25 Aug

The princess and the RV

The sheets story: When I was researching RVs, I read comments from several people that the Travato beds were as comfortable as their beds at home. I know now the appropriate response to that should be, “Something is drastically wrong with your bed at home, get yourself a new mattress!” I’m not so uncomfortable that it’s making me sad, but I definitely haven’t figured out how to sleep soundly in this bed yet.

The bed, as I’m referring to it, is actually two twin beds, with a low table set between them that supports two cushions, making a oddly-shaped, full-sized bed. Oddly shaped, because the two cushions don’t add up to a twin-size length, so the top of the bed has a gap in the middle, like a capital H with the space under the connector filled in.

Before I got Serenity, I figured I’d just use my usual sheets and leave the bed set up all the time. I knew the first time I tried to make it that that would never work. If you’ve ever tried to make a bed in a corner, with walls on two sides, you know the experience, except this was trying to make a bed with multiple walled corners and a fitted sheet that didn’t fit right. Plus two dogs being total pests during the process.

And there was no way to use my real quilts, because there’s no place for the sides of the blanket to go, except to be tucked underneath the mattress entirely, which is really difficult to do when you’re also having to crawl on the mattress.

I also figured out quickly that leaving the bed set-up made my space a lot less livable, since I had to crawl across the bed to reach my clothes or some of my kitchen stuff or even the switches to turn on the water or propane.

I theorized initially that I could leave the beds made as twin beds — with both fitted sheets and flat sheets — and then put my queen-size fitted sheet on top when I set up the table/cushion part of the bed. Didn’t work. The four extra layers of fabric were enough that the cushions were very hard to squeeze into place and prone to bumping up, making lumps in the bed.

I then wound up using two flat queen-size sheets, one as a bottom sheet, one as a top. But they worked their way loose because I’m a restless sleeper, making me an even more restless sleeper as my bed got uncomfortable and lumpy.

Next I tried a sleeping bag liner, thinking I could simply put it on top of the cushions. Nope. I can’t keep myself entirely in the liner and I can’t sleep with the feel of the cushions under me — they’re ridged, like couch cushions, which is practical for when they’re being couch cushions, but I’m turning out to be very princess-and-the-pea about them. Misery.

I finally found a solution that almost worked. I covered both twin beds with a fitted twin-sheet, and when I set up the middle, I covered the cushions with a flat twin sheet, edges tucked under. I then used the sleeping bag liner for my own sheets. The bed was flat and neat and not lumpy and I was tucked in, not kicking the covers loose. Yay, it worked.

Except… oh, what a princess I am. My real sheets, the queen-size sheets from my former bed, are extremely nice sheets. I buy my sheets on sale or at extreme discount stores, but even so, I spend good money on them. My twin sheets and the sleeping bag liner are not. Extremely nice, that is. The sheets are generic cheap sheets, bought at Target so that I would have something for when I needed to use the beds as twin beds, i.e. when my niece was staying with me. The liner is microfiber, which is okay for a night or two, but not something I love.

Add to that the dogs, campground, dirt thing and I was sleeping on uncomfortable sheets that were usually dirty, encased in a polyester bag. Not a happy camper. And being over-tired all the time has not been enhancing my life.

My latest solution was having my sister-in-law’s mother take my good queen sheets and sew them closed along the side and the bottom, turning them into sleeping bag-style pouches. I think that’s almost done it. It means that I have comfortable sheets above and below me, yay, and I can’t kick them loose. It’s a little imperfect for Zelda, who can’t figure out how to crawl under the covers with me, and who wakes me up by trying to burrow into them, but it’s mostly working for me. Folding them up and putting them away every morning is helping keep them clean, too.

The next step will be finding something to cover the cushions with, something better than my cheap (and ugly) twin fitted sheets, that’s comfortable to sit and sleep on. I’m not sure what that will be. If I knew how to sew or if my mom was still around, I’d be browsing the racks of some local fabric store, trying to find a comfortable, soft, dirt-resistant, attractive fabric to make slipcovers with, but as it is, I’m probably going to be searching for better twin sheets. Still, progress, not perfection!

It’s been a month today since I sold the house and took to the road. It doesn’t feel like it. I’m still very much in the constant process of tweaking my space, trying to find better solutions for storage and cooking and sleeping, even bathing. But it’s been a good month: no disasters, no scares, no major downswings.

I don’t really feel comfortable yet — I’m still worried when I set up that I’ll do something wrong and anxious when I’m trying to park her. And it’s been so hot that the dogs have been a constant concern, which wasn’t something that I anticipated. The scope of what I imagine myself doing narrowed drastically, because I can’t leave the dogs — so no casual stops at restaurants, no wandering around museums, and so on. That said, the dogs have been pretty good overall and they’re adjusting.

And so am I. One month in, and I still feel lucky. My tiny house is indeed very tiny, but it’s working.

24 Aug

Wrong side of the bed

I woke up totally on the wrong side of the bed. Sort of literally, too — I find the longer of the twin beds feels like it works less well for me, for some reason. But mostly emotionally. Yesterday was a “wherever you go, there you are,” sort of day, in which I didn’t make healthy choices about food and exercise and how I spent my time, and today I get to pay the price.

Although, on a brief digression, Stranger Things, on Netflix… I spent about six hours yesterday downloading it in 5 minute increments because I don’t have high-speed internet, but I HAD to finish it. I saw the first four episodes at my brother’s house, as normal television, and yesterday I binge-watched the final four, in torturous slowness. It was still worth it. I would not ordinarily ever watch something labeled horror — it is so not my genre — but I knew nothing about Stranger Things before I started watching it, so I didn’t know it was horror. And yes, it gave me nightmares, so I retain my ridiculous sensitivity to scary television, but it was still worth it. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil anything about it, but I will say that all the people who are raving about it are right.

Moving on… wrong side of the bed. I woke up crabby. Stiff, not feeling well, cranky, cold. But I had some nice texts with a friend and decided to change my day. I would walk the dog, find some quiet space in this overcrowded campground and appreciate nature.

Nope. That was not how it turned out. Z was far more interested in smelling people’s garbage than she was in having a brisk walk into the forest, and I wound up coming home from our walk more irritated then when I’d started. I was even mean to her, that’s how grouchy I was. (I took B for a walk and left her in the van, which I never do. She gets long solo walks, because he is slow and won’t walk very far and she needs more exercise, but whenever I take him out, I take her, too, because she can use all the exercise she can get.)

After I fed the dogs, I decided… again… that I would change my day. I would meditate. I would find peaceful serenity in the silence of the van.

Nope. I couldn’t get my brain to shut up. The dogs were being total pests, both trying to be on top of me at the same time. They could tell that I was in a bad mood, and they both think that’s the cure. They’re often correct, but it wasn’t working today.

So I decided I would journal out my frustration. It didn’t make me feel better. The roots of my irritation were too much my own fault. I did too much sitting yesterday, not enough walking. I did too much watching, not enough writing. I ate delicious gluten-free pizza — nightshades, corn, dairy, so multiple food triggers — and not enough good food. I deserved to feel crappy.

Nothing was going to change my mood.

But then I got lucky. Or unlucky, as the case might be, but I’m choosing to call it lucky. I got some new neighbors.

I already sort of hated this campground. It might be really nice if it had half the people in it or if I had three kids that I was hoping to entertain on a busy summer vacation, but as a spot to sit and write, it’s not exactly heaven. I could tell myself all sorts of things about how it could be worse, and it seriously could be much worse, but it is no Frances Slocum. It’s the kind of park where you can watch all television all day long and not feel guilty about it, if that makes sense. It’s the kind of park where the cars almost outnumber the trees. (<—Total exaggeration.) Yes, I am being curmudgeonly — people are having fun family vacations all around me and that’s a very nice thing but I wasn’t going to be one of them.

And then my new neighbors arrived and they are even more curmudgeonly than I am. In fact, they are way MORE curmudgeonly. They are angry. I’m not quite sure why they’re angry, but it involves a fair amount of bad language, words about calling lawyers, a sense of absolute grievance. I think it has something to do with the site they’re in. It’s not good enough for them? It’s missing something? But along with their anger about whatever is going on with the campground, he is the kind of guy who’s telling her to not ask stupid questions and to get that dumb look off her face. And of course, it’s a campground, so the only way for me not to be overhearing them would be to close up my windows and start my air-conditioner running.

Talk about getting immediate perspective. I feel incredibly sorry for them — especially for her, of course — but I am also really grateful not to be them. They might be the kind of people who enjoy having grievances. Maybe complaining satisfies them. Maybe living in that emotional space feels comfortable and normal to them. But for me, it was the spur I needed to get out, to eat something healthy, to do a little stretching, to snuggle my dogs, to change my day.

The sun is shining and life is good.

22 Aug

A tale of two bridges

The campground I stayed at for the past couple of days, Council Cup Campground in Wapwallopen, PA, was rich in bridges. (Is that not a great town name? I keep wanting to say it aloud, just for the fun of it. Wapwallopen.) It was an interesting place, a very strange mix of new and old, arty and… well, skeezy.

I nearly didn’t stop when I drove by because there was a trailer with a confederate flag flying, which is a pretty clear indicator of it not being my kind of place. But I’d made a reservation and the camp office looked professional, with a AAA sign and a sign for the laundry, so I gave it a try. Some of the trailers were filthy — covered in dirt, looking like they hadn’t been moved in decades, surrounded by junk. Even wire fences around them, which to me always feels like an indicator of a dangerous neighborhood. But the playgrounds were fantastic and plentiful, the people were friendly, the camp store was nice with a great selection of kids’ toys, and it was possible to walk deep into the forest, into total solitude and quiet.

And it had bridges! Lots of bridges, because a creek ran through the campground. Supposedly, there was a waterfall, too, but I never found it. The creek was just a few yards wide — nothing like a small river, like the last creek I was near at the Gettysburg Farm campground. This one was shallow, running fast, over rocks, and as soon as I saw the first bridge, I knew we were walking over it.

a bridge

It was just that sort of bridge. Made of iron, but with gaps, like a grid of metal. I was not thinking of the dogs, though, until we got a little ways onto it and B refused to move. Oh, my, I’m laughing even at the memory, even though poor B was probably not amused and poor Z was definitely not amused later. Anyway, B could see that there was nothing underneath him to hold him up. It wouldn’t have been a long fall, only a couple of feet, really, but he was not going anywhere.

At that point we were not so far across, and I should have turned back, but Z was doing okay, so I picked B up and carried him. But then Z realized that she could fall through the gaps, when she did on one leg. She was scooting along, almost on her belly, inching forward, ears back, eyes wide. I wound up carrying B out to the end of the leash, going back and picking her up, carrying her out to the end of the leash, then going back and picking B up, hip-hopping the length of the leash, all the way across… we must have looked ridiculous.

I got a little anxious that Z might hurt herself when both of her back feet went through the holes in the grid on our last section and then I was worried, too, but we made it across, both dogs totally weirded out and giving me looks. It was terrible, but also terribly funny.

Our other bridge was much safer, but even sillier to cross. I’d walked out into the woods, searching for the waterfall, and I was so deep that I felt alone in the wilderness. There were tables, lots of picnic tables, for tent camping spots, but not a single tent anywhere to be seen. It was beautiful and a little spooky. When I saw a bridge of course I crossed it, because hey, bridge. But the path started to disappear afterwards and I kept going.


I kept thinking about the woman found in the woods, just a mile or so away from the trail that she’d lost. Dead for months before she was found, like she sat down and waited to be rescued and waited too long. It was probably good for me to be thinking of her, because I kept glancing over my shoulder, locking landmarks into my memory for when I gave up on the waterfall and turned back the way I’d come. Which, of course, I finally did, although mostly because I stumbled upon civilization in the form of houses and knew that wherever the waterfall was, it wasn’t the way I was going.

I love the way you can feel alone in the wilderness and then, oops, houses. That’s probably my kind of wilderness, the kind where help is actually easy walking distance away. I’m really not the wilderness type — I like the illusion of it better than reality.

Other things: I’m still going to post about sheets soon, but I’m sort of annoyed with myself for already spending so much time on this blog post — I had some major digressions about how confederate flags offend me and wire fences make me uneasy, which I deleted because boring, plus posting the images took forever because slow internet, but it’s almost 11 and I only have another hour to write today before I head to New Jersey. And then tomorrow is a long driving day.

Normally that would not matter at all, but for the last couple of days — between adventures on bridges and the Wapwallopen Peach Festival, where I bought peach jalapeño jam and cranberry cherry jam — Grace has been going really well. I’m almost scared to write that for fear I might jinx it, but… yeah. It’s pretty darn exciting to be enjoying writing Grace. I hope it lasts!

19 Aug

The interesting stuff…

I walked Zelda this morning into a scene of such stunning beauty that I was glad I’d left my cell phone back in Serenity. If I’d had it with me, I would have tried to capture the moment and I would have failed, because I don’t know how to take good photos, and it would have been just another generic pretty scenery picture. But the full moon was still up, in a sky that had wisps of sunrise clouds, a very subtle pink and twilight purple, in an otherwise overcast white. Mist was rising off water that looked a deep dark rippling green and in the distance, the hills… rolled. An artist could have drawn the classic three intersecting lines that anyone would recognize as hills in the distance and it would have been those exact three hills. It wasn’t bright, it wasn’t showy, but it was so beautiful I had to hold my breath, as if breathing would shatter it.

I’m in Frances Slocum State Park, in Pennsylvania. I came here because it was the closest camping spot to a cemetery I wanted to visit. Yeah, with the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore on my list of places to see, as well as the entire country of possibilities, my first destination was a graveyard. Ha.

But I’ve had my mom’s ashes sitting on my closet shelf for about four years now. She died five years ago and at the time I thought we’d get together and do some family thing with her ashes after a suitable time had passed. I don’t know what exactly — take them out to sea, maybe? On a cruise? She would have loved that, if the whole family had gotten together and gone on a cruise in celebration of her. But instead my dad remarried. There’s an interesting awkwardness to not being finished with your first wife’s business when you already have a second wife, or at least so it seemed to me, and my mom’s ashes became part of that.

Long story short, eventually they wound up with me, and I’ve let them sit, not knowing what to do with them. Her last remains. Except that they are so not her last remains. I am what remains of her. R is what remains of her. The scrapbooks she created, those are her remains. My sister, my brother, their kids, our memories… so much remains of her. And these ashes, they’re not important, not really. But I did want to dispose of them respectfully. Even, I guess, lovingly. If there is any possibility that my mom’s spirit is connected in any way to the pile of grey dust that was her body, I wanted her to be happy with what happened to that dust.

That brings me to the cemetery I was looking for. My great-grandmother is buried there, and I thought it would be nice to scatter my mom’s ashes there. She loved her grandmother and treasured her memories of visiting her grandmother’s farm when she was little. I wish I had any idea where the farm was because that would have been perfect (barring the extreme discomfort of asking someone if they’d mind if you scattered ashes on their property and/or the great likelihood that it’s some kind of housing development now…) but the cemetery was the best I could do.

It was lovely. Beautiful, green, serene. Gorgeous and old. Also surreal. I wandered through the gravestones looking for the right one — Myrtle Smith, with Paul Smith next to her — and instead finding, with vague shocks of recognition, everyone else. My grandfather’s parents. My grandfather’s sister. My other great-grandparents. My great-great grandparents. Plenty of strangers’ names, of course, but down every line, another Smith, Rozelle, Lewis, Labar, and Hahn. It was eerie and charming and sort of heart-wrenching. I looked at what I was pretty sure was my great-grandparents’ gravestone — Grover Cleveland and Jessie Labar — and knew almost nothing about them. I recognized their names but that was it.

In the end, I did find the right grave and sprinkled a handful of my mom’s ashes there. I didn’t anticipate how emotional I would feel about it, how much it would bring my grief back to me and how sharp that pain would be. The dead always outnumber the living in a cemetery, but being alone there, surrounded by my forgotten relatives, was… hard.

Afterwards, I drove into the town, West Pittston, looking for the houses where my mom had grown up. I had an idea of discreetly sprinkling more of her ashes, I think — but the streets were narrow and the idea of parking was terrifying and navigating was a challenge — Z is just not good at reading maps for me and my GPS is always a little late — so I came back to the campground and settled in.

Fortunately, the park is beautiful. The campsites are shaded by trees, with screens of trees separating one site from the next. It’s been rainy and muddy, but very peaceful. (With the minor exception of my poor neighbors not having much success handling their whiny kids. The dad’s exasperated, “What am I supposed to DO with her?” had me wincing in sympathy.)

I suspect the reason people think of the ocean when it comes to ashes is that there’s actually quite a bit of them — a handful can be scattered elegantly but dumping out the whole bag just seemed very not cool. Both not respectful and also leaving a mess for the person next mowing the lawn to be disturbed by. Maybe if you can hurl them off a mountaintop, the wind would carry them away, but my image of gently scattering dust does not match the reality of a heavy duty plastic bag with a mound of ashes in it.

Still, I’ve taken many long walks here, including one where I went fairly far off a trail into the woods and found a nice young tree that looked like it might benefit from some nutrients at its roots. I don’t know how my mom would feel about that — she wasn’t much of a nature person. She preferred her camping to include comfortable beds and flush toilets.

But I kept some of the ashes. I’m not sure why. I thought I was ready to let go, but maybe not. It’s definitely one of those times when logic is warring with intuition, though. Logic is saying “Storage! Trees, nutrients!” but my intuition is telling me that there’s something else I need to be doing. For most of my life — all of my life — logic would have won, but not today. Maybe I’ll visit my grandparents’ graves while I’m at this. Or maybe I’ll bring the ashes to the Grand Canyon with me. I wonder how many people do that? I bet lots. It seems like that kind of place. Or maybe I need to let my siblings have their own experiences with saying goodbye in that way. I’m really not sure, but what’s left of her ashes comes with me.

Anyway, at the moment, I’m sitting in a grocery store parking lot, wishing I still had a grill. Wondering if I should buy firewood. Trying to think of some food plan for the next few days and mostly eating spice drops, currently my worst food vice. Today and tomorrow I’m floating around PA and on Monday, I’m headed into NJ for the day. Next week, NY, and the week after that, Vermont.

18 Aug

Practical angst

I bought my coconut milk in haste at the store the other day and it is vanilla-flavored coconut milk, instead of normal coconut milk. It is, to put it in a nutshell, disgusting. It is making me sad when I drink my coffee and I refuse to contemplate what it might be like on cereal. I ought to throw it away, find myself a new grocery store, and buy myself some new coconut milk, but the last “coconut milk” I bought was half almond milk, half coconut, and it was also disgusting. I did throw it away. Throwing away two almost full half gallons of milk-like substance feels so wasteful.

Plus, that time, the store didn’t have any regular coconut milk. I’m currently in a place that could be safely described as middle-of-nowhere, and I’m wary of heading out on a drive to a grocery store that might be half an hour away only to discover when I get there that it doesn’t have coconut milk. The obvious solutions occur to me — GPS nearby grocery stores, find their numbers, call them up and ask! — but I currently have no internet, so even that solution means packing up for a drive to find myself some connectivity.

Obviously, by the time you’re reading this, I will have done so, because ha-ha, posting to my blog also requires internet, but at the moment I’m feeling very disinclined to get on the road. It rained last night, gloriously heavy, so that the pounding of drops on the roof of Serenity was like living inside a maraca. And I totally have to google that word, because I’m not sure whether I’ve got the name right, but again… no internet.

So yeah, living inside a maraca, or if that’s not the right word, one of those instruments you play with as a kid, a gourd filled with seeds that you shake like a baby’s rattle. I wasn’t being shaken, but the sound was that fast, heavy rattle. It was lovely. But I had decided when last I looked at the sky that the overcast white wasn’t gray enough to bring real rain, so I left my chair and my towel and my purple-striped Mexican blanket outside.

They are well beyond damp.

I don’t want them inside Serenity.

Honestly, I don’t even want to touch the blanket. I put it down for the dogs because the ground here is hard gravel and dirt, with some puddles of mud, and I didn’t want them — Zelda especially — to choose the mud puddles as the comfiest place to get cozy. Zelda would. Bartleby also likes to roll in the dirt, but not with the same abandon. He’s not a huge fan of baths and he’s much more sensitive about the possibility of scolding. Z likes baths and she’s seldom been scolded so she luxuriates in the dirt, then comes in and goes straight to the tub. With no tub, I don’t know what she’d do, but tracking mud all over my bed has never bothered her, so I’m pretty sure it would involve me needing to do laundry. I guess I’m going to have to do that anyway, since the blanket might never be clean again. But at least after it dries I ought to be able to shake off some of the dirt and fold it up, so it’s out of the way until I manage to find a washer. My sheets, on the other hand… well, sheets are turning out to be a saga of their own.

Dirt in general is turning out to be an interesting aspect of living in a camper. I’m not a dirt-phobe. Good thing, because campgrounds are dirty and dogs track in dirt and living partially outside and otherwise in a very small space means that there is dirt. I was showering yesterday in my cute little bathroom and the floor was muddy. Not just from my dirty feet, but because I have to stash outside stuff on that floor when I’m on the move. The power cords and water hose lie on the ground outside while I’m parked and when I’m putting them away for a drive (“away” being defined as “on the bathroom floor”), I’m not worrying about the fact that they’ve picked up dirt and bits of leaf debris and grass. Generally speaking when I go camping and things get dirty, I think, well, I’ll get it clean when I get home. Except this is home.

I thought my solution would be to wipe them dry with a towel as I rolled them up to stow them away but at the end of that process, I have a dirty towel. And towels — well, towels are causing me almost as much angst as sheets.

Yesterday the radio hosts on a show I was listening to were debating how many times one should use a towel before washing it. There was an actual, honest-to-goodness argument for once. Dry yourself with a towel one time and then wash it. Um, no. I brought five standard towels with me and I’ve jettisoned two of them to take back the storage space they were using. I brought four or five dish towels with me, and that turns out to be not nearly enough. Drying dishes, wiping spills, cleaning hands after cooking, drying hands, wiping off dogs’ feet and bellies after coming in from a walk… at that point, the towel goes in the laundry bag and before I know it, I’m out of dish towels, and nowhere close to needing to do laundry for anything else.

Except maybe sheets. My sheets are causing me some serious angst, but I need to eat breakfast and get moving — and I can’t believe I haven’t written about the more interesting stuff that’s going on! — so more on sheets and sleeping later. And also the interesting stuff.

15 Aug

The eye of the beholder


I suffer from the relatively common ailment of mean brain. Not mean to other people, but mean to myself. It’s something I’ve worked on for a long time, but I still have flare-ups. Maybe it’s like an allergic reaction? My hyperactive immune system thinks that half the common substances on the planet are dire threats and stimulates misery in response. When my mean brain gets triggered, it stimulates misery, too. Maybe it’s some kind of protective mechanism, but it’s not a very good one.

Sunday morning, it started whispering. I’ll spare myself writing out the details — it’s not like it’s going to be good for me to spend more time in those thoughts — but the words “homeless” and “failure” were pretty loud. Fortunately, I was in a really good place to see those thoughts for what they were, just words. Just labels.

Earlier I had been sitting in my chair, watching the water and the trees and a chirpy little sparrow. The sparrow was adorable, totally charming in that tiny bird way. It kept a fearless eye on the dogs, but it was much more interested in whatever it was finding in the dirt. It flew away and I thought, “What a miracle birds are.” Flight is so amazing. It’s incredible that they can just lift off and soar through the air. It’s not a new thought, I’ve had it many times before, often when seeing birds take off around the pond where I used to walk the dogs. And then one of the nasty biting bugs landed on my leg and I thought, “Hmm, I don’t think I ever think about bugs being a miracle. But they can fly, too.”

I waved the bug off and moved on, heading inside to figure out what I could eat for breakfast. The campground I was in was a first-come, first-served campground, and I was reluctant to pack up to make another grocery store run while weekend people were coming in. My spot was lovely, a mix of sun and shade, looking right out on the water, with a pretty view of an open field on the other side. It was also nice and flat with no major ruts or big muddy spots, easy to get to, and reasonably simple to access. In other words, I was afraid to leave it for fear I’d lose it. But food supplies were running low. Still, I made myself breakfast from the dregs of the fridge. And when it was ready, I took a picture of it, because it was very pretty.

salad photo

As I sat down to eat, I was thinking about reality and how we shape it with our words. Here’s a reality: my nectarine was bruised. I had to cut out the bruised bits. My cucumber was a tasteless grocery store purchase, no flavor at all. The radishes, from the farmer’s market two weekends ago, never tasted very good and were getting squishy. I threw the rest of them away when I was done with my salad. The carrots are the kind that seemed old the instant I opened the bag, slightly bitter and drying out. The salad greens are still remarkably nice given that they’re a week old, but they’re heavy on some grassy thing which I’m not nuts about. One of my three remaining eggs was cracked, so I had to throw it away. As a result, I only had one egg on my salad, so I could save the second one for later when I would be hungry again.

Here’s another reality: the egg was perfectly cooked and delicious. Still warm, it peeled easily and the yolk was exactly right. (Go, insta-pot!) I made a dressing to go on the salad that was fantastic — mayo that is gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, and dairy-free (aka, miracle mayo), plus olive oil, lemon juice and powdered ginger. It made the cucumbers delicious, the carrots tolerable, couldn’t help the radishes, was interesting on the nectarine, and was amazing on the egg and the greens. I didn’t quite lick the plate, but I ate every last bite of the whole salad, even the grassy stuff.

And maybe those thoughts about reality and how we shape it were the trigger for me being mean to myself, but before I could do more than take two or three nasty swipes at my choices and my character, I caught sight of the image at the top of this post. Such a bright color, almost like a California poppy. And the curves of the stalks are like petals on a flower.

But it’s a fungus. A fungus growing out of the picnic table where I was eating. Ick. Gross. And yet… it really was beautiful in the sunlight.

When my mean brain triggers, my eyes stop seeing the beauty around me. And in me, too. They start labeling: bugs, fungus, homeless.

It is a reality that I have moments when I feel homeless, not adventurous. Three weeks ago, I had a perfect last day in my house, and the memory is bittersweet right now. I miss my pool. I miss my shower. I desperately miss my high-speed, always-on Internet connection! And it’s painful to be homesick for a home that you never get to go back to.

But my mean brain is not running this show. It’s also a reality that I feel incredibly lucky. My salad was no different, no better than any salad I could have had a month ago at any time… but I appreciated it more. A shift of the kaleidoscope wheel and the pieces are the same but the picture is changed.

12 Aug

Spicy sweet potato hash

Spicy sweet potato hash

The dogs couldn’t believe I didn’t share. I always share sweet potatoes with them. But it was so good, I just kept eating and then… it was gone.

So, in the insta-pot (surprise!), cook one chopped up sweet potato on a rack with a cup of water at high pressure for 2 minutes. When it chimes, use the quick release to let the steam out.

Take the sweet potato out and dump the water, then turn the insta-pot to saute. When the screen says Hot, saute some chopped up bacon and 1/2 cup of onion until they’re cooked to your liking. I like my bacon crispy and my onions carmelized, but you could stop when the onions were translucent if you like them better that way.

Return the sweet potato to the pot, and add some chopped up fresh cilantro, and something to make it deliciously spicy. I used about a teaspoon of a spice mix from Trader Joe’s called Pilpelchuma, a blend of chili, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, and caraway. I considered using chili garlic sauce, but you could also use a jalapeño pepper or some sriracha, whatever suits your spiciness needs.

Mix the ingredients together and make a little nest in the pile. Carefully crack two eggs into the nest. Turn the insta-pot back on high-pressure and set the time for 1 minute. It will take a lot more than a minute for the insta-pot to reach the pressure level because there’s not a lot of water in there to create the steam, but eventually it will chime. Use the quick release button to let the steam out and then carefully lift it out, trying not to break the eggs.

Say yum.

Don’t share with your dogs, even if they give you pleading looks. Although come to think of it, if you made more, you might have leftovers and they’d be good, too. Honestly, if I had another sweet potato, I might make myself some more right now. It was that good.

It’s been incredibly hot. I don’t mind so much, but it’s impossible to go anywhere, because I’m not willing to leave the dogs alone in the van. Plugged in, with the AC on, we’re fine, but if I was relying on the generator… well, I’m just not that confident. I bought an alert system to let me know when the temp in the van gets too high, but I’m not so convinced of its reliability that I want to test it out in life-or-death weather. So we’re hanging out at the campground, I’m fiddling with Grace, and listening to a lot of country music. Life is good. And so is spicy sweet potato hash with poached eggs!

11 Aug

Small adventures

I had an adventure yesterday. I went to the grocery store.

Yes, that makes me laugh, too. But it sure felt like an adventure. Strange roads, following my GPS, managing the parking lot and running the generator and air-conditioner for the dogs, roaming the aisles of an unfamiliar store. I actually also stopped at a farm stand, run by a woman in Amish clothing, where I bought shallots and a squash and a cantaloupe.

I thought about going to a museum. According to Roadtrippers, the Agricultural and Industrial Museum was right down the road from the grocery store. (My Internet is so slow that I’m having trouble testing my links: apologies if those don’t work the way they should.) It felt like it would be virtuous to go to the museum, like it was something I should do.

But while I waited for my GPS to give me directions, I remembered two things. First, I’m not a tourist. My goal with living in Serenity is to have a simpler, more flexible life, not fill up my brain with factoids and miscellaneous places. I’m sure it’s a cool museum, but there’s no inherent virtue in adding another random place to my collection of inaccessible memories. Second, “should” is not the same as “want to.” When I took that mental step back, I realized that I’d really rather go back to the campground and sit under my awning and knit and think about Grace.

So I did.

Alas, nasty little stinging flies were chewing on my legs, so I didn’t last outside all that long. It lacks romance to admit that I retreated inside and hung out in the air-conditioned van for the rest of the day, but I did my Insta-Pot experimenting, some knitting, texted with friends, wrote a little and thought about resistance a lot.

If I was camping — say, on my one-week summer vacation from an office job, due back at work on Monday — I’d feel guilty for my wasted day. I could have been outside. I could have been kayaking. I could have been exploring the battlefields of Gettysburg, soaking in the history and tragedy of my location. But living in a camper is not the same as camping, and it wasn’t a wasted day.

In fact, today I think I will do pretty much the same thing. At the moment I’m sitting outside, listening to the noise of the bugs — so incredibly loud, beyond chorus levels and into rock symphonies — and watching the occasional wildlife. I’ve seen a chipmunk, so cute, squirrels and birds. I heard a big splash in the water, which gave me an instant surge of adrenaline before I remembered that murky water + splash doesn’t equal alligator in Pennsylvania. No idea what the splash was, but probably fish of some sort, since I didn’t see a bird. The flies are biting but not as badly as they were yesterday when it was hotter and I was sweatier.

My big adventure for today might be walking the dogs up to the field with the animals and seeing whether the brown creature I caught a glimpse of yesterday when I was driving in really is a baby alpaca.

Yesterday, I was joking with my friend Tim about facing the challenge of the grocery store. The thing is, going to the grocery store did feel like a challenge. I had to pack up Serenity for driving, unhook her from the electric and water, dump her tanks at the “sanitation station”, navigate unfamiliar roads, start the generator to run the AC to keep the dogs cool, check on my alert system for a temperature reading inside the van, park more carefully than I did… (I really need to remember that Serenity is tall — I again scraped her roof along trees, alas.) But it was exciting. And it was fun.

And I realized that I’m accomplishing (almost) exactly what I was vaguely, incoherently, hoping to accomplish. I’ve turned my life into an adventure, where even the small challenges, like going to the grocery store, require an eyes-wide-open approach, an appreciation of where I am and exactly what I am doing. My heart is beating. It’s a wonderful feeling.

It’ll be even better when I’m also writing again regularly. And that is going to happen. Maybe even today.

10 Aug

Insta-pot debate

I bought an Insta-Pot during the Amazon Prime summer sale days. It seemed like a good idea — I’d wanted one for a while and I figured it could replace my slow cooker and give me some additional functionality for life on the road. But when it came and I tried to fit it into Serenity, it started looking like an expensive mistake.

Not my first — I bought an Amazon Tap on impulse when I meant to buy a Dot and purchased a very expensive tire-pressure monitoring system before reading the manual and discovering that tire-pressure monitoring was built-in to the Dodge system. Oops.

Fortunately, those were easily returned, but the insta-pot decision wasn’t so clear. After all, I had wanted one and I do feel like I need a slow cooker. But it’s big. Really big. It doesn’t fit in the over-cab space (not that I would put something that potentially dangerous there anyway – death by Insta-Pot during a fast stop is not how I want to go.) It doesn’t fit in any of the cabinets or in the limited under-the-bed space. In fact, the only place I can store it is inside the wardrobe. Apart from that, it would have to sit out on the floor and that’s sort of the same problem as the overhead space — leaving heavy objects out to fly around the van while you’re driving is not the greatest idea. It probably wouldn’t kill me from the floor, but in a 50mph collision with B and the Insta-Pot, B would lose. Squashed dog would be heartbreaking.

So the question was: do I want to give up my precious wardrobe space to a pressure cooker? I decided to answer by trying the insta-pot out as quickly as possible.

The first thing I made was a lemon chicken recipe using chicken thighs. It was… eh. Acceptable, but I could bake chicken thighs in the convection oven just as easily and they would taste just as good, maybe better because they get crispy. Admittedly, they would take a lot longer and heat up the van a lot more, but still, the chicken thighs were not a selling point.

Next I tried hard-boiled eggs. Wow. It is incredibly easy to make absolutely perfect hard-boiled eggs using an Insta-Pot. Five minutes, no mess, no heating a pan over the propane stove, and the eggs were truly perfect, exactly the way I like them.

However, have I mentioned the preciousness of my wardrobe space? I need shoes, ones with toes, and a winter coat, and maybe some rain gear. All of those things, once I get them, are going to need to be stored somewhere. I’d like to try going to the occasional writer’s conference: that would require professional(-ish) attire, which again, would have to be stored somewhere. Cleaning supplies, the screen door for the back, towels, the shower curtain, dog food, tools… there is a lot of stuff competing for that precious, precious storage space. Perfect hard-boiled eggs are not good enough to warrant giving it up to a pot. A big pot.

Today, I decided to try again. I bought two bone-in chicken breasts at the store, figuring I could cook them, then use the bones to make a small amount of stock. But when I tried to find a recipe that made sense, I failed. I should have looked for the recipe before going to the store instead of after. Alas. But I’m used to having a lot of staple ingredients, including a fully stocked spice cabinet, on hand.

Of course, not having a recipe never deters me. I decided to improvise. I did wonder, while I was mixing up a marinade of Marie Sharp’s Exotic Sauce (which I brought from the house and need to use up), balsamic vinegar, a generous handful of cilantro, and several chopped shallots, whether I was setting up the Insta-Pot to fail. Talk about a random marinade! But I marinated the chicken in the above for an hour, then sautéed it for a few minutes on the saute setting, then added a little bit of chicken broth, probably 1/4 cup, and used the poultry setting to cook it. When it was done, I took it out, measured the liquid — about a cup — and cooked a cup of jasmine rice in a 1:1 ratio with the liquid.

But I couldn’t wait for the rice. The chicken smelled so good! I kept stealing tiny bites of it, trying to figure out why/how it was so delicious. Was it the exotic sauce? The cilantro? The chicken wasn’t overwhelmed by the marinade, but it was infused with the flavors of the other ingredients. I could taste them — a little bit of a tang, that green bitterness of cilantro, the subtle kick of shallots — in each bite of moist, falling apart, yet fully-cooked chicken. It was ridiculously good.

When the rice finished, I added some dried cranberries — which probably would have been even better if I’d added them during the cooking — and a sprinkle of salt and ate. And ate. And ate. I had to force myself to stop when I was past full because I kept wanting just one more bite. I can’t remember the last time I over-ate. Which is not a particularly good selling point in the insta-pot’s favor, really, but I don’t suppose I should blame it too much for that.

The debate’s not over for me: my fridge is not big enough to store lots of leftovers and I can’t freeze extra ingredients. I may eventually decide that a diet of mostly salads and cold foods just makes the most sense for life in a van. But oh, I do regret the time I spent wondering if an Insta-Pot was really worth $120. If you have the room to store it, the answer is yes, yes, yes. And if you follow that link above, the price (at the time I write this, anyway) is only $70. Totally worth it! (It’s not an affiliate link — I don’t get any money if you buy it — so if you know anyone who uses affiliate links on their site, go visit their site, find an Amazon link, follow the link and then search on Insta-Pot, so they’ll get a few dollars from the sale. Yes, I have been learning about affiliate links recently!)

In other news, I’m hanging out in Gettysburg. I failed to go to a museum of agriculture and industry today. I felt like I should, since I was close and I’m traveling and museums are worthwhile… and then I remembered that my goal with this life is not to be a tourist, but to live simply. And to write. So far the writing is not going well, but maybe being very well-fed will be inspirational. 🙂

08 Aug

Gettysburg Farm RV Resort

I can tell already that the campgrounds are going to blend together. Less than two weeks and I was struggling this morning to remember which one had the concrete pads, cracked and broken, with grass springing up in the ridges, and which one was like parking in a field. A nice field. With a lovely walk for the dogs. (Ans: St. John’s RV in St. Augustine for the first; Bass Lake in Dillon, North Carolina for the second.)

I don’t think I’ll forget today’s campground soon, though. There are goats! Lots and lots of baby goats, wandering around the driveway like they own the place. As, in fact, they might do. It’s a first-come, first-served campground, so after I picked my site, I wandered back up to the front to turn in a card with my site number on it. I brought the dogs, both because they needed the walk and because, like apparently a lot of campgrounds, one is not supposed to leave pets unattended. (I suspect I’m going to have to break that rule upon occasion, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.) We were headed back when we startled a little white and brown goat that had been browsing in the bushes by the mini-golf course. It bounced away like a Superball, surprising both dogs. Z looked mystified, but B was all set to charge after it.

B has been seriously rambunctious lately. It’s quite a surprise. I expected him to tolerate traveling while Z would like it, but Z’s been anxious while B’s energy level has skyrocketed. At my brother’s house, he was playing, chewing on a blanket that wasn’t his, mouthing my hands… not at all the “hide in closets” puppy that he used to be. Serenity has a screen door that I suspected would be no deterrent to Zelda if she saw a squirrel, but Bartleby was actually the one who barreled right through it — and for no other reason than that he thought it was time to be outside! He wasn’t chasing anything and he didn’t need to be walked, he just didn’t feel like being in the van so shoved his way out the door.

Or maybe he wanted to check out the campsite. I chose a spot that looks onto the water, and instead of pulling in or backing in, I parallel parked Serenity, so that she’s alongside the water. Well, I didn’t literally parallel-park. There was plenty of room, so I just pulled in as if I was parallel-parking. You can see the view from my window on instagram (because I am having trouble uploading files to wordpress.) Having trouble taking photos, too — my phone stopped letting me save photos, which is possibly the universe telling me that I shouldn’t bother? But it’s hard to resist the temptation.

So I’m going to be here for a week. It’s my first test of real life in Serenity. I’ve been living in her for two weeks already, but it doesn’t feel like it at all. It’s been two weeks of driving and learning and visiting family. I’ve felt busy and on the go. This is my chance to slow down, take some deep breaths, and get back to work. I wish I could say that the weeks in which I’ve not been writing have been inspiring me, the words piling up like water behind a log jam, but alas, such is not the case. I suspect I’m going to be off to a slow start. Still, better slow than not at all.

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