Monthly Archives: February 2016

Barbie Heads


12568309_976809452404963_1329684302_nIt started in Arkansas. Mr. Carolina and the Okie and I had spent the night in in my van, in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In the morning when we tried to go about our business, we found that one of the tires was flat. We then had to go about the business of getting the tire fixed. Mr. Carolina borrowed an air compressor (a testament to Southern hospitality and Mr. Carolina’s powers of persuasion) and pumped up the tire enough to drive the van to the automotive repair entrance at the back of the store.

Somewhere between eating our McDonald’s sausage burrito breakfast and the actual moving of the van, I walked across the parking lot to the Dollar Tree. I went in and bought a fat black marker for sign-making, then stopped at the Dollar Tree dumpster to get a big piece of cardboard upon which to use the marker. On the ground near the dumpster, I found the head of a Barbie doll.

Of course, the doll whose head I had acquired had not been named Barbie. Real, true, name-brand Barbies are not sold at Dollar Tree. The head I had acquired had once belonged to a nameless “fashion doll.” What happened to this “fashion doll’s” body, we will never know.

As I walked up to the boys, I hollered in an exaggerated Southern drawl, Look what Santa left! as I waved around the cardboard in one hand and the doll head in the other. Then I commenced to poke a hole in the top of the not-a-Barbie’s head so I could impale her on the van’s radio antenna.

Once the doll’s head was on the antenna, Mr. Carolina started laughing. Oh, Blaize, he said, thank you. That’s what I hoped you were going to do with her.

The doll head stayed on the antenna as I traveled through the South. It was in Asheville, NC when the Okie and I delivered Mr. Carolina to his brother. It was at the truck stop east of Asheville where I dropped the Okie off to hitchhike to his further adventures. It went all the way to Austin, TX where I landed in the guestroom of my friend Lou and her new husband.

My first night in Austin, Lou gave me a pair of cowgirl boots I loved (RIP cheap, non-repairable cowgirls boots I wore to shreds) and invited me to a roller derby party.

I’d just spent two months in a warm fuzzy hug of the Grateful Dead, the kindness of strangers, and sweet-young-man friends who recognized and appreciated my inner goodness. My blissed-out hippy self was not quite prepared for the hard-drinking, rather jaded, rough playing, urban roller derby women I met at the party. It’s safe to say those women were not quite prepared for me handing out quartz crystals I’d dug from the Arkansas mud and trying to have real conversations with folks.

Two things at the party got my attention, the first thing being a van parked in the backyard and decked out with colored lights and cushions so people could hang out inside. I could barely wrap my head around the fact that to these house-dwellers, hanging out in a van at a  party was somehow exotic. I was asking Lou perplexed questions about the van, trying to understand, when she gently reminded me that people who don’t live in vans might think it exciting to sit in one at a party.

The second thing that caught my attention was a woman wearing a hat in which the legs of Barbie dolls (real, true, hard-plastic, name-brand Barbie dolls) had been used to fashion a Mohawk. Lou told me the woman had fashioned the Mohawk on the hat herself, and I got really excited, wondering if she still had the Barbie heads lying around.

I was by no means calm when I approached the Barbie-leg-Mohawk woman. I was babbling, it’s true. I told her I loved the hat, then said, I need the heads. She continued to look at me like and who the fuck are you? until I managed to explain live in my van, Barbie head impaled on antenna, need more to fill entire antenna. I think I got her with impaled.

A couple of days later when I went to see Lou play in a roller derby exhibition bout, a grocery store bag filled with Barbie heads was delivered to me. It didn’t take me long to make holes in all of the heads and add them to the antenna lineup.

For the next couple of months, people in Austin noticed those Barbie heads. While stopped at traffic lights, I saw people taking photos of the heads. More than once I saw people stop on the quiet street in front of Lou’s house to hop out of their cars and take photos of the heads. I suppose those heads unexpectedly jammed onto the antenna were an answer to the plea to Keep Austin Weird.

I loved the way those Barbie heads caught people’s attention, and I loved them because the one had so amused Mr. Carolina. But when I hit the elk and left my van behind, I left the heads too. It seemed silly to pack them in my backpack and tote them around as I hitchhiked, but mostly it seemed silly to try to prolong an era I knew had come to an end.

Photo of the Barbie heads on my van’s antenna taken by me. Special thanks to RenRen who helped me get the photo off my phone and into this post.


Women Travel Book Reviews


Almost as much as I like to travel, I like to read what others, particularly women, have written about their own travels. Today I will share some of my reviews of writing by women travelers.

I really enjoy The Best American Travel Writing series. Although I never like all of the pieces in those books, there is always something (usually several somethings) that I do like.

In The Best American Travel Writing 2001, edited by Paul Theroux, the piece I liked best was “The Place to Disappear” (about Bankok’s Khao San Road)  by Susan Orlean. It was so good, I read it twice.

The aforementioned Susan Orlean is the editor of The Best American Travel Writing 2007. My favorite piece in that collection is “Long Day’s Journey into Dinner” by Elizabeth Gilbert. This piece is about walking the Grande Randonnee in France. Although I have practically nothing in common with Gilbert and her traveling companion (he spoke French, I’ve got nothing but English; they had money to eat sumptuous meals at expensive restaurants and sleep in charming, cushy little inns each night, while I am poor; they drank bottles of wine each day, while I am a teetotaler), Gilbert described the journey as so wonderful, so magical that I wanted to (literally) follow in her footsteps. (It was only when reading the book’s writer bios did I realize the author is the Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. I have avoided Eat, Pray, Love for years, but after reading “Long Day’s Journey into Dinner,” I’ve added the memoir to my stack of books to read.)

[amazon template=image&asin=1885211929] Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road (edited by Jennifer L. Leo), is a collection of short travel stories from the Traveler’s Tales Humor Books series. I picked it up from a free pile, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. I actually wasn’t expecting much, as I had read at least one other book in this series and wasn’t impressed. If by “funny” the publisher means “mildly amusing,” this collection is right on target. I laughed out loud exactly once while reading these stories. (Unfortunately, I cannot remember which author made me laugh.)

I actually read More Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road, Again! (edited by Julia Weiler ) before I read Sand in My Bra. I picked it up on a whim at the library, and it turned out to be not so good. Sigh.

The subtitle, Funny Women Write from the Road is a lie. Well, the from the Road part is true and the women part is too, as far as I could tell, but funny? No.

A few of the pieces were well-written, but some were embarrassingly amateurish. None of them were memorable.

I really wanted to like this collection, but I just didn’t.

I also borrowed Curves on the Highway: A Self-Help Guide for Female Automobile Travelers by Gerry Davis from the library on a whim. I read the first two chapters and skimmed the third.

This book was not written for women who have any road trip experience. This book was written for women totally new to the idea of traveling alone in a car. This book was specifically written for women who like to stay at fancy hotels and go shopping.

Some of the advice was pretty good. Davis encourages women not to broadcast the news that they are going out of town, and she point-blank tells women not to dress in a way that calls attention to themselves.

But she also gives weird advice like “Shoulder pads: a must!” and “Take starched cotton shirts.” She also says that during travels is a good time to lose weight and suggests women snack on “…a bag of crisp chopped lettuce, kept cool next to your baggie of ice.” Sounds like the worst road trip snack ever!

I guess this book might be helpful for someone, but it sure wasn’t helpful to me. Well, I did take one thing I read here to heart. Davis advises women to never let their gas gauge go below a quarter of a tank. I’ve started taking this precaution, and I stress a lot less about running out of gas.

Around the World in a Bad Mood!: Confessions of a Flight Attendant by Rene Foss was supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t.

The author had been a flight attendant for over 15 years when she wrote the book. The book is based on a musical review also written by the author. Maybe it’s better as a song and dance…Some parts did amuse me, but nothing made me laugh out loud.

This book is mostly a manual on how not to act. It’s also mostly a yawn.

I couldn’t tell what author Polly Evans was trying to do with Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman’s Hilarious Adventure into a Country and a Culture Not Her Own. Was she trying to discourage Westerners from visiting China by showing it as a dirty place, full of disease and people with questionable hygiene habits, a place with weird, bad food and a difficult-to-speak language? Was she trying to be funny by poking fun at a culture she’s not a part of? Was she only trying to tell about her own experiences? I think most of all she was trying to sell her book.

I didn’t hate this book, but it did come across as if the author thinks living in the West is better and China is a strange and dangerous place. I did like the way the author seamlessly worked Chinese history into her story.

I’ve never really longed to visit China and after reading this book, it’s even lower on my list of possible travel destinations.

In the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy Knisley tells her story of spending a month in Paris with her mother. This was the journal and sketch book of her day-to day-life as a young women in a new place. I liked that. I liked getting a glimpse of what she did in Paris, where she went, what she ate.

The attitude about money bugged me. The author/artist mentioned several times that she was worried about her finances and couldn’t afford to buy things, yet did manage to buy things. My guess is that her parents picked up the tab for the trip, but how did they afford it? She also mentioned only receiving little presents from her parents for Christmas because the trip was a big deal, which also led me to believe her folks footed the bill. However, one of the little presents she got was a brand new digital camera; not a little present at all where I come from.

Ah, class issues. They can’t be escaped, even in comic books.

[amazon template=image&asin=1580056016]The last book for today is No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late by Ayun Halliday. Ah, Ayun Halliday. I should write her a fan letter.

I enjoy her self-deprecating wit. I enjoy any author who is not afraid of showing her weaknesses, because seeing them makes me feel a little bit better about my own.

I like that this book explores the downside of budget traveling, doesn’t only show it surrounded by the halo of happy coincidences and good vibes and swell luck. A lot can go wrong when traveling, and Ayun is not afraid to share it with us if it gets her a laugh.

I also really adore the title of this book, and have taken many opportunities throughout my life to shout at random,  NO TOUCH MONKEY!

It Is What It Is


IMG_5195It started with Judge Judy. For real.

The Lady of the House likes to watch Judge Judy on afternoon television. I’d always resisted such cheesiness, but last year during my extended visited, I let down my guard and succumbed. Afternoon television was a mindless, mild distraction, something to listen to while I was making hats or hemp jewelry.

We noticed at the end of each case, when the plaintiff and defendant were interviewed, more and more people were saying, It is what it is. Usually the loser said it. It is what it is, meaning, basically, Ain’t nothing I can do about it now.

Is this a thing on Judge Judy? we asked each other. But then it started creeping up on other afternoon reality-television shows too. Is this a thing now? we asked each other.

Then people in the real world started saying it to me. My rock guy in New Mexico (who watches TV, but otherwise is pretty clueless about the current cultural zeitgeist) said it to me while we were talking on the phone. It is what it is. My boss in California told me it was her favorite saying when we were talking about a work issue. It is what it is. Then I saw it in one of those liberal-grown-up-hippie-consumer-items catalogs I’d pulled out of the trash to cut up for collages. It is what it is on shirts. It is what it is on bracelets. It’s definitely a thing now.

So I cut out the words from the catalog–It is what it is–and glued them down with bits of bright color and sent the collage to the Lady of the House. It hangs over her desk.

It is what it is.


The John Dunn Bridge and Blackrock Hot Spring


SDC10006The John Dunn Bridge is located in Arroyo Hondo, Taos County, New Mexico.

According to Wikipedia, The John Dunn Bridge

crosses the Rio Grande near the confluence of the Rio Hondo.

[It] is located about three miles west of Arroyo Hondo on a gravel road that parallels Rio Hondo.[1] The road, off of NM 522, runs through Bureau of Land Management property, [and] is known as John Dunn Bridge Road and County Road B-007.

Black Rock Hot Springs are located off of a dirt road on the western side of the Rio Grande after crossing the bridge.[10]


This is a view of the Rio Grande flowing through the Rio Grande Gorge, taken from the trail to Blackrock Hot Spring.

According to,

Few of northern New Mexico’s bounty of hot springs have escaped the hands of developers and remain in a primitive condition. Blackrock Hot Spring has two characteristics that kept it from development: It has low flow, and it is located on the west bank of the rugged Rio Grande Gorge.


View of the Rio Grande and the eastern gorge wall, taken from Blackrock Hot Spring.

Far from isolated today, Blackrock Hot Spring is New Mexico’s most accessible primitive mineral spring. From the parking area at the hairpin turn above Dunn’s bridge, a well-developed trail dives from the road and heads downstream. The trail descends quickly to the river, reaching the spring in less than a quarter-mile.

The pool is small, and the volume of hot water is low. The mineral water issues from the base of the thick pile of black lava in a narrow drainage in the wall of the gorge. Boulders that have tumbled down the watercourse have completely covered the spot where the water bubbles up from the surface.

I’ve visited the John Dunn Bridge and Blackrock Hot Spring many times. In fact, Blackrock Hot Spring was the first natural hot spring I ever soaked in.

In the summer, visitors and locals alike enjoy swimming or floating in inner tubes in the Rio Grande just below the John Dunn Bridge. Blackrock Hot Spring is popular for soaking year round.

There are actually two pools at Blackrock Hot Spring, one warmer than the other. The cooler one is right next to the Rio Grande, and I’ve seen strong swimmers jump right into the river for a quick cool-down. The less adventuress can achieve a similar effect at a slower rate by taking a dip in the cool pool.

There’s no closing time on the hot spring pools, and although folks are not supposed to stay overnight in the small parking area, I’ve done it with friends a time or two. Because I prefer to soak in the hot water when the air is cool, my favorite time to utilize the pools–especially in the summer–is around 2am. It’s usually (although not always) empty then, and other middle-of-the-night soakers (if they’re not drunk partiers), tend to be quiet and respectful of the sacredness of the spring. A friend and I once sat in the hot water with no one else around and watched a meteor shower. That was a sweet night.

Blackrock is one of my favorite undeveloped soaking spots. Clothing is optional as far as the hippies who soak there are concerned, and I’ve never heard of a ranger hassling anyone for being naked there. The water is full of lithium (so the locals say), and it’s not only relaxing, but mood-lifting as well. The view is fantastic, and if there are no stupid rich people around talking about their real estate investments, it’s a wonderful place to rest and rejuvenate.


View of the John Dunn Bridge from the trail to Blackrock Hot Spring.

To find out about other places where you can soak in hot mineral water, check out the article “11 Hot Springs in New Mexico You Need to Visit” on the All The Rooms blog.

 I took all the photos in this post.

More on House and Pet Sitting


I’ve written a previous post about how I find house and pet sitting jobs.

I have more thoughts on house and pet sitting to share before I move on to other subjects, but the previous post on the topic was already quite long, so I decided to make this a two part-er.

As I already said, most of my house and pet sitting jobs have been for friends or for the friends of friends. I recommend to folks who want to house and pet sit: share your desire for this kind of work with all of your friends. I haven’t always been able to find the kinds of gigs I wanted where I wanted them and when I wanted them, but often friends did help me get jobs when I needed them.

If I were willing to travel more to get to house/petting sitting jobs, I would get a lot more of them. I suspect people who want to travel and do this kind of work could see the country (and probably other countries) this way. I have a sort of route I do through the West, and don’t want to drive to Austin, TX (for example) to spend a couple of weeks there taking care of someone’s dog. In my House Sit America profile, I am shown as available in only three states because I currently have no desire to drive all over the U.S.

When I responded to the Craigslist ad for my first dog sitting job, I obviously didn’t have any pet sitting references to offer. Instead, I offered contact info for people in the area who knew me well, such as the friend whose guest bedroom I was occupying. (Now I can’t remember if the woman who hired me asked for references or if she even contacted anyone to ask about me.) Once I had some experience under my belt, I was able to offer previous employers as references. However, since most of my jobs came through my friend network, I was already vouched for.

Money has always been a touchy subject for me. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the South. In any case, I often have a difficult time bringing up financial issues. When I took the dog sitting job I found on Craigslist, I didn’t even know I was getting paid!

Often, I don’t charge for my house and pet sitting services. Many times, I’ve felt it’s a favor to me to have a place to stay, especially times when I was living in the van and it was cold out or I didn’t have access to a shower. When I was living in my friends’ guestroom, I felt as if walking their dog while they were away for Christmas was the least I could do. In such situations, I felt as if I were participating in mutual aid, and I didn’t ask for money.

Other times when I house or pet sat for folks I knew had money but weren’t rich, I did ask for a small daily payment. In situations with multiple pets, pets that need medication, and/or long, bumpy drives over dirt road(s) to get to the house in question, I’m more likely to ask for some money to compensate for my extra effort. Houses offering desirable amenities (WiFi, the Food Network, the History Channel, bathtubs) are more likely to get free sitting from me.

House Sitters America recommends using a house sitting agreement. The company’s website says,

…using an agreement can prevent potential problems and misunderstandings. Both parties can state what is expected and organize the terms of the house sit, and then sign it.

However, I’ve never used such an agreement, maybe because most of my jobs have come through my friend network. When I mentioned a written agreement to the woman I’ll be sitting for through her ad on House Sitters America, she wasn’t interested.

So I think that’s everything I know about house and pet sitting. Feel free to ask questions or tell about your house and pet sitting experiences in the comments.

Dead Plant, Blue Sky

Here’s another photo I took near one of the houses I sat .

How Do You Find Houses to Sit?


One of the Facebook groups I belong to is The Non-Consumer Advocate. It’s a closed group, the description of which reads, We are citizens, not consumers. It’s linked to the blog of the same name, written by Katy Wolk-Stanley ( Ms. Wolk-Stanley says about herself,

I am here to help people learn to live on less, and to do so in a way that lessens their environmental impact. I define myself not by my purchases, but by my goals and actions. I am a library patron, leftovers technician, Goodwill enthusiast, utility bill scholar, labor and delivery nurse, laundry hanger-upper, mother and citizen.

Recently someone in the group asked who was living in unusual housing to save money. I wrote,

I live in my van. I have a sort of circuit of seasonal/temporary jobs. I score student responses to the essay or short answer portions of standardized tests in the spring. In the summer I am [a] camp host in the mountains of California. The goal is to earn enough [money] in the spring and summer to not have to work in the fall/winter. I also house sit in between. House sitting gives me some time out of the van, time to have house comforts with no out-of-pocket expense. Sometimes I house sit for free if the house is in a very desirable location, sometimes I sit for a very small amount, like $10 a day.

Another member of the group asked me how I find houses to sit. After writing a long answer to her question, I thought this topic would make a good blog post. So for anyone wondering how I find my house and pet sitting gigs, I’ll give you the answer.

I’ve found house/pet sitting jobs in a variety of ways.

The most common way I’ve gotten house and pet sitting gigs is through friends. Not only have I house and pet sat for friends, I’ve gotten house/pet sitting gigs from the friends of friends. Of the 18 house/pet sitting jobs I’ve had since 2012, only two were for absolute strangers. (Both of those absolute strangers hired me again to sit their houses and dogs during subsequent absences, but by that time, they were no longer absolute strangers.) The other times, I was either sitting for people I already knew or the friends of people I already knew.

I often scour Craigslist for jobs in whatever town or city I am in, but I’ve only found one house/dog sitting job that way in over three years. I suspect most people want a little more accountability than they think Craigslist provides.

The Craigslist ad for that job was honest to the point of comedy. The woman looking for the house/pet sitter put it right out there that the sitter would be sharing the bed with the dog! (I wonder if anyone but me applied for the job.) What the homeowner didn’t put in the ad was that the dog had a tiny bladder or was a scam artist or both, and I would have to get up several times each night to let the dog out into the backyard. She also didn’t tell me the house was possibly haunted. (Read more about that house and dog sitting experience here:

The second stranger I house and dog sat for, I met at a garage sale.

I was visiting a small town in the Southwest, and I decided to go to a garage sale on a Sunday afternoon. As soon as I arrived, I met the very nice dog who lived at the house. After I hit it off with the dog, the woman holding the sale and I chatted. She too had traveled in a van when she was younger, and she understood me and my life.

A few days later, I was walking just off the town’s main drag when a car passed by. Someone was waving out of the driver’s side window and shouting, I need to talk to you! I couldn’t imagine who it might be, since I didn’t know anyone in the town. After the car was parked, the woman from the garage sale emerged from it. She asked if I wanted to come back to the town in a month and house and dog sit for her while she was visiting family in California. As a matter of fact, I did want to return and stay in her house and hang out with her friendly dog. It turned out the be a wonderful house/pet sitting experience and the start of sweet friendship. Also, the next winter when I was in town, this friend referred me to her friends who were looking for a sitter; I got to spend a very cold week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in a very nice and warm house with Direct TV and WiFi.

Last November, during a bout of what am I going to do with myself NOW? I paid $30 to join House Sitters America (, which was recommended to me by an acquaintance who has happily used the service for some time. The website’s FAQ ( explains the process this way:

House sitters register to list their profile on the House Sitters America database.

Here they can be seen by US homeowners via the website. These homeowners are able to contact the house sitter directly to discuss potential house sitting.

Registered house sitters are also able to contact any of the homeowners through their adverts.

Once one registers as a house sitter via the House Sitters America website, one can choose the state(s) one is interested in sitting in. When a house sitting position is posted in the state(s) of interest, a potential house sitter gets an email with pertinent information and is able to contact the homeowner.

I have a house sitting gig coming up that I got through House Sitters America. I will post an update on the gig once it is complete, but hopefully it will be a blissfully uneventful two weeks and not an interesting story. If that’s the case, I’ll just post the update in the comments section of this post.

There are other services that connect house sitters and people who need caretakers for their property. One mentioned in the Non-Consumer Advocate group is The Caretaker Gazette. According to the publication’s website (,

THE CARETAKER GAZETTE is a unique newsletter containing property caretaking and house sitting jobs, advice, and information for property caretakers, housesitters, and landowners. Published since 1983, it’s the only publication in the world dedicated to the property caretaking field.

I have not used The Caretaker Gazette, so I can’t necessarily recommend it, but I did want to include it as a resource I’ve heard about.

So that’s how I find houses to sit. Any questions? Anyone do things differently? I’d love to answer questions or read about what others do via the comments section.

To read more of my thoughts on house and pet sitting, go here:

Clouds, House, Fence

I took this photo of the area near one of the houses I sat.

World Happiness Party



My friend and I were on our way to Jerome, Arizona to celebrate our shared birth month. We were just leaving Cottonwood when we saw the motorhome pictured above. It was parked in a hospital parking lot. My friend and I were both hooting and hollering, pointing to the motorhome, and asking each other Do you see that?

Next thing I knew, my friend was pulling off the highway and into the hospital parking lot, telling me we had to see this giraffe-patterned vehicle up close. (One of the things I like most about this woman friend is that she is always up for an adventure.)

I’m not sure what we expected. A daytime rave going on inside? The owner/driver hanging out, ready to answer our every question? Alas, there was no one in or around the motorhome. (Why didn’t we leave a note? Why oh why didn’t we leave a note?)

IMG_5049We took our photos, then got back to our road trip. A week later, it occurred to me to type “” ( into my browser and look at the page.

The page says,

Make the world a better place. Join our wise, daring fraternity!

Then the page asks,


Short answer:

current research suggests 7 main ways to increase life fulfillment.

Here are those 7 main ways, as suggested by the World Happiness Party:


Here’s a tip for being more sociable: when someone tells you good news, don’t answer blandly or look at the negative side. Respond enthusiastically and positively. Practice this on someone. Do it until you notice a change in your pattern of response.



Smiling.  Activating the smile muscles makes you feel better even when the smile is faked.
Laughter.  Laughter relieves stress and increases resistance to illness and pain. Even fake, forced laughter produces these results.
Count your blessings.  At the end of each day, write down 3 things that went well that day.  They can be small. Give a reason for each. This alleviates depression and stress.
Gratitude.  Thank someone for something they did that was important to you — even if it happened long ago. You’ll both feel lifted.


Optimism adds 10 years to one’s life (on average). It can be learned. If you habitually grumble when things don’t go your way, dispute your pessimistic assessment in these ways:
Find evidence that it isn’t so bad after all.
Find an alternative (more benign) explanation of the event.
Find evidence that the negatives are only temporary.
Don’t let your whole life be affected.  (Don’t “catastrophize”)
Blame bad events on causes outside yourself.
Take credit for good events.
Question the usefulness of pessimistic beliefs.


Dedicating yourself to larger causes…erases fear and anger and puts you in a sociable, creative frame of mind.


People with a strong sense of purpose…tend to be happier than others. They solve problems proactively and can absorb life’s ups and downs.


If you are wondering, as I was, who makes up the World Happiness Party, here’s the answer:

The World Happiness Party is a non-partisan organization dedicated to spreading information about the science of happiness.Founded in 2009 at Western New Mexico University, its members believe in three things:

Happiness.  The desire for a fulfilling life unites all humans…One person’s happiness need not cancel out another’s. The enlightened pursuit of happiness removes social conflict.
World Reach.  Assisting those who need it most assures that no corner of the globe will be left out. Currently, the W.H.P. is aiding troubled regions in Africa, the Middle East and Mexico.
Science.  The science of happiness can revitalize the human race. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s a good start.

The World Happiness Party invites us all to

Here are creative, rewarding, fun things you might do:
— Start an exercise, walking, sports or laughter club
— Community projects involving art, music, etc..
— Mentor youth; care for those in need
— Political activism for the greatest good
— Form a science of happiness study circle
— Aid impoverished people around the world
— Compose a testament of your thoughts and/or work

There’s a toll-free phone number on the website (1-800-374-7428). This is the phone number folks are to call to join the party or get assistance and/or information. When I called the number, a robot voice told me the office was closed IMG_5050and I should call during regular business hours. I’ll try to remember to call again when it’s not a Sunday afternoon.

I took all the photos in this post.

California Hot Springs


California Hot Springs is both a census-designated place (population 97 as of 2014, according to in Tulare County and a “resort” located in that small community. At the resort on Mountain Road 56, one can soak in soothing, odorless hot mineral water.

According to the history page of the resort’s website (,)

350,000 gallons of water at 125 degrees Fahrenheit, flow from the rock cliffs of California Hot Springs each day.  Its characteristics of remarkable softness, very-low sodium, lack of odor, unique purity, and refreshing taste; set this spring water apart from all others.

(The questionable punctuation in the above paragraph is copied directly from the website.)

The history page traces the use of the hot springs to the “native Yokuts” who “channeled the hot spring water into hollowed-out logs,” then soaked in the water-filled log tubs.

Development of California Hot Springs started in 1882 by Henry Witt and by 1902 a large hotel was under construction. In 1920 a commercial center, swimming pool, and therapeutic center were constructed. The landmark California Hot Springs recreation hall was built in 1926 and dedicated in May of 1927.
Fire destroyed the hotel in 1932 and the commercial center in 1968. The facility was then abandoned for the next 16 years.  Restoration began by Ronald and Mary Gilbert in 1983 and the facilities were reopened in 1985.

The California Hot Springs Resort offers two in-ground pools for soaking. These pools offer very hot, bubbling water, and are each big enough for four to six people to soak in at one time. The resort also pumps hot mineral water into the swimming pool. The hot mineral water is mixed with cooler water to maintain a warm temperature in the pool.

Of all the places I’ve soaked (12 in four states, both natural and developed), California Hot Springs Resort is probably my least favorite, for several reasons.

#1 For a resort, California Hot Springs is kind of shabby. In my imagination, a resort is a fancy place. However, the Google definition ( of “resort” is

a place that is a popular destination for vacations or recreation, or which is frequented for a particular purpose[,]

which I suppose does describe California Hot Springs. In any case, the women’s locker room looks more like “junior high gym class” than “relaxing get-away.” It’s not dirty so much as old, with humidity-warped benches, showers partitioned by not-quite-big-enough curtains, and a toilet that wobbled when I sat on it. The pool area is better, but not pretty or charming.

#2 California Hot Spring Resort doesn’t open until 9am. Even at an elevation of 3,700 feet, in the summer it’s warm at 9am. By 10am, it’s very warm. By 11am, I felt like a lobster boiling in a pot and not longer wanted to soak in 100+ degree water.

California Hot Springs charges admission by the day. At $12 for a pool and spa day pass, I wanted to get more than two hours for my money.

I suppose I could have dipped into the swimming pool to cool off, although the hot water/cold water back and forth is not something I enjoy. (My dad always preached against shocking one’s system, and I guess at least one of his  ideas did sink into my brain.) I could have also sat in the snack bar area or hung out in my van for a while, but I also don’t like hanging around in a wet swimsuit. (I guess I’m just picky.) Even if I’d cooled off, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the hot water again until at least a couple hours after dark, long after the resort was closed at 5pm.

What I really wanted was to soak around seven in the morning, when the air was cool, and slipping into hot water would be welcome warmth. I prefer to soak in hot springs when “steam” (actually “water vapor condensing into small water droplets which scatter the light giving them their cloud like appearance,” I just learned at is rising from the pool.

#3 The two bubbling hot tubs are outside, next to the swimming pool, entirely public and communal. “Public and communal” means swimsuits are required. I hate swimsuits. I hate the way I look wearing even a black one-piece (although my method for wearing one has been the same for years: put it on and don’t look down.) I also hate the way the wet fabric feels when it clings to me. Yuck!

“Public and communal” tends to lead to chatty people in the pool with me. I hate it when I’m soaking, trying to relax and loose myself, and other people in the pool are babbling about inane topics.

If I’m soaking, I want to be alone, which guarantees nakedness and quiet. If I can’t be along, I’d at least like to be soaking for free on public land with other naked people who will maybe keep quiet or maybe have something interesting to say.

#4 I didn’t know how clean the tubs were. I didn’t even ask how often the tubs are drained and scrubbed or if anything is added to the water to kill germs. Some things I think I don’t really want to know, especially if I am bound and determined to soak.

The best part of the California Hot Springs Resort was the breakfast I ate at the “full service delicatessen” in the main building. It was a basic breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns, but true to the raves of a local, the cook grated fresh potatoes for the hash browns. Yum! I think the meal cost me $6. In addition to breakfast, the delicatessen serves sandwiches and ice cream.

While I wouldn’t urge anyone to visit the California Hot Springs Resort, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to soak there again, for anyone in the area who really needs to spend some time in hot mineral water, California Hot Springs will do.

I Wish I Had Handled It Differently


I hadn’t been a camp hot very long, but that’s really no excuse…

When I returned to my campground from collecting parking fees in the lot near the trail, I saw a tent pitched on the edge of the meadow. It was not in any designated campsite, which was an absolute no-no. There was a lot of leeway as to where a camper coluld pitch a tent within a designated site, but by no stretch of the imagination was this tent within a designated site. I saw a bicycle leaning against a tree near the tent, and as I drove the van closer, I saw a man standing there.

After pulling up next to the man, I opened the small triangle-shaped window, since my driver’s side window doesn’t roll down. I know I sounded cross when I told him he couldn’t camp there, that he had to pitch his tent in a designated campsite. He said he didn’t mind paying the camping fee, that he was only trying to leave spots open for people in cars who needed a full campsite. I told him again he’d have to move his tent, then said I’d be over soon to collect the camping fee.

This is what I wish I’d done: I wish I had parked the van first, then walked over to the man and talked to him eye-to-eye rather than trying to communicate from inside the van, through a tiny window. I wish I’d kept my tone pleasant and friendly instead of sounding (even to my own ears) aggravated and short-tempered. I know I wouldn’t want someone to bark at me from within a vehicle, especially if I truly thought I were doing something to make the lives of others easier.

My goal for the summer of 2016 is to show more kindness and compassion. I want to answer questions (even the stupid, stupid ones I’ve already heard countless times) as if I were being asked a reasonable question for the first time. I want to treat other people as I want to be treated.

Treating people with kindness and compassion (in my opinion) does not mean I have to get involved in their made-up dramas. It does mean answering their questions in a pleasant tone and giving them whatever information I have to allow them to solve their problem(s). It also means not assuming visitors should know what’s going on.

So what happened with the man who’d pitched his tent on the edge of the meadow?

He moved his tent and gear to site #5. When I walked over to collect his camping fee, I found out he was from Israel and was biking through the National Forest. He said he thought it was unfair that he–one person on a bicycle–had to pay the same fee to camp as six people in a motor vehicle. While I totally saw his point, I explained it would be a logistical nightmare if I had to charge different fees depending on the number of campers and the kind of vehicle they were driving.

I don’t think I changed his mind. However, I didn’t suggest he should travel with friends who would share a campsite–and its cost–with him. I simply collected his money and moved on.

Trail of 100 Giants


IMG_3077The Trail of 100 Giants is interpretive trail located on the Western Divide Highway in the Sequoia National Forest.

IMG_3106According to a Forest Service website ,

Trail of 100 Giants is an easy, accessible walk through Long Meadow Grove, one of the premier groves of giant sequoias. The grove showcases monarchs estimated to be up to 1,500 years old. About 1.3 miles of paved trail offers several loop options with interpretive signs…This gentle trail (6% maximum grade) is paved and suitable for wheel chairs.

Trail of 100 Giants is part of the Sequoia National Monument. According to the previously mentioned website,

On April 15, 2000, President William J. Clinton proclaimed the establishment of the Giant Sequoia National Monument and made his announcement beneath one of the giant trees at the Trail of 100 Giants. IMG_3421

The grove contains approximately 125 giant sequoias greater than 10 feet in diameter and more than 700 giant sequoias less than 10 feet in diameter.  The largest tree in the grove has a diameter of 20 feet and is 220 feet in height.  The grove defined by the outermost giant sequoia trees covers 341 acres.  It is estimated that the ages of larger giant sequoia trees in the grove are up to 1,500 years old.


Sometimes giant sequoias grow close to each other and fuse together, like the trees in this photo did.

I visited the Trail of 100 Giants during the summer of 2015. It is a magical, holy place. As the name of the trail implies, the visitor sees so many massive trees. I think it is difficult to comprehend the enormous scale of the trees from a photograph. Trust me, these trees are BIG, not just tall, but wide as well, with bark that is inches thick.

IMG_3101When I walked the trail, visitors were allowed to leave the path in order to get right up next to the trees, proving ample opportunities for tree hugging. (In the Sequoia National Park, the most famous trees–the General Sherman and the Sentinel Tree, for example–are fenced off to protect their root systems from the huge number of tourists.

IMG_3094Some of the trees on the Trail of 100 Giants have hollow trunks, allowing visitors to stand or sit inside the tree. It is absolutely magical to be able to exist within such an ancient living creature. One of my favorite trees is called the Goose Pen. A person can stand entirely within that tree and look up and see the sky through an opening in the trunk.

This is the view when standing in the Goose Pen tree and looking up.

This is the view when standing in the Goose Pen tree and looking up.

Of the many places I’ve visited, the Trail of 100 Giants is one of my favorites. I highly recommend it as a destination for tree huggers and nature lovers.

I took this photo while standing in the hollow trunk of a giant sequoia. The dark frame around the edges of the photo are the walls of the trunk of the tree I was standing in.

I took this photo while standing in the hollow trunk of a giant sequoia. The dark frame around the edges of the photo are the walls of the trunk of the tree I was standing in.

IMG_3081I took all of the photos in this post.