammer battery operated brushes, I saw some made by Oral B, and a few from the Wal-Mart Equate brand. Unsurprisingly, the Equate brushes were the least expensive, but I wondered if they ware made as well or would work as well as the name-brand brushes. Even after reading the packages of the different brushes, I couldn’t determine any significant differences. I decided to splurge a little and go for a $5 brush. I grabbed an Arm & Hammer Spinbrush in a color I liked (hot pink) and called it good.

That night I brushed my teeth with the new brush. My teeth felt clearner, slicker, but perhaps I was imagining the difference. Maybe I was experienceing some sort of toothbrush placebo effect.

One night The Man was at my van as I brushed my teeth with my new, powerful brush. I guess I’d been brushing a while because he told me, You’re going to wear your teeth to nubs if you keep at it with that thing. I had to laugh through my toothpaste.

I knew the real proof of the brush’s success would be the plaque score assigned to my teeth when I returned to the dental hygience clinic.

After the preliminaries (checking my blood pressure, checking my neck and face for lumps and bumps, asking about any changes in my medical history in the last month), the student hygienist smeared the substance on my teeth that would make the plaque show pink. Then she counted the pink surfaces of my teeth and used a mathematical formula to calculate my plaque score. After using the Spinbrush for about two weeks, my plaque score dropped from 39% to 16%. (At a subsequent visit after using the Spinbrush for three months, my plaque score was 20.5%)

Before I brought the Spinbrush, I wondered how often I would have to replace the batteries. The batteries that were included with the brush when I purchased it did not last very long, maybe two weeks of brushing twice a day. I replaced those batteries with super cheap batteries from Dollar Tree, and they lasted slightly longer. When I had to replace the batteries a third time, I splurged on Duracells and have gotten much better (longer lasting) results. Many less-expensive items really are as good as their more expensive counterpoints, but I’ve learned with batteries you really do get what you pay for.

If I lived somewhere year round with electricity, I would get an electric toothbrush I could plug in and charge, thus eliminating the waste of dead batteries. Maybe I’ll eventually get a plug-in toothbrush for when I do have access to electricity and just use the battery powered one when I’m in the woods. For now, I’ll continue to buy batteries for my Arm & Hammer Spinbrush.

You Got This

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When I’m in the right city, I have my teeth cleaned–for free–at a school for dental hygienists. The students are well supervised, and I feel like I’m getting complete and thorough dental care. Once a year x-rays are taken of my teeth, and there’s a dentist on staff who examines my mouth and consults with the student whenever necessary throughout the process.

I hadn’t been in the city for quite a while, and the last dental appointment I’d paid for had left me feeling traumatized, so my teeth hadn’t been cleaned in over a year. As soon as I was close to the city, I made an apppointment for a cleaning at the dental hygiene school.

One of the drawbacks of getting my teeth cleaned at the school is never being able to form a relationship with my health care provider. Ove the last six years, probably as many students have worked on my mouth, and I’ve never seen any of them more than twice. I don’t remember the names of any of them.

The skills of students vary. I’ve had my teeth cleaned by students just weeks away from graduation; as expected, folks who’ve been at it a while do a better job and by better job, I mean, cause less pain.The most recent student who worked on my mouth must have just started her training when I met her in December 2017.

Her name (not her real name) was Pansy. She seemed very young, like teenager young, which I guess she could have been if she had started training to be a dental hygienist the moment she graduated from high school. More likely, she was in her early 20s. She was pleasant as our first visit got under way, but I was a nervous wreck.

Dental appointments make me very anxious. I’ve had a string of dental problems in the last several years, so I worry about what’s going to be found when someone starts poking around in my mouth. Will I have a cavity? Is a tooth rotting away? Will I need a root canal? Is someone going to freak out about my impacted wisdom teeth or the cyst around the roots of the one tooth or the evidence of my once fractured jaw? Will someone recommend a treatment I can’t afford?

As our first session played out, I learned Pansy was slow and not very gentle. The x-ray process was painful because she shoved large equipment into my small mouth. (In the past, an instructor had come around to give my student hygienist tips on making me more comfortable during x-rays, but that day no one came by to give Pansy advice.) Once back in our cubicle, Pansy used the tiny handheld mirror to reach into my mouth and pull my soft mouthparts away from my teeth. She did the pulling with gusto; it felt decidedly unpleasant. When she had my mouth adequately opened, she rested the mirror on my upper gums, which caused additional discomfort. As to be expected, the pain increased when she started poking at my gums with pointy instruments. To make it all worse, Pansy was excruciatingly slow in her every process. I was in her chair for more than three hours during my initial appointment with her. Despite being on time for my 8am appointment, I wasn’t sure if she’d be finished with me when her class was dismissed at 11:45.

One of the steps Pansy had to complete was calculating my plaque score. She stained my teeth so the plaque showed up red, then documented on a paper chart every tooth surface with plaque on it. I peeked at the chart and saw there was a mathematical formula used to calculate the patient’s plaque score. Pansy crunched the numbers and gave me my result: 39%. This score was higher than the dental powers-that-be thought it should be, so Pansy began interrogating me.

Did I floss?

Yes.

How often?

At least once a day.

Could I show her my technique?

Sure.

She handed me a length of dental floss, and I demonstrated my flossing technique.

Your technique is pretty good, she conceeded. She seemed perplexed about how to solve this plaque problem.

Have you ever thought about using an electric toothbrush? she asked.

I said no.

Why not? she demanded.

I should have said, because no one ever suggested it to me, which was the truth. Instead I said, because I spend a lot of my time in places with no electricity, which was also the truth.

Have you ever thought about getting a power generator? Pansy asked me.

I busted out laughing. I thought she was joking. I looked over at her and she was looking at me expectantly, completely serious.

(Later, when I discovered battery powered spin brushes, I wondered why she hadn’t suggested one of those instead of going directly to a noisy, costly solution.)

When it came time to make our next appointment, Pansy offered me a date, recanted her offer, then offered me a different date. When I said that date was fine (although a month away), she didn’t have an appointment card to give to me after writing down the date and time. She ended up using the school’s regular business card and writing the date of my appoitment on the back.

Tilt Photography of Calendar Schedule Number 18The next day the clinic’s office manager called me saying Pansy had not given me an appointment and tried to give me one on the date Pansy had first mentioned. When I explained Pansy had already given me an appointment for a different date, the office manager said the student hadn’t put any information about my appointment in the system. I assured her I did have an appointment and we said goodbye. She called me later and left a message saying she’d tracked down the student and confirmed the appointment. Now I was in the system.

I spent the next month dreading my upcoming appointment with Pansy. It was going to hurt, and it was going to take forever, I knew. On several occasions I considered canceling the appointment. In the end I stuck with it becasue free trumped painful and inconvenient.

On the mornig of my second appointment with Pansy, I arrived a the appointed hour. I was not happy to see her. I couldn’t tell how she felt about seeing me.

She did seem glad when she calculated my plaque score and found it had dropped a whopping 23%! I told her I’d gotten a battery powered toothbrush and it really seemed to be making a difference. Thanks for the good advice, Pansy!

At on point in the procedure, I thought I detected Pansy shaking. I figured I must have imagined it until I heard her whisper, You got this. My heart melted for the woman. Here she was, trying to get schooling so she could get a decent job, and she was nervous enough to shake. I don’t know if she even realized the pep talk she was giving herself was audible to me. Maybe she thought she’d whispered You got this in the privacy of her own brain. In any case, I bucked up and tried not to complain so she could do what needed to be done. I knew we both wanted to get out of there.

I saw Pansy once more. She had me on an every-three-month cleaning schedule, which was ok with me since I wasn’t paying for anything. What a difference three months of practice had made for Pansy. She appeared much less nervous and much more confident. When her instructor asked questions about her work, Pansy answered immediately and confidentally instead of thinking for a long time then answering softly. She worked at a brisker pace, and I would have been out of there in under three hours if the instructor hadn’t been delayed when Pansy was ready for the woman to check her work. She did still wield the mirror like a pry bar, but I guess no one is perfect.

Pansy told me she graduates in December 2018. I think with another nine months of practice, she’s certain to make a fine hygienest.

 

Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/dentist-space-treat-teeth-3069416/, https://pixabay.com/en/floss-oral-dental-hygiene-care-668215/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/tilt-photography-of-calendar-schedule-number-18-60032/, and https://pixabay.com/en/graduation-graduation-cap-2394130/.

 

 

10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)

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1 Us Bank NoteThe Man is always amazed when I come out of the supermarket and tell him how little I paid for the food in the cart. I get a big kick out of cooking healthy and delicious meals on the cheap. The Man said I should share my money saving ways with my readers, so today I present 10 tips on stretching your food dollar, whether you live in a van, RV, apartment, or house.

#1 Don’t waste food. Don’t buy something if you’re not dedicated to eating it. If you buy food, eat it, even if you don’t particularly like it. Being adventurous is great, but throwing away food is a waste of money.

Often, not wasting food requires planning. You have to eat fresh food before it spoils, which can be tricky if an item is distressed or if you’re on the road and have only a cooler or no refrigeration at all. Before I plan a meal, I take stock of what fresh food I have and what’s likely to go bad in the next day or two. I cook what I’m most in danger of losing.

#2 Be creative with what you can buy cheaply. One time I encountered whole pinto beans marked down to less than 30 cents a can. I don’t particularly like pinto beans with rice or whole pinto beans on burritos, so I turned the beans into my version of refried beans. They were delicious!

If you find something on super sale, think of all the different ways you can consume the item, especially if you have to use it up fast. Maybe you don’t want to eat six cartons of plain yogurt, but maybe you can eat some with berries and crunchy cereal, use another portion in your pancake recipe, and throw the rest in the blender with other ingredients to make smoothies.

#3 Eat what’s cheap, not necessarily what you’re in the mood for. I finally had an oven, so I really wanted to bake a pizza at home. I picked out a jar of pizza sauce and thought about toppings. I knew I had a can of olives (bought for 50 cents at a scratch and dent store) in the cupboard, so I tossed a can of mushrooms into my cart, and figured I could round things out with half a chopped onion. Then I found the store’s cart of reduced canned goods. As I rooted through I found a can of pasta sauce marked 49 cents that I thought would work just as well as something labeled “pizza sauce” (I was right—it worked great) and a can of asparagus spears for 79 cents which became the delicious splurge that made the pizza extra special.

The lesson here is that if I’d had my heart set on artichoke hearts for the pizza, I would have either spent a lot more money, or I would have felt disappointed and lamented my life of poverty. Instead, I got a good deal on something delicious. Also? If I hadn’t found the asparagus spears, the pizza as I originally envisioned it would have still been mighty tasty.

Booth, branding, business#4 Watch for sales.  Check out weekly sales online before you shop or read the sale flyer at the front of the store. You can also just pay attention to prices while you shop. If you see a bargain on something you would use anyway, stock up.

#5 Buy store brands. Store brands typically cost less than name brands and taste as good. (Some people may taste a difference between name brand items and store brand items. I typically do not, except for ‘Nilla Wafers. I don’t know what it is, but ‘Nilla Wafers taste markedly better than any generic vanilla wafer I’ve ever tried.)

#6 Remember that convenience foods typically cost more. As much as possible, cook from scratch. How much time are you really saving by using a cornbread mix or precooked rice? And what do you have more of, time or money? One of the reasons most of us live on the road is so we can have lots of free time. Often more free time means less money. When it comes to cooking, you can often use your free time to save money. If you’re living in a sticks-and-bricks, maybe saving money will mean you have to work less or you can get on the road sooner, if that’s what you’re hoping for.

#7 Don’t eat more than you need to. I frequently make the costly decision to eat when I’m not really hungry. I often overeat because food is delicious and comforting. However, eating reasonable portions means you’re getting more meals for the money you spent on food.

#8 If you’re in a town with a senior center, check into the lunch program for seniors. Even small towns out West offer these lunches. They usually cost $2 to $3 for a complete meal. Age requirements to qualify for the inexpensive meal vary, but I’ve heard of people as young as 50 being considered “seniors” and eligible for the lunches. Younger people are considered “guests,” and their cost per meal is usually around $7

I’m still too young to eat cheap senior lunches, so I’ve never participated. From what I’ve heard, they can often be a good place for socializing and meeting people. Musicians often perform at one senior lunch program I know of in a small southern New Mexico town. Another new program in a small southern Arizona town is promising Bingo.

#9 Investigate free meal options. Maybe the town you’re in has a Food Not Bombs chapter that serves free vegan food in the park. Maybe there’s a Catholic Worker group that serves free meals like in Las Vegas, NV.  Call churches, Catholic Worker Houses, infoshops, radical bookstores, food banks, social service offices, and homeless shelters and outreach programs and ask how to get free meals where you are.

Assorted-color Box Lot on Rack#10 Sign up for supermarket loyalty cards to get discounts, coupons, and sale prices. Supermarkets owned by the same parent company have different names in different parts of the country, but one discount card is good at all of them. I typically shop at stores owned by Kroger, and I save money by using the loyalty card.

If you don’t want a loyalty card, ask the cashier if s/he has a loyalty card s/he can scan for you so you get the sale prices. There was a time in my life when I did not have the ability to keep track of a supermarket loyalty card, so I often asked the cashier if s/he had a card to use for me. I was seldom told no.

I hope these tips have helped you think about ways to stretch your food dollar according to your own personal needs and desires. Want more money saving tips? I’ll offer up 10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar next Wednesday.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/1-us-bank-note-47344/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-box-lot-on-rack-811101/.

Mural on the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

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In the spring of 2016, I lived briefly in Mesa, Arizona while working nearby. One afternoon after my money job was over for the day, I went downtown to explore the public art. I saw art depicting a Big Pink Chair, a girl reading a book, and a toddler feeding ducks. I really appreciate public art and the way it levels the playing field by allowing everyone from all socio-economic levels to experience and enjoy what others have created.

As I passed the Mesa Arts Center, I saw a huge mural on the wall of the Center’s Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. I didn’t realize at the time that the mural was brand spanking new.

When I did some research on the mural, I got a lot of information about it from a Phoenix New Times article by Lynn Trimble called “El Mac on His New Two-Story Mural at Mesa Arts Center, Inspiration, and Collaboration.”

  • The mural was painted by El Mac, “one of the world’s most noted street artists” who has ties to the Phoenix area but now lives in LA.
  • The woman depicted in the mural is an old friend of the artist.
  • “The mural was done completely with aerosol enamel paint, and a specific type of cap that helps give his work its characteristic pattern of circles and lines” and was completed in March of 2016.

I love the gentle beauty of this mural and the way the color of the rose pops against the dark contours of the woman’s features. I love seeing a woman of color (the model is originally from Guatamala) looming larger-than-life over museum patrons. It’s a lovely piece, and I think it adds some street cred to a part of town which could easily be mistaken to be primarily for white folks.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Random Art in Downtown Mesa, AZ

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Our day in Mesa started at Lost Dutchman Cafe (12 N. Center Street ) where we met a friend of mine who was living in the area. As we left the coffeeshop, Nolagirl spotted two brightly decorated electrical boxes. You know it’s a pretty cool part of town when even the utility hardware is turned into works of art.

I’d been on a self-guided art tour of downtown Mesa in the spring of 2016, and now Nolagirl and I were walking around on Main Street in March of 2018. We’d just left the Sparks! event at the Arts Center, and we were looking for the Big Pink Chair. I love the Big Pink Chair, and I was hoping Nolagirl could take some photos of me sitting in it. During our walk up and down (or was that down and up?) Main Street, we saw several pieces of public art, some I’d seen in 2016 and some brand new.

As we headed to the Arts Center early in the day,  I noticed this Mesa mural painted in the style of an old-school postcard. I particularly like the saguaro and mountain scene painted in the “M.” This mural is across the street from Milano Music Center, and I took some photos while I was standing in front of the music store, but they didn’t look so good. I took this photo in the afternoon when I ened up right in front of the mural.

The artist is Ericka Jaynes, and you can find her on Facebook.

Down the street, we saw another mural I’d admired inthe past. This one is called Mesa Mural.

The way the sun hits it on spring afternoons makes it very difficult to photograph because the lighting is uneven. If I were a better photographer, I’d probably know how to even out the shadows and light. Nolagirl and I decided the best time to capture the mural is probably in the morning, during the golden hour, before the sun and surrounding buildings work together to cast shadows on it.

I’ll go ahead and share my 2016 photo of the mural, even though it’s not perfect.

According to the Waymarking website, the mural is located at 63 W Main Street and the artist is Lauren Lee. Lee’s website says,

This mural was completed in August 2015, commissioned by the City of Mesa and Downtown Mesa Association.

That Sunday afternoon was a good day for murals. Near where Downtown Mesa’s Permanent Sculpture Collection ends, we saw this mural decorating the side of a building. (The mural actually wraps around to the front too.)

I like the wavy, funhouse mirror quality of the scene. Is the fantasy building going to fall down? Will it quiver but continue to stand? Did the building do psychedelics or is it the viewer who’s chemically altered? Maybe the artist was on drugs or maybe the idea for this building came from a fever vision. In any case, I think it’s a fun mural.

An October 2012 article in the East Valley Tribune answers many questions about the mural. The building it graces was once the Eclectic Monkey Emporium, a second-hand clothing store. No drugs were involved in the idea for the mural; the building in the painting is supposed to be melting, as in from the heat. The artists who created this hot but cool mural are R.E. Wall and Margaret Dewar.

Outside the Smith-O-Lator cookie shop (124 West Main Street), two pieces of art decorate two columns in front of the store.

The first was created by public participation during an art event in downtown Mesa. Used 16 oz. plastic water bottles were cut open, painted, then attached close together to look like a patch of flowers growing out of the building. I love the texture (how cool that old plastic bottles can look fluffy!), and I was impressed by how well the color has held up to the Arizona sun and heat.

Next to the installation of water bottle flowers is a painting of a mermaid, or more accurately, half a mermaid.  She is delightful, although I don’t know who painted her or under what circumstances. (When I enlarge the photo, I can see see what appears to be the remnants of letters on the bottom of the painting, but they’re too faint for me to read them.) How does she fit into the landscape of downtown Mesa? Maybe the artist longed for the sea while being stuck in the desert.

Not far down the sidewalk is a painted scene that is a better fit for a desert town. I love that big saguaro reaching up to the cloudy sky and the purple mountains in the background. I also love the sense of anticipation I get from this piece. Is there a storm brewing? Will there be rain?

I can’t tell if the names in the white paint on the bottom right of the piece is the artist’s signature or ramdom tagging. Can anyone solve the mystery of who created this bit of urban art?

The last piece of art I saw as we continued walking on Main Street was an old favorite. I’d first seen it in 2016, which is when I took this photo.

 

The creator of this piece is Kyllan Maney. Her artist statement says

[t]he visual foundation of Kyllan’s work is rooted in scientific illustrations, religious icons, human relationships and inspiration from past and current artists.

I love that the dove is also a map of Mesa. “YOU ARE HERE” the map says, in a place of love and peace. Mesa can be a place of drugs and crime, heat and desperation, but in this piece Maney reminds us that art can be a kind of sanctuary.

I took all the photos in this post.

10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters

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You probably read about how I started off 2018 with a tire disaster. (Even one flat can be a huge inconvenience, but I’m going to call three flats on two vans and no usable spare a disaster.)

Today I’m going to share what I learned from my tire woes in hopes of helping my readers possibly avoid and at least prepare for their next flat. I wish a true tire disaster on no one, but if it happens, you can be ready.

#1 Run on tires that are in good condition. It’s easy to ignore tires when they’re doing a good job rolling you down the road. It’s impossible to ignore a tire that’s gone flat and left you stranded. While purchasing good tires may seem like an extravagance (it often has to me), you’re less likely to have a flat if your tires are strong and in good condition. Make sure your tread depth is within acceptable limits. Check for cracks in the tread or sidewall. If you can see the metal wires in the tire, you are in imminent danger of a blowout. If you’re buying a used vehicle, determine the age of the tires even if they look new. According to Car and Driver,

most tires should be inspected, if not replaced, at about six years and should be absolutely be swapped out after 10 years, regardless of how much tread they have left.

#2 Don’t count on roadside assistance. It’s great to have roadside assistance, either through your insurance or AAA or the Good Sam Club. (Roadside assistance from my Progressive insurance has saved my butt on several occasions, as has AAA.) However, what roadside assistance offers may be limited. AAA can’t help you if you’re off the pavement. Roadside assistance is great if you’re on the road, but if you’re a few miles out boondocking on public land, you’re going to have to depend on yourself (or possibly the kindness of strangers).

#3 Know how to take off a flat tire and put on the spare and PRACTICE the procedure. This is a tip I need to take to heart. I know in theory how to change a tire, but theory will be mostly useless if I’m stuck somewhere without help. If you don’t have someone to teach you how to get the flat tire off and the spare tire on, watch a tutorial online, then get out there and put your knowledge to the test.

#4 Check your spare. Is it in good condition? Is it properly inflated? Can you remove it from its holder? A spare that’s flat or inaccessible is worthless.

#5 Have a jack that’s strong enough to lift your rig. The scissor jack that works to lift The Man’s minivan might not be able to handle the weight of my conversion van. Make sure your jack is what you need before you need it. Don’t have a jack? Get one.

Slime 40032 12-Volt Tire Inflator with Gauge and Light
#6 Invest in a portable air compressor that runs off your vehicle’s battery. I have a Slime brand portable air compressor and I’m quite happy with it. A hitchhiker The Man and I picked up warned me that the air compressor would drain a vehicle’s battery, but neither The Man nor I have had that experience. (That hitchhiker was a real naysayer on just about every topic.) If your tire has a slow leak, you can use the air compressor to pump it up enough to drive to a tire repair shop.

#7 Carry a can of tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator in your rig. This product (made by Fix-a-Flat and Slime, among others) costs under $10 (if you buy it in civilization and not at some rip-off gas station in the middle of nowhere), and will help get your rig to a shop where the tire can be repaired or replaced. I have a big van with big tires, so I carry a big can of Fix-a-Flat with me.

The DealNews website has a good article on the pros and cons of using tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator. I would not use my can of Fix-a-Flat before first trying to inflate the tire using my air compressor. If the tire wouldn’t hold air from the compressor, I would then take off the flat tire and put on my spare. I would only use the Fix-a-Flat if I had no other option. Also, tire sealant is not going to work on a gash, slash, or blowout, so its usefulness will depend on the type of damage the tire has suffered.

#8 Once you use sealant/aerosol inflator in the tire, get the tire to a repair shop as soon as possible. My understanding is that sealant/aerosol tire inflators (like Slime or Fix-a-Flat) are for temporary, emergency use only. You have to get to a tire shop as soon as you can to get a proper repair.

Fix-A-Flat S60269 Aerosol Tire Inflator with Eco-friendly Formula, 24 oz.

#9 Get the warranty when you buy new tires. I think I paid $20 per tire for my warranties, which felt like an extravagance at the time. However, the $20 I paid got a tire that cost over $100 replaced for free. The money I spent on the warranty seems like a bargain now.

#10 Choose your boondocking site carefully. If you’re boondocking on public land, think carefully about the spot you choose. Lots of folks like to be as far away from the main road and other campers as possible, but think about how far you’ll have to walk to get help if you have a flat or mechanical problem. If you can’t solve your own problems, you may want to park closer to the main road.

Also consider the road to the boondocking area. Can your tires handle ruts and pointy rocks that may be present? You don’t want to damage your tires while trying to get closer to nature. Get out and access the situation before you blissfully head out into the wild blue yonder.

Don’t let my story of tire disaster scare you. Use what I’ve learned so you can prepare for and hopefully avoid what I went through. However, please know that these tips are just suggestions. I am not responsible for your safety and wellbeing. Only YOU are responsible for your safety and wellbeing.

Also, feel free to share you stories of tire disasters in the comments section below.

Tire Disaster (Part 2)

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Hitchhiking Hand Sign2018 started out with a bang! The Man and I got back together and decided to go camping on BLM land. We ended up getting three flat tires (two on his minivan and one on my van) in less than 24 hours. Today our saga picks up with us hitchhiking back to our vans after purshasing a $17 can of Fix-a-Flat in the nearest town.

The vehicle that did stop was a pickup truck. The driver said he was just going a mile or so down the road, but we were welcome to hop in the back. When we tried to hop in, we found the truck’s bed full of stuff, mostly cabinet doors. There was no room to sit anywhere but on the doors, and I didn’t want to damage anything. I ended up perched on the top edge of the truck’s bed. The Man got the dog on top of a door lying in the bed and held him there while he perched on top of the closed tailgate. The driver pulled the truck back on the road before I felt safely situated, and I hung on for dear life. I knew what we were doing was dangerous, especially as the truck picked up speed, but it seemed too late to change our minds. It took a long time to go that mile or two, and I reverted to my Catholic ways and said a few Hail Marys to take my mind off the danger we were in. christianity, jesus, maria

I was grateful and a little woozy when we were dropped off, but we still had miles to go before we got back to camp. We kept walking until a truck hauling an open cargo trailer stopped ahead of us. We rushed over to find a man and a boy in the truck. The Man explained where we wanted to go, and the boy (probably no older than nine) translated for his father. They were going our way, so we climbed into the second seat of the extended cab. The driver offered us a beer, and our polite refusal did not keep him from sipping on the can he already had open.

Soon we were zipping down the road at 75 miles an hour (in a 55mph zone! while pulling a trailer!), and it didn’t’ take long to get us back to our camp. We said our thanks and felt gratitude not only for the ride but for the fact we’d made it back to our vehicles safely.

The Man had to take apart his van’s set up to get to the spare tire stored in a compartment in the floor. When he pulled the tire out, he found it was somewhat flat, but put it on his vehicle anyway to keep as much weight as possible off the rim. After he loaded the hopefully salvageable flat tire into my van, we added the Fix-a-Flat to my tire. It didn’t pump up the tire very much, but we had no choice but to drive very slowly to the tire repair shop in town.

The worker at the tire shop pumped up my flat and said while the Fix-a-Flat had ruined the tire for long-term use, it would probably make it the 25 miles to Discount Tire. He looked at The Man’s flat tire and said since the puncture was in the sidewall, the best he could do was put in a plug. After he repaired the tire, I paid him an additional ten bucks to grind off the bolt holding my spare tire to its rack, then replace it with a bolt that could be removed.

It was early afternoon when we arrived at the very busy Discount Tire shop. When it was our turn at the counter, the very nice worker was sympathetic to my plight, especially the part where another worker at another Discount Tire location had cross threaded the bolt holding on my spare, thus making it impossible to remove. He confirmed the Fix-a-Flat had basically destroyed my tire, but because I’d purchased the warranty on it, he was able to replace it for free.

Once the new tire was on my van, we went directly to Wal-Mart where I purchased a large can of Fix-a-Flat and a Slime brand portable air compressor that runs off 12 volt. I was not going to be caught unprepared again.

It was after dark when we returned to the road down which The Man’s van was parked. I dubbed it Three Flat Tire Road, and I didn’t go far down it in hopes of decreasing the risk of another busted tire. I pulled off the road into the first flat spot my van would fit in.

In the morning, The Man removed the spare from his minivan and put on the repaired tire. Then he removed the second flat tire and put the spare in that spot. We drove 25 miles to a used tire shop that had a tire to fit The Man’s van. Once back at camp, he replaced the spare with the good used tire and put all of his belongings back in their places. The next day we left the area, fearful of getting another flat.

My new tire is working great! I appreciate the customer service I received at Discount Tire, and I’m glad I splurged on warrantees for all of my tires.

The good new tire The Man bought is working fine too, but the brand new tire with the plug had to be replaced. Apparently, damage in a sidewall is just about impossible to repair. The plug never set well; every couple of days the tire was flat, and we had to use our new 12 volt air compressor to pump it up. The Man was going to buy a plug repair kit at an auto parts store, but when he took it up to the counter and asked the worker about it, the guy told him not to waste his money. The worker also warned him that the tire would likely blow out at 65 miles an hour on the interstate. Since then, The Man’s replaced the plugged new tire with a good used tire. It was sad to see the new tire go to waste, but there was nothing else to be done.

One flat is an unfortunate inconvenience. Three flats on two vans and no usable spare surely qualifies as a disaster. Wednesday’s post will be about things folks can do to prepare for and/or avoid tire disasters.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/hitchhiking-hand-sign-889086/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/maria-mery-sant-51524/.

Tire Disaster (Part 1)

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2018, celebration, colorfulThe Man wanted to get back together. I was skeptical, but I agreed to meet him when my dog sitting gig was over on New Year’s Day. It was good to see him. We talked, then decided to camp on nearby BLM land.

I’d brought black-eyed peas and kale so we could eat for luck and money in the new year.

The tire on my van wasn’t entirely flat when I took this photo, but it wasn’t in any condition to roll down the road.

While I was preparing dinner, The Man looked over at my van and asked, Is your tire flat?

We investigated the back tire on the passenger side. It was not entirely flat, but it was definitely too low. It was getting dark, so The Man said he’d put the spare on in the morning and we’d drive the 25 miles to the nearest Discount Tire to have it repaired. In the meantime, he used the jack to lift the van off the rim so it wouldn’t be damaged from having too much weight resting on it.

I was in the van when I heard The Man cursing outside. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he had a flat too, also on the back passenger side. What are the chances of that happening? we asked each other, then went to bed.

We discovered the flat tire on the back of The Man’s minivan first.

In the morning, we lingered in the van until the sun camp up and the temperature rose. The Man was outside first. When I came around the front of my van, I saw him standing on the passenger side of his minivan, looking down in disbelief. The front tire on the passenger side was flat too! The chance of having three flat tires on two vans in less than 24 hours has to be exceedingly low.

We discovered the flat on the front of The Man’s minivan in the morning.

While the back tire that went flat on The Man’s minivan was old and in need of replacing, my tire and the one on the front of his vehicle were both only about two months old. As we realized later, all three punctures were in the sidewalls of the tires. In one of the flat tires on The Man’s van, we found small pieces of wood protruding from the puncture. WTF? We’re still not sure what caused the flats, but we ruled out roofing nails since none of the punctures were in the treads.

At this point, we decided after breakfast the first order of business would be for The Man to take the flat tire off my van and put on the spare. However, when the time came, he couldn’t get the spare tire off its mount. Two years ago when I bought new tires and asked the folks selling them to me to save the best of my old tires for my spare, they’d put the spare on the mount attached to my backdoor. I’d had no need for the tire since then, so I didn’t know the bolt holding on the tire was cross threaded. Nothing The Man did would budge that bolt.

We put on our walking shoes and headed to the nearest town—about twelve miles away—in hope of buying a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Fix-A-Flat S60430 Aerosol Tire Inflator with Eco-friendly Formula, 20 oz.

We were on a road with very little traffic, but when vehicles approached, we stuck out our thumbs. Most of the vehicles we saw were commercial trucks, which I never expected to stop, but the infrequent passenger cars we saw just rolled on by too.

Finally a young guy in a really clean, sporty car stopped for us. The Man and the dog got in the backseat, and I sat in the front. I tried to make friendly chitchat until I realized the young guy barely spoke English. I took a careful look around the car and found it extremely clean—no dust, no fast food wrappers, no cigarette butts. I did see a beverage can in the holder between the seats. I couldn’t quite see the can’s label, but something about it whispered beer. I glanced into the back and on the floor behind the driver’s seat was a twelve pack of Modelo. Our boy was a morning beer drinker. I hoped he wouldn’t crash the car.

Thankfully, he drove us safely to the Shell station by the interstate. He went on his way, and I thought about how angels sometimes drink beer for breakfast.

I asked The Man to go into the Shell station and choose the proper product for my flat tire while I stayed outside with the dog. Once he used his mechanical expertise to pick out the best product available, I’d go in with my debit card to pay. He wasn’t gone long. He said he’d left the can on the counter by the register and told the lady working that I’d be in for it shortly.

When I went in, the can of Fix-a-Flat was indeed on the counter. I told the lady working the register I’d take it, and she rang it up. I almost passed out when she told me the total was $17 and some cents! I suspected the stuff wouldn’t be cheap, but $17 seemed excessive. But what could I do? I needed the stuff, so I paid up. (I found out later, the same can of the stuff cost under $8 at Wal-Mart.)

So now that we had our Fix-a-Flat, we started our long walk back to our vans. Every time a passenger vehicle passed, we stuck out our thumbs, but it was a long time before anyone stopped.

This post turned out to be a long one, so I’m going to make it a two-part saga. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait too long to read the rest; the conclusion will run tomorrow. On Wednesday, I’ll share what I learned from the experience and give you 10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters.

Image of fireworks courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sky-lights-night-new-year-s-eve-66277/. I took the photos of the flat tires. The image of Fix-a-Flat is an Amazon associates link. If you click on that image, I’ll get paid a small advertising fee on anything you put in your cart and buy during your shopping sessession.

Dancing with the Lights

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Nolagirl and I were out and about at night in Phoenix, off to see the art of Aileen Frick at a locally owned hotel called FOUND:RE.

We’d discovered Aileen Frick at the Grand Avenue Festival. Actually, Nolagirl discovered her.

She called me over quietly but urgently. You’ve got to see this, she said with excitement in her voice. I joined her in front of a large-scale painting…but wait! It wasn’t just a painting…it was a collage too, but collage in a way I’d never seen done before. Say the artist wanted a tree in her scene. She wouldn’t go through magazines, find an image of a tree, cut it out, and stick it to her canvan. Oh no, not this artist. This artist found different shades of green in magazines, ripped out green bits by hand, then reassembled the paper into a tree! By reading her bio, we learned that later in the process, she painted over and around the images made of paper to tie together all of the elements of her creation. Her finished results were amazing! It was from the bio that we learned the name of the person who created this collage magic: Aileen Frick.

Frick creates large-scale beautiful cityscapes through which featureless people walk while living their ordinary lives. The cities are recognizable to those in the know, and it’s fun to identify places you’re been, but there’s something dream-like about the landscapes too. They’re based in reality, but they’re not quite real.

Image of A Fresh Spin used with permission of Aileen Frick.

From a distance Frick’s pieces look misleadingly like photographs, but upon closer inspection, the viewer can appreciate the time-consuming tearing and matching of colors that went into the work. In some of her creations, words that match the theme of the piece have been discretely included in the scene.

It may be cliché to say I was moved by Frick’s art, but it’s an easy way to explain how I felt. My heart was moved. My brain was moved. My spirit of creativity was moved. Frick’s technique and her end results left me feeling breathless and giddy. Frick’s art inspired me to create, not by copying her but by getting in touch with my own style. I think I had an immdiate crush on Frick’s collage/painting hybrids.

We came around a corner and there was Aileen Frick in the flesh! She was working on a new creation right there in the gallery.

When we walked up, she was talking with another fan. We waited patiently for our turn.

The other woman walked away, and we stood there with Frick and her easel. I tried to stay coherant as I gushed about how much I was enjoying and appreciating her work. She was so friendly and personable and gracious! I wanted to take her and her art home with me. (Of course, I lived in a van, so I had no room for her or her large-scale art. She probably had her own place anyway.)

A few weeks later, Frick posted on her Facebook page information about an upcoming showing of her work at the FOUND:RE hotel in Phoenix. Can we go? Can we go? I asked Nolagirl. She said we could.

FOUND:RE was full of art that night. We saw a lot of good work, inclduing at least a half dozen pieces by Aileen Frick. As a special treat, we got the see the recently completed piece we’d seen her workig on during the Grand Street Festival.

Frick was there too, and she recognized me and Nolagirl. Maybe she didn’t remember when and where we’d met, but she did remember we were fans. She stopped to talk to us and thank us for coming out on opening night. Once again, she was very gracious and kind. Aileen Frick is not just a fantastic artist; she’s also a friendly and sweet person.

A highlight of the evening (in addition to seeing Frick’s art and telling her hello) was when an art dealer tried to sell me and Nolagirl some art. We were looking at some pop art pieces near the bar when a slick-looking man came up to us and started talking about prices. We expressed scant interest, and he wandered away. We agreed we appreciated being mistaken for people who could afford to buy art.

I think we were on our way out when we walked across the lobby and noticed the colorful patterns projected onto the floor. What are those? I wondered. That’s when the lights moved.

We realized quickly that the patterns were motion activated. Our movements made the light patterns move across the floor, then we reacted to the movment of the lights. Soon Nolagirl and I were dancing, skipping, swooping, whirling, and twilrling across the lobby as we played with the lights. It was interactive fun.

Nolagirls says, “This one would drop confetti when you walked/ran/danced through.” That’s me in the upper left of the photo in my red boots and elephant skirt.

I think the guy at the front desk who controlled the projector was amused by us. I’m sure it’s not every day that a couple of middle aged ladies dance through his lobby and play with the lights on the floor like cats going after the red dot of a lazer pointer. Several times he changed the patterns, telling us each time that we would like the new one. He was never wrong.

Nolagirl says this pattern reminds her of Charlie’s Angels. I’m twirling right out of the photo.

A couple of times, tipsy peoiple leaving the bar saw us having fun and joined in our play. They seemed to enjoy themselves too, but soon wandered off to the next stop of the night. Nolagirl and I must have played with those light patterns for twenty or thirty minutes. Finally, we thanked the front desk worker for indulging us, then we too walked out into the night.

As we exited the building, we took the time to take photos of the neon message on the front of the building. “Find Yourself” it commanded. I think we already had.

Thanks to a kind friend who–when Nolagirl and I told her this story–asked why I hadn’t shared it in a blog post. Also, endless gratitude to Nolagirl who’s always up for an adventure and can talk to anyone from the Queen of England to a dirty trainhopper kid with interest and respect. Nolagirl’s friendship makes me brave.

First two photos courtesy of Nolagirl. The last photo was taken by me. Nolagirl also contributed to some of the writing about Aileen Frick’s art.