Category Archives: My True Life

Christmas Hitchhiker Part 2 (Blog Post Bonus)

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Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

The Man got out of bed really early on Christmas morning. (He’s usually out of bed between 3am and 5am in the winter, so this was not unusual.) I woke up around 5am, and joined him in the living room. We opened a few little presents from each other and as well as the wrapped treats my sibling had sent in a big box. We ate miniature powdered donuts for breakfast, watched the sun rise through the east-facing window, and spent some quiet time together.

Around 10am, we decided to watch A Christmas Story on the DVD I’d given The Man that morning. I needed something from the truck before we started watching, so I put on my boots and trudged through the snow.

Once at the truck, I grabbed the thing I needed (I no longer remember what it was), then glanced over to the backseat. On the passenger side of the backseat was a green backpack. I didn’t own a green backpack. At the time I owned a purple backpack and black backpack decorated with red and orange flames and a blue backpack, but not a green one. As far as I knew, The Man didn’t own a green backpack either.

About that time I realized I didn’t see the blue backpack I normally kept in the truck. The blue pack was stuffed with hats I made and wanted to sell. There wasn’t room for the backpack in our tiny trailer, and I only needed the hats in it when I was selling at a flea market or craft fair, so I left the bulging thing in the truck. But where was it?

I rummaged through everything I could reach on the driver’s side of the truck. No blue backpack. I walked over to the passenger’s side of the truck to rummage through the things on that side. No blue backpack either–only the green one.

A wave of realization passed slowly over me. Had last night’s hitchhiker left her backpack and taken mine?

I opened the smallest, outermost pocket on the green backpack. Right on top I saw a debit card with a women’s name on it, a set of keys, and a flip phone. Oh no! I opened the main pocket and saw, among other things, a block of Tillamook cheddar. Oh no! This was serious! We had the woman’s cheese!

I went back into the trailer.

We have a problem, I told The Man. I explained my backpack was gone and a backpack holding important things (keys, phone, debit card, cheese) was in its place.

Go get her phone, The Man suggested. He thought we could call someone on her contact list and let them know we had the hitchhiker’s belongings. Good idea!

Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

I went back out into the snow and sunshine and grabbed her phone. Once inside again, The Man flipped the phone open and looked at the phone log. Most of the calls had been made to one number. The Man said we should call that one.

He dialed, then handed the phone to me. A fellow answered after a couple of rings.

Good morning, I said, feeling awkward. I told him my name and explained how the night before my guy and I had picked up a hitchhiker. I mentioned the name I’d seen on the debit card.

That’s my mother! he exclaimed.

I told him how we’d driven her almost home and that I’d just discovered my bag missing and her pack (filled with important items) in our truck. I told him we wanted to get her bag back to her but because she’d had us drop her off down the road from her house, we didn’t know where exactly we should go with the pack. Of course, because she didn’t have her phone, we couldn’t call her and arrange to meet.

Photo by Lee Jeffs on Unsplash

The son said he would text his mother’s neighbor’s phone number to me. He thought maybe the neighbor could help. He thanked me for calling, and we wished each other a merry Christmas before saying goodbye.

In a few moments a text with a name and phone number came to my phone. That must be the neighbor, I thought.

I called the number and started another awkward conversation with another stranger. After I explained everything, the neighbor sighed and said his family had given the hitchhiker a lot of help in the past, and they were, frankly, burnt out.

It’s Christmas morning, my brother’s here, we’re about to eat breakfast, he told me.

I was a little stunned. I realized not everyone was as excited about getting the woman’s backpack to her as The Man and I were.

I suggested the neighbor contact me later when he wasn’t so busy. He said he would think on the situation and try to figure out a way to help.I got off the phone and updated The Man. We agreed there was nothing we could do until we heard from the neighbor again.

The Man and I talked for a while, ate a few more Christmas treats, then decided to start the movie. He was hooking up the DVD player to the television when my phone rang. It was the hitchhiker’s neighbor. He’d decided the best course of action was for us to meet him at his house. He thought he should ride in our truck with us and direct us to the hitchhiker’s house. Once there we could simultaneously hand over her backpack and retrieve mine.

The neighbor had just begun to give me convoluted directions to his place when the hitchhiker’s phone began to ring. Hang on a second, I told the neighbor.

Answer it! Answer it! I directed while gesturing wildly at The Man.

He answered it while I explained to the neighbor what was happening.

The hitchhiker was on the phone. I could just barely hear her voice and understand what she was saying. It seemed that she’d found someone to let her use their phone so she could call hers.

Yes, we had her backpack, I heard The Man tell her. Yes, we could meet her on the road where we’d dropped her off the night before. We could even meet her at her house, he offered. She must have declined because he said, Are you sure? then Ok.

After flipping the phone shut, he told me the hitchhiker didn’t want us to go to her house. (I wasn’t surprised.) She wanted us to meet her on the road we’d driven down before we dropped her off.

Photo by Jason Abdilla on Unsplash

We put on our cold weather gear and headed to the truck. The Man drove. The bright sun hitting the white snow was blinding, and we both wore our sunglasses.

It was slow going on the bumpy main road. When we turned off onto the road where we’d meet the hitchhiker, the ride wasn’t any smoother.

There she is! I said when I saw the short woman wearing a puffy purple coat.

I waved, and she waved, and The Man brought the truck to a stop next to her. I got out of the truck and handed her backpack to her amid much thanks. She said she’d gotten home the night before and opened up (what she thought was) her backpack only to find–instead of her keys–a bunch of hats. That’s when she knew she had the wrong bag. She’d had to break into her own house since she didn’t have her keys, but she said it hadn’t been too difficult.

While the hitchhiker talked, I looked about her person for my backpack. She wasn’t holding it, and she didn’t seem to be wearing it on her back. Where could it be? Had she left it at home?

Do you have my backpack? I asked timidly.

She told me she had left it safely under a tree and pointed to one of the few in the area. I thought it was a little strange that she had abandoned my pack under a tree, but whatever. I would be happy to have my pack and my hats again.

I went to the tree she’d pointed out and looked around. No backpack.

I don’t see it, I called out to her.

Oh, maybe I left it under that one, she said.

I didn’t know how she could be confused about what tree she’d left the backpack under. There were only two in the area! I didn’t ask any questions, just walked down the road to the other tree. Yes! There was my pack, nestled in the snow at the base of the tree.

Thanks and Christmas wishes expressed, I got back in the truck and the hitchhiker went on her way, up the hill again.

Christmas Hitchhiker

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It was Christmas Even and The Man was driving us home. Although it wasn’t quite 8pm, the sky was midnight dark, and we saw no house lights in the distance. Wind tumbled fat snowflakes in the space ahead of our headlights. When the snow hit the ground, it stuck. The Man drove slowly through the slush on the road as I looked for our turn.

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

Is that it? I asked again and again, thinking each driveway was maybe the road we were looking for. I’m always amazed by how different the landscape looks at night. I’d been down that road hundreds of times in the last eight months, but I was having such a difficulty finding it in the dark. Finally we saw the road home, and The Man made the turn. We were within a few miles of our little trailer.

Unfortunately, the snow and poor condition of the road kept us moving slowly. It would be a while more until we made it home.

At one point the road drops and one’s vehicle ends up at the bottom of a small hill. I call the area “Dead Man’s Hill” because the road is narrow and when going up the hill, it’ impossible to see if another vehicle is coming down. A driver going too fast and driving too far to the left could become involved in a head-on collision.

That night we weren’t going very fast. As we descended the hill, I saw the headlights of another vehicle approaching in the distance. We weren’t the only fools out on this snowy night.

As we got to the bottom of the hill, something in the sage to my right caught my eye. There appeared to be a small person (a woman, I thought) standing in the arroyo just off the road. As we passed by, she waved her flashlight, as if trying to catch our attention. It took some dedication to be hitchhiking at night, especially on a cold Christmas Eve while snow was flying.

That’s a woman! I exclaimed. Most hitchhikers I encounter present as male, so seeing a female hitchhiker is always something of an event. As a woman who’s done a bit of hitchhiking in my time, I always try to pick up gals looking for a ride.

Does she need a ride? The Man asked.

Yes! I said with conviction. Anyone standing in an arroyo in the dark, in the snow, on Christmas Eve needed a ride as far as I was concerned.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Man slowed the truck even further.

I’m going to use that little pullout to turn around, he said indicating a wide space in the road.

He pulled into the turnout, then began backing out. He misnavigated and ended up putting our back tire in the icy low spot next to the road. Despite the four-wheel drive being engaged, the tire couldn’t gain traction.

My spirits sank. Were we going to be punished by the Universe for trying to do a good deed?

While The Man tried to get us out of our predicament, the car whose headlights I’d seen earlier approached. The vehicle (an outdoorsy station wagon type, maybe a Subaru or a Jeep) passed us, then stopped just ahead of us. The hitchhiker stepped out of the sage and approached the driver’s side of the vehicle. She was carrying at least one bag and was wearing a dark rain poncho with the hood up.

By this time, The Man had put our truck into reverse and was easing back. I think the slight downward slant of the road let us roll backwards until the tire touched a bit of earth that wasn’t quite so icy. The traction gained allowed us to get back on the road. We were soon going forward again, and we pulled up behind (put not too close to) the station wagon.

The hitchhiker left the other vehicle and came up to The Man’s window.

Do you need a ride? The Man asked. He told me later he was quite confused because he couldn’t believe anyone would be hitchhiking from that spot, at night, while it was snowing so hard.

She said she did need a ride. She told us the area where she lived, and my heart sank again. She lived nowhere near us. We were going to have to drive several miles out of our way in the dark and the snow to get her home. We had already almost gotten stuck turning around to pick her up. But what other choice did we have? We couldn’t leave the gal alone in the dark and snow by the side of the road on Christmas Eve. The only right thing to do was drive her home.

I leaned over to speak to her through The Man’s open window. Come over to this side, I told her.

One of the flaws of our truck is that the front door has to be open before the back door can be opened. Even with the front door opened, it’s difficult to open the back door without getting out of the truck. 

I opened my door and hopped out of the truck, careful not to slip on the icy ground under the snow. The air that hit my face was cold.

Photo by Tom Morel on Unsplash

I opened the back door and saw I’d need to move some things so our passenger could sit. We had a couple of bags of groceries back there and the backpack where I keep the hats I’ve made before I sell them. I pushed everything over to the driver’s side.

By the time I’d made some room in the back seat, the hitchhiker had approached the passenger side of the truck. With the hood of her rain poncho pulled up, he face peaked out at me, but I couldn’t distinguish her features in the dark. I couldn’t guess her age, but I could see she was wearing eyeglasses. That she was short—no taller than I am and maybe shorter—was obvious. She was carrying a disposable plastic bag and a backpack.

I noticed the other vehicle was still stopped in front of us.

What’s that car doing? I asked the hitchhiker since it had appeared that she’d talked to the driver.

I think they’re going into town, she said.

I wondered why the car was still stopped if they were going into town, but figured they must be waiting to see if she got safely into the truck before they left.

The hitchhiker got in the backseat, and I shut the door firmly. Then I climbed back into the front seat and closed the front door behind me. While I was fastening my seat belt, I realized the car in front of us was slowly back up.

What in the world are they doing? I wondered aloud, but no one knew.

The driver backed up the station wagon until it was quite close to us, then stopped. I was perplexed. I think The Man was perplexed too. I don’t know what the hitchhiker was thinking because she sat silently in the back.

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

The Man pulled the truck to the left and passed the station wagon so he could get to a larger turnout ahead of us. From there he was able to maneuver the truck so we were once again pointed towards home. As we passed the station wagon, The Man heard the driver call out a woman’s name (presumably the name of the woman in the truck with us), and say, I want to hear her say it’s ok! I want to hear her voice!

(I heard the driver of the station wagon say something, but I couldn’t understand the actual words.)

When The Man told the hitchhiker that the driver of the station wagon wanted to hear it was ok in her voice, she said the other driver needed to let go. The Man kept driving.

I have no idea what the driver of the station wagon was yelling about. Did he think we were kidnapping the hitchhiker? Hadn’t he seen her get into our truck under her own volition? The Man thought the hitchhiker had been in the station wagon and gotten out. I reminded him that the station wagon was approaching from the opposite direction when I first saw it. The Man said the driver of the station wagon had probably turned around to come back for the hitchhiker.

Didn’t you hear him call her name? The Man asked me, but I honestly hadn’t.

The hitchhiker didn’t offer any explanations and it seemed rude to ask too many questions. In any case, everything that happened with the station wagon and driver added weirdness to what was already a strange situation.

The hitchhiker chatted happily as The Man drove through the dark and blustery night. She’s been in town, exchanging Christmas presents with her son. It had seemed really important to spend the evening with her son, she said. Her eyesight wasn’t very good, she told us. She needed new glasses. She’d gone through a period when she had constant ringing in her ears, but an ear candle had taken care of it.

In all of her chatting, she didn’t tell us her name and didn’t ask ours. I was exhausted, and The Man was concentrating on the road, so neither of us said much.

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

When we passed our turnoff, I looked longingly towards home. Even though I knew we were doing the right thing, I was still a little sad to know we weren’t going home yet.

We stayed on the main road and went further back where most of the people in our neighborhood (and I use the term “neighborhood” loosely) live.

Where exactly are we taking you? I asked the hitchhiker, and she named a road The Man and I both recognized.

There is a phenomenon I have encountered in New Mexico and nowhere else. People are extremely guarded when it comes to telling others where they live. Many people I’ve met in New Mexico have refused to share details about the locations of their homes. I’d known one good friend for over seven years before I was allowed to know where she lived, and she only told me because she needed me to pick her up and drive her around to do errands. (I was not invited into her actual house.) Other people I became friends with told me I was always welcome on their property, but made it very clear that I was not to bring anyone else over or even talk about where they lived. All of this to say I wasn’t surprised when the hitchhiker wouldn’t tell us exactly where she was going.

If you can just get me up the hill, I can walk the rest of the way, she said.

The Man and I agreed it would be no trouble to deliver her to her door, but she assured us it wouldn’t be necessary. She said she would show us a good place to turn around where we could drop her off .

We finally got to her road and The Man turned the truck onto it. He drove us up and up and up. When we got to the top of the appropriate hill, the hitchhiker pointed to a wide spot on the left and said we should turn around there. We asked again if we could drive her all the way home, but she assured us she would be fine walking.

The Man stopped the truck near the turnoff. I unfastened my seat belt, opened my door, got out of the truck, and opened the back door. The hitchhiker slid out.

Do you have everything? I asked.

She showed me the plastic grocery store bag and backpack she was holding.

Let me show you what my son gave me, she said, setting the grocery store gag on the ground and opening it up. Inside was a plant.

Photo by Kyla Henry on Unsplash

It’s a jade plant, she told me, obviously pleased.

I made appropriate cooing sounds, as if she had just showed me a kitten or a human baby.

She gathered up her things and disappeared into the snowy night. I got back in the truck, and The Man turned it around. We headed home, glad we were able to help.

Do you think this is the end of the story? We did too. Alas, we’d be seeing the hitchhiker again, less than 24 hours later. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the story of the Christmas hitchhiker.

Early January Thankful Thursday

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Photo by Howard Riminton on Unsplash

With a new month comes a new chance to share my appreciation for the people who have supported me recently.

Thanks always go out to my readers, without whom I’d have to reason to share my stories, rants, and observations.

I’m grateful to my sibling who sent a giant box of yummy food treats to me and The Man for Christmas and included postcard and first class stamps just for me.

I appreciate Theresa, a longtime friend (we’re talking decades here!) and my newest supporter on Patreon.

Big thanks to Frank who’s sent stamps and postcards to me in the past and in December made a generous contribution via PayPal.

Gratitude to Laura-Marie who bought a handmade bracelet from me last month and always sends love and moral support.

I’m also thankful every time The Man washes the dishes, sweeps the floor, and starts the truck for me on cold mornings when I have to go to work.

For whom and what are you grateful today? Please leave your thoughts of gratitude in the comments section below.

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

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

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Apparently someone started a thing on Twitter in November by tweeting

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

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

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

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

I Got a Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mudcicles on our 4 x 4.

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

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

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

I took the photos in this post.

Near Miss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful Thursdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took all of the photos in this post.

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Tweaker and the Jack

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That morning The Man had found out the lady he worked for had been hit by a truck. We didn’t have all the details, but we knew she was at the large university hospital being treated for a broken leg.

It was evening now, and I was headed home into the sunset after an afternoon of working on my blog at the public library. I was about seven miles from home, on the stretch of state highway where tourists often stopped to observe bighorn sheep living their wild lives.

8 bighorn sheep stand in the sage grazing
Bighorn sheep living their wild lives

About a quarter mile ahead I saw two cars, one parked on the eastbound side of the of the road, the other on the westbound side. Two women were crossing the highway. One woman was plump and wore a loose earth tone shirt over loose earth tone pants. Her dark, frizzy hair hung to her shoulders. The other woman had strawberry blond hair pulled back in a severe bun. She work black denim cutoffs and a tank top that barely concealed her black bra and barely contained her large, pale breasts.

Stupid tourists, I muttered to myself as I slowed the truck way down.

As I got closer to the women, a medium-sized dog jumped out of the open window of the car parked on the right. It bounded across the highway after its people. I brought the truck to a complete stop.

The woman with dark hair stopped in the middle of the highway, turned around, and spoke to the dog. The dog turned around, bounded back to the car, and jumped through the window it had come out of.

The woman with the bun made an elaborate arm gesture to me, the kind a fellow pretending to be a fancy gentleman might make to indicate, After you, madam.

I drove slowly past the women, wondering if the dog was going to dart out in front of me again or if one of the women was going to change her mind and try to scoot across the highway. After I passed the two parked cars, I pulled off on the barely-there narrow shoulder of the road.

To add to my questions (Who were these women?  Why were they stopped on the side of the road? Where were the bighorn sheep I thought they’d stopped to see?), while I was stopped I’d realized a friend of mine was parked on the opposite side of the road. She was on the shoulder of the eastbound lane, near the other parked car, but the front of her truck was facing west. As I drove slowly past I looked over to the driver’s side of the truck and confirmed, yep, that was my friend.

I only pulled off out of concern for my friend. As for as I could tell, the two women and the dog weren’t experiencing any distress, but I didn’t know what my friend might be dealing with.

My friend must have recognized my vehicle because by the time I got out of my truck, she’d pulled hers around and was parked behind me.

I was very cautious when I got out of my truck and walked on the narrow shoulder over to my friend’s Toyota. As soon as I could I got away from the highway and walked over to her passenger side. I was definitely thinking of The Man’s employer and her recent accident. No way did I want to get hit by a vehicle going 55 (or faster) on a state highway.

Are you ok? Are you ok? I asked my friend as I approached her vehicle.

She said she was fine. It’s her, she said pointing to the woman with the bun and short shorts who was now running across the road to our side. She needs a jack.

I need a jack, the woman echoed.

Oh, boy, I thought. I was torn between wanting to help and wanting to get home. I really didn’t want to hang out so close to the highway, but I knew I should help people in need.

I’ll get my jack, I told the woman with the bun.

I went back to my truck. I knew the jack was screwed down under the rear seat on the driver’s side. To get to the rear seat, I had to open the back door.  To open the back door, I had to open the front door. I couldn’t open either door very much because doing so would put the doors in danger of being smashed by someone driving too close to the shoulder.

I stood against the truck, the two doors resting against my body while I tried to lift the back seat to get to the jack. Suddenly the back door opened and the woman with the bun was standing next to me.

I told her I was getting the jack and would meet her at her vehicle. She didn’t budge.

I told her again that I was getting the jack and said she should go wait for me over there while pointing toward my friend’s vehicle. She still didn’t budge.

It was at that moment I began to suspect all was not right with this woman. First of all, no reasonable person would stand as close to the highway as she was standing if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Secondly, no person with any concept of the distance Americans like to keep between themselves and strangers would have put herself so close to me. Also, no one with an understanding of privacy would have put herself all up in my business inside my truck. Finally, I’d told her twice that she should step away from my vehicle. Of course, I’d been trying to be polite and hadn’t literally said step away from my vehicle, but I think most people would realize meet you at your car and wait for me over there meant the same thing.

I didn’t smell alcohol emanating from the woman’s pores or breath, and she wasn’t swaying or acting tipsy in any way. I figured she was maybe a bit socially awkward, but probably on meth. She had that swagger, that self-assurance. Someone on meth would be prone to think I needed her right there to hold the back door open for me and help me get the jack from under the seat. She likely thought she was the center of the whole damn universe and needed to be involved in every aspect of every single thing that was happening.

Look, I said to her.  Someone I know got hit by a car today. I don’t want you (or me, I thought to myself) getting hit by a car, so you go stand over there (I pointed in the direction of my friend’s truck again)  while I get the jack.

She still didn’t move. I don’t want you to get hit by a car either, she simpered.

At that point I should have just left, but the woman was still right next to me and not moving. I would have had to attempted to physically move her if I were going to leave. Besides, my friend was still out there. I didn’t want to leave her alone in this mess. Perhaps if I let the woman with the bun use my jack, we could all go home.

My irritation must have finally registered in the brain of the woman with the bun because she started in with Never mind. I don’t have a four way anyway. I won’t be able to change the tire anyway. Never mind. She sounded like a little kid who’s decided the world doesn’t love her because she’s not being allowed to have her way.

Oh no! I thought. I’m in this now. You’re going to use this jack! (My stubborn nature will probably be my downfall.)

Something (I have no idea what) caused the woman to (finally) step away from my truck and head back to her car, still calling out, Never mind. I don’t have a four way. Never mind.

With the jack finally I my hand, I left my truck. As I passed my friend’s truck, I shook my head and muttered uncharitably, Fucking tweaker.

Oh, I know! my friend said. She’s as high as a kite. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had noticed the woman’s unusual behavior.

I carefully crossed the highway with the jack and all its accessories in my arms. You can bet I looked both ways before I walked across. When I got to the bun woman’s car, she’d flipped a bunch of tool into the storage area of her hatchback and pulled her spare tire from some compartment. She was still moaning about not having a four way, but I was pretty sure I saw a red four way half covered by a floor mat (or something) there in the back among the piles of stuff.

Ummm…isn’t that a four way right there? I asked pointing.

She rummaged around and pulled out the red four way. I was the best! I was the greatest she exclaimed. (She could have been the best and the greatest too, had she only looked a little more carefully.)

I handed her my jack, and she took it and her four way to the passenger side of her Subaru. As I stepped as far away from the highway as I could, I finally saw the source of the problem I was now involved in. The rear tire on the back passenger side was not just flat; it was shredded. Poor gal’s tire had blown out on her way to town.

My friend had turned her small truck around again and was now parked behind the Subaru. She got out of her truck and walked over to me. We stood in the dry grass on the shoulder of the road and watched as the woman with the bun lift her car off the shredded tire.

How did you get involved in this?  I asked my friend.

The woman with the bun had showed up at the outdoor market where my friend was vending and said she needed a jack. My friend didn’t have a jack but thought she might be able to help in some way, so she drove her truck over to meet the Subaru. Now she felt as if she needed to stay until the situation was resolved.

The woman with the frizzy hair was not pleased with the situation. She didn’t think my jack was big enough. I figured if it was big enough to lift my giant truck, it would do ok with a Subaru station wagon, but I kept my thoughts to myself. The woman with the frizzy hair was also concerned that the shoulder where the Subaru was parked slanted down and then dropped away into a grassy area. She was afraid the car was going to topple over onto her friend while she changed the tire.

It was getting colder as the sun sank lower. The wind was blowing pretty hard too. I was chilly in my long skirt and short sleeved blouse. The woman with the bun was wearing a lot less clothing than I was, but she had physical activity and (probably) drugs coursing through her veins to keep her warm.

The woman with the frizzy hair made a phone call. She needs help, she said to the person on the other end of the line. She’s cold. She doesn’t have a jacket. She was obviously talking about her friend dealing with the blown out tire.

She needs a jack, the woman with the frizzy hair continued. Don’t you have a jack? she asked, then begged, Can’t you come and help?

The guy must have said he’d come over because the woman with the frizzy hair got off the phone.

By this time the woman with the bun had lifted her Subaru, but her friend begged her to wait for the fellow with the jack to arrive. The guy only lived a couple miles away, she said, He’d show up soon, and his jack was better anyway.

If the guy was coming with a better jack, I ventured aloud, maybe I could take my jack and be on my way.

The woman with the bun stood up from where she’d been sitting on the ground while removing the flat tire. She had ignored her friend’s pleading for her to wait for the man with the jack. It appeared she planned to get ‘er done. She walked over to the back of her car and rummaged around in the hatchback storage area again. When she stepped away from the hatchback, she was holding…a jack. It was the same size and design as the one I’d loaned her. She’d had a perfectly adequate jack the whole time. Why was I standing in the cold wind next to the highway?

Now there was a frenzy of activity. My jack was removed and her jack replaced it. I regained possession of my equipment.

I guess I’ll go, I told my friend. More than anything, I wanted to get off the side of the highway and go home, but I didn’t want to leave my friend alone in the middle of a fiasco.

My friend assured me she was fine and I could go. She said she would stay with the women until the guy arrived with the better jack. I knew I wouldn’t be any of any help even if I stayed, so I carried my jack across the road to my truck, hopped in, and headed home.

When I got home, I texted my friend to ask if the guy had arrived with the jack and if my friend was on her way home. She texted back and said she was on her way home. She said the guy with the jack had never shown up. The woman with the bun had taken off the shredded tire and put on the spare all on her own. Turns out she didn’t need anything but some moral support.

bighorn sheep looks at the camera
Bighorn sheep living its wild life in a rest area

I took the photos in this post.

In Praise of Hot Water Bottles and Sleeping Alone

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The beginning of winter is upon us. To help you prepare for cold weather sleeping, especially if you sleep alone in a van, car, or poorly insulated RV, here’s my story about how an improvised hot water bottle saved my cold butt.

You grow up with movies, books, television shows, and advertisements

Two People Laying on a Bed Covered With a Floral Comforter

telling you that when you find a romantic/sexual/love partner you’re going to sleep in the same bed. You learn the cuddling and snuggling (not to mention the s-e-x) will be amazing, and it is, until one of you (me) starts snoring and the other person (a light sleeper) can’t get any rest.

The Man tried using earplugs, and they helped for a while, but my snores apparently penetrated the orange spongy foam and hit his eardrums. I tired Breathe Right nasal strips (and their inferior competitor Clear Passage nasal strips) to stop my snoring. Again, they helped only for a while.

His tossing and turning while trying to get back to sleep woke me up, and if that wasn’t enough to disturb my sleep, him saying Honey? Honey! and asking me to roll over onto my left side certainly was.

Sleep deprivation brings out a demon in me. Lack of sleep makes me not just grumpy but downright angry. I think The Man harbors the same type of demon. We both knew it wasn’t my fault I was snoring, but he seemed to take it very personally. I knew he was only waking me and asking me to roll over out of self-preservation, but still I was furious at him for interrupting my sleep.

I went off to house sit for two weeks, and each of us got a fortnight of blissful sleep uninterrupted by snores, tossing, turning, the middle of the night bathroom needs of another person, or calls for dream analysis in the wee hours. We were both well rested and no longer angry at each other, so we tried sleeping together again.

We didn’t even have one happy night together. My first night home, I passed out and started snoring  before he even drifted off. He woke me up several times in the night asking me to roll onto my left side, which I did. I’m a natural back sleeper, so I always returned to my back (and my snores) as soon as I reached a deep level of sleep. At 4am, The Man clicked on the light and exclaimed that our sleeping arrangement wasn’t working for him. It wasn’t working for me either. Our sleeping demons were back.

During my childhood my maternal grandparents slept in twin beds across the room from each other. This arrangement always confused me. Every other married couple I knew—my parents, my aunts and uncles, the people on TV—shared a bed. Didn’t my grandparents love each other? I realize now that it’s possible to like and love someone and not want to spend 8 hours out of each 24 in bed next to that person. (I also realize that the sleeping arrangement of my grandparents may have come from the desire to be good Catholics while feeling like their seven children were all the mouths they wanted to feed and butts they wanted to diaper).

Because The Man and I didn’t have the luxury of space enough for separate beds (much less the separate rooms it would really require for him to get away from my snores), I offered to sleep in my van. He protested, but it was really the easiest solution. There was already a bed in my van, but his camp cot had been folded and taken out of his minivan. My van was a mess, and it was easier for me to clear a small space on the bed for my short self rather than clean up the whole space so he could be comfortable. Also, The Man likes to wake up early, make coffee, and meditate. I sleep late and don’t move around before sunrise, so it made more sense for The Man to stay in the fifth wheel (where we were living at the time) where he could stand up and use the stove. I had no doubt I would be totally fine in my van. After all, I’d slept in my van before, and I knew someday I’d sleep in it again. Apparently, the sleeping in it again day had come sooner than I had expected.   

Selective Focus of Frozen Tree Twigs

Unfortunately, my return to the van coincided with an epic cold snap. Down in the southern Sonoran Desert where we were staying that winter, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. However, the first few nights I slept in my van, temperatures went down to the high 20s. Brrr!

I had plenty of warm clothes. I put on Cuddl Duds leggings, then pulled on flannel pajama pants. On top I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and the matching flannel pajama shirt. I put warm socks on my feet and a warm hat on my head. I was suited up for winter.

My bed was suited up for winter too. I have a down comforter that I scored for a great price at a Goodwill Clearance Center in Phoenix. (Whoever brought it to the desert learned they didn’t need it.) This comforter often keeps me too warm if the temperature is over 45 degrees, so I knew it would keep me toasty on a freezing night. The only thing I worried about were the long minutes after I slipped into bed and before my body heat warmed up my surroundings. The mattress was going to be cold. The sheets were going to be cold. The comforter was going to be cold.

I harkened back to my days living in the Midwest. I’d seen snow there and temperatures as low as -16 degrees. I lived in a series of poorly insulated homes, and in attempt to save money, never set the thermostat higher than 68 degrees. Nights were cold, even when I dressed warmly and slept under a pile of blankets. To stay warm, especially when I first crawled into my cold bed, I’d take a hot water bottle under the covers with me.

Back in the Midwest, I used a hot water bottle I’d gotten in perfect condition

Silver Kettle over Burner

at a thrift store. I’d bring a pot of water to almost boiling (measured with a candy thermometer which must have come from a thrift store too), then carefully pour the hot water into the red container. I’d slip the hot water bottle into the polar fleece (acquired at the thrift store, of course) cozy I’d hand sewn for it and slide it into my bed to warm things up while I brushed my teeth and washed my face.

In my fifth wheel in the desert, I had no hot water bottle, no candy thermometer, no polar fleece cozy, but I knew a bottle of hot water would make the beginning of each night much more comfortable. I looked around for what I could use. Because of a lid that can be screwed down tight and the thick plastic it’s made from, a Nalgene bottle would have worked great. Alas, all of my Nalgene bottles were in use holding ice in the cooler we used since we had no working refrigerator. I remembered I’d just thrown away an empty plastic bottle cooking oil had come in, so I fished it out of the trash and washed it while my water was heating.

The plastic the bottle was made from was fairly thin, and I didn’t want to melt it, so I only heated the water until it was quite hot to the touch. Then I poured it into the cooking oil bottle and carried it out to the van. I slipped the bottle full of hot water under my comforter, then went back inside to brush my teeth. When I returned to the van, my sleeping area was nice and warm. The water bottle stayed hot for hours and if any part of me (my feet, my butt) got cold, I just moved the bottle to the spot that needed some heat. I was awake using the internet on my phone for a couple of hours, and I was perfectly warm under my comforter with my makeshift hot water bottle next to me.

I slept great that night. If I snored, I never knew. The Man said he slept great too. He got out of bed when he was ready and didn’t have to worry about bothering me. In the nights that followed, we sometimes missed cuddling, but not as much as we would have missed a night of good sleep.

I recommend a hot water bottle for anyone sleeping in a cold climate, whether you sleep in a van, a house, an apartment, or an old RV. Use a bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the lid is tightly closed before throwing the bottle into your bed. Be careful that the water is not hot enough to melt the plastic of the bottle or burn your skin. If the bottle is too hot to touch, wrap it in a towel, shirt, or other random piece of cloth you have lying around. Depending on the size of your bottle, it may fit in an old (clean!) sock that’s missing its mate.

If you are living in your vehicle and are parking for the night at a truck stop, you can find hot (usually very hot) water with the coffee dispensers. If you don’t feel right about filling up your bottle with hot water without permission, ask the cashier if you can have some and offer to pay.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety. You are responsible for yourself! Hot water can be dangerous! Be careful!  Don’t melt your bottle. Don’t spill hot water on yourself. Don’t burn yourself on a hot bottle. Don’t flood your bed. Please, please, please use common sense.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-people-laying-on-a-bed-covered-with-a-floral-comforter-1246960/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-branch-close-up-cold-436792/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/antique-burn-burning-close-up-243053/.

Lost

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I was selling my jewelry and shiny rocks at an outdoor market near a tourist attraction on a Sunday afternoon. The sky was overcast, the air chilly, the wind strong. There weren’t many shoppers, so I was able to give my attention to each person who stopped at my table.

I saw an older man spending a lot of time with the vendor next to me. Good for him, I thought of the other vendor. On such a slow day, I was glad for anyone who made a sale.

The fellow finished his business with the vendor next to me and made his way to my table. He was older than I am, maybe by twenty years, but he seemed to be in good shape. He walked easily without a cane and didn’t seem to be beaten down by life.

I said hello to him, but before I could tell him about my merchandise, he blurted out, I lost my wife.

At first I thought he meant he and his wife were there at the tourist attraction together, she’d wandered off, and he didn’t know where she was at the moment. That sort of situation occurs a lot at that market. So often, while one part of a group is browsing in the market, others in the party wander off to see the natural wonder.

I was about to reassure the man I’m sure she’s around here somewhere, when he continued to speak and I realized by lost, he meant dead. I was glad to have learned more about his situation before I opened my big mouth.

She’d died nearly two years ago, he told me. He was doing better, but it was still hard, he said with a sad smile.

She was the real shopper, he continued. If she had been here, she’d have stopped at every table, wanted to buy something from every vendor.

In the past when he’d traveled alone, he’d always been on the lookout for something nice he could buy to take home to her. Now there was really no point in looking at all the beautiful things.

I’m so sorry for your loss, I murmured, but I really didn’t know what else to say. I’m often surprised by how freely stranger share their grief with me. I wonder if these people share their grief freely with everyone they meet or if they sense some kindness or understanding in me.

The tourist man didn’t spend much time at my table. He only hung around long enough to apologize for not buying anything and to tell me how his lost wife loved to shop, then he was gone. I hope I helped him through his grief a little. I wish I could have done more.

I took the photo in this post.