Cleaning Days

mom-funny-quoteSaturdays often remind me of my childhood. This beautiful Saturday morning is no different. Growing up, Saturdays were cleaning days.

Like most families, it took both my parents working to make ends meet. Dad would work day shift and mom would work nights. They alternated their work shifts, so we wouldn’t have to be with a sitter for an extended period of time. My Mom would drop us off at the babysitter’s house before heading on to work. About an hour later, Dad would pick us up before taking us home again. My parents always put me and my sister first.

On this beautiful Saturday, I’m reminded of these earlier days. I had a wonderful childhood.

What I hated – what I could have done without was our Saturday cleaning days.

On cleaning days, our loving home became a war zone. Dirt and mess and chaos were the enemy. It was my Mom’s personal mission to eliminate and destroy any filth that may have built up during the week. Nothing was safe from inspection and her Saturday cleaning regime – she cleaned under furniture, scoured the fridge, washed curtains, scrubbed walls, shampooed rugs, organized closets, and went through every bedroom.

These Saturdays were a day of trouble for me and my sister. It never failed, our bedrooms were never up to par. Truth be told, we were sloppy. It’s almost as if we delighted in creating chaos.Thinking back, I remember a few of our worst infractions – a raw egg cracked open and left to dry on my sister’s plastic kitchen stove, every toy and book we owned torn out littering the floor of our bedroom leaving anyone entering or exiting our room the distinct pleasure of taking their life in their own hands, walls decorated with drawings in bright colors of crayon, a broken closet bar rod that we used to swing on.

It wasn’t until I became older that I began to learn. Cleaning my room while Mom was busy systematically scouring the rest of the house cooled her wrath. It kept me out of my Mom’s hair and saved me a scolding or a restriction. Being a kid, my room was never quite up to her standards, but my efforts helped.

I tried sharing this trick with my little sister. Although, she never quite learned. Her and Mom would continue to war over the sheer disaster that was her room.

Saturday cleaning days were the bane of my existence. However, I must admit there was no better feeling than the one I would get after we’d weathered the storm of a cleaning day. After the day was done and the house was sparkling clean, I’d be filled with a sense of calm relief. I’d lay in my fresh laundered bed listening to the sounds of my quiet house, happy to be done with another cleaning day. As I would slowly drift off to sleep, I’d think about what Sunday would hold. Sundays were our family’s fun day.

House, work, kids, and marriage – my Mom juggled it all. Dad was always there too, but Mom ran our ship. To this day, I don’t know how she managed it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perfection in a Bowl

 

 

PhoRarely captured, perfection is fleeting. Few and far between, perfect moments leave a lasting impression.

It has been nearly ten years, but I remember the afternoon perfectly. It was soggy. Rain had surged in making for a wet, damp day. This was nothing new or unexpected. Washington State averages 147 days of rainfall a year.

Josh and I were work friends. We were as tight as any two work friends could be. It had been a crazy day, and we were in need of a break. Grabbing lunch was the perfect opportunity. Josh wanted Pho. He was coming down with a cold, and hoped the soup would help ward off his cold before it really set in. I’d never heard of Pho, but I was up for an adventure.

As luck would have it, the restaurant wasn’t too far from work. Walking through the door, we were greeted by delicious aromas. Sitting down, we were served tea and water as we looked over the menu.

Knowing what he wanted, Josh put his menu aside. Looking over the selections, I felt my apprehensions grow. I was starving, but nothing captured my attention. Seeing my struggle, Josh urged me to just have what he was getting. He assured me I would love it. Nodding in agreement, I warned him it had better be good. I was starving. He laughed, and told me not to worry. He ordered us each a bowl of chicken Pho and an appetizer of spring rolls to share.

The spring rolls came first. The translucent paper thin skin of the roll showcased large plump shrimp, glass noodles, and slivers of cabbage. They were delicious. Although, I must admit I didn’t care for the peanut sauce accompanying them. It was too sweet for my liking. Preferring a little spice, I dipped mine in a little Sriracha sauce. While we ate our spring rolls, the waiter brought us a platter of Pho garnishments: lime wedges, fresh jalapeno slices, bean sprouts, and Thai basil. The rest of our lunch took no time at all, and soon the waiter set before us two large bowls brimming with a scrumptious broth, meaty hunks of chicken, and rice noodles.

Unsure of what to do, I watched my friend. Adding the garnishments to his soup, Josh told me everyone has their own preferences for Pho. This being my first time, I thought it best if I simply try it his way. Copying him, I squeeze one of the limes releasing the juice into my broth, float two fresh jalapeno slices into my soup,  before topping it off with several bean sprouts. He warns me that the jalapeno’s will heat up my soup. Not as brave as him, I forgo the chopsticks. Only on our lunch break, I didn’t want to slop Pho down the front of my suit.

Spooning up a bit of broth, I took my first taste and find perfection. Perfection in a bowl of Pho.

Daily Prompt

Seeking Solitude

TypeWriter ImageThe outside world looms larger than life. The television blares. People talk and laugh. A car alarm sounds off. A dog barks.It is in moments like these when I struggle. All, I want is a moment of quiet where I can become lost within my own mind, focus on my thoughts, and capture the story running through the recesses of my mind.

Quieting my exterior, I immerse myself in my writing. Pounding away at the keyboard, I have somehow effectively managed to remove myself from the life happening around me.

It’s time. I am ready to converse and laugh, but the silence is deafening. My world is quiet. Everyone around me seems to be submersed in their own activities. Restless, I prowl about. Like a precocious two year old, I want to throw a fit and harass my family into paying attention to me.

It’s a fine line to walk. As a traveler and a writer, I have a need to experience life. I have a need to – feel the wind on my face,  experience the stifling muggy heat of Virginia, smell the dank mustiness of an earthy farm, hear the story of the woman who works at the five and dime store, suffer through the agony of defeat, wade in the waves crashing against the pristine white shores of the sandy Florida beaches, laugh until I cry, navigate my way along the hustling city streets of New York, and to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I have a need to do it all, to see it all, to experience it all.

I’ve had enough. Bursting at the seams, I’m ready to implode. My body needs rest and my mind needs relief. Armed with my laptop, I squire away. I’ll be better once I spend the next few hours, days, or possibly weeks pounding away at the keyboard.

Daily Prompt

 

 

Homeless America

Do you ever worry it could happen to you? I never used to, but I do now. My eyes were pried open when I began traveling the United States.

Homelessness isn’t an allusive problem, but a reality. It is no longer a problem that exists somewhere, out there. From the smallest of towns to the largest cities, homelessness is steadily becoming more prevalent.

Look around. Do you see it? Has it made its way to your town – to your neighborhood?

Anacortes, Washington:

During the summer months, tourists can be seen milling about the town moving from shop to shop. Once little more than a fishing village, Anacortes evolved over the years into a prosperous town thanks to the tourist industry. Ideally located on Fidalgo Island, Anacortes is the gateway to the San Juan Islands.

Commercial fishing boats can still be found docked at the Cap Sante Marina, but pleasure boats are now the majority. Sadly, the fishing industry has diminished over the year as costs and regulations have increased.

It was in this little, scenic seaport town that we met Perry.

Driving along R Avenue, we were headed down to the docks when we drove past a man slowly making his way down the sidewalk while pulling a metal cart behind him. The cart seemed to be filled with all his worldly possessions. Scuffed and worn, he looked like he’d seen better days.

Pulling off the road, I rolled down my window and offered him some money.

Smiling, he softly shook his head. “While I appreciate your generosity, I never accept something without giving something in return. Will you give me a second?”

Mildly surprised, I nodded in agreement.

Turning to his cart, he dug through it until he found what he was looking for.

Smiling, he held out a baby carriage for me, he’d built out of a beer can. “I saw your little one in the back, and thought you might like this. Be careful, don’t let her play with it. The edges are sharp.”

Taking the carriage, I admired his work. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”

Visiting for a few minutes before parting ways, I learned that Perry had made the streets of Anacortes his home for the last three years. He loved the area, but would like to move somewhere a little warmer. The damp winters make his arthritis act up.

Washington DC:

Home to the President of the United States, Washington D.C. is a beautiful hustling city that lies along the Potomac River. Well-known for its monuments, museums, and galleries, the city is rich in culture. However, it is also well-known for its homeless problem.

It is here in our Nation’s Capital that 12,215 people were found to be homeless on January 28, 2016, by the COG Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee.

The problem is only too evident when you drive through the city. Tents and tarps set up under a bridge create a temporary community. This makeshift tent city is one of hundreds popping up around the United States.

Orlando, Florida:

This past Christmas was our first on the road. We spent our holiday season at Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake in Orlando, Florida. A hundred and eighty-three acres of rich green land adjacent to beautiful Turkey Lake, the park was a lovely change from the cold Alaskan Christmas we had experienced the previous year.

Exploring Orlando and the surrounding areas, we spent approximately a month at the park. While there, we came to meet a nice young family who also happened to be staying there. On the surface, their family appears similar to mine. Like us, they are a family of five and they are a mobile. However, that is where the similarities seem to end.

We are an extended family with grandparents, parent, and two teenagers. We made a conscious choice to give up our stationary lives and adopt a nomadic traveling lifestyle. Our home is a thirty-four foot RV that we navigate around the highways and back roads of the United States. We live doing what we please.

They are a traditional family with a father, mother, and three young girls. Their mobile life isn’t by choice. They are a homeless family who primarily live out of their car. They expand their home to include a small tent when they are fortunate enough to be able to afford the fees of a campground or park. They live in fear that someone will find out they live out of their car, and will tear their family apart.

How desperate would I have to be, to knock on someone’s door to ask for help?

I’ve turned this question over and over in my mind, but I still don’t know the answer. It is something I simply can’t imagine. Perhaps, it is one of those situations where you just need to be there to understand.

In the last year, I’ve heard that knock four times. It comes as a surprise every time. Although, I imagine it’s easier and less intimidating to approach an RV than it is the door of a two story home. We do what we can to help – providing sack lunches and warm blankets. It isn’t nearly enough, but I like to think it helps.

Homelessness happens easier and faster than many of us realize. The reality of it is, it can happen to anyone for any reason.

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U.S.A Traveling Tips and Tricks

 

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I’ve been on the road for a year, but people still don’t understand. I’m often questioned by people in my old life. Why? How? Their looks of confusion and sometimes derision are both amusing and annoying. They can’t seem to understand why or how I could give up my old life to live this way, but that is okay. They don’t need to. My journey is not theirs. However, for those of you who share my interest in living this way, I’d like to share with you a few things, I’ve learned along the way.

  • This is a life not a vacation. 
    • Before deciding to take this step, I read everything I could on the subject of full time travel. Like a sponge, I absorbed information and advice from all directions. It was one of these articles, in particular, that resonated with me. It was about a powerful executive married couple who gave up their stationary lives to travel the world. However, in less than a year, they were broke and working ‘menial’ jobs, so they could eat and have a place to sleep at night. Instead of living within their means, they blew through their money on extravagant activities, four star hotels, and elaborate meals. Bemoaning their new lives, they warned people in the article not to do what they did. No, they weren’t warning people not to blow through their money as if there’s no tomorrow, they were warning people not to become full time travelers. This couple’s irresponsibility served me well. I continuously remind myself this is my life, not a vacation. It is important to budget accordingly. It also made me question myself on my dedication to do what was necessary to live this life. Would I be willing to stop traveling if needed to re enter the workforce, and take on ‘menial’ jobs (as they put it) to build up my travel fund if needed? The answer came only too easily. Unequivocally “YES.” There is no shame in a hard honest day’s work. I’ve done it before, and I’d gladly do it again to be able to be a full time traveler.
  • Cutting costs from the very beginning, we did everything we could to eliminate extravagant monthly bills that would prevent us from traveling.
    • Shopping around, we found a second-hand RV within our means. Paying cash for it up front, we bought it outright. Working together, we invested hard work and sweat equity into it to making it a comfortable, accommodating home that is distinctly ours. By doing this, we were able to increase the value of our RV while saving ourselves from having costly monthly payments.
    • Debt can be destructive to freedom. We avoid credit cards. If we can’t afford to pay cash for what we need, we simply do without.
  • We rarely eat out. Cooking at home is economical, healthier, and simply tastes better.
  • We avoid buying snacks or drinks from convenience stores when filling up our vehicle with diesel. It is an expensive convenience, we do without.
  • We are a family of five which can become expensive very quickly when traveling and sightseeing.
    • Fortunately, the United States has a wealth of free and low cost fun, entertaining, and educational attractions and activities. Doing my homework ahead of time, I google each state we travel in, and notate what is available.
    • I keep my eyes peeled for discounts, coupons, and offers that may make sightseeing more affordable and accessible.
      • The America the Beautiful: National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is one such amazing deal. For a low yearly cost, this pass provides entrance or access to more than two thousand Federal Recreation Parks and Sites through out the United States. It is definitely a great deal, and has saved my family a ton of money.  Find a Federal Park
    • Get off the beaten path. I love big cities, but small towns have their own distinct charm. Explore what is out there.
    • For those attractions that may be more expensive, we simply do as other families do. We save until we have the money to go. Disneyworld may be the happiest place on Earth, but it is definitely not the most affordable.
  • Campgrounds and RV parks are often spendy. Boondocking is a great way to combat this expense.
    • Wal-Mart’s, Home Depot, and Lowes are usually pretty accommodating if you park at the far end of their parking lots. However, I always call and speak with a manager to receive permission beforehand. There are some cities whose ordinances forbid boondocking.
    • Free Campsite Interactive Map is another wonderful tool, I frequently use. This interactive map is a great way to locate various free and low cost campsites in any area you happen to be in. Providing reviews and coordinates, this map is easy to use.
  • Always be safe. 
    • Trust your instincts. image
    • Do NOT catalog where you’ve been on a map you adhere to the side of your RV. This is a dangerous practice. By doing this you are notifying everyone that you are a full time traveler who has everything you own in your RV (electronics, jewelry, and personal documents). While it is fun to document and record your adventures, just keep it to the inside of your RV.
    • Invest in a weather radio. These radios will alert you to storms along the way that you may not be aware of. There is nothing worse than driving into something you could easily have avoided.
    • Joining AAA is a travel service that is well worth the money. If you have a breakdown on the road, help is only a phone call away.
  • Be friendly and meet the locals. They often know about the best places to go, to shop, and to eat (when you decide to splurge).

I’ve only been on the road for a year, but I can’t imagine going back to my old life. Why would I? This is the life, literally. I may have had a large home with four bedrooms, two and a half bath, but I was never there to enjoy any of it. 70, 80, 100 hour work weeks were the norm. I saw my family in passing on my way to work or my way to bed. Now, I live simply but the rewards are far greater.

 

 

 

A Small Town Festival

watermelonI’m a collector – a collector of experiences, not possessions. For me, there is nothing better. As a traveler, I’m always looking for opportunities to add to my collection. In every small town, big city, and state we visit, I keep my eyes peeled for anything that promises to be interesting: events, museums, workshops, parks, exhibits, fairs, trails, galleries, festivals, beaches, and the like.

You never know when opportunity will present itself, but you must always be ready. Recently, I had such an opportunity.

On a quiet Saturday morning, we were headed to the store to restock our groceries when we came across a festival. No wonder the small town was so quiet, everyone in town seemed to be here. There is no time like the present to seize the day. Groceries were quickly forgotten as we pulled into a designated parking lot. Setting off to enjoy the local festivities we were presented with a question – How much watermelon can you eat? You can test your stomach’s holding capacity for the pink meat of this sweet fruit at the Watermelon Festival in Chiefland, Florida. Held annually on the first Saturday in June, this small town festival has something for everyone.

Festival goers can try their skill at the Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest, watch the floats in the Watermelon Parade, and enjoy intelligent, beautiful, young women square off against one another in hopes to win a scholarship at the Watermelon Pageant.

Children race from activity to activity. Some gravitate towards the giant wading pool with inflatable ride-on toys. Splashing about, they enjoy the cool water against the stifling heat. Others forego the water to jump on the bounce house.

Artists and craftsmen lay out their wares trying to entice customers into shelling out their hard-earned cash for items they just can’t resist.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial than watermelon, you’re in luck. Food vendors are prepared to offer you the finest foods…gator, gyros, cracklins, snow cones, kettle corn, sandwiches, sausages, lemonades, and so much more.

How much watermelon can you eat? It is a question, anyone can easily answer at Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival.

However, it is a question I could’ve answered even if I hadn’t attended this event. None. I don’t actually like watermelon. Weird, I know. There is just something about the fruit, I’ve never cared for. My family all adore watermelon, and have never been able to understand my distaste for it. Nevertheless, I had fun adding the 62nd annual Watermelon Festival to my collection of experiences.

Watermelon Festival Information

 

 

New York City: An Experience

ny skylineHave you ever had a place you’ve always wanted to visit? For me, this place was New York City.

I imagined the sights, the sounds, and the smells long before I ever made it into the City. I dreamed about overloading my senses with the textures, the tastes, the energy, the excitement, the culture, and the wondrous people. A city unlike any other, I knew New York would be amazing. How could it not?

Sadly, I wasn’t sure if or when this dream of mine would ever be a reality. Traveling across the country to visit the city simply wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. Truthfully, it wasn’t a priority. I was too focused on climbing the corporate ladder, raising my family, and making my everyday life better. My dream would lay dormant in the back of my mind. It was one of those “some day” dreams.

Little did I know that “some day” would happen sooner than I ever imagined.

Unexpectedly, everything fell into place. My daughter’s business and marketing club was traveling to New York City, and they were looking for parents to chaperon. It was the perfect opportunity. After quickly verifying with my daughter that she wouldn’t die of embarrassment if I were to go, I took vacation and volunteered. The cost of the trip would be a quarter of what we would normally pay for air fare, hotel, and attractions if we were traveling on our own. We would also have the safety of the group for our first time in the big city. It was perfect. I couldn’t be more excited.

A cram packed itinerary kept us on the go from the moment we landed at Newark Airport. Being a school sponsored trip, we were extremely privileged to have the opportunity to be able to see and do many things, most tourists never get to do when visiting. It was an exciting whirlwind.

 

Standing at the top of the Empire State Building, we felt small as we took in the view of the magnificent city skyline at night. We took in the billboards, the lights, and the fantastic chaos of Times Square. Dining at Lombardi’s Pizza, we sampled original New York style pizza at one of NYC’s oldest restaurants. We received a rich history lesson when we boated out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and stood where millions of immigrants once stood, desperately hoping they would receive clearance to enter our great country. Touring several successful businesses around the city, the kids were given an inside view to help them understand first hand what it takes to succeed. We shopped at store after store, but the overall favorite was Century 21 with its the discount sales. Dressing up, we were entertained by shows both on and off Broadway. Exploring Yankee Stadium, we were given a sneak peek of what it would be like to watch a game from a luxury box. Visiting Radio City Music Hall, we received the grand tour and met a Rockette. We visited Louisa May Alcott’s house. Walking through Central Park, we paid our respects to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields. We haggled with shop keepers and street vendors in China town. We took breakfast at a local deli by our hotel. Paying homage to the victims of 09/11, we visited the memorial and St. Paul’s Chapel. We did it all and so much more.

The City was everything I imagined and more. I loved it all, every enthralling and exhausting moment of it. Best of all, I came to love the people.

Weaving our way around the city to get from Point A to Point B in the short time frame, we had between activities was no easy feat with fifteen teenagers, two volunteer parents, and one teacher. Thankfully, we had Jay navigating us all. Jay was our tour guide, a real New York treasure. An amazing man with a wealth of knowledge, Jay would heighten each activity and experience by regaling us with facts and informative New York stories. His love for the city shone through, and made our visit extraordinary.

Each morning, my daughter and I would wake early, get ready for the day, and walk to the corner deli where we would enjoy a leisurely breakfast served by the kindest man who always seemed to have a smile on his face and a kind word for anyone entering his shop. It was a simple activity, but perhaps one of the ones, I enjoyed the most. It was nice to enjoy this time with my daughter before meeting everyone else in the lobby of the hotel to get started for the day.

Wedged together on the elevator of the Empire State Building, we were treated to some crazy unplanned entertainment by a drunk mother and her two equally inebriated adult daughters. Laughing and carrying on, the daughters gave us quite the show when they randomly flashed us all. Their mom then began panicking, begging to be let off the elevator. Repeatedly, she pushed the elevator’s emergency button causing a voice to come on over the loud speaker asking if there was an emergency and informing us all that the button being pushed was sending notification to the police and to the fire department. Stepping in, we were finally able to get her to keep her hands to herself long enough to allow us to safely descend to the ground. This crazy mom and her girls gave me and my daughter an experience we’ll never forget.

Packing our bags to return home, I knew I would return. How could I not, now that I knew how amazing the City actually was.

My daughter’s eighteenth birthday would be the perfect opportunity. She loved the City as much as I had, and would be ecstatic to visit it again. Buried in work, I was only able to arrange an extended weekend getaway this time, but it was good enough for us. Flying from Alaska to New York, I arranged our trip so we would have two travel days and two full days in NYC. Making the arrangements, I booked us a room at the Westin Hotel in Times Square, booked a shuttle from the airport to our hotel, and bought us tickets to see the Lion King on Broadway. This was the extent of my planning. Wanting to keep things simple this time around, I wanted us to have time to go with the flow and indulge in all the little things we never got to do last time.

Again, it was the people of New York City who helped to make our trip what it was.

Catching our shuttle at the airport, I was caught off guard when I learn the shuttle has a specific route they follow and wouldn’t be dropping patrons off at their specific destinations. Immediately, all my inner warning bells begin ringing. I am in New York City with my beautiful daughter, we have all our bags, and we are about to be dumped out onto some random street corner. Neither of us would stand a chance against a mugger. I see my daughter’s birthday trip turning bad on the turn of a dime. Mentally preparing myself, I wonder how many bags I can juggle myself while leaving the lighter stuff for her to hang on to. At the next stop, I gather my courage and ask one of the porters which stop would be the  closest to the Westin Hotel. The young man takes one look at me then looks to my daughter, smiles and asks me to give him a minute. Going up to the front of the bus, he confers with the driver who looks back at us and nods.

Coming back to where I’m standing, the young man tells me with a smile. “Don’t worry. We will take you to the Westin Hotel.”

Instantly, I’m relieved. Gratitude washes over me. I no longer have to worry about being lost in the City. This young man has erased all the fears running through my mind. I thank him profusely. I sit back down as we get on our way.

The driver calls out that the next stop will be the shuttle’s last stop, warning everyone they would need to disembark. Looking out the windows, I don’t see our hotel. Nervously, I wonder if they’ve changed their minds. Quickly, I tell my daughter we are going to have to find our own way to the hotel. Warning her to stick close to my side, I tell her I will take the heavy bags, and she will take our lightest one. When the shuttle stops, I nudge her to stand.

Looking in the rear view mirror, the driver calls out to her. “Little, Miss. Not yet. Please, sit down. This isn’t your stop. We are going to take you to your hotel. It’ll be the next stop.”

My daughter looks to me and sits down.

“Thank you so much.” I tell him with a grateful smile.

He returns my smile and helps the remaining patrons with their bags.

As the shuttle empties, I feel another nudge of nervousness. It is now just us and the two men working the shuttle. I can’t help but worry that I may have just gotten us into a worse predicament. However, my fears are unfounded. The shuttle lumbers up to the front door of our hotel. We’ve arrived safely to our destination thanks to the kindness and the generosity of these wonderful young men. Thanking them profusely, I show my appreciation the only way I could, giving them each a generous tip.

We spent the next two nights happily exploring, shopping, and experiencing all the wonders of the City that we could. Neither of us can wait to go back.