I could have posted this in my Travel Blog, but it really is more about our lifestyle than travel. We spend, on average, two weeks in each campground or resort we stay, meaning that about twice a month we have a travel day, moving our house to the next stop, sometimes taking three of four days to arrive (while boondocking at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels on those nights in between destinations). Often during these commutes, I have anxieties about our next stay. Here are some things I think about, in no particular order.
1. Availability and status of full hookup site
We belong to Thousand Trails so that we don't have out-of-pocket resort fees to worry about, but most of them are first-come, first-served, for full hookups, meaning that we may or may not find sewer or 50 amp electric hookups. This is important because without sewer, we can't shower more than once or use our toilet more than one week during our stay. It takes a couple hours to set up or break down camp, so even if there is a dump station on-site, it takes several hours and a lot of hassle to make use of it.
Last month we called ahead to confirm we could easily get a full-hookup site with at least some cell signal for Internet, which they assured us was the case. When we arrived, however, neither was available. We ended up passing up the resort and paying out of pocket for a private campground.
Often water pressure is an issue as well. We always keep our fresh water tank full in case there is little or no water from the park spigot.
2. Availability of cell coverage and Internet
Speaking of confirming Internet availability, both Nadyne and I work on the road, Nadyne remotely doing insurance agency accounting and me writing and marketing. Both of us require Internet and Nadyne must be able to speak to clients across the country, so early on we purchased a cell booster to give us a stronger cell signal and more reliable Internet, along with utilizing cell coverage from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Among the three service providers, we almost always have something we can use, but every once in a while, we don't. This was the case in the resort I mentioned earlier, where we only found two bars of coverage in one parking lot on one end of the park. You can't boost zero signal, so this was unacceptable and we had to move to another campground.
3. Parking difficulties
We don't have a massive RV, a 31' fifth wheel, but backing into some spaces requires time, energy and nerves of steel. Only once have I not been able to, eventually, get parked, but because of narrow sites, trees at the corners of the site entrance, narrow paths between rows of sites and close proximity to immovable park models, parking can be harrowing. In the case of the Palm Springs RV Resort, all four were problems. Add to that the situation where a truck or toad is partially blocking your path, whose owner can't be found, or the off-level nature of a site, There is a lot to dread about parking, even if we've been to a resort before.
4. Weather on the road
We are mobile and can move our fifth wheel when we know severe weather or flooding is imminent, but it's not always foreseeable. Since we are usually traveling hundreds of miles in any particular leg of a trip, forecasting isn't often reliable. My biggest concern is wind, which can greatly affect gas mileage at best and cause an accident at worst, not to mention risking expensive hail damage. We have been extremely fortunate to not have any serious weather issues in our first three years on the road, but it's something I actively worry about.
5. Satellite access
We are often in rural campgrounds without cable or over-the-air TV coverage so we invested in a Tailgater satellite dish and Dish TV service, along with a DVR. This has worked out great except that satellite dishes and trees don't play well together. The dish needs fairly unfettered access to the southern sky and the farther north you go, the more towards the true horizon it needs to see. In our current site in which we are parked beneath and among trees. I tried about fifteen locations around the rig until I found a spot in which the dish could see two out of the three satellites it normally uses. The only reason I was successful to that extent was because we're in Texas, where the dish must point in a fairly vertical direction in the sky. If we had been in Ohio, where it would point farther down for the signal, we wouldn't have any satellite TV at all.
6. Road hazards and clearances
We were in downtown Binghamton, NY, having no worries about our height and underpass clearance, since we utilize three different resources (including a trucker's guide) to check our route for low clearance bridges, etc., without any cautions. However, I turned left to enter an underpass and found myself face-to-face with a bright yellow sign warning of a 10' 11" bridge height. Our rig is 13' 4.5" tall, so that would have left a mark. Nadyne had to get out and stop traffic so that I could back out of the underpass entrance and turn around. We now have a brilliant yellow vest for her to wear in case that happens again.
I mentioned that we use three resources to check for clearance and my in-dash navigation system utilizes an app on my phone via Bluetooth to check for traffic and hazards, but no resource is foolproof, as we have found the hard way. East of the Mississippi, especially in New England, there are far more of these low bridges than out west, but really it's a national concern.
The road age and condition is itself a major concern, from coast to coast. The last time we were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the long duration of significant bumps actually broke one of the springs on the fifth wheel. Any rough road is bad for an RV's interior and joints. Prolonged travel on such highways can be like riding out a continuous earthquake, but even a single big bump can rearrange our contents.
7. Breakdowns and blowouts
Logging over 20,000 miles so far in 2020 means that the odds are against us. Eventually we will have a major breakdown or tire blowout on the road. To help mitigate this we installed a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), which has saved us a major tire issue twice since we starting using it. The first time a tire went flat after picking up a screw while traveling 60 mph, allowing us to pull over before a blowout ensued, and the other a slow leak developed in a brand new tire on a dirt and gravel road and we were able to get it repaired before a serious issue occurred. In both cases a disaster may have resulted and I worry about that happening, even with a commitment to the technology.
8. Being pet friendly and having unfortunate park rules
We have seen some overly aggressive park rules against pets and other uses of a campsite. We installed a doggie door flap in our rig's screen door. By setting up a small fence around our steps and giving our dogs both shaded and sunny areas on a mat and on dirt or grass, they can come and go and potty as needed. We never leave them in the pen without us being home and are always diligent about their barking while outside. Despite this, some parks forbid outdoor pens and even having pets on leashes without the owner's full participation and attention. While I understand the purpose of such an edict, it makes our lives difficult, as does restricting clothes lines under our awning, restricting noise at 7 pm, a 3 mph speed limit and other rules that some bad apples have forced into park codes.
9. Access to grocery shopping and gas stations
Having a refrigerator only one-third the size of a house fridge means having to shop for groceries more often, at least once per week. Staying in the boonies doesn't make this an easy chore and we have camped up to 50 miles from the nearest Walmart. Small local supermarkets (with "super" being a bit facetious) often have a much smaller stock and higher prices than a big chain store. Sometimes the rural market has fresh, locally-grown or raised food or delicious baked items, but usually it's just missing several items we're looking for. Not having gas stations nearby can also be an issue and requires a more thoughtful plan to stay filled up.
We don't experience these difficulties often, but enough to cause us trepidation, No matter how much advance research we do, some things just cannot be known until you are present, and that is a cause for concern every time we begin our travel day. If you have other worries, please feel free to post them in comments below.
Over the past several years, starting when we lived in Wichita and continuing now on the road, we've been putting out bird feeders. I thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the interesting photos I've taken at or near my feeders in a few locations. The first set is from our back yard in Wichita, Kansas. The next is from our front yard in Federal Heights, north of Denver, Colorado. The last two sets of photos are from campgrounds in Columbus and Lakehills, Texas, and Oregon House, California. It's great to think that we've been able to continue this really fun activity and I'm looking forward to seeing more and more varieties of birds as we explore the country.
Federal Heights, Colorado
Columbus and Lakehills, Texas
Oregon House, California
Nadyne and I have been living in our fifth wheel on the road for over two years now and the pandemic lockdown affected us almost immediately when it began in late March. With our Thousand Trails membership, we typically spend 2-3 weeks in a single park, the limit for the program, before moving on to the next resort. We were in the Brownsville, Texas, area when the stay-at-home orders began and were able to move as planned to Lakehills, Texas, near San Antonio.
Before our 2-week stay there was complete in mid-April, multiple states in the south and west shut down new arrivals in campgrounds and we were forced to stay in our park for a total of five weeks. By then Arizona, our next destination, had made campgrounds “essential businesses” and we packed up and left the park on April 30th.
We boondocked at a Walmart overnight in El Paso on our way to the Sedona, AZ, area, common for us on an extra-long drive between parks. That night we received a notification from Thousand Trails that our reservation had been cancelled and all of their parks in Arizona would not be accepting new reservations. They suggested we continue to stay in place in Lakehills, but of course we were now nine hours from that park.
To show the confusion at the time, all of the ten or so RV campgrounds in Arizona told us we could come there and stay, and that there were no restrictions in Arizona for new reservations. Another call to Thousand Trails resulting in their reaffirming their decision, which I have since been told that it was due to a confusion of what counties had been telling them.
We decided on a high-elevation park in Williams, the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” where at least it was cooler than in other Arizona towns. Nadyne grew up in Arizona and we had been hoping to visit many of her old stomping grounds, friends and family. With most businesses and public lands closed down, we had to be content to stay in the campground without visiting anyone or doing anything.
Thousand Trails relaxed the restrictions during our two expensive weeks in Williams (at Thousand Trails parks we pay no out of pocket fees), and we were able to basically continue a revamped itinerary. We normally have our schedule planned 9 to 12 months ahead, and when the pandemic hit, we scrapped everything and started over with a short time-frame, up to a couple of months in advance.
There is basically no safer place to travel in a pandemic than in an RV. It is fully contained and once parked, social distancing is pretty much built in. Almost all campgrounds have closed their public areas, such as pavilions, clubhouses, snack bars, etc., and unless you visit people in their campsites, you aren’t liable to be within six feet of anyone. Since most RV’ers are strangers to each other, this is a fairly normal lifestyle for us.
One way we have been meeting people is through an online social community called RVillage with over 250,000 members of RV and nomadic lifestyle enthusiasts. All last year we arranged meetups among us RVillagers that happen to be in close proximity, starting about once per month at a brewery, pub or restaurant, and we enjoyed hosting them so much, by the end of the year we were having them every other week. We were still doing them in March when the pandemic restrictions began and have been making the best of it by using Zoom to host virtual dinner and cocktail parties instead.
I asked Curtis Coleman, founder and CEO of RVillage, to express how the pandemic has affected his community and how RVillage has been able to operate during these difficult times. He sent me the following:
Curtis and his excellent staff have become an even greater resource since the lockdown began, even arranging with a large venue in Florida to make sites available to any member having trouble making reservations in states that have not been RV-friendly.
This led me to wonder what the effect those state-mandated restrictions and social distancing might be on popular RV-based YouTube channels. I reached out to a couple we have been following for quite a while, Tom and Cheri from EnjoyTheJourney.life, and asked what effect, if any, the pandemic has had on their travel and YouTube activities. Tom replied:
My own writing has both improved and taken a hit. It has been emotionally draining to be self-quarantined for so long, over three months now, in 300 square feet of living space and nowhere to visit except from the cab of my pickup. Those sightseeing trips have been our saving grace, exploring vast areas of the eastern Arizona mountains, the eastern Sierra Nevadas and even a now-open Lassen Volcanic National Park. But many historic towns like Jerome, AZ, or Virginia City, NV, either have been crowded with mask-less tourists and not worth the risk or mostly closed down.
My latest Pat Ruger novel has only been getting written in small spurts, still not half complete, and it is difficult to get some quality writing accomplished amid the pandemic, protests and politics happening seemingly around the clock right now. I have rewritten several chapters as I’m still struggling with focus on this longer-term project. Conversely, my blogs and photography have been coming along fairly well, and I’ve even begun to make and post videos for my website.
RVLove is a couple, Marc and Julie Bennett, whose travel-related business has expanded from their YouTube channel and writing a successful RV-travel guide to hosting online training and other virtual get-togethers. They had this to say:
It certainly sounds like the RV industry is handling COVID-19 well. When self-quarantining and non-essential businesses were shut down in March, RV manufacturers stopped building new units, and now that the country has realized that RV travel can be a reprieve in the pandemic, sales of existing stock have increased substantially. I have heard of new RV inventory on sales lots being very low and prices have skyrocketed as demand has risen. Per MSN this week:
As I wrote in my first blog post about the pandemic, “Pandemic Difficulties for Full-Time RV'ers”:
Now that we’ve been experiencing it for a few months, our biggest problem on the road during the pandemic has been our lack of proximity to grocery stores and, therefore, the absence of delivery services available. We have been no closer than 30 miles to a Walmart Superstore or other national grocery chain since the self-quarantine orders began.
Regardless of whether you like or believe in wearing masks for helping control the spread of COVID-19, for people who are high-risk for serious symptoms if infected, such as myself with asthma, it is frightening to walk up to a Walmart or Home Depot filled with people without masks. Also, our RV refrigerator is 10 cu. Ft., including the freezer, so we can’t physically store two weeks’ worth of groceries. That means shortages can affect us more and we have to risk infection more often than most.
Still, we’re getting through it, washing our hands between shopping trips and gassing up, socially distancing at all times, wearing masks in public areas, and using drive-thru’s and thinly-attended outdoor spaces when eating out. We are preparing for a second wave in the fall, as some scientists are predicting, and looking forward to the pandemic being behind us. With the RV-related YouTubers and communities providing an occasional respite from the reality of life on the road during these times, the future seems bright in the long run.
We were already in Texas when the pandemic hit the point of social distancing and sheltering in place. Fortunately we made it out of Louisiana before Texas closed the border to travelers from that neighboring state. We were able to extend our stay in our present campground, bringing the length of stay to 33 days from our normal of 14-21. So, we're safe and sound until the first of May.
There are over one million full-time RV'ers and a great percentage of us live only in our RV, with no sticks-and-bricks house or land to call our home base. This makes the closing statewide of all campgrounds a real concern, as Iowa, Maine and other clueless states have done. They either see RV camping as strictly recreational or a source for contaminated out-of-state visitors. Congrats to Alabama, Delaware and other states that have designated private RV parks as essential businesses so they can stay open.
The truth is that RV's are made for quarantines. They are self-contained, and with proper hook-ups, people can remain isolated in them for long periods of time, and are less likely than the general population in concentrated cities of being infected. Regardless of whether they are coming from out-of-state, full-timers are considered safe travelers, especially since social distancing rules have been in effect.
What could we do if the majority of states were to close all public and private campgrounds? RV's in the states that have closed were made to leave their parks. With no regular home to go, where would they go if no other campgrounds were open? I can only imagine what parking lots and vacant lots would look like, let alone what would happen to their waste tanks. It could be quite unsanitary. States need to wake up and consider full-timers as equal citizens in this open country and make allowances. Closing parks does not reduce risk from spreading infection, it increases the risk of unsanitary conditions on a widespread scale.
There's a private toll on us full-timers, though. Without friends and family nearby, life on the road can be lonely during the best of times. We strive to combat these feelings by meeting up with fellow RV'ers, participating in RV resort activities, trying local cuisine and enjoying the nightlife that changes so vividly from town to town. These have all been taken away with non-essential businesses closed and social distancing in place. Activities, restaurants and sports bars have all been closed and although Skype or Zoom gatherings happen, they are often lacking in the one-on-one interaction that is so satisfying.
One of the reasons we booked our stay in the Corpus Christie and Brownsville areas was so that we could explore and I could take photos throughout Padre Island. When we showed up during a drive a couple of weeks ago (after spring break was over) all beach access was barricaded. Now, I understand, the road to the beaches has been closed.
Lack of groceries is another huge issue for full-time RV'ers. We don't have the storage space for stockpiling TP and paper towels. We don't have room in the freezer to stock up on meat or in the refrigerator for perishables. If we can't find something in the store, it's a problem that's not easily solved. We just don't have the reserves.
Nadyne and I are fortunate to have been best friends before we married and there hasn't been much strain to our relationship. But that's not true for everyone. Most RV's have between 150 and 400 square feet of living space. Normally the outdoors provides enough extra expanse so that cramped quarters isn't an issue. But force everyone indoors... well, it might not be pretty.
So far, the pandemic seems to be nearing its peak and hopefully we will be allowed to travel to our next destination in Arizona when April ends.
If you have specific issues I didn't discuss here, by all means please add your comment below.
If you have been following our travels, you may already realize that we managed to visit America's "five corners" (Southwest California, Northwest Washington State, Northeast Maine, Key West and the Brownsville/Padre Islands area of Texas, the latter of which we are currently enjoying. I think since leaving Colorado two years ago and living full-time in our fifth wheel, we have visited 32 states. But this is not a travel post, nor is it one of my "Reasons to be Happy."
One underlying theme across every state we've seen the past two years is the obvious distress or demise of America's small towns. At one time, soon after the Interstate Highway System was built over 50 years ago, there was a migration to the suburbs from the many urban jungles. Now there's a great migration away from small towns for a variety of reasons.
Nadyne has lived in a few tiny villages, mostly in Arizona. I grew up in the Los Angeles area but spent many years in Eastern Washington State, where I used to enjoy outings to hamlets throughout the Cascade mountains. Enjoying regional museums and cute Main Street storefronts has always been an enjoyable diversion for both of us.
Most successful small towns have one of two advantages. First would be a natural feature that feeds a large tourism economy, such as Yellowstone or Arches National Parks. The other would be a major employer that keeps the bulk of its citizens working. In each case, the dependent town often has all their eggs in one basket. If a natural phenomenon stops enthralling the public or is lost due to a catastrophe, the small town's workforce must find other sources of income. Likewise, purely out of the control of a nearby town, a corporation can close down or move a facility, leaving workers scrambling. These towns cannot sustain their basket disappearing and a blight replaces the thriving business they once enjoyed.
In town after town we've seen Main Streets with 50%-90% of the shops closed and boarded up. Towns often don't have the legal right or the financial ability to keep their primary storefront avenues looking presentable, so they are usually shabby and unseemly. Just outside of town, one can witness nature reclaiming large warehouses, factories, farmhouses, barns and smaller box stores. It's a snowball of major proportion rolling down from the economic hilltop.
Worse, the neighborhoods in and around these towns can be extraordinarily poor. Often we are amazed when what looked like an abandoned or even condemned house with overgrown hedges and grass sported a satellite dish, a late model car and sometimes newer plastic toys strewn about in the back yard. In one section of Louisiana, these were the majority of neighborhoods.
When we lived in Western New York a couple of decades ago, one of our weekend pastimes was driving to and strolling through quaint bergs scattered throughout the state. "Main Street USA" funding had helped rebuild and enhance old downtowns and they were a pleasure to visit. After moving to Kansas, our jaunts through the countryside regularly brought us to villages obviously in the beginning stages of financial struggle. It wasn't until the past two years of travel, however, that we saw the almost incomprehensible scope of the problem.
The scourge doesn't have to continue. Major funding or tax incentives are awarded to large corporations and mid-size businesses all the time. At some point a governor may see to it some are spent to support their declining towns. Circumstances may be be cyclical and a rush back out of crowded cities might be the next large population migration. Retired communities, which do not need active jobs to survive, might sprout where dilapidated towns used to sit.
We can only hope that the unique style of living that small towns can provide will draw residents and be thriving communities once more.
It is with a heavy heart that I confirm my observations of the past two decades -- the death of non-partisan politics is official. Time of death, 8:00 pm EST, November 8, 2008. The election of our 44th President, Barack Obama, signaled the beginning of the end of non-partisanship and the election eight years later of Donald Trump dropped the last shovel-full of dirt on its grave.
Before I explain my reasoning, let me say that I rarely publicly delve into politics online, since I am primarily using my social media presence to market my poetry, novels, blogs and photography. Being seen as a Trump-lover or Trump-hater does me no good, nor did I love or hate Obama. Any of these could alienate half my target audience. In addition, I am not a political expert nor do I desire to become one. However, I am a human being and an American, and what has happened in US politics is disheartening.
I am not Republican nor Democrat as neither have enough "planks" in their platforms to represent my feelings and beliefs. These planks, or political ideals, used to be decided upon by each party's constituents. That is no longer the case, as only ten states still caucus, the now-archaic method of choosing political party nominees and platform planks. Interestingly, back when Washington State held caucuses, I was up for election to become a Republican delegate and I lost that election because I couldn't truthfully state that I could vote for faith-healer and 700 Club profiteer Pat Robertson if he were to become Washington's presidential nominee. Robertson did win that nomination but in no other states besides Washington, so that was a waste of Washington's electoral votes.
A party's platform is now determined by the candidates themselves, and they pander to and receive funding from the groups and Political Action Committees (PAC's and Super-PAC's) who are promoting any particular opinion. For example, the religious right has several organizations who are dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade and will give large amounts of money and other backing to any candidate that promises to move that ideal forward once elected. There are just about as many groups and PAC's who espouse the concept of "women's right to choose" and equally fund the candidates who promise to fight any attempt of overturning that landmark decision. Polls regularly show that 65-69% of Americans want the decision to stand, but since there are only two parties equally funded for and against the court decision, there will continue to be a deadlock. Despite ramifications for or against, this is an example of how most political ideals have fared since non-partisan politics died.
That's why there hasn't been political negotiation or crossing of party lines except in rare cases. Today's politicians were elected with a huge number of ideals to champion and almost no vote is on a topic outside of those promises.
Alas, because I have now explained that I try to be politically non-committed in public, I'll probably be ridiculed from both sides of the aisle.
As the oldest of seven kids and having several children and grandchildren frequently showing off, well, let’s just say it takes a lot to impress me. Oliver Mars, a duo of dedicated musicians, does just that. Not too many duets can create the sound and complexity of a six-piece band, and this funky band provides entertaining chord progressions, synthesized sounds and elaborate vocals to create an interesting, if not hypnotic, experience. The principals of Oliver Mars, Jade Nelson and Kaitlyn Mahoney, are also creating a love story.
Jade is a Colorado native, though he spent a couple of his childhood years in Belize, and came from a family of musicians. He was making music before he could walk, and his repertoire grew though his teenage years. When accepted into a prestigious Denver school, he and his parents bought the nickel and silver cannonball sax he still uses today. He formed his first band when he was just 23.
Kaitlyn took a more common route to music, having played different instruments and sung through her St. Louis high school years. It was there that her interest grew to what she knew she would be doing the rest of her life: pursuing her own sound and perfecting her vocal performance.
Jade and Kaitlyn met in the spring of 2016. They fell in love fast, and moved in with each other in Denver and formed a new band within a month of meeting. They played together in several Denver area bands, including the Lincoln Street Project and The Dusty Butts. They moved to St. Louis in 2018, where they started Oliver Mars, and became engaged in 2019 during a visit to Amsterdam. They plan to marry in the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. The band’s moniker came from adding his cat’s name to that of her black lab.
As I mentioned, they write all of their own music and play all of it together, utilizing both of their abilities to play multiple instruments. Incredibly, with the aid of various loop pedals they are able to create the illusion of a larger band. They are in the process of releasing their first album, Synesthetic Symphony, and are touring the St. Louis music scene, playing their new sound for their fans.
It’s not just their story that I appreciate. I am not a musician, nor an expert in the field (but I’m pretty good in karaoke), but I especially admire real, live, gifted artists. I would describe their sound as a blend of jazz and experimental music. Their songs available online are a good mix of both.
Hesitate (Assimilate) uses repetition and hip-hop variations to create a mesmerizing canticle. It is quite different and more modern than most of their recordings.
Anthem is more traditional jazz, reminding me of the sound coming from smoky coffee houses in the 60’s, a very experimental era in that genre.
Enter is bit more empirical than some of the other tracks, with a jagged intro settling into a repeated, friendly vibe.
Another nice blend of a sax melody and synthesized instrumentation can be found in BUTTERFLY, which transitions to piano just before its finish.
I get a Herb Alpert vibe from Sax Over Board. I like how it starts softly and slowly evolves into a simple chorus.
Getaway is the opposite; it starts fast and finishes with a mild musical refrain.
I am so happy that I happened across this creative couple and have been enjoying their artistic endeavors. I think they could benefit from a good producer, one who could enhance their work and give a third professional voice to the process. Regardless of where their professional careers take them, I’m certain I'll be seeing them exceeding their own expectations and achieving artistic and personal success.
You can listen to their music free on their website, olivermars.com, or download songs for a small fee.
The single largest issue with the book industry is that readers are deluged with mostly mediocre work by a myriad of self-published writers.
How is an author to know if they are any good? Readers flock to receive free books, seemingly addicted to free reading, and move on to get more, no matter how much they enjoyed the read, and never leaving reviews. Traditional publishers are no longer able to find and sign excellent authors among the millions of pedestrian writers on the market, and it seems as though they aren't all that interested anyway, unless the work is from a celebrity.
I have sold and given away thousands copies of my books 1 and 2 (with only a few dozen reviews left on Amazon), spent a ton of cash building a mailing list and countless hours creating and sending out newsletters and notices. After publishing seven novels in five years, I still only make about 10% more than I spend on advertising. I have recently cut that back with the expected results. Social media is filled with authors connecting with other authors, or with companies selling book promotion services, when what we really need are readers.
I am going to write and publish books 8 and 9 of my Pat Ruger Mystery Series in the next several months and I'll continue to send out interesting (hopefully) newsletters each month. But I'm starting to feel a bit hopeless that the market will ever come around for me. After book 9, I will have to decide what comes next. Will I finally be able to carve out a niche in the mystery genre? How much money should I spend to promote my work? Should I see what genres are selling and abandon my modest mystery reader base or continue to tell the stories I want to tell? What if I'm just not that good, no matter what my loyal fans say?
I lament this industry, but it's not like it was ever easy. Carrie by Stephen King was rejected thirty times before it was published, and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times. Even Harry Potter was rejected. But now it's an impossibility to land a book contract unless you are already famous (or have a million Instagram or Youtube followers).
Don't worry -- one really good month of sales will cheer me up.
Those that follow me on Facebook know that Nadyne and I had to have our Cairn Terrier, Lucy, put to sleep this past week. About three weeks earlier, she had shown some symptoms of something wrong, but at that point we chalked them up to her older age. She was twelve years old and of a breed that has a 12- to 15-year average lifespan. Having her thumb her nose at dinner, something that was one of her favorite things in the world, was concerning. But she did eat her food later in the evening, so we thought maybe she changed her mind about liking that particular brand of dogfood. She had done that before with different treats and dry food. We changed brands but she didn't seem to like those either. Then she started eating again.
When she started to throw up her food a few days later, we thought that she had a bug, something that feeding her chicken and rice had resolved in the past. It didn't this time. We were camping in "The Middle of Nowhere," Wyoming, and decided to cut our stay short so we could have her examined in Wichita, our next stop. In the meantime, things seemed to get back to normal and we held off having her seen until symptoms returned. When they did, we took her to a vet and x-rays showed a mass growing in her abdomen. They recommended surgery, about $5,000, with no realistic reason for optimism. On top of that, they would keep her in the hospital alone over the Labor Day weekend before they could further assess her. We decided to keep and watch her while we cancelled our next stop in rural Illinois and moved up our stop in Michigan near civilization, in case things got worse. They did.
We took Lucy in for a second opinion, which resulted in a terrible choice of having her put to sleep painlessly or risk a rupture of the mass and having her bleed out in excruciating pain. Her advanced age for a Cairn meant she likely would not recover well from any major surgery and there was little hope for a better outcome regardless. The doctor whole-heartedly supported our decision and cried along side of us while the drugs took effect.
Nadyne and I hadn't cried this much and this long for any human we've known, even parents. I suspect if we had lost a child, the pain would have been comparable. Someone that loved us unconditionally and who required our care to survive was looking for us to make her pain and discomfort go away. Instead we had to make the terrible choice, the only choice we could make.
It's obvious that even knowing that you did the right thing doesn't help heal you emotionally. Only time can do that, a lot of time. I remember the lyrics from Mr. Bojangles: "His dog up and died, he up and died, and after twenty years he still grieves." Most people we have talked to that have lost beloved pets fall into this category. Maybe it's worse for us that Lucy was our only pet when all of this occurred, but Lucy would not allow another dog in the house. When we tried, we ended up re-homing the interloper, twice. Other couples with multiple dogs seem to be able to recover more readily. At least that the way it feels.
Lucy had an interesting life. She was born in Wichita, Kansas, to a family that didn't want her on top of the family Boxers they already had. We hadn't intended on a long-haired dog but went to meet her anyway and it was love at first sight for her and us. She came home and we started her adventure. She was house-trained but very quickly learned to potty on command and we knew she was very smart. Eventually she learned the meanings of a couple hundred words, which was sometimes difficult for us.
At that time we were both working and Lucy was home alone all day. We felt like a companion might make this time better for her and adopted a young blonde girl, a miniature schnauser mix. Bella was a sweatheart but Lucy just wouldn't have it. She pouted and became depressed, and after a few weeks when she stopped doing anything with us, we decided it was time to re-home Bella. After a few months the pound called that they had found Bella and we picked her up and tried again. Again Lucy became depressed. The second time we re-homed Bella, it stuck and Lucy was happy again as the queen of the house.
I am an avid photographer and Lucy got to smell the odors of a hundred locations in Kansas before we moved to Colorado. There we bought and began camping in a fifth wheel and she experienced many more new locales. In Denver, she also got to have her daily chase of the local squirrels, running all day from front deck to back yard and back again, almost from sun up to sun down. We had to increase her food because the sheer activity was making her lose too much weight.
Twice a year, at her birthday (the same day as mine in September, we decided) and at Christmas, one of her all-time favorite activities- opening presents. We would buy toys and treats and wrap them in tissue paper, then one at a time, she would exitedly open them and hoard her haul. I never saw such glee on a dog's face before that. She was so intelligent that she could tell when her holiday was approaching when we started removing the older toys from her stash.
In April, 2018, we sold our house and moved into our fifth wheel, hitting the road permanently. Lucy was never a fan of riding in the truck and, despite our hopes, she never did get used to it. At each campsite, where we could, I put up a large pen with three wire fence sections, about 36 feet in overall length, making a fenced area of about 10' by 12', and installed a doggy door in our screen door. That meant Lucy could go outside anytime the outside door was open, and she was outside nearly every minute the weather was nice. Since she disliked car travel so much, we were happy we were able to compensate for that, at least in part. We circled the country and half way again before she passed. She personally set foot in 30 states, and I can't imagine how big her sensual database of smells must have been.
We will survive. We are looking into adopting rescue dogs, hopefully this time a pair, and some of the void we feel can be lessened. We don't expect any dog to replace Lucy, but we can love them and remember her.
Her are a few photos of Lucy from throughout her life:
Keep checking back. I'll be adding photos and videos as I come across the,...
There are many aspects to bucket lists, and some of those are morbid to contemplate. Literally a bucket list is a checklist of things to do or see before you die. It’s sad to think finances and circumstances probably won’t allow me to complete my list. I have always wanted to spend quality time in Tuscany, the Greece Islands and Australia. Speeding through the Italian countryside in a bright red Lamborghini won’t happen. Ditto a month-long cruise through the Panama Canal. I’ve always wanted to vacation in a hut sitting over the water in Tahiti. It is extremely unlikely that my lyrics will ever be recorded by a famous singer.
That all said, sad as that might seem, I’ve done most of the rest of the items on my list. I drove down Lombard Street in San Francisco (check). I took photos of the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park (check). I’m living full-time in an RV (check), photographed the Oregon coast (check) and walked through Times Square in New York City (check). Next week we will be on our bucket-list cruise to Alaska and I have been to Hawaii twice (check). I wrote and published a novel (now seven of them- check) and was the number one best-selling author for a day on Amazon (I’ve done that a few times now- check). I bowled an 800 series (check) and have sat in or near the front row at concerts by the Moody Blues, Crosby Stills & Nash and the Alan Parsons Project.
Possibles on my bucket list include visiting Kilauea on the Big Island in Hawaii, camping in our RV in the Florida Keys, taking photos in Yellowstone National Park and experience a full lunar eclipse in person.
The way I see it, unless I come up with a new bucket list, I’ll have done everything on my list that I can possibly do with many years of life ahead of me. The problem is that there are common things on many bucket lists that I just don’t have that much interest in, if at all, or if I was interested, it just wouldn’t disappoint me all that much if I never did them. Examples might be skydiving or zip lining. I have no interest in the former and don’t care all that much about the latter.
So, I could use some help. What are things you would suggest to add to my bucket list that won’t be overly expensive and that I might not have considered before? Many items on “amazing” bucket lists online just don’t seem all that interesting to me. Explore a cave? Maybe. Airboat on the Everglades? Done it. Start a company? Done it. Ditto going on a Caribbean cruise. Be a guest on a talk show? I’ll probably do this but I'm not really looking forward to it. Learning to play the piano or become a private pilot are not options either.
What am I missing?
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,