Category Archives: My True Life

In Which I Admit Ways a Travel Trailer Is Better Than a Van

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Chevy G20 high top van in the forest
I lived in this Chevy G20 for almost five years.

I was a vandweller for nearly a decade before a travel trailer came into my life after the death of my father. I enjoyed being a vandweller. I enjoyed taking my home with me wherever I went. I enjoyed a life without rent payments. I enjoyed being a renegade and a nomad.

To be honest, if I were single, I’d probably still live in my van. I was resistant to the whole idea of living in a travel trailer. My van had always been enough for me.

However, living in a van with my sweetheart was not easy for either of us. I especially need a lot of alone time, a lot of quiet. My guy likes to talk a lot and play guitar and move around. Also, he is six feet tall and simply needs room for his body. He bought a minivan in order to spend less money on gas, but can’t sit comfortably in it to carve or make jewelry.

Life was a little easier when we each had our own rig to hang out in and sleep in, but we did still suffer lots of discomforts. I was tired of cooking outside in the wind and the dust and the cold. I was so tired of constantly buying ice for the cooler and dealing with the water that always managed to accumulate in the bottom of it. Sure, I could deal with those annoyances (I think I’m a little bit tough), but I didn’t really want to.

Drawing of blue canned ham style travel trailer with yellow sun and the words Home Is Where You Park It.

If I weren’t with The Man, I would not be pulling a travel trailer. I think it’s more work than I want to do alone. However, in less than a month living in the travel trailer (when I wrote the rough draft of this post), I was already spoiled by the amenities it offered.

The number one luxury of life in the travel trailer is probably the head room. I don’t know how many times I hit my head while living in my van, and I’m not even tall! The Man hit his head even more. Ouch! It sure is nice to stand up to cook, put on pants, or simply move from one spot to another. Even with cupboards above our bed, we can both sit up comfortably. I’m sure both our brains are glad to no longer get bumped around so much.

Another perk of  travel trailer life is more storage space for our stuff. We have lots of cupboards, cabinets, and drawers. The kitchen boasts four drawers and six cabinets. There is storage under the dinette’s bench seats. The living area has four overhead cupboards. Between the sofa and the bedroom is an armoire with four shelves behind two doors and four large drawers down below. There are two short cabinets over the bed and two tall ones on each side. There is even a storage compartment under the bed! Finally, we have room for the things we own.

In addition to space for stuff, we have space for people! Coyote Sue was our first visitor. She stopped by to see our place when we were all at Elephant Butte Lake State Park using our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass. It was nice for each of us to sit in a comfortable spot while we chatted.

We could even have overnight guests if we wanted. The legs come off the table and the tabletop sits between the two bench seats to make a platform that becomes a bed when the cushions from the seats are arranged on it. The couch folds down into a (lumpy but functional) bed. Guests here might not have the best sleep of their lives, but at least we can offer places to lie down for the night.

My favorite part of having more space is having a separate bedroom. The bedroom is at the front of the trailer and has an accordion door to hide it from the rest of the living space. (I wish the bedroom had a solid door like the bathroom does, but a folding door is better than nothing.) While The Man (and Jerico the dog too) do sleep in the bed with me (thankfully the RV queen size mattress provides room for all), the bedroom is my domain. When The Man wakes up before me in the morning (which is usually the way it happens), he can leave the room, close the door, and go about his life in the other part of the trailer. When I wake up, I can sit in the bed and write with few distractions.

I’m quite relieved to have sturdy screens over all the windows. We even have screen doors on both entrances! I know how miserable it is to live in a van and have to choose between being hot with the windows closed to keep bugs out or opening the windows to let in a breeze and fresh air and also letting in a squadron of mosquitoes or flies or no see ‘ems. I fashioned some window screens during my days as a vandweller, but my DIY efforts always fell short (and often fell down). I’m glad to have properly fitted, professionally installed screens with no holes on all the windows and doors so we can have airflow while keeping bugs out.

Blue sky with full of white puffy clouds. Tree in foreground. Lake in background.
Tree at Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

Having electricity in our home is really awesome. During a week and a half stay at Rockhound State Park, , we only had to splurge on an extra $4 per night for a campsite with electricity since we had the annual camping pass. We were quickly spoiled by being able to flip a switch and have light. It was also convenient to be able to charge our electronics by plugging into an electrical outlet in our home. We missed these luxuries when we moved to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and opted for a campsite with no hookups. When we finally got the travel trailer out on our own property, we charged our house batteries each night by running our generator for about an hour. Now we have a complete solar power system, and we get our power from the sun. The Man got our solar electric system up and running as soon as possible because once we got a taste of having electricity in our home, we didn’t want to give it up.

Most of the other advantages of living in the travel trailer have to do with the kitchen. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I do feed myself and The Man a couple of times each day, so I like to be comfortable when I prepare meals.

Cooking out of the elements is a huge perk. Cooking outside is not entirely unpleasant if the weather is nice. However, cooking outside when it’s raining or snowing or sleeting or hailing or just plain cold is a real pain in the neck.  It’s also difficult (sometimes impossible) to cook in a strong Southwestern wind. Working outside in a steady wind of 20 to 30 mph (with stronger gusts) is difficult enough, but add in the dust that is always part of a windy situation, and I just want to grab some food from Little Caesar’s or Taco Bell. Being in the trailer and out of inclement weather has been a game changer when it comes to cooking meals.

Sure I could have cooked in my van during bad weather, and at times I did boil water or heat up some leftovers. Since I’ve read the warnings on my camp stove about the dangers of using it in enclosed spaces, I always worried about using it in the van. The stove and oven in the travel trailer were professionally installed at the factory and are (ostensibly) vented properly and pose fewer risks.

Having an oven is a huge perk. I missed baking for all the years I lived in my van. When The Man and I moved into the fifth wheel and found it had a working oven, I was overjoyed. I baked pizza, cakes, brownies, treats for the dog, and cornbread from my father’s recipe. When we sold the fifth wheel, leaving the oven behind was a sad moment for me. Now that I have an oven again, I’ve enjoyed baking yummies for the whole family.

I haven’t had a working refrigerator in my home in years, since the one in the fifth wheel didn’t work and was used as a pantry. Having refrigeration in the travel trailer is a huge convenience. I no longer have to buy ice. I no longer have to deal with melted ice water. I no longer have to deal with the water that always ends up at the bottom of the cooler no matter what I do to avoid it. Can I live without refrigeration? Yes. Is life a lot easier with a working refrigerator in the house? Also yes.

Colorful drawings of travel trailers and camper vans surround the words Home Is Where We Park It.
My dear friend sent this to me. I love it! I hung it over the kitchen sink.

While some aspects of living in a travel trailer are challenging (I’m looking at you, hitching!) the advantages currently outshine those challenges. I feel so fortunate that my dad’s death has brought this travel trailer into my life.

I took the photos in this post.

Update: Late Spring 2019

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Grey clouds are lit from behind over a vast expanse of New Mexico sage
Clouds to the west of our land on a Saturday afternoon in May of 2019.

It’s been a while since I shared an update on what’s happening in my life. It feels like a lot has happened, but not much has changed. Perhaps the problem is that all the things that have happened don’t seem exciting enough for a blog post.

We’ve been living on our land for nearly two months now. We look at mountains and sky every day. The view is amazing. I particularly like to watch the clouds.

Blue sky and puffy white clouds above a camper surrounded by New Mexico sage
This is not our land, but this is what our land looked like before The Man cleared it.

When The Man cleared our property, he removed all the sage plants so rattlesnakes would have fewer places to hide. We were mostly worried for Jerico the dog. A snake bite would be a big ordeal for someone weighing only 35 pounds. Now we wish we had left some vegetation on our property. The Man is trying to grow some grass. We bought a drought-resistant blend from the local hardware store, but so far we’re not having much luck with it. The Man is experimenting with different planting and watering techniques. I recently noticed little green plants volunteering all over our property, so maybe with the sage gone, native plants will make a comeback.

After weeks of struggle, The Man got our solar power system up and running. After watching numerous YouTube videos, he ended up consulting with a representative of a local company that sells and installs solar power setups. He finally got it all figured out, and from the moment everything was connected, it’s all be running fine. The sun rises before 6am these days, and our batteries begin charging immediately. We have enough energy to ignite the refrigerator pilot light (the fridge runs primarily on propane but has an electric starter—ditto the heater), run lights and television (!) at night, charge our electronics, and power The Man’s electric guitar and amplifier. All our needs are met, and I’m proud to get our power from the sun.

We joined the local water association, so we can haul our water from a location closer to our place and pay less for it than we’d been paying in town. We got a 55 gallon, BPA free barrel for hauling the water as well as a 195 gallon reservoir in which to store the water. I’ll be glad to have to haul water less frequently. Going to town every four or five days to buy water was getting to be a real drag.

We put up a prefab metal shed. We completed the project in about four days. First The Man (with a bit of help from me) built the floor from tongue and groove plywood and 4x4s. By the time the floor was complete, the wind had picked up, and we didn’t want to deal with sharp-edged metal panels. We called it a day.

The next day we (mostly he) got the side, back, and front walls built before the wind started. Our first step in wall building was sorting the components. There were probably 100 parts to the shed (mostly sheets of thin metal), and they were boxed together in no particular order. As we sorted according to five-digit numbers stamped on the components, we found many of the pieces had been bent during shipping and had to be finessed back into shape. Once we started the actual building of the walls, we discovered the instructions (mostly drawings with few words) were difficult to decipher. We were pretty sure the person who’d written (drawn) the directions had never actually constructed the shed in question.

Two small green plants growing in the dirt
Some of the plants volunteering on our land.,

On the third day, we put the walls up and attached them to each other and the floor. The process was not nearly as simple as the preceding sentence makes it sound. When The Man started putting up the second side wall, he realized the directions had told him to put a corner in the wrong place. He had to correct the mistake while I held the other two walls in place. When The Man started putting in screws to hold the walls together, he found the manufacturer of the shed had put holes for screws in one panel but not the other. He had to push hard to get the screws through the second piece of metal.

Once the walls were up, we had to construct the roof. Before we were done, we’d run out of the plastic washers that went with the screws to help keep water out of the shed. The kit had come with at least fifty extra screws but not a single extra washer. We had no idea why the manufacturer didn’t throw in a few extra of the kit’s cheapest part. Luckily we found a few washers to do the job in our stash of fasteners.

After about four hours of work, all that was missing was the door. The Man and I were both tired and hungry, and we needed to run some errands in town. We’ll finish this later, The Man grumbled.

The wind had come up strong by then, but the shed didn’t move, even without the door. We were away from home for at least four hours; when we returned, the shed was still standing. We were certainly grateful for this demonstration of the shed’s sturdiness.

While I cooked diner, The Man assembled the shed’s door.

Oh no! I messed it up! I heard him say. He’d used his intuition instead of the instructions, and things hadn’t turned out the way he’d hoped. So he took the door apart and followed the directions exactly. The door was still wrong! Following the directions hadn’t helped one bit!

White metal shed against an overcast sky
Our shed, complete.

Somehow he got the components of the door assembled, and I helped him hang it. Finally—success! After dinner, he dragged the shed where he wanted it on our property. (We built it close to the trailer and not where we actually wanted it to sit because we wanted the trailer to serve as a windbreak during construction.) While I washed the dishes, he loaded the shed with tools and plastic totes and water jugs. Later, I found a padlock and key in the junk drawer and brought it outside to lock the shed’s door. We stood in front of the shed for a few moments and admired our work.

I’m convinced that if our relationship survived us building that shed together, it can survive anything.

I took all the photos in this post.

Robo Call

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Seven Assorted Colored Rotary Telephones

My phone number has somehow made its way onto the call lists of an untold number of telemarketers. I’ve been getting solicitations for years, often 3 to 6 in a single day. On many occasions, the caller thinks I’m Mrs. Sanchez. Sometimes the caller attempts to conduct business in Spanish. I’ve had the same phone number since 2012. I’ve never used Sanchez as a pseudonym. My command of Spanish is minimal at best. I have no idea how my number ended up on these particular call lists.

My phone has a California area code, so many of these telemarketing calls are targeted at a California home owner. I get the same recording offering to steam clean my carpets every couple of weeks. I simply hang up on this recording and others. Real people say they represent contractors and are offering California home owners free estimates on home improvements. Sometimes the free estimates (and/or government subsidies) are related to solar panels. I usually tell these people I don’t have a home or I live in my van, and they can’t get off the phone with me quickly enough. Sometimes I get a wish of good luck! before they disconnect.

When I can get a word in, I ask the telemarketers to remove me from their call list. They say they will, but I doubt they do. Really, why should they bother? How will I know if they do or they don’t? What are the chances I’ll take some sort of legal action if representatives of the company continues to call me after I ask them to stop?

I do block the numbers of known telemarketers, but that barely helps. For every number blocked, two new ones seem to spring up in its place. The same companies seem to have a multitude of outgoing numbers at their disposal.

Usually I end these calls as quickly as possible. I don’t have a need for the legitimate services offered, and I fear most of these calls only lead to scams. However, sometimes I’m bored and decide to see if I can have a little fun before the call ends. My fun usually takes the form of pretending I think I’ve already won a prize when the caller tells me I may (probably not) have won a prize.

Oh! That’s so great! I gush. How soon can I go on that cruise to Antigua/pick up my new car/spend my $6 trillion dollars? I’m amused for a few minutes while the caller frantically tries to convince me I haven’t won yet, and I act

White Cruise Ship on Blue Body of Water during Daytime

as if my prize is already on its way.

I’ll probably go to Hell for these games I play, as it’s not kind to mess with people who are simply trying to make a living. Then I remember these people are making a living by taking advantage of people who aren’t so savvy to the wicked ways of the world. Who’s going to Hell now?

One day I was at the library, working on this blog. I had my phone’s sound turned off, but I saw I had a call coming in. I answered and was greeted by the least human robot voice imaginable. The robot told me its name was Gail, and there was a problem with my social security number. Gail the robot asked me to call back the number it was calling from so we could discuss the very urgent problem with my social security number. Apparently Gail was not just a robot, but a robot programmed by a non-native speaker of English. Her syntax was off, and her word choice was strange. Surely the legitimate Social Security Administration would do better than this recording.

I don’t know exactly why I decided to return the call. I think it was because the recording was so outlandish. I was wildly curious to find out what an actual person on the other end of the line would say. Besides, I had nothing to lose. These people already had my phone number, and there was no way I was going to give up any other personal information.

I dialed the number and was surprised when a live human being immediately answered my call. The voice seemed to belong to a male, and from the accent, I judged the person to be a non-native speaker of English. Of course, I have no way of knowing if my assumptions were correct.

I could hear a lot of noise in the background. The call center I had reached must have been huge because I could hear the frenzied buzz of many voices and the tapping of fingers on multiple keyboards.

I told the person who’d answered the phone that I’d received a call from the number I’d just dialed and was now returning the call as instructed. The telemarketer (or scam artist or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) asked me when I’d received the call, and I replied, Just moments ago. He asked if I’d received a voice mail, and I said it hadn’t been a voicemail, it had been a call from a fake human.

At this point I grabbed my purse and walked out of the library and stood on the sidewalk so my exchange with the telemarketer wouldn’t disturb the other patrons. I thought this call might last a while.

The telemarketer asked my name. I asked him what name he had on file for me. When he insisted that he needed me to give him my name, I said, You called me.

The telemarketer immediately dropped all pretense of professionalism. Fuk U, beetch! he said to me.

I couldn’t believe it. I’d barely provoked him. He’d gone from zero to cursing because I didn’t immediately state my name. He must have been having a really bad day.

I was stunned into silence, and he screeched again, Fuk U, beetch!

What are you saying? Are you even speaking English? I asked. It was not the finest comeback, I admit. I knew very well what he was saying and in what language he was saying it.

He threw one more Fuk U, beetch! at me for good measure, then disconnected the call.

Wow. I was shocked, but not really offended. We hadn’t been on the phone long enough for me to take his anger or even his cursing personally. Someone should tell the guy that immediate cursing and early termination of a call is not the way to swindle a person’s social security number out of them. He needed to use a little finesse, perhaps some sweet talk and flattery. He needed to earn the caller’s trust, build up the caller’s confidence in him. He was never going to scam anyone with that negative attitude of his.

I doubt a supervisor would ever guide him to an outstanding career as a scam artist telemarketer. After all, the call was probably not being monitored for quality assurance or training purposes. His supervisor would probably never know he was going off script to hurl Fuk U, beetch! at non-cooperative callers.

I added my number to the National Do Not Call Registry maintained by the Federal Trade Commission. We’ll see if doing so puts a dent in the number of telemarketing calls I receive.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/seven-assorted-colored-rotary-telephones-774448/ and https://www.pexels.com/search/cruise/.

Generator Justice

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The people camped next to us ran their generator all night.

The Man and I were camped at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup, New Mexico. We’d used my New Mexico State Parks Pass to get a developed campsite, which in this instance meant a picnic table and a fire ring. We’d taken a site next to people in a popup camper. Usually we wouldn’t take a spot right next to other campers, especially when there were many empty campsites throughout the park, but the site we chose was flat and had a tree providing afternoon shade. It was the best unoccupied site in all the camping areas.

A tree stands above a body of water. In front of the tree is a wooden cross surrounded by stones.
Tree and cross, Bluewater Lake State Park

I pulled the van onto the asphalt parking spur nose in. The side doors opened toward our picnic tables and away from our next door neighbors, giving us all a bit of privacy.

The Man and I spent the afternoon relaxing. In the evening we cooked dinner, cleaned up after ourselves, then got into the van for bed.

We were awake later than usual. At some point we realized we were hearing the motorized hum of a generator. The noise was coming from the site next door.

The Man asked me what time it was, and after consulting my watch, I told him it was a little after ten o’clock.

Quiet hours start at ten, he grumbled.

The park brochure clearly stated that generator use is prohibited during quiet hours. The generator was not supposed to be running, but continued to hum in the night. Despite the noise, I went to sleep with no real problem.

The Man and I both woke up early, and nearly the first thing we noticed was that the generator next door was still humming.

That thing’s been on all night! The Man grumbled.

Maybe they have a medical need, I suggested generously. Maybe one of them uses a CPAP.

The Man countered by saying the people should have stayed at a site with electrical hookups if they needed to use electricity all night.

Well, yes. There seemed to be empty electrical sites when we drove through the park. Maybe the couple didn’t want to pay the extra $4 for a site with electricity, although I think doing so would have been less expensive than buying the gasoline it took to run the generator all night. Maybe the people thought because they took a campsite in a side loop away from other people, there would be no problem if they ran the generator all night. However, if they wanted to be sure they didn’t bother anyone, they could have gone to the sparsely populated primitive camping area by the lake and parked far away from everyone else.

It’s not like we had pulled up on remote booondockers and camped next to them; we were both in designated developed campsites.

Usually I’m the complainer and The Man is the voice of reason, but on that Sunday morning our roles were reversed. The Man couldn’t let his problem with the generator next door go.

They ran it all night…It’s againt the rules…I’m going to report them to the camp host…or the ranger…I’m going to knock on their door…

I reminded him that it was Sunday. I told him the people next door were probably leaving that afternoon. The thought of them leaving comforted him a little, but he was still irritated.

People like that…They think they can do whatever they want…It’s not right…I’m going to report them…

He asked me if I thought he should report them.

I considered the question, then asked him if the generator had kept him awake the night before. He thought a moment, then admitted it hadn’t .

I told him it hadn’t kept me awake either. In fact, I had slept just fine. I told him if the generator had kept us awake and the people next door were staying another night, I would consider reporting them. But if the noise hadn’t kept us awake and they wouldn’t be there another night, what was the point in reporting them?

The Man thought about what I’d said, then nodded. He agreed.

Usually I’m the person complaining (in my head, even if not aloud) because something just isn’t right or that’s not fair.I have a strong sense of justice, of fairness, of wanting people to do what’s right for the greater good. However, I’m trying to learn to stay out of other people’s business, to stay away from drama, to embrace the attitude of live and let live. Maybe it’s not my place to be a crusader for generator justice when the generator didn’t really bother me in the first place.

I Feel Happy

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According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, May 23 is Clinical Hypnosis Day. In celebration of this upcoming “holiday,” today I’ll share with you the story of my father’s (and by extension my own) experimentation with clinical hypnosis.

You may be wondering what exactly is clinical hypnosis. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis answers this question (and many others) on their website.


Clinical hypnosis is an altered state of awareness, perception or consciousness that is used, by licensed and trained doctors or masters prepared individuals, for treating a psychological or physical problem. It is a highly relaxed state.

Pink and White Key Chain

My parents were two of the squarest people I can image. They may have come of age in the turbulent 60s and been a young married couple in the swinging 70s, but as far as I can tell, during my childhood they lived their lives as good Catholic Republicans. My dad went to his grave proud of the fact that he’d never been drunk, something he held over my mother because of the one time she drank too much while partying with her brother before he shipped off to Vietnam and was puke sick for two days. I honestly believe–after viewing my parents through the critical lens of my adulthood–that neither of them took an experimental puff of weed or snort of coke, never had a psychedelic experience; never attended a key party; never so much as sampled a dish containing tofu, lentils, or curry. Even in the most experimental decades of their lives, my parents showed themselves to be nothing but straight. All to say, I was quite surprised when I remembered my father’s dabbling in hypnosis.

It all started with our family physician. Somehow that old boy had gotten himself mixed up with hypnosis. Want to stop smoking? Want to lose weight? Want to be a better salesman? Want to do well in school? Want to feel happier? Want to be more successful? Dr. Carrol could help.

I’m not sure if Dr. Carrol did in-office hypnosis treatments. It seems to me

Skc Cassette Tape on White Surface

that a busy physician wouldn’t have time to sit with folks while they counted back from ten. Instead, Dr. Carrol made and sold hypnosis tapes.

It was a brilliant scheme. Dr. Carrol probably went into a recording studio, ran through the steps required for achieving different goals, then had the cassette tapes of each program manufactured. Once the tapes were ready, Dr. Carrol could sell them to his patients. The patients could use the tapes whenever it was convenient (immediately prior to falling asleep was recommended), and Dr. Carrol could rake in the money without sacrificing any precious office hours.

To be fair, I don’t know if Dr. Carrol actually raked in money from his hypnosis tapes. Yes, it was the 70s, and people were trying all sorts of new techniques for better living, but Dr. Carrol was practicing in a small town in the heart of Cajun Country. I suspect most of his patients were too conservative to try something as far out as hypnosis. Perhaps if one of his tapes was a big success it was probably the one purported to help people stop smoking. In the 70s the dangers of smoking were coming to light and people were strongly encouraged to kick the habit. Perhaps even in Cajunland, people were desperate to quit smoking and would try just about anything that might help change their unhealthy ways. If a medical doctor said hypnosis was the way to go, why not give it a try?

How Dr. Carrol sold my dad on hypnosis tapes, I have no idea. My dad was not–had never been–a smoker. My dad did struggle with his weight, so maybe he got hooked up with a set of weight loss tapes. What surprises me the most was that my dad was tight, not prone to spending money unnecessarily. He was a young man with a wife and two little kids and not much money. How did Dr. Carrol convince him to buy hypnosis tapes?

Maybe Dr. Carrol got my dad with tapes that were supposed to make him a better salesman. My dad was a salesman by profession. If you’ve ever read or watched Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, think Willy Loman.

Brown Wooden Plank

My dad should have been a carpenter or maybe a plumber or even an auto mechanic. He could fix almost anything, build almost anything. I once asked him how he knew so much about car and home repair, and he said he’d had to learn because he could never afford to hire someone to do the work for him. He said he’d go into an auto parts store or plumbing supply shop or lumberyard and ask questions until he figured out what to do. This was in a time before YouTube, and I never saw him pouring over a library book from the do-it-yourself section, so he really must have had innate mechanical abilities to supplement the information he gleaned from the people who sold him supplies.

My father should have been a tradesman, not a salesman. I believe he would have been happier working with his hands. However, somewhere in his life my dad had picked up the notion that being a salesman was more prestigious than working in the trades. He may not have attended collage, but he could move one rung up the social ladder if he got a job in sales.

I believe my dad wanted to be a good salesman. He wanted to be considered a success. He wanted to bring home enough money to keep his wife and kids comfortable. I suspect my father did not have the innate knowledge or personality traits of a natural salesman. I suspect he felt he could use a little help. I suspect he hoped hypnosis would do the trick.

I was vaguely aware that my dad was listening to the hypnosis tapes at night. I was 7 or 8 a the time and mostly unconcerned with the affairs of the adults in my life. My dad did share with the family a motivational catchphrase he got from the tapes. I feel happy! I feel healthy! I feel terrific! he’d say enthusiastically, probably trying to convince himself. Sometimes my mom and sibling and I would say it too. Sometimes I still say the words (out loud, enthusiastically) when I’m trying to pep myself up.

I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea for me to listen to

Red-and-brown Pencils

hypnosis tapes before bed. I don’t know if my parents bought something intended for kids or if they just used what my dad already had. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to listen to a tape, but I don’t remember being opposed to listening. I remember being told that listening to the tape would help me do better in school, even though my grades were fine.

Every night after tucking me into bed, my dad would press the play button on his tape player that had been moved into my room. Dr. Carrol’s voice was soothing and relaxing and because I listened to the tape as I was falling asleep, it didn’t take time away from anything I wanted to do.

I wish I remembered what Dr. Carrol said on the tape, what instructions he gave. Better yet, I wish I had the tape now so I could listen to what I was told on those nights decades ago.

I remember being skeptical of the whole hypnosis thing. Even as a little kid, I wondered how what someone said on a tape could help me do better in school. I don’t think my parents told me anything about the subconscious or how hypnosis is supposed to work. What I do (very clearly) remember thinking is that while what I was hearing on the tape probably wasn’t going to do anything for me, I was going to pretend it worked in order to please my parents. So in the mornings after listening to the tape, I would pop right out of bed and pretend to be excited and happy about going to school.

Of course, now I have to wonder if the hypnosis actually did work. Was I in fact only pretending it was working? Could my skeptical brain only embrace hypnosis if I could continue to disbelieve it but accept the changed in my behavior it caused by telling myself I was only pretending? Why would I feel the need to pretend it was working if it wasn’t?

I don’t remember how many nights I listened to the tapes as I drifted off to sleep. It doesn’t seem like I did it for very long, but memory has a way of distorting time. I also don’t remember why I stopped listening to the tape. Even complaints wouldn’t have necessarily gotten me off the hook, as my parents made me do plenty of other things I complained about. If my parents thought the tapes were valuable, one of them would have pressed the play button every night whether or not I wanted to listen. I can only imagine my parents decided Dr. Carrol and his hypnosis were not worth our time after all.

In retrospect, I wish my patents had continued to play the tape for me. Maybe the messages it contained would have helped me live a better life. Maybe whatever instructions given on the tape would have saved me from the depression that settled over me within a couple of years and has been with me on and off (mostly on) for most of my life. If I had the tape now, I’d listen to it at bedtime every night and hope for a change.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dark-vintage-table-keys-67094/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/skc-cassette-tape-on-white-surface-1219113/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-blur-carpenter-carpentry-345135/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/desk-pens-school-design-2172/.

Caterwauling

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It was our very first evening at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM, using our brand new New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes. On our way to the shower house, I saw a cat sitting on a rock just outside the campground.

Silhouette of Cat Under Orange Sunset

Is that a cat? I asked, pointing, and The Man confirmed that it was.

It must belong to a camper, I said. My friend Coyote Sue travels with her cat who is allowed to leave the RV and explore the area, so I assumed the cat I saw was a traveling pet.

The Man said he thought the cat had once been a pet who had gotten away from its people and now lived wild in the park.

I didn’t give the cat much thought until we got back to our campsite and The Man suggested we put away the dishes, pots, and utensils we’d left out to dry after washing up after dinner. He said he didn’t want critters scampering over our clean dishware, and he mentioned the cat. I was still convinced the cat belonged to someone camping, so I didn’t think we needed to worry about it sullying our cooking gear. I did think we might need to be concerned about mice or raccoons, so I helped put things away.

We hung out in my van until the sun set, then The Man went off to his minivan to go to bed. He muttered something about the cat as he was getting into his rig, but I didn’t know what he was talking about until i went outside to brush my teeth. From out of the darkness, I heard not just a dainty meow, but loud feline moaning. The cat was close and it was loud. Its call sounded something like this: mmmmROWRrrrr! Of course, it didn’t make this sound once, but several times in succession.mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!

I looked around on our campsite and out in the darkness saw two glowing green eyes. The situation freaked me out. This cat sound was creepy, and the creature was close. What if it were rabid? What if it decided to attack me? I took a step toward the eyes to find out if the cat would move, and it dashed deeper into the darkness. I felt better when the cat showed fear, but I wasn’t pleased when it continued to moan just out of my sight. I stood in the doorway of my van and brushed my teeth really quick. I was glad when my teeth were clean, and I could go inside the van and shut the door behind me.

In the morning we found no sign of the cat. There was no indication it had climbed up on our picnic table or tried to gain access to our cooler or any of our kitchen tubs. We didn’t see or hear the cat at all during the day, but shortly after dark we heard it again. mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!

We thought it was checking our area for food scraps or begging for a handout. The Man thought other campers probably fed it. Between meeting our own needs and caring for Jerico the dog, we had just about all the responsibilities we could handle. Neither of us suggested we try to take in a stray cat.

The cat must have been discouraged by our lack of food offerings, or maybe it was opposed to the three dogs (and their people) that camped next door to us for nearly a week. In any case, it didn’t come around every night. We heard it a few nights during our two-week stay, but it was not a permanent fixture in our area.

The weather was awful on our last night at Rockhound State Park. The wind blew relentlessly all day, and by three o’clock in the afternoon (before we could even begin to prepare dinner), snow began to fall. Around 5pm, The Man braved the elements to cook four grilled cheese sandwiches on our Coleman stove that sat on the picnic table. I was grateful to have something rather than nothing in my belly, but it wasn’t the dinner I’d been hoping for. I wasn’t happy with the cold or the snow, and I was glad to settle down under my blankets when The Man said he was ready to go to his own bed.

Just like the narrator in “The Night Before Christmas,” I had settled down for “for a long winter’s nap” when something disturbed my slumber. I don’t know what time it was when The Man threw open my van’s side door, but i was in a deep sleep when it happened. His voice woke me right up when he asked loudly, Are you ok?

I sat up, was blinded by the light of his headlamp, and asked, What’s happening?

He continued to ask if I was ok. I’m sure my eyes were huge with surprise and confusion.

Once I stopped asking him what was happening, I began to assure him I was ok. Why did he think something was wrong?

He said he’d heard me making strange noises. He said he though I was having a heart attack or otherwise dying.

I was dreaming, I told him as I woke up a little more and remembered. My dream wasn’t scary, so I don’t think I would have been screaming or making other noises of distress. I wondered what kind of noises I could have been making that were loud enough for him to hear but not loud enough to wake me up.

You were in your van and you heard me making noises while I was in my van? I asked him. He said yes, which seemed unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to argue. I only wanted to go back to sleep. I assured him I was fine, and he went back to his minivan, leaving me to snuggle under my blankets once again.

In the morning light, The Man admitted that maybe it wasn’t me he had heard in the night. Maybe it was the cat he’d heard.

It didn’t sound like the cat normally sounds, he explained. Maybe the cat was upset about the weather, The Man conjectured. Maybe the cat was vocally protesting the cold and the snow. I thought a protesting feline was a likely cause of noise loud enough to disturb The Man while he inside his van. I doubted he would be able to hear any noise less than screaming coming from my van when he was inside his.

We packed up our gear and loaded both vans that morning. By afternoon, we were at a new state park where no half-wild felines caterwauled in the night.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-art-backlight-backlit-219958/.

Replacement

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Several years ago, I stayed in an Airbnb rental for about three weeks while working a temp job. The job paid well enough that I could afford to stay somewhere other than my van, which was good because the city in the Southwest where I was working was already getting hot in April. In the Airbnb, I could sleep in cool comfort, shower as often as I wanted, and cook in a real kitchen.

At $16 per night, the Airbnb was cheaper than even one of the meth motels downtown. The rate was inexpensive because the homeowners lived in the house too, and I shared a bathroom with the family’s teenage son. Basically, I rented a room in the family home, but all the payments were handled through the Airbnb website.

The family members were friendly and kind. I suspect they were Mormon. The father/husband worked from home. The mother/wife had a job outside the home in the medical field. The daughter of the family had gone off to college, and I slept in her old room. The teenage son was in high school, and he cleaned up after himself in our shared bathroom. The family had a guest room they also rented out via Airbnb. It had a private bath, so it cost more. A couple of short-term renters stayed in that room during my time in the house.

The other member of the family was a fluffy white dog. He was on the large end of the small dog spectrum; I would guess he weighed about 20 pounds. I don’t remember his name, so let’s just call him Fido.

Fido was a friendly and curious dog. He may have barked at me a bit when I first arrived, but as soon as the father/husband told him I was ok, Fido accepted me. He followed me into my room and sniffed around, then went about his life elsewhere in the house. When I’d come home from work, he’d be at the front door, checking out who was there. He’d greet me with a wagging tail, and I’d greet him with a few kind words and some petting. Our relationship was friendly, but not close.

One evening during the last week of my stay, I came out of my room after work and passed through the living room on my way to the kitchen. The father/husband was sitting on the couch. He stopped me and told me Fido had had a seizure earlier that day. The dog seemed to be fine now, the father/husband said, and he had an appointment with the vet in the next couple of days. The father/husband wanted to warn me so I wouldn’t be surprised or freaked out if I witnessed Fido having another seizure. I thanked him for telling me, then expressed my concern for Fido and my hope for his quick recovery. I’d known other dogs who were prone to seizures and took medication to control the situation. I hoped medication would help Fido too.

Over the next couple of days, Fido had more seizures, although I never witnessed one. When I did see him, he seemed ok, tail wagging and happy. Then one afternoon, I came home from work, and the father/husband told me that Fido had passed away. I offered my condolences and talked about what a nice dog Fido had been. I said I was sure the family would miss him.

The father/husband was somber. Yes, Fido had been a good dog, he agreed. Then he seemed to perk up a bit. They were already looking for a new dog, he told me.

I tried to hide my surprise. Well, that was fast, I thought, but kept my mouth shut and tried to keep my expression neutral. It wasn’t my place to judge how these strangers handled the loss of their loved one.

After a day or two, the father/husband told me they’d been looking online at dogs ready for adoption. They’d found one that seemed to be a good match, and the family would be able to meet it soon. He hoped the new dog would be living with them shortly.

I expressed general positivity–Oh that would be nice, or something along those lines. Again, I knew it was not my place to judge how other people grieved (or didn’t), but damn! Poor little Fido hadn’t been dead a week and already his family was working fast to line up a replacement. I wondered why they were in such a rush to get another dog in the house. I also wondered (uncharitably, I know) if one of the spouses died suddenly if the survivor would remarry in a matter of a few short months. I’m not saying don’t ever get another dog, but maybe give yourself some time to mourn, people. Of course, I kept all these thoughts to myself, as I was just a stranger renting a room after all.

My job ended, and I left before I could meet Fido’s replacement.

Ladies’ Underwear

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I was in a coffee shop/café in a small New Mexico town. The place was more café than coffee shop. A waitress met me at the door, menu in hand. I told her I’d be there a while writing and asked if I should sit somewhere out of the way. She said I could sit wherever I wanted, so I chose a spot away from the entrance but near an electrical outlet. The waitress left me with a menu and said she’d be back soon.

I’d never been to this establishment before and (wrongly) assumed I could order a muffin or a glass of iced tea a the counter, then blend in with the other folks drinking coffee and doing whatever work people do in coffee shops. When I walked in around 8:30 on that Monday morning, only one other table was occupied. During the three hours I was there, only a few other customers came in. There’s no blending in when business is so slow.

I ordered a small house blend coffee, which I didn’t really want and shouldn’t have had, but it was the least expensive item on the beverage menu. I also ordered a cinnamon roll, which I’m not usually into, but I’d read online raves about this shop’s variation on the treat.

The waitress asked if I wanted cream in my coffee, and I said yes. She was gone before I could ask for sugar too. I figured there must be sugar packets in the little basket on the table.

Once I got my laptop set up, I looked around the place. There were many arrangements of faded fake flowers, and the titles and covers on the books on the shelves (for sale or only for in-store skimming, I do not know) hinted at religious content. The music drifting softly through the place was of a very calm religious nature. The rendition of “I Saw the Light” playing on the stereo was not the thank God a higher being has saved me from my wicked, wicked self Hank Williams version. I imagine the light this calm chorus saw was a faintly flickering candle barely needed to illuminate the way to the heavenly afterlife the mild singers were sure to find at the end of their gentle lives. Then a woman (the baker?) came from the kitchen and into the dining area. She was wearing the simple, modest dress and white bun covering bonnet that said Mennonite to me. Oh boy. I’d wandered into quite a religious establishment.

The waitress (dressed in a secular pair of jeans and a dark t-shirt) came back to my table bearing a mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll on a disposable plate. I asked her if the shop had WiFi, and (thankfully) she said yes. She was off getting the password for me when I realized there was no sugar in the basket on the table. Drats! What was a sugar fiend like me to do?

I looked down at the large cinnamon roll in front of me. It was topped with pecans and caramel, and I imagined it would be quite sweet. Upon experimentation, I realized if I took a drink of coffee immediately after biting into the roll, I didn’t need even a grain of sugar in my coffee

The cinnamon roll was delicious. Most cinnamon rolls seem to be made with a slightly sweet bread, which I don’t enjoy very much. The base of this roll was more like a sweet biscuit. So yummy!

While I was studying the menu, setting up my laptop, asking about WiFi, waiting for, and then enjoying my treat, a party of three ate breakfast at a table in the front of the café. An elderly couple was visiting with a younger man. I wasn’t eavesdropping carefully on their conversation, but the old people were talking loudly enough for me to pick up a thing or two.

It sounded as if the couple had recently gone somewhere cold on vacation or for a weekend getaway. There was mention of snow, cold temperatures, and a snowmobile.

I had me some ladies’ underwear, the old man said in a voice that boomed through the building.

My eavesdropping ears perked up. This information might be the most interesting ever conveyed in this small-town Christian coffee shop.

My hopes of overhearing a tale of elder cross-dressing kink was dashed when the woman immediately corrected him, saying,Silk underwear! You had silk underwear!

I suppose the man wore a pair of long silk underwear meant to provide warmth during his venture into the winter wonderland. He probably thought about women’s underwear commonly being made of silk and somewhere in his brain silk long johns got tangled into ladies’ underwear. I quickly realized the conversation was not of much interest to me as it was primarily about staying warm in the cold outdoors. Sigh.

Oh well. At leas the cinnamon roll and coffee were delicious.



Change is Inevitable

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I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about chaos for me.

Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back, and we signed the deed over to her.  We were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.

Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.

While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.

At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?

In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring life and creating art.

Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig. The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife hashtag.

While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually have some fun in the summertime.

So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange, and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.

Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.

What You Can Learn from My Land-Buying Mistakes

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If you keep up with my blog, you know that recently my partner and I bought some land in Southern New Mexico. We didn’t do our homework until it was too late. After we bought the land, we realized we weren’t allowed to live in the land in a van, RV, school bus, or any other temporary dwelling. Today I’ll share what I learned from the experience so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

In several vandwelling/nomad groups I’m in on Facebook, people often bring up the idea of buying a small piece of inexpensive land in a rural location and using this as a home base. It seems they think, as my partner and I did, that property owners can pretty much do whatever they want on their own land. This is not always the case! Before you buy any land to use as a place to park your van or RV, do your research.

If you’re looking at ads for land online, read the whole thing very carefully and be sure to scrutinize the fine print. When my partner’s sister looked at online ads for land in the county where we were, she found several that were aimed at snowbirds who wanted a place to park an RV for the winter. Near the bottom ad, she found information on the limits placed on parking an RV within the county. If you only want to park your van or RV on a piece of property for 245 days a year (or whatever the actual limit is), great! However, if you want to leave an RV on the land year round while you go off exploring in a smaller rig, you need to know about these sorts of time limits.

The same sister told us that years ago, she and her partner were considering purchasing land in a remote area of Wyoming or Montana. There was lots of land available, but upon close scrutiny, she found the parcels had to either be left empty or a house had to be built there within a specified time period. If you have no plans to build a house, be sure you’re not buying land where building a conventional dwelling it the only way you’ll be allowed to live on your property.

Don’t automatically trust what the person you’re buying land from tells you can be done on the property. While I don’t think the woman we bought land from way trying to mislead us, I’m not so sure about the guy who sold the land to her.  She said she asked him if she was allowed to camp on the property and he told her doing so would be no problem. While she only camped on the land a week or two at a time once or twice a year, keeping her within the limits of the of the county ordinance that says an RV can be on undeveloped property for 30 days out of a year, she was breaking the subdivision covenant which says a temporary dwelling on the property can only be utilized while a house is being built. Maybe the guy who sold her the land wasn’t exactly lying. Maybe he’d been misinformed or assumed. In any case, don’t assume what you are told about a piece of property is true. 

Talk to a realtor if possible. I suspect realtors are held to higher ethical standards because they are professionals. I also suspect realtors are better informed than your average Joe trying to sell off some property. On the other hand, realtors are people too. Some of are unethical. Some are lazy. Some are misinformed. So while I might use a realtor as a source of information, I would use that information as a starting point for my own research. I wouldn’t unquestioningly believe everything that came out of a realtor’s mouth.

Speaking of realtor’s, a former realtor gave me some after-the-fact advice in a Facebook group. She said,


you definitely always want to check restrictions both on the deed and county/city. Also make sure you have legal access to the property. And don’t just go by looks. It may look like there’s a nice access road only to find out that’s not actual[ly] yours legally to use. And as mentioned above make sure there’s no zoning restrictions that would prevent what you want to do.

Doing an internet search on the particular area or subdivision you are interested in can alert you to any controversy surrounding the use of the land. What are landowners complaining about? Do their complaints relate to what you want to do with the land you purchase? Complaints don’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy land, but learning about controversy may allow you to go into a deal with your eyes wide open.

Talk to county officials (or folks who work their offices) who can tell you about ordinances, subdivision covenants, and land use restrictions. If you don’t know who to talk to, try the county recorder’s office, the county clerk, the county assessor’s office, or the office of county planning and development. If you call the wrong office, the person you talk to can point you in the right direction.

When you talk to the appropriate county worker or official, explain what you want to do on your land. Be clear and honest. I know sometimes we vandwellers and nomads have to be vague about how we live our lives because bureaucracy is not set up to accommodate people like us. However, I can assure you that it’s NO FUN to buy a piece of land and find out later that you can’t do with it what you intended to. I believe it’s better to find out before you plunk down your money that you’re not allowed to do what you have in mind with the property you are about to buy.

You may have better luck finding a place to accommodate you if you primarily want to own a piece of land to use as your permanent address, but not to live on for several months out of the year. Maybe your plan is to visit the land once or twice a year and live out of your van there for a week or two while you relax or do repairs and maintenance on your rig. This plan may go over better in a rural area than would a scheme to park on old RV or school bus there for long periods of time. I suspect the reason the woman we bought the land from got away with camping there over the course of several years was because she didn’t go there often and when she did, she didn’t stay long.

The bottom line is, know what you’re getting into before you lay your money down. We were lucky; when we realized we couldn’t do what we wanted with the land, the seller returned our money, and we transferred the land back to her. Most people who find out they can’t do what they want on their land will not be able to report this sort of happy ending.