Monthly Archives: December 2016

Good-bye and Good Riddance, 2016

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2016 has been a rough year for a lot of us.

So many cultural figures died in 2016. RIP Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Mohamed Ali, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Buckwheat Zydeco, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, Garry Shandling, and Patty Duke, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher. (Nancy Reagan died in 2016 too, but honestly, I don’t care if she rests in peace or goes to Hell.)

On the personal front, I found a dead man in an isolated campground, and by the end of the same month, my dad was dead too.

Then the presidential election turned out the way so many of us feared, and now a hateful, crass, misogynistic bully is headed to the White House.

Of course, some nice things happened in 2016 too. Lou gave birth to a beautiful baby girl to keep her beautiful baby boy company.

Uh…that’s the only nice thing from 2016 I can come up with.

Well, I guess I should say that’s the only momentous nice thing I can come up with. Even in a bed year, smaller nice things happen all the time. I shared a campsite with a giant sequoia for over four months in 2016. I saw pileated woodpeckers (or maybe just one several times) in 2016. I visited Red  Rock Canyon in Nevada in 2016. I felt the love of friends near and far in 2016. The year wasn’t a total bust.

Starting in 1997, every ten years I have a really great year. I’m due for a great 2017, with or without Donal Trump as POTUS. Bring on the joy, 2017. Bring on the joy!

Things 2016 Taught Me:

My dad wasn’t invincible.

When we thought George W. Bush was the worst thing that could happen to this country, we weren’t using our imaginations.

There’s still so much hate in the United States.

I can function in a crisis.

I am capable of writing/publishing/promoting a book.

My life is full of people who love and care for me.

 

My Goals for 2017:

Turn off the damn solitaire game.

Read 75 books.

Think before I open my big mouth.

Write another book. (I currently have plans for three more.)

Treat everyone (even people who annoy me–especially people who annoy me) with kindness and compassion.

Make healthy food choices more often than not.

Move my body every day.

Please share what 2016 taught you and/or your goals for 2017 in the comments section.

 

 

 

On Homelessness

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It happened again.

I was part of a small group sitting around a kitchen table, drinking tea and conversing. One woman was being quite difficult. She was older than I am by about 20 years and tried to dominate the conversation, no matter the topic. She tried to present herself as an authority on New Orleans because as a teenager, she’d lived for some time in a town 25 miles away. Even though I lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade and her feet hadn’t touched the city’s soil in over forty years, she wanted to present herself as the expert.

The five of us in the room talked about where we’d grown up. I talked about my job as a camp host. The difficult woman asked me, Where do you live now?

I  answered in a perfectly cheerful way, I live in my van.

I saw the panic on her face and heard it in her voice when she asked, But where do you live?

I said again, I live in my van, then went on to explain I don’t have a sticks and bricks house waiting anywhere for me.

I could tell she felt pity for me, which is not what I expected from her, since I knew she lives in a 5th wheel with multiple cats.

I think the woman was worried about me because she is worried about herself.

Later in the conversation around the table, the woman admitted she’s not entirely happy about living in the 5th wheel. She doesn’t see the 5th wheel or its current location as the home she wants for the rest of her life. She want’s something bigger, something “better,” something different. I suspect she wondered how I could be happy living in a van if she’s not quite happy where she lives.

As the five of us stood up to say good-bye before parting, the difficult woman singled me out and hurriedly told me in a voice barely above a whisper how some years back she lived in her car with her dog. I could tell this part of her history was not something she remembered fondly or spoke of proudly.

I assured her many people have lived or currently live in a vehicle. I wanted her to know that living in a vehicle is not as weird as she’d convinced herself it is.

I refuse to be ashamed for living in my van, I told her.

I hope she will let go of her shame too, because if isn’t doing her any good.

I told her I don’t know if I could ever go back to living in a conventional home, as I now find the thought of paying rent for a house or an apartment offensive.

Sometimes I’m glad I can be an example of a woman living a good life while housed in her van. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel as if I have to explain my existence to every curious or worried person who crosses my path. On the day with the difficult woman, I felt something in between. I hadn’t expected or wanted to talk with someone who was shocked by the way I live, but I did enjoy disabusing her of some of the notions she seemed to be holding about people who live in vehicles.

Alien Fresh Jerky

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I don’t know exactly what this is supposed to be, some kind of alien, I guess, but it greets visitors as they approach the Alien Fresh Jerky store. The World’s Tallest Thermometer can be seen in the background on the left.

I only stopped in Baker, California because I’d read there was a penny smashing machine at the Alien Fresh Jerky store. I have a friend who collects smashed pennies (or at least she did once–I may be behind the times), so I thought I’d stop and get her a fast and cheap souvenir.

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Many huge aliens stand above the Alien Fresh Jerky parking lot.

It was a contributor to Roadside America  who alerted me to the possibility of smashing a penny. D. Pruiksma said on 10/10/2010,

Just across from the World’s Largest Thermometer, Alien Fresh Jerky has it all. There’s jerky, T-Shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, strong political opinions and, of course, a place to smash a penny with one of four Alien Fresh Jerky imprints. And, let’s face it, what self respecting roadside attraction would be complete if one couldn’t smash a penny. Once they had that, they knew Alien Fresh had arrived.

Roadside America also said the store had a

self-serve, “sample” counter. Mmmm! (use the tongs).

I’m not a huge meat eater, but I did plan to try some free jerky samples.

I took some photos before I went into the store. There were lots of fake aliens at the Alien Fresh Jerky store, both inside and out. I found lots of opportunities for taking free photos of fake aliens. The store has aliens on the roof. There’s a car full of aliens in front of the store. Huge aliens stand above the parking lot. A dozen or img_7712more aliens live inside the store. Yeah, aliens galore.

There’s apparently a plan to build a UFO hotel. In 2013, the Roadside America team wrote,

The manager didn’t laugh when we asked about how the new “UFO hotel project” is going — he said that it was underway for 2013. The plan, publicized in late 2012, is to build a 3-story, saucer-shaped motel with a pool resembling an E.T.’s head. If all goes well, Baker will be promoted as the “Gateway to Area 51″…

img_7722When I stopped by the store in early December of 2016, there was no hotel onsite, UFO themed or otherwise. There were signs behind the store advertising the hotel and an empty lot beyond the signs, but no clean, comfortable (or otherwise) rooms. The vacant lot looked as if it had maybe been leveled, but no one should plan to stay at the (nonexistent) hotel any time soon.

Not only was there no hotel, when I went inside the store, I found no jerky samples and no penny smashing machine. Oh sad day!

There was a lot of jerky for sale in the store. Lots of snacks like nuts and dried fruits were also available. There were beverages for sale too. All the food and drinks seemed overpriced. I didn’t buy anything.

I did consider having the alien in the machine tell my fortune, but in the end, I decided to keep my dollar. What could a fake alien encased in plastic possibly tell me about my future?

There are fake aliens all over the store. I saw Yoda, as well as at least a dozen of the dudes with big heads.img_7727

The Alien Fresh Jerky store is a must-see spot for fans of aliens, but I probably won’t stop there again. I don’t need to see another fake alien because I saw enough fake aliens in this one convenient location to last a lifetime.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

 

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The driver alien turns its head.  Yowza!

What Do You Think?

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As we get ready to greet a new year, I wonder what folks think about this blog?

I was going to set up a neat little survey, but then realized everything I could find that would maybe work was going to cost me money. I don’t think I need to spend money. I think I can ask a few questions, request your answers, and done.

My questions will follow. Feel free to answers one, more, or all of them. You can answer in the comments section of this post, or, if you want to answer in private, send a message to rubbertrampartist@gmail.com. Please feel free to answer whether you are a longtime reader or if you just discovered this blog five minutes ago. I am truly interested in your opinions, but I reserve the right to do whatever the heck I want.

#1 How do you feel about the frequency of publication?

a) Once a day is great!

b) Once a day is a little excessive. How about

i) Four times a week

ii) Three times a week

iii) Twice a week

c) Once a week is about all I can take

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#2 How do you feel about the length of posts?

a) Short (less than 200 words) is best

b) Keep most posts at 300 to 2,000 words.

c) Go in-depth (2,000+ words)

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#3 What category of posts do you like the best?

a) Travel stories with photos

b) Stories about travels with traveling kids

c) On-the-job stories

d) Experiences with frugal living

e) Book reviews

f) Stories about music

g) Personal experiences living in a van

h) Stories about food

i) Other [please give example(s)]

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#4 What do you think about the overall Rubber Tramp Artist attitude?

a) The Rubber Tramp Artist is too negative.

b) The Rubber Tramp Artist is keeping it real.

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#5 Do you think the Rubber Tramp Artist is funny?

a) The Rubber Tramp Artist IS funny!

b) The Rubber Tramp Artist THINKS she’s funny!

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#6 Would you recommend this blog to your friends? Why or Why not? (If your answer is yes, please go ahead and recommend now.)

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

House Sitting Savings

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People often ask me if I get paid for house and pet sitting. The answer is: usually not. House and/or pet sitting is not going to pay my bills. The most I’ve ever been paid for my pet sitting duties was $10 a day (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when I sat somewhere for two or three weeks, I ended up with a little pile of money).

Instead of thinking of house and pet sitting in terms of what I earn, I started thinking of it in terms of what I save.

#1 I don’t pay rent while house sitting. According to the Department of Numbers (http://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/us/),

Median monthly gross residential rent in the United States was $934 in 2014 according to the Census ACS survey.1

That’s $233 a week. In 2016, I house sate for approximately eight weeks, saving me the $1868 I would have paid to rent a house. Of course, four of the weeks I house sat were in California where the Department of Numbers (http://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/california/) says

The median monthly gross residential rent in California was $1,268 in 2014 according to the Census ACS survey…1

so I would have been paying approximately $317 a week there. I would have probably paid more to rent a motel room–even a cheap motel room–for that period of time.

#2 I don’t pay utilities while pet sitting, yet I utilize electricity, natural gas and/or propane, and water while staying in someone’s home. I take as many baths and showers as I want (although I seldom do so every day), cook on the stove, store food in the refrigerator, charge my electronics, turn the lights on, and use the heater or A/C if necessary, all with no out of pocket expenses.

#3 Of the eleven places where I’ve house sat, only three lacked a washer and dryer on site. Where such appliances were available, I was invited/encouraged/expected to use them. At most laundromats I’ve frequented recently, it cost $1.75 to $2 per load to wash and 25 cents per eight minutes to dry, which usually works out to about $2.50 to wash and dry a load of clothes. At my last house sitting job, I washed four loads of clothes (in three weeks), saving me the $10 I would have given to a washateria. I estimate doing laundry while house sitting has saved me at least $30 in laundry costs in 2016.

#4 I don’t pay for internet. I get mobile data on my phone, but I don’t do much more than check Facebook or email on it. When I’m working on the blog or doing anything else that requires internet access, I typically sit at Panera or another coffee shop with fast internet service and electrical outlets. One of my requirements for taking a pet sitting job is the availability of fast internet service in the house so I don’t have to go anywhere to utilize WiFi. House sitting not only saves me the money I’d spend on a monthly internet plan, it saves me the money I’d spend on coffee and/or food if I sat for hours at a coffee shop or restaurant.

#5 I don’t pay for satellite/cable TV either. When I’m in the van, I don’t even think of watching television, but when I’m in a house, I do partake. Of the eleven houses I’ve stayed in while pet sitting, seven offered some sort of television package. Maybe I shouldn’t count the TV I get while staying in someone’s house because I would never spend my own money on such an unnecessary (for me) expense, but I’ll mention it as I do tend to watch when it’s available.

#6 When I’m house sitting I cook instead of eating out. The simple foods I cook (beans, rice, eggs, veggies) are less expensive than the cheapest fast food and healthier too. Cooking on a camp stove is often more of a hassle than I want to deal with, but cooking in a real kitchen is no problem, so I don’t feel the need to eat out.

#7 While pet sitting, I’m usually hunkered down in the house most days while I write or read or do crafts. Staying “home” means I’m not out using gasoline. Every day I don’t drive saves me money.

#8 When I mentioned the idea for this post to a friend (a homeowner), she reminded me of the maintenance costs of owning a home. When I’m house sitting, I’m not worried about missing shingles, leaking pipes, burnt out light bulbs or broken down appliances. If something goes wrong in a house while I’m there, I simply contact the home owner and ask for instructions; I don’t have to pay for repairs.

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I took this photo of the view from one of the houses where I sat with two adorable little dogs.

#9 I can’t slap a price tag on some of the perks I’ve received as a house sitter. One house had huge windows offering a stunning view of the Rio Grande. It also boasted its own outdoor natural hot mineral water soaking pool. Other house sitting locations have offered jaw dropping views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. House sitting has brought me close to places otherwise off my beaten path; I probably would not have visited the Calaveras Big Trees State Park had I not been staying in a house nearby.

Of course, it’s flattering to be trusted with people’s earthly possessions and beloved pets. Few moments are sweeter than when a cat who’s been labeled aloof jumps up to sit on my lap or when a cute and fluffy dog curls up to sleep against my leg. Sometimes house and pet sitting really is priceless.

 

Confessions of a Work Camper Is Available NOW

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Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
It was a Christmas miracle!

I received the proof of the paper copy of my book, Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It looked good enough for me, so approved it. Within a couple of hours, the paperback version was available on Amazon.

For only $10 (plus shipping and handling) you can own your very own paperback copy of my book. For $3.99, you can read it as an ebook.

If you’re forgotten what it’s all about, here’s a reminder:

Follow the adventures of a campground worker as she chronicles the delights and disasters of working with the public away from all the conveniences of modern life: electricity, running water, internet access, or phone service. Join her on the top of a mountain, as far from civilization as she’s ever lived, in this collection of creative non-fiction essays.

If you click on the image of my book above, it will take you right to Amazon, and I’ll get an advertising fee.

I’m pretty excited about this book. It’s my first. I don’t think I could possibly be any prouder.

Ethel M Factory and Cactus Garden

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These chocolate covered apples were drying during my visit to Ethel M. I love the way the bright green pops!

These chocolate covered apples were drying during my visit to Ethel M. I love the way the bright green pops!

Shortly before my first visit with The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, I heard about the Ethel M chocolate factory in nearby Henderson, NV. Wait? What? I could tour a chocolate factory. then eat free chocolates? I was in!

I didn’t make it to the Ethel M factory during that visit, or the next. Finally, on my third visit, The Activist, The Poet, and I made a trek out there.

I had been warned there isn’t much to the tour, but I hadn’t understood how very little of a tour there is. There’s a long hallway visitors can walk down. The Ethel M website (https://www.ethelm.com/category/visiting+the+factory/self+guided+viewing+aisle.do) calls this hallway the “viewing aisle,” which is a totally

The viewing aisle at the Ethel M factory. The actual factory is on the other side of the glass.

The viewing aisle at the Ethel M factory. The actual factory is on the other side of the glass.

accurate description. On one side of the aisle, behind a wall made mostly of glass, is the factory floor. Sure, I didn’t expect to be allowed to frolic on the factory floor, but i did expect to see some action out there. It was 12:30 on a weekday afternoon and there were no workers on 3/4 of the factory floor. Is everyone on lunch break? I asked The Poet.

The Ethel M website says,

From the viewing aisle, if you time it right, you’ll get a peek inside Ethel’s kitchen where we make pecan brittle by hand every day, as well as prepare our signature small batch fillings like satin crèmes, caramels, and peanut butter…

Also, to ensure that we always deliver on our promise of high quality, preservative-free chocolates, our schedule in the Factory varies. So from time to time, the factory may not be bustling with chocolatiers during your visit. Sorry.

I suppose we didn’t time it right.

Hard to read white letters explain each step of the candy-making process.

Hard to read white letters explain each step of the candy-making process.

We saw an automated machine slowly moving along boxes filled with chocolate hearts. We saw a lone man messing around with a bucket. At the very end of the line, we saw a few more men doing the final steps in the packaging of the candies. Any preconceived notions of Lucy shoveling bonbons in her mouth in order to keep up didn’t last long. Everything on the other side of the glass wall that was moving did so virtually in slow motion.

There were words on the glass, explaining the process in each section of the factory. However, the words were written in white and quite difficult to read. Who thought white letters were a good idea for this application?

When the tour was over, I went looking for my free chocolate.

This sign explaining how chocolate is made is much easier to read.

This sign explaining how chocolate is made is much easier to read.

We’d heard workers offering samples to other visitors, but no one offered anything to us. After asking around, we were directed to the man with the samples on lockdown.

The man gave each of us a chocolate disc about the size of a quarter. I tried not to wolf down my piece. It tasted good, but was not amazing. It was chocolate–of course it was good! But being of the mind that any chocolate is good chocolate, I’ll even eat the cheap, slightly waxy chocolate that comes out particularly at Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. The chocolate bearing Ethel M’s name was better than the cheapest, but not by leaps and bounds. My free sample was decent,

Wow! Small packages of chocolates staring at 20 bucks.

Wow! Small packages of chocolates starting at 20 bucks.

average chocolate.

Based on the prices being charged for the chocolate in the gift shop, one might think Ethel M’s chocolates are favored by the Mayan gods. Everything in that place was out of my budget!

The gift shop area is quite large. One can buy chocolate dipped bananas and marshmallows and apples. One can buy prepackaged chocolates ready to go. One can choose one’s favorites from rows and rows of confections on well lit display and have them boxed up in single or double layers. Ethel M offers a mind-boggling selection of filled chocolates (cherries! caramel! nuts! peanut butter! crème! truffles! crème liqueurs!) and perhaps those are the outstanding candies. Visitors can also purchase souvenir t-shirts, travel mugs, etc. or have a beverage or pastry from the Cactus Garden Cafe.

Everyone working in the gift shop was friendly and helpful in a How may I assist you with your purchases? sort of way. (There were lots of people in there making lots of purchases.) The entire area (including the women’s restroom) was sparkling clean.

Cacti and holiday stars

Cacti and holiday stars

After walking around inside and seeing everything there was to see, we decided to stroll through the cactus garden which was decorated for the winter holidays, meaning Christmas. I didn’t see a single indication of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice, or St. Lucia’s Day. Well, to be fair, I don’t know what decorations would represent Kwanzaa, Yule, Solistice, or St. Lucia’s Day. Maybe there were representations that I missed. Maybe the fake Christmas trees with the upside down peace sign decorations represented Yule and Solstice.

For someone who’s never seen a cactus (or maybe has only seen a few), the cactus garden must seem incredible, as it’s chock-full of cacti from all over the world.

Holiday Balls

Holiday Balls

I’ve seen plenty of wild cacti in Arizona and Nevada and California and New Mexico, as well as at the The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, so the garden was not extraordinarily interesting to me. More signs with information about cacti in general and the varieties on display specifically might have meant more education for visitors.

Since Christmas means exactly nothing to me, the decorations didn’t add any magic to the area. My friends and

I thought the decorations were kind of dumb. Isn’t it risky for inflatable decorations to be set up near cacti spines? One gust of wind depositing the decorations on a cactus and that will be the end of that. And what’s the point of putting inflated winter wonderland scenes in the desert?  Everyone knows that igloo isn’t real!

Since when do penguins pop out of the roofs of igloos? As a matter of fact, since when are there igloos or penguins in the desert?

Since when do penguins pop out of the roofs of igloos? As a matter of fact, since when do igloos or penguins reside in the desert?

Some of the displays were even weirder than penguins popping out of igloos. There were snowfolks reminiscent of scarecrows. There was an inflated helicopter with a lazily spinning rotor on top. The Santa in the pilot’s chair had fallen over on his side, giving the whole tableau a vibe of copter shot down in Vietnam War. Towering over the copter was a giant polar bear standing on its hind legs. Does the polar bear represent American imperialism? I wondered. Probably not. It probably simply represented poorly thought out American holiday commercialism.

I might have liked the whole exhibit more if I had gone at night and seen all the lights sparkling in the dark. I do have a soft spot for Christmas lights, but alas, it was daytime and the strands of lights simply looked like ropes binding cacti hostages.

As the holiday music blasted through the barely camouflaged speakers, my friends and I agreed we were ready to get out of there. We left the expensive chocolates and the questionable winter wonderland behind.

 

Old Man of the Mountains, one of my favorite varieties of cactus.

Old Man of the Mountains, one of my favorite varieties of cactus.

 

I took all of the photos in this post.