In Praise of Hot Water Bottles and Sleeping Alone

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The beginning of winter is upon us. To help you prepare for cold weather sleeping, especially if you sleep alone in a van, car, or poorly insulated RV, here’s my story about how an improvised hot water bottle saved my cold butt.

You grow up with movies, books, television shows, and advertisements

Two People Laying on a Bed Covered With a Floral Comforter

telling you that when you find a romantic/sexual/love partner you’re going to sleep in the same bed. You learn the cuddling and snuggling (not to mention the s-e-x) will be amazing, and it is, until one of you (me) starts snoring and the other person (a light sleeper) can’t get any rest.

The Man tried using earplugs, and they helped for a while, but my snores apparently penetrated the orange spongy foam and hit his eardrums. I tired Breathe Right nasal strips (and their inferior competitor Clear Passage nasal strips) to stop my snoring. Again, they helped only for a while.

His tossing and turning while trying to get back to sleep woke me up, and if that wasn’t enough to disturb my sleep, him saying Honey? Honey! and asking me to roll over onto my left side certainly was.

Sleep deprivation brings out a demon in me. Lack of sleep makes me not just grumpy but downright angry. I think The Man harbors the same type of demon. We both knew it wasn’t my fault I was snoring, but he seemed to take it very personally. I knew he was only waking me and asking me to roll over out of self-preservation, but still I was furious at him for interrupting my sleep.

I went off to house sit for two weeks, and each of us got a fortnight of blissful sleep uninterrupted by snores, tossing, turning, the middle of the night bathroom needs of another person, or calls for dream analysis in the wee hours. We were both well rested and no longer angry at each other, so we tried sleeping together again.

We didn’t even have one happy night together. My first night home, I passed out and started snoring  before he even drifted off. He woke me up several times in the night asking me to roll onto my left side, which I did. I’m a natural back sleeper, so I always returned to my back (and my snores) as soon as I reached a deep level of sleep. At 4am, The Man clicked on the light and exclaimed that our sleeping arrangement wasn’t working for him. It wasn’t working for me either. Our sleeping demons were back.

During my childhood my maternal grandparents slept in twin beds across the room from each other. This arrangement always confused me. Every other married couple I knew—my parents, my aunts and uncles, the people on TV—shared a bed. Didn’t my grandparents love each other? I realize now that it’s possible to like and love someone and not want to spend 8 hours out of each 24 in bed next to that person. (I also realize that the sleeping arrangement of my grandparents may have come from the desire to be good Catholics while feeling like their seven children were all the mouths they wanted to feed and butts they wanted to diaper).

Because The Man and I didn’t have the luxury of space enough for separate beds (much less the separate rooms it would really require for him to get away from my snores), I offered to sleep in my van. He protested, but it was really the easiest solution. There was already a bed in my van, but his camp cot had been folded and taken out of his minivan. My van was a mess, and it was easier for me to clear a small space on the bed for my short self rather than clean up the whole space so he could be comfortable. Also, The Man likes to wake up early, make coffee, and meditate. I sleep late and don’t move around before sunrise, so it made more sense for The Man to stay in the fifth wheel (where we were living at the time) where he could stand up and use the stove. I had no doubt I would be totally fine in my van. After all, I’d slept in my van before, and I knew someday I’d sleep in it again. Apparently, the sleeping in it again day had come sooner than I had expected.   

Selective Focus of Frozen Tree Twigs

Unfortunately, my return to the van coincided with an epic cold snap. Down in the southern Sonoran Desert where we were staying that winter, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. However, the first few nights I slept in my van, temperatures went down to the high 20s. Brrr!

I had plenty of warm clothes. I put on Cuddl Duds leggings, then pulled on flannel pajama pants. On top I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and the matching flannel pajama shirt. I put warm socks on my feet and a warm hat on my head. I was suited up for winter.

My bed was suited up for winter too. I have a down comforter that I scored for a great price at a Goodwill Clearance Center in Phoenix. (Whoever brought it to the desert learned they didn’t need it.) This comforter often keeps me too warm if the temperature is over 45 degrees, so I knew it would keep me toasty on a freezing night. The only thing I worried about were the long minutes after I slipped into bed and before my body heat warmed up my surroundings. The mattress was going to be cold. The sheets were going to be cold. The comforter was going to be cold.

I harkened back to my days living in the Midwest. I’d seen snow there and temperatures as low as -16 degrees. I lived in a series of poorly insulated homes, and in attempt to save money, never set the thermostat higher than 68 degrees. Nights were cold, even when I dressed warmly and slept under a pile of blankets. To stay warm, especially when I first crawled into my cold bed, I’d take a hot water bottle under the covers with me.

Back in the Midwest, I used a hot water bottle I’d gotten in perfect condition

Silver Kettle over Burner

at a thrift store. I’d bring a pot of water to almost boiling (measured with a candy thermometer which must have come from a thrift store too), then carefully pour the hot water into the red container. I’d slip the hot water bottle into the polar fleece (acquired at the thrift store, of course) cozy I’d hand sewn for it and slide it into my bed to warm things up while I brushed my teeth and washed my face.

In my fifth wheel in the desert, I had no hot water bottle, no candy thermometer, no polar fleece cozy, but I knew a bottle of hot water would make the beginning of each night much more comfortable. I looked around for what I could use. Because of a lid that can be screwed down tight and the thick plastic it’s made from, a Nalgene bottle would have worked great. Alas, all of my Nalgene bottles were in use holding ice in the cooler we used since we had no working refrigerator. I remembered I’d just thrown away an empty plastic bottle cooking oil had come in, so I fished it out of the trash and washed it while my water was heating.

The plastic the bottle was made from was fairly thin, and I didn’t want to melt it, so I only heated the water until it was quite hot to the touch. Then I poured it into the cooking oil bottle and carried it out to the van. I slipped the bottle full of hot water under my comforter, then went back inside to brush my teeth. When I returned to the van, my sleeping area was nice and warm. The water bottle stayed hot for hours and if any part of me (my feet, my butt) got cold, I just moved the bottle to the spot that needed some heat. I was awake using the internet on my phone for a couple of hours, and I was perfectly warm under my comforter with my makeshift hot water bottle next to me.

I slept great that night. If I snored, I never knew. The Man said he slept great too. He got out of bed when he was ready and didn’t have to worry about bothering me. In the nights that followed, we sometimes missed cuddling, but not as much as we would have missed a night of good sleep.

I recommend a hot water bottle for anyone sleeping in a cold climate, whether you sleep in a van, a house, an apartment, or an old RV. Use a bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the lid is tightly closed before throwing the bottle into your bed. Be careful that the water is not hot enough to melt the plastic of the bottle or burn your skin. If the bottle is too hot to touch, wrap it in a towel, shirt, or other random piece of cloth you have lying around. Depending on the size of your bottle, it may fit in an old (clean!) sock that’s missing its mate.

If you are living in your vehicle and are parking for the night at a truck stop, you can find hot (usually very hot) water with the coffee dispensers. If you don’t feel right about filling up your bottle with hot water without permission, ask the cashier if you can have some and offer to pay.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety. You are responsible for yourself! Hot water can be dangerous! Be careful!  Don’t melt your bottle. Don’t spill hot water on yourself. Don’t burn yourself on a hot bottle. Don’t flood your bed. Please, please, please use common sense.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-people-laying-on-a-bed-covered-with-a-floral-comforter-1246960/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-branch-close-up-cold-436792/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/antique-burn-burning-close-up-243053/.

Zzyzx

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From the informational sign in the parking lot.

I like to visit places other than the usual crowded tourist destinations. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to see what the huddled masses are looking at in the conservatory at Bellagio or in the depths of Carlsbad Caverns, but I prefer to stay off the beaten path. One such unusual discovery was Zzyzx, California.

According to Wikipedia, Zzyzx is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County. It was formerly known as Soda Springs.

I know I saw the exit sign on I-15 when I passed that way in mid-October of 2015, but I didn’t stop. I probably wondered about the name, but I was in a hurry to get to my friends in Las Vegas, so I kept driving. During some period of research, (probably of the giant thermometer or the Alien Fresh Jerky shop, both in Baker, CA), I saw a link about Zzyzx on the Roadside America website.

On the edge of a dry lake bed, you’ll find a bizarre pseudo-town: “Zzyzx” (pronounced “Zye – Zex,” rhyming with Isaac’s). Travelers between Las Vegas and Los Angeles sometimes stop in the Mojave Desert along I-15 to pose next to the novel highway sign for Zzyzx Road. But few realize that heading several miles down a narrow, mostly paved route will deliver them to an oasis with an oddball history…

LA radio evangelist Curtis H. Springer, self-proclaimed minister (and quack doctor), decided the [oasis was] the ideal location for a health resort. He and his wife filed a mining claim on a 12,800 acre parcel of what were public lands. He named it “Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort,” touted as “the last word in health” and the last word in the English language — a gimmick so it would be the last listing in any directory…

Most of the concrete buildings still stand. You’ll find a mix of well-maintained structures…and then complete derelict buildings along the shore…There are a couple of low concrete buildings, doors and windows gone… one with a mysterious row of unattached toilets.

Well that sounded interesting, so I added Zzyzx to my mental list of places I wanted to visit someday.

In December 2016, I was once again on I-15, making my way to Vegas. This time I planned to make a side trip to Zzyzx.

The Desert Studies Center has taken over the grounds of the former health spa.

I found the grounds of the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa had been taken over by the Desert Studies Center, a field station of California State University. The good folks of the Desert Studies Center apparently cleaned up the grounds; gone were the mysterious toilets mentioned by Roadside America. In fact, a casual tourist might not realize the place was once a health spa run by a man many would call a charlatan if not for the informational signs in the parking lot. Of course, there are probably few casual tourists in Zzyzx. Perhaps a few curious souls are pulled off the interstate by the strange word on the exit sign, but most people who make the 4.5 mile drive from the exit to the Desert Studies Center campus have either heard about the center or the colorful past of the mineral springs and spa.

I left Barstow around sunrise so I could visit Zzyzx early in the day, and I was glad I did. Although my visit happened in early December, the desert sun was already hot by mid-morning. I wore my sunhat and wandered around the grounds.

A row of cute little rooms where folks who visited the resort once stayed. I would like to spend a night in one of these rooms.

Conferences are held at the Desert Studies Center with attendees housed in the rooms where folks who came to take the waters (a scam, the aforementioned Roadside America article explains: “The ‘natural’ hot springs feeding..mineral baths were completely artificial, heated by a hidden boiler”) and otherwise get healthy once stayed. On the morning of my visit, young adults (high school seniors? college freshmen?) were clearing out of the guest rooms and packing their luggage into the vans that had brought them to this desert spot. I thought someday I wanted to attend a conference there so I could sleep in one of the cute little rooms.

The Main Building where I found informational exhibits.

Other buildings left over from the health spa days are also used by the Desert Studies Center. The Main Building seemed to house administrative offices, but there was also an area open to visitors with several informational exhibits which, quite frankly, looked like they began their existence as 1990s era high school social studies fair projects. The most interesting exhibit featured early settler artifacts found in the area. Other exhibits were about local plants and animals and the history of the twenty-mule teams that ferried borax out of Death Valley in the 1880s.

Lake Tuendae is on the property too, making the area a literal oasis in the desert. The aforementioned Wikipedia article says the lake is really an artificial pond and is now a “refuge habitat of the endangered Mohave Tui chub.”

This is Lake Tuendae, actually an artificial pond.

I probably spent about two hours walking around the old site of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. I enjoyed learning about its place in the history of U.S. health scams, and I enjoyed looking at Lake Tuendae and the educational exhibits in the visitor area of the Main Building. Mostly, I enjoyed knowing I could now say I’d visited a place whose name most folks will never be able to pronounce and even fewer will ever visit.

You can find directions to Zzyzx on the Roadside America website. That site also has a lot of information on the history of the place.

I took all the photos in this post.

Gifts for the Writer

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As a writer, I think about writers. What do we want? What do we need?

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

If your friend or family member is a writer too, you may be wondering what sort of gift to give that person this holiday season. As a writer myself, I believe I am qualified to give you some suggestions. Whether the writer in your life celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice/Yule, Kwanzaa, or some other winter holiday, you’re sure to find something just right on this list of gift ideas.

Follow the writer on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Good Reads).

Like the writer’s blog posts, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, tweets, etc. Respond to the posts and tweets too.

Retweet the writer’s tweets.

Write positive reviews of the writer’s books on Amazon, Good Reads, Facebook and any other possible place.

Take a photo of the writer’s book and post it to your Instagram feed. Tell your friends and followers why you enjoy the book.

Support the writer by attending their reading and signing events.

Buy the writer’s books for yourself and all the folks on your holiday shopping list.

If the writer is on Patreon, become a patron.

Photo by César Cardoso on Unsplash

Give coupons for your future services. You can offer to babysit the writer’s kids or walk the dog during crucial times of writing when interruptions are detrimental to the process. Offer to do the laundry, wash the car, vacuum the rug, pick up groceries, make the bed, anything to give the writer a bit more precious time for creation.

Feed the writer. Bring over a meal for the freezer or give a gift card to a favorite restaurant. Take the writer out to dinner or cook a fabulous meal. Snacks and treats are usually a good idea too.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Give gift cards to the writer’s favorite coffee shop, or just give coffee!

To make it easier to get out of the house with the required pens, notebooks, folders, and laptop, give the writer a roomy tote bag or satchel.

Writer’s need to print! Give reams of paper, typewriter ribbon, or ink cartridges.

If your writer likes to write by hand, give comfortable pens, ink refills, blank notebooks, and legal pads.

Reference books still come in handy, especially for people trying to avoid the distraction of the internet. An old-fashioned thesaurus, dictionary, style manual, and grammar reference guide might be appreciated.

Photo by Alex Bello on Unsplash

Most writers love to read. How about a gift certificate to a bookstore (online or sticks-n-bricks) and a bookmark as a gift? You can also print out and give your writer the Write Life’s list of “26 of the Best Books On Writing.”

If you notice your writer is squinting or holding books at arm’s length, a pair of reading glasses might be appreciated.

Good lighting is important when it comes to seeing too. Read the Hooked to Books article “The Best Reading Lights of 2019 – Buyer’s Guide & Reviews” by Forrest Webber for help deciding what light will best illuminate your writer’s reading and writing.

Give the gift of storage with a thumb drive or external hard drive.

Give the gift of silence with noise-cancelling headphones.

If total silence is too extreme, soothing sounds of nature recordings might be enough of a distraction without being too much a of distraction.

What writer wouldn’t love a vintage typewriter? Even folks committed to their computer can’t argue with the decorative appeal of these old machines.

Photo by Luca Onniboni on Unsplash

Here’s a suggestion from the Write Life’s article “50 Gifts for Writers That Are Way Better Than a Boring Old Notebook“: an online course on writing. Their suggestions:

For hands-free writing, give dictation software and a digital recorder.

If you want to support a writer year round, read my post “10 Ways to Support a Writer” and follow my suggestions.

Gifts for the Nomad

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Blue Round Christmas Ornament on Snow

The winter holidays are sneaking up on us, and it’s time to get our shopping done. Perhaps you find yourself in the situation of wanting to buy a present for a friend or family member who lives in a van, car, camper, fifth wheel, or motorhome. Perhaps you are the nomad and your friends and family are asking you what sort of gifts you would like to receive. Today I will give you some ideas of items most nomads would love to have on their journey. These are useful items that don’t take up much space and can really add to the comfort and enjoyment of life on the road. As always, pick the proper gift according to the recipient’s taste.

For the journey—air gauge to check tires, 12 volt fan, headlamp and

Pink and Blue Notebooks Beside Red Click Pen

batteries, Luci light, Eco Vessel water bottle,  sun hat, invertor, phone charger and charging cord, atlas, travel journal, fuel injector cleaner, sunshade for windshield, comfortable pillow, memory foam mattress topper

Emergency supplies for the rig—jumper cables, emergency flares, portable air compressor, gas can, can of Fix-a-Flat, electrical tape, duct tape, Gorilla tape, wrench set, socket set, screwdriver, funnels, AAA membership, jack, tire iron

Cleaning supplies—whisk broom and small dust pan, dish soap, collapsible dish pan, dish towels, Febreze fabric refresher, Mrs. Meyers all-purpose cleaner, baking soda, vinegar in a squirt bottle, Ozium air freshener, paper towels or rags, 12 volt vacuum

Grayscale Photo of Washing Machine

Laundry supplies—laundry detergent (pods are less prone to leaks), dryer sheets, sturdy laundry bag, collapsible laundry basket, stain remover, several rolls of quarters

Kitchen supplies—collapsible funnel, garlic press, cast iron skillet, small pressure cooker, set of cooking utensils, butane or propane canisters for stove, potholders, all-purpose knife, can opener, stainless steel cup, water jug with spigot, collapsible water container, reusable storage bags

For the coffee drinker—French press, a pound (or more) of fancy coffee, a

Coffee Bean on Human Hands and Sack

pound of sugar, shelf stable creamer, insulated travel coffee mug, gift card to Starbucks or Panera Bread or a local coffee shop

For the wine lover—corkscrew, wine, non-breakable wine glasses, 12 volt wine chiller

The gift of food—shelf stable milk, nut butter, Nutella, crackers, dry cereal, instant oatmeal, complete pancake mix, canned fish, canned beans, tahini, salsa, instant refried beans, backpacking meals or MREs, powdered eggs, dried fruit, nuts, precooked rice or quinoa, complete instant mashed potatoes, queso dip, rice cakes, hot sauce, spices, sundried tomatoes, dehydrated vegetables

Toothpaste Being Put on Yellow Toothbrush

Personal care items—Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, toilet paper, wet wipes, dry shampoo, lip balm, sunscreen, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, lotion, body wash/shower gel, microfiber towel, shower shoes, small refillable plastic bottles

For cold climate vagabond—Smart Wool or other warm socks, warm hat, ear muffs or other ear cover, scarf, mittens, gloves, long underwear, 12 volt electric blanket, hot water bottle, hand warmers, ice scraper, antifreeze, Mr.

Tree Branch Covered in Ice

Heater Little Buddy, propane canisters for heater, warm rug, thermos or insulated mug, flannel sheets, down blanket

Gift cards—gas station, movie theater, restaurant, coffee shop, grocery

store, department store, Itunes, Google Play, hardware store, auto parts store, Amazon

Memberships—Planet Fitness or other gym, Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, AAA, Good Sam’s Club, Audible  

To stay in touch—phone, phone card, a variety of postcards, greeting cards, envelopes, cute stationary, stickers, address labels, postcard stamps, first class stamps

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-round-christmas-ornament-on-snow-188970/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-bright-business-document-390574/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-washing-machine-2254065/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/coffee-bean-on-human-hands-and-sack-47316/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/clean-mouth-teeth-dentist-40798/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-bokeh-close-up-cold-219845/.










Fun & Free Activities for the Holiday Season

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The winter holidays are upon us (even though it’s not officially winter yet). Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice/Yule, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all, there are many fun and free activities you can participate in this holiday season. Communities big and small schedule lots of no-cost events during this time of year. For little more than the price of the fuel it takes to drive from one place to another, you can see pretty lights, hear choirs sing, and maybe munch down on some yummy treats. If you’re boondocking in the desert or forest, you can take advantage of the good times nature has to offer. Whether you’re single or part of a family, whether you live nomadically or stay in one spot all year long, you should be able to find a multitude of free and fun activities to keep you busy this season.

man sitting on log in the snow
Photo by Alain Wong on Unsplash

Go walking in a winter wonderland. Take a hike through the snow in the national forest where you’re boondocking or walk through the park in town. However you do it, bundle up and enjoy the beauty of winter. Don’t forget to stop and make snow angels or build a snowperson.

If your outdoors excursion includes other people have a friendly snowball fight.

If you’re in an area with hills, find some cardboard and go sledding.

Some areas have ponds that freeze thick enough for ice skating. If you already have skates, you may be able to hit the ice for free.

Of course, if you’re wintering in the desert, you don’t even have to bundle up to go for a walk or a hike. You will need sunblock and plenty of water though. (If this is your first winter in the desert, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

Get into the spirit of the season by helping others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, food bank, or animal refuge. Get involved with a group that cooks and serves hot meals to hungry people. Do chores for a friend or neighbor with physical limitations. Babysit for a single parent so they can go shopping or attend their holiday office party. The gift of your service may be more precious than anything you can put a bow on.

Attend the town’s tree-lighting ceremony and other free holiday events open to the public. Some towns offer free concerts featuring the town band and/or choir.

Attend a public menorah lighting. Not sure if there’s one where you are? There are thousands of events listed here. Not sure what’s going to happen at a public menorah lighting or how you should behave? Check out Menachem Posner‘s article “What to Expect at a Public Menorah Lighting.”

Attend the town’s holiday parade. Maybe you’ll see Santa there.

If you have kids who celebrate Christmas and believe in Santa Claus take them to the town’s Santa arrival event. If there’s no such event where you are, take the kids to the mall or wherever Santa is holding court so they can tell the jolly old guy their Christmas wishes. You don’t have to buy the photos.

If your kids can’t see Santa in person, have them write letters to him. If you intercept the letters before they are mailed, you won’t have to pay for stamps. You can even write a response to the letters on Santa’s behalf.

Talk to your kids about winter holiday traditions around the world. Not sure where to begin? Read this article about how children outside of the U.S.A. celebrate Christmas. Get your kids talking about how other people’s holiday traditions are different from and the same as their own. You can also talk about Las Posadas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Yule/Solstice.

Shopping centers usually have holiday activities scheduled for the entire month of December. Go to the mall to hear school or church choirs perform. While you’re there, enjoy the warmth and the decorations. No one will notice if you don’t buy anything.

Attend a live Nativity scene and/or a Christmas pageant starring the kids at a local church.

Gather your friends, kids, and other family members and go caroling together. Walk through your neighborhood, RV park, or campground singing your hearts out. If you do a little planning, you can call ahead to hospitals, senior centers, assisted care facilities, or veterans homes and ask if your group can sing for the clients. You can sing traditional Christmas carols, holiday songs from countries other than the U.S.A., Pagan songs for Yule, and winter songs that don’t mention Christmas.

Gather friends and family to make holiday decorations together. Pool supplies folks have on hand so no one has to buy anything new. Use materials from nature. String plain popcorn. Browse these easy decoration ideas from Woman’s Day.

If you decorate a holiday tree, make it a party. Put on some holiday music and serve some light snacks if you’ve got ’em. Invite friends and neighbors or limit the guest list to the people who live with you.

Don’t limit your tree decorating to what’s indoors. Decorate the trees in your yard with strands of plain popcorn and/or old decorations you won’t be heartbroken to lose if they get wet.

Turn wrapping presents into part of the holiday fun. The Spruce Crafts shows you how to use plain paper and a potato stamp to make your own wrapping paper. The Budget Diet offers “16 Ideas for Wrapping Presents Without Wrapping Paper.” If you have room, invite friends over for a wrapping party. If you have kids, get them in on the gift-wrapping action. When I was a kid, I enjoyed helping Mom wrap Christmas gifts and getting a sneak peak at the presents my sibling would be receiving.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Read your favorite Christmas stories aloud. Let everyone have a turn. Find books that even the littlest readers can read from. Classics include the novella A Christmas Carol, the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas”), and the picture book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! My favorites include the short story “A Gift of the Magi,” the young adult novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and the Louisiana holiday tradition Cajun Night Before Christmas®.

Listen to a holiday podcast. I totally enjoy the Christmas themed episodes of Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class from years past. If you need suggestions about Christmas podcasts to listen too, read “Top 15 Christmas Podcasts You Must Follow in 2019.” If you’re celebrating Hanukkah (or just want to learn more about the holiday), see “8 Podcast Episodes for Hanukkah” by Eric Silver. You can also listen to the Kwanzaa Central Podcast.

Photo by John Cutting on Unsplash

Host a winter movie marathon. Watch holiday classics (ones you already own or those you can find on YouTube or a subscription service you’re already paying for) from TV like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are dozens of holiday movies available, some marketed to adults like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and some for kids like The Muppet Christmas Carol. My two favorite Christmas movies are naughty (Bad Santa) and nice (Elf). The Man’s favorite Christmas story is A Christmas Story.

Put on some holiday music and have a holiday dance party. Check out FlourishAnyway’s “126 Non-Religious Christmas Songs for Your Holiday Playlist.” Melissa Locker and Adam Schubak list “34 of the Best, Wackiest, and Weirdest Christmas Songs” for Elle magazine. Taylor Weatherby and Emina Lukarcanin compiled “23 Of the Most Unconventional Christmas Songs” for Billboard. Christmas wasn’t Christmas at my childhood home until we listened to the Elvis Blue Christmas cassette tape.

Need other ideas for holiday theme parties? Check out the Reader’s Digest article “12 Fun Christmas Party Themes You Never Thought of Until Now” by Ashley Lewis. While this list was written with Christmas in mind, you can change what you need to in order to make your party accessible to all your guests.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Perhaps you want to play a gift exchange game as part of a holiday party. Tell participants not to buy anything new. Part of the fun is giving away something you already have at home (whether “home” is a conventional structure, apartment, van, motorhome, camper, or car). If you need some suggestions about what games to play, check out this list of “18 Fun Gift Exchange Games & Ideas.”

If you’re having a holiday party, you might want to serve refreshments. Maybe you want to give yummies as presents. Keep it simple and stay within your budget by serving pretzels or popcorn and hot cocoa at your party. Whip up a batch of “Easy Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix” (which is less expensive than store bought) courtesy of the Eating on a Dime blog. If you want to make more extravagant treats, check out these “55 Budget-Friendly Dessert Recipes” from Taste of Home. Author Caroline Stanko says, “[e]ach recipe is made with 6 ingredients or less, and you probably already have them in your pantry!”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you do observe a Christian religion or if you want get in touch with the religion of your childhood, attend a midnight church service. There’s something really special about celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, hearing the choir sing, then spilling out into the still, cold night.

What free and cheap ways do you celebrate winter and the winter holidays? What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? If you live nomadically, how do the winter holidays differ from when you celebrated them in a conventional home? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Please use caution when participating in winter activities. Ice and snow can be slippery and dangerous. Crafting can cut you. Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being.

Angry Old Man

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According to The British Association of Anger Management, National Anger Awareness Week begins this coming Sunday (December 1) and runs through December 7.The aforementioned website says,

The aim of Anger Awareness Week is to identify anger as a disturbing social issue which needs to be brought out into the open and addressed effectively. Anger Awareness Week will help people befriend anger by using the right tools to calm themselves down and to deal effectively with this emotion, be it of their own or that of others.

In honor of National Anger Awareness Week, I will share the story of a very angry man I met during my time as a fuel clerk. This guy really needed to befriend his anger, but since I was a fuel clerk and not a psychologist, I concentrated on getting gas in his car’s tank so he could take his unhappy self as far away from my workplace as possible.

When I worked at the supermarket fuel center, customers sometimes had problems using credit and debit cards at the pump. Sometimes the problem was trying to use a credit card we didn’t accept, but other times the nature of the problem was mysterious.

I usually knew when someone was having a problem because my POS (point-of-sale) system began beeping. When I looked over, I saw a yellow exclamation point flashing near the credit card icon. If I touched the credit card icon, a new screen popped up. The new screen showed what pump was having trouble and what kind of trouble it was. Whenever I heard the beeping, I tried to see who was having the trouble so I’d know what to say when the customer showed up at the kiosk. On busy days customers with trouble often made it to the kiosk before I could check the POS system.

One day an older man stepped up to the window in front of me. He was tall,

Sailboat Sailing on Water Near Island

and his grey hair was cut conservatively short. He wore shorts that hit just above his knees and a pink plaid shirt with a collar, short sleeves, and buttons. He was dressed the way I imagine rich people dress to play golf or go sailing. The guy obviously had money.

The guy was obviously angry too. I could tell he was upset by the look on his face and the way he carried himself. I did not look forward to hearing what he had to say.

Hi! I said brightly through the intercom. How can I help you today?

Pump 6 said to see the cashier, he sputtered. Yep. He was mad.

Were you trying to use [the card we didn’t accept]? I asked him.

No!  he barked. I was trying to use this, he said and showed me a credit card we did accept.

I know I made a face before I said, That’s strange. I can run it in here for you, I told the already angry man. How much do you want to put on pump 6?

I want to fill it up! the angry man said as if I should have already known that.

I’m sorry, I told him. I can’t do an open ended transaction here.

Grayscale Photo of Explosion on the Beach

I thought the old guy’s head was going to explode. Trying to avoid a meltdown, I said, I can come outside and help you if you like. He gave me a brief nod and stomped off. I took that as a yes.

When I got out to pump 6, I saw the white-haired man was accompanied by a middle age fellow—his son perhaps or his much younger lover. The middle age guy exercised his right to remain silent.

Let’s see if I can help! I said brightly.

The older man tried to jam his card into the reader, but I stopped him. We have to follow the steps on the screen or the computer will get all confused, I said to him. His head was definitely going to explode if he got any angrier. 

Do you have a rewards card? I read from the screen.

No, he answered through gritted teeth.

Then we’ve got to push the “no” button on the PIN pad, I said, reaching over to push the “no” button.

The next screen came up saying it was time to insert his credit card. I told him to insert his card now. As he did so, I told him to push it all the way in, then pull it out fast. If looks could kill, I would have been so dead.

The next screen asked the customer to enter his zip code. The customer did

Person Holding Gasoline Nozzle

so. Much to my relief and pleasure, the next screen instructed him to lift the nozzle and choose the grade of gasoline he wanted. I was tickled pink. I had saved the day!

The angry man was even angrier it seemed, although he didn’t voice his rage. Again, I could tell by the look on his face and his body language. Apparently, he’d become so invested in his belief that his credit card wasn’t going to work (and I bet he thought it was all the fault of the company I worked for!) that he got even madder when I got the card to work. Of course, he couldn’t complain because his card had worked, so his anger seethed inside of him. I figured I’d better get out of there before his head exploded and splattered me with brain matter.

As I headed toward the kiosk, I saw that the angry man’s younger companion had already wandered that way. When I caught up with him, I smiled and said, I guess I have the magic touch. The younger man smiled back.

I was glad I’d thought of something nice to say instead of Your friend is really pissed off or I hope your friend doesn’t have a heart attack or Your friend sure is an asshat. Sometimes when I open my mouth, the right words do come out.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sailboat-sailing-on-water-near-island-1482193/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-explosion-on-the-beach-73909/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/car-refill-transportation-gas-9796/.

Your Guide to Public Land

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Brown and white wooden national forest sign reads, El Rito Ranger Station Carson National Forest U.S. Department of Agriculture

What’s the difference between a national park and a national forest? What’s a national monument anyway? What can I do on BLM land? What’s the Corps of Engineers and where is their property? Can I camp in a national wildlife refuge? Are state parks federal land?

People are confused about public land, and who can blame them? There are so many state and federal agencies managing public land that it’s difficult to keep them sorted out. Today I will do my best to clear up confusion by giving you information about the different categories of public land.

National parks are run by the National Parks Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. According to the National Parks Service FAQs,

The [national parks] system includes 419 areas covering more than 85 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.

Some national parks charge entrance fees, but fewer than one-third do. Click here to find a national park to visit.

According to the website of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park,

National parks emphasize strict preservation of pristine areas. They focus on protecting natural and historic resources “unimpaired for future generations.”

National forests are another designation of public land. According to the U.S. Forest Service webpage called “Managing the Land“,

The Forest Service manages the National Forests and Grasslands for sustainable multiple-uses to meet the diverse needs of people, ensure the health of our natural resources, provide recreational opportunities, manage wildfire, [and] guard against invasive threats…

The aforementioned website of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park sums it up this way:

National forests…emphasize not only resource preservation, but other kinds of use as well. Under this concept of “multiple use,” national forests are managed to provide Americans with a wide variety of services and commodities, including lumber, cattle grazing, mineral products and recreation…The national forests are managed by forest rangers with the US Forest Service (USFS) under the Department of Agriculture.

The website explains,

Brown metal sign. At top there is a yellow strip that read, Caution Active Bear Area with an drawing of a bear. Below, white letters read, Move all food, coolers, toiletries and trash from your vehicle to food storage lockers day and night.
Bears are not hunted in the Sequoia National Park (where I saw this sign), but they are hunted in the Sequoia National Forest.

Because they have different purposes, adjoining national parks and national forests may need to have very different rules. For example, national parks usually forbid hunting, while forests usually allow it. Dogs can be taken on national forest trails, but not those in national parks…

To summarize:

  • National parks emphasize preservation, while national forests allow for many uses of the land and its resources.
  • National parks fall under the authority of the Department of the Interior, while national forests fall under the authority of Department of Agriculture.
  • National parks and national forests have different rules.

Ok, so what about national monuments? Where do they fall in the scheme of public land? How do they differ from national parks and forests?

According to the March 2019 article “The Difference Between National Parks and Monuments” by Ashley M. Biggers,

[t]he primary difference lies in the reason for preserving the land: National parks are protected due to their scenic, inspirational, education, and recreational value. National monuments have objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest…

Another big difference, according to the Biggers article, is that

Congress designates national parks; in general, presidential proclamations establish national monuments.

Brown wooden Forest Service sign reads, Giant Sequoia National Monument Sequoia National Forest U.S. Department of Agriculure
This sign explains that the Giant Sequoia National Monument is within the Sequoia National Forest.

In some cases, a national forest and a national monument overlap. For example, I worked in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which was within the Sequoia National Forest.

Let’s move on to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), another agency within the Department of the Interior. According to the BLM’s National History timeline,

the BLM administers the lands that remain from America’s original “public domain.” Created in 1946 through a government reorganization…the BLM is the successor to the General Land Office (established in 1812) and the U.S. Grazing Service (originally called the Division of Grazing and renamed in 1939).

The BLM’s “About” page says,

The BLM manages for multiple use across regions and landscapes, with partners and using sound science.

The same page says the BLM’s mission is

Informational pole sign that reads, Camping Limit 14 Days
I camped on this BLM land in southern Arizona.

To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

I’d heard from several different people that the BLM manages lands “out West,” but while researching this post, I discovered this assertion is misleading. The agency is not limited to managing lands only in the West. The BLM’s “What We Manage” page states

[t]he BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States, and approximately 30 percent of the Nation’s minerals. These lands and minerals are found in every state in the country and encompass forests, mountains, rangelands, arctic tundra, and deserts.

The Army Corps of Engineers is another entity that manages public land. The Corps Lakes Gateway website explains,

The Army Corps of Engineers is the steward of the lands and waters at Corps water resources projects. It’s [sic] Natural Resources Management mission is to manage and conserve those natural resources, consistent with the ecosystem management principles, while providing quality public outdoor recreation experiences to serve the needs of present and future generations.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. According to the agency’s website,

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

The National Wildlife Refuge System lands and waters serve a purpose distinct from that of other U.S. public lands: Wildlife conservation drives everything on national wildlife refuges, from the purposes for which each refuge was established, to the recreational activities offered, to the resource management tools used.

Small orange and grey dome tent

Again, I was misinformed. I thought there was no camping available at national wildlife refuges, but a 2017 bulletin on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website says

National wildlife refuges from Alaska to Florida offer camping opportunities that allow visitors to see wildlife up close in a variety of natural habitats.

The aforementioned bulletin also lists a variety of camping options in national wildlife refuges.

The Bureau of Reclamation also manages public land open to recreation. According to the Bureau’s website, these Bureau of Reclamation projects

are located in the 17 Western United States of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

The Bureau’s Recreation page says,

Reclamation projects include approximately 6.5 million acres of land and water that is, for the most part, available for public outdoor recreation…To use and enjoy recreation areas and facilities that are open to the public, no use permits are required.

According to the May 2019 article “Your Guide to America’s Public Lands” by Wes Siler, national recreation areas are

[t]ypically located near major urban areas, and are designed to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for large numbers of people.

The Empowering Parks website says,

National Recreation Areas are managed by different federal agencies, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The Empowering Parks website offers

an alphabetical listing of all our natural national recreation areas, with links to the official site of each national recreation area.

If you prefer the beach to the forest or the desert, visit national seashores and lakeshores. According to the National Park Service,

national lakeshores and national seashores focus on the preservation of natural values while at the same time providing water-oriented recreation. Although national lakeshores can be established on any natural freshwater lake, the existing four are all located on the Great Lakes. The national seashores are on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts.

Wilderness areas were established as places meant to stay quite untouched by humans. According to Wilderness Connect,

[w]ilderness areas are the most protected public lands in America. Managed with restraint, they are intended to be self-willed lands, both philosophically and practically…Found in most states, but concentrated in the west, they protect lush forests, arid deserts, snow-capped peaks, dank swamps and sandy beaches.

Forest Service logo

The U.S. Forest Service says,

The National Wilderness Preservation System is a network of over 109 million acres – more area than the state of California – of public land comprised of more than 760 wilderness areas administered for the American people by the federal government. These are special places where nature still calls the shots…They are final holdout refuges for a long list of rare, threatened, and endangered species, forced to the edges by modern development. They are the headwaters of critical, life-infusing rivers and streams. They are places where law mandates above all else that wildness be retained for our current generation, and those who will follow.    

The last public lands I’ll cover today are state parks. According to Wikipedia,

State parks are parks or other protected areas managed at the sub-national level within those nations which use “state” as a political subdivision. State parks are typically established by a state to preserve a location on account of its natural beauty, historic interest, or recreational potential. There are state parks under the administration of the government of each U.S. state…

New Mexico State Parks logo

State parks are thus similar to national parks, but under state rather than federal administration. Similarly, local government entities below state level may maintain parks, e.g., regional parks or county parks. In general, state parks are smaller than national parks…

If you’re still feeling a little confused or want information on public land I didn’t include here, see the Outside article “Your Guide to America’s Public Lands” and the National Parks Service article “What’s In a Name? Discover National Park System Designations,” both mentioned above and both excellent resources.

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I took the photos in this post.

Buy Nothing Day and Gifts That Don’t Involve Capitalism

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This Friday is not only Black Friday. It’s also Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day? you may be wondering. What does that mean?

According to the article “The Quirky, Anti-Consumerist History of Buy Nothing Day” by Nina Renata Aron,

Buy Nothing Day is an international day of anti-consumerist protest.

The day — which now also goes by the name Occupy Xmas — was founded by Ted Dave, a Canadian artist in 1992, but it gained traction through the 90s after activist magazine Adbusters…began to promote it.

Buy Nothing Day, on which participants are urged to buy literally nothing…is now observed in over 64 countries.

Photo by Anna Utochkina on Unsplash

Some folks use Buy Nothing Day as a time to reflect on the buying frenzy large portions of Western society participate in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s not a coincidence that Buy Nothing Day coincides with Black Friday, the “official” start of the Christmas shopping season.

(You can read my reflections on Christmas spending in the post I shared last Christmas Eve, “You Gotta Pay Santa Claus.”)

Earlier this year I read a zine by my friend Laura-Marie River Victor Peace. Laura-Marie creates zines (you can find more information about her self-published writing on Facebook) and blogs at dangerous compassions. The zine that I read that made me think of Buy Nothing Day is called Resisting Capitalism for Fun. In the introduction, Laura-Marie writes,

this zine is about some anarchist stuff-resisting capitalism, community, gardens, environmentalism, not buying things.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Why would I want to resist capitalism? you might wonder. Isn’t capitalism better than socialism or (gulp) communism? Isn’t capitalism about freedom of choice?

First of all, it might help to know the definition of “capitalism.” According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, capitalism is

an economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, communications, and transportation systems, are privately owned and operated in a relatively competitive environment through the investment of capital to produce profits: it has been characterized by a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, the growth of large corporations, etc. that has led to economic inequality, which has been dealt with usually by increased government action and control

As to why we might want to resist capitalism, I read a great summary of the system’s problems in a Teen Vogue article called “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People” by Kim Kelly.

Individual capitalists are typically wealthy people who have a large amount of capital (money or other financial assets) invested in business, and who benefit from the system of capitalism by making increased profits and thereby adding to their wealth.

The kind of impact that capitalism has on your life depends on whether you’re a worker or a boss. For someone who owns a company and employs other workers, capitalism may make sense: The more profits your company brings in, the more resources you have to share with your workers, which theoretically improves everyone’s standard of living. It’s all based on the principle of supply and demand, and in capitalism, consumption is king. The problem is that many capitalist bosses aren’t great at sharing the wealth, which is why one of the major critiques of capitalism is that it is a huge driver of inequality, both social and economic.

(If you can’t imagine why in the world Teen Vogue is weighing in on the pros and cons of economic systems, read the op-ed piece–“How I Can Critique Capitalism — Even On an iPhone“– Lucy Diavolo wrote for the teen fashion magazine.)

Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash

Whether you love capitalism or hate it (or feel something in between or even apathetic), you might want to step away from the shopping frenzy at malls and big box stores this holiday season. Maybe you want to save money by making gifts to give to your loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep your religious beliefs or family traditions instead of material objects at the forefront of your holiday celebrations. Your friends and family members might not need more objects to clutter their homes, and you want to give gifts that don’t take up space and never need to be dusted. Perhaps you have chosen to support artists, writers, and craftspeople this year. Whatever your reason for wanting to take a break from capitalism, I’ll share with you where to shop, what to create, and from whom to buy so you can make your holiday season a little less corporate.

Where to Shop

By shopping at thrift stores, you’ll keep items out of the landfill and possibly help support a good cause. Look for stores that benefit domestic violence survivors, animal shelters, and drug rehab programs. In addition to presents, pick up wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and gift tags.

Shop yard sales, garage sales, and fundraiser rummage sales. It might be too late to use this tip for this holiday season, but in the future, keep your eye out for gifts and other holiday necessities.

Search your local Facebook buy and sell groups as well as good ol’ Craigslist for gently used items that might be perfect for someone in your life. You’ll pay less than retail and help someone in your community finance their own holiday celebration.

Keep an eye on your local FreeCycle group to see if anything people are giving away fit your holiday needs.

Consignment shops tend to sell higher-end items, so check out the merchandise at your local ones when buying for friends and relatives who are perhaps a bit particular.

Do your shopping at community craft fairs, farmers markets, artist co-ops, and other places where you can purchase items directly from the people who create or grow them.

If you’re lucky enough to attend a zine fair, buy zines for the readers on your list. If you can’t attend a zine fair, look online for zine distros like the one Laura-Marie has for her zines. You can also take a look at list of zine distributors from Broken Pencil Magazine.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You can use your points on BookMooch to get books to give to your readers. If you want to give only books in excellent condition, pay close attention to the condition notes. Alternatively, shop at locally owned used book stores. Consider looking for the childhood favorites of the adults on your list.

If you can’t find the right gift locally, shop at online stores that sell handmade products such as Etsy, Absolute Arts, Artfire, Articents, Hyena Cart, and Shop Handmade. Shopping on these sites will let you buy from creators and small business owners who will certainly appreciate your support.

Shop at museum stores. True, you probably won’t save a lot of money with this tip, but you will get high quality items for giving, and you will support the arts with the dollars you spend.

What to Give

If you can sew, make reusable tote bags. You can find lots of ideas on the All Free Sewing website. If you don’t have sewing skills, buy reusable bags at thrift stores and decorate with iron-on patches.

Sew neck coolers with water-activated beads in them. These items will help folks stay cool in the summer. Instructables offers simple instructions.

Photo by John Doyle on Unsplash

Make Christmas tree ornaments for family and friends who decorate a holiday tree. You can get more than 60 ideas for do-it-yourself ornaments from Good Housekeeping.

Make draft stoppers (also known as draft dodgers, door pillows, draft blockers, etc.) to stop cold air from coming in at the bottom of doors. You can get 20 draft stopper ideas on the Good Stuff website.

Make cards or bookmarks decorated with pressed flowers. (Better Homes & Gardens will tell you how.) Use flowers you grew yourself or those picked on private land. You can also ask a florist for discarded flowers or check the dumpster behind the shop.

Make melt and pour soap for everyone on your shopping list. If you have more time and energy, make soap the old fashioned way. The Spruce Crafts will tell you how.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Use yarn purchased at thrift stores and/or garage sales to knit or crochet hats, scarves, mittens, socks, or blankets.

If you have one of those small looms, make potholders for everyone you know.

Recycle old candles bought at thrift stores and garage sales or collected from FreeCycle into gift-worthy items. Get the candle holders for free or cheap too. Add flowers, seashells, stones or other small decorative items to the candles.

Use hemp to macrame necklaces, key rings, and bracelets. The Spruce Crafts will teach you the seven basic knots you’ll need to know. Buy supplies from a local small business or from an independently owned company like Hemp Beadery.

Compile recipes (especially favorite family recipes) in cute notebooks or on recipe cards.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Homemade treats are usually a hit and less expensive than buying mass-produced yummies, especially if you shop sales. In addition to baking cookies, try puppy chow (aka muddy buddies) snack mix, Christmas crack, buckeyes, Chex mix, popcorn balls, Rice Krispies® treats, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, haystacks, no-bake cookies, and rosemary thyme spiced nuts. You can also give homemade pickles, preserves, jams, jellies, and canned fruits and veggies. If you don’t like to cook, buy yummy gifts directly from the makers or give friends and family honey bought directly from a local beekeeper.

If you’re a gardener, grow loofahs or gourds that can be turned into birdhouses. If you grow houseplants, propagate new plants from cuttings. Repot the new plants in pots and jars you get from thrift shops or FreeCycle and give them as gifts.

For the kids in your life, make sculpting dough, sidewalk chalk, bubble solution, rainbow crayons, moon sand, wooden blocks, and/or bean bags.

Most grandparents love photos of their grandkids. Assemble photo albums with pictures of the kiddos and some of their artwork as well. Use goofy candid shots as well as serious, posed scenes. This gift could also work for great-grandparents, godparents, doting aunts and uncles, and a parent who is often away from home for work.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

If you’re a visual artist, give your art as gifts. Turn artwork into notecards, postcards, or bookmarks or give original pieces.

If you have nice handwriting, write inspirational words on cardstock or pretty paper.

Give a membership or passes for a special excursion to a museum, science center, animal park, or botanical garden. A season pass for a family of four may be less expensive than four individual gifts, the family can enjoy good times all year, and there’s no stuff to clutter the house.

Give an annual America the Beautiful Pass to an individual or family that likes to visit federal recreation areas (national parks, forest, monuments, etc.). A lifetime Senior Pass is also available.

Write letters to everyone on your gift list. Tell the recipients everything you admire about them or recount a fun or special experience you shared.

Create handmade books from scavenged or leftover materials.

Writers and students can always use notebooks. Buy spiral notebooks or composition books at thrift stores or during back-to-school sales. Update the covers using contact paper, stickers, chalkboard paint or chalkboard contact paper, or heavy craft paper and spray adhesive. Sometimes you can find brand new blank journals at thrift stores too.

Make coupon books redeemable for your services (such as a night of babysitting, doing the dishes, washing the car, giving a foot or back rub, scrubbing the bathroom, mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, taking down the Christmas tree, vacuuming the living room, raking leaves, doing the laundry, etc.). The Spruce Crafts collected 15 sets of free printable love coupons to help with the project.

Give certificates promising to teach a skill (such as how to bake a cake or bread, how to change the oil in a car, how to sew on a button, how to build a fence, etc.).

Of course, even do-it-yourself projects require materials. It you’re trying to avoid capitalism this holiday season, don’t rush out to buy new supplies. Do an inventory of what you have on hand. Perhaps old supplies can be used for new projects. If you must buy materials, shop at thrift stores first. You might be able to get what you need via FreeCycle or you could trade supplies with a crafty friend. If you must purchase new materials, try to buy local, from small businesses.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Hopefully you’ll be able to use the ideas in this post to remove at least some of the capitalism from your holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Las Posadas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Festivus, or Kwanzaa, you’ll be able to give meaningful gifts that won’t line the pockets of the already rich.

I realize the first part of this post focuses mostly on Christmas. I understand that other holidays are also celebrated during the winter season. However, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Solstice, Festivus, and Kwanzaa are not known for their contributions to rampant consumerism. Also, the gifts mentioned in this post (with the exception of Christmas tree ornaments) are suitable for all gift-giving occasions.

I have not tried any of the projects to which I have linked in this post, so I cannot vouch for instructions given. The links are simply starting points for your own research. I hope they help. Also, I have not and will not receive any compensation for linking to other websites in this post.

My Receipt

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The woman walked up to the fuel center kiosk where I was working. She was in the midst of middle age and had long, blond hair.

I turned on the intercom as I saw her approach. Before I could say a word, she barked out, My receipt!

Excuse me? I said. I was genuinely perplexed. What about her receipt?

I need a receipt on pump one. She spoke as if I were a not very bright child who should have known what she was talking about.

Oh. OK. I said, turning to my computer screen. I didn’t mind getting a receipt for her, but she didn’t have to be rude about it. Had she never learned those magic words “please” and “thank you”? If she knew those words, she’d chosen not to use then with me.

The printer’s out of paper, she told me sharply. You need to put in more paper.

Now that she mentioned it, my computer screen had told me there was a paper jam on the pump one receipt printer. I’d meant to get to it, but instead I’d been counting the cash in the register drawer, putting out squeegees, picking up trash, opening coolers and merchandisers, taking payments, making change, completing paperwork, and helping customers. Clearing a paper jam on pump one had completely slipped my mind.

I printed the woman’s receipt, put it in the drawer for her, and wished her a nice day. I waited until she’d left before I dealt with the paper jam on pump one. I didn’t want the woman to think that when she said “jump” I asked her “how high?”

Tight from Your Nomadic Lifestyle? Yoga Can Help (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post is from Noah, an editor at Runnerclick. Noah approached me and offered to write a post about how yoga can enhance a nomadic lifestyle. I thought his idea was a great one. Yoga is one of those activities I always want to do more of. Maybe this post will be the inspiration we all need to bring more yoga into our lives.

Living and traveling in your van, motorhome, truck camper or other rig can be a truly mesmerizing adventure. You have a unique opportunity to change locations frequently, to stop and explore whenever you wish, and to avoid the limitations of travel programs.  Unfortunately, driving, exploring, and living in close quarters can make you tired, overwhelmed and mentally drained. Luckily, yoga is the perfect remedy for all of your traveling troubles. Yoga can revitalize your whole body after long hours of sitting and driving or stooping down in a rig that’s too short to stand in. Here are some useful tips on how to get your blood flowing with yoga while you live your nomadic life.

Start fresh 

Our bodies feel best early in the morning. Before you head out to your next destination, do a few basic but productive yoga stretches. If you want to feel energized even during long drives, increase your stamina by doing  mindful yoga workouts. Any stretching exercise will be beneficial. Try the balancing table pose where you need to raise your right leg straight up behind you and in a plank position raise your left arm. A wall warrior stretch or a pointed star pose will have similar effects on your body. After these yoga exercises, you will feel refreshed and loosen up.

Go for a productive hike 

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

When you stop at some scenic and picturesque natural location, go for a walk or riveting hike. Find some exciting trails; take a bottle of water, a yoga mat, and headphones; and go for a hike that will help you stretch your tired legs. Walking in combination with yoga is ideal; doing the two activities one after the other enables you to loosen up after a long drive. You don’t need to engage your whole body or every muscle group; just pause every 500 meters (about a quarter of a mile) to do yoga. Do gentle poses like camel pose, locust, cat/cow pose, or side plank poses. With these yoga exercises, you will bring balance within your body, restore the agility needed for your nomadic life, and breathe in fresh air.

Speed up your metabolism 

Photo by kike vega on Unsplash

When you are inactive due to long drives, muscles tend to get groggy and your whole metabolism can slow down. For instance, foot muscles can ache from tediously long driving; luckily, there are many ways to aid your sore feet. While in your rig, lie down straight, lift both your legs up in candle position, and slowly rise up and down your hips. (If you don’t have room to do this posture on the floor, do it while lying in your bed.) This yoga pose will help increase your blood flow as well as reduce muscle aches and inflammation. Another useful pose that focuses on muscles that ache from driving is the Baharadvaja’s twist. Sit sideways with both feet to your right. Pull right heel as close as you can and take it with your right hand and place it outside your left knee. Place your left arm far behind you, hold the pose for 30 seconds, then switch to the other side.

Loosen up on a daily basis 

Living in a small space doesn’t mean that you can’t stop from time to time and do something productive for your health. Sitting too long may cause blood clots, various muscle aches, and even agitation and stress. Loosen up with simple yoga workouts designed to aid those who sit too long. Place a blanket or a yoga mat on the floor or ground and do the classic downward dog which is utterly beneficial for loosening and straightening your spinal and leg muscles. The boat and bridge poses are also very helpful. For boat pose, you need to lift both legs and touch your toes with your fingers and balance your body like a boat. The bridge pose is another classic that aids with aching back after long driving.

With yoga, you can restore the balance in your body, release tension, and prepare for any challenges your nomadic life brings. With these tips, you won’t have to suffer from tight muscles caused by long hours of traveling and living in a space that’s a wee bit small.

Bio: Noah is a very private person. If you go down a rabbit hole, you just might find him.

Did this article inspire you to try yoga? Have you already been doing yoga for years? Please share your yoga experience in the comments below. If you’d like to read about some of the Rubber Tramp Artist’s yoga experiences, click here.

Remember, neither Noah nor Blaize Sun is responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. You should consult a doctor or other medical professional before you start any new fitness program. Don’t push yourself too hard when starting a new fitness program. Take things slow and easy.