Monthly Archives: December 2016

(Guest Post) RV Living: A New Reality

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Today I have the pleasure of sharing a post by Carolyn Rose, author of the blog Carolyn’s RV Life.

It was a cool autumn evening. The sun was lazily making its way down the western sky and the smell of wood-fires and home-cooking infused the air with familiarity and reflection. On my evening walk, I passed two children playing in a huge natural yard. I noted how different it was from the perfectly manicured postage-stamp size yards, hidden behind six-foot fences that I’m used to. In the San Francisco suburbs, children don’t just play out in the open like that.

I marveled at their carefree innocence from the other side of the street. They laughed and played and hung on a good-natured and patient Golden Retriever. Not a care in the world; they didn’t even notice me. I felt like I’d been transported back to simpler times.

Bronze Cowboy--Joseph, ORI’d parked my RV at the little league fields, a few blocks away, earlier in the day and spent the afternoon working and writing and enjoying peace and solitude. I was amazed that not a single kid came to the field to play nor nearby residents to walk their dogs. And I realized, it’s because here, in tiny-town USA (Enterprise, Oregon) everyone has a yard. Their little league field is for actual Little League, not a community yard where people who live in giant houses with tiny yards and neighbors within arms’ reach must drive to get some exercise and fresh air.

Spending the day in the tiny northern Oregon town took me back to my own Upstate New York roots – the ones I fled when I moved to San Francisco at twenty-one, and never looked back. Roots that I’ve spent my whole adult life running away from and denying. In my race to run from my past, I ran from myself. I ran from my predisposition toward a simpler way of life: where the streets aren’t always paved and the clerks in the grocery store know their customers by name.

As I hobbled over the cracked and crooked sidewalks, through old neighborhoods with normal-sized single-story houses (not super-sized McMansions), and inhaled the crisp home-town air, I realized how much living in a metropolitan area for nearly three decades had changed me. I’d forgotten how the rest of the country lives; how pure and simple life can be.

I was surprised at how comfortable it felt. Like I’d walked into a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and a world where kids are innocent and free and old-fashioned kindness and community rules the day. I wanted to wrap the town around me like grandma’s handmade quilt and fall asleep in its warmth. scenic-bridge-joseph-or

As the afternoon turned to night, I meandered through the tiny town wanting to see and experience it all. I saw, through the lighted windows of cozy homes, quaint shops and tiny wooden churches with stained glass windows, what had been missing in my city life. Family. Community. Simplicity.

It dawned on me that my big city experiences and values had isolated me from the reality of what most Americans experience daily. I pondered the contentious election, and for the first time, I understood. I understood the fear. I understood the challenges that small-town America faces and how they feel like their way of life is on the verge of falling off the cliff. I understood how they view a sensationalized version of the events in our country – and the world – through their TV screens and it terrifies them. I understood how their serene and quiet lives seem threatened. And like the crackle of a fresh log put on a dying fire, my brain awakened to a new concept of reality. And a new awareness of how relative reality really is.

What a gift I was given that day. My new life as a full time RVer put me in a place I’d never have experienced in my old life.  My new, slower RV Life allows me to get out from behind the windshield and immerse myself into new places and not just fly past at 70 miles per hour. A new town isn’t just another double almond-milk cappuccino served up by the local Starbucks barista at an anonymous interstate town, but a real, live breathing place with history and community.

Joseph CafeI spent three days in and around Enterprise, Oregon. I talked to chatty coffee drinkers in cafes, friendly grocery store clerks and helpful mechanics. I got to meet real people, with real wants, needs and concerns. Real people, with families, friends and happy Golden Retrievers. Not nameless, faceless political ideologues or Facebook trolls. But real people.

What a wonderful life I get to have by stepping away from my version of reality, hitting the road and forging my own path and a new reality. My RV Life opened my eyes – and my heart –  to a community, which, on the surface seemed so different from my old Bay Area community, but at the core, was very much the same.

Thank you, Enterprise, Oregon, for letting me temporarily live in your town and experience your reality.

About Carolyn Rose:

Early in 2016, at forty-eight years, old, I sold everything I owned, bought a 23-year-old RV and hit the road with my dog Capone. I’d spent decades building a career and a company and chasing the American Dream. After hiking 256 miles in 26 days alone in 2015, I came to accept that the life I’d been chasing wasn’t what I wanted. I was tired of living a lie; working to buy things I didn’t really need and feeling trapped in a tiny Bay Area apartment.  I wanted space. I wanted freedom.  And as a marketing consultant, I was free to work wherever I wanted. So, I took the leap and changed my life!

To read more about my journey, you can visit my website at http://CarolynsRVLife.com for more information.

Photos were provided by the author.

You’ll Always Have Paris

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One of my oldest friends is a Francophile. She’s been fluent in French for as long as I’ve known her (and now that I’ve done the math, I see we’ve been friends for 30 years.) I don’t even know how many times she’s been to France, to Paris. She’s studied in France, worked in France. When I think about France, I think about this friend.

Whenever I’m cutting up catalogs and magazines for collage fodder, every time I see an image of the Eiffel Tower, I think about my friend. I’ve been hording little images of the Eiffel Tower for quiet a while now, waiting until I had enough to use them in a collage for my friend. Finally, I realized I had enough images, so I made the collage.

Today I present You’ll Always Have Paris.

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The Rubber Tramp Artist Rules of Van Life

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#1 Rule of Van Life: Always Know Where Your Keys Are

I’ve misplaced the keys to my van many times. Sometimes I have misplaced the keys by locking them in the van. No good. No good. (Read about a couple of those experiences here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/01/in-praise-of-roadside-assistance/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/03/30/good-samaritan/.)

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

Now my #1 rule of van life if to always know where my keys are. When I’m awake, I wear my keys on a long lanyard around my neck. It’s made from small, pretty blue and green glass beads. I bought it for $1 at a thrift store. I don’t have to take the lanyard from around my neck to unlock the doors, but when I do need to take it off, it lifts right over my head.

When I get out of the van, I make sure the keys are around my neck before I close the doors. It might seem as if I am patting my boobs or belly just for fun, but really, I’m making sure I have my keys. (The challenge is getting the keys immediately out of the ignition and hooked to my lanyard before my attention wanders and I exit the van without my keys.)

When I go to bed at night, my keys are within arm’s reach. If I have to drive the van in the middle of the night, I don’t have to fumble in the dark searching for them. Even when I sleep, I know where my keys are.

Rule #2 Don’t Knock Over the Pee Bucket (When It’s Holding Pee)

I’ve had a variety of pee buckets in my 4+ years as a van dweller. First there was a plastic one-

My current pee bucket with lid.

My current pee bucket with lid.

gallon ice cream tub with lid. Later I used a plastic one-quart, slightly oval shaped ice cream container with a tight-sealing cover. For a while I used a plastic storage container with a snap-on lid with a handle; that container was my favorite, but I lost the lid when I forgot to remove it from the van’s ladder (where it had been propped to air out) before I drove to work. I’m currently using a red coffee can with a snap-off cover.

I’ve knocked the pee bucket over before. While it wasn’t the worst elimination disaster I’ve ever had in the van, it wasn’t pleasant. It was so not pleasant. Now when there’s a container of urine in the van, I am very careful not to kick it or bump it or do anything to make it fall over. I certainly don’t want to drive while there’s pee in my bucket. Even with the cover on, the thing can still leak, and I do not want to deal with urine on the rug and on the floor and on the items on the floor.

Rule #3 Use Blind Spot Mirrors

The Your Mechanic website (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-use-blind-spot-mirrors) says,

No matter how well you position your side view mirrors, there is going to be a blind spot on either side…there will always be areas that you cannot see. Blind spot mirrors are designed to alleviate this problem.

I swear by blind spot mirrors. I don’t know why all driver’s aren’t using them, whether on a van or a pickup truck or a sports car. They are inexpensive; a two pack usually cost under $10 at

Amazon, auto supply stores, or any store with an automotive department. They are easy to install by peeling away paper backing covering the strong adhesive on the non-mirror side. Press the blind spot mirrors to a clean (cleanliness is crucial for proper sticking) side view mirror and get ready to see everything in your blind spot that you have been missing.

Rule #4: Do Your Routine Maintenance

Get your oil changed regularly. (The Your Mechanic website recommends every 5,000 to 10,000 miles). Check the air pressure in your tires and add air as needed. Check your fluid (oil, brake, transmission, coolant/antifreeze, power steering) levels and add accordingly. Take care of problems before they become disasters.

Rule #5: Carry Basic Automotive Supplies

I have a pair of jumper cables in my van. I believe everyone should carry jumper cables, especially if traveling to areas where it might take a long time/be impossible for roadside assistance to get to you. It’s usually fairly easy to find a helpful person to give your battery a jump start, but helpful people don’t always have jumper cables.

In addition to jumper cables, I have a jack and a tire iron. I also typically carry brake fluid, oil, and antifreeze/coolant.

Rule #6: Don’t Hit the Road Without a Paper Map

Sure, sure, GPS systems and map apps are great–if they work. I did a Google search on “did people really drive off cliff while following GPS” and came up with a whole list of GPS disaster stories. GPS systems really do lead people astray. img_7800

I’ve never used GPS, but I do tend to rely on Google Maps. I use Google Maps on my laptop to map out routes in unfamiliar cities, and I use it to decide how to get from a city (or nature area) to my next destination. Several times while traveling in California, Google Maps has directed me to roads that don’t exist or sent me well out of my way.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve been able to pull over and use the Google Maps app on my phone to recalibrate from my current location. But recently, after Google Maps sent me on a wild goose chase–out of my way–hour long–gas guzzling–circular excursion, I stopped at a gas station to figure out what I should do from there. Google Maps told me what to do, but I immediately realized it was all wrong. Highway 49 was not the same as Main Street, and the directions told me to go the same way from which I’d just come. So I pulled out my atlas and figured out where I was and where I wanted to be. Turns out a nearby highway was a straight shot from point A to point B. If I had looked at the paper map before I hit the road, I would have seen that Google Maps had sent me on a route that was never going to take me where I wanted to go

Rule #7: Stock Up on Essentials Before You Leave Civilization

Before I head out to a remote area, I make sure I have everything I need. Even if I can find a store in a small town selling the necessity I’ve forgotten, I’m going to pay more for it in a remote location. These are the essentials I make sure I have before I head out of Babylon: food, water, ice, propane, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, wet wipes, gasoline.

Rule #8: Tell Someone Where You Will Be

I have a trusted friend I text everyday if I have cell service. Before I hit the road, I tell her where I’m going. When I arrive, if I have cell service, I text her to let her know I am safe. If I change my plans, I alert her. If she doesn’t hear from me, she checks in. I know doing this won’t save me if someone decides to hurt me, but I feel more confident knowing someone will realize pretty quickly if I disappear and be able to direct a search party to a starting point.

Rule #9: Bungee Cords Are Your Friend

I’ve spent a lot of time picking up plastic drawers and tubs (and their contents) from the floor of the van. Rapid braking and sharp turns made my belongings tumble to the floor. Now I’ve got my stuff tied down with bungee cords. I buy the cheap ones, as they don’t really have to be super strong. They just have to be strong enough to keep my life from flying around as I drive.

Rule #10: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Having fun is one of the reasons we’re doing this van living stuff, right? We get to travel and see amazing places. We get to explore because we’re not tied down, not spending a huge portion of our money on rent. So don’t get so uptight and worried about what might go wrong that you forget to have fun. In my experience, a bit of prior planning (maintaining the vehicle, strapping down with bungee cords, knowing where my keys are) allows me to relax, arrive safely at my destination, and have a good time while I’m there.

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I took the photos in this post, except for the one of the blind spot mirror, which is an Amazon link.

What are your rules of van life/life on the road? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

The Frogs of Calaveras County

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These frogs live in front of one of the stores in Murphys Main Street business district.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Mark Twain. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read anything substantial written by him. Sure, I’ve seen quotes by Mark Twain (although I can’t think of one), but I don’t recall reading any of his novels or even a short story. (In 10th grade English class, the kids with overprotective, over-Christian parents read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or maybe The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My mother signed the permission slip, so I got to read Brave New World instead.)

I know Twain is supposed to be funny, with a biting wit, but I’ve never been able to get into his writing. I think my my enjoyment is blocked by his Victorian Era syntax and word choice. Reading Twain’s writing feels too much like schoolwork to me.

In any case, when I went to California and first heard someone reference Calaveras County and frogs, I had only a glimmer of what it the speaker might mean.

I’ve learned a couple of things since then.

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This frog lives in front of one of the stores in Murphys Main Street business district.

The title in question is “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” According to Wikipedia, it

is an 1865 short story by Mark Twain. It was his first great success as a writer and brought him national attention.

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches is also the title story of an img_75811867 collection of short stories by Mark Twain. It was Twain’s first book and collected 27 stories that were previously published in magazines and newspapers.[1]

It turns out that Calaveras County is a real place.

[T]he County of Calaveras, is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 45,578.[3] The county seat is San Andreas,[4] and Angels Camp is the only incorporated city. Calaveras is the Spanish word for skulls; the county was reportedly named for the remains of Native Americans discovered by the Spanish explorer Captain Gabriel Moraga.

Calaveras County is in both the Gold Country and High Sierra regions of California.

I was excited when I got a house sitting gig outside of Murphys, CA. You guessed it! Murphys is in Calaveras County.

Murphys is proud of the county’s famous frogs, even though Twain’s story is set down the road in Angels Camp. Mark Twain lived in Murphys for a spell, which probably increases the civic pride.

Frog in front of the library

This frog lives in front of the Murphys public library.

I suppose “lived in” is a relative term. The guide on the free Saturday morning walking tour I went on explained that Mark Twain lived in Murphys for “88 days, less than three months.” I guess it would be less impressive for the town if word got out that Twain vacationed in Murphys or spent a season there.

The Murphys Historic Hotel is proud to claim Twain at the top of their list of “notable guests” who stayed at the hotel “during its early years.” Apparently visitors can  view a copy of Twain’s  “original registration” signature in the hotel’s lobby, but the website is mum as to when and for how long Twain stayed there.

The town of Murphys (population 2,200) is proud of its county’s froggy heritage. I found three frog sculptures as I explored Murphys downtown. (All three are featured in this post.) However, I didn’t see any information about the artists who created the frogs.

Heck, Calaveras County is so proud of their frogs, they feature them on their recycling bins.

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I guess it helps to be known for something if a town wants to attract tourists.

I took the photos in this post.

Winter Wonderland

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img_7642It wasn’t even winter yet, when I visited Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It was only December 1, but already ice and snow covered the ground.

I hadn’t considered how a 1,500 feet increase in elevation can make a big difference in temperature and weather, so I was a bit surprised to see ice and snow on the side of the road as the van climbed above the 4,ooo feet mark. This is going to be fun, I thought.

Luckily, I was properly dressed with hiking boots, jeans, a warm sweater over a long sleeve t-shirt, and my jorongo over it all. Thankfully, I remembered to grab some gloves before I left the van.

The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is proud of their trees. It costs $10 per vehicle for admission, unless you’re arriving in a bus. Buses carrying up to 24 passengers have to pay $50 for admission. It costs $100 to bring in a bus carrying more than 24 passengers. You can bet I’m going to inform people of these prices next summer when they complain about paying $5 to park where I work.

I started my State Park adventure in the visitors center. The very friendly man who took my $10 at the entrance img_7643told me that’s where I could pick up a guide for the North Grove trail. The man didn’t tell me they want 50 cents for the guide. I hadn’t put any money in my pockets because I hadn’t planned to buy any souvenirs, and I didn’t think the trees were going to panhandle me. When I told the women in the gift shop area of the visitors center that I hadn’t brought any money in with me, she told me to pick up a guide from the metal box at the start of the trail.

I took the guide that looked as if it had already been borrowed and returned. Upon seeing the guide, I understood why the park wants to collect some money for it. The guide is a booklet (not one page folded in three parts, which is what I think of as a trail guide due to what I’ve given out where I work), five letter size pages folded in half. The guide includes a lot of information.

Before I took the guide and started my icy hike, I walked through the gift shop to the exhibit area of the visitor center. In the middle of the room was a display of taxidermied animals. I didn’t stop to examine them, as I don’t particularly like seeing animals killed so humans can look at them. I did look at the exhibits on the walls, which started with information about the native people who lived in the area before the miners and pioneers showed up. There was also information about the “discovery” of the trees in the park by white folks and the subsequent destruction of some of the largest ones.

The stairs lead up to the stump of the Discovery Tree, planed smooth for dancing.

The stairs lead up to the stump of the Discovery Tree, planed smooth for dancing.

One of the trees destroyed was called the Discovery Tree. According to the guidebook,

[i]n 1853…[this tree] was stripped of its bark and felled by ambitious speculators. Since no saw was large enough, the tree was felled with…long-handled pump augers and wedges…It took five men 22 days to drill all the holes, but the perfectly symmetrical tree did not fall for several days.

The stump was planed smooth to serve as a dance floor, and a two-lane bowling alley and bar were built on the fallen trunk.

John Muir…was so angered by these events that he wrote: The vandals then danced upon the stump!

The North Grove trail took me to the remains of the Discovery Tree. It is enormous! It’s difficult to understand from photographs how huge this

This photo shows the fallen trunk of the Discovery Tree, upon which a bar and bowling alley were built.

This photo shows the fallen trunk of the Discovery Tree, upon which a bar and bowling alley were built.

tree is. I climbed carefully up the icy steps and stood on the stump of the Discovery Tree. I felt very sad when thinking about  this tree being killed by people who wanted to make money exhibiting its parts. The trail guide says the tree was only 1.244 years old when it was cut. Since some giant sequoias live to be over 3,000 years old, the Discovery Tree may have had many more years of life ahead of it, had it not been destroyed in its prime.

Another tree in the park destroyed by humans was the Mother of the Forest. The trail guide says,

In 1854 the “Mother of the Forest…” was stripped of its bark. Promoters schemed to ship the bark strips back east for reassembly at exhibitions…A crew of men worked at the tree’s systematic destruction for  ninety days…It was through the Mother of the Forest’s great sacrifice that a heightened awareness about the need to protect these trees was born.

The Mother of the Forest stripped of its bark

The Mother of the Forest stripped of its bark

At the back of the exhibit area in the visitors center is a theater running a couple of documentary films on a loop. The films give a history of the park, including how the destruction of the Discovery Tree and the Mother of the Forest led to people working to protect the trees, including the creation of Calaveras State Park.

After my time in the visitors center, I started out on my walk through the trees. I found the trail was covered in ice and snow: no clearing the trail or shoveling snow here! The trail was only visible because the snow had been packed down where people had walked. The packed snow in the middle of the trail had turned to ice and was very slippery. I wished I had remembered to carry my walking stick with me. To avoid the worst of the icy slippiness, I mostly walked on the edge of the trail, where the snow was still crunchy and my boots could gain some traction. Unfortunately, walking through the snow meant repetitively sinking up to my ankles.

Still, I was glad I was there. I didn’t feel uncomfortably cold, and I enjoyed the img_7674extra quiet the blanket of snow brought to the forest. When the sun broke through the clouds and trees and hit the ice and the whole world shimmered, well, those moments were glorious.

The North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the sixth grove of giant sequoias I’ve visited. I think my trek through the ice and snow to look at new giant sequoias makes it official: I’m a fanatic!

This photo shows me walking through a gap cut in a tree called Hercules. The trail guide says Hercules "was one of the largest in the grove. It was blown down during a violent windstorm in December 1861.

This photo shows me walking through a gap cut in a tree called Hercules. The trail guide says Hercules “was one of the largest in the grove. It was blown down during a violent windstorm in December 1861.”

 

 

Update on House and Pet Sitting

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There was recently a discussion about house and pet sitting in one of the online van groups I’m in. Before I posted the two pieces I previously wrote about house and pet sitting, I reread them and found I said I’d share my experiences getting gigs through House Sitters America. I’d totally forgotten that promise, but I’ll make good on it today.

To recap:

A year’s membership with  House Sitters America, cost $30. The website’s FAQ explains the process this way:

House sitters register to list their profile on the House Sitters America database.

Here they can be seen by US homeowners via the website. These homeowners are able to contact the house sitter directly to discuss potential house sitting.

Registered house sitters are also able to contact any of the homeowners through their adverts.

Once one registers as a house sitter via the House Sitters America website, one can choose the state(s) where one is interested in working. A potential house sitter can set up alerts so s/he is notified when an job in the state(s) of interest is advertised. At that point, a potential house sitter is able to contact the home owner who placed the ad.

I’ve never had a homeowner I didn’t know contact me to ask me to sit. I’ve always been the one to initiate contact after receiving an alert or seeing a homeowner’s ad.

I got four house sitting gigs from the first $30 I spent to join House Sitters America (HSA). The first job I got through the site led to me sitting again for the same woman a few weeks after the initial time she hired me. The woman would have hired me a third time, but I was unavailable when she needed me.

I got the second two gigs through HSA for the time after my camp host job ended and before the temperatures  in the Southwest were pleasant. The first job, which lasted ten days, involved caring for two sweet little dogs. The second job lasted three weeks and involved caring for an extremely independent cat. Neither of the jobs paid any money; in both cases, I had a free place to stay (with running water and electricity and fast internet and a refrigerator and television) in exchange for tending to the pets.

From reading the ad for the first job, I figured out I’d be dealing with a guy. Through our correspondence via the House Sitters America messaging system and subsequent phone conversation, I learned he’d be traveling to Hawaii, where his wife was already living. My years of conditioning kicked in and worries started running through my head. What if this is a setup? What if he’s going to lock me in a closet? What if he’s a rapist? Please note, I had no bad feelings about the man himself. He didn’t say anything weird or creepy. I had no negative gut reactions. My instincts told me he was fine. Yet, the worries I’ve been conditioned to have were there.

Instead of passing up the job, I took precautions. I communicated with my trusted friend, the woman I check in with every day when I have phone service. I told her the man’s first and last name. I gave her his address and phone number and email address. I let her know what time I was set to meet him, and asked her to check in with me if she hadn’t heard from me within an hour of that time. When I arrived at the house, I let my friend know I was there. When the man turned out to be a really nice guy (nothing creepy, no red flags, no negative gut reactions), I texted my friend to tell her all was well. I guess something bad could have happened, but I knew someone was looking out for me and would at least know where to begin searching for me if I disappeared.

It’s been very interesting to me to see how different people deal with leaving their home and pets in the hands of a house sitter.

The woman I sat for in my first job through HSA was going on a cruise and would have no cell phone service for most of the time she would be away. When I asked her who I should call in the event of an emergency, she became very defensive and asked me what I thought was going to go wrong. (I think she is one of those people who believes thinking about bad things invites those things to happen.) I tried to tell her I didn’t think anything bad was going to happen, but wanted to be prepared in the event something did. She did not want to discuss anything negative and didn’t leave me with a telephone number for a vet or a plumber or a neighbor or a maintenance person or anyone. I was on my own! Luckily, I didn’t need any of the telephone numbers she hadn’t left for me.

The couple with the independent cat I sat for were the polar opposite of the woman who refused to talk about anything negative. I had both of their cell phone numbers and was encouraged to call or text them if I had any problem. They left me the phone numbers of both their vet and their next door neighbor. The man walked me through the house with a checklist and showed me how to work the appliances.  In the laundry room, he showed me  how to turn off the water input valves on the washer when not in use He told me where the breaker box was and how to shut off the main water valve and main propane valve if any problem occurred. The woman insisted on driving me into town and showing me the locations of the post office and the library and the grocery store. They were both super nice people. I enjoyed talking to them and appreciated being prepared for every situation they could imagine.

The guy whose wife was in Hawaii was somewhere in between the two extremes. He showed me around the house and explained the operation of the newfangled, computerized washer and dryer. He pointed out the magnet on the refrigerator with a phone number for a 24 hour emergency vet. He let me know I could call or text him if I needed anything, and that was that.

I have been very happy with House Sitters America. I’ve gotten four house sitting gigs through the website, all of which have turned out well. Early in November, my HSA membership was up for renewal, and I plunked down my $30 to continue with the service. I think House Sitters America is a great resource for people who want to expand their house sitting possibilities beyond family, friends, and friends of friends.

I took this photo of the view from the back deck of the house where I sat with the independent cat.

I took this photo of the view from the back deck of the house where I sat with the independent cat.

Two Short Reviews of Books About Slavery

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Today I planned to share a review of the book Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. When I looked at the review, I realized it was very short, so I looked for another review that could go with it. I found I’d also read and reviewed My Folks Don’t Want Me to Talk about Slavery: Twenty-one Oral Histories of Former North Carolina Slaves. Not only are both books histories of enslaved people in the United States, both are also about slavery in the Carolinas. The first book is about a family in South Carolina. The second book contains the oral histories of people who were enslaved in North Carolina.

At its most basic level, Slaves in the Family is the true story of a man (the author, Edward Ball) who is the descendant of a slave-owning family from the Southern United States. Ball grew curious about the people his family once owned and went on a quest to learn about those enslaved people and their descendants. His quest took him across the U.S., as well as to Sierra Leon, the point in Africa where the forced labor of many enslaved people began.

On a broader level, this book is a history of slave trading and slavery in the United States, particularly in South Carolina, where a vast number of enslaved people first entered the United States. This book shed light (at least for me) on the role slavery played in instigating the Revolutionary War. It also explained events leading up to the Civil War, as well as why South Carolina took a lead in secession.

Edward Ball obviously spent a great deal of time researching his family and the people they owned, as well as the history of slavery in his home state of South Carolina and beyond.

I especially appreciated the passages where Ball allowed the descendants of enslaved people to tell their families’ passed-down stories to refute the Ball family oral tradition of being kind and benevolent masters. I appreciated it even more when Ball used his family’s historical records to support what the descendants of the enslaved said and refute his own family stories.

The 400+ pages of text is followed by several family trees, tracing the descendants of several women enslaved by the Ball family; many pages of notes; and an index.

While this book was not dumbed down in any way, it’s accessible and easy to read. Edward Ball definitely wrote this book to appeal to a wide audience. This book should be mandatory reading for any South Carolina history class, as well as any class focused on slavery in the United States. It’s also a must-read for any student of antebellum history, as well as an interesting and compelling work of nonfiction.

My Folks Don’t Want Me to Talk About Slavery, edited by Belinda Hurmence,  contains the stories of real people who were enslaved in North Carolina. These folks (in their 80s and 90s and 100s at the time) told their stories to people working for the Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression. Over 2,000 former slaves participated in this project. This book collects the oral histories of twenty-one former slaves from North Carolina.

Most of these stories are three or four pages long and are written the way the people who told them spoke. Some talk about beatings and abuse, scarcity of food, and lack of adequate clothing and housing. More disturbing to me where the people who said they had been better off under slavery.

This book is sobering, and needs to be read widely. It should be read in every high school and collage American history class, as well as by every adult who calls him or herself an American.

Motels of Mesa

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The Hiway Host Motel sign on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

The Hiway Host Motel sign on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

On a multi-block strip of Main Street in Mesa, Arizona, one can find several old motels. The rates are cheap (especially for folks who go the weekly or monthly route) and the living can be rough. Yes, it’s a part of the city I wouldn’t care to walk in alone after dark (although I have before). Many of the folks walking around the area seem to dabble in (or perhaps concentrate on) methamphetamine, which leads me to refer to the neighborhood places of lodging as “meth motels.”

img_5963As is often the case, it wasn’t always this way. Main Street in Mesa was once part of U.S. Route 80. According to a vintage postcard website,

U. S. Highway 80 was one of the original Federal Highways commissioned in 1926 along with some of its more famous newly numbered cousins such as U. S. 66 – “The Mother Road”, U. S. 30 – “The Lincoln Highway”, and U. S. 40 – “The National Highway…”

[I]t was probably more important [than the other, more famous, named highways mentioned above] because it was an all-weather, all-year route that was dependable to transcontinental travelers.

Wikipedia says,

U.S. Route 80 (US 80) also known as the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway was a major transcontinental highway which existed in the U.S. state of Arizona from November 11, 1926 to October 6, 1989.[2][4] At its peak, US 80 traveled from the California border in Yuma to the New Mexico state line near Lordsburg...[5]

Low weekly rates appeal to the modern clientele on Mesa's Main Street.

Low weekly rates and kitchenettes at the Trava-Leers Motel probably appeal to the modern clientele on Mesa’s Main Street.

US 80 was a particularly long highway, reaching almost 500 miles (800 km) long within the state of Arizona alone.[7] With the advent of the Interstate Highway System, Interstate 10 and Interstate 8 both replaced US 80 within the state.[8] US 80 was removed from Arizona in 1989; the remainder of it now being State Route 80.[5]

The folks who named this hotel didn't know--or didn't care--that kivas are used religiously and people from the Pueblo tribes don't wear feather headdresses.

The folks who named this hotel and designed the sign didn’t know–or didn’t care–that kivas are used religiously and people from the Pueblo tribes don’t wear feather headdresses.

 

In a 2012 article about preservation of the neon history on Main Street in Mesa, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation Victor Linoff said,

I think "refrigerated" meant "air conditioned."

I think “refrigerated” meant “air conditioned.”

From quite a distance, you’re traveling in your car, you’re tired, you want to stop for the night or get something to eat. These signs pulled you in. They were like beacons in the night.

In the aforementioned article, Demion Clinco, president of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, said of neon signs,

They are emblematic of the classic automobile age in America, [t]hat mid-century modern highway culture that just doesn’t exist anymore.

Not all of the old motels on Main Street have neon signs. Maybe some of them never had neon and simply relied on their competitors’ signs to draw enough people into the general area. There were probably enough drivers passing through to ensure every business got a piece of the pie.  Some neon signs have been lost to the ravages of time. At least a couple of the motels lacking cool signs still boast cool architecture.

This photo shows a view of the Citrus Inn. There are parking spots for cars between the rooms.

This photo shows a view of the Citrus Inn. There are parking spots for cars between the rooms. The Citrus Inn has a really boring, modern sign, but its architecture is old-fashioned cool.

I particularly like the motels with parking spaces between the rooms. The Citrus Inn is designed this way. The open space between the two rooms is big enough for two cars. A covered parking area is a huge luxury for anyone whose car would otherwise be pounded by the Arizona summer sun.

I think this photo shows the Kiva Lodge, but I'm not positive. In any case, it's another example a motel with covered parking next to the rooms. I also like the turquoise accents and the red Spanish tile on the awning.

I think this photo shows the Kiva Lodge, but I’m not positive. In any case, it’s another example a motel with covered parking next to the rooms. I also like the turquoise accents and the red Spanish tile on the awning.

The motels of Mesa and their signs are part of Arizona history and U.S. history too. They are relics of a time before motel chains, when each motel on the road was part of a unique travel experience.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Declaration of My Independence

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When I was with my boyfriend who turned out to be not very nice, I didn’t make many decisions. Oh, he said he wanted me to make decisions, but the choices I made more often than not turned out to be the wrong ones. It was just less complicated to go along with whatever he wanted.

When I left him, I suddenly was able to decide for myself. No one tried to influence my decisions. No one tried to subtly (or not so subtly) manipulate me. No one told me I was wrong.

When I hit the road with the traveling kids (Mr. Carolina, Sweet L, the Fighting Couple), I was typically happy to do whatever the rest of the group wanted to do. No one was proposing anything I was opposed to, so it was easy to agree. Mr. Carolina, however, always made sure to ask in his Southern drawl, What do you want to do, Blaize? I could tell he truly wanted to know, too. He was honestly interested in what I thought. He really wanted to make sure I had a say in what happened next. He really wanted me to get my needs met.

Sometimes I’d assure him I was happy to go along with whatever proposition was on the table. Sometimes I shared what I thought was a better idea. Always, his question gave me permission to stop and really think about what I wanted to do. His question allowed me to decide if I really wanted to go along with what everyone else wanted. His question kept me from agreeing to do something simply because that’s what all the cool kids were doing.

Having someone ask me what I wanted and taking my response into account was a heady new experience. At some point, in response to Mr. Carolina’s question, What do you want to do, Blaize? the answer that popped out of my mouth was Whatever the fuck I want! It was sort of a joke, but it was also a declaration of my independence.

After I said it the first time, I said it more and more. We’d be doing something–puttering down the interstate in the van, cooking breakfast, lying in the dark waiting to fall asleep–and randomly I would say, Hey, Mr. Carolina, you know what I’m doing right now?

He’d always ask, What? even after I’d asked the question so many times we both knew what was coming next.

What? he’d ask, and I would answer Whatever the fuck I want!

I felt then–and still feel today–blessed–not to mention liberated–to know that most minutes of most hours of most day, I’m doing just what I want to do.

 

Healing Touch

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I was on a road trip with my host family, traveling from the Midwest to the Deep South.

The Man and the Lady of the House were taking turns driving. I didn’t have a driver’s license, so I was relegated to the back seat, stuck in the middle between The Boy in his booster seat to my right and the surly teenage brother of the Man of the House on my left. For over 850 miles, my feet perched on the hump in the middle of the floor, keeping my knees bent and closer to my chin than comfortable.

When we stopped at a motel for the night, I could barely walk. My knee hurt. My knee hurt badly. My knee hurt terribly. My knee hurt when I flexed it. My knee hurt when I walked.

Up to that point in my life, hurt had only happened because of something I had done. I’d hurt my back in ridiculous ways: sneezing, reaching for a towel. I’d hurt my ankles by twisting them while walking. But I’d never hurt myself by sitting still.

I hobbled into the motel room and got some sleep. My knee didn’t hurt when I kept it still; it only hurt when I tried to use it. Of course, my instinct told me not to move it if moving it hurt. I didn’t realize my best bet was to keep moving it until I worked out the kinks.

The next morning I hobbled back out to the car and folded myself again into the middle seat. I guess the surly teenage brother got the window seat because he was taller, with longer legs. As a shortie, I’ve always taken the seat with the least leg room, so it didn’t occur to me to ask him to switch places or even insist upon it. I was his elder, after all, and I was in pain, but the middle seemed to be my destiny, so I went with it.

By the time we arrived at our final destination, I was in A LOT OF PAIN. I hobbled into the house. I lay down on a bed and told the Lady of the House how much it hurt. She looked at me with sympathy. I asked her to put some healing touch on me.

Healing touch was something I’d learned from a midwife at an infoshop. In the workshop, she taught us to mostly hover our hands over the body of the person we wanted to heal. When we felt a change in energy, we were to keep our hands above that area and concentrate on smoothing out any roughness we found in the energy. If the healer and the person with the pain both felt comfortable, the healer could do some actual light physical touch.

My mistake came from forgetting that the Lady of the House had not attended the midwife-led healing touch workshop. My mistake came from forgetting that the Lady of the House had not attended any healing touch workshop ever. My mistake came from failing to define terms or otherwise using my words to explain what I wanted the Lady to do.

As far as I know, the Lady of the House has never been trained as a chiropractor. I’ve never been treated by a chiropractor, so my ideas of what they do is shrouded in myth and legend. But in my mind, what the Lady did next was closer to a chiropractic manipulation than a gentle laying of hands.

I was lying on my back with my knee bent, leg raised, with my foot and buttocks lifted off the bed. The Lady of the House grabbed my foot and in one swift motion, straightened my leg. She didn’t stop there. Oh, no, she didn’t. She hyperextended my knee, not drastically, but enough to make me yell in pain. That shit hurt!

However, as I looked at her in disbelief and suspicion, I started moving my knee. It didn’t hurt. She had healed me.

She probably should have enrolled in chiropractic school as soon as she returned home. She seemed to be a natural.