Author Archives: Blaize Sun

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

3 Easy Ways to Make Coffee When Camping (Guest Post)

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I’m not an avid coffee drinker myself. Sure, I enjoy a caffeine buzz occasionally, especially if I’m trying to get some work done, but if I were on a camping trip and had no coffee to drink…no problem.

I know many other people feel differently than I do when it comes to having a cup of coffee in the morning. A morning without coffee could make an otherwise lovely camping trip hell for lots of folks. That’s why I was glad when Joshua Hodge, the founder of the Deep Blue Mountain outdoor blog offered to write a guest post about how to make delicious coffee while camping.

Joshua offers advice on making coffee three simple ways so even in the great outdoors, you don’t have to be without your favorite java.

Loyal fans of coffee like to enjoy the beverage everywhere from our cozy kitchens in the morning to our desks while working in the afternoons. Coffee is the thing that moves us, and without it our days can be grim

Access to coffee–anytime, anywhere we want it–should be the right of every coffee lover. However, there are some places where getting our favorite drink can be tough and troublesome. Unfortunately while on a camping trip can be one one of those challenging times for coffee drinkers.

Today I will teach you how to make coffee outdoors while camping. This tutorial will focus on more traditional and natural ways to make coffee so expect your coffee to be bold and wild.

Cowboy coffee 

Probably the easiest way to make coffee while camping is cowboy coffee. This method is for all those who value simplicity and have an adventurous spirit.

For this kind of coffee, you will only need three components: good quality ground coffee, a pot, and a heat source.

Your cowboy coffee can taste pretty awful or incredibly great, depending on the recipe you use. I think the recipe I am about to share with you will lead to coffee that will be a treat for your senses.

  • Add water to the pot and bring it to a boil – preferably using a campfire.
  • Once the water starts boiling, remove the pot and let it sit for 30 seconds. (Letting the water sit will bring it to the ideal temperature of 200°F. )
  • For every 8 ounces of water, add 2 tablespoons of finely ground beans (preferably from a local roastery).
  • Stir the grounds into the water.
  • Let your brew sit for 2 minutes then stir again.
  • Let it to sit for another 2 minutes after stirring.
  • After 4 minutes of brewing, sprinkle a little bit of cold water over your grounds.
  • Slowly pour the coffee, to keep grounds on the bottom of the pot.

Important note: Do not let the brew sit for too long,or it will get over-extracted. You will get the best aroma and taste if you pour immediately after brewing. 

Voila, your cup of Joe the cowboy way is ready, and it tastes great, doesn’t it? – If you followed the recipe, I know it does.

Cowboy coffee is ideal for camping – it is bold, untamed, and rich, with the spirit of the Old West. 

Coffee in a tea bag

This is a simple method in the form of good-old-fashioned tea bags packed with tasty grounds. You can find many delicious coffee grounds packed in bags from coffee beans coming from Guatemala, Indonesia, Ethiopia, or any other region you prefer. You can also make your own coffee bags according to Thorin Klosowski on Lifehacker.

Even more, coffee in teabags can really offer interesting combinations of taste and give specific overtones – like smoky, chocolate, or fruity. If you prefer a variety of coffee aromas and love exotic or interesting overtones, teabag coffee is an ideal option for your camping adventure.

Now, let me show you how convenient and easy it to make a tea bag coffee cuppa. It is as easy as steeping a tea bag and it works like this:

  • Put the coffee brew bag in your mug and pour hot water over.
  • Steep until you get the strength you want and then remove the bag.

The best part of a tea bag coffee is that you control the whole brewing process and dictate the taste. Additionally, most of the coffee bags are recyclable. Tea Bag coffee is simple to prepare and can almost taste as good as, say, French press coffee. You will treat yourself to a decent cup of coffee and a range of aromas if you decide to go for this option while camping.

The magnificent percolator

The third method for coffee making is using a percolator. This method is for those who don’t want to compromise their coffee’s taste, even while camping. With this method, you’ll experience the wafting smell of coffee and a bold, rich taste. With a percolater, you’ll be able to brew large amounts of coffee, so your coffee-drinking camp mates will be satisfied sooner.

Not every percolator is the same, and there are nuances when choosing the right one. I suggest checking this percolator guide to see what kind of percolator best fits your needs.

Percolators have two parts that are responsible for making the coffee: a pot and a vertical tube. Additionally, the vertical tube has a perforated basket on top of it where the grounds are held during brewing. 

The process of brewing using a percolator involves hot water (heated on a fire) going up the vertical tube and entering the basket where the grounds are. Next, water goes through the grounds, extracts soluble matter from them, and goes back into the pot. This cycle repeats until your tasty, bold coffee is ready. Many percolators have a viewing bubble which will allow you to observe when coffee gets the right color.

A percolator may need a little “getting used to” for best results. In that light, here are a few tips for beginners:

  • To determine capacity – Divide the amount of water the percolator holds by 5 and the result will be the number of servings 
  • Coffee strength – Half of a standard coffee measure will get you light coffee. Three-quarters of the measure will produce medium strength coffee. A whole measure will give you strong coffee.

Conclusion

Camping will take you far from stressful days in the city and open your senses to the wilderness. Meanwhile, your body and soul will rest, and the time spent outdoors will allow you to reconnect with yourself and nature. However, it’s not a full experience if you give up coffee.

Hopefully I’ve provided the easiest methods for a more than a decent cup of Joe on your camping trip. Choose the method that fit your needs and personality the best, and feel free to experiment.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-grill-fire-heating-up-1031139/

Is This America? (Blog Post Bonus)

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Since today is American Independence Day, I thought I’d share an American story with you as a blog post bonus.

A couple of months before I started working at the fuel center (aka gas station), the corporation that owns it decided to stop accepting a major credit card. According to a flier given to customers before the major credit card was blackballed, the company I worked for

is charged excessive bank fees when customers use [the major credit card in question] at the checkout. To help keep your grocery price low, we’ve decided not to accept [this particular major credit card].

At the time I worked there, the fuel center accepted three other major credit cards, as well as debit cards, including debit cards with the name of the credit card we didn’t accept on them.  Confused? So were the customers.

The folks who lived in town and got fuel regularly where I worked were slowly growing accustomed to the change, but I worked in a tourist town, and the tourists who stopped in for fuel were in a perpetual state of WTF. Every day at least five visitors ran their card two or three times before the screen on the pump instructed the person pumping fuel to see the cashier. (Of course, when I was at work, the cashier was me.) Nine out of ten of the customers sent to see me were already pissed off. I could see it in their faces and their body language. When I told them the problem was that the store quit accepting their credit card of choice months earlier, they were usually incredulous. Some of them wanted to discuss the situation with me (What card CAN I use? or Can I use my debit card?) but some simply walked away without speaking, looks of anger and/or disgust on their faces.

You must be the only gas station in the country that doesn’t take [the credit card he wanted to use], one visitor spat at me during my last week of work.

Maybe, I said noncommittally to him. I wasn’t going to argue with him because for all I knew, he was right.

Many of the locals who knew they couldn’t use the particular credit card where I worked were not too happy about the situation. One elderly lady gave me an earful. Neither the bulletproof glass between us nor the scratchy intercom deterred her.

I know it’s not your fault, but it is ridiculous you don’t take [the credit card in question]. And it’s a shame they make you say it’s to keep prices low. Every time I go into the supermarket, everything is so expensive! My friends don’t even come here anymore.

I cut in to offer my apologies, but she didn’t want to hear them. She just wanted to rant.

I know it’s not your fault, she repeated, then started back in with her tirade.

I wanted to ask her why she was making me listen to her complaints if she knew the situation was not my fault and I could do nothing to remedy it, but instead I kept my mouth shut and tried to appear sympathetic. I didn’t understand why she continued to spend money where I worked if she thought the prices were too high and she hated the payment options.

The fellow in line behind her must have been tired of listening to her too. He was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, and he probably weighted upwards of 200 pounds. While he didn’t physically push the little old lady away, he used his size to intimidate her, so she stepped off to the side of the drawer I used to collect payment and deliver cigarettes, candy, and change. While the lady was still complaining, the large customer drowned out her voice by demanding, $25 on 6!

The elderly lady looked startled, then scurried away.

On the one hand, I thought the male customer had behaved very rudely.

What’s wrong with you? I wanted to ask him. That woman was old enough to be your mother. Would you want someone to treat your mother that way?

On the other hand, God bless him. If he hadn’t stepped up, that lady might have gone on for another five minutes.

Of course, each pump had a sticker saying we only took the debit version of the card. Of course, most customers don’t read the words on gas pumps.

One afternoon an elderly man approached the kiosk while a manager was in there with me. She happened to be closest to the intercom when the fellow walked up, so she asked how she could help him.

He said the screen on the pump had told him to see the cashier. The manager asked him if he was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. He confirmed that he was. The manager told him we’d stopped taking that card several months prior. He was obviously livid.

The customer stomped off, and the manager went to the back of the kiosk, out of sight. I thought she’d left.

Maybe two minutes later, I looked out of the bulletproof glass to see the already angry customer booking it back to the kiosk. When he reached the window, I switched on the intercom and asked how I could help him.

You don’t take [card we didn’t take], right? he asked me.

That’s right, I told him.

Then why does every pump have a sticker saying you take it? he wanted to know. He really thought he had me now.

Oh, sir, I said nicely, those stickers say ‘debit only.”

He spun on his heels and took off without a word.

I thought his head was going to explode, my manager said.

I thought you’d left, I said to her.

I saw him coming back, so I ducked out of sight.

I’m really glad you saw that, I told her. It happens all the time.

A few days later a youngish woman came up to the kiosk. She was holding two red two-gallon gas cans. She seemed a little frantic.

The pump told me to see the cashier, she said to me.

Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take], I asked her. She was.

I’m sorry. We quit taking those in April.

Now I’ve lost my place in line, she screeched. There should be a sign! There should be a sign!

I tried to tell her about the stickers on the pumps, but she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. She was already crossing the fuel center to negotiate with the woman who had pulled her truck up to the pump the woman with the gas cans had been trying to use.

My favorite response from a frustrated credit card user came one busy afternoon. The line was about five deep when a man stepped up the window and told me the screen on the pump had instructed him to see the cashier.

I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept. He said he was. I told him we didn’t accept it.

He busted out with, Is this America?

I almost busted out laughing, but managed to keep a straight face. I don’t know if the guy was referencing the free enterprise system or the Rah! Rah! Rah! U!S!A! freedoms certain segments of the population tend to celebrate. All I knew was it didn’t matter what country we were in—I couldn’t process the card he wanted to use.

I took the photo in this post.

You Fishing?

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Tackle Box With Fishing Lures and Rods

According to the National Today website, yesterday was National Go Fishing Day. I didn’t go fishing yesterday, but in honor of the missed “holiday,” today I’ll tell you a story about fishing of a different kind.

Have you ever been to a gas station and seen colored circles in the concrete? Those colored circles are lids to the spill buckets. I don’t know exactly what role the spill buckets play in the fuel center system, but I do know water should not be allowed to sit in them. If water sits in them, the water can (somehow) get into the fuel, a huge no-no.

At the fuel center where I worked briefly, water ended up in at least half of the spill buckets when it rained more than a drizzle Some would only have a bit of water in them, while others would end up with a couple inches of liquid in them. It was the job of the fuel clerk on duty to use absorbent pads to soak up the liquid.

Checking the spill buckets was on the list of duties for both the opening and closing clerks. When I opened (often) or closed (hardly ever), I made sure to act accordingly where the spill buckets were concerned.

One day my shift started at noon. The midday worked did not have “check spill buckets” on the list of duties, so I did not check the spill buckets. After the opening clerk had left to get items to restock the fuel center, one of the assistant store managers showed up at the fuel center and checked the spill buckets. She found about two inches of water in most of them and sent me out with absorbent pads to soak up the water.

Soaking up the liquid in the spill buckets was one of my least favorite

Man Wearing White Tank Top

duties. For one thing, it was dirty work. Just lifting the lids left dust and grease on my hands. When I had to stick my hands down down down into the spill bucket to put the absorbent pads in place, I’d usually end up with dirt, grease, and mud (and sometimes dirty, muddy grease) all over my forearms.

Another reason I hated dealing with the spill buckets was because doing so was dangerous. I had to get on my knees in order to reach down into the spill buckets. Although I am not an insubstantial person, I felt invisible while so low to the ground. Also, the spill buckets were located in an area drivers often zipped through as a shortcut out of the parking lot. Every time I was on the ground trying to dry out those spill buckets, I felt like the living ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Once when I was putting pads in a spill bucket, a small SUV came too close for comfort. I don’t know where it came from. I think it was heading to pump 10, but for some reason the driver started backing it up. To say it almost hit me is a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly scared me. It wasn’t there, then suddenly it was.

Hey! Hey! Hey!  I started yelling. I can’t remember if I jumped up or crouched there paralyzed with fear.

The driver stopped the vehicle and stuck his head out the rolled-down window. His eyes were big. Are you ok? he asked me.

I’m ok, I told him. You didn’t hit me, but you did scare me.

You scared me, he said, but he wasn’t the one who’d come close to bodily harm. Then he rolled up his window and left without fueling up.

I guess he was so scared by almost hitting you that he decided to go get gas somewhere else, another customer joked.

On the day the manager found inches of water in the spill buckets and had me handle the situation, I asked the morning fuel clerk about it when he came back with the items for the restock. He said he had put absorbent pads into the spill buckets early in the day, but the fuel delivery guy must have pulled them out when he came over later. At best, my coworker had done half his job. It wasn’t enough to put pads in there and never check on them again. He should have gone back to pull the soggy pads out, at which point he would have seen the delivery driver had pulled them out already and that there was still water that needed to be absorbed.

After that day, if I came in at noon on a day after it had rained, I checked the spill buckets even though doing so wasn’t on my list of responsibilities. Whenever I asked my coworker about the condition of the spill buckets after a rain, he always thought I was talking about the buckets with squeegees and fluid for cleaning windshields. When I point in the direction of the spill buckets and said, no, those, he always assured me they were fine. They were never fine. Finally I quit asking him and just handled the problem.

One morning I opened the fuel center and checked the spill buckets as I was supposed to. To my chagrin, I found water in more than half of them. I went back to the kiosk and grabbed several absorbent pads. I also grabbed two orange safety cones and put those down on either side of me. I hoped drivers would see the orange cones even if they missed my big butt and fluorescent pink safety vest.

While I was down on my knees, I saw a small pickup truck pull in next to the air pump. I knew the air pump wasn’t working and was glad there was an “out of order” sign on it. A few minutes later, I noticed a man walking across the fuel center toward me.

Is the air pump really out of order? he asked me.

It took everything I had not to say something sarcastic to the guy. Why would we put an “out of order” sign on an air pump that was functioning normally? If we were lying about the air pump being out of order, why did he think I would be honest with him and tell him it was really working?

I held my tongue except to say, Yes, sir. It’s really out of order.

Oh, that’s too bad, he said as if he were hoping I’d change my story about the functionality of the air pump.

I exercised my right to remain silent while I continued to shove absorbent pads down into the wet spill bucket.

Are you fishing? the fellow asked me, and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I know the guy thought he was making a good joke, but for a joke to work, the recipient of it has to think it’s funny too. I didn’t think it was one bit funny. Annoying? Yes. Ridiculous? For sure. Funny? Not a bit.

The fellow reminded me of my grandmother’s second husband who insisted on calling me “blondie” even though I had dark hair. Neither man really cared about making me laugh; both men just wanted a reaction out of me, and if that reaction was irritation or anger, well, that was better than nothing.

I didn’t give this asshat the satisfaction of my anger, but he probably could

Selective Focus of Brown Fishing Reel

tell I was irritated. Of course I wasn’t fishing. I obviously wasn’t fishing. I didn’t even have a fishing pole. Did he think I was noodling for catfish living in a concrete hole?

No, I’m not fishing, I said, and I’m sure he could tell I thought he was being an idiot. I’m getting water out of here so it doesn’t mix with the fuel.

Then I turned my attention back to the wet spill bucket and the absorbent pads. When I looked up again, the fellow was heading back to his truck. I was glad to be done with his foolish questions. 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/tackle-box-with-fishing-lures-and-rods-1430123/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-white-tank-top-1325619/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-of-brown-fishing-reel-1687242/.

The Land of Broken Dreams

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I live in a harsh land, closer to nature than I ever dreamed possible when I lived in cities. All around me is evidence of people who came out here with big dreams only to abandon them. Why did they leave? I’ll never know for sure, but I can enumerate the ways the harshness of this place could discourage a homesteader. Today I’ll tell you about the conditions here and show you photos of what has been left behind.

I’m going to leave this brokedown palace on my hands and my knees…

While spring is mellow of temperature, when days warm, the wind comes. Growing up in the Deep South, winds weren’t even a concern unless they belonged to a hurricane. I thought I knew winds from my time in the Midwest, but the winds of the plains (if not those of a tornado) are nothing next to the winds of New Mexico.

Before I moved permanently to Northern New Mexico but after I had spent months here over several years, my memory of the winds had them starting in the afternoon and blowing strong and hard for a few hours, slowing down substantially by sunset. This may be a false memory, because that’s not how the wind is blowing these days. Now the wind starts at 10 or 11 in the morning and blows relentlessly until sometimes 9 or 10 at night. Last week, the wind was blowing at 8am.

A spiritual friend who lives around here once told me that the wind blows one’s aura and makes it bumpy or jagged instead of smooth She might be on to something. After hours of constant, strong blowing of the wind I feel off, not quite myself, agitated. The sound alone is enough to put me on edge; the constant rocking of the trailer destroys my mental equilibrium. There’s something about wondering if the roof will be peeled off or if the entire trailer is going to flip that harshes my mellow.

This abandoned shipping container has whimsical paintings on all four sides.

The hours of moving air (and its sound and the way it moves the trailer) would be bad enough, but with the wind comes dust. During times of strongest wind, we must leave the doors and windows closed lest the dust come in and cover everything we own. Sometimes dust devils blow across our property and slam into our trailer. Sometimes the short dust storm takes us by surprise, and we can’t get a door or window closed before it hits, leading to dust on the floor, dust on the clean dishes in the drying rack, dust on the blankets lying on the bed. I now have a small knowledge of what people in the 1930s experienced during the Dust Bowl in the United States.

The upside of the wind is that it pushes away the no-see-ums. Some folks call these insects from the Ceratopogonidae family sage gnats, some call them biting midges, but let’s just call them hell. The first three summers I spent in the area I encountered none of these bugs and no mosquitoes either. I thought I had discovered a magical land with no bugs. The Man independently arrived at the same conclusion. We were fools.

What was happening (I’m pretty sure, but I have not consulted an entomologist) is that the area was so deep in drought, no bugs were hatching. The eggs were out there, waiting for enough moisture to make life viable.

Burnt car

The drought had broken by the time The Man and I returned in 2017. Those no-see-um suckers were everywhere. We fought them for a couple of months. Spoiler alert: we found nothing to deter them, not DEET, not the $15 bottle of natural insect repellent I bought at the herb store after the lady working there told me the concoction would protect me. In the later part of June, we ran away to work in California to in order to escape the beasts.

One problem with the no-see-ums is that you don’t know when they’re biting you. They are super tiny (hence their name) and (like chiggers) their bite causes no immediate pain. Hours after being outside, one feels an itch and knows it has begun.

There are a lot of abandoned vehicles in my neighborhood.

I grew up with Southern mosquitoes. I’ve suffered countless mosquito bites in my lifetime. For me, a mosquito bite usually itches for about 20 minutes or half an hour, then the itch and the red welt is gone. The no-see-um bites itch intermittently for days. There is swelling and redness at the site of the bite, and the itching can come at any time. The no-see-um bits have more in common with chigger bites than those from mosquitoes.

Last year was a wet one. The area got a lot of snow in the winter and spring (the last snow at our place was in May), and once the snow ended, the rains came. All the moisture led to a long season of no-see-ums. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives said they’d never seen a no-see-um season quite so bad go on for quite so long.

We all fall down.

This year has been dryer, but the no-see-ums are out, and they seem worse than last year. The mesh of our screens is not fine enough to keep the little boogers out, but they weren’t coming in through the screen last year. This year we’re not so lucky, although I’m not sure why they’re coming in this way now. These days we long for the wind to blow and keep the little insects away.

The no-see-ums seem to like to bite The Man more than they like to bite me, and he has a worse reaction to the bites. It’s not unusual for his bites to itch so badly that he scratches them raw and bloody. Mine don’t itch quite so badly, but they tend to stay red and swollen for days after the attack.

The opposite of vanlife.

When you live out here, at certain times of the year you dare not go outside without suiting up. Going out in shorts and a tank top during no-see-um days is looking for trouble. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, and shoes before going outside. The Man does the same and adds a bug deterrent mesh over his face. Still, the bugs can fly up a sleeve or a pant leg and leave bites in places I don’t know how an insect could reach.

If a person survives the wind and the dust and the bugs, there are a few months available for tranquil productivity. I suspect most of the homesteading progress occurs in the summer when days are long, mornings are sunny, nights are cool, and an afternoon wet monsoon offers the opportunity for a siesta.

Unfortunately, summers are short around here. My first summer in the area, when I was homeless and sleeping outside, my local friends started worrying in August about how I would live during the coming winter. I’m from the South where life is just getting comfortable in October. When I lived in the Midwest, no one expected snow before Halloween. In northern New Mexico, people told me snow could fly any time after Labor Day.

I didn’t peek here either, but I could tell this fifth wheel is deserted.

This past winter, the first snow fell in October, before Halloween. That made for a long enough winter. I can’t imagine if the snow had started early in September. Old timers have told us this past winter was a mild one, although it seemed plenty cold to me. People who’ve lived here for decades talk of winters with lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. People tell us of snow falling and piling up through the season, only melting in spring.

The door of this mud structure is open to the elements. No one seems to live in the fifth wheel either.

This past winter, we went through multiple cycles of snow/freeze/melt which led to the dreaded mud. I’ve written about the mud out here before, but let me say again, it’s no joke. Driving anywhere off our land was an exercise in slip sliding away and the possibility of getting stuck. Almost everyone living around us got stuck in the mud at lease once, even the folks with 4x4s.

If the weather don’t get you, the hauling water will. The water table is deep here. It would cost thousands of dollars to dig a well so most people don’t. There is a community well that folks can buy into. The price per gallon is good, but the liquid still has to be hauled. People need trucks for hauling water and a big container too. We have a 50 gallon container for hauling water. A 100 or 250 gallon container would be better. Homesteaders also need a big container to put the hauled water in. All those containers are expensive, especially ones that are made from food-grade materials.

I don’t know if this trailer was vandalized or decorated.

I’ve heard that when it snowed more here, people with big cisterns could collect enough snow melt to basically get through the summer. The cisterns were topped off by the abundant water from the summer monsoon rains.When I first came here, I met an elderly woman who had been living off snow melt and rainwater for years, but she was having a hard time because of the drought. I don’t know if the weather has been wet enough lately for folks to collect water like they once did.

Want to grow food? Good luck! The soil is basically pure clay out here. The soil will have to be enriched if anything is going to grow. Raised beds or container gardening would probably be a better idea. Most of the water needed for irrigation will have to be hauled. Finally, the growing season is short around here with last frost in May and first frost in September.

All this is not to complain but to say it can be a hard life out here, especially for folks without piles of money. Some people make it and some people give up. Of course, some people get old or sick and leave because they can’t live such a rough life anymore. Some people are carried away by death.

I walk through this land of broken dreams and wonder where the people went. When they left, did they think they’d be back in a week or a month, in the spring, next year? When they left, did they know they’d never be back? Why didn’t they sell or give away the trailer, the propane tanks, the land? Why leave it all behind to rust and rot?

I wonder what my dreams will look like when I’m gone. Will they seem broken too, or will what I leave behind look like success?

I took the photos in this post. If you want to see more of my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.

Communication Breakdown

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The customer seemed quite confused when he approached the kiosk at the supermarket fuel center.

It was during the early days of my brief career as a clerk at the fuel center (aka gas station). I was stationed inside a kiosk and communicated with customers through a poorly functioning intercom system.

The customer was an older man with a long white beard and a big straw hat over his white hair. He was dressed like a city cowboy or maybe a vacationer at a dude ranch, but when he spoke, he had an accent that was maybe from Australia or maybe from New Zealand. I never can tell the difference between the accents, but I remember from my days working in tourist traps in New Orleans that New Zealanders and Australians can get testy when they’re confused for one another.

I asked the fellow how I could help him today, and he told me the communication screen at the pump had instructed him to see the cashier. I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept, and he was. I assured him the use of that particular credit card was the problem.

He rummaged through his wallet. He found another credit card to use. He decided that since he was already standing in front of me, he would pay me instead of trying to pay at the pump.

I asked what pump he was on, and he said he was on pump 2. I asked how much he wanted to put on pump 2.

He started rambling out loud, doing some elaborate calculations involving how much fuel was already in the tank, the number of gallons the tank held, how far he was going, how far he had already gone, the distance we were from the equator, and the alignment of the stars. (Okay, yes, I made up those last two factors.) Finally he said he would take eleven on pump 2.

I assumed he wanted to spend $11 on fuel on pump 2. (I know, Dad, when I assume, I make an ass of u and me.) All day long, people told me they wanted twenty on 2 or ten on 6 or fifteen on 8. Most people never even said the word dollars.

So the guy put his credit card in the drawer, and I pulled the drawer into the kiosk with me. I authorized pump 2 to give the customer $11 worth of fuel, then ran the credit card for $11. When the transaction was complete, I put the customer’s card and receipt in the drawer and slid it back out to him. He took the card and receipt and walked to pump 2.

It wasn’t long before the fellow was back at my window.

Oh goodness. What now?  I thought.

How can I help you? I asked and forced a smile.

He told me pump 2 had quit pumping. I looked over at the POS (point-of-sale) system that showed me the activity on all pumps. Yep, pump 2 had quit pumping because this guy had pumped his $11 worth of fuel.

Yes, sir, I said through the intercom. I authorized the pump for $11 and you pumped $11 worth of fuel.

Eleven dollars? he asked as if I were an idiot. I wanted 11 gallons!

I wanted to ask him how I was supposed to know he meant 11 gallons. I wanted to ask him if I looked like a mind reader. I wanted to point out that he’d never said the word “gallons.” Alas, I knew I’d never said the word “dollars.” He could have asked me how he was supposed to know I meant 11 dollars. He could have asked me if he looked like a mind reader. (No, not particularly, I would have had to reply.) We were at an impasse because we’d both failed in our communication.

Because of customer service and all of that, I said wearily, I’m so sorry about that sir. My mistake. Would you like me to run your card for another amount?

He chose another amount and sent his credit card in to me. I authorized the pump, ran the card, then sent it back out to him. He was a little miffed, but not excessively angry. I was ready to move on to the next transaction, hoping the next customer and I would not experience a communication breakdown.

Thankful Thursday June 2020

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Even as this tree grows among rocks, I keep on keeping on.

Even in a world full of unkowns, I have a lot for which to be grateful. Let me count the ways.

#1 First and foremost, The Man and I have our health. Neither of us have or have had symptoms of COVID-19. We’re both doing well. Jerico the dog is well too, although sometimes his acid reflux condition rears up or he strains a leg while playing ball.

#2 No one I’m close to has been sick with COVID-19. A couple of distant friends from my young adult years have come down with it, as did my sibling’s friend’s husband. Thankfully, they’ve all recovered. My mom and her husband are ok, as are The Man’s father and his wife. My sibling is fine, despite an immune disorder. My sibling’s spouse and child are fine too. The Man’s siblings, siblings-in-law, and nieces and nephews are doing well. Our elderly friends haven’t gotten sick. We are grateful that COVID-19 has not struck close to home.

#3 I appreciate Brent’s recent financial support, the cool things he sent in the mail, and his ongoing emotional support and friendship.

#4 I appreciate the anonymous supporter who recently clicked the donation button in the column to the right and made a financial contribution.

The man and I made this whole stack of tortillas ourselves.

#5 I appreciate my Patreon sponsors and other folks who support me monthly. (You can support me on Patreon too and reap the patron benefits.)

#6 The Man and I have plenty of food, and we’re eating well. (We recently started making our own tortillas. They are delicious, and working together on them is a good team-building exercise.)

#7 A nice lady in one of the Facebook groups I’m in made a mask for me and one for The Man, so each of us can cover our mouth and nose when we go out in public.

#8 There is plenty of space between us and the neighbors. We can walk in our neighborhood without having to interact with anyone.

#9 We have found several hiking trails and lots of natural beauty less than a half hour drive from where we live. We have opportunities to get away from home and out into stunning nature without having to go too far.

Stunning nature close to home.

#10 The daytime temperature is still very pleasant, not too hot. The temperature doesn’t dip below freezing at night.

#11 My phone allows me to stay connected to the people I care about. It connects me to the internet too.

#12 As a friend said in March (I’m paraphrasing here), I’m not stuck in an apartment in a city with three little kids. Parents who are holding it together while stuck at home with children are stronger than I will ever be.

I’m grateful I’m not stuck in an apartment in the city.

#13 The Man and I have each other. I don’t have to go through the weirdness of these times alone. I sure do sleep well at night with him on my side.

#14 I appreciate you reading this blog post today. As I’ve said, a writer without readers is very sad indeed. A big thanks goes out to everyone who reads this blog, whether you check in every day, read occasional posts, or if this is the first experience you’ve had with me and my writing. I hope you enjoy what you’ve found here.

What are you thankful for this month, this week, today, right now? Please share your gratitude in the comments below.

Stunning nature from up above.

I took all of the photos in this post. If you enjoy my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.

What You Can Do to Help the Rubber Tramp Artist

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I have always gotten by with a little (or a lot) of help from my friends, and I sure do appreciate it. I try to keep these pleas for help from my readers to a minimum, but every now and then, I do like to let you know I could really use your support. Here are some ways you can help me get seen, heard, and read, and most of them don’t cost a dime.

#1 Tell your friends. Have you read a Rubber Tramp Artist post you think a friend or family member would find useful or inspiring? Share the link! Do you have friends who enjoy high quality writing and beautiful photographs? Invite them to check out this blog! I would love to have more readers with whom I can share my stories, rants, and observations.

#2 If you’re on Facebook, like and follow the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page. (You can also like and follow my Blaize Sun and Blaizin’ Sun Creations Facebook pages.) Next, find the reviews section of any (or all!) of those pages and leave reviews of my writing, my art, my book, or my jewelry. Also, you can invite your friends to like any or all of those Facebook pages. Finally, like my Facebook posts, comment on them, and share them with your friends. If you want to do those things but can’t quite figure out how, let me know, and I’ll help you.

#3 If you’re on Instagram, follow me there @rubbertrampartist. Like my posts and comment on them too. Turn on notifications so you’ll see when something new goes up on my feed. If you see a post of mine you think your friends would enjoy, tag those friends in the comments. Share my posts in your stories. Read my stories. Comment on my stories so I’ll know what you think.

#4 Comment on my blog posts. Your comments mean so much to me. They let me know you’re reading, that you’re here with me. Sometimes your comments help other readers. I love it when that happens. I really do want to know what you think.

#5 Write a guest post for my blog. If you’re a writer, consider writing a guest post so I can take a day off or concentrate on writing a a long, research intensive post. If you’re a reader of my blog, other readers and I probably want to know what you have to say. If this idea intrigues you, read my Guidelines for Guest Posts.

#6 If you’ve read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, review it. Post a review on Amazon. (You can post a review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy the book from them.) Post a review on GoodReads. Post a review on your blog. Send your review to me, and I’ll post it on my blog.

#7 If you haven’t read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, buy it now and read it. Once you’re read it, please consider reviewing it. (See #5 above.)

#8 Buy copies of my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for your friends and family members. It’s rated PG (I removed all the cursing), and has been read by at least one elementary school aged kid. It’s a particularly good gift for anyone who is, has been, or hopes to be a camp host.

#9 Put in a request for your local public library to buy a copy of Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods so everyone in your community can read it for free.

#10 Buy the arts and crafts and the Rubber Tramp Artist loot I have for sale. I have handmade collages for sale, postcards featuring my photography for sale, and Rubber Tramp Artist stickers and buttons for sale. I also make hemp jewelry and warm winter hats. (I’m going to try to get photos those items up on the blog soon.) I do custom work, so let me know if there’s something particular you have in mind.

#11 Consider making a donation. There’s a yellow donation button to the right, not far below the search bar. Click there to give me some dollars, if you feel so inclined.

The content on this blog is free, but I put a lot of time and effort into each post I share with you. It is not unusual for me to spend 8+ hours pulling together a single post. I spend a lot of time writing, revising, taking photos, editing photos, choosing photos, researching, etc. If any of my posts have proven helpful to you, please consider donating money or a gift card in the amount you think the posts are worth. I know many of readers are on a limited income, but even a couple bucks would mean a great deal to me.

#12 Consider becoming my patron on Patreon. You get lots of extra goodies when you support me on the Patreon platform. Goodies range from exclusive updates available only to Patreon supporters to a monthly email update to handwritten cards sent through the mail and custom bracelets and one-of-a-kind collages. Each support tier offers different benefits; they’re all explained on my Patreon page linked above or click on the button to the right just under the search bar.

Anything you an do to help me keep this blog going would certainly be appreciated. As always,thank you for reading.

I took all the photos in this post. The Rubber Tramp Artist logo was created by the talented Samantha Adelle before her untimely, tragic passing.

Chicago and Cloud Gate

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I once had to catch a bus in Chicago. There were many hours between the time the first ride deposited us in the Windy City and when we had to board the bus. Instead of sitting and waiting, my traveling companion suggested we explore downtown.

I’d been to Chicago before. Once I flew into Chicago (which airport, I don’t remember), then traveled on public transportation to the bus station where I caught a bus that took me to a small town in Wisconsin. At least twice I traveled by train to Chicago and caught a connecting train for the next leg of my journey at Union Station.

I’m not one of those people who leaves the train or bus station or airport for a bit of fun before I make my connection. I’m one of those people who fears missing my connection. I’m one who sits. I’m one who waits.

I once sat for three or four hours in the packed downtown Las Vegas, NV Greyhound station because I was afraid of losing my place on a probably overbooked bus. I could have stored my bag and walked outside to see the sights, but I didn’t. I waited in the crowded waiting room so I was sure to make it home as planned.

Even more unbelievable, I once spent an entire eight hour layover in the Hong Kong airport because I was scared to venture out and find public transit in a strange land. I was worried about all of the many things that could have gone wrong if I had left the security of the transportation hub. I was afraid of a disaster that would have made me miss my connecting flight.

However, this time in Chicago my traveling companion insisted we venture out and look around. He was not one to sit and wait. Luckily, we had access to luggage lockers, so we were able to secure our big backpacks rather than haul them around with us.

We walked toward the water, and by water I mean Lake Michigan. I’d seen Lake Michigan before, when I’d visited my college boyfriend’s hometown of Milwaukee. I vaguely remembered the hugeness of the Lake.

As we walked down the urban sidewalks, we saw many panhandlers standing back against the buildings. They were mostly older Black people, and they had a panhandling technique I’d never encountered before. Instead of muttering Spare some change? Spare some change? or asking for a dollar to catch the bus or get something to eat, they simply shook the cups they held. The cups obviously already had some coins in them; I could hear the coins clinking against each other. I guess words are unnecessary when everyone already knows the script.

Before we made it to the Lake, we saw the huge reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. I’d seen the object in movies. It often turns up when filmmakers want to distinguish an anonymous big city as specifically Chicago. I don’t remember trying to find the sculpture; I think we just happened upon it nestled among the skyscrapers of downtown.

According to the Choose Chicago website, Cloud Gate (also known as The Bean)

is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations…

The exterior of The Bean is made entirely of stainless steel. It was created using computer technology to precisely cut 168 massive steel plates, which were then fitted together and welded shut for a completely seamless finish…

[It is] is 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, and 66 feet long. It weighs about 110 tons — roughly the same as 15 adult elephants.

Cloud Gate was designed by Anish Kapoor. According to his biography on the Artnet website, Kapoor

is regarded as one of the most prominent British-Indian sculptors of his generation…

Kapoor is well known for his intense, almost spiritual, outdoor and indoor site-specific works in which he marries a Modernist sense of pure materiality with a fascination for the manipulation of form and the perception of space. Kapoor, who was born in Bombay and moved to London in the 1970s to study art, first worked on abstract and organic sculptures using fundamental natural materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment, and plaster.

Anish Kapoor’s webpage about Cloud Gate features preliminary sketches for the sculpture, plans for construction, and a photo of it being built. The webpage says

Cloud Gate is a single object of around 25×15×12m. It is made of polished stainless steel and is seamless. Cloud Gate draws in the sky and the surrounding buildings. In a vertical city, this is a horizontal object. Seamless form confuses scale.

I was a lucky photographer on the day of our visit to Millennium Park. There were clouds in the Chicago sky, and they were reflected in the shiny surface of Cloud Gate. We were also fortunate to arrive early in the morning, before crowds surrounded the sculpture. I was able to get some nice photos without too many people in the frame.

I recently came across the article “Every U.S. State’s Most Overrated & Underrated Attraction” by Lissa Poirot. Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean) was named the most overrated attraction in the entire state of Illinois! Zach S. (whoever he is) calls it

…a blob-shaped mirror that vaguely resembles a bean.

He goes on to say,

It is as unremarkable as it sounds.

Oh Zach S., I beg to differ! Yes, Cloud Gate is rather blob shaped, and it is certainly mirrored. As to whether or not it looks like a bean…Who cares? “The Bean” is only a nickname anyway. I suspect the artist was not necessarily trying to convey the idea of a bean when he created the piece.

Where I really disagree with Zach S. is his assertion that Cloud Gate is “unremarkable.” I think Cloud Gate is quite remarkable. I like its size and its heft. Cloud Gate takes up space, yet its reflective surface brings the sky down closer to human level. The reflective surface also draws people to the sculpture, including me and my traveling companion.

What’s that over there? we wondered.

Let’s go see it, we said as we went closer.

I don’t remember what day of the week we wondered into Millennium Park and discovered Cloud Gate, but as the day progressed, more people arrived. By the time we left the area, crowds had come and gone, all looking at the art piece and taking photos too.

My favorite part of my experience with Cloud Gate was playing with the reflective surface. Like a funhouse mirror, Cloud Gate shows visitors a view of themselves that’s not quite true. I moved closer, then backed up to see how my figure changed with distance. The changes made me contemplate who I was, really.

Lake Michigan (Chicago)…bigger than I remembered

After spending some time with Cloud Gate, we walked down to the water and looked out at Lake Michigan. It was as big as I remembered…bigger, maybe.

We sat on the grass and contemplated the water. It was nice to rest for a while before we got up again and walked to a new adventure.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of Chicago. To me it seems to lack the charm of San Francisco with its bright murals and Painted Ladies Victorian houses or the gritty but captivating street culture of New York City. Maybe I’ve never been to the right places in Chicago, never seen what it has to offer me. In any case, I really enjoyed seeing Cloud Gate, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan. I don’t care if it’s more a touristy area and less what locals think of as the real Chicago. I don’t care if locals think it’s overrated. I don’t care what Zach S. thinks. I think Cloud Gate is really cool.

Lake Michigan with ship and Ferris Wheel (Chicago)

I took the photos in this post.