Category Archives: Van Life

Van Problems (Part 2)

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I shared the beginning of my story of van problems yesterday. Today I’ll tell you the rest of the story.

It was four o’clock when we finally arrived at the shop. When I’d originally talked to the owner of the shop, he said he’d start the job that day and finish it the next, which seemed reasonable to me. Of course, that had been at 11am. Now it was 4pm. I figured he wouldn’t get started until the next day.

That was Monday. On Tuesday, I waited all day for a call. At 4:15 that afternnon, I called the shop and asked about the status of my van. The guy who answered the phone said he didn’t know anything about my van, but would find out. He took my phone number and said he would call back. He never did.

At 4:35, The Man and I decided to go to the garage to check on the van. The Man was opposed, but I was determined. The Man thinks mechanics get tired of people calling to find out if their vehicles are ready. He thinks mechanics get pissed when they’re bothered. I believe I’m in a business transaction with the mechanic who owes me basic communication about the status of my vehicle. He should have told me my place in the repair lineup when I dropped off the van. If the repair (which he originally said would take about four hours) was going to take more than one business day, someone should have called and let me know. And if the shop policy is that no information about the status of a vehicle is given over the phone, the fellow who took my call should have explained that to me. It’s not right for someone to say they’re going to call back but never do so!

I walked up to the counter of the parts store adjacent to the repair shop moments before closing time. When I asked about my van, no one behind the counter knew anything. The boss was in the office, one of the guys told me. He was busy, but I could wait.

I waited. I waited some more. I waited silently and looked at mysterious auto parts while I waited. I saw mechanics punch out and go home for the day.

Finally, the boss came out of the office. He looked at me and said, Ma’am, your truck is not ready.

Might it be ready tomorrow? I asked

I’ll call you when it’s ready, he told me.

I thanked him and left without another word.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday I waited. I waited and waited and waited. The Man was sure the van wold be ready by noon or 1:30 at the latest. I waited and waited and waited. There was no phone call from the repair shop.

On Thursday I asked The Man how late I should wait to call the repair shop and ask them if I should cancel my (only partially imaginary) appointment that afternoon in the city. The Man was adament I should not call and ask about the progress of the van. The man said he’d call you when it’s ready, he reminded me. You probably already pissed him off when you went in on Tuesday. I maintained the mechanic should communicate with me so I could make plans and organize my life. The Man and I agreed we should not discuss the situation any further.

The Man said the Universe was trying to teach me patience and acceptance. Maybe so, but I have to say, I’m a pretty lousy student.

By 1:30, on Thursday afternoon, I’d heard nothing from the mechanic, and even The Man thought the whole situation had gotten ridiculous. They’d had my van a really long time to do what I’d been told was a four hour job.

At 3:55, I couldn’t wait any longer. I’m calling them, I told The Man grimly. I’ll just say I need to know if I should cancel my plans for the weekend.

I called the shop. I told the guy who answered the phone the make and model of my van and said I wanted to check on it.

Oh yeah, he said. Your van is ready. He didn’t say they had finished the repair two minutes ago and were just about to call me. He didn’t apologize for the delay. He didn’t explain anything, but by then all I really cared about was picking up the van and hitting the road.

I didn’t talk to a mechanic when I picked up the van. I paid the young woman working in the parts store adjacent to the garage. On my receipt was a list of the parts used and their prices, but no indication that the back brakes had been adjusted as I requested when I’d dropped off the van. At The Man’s insistance, I went back in and asked the young guy working in the parts store if the brakes had actually been adjusted, and he assured me they had. He said he’d actually seen a mechanic doing the adjusting.

I got my things out of The Man’s vehicle and threw everything into my van. I was ready to go!

About 10 miles into my drive, The Man called me and suggested I stop the van and check for smoke or a burning smell coming from the brakes. I pulled over and hopped out of the van. I went to the rear tire on the drivers side. I saw no smoke. Sniff! Sniff! I didn’t smell anything weird. The drivers side seemed good.

I walked over to the passenger side. There was no smoke. Good. Sniff! Sniff! I smelled something artificial, plastic and hot, but it wasn’t overwhelming, so I decided to keep going. What else could I do? I was in the middle of nowhere out in the desert.

As I drove towards the small outpost of civilization that was the next town, I was paranoid (some would say hyper vigilant) about smells. Did I smell something? Was the smell coming from me or from another car on the road? How much smell from the brakes was too much smell from the brakes? The brakes seemed to be working fine, so I kept going.

When I got to the town, I pulled in at the truck stop to sniff at the tires again, then use the restroom. I went directly to the tire on the passenger side, and it definitely smelled hot and artificial. I’d never sniffed my tires before. Maybe that’s the way they always smelled?

I called The Man to confer, and as I came around the front of the van, I saw a dreaded puddle on the concrete just under my bumper. Had that come from my van, or had it been left behind by the previous occupant of the parking space? I crouched down to examine the moisture. It was very wet and seemingly fresh. Also, parts of the van’s undercarriage appeared wet too. As I watched, a few drops dripped from my van onto the ground.

I didn’t even cry. I was beyond crying. The whole mess kept going on and on and on, and it looked like I’d never go on the road trip.

After conferring with The Man and The Lady of the House, I formulated a plan. I’d sleep in my van where it was parked at the truck stop. First thing in the morning, I’d find a mechanic in the town to check everything out.

The next day, after a couple of false states, I found a shop where I could get the van checked.

The boss was probably in his 60s, pudgy with thin white hair. He had watery, red-rimmed blue eyes and a bulbous nose marked by tiny red blood vessels just below the skin. He told me where to park the van and said someone would look at it in about 45 minutes when the current job was complete.

The fellow who came out to look at the van was youmger, probably early 30s. He had a reddish brown beard and a face full of faded freckles. His unfortunate tangle of teeth seemed to make talking difficult. He slid under my van, and when I went over to give him some information, I saw he had the stub of a lit cigarette clutched between his lips. Is that a good idea? I wondered.

The mechanic found no leak, even after the van ran long enough to get the engine up to running temperature. The brake was fine too. He thought I was smelling the factory coating on the brake pads burning off. He posited the liquid on the ground had drained from the old water pump when it was removed. Ok. If he said everything was ok, I was willing to go with it.

What do I owe you? I asked the mechanic.

Ask the old man, he said, gesturing to the office where the boss had gone.

I went inside and told the boss his guy hand’t found any problems.

What do I owe you? I asked him.

Nothing, he said. We didn’t do anything.

Oh thank you! I gushed.

Finally, I could start my road trip.

Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/phone-old-year-built-1955-bakelite-1644317/, https://pixabay.com/en/paper-business-document-office-3327341/, and https://pixabay.com/en/car-repair-car-workshop-repair-shop-362150/.

Van Problems (Part 1)

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I had van problems on April 1st, and it was no April Fools’ joke. Unfortunately, the problems went on well into the first week of the month.

The Man had already done a full brake job–front and back–and it was no easy task. The front brakes were pretty simple, but those back drum brakes–Lord! The brakes were done, and now he just had to stop the coolant leak in the front.

The coolant leak had started a week or so before. I’d driven the van to the laundry room. When I returned home, The Man asked, What’s that? while pointing to the liquid dripping into the dirt. We thought the lower radiator hose was loose, so he tightened the hell out of it and called it good. I drove the ten miles to town to run a few errands and didn’t see any leak, However, when I got home, fluid was dripping from under the van at a quick and steady rate. Don’t worry, The Man said. We’ll get a new hose. I’ll put it on for you.

We got the hose, but with one thing and another, it was nearly a week before The Man installed it.

First came the brake jobs–first one on my van, then the back brakes on The Man’s minivan. The Man had never replaced back brakes before. I never had either. He watched videos on YouTube. He took photos of the brakes before he took them apart. Still, the job was a challenge, and there was a learning curve to get past. I was impressed by his perseverance and attention to detail, but I was ready for the whole brake experience to be over. I know The Man felt the same way.

We thought he was finished with my brakes, but after spending all day working on his and learning a couple of new drum brake replacement tricks from videos, he decided my brakes needed more adjustment. He said he’d do the brake adjustment after he got the new hose on.

He got under the van and used brute force to tighten the new hose. We drove down to a friend’s house to pick up a mattress she was giving me. When we got to her place (less than half a mile away), we saw fluid coming out from under the van. The Man was mystified; he thought he’d tightened the hose pretty good. I drove the van back home and we let it cool before The Man crawled back under the van. There was more tightening, some coolant in The Man’s eye (no damage, thank goodness!), frustration. Finally, he got the hose clamps even tighter. Hopefully the problem was solved.

We loaded our big garbage can into the van so we could dump it while we were driving around waiting for the engine to heat up. We deposited the trash in a dumpster, then drove back home. Fluid was still dripping from underneath the van. I think it’s gotten worse, I said.

By that time, the sun was almost down, and The Man shook his head. He was tired, but the real problem was getting his big hand into the appropriate small space. He couldn’t get the leverage he needed. He needed an extender for the ratchet he was using. We’d have to go to town the next day to get one.

Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem to finish tomorrow what we hadn’t completed today, but I was supposed to leave on a road trip on April 1st. I was supposed to meet The Lady of the House that very afternoon and start the next day on an epic two week adventure. I was disappointed, but not devastated. I’d have to drive a couple of hours longer than planned the next day, but we could still get where we needed to go when we needed to be there. We’ll have you on the road tomorrow by noon, The Man told me.

On Monday we drove to town in The Man’s minivan and paid too much for a set of ratchet extenders, even though we only needed one. We didn’t have any options in that small desert town. We drove home, and The Man got under my van again. He used the ratchet on the extender and all of his power to tighten the clamps on the hose. He was confident the problem had been solved.

Drive the van until you get it up to temperature, he told me. Don’t stop anywhere.

I did as instructed. He was waiting for me when I pulled into the driveway. I saw him glance at the ground, and I saw his face fall. I jumped out of the van. Coolant was dripping heavy and steady from under the van.

It must be the water pump, The Man said. He looked as demoralized as I felt.

I called the auto repair shop in the closest town and explained my situation. When I told the owner of the place the make and model of my van, he said he’d changed water pumps on those vehicles before: It’s a pain in the ass, to put it mildly. He told me he had the water pump my van needed in stock and quoted me a price. I told him I’d get back to him.

I got off the phone and gave The Man the news. He said he’d never changed a water pump and it might take him three days to do it. He said he didn’t really want to do the job. I totally understood. He was already burnt out on automotive repair, and I didn’t want to wait three days for him to get the new pump put in. I wanted to be on the road ASAP.

I called the repair shop and told the owner I wanted him to make the repairs. I asked him if he thought I could drive the van slowly and make it the dozen or so miles to his shop. He said I could try driving it if I wanted to. If you burn up your engine, he told me, I’ll sell you a new engine. I told him I’d get it towed.

I have my auto insurance with Progressive. For a small fee, I have roadside assistance coverage. With that coverage, I can get locksmith services if I lock my keys in the van, I can get a flat rire replaced with my spare, and I can ge the van towed within 15 miles of its broke down location. So I called Progressive roadside assistance and told the friendly representative where I was and where I needed to go. She told me she’d text me the name of the company that would provide the tow and the truck’s ETA.

I waited an hour, and no text came. I called the Progressive roadside assistance toll free number and spoke to a differnt representative who told me the first representative was still working on my case and would send the text in the next ten to twelve minutes. I said thanks and we ended the call. An hour later I still hadn’t received a text, so I called again and reached a woman who said she’d figure out what was going on and call me back.

She called me back within ten minutes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to accept the call on my new phone. I got three calls within as many minutes, but I couldn’t answer the phone.

I called Progressive again and the representative transfered me to a supervisior who’d been working on my case. He said because of my remote location, they were haing trouble getting a tow truck out to me. He said only one company in town would take the call, the boss was at lunch, and the driver couldn’t leave!

I don’t blame the roadside assitance people for the delay. I was certainly in a remote location. There may have only been one tow truck in the whole town. I just wish the second representative I talked to had figured out what was going on and given me an honest assement of the facts.

Finally, the tow truck arrived and loaded my van. The Man drove his minivan behind the truck, and I watched my van make its slow way into town.

This is an epic tale! I’ll share the rest of the story tomorrow.

Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/auto-repair-workshop-brake-disc-1954636/, https://pixabay.com/en/wrench-sockets-tools-workshop-2619217/, and https://pixabay.com/en/hand-mechanic-carburetor-707699/.

 

 

Rockhound State Park (NM)

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I’d been hearing about  Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM ever since I’d started hanging around rock people in Taos. It was a state park, they’d tell me with wonder in their voices, where you could mine for New Mexico minerals. Maybe I’m just a Negative Nelly, but I doubted there would be many shiny rocks left in the park after thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of visitors had already taken home all they wanted.

I finally got to visit Rockhound State Park in December 2017. I was heading west from Truth or Consequences, NM, and I had a state parks pass, so I decided to spend the night in the park’s campground. I arrived late in the day, so I didn’t stop at the visitor center. I didn’t go to the visitor center the next day either. I can’t remember exactly why. I remember I was sad because of recent relationship troubles, so I guess I was content to stay close to my van home.

When I pulled into the campground late on a Sunday afternoon, most of the developed campsites without electricity were occupied. I didn’t want to pay an additional $4 for electricity I didn’t need, so I was happy to get what seemed to be the last available basic developed site. My site was close to the day use parking area and the adjacent trail. My site was also within walking distance of a clean pit toilet. I was grateful to have a flat spot to park my van.

This photo shows the view of the campground from the beginning of the Jasper Trail. I was camped next to the first ramada on the left in the foreground of the photo.

The campsites are quite close together in the area where I found my spot. During my first evening there, I very clearly heard my next door neighbor’s side of a phone conversation. He was sitting outside near his large rig, but I could hear him so easily, he might as well have been sitting at my picnic table. By the sound of his accent, he was from Wisconsin or Minnesota, and he wasn’t too impressed with the campground we were in. He and his wife preferred Oliver Lee State Park, he told the person on the other end of his conversation. I would have preferred silence, but I guess we were both destined to be dissatisfied that night.

I drove around the campground while looking for a site, but once I found my place, I didn’t venture away from my loop. I just didn’t feel motivated to walk around the campground. I suppose I wanted to stay close to the security of my cozy home. I certainly didn’t want to experience yet another cold New Mexico state park shower, so I didn’t seek out the bathhouse.

The loud Midwesterner and his lady left in the morning and I had a few hours of quiet early in the day. I cooked some breakfast, then tidied the van. I planned to leave the next day, and I wanted to be rested upon departure.

In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk on the nearby Jasper Trail. The trail started just across the pavement from my van, so I didn’t have far to go to get to it. I wasn’t so interested in the trail itself, but I did feel like I needed some exercise. I wanted to stretch my legs and get my blood circulating.

I walked for maybe half an hour. I saw scrubby bushes, cacti, and some rock formations, but no cool shiny rocks. I wasn’t really looking for shiny rocks, and I didn’t get off the trail, so I’m not really surprised that I didn’t find anything I wanted to load into the van. I’m sure a lot of people had walked that trail before me and any nice rocks were long gone from the immediate vicinity.

This photo shows a view of the jagged rocks I saw from the Jasper Trail.

The State Parks website says of Rockhound State Park,

Located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains, Rockhound State Park is a favorite for “rockhounds” because of the abundant agates and quartz crystals found there.

I suspect folks who are interested in collecting rock specimens in the park know where to look to increase their chances of finding what they want. Perhaps the workers at the visitor center advise rockhounds on where to dig for the minerals they seek.

Not long after I returned to my camp, a loud, slightly dilapidated, medium-size motor home pulled into the campground. I noticed it right away. It circled the campground, then chose the site right next to mine. To be fair, the site right next to mine may have been the only available one in the place.

After the loud conversation from next door the night before, I was hoping for a quiet evening. Unfortunately, the man who disembarked from the noisy moter home was not a quiet man. Fortunately (for me at least), he latched onto the couple on the other side of him. The man was loud and animated and quite possibly on meth. There was just something about him that made me want to avoid eye contact.

The motorhome man built a campfire and convinced his other neighbors to sit around it with him. I avoided eye contact with all of them by keeping my head down while I cooked dinner. When my meal was ready, I ate it in my van. Once the dishes were washed, I got in my van and locked the doors. At some point the newcomer settled down and went into his own rig, where he was quiet enough not to disturb me for the rest of the night.

I was out of the campground the next morning before check-out time. I had a list of thrift stores I wanted to visit before I left Deming, and I was on a schedule, so my time of lingering was over. The motorhome man didn’t bother me, for which I was thankful.

I would stay at Rockhound State Park again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there. It was a fine campground, but not spectacular in any way I noticed.

I took all the photos in this post.

How to Eat Healthy on the Road (When You Don’t Have Time to Cook)

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Can you bear another post about food?

I know I’ve been sharing a lot about food and cooking lately, but it’s such an important topic to all humans and especially to people who aren’t sure how they will stay healthy while living a nomadic life. I promise next Wednesday I’ll offer a blog post for rubber tramps that is not related to food, but today I’d like to offer some tips for eating healthy when you’re on the road and you don’t have time to cook.

It’s happened to most of us without a built-in kitchen. We’re traveling in our van or car and can’t find a park or rest area where we can stop and pull out the stove and food and pots and pans and cook ourselves a healthy meal. Maybe we’re traveling in an RV and we could stop anywhere and cook, but we’re on a deadline and can’t take the time to prepare a meal. What’s a nomad trying to eat healthy to do? Today I’ll share ten tips on how to eat well when you’re on the road and don’t have time to cook.

almond, almonds, food#1 Have healthy foods available for snacking or a picnic lunch. You can eat nuts, an apple, carrot sticks, or a LÄRABAR while driving. If you have a few minutes to stop at a gas station or rest area, spread the nut butter of your choice on whole grain bread or have hummus and crackers with carrots or grapes.

#2 If you’re not prepared for a picnic, stop at a supermarket en route. Most big supermarkets have hummus in the cold case, organic fruit and veggies in the produce section, and healthy (or at least healthier) snacks on their own special aisle. If you can find a big supermarket, you should be able to eat well on the fly.

#3 Cook while you’re driving with 12-volt appliances. Truckers have known about 12-volt cookers for years, but now vandwellers and other rubber tramps can use the technology too. The Global Trucker internet store shows a 12-volt slow cooker, a 12-volt sandwich maker, a 12-volt frying pan, a 12-volt “Stove To Go,” and several 12-volt grills. While you probably shouldn’t be grilling veggies or frying tofu while you’re driving, you could be cooking beans in a slow cooker while you’re literally on the road. What could be better than pulling into a rest area and having a hot meal ready for your eating pleasure?

#4 If you have a kitchen in your rig that allows you to cook anywhere, but sometimes find yourself without the time you need to prepare a meal, how about trying a pressure cooker? While I do own a pressure cooker, I just use it as a regular pot.  A friend of mine has a pressure cooker that she uses as the manufacturer intended and she loves it. She can cook dried beans in a mere fraction of their usual cooking time.

#5 If you’re stopping at a gas station anyway, grab some super hot water from the spout near the coffee pots and add it to instant oatmeal, noodles, or soup. Most large gas stations have coffee systems which include hot water dispensers. If you’re not sure you can have water for free, offer to pay for it when you step up to the cash register. Instead of bringing my food into the gas station, I carry a travel mug with lid or even a heavy plastic bottle in, collect some hot water, and take it back to my rig with me.

Instant noodles and soups may be quick, but mainstream brands aren’t always good for us. The Food Revolution Network website says ramen noodles are

incredibly high in sodium, calories and saturated fat.

Thai Kitchen Instant Rice Noodle Soup, Garlic and Vegetables, 1.6-Ounce Unit (Pack of 12)
I like healthier instant options like Thai Kitchen, and Dr. McDougall’s. I haven’t tried Edward and Sons miso cup instant soups, but they do seem convenient and healthier than conventional instant soup options. Of course, you are probably not going to find any of these brands in a truck stop or gas station, so plan ahead and have some of these instant options stashed in your rig.

If restaurant food is absolutely your only choice, try to do some damage control.

#6 Taco Bell serves bean burritos, which you can order with no cheese if you’re eschewing animal products. Of course, the burritos are made with flower tortillas, which many think are less than healthy. Taco Bell also offers the Pintos N Cheese side dish. Again, ask for no cheese if you’ve gone vegan. Eat the pintos with some nutritious blue corn chips you already have in your van. For other tips on eating vegan at Taco Bell, see the Green Plate article on the topic. Also, Taco Bell lets customers order nearly everything on the menu “Fresco style.” The restaurant’s website says,

Almost any menu item can be customized “Fresco style”, which replaces mayo-based sauces, cheeses, reduced-fat sour cream and guacamole on almost any menu item with freshly-prepared pico de gallo. By removing these ingredients and ordering your menu item “Fresco style”, you can reduce fat by up to 25%.

If the exit you just took only offers a Del Taco, similar substitutions and omissions can help you eat fast and (relatively) healthy. An article on the PETA website offers a guide to vegan options at that restaurant.

#7 This tip was supposed to be about the veggie burger at Burger King, but a July 2016 article on the PETA2 website says the veggie patty is not vegan. (To find out what is vegan at the King, click on the link above.) The Burger King website says the “meat” of the burger is a ” MorningStar Farms® Garden Veggie Patty.” Also, a standard condiment on the veggie burger is mayonnaise, which definitely contains eggs. Perhaps if Burger King is your only dining option, the veggie burger might be better for you than other items on the menu. Maybe.

If Wendy’s is an option, you can find a few animal-product-free choices there. According to a comprehensive guide to vegan options at fast food and chain restaurants on the PETA website, Wendy’s offers

a plain baked potato, the garden side salad with red Italian dressing, or French fries. You can also ask for a veggie sandwich, which has everything that would normally be included on the burger except the meat—there’s even a button for it on the cash register.

#8 As of 2016, there were almost 27,000 Subway restaurant across the United States, meaning you have a pretty good chance of running across one in your travels. PETA2 offers a guide to vegan eating at Subway. The article tells you what bread and condiment options at the restaurant contain no animal products. Once you know that information, you can stuff any veggies you want into your sandwich, or skip the bread altogether and get a salad.

If you can get to a Quiznos more easily than a Subway, the aforementioned PETA guide to vegan options at fast food and chain restaurants says,

Quiznos offers a veggie sub that’s filled with guacamole, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and mushrooms—just be sure to order it without the cheese and ask for the balsamic vinaigrette…The vegan bread options include white or wheat, and there’s also an herb wrap.

#9 If you’re popping into a coffee shop for a cup of joe, both Starbucks and Panera offer vegan food.

I hardly ever go into Starbucks, and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered food there. However, PETA offers an entire guide about how to order vegan at Starbucks. In addition to telling you how to get your drinks made without animal products, the guide lists all the vegan food products the chain offers, including the

lentils & vegetable protein bowl with brown rice; avocado spread; classic and blueberry oatmeal; dried fruit; fruit salad; mixed nuts; Overnight Grains; roasted almonds; and plain, sprouted grain, cinnamon raisin, and multigrain bagels.

I love, love, love Panera and go there every chance I get. The bakery chain offers more than just coffee and bagels and is known for its commitment to healthy eating. Panera’s own website includes a list of vegan offerings, as well as what customizations can be made to remove animal products from one’s plate. Some of the always-vegan fare include,

plain, blueberry, cranberry walnut, poppyseed, and sesame bagels; black pepper focaccia; sea salt focaccia; country, rye, sesame semolina, and sourdough breads; French baguette; hoagie roll; peach & blueberry smoothie with almond milk; vegan lentil quinoa bowl, and soba noodle broth bowl with edamame blend.

#10 In the case of a real vegan emergency, an article on the Spoon University website shares “What You Can (Probably) Eat at McDonald’s if You’re Vegan.” Of the four items on the list, one is “Draaanks,” which is not food.  What else is on the list? Hint: not fries! If I were a strict vegan, I would only stop at a McDonald’s to use the restroom. However, the Very Vegan Recipes website outlines how to mix and match vegan items from the fast food giant’s vegan options to make a custom vegan menu item.

I hope these tips give you ideas and inspiration for eating the healthiest food possible when you’re on the road and simply can’t cook.

Blaize Sun is not telling you what to do. Blaize Sun is merely making suggestions. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so eat accordingly.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-healthy-almond-almonds-57042/. The other images is an Amazon affiliates link. If you click on the link, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will receive a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

Welcome Back! (An Update on My Current Situation)

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I hadn’t beein in the forest three minutes, and already a tourist was asking me a question.

The Man and I had been boondocking on public land just outside a mountain town, waiting around until we were

This was the view the last time I dealt with snow in May.

closer to the day we had to report for training for our summer jobs. We could make the trip from where we were to where we needed to be in two days. We were more than a week away from when we planned to leave when I checked the weather forecast and saw we were facing a cold snap. The report said the high on Wednesday was predicted to be 44 degrees with a 70% chance or rain or snow. Snow! In May? Snow in May is not unheard of in the higher elevations.

I could wait out a day of cold at the library or a coffee shop, and The Man and the dog and I could cuddle down for a night in the mid 20s, but I was concerned about what rain and snow would do to the road that brought us into and out of our camping spot. It was a red dirt road, already rutted and rocky. I was afraid a day of rain or a melted blanket of snow would turn it into a mudyy, mushy, soupy mess. I didn’t want to get stuck in the mud, and I didn’t want to get stuck on our campsite because I was avoiding the road. The Man and I decided we’d leave on Tuesday, before the weather turned bad.

We were up Tuesday morning early. We cooked and ate breakfast, packed up our kitchen and the last few items we had lying around. Our last two errands in town were to dump our trash and hit up the food bank. We were on the road by 9:30.

We drove through rain, but made it to our stopping point just fine. We hadn’t been there long when my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, I found The Big Boss Man on the other end of the line.

He had a favor to ask, he said. Maybe we could help him. The crew was coming to the main campground on our side of the mountain in the next few days to put up the yurts. Once the yurts were up, he’d need someone to babysit them, especially at night. Did we think we could get up the mountain before the training?

That might work, I said and told him we were already more than halfway there. We could be there in the next couple of days, I let him know.

I asked him if he actually had work for us so we could start earning money and he said we could rake and paint and clean firepits, and do whatever needed to be done to get the campgrounds ready to open. He could certainly keep us busy and pay us for our work.

When I got off the phone, I talked to The Man about the situation. We agreed we were ready to get up the mountain and get to work so we could start making money.

We drove the next day and made it up the mountain. Before we’d left cell phone service behind, I’d called The Big Boss Man and left a message letting him know we were on our way. I knew once we got on the mountain, we’d have no cell service and wouldn’t be able to call anyone.

I decided to go to the main campground first to see if the boss was there supervising yurt construction. I found myself driving behind a medium-sized rented motorhome. It passed the trail’s parking lot and pulled into the lower part of the long, wide driveway of the campground next door. I pulled my van into the campground’s driveway too, and The Man followed me with his van. The gate was closed and appeared locked. I jumped out of my van to determine if the padlock was actually locked or only dummy locked. It was actually locked; no one was working in that campground.

I walked over to The Man’s minivan to let him know the gate was locked. We decided to go to the campground where we would be living for the summer and wait for the Big Boss Man to come to us. The Man zipped around the motorhome and was out of there fast. I was climbing back into my van when I saw a woman emerge from the passenger side of the motorhome. She walked over to my van, a yellow sheet of paper in her hand. Oh no! Here we go! I thought as she approached me. Then I realized if I let myself be annoyed in my first three minutes back, it was going to be a long season.

I opened my door (because my window doesn’t roll down) and said, Yes?

She pointed to the map on her yellow sheet of paper. We are here? Her accent was definitely not American. She was looking for the trail.

I pointed back the way we’d come. The parking lot for the trail is about 200 yards that way.

The tourist season had officially begun for me.

I took the photo in this post.

Ideas for Quick and Easy Meals to Cook on the Road

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been writing a lot about food lately. From tips for stretching your food dollar to ideas for healthy eating to telling you my methods for cooking on the road, I’ve been sharing with you how I cook and eat as a rubber tramp. As promised, today I’m giving you examples of actual meals without animal products that I’ve prepared and eaten regularly over my almost six years on the road.

Breakfast

Blue Berries Close Up Photography#1 We’ll keep it totally simple to start off. Have some whole grain cereal with soy, nut, hemp or coconut milk. Grape Nuts (or a store brand equivalent) is my favorite because it tends to be cheaper per ounce than most other whole grain cereals. I try to add fruit, berries, and/or nuts to my cereal to jazz it up and boost the nutrition I’m starting my day with. If the healthy cereal is a little dry and bland for you, try adding a little sweetness with a drizzle of agave nectar, coconut nectar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt syrup, or brown rice syrup. (List of vegan honey alternatives courtesy of Your Daily Vegan website.)

#2 If you have a little more time to prepare breakfast, try quick or rolled oats. This breakfast option is quite inexpensive if bought in bulk. I use a really quick method to prepare my oats. I put the oats in a bowl, and boil enough water to cover the oats. (Use more or less water depending on how thick or thin you like your porridge.) When the water is boiling vigorously, I dump it onto the oats in my bowl. I stir it all up and give the oats a few minutes to soak up the water. I like to add nut butters, vegan alternatives to Nutella, dried fruit, nuts, mashed banana, and/or chopped apples to my oatmeal.

#3 If you don’t have to be anywhere early in the morning and can take your time with breakfast, may I suggest a tofu scramble? You can buy tofu scramble seasoning packets, but I don’t think you really need them. I start out sautéeing an onion and green/red/orange/yellow peppers (one color or a combination, depending on what I have on hand), along with minced fresh garlic or garlic flakes. Once the veggies are getting soft, I add in tofu (soft or firm,

Bragg Liquid Aminos All Purpose Seasoning Soy Sauce Alternative, 32 Fl Oz, 2 Pack
fresh or previously frozen, again, depending on what I have on hand), and mash it up, mixing the tofu and veggies. After the tofu cooks a bit, I add nutritional yeast and vegetarian broth powder and stir the powders into the other ingredients. Finally, I add Bragg liquid aminos to taste. I like to eat this tofu dish on whole wheat tortillas, whole grain bread, or healthy corn chips.

Lunch & Dinner

#1 My go-to meal is whole beans and rice. I use brown rice for extra nutrition and canned beans so I can get the meal together quickly. If organic is important, it’s typically easy to find organic beans at larger supermarket. I usually use black beans or chili beans in this dish, but plain pintos work too. I sauté an onion and green, red, yellow, or orange peppers if I have them, and toss in fresh garlic or garlic flakes. If I have zucchini or yellow squash, I chop some up and toss it in when the onion and peppers are beginning to get soft. Around this time, I season everything with cumin and chili powder. Canned tomatoes can be tossed into the pan around the same time the beans go in, or fresh tomato can be used as a garnish. Other good garnishes for this dish are salsa and avocado. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top for extra yum.

Kirkland Signature Organic Gluten-Free Quinoa from Andean Farmers to your Table - 2.04kg., 4.5lb
#2 Quinoa cooks up as quickly as white rice but is more nutritious, so I like quinoa and garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas). I’ve learned recently that the key to tasty quinoa is rinsing well, so don’t skip that step. While the quinoa is cooking (one cup grain to two cups liquid), I sauté my onion and cook up whatever other veggies I’ll be serving. Green cabbage is inexpensive and works well with this dish. After the veggies are cooked, I add my garbanzo beans. Once the beans and veggies are thoroughly heated, I serve them over the quinoa and garnish with sesame oil, nutritional yeast, and Bragg liquid aminos.

#3 Nothing is quicker than refried bean dip over healthy corn chips. I sauté my onion and peppers (if I’m using them). I also like well-cooked zucchini and/or yellow squash in this dish. Once the veggies are cooked, I add canned refried beans and diced or stewed tomatoes from a can. (Fresh tomatoes would work fine too.) The juice from the tomatoes thins down the beans, but use water if necessary to get them to a consistancy you like. Once the beans are heated and as thick or as thin as you like, spoon them over your corn chips and top with un-cheese sauce, salsa, and/or avocados.  (I also like a thick version of this bean dip on whole wheat tortillas.)

#4 Pasta doesn’t have to be topped with a meat sauce to be delicious; I really like my pasta topped with veggies. I might use a healthy sauce from a jar if I find some on sale, but usually I just cook down some canned tomotoes (diced, stewed, or whatever). Of course, first I sauté an onion (see a pattern here?) and bell peppers of whatever color I have, then add in garlic, canned mushrooms, olives, zucchini, yellow squash, or any other veggies I have on hand. (I also think tofu is delicious in this dish. If I were adding tofu to this meal, I would throw it in the pan after the onions.) Once the vegetables are cooked, I add in the tomatos or sauce, then sprinkle everything with plenty of Italian seasoning. I serve the sauce over whole wheat pasta, then sprinkle nutritional yeast liberally on top.

#5 Although not as quick to prepare as opening a can of beans, I do enjoy red lentils over brown rice. Red lentils cook faster and taste better (to me) than green lentils. Lentils.org says to use

3 cups of liquid (water, stock, etc) to 1 cup of dry lentils. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan as the lentils will double or triple in size. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer until they are tender.

I add salt, curry, and/or tumeric to taste during cooking. If you want to be really decadant, use coconut milk as part of the cooking liquid.

#6 If you have time to let sweet potatoes cook, I recommend sweet potato and garbanzo bean stew. First I chop my onion and get it sautéeing. While the onion is cooking, I cut a couple of sweet potatoes into chunks and put them in a large pot. When the onions are soft, I add them to the pot with the sweet potatoes. Next I add in a can of coconut milk, then use enough water so the sweet potatoes are covered. I add curry and/or tumeric to taste and let everything in the pot boil until the sweet potatoes are soft. Once the sweet potatoes are soft, I add one or two cans of garbanzo beans, depending on how much stew I want to make. Add water until the stew is the desired consistancy. The stew can be served alone or over brown rice or quinoa.

#7 Need one more sweet potato recipe? How about black bean and sweet potato burritos? Cook sweet potatoes by whatever method works best for you. Add canned black beans and a sautéd onion to the potatoes. Season with chili powder and/or cumin. Eat with salsa on whole wheat tortillas.

I hope these ideas will get you thinking about healthy and delicious meals you can cook quickly while on the road or in a sticks-n-bricks.

Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.

First image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-forest-blueberries-raspberries-87818/. Other images are Amazon affiliates links. If you click on any of those links, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will receive a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

 

How I Cook on the Road

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Auntie M suggested I tell you how I cook on the road before I tell you what I cook on the road. She thinks it’s impressive, but it’s simply second nature to me. I’ll share my cooking techniques today, in the event they might help someone else.

I’ve used a variety of stoves while living on the road–one burner, two burner, propane, butane. My current setup is a basic Coleman two-burner stove connected to a 15 pound propane tank. For many years I used the one pound propane canisters, but The Man finally convinced me to upgrade to the larger, refillable tank. As I said in a past post about saving money on the road, it costs a lot less to refill the tank than it does to buy a comparable number of small canisters. I also produce a lot less waste by refilling the large tank.

This is the cast iron pan I usually use when cooking just for myself.

When The Man and I are cooking for the two of us, we use his big (12 inch?) cast iron skillet. When I’m cooking just for myself, I use a smaller cast iron skillet. (I have a second, even smaller cast iron skillet I also use sometimes if I need to cook two things seperately, but at the same time. The second burner on my stove is sometimes quite handy.) We use a cast iron pan to cook the main part of our meal, which usually consists of vegetables and whole beans or tofu. It’s super convenient to cook everything but our grains in one pan. It’s quicker cooking that way, and we save cleanup time and water by not having to wash several pots and pans.

To cook grains, I use either a large or a small stainless steel pot. The large one is actually a pressure cooker I was given years ago when a friend of a friend moved. The small one was left behind by camp hosts at the end of the season last year.

To prepare the main part of our meal, I first pour a generous amount of olive oil in the cast iron pan, then light the burner under the pan. While the oil is heating, I chop an onion. (If the onion is huge, I might only use half of it.) When the onion is chopped, I makde sure the oil is distributed across the bottom of the pan, then I throw in the onion, spread it out evenly, and put the lid on the pan. Then I chop the other veggies that need a longish time to cook (bell peppers, carrots, and/or potatoes) and add them to the pan. If I’m using tofu or tempeh or seitan, I’ll add it in early in the cooking process. Vegetables that need the shortest time to cook (like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and yellow squash) are thrown into the pan last. I stir the veggies enough to keep them from burning, and I adjust the flame as necessary.

Once all the veggies are tender, I add any canned ingredients like diced or stewed tomatoes, whole beans, or refried beans. Then I throw in spices appropriate to the dish I’m cooking. Once all ingredients are in the pan, I make sure everything is heated thoroughly. I should probably let the food simmer longer in order to “marry” the flavors, but we’re usually pretty hungry so we just eat.

Cooking grains ws a hassle when I used small propane canisters and butane because grains take so long to cook. I always felt like cooking grains took up too much fuel, so I either bought precooked brown rice (expensive!) or cooked the grains in a way that used less fuel. Now that I spend less money to fill a large propane tank, I don’t worry so much about how much fuel it takes to cook grains, but I do use parboiled brown rice and quinoa a lot because they cook faster.

Dwelling Portably 1980-1989 (DIY)
You may be wondering how I cooked grains in a way that used less fuel. I first learned of cooking with insulation in one of the Dwelling Portably books by Bert and Holly Davis. The concept is simple: food is partially cooked, then the pot of food is insulated to hold heat in so the cooking process can continue without flame. The insulation can be as simple as wrapping the pot in blankets and letting it sit for several hours or as complicated as building and insulating a box for the pot to sit in. The technique is old, with evidence of hay boxes dating to the 1800s.

I made my own insulated box from a square foam cooler left behind by folks who stayed in the campground where I was the camp host. I lined the cooker with flexible, reflective material from a foldable solar cooker kit The Lady of the House had lying around in her laundry room. Because I used materials that were unwanted by others, I didn’t have to spend any money on my insulated box.

When I was ready to cook a pot of grains, I measured the appropriate amount of water and grain into my large stainless steel pot. I brought the mixture of water and grain to a rolling boil, then let it boil vigorously for ten minutes. After ten minutes of boiling, I’d close the pot tightly, which was easy because it is actually a pressure cooker with a latch and seal. (I would not go out and buy a brand new pressure cooker to use in an insulated box, but the one I already had is quite suited to this method.) I then put the pot in the insulated box, covered it with a couple of dish towels, and put the lid of the box on tightly. (I often put something heavy–like a jug of water–on top of the lid to hold it down and seal the box as tightly as possible.) If I boiled regular, not parboiled, brown rice and got it into the insulated box by 10 am, it was fully cooked and ready to eat by 4pm.

Alas, when The Man and his dog and all of their wordly possessions moved into my van, the insulated cooker box was a casualty. We had a lot of stuff, and lots of things had to go. The cooker box was nice, but nonessential. The Man made a sort of bag for the pot by taping together pieces of the flexible, reflective solar oven material, but it never worked as well as the box.

Now that The Man has his own rig and I have room in my van again, I’m on the lookout for materials to make a new insulated box. A foam cooler should be fairly easy to find since people discard them frequently. I probably won’t find a foldable solar oven again, but I could line the cooler with newspaper, cardboard, or even old towels. The goal is to fill in as much space in the cooler as possible so the heat can’t escape. Lots of easily found, cheap or free materials can do the job.

I hope you can use some of these ideas to save time and money while you’re living and traveling in your van. You have to eat, so you might as well eat healthy and delicious food. I’m proof that a rubber tramp can eat yummy meals that are nutrituous and don’t cost a fortune.

Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.

I took the photo of the cast iron skillet. The image of the book is an Amazon affiliates link. If you click on the links, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will get a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On the Road or Not)

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Last Wednesday I shared 10 ways to help stretch your food dollar. I think the tips are good for folks living on the road cash, coins, moneyor in a sticks-n-bricks. I’m not out of ideas, so here are 10 more tips for making the most of your food budget.

#1 Steer clear of fast food. If you’re eating from the regular menu at most restaurants, a meal is usually not inexpensive. Also, we all know fast food is not typically good for our health.

If you do eat fast food (and sometimes on the road it seems unavoidable) try to do so infrequently and stick to the value menu. Of course, McDonald’s has a famous value menu, but so do Taco Bell (their Fiesta Potato Grilled Breakfast Burrito with potato, egg, and cheese and a price of only $1 is my favorite fast food breakfast), Denny’s, Wendy’s and Del Taco. Also, it’s admittedly difficult to resist a $5 large pizza from Little Caesar’s.

If you join a fast food restaurant’s loyalty program via the internet, you can sometimes get email notifications of coupons, discounts, and freebies.

#2 Buy distressed produce after the price has been marked down. In many food stores, bruised, nicked, wilted, or otherwise distressed produce is sold at a deep discount. When you find discounted produce that’s no longer at its peak, think about what you might be able to use it for. Could you make apple sauce or apple butter or pancake topping from mushy apples? Could you cut bruises off vegetables and use the good parts to make soup or stock? Would mashed strawberries still taste delicious in a strawberry shortcake or smoothie? Sometimes reduced produce is on the brink of spoiling and still perfectly fine if you use it TODAY.

baguette, bakery, bread#3 Buy marked down bakery items. Bakery items are often marked down before they pass their freshness date. Many large supermarkets with in-house bakeries have a special area for bakery items being sold at a reduced price. Some towns also have bakery outlets where name brand baked goods are sold off cheaply right before or right after they reach their freshness date.

Don’t go overboard with cheap cookies, cakes, and white bread. These items are usually not super healthy, and you probably don’t really need them. You get the biggest savings by not spending money on things you don’t need. You also save money by maintaining your health. However, for a treat, reduced price bakery items can’t be beat.

#4 Buy scratched and dented cans and items past their “best by” date. There are entire grocery stores dedicated to these types of items. You can also look for the clearance section of individual food stores.

The “sell by,” “best by,” or “expiration” date on packaged food is usually only a suggestion. I have eaten plenty of canned beans, energy bars, and corn chips after the date on the package, and I’ve never been sick. Occasionally items with no preservatives or heavy with nuts or oils might taste rancid, but I don’t usually notice that unless an item is more than three months past the date on the package. If I’m skeptical, I’ll buy just one of the item in question, taste it, then make my decision.

I also get good deals on canned goods that have been banged up. Often items in dented cans are not even “expired.” I avoid cans that are leaking or bulging or open, and I’ve never had a problem and have saved a fortune.

#5 Utilize food pantries. Most towns have at least one food pantry. Some require photo ID, proof of income, and proof of address. Some don’t require anything at all. If the food pantry guidelines say you qualify, you qualify, so you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed. Food pantries are there to help people in need. If you are in need, utilize what’s there to help you.

#6 Qualify for SNAP benefits. Qualifying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka EBT, aka food stamps) requires jumping through some hoops and sharing lots of personal information but can really help low-income folks buy healthy food.  You can probably apply online.

I feel the same way about SNAP as I do about food pantries: don’t feel guilty or ashamed for using something you qualify for.

#7 Dumpster Dive I once lived in a town with an unlocked dumpster behind a grocery store. My friends and I got so much food out of the trash there. We got enough slightly distressed, but still salvagable produce there to feed ourselves and each other and sometimes strangers many gallons of delicious and nutritious soup. We also got enough junk food to satisfy all our sweet teeth. You probably can’t count on finding food in the trash in every town you roll through, but when you find a good source, you can eat like royalty.

Orange Fruit#8 Trade your labor for food. If you see fruit or nut trees growing in a yard and ready for harvest, ask the person who owns the trees if you can harvest what’s ripe and keep half of what you pick in exchange for your labor. Maybe the owner will say no or look at you like you’re weird. So what? Maybe they’ll agree to share their fresh and healthy food with you if you’re willing to do a little work.

Foraging is related to this idea of eating produce quite literally growing on trees in urban areas. If you’re interested in foraging, check out the Falling Fruit website. The project calls itself

a celebration of the overlooked culinary bounty of our city streets,

and says that while

[o]ur edible map is not the first of its kind…it aspires to be the world’s most comprehensive. While our users contribute locations of their own, we comb the internet for pre-existing knowledge, seeking to unite the efforts of foragers, foresters, and freegans everywhere.

#9 Eat the food people offer you. Say yes if a friend invites you over for a home-cooked meal. Take the box of crackers you family member offers you after trying one and deciding s/he didn’t like it. Again, there’s no shame in taking what is offered to you.

#10 Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re getting a bargain just because everything in the store costs a dollar. Often items I see at Dollar Tree can be had for a cheaper per ounce price at Wal-Mart or a supermarket. Sometimes even the same size item is less expensive elsewhere. Don’t get caught up in an it’s only a dollar frenzy. (I have been caught up in that frenzy many times.) Occasionally I do find a real bargain at the Dollar Tree, like packages of multigrain rice cakes, but typically the food there is over-priced or junk food or over-priced junk food.

What are you tips for eating healthy food while on a tight budget? Please share your best ideas in the comments.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/cash-coins-money-pattern-259165/https://www.pexels.com/photo/bread-food-healthy-breakfast-2436/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/orange-fruit-221105/.

 

10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)

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1 Us Bank NoteThe Man is always amazed when I come out of the supermarket and tell him how little I paid for the food in the cart. I get a big kick out of cooking healthy and delicious meals on the cheap. The Man said I should share my money saving ways with my readers, so today I present 10 tips on stretching your food dollar, whether you live in a van, RV, apartment, or house.

#1 Don’t waste food. Don’t buy something if you’re not dedicated to eating it. If you buy food, eat it, even if you don’t particularly like it. Being adventurous is great, but throwing away food is a waste of money.

Often, not wasting food requires planning. You have to eat fresh food before it spoils, which can be tricky if an item is distressed or if you’re on the road and have only a cooler or no refrigeration at all. Before I plan a meal, I take stock of what fresh food I have and what’s likely to go bad in the next day or two. I cook what I’m most in danger of losing.

#2 Be creative with what you can buy cheaply. One time I encountered whole pinto beans marked down to less than 30 cents a can. I don’t particularly like pinto beans with rice or whole pinto beans on burritos, so I turned the beans into my version of refried beans. They were delicious!

If you find something on super sale, think of all the different ways you can consume the item, especially if you have to use it up fast. Maybe you don’t want to eat six cartons of plain yogurt, but maybe you can eat some with berries and crunchy cereal, use another portion in your pancake recipe, and throw the rest in the blender with other ingredients to make smoothies.

#3 Eat what’s cheap, not necessarily what you’re in the mood for. I finally had an oven, so I really wanted to bake a pizza at home. I picked out a jar of pizza sauce and thought about toppings. I knew I had a can of olives (bought for 50 cents at a scratch and dent store) in the cupboard, so I tossed a can of mushrooms into my cart, and figured I could round things out with half a chopped onion. Then I found the store’s cart of reduced canned goods. As I rooted through I found a can of pasta sauce marked 49 cents that I thought would work just as well as something labeled “pizza sauce” (I was right—it worked great) and a can of asparagus spears for 79 cents which became the delicious splurge that made the pizza extra special.

The lesson here is that if I’d had my heart set on artichoke hearts for the pizza, I would have either spent a lot more money, or I would have felt disappointed and lamented my life of poverty. Instead, I got a good deal on something delicious. Also? If I hadn’t found the asparagus spears, the pizza as I originally envisioned it would have still been mighty tasty.

Booth, branding, business#4 Watch for sales.  Check out weekly sales online before you shop or read the sale flyer at the front of the store. You can also just pay attention to prices while you shop. If you see a bargain on something you would use anyway, stock up.

#5 Buy store brands. Store brands typically cost less than name brands and taste as good. (Some people may taste a difference between name brand items and store brand items. I typically do not, except for ‘Nilla Wafers. I don’t know what it is, but ‘Nilla Wafers taste markedly better than any generic vanilla wafer I’ve ever tried.)

#6 Remember that convenience foods typically cost more. As much as possible, cook from scratch. How much time are you really saving by using a cornbread mix or precooked rice? And what do you have more of, time or money? One of the reasons most of us live on the road is so we can have lots of free time. Often more free time means less money. When it comes to cooking, you can often use your free time to save money. If you’re living in a sticks-and-bricks, maybe saving money will mean you have to work less or you can get on the road sooner, if that’s what you’re hoping for.

#7 Don’t eat more than you need to. I frequently make the costly decision to eat when I’m not really hungry. I often overeat because food is delicious and comforting. However, eating reasonable portions means you’re getting more meals for the money you spent on food.

#8 If you’re in a town with a senior center, check into the lunch program for seniors. Even small towns out West offer these lunches. They usually cost $2 to $3 for a complete meal. Age requirements to qualify for the inexpensive meal vary, but I’ve heard of people as young as 50 being considered “seniors” and eligible for the lunches. Younger people are considered “guests,” and their cost per meal is usually around $7

I’m still too young to eat cheap senior lunches, so I’ve never participated. From what I’ve heard, they can often be a good place for socializing and meeting people. Musicians often perform at one senior lunch program I know of in a small southern New Mexico town. Another new program in a small southern Arizona town is promising Bingo.

#9 Investigate free meal options. Maybe the town you’re in has a Food Not Bombs chapter that serves free vegan food in the park. Maybe there’s a Catholic Worker group that serves free meals like in Las Vegas, NV.  Call churches, Catholic Worker Houses, infoshops, radical bookstores, food banks, social service offices, and homeless shelters and outreach programs and ask how to get free meals where you are.

Assorted-color Box Lot on Rack#10 Sign up for supermarket loyalty cards to get discounts, coupons, and sale prices. Supermarkets owned by the same parent company have different names in different parts of the country, but one discount card is good at all of them. I typically shop at stores owned by Kroger, and I save money by using the loyalty card.

If you don’t want a loyalty card, ask the cashier if s/he has a loyalty card s/he can scan for you so you get the sale prices. There was a time in my life when I did not have the ability to keep track of a supermarket loyalty card, so I often asked the cashier if s/he had a card to use for me. I was seldom told no.

I hope these tips have helped you think about ways to stretch your food dollar according to your own personal needs and desires. Want more money saving tips? I’ll offer up 10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar next Wednesday.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/1-us-bank-note-47344/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-box-lot-on-rack-811101/.

10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters

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You probably read about how I started off 2018 with a tire disaster. (Even one flat can be a huge inconvenience, but I’m going to call three flats on two vans and no usable spare a disaster.)

Today I’m going to share what I learned from my tire woes in hopes of helping my readers possibly avoid and at least prepare for their next flat. I wish a true tire disaster on no one, but if it happens, you can be ready.

#1 Run on tires that are in good condition. It’s easy to ignore tires when they’re doing a good job rolling you down the road. It’s impossible to ignore a tire that’s gone flat and left you stranded. While purchasing good tires may seem like an extravagance (it often has to me), you’re less likely to have a flat if your tires are strong and in good condition. Make sure your tread depth is within acceptable limits. Check for cracks in the tread or sidewall. If you can see the metal wires in the tire, you are in imminent danger of a blowout. If you’re buying a used vehicle, determine the age of the tires even if they look new. According to Car and Driver,

most tires should be inspected, if not replaced, at about six years and should be absolutely be swapped out after 10 years, regardless of how much tread they have left.

#2 Don’t count on roadside assistance. It’s great to have roadside assistance, either through your insurance or AAA or the Good Sam Club. (Roadside assistance from my Progressive insurance has saved my butt on several occasions, as has AAA.) However, what roadside assistance offers may be limited. AAA can’t help you if you’re off the pavement. Roadside assistance is great if you’re on the road, but if you’re a few miles out boondocking on public land, you’re going to have to depend on yourself (or possibly the kindness of strangers).

#3 Know how to take off a flat tire and put on the spare and PRACTICE the procedure. This is a tip I need to take to heart. I know in theory how to change a tire, but theory will be mostly useless if I’m stuck somewhere without help. If you don’t have someone to teach you how to get the flat tire off and the spare tire on, watch a tutorial online, then get out there and put your knowledge to the test.

#4 Check your spare. Is it in good condition? Is it properly inflated? Can you remove it from its holder? A spare that’s flat or inaccessible is worthless.

#5 Have a jack that’s strong enough to lift your rig. The scissor jack that works to lift The Man’s minivan might not be able to handle the weight of my conversion van. Make sure your jack is what you need before you need it. Don’t have a jack? Get one.

Slime 40032 12-Volt Tire Inflator with Gauge and Light
#6 Invest in a portable air compressor that runs off your vehicle’s battery. I have a Slime brand portable air compressor and I’m quite happy with it. A hitchhiker The Man and I picked up warned me that the air compressor would drain a vehicle’s battery, but neither The Man nor I have had that experience. (That hitchhiker was a real naysayer on just about every topic.) If your tire has a slow leak, you can use the air compressor to pump it up enough to drive to a tire repair shop.

#7 Carry a can of tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator in your rig. This product (made by Fix-a-Flat and Slime, among others) costs under $10 (if you buy it in civilization and not at some rip-off gas station in the middle of nowhere), and will help get your rig to a shop where the tire can be repaired or replaced. I have a big van with big tires, so I carry a big can of Fix-a-Flat with me.

The DealNews website has a good article on the pros and cons of using tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator. I would not use my can of Fix-a-Flat before first trying to inflate the tire using my air compressor. If the tire wouldn’t hold air from the compressor, I would then take off the flat tire and put on my spare. I would only use the Fix-a-Flat if I had no other option. Also, tire sealant is not going to work on a gash, slash, or blowout, so its usefulness will depend on the type of damage the tire has suffered.

#8 Once you use sealant/aerosol inflator in the tire, get the tire to a repair shop as soon as possible. My understanding is that sealant/aerosol tire inflators (like Slime or Fix-a-Flat) are for temporary, emergency use only. You have to get to a tire shop as soon as you can to get a proper repair.

Fix-A-Flat S60269 Aerosol Tire Inflator with Eco-friendly Formula, 24 oz.

#9 Get the warranty when you buy new tires. I think I paid $20 per tire for my warranties, which felt like an extravagance at the time. However, the $20 I paid got a tire that cost over $100 replaced for free. The money I spent on the warranty seems like a bargain now.

#10 Choose your boondocking site carefully. If you’re boondocking on public land, think carefully about the spot you choose. Lots of folks like to be as far away from the main road and other campers as possible, but think about how far you’ll have to walk to get help if you have a flat or mechanical problem. If you can’t solve your own problems, you may want to park closer to the main road.

Also consider the road to the boondocking area. Can your tires handle ruts and pointy rocks that may be present? You don’t want to damage your tires while trying to get closer to nature. Get out and access the situation before you blissfully head out into the wild blue yonder.

Don’t let my story of tire disaster scare you. Use what I’ve learned so you can prepare for and hopefully avoid what I went through. However, please know that these tips are just suggestions. I am not responsible for your safety and wellbeing. Only YOU are responsible for your safety and wellbeing.

Also, feel free to share you stories of tire disasters in the comments section below.