Category Archives: Today Is…

A Poem (Bonus Blog Post)

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Once I wrote a lot of poetry. Now I don’t write many poems. Actually, I write almost none. Prose has supplanted poetry in my life. However, becasue today is National Poetry Day in the UK, I decided to share a poem I wrote .

I’m not very happy with the formatting. I can never get poetry to format correctly on my blog. My apologies.

Situation

My dad said

a cowboy never sits

with his back to the door.

Now it’s called situational awareness.

We make the same mistakes

again and again—

search for love, affection,

understanding.

We’re aware of our

situation,

but what can we do

to change?

Raccoon Raids

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Tomorrow is International Raccoon Appreciation Day (IRAD). According to “A Quick Guide to International Raccoon Appreciation Day,”

…IRAD is a day meant to celebrate all animals, specifically raccoons, that, while being an important part of their ecosystem, are misunderstood and considered “pests” or “nuisance animals” to local peoples.

In recognition of this special day for raccoons, I share with you a personal raccoon story from the summer of 2018.

The Man was up early getting ready for work. I had a cold and the day before I’d told the other clerk at the Mercantile that I’d be taking the day off. I planned to stay in bed all day and let the cold pass.

The Man opened the door to my van and stuck his head in.  Did you leave the kitchen container out last night? he asked me.

 I don’t know, I mumbled, still groggy. If it’s still out there, then yes, I guess I left it.

The raccoons got into it. Everything’s contaminated, he said.

The raccoons! Dammit! I’d been picking up that container every night for the last few weeks and putting it into my van so as not to attract critters, but I’d forgotten to move it the night before and the raccoons had gotten into our kitchen supplies.

Typically I only had pots and pans and utensils in the tub, but recently I’d gotten lazy and tossed food in there too. That’s what the raccoons had come for. They’d spread half a bag of brown rice across the table the tub sat on, and they’d broken open the bag of falafel powder. They’d only sampled these items, but since we didn’t want to eat anything the coons had touched, this food was now trash. What they had eaten were the almonds my sibling had sent in a care package. The bag the almonds had come in had been left on the outskirts of our camp, and there was not a nut to be found in the area.

The Man said he’d woken up around 11pm; he wasn’t sure why. He grabbed his headlamp and shined it toward our outdoor kitchen area and saw a couple of raccoons up on the table ransacking the tub. He figured it was too late to stop the creatures, so he went back to sleep.

Because The Man had to go to work, guess who spent the morning of her sick day using hot, soapy water to wash everything that had possibly been touched by coons? I was none too happy, but I didn’t forget the tub outside again.

The final raccoon raid during our time on the mountain was more of an appearance than an actual raid. We were still awake when the raccoons came down from the trees that night. I don’t remember why I left my van. Maybe I got out to see why The Man was yelling and the dog barking. In any case, I was soon yelling too, telling the raccoons to go way! and to go home! Surprise: my yelling didn’t work. Those raccoons weren’t going anywhere they didn’t want to go.

I wanted to discourage them from hanging around our campsite. I picked up a fairly big pinecone and pitched it at the raccoon on the ground. I didn’t want to hurt it. Heck, I didn’t think I had any chance of hitting it. I typically can’t hit the broad side of a barn, as they say. I thought the pinecone would fall to the ground near the raccoon and startle the creature, causing it to scurry away. None of those things happened. I tossed the pinecone and somehow managed to hit the raccoon in the side. I was stunned and immediately sorry. However, the coon did not scurry away. In fact, it barely moved. It simply turned its head and looked at me like What?

Oh my god! I called to The Man, then explained how I’d hit the raccoon with a pinecone and it wasn’t in the least Brown and Black Raccoon Photobit scared.

Lock yourself in your van! The Man called out from inside his vehicle, and I did.

We’d left nothing out there for them to damage, so thankfully there was no raccoon mess to clean up in the morning.

Later when I marveled at the raccoon that hadn’t run away when smacked by a pinecone, The Man said, Those guys don’t care. They’re the original gangsters. They were born wearing masks.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-close-up-cute-289565/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-black-raccoon-photo-634255/.

Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day

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Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day. According to Wikipedia,


Founded by Jeff Rubin in 2004, National Punctuation Day simply promotes the correct usage of punctuation. Rubin encourages appreciators of correct punctuation and spelling to send in pictures of errors spotted in everyday life.[2]

On the eve of the day when we contemplate proper punctuation, I have an example of what not to do. Of course, there is a back story to this cautionary tale.

My grandma’s house had five bedrooms. After her husband (my grandfather) died and her youngest child (my father) left the nest, my grandmother found herself with more bedrooms than she needed. She decided she’d rent the extra bedrooms to single men and make a few extra bucks.

I’m not sure when my grandma started renting the rooms. My parents married in 1966, although I think my dad left home shortly after he graduated from high school in 1963. The renters were in my grandmother’s house throughout my early childhood in the 1970s. I don’t remember when exactly they left, but sometime in my teenage years, the extra rooms stood empty again.

I don’t know if renting those rooms fell within the laws of the small town where my grandmother’s house stood. If she had some sort of license from city hall, I never saw it. If a health inspector ever came by to check for violations, I never heard talk of it. Maybe in those days no bureaucracy cared if a widow rented out her extra rooms to single men looking for basic accommodations that wouldn’t cost too much.

The front door of my grandma’s house faced the street. The renters used the front door to access their living spaces. My grandmother’s friends and family entered her home through the side door that opened into her kitchen.

The front door opened into a narrow, dark hallway. Room #1 was on one side of the hallway; room #2 was directly across from it. Room #3 was behind Room #2. Sometimes when I stayed with my grandma, I’d go into the renters’ rooms with her and help her change the sheet which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard and smelled of sunshine and grass. On the days we went quietly into the front of the house, the men had deserted the area in favor of work, but I still felt their presence like ghosts moving through their quiet room.

The rooms were sparsely furnished with a straight-backed chair and a twin bed. Clothes were stored in a small chest-of-drawers and a narrow closet. I don’t remember seeing a television in any of the rooms. What did the men living there do for entertainment after working all day? Perhaps they read books or listened to music on the radio. Perhaps they sat quietly and daydreamed of better days when they could afford homes and families of their own,.

The hallway from the front door opened into the common area. A refrigerator stood against the side wall; a table was pushed up against the wall the renters shared with my grandma’s kitchen. A couple of straight-backed chairs accompanied the table. The common area offered little comfort or color. To the right of the table was the door to the bathroom the men shared.

Of course, there were rules. The renters were not allowed to eat or drink in their bedrooms, only in the dining room. As someone who has rented rooms in people’s homes for short term stays, this rule blows me away. I can’t imagine being told I couldn’t eat in my own living space. Of course, I’m sure my grandmother was worried about spilled food attracting bugs (and in the Deep South, by “bugs,” we always meant roaches), but any insects attracted to the dining room would soon move through the house anyway.

The second rule was about ladies. No ladies were allowed (or “aloud,” as my grandmother spelled it). My grandma was no fool. She knew ladies in the house would lead to s-e-x, and as a good Catholic, I’m sure she wanted to limit the amount of sin occurring under her roof. If ladies were kept outside, the incidents of sex would be greatly reduced.

To make the rules clear, my grandmother made a sign.

Brown sign hangs on a white wall. Words written in black paint read No Eat Or Drink In Bed Room In Dining Only & No Lady Aloud. There is a comma between every word, inclduding "bed" and "room."

In her defense, my grandmother didn’t speak any English until she went off to first grade and was forced to learn the language. I think she only stayed in school for a few years, and she certainly didn’t graduate from high school. I understand her grasp on punctuation and spelling was weak at best. But even as little kids, my sibling and I knew the comma use on that sign was out of control.

It’s been suggested to me that perhaps because the words ended up so close together on the sign, my grandma used the commas to mark the space between words. Perhaps that theory reflects what happened, but I think it’s a too generous reading of the situation. I think my grandma, unsure of where to properly place any necessary commas, took a “more is better” approach to punctuating her sign. If one comma was good, ten commas must have seemed even better.

My dad liked to use commas excessively too, although I never saw him go quite as overboard as his mother did with the sign in question. I tend to sprinkle commas at a rate most textbooks would find a bit liberal, as does my sibling. Could excessive comma use be a genetic trait? Is it growing weaker because of the introduction of genes that don’t have the markers for excessive comma use, or has the educational system done its job of nurturing us beyond our comma prolific nature?

In my teenage years the renters departed one by one and were not replaced. The last to go was Mr. Jim, one day too old to live alone in the room he’d called home for decades. Whether he went to live with a family member or to spend his last days in a nursing home, I don’t remember. Neither can I recall whey my grandmother stopped replacing the renters when they left. Maybe the town ordinances changed, or may my grandma grew too old herself and could no longer change the sheets alone or feel safe with strangers on the other side of a door unlocked with a skeleton key.

Once the renters left, my sibling and I were allowed to take showers in the bathroom in the front of the house, as the bathroom in the main part of the house only had a tub. My sibling and I really needed a shower to wash our hair properly, so we preferred the front bathroom for our morning ablutions on the weekends we spent at our grandmother’s house. It was during one of these trips to the front bathroom that my sibling snapped the photo of the sign. This was back in the days of film, when by the the time you found out your photo was off center of the edge was cut off, it was too late. Neither my sibling nor I ever got another chance to snap a photo of the sign.

I wonder what happened to the sign. Surely when my grandma’s house was sold after she went to live in a nursing home, the sign was put in the shed or thrown in the trash. I sure do with I had that sign, a reminder of my childhood, a family legacy more precious than gold.

To learn more about National Punctuation Day, visit the official (?) website.

My sibling took the photo. I’m using it with permission.


World Suicide Prevention Day

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2019 World Suicide Prevention Day banner in English

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Suicide Prevention Day website,

Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

To help call attention to this tragic reality, today’s post is about my own experience with suicide.

The Man and I were going over the Bridge at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning in early June. I was driving. When we were in the middle of the Bridge, I looked over and saw two uniformed state troopers standing on the observation deck. They were looking down, down, down, into the river. One peered through a pair of binoculars, and the other looked with his naked eyes.

Oh no!  I said. Someone must have jumped. I knew those state troopers weren’t bird watching. If they were looking down at the river on a Saturday morning, they were probably trying to spot a body.

Do you think so? The Man asked.

Unfortunately, I had to say yes.

When I sold jewelry and shiny rocks at the Bridge, it was always a sad time for me after someone jumped. Whenever I got word that a suicide had happened, I packed up my merchandise and went elsewhere for the day. Too many people (tourists and vendors alike) wanted to talk about the event as if it was only the latest bit of juicy gossip. Other people made bad jokes about suicide or said indignantly that it was something they would never do. Suicide has been a reality I’ve faced throughout my life, and I don’t take it lightly. There’s nothing funny about it as far as I’m concerned. Any time a person is so distraught that taking their own life seems like a good idea is a time for sorrow and mourning.

Even with the call boxes offering a direct line to a suicide prevention hotline placed on and around the Bridge, people still jump. Some people have given up, and no hotline can save them. Of course, I’m glad the call boxes are there. I’m glad they’re available to help the people who can be reached, the people who are undecided, the people who may be swayed by the kind voice of a stranger coming out of a speaker.

About three hours after I saw the state troopers on the Bridge, we headed over it again on our way home. I saw several vehicles marked “State Police.” They were all parked on the sides of the highway and none of them had lights or sirens on.

Something is definitely going on, I told The Man. Did you see all those State Police cars?

He had seen them too. We both knew those cops weren’t out at the Bridge having a picnic. We were both quiet the rest of the way home.

On Wednesday, my fears were confirmed.

I was listening to the local community radio station while I washed dishes. One of the news stories was about a woman who had committed suicide by jumping off the Bridge the previous Saturday. I was sad to have been right.

The radio announcer didn’t give many details about the death. He said the State Police don’t release the names of suicide victims out of respect for the survivors. He did say the woman had driven hours from her home in the big city to jump off the Bridge. Her family said she’d been depressed and talking about suicide. When her family members couldn’t get in touch with her, they called the State Police and asked them to do a wellness check.

The State Police found the woman’s car in the rest area adjacent to the Bridge. After finding the car, they started looking for the woman in the rest area. When they couldn’t find her there, they started looking below the Bridge. Unfortunately, that’s where they found her. I don’t know if she jumped at night so the darkness shielded her from the sight of her body’s final destination or if she waited until after sunrise so she could see where she was going. However it happened, by 10am she was gone.

The radio announcer said the woman was the second person to jump off the Bridge in 2019. The first person had jumped in April.

When someone jumps, I think it’s a sad and somber occasion, even if I’m not at the Bridge when it happens or when the body is discovered. When someone jumps, a life is over, a light has gone out, potential will never be realized. I know the pain and distress that leads people to kill themselves, and I don’t wish such hurt and sadness on anyone. 

Honestly, I’ve considered jumping from that bridge several times. I’m not sure what’s held me back, but whenever someone ends their life there, I think about how it could have been me. I have a personal connection with every single person who jumps from the Bridge.

Whenever I drive across the Bridge—especially in the early morning when I’m alone in the truck—I fantasize about seeing someone about to jump, stopping the truck, intervening, driving the person to safety. I was too late for the woman in June, but maybe I’ll be right on time for the next person.

If you are feeling sad, depressed, distraught, or suicidal, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have internet access, you can find more information on the hotline’s website. If you’d rather chat with a counselor instead of talking, you can do so from the website. If you’re having trouble, please ask for help.

Little Doggie

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According to the National Day Calendar website, today is National Dog Day. According to the National Dog Day website,

National Dog Day celebrates all breeds, pure and mixed and serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year, either from public shelters, rescues and pure breed rescues. National Dog Day honors family dogs and dogs that work selflessly to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort.

In honor of National Dog Day, I’m sharing a story about a cute little pup I witnessed repeatedly escaping from his master on a slow day of trying to sell jewelry and shiny rocks.

I was trying to sell my jewelry and shiny rocks at an outdoor market near a tourist attraction, but there hadn’t been much interest in my merchandise. Some days are like that. Even with plenty of visitors milling about and lots of beautiful items on my table, I wasn’t selling much.

I had a lot of time to watch the tourists on that overcast and chilly day. People watching has always been one of my favorite activities, and I was enjoying seeing everyone come and go.

White Long Coated Dog on Grassland

Quite a ways down the road that runs through the area where the market is held, I saw a small, fluffy white dog that seemed to be on its own. It was standing on the edge between where the road becomes the parking area. The dog stood there calmly, apparently surveying the scene, but I worried about how close it was to moving traffic. In my experience, tourists are often lacking in observational skills, and I was afraid a driver would not notice the little dog and run it down. Just as I was about to get out of my chair and walk over to the dog, it turned around and walked back between parked cars. Disaster averted.

Maybe 10 or 15 minutes later I looked up from the bracelet I’d started making and saw the same little white fluffy dog much closer to me (only two vendors over) sitting in the middle of the roadway. I looked around for someone rushing over to scoop up and scold the dog, but no one seemed to be missing it. Was the dog out there alone?

Again, just as I was about to get out of my chair and approach the dog, it was no longer in danger. The fellow who’d been shopping with the vendor two tables down from me strode out into the road and picked up the pup and carried it to safety. Then he made a big production of snapping a leash onto the dog’s collar. If he had a leash, why had he hesitated to use it with a dog he must have known was a wanderer? Life is full of mysteries, but it seems to me that a wandering dog should certainly be leashed in a parking lot full of distracted drivers.

The fellow and his dog passed my table without a glance. It was that kind of day.

Not five minutes later, I looked up from my work again and saw the same little dog trotting across the road, making a beeline for some bikers taking a break. His leash trailed behind him.

His person was at another vendor’s table, seemingly so caught up in shopping that he couldn’t be bothered to hold onto his dog’s leash. Perhaps the dog was a master escape artist and his person could do little to keep him where he didn’t want to be. The truth of the matter is that I don’t know the whole story, and I shouldn’t judge. When the guy crossed the road to retrieve the doggie yet again, I wanted to run over and tell him he didn’t deserve such a cute dog, but I didn’t. I stayed in my chair and hoped he’d keep the little dog out of harm’s way.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-animal-dog-pet-33053/.

World Photography Day

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Today is World Photography Day! According to an article from The Economic Times,


World Photography Day…aims to inspire photographers across the planet to share a single photo with a simple purpose: to share their world with the world.

Unfortunately, at the time I’m writing this post (on Christmas Day 2018) I can’t figure out where we are supposed to share our single photo today. The World Photo Day Facebook page hasn’t been updated since August 2017, and when I go to the Wold Photo Day website, I get an Error 521 message (“web server is down”). Maybe by the time this post actually runs in August of 2019, there will be updated information out in the world.

In the meantime, I want to share photos today of two of my favorite things: cameras and vans!

Yep, it’s the Camera Van!

Van is entirely covered in cameras!
Camera Van’s website says, “Before the first camera was glued to the van in 1993, fellow car artist Ron Dolce [said]…’you can’t just glue a bunch of cameras on a van and call it art…You have to paint with the cameras.’ The result? A perfect, blow up-replica of a kodak [sic] instamatic [sic] on the camera [sic] Van’s driver’s side comprised entirely of Kodak instamatics [sic].”

Nolagirl and I encountered Camera Van at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity which we attended in the spring of 2018. There were a lot of art cars there and a few art vans too, including Camera Van.

Front view of the Camera Van, entirely covered in cameras.
The Camera Van website says, “The Camera Van’s front grill features every polaroid [sic] camera ever made, from the Land Camera to the popular “One-Step” to The Swinger.”

Camera Van was created by Harrod Blank. According to Camera Van’s very own website, it is


the world’s most unique rolling photographic studio, truly the world’s ONLY van carpeted wall-to-wall in cameras and rigged to catch the candid expressions of people everywhere.

According to the Tucson.com article “World’s Funkiest Cars Find a Home in Douglas” by Luis F. Carrasco, Camera Van is Blank’s second art car, which he started working on in 1993. The van is

…covered with more than 2,000 cameras and assorted photography paraphernalia. It took him two years to complete.

Detail of the passenger side of the Camera Van.
The Camera Van website says of the passenger side, “…a representation of the human eye glows and gazes outward in color lens filter, flashcubes and mirrored glass.

Harrod Blank is also the creator of the Art Car World museum in Douglas, AZ. According the the musem’s website, Art Car World is


[a] museum dedicated entirely to the celebration and preservation of this popular mobile art form…located in historic downtown Douglas, Arizona. Currently under construction, Art Car World will feature a permanent collection of 42 popular Art Cars with more on rotating exhibition.

Art Car World is located at 450 E 8th Street in Douglas, AZ and is open by appointment only. You can contact the museum to schedule a visit or to get more information via email at excentrix@aol.com or by sending a letter to the street address given above.

The back of the Art Van is full of cameras.
There are more cameras on the back of the Camera Van!

Be sure to visit the Camera Van website to see the surprise on the vehicle’s roof.

If you like, take some photos today. Share them on Facebook or Instagram or go old school and have prints made. However you do it, use photography to share your world with the world.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about another art van called California Fantasy Van  and an art car called J Gurl that were also at the spark! Festival.

I took all the photos in this post.

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/.

In Praise of Paper Maps

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Person Holding Pen Leaning on Map Near Cup

According to the National Day Calendar website, April 5 is National Read a Road Map Day. To prepare us for this holiday, today I’ll share with you my ideas about why GPS isn’t enough, make suggestions about what maps to use depending on where you’re going, and give you tips on where to find help if you need to brush up on your map reading skills.

When did everyone become dependent on GPS and a computerized voice telling us when to turn left?

My dad was a salesman during the early years of my life. When he went out looking for clients, he used paper maps to find them. When I was very young, we moved to a major metro area. My dad had not a single paper map, but an entire large, thick book that showed each neighborhood, each street, each back alley. The book was laid out with some mysterious logic I still fail to understand which involved flipping to a whole new page in mid trip. How did my father possibly read that map while driving? I can only assume he studied the map and planned his trip before getting into the driver’s seat and stopped in a parking lot to consult the map any time he had to confirm his route or start over and figure out new directions.

In 1998 I found myself at a music festival with a need to get back to my home base sooner than planned. I didn’t have a car and didn’t drive. I was facing a multi-day Greyhound bus adventure, but a friend of a friend of a friend pointed me in the direction of a woman who was headed to the same city as I was. She had an open passenger seat and room in the back of her pickup for my gear. After she accepted me as her passenger, I found she also had a TripTik Travel Planner from AAA. Does anyone remember these customized booklets that AAA members could request from the local office? AAA members could get request directions to a specific destination and the local office would provide turn-by-turn instructions. I spent a lot of time holding that booklet from AAA, as I was immediately promoted from passenger to navigator.

(True confession: I still managed to send us off in the wrong direction, despite the turn-by-turn instructions in my hand. In my defense, we were in the outskirts of Chicago, and the proliferation of road signs had me befuddled. Luckily the driver quickly saw the error of my ways and got us back on track ASAP.)

I can’t remember exactly when I learned about MapQuest. Perhaps it was in the very early years of the 2000s when I got my first laptop. Maybe it was before that, and I’d use my computer at work or go to the public library to get my directions via the World Wide Web. I do remember finding directions online and either printing them or writing each step out by hand. MapQuest let me down multiple times (including on so many occasions on a single trip to Missouri that I grew convinced that no employee of MapQuest had ever driven one mile in the Show Me State), until I swore to never use that website again. Now I’m a Google Maps gal.

The first time I heard a talking GPS navigator was 2009. The parents of the

White Android Smartphone Inside Vehicle

guy who was then my boyfriend flew into the major city where we lived and rented a car because the guy and I didn’t have one. The car’s talking navigation system seemed to be more trouble to me than it was worth. We asked it to take us to tacos; instead it took us in circles as we tried to find a taco stand that apparently didn’t exist. I feared we would be directed to drive off a cliff or through a river.

Until I met The Man, I never let the navigation lady in Google Maps talk to me. I’d get directions from Google Maps, then write them out on a piece of paper I’d clip somewhere on my dash so I could refer to the instructions as I drove. I soon agreed with The Man that listening to the Google lady is easier than writing everything out, but it sure is a wrench in my system when she decides to send me on a wild goose chase. (I call them “wild Google chases.”) Why does the GPS lady get confused? Doesn’t her job require her to be omniscient?

And yet, I often wonder how our society got around before Google Maps or other GPS technology. When I think hard, I remember as a teenager having to ask friends how to get to their houses before my mother drove me over. Invitations to birthday parties often included small hand-drawn maps. Vacationers used road maps and those AAA TripTik booklets (if they were so fortunate as to be AAA members–my family never was). When folks got lost, they’d stop at a gas station and ask the worker for help.

Yes, I do appreciate GPS technology. I use it often. I’ve made friends with the Google Maps lady who guides me from inside my phone. (I call her Megan.) But for goodness sake, no matter how convenient GPS technology is, don’t forget your paper maps and don’t forget how to use them.

There are a few types of paper maps that you may need during your travels. Be sure to get the right map for the job!

(I’m going to assume you’re traveling in the U.S.A. since that’s where I’m writing from. I’ve you’re traveling in a country other than the U.S.A., I‘d love for you to leave a comment describing how your use of maps is different from the suggestions I’m giving here.)

Map of the World Book Laid Open on Brown Wooden Surface

For your day-to-day driving on the interstate and highways, use a decent road atlas. Rand McNally makes a good one. You can buy these bound sets of maps at bookstores or even Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart also sells a Rand McNally road atlas that shows the location of every Wal-Mart store in the U.S. This atlas would be a great investment for anyone who plans to spend a significant number of nights in Wal-Mart parking lots.SimplyRVing made a YouTube video all about this Wal-Mart atlas and how it can help you on the road.

If you’re planning your travels ahead of time, you can order an atlas online or through a local, independent bookstore. (Believe me, an independent bookstore will appreciate your business!) An atlas will show you the main roads to get you from town to town. The maps often show rest stops and campgrounds, as well as state and federal public land. Many of them also show basic maps of major cities and the most popular National Parks. If you purchase an atlas that covers all of North America, you’ll get maps of Canada and Mexico too.

If you’re only traveling in one state or region and you don’t have the space

Two People In Vehicle Looking At The Map

(or money) for an atlas, you can probably get by with one or more state maps. You can sometimes find state maps in bookstores or Wal-Mart stores, and you can certainly buy them online. However, state maps are typically available for free at visitor centers or by mail if you contact the state’s tourism office ahead of time. I was recently in the visitor center in Deming, NM where there were free maps available for New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas.

(If you want to request free paper maps and other tourist information, the USATourist.com website offers a page with links to all the tourism offices in the USA.)

Sometimes a stand-alone state map will be more detailed than a state map in an atlas. It may show you county roads and tourists attractions. A state map may also include basic maps of major cities within the state.

If you want to explore a state thoroughly, especially if you want to boondock for free on public land, you may want to invest in an atlas or atlas and gazetteer for the state you are exploring.  These bound maps of individual states break the entire state into blocks, then enlarges each block to show not just county roads but also forest service roads, old mines, campgrounds, public land, historic sites, hunting zones, and more. Having a state atlas or atlas and gazetteer combo is a good plan if you want to find free camping areas that are off the beaten path. The two most popular brands are DeLorme and Benchmark.

Photo of Gray Concrete Road in the Middle of Jungle during Daylight

If you’re going to spend some time in a National Forest or BLM area (especially a popular one), you may be able to get a map from the local ranger station. These maps will show Forest Service roads, natural attractions and landmarks, and campgrounds. These maps will also save you from buying a gazetteer if you don’t really need it because you’ll be boondocking primarily in one part of the state. (The map of the National Forest I worked in for four seasons cost $20, but the ranger station may have free handouts that will get you where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies.)

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time in an urban area, you may want to get a good map of the city where you are based. Gas stations or Wal-Mart stores may have city maps, or you can order them before you hit town, if you’re the type to plan ahead. If you get to a city and need a free map of the area, try the local chamber of commerce. You don’t have to say you live in your van (if doing so makes you uncomfortable) when you explain you’re new to the area and need some help finding your way around. You could also go to the public library and print out some maps of the city that show the parts of town you plan to frequent.

Once you have your map, don’t just stick it in the pocket behind your seat and forget about it. Get that baby out and study it! Trust me, the best time to pull out your map is not when you are already lost.

If you’re using GPS to get to your destination, compare the route the

Person Holding Map of Usa

computer gives you to your map. Does what the GPS tell you make sense? Some camp host friends punched “Sequoia National Park” into their GPS, and after following the instructions given, found themselves turning down what seemed to be a dry riverbed. Oops! Had they consulted a map before the trip, they would have seen there was no reason to leave the pavement to get where they were going.

I’ve had Google Maps send me on wild Google chases even in cities and towns. Once when on the interstate, driving through the metro Los Angeles area, the Google Maps lady routed The Man onto Sunset Boulevard. Why? Why? Why? Google Maps often sent me on strange, roundabout routes through Porterville, CA. In any case, using a paper map to get familiar with an area before a trip can help do away with this type of nonsense. Simply being familiar with street names and the lay of the land can help make recovery a little easier if the GPS starts spewing incorrect information.

If you’ve never learned to read a road map or your skills are rusty, no shame! You can find lots of map-reading help on the internet. The Beginner Driver’s Guide will give you an informative overview of what different components of a map mean and how to use them. wikiHow has a thorough two-part article on “How to Read a Map,” including how to understand a map’s layout and how to use a map to get where you’re going. If you’d rather watch a video, there are several on YouTube dedicated to teaching folks how to read maps.

However you go about sharpening your map-reading skills, do it before you get on the road. Trying to interpret an unfamiliar map while trying to drive and read street signs is no easy task and could be a recipe for disaster.

GPS is quite helpful in getting you where you’re going, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your navigation toolbox. Make sure you have the correct paper map for the particular journey you’re on, and know how to use it so you can reach your destination with less worry and stress.

As always, Blaize Sun takes no responsibility for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. Do your research and decide for yourself your best course of action.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/activity-adventure-blur-business-297642/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/smartphone-car-technology-phone-33488/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-maps-american-book-32307/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-gray-concrete-road-in-the-middle-of-jungle-during-daylight-775199/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-close-up-fingers-focus-590133/.

Unusual Bodily Connections and Their Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being (Guest Post)

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Today is World Oral Health Day. According to the World Oral Health Day website, it


is celebrated globally every year on 20 March. It is organized by FDI World Dental Federation and is the largest global awareness campaign on oral health.


WOHD spreads messages about good oral hygiene practices to adults and children alike and demonstrates the importance of optimal oral health in maintaining general health and well-being.

March 20 was chosen as World Oral Health Day


to reflect that:
Seniors must have a total of 20 natural teeth at the end of their life to be considered healthy
Children should possess 20 baby teeth
Healthy adults must have a total of 32 teeth and 0 dental cavities
Expressed on a numerical basis this can be translated as 3/20 hence March 20

In honor of this day, we’ll take a break from our usual Wednesday posts of special interest to vandwellers, vagabonds. nomads, drifters, rubber tramps, and travelers and share this guest post by Catherine Workman. Catherine’s article tells us about the impact oral health has on the human body’s overall general health, the link between dental and mental health, and as a bonus, how gut bacteria influences mental and physical well being. Of course, such information is important to everyone, including folks who live on the road.

The human body is an endless source of surprise, with odd connections that would seem highly improbable if science hadn’t provided the evidence. Research has established a connection between periodontal and cardiovascular health and proven a connection between one’s gut and mental and metabolic health. It’s strange to think that a healthy gut would have an effect on your mental well-being as well as obesity and whether you get diabetes, but such is the case. Understanding these connections is important and the first step in preventing serious physical and psychological problems. And it’s very likely that understanding how to use these connections to stay healthy and happy can help prevent serious conditions.

Gums and Heart

Gum disease results from the buildup of plaque around the teeth, increasing the incidence of inflammation within the body, especially chronic long-term inflammation, a key factor in an array of health issues, particularly atherosclerosis. And while there’s no clear proof that preventing periodontal disease will prevent cardiovascular disease, researchers have concluded that the link between the two is reason enough to be diligent about maintaining good oral health.

Proper oral health includes being faithful about brushing, flossing, and making regular visits to the dentist, all of which play an even more important role in one’s overall health than previously understood. Gingivitis, which is the inflammation of the gums, is an early warning sign of periodontal disease. Swollen, red, or sensitive gums that bleed easily are indicators of gingivitis and should be brought to your dentist’s attention as soon as possible.

Dental and Mental Health

There is also a connection between oral and mental health. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, two-thirds of people suffering from depression indicated having had a toothache or some other dental problem in the past year. Depressed persons also tended to have teeth in fair or poor condition. Evidently, poor dental health is linked to a range of mood disorders. It can be difficult to know which comes first, but there is evidence that people who suffer from depression and anxiety tend to neglect their own hygiene.

Depression is also a cause of poor dietary habits and the ingestion of sugary and acidic foods that are bad for the teeth. Maintaining a healthy oral health routine is the most direct form of treatment, though some people may require pharmacological help, including the prescription of medications to alleviate their mental suffering.

Your Gut, Your Health

One of the most impactful findings of recent years is the relationship between gut bacteria — a proper balance between good and bad bacteria — and various aspects of one’s mental and physical well-being. Your overall health begins in your gut, where bacteria such as Akkermansia, Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium play a major role in preserving your health.

Gut bacteria are involved in proper food digestion and are tied to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, and even mental health problems such as depression. Gut bacteria line your entire digestive system, most of which live in the colon and intestines, and affect profoundly important bodily functions, such as your metabolism and immune system. Insufficient anti-inflammatory gut bacteria is likely to cause colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Following a healthy diet, which should include whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, can help place your good and bad gut bacteria back in balance and overcome health problems related to gut-related problems. Regular exercise and taking probiotics can also improve gut health. Alternative approaches include ginger and turmeric, an anti-inflammatory; milk thistle, which speeds slow digestion; and slippery elm, which soothes acid reflux.

We’re accustomed to thinking of major organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver as the primary influencers of one’s health. It can be strange to think that good physical and mental health begins in the mouth and in one’s gut. However, maintaining good oral and gut health clearly have an impact on one’s overall health and well-being.

Catherine Workman believes we should all leave our comfort zones once in a while. She travels to boost her physical and mental health.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Transit Driver Appreciation Day

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Bus Interior

Today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day! This holiday seems to the brainchild of TriMet transportation (providing bus, light rail and commuter rail service) out of Portland, Oregon.  

I think most transit drivers are real public heroes. They deal with traffic; inclement weather; and strange, belligerent, confused, and angry passengers. I always thank my driver.

The story that follows isn’t specifically about a transit driver, but it took place on a city bus, so I think it fits the occasion. Anything could happen on a city bus. Drivers and passengers alike have to be prepared for surprises.

Long ago I lived in a large city in Texas. I didn’t have a vehicle, so I walked or biked or rode the bus to get to all the places I needed to go. Work was a long way from home, father than I wanted to ride my bike early in the morning or after a long day on the job, so I spent a lot of time on public transit at the beginning and end of each work day.

One afternoon I was on a bus full of evening commuters. The place was packed. Every seat was taken, and I was grateful I’d gotten on early and had a place to sit.

White Bus on Road Near in High Rise Building during Daytime

I don’t remember when the woman boarded the bus of if I’d noticed her when she did. I was sitting in one of the forward facing double seats on the same side as the driver; she was across the aisle from me and father up, in the middle of the row of seats facing the aisle.

The interior of the bus was noisy with the sound of people talking mixed with the steady thump thump of wheels on pavement and the roar of engine. As the bus approached a red light, the driver decreased our speed, and the roar of the engine died down.

Of course, the bus was not the only vehicle on the road. We were in the midst of big-city rush hour traffic, so there were a dozen or more vehicles between the bus and the intersection. Even after traffic started moving, it was going to be a while until we started chugging along again.

It was at this time the woman decided to make her pronouncement.

I have to go to the bathroom! she called out in a loud, singsong voice. She placed the stress on the word “have” and the first syllable of “bathroom.”

Red Metal Bars in Side Vehicle

The woman was young, but definitely not a child. Most adults would not make this announcement to people they didn’t know

Everyone else on the bus was immediately uncomfortable and quiet. The interior of the bus was enveloped in the silence that occurs when a group of strangers are feeling socially awkward together. But ok, the outburst was over. We could move on…

I have to go to the bathroom, the woman burst out again.

Oh, the awkwardness was not over.

As the bus inched its way forward, the woman turned her words into a little chant.

I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. Her voice grew more plaintive as her chant progressed.

None of the other passengers on the bus would look at the woman or at each other. No eye contact was being made.


I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom.

We could all hear the growing desperation in her voice.

Even if the bus driver would have let her out between stops, there was no place for her to go. We were in the middle of a block with an empty athletic field on the right and businesses not likely to have public restrooms on the left. Even if she got off the bus, where would she find the restroom she seemed so desperately to need?

I have to go to the bathroom.

Finally, the bus was close to the traffic light. Surely when the light turned green the bus would make it through the intersection.

I have to go to the bathroom.

Red became green, and the bus made it through, but I guess the woman was going to hold out until she got to her stop. She didn’t pull the cord to ring the bell or dash to the door. In fact, several blocks later when we got to my stop, I could hear her as I got off the bus, still chanting about her need to go to the bathroom.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-sitting-bus-seats-34171/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-bus-on-road-near-in-high-rise-building-during-daytime-68427/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/bar-bus-grip-hand-grips-1462097/.