Renegade Little Free Library in Flagstaff, AZ

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The Man and I were van camping in Coconino National Forest just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. It was September of 2018. We were hanging out there where it was cool before making our way to our fifth wheel in Why, AZ where it was still hot. Several days a week I drove into town to work on my blog at the public library.

To get from our campsite to the library, I took Highway 180. For part of the way on that road, I could see a sidewalk and houses on my right. One day I noticed there was a Little Free Library in front of one of the houses.

For folks who don’t know, the Little Free Library website says this about Little Free Libraries,

anyone may contribute or take books…If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside.

I love Little Free Libraries and love to visit them. I’ve encountered them in Los Gatos, CA; Mesa and Phoenix, AZ;  and Santa Fe and Taos, NM. I was excited to see one in Flagstaff too. I knew I wanted to visit this one before I left town, especially since I had a stack of books I wanted to donate.

On the day I’d decided to visit this particular Little Free Library (LFL), I had a heck of a time getting to it. The house it belonged to was the last on a dead end street, so while I could see the house from the highway, I couldn’t get to it from there. I had to go about half a mile to find an entrance into the subdivision in which the LFL was located. While I knew the general direction in which to find the LFL, I hadn’t seen a street sign telling me its particular location. I drove my big hippie van through the neighborhood and took several wrong turns down dead end streets and into cul-de-sacs before I found the right place.

Not long before my visit to Flagstaff a friend living in a city in the Midwest wanted to build a Little Free Library in front of her home, but her teenage daughter protested. The girl thought it weird that strangers would be hanging out in front of her house while browsing through the books in the LFL. My friend deferred to her daughter’s wishes, delaying her LFL plans until her kid moves into her own place in a few years. I thought of my friend and her daughter as I pulled up on the LFL. Was I a weirdo for stopping in front of the homes of strangers in the pursuit of books? Weren’t Little Free Libraries in the world to give strangers opportunities to pursue books?

I might not have given it a second thought before, but now it seemed weird to park right in front of the house which hosted the Little Free Library. I decided to park across the street and walk over.

I didn’t feel entirely like a weirdo because I had books to offer to the LFL. I might be weird for taking, but certainly my character wouldn’t be questioned since I was making a donation.

This photo shows the renegade Little Free Library I discovered in Flagstaff, AZ.

The Little Free Library was made from a metal box, probably the sort that had once held free local papers focusing on arts, culture, and entertainment. The bottom section of the box now sported a volcano scene. The volcano had been painted and objects glued on to give the scene three dimensions. The door of the box had been decorated with a map, but I can’t remember (or tell from my own photos) what part of the world it depicted. Over the map someone had written “Little Free Library” so there was no mistaking what was going on even though the LFL was a renegade, not registered with the official Little Free Library organization and lacking a charter number.

One side of the box was decorated with numbers, letters, and symbols. The other side showed a bare-branch tree and an asymmetrical butterfly. There was plenty of room on that side for more drawings to be added later.

I looked through the LFL’s offerings, even though I had plenty of books but not much space in my life at the moment. How could a bibliophile pass an offering of free books without even checking to see what was available? Maybe others could do it, but I could not.

Most of the books in the library were for young kids; I didn’t need those books, so I left them behind for someone who did. I did find a large hardback book claiming to offer money-saving household tips (As seen on TV, the cover proclaimed.) I can always use money-saving household tips, so I scooped up that book and took it with me. (Money-saving household tip #1: Don’t pay for books you can get from Little Free Libraries.)

These are the books I left in the Little Free Library.

I would have been perfectly happy even if I hadn’t gotten a book from the LFL. I am happy enough just to visit Little Free Libraries, to see how they are decorated, to appreciate the unique qualities of each one, to see them housing books that folks can come and take with no out-of-pocket expense. I’m also happy when I can share books I no longer need or want by dropping them off in a Little Free Library. Getting a book from a LFL is really just a bonus. 

I took the photos in this post.

Detail of volcano on the front of the Little Free Library

Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 1: First Steps

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Chevy van parked on street under streetlamp
Photo by Julian Schultz on Unsplash

You’re going to do it! You’re going to move out of your sticks-n-bricks home, hit the road, and live nomadically. The problem is, you have so much stuff. How are you going to fit everything you own into your rig? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re probably not going to be able to take everything you own with you on the road. If you’re living like the average American, you probably have more possessions than you can shove into a van, car, truck camper, pull-behind trailer, or even a large motorhome or 5th wheel. Today and for the next three Wednesdays, I’ll share my ideas for purging your material possessions as well as what you should keep for life on the road.

You’re lucky if you can purge before you leave your conventional home. Whether you’re hitting the road in a week, a month, or a year, your first step will be to cull your possessions mercilessly. You will need to look at every single item you own and decide whether it has a place in your nomadic life. Overwhelming? Yes. Necessary? Also yes.

Small camper parked immediately to the side of a dirt road
Photo by Leo Foureaux on Unsplash

Be prepared to go through the culling process several times. You may think you’ve done a great job by selling and donating 50% of your material possessions only to find you still have 75% more things than will fit in your rig. You may stuff your rig with belongings and after a week or a month (or a year!) decide you can no longer live with all the material possessions you’ve crammed into your space. That’s ok! Downsizing may be an ongoing process for a long time.

Many people have written books or developed systems designed to help other people declutter and organize. Some of these people have good ideas, but remember they are trying to help you live better in a conventional sticks-n-bricks home or an apartment. Such methods are not intended for people planning to move into a van or RV, much less a car or an SUV, and won’t be presented with folks like us in mind. By all means, look into the methods available, but be prepared to pick and choose the tips that will work for you.

Some systems for organizing will be based on you buying things. You may be advised to buy baskets, storage cubes, drawer organizers, dish racks, or any number of other things. There’s no shame in not wanting to or being able to rush out and buy more stuff. Think about what you already have that might work before you buy anything. Maybe you own storage containers that would work for what you want to do. If not, maybe you can build what you need. Have a look at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore or other thrift shop for items you can use before you buy new things.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Recently there has been a lot of talk (and many jokes) about a method for purging that encourages people to discard all items that don’t “spark joy.” Joy is great. I’m all for joy. When it comes to clothing, jewelry, shoes, and decorations or knickknacks, sure, jettison anything that doesn’t spark joy. However, some items are utilitarian, and you may only experience joy when the object allows you to get things done. You may not feel joy from your tire jack or can opener until you change a flat or open a can of beans, but you still need to carry those items with you every day.

Another school of thought is that you should only keep items that serve multiple purposes. When I lived in my van, almost nothing I owned served more than one purpose. A potholder is only a potholder, a spoon is only a spoon, and a can of Fix-of-Flat is only a can of Fix-a-Flat. Yes, an item that serves more than one purpose is great, but I suggest you take this “multi-purpose” advice with a grain of salt.

When you’re ready to start your culling process (and it’s never too soon to begin), I suggest you take it one room at a time. Get some containers to hold the items you’re going to get rid of. I suggest you use 18 gallon plastic tubs, but cardboard boxes or large garbage bags work too. Don’t fill overfill your containers; you want to be able to move them when necessary.  

Label one container “trash.” Into this tub you will put items no one wants, such as used razor blades, sticky rubber bands that have lost their elasticity, dry ink pens, and outdated medication. (Please dispose of old medication properly.)

Label the second container “sell.” Into this container you will put everything you think you might be able to sell. You probably want your wallet to be as fat as possible when you hit the road, so try to sell as much as you can. You may be surprised by what bargain hunters at yard sales will buy! Whatever you don’t sell, you can donate later. (In the third post in this series, I’ll give you a list of places where you can try to sell your belongings.)

Label the third container “donate.” Into this container you will put the things you want to give away. If you already know you want to give the quilt your grandmother made in 1926 to your great-niece, go ahead and put it into this container. During your first go round, you will probably have more items in the “sell” container than in the “donate” container, but as things don’t sell, move them over to “donate.” (In the fourth post in this series, I will give you lots of suggestions about where to donate things.)

As you fill containers, put all of the items you want to sell together in one area. Put the containers holding items to give away in another area. Don’t get the items mixed up. Having the containers labeled will (hopefully) keep you from getting confused. Keep these containers away from items you’re not tossing.

Interior hallway of a storage unit facility
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Label another container “storage.” Into this container you’ll put items you don’t want to get rid of but you don’t want to carry around in your rig. I suggest you put as little as possible into this container!!! I am mostly opposed to storing belongings. If you’re paying for a storage unit, you’re basically letting your money float off into the wind. Before paying for storage, ask yourself how difficult it would be to replace the items you’re thinking about storing. Also, how much would it cost to replace the items? Could you replace the items with less expensive or used items? If the items are easy to replace and would cost less than the equivalent of a couple month’s storage fees, consider ditching the items and replacing them later if you need to.

Think about how far from the stored items you’ll be if you need them. If you stay in the same town as your storage unit, it might make more sense to store some belongings. If your spare forks are in New Jersey and you’re in Oregon when you need a replacement, paying the monthly fee to house the spares has been pretty much pointless.

If you’re planning to pay to store family heirlooms, you may want to ask yourself why. Are you saving the items for a family member who can’t take them now? If that’s the case, let the family member pay to store them! Are you sure the family member really wants the items? Perhaps the family member can’t take the items because they don’t want them. Now would be a good time to have a frank discussion about the expectations surrounding the responsibility for family possessions, who wants to inherit what, and who could care less. Maybe everyone in the family would be happy to sell the heirlooms and split the money. Maybe everyone would be fine with giving the heirlooms to a third cousin once removed who’d really, really like to have them.

Even if you don’t have to pay for storage because you’re keeping some things at a friend’s or family member’s place, consider what a headache this might turn out to be. What if the person storing your belongings moves? Will that person resent having to move your things too? What if there is a fire or flood and your items are destroyed? Are you belongings covered under your friend or family member’s insurance? What if you and the person storing your things have a fight? Will you ever see your belongings again? I have stored my possessions with individuals, but I suggest you avoid doing so if you can.

If you want, label one more container “to deal with later.” Into this container you’ll put items like CDs you want to copy to your laptop or external hard drive, letters and photos you want to scan, and financial documents you need time to look through. Again, I suggest you don’t put too much into this container.

Next week I’ll give you specific information about what I think is worth keeping and what I think is better left behind. I’ll cover categories like clothing, shoes, bedding, books, crafts, and tools. In the meantime, I’ll give you some general suggestions for how to decide what should stay and what should go.

sweaters and shirts on shelves in a closet
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As you go through each room where you’re currently living, look at one item at a time. For practical items (clothes, umbrellas, kitchen gadgets), first use the one-year rule. If you haven’t worn or used the item in at least a year, toss it directly into the “sell” or “donate” container. If you haven’t worn or used an item in a year, you probably won’t suddenly need it while you’re living in your van or RV.

If an item passes the one-year test, consider if it is practical for your new lifestyle. Can you even run a stand mixer, bread machine, or microwave oven off the power system in your rig? Do you need a pair of strappy high heels while you’re exploring national parks? If you’re not going to use an item, don’t carry it out to your rig.

As you consider items, ask yourself if you could make a life change that would make the item in question obsolete. Could you get a haircut that leaves your hair easy to style, thus doing away with your need for a curling iron, hairspray, and barrettes? What if you stop coloring your hair and left behind boxes of hair dye kits? Might now be the time to limit the amount of makeup you wear so you need to lug around fewer cosmetics? Could you do most of your cooking in one cast iron skillet instead of dragging around an assortment of pots and pans?

Think about items of which you have multiples. Do you need all of them? Must you have 5 (or 8 or 11) plain black t-shirts? Do you need several pairs of flip flops? How many hair scrunchies can one person use? Can you made do with one pair of winter gloves? Do you need multiple pairs of reading glasses or sunglasses? Pick your favorite of what you have many of and jettison the rest. Having a couple of spares of small things like glasses is fine, but don’t go overboard.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

For some items, it is a good idea to consider the joy they bring. If you’re going to have one bowl, sure, use the one that makes you happy. If your wardrobe is going to include only three t-shirts, choose the ones that fit best, look good, and feel most comfortable. If you’re going to allow yourself one book, make sure it’s one you really want to read.

If it helps you get rid of things you can’t possibly take with you anyway, think about the joy another person will get when they use an item you give away. Another hiker will appreciate the backpack you can no longer use. Your sibling may love to have the fancy cloth your mom put on the table every Christmas. Your spare blankets will bring warmth to homeless folks during the winter. Just because an item is no longer a part of your life doesn’t mean its usefulness is over.

Some items will be easy to toss into your “sell” or “donate” containers. Others will be a struggle to part with; it’s ok to sit with those decisions for a while. Just remember, living nomadically will bring benefits that a Def Leppard t-shirt or a food processor never will. Watching a beautiful sunset or seeing a full moon rise over the ocean will make your nomad’s heart soar. Traveling with the weather so you miss the worst of the heat and the cold is freeing in a way all the shoes in the world can never be.

If you’re a nomad, how did you downsize before you hit the road?

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It’s the End of a Decade. What Have I Accomplished?

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Today is not just the end of the year, but the end of the decade. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Two decades of the 21st century are gone. Wasn’t it just the other day that we were partying like it was 1999?

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Apparently someone started a thing on Twitter in November by tweeting

“there’s only ONE MONTH left in the decade. what have you accomplished?”

According to the Mashable article “People Are Sharing Their Accomplishments of the Decade as 2019 Comes to an End” by Andy Moser,

[i]t began with the best intentions, but as things on Twitter tend to go, things quickly devolved into a mess of memes, sadness, and somehow, compassion and encouragement.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

However the answers to the questions left other people feeling, the question got me thinking about what I have done during the decade. Here’s the list of what I’ve accomplished since December 31, 2009.

  • Finished visiting all of the contiguous United States except Montana
  • Got into what turned out to be an abusive relationship
  • Left the abusive relationship again and again and again…and finally for good
  • Bought a van after hard work and lots of help from my friends
  • Went on an epic 2 month road trip with people I really cared about
  • Hit an elk and lost my van
  • Bought another van (after hard work and lots of help from my friends)
  • Worked even harder (and got some help from my friends) and bought a better van
  • Started a blog (in February 2015) and kept it up until now
  • Worked as a camp host
  • Wrote a book about my experiences as a camp host and self-published it
  • Met a nice guy who became my partner
  • Acquired a small piece of land and a small travel trailer where we live now with the dog
Photo by Crazy nana on Unsplash

Is that a lot to have accomplished in a decade or only a little? Is it enough? Should I have done more? I don’t know. All I know, is that’s what I’ve done.

I’d love to hear about what you have accomplished this decade. Please feel free to tell me about your accomplishments in the comments section below.

I Got a Job

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If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I quit my job at a grocery store fuel center in August. The job itself wasn’t terrible, although a lot of customers were angry and/or clueless. The worst part of the job was waking up at 4am to drive in the dark to get to work by 5:45, just as the sun was coming up.

Since I quit the gas station job, I’d been working on my blog and selling at the Bridge one or two days a week, depending on the weather. Early in December money got a little tight, so I started actually looking for regular work. I joined a few Facebook job groups focused on the area where I live. One day I saw a listing for a job with a home health care company. I’d never done that type of work before, but the ad said no experience was necessary, and the company was looking to hire people to work out in the boonies near where I live.

I applied for the job on Friday, December 6th and started on Monday the 9th. I’m now a personal care worker for two folks who need a little help getting around and dealing with daily household chores. The woman I work for gets 16 hours of service a week, while the fellow gets 24 hours of service each week. That’s a 40 hour work week! I told the ladies at the home care service that hired me I only wanted to work part time (as in 16 hours a week, not 24), but they really needed someone to cover both people. I agreed, while making it clear it was more than I wanted to work.

The fellow gets services on every day except Sunday, which means I only get one full day off each week. I only see the woman four days a week, so at least on two of my six workdays I have my afternoons free. Still, that isn’t enough time off.

The road I drive to get to work is worse than this one.

The fellow lives down the worst dirt road I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been down some bad New Mexico roads. If I didn’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, I don’t think I could get to his house. In fact, I think I got the job because of my truck, not because of any skills I possess. For real. I wasn’t interviewed for the job. I did have to fill out an application, but as soon as I mentioned my truck, I was looking at a hiring packet.

Because we only have one vehicle, my having it 40 hours a week (plus the drive time to and from work) means The Man hasn’t been able to work much. He is employed on an as-needed basis by several elderly ladies in town. He does maintenance, painting, landscaping, and yard cleanup, so luckily his schedule is flexible. However, he’s been working to get a guest house ready for a new resident, and my use of the truck has limited when he’s been able to go in. Some mornings I drive him to town and drop him off before 8am, then backtrack out to the boonies to get myself to work by 9am When The Man is finished with his work, he hitchhikes home. The situation is not ideal for either of us.

Mudcicles on our 4 x 4.

I’m hoping things change for the better at the first of the year. A friend of the man I assist has applied to be a personal care worker with the company I work for. According to the man I assist, his friend said he is available to start work after December 27th. I’m hoping he’ll start working with the fellow I’m currently assisting to the tune of at least five days a week. I’d be happy to work with the lady 16 hours each week and fill in with the guy for 4 hours a week. Of course, I haven’t heard anything from the company that pays me about how we’re going to organize my schedule. I’ve made it clear to the management on several occasions that 40 hours is more than I want to work in a week, but I’m pretty sure my happiness is not their #1 concern. I’ve decided if my hours aren’t reduced by the first week in January, I’ll give my two weeks’ notice. I hope it doesn’t come to that because looking for a job is often worse than having a job.

I hope by the time you read this post, my hours have been reduced, and I am satisfied with my new position.

Unlike with my past jobs, I won’t be sharing stories from my work days. I’m under strict expectations of confidentiality, so anything funny or annoying or interesting that happens to me, well, I’ll be keeping it to myself. But don’t worry. I have plenty of stories to tell you about the places I’ve been and the lives that I’ve lived.

I took the photos in this post.

Renegade Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

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The last Little Free Library (LFL) Nolagirl and I visited in Phoenix on the November day of our excursion was on 5th Street. Nolagirl remembered seeing it there, so we went to its neighborhood especially to check it out.

Little Free Libraries are part of the gift economy of books. Anyone can leave a book in a Little Free Library and anyone can take a book too! Some LFLs are “official.” The Little Free Library FAQ says,

There is…[a] one-time payment of about $40 to register each Library that you build. When you register, you get a charter sign engraved with a unique charter number. Your unique charter number gives you the option to add your Library to the world map. You also get access to discounted books and a private Facebook support group

This photo shows a renegade Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

The LFL on 5th Street was what I call a renegade Little Free Library. It didn’t have an official sign, much less a charter number. Someone built a box, added a door and a peaked roof, then mounted it on a pole, filled with books, and gave it to the world. The words on it (“Little Free Library, “Take a book…,” and “Leave a book…”) were painted by hand, and its yellow paint was peeling, but this was just as much a labor of love as a registered LFL that shows up on the organization’s official map.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate registered Little Free Libraries too. I appreciate what the Little Free Library organization does to help get more LFLs out in the world. I appreciate the support the Little Free Library organization gives to LFL stewards. But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit right here that there’s a special place in my heart for renegade Little Free Libraries. I so appreciate these DIY projects that don’t cost more than materials and the time it takes a person to put them together, these manifestations of gift economy erected so neighbors have access to free reading material.

These are the books that were in the renegade Little Free Library.

Most of the LFLs I’ve visited have been registered and have charter numbers, but there are definitely other renegades in the world. I bet many towns have official LFLS and renegades too.

Honestly, if I were going to build a Little Free Library and keep it stocked (in other words, be a LFL steward), I would go the DIY, renegade route. That’s just the way I am. I definitely have love for the people who do LFLs the official way, but I’ve got a special love for the LFL renegades.

(As for why I don’t build a LFL and be its steward, I live in a very rural area. There is only one homestead on the road past our house, so not many people would see my Little Free Library if I had one in front of my place. Also, there’s a Little Free Library only a few miles from my house, just past where the dirt road hits the pavement. It makes a lot more sense to offer the books and magazines I don’t need any more to that LFL and others around town.) 

I took the photos in this post.

Near Miss

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I was at the food bank one morning in early fall. The air was chilly and snow was predicted, so the organizers of the food distribution had moved what was usually an outdoor activity into the church.

Usually all of us poor folks gathered on the north side of the church, picked up our numbers to mark our places in line, and waited around for our turn to gather our food. I always tried to find a spot in the shade to wait, either sitting on one of the folding chairs set against the side of the building or in a patch of gravel a little ways from the crowd. I usually brought a few postcards to write while I waited for my number to be called.

On this day, I found everyone waiting on the south side of the church, near the door we would enter when our time came. There were only a few folding chairs set out, and they were all taken by ladies older than I was.

I looked around for a patch of shade. Even on a chilly day, the sun beating on my head makes me feel week and ill. Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my sunhat.

I found a shady spot in front of a car in the row of parking spots along the front of the building. I sat down on the railroad tie barrier in front of the car since I didn’t want to sit in the gravel between the parking area and the sidewalk. Some ladies stood on the sidewalk parallel to the gravel area in front of me These ladies were at a right angle to the entrance door. They faced the sidewalk that led to the entrance door. That bit of concrete slanted slightly uphill, to make it easier for someone using a wheelchair to get to the door.

I was busy writing to my sibling when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman approach from my right. She walked slowly, as if her legs were stiff or maybe she was in pain. When she approached the women standing at a right angle to the entrance, she stepped off the concrete to go around them. While they weren’t totally blocking the sidewalk, they were taking up most of it. I’m sure the approaching woman thought it would be easier to step off the sidewalk and go around them.

Something went wrong when the woman tried to step onto the sidewalk perpendicular to where the other women were standing. I think the walking woman failed to see that she needed to take a small step up. Because of the sidewalk’s incline, the part she tried to step on was about three inches above ground level.

Of course, I didn’t witness any of this prelude to what happened next. I had to piece it all together later.

The lady must have hit her foot on the concrete, and she stumbled. I heard a panicked voice shout, Watch out! I looked up in time to see a wide polar-fleeced butt descending upon me. I reflexively reached out my hand and used it to prop up the woman’s butt. It was an act equal parts Good Samaritan and self-preservation.

While I was supporting the woman from below, one of the ladies standing near the entrance door grabbed the falling women by the arm. Our combined efforts set the falling woman back on her feet.

For God’s sake, Nancy! one of her friends sitting in a folding chair exclaimed.

As soon as I could, I jumped up from my seat on the railroad tie. I worried the witnesses might think the near catastrophe was my fault even though I was well off the sidewalk. I suspected the elderly ladies thought I was the one at fault because I was the freak sitting low to the ground.

I tried to stand on the sidewalk behind the ladies by the door, bu the sun was beating down on me there. I ended up moving behind a minivan casting a shadow, a place were I could stay out of the sun and wouldn’t be crushed in an old lady pile up.

Risky Behavior

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I didn’t see many children during my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center. I suppose most of the youngsters who visited the gas station stayed in the car during the fueling process.

Once I did see a tween boy remove the nozzle from the pump and place it in the family car. He held the nozzle in place during the pumping process. Technically no one too young to legally drive was supposed to pump gas, but I didn’t run out of the kiosk to stop the boy. He wasn’t horsing around, and an adult woman was right there with him to help if anything went wrong. I figured the boy was probably as bright as the least savvy customers I’d encountered in that fuel center.

Occasionally adults sent children up to the kiosk to pay for fuel or buy snacks. Usually it was obvious the adult had not coached the child before sending it up to complete the transaction. Kids typically didn’t know what pump they were putting money on or how to lift the lid on the drawer through which I accepted money and returned change. Of course, plenty of adults didn’t know those things either, so I cut the kids some slack. At least children had the excuses of their tender age and inexperience.

During the last Friday I worked at the fuel center, I witnessed a child in a situation I could barely believe, especially since the adult guardians enabled the surprising behavior.

I’d returned from the supermarket where I had pulled merchandise to restock what we’d recently sold at the fuel center. I was standing outside the kiosk, waiting for my coworker to open the door for me. Outside the kiosk, standing on the other side of the bulletproof glass from my coworker were two adult women and two kids. Neither woman looked more than 35 years old. The older kid was 12 or 13 and the little kid was probably 6. The little kid was bouncing around begging for something. I was only partially paying attention to the interaction between the little kid and the woman. I was mostly thinking about getting off work in a few minutes and going home to cook dinner. 

At some point, I realized the little kid was begging for a Bang® energy drink.

The Bang® energy drinks were in a tall (probably 3 feet high) round cooler decorated to look like a can of the beverage. The cooler was on wheels and was brought out of the kiosk and plugged in each morning. At night the cooler had to be unplugged and rolled back into the kiosk. We didn’t sell many of the drinks (Red Bull® and Monster® were probably the two most popular brands of energy drink we sold) and for some reason no variety of Bang® ever showed up on our replenishment list. I don’t know who kept the Bang® cooler stocked. No one told me anything about it, so I didn’t worry my pretty little head.

Occasionally I opened the Bang® cooler to return to the upright position any of the cans that had fallen on their sides during the daily taking out and bringing in. A can must have burst in the cooler at some time in the past because the walls and sides harbored sticky residue and an overpowering scent of (fake) cotton candy. I like sweets, but the intense aroma of artificial candy flavor nearly made me sick to my stomach.

According to the Bang® website,

BANG® is not your stereotypical high sugar, life-sucking soda masquerading as an energy drink! Power up with BANG’s potent brain & body-rocking fuel: Creatine, Caffeine, & BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids).

Under the “WARNINGS” section on the same website, I found this disclaimer:

Not recommended for use by children under 18 years of age.

Strange, the product’s own website says it’s not for children, but the list of available flavors include kid-appealing yummies like Birthday Cake Bash, Cotton Candy, Rainbow Unicorn, Sour Heads, and Root Beer. Sure, sure, adults can and do like those flavors too, but it seems a little strange to go with such sweetness while trying to appeal to a market that “consists principally of fitness enthusiasts” (according to Wikipedia.)

Also under the “WARNINGS” section of the Bang® website is the admission that

one serving [a 16 ounce can] of BANG provides 300mg of caffeine which is more than three cups of coffee.

For further comparison, 16 ounces of Red Bull has about 160mg of caffeine, a Starbucks Grande Caffe Americano contains 225mg of caffeine per 16 ounce cup, and 16 ounces of Mountain Dew contains about 73mg of caffeine.  Coke Classic offers only a paltry 45mg of caffeine per 16 ounce serving. I think we can all admit that consumers of Bang® get an awfully big caffeine bang for their buck.

So why shouldn’t kids enjoy a Bang® energy drink and its 300mg of caffeine? According to the February 2015 article “Why Energy Drinks and Your Children Don’t Mix” on the Cleveland Clinic website,

Energy drinks won’t only cause your young children to bounce off the walls—they may cause an irregular heartbeat, too.

The article goes on to say that a study presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting showed that kids younger than 6 made up more than 40% of emergency calls related to energy drinks.

The effects the energy drinks had on the children included heart arrhythmia and seizures.

The AHA said this was

because many energy drinks contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine in addition to caffeine from natural sources…These combined sources of caffeine may cause the heart to race and blood pressure to increase.

According to the article,

The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine at all.

While the possible health effects of high levels of caffeine on children are disturbing, that bouncing off the walls thing would be enough to keep me from giving an energy drink to a child. Most kids I’ve known have had plenty of energy without introducing 300mg (or even 100mg or 50mg) of caffeine into the equation. Apparently the woman the little kid was begging for a Bang® had no such concerns, because she agreed to buy him one!

I couldn’t even believe it! Does that seem like a good idea? I wanted to call out to her. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me! I wanted to tell her. But who am I to tell someone what to feed her child? I am no one. I kept my mouth shut.

Once the woman agreed to buy the Bang® for the little kid, both women urged the older kid to get an energy drink too. The older kid picked a Monster with a more manageable 160mg of caffeine in the 16 ounce can.

My coworker rang up the two energy drinks and whatever else the group had decided to buy for their Friday night fun. Once he collected payment and gave them change, he opened the back door for me.

I wonder how that’s going to work out for her, he was muttering as he let me in. I knew he was talking about the woman who’d just provided a very large amount of a stimulant to a very small child.

I shrugged. Maybe this would be the night the woman learned that children and caffeine simply shouldn’t mix.

Thankful Thursdays

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The Man and I started a new tradition on Thanksgiving Day this year. I had a small blank book a friend found on a free shelf at a local thrift store and gave to me because of the sun on the cover. I decided the book would be a gratitude journal. I asked The Man if he would participate in filling the gratitude journal with me, and he agreed.

I found “50 Inspiring Gratitude Quotes” on Shutterfly and picked four of them to write on the book’s inside covers.

Two quotes read: "The root of joy is gratefulness."-- David Steindl-Rast and "Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty."--Doris Day
Two inspiring gratitude quotes. Looks like I forgot to cross the “t” in David Steindl-Rast’s name. Sorry about that, sir.

Our goal is to each write five things we are grateful for every day. Some days we get busy and forget to write our gratitude, but we try to pick up the next day. The book is not very thick, but when it is full, we’ll each have a record of about 150 things, people, and experiences for which we are thankful.

A man and dog stand on the edge of a cliff looking down at trees.
I’m grateful for The Man and Jerico the dog every day.

Sometimes it seems difficult to think of new things to appreciate. I’m thankful for The Man and Jerico the dog every day. Ditto LED lights, eggs, and our 4 wheel drive truck. The challenge I enjoy is identifying new things for which I feel gratitude.

In the spirit of recognizing new things for which I am grateful, I’m starting Thankful Thursdays here at the Rubber Tramp Artist blog. At least once a month (maybe more) I will share gratitude with my readers. Sometimes I’ll give a shout out to the people who support me and the blog monetarily, either by buying my crafts, becoming my patron on Patreon, or making a one-time donation. Other times I’ll thank the people who give me emotional and mental support. Sometimes I’ll share a quote pertaining to gratitude. Will you join me in making 2020 a year of thanks?

Two more gratitude quotes read: "When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears."--Anthony Robbins and "When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around."--Willie Nelson
Words of wisdom on gratitude from Anthony Robbins and Willie Nelson

I’ll start today with this list of the people who’ve given me financial and material support in the past couple months. Thanks to all of you who help me pay the bills and send goodies. I appreciate each of you.

List of gratitude. List reads: I'm grateful for Nancy, my newest patron on Patreon. I'm grateful for Shannan who sends me a donation every month. I'm grateful for Brent who contributed financially this month and has done so in the past. I'm grateful for Keri who bought two hats from me. I'm grateful for Val who bought a hat from me. I'm grateful for Bette Rae who bought a hat from me. I'm grateful for Felicia and Liz who sent yarn. I'm grateful to Jennifer who sent postcards. I'm grateful for Keith, my computer guy who is also a Patreon patron.
My list of gratitude. Gerry sent postcards too! Sorry I forgot to put her on the handwritten list.

What are you grateful for today? Please share your gratitude in the comments section below.

I took all of the photos in this post.

If you would like to support me, click on the “Become a patron” button at the top of the column on the right, or click on the “donate” button in the middle of that column.

15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Cold

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Heart shaped cactus pad with snow along the top edge
Winter love from the desert

Winter is here and folks need to stay warm whether they’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a poorly insulated conventional home. Last week I told you how a hot water bottle tucked under the covers can help keep you warm on a cold winter night. Today I’ll give you fifteen more tips for staying warm and comfy when the temperature drops.

Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.

#1 Wear enough clothes.When we were kids, if my sibling or I complained about being cold, our dad would immediately look us over to see how we were dressed. If we were wearing short pants or a short-sleeved t-shirt, he’d send us to put on appropriate clothes before he’d consider turning up the heat. (Dad was also fond of saying, What you gonna do when winter gets here? meaning it wasn’t even cold yet, so we shouldn’t be complaining. As a smartass teenager, I took to answering this question with one word: Freeze.)

Some mornings when The Man gets out of bed before I do, I hear him in the living room complaining about how cold he is. Often when I peer out of the bedroom, I see he’s wearing a sweatshirt (good job!) and shorts. Put some pants on, I mumble from my warm nest under the covers.

In any case, if you’re cold, follow my father’s directive and try putting on adequate clothing. Wearing a sweater or a jacket can really help keep you comfortable when it’s cold. And for goodness sake, if you’re chilly, be sure you’re wearing pants!

#2 Wear warm socks.When I moved to the Midwest from the Deep South, a friend who’d lived in Minneapolis for decades advised me to invest in warm socks. Good advice! Keeping your toes warm will definitely help keep you comfortable during a chilly day or night.

Styrofoam head mannequin wears a bright, handmade hat
My old friend Esmerelda knows wearing a hat will help keep your whole self warm.

#3 Wear a hat too.  You may have heard people say you lose 50% of your body heat through your head and wearing a hat keeps that heat in. The Live Science website reports

At most, according to a 2008 report in BMJ, a person loses 7 percent to 10 percent of their body heat through their head…

but I feel a lot warmer when I’m wearing a hat. Hat hair be damned! I wear a snug hat on cold days and on cold nights as well so I can conserve as much of my body heat as possible.

#4 Keep your ears warm. Cold ears are unhappy ears, as far as I’m concerned. Ears exposed to frigid winter air are also susceptible to frostbite, so I keep my ears covered. I like to keep my ears warm even when I’m sleeping. If my ears get cold while I’m asleep, I tend to bring my shoulders way up, as if I could bring them up high enough to shield my ears from the chilly air. Having my shoulders in this unnatural position at night can lead to a daytime ache between my shoulder blades. I like to wear a hat I can pull down over my ears, but you can achieve the same results by wearing earmuffs, ear pops, or a scarf wrapped around your head.

#5 Dress in layers. I hate hate hate dressing warmly enough for the outside weather only to go inside (a store, the library, the laundromat) and find the heater is turned up too high for my comfort. Dressing in layers is the best way to deal with the difference between the outside and inside temps. Simply putting a t-shirt or tank top under your sweater means you can peel off a layer without exposing a socially unacceptable amount of skin.

#6 Throw a blanket over your lap when you’re sitting around during the day. A lap blanket can help hold in your body heat and keep you cozy whether you’re reading, talking on your phone, or doing crossword puzzles. If you have access to electricity, consider using an electric blanket to keep you toasty warm while sitting still. According to the How Stuff Works article “How Much Does It Cost to Run an Electric Blanket?

An electric blanket might consume 200 watts (depending on the setting). So if you leave it on for 10 hours, it consumes 2 kilowatt-hours. That would cost between 15 and 30 cents, depending on your location.

Dog lying on its back is in the center of photo. On the right side a blanket is wrapped around a person's lower torso. A laptop is on the right side of the photo. The screen says "working on blog posts."
I was working on blog posts one cold day, and the whole family crawled into bed with me so we could share body heat.

#7 Share body heat. Whether it’s day or night, if you have an pet or human companion, consider cuddling to maximize body heat. Invite your cat or dog to sit on your lap or your best friend or sweetheart to sit close and share a blanket with you. Personally, if I’m under a down comforter with The Man and the dog, I usually get too hot and have to throw the covers off so I can cool down.

#8 If you feel cold, eat or drink something hot to warm you up from the inside out. Drinking hot cocoa, coffee, or hot tea should warm you right up. If you are avoiding calories, sugar, or caffeine but still crave flavor, drink herbal tea or add a slice or lemon or lime to hot water. If you make a big batch of your hot beverage of choice, you can store it in an insulated bottle for sipping throughout the day or night.

Do I even have to mention the warming benefits of hot soup? You already know the benefits of hot soup, right? Actually, any hot food should help you feel warmer, but there is something special about hot soup on a cold day.

#9 Get active. If the weather outside is frightful, you might be tempted to sit around indoors all day. If you’re cold even inside, try moving around a bit if possible. Do some stretches. Jog in place or do jumping jacks if you have room. Maybe you can even bundle up and brave the elements for some outdoor activities. When I lived in the Midwest, I sometimes went out walking in 16 degree weather so I could experience a change of scenery and get some exercise. After a brisk walk, my blood was pumping and I was warm, and as an added bonus, the indoors felt toastier when I came in from the cold.

#10 Hang out somewhere warm. If it’s too cold where you live, spend a few hours at a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even the mall. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the warmth already being cranked out by someone else’s heater.

Saguaro cactus with many arms stands in front of jagged mountains
The warmth of the desert beckons you.

If you’re living nomadically and you can swing it, go to a warmer climate. Both the Sonoran and Chijuajuan deserts tend to stay warm in the winter. If you want to be even warmer, stay in Mexico until spring. (For tips on living in the desert, read my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

#12 When you go to bed at night, cover yourself with good blankets. Down blankets are super warm. I haven’t been cold at night since I scored a down comforter at a Goodwill Clearance Center. If you don’t have a down comforter (or don’t believe it’s right to use animal products), consider sleeping inside a sleeping bag. I spent quite possibly the coldest night of my vanlife on public land outside of Mt. Shasta, CA. I’d spread my sleeping bad out like a blanket, and thought I was going to freeze to death. (I didn’t really think I was in danger of death, but dang. I was uncomfortable that night.) The next evening I zipped the bag on all three sides, crawled inside, and spent a warm and comfortable night in the same spot. Sleeping in the cocoon of the sleeping bag keeps you inside a bubble of your own nice, warm body heat. 

Person seen in bed from the waist down wearing leggings and socks.
That’s me wearing leggings and a thermal shirt to bed because nighttime temperatures on the mountain were dropping.

#13 Sleep with clothes on. It’s a persistent myth among some overnight outdoor enthusiasts that sleeping nude within a sleeping bag will keep a person warmer than sleeping in the bag while wearing clothes. However, this myth was busted by several hiking and backpacking websites. The Columbia blog , Section Hiker, Backpacker and Outside all say wearing clothes to bed is a good idea. As the Columbia article “Is Sleeping Naked Really Warmer?” explains,

[t]he more layers of air you can create around your body, the warmer you’ll be. So wearing clothes inside of your sleeping bag will help you stay warm.

#11 Change your clothes before bed. When you’re all snuggly warm in the garments you’ve worn all day, changing clothes may not seem appealing, especially if your living space is cold. However, even if it’s imperceivable to you, the clothes you’ve been wearing are a little damp from your sweat. The dampness of your clothes is going to make you cold while you’re sleeping, so put on clothes that are warm and dry. At the very least, change your socks.

The Section Hiker article “Is It Warmer to Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?” lists some times when wearing clothes in a sleeping bag will not keep a person warmer. One such time is when

[y]ou wear wet clothing which compromises the insulation in your sleeping bag as the heat of your body dries it. The moisture in your clothes doesn’t just disappear: it gets trapped by the sleeping bag’s insulation which degrades its effectiveness…

The best practice is to wear a dry base layer (top, bottom, socks, and hat) in your sleeping bag at night…to keep you warmer in cooler weather. These should be loose-fitting to prevent your hands or feet from getting cold due to loss of circulation and to help trap warmer air near the surface of your skin.

Bear box and evergreen trees are dusted with snow. Ground is covered with snow.

#14 Pee if you have to pee. We all know it’s a pain to leave a warm spot (in bed or on the couch) to go to the restroom, especially if the restroom is cold and we have to remove a significant portion of our clothing to do what has to be done. It’s even worse if we have to move in the dark and/or go outside to get to where we need to go to relieve ourselves.

I once read in a guide to winter camping (something like the Backpacker website’s article “15 Cold-Weather Camping Tips to Keep You Warm While You Sleep“) that people tend to feel colder if they try to hold their urine instead of leaving the tent (or bed) in order to pee. It would be a bad deal if the urine in your bladder froze because your body was working to keep the rest of you warm. To avoid such a situation, your body works hard (and burns calories) to keep the urine inside of you warm. Get rid of the urine, and your body can use its resources to keep the rest of your comfortable.

#15 Keep your kidneys warm. A friend once told me about keeping my kidneys warm to keep the rest of me warm when we were camping out. She maintained that if one’s kidneys get cold, all the blood passing through the kidneys gets cold too. When the cold blood flows through the body, it makes the entire body cold. Her solution was to wrap something warm (a blanket or a scarf, perhaps) around the area of her kidneys. (While researching this post, I found out a product–the Haramaki–exists especially for this purpose). My friend also recommended using a sleeping pad under a sleeping bag for added warmth. I think this tip would be especially important for people sleeping on the cold ground or the cold floor of a van.

Roof of green yurt and path to door covered in snow

So there you go—15 tips for staying comfortable when the weather is cold. What do you do to stay warm in the winter? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in winter camping, read Danny Smith’s guest post “A Guide to Winter Camping: Stay Warm, Have Fun” first published on February 2019. You can also read my post “Staying Warm” which was written during my first days as a camp host in the mountains.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. If you are in a dangerously cold situation, move to a warmer location. Ask for help if you need to. Frostbite and hypothermia are no jokes, friends.

I took the photos in this post.

Nice Customers

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As I’ve said before, I tend to write about people who are rude or hostile or strange or interesting. Those people make for better stories although perhaps not for a better day. However, not all customers I encountered at the supermarket fuel center where I worked (briefly) were rude or hostile. I had unremarkable encounters with most customers and some interactions that were actually pleasant.

You give great customer service, one woman said to me through the intercom. She liked the chitchat she told me, although I was actually keeping it to a minimum because the intercom system was such a piece of crap.

Thanks for confirming how much gas I want and what pump I’m on, another lady told me. The others don’t do that. I didn’t tell her I repeated the information in hopes of stopping mistakes before I made them, but I was glad she appreciated the effort.

They should clone you, an older woman with a Southern drawl said one afternoon as I was loading sodas into the cooler. I guess she’d seen me hustling around the fuel center on previous visits and thought I was doing a good job.

(I told one of the assistant store managers about the cloning remark during my last week on the job and she said, I know. We’re really going to be hurting without you here.)

I like your hair, a gal told me shyly at the end of our transaction. I thanked her even though I thought it probably looked weird. I’d hacked off the bottom to chin length a few weeks earlier, and I knew it was choppy and uneven. I thanked her anyway, and she said, The color is really nice. That sweet person really made my day.

Most of the people I went outside to help use the pumps were really grateful and thanked me for my assistance. Of course, some folks seemed to become angrier when I got their debit and credit cards to work, but most customers were glad for my help even if they were embarrassed by their own mistakes.

One day a man came up to the kiosk, and I said (as I did to most customers), Hi! How can I help you today? I found out what pump he was on and how much money he wanted to spend on fuel. I gave him his receipt and his change and thanked him.

Thank you, he said. Thank you for being here.

 I suspect he liked paying cash, so he was glad I was there to receive his payment, but I also like to think he was happy see my smile and to have someone pay a little positive attention to him.