Zazzle is an American online marketplace that allows designers and customers to create their own products with independent manufacturers (clothing, posters, etc.), as well as use images from participating companies.
Zazzle.com offers digital printing, and embroidered decoration on their retail apparel items, as well as other personalization techniques and items.
This is how it works for me. I upload one of my photos or an image in the public domain to the Zazzle website. Then I can adjust the size of the image plus add text, backgrounds, or other improvements. I can add the image (and text if I like) to postcards, note cards, shirts, tote bags, magnets, notebooks, luggage tags, caps, water bottles, buttons, and lots of other things. Here’s an example of merchandise I have for sale in the Stop Hate Collection in my BlaizinSunCreations store, all featuring a photo I took of a stop sign in Northern New Mexico.
The plus side for me is that I don’t have to pay for and stock all this merchandise. When an item sells, I get a (small) royalty, and Zazzle does all the work.
My second store is called Postcard_Emporium, and it’s focus is on (I bet you already guessed!) postcards. I’ve designed a lot of postcards using my own photos as well as images in the public domain.
I’ve got plans for other stores too, including one especially for vandwellers, rubber tramps, nomads, boondockers, RVers, campers, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds. I also want to open stores dedicated to the sights of Arizona and New Mexico. I’ll be sure to let you know when those stores are ready for you to browse.
In the meantime, I’d love for you to take a look at all the great items I currently have for sale. If you feel like buying things, that would be fantastic too.
I took the photos in this post. The Rubber Tramp Artist logo was designed by the late Samantha Adelle.
Since today is American Independence Day, I thought I’d share an American story with you as a blog post bonus.
A couple of months before I started working at the fuel
center (aka gas station), the corporation that owns it decided to stop
accepting a major credit card. According to a flier given to customers before
the major credit card was blackballed, the company I worked for
is charged excessive bank fees when customers use [the major credit card in question] at the checkout. To help keep your grocery price low, we’ve decided not to accept [this particular major credit card].
At the time I worked there, the fuel center accepted three
other major credit cards, as well as debit cards, including debit cards with
the name of the credit card we didn’t accept on them. Confused? So were the customers.
The folks who lived in town and got fuel regularly where I worked were slowly growing accustomed to the change, but I worked in a tourist town, and the tourists who stopped in for fuel were in a perpetual state of WTF. Every day at least five visitors ran their card two or three times before the screen on the pump instructed the person pumping fuel to see the cashier. (Of course, when I was at work, the cashier was me.) Nine out of ten of the customers sent to see me were already pissed off. I could see it in their faces and their body language. When I told them the problem was that the store quit accepting their credit card of choice months earlier, they were usually incredulous. Some of them wanted to discuss the situation with me (What card CAN I use? or Can I use my debit card?) but some simply walked away without speaking, looks of anger and/or disgust on their faces.
You must be the only
gas station in the country that doesn’t take [the credit card he wanted to use],
one visitor spat at me during my last week of work.
Maybe, I said
noncommittally to him. I wasn’t going to argue with him because for all I knew,
he was right.
Many of the locals who knew they couldn’t use the particular credit card where I worked were not too happy about the situation. One elderly lady gave me an earful. Neither the bulletproof glass between us nor the scratchy intercom deterred her.
I know it’s not your
fault, but it is ridiculous you don’t take [the credit card in question]. And
it’s a shame they make you say it’s to keep prices low. Every time I go into
the supermarket, everything is so expensive! My friends don’t even come here
I cut in to offer my apologies, but she didn’t want to hear
them. She just wanted to rant.
I know it’s not your
fault, she repeated, then started back in with her tirade.
I wanted to ask her why she was making me listen to her
complaints if she knew the situation was not my fault and I could do nothing to
remedy it, but instead I kept my mouth shut and tried to appear sympathetic. I
didn’t understand why she continued to spend money where I worked if she thought
the prices were too high and she hated the payment options.
The fellow in line behind her must have been tired of
listening to her too. He was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, and he
probably weighted upwards of 200 pounds. While he didn’t physically push the
little old lady away, he used his size to intimidate her, so she stepped off to
the side of the drawer I used to collect payment and deliver cigarettes, candy,
and change. While the lady was still complaining, the large customer drowned
out her voice by demanding, $25 on 6!
The elderly lady looked startled, then scurried away.
On the one hand, I thought the male customer had behaved
What’s wrong with you?
I wanted to ask him. That woman was
old enough to be your mother. Would you want someone to treat your mother that
On the other hand, God bless him. If he hadn’t stepped up,
that lady might have gone on for another five minutes.
Of course, each pump had a sticker saying we only took the
debit version of the card. Of course, most customers don’t read the words on
One afternoon an elderly man approached the kiosk while a
manager was in there with me. She happened to be closest to the intercom when
the fellow walked up, so she asked how she could help him.
He said the screen on the pump had told him to see the
cashier. The manager asked him if he was trying to use the credit card we didn’t
accept. He confirmed that he was. The manager told him we’d stopped taking that
card several months prior. He was obviously livid.
The customer stomped off, and the manager went to the back
of the kiosk, out of sight. I thought she’d left.
Maybe two minutes later, I looked out of the bulletproof
glass to see the already angry customer booking it back to the kiosk. When he
reached the window, I switched on the intercom and asked how I could help him.
You don’t take [card
we didn’t take], right? he asked me.
That’s right, I
Then why does every
pump have a sticker saying you take it? he wanted to know. He really
thought he had me now.
Oh, sir, I said
nicely, those stickers say ‘debit only.”
He spun on his heels and took off without a word.
I thought his head was
going to explode, my manager said.
I thought you’d left,
I said to her.
I saw him coming back,
so I ducked out of sight.
I’m really glad you
saw that, I told her. It happens all
A few days later a youngish woman came up to the kiosk. She
was holding two red two-gallon gas cans. She seemed a little frantic.
The pump told me to
see the cashier, she said to me.
Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take], I asked her. She was.
I’m sorry. We quit
taking those in April.
Now I’ve lost my place
in line, she screeched. There should
be a sign! There should be a sign!
I tried to tell her about the stickers on the pumps, but she
didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. She was already crossing the fuel
center to negotiate with the woman who had pulled her truck up to the pump the
woman with the gas cans had been trying to use.
My favorite response from a frustrated credit card user came
one busy afternoon. The line was about five deep when a man stepped up the
window and told me the screen on the pump had instructed him to see the
I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t
accept. He said he was. I told him we didn’t accept it.
He busted out with, Is
I almost busted out laughing, but managed to keep a straight face. I don’t know if the guy was referencing the free enterprise system or the Rah! Rah! Rah! U!S!A! freedoms certain segments of the population tend to celebrate. All I knew was it didn’t matter what country we were in—I couldn’t process the card he wanted to use.
According to the National Today website, yesterday was National Go Fishing Day. I didn’t go fishing yesterday, but in honor of the missed “holiday,” today I’ll tell you a story about fishing of a different kind.
Have you ever been to a gas station and seen colored circles
in the concrete? Those colored circles are lids to the spill buckets. I don’t
know exactly what role the spill buckets play in the fuel center system, but I
do know water should not be allowed to sit in them. If water sits in them, the
water can (somehow) get into the fuel, a huge no-no.
At the fuel center where I worked briefly, water ended up in at least half of the spill buckets when it rained more than a drizzle Some would only have a bit of water in them, while others would end up with a couple inches of liquid in them. It was the job of the fuel clerk on duty to use absorbent pads to soak up the liquid.
Checking the spill buckets was on the list of duties for
both the opening and closing clerks. When I opened (often) or closed (hardly
ever), I made sure to act accordingly where the spill buckets were concerned.
One day my shift started at noon. The midday worked did not
have “check spill buckets” on the list of duties, so I did not check the spill
buckets. After the opening clerk had left to get items to restock the fuel
center, one of the assistant store managers showed up at the fuel center and
checked the spill buckets. She found about two inches of water in most of them
and sent me out with absorbent pads to soak up the water.
Soaking up the liquid in the spill buckets was one of my least favorite
duties. For one thing, it was dirty work. Just lifting the lids left dust and grease on my hands. When I had to stick my hands down down down into the spill bucket to put the absorbent pads in place, I’d usually end up with dirt, grease, and mud (and sometimes dirty, muddy grease) all over my forearms.
Another reason I hated dealing with the spill buckets was because
doing so was dangerous. I had to get on my knees in order to reach down into
the spill buckets. Although I am not an insubstantial person, I felt invisible
while so low to the ground. Also, the spill buckets were located in an area
drivers often zipped through as a shortcut out of the parking lot. Every time I
was on the ground trying to dry out those spill buckets, I felt like the living
ingredient in a recipe for disaster.
Once when I was putting pads in a spill bucket, a small SUV
came too close for comfort. I don’t know where it came from. I think it was
heading to pump 10, but for some reason the driver started backing it up. To
say it almost hit me is a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly scared me.
It wasn’t there, then suddenly it was.
Hey! Hey! Hey! I started yelling. I can’t remember if I
jumped up or crouched there paralyzed with fear.
The driver stopped the vehicle and stuck his head out the
rolled-down window. His eyes were big. Are
you ok? he asked me.
I’m ok, I told
him. You didn’t hit me, but you did scare
You scared me, he
said, but he wasn’t the one who’d come close to bodily harm. Then he rolled up
his window and left without fueling up.
I guess he was so
scared by almost hitting you that he decided to go get gas somewhere else,
another customer joked.
On the day the manager found inches of water in the spill
buckets and had me handle the situation, I asked the morning fuel clerk about
it when he came back with the items for the restock. He said he had put
absorbent pads into the spill buckets early in the day, but the fuel delivery
guy must have pulled them out when he came over later. At best, my coworker had
done half his job. It wasn’t enough to put pads in there and never check on
them again. He should have gone back to pull the soggy pads out, at which point
he would have seen the delivery driver had pulled them out already and that
there was still water that needed to be absorbed.
After that day, if I came in at noon on a day after it had rained, I checked the spill buckets even though doing so wasn’t on my list of responsibilities. Whenever I asked my coworker about the condition of the spill buckets after a rain, he always thought I was talking about the buckets with squeegees and fluid for cleaning windshields. When I point in the direction of the spill buckets and said, no, those, he always assured me they were fine. They were never fine. Finally I quit asking him and just handled the problem.
One morning I opened the fuel center and checked the spill
buckets as I was supposed to. To my chagrin, I found water in more than half of
them. I went back to the kiosk and grabbed several absorbent pads. I also
grabbed two orange safety cones and put those down on either side of me. I
hoped drivers would see the orange cones even if they missed my big butt and fluorescent
pink safety vest.
While I was down on my knees, I saw a small pickup truck
pull in next to the air pump. I knew the air pump wasn’t working and was glad
there was an “out of order” sign on it. A few minutes later, I noticed a man
walking across the fuel center toward me.
Is the air pump really
out of order? he asked me.
It took everything I had not to say something sarcastic to
the guy. Why would we put an “out of order” sign on an air pump that was
functioning normally? If we were lying about the air pump being out of order,
why did he think I would be honest with him and tell him it was really working?
I held my tongue except to say, Yes, sir. It’s really out of order.
Oh, that’s too bad,
he said as if he were hoping I’d change my story about the functionality of the
I exercised my right to remain silent while I continued to
shove absorbent pads down into the wet spill bucket.
Are you fishing?
the fellow asked me, and I thought I was going to lose my mind.
I know the guy thought he was making a good joke, but for a
joke to work, the recipient of it has to think it’s funny too. I didn’t think
it was one bit funny. Annoying? Yes. Ridiculous? For sure. Funny? Not a bit.
The fellow reminded me of my grandmother’s second husband
who insisted on calling me “blondie” even though I had dark hair. Neither man
really cared about making me laugh; both men just wanted a reaction out of me,
and if that reaction was irritation or anger, well, that was better than
I didn’t give this asshat the satisfaction of my anger, but he probably could
tell I was irritated. Of course I wasn’t fishing. I obviously wasn’t fishing. I didn’t even have a fishing pole. Did he think I was noodling for catfish living in a concrete hole?
No, I’m not fishing,
I said, and I’m sure he could tell I thought he was being an idiot. I’m getting water out of here so it doesn’t
mix with the fuel.
Then I turned my attention back to the wet spill bucket and the absorbent pads. When I looked up again, the fellow was heading back to his truck. I was glad to be done with his foolish questions.
I live in a harsh land, closer to nature than I ever dreamed possible when I lived in cities. All around me is evidence of people who came out here with big dreams only to abandon them. Why did they leave? I’ll never know for sure, but I can enumerate the ways the harshness of this place could discourage a homesteader. Today I’ll tell you about the conditions here and show you photos of what has been left behind.
While spring is mellow of temperature, when days warm, the wind comes. Growing up in the Deep South, winds weren’t even a concern unless they belonged to a hurricane. I thought I knew winds from my time in the Midwest, but the winds of the plains (if not those of a tornado) are nothing next to the winds of New Mexico.
Before I moved permanently to Northern New Mexico but after I had spent months here over several years, my memory of the winds had them starting in the afternoon and blowing strong and hard for a few hours, slowing down substantially by sunset. This may be a false memory, because that’s not how the wind is blowing these days. Now the wind starts at 10 or 11 in the morning and blows relentlessly until sometimes 9 or 10 at night. Last week, the wind was blowing at 8am.
A spiritual friend who lives around here once told me that the wind blows one’s aura and makes it bumpy or jagged instead of smooth She might be on to something. After hours of constant, strong blowing of the wind I feel off, not quite myself, agitated. The sound alone is enough to put me on edge; the constant rocking of the trailer destroys my mental equilibrium. There’s something about wondering if the roof will be peeled off or if the entire trailer is going to flip that harshes my mellow.
The hours of moving air (and its sound and the way it moves the trailer) would be bad enough, but with the wind comes dust. During times of strongest wind, we must leave the doors and windows closed lest the dust come in and cover everything we own. Sometimes dust devils blow across our property and slam into our trailer. Sometimes the short dust storm takes us by surprise, and we can’t get a door or window closed before it hits, leading to dust on the floor, dust on the clean dishes in the drying rack, dust on the blankets lying on the bed. I now have a small knowledge of what people in the 1930s experienced during the Dust Bowl in the United States.
The upside of the wind is that it pushes away the no-see-ums. Some folks call these insects from the Ceratopogonidae family sage gnats, some call them biting midges, but let’s just call them hell. The first three summers I spent in the area I encountered none of these bugs and no mosquitoes either. I thought I had discovered a magical land with no bugs. The Man independently arrived at the same conclusion. We were fools.
What was happening (I’m pretty sure, but I have not consulted an entomologist) is that the area was so deep in drought, no bugs were hatching. The eggs were out there, waiting for enough moisture to make life viable.
The drought had broken by the time The Man and I returned in 2017. Those no-see-um suckers were everywhere. We fought them for a couple of months. Spoiler alert: we found nothing to deter them, not DEET, not the $15 bottle of natural insect repellent I bought at the herb store after the lady working there told me the concoction would protect me. In the later part of June, we ran away to work in California to in order to escape the beasts.
One problem with the no-see-ums is that you don’t know when they’re biting you. They are super tiny (hence their name) and (like chiggers) their bite causes no immediate pain. Hours after being outside, one feels an itch and knows it has begun.
I grew up with Southern mosquitoes. I’ve suffered countless mosquito bites in my lifetime. For me, a mosquito bite usually itches for about 20 minutes or half an hour, then the itch and the red welt is gone. The no-see-um bites itch intermittently for days. There is swelling and redness at the site of the bite, and the itching can come at any time. The no-see-um bits have more in common with chigger bites than those from mosquitoes.
Last year was a wet one. The area got a lot of snow in the winter and spring (the last snow at our place was in May), and once the snow ended, the rains came. All the moisture led to a long season of no-see-ums. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives said they’d never seen a no-see-um season quite so bad go on for quite so long.
This year has been dryer, but the no-see-ums are out, and they seem worse than last year. The mesh of our screens is not fine enough to keep the little boogers out, but they weren’t coming in through the screen last year. This year we’re not so lucky, although I’m not sure why they’re coming in this way now. These days we long for the wind to blow and keep the little insects away.
The no-see-ums seem to like to bite The Man more than they like to bite me, and he has a worse reaction to the bites. It’s not unusual for his bites to itch so badly that he scratches them raw and bloody. Mine don’t itch quite so badly, but they tend to stay red and swollen for days after the attack.
When you live out here, at certain times of the year you dare not go outside without suiting up. Going out in shorts and a tank top during no-see-um days is looking for trouble. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, and shoes before going outside. The Man does the same and adds a bug deterrent mesh over his face. Still, the bugs can fly up a sleeve or a pant leg and leave bites in places I don’t know how an insect could reach.
If a person survives the wind and the dust and the bugs, there are a few months available for tranquil productivity. I suspect most of the homesteading progress occurs in the summer when days are long, mornings are sunny, nights are cool, and an afternoon wet monsoon offers the opportunity for a siesta.
Unfortunately, summers are short around here. My first summer in the area, when I was homeless and sleeping outside, my local friends started worrying in August about how I would live during the coming winter. I’m from the South where life is just getting comfortable in October. When I lived in the Midwest, no one expected snow before Halloween. In northern New Mexico, people told me snow could fly any time after Labor Day.
This past winter, the first snow fell in October, before Halloween. That made for a long enough winter. I can’t imagine if the snow had started early in September. Old timers have told us this past winter was a mild one, although it seemed plenty cold to me. People who’ve lived here for decades talk of winters with lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. People tell us of snow falling and piling up through the season, only melting in spring.
This past winter, we went through multiple cycles of snow/freeze/melt which led to the dreaded mud. I’ve written about the mud out here before, but let me say again, it’s no joke. Driving anywhere off our land was an exercise in slip sliding away and the possibility of getting stuck. Almost everyone living around us got stuck in the mud at lease once, even the folks with 4x4s.
If the weather don’t get you, the hauling water will. The water table is deep here. It would cost thousands of dollars to dig a well so most people don’t. There is a community well that folks can buy into. The price per gallon is good, but the liquid still has to be hauled. People need trucks for hauling water and a big container too. We have a 50 gallon container for hauling water. A 100 or 250 gallon container would be better. Homesteaders also need a big container to put the hauled water in. All those containers are expensive, especially ones that are made from food-grade materials.
I’ve heard that when it snowed more here, people with big cisterns could collect enough snow melt to basically get through the summer. The cisterns were topped off by the abundant water from the summer monsoon rains.When I first came here, I met an elderly woman who had been living off snow melt and rainwater for years, but she was having a hard time because of the drought. I don’t know if the weather has been wet enough lately for folks to collect water like they once did.
Want to grow food? Good luck! The soil is basically pure clay out here. The soil will have to be enriched if anything is going to grow. Raised beds or container gardening would probably be a better idea. Most of the water needed for irrigation will have to be hauled. Finally, the growing season is short around here with last frost in May and first frost in September.
All this is not to complain but to say it can be a hard life out here, especially for folks without piles of money. Some people make it and some people give up. Of course, some people get old or sick and leave because they can’t live such a rough life anymore. Some people are carried away by death.
I walk through this land of broken dreams and wonder where the people went. When they left, did they think they’d be back in a week or a month, in the spring, next year? When they left, did they know they’d never be back? Why didn’t they sell or give away the trailer, the propane tanks, the land? Why leave it all behind to rust and rot?
I wonder what my dreams will look like when I’m gone. Will they seem broken too, or will what I leave behind look like success?
I took the photos in this post. If you want to see more of my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.
The customer was an older man with a long white beard and a
big straw hat over his white hair. He was dressed like a city cowboy or maybe a
vacationer at a dude ranch, but when he spoke, he had an accent that was maybe
from Australia or maybe from New Zealand. I never can tell the difference
between the accents, but I remember from my days working in tourist traps in
New Orleans that New Zealanders and Australians can get testy when they’re
confused for one another.
I asked the fellow how I could help him today, and he told
me the communication screen at the pump had instructed him to see the cashier.
I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept, and he was. I
assured him the use of that particular credit card was the problem.
He rummaged through his wallet. He found another credit card
to use. He decided that since he was already standing in front of me, he would pay
me instead of trying to pay at the pump.
I asked what pump he was on, and he said he was on pump 2. I
asked how much he wanted to put on pump 2.
He started rambling out loud, doing some elaborate
calculations involving how much fuel was already in the tank, the number of
gallons the tank held, how far he was going, how far he had already gone, the
distance we were from the equator, and the alignment of the stars. (Okay, yes,
I made up those last two factors.) Finally he said he would take eleven on pump
I assumed he wanted to spend $11 on fuel on pump 2. (I know,
Dad, when I assume, I make an ass of u and me.) All day long, people told me
they wanted twenty on 2 or ten on 6 or fifteen on 8. Most people never even said the word dollars.
So the guy put his credit card in the drawer, and I pulled
the drawer into the kiosk with me. I authorized pump 2 to give the customer $11
worth of fuel, then ran the credit card for $11. When the transaction was
complete, I put the customer’s card and receipt in the drawer and slid it back
out to him. He took the card and receipt and walked to pump 2.
It wasn’t long before the fellow was back at my window.
Oh goodness. What now?
How can I help you? I
asked and forced a smile.
He told me pump 2 had quit pumping. I looked over at the POS
(point-of-sale) system that showed me the activity on all pumps. Yep, pump 2
had quit pumping because this guy had pumped his $11 worth of fuel.
Yes, sir, I said
through the intercom. I authorized the
pump for $11 and you pumped $11 worth of fuel.
Eleven dollars? he
asked as if I were an idiot. I wanted 11
I wanted to ask him how I was supposed to know he meant 11 gallons. I wanted to ask him if I looked like a mind reader. I wanted to point out that he’d never said the word “gallons.” Alas, I knew I’d never said the word “dollars.” He could have asked me how he was supposed to know I meant 11 dollars. He could have asked me if he looked like a mind reader. (No, not particularly, I would have had to reply.) We were at an impasse because we’d both failed in our communication.
Because of customer service and all of that, I said wearily,
I’m so sorry about that sir. My mistake.
Would you like me to run your card for another amount?
He chose another amount and sent his credit card in to me. I authorized the pump, ran the card, then sent it back out to him. He was a little miffed, but not excessively angry. I was ready to move on to the next transaction, hoping the next customer and I would not experience a communication breakdown.
Maybe you noticed my blog has a new category to click on in the menu up top. It’s ok if you missed the addition of a new category. I know you’re busy (and maybe stressed too). Today I’m here to tell you what that new category is all about.
The new category is all about…
I’ve taken some of my best photographs and turned them into postcards. Those postcards are for sale, so you can send my photos through the mail to your postcard friends and other special people, or you can keep them for yourself.
All of the postcards are sized to go through the United States Postal Service with a 35 cent postcard stamp. They also make great small space artwork for vans, camper trailers, motorhomes, teardrops, 5th wheels, and other tiny (or not so tiny) homes.
The price is only $5 for six postcards or $10 for a dozen cards. The cost of me sending the cards to you is included in the price. If you want larger quantities, let me know and I’ll figure out a price for you. You can get all one design or mix and match designs.
I don’t have an order button, so folks can contact me via email at email@example.com and let me know what they want and we can discuss payment methods. (I accept PayPal, Venmo,and GiftRocket, as well as cash and money orders for people who want to mail payment.)
I have all of the designs shown below available for your postcard pleasure.
I took all the photos shown on the postcards in this post and created the layouts as well. The only artwork I didn’t do was the Rubber Tramp Artist logo. That was created by the talented Samantha Adelle before her sad, untimely passing.
Even in a world full of unkowns, I have a lot for which to be grateful. Let me count the ways.
#1 First and foremost, The Man and I have our health. Neither of us have or have had symptoms of COVID-19. We’re both doing well. Jerico the dog is well too, although sometimes his acid reflux condition rears up or he strains a leg while playing ball.
#2 No one I’m close to has been sick with COVID-19. A couple of distant friends from my young adult years have come down with it, as did my sibling’s friend’s husband. Thankfully, they’ve all recovered. My mom and her husband are ok, as are The Man’s father and his wife. My sibling is fine, despite an immune disorder. My sibling’s spouse and child are fine too. The Man’s siblings, siblings-in-law, and nieces and nephews are doing well. Our elderly friends haven’t gotten sick. We are grateful that COVID-19 has not struck close to home.
#3 I appreciate Brent’s recent financial support, the cool things he sent in the mail, and his ongoing emotional support and friendship.
#4 I appreciate the anonymous supporter who recently clicked the donation button in the column to the right and made a financial contribution.
#5 I appreciate my Patreon sponsors and other folks who support me monthly. (You can support me on Patreon too and reap the patron benefits.)
#6 The Man and I have plenty of food, and we’re eating well. (We recently started making our own tortillas. They are delicious, and working together on them is a good team-building exercise.)
#7 A nice lady in one of the Facebook groups I’m in made a mask for me and one for The Man, so each of us can cover our mouth and nose when we go out in public.
#8 There is plenty of space between us and the neighbors. We can walk in our neighborhood without having to interact with anyone.
#9 We have found several hiking trails and lots of natural beauty less than a half hour drive from where we live. We have opportunities to get away from home and out into stunning nature without having to go too far.
#10 The daytime temperature is still very pleasant, not too hot. The temperature doesn’t dip below freezing at night.
#11 My phone allows me to stay connected to the people I care about. It connects me to the internet too.
#12 As a friend said in March (I’m paraphrasing here), I’m not stuck in an apartment in a city with three little kids. Parents who are holding it together while stuck at home with children are stronger than I will ever be.
#13 The Man and I have each other. I don’t have to go through the weirdness of these times alone. I sure do sleep well at night with him on my side.
#14 I appreciate you reading this blog post today. As I’ve said, a writer without readers is very sad indeed. A big thanks goes out to everyone who reads this blog, whether you check in every day, read occasional posts, or if this is the first experience you’ve had with me and my writing. I hope you enjoy what you’ve found here.
What are you thankful for this month, this week, today, right now? Please share your gratitude in the comments below.
I took all of the photos in this post. If you enjoy my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.
I have always gotten by with a little (or a lot) of help from my friends, and I sure do appreciate it. I try to keep these pleas for help from my readers to a minimum, but every now and then, I do like to let you know I could really use your support. Here are some ways you can help me get seen, heard, and read, and most of them don’t cost a dime.
#1 Tell your friends. Have you read a Rubber Tramp Artist post you think a friend or family member would find useful or inspiring? Share the link! Do you have friends who enjoy high quality writing and beautiful photographs? Invite them to check out this blog! I would love to have more readers with whom I can share my stories, rants, and observations.
#2 If you’re on Facebook, like and follow the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page. (You can also like and follow my Blaize Sun and Blaizin’ Sun Creations Facebook pages.) Next, find the reviews section of any (or all!) of those pages and leave reviews of my writing, my art, my book, or my jewelry. Also, you can invite your friends to like any or all of those Facebook pages. Finally, like my Facebook posts, comment on them, and share them with your friends. If you want to do those things but can’t quite figure out how, let me know, and I’ll help you.
#3 If you’re on Instagram, follow me there @rubbertrampartist. Like my posts and comment on them too. Turn on notifications so you’ll see when something new goes up on my feed. If you see a post of mine you think your friends would enjoy, tag those friends in the comments. Share my posts in your stories. Read my stories. Comment on my stories so I’ll know what you think.
#4 Comment on my blog posts. Your comments mean so much to me. They let me know you’re reading, that you’re here with me. Sometimes your comments help other readers. I love it when that happens. I really do want to know what you think.
#5 Write a guest post for my blog. If you’re a writer, consider writing a guest post so I can take a day off or concentrate on writing a a long, research intensive post. If you’re a reader of my blog, other readers and I probably want to know what you have to say. If this idea intrigues you, read my Guidelines for Guest Posts.
#6 If you’ve read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, review it. Post a review on Amazon. (You can post a review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy the book from them.) Post a review on GoodReads. Post a review on your blog. Send your review to me, and I’ll post it on my blog.
#8 Buy copies of my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for your friends and family members. It’s rated PG (I removed all the cursing), and has been read by at least one elementary school aged kid. It’s a particularly good gift for anyone who is, has been, or hopes to be a camp host.
#11 Consider making a donation. There’s a yellow donation button to the right, not far below the search bar. Click there to give me some dollars, if you feel so inclined.
The content on this blog is free, but I put a lot of time and effort into each post I share with you. It is not unusual for me to spend 8+ hours pulling together a single post. I spend a lot of time writing, revising, taking photos, editing photos, choosing photos, researching, etc. If any of my posts have proven helpful to you, please consider donating money or a gift card in the amount you think the posts are worth. I know many of readers are on a limited income, but even a couple bucks would mean a great deal to me.
#12 Consider becoming my patron on Patreon. You get lots of extra goodies when you support me on the Patreon platform. Goodies range from exclusive updates available only to Patreon supporters to a monthly email update to handwritten cards sent through the mail and custom bracelets and one-of-a-kind collages. Each support tier offers different benefits; they’re all explained on my Patreon page linked above or click on the button to the right just under the search bar.
Anything you an do to help me keep this blog going would certainly be appreciated. As always,thank you for reading.
I took all the photos in this post. The Rubber Tramp Artist logo was created by the talented Samantha Adelle before her untimely, tragic passing.
I once had to catch a bus in Chicago. There were many hours between the time the first ride deposited us in the Windy City and when we had to board the bus. Instead of sitting and waiting, my traveling companion suggested we explore downtown.
I’d been to Chicago before. Once I flew into Chicago (which airport, I don’t remember), then traveled on public transportation to the bus station where I caught a bus that took me to a small town in Wisconsin. At least twice I traveled by train to Chicago and caught a connecting train for the next leg of my journey at Union Station.
I’m not one of those people who leaves the train or bus station or airport for a bit of fun before I make my connection. I’m one of those people who fears missing my connection. I’m one who sits. I’m one who waits.
I once sat for three or four hours in the packed downtown Las Vegas, NV Greyhound station because I was afraid of losing my place on a probably overbooked bus. I could have stored my bag and walked outside to see the sights, but I didn’t. I waited in the crowded waiting room so I was sure to make it home as planned.
Even more unbelievable, I once spent an entire eight hour layover in the Hong Kong airport because I was scared to venture out and find public transit in a strange land. I was worried about all of the many things that could have gone wrong if I had left the security of the transportation hub. I was afraid of a disaster that would have made me miss my connecting flight.
However, this time in Chicago my traveling companion insisted we venture out and look around. He was not one to sit and wait. Luckily, we had access to luggage lockers, so we were able to secure our big backpacks rather than haul them around with us.
We walked toward the water, and by water I mean Lake Michigan. I’d seen Lake Michigan before, when I’d visited my college boyfriend’s hometown of Milwaukee. I vaguely remembered the hugeness of the Lake.
As we walked down the urban sidewalks, we saw many panhandlers standing back against the buildings. They were mostly older Black people, and they had a panhandling technique I’d never encountered before. Instead of muttering Spare some change? Spare some change? or asking for a dollar to catch the bus or get something to eat, they simply shook the cups they held. The cups obviously already had some coins in them; I could hear the coins clinking against each other. I guess words are unnecessary when everyone already knows the script.
Before we made it to the Lake, we saw the huge reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. I’d seen the object in movies. It often turns up when filmmakers want to distinguish an anonymous big city as specifically Chicago. I don’t remember trying to find the sculpture; I think we just happened upon it nestled among the skyscrapers of downtown.
According to the Choose Chicago website, Cloud Gate (also known as The Bean)
is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations…
The exterior of The Bean is made entirely of stainless steel. It was created using computer technology to precisely cut 168 massive steel plates, which were then fitted together and welded shut for a completely seamless finish…
[It is] is 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, and 66 feet long. It weighs about 110 tons — roughly the same as 15 adult elephants.
is regarded as one of the most prominent British-Indian sculptors of his generation…
Kapoor is well known for his intense, almost spiritual, outdoor and indoor site-specific works in which he marries a Modernist sense of pure materiality with a fascination for the manipulation of form and the perception of space. Kapoor, who was born in Bombay and moved to London in the 1970s to study art, first worked on abstract and organic sculptures using fundamental natural materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment, and plaster.
Anish Kapoor’s webpage about Cloud Gate features preliminary sketches for the sculpture, plans for construction, and a photo of it being built. The webpage says
Cloud Gate is a single object of around 25×15×12m. It is made of polished stainless steel and is seamless. Cloud Gate draws in the sky and the surrounding buildings. In a vertical city, this is a horizontal object. Seamless form confuses scale.
I was a lucky photographer on the day of our visit to Millennium Park. There were clouds in the Chicago sky, and they were reflected in the shiny surface of Cloud Gate. We were also fortunate to arrive early in the morning, before crowds surrounded the sculpture. I was able to get some nice photos without too many people in the frame.
…a blob-shaped mirror that vaguely resembles a bean.
He goes on to say,
It is as unremarkable as it sounds.
Oh Zach S., I beg to differ! Yes, Cloud Gate is rather blob shaped, and it is certainly mirrored. As to whether or not it looks like a bean…Who cares? “The Bean” is only a nickname anyway. I suspect the artist was not necessarily trying to convey the idea of a bean when he created the piece.
Where I really disagree with Zach S. is his assertion that Cloud Gate is “unremarkable.” I think Cloud Gate is quite remarkable. I like its size and its heft. Cloud Gate takes up space, yet its reflective surface brings the sky down closer to human level. The reflective surface also draws people to the sculpture, including me and my traveling companion.
What’s that over there? we wondered.
Let’s go see it, we said as we went closer.
I don’t remember what day of the week we wondered into Millennium Park and discovered Cloud Gate, but as the day progressed, more people arrived. By the time we left the area, crowds had come and gone, all looking at the art piece and taking photos too.
My favorite part of my experience with Cloud Gate was playing with the reflective surface. Like a funhouse mirror, Cloud Gate shows visitors a view of themselves that’s not quite true. I moved closer, then backed up to see how my figure changed with distance. The changes made me contemplate who I was, really.
After spending some time with Cloud Gate, we walked down to the water and looked out at Lake Michigan. It was as big as I remembered…bigger, maybe.
We sat on the grass and contemplated the water. It was nice to rest for a while before we got up again and walked to a new adventure.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of Chicago. To me it seems to lack the charm of San Francisco with its bright murals and Painted Ladies Victorian houses or the gritty but captivating street culture of New York City. Maybe I’ve never been to the right places in Chicago, never seen what it has to offer me. In any case, I really enjoyed seeing Cloud Gate, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan. I don’t care if it’s more a touristy area and less what locals think of as the real Chicago. I don’t care if locals think it’s overrated. I don’t care what Zach S. thinks. I think Cloud Gate is really cool.
My physical distancing experience has been very different from the experiences of many of you who live in big cities, the suburbs, or even small-to-medium size towns. I live in the boonies. I live 20-ish miles form the nearest small-to-medium size town. Also, there’s no home delivery of mail way out here. My mail is delivered to a box in town. All of this means we receive no mail, no packages, no groceries, and no restaurant food delivered to our door. If we want anything, The Man and I (usually together) get in the truck, drive 20-ish miles to town, get what we need, then drive the 20-ish miles back home.
Also, due to a preexisting health condition, we are very careful about what we do when we go to town. When we need groceries, we arrive at the supermarket as soon as the store opens so I can be one of the first shoppers inside. We do the same when we check the mail or fill our propane tanks. We don’t typically eat in restaurants even during “normal” times, but we’re not getting takeout or going through drive-thrus at all. How do we know the people preparing or handing over our food aren’t sick?
How do we know anyone we encounter isn’t sick? What if they’re contagious but not yest showing symptoms? What if we encounter a super-spreader? I know I sound paranoid and a little hysterical, but that’s my reality right now. To stay safe, we have to stay vigilant.
I know we’re all supposed to wear masks in public right now to protect each other, but can I trust my fellow humans to do the right thing? Masks can be really annoying, and humans don’t have the best track record for doing the right thing even when pieces of cloth over their faces aren’t making it more difficult to breathe and fogging up their eyeglasses.
I swear I’m not trying to dump a bunch of spoiled lady complaints on you. In so many ways, The Man and I are very lucky. Neither one of us has gotten sick with COVID-19. We haven’t lost any loved ones to COVID-19. We live in a county with a very low rate of COVID-19 infection (although the number of COVID-19 infected people in our county jumped quit a bit between the time I wrote the first draft of this post and the time it went live.) We have plenty of food and water and a nice little trailer on a nice little piece of land where we’ve been able to hunker down. We live with a cute, sweet dog, and we have each other too.
Yes, I have a lot for which to be grateful, but I’m human. Life has changed in the last couple months. Some of these changes may be forever. I miss certain ways of living my life. Today I’d like to share those things I miss with you.
#1 I never thought I’d say this, but I miss loading up all the laundry, dragging it into a laundromat and getting all the clothes washed, dried, and folded in a couple of hours.
Yes, as an essential business, laundromats are still open in my state. Yes, I could take my laundry to the laundromat and wash, dry, fold. But what if someone contagious is doing their laundry at the same time as I am? There are so many hands to touch so many surfaces at a washteria, so many places for a virus to linger. We’re not going!
Shout out to pioneer ladies who did all the washing by hand! Hand washing laundry is hard work! Have you ever tried to rinse the suds from your clothes in a five gallon bucket? Have you ever tried to wring the water out of a pair of jeans? We’ve been washing a minimal amount of clothing by hand for the last two months, and I don’t like it one bit. (Because I have more clothes than The Man does, he’s had to wash garments way more often than I have. To his credit, he doesn’t even complain.)
I wouldn’t mind hanging clothes out dry, but the strong spring winds (still blowing as I wrote this post!) means near daily dust storms. What’s the point of washing clothes if they’re going to be inundated with dirt while hanging on the line?
If you have a washer in your home, I encourage you to get on your knees right now and give thanks to God, Saint Hunna (the patron saint of laundry workers and washerwomen), the Universe, or the deity of your choice. Please give extra thanks if you have a dryer or a nondusty clothesline at your disposal too.
#2 I miss eating the occasional fast food. While the Man and I don’t eat at restaurants much (mostly because we can’t afford to), it was nice to be able to slide into Taco Bell and pick up a vegetarian option from the dollar menu when we were running errands in town. I miss the ease, low cost, and deliciousness of the Fiesta Potato Breakfast Burrito and the Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito.
A while back, the Sonic app offered me half price Sonic Blasts for one day only. I sadly showed the offer to The Man.
Do you want to go? he asked me. I want to do something nice for you.
I shook my head. Forty miles is a long way to drive for ice cream and beside, how can we know restaurant workers aren’t breathing COVID germs directly onto our food? Are we paranoid or safely cautious?
#3 I miss receiving mail regularly. As I’ve said before, there’s no home delivery of mail out here. I can’t just walk out to my porch or the end of my driveway to pick up my mail. There’s no group of mailboxes for me and my neighbors on the main road. If we want to receive letters, we have to pay for mailbox in town. And if we want to get our hands on the contents of our mailbox, we have to drive all the way to town to do so.
Our mailbox is inside a privately owned shipping business. While the business is still open, the hours of operation have been cut again and again. The woman who owns the place is not messing around with safety. She was enforcing six feet of distance between her customers when no one else in town seemed to be taking the recommendation seriously. No one walks into the place without a mask over their nose and mouth. The business is housed in a small enclosed space, and germs could linger. I appreciate the business owner for the precautions she’s taking to keep herself and her customers safe.
We have checked our mail three times since mid March. I used to check the mail a couple times a week. I miss receiving cards and letters from my friends on a regular basis. My friends are still sending the cards and letters (and I’m so glad for that), but I receive them less often.
I also miss ordering things online and knowing I’ll have my items in a few days. Nobody is delivering out where I live. I never see FedEx or UPS trucks way out here. We see commercials on television saying CVS pharmacy and Ace Hardware and Pizza Hut will deliver. Not to us they won’t. To be fair, I don’t actually miss this kind of delivery because we’ve never had it out here. However, in these times, I might take of advantage of having things dropped off at my house if the service were available to us.
#4 I miss leisurely shopping. Oh, how I miss the days of going from store to store to buy what I needed (and wanted) and to look around for bargains. At one time, a day in town might mean shopping at multiple supermarkets, checking the mail, seeing what Dollar Tree had to offer, shopping at WalMart, filling propane tanks, browsing at the thrift store, and having a look at free boxes and Little Free Libraries. No more! Now grocery shopping feels like I’m competing on Supermarket Sweep. There is no more casual grocery shopping because every trip to the supermarket is a survival mission.
I haven’t been to a thrift store since the middle of March. The thrift store in town hasn’t been open for a while, but I think it was open last Wednesday morning when I drove by. Even if it’s back to business as usual right now, I won’t be shopping there this month.
#5 I miss feeling confident the supermarket is going to have in stock anything I want to buy. I haven’t seen tofu in months. Months! I used to be able to buy a pound of tofu for between $1.49 and $1.79. Now the stores where I’ve shopped in the last two months don’t even offer it .
In the past two months, I’ve had trouble finding dried beans, brown rice, and powdered milk. Last week when I was at the big supermarket in town, I found all of those things, plus toilet paper. Score! But who knows what will be on the shelves in a month or two when I shop again, especially if we have another spike in COVID-19 cases.
Before we did last week’s big grocery shopping trip, The Man wanted eggs for breakfast. We’ve been a five-day-a-week oatmeal family since March so we could conserve eggs for baking, but he said he really wanted eggs that morning.
We’re going to the store on Wednesday, he reasoned. We’ll get more eggs then.
I tried to explain to him that I might not find eggs at the supermarket. I tried to explain that’ I’ve seen on Facebook groups that sometimes people go to the store and there are no eggs (or beef or dried beans or tofu or flour or baking powder or yeast). We were fortunate this trip; I found eggs and everything on the list with the exception of disposable gloves, rubbing alcohol, and tofu. However, there’s no way to know what the next shopping trip in a month or more will bring.
#6 I miss moving through the world without worrying that everything is contaminated. The Man and I wear dish-washing gloves when we go into any place of business. When we get back to the truck, the one of us who didn’t go inside squirts the gloves with disinfectant. When we pick up or mail, it sits in the hot truck for weeks of decontamination. Every time we buy groceries, we debate the need to squirt each item with disinfectant. After the last two times I’ve shopped, we wiped down each package with bleach water before bringing them into the house. I don’t buy fresh produce (except for onions, which we wouldn’t want to eat without, and we justify by remembering we’re going to peel off the top couple of layers anyway and cook the rest before eating). Still, we wonder if we’ve doing enough to protect ourselves or if we’re doing comically too much.
#7 I miss going on road trips. Geez, I want to explore a place I’ve never been and see some new things. I want to hit the open road. I want to visit a small town museum. I want to see a tourist attraction. I want to take some photos. However, I know it’s not quite safe for The Man and me to go out exploring just yet. I’m trying to stay patient, despite my itchy feet.
#8 I miss selling jewelry and shiny rocks. Some vending opportunities are opening up, but again is it safe to sell in our current situation? I don’t necessarily trust people to protect me by wearing a mask or staying away if they’re sick. So many times people don’t even know they’re sick until after they’ve infected others. Also, if I sold things I’d have to accept cash money. Oh cash, germy, germy cash!
Memorial Day has come and gone, now we’re into June, and I’ve sold nothing to nobody. I feel I should be out there somewhere selling, but I know I really should stay at home right now.
Will life ever get back to “normal”? Is the way we’re currently living what normal will be from now on? Will COVID-19 ever disappear or at least decrease? Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year or in 18 months or will the vaccine never happen? Will The Man and I be able to sell Christmas trees in November? Will I ever be able to get a job again? So many questions! I don’t have any answers. Living in the midst of the unknown is difficult, but I guess we’re all doing it. I guess we’ll all take the unknown one day at a time.
What do you miss about but your old life, your “normal” life, your life before COVID-19? I would love to know! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.