Lost

imageI’ve taken a wrong turn. This is nothing new. I get lost quite often. Scowling at the GPS navigator, I blame the machine for my mistake. I have to turn around. Flipping on my blinker, I signal to the drivers around me. Warning! Be cautious, here I come.

I almost always know where I want to go,  but I’m never quite sure how to get there. Sadly, I’m a traveler who can’t find my way out of a paper bag. I rely heavily on my GPS. I don’t know what I would do without it. However, that doesn’t stop me from cursing at it frequently when it leads me astray or when I go the wrong way because I didn’t follow its directions correctly.

Navigating along the city streets, I keep a close eye on the GPS. Thankfully, I’m back on the right path. Breathing out a sigh of relief, I see the on ramp for the highway ahead. It will be smooth sailing from here. Just 200 more miles, and I’ll have reached my destination.

Daily Post Prompt

Struggling to Understand

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I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What is my crime?

Is my voice…

A little too loud | A little too soft | A little too twangy | A little too brash

I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What is my crime?

Is my hair…

A little too straight | A little too curly | A little too red | A little too black

I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What is my crime?

Are my eyes…

A little too black | A little too blue | A little too brown | A little too green

I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What is my crime?

Are my clothes…

A little too fancy | A little too dirty | A little too worn | A little too tight

I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What is my crime?

Do I…

Have the wrong job | Believe in the wrong God | Go to the wrong school | Come from the wrong side of town

I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What is my crime?

Am I…

Too black | Too white | Too skinny | Too fat

I weep for my country, struggling to understand.

What crime did I commit that caused you to hate me?

 

 

 

Camping Adventure: Tenting across the USA

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Day 1:

Here we go. Finally, we are setting off on our tenting adventure. I’m so excited, I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. We pulled out a little after 9:30 a.m. Being a family of five, it takes awhile to get us all bathed and out the door. We also did two loads of laundry and cleaned the Beast, so our RV home is nice and tidy when we get back to it.

Along the way, we stopped at Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store in Ashburn, Georgia. An old fashioned gem, it sells everything from jars of pickled peaches to pecan rolls to thick slabs of peppered bacon. Happy to get out of the car and stretch our legs, we meandered through the store checking out its various offerings. Splurging, we couldn’t resist picking up a pound of their thick peppered bacon and some seven pepper snack sticks. Storing the bacon in our ice chest, we broke into the savory pepper sticks as we got back on the road.

The first night, we stayed at McKinney Campground along Lake Allatoona in Acworth, Georgia. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful camp for our first night.

Pulling in as the sun was setting, we rushed to get camp set up. Trying to figure out our brand new tent was a calamity of errors – we couldn’t find the directions, we find the directions, we didn’t have enough poles, we find the missing poles, and finally success. Our tent is standing. We have a place to sleep for the night. Thankfully, the rest of our camp set up went off without a hitch.

Exhausted after a long day’s drive, we were soon ready for bed. Wanting to watch the fireworks light up the night sky while fighting the suffocating heat of the Georgia summer, we decided to leave the rain roof off our tent. A foolish and reckless decision resulting in a wet soggy morning. Early the next morning, the sky opened up releasing the rains. Scrambling, we packed as fast as we could and headed to the showers. Fortunately, the rains let up, so before heading out I could grabbed some pictures of the breath taking lake.

Day 2 and Day 3:

Getting back to nature is tough. It takes a lot of work to live this way. I don’t think I fully realized how much work this trip would be. I have been a bit spoiled in my Beast.

Shaking off the sogginess of our morning misadventure, we are soon crooning along to my daughter’s eclectic musical tastes. A little Bowie, a little Reba, a little Def Leppard.

Driving through Tennessee and Kentucky, we are awed by their sheer beauty. Tennessee’s trees and mountains and Kentucky’s corn fields are a sight to behold. We’ve spent some time in Tennessee, but have only ever driven through Kentucky. Making plans to come back and explore both in greater depth, we keep moving.

Pulling into Johnston City, Illinois, we are once again shaking hands with the clock. The sun set long ago forcing us to set up camp in the dark. Thankfully, we remembered how to set up the tent, this time we included the rain roof.

Tired and still needing to dry out our gear, we decide to stay in Johnston City for two days instead of one. This would give us a chance to do laundry, reorganize our gear, and just relax a little. Little did we know, what lay ahead.

Checking the weather on Tuesday night, we were supposed to have mainly clear skies with only a 30% chance of rain fall. Not too bad. We could see the clouds begin moving in Wednesday morning as we ate our delicious peppered bacon and some eggs for our breakfast. Smarter this time around, we had everything tucked away inside the car or the tent. The rain wasn’t supposed to stick around, so we weren’t too worried about it. Ducking into the tent as the rain began to fall, I checked the weather again to see when it was supposed to stop. The weather channel had since upgraded the occasional afternoon rain to a full day of severe thunderstorms. Hunkered down in our tent, we were once again at the mercy of the weather.

Thankfully, our tent held up with only a few minor leaks. The storms broke long enough for us to do laundry and for us to cook some dinner. We won’t be able to dry out, like we’d hoped – maybe at our next stop, we’ll find sunny skies….image

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sakura-Con

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An annual anime convention, Sakura-Con takes place at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, WA.

Excitement hangs in the air. Costumes decorate the city streets. Sakura-Con is here.

My daughter has spent months planning, crafting, and sewing together her costumes. She loves anime, and this particular convention holds a special place in her heart. It is the first, she attended.

Walking into the convention center, I’m instantly transported into a world of imagination and make believe. It is a world, I struggle to understand.

There are throngs of people everywhere. Hesitantly, I follow my daughter’s lead through the crowd. I don’t know what to make of the scene around me.Looking around, I wonder if saying “yes” to this event was such a good idea. People are everywhere in various states of dress – women and men in skimpy outfits, furry creatures, people decked out in armor, women and men in beautiful gowns, and anime characters galore. Moving about the crowd, I’m struck by the overwhelming sense of friendship and camaraderie. People talk, laugh, and pose for pictures with the characters they like.

Picking up a schedule, we map out our day. There are numerous activities, we can participate in – various panels, costume contests, fashion shows, meet and greets with different voice actors, band performances, anime video premiers,  gaming competitions, and more. The options are endless.

The stamina needed to keep up with it all is insane. Constantly on the go, the events run from early in the morning until after midnight.I’m exhausted by the end of the first day.This anime world is a crazy, but I’m comforted to know it is all in good fun.

The stamina needed to keep up with it all is insane. The events run from early in the morning until after midnight, entertaining everyone and keeping them on the go.

On the second day, I know what to expect and better prepare myself. Bringing my laptop and camera with me, I sit myself at a central location while my daughter goes to the events with her friends. Sometimes, I join them. Surprisingly, there are events that hold my attention. Other times, I simply wander about taking pictures.

By the third and final day, I’ve learned a few things. The panels have helped enlighten me. The anime videos have entertained me. The detailed work put into the costumes have astonished me. The friendly open people have helped to welcome me into their world.

We’ve attended several Sakura-Con’s over the years, and I still struggle to understand the world of anime. I couldn’t begin to tell you which character belongs to which anime. However, I have fun every time I go.

More Information on Sakura-Con

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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Juneau, Alaska: A Photo Essay

Nestled along the Gastineau Channel at the base of glaciers and mountains, Juneau is a remote town that can only be reached by boat or plane. Reminiscent of the old mining town it once was, Juneau flourishes in the summer months, but basically shuts down during the winter. Armed with a camera, I spent time exploring Juneau’s unbound beauty.

 

Daily Prompt

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Chicago

Bumper to bumper traffic mixed with suffocating heat is making for an angry commute. Pulling onto the off ramp, I remove myself from the fray and decide to spend the afternoon exploring. My detour takes me to downtown Chicago.

Driving along the city streets, I wonder where I should begin. At a glance, I find old and new merged together. A city of contradictions, Chicago is distinctly unique. It is a city with rough edges that are slowly being smoothed away.

Old charm mingles with modernization. Lovely greystone homes line the streets of old neighborhoods creating an idyllic picture. Street art and graffiti adorn buildings and signs. The L’ glides along the tracks quickly carrying people to various neighborhoods through out the city. Shopper’s with discerning taste stroll along the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue exercising their debit and credit cards. Stunning cutting-edge architectural glass and steel buildings highlight the river front. Old plastic pop bottles, discarded papers, and plastic wrappers liter street corners and sidewalks. Artistic monuments stand in tribute to the city’s culture. Revitalization signs promise to breathe life back into old neighborhoods.

Wandering the city streets, we worked up quite an appetite. Deciding to splurge, we stopped at Home Slice on Webster Avenue to indulge in some of Chicago’s famous pizza. We had always heard there was nothing quite like Chicago pizza, so we were excited to try it. The inviting patio tables and chairs lured us into dining outside. Sitting down, we were immediately greeted by a friendly server who saw to our needs and made some excellent suggestions. Enjoying a relaxing lunch, we talked, laughed, and people watched while we refueled our bodies on thick slices of pizza, savory garlic bread, and spicy stuffed jalapenos. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. The food was exemplary. Everyone was right, there is nothing like Chicago pizza.

As day began to give way to the evening hours, we made our way to the interstate. It is time for us to be moving on. Chicago wasn’t a planned stop, but it was a lovely detour. All of us agree, we can’t wait until we are able to visit again.