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Vacation!

1 Jul

There has been a problem, and it’s all Facebook’s fault.

They kept advertising vacations in locations like Israel or at a nice, hot, sunny beach.

Now maybe to someone who is starved for warmth, that’s appealing.  Me, I hear Israel, and I think Middle East, and that isn’t a place that is apt to make me relax one bit.  They have entirely too much going on there right now, from political upheaval to religious issues, and my idea of a good time does not include wearing a burka, trying to decipher where I could or couldn’t go as a woman, or watching soldiers carry machine guns.

I have betrayed the fact that I’m not very worldly.  I’m terrified of tanks and soldiers with guns, and always have been.  It’s bad enough to see them on television.  I don’t want to vacation where I have to navigate check points or be “protected” by soldiers.  It’s bad enough if it’s your own country that is living like that, I sure don’t want to go visit one for “fun”.

No, I’m not anti-gun.  I’m anti-war.  I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I see wars as killing sons and daughters.  I’ve lost one, not due to war, but I know what it feels like.  I can’t imagine sacrificing a child to the war games of politicians.  I’m also not anti-soldier–I have friends and relatives who have or are currently serving in the military.  I don’t have a panic attack if I see them in uniform either.  Not even if they have a gun.  They aren’t on patrol.

I guess I regard the entire Middle East as this huge war zone, with periodic spaces under truces that don’t include me, as I’m not Muslim or Jewish.  I also have no need to make a pilgrimage to an ancient religious site there.

Plus it’s hot.

And sandy.

I spent most of my life in the American Southwest, which is predominantly semi-arid.  I’ve had enough “beach” for a lifetime–a beach is just more hot sand to me.  Never mind that the southwest is short on water–they have ample “beach”.  Even on the Gulf Coast, I prefer to visit the beaches in the winter.  Or at night.  Hot sand has zero thrills for me.  I don’t even want a sun tan.  I’ve spent the last thirty years avoiding that, why start trying to get one now?

So, I started thinking…

IF I could afford a vacation anywhere, where would I really want to visit?

Someplace cool.  Like really cool.   Not rock star cool, but ice and snow cool.  Like Mississippi winter cool, most likely.  Greenland and Iceland come up on the list fairly quickly.

The reality is, I don’t have a vacation budget this year.  I’m like most of America, and have a hand-to-mouth existence that is plagued with gaps between the two.  Our primary vehicle has broken down–our back up vehicle, our old mini-van, has expired tags.  We’re not going anywhere right now.

So how on earth to take a vacation?

Vacations for me are usually a camping trip somewhere.  Sometimes, I’ve gone on camping road trips, camping along the way to visit someone or something.  It’s entertaining and relaxing, and I got pretty good at setting up/tearing down.  Since those days, I’ve become disabled.  Setting up camp with Greg is now an endeavor that takes a lot out of us, even as we’ve simplified things immensely.  We’re also in need of a new tent now, as our old standby one with its easy set up and internal frame, has seen better days and leaks so badly we just use a tarp over the rain fly.  Without a functional and legal vehicle, we’re not going camping either–besides, I no  longer can cope with summer heat without air conditioning.  Our camping, when we can go, is confined to the other three seasons of the year.

But…

I’m a devious so and so sometimes.  I’ve heard of staycations.  Most of them sound like they aren’t all that much fun, or even save that much money.  But I thought about it, and what do I like to do when I go camping?

Obviously fishing is a big deal, but when we go out of Mississippi, I don’t fish, as I don’t buy an out-of-state license.  So what do I do then?

I hang out and do much of nothing, actually.  I do cook, especially if we have a group, but with the loss of the use of my arm, I have to have a fair amount of help to do that too.  So, it looks like I don’t do much except deal with meals, and when it’s just Greg & I, we tend to do very simple meals at that.

I’m going to hang my hammock in the yard on Wednesday, after the radio show is done tomorrow.  I’m going to take one of the books I need to read, a pillow, and go lay in the hammock and do nothing at all except read and watch people go by.  Maybe I’ll swing the hammock a bit.  I might get my little battery personal fan out to create an artificial breeze.  I might even take the laptop out for a bit, and see if the wi-fi reaches that far.

Sound silly?

Maybe it is.  But just a day of being silly can make a lot of difference in how we approach problems and figure out a way to solve them.  We could definitely use some increased brainpower!

Vacations, affordability, romantic…and not American?

30 Jul

I was sort of dreaming on the internet today.  I was wondering what kinds of vacations an average sort of American (you know, like me!) could take without waiting to get a passport (which I don’t have.)  It seems everyone and everything is advertised for vacations this time of year, and I’ve grown weary of the rut of every day life we seem to be stuck in.

I clicked on a lot of those “best of” and “Ten best” list articles.  I discovered something pretty quickly though

It seems we don’t have anything GOOD to do in the USA.  Everybody’s vacations are going somewhere else, some exotic locale with plenty of water, broad expanses of sand, and a sense of exotic luxury.

So, it soon dawned on me…apparently we don’t have water, beaches, OR luxury in the USA.  I find that a bit hard to believe, but are American vacations just too expensive for the Americans themselves to afford?

Greg and I have our first anniversary this fall.  Last year, when we got married, we took our honeymoon and went camping at Tishomingo State Park in Tishomingo, Mississippi.  We had a great time, despite inclimate weather, leaking tent seam, and all of the other things that can happen with a late season camping trip, even in the South.  It also was “in budget” which is a really big deal to us.  We don’t want to finance anything, be it a car, house, or vacation.  While it may have been horrible to more pampered characters than us, to us, it had the essentials: we were together, we could be comfortable and sleep late if we wanted, our dogs were along for the trip, and we could enjoy a bit of secluded self indulgence.  Since we’re both excellent cooks, meals were also gourmet quality, even if our stove WAS parked on a picnic table!  We enjoyed things like grilled steaks, burgers, sausage, omelets, pancakes…and anything else our hearts desired.  All for an average cost of (meals included) under $50 per day.  Okay, I’ll confess…we weren’t die-hard roughing it campers–we had our computers, we had our cell phone, we had our electric heater for the tent, and we even had an electric coffee pot.

But, thinking along the lines of a bit more luxurious aren’t exactly a bad thing, so I was honestly curious about what we COULD do to celebrate our first year of being legally married.  A weekend getaway, even if it was a long one, shouldn’t be too expensive, I thought.  At the same time, after our recent experiences at a budget wise motel in the Jackson, MS area…I wanted something a bit nicer than that!

We have the entire South within easy driving distance really (well, maybe not southern Florida).   There’s a lot of history, a lot of luxury, and a lot of interesting things to see and do.  We could indulge in a beach experience, a mountain experience, or something we’d never even thought of.

The latest thing in travel seems to be the “all inclusive resort.”  After numerous false starts after doing a search, I finally did find some.  However, at $200+ up per night, with incidentals ranging from extra fees for parking to internet, it didn’t look like it was really a viable option for an affordable getaway/mini-vacation for us.   They just seemed to offer not much more than a motel room and beach space, golf courses, or fishing/hunting options.

Search resumes…this time focusing on inns and b&b’s, which might be more affordable and better suited to our peculiarities.  Well, they were a bit cheaper, and definitely had more character…but ranging from $150 up per night, maybe that wasn’t exactly our cup of tea either.  I’ve never stayed at a B&B either, so I already had some prejudices against the concept.  It’s almost a bit creepy, like staying at a stranger’s house.

That left searching for a romantic Southern inn.  I was sure that Southern Living would have a answer for me, but…I was wrong.  We are prejudiced after living in Greater New Orleans, and aren’t thrilled with the idea of a romantic getaway there either.  We wanted something new and old and filled with character…so the hunt continued.

Sometimes, being frugal isn’t fun, I suppose.  I couldn’t help but mentally compare amenities with those found when we camp, and the camping was far less expensive usually.  Yes, we have to make our own beds, but is that really so horrible?  Yes, we have to set up our own “room”, but that too is a pretty familiar task.  For the price of a single night in a fancy hotel or inn, we could have as much as five nights in a really nice park in Florida, complete with beaches that are fantastically beautiful and other amenities within easy driving, biking, and walking distance.  Just like the hotel, the dogs weren’t totally welcome, but…asking someone to “babysit” the “kids” might not be a bad thing either.  We’d be free to enjoy ourselves without worrying about whether they were bored, hot, cold, or otherwise uncomfortable.

Okay, so we’re cheap, but I do prefer the term frugal, actually.  We like the privacy of our own tent, we enjoy the flexibility of our own schedules, and we don’t really MIND setting up the tent.  Heck, once upon a time, I felt totally comfortable using it as our motel solution, and I could set up or tear down camp in less than 45 minutes.  I can’t hardly get out of a motel room quicker than that, and we had dinner at set up and breakfast with tear down.

I guess since I couldn’t find luxury for under $150 per night in anything I regarded as “interesting”, I’d rather have interesting with a tent and a lot less money.

I’m so excited!

28 May

Okay, so I’m 50 years old and a grandma…so what?  Anybody who’s BEEN 50 knows the truth of the matter is, there is an 18 year old girl inside of me who’s looking in the mirror and her jaw is hanging on the floor as she wonders what on earth has happened.

I’ve been engaged to my best friend for some time now.  (Okay, more than a year, less than a decade, is that specific enough?)  We’ve been living together, postponing that date thing because we “couldn’t afford it.”

We finally realized that we’re always going to be saying that we can’t afford it.  There will always be something else that needs bought or done.  Therefore, we were just going to DO it, whether we could afford it or not.

Now at our ages, I’ll admit, the actual ceremony isn’t as critical as having our friends and family around to celebrate both our relationship and life in general.  So of course there has to be a party!

We haven’t finalized a lot of things.  Okay, so we haven’t finalized anything…

That is okay.  We’ve chosen the approximate date–the last weekend of October.

That’s just before Halloween, so of course the first thing I was asked was whether or not we were doing a costumed wedding…

Oh yeah, a reason to dress up and have some fun?

We are having a hippy wedding.  Tie dye, flowing skirts, long hair, beards, beads, a little incense…you get the idea.  But at the same time, hippies represented an era of progressive and independent thinking, of social consciousness, and the earliest stages of New Age awareness…

What better theme for Greg and I?

We’re going to have it outdoors, but we haven’t chosen a location yet, hence the lack of firm date (Friday, Saturday or Sunday are all on the list.)  For our traveling friends, in keeping with the theme, we will have scoped out some camping locations to accommodate them.  For those who want more comfortable digs than a tarp or tent in the woods…we’ll check into special rates at some local motels.

Of course the party part will include food.  We haven’t chosen the menu yet, but I will promise that it will not be exclusively raccoon meat…

I’ve recruited my daughter as my designated caterer.  Not only is she an excellent cook, but on my budget I have to consider the cost of the caterer.  Being my daughter, she also has an affordable price.  While I’ll be helping with the before food to a degree, I also know that the last minute details are likely to consume my attention, so I don’t want to be the bride AND in charge of the food.  We will likely shoot for easy to serve and eat foods that can be mostly prepared one or two days before the event.  If we’re hosting a weekend-long event, there would have to be multiple meals served, which might get trickier on our budget.

We’re also “going green” on the invitations.  There will be NO paper invitations.  Just like in the “good old days” when news of a wedding or other gathering was spread through a community, we’re using the modern version of that grapevine.  Phone, email, text messages, and word of mouth are our invitations of choice.  Would it be approved by any etiquette queen?  Definitely not, but the bride is also debating whether to wear a brightly colored skirt or overalls to the ceremony…

We are planning a honeymoon too.  We’re going camping!  Just the two of us…and the dogs.  Our destination?  The Natchez Trace is appealing, especially for the season.   Some leisurely time together after the excitement will undoubtedly be appealing for all concerned.

Oh and the dogs…

We now have three, and while Sissy would be severely stressed by the commotion of the wedding, the other two would find it fun.  I think we’re going to dress them up in keeping with the hippy theme too.  The cats are more in line with Sissy, so the three of them will miss the party together, making do with their own party foods.  (Can anyone say “mackerel” here?)

While marriage is a very serious commitment, Greg & I are already a very committed couple.  The ceremony doesn’t change any of that, but rather indicates a shifting of our legal status in the eyes of the law.  So the ceremony itself is really more a legal requirement than a spiritual, emotional, or moral commitment event.  It does, however, provide us with the opportunity to share a celebration of our continued commitment with our friends and family in a fun and lighthearted way.  All of us have very serious lives, with very serious problems and struggles.  The costumed nature of our wedding and “reception” does not indicate a lack of seriousness on our part for the whole institution of marriage at all, but rather is an acknowledgement of the need to play in ourselves, our friends, and our family members.

The theme was chosen because no one will have to spend inordinate amounts of money on “appropriate” attire.  Any thrift shop can supply our guests with the basics for their “outfit.”  It’s also conducive to a casual outdoor celebration and gathering, as these types of gatherings were part of the nature of the hippy culture anyhow.  Hippies also advocated tolerance, love and peace, something we all could use more of.

Now we will undoubtedly have a tray of brownies somewhere for everyone, as a retro touch, but they won’t contain any “vegetable matter.”  Smoking will be tobacco, and while there will be some burning of incense, it won’t be to mask other aromas.  We’ll have coffee and sweet tea, and maybe some other soft drinks too, and while alcohol won’t be banned necessarily…we won’t supply that at the buffet table.

I wonder what my chances are of arranging for a coronet of dandelions with a florist are?

I must be crazy

30 Mar

Have you ever made a joke about doing something, and it has become a running joke…only to have the running joke turn out to really be a seed for a totally crazy idea that sounds really pretty good?

At least to you?

Yeah

Maybe it’s the turning fifty thing I have looming ahead in a few weeks and the realization that time is getting short for doing a lot of things.

I’ve decided that I want to travel around the United States.  That’s not unusual for someone my age, look at all the RVs that are sold each year and head down the highways.

The trouble is, to use an RV and do that requires a small fortune and a good pension, neither of which are something I have.  It also means being willing to consume gasoline in vast quantities on a regular basis as you travel.  I guess I find that rather unappealing too.

I want to do it a much greener fashion with a much more laid back attitude.

No, not on a motorcycle.  I find them intimidating with their noise, the helmets give me claustrophobic attacks, and I’m afraid I’d miss something.  Besides, most of them don’t get really good gas mileage, hovering around 50 or 60 miles to the gallon.

I want to do it by bicycle.

Granted, I realize that I am not a world class cyclist.  I realize that most touring cyclists typically ride 75-100 miles in a day, and I’m doing good with 10.  Does it really matter?  How fast did the pioneers travel with oxen and wagons?  I can even accept the possibility of adding a gasoline assist motor (they average about 100 mpg up to about 150, depending on the bike & load) to ensure that we get some miles done even if the slope is uphill and it’s hot outside.

It’s kind of crazy, I’d dreamed of doing that when I was a teenager and biking was easy and breezy.  I could ride my clunker of a 3 speed bike for 20 miles before lunch without breaking a sweat.  Now, I struggle with hills.

GM points out that it would take money to do this.  I point out it takes money to stay home too.  He points out my lack of physical conditioning, I point out it would obviously have to get better.  He sees 100 reasons why it is a crazy idea, and I agree.  It is crazy, so why not?

We could bike to Maine, and visit the Acadia National Park.  I’ve never seen the Atlantic coast, or any part of the northeastern USA.  I’d love to visit the Amish country of Ohio, and see the Appalachian mountains.  I can imagine crossing the prairies of middle America, and seeing the Rocky mountains looming ahead.  I can imagine how tiring it would be to pedal our way through the mountain passes, visiting former mining towns long past their glory days.  I can imagine our misery as we cross the Great Salt Desert with its shimmering heat waves, and entering the vast deserts of Nevada and seeing a herd of wild horses in the distance.  I can imagine the rising view of the coastal mountains ahead of us, and then…finally…the Pacific ocean and its great expanse in front of us.  I can imagine biking through the Redwood forests of California, and the maritime rain forests of the Northwest.

Oh, I know full well that some days, the rain would fall and the wind would blow.  I know sometimes I’d look at my bike and hate it.  I know I’d cry sometimes because parts hurt.  Sometimes I’d curse drivers, and sometimes, drivers would curse us.  There might be days when I wasn’t too thrilled with GM too.  There would be other days when he’d look at me and growl, informing me that this was all my fault because it was my idea.

I can accept that.

I know that doing this would be a monumental task.  We have two dogs and two cats, and our dogs are long past the age where they can run beside the bike all day.  They’d have to ride most of the time.  They are heavy.  So is camping gear.  I asked our daughter if she’d keep our cats while we made our epic journey.  I’d miss the grand baby.  It’s insane to think of devoting a year or two to doing nothing but riding a bike and taking pictures and making memories.  We should be responsible and work and save money and visit doctors and buy a house and a new car.

I want to make memories instead.  I want to taste adventure.  I want to feel the wind in my face.  I’ve spent a lifetime being responsible and hard working and boring.  I’ve done what society expected me to.

So is this a mid-life crisis?  Maybe.

Maybe its a symptom of insanity.

There are lots of reasons to not do it, and few besides the simple statement “I want to do this” for doing it.

It takes a lot longer than a bit of Botox and some liposuction, for sure.  Probably costs less and the side effects would certainly be different.

So if you see an overweight middle aged couple puttering alongside on the highway, with gasoline motors droning as we climb that long hill, towing a trailer with a couple of aging dogs and some  camping gear…slow down.

It just might be us.

Maybe.

If I can sell the concept to GM, that is.

Unplugged to recharge

10 Mar

We just got home from our annual spring camping trip to the Florida panhandle.  It’s been five days of being unplugged from technology, primitive camping where even my cell phone is iffy at best about getting a signal.

Cooking on a tiny campstove, sitting around the campfire, listening to the sound of the trees at night as the wind roars through them, hearing the strange (to me) sounds of coyotes in Florida  (they don’t sound like Western coyotes, its a bit more “dog” like in sound, but still has that characteristic yip yip yiiiiip sort of sound.)  Sleeping in a tent that I could have sworn we’d waterproofed the rain fly in early December…we got drenched in a storm the first night.  I came flying out of bed and was frantically digging in the van for some sort of remedy.  My remedy turned out to be dragging the rainfly from our big tent to be stretched over the smaller tent and staked down, covering most of our leaking spots.  (The entire rain fly was about as protective as a sheet of cheese cloth!)

We did have some clear weather on Saturday, and got a short bike ride in along the forest roads and the main black top through the area.  It was nice.  We also spotted a really HUGE fish, which I was informed was a bass, as well as that it was trophy sized.  None of us were fishing or even had fishing gear along, so that was merely an interesting side note.  About all any of us have done in the creek is swim and play, so anything larger than a minnow is a real novelty.

Sunday found the rest of our crew heading home, leaving GM & I for some solitude for a couple of days.  It was nice, just the two of us with our dogs, and we never pulled the computer out once.  I read a book on Monday, we took a nice long walk, and we had a good time with the dogs in the smaller creek near our camp too.  GM hates cold water though, and that always provides me with ample entertainment at his gasps and exclamations of agony at the icy water, which was running a bit higher than normal due to the heavy rain on Friday and Saturday nights.

I made steamed pudding on Saturday night, and despite the fact that I know the recipe by heart…I forgot to add the sugar!  GM & I still liked it, finding it still quite sweet with the fruit in it, and I whipped a caramel sauce with some heated sweetened condensed milk.  I think the other campers were a bit suspicious though, especially after the raccoon filled tamales.

And here this was supposed to be a group of survivalist sorts!

Still, after being left with excessive quantities of meat, I have come home craving vegetables and a tuna fish sandwich.  The joys of living out of a cooler and restricted by the finite nature of ice in it.

There is something really and truly soothing to the soul when you are lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind and a naturally flowing creek nearby, even when it is punctuated by the sounds of coyotes, a donkey (yee-haw, right?), hunting dogs in the distance, a million or so different frogs, night time bird calls, and the sound of crickets.  The smell of burning wood and the sight of the flickering flames answers some primal call of our ancestors as we sit near it and warm chilled limbs as we talk of things past and present, the truth and fiction.  Even the cooperative preparation and consumption of meals is something that soothes our savage natures.  How can one be sour and angry when sitting near the fire and eating your dinner with your companions as the coyotes cries in the distance echo among the trees?

How can you not consider this planet important as you stand with your feet in the icy waters as you wade to the other side, thankful that you didn’t fall on the slippery clay bank and watch the minnows dart away from your clumsy splashing feet?

How can you not feel sad as you come across someone’s former campsite, littered with debris and the sad stumps of the young trees they chopped down only to leave laying like the other debris?

And the aroma of perking coffee accented by a whiff of pine smoke as you wake is as comforting as the feel of the dry blanket covering you, and you quickly dress in your cold clothes for the day, anxious for a cup of that coffee that some early riser has graciously prepared….

Spring has arrived on the Gulf Coast, and the sight of the fading blooms on the wild blueberry bushes reminds you of that fact, even as the rain and thunderstorms rage through the region, dropping heavy rain and even some hail as a reminder of the power of a storm.

I better be ready to face the coming year, hadn’t I?

Pain and joy

29 Sep

I have not mentioned much about pain or my shoulder injury in this blog.  I try to NOT think about it most of the time, but sometimes, no matter what kind of pills they give me, it seems to be the ONLY thought that sticks around.

Today is one of those days.  It’s a “bad day.”  I try to not snivel, I try to be tough, I try to manage pain well, I try to be the person I should be.  Unfortunately, I’m not.  Today is one of those days when the niggling is more than that, when even breathing hurts.  I want to lash out, even though I know its pointless.  I try to rationalize with myself, because on the scale of things other people have to endure, I’m sure it is nothing.  I tell myself I have partial use of my arm, that I can still do a lot of things.  I tell myself the pain really isn’t that bad.  I tell myself that I am smart enough to figure out ways to do things without having to use my right arm.  I remind myself that as a child, I was ambidextrous.    I actually start to succeed, and a trickle of sweat tickles on my forehead…and I go to wipe it off.

Sharp stabbing pain all over again, and the hand doesn’t make it to the forehead.

The litterbox smells, and in these close quarters, you can’t ignore it.  It needs cleaning.  Because of the close quarters, I carry it outside to clean it.  There isn’t room to work inside this tiny travel trailer.  I have a really convenient one too, it is a covered sifting one, which makes it easy to carry.  But a few days ago, when I cleaned it last, it bumped against the bench and knocked off one of the latches.  I’m not going to be able to carry it, so have to as GM to carry it out for me.  I hurt enough that I am not going to even be able to sift the litter and reassemble it, which means that GM is stuck with that chore, after spending all day working on the van so that I can go to a doctor appointment in New Orleans tomorrow.  I can’t even drive myself to New Orleans.  If I have to take anything for pain, I get drowsy.  To drive over there, go to an appointment, and then drive back is roughly 7-9 hours, depending on traffic and the doctor’s office.  Only 5 hours of that is driving time, as it is normally about 2 1/2 hours to get there, if traffic is flowing normally.  It would be easy to drive without the pain, because if I take the pills, I’m drowsy, but if I just let the pain wander around unfettered, I get really sleepy.  I can’t go to New Orleans alone.  For a woman who thought nothing of driving across the country alone, this sudden dependence is traumatic.  I rarely go anywhere alone anymore.  I’m normally accompanied by GM, my daughter, or a friend…just in case.  Even if I’m fine when I leave and can drive…that may change before I get home, if I venture far.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone else finish the driving when we’ve gone to New Orleans or Mobile.

It feels like muscle cramps in my shoulder, stretching over my shoulder blade to the spine.  Sometimes, it’s under the arm, running down my ribs.  Other times, its on the front of the shoulder, where that sore spot has felt bruised and tender…since last November.  I can’t sleep long because of the pain.  I can’t get comfortable.  Riding in the car aggravates things too, and I know that the next two days with two trips to New Orleans will be a real joy.

Insomnia, mood swings…I also know I’m showing signs of depression.  That worries GM and everyone else, and believe me, it worries me.  I have so much to worry about, I don’t have time to deal with being depressed.  But months of physical therapy, appointments with doctors, appointments with “occupational rehabilitation specialists” and a gazillion phone calls to the workman’s comp insurance company have me more than a little worried about what is going to happen.  I’m 49 years old, and if I am not going to regain use of my arm, how am I going to find gainful employment and support myself?  NONE of the various fields that I have worked in previously will work with the current level of limited use of my right arm.  With the pain, there are days and times when I’m largely incapable of working at anything as well.  How am I going to cope with these limits?

Then I chide myself.  People have supported themselves with far larger obstacles than what I face.  I need some creativity, some ingenuity, and I can figure out something that I can do well and earn a living at.  Just because my former employer was not willing to work with my limits doesn’t mean that they are impossible to work with.  Maybe being self employed would be the answer.  Maybe I need to go back to school and be trained for something entirely new.  Twenty years ago, I supplemented my income with handcrafts and artwork.  I haven’t tried doing those things since I was hurt, and while I may not be able to run a sewing machine for 4 hours straight or use a scroll saw for more than a half hour…but could I do it at all?

At first, I merely followed the directions of my doctor and therapist, believing that they would help me regain use of my arm and put the pain behind me.  After all, I’d always healed when I’d been hurt before.  Unfortunately, I have seen very little improvement since the first time that the insurance company denied further physical therapy, I was thrilled when I could lift a dinner plate into the cabinet, but now…despite doing the exercises at home, I still can not dependably do that simple task of lifting ONE dinner plate into the cabinet.  Forget lifting the entire stack like I used to before the injury.  I can’t pick up a coffee cup when the arm is being uncooperative, and that consistently happens at least part of every single day.

I’m a camping fanatic, it is the one thing that I have always loved doing.  I can still do that…IF someone is along to help set up and take down the tent.  I can’t build a fire, I can’t light a fire easily.  I can still do the camp cooking (another hobby) but I have limits there too.  Someone else has to do a lot of the fetching, toting, lifting, and I don’t do recipes that are going to require too much of my arm.  I usually recruit help just with simple repetitive things like stirring gravy or grits.  For someone who used to do a lot of solitary camping and hiking, these new dependence on my companions is hard too.  Someone has to do most of the tent set up, even using the “First Up” tent that is so incredibly easy to erect.  I can’t hammer in the stakes, nor pull them out again.  I have trouble folding tarps or stretching them out on the ground for ground cloths.  Even when we were using a simple lean to for a late summer camp out, something I thought could be done by anyone at all, I had to have help stretching the ropes and staking down the tarp.  I can’t fold up my own camp chair either.  I can’t pack the van, nor can I do much along the lines of unloading.  I have no idea where things are anymore, since GM normally has to do all of that.  Where would I be without him in my life?  How long can he take doing everything for me?

So, despite depression, stress, and pain…I do have something that I am immensely thankful for and gives me great joy.  GM is part of my life and willing to help, as well as willing to help me cope with the stress and pain.  He’s tolerating the side effects of my injury, medication, and change in our lifestyle.  That’s something that all the money in the world could not buy, the love and devotion of your life partner.

Moving, too much “stuff” and business contacts, along with August 21 fixations

19 Jul

I’ve been silent for a while, I have been VERY busy with life…that little four letter thing that swallows us up whole on some occasions.  But, in the interim, I have been putting some serious and major changes into place.

I have officially become homeless by current standards.

And no, despite my sister envisioning GM & I sleeping in a cardboard box under a bridge or overpass somewhere, we’re not that kind of homeless.  We are simply not currently renting a house or apartment.  We are renting a storage unit…for now.  It’s also very full, and I’m questioning that very fullness.  GM is seriously questioning that fullness even more, since everything that is in it, he has toted at least a hundred yards, and at least once.

Us, 2 cats, and 2 dogs are currently residing in a travel trailer, and that is requiring some serious adjustments on everyone’s part.  Especially me, since I’m the incorrigible packrat, always saving something for future use.  As someone who cooks and writes about cooking, this is really interesting.  Ever try to keep props, cooking equipment, pans, etc. in the storage provided by a travel trailer?  Oh, and ingredients…very interesting when there is no refrigerator.

Yeah, we have a refrigerator.  A beautiful Frigidaire, about 16 cubic feet, which is adequate for a couple with 4 pets.  IF it worked.  Ours doesn’t.  It just lights up, blows room temperature air, and looks good.  Reminds me of some people I know.

The move itself has not gone well.  Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and its additionally complicated by the fact that I lived behind my former employer, requiring us to come and go through the business.  Since I have been unable to work since my shoulder injury last November, that got a bit complicated.  Unfortunately, my former boss seems to think I’m malingering and exaggerating, an opinion that has not been shared by my doctor.  She has no intentions of bringing me back when I’m released to work again, no matter when that is, and there was no sense in staying in that house.  After living there over six years, I had accumulated a lot of “stuff.”  I have given away, thrown away, and packed away almost all of that “stuff” at this point–we intend to pack the remainder and do the cleaning in one last visit.  Hopefully, we can accomplish that without any further issues!

The van has been a money pit lately–first a heater hose, which is still just sporting a temporary repair.  Next, some little do-dad on the linkage chain(?) has worn out, and that too is sporting a temporary repair.  In the process of backing up the van and getting it into place for our fantastic mechanic (ever need a repair in Metairie, La, check out Jerry’s Auto Repair on Airline Drive-Jimmy is a great guy!)  GM backed into the mailbox.  Do you know what a spectacular explosion a rear window glass makes upon impact?  So…the next day, we had an appointment with Glass Masters, also in Metairie on Airline Drive.  A great price, and a great installation job in just about an hour.  Earlier that day, we had to take the van to Sam’s Club to have the new tires we had purchased there checked out–one of them was making an odd thumping noise.  They said one of them was out of balance, but the thumping noise seems to have increased.  I wish I had great compliments for their customer service in the tire department, but I don’t.  I doubt I will purchase tires from them again.  Good prices don’t compensate for crappy customer service, and the tire market is fairly competitive.  I’d rather spend an extra $5 per tire and have good service (maybe even with a smile?) from whoever I purchase them from.  I was interested in a national company to honor the road hazard warranty, no matter where we were…but there are a long list of alternatives still out there, and on the next tire purchase…one of the others will get the nod.  During the years I lived in Arizona, I always had excellent service from Discount Tires in Flagstaff, but there didn’t seem to be one in the Greater New Orleans area.

So, in the meantime, I’m trying to decide the fate of trinkets, doo-dads, gizmos, gadgets, too many clothes, too many shoes, and too many books.  I’m looking at my accumulation of “stuff” and calculating not only space factors, but those of weight.

That brings me to emergency preparedness.  In a sense, the whole equation changes when you can hitch your house up behind a truck and move the entire thing with very little preparation.  However, that very little preparation clause requires continual rethinking of how I live.

Food supplies-going through our emergency supplies, we discovered grain beetles had taken their toll, and it was a big one.  It was also time to use the canned goods and replace them.  I’m thinking we need to go to dehydrated foods designed for long term storage to prevent the loss and damage we had with the grain beetle infestation.  What if we’d needed those goods?  They were largely useless!  In addition, we need supplies that are both compact and lightweight, something that traditionally packaged grocery products score very poorly on in general.  At the same time, I don’t want big buckets of whole grain that I can’t use easily, or nasty tasting stuff that you’d only want to eat during a survival situation.  I can’t help but wonder, how does “cheese powder” taste when reconstituted as a spread?  Does “peanut butter powder” actually taste like peanut butter?  What about “dehydrated butter powder”?  I know that non fat dry milk works fine in MOST recipes, even if I’m not crazy about how it tastes as a beverage.  It also works fine as hot chocolate.  And these just-add-water dessert products such as puddings and no-cook custards, what do they really taste like?  I know the dehydrated fruits and vegetables are just fine, but what about the more processed foods?  I’ve sampled Mountain House beef stew, and that was good, except that was excessively salty for my tastes.  What about other brands and other products?

So many things to get done over the coming months, and now this new fixation with some weird connotations–I woke up one night mumbling about August 21, at 4:05 pm there was a big black tornado (think killer tornado, the kind with 1/4 mile wide path of total destruction) and New Orleans.  Does it mean anything?  Not really.  But…do I intend to be anywhere near by on that date?  No.  It’s a Saturday, and I was actually thinking it would be a fine time to go camping in Florida, actually.  Specific dates aren’t usually a precognitive thing, so why am I fixated on August 21?  I have no idea.  The weird thing is that it is a specific date AND time.  If anything happens that day, I’m going to really be weirded out, I suspect.  The tornado, with its massive size and total blackness, might be more of a symbolic thing than anything else, but even on a symbolic level, it has nothing good to say about being in its vicinity, as it still means destruction and damage and danger.

So, we now have a power outage where we are at, and it’s best to call it a night and try to go to sleep despite the stuffy heat before the battery wears down on the laptop.

Memorial Weekend plans of mice and men

28 May

Our original plans for the holiday weekend involved a group camping trip, but…a week before the trip, that was canceled, which has left Greg and I to make our own weekend plans.  I’m not much on traveling far over a holiday weekend though, I hate the traffic stats.  Living in New Orleans, we usually also have plenty of local offerings to choose from.

Plaquemines Parish Seafood Festival is being held this weekend, with great local bands playing.  The low admission also makes it a good budget event as well, so we can go hang out, have dinner & a great time without breaking the bank–always a plus!  It doesn’t hurt that it supports a good cause, and is a sign of support for our local seafood industry in the face of Big Oil’s BP oil spill.

I’ve also postponed numerous times a trip to our local Southern Food & Beverage Museum, which would also be a nice local trip.  With their $10 per person admission, it’s a bit more expensive than driving to Belle Chasse for the seafood festival, but it is also closer and has long been lurking on my “must-do-soon” list.  They have a great website, and I’ve heard such wonderful things about the museum already.

I should also see about the “you pick” blueberry farms-some may already be open or will be opening this weekend.  There is nothing like a bowl of fresh blueberries that can brighten up any day.  I’m not sure they are sweeter than listening to a local blues band is, but they are a bit more compact at least!

Ahhh but the best laid plans of mice and men…

All of that was high hopes for this weekend from Friday morning.  On Friday afternoon, it’s a complete revision.

We were responsible drivers.  We had put two new tires on the front of the van last week to replace the nearly bald ones.  The back ones still had adequate, if not good, tread, so we left those go.  An unexpected windfall allowed us to purchase the rear tires AND allowed us to purchase 2 cheap mountain bikes to start bicycle riding.

I’m ecstatic-silly but true.  I can, for one rare day, have my cake and eat it too.  Granted its not the Trek bike I wanted…but it’s a bike that I’m sure I’m going to fall in love with for the duration.  Maybe next year we’ll be able to afford that Trek, but in the meantime, I’ll have a chance to start riding bike and exploring the world at a slower, greener pace.

Now for those that are truly into biking…you realize that buying an off-the-rack-bike-from-Walmart is the least part of the bill.  That dreadful hard “wedgie” seat had to go, there was no way I was going to enjoy riding on that with my sit bones riding on the edge of that hard seat.  Yes, it is true, I have middle age computer user spread on the hind side.  So, a cheap gel seat went out the door with us, but at least its better than the one that came with it, with a wider base to sit on.  I may like it, I may want to upgrade, but for now…that’s my choice.  Of course Walmart bikes come complete with flat tires, so that meant purchasing a bike pump immediately as well.  And buying new bikes meant a bike lock…

Then, with a van that contained our Sam’s Club purchases as well as most of our camping gear, we had to cram in the bicycles, since a bike rack has not  yet been purchased.  That told me immediately that a bike rack is VERY important!  What good does it do to have bikes to take camping with us if we can’t fit them in the van?

I’m really jazzed, but we had to come home–Greg has mega lawn mowing to do, a storm (as usual) is threatening, and it had cooled off some.  I’ll pump up the tires and try it out after a while…and in the meantime, I can come up with the appropriate bike rack for the van, right?

So…I’m not sure there is much left in the mad money budget, but that’s okay…

The van is in good running order once again, with tires that aren’t going flat and are overall in good repair and tread, since they are brand new.  We have our bikes so we can begin riding.  My new stove, direct from China, arrived today, and that will get tested this weekend.  (It’s a really cool MSR-type ultra light pack stove, multi fuel & all.  I’ll take pictures of it this weekend.)

All in all, today was a really good day.  I am really truly thankful for wonderful days like today.

Living smaller and walking lighter with a bicycle?

4 May

Obviously, from the wide variety of topics I have jumped across, I don’t have to worry about “thinking inside of the box” unless I’m going to have a variety of boxes to think inside of!  The thoughts today are on bicycle based camping, ultralight everything, and living smaller.

Interesting websites come along with the thoughts.  Here is one:  http://www.ultralightliving.com/linkmachine/resources/resources_ultralight_homes.html

Ultra light living sort of says it all.

http://www.ezmotorbike.com/aboutus.html–this is a conversion kit for adding power to bicycles.  Interesting.

http://www.tonystrailers.com/custom/ If you are serious about biking as a replacement for motor vehicles, these trailers would be a godsend.

http://www.biketrailershop.com This company had excellent reviews, and specializes in a very narrow niche for an already narrow niche-the bicyclist, in particular, a bicyclist who wants or needs a trailer.  When I’m ready to buy one, I’ll likely give them a call-they would have knowledge about the products & needs that a novice would not.

http://trait-tech.com/catalog/Digital_products/Safety_Light/ Safety gear is important, especially for bicyclists, who are vulnerable from everything from roaming vicious dogs to motor vehicles.  I should know, the reason I’ve NOT ridden much in the last 20+ years was due to experiences with them!  Now, if I could find someone who sold titanium gaiters to protect legs from dog teeth…

The whole idea of a small house is so appealing to me, as I am currently trying to eliminate excess material goods from my life.  I remember when I first moved into this house–my voice echoed.  There was nothing to dust.  Now, I have stacks of books and everything else.  I’ve  been hauling bags of magazines to every clinic & doctor’s office I visit to genuinely recycle them in their original form (the most efficient method of recycling!) In addition, I have been inflicted with a lack of reading material myself when waiting in their offices, so this means someone else will at least have something to read besides old medical journals!  (They might find my donations odd, but that’s ok, at least its an eclectic collection of choices!)   I need to start finding ways to give away books too, as I get a lot of books to review and often once I’m done, it isn’t a book I’m ever going to want to read again.  I’m not enthusiastic about donating to the local library, as they will sit in boxes in a store room for a year or so until the annual book sale when they sell the donated books.  So, I’ll have to start thinking creatively about who & where I can donate them to, especially since the vast majority are in the “paranormal” genre, whether they are non-fiction or fiction.  I love electronic versions that I can read on my laptop, and I’d love to try one of the electronic readers out, but can’t really justify spending the $ on it at this point.  Electronic books & magazines mean simpler referring back-often there are search features.  I can flip through the table of contents on a whole year’s worth of issues in a few minutes if I’m just browsing.  Distribution is so much easier too–I can have the latest & greatest in minutes instead of days, plus it uses so much less energy-no delivery fuel, no paper, no ink…and best of all, no annoying postman with delivery quirks.

My magazine delivery company is Zinio–take a look at them!

Age, emergency preparedness, & backpacking

1 May

Our new backpacks arrived Thursday, yay!!!!  I’m very pleased with their quality, especially considering they are internal frame packs that cost $19.95 & $24.95 from Emergency Essentials, an emergency preparedness company.  Mine, the cheaper, smaller & green pack, unfortunately ends up with the “hip” belt riding around my waist.  Trying it on briefly, I found it comfortable, and it didn’t put any uncomfortable pressure on my shoulder.  With minimal gear, (change of clothes, a couple of MREs, a mess kit, etc.) but no sleeping bag or tent, it weighs like 25-30#, and I’d hate to actually have to spend the weekend with it.  I was really surprised, even though it only contains the items previously packed in my overstuffed day pack, it’s pretty full.  I’m not sure where a bedroll is SUPPOSED to go, but it’s obviously going to have to be strapped to the outside.  It has also made me realize that I need a more compact sleeping bag.  My current monster is as big as the pack itself, and even with compression straps, does not compact much.  The current gear/clothing is set up for summer, so all that is included inside (besides gloves) is lightweight summer clothes & a microfiber sheet, as well as “emergency shelter” equipment of some packaged drum liners (oversized garbage bags).

I talked to some others from the Get Ready GO crowd, both about the mentored camping trip we’re trying to set up for newbies, as well as a couple of short hike based trips for the current crowd.  We’re not going to do an overnight trip until fall–season, time, & life issues that would be the better choice.  The hikes we’re considering are all recommended for any season other than summer, probably because of the heat & mosquitoes.  With my shoulder, even fall may be an optimistic hope for a backpack trip of short duration, which would have us hike about 10-15 miles per day and camp a single night.  I need to work on the walking part of getting into better shape for this trip, this winter’s inactivity as I’ve been nursing the shoulder has not done me any good, and I was needing MORE exercise, not less.  I don’t want to end up in a situation with chest pains at mile 12, and I’m at “that age” now, which seems truly impossible.

Remember when 49 was so old that you looked at someone that age and wondered why they were still bothering to breath, since they were really so ancient that they couldn’t possibly have any fun?  People that old weren’t supposed to have fun, feelings OR sex.  They were fat, saggy, baggy, and ugly, besides being OLD.  They creaked and whined and couldn’t DO anything.

I saw someone young enough that she looked at me the other day, thinking along those lines.  I almost laughed at her, and I wanted to tell her–once, chicky-poo, I was just like you, and before you know what the hell happened, you are going to be just like me too. I look at photos and in the mirror and I can’t help but wonder, how the hell did my mother get in that picture/mirror?  Where am I?  It’s true, inside every 80 year old woman, there is an 18 year old girl wondering what in the sam hell happened.  Even before I got hurt, when I would go to do something, sometimes my muscles & bones would scream in protest and ask me what I thought I was doing, just as I was wondering why they were protesting.

And on the green front, which is the same fixed income front as my budget, the weather is impossibly muggy today.  It only got down to 79*, the humidity is so high that everything seems coated with a film of moisture, me included.  I think I’m going to have Greg close up the windows and we’re going to turn on the air conditioner. It’s May 1, and I hate to do it so early in the month, but I also hate being miserable and not sleeping.  I was up last night from 2:30 until around 6:30 this morning, waiting for the cool-down that didn’t happen.  Not even the fan that Greg hates so much and I have named The Hurricane was giving me much relief.

Speaking of fans, he spent yesterday evening working on last year (and the year before) fans in hopes of coaxing another year out of them.  If they don’t start up reasonably quickly, run without squeals and squeaks, and blow air at a good pace, I’m all for tossing them and putting them onto a list for replacement.  Some days, I think Greg took his lessons in home economics (as in money economics) from Jack Benny & Bob Hope.  I might be cheap, but he wants to hear a penny scream in agony before he lets go of it!  I know we don’t have extra money, and the reality is that we have to be very conservative, but he’s a good reminder to think three times before spending.  I make him a little crazy, because I’ll think over a purchase silently, and then just do it, like the backpacks.  To me, that was an important purchase, and done economically.  He thought it was peculiar.  If I had spent $100+ on a pack, then it would be peculiar–we are neither one going to be spending a lot of time & energy on backpacking, as we are not in the physical condition for it.  With his limp & back issues, a long hike would be an agony for him, just as with my weight, knees, & shoulder injury, it would for me.  A ten mile hike day is probably as good as I could do, and I remember when I walked ten miles in just about three hours, and then worked a twelve hour day with no more complaining than I had sore muscles on the top of my feet!  The packs I chose are of serviceable quality, and will suffice as convenient bags for car camping, emergency preparedness, and the odd backpacking adventure.  I’d be foolish if I had bought them for an adventure to Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Everest.  It would be equally foolish to spend over $100 each for what they will be used for.

Speaking of the packs, Greg’s slightly larger, more expensive, and blue backpack does hold more.  He has two more MREs than I do, and more bulky gear, and his stuff was packed in a Swiss surplus day pack, which was impossible with a load in it for him-it rode all wrong-and it inspired the new purchase.  He has room left in his pack, and it would’t take much repacking to add the dual fuel stove, more food, and more clothing to his, making it actually serviceable for a weekend hike pack.  Once again, his bedroll and the tent would have to be strapped to the exterior, just like mine.  Not enough room inside.  Granted, switching the MREs for freeze dried would free up room, and then it might be possible, with a serious repack from emergency preparedness to weekend trip pack.  A more compact sleeping bag would be necessary, and our current “backpack” tent is a cheap small tent w/o a rainfly–it was given to us, and that was the missing part.  The only time it was used, we simply covered the tent with a garbage bag or something, I dont remember exactly what we used.  The original rain fly for it would have been a piece of ripstop with four elastic cords, and only measured about 18″ square.  That will likely remain our backpack tent, with the addition of a tarp that will create a vestibule as well as protect the tent from rain.  By stretching a cord/rope from a stake located behind the tent, then putting the tarp over it in an A form with the rear staked to the ground, but the front tied down via cords to the corner grommets & then staked, it will essentially create a vestibule lean-to that will allow us protection to cook, etc.  The “high” end of the rope forming the center of the A will simply be tied to a tree–not a hard thing in this neck of the woods.  An alternative would be to use a hiking stick as the peak point and using a cord to fix it in place.  A 10×12 tarp will accomplish this, I believe.

Today, we’re off to a crawfish boil, courtesy of Jimmy-the-mechanic’s invitation.  It’s his annual crawfish boil, and Greg has never been to one.  I’m not crazy about crawfish, but don’t tell anyone.  It’s considered sacrilege to not be crazy about them in Louisiana.

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